Advantage: Hevesi

City Comptroller Scores Big in Primary Races as Ferrer and Green Stumble

New York City Comptroller Alan Hevesi was the biggest winner among the 2001 mayoral candidates in last week's Democratic primary, with candidates he backed winning pivotal congressional and other races in the Bronx and Brooklyn. Bronx Borough President Freddy Ferrer was the biggest loser—damaged by several shocking defeats suffered by his top ally, Democratic boss Roberto Ramirez.

The endorsements that the prospective mayoral candidates made are likely to determine who supports them next year, and in a hotly contested, four-or-five-candidate Demo-cratic race in 2001, the backing of local elected officials and their political organizations may be a vital factor.

Ferrer conceded in a Voice interview that he may have lost the support of several elected officials in his home county as a result of his and Ramirez's primary choices, but insisted that he'll "still carry their districts," minimizing the damage. With Hevesi or other opponents potentially gaining the backing of a half dozen Bronx leaders, however, Ferrer's margin of victory in the Bronx may well have narrowed, making him a weaker citywide candidate.

Ferrer conceded that he may have lost the support of several elected officials in his home county, but insisted that he'll "still carry their districts," minimizing the damage.

Public Advocate Mark Green, the front-runner in most polls of the mayoral field, also lost ground by endorsing Councilwoman Una Clarke and activist Barry Ford, who were defeated by Brooklyn incumbent congressmen Major Owens and Ed Towns. While Green also claims that the primary results "don't change the mayoral race in any significant way," Hank Morris, who is Hevesi's chief political strategist, says that "it's the comptroller who's putting together an impressive political coalition."

An ecstatic Morris accompanied Hevesi on his election-night swing through the Bronx and Brooklyn and declared: "Some of the grass is starting to grow and show." Saying that Hevesi "had a very good day," with "many of his friends winning," Morris pointedly added that Ferrer "had a bad day."

Owens, who has endorsed Green in four prior elections, introduced Hevesi at his victory party last Tuesday as "the next mayor of New York" and is now likely to join a broad coalition of black elected officials in the county backing Hevesi. Towns endorsed Ferrer in 1997—switching to Rudy Giuliani when Ferrer dropped out—and he is a probable Ferrer booster again next year, bringing some black elected officials with him. Hevesi was the only mayoral candidate to back Owens, and Ferrer the only one to back Towns.

City Council Speaker Peter Vallone, the fourth of the major mayoral candidates, steered clear of most races, but joined Hevesi in endorsing Eliot Engel, the Bronx congressman who won a racially polarized primary in the Bronx. Green and Ferrer remained neutral in the contest between Engel and black state senator Larry Seabrook—a position that may come back to haunt them in Riverdale and other white neighborhoods where the Seabrook challenge was seen as an ethnically motivated power grab, and turnout far exceeded ordinary levels.

Ferrer was more damaged than Green by the Seabrook misadventure because of his close ties to Ramirez, who abandoned the pro-incumbent posture of most party leaders and spearheaded the Seabrook candidacy.

While Engel says his relationship with Ferrer, whom he backed for mayor in 1997, remains "cordial," he told the Voice: "During my campaign a lot of people told me they would've been inclined to support Ferrer. But because of what Ramirez did to me, they were much less likely inclined." Engel said Ferrer was the one who first gave him a heads-up about Ramirez's intentions. "He said in the spring that he had been hearing rumblings from Ramirez he didn't like and suggested I call him," recounted Engel. "That night Ramirez called me and said he was going with Seabrook." Engel says that "if Ramirez doesn't change his ways and open the window and let democracy in, he ought to step down" as party leader.

Ramirez lost three state senate races—with incumbent David Rosado losing to Pedro Espada, Assemblyman Sam Bea to Mount Vernon City Council president Ruth Thompson, and district leader Mike Benedetto losing badly to Lorraine Koppell. Ramirez candidates lost by an astounding average margin of 14 percent in the four races, an extraordinary embarrassment for any county leader.

Ferrer also endorsed Rosado and Bea—races he and Ramirez managed to lose even though Espada was facing an upcoming trial on felony charges and Thompson was from Westchester, which accounts for less than a third of the vote in the two-county district. Ferrer blames the Espada win on Rosado, whom he calls a "dunderhead" even though he's supported him repeatedly for senate and City Council. Engel, whose district also includes part of Westchester, said he was "instrumental in convincing Thompson" to run, thus creating a strong ally.

The 68-year-old Bea gave up a safe assembly seat to run for senate at Seabrook's and Ramirez's urging. Ironically, Carl Heastie, who is a budget analyst for Alan Hevesi, won Bea's seat with the support of Ferrer and Ramirez.

Ferrer remained neutral in the Koppell race, while both Green and Hevesi endorsed the wife of former state attorney general Oliver Koppell. Benedetto, who was encouraged to run by Ramirez in an attempt to block Koppell from winning the party's nomination, said in an interview that it was so apparent he was going to lose that he didn't even bother to run a primary-day operation, going to work at his public school job instead. When the Voice visited Benedetto's club in the early evening on election day, the door was open, but the storefront was empty. Like Engel, Koppell said that Ferrer may have been damaged in her Riverdale base by Ramirez's actions.

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