Race for Public Advocate
ON CAMPAIGN 2001: PUBLIC
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What is Searchlight on Campaign 2001?
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?
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?
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
What does this have to do with this site?
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?
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?
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
Who are we?
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
Q-How do you plan on changing, or
expending the role of public advocate, with a democratic
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
for Party Affiliation
Dream Party (AMD)
Better Schools Party (BES)
Friends United Party (FUN)
Fusion Party (FUS)
Harmony Party (HAR)
Marijuana Reform Party (POT)
Natural Law Party (NLP)
Party of Ethics and Traditions (PET)
Reform Party (Ref)
Right to Life (RTL)
School Choice Party (Sch)
Socialist Workers Party (SWP)
Working Families (Wor)
1 -- Deadline for candidates to join the Campaign Finance
program, qualifying for the four-to-one match of contributions.
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
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
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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