Monday, April 18, 2005

Bob Kerrey Weighing Run for Mayor of New York

The New York Times
April 17, 2005
Bob Kerrey Weighing Run for Mayor of New York

Former United States Senator Bob Kerrey, the president of the New School University and a Democratic candidate for president in 1992, said yesterday that he was considering a run for mayor of New York City, declaring that Michael R. Bloomberg had failed to fight Washington Republican policies that Mr. Kerrey said endangered the city's finances and security.

Mr. Kerrey, in an interview, also questioned why Mr. Bloomberg had invested so much energy in trying to build a stadium on the West Side of Manhattan. Mr. Kerrey said it would make more sense to put the stadium in another borough, and that the rezoning of the West Side proposed as part of stadium plan would overwhelm the neighborhood.

Asked about reports from other Democrats that he had talked to associates about possibly running against Mr. Bloomberg, Mr. Kerrey at first said he was inclined not to run for mayor. But a moment later, in what turned out to be an expansive conversation, he said, "You know me: I am just crazy enough to do this."

Aides to Mr. Bloomberg said they were surprised by Mr. Kerrey's comments. They said that just last week Mr. Bloomberg called Mr. Kerrey and asked him to head "Democrats for Bloomberg" - and Mr. Kerrey accepted.

Mr. Kerrey confirmed that conversation. "That is exactly right," he said last night. But he said that he began having second thoughts almost as soon as he had accepted.

A former senator from Nebraska who moved to New York to become the president of New School University in 2001, Mr. Kerrey has raised the prospect of a candidacy at a time when there has been rising anguish among New York Democrats over the candidacy of Fernando Ferrer, the former Bronx borough president who has been struggling in his third bid to become mayor. Asked whether he thought Mr. Ferrer could now defeat Mr. Bloomberg given his troubles, Mr. Kerrey responded, "I don't know."

Beyond Mr. Ferrer, who had long been viewed as the strongest Democrat in the race, other major Democrats vying to challenge the Republican Mr. Bloomberg are the Manhattan borough president, C. Virginia Fields; the City Council speaker, Gifford Miller; and United States Representative Anthony D. Weiner.

Mr. Kerrey, 61, said that he just signed a contract extending his stay at the New School through 2011, but that he could break it if necessary. He said he would decide within a few days whether to run.

Mr. Kerrey himself suggested that his talk may ultimately amount to little more than the musings of a New York Democrat frustrated by a national government controlled by Republicans.

His task would be daunting, should he decide to enter at this late date. For one thing, he would be far behind his Democratic rivals in raising money. For another, Mr. Kerrey has lived in New York for only four years, making him even more of a transplant than Mr. Bloomberg, who is from Boston.

"The hard truth of this is I became a New Yorker on the 11th of September, 2001," he said. "Now it's in my gene code. I lived here for four years, but thanks to Sept. 11, this is now my city. I care about what happens to it."

Mr. Kerrey said he began thinking about running for mayor as he watched the House of Representatives vote to repeal the estate tax. At the time, he said, he was filling out his own tax return and was reminded of how many New Yorkers had been hurt by provisions of the tax code - the Alternative Minimum Tax - which has had the effect of eliminating the deduction of state and local income taxes for many Americans.

"I am angry about the way New York City is being treated by Washington, D.C.," Mr. Kerrey said. "Who is fighting these guys? What would Giuliani and Koch be doing now? They'd be raising hell!"

Still, in the course of the interview, Mr. Kerrey offered some words of praise for the man who might be his rival.

"I like Bloomberg a lot," Mr. Kerrey said. "I think he's been gutsy. I think he's authentic. I like what he did with the schools. He calmed race relations in New York in a way that I think is quite impressive.

"But there are areas where I'm not so happy," Mr. Kerrey continued.

He said that Mr. Bloomberg was devoting far too much energy to the West Side stadium, and that his rezoning proposal would be very damaging to the neighborhood.

And he said Mr. Bloomberg had failed to fight Republicans in Washington when they were approving measures that he said were damaging to the city - from tax cuts that do not benefit New York residents to the allocation of national security money away from New York.

Mr. Bloomberg's aides said Mr. Kerrey and Mr. Bloomberg have been in agreement that homeland security dollars should be doled out based on assessed threat, which would result in more federal money for New York.

"The mayor was the first public official to draw attention to the fact that homeland security funds need to be distributed by risk and threat and the resulting formula changes will result in millions in dollars that New York City would otherwise never see," said Edward Skyler, Mr. Bloomberg's press secretary.

Mr. Bloomberg's aides noted that even Senator Charles E. Schumer, a Democrat, has complimented him for lobbying Washington. Last week, Mr. Bloomberg made a high-profile trip to Washington, where he met with Congressional leaders and Michael Chertoff, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. But even as he has called for more money from Washington, the mayor has declined to criticize his fellow Republicans, arguing that it would be counterproductive to rail against those from whom he seeks help.

But Mr. Kerrey disagreed "We need to start fighting these guys to change their priorities," he said. "I don't think you do that by being a nice guy."

Mr. Kerrey acknowledged last night that it might seem unusual to go, in the space of a week, from agreeing to head Democrats for Bloomberg to talking about challenging him this year. He said the shift reflected his own ambivalence about a mayor who he said was good in some ways, but flawed in others.

He said that he had not informed Mr. Bloomberg that he was thinking of running for mayor, or that he had decided against heading the committee. "I guess they know now," he said.