The annual Inner Circle, the New York City news media's answer to the White House Correspondents Dinner, gives mayors a chance to let their hair down—or, just as likely, put on a wig—and poke fun at both themselves and the city they lead. Their appearances, which attempt to earn goodwill with the reporters who cover them, also can help shape their image in the public eye.
"At a time when it is hard to break through the 24-hour media cycle, this is one way to do it and to do it in a way that is positive and self-effacing," said Jeanne Zaino, political science professor at Iona College. It will give Mayor Bill de Blasio "a chance to reach a broader and different audience in a positive way."
This Saturday's show, which features a two-act reporters' production followed by the mayor's rebuttal show, will be de Blasio's debut and it comes at a time when the mayor could use a good headline. He has seen his poll numbers tumble, he's dealt with a few political missteps—from calling the NYPD to inquire about the arrest of a political ally to the handling of a pair of snowstorms—and he has enjoyed less-than-warm relations with the City Hall press corps.
But de Blasio seems game to make a good impression. The mayor, who frequently cracks jokes at public events—to varying levels of success—released a video this week in which he "trains" for the performance with actor Steve Buscemi.
"He eats pizza with a knife and fork and they call me a dummy?" de Blasio has the doll say, badly.
Details about de Blasio's appearance have largely been kept under wraps. But the mayor, a Democrat, is expected to forgo enlisting the help of a Broadway cast like Bloomberg did, instead opting for a no-frills performance featuring a few celebrity friends.
"Our basic philosophy is that you can never have too much Steve Buscemi," said mayoral spokeswoman Rebecca Katz.
The reporters' show is always filled with jokes—some cringe-worthy—and a parody of songs that make fun of that year's current events, including a 2008 reworking of the song "Love Potion No. 9" as "Client No. 9," to mock former governor Eliot Spitzer's alias in the prostitution case that led to his resignation.
"There are a lot of crazy moments, including a member who once was so tipsy on stage he fell off the stage, without injury," said Henry Goldman, a reporter at Bloomberg News and vice president of the Inner Circle, "and another performer who once appeared on stage without wearing underwear, to the surprise of some in the audience."
This year's show, which will be held in a Manhattan hotel ballroom in front of a crowd of journalists and politicians, is entitled "Robin Hood: Men in Tights" and it pokes fun at de Blasio's efforts to combat income inequality by portraying him as a vigilante trying to steal from the rich to give to the poor.
But the spotlight is inevitably stolen by the mayor's response.
Bloomberg, known for his buttoned-up persona, surprisingly drew big laughs on stage every year. He would dress in absurd costumes, from a hippie to a superhero, and his deadpan, understated performance meshed nicely with the silliness erupting around him.
Mayors have enlisted big names to help: David Dinkins did a fake newscast with Mary Tyler Moore, while John Lindsay did a song with actress Florence Henderson. But Giuliani's turn as "Rudia" remains the show's most unforgettable highlight.
The brash conservative donned a pink gown, blond wig, high heels and makeup to sing "Happy Birthday, Mr. President" on stage in 1997 and brought the character back three years later. The surprising turn graced the tabloid front pages and became a punchline for David Letterman for weeks.
"It will be interesting to see how much de Blasio pokes fun at himself Saturday night," said Goldman. "To the extent he's able to laugh at himself, he's going to have a very successful night."