Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics


Beware The Mantra Of Privatization

I entered public service with a commitment to make a difference in people's lives. Having grown up with heroes like President John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. as flesh and blood role models, I understand that making a difference in people's lives is the basis for government by the people and for the people. Indeed, my passion to this worthwhile ideal fuels my opposition to across-the-board privatization of city services without regard to what works and makes sense.

There are those who advocate using tax dollars to hire private concerns that would deliver virtually all the services that the government now delivers . These advocates are really opposing government efforts to make a difference in people's lives. It is government's role to ensure a level playing field and provide those services that help society function. Government's role involves no more and no less than providing a safe and secure environment in which people can freely co-exist. If government fails to deliver on this basic premise, the social compact that attracts people to a free and open society ultimately deteriorates.

A balanced approach to privatization recognizes the role of change, of new needs and of the entrepreneurial spirit. Government must deliver services effectively and efficiently. This includes intelligent partnerships with community and faith-based organization to deliver economic development, housing, and other services that build and rebuild communities. It also includes hiring skilled professionals to design projects and firms with expertise to build infrastructure.

Most of the debate over privatization occurs over the Giuliani Administration's future plans for the Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC) in today's ever-changing health care environment. While it appears that the battle to keep HHC facilities has been won, serious concerns exist when the rebuilding of a facility in another borough effectively downsizes the health care institutions and includes plans to lease much of the site for other, including non-health, uses.

Any study of workplace effectiveness recognizes the need for highly motivated workers. Study after study show the most productive workers receive adequate compensation and, at the most basic level, they get adequate wages through a collective bargaining system. Misguided, short-term effort to realize a quick buck in both the private and public sector often eschew the use of unionized workers. Look at privatization as a scheme to substitute minimum wage earners for civil service workers who have the skills and training to perform their jobs. A recent example is the attempt to privatize the security personnel at HHC facilities.

I opposed the privatization of Coney Island Hospital, and thankfully, the corporation agreed that it was wrong to attempt such a sale to a company that eventually went bankrupt. We must be equally careful when it comes to incremental efforts to introduce privatization at HHC facilities.

Our health system must be well staffed in order to provide quality care and to meet the needs of the community. In addition to having a sufficient number of quality medical providers, we must have quality security personnel. Officers who currently secure our public hospitals are unionized, receive benefits and are trained for their job.

Efforts to privatize these services certainly must be scrutinized to determine the long-term impact of the capacity of public health care facilities to provide quality care in a safe environment, but more importantly, I will remain opposed to the displacement of union workers whenever this may occur. Rather than blindly cutting appropriately trained HHC security personnel in a penny-wise, dollar-foolish scheme to save some money, it makes greater sense to efficiently deploy HHC police officers.

I have advocated against privatization of our public hospitals, which I feel could only compromise the long-term health care delivery available to our city's poorest residents, similarly, we must not allow efforts that could compromise the safety of patients, visitors or workers at municipal hospitals. These and other efforts at privatization only demonstrate HHC's need for an intelligent and comprehensive long-term plan for operating its facilities, with priority given to the health and well being of those it is intended to serve.

The use of trained skilled workers makes all the difference. Where private firms win bids to build a school or a road or a bridge or some other public structure, the successful firms employ unionized workers.

The more effective social service contractors, including faith-based organizations, pay workers union scale and the public gets the benefit in continuity of service from motivated workers.

Unfortunately, the mantra of privatization becomes the answer in the minds of misguided policy makers and their supporters when they look to address failing schools, problems at the Department of Buildings and their own failings in dealing with other governmental and quasi-governmental agencies. They sell self-certification of construction plans and projects at the risk of public safety. They disguise the use of private ambulances as a service enhancement while they reduce EMS tours and fail to improve emergency medical response times.

At a time when the news media look for the next building collapse or facade to fall, let's look at how the Giuliani Administration turned its Department of Buildings into a cash cow rather than a public safety agency. The administration, through its self-certification programs, allows architects and engineers responsible to private parties to approve their work. At the same time, the filing and other fees generate more revenue than the department spends to ensure building safety. Want to ensure safety? Hire qualified civil servants to examine plans and inspect buildings to ensure safety code compliance.

This administration laudably has made use of ambulances from the voluntary and private hospitals. Regrettably, rather than using these private ambulances to supplement the existing level of service, this administration cut EMS tours, reducing service and threatening lives.

Privatization can mean intelligent partnerships with non-governmental concerns - non-profit, private, and faith-based and community organizations - which can help government more effectively and compassionately serve its citizenry. But privatization also includes misguided missteps that impede service delivery but still provide a windfall to the private firm. Government must carefully assess efforts to privatize to ensure that they result in an improvement of conditions, and not a handout to some entrepreneur at taxpayer expense.

Fernando Ferrer is the Borough President of the Bronx.

Get Out the Vote!


What if they had an election and nobody voted?

It is not that unreasonable a question. Across the country and in New York, Americans are voting less and less. In 1953, 93 percent of registered New Yorkers voted in the mayoral election. In 1996, only 58 percent of eligible voters cast ballots. In the 1999 City Council elections, voter turnout was less than 20 percent. It was a pitiful three percent for the school board elections. The trend is the same on the national level. In 1996, 95.8 million Americans voted in the presidential election -- eight million fewer voters than in the 1992 presidential election, and the first time that less than half the eligible electorate voted since 1924, when Calvin Coolidge was elected.

Since Americans are voting less and less, the hard work of campaigning is only as good as candidates' efforts to get people to the polls and vote. In the weeks leading up to Election Day this year, candidates shifted their focus from debating the issues to an unusually vigorous "get out the vote" campaign. Three weeks before the election, Vice President Al Gore began devoting less time campaigning for swing voters, and more time trying to energize key supporting constituencies to go to the polls. Governor George W. Bush's campaign donated one million dollars left over from his primary campaign to the Republican Party to aid in get out the vote efforts in key districts. Why? To be elected, candidates must make sure that some registered voters -- at least the ones who support them -- show up and vote.

Candidates should be very, very afraid.


In the greatest democracy on earth, why do so few Americans choose to participate in the political process? The answer is the product of many factors:

1. Some Non-Voters Are Not Eligible
"The electoral system actually or effectively shuts out tens of millions," says a current article in the Village Voice -- actually, convicted felons (which number almost 4 million nationwide); effectively, such populations as the homeless. But the largest numbers of those excluded are immigrants. Roughly two-thirds of New York City's population is foreign born or first-generation immigrant. Of the voting-age population, which is about 5.8 million New Yorkers, only 4.2 million -- a little less than three-quarters -- are eligible. The ineligible are not citizens; some await citizenship, while others do not plan to apply. While these numbers may seem unsurprising, when broken down by race, the discrepancies become clearer. Only 63 percent of voting-age Hispanics are eligible; less than half of the city's Asians are eligible. The numbers are higher for whites and blacks, which includes Eastern European, Russian and Caribbean immigrants, but still far short of 100 percent.

Immigrant populations across the city are becoming increasingly aware of the lack of participation at the polls, and subsequent under-representation in government. Next year's big turnover in the city council, where thanks to term limits 36 of the current 51 council members will be unable to run again, has attracted many minority and immigrant candidates, who see this as their opportunity for unprecedented progress. Term limits may actually achieve one its goals: to lure new candidates to office and spur voter participation. Minority groups are organizing to get out the vote. Woodside's Center for Latin American Immigration in Queens has put together a Voters Guide in Spanish for area voters. They have joined forces with the New York Immigrant Coalition's "200,000 in 2000" campaign, which aims to educate 200,000 new citizens on community issues and voter participation. (See also Latino Vote 2000 and Youth Vote 2000 for targeted efforts to turn out the vote.)

