Tony Avella, right, ponders life after losing (Page 13), Primary Diaries (Page 16)
September 21, 2009
N O S P M O H T L BIL
P U S P STE ANDREW SCHWARTZ
Vol. 4, No. 5
and Denny Farrell, left, passes the torch of the Manhattan Democrats (Page 18).
SEPTEMBER 21, 2009
Move The Primary he end of summer is one of the secret pleasures of living in New York. Those with the motives or the means decamp for the hills or the Hamptons. The city for once assumes the languid pace of a metropolis at rest. Sidewalks are empty. Subway seats are available. There is no shortage of restaurant reservations or parking spots. A perfect time to hold an election. Although candidates for local and citywide offices spent the waning days of summer frantically shaking hands at subway stops and the airwaves hummed with candidate commercials, all this activity at a time when New York is mostly empty of New Yorkers, a tattered palm card, floating in the breeze down an empty street, is one of the enduring images of the season. Holding the Democratic primary—the election that is determinative of who represents the citizens of this city for all but a handful of seats—the second Tuesday after the first Monday in September is absurd. It is unfair to the candidates who must make their closing arguments to a distracted electorate, and, more importantly, it is unfair to the electorate who are denied a pressure-cooker of a campaign season. We are essentially encouraging voters to make uninformed decisions, based more on the color scheme on a campaign sign than on any kind of review of their platforms. This election season alone has seen scandal and explication, charges and counter-charges, pledges made and promises broken. And the voters of this city have missed most of it. No one pays attention to political campaigns until after Labor Day, the old adage goes. If this is true, then it leaves candidates for public office with a mere seven days of the public’s attention. Making this ridiculously short campaign season even shorter is the campaign blackout on Sept. 11, which will always fall in those few precious days between Labor Day and Primary Day. And what did they miss? The comptroller race has seen a scandal erupt over whether or not a candidate was properly representing his biography, and has seen substantive debate over how to best manage the pension fund. The public advocate race has seen questions over campaign finance laws arise, and serious debate ensue over the future of the office. Council candidates have given their ideas on zoning, housing and quality-of-life issues. But voters, for the most part, joined this conversation too late to catch up with what was being said, argued and debated. This has consequences. Who wins on Primary Day is likely to stay in office for a decade or longer. But voters now either show up at the polling place, with only a vague idea of who to vote for, an idea based more on the quality of palm cards and who stood in front of what subway stop, or, more likely, not show up at the polling place at all, since, to
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the uninformed voter, these elections seem to be about so little. If anyone needed proof of the deep problem eating the heart out of our democracy, the historically low turnout should have been a wakeup call. 113,000 votes to come in first for public advocate? 134,000 to come in first for comptroller? 45,000 votes to become the new Manhattan district attorney? 1,800 votes to win a Council seat? There is something seriously wrong here, and the lack of proactive steps to fix the problem is more than just silly. It is offensive.
Even the vaunted Working Families Party’s get-out-the-vote operation, which scored big in the primary in both of the citywide races and got five new Council members, only managed a combined 22,000 votes between its seven priority Council races. The solution lies in part in moving primary day. June might be an appropriate time for a primary, and there are many cities and states that do in fact hold their primary day then, but doing so in ultra-Democratic New York would mean that incumbents would have a long, six-month lame duck period that would cause too much mischief and ignored constituent requests. So instead, move the primary later, to October, or even November, and hold whatever general elections need to be held in December. The change might seem radical, but this year’s primaries make all too clear that our leaders must acknowledge the realities and stand up for informed voting. This might also be a good opportunity to take the extra step of putting the elections on the weekends and making them last for two days. New York should be ahead of the curve in voting reform, not so deeply behind it that the perennial stories of how bad our lever machines are become old hat. This year, there were real issues at stake—the future of the city’s school system, how to lure good jobs back to New York, how to keep housing affordable—and several good candidates, some of them winners and some losers, tried to provide real answers. More people should have had the chance to hear them. More people should have been given the time to make informed decisions. If laws need to be changed, change the laws. If obstructionists need to be trampled, trample the obstructionists. If resistant power mongers who bank their hold of politics on low turnout need to be shoved out of the way, shove them with force. The time has come.
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SEPTEMBER 21, 2009
In Aftermath Of Reauthorization, Advocates On Both Sides Consider Their Lessons Opponents hope to keep fighting, advocates consider next steps BY ANDREW J. HAWKINS ispirited after a long and bitter fight to curtail Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s control over the city’s school system, education activists and critics of the mayor’s education agenda are searching for a way to remain relevant against seemingly impossible odds. “Right now, I’m not feeling particularly encouraged by what’s happened,” said Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters and a fierce critic of Bloomberg and schools Chancellor Joel Klein. “It’s like [Bloomberg] is the Goliath and we’re all little Davids with our slingshots.” Haimson said that Bloomberg’s money and his support in the business community was enough to ensure the approval of mayoral control, which was eventually reauthorized after the leadership coup in Albany led to the brief reappearance of the Board of Education. “When it comes to all the money and power of the mayor, I’m not sure whether we could have won this battle,” Haimson said, Haimson is not the only one who is feeling a bit bruised after the summerlong battle. Even though lawmakers added several provisions to the bill aimed at making the system more transparent, many critics still feel that they lost the big fight. But they say they are eager for round two. Haimson, for one, has formed a political action committee to support candidates who opposed the reauthorization of mayoral control without sufficient checks and balances. Diane Ravitch, a New York University historian and one of the leading opponents of mayoral control, said the Department of Education’s school grading system and what she calls the “dumbing down of state tests” will be her next focus. “There is still quite a lot to talk about,” Ravitch said. “It’s very clear that New York City still needs an independent auditor for test scores and graduation rates. And the state has to take charge of fixing its testing regime. It’s gotten ridiculous.” Other critics cite class sizes and Campaign for Fiscal Equity funding as some of the larger issues looming on the horizon. Meanwhile, proponents of mayoral control are reveling in their success, but stress they have no plans to sit on their laurels. Some are quietly amused that opponents to mayoral control are
insisting on renewing their opposition to Bloomberg’s education agenda, wondering aloud why opponents would waste time on a cause they consider fruitless. Learn NY, the main lobbying group that spearheaded much of the pro-mayoral control outreach to state legislators, is in the midst of internal discussions about what direction to go now that the legislation has been renewed. Until then, the group plans on educating parents on the opportunities available to them under the revised law, said Julie Wood, the group’s spokesperson. Education advocates of all stripes say they plan on keeping a close eye on the reforms enacted as part of the bill to reauthorize mayoral control.
“When it comes to all the money and power of the mayor,” Leonie Haimson said, “I’m not sure whether we could have won this battle.” The new provisions, which include the creation of a parent training center, an independent audit of Department of Education data and a larger role for district superintendents, require close scrutiny by everyone with a stake in education, said Billy Easton, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education. “There is a fundamental test that will apply both to the administration and to policymakers in Albany, whether or not they follow both the letter and the spirit of the law,” Easton said. “Coming out of the gate, if they were to repeat the practice of running roughshod over the law, then that will be a precedent for things to come.” Although lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to reauthorize mayoral control, many were vocally dissatisfied with Bloomberg’s education record. Several wanted to strip the mayor of his power to appoint the majority of the Panel for Education Policy, but acquiesced on that point in the final bill. Others took it a step further, calling for Klein’s ouster. Micah Lasher, the Department of Education’s chief lobbyist, said that while there were many bumps in the road during the legislative negotiations, ultimately the process worked. Looking ahead, he said, the administration will apply those lessons to the looming budget
negotiations, especially as they relate to possible cuts to school funding. With Bloomberg up for re-election and Bill Thompson hitting him repeatedly on education policy, the subject is likely to stay in the public eye at least through November—and for much longer than that, vowed Ernest Logan, head of the Council of School Administrators, which represents principals. Logan predicted there would be no major shift in tone in the debate
over Bloomberg’s education agenda, post-mayoral control, especially if the administration continues to close schools with little community input. Which particular issues will be part of the next showdown, though, remains hard to see. “If I had a crystal ball, that would be great,” Logan said. “But it will probably be ebb-and-flow going forward, depending on the issue.” firstname.lastname@example.org
SEPTEMBER 21, 2009
MTA Capital Plan Risks Derailment By Operational Costs Walder’s pursuit of long-term funding, cost swap could endanger agency’s bond ratings
Jay Walder, nominated in June by Gov. David Paterson to take the reigns of the MTA, has staked his job on the success of the agency’s capital plan. BY SAL GENTILE
ay Walder, the incoming chair and CEO of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, has staked his job on his ability to expand and improve the region’s transit system by coming up with $10 billion for the MTA’s five-year capital plan and securing the agency’s long-term fiscal health. “There is no possibility of success without that type of effort,” he said at a public confirmation hearing earlier this month. “My first order of business is to show everyone, the Legislature and the public, that we’re using those resources effectively.” As Walder’s predecessors have learned, that may prove easier said than done. Analysts and MTA board members predict the effort will be hampered by a little-noticed but long-standing practice by officials in the MTA’s capital division of sneaking operational needs—day-today expenses, maintenance costs—into the five-year capital plan. An item-by-item reading of the plan reveals millions in costs that could be classified as operational, such as refurbishments for MTA police stations in Staten Island and Nassau County, and a “regional bus analysis” for the
state Department of Transportation and Thruway Authority, among others. Experts suggest many of these could have easily come out of the operational budget, instead of taking money from the already-beleaguered capital program. Most people who will scan the plan before it reaches the Legislature for approval next year will likely miss the hidden expenses. Ratings agencies on Wall Street likely will not. “There’s a whole question here of what’s really capital budget and what’s operating budget,” said Cameron Gordon, a visiting lecturer at the College of Staten Island who studies mass transit systems worldwide. The MTA is one of the largest debtors in the United States, with a $10 billion gap in its proposed five-year capital plan, making low operational costs a priority. “Ratings agencies, I think, will look at this and say, ‘Well, all right, here’s a continued muddling-through,’” Gordon said. “The bond raters, what they don’t like to see, are sort of fixes.” Maintaining a sterling bond rating will be crucial for the MTA as it plans ahead for the next five years and searches for a
way to expand the system while avoiding doing things like continuing the payroll tax passed earlier this year. Already, key lawmakers such as State Sen. Carl Kruger, the Finance chair, and State Sen. Brian Foley, of Suffolk, have asked Senate Democratic leaders to revisit the payroll tax and possibly insert a sunset provision.
