District 5 Upper East Side, Roosevelt Island

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What is Searchlight on Campaign 2001?
Searchlight on Campaign 2001 is a guide to the political races in what many are calling New York City's most significant campaign season in modern history.

What is so significant about it?
For the first time in memory, most political offices in the city will be wide open to people who have neither money nor connections.

Why will the races be so open?
There are two reasons. This year, a new law goes into effect that limits the terms of New York City elected officials, forcing the mass retirement of most incumbents in the city - including the mayor, the comptroller, the public advocate, four of the five borough presidents, and 36 of the 51 members of the City Council. At the same time, a new campaign finance law kicks in, which allows any candidate who agrees to certain restrictions to collect four dollars of matching funds for every dollar they raise.

What does this have to do with this site?
As a public service, Searchlight on Campaign 2001 has a separate page for each race, including all the races for City Council, that not only sorts out the candidates -- many of them new and unfamiliar -- but also offers an opportunity to learn about the issues, and the districts themselves.

Who is behind Searchlight on Campaign 2001?
Searchlight on Campaign 2001 is a project of Gotham Gazette, a non-profit, non-partisan, non-ideological (but non-boring) web site about New York City news, policy and politics published by Citizens Union Foundation, part of the oldest and largest good-government group in the city (founded in 1897).

What's wrong with the way the regular press covers the races?
That is for you to decide. And one of our regular features, Campaign Trail, helps you to decide. Campaign Trail provides succinct summaries and links to campaign articles in the commercial press.

Who are we?


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Learn more about this district in Searchlight 2002

General Election Results

x-A. Gifford Miller, Dem 26,065 - 68 percent
Robert I. Strougo, Rep 11,977 - 31 percent
Jim Lesczynski, Lbt 569 - 1 percent

Primary Election Results

Incumbent: A. Gifford Miller

The Candidates:

Contributors to these candidates, according to the Campaign Finance Board:

Contributors to James Lesczynski
Gifford Miller has not filed
Robert Strougo has not filed

City's Official Primary Election Voter Guide for Residents of District 5

Issue Statements:
District 5 candidates' statements on the issues, at Savvyvoter.org

Campaign Feature:
[Campaign Update]

Uptown Train Blues

The Upper East Side is the land of the rich and powerful. But each day, when area commuters (those who do not take cabs or limos to work) cram onto a crowded Lexington Avenue subway, they get a glimpse of what life is like for less affluent New Yorkers.

The 5 line was rated the worst subway line in the city in the New York Public Research Interest Group's "State of the Subways" report. Service is irregular, the stations and cars are dirty, and the chances of finding a place to stand, let alone a seat, are slim. Even the new and improved 6 subway trains have had malfunctioning doors and incorrect station announcements from the automated speaker system.

The problem of transportation on the East Side is not new. Plans for a Second Avenue subway date back to 1920. When the Third Avenue El train was torn down in 1956, subway and traffic congestion grew even worse.

So it is not surprising that transportation is an important issue in the campaign for City Council in district 5, an area east of Second Avenue from 49th Street to 92nd Street, and Roosevelt Island.

It is on the minds of both voters and candidates -- incumbent Democrat Gifford Miller and challengers, Republican Robert Strougo and Libertarian Jim Lesczynski -- but can a council member really do anything to fix the problems?

Area Profile
For a detailed profile of this district from City Project, click here.


  • White 77%
  • Hispanic 10%
  • Asian 7%
  • Black 6%

Median income:$67,010 (Ranks 2nd out of 51)

Unemployment rate: 4%

For more information on this district -- its schools, its crime statistics and more -- click here.

Councilman Gifford Miller, who was elected in 1996 at the age of 26 and is seeking a second term in office, said he is up to the challenge.

"I am willing to work to get city funding for the Second Avenue subway, in addition to state and federal funding," said Miller. "If the subway represents the arteries of our city, the Lexington Avenue line is about to cause us cardiac arrest.''

But even the most ambitious city politician with a nice turn of phrase will have trouble getting the Second Avenue train moving. Funding depends in large part on the state legislature, which shows little interest in the project, and last November voters defeated a ballot initiative that would have provided start-up funding for the Second Avenue subway.

Miller is also interested in running for Council Speaker, which would certainly help the cause. But he added that such talk was premature given that the leadership vote will not occur until January and there will be 37 new members. Despite downplaying the idea, Miller has formed a political committee called Council 2001 which will endorse promising new candidates and offer them advice, volunteers, and money. The hope is that the candidates who win will then back him as Speaker.

