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Recent Feature Stories:
The Nod of the Bosses... Scramble for the City Council...
Basic Training for Council Recruits... How They Stack up
on Term Limit... Dynasties... The Speech that Saved Term
What is Searchlight on Campaign 2001?
on Campaign 2001 is a guide to the political races in what
many are calling New York City's most significant campaign
season in modern history.
What is so significant about it?
the first time in memory, most political offices in the city
will be wide open to people who have neither money nor connections.
Why will the races be so open?
are two reasons. This year, a new law goes into effect that
limits the terms of New York City elected officials, forcing
the mass retirement of most incumbents in the city - including
the mayor, the comptroller, the public advocate, four of the
five borough presidents, and 36 of the 51 members of the City
Council. At the same time, a new campaign finance law kicks
in, which allows any candidate who agrees to certain restrictions
to collect four dollars of matching funds for every dollar
What does this have to do with this site?
a public service, Searchlight on Campaign 2001 has a separate
page for each race, including all the races for City Council,
that not only sorts out the candidates -- many of them new
and unfamiliar -- but also offers an opportunity to learn
about the issues, and the districts themselves.
Who is behind Searchlight on Campaign 2001?
on Campaign 2001 is a project of Gotham Gazette, a non-profit,
non-partisan, non-ideological (but non-boring) web site about
New York City news, policy and politics published by Citizens
Union Foundation, part of the oldest and largest good-government
group in the city (founded in 1897).
What's wrong with the way the regular press
covers the races?
is for you to decide. And one of our regular features, Campaign
Trail, helps you to decide. Campaign Trail provides succinct
summaries and links to campaign articles in the commercial
Who are we?
Make Yourself Irrelevant"
by Thomas Ognibene
Edited Transcript of the January 27,
2001 Lecture at the Baruch School of Public Affairs Training
for City Council Candidates
I'm here to talk about the challenging task of newly
elected Councilmembers. I can talk to you about many things,
but what I want to talk to you about is-not making yourself
irrelevant. Notice I didn't say, don't become irrelevant,
don't let others force irrelevancy on you. What I am telling
you is don't make yourself irrelevant--and I am going
to explain why that's so important.
You are going to be elected. There is going to be tremendous
euphoria. People are going to come up and they are going
to hug you, and tell you how hard they worked all those
months for you, and you've never seen them before. They
are going to tell you about all of the money that they
wrote and all the checks that they can't finance, and
their names are not going to appear there, but it's going
to be a great day.
LESS THAN ONE PERCENT
Then you are going to get to the City Council, and you
are going to recognize that there is 100 percent power
in the city of New York. If you assume that the Mayor
has 50 percent (let me tell you folks if you read our
charter you will see that the mayor has more than 50 percent
of the power, and that's going to be one of your challenges.)
But if you assume that the mayor has 50 percent, what
does that leave the City Council? You've got another 50
percent. Now how many City Councilmembers are there? Fifty-one.
Now what does that leave you? Less than one percent. And
all of a sudden you are going to go from this tremendous
euphoria to the fact that you have less than one percent
of the power, and here you are elected by 140,000 people.
You are going to be representing people with different
economic interest, different social, religious, ethnic,
and racial groups within your community. So you are going
to have a difficult task, and you are going to have less
than one percent of the power. So you are going to have
to change that. It's there within you. You have the power
to do that, but you are going to have to learn how.
WHAT NOT TO DO
How do you keep from making yourself irrelevant?
We had one Councilmember who came in who had one issue
that they thought was important. They got elected on it.
She wouldn't relent on this issue when she was in the
City Council. She never made any deals, she never backed
off, she never retrenched, so she began to vote "no" on
everything that came up until everybody saw her way on
The problem is that everybody knew how she was going
to vote. Nobody bothered making any deals with her. The
speaker didn't feel that he had to reach out to her for
any vote. Any time they would do a sheet, and they do
a sheet on the City Council on how you vote. They'd mark
her off "no" before she even answered. She made nothing
for her community, she made no deals She got no capital
projects, she got no money for the expense account so
that she could spend to help organizations.
