Campaign 2001 Feature
GOTHAM GAZETTE: SEARCHLIGHT ON CAMPAIGN 2001: FEATURE

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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?
Masthead

 

Uncharted Charter Changes

By Mark Berkey-Gerard and Gail Robinson

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Pros and Cons On Charter Change
  3. Question 1: Children's Services
  4. Question 2: Gun Violence and School Safety
  5. Question 3: Human Rights
  6. Question 4: Public Health
  7. Question 5: Public safety

Voters who go to the polls November 6 may be surprised to notice six questions running down the right side of the ballot. For the third time since 1998, New Yorkers are being asked to change the city's charter, the basic document of city government. In previous years, the charter changes produced controversy and debate, but this year, the questions have been largely ignored, partly because of the World Trade Center disaster and partly because many of the proposals seem innocuous.

There is, though, some real substance. If one proposal were to pass, critics charge, a teacher could be punished for not immediately telling the police that a fourth grader punched a classmate in the nose. Several of the questions are intended to preserve adminstrative changes that Mayor Rudy Giuliani made, such as his reorganizing the child welfare agency.

But much of the opposition to the five questions focuses more on the process of charter reform than the substance of the proposals themselves.

PROS AND CONS ON CHARTER CHANGE

The charter defines the duties of city government and how that government should function. The charter governs mayoral succession, for example; it does not say where people are allowed or not allowed to smoke. While the charter is the city's basic governing document, the current one is only 12 years old and has already been amended about 90 times. Such changes can be made through local law, which is how most of the changes have been made. The mayor can also create a charter reform commission to suggest amendments to be put bef ore the voters.

Since he become mayor in 1994, Rudolph Giuliani has done that three times. And critics charge he has had ulterior motives each time [see blue box]. In 1998, some say he was trying to stop New Yorkers from voting on a new stadium for the Yankees. A year later, his target was the city's succession law, because, critics charged, he did not want to see Mark Green become mayor.

When the mayor returned to charter reform this January, observers thought

The Mayor and the Charter

This year marks the third time that Mayor Giuliani has set up a Charter Revision Commission and gone to the voters with suggested changes to the city's chief governing document.

In 1998, commission came up with a proposal to ban all corporate contributions to candidates for municipal office. The measure was approved overwhelmingly, but critics charged that mayor and his appointees had not been guided by an altruistic interest in clean government but by his legendary enthusiasm for the Yankees. If the mayor's commission has charter revision proposals on the ballot, no other revisions can appear. By naming a charter commission, Giuliani kept a referendum on whether public money should be used to build a new stadium for the Yankees from going to the voter. The stadium was then a pet project of the mayor's.

A year later, the mayor went back to the charter process again. This time, his target was the city's succession law, which makes the public advocate mayor if the mayor dies or is unable to serve. Giuliani was then mulling a run for Senate in 2000 and supposedly wanted to make sure that if he was elected, Public Advocate Mark Green would not get to fill out his unexpired term.

By the time a package of 14 proposal reached the ballot, though, the measure aimed at Green was for all intents and purposes gone. Under the revisions, the special election provision would not take effect until 2002. That, though, didn't help the package with voters. The vote was a simple yes or not an the whole array of proposals, and voter said no by a 3-to-1 margin.

that his aim was to be make city elections nonpartisan. But, by the time the final proposals emerged from the Charter Revision Commission in late August, the most controversial ideas, including nonpartisan elections, were gone. "Nonpartisan elections and mayoral succession deserve to be more fully explored and to have more public debate," commission chair Randy Mastro told reporters. "That's why the staff recommended that consideration on those issues continue after the election cycle."

That did not disarm some critics, though, who focused on the process and said the mayor was trying to use charter revision to make permanent changes he had made to the city government. The Bar Association of the City of New York said there was "an unreasonably short period of time for public consideration of changes to the city's fundamental governing document."

