Bill Bratton’s prospective run for Mayor next year has unleashed a monsoon of threats from Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who has sworn to demolish the former Police Commissioner’s candidacy. County leaders will be called, political allies browbeaten; leftover campaign cash from the Mayor’s aborted Senate run will be poured into efforts to stop Mr. Bratton. And if things get out of hand, the Mayor hinted ominously, he may be forced to divulge dark secrets about his former commissioner–”Maybe I know something about Bill Bratton that you don’t,” he told reporters recently.
But these gusts of invective have done little to slow Mr. Bratton’s behind-the-scenes efforts to build a campaign. He has assembled a team of formal and informal advisers, including Kieran Mahoney, a powerful Republican strategist and longtime adviser to Governor George Pataki. Mr. Mahoney has met with Mr. Bratton a number of times to advise him pro bono and, according to sources, has done some polling for him.
“I have been advising Mr. Bratton without compensation on what steps he ought to take in order to run for Mayor,” Mr. Mahoney told The Observer . “And I’ll tell you why: He’s the only Republican who can win, in my estimation.”
The enlisting of Mr. Mahoney may make it easier for Mr. Bratton to win the support of the Governor, another Giuliani rival. Mr. Pataki might welcome the chance to needle Mr. Giuliani by giving Mr. Bratton tacit support, and even access to his network of supporters and contributors.
Mr. Mahoney and other advisers to Mr. Bratton aren’t overly worried about the Mayor’s attacks. “At one juncture or another the Mayor’s had similar conflicts with other people, some of whom he’s made up with in the fullness of time,” Mr. Mahoney said. “So we’ll just have to see.”
“When Rudy loses his temper like he has in criticizing Bratton, and Bratton acts moderate and self-possessed, the perception of that contrast is very helpful,” added Ed Hayes, a lawyer, Court TV news anchor and Pataki ally who is advising Mr. Bratton. “I think the city wants someone who is less volatile.”
“This is typical disingenuous nonsense from Bratton’s barroom cronies,” said Sunny Mindel, Mr. Giuliani’s communications director. “This is not a group that’s exactly in touch with local Republicans, and it’s a safe bet that the Republicans don’t have any of these guys on speed dial,” she continued, referring to Mr. Bratton’s longtime allies.
In addition to Mr. Hayes and Mr. Mahoney, the other members of Mr. Bratton’s emerging kitchen cabinet are prominent civil-liberties litigator Richard Emery, a longtime friend; Richard Esposito, a media strategist and former editor of the Sunday Daily News ; and Darryl Fox, a well-known Republican operative who directed field operations for Mr. Giuliani in 1993 and was a key organizer behind Mr. Pataki’s 1994 victory.
Mr. Bratton has also had frequent discussions with friends like ABC correspondent John Miller, who was Mr. Bratton’s press aide in One Police Plaza, and Jack Maple, Mr. Bratton’s former deputy commissioner for operations.
According to advisers, Mr. Bratton, a registered independent, has decided to switch his party affiliation to Republican, a long-anticipated move that clears the way for him to seek the party’s Mayoral nomination.
“Bill Bratton is almost certain to run,” Mr. Esposito told The Observer.
“I’m leaning toward doing this,” Mr. Bratton said in a recent interview with The Observer . “I love the hell out of this place, and I think there’s an opportunity here to contribute further.” He declined to comment on questions about strategy and his kitchen cabinet.
If Mr. Bratton does win the Republican nomination, it would mark a triumphant return to the spotlight after five years of exile. Mr. Bratton was widely credited with reforming the Police Department and establishing a system of accountability for police chiefs that led to the city’s historic drop in crime. But he resigned in 1996 after a long public feud with the Mayor.
That said, Mr. Bratton displayed an astonishing disdain for the finesse required to survive in Rudy Giuliani’s City Hall. Mr. Bratton enraged the Mayor by jauntily swaggering through the city’s hot spots like Vietnam-era Army brass on leave in Saigon, holding court at Elaine’s as he vowed to take the city back “block by block.” A Mayoral aide once told a Bratton crony to stay out of Elaine’s because “this is a blue-collar administration.”
But now Mr. Giuliani’s personal distaste for Mr. Bratton risks scuttling what many Republicans concede is the G.O.P.’s best, and perhaps only, shot at retaining City Hall. Mr. Giuliani has been unrelenting in his assault on Mr. Bratton, filling the tabloids with attacks on his Boston roots, his chameleon-like party affiliation and even his relatively meek posture in their current standoff. And he has suggested that other Republicans, such as Queens Council member Tom Ognibene and longtime Mayoral education adviser Herman Badillo (a former Democrat), are better suited than Mr. Bratton to inherit his Mayoralty. These possible candidates are thought to have little chance of beating the Democratic nominee in the general election–meaning that Mr. Giuliani is allowing his personal feud with Mr. Bratton to muddle his party’s chances of keeping City Hall.
