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?


Pseudo-Incumbents and the Power of Incumbency

By Lenore Chester

Once an incumbent, always an incumbent. Betting on the re-election of a sitting elected official is like putting money in the bank. That is simply a fact of life in American politics. The only question is why that happens and what, if anything, can or should be done about it

In New York City this year, incumbency remains a powerful force, though term limits have been imposed for the first time, requiring most incumbent city public officials not to run for re-election this year. Most of the incumbents who remain, while none at the moment are running literally unopposed, are thought to have little chance of being defeated. But what the new term limits law mostly means is that some of the candidates benefiting from the power of incumbency this campaign season are not technically incumbents. For various reasons, though, certain candidates have taken on the mantle of incumbents.

The power of incumbency is related in no small way to political parties. Political parties protect incumbents in many ways, from the redistricting following the census every ten years - a major goal of which for both parties is to make sure the new districts are reconfigured so as to re-elect the incumbent - through the ballot access process each and every election year. While it may be true that parties are not as powerful in 2001 as they were decades ago, any candidate trying to get on the ballot today without the backing of his or her county and district leader is at a major disadvantage. Without political organization support, a candidate may never be able to file enough signatures to gain access to the ballot or to withstand legal challenges to the signatures that they have managed to gather.

This is actually more complicated in the 2001 New York City election than previously; thanks to term limits, there are a large number of candidates - more than 300 -- vying for 35 newly vacated City Council seats. The more candidates, the more difficult it is to collect the required number of valid signatures. The more difficult it is to collect valid signatures, the easier it is to knock opponents off the ballot - a time-honored (albeit ethically-impaired) practice and well-honed skill in New York State. The ballot access process itself keeps challengers at bay. It is no surprise then that incumbents often run for re-election unopposed.

But as important as political party support to the power of incumbency, is that sitting legislators bring home the bacon. Legislative budgets, on all levels of government, provide for "member items" - dollar allocations for favored local projects. These may be as diverse as books for the local public library, money for a boy or girl scout troop project, a community band or renovated park or grandstand, or new benches along a promenade. And let us not forget projects for senior citizens - one group of voters on whom incumbents can count to vote in election after election. Legislators with seniority generally get more dollars for their community than others; ditto for those who cooperate with the leadership. Challenging the leadership could and does result in a radical cut in the dollars available for a recalcitrant legislator's district. There are only a few brave souls who go that route.

In addition, incumbents, often bit-part players in the legislative process, spend most of their time in their district offices dispensing favors, answering complaints, attending community events both large and small, sending out newsletters chock full of themselves, and taking photo opportunities wherever and whenever they present themselves. They are ubiquitous in their districts. It is no surprise then that when voters are polled about term limits they often say they support term limits but not for their own representative. He or she is "doing a good job for the district."

Name recognition is also a factor in being re-elected over and over again. And that alone explains some of the pseudo-incumbents this year. Much has been made of the fact that relatives of at least 11 current members are seeking their vacated Council seats in the 2001 election. Being a bearer of a recognizable and (they hope) well-respected family name is definitely no handicap to being elected to public office.

So what else is new? Nepotism has always been alive and well in politics.

When Jose Rivera decided to move up to the State Assembly in 2000, he bequested his seat to his college age son, Joel. Councilmember Pedro G. Espada is the scion of a Bronx political family; Tracy Boyland's family's political roots are in Brooklyn - her father is a member of the New York State Assembly. Currently sitting in the State legislature are Daniel Hevesi, son of Alan, Toby Stavisky, widow of former State Senator Leonard Stavisky, and Mark Weprin, son of Queens political icon Saul Weprin and brother of David Weprin, a candidate for the City Council this year. Steven Cymbrowitz moved easily into his deceased wife's seat in the Assembly.

Why shouldn't Eric Dilan want his father Martin's seat in the City Council? Or Donald Wooten, his mother's. Councilmember Howard Lasher's wife Susan is running for his spot on the Council, she says, to preserve his "legacy" - for whatever that's worth. Helen Foster is hoping to replace her term-limited father, Wendell Foster, and Peter Vallone's son is seeking his father's seat. And why not? An annual salary of $90,000 for a part time job on the New York City Council is not bad. Once elected the power of incumbency becomes theirs and, with a little bit of luck, they can serve as long as eight years* - longer if they manage to repeal term limits before the 2009 election. That is a lot more money and fun than most of these candidates have seen in years.

When Al Vann decided to move from the Assembly where he has served over 26 years to the Council to fill Annette Robinson's seat (same salary - less of a commute) his name recognition and incumbency status travels with him. Playing the game of musical chairs, Ms. Robinson, forced by term limits to give up her Council seat, will run for Mr. Vann's seat - once again, using the incumbency card and discouraging newcomers to the political landscape.

Is that all bad? Not necessarily. Just because a candidate sports a well-known name or is a son or daughter of a current incumbent doesn't make him or her incompetent. They could, in fact, be naturals on the political scene. But it is certainly not what term limit advocates had in mind when they hoped for a "new" City Council.

What does that tell us about the state of grass roots politics in New York City? Are there no up-and-coming qualified candidates in the districts? What about community and school board members? Aren't local civic organizations developing new leadership? Where are the former legislative aides with the expertise and talent to compete for public office?

The answer is that they are out there. But the party's backing of second generation and politically connected candidates is a distinct put-down for newcomers without easy name recognition. Their struggle for ballot access and for enough dollars to fund a viable campaign is hampered once again by the power of incumbency - this time carried over into the second generation.

* Council members elected in 2001 for the first time in districts based on the 1990 census, may run again in 2003 for another two-year term using 2000 census-based district lines. Since New York City's term limit law requires that the "two consecutive term" limit for members of the Council must include one four-year term, they would be eligible to run again in 2005 when the normal four-year election cycle resumes, for a total of eight years of service.

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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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