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26th July

First Published in The New York Sun, July 26, 2005

By Andrew Wolf

In Europe, the only place you can reliably hear the word “Bloomberg” is if your hotel’s television gets his channel (mine did in German). And e-mail and Internet access was spotty on my twoweek vacation there, but apparently not as spotty as the campaigns of those who seek to unseat the incumbent mayor.

It is becoming increasingly likely that the mayor will not just win,but win easily.After wading through two weeks of articles,Web postings, and broadcast summaries, I came away with the same impression that one gets from seeing a speeded-up version of a plant growing. At any given instant, there appears to be little or no change. But when you play the film, a flower can bloom in seconds. Such has been the replay of the past two weeks.
There isn’t a scintilla of bad news for Mr. Bloomberg — his poll numbers continue to rise, and he is gaining traction with union endorsements that deny key backing to any Democratic challenger. If Fernando Ferrer or any of the other Democrats can’t win the backing of District Council 37, the municipal employees who got a mediocre contract from City Hall,how can Democrats cobble together a credible strategy to defeat the mayor?

There is now even talk of a settlement of the teachers’ contract,perhaps before September. Not that this may result in a UFT endorsement for Mr. Bloomberg — too much water may have flowed under the bridge for Randi Weingarten to row that far upstream, but it could head off an endorsement of one of the Democrats, presumably Mr. Ferrer, and certainly will take the edge off of the bitter relations between the teachers and mayor.

Not that Mr. Bloomberg needs these endorsements. In 2001, he won with virtually no union support.
When a Republican moves as far to the left as Mr. Bloomberg seemed to, it opens him to a challenge from the right, the kind that cost an earlier liberal GOP mayor, John Lindsay, his party’s nomination for re-election in 1969. But Mr. Bloomberg now seems poised to eliminate what could have been his most troublesome political problem, the possible loss of the Republican ballot line.The mayor behaves as if his party doesn’t exist, and at many levels, it probably doesn’t. One opponent, the investment banker Steve Shaw, is already gone, and the former councilman, Thomas Ognibene, is on the precipice of falling victim to the state’s Byzantine ballot-access rules.

Mr. Ognibene has only filed 600 more signatures than the 7,500 required to win a spot on the primary ballot.This is a troublesome development, as the rule of thumb is to file twice the number of signatures needed. The arcane election laws often result in signatures being disqualified for technicalities. If Mr. Ognibene squeaks by, it is only due to the generosity of Mr. Shaw, who is trying to transfer 1,000 of his signatures to the former Queens councilman.

Should Mr. Ognibene be ruled off the ballot, the mayor is spared not just the primary, but having to move to the right to satisfy Republicans who are not pleased with the idea of a pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, Bertha Lewis-kissing mayor carrying their standard in November. Republicans, no matter how unhappy they are, will have nowhere to go. While Mr. Ognibene will be on the Conservative line in the general election, the petition debacle bodes ill for his effort to gain enough traction to pull enough votes from the mayor to hand City Hall back to a “real” Democrat, rather than an ersatz Republican.

On the Democratic side, Mr. Ferrer is winning, but by default. His opponents seem to be even more accident-prone than the former Bronx president.

After being shot in the foot,C.Virginia Fields’s idea of damage control seems to be shooting herself in the other foot. Three weeks later, we are still talking about that piece of literature with the “doctored” photograph depicting Ms. Fields’s supposed multiethnic “supporters.”Unlike the Ferrer-Diallo flap,which went to the heart of an important public policy issue, the Fields literature flap should have been a one-day wonder.

As I was leaving town for vacation, poor Joseph Mercurio was being kicked out the door as chief strategist of the Fields campaign. Two weeks later, I’m back, but can the Fields campaign say that they are better off now without Mr. Mercurio spinning the bad news for them, as the Manhattan president sinks to the bottom of the polls?

It may well be that Ms. Fields, once a favorite for a spot in a primary runoff, could finish last.At this point, it is more than possible,indeed probable,that Mr. Ferrer will win the primary outright, by crossing the 40% threshold. Bad news for Ms. Fields, but worse news for Mr. Bloomberg, who would love to see a reprise of the divisive runoff of four years ago. The council speaker, Gifford Miller, as I predicted in this space weeks ago, is now feeling the sting from the flap over his council-sponsored “campaign mailings.” This has reached crisis proportion. Unlike the Fields imbroglio, there is a significant issue here — the expenditure of public funds to benefit a campaign, and the incredible deception of grossly understating the magnitude of the expense. When $1.6 million of taxpayer money is spent to promote the Miller candidacy, don’t say it was only $37,000.

The only Democratic hopeful who thus far seems to have avoided serious problems is Rep. Anthony Weiner. He finished dead last in the latest Quinnipiac poll. Go figure.

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

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