Giant Giuliani overshadows New York mayor's race

October 10, 2001|By Jules Witcover

NEW YORK - Now that Mayor Rudy Giuliani has said he won't try to seek a third term, and now that state and city officials have made clear they won't provide a 90-day extension to his expiring one, New Yorkers can focus on the two actual choices they have in tomorrow's Democratic mayoral primary runoff.

But the question remains how Mr. Giuliani's late antics to gain a reprieve from private life after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks will affect the chances of those two choices - Bronx Borough President Fernando "Freddy" Ferrer and City Public Advocate Mark Green.

Mr. Giuliani's unsolicited idea of having the new mayor's inauguration pushed back three months from the legal Jan. 1 date posed a dilemma for Mr. Ferrer and Mr. Green, as well as for the expected Republican nominee, broadcasting mogul Michael Bloomberg.

Mr. Green and Mr. Bloomberg, not anxious to buck Mr. Giuliani's immense popularity, quickly acceded to the idea.

But Mr. Ferrer took a political gamble and balked, saying the law was the law and he was standing on the side of democratic process.

"Freddy made a gut call," says David Axelrod, his media consultant, "and we all held our breath to see if the sun would come up the next morning."

It did, when Mr. Ferrer was widely applauded for taking a principled position while Mr. Green appeared to be caving in to the incumbent mayor.

Both Mr. Ferrer and Mr. Green had been relentless critics of Mr. Giuliani before Sept. 11, but afterward fell all over themselves in his praise. Mr. Green, however, was judged by New York's tough press corps as having gone too far in expressing willingness to wink at the law to placate New York's man of the hour.

Since then, Mr. Green has been trying to scramble back, saying merely that he had been "willing to go along" with a 90-day extension of Mr. Giuliani's term "if it was going to help the city."

In a subsequent interview, however, Mr. Green, known to have a high regard for himself and disliked by many New Yorkers because of it, stubbed his toe again.

He observed that had he been mayor on Sept. 11, he believed he would have done as good a job as Mr. Giuliani, "or better," in handling the crisis.

In a televised debate with Mr. Ferrer last week, Mr. Green acknowledged that his answer may have been a bit "inartful."

As for Mr. Ferrer, he has sought to placate Giuliani fans by saying he would hope the retiring mayor would be available to help in some capacity and would encourage some of his key city commissioners to stay on to smooth the transition.

Mr. Green, striving to show his independence, now says having Mr. Giuliani on board his administration wouldn't work. "I'm ready to lead the city," he told one labor group. "We can't have a mayor and a half."

Mr. Green now emphasizes that it's not a question of who runs the city for the first 90 days of next year, but who runs it for "1,400 days, for 48 months or 96 months" - the latter reflecting his thoughts already for a second term before having won a first.

Many Democrats, including Mr. Green, insist that since Mr. Giuliani has abandoned his third-term dreams, and since his offer of an extension to his term has not been picked up by anybody, the flap over it, and how Mr. Green and Mr. Ferrer responded, will not be critical in the runoff.

These Democrats say voters will cast their ballots on the real issue since Sept. 11 - which man, Mr. Ferrer or Mr. Green, has the better experience and plan for putting New York back on its feet.

Mr. Green has unveiled a comprehensive plan leaning heavily on coaxing more money from Washington for the rebuilding.

Mr. Ferrer says rebuilding must take priority, but the needs of the city's poor and minorities can't be left behind in the process.

Mr. Giuliani's larger-than-life presence in coping with the human aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks does, however, make both Mr. Ferrer and Mr. Green seem smaller for a job that seems to demand, more than ever, a political giant in the mold of Fiorello LaGuardia - or Rudy Giuliani.

Jules Witcover generally writes from The Sun's Washington bureau.

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