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

 

Baby Candidates

By David Schwartz

Joel Rivera is 22 years old and just finishing his junior year at Fordham University. He did not worry about classes this Spring, as he took the past semester off "to help facilitate the transition to City Council," as he puts it.

In February, he won a special election to take over his father's seat in district 15 in the Bronx and became the youngest member of the New York City Council in history.

Despite his absence from the classroom, Rivera is still on track to graduate on time. His school gave him a full semester's credit for "real-life experience" on the City Council.

"I think it's probably the highest level internship in Fordham's history," Rivera said. (And at $90,000 a year, it is surely the highest paid).

So while most of Fordham's political science majors buried their noses in textbooks, Rivera had a somewhat bigger test: the mayor's $39 billion proposed budget.

When Rivera runs again in the September primary, he will be joined by some half dozen candidates for City Council seats who are under 25. Several more are just a little older than that. And there are at least three candidates who are hoping to take Rivera's title as Youngest Councilman in History.

NO I.D. NECESSARY

Theodore Roosevelt was the youngest president in United States history. He assumed office six weeks before his 43rd birthday after William McKinley was shot, edging out John F. Kennedy by three months. But few people know Roosevelt was also one of the youngest members ever of the New York State Assembly, taking office when he was just 23. The United State Constitution requires presidents to be at least 35 years old. Members of the United States Senate must be 30, members of the House of Representative, 25.

But in New York, the only explicit minimum age requirements are for governor and lieutenant-governor, who both must be 30. All other elected officials must only be old enough to be a registered voter, which means 18. "The justification for age minimums is that the candidates be wise in the ways of the world, that they've been around the track a few times," says Michael Herz, a professor of constitutional law at the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law in Manhattan. "The more important and solitary the post, the more important the experience is.

"The basic argument against such requirements is the same as the argument against term-limits: If the voters want to pick someone young then they should have them. The check against too young a candidate is in the ballot box, and one shouldn't narrow the choices ahead of time."

On a federal level, at least, the minimum age requirements "don't get in the way much," Herz said. With people graduating from school much later, and seeking higher degrees more often, the reality is that the federal age minimums have little practical effect, Herz said. "There's not much of a chance of these very young people getting elected."

In New York, though, it is different. Young candidates do get elected, and for many of them, it is just the start of a long political career.

Anthony Weiner was elected to the City Council in 1991 when he was 25. He served on the council for 7 years before being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1998. Gifford Miller joined the city council in 1996, at age 26. If re-elected this year, he will become in January become-at age 32-the senior member of the body (in seniority, not in age).

And before Rivera, 23 year-old Pedro G. Espada held the title of Youngest Councilman Ever, after his 1997 victory in the Bronx. But no tears for Espada; he can still claim Youngest State Assemblyman Ever, having gotten elected to that post a year before his City Council triumph, when he was 22. (He beat out Roosevelt and now Senator Chuck Schumer, who was elected to the State Assembly when he was 23 years old). Now, at 27 years old, Espada is defending his city council seat in district 17 this year against the venerable 28 year-old Jose Marco Serrano.

The youngsters' critics (mostly the candidate's opponents) say that their lack of life experience puts them out of touch with their constituents and makes them ineffective leaders. Edwin Ortiz Jr, who lost to Joel Rivera in February and is running against him again this fall, said, "He just doesn't have the experiences to be an effective representative. He doesn't know the issues because he hasn't gone through them." (In a strange twist, Ortiz, who is 35, complained that because of his youthful appearance voters thought that he was the younger of the candidates).

The young candidates counter the charges of inexperience: "I can bring new ideas and new solutions to old problems," said Jason Haber, 24, who is gunning for the high profile sixth district seat on the Upper West Side. He cited a better understanding of how technology could be used in education as one benefit of his age.

Rivera said, "I bring a fresh perspective on how to get things done." Elizabeth Crowley, 23, who's running for the 30th district seat, said, "I would bring a young voice to the council. The City Council needs to have people of all ages. Fresh blood and new ideas are very important. I'm not the typical politician."

But despite Rivera and Crowley's repetition of the word "fresh", there is something recycled about, at the very least, their names.

Rivera, Crowley, and the once-baby candidate Espada all come from political families. Rivera's father, Jose, held the City Council seat before Joel and is now a state assemblyman. Pedro G. Espada's father, Pedro Espada Jr., is a long-time state senator. Elizabeth Crowley announced her candidacy outside the Walter Crowley School, named after her father, who was a member of the council. When her father died in 1985, her mother completed his term. Elizabeth's cousin is U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley, representing a Queens/Bronx district.

It is perhaps understandable that young candidates often come from political families. As Rivera said, "It's like a farmer's son watching his father work the land. I saw what my father did, learned from him, and said, 'I want to do that too.'"

And having that well-known name doesn't hurt either. Queen's Democratic boss Thomas Manton, who has endorsed Crowley, told the Queen's Times-Ledger that Elizabeth Crowley "has the Crowley name. There's no need to build name recognition."

But one could wonder how "fresh" their ideas really are. The candidates, of course, say fresher than the seafood at the Fulton Fishmarket. But they also say that they will turn to their families for advice.

