District 50 Mid-Island, Staten Island; Bensonhurst and Bath Beach, Brooklyn
GOTHAM GAZETTE: SEARCHLIGHT ON CAMPAIGN 2001: DISTRICT 50

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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.

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Learn more about this district in Searchlight 2002

General Election Results

x-James S. Oddo, Rep 18,313 - 66 percent
Libby N. Hikind, Dem 9,127 - 33 percent
Carl Mahler, Gre 147 - 1 percent

Primary Election Results

Libby Hikind 2,976
Joseph Funicella Wein 2,651
(Official Vote Count from the Board of Elections)

Incumbent: James S. Oddo

The Candidates:

General Election Update

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

Contributors to Libby Hikind
Carl Mahler has not filed
Contributors to James Oddo
Joseph F. Wein has not filed

City's Official Primary Election Voter Guide for Residents of District 50

Issue Statements:
District 50 candidates' statements on the issues, at Savvyvoter.org


Campaign Feature:
[Campaign Update]

Will Overdevelopment Produce A Democrat?

Richmond County as a whole is the fastest growing county in the state, and the Mid-Island section of Staten Island suffers in particular from suburban sprawl. Contractors have been tearing down old single-family homes and putting in multiple-family townhouses, creating as many as six homes where there used to be one. Developers are building on the island's wetlands, which reduces natural floodplains, causing sewers to overflow when it rains. Sandy beaches are being closed because of pollution, and strip malls extend up to the edges of landfills.

"We are a victim of our own success," incumbent Republican Councilman James Oddo admits.

Oddo thinks the district might be growing too fast for its own good. Both his Democratic challengers agree -- Libby Hikind, a third grade teacher from Willowbrook, and ex-marine Joseph Wein, a former aide to Democratic Councilman Jerome O'Donovan (from district 49). All three candidates say that overdevelopment is the greatest threat to the district.

The major disagreement is whether the problem merits a change in leadership. Oddo thinks not. His challengers see it differently.

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

Race:

  • White 78%
  • Black 4%
  • Asian 8%
  • Hispanic 10%

Median income: $51,443 (Ranks 16th out of 51 districts.)

Unemployment rate: 7%

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

Residents have elected a Republican representative to the Council ever since the seat was created in 1991, even though voter registration in the district is three to two Democratic. District 50 includes such Staten Island neighborhoods as Manor Heights, Willowbrook, and Bloomfield, and a small piece of Brooklyn across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge

While their specific ideas on development differ slightly, all three candidates believe that a complete overhaul of the island's zoning laws is needed to preserve the kind of surroundings people in Staten Island expect.

"Housing stock in Staten Island is less expensive than it is in the rest of the city, and it's a beautiful place to live. But if this continues, it won't be so beautiful," says Hikind.

"There is nothing wrong with development as long as it is done responsibly," says Wein, who proposes a possible moratorium on large developments and on building on wetlands, as well as the crafting of a zoning master plan for the whole of Staten Island.

Oddo also believes that a "top-to-bottom re-zoning of Staten Island" is necessary to stop future problems before they arise. However he says he has already overseen some successful "spot down-zoning" in which laws in specific communities are targeted to prevent further development.

Over-development has also led to some of the other problems facing the district, such as school overcrowding and traffic congestion. Critics also say that the infrastructure has not been expanded or improved to meet the growing population.

"When six new families come in where there used to be just one, you have six more cars on the road, and six more students at the local school," says Hikind. "It takes years to build a new school here, but only nine months to build a new stadium," she adds, referring to the minor league stadium recently built for the Staten Island Yankees.

Oddo, however, maintains that he has worked hard during his term to get funding for schools in the district. "If you look at the inside and the outside of my schools, you will see that they have received money." Oddo says he has also worked closely with principals to improve facilities and to increase safety.

Bad roads and poor public transportation (the borough has only one rail line along the eastern shore) result in traffic on the roads, no matter how many people are driving.

According to Wein, the offices and agencies responsible for the current transportation problems miscalculated when they drew up their plans. "They estimated half a car per household. That's a fact."

With so much agreement on the issues and how to deal with them, the outcome of the election may hinge more on personality or on party.

