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Out Front

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It hurt when his former boss Dinkins endorsed Green, but he just intensified his efforts. When Green made his compact with Giuliani for extending his term, Lynch had to restrain himself from calling Dinkins and tweaking him. He's still close to the former mayor and knows how deeply Dinkins dislikes Giuliani and anyone who makes common cause with him.

"Bill is the glue without being the boss," says Ken Knuckles, Ferrer's confidant and former deputy borough president. "He's the senior muse. He doesn't impose himself, or his views, on anyone. But we all seek his opinion. We know he's walked this road before. Bill is the only person in history who has elected a mayor of color in this city."

Lynch has also delivered two of Ferrer's most crucial endorsements, those of Representative Charlie Rangel and Roger Toussaint, president of the transit-workers' union. Their decision had a substantial impact in turn on Dennis Rivera, pulling him back from the brink of a Green endorsement and into the Ferrer campaign just after Labor Day. Rivera's hospital-workers' union has the best GOTV operation in the city. It put 5,000 union members in the street on September 25 and hopes to better that number on Thursday. It will be the tenth Election Day that Lynch and Rivera are collaborating on turnout for the same candidate.

Ferrer's fate will probably be determined by two issues, one overt, the other covert. The issue being debated openly is Ferrer's refusal to yield on repealing term limits and his not joining Green and Bloomberg in granting Giuliani a three-month extension on his constitutional term in office.

With the Times calling Giuliani's proposal "dangerous," Ferrer's decision may turn out to be both courageous and advantageous. Since he took his solitary stand, Ferrer's position has been supported by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and by good-government groups like Common Cause and the League of Women Voters. The State Assembly is against the 90-day extension. And Ferrer's thunderous refusal seems to have fatally weakened the mayor's resolve to find a way to run for a third term.

The covert issue is racism. Nobody talks about it openly, but it's there, in the lower frequencies. The race card now takes the form of two assertions, two rumors: "Al Sharpton will run the city if Ferrer is elected." "Ferrer won't be able to beat Bloomberg in the general election."

Sharpton is still loathed by the majority of white voters. They will never forgive him for the Tawana Brawley rape hoax or for calling a Harlem merchant a "white interloper" before his shop was burned to the ground. On September 29, Sharpton damaged Ferrer severely when he unleashed a clueless personal attack disparaging Giuliani, claiming even Bozo the Clown could have rallied and unified the city. By contrast, Ferrer has lavishly praised the mayor's performance.

Sharpton's folly probably cost Ferrer votes among wavering whites. So, two nights later, Sharpton went on NY1 and tried to clean up the mess he had created with his own undisciplined emotions. He complimented the mayor's performance during the crisis and made the case that he didn't want any influence with Ferrer over appointments or jobs, saying he'd endorsed Chuck Schumer, Hillary Clinton, and Eliot Spitzer and never asked them for jobs.

"They're playing a spook game, trying to polarize the city," Sharpton said, acknowledging he was the bogeyman. He also pointed out, "Mark Green tried harder than Ferrer to get my endorsement. He took me and my wife to the theater. He even came to the church when my wife and I renewed our wedding vows, the night before I endorsed Ferrer."

Al Sharpton is the two-edged razor blade in New York politics. He has proved he can move thousands of younger black voters with his endorsements. He clearly helped propel Ferrer ahead of Green in the black community. Six months ago, Green led Ferrer almost two to one among blacks in every poll. After Sharpton, Rangel, and the heavily black Local 1199/SEIU endorsed Ferrer, he captured the black vote on primary day, 52-35. But Sharpton also scares away white voters in large numbers. His endorsement creates as many critics as converts. This is the nature of the politics of polarization. But even Ed Koch, while endorsing Ferrer, said, "If I were running, I would seek Sharpton's support. He is a bona fide leader in the black community."

Lynch's private formula for winning is to get 30 percent of the white vote, 65 percent of the black vote, and 80 percent of a huge Hispanic turnout. This would be a neat trick in a city that has been racially polarized for decades. But whether Ferrer wins or loses, Bill Lynch has already won. He is still alive. He had the pleasure of shocking the experts two weeks ago. He has given the city a civics lesson in its new demographics, and has proven that blacks and Latinos will vote in record numbers if they think they have someone to vote for.

Bill Lynch, "the simple country boy" from rural Suffolk County whose obit was already written, may end up drafting the obit for the conventional wisdom in New York politics. And if Ferrer wins, two men will have risen from the dead to change history.


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