NEW YORK—Mayor Michael Bloomberg has money to spend this election season, and he is taking notes as to who opposed him on the stop-and-frisk legislation, eyeing up which Council member he can get to rescind their vote. Controversial legislation, which would prohibit biased-based profiling, passed in the wee hours of June 27, with just enough votes to override the mayor’s veto.
Following a report in The New York Post that his super PAC, Independent USA, would try and influence local elections, the mayor beat around the bush on Monday as to what exactly he would do.
“We should all support candidates we agree with,” the mayor said at a press conference in the Bronx on July 1. “We will see what I am going to do.”
The mayor said he had an obligation to tell people about the impact of the bills, and that he would talk about it during election season. Through donations to his super PAC, he can fund ads in favor or against candidates without regard to donation limits, as long as he does not donate directly.
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The mayor, a self-made billionaire, may have a seemingly-endless war chest, but considering the slate of local races this year, his attempt at changing the outcomes of local elections based on this issue may fall flat.
The mayor only has a shot at overriding Intro 1080, which would expand the categories of bias-based profiling, as well as allow individuals to sue the state if they feel they are profiled. The Council has the minimum votes needed—34—to override the mayor’s veto. A second bill supporting oversight of the NYPD passed with 40 votes.
If the mayor can get a single Council member to flip from aye to nay, his veto would stick.
“There may be a handful of races he could influence. What he has going in his favor is, it does not take too many votes to turn a primary,” said Bruce Berg, associate professor of political science at Fordham University. “The question is, do you have two viable candidates, and do they disagree on this issue?”
It does not appear Bloomberg would find a viable candidate in the Council races that he could support. Of the 34 Council members who voted in favor of Intro 1080, 23 are up for reelection, according to DecideNYC.com, which keeps tabs on all the local races. Seven of those races are unopposed.
Of the opposed races, only three are deemed highly competitive: Council member Inez Dickens, who is facing Vince Morgan in Harlem; Council member Steve Levin in Brooklyn, who is facing attacks from Stephen Pierson who has tied Levin to disgraced Assemblyman Vito Lopez; Council member Melissa Mark-Viverito in District 8 (whose new district lines created quite the fury), who faces a tough primary with seven opponents.
Mark-Viverito, who is Latina, and Dickens, who is African American, spoke passionately in favor of the bills at the Council hearing on June 26, and are very unlikely to turn over their votes even with pressure.
Levin, who is white, is a highly popular council member. His alleged ties to Lopez may do some damage, but not nearly the amount of damage switching his vote would bring.
Five council members are running for other local positions. Council members Gale Brewer, Robert Jackson, and Jessica Lappin are all facing Julie Menin, Chair of Community Board 1, for Manhattan Borough President. It is highly unlikely Bloomberg would be able to leverage any of the candidates against each other, considering they all voted the same way.
Council member Latitia James is running a tight race for Public Advocate with Senator Daniel Squadron, who is leading in the fundraising, and Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code. James, who is African American, has been an outspoken critic of stop-and-frisk and a sponsor of Intro 1080. It would be unlikely she would change her vote at this point.
Queens Borough President is the lone race that pits an opponent and supporter of Intro 1080 against each other. Peter Vallone Jr., Chair of the Public Safety Committee, would not let Intro. 1080 out of his committee for a vote, saying the lawsuits would bankrupt the city. The Council went around him, issuing a motion to discharge the bill, which led to the vote on June 26. He voted against both bills.
Vallone will face fellow Council member Leroy Comrie Jr. in a five-person primary, which includes Senator Tony Avella. Comrie, who is African American, is a sponsor on Intro 1080, and is unlikely to flip his vote to ease political pressure in a tight election.
Bloomberg’s super PAC spent $8.2 million on the 2012 Federal elections, according to data from opensecrets.org. Independence USA championed against NRA supporters and helped backers of marriage equality and education reform. The group, solely funded by Bloomberg, racked up 19 victories on election night with only seven losses, according to The Daily News.
The fact that Bloomberg is trying these tactics to get what he wants at the local level is not surprising to some experts.
“When you have been successful in the past with these kinds of tactics, you are likely to try them again,” said Steve Brams, professor of politics at NYU. “It is a question of being seen as too blatant and actually causes a counter reaction.”
Stop-and-frisk has become a polarizing topic in New York City, with stops topping nearly 700,000 in 2010, most of them of minorities. The two bills passed by the Council aim to reform the practice.
The mayor, along with Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, have been adamantly against the bills. On June 28 on his weekly radio show, Bloomberg claimed more minorities should have been stopped, causing an uproar.
Bloomberg’s ads against gun advocates, especially shortly after the shooting in Newtown Conn. in which 20 children and 6 adults were shot to death, may have worked in swaying elections, but in New York City, that may prove less effective.
“The people who hear a Bloomberg PAC commercial and turn it off have probably already made up their minds anyway,” said Berg. He said it could have an impact on someone who wasn’t going to vote to get them to the polls.
“The opposition is likely to make a ruckus about this, and in the eyes of the public it would be viewed as demeaning and not the way politics should be run,” said Brams. “It could cause a lot of consternation and maybe even work against the mayor.”