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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Clintons stay above the fray in mayoral contest

Hillary Clinton and former U.S. President Bill Clinton

Hillary Clinton and former U.S. President Bill Clinton look on following a dinner for Kennedy honorees, Dec. 1, 2012. Photo Credit: Getty Images

Twelve years after they migrated here from Washington, Bill and Hillary Clinton are widely seen as occupying a station in politics well above New York's intramural rivalries.

So it seems logical that, for now, they'd view the New York City mayoral contest as a sort of inside-the-Belt Parkway affair worth avoiding. Spokesmen for both Clintons say the premier power couple is staying out of the fray, given their simultaneous friendships and alliances with several candidates.

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio was campaign manager for Hillary Clinton in her first run for Senate. Former Rep. Anthony Weiner, a much-televised cheerleader in her failed 2008 presidential bid, is married to her longtime close aide Huma Abedin. Records show City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) has reaped many campaign contributions from big-name Hillary donors.

Even businessman John Catsimatidis, running as a Republican, has a Clinton connection. He once raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Hillary Clinton's presidential bid in a single fundraising dinner.

Analysts seem to agree that the Clintons would see no benefit in making a mayoral primary endorsement, regardless of whether she runs for president again in three years.

"They'll have to work well with the next mayor, not only in terms of 2016," said David Birdsell, dean of the Baruch College School of Public Affairs. "You've got a pretty unsettled field. There's not much that they [the Clintons] can do for themselves politically by making an endorsement."

Only last month, Bill Clinton campaigned for Los Angeles mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel. The former president's political loyalty seemed clear: Democrat Greuel, an early Hillary 2008 backer, was facing Democrat Eric Garcetti, an early backer of then-Clinton rival Barack Obama. Garcetti won.

But Harold Ickes, a Clinton White House veteran who was a senior adviser to Hillary Clinton's 2000 Senate campaign, calls the Los Angeles endorsement unusual. The Clintons "typically do not get involved in races where it's a Democrat against a Democrat," Ickes said, adding that he expects that to hold true in New York.

Ickes, who advises the 2016-oriented "Ready for Hillary" super PAC, backs de Blasio for mayor. "We met in the first David Dinkins campaign for mayor," Ickes said. "I have a lot of confidence in his ability and his judgment."

Others from what can be loosely labeled the Clinton political community have gone in different directions.

A number of top Clinton contributors and fundraisers have donated to Christine Quinn, who would be the first female and openly gay mayor. Among them: Steven Rattner, Blair Effron, Barbara Lee Diamonstein, her spouse, Carl Spielvogel, David Mixner, Robert Zimmerman, Jeffrey Lynford and Alan Patricof. Causes seem to vary from identity politics (Mixner is a longtime gay rights advocate) to personal affection (Zimmerman met Quinn in the Al Gore 2000 campaign).

Meanwhile, the Weiner campaign has scheduled a "Women for Anthony" fundraiser on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan Thursday, with wife Abedin behind the effort. The host committee lists past Clinton campaign supporters, including philanthropist Elaine Schuster, Samara Barend of upstate New York, educator Jill Iscol and designer Reem Acra. In March, Schuster and husband Gerald contributed $3,150 to Bill Thompson.

Past Clinton campaign operatives have gone different places. Howard Wolfson, who was her campaign spokesman, became a deputy mayor under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Jonathan Prince, who wrote speeches for President Clinton, is Thompson's top strategist. Chung Seto, who raised funds for the 2000 effort, consults for Comptroller John Liu's mayoral campaign.

Former Gov. David A. Paterson said he understands why the Clintons have stayed neutral. "It's the old rule of politics, the one that I faced when I had to pick a senator [to succeed Clinton]: You make one friend and 19 enemies."

"So if I were them, I'd stay far away. Hillary has always loved Christine Quinn but there's de Blasio in 2000 and all that. Bill Clinton has a good relationship with all sides," Paterson said. Weiner, Paterson quipped, "is a political son-in-law. If he'd been a real son-in-law, he could have gotten the endorsement."

Evan Stavisky, a Democratic strategist uninvolved in the mayoral race, said it would make sense for the Clintons to back the Democratic nominee. But "before that, it makes little if any sense," he said.

"Anyone who runs for mayor is likely to be supportive of Hillary Clinton should she run for president. Why wade into a messy Democratic primary -- whether she's going to run or not?"


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