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Will Angry Voters Throw Albany's Rascals Out?


Sen. Pedro Espada
Photo Office of Sen. Pedro Espada
State Sen Pedro Espada, shown here on his way to a 2009 rally, is one of the few incumbents facing serious challengers.

"Throw the bums out." It seemed so simple at first. Mayor Ed Koch didn't coin the phrase, but he used it to greatest effect in last fall when he announced his plans to spearhead a coalition to challenge all Albany incumbents. The chaos and disgrace of the state Senate coup still hung in the air, and everyone was mad as hell. Or so Koch and others thought.

Koch explained his plans at the annual dinner of Citizens Union in October of last year. A number of Albany incumbents were in attendance, including Sen. Frank Padavan and Sen. Liz Kruger. But it didn't stop Koch from announcing that everyone in Albany needed to go. He pledged that his group would find and back legitimate challengers to as many Albany incumbents as possible.

"The good aren't good enough, and the bad are evil," he said during subsequent interviews. "The good may be good, but they haven't been willing to stand up. They show no spine."

But things have changed since then. Koch's NY Uprising, which features Citizens Union executive director Dick Dadey and former city parks commissioner Henry Stern at its head, is not pointing a sword at every incumbent. Why? Some say it is because Koch's collaborators have friends in Albany they don't want to hurt, others say there are incumbents who truly work for change, and others still say finding legitimate challengers to entrenched incumbents is no easy feat.

In fact a 2009 Citizens Union study found that from 1999 to 2009 only 25 legislators seeking office lost their re-election bids. During that same period, 54 legislators left office for another office, 31 retired to work in the public sector, 14 left due to ethical misconduct and 8 to redistricting and 7 died. (Citizens Union is the sister organization of Gotham Gazette's publisher.)

Dadey says NY Uprising never intended to challenge all incumbents. "New York Uprising was never about throwing all the incumbents out," said Dadey. "That was Ed Koch's rallying cry to bring about reform. It was never the intent of the group, just the strategy to start discussion about reform."

What Better Time Than Now?

This September and November constituents will have the chance to express their rage over Albany dysfunction, coups, scandals, lies, broken promises, inaction, late budgets, campaign finance violations, taxes and all sorts of other sleaze by voting against the incumbent.

Whatever the millions of New Yorkers decide to do, the stakes are high. The Democrats hold the Senate majority by a thread, which has stymied much action this year, and there is no question that things could change if Republicans take control of the body or if Democrats solidify their grasp. If and how the Senate shifts could have enormous influence on key issues such as state spending, tenant issues and government reform. If the Democrats keep -- or increase -- their majority in the Senate they could have firm grip on the redistricting process, building the foundation for Democratic dominance for years to come.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic nominee for governor, seems to be on his way to being anointed despite the large, very public failings of the last two Democratic governors -- not to mention his tendency to hide from the tough questions. The attorney general's office is up for grabs as Democrats battle it out to face the Republican nominee Daniel Donovan, and surprisingly weak Democratic State Comptroller Thomas DiNpoli faces Republican nominee Harry Wilson. The Assembly, where Democrats enjoy a super-duper majority, is not expected to flip to Republican but Republicans do expect to win seats.

The anti-incumbent mood is clear, the stakes are high, all the marbles are on the table and yet it doesn't quite feel like it.

"One dynamic going on in the macro view is we have a state that has long been becoming more Democratic," said Baruch College Professor Doug Muzzio. "They [Democrats] have a strong state ticket with Cuomo at the head. The Assembly will remain Democratic, with some seats possibly going to the Republicans, and the Senate is a toss-up. On the micro level, despite what I just said, all politics are local. I know all the constituents are telling pollsters they are ticked off and willing to toss out their own guy, but you need MOM to win -- money, organization and message. They [challengers] have the message, 'Throw the bums out!' but they don't have the organization or the money. You can have all the anger in the world but without money and organization you aren't going to have challengers."

"I think some incumbents will go down and they should go down," said Dadey. "I wish we could challenge more anti-reform legislators but the system is built to prevent it, that is why we need redistricting reform and election reform."

To reflect that, NY Uprising has moved from challenging incumbents to demanding that candidates sign a pledge to help bring about those reforms. Those who do sign get to use an Uprising seal of approval and a canned endorsement from Koch. He says he will soon be campaigning on their behalf as well. The others will face Koch's wrath.

So far, according to Mark Botnick of NY Uprising, 120 politicians have signed the pledge including Pedro Espada, the Senate majority leader, who is facing a huge civil action for looting his own nonprofit, is under a criminal investigation and has been charged with consistently flouting campaign finance rules and residency requirements. He appears on Koch's site as a "Hero of Reform."

Where the Challengers Are

That’s not to say there aren't any challengers in the city. A handful of Democratic Assembly members will face Republican challengers in November, and so some of those seats could switch from Democrat to Republican this year.

Even some Democratic Senators could have to battle tough primary challengers.

Sen. Carl Kruger of Brooklyn , who has often broken with his party and who now is reportedly the target of an FBI corruption investigation, has a primary opponent in Igor Oberman, a Russian-American attorney. Kruger has dismissed the challenger. "I don't know of one organization, one issue, one scintilla of community involvement he can lay claim to," Kruger told a local blog. "I'm Carl Kruger. I'm the state senator."

In Harlem, Sen. Bill Perkins, who has angered charter school advocates, is facing Basil Smikle, who is backed by those angry advocates.

Perkins said he feels invigorated by the contest. He said he expects to use the opportunity to talk up his stance on education and the work he has done on public authorities and eminent domain reform. "I see this as a blessing," he said. "I get to talk about my ideas and share them with the community. And I can listen to them and see what I can be doing better."

Smikle is also excited. "I've run into other challengers on the trail and there they are excited because there really is a chance to talk about the issues now," said Smikle, "and that is really refreshing."

Smikle says that he feels voter frustration and resentment when he is out campaigning in the subway but he knows he won't be able to ride anger alone to victory. "You need proper funding to win, and there isn't a lot of money out their for challengers. Anger can get you to 49 percent but you need a candidate who constituents like and trust to get to 51."

Espada, who orchestrated the coup, is facing a number of challengers. Whether he and the other incumbents will face a real fight remains to be seen. But Espada has been acting as though he does.

He has been politicking in the community as never before. But at the same time, his three possible primary challengers could divide the anti-Espada vote. "If they had a single challenger to Espada they could channel the anger that exists, but with three they will split the vote," said Muzzio.

Sens. Shirley Huntley and Toby Ann Stavisky are also facing possibly tough primary contests.

Perhaps as notable as the state senators facing challengers are those who are not. The Democratic Senate leadership, Sens. Malcolm Smith and John Sampson, have no Democratic opponents even though they both have been linked to allegation of scandal surrounding the bidding for the Aqueduct Racino contract. Smith has been accused of other improprieties as well and also came under fire for being an ineffectual if not outright inept leader during the Senate coup. Sen. Kevin Parker, who faces assault charges for allegedly punching a New York Post photographer and who has had a number of verbal tantrums in the Capitol has no primary opponent. Parker has previously fended off two serious challenges by candidates -- including one backed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

GOP Prospects

So if many Democrats aren't facing forceful challenges Democrats in New York, a city that enjoys a 5 to 1 Democratic registration advantage, can Republicans do any better?

Not this year, says Muzzio, "I've said it before. The Republicans aren't just missing a bench -- they don't have a team."

Experts say there is likely only one true intra-party contest in the city --the race between Republican incumbent Sen. Frank Padavan and Tony Avella. Padavan managed to squeak by with the narrowest of victories in 2008, even though his opponent, City Councilmember James Gennaro, had little backing from the Democratic organization. Sen. Joe Addabo is also expected to face a respectable challenge from former City Councilmember Anthony Como.

New York State Republican Party chairman Ed Cox is optimistic when it comes to Assembly races in the city, but he admits the real action for the Senate -- and the possibility that it would switch back to Republican control -- rests in races in Long Island, Upstate and Western New York. "I think we could pick up 10 Assembly seats in the city. We picked up three council seats last year. People don't want a one-party government, even in New York City, where the registration is 5 to 1 Democrat."

There are a number of seats of particular interest to Cox in Queens. Cox says he thinks Vincent Tabone has a good chance of defeating whatever Democrat emerges from the four-way Democratic primary in Assembly District 46. Assemblyman David Weprin is facing a challenge from Republican Bob Freidrich and Cox likes Friedirch's chances.

Cox, who has been criticized for backing then Democrat Steve Levy in his abortive bid for the Republican nomination for governor against assumed Republican nominee Rick Lazio, said that there are few highly contested Democratic primaries because the Democratic leadership has a grasp on who gets money and who gets party support.

"The Democrats are running this from the top down. Take Gillibrand for example; when someone tries to challenge her they are discouraged. Schumer likes having that one vote in his pocket. DiNapoli survived because Shelly [Silver] wants to make sure he has his comptroller installed."

Challengers have only a few more days to get on the ballot. If they succeed they will have little time to build themselves into real threats, raise money, generate a support base and create an agenda. Some of them may very well do it, and if Koch is right, this could be the best time to ever be a challenger in New York politics. "There will never be for another 100 years the same kind of environment that we have today that would help us succeed -- that is, the disgust people have toward Albany,” he told the New York Times.

As Voter Turnout Dwindles, Some Look to a Tiny Agency for Help


plling place

The 2009 city election in New York yielded the lowest voter turnout for a mayoral race since 1969 -- only 26 percent of the city's 4.1 million registered voters showed up to cast a ballot for mayor in 2009, down from 33 percent in 2005. Even in 2008, with interest piqued by the presidential election, New York state ranked eighth to last in a state-by-state measure of voter participation among eligible citizens and fifth to last in voter registration.

The New York City Charter Revision Commission has been considering various ideas to increase voter participation, including nonpartisan elections, which Mayor Michael Bloomberg tried, without success, to get voters to approve in 2003. Speakers offered other suggestions at a hearing last month, including changing the city election calendar and implementing early voting.

Unbeknownst to many New Yorkers, though, a small, nonpartisan slice of city government called the Voter Assistance Commission already is charged with going out and encouraging people to register to vote. As voter turnout and registration continue to decline in the city, some say the charter commission should look to bolster the role of this tiny government body.

