District 27 St. Albans, Hollis, Cambria Heights

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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?


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Learn more about this district in Searchlight 2002

General Election Results

x-Leroy G. Comrie, Dem 17,264 - 81 percent
Cynthia Jenkins, Ind 1,881 - 9 percent
Ishmael J. Morgan, Rep 1,677 - 8 percent
Ed McKay, Har 436 - 2 percent

Primary Election Results

Leroy G. Comrie 4,655
Helen A. Cooper-Gregory 4,478
Erica Ford 2,537
Larry Smith 2,004
Stephen C. Jackson 1,452
Saundra M. Pope 912
(Official Vote Count from the Board of Elections)

Incumbent: Archie Spigner (can't run in 2001)

The Candidates:

  • Leroy Comrie (Dem)
  • Cynthia Jenkins (Ind)
  • Ed McKay (Har)
  • Ishmael Morgan (Rep)

Contributors to these candidates, according to the Campaign Finance Board:

Contributors to Leroy Comrie
Erica Ford has not filed.
Contributors to Helen A. Cooper Gregory
Stephen C. Jackson has not filed.
Contributors to Cynthia Jenkins
Contributors to Ishmael Morgan
Saundra Pope has not filed.
Contributors to Larry Smith

City's Official Primary Election Voter Guide for Residents of District 27

Campaign Tangle:
Cynthia Jenkins has been knocked off the Democratic party line, although she will still appear on the Independence line in November, according to the Board of Elections. Leroy Comrie will not appear as a Liberal party candidate. See the Campaign Update for more details. Posted 8/9/01

Campaign Feature:
[Campaign Update]

Deceptive Calm

Like its neighboring districts in the Southeastern Queens, District 27 appears calm, if not downright bucolic by New York City standards. Somewhat shabby commercial strips do little to mar the block upon block of well kept single family homes. This district on the Nassau County line is home to some of New York's vast and often forgotten black middle class. It ranks second in the number of owner occupied homes and well below the city norm for almost any social ill one can think of.

But there is a sense here that things are not as they could or should be, particularly in education.

Since 1974, the area has been represented by Archie Spigner, the deputy speaker and a man whom the Village Voice once called "the council's version of the Invisible Man." The leading candidate to replace Spigner is his chief of staff, Leroi Comrie, who says he doesn't know of any group that has formally endorsed anyone else in the district. His opponents agree Comrie has endorsements, but say that does not necessarily translate into popular support.

Area Profile
For a detailed profile of this district from City Project, click here.


  • 78% Black
  • 10% White
  • 9% Hispanic
  • 5% Asian

Median income: $55,325 (ranks 11th out of 51)

Unemployment rate: 9%

For more information on this district -- its schools, its crime statistics and more -- click here.

Those running against Comrie in the Democratic primary include attorney Helen Cooper-Gregory; Earl Simons, who works for the Manhattan borough president; former State Assemblyperson Cynthia Jenkins; and Erica Ford, a radical activist who helped organize Khalid Muhammad's 1998 Million Youth March. Republican Ishmael Morgan will run against the winner in the November general election.

While most candidates throughout the city cite education as a top priority, that claim has particular resonance in District 27. Community School Board 29, which covers much of the area, has been in turmoil at least since 1999 when the board and then Schools Chancellor Rudy Crew clashed over Crew's firing of District Superintendent Celestine Miller, who was charged with mishandling an incident where an 8-year-old brought a loaded handgun to school. After her ouster, Miller was indicted on unrelated bribery charges.

Next the local school board went head to head with current Chancellor Harold Levy over the hiring of a replacement for Miller. Levy ousted the board. That decision was overturned by the central Board of Education, but the local school district remains without a superintendent. Levy's choice, Michael Johnson, who has been opposed by much of the community school board, serves as district administrator.

Students probably pay little attention to such shenanigans, but whether it is because of the turmoil or something else, the schools clearly do not do as well as one might expect. In 1988-99, 39 percent of students scored at or above the national average in reading and 50 percent at or above the national average in math, placing District 27 in the lower third for student achievement, far below what one would expect from such a relatively affluent area.

Comrie is on the local school board and served as its president during much of the controversy. Helen Cooper-Gregory, who some see as his strongest opponent, believes this will hurt him. "A lot of educators who work in the district will be throwing their support to me based on who my opponent is," she says. "The grades are not what they should be."

Comrie agrees with that assessment, noting, "The scores in the district do not reflect the demographic." He says his time on the board has been difficult and frustrating in many ways. "I got on the board to try to improve the district," he comments. "I wound up doing everything else but."

Board members were not aware of many of Miller's alleged improprieties, he said.

Aside from ending the turmoil at the school district office, the candidates cited a need to end overcrowding. Given the lack of space, Morgan calls for two shifts, or split sessions, so classes can be smaller. Comrie says he would introduce legislation requiring that city-owned land be set aside for school even before the funding to build the school is available.