Crowley said, "I'm fortunate to have my mother, my father and my cousin Joe who have dedicated there lives to public service. It gives me an advantage. I can turn to my mother and cousin for advice."

For those baby candidates without the name recognition and powerful political families behind them, the path to elected office seems a bit more...uphill.

Damon Walters, 20 and a youth coordinator at the National Action Network, is running in District 11 against a field of candidates including G. Oliver Koppell, a long-time state assemblyman and former New York State Attorney General.

Yehuda Katz, a 19-year-old college student,faces an incumbent in Brooklyn's district 48. In order to circumvent the Democratic organization, Katz is running under the Libertarian Party banner.

"My party in particular is an underdog party," Katz said. "I know this will be a difficult, long road. But I'm going to be targeting unconventional voters, like students. By virtue of my age I can reach them better," Katz said. Katz also said that his pro-legalization stance on marijuana was something that might appeal to young voters.

Jason Haber is a self-professed long shot for the Upper West Side council seat. How will he overcome the heavyweights in this high-profile field? "I will be out in the streets every day, shaking hands, meeting constituents," Haber said recently.

Like Katz, Haber hopes to mobilize young voters. But the younger generation is a notoriously uninterested group of voters, even in federal elections. To get them interested and involved in a City Council race would be quite a coup.

Rivera, for one, thinks that he has made a connection with his younger constituents. "Being that I'm 22 and a student myself I have a direct link to the students of New York. Students are now more motivated because they feel that they have a friend within elected office," Rivera said. Gifford Miller knows from his first run for the fifth district seat in 1996 at age 26 that youth can be an advantage during the long months of campaigning. In his first election, Miller said, "I was fresh to the process of running- if you've run [for office] several times you've hit your quota of people yelling at you at the subway station. The first few times you can brush it off. You've got a lot of fresh energy."

Joel Rivera, who had to start worrying about another campaign before he sat in his council seat, said, "People ask me how I can deal with two elections in one year. I say, good thing I'm young." (For Ortiz's part, the elder candidate said that he has no problem with another campaign either.)

AGE SENSITIVITY

Miller does not remember his opponent criticizing him for his age in his first election (which he won), "It wasn't my age so much as for a supposed lack of experience.

"Fortunately I had some good experience from working for Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney," Miller said.

Edwin Ortiz said of opponent Rivera, "I don't think it's so much an age thing, I think it's a lack of experience. Age obviously plays a role with lack of experience, but I've been involved since I was 17. I was the vice president of my building's tenant association at the age of 18. It's knowing the community, Rivera doesn't have that," Ortiz said, citing Rivera's private school education.

All the candidates have a different way of handling the criticism that they lack experience, seemingly a euphemism for being too young. In the past, Rivera has brought up marches he has attended when he was 4 years old. When Rivera was recently asked how he would respond to questions about his lack of experience, he said, "People say how can you be involved at the age of 4. If you look at the likes of Rev. Al Sharpton, he's been preaching since he was 4 years old. Rev. Jesse Jackson has been involved since he was 7. These are all leaders of our community that have been involved their entire lives. And the fact of the matter is the Kennedy's have been involved their entire lives."

Jason Haber cites political experience as press secretary for an unsuccessful mayoral campaign in Washington D.C. and as communications director for a D.C. Councilman's office Crowley said that she has substitute taught for nearly every school in her district, her husband is a police officer, and she has two children attending public school in the fall. "Being a mother, I know what it's like to want to provide a better opportunity than you had yourself. I can identify with the majority of the city in that respect," Crowley said.

Yehuda Katz, the junior of the junior field, cited his experience editing a newspaper, being involved in "small scale" politics at Rockland Community College, and having a family in the district. But perhaps knowing that these things might not impress too many voters, Katz said, "Experience isn't always good. It can lead to entrenchment."

Echoing Katz is 20-year-old Steven Weiss, a Yeshiva University senior running for the district 10 seat. Weiss also mentioned some newspaper experience (has media-baron Michael Bloomberg started a trend?) and small scale politics, but said, "In terms of local politics, there shouldn't be a lot of career politicians who know a lot about the political system."

AGE APPROPRIATE

If some of these candidates are elected or re-elected, the question remains: how effective would these baby politicians be?

When Miller first joined the City Council, he says, "the other council members were helpful and I was fortunate to establish working relationships with them."

Rivera said that since being elected to City Council he is most proud of his voting record and using his position to lobby for business developments in his district.

He also said that he was successful for allocating funds for his district during this year's budget process. He said that the other council members don't treat him differently because of his age: "I've developed relationships with older members of the council throughout the years through my father. Coming into the City Council I'm not considered a newcomer or rookie. I'm treated with the same respect of Council members who have been here 5, 10, 15 years."

So far, Rivera said, his experience on the City Council has not been affected by his age. "A lot of people stated yes, you're young-are you ready for this? Obviously the community has faith that I'm ready for this because they elected me. And I'm pretty sure that I'm going to do a good job for the community."

Arthur Fried, executive director of New York University's Center for Excellence in New York City Governance, said, "It's important for any institution to have a mixture of individuals experienced with that institution and how it works, and individuals who bring a fresh perspective and fresh views about how things can get done. Age often, though not always, goes along with that."

David Schwartz, 22, has just graduated from New York University

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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.


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10004-1609

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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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