2. Frequency Of Voting
New Yorkers may not vote in large numbers, but those who do vote, vote frequently. This year, we had a presidential primary on Super Tuesday, March 7th; a special election for the 10th Senate District on March 28th; a state and local primary September 12th; and now a presidential election on November 7th. And do not forget elections for the school board. That is a lot of trips to the polls, especially if you have to take the kids to practice, commute, work, or do pretty much anything else. Maybe fulfilling our civic duty is simply too large a burden in New York.

3. Lack Of Competition
In state and local races especially, many races are no-brainers. Incumbents are reelected in staggering proportions; an incumbent's defeat is virtually unheard of. This lack of competitiveness of races gives voters the sense that there is little point in going to the polls. In 1998, every single incumbent in the New York State legislature was reelected. And while newly imposed term limits will address this problem in the City Council, the issue remains unresolved on many other levels of government.

4. Cynicism
Scarred by scandals from Watergate to Monicagate, Americans have developed a deep distrust in those who govern. With little to trust from the lips of their leaders, and nothing to offer but a lone vote, many Americans have signed over their fates to lobbyists and deep-pocketed interest groups.

5. Prosperity And Contentment
Optimists posit that in these flush times, Americans have less reason to vote. With record low levels of crime, unemployment and inflation, many feel that there is little role for government in their lives.


common refrain of the non-voter is "what difference does my vote make?" Ironically, even the most hardened cynic would say "a lot." Why? Because turnout, however skewed, can mean the difference between winning and losing. (As Woody Allen once noted, 95 percent of life is just showing up.) Shifts in turnout rates by region, community, and of course, demographic group can make a Republican seat go Democrat and vice versa.

New York's elections are testimony to the power of increased voter participation of certain regions or demographic groups. Many analysts attributed Rudy Giuliani's 1993 victory over David Dinkins to the fact that turnout was extraordinarily high in pro-Giuliani Staten Island, where a popular referendum on succession was on the ballot. Similarly, in 1994, upstate voters came out in disproportionate numbers to allow Governor George Pataki to defeat the incumbent Mario Cuomo. Had turnout been consistent with past elections in both the city and the state, when Democrats came out in larger numbers, the political landscape of New York might look very different today.

While never publicly admitted, so great is the issue of turnout to the outcome of elections, that in some instances efforts are made to suppress turnout in opponents strongholds. The most notorious of these efforts was in 1993, when it was reported that New Jersey Governor Christine Whitman's campaign manager, Ed Rollins, had actually offered money to minority ministers to discourage turnout in the heavily Democratic parishes. Similarly, late in 1997 the New York State Republicans were reportedly planning to cede the state comptrollers race to Carl McCall, a popular African American incumbent, for fear that a competitive race would bring out the often-complacent minority community.

In the neck and neck Senate battle between Rick Lazio and Hillary Clinton, turnout may be the key to victory. Unions are busy manning phone banks, posting flyers and using other grassroots tactics to turn out the Democratic vote for Clinton. While local Republican machines are busily doing much of the same, state Republicans feel that Clinton's candidacy may be a powerful enough tool to bring Republicans to the polls.


Efforts to increase voter participation typically focus on two strategies: 1) make it easier to vote; 2) make races more competitive.

Easier Registration and Voting
A number of efforts have been focused on making the process of registering easier. The best known of these policies is the "motor voter" registration. Under this law, New Yorkers voters can register to vote when they renew their driver's license. What about New Yorkers who do not drive? Pending City Council legislation introduced by Public Advocate Mark Green and City Council member Gifford Miller would require city agencies to provide voter registration cards with whatever other agency forms they distribute. A more aggressive law introduced by New York State Assemblyman Scott Stringer, would allow same-day registration. Instead of registering some 6 weeks in advance, voters could walk into the polling place on Election Day, register and vote. Such a change, however, would require amending the state constitution, a process that requires the legislature's approval of the bill for two consecutive years, and then passage by referendum. Susannah Vickers, legislative aide to Assemblyman Stringer, says, "passing the bill is definitely an uphill battle. But participation numbers are so low that people are getting tired of the status quo. Vickers adds "there is definitely support for it, so were cautiously optimistic."

Registration, however, is only one part of the equation. Getting registered voters to the polls is a separate, equally challenging task. Some states are experimenting with alternatives to traditional polling place voting. Oregon has adopted voting-by-mail for all elections. The results have been dramatic: The 1996 Oregon presidential primary had the largest turnout of registered voters in the nation at 54 percent. Even New Hampshire, which holds the much-publicized first primary of the election season, had a lower turnout at 45 percent. Oregon's special election to fill a vacant senate seat in 1996 boasted a 66 percent voting rate; that figure contrasts starkly with a similar race in Texas, which drew only 21 percent of registered voters.

Internet technology is also beginning to infiltrate innovations in voting practices. In a January straw poll in Alaska, three remote districts participated by Internet through the company In the 2000 primary, the Arizona Democratic party allowed its members to vote online, four percent did so. These events have increased discussion about the Internet as a voting tool.

Many argue that focusing on registration and ballot access fails to address the what they see to be the real cause of low voter turnout: lack of interest. The solution to this problem is often seen to be more competitive races. Increasing competitiveness of elections, however, requires more sweeping structural changes to the process than are required for ballot access.

More Competition
New York City's 2001 will see massive turnover in the city council and citywide offices due to term limits. This, combined with the new matching funds offered by the Campaign Finance Board are creating the most competitive election in city history. Open seats, now held by some incumbents going back to the 1970s, are drawing a varied field of seasoned activists, first time candidates, and their constituencies into the electoral process. In addition, public financing allows those candidates willing to comply with fundraising and spending limits to receive four dollars for every dollar they raise. This makes the expensive prospect of running for office more feasible for those candidates with limited personal resources.

Action on such well-intentioned proposals is often bogged down in politics, as different proposals affect turnout differently for each party. For instance, motor voter and same day registration tend to favor Democrats, and thus have met with significant resistance by Republicans. Internet voting and voting by mail are seen as increasing Republican turnout, and are therefore widely opposed by Democrats.


Talking about getting people out to vote in theory and making it happen on Election Day are two very different things. While the campaigns, special interests groups and the parties all do their part; the focus locally is through local political organizations and clubs.

Delivering the vote involves a combination of top-down and bottom-up approaches. From the top, national and local candidates campaign frantically, whipping up enthusiasm among their key constituencies. Last minute direct mailings and direct telephone calls (recorded and live) are made by the millions. Unions press the members to get out to vote Democratic, and lend their efforts to the campaigns directly. Conservative and liberal organizations do the same for their respective candidates.

Unions are just one of the many interest groups that rally their constituencies to get to the polls and support their candidate of choice. The NAACP this year launched Operation Big Vote, spending nine million dollars for such get-out-the-vote efforts as public service announcements by celebrities and popular politicians on radio and television. It also offers its members ten reasons to vote on Election Day.

Other advocacy organizations - to name just a few, the League of Conservation Voters, the League of Women Voters (which includes a campaign called Take a Friend to Vote), the United Federation of Teachers and the "200,000 in 2000" -- conduct information campaigns and old-fashioned phone banks to get their members to the polls. Last year's proposed amendment to the city charter was roundly defeated in large measure because of the turnout generated by unions and good government groups. Still other groups, while not rallying around one particular issue or group, conduct nonpartisan voter registration, education and get out the vote efforts. (See, Democracy Net, and for information on national, state and local races.)

But the real hand-to-hand combat of getting out the vote occurs on the local level by local political clubs. In New York City, local political clubs, the lifeblood New York City politics provide the person power to deliver the vote. (See the McManus Midtown Democratic Association and the Village Independent Democrats for a taste.)

