The Race for Queens Borough President

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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?


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General Election Results

x-Helen M. Marshall, Dem 185,347 - 68 percent
Al C. Stabile, Rep 85,597 - 31 percent
Dorothy Williams-Pereira, Gre 3,228 - 1 percent

Primary Election Results

Helen M. Marshall 78,653
Carol A. Gressler 46,155
Sheldon S. Leffler 24,416
(Official Vote Count from the Board of Elections)

Incumbent: Claire Shulman (can't run in 2001)

The Candidates:

For who has donated to these candidates see the Campaign Finance Board:

Contributors to Carol Gresser
Contributors to Sheldon Leffler
Contributors to Helen Marshall
Contributors to Alfonse Stabile

Candidate Forum
Queens Borough President candidates Carol Gresser, Sheldon Leffler, and Al Stabile met August 22 to answer questions from Queens residents (Helen Marshall phoned to say she would be late, but did not show). The candidates agreed on many topics, and Al Stabile said that that all of the candidates would "make an excellent borough president." The candidates also introduced specific proposals. A full transcript of the forum

Campaign Feature:

Marshalling The Old Clout?

While the role of the borough presidents was weakened by the new City Charter in 1989, Queens Borough President Claire Shulman remained one of the stronger civic voices in town. She knew how to make the system work, and her alliance with Mayor Rudy Giuliani paid dividends in terms of influence and government money.

It will take a lot of work by her successor to gain the kind of clout Shulman has achieved.

The Queens Democratic organization, as one of the few remaining effective political machines in town is playing a big role in choosing Shulman's successor, so its candidate is automatically a legitimate candidate. In fact, when the organization made its choice in May, several aspiring candidates immediately dropped out.

The machine is backing a low-key councilwoman, Helen Marshall of East Elmhurst. She is probably the least known of the three leading Democratic candidates, but she is the only African-American in the race, giving her a decided advantage.

Marshall is a veteran politician. She served in the Assembly in Albany for eight years before her election to the City Council in 1991, and she is also a Democratic district leader. Her endorsement by the county Democrats was the result of a political deal by Queens Democratic Chairman Tom Manton.

Manton's candidate for mayor, City Comptroller Alan Hevesi , has had trouble attracting black votes, so to keep Queens' growing black community happy, Manton had to couple his endorsement of Hevesi with backing for Marshall. Her endorsement was also a recognition of the party loyalty of Queens black voters and helped stifle quiet grumbling that Queens blacks had little to show for faithfully pulling the Democratic lever all these years.

Marshall's two opponents are Carol Gresser, former chairman of the Board of Education, and Councilman Sheldon Leffler. Gresser is probably the best known of the three from her stint on the school board, even though she left under less than happy circumstances-as a result of a falling out with former mentor, Shulman.

Gresser has strong ties throughout the borough through her contacts with local school boards and parents' associations. She also has Hank Sheinkopf, one of the city's leading political consultants, in her camp. That probably makes her the front-runner at this point.

Leffler, who represents Little Neck and Douglaston, is an iconoclastic councilman best known for his expertise on law enforcement issues. He has tangled frequently with the council leadership and Speaker Peter Vallone, giving him the reputation of something of a loner on the council. But he is very knowledgeable about city issues and has a strong base in the Queens Jewish community. His major problem may be the ability to raise enough money to run a competitive race.

The winner of the Democratic primary will be a prohibitive favorite in November, but there may be a Republican candidate anyway-term limited Councilman Alfonso Stabile from Ozone Park. However, Mr. Stabile is the subject of a criminal investigation into his handling of a local Little League funds, so his already slim chances have probably evaporated.

Philip Lentz

posted 6/25/01
Previous Queens Race Features

Campaign Trail

Helen Marshall will turn 72 years old this month and has been in politics since she was 16, when a Democratic leader recruited her to stuff envelopes for $2 an hour.She served on her local community board for 15 years, in the state Assembly for 10 years and has been an East Elmhurst city councilwoman for the past nine years. Now she wants to take Claire Shulman's place as Queens borough president. Although Marshall doesn't often mention the issue of race while on the stump, she would be the first African-American elected to the post. (Daily News)

For Queens borough president, Newsday endorses City Councilmember Helen Marshall. The paper says Marshall "is no Claire Shulman, who, by force of personality, has deftly turned the position into a persuasive and productive platform. But of the three Democratic candidates, who include former Board of Education President Carol Gresser and Councilman Sheldon Leffler, Marshall is most likely to throw Shulman-like bombs, with a degree of accuracy." (Newsday)

The Daily News continues its series of profiles on Queens borough president candidates with an article on Carol Gresser. (Daily News)

Profile of Queens Borough President Candidate Sheldon Leffler. (Daily News)

The Daily News endorses Helen Marshall (Daily News)

