Gerson reneges on pledge to return public funding
By Elizabeth OBrien
Despite facing weak opposition in the primary and general elections, City Councilmember Alan Gerson has spent most if not all of the money he received under the citys campaign finance program.
Gerson received $103,125 in city matching funds for the primary and the general elections combined, the maximum amount for which he was eligible, according to a spokesperson for the citys Campaign Finance Board. The incumbent for Downtowns Council District 1, Gerson trounced his Republican opponent in the general election by 87 percent to 13 percent, according to early results from the citys Board of Elections. The final official tally is expected later this week, according to an Elections spokesperson.
Before the September primary, Gerson said that he would give back some of the public funds if his opponents didnt raise much money themselves. During the 2003 election season, Gerson took in $88,367 in private contributions, according to the Web site of the citys Campaign Finance Board. His opponent in the primary, Peter Gleason, raised $18,622 in private funds, while his Republican opponent in the general election, Seth Elliott, brought in only $5,090. Gerson got about 80 percent of the vote in the September primary against Gleason.
But Gerson said on Monday that it is too early to tell whether he will have any money left over from the total of $191,492 in public and private funds that he had available for his reelection campaign.
We spent what for this district is a relatively small amount, but that doesnt mean we will be in a position to return any city money, Gerson said.
The citys campaign finance program was designed to reduce the influence of special interests and to help candidates who dont have huge coffers mount a credible campaign. All candidates who join the program receive matching contributions from the city and in return must provide a full, public accounting of all funds raised and spent.
As of the most recent filing date of Oct. 24, Gerson had spent a total of $169,071, according to the Campaign Finance Board, leaving $22,421 remaining from his total.
Gersons campaign manager said that the councilmember and his staff were still calculating exactly how much money was spent on the campaign. Leo Glickman, the campaign manager, said that he received a campaign-related invoice as recently as last weekend.
In August, a New York Post article criticized Gerson and two fellow City Council incumbents for requesting the maximum funds from the city even though they faced weak challenges. The citys campaign finance program is funded with taxpayers dollars, so candidates should be more judicious in seeking funds that give $4 for every $1 raised by the candidate up to the first $250, the Post article argued.
Gerson defended his spending on Monday. Much of his campaign funds paid for literature in English, Spanish and Chinese and an aggressive get-out-the vote campaign, Gerson said.
Gerson said his efforts paid off when he received equal support from all areas in his district, from Wall St. to Soho, with an added boost in his home area of Greenwich Village. This strong showing gave him a clear mandate for his Livability First initiative and other measures, Gerson added.
Im very happy with the way we ran the campaign, Gerson said.
Brad Hoylman, who ran for City Council against Gerson in 2001, declined to comment on Gersons spending this year but said he could easily understand how a candidate would spend his entire allotment.
Thats the nature of a campaign, you spend as much as you raise to communicate your message, Hoylman said. He added that local politicians do not have extensive polls to tell them how they stack up before an election.
No candidate has the luxury of knowing how he or she will do on Election Day, Hoylman said. Smart elected officials run scared.