NYC Issues 2001

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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?


NYC Issues 2001: The Environment

By Michael Burger

Environmental issues, like the environment itself, are best understood in terms of their interconnectedness, rather than as a series of independent problems. Yet, politicians from the mayor to borough presidents to members of the City Council tend to treat environmental issues as mutually exclusive and deal with them on a first-come, first-served basis.

The result is that the solutions often create new problems: new power plants aimed to fend off energy shortages are rushed through the regulatory system, new waste transfer stations create increased diesel truck traffic through adjacent neighborhoods, and efforts to redevelop brownfields fail to clean them up.

Not only do these short-term solutions fail to fully address the city's environmental condition, they often have the most impact on the city's low-income and minority neighborhoods. The growing inequity between rich and poor New Yorkers and the deteriorating state of the city's industrial dumping grounds call for some comprehensive, strategic plan. Will anyone answer that call?


Mayor Giuliani and officials from the New York Independent System Operator and the New York Power Authority have said that the city may face a shortage of energy that could create a price spike like last summer's and the threat of blackouts and brownouts. The state has stepped in, and, in a controversial process, agreed to build 10 "temporary mini-power plants" inside city limits.

Opponents have argued against the plant sitings -- which were placed in low-income and minority neighborhoods in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island -- charging that the state sidestepped regulations that called for environmental reviews and community input. State officials have admitted that temporary plants may not be so temporary after all. And the same expedited process is being repeated with larger plants proposed for Hunts Point, Sunset Park and Long Island City. Power plant siting will continue to evoke protests for at least the next few years.

This year, candidates will be challenged to see if they support a system that favors power plant producers at the cost of public participation and environmental regulations.


The air in New York City remains the third dirtiest in the nation, behind only Los Angeles and Houston. The soot and smog that darken the city skies come from diesel trucks, cars, and new and old power plants. Over the next few years, the city will experience a significant increase in emissions from all these sources. New plants are being built, and old ones put back in use (like a notorious coal-fired polluter in the Brooklyn Navy Yards that is being resuscitated to meet this summer's demand). Waste transfer stations are using more and more diesel trucks to make up for the closing of the Fresh Kill landfill on Staten Island. And consumers continue to buy larger, less efficient, more polluting vehicles.

Last year, the Supreme Court upheld the United States Environmental Protection Agency's new national ambient air quality standards, which regulate emissions of smaller particles of soot. Soot is the generic term for particulate matter, an airborne black dust, that at its smallest sizes lodges in the lungs and can cause respiratory illnesses and asthma. Studies show that New York City is well out of compliance with the new standards, but the city and state are holding back on developing a strategy and recommending changes until the new standards take effect.

Complying with the new standards could mean re-siting power plants so that neighborhoods are not inundated with soot, promoting alternative fuels by investing in a new fleet of electric or hybrid vehicles, and even rethinking the city's public transportation system.

"It would instigate significant changes in the way we live life in New York City," says Mathy Stanislaus, an environmental engineer who has worked with the Environmental Protection Agency, the city government, and numerous community groups. "They are trying to avoid the impact of when those decisions hit. [But] unless we deal with this now, we're cementing health for the next ten years."


Welcome to the post-Fresh Kills era. Since the infamous landfill closed this spring, the city has been without a local solution for the 13,000 tons of residential waste the Department of Sanitation collects daily. (The same daily amount of commercial waste has always been trucked out of the city.) The city has rushed into a long-term plan for solid waste disposal that calls for contracting with a private facility in Linden, New Jersey for over half of the city's trash. But that facility has yet to be built and is subject to New Jersey regulations.

Candidates for office will be asked whether or not they support that plan and will be challenged to come up with other solutions.

Waste Transfer Stations
For the moment, residential waste is being lumped together with commercial waste and carried in and out of waste transfer stations on diesel trucks. As a result of the increased traffic, neighborhoods that play host to the stations -- which, again, are mostly poor and minority neighborhoods -- have to deal with increased air pollution and noise.

