AUGUST 23, 2001

Riverdale's 'Rudy' vote is big prize in mayor's race


EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was originally published on Aug. 23, 2001, and was reprinted as part of the 70th anniversary of The Riverdale Press.

Democrats may rule the Riverdale-Kingsbridge area, but this year’s Republican mayoral candidates have not forgotten the lessons of the last eight years, when local residents turned out in force to vote for Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in back-to-back elections.

In interviews with The Riverdale Press, Herman Badillo — the former Bronx congressman and borough president — and Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire businessman, showed they were far from conceding the Northwest Bronx to their Democratic rivals.

As they sketched plans to build on Mr. Giuliani’s legacy of safe streets and prosperity, however, the two candidates drew very different pictures of the city’s next administration.

A first-time candidate, Mr. Bloomberg touted his business credentials and deplored government efforts at “social engineering.”

“The investment in this city has to come from the private sector,” he said. “And the private sector will only do that if they have enormous confidence that the city’s going to be well-managed.”

A perennial candidate and officeholder since the 1960s, Mr. Badillo conveyed great faith in the power of government policy and emphasized his commitment to the poor.

“That’s really what this campaign is all about: That the Republican Party should not be a party of the wealthy people, of the billionaires and millionaires like Michael Bloomberg,” he said.

A longtime Riverdalian who now lives in Manhattan, Mr. Badillo knows local issues. But Mr. Bloomberg, a Manhattan resident and Boston native, had clearly done his homework, speaking confidently on topics from the Kingsbridge Armory to filtration of the Croton watershed.

Despite ideological disagreements, the two men often saw eye-to-eye on the nuts and bolts of governing the city.


No overnight reforms

If elected, Mr. Bloomberg would spend much of his first 100 days in office assembling what he called “a team.” He wrote off politicians who promise overnight reforms and waste energy on symbolic gestures.

“I always get a kick out of people saying, ‘Well, you don’t understand government. You’re from the business world, where everything happens instantly,’” he added. “And then the politicians who say that stand up and say, ‘I’m gonna cure crime. I’m gonna fix the schools. I’m gonna do this’ — without any attention to detail or how you actually go and do any of those things.”

Mr. Badillo also spoke of the need for good management and a strong, experienced administration. On his first day on the job, he would ask Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, operations director Adam Barsky and children’s services commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta to stay on at City Hall. Then he would fire schools chancellor Harold Levy.


Controversial standards

As chairman of the board at the City University of New York Mr. Badillo established controversial academic standards for entrance and graduation. Now, as he campaigns for mayor, Mr. Badillo is promising to impose similar standards on the city’s public schools by, among other things, eliminating the practice of so-called “social promotion,” beginning standardized testing in the first grade, and requiring teachers in administrative jobs to explain their absence from the classroom to the mayor and the city council.

Mr. Bloomberg, meanwhile, has put forth a comprehensive plan for the city’s schools outlining similar measures, including a few of his own, such as requiring all students to wear uniforms and testing teachers every second year.

Both candidates plan to lobby Albany to disband the education board and place schools under the direct control of the mayor and the city.

Mr, Bloomberg offered no opinion on whether more affordable housing ought to be built in the Riverdale-Kingsbridge area, saying only that neighborhoods should, in most cases, be allowed to control their own destinies.

Mr. Badillo said he would support the construction of low-rise, tenant-owned housing citywide. He also said he would rewrite the city’s zoning law to “remove a lot of the restrictions to make it impossible to build anything,” and aggressively develop blighted areas in the Bronx and elsewhere.

“I don’t feel that we need to have slums at all,” he said, “because it’s very cheap to rebuild a city.”

By contrast, Mr. Bloomberg spoke of the difficulties inherent in urban development, and the mayor’s obligation to reconcile conflicting interests.

Take the Kingsbridge Armory, he said. While he suspected the armory would be a poor site for a school, he acknowledged that that’s what local residents want.

The city would compromise, he said, by selling the armory to the private sector on the condition that they build a new school in the area.


Sharp differences

On an even more contentious issue — the proposed construction of a drinking water filtration plant in the Northwest Bronx — sharper differences emerged.

According to Mr. Bloomberg, the city has two options: Build the plant in Westchester County, or build in the Bronx. Most Bronx residents are adamantly opposed to the plant.

But building it in Westchester will mean asking the city’s construction industry to give up a major job, he said.

As an alternative, Mr. Bloomberg suggested closing the Croton Reservoir or making it an emergency backup source until better filtration technology becomes available.

Mr. Badillo had no position on the filtration controversy. As mayor, he said, he would have to consult with the affected community boards.

Mr. Badillo came down unequivocally on the side of those who want increased access to the Hudson River in Riverdale. An avid runner, he said he used to dream of jogging along the river from Riverdale to city hall.

Mr. Bloomberg stayed neutral on the question of a trail west of the train tracks.

While Mr. Bloomberg spoke generally about the importance of running a business-friendly administration, Mr. Badillo promised to focus his attention on small businesses and retailers maintaining and improving commercial strips like Fordham Road and Johnson Avenue.

Both men called New York “a city of neighborhoods,” but Mr. Badillo repeatedly emphasized the need to revitalize areas that remain down at heel despite the city’s recent prosperity.

“In Europe, cities are treated like jewels,” he said.

“In America, we treat them like trinkets.”

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Rudolph Giuliani, Herman Badillo, Michael Bloomberg, Bernard Kerik, Adam Barsky, Harold Levy, CUNY, Kingsbridge Armory, Nicolas Howe,