NYC Mayoral Challenger Gets Message Out in a Big Way

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New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg's re-election campaign is making use of his personal fortune and expensive campaign ads. Meanwhile, challenger Fernando Ferrer has a secret weapon: a big guy with a bullhorn.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

One of the secrets to politics, whether it's national or local, is getting your message out. And in New York City, the candidates for mayor have picked very different ways to get heard. NPR's Robert Smith sent this campaign postcard from Manhattan.

ROBERT SMITH reporting:

Here's a fun political game to play in New York City. Turn on the TV, flip the channels and see how many Michael Bloomberg ads are on at the same time.

(Soundbite of TV commercials)

Unidentified Woman: Mike Bloomberg, to keep all of New York moving.

Unidentified Man: That's what I see in Mike Bloomberg. He's a go-to guy.

Mayor MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (Republican, New York City): Together, we're working to make the greatest city in the world even better for all of New York.

SMITH: The mayor is expected to spend $100 million of his multibillion-dollar fortune to get re-elected, and he's put his face and name everywhere. He even commissioned a salsa song.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Band: (Singing in Spanish)

SMITH: The challenger, former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer, doesn't have the money, the endorsements or, frankly, the approval ratings of Bloomberg. But he does have a secret weapon: a big guy with a bullhorn.

Mr. KENNY AUGUSTO(ph) (Ferrer Supporter): The next mayor of the city of New York, Fernando Ferrer! Democrat, Democrat, Democrat!

SMITH: Kenny Augusto moves out ahead of the candidate as a sort of evangelist meets carnival barker.

Mr. AUGUSTO: Ferrer will insure each and every New York City child!

SMITH: Ferrer himself is a soft-spoken man who never seems to raise his voice, so Augusto injects the energy in the campaign. Here in the streets of Harlem, Assemblyman Keith Wright is impressed.

Mr. KEITH WRIGHT (New York City Assemblyman): He's like the Energizer bunny; he doesn't stop.

Mr. AUGUSTO: Freddy Ferrer for mayor of the city of New York, for all of us for a change!

SMITH: Augusto doesn't shut up until his candidate gets into an SUV and speeds off to the next event. Augusto, now covered in sweat, slumps over.

Mr. AUGUSTO: My voice is gone.

SMITH: He picked up the bullhorn during Ferrer's last unsuccessful campaign for mayor, but he found his voice long before that.

Mr. AUGUSTO: You know, organizing since I was seven years old when my mother took me out to campaign for Jimmy Carter for president.

SMITH: And even then you were yelling?

Mr. AUGUSTO: I was always yelling because my mom yelled.

SMITH: Now when you go home tonight, will you stop yelling or is this in your normal life?

Mr. AUGUSTO: I'm not a yeller, but right now I can't compete with a billion-dollar commercials, so I'm going to yell. I'm going to shout. I'm going to talk to people. I'm going to cajole people. I'm going to ask people and beg and plead that we give this man the opportunity to do what is right.

SMITH: In a mayoral campaign that's been bland by New York standards, Augusto is the only person on the trail with this kind of passion. So much so people ask him when he's going to run for office. Augusto does the political thing and always steers the conversation back to his man.

Mr. AUGUSTO: Fernando Ferrer!

SMITH: Robert Smith, NPR News, New York.

MELISSA BLOCK (Host): This is NPR, National Public Radio.

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