By Steve Mosco
Negative campaign tactics are nothing new in politics, but two Queens candidates running in a tight race for state Senate are actively trying to separate themselves from a heap of harsh political mailers.
Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) and his challenger in Senate District 15, City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), both criticized third party organizations for sending negative mailers aimed at influencing voters in the upcoming Senate elections.
“Unfortunately, as a matter of law, we have no control over independent expenditures being conducted by third party groups,” said Jessica Proud, Ulrich’s spokeswoman. “Councilman Ulrich and his family have been victims of untruthful and egregious negative mail since the primary and we wholeheartedly condemn this type of campaigning from any group.”
The accusatory fliers do not mention which candidates it supports, but instead lash out against either Democrats or Republicans with relentless allegations, including one blasting Ulrich for waging a “war on women” by opposing the right to choose and equal pay.
Ulrich denies any such anti-woman agenda.
“From Day 1, Eric has chosen to run a campaign based on ideas and to highlight the distinctions between Mr. Addabbo’s record of raising taxes and Councilman Ulrich’s vision of creating jobs for the middle class,” said Proud.
Mailers critical of Addabbo accuse the incumbent senator of providing member item money to a parrot adoption nonprofit, while gearing up to raise taxes on middle-class families. One group sending the anti-Addabbo fliers is Common Sense Principles, a Virginia-based group that bases its viewpoints on the writings of political activist Thomas Paine, but misspells his name on its website.
A spokeswoman for Addabbo said negative mailers illustrate the need for the state Board of Elections to develop rules for disclosure of outside spending in state elections. Currently, the board only requires disclosure in cases of advertisements that explicitly advocate the election or defeat of a candidate.
“The fact that outside groups as far away as Virginia are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on mailers to distort Sen. Addabbo’s record and scare Queens voters is unacceptable and a clear example of why we need to change our campaign finance laws in the state of New York,” said Jennifer Galvin, Addabbo’s communications director. “It is unacceptable that these groups are legally allowed to block democracy with their money and lies.”
A BOE representative reiterated that some groups are not required to register with the board.
“If they are engaged in issue advocacy they are not required to register under New York law,” said the spokesperson. “If they are engaged in express advocacy, meaning the mailing says, “Vote for…” then they are required to register.”
The groups sending these campaign fliers do not endorse a particular candidate and how they are being funded is unknown.
The candidates for Senate District 15 are not the only ones tired of negative campaign mailers, with voters in Glendale seeking an end to overflowing mailboxes.
“What really bugs me about all of it is the lack of specificity — these outside groups are hijacking the race with the broader messages they care about,” said Toby Sheppard Bloch, a Glendale resident. “Many of the criticisms aren’t particularly relevant to the person they are aimed at and the childish photoshopping games make me feel like this is an election for class clown, not New York Senate. Seems to me the quality of political discourse is sufficiently lacking — these baseless attacks serve to further denigrate the process.”
Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4546.