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22nd March
2005

First Published in The New York Sun, March 22, 2005

By Andrew Wolf

The flap over mayoral hopeful Fernando Ferrer’s comments on the Diallo case has, even before a single poll has come out, seemingly reconfigured the Democratic mayoral race.Who benefits? For a start, all three of the former Bronx president’s opponents come out winners.
Mr. Ferrer’s huge lead in the polls suggested a first-round win in the Democratic primary, ending the hopes of the Manhattan borough president, C. Virginia Fields, Council Speaker Gifford Miller, and Rep. Anthony Weiner. To win the Democratic nomination for mayor outright, a candidate must win 40% of the vote.

If no candidate achieves this threshold, a runoff is held between the top two finishers. Anything that diminishes Mr. Ferrer works to the advantage of his opponents by making it more likely that there will be a second round for the lucky second-place finisher.
Four years ago, Mr. Ferrer led the first heat, but the runner-up, Mark Green, caught up and prevailed in the second round. But the first round was actually held twice.There is a school of thought that it was the September 11 attacks that cost Mr. Ferrer an outright first-round victory. As the planes crashed into the World Trade Center, voters throughout the city were casting their primary day ballots.
But by midday, the election was suspended, and rescheduled to two weeks later. Some believe that if the suspended election had gone to completion, Mr. Ferrer would have passed the 40% threshold and won outright.Aside from leading to the interruption of the primary, the terror attacks also made Mr. Ferrer’s pervasive “two cities” theme a bit less attractive to a town experiencing an unprecedented unity and sense of purpose. When the first-round primary was finally held on September 25, Mr.Ferrer finished below 40%,opening the door for Mr. Green.
All of the candidates also benefit from the emergence of a side issue that will be reprised again and again — “flip-flop Ferrer.” In a long public career, it is hard for anyone to be totally consistent. In some cases, a change of position is the mark of personal growth. But some issues go to the core values of a candidate and are hard to change without the appearance of pandering. Mr. Ferrer has chosen to be flexible on the wrong issues: abortion, capital punishment, and now the Diallo flap.
The Diallo case raises a number of questions. The first is why Mr. Ferrer was making a pitch to the police Sergeants Benevolent Association in the first place. The answer is that Mr. Ferrer is eager to get the endorsement of one or more of the smaller police unions in order to counterbalance the well-earned perception that he is antagonistic to the police.
As crime rates in the city plummeted during the Giuliani years, Mr. Ferrer was the former mayor’s harshest critic on the strategies that led to this amazing public policy triumph. In 1997, during his first abortive run for Gracie Mansion, Mr. Ferrer characterized the shooting of Kevin Cedeno, a machetewielding youth in Washington Heights, as a “police execution.” The flap over this incident helped drive him from the race a little more than a month later.
In 2001, Mark Green used his surprise endorsement by Mayor Giuliani’s
estranged first police commissioner, William Bratton, to try to offset his years of sniping at the former mayor over police issues. This is what Mr. Ferrer was trying to do last week by courting the sergeants.This appearance was not, as suggested in one newspaper, driven by fund raising.
And, according to Rita Nissan, the NY1 reporter who broke the story, Mr. Ferrer did not simply misspeak. Ms. Nissan, who covered Mr. Ferrer on a daily basis for years when she was a reporter for News12/The Bronx, stated that the mayoral hopeful was simply telling the sergeants “what they wanted to hear.”
While all of Mr. Ferrer’s Democratic
opponents have reason to celebrate, one has reason to be ecstatic. C. Virginia Fields is poised to solidify her support among African-American voters, and perhaps preclude the kind of black-Latino coalition Mr. Ferrer successfully created in 2001.
Although Ms. Fields and Mr. Ferrer agreed to a “non-aggression” pact over coffee at a Bronx diner two weeks ago, Ms. Fields doesn’t have to take an aggressive stance. Her supporter, Council Member Charles Barron, was more than happy to do it for her, confronting Mr. Ferrer at a campaign event on Sunday. If this issue doesn’t go away soon, the Democratic nomination to face Mr. Bloomberg may truly be up for grabs.
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Local pollsters are concerned that the growing number of people who have abandoned conventional landline-based telephone service in favor of total reliance on cell phones is making it increasingly difficult to conduct accurate polls. This, combined with unlisted numbers and growing annoyance with uninvited callers, may skew polls — but in what direction?
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Look for the “stadium war” between Messrs. Weiner and Miller to heat up. Mr. Weiner hopes that he can put Mr. Miller on the defensive over a plan viewed as unpopular among the white liberal voters that each man covets. Mr. Miller hopes to rezone the stadium out of consideration, but Mr. Weiner counters that the West Side zoning recently passed by the council has facilitated the stadium project.
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Unless Republican candidate Thomas Ognibene can start raising even minimal funds, he risks fading into oblivion. A Republican challenge to Mayor Bloomberg is viable, but there needs to be some evidence that it is real or even the press will lose interest, ensuring that the mayor will crush Mr. Ognibene as he did Herman Badillo four years ago.

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

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