NYC Issues 2001
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

 

Campaign Dropouts

By David Schwartz

Ellen Raffaele was poised to offer a tough challenge for the Jackson Heights City Council seat, district 25. She had raised thousands of dollars for her campaign, gathered a gaggle of volunteers, and had the support of her boss and outgoing Councilman John Sabini. There were even early reports that the Queens Democratic organization was split between endorsing Raffaele and one of her opponents, Helen Sears.

On Thursday, May 31st, Raffaele signaled she would run. Four days later, Raffaele dropped out of the race.

Raffaele says family obligations forced her out. But insiders say the Democratic organization offered her a district leadership position and her husband a consideration for a judgeship to drop out of the race, and that was the final factor in her decision.

"I did them a huge favor," Raffaele said at the time. Now, Raffaele will not comment on whether she was pressured to drop out of the race, but both the Democratic Party and Raffaele now endorse Sears.

The Board of Elections may have played a not-so-jolly Santa Claus this past week, making a list of nice candidates and kicking off those who were naughty (or who could not disprove accusations by their opponents that they were naughty). But quite a number of candidates had taken themselves out of the running before their opponents even had a chance to do it officially.

The exact number of candidates that have dropped out is hard to tally, especially in this most chaotic of campaign seasons, but there are many. In district 21 alone, five candidates dropped out.

Candidate's reasons for dropping out range from the "sudden medical problems" of Victor Mendolia in district 2, to admissions of tactical errors, such as entering a race too late, to a claim of dropping out for the greater good.

"I felt it was important that the residents have a representative who reflects the makeup of the community," said ex-21st Council candidate James Lisa, who is white and whose district is largely Latino.

Another moralist is Joe Heaphy, executive director of the New York State Tenants and Neighbors Coalition. He ended his campaign for the City Council seat from the 26th District, and said: "I have decided that the best way for me to continue serving the needs of the community and the city is to focus my energy on my work to preserve affordable housing for those who need it most."

And for every excuse that is not full of an ex-candidate's inner most thoughts as to why they dropped out, rumours and conspiracy theories abound--from tales of drug overdoses and helicopter airlifts, to back stabbing mayoral candidates.

But most reasons are not, alas, so salacious. One of the biggest downpours of dropouts came after the county political organization made its endorsements.

TOE THE LINE

There are always a handful of dropouts in every race, but the arms-full this year may be due to term limits, which gave some neophyte political hopefuls a sense that any seat was open, that the process actually had become democratic.

The truth though, is that a successful campaign requires time, money, and resources, and for these, most candidates need the backing of the county political machine. Some know this from the beginning, others find out later. And once the county leadership endorses a candidate, candidates drop out either as a way to stay in the good graces of that leadership, or because they have concluded that running without the party's help (staff, volunteers, and lawyers) is too hard.

"Your withdrawing for the interest of the unity of the party is noted and we owe you one," Queens Democratic boss Thomas Manton told Jeff Gottlieb, who dropped out after the party tapped Barry Grodenchik for the District Council 24 seat.

The Queens Democratic organization in particular tries to avoid the messiness of primaries, and it is common for them to ask even serious contenders to drop out of a race.

It does not sound good if a candidate admits to running only with the hope and expectation that they will be endorsed by the leadership. So, Ellen Raffaele admits that if she had received the party's backing and the help that went with it, that might have encouraged her to stay in the race.

But she also says, in addition to her unspecified family obligations, the race also turned out to be "a lot more work that I imagined." This from someone who was Councilmember Sabini's chief of staff for eight years and who had worked on more than a dozen reelection campaigns over the past 15 years.

"When you're the candidate, it's more intense than working for someone else," Raffaele responded. "You have to put yourself out there in the spotlight, every day. And the pressure is to win, to be accepted and rejected by voters. You open yourself up to criticism and attacks by people--which I can take. It's just a matter of how much time do you have."

In District 2, Israel Perez and Albert Fabozzi dropped out after the Village Reform Democratic Club endorsed Jay Wilson to challenge Margarita Lopez for her seat. Perez's campaign manager, Ivan Paredes, said Perez stepped down to avoid "tearing the community apart."

A ROOKIE MISTAKE

Haydee Zambrana, a community activist in Corona, had aimed high for her first race. She had joined a field of eight other candidates vying for the Democratic spot for Queens Borough President. She also entered the race in February, which, she said, was a big mistake.

Zambrana said she enough signatures--over 4,000--to get on the ballot. But she did not have enough money to fight an inevitable challenge from the party leadership.

"It was financial. Raising money turned out to be very, very hard. My biggest supporters are the Hispanic community and they are not used to giving to political campaigns. They'll give to hurricanes or earthquakes, but when it comes to politics and you're telling them you're raising money, they say, 'First you do for me, then I give.' I couldn't raise enough money. I had enough signatures, but I couldn't afford a lawyer," Zambrana said.

Two days before the petitions were due, Zambrana dropped out of the race. She blames her financial shortfall and her premature departure on her late start. "If I would have had decided last year to run, today I would have been on the ballot," she said.

Zambrana was a first-time candidate, and plans to run again, after redistricting. "I think I'll run for the (state) assembly or a Council seat," she said. "Now I know what it takes to run a campaign."

Though Zambrana's name won't be on the ballot, she plans to be active in the campaign. She is backing Carol Gresser, a main rival of party pick Helen Marshall.

LAUDER'S REVENGE?

Petitions have been filed and most of the candidates who will drop out, have dropped out. "If they're in this far, they're already committed," said Jerry Skurnik, a Democratic political consultant.

A candidate who drops out now will not receive the public financing, and some candidates have debts that they are planning on paying with the public financing money, Skurnik said.

Still, it will not be shocking if there are even more dropouts. More deals will be worked out between maverick contenders, and there is always the unexpected twists that make the pundits look foolish.

There is always the unpredictable. Christine Quinn's only Democratic challenger, Victor Mendolia, dropped out of the race, because, "I had sudden medical problems that came up that made me unable to continue," Mendolia said. "I regret it, because I really believe the incumbent is running in an improper manner. It's political machine politics of the old school."

The most famous dropout in recent city history occurred just when the media was gleefully awaiting a senatorial showdown between Mayor Giuliani and First Lady Hillary Clinton.

On May 19th, 2000, Giuliani announced he was not going to make a bid for Senator.

"This is not the right time for me to run for office," said Giuliani. In the past three weeks, Giuliani had gone through getting diagnosed with prostate cancer, a marriage gone bad, and a front-page "very special friend."

So what about this year? Which candidates will drop out?

If Alan Hevesi loses the Democratic spot on the ballot, he will still be a mayoral candidate for the Liberal party. If the race is close between the Republican and Democratic candidate, will Hevesi step down to avoid taking away Democratic voters?

It is possible. In 1989, Ron Lauder lost the Republican nomination for mayor to Giuliani, but won the Conservative line. A few weeks after the primary, Lauder hit the campaign trail and told New Yorkers to vote for Giuliani.

Later on, Lauder became the father of term limits, launching the campaign that led to a voter-approved referendum, which ended Giuliani's mayoralty and forced many City Council members to retire, which led to all these new candidates running -- which led so many of them to drop out.

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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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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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