Award–winning journalist Andrea Bernstein is Senior Editor for Politics & Policy for WNYC News. She has previously served as Metro Editor, Political Director, Director of Transportation Nation, and Senior Reporter.
New York, NY –
For former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer, the 2005 campaign is take three. In 1997 he ran and dropped out early. In 2001, he narrowly lost a run off election to Mark Green, who went on to narrowly lose himself to Michael Bloomberg. But the name recognition Ferrer gained four years ago instantly propelled him to the front of the Democratic pack – where he’s remained. WNYC’s Andrea Bernstein spent a day with Ferrer.
FERRER CAMPAIGN WORKER: Good Morning, meet Freddy Ferrer…
REPORTER: The Kings Highway subway station is a long way from Ferrer’s home in Riverdale. He gets here at 8, half an hour after a gaggle of bleary eyed teenagers from the local Democratic club. He’s here to catch the morning rush crowd before they dash through the turnstiles to grab the B train to Manhattan. The locals are polite – but confused.
WOMAN: How are you? You look familiar. On TV all the time? FERRER: I’m trying. WOMAN: You’re trying, what are you running for? Senate? FERRER: Mayor. WOMAN: Really, oh really that’s wonderful. FERRER: And I need your help. WOMAN: You got it. Bloomberg’s not doing the right thing by city workers.
REPORTER: In 2001, Ferrer cast himself as the champion of the “other New York.” That was widely interpreted to mean he was the candidate of Blacks, Latinos and the poor--groups that felt alienated in Rudy Giuliani’s New York. In 2005—the emphasis has shifted. Ferrer’s campaign posters – affixed to everything that’s vertical this sunny August morning – say: Fernando Ferrer, for all of us for a change.
The message….in a city where the Mayor is a billionaire, Ferrer can connect with the working stiff – like city worker Ed Minesses, who tells Ferrer his pay is docked when the subways slow down.
MINESSES: Last week I was late possibly three times. FERRER: I’m on the subways all the time too I’ll tell you something the delays, and what they want to do? Build a platform over the rail yards. MINESSES: That’s what he wants to do. This mayor, he wants to build things move out the working class people.
REPORTER: As the Democratic frontrunner, Ferrer tends to be the beneficiary of whatever anti-Bloomberg sentiment there is. At the Say Chicken Kosher restaurant, the proprietor, a lanky man in a food-stained shirt who will only give his name as David, offers his hand to Ferrer.
FERRER: How you feeling? DAVID: I hope you beat Bloomberg terribly, all the parking tickets -- FERRER: With your help – DAVID: You have my help. He’s killing us you got meter maids walking all day here FERRER: I hear that all the time in front of the churches on Sunday, it’s everywhere.
Ferrer likes to take the bits he hears from citizens and incorporate them into his campaign rap – later in the day, he’ll gripe to a Russian radio reporter about ticket blitzes. But now, he’s jumping into his car for a little nosh on the ride over to work three supermarkets.
FERRER: Please tell me there’s coffee in here, please, please, please. Campaign Worker: Here you go. FREDDY: Bless you, bless you. CAMPAIGN WORKER: Coffee for you, doughnuts for me. You know the rules. FERRER: All of them are for you?
ANNOUNCER: Good morning shoppers welcome to Foodtown, in case you haven’t heard Freddy Ferrer is here.
REPORTER: In one of the supermarkets, Ferrer’s entourage seems larger than the number of shoppers. As he ambles down the aisles, the Democratic frontrunner stops not for voters, but to examine a jug of orange juice.
FERRER: Oh that’s a good price, two and half bucks for 96 oz? That’s a VERY good price. Leap on that!
REPORTER:As he stands in the produce aisle, he gets the thumbs up from Vincent Corriello. Corriello knows he doesn’t like Mayor Bloomberg – and he knows why, he’s dubious about the Mayor’s jobs record. But when it comes to the Democrats, Corriello is less clear.
BERNSTEIN: What do you think about say Gifford miller you like Gifford Miller? CORRIELLO: Yeah he’s a Mill Basin boy. BERNSTEIN: That’s Anthony Wiener. CORRIELLO: Yeah I know he’s got my vote. BERNSTEIN: Who has your vote? CORRIELLO: The Mill Basin Democrat BERNSTEIN: Weiner? CORRIELLO: I go all the way through Democrat. BERNSTEIN: Not Mr. Ferrer, you’re not sure? CORRIELLO: Ferrer, yes, yes.
REPORTER: There are two sizeable groups of voters who know Ferrer that do seem sure of their votes, Bronxites – and Latinos. Outside a Waldbaums in Canarsie, Renicchio Viego rushes up to Ferrer, telling him, unbidden, that Ferrer has his vote. I ask him why.
VIEGO: Porque? Porque es mi paiasano.
REPORTER: He’s my countryman, Viego says, flashing a gap-toothed smile. That’s a point Ferrer is only lightly emphasizing this time around. Instead in a senior center in Sheepshead Bay, he tells a familiar mid-century American story how the son of a single mom who lived in a fourth floor walk up—ended up running for Mayor or New York.
FERRER: Everything I got, every opportunity, I had was given to me as a result of growing up on that beautiful block.
REPORTER: Back in his red campaign minivan, I note we’ve been to a subway stop, three groceries stores, walked the length of Avenue J, and visited a senior center, and most of New York hasn’t even had lunch yet. Having already exited the political arena—why bother with all of this?
FERRER: Actually I had no intention of running again for anything. I was having a great time.
REPORTER: Most people in the political class don’t believe that, but Ferrer insists there was one thing that made him decide to try to unseat Mayor Bloomberg.
FERRER: It was the west that absolutely obsessive quest for the west side stadium when so many other things needed to get done in this city --things that I cared about, things I thought he cared about.
REPORTER: Later that afternoon, he tapes a Spanish language radio ad.
FERRER: Quando ser alcade voy construir mas viviendos a precios modicos.
REPORTER: The candidate is remarkably on message this campaign, speaking in clear soundbites on his desire to create affordable housing and cut high school drop out rates. Even in areas where he’s clearly conversant, he seems to prefer to speak in short, sometimes combative sentences rather than elaborate on his policy goals.
FERRER: Oh there’s no housing plan for the Hudson Yards! Does anybody around this table --
REPORTER: We’re at a meeting of the Board of Directors of Housing First, a group that wants to push its goal of a $10 billion commitment to 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next ten years. The group likes Ferrer’s detailed housing plan, but it takes him an hour before he warms up, talking about his desire to cut tax breaks for developers of luxury housing and use those breaks to build middle class housing instead. That’s a better way to create a thriving city than pursuing sports stadiums, Ferrer says.
FERRER: as they advance to the middle class in this city they’re paying more taxes, they got a bigger job they’re leaving more in the collection plate they’re shopping in neighborhood stores that’s all the good news of all of this
REPORTER: And then its back in the van for a long trip to Brighton Beach, for what organizers call the first ever candidate’s debate for a Russian American audience. Beforehand, a Russian reporter pulls him aside.
REPORTER: You look tired what is the most tiring problems of the city of New York?
FERRER: Actually Victor it’s not the long hours its trying to come up with ways to deal with the crisis of housing affordability, the unconscionably high number of high school dropouts
REPORTER: All the democrats show up for this event, which packs the large National Restaurant on Brighton Beach’s main drag. Much of the crowd doesn’t speak English, and talks through the program, to frequent shushing. But the candidates plow through, re-iterating their campaign bromides.
And then its back in the mini van, to do it all over every day until September 13, and Ferrer hopes, beyond. For WNYC, I’m Andrea Bernstein.» A Day in the Life: Anthony Weiner