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Open Government

Bronx/Manhattan 28th Senate District: A Serrano in the Seat

In 2004, Jose Serrano scored a bit of a coup, toppling an incumbent, longtime member of the State Senate. His task was made a bit easier because that senator, Olga Mendez, switched from the Democratic to the Republican Party. Two years later, Serrano kept the seat.

Serrano, the son of U.S. Rep. Jose Serrano, previously served the City Council where he focused on cultural issues, including keeping libraries open, childcare and housing. He has continued those interests in the Senate and, in 2006, was appointed chair of the Senate Minority Task Force on the Arts and Cultural Affairs.

In his bid for a third term representing this district, which includes Roosevelt Island and East Harlem and extends into the Bronx, Serrano, who also appears on the Working Families Party line, faces Republican/Conservative Keesha Weiner. Little information about her was available.

At the end of the most recent filing period, Serrano had $26,779 in campaign funds. Weiner reported no contributions.

Staten Island 24th Senate District: Seeking Re-election in a GOP Stronghold

Despite the fact that Staten Island's 24th Senate District has about 75,000 registered Democrats and 67,000 registered Republicans, a Republican has held the seat for over 50 years.

Republican incumbent Andrew Lanza, first elected to the seat in 2006, is running for re-election in the district. Two years ago, Lanza replaced John Marchi, another Republican, who had held the seat since 1957. Lanza won 60 percent of the vote in the 2006 election against his Democratic opponent.

This year, Lanza faces Democratic candidate Joseph J. Pancila. Pancila is active in the Democratic Party and a member of Staten Island Community Board 1.

Campaign contributions in this district are not as evenly distributed as registered voter totals. During the period leading up to the 32 Day Pre-General filing, Lanza took in $77,705 Lanza reporting a total on hand of $164,035. Pancila received $5,440 reports having $1,000 and has $2,144 on hand.

Term Limits Extension Gets Final Signature

Scores of New York City residents filed into the mayor's side of City Hall -- a rare space for such a public spectacle -- for the city's final hearing on term limits Monday morning.

Despite the relentless opposition and at times piercing criticism, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, as expected, signed a term-limits extension into law just before 2 p.m., effectively allowing dozens of term-limited officials, including himself, to seek another four years in office.

"I feel like this time the public should have a choice," the mayor said, arguing that allowing officials to seek another term would boost democracy and broaden ballot choices. "I am going to sign the bill and the public will have a choice."

Monday's bill signing finalizes the 29 to 22 vote by the City Council last month approving the term-limits extension.

The legislation, which takes effect immediately, turns next year's citywide election on its head, sparking an immediate revision of the city's campaign finance regulations. Dozens of candidates, many of whom thought they would have competitive races for open seats, must now weigh whether they want to challenge eight-year incumbents.

Contribution limits are set depending upon the office being sought. Because, potentially, dozens of candidates could decide to seek re-election instead of higher office, the city's Campaign Finance Board issued an advisory opinion Monday on how to address the different types of expenditures and contributions without harshly penalizing one candidate or another.

The advisory opinion would allow candidates to freeze their current accounts if they had been seeking higher office, saving the "war chest" for another race. Or, the board's chairman the Rev. Joseph P. Parkes said, if he or she wants to continue using the funds, he or she could return contributions that exceed the spending limits.

"In the final analysis, what we have attempted to do is to provide guidance to affected candidates in a timely way, based on these objectives: to make it practical for candidates to join the campaign finance program, to treat both incumbents and potential challengers fairly, and to encourage competitive races for all offices covered by the program," said the chairman in a prepared statement.

What's Next

The term limits battle is far from over, though. Immediately after the mayor signed the bill, council members Letitia James and Bill de Blasio, along with mayoral candidates Rep. Anthony Weiner and Comptroller William Thompson Jr., vowed to fight the action in court. Several lawsuits have already been filed.

"If democracy was on life support after the City Council hearing, it was killed today," said Thompson.

Monday's public hearing was a condensed rerun of about 20 hours of testimony in front of the City Council last month. Some of the same characters appeared and testimony was still divided -- about half of the 137 speakers supported the mayor's bill, an administration spokesman said.

Members of the public entered the Blue Room -- the mayor's press briefing area -- and spilled over into the building's vast rotunda starting around 9 a.m. One at a time, they stood in front of a gargantuan portrait of Alexander Hamilton, chiming in about democracy and oligarchy, tyranny and justice.

Groups were led into the small and packed room five at a time. Because of the tight quarters (the Blue Room is traditionally where bill signings are held), speakers could not stay inside to hear other testimony. That was also a point of criticism.

"This is the least public public hearing I've ever been to," said Henry Stern, a former parks commissioner.

Sitting behind a freshly polished wooden table, the mayor, accompanied by a half dozen of his male City Council colleagues, listened to four and half hours of testimony on term limits. Rarely did Bloomberg crack a smile, but instead appeared stone-faced and impenetrable.

That did not discourage some speakers from emotional outbursts. One called the mayor "public enemy number one" and others said the legislation was merely a power grab.

"You've behaved in ways that would make Boss Tweed blush with embarrassment," sad Gene Russianoff of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

Many of the opponents said extending term limits legislatively undermines the will of the people who twice voted in the 1990s to keep term limits at two. They called for a public referendum.

A statement released by the administration after the hearing argued there would be no time for a special election, because it would need to be certified by the U.S. Department of Justice. They also said it would be tied up in court as candidates were seeking petitions to run for office in 2009, creating uncertainty and confusion.

Members of police, fire and public employees unions came out in force to support the mayor, arguing his expertise is needed during the city's uncertain fiscal future.

"I don't see this as a self-serving bill," said Gary La Barbera, president of the New York City Central Labor Council. "I believe we are in unprecedented economic times."

