September 13, 2005

NY Democrats vie in primary to face popular Bloomberg

By Christopher Michaud

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Voters in this overwhelmingly
Democratic city headed to the polls on Tuesday to choose a
candidate for what analysts say is the probably futile task of
challenging the popular Republican incumbent, Mayor Michael

The field of four mainstream candidates running in the
Democratic primary will be reduced to two should none emerge
with 40 percent of the vote, a widely anticipated result,
experts said.

That would force a runoff, most likely pitting front-runner
Fernando Ferrer, former Bronx borough president, against U.S.
Rep. Anthony Weiner of Brooklyn, who has gained momentum in
recent polls.

The other two Democrats vying for the chance to run against
Bloomberg, the billionaire businessman elected in November,
2001, as the city reeled from the September 11 attacks, are
Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields and City Council
Speaker Gifford Miller.

But it may be an exercise in futility, as few expect any of
the Democrats to have a solid shot against Bloomberg, whom
polls show could even win the Democratic primary handily.

"Right now it seems the only one that could beat Mike
Bloomberg is Mike Bloomberg," said Douglas Muzzio, professor of
public affairs at Baruch College in New York, alluding to the
outside chance of the incumbent making a major gaffe or
"exhibiting incompetence in the face of a crisis."

"But," said Muzzio, "he shows no inclination of doing
anything like that."


Bloomberg's initial victory was an upset over the expected
winner, Democrat Mark Green, who had led by double digits just
two weeks before the election.

But after September 11, 2001, the city rallied behind its
prickly, but decisively willful Republican mayor, Rudolph
Giuliani, who threw his support behind Bloomberg.

The new mayor never turned into the conservative some
liberal New Yorkers had feared. He was, after all, a lifelong
Democrat who switched parties to sidestep a crowded primary
field, and even Democrats give him high marks on the party's
traditional concerns such as housing, education and race
relations, as well as economic issues and crime.

"He came in as a liberal Democrat and has governed as a
moderate-to-liberal Democrat, and that's why liberal Democrats
are mostly satisfied. That's what he is," said Muzzio.

But some observers see a closer race in the weeks before
the general election -- if Democrats unite behind a candidate.

"Bloomberg has the edge today," said Democratic strategist
Hank Sheinkopf, who is neutral in the current race.

But he added: "No one is unstoppable. And once the
Democrats wake up, they will tend to unite, and the race could
be much more close."

Sheinkopf pointed to the five-to-one edge Democrats enjoy
in the city among registered voters and also noted this is the
first city election in which minorities, all added together,
constitute a majority.

But Democrats have failed to light much of a spark with
voters so far, and turnout is expected to be dramatically