The post-Rudy era has begun.
While the Senate race has gone from sizzle to fizzle since Giuliani’s May withdrawal, at least eight prominent New Yorkers have started quietly jockeying for position in anticipation of the grandest mayoral sweepstakes in city history, hovering just one blink of a year away.
Not since 1977—when Ed Koch won a six-candidate Democratic primary with a scant 20 percent of 916,002 votes—have we seen such a closely competitive collision of vaguely familiar public figures, each eager to turn razor-thin differences on issues into ranting rationales for election. With no Giuliani and so little separating a field exclusively composed of white and Latino males, the contest will in the end be an MRI of character, experience, appeal, and cunning, precisely the sort of race that can leave blood in the streets.
Term limits have put a cap on patience and lifted all caps on ambition. Similarly, the sudden availability of 4-to-1 matching public funds for contributions up to $250, and the lowest contribution ceiling in history ($4500), have put a cap on the power of big money, leveling the playing field for the first time ever. Suddenly, everybody with a current title has to run for something new, and nearly everybody will be able to raise enough money to “just do it.”
With at least 36 City Council seats and four of five borough presidencies also vacated by term limits, wildly democratic races at the neighborhood level may drive voter turnout from the bottom up, generating unpredictable patterns and more than doubling the 411,000 who voted in the three-candidate mayoral primary of 1997. With money roughly equalized, the quality of each candidate’s television message and the efficiency of his field operations (identifying and pulling out voters) will decide the winner. Every endorsement—from unions to newspapers—will matter more. Rudy may well have moved Gracie to Southampton by the time the combat is in full swing next summer, but he will cast a long shadow over the race to succeed him anyway. Candidates will, for example, have to satisfy voters that they will not allow the crime rate to return to pre-Giuliani levels. They will also have to show they are ready to do more for schools than behead chancellors and fund Catholics.
But in a Democratic primary dominated by minorities and decidedly liberal whites, the winner may be the subliminal Anti-Rudy, the candidate who best defined himself in the darkest of Giuliani days as unbowed and unbroken, proud to be branded as out-of-step with tough-love times. No less than Ruth Messinger, who lost badly but got half a million Democratic votes against him in 1997, believes that “the people who stood up to Rudy” will “absolutely” benefit for having done it when Democrats pick a mayoral nominee on September 11, 2001.
The field right now, including candidates for the Republican nomination, features:
Public Advocate Mark Green
Strengths: strongest Democratic citywide vote-getter in 1993 and 1997; highest name- recognition and favorables in latest Quinnipiac poll (June 14); clobbered Giuliani in 1999 fight to change the city charter 3 to 1 and built citywide grassroots network that’s still in place; likely to get endorsement of Manhattan party and carry highest-voting county; wide reputation as fighter on populist issues from HMOs to prescription drugs; solid record as consumer affairs commissioner; probable winner of Dinkins endorsement; maintains singularly high numbers with black voters; smart and telegenic; engaged Giuliani in more headlined combat than any other candidate.
Weaknesses: lost 1998 Senate primary badly; disdained by much of the business and media establishment; unlikely to win any major union or newspaper backing; opposed by outer-borough party organizations; too glib and arrogant for many voters; alarms elites even while appearing elitist himself; has no campaign team in place; for eight years occupied an office with little power to do anything; susceptible to attack as more mouth than motion.
Comptroller Alan Hevesi
Strengths: second in Quinnipiac, only 4733 votes behind Green as a citywide vote-getter in 1997; lowest unfavorables in polls; wide reputation as competent and careful manager in powerful current job; sponsored over a hundred new laws during 22-year assembly career; certain to win Brooklyn Democratic endorsement; probable candidate of The New York Times, the United Federation of Teachers, the Liberal Party, and the Queens Democratic organization; professorial and seasoned public performer; already $2 million ahead of next-best-funded candidate (Green); already has an Orthodox monopoly and runs very well among other Jewish voters; will get backing of most assembly-based clubs across the city; blacks like Floyd Flake and Clarence Norman are behind him; handled by his longtime campaign adviser Hank Morris, who elected Chuck Schumer and beat Mark Green in 1998.
Weaknesses: with the city in a healing mood, has major problems with black leaders from Dinkins to Sharpton; perceived as “Rudy Lite” due to years of accommodation and some sources of current support; professors can be oh-so-boring; may be too centrist and establishment for primary voters; divides his Queens home base with Council Speaker Peter Vallone; alienated many Manhattan liberals and minorities by opposing Borough President Virginia Fields in 1997; could get hammered in news stories about the appearance of contributions from city contractors.
