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13th September

First Published in The New York Sun, September 13, 2005

By Andrew Wolf

A little -noticed item in the New York Post last week reported a rumor, by way of a blog, that the campaign of Fernando Ferrer has “sidelined” its Washington-based media consultant, David Doak. A week before the primary, “sidelined” is a polite way of saying “fired.” Taking control, according to the Post and an item in the Politicker blog of the New York Observer’s Ben Smith, are Mr. Ferrer’s longtime advisers Luis Miranda and Roberto Ramirez, who want “more control over the purse strings.”

According to the Village Voice, Mr. Ramirez and company have received, thus far this campaign, nearly half a million dollars as “general consultants.” That represents a hefty portion of the limited expenditures that Mr. Ferrer can make in the campaign, since he is participating in the public campaign-finance system. It may explain why you’ve probably seen more ads for the Weiner and Miller campaigns than for the front-runner.
It brings to mind a 2003 article in the Voice that outlined the enormous expenditures made by Bronx Democratic organization candidates — including Mr. Ferrer — in 2001 to companies with ties to Mr. Ramirez. Fully 19% of all of Mr. Ferrer’s expenditures that year, $1.7 million, went to such Ramirez-connected firms.The Voice went so far as to suggest “the shocking price tag on Ramirez-tied services … may well be one reason Ferrer lost.”

If a fellow who owns an apartment building with a violation or two makes a contribution to a candidate he favors, it instantly becomes headline news. “Joe Blow Accepts Dirty Money From Slumlord” is a very common and very compelling headline here. The implication is that if a landlord sends a few hundred bucks to a candidate, special favors will be granted to him in return. Despite all the attention paid to the incoming contributions, however, little if any attention is paid to the outgoing expenditures.

Now, if Michael Bloomberg decides to hire his brother-in-law to distribute literature, who cares? It is Mr. Bloomberg’s own money financing the campaign after all, and how good or poor a job the guy does is the concern only of the mayor and his campaign team. But when public matching funds are involved, money that doesn’t really pay a fair price for service meanders into the realm of theft. Few such cases have been prosecuted, but a number of incidents raise questions.

Beside Mr. Ferrer’s largesse to firms that were part of the Ramirez conglomerate, 56% of the money spent in 2001 by Mr. Ferrer’s successor as Bronx president, Adolfo Carrión, were spent with Ramirez-connected firms. In 2003, Larry Seabrook, a Bronx Democratic member of the City Council, paid his brother Oliver $35,000 to “manage” his reelection campaign against a Conservative Party challenger. Most of that money came from public matching funds — perfectly legal, but hardly necessary in a race that any rational person would agree had a pre-ordained result. Mr. Seabrook won with 88% of the vote.

If there is a runoff between Fernando Ferrer and Anthony Weiner, look for the issue of the Iraq war to loom large, as suggested Sunday by the Reverend Al Sharpton when he endorsed the former Bronx president. In response, Rep. Weiner will surely lean on the votes of other prominent Democrats, such as Senators Clinton and Schumer.

There will be other nuanced differences. Appearing Saturday evening on NY1’s “Road to City Hall” program, Mr. Ferrer gave conditional support to placing the controversial International Freedom Center at Ground Zero, while Mr.Weiner gave the plan a firm thumbs down.

Look for Mr. Weiner to criticize Mr. Ferrer’s plan to use a stock-transfer tax to finance increases in school spending, which will more than likely be labeled an “attack” by Mr. Ferrer, in a reprise of his 2001 runoff strategy against Mark Green.

Mr. Ferrer’s success in diverting criticism of his record as “attacks” resulted in Mr. Green’s holding back such confrontations in debate. It will be the unenviable task before Mr. Weiner to use his formidable debating skills to make his case against Mr. Ferrer in a way that doesn’t appear nasty and personal.

One item that is sure to come up is Mr. Ferrer’s actions following Mr. Green’s narrow runoff victory four years ago. It is widely believed that Mr. Ferrer’s lack of support for his party’s nominee cost the Democrats their chance at regaining City Hall, allowing a little-known businessman, Michael Bloomberg, to succeed Mayor Giuliani.

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

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