The Race for Staten Island Borough President

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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.

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May 10, 2001

Dr. John Walker
Interviewed by Jeffrey Kroessler

KROESSLER Welcome to the first of our "Conversations on Politics" here at the Archives and Special Collections of the Library at the College of Staten Island. I'm Jeffrey Kroessler, historian here at the Archives, and I'm with Dr. John Walker, the Liberal Party candidate for Borough President of Staten Island. Welcome.

WALKER Thank you. It's an honor to be here. I'm grateful for the opportunity to be the first candidate to be interviewed, and hopefully I can enlighten you a little bit about myself and what the race is all about.

KROESSLER Well the first question is, why are you a liberal? And is that a capital L liberal, as in the Liberal Party, or a small L liberal?

WALKER If you look at my resume, I'm a CPA and an accountant, and I've had a lot of business experience. And most people would say, why aren't you conservative? I think it's a big liberal as in the Liberal Party and a little liberal because in my heart of hearts I'm a liberal. The Liberal Party stands for progressive issues. Loosely translated I look at the development of our society and our economy and I believe the reason that we have a vibrant middle class in the United States is because of the unions. If it was not for the unions we would have a small number of very, very wealthy people and a whole lot of very, very poor people. This last summer I had the privilege of going to India, and the stark contrast between the wealthy in india and those people in poverty was unbelievable. And I come back to this country with a renewed appreciation for organized labor and the impact that unions have had on our society. I think that in and of itself was the first reason I became a liberal. The second reason I became a liberal is because with my background, I always believed that your neighbors were extremely important to you, and that you have not only a responsibility but you should have a deep commitment to making sure you take care of your neighbors, because to the extent your neighbors thrive, you thrive. And it builds on your commuity, and makes it a wonderful community to be in. And for me, that's what the Liberal Party stands for, and that kind of captures the party rhetoric in many ways. But deep down inside these are my personal feelings. So here I am as a Liberal Party candidate, and not only do I speak the rhetoric, but I believe it in my heart, and this is my chance to express those feelings and express what I've observed over my life, and things that have worked, made life interesting, rewarding, and makes me happy to get up in the morning, and makes me happy to go down to the ferry terminal and get on the boat, and I watch my neighbors and I love them; it's an interesting thing because most of those people, they might be a little gruff, and they might be in a hurry, but most of those people love each other and I see that every day that I go down there, and I think it's wonderful. So for me it's making those ideas come alive.

KROESSLER As a New Yorker, we grow up believing New York has a reputation as a liberal city, as the center of liberalism in America, but it seems to have shifted somehow. Even in New York City not so many people want to admit to having liberal tendencies.

WALKER Well I think that perhaps the other parties, including the Conservative Party, wanted to make liberal a dirty word, because by making it a dirty word they can use it as a slogan, to get people to try to embrace the selfishness of conservatives. And certainly if you want to be selfish and you want to have a bunch of people who are cutthroat, going after each other, trying to take things away from each other, then you don't want to have people that go around saying we should love each other, we should take care of our neighbors, we should have good jobs, we should have a middle class. Instead they would say, oh, that's a dirty thing to do, you don't want to be a liberal, you don't want to be identified with the liberals because of that. So I think in many ways they popularize that notion, sort of like a high school clique society, if you want to be part of the clique than liberal is a dirty word and you don't want to be a liberal. That's the way I see it. And I would have to say that a lot of the liberals in New York have become closet liberals, they're reluctant to come out and say I'm a liberal, but in their heart of hearts they are liberals because they do care about their neighbors. It's one of the beautiful things about New York City, and it's one of the things I love about New York City.

KROESSLER It's interesting to talk to students because if you ask them, are you a liberal, they'll say no. But if you ask them what they believe, what opinions they hold, they're certainly more small-L liberal than conservative. But it's a conservative age. Now if we look at city government, what difference does it make liberal political philosophy at the helm rather than a conservative hand?