Despite the district's prosperity, many of the commercial strips are run down, and there are few job opportunities in the area. Likening one business district to a street in a Third World Country, Morgan said, "The people who are running these businesses are struggling. I would be a strong advocate for bringing in funds from government, venture capital and non-profit organizations."

Beyond education, the candidates convey a sense that things are changing in the 27th, not necessarily for the better. And many place some blame on the city for not providing the area with adequate services. "Seniors tell me the way the community used to be. That gives me the barometer to judge things now," Earl Simons explains. "We need a fair share of city services," in areas such as transportation and parks.

To get these services, many of the politicians argue, may require a new type of councilperson. Even Comrie, who's worked for Spigner for 14 years, says that he would "not just continue but expand" Spigner's work.

"I'd like to see more advocacy," Cooper-Morgan says. "I want to be present in the district office more. People want to be able to feel their councilperson is accessible to them." And Simons says, "The district is clearly in need of new leadership."

With term limits, a new leader is clearly on the way. Whether that person will be able to help make life in the 27th all that it should be, though, remains an open question.

Posted 6/8/01

Campaign Update:

While LeRoy Comrie, chief of staff for outgoing Councilmember Archie Spigner, is still viewed as the frontrunner, seven other Democrats remain in the race and hope to stage an upset.

Stephen Jackson, a civil rights attorney, said he decided to run this spring after attending a meeting of public officials and attorneys concerned about Rev. Al Sharpton's jail sentence for trespassing to protest the Navy bombing of Vieques. From that meeting, he says, "I got a sense that more could be done in the council" and discussed the needs of the community with some of his neighbors.

Jackson hopes to focus on what he sees as inequities in the city budget, shifting money to provide more services for young people. "It's immoral to budget only $105 million for youth services when they paid out more than double that in overtime alone for police officers," says Jackson. He also faults Spigner's leadership, charging that electing Comrie would continue "a legacy of lethargy. People recognize we could do better."

Larry Smith, a computer specialist for the city's Human Resources Administration, has also entered the race. "We've come a long way in a short period of time," says Smith of his door-to-door efforts that yielded 2,200 signatures for the Board of Elections, far more than the 900 required. Smith says this support shows he is a candidate "that has the passion to do this and the willingness to serve."

Citing education as a major concern, Smith concedes that any single councilperson has only limited power to affect major changes. But he says he would seek to take the things that characterize good schools -- dedicated principals, hard-working teachers, committed parents and motivated students -- and find ways to bring them to all schools. His focus, he continues, would not be on the Board of education but on classrooms "where the rubber meets the road."

Whomever wins the Democratic primary will face Independence candidate Cynthia Jenkins and Republican Ishmael Morgan in the general election in November. Cynthia Jenkins has been knocked off the Democratic party line according to the Board of Elections. Leroy Comrie will not appear as a Liberal party candidate.

Posted 8/9/01

Candidate Biographies

Leroy Comrie has worked for Councilman Archie Spigner for 15 years and been his chief of staff for the last seven. He is a member and former president of Community School Board 29.

Helen A. Cooper-Gregory worked for the police department for several years before becoming an attorney. From 1987 to 1991, she prosecuted child abuse and neglect cases in Family Court. She is now in private practice in Queens. Cooper-Gregory is president of the Macon B. Allen Black Bar Association of Queens. and treasurer and a member of the board of directors of the Queens Women's Network, a support group for victims of Domestic Violence. She has also taught at York College.

Erica Ford is an activist who helped organize the Million Youth March in Harlem.

Stephen C. Jackson is a civil rights attorney with a practice based in Manhattan. He has represented the Rev. Al Sharpton and activists C. Vernon Mason and Alton Maddox. Jackson has been a volunteer mediator for the Institute for Mediation and Conflict Resolution. He ran unsuccessfully for state Assembly in 1994.

Cynthia Jenkins is a former member of the State Assembly and has served as a Democratic district leader. She ran unsuccessfully against Councilman Spigner in 1997.

Geraldine Morgan (no information available)

Ishmael J. Morgan works for Off Track Betting. He served as president of the Foundation for Recovery and Economic Encouragement, an organization that promoted economic development.

Saundra M. Pope is an entrepreneur and business consultant who previously hosted a television program on business issues. She is a president and founder of Women of Diversity and was president of the Jamaica Rotary Club in 1998-99. She ran unsuccessfully for State Assembly.

Earl Simons is director of the Northern Manhattan Office for the Manhattan Borough President. He has previously worked for the city's Human Resources Administration and in the Washington office of Rep. Edolphus Towns. He is a vice president of the Cambria Heights Civic Association and president of the New York City chapter of the National Forum for Black Public Administrators.

