Why I dared to call New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on the radio

It was the morning of Monday, October 15, and I had an urgent issue to call Mayor de Blasio. After 33 years working for the local press, I was convinced that he wanted me dead. He’d had a spat with one of my editors, and he’d come on my radio show in the first hours of the show, lobbing insults at me, telling me I lacked intelligence. “You have no sympathy for vulnerable constituents,” he said. Then he said, “You’re bad for the community. We’re gonna have to fire you.” On the radio show, I asked him point blank if he truly believed I was bad for his community. “When people don’t wake up,” he said, “they’re bad for the community.”

I knew the mayor had his own enormous issues with me, and I feared the consequences of my radio program and my criticism of his policies. Yet, even under these circumstances, I couldn’t allow him to silence me forever. So on that crisp, sunny October morning, I called him to beg his forgiveness, once and for all. “You said I was bad for the community?” I asked. “Good. I don’t need you!” he answered.

And then, without missing a beat, he invited me to walk into his office, where I sat down and gave him a hard time. He asked me questions and listened to my answers. This time, I knew it was no joke. Instead of ridiculing me, he responded to my criticism with reasoned and deeply felt beliefs. “You’re gonna have to step away from newspapers for awhile. You’re on thin ice,” he said. I found myself choking back tears of gratitude.

We resumed our conversation with a little laugher. Then I said to him, “Mayor, it’s a small thing. I was holding it back from you.” “You know what?” he said. “No one’s gonna know if it goes to you personally or to your family.” There was a long pause before he corrected himself, “No, you want the money. You want your money! But then it goes back to the community! They’ll love you forever!” The generosity and grace with which he spoke of me was difficult to comprehend. Then he added, “I also thought it might happen to you first.”

No one was pressing for my job. We sat together as he read a piece I wrote criticizing the city for its crumbling roads and bridges. Even during this time of anger with him, his peace of mind was clear. He looked at me and smiled. I knew he was aware that I was making a genuine request of him and a humble request for financial compensation. He seemed genuinely delighted.

It felt good to talk to him on the radio, and it felt great to speak with him in person. Many radio hosts who’ve worked for Bloomberg in the past would have done the same. To call him in the middle of a fight with one of his underlings would have been intolerable. But I’m glad he didn’t take me seriously. The point of me calling him up was that I didn’t need him to agree with me. I already knew that he was angry with me, and I already knew he cared about me. Instead of getting offended, he found what felt like the most natural way to support me. He had me at hello, at hello’s end. What could be better?

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