more difficult. Failure to upgrade the system, satisfy customers and generate sustainable revenue would, in turn, make the MTA a less-desirable long-term investment for potential bond buyers. Bill Henderson, the executive director of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA, suggested that part of the reason for the inclusion of operational costs in the capital plan may have been a new legislative provision passed earlier this year that requires the MTA to submit a draft of its capital program by October, well ahead of its usual schedule. “There’s a legislative requirement that the capital program has to be submitted by Oct. 1, so they’re squeezed,” he said, adding that the agency was forced to submit a plan before knowing the source of most of its funding. “I think there is some caution in this program because of that.” Financing the agency’s operational budget earlier this year was a knockdown-drag-out fight. That left officials struggling to find ways to keep the current system in good repair. “We have to make sure that the maintenance of the system is done extensively,” explained Mitchell Pally, an MTA board member from Suffolk. Elements of the plan are also largely borrowed from blueprints etched in 2007 during the fight over Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s congestion pricing plan. As part of that debate, a new proposed capital plan was ordered. The current $10 billion financing gap would, more or less, have been filled by congestion pricing fees. There are also likely to be competing demands on the limited financial resources the MTA does manage to win from the Legislature. The agency received $1.2 billion in federal stimulus funds this year, for example, and has decided to dedicate the entirety of that money to capital improvements, despite protests from transportation advocates who would like to see at least some of it go to maintenance projects, like station renewal and staffing. The MTA is one of only a few mass transit systems in the country that has not allocated at least a meager fraction of its stimulus funding to maintenance. Gene Russianoff, the staff lawyer for the Straphangers Campaign, said the resistance likely emanated from the fact that funding for capital projects has been so hard to come by, a reality that is unlikely to change when the Legislature evaluates the capital program next year. “It’s like a precious form of gold you can’t get elsewhere,” he said. email@example.com
Most people who will scan the MTA budget before it reaches the Legislature for approval next year will likely miss hidden expenses. Ratings agencies on Wall Street likely will not. Bond ratings agencies have already issued warnings this year threatening to downgrade the MTA’s debt in the face of continued financial struggles and the absence of a long-term strategy for financing its capital needs. If the ratings agencies do downgrade the MTA’s debt, selling bonds to finance long-term capital projects that help expand and improve the system would become more expensive, and thus
SEPTEMBER 21, 2009
Bloomberg Boosts Ulrich From Fluke To The Man To Beat 32 S
Ozone Park DISTRICT
BY SAL GENTILE
ix months ago, he was a fluke. Then he became the mayor’s
man. Eric Ulrich, who won a special nonpartisan election in February to fill the Council seat that covers Rockaway and parts of southeast Queens, was at first dismissed as a lightweight. As a 24year-old Republican in a district where Democrats hold a three-to-one enrollment advantage, labor unions and Democratic bigwigs considered Ulrich one of their easier marks. Then, in April, Ulrich made a tactical move that seems to have paid considerable dividends: He backed Mayor Michael Bloomberg for a third term before the rest of the Republican leadership. That decision won him the favor of Bloomberg’s deputies and support from the mayor’s formidable campaign operation. That has put his opponent, Frank Gulluscio, at a sudden disadvantage, at least as Gulluscio’s supporters present things. “He’s the underdog,” said State Sen. Joseph Addabbo, who held the seat before Ulrich, of Gulluscio. “He understands that.” Addabbo has been working the phones to shore up support for Gulluscio, who was his chief of staff for the last three years of his Council term. Addabbo hopes his ties to organized labor, from his days as the chair of the Council’s Civil Service and Labor Committee, will help counteract the Bloomberg advantage. So far, the effort has been slow-going. Unions and the Working Families Party
Eric Ulrich got a boost in his candidacy by uniting early with Mayor Michael Bloomberg. have directed their attention elsewhere in the city during this heated primary season, while Ulrich, with the help of Bloomberg and his millions, has been rooting himself in the district. The two have opened a joint campaign office in Rockaway, which should help Ulrich gain a foothold in a part of the district where he is not as well-known. The district is bifurcated between “mainland” communities like Middle Village, a Republican stronghold, and the Rockaways. Ulrich is from the former, whereas Gulluscio has been known across the district for years. “They know me as Addabbo’s chief of staff,” Gulluscio said. “This is a blue collar
Frank Gulluscio was once considered a shoo-in for a Council seat in Queens. Now, thanks to the mayor, he is the underdog.
district. The unions, the people that are living here, are middle Howard class people. I’m middle class like them. They know that.” Gulluscio and the Democrats may seek to paint Ulrich as out of Breezy Point touch with the middle class families that inhabit the detached homes and smallSTATEN town neighborhoods of places ISLAND like Howard Beach and Ozone Park. But the mayor is popular with those same voters, Bloomberg’s aides argue, and once his campaign in the district is in full swing and voters are barraged by television ads, Ulrich will get a boost. A poll conducted last year by Republicans in the overlapping Senate district, where Addabbo defeated Serphin Maltese, illustrated Bloomberg’s strength there, according to a person who has seen the results. In some portions of the area that overlap with the Council district, such as Middle Village, the mayor’s popularity reached highs of 80 percent. Democrats in Queens dismiss the idea that Bloomberg will have coattails, pointing to the fact that most of the mayor’s support comes from Democrats who do not vote Republican down the line. Even some Republicans discount the power of having Bloomberg at the top of the ticket. “There’s no coattails effect. It’s a fallacy,” said one Queens GOP official. “It’s a mythology we resurrect every cycle.” (Some Queens Republicans have grumbled about the mayor in the months since signing off on his quest to get the GOP line.) The difference, Bloomberg’s aides argue, is what can be done with the Bloomberg campaign’s resources. If the mayor’s name on the top of the ballot is not enough to lift Ulrich over the tide of Democrats that will come to the polls, the get-out-the-vote operation in places like Maspeth and Middle Village targeting the district’s registered Republicans will. Blueprints for such a targeted election-day sweep are already in formation, according to Bloomberg campaign aides. More than that, Bloomberg’s lieutenants have leaned on connections to other prominent officials on Ulrich’s behalf. Rep. Peter King, a galvanizing figure among conservatives, has traveled to the district to campaign with Ulrich. Former
Beach Neponsit BROOKLYN
Mayor Ed Koch broke with Democrats to endorse him. In addition to the political help, Ulrich has been able to rely on Bloomberg for assistance in governing, enabling the junior Council member to get more traction than he otherwise might in cutting through the city’s tangled bureaucracy for the benefit of his district. “The mayor has helped me deliver, whether it be city resources or city agencies, to respond to constituent complaints,” Ulrich said.
“He’s the underdog,” said State Sen. Joseph Addabbo of Frank Gulluscio, his former chief of staff and onetime front-runner for the seat. “He understands that.” Among the situations that this has helped him in, Ulrich said, was when he was wrestling with the Parks Department and its commissioner over assigning lifeguards to Rockaway Beach. “I personally spoke to the mayor about this situation,” Ulrich said. “Three days later, I got a call from Adrian Benepe.” That access to the highest reaches of the city’s hierarchy, surpassing even the leaders of the Council, is invaluable, Ulrich argued, and has helped him establish a relationship with constituents who may have originally been skeptical of him. The mayor’s money, he added, has not hurt. “We’re planning a fundraiser where the mayor will be a guest, and I’d be honored to have his support,” Ulrich said. “And if he had any friends that believe in him and like him that want to contribute to me, I’d gladly accept their contribution.” firstname.lastname@example.org
SEPTEMBER 21, 2009
De Blasio’s Get Out The Vote Prowess Proven, Green’s Ceiling May Have Been Reached
DANIEL S. BURNSTEIN
A test of name recognition versus organization in race to succeed Gotbaum
BY DAVID FREEDLANDER uring the evening rush hour before the Democratic primary last week, Mark Green stood in front of the 7th Avenue subway stop in Park Slope to hand palm cards of him with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and to talk to voters. The task is harder these days, he said, than when he worked the streets in search of votes in a 2001 mayoral election, with iPods walling off potential voters from supplicating politicians and hawkers of free newspapers competing for free hands. “Hey, are you still going to be a Wise
Guy on New York 1?” asked one latemiddle-aged commuter, referring to the political roundtable program that Green used to appear on. “No, I gave up to run for public advocate,” Green replied. “I’m still running for public advocate, so I am not going to comment on any other job opportunities that may arise.” Green at a subway stop is a different animal than most of the other city politicians at a subway stop. People recognize him and stop and talk with him rather than hustle away. “You are doing great,” one young supporter said. “Well, I haven’t screwed up,” he said.
