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15th September

First Published in The New York Sun, September 15, 2006

By Andrew Wolf

After the votes were counted, 300,000 fewer of them than in the mayoral primary four years ago,the two top finishers in Tuesday’s Democratic contest delivered two remarkable speeches to their supporters.

To listen to Fernando Ferrer, he won the primary outright and was moving on to tackle Mayor Bloomberg.

Then, Anthony Weiner sounded the horn to begin his runoff campaign against Mr. Ferrer — but did so in a surprisingly tentative way. He spoke an hour after Mr. Ferrer, not the expected modus operandi for the press-savvy congressman, who could have sought a bigger audience by making his speech earlier.I have learned that during that hour a vigorous debate was taking place at Weiner headquarters about whether Mr. Weiner should withdraw, right then and there — a seemingly unprecedented move. Temporarily, Mr. Weiner was dissuaded, and he made his odd midnight speech. But by morning he made a firm decision to withdraw, scheduling the announcement for noon.
Time will tell if he has enhanced his long-term political position through his selfless action, or acquired a permanent reputation as a quitter. It may be that should Mr. Ferrer lose to the mayor, and most feel that this is nearly certain, Mr. Weiner would become the instant front-runner for 2009.

At the heart of the intraparty conflict is the experience of the Democrats four years ago, when Mr. Ferrer finished first in the primary, only to lose narrowly to Mark Green in the runoff.

As the sun rose yesterday, Mr. Ferrer was a couple hundred votes short of winning the Democratic nomination outright by capturing 40% of the ballots cast. The actual final numbers, determining whether or not a runoff would be necessary, were days away, as our not too speedy Board of Elections conducts its official count.Until that is done,both candidates’ public financing, and thus their ability to campaign, would remain in a state of uncertainty.

With Mr. Ferrer needing so few votes, the final decision could have gone either way — but first the lawyers would have descended on the Board of Elections to check and double-check the tallies from the ancient voting machines and monitor every paper ballot. Any talk of unity was bound to give way to recrimination, as loyal Ferrer forces and Weiner forces would have fought, Florida-like, over the validity of each ballot, particularly the affidavit and absentee ballots.

Even in New York you don’t have to look back very far to see how ugly that can get. Four years ago, after a counting error in the initial tally for the runoff cut Mr. Green’s margin over Mr. Ferrer to 21,000 votes — far more than we are talking about this year — the Bronx president withdrew his election night concession. His campaign chief, Roberto Ramirez, hinted darkly of fraud, and the Reverend Al Sharpton was dispatched to demand that a “federal monitor” oversee the vote counting, threatening a lawsuit. Ultimately, after that and other conflicts, Mr. Green, perhaps the most excruciatingly politically correct politician on the face of the earth, was branded a racist, losing to Mr. Bloomberg after being demonized by Messrs. Ferrer, Sharpton, and Ramirez.

Mr. Weiner clearly showed his concern over rifts that could come out of even an issue-driven campaign, noting that such differences over policy are not “personal.”

Mr. Weiner’s decision must come, at least in part, from the 2001 experience — he has often said he doesn’t want to cause division, going so far as to suggest that he’d rather withdraw than cause a split in his party. It couldn’t have escaped his attention that the strategy to divide was already well under way, coming from Mr. Ferrer’s team.

In a just world it would not be unfair to hold Mr. Ferrer and Rev. Sharpton accountable, not just for the disaster that befell Democrats four years ago, but also for the outrageous remarks Rev. Sharpton made just this week about mayoral hopeful C. Virginia Fields, universally respected for her decency and integrity. What was Ms. Fields’s sin in Rev.Sharpton’s eyes? She did not endorse William Thompson Jr. for comptroller four years ago, opting instead for her respected former colleague in the City Council, Herbert Berman. Mr. Berman is white, Mr. Thompson is black. Get it?

When will Mr. Ferrer denounce this kind of racial politics? An unfortunate side effect of the Weiner withdrawal is that it once again gets Mr. Ferrer and Rev. Sharpton out of the hot seat, giving Mr. Ferrer a free ride in the name of “unity” that he simply doesn’t deserve.

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

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