New York mayor's race is next GOP target ON POLITICS



NEW YORK -- The Republicans are feeling pretty good these days about their prospects in the cities. They have elected a mayor in Jersey City, of all the unlikely places, and in Los Angeles, almost as unlikely.

And they now have a candidate here who is at least nominally favored to defeat Democratic Mayor David Dinkins. Rudy Giuliani, the former federal prosecutor, is by no means home free, but the polls do show him with a narrow lead in this embryonic stage of the campaign.

In most respects, comparisons of the politics here with politics in Los Angeles don't hold water. Campaigns here are much more media intensive -- the story sometimes changes three times a day -- and much harsher.

But the issues that elected Richard Riordan in Los Angeles are the same ones that could elect Giuliani here -- epidemic fear of crime in the streets coupled with pervasive concern about the economy. These concerns have created a climate in which a conventionally liberal Democrat, such as City Councilman Michael Woo, the man defeated by Riordan in Los Angeles, and Dinkins here, must fight an uphill battle in the perceptions game.

Thus, Riordan won by depicting himself not as a Republican but as a businessman with ideas for creating jobs and, perhaps most importantly, a leader "tough enough" to deal with the crime issue. The ability of Giuliani to make that same case here has been heightened by two factors. One clearly is the fact that Dinkins is the first black mayor of a city polarized by race. The second is the realization that the city has been losing jobs at a dizzying pace.

The party factor in this campaign, as in Los Angeles, is minimal. HTC As big city mayors of both parties like to say, there is no Republican or Democratic way to fill a pothole. But the image of the Democrats as too concerned with social issues is translated by many voters usually considered liberal into an image of weakness and ineffectuality.

This is particularly true among Jewish voters, the most important swing bloc here. For generations, Jews here could be relied upon to support Democratic liberals. Today the crime issue has pushed their old liberalism out of the picture. As Marvin Blustein, a shopkeeper in Brooklyn, put it, "I used to worry about social justice, whether we were fair to people. Now all I'm worried about is whether they hold up my store and shoot me in the head."

Nor is there anything in the perception of the Democratic Party nationally that is any help to an embattled candidate like David Dinkins. Candidate Bill Clinton won New York in a waltz last year, but his approval rating here now is not much better than it is anywhere else. And it is hard to find enthusiastic support among those same Jewish voters who swung so heavily to him last year.

"We got fooled, what can I tell you?" says Aaron Davis, an accountant who lives in Park Slope. "So this time I'm voting for a Republican for the first time. It can't get any worse than it is now."

This does not suggest the campaign here is over. On the contrary, it has not really begun. Each candidate will spend $8 million in the next three months, but neither has been on the air with television commercials yet. Dinkins may be behind, but Giuliani has yet to demonstrate that he is capable of governing the city or to prove that Dinkins is not.

Giuliani has some advantages he lacked when he lost narrowly to Dinkins four years ago, one of them being simply the fact that he has been around the track once and perhaps less likely to make the costly political blunder. This time he also has the advice of a street-smart consultant, David Garth, and what New Yorkers call a "fusion ticket" -- meaning principally that he is running with Herman Badillo, a former congressman, Democrat and an elder statesman of the Puerto Rican community who is running for city comptroller.

Dinkins is not exactly barefoot. In organizational terms, incumbency is a prized asset in a mayoral campaign, and Dinkins can count, as well, on serious help from organized labor. And the mayor may be able to use his experience and familiarity with city issues to his advantage.

But these days, even in New York, there is no longer any advantage that flows simply from being a Democrat.

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