Jerry Skurnik, a longtime political consultant and co-founder of Prime New York, a company that has given out detailed voter information to campaigns over the last 25 years, is likely a familiar figure among those in the know about New York City politics. NY1's Budd Mishkin filed the following One On 1 profile.
If you are working on a campaign in New York, and you need very specific voter information, who is the right person to call?
Probably Jerry Skurnik.
"People will call, and they'll want a thing for a congressional district or a county or a state legislative district," Skurnik says.
For the last 25 years, Skurnik and his business partner Stuart Osnow have run Prime New York, a political consulting firm specializing in generating voter lists that can be broken into very specific categories.
"It's party, gender, marital status, voter history, registration date, age, ethnicity," Skurnik says.
When people register to vote, they have to give their date of birth, gender and political party.
But giving out other information to campaigns is an inexact science.
"Whoopi Goldberg is going to be listed as a Jewish voter based on her name. So if anybody says, 'Oh, it has to only go to Jewish voters or public school parents only,' we can't do that, we can't guarantee it. We could say, 'These are probably public school parents based on where they live and their age.' So that's about the times we can't do things," Skurnik says.
Skurnik says his company in 2013 has sent information to more than 100 political campaigns in New York.
Mailers that are tailored for a narrower group of voters are often more economical, which is particularly important for candidates in smaller scale races.
Occasionally, there are unusual requests, such as one from a Democratic candidate for mayor in predominantly Republican Yonkers.
"Those days, there was a right-to-life party in New York, people anti-abortion, pro-life. And even though he was Democrat, the campaign wanted all the registered right-to-life voters, and it was to be a letter from his sister, who was a nun, and it didn't say anything about abortion cause he was pro-choice." Skurnik says.
Skurnik will occasionally find himself in the position of providing information to opposing campaigns simultaneously, which he says is not a problem and just part of the business.
“One thing we've prided ourselves in, and I think we have the reputation of not letting the other side know what we're doing, what we're selling. Even if you're a friend of mine, and you're running for office, and we're selling to your opponent, we're not going to tell you what our opponent bought," Skurnik says.
Skurnik says his clients understand, but occasionally it is a bit tricky.
In 1989, Skurnik was working for the Koch campaign, while his firm was selling data to both the mayor and his opponent, David Dinkins.
"Dinkins actually bought some stuff through my partner, and I remember they made me swear I wouldn't tell you what they were buying. I said, 'Okay, and I won't tell you what they are buying for Koch,'" Skurnik says.
Q: And the Koch people were okay with it? And the Dinkins people were okay with it?
"Yeah, they both knew," Skurnik says.
Skurnik is known for his knowledge of the demographics of every voting district. He's a New York political junkie, through and through.
"I have no other skills. I can't even drive. I couldn't be a cab driver," Skurnik says.
Skurnik grew up on the Lower East Side, went to Seward Park High School and then Queens College.
Like many of his generation, the 1960 presidential race between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon sparked a love of politics.
He's also a die hard Mets fan, owning a Tom Seaver bobblehead doll.
"I don't intentionally look for underdogs in politics, you know I'm not opposed to them. in sports, I actually do," Skurnik says.
But before the Mets, he rooted for the great Yankee team of Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris in 1961.
"I was a Yankee fan that year and then when the Mets formed the next year, I switched to the Mets, and you know a friend of mine says, 'Yeah, that must have really turned you off to the Yankees. They won world series in five games, and Maris and Mantle did so well, so you decided you don't want to be with a team like that.' But I actually don't feel that way in politics. I love to be with a winner," Skurnik says.
Skurnik really made his political bones working for Ed Koch. He joined the 1977 mayoral campaign at a time when Koch was trailing badly in the polls.
"He and I are on the subway on a Sunday afternoon, and literally nobody looked up at him, nobody knew who he was. They didn't pay attention to him," Skurnik says.
"After he won primary and runoff and became the Democratic nominee, I was leaving the campaign headquarters with him and people were coming up to him on the street like, 'Oh, I want to shake your hand!' He wasn't the mayor yet, he was just the Democratic nominee, and I'm thinking, 'The contrast,'" Skurnik says.
He worked for Mayor Koch for ten years before co-founding Prime New York.
Skurnik is known as a reservoir of New York political knowledge, although his prognostications are not always spot on.
"I didn't say he shouldn't run, but I did tell a number of the people helping Mayor Bloomberg that he could not win. On election night when in his victory speech, he thanked his staff, all of whom told him he couldn't win, and I'm thinking, 'Yeah, I'm the guy who told all the people on his staff he couldn't win,'" Skurnik says.
Even in this day of instant technology and the internet, there is still a place for sending mailers to prospective voters.
Skurnik says that's because campaigns don't have email addresses and phone numbers for every voter, and it's especially important in smaller-scale campaigns that can't afford to advertise on television.
So, it seems that Skurnik's own special niche in New York City politics is secure.
"People wanted those with the highest income. We would just click this, 682 voters, and if that's all they want, that's what we'll send them," Skurnik says.