NEW Yorkers are bracing for a tough mayoral race in 1993.
One early sign: separate decisions by both New York Mayor David Dinkins and City Council President Andrew Stein to attend last Friday's inauguration of Puerto Rico's new governor.
The two Democrats, who will face each other in the city's September primary, clearly hope that Hispanics back home will show their appreciation in the voting booth.
Puerto Ricans account for half of the city's 2 million Hispanics. Winning the Latino vote is considered more important than ever this year. Mayor Dinkins, who won two-thirds of that vote in 1989, stresses that one-third of the city budget is under the jurisdiction of Hispanic officials.
Expected Republican mayoral nominee Rudolph Giuliani, a former United States attorney who lost to Dinkins by only 2 percent last election, has been doing pro bono work for a Puerto Rican legal group and will visit the island later this year.
Polls show Dinkins, the city's first black mayor, with a strong lead over Mr. Stein, but running about even with Mr. Giuliani.
"To be basically neck and neck with the incumbent 10 months before the election is very good news," insists Giuliani's deputy campaign manager, Richard Schwartz.
Critics of Dinkins say he is particularly vulnerable in an area long-regarded as a strong suit.
He was elected in 1989 on a theme of conciliation. Yet, his swift response to violent incidents in a Manhattan Hispanic neighborhood and in Brooklyn's Crown Heights has struck some voters as one-sided.
In the former case, he warmly befriended the family of a Dominican killed by police and later found to have been a convicted drug dealer. In Crown Heights, a neighborhood shared by Hasidic Jews and blacks, the mayor is seen by some Jews as quicker to condemn, and label as biased, violence committed against blacks than violence committed against Jews.
Particularly grating to many Jews was the recent acquittal of a black teenager accused of killing a Hasidic scholar and the mayor's early insistence that the jury system must be respected.
Yet many Jewish voters say their concerns run deeper.
"Jews in New York City are very frightened," says Henry Stern, president of the Citizens Union, a civic organization that promotes good government in the city. "They know the mayor is not an anti-Semite. Yet ... Jews have been driven out of government positions and denied promotions. They feel that city employees are no longer chosen on merit, and that there's a heavy racial agenda." Dinkins got 35 percent of the Jewish vote last election. "A lot of that is in jeopardy," Mr. Stern says.
Yet Michael Miller, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, notes that some recent polls still show strong Jewish support for the mayor. He says Jewish voters will consider as broad a range of issues as other voters.
Dinkins says his troubles with the Jewish community have been exaggerated. He says he deserves more credit for his accomplishments - the drop in crime, a balanced budget, and the lid kept on potential violence after the Los Angeles riots. In yesterday's state-of-the-city address, he listed many such accomplishments.
Yet the mayor's opponents say his leadership is weak and his gains are fragile. Mr. Schwartz, for instance, says that police have deliberately cut back on the number of arrests, that the city has lost 400,000 jobs over the last three years, and that Dinkins faces a major $1.6 billion shortfall in the next budget.
But analysts say the mayor's opponents must craft their strategies carefully to avoid a backlash of voter sympathy for Dinkins in the ethnically diverse Big Apple.
"It's very difficult as a challenger to oppose the mayor and look like you're ... not trying to be divisive," says Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. "The temptation is to run against the incumbent. Challengers are better advised to provide a strong rationale for why they want to be mayor."
Stein's ambitious campaign plans include offering radio call-in shows and a toll-free telephone number that would enable callers to obtain his positions on issues. He has refused campaign contribution limits needed to quality for public financing. His celebrity-rich fund-raisers have netted him a $4 million war chest. This gives him a comfortable lead of more than $1.5 million over both Dinkins and Giuliani.
One possible third entry in the Democratic mayoral primary in September is Herman Badillo, formerly a Bronx Borough president, deputy mayor to former Mayor Edward Koch (D), and US congressman. He says he will not make a decision until late February.