Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/alessandra-biaggi 2018-09-19T07:08:36+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com How Insurgent Forces Activated, Educated and Brought the IDC Down 2018-09-17T04:00:00+00:00 2018-09-17T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7939:how-insurgent-forces-activated-educated-and-brought-the-idc-down Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/biaggi_victory_first_pump.jpg" alt="biaggi victory first pump" width="600" height="450" /></p> <p>Alessandra Biaggi celebrates (photo: @Biaggi4NY)</p> <hr /> <p>Hit the ground early. Educate the electorate. Reach new voters. Go viral.</p> <p>Those are a few of the strategies that propelled insurgent candidates to victory in last week’s primary elections, wherein six challengers prevailed over sitting Democratic state senators who were once members of the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway faction that caucused with Republicans for seven years, creating or padding the GOP majority in the chamber.</p> <p>The upsets in the state Senate races instantly shook up New York politics and painted a picture of a more engaged Democratic electorate that would no longer tolerate party officials who don’t pass a particular purity test imposed by a progressive base angered by the election of Donald Trump and a lack of action on favored legislation in Albany.</p> <p>The eight-member IDC, which dissolved in April amid mounting criticism of its role in keeping the state Senate in Republican hands, saw six of their own defeated on Thursday despite outspending their opponents and leveraging broad institutional support. Their conventional campaign tactics failed to overcome a coordinated crop of candidates backed by a vast network of grassroots activists who employed guerilla tactics to get their message heard and were, in several instances, bolstered by key established players.</p> <p>In early 2017, in the aftermath of Trump’s election, a disparate movement focused on the IDC had begun to take shape. Under a Trump presidency, the IDC members and their power-sharing agreement with Republicans became unacceptable to these activists, who insisted on being represented by “true blue” Democrats. After a raucous townhall in early February 2017 where IDC Senator Jose Peralta met the fury of some, one grassroots group, Rise and Resist, began to hold regular protests against IDC members. Then, in May 2017, the incipient anti-IDC movement held simultaneous rallies across New York City, protesting outside the offices of the senators. By then, only one candidate had emerged, Robert Jackson, who beat Senator Marisol Alcantara in Manhattan’s 31st District by a wide margin. “The beginning of the real grassroots energy behind getting rid of the IDC started then,” said Lisa DellAquila, an anti-IDC activist turned campaign manager for John Liu, the last of the challengers to declare and who handily defeated IDC Senator Tony Avella in the primary.</p> <p>It was the first volley in a broader, longer game that crescendoed to a fever pitch ahead of primary day. In interviews, the organizers, activists, and strategists behind the effort portrayed a campaign that laid the groundwork long before other candidates had even emerged. “Our strategy from day one was run nine challengers against nine traitors,” said Gus Christensen, chief strategist for No IDC NY, a grassroots group, referring to the IDC senators and Senator Simcha Felder, a rogue Brooklyn Democrat who was not part of the IDC but votes with Republicans. The activists eventually coalesced into the True Blue coalition, made up of about 60 groups, many local ones based in the districts represented by IDC senators, where organizing and education efforts increased awareness of the IDC over the course of 2017 and into this year. The coalition marshalled its resources, encouraging candidates to run while informing voters more broadly about the existence of the IDC.</p> <p>“What the IDC did violated the public trust in a visceral, almost biblical way,” Christensen said. “The cynics of the political establishment could never see that, because caucusing with the other party isn't illegal, while Albany is full of actual illegal activities about which voters don't seem to care. But once enough voters understood that the IDC really did caucus with the GOP, that it wasn't ‘fake news,’ they were revolted, and they voted that way.”</p> <p><strong>Hitting the ground running</strong><br />“One really important piece of this was just good old-fashioned organizing,” said Heather Stewart, co-founder of Empire State Indivisible, who later went on to work for Liu’s campaign doing communications. Stewart said the coalition began educating voters about the IDC last year through town halls, leafleting, phone banks, and on-the-ground outreach. “So there was a good deal of tracks laid through the education piece. This was over a year ago...it was a coalescence of great candidates, good organizing, people who wanted more than anything from the bottom of their heart to oust the IDC.”</p> <p>The groups gathered every month to discuss strategy, and began to circle possible candidates who had expressed interest while actively recruiting others such as Liu, who entered the fray at the eleventh hour after having lost to Avella four years ago but with stronger name recognition in his district than most of the other challengers had in theirs at the start of their campaigns.</p> <p>The groups also partnered with The Creative Resistance, a volunteer collective of documentary filmmakers, and released a video, titled “<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5mESf-kjuSI" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Lulu Land</a>” and narrated by actor Edie Falco, about the IDC and its highly scrutinized arrangement for its members to inappropriately receive extra stipends. The video raised much-needed awareness for their effort. “By and large, people were enraged about the IDC,” said Stewart, who has acknowledged she only learned of the IDC in recent years, spurring her to action. “They were mad that they had voted for a Democrat who wasn’t upholding Democratic values.”</p> <p>Different groups were assigned to different districts under one umbrella. “We borrowed a strategy from Virginia activists who flipped the House of Delegates,” Stewart said, “which was basically that each group adopted a campaign and a candidate. So then, each group could begin to engage their members in one consistent campaign...It worked very well...There was essentially a captain who captained the grassroots efforts in each campaign that talked with other captains of the grassroots effort.”</p> <p>The overall effort was bolstered by the likes of the Working Families Party, Make the Road Action, and Citizen Action of New York, some of the organized left’s longer-standing infrastructure, groups that share similar progressive goals and sent hundreds of volunteers into the nine districts, relying on a robust ground game to activate voters.</p> <p>“We started working as far back as spring of 2017, way before there even were candidates running, to start organizing in the districts of the IDC members, doing really aggressive voter contact and community organizing to help people understand what was actually going on,” said Joe Dinkin, WFP’s campaign director. “That helped till the soil, build a grassroots base of anger and energy and a volunteer base from which it was a lot more appealing for candidates who would think about running to be able to get into the race.”</p> <p>Dinkin said the WFP, which endorsed all the candidates, provided campaign expertise, helping them strategize, hire staff and consultants, and dispatch volunteers. By February and into March of this year, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7512-conflict-escalates-between-working-families-party-and-independent-democratic-conference" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the WFP had endorsed</a> the full slate of challengers to the IDC senators, establishing clear battle lines within the Democratic Party and setting the stage for the essential stretch of the primary campaign well in advance.</p> <p>The WFP was also behind the two insurgent statewide candidates who failed in the primary -- Cynthia Nixon lost to Cuomo by a wide margin and City Council Member Jumaane Williams failed to unseat Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul in a closer race. Zephyr Teachout, who the WFP said it was supporting along with eventual winner Letitia James in the attorney general Democratic primary, was unsuccessful in her race but amplified anti-IDC sentiment. Nixon was vocal about the IDC and when Cuomo moved to reunite the faction with the mainline Senate Democratic Conference, she claimed credit.</p> <p>“Cynthia Nixon was able to broadcast in a way that the entire media and the political class and voters noticed about the problems with the IDC and how they were roadblocking progressive legislation,” Dinkin said.</p> <p>The candidates themselves had also been beating the anti-IDC drum in their districts. “Typically campaigns run a eight-week, sometimes 12-week field operation,” said Andre Richardson, campaign manager for Zellnor Myrie, who defeated former IDC Senator Jesse Hamilton in Brooklyn. “We’ve been canvassing, paid and volunteer, and candidate canvassing for eight months. In politics, folks have these archaic strategies of ‘this is too soon, this is too early.’ We proved all of that to be inaccurate and we proved that if you run a consistent and aggressive ground game, you can win.”</p> <p>Each of the candidates managed fairly robust fundraising operations, and focused mostly on individual small donors throughout their campaigns as they critiqued their opponents for receiving funds from corporate donors. There was, of course, a fair share of spending by the coalition groups to augment each campaign’s own operations. No IDC NY formed its own multi-candidate campaign committee and tapped hundreds of small donors as well, and spent nearly $150,000, across the Senate races.</p> <p><strong>Depending on digital</strong><br />In order to build name recognition against the IDC members, some of whom have been incumbents for several terms, the broader coordinated campaign, individual candidates, and activist groups decided to focus their efforts on digital and social media, hyper-targeted to specific populations within each district.</p> <p>All the campaigns and their allies outspent the IDC senators on Facebook, said Jim Casteleiro, digital director for No IDC NY, who coordinated efforts with The Creative Resistance to craft ads across all the campaigns.</p> <p>“We started early in the summer conceiving of a plan to run digital ads in all the districts that we were targeting,” Casteleiro said. “Our sort-of guiding principle in this whole process was, ‘Yes, people are outraged about what’s happening with Trump. Yes, people are outraged about the IDC. But if we don’t talk to them about what this actually means for their lives, then no one’s gonna care’...All of the content that we created, it was all issue-focused.”</p> <p>The ads focused on everything from the state’s housing crisis, immigrant protections, and health care to education funding and abortion rights, while introducing the slate of progressive challengers as individual people. Another round of more negative ads <a href="https://www.thecreativeresistance.us/videos" target="_blank" rel="noopener">portrayed</a> each of the IDC senators as a gas station tube man, full of hot air. All told, the 38 videos they created received more than a million views.</p> <p>“Obviously, digital isn’t new necessarily,” Casteleiro said. “But what I say is kinda unprecedented is this: you have an all-volunteer organization that raises $250,000, we partner with an all-volunteer group of creative professionals who create agency-level content, and we deploy that across the state in a coordinated fashion…That has to be absolutely unprecedented in New York State.”</p> <p>Activist Sean McElwee, writing in HuffPost, <a href="https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/opinion-new-york-primaries_us_5b9b0adce4b046313fb96421" target="_blank" rel="noopener">noted that</a> grassroots group Vote Tripling got 474 volunteers to convince three friends each to vote for the IDC challengers, and national group Postcards to Voters sent 283,857 handwritten notes to get out the vote in those districts.</p> <p>Eric Rockey, co-founder of The Creative Resistance and director of the “Hot Air” ads, said they were inspired by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s viral campaign ad when she beat Democratic giant Joe Crowley in a June congressional primary that shocked the city, state, and country. The ad was like a “short documentary film about a candidate and less like a slick political ad,” he said, noting that his group skyped with the makers of that ad and also consulted with the team behind Cynthia Nixon’s campaign launch video.</p> <p>“The strategy was really to find those unique issues that would be wedge issues between our candidates and IDC members and really hammer on those,” Rockey said. “It was really burnishing the progressive bonafides of these candidates. But also trying to show them as people.”</p> <p><strong>Convincing Candidates</strong><br />No message is complete without its messenger and the anti-IDC movement was no different. The candidates they backed, most of them young progressives running for the first time, presented an alternative to the calcified establishment to a Democratic primary electorate that showed it was hungry for change.</p> <p>By and large, the candidates were charismatic, energetic, and able to talk policy -- some with youthful exuberance, some with seasoned perspective.</p> <p>Some were also backed by prominent elected officials, including City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Comptroller Scott Stringer, both of whom brought organizing and fundraising with them. Myrie, in particular, received tremendous support from city, state, and federal elected officials, including many in Brooklyn. The powerful labor union 32BJ also played a prominent role in a few races, especially where Alessandra Biaggi defeated Klein, who once led the IDC and was, until Thursday, one of the state's most powerful elected officials. Stringer and Johnson and their teams were also all-in for Biaggi.</p> <p>“We proved through heart and hustle and just organizing that it was possible,” she said in a phone interview. “I worked tirelessly and I’m unrelenting, and also a fighter and I’ve always been that way. And every time that somebody told me ‘no’ I worked double as hard and every time somebody told me ‘yes’ I worked triple as hard.”</p> <p>Klein spent more to try to push back Biaggi’s challenge than Nixon did in her statewide race against the governor. “This race proved that the political currency is people, not dollars,” Biaggi said.</p> <p>“They were all really great. They were easy to work for and easy to get people excited about. And that’s where the magic was if you ask me,” said Empire Indivisible’s Stewart about the IDC challengers.</p> <p>In July, once Liu declared he would challenge Avella, the district was ready to hear from him. “A lot of work had already been done in his district. We already had boots on the ground there who were really fiercely committed to the IDC resistance and so it was essentially bringing in a great candidate,” Stewart said.</p> <p>While Liu, Jackson, Biaggi, Myrie, Jessica Ramos, and Rachel May were successful in defeating former IDC members, other former IDC Senators Diane Savino and David Carlucci held onto their seats. Felder defeated Blake Morris. (Another insurgent leftist, Julia Salazar, unseated Senator Martin Dilan, though that race was not a focus of the same progressive, anti-IDC coalition.)</p> <p>The primary winners are all-but-certain to win their general elections, if they have an opponent. The main remaining question is whether the anti-IDC efforts that toppled rogue Democrats can now help flip Republican-held seats and give the next Senate Democratic Conference, infused with new blood, an elusive majority. That answer will be known on November 6.</p> <p>Again in the general, candidates and campaigns will both matter greatly.</p> <p>Richardson, from Myrie’s campaign, explained some of the energy behind his candidate’s success. “Zellnor is in the top five of the most fearless candidates I’ve ever worked for,” he said. “In terms of his aggressiveness to talk to a voter, to hear a problem, his ability to immediately respond or to follow through, is pretty phenomenal…We had a pool of over 400 volunteers. And some of that was outreach. A lot of that was just organic because Zellnor was such a great candidate. Folks would just walk in the door or read an article about him and just wanna help.”</p> <p>“We were really inspired by these candidates,” said Rockey. “It wasn’t a stretch for us. We were genuinely inspired by them. It felt like something new in New York politics...It was really about these personal connections with these candidates and our passion for these candidates.”</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note- This article has been updated to note the correct name of the True Blue coalition, which is distinct from True Blue NY, a grassroots group that is part of the coalition.&nbsp;</p> <p>Note- This article has been updated to reflect the early role of Rise and Resist, a grassroots groups, in the anti-IDC movement.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/biaggi_victory_first_pump.jpg" alt="biaggi victory first pump" width="600" height="450" /></p> <p>Alessandra Biaggi celebrates (photo: @Biaggi4NY)</p> <hr /> <p>Hit the ground early. Educate the electorate. Reach new voters. Go viral.</p> <p>Those are a few of the strategies that propelled insurgent candidates to victory in last week’s primary elections, wherein six challengers prevailed over sitting Democratic state senators who were once members of the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway faction that caucused with Republicans for seven years, creating or padding the GOP majority in the chamber.</p> <p>The upsets in the state Senate races instantly shook up New York politics and painted a picture of a more engaged Democratic electorate that would no longer tolerate party officials who don’t pass a particular purity test imposed by a progressive base angered by the election of Donald Trump and a lack of action on favored legislation in Albany.</p> <p>The eight-member IDC, which dissolved in April amid mounting criticism of its role in keeping the state Senate in Republican hands, saw six of their own defeated on Thursday despite outspending their opponents and leveraging broad institutional support. Their conventional campaign tactics failed to overcome a coordinated crop of candidates backed by a vast network of grassroots activists who employed guerilla tactics to get their message heard and were, in several instances, bolstered by key established players.</p> <p>In early 2017, in the aftermath of Trump’s election, a disparate movement focused on the IDC had begun to take shape. Under a Trump presidency, the IDC members and their power-sharing agreement with Republicans became unacceptable to these activists, who insisted on being represented by “true blue” Democrats. After a raucous townhall in early February 2017 where IDC Senator Jose Peralta met the fury of some, one grassroots group, Rise and Resist, began to hold regular protests against IDC members. Then, in May 2017, the incipient anti-IDC movement held simultaneous rallies across New York City, protesting outside the offices of the senators. By then, only one candidate had emerged, Robert Jackson, who beat Senator Marisol Alcantara in Manhattan’s 31st District by a wide margin. “The beginning of the real grassroots energy behind getting rid of the IDC started then,” said Lisa DellAquila, an anti-IDC activist turned campaign manager for John Liu, the last of the challengers to declare and who handily defeated IDC Senator Tony Avella in the primary.</p> <p>It was the first volley in a broader, longer game that crescendoed to a fever pitch ahead of primary day. In interviews, the organizers, activists, and strategists behind the effort portrayed a campaign that laid the groundwork long before other candidates had even emerged. “Our strategy from day one was run nine challengers against nine traitors,” said Gus Christensen, chief strategist for No IDC NY, a grassroots group, referring to the IDC senators and Senator Simcha Felder, a rogue Brooklyn Democrat who was not part of the IDC but votes with Republicans. The activists eventually coalesced into the True Blue coalition, made up of about 60 groups, many local ones based in the districts represented by IDC senators, where organizing and education efforts increased awareness of the IDC over the course of 2017 and into this year. The coalition marshalled its resources, encouraging candidates to run while informing voters more broadly about the existence of the IDC.</p> <p>“What the IDC did violated the public trust in a visceral, almost biblical way,” Christensen said. “The cynics of the political establishment could never see that, because caucusing with the other party isn't illegal, while Albany is full of actual illegal activities about which voters don't seem to care. But once enough voters understood that the IDC really did caucus with the GOP, that it wasn't ‘fake news,’ they were revolted, and they voted that way.”