With a who’s who in New York politics endorsing her and what’s left of the city’s Democratic machine behind her, Eve Rachel Markewich’s campaign for the obscure but powerful position of Manhattan Surrogate seemed to be rolling inexorably toward victory.
To further fortify her already advancing campaign, Ms. Markewich decided—fatefully, as it turns out—to hire two of the city’s best-known political guns, George Arzt and Hank Sheinkopf.
But instead of ensuring victory, the wily veterans—who, by the way, refuse to speak to each other—combined to run what the city’s snickering political classes are calling one of the worst political campaigns in living memory. Despite high-profile endorsements from former Mayors Ed Koch and David Dinkins and U.S. Representatives Jerrold Nadler and Carolyn Maloney, Ms. Markewich lost a race most believed was hers to win.
While the candidate’s failure in part reflects the weakened and rusty state of the Democratic Party machine in New York, some critics point to rampant dysfunction within the campaign itself. Some campaign members say the hiring of two sworn enemies—Mr. Arzt and Mr. Sheinkopf—to handle key issues like media and mailings was not particularly wise. And Ms. Markewich apparently didn’t help the cause.
Critics within the campaign said that Ms. Markewich was given to shouting and indecision, contributing to a fractious and unproductive work environment. Less than a month before the election, one consultant, Lonny Paris, left the campaign.
Complicating matters, the acting campaign manager, Joanna Saccone, worked for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and has strong ties to the Democratic machine in Manhattan. The Surrogate’s office is well-known as one of the last great patronage mills in city politics, and it may not have helped to display close ties to the legal-political network which hoped to benefit from the court’s patronage.
Whatever the reason for the improbable loss, the fallout promises to be even more brutal than the campaign. Bitter accusations of miscommunication, sheer incompetence and malfeasance are being lobbed and lawsuits are being considered.
Like any of Manhattan’s peripheral primary campaigns, the key to victory is two-pronged: get the endorsement of The New York Times and burn your name into the minds of voters with smart, professional and well-timed mailings.
To help achieve those goals, the campaign hired Mr. Arzt, a stodgy former newspaper reporter, to groom the candidate for the Times editorial board. And to flood Manhattan with mailings bearing Ms. Markewich’s name, the campaign chose a hired gun in a Borsellino hat, Mr. Sheinkopf, who had decades of campaign experience behind him.
Things did not work out according to plan.
On Sept. 4, the Times endorsement went to the ultimate winner, Kristen Booth Glen, a former New York State Justice and the dean of CUNY School of Law. There was some consolation for Ms. Markewich—the editorial said that “voters would not go far wrong by picking either candidate.” But what mattered most was the paper’s preference, and the paper preferred Ms. Glen, not Ms. Markewich.
“They said some very nice things about her,” said Mr. Arzt.
With that portion of the campaign plan unsuccessful, it all came down to the mail. But some of the mailings were late, and one batch left off a not-inconsequential detail: Ms. Markewich’s last name.
In the days leading up to the Sept. 13 primary, at a point when Ms. Markewich’s mailings seemed to be missing in action, the mood at the campaign turned frantic.
Feeling that victory was slipping from her grasp, the hard-driving Ms. Markewich, who has overcome the disability of two artificial legs to become a Democratic district leader and successful attorney, became furious about how the campaign was being run.
The brunt of her anger fell squarely on Mr. Sheinkopf, who, starting in July, received more than $100,000 of the campaign’s total spending of $264,804 through Sept. 2, according to campaign filings at the Board of Elections. Sources close to Ms. Markewich say she is considering a lawsuit against Mr. Sheinkopf.
“The campaign has a dispute with Sheinkopf Communications, but we prefer not to resolve it in the press,” said Bob Liff, a spokesman for the Markewich campaign, who works with Mr. Arzt.
Mr. Sheinkopf, for his part, said he and the campaign “are having conversations to work together to resolve any issues.”
But people close to the campaign accused Mr. Sheinkopf of simply not doing his job.
“There were mailings that either didn’t go out or only partially went out,” said one person close to the Markewich campaign, who asked not to be identified because the campaign had issued instructions not to speak about the matter.
