The Race for Staten Island Borough President
GOTHAM GAZETTE: SEARCHLIGHT ON CAMPAIGN 2001: STATEN ISLAND BOROUGH PRESIDENT

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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.

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For the first time in memory, most political offices in the city will be wide open to people who have neither money nor connections.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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May 10, 2001

Jay O'Donovan
Interviewed by Jeffrey Kroessler

KROESSLER Welcome to the last of our series, Conversations on Politics, in the Archives and Special Collections of the College of Staten Island. I am Jeffrey Kroessler, historian here in the Archives, and it is my pleasure to be here this evening with Councilman Jerome X. O'Donovan, a Democrat hoping to be Borough President.

O'DONOVAN Thank you. It's a pleasure. It's always a pleasure to be in this college; it's a unique institution in the City of New York, if not the state.

KROESSLER We're very pleased to have a flourishing campus, and we're very pleased that you joined us. I called you a Democrat. Why are you a Democrat?

O'DONOVAN I'm a Democrat, and also we just recently picked up the Working Families line, so we're on two party lines, and incidentally we'll be seeking the Independence Party and the Green Party lines. I'm a Democrat because here on Staten Island some of the Democratic values I believe in, good schools, good jobs, working wages, prevail on Staten Island. We're not on the Upper West Side, we're not Greenwich Village or the Upper East Side, we're here with families, with kids that go to school, we're here with senior citizens, and children, and young mothers and fathers. So I think the Democratic values that the Democratic Party believes in bodes well for Staten Island. I'm also a moderate Democrat, for instance I run, I've always run with the Conservative Party line, a Democrat-Conservative, because here on Staten Island, being moderate, moderate meaning keep our taxes low, keep people at work, keep our crime down low, keep some of the social programs, not as affluent as some of the other boroughs, but taking care of people that need help, which is a Democratic way, slowing down some of the activities here on the island, such as development, a moderate approach, a Democratic approach, so I run as a Democrat, and I run as a conservative, I always have, so really I'm that type of political animal.

KROESSLER Were you born a Democrat?

O'DONOVAN Well, you evolve. Some people are born Democrats or Republicans or Conservatives, or Liberals, whatever, but I sort of evolved into it. I'll tell you how I came about it. I was born a native Staten Islander, my mom and dad are native Staten Islanders, my dad, the big O'Donovan family from Stapleton, my mom the Campenossi family from Concord. In fact I went to the same grammar school, P.S. 12, as my mom did, and I had a couple of teachers that taught my mom. The O'Donovan family in Stapleton, the Campenossi family in Concord, and here I am. But I enjoyed good public education. I think growing up on Staten Island was a little different from the other boroughs, because at that time and even to some extent now we were so rural. You could walk out the house in the 50s and 60s and leave the house open and the car windows open too. Things have changed a little bit, obviously. But I think when I look back on it, growing up on the Staten Island and where I am now and how I became a Democratic Council member. I think there are a number of event in my life that really focussed me and where I was going. There were some good events, some sad events, my Dad passing away two years ago, my sister dying when I was a small child of a disease. I think one of the first instances and ideals that set me going was when I went to high school and played football for the legendary coach Sal Sohmer. Organized sports and sportsmanship, teamwork a teacher like that, and that started me on the road of what the world is all about and how to work with people. Then I think the second experience that was positive in most aspects and sad in some aspects, was becoming a captain in the Marine Corps and being sent to Vietnam, being sent to that hellacious war, you know, there were some humorous parts of it, being chased by a water buffalo, a place where I wasn't supposed to be.

KROESSLER You were chased by a water buffalo? Was it a Republican water buffalo?

O'DONOVAN No it was North Vietnamese. That experience of Vietnam and the hellishness of the war, the jungle war, and the experience of living with the Vietnamese Marines, because I was an advisor, I speak the language. And I lived with them. And seeing the tragedy of the war, then coming home and seeing what happened. So playing football for the legendary coach as a youngster, going to war in Vietnam, in that particular war, then coming home after that war and meeting my high school sweetheart, my wife Vita, and marrying her, at an age where, you know I was 33 years old, and bringing up our daughter, the third thing. The fourth thing really brings us to where we are, in this great country and the island, to get involved, to get involved civicly, to get involved politically, to join the Party, to start meeting people, to run for political office, the see the Republican party, the Conservative, the Liberal, the Independence, the Democratic Party, to look at these parties and say, I like the Democratic Party, what it stands for as a conservative Democrat, and to have the opportunity to be put up as a Democrat, and a Conservative, and then win, and serve the public, serve the constituents of Staten Island, provide the services as a public as an elected official. And that's how I got to be where I am now. But those four things: playing sports, the Vietnam War, marrying my wife, and becoming an elected official, here I am. And I'm proud of what I've done, I've been a lot of places. There are a lot of calluses on these feet, folks. But I'm proud and I'm happy, and I've had a full life, and I'm prepared to move ahead as the Borough President of Staten Island, and I think we can make it. Because there are a lot of issues out there, issues that I have been involved in, issues which I've championed, issues which are the issues that we relate to on Staten Island. And I think my opponents do not relate to them for a number of reasons. And there are a lot of things I can do on Staten Island that I've done in the Council, that show my track record, that show which way I'm going, my philosophy for what Staten Island should be. What I've done is important, but where I'm going is more important.

