New Yorkers return to polls to pick mayor

Bloomberg leads GOP race

city term limit law blocks wish for Giuliani

Terrorism Strikes America

The Nation

September 26, 2001|By Gady A. Epstein | Gady A. Epstein,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

NEW YORK - It certainly had to be one of the strangest mayoral primary days in the history of this city, but at least, New Yorkers said yesterday, it was democracy in action again.

Two weeks after Sept. 11 primary voting was halted because of the World Trade Center attack, voters returned to the polls to cast their ballots in primaries for a number of city offices. Candidates billed it as a defiant show of civic pride, and, sure enough, New Yorkers put on quite a show yesterday.

Some were voting a second time in the same election (their Sept. 11 votes having been thrown out). A few wrote in the name of a candidate who, as of now, can't legally win the mayoral race (current Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani). Many more voted for candidates they hoped would not ultimately win, as they clung to a faint hope that their hero (again, Giuliani) would find a way to stay in office beyond the end of the year.

Official results were expected today, but exit polls showed media magnate Michael R. Bloomberg with a commanding lead on the GOP side, with Democrats Fernando Ferrer, the Bronx Borough president, and Public Advocate Mark Green likely headed to a runoff before the Nov. 6 election.

Bloomberg's six-year term as chairman of the Johns Hopkins University board of trustees will end in May.

Brooklyn schoolteacher Anne Hines, who like many other New Yorkers wants Giuliani to stay because of his confident handling of the trade center disaster, cast her ballot yesterday for Alan Hevesi, the city comptroller.

"It was very hard that I had to pull that lever [when] I really in my heart didn't want him," said Hines, 58.

Term limits law

It's not clear that the "Re-elect Giuliani" movement is realistic, considering that term limits bar the mayor from running for a third consecutive term. But surging popular support for his confident and sympathetic handling of the World Trade Center disaster has prompted Giuliani to flirt with the idea of finding a way to remain in office.

"Giuliani for Mayor" signs have cropped up around the city, and the intensifying speculation has cast a long shadow over mayoral candidates who had struggled to get out any sort of message in the aftermath of Sept. 11.

Before the terrorist attacks, this year's election was big news in New York. With Giuliani out of the picture, the mayor's race was wide open, with a field of four major Democratic candidates, Hevesi, Green, Ferrer and City Council Speaker Peter Vallone, and two Republic candidates, media magnate Michael Bloomberg and former Rep. Herman Badillo.

Advertising had dominated the airwaves, and the primary had been all over the front pages.

But since the primaries were halted Sept. 11 and rescheduled, news about the election has been pushed to the inside pages of newspapers.

Most of the candidates couldn't spend any more money campaigning or getting out the vote because they had reached legal spending limits by the original primary date, and Bloomberg - who was spending his own money and wasn't hindered by limits - voluntarily withdrew his ads.

No candidate even held so much as a campaign news conference until Thursday, when city Public Advocate Mark Green, considered a leading contender in the Democratic primary, appeared before the media. Even then, Green's aides labored under the pretense that their candidate wasn't campaigning, insisting the event was a "press availability," not a "press conference." Reporters appeared unimpressed with the distinction.

`Unique quandary'

At his appearance, Green said he felt it his duty as a potential leader of the city to talk about its future. But at the same time he declared that candidates should not campaign during such times.

"It is a unique quandary. You don't want to do anything explicitly political, nor have I," Green said, noting that even deciding when to schedule his first media event was difficult. "There is no rulebook about a unique circumstance like this."

Green, like Hevesi and other candidates, urged voters to come to the polls yesterday as a message to the world.

"If there were elections during the Civil War, during World War II, and immediately after the Cuban missile crisis, it is a testimony to the strength of this country that elections go on, even during crises," Green said.

And although turnout was low yesterday - with thousands of Lower Manhattan voters whose precincts were displaced by the attack voting at polling places new to them - those interviewed said it was important merely to vote after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, which left 6,398 missing and 279 dead in New York, 189 dead at the Pentagon just outside Washington, D.C., and 44 dead in Pennsylvania.

"I think it's important for us not to stop everything we were doing," said Torello H. Calvani, 26, of Manhattan's Alphabet City neighborhood. "It's ironic that after such a horrific event, a lot of people don't want to vote either because they don't think it's important or they want Giuliani to stay. ...

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