Book excerpt: Bradley Tusk takes on fiction with ‘Obvious in Hindsight’

City & State reprints a chapter from the political strategist’s upcoming novel.

Bradley Tusk

Bradley Tusk (Photo by Charlie Gross. Courtesy of Tusk Venture Partners)

Bradley Tusk is the latest political insider with a book release. The strategist, who worked as Chuck Schumer’s communications director and Mike Bloomberg’s campaign manager before starting his own political consulting shop, venture capital firm and philanthropic organization dedicated to mobile voting and solving hunger, has penned a novel. 

Obvious in Hindsight,” tells the story of “how decisions are really made,” writes Tusk in a note from the author about his flying car startup tale. Tusk, also a tech startup investor, promises the fictional story will show, “how the tech community uses politics to legalize its products, and how the tech community also sometimes misunderstands politics and watches their startups go broke as a result.”

As an owner of an independent bookstore, P&T Knitwear on the Lower East Side, Tusk is making the book available at select independent bookstores in cities across the country starting Nov. 7 – three weeks before the hardover begins shipping on Amazon on Nov. 28. The Kindle and audiobook versions will also be released Nov. 7. will list all the participating indie bookstores. Grace Rauh, former NY1 journalist and current executive director of the 5BORO Institute, will lead a book talk with Tusk at his upcoming release party.  

City & State was offered an advance copy of the novel. What follows is Chapter 4, a fictional episode of NY1’s Inside City Hall. 

Excerpted from Obvious in Hindsight by Bradley Tusk © 2023 with permission from Regalo Press.

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New York City, Inside City Hall, NY1 Studios

The lights come up on a local news station studio that’s got some money to spend—but clearly nowhere near network-news money. The walls are covered with flatscreens showing clips from the events of the day: a three-hour backup on the BQE; a new bookstore and podcast studio on the Lower East Side called, for some reason, P&T Knitwear; a groundhog who bit the mayor again. The carpet is a brilliant French blue. In the center is a glass table, around which are seated three people, all of them anxiously waiting for their turn to speak and not listening to a word anyone else says.

Kirsten White, a former parks commissioner turned newscaster, wears a powder-blue blazer and white blouse, her auburn hair teased around her shoulders. The camera zooms in on her attentive stare and megawatt smile. “Welcome to Inside City Hall. The topic tonight: flying cars. Are they about to take off in the Big Apple, or will they crash and burn? Susan Howard, the controversial CEO of FlightDeck, seems to think we’re ready for it, and has even enlisted the heavyweight lobbying firm Firewall to try and make it happen. With us tonight on this topic are

Graciela Vazquez, president of the New York Democratic Socialists, and Roland Hodges, the former Republican state senator from Staten Island.”

White turns to Hodges, in his dark suit jacket and white button-down shirt. He’s not a politician anymore, so he doesn’t wear a tie. He’s one of those rare legislators with movie-star looks – square jaw and a full head of salt-and-pepper hair. He’d have made it further than the statehouse if not for that pesky secret second family (or the pesky blogger who figured it all out).

“Senator Hodges,” White says, “you spent ten years representing residents with some of the longest commute times in the city. Is this something you think we need?” 

“Absolutely, Kirsten,” he says, flashing teeth so whitened they make Joe Biden’s teeth look a little yellow. “First off, innovation is never a bad thing. It means jobs. It means tax revenue. It fosters even more innovation. I spent my entire tenure trying to bring fast ferry service to the south shore of Staten Island, where the average commute times are around an hour. The city shut us down over and over again because they didn’t want to spend the money on dredging. If private industry wants to come in and offer a better option, I say let them.”

Vazquez clears her throat and adjusts her red blazer, which matches her red lipstick, both of which stand out against her jet-black hair, pulled back into a tight ponytail. “That’s if the technology even works.”

“Time and patience,” Hodges says to her. “If I learned anything, it’s worth it in the end.”

White chimes in. “Ms. Vazquez, you’ve said that this isn’t what City Hall needs to be focusing on right now...”

Vazquez doesn’t give her a chance to finish. “That’s exactly right. Even if they can pull this off, should they? Are flying cars really what we need? The mayor’s job is to reduce income inequality, not approve new ways for rich people to avoid traffic. Subway violence is out of control. Let’s worry about keeping people safe underground before we start launching them into the air.”

