To hear the mayoral candidates tell it, New York City will experience a sea change if any one of them is elected. The message from each: It is not too late to turn the city around. New Yorkers, a sophisticated lot, have their doubts. Still, if you ask them whether any candidate will really make a difference in the way the subways and schools are run, or in how dirty the city is allowed to become, many say it most certainly does.

``Sure it will make a difference,'' says Rosalyn Settles, while taking a lunch hour stroll near City Hall. ``Not in everything, maybe, but certain things like education will get better. One person can't really run the whole city, but he can set the tone.''

``It mattters,'' agrees Timmy Enright, a Manhattan construction worker. ``This city has been booming since Koch got in there - he's good for construction.''

Heather Cabrera, a social worker in the Manhattan public schools, says the city has deteriorated under incumbent Mayor Edward Koch and that she will do almost anything to ``get him out.'' She favors candidate David Dinkins. ``He's calm, he's reflective, he's a unifier, and I think he cares about all the people...''

``I think it's going to take a long time for any candidate to make a real difference, and it will depend on who it is,'' says David Gladstone, a Brooklyn public school teacher who supports Mr. Dinkins.

Martin Halpern, a visitor to Manhattan, waves a hand toward several buildings surrounded by scaffolding. ``Just look around at all these buildings being redone - and look at the homeless over there.... I think if I were a voter in New York City today, I'd vote Republican for the first time...

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