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Joe KleinAnd at the center of Thomas Kelly's New York, more vital than plot or characters, is politics. Not the politics of elections, personalities, reform or progress -- no, this is the politics of the never-ending transaction. Public employees' unions may supplant Tammany, bundled campaign contributions may replace envelopes filled with cash, and new ethnic groups provide the crooks and the muscle labor. But the buildings still go up, the contracts are still let out (and not always to the lowest bidder) and zoning variances remain an adventure. There are lawyers, insurance brokers, pension fund managers and mobsters crawling all over each other for a payday, and good government sorts (''goo-goos'' is the term of art) trying to thwart them. Kelly is too smart for idealism, too romantic for reflexive cynicism. He is a realist, who understands that there's just too much here -- too much money, glamour, power -- for the city to ever completely reform itself. The structures are too big to run without a little grease. Empire Rising is an ode to urban grease; I'll never look at that grand old building the same way again.
— The New York Times