Click here for Matthew Fleischer's Down and Out at the Americana.
It’s dusk in downtown Glendale, and as is quite often the case these days, the sound of Frank Sinatra echoes up and down Brand Boulevard. The music comes courtesy of billionaire developer and possible mayoral candidate Rick Caruso and his new mixed-use commercial and residential project, the Americana. In the four months since the mall opened, Frank Sinatra has yet to have a cold. On this particularly warm September evening, Ol’ Blue Eyes is serenading more than 50 members of the nonprofit Urban Land Institute, who have gathered in the park at the center of the Americana to meet Caruso for an exclusive tour. It’s an eclectic group, ranging from UCLA architecture students to established multimillionaire developers, all of whom seem a bit wide-eyed. If there’s such a thing as a rock star in the world of contemporary retail development, Caruso is unequivocally its Bono. The developer won the ULI’s Award of Excellence in 1999 for his Commons at Calabasas, and again in 2003 for the Grove at Third and Fairfax. If the chatter among the group — which reveals a regard for Caruso that hovers somewhere between glowing and idolatrous — is any indication, he can expect another one this year, for the Americana.
It’s a rare feat when expectation meets reality, but Rick Caruso comes as advertised. Perfect tan. Perfect shave. Not a hair out of place. He’s dressed in perfect keeping with his rock-star status, eschewing the more conservative black suits he usually wears for media appearances in favor a custom-tailored blue Brioni pinstripe number and a fashionable pair of specs — a masculine mutation of the Tina Fey variety that’s all the political rage this year.
But for all the trouble he appears to have gone through to impress, Caruso is surprisingly reserved, standing off to the side in a nook by an old-timey hamburger stand — chatting casually with his executive vice president of architecture, David Williams, and leaving other members of his staff to schmooze with his admirers. Nearby, a small circle of them gather around Caruso’s PR director, Jennifer Gordon, and his community-relations chief, Rick Lemmo, who are leading a discussion on — surprise — Caruso.
“Rick is absolutely wonderful,” says a glowing Gordon, before pausing to add, smiling, “except for the whole underwear thing.”
“What, you mean the pink thong?” Lemmo deadpans.
“Yeah, it’s a little strange, but we still love him.”
Gordon and Lemmo are kidding, of course, their lines delivered with a comfortable, practiced repartee that suggests Caruso would be in on the shtick if he were around. Nevertheless, considering Caruso has said that running for mayor of Los Angeles “isn’t a question of if, it’s when,” this standing by while others, no matter how well-intentioned, do the defining for you seems to be an apt metaphor for his political life.
Caruso has teased his impending mayoral candidacy off and on for nearly five years, yet he’s done little to formally promote a holistic vision for the city. He’s active in politics, donating time and money to several — mostly Republican — political candidates, including John McCain and George Bush. But aside from the occasional call for hiring more cops, Caruso has thus far declined to hop on a soapbox and use the bully pulpit to advocate any radical change in city government. In the absence of such a comprehensive civic blueprint, others have stepped in to fill the void.
Last July, writer Brad Dickson, pondering a Caruso mayoral run in the L.A. Times, envisioned a dystopia in which “Cheesecake Factories replace schools” and L.A. River revitalization would mean “51 miles of dancing waters” — a cutting reference to Caruso’s signature mall fountains. And when Arthur Magazine publisher and public-space advocate Jay Babcock, frustrated with the direction of urban planning in Los Angeles, recently said goodbye to L.A. for Brooklyn, his parting words were: “I don’t want to live anymore in the psychic death hole that is Carusoland.”
The underlying assumption behind these critiques, one the developer himself hasn’t publicly disputed, is that Caruso aspires to turn all of Los Angeles into one giant Sinatra-filled retail project — and that becoming mayor is but a steppingstone in this pursuit. This may be an extreme take, but for many in the city, Caruso’s perceived legitimacy as a potential mayoral candidate does boil down to their personal feelings about the Grove.
“I hadn’t heard that,” Caruso says with a laugh after the ULI event. “But, you know, to some degree I think it’s fair. My projects are clean, they’re safe, they’re family-friendly and they deliver an excellent quality of service. I have no problem being judged by those criteria. I do want to bring that to public service.”
