The Race for Mayor
GOTHAM GAZETTE: SEARCHLIGHT ON CAMPAIGN 2001: MAYOR

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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 Feature: Introducing The Four Tops

By Philip Lentz

With the President-Elect becoming just President, and Florida for the moment forgotten, local attention from the press and politicos has already turned to the race for the next mayor of the city of New York. In reality, the race has been underway since Jan. 1, 1998, the day when the term limited Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was sworn in for his second, and last, term. But most of what has occurred so far is what political experts consider inside baseball--raising money, testing themes, seeking early publicity and rounding up potential allies.

Now, with the election clearly in view, the campaign is starting in earnest. The 2001 contest will be notable for several reasons. For the first time in 28 years, no incumbent will be on the ballot. Since 1977, every mayor except Rudy Giuliani (Abe Beame, Ed Koch and David Dinkins) has been defeated for re-election.

This year will also mark the first mayoral election to be held under new more generous public financing rules, which give candidates $4 for every $1 they raise, up to $250 per contributor. That public subsidy ensures that all the major candidates will be able to raise and spend the maximum allowed in the primary, $5.5 million.

Finally, this year's mayoral race will occur during a rare period of prosperity and relative domestic tranquility in the city. Few hot button issues divide the populace, which will make it more difficult for the candidates to differentiate themselves from one another.

In fact, one of the dilemmas facing this year's crew of aspirants will be figuring out how to maintain Mayor Giuliani's successes--lower crime, better quality of life, a booming economy--while appealing to a Democratic electorate yearning for a kinder, gentler and probably a more socially liberal leader at City Hall.

Though the election is still ten months away, the field is virtually set. There are four leading Democratic candidates: Public Advocate Mark Green, City Comptroller Alan Hevesi, Council Speaker Peter Vallone and Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer. All are veteran local pols with strong bases of political support, networks of friends and allies and well-oiled fund-raising operations.

Given the Democrats' 5-to-1 registration edge and the credibility of the four leading Democrats, it is unlikely a Republican can win this year. That means the next mayor will probably be picked in the September Democratic primary and he will likely be named Green, Ferrer, Hevesi or Vallone.

Green, 55, is the early frontrunner. Dapper, handsome and exceedingly glib, Green is the best known of the candidates. He holds slim leads in all the early polls, due primarily to the publicity he garnered as consumer advocate commissioner under David Dinkins, two failed runs for the U.S. Senate and seven years as the mayor's chief antagonist at City Hall.

He is the most liberal candidate in the field, never a detriment in a city like New York, and is popular among blacks, white liberals and Jews. His base is Manhattan, but he hopes to put together a coalition of progressives and political reformers from the other boroughs, plus sympathetic unions.

His big problem is that he's never actually run anything before. Yes, there was the Department of Consumer Affairs with some 250 workers, but that pales in comparison to being in charge of a city government with 215,000 employees.

Then there's the Nader connection. Green spent the 1970s as the top aide to Ralph Nader, with whom he wrote several books. That once would be a plus on a political resume. Not anymore. Given Nader's role in taking crucial votes from Vice President Al Gore in the presidential race, Nader is now anathema to many Democrats.. Green says he tried to persuade Nader not to run, but his foes are sure to remind voters of their ties.

Green also has spent much of his career attacking the business community, which has not made him many fans in corporate boardrooms. He has worked hard in recent years to repair those fences-helped by his brother, developer Steve Green-but there is little doubt that Mark Green is not the favorite candidate among the city's permanent political establishment.

Some believe Hevesi, 60, will emerge as Green's chief rival. Tall, articulate and well-schooled in the parry and thrust of Albany's partisan debates, Hevesi is considered one of the more thoughtful candidates in the race. He spent more than 20 years as an assemblyman from Queens before ousting Liz Holtzman as comptroller in 1993.

While a traditional liberal, his politics are considered moderate by New York City standards. His base is Queens, particularly its Jewish community, and he has a network of allies across the city through his friendships with assembly members with whom he served in Albany. One of his chief assets is his political consultant, Hank Morris, considered one of the most expert students in city politics and the man who guided Chuck Schumer to the U.S. Senate in 1998 (defeating, among others, Mark Green).