Club members, many of whom are neighborhood activists, are the foot soldiers of a 48-hour battle. It begins the evening before Election Day, when volunteers work through the night blanketing the city with campaign posters. By 6:00 am on Election Day, club members appear in front of polling place armed with palm cards reminding voters who to vote for. As the morning proceeds, members station themselves in subway stops, grocery stores and other high traffic areas. By late morning, club members return to their clubhouses to get their marching orders. Depending on turnout, they are redistributed to phone banks, going door to door within the particular clubs jurisdiction, or are loaned out to other clubs that are involved in tight races or to the campaigns themselves. Particular effort is focused on senior citizens. Vans are often provided to polling places. By evening when traffic at the polling places increases, volunteers return with their palm cards to remind voters whom they are supposed to vote for.

For all the cynicism about politics, it is the efforts of thousands of unpaid activists -- students, retirees, and working people -- who take the day off to help their candidates that often make the difference on Election Day. Each vote they bring to the polls counts. In 1994, Congressman James Maloney of Connecticut defeated his opponent Ed Muenster by just four votes. Despite beliefs to the contrary, many races are decided by a handful of votes. With so much at stake in 2000 -- the Presidency, the Supreme Court, control of the House and Senate -- a vote can mean that much more. Just ask Jim Maloney.


The Press

When George W. Bush made an insulting remark about New York Times reporter Adam Clymer that was inadvertently picked up by the microphones at a campaign stop last month, Times editors debated whether to refer to the comment as a "vulgarity" or an "obscenity." Whatever it was, it was not a political liability. Bush refused to apologize. And why should he? It was not the first time a presidential candidate (or for that matter a president) had insulted a journalist. His very father had revived a sagging campaign a decade ago by attacking CBS News anchor Dan Rather. This time around, other members of the press editorialized on how the comment would help the younger Bush's popularity: If there is anyone lower in public esteem than a politician, it is a member of the press.

During a campaign season, though, it is hard to keep the two apart.

For much of the first hundred years of American history, voters went out to see and hear candidates for themselves. But since 1896, when presidential candidate William Jennings Bryant first took reporters along on the campaign trail, the role of the press in political campaigns has steadily increased.

Despite the growing amount of political coverage, some voters complain that they cannot learn about the issues they really want to know about. What they get instead are detail after detail on the candidates' private lives, the "horse-race," the politicians' personality, the campaign tactics. Political journalists "are interested mainly in pure politics and can be coerced into examining the substance of an issue only as a last resort," James Fallows wrote four years ago in "Why Americans Hate the Media."

It is ironic that Bush's anger towards Clymer was reportedly based on Clymer's coverage of Texas' abysmal health care record and a story that rated the accuracy of a Bush ad on prescription drugs as "zero." But what became the big national news story had nothing to do with health care or prescription drugs; it was that Bush had uttered a cuss word.

Voter turnout has continued to fall over the past 40 years, while the substance of press coverage has gotten more superficial and the business of covering the campaigns has become more lucrative. Is there a connection: Has the press played a role in the transformation of the citizen from participant to spectator? There may be no way of knowing for sure, but if Americans are generally not impressed with journalists, they do not blame them for this decline in political engagement. It's not just voter turnout that is down, after all; the number of people who seek out campaign news is at record lows as well, something surely the news organizations aren't trying to bring about. But even if they are not to blame, critics say, the press still could be doing things differently -- and that could make a difference.


Though New York City is known as the media capital of the world, with a tough, sometimes mean-spirited, press corps, as well as powerful, and entertaining, politicians, there are firsts even here. And so it was in February, when the Apollo Theater housed the first presidential candidate debate ever in Harlem, between Democratic primary opponents Al Gore and Bill Bradley. It was a rare opportunity for an African-American community to gain the attention of the national candidates.

With hundreds of journalists at the scene, chanting crowds of supporters, and nine television trucks along 125th Street, the media frenzy had many in Harlem wondering if the debate had deteriorated from a historic event into a big show.

"It's nice that it's at the Apollo, but this is a circus," said Harlem resident Shawn Faloye, as a man on a six-foot-tall unicycle with an Al Gore sign peddled past. "What I'm looking at doesn't seem real."

Before the debate had even started, news organizations announced polls showing Gore held a 2-1 margin over Bradley among black voters, making any substance seem irrelevant. The focus turned instead to showmanship and the insults being hurled by the two candidates who debated in front of a handpicked crowd that included prominent politicians and celebrities.

The press headquarters was situated across the street from the Apollo, in the second floor of a church. There, over one hundred journalists sat at rows of tables, snacking on cold-cut sandwiches, talking on the phone, and typing on laptop computers. In the front of the room, ten televisions broadcast the debate.

In the end, much of the national press had traveled hundreds of miles to watch the historic Harlem debates on TV, just like the rest of the country. Two-thirds of the public still gets their election news primarily from television.


This summer, the New York Times sent a staff of 70 to cover the Republican and Democratic conventions and filled five to six pages a day. They were not alone. A record 15,000 journalists received credentials to cover each of the conventions. This was an incredible number, especially considering that the arenas only seat around 50,000 people at a time, and that the national conventions have not produced any real news in four decades; they have become essentially massive pep-rallies to publicize foregone conclusions.

With the expansion of magazines, cable stations, and the Internet, political media outlets have flourished and the amount of material needed to fill those outlets has increased.

New Yorkers have more ways to follow the national and local campaigns than any other city. There are four daily newspapers, scores of alternative, community, and ethnic newspapers, 24 hours of local news, one of the most prominent public radio stations in the country, and a host of local election websites.

But more doesn't necessarily mean better. Danny Schechter of the public interest organization,, gives the New York press a poor rating for their campaign reporting.

"The coverage is often stripped of context and, while reporting on what candidates say, rarely investigate the interests they represent, or the background of the issues they raise," Schechter says. And in the weeks leading up to election day, he adds, the temptation to cover the sensational increases.


Despite the massive amount of money and time spent covering politics and elections on the national level, voters don't seem to be impressed with the result.

In a recent study, 68 percent of voters gave the 2000 presidential campaign coverage a rating of "fair" or "poor." Only 5 percent rated it as "excellent." They also felt they learned the most from watching a live political debate (the least frequent programming) and least from Sunday morning political programs and radio talk shows (the most common kinds of programming).

Some critics say that's because real and original reporting is actually shrinking.

A study by the Pew Research Center showed that three-quarters of the national election coverage between February and June included two main themes: Gore lies and is marred by the Clinton scandal, and Bush is "a different kind of Republican."

Jane Hall, a teacher of journalism ethics at American University, said the reoccurring themes stemmed from "pure opinion, rather than journalistic analysis."

But it's not just opinion being used to fill pages and television news.

As comedian Al Franken once remarked, "There are so many great things about CNN. If something important happens, CNN will show it over and over again -- like when Bob Dole fell down at a campaign rally."


Last week, local journalists tried to keep pace with Senate candidate Hillary Clinton, as she set a frantic campaign pace in the city.

They rode in vans from her chat with Brooklyn law students to a meeting with teachers in Manhattan. They mingled at the open bar before she gave the keynote address on gay rights at the Empire State Pride dinner. They tripped over each other in an effort to position their tape-recorders and microphones for the quote that would shape a daily, and perhaps, national story.

The City Hall reporters, on the other hand, were shuttled to the Bronx to hear the mayor give a pitch for the new fundraising plan at the New York Botanical Gardens. Giuliani was presented with a tree and quipped about how he had cleared his schedule that night to watch the Yankees.

It wasn't the prize assignment the City Hall reporters expected.

