MANHATTAN — Could it be the beginning of a beautiful friendship?
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Comptroller John Liu, whose personal attacks against one another over the past two years have become near-legendary, now appear to be best buds.
The two appeared together not once, but twice Monday, greeting the first visitors to the new 9/11 Memorial and then raising shovels together as they planted a tree in Battery Park.
The mayor even made a special effort to recognize his formal rival at the afternoon event, pointing out that he had been at the memorial earlier that morning “with John Liu” and that the two had shaken hands with the first people coming through the gates.
While the mayor frequently makes public appearances with officials, including mayoral hopeful and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, an appearance with Liu is rare.
Prior to the weekend’s 9/11-related events, the two had their last formal meeting more than three months ago in May, during a budget briefing, Liu's spokesman said.
The chummy show came a day after the New York Post reported that that the two pols had met for a secret breakfast several weeks ago at which they agreed to end the escalating feud, which sunk to new lows last month when Liu released a report that accused the administration of overestimating how high city pension costs would rise.
The accusation prompted Bloomberg to belittle Liu as incompetent, telling the Daily News editorial board that the comptroller "doesn't know what he is talking about.”
"I don't know where some of this stuff comes from," the mayor was quoted as saying, later offering to try to help Liu "get staff and himself together where they can provide a real function and do a real analysis."
Back in March, Bloomberg struck a similar tone after Liu released a pro-union report that found city workers are paid, on average, 17-percent less than their colleagues in the private sector.
Liu has also repeatedly hammered the administration for its reliance on city contractors, including those responsible for the CityTime scandal, and has offered some zingers of his own.
But that suddenly changed after Hurricane Irene, when Liu issued a jaw-dropping statement that Bloomberg’s aides couldn’t have written better themselves.
“Now that Hurricane Irene has come and gone, New Yorkers should take a moment to recognize that the storm’s effects would have been much worse if Mayor Bloomberg had not taken steps to properly prepare the City for the worst,” Liu declared.
“There is no doubt that the early and successful coordination of City agencies, led by the Office of Emergency Management, mitigated the storm’s impact in the City,” he said.
Despite the thawing, both camps declined to discuss any change in the relationship between the two.
“We keep private conversations private,” said the mayor’s press secretary, Stu Loeser, when asked if there had been any efforts by the two to make amends.
A spokesman for Liu confirmed that a breakfast meeting had taken place, but declined to comment.
“We look for opportunities to work together, keeping in mind that this office also has a role as a check on city operations,” he said.
Just how long the apparent pact will last is anyone’s guess — but it already it appears to be wearing thin.
As Bloomberg continued to describe the memorial at the tree-planting ceremony Monday, he told the audience that he'd met visitors “from all over the world, or at least all over the United States. Seattle and Houston, I think were the farthest cities I talked to."
The mayor then turned to Liu to ask if he’d met anyone from father away.
“Corpus Christi,” offered Liu, who was standing just behind him.
“Corpus Christi? That’s near Houston,” the mayor scoffed. “Close enough.”