Dinkins' election foes already on the attack ON POLITICS

JACK GERMOND & JULES WITCOVER

April 28, 1993|By JACK GERMOND & JULES WITCOVER

NEW YORK -- Amid the hurly-burly of a New York stree scene, a red STOP sign flashes on the television screen as the narrator intones: "Stop a minute. Is your life in the city getting better or worse?" Then a matronly woman looks directly into the camera and forlornly says: "The ambulance was so late, I lost my husband."

In this and similar ads, the basic case against a second term for Democratic Mayor David Dinkins already is being made, five months before the city's Democratic primary -- that being a New Yorker is getting harder and harder to endure. In this instance, the case is being advanced by City Council President Andrew Stein, challenging Dinkins for their party's nomination in the Sept. 14 primary.

But Dinkins, the city's first black mayor, is being hit with it from other quarters as well. Three separate city unions, of teachers, police and firefighters, have taken to radio and television to castigate Dinkins for not reaching labor contracts with them -- and by implication jeopardizing the quality of life in the city. Bill Lynch, Dinkins' campaign manager, dismisses the union ads as internal politics -- efforts by the unions' leaders to convince their members that they are "fighting hard for them."

Dinkins supporters theorize that the ads can backfire by suggesting that the mayor is being tough with the unions at a time Stein and other critics argue that he really has been too soft on them. Stein rails at a productivity bonus negotiated by Dinkins with the city's sanitation workers that Stein says rewards them for merely doing a full day's work.

So far, Stein's campaign does not seem to have made a dent against Dinkins. A recent New York Daily News poll had Dinkins comfortably ahead by 37 percentage points, but Stein, from a wealthy family, is pumping millions into the campaign, vowing that "we'll be neck and neck by June."

Looming ahead for Dinkins, however, if he survives the Democratic primary, is a rematch in the fall with the Republican he narrowly defeated in 1989, Rudy Giuliani, the former federal prosecutor with an impressive record as a pursuer of Mafia bigwigs and Wall Street corner-cutters. Giuliani was a rough-cut novice that last time around, but this year he has New York's most prominent political consultant, David Garth, running his campaign and leads Dinkins by 46 percent to 45 percent in the same Daily News poll.

Garth, who ran Mayor Ed Koch's losing primary against Dinkins four years ago, says Dinkins is more vulnerable this time simply because he has not delivered. "The thing David had going for him was the promise of David Dinkins," he says. "But the promise of David Dinkins is better to run on than the reality of David Dinkins."

It's often said that New York is an "ungovernable" city because of its size and complex multicultural and multiracial composition, but that view isn't a practical defense for an incumbent seeking re-election. Dinkins blew a gasket recently when New York's senior Sen. Pat Moynihan in a speech here argued that the city was in better shape 50 years ago than it is today.

Violence on the city's streets and in its subway system remains a widespread voter concern, despite FBI statistics -- touted by the Dinkins campaign -- indicating that crime dropped an impressive 7.8 percent last year in New York. Stein and other Dinkins critics contend that the statistic means only that fewer crimes are being reported, especially at the street level at which drug dealers operate.

Talk of the city's most celebrated racial disturbances of the last two years, between Jews and blacks in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, has been resurrected by Stein in a call for a retrial of an acquitted black man accused of killing a Jewish man, using civil rights charges as was done in the Rodney King beating case. Garth says the move by Stein, who needs a hefty Jewish primary vote to win, is not "credible" in light of the timing.

In 1989, Dinkins won more than 30 percent of the Jewish vote against Giuliani and it's considered imperative that he hold on to most of that total along with the bulk of the black vote to be re-elected. If the Crown Heights racial scars become a major voting issue, it could undo the city's first black mayor, who likes to call New York "a together city."

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