Launched over 25 years ago, the Wacko Awards have been handed out by the Voice to the biggest bullies, bumblers, screwups, and suck-ups in almost every major campaign. We appropriated the Wacko name from then mayor Ed Koch, who used the elongated version (“waaaacko”) to deride his critics, especially us. Though 2005 offered up a potpourri of worthy recipients, there are only a limited number of Wackos, and most of them this year go to the media. Here are the chosen few:
Grabbing this year’s Bloombucks Bonuses are those four titans of the New York press, Mort Zuckerman, Rupert Murdoch, Arthur Carter, and Pinch Sulzberger, whose Daily News, Post, Observer, andTimes competed for the Mogul Mouth-to-Mouth Resuscitation Air Bag. Converting their predictable editorial endorsements of Bloomberg into a campaign-long splurge of double-standard news coverage, their collective invisible hand generated a juggernaut of juiced judgment for their fellow mogul that crossed all ideological or partisan lines. Instead of paying so much as lip service to the level-playing-field job of a free press, the moguls added their own “objective” voices to the torrent of echoing ads purchased by Bloombucks, combining to revive in a breathless six months a mayor who’d hit historic approval-rating lows.
In addition to their Bonus and Air Bag, the owners will receive 41 Bullets and a Gag to commemorate their endless repetition of Fernando Ferrer’s Diallo gaffe and their simultaneous silence on Bloombucks’s blather about Lenora Fulani. Without ever telegraphing what they would’ve said if Ferrer had instead called Diallo a crime though a jury found otherwise, the four papers combined to print 152 references to Ferrer’s statement, cheered on by the black-vote-hunting Bloomies. Not one paper published Ferrer’s full initial statement, which contained many pointed blasts at the cops, the cop commissioner, and the then mayor. Nor did anyone notice that when Ferrer was asked about the comment months later at the debate, Bloomberg took a speechless pass on the slaying, just as he had when he signed a council bill renaming the street where Diallo was killed.
In stark contrast, EveryPaper, whose titans also endorsed George Pataki in 2002 and Rudy Giuliani in 1997 in a chorus of incumbency boosterism, turned Bloombucks’s subsidies and salutes to Fulani into a non-story. When Fulani reiterated her heartfelt belief that Jews are “mass murderers of people of color,” Bloombucks tried to duck questions about her at a press conference the next day, claiming at first not to hear a reporter’s question, even though Fulani’s remarks were recited twice, loudly. Then Bloombucks declared: “I just have no comment on it. I don’t know what she is referring to, so you’ll have to ask her,” a response that would’ve buried an unprotected pol under a barrage of tabloid cover lines no matter how many times he tried to restate it.
Elected on Fulani’s Independence Party line in 2001 and running on it again, Bloombucks has steered his own and city funding in Fulani’s direction. He even appeared at a million-dollar fundraiser for Fulani just two days before she did her Jew blast. Bloombucks, who said he was “thrilled” to participate in Fulani’s extravaganza, did get around to condemning her remarks, and that was enough, apparently, to kill the controversy. Revelations that Bloombucks made crass deals with Fulani’s party, including agreeing to put a charter amendment on the ballot for them, were ignored. Ferrer’s Diallo comments came just a couple of weeks before Bloombucks’s Fulani flub, but Freddy’s controversy lasted eight months, while Bloomy’s ended in eight hours, earning Mogul Muzzles for all four brother behemoths.
The Slip-Them-a-Mickey Jug
goes to Mickey Carroll, the polling giant who should asterisk his Quinnipiac University predictions with plus-or-minus-20-point margins of error. While others got it almost as wrong, Carroll’s was in a chloral hydrate class by itself, going all the way up to a 38-point margin for Mayor Mike the day before the election, making them 50 percent off after missing by 25 percent in the primary.
But it was Carroll’s post-primary poll in September, right after Ferrer got his 40 percent primary win, that had the real Mickey Finn knockout effect, made famous by the turn-of-the-century Chicago bartender who packed his late-night drinks with a secret wallop and robbed his drugged patrons. Just when every pundit was predicting a winner’s bounce for Ferrer, abetted by a giant unity rally at City Hall, Quinnipiac found a Mike margin that had widened to 14 points. If any poll killed momentum and money for Ferrer, it was this one.
What Carroll never revealed was that he had to juice that result to get Bloombucks’s total over the magical 50 percent mark, including likely and leaning voters even though first polls in an election cycle rarely count these much more subjective categories of voters. If Carroll had instead reported the nine-point margin among registered voters, rather than trying to figure out this early who was a leaner or a likely, it would’ve left Big Mike five points shy of 50, with Ferrer closing in. Located in suburban Connecticut, Quinnipiac used only six Spanish-speaking students of the 155 paid to make calls and repeatedly missed Latino preferences, even under-weighting Hispanics in the sample at one point.
