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The Mayor and His Money

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Other major first-term initiatives drew on Bloomberg’s relationships, not any deep-seated ideology. After defeating Mark Green in November 2001, Bloomberg recruited his Johns Hopkins public-health-school friend Al Sommer to screen applicants for city health commissioner. Sommer recommended Dr. Thomas Frieden, whose highest priority was reducing cancer caused by cigarettes. The mayor-elect didn’t just hire Frieden to be his health commissioner; he signed on for the first crusade of his first term. If there’s a second Bloomberg administration, the uproar over the smoking ban could quickly look quaint: Sommer says Frieden is gearing up to fight AIDS through more aggressive tracking of sexual partners.

Bloomberg enlisted his friend Stanley Shuman, managing director of Allen & Company, to help on several fronts. Three years ago, Shuman was one of Bloomberg’s three appointments to the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which is supposed to be spearheading the rebuilding of ground zero. Bloomberg also appointed Shuman, along with two other friends from the mayor’s corporate days, Gerald Levin (Time Warner) and Thomas Murphy (Cap Cities/ABC), to raise $9 million for the ceremonies that commemorated the first anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

The same three—along with gossip columnist and Bloomberg charity-circuit buddy Liz Smith—were appointed to the board of the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City. The city-sponsored nonprofit agency had existed since 1994 as a sleepy, low-budget operation called Public Private Initiatives until Bloomberg appointed his longtime friend Steven Rattner, a managing principal in a private investment firm, as the head of the fund, and charged him with increasing philanthropic donations to the city. “He just called me up and told me to do it,” Rattner says. The Mayor’s Fund has raised nearly $52.9 million—at least $6 million of it Bloomberg’s—and channeled money to everything from the NYC Leadership Academy, which trains new principals, to eye exams for summer-school students, to a statue of Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese.

“Ninety-nine percent of the people with Mike’s résumé would have failed dismally at the mayor thing,” Rattner says. “He happens to be the one guy who has come to understand the political system well enough that he can function within it. And Mike didn’t do anything with the money, really, before running for mayor that would have given you any idea he’d be good at being mayor.”

Like Bloomberg, Rattner long ago soared past his parents’ tax bracket. “It gets harder, frankly, to have perspective on what goes on in the real world,” he says, “because your life changes and you operate in a certain way where you’re just not taking your dry cleaning to the cleaners anymore. But it’s true of most public officials, no matter their net worth, that they live in a bubble. They’re not operating in the real world any more than Mike Bloomberg was operating in the real world. But you’re trying to elect a guy who you think has compassion and cares and really wants to be better, even if he can’t possibly imagine how tough it would be to live in Bushwick in some five-story walk-up.”

Rattner’s faith in Bloomberg has lately become useful in an old-politics sort of way. Rattner has long been a staunch and influential Democrat; his wife, Maureen White, is finance chair of the Democratic National Committee. But in June, Rattner convened a meeting with some of the city’s biggest Democratic donors, including venture capitalist Alan Patricof and John Sykes of MTV. Bloomberg didn’t need their donations, of course. But depriving his Democratic challengers of their cash would be nearly as effective.

Toni Goodale, the socialite, professional fund-raiser, and loyal Democrat, knows Rattner well but wasn’t invited. Yet her long friendship with Bloomberg, a neighbor, was enough to hamper one of his Democratic challengers. “I’ve been supporting Gifford [Miller] since he was a baby,” Goodale says. “I was one of Kerry and Gore’s major, major fund-raisers; I raised hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars for each one. I think Gifford is great, and he could be a terrific mayor—someday. But he knows we’ve been friendly with Bloomberg. My daughter works for the corporation counsel—for Michael Cardozo, who was my kindergarten boyfriend—and in effect for Bloomberg. So when Gifford asked for help with fund-raising, I said no.”

Frank Ombres is standing on West 34th Street, grinning broadly as thousands of his happy union brothers pour out of the Hammerstein Ballroom after a raucous event that’s part press conference, part TV-commercial shoot, and part union-hall blowout. Moments ago, Mike Bloomberg was onstage, bopping tentatively as “Welcome to the Jungle” screamed from the loudspeakers and carpenters and glaziers chanted “May-uh Mike! May-uh Mike!,” their enthusiasm stoked by the city’s humming economy and an open bar paid for by Bloomberg 2005. Turning his company into an international powerhouse earned Bloomberg the respect of his corporate peers. But nothing satisfies the ego of a pencil-necked plutocrat like soaking in the cheers of a theater full of burly construction workers.


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