The Early Line

The Guys Who Want Rudy Giuliani’s Job

The post-Rudy era has begun.

While the Senate race has gone from sizzle to fizzle since Giuliani's May withdrawal, at least eight prominent New Yorkers have started quietly jockeying for position in anticipation of the grandest mayoral sweepstakes in city history, hovering just one blink of a year away.

Not since 1977—when Ed Koch won a six-candidate Democratic primary with a scant 20 percent of 916,002 votes—have we seen such a closely competitive collision of vaguely familiar public figures, each eager to turn razor-thin differences on issues into ranting rationales for election. With no Giuliani and so little separating a field exclusively composed of white and Latino males, the contest will in the end be an MRI of character, experience, appeal, and cunning, precisely the sort of race that can leave blood in the streets.

Not since 1977 have we seen such a closely competitive collision of vaguely familiar public figures, each eager to turn razor-thin differences on issues into ranting rationales for election.
illustration by Carly Castillon
Not since 1977 have we seen such a closely competitive collision of vaguely familiar public figures, each eager to turn razor-thin differences on issues into ranting rationales for election.

Term limits have put a cap on patience and lifted all caps on ambition. Similarly, the sudden availability of 4-to-1 matching public funds for contributions up to $250, and the lowest contribution ceiling in history ($4500), have put a cap on the power of big money, leveling the playing field for the first time ever. Suddenly, everybody with a current title has to run for something new, and nearly everybody will be able to raise enough money to "just do it."

With at least 36 City Council seats and four of five borough presidencies also vacated by term limits, wildly democratic races at the neighborhood level may drive voter turnout from the bottom up, generating unpredictable patterns and more than doubling the 411,000 who voted in the three-candidate mayoral primary of 1997. With money roughly equalized, the quality of each candidate's television message and the efficiency of his field operations (identifying and pulling out voters) will decide the winner. Every endorsement—from unions to newspapers—will matter more. Rudy may well have moved Gracie to Southampton by the time the combat is in full swing next summer, but he will cast a long shadow over the race to succeed him anyway. Candidates will, for example, have to satisfy voters that they will not allow the crime rate to return to pre-Giuliani levels. They will also have to show they are ready to do more for schools than behead chancellors and fund Catholics.

But in a Democratic primary dominated by minorities and decidedly liberal whites, the winner may be the subliminal Anti-Rudy, the candidate who best defined himself in the darkest of Giuliani days as unbowed and unbroken, proud to be branded as out-of-step with tough-love times. No less than Ruth Messinger, who lost badly but got half a million Democratic votes against him in 1997, believes that "the people who stood up to Rudy" will "absolutely" benefit for having done it when Democrats pick a mayoral nominee on September 11, 2001.

The field right now, including candidates for the Republican nomination, features:

Public Advocate Mark Green

Strengths: strongest Democratic citywide vote-getter in 1993 and 1997; highest name- recognition and favorables in latest Quinnipiac poll (June 14); clobbered Giuliani in 1999 fight to change the city charter 3 to 1 and built citywide grassroots network that's still in place; likely to get endorsement of Manhattan party and carry highest-voting county; wide reputation as fighter on populist issues from HMOs to prescription drugs; solid record as consumer affairs commissioner; probable winner of Dinkins endorsement; maintains singularly high numbers with black voters; smart and telegenic; engaged Giuliani in more headlined combat than any other candidate.

Weaknesses: lost 1998 Senate primary badly; disdained by much of the business and media establishment; unlikely to win any major union or newspaper backing; opposed by outer-borough party organizations; too glib and arrogant for many voters; alarms elites even while appearing elitist himself; has no campaign team in place; for eight years occupied an office with little power to do anything; susceptible to attack as more mouth than motion.

Comptroller Alan Hevesi

Strengths: second in Quinnipiac, only 4733 votes behind Green as a citywide vote-getter in 1997; lowest unfavorables in polls; wide reputation as competent and careful manager in powerful current job; sponsored over a hundred new laws during 22-year assembly career; certain to win Brooklyn Democratic endorsement; probable candidate of The New York Times, the United Federation of Teachers, the Liberal Party, and the Queens Democratic organization; professorial and seasoned public performer; already $2 million ahead of next-best-funded candidate (Green); already has an Orthodox monopoly and runs very well among other Jewish voters; will get backing of most assembly-based clubs across the city; blacks like Floyd Flake and Clarence Norman are behind him; handled by his longtime campaign adviser Hank Morris, who elected Chuck Schumer and beat Mark Green in 1998.

Weaknesses: with the city in a healing mood, has major problems with black leaders from Dinkins to Sharpton; perceived as "Rudy Lite" due to years of accommodation and some sources of current support; professors can be oh-so-boring; may be too centrist and establishment for primary voters; divides his Queens home base with Council Speaker Peter Vallone; alienated many Manhattan liberals and minorities by opposing Borough President Virginia Fields in 1997; could get hammered in news stories about the appearance of contributions from city contractors.

Bronx borough president Freddy Ferrer

Strengths: just three points behind Hevesi in Quinnipiac; starts with vast Latino base that may near 18 percent of the total vote; will carry the Bronx with a far wider margin than any other candidate will carry any other county; backed by Dennis Rivera and the politically potent hospital workers; has nascent alliance with Reverend Al Sharpton and Bronx black leadership that could lead to Dinkins-like coalition; his arrest during Diallo protests and lead role on Baez and other police-brutality cases could unify minority vote; has new media consultant, David Axelrod, who has ties to Carl McCall and black leadership; highly competitive financially; lays claim to role in transforming the Bronx over 14 years in office; is managed by skillful Bronx Dem leader Roberto Ramirez; his pro-death-penalty stand and other moderate positions reassure white voters.

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