NEW YORK — They spoke in voices so hushed it was hard to judge exactly what the conversation was about, but their body language said it all.
Just hours after New York voters overwhelmingly picked Democrat Bill de Blasio to succeed Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the two political nemeses met for the first time, sitting across from one another at a wooden conference table inside the mayor’s office at City Hall.
The post-election night get-together has been a long tradition in New York politics, a sign of two rivals putting aside the bitterness of the campaign to move forward for the good of the city. But this meeting was of particular curiosity — given that de Blasio, who currently serves as the city’s public advocate, rode to a landslide victory over his Republican rival by essentially casting himself as the anti-Bloomberg.
Unlike past efforts by political rivals to make nice with each other in front of cameras, De Blasio and Bloomberg skipped any pretense of jocularity and didn't speak to the large press scrum who came to watch. Instead, reporters were led in groups of six at a time to witness minute-long snippets of their meeting, which was held overlooking the infamous “bullpen” — the open floor plan of desks that Bloomberg installed inside the mayor’s office at City Hall.
Journalists shifted in and out of the room to eye the two politicians, demonstrating the same kind of curiosity that they might have at an exhibit of caged zoo animals. De Blasio seemed fidgety, rearranged his six-foot-five frame several times in his chair, leaned forward and back, and whispered occasionally audible phrases like “What did…” and “How did you…” and “Didn’t he…" It suggested a friendly curiosity by the mayor-elect toward the incumbent, though de Blasio never smiled.
Bloomberg, who wore a blank look, whispered answers in return, his hand resting near a digital clock that tallied up the length of the meeting, which by then was past the half-hour mark. Nearby, another digital click ticked down — this one counting the hours he has left until he leaves office on Dec. 31.
The outgoing mayor has never projected much warmth and didn't do so today. He clutched a cup of coffee, while de Blasio had a can of ginger ale. But neither man took a sip.
At one point, Bloomberg looked past de Blasio to the reporters who held their iPhones and tape recorders aloft, trying to capture the meeting. He crossed his arms and frowned — a moment that quickly made the rounds through a photo posted on Twitter.
Aides said there would be no read-out of the details of their roughly hour-long conversation.
De Blasio later held a press conference to announce the formation of a transition team to help him prepare to take office in 55 days. And he offered rare praise for Bloomberg, telling reporters their meeting had been “very, very productive,” “very cordial,” “very helpful” and “very collegial." He said he planned to work “very closely” with Bloomberg during the next few weeks, though he still offered no details on what the two had discussed.
“He and his team have been very forthcoming, very positive,” de Blasio said of Bloomberg. “It is obvious this is going to be a smooth and productive transition, and I want to thank him for the spirit in which he is approaching this and for the helpful advice he gave this morning.”