“Not yet.” The 7th Avenue stop is the beating heart of Brownstone Brooklyn, placing Green on the night before the primary on the home turf of Council Member Bill de Blasio. The next day, de Blasio returned the favor, going into what was once Green territory on the Upper West Side, to greet parents picking up their children from school, with State Sen. Eric Schneiderman and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. He was ebullient, leaning his long frame over voters heading into the polling place, high-fiving Schneiderman, hugging Stringer. His brother, a business journalist in
Seattle, wearing a beaded Tibetan bracelet and a denim baseball cap with an image of a sailboat on it, handed out flyers. “I’m a Buddhist person,” Steve Wilhelm said. “And Bill and I are very simpatico.” De Blasio, as it turned out, had more than karma on his side. Not only did he lead Green—who polls showed had an outside shot getting the 40 percent needed to win outright—but he beat him in Manhattan and ran roughly even to Green on his home turf on the East Side. Those results leave most political observers believing that de Blasio retains an overwhelming advantage in the run-off. Beating Green, if only by a couple of percentage points, gives him a psychological edge heading into Sept. 29. Already, previously silent forces like Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum have sided with de Blasio, and some of the few elected officials who backed Green have begun to dial back their enthusiasm. “I thought it would be a shock if Mark Green didn’t pull it off without a runoff,” said Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell IV, who dropped out of the race when Green entered because he believed he could not win. “De Blasio’s got the big turn-out operation, he’s got the enthusiasm. I’m still voting for Mark, but I think Bill de Blasio will be the next public advocate.” That union- and Working Familiesbacked turnout operation gave de Blasio the edge on Primary Day, one that should be heightened by a turnout expected to be around half of the dismally low 11 percent who voted Sept. 15. But they are still jockeying for the supporters of Eric Gioia and Norman Siegel, the third- and fourth-place finishers. Green supporters say that the antagonism between Gioia and de Blasio means that Gioia voters will back their man, and that Siegel’s supporters, who they believe are part of Green’s older, liberal base, will come out for him as well. But Green under-performed in preelection day polls, something de Blasio supporters point to as evidence that Green is a known commodity among voters, and that even undecided voters have decided not to vote for him. In the remaining days, the race could come to resemble Green’s last run for public office, when he ran an intensely negative campaign for attorney general against Andrew Cuomo. The de Blasio campaign is stacked with former Cuomo aides, and Green spent the days after the primary unleashing a relentless attack on
DANIEL S. BURNSTEIN
SEPTEMBER 21, 2009
Counting On Consistent Turnout In Strong Districts, Yassky Looks To Make Up Ground Liu campaign warns of the perils of going negative, counts on ground game to win the day BY SAL GENTILE
about Liu’s past, allegations that he had exaggerated a story about working in a sweatshop as a child, and expressed frustration that those reports had not gained more traction. Some insisted Yassky’s campaign had no choice but to become more aggressive in pushing the story itself. Not 10 minutes later, they got their wish. Opening what many expect will be one of the predominant themes of Yassky’s run-off campaign, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz scrapped his prepared remarks and introduced Yassky as “someone who will be straight with us, who will be honest with us.” He added: “When he tells you something, it’s exactly the way it is. No
s comptroller hopeful John Liu’s numbers began to dip below 39 percent on primary night, supporters of his chief rival, David Yassky, cheered. The results, splashed against the wall on a giant projection screen at the party, caught the campaign off-guard. Yassky’s team had been expecting Liu to come in second, and fall well below the 40 percent needed to win outright. One aide said he was “stunned.” As word of Liu’s unexpected surge wound its way through the room, so did suggestions of how to beat him. Yassky’s aides and supporters whispered de Blasio’s ties to the Working Families Party and the Council slush fund scandal. The slash-and-burn method did not work in 2006, when Green lost in a Democratic primary by 20 points, but it may be all he has. “He’s running from behind, and the only way to catch up is to throw bombs,” said veteran Democratic consultant and one-time Green advisor Hank Sheinkopf. “The problem is people are much more conscious of who the bomb-thrower is. His only hope is that he runs up big numbers on the East Side, big numbers among older voters, and pray that the sun sets for three days and no one knows there is an election going on.” email@example.com
embellishments.” Armed with that rationale, Yassky’s runoff strategy will be to more aggressively appeal to core Democratic voters, especially on the Upper West Side and in Brooklyn, and demonstrate to them that Liu would be an unsavory choice next to the New York Times-endorsed Yassky. Yassky supporters acknowledge that effort will be difficult, though, given how few voters are likely to turn out. “This vote’s going to be the day after Yom Kippur,” said Virginia Davies, a Yassky fundraiser and informal adviser. “Anybody who comes out after Yom Kippur is a serious Democrat.” To wage such an effort, Yassky will have to do some intensive fundraising,
which the campaign says has been its focus in the immediate aftermath of the primary. Davies said the strategy was to raise enough money, and enough matching funds, to blunt the influence of Liu’s ground operation, by blanketing the airwaves and—more importantly—hiring more ground troops. Yassky’s campaign is also encouraged by the numbers out of districts where there were no competitive Council races to draw voters to the polls. On the East Side, for example, Yassky exceeded 60 percent in some precincts. “You don’t have any other races on the ticket,” said Assembly Member Jonathan Bing, an early Yassky supporter tasked with delivering high margins on the East Side. Bing argued that districts where there were competitive Council races, especially in Queens, would see a steep drop-off in voter turnout in a run-off. “It’s going to be districts which have higher voter turnout when nothing else is on the ballot that will have a very large role,” he said. Liu, meanwhile, has been expecting a contest with Yassky. His aides predicted the match-up in the run-up to the primary, and tailored their election day strategy accordingly. Liu all but ceded the Upper West Side and brownstone Brooklyn, historically the central battlegrounds for citywide primaries, and junked a brief pit stop on the East Side to focus his efforts on Harlem and Upper Manhattan. A foothold there should help him court supporters of Melinda Katz, who was also battling for Upper Manhattan. Liu’s campaign is also prepared for even the slightest hint of a negative blitz from Yassky. His supporters, especially labor unions, are already quietly pushing back on the idea that only the largely white, affluent districts of the Upper West Side, for example, will return a second time to vote (one called it “a not-so-subtle racial construct”). Yassky’s own political past could make advancing an anti-Liu storyline more difficult. Liu supporters take Yassky’s racially divisive 2006 congressional run, for the seat now held by Rep. Yvette Clarke, as a sign that Yassky is vulnerable to their attacks. “There’s a little bit of a history on the other side,” said Neal Kwatra, the political director of the Hotel and Motel Trades Council, the 30,000-member union that played a crucial role in Liu’s get-outthe-vote effort. Kwatra said the primary results affirmed the importance of a strong ground game, and promised just as much activity from HTC in the run-off as in the primary. “It’s not like we’re going to allow mail and TV ads to sort of drive the day, just sit back and wait for who’s going to come out to vote,” he said, referring to Yassky’s strategy. “Our ability to turn out and drive those voters in a race like this really matters.” firstname.lastname@example.org
SEPTEMBER 21, 2009
ill Thompson cannot win the competence argument against Michael Bloomberg. He would like to, he is trying to, but the idea that Bloomberg is good at the job of being mayor is so deeply entrenched in the minds of New Yorkers that any time spent trying to convince people that he would actually be better would probably be in vain. Given his limited resources and a skeptical media being inundated with damning statistics courtesy of Bloomberg ’09 researchers, the task gets even harder. To put the problem, then, as he might himself, in his speaking style that, despite coaching, still relies on rhetorical questions he poses then answers in the second person: how does a Democrat campaign to be mayor of New York City without claiming to be better at the job? Well, you latch onto hot button issues for city residents, capitalizing on voter anxiety and discontent, and you hope that this, combined with a combination of natural Democratic strength in the Big Apple, various blocs of unions and political interests wanting more access, and a pervasive sense of betrayal over term limits all cobbles together a coalition to put you over the top. (How that all works come Jan. 1 if you win is a problem for later.) And as the attention focuses on the campaign, you poke as many holes as you can in the record of an administration you portray as taking New York away from New Yorkers. “We are at a crossroads,” Thompson said, sitting down at the outset of a busy campaign schedule the Sunday before he finally had his primary coronation. “This city has focused on luxury housing and an education system that is just focused on standardized testing,” he said. “You’ve got to start going in a different direction. If you do 12 years of this, I’m not sure that you can come back and reverse the direction. That’s the biggest issue. Do I think that New York City, if Mike Bloomberg was re-elected, would be worse off over the next four years? I do.” Affordability and education are the issues that Thompson talks about most on the campaign trail, whether in Bedford-Stuyvesant or stumping at the subway stop on 86th Street and Lexington Avenue. These are what people talk to him about—aside from the term limits extension, which has surprised both the Bloomberg and Thompson political operations with its continued resonance—and this is where he always drives the conversation when presented with the inevitable “Why not Bloomberg?” questions. As when batting off Tony Avella’s attacks during the primary debates, Thompson tends to begin by arching his eyebrows, with a look on his
Steps Up By Edward-Isaac Dovere
face like he almost does not know where to begin. He inhales, says, “Well…” with a thud, and lays into the argument. That, at least, is what happened on the Upper East Side, where over the course of 90 minutes in the afternoon rush hour he made his case to a few teachers, a few workers, a strange man in a camouflage outfit and plastic gloves who lingered for long enough to draw Thompson’s official police bodyguard closer and, by chance, former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin. By the end of his time on the corner, Thompson was holding court in front of a small crowd of people waiting to talk to him, promising to look into problems they raised, swiping at the mayor and handing out business cards. Asked if he swayed Rubin, Thompson fell into a long, head-shaking laugh. But he believes he has honed a method for turning a few Bloomberg supporters. “After I go past the ‘God help you, are you out of your mind?’” he joked,
describing his method. Then he revved up to the heart of his argument: “Is it easier to live in New York City now than it was four years ago? Almost no one says yes. And government has helped complicate the issue.” Bloomberg is running as a Republican, but not a Republican, a man who rails against making promises to the party bosses but got his own Wilson-Pakula by agreeing to $50,000 payments to each, and more. He is on pace to wage what will likely be by far the most expensive selffinanced campaign in world history, yet also lays claim to the biggest grassroots volunteer army to ever swarm in New York. In the topsy-turvy nature of the seven-week general election campaign, then, Thompson campaigning as a New York City Democrat who will bring transparency, efficiency and accessibility to municipal government is perhaps not the strangest thing. For now, most of the people who walk
away nodding are people who already know him or like him. Taking to the streets of the Bronx after an event on the Saturday two weeks before the primary, his fans included a woman selling incense who asked for his number so she could share the secret campaign strategy she had cooked up for him, an older woman who called out “you’re the one that signs my pension checks,” and an old man who greeted him by feigning confusion. “What’s your name? Bill Thompson?” he said. “You have a dollar to give me?” “You got me confused with Mike Bloomberg—he’s handing out 20s,” Thompson shot back, playing along.
