When Michael Bloomberg was elected New York City's 108th mayor two years ago, one of his very first appointments—and one he was so sure of he didn't even use a search committee to select—was his press secretary, a 28-year-old kid named Edward Skyler. Skyler is a New York City native, and he'd worked for Parks Commissioner Henry Stern and then as a press aide in Rudy Giuliani's administration before going to work in the communications department of Bloomberg L.P. He then worked as press secretary on Bloomberg's mayoral campaign, in 2001, before becoming the youngest press secretary in New York City's history. He took time out recently from his usual routine of staunchly and vociferously defending the mayor from the press's inquiries and spoke to mediabistro.com about getting his job, balancing the media's constant quest for information with the Mayor's desire for privacy, and his recent mash note from the New York Post.
Birthdate: April 11, 1973
Hometown: New York City
First section of the Sunday Times: Metro, then Week in Review
How did you get your start in politics? Was it always your dream to be working in City Hall?
I had interned for a city council member in high school, and when I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, I was majoring in history and wanted to enter government. It's hard at the entry level to find politically interesting jobs. You can get basic civil-service jobs, but I was trying to find a way to get into City Hall. The only city agency I found open was the Parks Department, this was about seven years ago, and $22,000 was my starting salary, but it was a great opportunity to see government up close. They matched me with the commissioner, and I had wanted to go to law school, but I changed my application to Fordham from day to night. The commissioner offered me the position of deputy chief of staff.
Henry Stern was famous for his nicknames. Did you get one?
Skylark was my nickname. Then I went to the press office for two years. In my last year of going to law school at night, I joined the press office for Giuliani. So after four years, I got a job in City Hall. It was rewarding to work my way into that goal. When Giuliani decided not to run for Senate, I was looking for another opportunity, and was interested in Bloomberg Media, not knowing he was going to run.
You didn't have any idea Bloomberg would end up running for mayor?
I knew little of him at the time. Most New Yorkers not in finance didn't know a lot about the company back then. I had some friends who heard he was going to run, but I had no idea he would run. Turns out, I got to know him and, when I heard he was going to run, joined the campaign in mid-2000.
Is it more challenging being so young in this job?
Age is a challenge, in that the press is always going to find fault with you in some way. Although the press secretary's job is to serve as a liaison with the press and be the intermediary with the mayor, they view you more as an obstacle than as a help. I think they resent, in a sense, having to call the press secretary to get information. We try to be useful and I think we truly are and provide a lot of information to make their lives and jobs easier, but there's always resentment from some of them, especially from some of them being around for a while, there's a certain tension.
You say you're a liaison, which suggests striking a balance. But New York is an aggressive media town and the mayor is extremely private; do you feel like it's hard to balance reporters' desire for openness with your role as protecting Bloomberg's privacy?
Some politicians want the press to share their holiday meals with them. Mayor Bloomberg isn't like that; when he asks for private time, he doesn't want to share it with the media. The press demands to know where he is on a Saturday in late December with no events scheduled. It's one thing to miss the St. Patrick's Day parade, but a weekend day is different.
What is a typical day like for you?
I start off most days with checking my email, seeing what news has broken over night. I get into work at about 7:30 a.m., and there's usually a senior staff meeting around 8 or 9 a.m. My job in the first couple of hours is oriented toward the press conference for the day, making sure the right remarks are there, making sure the location for the event is good. We also find out what the mayor will be asked about and make sure he's prepared. The next stage of the day is preparing for what is happening the next day and week. The last few weeks were especially focused on the state of the city, but we also want to respond with statements from the Mayor on X, Y, and Z. It's a juggling act.
One article I read described you as Mayor Bloomberg's "pit bull press secretary." Is that a fair description?
When I have to be, I am. You need to defend your boss aggressively. Press work can be quite aggressive. You have to draw the line, and when you first come into office, you have to be clear at the get-go where that line is. That may make me a target for criticism, but I'm just protecting my boss, it's what I'm paid to do. I'm not paid to be loved by the press. I am paid to be respected. I'm not paid to be their friend.
Now that you've been there for two years, has it gotten any easier for you?
You get better at managing the level of stress. It's not necessarily easier, but you get better at dealing with it. The first year is tough, there are crises and challenges. Now that we're halfway through, we're taking stock of our accomplishments and helping to prove that the mayor deserves the people's vote again.
What's next? Will you continue to work as the mayor's press secretary through the next election?
I will stay and help him get re-elected.
Last thing: How does it feel to be one of the New York Post's most eligible bachelors?
I don't have a lot of time to take advantage of that.
Melissa P. McNamara is a freelance writer living in New York.