Campaign 2001 Feature
GOTHAM GAZETTE: SEARCHLIGHT ON CAMPAIGN 2001: FEATURE

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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.

Who are we?
Masthead

 

Runoff Elections

By Lenore Chester

Although winner takes all in the primary races for borough president and City Council, that has not been true of citywide races since 1972. It was then that the New York State legislature enacted a runoff primary law for primaries in which nobody wins at least 40 percent. The law is applicable only to the City of New York and there, only to the three city-wide offices - mayor, comptroller and public advocate. In every other city and jurisdiction in the state whoever wins the most votes becomes the party nominee.

Since Democrats heavily outnumber Republicans in the City, the winner of the Democratic Party primary usually goes on to win in the general election. That makes the runoff particularly important in Democratic Party politics. This year the runoff, if necessary, will occur on September 25, just 14 days after the primary.

There is already a kind of official acknowledgement that a runoff is likely among the four Democratic candidates for mayor. The Campaign Finance Board last week approved the mayoral candidates' request to solicit contributions for a primary runoff. The law requires that such a nomination be "reasonably anticipated" before allowing candidates to raise funds for it. (The contribution limit is $2250 - half the limit of $4500 applicable for the primary and general election combined.)

WHY A RUNOFF

The runoff provision was meant to assure that the results of the primary, and also of the general election, reflect the choice of a reasonably broad segment of the electorate. Supporters, including Citizens Union, worried that in a multi-candidate contest without a runoff provision, a vote of 20 percent or even less could determine the outcome of an election. They insisted the runoff is necessary to assure the political legitimacy and effectiveness of the winning candidate.

Not everyone agreed. Many in the minority community believed that the real intent of the runoff law was to make it more difficult for a black or Hispanic candidate to emerge as the party nominee. In past primaries, race has often been an underlying issue.

Indeed, the runoff law was legally challenged on the grounds that it violated the United States Constitution, the Voting Rights Act, and the Civil Rights Act. Herman Badillo, a mayoral candidate in 1969, 1973 and 1977, and a candidate for comptroller in 1993, was a major witness in that court case. He described a pattern of misinformation designed to incite racial voting in the short period between the 1973 primary and the runoff. He testified that as a minority candidate with little access to large sums of money needed to run an effective media campaign in a three week time frame, he was unable to counteract the false charges laid against him. In 1985, Federal Judge Charles L. Brieant sided with the plaintiffs, Reverend Calvin Butts III and Diana Sanchez, but was later overruled.

THE 1969 RACE FOR MAYOR

Although race has always been a factor in New York City politics, a more immediate reason for the adoption of the runoff law may have had more to do with assuring a Democratic victory at the polls than the stated and somewhat more noble goal of effective governance. The seeds of the 1972 law rest in the 1969 race for Mayor.

That year, the Democratic primary for mayor included five candidates. The candidates and the results of the primary were as follows:

  • Mario Procaccino 33%
  • Robert Wagner 29%
  • Herman Badillo 28%
  • James Scheur 5%
  • Norman Mailer 5%

In the general election, the Democratic nominee, Mario Procaccino, was defeated. John Lindsay ran that year as an Independent and Liberal Party candidate and won in a three-way race, receiving about 42 percent of the total vote. Democrats were not happy and that is why runoff elections were born.

HISTORY OF RUNOFFS

A history of runoffs since their inception is interesting if only to remind ourselves that New York City elections have rarely been ho-hum. In a city with many ambitious politicians, vacancies for elected office have always brought out more than a few candidates. Racial, ethnic and religious tensions were reflected in many of the contests.

1973
There were four candidates in the initial primary for mayor in 1973 - Herman Badillo, Abraham Beame, Mario Biaggi and Albert Blumenthal. The percentages of total votes obtained by each of the candidates were:

  • Abraham Beame 34.5%
  • Herman Badillo 29.0%
  • Mario Biaggi 20.5%
  • Albert Blumenthal 16.0%

In the run-off election, Beame defeated Badillo by 61 percent of the total votes cast. It was this lopsided victory that Badillo blamed on the misinformation of his positions that was disseminated in Jewish and Italian neighborhoods throughout the city.