othing perhaps encapsulates the approach of the Bloomberg campaign better than its primary night event, where people were invited to “celebrate” the evening with the mayor, essentially congratulating themselves for supporting his decision to put himself on
the ballot again. In a space big enough to park a few airplanes, with enough drink tables and salt-free pretzel carts scattered between the sign-up tables to make the scene seem more massive multicultural bar mitzvah than political rally, people picked up the buttons or posters that fit them best, whether African-Americans for Bloomberg (written in African national colors) or Ferry Riders for Bloomberg. They stuffed themselves full with free brownies and blondies. They cheered every time Padma Lakshmi, the model and Top Chef host, arrived at a pre-selected face in the crowd to talk up another aspect of the volunteer effort. The safe, scrubbed atmosphere of the event, for which the campaign is not disclosing a price tag before the scheduled Oct. 2 filing, paralleled Bloomberg’s vision of the city as a place that is easy, nonintrusive and wholesome, one perfectly encapsulated by Lakshmi’s introduction, which began with the Indian beauty
The question for Bill Thompson is whether he can suddenly ﬁnd a way to make a strong enough argument against Michael Bloomberg to get himself elected. confiding, “I sleep at night because Mike Bloomberg is my mayor.” She grasped for reasons why, beyond being able to use credit cards in taxis instead of having to carry around a wad of cash and being able to go to a bar without having her hair smell like smoke afterward. But Bloomberg helped her along when he took the microphone, delivering an unusually cutting speech keyed to match with the “Progress, Not Politics” placards that had been distributed through the crowd he called his “grassroots supporters.” Slamming “politics as usual” in decades past for failing public schools, crime spiking and the mass transit system falling apart, he took credit for putting New York on a different path. “All of that would come to a screeching halt if we return to politics as usual,” Bloomberg said. “You know, there’s a steep cost to politics as usual in failure, in neglect, corruption, dysfunction, waste. And the middle class always gets stuck with the bill.” The crowd, which Bloomberg estimated from the podium at about 5,000, included past and current aides, from Dan Doctoroff to Dennis Wolcott, Linda Gibbs and Landmarks Preservation Commission chair Bob Tierney, who at points cupped his hands over his mouth to amplify his “Four more years!” chant. Bloomberg laid out a choice between him, the champion of independence and
innovation who carried the city from its darkest moment to a time when many people sense things are just and good, and an opponent he portrayed as so heavily weighed down by promises and special interests that he might as well have just come out and called the comptroller Tammany Thompson. Bloomberg’s campaign operatives, meanwhile, have been hammering even harder, pointing out the problems from Thompson’s tenure as president of the Board of Education from 1996-2001 and as comptroller over the last eight years. Someone who has failed at two jobs, the narrative seems to have meant to imply, does not deserve a promotion. Thompson’s campaign is not aimed at Bob Rubin or Padma Lakshmi, or, for the most part, New Yorkers who even know who those two are. His votes are in the core Democratic base and the labor unions who so efficiently mobilized in the other citywide primaries, as well as the people who have built up their dissatisfactions over eight years of Bloomberg on things like mounting water rates and questionable performance testing in city schools. And most importantly, his votes are in places like the courtyard of the Walt Whitman projects in Fort Greene where residents were celebrating the end of summer by competing to see who could toss a football through a toilet seat strung up on a net-less basketball hoop. Standing
SEPTEMBER 21, 2009
in front during a lull in the game, Thompson promised, among other things, to put more money back into the Housing Authority. “We need somebody in City Hall different from Mike Bloomberg, who has been there for just the wealthy and powerful,” he screamed into a microphone. “We need somebody who understands all five boroughs, not just parts of Manhattan, but understands that Brooklyn and Queens, Bronx and Staten Island are part of New York City also.” It is not a mistake that Thompson’s face is on his new campaign signs (complete with a redone color scheme and logo that features an actual New York City, rather than generic, skyline), that the Spanish-language signs read “Nuestro Próximo Alcalde” [“our next mayor”] as compared to “Democrat for Mayor” on the English ones, or that former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer introduced him in as “uno de los nuestros” [“one of us”] in the campaign’s first radio ads. Until a year ago, before the term limits extension, Thompson was among the many who seemed willing to give Bloomberg a pass on his past Republican affiliations. Now that, too, is a point of contention, as Thompson tries to get splashed by the Obama wave, thanks both to race and lingering Democratic pride over last year’s election. “I’m not going to say, ‘Yes we can,’” he has taken to saying at the end of rallies,
each time stopping himself as if he is just thinking of the line. “I’m going to say ‘Yes we will.’” Thompson uses this as an opening to hit Bloomberg on what is probably the mayor’s biggest political liability in this staunchly Democratic town: once again, the man is running as a Republican, and not because of his registration, but because he actively lobbied party leaders for permission to do so. More horror: Bloomberg will not reveal whom he voted for in the presidential election, but Thompson was an Obama elector. For all the mayor’s White House visits, the comptroller thinks he can make himself the Obama candidate for mayor. Unabashedly, Thompson links Bloomberg to both John McCain and the Republicans in the State Senate via the money he pumped into its campaign committee. He described last year’s elections and the decisions that followed as a revelation to him, like a veil had been lifted from his eyes so that he can now see the elephants that have been stampeding through City Hall. “Policies changed in the last year—the charging of homeless families for rent, the continual contracting out of Department of Education, squeezing ACS,” he said, rattling off a few. “That’s Republican philosophy, and it appeared as though Mike had embraced it, wrapping his arms around it, and it was his.” As Thompson tells the story, he has reevaluated Bloomberg’s entire record since the term limits extension, which also happens to be the move that made Bloomberg his opponent in November. “You start to go back and look at a few things, like the endorsement of George Bush, and it becomes clear that these are Republican policies, and it’s a number of those things that make you take a step back,” he said. “A real mayor who is a Democrat at heart would not have changed term limits that way.” Term limits essentially made the campaign of public-advocate hopeful Bill de Blasio, both in getting him to switch from the Brooklyn borough president race in the first place and then giving him a central issue to talk up successfully on the trail once he did. To beat Bloomberg, though, Thompson will need more than the ultra-engaged Democrats who vote in primary elections, for whom the extension questions most strongly resonate. He will need serious policy proposals, of the sort that Ferrer and Rep. Anthony Weiner had by the end of the summer of 2005 issued in reams. So far, aside from a few trial balloons of ideas the Thompson campaign insists it will be rolling out in greater depth over the month and a half ahead, his campaign has been pure rhetoric and criticism, without any substantive proposals of his own. Witness his inability, despite hours of debate prep, to come up quickly with an answer to what his first act as mayor would be in the second primary debate, or more significantly, the crumple over
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stop-and-frisk at the first primary debate: as Avella wooed the audience with his promise to end the practice entirely, Thompson levied a general disagreement, but declined to explain what he would do differently. The question remains unanswered. In this lies many of the fundamental problems Thompson faces as he tries to battle the Bloomberg ’09 machinery that eagerly awaits his every move with guns at the ready (response time between news on Thompson arriving and the drafting of rebuttal press releases: about 10 minutes). He has to be interesting and bold enough to attract the attention and earned media coverage to help him compete with Bloomberg’s many mailers and commercials, but still avoid the kind of outlandish statements that the mayor’s operatives will instantly leap on to paint him as irresponsible and unfit for the job. They are waiting for anything that can be skewed out of perspective. Coming across as exciting could prove toughest. “Fire in the belly” is the term most often associated with Thompson, and not because there is a widespread consensus that he possesses it. He galvanized attention with his into-the-camera, fingerpointing blitz on Bloomberg in his speech at the DC 37 headquarters on primary night, but the more surprising part was almost that people were surprised at all by the fiercer, more energetic tone he has been honing at least since his July 11 campaign kick-off at Brooklyn Borough Hall. With so much of the chattering class so convinced that Thompson is a lovely but bland guy mired in a hopeless race, few have been paying attention. Thompson has hardly been helping his own cause, even flubbing his closing statement introducing himself to New Yorkers as he tried to read it off notes. He is competitive but not combative, a man who at the comptroller’s office has allowed a sometimes lackadaisical spirit to permeate a staff who largely feel assured they will never be fired and who on the campaign trail is the kind of guy who allows the subway doors to close, stranding him on the platform, riding between two of his last stops on primary day. He will lay into the mayor, usually in regard to campaign expenditures, and occasionally shows a spark when he does. “He’s just spending an obscene amount of money, and that’s just the money you can see—heaven knows the money he’s not reporting,” Thompson said, reflecting on the experience so far. But when pressed to elaborate, he backed away from the line he had just let loose, saying only, “I think that there is a lot of money out there. There’s a lot of money in charitable donations… how does that impact?” As for how things would change if he were mayor, Thompson offered some vague ideas, pledging to bring parents into schools and bring communities into development planning.
