Racial Undercurrents Roil New York Mayoral Race Dinkins and Giuliani Camps Fling Charges of Racism in Tight Contest

Article excerpt

IN its waning days, the New York mayor's race has turned from a contest dominated by soporific policy proposals and nonstop schmoozing into a heated exchange over race, politics, and personality.

Rudolph Giuliani, the candidate running on the Republican and Liberal tickets, has aired TV commercials in which his running mate, Herman Badillo, claims a Dinkins supporter "attacked me for marrying a Jewish woman, and another stood right next to Dinkins and called Rudy Giuliani a fascist."

In turn, supporters of Mayor David Dinkins, who is black, have not been shy about accusing the Giuliani camp of playing on racism. President Clinton, who stumped for the mayor on Sept. 26, caused a furor when he remarked at a fund-raiser: "Too many of us are too unwilling to vote for people who are different than we are," a remark apparently aimed at Mr. Dinkins's foes.

The simmering racial controversy promises to come to a boil three days before the election when Louis Farrakhan, the controversial black nationalist who has made anti-Semitic remarks, is scheduled to address a Nation of Islam rally in Yankee Stadium.

"Both sides are making inflammatory comments and the electorate is not particularly enthused by all this," says Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

The rhetoric is red hot, in part, because the race is extremely close. After narrowly defeating Mr. Giuliani four years ago, Dinkins now leads his challenger by just six points, 47 percent to 41 percent, in the latest New York Post-Fox 5 poll. George Marlin, the Conservative Party and Right-to-Life candidate, has 2 percent.

While Dinkins is getting about 90 percent of the black vote, the mayor has just 48 percent support among Hispanics and a paltry 34 percent among Jewish voters. Most other whites are also leaning against the incumbent.

The racial division of New York politics has been fueled by several recent incidents.

In 1990, blacks in Flatbush, Brooklyn, boycotted a Korean grocer who allegedly punched a black shopper. Dinkins did not immediately speak out against the blockade, leaving the scene clear for people like the Rev. Al Sharpton, who has fanned racial fires in the past.

Then in 1991 a riot erupted in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, after a car driven by a Hasidic rabbi killed a black child. …