The Editorial Plea: How The New York Times Decides Who Wins and Loses Local Elections

Ms. Randolph declined to be interviewed for this story—“I haven’t given interviews on this, ever,” she said. “It’s a matter of policy”—and she suggested The Observer contact editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal. He, too, declined an interview.

The seas part when Ms. Randolph makes an appearance in Albany or in the corridors of City Hall, but she is, by most accounts, an unassuming presence in New York political circles.

“There were people on that board who could come in and bloviate, big personalities, but that is not her—she was low key and to the point and informed,” said a former member of the editorial board. “She was really smart, and lived the minutiae of New York politics.”

“A very smart, down-to-earth person who can smell bullshit 10 miles away,” is how one lobbyist described her.

A cottage industry has grown up among political consultancies in town about how best to sway Ms. Randolph and her colleagues to your client’s cause.

“You want to help candidates maximize their relationships with key decisionmakers at the paper,” said one so-called “Times-whisperer,” who, like others in the trade, requested anonymity so as not to damage his own relationships. “So if you are running for dog-catcher on the East Side, and over the course of the planning stages of the campaign you find out that the candidate has a relationship with the former dog catcher on the West Side who has happens to play Frisbee with Eleanor Randolph, you ask him to put in a good word for you when they are tossing the Frisbee around.”

Congressman Jerry Nadler is thought to be a prime recommender, as are U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, former public advocate Mark Green, State Senator Liz Krueger, and others who have never been on a ballot, such as Kevin Finnegan, the political director of 1199 SEIU, and Victor Kovner, a prominent First Amendment lawyer.

But campaigns know that they have to be careful not to overwhelm members of the board.

“Occasionally, some electeds [who endorsed your candidate] will insist on making calls for you that you don’t want,” said one operative. “They don’t know what the talking points are, don’t know who else has called. You want people who have relationships, and who are enthusiastic. Sometimes your supporters are just doing their duty, and they make a perfunctory call, and it’s not helpful.”

Carolyn Curiel, a journalism professor at Purdue University who oversaw the local endorsements before Ms. Randolph, recalled being lobbied “all the time.

“But there is a risk that the candidate takes. If the person is an individual I know and trust, they can shed light, but why would that person be calling unless there was a feeling on the campaign that there were doubts about the candidate? It can come across as heavy-handed.”

It is one of the oddities of The Times that although its coverage rarely extends to the far reaches of the outer boroughs, the paper still regularly makes endorsements in local races in those areas. Ms. Curiel said she kept a network of on-the-ground sources and read small newspapers to keep abreast of neighborhood issues.

The Editorial Plea: How The New York Times Decides Who Wins and Loses Local Elections