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28th October

First Published in The New York Sun, October 28, 2005

By Andrw Wolf

Passing through Attleboro, Mass., last weekend, I encountered a bit of New Englandstyle campaign strategy. At the town’s busiest intersection, supporters of various candidates seeking local public office stood on each corner holding signs advertising their favorite. Basic. Civil, and charmingly American. It could have made a Norman Rockwell painting.

Now if the Democratic candidate for mayor of Attleboro were to somehow convince William J. Clinton, the former president of the United States, to come make a campaign stop on his (or her) behalf, I suspect that it would be at this very busy intersection.
Last week, Mr. Clinton did make an appearance for the Democratic candidate for mayor of New York, Fernando Ferrer. But Mr. Clinton was not dispatched to Gotham’s busiest intersection, though Times Square might have been a good choice. Downtown Manhattan would seem to be another good alternative, filled with symbolism.

But Mr. Ferrer’s handlers instead chose Charlotte Street in the south Bronx. This street is a symbol of urban decay, having burned to the ground as the area was methodically destroyed — by its residents and landlords — during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Both presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan used this street as a backdrop for their appearances a generation ago.

The selection of this particular neighborhood was based on symbolism, but whose symbol? The plans for Charlotte Street long predated Mr. Ferrer becoming the president of the Bronx.Perhaps Mr. Ferrer cut a ribbon or two as the project finally reached completion, but that was the extent of his involvement. By the time Mr. Clinton took office in 1993, Charlotte Street was ancient history. So why was Charlotte Street chosen as the venue for the Clinton/Ferrer campaign event?

As it turned out,the event,upon which the Ferrer forces depended for a much-needed boost, was a disaster. The logistics for coverage by the broadcast media, which generally drives such events, was horrifically botched. Angry reporters enlisted children, mysteriously out of class during the school day, to hold their microphones and tape recorders. The Ferrer and Clinton camps pointed fingers at each other. The debacle became the story, leading to pundits asking whether a man who can’t put together a competent team to run a campaign rally has the skills to run the nation’s largest city.

The underlying reason for the ill-conceived south Bronx rally is that the Ferrer campaign, short of money, foundering in every way, is quickly becoming a desperate effort to avoid embarrassment by shoring up his base. I have seen this happen before. In 1969, the mayoral effort of James H. Scheuer went so badly that the last days of the campaign became an intense endeavor to pull out a win in Scheuer’s southwest Bronx congressional district,lest he be perceived as vulnerable for defeat for re-election.

With at least two new polls showing Mayor Bloomberg actually handily defeating Mr. Ferrer in the Bronx, concern is growing among the Ferrer forces.There is no shame for Mr. Ferrer in losing, particularly to such a well-funded opponent who seems to have done a reasonably good job. But it is quite another thing to be on the receiving end of a historic wipe out.

In 1997, Ruth Messinger, running against Mayor Giuliani, lost every borough — except the Bronx. Can Mr. Bloomberg exceed the 14-point spread by which his predecessor won reelection? It certainly seems to be a goal that is in reach. A five borough sweep by the mayor would be sweeter, and could assure Mr. Ferrer’s place in history: as New York’s Democratic Alf Landon.

The stakes for Team Ferrer are high.While Mr. Ferrer’s electoral career will likely end with his third mayoral defeat, a huge loss will also damage the prospects of other Hispanic hopefuls for citywide office and, more significantly, the reputation of the Ferrer consultant team.

If Mr. Bloomberg wins the Bronx and scores well among Latino voters citywide, the biggest loser will be Mr. Ferrer’s political Rasputin, Roberto Ramirez, the former Bronx Democratic leader. Mr. Ramirez has become a millionaire promising candidates success in winning votes from the Latino community. He failed, however, to deliver a victory for his deep-pocketed client, Bill Mulrow, a Democrat who lost his bid to become state comptroller in 2002. Mr. Mulrow’s campaign was crushed, even in the Bronx, by Alan Hevesi, even though Mr. Ramirez delivered the support of the Bronx Democratic machine and a host of endorsements by public officials.

That same year, Mr. Ramirez also failed to pull out a victory for another client, former Councilman Guillermo Linares, in a state senate race against reapportioned incumbent Eric Schneiderman. Mr. Linares, who hails from the Dominican Republic, was expected to win this largely Hispanic district, which was carefully crafted by Senate Republicans to defeat Mr. Schneiderman. Nonetheless, these losses failed to dissuade other Ramirez clients, most notably Eliot Spitzer, from continuing to place their confidence in Mr. Ramirez’s ability to deliver the Latino vote.

If Mr. Ramirez can’t put the Bronx in Mr. Ferrer’s column this year, and a Jewish Republican posts a decent showing among Latinos, then what is it exactly that Mr. Ramirez can deliver? That, I believe, is the reason why Mr. Ferrer is spending so much time in his home borough.

© 2005 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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