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 Update: Still Looking Green

By Philip Lentz

It has been decreed (on the front page of the New York Times, for one) that this mayoral campaign is dull and boring. When, political pundits ask, are these guys going to start attacking one another and make things interesting?

The attacks may be some time off, but the 2001 mayoral race is about to get the definition and shape that will likely determine the next occupant of Gracie Mansion. With the Sept. 11 primary two months away, television ads by all the candidates are going to begin soon, and that, finally, will likely alert the public that an important election is indeed on the horizon.

While the four Democratic candidates are relatively well known-all have been running for political office for several decades--these ads will give each a chance to reintroduce himself to New York City voters, tell his story and finally explain why he should be the next mayor.

The odd thing about the 2001 mayoral race is how little things have changed since the beginning of the year. Public Advocate Mark Green has run a smart if safe campaign and has kept his tentative lead in the polls. Meanwhile, his three adversaries-City Comptroller Alan Hevesi, Council Speaker Peter Vallone and Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer-have battled to secure the second place slot needed to face Green one-on-one in a likely Sept. 25 runoff (which would be held if no candidate gains 40 percent, considered a likely occurrence).

At one time or another, each of Green's three challengers has bobbed up into second place, but the truth is that the margin separating them has usually been too small to give any of them comfort.

In fact, the hot news of the last few months has favored Green. Not that it has been about Green. It hasn't and that's why it has been to his advantage. While the tabloids blare about Rudy and Judi and Donna and The New York Times records every tittle and jot on the city's newest politician-Republican mayoral hopeful Michael Bloomberg -Green has been able to float under the radar screen, putting out position papers, remaining unscathed.

That may soon change-frontrunners inevitably become targets-but Green remains either the first or second choice of most demographic voting groups and that assures that he will survive to the runoff one way or another. Some, especially in rival mayoral camps, say Green's support is thin and will fade, as frontrunners often do (remember President Muskie or Mayor Abzug?). But given the lack of a galvanizing issue or personality, knocking Green off his perch may be more difficult as the primary approaches.

Many initially thought Hevesi had the best chance to challenge Green. He had the most money, the strongest political support and the most reputable political consultant in Hank Morris. But despite an early media campaign waged in April and May, Hevesi remains back in the pack. His heavy television barrage did comfort some supporters and helped Hevesi lock up the backing of the Queens Democratic organization and the Liberal Party. But the third part of Hevesi's expected endorsement troika, the United Federation of Teachers, remains on the sidelines, depriving Hevesi of needed momentum and again raising doubts about his campaign.

Hevesi's problem is that he has not been able to shake Peter Vallone. Both Queens politicians are battling for the same chunk of voters-mostly white, moderate, outer borough ethnics-and many political observers believe if neither emerges as the favorite of these voting blocks, both could miss the runoff. With some polls showing Ferrer in second place, that theory has some validity.

More troubling for Hevesi is that Vallone, rather than fading away, is starting to gain momentum. Despite lounging in the political basement for most of the spring (many polls show the speaker in fourth place), Vallone recently locked up the endorsement of the powerful District Council 37 labor union, which represents 125,000 municipal workers.

DC 37 is the first major union to make an endorsement and its decision gives the speaker a much-needed psychological shot in the arm. Whether Vallone can rally enough to move into second place is unclear, but if he's doing better, Hevesi must be doing worse.

The prime beneficiary of the Vallone-Hevesi tussle is Freddy Ferrer. Unlike his foes, Ferrer has staked out some clear political turf on the left, trying to put together an Hispanic-black-white liberal coalition angry at the excesses of the Giuliani years. Ferrer is the only candidate with a strong, well-defined base-Latino voters-and he needs only to add a smidgen of voters from several other ethnic groups to get into the runoff.

The cornerstone to his strategy has been to attract black votes, but Ferrer has so far had trouble denting Green's popularity among African-Americans. Ferrer did win the endorsement of the state's only black elected official, state Comptroller H. Carl McCall, but most other black leaders are either supporting other candidates (like former Mayor David Dinkins, backing Green) or staying on the sidelines (like Rep. Charles Rangel, the black leader of Harlem).

As a result, the fate of Ferrer's campaign may lie with the 90-day resident of the Brooklyn federal detention center who has so far remained maddeningly neutral. Yes, the Rev. Al Sharpton's endorsement may be what Ferrer needs to get into the runoff. That backing seems likely, given that Sharpton shared the first 40 days of his confinement with Ferrer's campaign manager, Bronx Democratic Chairman Roberto Ramirez (both were jailed for civil disobedience to protest the Navy bombing on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques).

But Sharpton long ago gained a reputation as mercurial and unpredictable, so Sharpton's release in late August will undoubtedly cause some fretful nail-biting at Ferrer headquarters later this summer.

Will Messrs. Hevesi, Vallone and Ferrer at some point aim their fire at frontrunner Green? Probably, but a negative strategy may not work. In a four-way race, there's no way to know a political attack will ricochet. For example, if Hevesi goes after Green, voters who become disenchanted with Green may turn not to Hevesi, but to Vallone or Ferrer. Not knowing how the political billiard ball will bounce makes negative ads very risky.

Could Green screw up and turn the Democratic primary into a free-for-all? Of course. At some point in this campaign, the smooth-sailing Green will run into turbulence and he will be tested. It might be an off-handed remark, it might be a smirk or it might be one of those glib sound bites for which he is so well known. Or it might be an event-like a police shooting or civil disturbance-where Green speaks too slowly or too quickly.

The test will come. The question is whether he will pass it and, if he does not, whether any of his opponents can take advantage of his stumble. Eight weeks to go, and the public is about to tune in . . .

Posted 7/13/01

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

Campaign Feature: Introducing The Four Tops

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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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