Bronx borough president Freddy Ferrer
Strengths: just three points behind Hevesi in Quinnipiac; starts with vast Latino base that may near 18 percent of the total vote; will carry the Bronx with a far wider margin than any other candidate will carry any other county; backed by Dennis Rivera and the politically potent hospital workers; has nascent alliance with Reverend Al Sharpton and Bronx black leadership that could lead to Dinkins-like coalition; his arrest during Diallo protests and lead role on Baez and other police-brutality cases could unify minority vote; has new media consultant, David Axelrod, who has ties to Carl McCall and black leadership; highly competitive financially; lays claim to role in transforming the Bronx over 14 years in office; is managed by skillful Bronx Dem leader Roberto Ramirez; his pro-death-penalty stand and other moderate positions reassure white voters.
Weaknesses: ongoing Ramirez alliance with black congressional candidate Larry Seabrook against incumbent Eliot Engel has alarmed Jewish leadership in the Bronx and elsewhere; sudden pullout in 1997 race feeds doubts about character; has never won a seriously contested election; limited by a low profile outside the Bronx; frequently exhibits a hard-edged personality that’s the antidote to city’s healing mood; creature of Bronx machine who’s still tied to dreck like GOP boss Guy Velella; gets Sharpton baggage as well as his blessing; black elected leadership outside the Bronx is still unlikely to go with him; installed Ramirez as county leader in 1994 when he could have shared power at the top with blacks; also might become the target of contribution stories.
City Council Speaker Peter Vallone
Strengths: tied with Ferrer in Quinnipiac; got 1.4 million city votes in gubernatorial race against Pataki in 1998; his 14-year track record as council leader and 25 years experience on council add up to unparalleled municipal experience; lays claim to white Catholic base; has network of City Council-tied clubs across the city; projects mediating and moderate image with high recognition; distinguished himself in Brooklyn Museum and Yankee Stadium conflicts with Giuliani; likely to get major union support from corrections to fire to DC 37; has strong Queens organization and grassroots backing; allied with comptroller candidate Herb Berman’s Brooklyn base; can compete with Hevesi for Daily News and Post endorsements; could be seen as calming force if contest turns ugly and divisive.
Weaknesses: at 65 years of age, embodies old-fashioned politics, especially when paired with sidekick Berman; term limits undercut effectiveness of his Council-based network; appears too close to Giuliani most of the time; splits Queens home base with Hevesi; loses part of white Catholic base to maverick Sal Albanese; key staff replaced by advisers who have muted his 1998 boldness; has no key consultant yet; too tied to Real Estate Board and array of special interests/lobbyists; has bland, legislative personality.
Former City Council member Sal Albanese
Strengths: got nearly 100,000 votes (or 22 percent) in 1997 primary yet not included in Quinnipiac; has already raised enough matchable money ($183,000) to potentially reach public-funding threshold of $250,000 for matching funds even before election year starts; his small-contribution campaign may draw highest percentage match and position him to go on TV far earlier than during his late surge in 1997; ran well in white Catholic districts in 1997; has strong union identification; only immigrant candidate in a city that’s 40 percent immigrant; known for uncompromising integrity and independence; respected by many police organizations; will position himself to the left of the field on economic issues.
Weaknesses: will have been out of office for four years by primary day; Vallone is a threat to him in white Catholic base; has no elected official or large union support; at best will raise at least $3 million less than the $5.2 million spending cap; the media will not take him seriously; his 1997 vote was an anti-Sharpton/ anti-Messinger protest; almost everyone who loves him wishes he were running for an office he could actually win.
Ex-police commissioner Bill Bratton
Strengths: widely regarded as top commissioner in city history; offers the best of Giuliani with unquestionable anti-Giuliani credentials; doesn’t appear in Quinnipiac but is said to poll well in private surveys; has direct link to Pataki through lawyer Ed Hayes and may decide to change registration from independent and run as Republican; his management skills may be seen as transcending police innovations; would attract Catholic votes in Republican primary or general election; could be seen as centrist alternative if pitted against Green or Ferrer in particular.
Weaknesses: weak black recruitment record at NYPD; ego may outweigh judgment; going from Dem to independent to GOP tracks Giuliani opportunism; accent makes him sound like he should be someone else’s mayor; hasn’t demonstrated same prowess in business career since leaving government; has no electoral or fundraising experience and would possibly face giant money gap, ditto for grassroots field support.
Media czar Michael Bloomberg
Strengths: a registered Democrat; could be the only candidate to run outside the city campaign-finance system; sees himself duplicating Jon Corzine’s New Jersey race and potentially spending $10 million to $20 million of his own money overloading the airwaves; projects can-do, businesslike image that will appeal to middle-class, particularly Jewish, voters; considering a Dem run but more likely to seek Republican line; just threw big party at Republican convention and promises to do the same at Democratic convention; big giver with many political friends; has ties to Pataki that could deliver GOP line even if he remains a Democrat.
Weaknesses: only rationale for this highly uncertain candidacy is money; New York City is not New Jersey; two other well-known Jewish candidates will consume most of that vote in the primary and if one of them wins it will take the Jewish vote again in November; probably would lose to Bratton in heavily Catholic GOP primary; looks like a Republican too close to Giuliani and Pataki no matter what his buffcard says; will have to buy a field operation; was major donor to Hevesi in 1993 and 1997 and would have to explain opposing him now.
