The Name Game

A council race turns nasty when race and ballot access mix

Mendez insists that only the numbers mattered. "If they have not met the minimum requirements it doesn't matter what gender you are, what sexual orientation you have, what religious belief you have," she says. "You should not be on the ballot and able to avail yourself of city taxpayer dollars."

That's a reference to the matching funds provided under New York City's generous campaign finance program, a potentially lucrative source of cash for shoestring campaigns. "Programs are being cut—after-school programs, senior citizen programs," Mendez notes. "Our taxpayer dollars are better spent going to those programs than going to candidates who have not technically qualified to be on the ballot."

According to the most recent round of Campaign Finance Board records, Mendez has claimed nearly $50,000 in public matching funds—or five times the combined claims of the candidates she's challenged.


Crowd includes, from left: Tsabar, local pol Roberto Caballero, Brightharp, Michael Lopez, Papajohn, Martinez, and Flanagan
photo: Courtesy Victor Arias
Crowd includes, from left: Tsabar, local pol Roberto Caballero, Brightharp, Michael Lopez, Papajohn, Martinez, and Flanagan

At a City Hall press conference on July 22, the candidates who'd been challenged gathered in protest. Speaking first, however, was Gur Tsabar, one of the rivals Mendez did not challenge. "A Democratic political club has taken an anti-democratic turn. They've turned against Democrats and against democracy," Tsabar said of CoDA.

Tsabar has capitalized on the threatened candidates' cause. His campaign also circulated a flyer accusing Mendez of an "attempt to disenfranchise local residents by limiting access to the ballot for people of color." Mendez's campaign is furious about the flyer. Others merely think the ballot access issue is starting to dominate a campaign that is supposed to be about housing, bars, schools, and other gritty issues.

What's more, the ballot issue is a curveball in District 2's already tough ball game. There's not a lot of media attention to help the candidates distinguish themselves, and there's no runoff provision—so a candidate could conceivably win with as little as 17 percent of the vote if the district splits fairly evenly.

"Every local race should be that kind of scramble," says Darren Bloch, one of the candidates who has not been challenged. Another, Michael Beys, is looking for strong turnout. Kavanagh is counting on his leading $108,000 in funds raised to pay for an extensive field operation. Mendez, who has most of the political clubs behind her, says the equation for victory is simple, whether she faces one or 20 opponents: knocking on doors, talking to voters.

But Flanagan and the others face an earlier vote—that of the elections board, not the voters. That's what bothers them about CoDA's challenges. "They want to decide who runs for office in District 2," Flanagan says. "Why are they so afraid of us?"

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