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By BILL MAXWELL
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 14, 2001
This is not a Ripley's Believe It Or Not show. It is politics, New York City style.
And do not laugh.
Remember, they laughed when Hillary Rodham Clinton first announced that she was running for one of New York's U.S. Senate seats. As we all know, she trounced the then-popular Rick Lazio and is now in Washington representing the Empire State.
Do not laugh when I tell you that former President Bill Clinton, despite scandal after scandal, would become the Big Apple's next mayor if New Yorkers voted today. You read it right: An exclusive Daily News/CBS-2 random telephone poll indicates that The Man From Chappaqua's personal stock on the Democratic side of the mayoral race is hot.
When asked for whom they would vote if the Democratic primary for mayor were held today, 40 percent of the 503 registered voters polled said they would pick the former prez. This number is huge because no expensive runoff election would be required.
Public advocate Mark Green, the runner-up, pulled down a mere 15 percent. The other Democrats, Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer (10 percent), City Council Speaker Peter Vallone (7 percent) and city Controller Alan Hevesi (7 percent) are making voters count sheep. And with his presidential office slated for W. 125th St., in the heart of Harlem, Clinton would blow away Democrat Al Sharpton (7 percent) even among black voters.
But the Republicans also would fall to Clinton. When asked for whom they would vote if the general election for mayor were held today and the candidates were Clinton, the Democrat, and Michael Bloomberg, the Republican, 66 percent said they would go with Clinton. Only 20 percent chose media king Bloomberg, the biggest name on the GOP side.
In all five boroughs, friends and relatives tell me, the air is buzzing with talk of Slick Willie for Hizzoner. Sunday's Daily News front cover carried a huge photograph of Clinton and the caption: "Mayor Bubba: Bill would trounce other Dems and Demolish Bloomberg in November."
Many people are downplaying the suggestion of Clinton as mayor. After all, the former president's aides say he does not intend to run. New Yorkers have heard that story before from other politicians.
One thing is for sure: Even though New York streets are safer than they have been in decades, many voters, as the Daily News notes, are jaded "after eight years of jaywalking crackdowns, sex-shop shutdowns" and are bored with "a city hall that has all the color of a banker's suit."
Mitchell Moss of New York University told the Daily News of a possible Clinton City Hall: "He certainly would personify fun city."
My uncle, who lives in Harlem on Lenox Avenue, said that his friends and neighbors are jumping up and down at the mere hint that Clinton, dubbed the First Black President, could run for mayor. "Can you imagine what that would do for Harlem?" he said. "Bill would have a north city hall right here on W. 125th, and the Apollo would be on the map again."
My uncle said that he and a committee will push for Clinton to seriously consider running. They are thinking about printing bumper stickers to that effect.
Harlemites are not alone in believing that the Hope, Ark., native would be good for the Gotham City. The poll shows that 54 percent of New Yorkers believe that a Mayor Clinton would benefit the Big Apple, with 33 percent saying otherwise.
Although she says that Clinton does not intend to run, Clinton spokeswoman Julia Payne told the Daily News that "the good people of New York appreciate the progress and prosperity that (Clinton) brought to the country and would want him to bring that same progress and prosperity to their streets."
Again, die-hard Clinton-haters are mystified that the first president to be impeached in modern time and whose last-minute pardons smell to high heaven remains popular in New York City, a place where politics is a game of brass knuckles and full body slams.
Pollster Mickey Blum of Blum & Weprin Associates, the company that conducted the poll, told the Daily News that Clinton "is simply a larger-than-life figure -- still. The other candidates in this field just don't bring the same level of charisma."
Clinton's chances of winning, if he chooses to run, look even better because Democrats outnumber Republicans 5 to 1 in the city.
One Clinton carpetbagger took the place by storm last November. Who knows, another may do the same this November. New York's love affair with William Jefferson Clinton is real. Go figure.