KROESSLER There's a sense that whether you're liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, you still have to clean the streets and pick up the garbage, as Fiorello La Guardia put it. So is there a Democratic way to maintain civic services, or a Republican way?

O'DONOVAN No, there is not. There is a joke in this past administration that when we had David Dinkins as the mayor that it was a Democratic dump. It was the Democrats fault, the Democratic mayor, and he wasn't doing enough to close the dump, therefore it was a Democratic dump, it was David Dinkins's dump, and all the Democrats on the Council were responsible for that dump. Not a Republican dump, a Democratic dump. So that type of politics, it happens, but it doesn't have a seat at my table. There isn't a Democratic or Republican way, there's a philosophical way of doing it, depending on the man or the woman that's the borough president or the mayor, philosophical in what should we do with the budget. Should the budget be 99% for more cops, fire, sanitation, civil service, or should a lot of it be assigned to closing a dump, for instance? Should the budget be philosophically, the mayor or borough president, whoever it should be, should my philosophy say education is my agenda, other than the overdevelopment issue, which we'll get into, should education be the second part of the pie in the budget, or should we be sponsoring more building inspectors, take a bigger part of the pie for that particular issue, so there's a philosophical leadership issue. It's not a Democratic issue or a Republican issue. There are some issues that are, but here, locally, it's the person, it's his philosophy, it's the staff that he or she hires, good people, good staff, good experts, whether it's land use or engineering, that's how you get things done on Staten Island and the City of New York.

KROESSLER You mentioned your broad experience, your personal background, but as you entered the political arena, did you model your career after any elected officials? As borough president would you model yourself after any New York figure in particular?

O'DONOVAN I have my own style, the style I have has been influenced by athletics, by Coach Sohmer, by teamwork, as a young man, my style has been influenced by being a Marine Corps officer, my style isn't a micromanage style, I like to listen, I like to learn, I listen to laymen, I listen to experts. And then I make the decision, I've done that in the Marine Corps, and it worked. That's my style, to listen, to learn, not to jump, not micromanage and not dictate. It's served me well, it serves me well in the Council. I think if you asked about Jerome O'Donovan the Councilman the first word out of the mouth would be civility. Civility, and the ability to listen and learn and then make the decision based on merits, and if you disagree with O'Donovan he won't be a vindictive man or a vengeful man, like some of these other elected officials are. You disagree, fine, I want to know why you disagree and you know something, maybe that person is correct. I think there is a mood in city government, particularly borough hall today, that says if you disagree with this administration, whether it's the borough president or the deputy borough president or his staff, that message goes back to borough hall and there's a fear that there'll be some type of retribution coming out of Borough Hall. I see it in the community boards, I see the decisions in the Community Boards 1, 2, and 3, decisions that are made based on almost fear, not all, but based on a concept that we can disagree but we'd better disagree the right way. That's not me, that's not my style. So my philosophy and my training has served me well. And I know my limits, and I think I know where we can go. So that's who I am, that's the whole person I am. So I believe it would serve Staten Island well.

KROESSLER You're bringing up civility.

O'DONOVAN I have a program on civility, in sports, on road rage.

KROESSLER I agree with you on sports. One of the things that molded me was having an excellent coach. And knowing sportsmanship and fair play.

O'DONOVAN Very important as a young woman or young man growing up in New York City today that you participate in sports, not necessarily sports but activities that bring people together, with good teachers, whether it's some sort of class, or civic group or club, in the university, and be molded and taught by a teacher that knows what he's talking about, whether it's sports and athletics, civic classes. I see organized sports, just to refer a little bit, what we have on Staten Island is a tremendous amount of organized sports, Little Leagues, football teams, and soccer moms and soccer dads, it all comes together. But civility, which is a mental health issue, a number of years ago I said enough with the fighting and the parents getting involved, and people getting hit over the head with hockey sticks, which happened a year ago, getting arrested. My staff and I put together a civility program, worked with the Mental Health Society, because it is a mental health issue, we put together some money from the city budget which says we will award some schools with civility essays, and the winners were picked by, part from the Advance, part from the Mental Health Society and part from the teachers at all these schools, and we gave awards out. And we're going to do it again this year. Civility in sports, we're doing the same thing with the help of the Advance. We have a contest going, the kids would write into the Advance ten different ways there could be more civility on the athletic field. Civility, and my ability to realize that civility is part of government, whether its road rage or whether it's people knocking each other over, yelling and screaming, whatever it is, is part of my program, is part of me. Opening up Borough Hall to the people of Staten Island, whether you're black, white, Hispanic, Christian or Jew, not throwing out anybody from Borough Hall which has happened because he's a man of color, not arresting anybody because there's a perceived threat. When I was the grand marshal of the St. Patty's Day parade,

KROESSLER Which I did not bring up.

