The Race for Comptroller

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The Nod of the Bosses... Scramble for the City Council... Basic Training for Council Recruits... How They Stack up on Term Limit... Dynasties... The Speech that Saved Term Limits...


What is Searchlight on Campaign 2001?
Searchlight on Campaign 2001 is a guide to the political races in what many are calling New York City's most significant campaign season in modern history.

What is so significant about it?
For the first time in memory, most political offices in the city will be wide open to people who have neither money nor connections.

Why will the races be so open?
There are two reasons. This year, a new law goes into effect that limits the terms of New York City elected officials, forcing the mass retirement of most incumbents in the city - including the mayor, the comptroller, the public advocate, four of the five borough presidents, and 36 of the 51 members of the City Council. At the same time, a new campaign finance law kicks in, which allows any candidate who agrees to certain restrictions to collect four dollars of matching funds for every dollar they raise.

What does this have to do with this site?
As a public service, Searchlight on Campaign 2001 has a separate page for each race, including all the races for City Council, that not only sorts out the candidates -- many of them new and unfamiliar -- but also offers an opportunity to learn about the issues, and the districts themselves.

Who is behind Searchlight on Campaign 2001?
Searchlight on Campaign 2001 is a project of Gotham Gazette, a non-profit, non-partisan, non-ideological (but non-boring) web site about New York City news, policy and politics published by Citizens Union Foundation, part of the oldest and largest good-government group in the city (founded in 1897).

What's wrong with the way the regular press covers the races?
That is for you to decide. And one of our regular features, Campaign Trail, helps you to decide. Campaign Trail provides succinct summaries and links to campaign articles in the commercial press.

Who are we?


"I Don't Need On-The-Job Training"

by Herbert Berman

Thank you, good evening ladies and gentlemen. I'm running for the Comptroller of the City of New York, and I think that in any discussion concerning the race, there are probably three things that you want to know. Number one: why I'm running for comptroller. Secondly, what are my qualifications for being comptroller, and finally, what can I do for the youth and the people of the City of New York as comptroller?

Well, frankly, I'm running for comptroller for several reasons, not least of which is the fact that I'm extraordinarily passionate about the City of New York. I've lived here my entire life. I currently live in Brooklyn, I've always lived in Brooklyn, I grew up there. I grew up with my family up there. I attended the public schools. This city has been great to me. I love government, I love the work that I do, and I want to be able to pay something back to this city. Particularly since I came into government during the 1975-76 fiscal crisis. And that was an extraordinary time and I've tempered my attitude toward government because I remember overnight 65,000 people lost their jobs. Hundreds of programs were discontinued. People were put out on the street from hospitals, mental hospices. Thousands of teachers lost their jobs. I remember my children were in the public schools, and as a consequence of that time, they went to school with 40, 50 people in a classroom and were often compelled to sit on radiator covers because they didn't have chairs. And I never want to see that happen again. And one of the ways I believe I can prevent that is by utilizing my province, my expertise, my knowledge as comptroller. Because the comptroller is the chief fiscal officer of the City of New York.

It is the comptroller that sets the standard for economic development, the fiscal policy and I suggest to you that it is only through sound fiscal policy, good economic thinking that we as democrats can implement the priorities that should be implemented in this city.

And what are some of those priorities? Probably the most important priority, the most significant problem facing this city is the total breakdown and failure of education. Ladies and gentlemen, we spend eleven billion dollars a year to educate a little over one million children in the City of New York. And they've totally failed at that job. There is breakdown in that mission, there is an inability to perform the function, times have to change, things have to be done, education has to be rescued.

The second problem is affordable housing and in a couple of moments I'll go into that issue. And third, but certainly not least of the problems is economic development. Only through sound fiscal policy can we generate enough economic development in this city, particularly now, in the outer boroughs, because in Manhattan there is significant economic development existing here, certainly below 96th Street.

But in order to provide a good important base to people you have to have innovative sound economic policy at work. And I'll be glad to go into that in the question and answer time.

Why do I think that I'm best qualified to be comptroller? One word, ladies and gentlemen, and that is experience. I have been a member of the City Council for 26 years. For six of those years I served as Chair of the Education Committee of the Council. There in my tenure, as Chair of the Education Committee, which was soon after the end of the fiscal crisis, more money was returned to education than ever before in the history of the City of New York, and frankly, since that time.

