Barbara Lippert’s Critique

Are there national implications to New York’s recent mayoral race? Only that all bets are off after the World Trade Center attacks. So even with all his gazillions, Mike Bloom berg wouldn’t have won without St. Rudy’s final push. And as the Democratic Party fell apart around him and he was being wildly outspent, Mark Green responded with the worst attack ad ever made.

New Yorkers are still so traumatized by Sept. 11 that their biggest concerns are security and jobs, and for now a billionaire businessman like Mike is perceived as a better provider. As New Yorkers relied on the mayor to be a daddy-protector as never before, Giuliani, now a living legend in that department, endorsed Bloom berg. This was turned into an emotional 60-second spot, which, in a brilliant (and expensive) media buy, ran nonstop during the already very emotional World Series. (Extra games equaled extra Rudy exposure.)

The mayor is at his desk, official flags behind him. Once perceived as tone-deaf to people’s problems, Giuliani displays his new pitch-perfect ability to come up with just the right nerve-soother. Tightly framed, exuding a golden aura, he says, “It’s been an honor to be your mayor for eight years. You may not have always agreed with me, but I gave it my all. I love this city. And I’m confident it will be in good hands with Mike Bloomberg.”

Since the tragedy, the “Love New York” phrase has been thrown around a lot. But here, the once feelings-averse Rudy lavishes the “L” word with a couple of extra Tom Brokaw-like glottal thrusts. And the old “You’re in good hands” line suggests All-State insurance, but also the pater familias passing the scepter to the anointed one.

Rudy’s final push for Bloomie was not the only thing that put another Republican in the office. The dissension among the Democrats helped. And, of course, there was Bloom berg’s self-financed, unlimited budget. In the largest ad buy for a mayoral race in U.S. history, Bloom berg apparently spent upward of $60 million. And the war allowed him to buy the election more than he could have at any other time, with very little media coverage apportioned to the race in the face of more life-threatening realities.

But even $60 million worth of bad ads won’t necessarily get you elected. In the beginning, Bloomberg’s spots showcased mostly his Boston accent and his awkwardness in front of the camera. And despite the freshly ironed, double-pocketed work shirt he donned, there was also his pitiful inability to get down with the working man. But by the end, when he no longer appeared in his own ads and when the campaign devolved into the “he started it, no he started it” fighting of 5-year-old boys, Bloom berg’s spots got very good, while Green made a fatal misstep.

It was shocking, in fact, that lib eral, socially aware Mark Green put an attack ad on the air that I can safely say is the single worst ad in the history of politics. In fairness, this was preceded by Bloomberg’s negative ad, a very simple, stripped-down spot that used a recording of Green saying he would have handled the crisis “as well or better than Rudy Giuliani.” Then some simple black-on-white type asked, “Really?” It was a brilliant negative ad because it got Green with his own words.

By contrast, Green’s ad dredged up a 1997 charge of sexual harassment. The allegation in volved Bloom berg telling a pregnant employee to “Kill it” and repeating the phrase. In the spot, the announcer repeats the phrase in sickeningly dramatic tones as we see it on a title card.

The problem with going for the obvious drama of repeating “Kill it!” on the airwaves is that the spot takes on a hysterical tabloid tone. Anything suggesting the subject of abortion, fetuses and a woman’s right to choose is way too important, and inflammatory, to bring up in a 30-second ad about sexual harassment. The shrillness of the spot’s tone conjures up the violence of clinic bombings or Jason from Friday the 13th.

Ironically, the after-effect of the spot is that Green, a crusader for women’s rights, seems to be the one getting ugly and crude. And that was definitely not the right tone to invoke for a town—and, in the larger sense, a country—looking for a calm, grown-up daddy.