City University chair Herman Badillo
Strengths: extraordinary name-recognition after four decades in city politics; vigorous chair of CUNY board pushing major change; if Giuliani is a plus, he’s the beneficiary; brilliant understanding of municipal government born of half a dozen runs for mayor and comptroller; could attract unusually high percentage of Latino votes for a Republican if not running against Ferrer.
Weaknesses: launched exploratory committee more than a year ago and wound up spending more than he raised; without active Giuliani assistance can’t finance a campaign; will be 72 years old next year; insiders don’t take him seriously anymore; his Rudy-inspired change of registration to Republican hurt him in his old base.
Asked by the Voice to rate Giuliani’s mayoralty on a scale from 1 to 10 with 10 the highest score, Green gave Rudy’s first term a 6 and his second a 2, while Ferrer scored it a collective 6, Albanese a 5, and Badillo an 8. Hevesi, Vallone, and Bratton declined to rate it, while Bloomberg wouldn’t answer any questions.
Research assistance: Kim Brown, Lina Katz, Matt Leising
Races That Matter
Three Contests That Could Impact the Mayoral Sweepstakes
At least three races this summer could have a major impact on the 2001 mayoral sweepstakes: Congressman Joe Crowley’s reelection campaign in Queens, Eliot Engel’s in the Bronx, and Guy Velella’s state senate run, also in the Bronx.
When City Council member Walter McCaffrey suddenly pulled out of the congressional race against Crowley last Friday, it was a potential boon to Council Speaker Peter Vallone and blow to Comptroller Alan Hevesi. Queens Democratic boss Tom Manton is backing Crowley and was engaged in an all-out war against McCaffrey, who has long been closely identified with Vallone. The bitter battle had helped seal an alliance between Manton and Hevesi, especially after Hevesi media adviser Hank Morris took over the Crowley campaign a few weeks ago.
By helping to convince McCaffrey to drop out after NY 1’s Dave Lewis exposed apparent improper campaign expenditures by McCaffrey, Vallone may have won Manton’s temporary favor, diminishing the likelihood of a Hevesi mayoral endorsement. Manton may still wind up steering the Queens Democratic organization behind Hevesi, especially if Vallone droops in the polls. But for now at least, Vallone has neutralized Hevesi’s advantage with party leaders in hopes of keeping the party machinery out of the 2001 race.
Bronx Democratic boss Roberto Ramirez’s highly unusual endorsement of a challenger—black state senator Larry Seabrook—against incumbent congressman Engel is a bold attempt to build a black/Latino alliance for Ferrer’s 2001 campaign. The assumption is that with two or three Jewish candidates in the mayoral race, Ferrer is unlikely to get many Jewish votes; but with no black candidate, he may be able to attract support from the largest single voting bloc in a Democratic primary.
Reverend Al Sharpton, who has publicly indicated he is almost certainly not running in 2001, is poised to back Ferrer, especially if Ramirez can elect Seabrook. “I had several meetings with Ramirez and Ferrer,” Sharpton told the Voice, adding that he also “helped set up” Seabrook’s meetings with Ramirez and that he was pleased with the result. Sharpton sees the Seabrook/Ramirez alliance as the first step in “healing the rift” between black and Latino leadership, saying it could lead to a powerful coalition and “be pivotal to kicking off a movement around Freddy.”
When the Ramirez endorsement prompted protest from Jewish leaders, Ferrer began studiously claiming his own neutrality, telling the Voice that he told Ramirez he thought the party boss should “stay out of it” and insisting that Ramirez “makes his own decisions.” Sharpton, on the other hand, says that “in our conversations, Freddy did not lead me to believe that he was opposed to an endorsement.” Ramirez at first refused to reveal what Ferrer’s position was in their private conversations, but told of Ferrer’s claim, he said: “If he said it, it’s true.” Ramirez later added: “It happens to be true.”
Hevesi’s consultant Morris called Ramirez and Ferrer “political partners” and said that “everything that is being done” in the Engel race is “being done to enhance the borough president’s chances of being elected mayor.” Hevesi is backing Engel, while Green and Vallone are sitting the race out. Ramirez insists that he dumped Engel at the behest of white and minority leaders within the congressional district and that “it remains to be seen if it will hurt Freddy more than help him.”
Morris’s comment also referred to Ramirez’s opposition to another Jewish candidate, Lorraine Koppell, the wife of former Attorney General Oliver Koppell, who is running for Velella’s senate seat, backed by Democratic senate minority leader Marty Connor. Ramirez encouraged a two-time loser in prior races against Velella, Mike Benedetto, to challenge Koppell in a primary. Before Koppell decided to run, Ramirez persuaded another formidable challenger, John Calvelli, to pull out of the race in what was widely seen as a favor to Velella, who has close ties to Ramirez and is the GOP leader in the Bronx.
All the intrigue around these races is an embarrassment to Ferrer, though a Seabrook win might make it worth the angst next year. —W.B.