Since 1897, Manhattan’s Upper East Side has been known as the Silk Stocking District. For 32 years, no one has been more of an icon in that well-heeled neighborhood than Roy M. Goodman, the 70-year-old state senator who was first elected in 1968. Independently wealthy in part from his father’s development of pharmaceutical formulas, including Ex-Lax, Goodman is known as the “statesman of the senate,” a hardy advocate for the arts, and a moderate Republican, enough in sync with his constituents that he has been reelected 16 times despite the fact that he is a Republican and most of the people he represents are not.
But now Goodman faces a serious threat from a challenger who is not only a Democrat, but an advocate for people who arguably have no socks at all, much less ones spun of silk. Liz Krueger, 42, has spent her career advocating for the rights of poor people, battling to make welfare reform a meaningful road to real jobs, and working to preserve food stamps and affordable housing. She has worked since 1986 at the Community Food Resource Center, where she is currently on leave from her post as associate director. An oft quoted critic of Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Governor George Pataki, Krueger has a reputation for being well versed, outspoken, and ardent.
Now, banking on heavy Democratic turnout for the November presidential and U.S. Senate elections, Krueger is one of several Democrats citywide hoping to change the math that has made the state senate a Republican stronghold for 61 of the last 62 years. Democratic domination relies on unseating six GOP senators, and sources say Goodman is a likely casualty. Voter profiles in the district make Krueger’s campaign hopes realistic: Nearly 53 percent of the 168,383 voters are registered Democrats, and another 22 percent have no party affiliation. A full 58 percent of all voters are female, which could also boost Krueger’s bid.
She faces primary competition from Democrat Robert Bellinson, an attorney who has twice challenged Goodman. In 1998, Bellinson won 44 percent of the vote—the best showing a Goodman opponent has ever made and a turnout that Bellinson says has earned him, not Krueger, “the right to a repeat performance.” Education, transportation, and quality of life issues are on his agenda.
Krueger and Bellinson face off in a September 12 primary. Political observers are giving Krueger the edge due to her professional stature and her campaign fund, which is aided in part by family money. As of her last filing, in early August, she had raised $254,464.33. Bellinson had raised $6503, but says he has since neared his goal of $100,000. Sources agree that the real race will be between Krueger and Goodman in November. Goodman, who summers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, did not return calls.
One of the forces shaping the presumed Goodman-Krueger race is rent regulation. That’s partly because of the extensive number of regulated apartments in the 26th State Senate District, which extends roughly from 14th to 89th streets and Fifth Avenue to the East River. It has approximately 86,000 such units, one of the city’s largest concentrations, and includes mega-developments at Stuyvesant Town, Peter Cooper Village, and Waterside. Rent is a hot issue, too, because Goodman’s Republican colleagues have long been the locus of anti-tenant politics, the most recent and severe example being Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno’s 1996 threat to scrap rent laws entirely.
Ensconced as he is in such a tenant-heavy district, Goodman has bucked his party and supported rent laws. Along with Frank Padavan of Queens, he is one of only two Republican senators voting against measures hostile to tenants. That stance has enhanced Goodman’s popularity among voters, but made him an outcast and, sources say, largely ineffective within Albany’s rigid power structure. “He’s absolutely outside the entire workings of the institution,” says a legislative colleague. “He’s so far away from the decision-making process, they just roll him.”
Renters, too, face a dilemma regarding Goodman. Two citywide tenant groups have split on the race, with the Metropolitan Council on Housing backing Krueger and the Tenant Political Action Committee (Tenant PAC) endorsing Goodman. “It was an extremely difficult decision, and it was very divided, not because of Roy, but because of Liz,” says Michael McKee, treasurer of Tenant PAC, a two-year-old group that does not make financial contributions to candidates but does raise money to hire organizers who turn out tenant votes. “People have a great deal of respect for Liz, but if you have an incumbent who has stood up for you, you don’t abandon him,” explains McKee. And strategically, he reasons, it makes sense to have a friend among what tenants consider the enemy camp. Says McKee, “Losing Roy’s voice in the Republican conference would be very harmful.”