But while both Caruso and his detractors seem content to let his developments speak for him, this isn’t particularly fair to either party. After all, the Grove gets 18 million visitors a year, more than Disneyland, and Caruso expects the Americana to achieve similar success. If his developments alone are a referendum on his fitness for political office, the results are in and the people have spoken.
What many may not realize, however, is that Caruso, 49, has a track record in public service that dates back nearly half his life — one that can be scrutinized far more objectively than any architectural or psychogeographic critique of the Grove. He’s served under mayors Bradley, Riordan and Hahn. At 25, he was the youngest commissioner in the history of the DWP; two years later, he became its president, and went on to serve a total of 13 years there. He was police commissioner under James Hahn, and was instrumental in bringing Chief William Bratton to power. He’s on the board of councilors for USC’s School of Policy, Planning and Development. He’s a trustee for the homeless-advocacy group Para Los Niños.
In many ways, no single figure in recent history has been more influential in shaping the city of Los Angeles — and not just with his retail development. As Bill Clinton once told Caruso, “You’ve got your hand in everything.” The question is, is that hand now reaching toward city hall?
In an era of faux populism, especially among those with political ambition, Rick Caruso literally and unabashedly wears his wealth on his sleeves. His custom-made Italian suits are said to cost more than $5,000, and between his wedding band, his Patek Philippe watches and his cuff links, he carries enough gold to finance a small Central African revolution. That taste appears to extend to his 150-some employees, as the hallways of Caruso Affiliated are flowing with stunning corporate-chic women and the occasional Ken-doll male.
Wealth is everywhere conspicuous: On a table in the lobby sit a row of small crystal paperweights, each boasting a massive sum — $400 million, $150 million — representing the financing secured for each of Caruso’s various developments.
Walk into his palatial executive office at the Grove and you’re immediately greeted by an original Fernando Botero — the celebrated Colombian artist whose portraits of robustly rotund figures are instantly recognizable, even to those completely clueless about contemporary art. It’s the sort of art that seems to be more about its commercial value than its artistic worth.
In casual conversation, though, Caruso lacks the Victorian pretensions you might expect to accompany such ostentatious displays. He’s polite, confident and well-spoken, though not above dropping a “bullshit” or two if the moment is right. As his staff’s “pink thong” conversation seemed to indicate, he does have an irreverent streak, as well as a strange fascination with cleanliness — a recurring subject of discussion that extends well beyond immaculate grooming. Dirt does not appear to be tolerated in Caruso’s universe.
His description of an amusement-park tour he took with his family this past summer doesn’t come down to which were the best rides, but which ones didn’t make him cringe: “I won’t name names,” he says, “but some of these places were filthy. You just wanted to take a shower after you got out of there.”
Caruso talks about his family often. He and his wife, Tina, have four kids ranging in age from 8 to 18. A man who never has to work again if he doesn’t want to, he grapples daily with the prospect of sacrificing family time for a political career. “My kids deserve someone who can be around to drive them to school in the morning,” he says.
Though a Republican, Caruso considers himself a political pragmatist, in the style of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Caruso started his government service on Democratic Mayor Tom Bradley’s DWP and was the personal choice of Democratic Mayor Jim Hahn to run the police commission in 2001, but he served under Republican Mayor Richard Riordan as well. He counts both Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gray Davis — the Governator’s Democratic predecessor — among his friends. Yet he has also been known to put his financial muscle behind some of the most draconian conservative candidates, throwing lavish fund-raisers for President Bush, for instance.
Try to pin him down on any consistent ideological bent, however, and funny things start to happen. Take the D.A.R.E. program — the Nancy Reagan–backed anti-drug initiative that for decades sent police officers into the public schools to teach kids to “just say no” and show them what weed looks like. When Caruso broaches the topic unprompted, you can’t help but groan in anticipation of the inevitable “keep the kids off smack” type talking point. After all, the Caruso brand is unfailingly kid-friendly — embodied by the golden statues of his own children Caruso places in each of his new developments. But an answer never comes. Instead, he talks about how, as police commissioner, he ended D.A.R.E. He even brags about killing it.
“I had little girls telling me they were scared to go to school because gangs were shooting people in the streets. Why do we have so many cops in the classroom when the kids can’t even get to school? Teaching kids about drugs is fine, but when you have kids getting shot on the way to school, I think you have a bigger problem. So we stopped the program.”
