The Race for Public Advocate

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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?


Kathryn Freed

Instead of going over a lot of the things I've done, let me just tell you some of the things you may not know about me. Sort of how I was shaped, how I got into politics, and why. I'll tell you two very quick examples. I grew up in York, Pennsylvania, which is a very conservative, Republican area. Naturally my parents were both liberal Democrats, and my father was involved in the party organization. I was this cute little curly red haired girl, and I was totally convinced when he went around knocking on doors that he took me with him, because he figured that people would open the doors. It worked except for it was a Republican area. The idea is that they would open doors, and he would actually go in and talk about democratic principals. Sometimes it worked, and a lot of times it didn't. I had very distinct memories of someone getting the dogs on us, and I running across the lawn. This taught me several things. It taught me that it was important to go forward with democratic policies, and principles, and it was also important to run fast.

When I was about eight-years-old, I actually grew up in a very blue collar working family. My father actually ran a pretzel-twisting machine in a bakery in York, Pennsylvania. I think for me one of the things that really did shape my feelings about getting things done, and where I stand on things was with when his factory went on strike. He was in a union, and I remember him marching the picket line with his signs, with all the other people that worked in the factory. They came from all classes, and they were all colors, but basically the important thing was principal. I'll tell you right now we missed a number of meals, and that whole year I wore hand me downs from my cousins, but what I absolutely learned the most important thing is you stand up for your principle, and you don't back down. You have to sacrifice a little, but that's what it is about. I have tried to follow these principles, and I have followed these principles. As a community activist in the City Council, I have used these principles to see that everyone gets a decent break.


Q-How do you plan on changing, or expending the role of public advocate, with a democratic mayor?

A-I think you are right. I think there will be a democratic mayor. This will be something we have never experienced in New York. We will have over two-thirds of the city council turned over, we will have a new mayor, new comptroller, a new public advocate, four out of five borough presidents will change, and probably thirty five of the council members will be new.

I think the public advocate will do the traditional role, and you have to do the traditional role. The public advocate as you know is Charter mandated, and is kind of like the watchdog of the city. It is maybe the first or maybe the last line of defense for people who think that the city is not delivering the services that the people can come to and say, "I have a problem." The Charter says that the public advocate can go out to various agencies, and ask questions, issue reports, assign task forces, and you can demand to get information from them. I would like to do all of that because on the question of principle I believe that the public advocate becomes very important on letting people that they have a stake in the city. That the city will listen to them, and that you will let them in, and that you will publicly listen to them, and bring about changes.

We will have a completely new government lineup. I believe that the public advocate will also have to go out, and introduce legislation. They can reside over the City Council, and they can involve themselves sin the discussion that are going on before City Council. What I would like to do differently is first do a lot of satellite offices, so that you can go out in various communities, invite people in, and listen to what they need fixing. I believe that the public advocate will also have to sit down with the City Council, and work with them, and shepherd them through a little bit, because there is not going to be an institutional memory out there. And I think it will be very important to work with the Council members and try and bring them together. I will try to influence legislation and that means making the city work better, and fulfilling the promise of the City. If people don't feel that the city is answering their questions they are going to opt out of the system, and that hurts all of us. I think one of the best things about the public advocate role is that you can bring people into the system, show them that it works, and show them that can make a difference.

Q-Could you just elaborate on some examples from your background that qualify you for the public advocate position?

A-Two come to mind. As a City Council member, I try to have legislated differences in the city. I have been very good at rallying, creating press conferences to highlight an issue, I've probably have been the plaintiff on about 40 lawsuits, and I have been very creative on making things happen. One of the problems we had downtown was rallying against noisy bars, and when that didn't work, I tried suing in the case of 72 Grand street, which was the landmark setting case. It basically said that the State Liquor Authority had to listen to neighborhoods, and take neighborhood impact into account when they decided to issue licensees.

