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“I should challenge Big Bird to a cage match,” Richard “Bo” Dietl rasps from behind his desk in a cluttered corner office of his P.I. firm, Beau Dietl & Associates, on the fiftieth floor of One Penn Plaza, rolling his eyes at my mention of New York mayor Bill de Blasio’s name. “Just him and me in a fucking cage match, and whoever walks out gets to be mayor of New York City.”
Bo Dietl, New York police detective turned private eye, Roger Ailes’s personal investigative enforcer, erstwhile Fox media personality, and occasional actor, is kidding. The wrong kind of kidding that’s the charming domain of vigilante cops, road warriors, fictional wiseguys — and, now, real-life political candidates.
Dietl cuts an imposing figure behind his desk, his stocky build cloaked in an oxford-cloth blue shirt with an Eighties-style white banker’s collar and suspenders. Stacks of papers and piles of memorabilia from his long career cover almost every inch of his relatively modest workspace. Photos of him with celebrities and politicos dot the back wall — shaking hands with Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, hanging with Ray Liotta on the set of Goodfellas, beaming in a group shot with Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago, before it was the Winter White House. When he stands up, you see the pistol hanging from Dietl’s hip.
Since he announced his intent to tango with Big Bird, Dietl has pulled from the usual tabloid playbook, assailing the corruption in City Hall and the droves of homeless New Yorkers who dot the streets of Manhattan. But his biggest gripe that really gets him going is one that will strike observers of the 2016 presidential race as unnervingly familiar: de Blasio’s low energy. “We have a mayor that has divided this city up, the homeless situation has increased 17 percent, and he has no answers,” Dietl groans. “How can he have answers when he gets himself going at eleven o’clock in the morning?!” He could easily be Trump, attacking Hillary Clinton for ducking out of speeches to go home and sleep.
Dietl sells himself as a tough guy — his 1988 memoir is literally titled One Tough Cop — and a workhorse, so de Blasio’s late mornings drive him crazy. “He’s not a personable guy,” Dietl asserts, jabbing a finger into the top of his desk. “He’s not a person you want to invite over to have a couple of beers with and watch the football game.” (Dietl claims he rises at six to read “the dirtbag [New York] Post, the dirtbag [Daily] News, and the Times,” as well as the Daily Beast “even though they’re communist.”) “He doesn’t have no energy. God knows I’m at least ten years older than him — the man has no energy. Life’s all about energy.”
He pauses. “Fuck it, I’ll go to the floor right now and do 75 push-ups.”
Dietl rises. It’s been decades since he was in his physical prime, laboring away as an ironworker (a photo on his wall captures a jacked, shirtless Dietl as a construction worker) before running down murderers and gang members as a cop. Still, he’s keeping his body fine-tuned, “like a machine.” His executive assistant, Amanda Porteus, brings him some sort of fruity supplemental drink of CoQ10 and omega-3 as Dietl shows off his joint medicine, full of “cajogians and magabovians and all that shit.” His mouth is an open sewer, overflowing.
Dietl removes his watch, closes his office door, and drops to the graying carpet. Palms spread, legs together, the mayoral hopeful lifts his body from the floor. The office is silent: no counting, no grunting, barely any breathing from Dietl. In less than a minute he’s done, a light sheen of sweat matting the thin layer of white stubble on his chin.
“Sixty-five years old, 65 push-ups,” he smiles, now breathing heavily.
He’d said it would be 75. But it’s close.
Dietl leads what could be a national wave of candidates who bring a combination of media visibility and antiestablishment fervor in dark-horse bids for political leadership. In Michigan, Republicans reportedly want Kid Rock to challenge Debbie Stabenow for her Senate seat in 2018. Shiva Ayyadurai, an engineer best known for suing Gawker and sharing a lawyer with Melania Trump, is planning a Senate run against Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts. The 2010 midterm elections brought the Tea Party class to power; now the Trump class is looking for its moment.
If you need someone to play the law-and-order outsider pol, Dietl fits the part. After sixteen years as a New York City cop, he founded his investigative firm in 1985 and gradually crafted a persona as a larger-than-life local media figure. One Tough Cop became a 1998 action crime film by the same name starring Stephen Baldwin as a semi-fictionalized Dietl. He appeared in Bad Lieutenant and Carlito’s Way and as himself in The Wolf of Wall Street, in a scene in which he advises Leonardo DiCaprio’s titular wolf, Jordan Belfort, before Belfort falls into a Quaalude stupor. Last year, he bashed in the head of Andrew Dice Clay on HBO’s Vinyl. Recently, he’s had a brief tenure as a Fox News contributor — he whipped up a sausage and porcini mushroom fusilli on Fox & Friends — and a stint as an Arby’s pitchman.
While he has palled around with governors George Pataki and David Paterson and made himself a regular in Republican circles, Dietl’s only political experience is a 1986 drubbing in a race to fill a Queens congressional seat. This past fall, Dietl tried to switch his party registration from Republican to Democrat to run in the primary against de Blasio; a clerical error (he checked boxes for both Democrat and Independent when he filed with the Board of Elections in September) will instead force him to run as an Independent. Conjuring shades of Trump’s jeremiads against a rigged system, Dietl maintains this was somehow the mayor’s doing. “De Blasio,” he says, “just didn’t want to face me in the primary.”