O'DONOVAN I got some nasty letters, folks. I didn't arrest anybody. So the civility aspect, the nature of me, the nature of my staff, is to open up Borough hall to the public, to everyone on Staten Island, open a South Shore satellite office, which one of my opponents said he was going to do. I said that a year ago, if he wants to copy me he can copy me, I'll understand. On the issue of overdevelopment, I've been doing this for years. I've made laws on overdevelopment. If my opponents want to say overdevelopment is the issue, hey, if you want to copy me, you can copy me. But I have the track issue on that particular issue.

KROESSLER It seems that there's a sea change on Staten Island where people aren't willing to just accept unlimited growth any longer, it seems as though that's been a decades long process and now it sounds as if enough is enough.

O'DONOVAN That's exactly right, exactly correct. The developers, the builders, 99% of them are good people. They're there to develop, that's their industry, that's what they do, and it's a big industry; it used to be the biggest industry, now it's maybe second or third. The biggest industry is health services, a tremendous industry. But the development has reached the top. There's a straw that breaks the camel's back, and the straw here, there's a couple of straws, overcrowding of schools, no school seats available, traffic that's choking us right here, lack of libraries, lack of logistical support for the people that are coming in here, whether it's day care, whether it's hospital beds, or schools or libraries, all these different things, and we're still going full bore ahead. We've got to do something with it. I've done something with it in the past, for instance, it's my law, the special hillside law on the North Shore, which I represent. St George and Grymes Hill, and West Brighton and New Brighton, the hills of the North Shore, Ward's Hill. My law. I formed a committee, a task force that said we have a law in place, it's not strong enough, the developers, only some, are raping the property, I hate to use that word but they are, they're tearing down the hillsides, and once something's torn down, you can't replace a hillside, and then you just build. The former law said you have to prove it was there. How can you prove it was there when it was torn down? So we strengthened that law, that special law that says you must preserve the hillside, that says you cannot build on this particular angle slope, and if you can build because it's not that particular angle of a slope, you preserve that slope that you have, you preserve the trees, you preserve the shrubbery, and what we do is if you take down a tree you replace it with two or three trees. And that law is effective now, it was passed a year and a half ago, it has slowed down development, tract development on the North Shore. I want that law moved through the City Planning Department, to move out to the other parts of Staten Island, like Dongan Hills, and Lighthouse Hill, and Emerson Hill, and the hills of New Dorp, that has to be redone to preserve what we have now, as well as our wetlands, and our marshes. I'm the one who has pulled all the city-owned property from auction so we can preserve it and step back and wait for a master plan, which I have called for, what to do with this city-owned land. If it's big enough maybe we could put a new school on the property, or a new library. Maybe we'll make it just a park and preserve it from development. I'm the one who put my money where my mouth is and put millions of dollars in the budget, to buy private owned property, like up in West Brighton, because the folks up there don't want any more development, and that's what was going to happen, so we put a million dollars in the budget to show good faith to the developer, we want to buy it, he said ok, fine. I'm the one who put a million dollars in the budget to preserve Chapin Woods because the same thing happened. We've got duck ponds up there below Todt Hill and Dongan Hills. And folks don't want it any more, so we're going to buy it from the developer. There's a pond up there, $800,000, and $400,000 for Fort Hill Circle, where there was an historic fort in St. George. So I'm the one that puts the money to do these things, and I'm going to do the same thing as Borough President. If I have to put up city money up to buy private property, to buy and protect, to landbank it for something that has to come along, I'll do it as the Borough President. I'm the one who says we have to look at the Building Department and put a special master in there, because we're special, we're not Brooklyn or Manhattan or Queens or the Bronx. We have hills, we have wetlands, we have beaches, we have hillsides, we have a greenbelt, that nobody else has. So we can't have a Buildings Department that issues permits and permits and permits to build in these places without any rules or regulations. That whole thing has to change, and I'm going to change it.

KROESSLER One of the issues that you've become a more recent champion of is historic preservation. And we've had two issues on Staten Island recently, one the loss of the Dorothy Day Cottage,

O'DONOVAN That was a shame.

KROESSLER And two the preservation of the Farm Colony and Seaview, and I'm wondering, were you always a friend of preservation, or how did you come to appreciate landmarks?

