They stay at the Four Seasons in London (about $400 a night), the Intercontinental in Paris ($320) and the King David in Jerusalem ($345). Room service? The mayor pays for it all. Even the laundry.
The billionaire mayor is turning heads these days with the hiring of high-profile operatives for his re-election campaign, including several who had previously worked for his rivals in the race.
And as he seeks to entice talent to come aboard the campaign, and possibly to a third term in City Hall, Mr. Bloomberg wields a powerful tool: the perks of inhabiting his world.
Working in politics often means stingy pay and tedious log-rolling. But when the richest, most socially connected man in the city happens to be mayor, it can seem more like the life on (pre-recessionary) Wall Street, right down to the car service.
“The world of Mike Bloomberg is a charmed place,” said Jonathan Capehart, who worked as a policy adviser on Mr. Bloomberg’s first bid for mayor.
Mr. Capehart recalled being warned a few days after Mr. Bloomberg’s 2001 victory not to be surprised when he checked his account balance, where a $25,000 bonus awaited him.
“I was shocked,” he said. “I knew big campaign operatives would negotiate bonuses — the campaign manager, the advertising buyer. But I was just a policy adviser.”
The expansive spending infuses the campaign — the mayor plans to spend $80 million on his re-election this year — but also shapes the lives of aides who follow Mr. Bloomberg to City Hall.
In interviews, more than a dozen current or former aides and advisers to the mayor described their work for him as a transformative experience that catapulted them into new social and economic spheres, in some cases permanently.
For a handful of top advisers, the pay alone altered their lives. William T. Cunningham, a political strategist, was paid about $1.2 million to work on Mr. Bloomberg 2001 and 2005 campaigns for mayor, records show. (His bonuses after each race: $300,000.)
The windfall allowed him to send his children to college without taking out loans and for his family to take pricey vacations. “For that, I am very grateful,” he said.
Mr. Bloomberg and his aides are sensitive to questions about perks and spending, wary of any claim that he, or those in his circle, are out of touch with ordinary New Yorkers.
Still, the mayor, 66, does not scrimp on personal luxury. He owns six houses, among them vacation homes in Bermuda, Colorado and Florida, along with stately residences in London and the Upper East Side of Manhattan. He loves extravagant parties and fine art.
This election year, his spending could prove a thorny issue. His rivals argue that after shelling out $150 million for his last two elections to introduce himself to New Yorkers, the mayor should curtail his advertising and run on his record. The sputtering economy could further complicate Mr. Bloomberg’s strategy, since the image of a mayor slashing budgets and laying off workers while spending tens of millions on his re-election may turn off voters.
At a news conference Thursday, the mayor grew testy when asked by a reporter if he would consider limiting his campaign spending this year.
“I don’t understand your question. I am not going to talk about the campaign,” he said, then added: “I think it’s one of the most ridiculous things I have ever heard.”
The mayor’s aides pledge the 2009 campaign will be cost-conscious. Yet Mr. Bloomberg has already signed about 10 high-priced strategists, like Howard Wolfson, Hillary Clinton’s former media strategist, and Ken Strasma, who researched voter backgrounds for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.
Two of his new advisers are closely linked with his Democratic rivals. And nearly all are Democrats, though he is seeking to run on the Republican and independent ballot lines this fall.
“As he has in the past, the mayor is buying a campaign,” said Eduardo Castell, the campaign manager for City Comptroller William C. Thompson Jr., who is challenging Mr. Bloomberg.
Mr. Wolfson, speaking from a sparsely decorated Bloomberg campaign office in Midtown Manhattan, said: “People are working here for the same reasons that two-thirds of New Yorkers think the mayor is doing a good job: Crime is down, school test scores are up, and the city is a better place to live.”
Former campaign staff members said the perks did not hurt.
Mr. Bloomberg, who is renowned for sparing little expense on employees at his company (they traditionally received 15 percent raises every year), offered campaign workers free health insurance. He outfitted campaign offices with a wall of televisions, flat-panel computers and Bloomberg financial terminals.
Free food was always on hand — sandwiches, soda, chips, ice cream sandwiches and popcorn. (The 2005 bill to Coca Cola was $17,000, records show.)
In 2001, the campaign even rented a Manhattan apartment for Mr. Cunningham, who lived in Albany at the time. (The monthly rent was $4,100.)
“Basically, the culture of Bloomberg L.P. was transferred to the campaign,” said Mr. Capehart. Aides used Town Cars to travel to events, or home after a long night of work. They used expense accounts for meals at Bryant Park Grill, Pastis and the Ritz-Carlton.
Those who joined the mayor at City Hall enjoy the kind of first-class international travel reserved for chief executives and heads of state. Mr. Bloomberg, the most traveled mayor in New York City history, has taken aides to Athens and Santo Domingo, Port-au-Prince and Dubrovnik, Berlin and Belfast, to name a few.
A spokesman said that Mr. Bloomberg pays for nearly all the travel himself and considers it a gift to the city. But the approach also allows his administration to shield details of the travel — itineraries, hotels, restaurant venues — from public scrutiny.
Previous mayors are in awe. “I flew coach,” former Mayor Edward I. Koch said, ruefully. When Mr. Koch accompanied Mr. Bloomberg to Israel in 2003 aboard the mayor’s private plane, he savored the leg room.
“The seats lean back, not so much that it’s a flat bed, but a pretty good reclining one,” Mr. Koch recalled.
Once on the ground, Mr. Bloomberg is not merely the mayor of New York; he is a revered entrepreneur and philanthropist, courted for dinner parties and meetings, his aides in tow. Kevin Sheekey, a deputy mayor, joined the mayor for Bono’s birthday party in Belfast and dinner at the Los Angeles home of Robert A. Iger, the chief executive of Disney.
Those aides insist that shuttling around the world with the mayor is hardly a vacation. He moves at a breakneck pace, with back-to-back appointments. (In China, he and his staff drove right by the Forbidden City.)
They said he uses a private plane not for its frills, but because it saves time; and employees stay with him at luxurious hotels so that they are always close at hand — and ready to work.
Stu Loeser, the mayor’s spokesman, said: “These are rare and relatively minor benefits that don’t come close to offsetting the workload — especially when you’ve flown through the night and have to work on both local and New York City time.”
Aides to every mayor, billionaire or not, enjoy perks — seats on opening day, access to city cars, parking placards and, of course, the intoxicating experience of shaping the course of a metropolis with eight million residents.
With Mr. Bloomberg, the already heady experience is, in the words of one former aide, “put on steroids.”
Soon after Mr. Bloomberg decided to run for mayor, he invited Mr. Cunningham to join him for dinner in East Hampton. Mr. Cunningham fretted that the traffic from Manhattan would tie them up for hours.
Traffic, Mr. Bloomberg explained, would not be a problem.Off they flew, gliding over highways to a chauffeured car near the restaurant. “It is not,” Mr. Cunningham said, “how most local candidates travel.”