By Adam Kramer
Queens Democrats made a big splash in the upcoming mayoral runoff between Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer and Public Advocate Mark Green this week. The divided Democrats gave their support for both candidates in the race for Gracie Mansion.
Ex-party loyalist and defeated Queens mayoral candidate City Council Speaker Peter Vallone (D-Astoria) and a group of southeast Queens politicians, led by U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans), pledged their allegiance to Ferrer.
On the other side, the borough’s party machinery, led by former Queens Democratic Party boss Tom Manton, Borough President Claire Shulman and Borough President candidate Helen Marshall threw their support behind Green.
Ferrer and Green emerged from the Sept. 25 Democratic mayoral primary victorious over Comptroller Alan Hevesi and Vallone, but neither garnered the necessary 40 percent to prevent the runoff. In the GOP primary media mogul Michael Bloomberg crushed former U.S. Rep. Herman Badillo (D-Bronx) by a 2-1 margin.
The Oct. 11 runoff will decide who faces Bloomberg on Nov. 6 to succeed Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who cannot seek re-election due to term limits — unless the mayor can convince the state Legislature to overturn the term limits law passed in 1993 and 1996 by voter referendums.
Giuliani has also put forth the idea of extending his term by three months to help with the recovery after the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center. Ferrer has railed against the plan, but both Green and Bloomberg seem amenable to the suggestion.
The support of Vallone and former Mayor Edward Koch — who endorsed Ferrer Tuesday — was a big boost to Ferrer’s campaign, which charged into the runoff with help from a coalition of black and Latino voters. Ferrer needs to broaden his base and attract a greater percentage of white voters than he did in the primary if he wants a realistic chance of moving into Gracie Mansion.
Manton, Shulman, Marshall, the Democratic councilwoman from East Elmhurst, and a large majority of the borough’s politicians chose to back Green over Ferrer because they all said he was the person who could unite the city.
It was also widely expected that Rev. Floyd Flake, a former Democratic congressman from Jamaica, would throw his support behind Ferrer and that Hevesi would endorse Green.
Vallone’s endorsement of Ferrer came as somewhat of a surprise because he was one of the harshest critics of Ferrer’s description of “two New Yorks” divided along economic and racial lines. Vallone had stressed uniting the city.
“In the days ahead in this great city, in its rebuilding and the mental and spiritual coming together of the people,” Vallone said, “I can think of no one better qualified then Freddy Ferrer.”
Ferrer said both he and Vallone were cut from the same cloth — growing up in outer-borough neighborhoods. He said they have the same ideas and concerns even though they might use different words to get the point across.
“I wanted to make the record crystal clear that southeastern Queens is united and strong behind you and your candidacy,” Meeks told Ferrer.
“It is not a black-and-white issue, it is simply coming together with the very best,” the congressman said. “We need to move on. We need a new leader to lead us as we reconstruct our city, reconstruct our education system as we economically develop all of New York, and we think that man is you.”
Ferrer — who spent a lot of time in Queens before the primary — said there was no doubt in his mind that the city changed on Sept. 11 and that residents were shaken to the core. He said while the city needs to rebuild its economic structure, it is equally important to build schools, find sites for small stores and build affordable housing.
By supporting the Bronx borough president, the southeast Queens politicians bucked the Queens Democratic organization. In addition to Meeks, state Sen. Ada Smith (D-Jamaica), state Assemblywoman Barbara Clark (D-Queens Village), state Assemblywoman Vivian Cook (D-South Ozone Park) and City Councilwoman Juanita Watkins (D-Laurelton) came out to endorse Ferrer.
State Assemblyman William Scarborough (D-St. Albans) chose to support Green and the Queens party bosses.
Originally the SE Queens group had followed the machine and backed the Hevesi candidacy for mayor, but the comptroller finished a dismal fourth in the four-man race. The party’s new choice is Green.
“Mark has from the very beginning of the campaign striven for unity,” Manton said. “He has talked about the need for improving our education facilities and more recently and sadly in reference to the great tragedy at the World Trade Center has indicated that his administration will see to it that our business core is rebuilt.”
Shulman said she and Green have talked about the future of the city. She said he understands the city’s and borough’s need for new schools to ease the overcrowding, and the need for quality education to ensure the success of the city.
Marshall, who hopes to succeed Shulman, was cautious in her endorsement of Green. She said the Democrats were very fortunate to have “two highly qualified individuals,” but she would support Green like many of her fellow Queens politicians.
Green said it was imperative to rebuild the economic structure of the city because of the impact that the attack had on the five boroughs. He said Queens was hit hard because of the 50,000 borough residents who work at the airports and the 225,000 jobs in the region related to the airports.
“Queens is the face of New York,” Green said. “There is no community as diverse as Elmhurst. There is no county more diverse then Queens County in America. Your collective endorsement is a big deal because it is a big election.”
Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.