For the first time ever, and actually we set the precedent for the entire city. The second instance involves route 9A on Canal Street. Initially rout 9A had proposed 12 lanes coming in from the West Side highway coming into Canal Street going into the Holland tunnel, and going east. That was obviously a recipe for disaster. All you would have is a huge bottleneck, and frankly the area is already intolerable, I have been active on pollution matter, but I will get to that later.

In this specific case, I was willing to work with a number of the neighborhood groups. By bringing everyone together we were able to find out a lot together. We filed a law suit because we found out that group that was supposed to do the environmental impact statement didn't do a good impact statement. We sued them, we sued the city, sued the state, and the end result was I ended up being able to get the Commissioner of Park's DOT, and State DOT together in a room overlooking that area. I told them I was not letting them out till they came to an agreement.

The same environmental group that didn't do the environmental impact statement correctly is now going to pay for a park. We are cutting down those lanes, and making it easier for cars to get in. My point is that if I can't legislate, I could be creative. When I have a goal in mind, and it's a good goal I won't let go. If going this way won't work, I will go that way, but I guarantee you, I will get good results. I will get the results that the city wants. That's what qualifies me for public advocate, because I will be the same pit bull as public advocate, as I have been as a City Council member

Q-What aspect of the Giuliani administration did you find most objectionable, and how would you address this issue as a public advocate?

A-Hopefully I won't have to address this situation with the Giuliani administration. The Giuliani administration claims to have won big in lowering crime, he made the city cleaner, and in some neighborhoods it actually worked very well. In a lot of neighborhoods, they didn't profit from the Giuliani renaissance. More importantly even from the neighborhoods who did I think we paid to high a price. I really think that Giuliani made us regain our souls. We can have a clean city, we can lower crime, but I absolutely believe that we can do that without edging the human heart out of the city. The city is supposed to be about everyone. The real promise of New York City is that we can bring every race, culture, creed, orientation, and disability together, and we will be become bigger than the sum of our parts. The vitality, and the real promise of this city everyone contributes, everyone has a shot at being whatever they can be.

Giuliani didn't let that happen. He's zeroed out certain people, he's zeroed out certain out certain races, he basically pandered to a lot of people in this city, and he pandered to the fears on the bases part of this city. I really believe we can make this city work, but we can make it work, and bring everyone into the city where everyone can profit. We can put the soul and the humanity back into the city. The bottom line is not dollars; the bottom line is people. As the next public advocate, my primary goal would be to make sure that everybody profits from the city, every group will profit, everybody will contribute, and all of us will be better for it.

Q-What would you do to improve the public school system?

A-This does not take a rocket scientist. A lot of this is just good common sense. I would pay the teachers more. We cannot fight with Long Island, and a lot of the areas that are offering them more money. Lower class sizes, more certified teachers, require them to continue their education, and pay them for continuing their education. We need a huge infusion of construction. I have a huge thing against the school construction authority. I don't think it works. Frankly, I think we need to get rid of it. Every time you give money to the school they take like 20 or 40 percent off the top, and then you can't complete the program that you started with. I would make sure that the students have the tools that they need. They need computers, books in the library, and smaller class sizes. I am real totally wary under control of the mayor. This mayor had too much control as it was. Can you imagine if he had total control?

Q-How would your role play a part in United Federation of Teachers?

A-I was a union representative. I have been pro union from the beginning. I would work with the unions, and bring everyone to the table, but I would do it in the interest of the city, but also want an outcome. I think they do a good job. They represent our teachers in very clear ways. That's the kind of thing that I would like to look at.

Q-What would be a way in which you could handle institutional development?

