Magazine article The New Yorker

VHAT'S UP? Series: 4/6

Magazine article The New Yorker

VHAT'S UP? Series: 4/6

Article excerpt

Of all the bad news that has recently hit the gubernatorial campaign of H. Carl McCall, none, perhaps, was more dispiriting than the fact, heretofore unreported, that Isac Weinberger, of Brooklyn, has pretty much conceded the race to George Pataki. "McCall will lose," he said quietly last week, amid a crowd of fellow McCall supporters at a fund-raiser for Congressman Charles Rangel in midtown. In the dreary land of city and state politics, Isac (as he is known) has invented a singular niche--that of extreme political buff and magpie. Among political professionals, a constant susurration of gossip and information warfare underscores every campaign season; civilians may not hear or care about any of it, but it often determines who represents them in the end. Isac, a unique hybrid of operative, broker, bureaucrat, groupie, and, above all, gossipmonger, probably spends more time than anyone in town moving this chatter along.

Isac is a fifty-five-year-old Hasidic Jew of the Satmar sect who was born in Hungary and brought up in Williamsburg. He is squat and big-bellied, outwardly gruff but often beaming. He began ringing doorbells for Brooklyn Democrats when he was fourteen. His favorite politician of all time is Abe Beame, and it angers him that no building has been named for him. Isac has worked for the city since 1990 (he was a staunch supporter of David Dinkins) and now has a job at a department that he prefers not to name, it being unclear how much official business he conducts there. "I have a desk and a phone," he has been known to say. He makes good use of this phone by passing the hours calling up reporters at every paper in town. "We call him Brooklyn borough chief," Tom Topousis, who covers politics for the Post, says. Isac usually checks in with Topousis several times a day. "So, vhat's cooking?" Isac asks, in his low growl.

"I always feel compelled to tell him something," Topousis said. "It's like I have two masters: my editor and Isac." In exchange, Isac will tell him something: who's endorsing whom, who's lunching with whose enemy, who's writing what for tomorrow. (Or he may bark, "Your story is nothing!") The information is usually good and often useful. "You sell and you buy, you buy and you sell," Isac said. In Room 9, the press headquarters at City Hall, this process repeats itself throughout the morning: one reporter will hang up with Isac, and five seconds later another reporter's phone will ring. …

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