Mayor Bloomberg and Fernando Ferrer’s Baile Latino

By Maurice Pinzon
A recent poll indicated that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s overall job approval rating hit 50 percent for the first time in two years. But the same poll suggested that Mayor Bloomberg had significantly less support from Latinos and African-Americans. As a result of a scheduling coincidence, and perhaps with an eye to the election in 2005, the mayor devoted considerable attention to Latino voters last week.

According to the Quinnipiac University poll, Mayor Bloomberg has a 60 percent positive approval rating among whites, but in sharp contrast, most African-Americans and Latinos in New York disapproved of his performance. Only 38 percent of Latinos approved of Mayor Bloomberg’s job performance, while 39 percent of African-American voters approve of his performance.

Last Thursday Mayor Bloomberg sidestepped a question from a reporter who asked him to explain why there was a disparity in the poll numbers. He responded by saying, “I think the only poll that really disturbed me before is not my poll, but it was the polls that said a year-and-a-half, two years ago that the public didn’t have a lot of confidence in the future.”

Mayor Bloomberg said New Yorkers were now more optimistic about the future,
which was good for the city. He said New Yorkers understand that “we’re going in the right direction.” He added, “In terms of my own political future, I’ll be just fine as long as this city keeps improving.”

Yesterday, just before the start of the Puerto Rican Day Parade on Fifth Avenue, Mayor Bloomberg responded to a similar question, “There are groups that tend to be more Democratic or Republican. I’m going to cross those lines.”

He added, “I think the most encouraging thing in the polls – I said it the other day – was that if you go back two years ago or a year-and-a-half ago, the depressing thing was not my polls. The depressing thing was that a lot of people didn’t think that the future of this city was bright. If you look at the polls today, that’s changed. My personal polls will be fine, but the most important thing is this city will be fine.”

Jordan Barowitz, a spokesman for Mayor Bloomberg, disputed any suggestion that the mayor had changed his schedule. Mr. Barowitz said the mayor has always reached out to a multiplicity of ethnic communities. When Mr. Barowitz was asked to explain the disparity in the poll numbers, he replied, “I’ll leave that to the pundits.”

Barnard College Professor Esther Fuchs, who is also an adviser to Mayor Bloomberg, took a crack at the question. She said, “It’s because of the Republican label.” Prof. Fuchs added, “That he has 39 percent as a Republican is huge.” Prof. Fuchs said that for a Republican reaching out to heavily Democratic voters, “You have to build trust.” Latinos in New York City traditionally have voted heavily Democratic.

In any scenario, Latino voters would appear to be an important component in the mayor’s re-election bid – especially since the same Quinnipiac poll puts former Bronx borough president and former mayoral candidate, Fernando Ferrer, ahead of the mayor. In the poll, Mr. Ferrer, a Democrat, beats Mayor Bloomberg at 45 percent to 39 percent.

Of all the potential Democratic candidates, Mr. Ferrer seems to be in the strongest position to challenge Mayor Bloomberg in 2005. City Council Speaker Gifford A. Miller appears to be self-destructing under the gaze of New York Times reporter Winnie Hu, while some pundits have suggested that Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr. may hold off until the 2009 mayoral race. Another possible contender, Congressman Anthony Weiner, is still untested and unknown, and Council member Charles Barron, who has been endorsed by Rev. Al Sharpton, is at the bottom of the polls against the mayor.

At a Gracie Mansion reception Mayor Bloomberg held last Thursday in honor of the Puerto Rican Day Parade, Bronx resident Alberto Quinones said that when the mayor first took office, he instituted policies that negatively affected Latinos. “But he’s changing things – even starting to speak in Spanish,” Mr. Quinones said.

He added, “The most important thing he can do is talk about education.” Mayor Bloomberg seems to agree. He has said that he expects his administration to be judged on its educational reforms.

When asked about the disparity in approval ratings among Latino voters and other ethnic groups, Herman Badillo suggested that Mayor Bloomberg had “to go out more.” Mr. Badillo said, “The most important thing is to be able to touch him.” Mr. Badillo suggested two approaches: a Giuliani-type town hall meeting or Robert F. Kennedy’s eager physical embrace of New Yorkers. Mr. Badillo – who served in the Giuliani administration and was a Congressman from the Bronx – said former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s town hall meetings were a good way for New Yorkers to see the mayor, question him and get a direct feel for him. Mr.
Badillo also recalled the way Robert F. Kennedy plunged into crowds of New Yorkers to shake their hands.

Awilda Cordero, president of Bronx service organization, Emergency Rights Inc., also attended the Gracie Mansion reception. Ms. Cordero gave the mayor positive marks, adding that the low poll numbers among Latinos would change because it was too early to tell how people really felt. Ms. Cordero even saw the mayor’s wealth as positive, explaining that it was clear to her that Mayor Bloomberg was not doing this job for the money. And at an event with plenty of Puerto Rican pride, Ms. Cordero was not keen on Mr. Ferrer. “Freddy Ferrer didn’t do anything for the Bronx when he was there,” she said.

At yesterday’s Puerto Rican Day Parade, however, Mr. Ferrer received an enthusiastic reception from most in the crowd. A woman in Mr. Ferrer’s entourage shouted into a bullhorn in Spanish, “Meet the next mayor of the City of New York!”

In an interview with New York News Network, Mr. Ferrer was asked if this message meant he was already running for mayor. Mr. Ferrer said, “I’ll make my formal announcement some time after the presidential election.”

Mr. Ferrer then commented on the recent poll numbers, saying, “It’s a very interesting phenomenon. The mayor has increased his approval ratings and apparently my lead over him has widened. Go figure.” Mr. Ferrer then pointed out, “I’ve been sort of low-key, have you noticed that?”

After he was asked to explain how he could increase his lead by being low-key, Mr. Ferrer said, “I take the bus and subway like millions of New Yorkers – every morning – walk the streets, don’t have a car and a driver. I see a lot of people, I guess.”

Then he added, “Maybe people remember the service that I tried to give to this city over a course of 25 years.”

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