Memo: Time for a Lil’ Asymmetric Warfare


If you think this week’s been dreary, think of how Fernando Ferrer’s campaign must feel. Democrats continue to desert the nominee: the Vallones over the weekend, former Manhattan borough president candidate Brian Ellner on Wednesday, Councilwoman Margarita Lopez today. The latest Marist Poll has Ferrer 27 points behind the mayor. The latest spending reports say Bloomberg’s spent seven times what Freddy has. While Freddy’s getting hit with headlines like “Ferrer Camp Finds City’s Deep Pockets Suddenly Sewed Up” and “National Dems Have Stiffed Ferrer For $1m,” the mayor is warning the city about terror attacks. Ferrer’s appearance with former Veep candidate John Edwards was barely mentioned in the press. Ferrer’s plug for a mayoral veto to a ban on Sunday parking meters was barely mentioned in the press.

A humble opinion: If he ever could have, Freddy Ferrer certainly no longer can win a conventional campaign against the mayor. The dynamic driving this race is against him, is already too strong, and is only building. Running a couple commercials, trying to get the press to cover what he says rather than silly gaffes, participating in the two late-stage debates to which the mayor has agreed, hoping for a big turnout—these things won’t do it.

Perhaps Michael Bloomberg deserves an easy re-election contest, given the good things he has done (Full disclosure: If you care, I’m an undecided voter). What Bloomberg doesn’t deserve, because no one does, is no contest at all. Ugly and unsatisfying as they often are, campaigns are times when ideas can be exchanged and problems highlighted. And there are problems in the city to highlight: rising poverty and rents, a looming budget gap, fears about overdevelopment. They demand airing.

So Ferrer ought to forget about trudging over to City Hall to highlight a minor City Council bill at a press conference that was bumped off the steps by a mass of Korean grocers protesting something else, as was the case Tuesday. To enlist the obligatory sports metaphor, Ferrer can no longer call a halfback run and hope that he gets a couple yards and a first down. It’s time to go deep, toss the bomb, sling the Hail Mary, and so on.

It’s time for some stunts, some bold action. Sleep under a bridge with some homeless guys for a few days. Get a few thousand low-income people together for a march on City Hall to illustrate what a rising poverty rate really looks like. Set up empty schooldesks on Wall Street and ask brokers if they’d really be willing to stiff kids the tiny price of a stock transfer tax. Invite reporters to take a day of standardized testing like New York’s kids face. Vow to eat only at food pantries the rest of the campaign.

People will laugh. People will ignore him. Some of it will flop. Going deep involves risks. But, really, what does Ferrer have to lose?