1977
There were seven candidates seeking the Democratic Party nomination for Mayor in 1977. The results of the initial primary election were as follows:

  • Edward Koch 20.0%
  • Mario Cuomo 19.0%
  • Abraham Beame 18.0%
  • Bella Abzug 16.5%
  • Percy Sutton 14.0%
  • Herman Badillo 11.0%
  • Joel Harnett 1.5%

Koch won the 1977 runoff primary, receiving 55 percent of the total votes cast.

There was yet another runoff in 1977. There were five candidates for the office of City Council President (now the Public Advocate). The candidates and the percentages of total votes cast were:

  • Paul O'Dwyer 31%
  • Carol Bellamy 25%
  • Carter Burden 20%
  • Abraham Hirschfield 17%
  • Leonard Stavisky 7%

Bellamy won the runoff election with 59 percent of the vote, defeating incumbent Paul O'Dwyer.

THREE ELECTIONS, NO RUNOFFS

In 1985 and 1989 there were multiple candidates for several citywide races. There were, however, no runoff elections since all the winning candidates captured more than 40 percent of the votes. In the three-way 1989 primary race for comptroller, for example, Elizabeth Holtzman had more than twice the number of votes than Alan Hevesi, the second place challenger.

1993
Holtzman was not as lucky in 1993. In 1993, Comptroller Holtzman came in second in a tight three person primary contest with 33.4 percent of the vote. Alan Hevesi received 35.3 percent and Herman Badillo, 31.4 percent. She was forced into a runoff and lost the Democratic Party nomination to Hevesi. Herman Badillo went on to oppose him in the general election running on the Republican/Liberal line but lost in the general election.

There were initially seven candidates for City Council President in 1993. The incumbent, Andrew Stein, withdrew leaving a field of six: Mark Green (the winner with 45 percent of the vote); David Paterson (second with 19 percent); Susan Alter; Donald Halperin; Robert Ramirez; and Ronald Reale. A runoff was not required.

1997
In the tumultuous election year of 1997, Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messinger resigned to run for mayor, and six candidates rushed to fill her seat. Messinger herself faced two candidates in her primary: Al Sharpton and Sal Albanese. Initial voting results gave Ms. Messinger just 39 percent of the vote. Sharpton won 32 percent and Albanese 21 percent of the vote. A recount lifted Messinger's vote to 39.93 percent; she finally managed to avoid a runoff with Sharpton by a mere 658 votes thanks to absentee ballots. The appearance of weak support had done its damage. Mayor Giuliani easily defeated her in the general election.

2001
While race and ethnicity are still factors in any New York City election, fewer people argue about the legitimacy of runoffs these days. If anything, they may work to the advantage of minority candidates. New York's first black mayor, David Dinkins, won election with both white and black support; and by mobilizing the black vote, the Reverend Al Sharpton almost succeeded in forcing a long time white elected official into a runoff in 1997. In 2001, New York's minority population is almost a majority; blacks make up 1/3 of voters in the Democratic primary; and public campaign financing for run-off elections is now available. Running an effective campaign in the few weeks between primaries will at least take place on a financially level playing field.

In 2001, the large number of candidates vying for the Democratic Party nomination for mayor and public advocate makes runoffs a decided possibility. But until petitions are filed in mid-July, the number and identity of declared candidates is subject to change as they jockey for advantage. A "declared" candidate is not the same as a candidate certified by the Board of Elections.

None of the four declared candidates for mayor (Fernando Ferrer; Mark Green; Alan Hevesi; and Peter Vallone) is likely to drop out before primary day. They have been planning and plotting to be mayor for years. They may yet be joined by the Reverend Al Sharpton, which could be the worst kind of news for Ferrer. There are currently five declared candidates for public advocate: Stephen DiBrienza; Kathryn Freed; Betsy Gotbaum; Norman Siegel; and Scott Stringer. While the public advocate lacks real power, it is a bully pulpit and widely seen as a step up to the mayoralty. As of March 1, there are only two candidates for the Democratic Party's nomination for comptroller: Herbert Berman and William Thompson. No runoff in that scenario!

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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
10004-1609

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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
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
DL21C
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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