I grew up on government and politics. Its in my blood; it was in the family
There are the names of the past the legends that are still occasionally
mentioned around the office when an old photo or story appears. There are the discussions
that still take place among the political junkies, operatives and powerbrokers who used to
occupy the smoke-filled rooms. Only the rooms are no longer smoke filled, the power not as
potent and the operatives a bit more high tech. But the game is the same and the legends
still stand tall. That is, those who werent indicted convicted or shamed.
Some of the political legends are still right here in our city. David Garth, the
granddaddy of consultants, is showing again that he still plays with the best. Among park
junkies, Henry Stern is more than a legend.
Herman Badillo & Mike Schenkler
Some of the great old legends are playing like
theyre at their prime.
I met with one such political legend Thursday morning.
Herman Badillo, the nations premier Hispanic public servant
who was born in Puerto Rico, turned 73 this week. A proud product of public schools, he
graduated magna cum laude from City College, cum laude from Brooklyn Law, was admitted to
the NY Bar in 1955 and became a CPA a year later.
Herman has served as Commissioner of the NYC Department of
Housing Relocation, Bronx Beep, and the first Puerto Rican member of the Congress,
representing a tri-county Bronx, Queens and Manhattan district. He left Congress to serve
as Deputy Mayor in the Koch administration. He is a founding partner of one of the
Citys most powerful law firms and was appointed chairman of the Board of Trustees of
the City University of New York by Governor George Pataki.
Herman Badillo has done it all including run for
Mayor as a Democrat.
But now the tall, fit, successful immigrant American is
seeking the Citys highest job as a Republican.
"Our plans as liberal Democrats just didnt work
out," explains Badillo. "Government just is not going to be able to provide jobs
for all, health care for all, housing for all."
"The answer," asserts Badillo, "is educating
"Schools have traditionally been afraid to flunk
blacks and Latinos. This double standard of social promotion has made them unable to
perform," explains Badillo who objects to the watering down of standards in the
public school and speaks with pride about raising the entrance level at CUNYs
"Standards" is the theme of Badillos
presentation. He came to this country and worked hard to achieve success. The same thing
must be required of others.
He insists we must keep the municipal hospitals open and
use innovative far-reaching programs like Child Health Plus and Family Health Plus.
He applauds the accomplishments of Rudy Giuliani,
explaining, "We must keep the City manageable take action against small
criminals. Auto theft must be treated as a crime and not an insurance problem. Street cops
must arrest drug dealers. The 10-yearolds on the corner know who they are," he
Herman speaks with the heart and vision of a liberal from
the old school as he applauds President Bushs Education Bill.
He explains, "Im pro-choice, for immigration,
for gun control just like Pataki and Giuliani." Hermans Republican party does
not reflect the same values as the national GOP.
He appreciates the neighborhoods that make up our City and
intends to utilize the Borough Presidents to insure input like they once had under the
Board of Estimate.
A mighty big primary on Sept. 11 stands between Herman
Badillo and fulfillment of his vision. He is outgunned by a self-made billionaire who is
prepared to spend millions to win election. Badillos fundraising to date has been
unimpressive. He expects to first qualify for matching funds next week. In total, Badillo
will wind up spending less than $2 million perhaps a lot less a paltry sum
by todays standards.
But with only 100,000 to 125,000 voters in the primary, he
believes he can get his message to the voters.
With no consultants, traveling alone, and an opponent who
does his best not to share a platform with him, the odds are against Badillo.
Herman Badillo has a long way to go. Herman Badillo sets
his standards high.
The legend continues.
A Businessman Eyes Gracie Mansion
I like Mike.
I wasnt supposed to.
I mean heres a Democrat - a billionaire - who became a Republican to run for
Mayor. It has been reported that he puts his foot in his mouth hes an
unsophisticated politician. He was to me, another very rich guy trying to buy his way into
an office he didnt deserve.
Mike Bloomberg & Mike Schenkler
photo: Dee Richard
Well, it wasnt the first time that very little
of what I thought going in turned out to be true.
Mike Bloomberg is bright, visionary, compassionate, knows
our City and does not want to be a politician. He wants to be Mayor.
"Ive learned a lot," he says of his short
journey into elective office.
"The political press is not at all like the business
press," Mike explained. "In politics they use quotes," suggesting that the
business press was more concerned with the substance of the story than the sound bite.
"No prayer in school," he said absolutely when I
brought up one of those sound bites that seem to haunt him, "a moment of
silence" is okay with the Supreme Court.
What the press has suggested were political gaffs, Mike
says are the result of "honest, open and creative comments by a non-politician
thinking outside the box."
His party switch?
"The Democrats, Republicans and Independents came to
me. We made an assessment."
"It will certainly be a tragedy if I dont get
elected," he explained, "a tragedy for education, for housing, for public
health, for crime prevention."
"New York is a compassionate city," he said
"it takes care of its citizens." And Bloomberg has the heart and business
know-how to make it work better.
Education: "Eliminate the Board of Education. Empower
principals. Allow them to assign teachers, remove disruptive students from the classroom.
We must make sure that our new immigrant students learn the language."
"Were a city of neighborhoods. We must build
housing low cost housing on government parcels. We need more Coop Citys. We must
simplify the system, file plans electronically," Mike wants to apply common business
practices to an antiquated bureaucracy.
"Customer service" or "citizen service"
he used interchangeably describing the path that as mayor he would take to insure delivery
of City services.
"Rudy did a good job," but reality or perception
is there are those who feel left out.
"You have to go to the communities, go to the
churches." "Im learning to speak Spanish," Mike revealed, "and
not doing very well."
"The school construction overruns are insane."
"The transit authority should be under City
Mike smoothly moved from issue to issue with familiarity
and vision applying common sense solutions to everyday problems.
The analytical businessman-with-a-heart shrugged his
shoulders occasionally in reaction to state control of City services or ethical missteps
by elected officials.
"We just dont do it, in the company" he
spoke of conflict of interest. Mike will have no part of it, neither will his
When asked about buying elections and raising money the way
the other candidates do: "Get serious," Mike retorted, "the big
contributors want more than access. They give money to get favorable treatment."
"Ive given hundreds of millions to charity, I
certainly can spend my own money on my campaign."
"Partisan elections are not good for the City,"
Mike reiterated his position favoring removing political designations from City elections
to provide more choice and take the power out of the hands of a few.
"Why just City elections?" I pushed.
"Do it at all levels," he reacted quickly,
ignoring the cautions of a political professional who accompanied him.
"I dont know if I would have voted for John
McCain," Mike explained. "But we certainly should have had the chance. If there
were no party designations, John McCain would have made it to November."
"The role of race in election or appointment?" I
"Insist on the best, but reflect the community,"
As we sat and chatted with the big spending businessman
seeking the Republican nomination for mayor, we saw the heart, soul and politics of an old
fashioned liberal. Hes for unions with responsible leadership, pro domestic
partnerships, opposes the death penalty and advocates providing for our most needy
Mike Bloomberg is confident. He is learning. He is
determined. He is a bright and skilled executive who offers the city a new perspective on
"Win or lose, Im staying in public service.
Im not going back to the company."
And, I asked, "If you win, and become Mayor Mike, what
do you want to be remembered for?"
"I want them to say that during my term, crime went
down; reading and math scores went up; workforce turnover went down and housing went
up," Mike, the non-politician responded with a memorable thirty second sound bite.
Hes a fast learner.
And I like Mike.
by Dom Nunziato
Michael Schenkler can be reached at: MSchenkler@QueensTribune.com
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