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?


The Nod of the Bosses

By Bob Liff

With all the suspense and panache of the Soviet Politburo, Queens Democratic district leaders on Monday took 15 seconds to endorse Comptroller Alan Hevesi for mayor. It took another 15 seconds to endorse Manhattan Assemblyman Scott Stringer for public advocate, and endorse former Board of Education President William Thompson for comptroller.

It took a couple of minutes to endorse East Elmhurst Councilwoman Helen Marshall for Queens borough president. But that was only because so many leaders in the overheated second-floor headquarters on Austin St. in Forest Hills wanted to add their comments to the warm embrace extended by Queens Democratic leader Thomas Manton to the first African-American candidate ever backed for borough president in the city's most ethnically diverse borough.

But the seemingly-foreordained voting was merely the last public step in a months-long tortuous behind-the-scenes struggle for both Hevesi and Marshall, one that brought old loyalties, shifting demographic realities and hard-nosed political horsetrading into play.

And after it was all over, the question remained: Does anybody care anymore what Democratic county leaders decide in party primaries these days?

Why does it matter that Bronx Democratic leader Roberto Ramirez backed Fordham Councilman Adolfo Carrion to succeed mayoral hopeful Fernando Ferrer as borough president on the Grand Concourse.

What can former deputy Brooklyn Borough President Jeannette Gadson hope to gain by the backing of Assemblyman Clarence Norman Jr., that borough's Democratic leader, in her bid to become Brooklyn's first female and first African-American leader.

Do voters care that in Staten Island, a civil war within the Republican party has seen chairwoman Leticia Remauro dump fellow GOPer Assemblyman Robert Straniere as the chosen borough president candidate in favor of Conservative Party leader James Molinaro, a top aide to outgoing borough president Guy Molinari. Straniere and Molinaro seem likely to face off in a Republican primary, with Democratic Councilman amd borough president hopeful Jerome O'Donovan hoping they tear each other up enough to let him tiptoe through the carnage and reclaim Borough Hall for his party.

In Manhattan - well, Manhattan recalls Will Rogers' comment that he belongs to no organized political party - he's a Democrat. Whatever else you can say about Assemblyman Herman (Denny) Farrell, Manhattan's Democratic leader, he'll never be mistaken for the late Tammany Hall boss Carmine DeSapio.


One thing is clear -- candidates care immensely what the county leaders do.

Even today, years after DeSapio and the late Brooklyn boss Meade Esposito went to that clubhouse in the sky, county leaders have a few aces up their sleeves.

  • Endorsement by a county organization can mean help from loyalists who go into the streets and door to door to gather signatures on nominating petitions.
  • Party leaders also provide lawyers to make sure those petitions comply with all the technical rules that can trip up unsuspecting candidates.
  • Those same party lawyers also help kick unblessed challengers off the ballot in cases that are argued before judges who owe their seats to the very party organizations whose lawyers are appearing before them. Picking judges remains the one power that party leaders retain virtually unchecked control over
  • With term limits clearing all three citywide officials and 35 members of the 51-member City Council out of office, the party leaders can lend credibility to first-time candidates who may be veterans of party wars but little known to the public at large.
  • And party leaders, by the weight of their endorsements, can clear the field of wannabe elected officials who figure stepping aside in the short run stands them in good stead for future possibilities.

Manton's endorsement of Helen Marshall, for example, turned a five-way race into a three way battle. Both Forest Hills Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz and Far Rockaway Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer dropped out of the race for Queens Borough President after Manton announced his decision. Former Board of Education president Carol Gresser and term-limited Hollis Councilman Sheldon Leffler remain in the race.

Similarly, Ramirez' nod for Carrion drove Assemblyman Jose Rivera and Councilman Larry Warden out of the borough president's race.

And Manton's endorsement for Hevesi could be a death knell for the dream by Council Speaker Peter Vallone from Astoria to move across City Hall's rotunda into the mayor's office.