"If you look at the mission of VAC as put in the charter in 1989, I think you could say that it probably has not fulfilled that mission," said Marjorie Shea, elections specialist for the good-government group Women's City Club of New York, "mainly because in the last 20 years they were very under-funded and still are."

The Commission's Role

With only three full-time employees and the occasional intern, the Voter Assistance Commission has barely enough staff to effectively carry out its existing initiatives, let alone take on new ones.

Established as part of sweeping changes to the city's charter in 1988, the Voter Assistance Commission is responsible for identifying under-registered segments of the city's population and enabling eligible residents to register and vote. It is intended to serve as a bridge between city government and the voters.

"If there were ever a commission that was person to person … it's the Voter Assistance Commission," said Jane Kalmus, vice chair of the commission.

The commission compiles an annual guide to city elected officials and spearheads Voter Awareness Month, a citywide outreach campaign before the primaries each fall. Its newest initiative is the Youth Poet Laureate Program, which organizes annual spoken-word competitions on promoting voter awareness. The winner works with the commission to help educate young voters.

The city charter also calls for the commission to offer an urban equivalent of sorts to the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, or "motor-voter" law, which requires states to provide drivers renewing or getting licenses with the option of registering to vote. In an effort to serve non-driving New Yorkers, the city in 2000 passed Local Law 29 -- also known as the Pro-Voter Law -- giving the Voter Assistance Commission the authority to oversee voter registration efforts at community boards and various city agencies.

Since Mayor Ed Koch's charter revision commission created the Voter Assistance Commission, successive administrations have significantly weakened it. The agency went without an executive director for about six years under the Giuliani administration, Kalmus said, and had no chair, a position that must be filled by the mayor, for about four years. Subjected to repeated cuts, the commission had a budget of only $150,000 when Mayor Michael Bloomberg took office in 2001.

Successive mayors also refused to require that city agencies fulfill their legal obligation to actively register voters, said David Jones, president of the Community Service Society of New York, an organization that promotes civic participation for low-income New Yorkers.

According to Jones, about 800,000 people in New York City, or 15 percent of the electorate, are eligible to vote but not registered. These people are predominantly low-income or members of minority communities, he said. Jones thinks the commission could be a valuable vehicle through which to address the problem -- but only if it were strengthened.

"It's so tamped down that people have given up on it," Jones said.

While it is nonpartisan, the commission exists partially under the mayor's office. This, according to Jones, "puts it in the hand of people who have a vested interest in seeing it not work." Increased voter registration, he said, means difficulties for incumbents, who are comfortable with the electorate that voted them into office and not eager to contend with new, unfamiliar voters.

Creating a Stronger VAC

Other advocates agree that the commission, fundamentally handicapped by its lack of resources and of independence, needs to be bolstered. Various good-government groups, including the New York Public Interest Research Group, the Women's City Club and Citizens Union (whose sister organization publishes Gotham Gazette) have come up with proposals on how the charter revision process could strengthen the commission.

Some would like to see structural changes, such as having officials other than the mayor -- borough presidents or the comptroller, perhaps -- appoint some members. Other suggestions include more efforts to educate voters, legal staff to monitor federal voting laws, efforts to streamline city agency compliance with motor voter act and requiring the commission to issue an annual report on voter registration in the city.

Another significant proposed change would set the commission's budget as a fixed proportion of the city's Board of Elections budget; still another would merge the Voter Assistance Commission with the Campaign Finance Board. The two organizations collaborate to create a Video Voter Guide for every municipal election. Transcripts from the video are translated into other languages and made available to the public.

Kalmus agreed that changes need to be made.

Working with the Board of Elections

The main responsibility for running elections in the city lies with the Board of Elections, an agency that has been the target of sharp criticism from Bloomberg and others. Given that, some advocacy groups, including NYPIRG, would like to see the commission given "clearer responsibilities to ... oversee the work of the board."

The focus on bolstering the commission's role as it relates to the board comes as the city gears up to switch from the lever-operated voting machines that it has used since the beginning of the 20th century to a new, optical-scanning system.

The technology will present new challenges for voters, and some have criticized the Board of Elections for not doing more to anticipate these difficulties. Already the Brennan Center for Justice, the NAACP and other groups have filed a lawsuit against the state Board of Elections, claiming that the machine's way of handling "over-voted" ballots -- those marked with more than one candidate in a particular race -- will disenfranchise thousands of voters, particularly minorities and non-native English speakers.

The city Board of Elections, which is responsible for the transition in the five boroughs, has not had an executive director since January and has not made public any attempts to fill the post. The executive director of the board also serves as one of the seven ex-officio members of the Voter Assistance Commission.

Empty Chair

The vacancy came to harsh light at public Voter Assistance Commission meeting two weeks ago in conference room near City Hall, as commissioners sat facing an audience that consisted mostly of representatives from good-government and other advocacy groups. Although the city charter mandates bi-monthly public meetings on issues that affect voting and voters' rights, the commission had not met since December, citing reluctance by the Board of Elections to send a representative.

"The board has taken the position that since there is no executive director, and the charter requires the executive director or his designee to attend, that since there is no one to designate the designee, that the board cannot send anyone to listen to these meetings," said Voter Assistance Commission chair Jeffrey Kraus.

"The board does itself no service -- the board does the people of the city no service -- by making this decision. I wish they were here today, and I hope that they will pick an executive director soon," he said, adding that he had hoped to review the board's plans for making the public aware of the new voting system.

The board defended its decision to stay away from the meeting. Deputy Executive Director George Gonzalez, who participated in VAC meetings in the past and is considered a leading candidate for executive director of the board, said that only the executive director can serve as an ex-officio member of the commission.

"There would be nothing for me to say or do at these meetings," Gonzalez said. "By the same token, we have board meetings. If VAC wants to know what’s going on, they could send someone to sit in on public meetings and know what we discuss."

Another elections commissioner, J.C. Polanco, expressed regret that there had been no board presence at the meeting. "I would've looked forward to attending VAC's meeting had I been informed that there was a meeting," notwithstanding the absence of an executive director, he wrote in an e-mail.

The New Machines

Since state law precludes any other agency from fulfilling the board's responsibilities, the Voter Assistance Commission cannot help train poll workers about the new machines, for example. But it can help educate voters as to the changes they will encounter at the polls -- if the commission is given the resources.

With the primary less than 80 days away, officials and good-government groups alike have expressed concern about what they see as the board's lack of voter education efforts. While the board has created a Web site about the new machines and begun to hold demonstrations throughout the city, many say that they have yet to see printed materials or advertisements. The board also has failed to update the voting section of its main Web site, which still lists detailed instructions on how to use the lever-operated machines.

"I have seen no firsthand information about the new voting machines anywhere," Kalmus said. Public Advocate Bill de Blasio echoed her concerns and has called for the Voter Assistance Commission to be strengthened through the charter revision process.

The board, according the spokesperson Valerie Vazquez Rivera, is implementing a "multi-prong approach on getting the word out to registered voters about the new machines." It will, she said, include subway, bus and newspaper ads, demonstrations throughout the city, and a legal notice sent to all voters before the September primary. A calendar of events and demonstrations can be found on the < a href="http://www.votethenewwayny.com/calendar.php">Web sitededicated to the new voting system.

Whatever the board is -- or is not -- doing, many advocates think the Voter Assistance Commission should have more responsibility for this outreach and more resources so it can aggressively register New Yorkers to vote.

"In New York, the stakes are much higher than in many other places in the nation," Jones said during his testimony to the Charter Revision Commission. "The only thing that keeps this city from flying apart is the ability to voice concerns through the electoral process."

Proposal Could Shed Light on Who Helps Candidates


Photo (cc) Dennis Mojado

Open up your checkbooks, the New York City Campaign Finance Board wants a look inside.

The Campaign Finance Board will seek a major change in city campaign law to vastly increase the disclosure of spending on behalf of candidates. The move is aimed at so-called independent expenditures -- those made on behalf of a candidate but done without the candidate's consultation or approval. For now, these expenditures largely remain under the radar.

The push follows a Supreme Court ruling that lifted a ban on independent campaign spending by corporations. It also comes as the Manhattan district attorney investigates money funneled from the Independence Party last fall to a poll worker operation run by a campaign advisor to Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The Campaign Finance Board is initially taking its proposal, which would likely apply to money spent by corporations, unions and other political action committees, to the City Charter Revision Commission. Board officials are expected to testify on the matter later this month, and the issue will be one subject in the board's post-election report due out this fall.

"There is a gap in disclosure," said Eric Friedman, the director of external affairs at the Campaign Finance Board. "If the mailing shows up, no matter who it is that put it out there, we would say the voters in their district should know where it came from."

The idea has sparked outrage and was called "illegal" in some political circles. Some union officials and the Bloomberg administration have expressed interest in it, while Public Advocate Bill de Blasio has introduced his own bill to require similar disclosure.

An Independent Expenditure

The issue of disclosing independent expenditures is an allusive one.

In a nutshell, an independent expenditure is money spent by an individual, corporation, union or political action committee to support or oppose a candidate or ballot proposal. It can come in your mail, as an ad in a newspaper, in the form of canvassers on your corner or any other campaign-boosting element. Above all, it must be done without the consent of the candidate.

Friedman said it is impossible to estimate how much of this type of spending occurred during the 2009 elections, because it isn't disclosed.

But that doesn't mean it can't swing elections. Take the 2005 Manhattan borough president race. The Working Families Party inundated Manhattan with mailers championing then-candidate Scott Stringer days before the primary. One of his opponents, Eva Moskowitz, filed a complaint with the Campaign Finance Board arguing the mailers put Stringer over the city spending limit. The board eventually determined the Working Families Party conducted the mailing independently.

In 2009, the Independence Party sent mailers out in a handful of City Council races, characterizing its favored candidates as for "workers' rights." (Note: the Working Families Party did not endorse these candidates, who included former Councilmember Kendall Stewart and Queens candidate Deirdre Feerick, both of whom lost.) The Independence Party also sent mailers out for Councilmember Karen Koslowitz.

