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Two weeks before New York City's mayoral election, Republican incumbent Michael Bloomberg is looking hard to beat. His Democratic rival, former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer, still hopes to become the city's first Latino mayor, but he's being dramatically outspent, and he is slipping in the polls, even in a city dominated by Democrats. Mayor Bloomberg is even holding his own in the city's most traditionally Democratic neighborhood. NPR's Robert Smith reports from Harlem.
(Soundbite of voices)
ROBERT SMITH reporting:
At a campaign breakfast at Sylvia's Soul Food Restaurant on Lenox Avenue, Democrat Fernando Ferrer faces a classic politician's dilemma: potatoes or grits? With a look around the table, Ferrer goes for the grits and gives his review.
Mr. FERNANDO FERRER (Democratic Mayoral Candidate): All of them were very good.
SMITH: Both mayoral candidates, Ferrer and Republican incumbent Michael Bloomberg, have been spending a lot of time recently in Harlem, Bed-Stuy and other African-American neighborhoods. Polls show an overwhelming number of white voters backing Bloomberg, and Ferrer with a slight lead among Latinos, but the black vote in New York City is up for grabs. Congressman Charlie Rangel from Harlem says his neighbors should know which way to vote.
Representative CHARLIE RANGEL (Democrat, New York): This is a Democratic town. We're entitled to a Democratic mayor.
SMITH: And Ferrer is a Democratic candidate with a Democratic message, namely that the city's poor and middle class have been left out of New York's prosperity.
Mr. FERRER: Fifty percent of our kids in public high school drop out. Got to get them jobs, got to give them the skills they need to be economically self-sufficient.
SMITH: The problem for Ferrer, though, is that most New Yorkers don't seem to have a problem. Even here in Harlem, which always votes heavily Democratic, residents give the Republican mayor credit for a city that works. Kingsbury Turner(ph) likes the mayor's stand on education.
Mr. KINGSBURY TURNER (Resident): Bloomberg has really helped these kids out here in these schools. They will have more books. They will have teachers that are trying to give them a shot at what's really out here in this world.
SMITH: Another Harlem resident, Robert Green(ph), also plans to vote for Bloomberg, the first time in his life he's voted Republican.
Mr. ROBERT GREEN (Resident): Crime has decreased within the communities, and he did a lot of things with subways and transportationwise. I think probably next four years up to come will be even better, if he's re-elected.
SMITH: But it's not just good news about the city that's led to Bloomberg's support in the neighborhood. He's spent at least $47 million of his personal fortune on the campaign so far. Bloomberg's ads smother the airwaves, and the mayor's become a regular guest at Baptist churches around the city. He's even had his own soul food moment as he stood beside the chef of Amy Ruth's Restaurant in Harlem and regretted that he couldn't try the specialty.
Mayor MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (New York City): I want you to know that Amy Ruth's chicken and waffles don't exactly fit on my waistline till after November 9th.
SMITH: What Bloomberg has been gobbling up is endorsements from the African-American community, from pastors and community groups and business owners. He's been using his position as an incumbent to announce job-training opportunities for minorities and new units of affordable housing.
Mayor BLOOMBERG: What we're really trying to do is to make sure those people who were here during the tough times don't get priced out as the city gets better and more people want to move in.
SMITH: With Bloomberg's momentum and unlimited budget, Fernando Ferrer has had to rely on a constant stream of political celebrities to help boost his popularity. Ferrer's campaigned with Bill and Hillary Clinton, Howard Dean, John Kerry, and on the streets of Harlem with the Reverends Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson.
Group of People: (Chanting) Fernando Ferrer, Fernando Ferrer...
SMITH: Ferrer stands by quietly while Harlem residents crowd around Jackson for a picture.
Unidentified Woman #1: I love you.
Reverend JESSE JACKSON (Rainbow/PUSH Coalition): Love you.
Unidentified Woman #1: I love you. I love you, Jesse.
Rev. JACKSON: ...(Unintelligible).
Unidentified Woman #1: I love you, Jesse.
SMITH: Jackson lists off the reasons he supports Ferrer, but it's Sharpton who gets the biggest cheers when he grabs a bullhorn.
Reverend AL SHARPTON: Bloomberg is Mr. Giuliani with a smile. We don't need better manners. We need better policy.
SMITH: A woman in the crowd lunges at Sharpton for a kiss on the cheek. She plants another one on Jesse Jackson, and then as an afterthought yells out...
Unidentified Woman #2: Ferrero, you are the best.
SMITH: Never mind that she mispronounces his name, Ferrer can use all the help he can get. The latest poll from Quinnipiac University shows Mayor Bloomberg with a 2:1 lead over Mr. Ferrer, and splitting the African-American vote right down the middle. Robert Smith, NPR News, New York.
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