Before Giuliani dropped out of the Senate race, the reporters were set to cover arguably the most watched race in the country. With Clinton and Giuliani exchanging words nearly a year before the election, the race was shaping up more like a showdown for City Sheriff than a Senate seat.

But they weren't the only local reporters whose careers took a downturn because of a change in Republican candidates. This summer, two biographies of Mayor Giuliani came out within days of each other, obviously timed for the middle of a heated campaign. However, the authors soon found themselves on the radio talk shows and in newspapers explaining why the books were still relevant. The first printing of "Rudy!" the book by Village Voice reporter Wayne Barrett, was cut from 100,000 to 45,000 copies.

Still, that's 45,000 people who wanted to read a book whose biggest revelations were about Giuliani's long-dead father.

While most voters say they do not want to know about candidates' private lives, they do like to know about traits like honesty, and they like to be able to connect with them on a personal level.

And despite polls throughout the Monica Lewinsky affair that said the public thought the media was making it too big an issue, the Barbara Walter's interview with Lewinsky drew an estimated 48 million people. Only the Super bowl drew more viewers that year.


In this year's primary race in New Jersey, residents of New York City were ten times more likely to see a campaign ad from John Corzine than a news story about the race.

That's not just because he's from a neighboring state and doesn't deserve news coverage. Critics say media organizations that are supposed to provide voters with information are, instead, profiting from it.

This year local and national TV stations will earn somewhere between $600 million and $1 billion in political advertising, compared with $90 million twenty years ago. With the networks headquarters and the largest media market in the country, New York City media corporations see substantial portions of that money.

While ad income from campaigns is up, some networks are deciding to cut the less "profitable" kind of campaign coverage.

Although this presidential race is the closest in years, NBC and Fox Networks decided not to air the first presidential debates, showing baseball and a season premiere instead.

Earlier this year, broadcasters opposed proposed changes in Federal Communications Commission regulations that would allow for free political airtime. Media lobbyists mustered the political weight to defeat the proposal in the Senate and sway even campaign finance reform advocate, John McCain, who stated that the "FCC is clearly overstepping its authority here."

A recent report by the Center for Public Integrity cited television broadcasters as the biggest block to campaign finance reform.

But the battle for reform in television coverage hasn't stopped. Last week, under pressure from campaign reform groups, CBS and NBC announced that they would allow five minutes per day of issue discussion in the month before the elections.


In a 1999 study, only one in ten voters said they were interested in polls about which candidate was winning or losing at a given time. But this year, evening network news stories examining 'horserace' coverage are up 26 percent since the last election. [See Steve Ross' analysis of polling in this week's Feature]

But polls aren't always just meaningless facts to tease and amuse the audience. A recent study by the Poynter Institute indicated that voters who were poll-savvy also knew more about the issues and the candidates.

Polls also give the public, rather than the candidates or journalists, a chance to voice their opinion.

The problem, critics say, is when the polls drive the news and replace a meaningful discussion of issues.

"When employed inappropriately by overzealous reporters and analysts," said Kathleen A. Frankovic, director of surveys for CBS News, "polls can be used to create an exaggerated sense of precision that misleads more than it informs."

Another criticism is a journalistic tendency to focus on "behind the scenes" strategy and political maneuvering.

In 1995, President Bill Clinton held a meeting with thirteen teenagers who asked detailed questions about guns in school, job-training programs, and scholarships for inner-city kids. Just a month earlier, the President met with a panel that consisted of the network anchors, Peter Jennings, Dan Rather, and Tom Brokaw. The questions posed by the two groups were vastly different.

"None of the questions from these news professionals concerned the impact of legislation or politics on people's lives," Fallows wrote in his article "Why American's Hate the Media." "Nearly all concerned the struggle for individual advancement among candidates."

Journalists find it "more fun and easier," Fallows said, to write about "positioning" and "handling" an issue than they do looking into the policy issue itself.


It's not just good government groups concerned that less than half of the population voted in the last national election. News programs are also concerned if people care less, and therefore read and watch less.

Critics suggest that that there are things news organizations can do in order to improve their coverage and get voters to engage.

Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center for People and the Press, says that news organizations should reach out to a younger audience, emphasize the issues and their importance, and report less on private lives and political tactics. But even he admits there are limits to what anyone can accomplish.

"In the end, it may turn out there is nothing that news organizations can do to stem erosion of the political news audience, short of sending Gore and Bush to a desert island and having people vote to banish one or the other."

Election Special--Support for Children - In Theory

(Oct-Nov '00) Despite the concern that the candidates are all expressing for children and families, many have not taken positions on some of the biggest problems actually facing New York City children:

The crisis in affordable day care. Simply put, it costs more to purchase day care in New York City than many parents can afford. Costs run about $4,000 per child a year for the least expensive alternative, a babysitter, and as much as $7,500 a year for a spot in a city-run public day care center. Private day care and nannies can, of course, run much higher. But parents with full-time minimum wage jobs earn just $10,712 a year. A third of all full-time workers in New York City do not earn enough to lift a family out of poverty, according to a recent study of economic growth in New York City.

Child care subsidies are available to low income working parents in New York City, but there aren't enough to go around. There are some 30,000 children on a waiting list, as there have been for several years. And now, a new population of parents is streaming into the low-wage job market, parents leaving welfare, adding to the competition for child care subsidies. Roughly 50,000 adults have begun to work each of the last two years, and there are still an estimated 250,000 adults receiving public assistance who are expected to begin work, either in workfare or low wage jobs.

The state has been using a surplus in Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) as a stop-gap measure to expand the city's day care budget. But the surplus is temporary. As soon as the Temporary Assistance program is re-authorized in 2002, and the drop in New York's welfare rolls is registered, the surplus will disappear. At that point New York may find itself with a child care crisis of monumental proportions.

None of the candidates for major office has campaigned on this issue. Only Clinton has proposed relief. She supports expanding child care subsidies to 1 million more children nationwide, but does not indicate whether funding for the expansion should be federal or local. She also supports eliminating federal tax liabilities for poor families that claim the maximum allowable child care expense. This could put as much as $2,400 for child care in the hands of poor parents.

The Dismantling of Juvenile Justice Programs. Nationally, the number of kids under the age of 18 serving time in adult prisons has more than doubled to 7,400 in the last decade. In New York State, adolescents aged 13-15 are tried in adult court if they commit serious violent crimes, and all teenagers in New York over the age of 15 are tried in adult court and sentenced to adult prisons. New York's laws have been the toughest in the nation for over a decade, but the rest of the country is catching up. Since 1992, 45 states have passed laws making it easier to prosecute youngsters as adults.

The presidential and senate candidates have been surprisingly quiet on the subject of juvenile crime, a topic that only a year and a half ago, following a spate of school shootings, dominated political discourse. Law and order, generally, has dropped off the campaign radar scope. The Bush campaign Web site does not list crime as an issue at all.

But Congress has not forgotten juvenile crime. It has been working since 1996 to toughen the federal juvenile justice law to bring it into alignment with new stricter state laws, and advocates for children predict the bill will finally be acted upon in the next Congress. The bill, which Congressman Lazio supports, is currently in the House-Senate conference committee. It substantially lengthens sentences for youngsters convicted of federal crimes, relaxes rules about separating juvenile and adult prisoners, and imposes adult probation rules on federal juvenile prisoners.

Gore, Bush and Clinton have not declared their positions on the bill. However, the Clinton White House has fought to soften the bill's harshest provisions.

New York children's advocates are particularly concerned about the legislation because it reinforces prevailing attitudes in New York, which have driven up incarceration rates of young people, even as crime rates have dropped. "

What we're seeing is kids being prosecuted and sent away from home for considerable lengths of time for incidents like school fights that in the past might have been handled in community-based treatment programs," says Jackie Dean, director of the Legal Aid Society's Juvenile Rights Division.

