That’s because of the chief lesson Ferrer’s key strategists learned in 2001, a lesson that was driven home again in last week’s primary. Four years ago, Ferrer was languishing far behind front-runner Mark Green, trading turns in third place with Alan Hevesi and Peter Vallone. It wasn’t until Ferrer began turning up the volume on his “two New Yorks” theme late in the campaign that he moved up in the polls, eventually shooting past Green to win the primary’s first round. As an analysis of New York’s changing demographics, “two cities” is fairly accurate. Yet the media pounded the Puerto Rican Ferrer, inferring a racial appeal, and Green won the runoff.
To beat Bloomberg, Ferrer needs to learn from the 2001 campaign and appeal to class, not race.
This time around, the Ferrer campaign held off as long as possible. But with two weeks to go in the 2005 primary campaign and his poll numbers stuck in the mid-thirties, Ferrer reached into the populist bag for a modified “two cities” argument. Then Al Sharpton came aboard. The combination was barely enough.
Ferrer’s primary-night speech spoke emphatically of “all of us,” and he is not by any stretch a racial radical. Yet in the general election, Ferrer’s strategists are counting on two factors to give him a real chance against Bloomberg. The first is free media, to beat back some of the mayor’s tens of millions in advertising. More important, they’re counting on a record Latino turnout. They don’t have many other good options.
The trick will be learning from what went wrong in 2001—and generating that turnout with an appeal to class, not race. Because when it comes to electing mayors, the core problem isn’t two cities. It’s two Democratic parties.