A wonderful thing is happening to our city.
Talented, committed, people who care are seeking public office. At all levels, in all
areas, elections are contested by a number of qualified, quality people.
New talent, wanting to enter the
council, have a chance because term limits have created vacant seats; outsiders have been
given the opportunity to be competitive because of public matching funds; and wonderful
public servants have new aspirations because term limits have opened up challenging
opportunities for them.
No, not all is good with the system. And no, you do not have a blind
convert to term limits here. However, this is the most exciting election cycle in this
citys history, ... at least in the experience of this political observer/junkie
since his political junkie father introduced him to Robert Wagner five decades back.
This is not a time to worry about our city. Those misguided, self-serving
naysayers who tried to overturn the term limit referendums, twice passed by the people,
just didnt get it. The mayor, who tried to dilute the effect of public matching
funds, didnt get it either. As a matter of fact, this writer didnt realize the
impact of the chemistry that was occurring.
In hindsight, I doubt that Ron Lauder, the father of city term limits or
the many who created and preserved 4 to 1 matching funds recognized what the mix would
produce. But the chemical reaction has started and the resultant yield (someone help me
with this chemical metaphor) will benefit the city, the people, and the system for decades
No, the playing field is not yet level. Incumbency, big money support and
the abuse of public office resources still weigh too heavily at the ballot box. However,
the equation of this election has removed incumbency and controlled (to some degree) the
impact of big money. Sadly, many of those who are in office continue to abuse the
peoples money to advance their own cause.
With all of that said, this field of candidates is the best field in our
citys modern history. The chemistry works apparently so does term limits and
Why am I raving?
I keep meeting new people, participating in this process, who are more
than worthy of our consideration. Theres not just a star in many of the
races, theres a whole cluster of shining stars wanting to serve this city.
I spent Friday morning with one of them.
Steve DiBrienza was no one to me. He was a name I had heard of a
Brooklyn councilman. Until he started coming to Queens dinners and political clubs and Tribune
photographer Dee Richard started snapping his pic, I probably couldnt have
recognized him. As a matter of fact, in the field of five public advocate candidates, he
was the only one who had never been in the same room as me. I had almost written the guy
off. There were bigger names, better fundraisers, bigger fighters, better networkers, and
even better politicians in the race. Steve DiBrienza? Fugedaboutit!
Not so quickly!
Steve came to the Tribune Friday morning. We chatted for several
hours. And it wasnt the first time and it probably wont be the last time, I
was blown away. This guy has what it takes and more, lots more. My expectations
were not only unfair, they were as far off the mark as one could imagine.
I thought I had made up my mind on this race but clearly, the fat
lady had not had the chance to sing. There are five Democratic candidates and I had
prejudged the field. Dont fall into that trap.
Steve DiBrienza not only has what it takes to be an exceptional public
advocate, he has the commitment and record of fighting the system, plus the institutional
know-how to work within and around the system. Not only that, this guy can win.
The 16-year council veteran said all the right things, with passion. He is
not an organization politician. Hes an activist. He does not go along, to get along.
He has made a difference and wants to continue to make a difference.
In the 70s, he went to war with the Greater New York Savings Bank to
gain neighborhood reinvestment and he organized a grass-roots effort that still provides
affordable housing to his neighborhood. In those days, Steve related, Park Slope was not
the Park Slope of today. He believes that government can and must revitalize the less
affluent communities of our city.
In 1982, this outsider took on the then Council Speaker, Majority Leader,
Democratic institutional powerhouse Tom Cuite.
Three years later, Cuite had enough and withdrew from the race. Steve
DiBrienza beat the Democratic organizational candidate. Hes been battling windmills
ever since often successfully.
"Im willing to take on the powerful to protect the
people," says the councilman who successfully battled the mayor as vigorously and
effectively as any.
Hes committed to preserving the quality of the waterfront,
computerizing every school, improving essential neighborhood services, insuring affordable
quality health care, increasing licensed day care, and promoting economic development.
