Bloomberg is not unbeatable, but all the challengers are prohibitive long shots in November. So a Democratic voter who wants to see his party retake City Hall someday needs to make a calculation that’s as much karmic as strategic: Nominating Ferrer—outright, without a runoff—gives Democrats their best opportunity to move forward. For four years, Ferrer and his advisers have nursed a grievance: that the reason he lost the 2001 Democratic runoff to Mark Green, after winning more votes in the first round than three other contenders, was a racial dirty trick. Giving Ferrer the chance to win or lose on his own against Bloomberg this time would exorcise those ghosts.
Nominating Ferrer takes race off the table, helping Democrats hold on to the emerging nonwhite majority.
A Ferrer nomination would also reduce the risk of the Democrats’ splintering in 2006, when Hillary Clinton (U.S. senate) and Eliot Spitzer (governor) are running. “It’s important that Democrats emerge from the primary unbloodied,” says party strategist Howard Wolfson (who’s endorsing fair play, not any particular candidate). “A nasty, divisive primary could have ripples beyond this election, just like the nasty, divisive primary we had in ’01.” The greatest benefits would come in four years. Because next week’s primary turnout is likely to be low, it won’t tell us much about the changing shape of the Democratic electorate. “This primary might look more like an election from 1985 than 2005,” says Norman Adler, a political consultant. But clearly the party is growing younger, more conservative, and less white—and also more independent-minded. “There’s this statistic I keep hearing that one-third of new black registration is registering as independent,” says Basil Smikle, another consultant. “I’m not sure it’s true. But the 21-to-40-year-old African-American voters who are more wealthy and have more stuff and live in Harlem, Park Slope, Fort Greene—they’re really up for grabs.” A clean Ferrer nomination takes race off the table, internally, for the short term, and gives Democrats a greater chance of holding on to the emerging nonwhite majority, particularly Latinos.
National Democrats have been healthily shaken by John Kerry’s defeat, and a local version is past due. “Last night I spent almost an hour surfing the Manhattan Institute Website,” says a veteran New York Democrat. “While there’s much I don’t agree with, it’s the only place I know of that’s generating new policy ideas for the city. It’s not unimportant for there to be a progressive-policy infrastructure supporting an urban agenda. That’s something I hope we will see at some point. And it’s more likely to happen if we lose than if we win.”
Not that he’s rooting for a loss. But here’s the realist Democratic slogan for you: Freddy Ferrer and honorable defeat in ’05. And Anthony Weiner all the way in ’09.