Mayor Abraham D. Beame, whose chances for re-election have been enhanced by this week's power blackout and looting traveled to the Bronx today to meet businessmen whose stores were plundered.
"Who's going to insure us for the next time," asked furniture dealer Steve Bari at the session in Sutter's Bakery. "The word on the street is that next time it's the torch."
Bari demanded that Beame label the looting Wednesday night and Thursday morning a riot so that his riot insurance would cover his losses.
It wasn't a riot," Beame said.
It was a riot," Bari answered.
You're just arguing semantics." Beame said. Bari wasn't he was arguing money.
The blackout and looting gave Beame, who has been trailing in the polls, an opportunity to campaign against the habitually unpopular Consolidated Edison Co. and crime, and to demonstrate leadership in a crisis. The 71-year-old mayor seized it with both hands, keeping himself in the public view and promising harsh penalties for the more than 2,500 persons charged with looting. Beame, who faces still opposition in the September Democratic primary, has won approval from many for the manner in which he took command in the crisis.
But the small businessmen who gathered in the bakery on the Grand Concourse near Fordham Road wanted to know what Beame would do for their futures.
"The young lions and sharks have had a taste of blood. They'll strike again," contractor Sidney Gould said.
The assemblyman for the area, Tom Culhane, interrupted to thank the mayor for coming and to pledge that he and his wife and their eight children were going to stick it out on Fordham Road come what may. With a gesture toward Bari, that Democratic assemblyman said. "I hope all you businessmen have the guts to stick it out with us."
Gould said the mayor should have called out the National Guard immediately. He suggested using tear gas and parachute flares dropped from helicopters to illuminate streets if there is a next time.
The mayor tried to make a few points. "The National Guard Takes time to mobilize, they wouldn't have gotten here in time," he said.
"Only a small number were looting and 99.9 per cent or better of New Yorkers really rose to the occasion and acted remarkably well," Beame said.
Beame pointed out that there had been almost no bloodshed during the blackout despite the looting.
On the streets outside Sutter's, Bari was telling a television interviewer that he didn't see any help coming from his meeting with the mayor. Although a City Hall official had promised to help him with his insurance claim, Bari remained bitter.
"He's afraid to call it a riot because it's an election year." Bari said gesturing to the inside where Beame was shaking hands with supporters.
A man in sports clothes pushed his way up to Bari and interrupted.
"How many people were killed?" he asked, "I feel for this man," he said, "but there can't be any guns. No one knows what might happen if shooting started."
"Hey," a third man shouted, "this guy had a store, you didn't have a store."
The verbal free-for-all continued and the mayor's defender identified himself as Robert Cohen, the city purchasing commissioner, a long-time friend of the mayor.
The blackout and Beame's handling of it has suddenly become the mayor's campaign centerpiece. Even Gould, the angry contractor, told a reporter, "it's a definite plus for Beame." Beame canceled his campaign appearances scheduled for this afternoon to return to work on problems stemming from the blackout.
As a parting shot, he dispatched a press aide back to Sutter's to tell any reporters still there that 1,500 additional police have been assigned to duty this weekend to guard against any renewed looting or disorder.
In the pockets of the city where looting was widespread, the thieves were trying to turn sofas, televisions, rings and earrings into cash.
"I could buy my furniture back on the street," Bari said. "These people want to sell it back to me."
In East Harlem, the Mafia was buying what it wanted and socking it away, according to a community leader who refused to be named "They've got the money to buy," he said.