Much at Stake for Tenants in Mayoral Election, With Runoff Likely
By: Kenny Schaeffer
Published: July 2013
Not since 1977 has the outcome of an election for mayor of New York City been so hard to predict.
There are now eight Democratic candidates and three Republican ones competing in the primaries, and a sizeable number of voters in both parties are still undecided. It seems likely that no Democrat will win 40 percent of the primary vote. In that case, the top two will face each other in a runoff three weeks later, on —and the same thing could happen in the Republican primary.
The Democratic and Republican winners will face a third candidate in the general election on Nov. 5: former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión, who has secured the endorsement of the corrupt Independence Party.
Click here or below for a brief roundup of the main Democratic mayoral candidates in alphabetic order, especially their positions on housing and tenants’ rights.
A former City Councilmember from Bay Ridge who finished third in the 1997 Democratic primary for mayor, Sal Albanese has been absent from public office for 16 years. He worked as a public-school teacher before entering politics, is pro-tenant, and was one of the most progressive members of the Council, even though his
Brooklyn district was fairly conservative. He voted against permanent vacancy destabilization in 1994. But he has done very poorly in polls this year—getting just 2 percent in the most recent Quinnipiac poll—and appears to have little chance of making it to the runoff. His Web site (www.salalbanese2013.com) does not include a housing proposal, but the candidate recently tweeted: “We need to stop handing out tax breaks to luxury developers and spend that money on services and affordable housing instead!”
A former comedian who has run unsuccessfully for office in the past, Randy Credico has an unabashedly radical platform, including a tax on Wall Street transactions to raise money for social programs, restoring free college tuition, and opposition to the Police Departments’ stop-and-frisk policy. “Stop Austerity and Frisk Wall Street Bankers” is his Web site’s banner (www.credico2013.org/). To say that he is not taken seriously by the chattering classes would be an understatement: Quinnipiac and Marist do not include him in their polls.
Bill de Blasio
Currently public advocate, Bill de Blasio served in the City Council from Park Slope for eight years. Some consider him the most progressive major candidate, although others give that title to John Liu. Along with Christine Quinn and Liu, de Blasio called for the Rent Guidelines Board to freeze rents this year. As public advocate, he established a Worst Landlord Watch List. He recently released a housing plan that has some good ideas (pubadvocate.nyc.gov/
affordable-city) including a mandatory inclusionary-zoning plank that would require developers to include on-site affordable-housing units in their projects.
The first Asian-American elected to citywide office, Comptroller Liu is a progressive who served in the Council from 2001 to 2009, representing a Flushing district. His campaign for mayor has been seriously damaged by a fundraising scandal that resulted in guilty verdicts for his campaign treasurer and one of his major donors. (Liu himself has not been charged with any wrongdoing.) His platform focuses on “greening” policies (www.johnliu2013.com). Thus, the housing plank calls for retrofitting residential and commercial buildings to meet energy-efficiency standards, and requiring developments that receive city subsidies to meet those standards.
Quinn, elected to the City Council in 1999 and Speaker since 2006, has been planning a run for mayor for a long time. Her undeclaredcampaign in 2009 was derailed by a slush-fund scandal, prompting her to do an end run around voters by lifting term limits to let her and other Councilmembers (as well as some guy named Michael Bloomberg) run for third terms. Quinn is the only Democratic candidate who has traveled to Albany with tenants—in more than one year—to lobby for stronger rent laws, and for several years she has testified to urge the RGB to freeze rents. At the same time, she has cultivated the real-estate industry and has been called “the real-estate candidate” by political observers. (Other candidates, including de Blasio, Bill Thompson, and Anthony Weiner, have a good deal of landlord money, but Quinn has more.)
Until recently, she portrayed herself as the inevitable primary winner, but her large lead in the polls has evaporated. She recently released a housing plan (www.quinnfornewyork.com/
issues) that includes increased tax forgiveness for landlords who agree to keep apartments affordable, a proposal first made by the Real Estate Board of New York.
Erick Salgado, a Staten Island minister, mixes some liberal positions, such as supporting a city-issued identification card for undocumented immigrants www.slagadonyc.com/issues, with a hardline stance against homosexuality. He has been endorsed by state Sen. Ruben Diaz (D-Bronx), a leading opponent of same-sex marriage, and gained some support among Orthodox Jews as the only candidate “committed to fighting for morality.” He’s been running at 1 or 2 percent in the polls.
Elected comptroller in 2001, Thompson was the Democratic candidate against Bloomberg in 2009. If more mainstream Democrats and progressive labor unions had backed him, Thompson would have won. But many of themsat out the race—and some powerful unions actually endorsed Bloomberg for a third term. When the votes were counted, the “inevitability” of Bloomberg’s re-election proved to have been a mirage spun by his multimillion-dollar campaign with the help of a complicit mainstream media that treated his re-election as a given. To the surprise of the entire political establishment, Thompson came within 51,000 votes of winning, getting 46 percent of the vote.
This time, he’s running to the center, competing with Quinn for support from the business community. His platform (billthompsonformayor.com/
press) calls for the creation of 120,000 units of affordable housing over eight years.