Miller's two challengers have their own ideas about transportation.

Jim Lesczynski advocates an approach consistent with his Libertarian campaign theme of "getting government out of our way." He wants to open the Second Avenue subway up to private firms for bidding and allow them to operate the subway and collect tolls for a fixed period of time to reap the benefits of their risky investment.

"There is no reason why the Metropolitan Transportation Authority should have a monopoly on transportation in the city," said Lesczynski. He also thinks a privately run ferry along the East River would help address the problem.

Similarly, Republican Bob Strougo favors some private sector involvement in the subway and other transportation projects.

"We should let business people examine the issue and come up with better solutions," said Strougo. He also wants to pursue alternative solutions such as liberalizing taxicab and bus rules during rush hour to relieve congestion.

Education is also a hot topic in the 5th district, even though the district has the fewest students and the highest test scores of any area in the city.

Miller recently helped secure $12 million in funding for an East Side high school to be built on 76th Street, which he said demonstrates his ability to work with other members of the Council to get things done for his constituents.

"Education should be run more like a business," said Strougo who sent both of his children to public schools. Strougo supports vouchers, higher pay for teachers, and incentives to make teachers more productive.

Lesczynski also favors school vouchers and wants to see certain restrictions on home schooling removed. He said the new high school on 76th Street represents a classic failure of government involvement in public policy. "A lack of communication from officials led to poor decisions," said Lesczynski, "such as placing the school in an already congested area with little space for outdoor play or recreation."

Although Roosevelt Island's population comprises a relatively small portion of the district 5, the area presents important political issues.

The Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation, the island's governing body, is controlled by the state, with the members appointed by the Governor and approved by the state Senate and Assembly.

"The Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation has not been very receptive to the concerns of Roosevelt Island residents," said Nneka Pope, a member of the island's residents association. Even with what Pope calls Miller's "thorough, thoughtful, and proactive advocacy" for Roosevelt Island residents, she said many believe their opinions "fall on deaf ears" with the state-controlled body.

Lesczynski says, if elected, he would pressure officials to do away with the operating corporation and allow Roosevelt Island to elect its own representatives.

"The state can not walk away from the needs of the island," said Miller, but he agreed that under the right circumstances, he too, would support Roosevelt Island electing its own officials.

The district's transportation woes extend to Roosevelt Island as well. Residents have limited access to Queens and on weekends see a confusing mix of Q, F, E, and R trains running through their station and do not know which one to take to get home from Manhattan. The tram that serves the island, residents said, presents problems because it is not part of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority system and does not take Metrocards.

Miller is confident that the two-to-one Democratic to Republican ratio of voters in the district and his record will get him reelected. He said his priorities for the next term will be affordable housing, getting new schools off the ground, and the working on the day-to-day details of being a council member. He wants to insure, for example, that a new law that requires livery cabs to be accessible to the handicap is actually put into effect.

Miller is so confident that he is not registering with the Campaign Finance Board for matching funds from the city.

"There is not really an opponent and so there is no reason to raise funds," said Fred Baldassaro, Miller's press secretary.

Republican Bob Strougo disagrees with that sentiment and believes that his legal background and support for business-oriented solutions to public issues will make him a more effective legislator than Miller. Lesczynski said he thinks East Side residents want a change, with less government involved in their neighborhood.

posted 6/28/01

Campaign Update:

Libertarian candidate Jim Lesczynski is struggling to get the signatures needed to appear on the ballot. As of July 18, he only had 700 signatures. Councilmember Gifford Miller is continuing his quest to become the next Speaker; his organization, entitled Council 2001, works to endorse potential winning candidates in the hope that they will support him for Speaker if they are elected. Miller has also appeared at several press conferences recently with outgoing Speaker Vallone. See Campaign Trail for more details.

posted 7/19/01

Candidate Biographies

Gifford Miller has been a member of the New York City Council since 1996. He serves on several council committees, including finance, land use, state and federal legislation, and transportation. Miller previously headed the Council's taskforce on regional planning and chairs the Council's select committee for charter reform. Prior to his election to the City Council, Miller worked for the Parks Council, a non-profit advocacy group in New York City, and was an aide to U.S. Representative Carolyn Maloney. He received his bachelor's degree from Princeton University.

Bob Strougo is an attorney who has his own practice. Previously, Strougo worked for the Department of Social Services and for the Legal Aide Society. Active in Republican politics, Strougo is a member of the Chairman's Advisory Board of the Republican National Committee and a recipient of "The Eisenhower Award" for lifetime dedication to the party. He has a law degree from New York Law School and bachelor's degree from the City College of New York.