For a look at the voting records of congressional representatives on major children's issues - both those that are part of the campaigns and those that are not - check the Children's Defense Fund's Action Council report on the 105th Congress. This is where you will also find Congressman Lazio's record on children's issues.

Peggy J. Farber is freelance journalist specializing in children's issues. Her reporting on conditions of NYC children has appeared in City Limits Magazine as well as on National Public Radio.

Election Special -- Campaign Finance: In Need of Reforms?

For the entire history of our nation's government, there has been any number of well-worn truisms about money and politics and the relationship between the two. Most people would agree, at least, with a couple of generally accepted premises: campaigns cost a lot to run; there have been some unseemly campaign funding scandals recently; there must be a better way.

Hence, the unlikely birth of campaign finance reform as an issue. Campaign finance reform can mean different things to different people, and depending on who's advocating reform, it could mean anything from total public funding of campaigns to lowering the amount of money that an individual can contribute, to mandated spending limits for an entire campaign. For a number of years, it was an issue largely relegated to the ranks of more obscure, policy-elite types. They argued, quite rationally, that campaign finance reform would never gain any traction, because no member of Congress would be crazy enough to effectively cut off their own source of campaign funding.

Enter John McCain.

John McCain's high-spirited, but ill-fated Presidential campaign did have several lasting (so far) legacies. One was the true emergence of campaign finance as an issue for debate. But the other was as a demonstration of the issue, played out on the campaign trail itself.

We see this once again in the Clinton-Lazio race, with both accusing the other of allowing so-called "soft-money" (unregulated money raised and spent by the two parties) to be spent in large quantities on his and her behalf.

You see, unlike most issues that come up in a campaign season, campaign finance has the delightful quality of forcing candidates to position themselves not with what they say, but with what they do: those candidates who most strongly believe in reform are the ones most likely to practice what they preach in their own campaigns.

But whose version of campaign finance reform? And which reforms--McCain-Feingold, or another version? And which campaigns--federal, or state, or both? And which finances--hard money, soft money, all money?

It is, as they say, a complicated issue. But it doesn't have to be. Most Americans could probably sum up their feelings about campaign finance in the following way:

  • Campaign finances are badly in need of reform.
  • Campaign finance reform would reform campaign finances.
  • Therefore, we need campaign finance reform.

But implicit in that circular logic are several assumptions. I want to briefly examine some of these assumptions, particularly in light of New York's top ballot race, the campaign for United State Senate.

Assumption: Campaigns cost way too much money.
False. Campaigns are expensive, yes. In New York State, the U.S. Senate candidates will each spend approximately $20 million by election day. That is a lot of money. But keep in mind, most campaigns, even the Presidential races, are run on a comically shoestring budget. What money there is for overhead goes to underpaid staffers, and crammed headquarters space. Everything else is spent on media: television, mail, radio. The amount spent to run a Senate race, to determine who will make major decisions on behalf of millions of people for the next six years, pales in comparison to even a modest advertising budget for fast food or soda. Which is more important?

Assumption: Campaigns cost so much because of corruption in the system.
False (and True). There is no widespread evidence of campaign funds being spent unethically. Reporting guidelines are stringent, and we have no reason to think that any real problem exists with campaign money going to anything other than campaign expenses. There is, however, reason to believe that campaign expenses may be artificially high: some television and radio stations make a practice of raising prices at election time, to take advantage of the candidate campaigns, who must shoot their wad by November 7th.

Assumption: Whoever raises the most will win the election.
False. There is a correlation between having a huge financial advantage and winning the election, but the relationship isn't necessarily causal. The candidate who raises the most money, who does the best job of convincing people of her viability or convictions or qualifications is probably, also, the better candidate. Not only that, but campaign funding does have a saturation point, as Jon Corzine's Senate race in New Jersey has demonstrated. Having enough money is important, in fact is a necessity; but having all the money in the world isn't necessarily an advantage after that. (Corzine has spent more than $50 million in the New Jersey race but still can't reach that 50 percent mark in the polls).

Assumption: The problem is that individual contributors can give too much money.
False. The individual contribution limit in a federal race is $1000. That means, if you are Hillary Clinton or Rick Lazio, you are looking at raising $20 million from, at the very least, 20,000 individuals. No one person out of 20,000 can command access or influence or even recognition. The problem is not that contributions are too high; the problem does lie with the number of times the candidate must ask for money in order to meet their budget. The time it takes to raise that kind of money presents another, different problem.

Assumption: Under the current system, only the wealthy can afford to run for office.
False. Most candidates are not in a position to finance their own campaigns. You don't have to be wealthy to run for office, but you do have to be willing, and able, to raise large sums of money. If a candidate has good experience, and great ideas, and energy and conviction and enthusiasm, they should have no problem asking people to invest in their vision. But a candidate who is too shy, or too timid, or too polite, or too embarrassed to ask people to believe in her ability to win and her fitness for office, is probably better off not running.

Assumption: We need public financing and free television time so everyone can have a chance to be a candidate.
False. Not just false, undemocratic and horrifying. There is a place for public access. In fact, it's mandated by law. But the idea of everyone who's ever had a bone to pick, or an ax to grind, or a conspiracy theory, or a doomsday prophecy having access to free television time for all the world to see and hear isn't just a bad idea, it would be a disaster.

So what do we do? If these assumptions are mostly false, how do we proceed, if most people agree that what we're doing now isn't working?

I do believe we need campaign finance reform. I think we need to get rid of the existing laws, which have clearly served to create new problems, rather than solve existing ones. And then I think we need to do something startling and radical: nothing.

Full disclosure, no limits. Candidates can accept contributions in whatever amount they choose, but they have to disclose everything: how much they are receiving and from whom. Most candidates would cut their fundraising time in half, and while there may be some big checks written, chances are there would be a self-imposed ceiling placed on the contributions by the candidates themselves. (Even a contribution of $100,000 is only .005 percent of the budget in a $20 million campaign).

No more loopholes, no more soft money and hard money, no more never-ending fundraising by members of Congress who would rather be doing their jobs. We might not lose so many qualified candidates, who are daunted by the prospect of attending 200 fundraisers over the course of a year.

There is a reason campaigns are long, arduous affairs; the stakes are very, very high. A political campaign is a pressure-filled situation, and good, intelligent, hard-working men and women with plenty of funds and qualified advisors lose campaigns all the time. We don't necessarily want to make this process any easier; it's too important. We need the campaign to be a battle of ideas and opinions, so that when the votes are counted, there is no doubt that a true winner has emerged.

But we do want to look closely at the system we have, especially in light of these 2000 elections, and ask ourselves if we are making it harder than it has to be, on our candidates, and on ourselves.

For a response, please turn to Linda Stone Davidoff's letter.

Susan Reefer is a Republican pollster and media strategist. She is based in New York City.

Community Boards

New York City's community boards represent the city's longest running effort to involve local communities directly in the government. People debate how successful the system of community boards has been, but through them, many neighborhoods have gained a voice in the decisions that affect them.

There are currently 59 community boards throughout New York City. Each Board consists of up to 50 unsalaried members appointed by the Borough President, with half nominated by the City Council members who represent that district. Board members must reside, work in, or have some other significant interest in the community. The Charter Revision Commission recommendations of 1975 gave the community boards a formal role in three specific areas:

  • 1. Improving the delivery of city services;
  • 2. Planning and reviewing land use in the community
  • 3. Making recommendations on the city's budget.

In addition, community boards must be consulted on placement of most municipal facilities in the community.