You are going to have to compromise. If you go into the
City Council with a rigid personality in terms of understanding
what everybody else's goals are you are not going to get
anything done. That does not mean you cannot be an advocate
for it. If anybody has seen me in the City Council, I
have one of the biggest mouths in the City Council, and
I stand up for what I believe in, but I know in the long
run that we have seven million people in the city of New
York, and they get up, they go to work, and they bring
their children up. The last thing you want to do is bring
that down, because you're adamant about one ideology.
CHALLENGES AND TASKS OF A NEW MEMBER
The most important thing you do is you have a swearing
in ceremony, and it's really a fundraiser, and you raise
a lot of money, because you don't want to make yourself
irrelevant. Make sure you have a campaign war chest. Don't
ever be afraid to reach out, and get money. You can't
get your ideas out unless you have the money to buy brochures,
to spend money to get literature. Don't be afraid to do
that. Raising money is an important issue. Don't think
that you are going to wait until six months after the
election to raise money. You do it right away. You haven't
made any enemies yet. Nothing makes you more independent,
because later on people are going to come up to you, and
you are going to know how important money is. You are
going to have to make arrangements, and later on they
are going to ask for your vote, and it may be the vote
that you don't want to give. You have to remember that
they raised money for you. People say that it's a sad
part about politics, but it's a real part about politics.
2. ELECT A SPEAKER
Now we got to elect a Speaker. The Speaker is very important.
It's a very powerful office. He appoints all the staff,
he makes all the decision, and he controls the agenda.
If you don't like it you can challenge it. If you lose
you go to the back of the room. The folks back home elected
you to know what you are doing. So the first thing you
can't say is I don't know, because they are going to be
wondering who did they elect? What you are going to say
is, "Whoever is Speaker I am going to work with them to
make my city better, to make my community a better place
for the people who live in it." And you make your deal.
There are people that are going to support you. Different
organizations. Labor organizations, social organization,
anti poverty organizations, Community Based Organzationss,
multi-million dollar not-for-profit organizations, that
are going to be putting money into PACs, and they have
a knowledge about who they want as Speaker.
3. BE A VOICE FOR YOUR COMMUNITY
Don't just let the people know who you are, and what you
stand for. Find out what their needs in that community
are, in every corner of that community, in order that
you can bring things back to your community. Lets say
deliver capital projects, or deliver expenses. Be a powerful
voice for your community, so that when you go back there
you can say "you got a problem, and I am going to help
you solve that problem." They are going to believe in
you, and want you there. You can't solve anything if you
can't get elected. If you appear to be a weak link here
in the City Council people in your community will know
it. Don't forget when you get elected to City Council
you are very vulnerable, because unlike any other offices
we have to satisfy the people every two years. If you
have forces in your community that you have managed to
turn off. You are going to pay the price for it. You are
going to have people come into your office everyday that
you may totally disagree with, but it is your moral, legal
obligation to sit down, and be kind to people, and listen
to them. You want to become irrelevant?
4. EARN RESPECT
People won't attack you if they respect you. Nobody likes
a sense of arrogance that some people assume once they
get elected. Another thing to remember is the lesson learned
about the speaker is the same lesson learned about the
mayor. When they ask you "Who do you support?" You say
"Whoever is the Mayor of the city of New York, I will
work with him to make the city and my community a better
place to live." Until you can figure out which way to
go, don't ever say, "I don't know."
5. MAKE SMART MOVES
You want schools in your community. You ask the Mayor,
"Mr. Mayor I need help with this." And he says to you
"There's nothing I can do about this. We don't need schools
in your community." You know you need schools. You are
going to have to swallow this one. What do you do? What
do you do? This is the answer. You go back in there and
you fight for the people, and you fight zealously for
the people. Whether you win or lose on that issue, the
people will still respect you. They know that you can't
win everything, but they do not expect you to ever turn
your backs on them. Do not turn your backs on the people,
because then you won't get elected, and if you do not
get re-elected you cannnot help the people in your community.
You make yourself irrelevant by not making the smart moves.
Councilman Thomas V. Ognibene has
served District 30 in Queens since 1991. He serves as
the Republican Minority Leader.
What is this?
