The Race for Public Advocate

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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?


Norman Siegel

I come this evening with a very simple message. It's a message I've been trying to convey all my 35 years of being a civil rights lawyer. No one, no one should accept anything short of full and complete freedom, justice and equality. Unfortunately in this city we have a culture of intolerance. We have a city, especially the seven and a half years in this administration, the Giuliani administration, where people are in denial about discrimination, they minimize and they trivialize discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation and economics.

I'm a troublemaker. A proud troublemaker. I think the public advocate should be a troublemaker. Someone who's prepared to fight, and to speak up even when it's unpopular. You don't put your hand up in the air and see the way the wind's blowing. A leader takes a position even if it is unpopular, and persuades the majority to wind up there in the future. If I'm the public advocate, I'd decentralize the office. I put storefronts all across the city. I get volunteers on Tuesday and Thursday night to go to senior centers, to housing projects and to community centers and do intake. We can get lots of people, train them, and get them out into the streets to create some hope and opportunity for people who don't have that today.

What are some of the issues? First, I want to begin a citywide dialogue on race relations. This is a town that doesn't talk about race, and when we talk about race, it's not honest. That's got to end. I think we got to deal with police community relations, I want to know why the police still engage in too much brutality towards people of color, to gays and lesbians, to poor people. And I don't accept the incremental change that people are alleging because post-Diallo, nothing has really changed. If I were the public advocate, we wouldn't be waiting for the justice department to do nothing for us. I would have gone to federal court, and I would have sued the NYPD for patterns and practice of discrimination for a ground system that doesn't adequately discipline its police officers. If I'm the public advocate I want to know where the Human Rights Commission is. Why are they invisible, and why are they dysfunctional? When was the last time you ever heard that they had a hearing? There's cases that are backlogged for years. What's going on there?

On education--What we do is we go in and teach a class about undoing stereotypes. I know the problems in public education, we have to look at the problem, we have to reduce the class sizes, and we have to construct better schools. We have to be more creative. No vouchers, and no Edison. We're not bringing people in who want to make profit off our public schools. Time is almost up, so I want to say to you I still believe that we can have a campaign that's multi-racial, across the city, and find people that still dare to dream about how it should be rather than how it is.

And the last thing--good news--I today got the endorsement--I want your endorsement, of the Shake-em-Up Party of New York. And they said to me "one condition, Siegal, we got to agree to shake it up." And I said to them "everywhere I go." And starting tonight, I pledge to you that in my campaign, and if elected, I'm going to shake it up.


Q-What should the public advocate be, and how will you expand the role?

A-I think the role of the public advocate is to be the people's lawyer. I, in effect, have been the private advocate for many years; I now want to be the public advocate. What that says to me is that you use the office and the resources, very important the resources that are there, in order to protect and enhance people's civil rights. There's too much discrimination in this town, there's too many people who accept the status quo, we should not accept that. I've never been an in-the-box-character. I will not be an in-the-box public advocate. I will be visible, I will be vocal, I got a big mouth, and I love to use it. What you then use is it as a bully pulpit, you go around and you talk to people and you build coalitions. You go to poor working class communities in Bensonhurst, out in Queens; you connect the poor working class whites, with African-Americans, Latinos. Yes today I spent the afternoon in Canarsie with the Russian-Jewish community, and I heard their complaints similar to Black and Latino complaints.

Last November in New York they said to me--and I didn't even know this--they couldn't vote. They went to the polls, and people said to them "you can't vote." And they said "why not?" and they said, "you're not a citizen." They said, "I'm a citizen" they actually said to them ‘Where are your citizenship papers?" This is New York, what the fuck do you need citizenship papers if you go down to vote?

Moreover, why didn't they just look at the registration forms to see what it is? What was also so painful, was that some of the people who were running the elections system in Canarsie were African-American. So the very people who historically were denied the right to vote--what are they doing? They are denying it to immigrant group because quote "They didn't speak good English." One guy got really upset, he told me "What did they do? They called the cops."

