You came to this job from a business background, too, of course.
Nobody knew what the mayor was going to do. You know, “He’s a billionaire? Does he put his pants on one leg at a time? Do they eat with their fingers? He takes the subway? He eats fried chicken in a diner? I’m shocked!”
It gave you the advantage of political independence.
The independence—I’ve never thought that comes from not having come through the machine. I don’t know that whoever gets elected next is going to have to do what their supporters want. If the supporters think that they’re buying the candidate, shame on them. And if they do buy the candidate, shame on the candidate.
I don’t think I’m any different than I was at age 24, when I came to this city. I cooked my own meals. My vacations were up on the roof of 333 East 66th Street—tar beach.
You have other advantages now.
It’s probably easier for me to raise private money for philanthropy. Partially because I can say, “Chris, I just gave $5 million; I’d like you to give $5 million.”
Would you have been as successful as mayor without your personal wealth?
Yeah. I actually think so. Of course, there’s some things you couldn’t have done. I couldn’t have given $30 million and got $30 million out of George Soros and then have $60 million for this Young Men’s Initiative to help young minority males, which is where most of the crime is. But most of the things, sure. Smoking had nothing to do with being wealthy. In fact, a lot of the diseases we’re going after tend to be things that afflict those less wealthy. I don’t subscribe to the fact that “Oh, you’re not dead poor, therefore you don’t know.” That’s the height of arrogance.
But your wealth has helped you get things done politically.
Well, John Lindsay, he’s a good-looking guy—all right, that’s an advantage too. I come with a different advantage. There are people that had great educations at Ivy League schools. I was a straight-C student at Johns Hopkins. Don’t ask me how I ever got into Harvard Business School. Now [Harvard president] Drew Faust is asking for my advice on education. But let’s get serious as to why.
You can come from all different backgrounds. The real question is, do you have the desire and the willingness and the creativity and the moxie? And that’s all in your head. When people say, “It’s not fair, you had an advantage,” I’m thinking, Well, they had an advantage—they went to better schools, or they came from wealthier families. My father was a bookkeeper. He worked seven days a week until he checked himself into the hospital to die. My mother went the next day to the library, got a book on driving, taught herself to drive on our quiet street, because she said, “I’m gonna have to be the chauffeur from now on.”
I know what hard work’s about. I still come back to what my strategy always was and will continue to be: I’m not the smartest guy, but I can outwork you. It’s the one thing that I can control.
When people say, “He bought a third term,” does that bother you?
Number one, it isn’t even accurate. I mean, people vote. And the same organizations that carry those criticisms kept raising their ad rates. Talk about duplicitous.
The broader criticism is that because of your wealth you don’t have a feel for the way people really live in the city.
Will you show me all of the man-in-the-street, sympathetic, mayoral candidates? The last time I met one of them on the subway was a long time ago. Let’s not get too carried away. You want to make a bet that whoever’s the next mayor skips security at the front gate of City Hall? You want to make a bet they don’t have an office with everybody else? Come on. This is ridiculous.
A recent poll in the Times said New Yorkers want the next mayor to be empathetic.
I saw that story.
How important is empathy in a mayor?
You have to have empathy to get people to ride with you. If they hate you, then youve got a bigger problem. No mayor is a dictator. Leading from the front doesn’t mean you don’t abide by the legal process, don’t need the legislature, don’t need the public behind you.
I can only tell you this: When I walk the streets, people whose support I would never expect in a million years—the truck driver—yell out the window, “Go for four terms!” Or, “Mayor, we love you!” In the subway this morning!