By Julie Shapiro
Thirteen days before the primary that will decide whether City Councilmember Alan Gerson stays in office, the incumbent is having money problems.
Gerson has not received any public matching funds from the city Campaign Finance Board, while three of his four challengers have received an $84,000 boost. Gerson’s last opportunity to get his matching funds won’t come until Sept. 11, four days before the Democratic primary.
To make up for the shortfall, Gerson has been borrowing money for the campaign from himself and his supporters. His loans total over $52,000, the most of any Council candidate in the city as of the middle of August. Gerson has to repay all of that money by Sept. 15 or risk sanctions.
Despite these obstacles, Gerson said they were no big deal and he sounded confident Wednesday.
“We expect to get our full matching funds next week,” Gerson said. “We have a plan, and we’re sticking to our plan…. It’s not changing our strategy. It’s not changing our timing. It’s not changing our message.”
Gerson has not received his matching funds for three reasons. First, a series of technical errors on his qualifying petitions led the Board of Elections to remove him from the ballot in July. Gerson was restored to the ballot by a State Supreme Court judge Aug. 12, but by then he had already missed his first chance to get matching funds.
Gerson missed his next chance to get the funds in the middle of August because Pete Gleason, one of his challengers, filed a complaint against him with the Campaign Finance Board. And then Gerson missed his third chance to get matching funds this Wednesday, partly because of the Gleason challenge and partly because he did not file correct paperwork in time.
Paul Newell, Gleason’s communications director, said the problems with Gerson’s campaign reflect on his leadership ability.
“Whether his funds have been withheld because of his incompetence or malfeasance, it’s irrelevant,” Newell said. “Alan Gerson is not qualified to represent this community.”
In his complaint to the Campaign Finance Board, Gleason charged that Gerson did not report in-kind contributions from the nonprofit United Jewish Council of the East Side and therefore did not deserve matching funds. During a hearing related to the ballot matter in July, Gleason’s lawyer uncovered the fact that Renee Abramowitz, a U.J.C. employee, collected petition signatures for Gerson and other candidates after her boss left the petition sheets on her desk at work. Gleason believes Gerson should have reported U.J.C.’s work on his behalf.
Gerson has given $16,000 of discretionary money to the U.J.C. in the past two years, according to the Daily News.
Even though Abramowitz received the petitions at work, Larry Mandelker, Gerson’s lawyer, said Wednesday that she was acting as a volunteer on behalf of the Harry S. Truman Democratic Club, not as an employee of U.J.C.
“I don’t think the Gleason complaint has much substance,” Mandelker said. “I don’t think the board will give it much weight.” Mandelker expects the Campaign Finance Board to release Gerson’s matching funds next week, even if the board has not made a decision on Gleason’s complaint.
A C.F.B. spokesperson said the board does not comment on complaints or the reason why a candidate has not received matching funds.
Apart from the Gleason complaint, Gerson could not have received his funds on Wednesday anyway because he did not submit the paperwork in time. The deadline to submit forms for Wednesday’s funds was last Friday. But because of what he described as “technical corrections,” Gerson did not submit the final paperwork until Monday or Tuesday, he said.
Gerson said such corrections are a normal part of the process, and the only reason they are drawing attention is because it is so late in the campaign. Part of the reason Gerson did not assemble the paperwork until now is because he was distracted by his struggle to get on the ballot and by Gleason’s challenges, Gerson said. He ran successful campaigns for the seat in 2001, 2003 and 2005, but he has never had to wait this long for matching funds, and this is the first time he has had difficulty making the ballot.
The ripple effect of Gerson’s extended battle to reach the ballot extends even further: The absentee ballots for the race were sent out without his name on them. Gerson said he is writing to everyone who received an absentee ballot, telling them they can also write in their eight-year incumbent.
As of mid-August, Gerson had spent nearly $105,000 on the race, more than any of his challengers, and he had about $25,000 left, though he also still has to repay his loans.
His opponents Gleason, Margaret Chin and PJ Kim received their matching funds by mid-August and had plenty of cash on hand. Arthur Gregory, the final challenger, reported raising less than $6,000 and has not received any matching funds.
When Gerson was asked this week about his campaign’s difficulties, he replied, “We’re doing fine.”
George Arzt, Gerson’s campaign spokesperson and a veteran of city politics, said all campaigns are filled with mistakes and victories, and Gerson’s is no different.
Quoting his mentor David Garth, who ran former Mayor Ed Koch’s campaigns, Arzt said, “Some days you eat the bear, and some days the bear eats you.”