In opposing all the questions, Citizens Union echoed that, saying, "The procedure taken to arrive at these proposals provided neither adequate time nor an appropriate forum for the public to make suggestions to or address the recommendations of the commission's staff."

Further, the organization said, many of the proposals would be "better pursued by going through the legislative process not around it. The Charter Revision Commission should not be a mechanism for the mayor to bypass a dissenting council."

In fact, Council Speaker Peter Vallone has noted that the mayor was unable to get some of these proposals, such as those merging city agencies, through the council.

The Charter Revision Commission disbanded after it decided on the five question this summer. Its report on the proposals is available at its web site, but no agency exists to answer public or press queries on the measures.

While voters in 1999 cast a single vote on 14 different proposals, this year the array of changes have been divided into five separate questions, each to be voted on separately. The first proposal listed on the ballot is a state amendment that would make the language in the New York Constitution gender-neutral. So city residents will have six questions to vote on. Doing that, though, could challenge even the most informed voter. While the questions and brief explanation will run down the right side of the ballot, the levers will not be alongside them but at the bottom of the ballot.

QUESTION 1: CHILDREN'S SERVICES

Make the Administration for Children's Services an independent agency: This measure is one of the few that has garnered widespread support. While Vallone opposes it because he thinks that such a change should be made by the council. City Councilmember Madeline Provenzano testified in support of it at a public hearing in August. She says the agency has made impressive reforms and improvements in services since its creation in 1996. The Citizens Committee for Children of New York also supports the measure.

Giuliani created the Administration of Children's Services to replace the Child Welfare Agency after the beating death of six-year-old Elisa Izquierdo in 1995. The charter change would preserve the agency, insuring its existence after Giuliani leaves office.

According to Gail Nayowith of the Citizens Committee for Children, the creation of agency "rescued children's service from obscurity in the city's social service bureaucracy... Children have their own commissioner who reports directly to the mayor." (For further discussion on this, see Lynda Crawford's article)

QUESTION 2: GUN VIOLENCE AND SCHOOL SAFETY

Create gun-free zones: The proposal would bar guns within a 1,000 foot radius of every school and day care center in the city. Federal law already makes it a crime to have a gun with 1,000 feet of a school, although there are some exceptions that this measure would eliminate. Someone can, for example, have a gun on their private property even if it is across the street from a school. State law also bans the possession of gun on school grounds for someone convicted of a felony.

The proposed charter amendment would reinforce the federal and state laws and in reality make all of Manhattan a gun-free zone, since 1,000 feet is equal to a four block radius.

"This city is trying to pass something that would make it easier to enforce," said Andy Pelosi, executive director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence.

Prohibit selling a gun to anyone under 21: Although city law already prohibits anyone anyone under 21 from receiving a permit or owning most types of guns, there are exceptions for rifles and shotguns that this measure would eliminate.

As Derek Alger reported in GothamGazette early this year, New York State already has some of the strictest gun laws in the nation. Gun legislation, signed into law by Governor George Pataki last summer, made New York the first state in the nation to require background checks on anyone interested in buying any firearm, including guns available at gun shows. And 80 percent of the guns used in crimes in New York are not purchased in the state, but are brought in from other states with less strict laws.

Require Board of Education employees to report suspected crimes, including sex offenses and violent crimes, to police: This is perhaps the most controversial of the charter revision questions.

In June, the City Council drafted legislation that would essentially have done the same thing. A vote on the measure has been indefinitely postponed.

The calls for such legislation were sparked after it was learned that several cases of sexual assault in schools had not been reported to police. While this provoked outrage, some advocates believes a law requiring reporting, and leaving virtually no discretion to principals and teachers, runs the risk of putting youngsters who act badly but not illegally in the criminal justice system.