Between July and January of 2009, according to the State Board of Elections, the Independence Party spent more than $60,000 on direct mailings statewide. A more detailed breakdown of how much each mailing cost per race was not filed with the board.

A spokesman for the State Board of Elections said political action committees and political parties are required to report how they spend their money and provide a description of what it is used for at regular intervals -- more frequently during an election season. For political action committees, that description does not have to be any more detailed than "mailings."

When Gotham Gazette asked a representative of the Working Families Party whether it would support disclosing these expenditures to the Campaign Finance Board, he said it wouldn't change the party's practices much since they already file regularly with the State Board of Elections. Independence Party Chairman Frank MacKay said, "If it becomes a reality, we'll follow the rule to the letter of the law."

In a letter to the City Charter Revision Commission dated May 4, Campaign Finance Board Executive Director Amy Loprest wrote, "During the 2009 elections, several primary elections became high-profile contests between opposing independent expenditure efforts funded by labor unions and the real estate industry. Yet neither state nor city law required these special interests to disclose information about their expenditures on behalf of candidates in the 2009 elections."

Officials fear this spending could be more influential should the City Charter Revision Commission put nonpartisan elections on the ballot. If nonpartisan elections are approved, these special interests might be able to wield more power in city races.

"Candidates join the [campaign finance] system to abide by spending limits," said Friedman. "If one of those candidates is receiving help from the outside, that is something that can affect the balance."

But by far, the largest target of the proposal would be corporate spending on campaigns, which is not currently disclosed to either the state or city.

A bill introduced in April by de Blasio would also target this spending. According to the legislation, any corporation, limited liability company, limited liability partnership or partnership would have to disclose what they spend to support or oppose candidates. While the bill doesn't expressly say unions, a spokesman for the public advocate said they would be covered under the proposal.

"[The recent Supreme Court decision] has amplified the power of our country's already powerful corporations by giving them the freedom to spend without limit or restraint in our elections," said de Blasio in an emailed statement. "The legislation I have introduced would require full transparency around all political spending. This level of disclosure will provide critical protections for shareholders, consumers and all citizens."

Trying to Regulate the Abyss

Some unions say they choose not to make independent expenditures under the current system because they have to prove to the Campaign Finance Board the spending was not done in coordination with the candidate.

Kevin Finnegan, the political director for 1199 SEIU, one of the city's most powerful unions, said it didn't spend anything on any candidate's behalf during the city elections last year, despite the fact that its political action committee spent more than $2.2 million in 2009, according to the State Board of Elections. Much of that money went to campaign contributions to individual candidates across the state, according to state filings.

Should the Campaign Finance Board step in and regulate independent expenditures, it could lead to more scrutiny of unions, like 1199, during the campaign season, said insiders. Petition drives, get-out-the-vote-operations or internal member mailings could all end up being interpreted as independent expenditures if they benefit a candidate, insiders said.

"Labor unions are probably getting away with murder, providing bodies that could be classified as independent expenditures," said political consultant Hank Sheinkopf, who was on the mayor's campaign staff last year.

It's for this reason some union officials are skeptical of the Campaign Finance Board's proposal and have expressed concern that the board could attempt to regulate its member operations.

"We don't object to disclosing expenditures and making it public," said Finnegan of 1199. But there is a caveat: "We go ahead and practice our constitutionally protected right of free speech."

Some critics are already calling the proposal unconstitutional and predict it will go down in flames.

"The Supreme Court has said that individuals want to spend as much as they want. I don’t think that in any way a government entity can require an individual to make that kind of disclosure," said elections attorney Henry Berger. "If they try to exercise it, we're going to be in court for years."

While the U.S. Supreme Court did say a ban on corporate spending was against the First Amendment, it also said the government could require disclosure. Other cities already require this type of reporting, including Los Angeles, Portland and Seattle. About 40 states also mandate it.

Requiring disclosure here in the five boroughs, said Dick Dadey, the executive director of Citizens Union, the sister organization of Gotham Gazette's publisher, should be widely accepted. "Political money seeps in wherever there is a hole, and this is a big hole in our city campaign finance system," said Dadey.

This type of disclosure, union officials and party representatives said, could spur unions to spend more on campaigns. One official at the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council said by forcing full disclosure, unions could spend freely out in the open without fear of repercussion from the Campaign Finance Board.

That prediction has resonated.

"It will legitimize what some consider a growing series of activities that need to be looked at," said Sheinkopf. "If you regulate it, then it will increase, then it will be good for everyone."

Campaign Finance Decision Could Hamper Efforts to Tighten New York's Laws


Last September, as the Supreme Court heard arguments in the Citizens United case on corporate campaign spending, one activist made his or her opinions clear.

In the wake of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the January U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned a federal ban on certain corporate spending on political campaigns, President Barack Obama said it could "open the floodgates for special interests" at the federal level.

In New York State, the floodgates are already open to unlimited special interest spending, and the public is largely left in the dark about large amounts of this spending. Lawmakers, other public officials and advocates – already sharply divided over whether and how to restrict spending on campaigns – must now also consider what to do about the potential influx of corporate spending that the Citizens United decision could unleash.

The Decision

In 2008, Citizens United, a non-profit corporation, released Hillary: The Movie, a documentary film available on video-on-demand and promoted through advertisements. The Supreme Court described the movie as "a feature-length negative advertisement that urge[d] viewers to vote against Sen. Clinton for president."

This type of communication, known as an "independent expenditure," is not coordinated with a particular campaign, yet promotes opposition to or support of a candidate for political office. Citizens United sought to place the advertisements for the film within 30 days of the 2008 primary election, which was too close to the election under federal law. The group then brought a lawsuit against the Federal Election Commission, which regulates federal political spending, challenging that restriction.

In its decision, the Supreme Court found the ban on corporate independent expenditures enacted by Congress in the 2002 McCain-Feingold Act to be unconstitutional. The court's decision allows corporations, both for-profit and non-profit, to spend unlimited funds on campaigns if they do it independently of a candidate. The spending could come in the form of advertisements or mailings that seek to influence voters' decisions.

While the Supreme Court lifted limits on corporate political spending, it did say that disclosure of that spending is both permissible and beneficial because "disclosure permits citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities in a proper way." This would allow Congress or any or all of the 50 states to require disclosure of independent corporate spending.

New York's Lenient Limits

New York does not have any limits on independent expenditures, so the Citizens United decision does not require the state to change its laws. In general, New York state's contribution limits and other campaign finance laws allow more institutional money, such as corporate contributions, into the political system than is permitted at the federal level and requires little disclosure of such spending.

New York's contribution limits for state offices in New York are quite high for states nationally, and higher than at the federal level. Individual donors can give as much as $7,600 to candidates for state assembly, but only $4,600 to a presidential candidate. Candidates for governor can receive a maximum of $55,900 from individuals. Corporations in New York can donate $5,000 directly to candidates, but nothing bars a subsidiary from also contributing, making it fairly easy for large companies to bypass the limit by having several divisions donate. "Soft money" contributions to party committees and housekeeping accounts open another loophole. Individuals and corporations can give directly to these entities, which in turn give contributions to candidates. (See Campaign Finance Laws Fill Coffers for Cars, Coffee and Court.)

New York State law does not currently require the disclosure of the types of independent expenditures addressed by Citizens United. Corporations, both non-profit and for-profit, do not have to disclose any political spending to the state (though if they give money directly to candidates, the candidate would have to disclose in his or her contribution reports). Party committees, candidates and political action committees, or PACs, must file contribution and expenditure reports with the state Board of Elections, which are published online via the State Board of Elections website, but those filings don't cast light on the intent of the spending.

Unless ads by committees expressly advocate for or against a candidate, no disclosure is required. To avoid disclosure, committees develop what are known as "sham issue ads" that seek to influence voters about a particular candidate while not expressly advocating for the defeat or election of a candidate. Such an ad Yale Law School professor Heather Gerken has said, would urge voters to "call Senator X and tell her to stop being mean to puppies."

All of this then, means that under current New York law, there is no way to know how much money corporations and other groups that are not organized as political committees have spent independently on behalf of state candidates.

The Money State

The past several weeks have provided what may be a preview of future state-level spending in the last week. The New Roosevelt Initiative announced that it would spend $250,000 on an independent expenditure campaign against Sen. Pedro Espada, who is the target of both a federal and state investigation into his non-profit, Soundview Health Clinic. The initiative has filed as a multi-candidate committee with the state Board of Elections. This means that while it is not coordinated with any particular campaign, it will be subject to the current reporting and disclosure requirements for committees, and so would have to disclose any of its expenditures that expressly seek to defeat Espada. "In our effort to make New York more responsive to the public, we didn’t want to shield our own spending," said the initiative's Doug Forand.

The initiative may well prove to be an exception, though. Other groups that seek to mount independent expenditure campaigns may not set up PACs or other committees and so would not have to disclose their activities. Even those that do file could avoid disclosure by using sham issue ads to sway voters.

While New York's current laws will not be affected by the Citizens United decision, other states' laws will be. This, in turn, could prompt more spending here from national advocacy groups that will no longer have to examine each of the 50 state's laws before making political expenditures at the state level, according to Ciara Torres-Spelliscy of the Brennan Center for Justice.

If national advocacy efforts in New York’s congressional contests are any indication of potential spending on state candidates, the state could become a kind of money magnet. Two of New York's congressional representatives were near the top in independent expenditures targeted both for and against them according to www.opensecrets.org of the Center for Responsive Politics. Rep. Scott Murphy of the 20th Congressional District attracted $2.6 million targeted (second only to President Barack Obama), with Rep. Bill Owens of the 23rd Congressional District having $1.9 million in such directed expenditures as of March 21.

While many see the Citizens United decision as likely to have a huge impact on campaigns, others believe that corporations are not likely to spend money on political ads since they will not want to get involved with hot-button issues or campaigns. Professor Sam Issacharoff of NYU Law School said at a recent Yale Law School breakfast on Citizens United that corporations are more comfortable spending money to affect the legislative and regulatory process -- lobbying -- than the electoral process and so are unlikely to make ads such as "Hillary: The Movie."

Isaacharoff also indicated that unions and other interest groups have dominated independent expenditures in the states. This has been, for example, the case in California, according to a June 2008 report by the California Fair Political Practices Commission, which regulates political spending in California.