</p> <p><strong>Hitting the ground running</strong><br />“One really important piece of this was just good old-fashioned organizing,” said Heather Stewart, co-founder of Empire State Indivisible, who later went on to work for Liu’s campaign doing communications. Stewart said the coalition began educating voters about the IDC last year through town halls, leafleting, phone banks, and on-the-ground outreach. “So there was a good deal of tracks laid through the education piece. This was over a year ago...it was a coalescence of great candidates, good organizing, people who wanted more than anything from the bottom of their heart to oust the IDC.”</p> <p>The groups gathered every month to discuss strategy, and began to circle possible candidates who had expressed interest while actively recruiting others such as Liu, who entered the fray at the eleventh hour after having lost to Avella four years ago but with stronger name recognition in his district than most of the other challengers had in theirs at the start of their campaigns.</p> <p>The groups also partnered with The Creative Resistance, a volunteer collective of documentary filmmakers, and released a video, titled “<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5mESf-kjuSI" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Lulu Land</a>” and narrated by actor Edie Falco, about the IDC and its highly scrutinized arrangement for its members to inappropriately receive extra stipends. The video raised much-needed awareness for their effort. “By and large, people were enraged about the IDC,” said Stewart, who has acknowledged she only learned of the IDC in recent years, spurring her to action. “They were mad that they had voted for a Democrat who wasn’t upholding Democratic values.”</p> <p>Different groups were assigned to different districts under one umbrella. “We borrowed a strategy from Virginia activists who flipped the House of Delegates,” Stewart said, “which was basically that each group adopted a campaign and a candidate. So then, each group could begin to engage their members in one consistent campaign...It worked very well...There was essentially a captain who captained the grassroots efforts in each campaign that talked with other captains of the grassroots effort.”</p> <p>The overall effort was bolstered by the likes of the Working Families Party, Make the Road Action, and Citizen Action of New York, some of the organized left’s longer-standing infrastructure, groups that share similar progressive goals and sent hundreds of volunteers into the nine districts, relying on a robust ground game to activate voters.</p> <p>“We started working as far back as spring of 2017, way before there even were candidates running, to start organizing in the districts of the IDC members, doing really aggressive voter contact and community organizing to help people understand what was actually going on,” said Joe Dinkin, WFP’s campaign director. “That helped till the soil, build a grassroots base of anger and energy and a volunteer base from which it was a lot more appealing for candidates who would think about running to be able to get into the race.”</p> <p>Dinkin said the WFP, which endorsed all the candidates, provided campaign expertise, helping them strategize, hire staff and consultants, and dispatch volunteers. By February and into March of this year, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7512-conflict-escalates-between-working-families-party-and-independent-democratic-conference" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the WFP had endorsed</a> the full slate of challengers to the IDC senators, establishing clear battle lines within the Democratic Party and setting the stage for the essential stretch of the primary campaign well in advance.</p> <p>The WFP was also behind the two insurgent statewide candidates who failed in the primary -- Cynthia Nixon lost to Cuomo by a wide margin and City Council Member Jumaane Williams failed to unseat Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul in a closer race. Zephyr Teachout, who the WFP said it was supporting along with eventual winner Letitia James in the attorney general Democratic primary, was unsuccessful in her race but amplified anti-IDC sentiment. Nixon was vocal about the IDC and when Cuomo moved to reunite the faction with the mainline Senate Democratic Conference, she claimed credit.</p> <p>“Cynthia Nixon was able to broadcast in a way that the entire media and the political class and voters noticed about the problems with the IDC and how they were roadblocking progressive legislation,” Dinkin said.</p> <p>The candidates themselves had also been beating the anti-IDC drum in their districts. “Typically campaigns run a eight-week, sometimes 12-week field operation,” said Andre Richardson, campaign manager for Zellnor Myrie, who defeated former IDC Senator Jesse Hamilton in Brooklyn. “We’ve been canvassing, paid and volunteer, and candidate canvassing for eight months. In politics, folks have these archaic strategies of ‘this is too soon, this is too early.’ We proved all of that to be inaccurate and we proved that if you run a consistent and aggressive ground game, you can win.”</p> <p>Each of the candidates managed fairly robust fundraising operations, and focused mostly on individual small donors throughout their campaigns as they critiqued their opponents for receiving funds from corporate donors. There was, of course, a fair share of spending by the coalition groups to augment each campaign’s own operations. No IDC NY formed its own multi-candidate campaign committee and tapped hundreds of small donors as well, and spent nearly $150,000, across the Senate races.</p> <p><strong>Depending on digital</strong><br />In order to build name recognition against the IDC members, some of whom have been incumbents for several terms, the broader coordinated campaign, individual candidates, and activist groups decided to focus their efforts on digital and social media, hyper-targeted to specific populations within each district.</p> <p>All the campaigns and their allies outspent the IDC senators on Facebook, said Jim Casteleiro, digital director for No IDC NY, who coordinated efforts with The Creative Resistance to craft ads across all the campaigns.</p> <p>“We started early in the summer conceiving of a plan to run digital ads in all the districts that we were targeting,” Casteleiro said. “Our sort-of guiding principle in this whole process was, ‘Yes, people are outraged about what’s happening with Trump. Yes, people are outraged about the IDC. But if we don’t talk to them about what this actually means for their lives, then no one’s gonna care’...All of the content that we created, it was all issue-focused.”</p> <p>The ads focused on everything from the state’s housing crisis, immigrant protections, and health care to education funding and abortion rights, while introducing the slate of progressive challengers as individual people. Another round of more negative ads <a href="https://www.thecreativeresistance.us/videos" target="_blank" rel="noopener">portrayed</a> each of the IDC senators as a gas station tube man, full of hot air. All told, the 38 videos they created received more than a million views.</p> <p>“Obviously, digital isn’t new necessarily,” Casteleiro said. “But what I say is kinda unprecedented is this: you have an all-volunteer organization that raises $250,000, we partner with an all-volunteer group of creative professionals who create agency-level content, and we deploy that across the state in a coordinated fashion…That has to be absolutely unprecedented in New York State.”</p> <p>Activist Sean McElwee, writing in HuffPost, <a href="https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/opinion-new-york-primaries_us_5b9b0adce4b046313fb96421" target="_blank" rel="noopener">noted that</a> grassroots group Vote Tripling got 474 volunteers to convince three friends each to vote for the IDC challengers, and national group Postcards to Voters sent 283,857 handwritten notes to get out the vote in those districts.</p> <p>Eric Rockey, co-founder of The Creative Resistance and director of the “Hot Air” ads, said they were inspired by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s viral campaign ad when she beat Democratic giant Joe Crowley in a June congressional primary that shocked the city, state, and country. The ad was like a “short documentary film about a candidate and less like a slick political ad,” he said, noting that his group skyped with the makers of that ad and also consulted with the team behind Cynthia Nixon’s campaign launch video.</p> <p>“The strategy was really to find those unique issues that would be wedge issues between our candidates and IDC members and really hammer on those,” Rockey said. “It was really burnishing the progressive bonafides of these candidates. But also trying to show them as people.”</p> <p><strong>Convincing Candidates</strong><br />No message is complete without its messenger and the anti-IDC movement was no different. The candidates they backed, most of them young progressives running for the first time, presented an alternative to the calcified establishment to a Democratic primary electorate that showed it was hungry for change.</p> <p>By and large, the candidates were charismatic, energetic, and able to talk policy -- some with youthful exuberance, some with seasoned perspective.</p> <p>Some were also backed by prominent elected officials, including City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Comptroller Scott Stringer, both of whom brought organizing and fundraising with them. Myrie, in particular, received tremendous support from city, state, and federal elected officials, including many in Brooklyn. The powerful labor union 32BJ also played a prominent role in a few races, especially where Alessandra Biaggi defeated Klein, who once led the IDC and was, until Thursday, one of the state's most powerful elected officials. Stringer and Johnson and their teams were also all-in for Biaggi.</p> <p>“We proved through heart and hustle and just organizing that it was possible,” she said in a phone interview. “I worked tirelessly and I’m unrelenting, and also a fighter and I’ve always been that way. And every time that somebody told me ‘no’ I worked double as hard and every time somebody told me ‘yes’ I worked triple as hard.”</p> <p>Klein spent more to try to push back Biaggi’s challenge than Nixon did in her statewide race against the governor. “This race proved that the political currency is people, not dollars,” Biaggi said.</p> <p>“They were all really great. They were easy to work for and easy to get people excited about. And that’s where the magic was if you ask me,” said Empire Indivisible’s Stewart about the IDC challengers.</p> <p>In July, once Liu declared he would challenge Avella, the district was ready to hear from him. “A lot of work had already been done in his district. We already had boots on the ground there who were really fiercely committed to the IDC resistance and so it was essentially bringing in a great candidate,” Stewart said.</p> <p>While Liu, Jackson, Biaggi, Myrie, Jessica Ramos, and Rachel May were successful in defeating former IDC members, other former IDC Senators Diane Savino and David Carlucci held onto their seats. Felder defeated Blake Morris. (Another insurgent leftist, Julia Salazar, unseated Senator Martin Dilan, though that race was not a focus of the same progressive, anti-IDC coalition.)</p> <p>The primary winners are all-but-certain to win their general elections, if they have an opponent. The main remaining question is whether the anti-IDC efforts that toppled rogue Democrats can now help flip Republican-held seats and give the next Senate Democratic Conference, infused with new blood, an elusive majority. That answer will be known on November 6.</p> <p>Again in the general, candidates and campaigns will both matter greatly.</p> <p>Richardson, from Myrie’s campaign, explained some of the energy behind his candidate’s success. “Zellnor is in the top five of the most fearless candidates I’ve ever worked for,” he said. “In terms of his aggressiveness to talk to a voter, to hear a problem, his ability to immediately respond or to follow through, is pretty phenomenal…We had a pool of over 400 volunteers. And some of that was outreach. A lot of that was just organic because Zellnor was such a great candidate. Folks would just walk in the door or read an article about him and just wanna help.”</p> <p>“We were really inspired by these candidates,” said Rockey. “It wasn’t a stretch for us. We were genuinely inspired by them. It felt like something new in New York politics...It was really about these personal connections with these candidates and our passion for these candidates.”</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note- This article has been updated to note the correct name of the True Blue coalition, which is distinct from True Blue NY, a grassroots group that is part of the coalition.&nbsp;</p> <p>Note- This article has been updated to reflect the early role of Rise and Resist, a grassroots groups, in the anti-IDC movement.</p>
2018 New York State Primary Results: Cuomo, Hochul, James Prevail While Senate Upsets Abound 2018-09-13T04:00:00+00:00 2018-09-13T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7931:2018-new-york-state-primary-election-results Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/cuomo-james-hochul.jpg" alt="cuomo james hochul" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>(photo: @andrewcuomo)</p> <hr /> <p>Governor Andrew Cuomo won the Democratic nomination by a wide margin Thursday, with his running-mate Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul surviving a much closer race, Public Advocate Letitia James prevailing comfortably in a crowded Attorney General primary, and more than half a dozen upsets of sitting state Senators, including six of the eight former members of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC).</p> <p>Additionally, voter turnout was significantly higher than 2014, the last gubernatorial election year, perhaps owing to the combination of the number and intensity of the challenges to incumbents as well as the awakening spurred by the election of Donald Trump, which itself contributed to those challenges being waged.</p> <p>Cuomo, who spent more than $20 million in the campaign, defeated actor and activist Cynthia Nixon by about 30 percentage points; the governor seeking a third term earning more than 64% to Nixon’s 34.6%, with 96% of precincts reporting as of about 11:30 p.m. primary night.</p> <p>Hochul beat Williams by about 53% to 47% in what was a hard-fought Lieutenant Governor primary.</p> <p>James won the four-way Democratic primary for Attorney General, pulling in 40% to 31% for Zephyr Teachout, 25% for Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who will now seek reelection to the House of Representatives, and 3% for Leecia Eve.</p> <p>With the state party-backed candidates, including incumbents Cuomo and Hochul, winning those statewide primaries (Comptroller Tom DiNapoli was not challenged), perhaps the biggest storyline of the night was progressive upsets that occurred in state Senate primaries, including the complete demolish of the IDC, which had folded back into the mainline Democratic minority conference in April, in a deal brokered by Cuomo.</p> <p>The former leader of the IDC, Senator Jeff Klein, was defeated by Alessandra Biaggi in the Bronx and Westchester seat, despite Klein spending well over $1 million in the race.</p> <p>Other IDC races included Jessica Ramos unseating Senator Jose Peralta in Queens; Robert Jackson unseating Senator Marisol Alcantara in Manhattan; Zellnor Myrie unseating Senator Jesse Hamilton in Brooklyn; John Liu unseating Senator Tony Avella in Queens; and Rachel May unseating Senator David Valesky in the Syracuse area.</p> <p>Former IDC members who beat back challengers were Senator Diane Savino of Staten Island and Brooklyn, who defeated Jasmine Robinson, and Senator David Carlucci of Rockland, who defeated Julie Goldberg.</p> <p>In another upset, Julia Salazar unseated Senator Martin Dilan in Brooklyn.</p> <p>Senator Simcha Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat who has been part of the Republican conference, giving the GOP a one-seat majority, defeated challenger Blake Morris.</p> <p>In a Democratic primary to see who will take on Republican Brooklyn Senator Martin Golden in the general election, Andrew Gounardes defeated Ross Barkan.<br />There were far fewer storylines in Assembly races, but Catalina Cruz did unseat Assemblymember Ari Espinal in a Democratic primary in Queens. Democratic Assemblymember Brian Barnwell held off a challenge from Melissa Sklarz; As of Friday morning, votes were still being counted in the 46th Assembly district in Brooklyn where Mathylde Frontus is leading with 40.68 percent against Ethan Lustig-Elgrably, who has 39.75 percent of the vote; and Michael Reilly won the primary in the Republican Assembly stronghold on the South Shore of Staten Island, where no incumbent is running.</p> <p>Additionally, Nancy Sliwa won a three-candidate race for the Reform Party nomination for Attorney General.</p> <p>All of the primary winners will now move on to the general election, where a statewide slate of Republican nominees has been waiting -- the GOP strategically avoided any statewide primaries -- along with some minor party candidates. Along with the statewide races, the focus for the general election will be on which party can win the requisite seats to control the state Senate (the Assembly is overwhelmingly Democratic and will remain so), and battleground House races where New York swing seats could factor into whether Democrats can take control of that congressional chamber.</p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p> <p>Note- This article has been updated to clarify that Ethan Lustic-Elgrably has not been declared the winner in Brooklyn's 46th Assembly district. Votes were still being counted as of Friday morning.&nbsp;</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/cuomo-james-hochul.jpg" alt="cuomo james hochul" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>(photo: @andrewcuomo)</p> <hr /> <p>Governor Andrew Cuomo won the Democratic nomination by a wide margin Thursday, with his running-mate Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul surviving a much closer race, Public Advocate Letitia James prevailing comfortably in a crowded Attorney General primary, and more than half a dozen upsets of sitting state Senators, including six of the eight former members of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC).</p> <p>Additionally, voter turnout was significantly higher than 2014, the last gubernatorial election year, perhaps owing to the combination of the number and intensity of the challenges to incumbents as well as the awakening spurred by the election of Donald Trump, which itself contributed to those challenges being waged.</p> <p>Cuomo, who spent more than $20 million in the campaign, defeated actor and activist Cynthia Nixon by about 30 percentage points; the governor seeking a third term earning more than 64% to Nixon’s 34.6%, with 96% of precincts reporting as of about 11:30 p.m. primary night.</p> <p>Hochul beat Williams by about 53% to 47% in what was a hard-fought Lieutenant Governor primary.</p> <p>James won the four-way Democratic primary for Attorney General, pulling in 40% to 31% for Zephyr Teachout, 25% for Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who will now seek reelection to the House of Representatives, and 3% for Leecia Eve.</p> <p>With the state party-backed candidates, including incumbents Cuomo and Hochul, winning those statewide primaries (Comptroller Tom DiNapoli was not challenged), perhaps the biggest storyline of the night was progressive upsets that occurred in state Senate primaries, including the complete demolish of the IDC, which had folded back into the mainline Democratic minority conference in April, in a deal brokered by Cuomo.</p> <p>The former leader of the IDC, Senator Jeff Klein, was defeated by Alessandra Biaggi in the Bronx and Westchester seat, despite Klein spending well over $1 million in the race.</p> <p>Other IDC races included Jessica Ramos unseating Senator Jose Peralta in Queens; Robert Jackson unseating Senator Marisol Alcantara in Manhattan; Zellnor Myrie unseating Senator Jesse Hamilton in Brooklyn; John Liu unseating Senator Tony Avella in Queens; and Rachel May unseating Senator David Valesky in the Syracuse area.</p> <p>Former IDC members who beat back challengers were Senator Diane Savino of Staten Island and Brooklyn, who defeated Jasmine Robinson, and Senator David Carlucci of Rockland, who defeated Julie Goldberg.</p> <p>In another upset, Julia Salazar unseated Senator Martin Dilan in Brooklyn.</p> <p>Senator Simcha Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat who has been part of the Republican conference, giving the GOP a one-seat majority, defeated challenger Blake Morris.</p> <p>In a Democratic primary to see who will take on Republican Brooklyn Senator Martin Golden in the general election, Andrew Gounardes defeated Ross Barkan.<br />There were far fewer storylines in Assembly races, but Catalina Cruz did unseat Assemblymember Ari Espinal in a Democratic primary in Queens. Democratic Assemblymember Brian Barnwell held off a challenge from Melissa Sklarz; As of Friday morning, votes were still being counted in the 46th Assembly district in Brooklyn where Mathylde Frontus is leading with 40.68 percent against Ethan Lustig-Elgrably, who has 39.75 percent of the vote; and Michael Reilly won the primary in the Republican Assembly stronghold on the South Shore of Staten Island, where no incumbent is running.</p> <p>Additionally, Nancy Sliwa won a three-candidate race for the Reform Party nomination for Attorney General.</p> <p>All of the primary winners will now move on to the general election, where a statewide slate of Republican nominees has been waiting -- the GOP strategically avoided any statewide primaries -- along with some minor party candidates. Along with the statewide races, the focus for the general election will be on which party can win the requisite seats to control the state Senate (the Assembly is overwhelmingly Democratic and will remain so), and battleground House races where New York swing seats could factor into whether Democrats can take control of that congressional chamber.</p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note- This article has been updated to clarify that Ethan Lustic-Elgrably has not been declared the winner in Brooklyn's 46th Assembly district. Votes were still being counted as of Friday morning.&nbsp;</p>