WALKER A lot of the success of daily life, for most of us, is a function of how well the economy's doing. If the economy's doing really well, it probably doesn't matter who's in charge. If the economy's doing very, very poorly, then what happens? No one's happy, and it doesn't matter much who's in charge except for this fact. The more liberal legislators and the more liberal administrators have a tendency to care about what happens to everyone, not just what happens to the major contractors, to the major businesses, and to the major investors, and I think that's a big, big difference, because to some extent if you look at something like unemployment insurance, that's a product of the New Deal, which was a liberal perspective, and without that liberal perspective when you became unemployed you basically starved to death or you were at the mercy of the "compassionate conservatives" who, as long as business was fine would share the crumbs from their table, but when business turned down, then where were those crumbs off the table? They weren't there. So having learned those lessons, I think it's critical to preserve that liberal set of government, no matter how small it is, because if it is eliminated, which is what the conservatives would like to do, then where's the safety net? Do we want to submerge our country to the possibility of becoming like India, where there are millions of people that literally live on the street. That is their home, a little patch of the gutter. On the other hand, when I talk to liberals I never see that desire to eliminate conservatives, because we recognize that those conservatives are our neighbors, and we care about them they might not care about us but we care about them. From a societal perspective, if you get beyond just the rhetoric, the liberalism in New York City is what makes New York City special, because for us everyone is important. That new immigrant who just gets off the plane or the boat, is just as important to us as that 5th or 6th generation rich person who lives out on Todt Hill someplace. Because that immigrant is going to invent something, that immigrant is going to take a risk on a business that is going to make this country great, and it's that synergism and energy that keeps this city number one in the world.

KROESSLER If the Liberal Party looked at history, you could be waiting at the gate at Kennedy Airport when that immigrant got off the plane, in signing him right up, which is what made the Democratic Party so successful. You mentioned union members, and one of the facts that startled me is that by the 1970s, when you've had a long period of unionization and successful unions, and it had mostly settled down, three-quarters of the members of the AFL-CIO owned their own homes, which is remarkable. I can't think of another society where working people owned property in that proportion.

WALKER Exactly. Two things have happened since the '70s that are troublesome to me. In part the unions became became powerful because of the large manufacturing base we had in this country. And that large manufacturing base has gone to other shores so that the profiteers could take advantage of non-union labor in atrocious conditions. And we can talk about the gym shoe manufacturer that has basically established slave labor conditions for thie workers in those countries. The second thing that happened is that after these union members bought their homes they started investing in stock with their retirement plans, and you know it's unheard of to have a retirement plan in the rest of the world, but the unoions managed to put their members in a position where they were able do that. And it's troublesome to me to see them so concerned with their stocks and their retirement plan and increasing the value of their homes, that they've forgotten that the union helped them reach those goals and get a piece of the American pie, and for that we need to keep our attention on it. I'm a member of the AFL-CIO.

KROESSLER Which brings me to my next point. Union membership probably enabled an awful lot of Staten Islanders to buy their own homes, and I'm sure you still have a very large number of union members on Staten Island, municipal and private. And yet Staten Island is percieved, and I think it would define itself as a very conservative place, that even the liberal on Staten Island are conservative. Don't you feel a little bit lonely on Staten Island being a liberal?

WALKER You know it's interesting, because I hear all of this rhetoric about Staten Island being the conservative borough, and in reality I don't know that I agree with that. I rarely fell lonely long, because those staunch conservatives, when you really start talking to them, that's a veneer, they want to belong to the clique, they don't want to be labeled liberal, that ugly word. My guesstimate is that a majority of the residents of Staten Island are in their heart of hearts more liberal than they are conservative. But if you asked the man on the street, they wouldn't think of saying I'm liberal because it would be labeled as one of those terrible people and maybe be excluded by their neighbors, they will succumb to the peer pressure of the neighborhood, and say, oh yeah, I'm conservative, but in reality it's a very small percentage of the island that is what you would call truly conservative in the sense that they don't care about their fellow human beings and neighbors on the island.

KROESSLER When you say that more people embrace liberal ideas or principles than they would admit publicly, what ideas or principles of beliefs fall into that category?

