Prelude to a Campaign?

Mayor Mike and Potential Foes Test Union Waters

Thompson, who cut interviews short both before and after he received an award at the Met Council breakfast, testified at a hearing last week that it's "imperative that the ongoing negotiations between the mayor and the unions produce manageable and real savings for the city." The New York Post, which endorsed Thompson in 2001, chose to interpret this murky caveat as an endorsement of its editorial view that "public employees haven't been made to sacrifice." Ironically, the normally staid Thompson got banner headlines last week by blasting the mayor's budget for discriminating against the outer boroughs, a sharp departure from his usual accountant-like approach. But he is still unwilling to make any qualitative pronouncements about union concessions, reneging on an agreement to discuss it by phone on Monday.

Weiner, who is the only one to say he's considering a mayoral run, contends that the unions have "acted in good faith" and "put legitimate things on the table," but that the relationship is now "toxic." He, too, went mute on specifics. Ferrer was willing to get more specific than any of the others, blasting the union pension loan as "nonsense" and saying, "I wouldn't have taken it either." He strongly endorsed a concession described in a series of Voice stories—the consolidation and city administration of the 104 union welfare funds, which would save an estimated $150 million. "That's a no-brainer," he said, though Thompson, who oversees the welfare funds as comptroller, refused to comment.

Ferrer said it was wrong and "naive" to do the sabbatical and firefighter cuts unilaterally, noting that Bloomberg's decision to enforce a provision of the firefighter contract that permits the city to cut engine-company manning if expected sick-leave levels are exceeded was "inappropriate." Ferrer says "most of the department was at ground zero" and that might, indeed, be the reason sick leave is up.

None of these candidates is likely to become a creditable alternative to the limitlessly financed Bloomberg in 2005 without major union backing. So Bloomberg's insistence on concessions that will result in recurring savings—such as pension or health care changes, as opposed to loans that deliver a one-time benefit—has been at his own political peril, opening the door to what has suddenly become an avalanche of political possibilities. His Met Council performance suggests he's not running away from the fight.

Research assistance: Zoe Alsop, Michael Anstendig, and Brittany Schaeffer

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