The Race for Public Advocate

Learn About
Your District

Click on the pull-down menu and select your district


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?


Betsy Gotbaum

Let me briefly tell you how I envision the role of the public advocate and why I am doing this. I see the public advocate as the citywide office that is there to make government work for people. There were a couple of articles this week in the papers that brought the idea of a public advocate home to me in a way that I get furious every time I hear people say that there should be a public advocate. As you recall there was that drive a year ago to end that office of public advocate.

There was one article in The Time's this week about Liu, that the owner of a Chinese restaurant was killed in Queens, was brutally killed, and the article pointed out how his wife and his children were living in the back of the restaurant without heat, water and almost everything. My point is that nobody was really doing anything about it. And the reporter said that it was six months ago that this was first reported. When I read that I thought, if I were public advocate, I would do everything to make sure that that family got housing. I don't understand why there isn't some emergency housing for people, I guess there is, but it hasn't happened for them six months later. I would also try and get them some emergency money--there was a fundraising effort for this particular which I participated in, maybe six months ago, but they're still sleeping in the back of that restaurant without heat, and without any kind of adequate things that they should have. So that was one article that made me think about the public advocate and why I am so passionate about it. The second article was about bi-lingual education. It was a very thoughtful article, it was so confusing that it occurred to me that one area that the public advocate didn't do is set up in the office a division which would be an independent office which would explain and help parents and to give information about the various programs, and the various things that go on that are good or not good, or which is the best bi-lingual program or which isn't.

The third area was when the current public advocate stood on the "boulevard of death." And announced a program that he felt was important to stop the terrible killings in Queens. And I thought to myself, that's a very good thing that the public advocate should be doing, unfortunately the current public advocate, who I think has done a very good job had a very cranky relationship with the chief executive. He hasn't been able to get as much done as he might had that relationship not happened. I'm not blaming anybody; I'm just making a comment.


Q-What aspect of the Giuliani administration do you find most objectionable, and how would she address it as public advocate?

A-Well, I found a lot objectionable, probably the thing I found most objectionable was--now this is a little self serving--that I was punished for something that was so ridiculous that I wouldn't even bother going into it. I think I found the meanness, and the going after people who couldn't really help themselves was probably the most objectionable thing. Although I think the lack of respect for people's civil rights and the horrible things with Diallo and Dorismond that we all know are terrible. I do believe that the really meanness of going after people in the city. We've got enough problems in the city that we don't need.

Q-How you change/adjust the role of public advocate in this next administration?

A-The problem has been the cranky relationship that has existed between the public advocate and the mayor and I think that unfortunately the public advocate has done a lot of really good things. Most people think that he and the mayor, all they do is scream and yell at each other. But he has had some very effective programs. I think even what's going to happen in 2002 with a new mayor, with an entirely new council, and borough presidents. I think it is going to give an opportunity to redefine the office and I would like to think about redefining it in trying to get along with, to work with the various city commissioners, the mayor, try to solve some of the many problems that exist now and that will exist in 2002. And we know they're coming.

My career has always been to try and work with people and get things done. To solve problems by working with the various people that are there to try and solve the problem as opposed to having this cranky relationship.

Q- What, specifically, qualifies you for that position?

A-I worked for several mayors. I worked as the education assistant for a mayor. I then worked for the New York City police department, for something called the New York City Police Foundation, where one of the programs that we ran was to raise private money. I than ran a transportation program for disabled elderly people, and I also ran an anti-handgun violence program. I then became Parks Commissioner for four years and under David Dinkins and that gave me citywide managerial experience, which I think is a very important aspect of why I want to do this. I think I understand how an agency should work, agencies that are supposed to be providing programs, I understand how to try persuade agencies and commissioners to do the kind of things they are supposed to be doing.

After the Parks department I was fired when mayor Giuliani came in, and I took over the New York Historical Society, which maybe some of you know was closed and had a terrible debt, I am very proud to say that six and a half years later, it's open, it's flourishing, we had a $600,000 surplus last year and I guess this all points to, I love to solve problems, I love to take difficult situations and make them work, I like to work with people to make things better. That's what I have done my whole career and that's why I am running for public advocate.

