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Unions Flex Their Political Muscles


Image by Ya-Hsuan Huang

Facing almost overwhelming odds in his quest to defeat Democrat John Liu and become New York City's next comptroller, Republican Joe Mendola tried a new tack last month.

"How in heaven's name is he supposed to be an independent auditor of unions and city agencies when he's so tight with them that he’s even having his victory celebration in a union hall?” Mendola said, alluding to Liu's victory celebration at the teachers union headquarters in downtown Manhattan. "There's a conflict of interest there that screams at voters."

Scream it may but New Yorkers have become accustomed to the roar. Labor has long helped boost politicians in New York. Union endorsements bring financial donations and members to staff phone banks and ring doorbells. And this year, labor has seemed particularly powerful as candidates backed by key unions and the Working Families Party, which includes many of the city's more progressive unions, managed to topple sitting City Council members -- an almost unheard of feat in New York City -- and win the Democratic nominations for public advocate and comptroller.

These victories, along with a campaign finance law that exempts unions from key restrictions, have sparked renewed debate about labor's role in city politics and government. While most candidates embrace union support, critics see organized workers -- particularly public employees -- as having too much influentce over public policy.

"Largely because of the union lock on pols, City Hall and Albany ignored Recession Economics 101 and raised taxes by a combined $13 billion this year," Michael Goodwin recently complained in the Daily News.

But Democratic public advocate candidate Bill de Blasio, who received more money from unions and their political action committees than any other citywide candidate this year, takes a different view. "A lot of what government is supposed to be doing is improving the lives of working people," he said.

Winning Efforts

The Working Families Party by no means has support of all unions, and it includes other groups such as ACORN as well. That said, the party has very strong ties to unions, and it had a particularly strong showing on Sept. 15 and 29.

De Blasio, the party's choice for public advocate, and Liu, its pick for comptroller, each best out three formidable opponents to win the Democratic nomination. Its mayoral choice, William Thompson Jr., won his primary. The party provided support to three challengers who ousted incumbent City Council members: Jumaane Williams, Daniel Dromm and Deborah Rose. It also backed but did not actively work for Fernando Cabrera, who kicked the Bronx's Maria Baez out of office. Its candidates also captured the Democratic nominations for two open seats in Brooklyn and one each in Queens and Manhattan.

Of course, the party lost some contests, notably the Manhattan district attorney's race, where its candidate, Richard Aborn, lost to Cyrus Vance Jr. Its effort to topple two more Brooklyn incumbents -- Diana Reyna and Albert Vann -- as did its choices for two other open seats in Queens.

Labor's success extended beyond the Working Families Party. In both citywide races, the candidates with the most union money -- de Blasio and Liu -- won. On the other end, David Yassky, who had virtually no union support, lost to Liu in the runoff by a wide margin.

Following the Money

New York is the nation's most unionized state with just shy of 25 percent of the workforce belonging to a union, far above the national rate of 12.4 percent, accordingto the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Among public employees in the state, 69 percent are union members.

So far this election cycle, unions have given about $375,000 to candidates for office in New York City. Many unions that represent public employees -- such as the United Federation of Teachers, the Uniformed Firefighters Association and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees -- gave thousands of dollars to their preferred candidates. The city's largest municipal workers union, DC37, donated at least $14,890.

Candidates collected a total of about $94,000 from 1199 of the Service Employees International Union, many of whose members rely directly on government programs, especially Medicaid, for their jobs. Unions representing private employees, such as the communication workers, the retail workers, the food and commercial workers and the hotel workers, also made campaign donations.

This year marked the onset of the city's new campaign finance law, passed in 2007, which restricts contributions by lobbyists and businesses that do business with the city but does not put any similar restriction on campaign donations from unions -- such as DC37.

"It was a piece of legislation that unions had crafted so they wouldn't be treated the way corporations would be treated," said Gene Russianoff, senior attorney for the New York Public Interest Research Group.

Prior to the law, donations from groups doing business with the city far outpaced those from labor unions. In the 2001 and 2005 election cycles, for example, "doing business" firms gave about $25 million to citywide candidates, while unions gave a relatively paltry $4.1 million, according to an analysis by the New York Times.

Russianoff said it is not yet clear what impact the new law -- and its exemption for unions -- had on this year's election. He said the Campaign Finance Board will review that after the November election.

Whatever the board and other analysts find, though, Russianoff does not expect further restrictions on union money. Asked if a limit similar to the one on businesses was likely anytime soon, Russianoff said, "In a word, no."

