When Ed Koch was mayor, he started a holiday tradition with members of the City Hall press corps, inviting them all to a sit-down dinner in Gracie Mansion. Along with the reporters' spouses and the mayor's cabinet members, the group broke bread and generally got along better as the night progressed and the drinks flowed.
While David Dinkins continued the tradition with the reporters who sometimes tormented him, it was abruptly ended by Rudy Giuliani, a man who prefers to keep the media at arm's length. (Sometimes many arms' lengths). Instead, Giuliani invited all of the local media to a large party that had the intimacy of a waiting room at a small bus station.
In a Glasnost moment, Michael Bloomberg brought the tradition back to Gracie. While he didn't live there, he was known to throw a few parties in which he would tell some wild off-the-record tales and a private bottle of Scotch was taken out for one of his top aides.
But while their politics may be miles apart, it's becoming increasingly clear that Bill de Blasio and Rudy Giuliani have a lot in common when it comes to the press. In a move dripping with symbolism, de Blasio's team pulled a Grinch this month by cancelling the dinner and bringing back the more impersonal Giuliani-style fete. And if you think that I'm trying to connect the dots with a bad pencil, you didn't watch the mayor's mini melt-down with the media yesterday.
While playing "Good Bill" all day long by counseling New Yorkers not to protest or play politics in the wake of the deaths of two city cops, he veered off the rails by engaging in a blame game of his own when talking to reporters in One Police Plaza.
Just two days after the head of the police union outrageously pointed his finger at the mayor for the death of the cops, the mayor all but did the same thing with the press corps, accusing them of creating a nasty political climate that's settling in over the city.
Asked by a reporter about whether he had sufficiently condemned anti-police demonstrators, de Blasio let it rip: "What are you guys going to do? Are you going to keep dividing us? I'm not talking about every single one of you, but let's get real."
De Blasio continued: "I don't care where they are in the political spectrum. The vast majority of our citizens are good and decent people who do not say negative things, racist things, nasty things to police – threatening things to police. The few who want conflict attempt that. And unfortunately, so many times, you guys enable that."
"I am telling you over again, that's how you want to portray the world, but we know a different reality,'' the mayor said.
De Blasio also played the classic "why aren't people reporting the good stories" card: "I don't see reports on the many decent good people. I don't see reports on the everyday cops who do the exemplary thing, and hold the line, and show restraint and discipline no matter what invective is hurled at them."
And then there's this line: "That is a terrible misconstruction of what I just said. And it makes the whole process of trying to communicate through you a very, very difficult one."
Oh wait. That last one is from Giuliani to a reporter in 1999.
Without going through the mayor's diatribe point by point, I think it's clear that there have been plenty of positive stories written about the NYPD over the last year – particularly when it comes to the drop in crime. And it's obvious that most stories about the protests haven't portrayed the demonstrators as a bunch of radical thugs who are preaching violence.
De Blasio's approach to the Fourth Estate is becoming a thin-skinned modus operandi that’s not serving him well. While he's blowing off some steam, it's only making the situation hotter.
Although Michael Bloomberg certainly had no love for much of the media, he had billions of dollars in the back of his mind, allowing him to look at some reporters with condescending pity. It's a hotter flame of hostility that burns within the West Wing of City Hall.
It's obviously going to take more than a Christmas goose in Gracie Mansion to banish the Ghost of Mayors Past. But de Blasio is learning that playing Scrooge is a foolish role to embrace when you're being covered by a bunch of self-appointed Bob Cratchits.
And on that Dickensian note, I'm taking a few days off until next Monday. Happy Holidays!