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: Voting

By Linda Stone Davidoff


New York voters cast their ballots on antiquated mechanical equipment which is subject to jamming and breakage -- and since the machines are no longer manufactured, repair parts must be recycled from machines discarded by other jurisdictions.

Past efforts to replace the machines stalled when the Board of Elections could not carry out the bidding process to select new technology, choose a vendor, and proceed to purchase. This inability to meet the challenge of new voting machinery reflects the Board's unique -- and dysfunctional -- bipartisan patronage staff structure (see below). The failure to replace the equipment is a mixed blessing, since the Board avoided what might have been a disastrous choice of punch-card technology, popular a decade ago with election officials across the country.

As a result of the Presidential election fiasco in November 2000 in Florida, efforts are under way at the national level to assess voting technologies currently available and make recommendations for a uniform national voting system. Most recently, MIT and Caltech formed a commission to look into the voting technology alternatives and came up with a preliminary assessment that a new generation of mechanical voting systems - similar to New York City's current machines but lighter (therefore reducing the number of incidents of dropped machines with smashed parts), stronger, less subject to malfunction and with bigger ballot arrays to accommodate the multiparty choices now available. (New York State's ballot has become much more complex in recent years with the birth and growth of new minor parties.)

New York City voters are often puzzled where to vote - both in terms of finding the building in which voting takes place and once inside, finding the correct line to stand in for their Election District. Standing in the wrong line results in the polling clerk being unable to find the voter's name in the election district book, therefore delays voting or the casting of "affidavit ballots," which if cast in the wrong election district are subsequently discarded.

The causes of polling place problems include

  • Incompetent inspectors: the same internal structural problems that affect the Board (see below) also affect the personnel at the polling places. Democratic and Republican District Leaders whose interest is to reward party loyalty rather than competence or intelligence select inspectors, clerks, translators and supervisors. Furthermore, the ranks of party loyalists have thinned dramatically in recent years as party apparatuses have shrunk and given way to professional staffing of campaigns by pollsters, media consultants and the like. In addition, the increase in full-time work for women has shrunk the occasional-worker force and inflation has reduced the value of the $10 per day (for a 16-hour workday, from 5:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.)) As a result, the polling places are often short of their full complement of staff. The staff is also barely literate - unable to carry out simple tasks such as finding a name in alphabetical order, much less adjudicating issues such as when to use "affidavit ballots" versus "emergency" ballots and how to direct the voter to the correct line
  • Inadequate location notice: decades ago, party volunteers placed notices in multifamily dwellings to tell voters which polling place location to vote in. With the decline of party strength this custom has been dropped in many places. Board of Elections notices to voters where to vote arrive erratically in mailboxes. And polling place locations must be changed when sites become unavailable as a result of school crowding, building renovations and the like.
  • Names missing from poll books: voters standing in the wrong line, as noted above, often fail to have their votes counted. In addition, administrative problems at Board of Elections headquarters (see below) lead to voter registration forms being lost, ignored or wrongly listed.
  • Lack of phone lines: the Board has insufficient emergency phone lines to answer questions from poll workers on Election Day such as reporting broken machines.

The Board of Elections and its staff are required by law to be selected by the Democratic and Republican Party leaders. As a result, every decision requires the assent of individuals whose stake in efficient administration is much less weighty than their stake in party self-interest. For example, when a worker should be disciplined for failure to show up, failure to carry out tasks such as voting machine maintenance or computerization of voter registration information efficiently, board officials often refuse to discipline workers from their own party. As each side is included to settle for a standoff, board staff escapes disciplinary action and are maintained on the payroll for years even if they function poorly.



Recruit competent inspectors: Candidates should pledge to ask their supporters to serve as election inspectors and make appeals to students, part-time workers, volunteer and home workers to come forward to take on this critical task of citizenship. Persons with language skills are particularly needed in neighborhoods with large immigrant populations.

Increase pay for election inspectors and voting machine engineers and repairmen: Candidates for public office should support a budget increase for the Board of Elections to increase polling place staff stipends and wages for voting machinery repair staff.

Provide more phoine lines for the board of elections help line: Candidates should support a budget increase for the Board of Elections to enable them to provide at least triple the number of emergency lines to Board headquarters. In this way, polling workers can get through to solve problems on election days.


Restructure the board of elections and its staff: State legislation should be enacted to transform the county Boards of Elections into line agencies of county government. Election administration should be taken over by a gubernatorial appointee (the Secretary of State is most often the responsible official in states with competent election management).

Bring the voter rolls up to date and manage them statewide: The voter rolls, like the motor vehicle rolls, should be administered and computerized statewide to create a single up-to-date and all-inclusive list of voters, which can then be organized by election district and transmitted to polling places.

Purchase new voting machinery: A single statewide method for counting votes should be decided upon and new machinery purchased statewide.

Weekend and holiday voting: By action of Congress for general elections and of the state legislature for primaries, voting should take place on weekend or holiday dates. This would spread voting out over an entire day and make it far easier to recruit competent inspectors.



New York State law governing the placement of candidates' names on the ballot is famously difficult - the number of legal challenges in this state alone surpasses the entire rest of the nation. Signature requirements and the legal documentation surrounding the signature gathering process create the opportunity for party leaders and competing candidates to carry out extended legal procedures from the time petitions are filed until - and after - the ballots are printed.

Solution: candidates should support state legislation to reduce and radically simplify the signature requirements for ballot access.



New York City has among the best public campaign finance systems in the nation and New York State, among the worst. The city system provides for public matching funds for small donations from constituents at a rate of $4 in public money for every $1 raised. This public finance makes it possible for candidates of ordinary means to have enough money to buy the basic materials to let the voters know their stands on the issues and their qualifications for office. In addition, the city law mandates (for candidates who voluntarily opt into the system) limits on contributions, caps on spending, and full disclosure of all donations.

Candidates should indicate their continuing support for the city's campaign finance law against challenges from Mayor Giuliani. And they should signify their support for the Goodman Bill, S5231, which provides for New York State to adopt the basic features of the New York City system, including a $4 public match for every $1 raised in modest contributions from constituents in each race.

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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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