Mayor's race enters its final mudslinging days
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The coming weekend will feature a high-decibel spike in pre-primary noise. By Monday, the recorded calls, live calls, broadcast ads, targeted mailings, handbills and personal campaign appearances will meld into a massive political cacophony ending with Tuesday's vote.
You'll hear accurate or exaggerated claims of candidates' skills -- and accurate or exaggerated slams of their rivals' failings. Part of the noise could make it sound like Mudfest Weekend 2013 -- when nasty anonymous attacks and unanswerable hits reach the eyes and ears of potential voters.
For all the civic pieties spoken by the candidates themselves, the forces of the down-and-dirty always make an appearance in the final days. Why?
"The goal is to muddy up the perceptions people have of the opponents, and confuse the voters so they make a different decision or in fact not turn out at all," said Hank Sheinkopf, a ubiquitous presence in municipal campaigns for many years. This year he's been with Democrat Bill Thompson's mayoral primary effort, though he'd signed on with Mayor Michael Bloom-berg in 2009.
"If the goal is to reduce turnout, it works. If the goal is to educate the electorate, it doesn't work," Sheinkopf said.
Another longtime political operative, who declined to be identified, said candidates in big campaigns pay for "negative research" on the opposition -- and may look to use whatever material hasn't already been circulated, or sprinkled into debates and speeches. "It's use it or lose it at this point," the operative said.
For front-runners in the Democratic mayoral contest -- Bill de Blasio, Thompson and Christine Quinn -- going nuclear against any rival poses special risks. A runoff is still quite possible between Tuesday's two top vote-getters, and anyone who plans to advance to the general election will want a significant number of the losers' supporters to rally behind him or her.
There is no such problem in the one-on-one Democratic primary for comptroller, where it's do-or-die on Tuesday for the candidates, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and former Gov. Eliot Spitzer.
The two already have been condemning each other on most possible fronts. Stringer blasts Spitzer on the prostitution scandal that forced him from office in 2008, and Spitzer, already complaining about unsigned pro-Stringer fliers, has tried to tie his foe to Albany dysfunction and sins of the "establishment."
Polls this week showed the two neck-and-neck -- a traditional incentive for eleventh-hour attacks that could affect just enough votes to make a difference.
On the Republican side, part of the mayoral effort of billionaire John Catsimatidis has focused on showing that front-runner Joe Lhota lacks the temperament for the office. Expect to see more down the final stretch.
For getting out the vote, however, institutions and funding figure to be more important than negative messages.
"It really depends on who's on the ground," said Ken Sherrill, a professor emeritus of political science at Hunter College in Manhattan. "Political clubs, and unions, and some congregations matter. Otherwise, you've got to pay for it."