The Giuliani Dilemma

How Freddy and Mark Used Rudy to Define Themselves


Fernando Ferrer arrived at the command center around 9 p.m., unaware that Bloomberg and Green had already accepted the mayor's extension proposal. He was with Bill Lynch, the former Dinkins deputy mayor, Ken Knuckles, a Columbia University vice president who had once been Ferrer's top deputy in the Bronx, Luis Miranda, a onetime Koch aide who'd chaired the Health and Hospitals Corporation under Giuliani, and Roberto Ramirez, the ex-assemblyman who runs the Bronx Democratic Party. Lynch, a lightning rod for the mayor, left to avoid setting off sparks. Ramirez stayed in an outer room while the other three talked to Deputy Mayor Lhota and Chief of Staff Tony Carbonetti for an hour.

Ferrer says he pressed the Giuliani aides about the preliminary budget, which would be put together and announced during the extra three-month transition, and all Lhota would say was that Ferrer's administration "could always change it" after they got in that April. They offered him no role in shaping it, warning that without this extension Giuliani's key people would leave immediately. Ferrer recalls telling Lhota that the mayor's proposal "assumes that none of the candidates are up to the job," a gut response that would become his campaign refrain.

Illustration by Alan Carlstrom

Giuliani finally came out, and Ferrer alone was ushered in for what he estimates was an hour-long conversation, the longest by far he'd ever had with Rudy. While Ferrer will not discuss the exchange, he did say that Giuliani told him Bloomberg and Green had already agreed. He also mentioned that he might seek a term-limits repeal if this idea failed. Ferrer left Giuliani uncertain about what he'd do, asking questions, maintaining his familiar skeptical squint. He immediately met with Miranda and Knuckles, who had also been a Dinkins commissioner, soliciting the advice of the two seasoned City Hall aides.

Though he says now that he made "a preliminary decision as he was walking out of the command center," Ferrer was in no rush, gave it "serious consideration," and met the next day with Lynch, Ramirez, Knuckles, campaign consultant David Axelrod, top staffer Alan Cappelli, and others. He talked to Al Sharpton and Charlie Rangel by phone, who strongly urged him to reject the proposal. He took a call from Richard Grasso, president of the New York Stock Exchange, who urged him to agree, apparently prodded by the mayor. Unlike Green, he says he did not attempt to find out what Silver or the assembly leadership might do with the extension or term limits, apparently undaunted about the prospect of facing Giuliani in November.

By mid afternoon on Thursday, Ferrer was getting calls from top donors and fundraisers, most of whom were urging him to accept the deal. By 6 p.m., he had released a statement. He said he was "deeply concerned about the precedent" set by Giuliani's proposal, adding that "for centuries, we have made orderly, constitutional transitions of government," even in time of crisis. He said "the functions" of government Giuliani was seeking to retain "should be undertaken by the newly elected mayor." He offered to make Giuliani the chair of his recovery authority.

Ferrer's split with Green on Giuliani was the best evidence of his campaign theme—there are "two New Yorks," even within liberal Democratic circles. Ferrer relied heavily on black and Latino advisers with substantial mayoral experience, Green on technocrats with no mayoral experience and his own, establishment-tied family. Ferrer had no holiday excuse for delay and outreach, but he took his time anyway, uncowed by the restless and waiting Giuliani; Green virtually speed-dialed the mayor despite his holiday inhibitions.

Ferrer's decision has, at least temporarily, silenced Giuliani, a bully in visible retreat once confronted. It has also rallied Ferrer's minority support, with the Black, Puerto Rican, and Hispanic Legislative Conference, chaired by Brooklyn assemblyman Roger Green, adamantly opposing any extension. Fueled by the denunciation of the Giuliani gambit as a "dangerous idea" by the Times editorial page on Friday, and the praise of columnists Pete Hamill and Jimmy Breslin, Ferrer has begun using his Rudy rejection as a measure of his strength and Green's weakness.

Declaring that he is "not an apprentice," Ferrer told transit workers on Friday: "You are either ready or you are not. If you can't deal with a crisis that you can see, how can you deal with one you can't anticipate? I am ready. There are only two kinds of people— stand-up people or sit-down people." By Saturday, he had ratcheted it up another notch, asking, "Why is a candidate wasting the time of the electorate if he is not ready for a crisis?"

Green's response has been to ridicule Ferrer's attempt to link the rebuilding of the Bronx with the reconstruction of the financial district and to point out that Ferrer has issued no plan yet for reviving downtown. As meaty as these criticisms may be, they are also a transparent effort to sidestep the frontal assault Ferrer is now making on Green's character. Ferrer has turned his isolation from elites, fearlessness of tabloids, connection to a core constituency, and savvy street smarts into political capital in a race against a man whose desperate need to win this job has disoriented him.

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