Bloomberg tries to 'run up the score' in New York mayor race

Polls suggest Michael Bloomberg has a 10 percentage point lead in the campaign for New York mayor. So why is he ramping up a blitz of attack ads?

Tina Fineberg/AP
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, right, sits next to former mayor Rudy Giuliani, as they listen to a speaker during the Borough Park Jewish Community Council Legislative Breakfast Sunday in the Borough Park section in the Brooklyn borough of New York.

With only two weeks until the election, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is behaving as if he doesn’t have a secure lead over his opponent, Bill Thompson, the Democratic city comptroller – though polls show him leading by 10 percentage points.

He is attacking Mr. Thompson on television ads, he’s sending out mass mailings that describe Thompson’s record in a very negative light, and his supporters – such as former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani – are warning New Yorkers crime could surge again unless Mayor Bloomberg is reelected.

“The bottom line is the Bloomberg campaign is trying to run up the score,” says political commentator Doug Muzzio, a professor at Baruch College in New York. “They don’t want to just beat him, but they want to beat him by a huge margin.”

Other analysts, however, see another strategy at work. A Sept. 21 poll by the Marist Institute for Public Opinion found Bloomberg leading Thompson by 50 percent to 39 percent. Ten percent of the voters were undecided.

“The undecideds typically go for the challenger,” says Lee Miringoff of the institute. “In that kind of scenario, it’s a lot closer race.”

Mr. Maringoff says the Bloomberg campaign is trying to erect obstacles to prevent the undecided voters from siding with Thompson. For example, he has portrayed Thompson as gambling with New Yorkers’ pension money and accepting campaign contributions from people who manage the pensions.

“The campaign is playing by the laws of the street,” says Mr. Muzzio. “Once someone is down, you beat them until they can’t get back up.”

Bloomberg might need to remain on the offensive because of anger at him running for a third term. Twice, New Yorkers voted to limit ity politicians to two terms. But Bloomberg persuaded the city council to override the vote, freeing him to run for one more term.

“For people who think it was a terrible thing for Bloomberg to change the rules, there is no way he can win those votes back,” says Miringoff. “But, so far, it’s not a majority for Thompson.”

Thompson has tried to stoke that frustration. One of his themes is that eight years of Bloomberg is enough. Yet despite having the resources of the Democratic party behind him, Thompson lags Bloomberg, a billionaire and former Republican running as an independent, in spending for the campaign.

Bloomberg in the meantime is rolling out an endorsement or two per day. On Monday, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA) – an influential union – threw its muscle behind Bloomberg.

In the previous two mayoral elections, the PBA had not endorsed Bloomberg. What changed this time?

According to PBA President Patrick Lynch, the difference is the contract negotiated with Bloomberg four years ago.

“We had a number of issues we agreed on, a number we did not,” said Mr. Lynch. “At the time [four years ago] we were without a contract and for our members and our union that is an overriding issue. We were able to resolve that issue and we worked hand in hand.”

That contract gave the police a 4 percent annual wage hike for four years. At the end of the contract in 2010, the top wage for a police officer will be $76,000, according to Albert O’Leary, communications director at the PBA.

“He bought them off with a big fat contract,” says Muzzio. “This is a union that picketed his house.”

At the press conference announcing the endorsement, however, Lynch sought to play down past differences. “We don’t always agree,” he said. But, this time, he said he would press his 50,000 members – 60 percent of whom live in New York City – to vote for Bloomberg.

“We go out and encourage them to vote,” said Lynch. “I believe they will.”


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