Jim Lesczynski is a marketing communications professional working in the financial services industry. He is active in the New York County chapter of the Libertarian Party, serving as its media relations director and as a member of its county executive committee. His political commentary frequently appears in The Empire Page, Liberzine.com, and New Colonist. Lesczynski, who lives on East 87th Street, received his MBA from New York University and a bachelor's degree from Bowling Green State University.

Campaign Trail

Libertarian candidate Jim Lesczynski has so far gathered fewer than 700 of the 2,100 signatures he needs to get his name on the November ballot. His wife, who is pregnant, has taken to canvassing the neighborhood corners looking for more. "It's hard to conduct a door-to-door campaign on the Upper East Side," Mr. Lesczynski said the other afternoon as he stood on West 47th Street. "You can't get past the doorman." Mr. Lesczynski described himself as a "true believer," but also as a man who was drawn into local politics by the term-limit law. Although his opponent, A. Gifford Miller, is a popular incumbent, the Libertarian said that with term limits, "it doesn't hurt to start getting your name out there for 2003." Mr. Lesczynski is running a low-budget campaign against Mr. Miller, a man with an easy name to pronounce, in the Fifth Council District, which runs from Second Avenue to the East River between 49th and 92nd Streets, and also includes Roosevelt Island. Even Mr. Lesczynski described the Democratic councilman as intelligent, affable and well financed. He acknowledged that his chance of victory in the district, which is heavily Democratic and liberal, is remote. (NY Times)

City Councilmember Gifford Miller stood on an Upper East Side street corner Sunday to call for stricter enforcement of New York City' s bicycle laws. Standing with Alan Finger -who was recently hit by a bicycle while walking on a sidewalk - Miller demanded that the police department enforce the law that keeps the sidewalk clear of bicycles. (Newsday)

For the past year, City Councilman Gifford Miller has been plotting to win the council Speakership, the second most powerful job in city government. The post is opening up for the first time in 15 years because the incumbent speaker, Peter Vallone, is being forced out by term-limits, as are two-thirds of the council members. To advance his cause, Mr. Miller has formed a political action committee called Council 2001. But its far too early to know whether Mr. Miller's strategy will work. (Crain's New York)

Welfare reform is driving more hungry people to emergency food programs and causing food shortages, said City Councilman Gifford Miller. A random survey by his staff of 31 soup kitchens and food pantries found that 87% experienced a greater demand for emergency food in the past six months. And 55% of the programs said they had to ration food to avoid turning people away. (Daily News)

Albert Appletone of the Regional Planning Association thinks of the Second Avenue Subway as the key to modernizing the city's subway system. (Gotham Gazette)

Dick Netzer, professor at New York University, argues against the Second Avenue Subway, identifying other Mass Transit Authority measures that would provide the same benefits as the new line without sacrificing the current use of Second Avenue. (Gotham Gazette)

At least three current Council members are vying to be the new Speaker: Bill Perkins, Gifford Miller, and Angel Rodriguez. A fourth, Adolfo Carrion, says he'll be in the running for Speaker if he does not run for Bronx Borough President. (NY Post)

The Roosevelt Island Bridge has always opened its floor to ships passing under, but that may soon change. The Transportation Department wants to permanently close the bridge as part of a citywide program. If completed, the transformation will save the city on expensive maintenance fees. (The New York Times)

A new housing development called Southtown will be created in Roosevelt Island, bringing in nine buildings with mostly rental apartments. The project marks the first new construction here since residential units arrived 26 years ago, transforming a warren of asylums into a mixed-income community. While developers applaud the new project, many local residents fear gentrification and loss of open space. (The New York Times)

Residents of the Upper East Side oppose city efforts to privatize the off-track betting system. They complained that unruly gamblers sully the neighborhood. City Councilman Gifford Miller is fighting to change the zoning laws to permit betting parlors only in high-traffic commercial areas. (The New York Times)

Gifford Miller comments on New York City's pressing problems and explains why he does not support term limits in City Council. (Gotham Gazette)

The Council passed the Pro-Voter Act, which will require city agencies to offer voter registration forms at their facilities, including Web sites. Councilman Gifford Miller, the main sponsor of the bill, said there are 2 million unregistered voters in the city. (Daily News)

Districts of the Week

District 1 -- Lower Manhattan
Whoever wins the election in district 1 will represent immigrant Chinese garment workers, as well as Wall Street traders living in Battery Park City. There are several candidates hoping to be the council's firsts -- the first Asian-American man, the first Asian-American woman, the first gay Rhodes Scholar, the first dot-com guru -- running against some politically well connected opponents. Endorsements and fundraising will play a big role in this race. But voter turnout could be the main determinant of who will next represent district 1 on the council. The key question is how many voters from each community will come out on Election Day.