WALKER Let's start with caring about your neighbors. I think that we all recognize that if we had a small town that we could get together and identify who needs help with housing or clothing, finding a job, and we could marshall the resources needed to take care of that neighbor. But we're looking at Staten Island, which is 440,00-residents, we have a densely populated area that is the size of many cities in the United States. As a consequence it is not possible to know what is happening to the other 439,999 residents. So we have to rely on governemt to some extent to help bring those resources together and take care of those people who are truly in need. And I think liberal is genuinely concerned with providing for those people truly in need and recognizing that it is almost impossible to rely on generosity or the whims of neighborhood talk to make sure we take care of everyone. Most organized religions recognize that and rally behind the liberals to provide some social programs that make some sense. And try to reach out a helping hand to neighbors who are truly in need. Now, are there abuses, yes. Anytime the system becomes large you get abuses, and that's usually the first thing that most conservatives point to is the handful of abuses that take place when they criticize the liberals. Well, the liberals brought this on us. No, we didn't bring the abuses on it, we brought the system and put it into place and said let's think about our neighbors. Prior to that it was whatever handouts you can get from the Red Cross or whatever other agency might spring up out of the generosity of the few people who would give.

KROESSLER If you rely on private sector charity, you also have the possibliity of a situation like Hale House, where you have a misuse of that trust.

WALKER You know I don't really know enough of the facts of Hale House in particular to judge one way or another, but when you look at all of the number of similar programs across the city, and we have a huge city that we're part of, when you extend that 440,000 to 8 million, are you going to have an occasion where something might be mismanaged? Yes. The woman who ran Hale House made tremendous personal sacrifices to even begin to try to do something with Hale House, and so what happened, I'm not familiar enough wth the details to judge one way or another. Do I think she purposely went out when she started Hale House so she could profit by it? There's not enough money in most of these agencies, there's barely enough money to pay rent and buy some food and put clothes on your back. I don't see it as a profiteering kind of thing. Was it a problem, was it mismanaged? That may be the case. It may have been that the resources just weren't available for what needed to be done in that situation. We need to step back and instead of saying that was a terrible libeal cause, we need to step back and say what are the real issues here. What are the needs. If we are not accomplishing or satisfying those needs with this particular program, what other things can we do. Most of us would admit there are some in our society who just simply can't do for themselves to the same extent that we are. They were blessed with different talents, and maybe they weren't as lucky or fortunate as we were to realize the talents that they do have. So why can't we lend a helping hand?

KROESSLER One of the ways I would define the difference between a liberal and a conservative approach to government is that a liberal would be more willing to use government to address social issues, while a conservative might rely on individuals or the private sector.

WALKER Absolutely. There are lots of different philosophies one way or another, about whether it's appropriate to use government or not for certain functions and services. But if you look at something like national defense, I think that's an appropriate role for the government. Because if you hire soldiers of fortune, what's to prevent the soldiers of fortune from shooting you? They have no aliegance to you. So there's a big risk if you privatize the police force or privatize the military.

KROESSLER As the Romans found out.

WALKER I think that for certain kinds of services it makes a lot of sense to let the government do it. I think oftentimes the government gets shortchanged. Certainly when it comes to social services and trying to help people, I'm not so sure I trust a profiteer to actually provide that help to those people in need, because that profiteer is going to be trying to make money, is going to try to get the stock price up, and certainly if you can shortchange the person in need to get your stock price up, it's a no brainer, because I've been out in the corporate world as well as being involved in government, and I see how the executives work, and let me tell you, they are driven by that stock price and they are driven by making money. When it comes down to providing for the need or making money that private organization is going to go for making the money irrespective of what the need is. Whereas government often times there is that heavy hand of the polling booth, and voters put a lot of pressure on officials to actually make sure that the needs are being met for the people. That power is extremely important, and I've watched the politicians and they pay attention to that, they pay attention not only to the polls and the voting place, but they pay attention to the polls that are produced by the media and published on a regular basis, and I believe that the media is one of the reasons that I am a firm believer in letting the government provide these services. Because they keep the politicians honest.

KROESSLER The whole push to privatize government services, privatize prisons and everything else, seems very much in vogue, and one of the things I noticed in Rudolph Guiliani's budget was an attempt to privatize remediation in the City University. I wonder if you could discuss how, assuming you are going to win the race for Staten Island Borough President, is there a way you would address issues of higher education and education in general that would set you apart.