A D.A.R.E.-killing, Bush-loving, germaphobe Republican billionaire. Where did this guy come from, anyway?
Caruso certainly isn’t new to money. He’s a lifelong L.A. resident whose father, Hank, earned a small fortune running a series of auto dealerships and then went on to found Dollar Rent-a-Car. Such was the Caruso disposition that, after college at USC, Hank forced Rick, against his will, to go to law school at Pepperdine. Although he graduated to the powerful Finley Kumble law firm, the young attorney became independently wealthy with a side venture by purchasing land around airports and leasing it to his father’s rental-car company. Like father, like son, except where politics was concerned. Hank Caruso, though politically connected, never ran for office or tried his hand in city government.
“My father respects public office,” says Caruso, “but thinks I’m absolutely insane for wanting to get involved in politics. If you’ve got a business, he thinks you should stick with that and make it as successful as possible.”
Asked why anyone at the helm of a billion-dollar organization who could do anything he wants in life would want to get involved in city electoral politics, Caruso admits, “I get that question a lot.” His answer is surprisingly tepid — not brimming with the sort of righteous indignation one would expect of a person considering taking on an incumbent mayor: “I really like public service. The city needs to stay viable and livable, and I’m not sure the current leadership is getting that stuff done. I would enjoy having the opportunity to leave the city in a better place than when I got there.”
That’s about as overtly critical of the mayor’s job performance as Caruso will go, though his insistence on mispronouncing the double “L” in Villaraigosa — as in “vanilla” — speaks volumes. The two do have a political history. In 2004, when he was still on the police commission, Caruso pushed a new bond measure that would have guaranteed money to put 1,200 new police officers on the street. He used his own money to wage an ad campaign, but the measure never made it to the ballot after the City Council voted it down — with Villaraigosa casting a crucial “nay” vote.
“Villaraigosa’s stand was purely political,” insists Caruso. “He knew he was running for mayor and didn’t want Hahn to be able to hire more cops and get that feather in his cap.”
It’s tough to argue with Caruso’s take. Shortly after assuming office, Villaraigosa announced a call to put 1,300 new cops on the street.
The moment still seems fresh to Caruso. “It’s frustrating,” he says, “because we had all the votes but one. It would have been absolutely the right thing to do, because it meant dedicated funds for LAPD. Now the city is cash-strapped and something like 90 percent of the budget is going toward the police and fire departments.”
Caruso enjoys talking about his time on the police commission, and with good reason. It’s difficult to characterize his tenure there, from 2001 to 2005, as anything but an unmitigated success — at least from a command perspective. He was instrumental in bringing in William Bratton to replace Bernard Parks, a controversial decision that proved prescient but also invited the wrath of the black community, in which Parks was — and remains — a popular figure.
David Cunningham III, who served alongside Caruso on the police commission before eventually succeeding him as president, praises Caruso’s leadership during what Cunningham describes as one of the most difficult periods in LAPD history.
“It wasn’t all about Bratton,” explains Cunningham. “When we took over the commission, the morale of the department was at an all-time low. We were dealing with the fallout from the Rampart scandal. Crime was soaring. Resources were strapped. We had a bunch of very serious issues to deal with, and I think we handled them quite well.”
Caruso’s record in public service isn’t entirely sterling, however, especially during his tenure on the DWP. His battles with environmentalist and “green cowboy” S. David Freeman, then general manager of the department, are legendary. When the idea of creating a 1,300-acre nature preserve surrounding the Chatsworth Reservoir came up, Caruso fought the effort tooth and nail, lobbying instead to build athletic fields and possibly open some of the area up for development. He eventually lost in the face of massive public opposition. He did, however, stop Freeman from protecting 300,000 acres of DWP land in the Sierras — mocking the general manager along the way for his effort. Freeman, now a Villaraigosa appointee serving as president of the Harbor Commission, declined to comment for this story.
In 1986, as the 27-year-old president of the DWP Board of Commissioners, Caruso led the charge to cut off water to a 24-unit apartment complex whose landlord was $15,000 in arrears to the department. It turned out that the landlord didn’t live in the building, and his debt was in connection with a different property entirely. After a week without water that forced residents to walk up and down the street with buckets to wash their dishes and flush their toilets — a scene that wound up replaying in the media — the department was forced to turn the water back on.