One of the State's Most Powerful Unions Tries to Take Down One of Its Most Powerful Politicians 2018-09-09T04:00:00+00:00 2018-09-09T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7923:one-of-the-state-s-most-powerful-unions-tries-to-take-down-one-of-its-most-powerful-politicians Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/img-4741.jpg" alt="32BJ for Biaggi" width="600" height="308" /></p> <p>photo: @32BJSEIU</p> <hr /> <p>As Alessandra Biaggi, a first-time candidate for office, attempts to unseat Democratic state Senator Jeff Klein, once the powerful leader of a rogue faction of Democratic senators, a prominent labor union is pulling no punches to ensure that her insurgent campaign prevails in the September 13 primary.</p> <p>The property services workers union, 32BJ SEIU, which boasts more than 160,000 members and is a regular political heavyweight, has been aggressively courting voters and spending money to help Biaggi defeat Klein, a Democrat the union once backed. A force in state politics with allies at the highest reaches of government, 32BJ could put Biaggi over the top in what is increasingly being viewed, despite Klein’s significant advantages, as an unpredictable race given broader trends and recent upsets, Biaggi’s strengths as a campaigner, and the activism behind her bid.</p> <p>Klein represents Senate District 34, which covers parts of the Bronx and Westchester, and has been in office since 2005. Along the way, he acquired power and prestige, forming the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), an alliance that grew to eight senators who broke from the chamber’s mainline Democratic conference and formed a coalition majority with Senate Republicans, at times ensuring GOP leadership of the only Republican stronghold in state government. In turn, IDC members received leadership positions, additional stipends, more discretionary funding for their districts, and other benefits. The infamous “three men in a room” of state government decision-making -- the governor, Assembly speaker and Senate majority leader -- became four, with Klein joining to influence the fate of key legislation and the state budget.</p> <p>The IDC rejoined the mainline Democrats in April, after another state budget agreement and no shortage of criticism from progressive activists, unions, and elected Democrats who viewed their power-sharing agreement with visceral hatred and outright derision. A slate of challengers, including Biaggi, had already launched their campaigns to unseat the IDC members in the primary, promising “real” as opposed to “Trump Democrats.”</p> <p>The Democratic unity deal had its beginnings in <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/f/?id=0000015f-fffd-da42-a7ff-ffff88dc0000" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a letter</a> sent in November 2017 by leaders of the state Democratic Party, Congressional Rep. Joe Crowley and, notably, Hector Figueroa, an at-large member of the Democratic National Committee, the president of 32BJ, and an active and powerful voice in New York politics. They appealed to Klein and Democratic conference leader Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins to reunite the disparate factions of the same party. In April this year, the two sides finally came together, with Governor Andrew Cuomo literally in the middle at a press conference, expressing a newfound bonhomie that tried to erase years of bad blood. Both sides promised mutual support in the upcoming elections. Klein was appointed deputy conference leader under Stewart-Cousins and pledged that the IDC was dead forever as a conference.</p> <p>But, damage was already done. Following Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election, a wave of grassroots activists had vowed to oppose the IDC Senators and, one by one, challengers emerged to take on each senator in the primary. They shared similar policy platforms, pledging to support causes near and dear to progressives -- such as single-payer health care, criminal justice reform, enhanced rent regulations, voting, ethics and campaign finance reform, and increased education funding -- which they blamed IDC members for blocking. Among them was Biaggi, who formerly worked in Cuomo’s counsel’s office and was deputy national operations director for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.</p> <p>In late June, two months after the unity compact, 32BJ <a href="http://www.seiu32bj.org/press-releases/32bj-seiu-endorses-biaggi/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">announced</a> its endorsement of Biaggi, which shocked the New York political world and many saw as the crumbling of the facade of a unified effort to keep Democratic incumbents, including Cuomo and Klein, in power. Figueroa, who remains a staunch Cuomo supporter, was accused by some of reneging on a commitment to not oppose the former IDC members, a charge he has repeatedly dismissed.</p> <p>“I think that Democratic unity was already broken,” Figueroa said in a phone interview on Thursday. “The efforts to fix it were not really sincerely driven, or even embraced when others were driving it, by the IDC.” He emphasized that the IDC had ample opportunity to return to the fold, and should have done so when the need for unity became clear. First was after the 2014 elections, when 32BJ had endorsed Klein after he promised to end the IDC alliance with Republicans. Klein subsequently broke that promise. Then came Trump’s election, after which Democrats saw a dire need to regain complete control of state government. Again, the IDC stuck with Republicans.</p> <p>“So the effort that we undertook throughout 2017, showing them the reality of where the country was and what it meant to be sharing power with Republicans, finally caught up with them when they were primaried,” Figueroa said, “When they experienced rejection in their own districts, then they decided that it was time to try to figure out how to come back.”</p> <p>The terms of the deal were also unacceptable, he said, noting that the former IDC members insisted on funding their campaigns with money raised with the Independence Party through the Senate Independence Campaign Committee (SICC), which received contributions from donors more friendly to Republican causes, such as real estate and charter school interests. (The committee was recently ruled by a judge to be illegal and the IDC members were directed by a Board of Elections official to return millions in campaign funds they had received, though they have refused to do so, while they took steps to get the SICC into compliance.)</p> <p>“Even when they accepted the offer, they kept the [SICC] money and they demanded what cannot be demanded, which is that everybody bow to their leadership and ignore their opponents,” Figueroa said. “So to me, this was already set to fail, unfortunately,...because of the attitude and arrogance of the head of the IDC and his minions in the conference.”</p> <p>He continued, “The roots of division were very, very deep and had they behaved in a different way, had they refunded the money, had they taken the attitude that they have to talk to voters, they have to talk to people in the district like we asked Klein to do with our members, had they been more humble, maybe they could have avoided the ferocity of the opposition. But they didn’t do that. They felt that institutional politics protects them and now they’re paying the price.”</p> <p>Endorsing Biaggi was an easy calculation for the union. Klein refused to be interviewed by its screening committee, which then unanimously voted for Biaggi, Figueroa said.</p> <p>Biaggi said the union’s support was “incredibly massive,” touting shared values and the union’s organizing efforts around progressive legislation in the state. “They were also the first union to come out and support me before any other union, and that’s something that I will absolutely never forget. It is incredibly politically courageous,” she said.</p> <p>The union had already committed to hitting the ground for Biaggi, traversing the district to knock on doors and canvass for votes. Then, just over a month after their endorsement of Biaggi, Klein pulled a stunt that left Figueroa “perplexed.”</p> <p>The senator hosted about a dozen rank-and-file members of Figueroa’s union and posted <a href="https://twitter.com/JeffKleinNY/status/1024066029683699712" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a video</a> to Twitter in which they held up signs for his campaign and chanted, “32BJ!” In a subsequent <a href="https://twitter.com/JeffKleinNY/status/1024068346998861824" target="_blank" rel="noopener">tweet</a>, Klein wrote, “These are the doormen, the superintendents, maintenance staff and security companies in our building and our public schools, who provide clean and safe environments for our families. This is a testament to loyalty, and I am truly honored by the rank and file support of @32BJSEIU.”</p> <p>“[It] doesn’t mean anything except that it revealed one of the personality flaws that we find in Klein - the vanity, the arrogance of doing that is really innovative and unique,” Figueroa said, having never experienced a candidate attempting to project support that he does not have from the union’s majority and endorsement vote. “And it’s that style of politics that we have to reject at this time. The politics of confusion and the politics of divisiveness and the politics of deceiving the electorate, which is what has been the trademark of Jeff Klein and the IDC. That only energized us more to support Biaggi.”</p> <p>The move also annoyed many union members and the next day, Figueroa said, 109 members volunteered to assist the effort behind Biaggi’s candidacy. They went to the Bronx in <a href="https://twitter.com/32BJSEIU/status/1030474032213368833" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a show of force</a>.</p> <p>Biaggi said the move was of a piece with Klein’s career, that he was attempting to fool voters just as he had done for years as part of the IDC, misleading “all of the voters of District 34 into thinking that they were voting for a Democrat when they were really voting for someone who was empowering Republicans. And now he’s trying to pretend that he has a union that did not endorse him...I would never in my wildest dreams do that. It kind of reduces his credibility as a leader.” (<a href="https://www.cityandstateny.com/articles/politics/new-york-state/jeff-klein-idc-letter.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">City &amp; State reported that</a>, in late August, Klein’s campaign also sent a letter to constituents that made a few misleading claims about his record.)</p> <p>A spokesperson did not respond to a request for an interview with Klein for this article, and he has declined multiple Gotham Gazette invitations to make radio show appearances, though he has participated in at least two debates with Biaggi and other candidate forums.</p> <p>In one of the debates, <a href="https://bronxnet.org/your-bronx/articles/bronxtalk-34th-senate-district-debate-jeffrey-klein-alessandra-biaggi/?edit_off" target="_blank" rel="noopener">hosted by BronxTalk</a>, Klein downplayed the IDC’s role in empowering Republicans while touting its record passing progressive legislation including raising the age of criminal responsibility and a phased $15 minimum wage program. Klein said his opponent was playing “fast and loose” with the facts and he insisted that the IDC couldn’t have given Democrats a majority since the 32nd vote that gave Republicans control over the 63-member chamber came from Simcha Felder, a conservative Democrat from Brooklyn. That continues to be the case, which is why Democrats are hoping to notch victories in several swing districts outside New York City in November, while some eye unseating Brooklyn Republican Senator Marty Golden and others, including 32BJ, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7914-in-brooklyn-blake-morris-tries-to-upend-the-state-senate-power-balance-all-by-himself" target="_blank" rel="noopener">support Blake Morris in his primary challenge to Felder</a>.</p> <p>Klein insisted the IDC was a creation of necessity, pointing to the last time the Democrats won a majority in 2008. “The minute we won that majority, it was all downhill -- corruption, dysfunction,” he said, pointing to four Democratic state Senators who had attempted their own independent faction that year which plunged the chamber into chaos. “I originally decided to run for the state Senate to make sure we had a Democratic majority. And over the years, even though there wasn’t a Democratic majority, I was able to get a lot of things done,” Klein said in his closing statement.</p> <p>A Democratic consultant who lives in the district and requested anonymity to speak freely said Klein’s move to court union members made sense. “I can see it as a viable tactic by an elected official like Jeff Klein to have public meetings with union members even if he didn’t get support from their leadership,” the consultant said.</p> <p>Klein may not have 32BJ’s backing, but he does have a whole host of unions, some very powerful ones, that want to see him reelected including 1199 SEIU, DC37, the Hotel Trades Council, TWU Local 100, RWDSU, and several law enforcement unions. Klein has also raised and spent much more money than his challenger.</p> <p>“I am still the underdog in this race,” Biaggi acknowledged, “which means that I have double the amount of work that I have to do to make sure that people know who I am, that people understand what this race is about and what's at stake for really everyone in New York and why it’s so important for our community to actually have a real Democrat representing them.”</p> <p>Besides the hundreds of volunteers that 32BJ has put into the ground game week after week, the union has also put money behind Biaggi. It donated $7,000 to her campaign and its independent expenditure committee, Empire State 32BJ SEIU PAC, had spent $75,938 to support her campaign through mailers and social media through the most recent filing. Figueroa also signalled that more outside spending was on the way, and the PAC’s latest financial disclosure to the Board of Elections shows $43,861 in outstanding liabilities for expenditures both in favor of Biaggi and opposing Klein.</p> <p>Biaggi herself has raised more than $504,000 over the course of the race, and has, so far, spent $184,000, which pales in comparison to Klein’s campaign finances, but left her a solid chunk, with more surely coming in, to spend in the final 10 days of the race. In just this two-year cycle, however, the incumbent senator has raised $1.66 million and spent almost $2.4 million, dropping $836,000 in just three weeks in August. While Biaggi had about $263,000 in cash on hand, Klein had nearly $960,000 in the bank for the final stretch.</p> <p>The Democratic consultant said there has been an “insane amount of mail” going out from both campaigns and their surrogates. “At least one piece a week,” the consultant said. On the ground, the campaigns seem to have split the district in their approach, the consultant said. Klein’s campaign seems focused on holding his home turf in the east, in Morris Park and Wakefield, while Biaggi campaign workers have been hitting the ground hard in the west side of the district, in Riverdale, Van Cortlandt and Kingsbridge. “The farther west you go, prime voters are not getting door-knocked at all by Klein’s people,” the consultant said.</p> <p>[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7917-candidates-in-contested-state-senate-primaries-file-final-pre-primary-financials" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Candidates in Contested State Senate Primaries File Final Pre-Primary Financials</a>]</p> <p>Biaggi said Klein’s outsize spending on the race is a clear signal of weakness. “It says that he is not certain that he’s going to win and that sends a signal to everybody who has supported him previously to say, am I on the right side of this?”</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/stringer_biaggi.jpg" alt="stringer biaggi" width="250" height="208" style="margin-right: 12px; float: left;" />Several Democratic elected officials have also declared for Biaggi, including U.S. Senator from New York Kirsten Gillibrand, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Comptroller Scott Stringer (pictured with Biaggi), Congressional candidate and progressive rising star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (whom 32BJ did not endorse in her primary win), former Mayor David Dinkins, Congressional Reps. Jerrold Nadler and Carolyn Maloney, and City Council Members Brad Lander, Ben Kallos and Carlina Rivera, Mt. Vernon City Council President Lisa Copeland, Catherine Parker, the majority leader of the Westchester County Board of Legislators, among others. The Working Families Party has also endorsed her and is providing similar on-ground support like 32BJ.&nbsp;</p> <p>Biaggi was also among four Senate candidates to receive the coveted endorsement of the New York Times editorial board, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/28/opinion/new-york-senate-primary-endorsements.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">which wrote</a>, “Alessandra Biaggi, who describes herself pointedly as ‘a real Democrat,’ is the kind of smart, dedicated reformer so desperately needed in Albany.” Biaggi was subsequently <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/ny-edit-state-senate-endorsements-queens-bronx-manhattan-20180907-story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">endorsed by</a> the New York Daily News editorial board.</p> <p>A side effect of 32BJ’s mobilization in the district, which is home to <a href="https://www.cityandstateny.com/articles/politics/new-york-state/democrats-backing-idc-challengers-are-not-violating-truce.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">6,000 of its members</a>, said Figueroa, is a new awakening about the local issues and community that is unlikely to fade even if Klein retains his seat. “This is a district where we’re gonna be setting roots for years to come,” he said.</p> <p>“We have seen the process be hijacked year after year to put a break on what could effectively be the most progressive legislature in the country,” he added. “That is really what is behind the dynamics of this race. And that is only growing. If people feel that somehow if Klein wins, the opposition will go away, they are making a big mistake.”</p> <p>The next challenge is getting people to turn out to vote on a Thursday. “I am feeling great, I am feeling excited, I’m feeling motivated,” Biaggi said exactly one week before the September 13 primary. “I’m feeling that this next week is going to be incredibly critical to making sure that everybody gets out to vote, that is my number one goal for the next seven days.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p> <p>Note - This article has been updated to note that Alessandra Biaggi has also been endorsed by the Working Families Party.&nbsp;</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/img-4741.jpg" alt="32BJ for Biaggi" width="600" height="308" /></p> <p>photo: @32BJSEIU</p> <hr /> <p>As Alessandra Biaggi, a first-time candidate for office, attempts to unseat Democratic state Senator Jeff Klein, once the powerful leader of a rogue faction of Democratic senators, a prominent labor union is pulling no punches to ensure that her insurgent campaign prevails in the September 13 primary.</p> <p>The property services workers union, 32BJ SEIU, which boasts more than 160,000 members and is a regular political heavyweight, has been aggressively courting voters and spending money to help Biaggi defeat Klein, a Democrat the union once backed. A force in state politics with allies at the highest reaches of government, 32BJ could put Biaggi over the top in what is increasingly being viewed, despite Klein’s significant advantages, as an unpredictable race given broader trends and recent upsets, Biaggi’s strengths as a campaigner, and the activism behind her bid.