In another world, one in which the national election polls turned out to be right, all of this would put Dietl clearly in the category of B-list celebrity and ensure he kept his regular table at East Harlem hotspot Rao’s.
But then, things have changed a lot. A former TV personality has ascended to the presidency, with a law-and-order message and dark claims of rising crime and national malaise. The comparison is obvious, and Dietl relishes it. “I was at his wedding,” he says of Trump, though he won’t specify which one. “I was at his son’s wedding. I was one of the original founding members of Mar-a-Lago.” A wistful pause: “You know, I really miss playing golf with him.”
Like Trump, Dietl grew up in Queens, though in plain-middle-class Ozone Park. Trump attended Wharton; Dietl’s grades weren’t good enough for a scholarship to study physical education at Springfield College in Massachusetts (“I didn’t want to be a cop, I wanted to be a gym teacher”), and his parents couldn’t afford tuition. After a few years as a concrete worker in Manhattan, he enrolled at the police academy.
In Trump’s attacks on the status quo, Dietl sees a kinship. “When you watch him in Ohio and Indiana, I love what I saw,” he says of Trump’s post-election victory tour. “He knows how to make the people feel like he’s listening to them. I want the same kind of effect with my people in New York City. He’s speaking to all citizens, and I want to speak to all New Yorkers: black, Hispanic, Asian, Jew. If you want to say I’m like Donald Trump in that respect, then that’s a compliment. I want to make New York City people feel the way a lot of Americans feel about Donald, a lot of the people who are having hardships. He’s listening, you know?”
Dietl has adopted Trump’s bullying approach in the culture wars. On bathrooms, he’s on the side of old-fashioned prejudice: “If it ain’t cut off, you don’t go in.” Like Trump, Dietl is listening to his prospective constituents. And the big subject on which they aren’t being heard, he thinks, is crime.
Violent crime in New York, like national crime rates, has fallen to historical lows in recent years. The number of major felony offenses fell nearly 43 percent between 2000 and 2015; the murder rate alone declined 48 percent. Dietl distrusts the data. “I’d like to question some of these statistics with the lowering of crime,” he says. “I know what they do with these statistics.” He says crime data gets reclassified to lower the rates of violent offenses. In any case, whatever the data might show, it’s secondary to the story he tells of liberalism letting crime run amok. Much like Trump, Dietl accuses his opponents of feeding — even wanting — a crime wave. De Blasio, he says, “wants to hand the city to the criminal element.”
It’s a narrative that is designed to play to voters in places like Howard Beach, Borough Park, Midwood, and Sheepshead Bay, neighborhoods that narrowly rebuked de Blasio in 2013 and tilted toward Trump in 2016. There, the specter of the mugger around the corner never died. Protests against police violence are the early ripples of a tide of lawlessness. And the liberal establishment can’t face it, because they won’t tell it like it is.
Lawlessness is indeed something Dietl has always known. As a kid growing up in Mob-entwined Ozone Park, Dietl’s childhood friends included John Gotti and Joe Scopo. Somewhere along the line in the old neighborhood, Richard Dietl turned into Bo. “I knew ’em all,” he says of the future organized-crime fixtures. “[Anthony] ‘Fat Tony’ Salerno, he believed in me.”
A 2005 Village Voice story by Tom Robbins explored his chummy luncheons with the wiseguy regulars at mobster hangout Rao’s, where Dietl earned his own table by 1977 — “the big table toward the front,” Dietl told Eater when Rao’s patriarch Frank Pellegrino Sr. died earlier this month. Breaking bread with mobsters may or may not be an electoral disadvantage, depending on the mood of the electorate and the tabloids.
If, however, there is a single godfather whose spirit hovers over the Dietl campaign, it’s Roger Ailes, Fox’s long-serving and now displaced news chief.
Dietl was known throughout Fox as “a friend of Roger” and given extra leeway throughout the network studios, according to sources. “I recall Dietl pitching a lot of stories himself, thirsty to get on air, which is not particularly unusual,” a former producer for Bill O’Reilly told the Voice. “What was unusual is that his requests were always treated more seriously than other contributors’….Bill [O’Reilly] would always hear out the pitches and respectfully decline them, and the thing about Bill is that he’s not a schmoozer.”
Dietl was fired from his on-air job at Fox a month after Ailes left. While he still talks to Ailes, Dietl denies that the two were particularly close. “If Roger was such a good friend,” Dietl asks, rhetorically, “why didn’t he give me more business? I tried to get the security contracts for the Fox building. That’s a million a year!”
