Este informe no está disponible en español.


Ferrer's Choice: Appeal To Pride, Or Embrace All


September 27, 2001
Copyright © 2001 THE NEW YORK TIMES. All Rights Reserved.


Fernando Ferrer won a spot in a Democratic runoff in large part, Democrats said yesterday, because he rallied black and Latino voters with his promise to represent the "other New York," and by embodying the hope of electing the city's first Puerto Rican mayor.

But as Mr. Ferrer prepares for an Oct. 11 runoff with Mark Green – in a city whose political demographics are shifting quickly, as evidenced by the fact that nearly half of the Democratic voters on Tuesday were Hispanic or black – he faces two choices about how to proceed. His task is already being complicated by Mr. Green, who pointedly called for unity yesterday and declared that mayoral candidates should run "an interracial and interborough and interethnic campaign."

The more conventional approach would be for Mr. Ferrer to find a way to broaden his appeal, so that he can move beyond the coalition of black and Latino voters that catapulted him to first place in Tuesday's primary. He received 35 percent of the total vote, compared with 31 percent for Mr. Green, according to unofficial and incomplete returns compiled by The Associated Press.

By any measure, it was a racially lopsided outcome. Mr. Ferrer won 52 percent of the black vote and 72 percent of the Hispanic vote, but only 7 percent of the white vote, according to a survey of voters leaving the polls. In a sign of the challenge facing Mr. Ferrer, white Democrats in the survey who voted for one of the two losing Democrats, Alan G. Hevesi and Peter F. Vallone, overwhelmingly named Mr. Green as their choice in a Ferrer-Green race.

The second approach is to do what Mr. Ferrer – in contrast to some of the elected officials supporting him – has seemed uncomfortable trying to do: make a direct appeal to ethnic pride, and explicitly trying to build an electoral foundation of black and Latino voters.

Roberto Ramirez, the Bronx Democratic leader, has long argued that as soon as Mr. Ferrer established himself as a viable candidate for mayor – and he surely passed that threshold on Tuesday night – the city's rapidly expanding Hispanic vote would turn out behind him.

That would be combined with black voters, brought to Mr. Ferrer by the support of figures like the Rev. Al Sharpton, who are pushing for a coalition of black and Latino voters, as well as white liberals drawn by Mr. Ferrer's views.

In this kind of charged atmosphere, those voters might be more likely to go to the trouble of voting in a runoff, some of Mr. Ferrer's advisers argued yesterday, than Democrats backing the more conventional candidacy of Mr. Green. The risk, though, is that such an appeal, fairly or not, can be portrayed as excluding whites.

Mr. Ferrer's first steps yesterday were in the direction of trying to appeal to white Democrats. He headed out to Queens to collect the endorsement of Mr. Vallone, the moderate Democrat. He prepared to put on the air an advertisement featuring his endorsement by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the retired senator, also a moderate Democrat.

He moved away from talking about "the other New York," though he made a point of emphasizing that while rebuilding New York after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center was his first priority, he had not abandoned the argument he made from the start of the campaign, that the city had neglected too many New Yorkers during the years of prosperity.

Still, as Mr. Ferrer's advisers considered his situation yesterday, they said he was inclined, if possible, to try to blend aspects of the two approaches as he faces his contest with Mr. Green.

"He needs to do both," Mr. Sharpton said. "He needs to get more turnout in the progressive white and African-American and Latino community. And he needs to get more white votes."

David Axelrod, his chief campaign consultant, disputed the suggestion that Mr. Ferrer's appeal to white voters could not expand, noting the endorsement he won yesterday from Mr. Vallone.

"I don't think you can assume that we don't have the ability to grow among white voters, exponentially," he said, adding, "I don't think people see him as a divisive figure. I don't think people see him as a threatening figure."

That Mr. Ferrer is in this position – Mr. Green's advisers described it as a predicament, while Mr. Ferrer's supporters argued that he was now primed to sweep Mr. Green out of public life – is a reflection of how strikingly the political dynamics of New York have changed.

As Primary Day approached, aides to Mr. Ferrer's opponents predicted that the Hispanic vote would make up 15 to 18 percent of the turn- out. It was actually 23 percent of the total, according to surveys of voters leaving the polls. By contrast, in 1989, the last time such a survey for a Democratic mayoral primary in New York was conducted, Hispanics made up 8 percent of the electorate.

This year, white voters made up about 50 percent of the electorate. In that 1989 election, it was about 61 percent. Black voters that year made up 29 percent of the electorate, but that number was undoubtedly increased by the fact that David N. Dinkins was running to become New York's first black mayor. This time, it was 24 percent.

Interestingly, given the mostly fitful attempts by New York politicians to create a black-Latino coalition, Mr. Ferrer drew almost the same percentage of black votes in this race, or 52 percent, as Mr. Dinkins drew from Hispanic voters in 1989, when he drew 54 percent of what was then a much smaller segment.

But Mr. Ferrer has seemed to struggle trying to rally Latino and black voters to his candidacy without opening himself up to criticism. By contrast, even Mr. Ferrer's supporters said Mr. Dinkins was more graceful in 1989 in trying to put together a black-Latino coalition to appeal to a multiethnic city, which he called a "gorgeous mosaic."

In using the phrase "the other New York," Mr. Ferrer has said that that was simply a description for New Yorkers who did not benefit from the economic prosperity of Mr. Giuliani's term. But his advisers acknowledge that the phrase has had resonance among black and Latino voters, accounting in part for his strong performance among those voters, an argument made by some of Mr. Green's supporters.

Similarly, Mr. Ferrer has avoided explicit racial overtures in this campaign, other than Spanish-language appeals to Hispanic voters, which were a variation on the kind of ethnic appeals that have been the bread and butter of urban politics for a century.

"The vote might be polarized, but Freddy is not a polarizing figure," said Prof. Douglas Muzzio of the School of Public Affairs at Baruch College. "Freddy is a real moderate, nondemagogic, inclusionary guy."

At the same time, though some of Mr. Ferrer's supporters, like Representative Charles E. Rangel, the Harlem Democrat, have framed Mr. Ferrer's appeal in more ethnic terms. After initially saying he was likely to stay neutral in the mayoral primary, Mr. Rangel switched to Mr. Ferrer because he saw a potential of building a black-Latino coalition.

But Mr. Sharpton said that any attempt by Mr. Green's supporters to portray Mr. Ferrer as running a racially based campaign would become increasingly difficult.

"Vallone helps him," Mr. Sharpton said. "The fact that we can build an inclusive government helps him. And the fact that we have not been offensive helps him.

"I think the bogeyman thing backfired. He not only made the primary. He outpolled Mark!"

Self-Determination Legislation | Puerto Rico Herald Home
Newsstand | Puerto Rico | U.S. Government | Archives
Search | Mailing List | Contact Us | Feedback