Totally Distracted, Voters Won’t Focus On Mark and Mike

Mark Green and Michael Bloomberg have swapped identities.

With two weeks to go until Election Day, Mr. Green, who has spent a career as an outsider challenging entrenched power elites, is now the confident front-runnerand staunch defender of civil order, refusingtodebate, parading around with law-and-order supporters and avoiding his opponent at all costs. Mr. Bloomberg, a billionaire Republican, is the dogged challenger and protest candidate, offering himself as the choice for disaffected minority voters and consorting with followersofDr.Lenora

Fulani, the controversial onetime Presidential candidate who once criticized fellow black activists for their willingness to “pander to Jews.”

In recent weeks, as the prospect of winning City Hall and gaining real power edges closer to reality for Mr. Green, the Public Advocate’s advisers have been quietly lobbying close friends of the Mayor in hopes of keeping Mayor Giuliani from throwinghissupportbehindMr. Bloomberg. At the same time, Mr. Green has been inseparable from his supporters, like former Police Commissioner William Bratton and terrorism expert Jerry Hauer, both of whom have portrayed Mr. Bloomberg as an enemy of public safety.

Meanwhile, Mr. Bloomberg-who many expected would try to assail Mr. Green as the second coming of David Dinkins-has been championing the cause of disaffected Latino and black voters still upset by Mr. Green’s hard-fought runoff victory over Bronx Borough President FernandoFerrer.What’smore,Mr. Bloomberg is being championed by the Fulani-dominated Independence Party, whose operatives worked alongside Bloomberg volunteers at Mike-for-Mayor headquarters for a good part of the summer.

The role reversal has caused no shortage of amusement among political observers. “The irony is that the extreme liberal has turned out to be the mainstream candidate, and the centrist Republican has turned out to be carrying the banner of the toiling ethnic masses,” said political consultant Norman Adler.

The result: The defining feature of the 2001 general election is that each candidate is, to varying degrees, at odds with his own party. Mr. Bloomberg, a liberal Democrat who has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the national Democratic Party, has been waiting in vain for an aggressive display of support from the New York Republican establishment. Mr. Green, meanwhile, has long been disliked by some top Democrats, a state of affairs that was worsened by the bitter closing days of the runoff, as well as Mr. Green’s move to distance himself from his liberal past.

Mr. Green’s improbable transformation is due to a number of factors. The Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center instantly made public safety a key issue. Mr. Giuliani used his revived popularity to demand an extra three months in office next year, and Mr. Green agreed to it. Finally, and perhaps most improbably, Mr. Green found himself cast as the defender of the middle class and outer-borough Democrats during the heated Democratic runoff against Mr. Ferrer. But once Mr. Green finally shed his old image as a reflexive liberal protester and evolved into a candidate that everyone has to take seriously, many Democrats have discovered that they are no more enamored of the new Mark Green than they were of the old one.

At the strained “unity rally” that was arranged for the benefit of his candidacy on Oct. 19, Democratic and labor officials who had gathered to stand behind Mr. Green fairly grimaced as the candidate basked in their presence. The Ferrer supporters in the crowd folded their arms on the applause lines. The Reverend Al Sharpton and Roberto Ramirez left the stage mid-event. Mr. Ferrer physically prevented Mr. Green from hugging him after their speeches.

Just a day earlier, Mr. Green and his campaign manager, Richard Schrader, met with Mr. Sharpton, Mr. Ramirez and Ferrer advisor Bill Lynch. According to a person who was present, the meeting quickly devolved into a shouting match between Mr. Ramirez, who unleashed a string of accusations, and Mr. Schrader, who uttered a few expletives of his own before stomping out.

Mr. Green has yet to patch things up with the Ferrer forces. “They assume because I was at the unity press conference that I’m on board, but nobody’s asked me for my help yet,” Mr. Lynch told The Observer.

Mr. Green has tried to leave his intra-party troubles behind, and is already acting the part of Mayor-elect. He is once again using the preventive-defense mode of politics that he employed for a year while he led in the polls, before falling victim to complacency and barely squeezing past Mr. Ferrer in an extremely close runoff. He refuses to engage Mr. Bloomberg, once a favorite target.

