Note: The Following was written during the first week of September, before the re-scheduling of the primary
Democracy is stressful, vote for the wrong candidate and you own a piece of responsibility for whatever instability and dysfunction results. And it is hard to tell the difference between the warped personality, driven to compete at politics out of some pathology like deep feelings of inadequacy, and the natural-born apparatchik you may think you are getting. It may be that all career politicians are some combination of both types. Either way, you have to be a little weird or freaky, like a Nietzschean hero, just to step into the political arena. This is why we can’t help but view politicians with some combination of admiration and repulsion. Their natural boldness and their evident belief in their own abilities, like a sure sign of a poor character, always produce some degree of ambivalence in their audience. And of all the grand conceits, could any be bolder than publicly declaring that you can and will manage New York City? Maybe that is why picking amongst the six leading candidates for Mayor in the primary (now September 25th feels strangely like adopting an older child from an orphanage; you can’t tell who you are getting, especially when everyone is on their best behavior.
Note: The winner in each party’s election must carry 40% of the vote to avoid a mandatory runoff election with his party’s runner up; the current closeness in the polls suggests that such a runoff is likely for the Democrats this year.
The Bronx machine’s protest candidate.
It has got to be tough to run as the man who rebuilt the Bronx. Who knew it was even rebuilt? The answer apparently is the people of the Bronx who strongly support Freddie Ferrer. There are two major party candidates of Puerto Rican descent running for Mayor this year, Democrat Ferrer and long shot Republican candidate Herman Badillo. Ferrer was Councilman back in '87 when he was handed the Bronx’s borough presidency by the Democratic bosses when the sitting BP got popped in a bribery scandal. Not surprisingly, but still to Ferrer’s credit, conditions in the Bronx improved from that point. During the first televised debate in August, candidate Mark Green teased Ferrer that his greatest accomplishment has been helping former Mayor Ed Koch’s housing construction and renovation projects in the Bronx, thanks in large part to Koch, but Ferrer shows no shame when heaping credit onto his own plate. The Bronx political machine demonstrably improved people’s lives with Ferrer at the wheel, which is a greater accomplishment than it may appear at first glance.
But make no mistake about it, Freddie Ferrer is a serious contender in this race. Ferrer started to run for mayor in the last election four years ago but had to withdraw due to a thyroid condition. Since then the Bronx BP and a group of Latino king-makers have been working to form a political alliance with the city’s black political leaders. This wedge has yet to demonstrate any efficacy to date, but the way this four man race breaks down such an alliance could easily prove decisive. At this point it has come down to where Ferrer is counting on the Rev. Al Sharpton’s endorsement and continued support to deliver to him the Black half of the Giuliani-backlash vote. And Ferrer has learned how to conduct himself around Sharpton (the hard way) and so probably will not give Sharpton any easy ways off that bandwagon. Then again, Rev. Sharpton may come to see any effort on behalf of Ferrer as a step toward using this same coalition to get himself elected to high office somewhere down the line. Any way you slice it, it will not be easy for Ferrer, as gambling on what Al Sharpton will do is never a safe bet. What is more, Mark Green also has strong Black support and will fight Ferrer for every vote. The fact that construction projects and low-income housing are his calling card means that a Ferrer administration would probably be considered both pro-tenant and pro-contractor as well. Sports fans note, Ferrer defines those goals as in opposition to the construction of new sports stadiums, so don’t expect any help from Freddie to keep your favorite franchise in town. The two best reasons to vote for Ferrer at present seem to be that too many New Yorkers live in run-down neighborhoods poorly serviced by the city, and that it is high time for New York to have its first Puerto Rican mayor.
The law-and-order leftist
Consumer Advocate Mark Green is the proto-New-York liberal politician: whip-smart, eloquent, and always politically correct. After graduating from Harvard Law in 1970 Green distinguished himself with a surprisingly tough challenge to incumbent Republican Senator Al D’Amato. All through the nineties Green shined as the City’s Consumer Affairs Commissioner and later Public Advocate, which isn’t saying much since the latter job was tailor-made for crusading politicians like Green. Then in 1998 Mark Green lost a close primary contest to Chuck Schumer in the race that finally knocked Al D’Amato out of the Senate. Though he missed getting that Senate seat, Green built a powerful, city-wide political operation in 1998 which has given him a decided advantage over his opponents in this election. Over and above his actions on behalf of consumers, Green is credited by Democratic voters for having been one of the most unwavering opponents of Giuliani-ism right from the start. He has been a constant and vociferous critic of the Mayor and has regularly harassed the former prosecutor with litigation. Green has also long cultivated a corps of wealthy, liberal celebrities that boost him in every way they can, both financially and through media power. But of all the celebrity supporters none had been as valuable as former Giuliani Police Chief Bill Bratton. Bratton’s participation in Green’s campaign served as its central message for a while. The idea is that if the real architect of NYC’s safer-streets plan is on your team then there is no way you can be any softer on crime than Rudy. Green has led this race from the start thanks largely to this brilliant and innovative appeal as a law-and-order liberal; it’s too good for the average New Yorker to resist.
