By KIRAN SURY
Ignore the garbage bin stationed ignobly to the left and enter the Metropolitan Republican Club on the Upper East Side. Go past the chandeliered, mirror-walled “victor center” phone bank currently manned by volunteers, who make calls while ESPN plays silently on the large television in front of them. Make your way to the right, down the wooden staircase where Ronald Reagan hangs in front of you, smiling benevolently..
As you enter the basement and turn left, you’ll notice a small room filled with campaign materials. A handmade placard declares it to be “The Bunker.” American flags hang on the wall, as do old election signs. Rudy 2008, one anachronistically declares – a memento of a presidential campaign that went nowhere. But here it is a source of motivation. In this crowded room, where Fox News is the channel of choice and leftover bottles of alcohol from past fundraisers share shelf space with fresh flyers for tomorrow’s sidewalk campaign, plans are made to gain control of the newly demarcated 12th Congressional District seat. Welcome to the campaign headquarters of Christopher Wight.
The 2010 census resulted in a loss of two congressional seats for New York, followed by a redistricting that moved much of the old 14th district to what is now the 12th. Carolyn Maloney, the Democratic incumbent from the previous 14th district and Wight’s opponent, has held on to her seat for the past two decades. She won the previous eight elections with commanding majorities and has outspent Wight by 20 times in the current election cycle. The Wight campaign has suggested that Maloney is experiencing incumbent complacency, and is taking the voters for granted.
At issue are the Maloney campaign headquarters. A YouTube video titled “Maloney in Violation of FEC Law?“ was released by the Wight campaign. It shows a person approaching the official Maloney headquarters near East 92nd Street and finding the building empty. The video acknowledges that the Maloney campaign is currently operating out of a different office on East 23rd Street but questions the legality of such a move, which the Wight campaign says was never disclosed in required Federal Election Commission records.
Carlisle Williams, communications director for the Wight campaign, called the situation “interesting,” but maintained that there was no actual accusation of impropriety. “That’s for other people to draw their own conclusions,” she said.
An examination of Maloney’s FEC records reveals payments totaling almost $50,000 as rent for a campaign office; the property is not specified.
At the 23rd Street office, Maloney campaign press secretary Sarah Gitlin dismissed the Wight campaign claims as inaccurate “petty squabbling,” and described the move as a necessity. “A lot of times we have more than a dozen volunteers here and our offices there weren’t big enough,” she said.
Speaking for Maloney,who declined to comment, Gitlin said the campaign would focus on Maloney’s record. She cited past legislative accomplishments such as the Zadroga Act, which provides health care for 9/11 first responders, and the credit card holder’s bill of rights, which enacted new consumer protections, as evidence that Maloney was the best choice.
Wight, an investment banker on leave from his position at J.P. Morgan, said in a telephone interview that the economy was the most important issue of the upcoming election, and that Maloney’s record was weak on business.
“If you compare the pages of her Web site to mine, you don’t see specific plans out there of what she’s going to do,” he said. As a small business owner, he said his greatest strength was, “having that experience in business to be able to create jobs and get our economy moving again.”
Williams said that the campaign had received some Democratic support, and emphasized the need for voter outreach. “With an incumbent who’s been there for 20 years, a lot of it is name recognition,” she said. “So it’s going out there and saying you have this other choice.”
Gitlin commented on the Maloney campaign. “With congressional redistricting we have 150,000 new voters, and so that’s what we’ve really been trying to reach out and make sure that they become as familiar with the congresswoman’s record as the people that she’s been representing for a while,” she said. “I think her record speaks for itself. People know where she stands and they love her for it.”