Democratic Firms Boost Bloomberg Again

Posted January 24, 2005 at 6:45pm

Two top Democratic consulting firms will once again work to defeat the Democratic nominee for mayor in New York City this year — despite a scolding from Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe for doing the same four years earlier.

Squier Knapp and Dunn will produce TV ads for Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s re-election bid — just as it did during Bloomberg’s self-funded maiden run for City Hall in 2001. Doug Schoen of Penn Schoen and Berland Associates will once again be the mayor’s pollster.

Several other Democrats will be working for the publishing magnate’s re-election campaign as well.

After Bloomberg’s narrow upset victory over Democrat Mark Green in 2001, McAuliffe blasted “consultants who have made all their money representing Democrats — made a fortune representing Democrats — and then turn around and represent Republicans and attack our Democratic candidates.”

Bloomberg is a former Democrat who switched parties for the sole purpose of running for mayor.

But McAuliffe’s complaints did not appear to hurt the powerful firms’ ability to attract business from Democratic candidates and committees.

Squier Knapp Dunn continued to work for several high-profile Senate candidates and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and partner Anita Dunn was a key adviser to then-Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.). And Penn Schoen and Berland’s clients include Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), two possible Democratic presidential hopefuls in 2008.

McAuliffe’s grumbling obviously did nothing to dissuade the firms from signing up with the billionaire Republican again, either.

Schoen, who heads the polling company’s New York office, defended his work for Bloomberg, noting that the mayor is an old friend and former corporate client of the firm. He called Bloomberg “a very effective mayor” and said that the firm’s Washington, D.C., office — where much of the work is done for other Democratic clients — would not be involved in the campaign.

“He’s somebody I have tremendous professional and personal regard for and a philosophy, as a former Democrat, that’s very much in tune with my own,” Schoen said.

Bill Knapp, the senior partner at the Washington, D.C.-based media firm, did not respond to telephone messages left at his office Monday.

Asked for a reaction to the firms working for Bloomberg again, a spokesman for the DNC, Jano Cabrera, was somewhat more circumspect than McAuliffe had been in 2001.

“The Democratic Party intends to strongly support whoever the nominee is against Mayor Bloomberg and we think that Democratic consultants should also work to that end,” he said.

While few Democratic leaders or fellow consultants are willing to launch a full frontal assault on the two powerful firms for their work for Bloomberg, some have suggested that there is something unseemly about taking money from a candidate whose victory would extend the GOP’s 12-year monopoly on the mayor’s office in such a Democratic town.

“It’s unfortunate,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.). “I wish they wouldn’t do it. It’s important to have a Democratic mayor. What can I say?”

Three of the Democrats competing to take on Bloomberg in the November general election have already hired major media consultants of their own. Jim Margolis is working for Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.). Mandy Grunwald is working for City Council Speaker Gifford Miller (D). David Axelrod is almost certain to reprise his role as consultant to former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer, the runner-up for the Democratic mayoral nomination in 2001.

Joseph Mercurio, a New York-based consultant working for a candidate who has yet to hire a media firm, Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields, said that with Bloomberg prepared to spend tens of millions of dollars of his own money on the race, as he did four years ago, the Democrats’ decision to work for the mayor was hardly surprising.

“A $100 million campaign — I’d suggest that they’re following the money,” Mercurio said.

The fifth Democrat in the race, City Councilman Charles Barron, is running a low-budget insurgent campaign and is not expected to hire high-priced consultants.

New York has a tradition of operatives who work for candidates of both parties (Mercurio is one), and in a city with an overwhelming Democratic population, most Republican politicians are moderates like Bloomberg who need to reach out to Democratic voters.

“It can only help Mayor Bloomberg to have a team of folks who are comfortable communicating with Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents,” said Evan Stavisky, a Democratic consultant and lobbyist in New York who has worked for Miller and Ferrer in the past.

Bloomberg has surrounded himself with several Democratic advisers, including two former top aides to the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.), William Cunningham and Kevin Sheekey. He also uses David Garth, New York’s senior media consultant who has worked for Democratic and Republican heavyweights through the years.

At least two former aides to Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) are also working for Bloomberg. Josh Isay, a former chief of staff to the Senator who is now a political consultant in New York, is a general strategist on the mayor’s campaign. Stu Loeser, a former press secretary to Schumer, will be the Bloomberg campaign’s research director.

“Mayor Bloomberg has approached his administration and his campaign in the same way, getting the best possible people for the job regardless of party,” said Susan Del Percio, a Republican consultant in New York.

Still, Bloomberg’s Republican label could prove problematic in a city with so many Democratic voters. When he ran in 2001, Bloomberg sought to tie himself closely to outgoing Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) — especially after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist strikes, which renewed Giuliani’s popularity in the city.

This time, Democrats will try to tie the mayor to President Bush, who remains unpopular in the city. And Bloomberg has sought to distance himself from Bush in not-so-subtle ways, skipping last week’s inauguration and making himself scarce at events with Bush at the Republican National Convention in New York last summer.

Bloomberg also endorsed Schumer for re-election last year against an overmatched Republican state assemblyman.

“Even the most partisan Democrats would acknowledge that there’s a huge difference between Mike Bloomberg and [House Majority Leader] Tom DeLay [R-Texas],” Stavisky said.

Still, these tactics could hurt Bloomberg with Republican voters: Tom Ognibene, a former City Council minority leader, is planning to challenge Bloomberg in the GOP primary.

“It’s clear over the past three years that [Bloomberg’s] trying to distance himself from the party and its agenda,” Ognibene told the New York Daily News last week. “When the purported leader of a party doesn’t respect its principles, it’s very difficult to build a strong party and elect Republicans to the Council, the [state] Assembly and the state Senate.”

Assuming he loses the GOP primary, Ognibene could wind up on the November ballot as the nominee of the Conservative Party, and that could hurt Bloomberg in the general election. Conversely, if Bloomberg loses the Republican contest, he is expected to win the nomination of the Independence Party, guaranteeing him at least one ballot line in November.

Either way, it appears unlikely that the Democratic firms will absorb any damage this time for working with a Republican.

Howard Wolfson, an adviser to Clinton, declined to comment.

Squier Knapp Dunn probably won’t lose any business from the DSCC as a result of its alliance with Bloomberg. The new committee chairman is Schumer — and his wife happens to be Bloomberg’s transportation commissioner.