It is 873 days until the 2021 mayoral election, but an early skirmish has broken out between two likely rivals for the Democratic nomination in that race: Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who is supporting a push to rework campaign finance rules, and Comptroller Scott Stringer, who says that push defies the will of voters and gives Johnson an edge over other candidates.
Last year, voters approved changes to the city’s campaign finance law that increased the rate at which low-dollar donations are matched by taxpayer money, and limited the maximum donation that anyone could give to any citywide candidate to $2,000. Candidates who had already started raising money for the 2021 race under old rules and a higher donation limit ($5,100 for each citywide candidate) were allowed to keep cash raised through 2018.
The bill the Council is considering would tweak the system further–essentially, bumping up the maximum public financing any candidate can receive. But it would also force candidates who wanted to tap into the more generous new system to return donations that exceed the new cap.
That would cost candidates like Stringer, who would have to return $3,100 to each of its pre-2019 maximum donors if he wanted to get the newer, more lucrative match.
According to the Campaign Finance Board’s database, Stringer has raised a little over a million dollars for 2021 so far—some $843,000 of it of donations greater than $2,000. Not all of that would have to be returned, of course, but the mandate would be costly. Johnson has raised nearly nothing for 2021 to date, but another likely contender, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., has raised about $740,000 overall, $541,000 of it in donations greater than $2,000.
And Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, so far the leading fundraiser for 2021, with $1.7 million hauled in so far? Just over $980,000 of his cash has come in donations larger than $2,000.
But when asked about the dispute on WBAI’s Max & Murphy Show on Wednesday, Adams suggested both of his possible 2021 rivals were wrong.
“We should not have money in politics at all, and dropping the dollar amount to $250, or dropping the maximum amount to $2,000 is not going to solve the problem,” Adams said. “The problem in politics for all those out there that aren’t familiar, is that there’s money in politics, and the problems in politics will never go away until we take money out of politics. If you have a $2,000 maximum donation, try knocking on the door of a NYCHA resident, and say: ‘Can you make a $2,000 donation to my campaign?’ You’re not speaking to your voters if you’re speaking to your donors.”
“I was hoping the mayor would move to take money out of politics altogether. He didn’t do it. I thought it was a missed opportunity, and I was hoping that the City Council would do the same thing with their charter revision,” Adams continued. “No one wants to confront the real enemy of politics, and that’s money in politics. We should not be calling individual people and asking them to donate money in the campaign. It should be publicly financed, with a limited amount people can spend, they should have a short window of time that they’re able to campaign, everyone plays on an equal playing field; it doesn’t matter if you live on Park Avenue in Manhattan or Park Place in Brooklyn: Everyone’s voices should be heard. And it’s almost an insult to think that lowering dollar amounts is going to change the corruption problem in politics.”
Adams also talked about:
• his priorities for the end of session in Albany: “Legalization of marijuana, it is important” as it “cleaning up the records of those who were arrested” for weed: “We need to give people an opportunity to go on with their lives.” Also: “I think going deeper on prison reform is something they should look at as well.” And drivers’ licenses for the undocumented? “Yes, that’s a win-win.”
• the need for pay equity between Department of Education teachers and those employed by nonprofits who deliver Pre-K for All instruction: “You need to ensure that our teachers in these pre-K locations are receiving the same salaries, the same level of pay that their counterparts are receiving.”
• how he’s reserving judgment on the proposed redeveloped Brooklyn jail that’s part of the Close Rikers plan–and how the problems of undiagnosed dyslexia and foster-care age-outs ought to be part of the conversation about reducing the city’s jail population.
• his views on the role of incarceration in society: “I don’t believe that a person who commits a non-violent act, as I said earlier, should be incarcerated in Rikers merely because they do not have enough money to pay for pail. I think that’s wrong, and it’s the wrong way to go. Those who commit predatory crimes — burglary, rape, homicide, felonious assault, kidnapping — they should be incarcerated, and I don’t believe we should ignore that. There are some people who say we don’t need jails at all, there’s no reason for anyone to be in jail. I do not subscribe to that theory.”
• how he feels NYCHA should approach developing its “unused” land (he wants middle-class housing there)
Listen below to Adams’ conversation with Gotham Gazette’s Ben Max and me, or hear our talk with Casey Seiler of the Albany Times-Union about the politics of the rent-regulations deal and last-minute legislative tasks in the capitol.
Eric Adams, borough president of Brooklyn, on the Albany agenda, the city budget, new jails, NYCHA development and more
Casey Seiler, managing editor of the Albany Times-Union, on the politics of Albany at session’s end
Max & Murphy: Full Show of June 12, 2019
Reporting assistance provided by Cyan Hunte.