Union help goes beyond the power of the purse, though. "The real strength unions have is the ability to mobilize members," said Russianoff. "Corporations don't have that."

The Working Families Party, for example, has said that leading up to the Sept. 15 primary, it knocked on 227,928 doors and talked to 62,112 voters -- not bad for an election in which only around 350,000 people voted.

Last Month's Results

In races that people know little about -- their district City Council's contest, for example -- an endorsement can serve as a quick signal of where a candidate stands. Dan Cantor, executive director of the Working Families Party, said he hoped that last month's victories indicate "that people support our view that everyone deserves a chance at a decent, meaningful life."

Many of the contests hinged on individual circumstances. The "lingering effect of term limits" played a role, according to Cantor, contributing to defeats of City Council members who voted to extend them. And, he said, many of the winners were "good candidates with a good message and hard work behind that."

The low turnout probably helped the union-backed candidates since only the most motivated citizens -- many, no doubt, union members or their families -- turned out at the polls. By one estimate, DC37 may have 4,000 to 5,000 members in City Council District 45 in East Flatbush. The unions' preferred candidate, Jumaane Williams, won that race by about 1,100 votes.

Working Class History

Unions have long wielded influence in New York politics. "Mayor LaGuardia never could have been mayor without labor's support," said Joshua Freeman, a professor of history at Queens College. In his book, Working Class New York," Freeman describes the city in the 1940s as a place where union activists played a key role in creating a kind of "New York exceptionalism... a local polity that during coming decades came to symbolize the best or worse of urban liberalism, depending upon one's point of view."

During that time, unions helped to preserve rent regulation for most of the city's housing stock and worked successfully to maintain low transit fares, keep the City University tuition free and expand municipal services. By the 1960s and the mayoralty of Robert Wagner, "New York labor reached a zenith of power," Freeman wrote. "Organized labor wielded its influence in ways unrivaled in the city's history to make working-class life more pleasant and secure."

Gradually that began to change. That power became a victim of demographic changes in the city, the bitter divisions wrought by the 1968 teacher's strike, the fiscal crisis of the 1970s and New York's growth from a working class city to more of a global financial capital.

Even considering last month's victories, Freeman does not think labor has the power it once did. "It has less of decisive effect than it did in earlier years" when labor could sway bigger things, like the mayoral race, he said.

Steven Malanga, the senior editor of City Journal, published by the Manhattan Institute, puts it more harshly. "What matters in defining New York is the mayor's office," he wrote recently in the New York Post. "By contrast, the comptroller is essentially an auditor with little policy-making clout, while the public advocate's job is so ill-defined it might as well be called 'the public appendix'" and City Council members "spend their days on constituent service or in committee meetings."

Voter, Supporter, Employee

Limited as labor's clout may be, last month's election has prompted alarm in some circles and a flurry of agitated newspaper opinion articles.

"The Real Estate Board has gone crazy," said Cantor. "They think the barbarians are at the gates."

Many of those expressing alarm cite a fundamental change between the union powerhouses of 50 years ago and those of today. Now, the strongest unions represent public employees. When their members go to the polls, they are, in essence, electing their bosses -- the people they will have to negotiate with at the bargaining table.

Public sector unions, Fred Seigel and Dan DiSalvo recently wrote in the Weekly Standard, "can achieve influence on both sides of the bargaining table by making campaign contributions and organizing get-out-the-vote drives to elect politicians who then control the negotiations over their pay, benefits, and work rules. The result is a nefarious cycle: Politicians agree to generous government worker contracts; those workers then pay higher union dues a portion of which are funneled back into those same politicians' campaign war chests. It is a cycle that has driven California and New York to the edge of bankruptcy."

In contrast with the unions of the mid 20th century, Freeman said, today's unions have a narrower priority: their collective bargaining position with the city. But, according to Freeman, public employee unions are hardly alone in using political activity to pursue parochial goals. "It's not a whole lot different from other politically active groups," he said. "Real estate interests don't tend to get involved in education."

Spheres of Influence

Photo by Courtney Gross
Union supporters for Bill Thompson

The power of these public employee unions -- whether good or bad -- is unmistakable. It is evident in the campaign finance bill's exemption of unions and in the debate over reducing pensions for public employees, cutting government programs and a myriad of other issues large and small.

Carol Kellermann, president of the Citizens Budget Commission, a private watchdog group, said that union influence shows up most clearly in efforts to control spending.