In 1990, in the fourth year of a severe drought, an audit blasted the Caruso-led DWP board for failing to forecast future water demands and for not adequately conserving resources. Months later, Mayor Bradley, under pressure for not doing enough to handle the drought, ordered mandatory water conservation without the DWP board’s consent, causing Caruso to lash out in the press: “We are not an environmental agency and we should not be. To say our purpose is the environment is malarkey. Our purpose is to provide water and power.”
These days, Caruso sings a slightly different tune.
“Nearly 50 percent of the water we use in this city goes toward lawn and yard maintenance. We need to do a better job of using recycled water for those purposes.”
Mention toilet-to-tap recycling for drinking water, though, and you can practically see Caruso’s gag reflex kick in.
“I think that’s probably a ways away,” he says, in one of the few moments of our conversation in which I feel like he’s being coy. “I think we’d need a massive public education program to make that happen.”
Don’t expect to see recycled water in Caruso’s dancing fountains anytime soon.
For a man renowned for reimagining the mall as Main Street meets Vegas — complete with fake snow and trolleys to nowhere — Caruso imagines a Los Angeles that, to hear him describe it, wouldn’t look a whole lot different from how it does now. His vision seems less about sweeping transformation than it does about eliminating the inconveniences that plague livability in this city — traffic, crime and, yes, a lack of cleanliness.
He criticizes proponents of smart growth for pushing density as the solution to the city’s livability problems. “You can’t just solve the traffic problem by saying we’re going to become denser, or have housing on top of retail, next to a bus stop or a subway. People still need to get around.”
It’s refreshing to hear that from someone who just built $400 million worth of housing on top of retail next to a bus stop. Instead of immediately transforming the DNA of the city, he argues, there are small steps that can be taken right away to make it more livable. “When the Olympics were in L.A., I remember getting around this city was a breeze, because they put in certain restrictions. One of the things was taking the trucks off the road by forcing them to drive early in the morning or late at night. That made a huge difference.”
Likewise, he says, development can play a role by making sure that each part of the city has adequate resources to meet its own basic needs. “Where I live in Brentwood, we don’t have really nice movie theaters to go to that are close to us. So if my kids want to see a movie, I have to drive them a half-hour away. That’s silly. Development can create traffic problems, but it can also solve them.”
Ultimately, though, Caruso says, a rail network is the only solution to the city’s transportation woes. But, he says, we need to rethink the way we approach that system. “Why is L.A. the only major city in the U.S. that doesn’t have a rail system? It’s been mismanaged. We spend a fortune in this city trying to build rapid transit underground. It’s 10, 20 times more expensive than building it above ground. Why are we doing that? How about elevated?”
As expected from a billionaire, Caruso is a bottom-line guy. If the numbers don’t crunch, it ain’t going to happen. This attitude has obviously made him successful, but has also prevented him from transcending his public image as a slick, wealthy developer into more of a civic figure along the lines of Eli Broad.
For all the thought and expense that went into the Americana, the project has no major solar-panel arrays — a somewhat surprising omission given Caruso’s DWP past.
“We tried to make solar panels work at the Americana,” Caruso explains, “but it just wasn’t cost-effective.”
That excuse falls a little flat when one takes a tour of the apartments at the Americana and sees yet another original Botero hanging above a fireplace in the common billiards room. If he can afford Botero, he can afford a solar panel or two.
The one arena for which Caruso seems to throw aside his bean-counting ways is public space. “Every community in this city is entitled to beautiful parks and public space in their neighborhood,” he argues.
Antonio Villaraigosa, of course, made similar pronouncements when he ran for mayor in 2005, promising to help create an “emerald necklace” of parks throughout Los Angeles.
It hasn’t even come close to happening. And the prospect of someone like Caruso taking over that task is drawing unlikely support. Robert Garcia, of the public-space-advocacy group City Project, is extremely critical of the Villaraigosa administration: “We’ve had systemic management failures from the top down.”
Garcia, it should be noted, is not a Caruso fan and describes a Los Angeles filled with Grove-like public space as “a truly frightening vision.”
“But it certainly couldn’t be any worse than what we’ve had with Villaraigosa,” Garcia adds. “Our lack of parks is creating a public-health crisis in low-income parts of this city, and the mayor, despite his promises, has done nothing. Nothing is going to happen with his administration unless we bring a lawsuit. They seem incapable of acting.”
