The People vs. Bloomy

The Democrats try to come up with a compelling case to oust the mayor

History suggests it's hard to beat an incumbent mayor, period. When Giuliani beat Dinkins in '93, it was the first time in 60 years that an incumbent mayor was unseated in a general election (two—Abe Beame and Koch—were dumped in primaries). After 1933, incumbents have gone nine for 10 in November elections. Term limits may have only strengthened the incumbents' grip, because strong candidates and opposition party leaders can opt to bide their time and seek an open seat.

As November grows near, Bloomberg will have tens of millions to spend on ads and glossy mailings. Democrats can only afford to let Bloomberg use that dough defensively, to counter months of fierce attacks by Democrats. They can't give him the chance to define the race. Even now, Bloomberg is craftily erecting defenses on his vulnerable fronts: reaching out to the black community, luring labor unions with his stadium plans, and announcing the new affordable-housing funding.

Sure, it's early. But as veteran political strategist Hank Sheinkopf tells the Voice, "This takes time. You can't do it out of nowhere. . . . Especially when you've got a candidate who will be able to dominate the airwaves and the mailboxes."

Last week's Marist poll indicates that the Democrats are in trouble: Bloomberg shot way ahead of Ferrer, and the other Democrats didn't fare much better.

The danger for Democrats is the self-fulfilling prophecy: If Bloomberg looks like a winner, there'll be less enthusiasm about trying to defeat him. Messinger's reasoning: "There's an incumbent who seems to have a good chance of winning re-election; therefore, people find it sort of comfortable to throw a bone to that side—'Not all of what we say can be too strong against him because we may have to deal with him for the next four years.' "

Democrats won't necessarily embrace Bloomberg; they could just stay home. As Reverend Al Sharpton said recently when he announced that he wasn't making a primary endorsement, "We don't have to be at the dance unless the dance is something along the lines that we feel is more than compelling."

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