Campaign 2001 Feature

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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?


The Party's Not Over

By Josh Shipper

Term limits and campaign finance, as it turns out, were not enough.

This month, one third of the City Council candidates in Queens were stricken from the ballot when their petitions were invalidated. The majority of those disqualified were running against a well-supported party candidate. The Queens County Democratic organization sent a team of a dozen lawyers to represent their candidates and challenge opponents. Louisa Chan, a candidate in district 25 in Jackson Heights, left the courtroom in tears. Like the rest of the candidates opposing a party machine, she was fighting against patronage, money, resources, and a guaranteed wall of endorsements -- an apparently unbeatable combination.

"Despite all the popular rhetoric about reform," wrote Michael Bloomberg in a recent Newsday article, "old-fashioned political bosses, not the people, still dominate political life in New York City." It is time, he said, to take them out.

How would he do so? Non-partisan elections.

Mayor Rudy Giuliani supports the idea. At a recent press conference, the mayor told reporters that nonpartisan elections would "continue to help move the city out of domination by one political party. I was only the third Republican mayor in 100 years." Support comes as well from New York's Independence Party, which includes it in its platform. "The idea is a frightening one for our partisan system," says Frank MacKay, the chairman of the Independence Party.

Nonpartisan elections, where candidates would be prohibited from running as the choice of any party or under their banner, are designed to remove political parties from local government. Its advocates argue that this would open the ballot to a wider range of candidates and ideas, and force citizens to become more informed voters.

If all of those reasons aren't enough, proponents say, consider the fact that we already have nonpartisan elections in New York -- and have had them since 1989, when an amendment to the City Charter required that special elections to fill sudden vacancies be nonpartisan.

These, though, happen only about once a year. More compelling perhaps is that New York is one of the few major cities left in the United States that does not use them to select all its public officials.


The argument for nonpartisan elections is simple. It is based on the old saying, "You don't need to be Republican or Democrat to pave a road."

The job of a member of the city council, proponents say, is not to debate national issues, but to preserve the neighborhood park, make sure trash is picked up, and occasionally fix a pothole or two. All of these do not require partisan solutions.

The nonpartisan election was a Progressive reform introduced around the turn of the 20th Century in response to party machines that in effect ran municipal governments. The Progressive Party was strongest out West and in Texas, which is why most cities there had the format written into their original charters. Progressives wanted city governments to be more responsive to community needs, less vulnerable to the self-interested manipulation of party hacks. They wanted to sever public servants' allegiances to political parties.

Today, at least three-quarters of all municipalities in the United States use nonpartisan elections, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, Dallas, and Seattle. Chicago made the switch in 1999.

Nonpartisan elections are intended to bring about reform in several ways.

By prohibiting parties from running candidates, advocates say, they remove party influence from the race. During the do-or-die period of petitioning when candidates in New York now rely on party organizations for help, such a reform could level the playing field.

It also opens the ballot to a wider range of candidates who don't need to adjust their ideas to win the approval of parties. And, advocates say, by stripping voters of their most useful cue -- party affiliation -- nonpartisan ballots are also intended to force voters to search out more information on a candidate. A more active and informed citizenry could increase voter turnout.


Some candidates see the idea of non-partisan elections as a thinly-disguised scheme to increase the chances for a Republican win in this overwhelmingly Democratic city. "If my poll numbers looked like his," a spokesman for Fernando Ferrer responded to Bloomberg's proposal, "I'd call for nonvoter elections."

According to some political scientists who are studying nonpartisan elections, there is a significant discrepancy between what nonpartisan elections are intended to do, and what they actually do - or need to do.

Despite the complaints, for example, "party dominance" is not what it used to be, says Richard Briffault, a professor at Columbia University School of Law who specializes in election law. In New York's Democratic primary elections, while party organizations can endorse candidates, they no longer have the power to select who can run in the first place.

"In cities like New York, parties are not filtering the ideas of candidates," adds Matthew Streb, a political science professor at Loyola Marymount University. "They are primarily fundraising bodies."

Then there is the argument advocates use that local problems do not require partisan solutions. Briffault disagrees, at least when it comes to many decisions that the mayor must make. "The real question is, do Republicans and Democrats take different approaches when dealing with larger issues like education and crime?" says Briffault. To him, it is clear that they do.

Critics are also skeptical that non-partisan elections will promote a more informed citizenry. To Brian Schaffner of Indiana University, who with Streb is part of a group of political scientists researching nonpartisan elections, this is one of the worst myths. "It is unrealistic to think that people are going to go out and get more information on candidates," he says. Quite to the contrary, their research has shown that when voters cannot rely on party affiliations to guide their vote, instead of investigating the candidates further, they are most likely to use the next best cue, which in most cases is incumbency, name recognition, or ethnicity. But the team would much rather see people vote based on party, because, they believe, it is the most effective cue for determining what a candidate will do if elected.

And far from increasing voter turnout, in fact, the researchers discovered that nonpartisan elections often actually depress voter turnout. Without a "team" to root for, they say, voters become less interested in the race. They have also found that voters often leave a ballot blank when they are not given party affiliations because they are less sure who to vote for.

