Freddy goes underground in latest delivery from his policy desk
On the campaign, trail, former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer talks slowly, and talks a lot about the neighborhood he came from. Freddy’s humble origins and mild-mannered personality are important to his appeal, of course, but Ferrer’s shtick has become so familiar that it’s sometimes hard to detect any real ideas—let alone new ideas— for how to run the city. Now Ferrer’s making a concerted effort to counter that impression with a series of major policy announcements.
A few weeks back, Ferrer found a chink in the Bloomberg administration’s education armor: Amid rising test scores, the city still has a pretty steep high school dropout rate. Ferrer suggested a set of policies to whittle that rate down, including more support for high-risk students in middle school. Last week, it was affordable housing. Ferrer proposed requiring developers in certain “growth zones” to set aside 30 percent of units for low-income renters, and said he wants to build or preserve 167,000 new affordable apartments. Monday, it was on to subway security.
He’s not the first to talk about the subject: Rep. Anthony Weiner, Manhattan Beep Virginia Fields and City Council speaker Gifford Miller have already weighed in on counterterrorism underground. So not everything he said was new. City officials have already been working on some of Ferrer’s suggestions, like making it possible for cops, firefighters and paramedics to talk to each other underground. And Ferrer’s subway security plan contains the predictable Democratic refrain that the mayor needs to fight harder for New York’s share of federal funding so it can pay for all the nifty security things it wants to do. Freddy says he’ll “build a network of leaders across the country willing to join with New York to help establish a homeland security funding formula based on risk and vulnerability assessments, and not pork and parochial politics,” the plan reads. Well, maybe.
But Ferrer laid out a fair amount of detail on the key issue of “Consequence Management”—in other words, what we do if all the other stuff we do fails, and a bomb gets through. Ferrer’s program includes: “Establish high-power air venting systems and shatter-proof glass on the buses and subways. Minimize spread of bomb fragments and debris via partitions. Set up perimeter barriers, high-tech fencing, and enhanced lighting. Design and construct access routes that allow first responders to arrive quickly to a scene with whatever equipment they need, and exit victims quickly and easily to safety.”
Also interesting about the Ferrer plan is that it’s yet another sign of how far the line has shifted on civil liberties and privacy. “CCTVs should be deployed in every car, station, bus . . . Install advanced cameras and computers to check images against a database of known or suspected terrorists,” Ferrer says. “Explore options appropriate for mass transit that may allow us to deploy bomb-detection devices . . . and technologies such as trace detectors that can identify hidden bombs or weapons. In respect for our Constitution, all surveillance will include appropriate signage.”
Naturally, the specifics of Ferrer’s plan are open to dissection, as the Daily News did yesterday to his housing plan. And no one knows for sure if the policy proposals he’s making will help him cut into Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s lead in the polls.
What is clear, however, is that with about a month to go before the primary, Ferrer is starting to deal the big cards he’s been holding; so is Miller, who’s about to get TV commercials up and running. And with those cards to play, it’s not quite time to declare the 2005 campaign over. Around this time four years ago, Ferrer was in fourth and last place among the Democrats and Bloomberg waslosing to all of the Democratic field by 15 points or more in the polls.