Decision '09: Republican Challengers
Your mailbox may not be as full of campaign "literature" as it was prior to the primary election, but there are still a number of candidates looking to court voters ahead of the Nov. 3 general election. Though they all do not have the same amount of money to spend as Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the independent running on the GOP line, Republicans are challenging several incumbent Democrats, and vying for open citywide seats for comptroller and public advocate.
Republican Running for City Comptroller The city comptroller has to manage an $80 billion pension fund for retirees and taxpayers?which makes it key for the person to be independent, says Joe Mendola. In the past, the city's chief financial officers have used the office to pave the way for a mayoral bid, Mendola notes, which means the fiscal interests of New Yorkers are not a top priority. "If you're managing pension funds and using the office as a stepping stone, you'll use those funds to placate interest groups," he said. Like most Republicans running for office this November, one quality Mendola touts is his independence from interest groups and not being a career politician. He criticized his Democratic opponent, Queens Council Member John Liu, for being a political insider who will use the comptroller's office to repay campaign favors from special interest groups. Liu, like his predecessors, will only use the office as a springboard to Gracie Mansion, Mendola argues. "If you take politics out of the office, I can make investments based solely on what's responsible," he said. A lifelong Democrat who lives in Greenwich Village, Mendola registered as a Republican right before the November 2008 elections. He said he felt more comfortable with Republicans on fiscal issues and called the federal stimulus package a "waste of taxpayer money." Professionally, Mendola is a compliance officer who makes sure that investments are in line with regulation. That experience means he is the only qualified candidate running for the office, he says. "I know the [Securities and Exchange Commission] laws. I know the funds my company invests in comply with the rules," he said. "I have the skills the comptroller needs." If elected, Mendola said he would increase transparency by posting investment returns online, as well as the names of outside consultants that are used in the office. "We need to bring accountability and transparency to the system," he said. Mendola also wants to aggressively audit city agencies and examine the use of outside contractors. "They've got to go in there with a fine tooth comb and make sure we're getting our money's worth," he said. "The system needs to be cleansed, needs to be reformed."
Republican Running for Public Advocate When Alex Zablocki meets a voter who has no clue what the public advocate is, he hands them a business card detailing the position. For the record, the public advocate is an ombudsman, an independent check on City Hall who fields citizens' complaints. Zablocki, who at 26 is the youngest person to run for this office, wants the public advocate to be more community oriented. He would open a satellite office in every borough, plus one in northern Manhattan, and promises to be an active member of Council committees. "The outer boroughs need a voice, someone that will stand up for regular people," he said. Zablocki is a Staten Islander and aide to his local state senator, Andrew Lanza, a Republican. Though Zablocki is socially liberal, he is opposed to onerous regulations that he says hurt small business. He criticized City Council bills that impose paid sick leave, require most restaurants to post calorie information and fine stores for leaving the door open while air conditioning is in use. "All of these things are burdensome on small business at the wrong time," he said. "The City Council should be looking at making it easier for small businesses to open." If elected, Zablocki wants reform the office that was created in 1993, even taking away some of its power. He wants to strip the public advocate from being next in line for mayor, but give the office some teeth by arming the public advocate with subpoena power. While the public advocate is thought to be a thorn in the side of the mayor, Zablocki also wants to be a check on the Democratic-dominated Council that currently includes his opponent, Democrat Bill de Blasio. "He also comes from the same City Council that I feel needs to be held accountable," Zablocki said of de Blasio. "I think we need a voice that will be completely independent from City Council."
