FOR THE NINE MONTHS I worked on the Messinger campaign, I answered one question more than any another: "Why?" Why was Ruth running against an unbeatable incumbent? Why was I working for Ruth? Given that I was working for Ruth, why wasn't I doing a better job? There were answers to all of these questions, which you know from having suffered through my account of the experience, but people rarely were interested in the details. Most would just shake their heads in disbelief that anyone would volunteer to be a deckhand on a ship everyone knew to be doomed to sink in icy waters.
When I set out to write this book, I answered a similar set of questions. Why was I writing a book about an unsuccessful campaign? Why would I think anyone would be interested in publishing such a book? It wasn't about the Messinger campaign, I would explain. It was a book about campaigns that was incidentally about the 1997 mayoral campaign. But people rarely were interested in details. For several months I placed my hope of publishing the book in a small academic press that had reviewed the draft manuscript favorably. The director of the house said they would publish the book, but changed her mind after her marketing director and a savvy friend from the Upper West Side—neither of whom had read the book— told her they did not think a book about the Messinger campaign would sell. It was only incidentally about the campaign, I explained again. But she wasn't interested in the details.
It took longer to write this book and find a publisher than it did to live the experience of working on the campaign. When both tasks were done, I allowed myself the indulgence of calling three people I had found to be especially compelling characters during the campaign and asking their reaction to some of the issues I raise here. The last of the three was Fran Reiter, who is currently head of the New York City Convention and Visitors Bureau. I wrote in November and explained the book and its spirit and that I was willing to observe any ground rules for our talk with which she felt comfortable.