Ferrer Goes Home


Fernando Ferrer returned to old haunts and old themes on Tuesday in a speech that, more explicitly than ever before, placed the 2005 campaign in the “other New York” framework of Ferrer’s candidacy four years ago. The site was Bronx Community College and the rotunda of Gould Library, where ionic columns of swirling grey marble support an ornate dome two stories up, ringed at the top by classical statues and an apropos inscription from “Paradise Lost” that read in part, “What is dark in me, illumine; what is low raise and support.” BCC was New York University’s uptown campus when Ferrer attended NYU on scholarship, part of his oft-recalled journey from Fox Street to Borough Hall. The library was, Ferrer said, “where possibility opened up for me.”

Outside, it poured—minifloods swelled until the 4 train, drops fell from the rotunda ceiling into a trash bucket, and the latest Quinnipiac Poll had Ferrer losing 61-30 percent, which seems absurd but is still not good news for Freddy. Ferrer’s campaign aides struggled to rev the crowd up when he entered, and tried to punctuate the speech with applause. In other words, it didn’t seem like a day of boundless possibility for Ferrer. But the speech said otherwise. Ferrer laced his life story with references to MLK, RFK, “hope and opportunity.” Now, said Ferrer, “is the time to raise our expectations.” At one point he said:

    There are people in this city, right now, working full-time jobs, trying to raise their kids, and earning less than $15,000 a year. We can all imagine what happens to a family if one of the children becomes seriously ill or some other tragedy occurs. And Mother Nature has made it clear to all of us what happens to that family if she is unkind. But what happens to that family if none of that happens? Do those children grow up with opportunities their parents didn’t have? Maybe. Maybe not. . . . But it doesn’t have to be that way. This is the greatest city in the world. And I do not believe we are condemned forever to be a city where opportunity is the birthright of some and a roll of the dice for others. We are better than that.

Ferrer broke no new policy ground, restating his plans to lower the dropout rate, create or save 167,000 units of affordable housing, give a tax break to middle class New Yorkers, and support small businesses. While the talk hit the mayor fairly hard (“Michael Bloomberg . . . doesn’t have any real understanding of what it’s like to live on the harder side”), there was also a valedictory air to it. “I may win, I may lose this election,” he said at one point, “but I will speak for those who can’t speak for themselves.”

Freddy’s words registered for Maurice Sanders, a second semester human services major from Harlem, whose mother is an administrative assistant at FIT, “really working hard and not getting the pay or recognition that she deserves” and dealing with “a lack of heat at night and having rats and roaches in the apartment and the landlord not doing nothing.” Outside, however, a group of largely black and Latino students got into a heated debate over Ferrer’s Diallo comments, and the fact that he didn’t stop to chat with students in the audience.