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New York, other major U.S. cities look for new stewards

By Manuel Perez-Rivas
CNN Washington Bureau

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Voters in New York City are choosing a new mayor on Tuesday, as the recovery and cleanup efforts continue at the World Trade Center, and the city begins looking for ways to rebuild its downtown financial district, which was devastated by the September 11 terrorist attacks.

New York is one of several big cities where the mayor's office is up for grabs on Election Day, 2001. The list is long: Houston, Detroit, Miami, Seattle, Cincinnati, Atlanta, Cleveland and others are all seeking new leaders in a time of uncertainty and constant security alerts.

The contest in New York, the nation's largest city, is one between Democrat Mark Green, the city's Public Advocate, and Republican Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire businessman who had poured more than $40 million of his own money into the race at last count.

Despite his deep pockets, Bloomberg has been the underdog in a city where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by five to one. Yet, though he never has held public office, recent polls show the race has tightened considerably in recent days.

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Bloomberg has benefited from the endorsement of current Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who is barred from running by set term limits. After eight years as mayor, Giuliani is at the height of his popularity due in large part to his tirelessness, his poise, his high public profile and his leadership savvy following the early autumn terror attacks.

Meanwhile, Green -- a liberal Democrat who has been a longtime Giuliani critic -- has encountered some problems galvanizing key black and Hispanic constituencies. He defeated Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer -- who had support from the Rev. Al Sharpton -- in an earlier runoff for the Democratic nomination.

Bloomberg, meanwhile, is someone who once described himself as a liberal, though he switched to the Republican Party to run for mayor, citing a crowded field, and some ideological differences amongst his one-time fellow Democrats.

Whoever wins Tuesday's race will face a series of tough challenges.

Much of the debate in the late portions of the mayoral contest has focused on how best to rebuild lower Manhattan, to fill the void created by the collapse of the World Trade Center towers -- the twin, 110-story structures that accounted for a huge percentage of the city's overall office space.

New York City also faces a bleak fiscal outlook in the wake of the attacks, with mounting budget deficits looming.

And, the new mayor will have to try to fill Giuliani's oversized shoes. Following September 11, Giuliani considered making push to override the city's term limits statutes so he might stay in office to oversee a cleanup and recovery effort that is expected to take more than two years. Barring that possibility, Giuliani also toyed with extending his current term by several weeks, to ease his successor's transition.

Both ideas were abandoned, and it appears that New York City's next mayor, either Green or Bloomberg, will be sworn into office on time, on a day yet to be determined at the beginning of 2002.

Other key races:

-- In Houston, incumbent Democratic mayor Lee Brown -- hobbled by budget problems, traffic congestion and political missteps -- is facing a tough re-election bid in the city's nonpartisan election. His top challengers are councilmen Chris Bell, (D), a former Brown supporter, and Orlando Sanchez (R), a Cuban immigrant who is hoping to become the city's first Hispanic mayor.

-- In Detroit, the race is between Kwame Kilpatrick, a young state legislator and local Democratic scion, and three-term council President Gil Hill. also a Democrat. Incumbent Dennis Archer did not seek a third term.

-- In Seattle, incumbent Mayor Paul Schell -- reeling from the 1999 World Trade Organization riots in his city and from the loss of Boeing, a mainstay of the local economy -- was defeated in the September mayoral primary. The race is between Councilman Greg Nickels and city attorney Mark Sidran, both Democrats, though Sidran has been blasted in some quarters as leaning too far to the right for many in this left-leaning city.

-- In Miami, incumbent Joe Carollo (R) is hoping to fend off a slew of challengers, including two former mayors and two lawyers involved in the Elian Gonzalez custody dispute. Maurice Ferre (D), who was mayor for 12 years in the 1970s and 1980s, has been leading in recent polls. The other former mayor running is Xavier Suarez, who defeated Carollo in 1997 but was forced from office four months later in a voting scandal in which absentee ballots in the election were declared invalid. Suarez is running as an independent.

-- In Cincinnati, two former newscasters are vying for the mayor's office. Incumbent Charlie Luken (D), who quit his job as WLWT anchor to run successfully for mayor, is facing a spirited challenge from Courtis Fuller -- also a Democrat, and a former anchor from the same station. Fuller has criticized Luken's handling of the riots that broke out earlier this year when an unarmed black man was shot and killed by a white city police officer.

-- In Atlanta, voters will choose in a three-way nonpartisan race among ex-city administrator Shirley Franklin, council President Robb Pitts, and ex-councilwoman Gloria Bromell-Tinubu. Pitts and Franklin, who are leading in the polls, both have had questions raised recently about their histories of late tax payments.

-- In Cleveland, county Commissioner Jane Campbell and Raymond Pierce, a former official in the U.S. Department of Education, will face off on Tuesday. Both are Democrats.


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