A-I'm sure I don't have to tell everyone in the audience that I was out there speaking against NYU suggesting that they should go underground instead of over ground. I was one of the first elected officials out there pushing, and fighting about the Poe House. I was also out there fighting about those damn buses. It's always tough, because you don't want to tell the educational institution that they can't expand, but they really have to be more aware of the community. They can't overtake the community, and that's one of the problems with NYU. I have suggested to them, was that they are part of the community we understand that, but if you have advisory boards, and you are making the decisions the community has to be part of the advisory board. When you have a proposal, put it out before the community, you put it before the advisory board, and you put it before the various block associations. You understand that we are all part of a whole, and that you have to work in a way that works with the community. I believe that can be done. Unfortunately I do not believe that NYU has been doing that. I think that's a problem, and you will see that's a problem throughout the city. I think we have to change around the rules. We have to make sure all of the universities work with the communities, and I will try to institute that.

Q-Is the elimination of control rented apartments inevitable, and if not what do you recommend specifically doing to save the rent at independence plaza?

A-By the way it's not just the rent at Independence Plaza, it's a lot of the Mitchell Lama's. Most of the Mitchell Lama's are all reaching a point where they can be bought out. One of the things that I am doing at Independence Plaza is meeting with HPD, and also meeting with state elected officials, talking to our federal elected officials, and bringing numerous Mitchell Lamas together. I am trying to form a group to not only attack this problem legislatively, but also attack through attorneys. At Independence Plaza we may, or may not be able to show that we should be rent stabilized, because we may not make the cut off. We really have got to make a change. We have got state legislator to agree to extend the program. If they will not extend the program, then at least give us rent controlled protection. We will continue to rally, and push people at the state level, and the federal level. Unfortunately our fate is not entirely our own. At Independence Plaza we do have to deal with the other levels of government. Certainly as public advocate I will fight hard.

Just to tell you what I have done in the City Council, and why I'd be a great public advocate. I chaired a contracts committee. Let me try and give you a run down of the things we have done. Tomorrow morning we will be passing the anti-sweatshops law. We've also passed requirements for responsible gun manufacturers. Just this week I had a bill vetoed by the Giuliani administration. The bill requires that anyone who contracts with the City of New York not discriminate. Go figure why he vetoed it. We are going to override that veto. The first bill that I passed with an anti-bias related violence bill to give a private right of action to anyone who was a victim of bias. I am now pushing a buffer zone to protect anyone who wants clinic access of the various clinics in this city, because they are still being protected.

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Find what city council district you are in -- and learn more about what's going on there, and who's running.

What is this?
Gotham Gazette's Searchlight on Campaign 2001 offers a comprehensive look at what is being called New York City's most significant campaign season in modern history. (See the left-hand column for an explanation).

Districts of the Week

District 1 -- Lower Manhattan
Whoever wins the election in district 1 will represent immigrant Chinese garment workers, as well as Wall Street traders living in Battery Park City. There are several candidates hoping to be the council's firsts -- the first Asian-American man, the first Asian-American woman, the first gay Rhodes Scholar, the first dot-com guru -- running against some politically well connected opponents. Endorsements and fundraising will play a big role in this race. But voter turnout could be the main determinant of who will next represent district 1 on the council. The key question is how many voters from each community will come out on Election Day.

District 7 -- Washington Heights, Manhattan
The northern tip of Manhattan has become one of the most popular places for new immigrants to call home. The northern tip of Manhattan is a place that today's new immigrants call home. The majority have come from the Dominican Republic, but also from countries in South America, Eastern Europe, and Asia. But it is not just new immigrants that are moving in. Students, artists, and other Manhattanites looking for less expensive rents and larger apartments have also moved north. Ten Democratic candidates are competing for the 15,000 voters expected on primary day. The winner who emerges from a crowded field of candidates will have to balance the needs of the newcomers with those who have lived there for years.

District 16 -- Highbridge, Bronx
The neighborhoods of district 16 are the city's poorest, with the highest rate of unemployment and the lowest median household income. But those who live there also point out that much is positive and stable about the area, thanks in large part to local organizations, not-for-profit agencies, and houses of worship that help hold the neighborhoods together. Each candidate for City Council believes that through his or her connections to churches and local organizations, they can help empower the community toward a better life. Helen Foster, the current council member daughter, will face Michael Benjamin, who has worked as an aide to several government officials and Anthony Curry, a Bronx neighborhood activist.

