The Next Step
As you probably know from the Twitter world, I’ve been hired by the New York Observer. It’s a fantastic opportunity that I’m incredibly excited about. The Observer is a great newspaper and Politicker is the best politics blog out there. As a slightly younger man, I would sit in the office of another newspaper and refresh Politicker constantly to see what Colin Campbell or Hunter Walker or David Freedlander had written about, wishing that I could write more about city politics and less about potholes and ribbon cuttings. Now I get to be a part of a veritable politics all-star squad with Colin and Jill Colvin.
My wish was fulfilled.
This also means, as I’ve said, that the Barkan Report will cease to exist in its current form. My energies will be directed toward Politicker in my official capacity as a politics reporter there. It is a part-time and not full-time position, but the responsibilities are far greater than before and 2013 is the craziest political year in some time, so much of my political writing will live there.
I started this blog in November when I became a freelancer and was amazed by the reception I received from simply blathering about insider baseball politics a few days a week. It really was awesome. I’m proud of the work I did here and whatever I could do to contribute to the discussion. What I realized is that there is a demand and audience for political coverage, something I do think is essential to a thriving democracy. I hope others pick up where I left off because I do believe there should be 100 other blogs like mine: the city political scene is that fascinating.
I’m not taking the Barkan Report off the web and I may include personal updates here from time to time. The space itself isn’t going completely dead. But day-to-day political coverage will be found in Politicker and in the print edition of the Observer, that spiffy pink paper you in internetland should pick up some time.
I would end with some cliche about how we’ll meet again, blah blah blah, but I’m not going anywhere. So I’ll just end with this.
Wiretapped Councilman Ruben Wills Being Vastly Outraised by Challenger
(Hettie Powell. Photo: Facebook)
Queens Councilman Ruben Wills is the rare incumbent dramatically trailing a challenger in fundraising.
The former chief of staff to State Sen. Shirley Huntley—Huntley is about to serve a year in prison—has less than $5,000 in his campaign account. Wills hasn’t burned through a great deal of money; rather, he has struggled to raise it. Hettie Powell, a Rochdale Village attorney, is making a serious bid to unseat Wills, who was elected only in 2010. Powell has a little less than $37,000 in her war chest, giving her sizable advantage over Wills.
Wills has only been raising money since December and could eventually, with matching funds, be on an even playing field with Powell, but Wills will not find it easy doing that. For one, Wills was stripped of his committee assignments and ability to dole out member items last year after he refused to cooperate with state investigators probing a $33,000 grant he was given when he served as director of a charitable group. Wills was also one of the elected officials Huntley wiretapped, though he denied he was the target of any ongoing investigation. Donors can’t be thrilled.
Wills’ deep ties to Huntley are probably scaring off donors as well. Going into this election cycle, he was considered among the more vulnerable incumbents in the City Council. It would be somewhat ironic if Powell unseated Wills because Rochdale Village, the large housing development in Jamaica, is also Huntley’s home and was once her base of power.
The southeast Queens political establishment may be getting quite the overhaul fairly soon.
More Halloran Staffers Contribute to Chrissy Voskerichian’s Campaign
Chrissy Voskerichian is collecting a nice amount of money from the people who used to work for her former boss, scandal-scarred Councilman Dan Halloran.
A source points me to a few more members of the Republican Halloran’s staff that are now contributing to his former chief of staff’s campaign. Dennis Ring, who was also once Halloran’s chief of staff, donated, along with his sister, $450. His relatives from the Zuccarello and Zerillo families also combined to donate another $1,100.
Voskerichian is running against Austin Shafran, Paul Vallone, Paul Graziano and John Duane in the 19th District Democratic primary. Halloran is not seeking re-election.
Bill de Blasio is Boxed in by Two Candidates, One Many Times More Famous Than the Other
(Bill de Blasio. Photo: Facebook)
Anthony Weiner’s imminent and inevitable entrance into the mayoral race is great news for the media, good news for Bill Thompson and terrible news for Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who is finally establishing traction as the liberal, outer borough alternative to Council Speaker Christine Quinn. While Weiner, far more infamous and charismatic than de Blasio, hurts him from above, another outer borough liberal is quietly chipping away at him from below: Sal Albanese.
