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Published: Saturday, 11/10/2001

Rudy the kingmaker

So, how does a Republican billionaire with no experience in municipal government get elected mayor of America's largest city, where GOP voters are outnumbered 5 to 1 by Democrats? The easy answer, of course, is that he uses $60 million of his personal fortune to run endless TV and radio spots. But in the case of Michael Bloomberg in New York City, the most important thing he does is get an endorsement from the outgoing mayor.

“Rudy the kingmaker” is just another hard-earned title for Rudy Giuliani, the man New Yorkers have come to revere as “Saint Rudy” since his otherworldly performance at the city's helm in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The Republican mayor endorsed Mr. Bloomberg on Oct. 27 when polls had him down 12 points to Democrat Mark Green. From then on, the political novice's standing with the voters rose toward the heavens like the twin towers of the World Trade Center once did above the Manhattan skyline.

Mr. Bloomberg won by about 40,000 votes out of 1.3 million cast, overcoming the fact that he had to switch his lifelong political allegiance from Democrat to Republican to run for mayor. During the last two weeks of the campaign, New Yorkers, who had been preoccupied psychologically with the city's recovery from the attacks, were bombarded with Bloomberg commercials at all hours on radio and television.

“The old argument that you can't buy an election in New York isn't true,” observed a local historian. “You can do it if you get a terrorist attack, anthrax, and you have $60 million to spend.”

Mr. Bloomberg also was lucky enough to have an opponent who had just survived a nasty primary fight, allowing him to pick up just enough of the black, Hispanic, and Jewish vote to defeat Mr. Green, the city's longtime public advocate.

As it turns out, getting elected may have been the easiest part of the new mayor's job. Now all Mr. Bloomberg has to do is make good on his promises to revitalize a city that is wavering under the economic fallout from the attacks. New York faces galloping unemployment and a projected budget deficit of $6 billion next year, its worst fiscal crisis since near-bankruptcy in the 1970s.

“Saint Rudy” has provided one miracle on his successor's behalf. It would be too much for Mr. Bloomberg to expect another.

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