District 7 -- Washington Heights, Manhattan
The northern tip of Manhattan has become one of the most popular places for new immigrants to call home. The northern tip of Manhattan is a place that today's new immigrants call home. The majority have come from the Dominican Republic, but also from countries in South America, Eastern Europe, and Asia. But it is not just new immigrants that are moving in. Students, artists, and other Manhattanites looking for less expensive rents and larger apartments have also moved north. Ten Democratic candidates are competing for the 15,000 voters expected on primary day. The winner who emerges from a crowded field of candidates will have to balance the needs of the newcomers with those who have lived there for years.

District 16 -- Highbridge, Bronx
The neighborhoods of district 16 are the city's poorest, with the highest rate of unemployment and the lowest median household income. But those who live there also point out that much is positive and stable about the area, thanks in large part to local organizations, not-for-profit agencies, and houses of worship that help hold the neighborhoods together. Each candidate for City Council believes that through his or her connections to churches and local organizations, they can help empower the community toward a better life. Helen Foster, the current council member daughter, will face Michael Benjamin, who has worked as an aide to several government officials and Anthony Curry, a Bronx neighborhood activist.

District 20 -- Northeast Flushing, Queens
This year district 20 may elect the first Asian-American ever to the City Council to an area which now has the second highest number of immigrants from Korea and Taiwan in the city. There are three Asian candidates in the Democratic race who have each drawn big endorsements. Council Speaker Peter Vallone endorsed Terence Park, City Comptroller Alan Hevesi endorsed John Liu, and the New York Times recently endorsed Ethel Chen The campaign has also drawn national and international press coverage

District 25 -- Jackson Heights, Queens
Thirty-seventh Avenue in Jackson Heights, Queens is one of the most diverse streets in the world. Little India quickly blends into Little Colombia, with vendors selling Latin American food to Colombians, Peruvians, Ecuadorians, Mexicans, and Uruguayans. And each summer, the Queens Pride Parade fills the same street with rainbow banners. So it is no surprise that this election year the district produced a diverse field of candidates. A number of them, however, found out that getting on the ballot is not an easy task, especially when the Queens Democratic organization sends teams of lawyers to challenge petitions. But five Democratic candidates survived and will face off on September 11.

District 31 -- South East Queens
When a heavy rain hits southeast Queens, many residents in neighborhoods like Springfield Gardens, Laurelton and Rosedale head to the basement with a bucket in hand. And it has been that way for the last 50 years. In the rush to build housing in the area after World War II, developers overlooked the need for storm drains in hopes that the city would eventually build a city-wide sewer system. The plan never materialized and the area has experienced "100-year rains" three times in the last decade. The eight Democrats -- all with little experience overseeing massive infrastructure projects--will try to convince voters that they can finally solve the flooding problems.

District 35 -- Central Brooklyn
The residents in council district 35 have some of the highest incomes in Brooklyn and some of the lowest. They can play in a famous park and a beautiful botanical garden, and live in the city's most crumbling public housing. They can attend one of the four institutions of higher learning in the district, and the worst-scoring high schools in the city. Such juxtapositions are a way of life for a district that includes the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens; mid dle-class African-American communities near Prospect Park; immigrant communities from Haiti, Sierra Leon, Nigeria, and Trinidad, and in Crown Heights, a mix of Hasidic Jews and African-Americans. Seven Democratic candidates are campaigning in hopes that they can bring some kind of unity, and attention, to the area. Their backgrounds are as diverse as the neighborhoods themselves.

District 39 -- Park Slope/Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn
The candidates in district 39 include a chief of staff for an Assemblywoman, the husband of a member of U.S. Congress, a lawyer for the Legal Aid Society, an attorney and president of the Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats, Senator Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, the district manager of Community Board 6, and a labor organizer. This is the race to watch this year. The group of high-profile Democrats have raised a lot of money, almost $1.4 million combined.

District 45 -- East Flatbush
In no place in the city are the effects of campaign finance reform and term limits being felt more than in East Flatbush. The seven Democratic candidates seeking to represent this largely West Indian district come from a number of Caribbean nations. Many have been working on politicians' staffs and serving with community groups, clearly hoping someday to win their own elected office. Term limits has presented them with that opportunity, and they want to make the most of it. But this race that usually draws only about 8,000 voters could be decided by just a few votes. The candidates are attempting to come up with anything that will separate them from the pack.

