Mammoth Egos in the Empire State

Michael Bloomberg and Al Sharpton both have chutzpah. The big difference is that one might actually achieve his political ambitions

By Ciro Scotti

The Big Apple isn't exactly Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, but it does produce its share of dreamers divorced from reality. How else to explain the seemingly impossible political aspirations of two very different New Yorkers: media billionaire Michael J. Bloomberg and racial-incident ambulance-chaser Alfred C. Sharpton.

Bloomberg, whose stock-quote and hot-news terminals have become indispensable to Wall Streeters and the chattering class, is a declared Republican candidate for mayor of New York. Never mind that he has never held public office and is an upper-middle-class household name only in the context of "Bloomberg machine."

Sharpton, whose pompous and pompadoured presence has become indispensable to every cop-bashing press conference in the city and beyond, is mulling a run for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 2004. Never mind that he has never held public office (though he did get 32% of the vote in a 1997 Democratic mayoral primary). Never mind that he is a household name largely because of his role in the infamous Tawana Brawley incident, in which a young African-American woman fabricated a racial attack by a group of white men. And never mind that during a recent jailhouse interview (he's doing three months as a result of his protesting U.S. practice bombing maneuvers in Vieques, Puerto Rico), the hunger-striking Sharpton was brazen enough to attack his onetime mentor, Jesse Jackson.


  There is, however, one enormous difference between these two Empire-State-Building-size egos: The Reverend Sharpton, as the Web site of his National Action Network calls him, will only ever be President in his self-promoting dreams. Bloomberg, on the other hand, could actually become mayor.

That's not to say that the Mike-for-Mayor campaign is off to a rousing start. In the month that he has been running, Bloomie has committed rookie errors. For example, Bloomberg, who has more homes than most people have swimsuits, criticized the well-regarded campaign system in New York that funnels money to candidates in exchange for limits on contributions and spending. His attempt to make his nonparticipation in the system a virtue backfired, and he was forced to recant. And he is probably less well known to the public at large than any of the five snooze-inducing, veteran pols in the race.

Still, the 59-year-old Bloomberg, who is worth a reported $4 billion and is apparently willing to spend a chunk of it to become mayor, could buy local fame fast by blanketing New York in TV, radio, and newspaper ads. And a rich-guy mayor may, in fact, be what New York needs now.


  Rudy Giuliani, arguably the best chief executive the city has seen in 50 years, is playing out his final hours in an unseemly divorce from his second wife, Donna Hanover, that has been splayed across the tabloids like a massacre in a fast-food restaurant. The War of the Giulianis is now overshadowing accomplishments as enormous as a plummeting crime rate and the rebirth of tourism, as mundane as a soothing bike path along the West Side of Manhattan.

Like the despots that ancient Athens used to enlist to get its fledgling democracy back on track, Giuliani is the mostly benevolent dictator who fixed this city-state. Now that his term-limited time is just about up, the danger is that a populace weary of his hectoring will revert to a party hack who will roll over for the bleeding hearts and special interests that brought the city to its knees.

To build on the foundation that Rudy laboriously laid, New York needs another tough customer who is even more impervious to pressure from greedy real estate interests and powerful unions. Judging by the Bloomberg commercials that are already peppering the airwaves, Mike the Candidate is less than electric -- he comes across as a non-schmoozer, uncomfortable with glad-handing. Kind of what you'd expect from a self-made, in-a-hurry entrepreneur with a big head, a hot temper, and about as much warmth as a counterman in a crowded deli. In short, a promising successor to Rudy Giuliani, the overbearing, overreaching New Yorker who saved his city.

Scotti, senior editor for government and sports business, offers his views every week in A Not-So-Neutral Corner, only for BW Online

Edited by Douglas Harbrecht