With four weeks to go before voters go to the polls, their mailboxes are beginning to fill up.
But the contents are not just overdue bills, coupons and catalogs. In voters’ mailboxes sit laminated, colored looseleaf paper-sized documents, each telling potential voters why they should or should not vote for a candidate next month.
The art-infused pamphlets scatter through a politically volatile community like dust bunnies in the air, landing in the mailboxes and doorsteps of every voter whom a campaign identifies as a must-win.
Nobody’s mailboxes have been fuller recently than those of residents in the 15th state Senate District. Coming off a rough GOP primary in which the district’s Republican voters were hit with mailer after mailer, the general election between incumbent Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) and Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) is even more hard-fought, on the ground and in the mail.
But gone are the days when fliers came only from the candidate’s respective campaigns.
The mailers that voters in the 15th District are receiving are coming from out of state groups with unknown sources of funding, or coming from somewhere completely unknown.
A number of mailers that have gone out attacking Addabbo announce that they are paid for by a group called Common Sense Principals, based in Virginia. Their website appears to be focused solely on New York state Senate races, with attacks on Addabbo and Democratic candidates running for seats in Westchester County and Rochester on the front page. The group is also mailing against the Democratic candidates in both of those districts as well. The group claims to be inspired by the pamphlet “Common Sense” written by 18th-century author Thomas Paine and often cited as a primary inspiration for the American Revolution.
Ulrich said his campaign does not know who Common Sense is or anything about it, but this type of situation is typical of campaigns today.
“It’s the nature of the beast,” he said.
Legally, the campaign is not allowed to coordinate with independent expenditures, noted Ulrich’s spokeswoman Jessica Proud.
Common Sense does not disclose its funders and failed to register with the Board of Elections.
Its mailers attack Addabbo for joining his party in a walkout earlier this year in which the party protested the Senate’s redistricting bill. While Senate Democrats were out of the body, Republicans passed a number of measures, including a DNA database bill supported by Gov. Cuomo. The mailer does not mention the redistricting protest, but alludes to Addabbo walking out on the DNA database bill.
The other mailers focus on Addabbo’s support of Resorts World Casino New York City and accuse him of taking money from executives at the casino, although it only quotes a newspaper article about a fundraiser he held at the casino earlier this year.
Another set of mailers, this time supporting Addabbo, do not even mention who paid for them, which is illegal.
Addabbo said he does not know where the mysterious mailers are coming from and emphasized that voters need to know their origin, even ones sent in his favor.
“No matter who the candidate is, no matter where it originates from, the better practice is to see who it’s coming from, who is paying for them,” Addabbo said.
He also called the Common Sense mailers “a form of outsourcing” since they came from outside the state, and said he supported a bill that would force Common Sense to reveal its donors, and accused the Senate GOP of blocking the measure.
Mysterious mailers, such as the one favoring Addabbo, are uncommon. A number of mailers from teachers unions in the Rochester race were sent as paid for by a different organization, called VOTE/COPE, and attacked the Republican candidate in the race on issues unrelated to education.
The UFT has denied that they are responsible for the Addabbo mailers, which focus on Addabbo’s record with seniors and his opposition to eliminating the millionaire’s tax.
The New York State Independence Party, which has endorsed Ulrich and given him its ballot line next month, has also been mailing in favor of him, attacking Addabbo on his time on the City Council from 2001 through 2008. In one mailer, the headline reads “While Joe Addabbo was a city councilman, the city cut the number of cops on the street,” alluding to budgets, including the one for fiscal year 2002 which Addabbo supported. That budget cut police officers and raised taxes during the 2001 recession. Addabbo said the mailer did not tell the entire story.
“I didn’t single-handedly raise taxes. I didn’t single-handedly cut the police force. We were trying to save the city, while facing the worst fiscal situation in history. There were cuts that had to be made,” Addabbo said. “We did what we had to do to save the city in 2002. We rolled back the taxes that were increased in 2002. We restored funding to the Police Department and added cops. Nobody tells that story except me.”
He also noted crime went down during the period after the budget cuts.
Addabbo said the mailers often drive campaigns into the gutter because they can be so negative. In the Senate GOP primary, mailers attacked Ulrich for associating with LGBT staffers and colleagues, while another featured a photo of him dressed as a Soviet general. Community Board 9 member and Woodhaven resident Alexander Blenkinsopp said on Twitter that he believes the mailers were turning the race unnecessarily negative. He got an immediate response from Ulrich.
“Agreed,” he replied to Blenkinsopp’s tweet.