New Yorkers are going to the polls to pick a successor to Republican Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, whose term expires at the end of the year. Political analysts expect the election to be the closest in recent years. The latest public opinion surveys show that the Democratic Party candidate, Public Advocate Mark Green and business tycoon Michael Bloomberg, running as a Republican, are locked in a dead heat in the race to succeed Mr. Giuliani, who is limited by law to two terms.
The political rhetoric in the last days of the campaign turned nasty, with the two candidates and their backers slinging accusations of racism and sexism back and forth.
Mark Green pointed to a 1997 sexual harassment lawsuit against Mr. Bloomberg and his media company that was settled out of court. "Michael Bloomberg said that he took a lie detector test, which cleared him. Well, we cannot trust him in his own lie detector test," said Mr. Green.
Mr. Bloomberg says the lawsuit was settled because his company did not want the case to drag on. Candidate Bloomberg then struck back, charging the Green camp with smear tactics. "Mark Green has run in 11 campaigns. Every time he has ever gotten close, he goes to the same smear, distortion, politics of personal vilification," he says.
Bloomberg supporters charge the Green campaign with insensitivity toward the Hispanic community a charge Mr. Green denies. Political analysts say non-aligned and Hispanic voters may determine the outcome of the race.
New York is an overwhelmingly Democratic city. But Mr. Bloomberg, who has spent tens of millions of dollars of his own money on the race, is a life long Democrat who changed party affiliation in order to run for Mayor. He has won the support of some well-known Democrats including former governor Hugh Carey and former New York Mayor Ed Koch. He is also backed by the city's leading African-American newspaper.
On the last full day of the campaign, Monday, Mr. Green began a 24-hour non-stop bus tour through the five counties that make up New York City. And he called in some Democratic heavyweights to help - former President Bill Clinton, who now lives in New York, and Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, long a liberal icon.
Mayor Giuliani joined Mr. Bloomberg on the campaign trail. The Bloomberg campaign has also been running television commercials of the Mayor endorsing Michael Bloomberg. "It has been an honor to be your Mayor for eight years," says Mr. Giuliani. "You may not always agree with me. But I gave it my all. I love this city and I am confident it will be in good hands with Mike Bloomberg."
Mr. Giuliani's two terms as Mayor have been controversial but he has been widely praised for his leadership in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attack. Whether he can transfer some of the respect he has gained to Mr. Bloomberg, a political unknown just a few months ago, remains to be seen. But one thing is certain in this topsy-turvy election. The one overriding issue for voters is which candidate can do a better job of leading the city's recovery effort.