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8th March

First Published in The New York Sun, March 8, 2005

By Andrew Wolf

The Ognibene factor has already affected New York City public policy. The threat of losing the Republican line to former Council member Thomas Ognibene may have moved Mayor Bloomberg away from support of the proposed rail freight tunnel between New Jersey to Brooklyn. This is the kind of public work that the mayor usually favors: Big, bold, and funded by others, in this case the federal government.
So it came as a surprise when the mayor, speaking at a meeting last week in Queens, announced he now opposes the project, reversing nearly two years of support. Why? Despite polls that show Mr. Ognibene running behind the mayor among Republicans, there is no reason for confidence in the mayor’s camp. So few GOP voters have been surveyed, and so few can swing a primary that it becomes a priority for Mr. Bloomberg to do what he likes least: fashion his positions to shore up unhappy voting blocs. In this case, he is smoothing feathers among the residents of Maspeth, Queens, who fear increased truck traffic should the tunnel be built.

The outer-borough middle class, Republicans and Democrats alike, elected Mr. Bloomberg mayor four years ago. They have much reason to be unhappy now, beginning with the increased property tax burden.The mayoral takeover of the public schools appears to be least popular in these neighborhoods, and mayors always get blamed for the little things that go wrong, even things beyond the control of City Hall.
Just as Mr. Bloomberg showed new resolve by changing course on this unpopular public works initiative, he twice stumbled badly last week when he appeared indecisive on two key issues. Speaking at a Crain’s New York business forum, the mayor failed to rule out further tax increases.This will hardly play well, particularly among Republicans.On the West Side stadium issue, Mr. Bloomberg opened the door a crack on moving the project to Queens, making him look tentative on his pet project.
This may have been designed to ease the concerns of the Olympic committee deciding the fate of New York’s longshot bid for the 2012 games. It could hardly have been confidence inspiring for them to witness the non-stop controversy over the stadium project when they visited last month.This is not what they usually see when visiting prospective Olympic cities.
The mayor must recognize that the noose is tightening on the West Side
stadium plan. One of Mr. Bloomberg’s opponents, Rep.Anthony Weiner, took some satisfaction that Mr. Bloomberg has now suggested locating the stadium in Queens, a position that the congressman has been advocating for over a year. Meanwhile, Council Speaker Gifford Miller, another Democrat who seeks to replace the mayor, has initiated a serious legislative attack on the method Mr. Bloomberg seeks to use to fund the project. The mayor has inadvertently positioned himself into a “no-win” situation on the stadium and the Olympic bid. It is hard to see an outcome from which he can emerge enhanced politically.
This takes place as eyes turn to Fernando Ferrer.A Quinnipiac poll released last week showed that Mr. Ferrer holds an eight-point lead over Mr. Bloomberg. The conventional wisdom has always been that of all Democrats,the mayor would most like to face Mr. Ferrer who, it was thought, carries a carload of divisive baggage from the 2001 election. Thus far, this has not materialized, and Mr. Bloomberg’s
supporters are getting nervous.
In the midst of the Ferrer euphoria, Jim Rutenberg of the New York Times filed a curious dispatch, describing a phone message inadvertently left on his answering machine from Mr. Ferrer’s campaign chief, Roberto Ramirez. Forgetting to hang up his phone, Mr. Ramirez treated the reporter to an “internal” conversation describing Mr. Ferrer’s strategy. Two key points emerge.
First, the Ferrer forces have no concern about winning the Democratic primary, assuming an easy victory. Second, the Ferrer strategy to defeat Mr. Bloomberg and his millions is to cast the election as a key battle for the national Democratic Party to “get back in the game” following the disastrous 2004 election defeats. Toward this end, Ferrer backer and Democratic fund-raiser Leo Hindery will travel the country raising tens of millions to enable Mr. Ferrer to compete with the mayor’s deep pockets. Mr. Hindery has close ties to Mr. Ramirez, having hired him as a lobbyist when he was at the helm of the Yankees’ YES television network.

It is hard to imagine Mr. Ramirez committing such a faux pas, inadvertently disclosing to a reporter something he didn’t want known. But if the Ferrer general election strategy is accurately portrayed, it will strike at least one prominent New York Democrat, Mark Green, as the height of hypocrisy.
Four years ago, national Democratic leaders, from national chair Terry McAuliffe to President Clinton begged Mr. Ferrer, and his then-ally, the Reverend Al Sharpton, to close ranks behind the winner of the Democratic primary election, Mr. Green. Messrs. Ferrer, Sharpton, and Ramirez refused, denying Mr. McAuliffe the “clean sweep” that the national leadership desperately wanted in the first offyear election after the 2000 Florida debacle. Since the Democrats succeeded in winning the New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial elections, the only other major elections that day, Mr. Ferrer’s apostasy dealt his party a severe blow.
Can Mr. Ferrer sell this “blue state” message since many hold him responsible for allowing Republicans to retain City Hall in 2001?

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

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