Mayor Giuliani has cut back on funding for recycling education and infrastructure. Recycling, long the poster-child of personal environmentalism, could receive more money and airtime from a new mayoral administration or City Council.

Fifteen percent of the city's waste consists of discarded food. Composting offers a solution to tossing food in with commercial and non-organic residential waste, but the city has postponed funding compost facilities for another seven years, until 2010. The new administration could make composting a priority and force New Yorkers to deal with an additional recycling duty.


Brownfields are abandoned properties that, due to actual or imagined toxic contamination, have been left unused or under-utilized. Brownfields pose a risk to both the public health and the environment, as toxics may leak into groundwater or neighboring property, or present hazards to children in search of a playground. However, brownfields also represent a great opportunity to revitalize urban neighborhoods with anything from a new community center to a public park, from affordable housing to a new manufacturing plant.

New York City has over 4,000 acres of brownfields, most located along the waterfront and concentrated in poor and minority neighborhoods.

The challenge, according to Alan Dershowitz of the Natural Resource Defense Council's Urban Program, is "not only on how to clean brownfields up but how to make that economically competitive. It often has less to do with contamination than the high costs of redevelopment in New York City."

There are currently two brownfields bills before the state legislature: a bill by Governor Pataki, and the Brownfields Coalition bill, put together by a group of private developers, government officials, community leaders and scientists. The Brownfields Coalition bill provides community-based organizations greater opportunity to participate directly by creating an advisory panel that would represent diverse interests. The governor's bill maintains a municipal veto over redevelopment plans and takes a risk-based approach to planning which could provide developers with an incentive to pave over pollution rather than clean it up. New city officials could play a role in determining which one gets the go-ahead.

Brownfields are often situated in close proximity to each other, yet redevelopment plans tend to look site-to-site. Environmental and community activists are calling for a broader vision that will look at entire areas rather than single sites in plotting urban renewal.


New York City's government can take the lead in creating a more efficient, conservation-minded economy by using its buying power to subsidize and support markets for eco-friendly products. These could include recycled paper, wood products culled from sustainable forests, wood alternatives, and hybrid cars and SUVs that use both electric and gas power. The city can also help create and expand markets for high-efficiency water and energy systems by retrofitting government buildings with them, and can promote alternatives to fossil fuels by purchasing more power from wind, solar, and geothermal sources, as well as from companies that invest in research and development of alternative energy.


The impacts of the city's environmental policies are most pronounced in a few low-income, minority neighborhoods like Hunts Point, Melrose Commons and Mott Haven in the South Bronx and Red Hook, Sunset Park, and Greenpoint/Williamsburg in Brooklyn. These are the neighborhoods saddled with the power plants and the waste transfer stations, and overrun with brownfields. As a result of shouldering the city's pollution burdens, people here are more susceptible to upper respiratory illnesses, cardiovascular complications, lead poisoning, and asthma. These are also the neighborhoods with the greatest need for open space and waterfront revitalization and access.

Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez has become a champion in the cause of environmental justice, a movement that aims to lift environmental burdens from poor and minority neighborhoods. Last July, she filed two formal complaints with the Environmental Protection Agency about the amount of pollution in her district neighborhoods. This past April, she introduced legislation to Congress that would enable communities to file complaints for discrimination under the Civil Rights Act.

Candidates in this campaign season should be asked whether they support Rep. Velazquez's stance, and whether they have any plan for promoting environmental justice themselves.

This year, candidates will also have to confront a few more questions on the environment.

What kind of attention will be paid to waterfront redevelopment, including improving access, recreational facilities and mixed use of land and water? What will candidates do to protect the city's watershed, and ensure drinking water quality? Finally, and perhaps the most pressing in the summer months, will pesticides be used to control the threat of the West Nile Virus?

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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.

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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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