Democrat mascot donkey behind a wheelchair icon - The First Democratic Club in the Country Focusing on Disability Rights
Screening Panel Report

The 504 Democratic Club interviewed candidates in the 2005 Democratic Primary on the following dates and venues:

We interviewed a total of 92 candidates and received questionnaires from some others (you may view the questionnaires and candidate responses on our web site:


City-Wide offices

Mayor: All four of the major Democratic Party candidates for Mayor were interviewed and have completed questionnaires. Many of us had high hopes that Gifford Miller, who was the only one of the four in a position to implement our outstanding legislation, including accessible taxis, community car service, accessible ferries, and Local Civil Rights Restoration Act, would give us reason to enthusiastically support him. We had particularly high hopes on our taxi legislation (Miller had been an early champion on this issue) and were told that the Speaker and Margarita Lopez had reached an "agreement" that we would be "happy" with. Sadly, the Council only passed our ferries legislation, with the rest being stalled and unlikely to be implemented this year. Of the rest, only C. Virginia Fields has been unequivocally in favor of a 100% taxi fleet. Fernando Ferrer and Anthony Weiner have expressed varying degrees of support. We believe that any one of the four would be more supportive of our issues as Mayor than the incumbent.

Public Advocate: We interviewed civil liberties lawyer Norman Siegel and Bronx Assemblyman Michael Benjamin, who has since dropped out. We tried to schedule the incumbent, Betsy Gotbaum, for an interview, but have been unable to do so; however she submitted a questionnaire. Gotbaum, although she seems supportive of our issues, has had no active presence in our community since she was elected. In contrast, Siegel views the office in a much stronger advocacy role. Given his record of vigorous support of those in the margins of society, he lends much promise to being an effective advocate for disability issues.



Borough President: We interviewed eight of the nine candidates. Of these, Margarita López has taken the strongest advocacy role on behalf of persons with disabilities. She fought for, and became Chair of the Council’s Disabilities Committee and was the prime sponsor of the accessible ferries bill, which passed, and fought for a 100% accessible taxi fleet. Unfortunately, an agreement that she had on her taxi legislation seems to have fallen apart. If we have one concern, it is her tendency to shut the community leadership out of negotiations on our issues, believing that she alone can represent us. Of the rest, Scott Stronger has been a strong ally, and was the former Chair of the Assembly Task Force on Persons with Disabilities, although they haven’t focused as much on our issues as Lopez and Stringer have. Both Councilman Bill Perkins and former Councilman Stanley Michels have also been strong allies. Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz has been an effective critic of the Department of Education’s failure to meet the needs of disabled students. Keith Wright has been working on getting new and accessible voting machines as Chair of the Assembly’s Election Law Committee, but we disagree with his support for the "full face" ballot. Brian Ellner, a former School Board President, exhibits promise, but seems to have no actual record on disability issues. Assemblyman Adriano Espaillat has been generally supportive.

District Attorney: We interviewed the incumbent, Robert Morgenthau, and his challenger, former Supreme Court Justice Leslie Crocker Snyder. Morgenthau has much admired record over many years on court diversion for mentally disabled defendants, hiring of persons with disabilities in his office, and staunch opposition to the death penalty. Judge Snyder has largely based her campaign on the incumbent’s age (he is 85) and has supporters who admire her tough prosecutorial instincts.

Surrogate: We interviewed Eve Rachel Markewich, a lawyer specializing in estates and one of the first women to become a partner in a "blue chip" law firm. Additionally, she was born without legs and uses artificial limbs. She has been active in disability advocacy, and has been particularly interested in the problems of persons with disabilities’ obtaining needed health insurance benefits for adaptive equipment. Her opponent in the primary did not participate in an interview and did not submit a questionnaire.