“I think there’s a change in the focus of government. I think government has been focused not necessarily on major change, but on ‘Let’s move forward in a similar mold with a slightly different stamp on it,’” he said. “Is a Thompson administration revolutionary? There are some things that government has to do anyway, but I’d do it in an entirely different direction.” Most challengers struggle with two questions that are difficult enough to get into voters’ minds: first—Is there a problem with the incumbent? If so—Is there a viable alternative? Before he can ask either of these, Thompson has the even greater problem of getting them to believe there is a race at all.
loomberg’s people are paying attention, kicking Thompson in the shins every chance they get. At every one of his press conferences, whether governmental or political, there is at least one Bloomberg employee, usually armed with a manila folder full of press releases meant to undercut the news of the day: as Thompson announced the endorsements of Caribbean leaders like Rep. Yvette Clarke on the steps of City Hall Sept. 2, the handout was about the Haitian Times endorsing Bloomberg; as Thompson stood on East 82nd Street in front of P.S. 290 on Sept. 13 to announce an audit of how school construction was falling short of needs for new seats, the press release was one recycled from several days earlier on how troubled school construction had been while Thompson was president of the Board of Education.
Thompson’s tone on the campaign trail is often a reﬂection of the crowd. His campaign kick-off speech July 11 was one of the ﬁrst times anyone would have described him as ﬁery. all people, unveiled a campaign finance proposal, not realizing that timing resulted with getting major additional coverage for the New York Times broadside, out that week, which deconstructed pension performance on his watch and the number of middle men who had also donated to the Thompson campaign. They scoffed as the mayor yet again announced the endorsement of Colin Powell at a photoop before the West Indian Day Parade, yet that was where the news coverage went, robbing attention from the Democratic candidate who just happens to be of Caribbean descent himself. Thompson, as they see him, is doing exactly what they had expected and hoped he would do, keeping the relatively low and non-aggressive profile that they knew they never would have gotten out of Anthony Weiner. Thompson’s lack of extensive public schedules has given Bloomberg operatives the opening to spread the sentiment that he is lazy and unengaged, and the trouble he has been having with fundraising is being presented as evidence that there is a lack of support for his candidacy, or the kind of organizational expertise he would need to be a successful mayor. They have even had some success floating the idea that the Thompson campaign’s spending is out of control, getting people to overlook the Bloomberg campaign’s own historic tab. As the Thompson campaign sees things, though, it is Bloomberg who is playing right into their hands. Millions of dollars in advertising later, and the mayor has dropped in the polls. Strong-arming tactics regardless, a number of unions and other groups that either backed Bloomberg in 2005 or stayed silent are supporting Thompson, in the face of the mayor’s legendary vindictiveness toward those who oppose him politically. All this without them doing much. Once the campaign and all its advertisements are unleashed in force in these last few weeks, they believe, Thompson’s polls will quickly begin to move. The Bloomberg strategy to end the
To win, he is trying to paint Bloomberg not as an outsider from city politics, but an outsider from the real city experience. Campaign aides are sent to videotape him, Department of Education aides are still sent to crash his press conferences and cause scenes at the door when barred. Everything Thompson does is being watched, dissected and sabotaged. Some on his campaign are even beginning to suspect that there may be more than coincidence in the regular presence of police lingering around events or clearing them out of certain areas. The value of Bloomberg’s money is not just in the free food at rallies and unprecedented blocks of TV time, but in the skill of the people on his campaign team. He has attracted top talent from across the political spectrum, and the result is a tactical advantage deeper than the Thompson’s operatives seem to realize. They giggled as the mayor, of
campaign before it started has not worked, and now Thompson’s people believe they can use Bloomberg fatigue, fueled in part by that term limits anger, to open a window of opportunity to hit the mayor on failures in education, affordability, development projects, Ground Zero progress and homelessness programs. Between the people reacting to each of those, there just might be an antiBloomberg vote, which, taken together with his various natural bases, might just slip him past the mayor and into City Hall. This, they insist, has all been part of the plan put together months ago. “What we said was going to happen has happened. What we said we were going to do, we have done,” Thompson campaign manager Eddy Castell said, under the New York Post cover with the picture of Staten Island Chuck the groundhog, the ‘Beast That Bit The Mayor,’ tacked to his wall. “Nothing has occurred in this campaign to make me second-guess the decisions we’ve made.” Not many people believe that Thompson can win. But Bloomberg does not even want him to come close, and if he starts to, the mayor’s campaign is ready to destroy him. The sharply negative tone that they used in suddenly engaging him over the summer was not because they are actually scared of losing, as the comptroller’s supporters insist, but as a not-so-gentle warning: get in their way, go negative to any real degree, and they will unleash the full fury of their researchers and attack dogs to end him as a viable politician. Taking care to tread nimbly around the potential issues raised by slamming an African-American candidate, if Thompson even starts to make the mayor sweat, they hint, they will make sure he is slimed to the point of never running for mayor or any other office again. This will be his last campaign. A sense of a similar threat has been conveyed to many would-be Thompson supporters. The Democratic nominee for mayor of New York City should be able to count on support from just about every corner—there are not many elections in which there is so much potential power in his first television ad’s last line, “Bill
SEPTEMBER 21, 2009
After Mayoral Run, Avella Looks For Fresh Fight By David Freedlander Two weeks before Election Day and Tony Avella is in front of Hunter College, stumping for votes among blasé, chainsmoking college students, their heads buried in books on the ﬁrst day of classes. “Hi, I’m Tony Avella,” he says to one, smoking Parliaments and reading A Model of Christian Charity. “And I’m running for mayor.” Most of the students, and most of New Yorkers, for that matter, looked on quizzically at Tony Avella’s mayoral run. He raised about the same amount of money that he did when he ﬁrst ran for the City Council in 2001, and his campaign never generated much buzz outside of the hard-core believers who welcomed his Bloomberg-bashing stances on overTony Avella leaves the mayor’s race as he is leaving the Council: development and animal cruelty issues. But still he pressed on, at Hunter and dejected, disgusted and burning with anger. around the city. “What do you think of Bloomberg?” core issue advocates had ever heard of At this point, however, Avella’s base he asked one student who, in between Tony Avella a few months ago. Now, he is more drawn from disparate groups puffs of an American Spirit, looked up has stood toe-to-toe with Democratic citywide than voters in Queens. County from The Critique of Pure Reason. nominee Bill Thompson at a debate, and party loyalists have come to loathe him, “He’s the guy with all the money, and television cameras followed him when and all the candidates Avella backed I got no money,” Avella said in response. he went to vote on Primary Day. in Council primaries—all of whom ran “He is going about this race like he doesn’t “This may surprise you, but I’m actually against the machine—fared dismally. care about the rest of us. He’s trying to a pretty modest guy,” Avella says, denying He has so far declined to endorse buy his way to a third term. It’s the worst that running for mayor was ever about Thompson, a move that will not endear thing he can do.” raising his proﬁle. “That wasn’t the intent. him to Democratic Party regulars. Avella’s reaction to citywide politics The intent was to win.” “He’s got ﬁve county leaders, he’s now that he has a taste for it is not all that Still, Avella could remain a serious got all of the unions, all of the elected different from his reaction to the Council, contender for an ofﬁce like public ofﬁcials—he doesn’t need me,” Avella where he spent eight years railing against advocate, especially if the eventual winner said of the man who beat him. “I tell his colleagues for voting themselves a of the run-off runs for mayor in four years, you this though—there is no way I’m pay raise and voting in lockstep. as expected. Alternatively, his Council endorsing Mike Bloomberg.” “The whole political process is a district overlaps with Frank Padavan’s He says he is undecided about the sham,” he says. “Democracy in this city is State Senate district, and many expect future. in serious trouble, and by just standing up him to ﬁnally make his long-expected “I do know that I’m going to continue against the corruption and the machine run at that seat, especially as conﬁdence to look for opportunities to talk about and the money, I have won.” wanes in Jim Gennaro’s interest in taking these issues,” he says. “My wife says to At Hunter, as Avella stared at polls another crack at it himself. me, ‘How are you going to walk away that had him trailing big to Thompson, Many Albany Democrats, however, from this? Public service is in your blood.’ he said that once the campaign ended dread the prospect of Avella, who In a way she is right. I will always pick up he planned to write a book, tentatively spent eight years stirring up trouble on the ﬁght.” titled Democracy Has Left The Building. the usually uniﬁed Council. In Albany, In the immediate, Avella’s plans are “People need to know how the where backroom deals are common less heroic. He did his own campaign democratic process works in this city,” he practice and where wildcards have been ﬁlings for his race, and so has to ﬁnish said. “You come across things every day known to bring the machinery of state them and shut down his campaign that shock you.” government to a standstill, the last thing ofﬁce. He also has to shut down the He declined to specify. they need, perhaps, is Avella gumming Council ofﬁce. Avella watchers used to remark about up the works. And there is always that book. what a tin-ear the outgoing Bayside There are other roles, whether Reminded of the idea a week after he Council member had for the most basic turning himself into a Henry Stern-type broached it, he shook off the thought. political necessities. But running for government critic or trying to hoist “Aww, that was more of something I mayor may turn out to be one of the himself on the kind of movement-in- threw off the top of my head,” he said. savviest moves an obscure New York exile that has grown out of the scattered “I don’t know if I’d have the patience politician has made in a long time. Few supporters of Ron Paul’s 2008 presidential for it.” email@example.com outside his district or among some hard- campaign. ANDREW SCHWARTZ
