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31st March

First Published in The New York Sun, March 31, 2005

By Andrew Wolf

Next Wednesday, the Manhattan borough president, C. Virginia Fields, who hopes to become the next mayor, will be getting up early, packing up her no. 2 pencils and spiral bound notebooks and heading to school. Not as a student but as a principal, or, more accurately, “Principal for a Day.” She will be participating in the annual program sponsored by Public Education Needs Civic Involvement in Learning, or, Pencil, a group that seeks to harness the business community for the benefit of the public schools.

Ms. Fields has her lesson plans at the ready, and her unlikely student appears to be her former Bronx counterpart and mayoral rival, Fernando Ferrer. This is because the significance of her participation in the program this year is not that she’s participating but where she will be acting as principal. Ms. Fields is headed for a yet-to-be-decided school in the Bronx, at her own request, and her lesson for Mr. Ferrer is clear: she intends to take the mayoral race right to his door in his home borough.
In fact, Ms. Fields already took the race practically to Mr. Ferrer’s door, pressing the flesh earlier this month at the Riverdale Jewish Community Council’s annual breakfast, an event that Mr. Ferrer, alone among the Democratic hopefuls, skipped. Next Thursday, Ms. Fields will be meeting with Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and key Riverdale Democratic leaders who, for the most part, are estranged from their neighbor, Mr. Ferrer, who lives in a co-op overlooking the Hudson on Riverdale’s gold coast.

In both the first primary and runoff of 2001, running as the candidate of a black-Latino coalition, Mr. Ferrer crushed rivals in his home borough, where minorities make up over 85% of the population. But while Bronx Latinos outnumber blacks, a higher percentage of blacks are eligible and registered to vote, and a disproportionate number of them are women, a statistic that cannot be lost on Ms. Fields.

In the background are simmering resentments among some in the borough’s black leadership that they have been ignored and passed over by the Bronx Democratic organization, led by Hispanics for over a decade. They complain that the organization arranged to draw legislative and council districts that have insured the election of more Latinos than blacks. Some point to the refusal of the organization to consider last year’s candidacy of Joseph Thompson to replace outgoing Assemblyman Jeffrey Klein. Mr. Thompson, an African-American who is the chairman of the 43rd Precinct Community Council, has a long history of community involvement. Jose Rivera, the county Democratic leader, instead tapped his own daughter, Naomi Rivera, for the post — the second of his children to be eased into a public office with organization support.

For his part, Mr. Ferrer will also be participating in the “Principal for a Day” program, at a school in Queens. Of course he comes to the job with an advantage: his wife’s twenty years experience as a real principal in a difficult Bronx school. Council Speaker Gifford Miller will also be acting as principal for a day in a Queens school.

Congressman Anthony Weiner will participate depending on his duties in Washington, and former Councilman Thomas Ognibene has been invited, but has not yet responded.

Mayor Bloomberg will also be participating. Perhaps a good school for him to visit is P.S. 46 in the Bronx, the school run by Mrs. Ferrer.

Joseph Mercurio’s smile now stretches clear from Tottenville to Coop City.The latest Quinnipiac poll fully confirms his widely distributed analysis of last week. His client, C.Virginia Fields picked up seven points and Fernando Ferrer is down four to narrow the gap between them by eleven points.The Ferrer free fall puts the former Bronx president below 40%, well into run-off territory. Were the Mercurio remarks an attack? A majority of those surveyed who heard about Mr. Ferrer’s Diallo flip-flop indicated that this matter did indeed make them think less of him. It is Mr. Ferrer who drew the sword on himself. His wounds come not from Mr. Mercurio’s verbiage.

Thus far there is little good news for the other two Democrats in the race, Rep. Anthony Weiner and Council Speaker Gifford Miller. They are still far behind in the pack, running a distant third and fourth respectively. Mr. Miller’s continued cellar-dwelling status must be particularly galling. But if Mr. Ferrer continues to drop and Ms. Fields plateaus, it certainly isn’t beyond the realm of possibility that voters will begin to give Messrs. Weiner and Miller a second look.

What is a pro-development Democrat to do? All four Democrats have lined up, spurred by organized labor, against big-box stores, particularly Wal-Mart.

Mr. Weiner, considered a moderate among the bunch,went so far as to picket ABC television Tuesday morning for allowing Wal-Mart to sponsor a segment of their “Good Morning America” show.
Even Thomas Ognibene, the mayor’s chief Republican foe, has weighed in against Wal-Mart, leaving investment banker Steven Shaw, a GOP hopeful, and Mayor Bloomberg as the only friends of the big-box store.

Although Mr. Weiner, like all of the Democratic candidates, opposes the construction of a stadium for the Jets on Manhattan’s West Side,his vision for moving the project to Queens has been dealt a minor blow. Mr. Weiner’s Queens colleague, Rep. Joseph Crowley, joined the growing ranks of Democrats endorsing the West Side plan. Mr. Crowley represents the area near which Mr. Weiner would like to build his Queens stadium.

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

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