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GOTHAM GAZETTE: SEARCHLIGHT ON CAMPAIGN 2001: CAMPAIGN 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

 

How The Promise Of Campaign 2001 Played Out

By Mark Berkey-Gerard

Long before it actually occurred, September 11, 2001 was a date that some New Yorkers looked to with hope, dread and excitement, anticipating an unprecedented change in New York City.

It was going to be primary day, the culmination of months, sometimes years, of effort by the largest and most diverse group of candidates in the city's history. Thanks to term limits, which kicked out most incumbents, there was going to be a nearly total turnover in government. Thanks to a campaign finance program, there was going to be a whole new batch of first-time citizen candidates, New Yorkers without money and without connections, but with civic pride and new ideas and the hope that they could make a difference. Those inspired to enter the fray were said to range from an AIDS lobbyist to a police officer to an activist born in Sierra Leone to a staff member in the state attorney general's office to the founder of a credit union-- and that was just in one city council district, Fort Greene!

But coming as it did as the next election after the presidential election debacle, many also feared that -- because there would be so many close contests and because the track record of the New York City Board of Elections was so poor -- what happened on primary day and its aftermath would be as much of a disaster as Florida.

"What total chaos," columnist Arthur Nitzburg wrote in the Queens Courier in the beginning of the year. "What a mess we are all in. How delightful."

New York changed on September 11, for sure.

After the terrorist attacks delayed the primary for two weeks, New Yorkers were urged to go back to the polls and vote again, not as mere participants in democracy, but as its defenders "We cannot allow these terrorist acts to stop the basic, fundamental principle of democracy, which is the right of people to vote," said State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

Florida has long been forgotten, and even talking about it as "chaos" and "a disaster" seems now in bad taste. But not everything was thrown off track.

Because the overwhelmingly majority of people in New York vote Democratic, all but a handful of races in the city were in effect decided on the rescheduled primary day of September 25. A new City Council will indeed be elected on November 6, and take office two months later. They will now be public officials expected to do something for a city in crisis, while the promises they made on the campaign trail for new schools, more affordable housing, and better police-community relations will be more difficult to achieve after the events of September 11.

What became of the promise, and the problems, that were expected as we come to the end of Campaign 2001?

FIRSTS IN NEW YORK CITY POLITICS

Many predicted that campaign 2001 would produce a number of "firsts" in terms of the diversity of the council, and the promise remains.

If successful in November, the borough of Queens will elect its first black borough president with Helen Marshall and the first Asian-American Councilmember with Flushing's John Liu. Hiram Monserrate, who won the primary in Corona and faces no opposition in the general election, will be the borough's first Hispanic council member.

But several other races that had the potential to produce more racial diversity in the council did not.

In district 1 in lower Manhattan, three Asian American candidates -- Rocky Chin, Margaret Chin, and Kwong Hui -- gathered over 6,000 votes between them, but Alan Gerson won with 3,310 votes.

In district 23 in Queens, Jairam Thakral, chief financial officer at SUNY Stony Brook, had hoped to become the first South Asian to sit on the council, but he lost to David Weprin.

THE RISE AND FALL OF THE CITIZEN CANDIDATE

The campaign did indeed start out with many citizen candidates. An amazing 420 New Yorkers, many enticed by the promise of a "level playing field," became candidates for public office this year, by far the largest number ever. The manager of a recreation center, several directors of nonprofit organizations, the founder of a neighborhood credit union, a TV journalist, and a lawyer for taxi cab drivers all entered the political fray.

But many saw their aspirations halted abruptly, unable even to get on the ballot, when the Democratic clubs brought out teams of lawyers to challenge the petitions of the new candidates. Long before primary day, 61 of them got kicked off the ballot and another 18 were kicked off the Democratic ticket.

And because of strict rules to qualify for matching finds from the Campaign Finance Board, many candidates found themselves in a strange predicament. They could not get on the ballot without a team of lawyers, but they could not afford to pay for lawyers until they made it on the ballot.

Many were knocked off for technicalities -- misspellings, forgetting to attach cover letters, signatures from voters who used their nicknames instead of their legal names -- Gus instead of Gustav.

One of the campaign workers who gathered signatures for Stanley Kinard, the director of a nonprofit agency and a candidate in district 36, was not a registered Democrat. Kinard lost the 195 signatures the worker had gathered when they were challenged by his opponent State Assemblymember Al Vann. As a result, Kinard was knocked off the primary ballot.

"I think everybody should have the right to participate in the democratic process," said Kinard. "He's trying to deprive the people of the right to have a real election.

In the end, the citizen candidate may have had a better chance to launch a campaign, but not to win a race.

ALL IN THE FAMILY

Donald Wooten must feel left out. He is the son of Councilmember Priscilla Wooten, and he was running to replace her. He lost, finishing third out of seven candidates. If anything distinguishes him as a candidate, now it is that he was the only child of a current council member who did not win the primary for his parent's seat.

Peter Vallone Jr., an attorney and son of the City Council Speaker, won in Astoria. Yvette Clarke will replace her mother Una Clarke in Flatbush. Helen Foster, a hospital administrator and daughter of Councilmember Wendell Foster, was victorious in the Southwest Bronx. Erik Dilan, son of Councilman Martin Malave-Dilan, took his dad's district in East New York. Joel Rivera, who in a special election in February had taken over his father's seat in district 15 the Bronx , also won the primary against the same opponent.