O'DONOVAN That's a good question. When I first started 19 years ago, I was very conservative, meaning that when I looked at a building project, and you change, you know, I think that's the ability of good leaders to change when you see that you're on the wrong track. And I did. I was not a big fan of preservation or landmarking or historic districts, because I looked at it in a practical way as the industry did, that if you landmark a home you can't do anything with your home. It's a burden on the homeowner. And as things progressed, as I came to know government, as I got to know more people, more organizations and as I came to know the national law on landmarking and what it does, and as I came to visit all these different places, my philosophy changed, my philosophy of government changed. I wasn't as hard edged as I was before. I'm the one who landmarked or made a historic district in St. George incidentally. And yes, now I am the one who champions historic districts and landmarking if it's necessary. I landmarked the 112 Police Precinct, I've landmarked a number of houses on the North Shore. Now I believe it's for the good of the community as a whole. And we did change the laws to give more relief to people who own some of these landmark buildings so if they wanted to change something, if they wanted to get a new roof, they could ask for special permission and it's worked fine. And I'm the one who looked at the Dorothy Day Cottage and stood there a couple of weeks ago and the developer screamed in my face and said, "Get off my property." Because I think he's wrong, I know he owns the property, I know he can develop, but he has to do it the right way. That's the whole thing about my overdevelopment issue: Do it the right way. A plan for the infrastructure, a plan for a moratorium on selling city-owned property, a plan for buying private property, a whole plan of where we're going. It's not happening. Now the other two candidates can say the same thing, but they haven't. I'm the one who has, I'm the one that's proven it. One candidate's a real estate lawyer, the other candidate actually is a developer. There's a clear, clear, difference in where we can go. You know a lot of people say to me, Councilman O'Donovan, as Borough President you don't have this power to do it. Well you do have power. There's the power of the budget, the capital budget, no matter how much it is, how tall it gets as far as money goes, each borough president gets a piece of the action by a formula, as high as 10, 15, 30 million dollars depending on the capital budget. That money is the power of the purse, that money can pay for a lot of things, can pay for a lot of land, can pay for a new school, new library, new child support system, all these different things. So the power of the purse. The borough president incidentally also has the power, which is very, very important, to appoint a person to the Planning Commission, as well as a person to the School Board. And incidentally, while I'm on that subject, I haven't made this public, I think I should tonight, since I wrote the borough president, on good government, I wrote a week ago, I never got a response, but then again that's nothing unusual, that our current appointee to the Planning Commission, John Mortollo, who's a good man, an infallible man, is filling out the place of the former appointee, Anthony Jacoby, who's now a supreme court judge, is up for reappointment in June. Now I wrote the Borough President a week ago, again he hasn't responded to me, and I said, Borough President, I understand that your appointment, which is his appointment but the authority is the Council's, is up for reappointment in June. I believe that since the election is in November, we should request that you do not reappoint him for good government. Because the next Borough president might come in, whoever it might be, and say, all right, I'll reappoint him because I agree with his philosophy, who he is and his background. But there might be another person and say no, I want my own appointment. So for good government, don't reappoint him. He can stay on, and they do stay on, until the term ends and the new Borough president comes in. He can continue to do his work. So that issue, I just wanted to bring up. And let me tell you something else, on the appointment to the Board of Education, since we're on this.

KROESSLER Well, we are now.

O'DONOVAN We are now. This is very important. I was shocked Saturday, I'm in my office Saturday, and mostly Sunday, when I opened up the Post, I read all the papers, and I saw an article, I brought it with me, I didn't know I was going to get this far in this issue, and this is the appointment the Borough President makes to the Community School Board, which is very, very important. And I read this article and I couldn't believe what I was reading about the appointment to the Community School Board, that we have right now in the Borough President. This is from the Post: "Workers at the Department of Youth and Community Development are complaining that top level aids to Commissioner Jerry Cammarata are doing political work on city time. Jerry Cammarata is the Borough President's appointment to the school board, the complaints might be sour grapes except there's proof that one aide has already mixed politics. Joseph Kovac, a $56,000 a year assistant to Cammarata, is listed on the web site of the New York State Young Republicans with an e-mail address at the city Finance Department where he used to work." That's improper, not to mention stupid, and probably illegal, that's my own. Kovac, director of field operations for the Molinari Republican Club, got an $11,000 raise when Cammarata brought him over to DYC. The Molinari Club executive director Mario Bruno received a $21,000 when Cammarata plucked him from the Transportation Department. Cammarata serves as vice-president of the political club headed by Staten Island Borough President Molinari and one of his allies. He didn't return calls."

KROESSLER I'm going to assume.

O'DONOVAN You can assume that Jerry Cammarata should start packing his bags today.

KROESSLER I'm going to assume that there are political appointments and that nothing is done strictly on its merits necessarily, but I'd like to ask you. Education's been taking a lot of hits in the city. Everyone's been saying the public schools are terrible, the teachers are terrible, we can't keep good teachers. Now as Borough President, aside from the politics of the current Borough Hall, what is your take on education, what are the education issues, what is the crisis that you see coming, and is the solution you might offer?

