Just as I didn’t know that a meeting in the COW had launched this crisis for me, so it was that I was unaware when I sat down for another meeting in the COW that I was about to hasten its end.
This was a routine meeting with Peter Powers, Gordon Campbell, Seth Kaye and a few others. The subject of mayoral disinterest was never far from the surface of any discussion during those days. We were still all at a loss as to how to get issues before him. Beth had been trying every day to get Peter into Rudy’s office. Every time Cristyne would leave for a few minutes and Rudy would come upstairs, Beth would buzz Peter. He would go in alone or with Denny. Maybe he would get in a minute or two before Cristyne would get wind of it and would come running - actually running- from her office and shut it down. It was the craziest thing you’d ever seen. Peter would tell me about it at our weekly one-on-ones. I heard about it from Beth and Kate and Gordon too. And I actually witnessed her once running from her office to the mayor's only to find out later it was for this reason.
The scariest part of all this and I mean scary was how he had just completely lost interest in the issues and the running of the government. He loved that part of it. And with the snap of your fingers - or hers - it just stops. How could he be so easily and quickly manipulated and diverted by a woman, from so fundamentally held a conviction. Peter Powers, the best friend, the loyal lieutenant, was stoic but really crestfallen at this turn. But here we were in the COW talking over the agenda for our meeting. Suddenly Seth said, “What does it matter, we can’t get the Mayor to make a call on this.”
Peter and Gordon shot him a look as one person at the table was not cleared for this subject but Seth was short tempered and everyone knew it. Whoever the person was, Gordon sent them away. I had a folder with me of legislative items that was growing and growing from mayoral inaction. I had been bugging Peter directly and through Gordon to try and sneak these on to a one minute agenda if he could get in there. But then again so had everyone else, I wasn’t stupid. I knew everyone was stopping by Peter’s office begging him, literally begging him, to ask the Mayor this or that.
They assumed that best friend Peter Powers must still have access. But I knew better. No one had access. Cristyne had closed all doors. She held the key and let no one in.
As I stared at the City Council issues section of the legislative folder before me things started to click in my head. My eyes zeroed in on the name Peter Vallone in some sentence. I looked up quickly and said to no in particular, “We’ve been going about this all wrong." People turned to me. "The only meeting he’s actually kept so far is the weekly Vallone meeting, right?” Peter ignored me but I got agreement from Seth and Gordon. “Today is Thursday. Peter (meaning Powers) is always in that meeting. She is never in that meeting. What if we send him in with an agenda and pray Rudy sticks around. Just kick out Vallone and McCabe (Vallone's Chief of Staff) quickly afterward. Pray Rudy hangs out for awhile and does some business. Our mistake last week was not being prepared for this opportunity. Lets not be caught off guard again.” Gordon beamed. Peter looked like he wanted to find fault with this and I was quickly thinking if there were any as I had just made it up, but it was a good solution. I had to admit it.
We all looked at Peter. “Gordon, come up with an agenda,” Peter instructed. “Seven or eight items. The things that I didn’t get to from my last meeting plus a few others we discussed here.” Seth mentioned something urgent from one of his agencies and Peter relented. As we walked out Gordon took me aside and said, “That was brilliant.” "Thanks," I said, "it was an accident. I'm not that clever." I felt the tension break for the first time in days.
It’s cliche but the next morning we waited with baited breath to see how long after Vallone and his Chief of Staff left the Mayor’s Office would Peter Powers manage to stay in there. I stayed in my office but asked Kathy Reilly, Peter’s secretary, to call me immediately after Peter got out. The week before Cristyne had shot back in shortly after Vallone and McCabe had left. Would she be on her game this week? Would Peter (Powers) get an opportunity to work his agenda? We who knew what was going on in there were dying a thousand deaths. Tony was sitting on the couch outside the Mayor’s office hanging out to time Peter.
