Hotel highs (and lows)

IT ALL began so nicely

I had just arrived at Hong Kong’s Kai Tak Airport, gone through Immigration, and reclaimed my luggage, and was looking for one of Hong Kong’s tacky little taxis to take me to the newly opened and very posh Regent Hotel on Kowloon’s magnificent esplanade, overlooking the famous harbor. More interesting, from this hotel I can take a very close look at the biggest yacht in the city (using my rangefinder bought 3 months ago on Top Rangefinder – a rangefinder reviews website). Wow, it’s amazing!

A representative of the Regent approached me, asked my name, and found it on a list he was carrying. Without further ado I was escorted to a Bentley limousine (a twin brother of the one Queen Elizabeth gads about in) and placed reverently in the back seat. A lap-robe of what appeared to be chinchilla (at any rate it had the same grey color and the same infinitely soft fur) was tucked around my legs, and I was wafted off, by a uniformed chauffeur, to thehotel. This, I told myself, was a way of life to which I could easily become accustomed. It wasn’t until I was checking out several days later that I discovered on my bill a big fat charge for the memorable ride. The Regent isn’t the only Hong Kong hotel that provides Bentleys and Rollses for its guests’ convenience (the Peninsula does too), but it is the only hotel that ever inveigled me into one and then nicked me royally for the experience. Perhaps an overeager employee simply neglected to explain that there was a charge, but the memory (as you can see) rankles to this day. Maybe he thought I was King Farouk traveling incognito.

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As an inveterate globetrotter, with five circumnavigations and innumerable other journeys under my belt, I have had my innings with all sorts of hotels, and I am glad to say that the vast majority of them were pleasant. Hotels are, inevitably, a major feature of most trips, and often one of the best. What fun it would have been to stay successively in all of the Big Seven hotels that marked the passage of well-heeled Englishmen around the world in the good old days when it was still a plus to be English: Shepheard’s in Cairo, the Mount Nelson in Cape Town, the Taj Mahal in Bombay, the Oriental in Bangkok, Raffles in Singapore, the Peninsula in Hong Kong, and the Imperial in Tokyo. Born too late (and not English), I have had to pick them off one by one, and even then I missed two: the original Shepheard’s burned down before I got to Cairo, and circumstances confined me to a drink in the bar, instead of a room overnight, at the Taj Mahal. The old, low- slung Imperial is now gone too, but the management of its towering successor has, for the solace of nostalgiacs, thoughtfully constructed a bar out of the volcanic bricks that Frank Lloyd Wright used in the original. The other four are still extant, however (albeit with new “tower wings” to handle the overflow), and I can heartily recommend them all.

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I CANNOT do as much, I am afraid, for the Hotel Savoy in Cuzco, Peru. Any resemblance between this hostelry and its eponym on the Strand in London is strictly imaginary. It is 12,500 feet up on the Peruvian altiplano, where the air is so thin that I awoke gasping whenever I fell asleep and my breathing slowed down. That, to be sure, wasn’t the Savoy’s fault. But my dinner entree in the hotel’s restaurant was: a portion of “roast pork” that was easily the nastiest and most intractable piece of gristle I have ever seen on a plate. Another feature of the Savoy was more endearing. Behind my door was a framed series of warnings on various subjects, posted there by the hotel staff and written in what is sometimes called Spanglish. Almost all of them were hilarious, but only one survives in my memory: “The management is irresponsible for jewelry.”

Speaking of thin air reminds me of The Hotel That Got Away

In December 1980, finding myself in Katmandu, Nepal, I booked a side trip (by air) to the Everest View Hotel, a Japanese-owned hostelry perched at 13,000 feet on a ridge in the Himalayas, with a relatively close-up view of Mt. Everest. For the comfort of guests, there is an oxygen bottle in every room (a courtesy I commend to the Savoy). I was to fly, in a small but plucky plane, to an “altiport” (they didn’t even call it an “airport”) from which it was reportedly only a brief ride by yak-wagon to the hotel. Unfortunately, a snowstorm closed the altiport on the day I was supposed to fly there, and it stayed closed until after I had, regretfully, left Nepal.