We made good so much of the losses that took place in education and simultaneously, passed very significant legislation. And I will tell you also, one of the most important pieces of legislation that we passed with the help of the District Attorney was the implementation of metal detectors, particularly in the high schools where necessary. And it is actually an amazing thing, for the first month that we implemented those metal detectors, we went to some high schools, and at that time they didn't have enough metal detectors for all the schools. So it was always a guessing game where the metal detectors would appear.

So we went to one particular school, and as soon as they saw that the metal detectors were there, outside of the door we picked up dozens of knives and guns and blackjacks and you name it. It was an amazing experience. But it taught us that if you're going to provide a safe environment for children, you have to be willing to make the investment. We couldn't do it without the implementation of that law. But we did that, and the deal was very helpful. Giving us statistics and giving us support in that effort.

The last twenty years I served as Chair of the Finance Committee, and still serve as Chair of the Finance Committee in the City Council, and that's a very, very important job. And it's probably the second most important and significant job in the City Council following the Speaker. The Chair of the Finance Committee stands alongside the Speaker in formulating the budget, which this year alone is almost 40 billion dollars. That is an extraordinary amount of money. As a matter of fact, that exceeds the budget of many countries throughout the world. So it just gives you by dint of comparison what it means.

But as Chair of the Finance Committee I have several important responsibilities that relate to my role, and what my role would be as comptroller. Firstly, I have the obligation of bringing together the fifty-one disparate mentalities, priorities, needs and concerns of the various members of the City Council. And we do it in such a way that our budgets are not only defensible by all of the members of the City Council, on the occasion somebody disagreed. But overwhelmingly we get incredible support. But we bring it in on time and budgets that balance to the extent that the city's bonds are now A-rated, and some of our bonds are double A-rated and saves us a lot of money but we have to get a marking for our bonds and it enables us to have more money to spend on services.

But more important, it becomes my job as Chair of the Finance Committee to defend each year against what appears to be repeatedly onerous cuts in quality of life services that are essential and significant in the continued existence of this city. For example, the Mayor proposed reductions of 46 million dollars in libraries in the City of New York, which would eliminate many of the services in many branches on the weekends, and at nighttime. And frankly, that would deny the opportunity of many working people from ever having the opportunity to utilize the library.

A proposed 23 million dollar cut in cultural institutions which is totally regressive because our cultural institutions generate tremendous tourism here and results in people coming here and spending money here and generating revenue that we could utilize to pay for services. It is just totally regressive and foolish. 20 million dollars in youth programs, PAL , the president of the Police Athletic League, it would impact upon that. Parks programs, health programs, AIDS programs, a whole school of programs that are just inappropriate, it is my job to defend against those cuts, and I've done that every year for the last eleven years. And we've done it successfully to the extent that we have enhanced tremendously services that are currently available in the City of New York.

Frankly, in my experience, important to the role of the comptroller is the auditing capacity of the comptroller's office. I have done major audits as Chair of the Finance Committee. Just to mention a couple of them that have saved hundreds of millions of dollars. Did the initial survey of OTB, and we labeled it and it became quite famous: The only bookie organization in the City of New York that loses money. Which was a reality. It's the truth. It was the truth.

As a consequence of the audit that was performed the managerial control approach used dramatically changed, and from the time it was losing 2-3 million dollars a year, this year we can anticipate that OTB will return 40 million dollars to the state. And of course, perversely, now the Mayor wants to sell it. That's a debate for another day.

We also did a major investigation into school board travel. Where we followed the people, school board members who were allegedly going to staff development conferences in Las Vegas, and they definitely went to Vegas, except they never got out of the casinos. And Marsha Kramer reported that and got an Emmy award, because she did the story with us. And that dramatically changed the process by which school board travel was audited by the Board of Ed. So I don't need on the job training. I've been doing these roles, I've been doing these things that are the functions of the Comptroller's office.

We just did a major survey to determine how we could utilize pension monies to safely invest in affordable housing. Lo and behold, we came across this organization, the CPC, The Community Preservation Committee, and we found out that they'd invested four hundred and fifty million dollars of pension money. And not only have done that, but they've returned significantly, because that's the first obligation to the pensioners.

