Publisher Tom Allon said, in hindsight, it was a mistake to support Mayor Bloomberg’s push to extend term limits, putting the newly announced 2013 mayoral candidate at odds with two of the leading Democrats in that race.
“I think at the time I was in favor of the extension,” Allon said. “I didn’t think it was a bad idea, even though the will of the people knocked it down, twice. I hate to say it but in retrospect, I think it was a mistake. And I think maybe even in his heart of hearts the mayor thinks it’s a mistake.”
Allon, who declared that he was running for mayor earlier this week, has a very different kind of profile, and a very different kind of record, than most of his would-be opponents in 2013.
As the publisher of Manhattan Media, he has overseen a slew of political and lifestyle publications throughout the city, making his candidacy something of a surprise to the political establishment. But, Allon said, he “jumped in with two feet” when he decided to run as a “Cuomo Democrat.”
Allon, 49, sat down with the Observer in a Starbucks (tall latte, no sugar) at 29th and Parke Avenue South for a wide-ranging interview Wednesday morning. A few blocks away, one of his newspapers was holding an event where journalists were discussing Governor Cuomo’s first legislative session. Allon did not attend.
Yesterday’s announcement by Allon was a carefully-timed debut. It was also one of the first days for more established candidates to declare how much money they had raised in the latest campaign finance reporting period. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn leads the pack with $1.32 million raised and $4 million in the bank. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer raised $655,000 this period and has $2.4 million on hand. Both supported the extension of term limits.
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and City Comptroller John Liu — who both opposed the extension — did not publicly declare how much money they had on hand after this filing period. De Blasio’s campaign said they raised $675,000 in this last filing.
Allon has begun meeting with consultants and prospective donors for the last few weeks and said he was confident he could raise money for a credible campaign by the next disclosure period on January 15, 2012.
“I’ve already gotten people to verbally commit to me hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said Allon. “And I just started asking people for their support three weeks ago.”
This would be the first foray into politics for the media executive, who said the editorial pages of his newspaper don’t always reflect his own policy positions.
“I come from the editorial side of things and up until recently, and always had my finger in the pie, editorially,” he said. “But really, most of my day, I’d say 95 percent of my time is spent on business and management.”
In 2006, “a number of my editors wanted to endorse Mark Green in the primary and I overruled them and said Andrew Cuomo was a better candidate,” Allon said. “That’s one I that can point to where I think I called it right.”
Allon’s candidacy presents some tricky issues for himself and his staff.
“I’ll occasionally write editorials and I’ll continue to occasionally write editorials, as long as they’re not related to the mayor’s race,” he said. The parameters for Allons’ role at the paper were spelled out in a memo sent to Manhattan Media employees yesterday, after he broke the news in an interview with Crain’s Business Insider.
Allon is presenting himself as a business-friendly Democrat with progressive social values, who could gobble up large swaths of support among major blocs of Democratic primary voters.
Allon would be only the second Jewish candidate in the race, along with Stringer. Allon speaks Yiddish and Hebrew and is the son of Holocaust survivors. His companies have business relationships with the Amsterdam News, a prominent weekly newspaper based in Harlem focusing on African-American issues.
As a former high school English teacher with two of his three children in public school, Allon is making education a key issue. He said he would seek to rename the Department of Education the Department of Educational Services, and create a 311-like hotline for parents to get information about their schools.
He would offer tax incentives for developers to build new school facilities, and is generally opposed to co-locating charter schools in public school buildings.
On last-in first out, Allon is “generally against it, in principle…It really takes years for somebody to become a good teacher.” Allon said he also opposed grading teachers based on student performance.
“I don’t’ think teaching is a quantifiable thing, is something that is measurable based on statistic,” he said.
As for the mayor’s third term, Allon said it’s not that third terms are “cursed,” making quote marks with his fingers. It’s that the bold thinkers who often join a new administration tend to leave over time.
“He lost some really strong people after his second term,” Allon said. For example, “If Ed Skyler was Deputy Mayor in December, we wouldn’t have had a snow emergency.” And “I think Kevin [Sheekey, a Deputy Mayor] would have been able to push the mayor back and say ‘Cathie Black? Come on. What are you thinking?’”
Some have scoffed at Allon’s intent to run.
Kathy Wylde, head of the business group, the Partnership for New York City, dismissed Allon, saying simply, “Tom who?”
Allon, though, insists he is serious about the race. “The president was a community organizer and I’ve been a community publisher,” he said.
After the interview, Allon left for a meeting with a fundraiser.