</p> <p>Klein represents Senate District 34, which covers parts of the Bronx and Westchester, and has been in office since 2005. Along the way, he acquired power and prestige, forming the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), an alliance that grew to eight senators who broke from the chamber’s mainline Democratic conference and formed a coalition majority with Senate Republicans, at times ensuring GOP leadership of the only Republican stronghold in state government. In turn, IDC members received leadership positions, additional stipends, more discretionary funding for their districts, and other benefits. The infamous “three men in a room” of state government decision-making -- the governor, Assembly speaker and Senate majority leader -- became four, with Klein joining to influence the fate of key legislation and the state budget.</p> <p>The IDC rejoined the mainline Democrats in April, after another state budget agreement and no shortage of criticism from progressive activists, unions, and elected Democrats who viewed their power-sharing agreement with visceral hatred and outright derision. A slate of challengers, including Biaggi, had already launched their campaigns to unseat the IDC members in the primary, promising “real” as opposed to “Trump Democrats.”</p> <p>The Democratic unity deal had its beginnings in <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/f/?id=0000015f-fffd-da42-a7ff-ffff88dc0000" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a letter</a> sent in November 2017 by leaders of the state Democratic Party, Congressional Rep. Joe Crowley and, notably, Hector Figueroa, an at-large member of the Democratic National Committee, the president of 32BJ, and an active and powerful voice in New York politics. They appealed to Klein and Democratic conference leader Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins to reunite the disparate factions of the same party. In April this year, the two sides finally came together, with Governor Andrew Cuomo literally in the middle at a press conference, expressing a newfound bonhomie that tried to erase years of bad blood. Both sides promised mutual support in the upcoming elections. Klein was appointed deputy conference leader under Stewart-Cousins and pledged that the IDC was dead forever as a conference.</p> <p>But, damage was already done. Following Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election, a wave of grassroots activists had vowed to oppose the IDC Senators and, one by one, challengers emerged to take on each senator in the primary. They shared similar policy platforms, pledging to support causes near and dear to progressives -- such as single-payer health care, criminal justice reform, enhanced rent regulations, voting, ethics and campaign finance reform, and increased education funding -- which they blamed IDC members for blocking. Among them was Biaggi, who formerly worked in Cuomo’s counsel’s office and was deputy national operations director for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.</p> <p>In late June, two months after the unity compact, 32BJ <a href="http://www.seiu32bj.org/press-releases/32bj-seiu-endorses-biaggi/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">announced</a> its endorsement of Biaggi, which shocked the New York political world and many saw as the crumbling of the facade of a unified effort to keep Democratic incumbents, including Cuomo and Klein, in power. Figueroa, who remains a staunch Cuomo supporter, was accused by some of reneging on a commitment to not oppose the former IDC members, a charge he has repeatedly dismissed.</p> <p>“I think that Democratic unity was already broken,” Figueroa said in a phone interview on Thursday. “The efforts to fix it were not really sincerely driven, or even embraced when others were driving it, by the IDC.” He emphasized that the IDC had ample opportunity to return to the fold, and should have done so when the need for unity became clear. First was after the 2014 elections, when 32BJ had endorsed Klein after he promised to end the IDC alliance with Republicans. Klein subsequently broke that promise. Then came Trump’s election, after which Democrats saw a dire need to regain complete control of state government. Again, the IDC stuck with Republicans.</p> <p>“So the effort that we undertook throughout 2017, showing them the reality of where the country was and what it meant to be sharing power with Republicans, finally caught up with them when they were primaried,” Figueroa said, “When they experienced rejection in their own districts, then they decided that it was time to try to figure out how to come back.”</p> <p>The terms of the deal were also unacceptable, he said, noting that the former IDC members insisted on funding their campaigns with money raised with the Independence Party through the Senate Independence Campaign Committee (SICC), which received contributions from donors more friendly to Republican causes, such as real estate and charter school interests. (The committee was recently ruled by a judge to be illegal and the IDC members were directed by a Board of Elections official to return millions in campaign funds they had received, though they have refused to do so, while they took steps to get the SICC into compliance.)</p> <p>“Even when they accepted the offer, they kept the [SICC] money and they demanded what cannot be demanded, which is that everybody bow to their leadership and ignore their opponents,” Figueroa said. “So to me, this was already set to fail, unfortunately,...because of the attitude and arrogance of the head of the IDC and his minions in the conference.”</p> <p>He continued, “The roots of division were very, very deep and had they behaved in a different way, had they refunded the money, had they taken the attitude that they have to talk to voters, they have to talk to people in the district like we asked Klein to do with our members, had they been more humble, maybe they could have avoided the ferocity of the opposition. But they didn’t do that. They felt that institutional politics protects them and now they’re paying the price.”</p> <p>Endorsing Biaggi was an easy calculation for the union. Klein refused to be interviewed by its screening committee, which then unanimously voted for Biaggi, Figueroa said.</p> <p>Biaggi said the union’s support was “incredibly massive,” touting shared values and the union’s organizing efforts around progressive legislation in the state. “They were also the first union to come out and support me before any other union, and that’s something that I will absolutely never forget. It is incredibly politically courageous,” she said.</p> <p>The union had already committed to hitting the ground for Biaggi, traversing the district to knock on doors and canvass for votes. Then, just over a month after their endorsement of Biaggi, Klein pulled a stunt that left Figueroa “perplexed.”</p> <p>The senator hosted about a dozen rank-and-file members of Figueroa’s union and posted <a href="https://twitter.com/JeffKleinNY/status/1024066029683699712" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a video</a> to Twitter in which they held up signs for his campaign and chanted, “32BJ!” In a subsequent <a href="https://twitter.com/JeffKleinNY/status/1024068346998861824" target="_blank" rel="noopener">tweet</a>, Klein wrote, “These are the doormen, the superintendents, maintenance staff and security companies in our building and our public schools, who provide clean and safe environments for our families. This is a testament to loyalty, and I am truly honored by the rank and file support of @32BJSEIU.”</p> <p>“[It] doesn’t mean anything except that it revealed one of the personality flaws that we find in Klein - the vanity, the arrogance of doing that is really innovative and unique,” Figueroa said, having never experienced a candidate attempting to project support that he does not have from the union’s majority and endorsement vote. “And it’s that style of politics that we have to reject at this time. The politics of confusion and the politics of divisiveness and the politics of deceiving the electorate, which is what has been the trademark of Jeff Klein and the IDC. That only energized us more to support Biaggi.”</p> <p>The move also annoyed many union members and the next day, Figueroa said, 109 members volunteered to assist the effort behind Biaggi’s candidacy. They went to the Bronx in <a href="https://twitter.com/32BJSEIU/status/1030474032213368833" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a show of force</a>.</p> <p>Biaggi said the move was of a piece with Klein’s career, that he was attempting to fool voters just as he had done for years as part of the IDC, misleading “all of the voters of District 34 into thinking that they were voting for a Democrat when they were really voting for someone who was empowering Republicans. And now he’s trying to pretend that he has a union that did not endorse him...I would never in my wildest dreams do that. It kind of reduces his credibility as a leader.” (<a href="https://www.cityandstateny.com/articles/politics/new-york-state/jeff-klein-idc-letter.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">City &amp; State reported that</a>, in late August, Klein’s campaign also sent a letter to constituents that made a few misleading claims about his record.)</p> <p>A spokesperson did not respond to a request for an interview with Klein for this article, and he has declined multiple Gotham Gazette invitations to make radio show appearances, though he has participated in at least two debates with Biaggi and other candidate forums.</p> <p>In one of the debates, <a href="https://bronxnet.org/your-bronx/articles/bronxtalk-34th-senate-district-debate-jeffrey-klein-alessandra-biaggi/?edit_off" target="_blank" rel="noopener">hosted by BronxTalk</a>, Klein downplayed the IDC’s role in empowering Republicans while touting its record passing progressive legislation including raising the age of criminal responsibility and a phased $15 minimum wage program. Klein said his opponent was playing “fast and loose” with the facts and he insisted that the IDC couldn’t have given Democrats a majority since the 32nd vote that gave Republicans control over the 63-member chamber came from Simcha Felder, a conservative Democrat from Brooklyn. That continues to be the case, which is why Democrats are hoping to notch victories in several swing districts outside New York City in November, while some eye unseating Brooklyn Republican Senator Marty Golden and others, including 32BJ, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7914-in-brooklyn-blake-morris-tries-to-upend-the-state-senate-power-balance-all-by-himself" target="_blank" rel="noopener">support Blake Morris in his primary challenge to Felder</a>.</p> <p>Klein insisted the IDC was a creation of necessity, pointing to the last time the Democrats won a majority in 2008. “The minute we won that majority, it was all downhill -- corruption, dysfunction,” he said, pointing to four Democratic state Senators who had attempted their own independent faction that year which plunged the chamber into chaos. “I originally decided to run for the state Senate to make sure we had a Democratic majority. And over the years, even though there wasn’t a Democratic majority, I was able to get a lot of things done,” Klein said in his closing statement.</p> <p>A Democratic consultant who lives in the district and requested anonymity to speak freely said Klein’s move to court union members made sense. “I can see it as a viable tactic by an elected official like Jeff Klein to have public meetings with union members even if he didn’t get support from their leadership,” the consultant said.</p> <p>Klein may not have 32BJ’s backing, but he does have a whole host of unions, some very powerful ones, that want to see him reelected including 1199 SEIU, DC37, the Hotel Trades Council, TWU Local 100, RWDSU, and several law enforcement unions. Klein has also raised and spent much more money than his challenger.</p> <p>“I am still the underdog in this race,” Biaggi acknowledged, “which means that I have double the amount of work that I have to do to make sure that people know who I am, that people understand what this race is about and what's at stake for really everyone in New York and why it’s so important for our community to actually have a real Democrat representing them.”</p> <p>Besides the hundreds of volunteers that 32BJ has put into the ground game week after week, the union has also put money behind Biaggi. It donated $7,000 to her campaign and its independent expenditure committee, Empire State 32BJ SEIU PAC, had spent $75,938 to support her campaign through mailers and social media through the most recent filing. Figueroa also signalled that more outside spending was on the way, and the PAC’s latest financial disclosure to the Board of Elections shows $43,861 in outstanding liabilities for expenditures both in favor of Biaggi and opposing Klein.</p> <p>Biaggi herself has raised more than $504,000 over the course of the race, and has, so far, spent $184,000, which pales in comparison to Klein’s campaign finances, but left her a solid chunk, with more surely coming in, to spend in the final 10 days of the race. In just this two-year cycle, however, the incumbent senator has raised $1.66 million and spent almost $2.4 million, dropping $836,000 in just three weeks in August. While Biaggi had about $263,000 in cash on hand, Klein had nearly $960,000 in the bank for the final stretch.</p> <p>The Democratic consultant said there has been an “insane amount of mail” going out from both campaigns and their surrogates. “At least one piece a week,” the consultant said. On the ground, the campaigns seem to have split the district in their approach, the consultant said. Klein’s campaign seems focused on holding his home turf in the east, in Morris Park and Wakefield, while Biaggi campaign workers have been hitting the ground hard in the west side of the district, in Riverdale, Van Cortlandt and Kingsbridge. “The farther west you go, prime voters are not getting door-knocked at all by Klein’s people,” the consultant said.</p> <p>[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7917-candidates-in-contested-state-senate-primaries-file-final-pre-primary-financials" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Candidates in Contested State Senate Primaries File Final Pre-Primary Financials</a>]</p> <p>Biaggi said Klein’s outsize spending on the race is a clear signal of weakness. “It says that he is not certain that he’s going to win and that sends a signal to everybody who has supported him previously to say, am I on the right side of this?”</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/stringer_biaggi.jpg" alt="stringer biaggi" width="250" height="208" style="margin-right: 12px; float: left;" />Several Democratic elected officials have also declared for Biaggi, including U.S. Senator from New York Kirsten Gillibrand, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Comptroller Scott Stringer (pictured with Biaggi), Congressional candidate and progressive rising star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (whom 32BJ did not endorse in her primary win), former Mayor David Dinkins, Congressional Reps. Jerrold Nadler and Carolyn Maloney, and City Council Members Brad Lander, Ben Kallos and Carlina Rivera, Mt. Vernon City Council President Lisa Copeland, Catherine Parker, the majority leader of the Westchester County Board of Legislators, among others. The Working Families Party has also endorsed her and is providing similar on-ground support like 32BJ.&nbsp;</p> <p>Biaggi was also among four Senate candidates to receive the coveted endorsement of the New York Times editorial board, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/28/opinion/new-york-senate-primary-endorsements.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">which wrote</a>, “Alessandra Biaggi, who describes herself pointedly as ‘a real Democrat,’ is the kind of smart, dedicated reformer so desperately needed in Albany.” Biaggi was subsequently <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/ny-edit-state-senate-endorsements-queens-bronx-manhattan-20180907-story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">endorsed by</a> the New York Daily News editorial board.</p> <p>A side effect of 32BJ’s mobilization in the district, which is home to <a href="https://www.cityandstateny.com/articles/politics/new-york-state/democrats-backing-idc-challengers-are-not-violating-truce.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">6,000 of its members</a>, said Figueroa, is a new awakening about the local issues and community that is unlikely to fade even if Klein retains his seat. “This is a district where we’re gonna be setting roots for years to come,” he said.</p> <p>“We have seen the process be hijacked year after year to put a break on what could effectively be the most progressive legislature in the country,” he added. “That is really what is behind the dynamics of this race. And that is only growing. If people feel that somehow if Klein wins, the opposition will go away, they are making a big mistake.”</p> <p>The next challenge is getting people to turn out to vote on a Thursday. “I am feeling great, I am feeling excited, I’m feeling motivated,” Biaggi said exactly one week before the September 13 primary. “I’m feeling that this next week is going to be incredibly critical to making sure that everybody gets out to vote, that is my number one goal for the next seven days.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note - This article has been updated to note that Alessandra Biaggi has also been endorsed by the Working Families Party.&nbsp;</p>
Working Families Party Puts It All On The Line 2018-08-02T04:00:00+00:00 2018-08-02T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7840:working-families-party-puts-it-all-on-the-line Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/wf-vote-your-values2.jpg" alt="Cynthia Nixon, Jummane Williams, and Alessandra Biaggi" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Cynthia Nixon (left), Alessandra Biaggi (top right), Bill Lipton &amp; Jumaane Williams (bottom)</p> <hr /> <p>The Working Families Party celebrated its 20th anniversary last month at Brooklyn Bowl in Williamsburg, with its rank-and-file cheering on a line up of politicians that have served as standard bearers, past and present. But it’s the future of the party that is especially uncertain as the upstart liberal organization lays it all on the line in backing insurgent candidates in state elections this year.</p> <p>In doing so, especially in its decision to take on Governor Andrew Cuomo by backing Cynthia Nixon, some the party’s longtime allies have turned adversaries, portending a potentially diminished presence in the state’s political landscape if its gamble does not pay off over the next several weeks. At the anniversary celebration, which featured Mayor Bill de Blasio, among others singing the party’s praises for its push to create a more fair and equal New York, there was little sign of uneasiness about its bold choices this election year; an atmosphere of revelry prevailed, possibly the sign of progressive activists happy to be going for it all instead of triangulating with Cuomo and other more centrist Democrats as it had in the past.</p> <p>There is also a sense among WFP leaders and supporters that the party is already where the Democratic Party is heading, and where it needs to be, with a more progressive vision of left politics reflective of a new post-Clinton, post-Cuomo Democratic era.</p> <p>Created by community advocates and labor unions with a vision of pulling Democrats to the progressive left, the WFP has played a prominent role in championing the bread-and-butter issues that most affect working, low- and middle-income Americans. Through activism and advocacy around policy and funding, the party battles inequity, whether it be in housing, employment, wages, criminal justice, education, environment, or electoral access. In local and state elections, Democrats eager to brandish their progressive bonafides have coveted and sought the WFP’s endorsement, and the party’s vocal leaders and active network of members and volunteers.</p> <p>But after years of being let down by elected officials they propped up, the WFP’s leadership made a drastic decision this year to endorse underdogs in key Democratic primaries. They backed Nixon’s challenge to Cuomo, a two-term incumbent seeking reelection, and New York City Council Member Jumaane Williams in his attempt to unseat Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul; and they are fiercely rallying behind progressive candidates who are trying to replace Democratic state Senators who until recently made up the Republican-allied Independent Democratic Conference (IDC).</p> <p>The reaction to the WFP’s moves has been significant, and potentially crippling. Several unions that had filled the party’s coffers for years <a href="https://www.cityandstateny.com/articles/politics/campaigns-elections/unions-in-out-working-families-party.