Weiner, “Kabuki” and me

The first time I ever met Anthony Weiner was the Spring of 2005, when I was a sophomore at NYU and he was running for mayor. At that time, he was in fourth place, unknown citywide and running behind former Bronx BP Freddy Ferrer and two candidates who are already almost completely forgotten, City Council Speaker Gifford Miller and Manhattan BP Virginia Fields.

Weiner was going around the city, giving brief policy addresses that almost no press showed up to. That day he was at NYU Law to talk about the city’s budget process. I happened to ride the elevator beforehand with him and his then-communications director, Anson Kaye, which was immensely exciting for my 19-year-old political nerd self.

As the doors close, Weiner turns to me, without introducing himself. “Excuse me, I have a question for you,” he said. “If I were to use the phrase ‘like a Kabuki dance,’ would you know what I was talking about?”

"Sure!" I said, eager to show off. "With the masks and the…" and I made some whirling hand motions.

"See, Anson!" Weiner yells. "I told you they’d get it!"

Weiner goes in to do his presentation, and there’s maybe thirty people there. He opens with this: “Every year, the budget process between the city council and the mayor is like a Kabuki dance.” And he looks right at me. For the next seven years—until well after his resignation because of the sexting scandal—I was a big, big Weiner fan. I heard him use the Kabuki theatre line two other times. And what do we find in his tendentious piece in today’s Daily News?

"Although this is all Kabuki theatre, this quadrennial mating dance between the gubernatorial candidates and apparatchiks of the Independence Party, the WFP and the Conservatives, is treated as serious business."

Anthony Weiner might overuse this line, though it’s an occupational hazard of politicians to repeat themselves. But he’s also the most naturally gifted New York politician of his generation. He’s not a deep thinker, he’s just very good at politics. One thing he understood—the reason I loved him for so many years—is that you don’t talk down to the voters. My campaign slogan is “Bringing the Party back to Brooklyn,” and my recent consultants were quite insistent that it should instead be “BRINGING THE (democratic) PARTY BACK TO BKLYN.”

I’m just under a week into using my campaign brochure, and so far everyone seems to be getting my slogan just fine the way it is. (Like Kabuki theatre, there’s not that much to get!) As my friend said about the other slogan, “If you handed me that, you’re in effect saying you think I’m a complete idiot.”

Most of the time I have a disagreement with someone else who works in politics about strategy, it comes down to them saying something like, “You’re not wrong, but if you do this it could be misinterpreted.” I think the public is smart enough to figure me out.

I’m very comfortable staking my political career on the notion that voters are not the complete idiots many politicians treat them as. I pledge to run a bullshit-free campaign. Please call me on it if I slip.

Who says Bill O’Reilly is out of touch with today’s youth?

Presented without comment, Bill O’Reilly to Valerie Jarrett on his show:

"[Y]ou’re going to have to get people like Jay Z, like Kanye West, all of these gangsta rappers, to knock it off. … Listen to me. Listen to me. You got to get where they live, all right? They had idolized these guys with the hats on backwards … and the terrible rock — rap lyrics and the drugs and all of that. You got to get these guys. And I think President Obama can do it."

via Playbook

About That Observer Piece on Attorney General Schneiderman

Let’s start with some disclosures, since the article I’ll be discussing is all about conflicts. I’m a really big fan of the Observer’s regular political team, and not just because they write about me. They had nothing to do with this story, which was written by a guy named Michael Craig, who is a friend of Observer editor Ken Kurson and I’m pretty sure lives in Arizona. I’m also a founding member of New Kings Democrats, which endorsed Schneiderman early in his ultimately successful primary.

That the piece is a hit piece is by now obvious, both from Trump’s tweet and Andrew Kaczysnki’s subsequent interview with the reporter originally assigned to it. For God’s sake, the (somewhat amusing) illustration even makes fun of the Attorney General’s thick eyelashes, apparently the result of a side effect of his glaucoma medication. (The Observer is owned by Trump’s son-in-law.) But a hit piece can still raise valid points. If Eric Schneiderman is trying to raise money from those his office is investigating, or is discussing those investigations with their targets, he needs to stop.

Nevertheless, the article makes a series of shoddy errors:

It details a litany of attempts by Schneiderman’s re-election campaign to raise money from the Trump family and its associates. But it fails to note that every one of these interactions occurred before the unveiling of the Attorney General’s lawsuit against Trump University.

It attacks Schneiderman for maintaining what it calls “a questionable nine-figure slush fund.” This is the $613 million securities litigation settlement the A.G.’s office received from JP Morgan Chase. It quotes criticism of this fund not just from an unnamed Cuomo official (who would like all—not just half—the money to go into the state’s general fund) but also the president of nonpartisan fiscal watchdog Citizens Budget Commission, who says “Funds paid in settlement of litigation with the state, unless intended to compensate for specific losses, should be used as determined through the normal budget and appropriation process.”