O'DONOVAN There is. Let me just reiterate, there are political appointments, like Cammarata and Mortolla. You're absolutely right, but these appointees have to be diligent, they have to do the people's business, they have to do what the appointing officer's philosophy is, as well as their own job. When Mr. Cammarata, and I have excerpts here from the Staten Island Advance in February, I'll answer the question about schools, but I want to make my point about political appointees. You have Gene Prisco of the School Board said, We never see him, he never meets with us, the president of the Staten Island PTA says he doesn't make himself available. Now political appointees, fine, but you have to do the people's business, you have to do the work. When you have a person doing political business for a political club or a political person, in this particular race a Borough President, and he doesn't even do his business of meeting with the school board people, he has to go. Anybody has to go. And as far as Mr. Mortolla goes, hey, I'm not happy. An appointment made at the recommendation of the Borough President, I'm the one who approved him, at the City Council, we brought him in, now look, you have do the people's business. We want you to take the special hillside regulation and we want you to move it through the process in the Planning Commission and we want it effective to other parts of Staten Island, it hasn't been done yet. There has been no master plan yet, which we wanted him to do. So political appointments are fine, I'm going to make a political appointment to the School Board, but I guarantee that political appointment will do the people's business. Who will know the issues, will meet with the school board, will talk with teachers, meet with the PTA, talk to the UFT. And the same thing happens, if I should make a new appointment to the Planning Commission. I want him to move, I want him to act, I want him to do things for the betterment of Staten Island. That's what a political appointment should do.

KROESSLER If you're hearing from constituents on schools, what do they want from schools that they are not providing now?

O'DONOVAN It's a good question, and a good issue, particularly for Staten Island. Parents want a place where their children can go to a good school, meaning a good facility, excellent teacher, licensed teachers, teachers that are being paid a fair, good wage as compared to other teachers in the surrounding areas, our teachers aren't, that's the whole battle with the UFT and the Mayor's office. Parents want children to go to a facility that has updated books, that has classes that are not crowded, a school board that's receptive to their needs, a PTA that is receptive to all the parents' needs. And to that end I have continually funded PTA's, $100,000 two years ago, about $80,000 last year to all the schools in my district so the PTA's can have newsletters go out, I funded in every school on the North Shore, took me three years to do it and $10 million. A lot of them are Title 1 schools. Every school in my district, folks, has a brand new computer lab, never had it before. And that should happen in all of Staten Island. And how about copy machines, which we just funded, most of these schools teachers don't have copy machines. How about schools upgraded with air conditioning, so the kids can go in and be comfortable and the teachers can work. So that's what we need, that's what the parents want. They want schools that provide good adequate education. And that's what I'm all about. I put money in the budget for all those computers, I'm still doing it, for athletic fields that are brand new, we've done it in Port Richmond, new playgrounds, we just opened one up in PS 19. And we're continually looking at the schools to make them better so parents can look at a public school and say, I like that teacher, I like that principal, I like that facility, I like what's being taught, they're all brand books, new library, there's a brand new computer lab, and I'm keeping my son and daughter in public schools. That's what we have to do, we have to be diligent about it. We have to sit down and look at the school system, it's a continuous battle, it always has been, stop the rhetoric, the political rhetoric, and do it.

KROESSLER Moving up a few grades, we're in the College of Staten Island, a branch of the City University of New York, and in recent years there seems to be an assault on the quality of CUNY education by the current Mayoral administration, and there seems to be a question about the City University and a politicization of public higher education in the city. Do you have any thoughts about CUNY?

O'DONOVAN Well, CUNY really should provide the services that I just mentioned about the lower schools. Schools should provide those services, and if you gave it an in depth look, this mayor had blue ribbon panel to look into CUNY, but that blue ribbon panel are political appointed by him. Now those people are going to look at CUNY in a pragmatic way, and see where the money should be allocated best, see why some of the scores aren't as high as they should be, then fine, but if they're going to make a political statement, say we're going to have to fire all the chancellors, we have to make the students pay a higher tuition, even higher than they're paying now, almost as a punishment for not getting good grades, then that's wrong, it's the wrong philosophy. I'm not an educator, I'm elected official, I'm an administrator, but any person that I would appoint, or had any influence in appointing to higher education, would be an administrator who has a philosophy like mine, that says, look, the institution is there for the betterment of the students, not necessarily for the president or teachers, though they have to survive and work too. Let's look at the system, see where we're going to come up with a balanced program to provide better education, not slash and burn like we have the philosophy now. Let's fire everybody, let everybody pay more money, some of these wacky programs we have now, and we'll teach everybody a lesson. No. We'll have a little civility in that way too. Do it the right way, and that's what I plan to do.

KROESSLER I've noticed one of your issues is the waterfront, and we have a big waterfront. I was looking at the history of Staten Island, and in the 1650s two gentlemen walked the perimeter of Staten Island, it took them three days. I'm wondering, if you walked the perimeter of Staten Island today, what would you find? What would you wish?

