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25th November

First Published in The New York Sun, November 25, 2003

By Andrew Wolf

With Mayor Bloomberg scraping the bottom in recent polls, the prospect of a Democrat retaking City Hall is more than just a possibility. However, you don’t beat somebody (particularly somebody with $4 billion) with a nobody — or do you? Amazingly, Democrats could turn to the man who sabotaged their effort to retake City Hall two years ago, the former president of the Bronx, Fernando Ferrer. Some consider Mr. Ferrer as having almost a lock on the nomination. God save us. 

    As a publisher of Bronx community newspapers, I have watched his career unfold and soar as the borough he presided over sank and stagnated. Rarely has someone who has accomplished so little gone so far. In the absence of real substance, Mr. Ferrer has substituted race. That’s what he did when he ran in 2001, and that’s the reason he invites opposition should he run again. 
    Our last Democratic mayor was David Dinkins. By the time his term was drawing to an end in 1993, the city was at its nadir and race relations, the reason many voted for Mr. Dinkins in the first place, were as tense as ever. Voters turned to Rudolph Giuliani, whose new approach led the city into a renaissance. As New York got back on track, no voice was more strident than Mr. Ferrer’s in criticizing Mr. Giuliani’s every move. 

    In the mid-1990s, Mr. Ferrer took a sudden turn to the right. He had hired President Clinton’s pragmatic on-and-off consultant, Dick Morris, who started recasting his client as a “New Democrat.” Mr. Ferrer started supporting things such as school uniforms, moderated his position on abortion, and even supported capital punishment. But when Mr. Morris got caught with a prostitute, Mr. Ferrer dropped him and began the move back to the left — the far left. 

    When he sought the Democratic mayoral nod in 1997, Mr. Ferrer’s bid was short-circuited by black Democrats. The Dinkins endorsement of Councilwoman Ruth Messinger and the candidacy of the Reverend Al Sharpton made winning significant numbers of black voters nearly impossible. Mr. Ferrer dropped out of the race. 

    Looking to 2001, Mr. Ferrer became obsessed with the black vote. He and his chief political adviser, Roberto Ramirez, who was then the Bronx Democratic boss, focused on the Rev. Sharpton and how to convince him to stay out and support Mr. Ferrer. The plan they hit upon was to offer up the career of Congressman Eliot Engel, who was up for re-election in 2000. 

    A plot was hatched to replace Mr. Engel with a key ally of the Rev. Sharpton, the much-investigated Bronx state senator, Larry Seabrook. In exchange, Mr. Ferrer would win the Rev. Sharpton’s endorsement. 
    This was not a race between equals. There was no public official that less deserved to be “promoted” to a higher position than Mr. Seabrook. Despite the fact that the district was then 80% minority, Mr. Engel won impressively. 

    This was vintage Ferrer. He is a thinskinned man with little vision. As the 2001 campaign began, he decided to ride the dangerous ethnic wave in a weak mayoral field. The alliance with the Rev. Sharpton became the centerpiece of his campaign and a lightning rod for his opponents. As little sympathy as I have for Mark Green’s ideology, he is not the racist that Mr. Ferrer painted him to be after Mr. Green’s campaign aides attacked the Rev. Sharpton’s influence in the Ferrer campaign. 

    In nearly 15 years he was president of the Bronx, including a few under the old charter when borough chiefs had real power, Mr. Ferrer failed to build a single square foot of prime office space in Bronx County. But even in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, Mr. Ferrer was able to successfully skirt what should have been the central issue of the campaign: Is this the man who could lead the effort to rebuild the wreckage that was Lower Manhattan? 

    As borough president, Mr. Ferrer showed little ability to attract new business to the Bronx. A case in point was the botching of the opportunity to bring the Ikea furniture chain to the Bronx, after Ikea abandoned plans to locate in nearby New Rochelle. 

    Rather than take their business (and the hundreds of much-needed jobs it would bring) to the Bronx, the Ikea folksstarted looking to Brooklyn. Such is the story of Bronx economic life under Mr. Ferrer: lack of leadership, lack of vision, missed opportunities. 

    Under his watch, the Bronx became the only borough without a chamber of commerce promoting the county’s business interests. The one accomplishment that Mr. Ferrer points to is adding housing units to the borough. However, credit for that initiative lies with a former mayor, Edward Koch, not Mr. Ferrer. 

    The Bronx suffered under Mr. Ferrer’s leadership. Perhaps he has lowered our expectations so much that many don’t even realize just how bad things had become. As the rest of the city prospered, the Bronx sank deeper into real economic depression. It was 1932 in the borough when Mr. Ferrer came on the scene and 1931 when he left 15 years later. As frustrating as Mr. Bloomberg has turned out to be, Mr. Ferrer is worse. Democrats would be wise to turn elsewhere.

© 2003 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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