July 20, 1997

When Messinger Gets Cool on Crew, Mayor Shifts to Warm

By ADAM NAGOURNEY

NEW YORK -- Ruth Messinger went to a public school on Staten Island last Sunday to assail Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's education record. In the process, she offered a lukewarm assessment of Schools Chancellor Rudy Crew: She could work with him, Ms. Messinger said, but was not prepared to say she wanted him to stick around if she wins.

Within a day, the Giuliani campaign had produced a new radio advertisement and was running it on four stations. "When a mother comes up to me and says, 'Thank you, Rudy, for fighting back to save our schools,' I tell her you should thank another Rudy -- Schools Chancellor Rudy Crew," Giuliani says in the advertisement.

Such humility is unusual for the Republican mayor, who is not generally known as a politician inclined to share political credit. But more was at play here than a rare display of mayoral magnanimity. The advertisement was an effort to capitalize on what Giuliani's aides said they saw as a misstep by Ms. Messinger, the Manhattan borough president who is the likely Democratic nominee.

Crew has emerged as perhaps one of New York's most popular and nonpartisan figures. A poll conducted by The New York Times in March found that 53 percent of the respondents approved of Crew's performance, compared with 19 percent who did not, the kind of favorable rating most politicians crave.

And if Giuliani's aides have their way, what is good news for Crew will be good news for the mayor. The mayor's political advisers said they believe that one way to repair the perception among voters that Giuliani has neglected education was to tie his fortunes to Crew's.

When Ms. Messinger's advisers learned of the mayor's ad, they tried to shift the attention back to City Hall. "He's got the wrong Rudy," said Jim Andrews, Ms. Messinger's senior strategist.

"We're running against Rudy Giuliani. The schools are an issue in this race. Rudolph W. Giuliani is the mayor and he is ultimately responsible for the schools."

Comparing Pay Levels

Ms. Messinger has continued to find herself under attack from all corners after her statements last week that New York teachers and police officers deserved the same pay as their counterparts in the suburbs.

Ms. Messinger was assailed Friday by her Democratic opponents for the nomination, the Rev. Al Sharpton and Councilman Sal Albanese, who said she was pandering for votes.

Ms. Messinger said she would work toward raising the salaries of teachers and police officers in New York City to suburban levels, presumably in return for contract concessions. Albanese said the cost was prohibitive, and suggested that politics rather than labor policy was at play.

"She's unpopular among teachers and cops, so she's going to basically pander," Albanese said. "That's what it's all about: There's no doubt about it."

Sharpton said that the goal should be pay equity. But he said that without an explanation of how to attain it -- Ms. Messinger's aides said the financing of her plan will be explained this week -- the remarks were only a reminder of what is wrong with his party.

"We should not try and play to people in a pandering way just to get votes," Sharpton said. "I think that is what has been wrong with the Democratic Party in the last half a decade."

The second round of attacks underscored just how treacherous it can be to try to talk about labor contracts in a political campaign. The unions representing corrections officers denounced Ms. Messinger not because she failed to offer them more money (in truth, city corrections officers already make more than those in the suburbs) but because Ms. Messinger did not mention them in her speech.

"I will not tolerate anyone forgetting about corrections officers," said Norman Seabrook, president of the New York City Correction Officers Benevolent Association. "If they don't respect us, then we won't respect them."

Wait Till Next Year

Once again, there are signs that much of the political activity occurring this year does not have much to do with this year, but with 1998. Two of the Democrats who would like to challenge Gov. George Pataki have begun testing the waters, in a very limited way, with television advertisements.

One of them is James LaRocca, the former state transportation commissioner. LaRocca is the only candidate who has officially announced that he is running for governor. He has been aggressively seeking attention and money for the better part of the year, so his advertisements across the state surprised few people.

The other candidate with an ad campaign is Charles Hynes, the Brooklyn district attorney. Hynes began a relatively small $100,000 television advertising campaign this weekend that is ostensibly intended to advance his re-election in Kings County.

But Hynes is not facing a serious challenger, and perhaps it is more revealing that two of the stations he chose for the $100,000 in broadcast time he purchased were Channel 9 and Channel 11, both of which are linked into statewide cable systems, which should carry Hynes' message from Montauk to Buffalo.

Hynes' advisers said the advertisements were a sign that he is serious about trying for statewide office again (he ran for attorney general in 1994). Hynes, who has another election to get by before he can attend to that one, was characteristically more discreet.

"It's too early for me to talk about next year's elections," he said.

Copyright 1997 The New York Times Company