Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The race to the wire in the 35th Council District: new endorsements, negative mailers, misleading "teams" with Tish James, and the Jobs for New York battleground

From Ede Fox mailer
Yes, the big races today are the citywide contests for mayor, comptroller, and public advocate, but the City Council is a huge battleground, with surge of spending, a series of new endorsements (including from the New York Times, right), and some questionable tactics in the race I've focused on.

That's the race to replace Council Member Letitia James in the 35th Council District, encompassing Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Prospect Heights, and parts of Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights.

There's been enormous independent spending by the SuperPAC Jobs for New York, whose supporters include unions but is funded and directed by the Real Estate Board of New York, dwarfing anything by the candidates.

Take for example, the chart below, which shows how Jobs From New York has spent nearly $257,000 either in support of chosen candidate, museum founder Laurie Cumbo, or in opposition to her two closest rivals, former Council aide Ede Fox, and former District Leader Olanike Alabi.  (The blue indicates money they've spent, and the red shows what's spent on their behalf.)


Candidates themselves can spend only $168,000. (Note that Alabi's spending seems misleadingly small since she apparently didn't file a required campaign finance report at the end of August.) Jobs for New York‎ has reported raising $‎6‎,‎935‎,000‎ and spent $4,878,924, according to most recent data, which suggests a huge push to get out the vote today.

Does candidate owe Jobs for New York?

At issue over the last five weeks of the campaign has been whether  Cumbo, who belatedly distanced herself from the PAC and asked it to stop spending on her behalf, will be beholden to the real estate industry or is the victim of support she never solicited.

The New York World reported yesterday:
“No matter what Laurie Cumbo says, the reality is that she will be their voice,” said Ede Fox, a leading competitor to Cumbo. With the majority of the PAC’s principal officers and donors hailing from the powerful Real Estate Board of New York, Fox contends that her opponent will be indebted to the real estate industry should she be elected.
...Asked whether the financial backing would indebt her to the real estate industry, Cumbo said, “I don’t owe REBNY anything.”
The Real Deal, in REBNY's races: An inside look at industry-backed PAC's coming influence, suggested it might be more complicated:
John Mollenkopf, director of the Center for Urban Research at the City University of New York, said REBNY is banking on the “investment theory” of political campaigning.
“I’m not sure they’re doing it to have an immediate demonstrated impact,” Mollenkopf said. “But if you put money into people who are elected, they feel obligated to help you even if there’s no quid pro quo.”
Gib Veconi, a Fox supporter, wrote yesterday in Patch:
It’s easy to view Ms. Cumbo as an innocent victim of the city’s real estate lobby, singled out for its support without her consent. After all, she has also been targeted by attack ads (including a piece [right] from Concerned Citizens of the 35th District connecting Ms. Cumbo with a "landlord group" and making the incongruous suggestion that if she is elected, property taxes will rise). The real issue, however, is that her impressive background as an arts entrepreneur unfortunately offers little clue as to how Ms. Cumbo might act towards developers if elected to City Council. Consider that former Park Slope Councilman and mayoral front runner, Bill de Blasio, continues to face criticism for talking tough about accountability and development, while having a record of acting in favor of real estate interests and against constituent opinion on project proposals before City government. Voters in the 35th District have just a few weeks of Ms. Cumbo’s varying public statements about J4NY to reflect on when deciding on their next City Council member. It may not be enough.
One Cumbo supporter, Ursula Hegewisch, responded:
As a resident of Fort Greene who has been involved in community issues and organizations, who came out AGAINST Atlantic Yards and cares about maintaining economic and cultural diversity in our community I support Laurie Cumbo for City Council whole heartedly...She will remain the courageous, independent and visionary leader that she was during her tenure at MoCADA. 
Chris Bragg wrote today in Crain's:
This year, the Real Estate Board of New York-supported political action committee spent money on candidates who are more likely to win but are, in many cases, quite liberal and supported by the WFP [Working Families Party]. It is far from clear that any of those will be allies of the industry on the council.
On the other hand, the industry's spending, often on highly negative mail pieces designed to undercut support for particular candidates, could make future lawmakers think twice about crossing the real estate industry
Note that Cumbo is supported by the WFP.

Unfair to single out Jobs for New York?

