What Freddy Must Say

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

Of course, I've been accused of talking about the Two New Yorks too much. John Edwards wasn't a divider in 2004 when he made the Two Americas the central theme of his campaign, and I am not a divider now. Neither of us is talking just about race, though some of New York's and America's poverty does have a racial cast. Twenty-four percent of Manhattan's poorest are white, and that is true throughout our city. And it is not just the poorest that Mike Bloomberg and his party can't see. Earnings for the bottom third of the pay scale have dropped every year of the Bloomberg term, as has the number of families earning between $35,000 and $150,000. Only the top tier is growing, as is their incomes. Why doesn't the mayor notice?

Why does he simply invoke market economics to dismiss the combined 40 percent, three-year rise in property tax rates and assessments that have afflicted home owners, who will soon experience another 4 percent hike? Why does he brag about what may be a momentary uptick in reading scores at elementary grade levels when only 18 percent of our high school graduates, and a mere 9 percent of our minority graduates, get the Regents diploma that is a prerequisite for college?

Why does he boast about a misleading decline in the unemployment rate when 30 percent of working-age adults have no work at all, a 3 percent jump, and many aren't counted on the unemployment rolls because they know there is no point in looking for a job?

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

I do not hold Mike Bloomberg's $4 billion against him. He earned it. Nor do I hold the $20 billion or so he will make when he sells Bloomberg LP. But we are all prisoners of our own experience. I do not need a tour guide to make my way through the streets of Brownsville, the South Bronx, or Jamaica. I have not become one of the top donors to a party whose overriding mission in American culture is to make the rich richer. Wall and Broadway is not the only street corner in New York I truly understand. He is more comfortable than I in a corporate boardroom and I am more comfortable, after 25 years of public life, with the ways to make municipal government work for all of us. Becoming mayor is not the icing on the cake of a grand life for me; it is the culmination of a career of city service and a lifetime of city understanding. Public policy is my rice and beans.

That's why I have proposed an afford- able-housing plan, and a way to finance it, that will attack our devastating housing shortage, not nibble away at the edges of it.

That's why I am the only candidate for mayor this year to come up with a concrete source of city funding that will finally force the state to deliver billions in additional school aid.

That's why I will focus city economic- development policy on workforce projects and a Job Corps that actually marries our subsidies with jobs for our people, rather than the Bloomberg preoccupation with high-end real estate giveaways for suburban employers.

That's why I will eliminate the Giuliani and Bloomberg obstacles to food stamp access, putting a billion more federal dollars into the city economy and food into the mouths of 700,000 more New Yorkers.

That's why I will attack the health insurance crisis in the city instead of blindly claiming, as Mike Bloomberg has, that "the poor get better health services than the wealthy" in this city.

That's why my living-wage bill, unlike the toothless one a threatened Bloomberg veto forced the council to pass, will compel a broad variety of city contractors to pay workers a decent wage and offer decent benefits.

That's why I will declare the state of emergency that Mike Bloomberg refused to declare when pressed by the council, turning the highest levels of my administration into a working task force on finding ways to make opportunity as equitable as possible in a city of too many fixed destinies.

The national media are telling us that Katrina was a wake-up call. But there's at least one New Yorker it has yet to wake up. While other mayors across America found their voice early, Mike Bloomberg was silent, even as the horror of the convention center and the Superdome dominated the news. The most he has said about the abject failure of an administration he rarely criticizes is to echo its own admission that the response was "inadequate." He has said that we as a nation left the people of New Orleans behind. We did not. A party of cronies that rejects the necessary role of government in our lives left them behind.

An administration on spiritual vacation abandoned them before and after the storm. Barbara Bush wound up saying almost precisely what Mike Bloomberg said about the poor and health care, observing that the New Orleans displaced were "better off" after their city was wrecked than before.

It is not enough for Mike Bloomberg to cherry-pick his differences with the White House and limit them to John Roberts and stem cell research.

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