Together, Albanese and Weiner could spell doom for de Blasio and increase the chances of Thompson or Liu sneaking into the run off, assuming Liu actually secures matching funds. There is a cogent argument to be made that every vote for Albanese, a tough former City Councilman with a surprisingly liberal record as a representative of moderate southwest Brooklyn, could be a vote de Blasio could have had. In my own neighborhood of Bay Ridge, I have little doubt there are enough old-timers who fondly recall Albanese’s 15-year tenure in the City Council—these sorts of voters, typically white, Italian working class with some liberal sensibilities, are the people de Blasio needs in his winning coalition.
To de Blasio’s chagrin, Albanese has taken shots at him and refused to run a low-key race. While his chances of winning are virtually nonexistent, Albanese—who provoked a collective “who?” when he announced his run last year—has proved to be a legitimate candidate, attending a wide array of events and candidate forums and offering substantive proposals on wonkier issues like transportation. More importantly for Albanese, large media outlets like the New York Times, which did not write a story about his entrance into the race, are now taking him seriously. The more seriously Albanese is taken, the more difficult de Blasio’s path to victory becomes.
I’ve already explained why Weiner would in particular hurt de Blasio. An argument can be made that Weiner will draw from the pool of white outer borough voters that Quinn is targeting as well, though Politico’s Maggie Haberman made the point on Twitter that the Weiner media storm would immediately overshadow the bad press and attacks Quinn has received of late (and a counter-argument could be that Quinn, at least in the latest lengthy Times piece on her alcoholism, has come out on top from all the press).
There’s no doubt Comptroller John Liu, weighed down by the guilty convictions of two of his former staffers in a straw donor scheme, will welcome the Weiner district too. Thompson and Liu, chasing minority blocs and looking to forge their own coalitions, benefit from Weiner’s run and Albanese’s emergence as a candidate that at least needs to be taken seriously.
The race is about to enter a new, arguably far more entertaining phase.
Austin Shafran Maxes Out for Primary
Austin Shafran, a candidate for City Council in northeast Queens, has hit his spending cap for the primary.
Shafran told me that he raised more than $87,000 and with expected matching funds will surpass the cap of $168,000, drawing on $27,000 in small contributions from New York City residents. A favorite to gain the crucial backing of the Queens Democratic Party, Shafran recently secured the endorsement of the Working Families Party and has been piling up labor support.
Shafran, a former State Senate and Governor Cuomo staffer, is up against attorney Paul Vallone, civic leader Paul Graziano, former Assemblyman John Duane and former Councilman Dan Halloran chief of staff Chrissy Voskerichian.
The northeast Queens district is represented by the Republican Halloran who will not seek re-election after being arrested last month for allegedly partaking in a bribery scheme. Dennis Saffran, a former City Council candidate, is running in the Republican primary.
Mark Treyger, Paul Vallone Report Impressive Hauls
Two City Council candidates in tough primaries touted their fundraising totals Monday, hoping to show their strength to their chief rivals.
Paul Vallone, an attorney and brother of Councilman Peter Vallone Jr., is running in the northeast Queens seat that scandal-scarred Councilman Dan Halloran will occupy until the end of the year (he will not seek re-election). The Vallone camp said he has raised over $73,000, bringing him closer to maxing out for the primary. And Mark Treyger, a teacher and staffer to Assemblyman Bill Colton running to replace term-limited Brooklyn Councilman Domenic Recchia, said that he has raised more than $53,00, but claims that with matching funds, he will be close to maxing out.
Both candidates have well-funded rivals. Vallone is up against Austin Shafran, a young communications professional and former State Senate staffer who has secured a bevy of labor endorsements (including the Working Families Party) and appears close to securing the backing of the Queens Democratic Party. Treyger needs to defeat John Lisyanskiy, a City Council staffer that has raised roughly $111,000 already. As a Russian-American, redistricting wasn’t too kind to Lisyanskiy and Treyger’s camp has touted his relationship among the district’s growing Asian constituency and various important civic leaders as some of his selling points.
Ultimately, both Treyger and Vallone should be on even financial footing with their chief rivals relatively soon. In Vallone’s case, he could be the victim of a crowded and divisive primary: four other candidates, including Halloran’s former chief of staff, the conservative Democrat Chrissy Voskerichian, will be running, and Shafran will have the organizational support.
Lisyanskiy could end up securing the lion’s share of union endorsements too. It will be also interesting to see which candidate Recchia, who was originally going to endorse millionaire Louis Jerome (he never formerly entered the race), will back. Recchia has yet to make a decision.
The filings will be made public Wednesday.