Gotham Gazette's Searchlight on Campaign 2001 offers a comprehensive
look at what is being called New York City's most significant
campaign season in modern history. (See the left-hand column
for an explanation).
Districts of the Week
1 -- Lower Manhattan
Whoever wins the election in district 1 will represent immigrant
Chinese garment workers, as well as Wall Street traders living
in Battery Park City. There are several candidates hoping
to be the council's firsts -- the first Asian-American man,
the first Asian-American woman, the first gay Rhodes Scholar,
the first dot-com guru -- running against some politically
well connected opponents. Endorsements and fundraising will
play a big role in this race. But voter turnout could be the
main determinant of who will next represent district 1 on
the council. The key question is how many voters from each
community will come out on Election Day.
7 -- Washington Heights, Manhattan
The northern tip of Manhattan has become one of the most popular
places for new immigrants to call home. The northern tip of
Manhattan is a place that today's new immigrants call home.
The majority have come from the Dominican Republic, but also
from countries in South America, Eastern Europe, and Asia.
But it is not just new immigrants that are moving in. Students,
artists, and other Manhattanites looking for less expensive
rents and larger apartments have also moved north. Ten Democratic
candidates are competing for the 15,000 voters expected on
primary day. The winner who emerges from a crowded field of
candidates will have to balance the needs of the newcomers
with those who have lived there for years.
16 -- Highbridge, Bronx
The neighborhoods of district 16 are the city's poorest, with
the highest rate of unemployment and the lowest median household
income. But those who live there also point out that much
is positive and stable about the area, thanks in large part
to local organizations, not-for-profit agencies, and houses
of worship that help hold the neighborhoods together. Each
candidate for City Council believes that through his or her
connections to churches and local organizations, they can
help empower the community toward a better life. Helen Foster,
the current council member daughter, will face Michael Benjamin,
who has worked as an aide to several government officials
and Anthony Curry, a Bronx neighborhood activist.
20 -- Northeast Flushing, Queens
This year district 20 may elect the first Asian-American ever
to the City Council to an area which now has the second highest
number of immigrants from Korea and Taiwan in the city. There
are three Asian candidates in the Democratic race who have
each drawn big endorsements. Council Speaker Peter Vallone
endorsed Terence Park, City Comptroller Alan Hevesi endorsed
John Liu, and the New York Times recently endorsed Ethel Chen
The campaign has also drawn national and international press
25 -- Jackson Heights, Queens
Thirty-seventh Avenue in Jackson Heights, Queens is one of
the most diverse streets in the world. Little India quickly
blends into Little Colombia, with vendors selling Latin American
food to Colombians, Peruvians, Ecuadorians, Mexicans, and
Uruguayans. And each summer, the Queens Pride Parade fills
the same street with rainbow banners. So it is no surprise
that this election year the district produced a diverse field
of candidates. A number of them, however, found out that getting
on the ballot is not an easy task, especially when the Queens
Democratic organization sends teams of lawyers to challenge
petitions. But five Democratic candidates survived and will
face off on September 11.
31 -- South East Queens
When a heavy rain hits southeast Queens, many residents in
neighborhoods like Springfield Gardens, Laurelton and Rosedale
head to the basement with a bucket in hand. And it has been
that way for the last 50 years. In the rush to build housing
in the area after World War II, developers overlooked the
need for storm drains in hopes that the city would eventually
build a city-wide sewer system. The plan never materialized
and the area has experienced "100-year rains" three times
in the last decade. The eight Democrats -- all with little
experience overseeing massive infrastructure projects--will
try to convince voters that they can finally solve the flooding
35 -- Central Brooklyn
The residents in council district 35 have some of the highest
incomes in Brooklyn and some of the lowest. They can play
in a famous park and a beautiful botanical garden, and live
in the city's most crumbling public housing. They can attend
one of the four institutions of higher learning in the district,
and the worst-scoring high schools in the city. Such juxtapositions
are a way of life for a district that includes the Brooklyn
Academy of Music, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Brooklyn Botanical
Gardens; mid dle-class African-American communities near Prospect
Park; immigrant communities from Haiti, Sierra Leon, Nigeria,
and Trinidad, and in Crown Heights, a mix of Hasidic Jews
and African-Americans. Seven Democratic candidates are campaigning
in hopes that they can bring some kind of unity, and attention,
to the area. Their backgrounds are as diverse as the neighborhoods
39 -- Park Slope/Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn
The candidates in district 39 include a chief of staff for
an Assemblywoman, the husband of a member of U.S. Congress,
a lawyer for the Legal Aid Society, an attorney and president
of the Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats, Senator Hillary
Clinton's campaign manager, the district manager of Community
Board 6, and a labor organizer. This is the race to watch
this year. The group of high-profile Democrats have raised
a lot of money, almost $1.4 million combined.