In fact, the Mayor’s vigorous attacks suggest he has a great deal to lose if Mr. Bratton manages to become the next Mayor of New York. Mr. Giuliani’s legacy is likely to be built almost entirely on his success in fighting crime; he has repeatedly said that he and Howard Safir, Mr. Bratton’s replacement, were responsible for the city’s drop in crime. But if Mayor Bratton were to continue to implement successful crime-fighting policies, it could muddy Mr. Giuliani’s role in that historic achievement.
“He is still a very little man in a very big job,” one of Mr. Bratton’s advisers said of Mr. Giuliani. “He just can’t stand the idea of someone else showing up on the scene who might get credited with doing some of the things he was supposed to get credit for.”
Despite the confidence of Mr. Bratton’s lieutenants, there is no question that the former commissioner has an arduous task in front of him. According to sources close to Mr. Bratton, Mr. Mahoney’s private poll has offered somewhat sobering news for the prospective candidate. While the poll showed him faring exceptionally well in a Republican primary, sources said, it also showed him running well behind the better-known Democratic Mayoral candidates in a general election–City Council Speaker Peter Vallone, City Comptroller Alan Hevesi, Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer and, by a crushing margin, Public Advocate Mark Green.
“I don’t think there are any illusions about the fact that Mark Green is the most popular politician in New York City today,” said Mr. Emery, the lawyer and Bratton adviser. (Mr. Mahoney declined to comment on any of the specifics of his work for Mr. Bratton.)
Mr. Bratton’s candidacy is also arguing against history. If that long-vanished era known as the 20th century is any guide, Republicans win City Hall once in a generation. Fiorello La Guardia, John Lindsay and Mr. Giuliani all swept into power as reformers riding waves of popular revulsion with the corrupt Democratic ruling elite. In the first two cases, however, once the Republican had carried out a rapid cleanup job, a Democrat quickly retook City Hall. Mr. Giuliani’s low approval ratings in recent months seem to suggest a repeat of that pattern.
What’s more, these Republicans all won as “fusion candidates,” meaning they relied on their alliance with third parties to overcome the city’s huge Democratic majority. This could complicate matters for Mr. Bratton, because the man who controls the Liberal Party–Raymond Harding–is a close friend of Mr. Giuliani and is thus unlikely to endorse the Mayor’s mortal enemy.
“New York City history tends to intervene here,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic political consultant. “Republicans can only win as fusion candidates.”
The burden will also be on Mr. Bratton to prove that his candidacy is more than just an ego-driven revenge fantasy. Mr. Bratton talked about running for Mayor in 1997 against Mr. Giuliani, but the idea never went anywhere. “I question whether Bratton is doing all of this to piss Rudy off,” said one Republican.
Outer Borough Appeal
With all that said, there are still plenty of arguments for a Bratton candidacy. Mr. Giuliani’s assaults notwithstanding, Mr. Bratton has natural appeal to the outer-borough ethnics and Giuliani Democrats who are the Mayor’s core constituency. A socially liberal crime buster with strong managerial credentials, Mr. Bratton might also have strong appeal to some good-government types.
“I think that all Republicans will come to the swift realization that Bill Bratton has a legitimate chance to be elected Mayor,” Mr. Mahoney said. “He’s going to be the best that Republicans can field. He’s already had a major job in New York City, for which he’s rightfully famous.”
Mr. Bratton, who was once a registered Democrat, is also likely to receive some support from outer-borough Democrats. Mr. Bratton was recently spotted at a book party huddling with Assemblyman Roberto Ramirez, who controls the Bronx Democratic machine.
In the end, if Mr. Giuliani continues his assaults, a Bratton candidacy may amount to a referendum on the lame-duck Mayor’s record. In a recent sign that the power of Mr. Giuliani’s threats is waning, the Giuliani-loving New York Post editorial page took a dim view of his efforts to turn the city against Mr. Bratton. “The Mayor is contemplating using the [campaign] cash to grind Bratton into dust,” the editorial read. “Bad idea.”
“His influence over county leaders and big-money people gets smaller every day,” said Arthur Bramwell, a Republican county leader from Brooklyn who is not yet backing Mr. Bratton. “The power of his threats as Mayor is slowly drawing to an end.”