The Winner’s Circle

Let’s get the niceties out of the way first: the furniture at City Hall is going to take a beating. Mike Bloomberg is a guy who always puts his feet up on his desk or the nearest coffee table, and that’s just what he was doing in his campaign office the day after the election, propping up his black tasseled loafers while returning calls from longtime pals and new best friends.

New Yorkers woke up to the giddy unreality of a new mayor last week, and attention immediately shifted from attack ads and exit polls to how Bloomberg and his quirky personal and management styles – the billionaire doesn’t believe in job titles and insists on working trading-desk-fashion in the midst of his employees – will translate into the daily reality of running city government. As Kathleen Cudahy, the tough-talking lawyer who left City Council Speaker Peter Vallone’s staff to work on Bloomberg’s campaign, jokes, “Mike believes in the no-door policy.”

While Mark Green overconfidently began planning for his transition several weeks ago, the Bloomberg team adamantly refused to even discuss privately the post-election landscape for fear of jinxing the candidate’s prospects. “Today is day one for us,” says Jonathan Capehart, a Bloomberg policy wonk and speechwriter who was previously a Daily News columnist. “We were really superstitious; no one wanted to talk about it before.”

That changed fast. “When I got back to headquarters at 2:30 a.m. on Election Night, my phone was already ringing,” says Harold Doley III, an investment banker who took a leave of absence to work on the campaign. “The résumés are rolling in.”

The first rumor that circulated even before Election Night had ended was that Bloomberg would keep most of the Giuliani team on. But on his first day as mayor-elect, Bloomberg annoyed diehard Rudyphiles by blithely announcing he may not keep any of Giuliani’s top advisers. Based on his history as a CEO, it is more likely that Bloomberg’s top picks will come from within his company, his campaign, and his prominent social circle.

It’s hard to believe that anyone could be more obsessed with loyalty than Rudy Giuliani, but Mike Bloomberg built his entire financial-data and media empire by handsomely rewarding devotion – he rarely fires anyone – and viewing anyone who quits as a deserter, unworthy of ever being hired back.

So who can we expect to see in City Hall in two months? For starters, there’s Patti Harris and Kevin Sheekey. These two trusted campaign advisers – the pair he thanked in his Election Night speech – are veteran Democrats who deliberately attracted minimal personal attention, making them the most important political players in New York you’ve never heard of. Harris, the well-connected, graciously steely former Koch arts-staff member who disburses Bloomberg’s charitable millions, has been the office perfectionist who carefully guards his image, from lining up meetings to working debate prep to even approving brochure photos. Sheekey, the boyishly smooth former Moynihan strategist hired by Bloomberg several years ago to introduce him around Washington, was nicknamed “the invisible man” by campaign staff for his role as the candidate’s quiet, ever-present shadow on the hustings.

“Kevin and Patti were Mike’s eyes and ears,” says Capehart. “Nothing happened on the campaign without them signing off.” Now Harris is rumored to be in line for a deputy mayor’s job, and Sheekey is likely to get an equally prominent post.

Bloomberg will also be drawing from one of the largest collections of business cards in the city. Sure, he’s been paying his respects to Hispanic and African-American business leaders and politicians to create a winning coalition, and he’ll make a point of putting together an unusually diverse staff for a nominal Republican. And despite the three sexual harassment lawsuits filed against Bloomberg and his company, the fact is that his inner campaign circle was populated with veteran women pols like Harris, Cudahy, and Maureen Connolly, a former Koch aide, and some of them will join him at City Hall. But what sets him apart – and it’s one of the main reasons many voted for him – is the breadth of his contacts in the traditionally white and male New York business elites.

As a billionaire who lives in a lavishly appointed Upper East Side townhouse, serves on the boards of the Metropolitan Museum and Lincoln Center, entertains media royalty like Tom Brokaw and Barbara Walters and Wall Street honchos like John Rosenwald Jr., vice-chairman of Bear Stearns, and investment banker Steve Rattner, Bloomberg has a lot of very, very successful friends. He didn’t hit up his wealthy pals for money during the campaign (one of the joys of being a self-funded candidate), but he’ll go to the favor bank now, pitching the virtues of civic service to recruit experienced outsiders from the city’s executive boardrooms.

