Ferrer's Color-Coded Victory Plan

A Freddy win in September could pose a demographic dilemma for big-bucks Mike

Similarly, when Bloomberg snared 25 percent of the black vote and 47 percent of Hispanics in 2001, the general-election turnout in some minority districts was actually lower than in the primary or runoff, an unheard-of indication of how disaffected voters were by Green's alleged leaflet race-baiting. The chances of Bloomberg finding a way to either deflate minority turnout to 2001 levels or win similar percentages of it are at least as slim as Ferrer's chances of getting near Green's 38 percent of the white vote.

While the pollsters and media are depicting this election as a yawn, here are the historical numbers that guide Ferrer's hopes:

  • The working Ferrer model is 1989, when Dinkins got between 91 and 95 percent of the black vote, 64 percent of the Latino vote and 29 percent of the white vote, winning the general election by three points over first-timer Rudy Giuliani. Though current polls show Bloomberg running well with minorities, the Ferrer premise is that those numbers will return to historical form by Election Day and that Ferrer can roughly flip the black and Latino percentages, getting 65 to 70 percent of the black vote and 85 to 90 percent of Latinos. He may then be able to win with a quarter of whites. Of course, Dinkins also swept the minority vote against three white opponents in the Democratic primary that year, winning 50 percent of the vote, an achievement Ferrer has virtually no chance of repeating with Fields in the race.

  • City University's John Mollenkopf, the Times' 2001 statistical analyst and author of two books on recent mayoral elections, says that the 2004 breakdown of the city vote was 50 percent white, 25 percent black, 18 percent Latino, and 7 percent Asian. Assuming the same percentages this year, Mollenkopf says Ferrer needs three or four Asian points, 16 of the 18 Latino points, 20 of the 25 black points, and 11 or 12 white points. Mollenkopf says the white base was 55 points in 1989 and that a revolution in Latino voting may be about to occur, contending that moving up to 20 points is "easily achievable" and that 25 percent of the total vote is plausible. Should Ferrer drive that kind of turnout, he would obviously need less of the black or white vote. Mollenkopf thinks Ferrer "can achieve similar levels" of combined minority support as Dinkins did in 1989, but he is unsure that Ferrer can get the liberal white support Dinkins did.

  • The Ferrer model implicitly assumes that turnout is a question mark on both sides of the racial divide. Just as no one knows how large a black or Latino vote his candidacy will draw, no one knows if Bloomberg can come close to matching the Giuliani, or even Koch, appeal to white outer-borough Catholics and other ethnics. His property tax boost, support for gay marriage, and unwillingness to exploit race may keep griping couch potatoes on their couches in Staten Island, Bay Ridge, and stretches of Queens. Whites may wind up only 46 or 47 of Mollenkopf's 50 points.

  • Bloomberg, on the other hand, is more attractive to white Democratic liberals than Giuliani was in 1989. Liberals also identified more with the cause of black empowerment embodied in the Dinkins candidacy than they do today with Latino empowerment, as difficult as it is to figure out why. Ferrer actually has a far deeper résumé than Dinkins did in 1989—15 years as borough president, compared to Dinkins's four, and five years in the City Council. When Dinkins ran, he had a public profile in Manhattan only, while Ferrer's citywide recognition was indelibly affirmed in 2001. It is impossible to distinguish the two on issues, or their salty machine histories, yet Dinkins became a cause célèbre in the same circles that dismiss Ferrer. Still, on Mollenkopf's system, these differences may give the mayor several more points in an otherwise shrinking white voter pool.

The Bloomberg model for victory, though no one will acknowledge it, is Giuliani 1997. Bloomberg is trying, on at least two levels, to morph Ferrer into Messinger. Ferrer's early endorsement of a stock-transfer tax gave the mayor the ammunition he needed to depict Ferrer as an ideologue with no grasp of what makes the New York economic engine purr, just as Giuliani did with Messinger.

NYC comptroller William Thompson (above right) endorses Fernando Ferrer. Calvin Butts (opposite left) grins with Mike Bloomberg at the opening of a Harlem IHOP.
photo: Richard B. Levine
NYC comptroller William Thompson (above right) endorses Fernando Ferrer. Calvin Butts (opposite left) grins with Mike Bloomberg at the opening of a Harlem IHOP.

As well as this has worked so far, Ferrer's willingness to face up to the reality that the city will have to identify new revenue sources to pry loose from Albany additional billions in court-mandated state aid is appreciated by many with real stakes in our schools.

Bloomberg tried last week to do much the same with Ferrer's affordable housing plan, taking shots at the side effects of its financing. But, as right as Bloomberg may be about Ferrer's vacant-property tax hike on the $400 rebates, he is nibbling at the edges. Ferrer's 167,000-unit, $8.5 billion program is still almost three times Bloomberg's otherwise solid program and, with 30 to 50 percent affordable apartments, Freddy is now reaching out to every living-space-starved New Yorker in a way that resonates. By November, unless the mayor steps forward with a plan to make the school-aid billions doable, Ferrer may capture the education high ground even though Mike Bloomberg has done more to change schools than any mayor in modern times.

But if Bloomberg is failing in his attempt to stereotype Ferrer as a free-taxing lefty, he is succeeding at the much more subtle game of compromising Big Dems. He's got the largest municipal union, DC 37, to endorse him, just as Giuliani did in 1997; he has at least temporarily neutralized the other big unions—Dennis Rivera's hospital workers and Randi Weingarten's teachers, with powerful Election Day field and phone operations—like Giuliani did. Chuck Schumer and Comptroller Bill Thompson refuse to utter a single critical word about him, as Schumer and Thompson's predecessor Hevesi did when Rudy was seeking re-election.

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