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Bloomberg Campaign Is Juggernaut of Detail

The New York Times | 08.25.09


The following article appeared in The New York Times on August 25, 2009.

To her friends and neighbors on 156th Street in Queens, she is Camille Casey. To Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s re-election campaign, she is voter No. 301213652, assigned a black and white bar code like those stamped on cereal boxes and soup cans.

With the click of a supermarket-style scanner, her profile emerges. She is a registered Democrat. She is worried about rising subway fares. And she is a guaranteed vote for the mayor (making her a “1” on the campaign’s five-point scale of Bloomberg allegiance).

As New Yorkers go about their lives this election season, the Bloomberg campaign is busy condensing and cataloging them into tiny data points, allowing consultants to study them much as Fortune 500 companies analyze their customers.

It is one of the many ways in which Mr. Bloomberg is using his vast fortune to try to engineer chance out of the typically unpredictable election process.

Even as he sits comfortably ahead of lesser-known rivals, the mayor is assembling the most expensive and, interviews suggest, most meticulous campaign in New York City’s history, with a tab of $37 million so far, all of it from Mr. Bloomberg’s pocket.

But most of all, it has underwritten an obsessive, even comical attention to detail, an unheard-of luxury for most campaigns scrimping by on donations.

To spice up dull campaign work, aides to the mayor recently hired a disc jockey to play background music as volunteers called voters, at a cost of $300. “People loved it,” said Larry Scott Blackmon, a campaign staff member who helped dream up the idea.

When aides decided to organize a party for young black professionals at a nightclub in Times Square, it took eight weeks of planning. Never mind that entry was free, or that shrimp and wine were plentiful — incentive enough for most partygoers. The campaign set up a 31-member host committee. It held weekly conference calls to plot strategy. And it called potential guests — repeatedly — to remind them to attend, lest the turnout disappoint.

In the end, 1,000 people showed up.

Want to quickly endorse the mayor? Forget about it. The campaign asks potential endorsers to sit for videotapings; hand over their organization’s mailing list; send letters to their neighbors; and write an opinion piece for newspapers praising Mr. Bloomberg.

His field team is so persistent that, when volunteers call to solicit voters’ support, some report that they have already been called by the campaign — three times.

After a volunteer shift at the campaign office in Queens the other day, Mike Abbate, 72, was relaxing at home when his phone rang: It was a fellow volunteer, asking if the mayor could count on his vote. “Let me stop you right there,” Mr. Abbate told the caller. “I already work for him.”

The mayor’s success in luring thousands of volunteers to a re-election campaign with record-shattering resources and a big lead can seem puzzling, and there is none of the ragtag romanticism that defines insurgent efforts. But volunteers, including retired city workers, unemployed professionals and high school students trying to burnish their résumés, seem delighted — and a little awestruck — to be part of such an efficient operation.

The campaign does not give up easily. When a Queens resident, reached by phone, told a campaign worker that the mayor was “racist” for not giving schoolchildren Islamic holidays off, the field director, Maura Keaney, sitting nearby, suggested: “We’ll have one of our Muslim volunteers follow up with him.”

The campaign has created literature for what seems like every niche group and ethnic bloc in the city, recruiting speakers of Yiddish, Farsi, Guyanese, Haitian Creole and Tagalog, to name a few.

And it has created software that shows when every volunteer is available, and can instantly generate e-mail reminders to, say, show up at an event in Brooklyn at 5 p.m. on Sunday.

The gee-whiz technology has left even veteran operatives grasping for superlatives.

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