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16th August

First Published in The New York Sun, August 16, 2005

By Andrew Wolf

Jeanine Pirro’s Senate campaign may have gotten off to a rocky start, what with the controversy over the missing page in her announcement, the 32 seconds of dead air, and the saga of the notorious husband carefully hidden from view.

Mayor Bloomberg, though, probably wishes that the troubled campaign never got under way at all, because it has already put him in an embarrassing and uncomfortable political position.
Without a Republican primary opponent, the mayor has made a hard charge to the left, to pick up the votes of the city’s Democrats, who hold a five-to-one edge in voter registration. Last year he endorsed Senator Schumer, a Democrat, for re-election, angering those Republicans who will never see the mayor as anything more than a Republican-ofconvenience. Last year’s Senate contest, however, was a low-wattage affair that pitted the well-financed Mr. Schumer against the kamikaze candidacy of a little-known GOP assemblyman, Howard Mills. Mr. Bloomberg’s endorsement of his opponent was the least of Mr. Mills’s problems. The Republican challenger was crushed by a better than two-to-one ratio.

Mrs. Pirro’s race against Senator Clinton is already a high-visibility enterprise. The Westchester district attorney’s 32 seconds of silence already got more publicity than months of chatter from Mr. Mills. So the last thing Mr. Bloomberg wants to do is be pinned down on a challenge to Mrs. Clinton, just as he tries to win the hearts and minds of skeptical Democrats.

That’s why Mrs. Pirro’s endorsement of the mayor for re-election could hardly have been a welcome development at Bloomberg campaign headquarters.Tightropes are tough to walk. Thus far, Mr. Bloomberg has been Gotham’s political Philippe Petit. The last thing he needs is to have Mrs. Pirro shaking the rope.
With Mr. Bloomberg’s Republican Party affiliation the no. 1 issue consistently raised by Democrats, he doesn’t want high-profile Republicans reminding the blue-state majority that the mayor is a member of the GOP.

Mr. Bloomberg sidestepped that by saying he’s concentrating on this year’s election, not future ones. That demonstrates the value of not having to run in a Republican primary race in which an aggressive opponent could back him into a corner. Inevitably, such a race would have led to demands that the nominally Republican mayor demonstrate some party loyalty — as Democrats watched in glee from the sidelines.

It will be interesting to see if the next round of polls will reflect any change in the standing of the City Council speaker, Gifford Miller, now that he has begun running television commercials. It takes a courageous man to run on the record of the New York City Council, perhaps the nation’s least-respected legislative body.

Mr. Miller’s “New York Minute” commercial somehow reminds me of the early commercials run by the then-council president, Andrew Stein, in his abortive effort to wrest the Democratic nomination from Mayor Dinkins in 1993. Somehow that commercial reinforced the negative perceptions floating around Mr. Stein. Mr. Miller’s television spot leaves me with the same feeling. But that is just me and my gut. Surely the best-financed Democrat’s spot was field-tested among focus groups with electrodes attached to their bodies and brains to monitor joy and fear.

Anthony Weiner unleashed the heavy hitters last week, getting his mother to endorse his education plan. Fran Weiner was, until her recent retirement, a New York City public school teacher. That is probably why Mr. Weiner’s ideas on education seem so focused, compared to those of the other Democratic candidates.
Rather than fall back on the refrain of a need for more funds for the schools, Mr. Weiner focused on specific ways in which current funds could be better spent. He called for the abandonment of what he termed “experimental” curricula, such as “balanced literacy” and constructivist math, and for a moratorium on the creation of the new, small high schools.

Like most substantive discussions, however, the Weiner education plans, unrolled over three days, got very little ink.

The Manhattan president, C. Virginia Fields, didn’t sit by quietly as the mayor announced last week that a permanent home had been found for the Luperon High School in Washington Heights. It is a project with which she has been closely associated. She did her best to hijack the mayor’s event, and judging by the press coverage, she succeeded.

Yet the mayor didn’t seem miffed, and he even had kind words for Ms. Fields. Could it be that he recognizes that if Ms. Fields can grab some traction and force a runoff with Democratic front-runner Fernando Ferrer, conventional wisdom holds that it will be the mayor who benefits?

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

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