Analysis: NYC mayor king of obscure endorsements

September 20, 2009 2:00:24 PM PDT
Billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg is likely to set another spending record in this year's mayoral race, but he appears to be aiming for a more obscure honor as well - the candidate with the most peculiar endorsements. Bloomberg's campaign released a lighthearted video this week featuring the mayor hounding a skeptical Matt Damon for his endorsement, arguing that it really could do him some good.

Damon, a Boston native, has no connection to New York politics and arguably no influence over elections here. The movie star also exemplifies the Bloomberg campaign's relentless pursuit of bizarre endorsements, from big names who don't really matter to tiny groups that might for a handful of constituents.

No demographic is too small.

Latina lawyers? Bloomberg's got Carmen Pacheco, founder of the first Hispanic female-owned law firm in New York City.

He has backing from a Dominican soccer club, the president of an African cab drivers group, the Korean Nail Salon Association and a biweekly newspaper serving Albanian-Americans with circulation in 46 states.

Also cheering on his bid for a third term - the founder of a nonprofit whose sole purpose is to raise money for a school in Callancas, Peru, along with Juan Rojas Campos, founder of a Mexican restaurant with two locations in Manhattan and one in New Jersey.

People who can't even vote here also are weighing in, including the mayor of Mount Vernon, N.Y., and the governor of Puerto Rico.

Dozens of Bloomberg's backers this year had never made a political endorsement before they were approached by the mayor's operation.

The multimillion-dollar campaign has churned out hundreds of endorsement press releases, all listed prominently on the Bloomberg campaign Web site. Many supporters appeared with Bloomberg in person or taped videos for use online.

It may seem like a way to fill time during what was a sleepy summer campaign season, but Bloomberg campaign officials say it is a deliberate strategy that was developed early and proceeds on a specific schedule.

A new swath of untapped voters is identified - often in communities traditionally overlooked by city mayoral campaigns, like Russian or Korean - then an endorsement comes from a group meaning something to them, in a way that showcases the mayor.

For example, an endorsement from the president of the Korean Produce Association means delis and groceries all over the city get Bloomberg signs along with their daily deliveries of fruit and vegetables.

Campaign manager Bradley Tusk says the attention to niche endorsements is among the most important parts of the Bloomberg strategy.

"It's a way to get out the message to people you otherwise couldn't reach through a traditional approach," he said. "The little stuff that people make fun of is sometimes the most valuable."

There is also a big-name strategy behind the endorsements. Celebrity supporters of Bloomberg include talk show host Whoopi Goldberg, designer Isaac Mizrahi, playwright Neil Simon, Yankees catcher Jorge Posada and the host of "Project Runway," Tim Gunn.

Bloomberg hasn't managed to woo any real U.S. presidents to endorse him yet, but he does have the support of Cherry Jones, who plays President Allison Taylor on the Fox TV show "24."

These are meant to reach voters who don't follow mainstream news or politics, the campaign says.

The Democrat challenging Bloomberg - William Thompson Jr. - has mostly stuck to traditional endorsements from unions, clergy and fellow elected officials. But the actor Leonard Nimoy, the original Mr. Spock from "Star Trek," did contribute to his campaign.

A Thompson spokesman said no matter how many endorsements Bloomberg racks up before Nov. 3, Thompson will have the most votes from hardworking people.

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