Campaign 2001 Feature

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Recent Feature Stories:
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?


Schooled In Politics

By Mark Berkey-Gerard and Gail Robinson

In his lecture entitled "How to Not Make Yourself Irrelevant," Councilmember Thomas Ognibene looked out at the early-morning audience of New Yorkers running for office, and asked what seemed like a straightforward question: "If elected to City Council, who would you vote for as Speaker?"

A candidate in the front row from Queens responded frankly that he did not know. A candidate in the back row from the Bronx raised her hand and said that she would vote for Adolfo Carrion, who is one of the 15 current Council members who are eligible to run again this year.

Ognibene nodded, a cross between Socrates and Oprah. Both answers, he said, would get them into trouble. Voters do not elect people to say "I don't know," he said. And supporting someone that may not ultimately be elected could be a costly political misstep: The new Speaker would remember, and "put you in the back of the room."

Then Ognibene, who is the Minority Leader of the City Council (and, like every other representative from Queens, on his way out), supplied a better answer: "You say, `Whoever is elected Speaker, I am going to work with them to make the city better.' That is how you keep yourself from becoming irrelevant."

It was clear that the audience who gathered to learn things like how a bill becomes a law and what a zoning resolution looks like were in for some lessons as well in the art of politics.

A hundred candidates gathered at 8:30 on a Saturday morning, many bleary-eyed, coffee cups in hand, for a crash course in city government that ranged from the intricacies of the budget process to how to rent an office. Local activists, relatives of current politicians, community board leaders, and people who have never been involved in politics came to size up their chances of mounting a winning campaign.

"This forum really provides a public service by educating people who might not otherwise feel comfortable entering the process," said Anna Lewis, a political newcomer who is running for Ronnie Eldridge's seat in district 6 on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

The training seminar (which held all-morning sessions on two Saturdays in February, and will continue on two Sundays in March) is sponsored by Baruch School of Public Affairs and the New York's Women Agenda, and has the official endorsement of the City Council leadership. With term-limits set to empty 35 seats and erase five centuries of collective experience from the City Council chambers next January, everyone looks at the need for training as especially important this year for the candidates, the Council, and the government as a whole.

The Baruch seminar is not the only one this year. Many city civic organizations, policy analysts, and lobbyists are concerned about the potential turnover in government, and are holding their own training schools. The Coro Center for Excellence in New York City Governance at New York University's Wagner Graduate School of Public Service has plans for a similar policy-oriented training seminar. The Campaign Finance Board holds regular training on the workings of the city's matching fund program and the requirements of candidates. The New York League of Conservation Voters is also planning on doing an environmental training.

It will be a lot of information for candidates, many of whom could not help but feel overwhelmed, even after just one training session.

"My mother's advice was just to relax," said Yvette Clarke, who has an edge on some of the other novices. She is the daughter of Councilwoman Una Clarke, is looking to succeed her mother in Brooklyn's district 40.


Queens Councilmember Thomas Ognibene started the first session off at Baruch, entitled "Your First Days on the Council," with a surprisingly frank lecture about the trappings of political life.

"When you are elected, that night there will be tremendous euphoria," said Ognibene. "People will come up and hug you and tell you how hard they worked all those months for you. And you've never seen them before."

He advised cooperating with other members, suggested carefully selecting issues to fight for, and pointed out one task that will be constant -- fundraising.

"Your swearing-in is really a fundraiser," continued Ognibene. "You have to do it right away because you haven't made any enemies yet."

Next, Manhattan Representative Ronnie Eldridge spoke just as candidly about her efforts to reform the rules of the Council in order to give more power to the members and less to the Speaker.

"These rules are crucial," said Eldridge, whose proposed revisions would make it easier for bills to be introduced on the floor, and for committee members to be selected differently. As for one of the Council's other crucial responsibilities, overseeing the actions of city agencies, it helps to have a cooperative mayor.

"Oversight has been a total bust," Eldridge said, "because the Giuliani people do not tell you anything. And when they do, they lie."

It was a day for bluntness. At a panel discussion where three Council members talked about the challenges of balancing the role of politician at City Hall with that of true representative for your district, Adolfo Carrion, Jr. said: "In the end, we are there to eke out power and wealth for our areas."


City Council is sometimes characterized as the "do-nothing" branch of city government. But the list of the body's actual responsibilities, as outlined in the City Charter that was passed a dozen years ago, comes off as daunting. The Council oversees a $37 billion budget, which, as the students were told, is the fourth largest in the United States, after only the federal government's, and the states of California and New York. The Council is also supposed to provide oversight for one million public school students, 1.3 billion gallons of sewage, 127,000 city prison inmates, and a ton of land use and zoning proposals submitted each year.

"The piloting of the vast and complex ship that we call New York City will be entrusted to a new group of leaders, some with limited experience in government," cautioned Stan Altman, Dean of the Baruch School of Public Affairs. "It is a prospect that should inspire serious concern among all of us."

That is why, said Paula Gerard, the school's staff director, "our aim is to be a local version of Harvard's Kennedy School of training for congressional leaders."

Winning candidates will be invited to a two-day retreat and be given a new manual that Baruch is helping to put together which will explain the rules and procedures of the Council.

Meanwhile, the training sessions, which are open to the public, drew a handful of political consultants, campaign managers, reporters, and local political junkies. But the audience was mostly made up of New Yorkers who are serious about being candidates, many already with their own Web sites, campaign business cards, and a growing pile of cash. Who else would be interested in attending lectures about land use and the budget?


"Your Role in Land Use and the Budget Process," Baruch's second session, aimed to be less inspirational and more focused on the "nuts and bolts" issues of land use and the budget, the two most complex but critical roles of the Council. Amy Klein, chief of staff to the Council's Finance Committee, compared the budget process to the television show "Survivor."

"Councilmembers are thrown into a room, sometimes without food, sometimes, sometimes with their cell phones shut off," said Klein. Then over the next weeks, the Council must wrestle with the mayor's proposals and come together with a consensus on how city money should be spent

As important as the Council's role in the budget is its participation in land use - approving changes in zoning, allowing something to be built in one place and not in another. When it comes to land use, "the Council's power is paramount," said Councilmember Gifford Miller. "There is a huge amount of money at stake in a lot of these decisions."


The training seminar will continue to provide basic training for the candidates; future panel discussions will focus on the police, parks, housing, and how to interact with lobbyists, advocates, and the press. After each official session, various groups will hold less formal "brown-bag lunch" sessions, which provide the only opportunity many in the audience would ever get to eat with people like the heads of the uniform workers unions.

Teachers always say that they get as much from their students as they give, but in these training sessions the quid pro quo is a little more direct. "We want to get in on the ground floor of City Council," said Sally Minard, President of the New York Women's Agenda. A "school" is a convenient and effective way for lobbyists, activists, policy institutes to contact, educate, and influence new city politicians. In the end, the greatest government turnover in New York City history may prove just as great an opportunity for them as for the candidates.

But the old hands on the Council who were the professors think it is worth it. Adolfo Carrion told the candidates that they were getting much better training than the one he received: His own introduction to government when he was elected way back in November, 1997, included a one-day presentation, which he characterized as superficial, by the Office of the City Council Speaker. And, he pointed out, it was only after he was elected. It is never too early to start learning what the Council members all agreed takes years to master. And the training is not the only head-start Carrion advised in a day's worth of blunt advice: "Start the transition after you win the primary."



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
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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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