Ah, Anthony! The late entry into the race by the colorful former councilmemberand U.S. representative has focused media attention on the mayoral campaign. It was only two years ago that Weiner resigned from Congress after being caught sending lewd texts and photos to women he had met on-line, and lying about it.
But for tenants, the sexting scandal is not the central issue. Weiner does not deserve any tenant support because of his 1994 vote for permanent vacancy destabilization in the City Council, after promising tenant advocates he would vote no. Not only that, he still defends that vote with the misleading and dishonest explanation that “rich people do not belong in rent-regulated apartments,” when he knows full well that vacancy deregulation happens when tenants move out and has nothing to do with any tenant’s income. New York City has lost about 400,000 rent-regulated apartments to vacancy decontrol since 1994, greatly reducing where people can afford to live in all five boroughs. Until Weiner apologizes for this sellout—for which the real-estate industry rewarded him with massive contributions when he ran for Congress in 1998—tenants should actively oppose his candidacy.
While in the Council, Weiner also sponsored a bill to let landlords “self-certify” that they had corrected housing-code violations, without any verification by the city. (Met Council helped defeat it.) His “Keys to the City” position paper (www.anthonyweiner.com) ignores housing preservation programs, including rent stabilization, and contains fairly lame ideas to promote new housing production. Weiner’s huge campaign war chest dates from his days in Congress, and like Quinn’s, reads like a Who’s Who of New York City real estate.
How reliable are the polls?
Quinn had a large lead in the polls earlier in the year, but that has now dissipated, partly because of Weiner’s name recognition. In late June, a Quinnipiac poll showed Quinn, Weiner, and Thompson virtually tied (at 19, 17, and 16 percent, respectively), with de Blasio at 10 percent and Liu at 7 percent. Many voters haven’t made up their minds yet, and de Blasio or Liu could gain by emerging as the “progressive” candidate. It is hard to see any of the Democrats topping the 40 percent of the vote needed to avoid a runoff.
It is useful to remember what happened in 1977, the last time there were seven Democrats running for mayor, including incumbent Abe Beame. Until the eve of the primary it was expected that feminist-liberal former Rep. Bella Abzug would finish first, and the speculation was on which of the other candidates might make it into the runoff. When the votes were counted, Abzug came in fourth and Beame third, behind Ed Koch and Mario Cuomo. With strong backing from Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post, Koch went on to win the runoff and the general election.
In other words, polls are often wrong. In 2009, they predicted a Bloomberg blowout.
Organized labor, virtually the only progressive political force with any real power left in the city aside from the Working Families Party, has splintered, with municipal workers District Council 37 endorsing Liu, health-care workers SEIU Local 1199 backing de Blasio, the United Federation of Teachers choosing Thompson, and building-services SEIU Local 32BJ and the Hotel and Motel Trades Council pushing Quinn. In a low-turnout election, vote-pulling operations can become key. Some fear that labor might cancel itself out.
The WFP, with its major labor affiliates split four ways, has not made an endorsement in the primary, but it might in the runoff.
Where do the candidates stand on tenant issues?
All five leading Democratic candidates have urged repealing the Urstadt law and restoring New York City’s home rule over rent and eviction protections, with Weiner joining the call in a July 4 statement.
Campaign promises are one thing, records are another. Tenants Political Action Committee treasurer Michael McKee (also a Met Council board member) says Quinn has been the best of those five on advocating for reversing the phaseout of the rent laws, but the worst on overdevelopment and giveaways to landlords and developers. He added that de Blasio, Liu, and Thompson had all promised when Tenants PAC endorsed them in 2009 to take specific actions to advance the tenant agenda, but did not deliver.
Tenants PAC expects to endorse a Democrat for mayor by late July. “I honestly have no idea how our board is going to come down on this,” McKee said. He added that with the exception of Weiner, any of the Democrats would be preferable to another Republican mayor, who would likely continue Bloomberg’s anti-rent regulation policies.
The Republicans competing in the primary are supermarket magnate John Catsimatidis; Joseph Lhota, who was Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s deputy and until recently head of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority; and George McDonald, head of the Doe Fund, a controversial organization that purports to help the homeless.
Tenants PAC also expects to endorse a candidate for public advocate, Manhattan and Queens borough presidents, and some City Council candidates. There are four Democrats vying for public advocate: Cathy Guerriero, Letitia James, Reshma Saujani, and Daniel Squadron. The WFP has endorsed James, a Brooklyn councilmember.
Scott Stringer was the only candidate in the Democratic primary for comptroller until July 7, when former Gov. Eliot Spitzer announced a last-minute bid. There are four Democrats in the primary to replace Stringer as Manhattan borough president: Gale Brewer, Robert Jackson, Jessica Lappin, and Julie Menin. Queens borough-president candidates include Democrats Tony Avella, Leroy Comrie, Melinda Katz, and Peter Vallone, Jr.
To see the Tenants Political Action Committee’s questionnaire for mayoral candidates, visit the Tenants PAC Web site atwww.tenantspac.org/campaigns
. There are also questionnaires for the candidates for public advocate, Manhattan and Queens borough president, and the City Council. In 2009, Tenants PAC endorsed Bill Thompson for mayor, Bill de Blasio for public advocate, and John Liu for comptroller.
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