Volume 73, Number 42 | February 18 - 24, 2004

Ferrer flares up at V.I.D.

By Lincoln Anderson

Villager photos by Lincoln Anderson

Fernando Ferrer shaking club members’ hands after his speech at V.I.D.

Fernando Ferrer had just started into his talk at the Village Independent Democrats’ meeting last Thursday night. He had quickly described what he’s been up to the last two years, then launched 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 can’t hear you!” called out a woman in back.

“You’ve got to excuse me. I’m just a little out of practice,” apologized Ferrer to some supportive laughter. “It’s a little like riding a bicycle — I’ll get back on.”

It didn’t 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 after the contentious Democratic mayoral primary to Mark Green.

“This is really one of my first outings in a while,” he confessed.

The former Bronx borough president of 14 years is currently president of the Drum Major Institute, where, he said, he’s 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 Ferrer 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 this time he’ll have his support.

It was natural that the 2001 election would be one of the first topics Ferrer would discuss, and he offered revealing inside information on Giuliani’s 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 approval.

Ferrer said Giuliani’s original proposal was to do away with term limits, allowing him to be mayor four more years.

“I couldn’t 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 explained it would only apply to him, not other city officials who were being term-limited out of office. Ferrer said he’d 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 desperately needed Giuliani as mayor. But Ferrer — with the chance of becoming the city’s first Latino mayor — said no.

“Fortunately, New Yorkers got over that period of what I would call temporary insanity,” he recalled of the post-9/11 panic that led some to support keeping Giuliani in office and the unprecedented idea of postponing the general election.

Asked if he had told his supporters not to back Green after losing the bitter runoff, Ferrer countered that he had publicly supported Green and that commercials had run on Spanish-language radio saying he did.

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 — and accused their administrations of being rife with conflicts of interest.

“If they were Democrats, they’d be investigated,” he said.

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 doesn’t snarl on the six o’clock 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 haven’t changed — like the current administration’s push to build a West Side stadium.

“It’s déjà vu all over again,” said Ferrer, who fought Giuliani’s and Yankee owner George Steinbrenner’s plan to move the Yankees from the Bronx to a new West Side baseball stadium.

Ferrer stressed that the city’s priorities are misplaced and that what should be built are school buildings, affordable housing and the Second Ave. subway.

“The proposal for Jets Stadium in their view is really Olympic Stadium,” Ferrer said, pointing out 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 challenged that assumption.

“Not one reporter asked him, ‘Why? What leads you to that conclusion?’ Extraordinary,” said Ferrer in disbelief.

Ferrer said it’s been proven stadiums don’t provide a return on the investment.

“I think it’s a loser, frankly,” he said of the Jets/Olympic Stadium plan. “More than that, what’s 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 necessarily be done at the expense of the more critically needed Second Ave. subway project.

John Scott, a tenant leader from Independence Plaza, a 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.

“We’ve got to prevent buyouts. We’ve got to deepen tax incentives and subsidies to keep housing affordable,” Ferrer stressed. He scoffed that the mayor has yet to make good on his announced five-year plan to build 65,000 units of affordable housing.

In response to a question on homelessness, Ferrer again blasted Bloomberg for not creating affordable housing. During a debate against Green in the 2001 election, Ferrer said, Bloomberg answered a question on homelessness and “sounded like a Democrat,” adding, “I think he forgot that answer.”

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 there’s a sense of passivity.

“There’s an alarming quiescence over this city,” he said.

In addition, he criticized the mayor’s reform of the school system and Chancellor Joel Klein, saying that budget meetings 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 mayor’s putting police officers in troubled schools, Ferrer responded, “Why don’t we put a certified teacher next to every kid — or maybe a real after-school program next to every kid?”

He said harsh drug laws that unfairly punish the poor must be reformed.

But the big question, of course is — will Ferrer run for mayor?

“We need you in office,” V.I.D.’er Le Enken urged.

“Sure, I’m thinking about it,” Ferrer responded. 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. It’s 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 it’s made me a better listener.”

Yet, he’s already shown he can raise funds quickly, having netted about $700,000 in just two weeks before the last filing date for the city’s Campaign Finance Board.

In addition to Ferrer, the field of likely Democratic mayoral candidates is shaping up to include City Council Speaker Gifford Miller, Controller Bill Thompson, Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields and Brooklyn Congressmember Anthony Weiner.

After speaking for over an hour, Ferrer showed no signs of slowing, but was getting the high sign from Marlow, waiting to announce the results of the club’s presidential endorsement vote.

“Chad, I know I’m at the end…,” said Ferrer, clearing having enjoyed getting out from behind his computer to hash out issues once more with progressive Democrats.

“At the beginning!” chimed in former District Leader Art Strickler.


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