City Council, District 1: Alan Gerson has been representing Chinatown, Little Italy, Soho and Tribeca in the City Council for the past four years, and is seeking 504's support in his re-election campaign for a second term. In addition to supporting the legislation in the current Council session for accessible ferries and taxis, Gerson introduced a housing preservation measure for Section 8 and public housing tenants so that they can have the right of first refusal to buy their apartments if they go on the market, and is gearing up to introduce "grab-bar" legislation so that seniors and people with disabilities can have accessible, safe bathrooms in their residences.

City Council, District 2: The race for the seat currently held by Margarita López on the Lower East Side, the East Village, Gramercy Park, Kips Bay and parts of Murray Hill hotly contested, with as many as 11 candidates. It is unlikely all of them will be on the ballot at the time of the primary, but of the ones that appeared before us, we should be aware that Rosie Mendez, an attorney, former tenant advocate specializing in housing issues, and District Leader, leads the pack, with the strongest organization and a battery of endorsements by government leaders including Reps. Velázquez & Maloney, Assemblymembers Glick & Sanders, Senators Connor & Krueger, Council Member Christine Quinn and many of the state committee members and district leaders from all over the Lower East Side and the East Side. Her many years of activism in the community, including her service as Chief-of-Staff to outgoing Councilwoman Margarita Lopez, give her a leg up over the rest of the pack. Also mounting good campaigns are talented candidates with good ideas like Brian Kavanagh, former chief-of-staff for Council Member Gale Brewer, and aide to former Mayors Ed Koch & David Dinkins; Chris Papajohn who served on the American Civil Liberties Union's committee on disability law when they discovered that U.S. Post Offices are often not accessible to people with disabilities; Gur Tsabar, an aide to Speaker Gifford Miller, is articulate and well-informed on many issues, and authored an editorial in the April 14 Town & Village newspaper about unjust redlining of disabled New Yorkers due to budget concerns; Darren Bloch, a former Con Ed spokesperson who is a member of Community Board 6, is well-versed on housing and homelessness issues. In addition, a member of the disability community is running in this race--Michael Lopez, a team leader at Verizon and 18 year resident of Avenue C in the district sees this as "a historic opportunity for people with disabilities to take a seat at the policymaking table." We also interviewed Manuel S. Cavaco, who could not present evidence of a well thought out candidacy.

City Council, District 3: Christine Quinn, the incumbent, is running for re-election to represent Chelsea-Clinton, Greenwich Village, Flatiron, Midtown and Soho, and has been ably chairing the City Council Committee on Health, so she is acutely aware of the problems facing the community when it comes to Medicare, Medicaid, etc. She is running unopposed in the Sept. 13 primary, and is likely to be re-elected. She was elected in a special election in 1999, when Tom Duane (for whom she was chief-of-staff) was elected to the NYS Senate. She is supportive of, but not a leader on the issues of accessible taxis and ferries, so if she also wins her bid to become Speaker of the City Council, we will need to work diligently to communicate our concerns to her and her staff, so that she can assist to make advances on the issues that concern the community.

City Council, District 4: The race to represent Midtown East, Murray Hill, Stuyvesant Town and The Upper East Side in the seat that Eva Moskowitz is leaving because she is running for Manhattan Borough President (although she could serve until 2009) has several candidates, two of whom appeared before 504 seeking an endorsement. Dan Garodnick is an attorney with a strong record of civil rights advocacy, who has served on Community Broad 6, and is a lifelong resident of Peter Cooper Village and Stuyvesant Town is running against Jack Lester, an attorney who represents tenants in housing disputes. Although Lester—who was counsel to Sen. David Paterson, and formed the first anti-bias unit in a D.A.'s office in NYC—has tried to gain the club's support, 504's executive committee was unconvinced with his claims that an accessible campaign office was impossible to find in his district, and that the availability of a table at the restaurant downstairs from the office constitutes accessibility. Garodnick, on the other hand, is a progressive candidate who will ably represent the constituents of his district, disabled and non-disabled, and pledges to advance the issues that will improve access for all New Yorkers.