"If you look at spending and what state and local government spend money on," she said, citing education, Medicare, public employee salaries, "in every one of those areas there are organized public employees."

On pension reductions, she said, the union's power makes it "very, very difficult to achieve change... and even to discuss it rationally."

"Everybody else would benefit from these changes," Kellermann said, "but they aren't organized."

The city and state's fiscal problems do pose a major challenge, Cantor said. "It is very difficult to sustain vibrant public sector when the private sector is under such stress," he said. But he said the Working Families Party and its union supporters reject the idea that the way out of our fiscal problems is "to make public sector lives as difficult as private sector lives."

The Fine Print

While the Working Families Party, with some 20 groups, may take that kind of broad view, individual unions can get down to very specific issues. Take the United Federation of Teachers whose contract has been widely assailed as a collection of minutiae about what teachers can and cannot do.

Currently the city and the union are behind closed doors hammering out a new agreement. One issue allegedly in play are rules for teachers considered unqualified to teach. But, even though Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein have complained about the contract, many experts do not expectthem to do much to change it.

The teachers, considered one the most powerful unions in the city, have not endorsed in the mayor's race so far. And that could indicate a deal in the works.

Bloomberg persuaded the union to support mayoral control of schools and wants the union to "at the very least not endorse Bill Thompson" for mayor, according to Sol Stern of the Manhattan Institute. In return for that, Stern said, Bloomberg has a powerful incentive to give the teachers a raise and keep the contract basically as is, and ignore work rules he complained about in the past. (Neither side is publicly discussing the negotiations.)

"There has been a grand compact, a grand accommodation," Stern said recently.

Disagreements Among Friends

Unions and the candidates they support deny that politicians who get union support are required to toe the labor line.

De Blasio said he has worked closely with unions over the years and understands their concerns. But, he said, "that does not mean I always agree with them by any stretch." For example he said, when he served on a community school board in Brooklyn, he disagreed with the teachers union on work rules. He said his support for a strong police Civilian Complaint Review Board was at odds with positions taken by various law enforcement unions and that the sanitation workers had concerns about his bill requiring recycling of electronic waste.

"All public servants represent a broad range of issues and try to determine what good public policy is," he said. "You can't go by who supported you in the last election."

Some detect a whiff of sour grapes among some politicians who now seem to be distancing themselves from unions and the Working Families Party.

Responding to criticism of his many union endorsements, Jumaane Williams said, "I don't know why unions are bad all of a sudden... Every candidate took hours out of their day to seek the same endorsements."

During a candidate debate, Yassky indicated his position on pension reform -- he has said he would be open to cutting pension benefits for newly hired city employees -- might have cost him union support. "What I haven't done is tell anyone what they wanted to hear," Yassky said. "I'm sure there have been political consequences."

Following his defeat, Yassky co-authored an op-ed piece with former Mayor Ed Koch deriding the influence of the Working Families Party. "The problem," they wrote, "is that the WFP is driven not simply by ideology, but also by the very specific interests of its component parts -- namely, the city's largest labor unions. These organizations have a very direct financial stake in the state and city budgets, an interest that is often at odds with the public interest."

Whatever the merits of their argument, the column elicited a cynical reaction among some political insiders who noted that Yassky had sought the Working Families Party and union endorsements himself at various times in his career.

On to November

With the primaries over in this overwhelmingly Democratic city, many unions have already accomplished their key political goals for the 2009 elections. The mayoral election still looms, though, with labor divided. Democrat Thompson has managed to pick up the Working Families Party and DC37 endorsement, along with backing from the Communication Workers, the Uniformed Firefighters and the Transport Workers, among others. Thompson has received almost $41,000 from unions and many thousands more from union political action committees. Despite that, questions remain as to how hard some of these groups will fight for Thompson.

Bloomberg also has some union backing, including from the Building and Construction Trades. And then there are groups, notably the teachers, who remain on the sidelines, at least publicly.

Like the candidates in last month's primary, Bloomberg and Thompson are courting labor votes -- and each campaign puts out a press release when it bags a thumbs up from one group or another. What the announcement does not include is what, if anything, the candidate promised in exchange for that support.

Stated Meeting: Graffiti Cleanup and Rezoning Sunset Park


Photo (cc) GREDELEGRE

 

You want graffiti erased from your storefront?

The City Council on Wednesday approved legislation to make it easier for residents and business owners to have graffiti removed from their properties -– gratis -- by the city.