The potential downsides to a Green administration are significant. Personality wise, Green is the kind of focused and driven guy you would want on your team, yet he also seems like the type of super-intense person anyone would hate to work for. Green has never served as a legislator, which has allowed him the freedom to choose whatever issues he wants to frame throughout his career without having to make hard choices or reach compromises. Green has been guilty of some historical revisionism in his public support of David Dinkins’s record as mayor. We can only hope that a Green administration would act more decisively than Dinkins did and take a tougher post-Giuliani approach to keeping the disparate elements of the city, police, teachers, subway workers, etc, in line. Yet he had come out with a Giuliani-type position to blow up the Board of Education, alienating the teacher’s unions right from the start. While seemingly pro-tenant, Green had strong financial ties to the real estate community through his more materialistic brother, who is a major commercial landlord himself. And the no-nonsense Green is vehemently against public funding for new stadium construction.
Not a contender until he stood, literally, behind Giuliani during the aftermath of the WTC crisis, the grandfatherly City Council Speaker has a thirty plus year record of making legislation first as Queens BP and then on the City Council. He is the NYC version of America’s traditional country club Democrat, a neighborhood club Democrat if you will, at once Christian in his regard for the less fortunate and venal in his support of landlords and developers. Vallone has a good record on building shelters for the homeless but is also largely responsible for making it impossible for middle income people to find place to live in this city at a reasonable price. Vallone gets the blame for pushing through the regulation that allows landlords to kick people out of their apartments and then remodel their buildings out of rent control. Not surprisingly, Vallone was endorsed by both local right-wing-tabloids as he is arguably further to the right than Republican front-runner Mike Bloomberg. And it seems as if Rudy Giuliani can’t do enough to boost the City Council’s long-time king of compromise in the Democratic primary.
There are some good reasons for conservative Democrats to support Vallone. He is the father of the current 4-to-1 public financing scheme for local elections, and he saved term limits in the city from a hit squad of career politicians. Sports fans take note: Vallone potentially could be the best Democratic candidate for building new stadiums, if anyone wants to build one in Queens. And Vallone has had nothing but love for NYPD in the course of its recent tumults, winning him strong support from the cop unions. In short, if you loved the Giuliani years you would probably love the Vallone years too.
Richie Rich wants to serve?
Millionaire Michael Bloomberg has never held public office before, in fact this is the first time he has ever even run for anything. All we really know about Bloomberg is that he is a man with a seemingly endless personal fortune and a taste for publicity. We can’t even tell if Bloomberg is a good businessman because his company is privately held. (According to New York Magazine columnist Michael Wolff, the source of Bloomberg’s wealth is his ownership of a proprietary database of prospectuses crucial to the bond market that automatically generates most of the Bloomberg company’s $2.5 billion a year in revenues independent from the rest of the media empire.) The idea that a man with no political skill other than signing checks will easily win the Republican nomination would be sad only if the Republican party stood for much more than a fan club for rich people. The current economic recession, ironically, is helping Bloomberg. While newspapers and television stations across the country are struggling with incredibly weak advertising demand right now, NYC outlets are swimming in dough thanks to Bloomberg’s endless commercial assault. With all of that money at stake it should not surprise anyone that the local media are doting on the Johnny-come-lately Republican Bloomberg more than one might expect looking solely at his record. Luckily, the whole point of the campaign seems to be a grab for the same type of marketable publicity that Donald Trump lives off, rather than a crusade to implement some visionary plan to transform New York City into a Scandinavian-style capitalist utopia. As such, the best reason to vote for Bloomberg is to mess up his real plans for after the election.
Jonas Salganik is a contributor to The Brooklyn Rail