O'DONOVAN You would find a potpourrie zoning, that has to be changed. That's why the master plan is important. You would find spot zoning of industrial, commercial, and residential, that makes Staten Island, particularly the North Shore, a discombobulated mess. Not that bad, but you would find zoning that must be looked at, a plan that must be put in place, a plan that can perhaps have mixed use, but not the mixed use we have now. Let's face it, our industrial parts of the North Shore could be changed, rezoned, part commercial, part residential or parkland, because they're not being used now, it's being abandoned now, we can take it in rem now. I'll give you a proper example. One of the first things I'll do, folks, when I am the Borough President, is to acquire the gypsum plant and tear it down on Richmond Terrace. We've already been in consultation with the owner, the price is not that high, I think he's just using it for a tax write off. In fact, I inquired of the Borough President a number of years ago, let's sit down, let's work on it, and see what we'll do with it. Of course, he never answered my letter, but.

KROESSLER What do you want to do with it? What do you want to see? For the waterfront.

O'DONOVAN The waterfront has to be looked at as far as the zoning is concerned. We need a plan. We have to look at where the spot zoning is, what type of rezoning can fit in that particular area of the waterfront. Now a lot of our waterfront is recreational, so it's going to stay recreational. You can go from Fort Wadsworth all the way down almost to Great Kills and you see recreation, South Beach, Midland Beach, Gateway, another Gateway Park in Great Kills, you see recreation there, then you see residential all the way down to Tottenville. Then from Tottenville around you have a lot of derelict barges and things like that, there'll be development there, and that's where the industrial park comes in, it's scheduled for an industrial park. You see a couple of tanks that have to come down, being changed to probably residential, we have to look at that. The real problem comes in at Mariners Harbor going all the way down to St. George, with the vacated rail, vacated shipyards, some residential, some industry that's vacated. So that's the problem spot. Then you can come around to the St. George Ferry Terminal, we have a big program going on there, for the renovation of St. George. A lot of buildings have been wired now, because of a program the Council put in, EDC, money we put in to rewire a lot of buildings in St. George wired for back office space, and we see some back office space coming into St. George, which is a waterfront community, if you want to say that. Then the Homeport, which is a sore spot for me, because it was done wrong, it was done behind closed doors, done in secrecy.

KROESSLER What was done in secrecy?

O'DONOVAN Well, when the Navy moved out the Borough President formed this Homeport task force see what to do with it, they moved a bagel factory in it, everybody drank champagne, it was the greatest thing that happened, the bagel factory moved out, they're looking for movie studio, now the Borough President has spent I don't know how many thousands of dollars for a study on what to do. We went to that meeting a couple of months ago, I made a proposal, high end housing, and middle income housing, and low end housing, but there are other proposals out there. I proposed a combination of housing, and wholesale or retail, and a civic center, put in a new police precinct, and fire command post, because it's ready made for it, plenty of parking for the police. Then of course we're back to Fort Wadsworth.

KROESSLER And it took shorter than three days.

O'DONOVAN So this is a big issue. The next planning director, if it's Mr. Mortollo, hey, might be.

KROESSLER The issues will still be there no matter what.

O'DONOVAN And I would direct my planning director to look at this issue and come up with something with the borough engineer, and come up with something that's do-able, that's pragmatic, for the betterment of Staten Island, it's not being done now. We need that plan, as part of the master plan, the rezoning, where to do it and how to do it so it fits in best with the community. It's not being done now.

KROESSLER We've been talking for quite a while. Can we entertain any questions?

QUESTION 1 You speak a lot about the North Shore. As a Councilman do you only serve the North Shore?

O'DONOVAN There are three councilmen, and one's from the North Shore, one's from mid-island, including Brooklyn, and one's from the South Shore, and for 19 years I've served the North Shore, but the budgetary process, which is a law incidentally, really included a lot for all of Staten Island, our cultural institutions, capital projects, the three of us had combined. I had moved away from that a number of years ago and just focussed on the North Shore, because I believed that my money, as a senior councilman, I normally get a bigger slice of the pie than the other council members, and I focus most of it on the North Shore, cultural institutions, schools, computers. Incidentally on schools, we're funding a $3-4 million item to put security cameras in all of our schools on Staten Island. But I had moved in the past couple of years to issues on the South Shore and mid-Island with my colleagues. I am the chairman of the economic development committee, I brought the committee out, we had a hearing out on the South Shore, in a Little League complex on some of the economic development problems on the South Shore, a big project they wanted to do out there. And as the budget negotiator for the island, because I'm the senior man, 19 years, the other two have only been there a few years. I negotiate the budget, I get their input, and we put the money in the budget to help them with their budget process. In some of the land use items, I'm going to put $500,000 in this budget to buy property and help Councilman Fiala in Great Kills, because I believe he needs help, I believe we should preserve that area, rather than developers go in to take care of the Great Kills wetlands. So yes, I do serve constituents of the North Shore, but I have certainly done my bit to help the other councilman too.

