Race For Campaign Cash Heats Up

Written by Megan Finnegan Bungeroth on . Posted in News West Side Spirit, Politics, West Side Spirit.


The 2013 City Council race may seem like a far-off event to average residents, but in the political sphere, the competition is already heated. The Upper West Side will be seeing candidates vie for a wide-open Council seat next fall, as Council Member Gale Brewer will be finishing her third and final term.

While Brewer is widely rumored to be preparing for a run for borough president, four candidates are hoping to succeed her in representing the 6th District, which covers the Upper West Side from West 55th to 96th streets. All four candidates jumped into the race months ago, and now recent campaign filings give residents a sneak peek at who might be a serious contender come next September.

At this point, however, all four candidates are fairly close when it comes to the numbers. The front runner in total dollar amount filed is Helen Rosenthal, one-time chair of Community Board 7 and a former city employee in the Office of Management and Budget, who brought in $152,981 with 709 contributions.

“This early in the election, campaign filings matter primarily to the extent they reflect a campaign’s organizational strength and in-district support, and it allows us to focus more on talking to voters and building grassroots support,” Rosenthal said in an email. Her assessment could easily apply to the other three candidates in the race, who are also well-positioned financially.

Ken Biberaj, vice president of the Russian Tea Room, who made headlines for fully funding his campaign in only four months, registered a total of $131,020 from 982 contributions. “It is very exciting to be done fundraising and now have the ability to focus on having a conversation with Upper West Siders and the issues that matter most to our community,” Biberaj said in an email.

Both Marc Landis, an attorney, who reported $111,143 from 446 contributions, and Mel Wymore, a former community board chair, who reported $111,863 from 303 contributions, echoed that sentiment. “I look forward to focusing on the critical issues of the campaign: improving our education system, expanding our affordable housing options, improving our quality of live and reforming how our government works,” said Landis in an email.

“Everyone involved in the race now either has made or will shortly make the full budget,” said Jordan Jacobs, Wymore’s campaign manager. “Who raised more actually has no meaning to the race.”

Insiders agree that at this point in the race, having the least—or the most—money in a campaign account is no indication of where a candidate will fall on the ballot.

“Because of New York City’s extraordinarily generous and almost universally participated in campaign finance program, everybody will have the same amount of money, so the money has less meaning,” said political consultant Hank Sheinkopf.

Sheinkopf’s consulting firm has been hired by Biberaj’s campaign, but he spoke in general about City Council elections and not as a representative for the campaign.

The matching program gives candidates $6 for every $1 raised from New York City residents, for up to $175 per person. The program was intended to level the playing field and give candidates without access to big money a chance to compete, although the West Side candidates are all neck and neck at this point.

Sheinkopf said that it’s way too early to make predictions on front runners based solely on fundraising totals.

“Unlike most people in my business, I got rid of my crystal ball a long time ago; it didn’t fit in my wallet,” Sheinkopf said. “Early money helps define the race for people in the media business and for local community activists. But the general public, they don’t care.”

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