What Freddy Must Say

Calling Bloomberg a billionare Republican isn't enough. Ferrer must prove he acts like one.

  Editor's note: The Voice is submitting this speech to the Fernando Ferrer mayoral campaign as a prototype of the core message he ought to deliver in the coming days. Next week, we'll do the same for Mike Bloomberg.

Four years ago today, on September 27, 2001, I met with Rudy Giuliani for one hour right here at the city's temporary emergency center on the pier at 52nd Street and Twelfth Avenue. It was the day after I won the Democratic primary for mayor and we were just starting the run-off campaign. Before the meeting began, I was told that both of the remaining mayoral candidates, Mike Bloomberg and Mark Green, had already agreed to the extraordinary proposition I would soon hear from the mayor. Rudy Giuliani wanted to cross a line never before breached in the history of American democracy, even at wartime. He wanted his term extended for three months.

Speak up, Freddy: This is your big chance.
photo: Richard B. Levine
Speak up, Freddy: This is your big chance.

If he did not get the extension, Giuliani suggested he would seek the overturning of the term limits laws altogether, and run for a full term. He also made it clear at the meeting that, if extended, he would submit the new budget required by law in early 2002, without consulting the newly elected mayor. I told him I would sleep on it.

No one could question the courage and strength Giuliani had exhibited on 9-11, but I did not believe then, nor do I today, that he had become the nation's first indispensable chief executive. His many media champions were already screaming for him to stay. I was getting calls on Giuliani's behalf from my largest donor, as well as the heads of both the New York Stock Exchange and the most powerful labor union in the state.

I did not know, when I rejected the Giuliani proposal the next day (reminding everyone of America's centuries-old tradition of "orderly, constitutional transitions"), that a New York Times editorial would later denounce the extension as a "dangerous idea." All I knew, as I said then, was that I was not an apprentice. "You are either ready or you are not," I told a meeting of transit workers at that time. "If you can't deal with a crisis that you can see, how can you deal with one you can't anticipate? Why is a candidate wasting the time of the electorate if he is not ready for a crisis?"

As tough as that decision was, I had to make a similar choice a second time. Last year, I decided again that I was ready to be mayor. I knew I would be challenging an incumbent whose intimidating willingness to spend whatever it takes was forcing other Democrats out of the race. I knew I was young enough to wait like they were. I even believed that Mike Bloomberg had handled some of the city's problems ably— continuing to drive crime down and calming the racial storm in our city that Giuliani had done so much to foment. But I knew I could do better. I knew I was ready now. And I knew that four more years of Mike Bloom- berg would be four more years of missed opportunity, four more years of a mayor who cannot understand, much less begin to unravel, the core contradiction that grips our city: We are New Orleans without the flood.

The only time Mike Bloomberg even mentioned "poverty" in his first four years was in his State of the City speech this January, when he took credit for creating a city earned-income tax break that saves the working poor a couple of hundred dollars a year. He did not acknowledge that it was a City Council initiative that finally compelled him to use the word. Here are some others that a search of news stories reveals he has yet to utter since taking office: structural unemployment and income disparity. Yet our poverty rate, communities of hardcore joblessness, and ever widening income gap cry out for a mayor who cares.

Have you ever heard Mike Bloomberg so much as acknowledge that one in five New Yorkers lives below the poverty line, 1.7 times the U.S. poverty rate? That's 1,600,574 people in 2004, up by 100,000 over 2003, the only major city in the U.S. to show an increase.

Has Mike Bloomberg even noticed that he lives in the wealthiest census tract in America, five subway stops away from the poorest? We know he rides that train downtown, but does he ever ride it uptown? Why has the nation's worst income gap—with Manhattan's top fifth earning 52 times what its bottom fifth earns, two pennies for every dollar—never provoked a comment, a program, or a policy from Bloomberg's City Hall? Does he think that's just the way it is and always will be? Why does a news search indicate that he and his top development deputy have literally appeared in thousands of news stories about stadiums and Olympics but have never meaningfully discussed the calamity of class that is sweeping across our city?

We know what monuments Mike Bloomberg wanted as his legacy in the first term. They all appeared on the city's Olympic maps, which may well be yanked off a back shelf if he wins a second term. Those fantasy plans are all we know about the mayor's vision for our city's physical future. I want revived neighborhoods as my mayoral legacy, just as they are in the Bronx, where I was borough president for 13 years. If Mike Bloomberg wants a stadium named after him, I want a school. If his dream is to move from Olympic venue to Olympic venue with the world watching, mine is to open the door to an affordable home with a family watching. Just because the Bloomberg team has temporarily stopped talking about its edifice complex doesn't mean they don't still need therapy, the kind of therapy only the voters can offer.

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