Hes prepared to serve as a resource to new council members to ease
any difficulties of transition and shorten the learning curve.
He opposes elected officials use of "any taxpayer money spent on self
promotion especially in election years."
Steve DiBrienza, a product of the New York public school system with
children attending New York public schools, is a man of the people.
"I love it, out on the street. I want to be where the people live
their lives day to day," he says, explaining his passion for city government over
Albany or Washington.
Hes an organizer whether its a street demonstration or
a community development association Steve believes in grassroots politics. He is
fierce and idealistic. He understands the meaning of community and will fight to preserve
He is compassionate towards the less advantaged and will fight to improve
He is experienced without being tarnished. He is, in this writers
judgment, a rare independent public servant.
Steve DiBrienza talks as fast as I do with passion and a smile. But
Steve also knows how to learn. "You gotta listen to the people you govern or you
dont belong there," he insisted. He wants to, "serve the people who live,
work and struggle in this city."
Steve is the only candidate of five from the outer boroughs. He has strong
labor support and seems to share an anti-organizational constituency with Norman Siegel.
Steve has gone outside the normal city political consultants to put
together his operation.
He believes his record and message will resonate with the Queens voter.
Steve is my kind of guy. If he manages to get his message out, youll find Steve is
your kind of guy too.
He is the type of fighter that will make a difference in this city. Steve
is the type of independent that seems to perfectly fit the role of public advocate.
No, this is not an endorsement. It is a tribute to one committed public
fighter named Steve DiBrienza and to the chemical reaction that results when you combine
term limits and public matching funds.
A wonderful thing is happening to our city.
Discipline is not tight in the Queens
Democratic Party this year.
Hiram Monserrate, who recently received the blessing of Dem County Leader
Tom Manton and the endorsement of the Queens Regular Dems, just weeks later broke with the
party. Monserrate is not supporting the Countys choice for mayor or public advocate.
Turning his back on Mantons men, Monserrate is going with Freddy Ferrer for Mayor
and Norman Siegel for Public Advocate.
At the same time, a number of clubs in Western Queens both Manton
and Peter Vallones home turf are carrying petitions for Vallone over
Mantons and Dem Countys choice mayoral designee Alan Hevesi.
At least three Northeast Queens Democratic Clubs have opted to petition
for Carol Gresser, also not the Countys candidate.
And then, there are the other clubs who hand out the petitions of the
County candidate at the meeting and then make the others available after the meeting.
What does all this mean?
It seems to be more important to Tom Manton to keep everyone happy than to
keep everyone in line. Mantons minions tightened ranks and leveraged their favors to
deliver endorsements to the candidates they chose. But in most cases, that seems to be
where the arm-twisting ended.
"Clubs are all over the place with council candidates," reports
one source close to the organization, suggesting that petitions other than the county
candidates are being openly circulated by regular Dem clubs.
Daily, such occurrences have been reported to our office.
"It seems that Mantons maneuverings have secured his position
as county leader and now, he doesnt want to make enemies," one Queens pundit
From here on in, itll be collect, bind and file petitions with a
wide array of candidates being carried by Dem clubs across Queens.
Then Manton and company will have to decide which petitions to seriously
challenge. For years, they have had their way with knocking insurgent candidates off the
ballot. Expect them to pick their victims carefully to insure that select candidates will
have an easier time. But with the number of contested races, dont expect the Dem
sharpshooters to be everywhere.
Theyve already paved the way for victory in a handful of Council
races. If they can clean up the ballot (read: knock off the tough challengers)
in two or three other races, theyll be able to devote their energies to the
remaining contests that matter to them. They could walk away with victories from one end
of the county to the other.
But some of those victories will include County candidates who cant
be expected to blindly follow Manton Hiram Monserrate and Pete Vallone, Jr. are two
obvious front-running regulars with political agendas that dont coincide with Manton
Its going to be a fun election season as term limits and public
matching funds open up and invigorate the process and the party with new and exciting
faces and coalitions.