Then, rather than being a way to make the process of elections more open and responsive, critics claim, nonpartisan elections achieve something quite different. "The history of nonpartisan elections is a history of moneyed elites trying to manipulate the people," says Dan Cantor, executive director of the Working Families Party. "They are a way for wealthy candidates from unpopular parties to get on the ballot. They create no advantage for smaller party candidates except for politicians like Mike Bloomberg and Ross Perot who mistake their money for intelligence."

If all this were not argument enough, critics make one final point: Even if nonpartisan elections were a good idea for New York City, would they even be possible? According to Briffault, it is unconstitutional to bar parties from endorsing candidates or giving them money.

If parties can still endorse candidates in a nonpartisan election, it is hard to imagine them staying out of a race. Party machines would most likely continue to pick favorites and shovel funds into their campaigns.


The chances of nonpartisan elections taking over New York City are slim. There is a long tradition of partisan politics here. State law is based upon political parties. No grassroots organizations seem to be taking up the cause. That may be why the past two Charter Revision Commissions, though formed by Mayor Giuliani with the intention of implementing this new election format, have rejected the idea. And the proposal has lost steam in recent weeks. This year's Commission did not even mention the idea at its first public meeting.

The idea still appeals to some, however. Three-quarters of the nation's municipalities can't all be wrong.

Take Los Angeles, an example used by advocates because the city's last mayor was Republican. This indicates to some that nonpartisan elections have weakened the influence of the city's Democratic organization.

Another example used by advocates is from right here in New York: special elections for vacated City Council seats, which occur on the average only once or twice a year. The last such election was held in February to fill the central Bronx's 15th District (seat vacated by Jose Rivera. The race was contested by two Democrats, Edwin Ortiz, and Joel Rivera, son of Jose, and the Bronx Democratic organization's candidate. The voter turnout for this nonpartisan special election was touted as surprisingly high for a City Council election in the middle of February.

Since the turnout was actually only around 12 percent, this may say less about the value of nonpartisan elections than it does the indifference of voters in the 15th district. In any case, it was only a fiction that it was nonpartisan; the victor, Joel Rivera, was clearly the choice of the Bronx Democratic party machine .

And when advocates point to L.A.'s nonpartisan elections allowing for a Republican mayor, critics point out that New York City's current mayor is Republican, too, demonstrating that the party is perfectly capable of winning in a major city without the aid of nonpartisan elections.


The debate over nonpartisan elections seems to boil down to the value of political parties in our nation today. Are they inevitable, desirable, or do they impinge on the ability of a democracy to function? Our Founding Fathers did not anticipate the rise of dominant parties--no where in the Constitution are they mentioned--and they warned about the potential of large factions to bring politics to a stalemate.

"The public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties," wrote James Madison in The Federalist Papers. "Measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority."

Bloomberg, taking a page from Madison, persists.

This week, he wrote a letter to the Chairman of the Charter Revision Commission Randy Mastro urging him to reconsider nonpartisan elections for the November ballot. "By eliminating the partisan primary," he said, "nonpartisan elections prevent a small segment of registered voters from determining the outcome of the general election‚§| By opening our electoral system to all candidates, we can create a new climate for politics in this city, one that encourages political minorities and broader political debate."

While the theoretical discussion continues, Council candidates in Louisa Chan's district are now learning the everyday facts of party machine politics. Chan was one of six Democratic candidates in District 25 initially knocked off the ballot by the Queens County Democratic organization. The organization, which is backing candidate Helen Sears, convinced a judge to strike 200 signatures from Chan's petition because people used the abbreviation "NYC" and then crossed it out. Several days ago, Chan won a difficult appeal, and, for now, is back on the ballot. But her temporary disqualification caused her to lose any pubic funding she might have had to continue her campaign. She now has to wait until September 6th, five days before the primary, for the Campaign Finance Board to approve her funds.

Others candidates, like S. Terry Lewis, were not as fortunate as Chan.

"I believe my campaign is over for 2001," she said. "We simply don't have the funds to fight this challenge."

Indeed, what the campaign finance program and term limits were supposed to create--a ballot open to challengers representing different views--local party machines have managed to take away. New Yorkers supported those two initiatives several years ago, and so it is hard to believe that they would support the elimination of a candidate based on some abbreviated addresses.

"The petition challenges are meant to weed out fraud," said Chan, "not to weed out opponents of party machines. This is an election by the people. If I get beaten by the people at the voting booths, that is one thing. But if I get beaten by a party machine, that is not democracy," she said.

Party machines do not play the role they used to, but it is hard to ignore their power in local elections. After the first round of petition challenges, it is clear that while incumbents may be gone, parties are not; and while public funds are available to all, party funds are not.

But few people agree with Bloomberg that the answer is nonpartisan elections. They may be one way to check parties' influence, but in the end, they create more problems than they solve.

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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

You will need Acrobat Reader to view these forms.

Poll Worker Applications

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

You will need Acrobat Reader to view these forms.

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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