Humanizing Mike


Ed Koch took a camel ride in Egypt, donned a ranger hat to conduct a Central Park orchestra, and invented the talk-directly-to-the-camera sound bite, sassily bypassing reporters. Mario Cuomo donned sweaty basketball shorts, ridiculed his own baggy eyes, and challenged the church on choice. Rudy Giuliani went to Yankee games and early-morning sewer-pipe breaks with his mistress/press secretary. John Lindsay walked Harlem in shirtsleeves; Fiorello LaGuardia read the comics over the radio; Louie Lefkowitz and Nelson Rockefeller shared knishes.

Anthony Weiner, the congressman from Brooklyn who’s the first to put himself out there as a possible Bloomberg opponent in 2005, says he won’t criticize the mayor on substance since the city has such serious problems. All Weiner wants to talk about is the mayor’s style. He’s remote, said Weiner the same week that Bloomberg struck a rare street pose and was photographed cooking wieners. I might run against him, Weiner suggests, because he has a weak handshake.

Early in his first year, Bloomberg blew off reporters, refusing to tell them when he hightailed it off to his Bermuda mansion for the weekend. But it’s not just Mayor Mike’s weekends that are top-secret. It’s Mayor Mike himself. He’s lost in his own Bermuda Triangle.

Koch sounded a populist note.

(photo: Fred W. McDarrah)

With the city in a state of collapse, Mike does an elaborate phony wedding with Barbara Walters. He buys a $700 bike to beat a transit strike. He tells people that if they’re upset about the potholes on city streets, they should take the subway like he does. In fact, the common-touch mayor now rides the subways so often that the press has decided it isn’t news. But, instead of championing his fellow straphangers when the Pataki fare hike comes, Bloomberg’s MTA appointees vote for it.

No Saturday Night Live or Letterman. No hot town hall or radio show exchanges with real citizens. No vitriol with presidents or governors. No public display with the daughters, friendly ex-wife, or current girlfriend. Few weekend walks through neighborhoods. He goes to Flatbush last week for breakfast with 150 Caribbeans, but the prime picture that appears the next day is of his afternoon meeting with stuffy Margaret Thatcher. He muffs Joe Torre’s name and joins the campaign to put Pete Seeger in the Hall of Fame, disguised as Pete Rose.

The polls have him bottoming out even though people celebrate his integrity, intelligence, and work habits. They don’t even want to have dinner with him. Strangely enough, he has no need to dominate dinner conversations as Koch did, preferring to dine with others, like he governs, quietly at the end of the table, preferring peanut butter to pâté and diners to deluxe restaurants.

Cuomo took to the streets.

(photo: Fred W. McDarrah)

When Bloomberg ran for mayor, Dave Garth, his media whiz, had him in the streets and on park benches in his commercials, wearing a tie in only one ad, right after 9-11. Now he’s always got a tie on, and is usually pictured at City Hall, often with his arms folded guardedly in front of his chest.

“He has a bright line in his head between government and politics,” says Richard Bryers, a Garth associate. “He wants to keep the politics out of government.” If he doesn’t let us see more of his human side, Mayor Mike might be out of both.