Games People Play
week, I received a message that City Council candidate John Liu had reached out and wanted
to stop by for a Friday morning breakfast. John was bringing the bagels and lox.
Council Candidate John Liu
photo: Ira Cohen
Friday is usually an easier day and bagels and lox are never bad, but I had recently
turned down meeting with a number of Council candidates. Its not that I dont
want to meet them all I do. Its just with some hundred odd Queens Council
candidates, individual interviews or meetings where I could get to know them would take
lots more time than I had available between now and the primary. For those of you that
regularly read this space, you know that there is nothing I would enjoy more than devoting
my time to checking out the candidates and reporting back to you; but with a business to
run, a paper to manage and some overriding corporate responsibilities, there is just no
we did want to meet as many Council candidates as we could in order to help us with our
endorsements, so we have decided to invite them to meet us in groups. We plan to hold
brief group interviews of all the candidates running in the primary for each of the 14
vacant Queens Council seats. I also have to try to complete my interviews of the
candidates for citywide office and interview the three candidates for Borough President.
Ive scheduled a number of them over the next couple of weeks but will have to
squeeze in after a Florida vacation to see mom and revisit Disneyland with Allison
and Lil two GOP mayoral candidates,
four missing Dems and whatever it takes for the Council meetings. I love what I do, but no
one ever said it was easy.
when John Liu wanted to meet, my first reaction was no way. But, I had identified to my
newsroom the race for the 20th Council seat, as the race to watch. The political buzz has
the three Caucasian and one Latino candidate with an insufficient number of good
signatures to withstand petition challenges and remain on the ballot. That would leave
at most two Chinese (John Liu and Ethel Chen) and one Korean (Terence Park)
running in the Democratic Primary. Although both John and Terence also face petition
challenges, and there is a Caucasian Republican candidate (and two guys from the Green
Party), there is a great likelihood that the winner of the Council election for the 20th
District representing downtown Flushing, will be an Asian American the first Asian
American to sit in the City Council. This historic occurrence is significant and long
overdue. The circumstances just described caused me to take Trib editor Tamara
Hartman and political reporter Angela Montefinise aside and tell them watch the
20th, history will be made there.
I knew John Liu. I had first met him a couple
of years ago at a Temple Israel brunch when Trib Associate Publisher Mike Nussbaum
was honored. His consultants, who wanted to come for bagels, were friends, and John is
bright, articulate and clearly the perceived frontrunner on the cusp of making City
political history, so what the hey, sure Ill break bagels with him Friday morning.
had an ulterior motive. You see, Angela Montefinise is a new, bright political reporter
with the innate skills to be real successful at our game. She seems to have the compelling
interest in politics and government to enable her to excel as a political reporter.
However, these things take time and training. My breakfast with John and company was to be
our first learning laboratory.
knew John was bright and quick and able to withstand my usual interrogation.
you ask some of the citywide candidates, I am not known to be an easy
interviewer. I ask, I challenge and I often pose a series of questions in rapid-fire
order. Ive discovered if you let the candidate control the pace and direction of the
interview, you basically get their prepared script.
think rather quickly, am well- enough versed in government, have been a student of
politics, have run campaigns and prepared candidates for debate. I know how to challenge a
candidate. To me, that is the heart of the interview test the candidate, make them
react to the unexpected. If you want their canned positions you can read their literature
or go to their website. If you want to know if they can think on their feet, challenge
them, take control and keep them a little off balance. Ask the unexpected. Play
devils advocate. Pose the unsolvable.
wanted Angela to learn and Tamara to grow. I figured Id have a go at John;
theyd perceive the tone and jump in. Well it didnt quite work that way.
Liu, Mike Nussbaum, Parksides Bill Driscoll and Harry Giannoulis, Angela, Tamara and
I were present. Mike, Harry, Bill and I had bagels and I dont think anyone else ate.
began with a tough question . . .
I continued with a tough question . . . John responded.
they got tougher. John and I dominated the session.
Im rarely, if ever, easy on candidates. Perhaps I was a little tough on John. And in
our brief postmortem, when I asked Angela what she learned, she responded, Its
okay to ask the really tough questions.
it is, Angela. That is our job.
