It's do-or-die for Mayor Bloomberg and New York City Republicans. Tomorrow morning at the Metropolitan Club, the mayor will make a personal appeal for forgiveness before the five GOP county leaders in a last-resort effort to win back their favor and secure their ballot line. The summit is billed as a "candidate screening," but it promises to be more like a tribunal. Republicans say they intend to air a lengthy list of grievances against the mayor, starting with his abandonment of the party a year and a half ago.
Bloomberg isn't one to genuflect before party honchos, but he has little other choice. On the surface, the billionaire mayor would seem to be in a strong position; he has a commanding lead in the polls over his Democratic rivals and a bottomless war chest. But the mayor's struggle for a major-party ballot line is threatening to become a fatal obstacle. Political insiders doubt that the mayor, even with his resources, could win a third term if he's stranded in ballot Siberia.
The Republican line is Bloomberg's best hope, but he may be unable to wind back the clock on his ex-relationship. One GOP chairman said today it was doubtful they would lift their ballot blockade, no matter the size of the mayor's offering: "The mayor's attitude for the last four years was 'I don't need these people.' I don't know what he can say to get the trust back. I don't see how the mayor can salvage this relationship." Still, it's hard to say if their stubbornness is a negotiation tactic or a principled stand. For all their tough talk, some GOP sources say they expect the mayor to cut a deal.
The problem for the GOP is they lack a Plan B. Party leaders acknowledge they prefer Bloomberg to any of his Democratic rivals. Thomas Ognibene, a former City Council Republican minority leader who tried but failed to foment a conservative rebellion against Bloomberg four years ago, has indicated he would seek the party's nod if the mayor is rebuffed. Republicans fear Ognibene would be clobbered by the Democrats. Supermarket, real-estate, and oil tycoon John Catsimatidis has quietly positioned himself as a billionaire Democrat turned Republican that the GOP can trust. But he's signaled he'll stay out of the race as long as Bloomberg's in the picture.
One Republican speculated that the mayor may be forced to abort his campaign if he comes away empty-handed tomorrow. That's probably far-fetched, but like the GOP, Bloomberg is running out of options.