President of What?

Nine's a crowd in the race for Manhattan beep

Campaigns say they've begun trying to pick up pockets of support in areas where none of the runners has a built-in advantage. East Harlem is considered up for grabs, as is Battery Park–Tribeca. Stringer has built union support, while Moskowitz hopes her high-profile role as education committee chairwoman will get public school parents out for her. Perkins—recently hailed in The Nation as a pioneering urban progressive—is trying to get the left behind him.

For some, the race has gotten nasty. Lopez was hit for receiving Scientology donations and for directing city funds to a controversial "detox" center for WTC rescue workers run by the group. (She insists the donations had nothing to do with her support for the center, which was one of several projects she funded that year.) Moskowitz claims she has been labeled an "ambitious" woman by rivals.

But squabble as the candidates might, their fates aren't entirely in their hands. Turnout for the primary will depend mostly on interest in the mayoral race; it's not just the overall number that matters, but who composes it. If Fernando Ferrer's bid to become the first Latino mayor energizes that ethnic vote, the Latino beep candidates might get a boost. Virginia Fields's sinking fortunes might cost Wright and Perkins. Or perhaps not: Perkins thinks the hot race to replace him in his council district—his base—will matter more than the mayoral contest. Lopez's district is also the scene of a heated battle.

Door of opportunity, or anonymity? The Manhattan borough president's digs on the 19th floor of the Municipal Building
photo: Kate Englund
Door of opportunity, or anonymity? The Manhattan borough president's digs on the 19th floor of the Municipal Building


All the fuss brings us back to the starting question: Is this a real job? Could New York City live without borough presidents? Perhaps. But if they stood on their own, Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, and the Bronx would be among America's 10 largest cities. Boston has a mayor, so Manhattan— with roughly three times Beantown's population—might deserve at least a spokesperson.

There is, after all, a lot to talk about: For Stringer, it's scrutinizing tax breaks meant to keep businesses in the city. For Ellner, it's a proposal to try congestion pricing—charging vehicles for entering high-traffic areas—on New York City roads. Lopez wants to create housing for city workers who are mandated to live in the five boroughs. Espaillat sees an affordability war replacing the drug war as a threat in his neighborhood. Michels wants to press for protecting the city's watershed, while Manzano emphasizes homeland security. Moskowitz thinks quality-of-life issues—the little things like garbage collection—are as important as big-ticket issues.

Plus, stepping-stones might be underrated. "If you cut out the five borough presidents, you are cutting out five positions where government officials can cut their teeth," says Doug Muzzio, a public affairs professor at Baruch College. "The stepping-stone is both a negative and a positive."

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