On a grim, gray day two weeks after terrorists killed nearly 7,000 people in downtown Manhattan, grieving New Yorkers went to the polls on Sept. 25 and delivered a split decision in the Democratic Mayoral primary, while political novice Michael Bloomberg won the Republican nomination.
Mr. Bloomberg, who was projected to win about 65 percent of the vote in defeating Herman Badillo, will now have to wait two more weeks to learn the identity of his eventual Democratic opponent. Public Advocate Mark Green and Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer, the top two finishers among the Democrats on Sept. 25, will face each other in a runoff on Oct. 9. At press time, Mr. Ferrer had a slight lead over Mr. Green, 36 to 33 percent with about 25 percent of the vote counted, but it was clear that neither man would finish with 40 percent or more. Under state election law, a first-place candidate who takes less than 40 percent of the vote must face a runoff against the second-place finisher in two weeks. Mr. Green vowed that the runoff campaign would be “positive.” His campaign manager, Richard Schrader, said that he had expected a runoff all along, with four veteran Democrats competing for the nomination.
For the two other major Democratic candidates, Sept. 25 very likely marked the end of their long careers in politics and government. Council Speaker Peter Vallone, who was in a distant third place as of press time, emerged several weeks ago as a possible contender for second place and a berth in the runoff. But he began dropping back when Mr. Ferrer jumped from fourth place to second after winning the endorsement of the Reverend Al Sharpton and other African-American leaders. Mr. Vallone will leave the Council on Dec. 31, along with 35 of the Council’s 51 veteran members, after serving in the city’s legislature for nearly three decades.
Meanwhile, City Comptroller Alan Hevesi, the onetime darling of the city’s political and financial establishment, seemed destined to finish last among the major Democrats. It was the end of a long, difficult and painful campaign for the Comptroller, who was first elected as an Assemblyman from Queens in the early 1970’s. Mr. Hevesi was considered a front-runner a year ago, but his campaign never took off and began to falter in late summer, especially when his longtime consultant, Hank Morris, almost overshadowed the candidate as he tried to find loopholes in the city’s campaign-finance law. Mr. Hevesi will remain on the general-election ballot in November as the Liberal Party candidate.
A smiling and composed Mr. Hevesi conceded at about 10:45 p.m., praising his staff for running a “sophisticated” campaign. “I made some mistakes … [they] were my miscalculations,” he said. “I know we’re really good in government, we’re just not quite as good at politics.”
It was one of the most extraordinary election days in New York history, and for all the wrong reasons. The campaigns had been frozen in place for two weeks, overtaken by horror and overshadowed by the inspired performance of the lame-duck incumbent, Rudolph Giuliani. With rescue teams still searching the remains of the World Trade Center, candidates who had thought of little else except this day, this vote, sadly recused themselves from politics. Gone from the subway stations on Primary Day were smiling candidates and their cadre of aides. Gone were posters reminding people to vote. Gone from most of the hotel ballrooms were festive buntings and copious amounts of liquor.
Even as voters went to the polls, the talk in city and even national political circles was the once-sealed fate of Rudolph Giuliani, barred by the city’s term-limits law from reelection. By not ruling out maneuvers to either overturn or find a way around term limits, Mr. Giuliani put himself at the center of a primary election that was not supposed to be about him, but about his eventual successor. Demands that the city suspend the coming general election or quickly change city law to accommodate Mr. Giuliani were met not with Shermanesque pronouncements (“If elected, I will not serve”) but Clintonesque evasions (“I need time to reflect on what I’m going to do. And it would not involve the primaries, anyway”).
About the only place that wasn’t buzzing with the latest Rudy rumors was, fortunately, the disaster command center on the West Side piers. There, in the late afternoon of Primary Day, Mr. Giuliani gave a straightforward briefing to the press and then introduced the Reverend Jesse Jackson, dressed in a white hard hat and Red Cross jacket. Mr. Jackson had toured ground zero earlier in the day, and the two men spoke not about politics, but about New York’s grief and its pride in the city’s rescue personnel.
Mr. Green arrived at the New York Sheraton, where he monitored the results, at about 7 o’clock. The candidate did a quick television interview in the lobby, then left for his suite. On the verge of a partial victory few would have foreseen a year ago, Mr. Green had to contend with several questions not about his campaign, but about Mr. Giuliani’s future. “We have united behind this Mayor who is skillfully leading a rescue-and-recovery effort,” Mr. Green said. “Just as the city will unite behind the next Mayor, who … will lead in the rebuilding of New York.” Later, former Mayor David Dinkins took a shot at Mr. Giuliani’s jockeying. Asked if he thought the Mayor would try to get on the ballot in November, Mr. Dinkins said: “Well, I think that’s his right. But of course, I hope he does not. He can leave on a high.”