Larry Smith is a computer specialists with the city Human Resources Administration who previously worked at Harlem Hospital. He is a member of the Rosedale Civic Association, the NAACP and of parent association at local public schools.

Campaign Trail

Sitting among his seven competitors, Leroy Comrie - outgoing Councilman Archie Spigner's top aide and the odds-on favorite to win the seat for district 27 - is almost serene as they take turns attacking him. And attack they do. There's attorney Stephen Jackson blasting Spigner, Comrie's mentor, for being "the invisible man." There's Erica Ford - supported by the Rev. Al Sharpton - talking about the need for change and delivering a message that's part black consciousness movement, part hip hop.And there's former Assemblywoman Cynthia Jenkins, as colorful and lively at 76 as she ever was, railing at the Queens Democratic organization. She told a York College crowd last month how she grabbed the Independence Party line despite being thrown off the Sept. 11 Democratic primary ballot by a machine-led challenge."Now, in November, when you open the curtain, you are going to see Cynthia Jenkins," she said to roars of laughter.And there's attorney Helen Cooper-Gregory, talking calmly about problems with the school district that Comrie has helped lead.Throw into the mix businesswoman Saundra Pope, computer specialist Larry Smith and Republican Ishmael Morgan and you have something for everyone. But Comrie, 41, a School Board 29 member who has worked for Spigner for 17 years, takes their barbs with aplomb. (Daily News)

Erica Ford, a candidate in the 27th District, and two other council hopefuls called upon their opponents not to challenge each other's petition signatures. "The people should be able to decide who's going to be on the ballot, not the machine," Ford said. A spokesman for LeRoy Comrie, whose candidacy for the 27th district seat is backed by the Queens Democratic machine, said Comrie didn't plan to challenge but then again he wouldn't promise not to either. Helen Cooper-Gregory, another candidate in the district, said political hopefuls had to deal with election law as it stands. If candidates "don't realize the county organization is going to look at their petitions then they are naive," she said.(Daily News)

Leroi Comrie is by far the favorite in the race for the District 27 Council seat, but Helen Cooper-Gregory is a credible challenger. (Queens Courier)

The New York City Central Labor Council, a labor group with 1.5 million members in some 450 local unions, gave its backing to 10 of 16 incumbents, skipping an endorsement in six races where the incumbent can run again, but not backing any insurgents against a sitting council member. Among its endorsements in races in which there are no incumbents: John Liu in Flushing (district 20), Bernice Siegal in Hollis (district 23), Melinda Katz in Forest Hills (district 29), Leroy Comrie in St. Albans (district 27) and Arthur Cheliotes in Bayside (district 19). The choice of Cheliotes is not very surprising since he is president of Local 1180 of the Communications Workers of America. (Newsday)

Stephen Jackson, the attorney for a Queens man who has driven subways and buses without authorization, said he would try to have the man's plea agreement and 2 and a half to five year sentence vacated. Darius McCollum was convicted for crimes related to impersonating a transit system employee. Jackson argued that McCollum suffers from Asperger's syndrome, a variant of autism that is sometimes marked by a consuming fascination with things like trains. (Railroad Digest)

Activist Erica Ford, who blocked subways during protests 14 years ago, is seeking the Council seat now held by Archie Spigner. (Daily News)

Former District 29 Superintendent Celstine Miller was indicted for pocketing money that was supposed to be used to buy computers for schools in her district. (Daily News)

The central Board of Education reinstated members of Community School Board 29 who had been suspended by Schools Chancellor Harold Levy. (Daily News)

Cynthia Jenkins says she opposes the Queens Democratic Party's selection of Malcolm Smith as its candidate for the vacant State Senate Seat from the 10th district. Jenkins, who district leader who voted against Smith's selection, was particularly disturbed that he has the endorsement of the Democratic, Republican, Conservative, and Working Families parties and questions how someone can support parties with such widely divergent positions on key issues. (The Wave)

Schools Chancellor Harold Levy suspended the members of Community School Board 29, assailing them for "inept handling" of the hiring of a new district superintendent and "for years of mediocre education results." (Queens Courier)

Community School Board 29 reinstated embattled district superintendent Celestine Miller, a day are Schools Chancellor Rudy Crew fired her. Crew, though, insisted the firing would stand. (Daily News)

Erica Ford lashed out at State Senator David Paterson for opposing Kahlid Muhammad's Million Youth March. Ford was an organizer of the march. (Village Voice)

Stephen C. Jackson, the attorney defending C. Vernon Mason in the defamation suit brought by Steven Pagones, said Pagones would be hard-pressed to prove that Mason had acted with malice. Mason has alleged that Pagones was one of several white men who abducted and raped black teenager Tawana Brawley. (Times Herald-Record)



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
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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