45 -- East Flatbush
In no place in the city are the effects of campaign finance
reform and term limits being felt more than in East Flatbush.
The seven Democratic candidates seeking to represent this
largely West Indian district come from a number of Caribbean
nations. Many have been working on politicians' staffs and
serving with community groups, clearly hoping someday to win
their own elected office. Term limits has presented them with
that opportunity, and they want to make the most of it. But
this race that usually draws only about 8,000 voters could
be decided by just a few votes. The candidates are attempting
to come up with anything that will separate them from the
49 -- North Shore, Staten Island
Staten Island has always been somewhat of a suburban stepchild
to New York City. When a 1998 survey asked New Yorkers why
they go to Staten Island, the top two responses were ''visiting
friends and relatives" and ''passing through.'' But in many
ways, the north shore has more in common with areas of Manhattan
and Brooklyn than with the rest of the Staten Island. The
top priority for all the candidates -- Jon Del Giorno, an
administrative manager for the Board of Elections, Mike McMahon,
an attorney and counsel to current Councilmember Jerome O'Donovan,
and Debi Rose, an administrator at the College of Staten Island
and the first African-American candidate in Staten Island
politics -- is to make sure that the island becomes more than
just a turn-around-point for the over one million tourists
who ride the free ferry from Manhattan each year.
for Party Affiliation
Dream Party (AMD)
Better Schools Party (BES)
Friends United Party (FUN)
Fusion Party (FUS)
Harmony Party (HAR)
Marijuana Reform Party (POT)
Natural Law Party (NLP)
Party of Ethics and Traditions (PET)
Reform Party (Ref)
Right to Life (RTL)
School Choice Party (Sch)
Socialist Workers Party (SWP)
Working Families (Wor)
1 -- Deadline for candidates to join the Campaign Finance
program, qualifying for the four-to-one match of contributions.
5 - First day for candidates from the eight major parties
(Democratic, Republican, Indpendence, Conservative, Liberal,
Green, Working Families, and Right to Life) to circulate
petitions. Candidates running for City Council must collect
the signatures of at least 900 people living in the district
for which they are running in order to appear on the Primary
ballot. Candidates not running under these eight major parties
do not appear on the Primary ballot and have a separate
set of deadlines.
July 12 - Deadline for major party candidates to
July 10 - First day for unaffiliated candidates to
circulate petitions, in order to appear on the ballot in
the General Election. They must collect the number of signatures
equal to five percent of the total enrolled in that party.
August 7 - Board of Elections announces candidates
appearing on the Primary ballot.
August 17 - Last day for non-absentee voters to register
to vote in the Primary Election.
August 21 - Deadline for non-major party candidates
to file petitions to be included on the General Election
September 4 - Last day to postmark application for
absentee voting in the Primary
September 10 - Last day to personally deliver application
for absentee voting in the Primary Last day to postmark
absentee ballot for Primary
September 11 - Primary election; Polls open at 6:00a.m.
and close at 9:00p.m.; Absentee ballots must be hand-delivered
by 9:00 p.m.
September 25 - Runoff Primary election for Mayor,
Comptroller and Public Advocate, if needed
October 12 - Last day to for non-absentee voters
to register to vote in the General Election
October 30 - Last day to postmark application for
absentee voting in the General Election
November 5 - Last day to hand-deliver an application
for absentee voting, or to postmark an absentee ballot for
the General Election.
November 6 - General Election; polls open at 6:00a.m.
and close at 9:00p.m. in NYC; Absentee ballots must be hand-delivered
by 9:00 p.m.