The community boards system has a long history, having evolved from an experiment of former Manhattan Borough President Robert F. Wagner. In 1951 Wagner established twelve "Community Planning Councils" consisting of 15 to 20 members each. The councils were charged with advising the Borough President on planning and budgetary matters. In a very real sense, Wagner's experiment was a prescient response to a well-articulated postwar fear that, to an ever increasing extent, people's lives were controlled by large, faceless bureaucracies. The fight against dictatorship abroad, the dominance of mass culture, and the growth of domestic government at all levels fueled much of this fear. Books with titles like The Lonely Crowd, Growing Up Absurd, The Organization Man, White Collar, and Escape From Freedom made the bestseller lists of the 1950s. All of these books lamented the fate of the individual in a world dominated by large organizations and looked toward a future in which individuals would regain control over their lives.

Big cities were often the target of this type of criticism. In 1961, the concept of community planning received an enormous boost from Jane Jacobs's classic The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Jacobs argued that the immense increase in the size of America's cities, combined with the increase in responsibility for housing, welfare, health, education, and regulatory planning, had rendered sprawling, metropolitan governments obsolete. "Routine, ruthless, wasteful, oversimplified solutions for all manner of city physical needs" were the only possible result of administrative systems which had "lost the power to comprehend, to handle and to value an infinity of vital, unique, intricate and interlocked details, " Jacobs wrote.

Many observers shared Jacobs' concern. The simultaneous exodus of middle-class individuals and businesses to the suburbs and the continued migration of those with low skills convinced many critics that traditional forms of urban governance needed to be reformed. It wasn't enough for decision-makers to have knowledge of programs and services. "They must understand, and understand thoroughly, specific places," Jacobs wrote, and that could only be learned from the people who lived there.

As a solution, Jacobs recommended "administrative districts," to be run by a "district administrator" which would represent the primary, basic subdivision within city agencies. Her recommendations were taken up in the 1963 New York City Charter, adopted during Wagner's third term as Mayor. The Charter extended the neighborhood-governance concept to the other boroughs, establishing "Community Planning Boards" with advisory powers throughout the city. These boards eventually became known simply as "Community boards."


During the 1960s community planning became part of a larger, more highly politicized movement toward "decentralizing" big city government. While many middle-class whites seeking greater responsiveness and accountability in municipal government found it in the fragmented governmental structure of suburbia, growing numbers of Blacks and Puerto Ricans sought to transform highly bureaucratic city agencies through direct democracy. Minority leaders and those who sympathized with them attacked centralized bureaucracies for their rules, their distance from communities, and, in the case of school districts, their inability to improve achievement levels.

New York City made three attempts to heed the call for decentralization: the community school district system in 1969; the Office of Neighborhood Government strategy of Mayor John Lindsay in the early 1970s; and the community board system established in its present form in 1977.

The most controversial of these attempts was school decentralization, in which minority leaders were successful in getting passed a law establishing a system of local school boards elected by parents. Before the law was passed in 1969, experiments set up in three school districts ran into opposition from New York's largest teachers union and resulted in a teacher's strike in 1968. The 1969 law was shaped to satisfy the United Federation of Teachers, but it also provided a modicum of satisfaction to Black leaders and their liberal allies who were demanding that schools be managed by local communities. While there is disagreement over the effectiveness of decentralization in the New York City public schools, recurring scandals involving school board members, some of whom had taken bribes from unscrupulous principals, resulted in the dismantling of the system in1996.

Despite the 1968 school strike, Mayor Lindsay pushed ahead with his program of decentralization. In 1970, Lindsay declared "the year of the neighborhood" and opened the Office of Neighborhood Government (ONG). Aimed at reducing the lack of coordination among city agencies and improving service-level responsiveness at the community level, Lindsay set up eight demonstration districts headed by district managers. Within these "Little City Halls," managers were assigned to encourage more local planning and to improve service delivery through "service cabinets." Service cabinets were made up of officers of city agencies. In May 1972, City Comptroller Abe Beame released a report charging misuse of funds by the Office of Neighborhood Government. That, combined with agency resistance to decentralization spelled the demise of that office when Beame became Mayor.

Nevertheless, the Office of Neighborhood Government did legitimize decentralization in the city after the disastrous school strikes. Specifically, the concepts of district manager and "service cabinets" were revived in the Community boards established by voter referendum in 1975. Inspired by the Charter Revision Commission recommendations of that year, city residents voted to assign a Board appointed district manager to head the Community boards. They also voted to establish district service cabinets, composed of all local service chiefs from the line agencies and chaired by the district managers. In addition to these two provisions, city residents also voted to strengthen the Boards' advisory powers in land use, budget, and service delivery; to establish agency coterminality with common district boundaries for all the main line agencies; and geographic budgeting, under which the expense and capital budgets of the city were to be broken out by Community board districts.


Perhaps the biggest change as a result of the 1975 charter revisions was the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) which mandated a community board review and vote on all land use applications, including zoning actions, special permits, acquisition and disposition of city property, and urban renewal plans. The revisions also gave the Community boards the power to draft master plans. In 1990, another Charter revision established, in section 197-a, a process for reviewing Community board master plans. Prior to this change, plans affecting communities were prepared by the Department of City Planning and presented to the City Planning Commission for approval. Section 197-a gave the Boards explicit authority to prepare plans and submit them to the Planning Commission and City Council for approval. Like all plans, "197-a" plans are advisory policy statements. But at the very least, section 197-a obligates city agencies to consider the plan in making future decisions.


The structure of community boards varies greatly, depending on community needs. Some Boards organize committees on the basis of functional areas such as land use review, education, public safety, and the budget. Some Boards establish committees and assign them to the operations of specific city agencies. Still others are organized by area committees, concerned with matters affecting specific geographic parts of a district. Many boards combine all three committee structures.

The district manager plays the pivotal role. It is he who establishes an office and hires staff (within the requirements of city budget appropriations). The district manager's role includes taking complaints, providing information, administering Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption Forms, Housing Assistance Applications, and Half-Fare applications. They also process permits for block parties and fairs and may even handle special projects, organize tenants and merchants associations, coordinate neighborhood cleanup programs, and publicize special events. In addition to this work, every Community board plays a role in the citywide budget process. Each year, Boards submit a "District Statement of Needs," which describes the issues and needs the district faces.


The community boards vary widely in their effectiveness. In his study "Community Control and Decentralization," David Rogers found that boards in communities with higher median household income tend to do better at getting their proposals implemented by city agencies than Boards in communities with lower median household income. This is probably because Board members in wealthier communities tend to bring higher levels of skill, leisure time, and contacts than those in poorer communities. Comparative case studies of districts have also found that districts with more homogenous Boards in terms of board members' backgrounds are more effective than those that are ethnically diverse. Ethnically homogenous Boards tend to be more unified and less factionalized than ethnically diverse Boards.

Community boards also vary significantly in the extent they have been able to influence city budgets and land use policy. John Mudd, in his study Neighborhood Services, estimated that between 30 and 50 percent of district budget requests are approved, with capital budget requests faring better than expense budget requests. But Mudd also found that districts vary enormously in the quality of their budget submissions and in their budgetary analysis capability.

Currently, only four community board master plans have been approved, eight are in the pipeline, and one was rejected by the City Planning Commission. According to Thomas Angotti, chair of the Pratt Institute's Planning Department, the primary factor in why so few of the 59 community boards have prepared plans is that few have any knowledge of planning and the City Planning Department does not actively promote the 197-a process. In addition, many communities recognized from the outset that master plans are limited in what they can achieve, since they are only advisory. As Angotti points out, "Why should a Community board spend at least two years to develop a plan, and another two years to get it approved, to end up with a document that may not have much legal effect on future land use?"


