In 2008, when Marc LaVorgna first met with Mayor Michael Bloomberg about joining his press office, the mayor had one request: “Don’t f— it up.”
“I was shell-shocked,” LaVorgna said. “I didn’t know that he says that to everybody, but at that moment I was completely shell-shocked. I didn’t know what to say. He just said it and walked away, because that’s what the mayor does.”
Four years later, as LaVorgna prepares to take over the top job in the mayor’s press shop, he’s still heeding Bloomberg’s advice.
“Each day he wants to make things matter, and he wants to make things count,” LaVorgna said. “We have about 500 days left now, and we’re going to make every one of them count. That’s my job—to make sure we are.”
In theory, at least, LaVorgna’s job should be easier than that of his predecessor, Stu Loeser, who occupied a prominent position as Bloomberg’s right-hand man after more than six years of press duty and two reelection campaigns.
Bloomberg is not running for public office in 2013, but he’s clearly intent on defending his achievements in office and establishing his legacy—positioning himself as a figure of national importance on federal and international policy issues like reproductive rights and gun control.
This means LaVorgna is now the mouthpiece for a man running to be mayor of the world.
LaVorgna was born in Paterson, New Jersey. His mother helps arrange window displays at a Burlington Coat Factory store and his father worked in a textiles factory, eventually becoming a manager. LaVorgna attended high school in the wealthier suburb of Wayne, but his father has since moved back to Paterson. His mother lives in Bloomingdale.
At Georgetown University he played cornerback on the school’s football team. He was a self-professed “history nerd,” but at Georgetown, just across the river from the Capitol, political curiosity was as easy to catch as a cold.
“In D.C. I think it’s easy to catch the bug for politics—it’s in the water, it’s in the air,” LaVorgna said. (“The water tastes very bad, literally. I don’t know if you’ve ever had D.C. water; it does not compare to New York.”)
In 1996, when Paterson Mayor Bill Pascrell Jr. was elected to Congress, he got an internship in Pascrell’s office. After LaVorgna graduated, he was hired as a full-time press secretary.
Three years later he moved to New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey’s transportation-department press office, and then ran press for the state’s Department of Transit. He moved to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in 2005, and left in 2008 to work on President Barack Obama’s primary campaign. When Stu Loeser asked former Port Authority director of public affairs Steve Sigmund for recommendations for a new deputy press secretary, Sigmund recommended LaVorgna. “He’s always had a maturity beyond his years, a calm, a capacity to not flip out,” Sigmund said. “I attribute it to growing up in a tough, New Jersey town.”
Loeser called LaVorgna in for an interview.
“It went terribly,” said LaVorgna, who has a habit of self-deprecation.
Loeser remembers it differently. After two minutes with LaVorgna, then Deputy Mayor for Operations Ed Skyler recommended Loeser hire him immediately.
LaVorgna now handles press on the city’s massive $60 billion-plus budget, keeping numbers on child-care centers and firehouses stored in his head 24 hours a day. He is almost universally described as always working and extremely competitive. He doesn’t eat breakfast; he got rid of his voice mail to become more efficient; and the only two fiction books he owns are The Catcher in the Rye and The Bonfire of the Vanities. He has no pets, not even a fish.
Asked to name a hobby outside of work, he paused and answered, “Unfortunately, when you go home, this job is still with you.”
He was at a birthday party for deputy press secretary Julie Wood last year at a bar on the Lower East Side when fire department trucks responded to a nearby smoke condition.
“He got really angry, and went outside to count them,” said an attendee.
Four trucks responded and stayed for an hour. “In a huff,” LaVorgna gave a small speech about how this was an example of why firehouses could be closed, said several sources who were present.
“In the middle of the party, he was all steamed up, outside on his cell phone, counting and taking pictures,” said one attendee.
“I’m a pretty hyperactive person,” said LaVorgna, who tapped incessantly at his Blackberry during a recent interview. “I think that people in my office will tell you that I’m always moving around, standing up, rocking in my chair, I can’t sit still very well.”
“The quirky habit I remember is that he always rocked back and forth in his desk chair,” his former boss Steve Sigmund noted. “In a weird, neurotic way, instead of panic mode, he would rock back and forth in his chair like the Rain Man.”
Like Loeser, LaVorgna never technically leaves work. A City Hall reporter recalled LaVorgna taking phone calls about pensions while watching his cousin, a tenor, perform in an opera. During Hurricane Irene last September, Loeser, an Orthodox Jew, was granted a special dispensation to appear with the mayor at press conferences on Saturday, leaving LaVorgna to handle some of the emergency-operations press during the weekend.
“It was difficult to convince him to get any rest,” Wood said.
But there are also marked stylistic differences from Loeser, who can have a hot temper. LaVorgna’s style is subtler, both sartorially and professionally. Unlike Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson and Loeser, LaVorgna is less prone to using Twitter to engage in public fights with reporters over factual errors in stories.
Bloomberg once playfully questioned whether his new press secretary even knew how to use Twitter, after LaVorgna failed to catalogue the #AskMike questions submitted for the mayor’s radio show.
“Marc LaVorgna just couldn’t tweet. Maybe he doesn’t know how to, although Marc’s young enough. You’d think that he would,” Bloomberg said.
He also will not be carrying on Loeser’s tradition of signature black-rimmed glasses and fedoras.
“There were a lot of well-dressed men in the mayor’s press office,” Loeser noted, “but Marc has an eye for detail. Other people look at a shirt and say, ‘There’s a guy in a striped shirt.’ Marc knows about the ‘wale’ of the shirt, which is the aspect ratio of the stripes. None of us even knew the term.”
Chief Bloomberg policy adviser John Feinblatt said his first argument with LaVorgna was over cuffs versus no cuffs on pants.
“I am a cuffs guy,” Feinblatt said. “I think there were strong feelings on both sides, but we agreed to disagree.”
The well-dressed press aide is also, as City Hall insiders are fond of pointing out, a tanned, green-eyed, dark-haired (and as the Observer once wrote, “deep-voiced”) bachelor with a reputation for wooing the women of City Hall. “With all due respect, Stu is a great friend and an incredibly talented press secretary, and Ed was great as well, but I would say Marc is the best looking of the Bloomberg press secretaries,” said Steve Sigmund.
“I keep wanting him to settle down and get married like the rest of us,” he said. “Me and his mother both, I’ve talked to her about it.”
Back in the orange conference room, LaVorgna is responding to questions about his next move with jokes about his gray hairs. He’s itching to get to another meeting, like a press shark who dies if he stops flacking. He emphasizes how much he has learned from Loeser—and still has to learn. The former football player is competing with himself. Five hundred days from now he doesn’t know what he’ll be doing.
“The city is a mayor-driven town. Whoever the mayor is, the mayor is the center of it all, and there’s always something happening every day,” he said. “We’re at the center of that action, and I like that, and whatever I do next will end up being slower-paced, I assume, but I can’t imagine anything this frenetic a pace except the White House, probably,” he said, raising the possibility of landing the top press job in the country.
“Whatever it is, I’m sure it will be slower-paced, and at the beginning, at least, I know I’ll be a little bit bored.”
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