Mr. Green’s front-runner posture has also managed to provoke a charge that, for him, borders on the unimaginable: that he has become camera-shy. Specifically, Mr. Green is attempting to limit the number of times that he will engage in televised debates with Mr. Bloomberg, a position that has drawn the ire of, among others, the New York Times editorial board.

The irony of Mr. Green’s refusal to debate is not lost upon WNBC-TV’s Gabe Pressman, the dean of New York’s political press corps and moderator-for-life of Mayoral debates. “I would think that as a great civil libertarian, Mark would want to appear in as many debates as possible,” he said. “This isn’t like him, and I’m baffled by it.”

Mr. Bloomberg’s transformation has been similarly startling. For one thing, he has suddenly become an ardent proponent of frequent debates. During the Republican primary contest over the summer, Herman Badillo chased Mr. Bloomberg all over the city in a desperate effort to force him into some sort of public discourse. Moreover, Mr. Bloomberg’s availability to the media was-and still is-strictly rationed by comparison to his Democratic counterparts. But now his campaign is releasing daily assaults on Mr. Green’s refusal to debate.

Seeking Minority Votes

As ambitious as Mr. Bloomberg’s sudden conversion to the cause of free speech may be, he is now attempting something even bolder: to become the vehicle for dissatisfaction among minority voters still smarting from Mr. Green’s runoff victory over Mr. Ferrer. Mr. Bloomberg is a billionaire who only recently resigned his membership at four predominantly white country clubs.

But Mr. Bloomberg’s most surprising alliance is more about about practical politics than ideology.

Mr. Bloomberg won a spot on the Independence Party line after a pitched battle last spring with-and what does this tell you about third-party politics?-Kenny Kramer, the inspiration for the Seinfeld character.

Mr. Bloomberg was forced to distance himself from Ms. Fulani in recent weeks, after she sent an e-mail to supporters blaming U.S. foreign policy for the attack on the World Trade Center. Before the attack, Mr. Bloomberg’s relationship with Ms. Fulani was closer than it is now.

According to Ash Vaidya, a financial consultant who worked for the Bloomberg campaign as a volunteer for three months over the summer, about a dozen Independence Party members worked out of Bloomberg headquarters and were overseen by the party’s Manhattan chairman, Cathy Stewart, who’d served as a key aide on Ms. Fulani’s 1992 Presidential campaign. Ms. Fulani herself came to Bloomberg headquarters to work the phones, Mr. Vaidya said.

“Lenora Fulani came two or three times to the volunteer floor,” said Mr. Vaidya, who left the campaign because he was unhappy with his treatment at the hands of Mr. Bloomberg’s advisers. “She was introduced to everybody. One time she was on the phones for several hours.”

Jackie Salit, a spokesman for the Independence Party, confirmed that party volunteers were working out of Bloomberg headquarters, adding that the volunteers did petitioning not just for Mr. Bloomberg but for other Independence Party candidates.

Mr. Bloomberg has had little contact with Ms. Fulani, but his campaign has financial and political connections with some of her closest allies. In August, the campaign paid more than $5,000 to attorneys Harry Kresky and Gary Sinawsky, who were retained by the Bloomberg campaign to beat back a challenge to his place on the Independence Party ballot. Mr. Kresky and Mr. Sinawsky have worked closely with Ms. Fulani for a decade. Mr. Kresky told The Observer that in the past he’d run for office on the New Alliance Party line (an organization that preceded the Independence Party and was known best as a vehicle for Ms. Fulani). Mr. Kresky represented Ms. Fulani when she sued the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1993 after the F.B.I. labeled her party a “cult.” Mr. Sinawsky, for his part, served as an election lawyer during Ms. Fulani’s 1992 Presidential bid.

Mr. Bloomberg’s acceptance of the line is a calculated political gamble. On one hand, it gives New York Democrats who are loath to pull a lever for a Republican a way to vote for him. On the other, it could complicate his efforts to win over moderate Democrats and Jewish New Yorkers who are repulsed by his association with Ms. Fulani. She and her close associate, Fred Newman-the founder of the New Alliance Party-have been accused of everything from anti-Semitism to mixing politics and group therapy in a cult-like way.

“I find it deeply disturbing that Bloomberg would get into bed with known anti-Semitic elements,” said Roger Stone, a Republican consultant. “Given Bloomberg’s need to attract Jewish Democratic voters, I find this lack of judgment shocking.”