Dialing Hillary

Hurting at home, Freddy Ferrer turns to national stars for help

A former campaign staffer remembers some conversations between the Clinton and Ferrer teams. The Bronx politician not only advised the candidate on how to navigate the fallout, but refrained from publicly denouncing her. Once, during a private meeting, he voiced his frustrations. "Freddy said, 'Look, I'm taking it up the ass for you,' " says another source with knowledge of the meeting. Clinton apologized. "She said, 'I need you to stay with me.' "

And he did, giving her political cover, defusing the crisis. Says the former staffer, "He helped her through a rough patch."

Fast-forward six years to today, and Ferrer's rough patch. Yet what have we seen from Clinton so far? On September 16, just three days after the Democratic primary, she and her colleague Senator Chuck Schumer gave their glowing endorsement at a staged function in Long Island City. Ferrer stood, beaming by their sides as they praised his devotion to the party's values.

What seemed notable to politicos, though, was what the senators did not say. They failed not only to criticize Mayor Bloomberg, but to articulate a single reason Ferrer should replace his Republican opponent. That, says Muzzio of Baruch College, "tells me they recognize [the mayor] is a 500-pound gorilla. For strategic reasons they have decided he could be problematic if they offend him."

Senator Clinton hasn't exactly shied from appearing with the mayor. Last month, she attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a housing initiative at Fort Hamilton, in Brooklyn, which happened to be Bloomberg's featured event of the day. A photo of the two officials, smiling side by side, wound up on the city's website hours later.

Her aides say the senator was simply doing her job—she'd kicked off the initiative herself 18 months earlier. As one aide poses, "Why wouldn't she go? It's an accomplishment."

Lewis puts it more bluntly: "She has said she will enthusiastically campaign for Freddy and she is."

But that effort hasn't been so apparent to some Ferrer fans. Bronx assemblyman Peter Rivera, for one, the head of the Assembly's Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force, wishes the senator would take a more prominent role in the Ferrer campaign. "I'd like to see the senator all through the city campaigning with Freddy," he says, not to mention appearing in TV commercials, in campaign literature, in voter-drive calls. "It's important that people not only support him at a photo op," Rivera says, "but [that] they go the extra mile for him."

Other Ferrer supporters sound a similar note. After all, as one longtime observer points out, "Latino Americans are an important base of support for any presidential candidate." If Clinton worked aggressively for Ferrer today, she could call on him to make the case for her among Latinos in 2008, sending him to swing states like New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado.

"Personally," the observer says, "I'd have thought she would be out with the nominee once or twice a week."


The Ferrer campaign isn't about to complain. If anything, his advisers say they're getting all they could ever want from Clinton. For weeks, the teams have been negotiating over ways the senator can help the candidate. Advisers say they're planning several "message events" to highlight Ferrer's policy proposals. No dates have been set yet, largely because the Senate remains in session. But Ferrer, Clinton's aides make a point to note, is one of the few in the state for whom the senator has agreed to stump.

Says Bill Lynch, an informal Ferrer adviser, "Having her support is very important to the campaign. She's a big draw."

The campaign is cultivating its ties to big-name Democrats—Clinton, Dean, Edwards, and Kerry—as part of a strategy to remind liberal-leaning voters of their party loyalty. The idea is to get city Democrats to remember why they registered Democrat in the first place, and to contrast those values with Bloomberg's record. So Edwards campaigns with the Democratic challenger, talking about the city's economic disparity. And Dean hits the trail, bemoaning the plight of the uninsured.

"These swings will remind voters who Bloomberg is connected to—Bush," says a member of Ferrer's inner circle. Every week, the adviser says, "we'll have a national Democrat here, laying out this argument."

But can this strategy really work? To be sure, tapping into these leading Democrats to raise money for the cash-strapped Ferrer makes sense—Clinton remains in a fundraising league all her own, with tens of thousands of donors. Her firepower, celebrity, and operation can only help Ferrer. And if she shows her face with him, she could help rally crucial voting blocs, such as the city's African Americans.

"We do think these national Democrats can boost Freddy over the top," says the adviser.

But others aren't so convinced. Lee Miringoff, of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, finds the whole strategy "a card you can play," but that's about it. As he sees it, it may represent the only game plan left for the Ferrer camp to pursue. "Bloomberg probably would have won the Democratic primary if he had run," he points out. His popularity has dried up local Democratic money. Many of the city's wealthiest donors—including a fair number of Hillary fans—have trumpeted their cross-party support for a Republican and formed Democrats for Bloomberg. Even donors who supported Ferrer's 2001 mayoral run have backed away from him. For all of Clinton's star quality, Miringoff says, "candidates win it on their own."

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