In addition, the council approved a 128-block rezoning of the Sunset Park section of Brooklyn.

Graffiti Be Gone

In order to remove graffiti from private property now, the city must obtain a waiver from the property owner.

Under the legislation (Intro 1042), which was approved by a vote of 44 to 2, the city will paint over graffiti unless the owner objects –- essentially reversing the current practice. Anyone who wants to keep the graffiti on the property must alert the city within 35 days.

“This system now will help the majority of the property owners in the city of New York get graffiti removed from their property free of charge, but it gives those New Yorkers, who for whatever reason want to keep the graffiti on their property, the option of keeping it on their property,” said Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

Owners who get a letter from the city alerting them to graffiti and who do not respond would effectively be giving the city the go-ahead to clean it up. This way, said Councilmember Gale Brewer, who sponsored the bill, the city can clean up graffiti quickly and more efficiently by painting blocks at a time.

Councilmembers Erik Martin Dilan and Helen Foster voted against the bill.

Sunset Park

Nestled between Park Slope and Bay Ridge, Sunset Park has been the home of row houses, a large Hispanic population and what many call “Brooklyn’s Chinatown.”

Sprinkled with industry, like the Brooklyn Army Terminal, the neighborhood started to feel pressure from developers once its surrounding communities were rezoned to prevent overdevelopment, said Councilmember Sara Gonzalez, who represents the area.

Under the existing zoning, according to the City Council, there was no limit on building heights in much of the neighborhood. Under the new zoning approved by the City Council by a vote of 44 to 2, buildings would be limited to about five or six stories along streets and six to seven stories along portions of Fifth Avenue and all of Sixth Avenue. Councilmembers Charles Barron and Tony Avella voted against the rezoning.

The rezoning also includes an inclusionary housing option, which would allow developers to build larger buildings if they provide affordable housing.

Despite the current limitations, or lack thereof, the rezoning has been controversial. Residents claim it will lead to large luxury developments, which promise to displace the area's lower-income residents and small businesses.

The South Brooklyn Legal Services and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund have filed a lawsuit on behalf of some residents over the rezoning. The city did not factor in all of the rezoning's effects, including how it could change the socioeconomic character of the community, said Bethany Li, an attorney with the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

“The Department of City Planning hasn't fully revealed the true impact of the rezoning,” said Li. “They don't consider people. They don't consider small businesses in the neighborhood. They don't look at all at the potential change in the socioeconomic conditions.”

Gonzalez says differently.

“Community Board 7 passed this unanimously. The borough president has given his stamp of approval,” said Gonzalez. “This plan is the community's plan.”

Schools and the MTA Communicate

The council also unanimously approved legislation (Intro 951-A) that requires the Department of Education to file student enrollment information with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority so the authority can better utilize its bus routes.

The Next Round


Photo (cc) kate.gardiner

The turnout in last Tuesday's primary probably hit a record low, with only 11 percent of registered Democrats making their way to the polling place. Next week, many experts agree, an even smaller number will vote in the runoff election to select New York's next public advocate and comptroller. No one can be sure, however, who those voters will be -- and what will influence their decision.

The two citywide races share some common trajectories. The tone of the contests, though, has been markedly different: The public advocate candidates lob charges at each other, while the comptroller candidates profess their friendship.

In both, four major candidates vied for the Democratic nomination for a citywide post. In neither case did anyone get the 40 percent needed for outright victory.

As a result, next Tuesday, City Councilmember Bill de Blasio will face off against former Public Advocate Mark Green for public advocate, and City Council members John Liu and David Yassky will compete for city comptroller.

In both races, the outcome "is going to come down to organization and turnout. That was the lesson of [last] week's primary," said Kenneth Sherrill, a professor emeritus at Hunter College.

The winners of both races will face opposition in November, but -- in these races in this city -- the Democratic nominee can probably look forward to four years in the municipal building.

PUBLIC ADVOCATE

One week into the public advocate runoff and it's already getting nasty.

De Blasio slammed Green Thursday for going negative (despite the fact he was very critical of Green during the last few weeks of the primary campaign). Standing outside the municipal building downtown accepting the endorsement of Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, de Blasio slammed Green for attacking him.

"I'm troubled when a desperate candidate comes up with spurious charges, and that's all he seems to have for a campaign," de Blasio said, surrounded by supporters, including borough presidents Scott Stringer and Marty Markowitz. "Everything I've done in public life has been done with a tremendous respect for ethics and the law."

