Many thanks to everyone who supported me in my efforts to become the Borough President of Queens and provide more active leadership for the multi-cultural heart of the greatest city in the world. Over 12,000 voters took the time to pull the lever next to my name in the September 15th Primary.
Running for office for the first time in my life (except for being a School Board Member in the early 1980s, an unpaid position) was a satisfying six month exercise of the democratic process, although sometimes it felt like an exercise in futility (see my Letter to the Editor below about how Manhattan-centric media ignored Queens, printed in several Queens weeklies but not in The NY Times).
Up early every morning to hand out flyers at yet a different subway station followed by days packed with meeting potential voters at pool clubs, senior centers, concerts, etc., I was both gratified by so many positive responses and disheartened by the apathy and cynicism I encountered. People on the run would take my campaign literature and ten steps later turn around to see that I was really the candidate. They’d smile, and I’d salute them. During the State Legislature circus in June in response to “Good morning. I’m Marc Leavitt, Democrat for Borough President” (which I must have said 50,000 times), one man angrily said, “Get a f**kin’ job!”
So why did I run in the face of such long odds?
First, I was offended that the people’s will regarding terms limits was trampled on, and the incumbent did a turn around and decided to run for third term.
Second, I truly thought I might win, and if a dozen things had all fallen into place perhaps victory was possible. For example, while representing a pro-bono client with the Queens Mortgage Foreclosure Project I spoke at length with Cynthia Rodriguez of NPR about a model agreement that would be fair to banks and keep people in their homes, but she told me as her feature was about to air in April that my interview was on the cutting room floor. And the Abraham-Ibrahim project I worked on to promote study of joint roots by Jewish and Islamic students of The Reform Temple of Forest Hills and the Razi School in Woodside (I spoke at the June graduation) is ongoing, but did not get publicized. So there was no early buzz to build on.
More importantly, I was enthusiastic about the potential role of the Borough President to promote, lead and inspire, notwithstanding the relatively few powers provided under the city charter. I hoped to speak up more strongly for Queens communities in dealing with the Mayor’s office on major policy issues like:
- Expanding mass transit to underserved areas, perhaps with Bus Rapid Transit (BRT, where buses operate like scheduled trains).
- Facilitating more parent involvement in a school system where creativity and learning replace “teaching to the test” as the main focus.
- As for health care, obviously a national issue, I hoped to encourage more community-based centers for preventive care and other basic services so hospital emergency rooms are not overwhelmed, and to lead the long-term goal of creating a medical school in Queens, the only borough without one (see attached press release).
Actively working with the diverse communities of Queens held unfulfilled promise to blossom into a spirit of cooperation that could improve the quality of life and the economy through enlightening projects. For example:
- A World of Work Program encouraging Queens businesses to hire high school interns, with model interview procedures and on-line coordination to strengthen ties between businesses and residents.
- Spotlighting and celebrating a different neighborhood each month, developing themes for each of our many “Main Streets” and featuring the restaurants, cultures and Mom-and-Pop stores and welcoming back celebrities for a home-coming.
- Making government more accessible by having agency representatives speak at local town halls. Creating a free DVD of a ten minute civics lesson explaining how our complex government works, narrated by Queens public officials and judges, starting at the homestead of Rufus King (who signed the Constitution), with subtitles in many languages.
- An International Book Festival each year, starting in each of our wonderful libraries with authors being role models and culminating with forums and special events at Queens College, would become a tourist destination and put Queens more on the map.
Alas, it was not to be. But I got a tremendous education about campaigns (my team headed by Lois Marbach was terrific), fundraising and the NYC Campaign Finance Board (which needs to be reformed), and realpolitik. People who I hoped would contribute and support me told me they feared retribution or negative consequences if they did. And a third candidate who I never met managed to stay on the ballot and dilute my chances notwithstanding nominating petitions including signatures of many people who testified they never signed plus at least four dead people (witnessed by three different petition collectors), because the judge essentially ruled there was fraud but not enough fraud.
And no, I do not expect to run again. But I do hope to improve the process. In summary, I’m glad I ran, and I’m happy to be back to work with my law office colleagues.
In gratitude and friendship,
P.S. If you are responding, please use my personal email: MarcLeavitt@NYC.RR.com
P.P.S. Here's my Letter to the Editor:
Queens continues to be ignored by Manhattan-centric media and organizations
In last Tuesday’s primary, I was a candidate for Queens Borough President and received over 12,000 votes, more than every candidate for City Council. In a major disservice to democracy, my race was virtually ignored by the New York Times, the Citizens Union, WYNC radio and NY1 (even though we ran TV ads), as well as all the other citywide newspapers and TV stations. Coverage in Queens weeklies was sporadic.
