Who will lead N.Y. recovery?

October 15, 2001|By Jules Witcover

WASHINGTON -- Now that New York City Public Advocate Mark Green has won the Democratic mayoral primary, New Yorkers will have a choice of two kinds of experience -- Mr. Green's in government and Republican nominee Michael Bloomberg's in business and high finance -- in deciding which of them should take over the city's recovery and rebuilding task.

Republican Mayor Rudy Giuliani is barred by law from a third term. His efforts to have the limit changed or get a three-month extension of his term to stay on the cleanup job muddied the Democratic primary runoff that Mr. Green finally won Thursday over Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer.

Mr. Green's agreement to the extension was widely criticized as an attempt to cash in on Mr. Giuliani's popularity, but in the end he beat Mr. Ferrer, 52 percent to 48.

As the Democratic nominee, Mr. Green has an impressive resume of governmental service to offer as a longtime liberal activist in consumer matters. In his job as public advocate, the second highest elective citywide office, he is first in line to succession if for some reason the mayoralty were to become vacant.

Mr. Bloomberg has never run for public office before and has no government service, but he has built a personal fortune in the Bloomberg media empire. He also was a Democrat, until he apparently decided the competition was too tough in the four-candidate Democratic primary field and became a Republican. He won the GOP primary easily, throwing as much as $20 million of his own money into the race.

Like the primary that was first postponed and then dominated by the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, the abbreviated general election campaign for Nov. 6 will obviously be dominated by claims from Mr. Green and Mr. Bloomberg that each man's kind of experience is best suited to rebuild New York's financial district.

A poll this month by the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion showed both Mr. Green and Mr. Ferrer beating Mr. Bloomberg handily. Bloomberg advisers acknowledged before the Democratic primary that they would prefer running against Mr. Ferrer. The reason was the very visible endorsement of Mr. Ferrer by controversial black leader Al Sharpton, who the Bloomberg advisers believed would drive white voters to support their candidate.

Now, however, Mr. Sharpton is out of the equation and Mr. Green is expected to pick up much of the labor and black backing that went to Mr. Ferrer in the runoff. New York is an overwhelmingly Democratic city, but that didn't prevent Republican Giuliani from defeating David Dinkins, the city's first black mayor, in 1993 and winning re-election in 1997.

Mr. Giuliani won his first term when crime in the city was a dominant issue, parlaying his record as a tough prosecutor into the mayor's job. With the recovery and rebuilding of the city after the terrorist attacks now the prime issue, Mr. Bloomberg's aides are touting his record as a business builder and manager to claim he is comparably suited to today's challenge.

Although the mayoral campaign will last less than four weeks, Mr. Bloomberg has a barrel of money to throw into it and is committed to spend freely on television advertising between now and Nov. 6. Mr. Green said before the primary he had $3 million left and expected to double it for the contest against Mr. Bloomberg. His advantage is he is much better known and has a strong party organization behind him, which Mr. Bloomberg doesn't.

Mr. Green made a strong start for the Nov. 6 election by laying out during the primary runoff a comprehensive plan for putting the city back on its feet. It calls for tighter security, creation of new emergency redevelopment authority, help for displaced firms and, most of all, an aggressive push for recovery aid from Washington.

This plan provided Mr. Green with debate ammunition against Mr. Ferrer's pre-Sept. 11 championing of more help for "the other New York," taken to mean the city's minority communities. In the wake of the terrorist attacks, Mr. Green argued that what was needed was one unified city, and that he had the best plan to advance it.

For Mr. Bloomberg to have a chance, he must make the case that his entrepreneurial experience makes him the man for the job. In times of crisis, however, voters usually don't want to gamble on a political novice.

Jules Witcover writes from The Sun's Washington bureau.

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