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What is Searchlight on Campaign 2001?
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?
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?
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
What does this have to do with this site?
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?
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?
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
Who are we?
by Ronnie Eldridge
Edited Transcript of the Jan. 27, 2001
Lecture at the Baruch School of Public Affairs Training
for City Council Candidates
From a City Council's perspective the Charter outlines
basically three responsibilities.
First, the Council has the final say on the budget, because
the Mayor proposes the budget. We hold hearings on it,
we respond to it; he comes back with a final budget, and
we vote on it. We hold hearings on those, we can make
changes, he has the right to veto it, or let it go. Second,
we have oversight of city agencies. That is what the committees
are assigned to, and they have certain oversight responsibilities.
And then we have the final participation in the land use
process, which is a very important process.
The rest of the conduct of the Council is basically set
out in the rules.
THE RULES OF POWER
The rules are adopted the first meeting of the Council
and each year after. When the new Council is constituted
it has to not only adopt new rules, it has to elect a
new Speaker, and that meeting is the key to everything.
The unstated, but underlying political structure of the
Council is determined by the county party organization.
That's why if you look at committee assignments you will
see that the chairs of those committees have an historic
basis of coming from the same borough. The only important
committee that is chaired by somebody from Manhattan is
by Stanley Michels for environmental protection.
In my opinion, the county leaders basically elect the
Speaker. And you guys if you are independent are going
to have a very important role to play. Manhattan has a
weak county leader, and so the delegation operates on
its own. When Vallone was elected in an agreement of the
Bronx county leader, and the Queens county leader and
one member elected him from the Manhattan delegation that
broke his commitment to his Manhattan caucus. He surprised
everybody at the last minute vote, and voted for Peter
Vallone. As a result he became chair of the state and
local legislation committee, and no other person from
Manhattan ever chaired a committee.
I have been talking about the rules now for two years,
because it seems to me that is the most important thing.
I would like to everybody here to understand the importance
of that part of the process. The rules give the Speaker
an unlimited amount of power. It may be the history of
legislative bodies that they have a strong leader, and
that everybody follows, but I think it is time since we
are changing other things in history that we re look at
the leadership of a legislative body.
That has to be broken, because there is no point to all
this. You can go and you want to serve, and if you really
want to serve you go into the Council, you cannot serve
I used to joke years ago. I supported Robert Kennedy,
and I worked in his presidential campaign of 68, and people
would say, "Well what do you expect she comes from New
York." So then I went to work for Mario Cuomo, and I thought
well now I'm from New York, and they say, "Well what do
you expect she comes from the city." Finally I got elected
to the City Council, and they say "Well what do you expect
she comes from Manhattan, and then from the West Side?"
TOO MUCH POWER FOR THE SPEAKER?
The Speaker once appointed has already met with many
people in that coalition to determine what the rules are.
The Speaker has the power to appoint committee chairs;
even the Congress of the United States has changed that
process. Now people volunteer. They submit resumes, they
hold hearings, and it is recommended by a group. The Speaker
makes assignments to the committees. If you look at many
committees there is not one committee that has a majority
that he might lose. Every committee has an assured majority
of the Speaker.
The Speaker controls the committees, he controls the
legal office where the legislation is written for you,
he controls the calendar and what gets introduced, and
what doesn't get introduced to you, he controls what gets
voted on in a committee.
You can look at the Speaker's choice of committee chairs,
and at how much he's decided to pay each one of them,
and then you can look at the members of his informal steering
committee. You look at the votes, and see how often they
voted against the Speaker. I don't think there's any time
in the history of the Council that I've been in the Council
that that's happened.
The Speaker also has the power to bring something up
to a vote. We have the power to vote to discharge, but
by the act of voting to discharge you are voting against
the Speaker, against the leadership vote. You are then
threatening your position on the committees, or your stipend,
so you don't vote for it. We never had motion to discharge
in the Council since I have been present.
YOU HAVE TO KNOW THEM TO CHANGE THEM
So this is the importance of those rules, and you can't
do it at the last minute. Look at these rules, and study
them, and speak to us, and people that you think will
be able to help you. Then you will be able to do it.
The shortcomings in the Council are the oversight which
has been a total bust for the last eight years, because
the Giuliani people don't tell you anything, and if they
tell you anything, they lie. It's a very difficult thing
to have oversight.
The connection between the oversight, and the budget
is an intimate connection, but they're treated separately,
and also we've been powerless in this last administration,
because we can put money into the budget, and the Mayor
decides not to spend it. He ignores the budget, and therefore
you may think you are starting new programs, but you're
really not, because the money hasn't been spent, or the
inspectors haven't been hired.
We never have a caucus. We've had one caucus this year,
and that's because the Queens county organization didn't
have a meeting to nominate their member of the Board of
Elections. The Council Democrats met as a caucus. That's
the only time we meet.
We do not have the opportunity to speak to the Speaker
about anything. I've tried for two years to have a meeting
with him, and I haven't had the meeting with him. Although
when he sees me, he kisses me and loves me.
Councilwoman Ronnie Eldridge has
represented District 6 in Manhattan since 1989.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
for Party Affiliation
Dream Party (AMD)
Better Schools Party (BES)
Friends United Party (FUN)
Fusion Party (FUS)
Harmony Party (HAR)
Marijuana Reform Party (POT)
Natural Law Party (NLP)
Party of Ethics and Traditions (PET)
Reform Party (Ref)
Right to Life (RTL)
School Choice Party (Sch)
Socialist Workers Party (SWP)
Working Families (Wor)
1 -- Deadline for candidates to join the Campaign Finance
program, qualifying for the four-to-one match of contributions.
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
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
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.