So it can be done, you have to have the courage and willingness to do it. I have that courage and I also would strengthen and enforce prevailing wage section of the comptroller's office. One of the things we have an obligation to do, is to make certain that people who work with the city, do business with the city get a fair return for their work so that they can live decently in the city.

I could go on, and perhaps I'll answer questions, or at another time I can come back if you invite me back. But let me just wrap up by saying that when I was a kid in Brighton Beach, my dad had just lost his business in the Depression, and in order to make a living for the family, I would spend weekends walking up and down Brighton Beach selling ice cream. And at nighttime when the sun would go down we would take sand sifters and we'd go to the beach and we'd sift the sand in an effort to find loose change. Because the fifty cents or a dollar that we'd find would make a difference between eating and not eating on that particular day. Nobody should ever have to go back to that.

I abhor the fact that people are forced to live like that. I want to devote my life to making certain that we never go back to that state of being. Folks, I want to be the comptroller, I believe I have the expertise, I have the talent, I have the experience, I have the knowledge. And I want to continue to give back to the City of New York. I ask for your support, I ask for your help. I want to thank you for being so attentive, and waiting for me here, and I'll be glad to answer any questions. Thank you.

Question: I know that every year, for the last eight or nine years the Mayor has done in the libraries and cultural institutions. How much money did the council restore last year?

Berman: Last year we did somewhere about three hundred million dollars in essential trusts, that is not counting probably upwards of close to a billion dollars in capital improvements. One of the things, for example, that we did was a couple of years ago the Speaker and myself announced a program that allocated 1.4 billion dollars to the school construction authority for the purpose of dealing with immediate needs in education.

But there's such a morass of incompetence. You know, I often describe the Board of Ed and the School Construction Authority like a roach motel. Money checks in and never checks out. It's absolutely amazing. We are still waiting for them for about two-three years to competently come ahead with a program to show how they can spend that money in an emergency surrounding. So, it is really very discouraging. But we spend...each year it's different, they're several. When we did the safe city, safe streets program, which was a very profound program, we allocated upwards of close to a million dollars which was an add on at that time. So it depends and varies each year, and it depends on how cooperative the Mayor wants to be with the council, or whether or not the Mayor at that time, is running for any other office.

It's amazing, we should force people to run for mayor every year, because every time there's a mayoral election suddenly the budget becomes a lot easier to deal with. All right, any other questions?

Question: New York City misses out on millions and millions of dollars, because people who live here register their cars in other states. I can register my car in Vermont with a New York address. Vermont gets the sales tax, registration fees. I can then claim I live in Vermont and not pay New York income tax. And nobody knows to do anything about this problem. There are ways to deal with it, like having resident-only parking, only alternate side spots, only from eight to six, Monday through Friday. But no one's ever wanted to touch this issue, but if you walk down, believe me go up to any residential neighborhood, a third of the cars have out-of-state plates.

Berman: I think you have a very creative idea. Let me just tell you that, this city depends on tourism. Last year we had thirty-seven million tourists in the City of New York. Tourism is the second largest industry in the city after Wall Street. So you can't restrict parking, because that would be a major inhibitant to tourism and commerce. But there are other ways of doing it, particularly at a time when we have computers. Let me turn it over to my staff, and see what they can come up with and hopefully they'll be able to start coming back with some recommendations.

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Find what city council district you are in -- and learn more about what's going on there, and who's running.

What is this?
Gotham Gazette's Searchlight on Campaign 2001 offers a comprehensive look at what is being called New York City's most significant campaign season in modern history. (See the left-hand column for an explanation).

Districts of the Week

District 1 -- Lower Manhattan
Whoever wins the election in district 1 will represent immigrant Chinese garment workers, as well as Wall Street traders living in Battery Park City. There are several candidates hoping to be the council's firsts -- the first Asian-American man, the first Asian-American woman, the first gay Rhodes Scholar, the first dot-com guru -- running against some politically well connected opponents. Endorsements and fundraising will play a big role in this race. But voter turnout could be the main determinant of who will next represent district 1 on the council. The key question is how many voters from each community will come out on Election Day.

District 7 -- Washington Heights, Manhattan
The northern tip of Manhattan has become one of the most popular places for new immigrants to call home. The northern tip of Manhattan is a place that today's new immigrants call home. The majority have come from the Dominican Republic, but also from countries in South America, Eastern Europe, and Asia. But it is not just new immigrants that are moving in. Students, artists, and other Manhattanites looking for less expensive rents and larger apartments have also moved north. Ten Democratic candidates are competing for the 15,000 voters expected on primary day. The winner who emerges from a crowded field of candidates will have to balance the needs of the newcomers with those who have lived there for years.