Shedding Light on New York

At this point in New York, the only way to limit or require disclosure of a corporation's political spending is for its shareholders or members to convince leadership to change their practices. Trustees of public pension funds such as New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli have taken this approach. DiNapoli filed a resolution filed a resolution that would require AIG shareholders to vote to ratify the company’s political spending program for the prior year as a way to disclose this spending.

Similar efforts have been made at the city level through New York City's Pension Funds. Comptroller John Liu and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who are among the funds' multiple trustees, have called for greater disclosure to shareholders. The funds have filed resolutions similar to the AIG measure with several companies, and AES Corp., Altria Group and Humana, Inc. have reportedly agreed to disclose political spending to shareholders.

State lawmakers have recently proposed ways to give shareholders a voice in political spending by corporations. Sen. Daniel Squadron and Assemblymember Rory Lancman have introduced legislation that would require for-profit and non-profit corporations making political contributions in New York to obtain prior shareholder approval and to annually disclose all such contributions to their shareholders and the secretary of state.

The State Senate also recently held two hearings on campaign finance reform, at which this legislation and other proposals were discussed, including legislationsponsored by Sen. Joseph Addabbo that would prohibit corporations and other entities with government contracts from making direct and indirect political expenditures. Another bill discussed at the hearings would require disclosure of expenditures made by trade associations, corporations and other entities to advocate support or defeat of a candidate. It would not, though, cover sham issue ads.

Many good government groups would like to see additional disclosure of independent expenditures. "New York is sorely in need of meaningful disclosure," said Torres-Spellicsy. "It doesn’t have a clear definition of independent expenditures, and also needs a clear definition of electioneering communications."

The new legal category of electioneering communications would cover sham issue ads that neglect to say vote for or against a candidate. The legislature's ethics bill vetoed by Gov. David Paterson earlier this year included a new definition of independent expenditures, though it would not have covered sham issue ads.

Advocacy groups also believe that New York needs additional measures to address its whole system of campaign finance regulation. "New York state's campaign finance laws were broken before we got to Citizens United. Citizen United now holds the potential for making things a whole lot worse," said Torres-Spelliscy.

The League of Women Voters of New York State agrees. "We've got long-standing significant concerns regarding corporate money making its way into state politics that also need immediate attention. We can’t lose sight of those while trying to mitigate issues stemming from Citizens United," said Sally Robinson, the group's issues and advocacy vice president.

Rachael Fauss is research and policy manager for Citizens Union Foundation, which publishes Gotham Gazette.

Monserrate Fights for His Old Job -- and 'Traditional Values'


On Tuesday, voters of the 13th State Senate district in Queens will decide whether Hiram Monserrate deserves a second chance.

Expelled from the Senate after he was found guilty of misdemeanor assault on his girlfriend, Monserrate hopes to reclaim his seat in the March 16 special election. Assemblymember José Peralta, candidate of both the Democratic and Working Families Parties, has mounted his own campaign to move into the Senate.

 

Republican candidate, Robert Beltrani also has thrown his hat into the ring, but is viewed as a long shot in the heavily Democratic district.

Both Peralta and Monserrate were raised in the same borough, attended the same college, and until a month ago, belonged to the same party. Despite these similarities, the candidates' campaigns have clashed over their most notable difference, same-sex marriage.

Hoping to galvanize the district's religious Latino population, Monserrate, running as an independent on the independent "Yes We Can" ticket, has focused most of his campaign on opposing same-sex marriage. He emphasizes that as a member of the Assembly Peralta, voted three times to legalize same-sex marriage. Peralta's record on this issue has garnered him the support of gay advocacy groups.

Monserrate's Tactic

Last December, Peralta marched alongside supporters of same-sex marriage to Monserrate's East Elmhurst office to protest the senator's vote against same-sex marriage.

On March 1, Monserrate returned the favor. The former senator rallied outside Peralta's Jackson Heights office, with district clergymen.

"My Bible principles don't let me support the marriage between two men or two women," said Rev Ricardo Reyes of the El Elyon Christian Church in Corona.

In some of the district's churches, Monserrate supporters have handed out flyers calling Peralta a "gay caballero," and saying he is supported by "a group of mega rich gay fanatics dedicated to destroying our way of life and creating same sex marriage."

Empire State Pride Agenda, a gay advocacy group, had once supported Monserrate, but charges the senator reneged on a promise he made to support gay marriage. Just six days after Monserrate joined 30 Republicans and seven Democrats in the State Senate to reject a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, the Pride Agenda endorsed Peralta.

"His record on LGBT issues demonstrates that he does not duck and run when our bills come up for a vote," Allen Van Capelle, then the executive director of Empire Pride, said in a statement. "He has stood up for us in the Assembly, and we will stand with him in his race for the State Senate."

Peralta also served as grand marshall in 2008 for the Queens' annual Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Parade, held in Jackson Heights.

"Same-sex marriage is about equality, justice, and civil rights," Peralta said. "Here we have a group of individuals that want equality. They want the same life every other couple can have."

Responding to Monserrate's campaign, Peralta said, "If you are preaching equality, you should be preaching equality across the board."

Fight Back NY, an organization that seeks to defeat state senators who voted against same sex marriage, has stepped up its campaign against Monserrate. In its latest leaflet, it accuses him of steering public money to a now defunct Queens non-profit, with which he has close ties. Jackson Heights is home to one of the city’s largest gay communities. Last year, the community elected Daniel Dromm, an openly gay politician, to the City Council.

Republican candidate Robert Beltrani said he would oppose any measure to legalize same-sex marriage.

Crowded Classrooms

Though same sex marriage will likely motivate a higher then usual turnout in this special election, held to fill the vacancy created by Monserrate's expulsion, residents of this diverse, densely populated district have other concerns, perhaps most notably education. According to education officials, in 2009, 42 percent of students in Queens attended over-crowded schools. This year, the congested schools of the 13th district will expect little relief.

As the state looks to fill a $9 billion budget gap, education finds itself on the chopping block. Gov. David Paterson’s 2010-11 state budget proposes a 5 percent, or $1. 1 billion cut to school funding, a move Mayor Michael Bloomberg says would put 8,500 teachers out of work.

PS 19 in the most overcrowded school in the nation per capita," said Peralta. If elected, Peralta said he would keep cuts to a "bare minimum" and build the district four new schools when funding becomes available.

"Education is just one of those issues that should be very sacred, because it's an investment for our future," Peralta said.

In the past, Monserrate supported the construction of two new schools in the district. "Education has been at the forefront of Hiram's agenda since his inauguration," Monserrate's 2008 Senate campaign website said. "Within the past years, he has allocated funding for two schools, a new elementary and high school to alleviate the overcrowding that has plagued the Corona public school system."

During that campaign -- his first for State Senate -- Monserrate said, "As your state senator I want to improve education very simply: more funding, more teachers, and more classrooms."

Republican candidate Robert Beltrani disagrees. "The answer to the education problem is not new money," he said. "Per capita we spend more on education than anywhere in the world. We're just not doing it right."

Beltrani advocates more oversight of school spending and "increased competition and accountability of administrators and teachers."

Crowded Hospitals

As the district's schools are crowded, so are the community's emergency rooms. With only one hospital left in the district, health care appears to be in short supply. After the closing of St. John's and Mary Immaculate hospitals last year, residents of the 13th district were left with only Elmhurst Hospital Center.

"The emergency rooms at the hospitals that have stayed open, are over burdened," Nisha Agarwal, the director of the Health Justice Program with the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, said.

Even those who have insurance may have limited access to health care. "The hospital acts as an anchor in these communities for doctor's offices and clinics," Agarwal said. "Once the hospital closes the other services leave as well, and the area becomes underserved." She added, "One important thing is to be attuned to the hospital closure issues and get more health care facilities into these communities."

"We've been hit very hard with the closing of two hospitals in the area," Peralta admits. He has made health care a central issue of his campaign, pledging to resist further hospital closings.

The community faces an array of health needs. According to the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, in 2008, the tuberculosis rate in West Queens, which includes Corona, Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, Woodside, and Maspeth, rose to 25.8 cases per 100,000, more than twice the city average and five times the national rate.

A year earlier, the health department released a report that concluded, "One third of adults in West Queens do not have a primary health care provider ...the highest percent of adults without health insurance among all 42 NYC neighborhoods."

The high rate of both TB and uninsured people has been attributed at least partly to the area's large immigrant populations.

While in the Senate, Monserrate sponsored a bill to make health care more accessible for non-English speakers, a measure designed to benefit his district's residents, many of whom have immigrated from China, Korea, India, and Latin America.

Immigrant Interests

These immigrants, who live in the diverse neighborhoods of Jackson Heights, Corona, and East Elmhurst, confront a number of other challenges as well, and will be key to the outcome of the election.

"Some of the issues that immigrants care about are access to fair and dignified jobs, services, health care and transportation," said Valeria Treves, the executive director of New Immigrant Community Empowerment, a non-profit that works to expand the economic opportunities afforded to new immigrants.

 

Treves is particularly concerned with the job scams and exploitation many immigrants fall victim to. "Most immigrants are not being paid a fair wage in our community," she said. Treves supports the creation of a day labor center in the Jackson Heights/Woodside area. "By having a center where we can match workers to employers we can cut down on some of the exploitation suffered by many day laborers," Treves said.

Speaking from the Senate chamber, Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. said Monserrate can best address the immigrants' needs.

"Democrats, Republicans, independents, it doesn’t matter as long as he's doing what's best for his community," Diaz said, "Giving the foreign workers the protection they need, the representation they deserve."

From 2002 to 2005, Monserrate served as co-chair of the Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus while in the City Council. He has worked to provide translation services in New York schools, hospitals, and courtrooms and sponsored legislation strengthening wage and consumer protections.

Peralta, a first-generation Dominican-American, endorsed legislation that would make state services more accessible to non-English speaking immigrants. Peralta sponsored bills that provide language assistance services at state agencies and require public health information to be printed in multiple languages. He also served as the director for the Commission on the Dignity for Immigrants, and as a member of the Dominican American society.

