IT is unfortunate that the New York mayoral race, for all the challenges facing the Big Apple, has yet to energize voters.
The relative public indifference, underscored by the lowest voter turnout in any primary since World War II last week, indicates substantial public dissatisfaction with the two top contenders, Mayor David Dinkins, a Democrat, and former prosecutor Rudolph Giuliani, a Republican.
For all the lassitude surrounding the primary, the mayoral election on Nov. 2 is particularly important this year. The recession hit New York hard. The city has lost thousands of manufacturing jobs. Race relations remain fragile. Close to 1 million immigrants arrived in New York during the last decade. The newcomers created jobs and businesses but also added to economic pressures on schools, transportation grids, and public agencies.
The city continues to grapple with homelessness, AIDS, and a perception of rising crime - although as Dinkins has noted, crime rates are declining. The challenge is that violence has been moving off the streets and into such places as public schools.
In some respects, Mr. Dinkins and Mr. Giuliani are not far apart on the issues, which may account for their statistical dead heat in the polls. Neither candidate talks about a major shift away from government services to privatization, an issue that helped drive this year's mayoral election in Los Angeles. But if some services were privatized, which ones should they be?
Both candidates seek to position themselves as racial healers: Dinkins, who is black, carried close to 30 percent of the white vote four years ago. Giuliani, who is white, has taken his campaign into Harlem and is courting Hispanics. With black and white communities expected to vote largely along racial lines, the Hispanic vote will be crucial.
Dinkins and Giuliani need to speak with greater clarity about how they would lead New York into the late 1990s. For all its problems, the Big Apple is still the headquarters of corporate America, Wall Street, and much of popular culture. New York deserves the best in leadership and vision.