How Much Does a Mandate Cost?

mike bloomberg1 getty How Much Does a Mandate Cost?It’s not often that the mayor’s supporters actually state the premise of his reelection campaign, which is that he can’t merely beat Bill Thompson. He’s got to beat the spread.

“I am, among other things, a phony baloney president,” said actress Cherry Jones, referring to her character on the show 24, onstage at the Hammerstein Ballroom during an Oct. 26 Women for Bloomberg rally. “But like our real president, I like Mike, and that’s why I’m here to help him get reelected. I know I probably shouldn’t say this. I think he will be reelected.”

The crowd cheered.

Ms. Jones continued: “Mayor Bloomberg deserves not only to be reelected mayor of New York City, he deserves an astounding mandate, because the mayor, and those who oppose his policies, need to know that the city stands squarely behind him.”

With the mayor having spent $85 million on his campaign, recent polls from Marist College and Quinnipiac University show Mr. Bloomberg’s support in the low 50s, but that’s still about 15 to 16 points ahead of Mr. Thompson, who has only spent $6 million.

As far as some Bloomberg supporters are concerned, that margin is on the small side.

“I think he’s going to win by a lot,” said Gai Spann, a 41-year-old Prospect Heights resident who owns a travel agency. Speaking outside the Hammerstein Ballroom after the event, I asked Ms. Spann if “a lot” meant 4 points, or 14 points. A campaign spokeswoman interrupted to note, “He’s up 18 points,” referring to the October 26 Quinnipiac poll.

“I think he’s going to win by more than that,” said Ms. Spann. “I think he’s going to win by more like 30.”

The campaign spokeswoman standing nearby smiled and asked if Ms. Spann was serious.

“I do, I really think so,” said Ms. Spann.

For obvious reasons, Mr. Bloomberg’s team would prefer that the bar be set slightly lower. They declined to elaborate publicly on Ms. Jones’ comments.

But professional supporters, like City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr., a Democrat from Queens, have spent enough time around campaigns to say the politically correct thing, which is that any margin of victory will do. “I think that any non-Democrat who wins in New York City can pretty much claim a mandate,” he said. “The deck is so stacked against anyone who’s not a Democrat.”

When asked how the campaign will shield itself from criticism in the event that Mr. Bloomberg’s margin is modest despite an enormous disparity in spending between the campaigns, Mr. Vallone said, “I don’t think you can shield against it.”

Jerry Skurnik, a former aide to Ed Koch who now crunches numbers as a consultant, said, “I think if Thompson does better than the last public polls by even a few points, he can claim a moral victory.”

Mr. Thompson, for his part, isn’t publicly embracing the idea of pulling victory out of a respectable defeat.

“I’m running to win,” Mr. Thompson said when I asked him what it would mean to outperform expectations. “I’m not running for a moral victory.”

Assemblyman Rory Lancman of Queens, who is supporting Mr. Thompson and insists that his candidate can still win, said that Mr. Bloomberg needed to hit the 60 percent mark in order to not appear wounded.

“If the mayor gets anything less than a win in the low 60s, with the $100 million that he spends, he’s going to enter the third term severely weakened,” said Mr. Lancman.

Hence, in circular fashion, the Bloomberg campaign continues to spend money to air attack ads to go along with their generally brutal tack on a nonthreatening opponent.  

The Bloomberg has had spots in particularly heavy rotation about how construction costs soared and tests scored dropped while Mr. Thompson was president of the Board of Education. (Mr. Thompson’s job was effectively to corral support among a deeply divided Board of Education while the schools chancellor enacted policy. Construction costs were not directly under his supervision.)

Political consultant Joe Mercurio, who isn’t working with either mayoral candidate, gamed it out as follows:

“I think he will pass a 15-point spread, but anything over 9 would be impressive since it will be a light turnout,” Mr. Mercurio said. “Three out of the last five mayor elections were 50,000-vote spreads. The Giuliani and Bloomberg reelections were big wins, which this one can be. If this race becomes as close as the three 50,000-vote races, it would be embarrassing for Bloomberg.”

apaybarah@observer.com