Immigrants, he said, should have "protection from scam artists who try to take their money, [and] travel agencies who exploit them.” He added, it is important for immigrant to be safe on the streets and build relationships with police officers.

Beltrani offered few specifics, but said he would cut taxes for the district's small businesses that were affected by the recession. This, he said, would allow owners to expand and hire new employees.

Monserrate could not be contacted for comment.

 

As the campaign entered its final days, Monserrate had $55,683 on hand and Peralta had $171,199. Monserrate had raised only $6,000 since Jan. 15, according to the latest reports filed with the state Board of Elections, while Peralta brought in $205,903.

Figres for Beltrani were not available.

New Voting Machines Are on the Way -- Probably


ds2000
The city Board of Elections has selected this optical scanner, Election Systems & Software DS200, to record and tabulate votes.

If all goes according to plan, New York City will have new voting machines this year. After years of delays, New York is making progress toward complying with the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA), which required states to update their voting systems in the aftermath of Florida's 2000 election debacle. New York is the last state to comply with the federal legislation and plans to have new machines in place by this year's primary elections. Questions about how the city selected its machines though, could create more delays and confusion in the months leading up to the September election.

Voters across the state, including in New York City, almost certainly will bid farewell to our decades-old Shoup lever machines. The New York City Board of Elections voted this month to purchase optical-scan voting machines from Elections Systems & Software. The city's contract, the largest for voting machines of all the counties in New York, is worth $60 million to $70 million, according to a spokesperson for the Board of Elections.

Voting Without Levers

The new machines, the Election Systems & Software (ES&S) DS200 optical scanner, will read and tabulate paper ballots cast by voters on Election Day. The machines will be used in conjunction with the company's ES&S AutoMark ballot marking devices, which the city purchased last year to be placed in every poll site. The ballot marking devices allow all voters, including those with disabilities, to mark a paper ballot independently by using the machine's touch screen and accessibility functions, like a Braille keypad or audio recordings of the ballot for those with visibility impairments. The city placed devices in every poll site in 2009. Under the new system, optical scan machines will scan and count ballots filled out using the marking devices ballots marked by as well as those cast using pen.

This device will allow ll voters, including those with disabilities, to mark their paper ballots independently.

Voters who do not use the ballot marking devices will vote by marking paper ballots, much as if they were taking a multiple choice exam. They will receive a paper ballot listing all the races, take it to a voting station and bubble in their choices with a pen provided by the board. Then the paper ballot will be fed into the optical scan machine, where it will be tabulated. Barring the voter has not incorrectly filled out the ballot or the machine does not detect an error, the machine will accept the ballot, and the voter is done.

A Questionable Contract?

While that all seems clear, the process that let the Board of Elections select the ESamp;S equipments seems somewhat murky. The board was choosing between ES&S and an optical scan machine made by Dominion Voting. The board selected the ES&S machines on Jan. 5, after holding public demonstrations where the public could see the two machines under consideration. The board held a hearing to allow the public to give their opinion about the two machines. Board commissioners also considered an evaluation report put together by board staff. During the meeting, it was reported that evaluating team's report had given the edge to ES&S.

Most other counties in the state, which had already made their decisions, selected the Dominion optical scan machine. The city board's president, Julie Dent, in a prepared press release http://www.votethenewwayny.com/press.html stated, "Ensuring that every New Yorker's vote is counted accurately remains the board's number one goal. We believe the DS200 poll site voting system will provide the accuracy and security that are essential in the voting process."

Now federal investigators are looking at that vote and the role of ES&S lobbyist Anthony Mangone. Mangone began working for ES&S in 2009. On Jan. 6 -- the day after the Board of Elections vote -- he was indicted by federal prosecutors on corruption charges connected to an incident in Yonkers where he allegedly bribed a City Council member to change her vote to support two major development projects she had once opposed. As a result of the investigation of the board's vote, two Republican commissioners l, J.C. Polanco from the Bronx and Judith Stupp from Queens, were subpoenaed, and the process is being reviewed by prosecutors.

If that weren’t enough, Dominion, ES&S's competing vendor, has filed suit against the city, claiming that the board did not comply with city and state procurement rules when it awarded the hefty contract to ES&S. In court documents Dominion said it found fault with the way the systems were judged and calls into questions the point system the board used for both systems. The board’s evaluation team awarded Dominion 3,395 points and ES&S 3,417 points in its final report.

With the system implementation already under such a tight timeline, this case and the federal investigation could have serious implications for the ability of the city to put its new machines in place. Furthermore, the city also is having difficulties with its selection of the poll booths where voters will take their ballot to mark their selections. It has selected a model bet contracting issues with the vendor of the booths have held things up. The board is finalizing its contracts for equipment as well as its plans for a public education campaign public education campaign, which will be critical to the success of the new voting system. So New Yorkers would be wise to prepare for the switch, but perhaps reserve their farewell to the Shoup lever machines just a bit longer.

Andrea Senteno is the program associate for Citizens Union Foundation, which publishes Gotham Gazette.

New York City Council Races Get More Competitive


With a handful of incumbents having lost in this fall's New York City Council elections, the 2009 elections seemed more competitive than those in 2005, but exactly how much more competitive were they? Successful competitors beat five incumbents in 2009 -- Maria Baez, Alan Gerson, Kenneth Mitchell, Helen Sears and Kendall Stewart -- while in 2005, only Alan Jenningslost his seat after allegedly sexually harassing staffers.

Aside from outright losses, the incumbents who won in 2009 did so with smaller margins of victory than those in 2005. In the primary elections -- which are often tantamount to winning the election in New York given the high enrollment of Democrats -- an incumbent's average margin of victory in a contested race was 29 percent in 2009, rather than 48 percent in 2005. In part, this is because more candidates ran and split the vote. In 2009 an average of four challengers ran against each incumbent, while in 2005, most incumbents faced only one or two challengers. In the general election, incumbents fared as well in 2009 as in 2005, winning with an average margin of victory of 65 percent.

Landslides and Uncontested Races

Overall, incumbents still seem to have a leg up on challengers. The re-election rate for sitting council members -- often cited as exemplifying the power of incumbency -- was still high in 2009 at 88 percent, though down from previous years such as 1997 and 2003 when every single council member who sought re-election won.

Several incumbents had large margins of victory in the primaries, including Letitia James in District 35 who won by a margin of 67 percent over two challengers, and Rosie Mendez in District 2 who won by a margin of 66 percent over one other challenger. In the general election, there were far more landslide victories. Notable for their wide margins of victory in the general election were Democratic councilmembers Maria del Carmen Arroyo in District 17 and Robert Jackson in District 7, who each obtained over 95 percent of the vote.

What may have been overlooked in this year's elections are the numerous seats where incumbents ran unopposed in the primary and where victorious primary winners faced no competition in the general election. In the 2009 primary, 19 council members had no opponent, while in 2005, there were 27 uncontested races. In the general elections, there were five uncontested races in 2009, compared to 14 in 2005. Notably, Simcha Felder was unopposed in both the primary and general elections in 2009. In stark comparison, incumbents Alan Gerson, Christine Quinn, David Weprin, Leroy Comrie, Dennis Gallagher, Joseph Addabbo and Felder all were unopposed in both the primary and general elections in 2005. Overall, incumbents this year had more challengers than in the past, in both the primary and general elections.

Open Races

Contests for open seats continued to be the most competitive and crowded races. There were eight open seats this year, with an average of five candidates running for each. In 2005, an average of six candidates ran for the seven open seats. The average margin of victory for open primary races remained nearly constant from 2005 to 2009, with the margin decreasing from 20 percent in 2005 to 19 percent in 2009. Thus it seems that the incumbent races in 2009 began to approach the level of competition seen in open races, which could be a good sign for voters, but not incumbents.

One open race -- District 19, formerly held by unsuccessful mayoral candidate Tony Avella -- had both a competitive primary and general election. In the Democratic primary election, six candidates faced off, with Kevin Kim receiving 2,692 votes to win the election with a margin of 6 percent over second place finisher Jerry Iannece, who received 2,139 votes. Kim later lost in the general election to Republican candidate Daniel Halloran, who won by a 3 percent margin.

Close Calls and Defeat

Several incumbents lost this year, but there were also a few races where incumbents had very narrow victories. In Brooklyn there was a contentious battle for Diana Reyna’s seat in District 34, where Brooklyn Democratic Party Chair Vito Lopez supported challenger Maritza Davila in an effort to unseat Reyna. One other challenger, Gerald Esposito, also appeared on the ballot. Reyna squeaked out a victory in the Democratic primary by a margin of 3 percent, gaining 4,332 votes to Davila’s 4,067. Davila remained on the ballot under the Working Families Party line for the general election, which Reyna won by a margin of 28 percent.

Other close races included District 28 where incembent Thomas White Jr. won by a mere four votes over challenger Lynn Nunes in a six-way race.

Another incumbent with a smaller-than-expected margin of victory was City Council Speaker Christine Quinn in the Democratic primary against challengers Yetta Kurland and Maria Passannante-Derr in District 3. Quinn won by a margin of 21 percent, obtaining 7,178 or 53 percent of the total votes over Kurland’s 4,269 and Passanante-Derr’s 2,213.

Incumbent Kendall Stewart did not fare as well in District 45. In the Democratic primary, six candidates appeared on the ballot, and Jumaane Williams won by a margin of 11 percent, getting 3,426 votes to Stewart's 2,392. Stewart remained on the ballot for the general election on the Independence Party line, and Williams won by a margin of 60 percent. Stewart's tough election may have resulted from scandal involving the indictment of two of his aides for corruption, as well as his vote to extend term limits.

Reasons for the Competition

Several factors may have worked to increase the competitiveness of the elections along with issues particular to each race. These include the extension of term limits, recent changes to the city’s campaign finance laws to ease the ability of challengers to earn public matching funds, and the increased role of the Working Families Party in Democratic Party primaries. While the relationship of the Working Families Party and its affiliate organizations such as Data and Field Services has come under some scrutiny, its efforts in several racesmay have played a decisive role.

