To Find the Perfect New York Mayor, Only 2 Years Left


bloombergIt is recruiting season in New York City, but the targets are not investment banking analysts or college athletes. They are potential candidates for mayor.

“You’ll be at a cocktail party or an event – ‘Please run for mayor! Are you thinking about running for mayor?’ ” said William J. Bratton, a former police commissioner, describing a typical interaction.

He is hardly the only person to be called on. With the election two years away and the field of candidates to succeed Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg seeming to narrow rather than expand, the favorite political parlor game of the moment is determining which famous, rich or ambitious New Yorker might be enlisted to join the fray.

Mr. Bratton, who is now the chairman of Kroll, the security company, said he was flattered to be sought after, but ultimately decided against running. But he said he thought there might be an opening for others.

“The field right now is so small, so narrow, people want a few additional choices,” he said.

The early front-runners in the race appear to be three Democratic politicians: Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker; William C. Thompson Jr., the former comptroller; and Bill de Blasio, the public advocate. Scott M. Stringer, the Manhattan borough president, is also well known and has been raising money for a mayoral campaign. Some believe he may ultimately switch to a different race, but he insists he is running for mayor. Another candidate, Tom Allon, the publisher of community newspapers, is a political unknown.

One prominent Democratic hopeful, former Representative Anthony D. Weiner, was sidelined by a scandal. Another, John C. Liu, the comptroller, has been weakened by a federal investigation into his fund-raising practices.

Several others are considering joining the field, including Adolfo Carrión Jr., the former urban affairs director in the Obama administration; Eva S. Moskowitz, the chief of a charter schoolnetwork; and Christopher O. Ward, the former head of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Earlier this year, a group of the city’s real estate titans tried, without success, to draft the billionaire Mortimer B. Zuckerman.

“I would have been happy to support him and work for him, so I went to say, ‘Your name is coming up, and if you are interested, we should figure out how to get from here to there,’ ” said John E. Zuccotti, a real estate executive and onetime deputy mayor.

Mr. Zuckerman, in an interview, said, “I think they were looking for someone who can follow in” Mr. Bloomberg’s footsteps. But he demurred, citing his desire to spend time with his two young daughters. “I was flattered, but I obviously decided against it for the best personal reasons,” he said.

Two other businessmen who have been mentioned as possible candidates also said they were not interested. Richard D. Parsons, the chairman of Citigroup, who is a perennial possibility, said by e-mail, “I am not a candidate for the job.” And Leo Hindery Jr., a Democratic businessman who has worked in media and private equity, dipped a toe in the race earlier this year but later decided against running.

Merryl H. Tisch, the chancellor of the State Board of Regents since 2009, is being urged by friends to run. A member of the wealthy Tisch clan, she could finance her own campaign. But so far, she has denied any interest.

The feverish search for the dream candidate is in many ways a New York tradition. In 2008, when Mr. Bloomberg was approaching the end of his second term, the city’s magnates searched for someone in a similar mold – centrist, pro-business – to succeed him. In the end, Mr. Bloomberg had the law changed to allow him to run for a third term.

This time, the mood is similarly unsettled.

The Democratic Party is eager to reclaim City Hall after two decades in exile. Mr. Bloomberg, mayor since 2002, is an independent; his predecessor, Rudolph W. Giuliani, was a Republican. But most of the city’s voters are Democrats, and the proportion of minority voters has grown significantly during the Bloomberg years, leading many experts to believe that the Democrats have better odds of winning the race next time.

“Quote me on this: I can’t wait for 2013,” said Keith L. T. Wright, the Manhattan Democratic chairman.

“We have a pool of some very great candidates,” he said. “I think the Bloomberg phenomenon is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of deal.”

Others, however, warn against overconfidence, noting that many Democrats were sure their party would retake City Hall in 2001.

“No one this early in that cycle thought that we wouldn’t have a Democratic mayor,” said Scott Levenson, a Democratic consultant who has worked on past mayoral campaigns. “There’s no shortage of accomplished business folks in New York who are capable of self-funding.”

The path to the Republican nomination remains wide open, with the most attention being focused on Raymond W. Kelly, the police commissioner, and John Catsimatidis, the billionaire owner of the Gristedes supermarket chain.

“I think both of them would make excellent Republican candidates,” said Joseph J. Savino, the Bronx Republican chairman.

Mr. Kelly has not expressed interest in running, although he has not publicly ruled it out, either. “Commissioner Kelly already has what he considers the best job in New York, and he is focused entirely on it,” said his spokesman, Paul J. Browne.

Mr. Catsimatidis, for his part, said he stood ready to run if Mr. Kelly did not enter the race. “I encourage him every time I see him,” he said. But, he added, “there are a lot of people thinking that he really doesn’t want to run and that I should be prepared. I said, ‘O.K., I’m in the bullpen.’ ”

Richard A. Grasso, the former chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, has also said he might run if Mr. Kelly does not.

In an e-mail, Mr. Grasso said he would support Mr. Kelly if he ran. “Should he decide not to run,” he added, “I will seek the Republican nomination if there appears to be a split in the Democrat base causing one or more of the Democratic candidates to remain on third party lines.”

Candidates joining the race now without their own fortune would have to start raising money quickly.

“You’ve got to raise at least two or three million dollars” to hit the public financing system’s spending cap, said Bradley Tusk, the manager of Mr. Bloomberg’s 2009 re-election campaign. “If you’re not a good chunk of the way there a year and a half out” – that is, by early 2012 – “I think it’s hard to see yourself as viable.”

Mr. Carrión already has $1.1 million in the bank from an aborted run for comptroller in 2009 – a head start that would be helpful should he decide to run. His status as potentially the only Hispanic candidate in the race, whether he ran as a Democrat or on another line, could also be significant because of the increase in minority voters. Mr. Carrión said by e-mail that he was focused on his current job, as a regional director for the Department of Housing and Urban Development; an associate said he was considering a bid for mayor.

But in a potential setback, Mr. Carrión recently agreed to pay a $10,000 fine to the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board for using an architect on a home renovation project in 2006 and 2007 who was also involved in a large housing development that required his approval as Bronx borough president.

The current Bronx borough president, Ruben Diaz Jr., said in an interview that he was also thinking about running for mayor.

Mr. Ward, who left the Port Authority in October, said he would make a decision by early next year. “I continue to be flattered,” he said. “It takes a lot of money and politics to run, but I continue to listen to people who are urging me to think about it.”

Mr. Ward would face significant challenges, having neither an established political base nor a personal fortune. But he earned the respect of many in the business world by getting the rebuilding project at the World Trade Center site on track.

Ms. Moskowitz, a former city councilwoman who now runs the Success Charter Network, said in an interview that she had not decided whether to run. “There’s plenty of time,” she said. “I think there might even be other candidates who come into the race. I just know, given New York City’s political history, there are always surprises.”

{New York Times/ Newscenter}