Campaign 2001 Feature

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Recent Feature Stories:
The Nod of the Bosses... Scramble for the City Council... Basic Training for Council Recruits... How They Stack up on Term Limit... Dynasties... The Speech that Saved Term Limits...


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?


Born Leaders or Seat Warmers?

By Michael Burger

Video camera in hand, Jose Rivera zoomed in on his 22-year-old son, Joel, an undergraduate at Fordham University. Like any proud father, he wanted to record his child's moment of glory. Only, this was not the end of May on a college campus, but last Tuesday at City Hall, and the elder Rivera was not videotaping Joel's graduation but his swearing-in. Joel Rivera was taking over the City Council seat that his father Jose Rivera had possessed until November, when he left to become a member of the New York State Assembly.

Joel Rivera defeated his opponent Edwin Ortiz in a special election held last Month (He must run for re-election this fall). Ortiz, 13 years his senior, has worked for more than a decade as a youth and tenant organizer, a campaigner for the Democratic party, and a previous candidate for public office. Rivera, who has a resume without explicit work experience, campaigned by mentioning events he attended when he was five years old. "This campaign was 22 years in the making," he said to his supporters after his victory.

After the City Hall ceremony last week, Councilmember Victor Robles rose to commemorate Joel's election: "Let me remind you that besides being the youngest member ever on the council, he made history because both the father and the son are sitting elected officials. So we have one up on the Bushes. We have the history books."

Councilmember Phil Reed then rose to speak. "With all due respect to Councilmember Robles, we actually have two such father-son teams simultaneously in office."

Reed was referring to State Senator Pedro Espada Jr. and his son, City Councilman Pedro Gautier Espada. As it happens, the Riveras and the Espadas are political rivals. The senior Espada and the senior Rivera may run against one another for borough president of the Bronx.

"Nepotism is nothing new in American politics," political consultant Hank Sheinkopf told the Daily News. But what is happening this campaign season in New York is making some kind of history -- and that makes some people very unhappy.


The reign of George W. Bush follows only eight years after the presidency of his father, George Bush. (For history buffs: the presidency of John Quincy Adams followed some 20 years after that of his father John Adams, and Benjamin Harrison, the 23rd U.S. President, was the grandson of the ninth, William Henry Harrison.) The younger Bush's opponent, former Vice President Al Gore Jr., was the son of a U.S. Senator Al Gore Sr.

"There are a lot of family traditions specifically in New York," says political consultant Joseph Mercurio. There were of course the Roosevelts. On Staten Island, the father-daughter team of Guy and Susan Molinari have operated their own political shop. In 1985, while Mr. Molinari sat in the U.S. Congress, Susan, 27 years old at the time, became the sole Republican on the City Council. Five years later, he became borough president and she took over his seat in the House.

But thanks to term limits, the city is seeing more relatives running at one time than ever before. There are at least a half dozen races in which one of the candidates is the son or daughter of the incumbent council member:

  • District 16 in the Bronx: Helen Diane Foster, daughter of Wendell Foster
  • District 22 in Queens: Peter Vallone Jr., son of Peter Vallone Sr
  • District 37 in Brooklyn: Erik Malave-Dilan, son of Martin Malave-Dilan,
  • District 40 in Brooklyn: Yvette Clarke, daughter of Una Clarke
  • District 42 in Brooklyn: Donald Wooten, son of Priscilla Wooten, Donald Wooten

Rickly Dear, the wife of Councilmember Noach Dear, is also reportedly considering a run to succeed him in district 44 in Brooklyn.

This phenomenon has not left everybody with a warm and fuzzy feeling. "We've spent years getting away from colonial rules of government," says Wellington Sharpe. "I don't want to see us setting up a royalty here." Sharpe, a Jamaican immigrant who operates a day care center, is running for council from district 40 in Brooklyn. One of his opponents is Yvette Clarke, 35, daughter of Una Clarke, the current council member in the district.