Still, proponents of the 197-a process can point to some successes. A 1992 plan by Community Board 3 in the South Bronx urged new housing development at higher densities than those being developed at the time by city housing programs. The plan provided the basis for amendments to a large urban renewal area, Melrose Commons. A 1997 community plan for a waterfront park at Stuyvesant Cove on Manhattan's east side helped the city attract federal funds for design work and state funds for construction. Also that year, a plan for Brooklyn's Red Hook neighborhood triggered the formation of a committee to monitor bank response to the requirements of the federal Community Reinvestment Act. The plan ultimately resulted in the location of a full-service bank branch in this historically under served area. Even Community boards without master plans are regularly consulted by planners and developers. In the 1980s, Community Board 4, representing the Clinton and Chelsea neighborhoods in Manhattan successfully negotiated 162 units of low and moderate-income housing from the Zeckendorf Company after it had purchased the former Madison Square Garden site between forty-eighth and forty-ninth streets and Eighth and Ninth Avenues.

Community boards were probably oversold as a mechanism for empowering neighborhoods. As is often the case, for those communities with sufficient resources, Community boards appear to be an effective way for local residents to participate in the political process in a meaningful way. Those communities which bring little to the table, however, have either found alternative ways to engage the body politic, or continue their search for a policy-making voice.

Seth Forman is the author of "Blacks in the Jewish Mind: A Crisis of Liberalism" (NYU Press 1998) and teaches Political Science at SUNY at Stony Brook.

More Than a Cosmetic Change?

Congressional seats in New York City used to be lifetime sinecures. Given the Democratic Party's traditional dominance here, a newly-elected member of Congress could figure out their pension benefits before taking the oath of office.

This year, however, the road to Capitol Hill tenure and seniority has become a bit bumpier than usual for several local incumbents. Four local members faced serious challenges in this week's Democratic primary and a fifth dodged a stiff contest only due to the last-minute withdrawal of his opponent following the disclosure of damaging information.

All four incumbents, based on unofficial tallies, won out over their challengers. But what's significant is that they were challenged at all.

The genesis of each of these contests is unique, of course, relating to the personality and record of the incumbents and the neighborhoods they represent. But it is not a coincidence that an unusual number of challenges were mounted a year before term limits goes into effect for local elected officials. In fact, all the City Council members who challenged local congressmen are being forced out of office next year by term limits, an indication of how much term limits are disrupting the normal ease with which incumbents usually face re-election.

Whether Ron Lauder, the cosmetics mogul and father of New York City's term limit law, intended to cause so much tumult in the local Democratic Party is unclear (Mr. Lauder, a Republican, was an unsuccessful candidate for mayor in 1989 in the Republican primary). But with all three city-wide elected officials, four borough presidents and 36 council members barred from seeking re-election next year, New York City's political map is resembling a game of 52-card pickup: throw all the cards up in the air and who knows where they will land.

Where they are landing, initially at least, is on congressional incumbents. In the 11th Congressional District in central Brooklyn, Rep. Major Owens, a 18-year incumbent, was challenged by a one-time protògò, Councilwoman Una Clarke, who got her start in politics with Mr. Owens' help. Ms. Clarke must give up her council seat next year and she is looking for new elections to conquer.

The local twist in this contest was racial. Ms. Clarke is Jamaican, Mr. Owens African-American. Ms. Clarke's campaign represents the first political stirrings of local Caribbean pride. Not surprising, the African-American leadership in Brooklyn first tried to talk Ms. Clarke out of running, then threw its support behind Mr. Owens when she refused. The incumbent won the primary by a landslide, but the contest will force him to pay more attention to the concerns of Caribbeans in his district.

To the east, freshman Rep. Anthony Weiner had a rematch with Councilman Noach Dear, both Brooklyn Democrats seeking to represent the 9th C.D., which includes parts of Brooklyn and Queens. Dear ran a distant third to Mr. Weiner in the 1998 Democratic primary, but he must give up his council seat next year, so he has little to lose by challenging Weiner again. In fact, Mr. Dear is running his wife, Rickly, a speech, therapist, for his council seat. This has led to speculation that Dear plans to reclaim his council slot in 2003, when the next municipal elections will occur. (Term limits only bar local officials from two consecutive four-year terms.)

Weiner easily won renomination, but there is a twist to this race as well. Dear, a Democrat, has gotten the Republican line in November and thus Mayor Rudy Giuliani's endorsement. The district is heavily Democrat and Weiner should have no trouble defeating any Republican candidate, even one as well-known as Dear. But just to make sure, he persuaded President Clinton to host a fund-raiser for him the day before the primary, to raise money for his general election campaign.

The city's most contested congressional primary was in the 17th district in the Bronx, where Rep. Eliot Engel, a 12-year incumbent, had, in effect, two opponents. There was the other name on the primary ballot, state Sen. Larry Seabrook. And then there was Bronx Democratic Chairman Roberto Ramirez, who stunned the local Bronx political world by backing Seabrook's challenge against the incumbent.

While term limits hasn't had a direct impact on this contest, they have prompted a good deal of political musical chairs in the Bronx this primary election and that could have a domino effect. For example, Seabrook gave up his Senate seat to challenge Engel. So now he could very well run for an open City Council seat. If not for term limits, perhaps Seabrook would have been more reluctant to challenge Engel.

The fourth incumbent who faced a major primary fight this week was Rep. Ed Towns, a Democrat who represents the 10th C.D. in central Brooklyn. Term limits has had its impact on this race as well. Mr. Towns' son, Assemblyman Darryl Towns, was challenged in a primary this week by a term-limited councilman, Martin Malave Dilan. Mr. Dilan also ran against the younger Towns in 1998 and the senior Towns spent so much time helping his son win re-election that year that he ignored his own primary and won with only 52% of the vote.

That prompted his 1998 opponent, lawyer Barry Ford, to try again. But this year the congressman, who came under attack in 1998 for endorsing Mayor Giuliani for re-election, was said to be more concerned about his own contest, and he easily trounced Ford.

Finally, there was the congressional primary that wasn't. When touts first began looking at the election prospects of the local members of Congress, freshman Rep. Joseph Crowley, a Queens Democrat, seemed to be the most vulnerable. He had been picked in a backroom maneuver when Queens Democratic Chairman Tom Manton suddenly decided to step down from Congress in the summer of 1998. Mr. Crowley had never run in a contested campaign in the 7th C.D. and there were powerful local politicians upset that he, and not they, were not chosen for the seat.

One of them, Councilman Walter McCaffrey, a respected zoning expert and one-time protògò of Manton, had strong local support and a track record of being able to raise money. His candidacy made Crowley and the Queens Democratic organization very nervous.

But the regulars had a trick up their sleeve. Combing election records, they discovered what appeared to be evidence that McCaffrey was using campaign funds for personal use. They waited until after the filing period--so no other candidate could jump into the race--then released the damaging records. McCaffrey claimed the money was just used to pay for car services, but the damage was done and within 24 hours, McCaffrey was an ex-candidate for Congress. Crowley suddenly had a clear path to re-election.

Of course, McCaffrey, like many of his ambitious council colleagues, cannot seek re-election to the council because of term limits.

If all this turmoil is brought to you by term limits, the forecast is more political turbulence on the horizon. Many council members first elected in 1997 can't seek re-election in 2003. They too will be looking for new offices to run for .

Philip Lentz is a senior reporter covering government and politics for Crain's New York Business.

City Council Senior Class

Few members of the City Council seem happy about what's going to happen next year when term limits disqualify 36 of the 51 members from running again. "The chaos is coming," says Angel Rodriguez, council member from Brooklyn. "Abrupt and arbitrary," says Madeline Provenzano from the Bronx, who compares what's going to happen to a mass firing. "A very real danger," says Christine Quinn from Manhattan

And this is from City Council members who get to stay!