The term limits extension also played a part. Of the five incumbents who lost, four voted to extend term limits ( Kenneth Mitchell was elected in a special election after the term limits vote). Councilmembers differed over whether the term limits extension was a factor in the elections, but from the beginning of the campaign term limits seemed destined to play a role. With voter turnout extremely low, theories that incumbents' traditional bases (particularly Mayor Michael Bloomberg's) did not turn out while voters angry over term limits did also gave credence to the argument that term limits influenced the elections.

The city's new campaign finance program includes a public match for certain contributions. Hailed as the "strongest campaign finance system in the nation," when enacted in 2007, the laws were strengthened to include an increased public match, as well as a ban on certain institutional contributions and limits on contributions from individuals who do business with the city.

"A very important part of the Campaign Finance Program’s mission is to help more citizens conduct competitive campaigns for office without the support of party machines or wealthy backers," said Eric Friedman, the press secretary for the New York City Campaign Finance Board, which administers the law. "The results of this year’s election at the council level, while there is still some way to go, show how the program has been successful."

The Campaign Finance Board's post-election analysis also provides some interesting information regarding the increase in competition this year.

Looking forward to 2013, it remains to be seen what new factors will be at play, though there should be many open seats -- provided there is not another change to the term limits law. Whatever happens, any incumbents seeking reelection should steel themselves for the possibility of a serious challenge.

Rachael Fauss is research and policy associate for Citizens Union Foundation, which publishes Gotham Gazette.

Campaign Finance Laws Fill Coffers for Cars, Coffee and Court


Albany image (cc) jaxphotography
Are unchecked contributions an easy way up Albany's "Million Dollar Staircase"?

As former New York State Senate Majority Joseph Bruno stood trial this year for multiple federal corruption charges he had an important ally -- his campaign coffers. Bruno was able to utilize more than $600,000 of the money he raised as a politician to pay for his defense.

Campaign funds are the lifeblood of Albany politicians. While, the same can be said for their counterparts across the country, New York's State relatively lax regulations along with little enforcement let money play a particularly prominent role. Generous donations from corporations and interest groups get you elected, the longer you are in office the more power you get, and the more power you get the more money corporations and special interest give you.

Politicians in New York can collect more money than in most other states and have more latitude in how they can use it. Campaign contributions might buy that sweet luxury car you always wanted or even keep you out of jail. And if legislators somehow manage to break the law anyway, they rarely face any punishment.

The Sky's the Limit

"The biggest problem is that state election law is so full of loopholes you could drive all the trucks in the State of New York through them," said Barbara Bartolletti of the League of Women Voters. "And the ones that exist are not easy to enforce."

To start with, New York allows larger donations than most states. Most permit individuals to donate only a few thousand dollars to a candidate for governor. In Pennsylvania and New Jersey individuals can give a maximum of $3,500 and $3,400, respectively, to a gubernatorial candidate per election cycle.

In New York the limit is $55,900 -- a sum much larger than the average New Yorker's salary. Even in California the ceiling for a donation to a gubernatorial candidate is $25,900. New York has a $15,000 limit for Senate candidates and $7,600 for the Assembly -- also larger than that in most states.

Those limits apply to individuals, limited liability corporations, unions and political action committees. Corporations can give only an aggregate of $5,000 per year. But thanks to a loophole that allows affiliated or subsidiary corporations to contribute as well, corporations can actually make much more sizeable donations. Even companies trying to win contracts with the state may contribute.

Many point to Sen. Carl Kruger as a major beneficiary of the current system. Despite having no opponent in his last campaign, Kruger kept his campaign coffers flush with cash. In the beginning of this year he had $1.7 million on hand.

Kruger, a conservative Democrat, had a cozy relationship with Senate Republicans when they were in charge of the Senate. When the Senate flipped, Kruger became the head of the powerful finance committee over a number of other Democrats who had expected to be in line for the job,

Since the beginning of the year Kruger has raised over half a million dollars, which a spokesman says is "the most in the senate." During the recent deficit reduction negotiations, Kruger launched an all-out assault on Gov. David Paterson's proposed budget cuts. He instead pitched a number of one-shot ways to close the budget gap, including collecting cigarette taxes from Indian reservations -- something seen as all but impossible.

Some speculated that Kruger was doing his best to ensure that special interests that support him so well were left unscathed. "He raises tons of money, and I blanch to think about the way he goes about doing it," said one senator troubled by Kruger's behavior. "I think we can use people like Carl as an example to push for reform," the senator said wishing to remain anonymous due to his working relationship with the Kruger.

A spokesman for Kruger said that it is no secret Kruger is an adept fundraiser. Responding to accusations that the money received influenced Kruger's actions during this year's deficit reduction negotiations the aide responded, "He was a big fundraiser before this session even before he was in the majority and before he was finance chair."

When asked what makes Kruger a standout fundraiser, the spokesperson responded, "He's a hard worker, and he's a hard worker."

The problem " is not about one person," said Austin Shafran, a spokesperson for the Senate majority. "The system was broken before we got here and it will be broken after we leave if we don't do anything."

Pumping Up the Parties

It’s not just individual politicians who get to benefit from the state's campaign finance laws. Any one contributor can give a maximum of $95,000 to a political party, but a loophole allows unlimited donations for "party housekeeping." Advocates say this allows interest groups to dump cash into a party in hopes of influencing larger issues. This year, unions and health care interests have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Senate Democrats all while being threatened with steep cuts by Paterson. The Senate resisted the cuts to education and health care.

The Republicans generally have garnered donations from the real estate and banking sectors. They have also, along with the Independence Party, benefited from the generosity of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has contributed nearly $4 million since 2001 to the Republican Party. More recently he gave $250,000 to the Independence party after its put him on its ballot line for November.

Incumbent politicians can draw in substantial donations not necessarily because they face a challenge, but based on the power they have in the legislature. As a result incumbency rates in New York are staggeringly high as challengers find it increasingly difficult to raise cash for a credible race.

According to a report by Citizens Union, the sister organization to Gotham Gazette's publisher, over the past 10 years only 25 legislators lost their re-election bids, while 31 left office to work in the private sector, 54 went to a different office and 14 left because of ethical misconduct or criminal charges. So if legislators usually do not face much of a challenge what do they use all that money for?

A Blank Check?

Senate Majority Leader Bruno felt within his rights when he used campaign cash to buy a $1,300 pool cover or an $8,000 trip to Italy. Sen. Jeffrey Klein tends to spend a lot on food. He used $32,000 in campaign funds on meals at posh restaurants in Albany as well as trips to the donut shop.

When former Sen. Martin Connor decided he needed $70,000 for a new Jeep and all related expenses, having a lot of cash on hand came in handy. Assemblymember Peter Rivera, who apparently also has a taste for automotive luxury, used $54,000 in campaign funds to pay for two Mercedes.

Campaign funds also can help in tough times. Former Sen. Guy Velella, used campaign funds to unsuccessfully defend himself from bribery charges, Even Bruno, who now stands trial for allegedly using his influence to benefit unions and businesses who gave him gifts, has spent at least $633,000 of his campaign funds to pay for his defense. And according to the state Board of Elections, Bruno is doing nothing wrong.

When the Loopholes Aren't Enough

Despite the laws' lax provision, politicians still blatantly skirt them. Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada Jr., has racked uparound $10,000 in fines for not properly filing and reporting to the campaign finance board -- a feat considering the maximum fine per indiscretion is $500.

The Board of Elections routinely sends a list of those with outstanding violations to the Albany district attorney. According to Heather Orth, spokeswoman for Albany District Attorney David Soares, the office sends letters to the politicians on the list, "telling them they are in violation, and then most get in contact with the board." Orth said she could not recall an incident where Soares's office took any further steps. "Our job is to assist the New York State Board of Elections," she said. Sen. Neil Breslin speculated that the district attorney's office has a limited budget and is more concerned with prosecuting serious crime.

Charges against politicians like Bruno and former Assemblymember Anthony Seminario didn't come from the state -- but the federal government.

The Board of Elections has frequently said that it is too overworked and understaffed to properly enforce the law. The board has 18 people working under its investigative wing with only one full-time investigator. The State Board of Election has a budget of $19.9 million for the fiscal year 2009-2010 and full time staff of 63. But its responsibilities extend far beyond campaign finance as it oversees the general running of elections as well as campaign finance filings.

A System Designed To Fail

Bartoletti said it isn't that simple. "Sure, they are overworked. They don't have the staff. But they are underfunded for a reason. They are all appointees; they are not independent watchdogs at all. They don't have the impetus to do anything that might hurt the people who appointed them." The board is headed by four commissioners appointed to two-year terms. Two appointees are made by the Democratic Party and two by the Republican Party.

Bartoletti pointed to Assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo, who has repeatedly failed to file campaign finance reports. Arroyo owes the board around $30,000 in fines. "She has thumbed her nose at the board and said, 'come and get me!'" said Bartoletti. "And so far they haven't been able to." The dysfunction just sets an example for other legislators, Bartoletti said: "They see what's going on and see they are ignoring fines and they have no reason to pay attention."

For years now the New York Public Interest Group, the League of Women Voters, Citizens Union of the City of New York and Common Cause of New York have presented the Board of Elections with a list of possible violations and missing filings. For 2008 the groups found 350 apparent violations of the $5,000 limit on corporate donations as well over 5,000 instances of the violation of the requirement that the name and address any person who donates over $100 be given to the Board of Elections. Bartoletti said each year the response is the same. "'Thank you. We have received your complaint.'"

Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group puts it in more blunt terms. "It's like beating a dead horse. All they do is lay there."

Sen. Eric Schneiderman, who has been a reform advocate in the Senate, said the failure of the enforcement mechanisms is "not worth opining over. They just don't work."

"The system is designed to fail," agreed Horner. He has been calling for the abolition of the Board of Elections for years. Horner sat at a table in a cafeteria at the state capitol. For the last two hours he had sat and watched as the state Senate debated and then voted down a bill approving gay marriage. Earlier they passed a deficit reduction package, an authorities reform bill and a Tier V pension package. "This session was a failure for reform," he said.

Promises, Promises

For years Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver would propose and pass campaign finance reform, only to have it ignored by the Republican controlled Senate. "Now that Democrats by some twist of fate are in charge, guess who is more recalcitrant about doing it?" asks Bartoletti. "Mr. Silver."

