By Albert Samaha
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Whatever happens in next week's mayoral election, those who joined the Mike Bloomberg campaign are already big winnersmoneywise. The multibillionaire is funding his mayoral race out of his personal fortune, and his campaign has been a major score for a slew of political and policy gurus.
Normally, political campaigns are notoriously low-wage employers, with staffers taking reduced pay for the race's duration. The real payoff is supposed to be down the road, with either a job in the administration itself or access to newly installed officials. There may even be the old-fashioned satisfaction of having helped elect a worthy candidate.
But campaigns run by wealthy wannabe politicians like Bloomberg, New Jersey senator Jon Corzine, or New York's perennial and zany contender, Abe Hirschfeld, become ends in and of themselves. These amateur pols go shopping for high-end goods in the political supermarkets and inevitably wind up as a soft touch for canny professionals. And an examination of Bloomberg's filings with the Board of Elections (he refused to participate under the level-the-playing-field rules of the city's Campaign Finance Law) shows that the man who wants us to call him "Mike" is paying top dollar to his campaign staffers and consultants.
"People figured they were talking to a billionaire, so they asked for a lot," said political analyst Norman Adler, who stayed off the payrolls of both mayoral candidates. "Bloomberg was outside his own culture when he started hiring. It was like funny money to him; he didn't know the value of things."
Bloomberg's hired guns come from all over the political map, ranging from liberal to conservative, a reflection of the candidate himself, who was a Democrat until he decided to run for mayor as a Republican. But the consultants all share one tenet in their core political philosophies: They believe in a good payday.
On top of the heap is the Washington, D.C.-based firm of Squier Knapp Dunn Communications, which has produced $23.5 million worth of television, radio, and print ads for Bloomberg since May. Under standard industry practice, producers get up to 15 percent of the gross. On extra-large media "buys" like Bloomberg's, however, a negotiated price is not unusual. Bloomberg's press aides declined to answer questions, but knowledgeable sources estimated the firm's rate at 10 percent, which would mean earnings of more than $2.3 million.
The next largest share of Bloomberg loot is going to veteran consultant David Garth, who has received more than $720,000 since joining the campaign in February. Garth, who helped elect mayors Giuliani, Koch, and Lindsay and flirted briefly with the notion of directing Mark Green's campaign, started out charging Bloomberg $50,000 per month. That figure was already double the $25,000 he discussed with Green. But in July, as Bloomberg's campaign pace intensified, Garth's rate tripled to a whopping $150,000 per month.
Next up is William Cunningham, Bloomberg's tough-talking spokesman. Cunningham, the former chief of staff to ex-senator Pat Moynihan, has collected a cool $239,000 from Bloomberg in a mere nine months. Cunningham started on the campaign earlier this year at a modest $15,000 per month, records show. But, like Garth, he got a nice bump this summer that pushed his monthly rate to $48,000. Cunningham displayed his talent earlier this month when he vowed to "kneecap" Green if the Democrat ran negative ads on Bloomberg. Cunningham's deputy is former Giuliani press aide Ed Skyler, who joined the campaign in June and is pulling in $9000 each month.
According to those who know him, one of Bloomberg's principles of operation, in business as well as politics, is to always get lots of opinions. The strategy is evident in Bloomberg's polling operation. To date, the candidate has spent $4.5 million on the polling firm of Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates in Manhattan, the same firm that took the public pulse for polling maven Bill Clinton. Bloomberg has spent an additional $156,000 to get the insight of the Luntz Research Companies, a Republican firm in Arlington, Virginia. And that was after he spent an initial $60,000 last year on Zogby International, based in upstate Utica, another firm that also often represents Republicans.
The grab bag of public relations and political consultants working for Team Bloomberg is topped by Maureen Connelly, whose clients have ranged from Ed Koch to Puff Daddy to the doctors' union. Connelly was first aboard the Bloomberg gravy train in August 2000 and has been paid $118,000 so far, currently at the rate of $15,000 per month. Former Daily Newseditorial writer Jonathan Capehart, who shared in a Pulitzer prize for a barrage of critical pieces about the misadministration of the Apollo Theatre, was initially hired by Bloomberg to write a column for Bloomberg News' Web site. But Capehart, a gay African American who was a strong Giuliani admirer when writing for the News, was quickly recruited to the candidate's policy team. Capehart has been paid $80,000 since the beginning of April for his work.
Bloomberg also hired former Giuliani aide Vincent Lapadula as a campaign operative. Politics have been good to Lapadula, a close associate of Staten Island Borough President Guy Molinari. He started as a $35,000-a-year information assistant in the Giuliani administration in 1994 before climbing the ladder. Since April, Lapadula has made $86,400 from Bloomberg.