The Other Race

In this campaign, poor New Yorkers are listening, but they're still waiting to be heard

Meanwhile, despite rising participation in the food stamp program, anti- hunger activists still see barriers preventing thousands from getting help. And while the Bloomberg administration has launched a plan to reduce homelessness, one of its facets—a rent subsidy called Housing Stability Plus—puzzles some advocates. In order to get the subsidy, you have to be on public assistance. But once you're on public assistance, the subsidy decreases by 20 percent a year, meaning your rent goes up by a fifth annually.

So, the mantra goes, get an education, get a job. "When I got my associate's degree, I still was not making more money than before," said Elaine Hopkins, a WEP alum, at a recent conference on homelessness at the New School. "I got it. Why? I don't know. It's a game."

These are the kinds of struggles a campaign might talk about if it wanted to reach poor New Yorkers. "It's just really, really, really, really difficult for so many people," Gamble says.

Campaign snapshots: Ferrer in Brooklyn
photo: Willie Davis
Campaign snapshots: Ferrer in Brooklyn

Advocates say poor people no longer feel under attack by City Hall—as they did under Rudy Giuliani. The problem now is that many feel disconnected from Bloomberg. But, as Ferrer's encounters at BCC and elsewhere show, the incumbent isn't the only candidate having problems connecting.

Ferrer has addressed many of the symptoms of poverty in New York. But outspent and forced to rely on TV and newspaper coverage, where the big stories change every day, Ferrer hasn't been able to hammer away at any single problem or policy. His old "other New York" message was dubbed divisive, but his campaign has struggled to find a similarly consistent or coherent theme this time.

It isn't always a problem, like when Ferrer hit the No. 4 station at Fordham Road on Thursday morning. "This here's the man!" one Latino woman shouted, beaming. White construction workers posed for pictures. Three passersby told Ferrer this was the second time they'd met him on the campaign. But a black woman with a baby stroller set her jaw as soon as she saw him. "Who are you, sir?" she said. Freddy told her. "Oh, finally," she said, apparently offended by a candidate who built a campaign slogan in 2001—and is trying to rescue one in 2005—around people like her.

Looks like he missed that connection. Asked about whether he thinks he's reaching "the other New York," Ferrer replies, "Is there some cynicism because of all the promises they've heard? Sure." But Ferrer insists that when he's out among the other New Yorkers on Utica Avenue, or Eastern Parkway, "they get it."

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