But the Assembly did pass a campaign finance bill this year. The legislation would have created optional public financing for statewide candidates. Some said the bill did not go far enough and did not strengthen the Board of Elections. Horner said the bill basically "grafted the public finance system on top of an already disgraceful and dysfunctional system."

Horner finds it amazing that the Senate was not able to pass a significant piece of reform legislation. "In a year when we saw (the) inspector general issue a report slamming the state ethics board, the Seminario scandal and the former Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno on trial for corruption, they couldn't come up with anything?"

To be fair, the Senate was set to vote on a package of reforms on June 8 -- the day Espada and Sen. Hiram Monserrate defected to the GOP, setting off the Senate coup.

Currently, Squadron and Schneiderman are negotiating with the Assembly on a new ethics package. Part of that legislation is to strengthen the enforcement arm of the Board of Elections by providing more funding and the ability to levy stiffer fines.

The City’s Way

If New York State wants to clean its campaign finance system, a number of good government groups and scholars, think it could follow New York City's example. A key to the city's system is public financing of campaigns. Candidates who want to receive public matching funds must agree to tight restrictions on the amount a donor can give to them, thereby making politicians reach out to more people and reducing the clout of any single contributor. In New York City, corporations and limited liability corporations are not allowed to donate to candidates, and there is a limit on how much unions can give.

The city also has a ban on using campaign cash for personal reasons. (No buying pool covers with campaign money.) The New York City Campaign Finance Board requires candidates file timely disclosure statements that are made public whether or not the candidates opt in to public financing.

New York City's Campaign Finance Board is considered well staffed and nonpartisan. It has a "personal services" budget, which includes funding for staff, of around $6 million and employs 83 full time staff members.

Significantly, the board has the power to subpoena and audit campaigns, as well as to take back public financing. While it can't officially issue fines, it can "make civil penalty assessments" and use the courts to enforce them. The board issues fines as high as $10,000.

The system has its critics. Some point out that it lets wealthy self-financed candidate, most notably Mayor Michael Bloomberg, ignore the system altogether. Others contend that by allowing contributions from labor but not corporations it puts too much power in the hands of unions.

After Bruno

Good government types don’t see much chance that politicians will reform the state's campaign finance system to resemble the city's anytime soon. Shafran said that the Senate realizes that reform is needed, and added that Squadron and Schneiderman are focused on reaching a deal with the Assembly as soon as possible. "The Senate certainly understands the ethical concerns, and we stand ready to take action."

But Bartoletti said she isn't sure good government groups will get the true reform they are looking for. "We haven't had a reliable partner in pushing for reform," she said. "Most of these guys don't really want to do anything about it. This is how they got elected and this is how they stay elected."

The Other Races


It's not just the mayor's race on the ballot tomorrow. There are competitive contests in two other citywide posts and for the borough presidents.

Public Advocate

In what most say is a contest already decided, frontrunner and Democratic candidate Bill de Blasio will face off against 26-year-old Republican Alex Zablocki, and three other third party candidates, in a race for public advocate.

De Blasio has already bested former advocated Mark Green in a runoff in September and in an overwhelmingly Democratic city is expected to win tomorrow handily.

De Blasio, who has served on the City Council since 2002 and headed up its general welfare committee, has made parental input at the Department of Education his major issue. If elected, he also says he would overhaul the Civilian Complaint Review Board, giving them independent prosecutorial power.

"The public advocate has to be deeply involved in making things better and the way to do that is working with a broad range of people, figure out a strategy and relentlessly pursue it," de Blasio told Gotham Gazette during the primary. "Through good times and bad that's the approach I'll be taking."

Zablocki, currently the district director for State Sen. Andrew Lanza, says he is the youngest candidate to ever run for public advocate. If elected, he said he would decentralize the office and set up a public advocate center in every borough. He wants to also increase parental involvement at city schools and would focus on transportation and traffic issues.

Zablocki, a native of Staten Island, said he would immediately call for a charter revision commission to put the comptroller as second in line to succeed the mayor instead of the public advocate.

"I want to use the tools of the office to do something a little bit diff, which is actually make the office work," Zablocki said.

The candidates have not debated publicly, because no on but de Blasio met the city Campaign Finance Board requirements. Zablocki has raised $17,072, while de Blasio has $1,877,259.

William J Lee, on the Conservative line, Maura Deluca on the Socialist Workers line, and Jim Lesczynski, a Libertarian, will also be on the ballot. None have raised any money for the race.

Comptroller

The third citywide race, for comptroller, also seems to have been largely decided on the day of the Democratic runoff when Queens Councilmember John Liu defeated Brooklyn Councilmember David Yassky. If he wins Tuesday, Liu, who was born in Taiwan, would become the first Asian elected to citywide office in New York,

In his campaign for to become the city's chief financial officer with responsibility for its employee pension funds, Liu has highlighted his experience in finance and on the City Council. He has called for the city's pension funds to rely more on conventional investment and less on what he has called "esoteric instruments."

"Let's get back to the basics and we can also reduce some of our fees, " he said in a recent debate.

Backed by many unions and the Working Families Party, Liu has said spending deductions alone cannot fill the city's multi-billion budget gap. "There is no way to simply cut ourselves out of this," he said at debate in October. "I would tax the highest paid residents of this city."

In that debate, Liu faced off against Salim Ejaz, the candidate of the Rent is Too Damn High Party. Ejaz was the only candidate other than Liu to raise enough money for the debate -- even though the leader of his party Jimmy McMillan has reportedly endorsed Liu.

During the debate, Ejaz argued forcefully again cutting pensions for city workers. "Do not play with the pension fund of the people," he said. "It's their sweat and blood." H has decried the special interests and what he sees as the incompetence of government and pledged not to raise taxes on working people.

Liu's Republican opponent, Joseph Mendola, did not raise enough money to qualify for the debate but said he continues to campaign, making appearances across the city. He has focused on management of city pension funds, saying the funds have underperformed, forcing the city to pay in more money.

Mendola has been philosophical about his lack of support from his party and from the person at the top of its ticket, Michael Bloomberg. Earlier in the campaign, Bloomberg said he did not even know who the GOP candidates for comptroller or public advocate were. (Mendola said the mayor does know him.)

"He has not helped my cause," Mendola said, adding "there is a lot about him I admire."

The Conservative Party standard-bearer Stuart Avrick sees his candidacy for comptroller as a kind of penance. "When you're a member of the party for 40 years you have to do it," he said. The Conservatives decided to run their own candidate, Avrick said, because they thought none of the other parties' candidate was qualified.

Libertarian John Clifton also will appear on the ballot.

Liu has raised $3.7 million in private funds and almost $1.4 million in private matching funds, allowing him to spend almost $5 million on his campaign. In contract, Ejaz has raised less than $60,000 -- though spent almost $648,000. He in turn dwarfs the other three. Mendola has raised almost $21,000 and neither Avrick or Clifton are listed as having raised anything.

Borough Contests

All five borough presidents face re-election this year. None of the races have generated a lot of coverage, but the one that seem to have attracted the most attention is on Staten Island where two-term incumbent, Republican Conservative James Molinaro, faces a challenger from John Luisi, running on the Democratic and Working Families Party lines. Luisi ran unsuccessfully against Molinaro four years ago.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani have campaigned on Molinaro's behalf.

Molinaro has raised almost $242,000 in private funds, compared to almost $97,000 for Luisi.

In Manhattan, one-term incumbent Scott Stringer will face Republican David Casavis and Socialist Worker Party candidate Tom Bauman. In the Bronx, Ruben Diaz Jr., who became borough president after winning a special election earlier this year, faces Republican Allison Oldak. Brooklyn's Marty Markowitz, a two-term incumbent who was exploring a run for mayor before the extension of term limits, is opposed by Republican/Conservative Marc D'Ottavio and Libertarian Michael Sanchez, while over in Queens, Republican Robert Hornak and Democrat Richard Latin are seeking to unseat two-term incumbent Helen Marshall.

All the incumbents are viewed as heavy favorites but that has not stopped them from raising money. Stringer, for example, collected almost $1.7 million in private contributions, even though Bauman has not raised any money and Casavis has raised only $3,348, Markowitz took in more than $1.7 million in donation, while his GOP opponent had $5,168 and the Libertarian had apparently not raised anything.

Diaz and Marshall were more modest in their fundraising, both collecting under $200,000.

In the Manhattan district attorney race, Richard Aborn will appear on the Working Families Party line but gave up his race after losing to Cyrus Vance Jr. in the Democratic primary. No other candidate is running.

The other district attorney up for election this year, Brooklyn's Charles Hynes, is unopposed.

Virtually every City Council member has at least nominal -- ad often only nominal -- opposition. To check on the race in your district, see Who's Running for What.

Ballot Questions

New Yorkers will be confronted with two ballot questions at the polls tomorrow. One allows National Grid and the state to swap 43 acres of land to make way for a 23-mile power line in St. Lawrence County.

The other would allow the State Legislature to approvelegislation that would allow individuals incarcerated at state prisons or city jails to volunteer at nonprofits. Currently the state Constitution prohibits work done by inmates to be farmed out to any private entity. If approved and the legislature subsequently approved legislation, inmates could volunteer at local nonprofits.

Judgeships

A number of judicial races also will be on the ballot. In several, candidates are unopposed.

In the contested races, Democrat Lucy Billings faces Republican Sherilyn Dandridge for a Supreme Court seat in Manhattan's first judicial district in Manhattan. Billings has served as an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union and Legal Services, while Dandridge has had her own law practice. The Bar Association of the City of New York approved Billing but did not approve Dandridge. The association does not provide reasons for or details on its ratings.

Five candidates are vying for three Supreme Court judgeships in the Bronx's 12th judicial district. They are: Democrat Lucindo Suarez and Democrat/Conservative Kenneth Thompson, who both are already on the court; John H. Wilson, who has served as a civil court judge; Democrat Sharon A.M. Aarons, also a Civil Court judge; and Conservative Loraine Corsa. In this race, Suarez, Thompson and Wilson were approved by the bar association; Aarons and Corsa were not.

Four candidates are running for two Civil Court seats in the Bronx. They are: Democrat Ruben Franco, a practicing lawyer for 25 years; Republican/Conservative Marcos Pagan III; Democrat Stanley Green, who is already on the court; and Republican/Conservative Charles Taibi. The Bar Association gave an "approved" to Franco and Green but not to Pagan and Taibi.