WALKER Absolutely. Let me just say at the outset, I was the chief financial officer of the New York City Economic Development Corporation for two years, and I had an opportunity to observe the inner workings of a number of different city agencies, and they are huge bureaucracies. And it's easy to come in and say, well, let's privatize this, because certainly by privatizing it we can be more efficient, because a private investor that needs to make money will try to cut excess. And you know, I don't see the excess that's being claimed in many, many cases, and I think that the cost savings that you might achieve by privatizing something like remediation is a savings in being closed about how you're doing things. And I think the openness of remediation education in the CUNY system is extremely important, and by the government providing that service you have full disclosure. If you privatize it, when the media comes around and says we want to look at your records, what does that vendor say to you. You have no right to look at my records, this is my business. I'll tell you what I want you to know, but forget loooking at the details. And there's no knowing about what's going on and where they are cutting corners, a big chunk of the cost of government, it seems to me having looked at these agencies, is providing full disclosure to the taxpayers and the voters for what they are providing. And I don't see that as being bad. Because by having full disclosure it keeps the process open in a direction that makes sense. So if I were Borough President one of the first things I would do is open up Borough Hall. Why should you have secret meetings? The meetings should be out in the open. Why should you close off Borough Hall, you should open it to all the residents of the borough, and if you look at the increase in the population over the last ten years, a significant percentage of that population involves a diverse, ethnic, cultural, social background of those new residents of the city. We can't ignore them, they are our neighbors. And we need to open up Borough Hall and begin to develop some programs that will anticipate situations so that we're not reacting to problems, like estranged set of relations with the police force. There are not enough police officers, and it's going to be hard to get new police officers because we don't pay our police officers what they deserve and so if you look, the Academy right now is begging for people that are qualified, and they can't get them. So you have to ask why is that? Well it's because under the whole privatization, anti-union, keep the workers down kind of thing because the workers are raising the cost, we're boxing ourselves into a position that threatens our public safety, it threatens our health, it threatens all different areas of our daily life. I don't want that on Staten Island, and I'm going to raise these issues.

KROESSLER As Borough President you certainly can't do anything about the police salaries or the teacher salaries, but how do you become an advocate for Staten Island within the limitations of the office?

WALKER Within the limitations of the office there's tremendous power in the borough president's function. The borough president is the only elected official that represents the entire borough, and has access to all of the city, state and federal agancies and legislatures by virtue of being the borough president. In addition to that, there's tremendous power in the borough of Staten Island that heretofore the borough presidents haven't recognized. There's 440,000 people in this borough. One of the easiest ways to increase the teacher salaries in the City of New York is for the Borough President to access the campaign contribution records of those state legislators up in Albany who are opposed to funding New York City schools and come up with a boycott list of the corporations that have employed those individuals that have contributed heavily to the upstate politicians. Let me tell you, if 10% of the people on Staten Island started boycotting those companies, you would get immediate reaction. So it's the bully pulpit capacity of the Borough President that makes that office extremely powerful. The individual that the residents of the island need to elect is someone that recognizes that power and and ability and then realizes it, instead of sitting back, waiting for the West Nile Virus to come up and then spraying mosquitoes. And spraying mosquitoes is the least effective, most damaging thing you can do to the environment and the residents. These are our homes. Do we like poison being sprayed on us all the time? There are other ways. You can attack the mosquito larvae in the ponds and still water virtually harmlessly to the air and to the people, 15% of those 440,000 people, that's 60,000 people have severe respiratory problems. Because New York City ranks 15th in terms of poor air quailty of all the cities of the United States. So when you spray all you do is confound their problems. And who knows what long term effects we might hav when you increase cancer rates two or three years down the road. . Rather than wait for them to happen, the Borough President should be anticipating these kinds of things and establishing a set of procedures, saying what are the reasonable things we can do, what is the impact on our citizens if we engage in these activities, and is there a more effective, better way that's less damaging for the citizens. That makes some sense, and that is one of the things a Borough President can do in their limited action, to look ahead, be proactive rather than reactive, and develop some intelligent ways of doing things. The third thing the Borough President's office can do is develop a performance measurement tracking system that can track the residents of Staten Island.