Queens: The race to replace outgoing Borough President Claire Shulman includes three candidates: Helen Marshall and Sheldon Leffler, both term-limited City Council members, and Carol Gresser, former president of the Board of Education. Mr. Leffler was a hard-working and intelligent Council member, but he was not known for his abilities as a consensus builder. Ms. Marshall, an African-American who proposes to carry on Ms. Shulman's agenda, has the backing of the county's Democratic Party. Her people skills are the best of the group, but she does not seem to have the independence or drive the job requires. Of the three, Ms. Gresser promises to be less dependent on party regulars and more creative in fighting for the borough's most obvious needs - more classrooms and certified teachers and more affordable housing and better services for seniors. Early in her career on the Board of Education, Ms. Gresser tried to limit discussion of diversity in public schools, but by the time she left the post in 1998 she had grown into a thoughtful member who showed her mettle in battles with the mayor and her former mentor, Ms. Shulman. We endorse Carol Gresser. (NY Times)

Veteran City Councilman Sheldon Leffler, who hopes to become Queens borough president, grabs an inch-thick sheaf of paper and thrusts it at a visitor. The pages summarize the 42 City Council measures on which he was the prime sponsor and 102 bills on which he was one of several prime sponsors. "I submit to you, with conviction, that nobody [else] can give to you a list of 42 serious, specific laws that they are the prime sponsor of," Leffler said. The laws include some big ones: the 1989 law that established mandatory recycling in the city, a measure requiring city vehicles to use alternative fuels, laws regulating asbestos and banning the posting of political signs. In his nearly 24 years on the council, the Democrat from Glen Oaks has made his presence felt, especially on environmental and public safety issues. Along the way, he's often taken unpopular stands, infuriating leaders of his party and the unions that are their traditional allies, as well as a succession of police and fire commissioners. Phi Beta Kappa at Princeton, cum laude at Harvard Law School, master's degree in taxation from New York University Law School, he is viewed as an intellectual on the City Council. (Newsday)

City Councilmember Helen Marshall, running for Queens borough president, received the endorsement of the Working Families Party. She told them that her father was a porter, which would endear her to the Service Employees International Union, which represents porters. But she said in a recent interview with a Newsday reporter that her father was a merchant seaman who jumped ship and became a house painter during the Depression. (Newsday)

The blessing of the Queens County Democratic Organization seems to have done wonders for the fund-raising of Helen Marshall, one of three leading candidates for Queens borough president, according to records released yesterday. Marshall, a city councilwoman who represents an East Elmhurst district, has raised $213,000 to date - nearly triple the $76,915 she had raised by her January filing with the city's Campaign Finance Board. One of her opponents Carol Gresser has raised $329,000; the other, Sheldon Leffer, $156,000. (Newsday)

District Council 37's surprise backing of Council Speaker Peter Vallone was part of a wider pattern in which the mammoth municipal union has rewarded several term-limited members of the City Council seeking higher office. For comptroller, Herbert Berman; for public advocate, Stephen DiBrienza; for Queens borough president, Helen Marshall; for Staten Island borough president, Jerome X. O'Donovan. A little inside insight into the Vallone endorsement: Karen Persichilli, a longtime Vallone loyalist now running day-to-day campaign operations, happens to be married to Mike Keogh, the union's political director. (Newsday)

The three Democratic candidates for Queens borough president say they all easily collected enough signatures to get on the ballot. So, too, has the Republican candidate Al Stabile. (Newsday)

All three Democrats, incidentally, have one thing in common: None of them was born in Queens. Helen Marshall was born in Harlem, grew up in the Bronx and moved to Queens in 1960. City Councilman Sheldon Leffler (D-Hollis) was born in Brooklyn and moved to Queens with his family when he was 2 years old. Former Board of Education President Carol Gresser was born on Long Island and moved here after her marriage. (Newsday)

Carol Gresser, candidate for Queens borough president, received the support of candidate Haydee Zambrana who dropped out of the race and endorsed the former Board of Education president. Zambrana, a community activist in Corona, had the support of some Hispanic voters in the area. (Daily News)

The Queens district attorney is looking into allegations that Queens councilmember Al Stabile, candidate for Queens borough president, mishandled hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Little League he ran for 23 years. "There's no money to take,"Stabile replied. (NY Post)

The Queens Democratic Organization formally endorsed City Councilmember Helen Marshall for Queens borough president yesterday. Three candidates have dropped out and the field for the Democratic nomination has been reduced to Marshall, Councilman Sheldon S. Leffler and Carol A. Gresser, a former Board of Education president. (Daily News)

More on the Queens Democratic Organization's likely endorsement today of Helen Marshall for Queens borough president, the first time they will have endorsed a black candidate for the office (NY Times)

The meeting of the Queens Democratic Organization tomorrow night will ratify Democratic boss Thomas Manton's endorsement of Alan Hevesi for mayor and Helen Marshall for Queens borough president. Among the 14 candidates the machine is likely to choose to endorse for City Council seats (all seats in Queens have no incumbents) include: Tony Avella in Bayside (district 19), John Liu in Flushing (district 20), Peter Vallone Jr. in Astoria (district 22) David Weprin in Queens Village (district 21), Melinda Katz in Forest Hills (district 29). (Daily News)

Councilwoman Helen Marshall will get the backing of the Queens Democratic Organization in her run for Queens borough president. (Daily News)

City Councilwoman Helen Marshall may be the favorite for the Queens Democratic party's pick for borough president. (Daily News)

The Lesbian and Gay Democratic Club of Queens endorsed Carol Gresser for Queens borough president, narrowly choosing her over Helen Marshall. (Daily News)

With about a week to go before the Queens Democratic organization makes its endorsements, the race to succeed Claire Shulman as Queens borough president is turning nasty. Councilmember Sheldon Leffler associated one of his rivals, former Board of Education President Carol Gresser with Donald Manes, Shulman's predecessor, who killed himself in 1986 as his administration was mired in scandal. Gresser's husband Larry was Manes' deputy. (Daily News)

Former Board of Education President Carol Gresser announced her candidacy for borough president of Queens yesterday. (Daily News)

Queens Democratic Party Leader Thomas Manton dominates the most disciplined party organization in the city, which considers primary contests strife, and avoids them. But this year, five people are vying for the open seat of borough president, all 14 City Council seats in Queens have no incumbent because of term limits - some have as many as eight candidates - and two Queens pols, Hevesi and Vallone, are running for mayor. Manton has a lot of deciding (endorsing) to do, but has not done it yet. (NY Times)

St. Albans Councilman Archie Spigner is poised to deliver his potent Guy R. Brewer Democratic Club to aid Helen Marshall's bid for Queens Borough President. (Daily News)

Tony Seminerio decides not to run for Queens Borough President. (Newsday)

City Councilman Sheldon Leffler has a slight lead over the pack of eight other borough president hopefuls in raising funds for the race. According to the Campaign Finance Board, Leffler had $431,115 -- including matching funds -- in his war chest as of Jan. 11, the first deadline of the year for candidates' campaign finance disclosures. Second in fund raising was Queens' former Board of Education representative Carol Gresser with $423,022.(Times Ledger Newspapers)

Although the Queen Republican Party organization has not announced its choice for the borough president race, most informed opinion says that Queens Councilman Al Stabile will be the GOP choice. Over the past week, Tony Seminerio has told the GOP that he will not be a candidate for the Borough Presidency, leaving only northeast Queens Councilman Mike Abel to challenge Stabile for the Republican nomination. Abel, however, has been able to raise only $3,000 for his BEEP bid. (Queens Courier)

A prominent local Republican, former Queens Republican head Fran Werner, endorses Democrat Carol Gresser for Queens borough president. (Daily News)

Haydee Zambrana, a bilingual education counselor in Corona, becomes first Hispanic, ninth candidate, in the race for Queens Borough President. (Newsday)

Helen Marshall wants to be the first black borough president of Queens. (City Limits)

Real estate developers and other businessmen "who need a friend in City Hall," as Bob Liff puts it, are the major contributors to Democratic candidates, often giving to several candidates in the same race. For example, both Red Apple supermarkets owner John Catsimatidis and publicist Howard Rubenstein gave to all four of the leading Democratic contenders and to both candidates for comptroller. Rubenstein also gave to two candidates for Brooklyn borough president, and two for Queens borough president. (Daily News )

For Queens borough president: former Board of Education president Carol Gresser, $200,000; City Council member Sheldon Leffler, $124,000; Assembly member Audrey Pheffer, $70,000; City Council member Karen Koslowitz, $53,000. The amount for City Council member Helen Marshall was unavailable by press time, and Assembly member Anthony Seminerio did not file. (Daily News)

Arthur Nitzburg in his column on politics (Queens Courier) lays out the political landscape in Queens. There are already 100 candidates for the 14 open council seats. "What total chaos. What a mess we are all in. How delightful." Then he adds: "But wait until they get into the Council. The winners won't believe how meaningless a job they've won." Of course, all this new blood could (and probably will) change the Council itself for the better." There are at least eight candidates to succeed Claire Shulman as Queens Borough President, he says. There are two Republicans, Mike Abel and Al Stabile, both current members of the City Council. There are six Democrats, each one representing "an entirely different section of this intensely diverse county," Nitzburg says, and one of them likely to win, since Queens has not elected a Republican borough president for 40 years. "My best guess at this moment is that the race will come down to two key contenders - Douglaston's Carol Gresser or Corona's Helen Marshall. But don't count out the other candidates-Audrey Pheffer, Karen Koslowitz, Sheldon Leffler and Tony Seminerio."




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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.

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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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