He continued, "Mark at this point is throwing out every stray accusation he can find, and it's unfortunate. People don't want to talk about that. They want to talk about issues, like the future of our schools, like how to create affordable housing, how to create jobs in the middle of a recession."

But, at least for now, that's not what these two candidates are talking about. Two hours after de Blasio's criticism, Green ripped into de Blasio. Standing behind posters that showed de Blasio's name with dollar signs (de Bla$io), Green said a group closely linked to the Working Families Party, which enthusiastically backs de Blasio, had hired de Blasio as a consultant in 2006 and paid him $33,000.

"If a lobbyist for the Working Families Party comes to visit Councilman de Blasio, how can he claim to be independent?" Green asked rhetorically.

A day before, Green had slammed de Blasio for receiving campaign contributions from members of nonprofit groups he had given discretionary funding to at the City Council.

Green wants to paint the race as a contest between a consumer advocate versus a party insider.

"The proper frame of this public advocate campaign is who can voters trust based on their experience, their vision and their ethics?" Green asked. "When you put together his two documented conflicts of interest, participating as he does in the slush fund and getting personal income from a registered lobbyist, I think we have to conclude that he's an ethically challenged political insider."

Frontrunner to Underdog

Judging by Tuesday's results, Green needs to catch up. Surprising some, de Blasio ended up beating Green in last week's primary by more than 6,000 votes -- a lot when voter turnout is anemic.

Turnout for the runoff is expected to be even lower -- about 150,000 voters by some campaign estimates. So with two candidates out and many fewer voters to fight over, the remaining two candidates are racing to the runoff swinging. Each has a couple of weapons in their corners: De Blasio has the ever-organized Working Families Party and their practically impenetrable get-out-the-vote operation, while Green has his history as public advocate and name recognition in every borough.

"De Blasio, he surprised," said Doug Muzzio, professor at Baruch College. "Green was expected to come in first. He didn't break 40 [percent], and Bill beat him. That may signal the name recognition advantage may be topped out."

The Green Team vs. the Working Families Party

Some give an edge to de Blasio. The Working Families Party backing, along with the endorsement of the New York Times, could "probably give de Blasio a leg up," said Sherrill.

While the party endorsed many candidates, its executive director Dan Cantor has described de Blasio as its "marquee candidate."

That enthusiastic support highlights an intricate web of connections between de Blasio and the Working Families Party, which have led to some controversy.

De Blasio's campaign has paid Data and Field Services, a for-profit operation the Campaign Finance Board has said is virtually indistinguishable from the party, more than $90,000, according to the New York Times. In addition, the paper reported, three Working Families staff members started working for the de Blasio campaign in June. Earlier this year, de Blasio made a $10,000 contribution to the party.

The Losers' Blessings

To some, this race will revolve around whoever can snag the endorsement and support of the defeated public advocate candidates, Councilmember Eric Gioia and civil rights attorney Norman Siegel, and whether the "Green Team" can beat the Working Families Party. Siegel did not garner any major endorsements, but he does have a large, and loyal, base. If he decided to weigh in, that could sway those voters.

Gioia, on the other hand, did have institutional support. He had all of Queens County behind him as well as some of the city's major unions, including the Sergeants, Captains and Lieutenants Benevolent Associations and the Uniformed Fire Officers Association. Now all of that influence is in play.

De Blasio has also demonstrated his ability to fundraise. According to the latest campaign finance filings, de Blasio was able to raise three times as much as Green for the primary. He received almost double the amount in public financing as well. Throughout this year's race, Green has struggled to keep up.

On Friday, de Blasio received $443,431 in public funds, while Green got $239,658.

The next time these two candidates are scheduled to meet is for an official runoff debate on Wednesday. De Blasio has challenged Green to a series of 10 debates.

When asked last week whether that would materialize, Green made a yawning motion and said it would be up to their respective staffs to coordinate.

"I look forward to several debates, and then I believe he will be forced to answer questions," Green said. "What do you do with the money?" he asked referring to de Blasio's outside income.

All in all, one bet is safe for this public advocate race: You can say goodbye to the issues and hello to mudslinging.

THE COMPTROLLER

So far, personal attacks have largely been absent from the race to be the city chief financial officer. The only candidate who edged into negative campaigning, City Councilmember David Weprin, came in fourth in last week's election.

That all could change, of course, but for now Liu and Yassky seem to be maintaining their decorum.

