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Working Behind the Scenes

This is a tangent, OK? Bear with me.

You probably recognize the name Howard Rubenstein. He's the guy who talks to the press when George Steinbrenner doesn't want to talk to the press. He does PR for Leona Helmsley, Donald Trump, Rudolph Giuliani, Eliot Spitzer, Al Sharpton, Rupert Murdoch, Michael Bloomberg, and practically everyone else who is famous or powerful in New York.

But Rubenstein is far more than a PR man.

Ken Auletta profiled Rubenstein in the February 12, 2007 New Yorker. (Most of you can probably read the whole thing online here.) (Yes, it's a few weeks old, but I am always a few weeks behind reading The New Yorker. That's just how it goes.)

Anyway, deep in that article, Auletta wrote three paragraphs that were eerily similar to things I have heard many times, from many people, about William Wesley:

Watching Rubenstein effortlessly glide from Democrats to Republicans, one might easily conclude that there is no mystery--that he is simply slippery. But the people who take his advice seem genuinely to like him--"He makes you feel like you're the most important person and he's helping you," says Tim Zagat, who, with his wife, Nina, created the popular restaurant guides that bear his name. Roger Ailes, the chairman of Fox News, sees Rubenstein's role as "the experienced uncle." Edward Cardinal Egan, the Archbishop of New York, cited Rubenstein's pro-bono work for Catholic Charities; he calls him "a man of quiet wisdom, never boastful." Even when Rubenstein makes a request, Sheldon Silver observed, he does so subtly: "He may say, 'So-and-so is going to call you. Listen to him.' That's it." Or, he adds, "He'll call up and say, 'There's an event tonight. Be nice if you go.' "

Others believe that the key to his influence rests almost solely with his client list--and the broader the list gets, the more power he accumulates. "He has high-powered friends, and, in my life in government and my political life, getting access is sometimes very difficult," Joseph L. Bruno, the State Senate majority leader, says. When Al Sharpton wants to get a message to Rupert Murdoch, he says, "I'll call and talk to Howard about it and start to explain our point of view." It doesn't bother Eliot Spitzer that Rubenstein was an adviser to Pataki. "His business is to be close to people," Spitzer says. "His business is to be sufficiently close and trusted such that when he wants to be an intermediary and wants to say something that is not for public consumption, you will know that he is reliable. It's because his self-interest is in protecting that credibility, which is his greatest asset, that I can trust him."

For David Garth, Rubenstein's secret is that he never seems to be selling anything. "He doesn't knock your door down," Garth says. "He doesn't come across as a starving man." Yet Garth believes that Rubenstein always masks his angle, which is this: "Everything he does is for business." The columnist Murray Kempton once referred to Rubenstein as the "barker for all that moves and shakes in the coalition of the benign and malign whose tent houses New York's commercial circus."