After the last answer to the last question at Tuesday night’s Democratic mayoral debate, folks in the audience at Jazz at Lincoln Center began getting out of their seats, even though host Dominic Carter was still speaking to a live television audience. It was like the bell had rung at the end of class. Time for recess.
But for campaign surrogates and other political persons of note, the work was just beginning, as they and the members of the working press moved to the “spin room.” There hordes of cameras and tape recorders swarmed each VIP, barraged them with questions, then moved on to the next victim. For the campaigns, it’s a chance to try to steer the analysis of the debate. For others, like Rev. Al Sharpton, it’s an opportunity to reinforce one’s importance as a potential kingmaker.
Anthony Weiner was the first one out, answering questions with hands in pockets and looking like he’d had a long day; it had started, after all, in an emergency room. His campaign was working overtime, too, sending out bulletins to reporters during and right after the debate that attacked Fernando Ferrer’s positions, like:
FERRER said property tax increase on housing is not a tax on the middle class . . . TRUTH: Ferrer’s plan would increase taxes on vacant lots by $900 million. Many middle class New Yorkers choose to buy vacant lots to preserve open space in residential areas in the outer boroughs.
Never mind that “to preserve open space” is equivalent to blocking the building of more housing, and that more housing is precisely what Ferrer’s plan seeks to encourage. Weiner was out of the spin room in a few minutes, and Virginia Fields was in.
There she stayed. Fields did several rounds of interviews as other candidates came and went. Gifford Miller appeared, his staff trying to peel reporters off the Fields scrum to go listen to the speaker instead. Councilmember Christine Quinn, who is vying to succeed Miller as speaker, stood beside Gifford like a bodyguard. The press ran out of questions to ask Miller and he left. Fields talked on. Ferrer never showed up at all; he was celebrating his 30th wedding anniversary, according to spokesperson Jen Bluestein, so adviser Bill Lynch filled in for him.
“I think overall Freddy held his own,” Lynch told the Voice. “When you’re the frontrunner in this kind of situation you’ve got to just hold your own.” He added, “I think Anthony Weiner is a very good debater because that’s what he does in the Congress.”
Elsewhere in the spin room, Al Sharpton, trailed by Brooklyn Councilman and Fields backer Charles Barron, held forth briefly. Bluestein and Fields campaign manager Chung Seto took turns chatting up teachers union head Randi Weingarten. Unions had taken a beating in the debate, especially from Weiner, who said that the labor bosses backing Bloomberg should “hang their heads in shame.”
“Look I don’t ever talk about my colleagues’ decision in these matters because there’s all sorts of issues that they are weighing in making those decisions,” Weingarten told the Voice. For example, “Lillian Roberts [of DC 37] had suffered thousands and thousands of layoffs and the moment that she had that last contract, even though it was a below-inflation contract, there were no further layoffs and then in exchange for the endorsement there was another 1 percent of salary increases given to her members.”
And what about the UFT’s endorsement? Weingarten, who backed George Pataki in 2002 despite his opposition to the city’s bid for more school funding, said the union was holding off on picking a candidate to try to pry a contract from the mayor. “We will weigh the situation, maybe before the primary most likely after the primary, to see what we’ll do but I’m not giving the mayor an excuse for not treating the teachers—who gave him the biggest test scores ever—for failing to treat them right.”
Outside on Columbus Circle campaign signs ran up the light posts, remnants of the rallies that had preceded the debate; it almost looked like an election was a-comin’. But the 11 o’clock TV news programs led with St. Patrick’s sex scandal, computer worm, or the bad dope story, not the debate. Four weeks and counting, and the Democrats are still trying to convince the city that there’s a race on.