District 16 -- Highbridge, Bronx
The neighborhoods of district 16 are the city's poorest, with the highest rate of unemployment and the lowest median household income. But those who live there also point out that much is positive and stable about the area, thanks in large part to local organizations, not-for-profit agencies, and houses of worship that help hold the neighborhoods together. Each candidate for City Council believes that through his or her connections to churches and local organizations, they can help empower the community toward a better life. Helen Foster, the current council member daughter, will face Michael Benjamin, who has worked as an aide to several government officials and Anthony Curry, a Bronx neighborhood activist.

District 20 -- Northeast Flushing, Queens
This year district 20 may elect the first Asian-American ever to the City Council to an area which now has the second highest number of immigrants from Korea and Taiwan in the city. There are three Asian candidates in the Democratic race who have each drawn big endorsements. Council Speaker Peter Vallone enndorsed Terence Park, City Comptroller Alan Hevesi endorsed John Liu, and the New York Times recently endorsed Ethel Chen The campaign has also drawn national and international press coverage

District 25 -- Jackson Heights, Queens
Thirty-seventh Avenue in Jackson Heights, Queens is one of the most diverse streets in the world. Little India quickly blends into Little Colombia, with vendors selling Latin American food to Colombians, Peruvians, Ecuadorians, Mexicans, and Uruguayans. And each summer, the Queens Pride Parade fills the same street with rainbow banners. So it is no surprise that this election year the district produced a diverse field of candidates. A number of them, however, found out that getting on the ballot is not an easy task, especially when the Queens Democratic organization sends teams of lawyers to challenge petitions. But five Democratic candidates survived and will face off on September 11.

District 31 -- South East Queens
When a heavy rain hits southeast Queens, many residents in neighborhoods like Springfield Gardens, Laurelton and Rosedale head to the basement with a bucket in hand. And it has been that way for the last 50 years. In the rush to build housing in the area after World War II, developers overlooked the need for storm drains in hopes that the city would eventually build a city-wide sewer system. The plan never materialized and the area has experienced "100-year rains" three times in the last decade. The eight Democrats -- all with little experience overseeing massive infrastructure projects--will try to convince voters that they can finally solve the flooding problems.

District 35 -- Central Brooklyn
The residents in council district 35 have some of the highest incomes in Brooklyn and some of the lowest. They can play in a famous park and a beautiful botanical garden, and live in the city's most crumbling public housing. They can attend one of the four institutions of higher learning in the district, and the worst-scoring high schools in the city. Such juxtapositions are a way of life for a district that includes the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens; mid dle-class African-American communities near Prospect Park; immigrant communities from Haiti, Sierra Leon, Nigeria, and Trinidad, and in Crown Heights, a mix of Hasidic Jews and African-Americans. Seven Democratic candidates are campaigning in hopes that they can bring some kind of unity, and attention, to the area. Their backgrounds are as diverse as the neighborhoods themselves.

District 39 -- Park Slope/Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn
The candidates in district 39 include a chief of staff for an Assemblywoman, the husband of a member of U.S. Congress, a lawyer for the Legal Aid Society, an attorney and president of the Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats, Senator Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, the district manager of Community Board 6, and a labor organizer. This is the race to watch this year. The group of high-profile Democrats have raised a lot of money, almost $1.4 million combined.

District 45 -- East Flatbush
In no place in the city are the effects of campaign finance reform and term limits being felt more than in East Flatbush. The seven Democratic candidates seeking to represent this largely West Indian district come from a number of Caribbean nations. Many have been working on politicians' staffs and serving with community groups, clearly hoping someday to win their own elected office. Term limits has presented them with that opportunity, and they want to make the most of it. But this race that usually draws only about 8,000 voters could be decided by just a few votes. The candidates are attempting to come up with anything that will separate them from the pack.

