Bloomberg Draws Support from Democratic Corners

The most popular candidate for mayor of New York City is Republican incumbent Michael Bloomberg — even among Democrats. In fact, some traditionally Democratic-leaning labor unions are now endorsing Bloomberg in his bid for re-election.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Debbie Elliott.

The Democratic Party in New York City has a problem. The most popular candidate for mayor, even among Democrats, is a Republican, incumbent Michael Bloomberg. With the primary next Tuesday, Bloomberg has a commanding lead in the polls, even though Democrats outnumber Republicans in New York by 5:1. NPR's Robert Smith reports on the attempt to lure back Bloomberg Democrats.

ROBERT SMITH reporting:

Minutes before he goes on stage at a big union rally, the billionaire mayor, Michael Bloomberg, transforms himself into a working man. He takes off his jacket, rolls up his sleeves, hands off his BlackBerry to an assistant. Another adviser tells him to shake as many hands as possible. Bloomberg nods and moves into the crowd.

Unidentified Man #1: This is the New York unions, and we're here for Mayor Bloomberg! So let's hear it for...

SMITH: The mayor's getting good at this. During the summer, he was endorsed by the municipal workers union, the electrical workers, the doormen and building janitors, and on this date, he's speaking to the carpenters, laborers and painters unions.

Mayor MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (Republican, New York City): Let me ask the question: Anyone here want to keep New York growing?

Audience: (In unison) Yeah!

Mayor BLOOMBERG: Anyone here want to keep New York building?

Audience: (In unison) Yeah!

Mayor BLOOMBERG: Anyone here want to create great jobs in all five boroughs?

Audience: (In unison) Yeah!

SMITH: Democrats in New York have argued that such endorsements don't mean anything, that rank-and-file union members will always vote for Democrats. Not so, says Angel Vasquez(ph) and Addie Mahaev(ph), two painters from the Bronx.

Unidentified Man #2: We don't vote Republican, but we'll vote for him because he's getting us jobs, you know?

Unidentified Man #3: And that's what we need, jobs.

Unidentified Man #2: And that's all that matters. Afterwards, you know, then we'll probably Democratic again, but for right now it's--Republican's the way to go.

SMITH: It's not just these guys. Two-thirds of New Yorkers say they approve of the job that Bloomberg is doing. Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic consultant, says the mayor's opponents have found no openings.

Mr. HANK SHEINKOPF (Democratic Consultant): The Democrats are disjointed. And New York City's traditional racial and tribal politics are somewhat disrupted because there is no racial crisis. There's a sense of calm. Economically, we've returned to our own. So I think the people are just generally less confrontational.

SMITH: Not that the city's Democratic candidates for mayor aren't trying. Congressman Anthony Weiner stresses at each campaign stop that this isn't about a likeable mayor; this is part of a bigger battle between Democrats and Republicans.

State Representative ANTHONY WEINER (Democrat, New York): The mayor's race is New York City in 2005 is the first race of the 2006 congressional midterms and the first race of the presidential campaign in 2008. You know, we have to show we, as Democrats, get it, we understand that we've run three straight municipal elections in this list and lost all three of them.

SMITH: Bloomberg registered as a Republican before he ran for mayor in 2001. He's considered a fiscal conservative, but he's also pro-choice and supports gay rights. Another Democratic candidate, Fernando Ferrer, says he has to remind voters that Bloomberg is a member of George Bush's party.

Mr. FERNANDO FERRER (Democratic Candidate): New Yorkers will see, right through the claptrap, right through the smoke and the haze--at a Republican mayor who supported Republican policies that have hurt this city.

SMITH: Other candidates for the Democratic nomination include City Council President Gifford Miller and Manhattan borough President C. Virginia Fields. Whoever wins the primary will face a tough campaign. Backing up Mayor Bloomberg's approval ratings, he has a personal fortunate he's willing to spend on the race. Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac poll, says that Democrats may have to count on tradition.

Mr. MAURICE CARROLL (Director, Quinnipiac Poll): He's on the Republican line. It's a Democratic town. And he's just not going to sweep the field. A lot of people don't like to pull a Republican lever in New York.

SMITH: Of course, with a Republican winning the last three mayor's races in New York, that Democratic tradition is becoming a distant memory.

Robert Smith, NPR News, New York.

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