Heads up, mayor!
After spending weeks threatening to challenge Bloomberg in a Republican primary in 2005, Thomas Ognibene has reached a decision. “I’m definitely running,” he told us. “I’m absolutely running. I’m in this to beat Michael Bloomberg. I’m seeing this through until the end.”
In other words, he’s running.
Who is Ognibene, you ask, and why should our billionaire mayor fear him? As far-fetched as it seems, the tall, white-haired former City Council Republican minority leader could make things very messy for Bloomberg.
No one is saying that Ognibene will be elected mayor. But in a primary, he’d be harassing the mayor from the right. And it’s not inconceivable that Ognibene could beat him in the primary, which would be decided by the city’s less than 500,000 registered Republicans, only a fraction of whom turn out. They’re an irascible bunch that is extremely cranky about Bloomberg’s tax hikes and out-of-the-closet liberalism.
“The mayor could be vulnerable in a primary dominated by hard-core, conservative, outer-borough Republicans,” says lobbyist Mel Miller. “If the economy doesn’t turn around, Ognibene could have a shot at winning.”
If he did, Bloomberg would have to run on a third-party line in a three-way general election—a circus, if not quite California redux.
Ognibene made the final decision to run two weeks ago, when, he says, state Republican Party officials tried, through an intermediary, to quash his ambitions—and then refused to return his phone calls. “That’s when I said, ‘Now there’s no turning back.’ That angered me immensely. They’re turning their backs on rank-and-file Republican voters. I want to send a message not only to Mr. Bloomberg but to the state-party officials that you can’t walk away from the ideology that made this party work.”
“Mayor Bloomberg was elected to lead New York through a crisis,” retorts mayoral spokesman Ed Skyler. “When you’re in one, you don’t have the luxury of adhering to political ideology. We are happy to compare his record with anyone’s political hot air.”
Ognibene plans to hold his first fund-raiser on New Year’s Eve and make his official campaign announcement outside next summer’s GOP national convention: “Nothing could have more of an impact.”