Campaign 2001 Feature
GOTHAM GAZETTE: SEARCHLIGHT ON CAMPAIGN 2001: FEATURE

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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

 

"Don't 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 that issue.

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

1. MONEY
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.

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What is this?
Gotham Gazette's Searchlight on Campaign 2001 offers a comprehensive look at what is being called New York City's most significant campaign season in modern history. (See the left-hand column for an explanation).


Districts of the Week

District 1 -- Lower Manhattan
Whoever wins the election in district 1 will represent immigrant Chinese garment workers, as well as Wall Street traders living in Battery Park City. There are several candidates hoping to be the council's firsts -- the first Asian-American man, the first Asian-American woman, the first gay Rhodes Scholar, the first dot-com guru -- running against some politically well connected opponents. Endorsements and fundraising will play a big role in this race. But voter turnout could be the main determinant of who will next represent district 1 on the council. The key question is how many voters from each community will come out on Election Day.

District 7 -- Washington Heights, Manhattan
The northern tip of Manhattan has become one of the most popular places for new immigrants to call home. The northern tip of Manhattan is a place that today's new immigrants call home. The majority have come from the Dominican Republic, but also from countries in South America, Eastern Europe, and Asia. But it is not just new immigrants that are moving in. Students, artists, and other Manhattanites looking for less expensive rents and larger apartments have also moved north. Ten Democratic candidates are competing for the 15,000 voters expected on primary day. The winner who emerges from a crowded field of candidates will have to balance the needs of the newcomers with those who have lived there for years.

District 16 -- Highbridge, Bronx
The neighborhoods of district 16 are the city's poorest, with the highest rate of unemployment and the lowest median household income. But those who live there also point out that much is positive and stable about the area, thanks in large part to local organizations, not-for-profit agencies, and houses of worship that help hold the neighborhoods together. Each candidate for City Council believes that through his or her connections to churches and local organizations, they can help empower the community toward a better life. Helen Foster, the current council member daughter, will face Michael Benjamin, who has worked as an aide to several government officials and Anthony Curry, a Bronx neighborhood activist.

District 20 -- Northeast Flushing, Queens
This year district 20 may elect the first Asian-American ever to the City Council to an area which now has the second highest number of immigrants from Korea and Taiwan in the city. There are three Asian candidates in the Democratic race who have each drawn big endorsements. Council Speaker Peter Vallone endorsed Terence Park, City Comptroller Alan Hevesi endorsed John Liu, and the New York Times recently endorsed Ethel Chen The campaign has also drawn national and international press coverage

District 25 -- Jackson Heights, Queens
Thirty-seventh Avenue in Jackson Heights, Queens is one of the most diverse streets in the world. Little India quickly blends into Little Colombia, with vendors selling Latin American food to Colombians, Peruvians, Ecuadorians, Mexicans, and Uruguayans. And each summer, the Queens Pride Parade fills the same street with rainbow banners. So it is no surprise that this election year the district produced a diverse field of candidates. A number of them, however, found out that getting on the ballot is not an easy task, especially when the Queens Democratic organization sends teams of lawyers to challenge petitions. But five Democratic candidates survived and will face off on September 11.

District 31 -- South East Queens
When a heavy rain hits southeast Queens, many residents in neighborhoods like Springfield Gardens, Laurelton and Rosedale head to the basement with a bucket in hand. And it has been that way for the last 50 years. In the rush to build housing in the area after World War II, developers overlooked the need for storm drains in hopes that the city would eventually build a city-wide sewer system. The plan never materialized and the area has experienced "100-year rains" three times in the last decade. The eight Democrats -- all with little experience overseeing massive infrastructure projects--will try to convince voters that they can finally solve the flooding problems.

District 35 -- Central Brooklyn
The residents in council district 35 have some of the highest incomes in Brooklyn and some of the lowest. They can play in a famous park and a beautiful botanical garden, and live in the city's most crumbling public housing. They can attend one of the four institutions of higher learning in the district, and the worst-scoring high schools in the city. Such juxtapositions are a way of life for a district that includes the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens; mid dle-class African-American communities near Prospect Park; immigrant communities from Haiti, Sierra Leon, Nigeria, and Trinidad, and in Crown Heights, a mix of Hasidic Jews and African-Americans. Seven Democratic candidates are campaigning in hopes that they can bring some kind of unity, and attention, to the area. Their backgrounds are as diverse as the neighborhoods themselves.

District 39 -- Park Slope/Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn
The candidates in district 39 include a chief of staff for an Assemblywoman, the husband of a member of U.S. Congress, a lawyer for the Legal Aid Society, an attorney and president of the Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats, Senator Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, the district manager of Community Board 6, and a labor organizer. This is the race to watch this year. The group of high-profile Democrats have raised a lot of money, almost $1.4 million combined.