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">pulled their support</a> for fear of angering the governor, who made explicit threats against anyone who would stay, according to a WFP leader. But advocacy groups and a progressive activist base rallied, resolute to take on Cuomo, whom they no longer trusted after a 2014 deal went bad, and the former IDC members, who had betrayed their Democratic party-mates.</p> <p>While acknowledging its newfound vulnerability, WFP leaders and supporters also had a sense that they were on the right side of history, pursuing their true vision of where the Democratic Party should be (with the necessary help of the WFP), representative of the national trendlines -- the WFP did back Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary -- a feeling only bolstered in recent weeks by events like the shocking congressional primary victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whom the WFP had not endorsed over Rep. Joe Crowley, but quickly sought to align with thereafter.</p> <p>“I think the unions are dismayed by the way the Working Families Party has chosen to operate this cycle,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, in a phone interview. RWDSU was among those unions that left the party this year and Appelbaum is one of several labor leaders who say that Cuomo deserves to be reelected.</p> <p>“They’re diverting energy and resources from the effort to send more Democratic congresspeople from New York to Washington, [and] our prime responsibility is to work to take back the House of Representatives…Our concern is that the WFP no longer is representing, in its current rendition, the interests of working men and women, despite their name, and that is why unions felt it was necessary to disassociate themselves.”</p> <p>WFP leaders and allied elected officials say the party made a calculated wager, riding a groundswell of progressive sentiment that has moved the state’s political center, and that no matter how the chips fall on September 13, primary day, the party has already won.</p> <p>“This is the party they founded 20 years ago...to pull the Democratic Party to the left and with a coalitional approach to building power,” Brooklyn City Council Member Brad Lander told Gotham Gazette at the WFP’s anniversary gala. Lander spoke of the “radical but also practical vision” of Jon Kest, the progressive organizer who founded the WFP as well as the advocacy groups New York Communities for Change and its predecessor, the now-defunct Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN).</p> <p>“The WFP’s always contained this dynamic tension,” Lander said, between “the strength of voice of grassroots activists” and “established but still progressive” institutions such as labor unions. “At this moment, given shifts in the broader zeitgeist...and of course because of the way the governor has approached this, the party is in a more activist movement space,” he said. Like the WFP, Lander is backing Williams for lieutenant governor and several of the challengers to the former IDC members.</p> <p>Surely, if the WFP notches wins in the many primaries it is involved in -- the WFP offers a general election ballot line, but does much of its work backing its preferred candidates in their Democratic primaries -- it will strengthen the party, and conversely, losses will set them back, Lander said. Though, given the state of New York’s politics, “There’s no choice,” Lander said.</p> <p>For nearly eight years, the WFP has cried foul about Democratic recalcitrance as key progressive policies have failed to pass the state Legislature. The WFP continues to advocate for issues that include healthcare for all, ending the school-to-prison pipeline, fair wages, fixing the city’s subways, increasing funding to under-resourced schools, the DREAM Act, campaign finance and voting reform. &nbsp;</p> <p>Cuomo and the members of the erstwhile IDC largely claim to support that agenda and have repeatedly blamed the Republican-controlled Senate for thwarting its planks. But Cuomo tolerated, if not supported, the presence of the IDC, and critics hold its members up as a major obstacle to full Democratic control of both legislative chambers. Democrats have a comfortable majority in the 150-seat Assembly but, with the return of the IDC to the mainline Democratic conference, hold 31 seats in the 63-seat Senate.</p> <p>And though the State Democratic Party, at Cuomo’s behest, is focused on recapturing the Senate, which necessitates flipping seats in the general election, groups like the WFP insist on replacing rogue Democrats with candidates who better embody progressive values and they trust to not flee for a deal with Republicans.</p> <p>The party is taking a “big risk,” Dorothy Siegel, WFP treasurer, conceded on the sidelines of the gala, where Nixon, Williams, de Blasio, and Ben Jealous, the WFP-backed Democratic nominee for governor in Maryland, took the stage one by one to celebrate the WFP’s history. “Because, the power structure doesn’t like to be challenged...and the WFP is a really small organization,” Siegel said. “The people who control the levers of power win. Individual people never win.”</p> <p>Siegel lamented her belief that the state’s politics, the governor, and state Legislature are powered by special interests, largely real estate developers and Wall Street executives (she left out the extensive influence of labor unions). “The WFP is not powered by any of those powerful people. We’re only powered by people who pay us $5 a month,” she said. “It’s a true David and Goliath situation. If we lose the governor’s race, we run the risk of very powerful people being very angry. They can do a lot of things to us that would make our lives difficult.”</p> <p>Siegel pointed to the investigation involving the WFP that stemmed from alleged campaign finance violations in the election of City Council Member Debi Rose on Staten Island in 2009. Two campaign workers were accused, and later cleared, of charges that they worked with the WFP’s consulting firm, Data and Field Services, to circumvent campaign finance law. The years-long episode cost time and money that the WFP could ill-afford. “Lots of people got laid off. We almost went out of business,” Siegel said. “They could do that again. Do not underestimate the power of super-wealthy people to trample people who want to take away their power.”</p> <p>Is it worth the risk? “Absolutely. 100 percent,” she said.</p> <p>One of the most consequential possible effects of the WFP backing Nixon over Cuomo -- who they endorsed in 2014 after he promised to bring the IDC to an end and enact many of the same policies he’s promising again this year, which he did not follow through on -- is that it could cost the party automatic ballot access. A “third party” like the WFP needs at least 50,000 votes for its candidate for governor to maintain its ballot line into the future, which Nixon could easily attain in the general election. But Nixon losing the Democratic primary would put the WFP in a tough spot. Its leaders claim they won’t play spoiler and risk electing a Republican by drawing general election votes away from Cuomo. The party could feasibly get behind Cuomo while removing Nixon from the gubernatorial ballot line. A back-up plan is in place to move her to an Assembly race, in which she would not run, they say.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7808-the-cynthia-nixon-working-families-party-back-up-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener">The Cynthia Nixon-Working Families Party Back-up Plan</a>]</p> <p>“We’re confident that Cynthia’s going to win and that the insurgents running against the IDC are all going to win,” said Bill Lipton, NYWFP political director, in a phone interview. “There’s a progressive wave coming. In the unlikely event that she loses, Cynthia’s agreed to meet with the leaders of the WFP and we’ll have an important decision to make. We’re very confident about any of the possible scenarios.”</p> <p>A Nixon win would shock the political world, and catapult the WFP to never-before-seen power for a minor party. While initial polls show Nixon losing badly, her campaign argues that polling has been skewed and that polls are unable to capture the insurgent energy among Democrats and behind her candidacy. On the other hand, polling shows Williams to have a very real shot at unseating Hochul, which would also strengthen the WFP and cause major headaches for Cuomo (candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run separately in the primary, but as a ticket for the general election).</p> <p>If Lipton had concerns about the WFP’s undertaking in this election cycle, he betrayed none of them. “We’re not taking a risk. We’re fulfilling our mission. The risk would be for us if we stray from our mission,” he said, critiquing the Democratic establishment for relying on the same wealthy donors as their Republican opponents. “The mission of the WFP is to break up that cozy relationship between these parties and these oligarchs and demand that there be a party that is truly fighting for working people,” he added. “And Cuomo and the IDC fundamentally made the problem worse by not just taking money from the same wealthy donors that fund the Republican attacks on working people but actually openly supporting and aligning themselves with the Republicans. The danger for us would’ve been not standing up to these Trump Democrats. That would’ve been the greater danger.”</p> <p>The WFP hasn’t been a pure supporter of every progressive candidate, as evidenced by its choice of Cuomo over Zephyr Teachout in 2014, among others. Though the party derived momentum after the recent primary victory by Ocasio-Cortez, the young democratic socialist who defeated ten-term incumbent Rep. Crowley in Queens, its backing of Crowley left many questioning the WFP afterward. Lipton said the party was now fully behind her and that their earlier decisions owed to the fact that Crowley was moving to his left and the party had already committed to challenging former IDC state senators. “In retrospect, we clearly made a mistake. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has inspired us and working people around New York and the nation,” Lipton said. &nbsp;</p> <p>The party also hasn’t made an endorsement in the state Senate District 18 race where Julia Salazar, also a democratic socialist, is posing a primary challenge to Democratic Senator Martin Dilan, an eight-term incumbent. Although, Lipton did not close the door on the prospect of an endorsement. “As of now, the WFP has made no endorsement in the race,” he simply said. The party is backing Andrew Gounardes in a competitive Brooklyn Democratic primary with Ross Barkan, the winner of which will try to unseat one of the few Republican elected officials in the city, Senator Marty Golden.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7782-running-for-state-senate-julia-salazar-attempts-progressive-primary-upset" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Running for State Senate, Julia Salazar Attempts Progressive Primary Upset</a>]</p> <p>Karen Scharff, co-chair of the NYWFP and, until recently, longtime executive director of Citizen Action of New York, an activist group and member of the WFP, insists the party will come through September 13 with several victories, similarly citing Ocasio-Cortez, among other progressives, who prevailed in the congressional primaries.</p> <p>“The headline that came out of June 26 was not ‘Democratic establishment wins big.’ It was quite the opposite,’” Scharff said in a phone interview. “I think really that Cuomo and the IDC and the establishment Democrats took a major risk themselves by ignoring the growth of the progressive movement as it really built up steam over the past seven years going back to Occupy Wall Street and then Bill de Blasio’s election in New York City, the Black Lives Matter movement, the Bernie Sanders momentum, and they’re showing that they realize it.”</p> <p>She noted that Cuomo has moved to his left in the last few months on several fronts, owing to the shifting dynamics of the Democratic base. “I think that the risk we’ve taken in our endorsements this year have already paid off in moving the dominant issues in our state in a direction that is gonna meet the needs of working families instead of the needs of hedge fund donors and real estate donors,” she said, insisting that the governor and state Legislature, no matter who wins, can ill-afford to ignore the WFP’s agenda next year. “I think this is the direction the electorate is moving in and the Democratic Party’s going to have to either move with it or risk being left behind,” she said.</p> <p>“I don’t think WFP is out on a limb by itself here,” Scharff continued. “This is really part of the establishment versus the entire progressive and resistance movement….We’re definitely acting as part of a broader movement with a lot of allies.”</p> <p>Public Advocate Letitia James, who first got elected to the City Council on the WFP line in 2003, also attended the 20th anniversary gala, though her presence was more muted. Despite being a longtime WFP poster star, she did not speak to the gathering, choosing to mingle on the sides. James is running for attorney general with the governor’s support and eschewed the WFP’s endorsement, which the party has reserved for either James or one of her primary opponents, Zephyr Teachout, hoping that one of the two prevails September 13. Asked about the party’s risky endeavors this year, which include the challenge against Cuomo, James demurred. “I was with WFP when they had fundraisers at churches and if you didn’t get there early enough, all the cheese and crackers were gone. They’ve come a long way,” she said.</p> <p>“They took a chance on me several years ago,” she said, “and they are voting their values. I just wanted to come because they are my friends and because when I needed a party to run on, the Working Families Party was there and that’s something I’ll never forget.”</p> <p>Theodore Hamm, associate professor and chair of journalism and new media studies at St. Joseph’s College and longtime Brooklyn politics watcher, struck an optimistic note about the state Senate candidates that the WFP has endorsed, though he said that Nixon and Williams are unlikely to win. “The question, I guess, is if those people win but Cuomo holds on, then how will the new state Senate take shape with the some of the IDC figures no longer there and the challengers now taking those seats,” he wondered. “But that would certainly give the WFP influence, to a much greater degree than they’ve had thus far in the state Senate. That really should be where they put their energy.”</p> <p>Even Hamm admitted, though, that after Ocasio-Cortez’s shocking upset, “There’s no certainties anymore of what will happen in the future. In the wake of her victory, even though they didn’t support her, it made it seem like their gamble was worth at least pursuing.”</p> <p>At the WFP gala, Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke early and eagerly. His association with the party goes back to his years as a City Council member from Park Slope. “People try and bet against the Working Families Party all the time, the status quo loves to discount them,” the mayor said to whoops and applause. “But guess what? The Working Families Party is here to stay.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7798-new-york-democrats-season-of-choosing">New York Democrats’ Season of Choosing</a>]</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/wf-vote-your-values2.jpg" alt="Cynthia Nixon, Jummane Williams, and Alessandra Biaggi" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Cynthia Nixon (left), Alessandra Biaggi (top right), Bill Lipton &amp; Jumaane Williams (bottom)</p> <hr /> <p>The Working Families Party celebrated its 20th anniversary last month at Brooklyn Bowl in Williamsburg, with its rank-and-file cheering on a line up of politicians that have served as standard bearers, past and present. But it’s the future of the party that is especially uncertain as the upstart liberal organization lays it all on the line in backing insurgent candidates in state elections this year.</p> <p>In doing so, especially in its decision to take on Governor Andrew Cuomo by backing Cynthia Nixon, some the party’s longtime allies have turned adversaries, portending a potentially diminished presence in the state’s political landscape if its gamble does not pay off over the next several weeks. At the anniversary celebration, which featured Mayor Bill de Blasio, among others singing the party’s praises for its push to create a more fair and equal New York, there was little sign of uneasiness about its bold choices this election year; an atmosphere of revelry prevailed, possibly the sign of progressive activists happy to be going for it all instead of triangulating with Cuomo and other more centrist Democrats as it had in the past.</p> <p>There is also a sense among WFP leaders and supporters that the party is already where the Democratic Party is heading, and where it needs to be, with a more progressive vision of left politics reflective of a new post-Clinton, post-Cuomo Democratic era.</p> <p>Created by community advocates and labor unions with a vision of pulling Democrats to the progressive left, the WFP has played a prominent role in championing the bread-and-butter issues that most affect working, low- and middle-income Americans. Through activism and advocacy around policy and funding, the party battles inequity, whether it be in housing, employment, wages, criminal justice, education, environment, or electoral access. In local and state elections, Democrats eager to brandish their progressive bonafides have coveted and sought the WFP’s endorsement, and the party’s vocal leaders and active network of members and volunteers.</p> <p>But after years of being let down by elected officials they propped up, the WFP’s leadership made a drastic decision this year to endorse underdogs in key Democratic primaries. They backed Nixon’s challenge to Cuomo, a two-term incumbent seeking reelection, and New York City Council Member Jumaane Williams in his attempt to unseat Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul; and they are fiercely rallying behind progressive candidates who are trying to replace Democratic state Senators who until recently made up the Republican-allied Independent Democratic Conference (IDC).</p> <p>The reaction to the WFP’s moves has been significant, and potentially crippling. Several unions that had filled the party’s coffers for years <a href="https://www.cityandstateny.com/articles/politics/campaigns-elections/unions-in-out-working-families-party.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">pulled their support</a> for fear of angering the governor, who made explicit threats against anyone who would stay, according to a WFP leader. But advocacy groups and a progressive activist base rallied, resolute to take on Cuomo, whom they no longer trusted after a 2014 deal went bad, and the former IDC members, who had betrayed their Democratic party-mates.</p> <p>While acknowledging its newfound vulnerability, WFP leaders and supporters also had a sense that they were on the right side of history, pursuing their true vision of where the Democratic Party should be (with the necessary help of the WFP), representative of the national trendlines -- the WFP did back Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary -- a feeling only bolstered in recent weeks by events like the shocking congressional primary victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whom the WFP had not endorsed over Rep. Joe Crowley, but quickly sought to align with thereafter.</p> <p>“I think the unions are dismayed by the way the Working Families Party has chosen to operate this cycle,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, in a phone interview. RWDSU was among those unions that left the party this year and Appelbaum is one of several labor leaders who say that Cuomo deserves to be reelected.</p> <p>“They’re diverting energy and resources from the effort to send more Democratic congresspeople from New York to Washington, [and] our prime responsibility is to work to take back the House of Representatives…Our concern is that the WFP no longer is representing, in its current rendition, the interests of working men and women, despite their name, and that is why unions felt it was necessary to disassociate themselves.”</p> <p>WFP leaders and allied elected officials say the party made a calculated wager, riding a groundswell of progressive sentiment that has moved the state’s political center, and that no matter how the chips fall on September 13, primary day, the party has already won.</p> <p>“This is the party they founded 20 years ago...to pull the Democratic Party to the left and with a coalitional approach to building power,” Brooklyn City Council Member Brad Lander told Gotham Gazette at the WFP’s anniversary gala. Lander spoke of the “radical but also practical vision” of Jon Kest, the progressive organizer who founded the WFP as well as the advocacy groups New York Communities for Change and its predecessor, the now-defunct Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN).</p> <p>“The WFP’s always contained this dynamic tension,” Lander said, between “the strength of voice of grassroots activists” and “established but still progressive” institutions such as labor unions. “At this moment, given shifts in the broader zeitgeist...and of course because of the way the governor has approached this, the party is in a more activist movement space,” he said. Like the WFP, Lander is backing Williams for lieutenant governor and several of the challengers to the former IDC members.</p> <p>Surely, if the WFP notches wins in the many primaries it is involved in -- the WFP offers a general election ballot line, but does much of its work backing its preferred candidates in their Democratic primaries -- it will strengthen the party, and conversely, losses will set them back, Lander said. Though, given the state of New York’s politics, “There’s no choice,” Lander said.</p> <p>For nearly eight years, the WFP has cried foul about Democratic recalcitrance as key progressive policies have failed to pass the state Legislature. The WFP continues to advocate for issues that include healthcare for all, ending the school-to-prison pipeline, fair wages, fixing the city’s subways, increasing funding to under-resourced schools, the DREAM Act, campaign finance and voting reform. &nbsp;</p> <p>Cuomo and the members of the erstwhile IDC largely claim to support that agenda and have repeatedly blamed the Republican-controlled Senate for thwarting its planks. But Cuomo tolerated, if not supported, the presence of the IDC, and critics hold its members up as a major obstacle to full Democratic control of both legislative chambers. Democrats have a comfortable majority in the 150-seat Assembly but, with the return of the IDC to the mainline Democratic conference, hold 31 seats in the 63-seat Senate.</p> <p>And though the State Democratic Party, at Cuomo’s behest, is focused on recapturing the Senate, which necessitates flipping seats in the general election, groups like the WFP insist on replacing rogue Democrats with candidates who better embody progressive values and they trust to not flee for a deal with Republicans.</p> <p>The party is taking a “big risk,” Dorothy Siegel, WFP treasurer, conceded on the sidelines of the gala, where Nixon, Williams, de Blasio, and Ben Jealous, the WFP-backed Democratic nominee for governor in Maryland, took the stage one by one to celebrate the WFP’s history. “Because, the power structure doesn’t like to be challenged...and the WFP is a really small organization,” Siegel said. “The people who control the levers of power win. Individual people never win.”</p> <p>Siegel lamented her belief that the state’s politics, the governor, and state Legislature are powered by special interests, largely real estate developers and Wall Street executives (she left out the extensive influence of labor unions). “The WFP is not powered by any of those powerful people. We’re only powered by people who pay us $5 a month,” she said. “It’s a true David and Goliath situation. If we lose the governor’s race, we run the risk of very powerful people being very angry. They can do a lot of things to us that would make our lives difficult.”</p> <p>Siegel pointed to the investigation involving the WFP that stemmed from alleged campaign finance violations in the election of City Council Member Debi Rose on Staten Island in 2009. Two campaign workers were accused, and later cleared, of charges that they worked with the WFP’s consulting firm, Data and Field Services, to circumvent campaign finance law. The years-long episode cost time and money that the WFP could ill-afford. “Lots of people got laid off. We almost went out of business,” Siegel said. “They could do that again. Do not underestimate the power of super-wealthy people to trample people who want to take away their power.”</p> <p>Is it worth the risk? “Absolutely. 100 percent,” she said.</p> <p>One of the most consequential possible effects of the WFP backing Nixon over Cuomo -- who they endorsed in 2014 after he promised to bring the IDC to an end and enact many of the same policies he’s promising again this year, which he did not follow through on -- is that it could cost the party automatic ballot access. A “third party” like the WFP needs at least 50,000 votes for its candidate for governor to maintain its ballot line into the future, which Nixon could easily attain in the general election. But Nixon losing the Democratic primary would put the WFP in a tough spot. Its leaders claim they won’t play spoiler and risk electing a Republican by drawing general election votes away from Cuomo. The party could feasibly get behind Cuomo while removing Nixon from the gubernatorial ballot line. A back-up plan is in place to move her to an Assembly race, in which she would not run, they say.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7808-the-cynthia-nixon-working-families-party-back-up-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener">The Cynthia Nixon-Working Families Party Back-up Plan</a>]</p> <p>“We’re confident that Cynthia’s going to win and that the insurgents running against the IDC are all going to win,” said Bill Lipton, NYWFP political director, in a phone interview. “There’s a progressive wave coming. In the unlikely event that she loses, Cynthia’s agreed to meet with the leaders of the WFP and we’ll have an important decision to make. We’re very confident about any of the possible scenarios.”</p> <p>A Nixon win would shock the political world, and catapult the WFP to never-before-seen power for a minor party. While initial polls show Nixon losing badly, her campaign argues that polling has been skewed and that polls are unable to capture the insurgent energy among Democrats and behind her candidacy. On the other hand, polling shows Williams to have a very real shot at unseating Hochul, which would also strengthen the WFP and cause major headaches for Cuomo (candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run separately in the primary, but as a ticket for the general election).</p> <p>If Lipton had concerns about the WFP’s undertaking in this election cycle, he betrayed none of them. “We’re not taking a risk. We’re fulfilling our mission. The risk would be for us if we stray from our mission,” he said, critiquing the Democratic establishment for relying on the same wealthy donors as their Republican opponents. “The mission of the WFP is to break up that cozy relationship between these parties and these oligarchs and demand that there be a party that is truly fighting for working people,” he added. “And Cuomo and the IDC fundamentally made the problem worse by not just taking money from the same wealthy donors that fund the Republican attacks on working people but actually openly supporting and aligning themselves with the Republicans. The danger for us would’ve been not standing up to these Trump Democrats. That would’ve been the greater danger.”</p> <p>The WFP hasn’t been a pure supporter of every progressive candidate, as evidenced by its choice of Cuomo over Zephyr Teachout in 2014, among others. Though the party derived momentum after the recent primary victory by Ocasio-Cortez, the young democratic socialist who defeated ten-term incumbent Rep. Crowley in Queens, its backing of Crowley left many questioning the WFP afterward. Lipton said the party was now fully behind her and that their earlier decisions owed to the fact that Crowley was moving to his left and the party had already committed to challenging former IDC state senators. “In retrospect, we clearly made a mistake. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has inspired us and working people around New York and the nation,” Lipton said. &nbsp;</p> <p>The party also hasn’t made an endorsement in the state Senate District 18 race where Julia Salazar, also a democratic socialist, is posing a primary challenge to Democratic Senator Martin Dilan, an eight-term incumbent. Although, Lipton did not close the door on the prospect of an endorsement. “As of now, the WFP has made no endorsement in the race,” he simply said. The party is backing Andrew Gounardes in a competitive Brooklyn Democratic primary with Ross Barkan, the winner of which will try to unseat one of the few Republican elected officials in the city, Senator Marty Golden.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7782-running-for-state-senate-julia-salazar-attempts-progressive-primary-upset" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Running for State Senate, Julia Salazar Attempts Progressive Primary Upset</a>]</p> <p>Karen Scharff, co-chair of the NYWFP and, until recently, longtime executive director of Citizen Action of New York, an activist group and member of the WFP, insists the party will come through September 13 with several victories, similarly citing Ocasio-Cortez, among other progressives, who prevailed in the congressional primaries.</p> <p>“The headline that came out of June 26 was not ‘Democratic establishment wins big.’ It was quite the opposite,’” Scharff said in a phone interview. “I think really that Cuomo and the IDC and the establishment Democrats took a major risk themselves by ignoring the growth of the progressive movement as it really built up steam over the past seven years going back to Occupy Wall Street and then Bill de Blasio’s election in New York City, the Black Lives Matter movement, the Bernie Sanders momentum, and they’re showing that they realize it.”</p> <p>She noted that Cuomo has moved to his left in the last few months on several fronts, owing to the shifting dynamics of the Democratic base. “I think that the risk we’ve taken in our endorsements this year have already paid off in moving the dominant issues in our state in a direction that is gonna meet the needs of working families instead of the needs of hedge fund donors and real estate donors,” she said, insisting that the governor and state Legislature, no matter who wins, can ill-afford to ignore the WFP’s agenda next year. “I think this is the direction the electorate is moving in and the Democratic Party’s going to have to either move with it or risk being left behind,” she said.</p> <p>“I don’t think WFP is out on a limb by itself here,” Scharff continued. “This is really part of the establishment versus the entire progressive and resistance movement….We’re definitely acting as part of a broader movement with a lot of allies.”</p> <p>Public Advocate Letitia James, who first got elected to the City Council on the WFP line in 2003, also attended the 20th anniversary gala, though her presence was more muted. Despite being a longtime WFP poster star, she did not speak to the gathering, choosing to mingle on the sides. James is running for attorney general with the governor’s support and eschewed the WFP’s endorsement, which the party has reserved for either James or one of her primary opponents, Zephyr Teachout, hoping that one of the two prevails September 13. Asked about the party’s risky endeavors this year, which include the challenge against Cuomo, James demurred. “I was with WFP when they had fundraisers at churches and if you didn’t get there early enough, all the cheese and crackers were gone. They’ve come a long way,” she said.</p> <p>“They took a chance on me several years ago,” she said, “and they are voting their values. I just wanted to come because they are my friends and because when I needed a party to run on, the Working Families Party was there and that’s something I’ll never forget.”</p> <p>Theodore Hamm, associate professor and chair of journalism and new media studies at St. Joseph’s College and longtime Brooklyn politics watcher, struck an optimistic note about the state Senate candidates that the WFP has endorsed, though he said that Nixon and Williams are unlikely to win. “The question, I guess, is if those people win but Cuomo holds on, then how will the new state Senate take shape with the some of the IDC figures no longer there and the challengers now taking those seats,” he wondered. “But that would certainly give the WFP influence, to a much greater degree than they’ve had thus far in the state Senate. That really should be where they put their energy.”</p> <p>Even Hamm admitted, though, that after Ocasio-Cortez’s shocking upset, “There’s no certainties anymore of what will happen in the future. In the wake of her victory, even though they didn’t support her, it made it seem like their gamble was worth at least pursuing.”</p> <p>At the WFP gala, Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke early and eagerly. His association with the party goes back to his years as a City Council member from Park Slope. “People try and bet against the Working Families Party all the time, the status quo loves to discount them,” the mayor said to whoops and applause. “But guess what? The Working Families Party is here to stay.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7798-new-york-democrats-season-of-choosing">New York Democrats’ Season of Choosing</a>]</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
The July Financial Picture for Former Breakaway Democrats and Their Primary Challengers 2018-07-18T04:00:00+00:00 2018-07-18T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7813:the-july-financial-picture-for-former-breakaway-democrats-and-their-primary-challengers Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/liu_and_ramos_via_jessicaramos.jpg" alt="liu and ramos via jessicaramos" width="600" height="568" /></p> <p>John Liu and Jessica Ramos (photo: @JessicaRamos)</p> <hr /> <p>The deadline for candidates for state office to file their latest campaign finance disclosures with the state Board of Elections was Monday, July 16. The disclosures show candidate fundraising and expenditures from the last six months, from January to July.</p> <p>All 213 seats in the state Legislature -- 150 Assembly and 63 Senate -- are on the ballot this year, but few incumbents face competitive races. The state Assembly is overwhelmingly composed of Democrats, most of whom do not have a primary challenger. The state Senate, however, has become a battleground for control between Democrats and Republicans, with Democratic conference members holding 31 seats and Republican conference members 32 seats. After a Democratic unity deal in April, bringing a rogue group of eight “independent” Democrats back into the mainline conference, Republicans continued to hold power over the chamber with the help of Senator Simcha Felder, a conservative Democrat from Brooklyn who professes no loyalty to political parties and only votes on policies that he believes suit his district’s interests.</p> <p>In eight races, incumbent Democratic Senators who were once part of the Independent Democratic Conference -- a breakaway group that caucused with Republicans and helped them hold the majority -- face primary contests from progressive challengers. Those challengers are buoyed by an increasingly aware, angry, and active Democratic base that is set on removing the former IDC members from office.</p> <p>Those former IDC members, led by Senator Jeff Klein of the Bronx, continue to face criticism over their alliance with Republicans and the progressive legislation and budgeting that it may have held up. The challengers and those supporting them have gained momentum following the recent victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who defeated ten-term U.S. Representative Joe Crowley in the Democratic primary for New York’s 14th congressional district. Notably, Crowley had helped brokered the reunification of the Senate Democrats, along with Governor Andrew Cuomo and other top party officials. Cuomo is himself facing a spirited primary challenge from actor and activist Cynthia Nixon.</p> <p>The former IDC Senators include six representing parts of New York City: Tony Avella of District 11 in Queens, Jose Peralta of District 13 in Queens, Jesse Hamilton of District 20 in Brooklyn, Diane Savino of District 23 in Staten Island and Brooklyn, Marisol Alcantara of District 31 in Manhattan, and Klein of District 34 the Bronx and Westchester, as well as David Carlucci of District 38 and David Valesky of District 53, both north of the five boroughs.</p> <p>While fundraising numbers only tell a portion of the story of a campaign or a race, campaign finance filings help indicate where candidate support comes from and what resources a candidate has to help get his or her message out to voters. Challengers to the IDC veterans were eager to tout their number of low-dollar donations as indicative of grassroots support, while the incumbents often posted healthy coffers, though possibly tainted by money transferred from a party account ruled in violation of election law.</p> <p><strong>District 11</strong><br />Former New York City Comptroller John Liu launched a late-stage challenge against Sen. Avella, jumping into the race earlier this month in time to petition his way onto the ballot. Liu has yet to raise funds for the race but he has an open campaign account, likely from his previous attempt to unseat Avella in 2014, with a little more than $3,000 in cash on hand as of January. Liu won 47 percent of the vote that year, just after he had lost in the Democratic primary for mayor of New York City in 2013.</p> <p>Avella, whose district covers who represents northeastern Queens, raised nearly $147,000 in the last six months, of which $68,000 was transferred from the Senate Independence Campaign Committee fund set up by the then-IDC and the Independence Party. A state court ruled last month that the joint fundraising arrangement was illegal, and the transfers could possibly even violate contribution limits established in election law. Avella spent about $80,000 over the filing period and has a balance of about $170,000 in his campaign account.</p> <p><strong>District 13</strong><br />One of the Democrats likely most affected by Crowley’s loss is Sen. Peralta, who is relying on the support of the Queens Democratic Party -- chaired by Crowley -- to help him retain his seat in northern Queens. With the party having lost the sheen of immense power, some Queens Democratic insiders say it could affect the candidates who have received its endorsement.</p> <p>Peralta has raised $322,000 and spent $297,000 of it since January. The SICC was more generous with him, transferring $113,500 to his campaign, with the most recent check having been sent just last week. He has about $182,000 remaining in his campaign account.</p> <p>Peralta is being challenged by Jessica Ramos, a former aide to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Ramos raised $171,000 over the last six months and has spent $102,000 of it. She has just about $99,000 in cash on hand. In publicizing her haul, Ramos promoted the fact that she had raised most of the funds, about $129,000, from more than 1,400 individual donors, contrasting it with Peralta’s 238 individual donors who gave him about $69,000.</p> <p><strong>District 20</strong><br />Sen. Hamilton, who represents parts of central Brooklyn, pulled in about $295,000 for his reelection bid and spent $202,000. As with the other IDC senators, the SICC gave him a major boost with $109,700 transferred to his account. He has about $212,000 left to spend.</p> <p>Hamilton’s challenger is Zellnor Myrie, an attorney from Brooklyn. Myrie raised $163,000 in this filing period and spent about $96,000. He has just under $156,000 left in cash on hand. Myrie had more than 4,400 individual donors accounting for 98 percent of his fundraising haul, a fact he highlighted while pointing out that Hamilton had only 243 individual donors.</p> <p><strong>District 23</strong> <br />The district covers Staten Island’s northern shore and parts of southern Brooklyn and is represented by Sen. Savino. The senator hauled in $451,000, of which $270,000 was transferred from an earlier campaign account to a new one. She spent $193,000 in the same period and has $259,000 left in her campaign account.</p> <p>Savino’s primary challenger, community activist Jasmine Robinson, has not yet filed her disclosure with the BOE. She said in an email that her campaign received an extension and will file the report next week.</p> <p><strong>District 31</strong><br />Sen. Alcantara, who is running for a second term, represents a district that covers long stretches of the west side of Manhattan. The incumbent, who narrowly won a tight three-way race in 2016, raised $116,000, which was outpaced by her $130,000 in expenditures. She also had the benefit of receiving $66,000 from the SICC. She has about $132,000 in cash on hand.</p> <p>Alcantara is facing Robert Jackson, a former City Council member who unsuccessfully challenged her in the 2016 primary for District 31. Jackson raised more than $156,000 and spent about $103,000. He has $157,000 remaining in his account.</p> <p><strong>District 34</strong><br />District 34 spans across Westchester and parts of the Bronx, and is currently held by Sen. Klein. As the former leader of the IDC, Klein played a powerful role in the state Legislature for more than seven years and was one of the proverbial ‘four men in a room’ who decide the state budget, along with the governor, Senate majority leader, and Assembly speaker. As part of the Democratic reunification deal, Klein assumed the position of deputy to the Democratic conference leader Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/jeff_klein_campaign_kickoff.jpg" alt="jeff klein campaign kickoff" width="450" height="245" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" /></p> <p>Klein raised nearly $740,000 -- $200,000 from the SICC -- between January and July and spent $613,000. He has a whopping balance of $2.1 million, having built up his campaign warchest over the last several years.