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The Nod of the Bosses... Scramble for the City Council...
Basic Training for Council Recruits... How They Stack up
on Term Limit... Dynasties... The Speech that Saved Term
What is Searchlight on Campaign 2001?
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?
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?
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
What does this have to do with this site?
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?
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?
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
Who are we?
Stephen Fiala's speech before
the City Council March 15, 2001 as he cast the deciding
vote on whether to repeal the term limits law, taken
from his handwritten manuscript:
A Time For Choosing
Upholding the Will of the People and Defending the
Integrity of the Process for the Sake
At this moment I undertake the most difficult vote
of my term in office. I do so with an enormous sense
of history - both of yesterday's and more importantly
of tomorrow's. When our Founding Fathers designed
this government of, by and for the people - they
did so with high hopes and at great cost. John Quincy
Adams said: "Posterity - you will never know how
much it has cost my generation to preserve your
freedom. I hope you will make good use of it."
For most of our history, I believe each new generation
of Americans have sought to honor their birthright
and their moral responsibility to live up to the
expectations of hope and promise bestowed upon them
by preceding generations and the Almighty. For more
than 200 years, America has strived to be what Emerson
called her more than 150 years ago, "The Country
We have always been a nation - and a city - focused
on tomorrow. Ours has been an exciting and challenging
voyage of discovery and self-improvement. A journey
of disparate people and a "land that has never become,
but is always in the act of becoming," as Reagan
used to say.
The promise of our great city - like our nation
- has always rested on the shoulders of her people,
their commitment to our shared values and our unique
principles of self-government. When that commitment
wavers, our democracy loses a little bit of its
shine, and thus the prospect for a brighter tomorrow
moves closer to extinction.
Citizen apathy and frustration are not new to our
nation - or our city - but the level of contempt
for and disengagement from our democratic institutions
are new and pose a real threat to our way of life.
Patriotism - if it is understood correctly - is
not compatible with contempt for the institution
of government. And Freedom - if it is truly appreciated
- is not compatible with disengagement from your
civic responsibilities. Only a fool exercises his
or her right not to vote. In our democracy, Patriotism
and Freedom are not mutually exclusive virtues,
but rather they are intertwined and interdependent
ingredients of the greatest experiment in representative
democracy ever conceived by man.
But they require commitment and appreciation.
Thomas Paine understood this in 1776 when he declared,
"What we obtain too cheaply, we esteem too lightly;
it is dearness only that gives everything its value."
The framers of our form of government aspired to
establish a system that was deliberative and produced
representation characterized by the virtues of calmness,
civility, detachment, reasonableness and concern
for the long-term.
Ours is a representative form of government - known
as a republic -meaning simply that people do not
decide issues, they decide who shall decide.
Term Limits are antithetical to our republic form
They are an abdication of civic responsibility.
They limit your ability and your right to choose.
They will strengthen the hands of the permanent
government - the bureaucracy, and the special interests
- while weakening the legislative expertise and
institutional memory. In my view, term limits are
the wrong means to a just and desirable end.
It is ironic that NYC - which boasts what is regarded
as the best campaign finance system in the nation
- took to term limits for salvation. One expands
individual choice, while the other robs you of your
Suffice it to say, I hold today the same opinion
on term limits I held when they first reared their
ugly and simplistic head - patriotically opposed.
Democracy is a delicate balancing act largely dependent
upon respect for "first principles" and the role
The issue before us today is of large consequence.
The question before us is not whether term limits
are the wrong means to a just and noble end. Rather,
the question is whether the means prescribed in
Intro 80 justify its desired end.
Thus, in my view, the balancing act between a respect
for "first principles" and its relationship to "process"
dictates the outcome in this matter.
The facts are as follows:
- Referenda have a legitimate role in our city.
Like it or not it is a part of our political system,
albeit a potentially destructive one.
- Twice, the people have spoken. Whether only
a small percentage of voters actually cast their
vote is not germane - a sad commentary on the
health of our democracy, yes, but nonetheless
- Twice the voters cast their vote. These weren't
polls, they were votes.
As wrong as term limits are - and they are - the
means prescribed in redressing this wrong are potentially
The death of our democracy is not likely to be
an assassination but by ambush. It will be a slow
extinction caused by apathy, indifference and undernourishment.
As much as I disagree with the outcome of both
referenda elections, I nonetheless recognize the
importance of respecting the integrity of the electoral
process. For if the integrity of the process is
questioned then that slow extinction caused by apathy,
indifference and undernourishment will only be accelerated.
Our democracy hangs in the balance; its health
is in jeopardy.
Term limits need to be reconsidered and repealed.
But this is not the means of doing so.
The future rests upon the shoulders of the people
of this city. It is my hope that they will recognize
the importance of protecting their right to choose
and that they will in the near future choose to
correct a dangerous wrong and repeal term limits
for their sake and more importantly for the sake
It is with that hope - and as Edmund Burke would
charge us - my best judgment that I vote NO.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
for Party Affiliation
Dream Party (AMD)
Better Schools Party (BES)
Friends United Party (FUN)
Fusion Party (FUS)
Harmony Party (HAR)
Marijuana Reform Party (POT)
Natural Law Party (NLP)
Party of Ethics and Traditions (PET)
Reform Party (Ref)
Right to Life (RTL)
School Choice Party (Sch)
Socialist Workers Party (SWP)
Working Families (Wor)
1 -- Deadline for candidates to join the Campaign Finance
program, qualifying for the four-to-one match of contributions.
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
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
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.