District 20 -- Northeast Flushing, Queens
This year district 20 may elect the first Asian-American ever to the City Council to an area which now has the second highest number of immigrants from Korea and Taiwan in the city. There are three Asian candidates in the Democratic race who have each drawn big endorsements. Council Speaker Peter Vallone endorsed Terence Park, City Comptroller Alan Hevesi endorsed John Liu, and the New York Times recently endorsed Ethel Chen The campaign has also drawn national and international press coverage

District 25 -- Jackson Heights, Queens
Thirty-seventh Avenue in Jackson Heights, Queens is one of the most diverse streets in the world. Little India quickly blends into Little Colombia, with vendors selling Latin American food to Colombians, Peruvians, Ecuadorians, Mexicans, and Uruguayans. And each summer, the Queens Pride Parade fills the same street with rainbow banners. So it is no surprise that this election year the district produced a diverse field of candidates. A number of them, however, found out that getting on the ballot is not an easy task, especially when the Queens Democratic organization sends teams of lawyers to challenge petitions. But five Democratic candidates survived and will face off on September 11.

District 31 -- South East Queens
When a heavy rain hits southeast Queens, many residents in neighborhoods like Springfield Gardens, Laurelton and Rosedale head to the basement with a bucket in hand. And it has been that way for the last 50 years. In the rush to build housing in the area after World War II, developers overlooked the need for storm drains in hopes that the city would eventually build a city-wide sewer system. The plan never materialized and the area has experienced "100-year rains" three times in the last decade. The eight Democrats -- all with little experience overseeing massive infrastructure projects--will try to convince voters that they can finally solve the flooding problems.

District 35 -- Central Brooklyn
The residents in council district 35 have some of the highest incomes in Brooklyn and some of the lowest. They can play in a famous park and a beautiful botanical garden, and live in the city's most crumbling public housing. They can attend one of the four institutions of higher learning in the district, and the worst-scoring high schools in the city. Such juxtapositions are a way of life for a district that includes the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens; mid dle-class African-American communities near Prospect Park; immigrant communities from Haiti, Sierra Leon, Nigeria, and Trinidad, and in Crown Heights, a mix of Hasidic Jews and African-Americans. Seven Democratic candidates are campaigning in hopes that they can bring some kind of unity, and attention, to the area. Their backgrounds are as diverse as the neighborhoods themselves.

District 39 -- Park Slope/Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn
The candidates in district 39 include a chief of staff for an Assemblywoman, the husband of a member of U.S. Congress, a lawyer for the Legal Aid Society, an attorney and president of the Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats, Senator Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, the district manager of Community Board 6, and a labor organizer. This is the race to watch this year. The group of high-profile Democrats have raised a lot of money, almost $1.4 million combined.

District 45 -- East Flatbush
In no place in the city are the effects of campaign finance reform and term limits being felt more than in East Flatbush. The seven Democratic candidates seeking to represent this largely West Indian district come from a number of Caribbean nations. Many have been working on politicians' staffs and serving with community groups, clearly hoping someday to win their own elected office. Term limits has presented them with that opportunity, and they want to make the most of it. But this race that usually draws only about 8,000 voters could be decided by just a few votes. The candidates are attempting to come up with anything that will separate them from the pack.

District 49 -- North Shore, Staten Island
Staten Island has always been somewhat of a suburban stepchild to New York City. When a 1998 survey asked New Yorkers why they go to Staten Island, the top two responses were ''visiting friends and relatives" and ''passing through.'' But in many ways, the north shore has more in common with areas of Manhattan and Brooklyn than with the rest of the Staten Island. The top priority for all the candidates -- Jon Del Giorno, an administrative manager for the Board of Elections, Mike McMahon, an attorney and counsel to current Councilmember Jerome O'Donovan, and Debi Rose, an administrator at the College of Staten Island and the first African-American candidate in Staten Island politics -- is to make sure that the island becomes more than just a turn-around-point for the over one million tourists who ride the free ferry from Manhattan each year.