Neither of the Democratic hopefuls were able to offer a definite reason for why Republicans have won recent elections by a close margin in what is a Democratic-majority district. Speculations included low voter turnout for Democrats, or ineffective campaigning. Both Democratic challengers hope the time is ripe for a change.

Democrats usually win the Brooklyn portion of the district, which includes the neighborhoods of Bensonhurst and Bath Beach, where residents might not necessarily share the suburban concerns of fellow constituents across the Verrazano Bridge. However, all of the candidates in the race live in Staten Island and are expected to spend much of their time campaigning near home.

Oddo plans on running his campaign on his record of constituent services which include fixing potholes and imposing a curfew on young people, as well as his role in shutting down the Fresh Kills Landfill. "If you show people results," he says, "they don't care which party you're from."

posted 5/30/01

Campaign Update:

The Fresh Kills landfill, the problem that many in Staten Island thought was solved, has come back as a campaign issue.

After the landfill was closed in March, the City Council approved a new plan to shift responsibility for waste management to each individual borough. In November, Staten Island will be the first to begin building a new waste transfer station to hold its garbage, until it can be shipped elsewhere. The facility will cost $30 million and the planned site near the town of Travis on the Island's western shore was chosen because nearby rail lines provide easy access to and from the station.

"I am not opposed to the transfer station itself," says Democratic Libby Hikind. "I am opposed to its size, and its proximity to residential communities." Hikind is upset with incumbent City Councilmember James Oddo for approving it, especially since Community Board 2 voted against it. Hikind also wonders if some of the trash may come from Manhattan.

Oddo calls Hikind's fears unfounded and incorrect "scare tactics." He also says he has worked hard to make sure that the town of Travis is not affected. "We all wanted to see Fresh Kills closed, but part of the deal is that we have to have a transfer station," says Oddo.

As the campaign has progressed, Oddo has been backed by dozens of unions on Staten Island, such as the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, as well as by many New York politicians, including Congressman Vito Fossella, Borough President Guy Molinari, Mayor Giuliani, and Governor Pataki. He has the backing of the Republican, Conservative, and Right-To-Life parties.

Hikind has the endorsements of Assemblymembers John Lavelle, Clarence Norman, Elizabeth Connelly, and Adele Cohen. She is running on the Democratic, Liberal, Independence, and Working Families tickets. Democrat Joe Wein has been endorsed by Council Speaker Peter Vallone, Staten Island Councilmember Jerome O'Donovan, and unions such as the Communication Workers of America, Local 1108. Green candidate, Carl Mahler, could not be reached for an interview.

Posted 8/31/01


Candidate Biographies

Libby Hikind is a third grade teacher at PS 29 in Willowbrook, Staten Island. She is also a professional grant writer and president of the Professional Grant Writers & Health Consultants. She has secured funding for drug prevention programs, literacy development, and education about the Holocaust. Hikind also created New York City Grant Watch, a publication for non-profit community organizations that identifies federal, state, city, and private funding. Hikind is a mother of eight and grandmother of seven and is also the sister-in-law of Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind.

Carl Mahler is a native Staten Islander who has served in the U.S. Navy. He has worked as a chef in restaurants here and abroad. After graduating from the College of Staten Island, he has been pursuing a career in information systems technology, and is currently working as an I.T. Specialist for a pharmaceutical company.

James S. Oddo was elected to the City Council in February 1999 in a special election to fill the seat of John Fusco. Prior to serving on the Council, Oddo was Chief of Staff and Legal Counsel to Councilman Fusco. He also served as lawyer for the Republican Council members during that time. Oddo is well known for his successful effort to close the Fresh Kills Landfill, in which he worked with Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Borough President Guy Molinari and other local politicians. He received his degree from New York Law School in 1991.

Joseph Wein is an ex-Marine who received an Honorable Discharge in 1993 after four years of service, including time served in Desert Storm. Prior to running for City Council, he was the executive assistant to Councilman Jerome O'Donovan of Staten Island, for which he served as a liaison to federal, state and city agency heads. He has worked on various political campaigns over the years. Wein is currently a union worker in Local 79, the Mason Tenders and Laborers Union. He is a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Marine Corps League, and the Rosebank Boys, a veteran's group.


