- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 3, 2005

NEW YORK — Not long ago, a majority of voters said it was time to oust the city’s billionaire Republican mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg.

Now just six months before Election Day, the political ground is shifting. At least one poll shows growing support for Mr. Bloomberg in this overwhelmingly Democratic city. Among the Democrats, a once-obscure candidate is inching ahead.

That unlikely Democrat — C. Virginia Fields, a black Manhattan Borough president — has seen her numbers more than double since December. Meanwhile, the campaign of her chief rival, Fernando Ferrer, has faltered since he made a charged comment about the fatal police shooting of an unarmed African immigrant.

Analysts say Miss Fields, the only woman in the race, is still a long shot, but her campaign is gaining attention. Even the mayor’s re-election team says she shouldn’t be underestimated.

“She is in a field where people are tired of the Democrats that they had known,” said Doug Muzzio, professor of public affairs at Baruch College. “She, in a sense, is a fresh face, and the fact that it’s a female face and a black face makes a difference.”

Miss Fields’ potential to make history as the first black woman to finish strong in a New York mayoral primary could elevate her national status, potentially attracting donors.

Miss Fields’ campaign could use the help. With less than $1.2 million in her coffers, she trails all three of her opponents financially. Campaign finance reports show City Council Speaker Gifford Miller leading with $4.5 million; Mr. Ferrer, a former Bronx Borough president, with $3 million; and U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner with $1.6 million. (Mr. Bloomberg is self-financed and spent $74 million of his own money on his 2001 campaign.)

Miss Fields also could get a boost from high-profile Democrats such as former Mayor David Dinkins and Rep. Charles B. Rangel, one of the city’s most influential politicians whose district includes Harlem. Mr. Rangel already backs Miss Fields and has been working with her campaign; Mr. Dinkins has not yet endorsed a candidate.

They are among many Democratic leaders who say they get along well with Mr. Bloomberg — and, at times, approve of the job he has done in his first term as successor to Republican Rudolph W. Giuliani. A Marist College Institute for Public Opinion poll last week showed voters may be warming up to him, too, finding that he had pulled ahead of Mr. Ferrer by 13 percentage points.

Mr. Dinkins, the city’s first black mayor, even has said he would endorse Mr. Bloomberg if the mayor ran as a Democrat.

“I personally like him very much, but he’s a Republican,” Mr. Dinkins said.

The Democrats salivating over his job plan to remind voters that Mr. Bloomberg is in the same party as President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

“The mayor’s made his association clear with Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the rest,” Mr. Rangel said. “To a lot of people, he was a breath of fresh air after Giuliani, but the truth is that he’s still a Republican.”

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