The Bloomberg Blowout That Wasn't

History's richest campaign wins by a nose

Of course, both Paterson and Obama were encouraged to stay out of it by the parade of Democratic stalwarts—unions, politicians, consultants—who backed the candidate of the Republican and Independence parties. All cited the mayor's inevitable victory as their excuse. "I have children to put through college," said a consultant who took the Bloomberg short money after feeding off Democrats for 30 years.

Another stumbling block came from the city's Campaign Finance Board, whose zealous bureaucrats rigidly enforce rules about so-called "coordinated" expenditures by a candidate. Bloomberg, of course, thumbs his nose at the public campaign finance system and spends his fortune any way he wants. Thompson supporters had to constantly look over their shoulders. "We wouldn't even call campaign headquarters," said Scott Sommer, a leader of United Auto Workers Local 2110 (the Voice's union). "We'd look at the public website to see what events were planned."

One of those who never bought the Bloomberg Blowout theory was Arthur Cheliotes, the gentle, goateed leader of a city employees union, Communication Workers Local 1180. Cheliotes often goes his own way. Last year, as a procession of labor officials eager for City Hall favors testified in support of the mayor's term-limits coup, Cheliotes alone took the mic to denounce it.

This year, his members conducted a telephone survey of voters in districts where term-limit support was high. "We connected with 25,000 people. Fifty percent of them said they were voting for Thompson; 2 percent said they were for the mayor. Our numbers showed a close race."

With his executive board's support, Cheliotes independently mounted a series of caustic TV ads. Crafted by adviser Scott Levenson, they lampooned the plutocrat mayor and his pals. One featured a cocktail party of haughty Bloomberg backers; another portrayed an imaginary New York in 2021—with Mayor Mike still in charge. The humor was heavy-handed, but the points hit home. The local, with all of 10,000 members, spent $500,000 to put them up. "They were happy to do it," said Cheliotes. "I'm incredibly proud of them."

How did his labor union colleagues respond to his mini-campaign? "I got slaps on the back. They said, 'Hey, that's a real ballsy move, Cheliotes.' I said, 'Well, I wish a few others were out there with me.' "

trobbins@villagevoice.com

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