Critics have charged that some of these running relatives are little more than surrogates for their parents. Due to citywide redistricting, elections will be held again in two years. So, critics believe, some incumbents are running their children as a way to keep the seats warm until they themselves can run again in 2003. Others suspect that the older generation will stay on behind the scenes, regardless of whether they run again, working their parental influence.


Candidates opposing the offspring of council members are confronted with a unique, if not entirely uncommon, problem. "As a matter of fact, I am running against Una Clarke," says Sharpe. "It's not against her daughter per se. I'm running against the establishment, whatever friends and people she has. There are people who owe her favors. So all she has to do is call them in. It's not a level playing field."

Yvette Clarke, director of business services at the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corp who says she was encouraged by friends of her mother to run, acknowledges the benefits of her bloodline. "When one has the support of an incumbent, there is an advantage," she says. "They've established relationships, and their reputation and rapport precedes them. When you start from scratch, you have to gain entree, you have to gain access to and support from entities within the community. It's a challenge to differentiate yourself from opponents."

Michael Benjamin is running against Helen Diane Foster, daughter of Councilmember Rev. Wendell Foster, for the seat in the Highbridge section of the Bronx. Benjamin sees this election as a transitional moment. "It is an opportunity to remake the city council, to make it more diverse, more reflective of city at large," he says. But Benjamin is facing the same problems as Sharpe, Ortiz, and the rest. "Wendell Foster has the name recognition of ten years of taxpayer funded mailings," he says. "He's introducing his daughter as his successor, creating fear that capital projects in the hopper won't get funded if she's not elected. He's putting his machinery behind his daughter and he's not making any bones about it."

Benjamin says Rev. Foster is trying to set up a dynasty. "He's stated that people who don't vote for his daughter are racist, because there are the Bushes and the Kennedy'sā¤|.It's distasteful that he wants to keep it in the family, rather than let people who have been out there doing it for years serve in a greater capacity. She's never been to meetings outside his presence. She's just parachuting in."

Helen Foster, of course, does not see it this way. "The more I was out with my father, which I've been doing since I was ten, more and more people expressed an interest in my running," says Foster, who is 34. "I've been meeting with a core group of ministers and political advisers. They're asking me to consider it, pray on it, and be guided accordingly."


Joel Rivera and Yvette Clarke learned politics from their parents. They worked on campaigns, attended political events, and met the right people. Clarke, who ran her mother's congressional bid and both of her reelection campaigns, says she learned "sort of by osmosis." Rivera speaks of standing beside his father in Vieques, Puerto Rico during protests of U.S. naval operations there, and in the Bronx during protests of the Amadou Diallo killing. "It cannot be ignored, the experience that the children of council members have gained," he says. "It's a real life experience. No one can match that."

The influence of parents on their children in any circumstance is undeniable; in these instances, the boundary between the personal and the political disappears, giving some credence to fears of a democracy undermined by filial connections.

Rivera says that his father has always been his mentor. "This is a man who has been involved in politics for 30 years," he says. "He knows the issues, and that is how I came to know the issues that face the community. I will always look up to him."

"Her expertise is invaluable," says Clarke of her mother. "She can start a sentence and I can almost finish it."

"My father and I have always had a relationship where I'm his sounding board," says Helen Diane Foster. "And not just in politics but in life. We don't make a move without one bouncing ideas off the other."

And Peter Vallone Jr., 39, who is running to fill mayoral candidate Peter Vallone Sr.'s seat in Astoria, adds: "I look to my father for advice on all matters political. He's probably the best source available, and I'm lucky to have him. Nobody knows more about how city government works than my father."

Dutiful sons and daughters all.

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Find what city council district you are in -- and learn more about what's going on there, and who's running.

What is this?
Gotham Gazette's Searchlight on Campaign 2001 offers a comprehensive look at what is being called New York City's most significant campaign season in modern history. (See the left-hand column for an explanation).

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.

Register To Vote or Be A Poll Worker

Voter Registration Forms
After printing and filling out the voter registration form, please send them by mail to:

Board of Elections
32 Broadway, 7th Floor
New York, NY

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Poll Worker Applications

After completing the forms, please send them to the address on the form.

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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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