</p> <p>Alessandra Biaggi is the upstart candidate taking on Klein in the primary. Biaggi’s latest filings were not available on the BOE website but her campaign said she had raised $260,000 and had about $50,000 in expenditures.</p> <p><strong>District 38</strong><br />Sen. Carlucci, who represents Rockland County and parts of Westchester, raised $114,000 for reelection and spent only $32,000. He received $26,000 from the SICC. He has a balance of more than $440,000.</p> <p>Carlucci’s opponent is Julie Goldberg, whose disclosures were not available with the BOE. Goldberg’s campaign manager, Susanne Kernan, pointed to technical issues with the submission and provided the filings to Gotham Gazette. They showed nearly $17,000 in contributions and and about $4,000 in expenditures, leaving her a balance of under $13,000.</p> <p><strong>District 53</strong><br />The district spans Madison County and parts of Onondaga and Oneida, and is represented by Sen. Valesky. He raised $126,000 and spent about $74,000 in the last six months. The SICC gave him $36,000. He has $665,000 remaining in his campaign account.</p> <p>Valesky’s opponent, Rachel May, raised $84,000 and had expenses worth about $38,000. She has $81,000 in cash on hand.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7798-new-york-democrats-season-of-choosing" target="_blank" rel="noopener">New York Democrats’ Season of Choosing</a>]</p> <p><strong>Other Senate Primaries To Watch</strong><br /><strong>District 22</strong><br />Democrats see an opportunity this year to unseat Brooklyn Sen. Marty Golden, one of the few Republican elected officials in New York City. His district is situated in southern Brooklyn covering the neighborhoods of Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst, Marine Park, and Gerritsen Beach. Golden raised about $32,000 and has spent more than $125,000 since January. But he maintains a healthy campaign account, with $485,000 in cash on hand.</p> <p>Two Democrats are competing in the September 13 primary -- Andrew Gounardes, who was an aide to former City Council Member Vincent Gentile, and Ross Barkan, a journalist-turned-candidate. The winner will take on Golden in the general election.</p> <p>Gounardes raised $124,000 and spent $47,000, and had a closing balance of $181,000. Barkan raised about $71,000 and spent $66,000. He has about $59,000 remaining.</p> <p><strong>District 17</strong><br />Felder’s role in propping up the Senate Republicans has prompted a primary challenge from attorney Blake Morris.</p> <p>Felder represents the neighborhoods of Borough Park, Midwood, and parts of Flatbush, Kensington, Sunset Park, and Sheepshead Bay. The senator is well resourced, having raised more than $430,000 since January and having spent about $110,000. He has a balance of $637,000, far surpassing his opponent.</p> <p>Morris had raised $41,000 by the Monday deadline and had spent $31,000 of it. He has a little over $10,000 in his campaign account with under two months till the primary.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p> <p>Note - This article has been updated to more accurately reflect Sen. Jeff Klein's fundraising and expenditure over the last six months. The numbers previously included were from his latest disclosure report which only showed his campaign finance activity since May.&nbsp;</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/liu_and_ramos_via_jessicaramos.jpg" alt="liu and ramos via jessicaramos" width="600" height="568" /></p> <p>John Liu and Jessica Ramos (photo: @JessicaRamos)</p> <hr /> <p>The deadline for candidates for state office to file their latest campaign finance disclosures with the state Board of Elections was Monday, July 16. The disclosures show candidate fundraising and expenditures from the last six months, from January to July.</p> <p>All 213 seats in the state Legislature -- 150 Assembly and 63 Senate -- are on the ballot this year, but few incumbents face competitive races. The state Assembly is overwhelmingly composed of Democrats, most of whom do not have a primary challenger. The state Senate, however, has become a battleground for control between Democrats and Republicans, with Democratic conference members holding 31 seats and Republican conference members 32 seats. After a Democratic unity deal in April, bringing a rogue group of eight “independent” Democrats back into the mainline conference, Republicans continued to hold power over the chamber with the help of Senator Simcha Felder, a conservative Democrat from Brooklyn who professes no loyalty to political parties and only votes on policies that he believes suit his district’s interests.</p> <p>In eight races, incumbent Democratic Senators who were once part of the Independent Democratic Conference -- a breakaway group that caucused with Republicans and helped them hold the majority -- face primary contests from progressive challengers. Those challengers are buoyed by an increasingly aware, angry, and active Democratic base that is set on removing the former IDC members from office.</p> <p>Those former IDC members, led by Senator Jeff Klein of the Bronx, continue to face criticism over their alliance with Republicans and the progressive legislation and budgeting that it may have held up. The challengers and those supporting them have gained momentum following the recent victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who defeated ten-term U.S. Representative Joe Crowley in the Democratic primary for New York’s 14th congressional district. Notably, Crowley had helped brokered the reunification of the Senate Democrats, along with Governor Andrew Cuomo and other top party officials. Cuomo is himself facing a spirited primary challenge from actor and activist Cynthia Nixon.</p> <p>The former IDC Senators include six representing parts of New York City: Tony Avella of District 11 in Queens, Jose Peralta of District 13 in Queens, Jesse Hamilton of District 20 in Brooklyn, Diane Savino of District 23 in Staten Island and Brooklyn, Marisol Alcantara of District 31 in Manhattan, and Klein of District 34 the Bronx and Westchester, as well as David Carlucci of District 38 and David Valesky of District 53, both north of the five boroughs.</p> <p>While fundraising numbers only tell a portion of the story of a campaign or a race, campaign finance filings help indicate where candidate support comes from and what resources a candidate has to help get his or her message out to voters. Challengers to the IDC veterans were eager to tout their number of low-dollar donations as indicative of grassroots support, while the incumbents often posted healthy coffers, though possibly tainted by money transferred from a party account ruled in violation of election law.</p> <p><strong>District 11</strong><br />Former New York City Comptroller John Liu launched a late-stage challenge against Sen. Avella, jumping into the race earlier this month in time to petition his way onto the ballot. Liu has yet to raise funds for the race but he has an open campaign account, likely from his previous attempt to unseat Avella in 2014, with a little more than $3,000 in cash on hand as of January. Liu won 47 percent of the vote that year, just after he had lost in the Democratic primary for mayor of New York City in 2013.</p> <p>Avella, whose district covers who represents northeastern Queens, raised nearly $147,000 in the last six months, of which $68,000 was transferred from the Senate Independence Campaign Committee fund set up by the then-IDC and the Independence Party. A state court ruled last month that the joint fundraising arrangement was illegal, and the transfers could possibly even violate contribution limits established in election law. Avella spent about $80,000 over the filing period and has a balance of about $170,000 in his campaign account.</p> <p><strong>District 13</strong><br />One of the Democrats likely most affected by Crowley’s loss is Sen. Peralta, who is relying on the support of the Queens Democratic Party -- chaired by Crowley -- to help him retain his seat in northern Queens. With the party having lost the sheen of immense power, some Queens Democratic insiders say it could affect the candidates who have received its endorsement.</p> <p>Peralta has raised $322,000 and spent $297,000 of it since January. The SICC was more generous with him, transferring $113,500 to his campaign, with the most recent check having been sent just last week. He has about $182,000 remaining in his campaign account.</p> <p>Peralta is being challenged by Jessica Ramos, a former aide to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Ramos raised $171,000 over the last six months and has spent $102,000 of it. She has just about $99,000 in cash on hand. In publicizing her haul, Ramos promoted the fact that she had raised most of the funds, about $129,000, from more than 1,400 individual donors, contrasting it with Peralta’s 238 individual donors who gave him about $69,000.</p> <p><strong>District 20</strong><br />Sen. Hamilton, who represents parts of central Brooklyn, pulled in about $295,000 for his reelection bid and spent $202,000. As with the other IDC senators, the SICC gave him a major boost with $109,700 transferred to his account. He has about $212,000 left to spend.</p> <p>Hamilton’s challenger is Zellnor Myrie, an attorney from Brooklyn. Myrie raised $163,000 in this filing period and spent about $96,000. He has just under $156,000 left in cash on hand. Myrie had more than 4,400 individual donors accounting for 98 percent of his fundraising haul, a fact he highlighted while pointing out that Hamilton had only 243 individual donors.</p> <p><strong>District 23</strong> <br />The district covers Staten Island’s northern shore and parts of southern Brooklyn and is represented by Sen. Savino. The senator hauled in $451,000, of which $270,000 was transferred from an earlier campaign account to a new one. She spent $193,000 in the same period and has $259,000 left in her campaign account.</p> <p>Savino’s primary challenger, community activist Jasmine Robinson, has not yet filed her disclosure with the BOE. She said in an email that her campaign received an extension and will file the report next week.</p> <p><strong>District 31</strong><br />Sen. Alcantara, who is running for a second term, represents a district that covers long stretches of the west side of Manhattan. The incumbent, who narrowly won a tight three-way race in 2016, raised $116,000, which was outpaced by her $130,000 in expenditures. She also had the benefit of receiving $66,000 from the SICC. She has about $132,000 in cash on hand.</p> <p>Alcantara is facing Robert Jackson, a former City Council member who unsuccessfully challenged her in the 2016 primary for District 31. Jackson raised more than $156,000 and spent about $103,000. He has $157,000 remaining in his account.</p> <p><strong>District 34</strong><br />District 34 spans across Westchester and parts of the Bronx, and is currently held by Sen. Klein. As the former leader of the IDC, Klein played a powerful role in the state Legislature for more than seven years and was one of the proverbial ‘four men in a room’ who decide the state budget, along with the governor, Senate majority leader, and Assembly speaker. As part of the Democratic reunification deal, Klein assumed the position of deputy to the Democratic conference leader Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/jeff_klein_campaign_kickoff.jpg" alt="jeff klein campaign kickoff" width="450" height="245" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" /></p> <p>Klein raised nearly $740,000 -- $200,000 from the SICC -- between January and July and spent $613,000. He has a whopping balance of $2.1 million, having built up his campaign warchest over the last several years.</p> <p>Alessandra Biaggi is the upstart candidate taking on Klein in the primary. Biaggi’s latest filings were not available on the BOE website but her campaign said she had raised $260,000 and had about $50,000 in expenditures.</p> <p><strong>District 38</strong><br />Sen. Carlucci, who represents Rockland County and parts of Westchester, raised $114,000 for reelection and spent only $32,000. He received $26,000 from the SICC. He has a balance of more than $440,000.</p> <p>Carlucci’s opponent is Julie Goldberg, whose disclosures were not available with the BOE. Goldberg’s campaign manager, Susanne Kernan, pointed to technical issues with the submission and provided the filings to Gotham Gazette. They showed nearly $17,000 in contributions and and about $4,000 in expenditures, leaving her a balance of under $13,000.</p> <p><strong>District 53</strong><br />The district spans Madison County and parts of Onondaga and Oneida, and is represented by Sen. Valesky. He raised $126,000 and spent about $74,000 in the last six months. The SICC gave him $36,000. He has $665,000 remaining in his campaign account.</p> <p>Valesky’s opponent, Rachel May, raised $84,000 and had expenses worth about $38,000. She has $81,000 in cash on hand.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7798-new-york-democrats-season-of-choosing" target="_blank" rel="noopener">New York Democrats’ Season of Choosing</a>]</p> <p><strong>Other Senate Primaries To Watch</strong><br /><strong>District 22</strong><br />Democrats see an opportunity this year to unseat Brooklyn Sen. Marty Golden, one of the few Republican elected officials in New York City. His district is situated in southern Brooklyn covering the neighborhoods of Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst, Marine Park, and Gerritsen Beach. Golden raised about $32,000 and has spent more than $125,000 since January. But he maintains a healthy campaign account, with $485,000 in cash on hand.</p> <p>Two Democrats are competing in the September 13 primary -- Andrew Gounardes, who was an aide to former City Council Member Vincent Gentile, and Ross Barkan, a journalist-turned-candidate. The winner will take on Golden in the general election.</p> <p>Gounardes raised $124,000 and spent $47,000, and had a closing balance of $181,000. Barkan raised about $71,000 and spent $66,000. He has about $59,000 remaining.</p> <p><strong>District 17</strong><br />Felder’s role in propping up the Senate Republicans has prompted a primary challenge from attorney Blake Morris.</p> <p>Felder represents the neighborhoods of Borough Park, Midwood, and parts of Flatbush, Kensington, Sunset Park, and Sheepshead Bay. The senator is well resourced, having raised more than $430,000 since January and having spent about $110,000. He has a balance of $637,000, far surpassing his opponent.</p> <p>Morris had raised $41,000 by the Monday deadline and had spent $31,000 of it. He has a little over $10,000 in his campaign account with under two months till the primary.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note - This article has been updated to more accurately reflect Sen. Jeff Klein's fundraising and expenditure over the last six months. The numbers previously included were from his latest disclosure report which only showed his campaign finance activity since May.&nbsp;</p>
New York Democrats’ Season of Choosing 2018-07-11T04:00:00+00:00 2018-07-11T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7798:new-york-democrats-season-of-choosing Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/corey-johnson-jessica-ramos-robert-jackson-cityhall.jpg" alt="corey johnson jessica ramos robert jackson cityhall" width="600" height="475" /></p> <p>Corey Johnson endorses IDC challengers (photo: Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>As progressives aggressively attempt to wrest control of the Democratic Party from the hands of those they call centrists and establishment politicians, elected Democrats across New York find themselves in an unenviable position. Abiding by their self-professed progressive values to support insurgent Democratic primary challengers could mean bucking the state party establishment and its leader, Governor Andrew Cuomo, while, on the other hand, toeing the party line risks opening them up to accusations of hypocrisy and betrayal -- and perhaps even a future primary challenge -- levelled by an enraged and engaged base.</p> <p>A battle that played out during the 2016 presidential primary between Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State and New York Senator Hillary Clinton has only intensified since Donald Trump’s victory. The 2018 election cycle is offering many opportunities across the country for Democrats, elected officials and otherwise, to decide between what is essentially two wings of the party. The Democrats’ season of choosing is easier for some than others, but many prominent party figures find themselves in uncomfortable situations. At stake is nothing short of political careers, the fate of activist organizations, the policy agenda and future of the Democratic Party, the outcomes of current and prospective elections, and their aftermaths in terms of government policies that affect millions.</p> <p>At the center in New York is Cuomo, his lieutenant governor, Kathy Hochul, and the state Senate’s erstwhile Independent Democratic Conference, eight senators who chose power over party for as many as seven years by empowering Republican control of the legislative chamber, what has been the GOP’s only stronghold in state government. In April, the renegades returned to the fold with assurances from Cuomo, who long tolerated and allegedly enabled their infidelity, that their seats were secure, at least from other Democrats. Under the accord brokered by the governor just after a new state budget was passed, the state Democratic Party machinery, fellow state-level electeds, and prominent labor unions would support these former IDC members -- who were time and again blamed for obstructing the passage of progressive legislation -- and would refuse to aid their challengers.</p> <p>Though Cuomo and the former IDC members have professed support for progressive priorities -- voting, elections and campaign finance reform, criminal justice reform, women’s reproductive rights, stronger rent regulations, immigrant protections, to name a few -- they have failed to pass legislation along those lines, blaming staunch opposition by Senate Republicans. Their progressive challengers instead say they have been the obstacles to progressive bills by empowering Republicans.</p> <p>Cuomo, at the top of the Democratic ticket, faces an aggressive challenge from actress and activist Cynthia Nixon in the primary. Nixon’s candidacy, from the left of Cuomo, parallels Fordham Law professor Zephyr Teachout’s unsuccessful gubernatorial bid four years ago, except it comes in a more heightened atmosphere of displeasure on the left following Trump’s election, amid disappointment with Cuomo’s relatively centrist record, and with increased awareness of the IDC. Nixon also has other advantages Teachout lacked, like name recognition and fundraising prowess, though Cuomo has worked over the past four years to make amends with some of his past critics, such as those in certain labor unions.</p> <p>A similar fight is being replicated in the race for lieutenant governor, between incumbent Democrat Hochul and her progressive challenger, Jumaane Williams, a City Council member from Brooklyn. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>All eight former IDC members face primary challenges ahead of the September 13 vote. Five of those districts fall squarely in New York City while another is split between the Bronx and Westchester, with two others upstate.</p> <p>In District 13, in Queens, Jessica Ramos is taking on Sen. Jose Peralta; in Brooklyn’s District 20, Zellnor Myrie is challenging Sen. Jesse Hamilton; on Manhattan’s west side, Robert Jackson is going up against Sen. Marisol Alcantara; in District 23, which spans Staten Island’s north shore and parts of Brooklyn, Jasmine Robinson is confronting Sen. Diane Savino; in District 11 in Queens, Sen. Tony Avella will again face former city Comptroller John Liu, who earned 47 percent in a losing 2014 bid to unseat Avella; and in District 34 that covers Westchester and the Bronx, Alessandra Biaggi is attempting to unseat the leader of the what was the IDC, Sen. Jeff Klein, who now serves as the deputy leader in the unified Senate Democratic Conference.</p> <p>Outside the city, in District 38 that spreads across Rockland and Westchester, Sen. David Carlucci faces a challenge from Julie Goldberg; and in District 53 covering Madison County and parts of Onondaga and Oneida, Sen. David Valesky faces Rachel May in the primary.</p> <p>For Cuomo and the state party, maintaining what Democratic seats they have in the Senate is paramount as they seek to flip the chamber by picking up more. Republicans have recently held control of the 63-seat chamber by a one-seat margin thanks to their own ranks and a single rogue conservative Senator from Brooklyn, Simcha Felder, a registered Democrat who won his most recent reelection on the Democratic, Republican, and Conservative Party lines -- Felder is also facing a Democratic primary this year, from Blake Morris.