“Funny to hear you talk about more policing,” Hodges says – light-hearted, but with a little bit of an edge. Vazquez isn’t thrown. “It’s not about policing. It’s about homeless and mental health support services. But that’s a separate conversation. No matter what, this idea means more time, money, and energy to create space for the one percent to play with some new toys.”

“FlightDeck’s CEO...” White starts.

“Susan Howard,” Vazquez finishes. “She talks a good game, but look at what we’ve seen so far: a disastrous press conference in LA where she couldn’t answer any tough questions. A whole lot of promises and ideas but no actual tests or evidence of how these things would work. It feels like the sequel to Theranos: a brilliant idea with nothing to back it up.”

“I’m glad we can at least agree that it’s brilliant,” Hodges says.

“Look, I get it,” Vazquez continues. “In a perfect world, if these things are low-emission like they say, and it takes cars off the road, and it cuts down on greenhouse gases and commute times, I’m in favor of all that. But the last thing I want to see is this city dedicating an outsized amount of time and resources and infrastructure to an issue that feels more like a vanity project.”

“No one’s saying the government should fund flying cars over school lunches,” Hodges says. “But if a private company and its investors want to spend their own money to create something new? You’ve got all those groups in Silicon Valley pouring money into stuff like this left and right. It doesn’t take anything away from us.”

Vazquez gives a little smirk, enjoying the back and forth. “It’s still time and resources and distractions. Look at everyone lining up to oppose this. Taxi. Uber. The DSA. The Transport Workers Union. The Audubon Society. How do you overcome all of that? If Susan Howard genuinely wants to help people, she can donate her money to food banks or homeless shelters.”

Hodges raises his voice, getting flustered, gesturing with his hands. “We’re not talking about City budget money. We’re talking about private money. You’re deliberately conflating the two. Although you probably believe that all money should be government money.”

Sensing the rising tension, White jumps in. “FlightDeck has enlisted Firewall to try and make this happen. The head of Firewall, Nick Denevito, has a reputation for making the impossible possible.”

“Denevito and his team have pulled rabbits out of hats before,” Vazquez says. “But this is gonna be tough. I just don’t see it.”

“I know Nick,” Hodges says. “He doesn’t bet on losers, and on the rare occasions he does lose, he puts up one hell of a fight. He made esports betting legal in sixteen states. Stopped Phoenix from banning Pokémon Go. Took down the Butler’s Union. Made mini golf an Olympic sport. I wouldn’t underestimate him.”

“So how do they make this happen?” White asks.

Hodges nods solemnly. “If I were running the campaign?The opposition is steep. They’re connected. The taxi guys alone have a disproportionate amount of power – especially over Mayor Navarro. But c’mon, we’re talking about flying cars. I can tell you this – a lot of my former colleagues are going to say what they have to say to make the unions happy, and then get on the elevator and talk about how cool it would be if this passed.I hope they show a little backbone. Whatever Firewall does, they have to make the whole thing so exciting, so innovative, so attractive that the normal political rules of gravity don’t apply.”

“Speaking of Navarro, where does he land on this?” White asks.

“Navarro is termed out, so he doesn’t have all that much riding on this either way,” Hodges says. “We all know he got worked over by Uber and wouldn’t mind getting a little revenge. That said, he’s spent years doing business with the unions and he’s close with some of the big taxi medallion owners. So I guess that’s a long way of saying: we’ll see.”

“I know this much,” Vazquez says. “He hasn’t delivered on even a tenth of his promises. And what happens when one of these cars crashes into a school, or into the crowd in Times Square?”

“Gracey, c’mon. You’re telling me that you wouldn’t jump at the chance to hop into one of these? In a city where it can take an hour to travel six miles?”

Vazquez throws a sharp eyebrow at Hodges, not comfortable with the familiarity, but she doesn’t pursue it. “If this was real, Susan Howard would have touched down at that press conference in a working car, and we wouldn’t be having this conversation. But history tells the tale. All these Silicon Valley types – they come up with big ideas and they beta test them on us, and they don’t care who gets hurt in the process.”

Hodges is turning red now. The discussion has turned into a debate, and it’s not going his way. He’s about to interject when White jumps in. “Well, if anything can defy gravity, it should be flying cars.” 

Vazquez and Hodges pretend to laugh.

“We’ll be following this closely. Now you tell us, New York. Text the numbers at the bottom of the screen to let us know if you support flying cars. Results when we come back. And up next on Inside City Hall, we ask our panel of experts, what’s that chocolate smell?”