"Dave Yassky and I have been friends for a long time," Liu said Thursday. "We work together, and this campaign is about issues. It's about our qualifications and our visions for both the comptroller's office and New York City."

Describing the runoff as "a clear choice between two candidates," Yassky said, "I'm going to focus on talking about the record of accomplishment and the vision of the office that each of the candidates bring."

At least in first few days of the runoff campaign each candidate steered clear of some of the charges that had been raised against the other. Liu did not stress Yassky's support of term limits or his previous unsuccessful runs for other offices. Yassky did not bring up allegations that Liu has misrepresented his childhood and exaggerated his account of working in a sweatshop.

The candidates do differ on some issues. In a debate earlier this campaign season, Liu said he would support raising the income tax on the richest New Yorkers to solve the city's fiscal crunch. Yassky has ruled out tax hikes and said he would cut waste and unnecessary programs. Yassky is open to reducing pension benefits for new city workers by adding a new pension tier. Liu would seek any savings in pension costs through collective bargaining. Liu vigorously opposed the extension of term limits. Yassky eventually voted for the extension. In the council and the campaign, Liu has been more critical of the Bloomberg administration than Yassky.

Their support reflects those differences.

Liu has backing from a number of unions, including the Service Employees, Transport Workers Union, the United Federation of Teachers and the Working Families Party. Like de Blasio, he has given money to the party, but unlike him, Liu has not hired Data and Field Services. He also seems to have made a particular effort to attract backing from black and Latino public officials.

In his bid to become New York's first Asian citywide elected official, Liu has amassed a lot of Asian support. His campaign finance filing shows many Asian names, with people often identified as being owner or president of a business and with many from outside the city.

On a day when Asians won an unprecedented three City Council primaries and Liu got 38 percent of the vote, 84 percent of Asians voted for Liu, according to an exit poll by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

On other hand, as of Friday afternoon, Yassky had no union support other than the freelancers union and the musicians union. He did have support from his former boss, Sen. Charles Schumer, who has appeared in television ads for him, and many Brooklyn politicians. He has fared extremely well with the city's newspapers, picking up the endorsements of the Times, the News and Crain's, which said "his view of city government is closer to that of the New York business community than the other candidates’ positions are." He also received the backing of some weekly papers.

Liu has the backing of the Queens, Staten Island and Bronx parties; Yassky has Manhattan's and Brooklyn's.

Overall Liu has raised more money in individual contributions than Yassky -- $2.9 million compared to just shy of $2 million, but, because so many of Liu's contributions came from outside the city, many did not qualify for the public match. So Yassky did better there: $1.8 million versus slightly over $1 million for Liu. Because the candidate gets an amount equivalent to 25 percent of their previous public match for the runoff, that gives Yassky some additional funds.

On Friday, Liu received $270,044 in matching funds, while Yassky got $448,503.

All that money -- and particularly how it is spent -- could make a big difference, according to Weprin. "There is a lot of money that can be spent in a short period of time," Weprin said. "Let's assume they will spend 1.5 in 10 days. That's a lot of saturation. It may encourage prime voters to come out."

The Power of the Press -- or the Party?

"It will be the New York Times versus the Working Families Party," said political consultant Hank Sheinkopf, whose firm worked for Weprin in the primary. "If Manhattan comes out big, as usual in runoffs, Yassky wins. Otherwise, he said, Liu could come out on top.

As to whether Asian voters could tip the balance, Sheinkopf said, "In a smaller universe overall, smaller universes become more important."

Sherrill sees the Working Families Party as perhaps edging out the Times, although he said, "Those habitual voters who turn out read the New York Times."

Meanwhile, both candidates have rolled out more endorsements. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke -- who defeated Yassky for her congressional seat in 2006 --announced their backing for Liu on Friday. Gotbaum is expected to declare her support today.

While Weprin has not yet decided if he will endorse Yassky, Liu or neither one, Yassky won the support of Councilmember Melinda Katz, who came in third on Tuesday.

In her statement, she said, "We can count on [Yassky] to bring honesty and integrity to the Office of Comptroller and to be a trustworthy custodian of the city's books. We can count on him to turn over every stone when it comes to shedding light on the waste and inefficiency throughout government. And we can count on him to make smart investments with our pension dollars that catalyze job growth in key industries."

Then, referring to Yassky's conduct during the campaign, Katz said, "Above all else, he was a gentleman."

Now that's a word we're unlikely to hear in the public advocate race.



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