KROESSLER Is that accounting speak?

WALKER No. Accounting speak is accountability. As a CPA and an accountant, one of the things I'm always challenged with is accounting speak. Let's talk about preformance measurement, because in all of corporate America, and most government agencies today, performance measurement or outcomes assessment as the academic world likes to refer to it, is becoming commonplace. Let's measure how effective we have been, if we started looking for services from an agency downtown. How long did it take that agency to respond to this resident of Staten Island? So when you open Borough Hall you open it as a place to take issues and the problems. You use it as a way of consolidating the community board input, and then you say how well is the city doing on providing services. If it's a state service issue, how well is the state doing on providing those services. And we keep a record not only of the state, the city and the agencies, but you also keep a record of how effective the Borough President has been at being an advocate of the needs of the residents of Staten Island.

KROESSLER You spoke of the Borough Presidency as a position that requires someone with the vision to look ahead.

WALKER Absolutely, if you don't have a visionary then you're going to be stuck where you are, you're going to float around like a ship without a rudder.

KROESSLER If we can be vague for a moment, if you're looking ahead 20, 25 years, what do you see as the most important, most crucial, most difficult problem your children and grandchildren will face?

WALKER As I look at Staten Island today and as I see the direction it is heading into the future, with the closure of Port Ivory the manufacturing base is gone, our primary economy here on the island is, we're a bedroom community. We're homes for people who work in Manhattan and Brooklyn and New Jersey, and the population is large enough and we have so many commuters that sooner or later the transportation problems will be addressed in some kind of a meaningful way. So I'm hopeful about that. My big concern for my grandchildren 25 years from now is education. As a bedroom community education is extremely important for a couple of reasons. One, because education is the best resource that we can provide to people that are in need, our neighbors, and to our self, to realize the opportunities that our society presents. And our society, the United States of America provides tremendous opportunities, but if you don't about them, and if you don't know how to realize them, and if you don't know how to recognize your talents, or how to employ those talents, you are basically handicapped. It's like somebody going into a boxing ring and tying both of their hands behind them and saying you can't use your head.

KROESSLER What can the Borough President do to address issues of education on Staten Island?

WALKER The Borough President has to exercise the bully pulpit to put pressure on the state legislature. The Borough President has to appoint a person to the Board of Education who actually gets out and works with the community school board, 31, and doesn't just sit in Livingston Street and call up and check in with the Borough President once in a while. It has to be someone that works with the school superintendent, that's at the forefront of it, then that Borough Presidenthas to get out in the community and make sure the PTAs and the neighborhood societies are providing input to the Board of Education. And then more importantly the Borough President has to be standing there and saying we can't have classes in trailers. Let's get some decent classrooms. We don't want to set up a school system that doesn't have a gymnasium. Let's provide our students, who are our children, and our neighbor's children, with reasonable experiences that everybody else in the country is getting. And do we want our children to be handicapped in that process. Then beyond K-12, you look at the CUNY system. The CUNY system started out as a wonderful, wonderful process, and what's happened? If you look at the last 10 or 15 years all of the investment in CUNY has gone into the Manhattan schools. And certainly we were blessed on Staten Island to get this facility and the grounds, but what has the CUNY system done and Board of Regents for making sure we had a full complement of full time faculty? Like the rest of the schools in the outer boroughs in the CUNY system, you're told you can't have full time faculty, you have part time people to work as adjuncts. CUNY has refused to negotiate a contract with the union over the last five years because they don't want to pay the faculty. They don't want to invest in the educational process. I think that's a real tragedy because as we look ahead the next 25 years almost everyone will tell you that my parents generation had one career. My generation, I'm looking at three or four careers in my lifetime. My children I'm told will have nine careers in their lifetime. Now how are you going to jump from one career to another without a reasonable education system to provide some opportunities to help you retread for that next career? We need to be investing now in the CUNY system on Staten Island to keep our role as a bedroom community reasonable and provide opportunities for the people who live here.