They were going to arrest the guy because they were objecting to the fact that he was registered to vote why--because he didn't speak good English? Whatever the heck that means. Thank goodness that that cop had enough common sense to cool it out. But otherwise this person could have been arrested for wanting to vote--in New York, not Florida! A public advocate should be on top of that issue. In view of what happened in Florida, a public advocate should call for the abolition of those machines. If you go to an ATM, and you get $20, $40, $60, why can't we have the names of people on the ballot. And then you get a receipt, so if you get a receipt that says Pat Buchanon, you pick up that phone and say NO WAY! I'm not voting for him!

A public advocate in my opinion is visible, you use the subpoena power, except one little footnote there--we've got to change that. Right now, for the subpoena power, the public advocate has to go beg the city council for approval for the subpoena. Hell no. If you want an effective advocate. I tell you in two years I go for a charter amendment so that the advocate, she or he has the right to issue the subpoena on their own. What happens if you want to subpoena the records of the city council? I mean, that's an area that we should look at. Why do you have to ask for permission? You can propose legislation, and then the thing I love the most: if all the above doesn't work, you sue the bastards. I mean it's as elemental as that. You have the litigation as a last resort. I know how to litigate. I like to sue people in government when they are violating people's rights.

On Giuliani, we went to court 27 times on seven and half years on the issue of first amendment alone. From when they wouldn't let people hand out condoms in the parks, we went to court--we won on that--to the Brooklyn Museum, to the steps of city hall. What better example? This guy would not allow people to hold press conferences on the City Hall steps because he was afraid that Bin Laden was sending one of his folks to a press conference to take him out. He thinks that an Afghanistan up in the hills in those tents, they have pictures of Giuliani where people are throwing darts at him. But the point is, that argument, that security was the reason why, you had to go to court to fight. If I'm the public advocate, you do that, you're vigorous, you're an activist, you're vocal. That's the concept of a public advocate in my mind.

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

A-You'll have to stay all night. Why don't we re-phrase it--did I find anything OK? There was an arrogance of power. Very early in the Giuliani administration in 1994, I met with them over the issue of the steps of city hall. When the write the history in the 90's in New York City, they're going to write that many people disappeared. Many people were invisible. People lost their tongues because they got government funding, people were afraid they would be retaliated against, that's how you lose your rights. When people begin to rationalize fighting back, as public advocate, I'd be there to protect people and be their back up. So that if people in city government, and they know better than anyone what's going on and what's wrong, I'd have a special whistleblower section so that everyone in city government would know that if they spoke up and anyone went after them, we'd be there for them in a second.

Now, in the context of that meeting with Housing Works; first of all, public advocate for me is the protector of the characters in New York City. Including the people who engage in theatre, and in political protests, when people go and protest and there's 500 cops at city hall, and cops are on top of the roof, the public advocate in my view would be the person going to the police commissioner and saying "chill." You don't need 500 cops there. Why in the fuck do you have the cops on top of the roof? You don't need that. These are peaceful protestors; they have a first amendment right. Also as the public advocate you say to the police commissioner ‘I'd like, and if you don't I am going to subpoena your records--to find how much it costs to put that 500 people there. And I'm going to make an issue over the fact that your overtime is 73 percent over what it is supposed to be." You know what that usually does?

Now what happened, and where I'm going on this, the issue became, in my opinion, on the steps of City Hall, because of the courageous people in Housing Works, people who carried on the act-out tradition of pressing the envelope, standing in front of the government train coming down the track, rolling on, business as usual. Every once in a while, whether it's Rosa Parks in Montgomery, whether its Housing Works in 1990's in New York, citizens got to come together and out their body on the line, and say "no more business as usual." We got an AIDS crisis, people are dying. We don't want to hear the reasonable explanations because the services can't work. We are having people who are dying, there's no reason for the lack of services, and you sit-in, and a public advocate should be there to protect them, should be articulating the issue for them, and the issue on the steps of city hall was because Housing Works took over city hall in 94, and the folks in the Giuliani administration were from thereafter including now frightened that we the people that they govern were going to take over their castle.

