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Open City

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In baseball, the bullpen is a warm-up area for pitchers—a useful piece of real estate but a minor sideshow to the actual playing field. In City Hall, the bullpen is the center of the Bloomberg administration’s bureaucracy, and the epicenter of something intangible: Michael Bloomberg’s singular domination of what’s left of New York’s Establishment for the past nine years. Yes, he is the city’s second-richest citizen, and without the money he wouldn’t have been elected three times. Yet Bloomberg’s unequaled civic and political power is based on his efficient, highly successful, if imperfect, day-to-day management of the unruly city. Several of the most important Bloomberg commissioners have their own headquarters physically separate from the bullpen—Ray Kelly at One Police Plaza; Janette Sadik-Khan, the Transportation commissioner, in a skyscraper near the South Street Seaport; Joel Klein, inside the spiffy Tweed Courthouse—but everything funnels back to the former Board of Estimate chamber in City Hall. Bloomberg imported the cubicle concept from his Wall Street days, and he sits at a desk the same size as the 51 others. His closest confidante, First Deputy Mayor Patti Harris, is within arm’s reach. He donated the computers and pays for the snacks (bagels in the morning, salad in the afternoon). “As a work space, it is something that you do not think that you can ever get used to,” says a former bullpen resident. “But when you see the mayor hosting high-level meetings in clear sight of everyone else, you start to understand that this open-communication model is not bullshit. And that it works.” The bullpen went through significant turnover after the 2005 campaign, with chief of staff Peter Madonia and budget guru Marc Shaw departing and Kevin Sheekey (deputy mayor for Government Affairs), Ed Skyler (deputy mayor for Operations), and Linda Gibbs (deputy mayor for Health and Human Services) taking on new roles. Another interesting, intentional upheaval is now in progress. Sheekey was traded for Howard Wolfson, the former Clinton strategist. Skyler, who sat right behind Bloomberg, was replaced by Stephen Goldsmith, the wonky former mayor of Indianapolis. How they and other new bullpen players team with holdovers like Gibbs and press secretary Stu Loeser will make for some minor shifts in political-spatial relations within the chamber. But as for the larger picture of how the city is run, it remains clear that for the next three years, power and influence in the city stop here.


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