City Council, District 5: On the Upper East Side, the race to represent the "Silk Stocking District" is peopled with young candidates like Council Speaker Gifford Miller's former chief-of-staff Jessica Lappin, who was a former aide to Sen. Daniel Moynihan in Washington, until she returned to work on Miller's staff, where she has gained a lot of experience and familiarity with the issues that affect the community like DRIE, accessible taxis, the Civil Rights Restoration Act, a model building code for NYC that upholds or improves upon access requirements in current law, etc. Dan Quart is a member of Community Board 8, an attorney, formerly with Legal Aid Society, and then in private practice—who is receptive to 504 Democratic Club's agenda, but may need some more experience before finding elective office.

City Council, District 7: Robert Jackson, is seeking 504's endorsement and pledges support on issues affecting the disability community, like gaining parity in income levels determining eligibility for the Disability Rent Increase Exemption (DRIE) that separate seniors ($24,000, going up $1k per year for next 5 years) and people with disabilities ($17,000).

City Council, District 8: This is a multi-candidate race for a seat being vacated by Phil Reed, who is term limited. The district includes East Harlem, parts of the south Bronx, and extends to the West Side. In his heavily Latino district, Reed was able to win in the past based upon a multiplicity of Latino candidates, and a similar situation may happen this year, in which the Latino community is again split several ways. Previously, Reed fended off a strong challenge from television personality Felipe Luciano, who mounted a campaign that many interpreted as homophobic. Luciano is running again this year. Of the candidates we interviewed this year, we liked Joyce Johnson or Melissa Mark-Viverito the best. Johnson is a district leader and former candidate for Assembly, who running with the support of much of the West Side leadership. She seems well prepared to be a legislator, and she would be a strong supporter of our issues. Mark-Viverito, a previous candidate for Council in the district, is an East Harlem community activist and organizer with the Hospital Workers Union who has the support of much of the political leadership in the south Bronx. She would also be a vigorous supporter of our issues. We also interviewed Felipe Luciano, John Ruiz, and Gwen Goodman. Ruiz, a disabled firefighter and district leader, could not present a viable legislative agenda. Goodwin, an East Harlem activist, has limited herself to issues that immediately affect her community. We are still concerned about the tenor of Luciano’s past campaign against Phil Reed.

City Council, District 9: In this race, some candidates appeared before us. The members present at the Northern Manhattan meeting at the Harlem Independent Living Center decided to recommend Inez "Betty" Dickens or Virginia Montague, as it was difficult to choose between a candidate like Dickens, who as Vice Chair of the State Democratic Committee, and officer of the Martin Luther King Democratic Club, yields considerable clout in her neighborhood, alongside her credentials as a local business owner whose roots are in Harlem developing real property. In addition, her lifelong friendship with Pat Walls and strong support of 504 North Star Democratic Club has to be taken into account. She pledges to work, if elected to advance the issues that concern the disability community, and to see that affordable, accessible housing is created and preserved. Virginia Montague is a candidate some of us have known since she ran the Northern Manhattan office of the Borough President, and she has been present (as has Dickens) at the disability workshop held at the annual Association of Black, Hispanic & Latino Legislative Caucus in Albany, listening to our issues and voicing her support. Montague is a strong, principled, independent candidate, who ran in the 2003 election against the incumbent (Perkins) gaining 23% of the vote. She would make a strong ally in rallying the community to advance our issues, and pledges to stand alongside us as an advocate, and using her legislative powers as a Council Member to effect positive change. We also interviewed Rodney Carroll, a union organizer; Yasmin Cornelius, the young and dynamic district manager of the local community board; Cynthia Doty, an intelligent district leader and former legislative aide , is the only non African-American candidate in this predominantly Central Harlem District, and Woody Henderson, a cable TV host and associate of Al Sharpton, who focuses on education and housing issues;



11th Congressional District: We interviewed both the incumbent, Oliver Koppell, and challenger, Ari Hoffnung. In a career spanning more than three decades, Koppell has a stellar record of support for disability issues. It was his bill which included persons with disabilities as a protected class in the New York State Human Rights Law. During a brief period as State Attorney General, he employed a deaf lawyer in a significant administrative position and currently employs a wheelchair user on his Council staff. He has been a reliable supporter of all our legislation. If we have one concern, it is his failure to seek out qualified persons with disabilities to serve on local community boards. His opponent, Ari Hoffnung, is a first time candidate, who is active in his community. His wife and sister work professionally with persons with disabilities. He is concerned about the shortage of mental health professionals in the schools. Although he appears to be supportive of our issues, there is no record that he can point to to demonstrate his convictions.