Kate Anson called to let me know that Vallone just left. I had friends everywhere. OK, we start counting. I’m chain smoking at this point. I’m yelling at Mabel for fresh coffee. If this works we could end the crisis and maybe re-interest him in his own administration. Crazy as that is. Mabel buzzes me and tells me that Kathy’s on the phone. I look at the clock. “He just left,” Kathy says in perfect Brooklyn. “I make it out to be 25 minutes,” I say. “Right,” she says. “She broke it up?” I asked. “Oh yea! She ran in there,” Kathy emphasized. I shook my head. She showed up. But we took it as major triumph. Peter told me later that Rudy was engaged and interested, focused and attentive - the old Rudy. He wasn’t prepared to say, “He was back,” but this was a good sign.
In fact it turned out to be the turning point in the crisis. No one will ever know what her plan was in all this. Was it to keep him down there forever and destroy his mayoralty? Doubtful. Maybe it was to cast the spell that would last the next four years and bring-on the Cristyne Lategano reign of terror over City Hall and the agencies. If that was the goal then she achieved it. I was on the receiving end of her craziness many a time; of turning his head around on a dime. He looked like a complete fool doing it but she controlled him totally.
Whether hiring, firing or issues she could turn him around 180 degrees with a whisper. It was a sickening sight. You would wince that this man who could lead a mighty city so strongly could be felled by this shrewish wench with a wagging finger under the chin or a cupped hand behind the ear. And he would show not the slightest sign of embarrassment that he would change his mind from three minutes earlier after hours - sometimes days or even weeks - of considered deliberation with the only changed variable being “Cristyne thinks.” It would be a dark four and a half years. We all commiserated: Beth, Kate,Tony, Marcia, Therese, Vinny, Todd, Denny, Richard, Jackie, Peter, Mastro, with how much more and how much faster things could have gotten done had she not been around. And how Bad Rudy could have been Happy Rudy.
After the Vallone meeting and that weekend we waited for the Monday and hoped it was over. But no, they went back to the basement on Monday morning and we were crestfallen. I sat on the bench outside the Blue Room that morning nearly in tears that this wasn't over.
But the Vallone meeting and Peter’s follow-up had changed something, somehow. The crisis was coming to an end. Within a day or two it was over and slowly life returned to normal. Except we were now under new management. Everything had to be cleared through Cristyne. This was new and would remain this way until she left. It was a nightmare we would have to awaken from, adjust to, and wouldn’t end until she was replaced by the newer model, Judith Nathan. This is who he is.
Donna Hanover never wanted him to be this sort of man and he apparently needed a woman who wanted to mold and shape him. I always liked Donna both in the 1989 and 1993 campaigns. She was a true campaign advisor. No plotting, Machiavelli manipulator. But it became clear what he wanted and wants. When he said he would have Judith sit in on cabinet meetings in the White House and make policy, believe it. Hillary Clinton would look like Pat Nixon compared to the outsized influence a Mrs. Giuliani would have. It would be scary. I know. I’ve been there, it’s scary.
I mentioned that I worked hard to get Peter Powers to realize the damage that his Chief of Staff, Gordon Campbell, was doing to Rudy's administration. That's true. And Gordon knew I was doing it at the time. But I need to say that Gordon Campbell and I became friends and developed a mutual respect. I like to think it's because he came to realize that we were all not a bunch of right-wing homophobes (ironic in my case), which is what I think his initial impressions of us were. I also think he came to see that Rudy's agenda was much more effective and showed more compassion for low-income constituencies and the disenfranchised than the classic democratic liberal dogma of the time. I am also sure that Gordon would have a wholly different view. I have great respect for the work he did as Commissioner of Homeless Services and later as CEO of Safe Horizon and I just wanted to be clear about that. I write these posts with my head set firmly on the time and atmosphere I am writing about. I try not to qualify every sentence with caveats or updated references. But sometimes I need to step out and clarify where my thinking was later or now.