Many of those who have tangled with Fox News believe that they were followed by investigators and assume Dietl’s company was responsible. Gabriel Sherman reported in New York magazine that Ailes created a “black room” operation devoted to surveilling and undermining his enemies, including women who had charged him with sexual harassment. Sherman was told by a source that he himself was tailed by Dietl’s investigators while he was writing his book about Ailes. (Ailes has previously denied many of Sherman’s allegations. He did not respond to requests for an interview made to his lawyer.)
Two sources told the Voice that in 2013 Ailes sicced Dietl on former “Fox News Mole” Joe Muto, who briefly regaled Gawker readers with the inner workings of the network. Other reporters who have written about Fox may themselves have been targets of surveillance. John Cook, then a writer and editor at Gawker, says that while working on the Muto story he saw “a lot of black SUVs” outside his Elizabeth Street office, a presence that didn’t really bother him until he heard a similar complaint from New York Times media reporter David Carr.
“When I talked to David Carr about this before he died [of cancer, in 2015], he said that he was working on a profile of Ailes for a very long time, and during the reporting process he saw black SUVs following him around,” Cook told the Voice. “He was concerned he was under surveillance. He made the decision not to go to his editors with it at the Times because it would’ve fucked up the story, but he was convinced he was surveilled.”
Dietl says there was never a “black room” at Fox and that Sherman’s informants were “going by just the reputation.” Dietl confirmed to the Voice that he was engaged in the case of Andrea Mackris, who sued O’Reilly for sexual harassment in 2004, but vehemently denied being assigned to target the other employees. Dietl also vigorously denies surveilling Muto, Cook, Carr, or any other reporters. “If I did it,” he says, “it’s part of my business. I wouldn’t deny it.”
Whatever the Ailes-Dietl personal relationship may have been, Dietl’s path to Gracie Mansion is one that hews closely to the map Ailes laid out for Republicans from Nixon on, in election after election. Though Dietl often says that he’s got Italian, German, French, Middle Eastern, African, and Jewish blood running through his veins, “as well as some Asian, too…if anyone’s a mosaic of this city, it’s me” — the electoral gantlet for his wiseguy charisma is blindingly white. It runs through Forest Hills, Howard Beach, Midwood, Bensonhurst, and on to the Holy Land of Staten Island.
Make no mistake: A grand white coalition is no easy thing. It might look a little like 1989, when Rudy Giuliani got 70 percent of the white vote — and still lost to David Dinkins. But that path seems more plausible in the post-Trump world of racial rancor and political nostalgia than it has been in many years. De Blasio only clinched the nomination in a come-from-behind victory built on a shaky multicultural coalition. Hamstrung by dismal approval ratings, de Blasio might see the same fate as Hillary Clinton, an easy target for an antiestablishment attack.
Dietl claims he’s not interested in courting the traditional power brokers. “I don’t want the votes of union or party heads or the corrupt establishment players,” he says. He is, however, pushing for backing from the city’s mostly white construction workers: Shortly after a campaign kickoff event in December, he appeared alongside Gary LaBarbera, president of the 100,000-member-strong Building and Construction Trades Council, on the steps of City Hall at a candlelight vigil for the 29 laborers who died in 2015 and 2016; 26 were non-union and lacking workplace protections. Dietl, the former construction worker, was particularly taken by the gathering. “When I first started in the 1960s, there was no OSHA,” he muttered to himself. “Fucking Big Bird.”
If that sounds Trumpian — just get rid of the regulators and everything will be back to the way it was — it should. Dietl was playing those notes long before Donald Trump’s own campaign. Appearing on Don Imus’s Fox Business News show in 2014, he was yelling about how Obama had ruined the country and “there’s no nationalism, there’s no Americanism.” It just took Trump to bring that kind of rant to the White House. Now Dietl is trying to offer up the New York City edition, a #MAGA campaign with local color.
Take the crime-fighting plan Dietl trots out regularly that always gets a chuckle: Bring back the nightstick. “Better the perp ends up in a cast than a coffin,” Dietl likes to say. Nominally, the idea is that cops will be less inclined to use their guns. But really it has nothing to do with policy. Really it’s about going back to a time when cops carried batons and fathers laid down the law.
It’s part of a cultural battle between the forces of order and an unruly rabble. Black Lives Matter, the inauguration protests — for Dietl it’s all part of the same malaise supported by international liberals. “When I was in Washington for the inauguration,” Dietl says, “I saw the same ones that were in Occupy Wall Street. These were the same little troublemakers.”
The national election proved there’s a market for this nostalgia. The question is how it plays in New York. It’s hard to quantify just what Dietl’s chances at the mayoralty might be. They are surely higher than they would have been before “Make America Great Again,” before Ailes rewrote the rules of television news and Steve Bannon the rules of national politics. City power brokers still say (correctly) that Dietl most likely won’t succeed. But they sound a little bit like they are trying to reassure themselves.
“I see Bo from time to time, and I don’t think he’ll succeed, and not simply because I support de Blasio,” says former mayor Dinkins. “He’s a nice guy, lots of fun, but he won’t succeed. De Blasio will get far more votes.”
A pause. “It’s not in my interest to knock or say unkind things about Bo Dietl.”