Campaign 2001 Feature

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Who are we?


Let The Races Begin

By Mark Berkey-Gerard and Melissa St. Pierre

In East Flatbush, there are twelve candidates representing seven different Caribbean Islands who say they want to run for the open City Council seat. In Astoria, Peter Vallone Jr., son of Council Speaker Peter Vallone, is aiming for Pop's seat, one of a long, long list of second-generation baby politicos looking to occupy the positions their parents are barred from running for again this year.

"Maybe other people are running on a name, but not me--I'm actually qualified," said Vallone, Jr.

In lower Manhattan, three candidates are competing for various firsts on the council - the first Asian woman, the first Asian man, the first gay Rhodes Scholar.

And so it goes. The number and diversity of candidates running this year for a seat on the City Council (a part-time job that pays $90,000 a year) is astonishing. Candidates include an AIDS lobbyist to a police officer to an activist born in Sierra Leone to a staff member in the state attorney general's office to the founder of a credit union-- and that's just in Fort Greene.

Why the scramble? Thanks to term-limits, 35 of the 51 current City Councilmembers will be ousted from their seats next January. This already has encouraged hundreds of new candidates, including one of Hillary Clinton's campaign managers, a locker room attendant, a nutritionist, a TV journalist and a 23-year-old junior from Fordham University. It promises to be an entertaining and utterly confusing election year.

"What total chaos," wrote columnist Arthur Nitzburg in Queens Courier. "What a mess we are all in. How delightful."


The only thing that is clear about the 2001 elections in New York City is that they will not be politics as usual.

This year's municipal elections will mark an unprecedented turnover in city government as not just the majority of city council, but the contest for mayor, public advocate, comptroller and four of the five borough presidents will be without incumbents as well.

"Ultimately, no one knows what will work in these campaigns," said Gene Russianoff of the New York Public Interest Group. "We know what works in the old system. You get elected and stay elected. Now it's different."

Another factor that gives this campaign season an extra boost of energy is the city's matching funds. Under the program of the city's campaign finance program, which monitors fundraising and encourages small donations, candidates can be eligible for four dollars for each dollar they raise. The Campaign Finance Board already has four times as many candidates participating as it has in the past.

"The four-to-one match will create an arms race," said John Mollenkopf of the Graduate Center for Urban Research at the City University of New York. "More people will have the money to hire a campaign manager, to put up posters, and to mount a real campaign."

Money may be the least of the candidate's worries as they struggle to get enough signatures to get on the ballot. While the law requires 900 signatures by the July deadline, most consultants feel three times that amount are needed in case some are contested or fraudulent. In districts with 10 to 12 candidates in one race, there may not be enough registered voters for all the candidates to fill their petitions. Many of the now potential candidates will likely drop out by summer.

"This free-for-all begs for organization," continued Mollenkopf. "The margin of victory will be so narrow, the people who have the advantage will be the ones who can pull together a group of voters."


Thirty-three-year-old John Liu from northeast Queens, who is of Taiwanese decent and currently the top fundraiser among City Council candidates with over $100,000 in his campaign chest, is among the candidates aiming to be the first Asian American Councilmember. Liu is facing candidates Ethel Chen, a retired librarian who was born in China and raised in Taiwan, and Terence Park, a Korean-born employee of the New York City Housing Authority.

Although Liu is opposed to the concept of term-limits that will force Councilwoman Julia Harrison to give up her seat, he believes a new cast of candidates will benefit the city.

"There are some who are worried about the loss of experience," said Liu. "But you trade experience for new blood and fresh ideas. And I think that's good. Certainly I don't have the 40 years of experience that the present Councilmember has. I'm not even 40 years old."

Elsewhere in the city, Sidique Wai, a Sierra Leon native from Crown Heights, Jairo Casas, a doctor born in Colombia, and Morshed Alam, a Bangladeshi activist who ran for State Senate in 1998 are also making their runs for office.

But how race and ethnic politics will influence the election remains to be seen.

"None of the minority candidates are majorities in those districts," said Douglas Muzzio, a professor at the Baruch School of Public Affairs. "So the races could turn either on multi-ethnic coalitions or racial division. Certainly both can happen simultaneously, and it will play out differently in each district."