Thompson, the Democrat.” But even many of the elected officials have so far been quiet, including, notably, a good number of the Council members who voted to give themselves and the mayor the chance at third terms. (As for the Democrats who allowed Bloomberg to change the rules and run again, Rep. Yvette Clarke said, that presents “a real contradiction, and it’s very hard to reconcile, very hard to reconcile.”) Bloomberg, who in the meantime has racked up more newspaper endorsements by far than have even bothered interviewing Thompson, is trying to keep them out entirely. In their absence, his campaign is trying to create the impression of a groundswell of support. If Thompson were able to get the top political players behind him, no one would care as much about Billie Jean King or Isaac Mizrahi endorsing Bloomberg. Press releases announcing Florent Morellet, founder of the first Hispanic female-owned law firm in New York City, would just look silly. And really, how many votes does Neil Simon actually move? “If Neil Simon said I should vote for somebody, I probably would do it,” Bloomberg said, accepting the support at a small press conference that came with its own speaker system, sound engineer and group of 20 sign-toting volunteers carefully arranged as the backdrop. “Hopefully other people will listen to him. … When they look at somebody like Neil, who’s been around, understands this city, who’s been an observer of this city, his endorsement I think actually will sway some votes.” And maybe it will, especially if Thompson remains unable to counter these announcements with attentiongrabbing ones of his own. To win, he is trying to paint Bloomberg not as an outsider from city politics, but an outsider from the real city experience. He will not be able to compete with Bloomberg’s larger-than-life persona or redefine the Bloomberg brand, but he will try to cast himself as the guy who grew up in New York, whose mother was a teacher and father worked hard, a family man who went to public schools and devoted his life to public service—who has a common experience, and has lived that common experience to get to where he is. His campaign staffers are still working overtime to convince their own friends and family to vote for their candidate, but Thompson himself seems content that he overcame his initial wavering last fall and decided to make this fight. Not the best delegator, he has taken an avid interest in advising his campaign’s mounting field operation and has taken to the trail with enthusiasm. Out in Fort Greene, though, he even seemed to be having fun, when someone interrupted his swing through a basketball court with Council Member Letitia James by throwing him the ball. Holding it in his hands, Thompson looked up at the basket,
at first unsure of whether he would try to take the shot. When he did, his form was natural, a somewhat awkward but still experienced jump shot from just past the foul line. But the ball dropped short of the basket and bounced unceremoniously off the court. He tried again. The ball hit the back
of the rim, bounced high in the air, and dropped to the side. With the attention turned to the action—“Did he get it in? We don’t want to elect any air balls!” a man boomed into the microphone—Thompson relented one last time. In the only part that the campaign videographer released onto YouTube, the
ball banged the inside of the rim, quickly wrapped around, and went through. Thompson smiled broadly as he slapped a few hands. “And yes,” he said, looking up from the swarm of congratulators. “I challenge Mike Bloomberg to a shoot-out.” firstname.lastname@example.org
SEPTEMBER 21, 2009
Northeast Of City Hall, Chinatown Residents Push Back On Mayor’s Re-Election Closing of Park Row, Chatham Square development create backlash for Bloomberg
Bill Thompson has been nurturing support among a Chinatown community unhappy with the mayor’s record, gaining support from local leaders like Jan Lee, a small business owner and executive vice president of the Civic Center Residents Coalition. BY CHRIS BRAGG hen he ran for re-election in 2005, Mayor Michael Bloomberg had few bigger boosters than Eddie Chiu. Chiu, head of the 109-year-old Lin Sing Association social club in Chinatown, allowed Bloomberg to use the group’s six-story headquarters on Mott Street as his Chinatown campaign office—and the mayor proceeded to take upwards of 80 percent of the vote in the neighborhood, winning the overwhelming support of Chiu and other small business owners. But four years later, Chiu said his feelings have changed dramatically. Far from allowing the mayor to use his office, Chiu is now refusing to endorse Bloomberg, despite numerous entreaties from his campaign. In fact, he recently allowed an anti-Bloomberg group to hold a press conference at the group’s headquarters blasting the mayor. “It’s very different from when he was
running for a second term, to where he is now,” Chiu said. “A lot of people in Chinatown have had a change of heart. I think they’ll vote for Thompson.” Bill Thompson has been trying to take advantage of the unrest, making several campaign stops in the neighborhood and holding a press conference at Park Row in late June to receive the endorsement of the Civic Center Residents Coalition. The population flexed its political muscles recently by electing Margaret Chin to the Council and unseating incumbent Alan Gerson. A bike lane on Grand Street that further narrowed the already tight street is a major concern, but Park Row appears to be the main point of contention for Chinatown voters. The thoroughfare once connected Chinatown with the rest of Lower Manhattan, but was shut down after 9/11 because of concerns about an attack on 1 Police Plaza. Eight years later, the street remains closed. Residents say that this has crippled
both the economy and the quality of life in Chinatown, choking it from the rest of Manhattan, with traffic often clogging neighborhood streets. Late last year, the Economic Development Corporation, the Department of Transportation and the Police Department proposed a fix to alleviate the traffic flow problems: a $50 million plan to redevelop Chatham Square, a complicated seven-way intersection south of the Brooklyn Bridge. Most Chinatown business and civic leaders, however, have objected to the plan since it would essentially make the closing of Park Row permanent. They also say it was developed without hearing concerns from affected residents. “We’ve made offers and proposed many alternatives,” said Jeanie Chen, of the Civic Center Residents Coalition, a group that advocates for the reopening of Park Row. “But the mayor’s office wants to do this without community input.” Bloomberg appears aware of the
unrest. In late June, he held a private dinner with 10 leading members of the Chinese business community and members of the Chinese press. Following the meeting, the Chinese press declared that the mayor had indicated he was open to reopening of Park Row. But when reporters then followed up with the mayor’s office after the meeting, it denied that the mayor had made any such promise. The Bloomberg campaign did not respond to a request for comments on this or other issues related to Chinatown, or about his standing in the neighborhood. Justin Yu, head of the powerful Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association business group, attended the dinner. A Bloomberg ally, Yu said that the mayor had promised to delay the start of the Chatham Square development—it had been scheduled to begin in July—and had not specifically promised to advocate for Park Row’s reopening. Yu, who is considered so influential locally that some people call him the mayor of Chinatown, said that though he opposed the Chatham Square proposal, he would continue to support Bloomberg because of the mayor’s record on education and crime. “Nobody satisfies people 100 percent of the time,” Yu explained. Others contend that Yu has divided loyalties because his daughter, Pauleen Yu, is the Chinatown liaison for Bloomberg’s community affairs unit. And they say the mere fact that Bloomberg is speaking only to the Chinatown elite, rather than seeking input from the community at large, represents the mayor’s attitude towards its residents. “It’s indicative of a selective, colonial mentality,” said Jan Lee, a Chinatown small business owner and opponent of Bloomberg’s proposal. “In colonial situations, government has chosen to speak only to a select few leaders. They stay away from the masses.” Others in the community wonder if the unrest with Bloomberg is as deep as some of the rhetoric suggests. During the 2005 campaign, they note, Bloomberg made a concession to the community by allowing bus traffic to again begin traveling down Park Row. But Lee said that while Thompson has been campaigning often in the neighborhood, Bloomberg had not yet held an appearance. “He can’t walk down Mott Street anymore,” Lee said. “We will no longer welcome him with open arms. And he knows that.” email@example.com
SEPTEMBER 21, 2009
With Many Of The Same Policies, The New Doctor Is In Following Frieden, Farley looks to continue administration’s healthy returns BY CHRIS BRAGG nly a month into his tenure, Thomas Farley, who said he has never smoked a cigarette, began putting his stamp on the city, introducing a harsh new anti-smoking initiative to put three-foot by three-foot signs bearing pictures of lungs burnt with cancer and cigarette smoke into all bodegas. He has since announced a new proposal to ban smoking at the city’s beaches and parks. But despite the audacity of these latest campaigns, Farley said there remain limits as to what he would do to improve public health. Even as the anti-smoking campaign goes forward, he promised that pictures of clogged arteries in front of Dunkin Donuts or diseased livers at liquor stores are not likely to be on the agenda anytime soon. “We don’t have any plans to take it to issues beyond tobacco,” Farley said. “Tobacco has no beneficial aspects to it. You can’t say that about other products that are sold in stores.” Those who know Farley say this mildmannered temperament distinguishes him from his predecessor, Thomas Frieden, who for seven years was one of the Bloomberg administration’s most controversial figures, a man whose relentless quest to shift public health policy from treatment to prevention—to the exclusion, some say of personal liberty—reconfigured the way city governments interact with their citizens. As Frieden moves on to the Obama administration, where he is heading the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Farley is seen as someone who has perhaps an even greater desire to push government into the health and well-being of its citizens, but without his predecessor’s messianic fervor. Mayor Michael Bloomberg clearly expects Farley to continue to play a leading role in implementing aggressive health policies. Or as the mayor put it when they locked eyes and shook hands at the mid-May press conference introducing him: “Welcome to the NFL.” Like Frieden, Farley is an infectiousdisease specialist who worked for the CDC. Like Frieden, Farley worked abroad on children’s health issues. And also like Frieden, Farley shares Bloomberg’s view that government can and should be a force for better personal health. The parallels aside, Farley said he would be looking to cut his own path. “I’m more focused on chronic diseases, where I think Tom Frieden was focused a little bit more on medical care,” Farley said. “It’s a subtle difference, but it is a difference.” Frieden had already declared war on trans fats and high-calorie fast food when Farley joined his office last year. But
to reduce salt consumption could be a step too far. Dr. Michael Alderman, editor-inchief of the American Journal of Hypertension, said that while a high salt diet clearly has negative effects on some people—such as giving them high blood pressure—the science remains unclear for the population as a whole. Such a large change in diet may prove to have unintended consequences, Alderman said, especially given that there are aspects of salt consumption that clearly offer positive health benefits. So while the science was clear for the smoking ban, Alderman explained, the Health Department is on shakier ground reaching beyond this into salt and other areas.
“I’m more focused on chronic diseases, where I think Tom Frieden was focused a little bit more on medical care,” new Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said.