District 49 -- North Shore, Staten Island
Staten Island has always been somewhat of a suburban stepchild to New York City. When a 1998 survey asked New Yorkers why they go to Staten Island, the top two responses were ''visiting friends and relatives" and ''passing through.'' But in many ways, the north shore has more in common with areas of Manhattan and Brooklyn than with the rest of the Staten Island. The top priority for all the candidates -- Jon Del Giorno, an administrative manager for the Board of Elections, Mike McMahon, an attorney and counsel to current Councilmember Jerome O'Donovan, and Debi Rose, an administrator at the College of Staten Island and the first African-American candidate in Staten Island politics -- is to make sure that the island becomes more than just a turn-around-point for the over one million tourists who ride the free ferry from Manhattan each year.

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Board of Elections
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New York, NY

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Links You Can Use

Government sites
NYC Campaign Finance Bd.
NYC Board of Elections
NYC Voter Assistance Comm.
NY City Council
Federal Election Comm.

Local non-partisan sites
NY League of Women Voters
Common Cause New York

National non-partisan sites
Ctr. for Responsive Politics
Common Cause
League of Women Voters

NAACP Voter Empowerment
Vote Smart


Political consultants
Amer. Assc. of Pol. Consultants

Prime New York

Gotham Gazette
The Empire Page
Campaigns and Elections
Legislative Gazette

Political columnists
Andrea Bernstein
Joe Conason
Mario Cuomo (radio)
Rudy Giuliani (radio)
Clyde Haberman
Nat Hentoff

Joseph Mercurio
Joyce Purnick
John Tierney
Michael Tomasky

Political parties
Right to Life
Working Families
Marijuana Reform
Natural Law Party
Taxpayers Party

Political clubs and groups
Blueprint Camp. Finance Reform
Central Queens Greens
The Jefferson Democratic Club of Flushing
NY Young Republican Club
Stonewall Democratic Club
Village Independent Dems.

Abbreviations for Party Affiliation

American Dream Party (AMD)
Better Schools Party (BES)
Communist (Com)
Conservative (Con)
Constitution (CST)
Democratic (Dem)
Friends United Party (FUN)
Fusion Party (FUS)
Green (Gre)
Harmony Party (HAR)
Independence (Ind)
Liberal (Lib)
Libertarian (LBT)
Marijuana Reform Party (POT)
Natural Law Party (NLP)
Party of Ethics and Traditions (PET)
Reform Party (Ref)
Republican (Rep)
Right to Life (RTL)
School Choice Party (Sch)
Socialist Workers Party (SWP)
Working Families (Wor)

2001 Election Calendar

June 1 -- Deadline for candidates to join the Campaign Finance program, qualifying for the four-to-one match of contributions.
June 5 - First day for candidates from the eight major parties (Democratic, Republican, Indpendence, Conservative, Liberal, Green, Working Families, and Right to Life) to circulate petitions. Candidates running for City Council must collect the signatures of at least 900 people living in the district for which they are running in order to appear on the Primary ballot. Candidates not running under these eight major parties do not appear on the Primary ballot and have a separate set of deadlines.
July 12 - Deadline for major party candidates to file petitions.
July 10 - First day for unaffiliated candidates to circulate petitions, in order to appear on the ballot in the General Election. They must collect the number of signatures equal to five percent of the total enrolled in that party.
August 7 - Board of Elections announces candidates appearing on the Primary ballot.
August 17 - Last day for non-absentee voters to register to vote in the Primary Election.
August 21 - Deadline for non-major party candidates to file petitions to be included on the General Election ballot.
September 4 - Last day to postmark application for absentee voting in the Primary
September 10 - Last day to personally deliver application for absentee voting in the Primary Last day to postmark absentee ballot for Primary
September 11 - Primary election; Polls open at 6:00a.m. and close at 9:00p.m.; Absentee ballots must be hand-delivered by 9:00 p.m.
September 25 - Runoff Primary election for Mayor, Comptroller and Public Advocate, if needed
October 12 - Last day to for non-absentee voters to register to vote in the General Election
October 30 - Last day to postmark application for absentee voting in the General Election
November 5 - Last day to hand-deliver an application for absentee voting, or to postmark an absentee ballot for the General Election.
November 6 - General Election; polls open at 6:00a.m. and close at 9:00p.m. in NYC; Absentee ballots must be hand-delivered by 9:00 p.m.

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