While this is far from the end of the term limits debate, Monday's hearing came with a sense of finality for the bill's supporters, maybe even for the mayor.

"Everyone, thank you for your patience," the mayor said after signing the bill and while exiting the room. "And make sure you vote tomorrow."  

Bronx 84th Assembly District: Arroyo Seeks Another Term

First elected to the Assembly in 1994, becoming its first Puerto Rican woman member, Carmen Arroyo had long been active in school issues in the Bronx. She also is the author of a book of poetry. Her daughter, Maria del Carmen Arroyo, serves on the City Council

In 2002, the Democratic primary in this district was so close -- Arroyo's opponent Pedro Gautier Espada got five more votes or than she did -- than a judge ordered a revote. Arroyo won that contest by 151 votes.

This time around her opponent is Conservative Frank Dellavalle. He ran for Congress in 2002 but got less than 10 percent of the vote against Jose Serrano. Little other information about him was available.

Campaign filings for Arroyo and Dellavalle were not available.

Bronx 82nd Assembly District: A Three-peat in the Northeast

This is the third time that Democrat Michael Benedetto will face off against Republican Conservative Raymond Capone. Benedetto won the two previous encounters in this district in the northeast Bronx.

Benedetto, who was first elected in 2004, is a former teacher and political aide who founded the Bronx Times Reporter newspaper. Capone, who works for Verizon, is a Conservative Party activist making his fourth bid for the Assembly.

In his most recent campaign filing Benedetto showed $4,665 on hand. Capone had $1,825.

Queens 28th Assembly District: A Republican Tries Again

Incumbent Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi was first elected to represent the 28th District in a May 2005 special election. He is running for re-election this year as the candidate of the Democratic and Working Families parties. Hevesi, the son of controversial former city and state Comptroller Alan Hevesi, worked for other local politicians before being elected.

Hevesi's Republican opponent is Walter Schmidt. Schmidt ran in the 2006 Republican primary for the seat, but lost. Hevesi then went on to defeat the Republican nominee by a wide margin in the general election. This time, Schmidt won the GOP nomination, but it remains to be seen if he can fare any better against Hevesi in this Forest Hills district where Democrats outnumber Republicans by a margin of almost three to one.

In his most recent filing, Hevesi reported having about $22,000 in campaign funds in his last financial disclosure. Schmidt has not filed any reports.

Staten Island 63rd Assembly District: Running on Four Lines

Democratic Assemblymember Michael Cusick is running for re-election this November. Cusick was first elected to the Assembly in 2002 and has focused much of his time in the Assembly on preventing what he considers to be overdevelopment of the district and improving education.

Cusick represents one of the more Democratic districts in Staten Island - the 63rd has two thirds as many registered Republicans as registered Democrats - but Cusick has covered all his bases, garnering endorsements from the Working Families Party, the Independence Party and the Conservative Party.

David Anthony Pascarella is running as the Republican candidate, pledging to "change Albany's culture of corruption" and speak out for "our values."

Both candidates have ties to prominent New York politicians. Before being elected to the Assembly, Cusick served as liaison to New York State officials for U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer. He has also served as the Chief of Staff for former Assemblymember Eric Vitaliano. Pascarella, a lawyer, has served on the staff of New York City Council members and has also worked in the Mayor's Office of Operations under both Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg.

At the last disclosure deadline, Cusick reported having $42,000 in campaign funds, with about $22,000 in recent contributions. Pascarella reported having $13,366 with $2,675 in recent donations.

Queens 26th Assembly District: A Low-Budget Race in Bayside

Assemblymember Ann Margaret Carrozza is running for re-election in the 26th Assembly District. First elected in 1996, Carrozza has primarily sponsored legislation that focus on health and senior citizen's issues. Carrozza has also been endorsed by the Working Families Party.

Carrozza faces Republican candidate Robert Speranza in this election. Speranza is a retired police officer who was one of the responders on Sept. 11, 2001. He is currently a member of Queens Community Board 11, representing Bayside.

Carrozza has little in the way of campaign funds, having collected about $150 in contributions and showing a campaign balance of $3,555 at the beginning of October. Speranza filed a "no activity statement."


Staten Island 62nd Assembly District: Going for a Full Term on the South Shore

Assemblymember Lou Tobacco is up for re-election this November for the Assembly seat he has held for just a year and a half. Tobacco was first elected to the Assembly from this district at the southern end of Staten Island in a March 2007 special election to replace resigning Assemblymember Vincent Ignizio, who decided to move over to the City Council.

Before running for office himself, Tobacco served as a summer intern for then Borough President Guy Molinari while he was Borough President and then interned for Molinari again when Molinari was elected to the U.S. House.

At the end of September, Tobacco's campaign had $44,902 with recent contributions of $6,190. Albanese had received $3,627 and had $3,429 on hand.

Tobacco also has also been endorsed by the Conservative and Independence parties.

In his first regular election, Tobacco faces Democratic candidate Albert J. Albanese. Albanese is active in the Democratic Party in Staten Island, though little other information is available about him.

Tobacco disclosed having $45,000 currently in campaign funds. Albanese currently has $3,000.

Queens 12th Senate District: 25 Years in Albany

Longtime incumbent State Sen. George Onorato will face Republican challenger Thomas Dooley, who will also appear on the Conservative and Independence party line.

Onorato has been in the State Senate since 1983 and serves as vice chair of the Minority Conference. His latest campaign finance filings show he has $216,017. In the last filing period, Onorato spent $95,337, the majority of which went to two Democratic fundraisers.

Campaign finance information was not available for Dooley. Dooley is a retired city firefighter and former U.S. Marine. At a recent forum, he criticized the development sweeping through the neighborhood.

The district includes Astoria and parts of Sunnyside and Long Island City.

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