When the democratic mayoral campaign draws to close Tuesday morning, local grassroots coalitions will begin a day of intense campaign efforts on behalf of their candidate. Through phone banks, door-to-door canvassing, and sending workers to polling stations to distribute literature and palm cards, these field operations could play a pivotal role in determining who comes in second in this race. At least, that’s what Gifford Miller’s campaign believes.
The city council speaker, who polls show is hoping to squeeze into a runoff with Fernando Ferrer, appears to have a massive organizing operation readying on his behalf. With more endorsements than any other candidate—including 150 elected officials, 60 community and political clubs, and both the Brooklyn and Queens Democratic Committees—Miller (who was forced to scale back his advertising amid questions about his spending) expects to have more than 2,000 people spread out among the five boroughs come Tuesday.
But how influential can these last-minute field operations really be in a Mayoral race – and specifically, for Miller? State Senator John Sabini, who represents part of Queens and was once head of the Queens Democratic Committee, says he believes the act of handing out palm cards—more than a million of which the Miller campaign plans to distribute— “are next to useless for the top of the ticket.”
“I think once people are motivated to go to the polls, they know who they’re voting for,” Sabini tells the Voice.
Perhaps the handing out of palm cards is more valuable at the local level, where voters are less likely to have decided on a candidate. But as Brooklyn City Councilor Lewis Fidler acknowledged, in an age where advanced media dominates, the outcome of late-term field operations is hard to predict.
“There was a day when the clubhouse grinded out and pulled voters very aggressively, but today elections are much more driven by TV and media,” he said.
Popular endorsements can also be misleading of actual voting patterns. The Democratic organizations in Brooklyn and Queens, for example, are both supporting Miller, with Queens officials planning to send 500 volunteers into the streets on his behalf. But despite what appears to be popular support, polls show that blacks and Latinos—who make up nearly 50 percent of the population in Queens and more than half of it in Brooklyn—still tend to favor Virginia Fields, the African-American candidate, and frontrunner Fernando Ferrer, who is Latino.
“Just because the Democratic machine in a particular borough supports a candidate, they still may not really have that much clout,” said Brooklyn Assemblyman James Brennan.
The Miller camp remains optimistic: “What we’re talking about is thousands of votes that could make the difference between second and third,” said Miller Campaign Manager Brian Hardwick. “We feel like at the end of the day, the grassroots effort is what will put us over the top and into the runoff.”