Of course, the campaign’s been around for months (the candidates spent more than $13.6 million through May 15) but until now candidates, strategists, and reporters have all been saying that the voting public simply wasn’t paying attention. That seems about to change. With the primary just two months from Wednesday, candidates are starting to break from their warm-up jog into a steady gallop.
One sign that the race is heating up is that big names are starting to get interested, even if they aren’t making formal endorsements. Fernando Ferrer, for one, will appear with Rev. Jesse Jackson on Monday at a ceremony marking the 40th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, and the Post reports that Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver is leaning toward endorsing Ferrer. Rev. Al Sharpton this weekend defended C. Virginia Fields in the dust-up with ousted campaign strategist Joe Mercurio.
Candidates are also pulling out all the stops to get that precious free exposure that only the press can offer. Council Speaker Gifford Miller on Monday kicks off a tour of 100 neighborhoods over 30 days. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is holding a press conference that will be translated into both Spanish and Chinese. And Rep. Anthony Weiner’s schedule has him playing hockey tonight.
So there’s a race on; but will it be any contest? The mayor is comfortably ahead in the polls with gobs of money to spend and a record on affordable housing and race relations that, so far anyway, is keeping potential opponents on the sidelines (A case in point: the liberal Working Families Party opted to endorse no one because support was split internally among the candidates, including Bloomberg). And the dailies’ analysis pieces and op-ed pages have frequently disparaged the Democrats as lightweights, has-beens, or both.
But if that’s so, one wonders why the mayor had already spent nearly $10 million through May 16 (updated campaign finance reports are due this Friday), why one can sometimes view two different ads for him during a half-hour of TV watching when none of his opponents are on the air, and why the state Republican chairman last week attacked a nonprofit linked to Ferrer.
Perhaps the mayor just wants to pad the margin that the polls say he’ll win by come Election Day. Or maybe the campaigns haven’t been spinning when they’ve claimed that this race is just starting.
Sometime before the race finishes, candidates hoping to unseat the mayor are going to have to come up with a galvanizing message that appeals to a wide swath of voters. Successful candidates always do: Bloomberg had Rudy’s legacy, Rudy had crime, Dinkins had “I’m not Koch.” But what is there to say in a city with a generally improving economy and lower crime?
One of the polls out last week, which was filled with good news for Bloomberg, contained one ominous note: 82 percent of likely Democratic primary voters “think New York’s famed real estate boom is bad for them.”
People are scared that they will be priced out of the city. That might be something to talk about.