If he makes good on his “I’m just crazy enough to do this” threat, Bob Kerrey wouldn’t be the first famous guy to run for mayor of New York. Teddy Roosevelt did. So did one of the founders of The Village Voice, Norman Mailer. They both lost.
If Kerrey decides to run, or even if he just takes a few days to let us know that he won’t, the speculation this week is going to turn to what he brings to the race—i.e, whether he can avoid the fate that befell Teddy and Norman. He certainly brings a big name: He did run for president in the ’92 Democratic primary, when he elevated the health care issue well before Bill Clinton picked it up. And he has a good bio: Medal of Honor winner, governor, and senator—heck, he was even once involved with Debra Winger.
New Yorkers’ freshest memories are of Kerrey as the Lee J. Cobb of the 9-11 Commission (Cobb was the last angry man in the original “12 Angry Men.”) As the parade of bureaucrats trooped in to revise history before the cameras, Kerrey’s scorn was refreshing. It’s important to remember, though, that while Kerrey was thrashing the Bush administration, his basic complaint was that the U.S. hadn’t used military force early and often enough to counter the terrorist threat. And he was a big supporter of the war in Iraq.
Then, there’s the war—not Iraq, but Vietnam. Being a war hero didn’t do the other Kerry (one “e”) much good in the presidential race. It’s unclear what role Kerrey’s military history would play in a municipal contest, where what happened 30 years ago is even less relevant. It’s not a perfect picture for Kerrey to display. He walks with a limp because of a wound he sustained in service of his country; they don’t give the Medal of Honor to slouches, after all. But in 2001, The New York Times and CBS News reported that on one raid, Kerrey and his Navy SEAL team killed civilians. Kerrey was awarded the Bronze Star for that action.
Closer to home, Kerrey’s argument so far seems to be that Mike Bloomberg is mistaken in pressing so hard for the West Side stadium while pushing so softly for more federal help for the city. This doesn’t break much from what the four other Democratic candidates are saying. Representative Anthony Weiner, in fact, has as a central theme of his campaign the argument that Bloomberg play nice with the GOP when in fact it’s time to play tough, to get angry.
So the question is where Kerrey fits into the race. The answer might be that timing is everything. With Democratic mandarins like Charlie Rangel wringing hands over the alleged weakness of the current field, and the furor over Freddy Ferrer’s Diallo remarks straining his front-runner status, Kerrey’s singular advantage might be that he’s a new face that brings some buzz. Some angry buzz.