The reason Gus Christensen [Gustavus Adolphus Henry Christensen IV, actually] looks like an investment banker is that he was one until four months ago. A handshake reveals a shirt monogram over the wrist, an Omega watch and lapis cuff links he got on a JPMorgan Chase & Co. trip to Chile.
One clue to his new line of work was the Vineyard Vines tie with donkeys he wore to the Yale Club on Feb. 27. Another was his name on the program for that night’s annual Lenox Hill Democratic Club dinner as president and benefactor.
“Reactionary forces are strong,” he told his neighbors from New York’s affluent Upper East Side, their forks and knives clinking as they ate mushroom tart. “But the progressive side is stronger. And both time and right are on our side.”
In his dinner speech, Christensen’s voice lurched and swelled to find the rhythm of the pulpit. He preached stronger rights for workers and women, tougher regulation, cheaper housing and “progress on inequality itself.”
Christensen has faced criticism even before officially declaring his candidacy to represent Manhattan’s 76th Assembly district, which stretches from 61st to 92nd streets east of Third Avenue and includes Roosevelt Island. He spent more than $2,600 on Lenox Hill dues for about 150 friends and colleagues to help him win the club’s presidency, the Daily News reported in January.
The explanation he gave in the interview last month about why he paid for friends to join the club, and how he feels after winning, had the long zigzag of testimony some of his former Wall Street colleagues have delivered in Washington.
“I didn’t come in off the street and, quote, buy this club,” he said at first, describing the support older members showed him. “Look, I regret how it played out, I regret how some people’s feelings were hurt,” he added. Then he described paying dues for some people to counter “moves that the other side had made to control the nominating procedures.”
Sounding like a defensive banker is one thing; looking like a secret Republican is another. An audience member at a Stonewall Democratic Club meet-the-candidates talk last month asked him if he’d once been registered to vote for the rival party. Christensen said he didn’t believe he had.
“I fumbled the answer,” he said a week after the session, acknowledging that Board of Elections records showed he was registered as a Republican until early 2007.
Christensen grew up in Brooklyn’s Park Slope, the son of two tax lawyers.His mother worked for Citibank, and his father represented philanthropist and socialite Brooke Astor. The younger Christensen went to Saint Ann’s School in Brooklyn Heights, with a year at New Hampshire’s Phillips Exeter Academy. After graduating from Yale University in 1994, he joined JPMorgan’s training program.
He left the bank in 2000, the year he was plucked for a photo shoot during a ski trip to Badrutt’s Palace in St. Moritz, Switzerland. He donned Dunhill ski wear for a fashion shoot in British GQ that year, according to a New York Observer story.
“Some people just have a classic look,” a fashion editor said about him then. “There’s something timeless about him.”
Christensen received a master’s in business administration from the Wharton School of theUniversity of Pennsylvania in 2003 and took a job at Goldman Sachs, where he helped advise Colony Capital LLC on casino purchases.
He left two years later for Evercore Partners Inc. (EVR), the boutique investment bank where he worked on mergers and acquisitions as a managing director. His clients included restaurant chain O’Charley’s Inc. and General Motors Co., the carmaker that filed for bankruptcy in 2009. A Justice Department trustee called the fees Evercore wanted “staggering.”
So a rich, entitled crook wants to rule the little people – how very unique.