NYC Issues 2001
GOTHAM GAZETTE: SEARCHLIGHT ON CAMPAIGN 2001: RACE AND IMMIGRANTS

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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

 

Race and Immigrants Overview

by James Wong

New York has been and always will be a city of immigrants. Roughly forty percent of city residents are foreign born, the majority of whom are from Latin America and Asia. Thanks in large part to this wave of immigration the racial composition of New York City has greatly diversified. One can no longer discuss race in solely black and white terms.

The subject of race always seems to be a contentious topic. Immigration is much the same way. Both deal with populations that have suffered discrimination and prejudice in this country.

For that reason, many members of racial and ethnic communities feel it is important to elect one of their own members to represent them and their interests in the city government. This may be the year that the first Asian American gets elected to a citywide office? New York may see its first Hispanic mayor. But whoever gets elected to whatever position public must govern a city in which issues involving race and immigration are difficult to ignore.

POLICE-MINORITY RELATIONS

Arguably the greatest concern for the city's minority residents has been the actions of the New York Police Department. The fatal shootings of four unarmed black men in a little more than a year's time starting in February 1999 sent shivers of fear and outrage through minority communities. The findings of the United States Commission on Human rights and of federal prosecutors last year that the police department engaged in racial profiling made official what minority members have felt for a long time. A May Quinnipiac University Poll found that by a margin of 65 to 23 percent, New York City voters said that the police engage in racial profiling. Even though there has not been a high profile incident in the last year, many minority members still distrust the police. Seventy one percent of blacks described police brutality as a very serious problem in the city and another twenty-two percent deemed it somewhat serious. Regardless of whether the department has changed, the perception is still there.

Instead of addressing those concerns, Mayor Giuliani chose to defend most of the controversial police actions, and did not engage in a dialogue with any leaders of minority communities, for which he was highly criticized even by some of his supporters.

A bill is being proposed to define and ban the practice of racial profiling in New York City. Some advocates have suggested that the police department launch an aggressive campaign to hire and promote more minority members, both through affirmative action programs and by imposing a city residency requirement on police officers. How seriously will the next administration seek to eliminate police misconduct and racial profiling and improve police-community relationships?

THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM AND THE DEATH PENALTY

Over 94 percent of inmates doing time in New York State for drug related charges are people of color, even though the majority of drug users and drug dealers are white. This staggering statistic can be attributed to what is almost universally acknowledged to be the discriminatory and draconian Rockefeller drug laws that were passed in 1973 requiring mandatory minimum sentences for small drug offenses with no regard to a person's previous criminal record. Uprooting individuals and breaking up families, these drug laws have a devastating impact on communities of color. Instead of focusing on punitive and reactive measures, there is a real need for alternatives to prison, especially for non-violent offenders. Treatment programs have shown to be more effective at reducing crime and are less costly than imprisonment.

Another area of concern for minorities within the criminal justice system is the death penalty. Studies show that race plays a huge factor in determining who gets the death penalty as blacks are disproportionately sentenced to state- sanctioned killings,. Those who kill whites are also more likely to receive capital punishment. Since the death penalty was reinstated in New York in 1995, the district attorneys in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island have never sought it, instead choosing life-without- parole in all eligible cases. But in that period, the Brooklyn district attorney has sought capital punishment seven times and the Queens district attorney five times. What will the next mayor's position on the death penalty be and will city candidates press for a statewide moratorium?

AFFIRMATIVE ACTION

Aimed at righting the wrongs of discrimination past and present, affirmative action was originally conceived with the intent of addressing grievances of blacks in an effort to open their opportunities to jobs and higher education.

It has since grown to encompass women and all racial and ethnic minorities, an inclusion that some argue has come at a disadvantage to blacks. In the past eight years, black employment in all city agencies has declined, reversing a decade of significant growth before that. The city's fire department is still over 93 percent white, and a majority of the city's police officers are white as well. Statewide, black unemployment is 7.9 percent, more than double that of whites at 3.9 percent, and Hispanics are only slightly below blacks at 6.9 percent. No one speaks of quotas when advocating for affirmative action; rather they talk of goals and timetables that seek to widen avenues of opportunity. Should the city government play an active role in shaping employment and training policies that benefit minorities both within the city government as well as with companies that it has contracts with in order to create a level playing field for all of its residents?

IMMIGRANTS

New York City remains a popular home for those newly arrived to the United States as over a million immigrants have settled in the city within the last ten years. In that time, Asians have grown by more than fifty percent and Hispanics, who can be of any race, have overtaken blacks as the largest minority group in the city. Immigrants and their American-born children make up close to sixty percent of the population.

A central tenet of contemporary politics takes as a given the priority of United States citizens over foreigners. With that in mind, of primary importance to immigrant advocates is the passage of a general amnesty by the federal government that would provide permanent-resident status to those here illegally. President Bush has recently made overtures of that nature but restricted only to Mexicans.

There are few steps that local politicians can take to effect that sort of change, but there are many steps public officials can take in order to better serve the city's large immigrant communities. Politicians must make difficult decisions on how to allocate scarce funds on programs that affect the growing immigrant population, including those here illegally.

Healthcare

One of the most pressing concerns for immigrants is healthcare coverage. Those here illegally are not allowed primary or preventative care and are left with no recourses but to use city emergency rooms. Legal immigrants have just been granted access again to Medicaid after a recent ruling by the New York State Court of Appeals on the unconstitutionality of the 1996 federal welfare reform bill, remedying a fundamentally unsound healthcare policy. But despite city studies that show that neighborhoods with high numbers of foreign-born women have slightly higher infant mortality rates than the rest of the city, illegal immigrant women are not entitled to prenatal care even though once born, their children will be American citizens. The cost of taking care of so many uninsured patients gets passed on to the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation, the city agency in charge of operating the city's public hospitals and clinics. Mayor Giuliani has reduced funding for the agency, thereby adversely affecting the poor and immigrant populations of the city. To avert a public health crisis, increased funding should be a priority in order to ensure that the immigrant and poor populations of the city receive proper medical attention.

Education

With over a million students in the New York City public school system, immigration has a huge impact on the student body. Fifteen to twenty percent of children in public schools are foreign born. While it is hard to dispute the overcrowding and the general inferior quality of education at schools in low-income neighborhoods that a majority of immigrants live in, bilingual education is one of the more controversial topics. There are over 140 different languages spoken by NYC public school children, and in an effort to help them learn, bilingual education classes are offered in twelve different languages. Responding to critics of the current system, the Board of Education recently voted to overhaul bilingual education. Parents now have a choice of whether to enroll their children in programs ranging from intensive English as a Second Language programs where English is the predominant language to the more traditional bilingual classes where complicated subject matters are often taught in native languages. This new program comes at a cost of $75 million, adding to the long list of much needed funds for the public school system.

Language Barriers

Most immigrants will tell you that they are interested in learning English. A major problem is a lack of publicly funded English as a Second Language Classes in addition to long workweeks and the high cost of enrolling in private classes. Limiting access to city agencies and social services to those who can only speak English therefore tends to be detrimental and does not help people to learn English.

Workplace Protection

With a large underground economy that preys on illegal immigrants, many abuses go undetected by the authorities. Failure to pay minimum wage and overtime, as well as neglecting standard workplace safety standards is commonplace. Ignorance of the country's labor laws combined with a fear of being fired -- or, worse yet, deported -- ensure that most immigrants don't speak up when they're taken advantage of. Things generally change though when immigrant workers learn that the labor laws apply equally to them no matter their immigrant status. Should a task force be assigned to monitor the city's burgeoning immigrant workforce in order to promote fair labor practices and catch unscrupulous employers?

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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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