Q-What is the main issue you would focus on?

A-That's a really hard question, there are so many problems, and there are going to be so many more with the economy going south, I would say education, I would say affordable housing. Also health and children. We want to make sure that that program goes along so well that every child who is eligible for health insurance gets it. Did you all know that there is childcare money available, but there are no facilities to put childcare money in. That's the kind of thing that I would like to look at. I can't say it's most important, but they're all terribly important, and it's too hard to figure out which is the most important.

Q-What good things has Mark Green done that you would build upon?

A-One of things that Mark has done along with the City Council is suing the mayor to get information about how the police are not policing themselves at all. And I think that caused him to set up in the office of the police department an office that gets paid for by private money that now monitors the police.

That's a very good program that he was able to put a public-private partnership together. The program in the family court which I think is called C-Plan--I am not sure if that is the right name for it--where there are six or seven people in the family court trying to help the terrible situation where the lawyers aren't and to help judges get through some of the problems and help the parents and the children.

Q-What is your position on Giuliani's action and attack on the Brooklyn Museum of Art?

A-I was one of the first museum director that is not part of the CIG group, but gets city money and joined the lawsuit over the issue of sensation. And for that I was punished--never mind how--but I felt very strongly that it was the completely wrong thing to do. And of course this time, with the new flack, there were no lawsuits and the whole thing was really ridiculous. But I feel very strongly that you don't have to go see the exhibition if you don't want to. But the fact that it is there, it's important to be there and I think the mayor's attacks are reprehensible and I would certainly continue to feel that way.

Q-What we should to investigate conditions in homeless shelters and dropping centers?

A-It's a disgrace that there are those conditions and I think that one of the problems is that one agency in the government, the HRA, is doing one thing, and the Department of Homeless Services is doing another. And my understanding is that the Department of Homeless Services is trying very hard to make things a little better. But the other side [the HRA] is just pushing and pushing more people into the streets. I would try to work with whoever is the mayor at that time to say, "We got to do something about this problem, we've got to put some money into better services for the homeless and all those various things that need to be done." That's when I said try to get involved with the chief executive so that we can try to solve some of these problems.

Q-What about your accomplishments?

A-There were several programs that I have started, probably the one that I am most proud of--for two reasons. One, because it was way before people were talking about ending welfare as we know it and, two because it was the only program that the mayor forced the current parks commissioner. And that was I raised quite a lot of private money to do a welfare to work to take park workers in the parks department and do training for them and try to train them so they could get real jobs in the Parks Department or in other city agencies. And I raised about a million dollars and we have about three hundred graduates in the second year of the program. One of the most interesting things was getting people licenses, because then it will make them able to drive trucks and packers and all the things that are needed in the parks department. So it was a very effective program, I don't think it is functioning anymore, but it was something that I was very proud of.

The other thing I did that I feel is a very important part of my career and that I would continue to do as public advocate is setting up these public-private partnerships, where you raise private money to make things a little bit better where you have a budget cut in a third of your agency. So I got private money to enhance some of the parks particularly in the borough because as you well know Central Park is particularly well funded, it always has been, it's the richest piece of real estate in the world, but there are parks throughout the rest of the system that are not so well funded. So I would say that we should raise private money to improve the City Parks Foundation.

Q-Why are you the best candidate for this position?

A-I think the field is very competitive, this is a tough race. I'm doing this because I really care. I don't have to leave my job--I mean I have to leave my job now that I am running--but I am not doing this because I am term limited out, or because I need a job. I am doing this because I feel like I can make a difference. I feel that my long career in government and not for profit organizations has sort of pointed me towards this. I've never run for office before, so I really want to try it to see how it goes. And I just feel passionate about this, I feel that there are so many problems in New York, and there are going to be so many more problems. And I think I am a really good problem solver, so that's why I am the best candidate.

My Street Address:

My ZIP Code:

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.

This website is brought to you by Citizens Union Foundation and is made possible by grants from the Charles H. Revson Foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the New York Times Foundation and viewers like you.