John, by the way, came through with flying colors. Im not sure, but elsewhere in
this paper there may be Angelas account of our interview. I had no intention of
writing about it. However, I had fun and was really impressed with Johns intellect
handled me for the most part. He stayed on message, was compassionate, cared deeply
about his community and the City, was knowledgeable about the issues and fumbled only
slightly when trying to be the good party loyalist a real difficult dilemma for
did his best to redirect the discussion about issues. I did my job and turned it towards
politics. It was an interesting exchange. Hes good. Hes smart. Hed be a
wonderful representative in the Council.
that is not an endorsement. As Ive said almost weekly, almost every time I encounter
someone from the new crop of Council candidates it reinforces the incredible positive
effect that term limits and public funding has had on the electoral process in the City.
20th District is presently represented by Julia Harrison, the 15-year Council member who
has spent a good part of the last decade fostering hatred toward the Asian migration to
Liu said to me, I dont want people to vote for me because Im Asian; I
want their vote because Im good for Flushing and the City.
John Liu should replace Julia Harrison, it will be a resounding tribute to term limits,
public financing and our system.
thanx for breakfast and being part of our learning. Good
Should We Term Limit
The State Legislature?
Cohen is a newcomer in terms of NYS Assembly players. He was elected some five years ago
to join a fraternity from Queens that has the seniority of Methuselah.
should be aware by now that us folks from Queens just seem to reelect the same guys year
after year. Incumbency presents such an unfair advantage that it is a safe bet that once
you have a seat, you keep it. There is a swing seat or two in Queens where once a decade
the Dem or Repub could lose it to the other party. Then its retirement, scandal,
redistricting, a higher office or term limits. Otherwise, the incumbent is in for life.
Quality doesnt really matter. Thats not to say that all incumbents are bad.
Some are quite good. However, their fundraising ability, name recognition, use of
government mail and staff make them, for the most part, unbeatable. Usually when
youre unbeatable, you get fat, lazy and arrogant.
youre unbeatable, you dont care enough if you pass the State budget on time.
All you begin to care about is your comfort, power and staying in office. Its sad
but thats where the State political system has left us.
Mike Cohen got a break when Melinda Katz decided to give up her Forest Hills seat and take
a shot for Congress. Melinda didnt make it, but the strength of her name recognition
remains. Youll see Melinda elected to the City Council in November. Now, in her
case, its not a bad thing. But rest assured that this City is at the dawn of a new
era in governance and term limits is the sun that has shown us the way.
we must evaluate its effect and as one who has always opposed it, I find it difficult to
become term limits champion. But friends, I believe we will all reap the harvest of
the new political era. Change is good. Term limits brings change.
two weeks ago, in this space, I took after those Albany legislators who have now set a new
record for failing to pass a State budget on time. This is the seventeenth year in a row
for that irresponsible achievement. Its now four months and no budget. In private
industry, management would be thrown out if they acted so cavalierly for even one year.
am not the only journalist to criticize the do-nothing, lack-luster State legislature.
Every responsible news outlet from the New York Times to the weeklies in Buffalo
know that the State political system is broken and its high time to fix it.
we should term limit the bums out.
I poked fun at the legislatures willingness to regulate our cell phone behavior in
the privacy of our cars while failing to pass a State budget. These guys must be immune to
criticism. Only one of them reacted.
received a somewhat courageous phone call from Forest Hills Assemblyman Mike Cohen. Mike
made no attempt to defend the budget failure but commented, I prefer no budget to a
my judgment, Mike clearly lost our argument but won my admiration. As Ive indicated
elsewhere on this page, Im not very gentle in challenging elected officials or
candidates. Mike, who Ive known for more than 20 years, knew what to expect when he
called me. But he called nonetheless.
had an interesting and spirited exchange. Basically Mike felt the need to explain to me
the non-functioning Albany process with a Democratic Assembly, a Republican Senate and a
Governor who is not consulting with them. Yes, Mike, youre right. And youre
all at fault.
its real good to know that at least one member of that legislature still feels the
need to explain his actions to the press and the people.
week candidates received a proposal called the Government Access and Accountability
Campaign from a coalition of immigrant groups headed by NICEs Bryan Pu-Folkes.
requests, basically, that all candidates pledge to support their effort and if elected
plan to: 1) hold at least two town hall meetings; 2) conduct a mailed, annual,
district-needs survey; 3) report annually on constituent service.
will report on the plans progress and request all Queens Council candidates signing
on to this program, to also notify us by email at:
by Dom Nunziato
Michael Schenkler can be reached at: MSchenkler@QueensTribune.com
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