Tomorrow, as we count down the final days of the three-term, 12-year reign of a plutocrat (with four of those years run for illegally, in defiance of the will of the majority, who twice voted to term limit our mayor), New Yorkers will go to the polls and all-but-definitely elect a progressive, Bill de Blasio. (He’s tall, too.)
Soon there will be no more listening to “anyways,” one of Bloomberg’s annoying Boston usages–which annoyed me less before he splurged $100 million on his third mayoral campaign, defeating Bill Thompson (who had not only been grotesquely outspent but shamefully ignored and written off by most of the media) by only five percentage points.
Government is not business, not mandated to make profit–on the contrary, the concern is human well-being, making a CEO and his/her mindset, wrong for the job of mayor, governor, senator, president.
I was assigned to photograph Michael Bloomberg for the cover of a magazine called Silicon Alley Reporter. The shoot was at his campaign headquarters near Bloomingdale’s. It was August 2001 and really hot. And all of us (including the extremely talented art director, Steve Morris) were unaware that the issue we were working on, October 2001, would be the magazine’s last.
We were shooting Bloomberg because of his company’s importance in finance and technology not because of the viability of his candidacy. The city was suffering from profound Giuliani fatigue and although the enthusiasm wasn’t there, the consensus was that it was Democrat Mark Greene’s time, that he’d be the next mayor and the billionaire from Boston was fighting an uphill battle.
But no one knew what was going to happen in New York a month later, changing everything and making a quixotic candidacy a safe choice. Giuliani, unsuccessful in making himself emperor for life after the towers fell, but anointed “America’s Mayor” (the country could have him), threw his suddenly revived clout behind Bloomberg.
Two fresh-faced, enthusiastic aides, seeming Ivy Leaguers, meet Steve, the groomer, the assistant and me at Bloomberg’s location–I think he owned the building. The staffers were both white and I recall them literally being named Muffy and Biff (but maybe because that’s funny, I’ve long had this recovered memory). They escorted us to a bright room filled with volunteers, predominately middle-aged women of color, who sat at a very long L-shaped table. Junk food snacks and soda were plentiful, as they were in 2001 at Bloomberg’s corporate offices.
To light Bloomberg, I put a strobe light into a small soft box and plugged it into a power pack. I ran my sync from the Hasselblad lens to the pack. Several additional packs, with one umbrella each, were used to light the volunteers and the rest of the room. To have the additional packs fire simultaneously with the main, the electronic eyes in each box were turned on.
Bloomberg arrived. He was cooperative, accustomed to the process. He asked me if I thought he’d win. I replied truthfully (if a bit disingenuously), “I photographed the last three mayors.” He seemed to like my answer.
I have said provocative things at shoots, aware of double entendres, but not at this shoot. I had 10 minutes to do the portrait. Biff was watching from halfway down the room, behind where Bloomberg was sitting. He cleared the frame but suddenly I realized his legs were blocking the electronic eyes and two of the packs weren’t firing.
I’m sure there was urgency in my voice as I said, “Biff, please move to your left. The lights near you aren’t flashing” and with the slang that’s always used for the electronic eye, continued, “because you’re blocking the slaves.”
He glanced at the women to his right and reacting to his stunning misunderstanding, said firmly, “Robin. We call them volunteers.”
“Yes, I do too, I’m referring to a feature of my strobes–please move to the left.”