While term-limits is opening the doors for candidates who would have had a tough time running against incumbents in the past, it is also sending current Councilmembers scurrying to keep their seats in the family circle.

Among those running for their parents' City Council seats are Peter Vallone, Jr., son of Speaker Vallone, Yvette Clarke, daughter of Una Clarke, Eric Malave-Dilan, son of Martin Malave-Dilan, and 23-year-old Joel Rivera, son of Jose Rivera. Noach Dear has also hinted that his wife, Rickly Dear, may run for his seat.

Many of these candidates , as well as David Weprin, son of former Assemblyman Saul Weprin and brother to Assemblyman Mark Weprin, say they learned about politics by taking phone calls for their parents at home.

"I remember fielding some of those calls when I was a kid," said Weprin.

A dizzying group of staff members in city and state government also hope their years of working behind the scenes will give them a shot at public office.

The race to succeed Councilman Morton Povman, who with his 30 years in City Council has served the longest of any current member, is almost completely dominated by staffers. Povman's Chief of Staff Jeff Gottlieb, Speaker Vallone's Environmental Policy Advisor Jim Gennaro, Borough President Claire Shulman's former Administrative Assistant Barry Grodenchik, and State Senator Seymour Lachman's counsel David Reich are all in the running for his District 24 position.

Even the most attentive voter will have trouble weighing the qualifications of all these staff candidates.

While some City Council seats may go to family or staffers, some politicians may try to swap seats with each other.

In Brooklyn's District 36 State Assemblyman Alan Vann is expected to seek Councilwoman Annette Robinson's seat, which would leave room for her upstate. Other state representatives may be looking at City Council as a way to stay in politics without having to commute to Albany.

Many community activists are also aiming to be part of the system after years of working hands-on in their communities, outside electoral politics.

Steve Banks, a lawyer who has spent much of the last seven years suing Mayor Giuliani on behalf of homeless and disenfranchised people, would now like to be on the other side of the government-citizen divide as he makes a run for City Council.

Other prominent activists seeking office include Michael Benjamin, a housing activist in the Bronx, Errol Louis, a community development consultant in Fort Greene, Hosea Givan, a children's rights advocate and Majora Carter, a Hunts Point community activist.

With the Working Families and Green parties candidates appearing more often on the ballot, activists have a real opportunity to move past the protests on the steps, to inside City Hall


If voters are utterly confused by the 2001 election, they will not experience relief anytime soon.

The Board of Elections will not release a list of official candidates until mid summer and with the city's overwhelmingly Democratic population, many races will be decided in just a few months between July and the September primary. Many of the new Councilmembers may be chosen before the general election voter even knows what has happened.

Another complication on the horizon is the fact that the present City Council districts will be redrawn by new Census data in 2001. This will create a shortened term of two years instead of the regular four years. So after November, the next election for City Council will happen in 2003, when the now exiled incumbents will be free to run again. The winners of the 2003 election will serve another two-year term and have to run again in 2005. The normal four-year election cycle will not resume until 2005.

In other words, the voters are in for confusing election races and almost non-stop campaigning for the next six years. For all the chaos, there are some that at least hope this slew of elections and candidates will awake the slumbering City Council and make them more accountable to voters.

"I think it's a very healthy and exciting situation," said Russianoff. "Hopefully it will be good for the political process and produce capable Councilmembers."

How the campaigns and elections play out in the next year may set the tone for the City Council when it actually gets to work passing legislation, balancing the budget and sorting out land-use issues.

"We're walking into the big unknown," said Muzzio. "Clearly the bottom line is that it will be a historic city election and we will see things we've never seen before."




My Street Address:

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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.

Register To Vote or Be A Poll Worker

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

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

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Poll Worker Applications

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

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Links You Can Use

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

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

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

NAACP Voter Empowerment
Vote Smart


Political consultants
Amer. Assc. of Pol. Consultants

Prime New York

Gotham Gazette
The Empire Page
Campaigns and Elections
Legislative Gazette

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

Joseph Mercurio
Joyce Purnick
John Tierney
Michael Tomasky

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

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

Abbreviations for Party Affiliation

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

2001 Election Calendar

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

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