If there’s one thing Caruso can’t be accused of, it’s inaction. In trying economic times, the $400 million Americana had no outside capital investors, other than perhaps the city of Glendale, which secured and donated the land for the project. Even now, in the worst economic climate the United States has seen since the Great Depression, Caruso is still pushing ahead with two more developments. “We’re not scaling back anything,” he says. His proposed 85-acre retail project at the Santa Anita Racetrack in Arcadia would be his largest and most expensive to date. And the Montecito planning commission has just green-lighted his controversial Miramar resort project south of Santa Barbara.
“I hate to see what’s going on with the economy, but you have to look at the opportunities a situation like this can provide. We’re going to be buying into this market.”
Caruso says the city needs to take advantage too.
“A lot of office space is going to be opening up. Rents are going to be lower, and we can use that to our advantage to create more jobs. Businesses are going to be able to relocate a lot less expensively, and now is the time to try to lure them in.”
The tanking real estate market should also allow the city to pick up cheap land for parks and civic space.
“Now isn’t the time to be afraid. It’s time to start looking at how we can turn things around.”
Love him or hate him, it’s hard to argue that Caruso isn’t uniquely suited for this exact moment in the city’s history — someone fiscally prudent in a time of budget crisis, yet also a builder in a city with massive infrastructure dilemmas. The situation calls to mind another urban master builder, Robert Moses, who rebuilt New York in the tumultuous ’30s and ’40s.
Could Caruso be L.A.’s Moses?
“Why [hasn’t] a single politician or potential candidate with the money to take Villaraigosa down challenged him?”
Ron Kaye, the former Daily News editor who’s made headlines with his vow to help “clean up” city government, recently posed this question on his blog — a prod seemingly directed at Caruso: “And if they don’t have the courage to do it now,” he went on, “should you really consider them for office in two years or four years when the city will be that much worse off?”
To which Caruso answers: “I’m only going to run if I think I can win.”
After his failed mayoral bid in 2001, Playa Vista developer Steven Soboroff said that there are two main problems a real estate mogul faces in hoping to win an election in Los Angeles: name recognition and the lack of a political base. In other words, you need to get your name out there, and you need to find a large block of people to help you do it.
While that still holds true today, a lot has changed in the seven years since Soboroff became the last wealthy entrepreneur to cast his lot in mayoral politics. For a white Republican like Caruso, a new hurdle has come into play — demographics. L.A. hasn’t had a Republican mayor since Richard Riordan, and, considering the city’s ever-growing Democratic leaning and increasingly influential Latino population, that isn’t likely to change anytime soon.
“A Republican can win the mayor’s office in L.A.,” says longtime Democratic strategist Darry Sragow, who worked as a political adviser to Villaraigosa back when the mayor was speaker of the state Assembly. “But if you play the odds, the next mayor won’t be a white Republican male.”
Republican strategist Arnold Steinberg, who worked on Riordan’s successful mayoral campaigns, agrees: “There’s not a high probability of a Republican being elected, but it’s possible.”
So can Caruso beat Villaraigosa? In a one-on-one race? “Absolutely not,” says Steinberg. “I think Caruso could eventually become a viable candidate, but he would have to be completely committed. It’s not something you can pull together in a few months. You can’t win an election with just TV and radio anymore. If he were serious about this, I would say he needs to start proposing business ideas that could have positive political effects down the line.”
The simple truth is that while Caruso has been floating the prospect of running for mayor for nearly five years, he hasn’t laid the basic political groundwork he needs for electoral success. His developments, his single greatest political advertisements, are mostly in affluent white areas. If he’s ever going to have any shot at becoming mayor, he needs to spread the wealth across the city. Not only is it too late for him to do that in this election cycle, says Steinberg, but if Caruso wants to run in four years, “he’s got to start planning now.”
Franklin Gilliam, dean of the UCLA School of Public Affairs and an expert on racial and ethnic politics, agrees: “The Riordan model was to win large parts of the white vote, especially in the Valley, but also to pick up a nontrivial percentage of the black and Latino vote — at least 20 percent of each group.”
Assuming Caruso would have difficulty gaining headway against Villaraigosa in the Latino community, this would seemingly make the black vote that much more important. But, says Gilliam, “Caruso hasn’t been part of the move to redevelop South Los Angeles. And he hasn’t partnered with Magic Johnson, which should be a no-brainer for any developer looking to run for mayor of Los Angeles.
