By Jennifer Warren
Former Democratic Queens Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro and state Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan (D-Ridgewood) bypassed the borough’s two Democratic candidates for mayor and lent their names to Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer’s campaign.
Ferraro’s endorsement surprised many familiar with the longtime alliance she has had with City Comptroller Alan Hevesi, who is running for the top position at City Hall. City Council Speaker Peter Vallone, another dominant figure in the Queens Democratic Party, is also in the race.
On the steps of City Hall Monday afternoon, Ferraro along with several other prominent Democratic women — among them 1997 mayoral candidate Ruth Messinger and former David Dinkins aide and activist Hazel Dukes — praised the Bronx borough president as the man for the mayoralty.
“I support Fernando Ferrer to be New York City’s next mayor because of his unique personal perspective and life experience on issues ranging from education to health care to housing,” Ferraro said.
“Though everybody looks at me as a Queensite, I grew up in the South Bronx. And I’ve seen that Freddy Ferrer has really done a terrific job in economic development,” Ferraro said in a telephone interview. “He has convinced the business community that this is the place to be.”
Nolan, who did not attend the news conference, could not be reached for comment on her decision to back Ferrer.
Ferraro also said Ferrer would do a fine job as mayor if given the chance to run the city the way that he has governed the Bronx. She said she was “in no way putting down either Alan or Peter, but it is reflecting that I do think the city has changed. There’s a lot of divisiveness that needs to be addressed.”
Asked if the endorsement would affect her future relationships with the two Queens candidates, she said she did not think so.
“Our friendships have not been built on endorsements and I would hope not. I would say this is not a negative on them, it’s a positive for Freddy.”
Ferraro and Hevesi first established their careers in the same Queens neighborhood, Forest Hills Gardens, where they lived just blocks away from each other.
In the early 1990s, following her failed 1984 vice presidential campaign, Ferraro made a habit of dropping in at Hevesi’s political stomping ground, the Robert F. Kennedy Regular Democratic Club, of which Ferraro was once an officer, City Councilman John Sabini (D-Jackson Heights) recalled.
In 1993 Ferraro was a strong supporter of Hevesi’s bid for the post of city comptroller. But when the time came for her 1998 U.S. Senate endorsement, Hevesi’s support for his friend was fading. While he contributed to her campaign financially, political observers recalled that he maintained his distance.
A similar fate befell Nolan, who in her 2000 re-election campaign for the state Assembly was left without the traditional Queens Democratic support. In the case of both women, it was Ferrer who stepped in and endorsed each of them.
If Ferrer is elected mayor, some speculate that Ferraro’s endorsement could set the stage for her appointment as New York City’s representative to the United Nations.
While Ferraro no longer has a constituency to contribute to the mayoral race, her name recognition and ability to attract liberal and women voters could tilt votes to Ferrer in the four-way Democratic race in which Public Advocate Mark Green is also a contender.
Nolan, on the other hand, with an active constituency, represents a district with a growing Hispanic population, one that might look favorably on a Ferrer endorsement.
Nolan’s district, which spreads throughout western Queens in Sunnyside, Ridgewood, Long Island City, Woodside and Maspeth, has seen a significant rise in Hispanic residents during the past 10 years. Since 1990, the Hispanic community in her district has more than doubled and one out of every two residents now is Hispanic.
Nolan broke ranks with Queens Democratic Party boss Thomas Manton last fall during the failed coup attempt against Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan). At that time, Manton lined up 14 of Queens’ 16 assembly members to overthrow Silver. Nolan was one of the two holdouts. Ultimately Silver and Manton resolved the matter, but Nolan went her own way.
Nolan’s problems with Manton date back to 1998 when the longtime congressman from western Queens decided not to seek re-election and handpicked then-Assemblyman Joseph Crowley (D-Elmhurst) without any announcement until after the deadline for candidates to enter the race had passed.
Nolan, City Councilman Walter McCaffrey (D-Woodside) and Councilman John Sabini (D-Jackson Heights) were angered because of each of them had an interest in Manton’s seat.
Ferraro defeated Manton in 1978 when she made her first run for Congress. She held the Queens seat for six years during which time Manton was a city councilman. In 1984 Ferraro became the first and only woman nominated as vice president on Walter Mondale’s losing Democratic ticket.
Despite Nolan’s and Ferraro’s decisions to go outside Queens party politics to support Ferrer, some politicians believe the old endorsement currency is losing its value, Councilman Sheldon Leffler (D-Hollis), a candidate for borough president, is one of them.
“I think when making endorsements a politician is not acting as a disinterested seeker of public good. They’re doing things in part based on their own political situation” Leffler said.
“There are people who respect Cathy Nolan, but even those people realize she has her own situation,” Leffler said. “As for Gerry, I think she’s lost a lot of her following. She hasn’t been in office since ’84. That’s a whole generation.”
–Reporters Adam Kramer and Dustin Brown contributed to this story.
Reach reporter Jennifer Warren by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 155.