Local Guys Scream, Demand D.N.C. Money Mike Spreads Moolah

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

contributions.

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

happen.”

“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

the D.N.C.”

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

days.

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

weeks ago.

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

officials.

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.

Priorities Elsewhere?

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

national priority.”

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

independent support.”

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,

you can’t.”