The Race Factor


Jill Nelson talked with former deputy mayor Bill Lynch Jr., a vice chairman on the Democratic National Committee, who has advised the Ferrer campaign. He was Dinkins’s campaign manager for both mayoral races.

In the primary, 91 percent of white voters voted for someone other than Ferrer.

The numbers from the September 25 primary are worse than the Dinkins numbers in 1993. I think the numbers from the runoff will be as bad or worse, because the runoff got even more racialized, particularly by the kind of negative campaigning by Green that went on in the last week of this campaign. Some of the media said that Freddy’s message of “the other New York” was divisive. In 1984 when Mario Cuomo made a speech at the Democratic National Convention that almost catapulted him to the presidency, it was a speech about “the shining city on the hill,” and that was an “other New York” speech. Michael Harrington’s book The Other America was based on that theme, and he was primarily talking about Appalachia, and all poor people who had poor education, poor health care—blacks, Latinos, whites—North and South.

Why the double standard?

I’ve had this experience around the country. When it’s a minority candidate and it looks like the race is close, they [the opponents] go negative and use divisive tactics. The reason I’m so upset about it now is that it looks like the party in which I am an officer can’t help themselves. They are just as bad as the so-called common enemy, the Republicans.

Over the years, every time there has been a minority candidate, they play the race card. I have had enough; that’s basically my position. I don’t know what will change my mind on that. Maybe when I see it, I’ll know it. But I can’t say if Mark does A, B, C, and D, then I’ll come aboard. If these things had happened in a fight against a Republican, I would have said it’s just the Republicans, brushed myself off, and moved on. But this has happened too much in the party that I’m in, and the leadership at the state and national level don’t seem to get it.

So, it’s not about just cutting a deal?

I’ve been through that. Most of the time when you get these verbal promises, they don’t come to fruition. My attitude—and I may be wrong—is that folks are saying, “If we just wait it out, he’ll be there when we need him.” And that’s not where I’m at at this point.

What was the nature of the meeting between you, Charlie Rangel, and Michael Bloomberg?

I did not know Mike Bloomberg. The congressman knew him, so basically for me that meeting was to get to know him. The congressman had a couple of concerns. One of them was that Bloomberg not exploit this situation for his own benefit and secondly he requested that Bloomberg go out and say publicly that there should not be a declared winner until all votes are counted. What the congressman meant is that there are a lot of people who are very emotional about this, and that their efforts in this campaign should not be just dismissed. And Bloomberg agreed that he would do that.

Was he looking for support?

He didn’t ask for it, but of course. It’s no different than Mark Green taking Al Sharpton to the theater and having dinner and then saying later, “I didn’t ask for his support.” Please.

What was your biggest surprise in the runoff?

That there was an increase in voter turnout in the Latino community. It didn’t go down, it went up. That we were able to keep what I saw as the momentum on September 11 all the way through to the rerun primary and all the way to the runoff.

Your biggest disappointment?

The negative campaigning. Mark Green, who has always talked about taking the high road on issues like this, he got right down in the gutter with everyone else. I think he was so desperate to win that he couldn’t help himself.

Your thoughts on the way Al Sharpton’s support of Ferrer was used?

Al Sharpton and I, on political issues, have been on opposite sides. When he ran for office, I never endorsed him. But in the last years he did some very exceptional things: the stuff on Diallo, going to Vieques—he did spend 90 days in jail. I thought he did everything we wanted him to do for the campaign. And I thought those cartoons in the New York Post—and they weren’t just directed at Al Sharpton, but at the African American community—were terrible—I was outraged by that.

The minute he makes any minor misstep, like when he made the Bozo the Clown comment, the media in particular are looking for a problem. That is not an indictment of Al Sharpton; it is an indictment of the media. Although they never said it, the media was like, “Anybody but Freddy.”

When this thing first started, Hevesi was going to be the golden boy. Then when he couldn’t pull it off, they kinda went to Vallone, hoping he would come from behind and take Freddy out. When Vallone did not make the runoff, and Freddy was number one by four points, then Mark became the golden boy. I hate to say what I think I can chalk it up to, which is his race. Freddy has been basically a moderate elected official. Mark Green has always been labeled as too left, too arrogant, and then they go with him but not Freddy. Is that because they really believe that Al Sharpton was going to be running City Hall? These questions were not raised when Sharpton endorsed Hillary Clinton, who went after his endorsement—Chuck Schumer, Eliot Spitzer, none of these issues were raised then.

Al Sharpton doesn’t want the keys to City Hall. He’s never asked for any patronage jobs. All he wants is media and respect; that’s the Al I know. But the agenda was anybody but Freddy.

Where do we go from here?

We’ll play another day. We asked that at the Unity rally Friday four people get up and say that what was done to Freddy Ferrer and Al Sharpton was wrong. The only person who did that was Terry McAuliffe [chair, National Democratic Committee]. The other three people were Senator Clinton, Senator Schumer, and [State Democratic Committee Chair] Judith Hope. They gave us the impression that they would do that and they didn’t. That’s what has happened here. I still want a Democrat to be mayor, but I’m taking a few days off to see how enthusiastic I am to make that happen.

Read Jill Nelson’s “Race Counts: White Voters Play the Race Card, Again.”