Former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey's (search) musings about running for mayor of New York against Republican Michael Bloomberg have suddenly injected some excitement into the race and underscored what is widely seen as the weakness of the Democratic field of four.
Kerrey, president of New York's New School University (search) since 2001, raised the out-of-the-blue possibility of a mayoral run in an interview in Sunday's New York Times, though by Monday he was discounting the idea, citing a commitment to his current job.
"It is unlikely I will enter this race as a candidate," the Democrat said in a statement. "I intend to make a final decision and announcement later this week."
Political analysts stressed that Kerrey would face huge obstacles if he ran, including an extremely late start on fund-raising, organization and building name recognition in the city.
But Democratic consultant Scott Levenson acknowledged that Kerrey is an accomplished, nationally known politician who could still "throw this race into a bit of a tizzy."
His flirting with a candidacy could also complicate the race for some Democrats who are leaning toward Bloomberg, a former Democrat who has referred to himself as a liberal and has governed from the middle.
"I am a friend of Bob Kerrey's. I think he's exceedingly capable," former New York Mayor Ed Koch (search), a Democrat who is supporting Bloomberg, said Monday. "That's why I hope he doesn't do it."
Kerrey, 61, said over the weekend he was considering running because the Bloomberg administration had not stood up to Washington policies that damaged the city, including tax cuts and unfair allocation of homeland-security money.
"I am angry about the way New York City is being treated by Washington D.C.," Kerrey said the Times. "Who is fighting these guys?"
He also said Bloomberg had wasted too much time fighting to win a new $1.9 billion stadium for the New York Jets on the west side of Manhattan, a project the mayor says would create jobs and bring in year-round convention business. The city and state would each kick in $300 million toward the project.
Steve Cohen, a professor of public administration at Columbia University, said all the attention being paid to Kerrey — whose interest in running for mayor came "out of left field" — is probably a sign of misgivings among Democrats.
"It's an indication that some of the political professionals think the Democratic field is not strong enough to beat Bloomberg," Cohen said.
The field of four includes City Council Speaker Gifford Miller, Rep. Anthony Weiner, Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields and former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer.
Ferrer was seen as a leading candidate but lost black support — critical in the Democratic primary — when he suggested in March that the 1999 slaying of Amadou Diallo in a 41-bullet hail of police gunfire was not a crime. Ferrer later said he had spoken "carelessly."
"I don't see that field as having great substantial gravitas," Koch said in a telephone interview. "And I think that Freddy Ferrer is over."
Bloomberg switched parties in 2001 to run for mayor, winning an election held just six weeks after the Sept. 11 terror attacks. Just this week, Time magazine touted him as one of the nation's five best mayors, praising the efficiency he has brought to city government. He is credited with closing a huge budget shortfall.
Bloomberg, a billionaire who built the financial news service Bloomberg LP, spent $74 million on his 2001 campaign and is willing to commit untold millions to his re-election.
His poll numbers — once among the lowest ever recorded for a New York mayor — have climbed back to respectability. No poll has been taken on a Kerrey candidacy.
Kerrey, a 1992 Democratic candidate for president, raised his profile last year by serving on the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks.
The Vietnam veteran's war record became an issue in 2001, when he said that about 13 Vietnamese civilians were killed by mistake after his SEAL team was fired on and returned fire during a 1969 raid to capture or kill Viet Cong officials.
Even in New York City, the bluest outpost of a state that overwhelmingly supported Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004 for president, any Democratic — Kerrey included — faces an uphill battle, analysts said.
"The problem the field has to answer," Levenson said, "is both what has Mike Bloomberg done for the city that they could do a better job of and why should people throw him out? What has he done wrong?"