They are among the 15 who remain eligible for re-election, a group that could become a kind of Senior Class, helping to guide the majority that will be newly elected.

Below, six of those 15 discuss what they think the New City Council will be like, and what issues each wants to focus on if he or she is re-elected.

by Madeline Provenzano (D-C), The Bronx

by Christine Quinn (D-WF), Manhattan

by James Oddo (R-C), Staten Island

by Angel Rodriguez (D), Brooklyn

by Michael Nelson (D), Brooklyn

by Gifford Miller (D-L), Manhattan

There are no City Council members representing Queens who will be eligible to run for re-election.


Funds for the Arts Go Up, but Remain Unfair

After ten years, most of which were spent fighting Rudy Giuliani's cuts, the cultural groups of the city finally received a real increase in the new budget -- courtesy of the City Council, which again rejected the Mayor's cuts, and then provided an additional $7 million to the Department of Cultural Affairs. The Council also allocated an extra $7.2 million directly to 200 of its favorite cultural groups, which is more money in "add-ons," as they are called, than ever before.

Total city funding for the cultural community is at a record high of over $122 million, more than twice as much as the state provides. This is great news.

There is just one problem. The list of cultural groups receiving funds has barely changed since the end of the Board of Estimate, in 1989. This is startling. Council members and the current Mayor pride themselves on having improved things since they took power. In the cultural community those changes are not as deep nor as substantive as they should or could be.

Can anyone explain why the current budget provides Jazzmobile, a group serving a wide range of the city's neighborhoods for decades, with $64,000, yet Jazz at Lincoln Center gets a total of $701,000? How does one make sense out of the Intrepid, the battleship museum in the Hudson River, receiving $308,000, compared to the West Indian Day Parade, which gets only $29,000, though it is one of the most outstanding and best-attended parades in the city? All of these are worthy groups, but the disparity in funding is not rational.

When elected officials make the decisions about cultural funding on a group-by-group basis, they fund those groups knowledgeable enough to get in touch with them, or the groups whose board members they know, but they don't fund artistic excellence or new trends, except by accident. City Council members fund groups serving their particular districts, but they have limited ways of knowing the quality of what they are supporting. The cultural groups they give money to may be less worthwhile than ones that simply lack the political savvy to woo elected officials.

This process is not some kind of evil conspiracy. It is the way government gives out the goodies when it does not establish a process that first evaluates and then funds, or when some aspect of government is deliberately designed to avoid the evaluation process. That was the Board of Estimate process in a nutshell.

Neither of the two Mayors since the Board of Estimate days has really been inclined to examine the process of cultural funding. Giuliani's $5 million Challenge Initiative, in which the city provides grants to groups but requires matching funds from the private sector, does not qualify as a serious attempt to address the lack of a comprehensive, rational policy and process for funding cultural groups.

So, we remain a city with a lot of money going to the cultural groups via a jerry-rigged system of ad hoc decisions mostly made ten years ago, and adjusted since in small ways by City Council members struggling to make sense of what they inherited. We can do better.

We must look at what other cities and states do, and conduct a methodical assessment of what our cultural community needs.

We must recognize that the arts and culture of New York are critical to the city's economy. There needs to be a debate about economic development IN the arts, not about cultural tourism. The city needs to support the new and expanded role of community-based cultural groups. There needs to be an economic investment model that puts serious money into the arts, instead of the nickel-and-dime approach currently in vogue. That is not a partnership. That is an investment process doomed to keep cultural groups on the dole and barely surviving. And New York, which proclaims itself the cultural capital of the world, must find ways to support those who create the art -- individual artists!

Norma Munn is the chairwoman of the New York City Arts Coalition, a citywide advocacy group. She is also president of the Artists Community Federal Credit Union, and is a former chairwoman of The City Club of New York.

When Sleep Becomes Speech


A federal judge recently gave new meaning to the words, "Talking in your sleep." In a lawsuit brought by the Metropolitan Council on Housing against New York City and its Police and Park Departments, the Court allowed a sleep-in on the street outside Gracie Mansion, the Mayor's residence.

Given the right case, sleep can be considered speech and is thus protected by the First Amendment, said Judge Kimba Wood, of the United States District Court.

And this, she ruled, was the right case. With tenants in New York's rent stabilized apartments facing the latest increases, Met Council, an advocacy group, organized a three-part event for the night of June 13-14, just before the Rent Guidelines Board was to meet at the Mayor's place.

The first two parts of the event presented no new legal issues. There would be an early evening press conference at nearby Carl Schurz Park. No problem. That would be followed by a five-hour vigil in the park. Again, no problem.

The problem? The sleepover. Commencing at 1a.m., a New York bedtime, and lasting until an 8 a.m. wake-up call, 25 participants would lie down on the street and go to sleep, to convey the message that homelessness -- really sleeping on the street -- would result from the city's proposed rent increases. But local law forbids lying and sleeping on sidewalks. The protestors, the sleepers, would have to disperse or would be arrested.

Yet this was no ordinary sleep, the protestors argued in a lawsuit filed beforehand by the New York Civil Liberties Union. This sleep was saying something. The Court had to stop the City from making arrests, the NYCLU said, since that would, of course, prevent the protest.

The City argued that lying or sleeping on public sidewalks is forbidden in all circumstances and will always lead to violators being given a choice of relocation or arrest in order to protect both the sleepers and passers-by. But this argument was defeated by the tenants' detailed logistical arrangements including self-policing and bedding at very defined and limited areas i.e.: East End Avenue and 88th Street. The City had to concede that the sidewalk would not be obstructed and nobody was in danger. So exacting was the plan that it specified that participants were to be side by side, perpendicular to the apartment building at the location, not blocking any doorways, covering no more than a half sidewalk's width, and reserving three feet per person or a total of 75 feet.

There would be no sound system, no parade or procession. Just a slumber party. There would, however, be a significant police presence.

According to the decision, "there is no danger that an injunction concerning this vigil will lead to the parade of horribles envisioned by the City. The City contends that if it cannot stop sleeping at this vigil, then it cannot under any circumstances, regulate the use of City sidewalks in a manner it deems necessary and appropriate to promote the free flow of pedestrian traffic.... The City has offered no evidence that those who sleep on the sidewalks while intoxicated and/or homeless (the instances cited by the City) will implicate the First Amendment at all."

Still, the lawsuit was not an attack on the constitutionality of the City's general ban on sidewalk sleeping. Its purpose was to prevent government interference with clearly constitutionally protected activity, namely protest; in this case, expression of a message through physical conduct accompanied by words on signs and leaflets that further rent increases would lead to homelessness.

In weighing the plaintiff's interest in expression through sleeping on a City sidewalk versus the City's interest in preventing persons from lying and sleeping on City sidewalks, the Court agreed that this was no mere nighttime nap, but was political expression conveying, symbolically, the risk of homelessness if the proposed rent increases were adopted and it was protected by the First Amendment. While deciding that public sleeping, is, in this case, a means of symbolic expression, the judge meticulously avoided barring the City from making arrests for disorderly conduct in the event that the sleepy protestors awakened with a bang and violated any laws. "Nothing in the proposed injunction would bar the City from a future criminal prosecution. A free society prefers to punish the few who abuse rights of speech after they break the law than to throttle them and all others beforehand," Judge Wood wrote. Therefore, "between the hours of 1 a.m. and 8 a.m. on June 14, 2000, the Court orders defendants not to interfere with this vigil, nor with individuals' participation in it, on account of participants assuming a prone position and/or sleeping."

In other words, there is a difference between talking in your sleep and walking in your sleep.

Emily Jane Goodman is a New York State Supreme Court Justice

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