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At the Wire, NYC Mayor's Race Gets Down and Dirty

Politics: After leading by 16 points, Mark Green is in a tie with Michael Bloomberg. Attacks have gotten unusually harsh.


NEW YORK — The city's mayoral contest, overshadowed for so long by the World Trade Center attacks, exploded in a last-minute burst of nasty campaigning Monday, with Public Advocate Mark Green and media mogul Michael Bloomberg clashing over racial and sexual politics, the influence of big money on elections and who can best lead the Big Apple in a time of crisis.

Green, the Democratic candidate, had been coasting with a lead of 16 percentage points in polls two weeks ago and was expected to win easily in today's election. But recent surveys show him in a tie with Bloomberg, the Republican businessman who last week was endorsed by New York's popular Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.

Bloomberg has spent nearly $50 million of his own money on the race--the most ever in a U.S. mayoral contest. And his round-the-clock TV spots featuring Giuliani, who is barred by law from seeking a third term, apparently have had a profound impact on New York voters.

"This race is now dead even," said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac Poll, which Monday showed Green and Bloomberg with 42% of the vote each; 15% of New Yorkers say they still are undecided.

There were other troubling signs for Green: The polls show him splitting the traditionally Democratic Jewish and Latino votes with Bloomberg. And white Catholics in the boroughs outside Manhattan, a pivotal constituency, were backing Bloomberg by a lopsided margin.

In the campaign's last 24 hours, both candidates pursued votes from key groups. Green--hoping to spark a high turnout from liberal and black voters--appeared at a Manhattan rally with former President Clinton and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who implored the party faithful to return City Hall to Democratic rule after eight years of the Republican Giuliani.

"He [Green] is a smart man," Clinton told a cheering crowd in Bryant Park. "There are a lot of little people who are hurting in this city, and we need a mayor who gets up and goes to work every day and thinks about them."

Bloomberg, 59, on Monday wooed conservative Democrats who had been loyal to Giuliani--seeking swing votes in Brooklyn and Queens. He also campaigned with the mayor in Little Italy, where Giuliani said: "The city is in need of repair. People see that Michael Bloomberg is the guy who can do that. I think this is one election where one candidate is superior to the other."

Democrats, with a 5-1 registration edge, traditionally have controlled City Hall--with Giuliani's victories in 1993 and 1997 seen as exceptions to the political rule. But in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks, observers say, voters are less loyal to party politics and more concerned about a candidate's competence.

The 56-year-old Green is a former Ralph Nader aide who as public advocate became a persistent critic of Giuliani. He has billed himself as a moderate Democrat who knows his way around city politics, attacking Bloomberg as "an elitist Republican who is out of touch with ordinary people."

Bloomberg, who switched his registration from Democrat to Republican for the mayor's race, has touted himself as "a leader, not a politician," who can better manage New York. He has ridiculed Green as someone "who has never created a job or made a real management decision in his life."

As the race has tightened, the political attacks by Green and Bloomberg have become unusually harsh, even by New York standards.

Bloomberg has run ads accusing Green of racial insensitivity to Latino voters, who still are smarting over his aggressive primary victory over Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer. One spot cited a 1998 internal memo in which Green's advisors suggested that they did not need to make an "investment" in winning over large numbers of Latino voters. Green has angrily denounced the spot, saying the memo did not reflect his thinking.

Green, in turn, has blasted Bloomberg's campaign for producing fliers aimed at white voters that attacked Green for seeking the endorsement of David N. Dinkins, the city's first African American mayor. He also has attacked Bloomberg for making hostile, belittling comments about female victims of rape and sexual discrimination in Bloomberg's business news company. Bloomberg has denied making these comments, calling Green "desperate."

Political observers in both camps suggest that Green will need a high turnout among black voters to have any chance of winning. And that may be tough, given recently published reports that Green campaign workers explored ways to discredit Ferrer among white voters by highlighting his alliance with the Rev. Al Sharpton.

Green has denied this, but Sharpton--who endorsed Ferrer and is disliked by many white voters--has refused to endorse Green.

His silence could prove "devastating" to the Democrat, said one longtime campaign observer, because Sharpton's nod translated into thousands of extra votes for Ferrer in the primary.

"It used to be that Democrats would automatically win this kind of a race in New York," said consultant Hank Sheinkopf, who helped run Green's campaign. "But after Sept. 11, everything changed in this town. Forever."

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