Suspicions over the mailing operations grew as the primary approached. Mailings were set to begin on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, culminating in a get-out-the-vote piece, which listed Ms. Markewich’s myriad endorsements from top politicians. Campaign staffers say the piece should have been sent on the Wednesday before the primary, to land in mailboxes on Friday or Saturday. Instead it was sent on the Friday before the primary and did not include Ms. Markewich’s last name on the cover, referring to the candidate only as Eve Rachel. Some 180,000 mailings were supposed to be sent but only 140,000 were mailed. A portion of them arrived late.
Another mailing comparing the two candidates also arrived late, according to members of the campaign, as did a piece featuring an endorsement from U.S. Representative Charles Rangel that failed to cover the entire targeted district.
A Missing Mailing
One mailing has proven more contentious than the others, and it has sparked accusations that Mr. Sheinkopf badly mishandled this key part of the campaign.
On Sept. 9, in one of a series of attacks published in the gossip pages of the Daily News, the Markewich campaign discussed its decision to scrap a mailing about a 1988 custody case over which Ms. Glen presided as a Manhattan Family Court judge. She gave a murder suspect named Joseph Pikul custody of his two children, even though he was charged with killing their mother.
Ms. Markewich decided that the mailing—which bore the headline: “Is This Who You Want as Your Surrogate?”—was overtly negative and came too close to bad taste. Everyone grants that Ms. Markewich vetoed the piece, but there are conflicting accounts of what came next.
According to people in the campaign, Mr. Sheinkopf responded to news of Ms Markewich’s veto by asserting that it was too late to cancel the job. But some time later, when the campaign decided to distribute some copies of the mailing as campaign fliers, Mr. Sheinkopf failed to produce any of the material. That led to accusations of malfeasance against Mr. Sheinkopf, and has fueled talk of a lawsuit against the consultant.
But a source close to Mr. Sheinkopf said that “the piece was indeed on the press, the plate was on the press, and that when it was found that Markewich acted not to print the piece, it was not printed.” In the ensuing confusion, the source said, “some thought it had been printed but in fact it was not printed. And the matter had been resolved and the money refunded into her personal account.”
That final detail—that the money was refunded to the candidate’s personal account—seems innocuous but actually is extremely problematic. Paying campaign costs to a personal account runs against New York State Campaign Finance Board regulations. Ms. Markewich’s campaign vehemently denies that the money, about $16,000, was sent anywhere but to the campaign account. The campaign’s post-primary financial disclosure was due to be filed to the Board of Elections on Sept. 24, but had not arrived by the close of business on Sept. 26.
The campaign also dismissed the notion, floated by some of Mr. Sheinkopf’s supporters, that Ms. Markewich willfully had her name removed from one of the mailings to avoid confusion with Manhattan Borough President candidate Eva Moskowitz.
Mr. Sheinkopf argued that “pieces of the mail dropped late” in many campaigns.
And some sources said that the lack of hierarchy and rampant miscommunication in the campaign could have caused the mailing problems.
Mr. Paris, the consultant who left the campaign, defended Mr. Sheinkopf, saying “Hank was a consummate professional who always did his job. Anything I ever asked him for he was responsive, innovative and really terrific.”
Larry Rosenstock, a member of the Markewich campaign said that it was too early to determine what action the campaign would take, if any at all.
“People are just trying to figure out what happened,” he said.
Whatever happened, and whoever is to blame, Ms. Markewich lost by a margin of about 2,000 votes to Ms. Glen, who will soon be taking up residence on Chambers Street, where she will carry out her 14-year term as New York County Surrogate. It is a court that has jurisdiction over wills and estates, exercises influence over the city’s most renowned heirs and millionaires, and has a tradition of making lucrative appointments to political allies.
It is a position that the regular Democratic Party in Manhattan ought to be able to deliver to a handpicked candidate. Its failure to do so, political insiders say, speaks to the anemia in a party that is now making a great deal over its newfound unity and strength in the general-election campaign.
“It’s over,” Herman (Denny) Farrell, the chair of the state and Manhattan County Democratic Party, who backed Ms. Markewich, said, refusing to perform a post-mortem on the race.
Some observers can’t help but wonder if things might have gone a little smoother if Mr. Sheinkopf and Mr. Arzt, who have threatened physical violence against one another in these very pages, had been on speaking terms.
“We used to be the best of friends,” said Mr. Sheinkopf, describing his now-defunct friendship with Mr. Arzt. “We used to go on vacations together. I introduced him to his wife. But there are no permanent alliances in politics.”