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19th May
2005

First Published in The New York Sun, May 19, 2005

By Andrew Wolf

This is a good week to be Mayor Bloomberg, one that demonstrates how hard it will be to defeat an incumbent in a year of little crisis, particularly when he can hugely outspend his opponents.
First, Mr. Bloomberg demonstrated that he can take charge of a crisis. The incredible damage done by the collapse of a retaining wall alongside the Henry Hudson Parkway was cleared away in just days.The mayor looked effective, decisive, and got the job done. He looked like a businessman, which is exactly why Mr. Bloomberg was elected in 2001.

Once again, on the business side, Mr. Bloomberg looked even better on Tuesday when Standard & Poor’s announced that they were upgrading the city’s bond rating to A-1, the highest ever.This is literally money in the bank, since higher ratings translate into savings on the interest the city must pay to borrow money.
Yesterday’s announcement of higher test scores for city fourth-graders is certainly good news for the mayor and his campaign, but the spin may be going a bit too fast to benefit Mr. Bloomberg in the long run.

It appears that city schools prospered greatly from new rules that exempted thousands of students recently arrived in this country. This was not a decision of the city education officials, but rather of the state. But the educrats at the Tweed Courthouse have been less than forthcoming in disclosing the real numbers of additional waivers under the new rules.

Once the firm numbers are known, the comparison with last year can be corrected to reflect the different populations taking the test. Estimates of that number range as high as 3,000 to 6,000, enough to account for the entire gain of nearly 10% on the fourth grade reading test. This could also make the disappointing numbers from the eighth grade even more disastrous than they look now.

Meanwhile, there are some indications that questions may be asked about the new waiver policy at the state level, a policy that seems to run counter to the rules governing the No Child Left Behind Act.
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All this may serve to create questions that will surely be asked time and time again by the mayor’s six very determined opponents.One of them,Rep. Anthony Weiner, is already sharpening the knives.

Mr. Weiner vigorously lashed out at the mayor. “There are two ways to improve the results of a test. One is to really improve performance, the other is the fudge the results. That’s what appears to have happened here,” Weiner said. The congressman acknowledged that the decision to permit children to be exempted from the test came from the state, but “to exclude a group of children who may do poorly on the exam because they have not been in the country a long time is not the problem. It is the failure to honestly disclose how many children have gotten these waivers that I find objectionable. There is a lack of transparency at Tweed, but I promise that this curtain will be lifted when I am sworn in as mayor on January 1.”
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The victory of Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa in the Los Angeles mayoral election could be looked on as a good omen for Fernando Ferrer here in New York. Mr.Villaraigosa is L.A.’s first Latino mayor. Like Mr. Ferrer, Mr. Villaraigosa first ran four years ago, losing in a close race. Like Mr. Ferrer, he spent the past four years building the coalition that swept him into office. But unlike Mr. Ferrer, Mr.Villaraigosa avoided making a blunder that sent his campaign into a tailspin.

Mr. Ferrer can’t escape Amadou Diallo.Rather than shift the conversation off the topic when questioned Monday evening by New York 1’s Dominic Carter, Mr. Ferrer clumsily tried to turn it into an attack on Mr. Bloomberg. Bad move.The news that Mr. Ferrer has gotten money from police unions as the controversy swirled around him can hardly do any good in the effort to put the Diallo flap behind him.I can already hear the black callers on talk radio.

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It may be a good thing that Council Speaker Gifford Miller is not running for re-election. His constituents on the East Side of Manhattan can’t be too happy with him now that he has backed away from his support of the Second Avenue subway project.

Mr. Miller was skewered on this topic by one of his opponents, Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields. She would love to nibble away at the supporters of her fellow Manhattanite, as the electoral carcass of Mr. Ferrer — upon whom she’s been feasting of late — is getting a bit bare.
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News that Ms. Fields has enlisted a stable of high-paid consultants may be reassuring to those who may question her ability to go all the way. But it also raises the concern that come September, the cupboard may be bare for last-minute mailings and television, not to mention a runoff and general election. Ask Robert Abrams about how hard it is to raise money late in the game, a problem that doomed his effort to defeat Alphonse D’Amato in 1992.

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

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