It’s 2021: Who Has the Money?

November 2021 will be a pivotal election year for the city. City Council candidates are busily fundraising to get their names out in races currently held by Bill Perkins and Diana Ayala.

Diana Ayala is the only candidate in her district to get matching funds. She’s received over $82,000 of these matching funds.

In Bill Perkins’ district (District 9) no one has qualified for matching funds.

The Campaign Finance Board has an $8-to-1 match from public funds for the first $175 for each for City Council and Borough President candidates.

The CFB issued a total of $17.3 million in its first payment of matching money for all candidates running for city office next year. One comptroller, two borough presidents and 56 City Council candidates also qualified for funds.

More than 96% of candidates running for office next year have opted into the matching funds program which gives a boost to candidates who may not have access to the funds needed to run for office on their own. It encourages them to seek small-dollar support from voters. But by taking public funds, participants are also agreeing to specific fundraising and expenditure rules.

On the map below, you can see the number of candidates per City Council district (darker blue means more competitors)

While fundraising is only one measure of a campaign’s effectiveness, candidates in 2021 are under added pressure to build and maintain momentum quickly with an accelerated primary calendar that moves the municipal contests to June from September, with as many open seats as the city’s seen in a generation, not to mention the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Matching funds for the fundraising period, from July 11th, 2020 – January 11th, 2021, will be paid out in February.

With nearly two-thirds of the seats for City Council open with no incumbent seeking re-election, CFB payments highlighted the neighborhoods where those races are likely to be most competitive. City Council candidates needed to raise $5,000 in eligible contributions including from 75 contributors in their district in order to qualify for public matching funds.

Dead Line Block

100 years ago, the New York Times used blatantly racist language to describe a Harlem real estate transaction, conducted by a church.

Terms like “dead line block” for an imagined racial (real estate) barrier and “invaded”, are sprinkled in the copy as signifiers of white racial anxiety.

The blocks mentioned in the article deteriorated over the next half century as Harlem was redlined and denied mortgages or loans that could have been used to better maintain the housing stock, while racist housing policies forced Black New Yorkers into overcrowded blocks like this. Eventually, Robert Moses intervened and the properties mentioned in the New York Times article were razed and replaced with the Lenox Terrace development.

The image below shows the blocks mentioned in the New York Times Article, and the ones that would be knocked down to build Lenox Terrace. Note the YMCA tower to the left at the center/top, and the CCNY buildings further back to the right of the YMCA:

The “Harlem site” included tenement houses described as “gloomy” with “overcrowded buildings so poorly lighted they are unsafe after dark”. 1,683 families lived in 164 buildings, of which 89% were categorized as “run-down” according to a survey of residents. Many of the buildings were found to have “inadequate courts and air shafts”. View select pages of the plan.

The proposal for the site included razing the three blocks and incorporating the “uneconomic street areas” into the superblock that exists today. Seven 20-story towers containing 1,113 units were to be built in a park with “landscaped sitting areas and playgrounds reserved solely for the tenants and their small children”. Parking would be provided and stores –until then located in converted basements and first floors in residential tenement buildings– would be replaced with dedicated commercial spaces along Lenox Avenue, separate from the residential areas.

Reducing overcrowding was central to slum clearance. The population at the Harlem site had increased by 22.5% between 1940 and 1950, reaching 803 persons per net acre of residential use according to the plan. The new development would reduce density to 440 persons per net acre of residential use, requiring the relocation of hundreds of residents. 1,010 families (60% of those living on the site) would be eligible to relocate to some of the 50,000+ units of public housing that were planned at the time; it was hoped that the rest would “prefer to relocate themselves”, although the City would offer relocation services to help those unable to find an apartment on their own.

Today the Lenox Terrace development appears largely as Robert Moses envisioned it over 60 years ago: tall residential towers stand in the middle of a superblock while separate commercial spaces front the avenues. Parking lots and driveways, however, occupy most of what Moses envisioned as playgrounds and landscaped areas.

For the full, New York Times article, see:

Odyssey House – Coming to East 126

Odyssey House is building (first knocking down) 52-54 East 126th Street and reimaginging it as a ~20 single unit supportive housing facility.

Graduates of Odyssey House programming will live on East 126th Street who have progressed beyond transitional housing. This new building will act more like a normal rental where tenants have individual and renewable leases. 

Odyssey House also said that this building will be staffed by two Odyssey House people 24/7.

Racist Coverage at The New York Times – 1911

While America’s “Paper of Record” is an invaluable source for exploring the history of Harlem and beyond, the deeply racist language found in the New York Times’ archives continues to shock.

Clearly, racially motivated discrimination and segregation has always been a part of the Harlem real estate market. Before the first decade of the 20th century, housing segregation was conducted on an ad hoc basis, by individual supers and landlords. As Black New Yorkers (and increasing numbers of southern refugees from racial terror) moved into more Harlem blocks, white residents and property owners began to organize and coordinate their segregationist behavior into compacts and agreements.

The offensive language used by the NYT like “menace” and “invasion”, was tightly interwoven with financial anxiety. Property values were mentioned in the sub heading, and used to both justify racial covenants and to describe the impact a multi-racial neighborhood would have on white property owners:

And, while we know that the work put into the organizations, alliances, agreements, and covenants failed, in the end, the cumulative impact was a self-fulfilling prophecy of overcrowded Black buildings, deprived of capital (improvements) with exorbitant rents. Without the ability to freely choose where they rented, Black New Yorkers were more easily exploited by Harlem’s landlords who could charge significantly more than they would have been able to charge white tenants who could rent in other New York neighborhoods.

The article concludes by essentializing Black New Yorkers as part of a “shifting and uncertain people”, in order to rationalize the white racial anxiety expressed in the article.

To read the original, see: