New York Voters Choose Mayor in Watershed Race : Election: Dinkins and Giuliani locked in contest too close to call. Their matchup is a replay of four years ago.


Voters cast their ballots Tuesday in a watershed election between Democratic Mayor David N. Dinkins and challenger Rudolph W. Giuliani that offered dramatically different visions for the future of New York City.

In a rematch of their extremely tight, racially charged contest four years ago, Dinkins and Giuliani, who ran as the candidate of the Republican and Liberal parties, were locked in a race too close to call, according to interviews with voters as they left polling places.

With 16% of the precincts reporting, Dinkins had 46% of the vote and Giuliani had 52%.

Dinkins, who received heavy support from President Clinton and his Administration, sought to reassemble the electoral mosaic of Jewish, Latino and black voters that carried him to victory in 1989. George Marlin, the Conservative Party candidate, did not have a chance to win but was considered a potential spoiler for Giuliani.


Exit poll results showed Dinkins running well again with Latinos, Jews and gays, and even expanding his black base of support.

In a highly unusual referendum, residents of Staten Island also were deciding whether they wished to change the city’s geography by seceding. In what was no surprise, early results in that race showed a heavy vote for secession--an action that ultimately would require permission from the New York state Legislature.

The stakes were high not only for the mayoral candidates. If Giuliani were to become the first Republican New York City mayor in more than a quarter of a century, that would be a bitter blow to Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, who is expected to seek a fourth term next year. The election also was a key test of the pulling power of President Clinton in a highly important urban setting.

As he awaited results, Giuliani compared the New York and Los Angeles mayoral contests in an interview.

“The Los Angeles election was driven by local issues just like New York has been--crime, schools and jobs,” Giuliani said.

Unlike Dinkins, Giuliani has advocated sharply curtailing benefits for the homeless, dramatically cutting the city’s work force and possibly privatizing at least four municipal hospitals.


The Board of Elections reported that turnout was “fairly heavy.”

“It’s a beautiful fall day,” observed a spokesman for the board, reiterating the obvious.

But the bitterness of the campaign extended to Election Day as well. Giuliani charged that his campaign workers had been “overrun” with more than 1,200 calls reporting “serious impediments” to voting at polling places throughout the city. Dinkins charged that some of Giuliani’s poll watchers were demanding to see identification and were intimidating some voters.

The Giuliani forces complained that in some polling booths levers on the line beside Giuliani’s name would not work. They charged that in some election districts in Manhattan, longtime voters were no longer listed on the books and were asked to fill out paper ballots.

Naomi Bernstein, a spokeswoman for the Board of Elections, said none of the charges filed by either side had yet been substantiated.

The charges did, however, underline the perceived closeness of the race.

In 1989, a small army of 10,000 volunteers helped the mayor round up voters. But four years later, the large and powerful United Federation of Teachers decided to remain neutral--depriving Dinkins of badly needed manpower.

Surveys taken just before the election showed the race to be a statistical dead heat--which stressed the importance for both the mayor and his challenger of mobilizing their core constituencies.

In 1989, in a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans by better than four to one, Dinkins won by fewer than 50,000 votes--one of the smallest margins in New York’s history. The mayor constructed his victory coalition then by winning the allegiance of 40% of Jewish voters and 70% of Latino voters--atop a solid base of support of better than 98% of black voters.


Giuliani’s fusion ticket was designed to fracture that coalition this time. In an effort to attract Latinos, the Republican/Liberal Party candidate ran with former Democratic Rep. Herman Badillo, who sought to be the city’s controller, and with Councilwoman Susan Alter, a popular figure in Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn, who sought the post of public advocate.

The most memorable quote of the long and bitter campaign came not from either candidate--who refused to debate each other--but from President Clinton, who implied that a vote for Giuliani might be racially motivated.

“Too many of us are still unwilling to vote for people who are different than what we are,” the President said at a Dinkins fund-raising dinner.

“I hope his knowledge of figures on the health issue are a hell of a lot better than his knowledge on racism,” fired back David Garth, Giuliani’s chief strategist and media consultant.

Giuliani ran a far more skillful campaign than he did four years ago; the former U.S. attorney worked to soften his prosecutorial image with public appearances with his wife and young son and daughter. At the same time, he sought to convince voters that, unlike Dinkins, he would be a “hands-on mayor” and a force for change--reducing the number of municipal employees, improving the tax climate for small business and improving the school system.

“We represent the future,” he told supporters at rallies throughout the city.

Crime and the quality of life were key issues. Giuliani charged that in the last three years, the Dinkins Administration had made at least 75,000 fewer drug arrests and that street-level dealers were going unpunished.


Until the last six weeks of the campaign, the mayor clearly was on the defensive.

Times staff writer Josh Getlin also contributed to this story.