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Bloomberg, Thompson, mayoral hopefuls seek thrifty image in costly election

(Credit: Politirazzi)

Incumbent Mayor Michael Bloomberg appears in new campaign ads without his usual suit.

By Emily Ngo

In a time of economic uncertainty, mayoral candidates this year face a new hurdle: earning votes without burning cash.

“It might make sense to appear a little less slick,” said political consultant Jerry Skurnik, of Prime New York. “There might be backlash if a campaign seems to be spending too much.”

New Yorkers are more cautious than ever with their money, and those politicians hoping to lead them out the recession must appear similarly savvy, experts said. Competitive campaigning, however, is no thrifty feat.

“You spend money on ads because the more money you spend, usually, the more effective the ads are,” Skurnik said about striking a balance. “You don’t want to spend so little that it looks amateurish and no one will pay attention to it.”Billionaire in the game

Incumbent Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire campaigning mostly on his own dime, is an unwitting exception to the rules, experts said. “Everyone knows how wealthy he is, so if he tried to act like, ‘I’m trying to watch my dollar,’ no one would buy that,” Skurnik said.

Bloomberg earlier this month rolled out his first TV spots, a $3 million effort in both English and Spanish focused on jobs. With the election still eight months away, opponents argued it was too soon and too extravagant.

The campaign countered that modesty in tone – not spending – is key to earning votes.

“We have significant resources and the way we’re going to spend that money doesn’t change because we’re going to run a very, very aggressive campaign,” said Bloomberg campaign manager Bradley Tusk. “What changes is the look and the feel of what we’re doing.”

In his new ads, the mayor forgoes his usual suit-and-tie look and is seen chatting with everyday voters. His first wave of mailings includes notes handwritten by supporters. The Bloomberg campaign is also going door-to-door to share its plan to revive the economy, Tusk said.

But while Bloomberg has dialed down the glitz in his quest for a third term, opponent Bill Thompson’s campaign insists it is more humble at heart.

City Comptroller Bill Thompson is running for mayor as a Democrat.

Working with less

“He’ll [Bloomberg] be spending billions of dollars to buy votes, and we’ll be working twice as hard to earn them,” said Eduardo Castell, campaign manager for Thompson, the city comptroller and a Democratic candidate.

Bloomberg, worth $16 billion and running on the Republican line, is a contrast to Thompson, “a neighborhood guy who understands working class people’s needs,” Castell said. Thompson campaign had raised $5 million as of Thursday, Castell said.

“I’d be hard-pressed to criticize Bill Thompson if he broke the [spending] limit because he’s facing a high-spending opponent,” admitted Gene Russianoff, a senior lawyer for NYPIRG, which ordinarily discourages excessive campaign spending.

Two other mayoral candidates likely won’t have that option as a luxury.

“I’m just getting along with the small $10, $20, $50 donations from New Yorkers,” said Councilman Tony Avella, a Democratic candidate for mayor.

The Rev. Billy Talen, the Green Party candidate, concurred that both he and Avella were the true grassroots contenders but conceded Bloomberg’s cash wouldn’t necessarily turn off voters.

Former Mayor Ed Koch agreed that spending may be moot in the end: “What candidates say about their vision for New York and their vision of how to increase jobs is paramount.”

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