Last year I had a chance to see New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg up close at the Huffington Post’s "Game Changers" event. I was standing right behind the guy when he was introduced by Nora Ephron, and watched as the would-be third party powerhouse wowed the liberal crowd with one zinger after another.
He started off with a crack about Ephron, saying he had agreed to say something nice about her book, which he blithely noted he hadn’t read. Still, he knew the title, "I Remember Nothing," which he said he'd "heard is also the title of a new book by Charlie Sheen." (He pronounced Sheen like "Shine").
From there he cracked that he was honored to be a "Game Changer," although he was only the last-minute replacement for Snooki. (Zing!) Then he went into a riff about Halloween.
"Does everyone have their costume?" he asked. (This is the old "Did you hear this? Have you heard about this?" Jimmy-Vulmer-style standup routine). "I thought about going in a... dress," he began. "But then I decided I would just go as the fiscally-conservative, pro-choice, anti-smoking, anti-trans-fat Jewish billionaire mayor of the World’s Greatest City."
The crowd roared. Bloomberg smiled, looked up, extended his hands, and said, "Maybe that’s just too much of a stretch, I don’t know."
Man, I thought. This guy is really sure of himself. If there is such a thing as infinite self-satisfaction, he was definitely approaching it that night.
And it wasn’t hard to see why. Bloomberg’s great triumph as a politician has been the way he’s been able to win over exactly the sort of crowd that was gathering at the HuffPost event that night. He is a billionaire Wall Street creature with an extreme deregulatory bent who has quietly advanced some nastily regressive police policies (most notably the notorious "stop-and-frisk" practice) but has won over upper-middle-class liberals with his stances on choice and gay marriage and other social issues.
Bloomberg’s main attraction as a politician has been his ability to stick closely to a holy trinity of basic PR principles: bang heavily on black crime, embrace social issues dear to white progressives, and in the remaining working hours give your pals on Wall Street (who can raise any money you need, if you somehow run out of your own) whatever they want.
He understands that as long as you keep muggers and pimps out of the prime shopping areas in the Upper West Side, and make sure to sound the right notes on abortion, stem-cell research, global warming, and the like, you can believably play the role of the wisecracking, good-guy-billionaire Belle of the Ball for the same crowd that twenty years ago would have been feting Ed Koch.