Mayor Bloomberg appointed Thomas Farley in May as the new commissioner of the Health Department, which has driven some of the mayor’s signature policies. Farley was the driving force in convincing his old boss to add salt to the long list of products in the crosshairs of the Health Department. A public relations campaign against soda was added soon after Farley took over. For now, Farley is attempting to achieve this through voluntarily action
by the food industry. Critics of the department, however, fear a replay of the department’s efforts with the restaurant industry, when a request for restaurants to voluntarily eliminate the fats eventually evolved into a mandate. But some in the health community question whether the department’s effort
“Some of it is good and some of it is bad—and the story is that we don’t know,” Alderman said. “What I don’t think is right is to perform an experiment on millions of people who didn’t sign any type of informed consent form. There are people who like a simple answer to everything, but it’s better to have data and evidence.” Alderman compared the city’s push to eradicate salt to earlier national efforts to reduce fat consumption by promoting the food pyramid. As it turned out, however, this effort may have actually increased obesity by encouraging people to eat too much low-fat food, such as carbohydrates. Alderman said the city’s effort to reduce salt consumption without adequate research could have similar unintended consequences. Major changes in Department operations seem unlikely: not only does Farley seem committed to the same policies, but the senior staff from Frieden’s tenure remains largely in place. Farley also will have an advantage that his predecessor never did, with Frieden in Washington to help draw funding on far-reaching public health initiatives. “In the previous administration, the public health funding was misaligned with the city’s goals,” said Paul Meissner, head of the Public Heath Association of New York. “New York will remain the place to conduct pilot programs on these things, but Farley has the opportunity to align the federal funding with these programs.” firstname.lastname@example.org
y r a m i r P
At Lander’s Party, Sneakers And Relief Inside a Park Slope bar, a couple of local guys had been elbowed into a corner by the pack of giddy strangers. They could not quite identify the tense atmosphere. “Is this a runner’s convention?” one of them asked. “Seems like everyone’s in running gear.” Good guess. Actually, many of Brad Lander’s supporters were looking unhip in sneakers, maybe inspired by the fun of knocking on doors in the race to succeed Bill de Blasio. When Lander’s 40-percent win came up on the NY1 screen, the room turned deafeningly loud. And when Lander arrived half an hour after that, people jumped up on chairs to hear him speak from the doorway. “You were willing to do the kinds of things over the last two years that you have to do to win a political election,” he said. —SCR
VE RE AAC DO
s e i r a i D
For political junkies, Election Day is sort of like New Year’s Eve— much anticipation, lots of nervous energy, all centered around one moment that heralds a new day. And, as you try to hit every victory party and keep your eyes glued to the constantly updated results, it is easy to lose sight of what is happening. Here then, from Staten Island to the Bronx, a brief snapshot in the day in life of an election.
SEPTEMBER 21, 2009
No Joy In Gioia-ville
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Perhaps the first sign that Eric Gioia’s campaign for public advocate would not end happily was when the primary night party was downgraded from a spacious Astoria beer garden to a smaller, more intimate bar and grill. Indeed, at the end of the night, the bar was packed with disappointed Gioia supporters, who watched as their candidate came in third behind Mark Green and Bill de Blasio. But Gioia, an ambitious young politician who had been running for public advocate for longer than just about anyone could remember, was more than willing to take the good with the bad. The biggest cheer of the night came when Gioia showed off the hospital bracelet he got when his wife, Lisa Hernandez Gioia, gave birth to the couple’s second daughter the day before. “This campaign ends tonight,” he said tearfully, “but the journey does not end.” Later, Gioia said his electoral defeat could be a blessing in disguise. “I told my daughter before I left that I was going to read her a book and watch a movie with her tomorrow,” he said. “And that’s as far as I go.” He would not commit to supporting either de Blasio or Green. “We’ll see how that all plays out,” Gioia said. “I’m not someone who complains. The race has been run and it’s over. We’ll see how the facts come out.” But Gioia’s desire to take the high road did not seem to extend to his supporters. When de Blasio appeared on NY1 to make his requisite primary night platitudes, the crowd of Gioia supporters started grumbling. “There, see,” one said, as de Blasio hugged his supporters. “There’s that ACORN guy.” —AJH ANDREW J. HAWKINS
Staten Island’s surprise winner Debi Rose spent hours pouncing on voters coming off the ferry, trolling the bus stops with her younger brother. She was trying to cover quality and quantity all at once, yelling at whole lineups of people and then enveloping many of them in hugs (some seemed to know her, some did not). She had vans ready to help round up voters at housing projects later: “We’re going to knock and drive,” she said. Meanwhile, her rival and polar opposite in campaigning style, Rajiv Gowda, was standing surrounded by flowers outside a strip mall Shop Rite, engaging people in intense, quiet, one-on-one conversation that many tried awkwardly to avoid. And Ken Mitchell, who ultimately lost the race, was nowhere to be seen—he was in Manhattan, greeting commuters as they headed into the ferry terminal. —SCR
SEPTEMBER 21, 2009
Sears In Disbelief As Dromm Dances
ANDREW J. HAWKINS
Just after the polls closed Tuesday night, Helen Sears sat at a table in the quietly buzzing Cavalier Restaurant on 37th Avenue answering questions. As friends, staff members and volunteers began trickling in, she greeted each one optimistically but also with a touch of anxiety. Before long, though, her son Stuart entered the restaurant and quietly suggested to his mother that they speak in the back room. Sears’ jaw nearly dropped as she jumped out of her seat, turned to her son and pleaded, “Don’t tell me I lost?” “I’m afraid you did,” was all her son could answer. “Let’s talk in the back room for a second.” The mood went somber at the Sears post-primary party. Returning to the party, Sears gave a short solemn speech thanking her staff and supporters. Things quickly dissipated. A few blocks away on Roosevelt Avenue, the scene could not have been more different. Red and white balloons lined the outside of the bar while inside young first-time volunteers and old friends and supporters of Danny Dromm all drank, danced and celebrated alongside each other. Music blared from the speakers, disco balls turned overhead. Amid the celebration, Dromm stepped outside to get some air and get away from the spotlight if only for just a moment. This proved impossible. Even standing outside under the 77th Street/Jackson Heights subway overpass, Dromm was surrounded by dozens of admirers and supporters reveling in his upset victory. Dromm could not hide his excitement either. “I’m ecstatic,” Dromm said. When asked how he managed to achieve such a feat he explained, “We touched people, we spoke to people, we listened to people and heard what they wanted. We were a people’s campaign. We were about uniting the people in the community.” Ahmed Adil first met Dromm years ago as a fourth-grade student in one of Dromm’s first classes at local P.S. 199. At the bar, Adil joined in the celebration of the man he still had trouble calling anything other than “Mr. Dromm.” “He stuck out among other teachers because he was so compassionate, on an individual level, towards every student,” Adil recalled. “That carried on as a district leader, and I’m sure it will carry on as a City Council member.” And the community, one of the most diverse in the city, seemed to already be embracing their new man at City Hall. Outside of the bar Jessica Wall, a volunteer from Elmhurst, exclaimed, “I’m a Republican, and I love Danny Dromm!” —AJC
Cheers For Chin
Just before the polls closed Tuesday evening, Margaret Chin’s campaign manager and consultant strode triumphantly into Confucius Plaza, the lynchpin of Chin’s successful campaign strategy, where Chin had run a massive canvass pulling voters to the biggest polling place in the neighborhood. As they approached the Plaza, Chin’s aides ran into P.J. Kim, the Korean-American candidate in the race, who earlier in the campaign they had tried to get kicked off the ballot. “You guys ran a great campaign,” Kim said, standing by himself and passing out literature. “I can’t say it’s been nice to be on the receiving end.” At Kim’s nearby campaign headquarters on Mott Street, Eddie Chiu, head of the Lin Sing Association, wearily looked over tallies from four voting machines at Confucius Plaza. After NY1 showed Chin winning a nine-point victory, Kim emerged and hugged his clean-cut group of young supporters. “The most common thing people say to me when they see me is, ‘Are you old enough to vote?’” said Kim. “This campaign has added a few years to that.” Chin, meanwhile, took the stage of the Golden Unicorn restaurant on East Broadway as the first Chinese-American ever to hold a seat drawn in 1991 specifically with a Chinatown resident in mind. As Chin spoke, John Scott, head of the Manhattan chapter of the Working Families Party, stood in the audience, eyes welling. The WFP did not endorse in the race, but Scott had personally organized hundreds of tenants from Independence Plaza North, the 1,300-person affordable housing complex in Tribeca, to vote for Chin. In her victory speech, Chin was quick to note that not only had she taken Chinatown overwhelmingly, but Tribeca as well. “This victory is not only a victory for Chinatown,” Chin said, “but for District 1 overall.” —AJH
The Chupacabra Vs. The Megaphone The battle for the 14th Council district in the Bronx went down at 4 p.m. at the intersection of Jerome Avenue and Fordham Road. The two campaigns met over a wide breadth of sidewalk, incumbent Maria Baez and her supporters on one side, challenger Fernando Cabrera on the other. With the No. 4 train screeching overhead, volunteers screaming into megaphones and two campaign vehicles circling the block, each blasting Latino music and slogans, the scene was … noisy, to say the least. Baez and her supporters out-numbered and out-shouted Cabrera. With dozens of people waving signs and shouting her name, Baez, dressed in a muted grey jacket and skirt, expressed confidence that victory was imminent. “This isn’t just my corner,” she said defiantly. “This is my district.” Several yards away, Cabrera stood smiling in front of a Subway franchise, handing out leaflets and shaking hands. Every so often he glanced down the sidewalk at Baez’s much rowdier crowd and flashed a strained grin. “If I was walking by, I’d be terrified of that,” he said, nodding toward the raucous Baez mob. But while Cabrera waited patiently for Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. to join him for some side-by-side visibility, Baez’s entourage continued to expand. First, Assembly Member Nelson Castro, who is under investigation on charges of perjury, arrived to join Baez and her supporters. Then, ousted Bronx Democratic leader José Rivera arrived, equipped with his omnipresent video camera and wearing a dapper straw hat. And, finally, former borough president and mayoral candidate Freddy Ferrer showed up for Baez, instantly grabbing the megaphone. “Let’s remind everyone there is still a chance to make a big difference,” Ferrer yelled, and, turning toward Cabrera and his crew, added, “and elect someone who didn’t just discover they were a Democrat!” Cabrera, who was endorsed by the Bronx Democratic party and has received the support of the lion’s share of the borough’s elected leaders despite having recently switched his registration from Republican to Democrat, looked on stoically. Still waiting for Diaz, Jr., Cabrera gave some voting advice to one woman and shook a few more hands. Finally, reinforcements arrived in the form of Carl Heastie, the new Bronx Democratic leader. Ignore the noise and the hype, Heastie said. The GOTV effort to elect Cabrera would ultimately decide the day. “Our volunteers have volunteers,” he added wryly. An older woman paced the sidewalk, using the megaphone that Baez’s supporters wielded so well. “Don’t vote for the chupacabra,” she shouted in Spanish, referencing the mythical Latin American beast. “Vote for Maria Baez!” —AJH
SEPTEMBER 21, 2009
As Manhattan Democratic Party Changes Hands, New Questions About Relevancy Farrell hands reins to Wright, bemoaning decline of influence as he exits BY ANDREW J. HAWKINS n Manhattan, Democratic Party chairmen generally end up in one of three places: dethroned, in jail or dead. For H. “Denny” Farrell, who is preparing to end his 28-year run as New York County Democratic chair, avoiding those fates has been key. “Getting out alive,” Farrell joked when asked about his proudest achievement as chair. “And unindicted.” F a r r e l l ’s exit has cleared the way for Assembly Member Keith Wright to take the reins of the county organization. Farrell has been grooming Wright to take his place under the assumption that his younger colleague will follow in his footsteps, running the party in a lowkey manner while trying to juggle the borough’s varied and competing interests. Unlike other county organizations, for example, the Farrell-led Manhattan party did not carry candidates’ petitions, nor endorse anyone other than incumbents. This nonchalance makes some question whether the county party still matters, given that the days when New Yorkers would go to their local political clubs looking for a job or a bag of coal to heat their homes have long since passed. “It’s largely irrelevant,” said Democratic consultant Hank Sheinkopf.
