NEW YORK — Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg had a knack for attracting top-tier staff and commanding loyalty in the City Hall he ran for more than a decade as well as the campaigns he waged to get there.
But as those staffers take up positions in opposing camps for this year’s Democratic mayoral primary, the Bloomberg alumni are lobbing grenades at each other, on the trail and online, as the candidates grow more restive by the day — referring to their former trenchmates as tone-deaf, disingenuous and one candidate’s supporters as a “clown car.”
For 12 years, Bloomberg dominated city politics — a billionaire three-term mayor who first ran as a Republican but launched a public health push against tobacco and sugary drinks, and was a prominent gun control and environmental advocate. Since 2014, though, Mayor Bill de Blasio has largely repudiated his legacy and exiled most of his loyalists from City Hall. Bloomberg’s former aides are now back in the mix, shaping the race to choose de Blasio’s successor.
Chris Coffey, who spent twelve years in Blomberg’s City Hall and mayoral campaigns, is the co-campaign manager for frontrunner Andrew Yang. The firm he works for, Tusk Strategies, is headed by Bradley Tusk, Bloomberg’s 2009 campaign manager.
City Comptroller Scott Stringer’s campaign manager is Micah Lasher, Bloomberg’s director of state legislative affairs.
The former mayor’s longtime press secretary Stu Loeser is working on former Wall Street exec Ray McGuire’s campaign, while Menashe Shapiro, who worked on Bloomberg’s mayoral and presidential campaigns, is a consultant to Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.
After Yang criticized the city teachers union in an interview with POLITICO for slowing down the reopening of schools, Adams chided him for pointing fingers, drawing a jab from Coffey.
“Pointing fingers accomplishes nothing, says the guy pointing fingers at every public event about Andrew for the last 3 weeks to try to get some press. Got it,” Coffey said in a tweet.
Shapiro shot back: “Telling the truth is not an attack. This is a serious election for the city’s future. Stop saying things that are wrong, and we’ll stop correcting.”
Coffey said his fellow operatives are piling on Yang because of his frontrunner status.
“I think in every case these are fights that someone else starts,” he said in an interview. “I don’t agree with their campaign strategy. I think New Yorkers are looking for hope and optimism … If the only way you’re going to get attention is by being negative and nasty, I’m just not sure that’s what New Yorkers want.”
Another dustup between Coffey and Shapiro came when Adams attacked Yang’s plan to give cash payments to some New Yorkers, and Coffey responded with a statement citing Adams’ past as a registered Republican and calling him an “enabler” of the Independent Democratic Conference — a group of breakaway Democrats in the state Senate who caucused with Republicans giving them control of the chamber for years. Coffey added that the borough president “never disavowed IDC,” and supported IDC-aligned former state Sen. Jesse Hamilton, who was defeated in a primary challenge by Sen. Zellnor Myrie.
“That’s a lovely standard, especially coming from a candidate who never voted in a city election, but who has the ‘chutzpah’ to criticize someone [who] voted for one city Dem over another,” Shapiro tweeted, referring to the fact that Yang has skipped voting in a number of local elections.
Shapiro said the clashes are inevitable with Yang and Adams in first and second place in the polls.
“It’s a function of the fact that this is really ostensibly a two-person race. It’s nothing personal” he said. “I feel very strongly that Eric Adams is the best choice to lead this city, and I’m bringing my A game to that. I think the world of all my Bloomberg colleagues.”
Coffey too said the fighting was business, not personal.
“These are friends of mine,” he said. “I expect when this race is over we will all, to varying degrees, be friends again.”
“Instead of talking about an optimistic vision for New York, and getting the City open, he talks about the past and makes increasingly desperate attacks,” Coffey said. “We’ll stick to our message that hope is on the way and let other campaigns unravel on their own. Talk about missing the moment.”
“Actual hope — not just tweeting the word over and over again — comes from serious plans that will make a meaningful difference in New Yorkers lives,” Lasher responded, setting off some additional sparring between the two.
In other tweets, Lasher referred to Yang’s supporters as a “clown car” and said the former presidential hopeful “embraces a group of super-aggressive online supporters who proudly call themselves a gang.”
Like the other operatives, Lasher said he remains on good terms with his former colleagues.
“That doesn’t mean that I’m going to hold back when I think their candidate is doing or saying something worthy of criticism,” he said.
Loeser this week went after Yang’s online supporters, calling them out individually in a five hour-long series of tweets for not being New York City voters. “Sick burn, nameless and faceless #YangGang Twitter account that was created in January 2021,” he said in one tweet.
“I’ve noticed that every time I tweet something about Andrew Yang, I get besieged by comments from Twitter handles, very few of which have names and faces associated with them, very many of which have numbers in their names, and virtually none of which appear to be actual people living in New York,” Loeser said in an interview. “I believe in the scientific method. I have a hypothesis that most of the support that Andrew Yang has online are either not verifiable people, or at least not New Yorkers.”
Bloomberg has not himself waded into the race, while his senior adviser Howard Wolfson has conducted a series of interviews with the candidates for Bloomberg Opinion.
Two of the mayoral candidates are themselves veterans of the Bloomberg administration. Kathryn Garcia was deputy commissioner at the Department of Environmental Protection under Bloomberg before becoming Mayor Bill de Blasio’s sanitation commissioner.
Shaun Donovan was Bloomberg’s Housing Preservation and Development commissioner. But he does not frequently bring up the former mayor on the trail, more often touting his connections to President Barack Obama, for whom he was Housing and Urban Development secretary and budget director.
That doesn’t sit well with some Bloomberg loyalists.
“When Shaun was housing commissioner, he was more than happy to be the public face of hundreds of people who were helping New York recover from an economic crisis post-9/11,” Loeser said. “His unwillingness to do virtually anything to acknowledge that experience in running for mayor is an insult to the hundreds of people whose work he often spoke about.”
Donovan disputes the idea that he has shied away from his connection to Bloomberg.
“I am immensely proud of the work I did with Mayor Bloomberg, as well as Presidents Obama and Biden,” he said in a statement. “Together, we worked hand-in-hand to rebuild our city in the wake of 9/11 and to recover after Hurricane Sandy. Mayor Bloomberg is a strong leader and great manager who made NYC healthier and safer through his health care and gun control policies, and helped the city become a leader in combating climate change, a legacy I plan to build upon. Both New York City and I have benefited greatly from the Mayor’s crisis management experience.”
In another swipe at Donovan, Loeser gave props to Garcia for vowing to bring back Birdie, the environmental mascot de Blasio’s administration phased out.
“It’s nice to see someone who was part of the Bloomberg Administration not run away from some of the most ambitious sustainability projects ever undertaken by a local government,” he said in a tweet.
On that, he and Coffey of the Yang campaign agreed. “God I love this tweet,” Coffey wrote.