by Mark Berkey-Gerard and David Schwartz
Huran, a 37-year-old art therapist and registered Democrat,
can name the four major candidates running for mayor,
regularly reads the newspaper, and has even watched a
mayoral debate. But she is still not sure for whom she
will vote on September 11th, the day of the primary.
As for who will be on the rest of the ballot, forget about it.
When asked who she might vote for as borough president,
Huran answered, "Golden, right?" She was surprised to
hear that current Brooklyn Borough President Howard Golden
cannot run again, and, when told the names of the candidates
running for his
seat, she did not recognize any of them.
She has, however, met two of the candidates running for
City Council in her neighborhood in Bensonhurst,
Brooklyn --Sandy Aboulafia and "some little guy with
white hair" -- but has not decided which she would vote
for. Being the conscientious voter, Haran plans to sit
down soon, read up on the races, and, she hopes, finally
make up her mind.
For the last minute voter -- in other words, New Yorkers
who have not been paying enough attention even to tell
you why this year has been called a historic election
-- let us go step by step.
Why Is There So Much Campaign Stuff
For the first time, most elected officials are being
kicked out of office on December 31st, because of a new
law that limits the terms of politicians. This is forcing
the mass retirement of most incumbents in the city - including
the mayor, the
public advocate, four of the five borough presidents,
and 35 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 from the
These two things mean that there are some 300 candidates -- more than ever
before -- vying for dozens of open seats. Many of them have a lot of money to
spend on posters, television ads, web sites, and palm cards. And they want
Who Is Running?
In addition to the hundreds of community board members,
school board members, and community activists running
for office this year, the list of candidates also includes
TV journalist, a
billionaire media mogul, a
former NBA basketball player, Hillary
Clinton's former campaign manager,
a famous salsa singer, and a
character from Seinfeld. In other words, there are
a lot of people with varying degrees of political and
There are several ways to find out who will be on your ballot.
On Gotham Gazette: For the three city-wide races and
the races for borough president, go to Searchlight
on Campaign 2001, and look for the links on the upper
left-hand side. For the City Council races, our "What's
My District" feature allows you learn about your district
even if you do not know what number it is. Type in your
street address and zip code in the upper right hand corner,
and you will be taken to a page that talks about the candidates
in your district, the issues, and the neighborhood itself..
If you already know what district you live in, you can
scroll down a list on the left-hand side of this
The city's official
voter guide online lets you either type in your address
or select your neighborhood from a map of your borough.
All registered voters should also receive a print edition
of this voter guide in the mail. Here you will be able
to see all the races that will be appearing on your particular
Despite the turnover, voters may recognize some familiar
names when you go to the polls this fall. Many elected
officials are running for higher (and in a few cases lower)
office. There are also over a dozen of sons, daughters,
wives, husbands, brothers, sisters and cousins of New
York politicians running
for office, hoping that people will recognize their
names and think they too would be good politicians; or
they are hoping most voters will not notice and just flip
a switch thinking they are electing the same person they
What Are The Candidates Saying?
"I don't think the candidates can be separated on the
issues," Vaughan Toney, a City Council candidate in East
Flatbush said of his seven opponents. "It's not like
anyone is saying he's for less funding for education.
It will be who will best represent them."
In New York City, where most voters and elected officials are Democrats,
sometimes it can be hard to tell the candidates apart. The best thing is to
see them in person talking about issues with other candidates.
While many of the televised candidate debates have already
passed, there will still be opportunities to see some
debates before the November general election. The Campaign
Finance Board has a
schedule online. Transcripts of several debates and
community forums can also be found in newspapers and on
Gotham Gazette, where you can read, among others, the
28 mayoral debate; the August
21 mayoral debate; the stump speeches of many of the
candidates for public
advocate and the two candidates for comptroller;
as well as a series of interviews with the candidates
Island borough president, and a
forum of the candidates for Queens borough president.
WNYC, the city's public radio station, has audio
archives of candidate interviews and debates that
you can listen to on the Internet for free. In addition,
several of the metropolitan newspapers are offering sections
on their web sites specifically focused on the local elections.
A few independent web sites are also involved, with Savvyvoter.org,
for example, inviting candidates to participate in its
online forum by writing their positions on the issues,
though few candidates have done so. Some candidates have
posted their positions on issues on their own campaign
web sites. (Gotham Gazette's Searchlight on Campaign 2001
includes links to these web sites from the list of candidates
in each race.).
For local races, it is best to check with neighborhood papers, community
organizations, and even the candidates themselves to find out if there are
places where you can see and hear what the candidates have to say. (Some of
these articles are available, at least in summary, on our Campaign Trails;
[see next section])
There are also a host of non-profit organizations and
advocacy groups that publish the candidates' responses
to the issues they care about. There are guides, both
in print and online, to what the candidates say about
issues, and the
environment, to give just a few examples.
To learn more about these issues and more, look at Gotham
Issues 2001 for a list of issues you might care about.