That's what it is in essence. A public advocate would be there to try to within government get them to understand the dynamic, ameliorate that kind of paranoia, and if it didn't work, use litigation to protect people in criminal defense, or to affirmatively enjoining the government from violating people's first amendment rights.

Q-Where do you stand on term limits?

A-The issue of whether the City Council can repeal term limits is an open legal question. I am one of the lawyers representing a group of people who are opposed to the repeal of the term limits. Whatever you agree on the merits, pro or con for term limits, and in answering every question, I am opposed to the repeal of term limits, on the following ground: you don't, under due process of law, which is fairness, allow the government, to change the rules in midstream.

A corollary to that is that the government cannot make the rules up as they go along. It's unfair. There are people who are running for city council who made life-changing decisions. And as a result of that, you do not change it in mid-stream. If you want to change the rules so that there are no longer term limits, make it prospective. You don't make it retroactive because the campaign for these city council people has begun. It is fundamentally unfair. If in fact the people in city council vote for it, my suggestion is that there be billboards all over the city, with the City Council 26, so that everyone in New York knows who did this, and we remember in perpetuity who voted, and for me, I won't vote for any of them for anything ever again including dog-catcher. That's the way you fight back. This is a fundamental issue; I'm also concerned that the deal is in the make, what could be the deal? The deal could be that Giuliani works it out, and what does he get in return? All of the sudden there is a bill that says there's no term limits for the mayor. Now people say "Siegal, you're paranoid." There was a great civil rights lawyer named Borzell Williams. In Birmingham when I went south, and went south in 1968, was there for five years. Borzell gave me a line, and he said, "even paranoids have enemies." So in the context of that, you got to be concerned, and you can't take off the table the possibility that that's what's coming down the pipe. And if that happens, I would recommend, and I'll be there too, that folks in this town really speak up and demonstrate and use your first amendment right because if that's what's going to happen, then they really are undermining the popular will. Two times, '93 and '96, there was referendum, and the people speak. If you allow that precedent to take place, why have a referendum anymore? It makes absolutely no sense, and in effect what we saw that happened in Florida, you can't allow anything that happened in Florida with regard to the stealing of the democratic process to come to New York City. Am I dramatizing the issue? Probably. That's what a public advocate does. The public advocate dramatizes the issue, makes it larger than life, in order to persuade a majority of the people in the city of New York about the merits of the given issue, and always remembering from my perspective that the public advocate has to have a special lookout for those who are disenfranchised, the powerless, and the voiceless. That's the kind of public advocate I want to be.

Q-Do you support term limits?

A-Yes, and the reason why is that, and I'm finding it out right now--the whole system is built to protect incumbents from little things when you go to events and who gets introduced and who's up front? The elected officials. You go to speak, and who gets the first preference to speak? The elected officials. You can be the expert on the issue, and have been involved in it for your whole life, and city council they put the elected officials up front, everybody leaves, and then the real experts sit there at 3:15 p.m. in the afternoon, and there's two people, no press.

My shake-em-up stuff it ranges from not just the government, the political process. For example I found out the democratic club, I have a lot of respect for the Village Independent Democrats and their history, but I do remember that you gave us Ed Koch. But in the context of the clubs I found out the last couple of weeks, the clubs don't even meet annually. If I'm the public advocate, I call for an annual weekend conference of all 225 democratic clubs. Now I'm a newcomer, so give me answer: How can you have a vital, a live, energetic democratic party if the democratic clubs never even meet together? How can a Republican, a Rudy Giuliani, when the registration is five to one, become a mayor of this town? If the registration is five to one if the Democratic Party is organized? Borough-wide people don't even meet. I'm now finding out in the Upper West Side where I live the clubs don't even talk to each other, there's hostility, there's ego--I want to be the king and queen of this street as opposed to working together with other people. It makes no sense.

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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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