Campaign 2001 Feature

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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?


The Campaign Tangle Begins

By Bob Liff

As candidates prepare to fan out across the city to gather signatures on nominating petitions, an old political aphorism is about to come back into play: It's good to know the law, but it's better to know the judge.

New York's cumbersome election laws are notorious around the country, producing more court challenges than all other states combined.

The best known recent cases involve Republican presidential shenanigans, including a federal lawsuit last year that forced state GOP leaders to add Arizona Senator John McCain's name to the primary ballot statewide. Four years earlier, it took Steve Forbes' deep pockets and teams of lawyers to force his way onto a ballot where state GOP leaders wanted to grease the skids for Kansas Senator Bob Dole's nomination.

But it is in the local, less noticed races - for city council, district leader, the state legislature - where the power of county party organizations come into play. These are cases in which party-paid lawyers ask judges who owe their seats to the same party organizations to rule on challenges to the nominating petitions filed by challengers unblessed by the party leaders.

It is a system in which petty technicalities become the fodder for a series of summertime lawsuits that keep a small group of lawyers gainfully employed. Mistakes in filling out petitions become labeled fraud. Judges order candidates to send troops of loyalists to nearby borough offices of the Board of Elections to go line-by-line over thousands of signatures on the petitions in search of those that can be kicked out. With enough signatures declared invalid, the candidates are then denied a place on the ballot.

The system has been made a tad more democratic in recent decades through a series of federal lawsuits that overturned state rulings that had favored the machine. But machinations still allow many elections to be decided in courtrooms long before voters get to go to the polling place.

The party organizations themselves go to incredible lengths to make sure their own petitions are valid, and filed on time. A favorite war story involves Harold Fisher, the late Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman who was the chief lawyer and chief judge-picker for the Brooklyn Democratic organization when it was headed by the legendary boss Meade Esposito.

Fisher was in a car accident late one night in the 1960s as he drove the organization's petitions to the Board of Elections offices, then on Varick St. in Lower Manhattan. No one was injured in the accident, but it left the rear end of Fisher's car bashed in.

The petitions, of course, were in the trunk. As the midnight deadline neared, Fisher drove the car onto the freight elevator at the board headquarters, and drove it off onto the board's floor. There technicians logged in the car and slapped a seal on the trunk, which was opened with a crowbar the next day to free the petitions for more normal processing.

By far, most candidates lose their place on the ballot for failing to collect enough valid signatures. For a citywide race such as mayor or public advocate, 7,500 such signatures are required. There are 4,000 needed to appear as a candidate for borough president. Candidates for City Council must get signatures from 900 registered voters who live in the district in which they are running. The signatures this year must be collected between June 5 and July 12.

In some of this year's City Council races, which thanks to term limits and the public financing of campaigns have attracted as many as a dozen candidates in a single district, there simply do not exist enough registered voters in some districts to put every would-be candidate on the ballot. So, some candidates will not even get past the initial screening of the signatures by the Board of Elections.

But a goodly number of those who do could find themselves forced to defend the validity of the collected signatures in court.

It used to be worse. In the 1980s, petitions were declared invalid for such mind-numbing technicalities as addresses in which "street" or "avenue" were not spelled out, but written as "st." or "ave."

Then there were the truly arcane requirements for the cover sheets, those pages placed on top of the petitions that are supposed to list the numbers of signatures contained inside.

The requirements tripped up at least two incumbent legislators, Bedford-Stuyvesant's Al Vann and Roger Green, who wound up kicked off the Democratic primary ballot. But both won re-election anyway, by getting on the ballot of other political parties, either on the Liberal Party line, or in Green's case, a newly-created party called the Children First.

There was even one case in which Democratic powers kicked into high gear and used challenges to knock every other candidate of every other party off the ballot on some technicality or another in order to help the veteran lawmakers survive.

Legislators eventually were shamed into easing many of the requirements. No longer do candidates have to pore through voter lists to add the precise number of the election district or the assembly district in which each voter resides.

The most recent line of attack for party leaders has been to challenge the validity of the so-called subscribing witnesses, the people who sign a petition's cover sheet attesting that they collected or witnessed the collecting of the signatures. In a recent lawsuit, involving the tiny Independence Party and a special city council election in Staten Island, a judge threw out a requirement that the subscribing witness had to live within the district where he was collecting the signatures for the petition.

That was a requirement that clearly benefited party organizations who have built up cadres of supporters throughout the city. But the party machinery could get around their own residential requirement, because many machine loyalists are also registered as commissioners of deeds, an obscure title granted by the City Council which authorizes people to attest to the validity of signatures anywhere in the city.

But individual challengers and the smaller parties (Independence, Liberal, Conservative, Right to Life and Working Families) did not have the clout to get their loyalists registered as commissioners of deeds, and they often found it an insurmountable obstacle to get the right party members to the right district within the right time. Hence the successful lawsuit.

The Democrats decided not to take this last federal ruling lying down. While the federal decision was based on a series of cases expanding opportunities within party primaries, another line of cases upheld the parties' status as private organizations with rights to control their own destinie.

So party leaders tried to circumvent the federal court ruling by passing a party rule reinstating the old subscribing witness rule, meaning a person would have had to live in the district where they were collecting signatures. At the same time, the Assembly elections committee began drafting state legislation to do the same thing. Neither effort, however, bore fruit and the court ruling stands.

The rule this year, therefore, is that any city voter can collect petition signatures anywhere in the city, provided that voter is registered in the party the candidates are running in. The ruling was intended as a means to help minor parties and challengers. But party leaders, and union leaders with large cadres of mobile loyalists, could likely turn it to their own advantage by dispatching troops throughout the city to collect signatures without having to worry about where the petition gatherer lives.

After the whole process is over, the survivors are rewarded by getting to face the voters.

Oh yeah, the voters. Remember them?

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.

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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