By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Later this month, Rocky Chin, civil rights attorney and veteran community activist, will take a crash coursehis second within a yearon unraveling the tangle of local laws, bureaucratic procedures, and departments, commissions, and boards that make up city government.
Chin, who plans to run for Kathryn E. Freed's City Council seat in District 1 (which extends from Battery Park to Chinatown and includes part of the Lower East Side), is one of 150 candidates who have filed papers to run for offices from mayor to councilmember in 2001, according to Campaign Finance Board records. With term limits forcing out so many councillors36 of 51the relative rookies vying to replace them make up the largest slice of the election pie.
Enticed by the sweet aroma of political power, career politicians and a slew of newcomersmany of whom, like Chin, have experience in community activism or local politics but have never run for citywide officeare scrambling to snag a spot at City Hall. (See "Races All Over the City Promise a 'Mad, Mad' Year.")
But all these newcomers could spell political disaster. "(N)ewly infused political ambition coupled with inexperience (is) a recipe for ineffectiveness," Jeffrey D. Hoschander wrote last year in Gothamgazette.com.
That's where the Center for Transition and Leadership in Government comes in. In a new series of forums, people like Chin will get a primer on running for office. Chin, a 51-year-old Chinese American who says he's been "heavily involved" with the campaigns of several politicians, such as former mayor Dave Dinkins and City Council member Margarita López, says he sees the need for the extra schooling. "New York City is a huge city with a big budget. We don't spend enough time training our leadership. We expect people to somehow have this information just because they run."
One of the first tasks rookie councilmembers will tackle is to review, assess, and hold public hearings on the massive expense, capital, and revenue budgets for fiscal year 2002. Through the forums, savvy council aspirants can get a heads up on the complexities of issues such as contracting, the budget process, and addressing constituents' needs. They'll hear from voices of experience, including City Council Minority Leader Thomas V. Ognibene and former mayor Ed Koch at a series of weekend sessions at Baruch College's School of Public Affairs.
Of the 100 candidates who attended similar forums last winter, the largest number of participants were from Queens (followed by Manhattan and Brooklyn); 51 percent were female; 62 percent were council candidates; and 58 percent described themselves as "active in local politics."
"It's wonderful that the public-education sector is doing this," says Chin. "But we need to do it year-round."
"Running for City Council 2001?" forum dates are January 27, February 3 and 25, and March 4. For information, call the Center for Transition and Leadership in Government at (212) 802-6925 or the New York Women's Agenda at (212) 297-2155.
The series is cosponsored by the NYC 2001 Political Education and Leadership Coalition, an 88-member group formed a year ago by the New York Women's Agenda.