KROESSLER I'd like to open the floor to questions.

QUESTION 1 What's the relationship of your campaign to the broader Liberal Party and your chieftan Ray Harding, and how would you characterize his support of Rudolph Giulianiover the last two campaigns?

WALKER Let's take them one at a time. My campaign here on Staten Island started, and I'm engaged in it because it's something I believe in. If you haven't picked that up from the conversation tonight, these are my core values and I believe in them whole-heartedly, and I push them all the way. How that dovetails with the broader party, I can't speak for the broader party, but I can say that from my viewpoint about what's happening in the broader party it's probably critical that we come out in real ways and reidentify ourselves with those liberal values. Because certainly the conservatives would have you believe that the Liberal Party has basically given up those core values to support a Republican mayor. Then I will tell you my perspective on the party chair's approach to the Giuliani administration as one in which the state party, and the executive board interviews a variety of candidates who seek out our line in the election. And that process is not a joke, and it is not something that is just okey-doke, what are you going to do for me or what are you not going to do for me. It is hard and it is grueling. The Executive Committee really tests those candidates to see what are their core values. Because the Liberal Party statewide views itself as a being party with principles and Rudy Giuliani sought out our endorsement on the Liberal line, and when he was in those closed door sessions it was the decision of the Executive Committee that his core values came as close to the Liberal Party's core values as any of the other candidates we were looking at at the time, and that was for the last two elections. I think that was probably true. Having had the pleasure of observing Rudy in a non-public forum, he's an interesting contrast, because I see those core values of liberalism behind the Republican verneer come out. And he doesn't do it to seek publicity or those sorts of things. Did you know, every night he stops by a hospital to visit a policeman or fireman who is in the hospital, and he does it, and he has to lose the press so they don't follow him in because he doesn't want it to be a media event. He has true compassion in that sense. And he cares about helping his neighbors. Do we agree everything he does. I don't personally. I would be deceiving you to say that. Do I think the mayor has done some wonderful things? Absolutely. Has he done some things that have put the city possibly in jeapordy from my perspective? I'd have to say absolutely. Certainly, being a Republican he's not going to look at the world totally the way the Liberal party would and he's not primarily a liberal, and he had more of those liberal views than the other candidates that sought our endorsement. Knowing what I know of our leader, Ray Harding, I'd have to say he's a liberal, he's a liberal in his heart, and he believes in the Party and he believes in those principles. And in the end if a Conservative Party candidate came up and expressed the core values he would probably try to persuade us all to go along with that. I don't know haw far he could get in endorsing a Conservative candidate. Even a lot of people in the Liberal party have criticized Ray for endorsing Rudy Giuliani as a candidate.

QUESTION 2 Considering the possibility that you might not get elected Borough President, what are you wanting to accomplish in your campaign?

WALKER Let me share this. My son ran for office a few years ago. He was a younger man, and he wasn't putting as much effort into it as maybe I would, he said, Dad, This is Staten Island, I'm on the Liberal Party ticket, am I going to win? Why am I running? I said what about your issues? He came up with 10 issues that were important to him that were in line with the Liberal Party, and interestingly enough, neither one of the candidates of the main candidates, the Republican Party and the Democratic Party, were talking about any of these issues. By the last two or three weeks of the election, during the race, both of those candidates were talking about six of the issues my son brought up. He had a major impact on raising those issues. And subsequently, two of the issues were introduced in the state legislature, it was a statewide office he was looking for. If nothing else, I hope to accomplish by running in this election getting some issues on the table that none of the other three parties want to even talk about. Hopefully they will address some of those issues and we'll see some action taken one way or another. Get those issues on the table, next borough president, and I'm hoping it will be me, not hoping plan that it's me, will take some action and set up that safety net because it's our neighbors that are beign injured, and find themselves in situationsthey can no longer control.

KROESSLER What are the issues that you think the Conservative, Reupblican and Democratic candidates will not want to address?