Greg David of Crain's New York Business wrote:
The real estate community is spending a lot of money—more than any other single PAC—to elect City Council candidates who will take their interests into account. (Some unions have also signed on to Jobs for New York, but they don't seem to have provided any money yet.)
The bigger players are unions, who are dominating independent expenditures and more than matching the real estate community's effort.
So when politicians like Brad Lander and groups like Common Cause decry the spending of special interests but single out only the real estate sector, it is clear they have a different agenda than fairness.
That provoked Council Member Brad Lander, who's trying to limit loopholes that enable huge contributions and to require transparency (and who started a Tumblr to post examples of Jobs for New York's mailers), to respond to some Twitter discussion:
Cumbo supports Lander's reforms.

She also benefited from nearly $39,000 from United for the Future, the PAC put together by the United Federation of Teachers, the Service Employees International Union, and NYCLASS, which was set up to oppose the horse-drawn carriage industry but portrays itself as an overall animal welfare organization.

Staying positive

Only one of the city's three daily newspapers issued an endorsement. The New York Times endorsed Fox (though, oddly, the Metro section hasn't covered the race):
Her knowledge of the Council and her command of complicated issues involving development and education put her above Laurie Cumbo, an impressive cultural leader who developed the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts [MoCADA] in Brooklyn, and Olanike Alabi, a well-known advocate for housing and other issues in the area.
Fox's major mailer trumpets that endorsement, as noted at top, as well as endorsements from TenantsPAC, Citizens Union, StreetsPac, and others.

52nd Assembly District Leader Chris Owens endorsed Fox, saying all candidates were credible but Fox "the most qualified," as well as not supported by any outside superPACs.

Alabi got an endorsement from The Jewish Press, which said she "has earned the strong support of the Jewish community in Crown Heights." She has support from DC 37 and several prominent ministers, among others.

However, Yeshiva World News reported that "The Political Action Committee of Crown Heights, the most active political group in the Jewish Community of Crown Heights," supports Cumbo.

As noted at left, Cumbo was endorsed by Our Time Press, which is based in Bedford-Stuyvesant and has longstanding influence in black Brooklyn. It saluted her work on MoCADA and called her "the best tradition of a citizen politician"

A Cumbo mailer, at right, shows support from Reps. Yvette Clarke and Hakeem Jeffries, as well as Assemblymember Walter Mosley.

She also has support from the United Federation of Teachers, the Working Families Party, and 32BJ SEIU, among others.



Misleading "teams"

James, who's running for Public Advocate, hasn't issued an endorsement in this race, perhaps because she knows she has to work with whoever's the winner.

But because James is so popular, both Fox and Alabi have sent mailers that leave the misleading impression that they are somehow part of a "team" with James.

Fox's mailer, excerpted at left, posts a team of two: Fox and James.

Alabi has sent at least two mailers suggesting she's part of a team not only with James but also with Sen. Eric Adams, who's running unopposed for Borough President.

Adams hasn't endorsed in the race, either.

Going negative

Cumbo has prided herself on "taking the high road," which could be seen as a sign of both good purpose and confidence, given that she was already the fundraising leader before Jobs for New York started supporting her.

Alternatively, it might be a sign that she recognized that another entity would take the low road for her.  In its report on how Jobs for New York has run negative mailers, such as against Council candidate Carlos Menchaca, WNYC quoted Pat Purcell of the United Food and Commercial Workers, as saying he did not support such negative messaging.

Curiously, though the UFCW is part of Jobs for New York, it endorsed Fox, not Cumbo. And despite Purcell's sentiment, Jobs for New York did in fact send mailers slamming the UFCW-endorsed candidate, as well as Alabi.


Alabi quickly pointed out that the "mailer quotes an article from the NY Post based on a tip they received, but what Jobs for NY eliminates is my response to the article," which is that she sued a landlord for overcharging and won.
In her tweet, Fox managed to not only attack Jobs for New York but highlight its criticism of rival Alabi:
Fox sent out her own mailer, below, slamming Cumbo as "the new darling of the real estate industry."


It certainly raises questions about the role of the real estate lobby, though I'm not sure it's as effective as the mailer cited below, which specified Jobs for New York by name.
Also note, as described above, Veconi's citation of another negative mailer, attributed to the shadowy Concerned Citizens of the 35th District.

We'll see tomorrow how the race for the 35th shakes out, especially since the other two candidates in the race, Jelani Mashariki and F. Richard Hurley, also have pockets of strength.

There have been no public polls, and word of mouth, as well as the get out the vote effort, are also key.

Below, the full list of independent expenditures

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