Support of Giuliani put Bloomberg on top

November 09, 2001|By Jules Witcover

WASHINGTON -- The conventional wisdom on elections is that endorsements aren't decisive, and that if a wealthy candidate spends millions of his own cash and wins, it was the money that talked.

Both views went out the window, however, in the upset victory of Democrat-turned-Republican Michael Bloomberg over Democrat Mark Green to be New York's next mayor.

The money answer is what you certainly would expect from leading New York Democrats who were on the losing end in the election and from a political consultant who was a key adviser and architect of the huge Bloomberg television advertising campaign. It converted the media mogul from a political neophyte to a household name in the city.

But if you listen to former Democratic Gov. Mario Cuomo, who endorsed Mr. Green and worked for him, and to David Garth, the longtime New York political consultant who took a flier with Mr. Bloomberg when he was nowhere in the polls, there's another, simple, explanation for the outcome.

It was, both Mr. Cuomo and Mr. Garth agree, the late endorsement of Mr. Bloomberg by Rudy Giuliani, the retiring mayor who has become an icon in the city for his deft and reassuring handling of the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

While Mr. Bloomberg's $50 million-plus certainly was a factor, Mr. Cuomo says, "it was the Giuliani endorsement. You didn't need the polls to show that Giuliani has become a unique figure. I don't think [Franklin D.] Roosevelt was a popular as Giuliani is now in the city."

Mr. Garth, who is a legendary figure in a business in which folks who advise candidates and fashion television campaigns for them never are embarrassed to take credit for success, agrees with Mr. Cuomo on this one.

"That was the ballgame," he says of the Giuliani endorsement. "We were down 16 points two weeks ago. Who ever heard of making up 16 points that fast? Rudy's timing was impeccable. We wanted him to come out a week earlier, but he knew better."

And it wasn't just the Giuliani endorsement. Mr. Green stubbed his toe, Mr. Garth observes, when he said in a radio interview during the Democratic primary that had he been mayor at the time of the twin towers disaster, he would have done just as good a job as Mr. Giuliani, "or better," in the aftermath.

Mr. Bloomberg's experienced campaign operatives ("the best money could buy," says Lee Miringoff, head of New York's Marist Institute of Public Opinion), jumped on the Green remark. They ran an ad with the Green quote and the simple comment: "Really?"

Mr. Green, says Mr. Garth, "is the kid in the front row who, when the teacher asks a question, always wiggles his hand. And he usually has the right answer, but ... even people who don't like Rudy consider he did a superb job."

The surprise result raises an obvious question about the state of the Democratic Party in a city that has overwhelming Democratic registration but will have a Republican in City Hall again, after eight years of Mr. Giuliani. In the memory of old-timers, only Fiorello LaGuardia, a fusion candidate, and John Lindsay wore the GOP colors. But never before have two Republicans been elected mayor back to back.

Mr. Cuomo says the most relevant aspect of the race between Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Green was that ideology was not a factor. "Bloomberg is just as liberal as Green," the former governor notes, "and he said so." As a longtime Democrat, Mr. Cuomo says, Mr. Bloomberg switched to the Republican Party because there already was a crowded field of four Democratic candidates. (Mr. Cuomo's son, Andrew, a Bill Clinton Cabinet member, is running for governor next year.)

Mr. Garth says Mr. Bloomberg, as a new Republican, was bolstered not only by Mr. Giuliani's support but also by late Democratic endorsements from former Gov. Hugh Carey and former Mayor Ed Koch. But party distinctions were obliterated, Mr. Garth says, in the wake of Sept. 11. "Nobody was talking party lines while people were running for their lives," he says.

The test for Mr. Bloomberg now is whether he can deliver on his claim that as a hugely successful businessman he will take up the city's recovery from Mr. Giuliani's hands and build a record of his own, on what is the clean slate of a political newcomer.

Jules Witcover writes from The Sun's Washington bureau.

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