One thing is not debatable: the debate flap has the potential to seriously hurt the mayor, particularly among those black voters who he has been polling so well with. The reason it does is because it exposes a character defect that he has so far been successful at keeping under wraps: an arrogance that believes that he is above having to respond to the needs of average folks.
The debate duck also exposes a corollary problem that is inherent in the mayor's "above politics" narrative. The narrative spins the tale that Bloomberg, because of his great wealth, isn't beholden to the so-called special interests. What this story-line hides, however, is the fact someone who is not "beholden" to special interests may perhaps not be beholden to anyone's interests at all.
Bloomberg's arrogant response has the potential to have a corrosive effect on voter's perceptions and can, as a result, lead back to the Mayor's Achilles heel: "He doesn't care about people like us". All of this can be compounded if black voters in particular feel that the mayor is taking them for granted. If this happens you can kiss Mike's 50% number goodbye. The unknown is whether those deserting votes will go to Freddy or just stay home.
One of the real disappointing aspects of this whole flap is the posture of the NY Daily News. While all of the print and broadcast media is leading with or at least prominently displaying the debate issue the News is, as we have commented before, simply burying the story. Yesterday was a good example.
The paper had its election story, buried deep on something like page 16, feature a mocking attack on Ferrer's "claim" that he was responsible for the teachers getting their contract. Nothing significant on the debate at all.
Making matters worse was the ludicrous accusation in Michael Godwin's column that Freddy was going to really regret going so negative. Huh? That Godwin could have divined this piece of information from recent campaigning strikes as atonal. Hey Mike, Shouldn't you have something to say about how the mayor's money is sucking all the air out of the room?
On this front we are still awaiting the Times editorial that hits the mayor for ducking while, at the same time, upbraids him for his obscene spending. It should go something like this: "The mayor who is spending huge sums to get his message across as he seeks re-election is, therefore, under a compelling obligation to participate in as many public debates as possible. This is particularly true since Mr. Bloomberg had pledged to not replicate his lavish spending habits if he were to go before the voters for a second time".