Stephen Harrison Interview


Tonight, Chuck Schumer and Rep. Anthony Weiner hold a fundraiser for Stephen Harrison, the Democrat challenging the city’s only Republican congressman, Vito Fossella of the 13th congressional district.

But despite the visit from his better-known colleagues — and despite the prospect of big Democratic victories elsewhere in New York this year — Harrison’s challenge to Fossella hasn’t commanded much attention.

The only time the race has made much of a stir, at least outside of Staten Island, has been when Fossella was fined $59,000 last week for misusing Elmo pictures that originally appeared in congressional mail, or when he used campaign money for a family ski trip.

So what about Harrison?

He told me in a recent interview that he’s optimistic that the seat “can be won by Democrats strictly on a ‘get out the vote’ situation,” pointing out that the Republicans are actually at a considerable registration disadvantage in the district.

But, he said, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is “certainly not helping,” between their “cookie-cutter formulas” for winning races and their unsuccessful attempt to lure Bill de Blasio into making the contest.

For anyone interested in knowing more about Harrison, a fuller transcript of the Q&A is after the jump.

— Azi Paybarah

Stephen Harrison

Despite belief to the contrary, it’s primarily a Democratic registry. I believe its running 60% to 40%, Democrat. But we find a large percentage of Democrats, particularly on the south shore of the island, tend to vote for Vito Fossella…one of the reasons for that is my believe Democrats have not concentrated on that part of the island. I’ve tried to do that. I bring myself down there; get myself known; make sure lawn signs, posters, etc., are all quite obvious down there.

There’s a tendency for most people who aren’t from the district to believe it’s primarily a Republican district. It’s not. It’s primarily a Democratic district. I think this can be won by Democrats strictly on a ‘get out the vote’ situation, if we can mobilize the Democrats to come out and vote.

The amount of substance on [your campaign] site and that you’re campaigning on seems to almost be in an inverse proportion to the amount of attention that the race has gotten so far.

Bizarre isn’t it? [Laughs].

But why do you think it is that the race hasn’t captured the imagination of more people, especially now?

It’s strictly a matter of getting it out. We’ve tried very, very hard but this is not a campaign that attracted a lot of money to begin with. Let me give you a bit of an idea of what happened.

I raised about $70,000 in about five months. Many people who were running for congress were running for two years, running for three years, and throwing fundraisers left and right. I didn’t get into this race until February and was not able to, for reasons that were beyond everybody’s control, to start doing my fundraising until April.

You multiply that over a period of two years and that’s 200,000 and you seen there’s a lot of interest in the race.

There were a number of Democrats who considered running and one by one, who opted out of it.

That’s not quite accurate. Close, close, but no cigar. There was a completely different system they used to pick the Democrat here. The Democratic Party, together with the Working Families Party put a search committee together…they interviewed different people. Different people did not want to pursue it. Different people did. And after they went through the whole thing, the search committee chose Steve Harrison. After Steve Harrison was chosen by the search committee and approved by the executive committee by the Democratic Party, about a month later the DCCC asked a fella by the name of Bill de Blasio, Councilman de Blasio, a great guy, if he would look at the race. He did what he was asked. This was something that was not well received on the island by the Democrats there because they had all this work before hand. Bill, I think, did the very smart thing about a month and a half later…decided he would not pursue it, called me up and threw very strong support behind me.

People couldn’t understand why the DCCC would be asking anybody other than me to run.

Didn’t the stories about Fossella’s ski trips and inappropriate use of Elmo pictures catapult you past that?

We had done our arithmetic and found out that for me to purchase that kind of publicity would somewhere in the vicinity of $400,000. If I had gotten $400,000 in contributions and put it out there on campaign material, they [the DCCC] would have been happy to get behind me. Because it was given by the Daily News, why would you not want to keep this going? It works the same way. Still, their cookie-cutter formulas don’t seem to work.

I basically took what was a gift, and they let it go.

The DCCC invited another candidate in the race…didn’t get behind you after these stories came out. Are they a bigger obstacle than Vito Fossella?

This is odd. I was just having this discussion two hours ago. I don’t think the DCCC – I don’t know how long they’ve been around. I only remember them being a factor for about the last 15 years. I can’t tell you how many people say if the DCCC is not behind you, they expect you to lose. And I go ‘That’s ridiculous. They’re probably supporting 30 to 50 seats. There’s 435 people that are up. Does that mean the DCCC think everybody else is going to lose? That makes no sense. However, they are letting this perception out there.

When it comes to the DCCC, I don’t know if they are more or less of an obstacle than Vito, but they’re certainly not helping. And not only are they not helping, but to a very large extent they become a hindrance when you are trying to run because of the perception that ‘we’re not going for that seat because it’s not doable.’

They don’t know enough about this race to make that determination. When we try to explain to them what is going on here, you find out they are just not interested because it does not fit into the cookie cutter formulas. I think they have to do a little soul searching down there so they do get more boots on the ground in a particular area to understand what the dynamics are of that particular community…Yeah, I do find them to be a hindrance. Whether they’re more so or less so than Vito, he’s a formidable obstacle also, but he’s an expected obstacle.

They basically want me to have enough money in the bank to already win the race before they’re going to support it. That doesn’t make any sense to me. Stephen Harrison Interview