It was a political déjà vu last night at the campaign headquarters of Fernando Ferrer, at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel on Park Avenue, except this time the near-certainty was about losing—not winning, as had been the case on primary night September 13. Hoping for nothing short of a miracle, Brooklyn Congressman Anthony Weiner, who in September was the only obstacle in the way of a Ferrer victory, told the Gay City News, shortly before the election results came in Tuesday evening, that he was “holding out a shred of optimism for this race.”
Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s 20-point margin of victory set a Republican record by trumping Rudolph Giuliani’s 16-point win in 1997.
“Democrats have to look in the mirror moving forward,” Weiner said.
What that reflection will look like, however, is still a murky issue.
One theme of the night, echoed by many prominent Democrats who spoke at the Waldorf, was the idea of “real Democrats”— a term used both by Virginia Fields, the outgoing Manhattan borough president and former mayoral candidate, and William Thompson, the New York City comptroller who easily won another term Tuesday. Alluding to the 50 percent of registered Democrats in New York City who said they were going to vote for Bloomberg, according to a New York Times poll, there was a sense that the Democratic base had defected from the party, helping Bloomberg score his double-digit victory.
Thompson asked the crowd, “Are there any real Democrats here tonight?”
About 1.24 million New Yorkers voted yesterday, in one of the lightest turnouts since the 1980s. Still, in a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans five to one, there is some serious soul-searching to do for a party that will now have been shut out of City Hall for 16 years.
Many, such as Thompson, wrote the Bloomberg landslide off to his well-financed campaign, calling the mayor “the 100 million dollar monster.”
Ferrer struggled to raise five million dollars, half of what he had hoped to have in hand. Putting a slightly more positive spin on the exorbitant amount of money Bloomberg spent, Reverend Al Sharpton, speaking in his trademark impassioned tone, told the crowd, “We made him spend the money.”
Ferrer, himself noted that he had the “dubious distinction of running against the best-financed candidate in American politics.”
Ferrer told the crowd, after officially conceding the election, “I feel like the luckiest man in New York.” Mentioning his humble roots growing up in the South Bronx and the fact that his grandmother once struggled to make low wages in the kitchen of the Waldorf, he focused his last campaign speech on the message he tried to base his run around—opportunities for average, working New Yorkers.
“I will be the first to commend the mayor for uniting the two New Yorks,” Ferrer said in challenge to Bloomberg.
As the dust settled from the election, LGBT organizations that endorsed Ferrer began to switch gears to prepare for work with a second-term Bloomberg administration.
“We should never stop working with elected officials even if they aren’t in favor of one issue that we support,” said Alan Van Capelle, the executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda. “There are 1,800 things that LGBT people are not entitled to in this state. What we understand is that the office of mayor is a very high-profile way to move LGBT causes forward and we are going to work with the Bloomberg administration to help them understand how important LBGT civil rights issues are.”
Brad Hoylman, the former president of the Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats (GLID), believes the initial task, moving into the mayor’s second term, is to a set a legislative agenda for the LGBT community.
“I don’t think there was a lot of discussion of LGBT issues during the campaign that broke out into the mainstream media because neither Ferrer nor Bloomberg wanted to polarize their base on this issue,” Hoylman said. “However, we need to seize our chance to make progress on marriage equality. It’s a state issue, but there is a lot we could do at the local level.”
Bloomberg, in fact, is currently appealing a February state court ruling ordering the city to issue same-sex marriage licenses, a move he announced the same day he said he personally supports gay marriage and would lobby for it in Albany.
Melissa Sklarz, GLID’s current leader, focused on that contradiction in comments blunter than Hoylman’s.
“We consider the mayor to be a hypocrite and we hope we have the next four years to educate him about LGBT issues,” she said. “Bloomberg could have married people in New York City. He could have been our hero, our champion, and our representative. Instead, he did what Republicans do everywhere, which is fight the idea of marriage equality.”
Van Capelle said he was extremely impressed by the LGBT community for sticking to its principles, values, and ideals in supporting Ferrer in an election that he had very little chance of wining.
“It is very easy to jump on a winning campaign with a lot of money and an assured victory, but the difficult part is when you endorse a campaign based on principles. I applaud the LGBT people who stood with Ferrer when it wasn’t popular to do so,” he said.
Hoylman noted that next year the LGBT community may win the City Council speakership, should District 3 lesbian Councilwoman Christine Quinn, a close ally of outgoing Speaker Gifford Miller, prevail in her bid.
“That’s an amazing thing for the LGBT community,” Hoylman said.