But the settlement was supposed to compensate specific losses, and was intended to be used to set up a revolving fund that could help prevent “avoidable foreclosures for thousands of struggling homeowners,” in the words of the New York Times. Budget wonks call this sort of settlement a “one-shot,” a source of revenue that exists for only one year. From a policy perspective, it’s way better to use this revenue for a specific, one-time expense—like a fund to help clear underwater mortgages, a problem this state has really not addressed—than to let it disappear into the maw of Albany budgeting, where its use will just create another budget hole next year.

The piece also includes this fascinating perspective from a “source with inside knowledge of all three [Spitzer, Cuomo, Schneiderman] administrations”:

There was animosity between Eliot Spitzer and Andrew Cuomo that began when Andrew was the H.U.D. secretary, and they are really from different worlds and also different from Eric. Eric can be a little snarky, but he is not a guy who comes to the party with very sharp elbows all the time; Eliot is. And Andrew is in many ways the type of guy who drives Eliot crazy. Eliot likes to pretend he’s real tough. He’ll talk to you about his high school football days at Horace Mann. But Andrew authentically is a tough guy. He’s a big beefy guy with huge hands who played football and tinkers with cars and rides a Harley. He doesn’t play this shit up, it’s all true. And Eliot is the guy who looks at Andrew and just fucking hates him and it’s palpable. So when Andrew became A.G., he basically thought, Eliot’s going to be governor for at least eight years and run the show. So Andrew just tried to put together a high-quality group of lawyers and run the office as well as Eliot did and just stay out of Eliot’s way. If Eliot wanted to talk about housing, Andrew would talk about student loans. And despite the bigness of both personalities and shared animosity, things between Andrew and Eliot were actually pretty smooth until TrooperGate. That reflected a level of sophistication that Eric’s people just don’t have. As A.G., Andrew realized that the governor has the capacity to bigfoot you—he’s the governor. Eric doesn’t get that.

Cool stuff, but this quote obviously, obviously comes from someone close to Cuomo—who as we’ve just seen has his own axe to grind with the Schneid—and should have been noted as such. And that smooth relationship pre-TrooperGate that Cuomo and Spitzer apparently enjoyed couldn’t have lasted very long, seeing as TrooperGate started in the seventh month of Spitzer’s administration. I think we all know whether Michael Craig and the Observer were interested in pointing this out.

UPDATE: Almost forgot! The piece includes this Trump-sourced nugget: “Regarding President Barack Obama, Mr. Trump says that Mr. Schneiderman said, ‘He’s the most overrated human being there is. Wouldn’t be president if he weren’t black.’” Now who does that sound more like, Schneiderman or Trump?

Christmas in Bronxville, with the tabloids

Did you have a nice Christmas? Did you see your family? Possibly you met a family member’s significant other for the first time. Possibly you brought your own partner home to introduce to your parents. Possibly you were yourself brought into a strange home.  Luckily for you, that awkward situation was not compounded by a gang of paparazzi and tabloid reporters ambushing you as you walked in that door, then waiting around to shout questions at you as you finally leave.

What did you wear yesterday, with your family? The Daily News's Barry Paddock and Bill Hutchinson (with Adam Edelman)—they gave up their Christmas for this noble service of truth-gathering, so we might as well name them—observed in the fourth through sixth sentences of their piece on Eliot Spitzer visiting the home of his new girlfriend Lis Smith’s parents that Smith ”wore a tight two-tone little cocktail dress that came to mid-thigh and showed off the goosebumps on her bare shoulders in the frosty weather. Wearing black stilettos, she stood almost as tall as the 6-foot Spitzer, who was dressed in casual attire — a navy pullover sweater with the sleeves rolled up, a pair of tan trousers and black loafers. He held a pair of reading glasses in his left hand.”

Joe Marino and Enid Alvarez were on hand to snap photographs of Smith’s dress and her parents house. Richard Harbus even got one of her mother.

Meanwhile, over at the Post, Reuven Fenton, Beth DeFalco, and Salim Algar join photog Robert Kalfus in using their Christmas even more efficiently. They’re describing the outfits by the third sentence: 

Smith emerged in shiny black stilettos and a form-fitting, sleeveless black-and-tan mini dress more suitable for an 80-degree day than Wednesday’s nippy 24. Spitzer, who resigned in 2008 amid a prostitution scandal, was bundled up in a black overcoat and multicolored scarf.

I’m going to take this moment to note that it’s been a week since the Daily News even bothered to post an AP article on the civil war in the Central African Republic, and that’s only because UN Ambassador Samantha Power visited there in a desperate attempt to draw the eyes of the world. It’s not even clear that News ran this article in the print edition. I rather expect they didn’t. And you sure as hell don’t want to know what the Post's writing about semi-religious civil war in Africa looks like.