13th Congressional District: In this multi-candidate race, we interviewed Jimmy Vacca, District Manager for his local community board, and Ismael Betancourt, a businessman and perennial candidate. Vacca can point to a number of actions he has taken as District Manager in support of disability issues, including holding up construction of a local movie theater until there was accessible design, working for accessible schoolyards and school bathrooms, and support for community residences for mentally disabled consumers. He enjoys strong support from local activists in our community. We believe that despite the conservative bent in his district, he will be a far more reliable supporter of our issues than the incumbent, who is term limited and cannot run again. Mr. Betancourt, while voicing support for our issues, doesn't have any record to demonstrate his commitment.

18th Congressional District: We interviewed the incumbent, Annabel Palma, whom we endorsed in her first successful run for this office. She has not disappointed us. Prior to her election, she was a union organizer who was an advocate for workers with disabilities. She serves on the Council's Mental Health, Mental Retardation, Addiction Services and Disabilities Committee, and has supported all our bills, including those for accessible ferries, taxis and car service. She is fighting to make a local subway station wheelchair accessible, and a noted disability activist is on her staff.



Borough President: Incumbent Helen Marshall participated in an interview despite having no opposition. She has a Disability Advisory Committee and is generally aware of disability issues as they relate to her borough.

20th Congressional District: John Liu, the incumbent and Chair of the Council's Transportation Committee, requested an interview despite having no opposition. We have supported Councilman Liu in the past. He has supported a number of transportation initiatives and has introduced legislation requiring livery service fleets to have accessible vehicles without the ability to contract out. However, despite prior commitments to us, he declined to support or push legislation requiring a 100% accessible taxi fleet, although he continues to maintain support for the principle. He is a major "gatekeeper" who has not allowed this bill to go forward.

21st Congressional District: We interviewed the incumbent, Hiram Monserrate, who, as the father of a disabled child, has concentrated on providing needed equipment and safety provisions for disabled children in schools. It was his bill to provide air conditioning in school buses. He has also been a reliable supporter of all our Council initiatives.

23rd Congressional District: We interviewed the incumbent, David Weprin, who has been a reliable ally in the Council. He introduced legislation requiring the installation of carbon monoxide detectors for hearing impaired individuals in specific building types, following the deaths of two of his constituents. He was also a sponsor of the accessible ferry bill, He served as a reader for Senate Democratic Leader David Paterson while they attended law school together. He is a candidate for Council Speaker.

24th Congressional District: We interviewed Rene Lobo, an international television star, who is challenging the incumbent, James Gennaro. She has made a number of television programs focusing on disability issues, worked with various organizations serving persons with disabilities, and started the Eyes for Hope Foundation, which provides services for sight impaired impoverished individuals in Asia. She would be a strong ally on the Council. The incumbent had blocked the passage of a lead paint bill in the Council for quite some time.

25th Congressional District: We interviewed the incumbent, Helen Sears, and a challenger, Bryan Pu-Folkes. Ms. Sears is very likeable, and tries hard for her community, and has a good record of many years of accomplishment for her constituents with disabilities. The entrance to her district office has three steps. In contrast, Mr. Pu-Folkes, is a singularly attractive, articulate and principled candidate who has worked with immigrants. He formerly worked with New York Lawyers for the Public Interest on health issues as well as disability issues, including the Duane Reed lawsuit. His campaign headquarters is accessible (by choice) and he pledges to have an accessible district office. We believe that Mr. Pu-Folkes has a future in elective office and will be a vigorous supporter of our issues.

