By Ben Krull
For Brooklyn Daily Eagle
I have seen him all over my girlfriend’s Brooklyn community: in a restaurant, the gym, by the subway.
But now I mostly see him on television or read about him in the newspapers, and I fear that Mayor de Blasio will soon cease to be a neighborhood guy.
My girlfriend, Brenda, lives in Park Slope, five blocks from our new mayor. I live on the Upper East Side, just five blocks from former Mayor Bloomberg’s town house. While I frequently passed the police officers standing guard outside his building, I never caught sight of our billionaire mayor during his three terms.
The former mayor’s elusiveness fit in with the Upper East Side, where imposing buildings with doormen act like fortresses shielding the neighborhood’s celebrities from the rest of us. Park Slope’s quiet streets, meanwhile, are defined by unguarded row-houses and clapboards. Its most notable celebrities are the writers and artists who mostly go unnoticed on the Slope’s tree-lined blocks, where authenticity is valued above aura.
These days, the area’s most famous resident is our 6-foot, 5-inch mayor. Shortly after he announced his mayoral bid, Brenda and I spotted he and his wife walking a few feet in front of us on a Sunday morning.
“That’s Bill de Blasio,” I whispered, star-struck.
“I see him all the time,” Brenda said, nonchalantly.
Wearing a sweatshirt and blue jeans, he towered over his petite wife. His casual dress and lumbering gait gave him an approachable air, although my impression may have reflected the fact that he was considered a long shot for City Hall and appeared destined to remain a neighborhood guy.
I saw him next at Park Slope’s Seventh Avenue subway entrance, pressing the flesh in a business suit. He was now the front-runner, and his wide smile and the aggressive way he pumped his arm while shaking hands with well-wishers radiated confidence.
Even with his elevated status, the scene had a down-to-earth vibe, as if the candidate were just a local guy asking for his neighbors’ help. Nonetheless, I maintained my Upper East Side attitude towards celebrity: Look, but don’t touch.
After Bill became Mayor de Blasio, I was exercising on a treadmill at the Prospect Park Y when I saw him lumber past me in a sweatsuit. I looked behind me as the mayor bent his oversized frame towards a slight woman stretching on a mat. “That’s his wife,” the woman on the treadmill next to me said.
I looked around for his security detail, but found nobody following him. Incredibly, the mayor was indistinguishable from everyone else in the gym.
My encounter was right after a snowstorm, when the mayor had shoveled the sidewalk in front of his modest row house for the cameras. Despite his showmanship, the mayor’s insistence on doing his own snow removal was of a piece with his Park Slope persona. Brooklyn residents are used to shoveling their sidewalks, while on the Upper East Side, we depend on doormen and shopkeepers to clean up nature’s mess.
Soon, I began noticing signs that neighborhood Bill was slipping away. One evening I passed his house on 11th Street, and outside was an NYPD kiosk with two police officers. Leaning against the kiosk were three large shovels–or two more than one mayor could handle.
And on a recent Saturday afternoon I was running errands on Park Slope’s Sixth Avenue when I passed Bar Toto, a low-priced eatery where pizza is the big draw. Looking through the window, I was surprised to see the mayor sitting at a table. Didn’t mayors have personal chefs preparing their meals?
A half-hour later I passed the restaurant again and out walked the mayor, wearing a sports jacket. He was talking on a cell phone and I caught part of his conversation (not wanting to be the Julian Assange of Brooklyn, I refuse to divulge the contents of the call).
I imagine that if I overheard one of Mayor Bloomberg’s cell-phone conversations, security guards would swoop down and rip my ears off, or at least make me sign a non-disclosure agreement. But it felt little different from crossing paths with any other pedestrian on a weekend stroll.
However, I saw an indication that these chance meetings with my girlfriend’s neighbor would soon lose their casualness. Trailing behind him were two athletically built men, whom I took to be his security detail. The mayor of Park Slope was morphing into the mayor of New York.
Mayor de Blasio will shortly move into the Upper East Side’s Gracie Mansion. We might have some chance encounters, but he’ll probably be riding in a black car with tinted windows and sirens blaring. If I do run into him without bodyguards and tabloid reporters getting between us, I will be sure to strike up a conversation.
“Don’t I know you from the gym in Park Slope” I’ll say. “Please tell your wife I say hello.”