The boroughwide Brooklyn contest for Civil Court pits Democrat Reginald Boddie, a lawyer who has worked for Legal Aid and been in private practice, against Republican/Conservative Vincent Martusciello. Boddie was approved by the bar association; Martusciello was not approved.

Democrat Rachel Amy Adams, who has served on the Civil Court and at one time worked for Justice Gerald Garson, who was convicted of taking bribes, is running against Republican/Conservative Phillip Smallman for Civil Court judge from Brooklyn's fifth district. The bar association rated both "approved."

In Queens, voters will have to select to select three judges from a field of six running for the Supreme Court from the 11th judicial district. On the ballot are: Democrat Thomas Raffaele, a Civil Court judge; Republican/ Conservative Robert Beltrani; Democrat Dicci Pineda-Kirwan, a Civil Court judge who says she is the first female, Dominican-born judge in the state; Republican/Conservative John Casey, a former parole officer who now serves as an administrative law judge; Democrat Daniel Lewis, who currently sits on the Supreme Court; and Republican Joseph Kasper, a South Ozone Park attorney. Of the six, only Lewis and Raffaele were approved by the bar association.

The Other Races


It's not just the mayor's race on the ballot tomorrow. There are competitive contests in two other citywide posts and for the borough presidents.

Public Advocate

In what most say is a contest already decided, frontrunner and Democratic candidate Bill de Blasio will face off against 26-year-old Republican Alex Zablocki, and three other third party candidates, in a race for public advocate.

De Blasio has already bested former advocated Mark Green in a runoff in September and in an overwhelmingly Democratic city is expected to win tomorrow handily.

De Blasio, who has served on the City Council since 2002 and headed up its general welfare committee, has made parental input at the Department of Education his major issue. If elected, he also says he would overhaul the Civilian Complaint Review Board, giving them independent prosecutorial power.

"The public advocate has to be deeply involved in making things better and the way to do that is working with a broad range of people, figure out a strategy and relentlessly pursue it," de Blasio told Gotham Gazette during the primary. "Through good times and bad that's the approach I'll be taking."

Zablocki, currently the district director for State Sen. Andrew Lanza, says he is the youngest candidate to ever run for public advocate. If elected, he said he would decentralize the office and set up a public advocate center in every borough. He wants to also increase parental involvement at city schools and would focus on transportation and traffic issues.

Zablocki, a native of Staten Island, said he would immediately call for a charter revision commission to put the comptroller as second in line to succeed the mayor instead of the public advocate.

"I want to use the tools of the office to do something a little bit diff, which is actually make the office work," Zablocki said.

The candidates have not debated publicly, because no on but de Blasio met the city Campaign Finance Board requirements. Zablocki has raised $17,072, while de Blasio has $1,877,259.

William J Lee, on the Conservative line, Maura Deluca on the Socialist Workers line, and Jim Lesczynski, a Libertarian, will also be on the ballot. None have raised any money for the race.

Comptroller

The third citywide race, for comptroller, also seems to have been largely decided on the day of the Democratic runoff when Queens Councilmember John Liu defeated Brooklyn Councilmember David Yassky. If he wins Tuesday, Liu, who was born in Taiwan, would become the first Asian elected to citywide office in New York,

In his campaign for to become the city's chief financial officer with responsibility for its employee pension funds, Liu has highlighted his experience in finance and on the City Council. He has called for the city's pension funds to rely more on conventional investment and less on what he has called "esoteric instruments."

"Let's get back to the basics and we can also reduce some of our fees, " he said in a recent debate.

Backed by many unions and the Working Families Party, Liu has said spending deductions alone cannot fill the city's multi-billion budget gap. "There is no way to simply cut ourselves out of this," he said at debate in October. "I would tax the highest paid residents of this city."

In that debate, Liu faced off against Salim Ejaz, the candidate of the Rent is Too Damn High Party. Ejaz was the only candidate other than Liu to raise enough money for the debate -- even though the leader of his party Jimmy McMillan has reportedly endorsed Liu.

During the debate, Ejaz argued forcefully again cutting pensions for city workers. "Do not play with the pension fund of the people," he said. "It's their sweat and blood." H has decried the special interests and what he sees as the incompetence of government and pledged not to raise taxes on working people.

Liu's Republican opponent, Joseph Mendola, did not raise enough money to qualify for the debate but said he continues to campaign, making appearances across the city. He has focused on management of city pension funds, saying the funds have underperformed, forcing the city to pay in more money.

Mendola has been philosophical about his lack of support from his party and from the person at the top of its ticket, Michael Bloomberg. Earlier in the campaign, Bloomberg said he did not even know who the GOP candidates for comptroller or public advocate were. (Mendola said the mayor does know him.)

"He has not helped my cause," Mendola said, adding "there is a lot about him I admire."

The Conservative Party standard-bearer Stuart Avrick sees his candidacy for comptroller as a kind of penance. "When you're a member of the party for 40 years you have to do it," he said. The Conservatives decided to run their own candidate, Avrick said, because they thought none of the other parties' candidate was qualified.

Libertarian John Clifton also will appear on the ballot.

Liu has raised $3.7 million in private funds and almost $1.4 million in private matching funds, allowing him to spend almost $5 million on his campaign. In contract, Ejaz has raised less than $60,000 -- though spent almost $648,000. He in turn dwarfs the other three. Mendola has raised almost $21,000 and neither Avrick or Clifton are listed as having raised anything.

Borough Contests

All five borough presidents face re-election this year. None of the races have generated a lot of coverage, but the one that seem to have attracted the most attention is on Staten Island where two-term incumbent, Republican Conservative James Molinaro, faces a challenger from John Luisi, running on the Democratic and Working Families Party lines. Luisi ran unsuccessfully against Molinaro four years ago.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani have campaigned on Molinaro's behalf.

Molinaro has raised almost $242,000 in private funds, compared to almost $97,000 for Luisi.

In Manhattan, one-term incumbent Scott Stringer will face Republican David Casavis and Socialist Worker Party candidate Tom Bauman. In the Bronx, Ruben Diaz Jr., who became borough president after winning a special election earlier this year, faces Republican Allison Oldak. Brooklyn's Marty Markowitz, a two-term incumbent who was exploring a run for mayor before the extension of term limits, is opposed by Republican/Conservative Marc D'Ottavio and Libertarian Michael Sanchez, while over in Queens, Republican Robert Hornak and Democrat Richard Latin are seeking to unseat two-term incumbent Helen Marshall.

All the incumbents are viewed as heavy favorites but that has not stopped them from raising money. Stringer, for example, collected almost $1.7 million in private contributions, even though Bauman has not raised any money and Casavis has raised only $3,348, Markowitz took in more than $1.7 million in donation, while his GOP opponent had $5,168 and the Libertarian had apparently not raised anything.

Diaz and Marshall were more modest in their fundraising, both collecting under $200,000.

In the Manhattan district attorney race, Richard Aborn will appear on the Working Families Party line but gave up his race after losing to Cyrus Vance Jr. in the Democratic primary. No other candidate is running.

The other district attorney up for election this year, Brooklyn's Charles Hynes, is unopposed.

Virtually every City Council member has at least nominal -- ad often only nominal -- opposition. To check on the race in your district, see Who's Running for What.

Ballot Questions

New Yorkers will be confronted with two ballot questions at the polls tomorrow. One allows National Grid and the state to swap 43 acres of land to make way for a 23-mile power line in St. Lawrence County.

The other would allow the State Legislature to approve legislation that would allow individuals incarcerated at state prisons or city jails to volunteer at nonprofits. Currently the state Constitution prohibits work done by inmates to be farmed out to any private entity. If approved and the legislature subsequently approved legislation, inmates could volunteer at local nonprofits.

Judgeships

A number of judicial races also will be on the ballot. In several, candidates are unopposed.

In the contested races, Democrat Lucy Billings faces Republican Sherilyn Dandridge for a Supreme Court seat in Manhattan's first judicial district in Manhattan. Billings has served as an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union and Legal Services, while Dandridge has had her own law practice. The Bar Association of the City of New York approved Billing but did not approve Dandridge. The association does not provide reasons for or details on its ratings.

Five candidates are vying for three Supreme Court judgeships in the Bronx's 12th judicial district. They are: Democrat Lucindo Suarez and Democrat/Conservative Kenneth Thompson, who both are already on the court; John H. Wilson, who has served as a civil court judge; Democrat Sharon A.M. Aarons, also a Civil Court judge; and Conservative Loraine Corsa. In this race, Suarez, Thompson and Wilson were approved by the bar association; Aarons and Corsa were not.

Four candidates are running for two Civil Court seats in the Bronx. They are: Democrat Ruben Franco, a practicing lawyer for 25 years; Republican/Conservative Marcos Pagan III; Democrat Stanley Green, who is already on the court; and Republican/Conservative Charles Taibi. The Bar Association gave an "approved" to Franco and Green but not to Pagan and Taibi.

The boroughwide Brooklyn contest for Civil Court pits Democrat Reginald Boddie, a lawyer who has worked for Legal Aid and been in private practice, against Republican/Conservative Vincent Martusciello. Boddie was approved by the bar association; Martusciello was not approved.

Democrat Rachel Amy Adams, who has served on the Civil Court and at one time worked for Justice Gerald Garson, who was convicted of taking bribes, is running against Republican/Conservative Phillip Smallman for Civil Court judge from Brooklyn's fifth district. The bar association rated both "approved."

In Queens, voters will have to select to select three judges from a field of six running for the Supreme Court from the 11th judicial district. On the ballot are: Democrat Thomas Raffaele, a Civil Court judge; Republican/ Conservative Robert Beltrani; Democrat Dicci Pineda-Kirwan, a Civil Court judge who says she is the first female, Dominican-born judge in the state; Republican/Conservative John Casey, a former parole officer who now serves as an administrative law judge; Democrat Daniel Lewis, who currently sits on the Supreme Court; and Republican Joseph Kasper, a South Ozone Park attorney. Of the six, only Lewis and Raffaele were approved by the bar association.



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