Strangest Election

Every year, we hear a lot of hyperbole about elections - “This is the most important election of our lifetime”, “X’s campaign is the worst I’ve ever seen”, “Y’s ads are the nastiest of all time”, etc.

But I think I can say without fear of contradiction that this year’s election for Civil Court Judge in 7th District in Manhattan is the strangest in memory.

The 7th District boundaries are basically 110th Street west of 8th Avenue to the upper tip of Manhattan.

This year, 2 Civil Court judges are to be elected. As is most judicial races, the winners here are inevitably chosen in the Democratic Primary. However, that’s not what’s happening here. For one of the two positions, there is a Democratic candidate – Rita Mella, who is presently the Law Clerk to Brooklyn Surrogate Margarita Lopez Torres. But for reasons that are both too complicated and murky, there is no Democratic candidate for the other slot. And for reasons that are simple (they assumed there would be a full slate of Democratic candidates, there are no Republican, Independence, Conservative or Working Families Party candidates either.

But there are candidates.

Two women, both of whom have a proud family history created their own Parties and petitioned to run.

Kelly O’Neill Levy is the daughter of a retired Supreme Court Justice and the niece of former Mayor William O’Dwyer and former City Council President Paul O’Dwyer. Levy is now Law Clark to Supreme Court Justice Sherry Heitler. Her Party is the Northern Manhattan Party.

Shari R. Michels is the daughter of Stanly Michels, who served as the City Councilman for much of the Judicial District from 1978 until 2002. Michels was until the campaign an Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan. Her Party is the Equal Justice Party.

Levy and Michels are running real campaigns, comparable to those run by judicial candidates in contested Primaries. They have both raised a good amount of money and have professional campaign managers and consultants.

Borough President Scott Stringer, City Councilman Miguel Martinez and the New York Times, among others, have endorsed Levy.

Michels has the support of Congressman Charles Rangel, Assemblyman Adriano Espaillat and Councilman Robert Jackson, plus others.

It seems like a fair fight and the real difficulty that the campaigns have is that nobody has any more than a guess as to how many votes it will take to win.

We are in uncharted waters here.

Because Levy & Michels are running on “minor” Party lines, both of their names will appear on the voting machine on the extreme right side of the ballot. Mella, the Democrat will appear in the normal position for Democratic candidates. While the instructions on the machine will say that voters can vote for two, it’s is inevitable that most voters will either vote for the Democrat or not vote at all, as they will assume Mella is unopposed.

There are 171,208 voters in the district. In 2002, the last election for Governor, 51,917 votes was cast. Assuming there is a 50% drop off between people voting for Spitzer & Hillary and those voting for Civil Court, that means about 25,000 will vote. But of these, most will vote for Mella and ignore the other contest. The winner between Levy & Michels could win with as little as 1,000 votes. But nobody knows, so all three candidates are out campaigning full force until Election Day.


My company Prime New York has consulted for candidate Rita Mella