The Race for Comptroller

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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 Limits...


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?


The Second Most Powerful Position In The City

by William Thompson

It's good to be here this evening, my name is Bill Thompson and I'm running for New York City comptroller. I'm going to try to talk a little bit about my background, a little bit about me. A little bit about how that fits in with the office of the comptroller. And then finally, my vision of the comptroller's office is, what do I see that office as.

I am a New York City resident, I was born and grew up in New York City, lived in the city all my life. I am a product of New York City's public schools. I left New York City, went to Tufts University in Massachusetts and came back. Over my career I spent time as special assistant to the chief of staff to a congressman; deputy borough president of Brooklyn; an investment banker; a member of the New York City Board of Education, and from the middle of 1996 until March 31st of this year, president of the New York City Board of Education.

Now, how does any of that fit in with the comptroller's office? At first glance, it wouldn't appear to. But I think if you look at the experiences I've had, first as deputy borough president. There was a Board of Estimate, the borough president sat on the Board of Estimate. The Board of Estimate oversaw the budget, and they did the budget along with the Mayor of the City of New York. As well as all the contracts of over ten thousand dollars. They voted on them, they provided oversight on those contracts.

Also during that period of time, I sat as a trustee for the largest pension system in the City of New York. One of five pension systems. And it's probably the fourth largest pension system in America. So I had the opportunity to sit as a trustee. And that's another major function of the comptroller's office. So I've had that experience.

And then as public finance banker, after I left Borough Hall. Another function and role of the comptroller is to pick half the underwriting team of the City of New York. And I remember what it was like sitting in that office before the deputy comptroller, making my pitch along with my firm, and hoping to be selected as part of the underwriting team. We were fortunate enough to do that, so we also worked on behalf of the firm that worked on behalf of the City of New York.

And then, as a member of the Board of Education I sat on the pension system. The Board of Education retirement system. So I sat and experienced that time as a member of two of the five pension systems of the City of New York. And then on the budgets at once again, the Board of Education, if you will, an institution that is not exactly known for fiscal integrity. Some of the things and directions I helped to move that institution in.

This point now, you can sit, break our budget down all the way to the individual school level, which we publish yearly. We're the envy of school systems across this country, as we explain where the money goes. And that's something I'm very proud of. So, if you look at my background, if you look at the experience of budget, contracts, experience of pension systems, asset management, experience in public finance... I think it's safe to say that I'm probably the best qualified candidate to be comptroller.

Now, where do I see the comptroller's office in the scheme of New York City? How do I see it interacting? I see the comptroller's office as probably the second most powerful position in the city. He is, when done correctly, a counterbalance to the mayor. A counterbalance to a number of things that happen in the city. Now, one of the roles of the comptroller is to provide oversight and audit agencies. To eliminate and curtail waste. Make sure that our tax dollars are being well spent. But I think in doing those fiscal and performance audits, it's important to say the comptroller can influence making those audits public, by calling attention to those audits, and then by pointing out and then suggesting ways that things can be done better.

And also to provide important oversight into city agencies to make sure that each and every one of our neighborhoods gets its fair share of city services. I see the comptroller's office as a more activist office, providing that type of leadership on the audits. I see providing leadership in other ways, and being more of an activist office.

Right now, the five pension systems total more than 90 billion dollars in assets. To invest one half of one percent to one percent of pension funds in not just low and moderate, but middle income housing in the City of New York, also. It goes a long way and can help make this city a better place. To be able to keep the residents of the city here and to keep this experience a rule.

And then second, that same one half of one percent to one percent also invested in economic development in the city. To make sure that we continue economic expansion and it gets to all five boroughs. That's another way the comptroller can be an activist, as far as making things happen in the city.

But in addition to that, the one thing in talking about the comptroller's office, and it ties into where the city...and they're things to be done there now as far as proxy voting and making sure that in share holder resolutions that we're active in making sure the corporations around this country provide adequate facilities and other things for working men and women around the country. That's something I would continue.

Enforce a prevailing wage to make sure that working men and women get a fair day's wage for a fair day's work. But at the same point, I see the comptroller as the second highest position in the city. I think it's important, as we move into the first year of term limits, where almost everybody leaves office at the same time. So, it's all three citywide elected officials, four of the five Borough Presidents, 35 of the 51 City Councilpeople.

I think it's important that people be put in the position of leadership who have experience, background and knowledge. But also, people who are willing to stand up. And I see that as being an integral part of the comptroller's office. Standing up, fight for what is right for the people of this city, I think that's important.

So, if you look at my history, whether it was at the borough bresident's office, or whether it was as a member of the Board of Education, where I had to stand up and fight for our children, fight with the Governor when he denied us our fair share of resources, and continuing that fight. Or whether it's fight with the Mayor of the City of New York when he continued his attacks on public education. And stand up to him and say no to vouchers, and no to other things.

I think it's important to take that leadership, to take that type of skill and move it to the comptroller's office. So, that's a little bit about me, and about how I see my background fitting into the comptroller's office, and where I see the Comptroller's office going. It's an office that, if you use, if you fully use the authority of the office and that pulpit that you have, it's a powerful position. A powerful position for change and for improving the city

Question: You look at certain city agencies and you say these are success stories, you look at others and you say they're failures. I know nothing about education. But everything that I read in the newspapers, everything I see on TV tells me we're doing a disaster with educating our children, it's a total failure. How are you going to respond to people who say we trusted you with the Board of Education...?

Thompson: How am I going to respond to that? With honesty. I would take people to a point in the Board of Education in its history, and did the education system fail its children, and I said it's failed its children, for decades. I'll take the full point. That point's probably 1996. What I would talk about is, the change that occurred at the Board of Education, I could talk about the reading scores and improvement at the Board. The thing I'm probably proudest about is in a system that they said couldn't change, and that the legislation would never change, one of the first things I did as president was put together the effort, and got the structure of the Board of Education to change. That, in fact, was the first time in its history, or the first time since the late sixties and decentralization. It was my legislation and the work that I did, the group that I put together, and it was the business community across the city, the New York City Partnership, it was the UFT, it was the parents. And we changed the book. And by that authority invested in the Chancellor.

And I would use that to talk about what have I done in education since then. I think you could look at the change in the Board of Education, the education structure since 1996, or before the school year started in September of 1997, and we looked at raised standards, real standards across a school system. Raised reading scores each year on an incremental level. I can go on and on. Change our budget structure, hold principals and superintendents accountable, and fired principals and superintendents for the first time in its history for non-performance.

I think that particularly, given the contrast that when I was there and when I left, I see the difference. So, do I think an education system has changed? Yeah. Is it where it needs to be? Absolutely not. But it's made inc remental change and growth over the past four years. I'm very proud of that. That's how I'd answer that question.

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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.

Register To Vote or Be A Poll Worker

Voter Registration Forms
After printing and filling out the voter registration form, please send them by mail to:

Board of Elections
32 Broadway, 7th Floor
New York, NY

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Poll Worker Applications

After completing the forms, please send them to the address on the form.

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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
NY League of Women Voters
Common Cause New York

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

NAACP Voter Empowerment
Vote Smart


Political consultants
Amer. Assc. of Pol. Consultants

Prime New York

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
Right to Life
Working Families
Marijuana Reform
Natural Law Party
Taxpayers Party

Political clubs and groups
Blueprint Camp. Finance Reform
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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