Ben Ramos, a former state legislator who's running a shoestring campaign for a seat on City Council, opened his mail last weekend to find a four-page newsletter from Councilman Juan Ramos.
In the letter, Juan Ramos, a first-termer, touted his work on Council and closed his "Dear Friends" letter by saying, "I look forward to serving you for many years to come. Thank you for your support."
This did not sit well with Ben Ramos.
"It's a political tool paid for by taxpayers to gain an advantage," he said, "and I wouldn't do that if elected. It's unfair and unethical."
As he walked into City Hall, a beaming Councilman Ramos said the mass mailing was his first ever. "Did it finally get to people's doors?" he asked.
The councilman said the city paid for his newsletter, just as it has for many other Council members' mailings.
"We have the right to send it out. If he [Ben Ramos] was ever to be elected to City Council, he would have that right too."
About a half-hour later, an aide to the councilman said his boss had been in error, that his campaign was paying for half the printing and all of the postage costs associated with 40,000 letters at 20 cents a pop.
But Anne Kelly King, Council's accounting officer, said that Councilman Ramos' staffer had called with a pledge to reimburse the city only after the Daily News raised the issue.
Council President Anna Verna said in a statement that Council has a rule "that nothing political should be printed or mailed at taxpayer expense."
But Verna also noted that it's left to the individual member to decide whether a mailing is political or not. "We do not police their mail," she said.
Asked how many mailings and how much postage had been used this year during the campaign season, King said that the data were not available because the two employees who keep the records were off yesterday.
Councilman James Kenney said other legislative bodies, including Congress, prohibit mass mailings near elections.
With a new Council taking office in January, Council has an opportunity to change its rules, Kenney said.
Verna seemed to be suggesting something similar. In her statement, she said, "We should do all we can to establish a level playing field between incumbents and challengers. All candidates should be given a fair opportunity." *