NYC Issues 2001
GOTHAM GAZETTE: SEARCHLIGHT ON CAMPAIGN 2001: HEALTH

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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

 

NYC Issues 2001: Health
What Tone Tomorrow?

By Maia Szalavitz

There are numerous health issues that might come into play during the campaigns for mayor and for the City Council, but the most important health issue may be the tone these candidates set once they become public officials -- not just through regulations but through their rhetoric.

Candidates may argue in favor of increased health coverage and better oversight of Health Maintenance Organizations, or HMOs. They may say that they will put pressure on the Governor to ensure that existing programs (like Family Health Plus and Child Health Plus) are available as soon and as widely as possible.

But even when they become city officials, they have little power to create or rescind such programs, which are controlled mainly by the state and federal governments.

What they can do, however, is control how such programs are implemented -- with city rules, regulations and financing and their bully pulpit -- and make services more or less accessible and more or less effective.

Mayor Giuliani has tried to set a tough tone, and many of his policies have actively discouraged people from getting healthcare to which they are entitled. A study by the Urban Institute in 2000 found that 41 percent of people leaving welfare became uninsured, even though they were entitled to Medicaid. In 1999, a federal judge said that New York City was improperly denying Medicaid to thousands of people because caseworkers had falsely told them that they were not eligible due to failure to meet work requirements.

The mayor also illegally made applicants wait for a second appointment to apply for Medicaid benefits, and tried to make finger-printing a requirement for eligibility.

Numerous children fall through the cracks and lose their health coverage because of confusing and often contradictory bureaucratic requirements. And with enrollment in managed care programs becoming mandatory for most recipients throughout the city, the red tape is only increasing.

Mayor Giuliani also sought to cut health costs by using providers whose main focus is the bottom line, and by dropping people from Medicaid if they are arrested and held in jail, even if the charges are dropped and they are freed within days. It can take months for people to be re-enrolled. This extreme emphasis on toughness may be pennywise and pound-foolish, particularly in the justice system.

Here is why. In 1998, St. Barnabas Hospital became the health care provider for Rikers Island. Quality health care for prisoners is not even on the bottom of most politicians' agendas. But most people are unaware of the role the prison system plays in epidemics. One study found that 1500 prisoners with tuberculosis released from Riker's without treatment spread it to 36 New York zip codes before the epidemic was contained.

Since prisoners are frequently not given medications on time, jails and prisons are excellent breeding grounds for drug-resistant micro-organisms. And since approximately one-third of inmates at Riker's at any given time have a history of intravenous drug use and needles are often shared in the jail, HIV and Hepatitis C spread.

Perhaps the most cruel and frightening example of how cutting access to health care for prisoners has unintended consequences is the treatment of the mentally ill. Many of the city's most mentally disturbed people pass through the criminal justice system, even if they are not ultimately convicted of crimes. A full quarter of Rikers inmates have serious mental illnesses. But the city has taken legal action to avoid being required to give follow-up care when these inmates are released.

To cut costs, St. Barnabas decided that rather than provide a month's worth of medication to inmates leaving Rikers, it would only offer several days. Mentally ill inmates, when discharged, are left (like all other inmates) under the 59th Street Bridge in Queens with no information on where to go to continue their care -- and no Medicaid.

Although most people with mental illness are not any more likely to be violent than others, this is not true of unmedicated schizophrenics, who often prefer not to take their medications because of their difficult side effects. Cutting such people from Medicaid and leaving them without medications is surely not the best way to ensure that they are not a danger to themselves or others.

This year, St. Barnabas was dropped as the health care provider for Rikers, following reports of inmate deaths from negligence. It had made one million dollars in profit each month on the $342 million three-year contract -- and had cut prisoner hospital visits by 57 percent. The new provider, Prison Health Services, of Tennessee, has never served such a large, sick population and is still not legally required to connect those leaving the jail with healthcare because the city is still appealing court decisions on the requirement.

Another example: welfare rules currently allow people who fail drug treatment to be cut from both welfare and Medicaid. Drug treatment providers do not consider people who relapse once during treatment to be failures. If they did, they would lose 90 percent of their patients. But under the latest regulations, one "strike" like this gets you thrown out of treatment-- and all other medical care -- even if you continue to want help. This may help purge the welfare rolls, but it also damages public health by removing access to care from many who are most likely to get and spread infectious diseases, not to mention continue to use illegal drugs.

Like the Rikers cuts, it can also potentially increase crime, since addicts who stay on methadone treatment (even with some relapses) are much less likely to commit crime than those who aren't in care.

All of these regulations and restrictions add up to a tone which tells poor people that they are not welcome in the health care system. Though Mayor Giuliani's prostate cancer caused a change of heart, which made him push to increase enrollment in programs like Medicaid, the attitude of the system for the most part continues to be unfriendly and challenging rather than welcoming.

What candidates seeking to improve the heath of New York may want to consider, then, is how to change the regulatory and bureaucratic environment in a way that warms up this cold and discouraging climate.

Some other issues which may become important include:

  • Oversight of HMO's. With managed care for Medicaid recipients soon to be mandatory throughout the state with few exceptions, will New York's oversight systems be able to ensure that needed care is not denied?
  • Prescription Drug Coverage for the Elderly. President Bush's plan to include drug coverage in Medicare seems to have fallen victim to his tax cut proposal. New York State already provides prescription drug assistance to older people with incomes under $35,000. But will that be sufficient?
  • Nursing shortage. Fewer and fewer people are applying to nursing schools as the status of nurses has declined and salaries have not kept pace with increasing job demands. Nurses are becoming less involved with the patient care they wish to provide, and more entangled in hospital bureaucracy. With an aging population, demand for skilled nurses is increasing, particularly in New York. What can be done to increase the number of nurses?
  • Teaching hospitals. New York is a major center for medical education and the current health care financing system is squeezing medical schools. President Bush has proposed further cuts. How will New York maintain its tradition of excellence in teaching hospitals?

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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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