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No Social Recluse, Mayor Fights Killjoy Image


Published: February 10, 2004

t is true that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has never danced on a table at Bungalow 8, at least not that anyone has witnessed. But it is also true that the mayor - who is notoriously sleep-deprived, salty of tongue and once held a party dedicated to the theme of sin - hardly fits the reputation he has earned this year as the big municipal nanny.


Nonetheless, it is a charge once again being lobbed at Mr. Bloomberg by the citizens of New York's night life universe. They first made the complaint when the mayor pushed through broad antismoking legislation. And they have renewed their attacks now that the administration is seeking to rewrite the laws that govern the city's night life establishments, proposing a new license for all bars that stay open past 1 a.m.

As mayors go, Mr. Bloomberg is far more Jimmy Walker than Abe Beame. His dance card is so full each night that he rarely gets to bed before midnight, even though he is early to rise. He likes to drink wine. (His preference: California merlots.) He likes to party-hop. He is more often than not the guy pushing to hit one more stop before home.

"He is always the one who wants to go out after an event," said Diana L. Taylor, the state superintendent of banks and Mr. Bloomberg's companion. She cited last New Year's Eve as a recent example. After the ball had fallen and the mayor's official duties in Times Square were complete, "Everyone was ready to hang it up," she said. "And he said, 'No, we have to go and have a drink.' So we had a couple of drinks at The Mark hotel, which most of us did not need."

The Mark is one of the mayor's favorite bars for a nightcap, but he is also fond of hitting a diner in Queens or Staten Island for a coffee if meetings keep him out late. He once gave Caroline Kennedy a lift home from a performance at the Kennedy Center in Washington, and though it was after midnight, insisted that she join him for a late-night supper at the Neptune Diner near La Guardia Airport. It should be mentioned that she was wearing a full-length ball gown.

Whether Mr. Bloomberg's proposed legislation would shut down the city's night life - he insists it will not - or simply streamline processes and weed out bad club operators - as administration officials insist is its intent - is far from clear.

But once again Mr. Bloomberg finds himself in the position of taking a stand and letting the chips fall where they may around him, something he has done with some frequency, from raising property taxes to raising fines to promoting the notorious smoking ban.

Only this time, the charge is an incongruous one, and one that cannot help but irk a man who seems to relish his reputation among his friends as an insatiable partyer, as far from a fussbudget killjoy as the quiet, bland Mr. Beame was from being a D.J. at Studio 54.

"It's hardly the first time a political attack bore no relation to reality," Edward Skyler, the mayor's press secretary, said as testily as possible in an e-mail message.

The particulars on the proposed legislation that would change the cabaret laws have not been completed. Under the current system, only those establishments that have a cabaret license, which is very hard to get, can permit its customers to dance. That has put the city in the position of serving as the dance police.

The city would seek to do away with the law, replacing it with a more general license required for all bars, clubs and restaurants that can hold more than 75 patrons in a residential area or 200 in a commercial one, that stay open past 1 a.m. and that have noise levels above 90 decibels.

Many club and bar owners fear that these new licenses, which could be revoked more easily than the old one for various types of infractions, will result in a town full of bars that close by 1 a.m. Mr. Bloomberg and his Department of Consumer Affairs commissioner, Gretchen Dykstra, insist it is not so. (The department enforced the cabaret license and would oversee any new legislation.) They argue that only bad operators - those that are constantly noisy, or full of violence, and the like - will suffer under the new legislation.

But many owners are not buying it. "This will dwarf the smoking issue for a variety of reasons," said Robert Bookman, the lawyer for the New York Nightlife Association.

"Out of touch" has become the catchall adjective to lob at Mr. Bloomberg by people who do not like his policies, and nanny is his noun.

It did not help matters last week when The New York Times reported on a party for Wall Street big shots that Mr. Bloomberg attended, ignoring cigar smoke around him.

"Double standard is a term coming up more and more in relation to Bloomberg-ian behavior," said Michael Musto, who has chronicled night life for The Village Voice for 20 years, in an e-mail message.

(Some aides point out that if the mayor had stood and demanded that the puffing cease, he would have gotten no better press.)

Yesterday, Mr. Bloomberg dismissed the idea that he allowed cigar smoking at the expensive hotel while forcing other bars to be smoke-free. "I didn't see anybody smoking," he said. "I arrived late, I stayed for about an hour and a half. It very well could have been, and I know the Department of Health is investigating the St. Regis Hotel."

City Council members, many of whom are invested in the mayor's image as a nursemaid, are waiting to see what happens next. "The broad concept is a good one," said Alan J. Gerson, a Democratic councilman . "That is to deregulate dance and to better regulate noise and outdoor traffic and congestion.

"But there are concerns we had off the bat over how they intend to enforce it," he added, because "some of the triggers for shutdown might be overly inclusive."

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