A few weeks back, de Blasio tried to slip into the skin of a Mets fan and honor pitcher Dwight Gooden, a lost son of the 1986 championship Mets. Gooden is a gentle and fragile soul whose struggles with alcohol and cocaine have stretched many decades. In 1986, he partied too hard and missed the championship parade.
So city workers hung red, white, and blue bunting and Mets banners from the balconies of the elegant old City Hall and erected a stage, and de Blasio presided over a recreated ceremony to honor Gooden. Press aides and the mayor hawked this as a celebration of a recovered addict. They noted it was put on by a documentary filmmaker, Amy Heart.
“Doc didn’t get the accolade that day in 1986, that parade, he didn’t get to stand here with teammates and Mayor Koch,” de Blasio said on the stage. “We’re going to fix that right now.”
The confected nature of this ceremony was curious. My colleague J. David Goodman, who covers the mayor, began to ask how the mayor’s staff had come to throw this party.
Goodman unearthed intriguing facts. Heart was not a documentarian; she was a would-be celebrity — her website features shots of her posing with athletes and of her in furs and bikini underwear — in hopes of turning this “ceremony” into a reality television vehicle for herself. Her guardian angel was the super lobbyist James Capalino. (I use “super” not as an adjective but as a statement of fact; the list of his clients extends page after page on a registration site and includes countless developers and law firms and so on.) In 2013, Capalino raised $45,000, a handsome pile of money, for his pal, the mayor.
Asked about this assistance, a spokesman for Capalino said the firm had taken on this job pro bono; their hearts beat for this sweet Mets redemption tale and this young woman. A Capalino aide simply placed a discreet call to someone at City Hall. Eric Phillips, the mayor’s press attaché, declined to reveal the name of that someone.
The smoke of pay-to-play scandals has come close to enveloping this mayor, and a few months back, de Blasio publicly forswore talking with Capalino and other lobbyists.
Goodman asked the mayor if he had realized the recreated ceremony was carried out in service of a reality-TV show with influential backers. The mayor, who does imperious well, tossed a brushback pitch.
“I’m just so unconcerned compared to the issues that really matter,” de Blasio said.
I decided to poke around. Heart did not respond to my attempts to reach her. Her Twitter account, however, features a swimming pool shot of her and her “baybay” and husband, Gary Green. Green, now in his 50s, owns one of the biggest building maintenance and security firms in the city, and his father, Stephen L. Green, is one of the city’s mightiest real estate developers.
Both Greens are close to Capalino. Years ago, Capalino helped the younger Green set up his business. And Capalino has served the father’s real estate business, and lists Stephen Green as a client on his website.
(Gary Green holds a lucrative contract to clean Citi Field, where the Mets play. New York is such a big city and such a little town if you’re wealthy enough.)
The Greens may not be fabulous friends of this mayor. De Blasio in 2009 ran against Stephen Green’s brother, Mark, for public advocate. That year, de Blasio sent out a campaign mailer attacking Stephen Green as “one of the most corrupt landlords in New York City.”
Four years later, de Blasio became mayor. He has learned to park his progressive politics on a side street while he raises golden sums from the city’s gilded capitalists. Stephen Green contributed the maximum to de Blasio’s campaign. Gary Green already has contributed close to $3,000 to the mayor’s 2017 campaign.
Fishing for answers from the mayor’s press office is an adventure. Phillips, the press spokesman, told me via email that the Gooden ceremony cost about $2,000. Someone told CBS-TV that the event ran $4,000. How to square these numbers is a puzzle.
For his part, the mayor framed the event as a celebration of a great Mets pitcher who has beaten addiction. I have family and friends who have fought admirably against addiction, and I cheer their battles mightily.
Just last year, however, a documentary ran on ESPN, directed by Judd Apatow and co-produced, coincidentally, by Gary Green, on Gooden and Darryl Strawberry, the troubled wunderkinds of that team. That documentary was affecting, and left the distinct impression that Gooden’s addictions are dogs still biting at his heels.
At about that same time, Strawberry said he feared Gooden that had relapsed and that his life was in danger. Gooden in turn called Strawberry a Lucifer. The two men appear to have reconciled for now, and Strawberry attended the ceremony at City Hall.
I asked the mayor’s press office about all of the characters involved, and Phillips portrayed it as a great mystery. Senior mayoral staff members “had no idea” that a top lobbyist was involved. Nor did anyone know Gary Green, a prominent businessman, was involved. Nor did anyone know Heart had “any connection to these gentleman.”
These answers begged for a few follow-up questions. If Phillips had agreed to talk on the phone, I wanted to try out this thought experiment:
What if a New Yorker with no background in documentary film and no friends in political life had called the film office and said, “Hey, I have a cool idea! I know Gooden and Strawberry and I’d like to throw a faux 1986 celebration. I’d like city workers to hang bunting and flags and erect a stage. And I’d love the mayor to preside.
“Oh, and would the city pay for all of this?”
I suppose to pose this hypothetical is to know the answer.