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FEATURES-WHEN THE GOING GETS ROUGH

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Whoever is voted in as mayor of New York faces the mammoth task of rebuilding Manhattan, overcoming the recession a...
Whoever is voted in as mayor of New York faces the mammoth task of rebuilding Manhattan, overcoming the recession and replacing the near-Godlike Rudy, says David Harding

Next Week, on 6 November, New Yorkers will go to the polls to choose their 108th mayor.

Never before will the result have held so much interest, not just in the five boroughs that will be voting - the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island

and Manhattan - but right across the world. The terrorist attacks on 11 September have ensured this will be the most watched local government election

in history.

At stake is one of the most high-profile jobs in the country outside federal government, with wide-ranging powers the like of which London mayor Ken Livingstone can only dream and a budget of some $30bn.

But events have dictated this massive job is now even bigger.

The eventual winner, be it Democrat Mark Green or Republican Michael Bloomberg, will have the huge task of reconstructing the city's famous skyline and restoring its self-confidence. This will be a complex task.

A debate is already raging about how best to replace the Twin Towers in a city understandably nervous about the density of its skyscrapers, while at the same time wondering how to build a fitting memorial to the thousands who died on the site.

Rows have begun about the amount of central government money New York will receive to help it rebuild. The federal government has promised $40bn, though only $126m has trickled through so far. New York is anxious about whether it will receive its share - the mayor will have to ensure it does.

A massive recession, which has already claimed 30,000 jobs and threatens to take many more, looks likely to kick the city while it is down. Economy.com, a US-based organisation that publishes regional economic forecasts, calculates the unemployment rate in New York could hit eight percent by the end of 2002. At the moment it stands at a just under five percent.

One of the incoming mayor's first tasks will be to present a balanced budget by April 2002. Tax hikes, either on businesses or individuals, have not been ruled out. The mayor will have to make some tough and unpopular choices.

Then, of course, there is the local hero - Rudolph W Giuliani. As well as having to solve these wide-rangning problems, the new mayor will have to ensure his political leadership is in the tradition of Mr Giuliani.

Since the attacks on the World Trade Center, Mr Giuliani has been politically deified. Though attempts to get him a constitution-busting third term in office have ended, the new man will have to operate in his shadow.

Even before the attacks, Mr Giuliani's legacy would have loomed large over his successor.

During his eight years in office Mr Giuliani has overseen a phenomenally successful time in New York's history that has seen the city shed its crime-ridden image and enjoy years of unhindered growth on the back of a buoyant economy.

However, his uncompromising approach has won him many critics. His predecessor David Dinkins compared living in Mr Giuliani's zero-tolerance New York with life in Nazi Germany.

Reverend Al Sharpton has dismissed Mr Giuliani's efforts since 11 September, claiming the city's residents 'would have come together if Bozo was Mayor'.

Many of those originally standing for mayor were deeply critical of Mr Giuliani.

Prior to the 11 September attacks he was more notable for a tumultuous private life that had seen his mistress banned by a court order from visiting the mayor's official residence, forcing Mr Giuliani to leave his marital home and live in the spare room of a friend's house.

However, his response to 11 September has ensured his successor will, at least at the beginning of his reign, look like a political pygmy.

'The next elected mayor will be passed a veritable poisoned chalice, certainly months and months of no-win situations,' says Rosemary Scanlon, a former deputy state controller for New York City.

'Only a very strong, competent, steady and calm personality could prevail through this scenario; I fear none of the candidates fit that job description.'

The only thing going for the new man will be an exceptionally large mandate from the millions entitled to vote. Predictions put possible turnout at over 70% - nearly double the vote in the last election.

The favourite to win is Mr Green. Despite Mr Giuliani's Republican victory in the last two elections, New York is still traditionally a Democrat city.

The Republican candidate, media magnate Michael Bloomberg, has spent an estimated $20m of his own money on his campaign. Before 11 September he was firmly in second place, but now it seems whoever can prove himself the most effective leader could win.

The silver-haired, perma-tanned Mr Green is regarded with suspicion by some as coming from the woolly liberal end of the Democrat party. Backed by actor Martin Sheen, he promises to be less confrontational than Mr Giuliani - not a hard task - but has remained vague about how he will raise the money to oversee reconstruction.

Mr Bloomberg, the phenomenally successful businessman, has tried to present himself as the candidate most likely to see the city through the hard economic times ahead. He has attempted to show that years spent in the boardroom have not turned him into a stuffed shirt. Should you ever get the chance to meet the billionaire, he prefers to be known as plain old Mike rather than Mr Bloomberg.

Despite the backing of his own wealth he is trying to present himself as the Republican David against the Democrat Goliath.

It is a time of unparalleled tragedy in New York; the political forecast is turbulent and the economic prediction grim. The new mayor will be elected even though a large part of the city will think he is, at most, second best.

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