Vallone, trailing badly in recent polls, had been counting on backing from fellow councilmembers to provide a ready-made district-by-district grass roots organization. But Councilmembers Morton Povman of Forest Hills and Archie Spigner of St. Albans, both district leaders, voted with Manton to back Hevesi, apparently dumping their past loyalty for Vallone in the process.

With Ferrer backed by the Bronx and Staten Island organizations, Hevesi by Brooklyn, and Public Advocate Mark Green expected to win the Manhattan nod, Vallone needed his home county but didn't get it.

It's no accident that Vallone on Monday tried to counter Hevesi's backing from former Vallone ally Manton by trotting a series of union leaders out to the steps of City Hall to endorse his mayoral candidacy.


Despite their vaunted powers in days gone by, today's county party boss often resembles the lost pilgrim who says he must find his group for he is their leader.

Manton's slate of blessed candidates emerged from a process in which district leaders in Southeast Queens - largely African-American and Caribbean-American, and solidly Democratic - pointed out that they provided enough of the Democratic vote in the county to merit some consideration. Manton had been heavily lobbied by Gresser, a longtime friend, and by Pheffer, the handpicked choice of a successor by outgoing term-limited Borough President Claire Shulman. Leader of both factions in the section, Spigner and U.S. Rep. Greg Meeks of St. Albans, each backed Marshall.

But Spigner backed Vallone and Meeks backed Hevesi. Backing Marshall for borough president, and Hevesi for mayor, allowed Manton to give a little something to everybody.


In a way, the endorsements by the party leaders merely signal the end of the beginning of the campaign. While political reporters and political junkies may have been following minor developments with talmudic interest, most normal people tend not to tune in until weeks before the primary.

Thus far the campaign has been an insiders' game, with four mayoral candidates, a dozen or so borough president candidates and more than 100 city council candidates elbowing their way through a rugby scrum to gain minor edges.

Now it begins to shift to an intense retail phase, with petition gatherers hitting the streets and shopping centers in search of nominating signatures. That retail phase is followed by another period of insiders' battles as first the Board of Elections, and later the courts, will resolve legal challenges to petitions. Since many city elections are resolved in court long before voters get a say, this is the least watched and often most important phase of the process.

Then the final run-up to the primary begins, likely in mid-July, with a combination of wholesale politics - in the form of television advertising and mass mailings - and retail politics in the form of street rallies and debates.

As the season goes on, the endorsements of the county leaders become less and less important. It is then that other endorsements - by unions, prominent pastors and those local district party leaders who can produce campaign workers - become more prominent.

District leaders like Spigner and Bushwick Assemblyman Vito Lopez can provide street troops who have proven adept at getting loyalists to the polls. Union leaders like health workers' chief Dennis Rivera offer telephone banks to favored candidates. Abyssinian Baptist Church's Calvin Butts in Harlem and Allen AME's Floyd Flake in Queens become key players in get-out-the-vote efforts for September's primary.

But beyond groups with built-in cadres of foot soldiers, even the most successful politicians find it hard to translate their own popularity to others.


Even at his most popular, the mayor ran up a string of endorsements for losing candidates that reminded one of the late Alabama Governor George Wallace's offer to a favored candidate that he would campaign for or against him, whichever helped more.

In intra-Republican party struggles, Giuliani backed the conservatives in Brooklyn and the moderates won. He backed the moderates in a similar struggle in Queens, and the conservatives won. He backed Molinari in the Staten Island's powerhouse's lone losing campaign, a bid to unseat Democratic District Attorney William Murphy.

Giuliani fared little better in his cross-party efforts, including help for Patrick O'Malley's losing bid to unseat Queens Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan last year. And Giuliani's support for Democratic Governor Mario Cuomo left both men's careers in a political shambles, at least in the short run.

Despite that record, you can expect candidates of all political stripes to line up to seek Giuliani's endorsement, and that of anybody else who might give them a slight edge.

After all, in a close primary election, it cannot hurt.

My Street Address:

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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
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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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