Republican Running for Manhattan Borough President The slogan for David Casavis' borough president campaign is "David Can-Save-Us." And what he wants to save us from is the borough presidency itself. Casavis, an Upper East Sider, is running for a position that he feels is a useless piece of bureaucracy and a waste of taxpayer money. The borough presidents, who used to sit on the Board of Estimate, once held great sway over land use and budgetary matters. But in 1989, the Supreme Court ruled that the Board of Estimate gave too much power to less populous boroughs and diverted most of the borough presidents' authority to the City Council. "It is a vestigial organ. It's left over," Casavis said. "It's only the bully pulpit." His opponent, incumbent Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, might disagree. Wielding policy papers and studies, Stringer has been able to squeeze power out of an office that has little official responsibility. According to the City Charter, the borough president must give an advisory opinion on large developments before they go to the City Planning Commission, appoint half of the borough's community board members and make appointments to various boards, including those that govern city planning and pension funds. Casavis, however, sees the borough presidency differently. "Your job is to keep your face in the camera," he said. A Manhattan Republican Party foot soldier, Casavis says he wants to be elected so he can start dismantling the office, ultimately saving the city $60 million. Instead of hiring staff, he would hire lawyers to devise a plan to end the borough presidency, likely through a charter commission. Though other Republican borough president candidates are rejecting Casavis' manifesto, he says GOP candidates for City Council are heeding his call. Better yet, voters are open to the idea. "If I talk to every single voter, I could win with 75 percent. This is enormous, this is universal," Casavis said. "Everybody I speak with, even people who are loyal Democrats, say, 'What does the borough president do?'" If Casavis loses his race, he hopes to continue his crusade. For only a dollar, he would serve on the charter commission to fight against the borough presidency.
Republican Running for City Council District 6 Republicans will always have an incredibly difficult time running a race in the very progressive Upper West Side?Joshua Goldberg, perhaps, even more so. Goldberg's brother Jonah is the conservative writer who authored Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning. His mother, Lucianne, convinced Linda Tripp to record her conversations with Monica Lewinsky, which almost brought down President Bill Clinton during his impeachment. Goldberg, however, says that he never adopted that brand of conservatism. "I tend to be more moderate than the rest of my family," he said. Goldberg, a former double-decker bus tour guide who currently manages his mother's news website, entered the race at the behest of local Republican district leaders. "This year there is a big opportunity here," Goldberg said. "Firstly, people are really upset with the Council knuckling under and taking away term limits without the voters' consent." Though his opponent, incumbent Council Member Gale Brewer, voted against the term limits extension bill, Goldberg criticized her for waiting until the last minute to make her position known. He also knocked Brewer for running for a third term after she voted against the term limit extension legislation. Other than that vote, though, Goldberg respects Brewer as a public servant and lauded her constituent services operation. In this heavily Democratic district, Brewer is all but assured to be re-elected. "Believe me, I know this is a quixotic quest, so to speak," Goldberg said. "I am under no illusions to what I'm up against." But he is running to give residents in the district?which roughly covers the Upper West Side from West 56th to 96th streets?a choice between the incumbent and a candidate who will bring down taxes and spending. Goldberg considers cracking 20 percent of the vote a victory for fiscal responsibility. "If somebody is concerned about taxes and runaway spending in the city, they should vote for me as opposed to Gale Brewer," Goldberg said.
Abbi Lee Rogers
Republican Running for City Council District 9 Abbi Lee Rogers has a laundry list of complaints against her Democratic opponent, Council Member Inez Dickens, who represents District 9. Topping her list of grievances is Dickens' support for extending term limits; Rogers would have preferred a public referendum to determine any changes to the term limits law. Next on the complaint list would be the controversial rezoning of 125th Street in Harlem, which Dickens supported and helped shape. Rogers feels the new rezoning plan will drastically change the neighborhood and displace residents. "I don't like the fact that 125th Street was rezoned against the will of the people," she said. If elected, Rogers said she wants to reallocate discretionary money?known as member items?to organizations that specifically serve the Harlem district. While Dickens has showered money on her district, Rogers feels there are some organizations outside of Harlem that have benefited from the incumbent's largesse. "I don't like the politics in Harlem and I don't like the politics in the City Council," she said. The district covers a sliver of the Upper West Side from Broadway to the Hudson River between West 96th and 110th streets. Rogers, a fifth-generation Harlemite and second vice president of the Harlem Republican Club, has business and administrative experience as the former head of the United States division of furniture manufacturer Arenson International, which is based in the United Kingdom. She has also managed 50 co-op buildings in Manhattan. When it comes to education, Rogers wants the cap on charter schools to be lifted and criticized Dickens for limiting their growth. "If charter schools are succeeding, why are we stifling them?" she said. Still, she is running an uphill battle in this Democratic district to make a stand against the usual politics in Harlem. "I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired and watching it go by year after year," Rogers said.
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