WALKER One of the things not want to address is the question of the environment. SI is blessed with the greenbelt that other boroughs simply do not have. One of the things that happens is the next great growh spurt we have over the next ten years, those wetlands and that greenspace is looking very attractive for building homes on and since homes are our major industry, that's' going to be a real hard fought battle to try to preserve that greenspace. If we rank 15th from the bottom of the list in air quailty I can tell you right now one of the things for us is it's the most effective offset for industrial pollution. We haven't invented the pollution control devices that are as effective as the trees. And if we destroy that or take it down, or the wetlands, maybe we're going to move New York closer to the top in terms of poor air quality. We're not driving up to the Poconos. Where we can escape the poor air quality we have to do everything we can to make our homes, as opposed to growth. Now I'm not opposed to growth, because growth is our industry, our only economy is building new homes, and that's how the economy is going to thrive in the future. I think I see some glimmer of economic developeent around the teleport, and that makes sense. But you've got to have the infrastructure to support the teleport, unless you invest in CUNY, to provide some programs to take advantage of the teleport. And so it has to be an integrated plan and vision and that's why more than ever by advocating to get the resources and then monitors to see where you're failing and and where you're succeeding.

KROESSLER Here's a tough one. We're all in favor of development, we're all in favor of housing. But you've got neighborhoods on Staten Island, and I've seen this happen, but you have a wonderful single family home on a single family lot, it's bulldozed and six townhouses go up, and that has an impact on traffic, and schools, and aesthetics, how can you deal with such a question?

WALKER Well, the way it's supposed to be dealt with is through the zoning ordinance, and processing the permit applications through the community boards. Unfortunately, my observation of the community boards is that the community boards are operated I a way that's disjointed, and the borough president has the capacity and ablitity to coordinate and bring all that information together the borough president is forward looking, the borough president could say, they're applying for these permits, but if they do that we're going to have all these town houses, and we didn't have before, that's going to create more traffic, more potholes, seats in the schools, and the Borough President should be the first one assembling all that data and saying look, if we're going to grant these permits then I'm going to need a commitment from the Board of Eduaction that we're going to get these schools, a commitment from the DOT that we're going to get some reinforced of the existing roads instead of some paving over so they come back, there's a major renovation hat needs to be done if we're going to move on to the next period of grownth. And the Borough President is on the hot seat coordinating it throughout the island. So what happens permit CB1, CB3, they don't have their act together, meanwhile you can't get across the Verrazao Bridge because both commut into Brooklyn and Manhattan, and I think that's where it falls down. So you need a Borough President avoid some of the pitfalls we have now. We don't have a bad borough, I love this borough, I love Staten Island, but what I'm saying is we're not full potential, because visionary that looks ahead, plans for works and does everything that gets those resources more than we have.

KROESSLER Well, we have time for one more question, since we are in a library here at the College of Staten Island, what are you reading?

WALKER For me, curently, I'm director of the masters of acounting program at Queens College, which is part of the CUNY system, I read everyday,and I use the library every other day, so for me libraries are extremely important. I go to various libraries, public libraries here on the island, this is my home, and I live in Stapleton and go to the Stapleton library, and there's no bathroom. And for an avid reader if I'm at the reference desk I have to leave to find a bathroom down the street and ask if I can use their restroom.

KROESSLER There's no bathroom in the Stapleton Public Library?

WALKER No, in fact several of the neighborhood organizations, the Mud Lane Society, have begged and pleaded with the current administration to actually all of my competition in the Borough President's race to ask, could we please have a bathroom. Travesty because we should open up the wonderful world of books, and the technology today to enhance the library resources, so uncomfortable if you don't want to spend more than a half hour or hour in the facility, what's wrong with us. It's a tragedy that we ignore our children in our schools, it's a travesty that we call public libraries. So what do I read? I read novels, from the James Michner epics to the Star Wars and I've been through , the Hobbit series, JRR Tolkein, I read mysteries, my wife is an avid mystery reader. I read biographies, so for me reading, life without reading would be kind of boiring. What am I reading right now, I'm in the process of working through Stephen King's Memoirs of a Writer, is that the title? His most recent, and I've read all of Stephen King's novels.

KROESSLER Well, thank you for coming.

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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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