(For a more detailed discussion, see Tracey Middlekauff's article on "Teachers as Cops" in Gotham Gazette)

QUESTION 3: HUMAN RIGHTS

Make the Commission on Human Rights a permanent agency, elevate the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs to a mayoral agency and protect immigrants' access to city service: When charter revision was last voted on in 1999, the first two proposals were part of a big package that voters rejected two to one. Now they are up for consideration on their own. But many organizations involved with these issues, such as the New York Civil Liberties Union and Empire State Pride Agenda, have not taken a formal stand on these charter revisions.

Margie McHugh of the New York Immigration Coalition said that her constituent groups are divided. Some are happy with what they have now, she says, while others would like to solidify the access that a mayoral agency can provide. But her real concern is that the measure does not address the most important issue for immigrants in the city, such as language access.

(For more detailed discussion, see Andy Humm's article on the human rights commission)

QUESTION 4: PUBLIC HEALTH

Merge the city's health and mental health services into a unified, permanent Department of Public Health: The mayor has tried to affect such a merger before but was thwarted by the City Council. And so, one City Councilmember has called this proposal, "one of those Freddy Krueger ideas in government," likening it to the horror movie character who will not die. Some critics fear a single agency would give short shrift to mental health issues, while proponents argue that having one health office would deliver services more effectively and reduce duplication of effort.

(For a more detailed discussion, see Andy Humm's examination of the arguments for and against the merger)

Expand the Board of Health to 11 members: The board currently has five. It would also reduce the term of office from eight to six years.

QUESTION 5: PUBLIC SAFETY

Make the Office of Emergency Management a permanent city agency: Giuliani created the office in 1996 as a descendent of the city's Office of Civil Defense and the Police Department's Office of Emergency Management. The agency, which includes personnel from the Police and Fire Departments, Emergency Medical Service, and other city agencies, was intended to deal with catastrophes such as a chemical or biological attack or a "mass fatality situation." However, until the attack on the World Trade Center, many of the emergencies it had confronted were far less dire, such as the threat of the Y2K computer virus, an infestation of longhorn beetles, and an influx of rodents.

But now, the threat of terrorism has become a reality and support for the office has increased. Michael Emmerman, the government liaison for the American Red Cross, recently testified in support of the proposal.

"My ability to do my job efficiently has been directly enhanced by the existence of the Office of Emergency Management," said Emmerman. "The ability to have all of the resources of this great city available and structured, that's the important part of this. To respond in times of need is something that is absolutely necessary and not a luxury."

(For a more detailed discussion, see Gail Robinson's article on New York's anti-terrorism policies.)

Consolidate the various agencies that regulate crime in the food, transportation, and shipping industries into a single Organized Crime Control Commission: This is the latest effort of a mayor who has made it his mission to root out organized crime through administrative regulation and licensing city contractors. However, opponents say that the charter change is unnecessary, because the city already has a robust police force charged with eliminating unsavory business dealings. And even those who support the substance of the commission question whether the charter revision might be giving it too much power.

(For a further discussion on this, see Michael Burger's article on organized crime in Gotham Gazette.)

Create a permanent Office to Combat Domestic Violence: This agency would coordinate domestic violence services and formulate new policies for victims of domestic violence.

The mayor has not always been on the same side of legislators who have tried to pass domestic violence legislation. Last December, he signed into law a bill -- the first of its kind in the country -- that gives domestic violence victims the right to sue their former abusers for compensatory and punitive damages, but he initially opposed it.

 

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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 endorsed 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.


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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
SavvyVoter.org
NYVote.com
Votesmart
NYPIRG
NY League of Women Voters
Common Cause New York

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

NAACP Voter Empowerment
Vote Smart

E-Voting
Election.com

Political consultants
Amer. Assc. of Pol. Consultants

Prime New York

Media
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
Conservative
Democratic
Green
Independence
Liberal
Republican
Right to Life
Working Families
Communist
Libertarian
Marijuana Reform
Natural Law Party
Socialist
Taxpayers Party

Political clubs and groups
Blueprint Camp. Finance Reform
DL21C
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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