I go home to a pre-Atonement dinner with my family. “You’re not gonna believe what the mayor asked me to agree to,” I say, as we down Deni’s matzo-ball soup and brisket. Fearing how he might wield his new stature and clout, the consensus of staff and family is to acquiesce to an extension.
Later that evening, I reverse course from my initial response to Rudy and call Young to say that I’ll go along if three months can be added to the next mayor’s term.
The upshot: Ferrer refuses Giuliani’s entreaty and looks like a hero standing up to a bully; Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver refuses to allow the necessary change in state law; and my lead over Ferrer plunges from ten points ahead to a tie. Eight years of fighting Giuliani on everything from racial profiling to an incinerator in Brooklyn seems to evaporate in a day. I deserve it. I vow not to go against my instinct again… if there is an again.
* * * *
It’s late in the runoff and my media firm is showing me an ad that attacks Ferrer for his response after 9/11 and that quotes citywide editorials (New York Times: “borderline irresponsible”). The tagline is, “Can we afford to take this chance?” I sign off on the commercial, which reminds pollster Mark Mellman and me of Walter Mondale’s ads trying to slow down surging challenger Gary Hart in the 1984 Democratic presidential primaries. (I was Hart’s speechwriter.)
It airs and the Ferrer camp is furious, claiming it’s racial. Huh? Was the Times anti-Latino or just underwhelmed? I call Antonio Villaraigosa, whom I personally know and who is at the time a major Latino politician in L.A. running for mayor [Ed.: He is currently its mayor], asking if he thought the ad was racial. He listens and laughs. “Hey, my white opponent is running spots implying that I’m a drug dealer. Yours is within bounds.”
* * * *
What to do about Al Sharpton? We’ve always gotten along well and he knows that I’ve often challenged Giuliani on police misconduct and other contentious issues. At the same time, there is no more racially divisive figure in the city, now or probably ever. He has favorable ratings of 65 percent among African-Americans, 18 percent among whites.
Given Giuliani’s testy relations with communities of color—and my very different history with them as Mayor Dinkins’s consumer commissioner and then the elected public advocate—I'm running on the racially unifying theme of “A Mayor for All.” So I decide early on not to seek Al’s endorsement, which is very likely to go to Ferrer in any event, but to pay him respect so that, if I won, he would know that he wouldn’t again be treated like a pariah. Throughout the campaign, reporters would repeatedly ask me to attack Sharpton and, to their acknowledged frustration, I repeatedly decline.
At the suggestion of a mutual friend, Allen Roskoff, I invite the Reverend, his wife, Kathy, and Allen to join Deni and me in the spring to see Judgment at Nuremberg on Broadway and then have dinner. We all watch and then chat easily about the history behind the play and about city affairs and politics. Not a word is said about his endorsement.
Two years later, Sharpton publishes an autobiography, Al on America, in which he denounces me for playing the race card by denying that I directly—and or “implicit[ly]”—solicited his support that night.
* * * *
I’m in a bathrobe drinking coffee at 7:10 a.m. on October 3 when I take a scheduled phoner with Mark Riley of WWRL radio. He asks, “If you had been mayor during 9/11, how would you have done?” I reply, “I actually believe that if, God forbid, I had been mayor during such a calamity, I would have done as well [as] or even better than Giuliani.”
Stupid answer. The right answer of a shrewd politician is always, "I don’t answer hypotheticals… and Rudy did great." But my words play into the trope that I’m arrogant. Bloomberg plucks out my response and runs a heavy buy of ads with my exact words, ending with, “Really?” Very effective.
I go on “Imus” to eat crow and apologize. “What were you thinking!” “Well, I’m always trying to aim high and do my best and blah blah…”
…” Here, though, is what I was thinking: I was pissed that Rudy had been toying with the idea of overturning the term limits law and then running himself, which struck me as not very civic-minded. Not wrong for me to think that [see M. Bloomberg, 2008] but not smart to say that. I rediscover the accuracy of Michael Kinsley’s famous axiom that a gaffe in politics is not when you tell a lie but when you tell the truth.