District 45 -- East Flatbush
In no place in the city are the effects of campaign finance reform and term limits being felt more than in East Flatbush. The seven Democratic candidates seeking to represent this largely West Indian district come from a number of Caribbean nations. Many have been working on politicians' staffs and serving with community groups, clearly hoping someday to win their own elected office. Term limits has presented them with that opportunity, and they want to make the most of it. But this race that usually draws only about 8,000 voters could be decided by just a few votes. The candidates are attempting to come up with anything that will separate them from the pack.

District 49 -- North Shore, Staten Island
Staten Island has always been somewhat of a suburban stepchild to New York City. When a 1998 survey asked New Yorkers why they go to Staten Island, the top two responses were ''visiting friends and relatives" and ''passing through.'' But in many ways, the north shore has more in common with areas of Manhattan and Brooklyn than with the rest of the Staten Island. The top priority for all the candidates -- Jon Del Giorno, an administrative manager for the Board of Elections, Mike McMahon, an attorney and counsel to current Councilmember Jerome O'Donovan, and Debi Rose, an administrator at the College of Staten Island and the first African-American candidate in Staten Island politics -- is to make sure that the island becomes more than just a turn-around-point for the over one million tourists who ride the free ferry from Manhattan each year.


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Links You Can Use

Government sites
NYC Campaign Finance Bd.
NYC Board of Elections
NYC Voter Assistance Comm.
NY City Council
Federal Election Comm.

Local non-partisan sites
SavvyVoter.org
NYVote.com
Votesmart
NYPIRG
NY League of Women Voters
Common Cause New York

National non-partisan sites
Ctr. for Responsive Politics
Common Cause
DemocracyNet
League of Women Voters

NAACP Voter Empowerment
Vote Smart

E-Voting
Election.com

Political consultants
Amer. Assc. of Pol. Consultants

Prime New York

Media
Gotham Gazette
The Empire Page
Campaigns and Elections
Legislative Gazette

Political columnists
Andrea Bernstein
Joe Conason
Mario Cuomo (radio)
Rudy Giuliani (radio)
Clyde Haberman
Nat Hentoff

Joseph Mercurio
Joyce Purnick
John Tierney
Michael Tomasky

Political parties
Conservative
Democratic
Green
Independence
Liberal
Republican
Right to Life
Working Families
Communist
Libertarian
Marijuana Reform
Natural Law Party
Socialist
Taxpayers Party

Political clubs and groups
Blueprint Camp. Finance Reform
DL21C
Central Queens Greens
The Jefferson Democratic Club of Flushing
NY Young Republican Club
Stonewall Democratic Club
Village Independent Dems.


Abbreviations for Party Affiliation

American Dream Party (AMD)
Better Schools Party (BES)
Communist (Com)
Conservative (Con)
Constitution (CST)
Democratic (Dem)
Friends United Party (FUN)
Fusion Party (FUS)
Green (Gre)
Harmony Party (HAR)
Independence (Ind)
Liberal (Lib)
Libertarian (LBT)
Marijuana Reform Party (POT)
Natural Law Party (NLP)
Party of Ethics and Traditions (PET)
Reform Party (Ref)
Republican (Rep)
Right to Life (RTL)
School Choice Party (Sch)
Socialist Workers Party (SWP)
Working Families (Wor)


2001 Election Calendar

June 1 -- Deadline for candidates to join the Campaign Finance program, qualifying for the four-to-one match of contributions.
June 5 - First day for candidates from the eight major parties (Democratic, Republican, Indpendence, Conservative, Liberal, Green, Working Families, and Right to Life) to circulate petitions. Candidates running for City Council must collect the signatures of at least 900 people living in the district for which they are running in order to appear on the Primary ballot. Candidates not running under these eight major parties do not appear on the Primary ballot and have a separate set of deadlines.
July 12 - Deadline for major party candidates to file petitions.
July 10 - First day for unaffiliated candidates to circulate petitions, in order to appear on the ballot in the General Election. They must collect the number of signatures equal to five percent of the total enrolled in that party.
August 7 - Board of Elections announces candidates appearing on the Primary ballot.
August 17 - Last day for non-absentee voters to register to vote in the Primary Election.
August 21 - Deadline for non-major party candidates to file petitions to be included on the General Election ballot.
September 4 - Last day to postmark application for absentee voting in the Primary
September 10 - Last day to personally deliver application for absentee voting in the Primary Last day to postmark absentee ballot for Primary
September 11 - Primary election; Polls open at 6:00a.m. and close at 9:00p.m.; Absentee ballots must be hand-delivered by 9:00 p.m.
September 25 - Runoff Primary election for Mayor, Comptroller and Public Advocate, if needed
October 12 - Last day to for non-absentee voters to register to vote in the General Election
October 30 - Last day to postmark application for absentee voting in the General Election
November 5 - Last day to hand-deliver an application for absentee voting, or to postmark an absentee ballot for the General Election.
November 6 - General Election; polls open at 6:00a.m. and close at 9:00p.m. in NYC; Absentee ballots must be hand-delivered by 9:00 p.m.

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