Sunday, July 24, 2005

Come on Freddy, It’s Time to Step Up for the Neighborhood

It was just a little unsettling to see the Manhattan Republic Party (Is it more than James Ortenzio and his few close friends?) send out some negative literature questioning Freddy Ferrer on his abortion stand. It seems that our faux Republican mayor is doing what his taller and better looking (Sorry Dr. Melfi) predecessor John Lindsay did in 1969: go to the left of his Democratic opponent.

This is good politics, of course, but it does open the door for our putative Democratic nominee to smartly return the favor by getting to the right our Silk Stocking, bien-pensant liberal. The way to do it is to emulate the campaign strategy of Bob Coleman in Pittsburgh. Coleman, the likely winner of that city’s November mayoral election is running on a platform of neighborhood importance. As he has said:

“Across the country, people want to come back to cities and neighborhoods. They want Main Streets and they want their kids on Main Street."
In 1997, Freddy Ferrer did begin to run as an outer borough Catholic candidate who happened to be Puerto Rican. It’s not too late for him to go back to the future and there are a number of powerful issues, so far unexploited, that can still paint Mike Bloomberg as the out-of-touch Manhattan liberal, insensitive to the concerns of New York’s neighborhoods.

Here are a few suggestions:

1) Property Tax Reductions – The mayor leveled all kinds of charges about Mark Green being a tax and spend liberal during the run up to the 2001 election. So, what did he do once elected? He raised property taxes to obscenely high levels, hurting homeowners and neighborhood store keepers. Freddy needs to simply stand up and say he will roll back every single nickel of that tax increase;

2) Eminent Domain – The mayor has already staked out a position on Willets Point, eloquently expressed in his remark that “the land is too valuable for the businesses that are on it.” What Bloomberg fails to realize is that the Willets Point Merchants, along with all of the others threatened with expulsion in Brooklyn and Harlem, can symbolize the fears of the average homeowner.

We were casually reminded about the Supreme Court’s Kelo decision last week when, during a meeting with the Tottenville Civic Association, we were surprised by the vehemence of June Delaney’s response. Delaney, the head of the association, expressed deep opposition and concern about the use of eminent domain to expel people from their homes. As we have already pointed out, this issue has the real potential to become a left-right galvanizer if it is nurtured properly.

3) Expulsion of the Bronx Terminal Market Merchants – While we realize that this issue creates some delicate political problems for Freddy with his Bronx supporters, it also has the potential to distance himself from a deal that, if properly framed, could help to portray the Mayor and Deputy Doctoroff as elitists whose only concern is for the rich and powerful. Even though the BTM merchants are only tenants, their expulsion in favor of Steve Ross’s Related Company has exquisite synergy with the whole eminent domain issue.

In addition, the BTM controversy can be used to demonstrate that the mayor does favor certain special interests in spite of his obvious lack of dependency on campaign contributions. A hot-wired real estate deal with all of its questions can be utilized to demonstrate just how the mayor lacks any real empathy for the little guy. Certainly, the letter from Terri Sasanow of the Corporation Council highlights the mind-over-matter sentiment that the mayor often expresses in unguarded moments: He doesn’t mind and you don’t matter.

4) Firehouse closings – This is another issue that crosses left-right and ethnic boundaries. The mayor, while larding up the police’s resources, has reduced neighborhood security through his cheapskate firehouse closing policy. What Freddy should do is to remind voters what a lame duck Mayor Bloomberg, unaccountable to anyone, will do should fiscal uncertainties once again rear up. We would point to the Dinkins doomsday list (at least 30-35 firehouses) and tell the folks that their neighborhood could very well be next.

5) Wal-Mart – The mayor has staked out his pro-Wal-Mart position but, as our discussions with neighborhood civic groups all over the city underscore, there is a great deal of conservative neighborhood opposition to the box store behemoth. In stressing this kind of opposition Freddy would also galvanize a great deal of the labor opposition to Wal-Mart as well.

Bold Strategy Needed

Put simply, Freddy needs to boldly go where most Democrats have been unable to go. He needs to begin to cultivate those outer borough neighborhood voters who now believe that their only choice is a mayor who clearly doesn’t represent their values or concerns but who appears to be the only viable option.