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Basic Training for Council Recruits... How They Stack up
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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?
If They Gave An Election That The Press Covered?
By Ruth Messinger
The Mayor of New York, the largest city in the United
States and arguably the richest city in the world, has
immense power. Whoever becomes the mayor can decide to
augment or curtail services, to address or ignore acute
problems of race and poverty. Having great control over
local taxes, expenditures and laws, the mayor can use
it to improve education, create additional housing, develop
the waterfront, rebuild the infrastructure and set the
tone for the eight million people who live in the city.
That is why the choice of the next mayor is a critical
one, a choice that should involve every New Yorker. For
that to happen, though, the press would have to take the
But the press has not been recognizing its immense responsibility
to educate the public about the candidates -- making clear
their similarities but also sorting out their differences.
Instead we have the press engaged in an absurd self-fulfilling
prophecy that is working to turn people off from the election.
Recently, for example, The New York Times ran a front-page
story to tell us that the election was a yawn, that people
were not paying much attention, that they did not see
significant issues separating the candidates so they were
not rushing to choose their candidates. What The Times
did not mention in that story was that this is precisely
how the newspaper began its coverage of the election many
months ago, telling us there was not much to distinguish
one candidate from another, that the primary promised
to be boring. Why do they and the other newspapers then
profess astonishment and dismay when New Yorkers, taking
their cue from what they read, say that the election is
So taken is the press with its interpretation of events
that it is missing key parts of the story. It quotes labor
leaders and politicians explaining that they have not
yet made endorsements because the race is uninspiring.
But there are two other explanations for this reluctance
to endorse that make more sense. Some powerful leaders
have not made endorsements because they do not want to
go with a candidate who will wind up not winning, and
thus end up out of favor with the next mayor. Others,
especially some labor leaders, are not choosing because
their followers are sharply divided. It is not that everyone
finds the race boring, that no one has made a choice,
but rather that people in their organizations have made
choices, sometimes strong choices, but do not agree. This
easily produces a situation like the one created for District
Council 37 which could put together only the slimmest
possible membership vote for Peter Vallone, making their
membership divisions clear, and their endorsement mean
The press has not pushed union leaders to get at these
divisions. Nor did it push the prominent politicians who
have not yet endorsed to ask if they were, in fact, afraid
to take sides. The front page article in the Times did
not include any comments from the many officials and union
leaders who have endorsed candidates, who do think there
are differences and were moved by those differences to
choose early. Instead, the article let everyone who is
still neutral enforce the argument that the reason to
stay out is that the race is not exciting.
What would make a race exciting? The press has made that
clear: a candidate who looks and sounds different from
the pack. This year the winner of that prize is Mike Bloomberg.
News organizations are covering his moves every day, hanging
on his remarks, hoping he will say something unexpected
or controversial so they can report it. This is absurd.
Bloomberg is talking about almost precisely the same issues
as the other candidates, because his pollsters, like theirs,
tell him what is most on the minds of the voters. He really
is not all that different (except for having spent $8
million already), though he is more prone to saying something
provocative, to show his "independence". That is one reason
the press has been covering him so exhaustively -- in
the hopes he will say something he should not.
Bloomberg gets press attention the other candidates
would die for. Reporters and columnists have coffee with
him, tell us "what he is really like", argue that he needs
more attention because all the others have been around
for a while. Yes, they have held office, they have made
decisions (and mistakes), they have actually governed.
But if you think that has led to their having been covered
in any depth, if you think that the press has helped the
voters really get to know them over time, then you do
not live in New York. I am willing to bet that Bloomberg
has had more headlines, more column inches, more air time,
more "private" discussions publicly reviewed than any
of the Democratic candidates, or Bloomberg's Republican
opponent, have had in the last four years. The candidate
who owns a media empire, who is buying time on every radio
and television station, is the candidate who is getting
the most free coverage.
So, what could the press be doing differently? It could
cover more of the press conferences of the leading candidates;
it could actually tell you what each said about land use
planning or education testing or tax policy. It could
push the candidates to respond thoughtfully to the proposals
their opponents make. It could start early in the race
(certainly by now, with six weeks to go until the primary)
to review the actual records of the many candidates who
have held office. How long has Hevesi disagreed with the
mayor on the budget? What has Freddy Ferrer done in the
Bronx to improve housing or schools? When did Vallone
or Green or Badillo first take a position he is espousing
with passion now?
Any of the papers, perhaps particularly the tabloids,
could also play a role in pushing New Yorkers to take
this election seriously. They could be asking readers
if they are registered to vote. They could be exhorting
them to be informed enough to choose who will be making
spending decisions on $36 billion of their tax money.
They could be running a daily tease, reminding people
the number of days to the primary. Why is InsideNYTimes.com
emailing me that they have a new feature "Find the Best
Bars in Town", but not telling me that they have a special
feature on the 2001 elections?
Things sure would be different, if readers knew they
could learn what the candidates had to say, if they felt
some pressure to become informed, if they had easy access
to information about the 2001 election of 59 municipal
officials, many of them new to politics. Why, we might
even have an election in which people voted!
Ruth W. Messinger, former Manhattan borough president
and the Democratic candidate for mayor in 1997, is president
and executive director of
American Jewish World Service, an international development
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.