Q&A: JIMMY BRESLIN (Excerpt)
Highlights from 20 Interviews (2007)
Thursday, January 10, 2008
What follows is an excerpt from Issue 33: 20 Interviews
GO OUT AND GET A STORY: JIMMY BRESLIN
Interview BY JEREMY SCHAAP
As luxury condos tower over the once-downtrodden Bowery and a billionaire tech mogul reigns over a robust tourist mecca (and toast of the Republican National Convention), the days of the government telling New York City to drop dead are but a footnote to this new, untested era of scorched-earth gentrification. Yet the inequities and injustices of old still persist, even while the voices of dissent in the media are ominously silent (or are preoccupied crafting clever quips in the blogosphere). Then there’s Jimmy Breslin, a torchbearer from the days of big-city print journalism, the quintessential constant in an ever-changing megalopolis. As a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for multiple outlets, among them the New York Daily News, the same paper responsible for that infamous “Drop Dead” headline in 1977, Breslin earned his readers’ trust — or raised ire — through a time-tested formula: First, the simple dissemination of facts. Then, “somewhere in the middle, rising on strong, steel legs, is an opinion.”
Breslin, who was born in Jamaica, New York in 1930, retired from Newsday in 2004, though he still stays abreast of columnists and their craft, despite a lethally discerning eye. Michael Daly is a friend and writer he still admires, as is Steve Lopez of the Los Angeles Times (even Carl Hiaasen, another coastal columnist, gets an endorsement). Though technological advancements allow reporters to get as close to the story as ever before, Breslin remains unimpressed, by and large, with their ability to gather news. Why? He can sum up his frustration in four letters. “W–O–R–K: Work! I don’t believe any of them do a day’s worth.”
In October, Jeremy Schaap sat ringside with Breslin at his apartment on the Upper East Side for a hard-hitting conversation ranging from Dostoevsky to the presidential election. (The complete interview can be found in Issue 33: 20 Interviews.) For a man who, in 1969, paired with Norman Mailer (Mailer running for mayor, Breslin running for New York City Council) under a platform of New York City secession as the 51st state, a measuring stick for today’s shallow pool of presidential candidates may be the fact that Breslin supports a phantom candidate: Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire who bought City Hall. “He’s got some humanity of some kind,” Breslin told Schaap, “some sense of proportion that the other candidates don’t have.” As for his views on those other candidates, it’s best to let Breslin belt them out on his own.
Stop Smiling: How do you feel about the presidential election, especially considering two representatives from New York are in the race?
Jimmy Breslin: Hillary Clinton doesn’t say anything when she talks. She talks interminably, but says nothing. When she does say something of substance, she lies. That’s Hillary Clinton.
SS: And Mr. Giuliani?
JB: He’ll start World War III. He’s power-nuts — he’s a little man in search of a balcony. He always has been.
SS: What if it comes down to Hillary and Giuliani?
JB: A third party would win. All the haters would go after the other two. For sure the other guy would win.
SS: You know that can’t happen.
JB: Why? This is 2007. It’s a whole other world. That’s all old political nonsense. These two people are eminently dislikable. I don’t care about the polls. What, you get some college students to sit in a room someplace and call you on the phone? Forget about it. Bloomberg has billions and could spend it on his own campaign and dissolve party lines.
SS: So you think the country will have a choice between an Italian New Yorker, a carpetbagger New Yorker and a Jewish New Yorker?
JB: Why not? We could, without a doubt. Bloomberg’s got enough money to get into a campaign.
SS: Who is he going to appeal to?
JB: Anybody. The Hillary lies will just keep ripping them down — she has nothing to say. If she goes near a general, she gets very homogenized. There’s nothing there. How do you like her voice? Nice, huh? Drone on. Lie on. She can give a report here, a report there — pretty soon her luck is dead. She’s a liar. Bill will still be going around after her, claiming they did great things for the country. I’d like to take the film and run it of soldiers being run through the dirt in Somalia by a rope or a chain like a dead dog. She was part of her husband’s administration. They let the guys get dragged through the sand. Do they expect me not to remember?
SS: What about Giuliani? What kind of mayor was he?
JB: He’s the worst mayor we ever had. Everybody knows about September 11th. And he’s like Christ. The planes hit the buildings on the 11th — Giuliani walked quickly from the area to the basement where they had the television cameras. He went from there to the place that was established as a television studio, and he never came out. He was on television 1,500 times the next few days, telling people to be calm with Bernard Kerik, his police commissioner, next to him — there’s another guy — and all the sudden he became a hero. From the worst we ever had, to a hero. From a guy terrified of blacks — if more than two people entered City Hall at one time, the building shook.
SS: Bloomberg has been mayor for six years. What have you liked about him as mayor?
JB: He’s done well, very well. A couple of times I despise what he’s done. He was against Roger Toussaint and the Transport Workers Union. But he was quite cheery about the ConEd president, who was a white guy. But other than that, Bloomberg is a calming influence. He’s not a dope, Bloomberg. Smarter than the other two.
SS: How do you explain the American people re-electing George W. Bush?
JB: I don’t know. Ohio voted for him. The Presbyterians are a big vote out there. They got what they wanted — and let them drown for it. I’m very bitter about this at the moment. He’s an evil guy, Bush. Dumb and evil. And I don’t think much of where he comes from, either.
SS: What about Al Gore? Do you think he could be the next president?
JB: He brought Lieberman around — I’m still trying get over that. Lieberman wants everybody shot. Gore is certainly better than these two people — I mean, come on. He’s the only one with a positive issue: to stop global warming. There’s no question it’s true. A lot of people would want him right away.
SS: Is the country ready for a Mormon president?
JB: I’m not. I’m not ready for Romney, no matter what he is. He could be Catholic, Protestant, Mormon — forget about it. I don’t like him, that simple. You know, we have a problem in this country — it’s a large country and it’s changing all the time. We’re worried about immigration. They want to put up a fence at the border. Have they ever seen the Mexican border along Arizona? I stayed there with my wife one night at a spot where the first person did come through on American soil, from Mexico — he was a Franciscan monk from the 1500s. We’re at the spot, it’s deserted, there’s nothing there. All you can do is look for 1,500 miles: desert and scrubs and mountains way in the distance. What are you gonna do? Put fences there to stop people? What’re you, nuts? Besides that, who’s gonna get coffee in the morning? Bloomberg will tell you that — he’s got common sense. We’re dead around here without so-called immigrants. I hate it when they say “illegal,” too. What’s illegal about coming here to live and work?
The complete interview with Jimmy Breslin, including his thoughts on Dostoevesky, Mike Royko and Ann Coulter, can be found in Issue 33: 20 Interviews