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
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
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
"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
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
"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.
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
"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
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
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.