On the same day that Mark Green won a divisive and disputed 51-49 Democratic runoff for mayor of New York, Republican nominee Mike Bloomberg was running an estimated $400,000 worth of television commercials. At one point I saw four Bloomberg ads running at the same time, on four different TV stations, as I switched the dial.
This sets up a Money versus Message confrontation for mayor on November 6, in a city that is 5-to-1 Democratic and was carried overwhelmingly even by George McGovern and Walter Mondale. The general election is now Green’s to lose. And he proved in the Democratic run-off that he is a competitor who will do almost anything not to lose an election.
But large and emotional forces are now in play, like race. And large political actors are on the stage, like Mayor Rudy Giuliani and the Rev. Al Sharpton, and both are masters of media mischief.
Money is in the game too. Bloomberg, a self-made billionaire who founded a financial-news information company, is not participating in New York’s superb system of public financing and spending limits–partially drafted by Mark Green. With a net worth of $4 billion, Bloomberg has already spent more than $29 million, and he will probably invest another $10 million in TV commercials during the final weeks.
One question is, How will Bloomberg’s extravagance play? Voters might recoil from a candidate trying to buy City Hall while the city is still burying its dead. A blitz of campaign commercials makes a jarring counterpoint to the bagpiper’s dirge at the daily funerals of fallen firefighters. Political ambition seems like tawdry small potatoes next to the largest loss of life in one day in the history of New York.
Bloomberg’s candidacy has not yet developed a compelling rationale. Part of the reason may be that Bloomberg is running somewhat in disguise, which is also how Green and Freddy Ferrer ran in the Democratic primary. Green was camouflaged as more centrist than he really is. And he ended up with the endorsements of the police union and the New York Post and got 83 percent of the white vote. Ferrer ran further to the left than he probably is, and ended up with 84 percent of the Latino vote, 71 percent of the black vote and 62 percent of voters with incomes between $15,000 and $30,000 a year.
Bloomberg was a registered Democrat until last year. He is for gay rights, abortion and free expression in the arts. Last May he told me, “There is very little difference between me, Green and Ferrer.” He admits he became a Republican out of opportunism. He says he switched his party registration “to have a clear path to the Republican nomination…. I didn’t think I could win a Democratic primary.”
In the Republican primary Bloomberg outspent Herman Badillo by more than 50 to 1, but won by only 4 to 1. This ratio suggests a certain lack of voter appeal. As a rookie candidate, Bloomberg has revealed a gaffe-prone glibness on the stump.
In June–ten weeks before the World Trade Center atrocity–Bloomberg told a Daily News reporter, “I bet you could find statistics that say being a sanitation worker in this day and age is more dangerous than being a policeman or a fireman.” In most years, more cops and firefighters die than sanitation workers. This year the difference is even more dramatic: More than 340 New York City firefighters, and twenty-three police officers, died in the attack on the World Trade Center. One sanitation worker has perished in the line of duty this year.