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23rd August

First Published in The New York Sun, August 23, 2005

By Andrew Wolf

Last week’s Quinnipiac poll, filled with bad news for Democrats, holds a ray of light for at least three of them.

The bad news, of course, is that they are fighting for a nomination that increasingly seems worthless. Democratic voters seem to “Like Mike” more than any of the four seeking the nod of their own party.
The good news, of course, is that the game isn’t over for any of those seeking the nomination. Early on, the conventional wisdom was that the former Bronx president, Fernando Ferrer, was unbeatable in the primary. He was as long as he kept his mouth shut. Once he began speaking, he began losing votes. Amadou Diallo was the first gaffe. This was quickly followed with the insane stock transfer tax proposal Mr. Ferrer won’t let go of. A day without losing more ground became good news.

Yet Mr. Ferrer survives.With his Hispanic base and opponents that are unable to capitalize on his weaknesses, he hovers in the low 30% range, more by far than any of his opponents, yet not nearly enough to break the magic 40% barrier one needs to win the Democratic nomination outright.

The public outcome of the two debates held in the past few days was not registered in recent opinion polls, all taken before the candidates squared off. But there is a change in atmosphere.

Firstly, the three trailing candidates, in a virtual tie for second place, all seem to be gaining momentum.
The City Council speaker, Gifford Miller, may have gotten himself embroiled in a debate over where he will send his children to school and just how honest he has been in confronting that question, but at least he managed to land squarely in the other debate — which is the ones between pundits analyzing the results of the candidate’s performance.

Although he is a still technically a point behind Mr. Miller and C.Virginia Fields in the Quinnipiac poll, nobody seems to refer to Rep. Anthony Weiner as bringing up the rear anymore. Now the three are considered to be in a “statistical dead heat” within “the margin of error,” pollster talk for “this isn’t an exact science.”

Now while it wasn’t good news for Ms. Fields to have relinquished sole possession of second place, which she had enjoyed since the beginning of the campaign, she did bag two big endorsements in recent days, one expected and another coming as something of a surprise.

Nobody was shocked when the National Organization for Women announced their support for the Manhattan president. After all, she is the only female in the race. But the backing of Citizens Union, which “prefers” her over her three opponents, did come as a bolt from the blue. Even Citizens Union’s leadership seemed astonished by their endorsement.

It is a reflection of just how much better Ms. Fields comes off in a small, intimate setting, as opposed to the staged hoopla of the debates or candidate forums. While she never seems over-rehearsed, as often does Mr. Ferrer, or driven in the manner of Mr. Weiner, it is clear that she is uncomfortable in the format, and most agree she comes up short in these encounters.

This was clear at Sunday’s televised debate when Ms. Fields was pressed on where she would find the funds to raise the starting salary of police recruits, as she proposes. “The budget,” she replied, as if the money magically appears there, much as it did in the legendary Sheriff Thomas Farley’s “Little Tin Box.”

But when Ms. Fields sits across the table from you, she is fully in command of the facts and figures and articulates her vision very cogently.This is presumably what happened at the Citizens Union interview. Unfortunately, she can’t sit down for coffee and conversation with every voter.

The Democrat who lost to Mayor Bloomberg four years ago, Mark Green, owes his loss, many feel, to sabotage by the fellow Democrat Mr. Green defeated in a hard-fought Democratic runoff, Fernando Ferrer. And it seems, Mr. Green is angry; not at Mr. Ferrer for his apostasy of his fellow Democrat, of course, but at whoever left a copy of a briefing book of negative information on Mr. Ferrer, compiled by Mr. Green’s campaign staff in 2001, on the doorstep of the New York Post. “Someone has misappropriated and misused private property from four years ago,” he told the Post. “They should return it and do their own research.”
Mr. Green would never condone such a thing himself. After all, he is a potential Democratic candidate for state attorney general and a gentleman. He demonstrated his fairness and decency to Mr. Ferrer by using so little of what appears to be extraordinarily devastating material in his campaign four years ago.

The briefing book is said to document many of the now legendary Ferrer flip-flops, and even delves, deeply, into Aramina Ferrer’s career as the principal of a troubled Bronx elementary school, suggesting that the former Bronx president’s wife got her job due to political influence and kept it through pressure exerted by the Bronx Democratic machine, even after her school was identified as one of the state’s worst.

This may not have been as big an issue in 2001, but it resonates somewhat more now, since the next mayor will control the school system and its thousands of jobs, including the principalship of the Bronx’s P.S. 46, from which Mrs. Ferrer just retired.

Despite what now appears to be kid-glove treatment of Mr. Ferrer by the former public advocate four years ago, Mr. Ferrer and his allies were miffed at the conduct of the Green forces and famously withheld their support in the general election. This paved the way for a Republican victory (keeping Mr. Ferrer’s hopes alive for 2005).

The Ferrer strategy this year, according to published reports, is to make the general election campaign a national Democratic crusade to defeat New York’s Republican mayor,a concern Mr. Ferrer didn’t find so compelling four years ago.

As for Mr. Green, at some level, even though he indignantly condemns the mysterious appearance of the briefing book, he must enjoy the fact that revenge is often a dish best served cold.

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

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