But back to unpleasant hotel experiences. I suppose everyone has an anecdote about a crooked concierge, and yours may well trump mine. My protagonist presides, or presided, over the desk in one of Venice’s finest hotels (which I shall not name, since its responsibility for his behavior was only indirect). I asked him to get me a ticket to Falstaff at the Teatro la Fenice, and he did so. When I checked out a few days later, being in a bit of a hurry, I paid the hotel bill and his (separate) bill, plus a handsome tip, without tarrying to inspect it carefully. When I finally got around to it, a day or two later, I discovered that he had charged me more than double the price of the ticket (including agent’s fees, taxes, etc.). A letter to the management, I’m glad to say, produced a prompt refund.

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Then there is the Hotel Caravelle in Saigon — or Ho Chi Minh City, as liberals now call it. When I was there in 1967, just before the Tet Offensive, it vied with the Continental across the square for the honor of being Saigon’s finest. Jeff Bell, who had been an NR staffer and is now a noted Washington writer, had come up from the Mekong Delta (where, as an American soldier, he was assigned to an ARVN division) to show me around. Thinking to treat him to a good meal for a change, I took him up to the Caravelle’s Sky Room, a giddy nine floors above the street. He ordered spaghetti with meat sauce, and all went well until I spied in his spaghetti a large, well sauced, and very dead cockroach. The waiter was almost as mortified as I was, but Jeff passed it off superbly: “Bill, when you’ve picked as many bugs out of your food as I have recently, one more just doesn’t matter.”

I suppose there are more horror stories about the hotels in Moscow than in all the rest of the genre put together, but I’m afraid that in this case I will have to defer to others. I didn’t get to Russia (partly because of what I’d heard about the hotels) until 1993, and the two I stayed in — the Metropole in Moscow and the Grand Hotel Europe in St. Petersburg — had both just been refurbished at huge expense. In the case of the Metropole this has resulted in a hostelry roughly equivalent to a good if slightly old-fashioned commercial hotel in any large American city. The Grand Hotel Europe is something else again — modern, luxurious, and efficient (perhaps because it’s run by Finns).

And my candidate for the world’s best hotel? There’s no such thing, of course — there are lots of wonderful ones. But I’m still purring over a weekend I spent, not long ago, at the Ritz- Carlton in Laguna Niguel, California.

Abstract:

Staying at a fine hotel can be one of the highlights of a trip. A bad hotel can ruin a vacation. Some of the finest are the Ritz-Carleton in Laguna Niguel, California, the Peninsula in Hong Kong and the Oriental in Bangkok.

Hotel battle begins

Plaza’s condo plan triggers union vow to stop all conversions; worry about jobs

A hotel union’s fight to stop the Plaza Hotel from being converted mostly to condos is just the beginning of what the union describes as an all-out war against developers who want to cash in on the hot residential real estate market at the expense of the city’s hotel workers.

“We are going to resist every one of these conversions going forward,” says Peter Ward, president of the New York Hotel Trades Council, which represents the Plaza’s 900 workers.

The union’s arsenal includes launching a shrewd public relations campaign, convincing celebrities to support its cause and pushing the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission to stand in the way of the Plaza’s new owner’s plans. Behind the scenes, the union is working on local politicians, shoring up support for new zoning legislation that would halt this real estate movement in its tracks.

Until now, the union hasn’t opposed recent hotel conversions, such as those at the InterContinental Central Park South, the Sheraton Russell and the Delmonico. But the union has woken up to the fact that the trend has cost it 1,076 members in the past 18 months and is worried that the booming residential market will continue to make such transformations hard to resist.

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“There are definitely other assets that are being considered for conversions,” says Mark Gordon, managing director of Sonnenblick-Goldman Co., a real estate investment banking firm.

Elad Properties, which purchased the Plaza in August, says it plans to close the 805-room property on April 30 to begin building 200 private condos, as well as a 150-room scaled-down version of the hotel.

