Pick your sports metaphor: Fernando Ferrer seemed to win Tuesday night’s second and final general election mayoral debate with incumbent Michael Bloomberg, on style points at least. “But,” we can hear the analysis pieces in tomorrow’s dailies asking, “did he land a knockout blow?”
Did he birdie the fifth hole? Did he go for two and convert? Did he paint the outside corner on a 3-2 count? Did he nail the clutch three-pointer? Did he skate through a power play defense and notch a shorthanded goal? Did he put it into the far corner of the net, just wide of the desperate, grasping arms of the goalie, to break a scoreless tie in overtime? Did he get the takedown on a duck-under, get all three back-points, then go for the pin with the far-side cradle?
Hmmmmm. Don’t know the answer to those. Do know that Ferrer wasn’t perfect, clinging to the claim that 50 percent of New York City high school kids drop out when that isn’t actually accurate, failing to come up with a real answer for how the city might close its budget gap next year (Medicaid savings and aid from D.C. and Albany are unlikely to do the trick), and sometimes stringing together a chain of canned lines (on housing, for example, we heard the old tunes: families can’t live in a “pipeline,” “thank goodness for elections,” and there’s a housing “crisis” in this city.).
But do know also that Ferrer was sharper than on Sunday, and Bloomberg more defensive, the mayor depicting Ferrer as nothing more than a complainer. “He stands for complaining. He stands for identifying problems and not offering solutions,” the mayor said at one point, “It’s very easy to be a critic. It’s very hard to govern.”
One of the questions Ferrer clearly felt most comfortable with concerned the Iraq war, on which he said, “It’s a war that’s cost too much in human life and too much in our national wealth and distorting our national priorities.
Bloomberg came back with a rousing defense of the war: There was intelligence that depicted Iraq was a threat, but it turned out to be false. Asked if we were misled, the mayor blamed the debacle on a massive intelligence failure. And while Ferrer called for instant withdrawal, the mayor said: “Walking away at this point would mean all of them have died in vain.” When Bloomberg asked Ferrer why so many papers, including the Times, had endorsed his reelection, Ferrer shot back with a reference to the Judy Miller/WMD saga: “We’ve learned the hard way over the past few years that the New York Times doesn’t always get it right.”
During the hour-long encounter, the men sparred on the mayor’s supposed Republican ties and Freddy’s alleged changes of opinion on abortion and other issues, and on bird flu, education funding, and military recruiting in schools. Bloomberg said that if the city received more security funding, he would use the money to “solve other problems,” but Ferrer said he’d employ it to train transit personnel in terrorism response and install new surveillance equipment. Asked about the rising cost of living, Bloomberg replied, “I think what you’ve got to understand is, this is an expensive city,” then pledged to keep make government more efficient to lower the tax burden. Queried about rising poverty, the mayor blamed the influx of poor immigrants and said the way to help them was by expanding tourism, restaurant, and hotel jobs.
Ferrer praised Bloomberg for cooling racial tensions. Bloomberg lauded Ferrer as a good family man who “speaks Spanish better than I.”
Ferrer again asked Bloomberg for more debates. Bloomberg replied, “Having a debate about debates is not a good use of this time.” But did the mayor’s punt give Ferrer decent field position?