It may seem mean-spirited to call out individual tabloid journalists by name amidst this feculent lowland of reporting. They probably didn’t suggest this story, or possibly even volunteer, and perhaps they felt ashamed of covering it. It’s not really their fault they work for editors who assign them bilge, who would laugh at the notion of trying to appeal to the better angels of their readers’ nature. But I can’t imagine this is why anyone became a journalist in the first place.

Let me pause here to note that Lis Smith and even Eliot Spitzer are not reality stars. She is a communications operative, a staffer. I can say with near certainty that he will never run for office again. There is no evidence that they were dating when she worked for his campaign. Think what you wish about Spitzer: you’d be hard-pressed to argue that this reporting does anything to encourage those with good morals—whatever you choose to think those are—from entering public service or even working on a campaign. And we do have a shortage of regular, genuine people in the halls of power.

Also in today’s issue of the News, Mike Lupica criticizes the de Blasio camp for “orchestrating” his nineteen-year-old daughter’s admission of what are serious health issues that she is bravely dealing with.

Why ever would the de Blasios feel the need to take pains while releasing personal details to this cuddly press corps?

UPDATE: Danielle Tcholakian of Metro NY (soon to be DNAinfo) correctly points out that I should credit the New York press corps for holding back reporting on Chiara’s issues. They deserve to be lauded for that, and I hope that as they continue to exercise this sensitivity, it will grow stronger.

On Being Quoted in the New York Post

Last week a friend who works for the Post gchatted me asking my height. “Doing a story on short guys?” I replied. The result was this piece

Here’s the portion of the gchat conversation from which my main quotation is drawn:

well, it’s just a fact of life that most women taller than me aren’t willing to date me
but, like, i wouldn’t really call that discrimination. i mean, people are allowed to pick who they date, you know?
god knows most shorter women aren’t ultimately interested in me either, though normally for more complex reasons

A little more nuanced, right? Any media outlet is going to cut down a soundbite and reduce its complexity, but you have to know going in with the Post that whatever you say will be shaded and massaged to within an inch of its life.

So why did I agree to participate in such a silly exercise, for a paper I more or less despise? (Especially since my participation is becoming a troubling pattern.) Clearly I derive unhealthy pleasure from seeing my name in the paper, even under vaguely embarrassing circumstances. I have more in common with reality stars than I care to admit.

Year-Old Transcripts of Lhota and de Blasio

A little over a year ago, when I was a party reporter, I interviewed a bunch of people at the NY1 25th anniversary party. Here are my transcripts of my brief conversations with de Blasio and Lhota (I’m aware I ask dumb questions):

Q&A with Bill de Blasio:

Nick: Do you know when you’ll be making an announcement about next year?

Bill de Blasio: I’ve said a lot of times we’ve got to focus on this year’s election first. Obviously, I’m trying to do everything I can to help Democrats in 2012. Then, after that, we’ll have announcements about the future.

Nick: How do you feel Obama did in the debate last week?

BdB: Look, it’s been litigated quite well now. It was not the performance that he wanted or we needed, but I think it will be fixed starting tonight with Biden.

Nick: Famously, you managed Hillary’s campaign in 2000. Do you think she’s going to go for it again?

BdB: Again, we should focus on this election.

NYM: So a recording of a kinda ugly stop-and-frisk hit the web a couple days ago. Can you talk about your position on stop-and-frisk?

BdB: Sure. I think we have to reform it. I think it’s a valid policing tool that’s being overused and used in a way that ultimately harms police/community relations. We’ve got to reduce and right-size the use of it; I think you do that using the CompStat system. Look, I’ve talked to people all over the city: in every neighborhood, I think there’s a consciousness that we want a safe city but a city that treats law-abiding citizens with respect.

Nick: Okay, you wake up tomorrow, and Michael Bloomberg has decided to give you 8% of his net worth and you are now a billionaire. What’s the frivolous thing that you buy?

BdB: What’s the frivolous thing that I buy?

Nick: Obviously you’re going to do a lot of good works for the people of New York City, we’re well aware of that, but what’s a thing that you buy that you don’t own right now?

BdB: Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever thought of that.

Nick: I just thought of this like an hour ago and I’ve been asking all the potential mayoral candidates.

BdB: I think we’ve never had a place that we can go on the weekends. I think if I could have something, that would be very nice.

Q&A with Joe Lhota:

Nick: So, have you been watching NY1 for a while?

Joe Lhota: [Has just taken a sip from his drink.] I have ice in my mouth. [Swallows ice.]

Nick: I’m sorry.

JL: I’ve been watching New York 1 since the first day it was on the air. I really have.