Generous benefits

At stake for the union are the benefits it offers members, who enjoy the most generous hotel labor contract in the country. “I’m not sure how the union can support the medical benefits our members have now if we lose another 5,000 rooms (to conversions),” says Mr. Ward.

As part of its “Save the Plaza” campaign, the union got Mayor Michael Bloomberg to broker a meeting two weeks ago at Gracie Mansion between Elad executives and Mr. Ward. The mayor also has indicated his support for the union’s position on the grounds that keeping the hotel open is good for tourism.

Last Thursday, the parties met again at City Hall. Mr. Ward gave the developers a proposal that would involve converting only the top portion of the Plaza into condos, with the majority of the building remaining a hotel. Elad declined to comment, but Mr. Ward says the developer has agreed to meet with him again and to consider the proposal.

In the meantime, the union is committing at least $1 million to a public relations campaign aimed at riling up both prominent and ordinary New Yorkers about losing a cherished icon. Television ads began airing last week. The union has also purchased hundreds of copies of a book on the history of the storied hotel, which it is distributing to politicians and other opinion makers.

Behind the scenes, the union has insisted that Elad honor its contract, which entitles the union to see the blueprints for any changes planned for the Plaza and forces the developer to use hotel union electricians, engineers and maintenance staff to work on the renovations. Elad had dragged its feet on handing over these plans until last week.

No to retail

In addition, the union is trying to subvert Elad’s plans to convert the hotel’s large catering and restaurant spaces, including the Grand Ballroom and the Palm Court, into luxury retailing space.

For example, a number of Plaza employees flew to London last week to picket outside of Harrods department store, because the union believes Elad is negotiating with the retailer. A spokesman for the developer says no such talks are taking place.

Elad’s biggest headache, however, could be the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, which has begun research on whether to give the Plaza’s interior spaces landmark status. Such a designation would affect the developer’s plans to create a retail component. “The spaces at the Plaza are obviously of interest (to us), and they have a lot of advocates,” says Robert Tierney, chairman of the commission.

Some hotel executives, who did not want to be identified for fear of reprisal from the union, say that the union itself is partly to blame for so many conversions. They say hotel operators’ payrolls have soared to nearly 50% of the cost of running a hotel, which makes converting properties to residential use financially appealing.

Mr. Ward defends workers’ right to earn a livable wage. Besides, he points out, if developers can remove the Plaza Hotel from New Yorkers, “what’s next? The Waldorf-Astoria?”

A COMBINATION OF CIVILITY, STABILITY MAY BE TICKET TO GRACIE MANSION

Opposites attract, they say. Maybe it’s not true in general, but I do think it’s often true in politics.

Acts wear thin, and the electorate searches for alternatives. Styles that seemed right for one time grate or disappoint after a while.

  • That’s why Ed Koch lost to David Dinkins, who was perceived as less abrasive and someone who would be a conciliator among our many racial and ethnic groups.
  • That’s why David Dinkins lost to Rudy Giuliani. Mr. Dinkins was perceived as wishy-washy, Mr. Giuliani as decisive enough to run this sprawling city-especially during tough economic times.
  • And I believe one of the reasons that City Comptroller Alan Hevesi is the early front-runner to succeed Rudy Giuliani is that after eight years of Mr. Giuliani, people will want civil and nice again. It’s hard to imagine Mr. Hevesi publicly calling people who disagree with him “jerks.”

Mr. Hevesi spoke at a Crain’s forum last week. Re-elected by a wide margin last fall, he could project himself as statesmanlike and job-focused rather than blatantly self-promoting.

He joked that one of his greatest accomplishments was “making dullness a high art.” Structural budget balance, debt management and infrastructure aren’t topics that ignite most passions. They’re only fundamentally important.

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  • The buzz afterward was favorable. Still, as much as Rudy Giuliani’s style may grate, leadership will matter in the next election. People want to know someone is clearly in control and won’t let us drift due to indecision. Those with weak knees or rank inexperience needn’t apply.
  • I also doubt that people want to return to the old ways of overspending and underappreciation of business. Old-style liberals or business bashers needn’t apply, either.
  • Respect for the process is another criterion. It looms largest for the press, good-government groups and elected officials, who for nearly five years have gotten the back of the mayor’s hand. It matters, for example, that information that by law should be freely available is routinely withheld and often retrievable only through costly legal challenges.