26th Congressional District: The incumbent, Eric Gioia, appeared before us for the first time. He has supported a number of our Council initiatives, including accessible ferries and livery service. He doesn't understand our bill for 100% accessible taxi fleet and is one of just a few Council Members who have not signed on.

27th Congressional District: We interviewed the incumbent, Leroy Comrie, who appeared before us for the first time. Within the past couple of years he has built a strong relationship with our community and has supported all of our Council initiatives. He is a candidate for Council Speaker.

28th Congressional District: There are five candidates challenging the incumbent, Allan Jennings, Jr., who was censured for engaging in sexual harassment. The Democratic organization sponsored candidate, the district's former Councilmember, who was term-limited out of office, is himself engaged in an ethics scandal. We interviewed two of the other candidates. One, Dr. Dhanpaul Narine, a Guyanese immigrant who is a "special" education teacher, emphasizes "special" education issues from the perspective of a teacher, not a student or parent, and accordingly seeks to segregate disabled students from their peers and neighborhood schools. The other, Clifton Stanley Diaz, while an attractive candidate, supports Mayor Bloomberg for re-election and has worked for other Republican elected officials. He does not support lesbian and gay rights and does not give us confidence that he will be a strong supporter of disability rights.



District Attorney: We interviewed the incumbent, Charles "Joe" Hynes, and his three challengers, Arnold Kriss, Mark Peters, both trial lawyers, and State Senator John Sampson. DA Hynes earns points for his diversion programs, whereby defendants can pursue therapeutic treatment in lieu of prosecution and a strong record of hiring persons with disabilities, including Assistant District Attorneys and bureau chiefs and deputy bureau chiefs. However, there is much criticism of his record, given the level of political and judicial corruption in his borough, to successfully prosecute the perpetrators. Given this, we were surprised by Senator Sampson's minimizing the responsibilities of this office in this area. While both Kriss and Peters have emphasized the need for the office to take a stronger stance against corruption, what recommends Peters to us is his strong record and understanding of disability issues, which he gained as Deputy Chief of the Civil Rights Bureau of the State Attorney General's office and as the spouse of the former Assistant Director of Bronx Independent Living Services.

Surrogate: We interviewed the three candidates for Brooklyn Surrogate: Diana Johnson, Larry Knipel, and Margarita López-Torres. The vacancy for this office was caused when the Court of Appeals removed the previous Surrogate for malfeasance. Therefore, reform of the court is of major concern, particularly when it oversees the estates of deceased individuals and trusteeships of persons with disabilities. While we liked Diana Johnson, both Larry Knipel and Margarita Lopez Torres, sitting judges, have a much stronger record of support for reform. What tipped the balance for Justice Knipel, however, is that he is the parent of a disabled child and brings this sensitivity with him into the courtroom.

Civil Court, Countywide: We interviewed three of the 5 Democratic candidates for this seat. The others either did not respond or did not make the interview. All three candidates have much to recommend them. Norma J. Jennings, who is African American and openly lesbian, has a long history of representing individuals in civil and tenants rights matters, including jobs with legal services and Gay Men's Health Crisis. She is currently law secretary to housing court judge Dawn Jimenez and has secured the endorsements of several reform political clubs in Brooklyn. Anna Lewis, who lives in Manhattan and is the only white candidate in this 5-person field, is a person with a disability and a long time club member who in the past served on our executive committee. She has excellent legal credentials representing and advocating for individual rights and liberties. She is knowledgeable and sensitive to disability issues. We endorsed her when she ran for City Council four years ago. The third person we interviewed is Sylvia Ash, who is currently a supervising attorney in charge of immigration and family matters with DC 37. She is also experienced and sensitive to disability issues and has a brother with a developmental disability for whom she has been appointed legal guardian.

Civil Court, 3rd District: We interviewed Martin Needelman, who, in his capacity as Executive Director of the Brooklyn Legal Services office in the Williamsburg/Greenpoint section of this district, has fought to protect low income persons maintaining their apartments and to obtain needed governmental services. He was initially the only candidate to be reported out of a judicial screening panel set up by the County Democratic organization before it was reconvened.

