Barrett: More Bloomberg Revelations in Purnick’s Book


Consider this a memo to Bill Thompson: Read Joyce Purnick’s book, Mike Bloomberg: Money, Power, Politics. It’s in bookstores right now.

Purnick is a New York Times institution. Before she married its then editor-in-chief, Max Frankel, she was the paper’s City Hall bureau chief and “Metro Matters” columnist. She is evenhanded to a fault and concluded that Bloomberg could be “one of the most effective mayor’s in the city’s history.” So when Purnick slams the mayor, or even reports something about the mayor with negative connotations, it’s unimpeachable. Yet attack-adverse Thompson has yet to take advantage of a single opening Purnick’s book gives him, even Purnick’s revelations about Bloomberg’s cynical reversal on Barack Obama, probably the most popular politician among likely mayoral voters in the city today.

I reported last week that the Purnick chapter excerpted by contained remarkable quotes from the mayor and his top political aide, Kevin Sheekey, revealing their true feelings about Obama. In extolling his own readiness to be president to Purnick, Bloomberg assailed both Obama and John McCain in an interview shortly before he announced he wouldn’t run: “What the hell do they know about management and dealing with people? Nothing.” Kevin said that Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and Obama were the candidates, “I’d write the filing checks myself,” suggesting that he was so sure Bloomberg could beat those two ideologically polarizing figures that he’d pay the fees to get the mayor on various state ballots.

All I could do then was quote from the chapter Politico published because the rest of the book was embargoed until the pub date this week. But now it’s in stores and these were hardly the only references to Bloomberg’s disdain for Obama…

Purnick, who interviewed Bloomberg seven times for the book and talked extensively to literally everyone around him, said that the mayor “was not a big fan” of Obama’s. “Though neutral in public about the presidential contest,” says Purnick, “the mayor privately called Obama inexperienced at running things and too willing to make political compromises.”
When Obama “abandoned his commitment to run with only public subsidies and spending limits,” Bloomberg “criticized him for hypocrisy,” wrote Purnick. Bloomberg, of course, is running for mayor a third time in wholesale disregard of the city’s spending limits.

Purnick put these “private” blasts at Obama in a broader context, noting that Bloomberg “candidly and often cuttingly” critiques “the same public figures he treats mildly and neutrally in public settings” when talking to “trusted friends.” Adding that this may be how “confidential tidbits” about his views on Obama “have leaked out,” Purnick observes that “once Obama was in office and Bloomberg was in pursuit of support for New York,” as well as “support from black New Yorkers,” the mayor “could not praise him or meet with him often enough.”

As ready as the president appears to intervene in New York politics to convince Democrats like David Paterson and Steve Israel not to run (for governor or senator), he appears unlikely to endorse Thompson, the Democrat running against Republican/Independent candidate Bloomberg. It’s an odd White House approach–use your bully pulpit to block Democrats but not to back them. The revelations about how Bloomberg really feels about Obama could alter that dynamic.

There are other Purnick gems that could fit well in the Thompson playbook:
*In keeping with the Thompson theme that Bloomberg is out of touch with ordinary folks, Purnick reports that during one interview, “suddenly, with no explanation or context, he advised me: ‘You should have your own plane by the way, it’s a great luxury.'”

*”Reluctant to dismiss anyone or admit error,” Bloomberg “let weak commissioners stick around long after any other mayor would have dumped them,” says Purnick, who has covered six mayors. He is particularly resistant to firing commissioners if they were criticized in the press. “We joke that getting the Post to demand our resignation is the ultimate job protection program,” one adviser told Purnick. No better example of this exists than fire commissioner Nick Scoppetta, whose dismissal has been demanded in a half dozen Post editorials, especially after his role in the death of two firefighters at the Deutsche Bank building was laid out by District Attorney Robert Morgenthau and even Bloomberg’s Department of Investigations. Thompson has been strangely silent about Scoppetta and the bank debacle, even when he was endorsed last week by the firefighters union, whose president specifically cited the death of the firefighters in his attack on Bloomberg.

*”Throughout his life, he had a way of almost acquiring people,” Purnick concludes, “subjecting them to a kind of special Bloomberg test of loyalty and competence.” Purnick fills the book with examples of the power of Bloomberg’s money, and Thompson could certainly make the point that he doesn’t just use his own billions to buy support, he also uses public money. He “bowed too low to the powerful, politically important municipal labor unions,” Purnick writes, executing “generous union contracts” and “getting few notable cost savings.”

*As adverse as Timeswoman Purnick is to harsh assessment, even she called Bloomberg’s campaign to extend term limits “his detour to the darkside.”