QUESTION 1 It's interesting that you speak of your master plan for development, because I work in the Archives and I've been going through Senator Marchi's papers and his South Richmond Plan, and that came to mind when you said master plan. I live on the South Shore and I quite honestly can't stand the way the knock down one house and put up fourteen.

O'DONOVAN Absolutely.

QUESTION 1 I'd love to see that stopped, and preserve Staten Island, because I am a Staten Islander, five generations on Staten Island. It sounds good to me, but when you say master plan, do you know what the South Richmond plan is, and is it something along those lines where you see developments, or master plan to curb random development?

O'DONOVAN That's a very good question. The South Richmond plan is an old plan, but there are many loopholes in it. For instance let me give you one, which really is one of the biggest causes of development. That is the South Richmond school seat certification issue. Now South Richmond, south of Richmond Avenue down. That plan says this, the school seat certification issue. This is really a stinker. It says this: you can build in South Richmond two new homes, attached homes more than likely the way it's going down there, and if you build those two new homes you must have one school seat. So what does that do? And statistics show that when you have one new home, a young couple buys it, and statistics show they bring one and a half to two children, or one and a half to two cars, that's one home. And then you have the other home right next to it with the same statistic, maybe one and a half to two children, one and a half to two cars. So effectively you have three or four children just to start, but you only have one school seat. That's one of the biggest issues, and the developers lobbying, the industry is such that this administration, right up to the mayor's administration, and Borough Hall's administration, will not look at this issue. That plan should be reversed: two school seats for one new home. Then you'll see good, proper good planning as it relates to slowing down of the homes. Because if there's no school seat available, then no building permit should be issued. The other issue is that if a new school is budgeted, in the city of New York, particularly on Staten Island in the South Richmond plan, that means builders can file for permits and the Buildings Department can issue permits under the same schedule. In other words, if there's one new high school with a thousand seats, that means four thousand permits can be issued. The faster you go, the behinder you get. So we need a plan, we have to address the South Richmond building in particular. We need a plan that looks at the zoning, that looks at this issue here. To address with the new Democratic administration in City Hall, stop it, reverse it, slow things down. And we will. We're not doing it now. And that's where my planning director. He's a good man, he's an infallible man, intelligent guy, but we asked him to do a few things, and he has not done it. Again the Borough President should not seek to have him reappointed, he can serve out his time until the new Borough President comes in, and let him be the philosopher of who he should appoint.

QUESTION 2 Councilman, you've argued tonight you're going to make a decisive break with the past, but I wonder if there are any Molinari policies you will continue in the future?

O'DONOVAN I have not looked at that at length yet. I think that using the bully pulpit as he has is very effective. I would continue that, but I would do it a different way, with my philosophy and my personality. I think that he, using the Republican Mayor to look at the policies that affect Staten Island, other than development policies which he certainly hasn't done, but bringing monies for different things, I will do, as a Democratic Borough President and the Democratic mayor. He's been effective doing that. That's what I would do. Some of the specifics, we'll have to take a look at that, what he's doing and what he had planned to do, and we will. But, the policies I have mentioned, we're going to change, which actually he should have. Of development, he should have done this. He can say rezone the South Shore, but in reality he has not, because the issue of school seat certification, he should have done that, that's the core of the issue of reversing that policy, and I will reverse that policy. That's really his issue through his Planning Director and the Board of Standards and Appeals, the issue of where to build a house in relation to a school seat being empty, is his issue, he should have done that. In other words building a home right next to a school that's overcrowded, that should not be right, just because there's one school seat vacant five miles away. That policy he should have reversed. He should have been an advocate for strengthening our hillsides laws, he's not, he's nowhere to be seen, that's my law, it's a Council law, I understand that, but as the Borough President he has that bully pulpit to say, You know something, that's a good law on the North side of Staten Island, and we ought to move that out to Lighthouse Hill and Dongan Hill and Emerson Hill and Ward Hill. He should have been doing that, and I will reverse that, I'll advocate for that. All of those things that he should have been doing, I will do.

KROESSLER Another question? I've got one.

O'DONOVAN I knew it. I knew it.

KROESSLER I heard Congressman Jerry Nadler talk recently talk about building a new rail tunnel under the harbor, and I wondering since the working waterfront has been a big part of Staten Island, have you have any thoughts on this major transportation possibility?

O'DONOVAN Yes, I do. Jerry Nadler is an expert on trains, and transportation issues of trains, whether it's passenger trains or freight trains, the whole synergy of railroads as it relates to cities and freight. I'd love to see his basement. He must have some train set. I tell him that too.

KROESSLER Well, he doesn't need a basement, he has the train set of Greater New York to play with.