Register To Vote or Be A Poll Worker

Voter Registration Forms
After printing and filling out the voter registration form, please send them by mail to:

Board of Elections
32 Broadway, 7th Floor
New York, NY

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Poll Worker Applications

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

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Links You Can Use

Government sites
NYC Campaign Finance Bd.
NYC Board of Elections
NYC Voter Assistance Comm.
NY City Council
Federal Election Comm.

Local non-partisan sites
NY League of Women Voters
Common Cause New York

National non-partisan sites
Ctr. for Responsive Politics
Common Cause
League of Women Voters

NAACP Voter Empowerment
Vote Smart


Political consultants
Amer. Assc. of Pol. Consultants

Prime New York

Gotham Gazette
The Empire Page
Campaigns and Elections
Legislative Gazette

Political columnists
Andrea Bernstein
Joe Conason
Mario Cuomo (radio)
Rudy Giuliani (radio)
Clyde Haberman
Nat Hentoff

Joseph Mercurio
Joyce Purnick
John Tierney
Michael Tomasky

Political parties
Right to Life
Working Families
Marijuana Reform
Natural Law Party
Taxpayers Party

Political clubs and groups
Blueprint Camp. Finance Reform
Central Queens Greens
The Jefferson Democratic Club of Flushing
NY Young Republican Club
Stonewall Democratic Club
Village Independent Dems.

Abbreviations for Party Affiliation

American Dream Party (AMD)
Better Schools Party (BES)
Communist (Com)
Conservative (Con)
Constitution (CST)
Democratic (Dem)
Friends United Party (FUN)
Fusion Party (FUS)
Green (Gre)
Harmony Party (HAR)
Independence (Ind)
Liberal (Lib)
Libertarian (LBT)
Marijuana Reform Party (POT)
Natural Law Party (NLP)
Party of Ethics and Traditions (PET)
Reform Party (Ref)
Republican (Rep)
Right to Life (RTL)
School Choice Party (Sch)
Socialist Workers Party (SWP)
Working Families (Wor)

2001 Election Calendar

June 1 -- Deadline for candidates to join the Campaign Finance program, qualifying for the four-to-one match of contributions.
June 5 - First day for candidates from the eight major parties (Democratic, Republican, Indpendence, Conservative, Liberal, Green, Working Families, and Right to Life) to circulate petitions. Candidates running for City Council must collect the signatures of at least 900 people living in the district for which they are running in order to appear on the Primary ballot. Candidates not running under these eight major parties do not appear on the Primary ballot and have a separate set of deadlines.
July 12 - Deadline for major party candidates to file petitions.
July 10 - First day for unaffiliated candidates to circulate petitions, in order to appear on the ballot in the General Election. They must collect the number of signatures equal to five percent of the total enrolled in that party.
August 7 - Board of Elections announces candidates appearing on the Primary ballot.
August 17 - Last day for non-absentee voters to register to vote in the Primary Election.
August 21 - Deadline for non-major party candidates to file petitions to be included on the General Election ballot.
September 4 - Last day to postmark application for absentee voting in the Primary
September 10 - Last day to personally deliver application for absentee voting in the Primary Last day to postmark absentee ballot for Primary
September 11 - Primary election; Polls open at 6:00a.m. and close at 9:00p.m.; Absentee ballots must be hand-delivered by 9:00 p.m.
September 25 - Runoff Primary election for Mayor, Comptroller and Public Advocate, if needed
October 12 - Last day to for non-absentee voters to register to vote in the General Election
October 30 - Last day to postmark application for absentee voting in the General Election
November 5 - Last day to hand-deliver an application for absentee voting, or to postmark an absentee ballot for the General Election.
November 6 - General Election; polls open at 6:00a.m. and close at 9:00p.m. in NYC; Absentee ballots must be hand-delivered by 9:00 p.m.

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