Scroll down the page, and look on the left-hand side for
a list of issue topics.
In the days leading up to the election, many candidates will be making phone
calls or shaking hands at subway stations, and the best way to find out what
a person plans to do in office is to ask them or call up their campaign
When most candidates are asked about their top concern, most reply,
"education." Ask them what they specifically plan to do, and more
importantly, how they will find the money to do it.
How Do I Catch Up With What Has Been Happening?
Why is Rudy Giuliani exchanging insults and accusations with Alan Hevesi as
if the current mayor were running for re-election? Why do both candidates
running for comptroller blame each other for the School Construction
Authority's being $2.8 billion over budget? Have the candidates already
broken their campaign promises or flipped their position on the issues?
You can catch up with all of the campaign news quickly
with Gotham Gazette's Campaign
Trail that has archived stories from the New York
Times, Daily News, Newsday, New York Post, Crain's, Village
Voice, and the New York Observer, as well as various community
newspapers and cable stations. You can see how the campaign
has progressed, how and when the major issues first entered
the campaign debate, and compare the coverage of one newspaper
to another as you try to decide how to vote.
Who Has Endorsed These Candidates,
And Should It Make A Difference?
Does it matter that the New York Times has endorsed Mark Green for mayor,
while the Daily News and New York Post have endorsed Peter Vallone? Does a
photo of Al Sharpton and Fernando Ferrer smiling and patting each other on
the back influence voters? Will the endorsement of the United Federation of
Teachers give Alan Hevesi an advantage?
The answer is yes, in part.
Many voters look to endorsements to help them make their decisions. And
having unions, religious leaders, advocacy groups, civic groups, and
prominent New Yorkers listed on brochures or standing up at press conferences
is an essential part of any campaign.
Endorsements are especially coveted in an election year filled with unknown
of the local political organizations and the party bosses
also leads to more power and money for a campaign. The
candidates who have the backing of the political organizations
have help in fundraising, an army of people who will make
last minute phone calls to "get out the vote," and access
to the lawyers to knock
other candidates off the ballot.
Candidates without their party's backing or big endorsements, on the other
hand, are hoping voters will rely on their own judgement when deciding how to
How And Where Do I Vote?
You can only vote in the primary if you are registered
with a political party. The last day to register for the
September primary has passed, but you can still register
for the general election and any runoff elections should
they be necessary, if you do so by August 31. Download
a registration form and mail or deliver it to the Board
of Elections. To find out if you are registered to vote
with a party, you can try out an
Internet site where you type in your name and date
of birth and it gives you Board of Election information.
Warning: The information comes from the Board of Elections,
and is only as accurate as the Board of Elections can
make it, which, if the past is any guide, is not very.
Once you are registered to vote, you must find your polling
place. Registered voters should get a bright yellow card
in the mail with the address of their polling place. You
can also call the Board of Elections at 212-VOTE-NYC (9
a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday to get a real person;
an automated system operates 24 hours a day), or e-mail
them at email@example.com
with your complete address.
Will The Results Be A Florida-Style
No one knows for sure what will happen, but based on
the large field of candidates in many races, low voter
turnout, and the city's outdated voting
machines, New York may unseat Florida as the capital
of election debacles.
Last year, the recount for the election of an Upper
East Side State Senate seat which was decided by a
few hundred votes, actually lasted longer than the presidential
recount. And in the presidential election race in New
York, the city had a higher
percentage of uncounted, unmarked, and discarded ballots
than in Florida (although few noticed because the race
between Gore and Bush here was not close).
If you go to vote on September 11th and you are told that you are not on the
Board of Elections roll (and you think you are in the correct polling place),
request an "affidavit ballot," which is a paper ballot.
The city has taken some
measures to prevent problems this year. They recently
hired a private
company from New Jersey to bring in more voting machines
and repair the broken ones. If the races are too close
to call or if there are problems deciphering the votes,
the ballots will have to be counted by hand. That could
take weeks. The Board of Elections is preparing guidelines
to determine what exactly counts as a vote in order to
avoid the "hanging chad" type debate in Florida. The city
is also spending
a record amount of money ($2 million more than usual
for each election day) on better pay for election day
workers. The hope is that better qualified workers will
be more helpful to voters and attract enough workers.
To be part of the
solution (or to just participate in the chaos), you
still can sign up to be a poll worker and earn as much
as $660 for three days' work (the primary election, a
possible runoff, and the general election). To be a poll
download the application and mail it to the Board
of Elections. Also, the mayor has said that the department
of emergency services will be available to rush repairmen
to broken voting machines in police cars with their sirens
If you have problems at your polling site on Election Day, call the New York
Public Interest Research Group Voter Help Line 212-822-0282 to register your
If you want to complain about your polling place on the week of the election,
visit Gotham Gazette's Election "Venting" Bulletin Board, where you can post
your experience and read about other voters' experiences.