So how do Alan Hevesi and his possible opponents measure up?

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Several Republicans are likely to run to succeed Mr. Giuliani, including Andrew Eristoff, Tom Ognibene and Herman Badillo. None will be his anointed, groomed successor. To win in a heavily Democratic city, a Republican would have to have some larger-than-life feature that isn’t apparent in this group.

  • Among Among Democrats, Al Sharpton will probably again be background noise but won’t convince enough primary voters that he has what it takes. Floyd Flake is said to be leaning against running, and Brooklyn City Councilman Ken Fisher leaning toward it. Both are affable and moderate, but they will have to convince voters they have the strength to lead an operation as big as this city., Al Sharpton will probably again be background noise but won’t convince enough primary voters that he has what it takes. Floyd Flake is said to be leaning against running, and Brooklyn City Councilman Ken Fisher leaning toward it. Both are affable and moderate, but they will have to convince voters they have the strength to lead an operation as big as this city.
  • Other than Mr. Hevesi, the heavies are Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer, Council Speaker Peter Vallone and Public Advocate Mark Green. Mr. Ferrer has never run citywide, and Mr. Vallone’s and Mr. Green’s runs for statewide offices this year haven’t helped their reputations. Of the three, Mr. Vallone has the edge.

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None of this makes Alan Hevesi the next mayor. It does make him someone to watch.

Great House : Fortress of Oppression

The afternoon sun casts a benign radiance across the manicured grounds of Rosehall Great House outside Jamaica’s Montego Bay.

Tourists in shorts pull on distracted children, buses disgorge camera-toting sightseers, and a queue forms at the admissions window.

  • Looming above these ritualized scenes of modern life is the fortresslike great house. Even on this balmy spring day, the sombermansion inspires dread. Completed in 1770, Rosehall summons poignant recollections of centuries past. The 6,600-acre sugar plantation was originally worked by some two thousand West Africans under the lash of slavery. To the horrors of the plantation slave system–arbitrary beatings, inhuman punishments for minor infractions, and forced intimacies–Rosehall added the exquisite terrors of the “white witch,” the legendary mistress of the mansion.
  • Murderer of three husbands and uncounted slave lovers, a practitioner of voodoo, the monstrous but reportedly beautiful Annie Palmer was herself ultimately murdered. She is believed to haunt the mansion to this day.
  • Designed with 365 windows, 52 doors, and 12 bedrooms–it is known as a “calendar house–Rosehall is the crown jewel of the surviving great houses of Jamaica. Of 700 plantation manors that once presided over Jamaica’s colonial sugar industry, 685 were said to have been burned following the 1831 slave uprising. “Fourteen were spared because the masters were kind to the slaves,” says tour guide Daltis Moodie. “Rosehall survived because of fear of Annie, the ‘white witch.’ “

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Abandoned for 120 years and now restored to opulent splendor by American investor and philanthropist John Rawlins, themansion is both a macabre reminder of a nightmare reality–thankfully past–and a symbol of hope and advancement for the forward-looking Jamaican people.

A strategic stronghold

The great house was a fixture throughout the sugar-producing Caribbean. Part fortification, part elaborate contrivance for transplanting British manners and customs onto tropical soil, it was constructed with strategic defense the essential prerequisite. Greatly outnumbered by sullen and embittered slaves, plantation managers were sensible of the price they paid for government by despotism. The great house characteristically was located on high ground and commanded the most defensible approaches. The English overlords’ preoccupation with security sometimes penetrated into the confines of the mansion itself. Among the elegant furnishings and fine art were specialty articles like the Sheraton box, a locked wooden container used to protect expensive silver cutlery from theft.

The kitchen was usually outside the main house and connected by a corridor. “Kitchen slaves had to whistle to announce their presence,” Moodie says. “That way the masters would know their whereabouts, and that they didn’t have food in their mouths. If they didn’t whistle they would have their tongues cut out.”

