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Mayor Mike’s Mandate

Mayor Mike’s Mandate

Edmond Levy walked into his 93rd Street polling place on the Upper West Side with a strong sense of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s record.

"He’s done so much for the city," said Levy, 35, carrying a steaming cup of Starbucks coffee as he headed to cast his vote in the final hours of Election Day.

Levy, who works in real estate sales and management, praised the mayor for "rezoning parts of the city to increase development and creating additional jobs for employers." He added, "Whatever he is doing is on the right track."

As for Fernando Ferrer, the Democratic challenger: "I just don’t know that much about him."

Levy was one of approximately 788,622 voters, including some 70 percent of Jews according to a Pace University poll, who contributed to Bloomberg’s 59-39 percent landslide re-election victory Tuesday night, handing the mayor a mandate to govern, overshadowing his slim victory in 2001. The Jewish figure for Bloomberg in the Pace study is matched only by Latina women for Ferrer, at 69 percent.

A former financial news mogul, Bloomberg spent an estimated $70 million (or close to $100 per vote) to win the top City Hall job, for which he accepts only $1 a year.

Like his predecessor, Rudolph Giuliani, Bloomberg succeeded in assembling a broad coalition of support among New York’s diverse Jewish communities.

"Bloomberg is a first-rate manager, someone who has a plan but is ready to change it if it doesn’t work," said Gregory Kogan, an immigrant from Kishinev, Moldova, now living in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. "I believe Bloomberg’s success in taking his company from being a startup to a multibillion-dollar firm helps him in successfully managing the city. A big city is a lot like a big business."

Kogan, a 51-year-old accountant, added: "I like Ferrer personally, but he came off as a politician rather than a manager."

Although a Republican, Bloomberg scored consistently well with members of his former party, winning over diehard Democrats like Gail Singer of Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.

"ìBloomberg is running as a Republican, but he’s not really a Republican," said Singer, 51, an office administrator for the Conservative Congregation Mount Sinai in nearby Brooklyn Heights, as well as its president.

Singer’s husband, Larry, 55, however, was less inclined to cross the partisan divide.

"If Bloomberg were running as a Democrat, I’d vote for him in a New York second," he said. "But under the present circumstances my Democratic religion prevents me."

Larry Singer said he would leave the mayoral lever blank rather than vote for Ferrer.

Their 21-year-old daughter Emily, a women’s studies major at George Washington University in Washington and at Manhattan’s New School, like her mother was voting for Bloomberg.

"Ferrer plays the minority card," she said. "But he hasn’t been very good at promoting himself or his ideas."

Winning about 40 percent of the vote, somewhat better than many pollsters predicted, Ferrer seems to have appealed mostly to Democrats who vote for their party’s nominees "across the board," in the words of Paul Joseph of Little Neck, Queens.

"The Democratic issues are for the working guy and the working lady, health care for the elderly, lower taxes for the middle class," said Joseph, 56, a retired airline worker.

Joseph said he viewed Bloomberg as "not a very earthy guy [who] doesn’t care about me."

He backed Ferrer because "the issues he talks about I agree with, when you talk about people who are poor and need help and relief. Bloomberg might be a little sincere on what he says, but he doesn’t follow it through."

Looming Deficit

Bloomberg faces daunting challenges in his second administration, notably a looming deficit of more than $4 billion.

"The three main priorities are to maintain security and safety, to close a $4.5 billion budget deficit without raising taxes and show continued obvious improvement in the public schools," said Baruch College political science professor Douglas Muzzio. "The most immediate is the budget gap, with the preliminary budget due in January."

The incumbent’s talk during the campaign of doing "more with less" is seen by many as signaling a reduction and consolidation of social service programs unless soaring revenues begin to narrow the budget gap.

In a meeting with Jewish organizational leaders days before the election, Bloomberg said he thought revenues would increase enough to stave off major cuts.

"He believes the city has been doing so well that we can address a substantial portion of the deficit," said William Rapfogel of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty. "There is always a danger that the economy goes down, but when the economy is steamrolling ahead and the money is storming in he believes his fiscal advisers can come pretty close to closing the gap."

Ron Soloway, UJA-Federation’s managing director for government and external relations, said he was encouraged by the mayor’s stated commitment to upholding services.

"The mayor has gone on record a number of times in his campaign making promises about support for early childhood education and for [Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities]. I would expect in these areas, some of which are very important to the social service fabric, he will go out of his way to maintain and expand them, and he is certainly going to look for more federal and state money."

"He has put a real emphasis on reorganizing and making services more efficient, so I think we are going to see an emphasis on combining duplicative services. The likelihood is he will need to find some savings among the health- and human-service agencies, and we will do our best to work with the mayor to make sure any cuts that are necessary do the least harm to those most in need."

Rapfogel said he was not overly concerned that the mayor’s new status as a term-limited lame duck may embolden his administration to make cuts that previously might have been politically unfathomable.

"You are nervous about any mayor that has to cut services, whether or not he has been mayor for four years before or not," Rapfogel said. "But he knows a lot about our programs."

Peeling Off Labels

The fourth straight win by a Republican in a city with many more registered Democrats seems to demonstrate an increasing nonpartisan spirit among New Yorkers. But the fact that voters two years ago crushed a ballot proposal to create nonpartisan elections here sends a mixed signal.

"The phenomenon that has happened has been a disassociation from strict party labels," said political consultant Suri Kasirer, who works for city Comptroller William Thompson, a likely 2009 Democratic mayoral contender. "[But] it remains to be seen if the shift that happened in this election does away with people’s commitments or if this is just an anomaly that relates to people’s perception of Bloomberg."

In any case, she said, "The Democratic Party has a lot of work to do to make sure their message is understood very clearly."

As for the notion that Jews increasingly are abandoning the party of their parents and grandparents, seduced by a GOP agenda that speaks to them, the executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council noted that New York Jews voted overwhelmingly for John Kerry, Al Gore and Bill Clinton in the last presidential races, and a majority have voted for Democrats for governor and Senate.

"There is very little correlation between the Democratic vote for mayor and for any other level office," Ira Forman said. "Parties are a much less important factor in the mayoral election. I’m assuming it’s true that people don’t feel there is a Democratic or Republican way to remove the garbage."

Jewish Economic Divide?

With his "two New Yorks" strategy, Ferrer focused his campaign almost exclusively on the underprivileged: those who cannot afford the rising cost of housing or find well-paying jobs.

"We spoke up for the poor and the hungry, we spoke up for the children, we spoke up for our New York," he said in his concession speech.

If poll figures immediately prior to the election are true and some 70 percent of Jewish New Yorkers supported Bloomberg, the remainder would be roughly equivalent to the percentage of Jews believed to be living at or below the poverty level.

But Rapfogel said the divide among Jews was more likely political than economic.

"I really don’t think large Orthodox families or a significant amount of Russians were voting for Ferrer, and they make up well over 50 percent of the poor Jews," he said. "Many have the view that the economy is stronger under Bloomberg."

With reporting by correspondents Walter Ruby and Lehman Weichselbaum.

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