First Mayoral Debate

I dropped by the Ferrer campaign headquarters earlier today: it was quietish. One staffer has been to Nepal. Another that I met for the first time today is from Kentucky where I went to school for five years. She now lives at the other tip of Prospect Park. "Kentucky is beautiful country physically, but the social conservative elements can be tough."

"I know. The Bible Belt stuff." She is from the western plains in the state, by the Ohio river.

I made some phone calls on behalf of Ferrer. I must be out of the loop. The first mayoral debate was today, and I did not know about it. I have only been aware of the one on Tuesday because DFNYC has a debate watching party going on. I plan to show up. I called up Abhi yesterday to ask if he was showing up. It was a yes, no, maybe kind of political answer.

I watched the debate online after I got back. Ain't that grand, being able to do that? All of TV should be like that. If I had to sum it up, it would be as follows.

Bloomberg: "I can pick up the garbage better."

Ferrer: "There are two New Yorks."

This is the first time I have watched Bloomberg speak. This is not a politician, this is a businessman. To some of the Ferrer attacks he simply responded with an "okay." He sees it, he understands it, but he does not feel like the exertion to hit back is worth it. Political barbs are foreign territory. I read one article where he was complaining about the horse-trading ways of politicians. He is a manager who happens to be mayor.

I tried to understand his appeal. He made his own money. And so people think he has the management skills. And he makes it sound like if you elect Bloomberg, there is you, the New Yorker, and there is Bloomberg, nothing in between. But if you elect Ferrer, there is this huge Democratic machine between you and the mayor. And he cashes on this with great political acumen. When he says he does not have a "machine" like Ferrer, he almost sounds like he is the underdog you need to feel sorry for. Look, I got to compensate for the machine, I got to spend a hundred million dollars on ads.

Looks like the Democrats have most of their fun during the primaries. And then they act spent.

As for Ferrer, I think he did really well. He was well prepared, he was aggressive. He was confident. He made Bloomberg look diffident. "Okay." His weakness though is he needs to focus more on his agenda. As in, this is what I will do if you elect me. That is the part where he is competing with himself. Ferrer spent so much energy trying to reduce Bloomberg to size after weeks of getting pounded in the media by the Bloomberg ads, he did not get a chance to put forth his own alternate vision.

Bloomberg has a 27 point lead in the polls. That is quite a lead. TV ads work. If it were only about policy logic, Hillary had great ideas for health care reform. But the anti-reform people flooded the public consciousness with TV ads. Not that I think Bloomberg is like those anti-reform people.

Bloomberg does have a decent record he is running on. But then Gore had it too and he still lost. Gore had a much better one. If I were Ferrer I would spend the better part of the final debate on offering an alternate vision. Not just on policy but also on management style. And it has to touch all issues. How will you better raise the morale of the police and the fire fighters and the emergency responders? How will you better raise the morale of the school teachers? What are all the things you will do and not just on housing? How will you interact with the City Council better? With Albany? With DC? With your Congresspeople and Senators?

Bloomberg tried to tie Ferrer to Howard Dean. As a Deaniac, I thought that was amusing. It almost sounded like Bloomberg was complaining Dean had appeared with Ferrer too many times in support. Bloomberg did not mention any of the others, not Edwards, not Kerry, not the Clintons. Just Dean. I am sure Dean and Bloomberg are on cordial terms. I can't imagine their not having met. Walking to the train station after watching Norman Siegel debate, DFNYC Executive Director Heather casually mentioned to me having met Bloomberg, so Dean must have. I think he genuinely does not understand how Dean can shake your hand, say hello, make small talk, and then go campaign so vigorously for the other guy. Some of the other Dems have been polite in their appearances with Ferrer. Dean has been outright.

Bloomberg is very aware of DFNYC. That is the impression I got. These are big cats I am dealing with at DFNYC.

The New York Times has a good piece on the debate, on the styles of the two deliveries. Some sentences and phrases:

The spirited, often testy encounter was dominated by efforts by Mr. Ferrer, the Democratic nominee, to score direct hits against Mr. Bloomberg, the Republican, while standing shoulder to shoulder with the incumbent mayor for the first time in a campaign in which the mayor enjoys a huge advantage in spending and in public opinion surveys.......... Mr. Ferrer, feisty and at times passionate, hardly let a speaking opportunity pass without criticizing Mr. Bloomberg ....... The challenger came out swinging from the start ....... Mr. Bloomberg, often matter-of-fact and at times visibly annoyed, stuck close to a nearly clinical recitation of his record and plans for the future ........ the Ferrer camp viewed the debate as a rare chance to press the case against Mr. Bloomberg in a way its candidate has not been able to afford to do in television commercials....... From the start today, it was clear that Mr. and that Mr. Ferrer was looking for a fightBloomberg was largely trying to avoid one ......Ferrer, who has frequently been criticized for being flat on the stump, was anything but. He often seemed to be trying to rattle the mayor, frequently standing to the side of his lectern and staring directly at Mr. Bloomberg as he spoke or listened, sometimes even stepping toward him or wagging his finger as he made a point....... Ferrer seemed more rehearsed and frequently used what appeared to be preplanned zingers ...... Bloomberg started the most heated back-and-forth during the debate, using a question about a spike in gun-related crime in the city to note that Mr. Ferrer had been "out campaigning with Howard Dean, who was eight times endorsed by the N.R.A....... at another point asking him pointedly if he was proud of Mr. Bush......

The wisdom is being mayor of NYC is second only to being president of the country in terms of job toughness. For his career, JFK skipped running for mayor of Boston because he was not eager to "sign sewer contracts." Some people are great at nuts, bolts, logistics. Others are comfortable with ideas and people in a general way. It might be a small picture, big picture thing. Atomic physicists are not less smart than cosmologists, they are just different.

Ferrer can afford to be less aggressive during the final debate, but he does need to focus on offering an alternate vision. Offer the program.