“Caruso may have made the calculation that they might not vote for him anyway, so he won’t even bother,” adds Gilliam. “But he’d be hard-pressed to win without at least some support from the African-American community.”
That doesn’t stand to change either, should Caruso run four years from now.
“You’ve got no shortage of rising political stars in the Latino community,” says Gilliam. “And in the African-American community, [State Assembly Speaker] Karen Bass is someone to watch out for. Things aren’t going to get any easier for Caruso.”
For his part, Caruso says he’s explored development options in South and East Los Angeles but that, for business reasons, he “just couldn’t make it work.” Like solar panels at the Americana, however, some things are more valuable than the bottom line. Especially considering that Caruso isn’t exactly starting on neutral ground with the black community.
It’s widely acknowledged that James Hahn lost to Villaraigosa back in 2005 in part because of his falling out with black voters, stemming from the way the decision to remove Bernard Parks as police chief was handled. Caruso, of course, was in charge of that decision and took his share of the heat. Several black leaders were on the threshold of organizing a protest against Caruso at the Grove in 2002. Not to mention a long-standing feud Caruso has had with Congresswoman Maxine Waters, after he allegedly called her a “bitch” during the negotiations to remove Parks.
Though Bratton’s performance as police chief would seem to redeem Caruso with regard to any political transgressions he may have made, City Councilman Parks is still prominent, and has vowed to actively campaign against Caruso should he ever run.
That, however, will only be an issue if Parks wins his own upcoming election against Mark Ridley-Thomas for county supervisor, says Gilliam. Mirroring Soboroff’s sentiment, Gilliam adds, “Right now, Caruso’s bigger problem is that I suspect he has low name-recognition among African-American voters.”
Caruso, though, insists his record speaks for itself in South and East L.A., and that the election is winnable should he choose to run. He maintains he’ll never undertake a development if the project isn’t viable, even if it might win him political favor.
“If I go in and build something that’s not right financially, the project will fail and it will discourage other investors from coming in. That won’t be doing these communities any favors. I think people in East L.A. and South L.A. know my work from the police commission. They’ve seen crime go down in their communities and will be willing to give me a chance.”
Villaraigosa certainly seems to be taking the Caruso threat seriously. Despite the overwhelming odds in the mayor’s favor and the fact that, as of now, he’s running unopposed, Villaraigosa has already raised more than $1.6 million for the upcoming election.
“I think I’m actually helping the mayor,” Caruso says, laughing. “He’s raising money, probably fearing that I’m going to run.”
The mayor would seem to be in a good position, but given the volatile economic times, anything can happen. Perhaps the prospect of a paternalistic billionaire businessman, undaunted by the crumbling economy, would soothe jittery voters.
There’s also speculation that if Caruso decides to run, former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg, who has already said he won’t seek the job, might change his mind and jump in the fray, splitting the Democratic vote and giving Caruso a shot.
Not to mention the possibility that come November, Villaraigosa could find himself with a role in an Obama administration. Though the mayor poured all the slop he could into the Clinton trough during the Democratic primary, he spent most of the summer trying to redeem himself, campaigning throughout the country for Obama.
“After eight years of Republican rule, there are a lot of positions that are going to need to be filled,” says Gilliam.
It’s a thought that has crossed Caruso’s mind. “There’s no question my odds would improve in an open race.”
It remains to be seen, however, whether Caruso has the stomach for campaign gamesmanship. No matter who he faces, whenever he decides to run, Caruso has repeatedly said he doesn’t have a taste for politics for the sake of politics.
“I read an interview with Michael Bloomberg where he was asked, ‘What’s the first thing you think about in the morning?’ A typical politician would have said, ‘Solve crime,’ or whatever. But Bloomberg said, ‘I had too much red wine last night.’ I like that attitude. He doesn’t have to get re-elected. He doesn’t need the paycheck. He’s got the freedom to make decisions that he believes in, and not have to worry about being so politically perfect. And I think that’s what gives him his strength.”
If Caruso defies the pols and even manages to get himself elected, expect to hear the words of another famous New Yorker Caruso admires blasting through the corridors of City Hall: “I did it my wa-a-a-a-a-a-y.”