WFP Makes Several Eyebrow-Raising Endorsements in Brooklyn
The Working Families Party, a potent force in low turnout City Council races, made a slew of endorsements yesterday that both confirmed conventional wisdom and bucked it completely. The labor-backed party is not afraid to challenge county organizations or make seemingly unconventional choices: in a few instances yesterday, they did just that.
In the crowded field fighting for term-limited Councilman Michael Nelson’s seat, WFP did not make the obvious choice in backing Ari Kagan, a district leader who is supported by the Brooklyn Democratic Party and various elected officials, including Congressman Hakeem Jeffries and State Sen. DIane Savino. Instead, WFP chose to back Igor Oberman, an attorney and formidable fundraiser. Both are Russian-American in a district now heavily Russian and Oberman, with WFP’s backing, may now be the favorite in that race.
Kagan’s campaign war chest is currently barren but may look much stronger after filings are made public next week. For a county-backed candidate, his website is not quite up to speed, either. It could be that WFP has made the calculated decision that Oberman, with his fundraising advantage, has a better chance of winning; he is an attorney for the Taxi and Limousine Commission lacking in the typical progressive credentials that WFP relishes. Oberman also has a controversial past as a co-op board president.
WFP also decided to side with the county organization in the race for term-limited Councilman Lew Fidler’s seat. There, Assemblyman Alan Maisel, a close ally of county leader Frank Seddio, is the favorite against nurse and community activist Mercedes Narcisse. The City Council Progressive Caucus backed Narcisse but WFP chose not to align themselves with the progressive wing of the council for reasons that aren’t clear.
It’s an eyebrow-raising choice for WFP because the district itself is now majority black and Narcisse herself is black, unlike Maisel. This is the sort of race where WFP’s backing could have helped level the playing field for Narcisse. Instead, WFP all but guarantees Maisel, who will inevitably raise more money, a victory.
The most surprising endorsement WFP might have made was Kimberly Council over Assembly Rafael Espinal for term-limited Councilman Erik Dilan’s seat. It’s possible WFP wanted to send a message to a Vito Lopez ally, but Council has almost no chance of defeating Espinal. Jesus Gonzalez, a stronger candidate, abandoned the race early on when it became clear, after redistricting, that the district played to Espinal’s strengths (granted, WFP tried hard to get Gonzalez elected to the Assembly in 2011, so there could be bad feelings leftover). Here, at least, WFP is very likely to be on the losing side.
One caveat to all of this: the mayoral race will be an absolute priority for the WFP and all of organized labor. How much in resources WFP will be able to dedicate to these various City Council races is not yet clear.
UPDATE: Sources tell me Oberman’s endorsement is tied to several factors, including Kagan’s support of vouchers for children to attend private school (the United Federation of Teachers, a member union, opposes this) and Oberman’s stance on gay marriage (he briefly laid the groundwork for a challenge of ex-State Sen. Carl Kruger, attacking him for not backing same-sex marriage)
Incendiary Council Candidate Claims Political Deal Uptown
Thomas Lopez-Pierre, the man of the many slur-filled e-mails, claims his infamous behavior in a Manattan City Council was actually a way to help his supposed nemesis, front runner Mark Levine.
In a conversation with me today, Lopez-Pierre said that he was purposefully sending out racially-charged e-mails targeting Levine, the only white candidate in a crowded field of minority candidates vying to replace the term-limited Councilman Robert Jackson, because a “campaign official” in Levine’s organization allegedly promised him that he would back a Jewish candidate to split votes in a district leader race that Lopez-Pierre is also running in. Lopez-Pierre is challenging long-time district leader Curtis Arluck in the 69th A.D. and told me that he plans to spend his City Council money only in the parts of the district that overlap with the A.D. According to Lopez-Pierre, who offered scant evidence of this deal, the Levine camp was able to raise money and unite Jewish voters because of his outrageous and incendiary behavior.
Lopez-Pierre claimed Levine himself “knows nothing about this.” A spokeswoman for Levine said the campaign has no relationship, “monetary or otherwise,” with Lopez-Pierre. He said the Levine campaign has reneged on their deal.
"Here’s the part I care about. They did not put any money in my hands, they’re not buying me," Lopez-Pierre told me. "Otherwise I wouldn’t be talking about this. My people got to understand, I didn’t sell out for gold pieces. I made a political deal just like anyone else makes political deals. I believe the Jewish landlords are displacing black and Latino people. Not only do I believe this, every candidate believes this, including Mark Levine”
"The only difference is, other candidates don’t want to dare say ‘Jewish,’ they say ‘landlord.’ They are politically smart," he added.
