As a political junkie and former Bronx state legislator (79AD), I am curious about Mr. Mike Blake and his willingness to raise and spend whatever it takes to win a Bronx Assembly seat. I’m also curious to see how a 21st century presidential-style, data driven campaign plays out in a low-income, low-turnout inner city nabe.
First, Blake has amassed a $198,000-plus campaign war chest from donors nationwide. Many are fellow Obama administration, OFA alumni and DC contacts. Others are elected officials and business leaders he met during his years as a White House intergovernmental aide and campaign director.
Second, Blake has spent over $155,000 and counting without securing his place on the ballot. Supporters of his primary rival, Marsha Michael have challenged eligibility under the state constitution’s requirement that candidates for state office be residents for five years preceding an election. The massive spending enables Blake to overcompensate for his lack of a natural base in the 79th Assembly District.
From July 12 through August 4, Team Blake raised $32,645 from 108 individual donors. Of those donors, only $1,755 was raised from eleven Bronx residents. Only three donors had addresses in the 79AD. Actually, only one had a residential address, if you discount Blake and Abraham Jones, the executive director of a local community and youth organization.
Thirty-nine per cent ($56,943) of Team Blake’s expenditures went to pay wages, office rent and ADP payroll services. Campaign consultant, BerlinRosen Public Affairs, a left-leaning consulting firm (Mayor de Blasio in-house consultant), sucked up another $39,630 (or 27%) of the spending. BerlinRosen seems to be responsible for those oversized, glossy four-color brochures mailed to voters. To-date, three mailers have arrived in district mailboxes. The mailers are organized around Blake’s “4 Point Change Agenda.” I joked with Blake recently that I eagerly await his “gun violence” mailer.
Sarah Steiner, Esq., is presently representing Michael Blake in the election law case. For her yeoman-like legal work, Ms. Steiner has been paid $8500 so far.
Blake has gone so far as to engage consulting firms that headed by fellow OFA veterans. First, among them has been the BrownMiller Group, which specializes in direct mail and phone strategies. Thus far, BMG has billed Team Blake $9150.
270 Strategies, headquartered in Washington, DC, bills itself as “next generation consulting firm” that takes a “smart digital strategy and data-driven approach” to grassroots organizing. For that expertise, 270 Strategies billed for $5241 for its website services.
A third OFA veteran is NGP Van which specializes in social media, fundraising and voter contact. To-date, NGP Van’s work cost Team Blake $750.
Strategic Persuasion, a firm linked to uber-political consultant, Hank Sheinkkopf has received two payments totaling $4600 for its services. One Bronx party insider groused that Sheinkopf is notoriously “anti-County.” Sheinkopf, who advised the Clinton White House, specializes in reaching inner city, urban communities.
Alan Handel (NYPrints LLC), a fixture in city politics holding a near monopoly on petition printing for party-backed candidates and insurgents, only billed Team Blake $1250.
Team Blake spent $1960 flying Michael Blake across the country to his various fundraising events. American Airlines, JetBlue and USAirways were carriers of choice. Amtrak got some love but although listed the exact amount was unitemized.
Michael Blake’s campaign spending somewhat equals the annual budget of some small community-based organizations in the 79AD. However, only $12,000 was spent locally. Ten thousand dollars was spent with Langsam Property Services for the campaign’s Boston Road office. On the bright side, two local residents earned $1783 in campaign-related wages.
My math isn’t exact because I chose to round up (or down) some figures. I only wanted to give readers a sense of the scope of Michael Blake’s spending to secure a Bronx Assembly seat.
To be fair, none of the spending is unusual or unexpected. Former state senator and now federal inmate Pedro Espada spent lots of money on his various campaigns for public office but Espada was notorious for not filing timely campaign disclosures.
In every political campaign, there is an endgame that is not necessarily victory on Election Day. I could be wrong but I doubt it.
Michael Benjamin is a columnist and blogger as well as a former state legislator who represented the 79 AD, 2003-2010.