And he’s not necessarily going to be predictable about it. Aides say he’s been musing out loud about urging Ray Kelly, who was police commissioner under David Dinkins and now manages security for Bear Stearns, to return to government, though not as top cop (Bernie Kerik has been asked to stay on in that position). Bloomberg may ask Kelly to try a radically different role: schools chancellor. “Ray’s tough, and the unions are not going to roll him,” says an aide. Whether Kelly, who did not return my call, wants to trade an investment-bank salary for the headache and heartache of the public schools is another matter, but Bloomberg’s trial balloon reveals a willingness to try shaking things up.

A Bloomberg administration is going to be very different from Giuliani’s reign, if only because the two men’s personalities couldn’t be more different. The mayor-elect is notoriously arrogant (not surprising in a self-made $4 billion man) and his prickliness often showed through on the campaign trail, but unlike Giuliani, he’s not terribly vindictive and he tries not to bear grudges. Bloomberg’s a fix-it-now guy who may blow up, but when it’s over, it’s over. Even when his campaign was floundering in gaffes earlier this year, he didn’t fire top people and bring in a new crew. “Mike gets impatient, but he very rarely loses his temper,” says Ester Fuchs, a Barnard political-science professor and a campaign adviser. Bloomberg doesn’t have a tortured dark side. He’s basically a salesman, a happy person with an orderly CEO mentality, and he comes into this new job with very few enemies. At least, very few as of yet.

Republican leaders would obviously like City Hall to stay a recognizable GOP landmark, and Bloomberg aides are bracing for Giuliani, in his remaining eight weeks in office, to try to push through appointments for his cronies to government boards and judicial slots. “Every mayor does it before he leaves,” says Kathy Cudahy, “and it’s already happening.”

On the other hand, New York Democrats may be distraught over Bloomberg’s victory, but they have no reason to despair over the complexion of his administration. At the new mayor’s Election Night party at B.B. King’s, the enthusiastic celebrants included a coterie of air-kissing Democrats, from Tina Brown and Harry Evans to Democratic fund-raisers Toni Goodale and Kathy Lacey, who both raised money for Al Gore. “I think of Mike as a Democrat, whether it’s a big D or a little d,” says Lacey. “His social conscience is high, and he’ll be terrific at rebuilding the city.”

On Election Night, one local news anchor seemed completely unaware of Bloomberg’s broad network of social and political connections when he ominously announced: “We don’t know what Mike Bloomberg’s relationship will be with Betsy Gotbaum,” the Democrat newly elected as public advocate. The implication was that the two might reprise the tortured Mark Green-Rudy Giuliani relationship. But Gotbaum and Bloomberg are long-time friends: He kicked in to her campaign coffers early on, and she was one of his guests at this winter’s Inner Circle dinner, hardly the recipe for a thorny government partnership.

“He helped me raise money and he gave me money,” says Gotbaum, who sees their current party affiliations as irrelevant. “We are in such trouble in New York that we all need to work together. We don’t have to fight.”

Since Bloomberg, a lifelong Democrat, changed his registration simply because he thought he’d have a better shot on the GOP line, he’s not going to impose party-loyalty tests on his new staff. “This is wartime; it’ll be a coalition government,” says Maureen Connelly, a Democratic public-relations executive who was Bloomberg’s first campaign hire. Adds Doug Schoen, Bloomberg’s pollster, “Mike ran as a nonpartisan centrist, and that’s how he’ll govern.”

It’s already clear that not all loyalists will get their heart’s desire from Hizzoner. Mets pitcher Al Leiter and first-baseman Mark Johnson, who both stumped for Bloomberg, were sipping beers on Election Night at B.B. King’s and discussing their own special-interest agenda for a post-Rudy administration. “We’ve seen enough of those Yankee hats,” said Johnson. “We’re trying to get Mike to switch colors.”

But the day after the election, Ed Skyler, Bloomberg’s lanky press spokesman, passed along Leiter and Johnson’s sporting request. “I told the mayor, and he said, ‘Forget it,’ ” an exhausted Skyler confessed, laughing, and then added a vital bit of previously unknown Bloomberg information that might have changed the outcome of the campaign had it been revealed earlier. “Mike went to a few Yankees games, but he’s not a big baseball fan. His favorite team is the Atlanta Braves.” The Atlanta Braves? The Atlanta Braves! Maybe it isn’t too late for a recount.

The Winner’s Circle