By Ciro Scotti
Nobody thought the uptight little guy in the suit could do it. With bags and bags of money, a faux-patrician voice, frequent stumbles on the stump, and an initial impatience with the pressing of the flesh, Mike Bloomberg seemed like just another rich guy who fancied he could be mayor of New York.
Had September 11 not happened, Bloomberg most probably would have joined the Golden Dud Club, whose charter requires members like Steve Forbes, Ronald Lauder, Michael Huffington, and Al Checchi to have blown a good chunk of the family fortune in the vain pursuit of public office. But New Yorkers have practically canonized Rudy Giuliani since he showed his true and truly admirable colors in the aftermath of the attacks, and his glowing endorsement of Mike for Mayor changed a lot of skeptical minds and was crucial to the upset.
The fates also bestowed on Bloomberg two other wondrous gifts: a virtually unlimited war chest -- he spent more than $50 million of his own dough to sit in the seat that Rudy must vacate because of term limits -- and an opponent named Mark Green.
TOO MUCH CHUTZPAH.
To know Green, it turns out, is to wish you didn't. Even former Mayor Ed Koch, who has never been known as Mr. Rogers in the humility department, has called Green "obnoxious." For New Yorkers, one particular ad that Bloomberg ran ad nauseam was devastating to the Green campaign.
In it, Green is heard saying that had he been mayor when the suicide pilots struck the World Trade Center, he would have done as good or better a job than Rudy. The City That Never Sleeps usually likes that sort of chutzpah in a politician, but not when it's burying its dead.
Still, if all that ailed the Green candidacy was a tonal problem, he would be mayor today -- as almost everyone presumed he would be prior to the attacks. Up until the events of early September, Green -- a veteran liberal politician who was most recently the city's public advocate -- had behaved as though his claim on the Democratic nomination was a foregone conclusion.
He stayed largely above the fray that sometimes swirled around the other colorless candidates who slaved all summer for a drop of ink as New York talked about Lizzie Grubman and Gary Condit (remember them?). Then came the planes.
The primary, scheduled for September 11, was postponed. When the votes were finally tallied, Green found himself in an unexpected runoff with Bronx Borough President Freddy Ferrer, a centrist who had swerved left and mounted a campaign to bring prosperity to the "other New York." As Rudy appeared on TV almost hourly to soothe his shaken town, Ferrer's implicitly anti-Giuliani appeal seemed wildly ill-conceived.
Then Giuliani floated two proposals: to either suspend the term-limits law that prevented him from running again or extend his term by three months to ensure a smooth transition after the debacle in Lower Manhattan. He pressured Ferrer, Green, and Bloomberg to at least sign on to the extension. A spooked Green and Bloomberg, the underdog, agreed.
Ferrer, who might have been New York's first Hispanic mayor, balked. He milked Green's cave-in shamelessly. In the run-up to the runoff, Green not only fought back but, his detractors charged, allegedly resorted to dirty tricks. One charge was that Jewish voters were suddenly getting mysterious endorsements for Ferrer featuring the outspoken and divisive Al Sharpton.
Green beat Ferrer for the Democratic nomination, but he paid an huge price: Some 41% of those who said they voted for Ferrer in the primary runoff cast their ballot for Bloomberg on Nov. 6, according to The Daily News. The lesson for New York politicians henceforth seems clear: Don't tick off Hispanic voters because they'll get back at you.
Some pols hardly ever listen and rarely learn. If Green had been awake, he would have taken a cue from last year's Presidential election in which the wooden, self-aggrandizing Vice-President essentially defeated himself. So despite a last-minute blitz by Bill Clinton and the Kennedy clan, Mark Green couldn't be saved. In the political history of America, he'll be a footnote -- Al Gore writ small.
Scotti, senior editor for government and sports business, offers his views every week in A Not-So-Neutral Corner, only for BW Online
Edited by Douglas Harbrecht