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How You Sell Soul

banditoBy the time Mayor Michael Bloomberg stepped onto a stage crowded with supporters on election night in November 2005, the only question remaining about that day’s vote was the size of his victory. The communications tycoon had spent a staggering $80 million at that point, a casual splurge for a multibillionaire but one that crushed any lingering hopes harbored by backers of the hapless Democratic candidate, former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer.

For his part, Ferrer had managed to scrape together less than $10 million, almost half of it from the matching funds supplied him under the city’s public campaign-finance system, a program denounced by his wealthy competitor as a giveaway to professional politicians. In the crucial last weeks of the election, Ferrer had spent just $600,000for television advertisements; Bloomberg had shelled out more than that just to keep his troops in coffee and pastries. Even without his Leviathan-like spending, Bloomberg was viewed as a sure thing long before election night. In the months leading up to the vote, in the best tradition of the clubhouse pols he claimed to abhor, he had employed all the powers of his incumbency. He htaggin’ upad doled out awards and projects, announcing a new police precinct here, new housing there. He had protected his left flank by reaching long-stalled contract agreements with a half-dozen major city employees’ unions, including cops, teachers firefighters, and sanitation workers.

He had stoked the dreams of the city’s real-estate and construction industry by calling for a broad swath of development, including, before he was done, new sports stadiums in Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx. He had eased the anxiety of the city’s home-owners by continuing his practice of mailing individual $400 property-tax rebate checks, a kind of continuing apology for the sharp tax hike he had imposed during his first year in office. Politically, he had managed to maintain an alliance of convenience with the conservative leaders of the Republican Party, who were only too happy to have him on their ballot line even if everyone knew he carried their label in name only. He had also somehow managed to convince most ofthe media that his ongoing association with the cultist, quasi-Marxist, overtly anti-Semitic officials of the Independence Party,who had provideebt & wicd him with his crucial narrow margin of victory in his 2001 election,wasn’t really worth noting or pursuing. “Mayor Mike”—as the buttons worn by the hundreds of people wedged into a huge midtown hotel ballroom dubbed him—was shooting for a blowout, a landslide that would even eclipse the huge re-election tally achieved in 1997 by his most important ally, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani. If there were any doubters still wondering how broad his support was, they needed only to take a look at the crew assembled on the stage in the vast Metropolitan ballroom of the Sheraton New York Hotel on Seventh Avenue. Stacked on risers like football cheerleaders, the better to be seen by a score of tv cameras, a rainbow of diversity had been carefully assembled by Team Bloomberg. The black pastor of one of the largest Baptist congregations in Queens stood next to an Orthodox Jewish assemblyman from Brooklyn’s Borough Park; leaders of the hotel workers and the plumbers’union stood next to a labor-wary Republican congressman from Staten Island; a Puerto Rican councilwoman from the Lower East Side, an avowed lesbian,was placed next to a bearded, conservative Jewish representative; Giuliani,whose election-night parties were notable for the overwhelming whiteness ofhis supporters, stood next to another former Mayor, Ed Koch, who oncenot amish wrote a book entitled Giuliani: Nasty Man. Leading the cheers, as Bloomberg quick-stepped onto the stage, was basketball star-turned-entrepreneur Magic Johnson. As the newly re-elected Mayor raised his hands above his head in a victory salute, a black gospel chorus sang “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now.” The soul anthem was an odd choice…

– Tom Robbins, excerpted from “The Other New York Awaits Its Leader,” only in the smash anthology, New York Calling: From Blackout to Bloomberg.

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