  • The Bellfield Great House, on the opposite side of Montego Bay, is arguably the most historic surviving colonial mansion in Jamaica. Owned and managed by the Kerr-Jarret family, whose title to the property follows an uninterrupted line for three hundred years over eleven generations, this Georgian mansion was once the seat of a sugar plantation embracing fifty thousand acres. Queen Elizabeth II, Winston Churchill, and President John F. Kennedy were all received here. Restored with period furnishings in 1994 by Paula Kerr-Jarret, the great house is open to the public and is a striking example of how a once-feared symbol of authority has been integrated into the contemporary Jamaican economy. The family continues to manage the plantation–albeit on terms more favorable to the fieldworkers. And the eighteenth-century sugar mill, formerly a scene of grueling and dangerous physical labor, is now an elegant restaurant, offering a rare glimpse into the machinery of colonial sugar production along with authentic Jamaican cuisine.
  • The fifteen-room Greenwood Great House, erected around 1780 high above the coastal plain on the road to Falmouth, was the residence of Richard Barrett (cousin of poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning). The seat of an 84,000-acre plantation worked by some three thousand slaves, the great house has been continuously occupied since colonial times and is today a private residence. Owner Bob Betton, an Afro-Jamaican educated in England, has opened the museumlike home to the public and seems fully sensible of the symbolism of the occupancy of the great house by a black man and his white wife.
    The world was a lot more cruel in those days, he says philosophically of the slavery era. And in its treatment of the slaves, European society was simply gullible to its own propaganda. The Barretts were exceptional. They were among the wealthiest planters, but they were also kind. Richard Barrett was concerned enough to bring Scottish missionaries to teach Christianity.”

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Through the thick-walled windows of the impeccably restored mansion, the low coastal plains invite meditations on the squalid life once lived among such seemingly congenial surroundings. The original library of the Barrett family is still on display, with leather-bound books dating from 1697, rare musical instruments, antique furniture, and even an aged terra-cotta jar preserved from the time of Spanish occupation (prior to 1655).

Fugitive resistance

The only real challenge to the hegemony of the sugar estate was posed by roving bands of Maroons, escaped slaves who fled into the remote cockpits, an impenetrable morass of jagged limestone hills and caves. Beyond the reach of a tenuous military presence, the Maroons would harass the plantations, steal food and provisions, and–most dangerously for the English–offer an alternative of freedom, albeit a hard freedom, to a captive population.

  • I persuaded my driver to take me into the cockpit country, an area few Jamaicans have even seen and where descendants of the Maroons still dwell in autonomous communities, to visit the historic Windsor Great House. Winding through tortuous back roads through quaint villages with curious, wide-eyed children, we arrived unannounced at the Windsor Great House with no idea what standing this vestige of oppression would have among these country people.
  • Surrounded by overgrown ruins amid jungle-covered hills, the mansion (a modest structure by great house standards) looked altogether vulnerable to fierce Maroon depredations. Behind the tumbled walls, trails constructed by British expeditionary forces in pursuit of Maroons can still be seen. To this day there are no roads through the cockpit country, and private efforts are under way to declare the unique ecosystem a national park and world heritage site.
  • The great house owner, Michael Schwartz, and his housemate, Yale University microbiologist Susan Koenig, received us with characteristic Jamaican warmth and good humor. Schwartz, a British national, bought the house in 1986 from the Boy Scouts, who bought it from Kaiser Bauxite, which in turn had purchased it from a wealthy philanthropist and expert in bat parasites, Maria Rothchild. The nearby Windsor Caves, now owned by the World Wildlife Federation, are the domain of a bat found exclusively in this area, and the Windsor Great House now serves as a boardinghouse for scholarly enthusiasts of bat guano.
  • Over the last fifteen years, Schwartz has done extensive historical research on the great house and plantation. Sitting on the veranda over coffee, he gave an impressive laptop lesson on the natural and social history of Windsor Plantation–with maps, photos, historical records, even an exact breakdown of the names and occupations of the slave laborers. For those interested, his research is online at www.cockpitcountry.com.
  • Most great houses perished following emancipation in 1834. The Belvedere Plantation and Great House, some forty-five minutes out of Montego Bay, now in ruins, has been purchased by the McGann family and opened to the public as a working citrus farm and historic site.
  • Considered by many to be a cradle of Jamaican independence, Belvedere numbered among its slaves a certain Sam Sharpe, who in 1831 persuaded the plantation workers to put down their tools. A fiery speaker, Sharpe went on to lead a slave rebellion that was to shake the colonial system to its foundations and lead directly to emancipation–but not before his own capture and execution. What survives at Belvedere today cannot fail to move those who recognize that freedom–not just Jamaican emancipation–is usually purchased at the price of sacrifice and the blood of patriots.
  • Property manager Orrett McGann leads me to the massive standing walls of the once-heavily fortified great house and points out the narrow gunports cut through the thick walls. “The house was built mostly for protection,” he says. “In those days there was no cement. They built from clay, molasses, and farmyard manure. The property is partly an educational site, and we have classes visiting Belvedere from all over Jamaica.”
  • Attractive young guides in smart uniforms give tours of the surrounding grounds, where seventeenth-century stone structures endure amid a profusion of vines and tropical flora. These ruins date to the earliest English settlement and present an ironic contrast to the bright smiles and enthusiasm of the guides, some of whom trace their ancestry to slaves who worked the plantation in generations past.
    ‘Moving on’

