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The City Council Money Shuffle

Candidates for City Council speaker "donate" their own campaign funds to the people who will end up electing them. Is this naked vote-buying?

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The mayoral election may not have been a nail-biter, but in the race for City Council speaker—probably the second most powerful position in city government—anything can happen. To win, a council member must get at least 26 of 51 members’ votes.

The current speaker, Gifford Miller, was term-limited out, and there are seven candidates vying to replace him: David Weprin, Bill de Blasio, Christine Quinn, Leroy Comrie, Melinda Katz, Lew Fidler, and Joel Rivera. Each has given money out of his or her campaign funds to other people running for council seats. This is a long-accepted practice.

“The whole idea here is to make as many friends as possible,” says political consultant Hank Sheinkopf. “You give to your friends in June when they need it and hope they remember you in January when you need it.”

The chart (available in print only), which is based on filings with the City Campaign Finance Board, follows the money for five of the seven candidates. Excluded were Rivera, who, at 26, is considered a long shot (although he’s also gotten in on the game, giving $9,000 to fellow council members), and Fidler, whose expenditures are not posted online.

Katz and Weprin were the biggest spenders, floating gifts of more than $1,000 to more than twenty different council members. Others, like Quinn, wrote checks to state and county party leaders, perhaps hoping they hold sway in City Hall.

But critics say the incestuous presents from aspiring speakers to council colleagues—especially to those who are not facing a competitive election—violate trust among donors, who think their contributions are buying bumper stickers, not being sent to other politicians and party bosses.

The candidates deny that the donations represent anything more than alliance-building. “It’s not quid pro quo,” says Weprin. “No councilman would want to sell their speaker vote to the highest bidder. If they did, it’s not a vote you would want anyway.”


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