District 49 -- North Shore, Staten Island
Staten Island has always been somewhat of a suburban stepchild to New York City. When a 1998 survey asked New Yorkers why they go to Staten Island, the top two responses were ''visiting friends and relatives" and ''passing through.'' But in many ways, the north shore has more in common with areas of Manhattan and Brooklyn than with the rest of the Staten Island. The top priority for all the candidates -- Jon Del Giorno, an administrative manager for the Board of Elections, Mike McMahon, an attorney and counsel to current Councilmember Jerome O'Donovan, and Debi Rose, an administrator at the College of Staten Island and the first African-American candidate in Staten Island politics -- is to make sure that the island becomes more than just a turn-around-point for the over one million tourists who ride the free ferry from Manhattan each year.

Register To Vote or Be A Poll Worker

Voter Registration Forms
After printing and filling out the voter registration form, please send them by mail to:

Board of Elections
32 Broadway, 7th Floor
New York, NY

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Poll Worker Applications

After completing the forms, please send them to the address on the form.

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Links You Can Use

Government sites
NYC Campaign Finance Bd.
NYC Board of Elections
NYC Voter Assistance Comm.
NY City Council
Federal Election Comm.

Local non-partisan sites
NY League of Women Voters
Common Cause New York

National non-partisan sites
Ctr. for Responsive Politics
Common Cause
League of Women Voters

NAACP Voter Empowerment
Vote Smart


Political consultants
Amer. Assc. of Pol. Consultants

Prime New York

Gotham Gazette
The Empire Page
Campaigns and Elections
Legislative Gazette

Political columnists
Andrea Bernstein
Joe Conason
Mario Cuomo (radio)
Rudy Giuliani (radio)
Clyde Haberman
Nat Hentoff

Joseph Mercurio
Joyce Purnick
John Tierney
Michael Tomasky

Political parties
Right to Life
Working Families
Marijuana Reform
Natural Law Party
Taxpayers Party

Political clubs and groups
Blueprint Camp. Finance Reform
Central Queens Greens
The Jefferson Democratic Club of Flushing
NY Young Republican Club
Stonewall Democratic Club
Village Independent Dems.

Abbreviations for Party Affiliation

American Dream Party (AMD)
Better Schools Party (BES)
Communist (Com)
Conservative (Con)
Constitution (CST)
Democratic (Dem)
Friends United Party (FUN)
Fusion Party (FUS)
Green (Gre)
Harmony Party (HAR)
Independence (Ind)
Liberal (Lib)
Libertarian (LBT)
Marijuana Reform Party (POT)
Natural Law Party (NLP)
Party of Ethics and Traditions (PET)
Reform Party (Ref)
Republican (Rep)
Right to Life (RTL)
School Choice Party (Sch)
Socialist Workers Party (SWP)
Working Families (Wor)

2001 Election Calendar

June 1 -- Deadline for candidates to join the Campaign Finance program, qualifying for the four-to-one match of contributions.
June 5 - First day for candidates from the eight major parties (Democratic, Republican, Indpendence, Conservative, Liberal, Green, Working Families, and Right to Life) to circulate petitions. Candidates running for City Council must collect the signatures of at least 900 people living in the district for which they are running in order to appear on the Primary ballot. Candidates not running under these eight major parties do not appear on the Primary ballot and have a separate set of deadlines.
July 12 - Deadline for major party candidates to file petitions.
July 10 - First day for unaffiliated candidates to circulate petitions, in order to appear on the ballot in the General Election. They must collect the number of signatures equal to five percent of the total enrolled in that party.
August 7 - Board of Elections announces candidates appearing on the Primary ballot.
August 17 - Last day for non-absentee voters to register to vote in the Primary Election.
August 21 - Deadline for non-major party candidates to file petitions to be included on the General Election ballot.
September 4 - Last day to postmark application for absentee voting in the Primary
September 10 - Last day to personally deliver application for absentee voting in the Primary Last day to postmark absentee ballot for Primary
September 11 - Primary election; Polls open at 6:00a.m. and close at 9:00p.m.; Absentee ballots must be hand-delivered by 9:00 p.m.
September 25 - Runoff Primary election for Mayor, Comptroller and Public Advocate, if needed
October 12 - Last day to for non-absentee voters to register to vote in the General Election
October 30 - Last day to postmark application for absentee voting in the General Election
November 5 - Last day to hand-deliver an application for absentee voting, or to postmark an absentee ballot for the General Election.
November 6 - General Election; polls open at 6:00a.m. and close at 9:00p.m. in NYC; Absentee ballots must be hand-delivered by 9:00 p.m.

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