“There’s not much to organize.” Sheinkopf is not the only skeptic. “They have no impact whatsoever,” said one Manhattan Democrat. “None.” When asked how the county party has come into contact with his life as an elected official, Council Member Alan
After a 28-year run as Manhattan Democratic chair that included an overlap as state party chair, Denny Farrell is stepping down, to be replaced by Keith Wright.
Gerson, one of a number of incumbents who lost a primary, cracked wise. “Other than writing an occasional check?” Gerson asked. “And it’s me writing to them, not the other way around.” After a series of court rulings aimed at curtailing the influence of county leaders, the modern party does very little besides rally support for endorsed candidates, raise cash and make judicial appointments. Some argue that the ability to influence the make-up of the bench, though, is still relevant, because it means that county leaders can appoint judges who reflect the make-up of the borough, instead of the seats going to whomever can raise the most cash. Wright declined to be interviewed for this article, but those who know him well expect him to continue with Farrell’s low-key approach. Farrell said that even under new leadership, he expects the party’s relevance to continue to be questioned. “You have to have a structure going at all times,” Farrell said between bites of a jelly sandwich in his office on Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Boulevard. “But as we’re making money more important, we’re making leadership less important.” What the county party could do, others suggest, is focus on promoting issues, favoring substantive policy over politics. “Employment, health care, budget,” said Council Member Gale Brewer, rattling off a list of possible priorities. “I
would love to see some policy discussions, because there are a lot of smart people in New York County.” State Sen. Eric Schneiderman said that while he believes the party’s role today to be more influential than many might think, there is no doubt that county organizations in general matter less than they did decades ago. “Local party organizations across the country have been hurt by the rise of the candidate-centered politics,” Schneiderman said, “and the fact that
“It’s largely irrelevant,” said Democratic consultant Hank Sheinkopf. “There’s not much to organize.” people can raise massive amounts of money and basically pay for everything they used to rely on the county organization to do.” Assembly Member Adriano Espaillat, who mulled his own run for county chair before deciding to support Wright, still has some reservations about the party’s diversity. He said he hopes that Wright will do more to reach out to emerging ethnic groups in the borough. “We need to be more aggressive in bringing in new groups that want to participate,” Espaillat said. “We can always do better.” At 77, Farrell will undoubtedly remain a local force. After the term limits extension, he opted against a Council run for what would have otherwise been an open seat in Robert Jackson’s district, and has a continuing role in Albany as the Assembly Ways and Means chair. But as for the future of the county party, he vowed to stay far away from internal county meetings, giving Wright enough room to make the party his own. “I’m just not going to be morbidly dragging my chains around,” he said with a smirk. “‘Woe is you!’—I’m not doing that.” email@example.com
SEPTEMBER 21, 2009
ANDREW SCHWARTZ PHOTOS
Fed Up FL-CIO President Denis Hughes, already tasked with holding together organized labor and helping figure out what will happen to Gov. David Paterson, has received a new assignment: running the New York Federal Reserve. The added burden comes at a decisive time for organized labor, as the state’s leaders, including Paterson and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, are calling for the creation of a fifth pension tier to cut back on retirement benefits for public employees. The state faces a $2.1 billion budget deficit, and legislative leaders have already ruled out another round of tax hikes, meaning workers may bear the brunt of the cuts. And unions seem to already be struggling with the decision about whether to abandon Paterson in next year’s election. Hughes, a gruff-talking former electrician, now occupies a 35th-floor office overlooking some of the city’s battered financial institutions on Wall Street. He sat down to discuss the challenges ahead of him as president of the AFL-CIO, his new role as Fed chair, and how the two intersect. What follows is an edited transcript.
City Hall: You’re a labor leader, not a banker. Are you qualified to run the Federal Reserve? Denis Hughes: We’ve been through a number of financial crises, at least in my last 25 years of doing this. I’ve been through a number of them, and so have many labor leaders. So, we know what we’re doing.
could to assist them in the formulation of monetary policy and other policies that the bank offers … So that’s why I’m there.
CH: Labor and business often have a contentious relationship. What is it like working with the businessmen at the Federal Reserve, with whom you often disagree? DH: I have a different point of view than business leaders, as they have a different point of view than I do. I learn from them and they learn from me.
CH: And policy emanates from the board and the president? DH: The board of governors really sets monetary [policy] and, in this last goaround, the economic policy, and the New York Federal Reserve Bank actually executes it. My job is really to direct the board. I run the meetings and the board oversees the operations of the bank.
CH: Why even have someone from organized labor on the board? DH: The statute … that created the Federal Reserve allows for, and encourages, labor leaders to be on the board— representatives of labor, consumers and others on the board. So, what the original drafters of that legislation were looking to do was to get as many voices as they
CH: So how does being chairman help you pursue your goals as a labor leader? DH: It gives me an opportunity to speak to people from business positions in ways that I normally wouldn’t be able to speak to them. I have very limited access to people in the financial world, and they have very limited access to a
CH: What does the chairman of the New York Federal Reserve do? DH: He runs the meetings of the board of directors.
labor leader. It gives us a dialogue that people don’t usually have. So that’s the first thing. And then, again, the second piece is this point of view. I come to it with a point of view. CH: Part of the discussion of financial regulation is the question of what would be best for workers: the resurgence of Wall Street, or the diversification of our economy. What do you think? DH: We’re able to have people in building services making a lot of money, construction workers making money, the whole scope of things, as a result of a strong financial industry in the state when it comes to tax revenue. … You look out the window here, you see all these buildings. New York City, and now New York State, depend upon the financial industry, the real estate industry, the insurance industry and the colleges and other academic institutions. That’s basically New York’s economy. CH: The economy and the budget are likely to dominate the upcoming legislative session. What are your priorities? DH: The first priority for us, really, is the unemployment insurance bill. We have to get that done. There are people that are existing on an inadequate benefit. And we have to make sure that that passes, and we have to make sure it passes in a way that really corrects the problems within the system instead of making them worse. CH: Have you spoken with the governor or legislative leaders since the Senate returned to order in July? DH: No, I haven’t. CH: If you were in a room with them right now, what would you say? DH: Let us give you our priorities, our understanding of what has to be done. Allow us to represent the workers both present and future when it comes to the issues of economic security in their old age.
CH: Some labor unions have complained that the governor and legislative leaders have rebuffed them. Have you at least reached out? DH: We’ve had conversations among ourselves within the labor movement. We’ve developed a number of strategies and developed an understanding of what it takes to do what we need to do. So, you know, it’s sort of business as usual. CH: Was there ever an understanding of how the new Democratic majority would receive labor’s concerns? Have they lived up to that? DH: You have to realize that the same people that support the issues that I laid out to you, and the same people that oppose the issues that I laid out to you, are still there. Regardless of who the majority or the minority is, there are still the same pressures. When a majority is that close, when it’s only like two seats away from, you know, you really can’t expect a game change in the way that you just laid out. CH: So is the strategy going into next year’s elections to help the Democrats increase their margins, so that it’s easier to get things done, or target individual senators who are antagonistic toward labor, regardless of party? DH: It’s sort of like being a quarterback. They call out audibles as the field changes. Our priority is to pass legislation. And whatever stands in the way of passing that legislation has to be corrected. CH: Should the governor run again? Will you support him? DH: The only guy that can actually make the decision about whether or not the governor is going to run again is the governor. Right? You know, he looks at his poll numbers, he looks at his support, he goes through all this process and he comes to a conclusion. Right? CH: Doesn’t it matter who organized labor thinks the governor should be? DH: Organized labor’s very flexible. —Sal Gentile firstname.lastname@example.org
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Published on Sep 21, 2009
The September 21, 2009 issue of City Hall. Targeting the politicians, lobbyists, unions, staffers and issues which shape New York City and S...