Without doubt, the Big Apple is one big blue city. Democrats outnumber Republicans here 5 to 1.
Yet next Tuesday, this bastion of liberal, pro-choice, gun control advocates is expected to go red, as in Republican, in a big way, something that New Yorkers have done for the past four mayoral elections.
"It is surprising and shocking," says lifelong Democrat Elizabeth Saunders, sitting at a rally with a blue "Women for Bloomberg" sign in her lap, "but I find myself supporting a Republican."
Almost 60 percent of voters in the nation's largest city, including more than half of registered Democrats, plan to pull the lever for Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg, according to polls. The billionaire businessman, who has outspent his opponent Fernando "Freddie" Ferrer by about 17 to 1, is on track to shell out a record $75 million to $80 million of his own money for what pundits say could be a landslide into a second term.
In New York, and across the country, political party affiliation has been waning for decades. Yet few analysts, and probably even fewer New Yorkers, believe the city is changing its fundamental political hue.
This is New York, the politically keen town where cabdrivers and millionaire philanthropists alike are quick to give you their political takes. And in these partisan times, the stakes are too high. Democrat John Kerry crushed President George W. Bush in 2004, winning more than 80 percent of the vote.
No, the tale of this recent Republican reign over the nation's blue capital is strictly a local matter, something that Republican Mayor Fiorella LaGuardia understood half a century ago when he opined, "There is no Democratic or Republican way to pick up garbage."
Then, of course, there's the question of whether Democrat-turned- Republican Bloomberg, who is in favor of abortion rights, gay rights, and gun control, is really a staunch member of the GOP at all.
"People remember he was a Democrat, and they suspect that deep in his heart he still is," says political analyst Maurice Carroll of the Quinnipiac Polling Institute. "And it's not like they're electing a Republican. They're electing a mayor."
Don't tell that to Freddie Ferrer. The former Bronx president, who ruled over the revival of the once "left for dead" borough, has made Bloomberg's political affiliation a central theme of his candidacy. In short, it runs something like this: Bloomberg has given millions to the Republican National Committee. He's a Bush loyalist who hasn't done enough for New York and who, like Bush and many other Republicans, is rich and out of touch with average New Yorkers.
"If anyone here is thinking of voting for Mike Bloomberg, I might suggest to you that's a little like the chickens voting for Colonel Sanders," Ferrer told a rally of students at City College in Harlem, chiding the mayor for cutting assistance to the city's university system.
Ferrer also regularly portrays New York in Dickensian terms, telling a tale of two cities: Bloomberg's expensive, Wall Street-driven Manhattan compared with the rest of the boroughs, where most working people are now struggling harder to stretch that paycheck. On Wednesday, he was in Harlem at a grassless park and baseball diamond, complete with broken benches and crumbling brickwork.
"Parks are ... the soul of our city, but for the millions of families who don't live in Mike Bloomberg's New York ... these souls are being crushed," said his prepared statement.
The mayor, who had been ignoring Ferrer's criticisms until this week, shot back that the Democrat is just a complainer, great at pointing out problems, but not good at coming up with solutions.
"It's easy to be a critic. It's very hard to lead," Bloomberg said in Tuesday's debate, the second and last of the campaign. To that, the Democrat points to his almost 20-year record in the Bronx, and accuses the mayor of spending "$100 million" to mislead New Yorkers about the state of the city as well as to muddy Ferrer's record of accomplishment.
Until this week, Bloomberg's advertising has been relentlessly positive about the gains made in the city over the past four years. Test scores are up in the schools, crime is down, business is coming back, say the ads and his aides, and not just in Manhattan but in all of five of the boroughs.
The symbolism is also upbeat. The baseball diamond the mayor visited this week was in KeySpan Park, home of the Brooklyn Cyclones in Coney Island. They've been in town, helping revive the area and baseball in Brooklyn, just over four years - only a few months longer than Bloomberg's been mayor. With the sun shining and an expectant crowd in attendance, Bloomberg, on the count of three, yanked at a yellow covering and unveiled a larger-than-life statue of Dodger baseball greats Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese.
"It celebrates one of the most significant moments in their friendship and also commemorates one of the most important events in professional sports history," says Bloomberg, hitting that note of optimism and of overcoming obstacles that has marked his campaign from the start.
That, and his extremely deep pockets that have allowed him to blanket the airwaves for months with his upbeat message, as well as his political ambiguity, will make the difference next Tuesday, political analysts say. They doubt there's any major shift toward the Republican ideological side of the political spectrum in the Big Apple.
"Bloomberg's walked this fine line of being a Republican and not being a Republican," says political analyst Doug Muzzio of Baruch College. "Also, he has the advantage of a record that can be defended. I mean, after all, for an incumbent to lose, he has to be plagued by scandal or otherwise found to be seriously wanting."