Hevesi has two problems. One is with black voters. In recent years, Hevesi attacked the Rev. Al Sharpton very publicly, refused to take part in the protests following the fatal Amadou Diallo shooting nearly two years ago and even complimented the mayor's handling of the shooting's aftermath. Some observers believe he once hoped to run as "Rudy Lite"-a less abrasive version of the mayor.

He has since become more critical of Giuliani in the last year, but there are still doubts as to whether he can appeal to minority voters and heal the racial wounds created by the incumbent.

His other problem is geographic. He isn't the only candidate from Queens. Vallone also calls Queens home, meaning Hevesi's base is not secure. The comptroller is favored to get the backing of the Queens Democratic organization-a big plus-but he must still prove that his Queens base is real.

Vallone, 65, is probably the best known contender after Green. As a candidate for governor in 1998 (he was crushed by Gov. George Pataki, but beat him 2-1 among New York City voters) and as speaker for 15 years, Vallone has spent a lot of time in front of microphones and television cameras.

As speaker, he is the absolute ruler of the City Council. Some dismiss him as a political hack for the way he wields iron-willed control over the council, but Vallone has been helping organizations, constituencies and interest groups for three decades-through city appropriations and other legislation--and many of those groups will remember that help come the mayoral election.

Vallone's problem is, like Hevesi's, geographic. He must share his base with Hevesi and, worse, is unlikely to have the backing of the Queens Democratic organization. In addition, some, remembering his languid gubernatorial race, question whether Vallone has the stamina and desire to win a mayoral campaign. A recent shakeup in his council staff did nothing to quiet fears about his motivation.

Ferrer, at 50, is the youngest of the leading candidates, but has been in the forefront of local politics for nearly as long as any of his rivals. First entering politics as a councilman, he became Bronx beep in the aftermath of the Koch political scandals in the late 1980s. His 13-year tenure has shown him to be a thoughtful and articulate expert in housing and economic development and he rightly deserves credit for the resurgence of many neighborhoods in the Bronx.

As a Hispanic, Ferrer's goal is to ride into Gracie Mansion by uniting the city's minority communities. It is a difficult strategy. Blacks and Hispanics have historically gone their separate ways in mayoral elections and there is little evidence that Ferrer will have any more success than previous Latino candidates.

The success or failure of his strategy actually rests elsewhere--with the Rev. Sharpton, who of late says he plans to run again for mayor. If he does, Ferrer's strategy is kaput.

In an effort to bring Sharpton into the Ferrer camp, Ferrer's chief ally, Bronx Democratic Chairman Roberto Ramirez, last year engineered primary fights throughout the borough to show that his primarily Hispanic Bronx political organization could promote blacks as well. However, Ramirez's strategy backfired badly. Not only did all of his candidates lose-mostly notably state Sen. Larry Seabrook in a challenge to U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel -- but the move alienated many Jewish voters and left Ferrer open to the charge that he tolerates racially divisive politics.

Worse, Sharpton now looks like he will run for mayor anyway. Of all the possible contenders, he is the only one with no hope of winning; he is too controversial and too disliked among whites. But as a candidate, he would draw black votes away from Ferrer and Green.

Given the strengths and political bases of the candidates, it is likely that no one contender can get the 40 percent required to win the primary outright. That means a runoff between the two top candidates will be needed to pick the Democratic nominee.

And the Republicans? Rudy Giuliani was an historical anomaly, a hiccup that occurs once every 25 years when the Democrats pick a clearly flawed candidate. Most of the Republicans mentioned as possible candidates, such as Assemblyman John Ravitz of Manhattan and CUNY Chairman Herman Badillo, would have little chance against the eventual Democratic winner.

However, there is another possible Republican candidate, still a long-shot, who could give Democrats shivers at night. That person is Michael Bloomberg, the media gazillionaire who, like Jon Corzine, would not be afraid to dump millions of his own money into the race.

Bloomberg, a former Democrat who switched parties in October, is now considering whether to run and he's is getting encouragement from Republicans like Mayor Giuliani, Staten Island Borough President Guy Molinari and Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

Most experts believe even Bloomberg's millions couldn't defeat a mainstream Democratic candidate. But if he runs, the general election will not be the cakewalk Democrats now expect.

Philip Lentz is the political reporter for Crain's New York Business.

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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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