The theme of the “Leavitt for our Communities” campaign was that the neighborhoods of Queens are the multi-cultural heart of the greatest city in the world, but that we don’t get the credit for it because of inactive leadership. Ironically, the day after I lost the primary, the NY Times article "3 Veteran Council Members Ousted After Supporting Change in Term Limits" had a picture caption listing councilmember Helen Sears but an actual picture of incumbent Borough President Helen Marshall. This goof made my point by showing the Times does not even know who our Borough President is.
Queens has a population bigger than 16 states and over 25 countries comprising a virtual United Nations. It is the only US county with two international airports. During my campaign, I attended a conference of Mayors of Colombian cities in Corona, I spoke at Chinese business expositions in Flushing, and I met with Imam Al-Sahlani of the largest mosque in Queens. I marched as a Marshal in the Ecuadorian Day parade on Northern Boulevard which rivaled the St. Pat’s 5th Avenue event, and I broke the Ramadan fast with members of a metro-wide Bengali civic organization. I gave lectures on elder law at libraries and senior centers, addressed a forum on mortgage foreclosures, and walked street fairs from Astoria to Jamaica. We raised over $100,000 from over 500 contributors and were the only candidacy to qualify for campaign matching funds until the incumbent finally got funds on 9/11. We collected 12,000 petition signatures and campaigned in nearly every community and subway station.
And yet, Manhattan-centric media and organizations did not see fit to interview the candidates or cover the race at all. On election night, NY1 and others did not even display the vote totals for Queens Borough President. One can speculate that the Manhattan DA race received greater attention because the reduced role of borough presidents is only to be spokesperson and promoter. Or, as manifest by union leaders and other groups endorsing the incumbent, that an entrenched status quo is not worth challenging. The result was that none of my new ideas to help our families, create jobs or improve education were covered. Hopefully, this shameful behavior will not discourage future non-millionaire, non-machine endorsed candidates from seeking major office.
P.P.P.S. Here is my healthcare press release:
LEAVITT CALLS FOR COMMUNITY HEALTH CENTERS & A QUEENS MEDICAL SCHOOL
Queens Borough President candidate Marc Leavitt has known the need for affordable health care since he testified on 12/14/78 at Senator Ted Kennedy’s hearing at the Italian Charities of America building on Queens Boulevard. At that time, with his 3 year old daughter on his knee, he was still paying bills from his late wife’s illness over two years before. Kennedy said then that passage of comprehensive Federal health insurance would be an “uphill fight” but he thought eventual passage was “inevitable.”
Now, as the nation struggles with health care reform, Leavitt says that not-for-profit run FQHCs, federally qualified health centers, are a key part of the answer to addressing the primary health care needs of underserved Queens residents. “Plaza Del Sol, part of Urban Health Plan Inc. which opened in Corona earlier this year, provides pre-natal care, eye and ear exams, vaccinations, preventive care and other basic services so that hospital emergency rooms are not overwhelmed,” says Leavitt. Center director Helen Arteaga is delighted that civic leaders like Leavitt appreciate the important role of these facilities.
Leavitt serves at Columbia University College of Dental Medicine helping with oral health care programs for youngsters and the ElderSmile Program. Dean Ira Lamster says, “Marc Leavitt demonstrates the characteristics of an outstanding public servant. He is smart, passionate about serving his constituency and committed to improving the lives of the most vulnerable in our society."
Leavitt worked on a program to train home care attendants to spot medical problems and refer them for treatment at an early point with Dr. Kavita Ahluwalia, an expert on senior oral health care.
Regarding the need for more hospital beds in Queens, Leavitt observes, “Even before the recent closing of Mary Immaculate, St. John’s and Parkway Hospitals, over 30% of Queens residents went to hospitals in Nassau and Manhattan. Queens is the only borough without a medical school, and establishing one is the way to provide the jobs and the services we need.” He notes that the CUNY Law School was created to address the special need of teaching public service law. “The international character of the borough could be the basis for a public/private collaborative with foundation input to create an 'Institute for Queens Healthcare Improvement’ fostering research addressing major medical issues involving potential epidemics, obesity and long-term health care for seniors.”
Professor David Albert of the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, who has also worked with Leavitt, agrees on the critical need for “…more health care services in Queens, particularly in U.S. Department of Health & Human Services designated health shortage areas. Because the City Health & Hospitals Corporation is overwhelmed, we should explore all possibilities to address the opportunities in Queens to achieve high quality and lower cost, and this requires new creative leadership that Marc Leavitt can provide.”