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Council Hopefuls Vie for Volunteers, Cash That Come With Club Endorsements

By Alan Neuhauser | May 22, 2013 9:14am | Updated on May 22, 2013 9:24am
 City Council Distrct 3 candidates Corey Johnson, Yetta Kurland and Alex Meadows are racing to win endorsements from Manhattan's Democratic clubs.
Council Candidates Vie for Political Club Endorsements
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MIDTOWN — Democrats seeking to replace City Councilwoman Christine Quinn in Manhattan's west side are hustling to get election-season endorsements from local political clubs — stamps of approval that can come with platoons of volunteers and, on occasion, cash.

A key reason "the clubs are so important is a purely mechanical one," Chelsea Reform Democratic Club president Steven Skyles-Mulligan said. "In New York, you have to petition to get on the ballot, so if a club endorses you, they have their people out and it lessens the burden on the campaign."

Beginning June 4, District 3 candidates Corey Johnson, Yetta Kurland and Alex Meadows have just five weeks to collect at least 450 signatures to get on the ballot.

That's why political clubs started issuing their endorsements earlier this month: from traditional district-based clubs like Chelsea Reform, the McManus Democratic Club and the Village Independent Democrats, to advocacy-based groups like the Stonewall Democratic and Jim Owles Liberal Democratic clubs.

Key resources are at stake with each endorsement: dozens of volunteers to deploy to subway stations and sidewalks to collect signatures, stuff leaflets beneath doors and windshield wipers, hang posters, and tackle other campaign grunt work.

"They can get boots on the ground, they can help people pass out petitions, and that's what gets people on the ballot to vote," Kurland said.

Johnson said he, too, could use the help.

"They're your ground troops," he said. "I have to rely, and I am relying, upon a volunteer army of people to help me, and Democratic clubs are a great source of volunteers in the neighborhood."

Platoons of volunteers, however, do not necessarily come free. Political clubs typically hold their fundraisers and candidates' forums weeks before they make their endorsements, all but forcing the candidates to not only make appearances, but offer donations as well.

"It is part of establishing a relationship with the people at the club," said Skyles-Mulligan, the Chelsea Reform president.

Once endorsed, candidates are then often expected to give several hundred dollars back to the club, which members said helps offset the costs of printing ballot sheets and other materials.

"Candidates chip in when their names are on the petitions," Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club president Allen Roskoff said.

The degree to which club members might expect a donation, however, "depends [on] how closely the club is collaborating with a particular candidate," Skyles-Mulligan explained.

"Just because you endorsed a particular candidate," he added, "doesn't mean you're hand in glove with everything."

Any exchange of money, he emphasized, "has to fall within ethical restraints."

Clubs can be explicit with their demands. Some, taking a page from corporate marketing, ask whether their names will appear on candidates' fliers and posters.

"A lot of clubs say to us, 'If we endorse you, are you going to put our name on your campaign lit?'" a council candidate said.

The Village Independent Democrats, Chelsea Reform Democratic Club and Lower Manhattan Democrats have endorsed Johnson. The McManus, Chelsea-Midtown, and Women’s Democratic clubs have endorsed Kurland.

The Stonewall Democratic Club will be making its City Council endorsements on May 29, and the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club on June 8 and 9.