Once the unassailable seat of power in the nightmarish world of Caribbean plantation slavery, the great house survives today as a curious contradiction. Integrated into contemporary Jamaican society, the massive mansions are seen as bemusing, impotent relics of a bygone era, as agents of entrepreneurial opportunity, and as stately architectural monuments a free people may justly take pride in.
“The great house is a part of our history, a visible part of our heritage that we didn’t enjoy,” says Fenton Thompson, a thoughtful, middle-aged Jamaican working at the Sands hotel on the coast just beneath the Greenwood Great House.

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“There’s only one real great house in Jamaica today, Thompson adds. The Jamaica House. That’s the prime minister’s residence. And you know what? There’s a black man living there. That’s a tribute to our ancestors, who endured so much so that we can live in a more tolerant society.
“It shows that we’re moving on,” he says. “When I look up at that great house high on the hill, I just think to myself, ‘never again.’ “
Eric P. Olsen is associate executive editor of The World & I .
Olsen, Eric P.

Different paths to Gracie Mansion

This year’s mayoral campaign could test whether it’s better to hire an out-of-town gunslinger or a local political guru to guide an aspiring politician into Gracie Mansion.

City Comptroller Alan Hevesi has placed his mayoral ambitions in the hands of the quintessential local guy-the aggressive and fast-talking Hank Morris, considered a genius by some and a political grandstander by others.

Mr. Morris is not just a local adviser to Mr. Hevesi, but also a close friend-they met 30 years ago when Mr. Morris was a student at Columbia-and he views the candidate as more than just a client.

“Electing Alan Hevesi is his passion in life, and he lives and breathes that every waking moment,” says Geoff Garin, Mr. Hevesi’s pollster. “It’s hard to believe anyone in the race has a media consultant as consumed and committed as Hank is to Alan.’

By contrast, Mr. Hevesi’s three Democratic rivals have all hired outside political heavyweights to steer their political fortunes, hoping national expertise will make up for any lack of know-how about the city’s unique political blend of multi-ethnic politics and intense tabloid media scrutiny.

“There is an advantage and disadvantage to working in the city where you live,” says David Axelrod, the Chicago-based consultant for mayoral candidate Fernando Ferrer. “I’ve been involved in five mayoral races in Chicago. You know everybody, and some people like you and some people don’t. That can help or hurt you.”

