Joe Lhota returns for our May meeting – BRC members react to Catsimatidis campaign in the 2nd hour

21 May

Joe Lhota opened our monthly meeting by remarking how Brownstone was the first group he addressed in January – and the first time he’d revisited any place on the campaign trail so far, citywide.

photo-10Mr. Lhota updated BRC. He reintroduced what sets his campaign apart and discussed issues that he believes are strongpoints. (In succession they included: leadership of Day 1 based his experience as Deputy Mayor under Mayor Giuliani, his position vs. crime, his making NYC’s economy a central issue especially in support of small business, taking the reigns of a failing education system and examining wasteful spending across wide-ranging City agencies, as was done over his direction during the Giuliani terms). Mr. Lhota was candid and seemed to enjoy an extended Q & A session. He then left for another engagement shortly after 8 pm.

Our next scheduled speaker was Brooklyn Commissioner of the Board of Elections, Mr. Simon Shamoun – who replaced our BRC member Nancy Mottola-Shacher (who was traveling in Europe, but supported the chance for the Club to meet/greet the new Commissioner). Mr. Shamoun spoke of his management focuses at the Board of Elections and opened a brief discussion of the merits of older voting machines vs. new systems (and their potential inability to handle a “run off”). Reaction was mixed to this news as some applauded in nostalgia for the older machines – while others asked about the cost/benefits and training already done to support the new system.

photo-11With “petition season” approaching in June, Mr. Shamoun mentioned the importance of freely supporting any candidate. This thought was perfect, as across this Mayoral election year Brownstone has welcomed 5 Mayoral candidates. (Tom Allon had dropped out, and Adolpho Carrion, Jr. is no longer a consideration for the Sept. 10th primary – having lost his support of GOP County leaders needed to provide him a space on the GOP Primary ballot.) Brownstone has yet to endorse, and has kept an open/independent mind while gauging its members’ opinions internally.

The meeting was not planned to include discussions/delivery of petitions. But that was changed with the presence of the Catsimatidis campaign.

Catsimatidis representatives and open discussion

While most all candidates are provided their own dedicated time with Club attendees, Mr. Lhota’s two appearances drew visitation from a competing campaign. Attending this evening was strategist Robert Ryan of the Catsimatidis for Mayor campaign – and a trio of GOP Young Republicans associated with Kings County (Gene Berardelli and Russell Gallo, both former guest speakers at BRC and Diane Sepulveda recently named to a NYS State ranking of YRs). Kings County GOP is now directly supporting John Catsimatidis for Mayor.

Well into the 2nd hour, the meeting changed from local issues at hand (like the open discussion of Long Island College Hospital/LICH from a nurse-practitioner in attendance) – as the Catsimatidis campaign team steered the topic to June/July petitioning and soliciting support, and talking-points of why Brooklyn County GOP leaders feel he’s the best candidate. As a last-minute speaker, BRC president Joe Nardiello added and introduced Russell Gallo – who announced he was recently named the “Brooklyn Campaign Director for Catsimatidis for Mayor”.

Mr. Gallo opened a late-topic and stated why Catsimatidis had the strongest chance of winning (funding) and his support for keeping NYPD’s Ray Kelly leading the NYPD. (Mr. Catsimatidis himself spoke during the April meeting, just a few weeks ago.) During one question from Joe Nardiello (“as a conservative Republican…what are your thoughts about a GOP candidate that’s called himself a ‘Clinton Democrat’ just last year on NY-1?”). Mr. Gallo responded that many, including him didn’t start out as Republicans and deferred to Mr. Ryan.

BRC president Joe Nardiello then opened the floor for a lively discussion of the Catsimatidis strengths/weaknesses – himself playing “moderator”. Mr. Nardiello invited open debate, questions and shows of hands. On the topic of GOP party building, for example, Gene Berardelli expressed that Mr. Lhota has not been “really present at all across these last 7-8 years” and “where was he since the Giuliani years” in comparing the behind-the-scenes support since 2009 given by John Catsimatidis. Mr. Nardiello said the notion of nurturing ‘successors’ from other Mayors and leaders has long (“for 100 years”) been an issue within the Republican Party. He asked Mr. Berardelli “if a Mayor Giuliani is a Republican 2-term Mayor and he’s brought forth his Republican Deputy Mayor as a GOP candidate – aren’t you now campaigning against what has long been wanted by Republicans…as Rudy has actually now provided a successor?” There were other points debated, including the “89-19”-line referring to the national Romney campaign’s losing numbers in a woeful NYC effort, and the 2009 election that nearly saw Thompson win vs. the public’s feelings about a 3rd term billionaire buying that election.

BRC members react to $$$ offer

It was Mr. Gallo’s offer of $15/hour to walk petitions and flyers for Mr. Catsimatidis that drew a reaction – with many believing it a step too far for the meeting at hand. A BRC member from Bay Ridge also communicated that earlier in the week there was an offer of $12/hour – and wanted to know why it was “25% higher in Cobble Hill” (but was not provided an answer).

In fact, many BRC members expressed their disappointment – that the Catsimatidis campaign was present from the beginning of the meeting. As a whole, the Brownstone club is fiercely independent – and is comprised of many veterans of politics, and longtime New Yorkers with political savvy. In fact, immediately following the meeting more than 1/3 of the 35 attendees openly expressed that Cats’ campaign was in their terms, for the evening: “too obvious”, “heavy handed” and “ill-timed”. Another added that it was “insulting” to be offered money to get petition signatures (whether by the hour or by signature/sheet). “You do it, because you believe in the candidate,” said one. Another member said it felt like another attempt “to try to buy support”. Another: “this is more of what’s wrong with politics, when there’s too much money in it”.

Over 10 members afterward expressed they didn’t want to see anything of this sort again – and two felt they were “beset upon by County” instead of being offered an “independent choice of which petitions to carry”.

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