Campaign Trail

08/8/01
The finance records of Libby Hikind and Joe Wein are still being reviewed by the Campaign Finance Board to determine their eligibility for matching funds, reports the Staten Island Advance. (Staten Island Advance)

08/7/01
Residents, politicians, and candidates are sounding off against a new strip club in the Midland Beach area, set to open this week. Both Wein and Oddo oppose the club, even though they may not be able to prevent it. If they can't, Oddo says, the city will monitor the sex bar "like a hawk." (Staten Island Advance)

New York City Deputy Mayor Joseph Lhota writes a letter to the Advance questioning Hikind's facts on the transfer station, such as its size, the purpose of its location, and the work done by Oddo to ensure the communities safety. "Where has Ms. Hikind been?" he asks. (Staten Island Advance)

08/4/01
Libby Hikind is accusing incumbent James Oddo of accepting large contributions from developers. The Campaign Finance Board's records show that Oddo has raised $64,735 total, $10,000 of which has come from builder Sal Calcagno and family, and another $2,500 from developer Richard Nicotra. In a district where overdevelopment is one of the biggest problems, Hikind is questioning the wisdom of Oddo's campaign contributions. Oddo says it does not mean he is in developers' pockets, and that his record shows that he is actively working to prevent overdevelopment. Hikind's tactic, reports the Staten Island Advance, mirrors that of Jerome O'Donovan's in the race for Borough President. O'Donovan has accused opponent Jim Molinaro of the same wrongdoing. Other campaign contributions are revealed in the article. (Staten Island Advance)

08/3/01
Hikind holds a rally to protest the new waste transfer station and rails against Oddo. (Staten Island Advance)

06/29/01
Councilman James Oddo cosponsors a bill to ban metal bats from Little League baseball. (NY Times)

06/6/01
The Staten Island Independence Party endorsed Libby Hikind for council today. (Daily News)

5/22/01
Councilman James Oddo of Staten Island's Mid-Island District officially announced that he is seeking re-election. Promising to build on his record of constituent service, Oddo was confident that no matter who wins the Democratic primary, they will not unseat him. He was joined by Borough President Guy Molinari and Rep. Vito Fossella of Staten Island. (Staten Island Advance)

5/3/01
The race is on in District 50, and the three candidates for Council continue to collect money for their campaigns. Incumbent James Oddo has already raised $137,000, while Libby Hikind has amassed $100,000. Joe Wein has raised between $15,000 and $20,000. Said Oddo of fund-raising, "No one likes to do it." (Staten Island Advance)

3/23/01
This year's City Council elections are unique in that many new candidates have familiar names. At least six candidates are vying for the seat vacated by their parent. And the family ties don't just cross generations. The race for district 50 is being contested by Libby Hikind, the sister-in-law of Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind. Name recognition may help those who need it. Libby Hikind is challenging Republican incumbent James Oddo. (NY Times)

2/21/01
Council District 50 candidate Joe Wein picked up the endorsement of State Senator Vincent Gentile yesterday. His opponent, Libby Hikind, however, got the support of Democratic Party Chairman John Lavelle. Both candidates are confident that they will receive the party's support in the primaries and get the nod to go on to challenge Republican incumbent James Oddo. (Staten Island Advance)

1/28/01
For candidates in the various Staten Island election races, ethnic identity is shaping up to be a factor in their campaigns. Among others, Council District 50 candidate Joe Wein announced that he would run under the name Joseph Funicella Wein (Funicella is his mother's maiden name) in order to highlight both his Italian and Jewish roots. (Staten Island Advance)

1/24/01
Joe Wein announced today that he will run for the Mid-Island City Council seat, now occupied by James Oddo. He will be facing Libby Hikind in the Democratic primary. He recently moved from his native Rosebank to Grasmere in Staten Island to meet the residency requirements. (Staten Island Advance)

11/14/00
Libby Hikind threw her hat into the ring in front of elected officials, political activists and friends at a dessert reception at Young Israel of Staten Island, Willowbrook. In fact, the public school teacher from Willowbrook literally tossed her United Federation of Teachers cap into the air as she made her announcement. (Staten Island Live)

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
Central Queens Greens
DL21C
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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