Recap of CD 23; What about Make the Road?

City Council Watch called the race in the 23rd CD for Bob Friedrich, and we were wrong, though he came in a close second.  It remains hard to take on the Queens County machinery, which retains the resources, local endorsements, and organization to mount an effective ground campaign and GOTV.  As one councilmember noted, “Queens Borough Hall essentially became Grodenchik central the last few weeks.”

So Barry Grodenchik, kind of the obvious choice anyway, wins.  Bob Friedrich can resume absolute rule of his demesne at Glen Oaks Village, which to be frank is probably a better fit for him, as his personality apparently tends more towards the autocratic than the legislative.

Rebecca Lynch’s 3rd place finish has to sting, and not just for her.  Organized labor poured tens of thousands of dollars into her campaign, and even in the last week an additional $12,000 dropped in as news spread that her ground game was weak.  One prominent politician in the area who was watching closely commented before the election that Lynch was nowhere to be seen, and that her candidacy lacked buzz.

Even $30,000 in independent expenditures from New Yorkers for Progress, a de Blasio/labor front group, weren’t any help.  Hiring the esteemed Progressive consultants Berlin Rosen didn’t help.  And, most importantly, the WFP didn’t help.

In the run-up to the election, many people assumed that the WFP and its legendary ground game were Rebecca Lynch’s magic bullet.  Noted Republican consultants begrudgingly conceded that she had a good shot at winning.  Brad Lander was making lunch bets with his colleagues that she would win, and Jimmy van Bramer enlisted volunteers in a big last-week push, hoping to lock in Lynch as a vote for his next bid to be Speaker.

But the bloom is off the WFP rose. The three to five point advantage that superior field operations gave to WFP candidates seems to have evened out as opponents have learned the lessons of the importance of a strong ground game.

The other—or should we say, the major-- disaster in the race belonged to Ali Najmi, who came in a dismal fifth place out of six candidates.  That’s what a New York Times endorsement and having Zephyr Teachout on board will do for you, it appears. 

Najmi, otherwise a perfectly reasonable fellow,  inexplicably yoked himself to the questionable “Make the Road by Walking,” a group of rabble-rousers for hire who bully local politicians into funding their dubious social service projects.  These Make the Road literacy or training programs are always folded into a larger project of “worker organizing” or “empowerment,” which require recipients to attend political meetings as an implicit condition of getting services that are, in fact, city-funded.  The whole operation gives off a creepy, People's Temple-type of vibe, to be honest.

Make the Road claims to have 16,000 “member-clients,” though even a brief observation of a few of their rallies reveals that the same 50 to 100 participants consistently show up, banging on empty paint buckets and desultorily chanting “la gente, unida, jamas sera' vencida.”  Make the Road recently spun off a 501(c)(4) organization called “Make the Road Action Fund,” which is technically allowed to campaign actively for candidates for political office.  The two groups are theoretically separate, and the “Action Fund” lists an address in Brooklyn, though IRS tax forms filed in 2014 by “Make the Road” detail a $193,703 grant to the Action Fund, which is listed at the same Jackson Heights address as Make the Road.  The grant is made for the purpose of “non-partisan electoral organizing.”

Perhaps the two groups will have their paperwork straight by the time their 2015 tax info is available, but the story is pretty clear to anyone who has paid attention to the cute games that the Working Families Party played with Data & Field Services.  Establishing a phantom firewall in order to pretend that one hand doesn’t know what the other hand is doing is an old trick, but one that is pretty easy to see through.  It seems fairly obvious that Make the Road, which receives millions of dollars from local and state government to provide social services, is siphoning some of that money to an ostensibly independent “Action Fund” in order to campaign for elected officials who will, lo and behold, allocate money to Make the Road.

Anyway, for an organization that is supposedly so great at grassroots organizing, Make the Road did a pretty terrible job organizing for Ali Najmi, who got 650 votes.