Nick: You’re pretty new to Twitter. https://twitter.com/JoeLhota We’re really glad to have you. Who turned you on to that?

JL: You know, I started on Twitter long before I started tweeting. I listened, or whatever, to Maggie Haberman who does the national stuff, Azi Paybarah, who does the local stuff. And I would just watch them, listen to them, just read all day long. And I have no idea what possessed me to start.

Nick: You’re a natural, man. You’re good at it.

JL: I have no idea. I spend a lot of time. I think it’s a combination of the iPad and the ease of which you can do it.

Nick: That’s what got Murdoch started on it, the iPad.

JL: He’s got some very interesting…

Nick: What train do you ride most frequently?

JL: I live in Brooklyn Heights, I take the 2 or the 3 into the city. I transfer at the Shuttle. My office, the MTA’s office, is near Grand Central.

Nick: So you take Clark Street?

JL: Clark Street, yep. Three elevators, two always work.

Nick: Exactly! So…

JL: Three actually work all the time.

Nick: I’m still a little concerned about potentially how much debt service we have with the MTA. You feel okay about it right now?

JL: I absolutely do. Because we don’t borrow money to pay operating costs. We borrow money to build and rebuild things. You have to remember that the subway system was opened in 1904. It’s open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Used more than any other transit system anywhere in the world. It requires a lot of upkeep and maintenance and capital dollars and new systems, and all of our money goes to that. I actually look at we’re borrowing the money that’s going to be paid out over thirty years, and the people who are going to be using the subway over thirty years are going to pay for it. It is the perfect user fee approach. So no, I’m not worried about it.

Nick: How soon will the fare increase be announced?

JL: The fare increase proposals will be put out next Monday, October 15th. Thank you, Senator.

Chuck Schumer: I’ll call you tomorrow.

JL: October 15th. Public hearing will be between election day and Thanksgiving, and then a decision will be made mid-December.

Paolo Di Canio is an insane fascist. I’m not trying to be inflammatory; these are simply words that describe Paolo Di Canio. He’s an insane fascist in the same way that he’s 45 and Italian and cadaverously thin. He’s an insane fascist in the same way that he’s lined and balding and the wearer of elongated sideburns that make him look like a Victorian railroad magnate. He’s an insane fascist in the same way that he’s an ex-soccer star and, as of this week, the recently fired ex-manager of the Premier League club Sunderland AFC.

Alastair Campbell Talks to George W. Bush

There’s a rather incredible bit in Alastair Campbell's diaries where he talks to W about, among other things, drinking and religion. I don't think it's available anywhere online, so I'll put it up here. It takes place in Crawford, Texas in April, 2002:

We were doing the press conference at a school in Crawford and the toughest questions were why had there been no response from Israel and did TB [Tony Blair] agree Saddam had to go? Bush’s posture and delivery were a lot better, more confident. We talked about it at the ranch before dinner. He said in the early days he got really knocked by the way they took the mickey out of the way he mangled words, and it made him hesitant, like when he said infitada instead of intifada and got mauled for it. Now he had given up caring what they think and it had mad him more confident. He said the truth is I have a limited vocabulary, I’m not great with words, I have to think about what I say carefully. They had both been pretty heavy on Iraq and that was the story for most of them. The atmospherics were pretty good though. I said I hear you didn’t like Trevor McDonald [UK broadcaster who had recently interviewed Bush]. He said it just maddens him the way they all ask the same questions, so it’s a pain. When we arrived back at the ranch, we chatted in a little group outside the bungalow. Barney his dog came over and he said, “This is my Leo.” I said hold on, Leo’s not a dog. Yes, he said, but Barney’s the substitute for the little boy I never had. Over drinks before and after dinner, I had a couple of long chats with GWB. He asked me why I wasn’t drinking and I said I was a recovering drunk. Me too, he said. I asked him how much he drank. He said two or three beers a day, a bit of wine, some bourbon. [emphasis added] He gave up in August ‘86, a few months after me. I went through the kind of quantities I was drinking at the end and said they dwarfed his efforts. I said that having a breakdown and not drinking had been the best thing that ever happened to me. It was like seeing the light. But you still don’t believe in God? he asked. No I don’t. We talked about running. He could still do between 6.45 and 7.15 a mile and was thinking of doing his own race for charity. He was also a member of a club, qualification for which rested on the ability to run a sub-seven-minute mile when it was 100 degrees in the shade. He had dragged TB out for a run and said he had had to hold back a bit. TB said it was the first run that far since he left university. After a couple of toasts, Bush then just got up and said everyone could leave because he wanted to go to bed. Everyone signed the menus. They were always extremely respectful in front of him. I couldn’t see any of them suggesting he had a touch of the Austin Powers about him. TB thought that was why he seemed to enjoy the banter with us, because he didn’t seem to have anyone there who just had a laugh.