Ferrer works on stump speech at Downtown club
By Lincoln Anderson
Fernando Ferrer had just started his talk at the Village Independent Democrats meeting Feb. 12 and had been describing what hes been up to the last two years, before launching into an attack on President Bush. He was a little rusty, though, his voice lacking the necessary oomph for a political club meeting.
Can you speak up? We cant hear you! called out a woman in back.
Youve got to excuse me. Im just a little out of practice, apologized Ferrer to some supportive laughter. Its a little like riding a bicycle Ill get back on.
It didnt take him long to get back in gear. In a louder voice that all could hear he said of Bush: We have got to get rid of this guy! The room erupted in applause. Back in the saddle again.
For Ferrer whose talk was billed The State of Our City and Nation it was his first appearance at a New York City political club since losing the runoff to Mark Green after the contentious Democratic mayoral primary.
This is really one of my first outings in a while, he said.
The former Bronx borough president of 14 years is currently president of the Drum Major Institute, where, he said, hes logged a lot of time on the computer creating a progressive Web site to counter the absolutely nutty right.
In his introduction, Chad Marlow, V.I.D.s president, noted Ferrer had stood on principle when former Mayor Giuliani asked the mayoral candidates to support extending his term an additional 90 days after the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center.
My candidate said it was O.K., Marlow said disappointedly of Green. Praising Ferrer as a decent, humble man of the people from Bronx working-class roots, Marlow said if Ferrer chooses to run in 2005, hell support Ferrer.
Is he running again?
Sure, Im thinking about it, Ferrer said. But he added there are benefits to being out of public life. To be honest, he admitted, I am having a really nice moment in my life. Its nice to read a book from cover to cover
to come home to my wife and have a nice dinner
. I no longer have a car and a driver; I now meet a lot of nice people on the bus and subway and its made me a better listener.
In addition to Ferrer, the field of likely Democratic mayoral candidates is shaping up to include City Council Speaker Gifford Miller, City Controller Bill Thompson, Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields, Brooklyn Congressmember Anthony Weiner and City Councilmember Charles Barron.
It was natural that the 2001 election would be one of the first topics Ferrer would discuss last week, and he offered some revealing information on Giulianis post-9/11 power play.
Giuliani had said he would seek the extension if the three remaining candidates: Ferrer, Green and Republican Michael Bloomberg, all agreed to it. Bloomberg, like Green, gave the mayor his O.K.
Ferrer said there was even talk of allowing Giuliani to be mayor for four more years.
I couldnt stand four more minutes, he said.
Nevertheless, Ferrer agreed to hear out Giuliani.
In an hour he managed to threaten a couple of times, Ferrer recalled. He said, I have to persuade the people that want me for four more years that 90 days is reasonable.
Giuliani argued for the extension on the grounds it would provide continuity of government at a critical moment. But, Ferrer said, the former mayor said it would only apply to him, not other city officials who were being term-limited out of office. Ferrer said hed think it over for a day and give his answer.
The next day, he said, he got a call from Richard Grasso, then-C.E.O. of the New York Stock Exchange, telling him the city needed to keep Giuliani as mayor. But Ferrer said no to the term extension idea.
Fortunately, New Yorkers got over that period of what I would call temporary insanity, he recalled.
Asked if he had told his supporters not to back Green after losing the bitter runoff, Ferrer countered that he had publicly supported Green in commercials on Spanish-language radio.
On the present state of affairs, he accused both Governor Pataki and Bush of practicing foodchain politics of aiding the wealthy at the expense of the poor, working class and middle class.
As for Bloomberg, Ferrer was less condemning, though still finding plenty to criticize.
I do not on a human level, dislike Mayor Bloomberg, he said. I have come to appreciate that for once the chief executive of this city doesnt snarl on the six oclock news. That works for me
. But it just goes to show how low our standards have fallen. For eight years, I was in the eye of the hurricane.
Yet some things havent changed from Giuliani to Bloomberg like the current administrations push to build a West Side stadium.
Its déjà vu all over again, said Ferrer, who fought Giulianis and Yankee owner George Steinbrenners plan to move the Yankees from the Bronx to a new West Side baseball stadium.
Ferrer stressed that the citys priorities are misplaced and that what should be being built are school buildings, affordable housing and the Second Ave. subway, not a new stadium.
The proposal for Jets Stadium in their view is really Olympic Stadium, Ferrer said, adding that Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff, at a recent press conference, said that all the office space included in the Hudson Yards redevelopment plan will only work with a new stadium. Ferrer said no one has challenged that assumption.
Not one reporter asked him, Why? What leads you to that conclusion? Extraordinary, said Ferrer in disbelief.
Ferrer said its been proven stadiums dont provide a return on the investment.
I think its a loser, frankly, he said. More than that, whats it going to do to the need for rational neighborhood planning [on the West Side]?
Also, Ferrer said, while it would be nice to extend the 7 train to the Hudson Yards site, it would be done at the expense of the more critically needed Second Ave. subway project.
John Scott, a tenant leader from Independence Plaza, the Mitchell-Lama development in Tribeca where tenants face a buyout, asked Ferrer where he stands on preserving affordable housing.
Ferrer said he supports the Mitchell-Lama legislation recently introduced in the City Council as an important first step. But he said it would only provide a temporary solution and that a permanent measure is needed to keep affordable housing in place.
Weve got to prevent buyouts. Weve got to deepen tax incentives and subsidies to keep housing affordable, Ferrer stressed. He scoffed that the mayors ability to make good on his announced five-year plan to build 65,000 units of affordable housing.
Asked by club member Frieda Bradlow what can be done to goose up the Council, which she said is lacking fire, Ferrer, who was a councilmember for five years, agreed theres a sense of passivity.
Theres an alarming quiescence over this city, he said.
In addition, he criticized the mayors reform of the school system and Chancellor Joel Klein, saying that meetings on budget and major decisions must be open to the public and that the plan to hold back more students is fulfilling the dictates of the ideologically-driven New York Post which has this thing for social promotion.
As for the mayors putting police officers in troubled schools, Ferrer responded, Why dont we put a certified teacher next to every kid or maybe a real after-school program next to every kid?
After speaking for over an hour, Ferrer showed no signs of slowing, but was getting the high sign from Marlow, who was ready to announce the results of the clubs presidential endorsement vote (John Kerry).
Chad, I know Im at the end
, said Ferrer, clearly having enjoyed getting out from behind his computer to hash out issues again with progressive Democrats.
At the beginning! chimed in Art Strickler, former district leader.