Two weeks before bitterly contested regulations regarding its debit cards went into effect in the fall, MasterCard threw a party in New York City. The company wanted to trumpet its commitment to the newest technology in payments, including a role in the about-to-launch Google Wallet, which lets a handful of eligible people buy chewing gum or bottled water by waving their smartphones around. Executives at the event were determinedly festive.
One of MasterCard's guests of honor was Tony Zazula, a thin, fastidious man whose jeans and rock-band T-shirt set him apart from the sober suits. Zazula became an unlikely spokesman for the banking industry when he stopped taking cash at his West Village restaurant, Commerce, a few years ago. As other merchants marshaled their decades of resentment at the card system into a successful legislative attack, Zazula helped with the defense-not of the fees, but of the value that cards provide over cash for small businesses like his. He appeared in publicity materials for MasterCard and Visa, and extolled the virtues of cards in stories that ran in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.