Maybe Michael Bloomberg can
buy City Hall.
On Oct. 20, the same day that Democratic State Senator Olga
Mendez crossed party lines and endorsed Mr. Bloomberg as “truly qualified to
run our city,” the Bloomberg campaign quietly paid $40,000 to a small political
organization known as the Caribe Democratic Club, campaign records show. This
little-known East Harlem organization might have eluded the attention of Mr.
Bloomberg’s advisers, if it weren’t for one thing: The club was founded by Ms.
Mendez’s father-in-law, and Ms. Mendez has served as the club’s district
leader-a state party position that makes her the club’s de facto leader-for
more than a decade.
This unlikely cash gift is an example of how Mr. Bloomberg’s
campaign-which has spent more than enough money to buy three Thanksgiving
turkeys for each of the one-million-plus voters expected to turn out on Nov.
6-is using his wealth to promote his candidacy in a host of unorthodox ways. In
addition to saturating the airwaves with TV attack ads aimed at Democratic
rival Mark Green, Mr. Bloomberg has spread his cash around with less
conspicuous techniques. He has taken out ads in tiny niche publications around
the city, bought huge amounts of air time on Spanish-language and black radio,
sent out 250,000 “Mike for Mayor” videotapes and rewarded organizations that
back him with loans of prime midtown office space and generous political
As the battle for City Hall enters its final week, the
billionaire Republican’s unprecedented spending blitz-$41 million and
counting-has begun to worry some top New York Democrats, who blame the huge
spending gap in part on the Democratic National Committee. Senior national
Democrats, they say, have been slow to invest resources and money in the race
to offset Mr. Bloomberg’s huge financial advantage-frustrating New York
Democrats and top supporters of Mr. Green, who arestrugglingtoovercomeMr.
Bloomberg’s massive financial advantage.
“We put in a proposal for $800,000,” said Judith Hope, the
chairman of the New York State Democratic Committee, referring to a request for
a donation from the national party that state officials wanted to use for
get-out-the-vote operations. “I’ve woken up to the fact that it is not going to
“The support from the national party has so far been meager at
best,” added Ken Sunshine, a longtime close friend and top supporter of Mr.
Green. “I hope after this campaign the D.N.C. will lose the phone numbers of
all of the loyal New York donors who traditionally give, give, give, give to
Mr. Green is, however, about to get some national help: The Observer has learned that Senator
Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut is expected to campaign for Mr. Green within
Meanwhile, Mr. Green’s advisers maintain that they have more than
enough money to close out the campaign, and also that Mr. Bloomberg’s ad blitz
has been so all-pervasive that it has begun to work against him. And senior
D.N.C. officials say that Mr. Green’s lead in the pre-election polls means
resources may be better invested elsewhere.
“I think one of the things the D.N.C. looks at is what the
polling numbers look like, and Mark has had double-digit leads for weeks now,”
said Bill Lynch, vice chairman of the D.N.C. and a key adviser to Bronx Borough
President Fernando Ferrer, whom Mr. Green defeated in a bitter runoff several
Such talk is less than reassuring to some top Green backers.
True, Mr. Green maintains a comfortable lead in most polls, but insiders
believe the race may be tightening. And nobody can predict the ultimate effects
of Mr. Bloomberg’s massive negative attack.
Mr. Green’s backers complain that the national party considers
the race a foregone conclusion. As a result, the New York Democrats said, they
have fallen short in efforts to tap into the national donor base for individual
contributions, and have contributed little in the way of soft money to the
state party for get-out-the-vote operations. While the D.N.C. gave the state
party approximately $1 million to help former Mayor David Dinkins in 1993, it
has only donated $50,000 in such funds for Mr. Green, according to state party
Several days ago, Mr. Green’s fund-raisers made a round of calls
to some top donors in an effort to set up a private breakfast with D.N.C.
chairman Terry McAuliffe and Ms. Hope, according to a top Democratic donor with
ties to the Green campaign. The idea, the donor said, was to raise some soft
money to help Mr. Green in the race’s final days.
The goal was to approach donors who had already given the Green
campaign the maximum contribution allowed under the city’s public
campaign-finance rules and persuade them to give money to the state or national
party. Such unregulated gifts – designed for “party-building” activities –
could then be used for attacks on Mr. Bloomberg and for get-out-the-vote
activities, the donor said. The breakfast has not yet taken place, and in fact
has been postponed twice because of scheduling conflicts.
Although Mr. Green opted into the city’s voluntary
campaign-finance system, which limits fund-raising and spending in return for
giving candidates public money, he doesn’t have to adhere to the spending
ceiling for the general election because his rival, Mr. Bloomberg, is not
participating in the system. That’s why Mr. Green can benefit from a late rush
of contributions and an infusion of soft money.
The national party-which often finds itself besieged by requests
for resources by operatives around the country-has sometimes been reluctant to
play a role in New York City contests. But this year, the battle for City Hall
has far-reaching implications for the national party. If Mr. Bloomberg were to
win, it would be the first time that a Republican candidate succeeded a
Republican Mayor, and it would signal a severe lack of confidence in the
Democratic leadership during a time of crisis.
“The New York City Mayoralty is a first real step to winning back
the [New York] Governorship and the White House,” said Robert Zimmerman, a
member of the D.N.C. and a major Green supporter. “This race should be a
The sluggish response by national Democrats has prompted some
behind-the-scenes friction between Mr. McAuliffe and Ms. Hope. Early last
spring, the D.N.C. announced that its priorities were gubernatorial races in
New Jersey and Virginia and the mayor’s race in Los Angeles. Ms. Hope, alarmed
by what she saw as a downgrading of New York as a targeted political battleground,
traveled immediately to D.N.C. headquarters in Washington to get more resources
for New York.
Ms. Hope recently won several breakthroughs: $75,000 for races in
Nassau County and Syracuse, and a personal appearance by Mr. McAuliffe in the
city in the wake of the contentious runoff between Mr. Green and Mr. Ferrer.
In terms of attracting concrete help towards the Mayor’s race,
however, Ms. Hope’s mission has fallen somewhat short of expectations.
There are several reasons that an outpouring of aid from the
national party has yet to materialize. The D.N.C. is strapped for cash as it
tries to help finance candidates throughout the country without the help of a
Democrat in the White House. Making matters worse, political fund-raising has
been flat since Sept. 11. At the same time, political insiders are watching
other races more closely, particularly the
gubernatorial battles in the national battleground states of New Jersey
and Virginia, where Democrats are looking to pick up two governor’s seats.
“If we win in Virginia or New Jersey, Terry gets a big notch on
his belt,” said one D.N.C. insider. “He probably doesn’t feel that he would get
any credit for winning in an overwhelmingly Democratic town like New York.”
Meanwhile, the net effects of Mr. Bloomberg’s enormous spending
are unclear. He has offered what appear to be unprecedented cash rewards to
political groups who support him. Although candidates often give token
contributions-say, a couple thousand bucks-to political clubs that back them,
the $40,000 gift to Caribe is surprising, to say the least. It is particularly
surprising coming on the same day that Mr. Bloomberg accepted the endorsement
of the club’s district leader, thanking Ms. Mendez for her “brave and
The effect of Mr. Bloomberg’s saturation of the airwaves and
print media is also unclear. In particular, the constant presence of Bloomberg
ads in tiny publications around the city seem to be having an unintended
consequence: They are persuading some voters that Mr. Bloomberg is trying to
reach them while Mr. Green, who doesn’t have the resources to advertise in such
places, is willfully ignoring them.
“Bloomberg is spending a fortune,” one Green supporter said. “He
can hit every single niche market. When you have the kind of money Green has,