But Tenant PAC’s endorsement of Goodman may itself be harmful, says Kenny Schaeffer of the Met Council. “I’m dismayed by Tenant PAC’s supporting Goodman because this is a real chance to pick up a couple of Democratic seats, and because we have in Liz Krueger a good candidate who is so strongly on our side,” says Schaeffer, noting that the Met Council endorsement was unanimous. “But Goodman can publicize the Tenant PAC endorsement and cut into what should be natural support for Liz.”
Schaeffer argues that Goodman’s support of rent laws has been nothing more than “lip service,” since the senator has “done nothing to really challenge Bruno or Pataki,” who had designs on dismantling rent laws even before he occupied the governor’s mansion. “On important votes, Goodman has delivered nothing,” says Schaeffer. “And when the vote does matter, he goes with the leadership.” He complains that Goodman has refused to meet with tenants to discuss legislation that would overturn a state rule and allow the city to determine its own rent laws. “If his line is that’s he’s up there to defend us,” says Schaeffer, “he’s ineffective and should step aside.”
Worse still, says Schaeffer, are Goodman’s roles as a Republican Party leader. He is chair of the New York Republican County Committee and deputy majority leader, just under Bruno, in the senate. Since the Republican Party is what Schaeffer calls “a powerful financial conduit for the Manhattan real estate industry,” which donates hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to GOP candidates and committees, Goodman shares in fortifying the industry’s political heft. Schaeffer argues that Goodman’s boast that he does not get one cent from major real estate interests is moot. In fact, Joe Strasburg, who heads the state’s largest landlord lobby, says his group “absolutely and intentionally” does not give Goodman money, even while sending checks to politicians who claim something of a pro-tenant posture, like Assemblyman Vito Lopez of Brooklyn and Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver of Manhattan.
Tenant PAC’s support for Goodman ends with the endorsement. McKee says the group will not hire organizers to help turn out the vote for him or against Krueger; it will use the more aggressive strategy in at least two other senate districts, the one represented by Bronx-based incumbent Guy Velella, and the Yonkers district of Nick Spano. Strasburg says his group is also sitting out the Goodman race. “We’re taking a pass on it,” says Strasburg. “There’s no reason whatsoever for us to get involved.”
Sources from both parties say that Republicans are indeed nervous about losing their grip on the senate this fall. “They’re all worried,” says one legislator. “They’re afraid that a lot of guys, especially city and suburban guys, are going to get clocked. Look at how far left they came this year,” passing bills on hate crimes, environmental protection, and gun control, in part to stave off a possible voter backlash this fall.
Even so, the prospect of a candidate dedicated to antipoverty work stepping into the Silk Stocking senate seat is intriguing. Asked how her years as an advocate for the poor translate into votes in the 26th District, Krueger quips: “That was one of my first questions.” But she quickly adds that “in my district, people don’t think it’s bad for people to have food and housing and health care. They’re not reactionary. I’ve been on the streets campaigning for three months, and if I’ve had five people who have said to me, ‘I won’t vote for you because you’re a liberal or radical, you believe in welfare,’ that’s a lot.”
Indeed, Krueger says her candidacy was born out of her work as an advocate. “It’s frustrating doing antipoverty work in New York City in 2000,” she says. “I’ve spent 20 years living with the effects of bad legislation or seeing legislation that should have been passed fail. I know what it means on the street. You could do all the right things and get a bill through the assembly, but no matter how right or how strong the measure was, you knew you weren’t getting it through the senate, and it would never be law. Maybe you could get a sponsor, even a Republican, to pretend to propose it, but it would never pass. I decided I could be more aggravated at what I saw government was not doing, or I could take the plunge.
“So what’s the worst that could happen? I lose. No one dies. For some politicians, I know they consider that a life-and-death issue. But I’ve actually worked with people on real life-and-death issues. This is not one of them.”
Ballot tips for tenants: Tenant PAC is offering a voters’ guide to many legislative contests in the city and nearby suburbs. To get one, write the group at 238 West 78th Street, 10024-6605, or call 212-713-5426.