Even Elizabeth Crowley, the 23-year-old candidate who is best known for her last name and her relatives -- Crowleys have served in Congress, City Council, and on community and school boards -- won in Middle Village, Queens. But she still faces a tough challenge in Republican Dennis Gallagher, who is Councilmember Tom Ognibene's chief-of-staff.

Similarly, Assemblyman Dov Hikind's sister-in-law, Libby Hikind, won her Democratic primary in Staten Island, but must overcome incumbent Republican James Oddo in the General Election on November 6.

The only other family member who did not win was Susan Lasher, the wife of Coney Island Councilmember Howard Lasher, who lost to Dominic Recchia.

THE VETERANS OF ALBANY

If some of the candidates could be successful by citing their years living in the same house as experienced public officials, others point to their years AS experience public officials, mostly in the New York State Assembly.

Three former state assembly members all won their council primaries easily. Al Vann, who has served in the assembly since 1975 (three years before Elizabeth Crowley and Joel Rivera were born), won his race in central Brooklyn. Oliver Koppell, a former State Attorney General and assembly member, was victorious in Riverdale. Melissa Katz, a former assembly member and aide to Queens Borough President Claire Shulman, came out on top in Forest Hills, Queens.

Vann is also one of half a dozen people vying to be the next Speaker of City Council. He recently has sent a letter entitled "A New City Council: Rebuilding New York City" to all the incumbent council members and others who won their primary races.

Former State Senator Larry Seabrook had a more difficult time in his Co-op City council race against Shirley Saunders, a former aide for Congressman Eliot Engel. Seabrook won by just 103 votes out of over 18,000 cast but may also join the council as someone who is familiar with New York politics.

THE POWER OF THE PARTIES

While it was not a pretty picture for many beginning candidates, neither was it a complete triumph for the party bosses.

Clarence Norman, the chairman of the Brooklyn Democratic organization, had a particularly disappointing primary day. Although Bill Thompson, Norman's candidate for comptroller, was victorious, his other main candidates -- Alan Hevesi and Jeannette Gadson who ran for Brooklyn Borough President -- were not.

Norman's anointed candidates also lost two crucial council races. In district 35, Letitia James lost to James Davis, a police officer and minister. David Yassky, a professor at Brooklyn Law School, defeated Steven Cohn, an Assembly District leader, in Brooklyn's district 33.

"The era of the machine anointing candidates is over," Yassky told the Village Voice. "Because of campaign finance reform, it's possible to run an aggressive, issues-based campaign and win."

The two rival Democratic bosses, Roberto Ramirez and Pedro Espada, Jr., who endorse opposing candidates in almost every race, often divide Bronx politics. This year, Ramirez came out ahead.

Pedro Espada, Jr. lost his own bid for Bronx Borough President against Ramirez backed Adolfo Carrion. And Councilmember Pedro G. Espada from district 14 was the only incumbent to lose the primary.

Queens Democratic party leader Thomas Manton also endured several upsets. In South Jamaica, Democratic District Leader Allan Jennings beat former council staffer Anthony Andrews. In Laurelton , Charlotte Jefferson who placed a distant fourth to former school board president James Sanders. Overall, Manton backed the winner in nine of 14 races.

Now it is expected the political bosses, even if they did not back the winning candidate, will reach out to support the winner in an effort to maintain their power in the future.

GETTING OUT THE VOTE

With much of the city still in shock from the terrorist attacks and most campaigning suspended, many candidates wondered if voters would be too distracted to go to the polls.

While a turnout of 800,000 out of 3 million voters does not mark a rebirth of democracy, people did vote, especially in some competitive council districts.

In Brownsville, Brooklyn where a primary usually draws around 8,000 people, the seven candidates brought out nearly 15,000 voters.

East Harlem saw a strong challenge by Felipe Luciano, a television journalist and former leader of the Young Lords, who lost to incumbent Councilmember Phil Reed by just over 600 votes. "Four years ago, an average of 10,000 people came out to vote in this district, whereas this year the number jumped to 17,000," said Charles Stopper, a spokesman for Luciano.

Several races were also extremely close. The race for the North Shore of Staten Island was one of the narrowest margins of victory, as Mike McMahon defeated Deborah Rose by 170 votes.

Because of the overwhelmingly majority of people in New York vote Democrat, all but a handful of races in the city, were in reality decided on the September 25 primary day. There are six City Council districts that currently have Republican representation that will provide the most interesting races on November 6.

Some Democratic candidates who lost on primary day will still appear on the general election ballot as smaller party candidates, but do not have a great chance of winning.

Some candidates, like Rocky Chin, from lower Manhattan will be listed as a Working Families candidate, but will not be actively campaigning to win. "Rocky will be running for Working Families issues and helping get out the vote for [mayoral candidate] Mark Green," said a Chin spokesperson.

Other candidates, like Letitia James, an assistant attorney general in Brooklyn, who finished second to police officer James Davis in the primary in Prospect Heights Brooklyn, said she is still running to win. This time, she will be a Working Families candidate.

"Many tough decisions will need to be made in the immediate future," James writes on her web site, "and there is a lot of change taking place in city government that could create difficulties for local communities. Addressing these challenges requires someone with real experience in government."

On January 1, at least 38 of the 51 City Council candidates will take office for the first time.

New Yorkers will get the first real chance to see who among these newly elected -- the new and energized members, the ones who relied on their experience as legislators in Albany, the unproven ones with familiar names, and the returning incumbents -- will be up to the tasks that have suddenly turned that much more urgent.

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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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10004-1609

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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 - Rescheduled Primary
October 11 -- Runoff Democratic Primary election for mayor and for public advocate

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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