O'DONOVAN He's a wonderful advocate of moving people and cargo by rail, and light rail, and I like that philosophy. On transportation, I have to tell you, we're up to here on the traffic, and it's all the tentacles of the octopus which leads up to the head called overdevelopment. Before I get to the train issue, let me tell you something about traffic, and what I have done and where I believe we should go. Obviously the HOV lanes, which are relatively new, we should have more of them. We should look at Hylan Boulevard and Capodanno Boulevard, because they're working. We must look at putting more money in the budget, as Borough President I'll advocate for that, for more public transportation, more express buses, particularly as it relates to the South Shore. Now we have an administration that says we're going to give half for public and half for private franchises. Let me tell you something, franchising agreements cost a lot of money, the cost is probably more, they break down, the drivers, sometimes they're good, sometimes they're bad. Public transportation you have a qualified driver, a driver who takes a test, they're under tight scrutiny, good, brand new equipment, a fair, safe, good ride. We need public transportation on this island and less of a privatization issue which only takes care of a few friends. We need good public transportation, provide a good ride, a good wage, a reasonable ride. Peter Vallone and myself and the other Councilmembers on the Island argued for and got a reduction in the fare from $4 to $3, Vallone wants to bring it from $3 to $2. I agree with that. HOV lanes, good public transportation, a cheap, easy, safe, good ride. These are things we should do. I've just introduced and the City Council has passed legislation which says we should have a pilot program that says right on red. Now, we can turn right on red when posted, we can't do it otherwise. Look, if it's dangerous, then we don't do it. But you can do it in every county and every state, in New Jersey and Florida and California where you have tremendous traffic, red on red. Obviously you can't do right on red where Hylan Blvd meets New Dorp Lane, but then we'll post no right on red. But it's good for business, I think it's a good safety issue. We should have a pilot program, I'm waiting for the state to approve it, a six month pilot program. If it can't happen we don't do it. At least we tried. If we have the budget for a traffic officer on a tremendous intersection like Hylan Blvd and New Dorp Lane from now to forever to move that traffic along, then we have to do it. These are some of the issues. We need price fixing for trucks. You know in the morning, in the afternoon, when it comes to rush hour, the trucks are amazing. We need the price fixing program the Port Authority wants to implement, they're dragging their feet, if you're a truck driver then you have a lower price if you go off hours, without rush hours. That will go a tremendous way for doing this. I'm against some of these wacky ideas, like loops, tunnels, twinning of the bridges. So those are the measures I will try to implement as far as traffic goes. On the tunnel, it's being studied now. Moving freight, moving people, a tunnel either from Bayonne or from the yards here into Brooklyn, it's an idea, it'll get a lot of trucks off the road. Whether it should go to Staten Island or Bayonne, I'll reserve my thoughts until I see what the study says. I do have some concerns, the logistics of it. If it's a tunnel you won't see it but there has to be an entrance and an opening, you know. If there's enough property, enough land, if it can be safely done, the noise, the environment, things like that, and so I'll reserve my opinion until I see Jerry Nadler's study, the EDC study. Moving freight, moving by light rail is good philosophy, I just want to see how it affects us here on Staten Island.

KROESSLER Well, we have been talking for almost an hour, and I have one last question. Since we are in a library, at the College of Staten Island, Councilman O'Donovan, what are you reading?

O'DONOVAN I have to tell you this, I love libraries, my chief of staff and myself have hung out in the Dongan Hills Library, St. George Library, which I funded a number of years ago, for redevelopment, I carry a library card, I return my books on time, I just funded the Mariner's Harbor Library, for about $2 million, $600,000 in this budget for the books, brand new library.

KROESSLER And when you go to the library, what do you read?

O'DONOVAN I'm not hedging on that. I'll tell you what I'm reading right now is the city budget, and it's very thick and very big. I read a lot, when I'm on vacation, my wife's a voracious reader, and I like to read, I'm wading through, because my time is limited, I won't tell you where I read, is one of the histories of the Marine Corps, by Lt. Colonel Josh Alexander, I like military history, particularly the Vietnam War, biographies of live unit actions, since I was there, I like to see some of the flavor of the other men and women who served in other parts of the theater, Louis Lamour, Last of His Breed, a wonderful book about an Indian shot down, a Native American test pilot shot down in Siberia and how he escaped from Siberia by going back to his native ways, and the Russians sent a Siberian Indian after him. Wonderful book. So I read an awful lot, I like biographies, particularly military biographies, right now I'm reading that history of the Marine Corps. When we get done with this budget and this election I'll read a lot more.

KROESSLER Well, thank you very much for coming to the CSI Library, Archives and Special Collections.

O'DONOVAN It's a wonderful place. Folks, join up.

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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
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Local non-partisan sites
SavvyVoter.org
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National non-partisan sites
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NAACP Voter Empowerment
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E-Voting
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Political consultants
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Prime New York

Media
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Political columnists
Andrea Bernstein
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Political parties
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Political clubs and groups
Blueprint Camp. Finance Reform
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NY Young Republican Club
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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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