Civil Court, 6th District: We interviewed all three candidates for this position, Cynthia Boyce, Michael Gerstein and Ingrid Joseph. All three have strong backgrounds in the law (Gerstein and Boyce from ivy league schools) and community work. Boyce has the added credential of an MBA also from an ivy league school. Both Boyce and Gerstein have experience with disability and are sensitive to our issues from a personal and family perspective as well. We like and had supported Joseph last year for Civil Court, but her two opponents this year have better credentials.

City Council, 33rd District: We interviewed the incumbent, David Yassky, who has been supportive of our initiatives before the Council. He has been pushing for CNG or hybrid fueled taxis, but also supports accessible taxis. He has no opponent in the primary.

City Council, 34th District: The incumbent, Diana Reyna, submitted a questionnaire, but did not appear before us as scheduled because she is 8.5 months pregnant. She has generally been supportive of our issues within the Council and faces two opponents in the primary, one with support from her former political sponsor.

City Council, 35th District: We interviewed the incumbent, Letitia "Tish" James and one of her primary opponents, Charles Billups. James has long been a strong supporter of our issues, including accessible taxis. We have supported her in the past, and she won on her second try on the Working Families Party line against the official Democratic Party candidate in a special election. She has since changed her party registration to the WFP, but the Democratic Party leaders in the district have allowed her to run in the Democratic Primary. This seems to be the main issue that her opponents have raised, and we don't believe that this is reason enough to abandon our support for her.

City Council, 38th District: We interviewed the incumbent, Sara Gonzalez, who won a special election following the felony conviction of the prior incumbent. She has been supportive of our issues within the Council. She faces two opponents in the Primary, neither of whom participated in our endorsement procedure.

City Council, 40th District: We interviewed the incumbent, Yvette Clarke, and her challenger, Zenobia McNally. The incumbent has been supportive of our issues on the Council, and served on the Mental Health, Mental Retardation, Substance Abuse, and Disability Services Committee. Her opponent did not seem to be aware of or have a record on disability issues.

City Council, 41st District: This is an open seat, due to the incumbent being term-limited, and has attracted 14 candidates. Of the ones we interviewed, we were most impressed with Alicka Ampry-Samuel, a former District Leader in the area and aide to the area's Council Member and Assembly Member, former Assemblyman William F. Boyland, Sr., and Tania Gelin, a former aide to a Council Member. Assemblyman Boyland was initially elected upon the death of his brother, and literally passed on his Assembly seat to his son. He is seeking to replace his daughter as Council Member. Although he has a strong record on the provision of mental heath services to his community, we believe it is time for new leadership outside the Boyland family. We favor Ms. Ampry-Samuel because of her strong record of service within her community. Ms. Gelin's service has been in another Brooklyn Council district. We also interviewed the Rev. Melvin L. Davis, Essie M. Duggan, and Maryam A. Samad, all of whom have admirable records of community service, but none presented themselves as able to represent the district effectively in a legislative body.

City Council, 43rd District: We interviewed the incumbent, Vincent J. Gentile, who has been responsive to our issues in his current capacity as well as his former one as a State Senator. He appointed disability activist Jean Ryan to the local Community Board. He faces no opposition in the primary, but will have a strong Republican opponent in the general election.

City Council, 45th District: We interviewed the incumbent, Kendall Stewart, as well as a challenger, Samuel Taitt. Stewart has exhibited erratic behavior in the past, including support for incumbent Republicans, and has generated much opposition from local political leaders. We have previously supported Taitt, a college instructor, who came close to defeating the incumbent in the last election. While acknowledging that Stewart has been very supportive of our issues within the past six months, we believe that the district will be better represented by Taitt.

City Council, 46th District: We interviewed the incumbent, Lewis Fidler, a candidate for Council Speaker, who has been strongly supportive of our issues, including transportation issues. He faces two opponents in the primary, neither of whom participated in our process.