Quinnipiac and competition were also off in the last mayoral election, hyping Mark Green with 16-point leads over Bloombucks deep into October. But they couldn’t turn their own phony, random-digit-dialing predictions into prophecy then since Bloomy was self-financed. This time, however, error had effect. If Carroll had missed by as much in September as he did in November, Ferrer would’ve then been only seven points behind and might’ve turned this into a race.
When state Democratic gasbag Denny Farrell announced the night before the election that he would be at his Washington Heights club at 5:30 a.m. to jump-start a field operation for Ferrer, those who know him wondered if the 73-year-old with the red convertible was meeting a new blonde. Actually, a mid-afternoon Voice visit to Farrell’s Tioga-Carver club on 155th Street failed to find a single poster or palm card for Ferrer, and no one at the club could even reach the party laugh leader by cell phone. His name is bannered across the top of the club twice, as its assemblyman and its district leader. Since Farrell’s state and Manhattan Democratic offices in midtown were not even picking up the phone, double-barreled party chair Farrell wins the Tammany No-Show Trifecta, a throwback to his youthful days as a driver for a shady Supreme Court judge.
Actually, all that was going on in Farrell’s club was a tepid get-out-the- vote effort for City Councilman Robert Jackson, whose signs were on sidewalk billboards up and down the street. Jackson paid Farrell’s rent, in part with public matching funds, to run up his 9-to-1 margin in a race against a nonentity. Farrell told the Voice he couldn’t put out a palm card with Ferrer’s name on it without “violating campaign finance,” an absurd distortion of city rules that clearly permit parties to urge voters to support Democratic candidates from Ferrer on down. The state GOP’s “victory” committees have spent millions on city races over the years.
Farrell says he did show up at the crack of dawn, eventually got a grand total of 20 workers into the street, hit a subway stop with Freddy, and squeezed himself into the camera frame at Ferrer’s concession speech that night. Shelly Silver’s lightweight chair of the assembly’s most heavyweight committee, Shill Denny proved once again that where there’s an evasive way, he finds the means. With his trifecta of power posts, including Assembly Ways & Means, Farrell is best known by his own self-description in a court deposition: “I don’t always win,” he testified, “though I never lose.”
Winner once again of the Don’t-Worry-White-Man Pulitzer is the Grand Old Post, which virtually repeated its four-front-page slam on Carl McCall in the 2002 gubernatorial campaign with three covers of Fernando Ferrer ridicule this time, replete with dunce and jerk-off stories. The Daily News tried to compete, also devoting a cover to the timely hyping of a meaningless blogger error on Ferrer’s site, feeding off the same Bloomy handout as the Post. Nobody said it better than Bloombucks himself—a Post target pre-2005, who once brayed, “No one takes something seriously on the front page of the Post,” adding, “They’re going to make up stuff no matter what.”
Of course, it took the Associated Press to discover that the Bloombucks photo-op-at-the-IHOP in Harlem was a staged event, packed with nine so-called “volunteers” from the campaign. The News and Post‘s three total paragraphs of buried copy about this top-down calculated deception—as opposed to the blogging blunder of a Ferrer underling—earns them a Pigs-in-Blankets Buttermilk Special.
It became news only because the AP’s Sarah Kugler interviewed one IHOP diner who was so “effusive” about Bloomy that Kugler asked if she was affiliated with the campaign, provoking a denial. The charade continued until Kugler spotted the same woman working at campaign headquarters a few days later and forced a confession out of the Rove-like brass. Even then, the “volunteer” refused to answer repeated Kugler calls, continuing to hide the details of the scam.
Just to prove that its cover bashing isn’t an ethnic coincidence, the color-coded Post published a “No Thanks for the Memories” editorial warning that Ferrer wanted “to roll back the clock to the David Dinkins, pre–Rudy Giuliani days.” All that prompted the Post warnings of a return to soaring welfare, murder, and race tensions was Dinkins’s endorsement of Ferrer. Ironically, the Post actually endorsed Dinkins’s 2001 candidate for mayor, white man Mark Green, who was then running against Ferrer. Unlike Ferrer, Green was a top Dinkins commissioner, far closer to the ex-mayor politically and personally than longtime sparring partner Fernando. Nonetheless, the
Post never wrote of Green that “Dinkins is a great symbol of the kind of mayor Freddy hopes to be.”
Hank Sheinkopf, the once and future political consultant to mayoral wannabe Bill Thompson, wins the Next Secret Agent Man TV Pilot for posing as a quotable, disinterested expert on this year’s race, bashing upon request the man who fired him, Ferrer. Roberto Ramirez, the ex–Bronx Democratic boss who became such a racial hot-button item in 2001, captures the Ralph Ellison Invisible Latino Legend for managing Ferrer from afar this time, not even seen at the concession party. The City Hall press corps gets the God-Endorses-Ferrer-But-Refuses-to-Call-Bloomy-a-Sinner Heavenly Invite for reflexively demanding that Ferrer endorsers critique Bloomy but never vice versa, a new authenticity standard for backers of a challenger.
Research assistance: Jessica Bennett, K. Emily Bond, Ben James, Lee Norsworthy, and Xana O’Neill