"The mistakes were mine," said Democrat Mark Green, explaining to his stunned supporters how he blew a 16- point lead in a week in a city with a 5-1 Democratic registration. His supporters, however, were pointing to the $50 million campaign waged against him by political novice, Democrat-turned-Republican Michael Bloomberg.
"His direct mail budget alone equaled our entire campaign budget of $12 million," said Mark Mellman, Green's pollster. They also blamed New York's racial politics and the New York media, which was more focused on race than on who Michael Bloomberg was and what an extraordinary amount of money he was spending.
With Rudy Giuliani at his side leading a chant of "USA, USA," Bloomberg proclaimed that his win was not about Republicans or Democrats, but about New Yorkers. In fact, his victory was a bipartisan one. According to exit polls conducted by Edison Media Research, 46 percent of Bloomberg's support came from Democrats, 36 percent from Republicans and 19 percent from independents.
Most analysts agree that the confluence of September 11 and the Bloomberg campaign's skill at positioning him as the candidate who could best lead the city in light of the attacks were responsible for his victory.
"Bloomberg transformed the perception of what New York needed," said one Democratic analyst. "Before September 11, no one thought a billionaire businessman was a great credential for leading this racially polarized city." But after the attacks, the "man with the plan" was the message, and his willingness to spend millions of his own money to promulgate it turned the race around.
And then there was Rudy. His popularity zoomed after the World Trade Center attacks and he dominated the headlines for weeks suggesting that he would be "open" to another term as mayor. But in the end, Giuliani endorsed Bloomberg and the Bloomberg campaign made sure everyone knew it. They ran a 60-second TV ad of Giuliani telling people that Bloomberg was the man to continue his work. And they added a compendium spot urging voters not to let Mark Green "tear apart Rudy Giulianis City Hall."
In the exit poll, Giuliani's approval rating was 71 percent, and Bloomberg captured 60 percent of those voters.
Similarly, the issue priorities of New Yorkers changed markedly during the course of the campaign. Education and racial polarization dominated the pre-September 11 phase. But on Election Day, 43 percent of voters said the "economy and jobs" were the most important issue, and Bloomberg was the choice of 59 percent of those voters.
Green continued to stress education, attacking Bloomberg for allegedly wanting to take computers out the classroom. However, only 22 percent of voters pickeeducation as their number one issue, and Green won 75 percent of them. The Democrat rarely stressed the economy and voters had doubts about his ability to revive the financial center.
The biggest mistake of the Green campaign, however, may have been allowing the racial politics of the primary to get so bitter and then never being able to pull Democrats back together. A lifelong liberal Democrat, Green received only 71 percent of the black vote and split the Hispanic vote with Bloomberg.
In the Democratic primary runoff against Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer, Green supporters put out a flyer in Jewish neighborhoods attacking Ferrer for his ties to Al Sharpton. Ferrer, who tepidly endorsed Green following the runoff, appeared later in a glossy flyer sent out by Bloomberg, and in the end, neither he nor Sharpton campaigned for Green. The New York TV stations spent much of their final day of campaign coverage on a keystone cops attempt by Clinton pal and Miramax CEO Harvey Weinstein to broker an endorsement from Sharpton. It failed. And on Wednesday morning, Bloomberg had a very visible, post-election breakfast with Ferrer.
Bloomberg's surprise victory will assure that he gets the scrutiny that the Green camp complained he never got during the campaign. He made some big promises during the campaign about bringing New York City back from September 11. That will be his true test. We will know soon how much of the Bloomberg phenomenon was due to real leadership and how much was big money and skilled consultants.
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