NEW YORK – The Democrat aiming to unseat Mayor Michael Bloomberg (search) critcized him during a debate Sunday for his ties to President Bush, who is not popular in this left-leaning town.
The biggest argument erupted when Bloomberg and Fernando Ferrer (search) were discussing crime, and the mayor said there are too many guns on the streets and that New York needs help from the federal government on gun control.
Bloomberg said Ferrer did nothing on the issue when he was borough president of the Bronx. He added that Ferrer is cozy with Howard Dean, the chair of the national Democratic party who was endorsed by the National Rifle Association when he was governor of Vermont.
Ferrer fired back, saying Bloomberg, a Republican, "supported the party and the president whose policies have hurt his city."
"Not on this policy I didn't," responded Bloomberg, a moderate who also backs abortion rights and gay marriage.
At another point, Ferrer turned to Bloomberg and said: "I'm proud of the work that I did with Bill Clinton and the support that I got from him. Are you proud of George Bush?"
"George Bush is the president of the United States, I agree with him on some things, I disagree with him on others," Bloomberg said. He quoted former mayor Fiorello LaGuardia (search), who said there was no Republican or Democratic way to pick up the garbage.
"You've got to work with everybody," Bloomberg said.
Bloomberg, who is ahead by a 30-point margin in most opinion polls, enjoys considerable support from Democrats who praise his first-term accomplishments like lowering crime and winning control of the school system. The billionaire founder of the Bloomberg LP financial news service was a lifelong Democrat until switching in 2001 when he entered politics.
He has spent more than $63 million of his personal fortune on his campaign, compared with Ferrer's $7.6 million, which partly comes from the public matching fund program.
"You could do this city a big favor sometimes by putting your checkbook away," Ferrer said.
Nearly half of Bloomberg's total has been spent on a barrage of flashy advertisements, which he said Sunday are necessary because of the odds he faces as a Republican here.
"I don't have a big Democratic machine behind me," he said. "The city is 5 to 1 Democratic ... explaining the facts to the people takes time, it takes organization and it takes a lot of TV time."
Ferrer said Bloomberg has the right to spend his own money, which was "earned honestly," but that being so dramatically outspent in his third try for mayor "does distort debate, it does destroy the platform from which you discuss important public policy issues."