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25th August

First Published in The New York Sun, August 25, 2005

By Andrew Wolf

Credit is due to Wayne Barrett of the Village Voice for his useful dissection of last week’s Quinnipiac University poll results, which showed Fernando Ferrer maintaining his lead and the other three candidates in a dead heat for second.

Mr. Barrett correctly pointed out that reporters and commentators have been focusing on a smaller sample of likely primary voters, as opposed to the larger sample of Democrats that Quinnipiac has been polling on a regular basis since the beginning of the campaign.We were all just following the road map left for us in the Quinnipiac press release.
Had the press focused instead on the larger sample,the story might have been significant drops in support for Mr. Ferrer (four points); the City Council speaker, Gifford Miller (five points), and the Manhattan borough president, C. Virginia Fields (10 points in two months). Rep. Anthony Weiner is the only one to achieve — nothing, which looks good next to the losses suffered by the rest of the pack. The big winner is undecided, which has tied Mr. Ferrer at 29%.

The smaller sample of likely voters shows fewer undecideds, bad news for Mr. Ferrer, who would need to pick up nearly half of them to achieve the 40% he needs to avoid a runoff.

But history tells us that primary election polls are notoriously inaccurate. Mr. Ferrer’s vote may turn out to be higher, simply because his Latino base is more committed and motivated. Or perhaps Manhattanite Gifford Miller could benefit from a higher proportion of the turnout in his home borough due to hot races for borough president and district attorney that could drive up turnout.

While Mr. Barrett’s analysis of the poll is dead on,he retreats into finding Machiavellian motivations behind the surprise endorsement of Ms. Fields by the nonpartisan Citizens Union. I am willing to give Ms. Fields her day in the sun and accept the endorsement at face value.

But Mr. Barrett sees the Citizens Union backing as a plot by supporters of the mayor to bolster Ms. Fields’s lagging candidacy and help force a runoff between her and Mr. Ferrer, an event that all agree would benefit Mr. Bloomberg.

To support this thesis, Mr. Barrett notes that the Citizens Union is chaired by a Bloomberg appointee,preferred the mayor in 2001, received a $5,000 contribution from Bloomberg LP last year,and — worst of all — honored Mr.Bloomberg at its annual dinner in 1994! Everyone has their price, including good-government types,but I’m not ready to buy into this kind of conspiracy theory — yet.

The next set of polls is likely to disclose a lot more about the direction of the primary race. Presumably we can compare Quinnipiac’s next set of Democratic samples with the poll released last week, and I suspect a Marist poll will soon be released for further comparison.

It is likely that whatever “conventional wisdom”emerges could drive the coverage and the result of the primary race, just as the misinterpreted “dead heat”for second place has driven coverage this past week. But it is equally clear that all this may not matter. The winner of the primary is facing a daunting task in taking on the Bloomberg juggernaut. In fact, the one conclusion you can make from the polling data is that Democrats are, by and large, not enthusiastic about this field, and in fact many are not averse to, in fact in some cases are enthusiastic about, voting for Mr. Bloomberg in November.

Let’s assume for the moment that the mayor is re-elected, handily, as many expect. What might the future hold for the Democratic hopefuls?

Anthony Weiner is the only candidate who, win, lose, or draw, will have a job come January 1. He will retain his congressional seat. If he doesn’t make many missteps, he would almost certainly be a candidate for higher office once again, perhaps for mayor in 2009.

C. Virginia Fields is term-limited as Manhattan president. But the exposure she receives this year would seem to put her at the head of the pack of those who could succeed Charles Rangel, should the powerful Congressman choose to retire in the near future, as has been the subject of some speculation.

The future is less clear for Gifford Miller and Fernando Ferrer. Mr. Ferrer will have become a three-time loser, his political career presumably at an end.As City Council speaker, Mr.Miller has risen so far so fast that a lesser office would seem a comedown. But at the same time, he is young enough for a second act.

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

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