Lopez-Pierre stressed repeatedly he did not make this alleged deal for money, only for a clearer path to district leader. He also claimed he would be “naming names” later tonight at a Broadway Democrats forum uptown.
What Shirley Huntley’s Wiretap List Means for Two Borough President Races
Today the courts released the names of seven elected officials that ex-State Sen. Shirley Huntley recorded last year, casting a cloud over borough president races in Brooklyn and Queens.
State Sen. Jose Peralta, a leading candidate in the Queens race, and State Sen. Eric Adams, the only legitimate candidate in Brooklyn, were among the seven candidates named and Peralta confirmed the federal prosecutors were investigating him. Queens Councilman Ruben Wills denied he was facing an investigation and federal prosecutors have said eight out of the nine elected officials that have been recorded are also being investigated. That means Adams, who has yet to comment publicly on the latest news, is likely a target of the feds.
Of course, this does not mean either man is guilty of anything. Peralta has already said he did not engage in any wrongdoing. Even if he is innocent, Peralta’s chances of securing the coveted endorsement of the Queens County Democratic Organization took a severe hit today. With party boss Rep. Joe Crowley due to announce his endorsement on May 20, the county organization will be wary of endorsing anyone facing a federal investigation, even if they are ultimately innocent. Without Crowley’s support, Peralta’s chances of winning are much lower: he lags in fundraising behind Melinda Katz and Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. and he will not secure the labor backing he needs if county is not in his corner.
Crowley also has alternatives, like Katz or even former Assemblyman Barry Grodenchik, that he can endorse instead. Councilman Leroy Comrie is another option, but his fundraising has been pathetic for several years and he lost out, embarrassingly, on the crucial endorsement of Rev. Floyd Flake. Still, Comrie is close to county, there are many black district leaders and the endorsement, when all is said and done, could be his.
Adams, enduring controversy since the AEG scandal three years ago, is safe for now because his only challenger is a man who was a councilman more than three decades ago, John Gangemi. Like Peralta, he has not be found guilty of anything and all of this investigating may amount to nothing.
It’s possible that with a cloud hanging over Adams, other candidates may emerge to challenge him. He is far safer than Peralta, though—the only way he can lose this race is if he drops out. With almost every crucial endorsement locked up, the only person who can beat Eric Adams is Eric Adams.
UPDATE: Adams told the Daily News, “I have not been contacted about any investigation. I believe deeply in transparency and the pursuit of justice-and that is why I committed 20 years of my life to law enforcement. I am more than willing to help with any investigation.”
Why John Liu May Be Sticking It Out
Comptroller John Liu, as I’ve written before, is probably not going to win the mayoral race. He is stronger candidate than people give him credit for, but the combination of a packed field, his passionate but not massive base and a guilty conviction of two former members of his campaign all add up to a loss.
But George Arzt, his former spokesman, made the point on NY1 Monday that Liu doesn’t have to win the primary to declare victory.
"You’re all looking at this, I think, differently than John does," Arzt told his fellow consultants. "John doesn’t need a victory for vindication. John needs to do well here. John needs 10 to 15 percent and I figure he can call it a victory. And then he saves his career for a future time where he can run."
Arzt makes a valid point. Liu’s actual chances of winning the primary are low, but his chances of remaining competitive are not. What will hurt Liu most is if the Campaign Finance Board decides not to grant him matching funds, putting him at a severe financial disadvantage. The good news for Liu is that he doesn’t need to spend a great deal of money in the Asian community where his name recognition is incredibly high and foreign language media trail him constantly. If he can turn out his base and keep together the minority coalition he has crafted of Chinese, Koreans, South Asians and blacks, he will capture between 10 and 15 percent of the vote. He will be not be trounced.
But whether Liu, denied elected office for at least another four years, could remain relevant enough to actually emerge stronger for another mayoral run is questionable at this point. Bill Thompson pulled off the feat but faced Mayor Michael Bloomberg head-to-head, coming within a few percentage points of winning in 2009. Liu isn’t likely to escape the primary.
What is clear is that Liu is not someone who will exit the political stage quietly. No matter what happens in this race, 2013 will not be Liu’s last gasp in the political world.