The Race for Staten Island 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?


Click for larger image

General Election Results

x-James P. Molinaro, Rep 50,667 - 50 percent
Jerome X. O'Donovan, Dem 43,779 - 43 percent
Robert A. Straniere, Ind 5,422 - 5 percent
John Walker, Lib 1,286 - 1 percent

Primary Election Results

James P. Molinaro 8,512
Robert A. Straniere 4,414
(Official Vote Count from the Board of Elections)

Incumbent: Guy Molinari (cannot run again in 2001)

The Candidates:

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

Contributors to James Molinaro
Contributors to Jerome X O'Donovan
Contributors to Robert Straniere
Contributors to John P. Walker

Interviews With The Candidates

Jeffrey Kroessler, historian of the Archives and Special Collections of the Library at the College of Staten Island, interviewed three of the four candidates for Staten Island borough president. (The fourth, James Molinaro, refused to participate.)

In the order in which they were interviewed:

Campaign Feature:

Tripartisan Tumble

Staten Island is the only borough with a viable borough-wide Republican Party. That means the race for Staten Island borough president will be decided in the general election in November, not a primary in September.

In fact, Staten Island this fall could become not bipartisan, but tripartisan. Yes, there could be a three-way race for borough president.

This could come about because the poo-bahs in the Republican Party, from Governor George Pataki on down, are backing Jim Molinaro, deputy borough president to term-limited borough president Guy Molinari. Molinaro is not a Republican, but vice chairman of the state Conservative Party. But the Conservative and the Republicans parties are close allies on Staten Island, as they are in the rest of the state, and Molinaro has run many a local GOP campaign, despite his Conservative credentials.

Also, the Conservatives are long-time allies of the governor and the Conservative chairman, Michael Long, pushed hard for the governor to back Molinaro.

The problem for Republicans is that Republican Assemblyman Robert Straniere decided he wanted to be borough president and wasn't about to step aside for a Conservative Party stalwart. Even a sit-down at the governor's mansion with the governor and other GOP party leaders failed to persuade Straniere to drop out of the race.

As a result, Republicans now have a primary between Straniere, the Republican on the outs with the GOP establishment, and Molinaro, the Conservative with the backing of the GOP leadership.

If Molinaro wins the GOP primary, then Republicans will be united again and Molinaro will be favored to win the office. But if Straniere wins the GOP primary, both he and Molinaro would appear on the November ballot.

That would split the conservative (with a small "c") vote and perhaps allow the Democratic candidate, term-limited Councilman Jay O'Donovan, to slip in. It has been 12 years since the Democrats ran Staten Island, but the feuding Republicans could let it happen again.

Philip Lentz

posted 6/25/01
Previous Staten Island Race Features

Campaign Trail

The New York Times makes endorsements in Staten Island:
"For Borough President: Many New York City officeholders facing term limits are looking for ways to extend their influence. Some are trying to make sure that children, spouses or parents succeed them. Others are promoting proteges. Staten Island's borough president, Guy Molinari, is backing the candidacy of his deputy, James Molinaro, a top official of the state's Conservative Party. Mr. Molinaro is running for the Republican nomination against Assemblyman Robert Straniere.

"Mr. Straniere, a lawyer, has the backing of many Republicans who dislike the idea of giving their nomination to a non-party member. He is also the superior candidate on the issues. He has focused directly on the borough's most crucial questions of overbuilding and the overcrowding of facilities, especially schools. His farsighted efforts on campaign finance and the environment have also won him the endorsement of the Citizens Union and the Sierra Club. Because he provides a refreshing departure from the Molinari era, we endorse Robert Straniere in the Republican primary for Staten Island borough president.

"For City Council: District 49 (North Staten Island): Though Staten Island is the city's most Republican borough, this district is a Democratic stronghold. The three impressive candidates are Michael McMahon, a lawyer who is currently counsel to Jerome O'Donovan, the outgoing Council member; Jon Del Giorno, administrative manager of the New York City Board of Elections; and Deborah Rose, an educator who runs a dropout prevention program and has been a longtime Community Board member.

"Any one of them would make a good Council member. But Ms. Rose has shown a particular energy and persistence in the face of party opposition to her candidacy. We endorse Deborah Rose, who hopes to become Staten Island's first African-American political officeholder." (NY Times)

Republican Assemblyman Robert Straniere has filed a complaint with the city's Campaign Finance Board, alleging financial improprieties with opponent James Molinaro's campaign, including what he contends is an inappropriate overlap of resources with the Molinari Republican Club. But Molinaro strongly denied anything illegal and said Straniere is merely "looking to create negative headlines" against him. (Staten Island Advance)

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 Department of Youth and Community Development apparently has no problem getting by without three of its top eight officials. Mario Bruno, the $70,000-a-year assistant commissioner for intergovernmental relations, quit on May 25 to work on Jim Molinaro's campaign for Staten Island borough president. Joseph Kovac, the $56,000-a-year special assistant to Commissioner Jerry Cammarata, is currently "on vacation," also working for Molinaro. So is Cammarata holding the place together? When a reporter tried to reach him Wednesday, he was told to call the Board of Education, where Cammarata serves on the board and has a second office. (NY Post)

The Independence Party has chosen Assemblyman Robert Straniere (R-S.I.) as its candidate for Staten Island borough president, guaranteeing him a place on the ballot in November. (Daily News)

Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, the most powerful Republican in the state Legislature, endorsed Deputy Borough President James Molinaro, a Conservative, in the race for Staten Island's next borough president.

The Working Families Party endorsed Staten Island borough presidential candidate Jerome X. O1Donovan.

The Republican Party in Staten Island has dropped its support of Republican Robert Straniere and has given it instead to James P. Molinaro, the state executive vice chairman of the Conservative Party. By doing so, the committee has allowed Mr. Molinaro to run in a Republican primary against Mr. Straniere. Previously, the Republican leaders had said they were not inclined to give their endorsement to a non-Republican. (NY Times)

Governor Pataki endorsed Conservative Jim Molinaro over Republican Assemblyman Robert Straniere to succeed Guy Molinari as Staten Island Borough President. (Daily News)

There is already petty squabbling and posturing in the race for Staten Island Borough President (Staten Island Advance)

Republican Assemblyman Bob Straniere (R,C-South Shore) will announce his candidacy for Staten Island borough president today at City Hall. (Daily News)

The recent ruling by the Conflicts of Interest Board that bars appointed officials, but not elected ones, from campaign fundraising unless they resign, will affect several races, including Staten Island Borough President (where deputy borough president James Molinaro is a candidate and has been actively promoted by his boss Guy Molinari). (Daily News)

More repercussions from the ruling by the Conflicts of Interest Board that bars top city employees from raising campaign funds. Conservative James Molinaro, who is running for Staten Island Borough President, may have to resign his job as Deputy Borough President. (Staten Island Advance)

In what is being called continuing machinations in the Staten Island borough president's race, there is increasing speculation that Republican leaders are moving to clear the way for Deputy Borough President James Molinaro, a Conservative Party member, to run in the GOP primary. This would involve easing out the county Republican chairwoman, Leticia Remauro, who is believed to oppose Molinaro's participation in the party primary. Remauro, an assistant to the president of the Battery Park City Authority, has been mentioned for a possible job with the Bush administration in Washington and more recently for county clerk. Molinaro's candidacy has the backing of Mayor Giuliani and the outgoing borough president, Guy Molinari.(Crain's NY)

Staten Island Borough President Guy Molinari endorsed a successor with more than a year to go before the elections. He endorsed his deputy, Jim Molinaro, and said he was committed to seeing his partner win. (Daily News)

My Street Address:

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

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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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