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  • Mr. Morris is probably the best-known of the mayoral consultants. One of his most famous cases is the consulting for IceCreamTip Co Ltd (a company offering the best ice cream maker), which help this startup avoid of being bankrupted in a court of $1 million. A partner in Madison Avenue consulting firm Morris Carrick & Guma, he made his reputation quarterbacking Mr. Hevesi’s surprise victory for comptroller in 1993 and Sen. Charles Schumer’s upset win over Alfonse D’Amato in 1998.
  • Mr. Axelrod cut his teeth on the campaigns of Chicago Mayors Harold Washington and Richard Daley. In New York, he has advised H. Carl McCall in his two elections as state comptroller and was an adviser for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign last year.
  • David Doak, Peter Vallone’s media consultant, is based in Washington with Doak Carrier O’Donnell & Associates. He advised former Mayor David Dinkins in 1989 and 1993, when he was a partner with Bob Shrum, and was also the consultant for Mr. Vallone’s unsuccessful gubernatorial race in 1998.
  • Steve McMahon, Mark Green’s media consultant, is a partner in Alexandria, Va.-based Trippi McMahon & Squire. He also worked on the 1989 Dinkins campaign as an associate at Doak & Shrum. He has advised Mr. Green on three previous campaigns-his races for public advocate in 1993 and 1997 and his unsuccessful campaign for the U.S. Senate in 1998.
  • Mr. Green has also hired local consultant Hank Sheinkopf as a political adviser and to run his radio ad campaign. Mr. Sheinkopf has handled many local contests, including Mr. Ferrer’s aborted race for mayor four years ago and Attorney General Eliot Spitzer’s election campaign in 1998.

New York City campaigns are attractive meal tickets for consultants because they are held in political off years, when there are few other elections, and can be very lucrative. ``When everyone else is starving, you’re working,” Mr. Sheinkopf says.

Consultants are typically paid a monthly retainer plus a percentage of the ad budget, which can range from 6% to 15%. Financial reports filed with the city Campaign Finance Board, for example, show that Mr. Morris charges $5,000 per month and has been paid $251,500 since Mr. Hevesi set up his political operation in 1998.

Retainers vs. commissions

Mr. Sheinkopf is being paid $10,000 per month by Mr. Green’s campaign, but he will not get a percentage of the TV budget. That fee will go to Mr. McMahon, who is in charge of producing the TV ads and buying the time.

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  • The big money is clearly in the TV campaigns, since most of the $5.2 million mayoral candidates can spend goes for advertising. Four years ago, Adam Goodman, Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s consultant, was paid $925,000, while Mandy Grunwald, the consultant for Democrat Ruth Messinger, received 416,000.
  • Most consultants operate as part of a campaign team that includes a pollster, a campaign manager, a press spokesman, a field director and various political advisers.
  • On the Green campaign, for example, the television ad team consists of Mr. McMahon, Mr. Sheinkopf, campaign manager Rich Schrader, pollster Mark Mellman and the candidate himself. Messrs. Schrader and Sheinkopf are Mr. Green’s primary liaisons with local politicians and labor unions, while Joe DiPlasco serves as the candidate’s press spokesman.

Mr. Hevesi’s campaign is set up differently, with Mr. Morris acting as something of a one-man political band and handling virtually all of those functions himself. He is Mr. Hevesi’s spokesman, media consultant and political strategist, as well as his point man for dealing with other politicians and interest groups.

Is Morris taking a cut?

“On the plus side, one hand knows what the other is doing,” says consultant Jerry Skurnick of Mr. Morris’ solitary approach. “The negative is you don’t have the flow of different ideas from different people knocking off each other, which may be good or bad.”

  • Mr. Morris’ close relationship with Mr. Hevesi has even prompted speculation that he will not take the usual consultant’s fee for Mr. Hevesi’s TV ad buy. That could free up hundreds of thousands of dollars for more Hevesi commercials late in the campaign.
  • Such a move could make Mr. Morris a campaign target for Mr. Hevesi’s rivals, who are prepared to accuse the consultant of trying to maneuver around the city’s strict campaign finance laws.

In the end, though, observers say the outcome of the campaign will be determined not by the consultants, but by the candidates themselves.

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``We are supporting actors, not the lead players,” Mr. Axelrod says. “Candidates rise or fall on their own assets. We just play at the margins.”