The Hors D’Oeuvre Tactician

As a billionaire-about-town, Michael Bloomberg used to give his tuxedo a weekly workout on the benefit circuit, but in his new role, he’s now MIA from his former social circle. Or as one hostess quips, “He’s loved us and left us.”

Ever since he joined Salomon Brothers right out of Harvard Business School and learned the benefits of wining and dining clients, Bloomberg has been a party-giver with a purpose, a true believer in the art of strategic entertaining. Self-assured and with a quick, dry wit, he schmoozed his way into New York’s social elite by giving millions to charitable causes and courted opinion-makers with his own big bashes and intimate dinners. “He loves to go out, he goes out every night, and he never seems to get tired,” says a longtime woman friend. But now that Bloomberg has a new exclusive party locale with a great East River view – Gracie Mansion – he’s no longer courting “Page Six” names, instead extending frequent invites to civic workers and local leaders in the hope they’ll remember who fed them as the budget and city realities bite.

“Mike has always believed in twelve hours of work and twelve hours of play,” says one aide. “Now he’s reaching out to a wider array of people.” Hizzoner’s social agenda has included swearing-in ceremonies, breakfasts, and cocktail receptions for pols (the U.S. Conference of Mayors), the press (African-American and Hispanic journalists), and wide-ranging constituents (celebrations for Black History Month and a jam-packed 7 a.m. pre–Saint Patrick’s Day Parade breakfast).

Eager to boost the name visibility of his media empire in recent years, Bloomberg’s had corporate parties that have been fabulously over-the-top. His current public-service entertaining is sedate by comparison: An aide says that the mayor is not personally subsidizing the Gracie Mansion budget. At a typical recent evening, twenty Parks Department managers were treated to chicken potpie in the dining room. “On Saint Patrick’s Day, they served Irish coffee,” says one approving guest, “but it was too early for me to drink.” A cocktail-party guest adds, “The food is much better.” (The mayor’s office says the kitchen staff hasn’t changed much, but the menu has been retooled.)

Over chez Bloomberg, the mayor’s 79th Street townhouse, his honor is also giving three to four dinners or cocktail parties a month, but the guest list has changed. In prior years, Bloomberg served expensive wines and his favorite down-home meat loaf, fried chicken, and roast-turkey dinners to Barbara Walters, Tom Brokaw, actress Ann Reinking, Kati Marton, Richard Holbrooke, and a host of other New York luminaries; now he’s mostly giving GOP fund-raisers, such as the two-George (Bush and Pataki) jamboree, and chowing down with the likes of borough presidents. “Mike went through this phase when he wanted to know all the society types,” says one Upper East Side socialite. “Now it’s ‘been there, done that,’ and I’ll bet he doesn’t miss it.”

In his off-hours, the gregarious Bloomberg has been seen lately at a dinner given by Über-agent Mort Janklow and his wife, Linda; at a night at the home of former Paine Webber chairman Donald Marron; and schlepping out to Bronxville with girlfriend Diana Taylor for the annual Chinese New Year’s party thrown by ABC News president David Westin and wife Sherrie Rollins. “He’s become a better conversationalist,” says one friend. “He’s more confident, and he’s slightly more restrained – some of that awkward blurting-out is gone.” Even with the pressures of the job, he’s not one to look at his watch and head home early. “He’s got the stamina of a college student,” marvels one prominent Democrat. “I’ve seen him going until 2 a.m., the way Clinton does. But Clinton doesn’t touch a drop of liquor, while Mike drinks wine and he can still keep going.”

Bloomberg has never been shy about courting journalists – hey, he’s a media mogul – and recently invited Jack Newfield, Jimmy Breslin, and Pete Hamill out for a love-fest dinner at the Knickerbocker Bar in the Village. Breslin had never met Bloomberg before, and got a kick out of the new mayor’s low-key style. “We had a couple of glasses of wine,” Breslin rasps. “What you see is what you get. Koch, Dinkins, Giuliani – they would all just grind on you. He’s easy on the nerves.”

What intrigues many of Bloomberg’s pals is how comfortable this neophyte public servant appears to be in the job. “I haven’t seen an uptick in self-importance,” says one friend. “He’s relaxed.” On a recent March Saturday, Bloomberg taped CNN’s Capitol Gang, spent the day at several firemen’s memorials, and then went out with Diana Taylor to a steak dinner at the Post House in the Lowell Hotel, organized by Capitol Gang panelist Margaret Carlson, a Time magazine columnist. Other guests included Al Hunt of the Wall Street Journal and his wife, CNN anchor Judy Woodruff, along with Foreign Affairs editor James Hoge and his wife, Kathy Lacey, a consultant. “We talked about Enron and Afghanistan and our kids,” says Lacey. “He can turn it off, which is a real gift.”

Says Carlson, a friend of many years, “I don’t feel any difference at all.” She pauses and adds, “Well, he did stop to talk to the doorman at the hotel, and he’s more likely to do that now than in his previous life.”

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The Hors D’Oeuvre Tactician