Mr. Green said he felt “content” and “serene” as he prepared to take results, although he said that he was “sad,” too, because of the World Trade Center attack. He conceded that voters were not as enthusiastic about the primary as they might have been.
The mood at Mr. Green’s headquarters in the Sheraton ballroom was amazingly quiet and low key. There was none of the buzz associated with a front-runner’s campaign. Instead, small groups gathered in circles, talking in soft tones. Upstairs, in Mr. Green’s private suite, there were no balloons, no drinks or food-nothing more than a bare table and a couch. Mr. Green and his wife, Deni Frand, were wearing American flag lapel pins. When asked about racial profiling by New York Post columnist Andrea Peyser, who had written a Primary Day column proclaiming Mr. Giuliani the day’s real winner, Mr. Green said: “Racial profiling is wrong except for columnists around your height.” It was one of the evening’s few laughs.
Alone among the four leading Democratic candidates, Mr. Ferrer had a full schedule of Primary Day events, and by mid-afternoon, the effort was written on his drawn, tired face. At a social services center on the West Side, a reporter asked him if this 11th hour campaign push would help get his supporters to the polls. “Well, now everyone’s writing that I’m tanking,” he said without completing the thought. A few minutes later, he brightened a bit as he spoke to a small crowd and complained about Gov. George Pataki’s suggestion that voters write in Mr. Giuliani’s name on Primary Day. He said the Governor had created unnecessary chaos. “I swear to God, as long as I live, I won’t understand all this,” Mr. Ferrer said to state Comptroller H. Carl McCall, a key supporter who was at Mr. Ferrer’s side during the event.
Mr. McCall joined Mr. Sharpton at Mr. Ferrer’s campaign headquarters in the Puck Building, probably the most festive site with white lights on pillars and a free-flowing bar. Mr. Sharpton had praise for Mr. Giuliani’s handling of the terrorist crisis, but plugged his candidate with a typically colorful turn of phrase. “You have one person who runs the ambulance to the hospital, but you need a surgeon in the hospital to revive and bring the body back to life.” Sounding a theme voters can expect to hear in the days leading to the runoff, Mr. McCall said Mr. Ferrer was the right man to rebuild the city because of his successes in rebuilding the Bronx.
Another one of Mr. Ferrer’s key supporters, hospital workers union leader Dennis Rivera, looked subdued as the results came in, even though his candidate probably was going to live to fight another battle. Asked if he thought Mr. Ferrer would have done better if the primary had been held on Sept. 11 as planned, he said, “I have no doubt about it. On Sept. 11, we had this incredible momentum. We had dozens of people who wanted to come out and work for the Ferrer campaign. I didn’t see that excitement this time around.” He said he thought Mr. Ferrer would have gotten 40 percent on Sept. 11, thus avoiding a runoff.
On the Republican side, on an evening marked by low-key gatherings, perhaps the most low-key, indeed, the most desolate, place was the National Women’s Republican Club, where Herman Badillo was awaiting results. He arrived shortly before 8:30 p.m. and was ushered to a fourth-floor library. Downstairs, only about 20 people were on hand to watch the results. One Badillo supporter, John Spavins, said that Mr. Pataki’s suggestion to write in Mr. Giuliani’s name caused confusion and hurt Mr. Badillo. “The combination of money and four of the five Republican county organizations going for Bloomberg made it an uphill battle” for Mr. Badillo, he said.
A gracious Mr. Badillo, delivering what will probably be his last campaign speech, conceded just after 10 p.m. He thanked his campaign staff, and particularly singled out Republican State Senator Guy Velella of the Bronx, his campaign chair. The candidate took note of the low turnout, which he blamed on a city still in shock.
Mr. Bloomberg delivered his victory speech at 10:20, arriving on stage to shouts of “Mike! Mike! Mike!” With a huge flag in the background, Mr. Bloomberg said: “I know we will win in November, and then we’re going to put together the best team this city has ever seen.” He promised to release a redevelopment plan for downtown in the coming weeks, and he vowed to retain many members of Mr. Giuliani’s administration.
Additional reporting by Petra Bartosiewicz, Andrea Bernstein and Andrew Rice.