NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A crack in the city’s campaign finance law might allow an Upper Manhattan City Council candidate to run an inflammatory campaign with taxpayer dollars.
As CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported, anti-Semitism has drawn shocking headlines in the city in recent months – with swastikas spotted carved into the wooden doors of a church on Central Park West just Wednesday, swastika graffiti on city subways last month, and a wave of bomb threats at Jewish community centers in the area.
Now, City Council candidate Thomas Lopez-Pierre is creating a new anti-Semitic furor. As part of his campaign, he wants to use taxpayer dollars to help spread anti-Semitism against incumbent City Councilman Mark Levine (D-7th)
About a week ago, Lopez-Pierre sent out a tweet saying he planned to use $100,000 in public matching funds to inform voters that his campaign is about “protecting tenants from greedy Jewish landlords.”
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito was simply outraged.
“Taxpayer dollars are your dollars; my dollars. I’m not a bigot. I’m not a racist. I’m not an anti-Semite. So to have someone be able to spend my money to put forth that kind of a message is despicable,” Mark-Viverito said.
Lopez-Pierre has been at it for months. Last August, Mark-Viverito and city Comptroller Scott Stringer were among those demanding an end to “the many anti-Semitic, misogynistic, and homophobic statements you have made.”
Officials said the frustration is that if Lopez-Pierre raises at least $5,000 from 75 people in the district, he will get $6 in public matching funds for every dollar he collects. He can spend the money any way he wants.
Susan Lerner of the good government group Common Cause said Lopez-Pierre can only be stopped one way – people have to refuse to donate.
“The voters in New York City can use their power, and advantages of the public matching funds system, to support candidates who are not running on an anti-Semitic bias, divisive, unacceptable platform,” Lerner said.
Baruch College professor Doug Muzzio said it is a First Amendment freedom of speech issue.
“He is playing with fire, and he is throwing gasoline on the fire, but he’s not doing anything illegal,” Muzzio said.
The big question is whether the rules of the game need to be changed. Mark-Viverito said maybe there should be a “conversation” about it.
But Muzzio said no, arguing that freedom of speech needs to be protected even if it is offensive.
So far, Lopez-Pierre has raised $8,600. If every contribution counts, he could collect over $50,000, but is far, he can still raise more money for another six months and he could get more matching funds.