By Maurice Pinzon
Yesterday, Ronnie M. Eldridge, a well-known Democrat, recounted the surprise expressed by Democrats and Republicans alike upon learning that she campaigned with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg on the West Side of Manhattan this past Saturday.
Ms. Eldridge said that Deputy Mayor for Administration Patricia E. Harris seemed surprised when she learned Ms. Eldridge was supporting the mayor.
“Oh, you’re with us?” Ms. Harris asked Ms. Eldridge.
Democrats who heard about Ms. Eldridge’s endorsement were just as surprised but did not want to criticize her for supporting Mayor Bloomberg. They did, however, point out that the mayor had financially supported what could be the most right-wing Republican administration ever in Washington.
But the endorsement, albeit unexpected, is not out of character for Ms. Eldridge.
Ms. Eldridge, who represented the Upper West Side of Manhattan for a decade in the City Council, has never been afraid to oppose the Democratic Party. As an early reformer within the Democratic Party in the 1960s, she cannot be too annoyed when Mayor Bloomberg levels criticism against the “Democratic machine.”
Back then, she was Deputy Campaign Manager for Robert Kennedy’s presidential campaign. After he was assassinated, Ms. Eldridge organized Democrats for Lindsay in 1969.
And before Rudolph A. Giuliani became mayor — one whom Ms. Eldridge often criticized — Ms. Eldridge had numerous disagreements with her fellow Democrats who controlled most levers of power in the City in those days. Publicly and privately, she often clashed with Mayor David N. Dinkins, City Council Speaker Peter F. Vallone, and even with Manhattan Borough President Ruth W. Messinger, who had previously held Ms. Eldridge’s seat in the council.
During a conversation this week with this reporter, Ms. Eldridge criticized the Democrat Party for not being welcoming to political newcomers. She singled out Democrat Elliot Spitzer — now New York State Attorney General — who was forced to run for office as an outsider with little support from the party’s establishment. Mr. Spitzer has become a nationally known figure for aggressively pursuing corruption on Wall Street. He is now running for governor of New York State.
Others have cited Mr. Bloomberg, who registered as a Republican during the 2001 mayoral election to avoid the obstacles that prevented him from breaking into the Democratic candidate lineup. To this day, many Democrats consider Mayor Bloomberg a closet Democrat.
Ms. Eldridge said that the Democrats too often distribute power to a tight knit circle. Case in point: The Bronx County Democratic Party chairman is Assemblyman Jose Rivera. Mr. Rivera’s son Joel is City Council Majority Leader and daughter Naomi is State Assemblywoman. All three of them are strong supporters of Mayor Bloomberg’s Democratic challenger, Fernando Ferrer.
When asked what she thought of last Sunday’s debate between Mayor Bloomberg and Mr. Ferrer, Ms. Eldridge said, “I believe that overall the city is doing well. I see no reason to change the administration that is governing it.”
The Ferrer campaign did not return a call for comment. The Bloomberg campaign, on the other hand, was happy to issue a brief statement.
Jordan Barowitz, a campaign spokesperson, said, “The mayor is proud to have the support of Ronnie Eldridge. Ronnie has seen it all and has been an active member of New York’s policymaking establishment since the 1960s. The endorsement of such an experienced and accomplished former elected official is a great honor.”
(Disclosure: This reporter was an assistant to Council member Eldridge for part of her term in office.)