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17th October
2005

First Published in The New York Sun, October 17, 2005

By Andrew Wolf

The state Democratic chairman, Herman “Denny” Farrell, engaged two weeks ago in a bit of “fuzzy math,” analyzing poll results on New York One’s “Road to City Hall” show. By his analysis, the then-14-point spread between Mayor Bloomberg and his opponent, Fernando Ferrer, was actually a tie, a statistical dead heat within the margin of error. If you just add all the undecided voters to the Ferrer column,Mr.Farrell suggested,you see how the race is really a nail-biter, not a romp.

Two new polls were released Wednesday disclosing remarkably uniform results: the mayor surging, headed toward what could even be twoto-one margin of victory against the hapless former Bronx president. How will Mr. Farrell spin this one?
The question Mr. Farrell must be asking is why Mr. Ferrer is sinking so fast as voters get to know him better? For all of the mayor’s money and the commercials it buys, the mayor was already a well-known commodity. Commercials help, but opinions about Mr. Bloomberg, for better or worse, have already formed in the minds of the voting public.

Kevin Sheekey, the mayor’s campaign manager, points out that elections ultimately come down to a binary choice.That is the point we are at now. The time has come to contrast the perception of Mr.Bloomberg’s performance as mayor with the perception of the kind of job that Mr. Ferrer would do. This is where the Democrat comes up short.

If education is the signature issue upon which Mr. Bloomberg wishes to be judged, I have certainly weighed in, as much as anyone in this town, with harsh criticism.

The mayor won control of the schools pledging a thorough housecleaning, a back-to-basics curriculum, and more efficient spending of the huge amount of money already allocated for education. In my eyes, he has failed. Yet I will almost certainly vote for him,ironically in part because as wrong as the mayor has been on education, Mr. Ferrer offers voters nothing.

Despite a quarter century in the public eye, Mr. Ferrer offers no cogent vision on education issues. I hope that as events unfold, Mr. Bloomberg will be nudged to return to his initial vision for the schools. Mr. Ferrer doesn’t even offer that ray of hope.He identifies plenty of problems and makes scores of complaints, but remarkably offers little in the way of answers.

The Democratic primary should offer valuable lessons about how candidates can seize momentum. If you feed voters with substance, they will respond.

Mr. Ferrer entered the primary battle the overwhelming favorite by dint of his residual name recognition from his two previous mayoral campaigns.His three opponents were all considered lightweights, and it was assumed that the former Bronx president would easily win the contest without the need for a runoff. After he stumbled over his flip-flop on the Diallo matter, the candidacy of C. Virginia Fields caught fire. But Ms. Fields failed to back up her surging effort with a well thought-out vision for governing. She quickly faded as voters got no answer to the question, “where’s the beef?”

One candidate did project a vision, Rep. Anthony Weiner. From fourth place, he surged into a strong second-place finish, nearly forcing a runoff. What was Mr. Weiner’s secret? As voters began to concentrate on the election, they found him informed and articulate, presenting cogent plans and programs.

In the general election campaign, voters have begun to recognize Mr. Ferrer’s lack of substance.That is why he lags in the polls. One can’t beat somebody with nobody, and the voters have come to realize that when it comes to key issues, Mr. Ferrer presents no alternative to the mayor.

Where was Mr. Ferrer when critics warned that the uniform reading curriculum was not based on scientific evidence and would be rejected for funding by the federal government? Where was he when the high schools descended into crowding, confusion, and chaos, resulting from the poorly conceived small high schools initiative?

Where was Mr. Ferrer during the debate over the tens of millions in privately-raised dollars invested in a “Leadership Academy” to train principals? Mr. Ferrer, with his history of using clubhouse politics and influence to win appointments for his intimates, is in no position to criticize Mr. Bloomberg’s errors.

Who did emerge in a position to do so? Mr. Weiner. That is why the Bloomberg campaign breathed a sigh of relief that the mayor didn’t need to face him instead of Mr. Ferrer.

The press release announcing Mr. Ferrer’s “bold” education plan is devoid of specifics. But achieving its general goals depends on obtaining “$23 billion owed to NYC schools by Albany,” a fantasy into which, alas, the mayor himself now buys. And, yes, Mr. Ferrer promises to raise the high school graduation rate by buying a laptop computer for every student. Perhaps we could do better by offering an iPod — upon graduation.

So the voters — myself included — are moving toward Mr. Bloomberg, recognizing that even the wrong cut of beef is better than no beef at all.

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

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