</p> <p>But while they also want to see Republican seats flipped in November, many progressive activists insist that the party needs to elect better, “bluer Democrats” than Cuomo, Hochul, and the former IDC members. Nixon has explained that it is her motivation to run for governor, saying that in the age of Trump not any Democrat will do. Cuomo and his supporters argue that not only has the governor been a progressive powerhouse, but that Democratic energy of all kinds would be better spent working in concert to flip red seats to blue.</p> <p>That argument has largely fallen on deaf ears among those displeased with Cuomo, Klein, and other Democratic incumbents.</p> <p>The shiny veneer of the Senate Democrat reunification deal and its accompanying pact of nonaggression has seemed to be wearing off as challengers to the IDC senators pick up endorsements from top Democratic incumbents and, in one candidate’s case, from an influential labor union that helped broker the merger of the Senate Democrats. Meanwhile, Nixon and Williams have picked up far more support from elected officials and organizations than Teachout and her lieutenant governor running mate, Tim Wu, achieved in 2014.</p> <p>Democrats across the spectrum are taking sides, and others will be expected to do so over the next few months, in decisions that could be determinative for those they endorse, for their own political trajectories, and for the larger map of New York’s Democratic world currently dominated by one set of elected and appointed officials, consultants, labor leaders, and the networks of power they control.</p> <p><strong>Mayoral Hopefuls</strong><br />On June 28, New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson announced his endorsement of Biaggi, Jackson, Ramos, and Myrie, providing them a boost at a time when progressives were already feeling emboldened by the congressional primary victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez earlier that week.</p> <p>A declared democratic socialist with a deeply progressive campaign platform, Ocasio-Cortez defeated Democratic giant Rep. Joe Crowley, a ten-term incumbent and the powerful boss of the Queens Democratic Party who was among the chief drivers of the Senate Democratic reunification and a possible next speaker of the House of Representatives. The stunning upset shook the foundations of the Democratic Party and undercut the conventional wisdom of the primacy of incumbents and machine politics, and its ramifications will likely be dissected for years. In New York, it’s immediate effects were quickly felt. Johnson, who had endorsed Crowley in the race, insisted the result did not affect his decision to endorse the four IDC challengers, which he said was in the works for months, but that did not stop observers from drawing a connection.</p> <p>“Whether it’s in Washington, D.C., or in Albany, the status quo isn’t working and that is why I’m here today in supporting four amazing candidates,” Johnson said at the steps of City Hall. “They are Democrats, they are progressive Democrats, they will caucus with the Democrats and they will support all the issues that Democrats support.” On Saturday, Johnson said on Twitter that he was ready to fully support Liu. At a Tuesday event in support of Biaggi, Johnson <a href="https://twitter.com/CoreyinNYC/status/1016874584489021440" target="_blank" rel="noopener">said</a>, “It feels really good to be able to tell the truth and for too long, people were not telling the truth about the IDC and the damage that they’ve done to the state of New York. And that damage was all in their own self-interest, putting their own self-interest above the entire state of New York.” &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>In a statement following Johnson’s endorsement, Barbara Brancaccio, a spokesperson for Klein, said, “Frankly we are surprised that our opponent would accept the endorsement of such a radioactive figure coming on the heels of his endorsement of Joe Crowley. We are sure that Johnson will do for this challenger, exactly what he did for Joe Crowley."</p> <p>At the same time, Johnson has also endorsed Governor Cuomo for reelection over Nixon, who continues to criticize the governor for supporting the IDC and whose platform largely resembles those of the IDC opponents. She shares stark similarities with Ocasio-Cortez and others seeking to upend incumbent Democrats who insurgents believe are too close to big-money interests and not in touch with their constituents who most need them. Nixon has begun to align herself more closely with those IDC challengers, cross-endorsing with Ramos earlier this week, for example.</p> <p>The same day as Johnson’s endorsement of the IDC challengers, 32BJ SEIU, the prominent building workers union, endorsed Biaggi, though their president Hector Figueroa had months ago been among those who proposed the Democratic reunification deal and the union is among several that have endorsed Cuomo and had also backed Crowley. “Jeff Klein and the IDC have empowered obstructionist Republicans set on blocking key reforms for too long,” Figueroa said <a href="http://www.seiu32bj.org/press-releases/32bj-seiu-endorses-biaggi/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">in a statement</a> announcing the endorsement. “Never again.”</p> <p>And just one day prior, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer also endorsed Biaggi, a few months after he had already announced his support for Ramos and Jackson. The endorsements by Stringer, well before the Ocasio-Cortez win and its initial fallout, have won him much praise from liberal activists.</p> <p>Since his union came out for Biaggi, Figueroa has also addressed the Democratic split in New York, <a href="https://twitter.com/figue32bj/status/1016043465493372930" target="_blank" rel="noopener">writing on Twitter</a>, “Dems upset about IDC folks being primaried ‘for it may lead to the GOP winning a majority of NY Senate’ do not blame the ‘left’. The ones to be blamed are IDC incumbents themselves &amp; those STILL defending them. IDC betrayed voters creating a big political mess. Time to clean up.”</p> <p>Along with the number and strength of the progressive primary challengers to established incumbents and Ocasio-Cortez’s win, these endorsements, headlining still others, are the clearest cracks in the Democratic foundation that Cuomo and other state leaders have tried to set.</p> <p>“I think it’s fascinating because we do see a lack of cohesion as to whether or not people are going to support the IDC members or their challengers,” said Dr. Christina Greer, a political science professor at Fordham University. “And I think this debate is sort of reflective of a larger debate that’s going on in the Democratic Party, for the soul of the Democratic party…‘Are we centrist, conservative-leaning Democrats or are we progressive?’”</p> <p>To some, these moves may smack of political opportunism, particularly in the case of Johnson, who is supporting progressives on the one hand while propping up establishment centrists like Crowley and Cuomo on the other. But in the New York political landscape, Greer said these endorsements are equally driven by philosophical considerations as they are by pragmatic ones. “These are politicians…I think that they can genuinely care about an issue and I think that they can also be calculating and strategic about it,” she said.</p> <p>For some, there is also a difference between backing a less experienced candidate for state Senate based on ideological reasons as opposed to the chief executive of the state.</p> <p>Both Johnson and Stringer are widely expected to run for mayor in 2021, the next city election cycle, when Mayor Bill de Blasio will be term-limited out of office, and tapping the progressive energy that Ocasio-Cortez rode to power, and that is now propelling Nixon, Williams, the IDC challengers, and others, would likewise boost their own political fortunes.</p> <p>“I think in the Democratic primary, the progressive energy in the city, that’s what you want to tap into if you’re running for mayor,” said Eric Koch, managing principal at Precision Strategies, a Democratic consulting firm, and former director of communications for City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “So it makes sense to endorse the folks running against the IDC people because in terms of the activists and the people who are organizing against the IDC versus who is a Democratic primary voter in a mayoral election, there’s a pretty big overlap there.”</p> <p>It’s important to note that the IDC incumbents themselves have powerful backers, including unions like 1199 SEIU, many of which are in Cuomo’s corner as well.</p> <p>While Stringer and Johnson have decided to buck Cuomo and those involved in the unity deal, other likely 2021 mayoral candidates have not. Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. is a Cuomo ally and closely aligned with the Bronx Democratic Party apparatus, led by its chair, Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, and its former chair, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who signed onto the unity deal.</p> <p>Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams has been critical of Cuomo over the course of years, but has not made endorsements yet. His approach is complicated given his alliance with Senator Hamilton, formerly of the IDC. Adams did invite Nixon early in her campaign to tour a Brooklyn NYCHA complex and the two went to Albany Houses together. The Brooklyn borough president has <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7648-max-murphy-podcast-brooklyn-borough-president-eric-adams" target="_blank" rel="noopener">voiced strong criticism of Cuomo</a>, but has not embraced Nixon beyond the NYCHA visit, nor has he weighed in on Williams’ challenge to Hochul or the IDC races.</p> <p>“They’re looking at these challengers and their districts, I’m sure, to sort of see what kind of coalition they would need to put together,” Greer said. “When they run for mayor, Andrew Cuomo may or may not still be in office...but a great campaign marketing slogan is, ‘We fight Albany. We fight Albany to make sure that New York City gets the money and resources we need.’”</p> <p>“Sure they care, but it’s also a very strategic move,” Greer said, “to make sure that they’re distancing themselves from the status quo to say that, ‘When tough decisions needed to be made, I didn’t just go along to get along.’”</p> <p><strong>Statewide Case</strong><br />Public Advocate Letitia James, who is running in the Democratic primary for attorney general (and had been a likely 2021 mayoral candidate), is charting a course similar to Diaz, Jr., but with a much higher profile given her bid for statewide office. James quickly jumped at the opportunity when Eric Schneiderman resigned the post after facing allegations of physical and emotional abuse by several intimate partners. Seen as an early frontrunner, with the blessing of the state Democratic Party and the governor, James rejected the possible endorsement of the progressive Working Families Party that had helped launch her political career as a City Council member.</p> <p>The WFP has been closely aligned with the IDC challengers, as well as Nixon and Williams, supporting their insurgent bids for office, while James has in the past supported at least one member of the IDC, Senator Alcantara, though she has come to criticize the IDC and called for reunification well before her attorney general bid.</p> <p>“I would essentially argue, if I were in these progressive groups that used to support Tish very openly, well what now gives you progressive bonafides?,” said Greer. “So her messaging has to be very clear for her supporters. Because they have progressive choices.”</p> <p>“Two days after Schneiderman resigned, it was essentially reported that Tish would be heir apparent and that’s the way much of the press is writing about the race...and I don’t necessarily see that to be the case anymore,” she added.</p> <p>James faces three other primary contenders: former Cuomo aide Leecia Eve, congressional Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, and Fordham Law professor Zephyr Teachout, who challenged Cuomo in the 2014 Democratic primary and lost, but managed to get a significant share of the vote, at 34 percent. Teachout, like Nixon, has been severely critical of the IDC and <a href="https://makenytrueblue.org/grassroots-coalition-formed-to-endorse-idc-challengers/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">endorsed</a> five IDC challengers as part of the TrueBlueNY coalition months before the attorney general position became available and she decided to run. When Schneiderman resigned, Teachout was at the time Nixon’s campaign treasurer, a position she has since vacated to run for attorney general.</p> <p>Among the four Democratic attorney general candidates, Teachout is undoubtedly furthest to the left. At the WFP nominating convention, delegates chose Nixon and Williams, and opted to install a placeholder for attorney general until, they hope, either James or Teachout emerges from the Democratic primary victorious and is offered the additional ballot line for the general election. James has expressed her love for the WFP despite initially shunning its endorsement and has said she believes everyone will coalesce again in the near future.</p> <p>While James has aligned herself with Cuomo and his unity deal, Teachout, who endorsed Ocasio-Cortez in May, is staunchly behind IDC challengers and has recently campaigned alongside Williams.</p> <p>Koch doesn’t believe her endorsements will give her a significant edge, however. “I do think that there might be some benefit in endorsing some of the folks against the IDC because that’s where the progressive energy is,” he said, “but at the end of the day, people who are voting for attorney general aren’t basing their votes on just the issue of the IDC, they’re coming at it from a much more holistic spectrum.”</p> <p>The experts who spoke with Gotham Gazette noted the significance of the ‘Ocasio effect.’ Both Teachout and Nixon had endorsed Ocasio-Cortez in the run up to the congressional primary and seized on her victory to emphasize that progressive challengers can defeat machine-backed incumbents. “There’s very much a movement that’s energizing the left and politicians who ignore it or who fall too far behind are really doing so at their own peril,” said a Democratic consultant who wished to remain unnamed so he could speak freely.</p> <p>“There’s certainly a lot of parallels between Cuomo and Crowley, you know, representing the old guard, like white-working class Democrats,” said the Democratic consultant. “But that being said, I wouldn’t read too much into the Ocasio win as portending a loss for Cuomo because Cuomo’s still extraordinarily popular among African-Americans, particularly African-American women, and Cynthia Nixon hasn’t to this point been able to show the ability to break into that base of support, which is really what you’re seeing here. It’s a combination of minority voters and very young, progressive voters.”</p> <p>For their part, top Nixon campaign aides cite Ocasio-Cortez’s victory in expressing their belief that public opinion polls can no longer be trusted to capture the progressive energy that has largely emerged since the 2016 election of Donald Trump.</p> <p>Koch said activist pressure against the IDC and its supporters has been building but “at the state level, people are gonna hedge their bets a little bit more because, one way or another, they’re gonna have to work with some of these folks.”</p> <p>Greer seemed more bullish about how far the momentum behind Ocasio-Cortez would carry into state elections. She conceded that Democrats across New York are not as progressive as they are in New York City, but that the win gave a much-needed confidence boost to IDC challengers as well as Nixon and Teachout, not to mention obvious opportunities to add volunteers and donors. “It’ll be fascinating to see if, all of a sudden, Cynthia and Zephyr can ride the coattails of Alexandria,” she said, a notion that, before the congressional primary, “would’ve sounded like crazy talk.”</p> <p>“But the reality here is...Alexandria’s getting national attention for the message that Cynthia and Zephyr have been championing,” she said.</p> <p><strong>Other Democrats Choose</strong><br />Virtually every elected Democrat in New York is expected to pick sides: Cuomo or Nixon; Hochul or Williams; James or Teachout or Eve or Maloney; Klein or Biaggi; and so on.</p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio, one of the most powerful Democratic officials in the state by virtue of his position, has so far stayed on the sidelines, regularly declining to comment on the 2018 New York elections, but promising to weigh in at some point. Given that Nixon was a fervent supporter during his winning 2013 campaign for mayor and again supported him for reelection in 2017, and his ongoing feud with Cuomo, de Blasio’s decision in the gubernatorial race is especially interesting. In 2014, before their feud had really escalated, de Blasio backed Cuomo for reelection, even helping broker him the Working Families Party nomination. He has indicated it did not work out as planned.</p> <p>Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, not facing a primary challenge himself, has backed Cuomo and Hochul, but says he’s likely staying out of the attorney general primary, even though the state party is behind James.</p> <p>While many Democratic officials have already or are expected to back Cuomo, there are local electeds who, beholden neither to the governor nor their respective Democratic machines, have chosen to break from the pack. New York City Council Member Carlos Menchaca was the first of his colleagues to endorse Nixon’s bid for governor, and Council Members Jimmy Van Bramer and Antonio Reynoso later followed suit. Williams, running for lieutenant governor, is also an apparent Nixon backer, but the two have not formally linked up as a ticket, so to speak (the two positions are elected separately in party primaries, but together in the general election).</p> <p>Reynoso and Menchaca, and Council Members Brad Lander, Adrienne Adams, and I. Daneek Miller have also backed Williams for lieutenant governor. Williams has also announced the backing of state Senator Kevin Parker, and across the state he has picked up endorsements from legislators in Albany and Syracuse, while Nixon was recently endorsed by more than a dozen Hudson Valley elected officials.</p> <p>Nixon’s most prominent recent endorsement came from the former City Council Speaker, Mark-Viverito, a progressive in the same vein who drew parallels between Nixon and Ocasio-Cortez. “These two boldly progressive women share the same values and priorities,” Mark-Viverito <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/ny-oped-why-i-back-cynthia-nixon-20180629-story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">wrote in the New York Daily News</a>. Nixon also cross-endorsed with Ocasio-Cortez the day before the congressional primary, and in the last week, has done so with Ramos, who is seeking to unseat Senator Peralta, formerly of the IDC, and Julia Salazar, a democratic socialist challenging Democratic state Senator Martin Dilan in northern Brooklyn.</p> <p>On Wednesday, Senator Hamilton's challenger, Myrie, announced four new endorsements from Assembly Members Walter Mosley, Diana Richardson, Jo Anne Simon and Robert Carroll, who represent Central Brooklyn. &nbsp; &nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Democratic Unity?</strong><br />“It goes back to the basic tenet: a house divided against itself can’t stand,” said Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the Senate Democratic leader, in <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7745-andrea-stewart-cousins-on-democratic-unity-and-the-value-of-primaries" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a recent appearance on the Max &amp; Murphy podcast</a> hosted by Gotham Gazette and City Limits. The senator was addressing the Senate unity deal and whether Klein would be loyal to it. “How are we gonna do this?...I’m not gonna be sitting there having people somehow undermine the efforts that we have to be a team. That’s always been the case.”</p> <p>Sen. Michael Gianaris, the chair of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/ny-pol-idc-gianaris-breakaway-democrats-peralta-20180708-story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">has ruled out endorsing</a> the former IDC members, according to the Daily News -- Gianaris has had a long running feud with Klein, the IDC head -- and has been noncommittal on whether he may support their opponents. “Everyone seems to be on their best behavior on both sides and there seems to be genuine effort to work cooperatively and get to where we’re trying to go, so hopefully that continues,” Gianaris said in <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7758:democratic-campaign-chief-even-a-blue-trickle-will-flip-state-senate" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a separate Max &amp; Murphy interview</a>.</p> <p>Lieutenant Governor Hochul, in her own <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7768-hochul-divided-democratic-party-only-benefits-republicans" target="_blank" rel="noopener">appearance on the podcast</a>, said Democrats attacking each other only serve to polarize voters and that the party would be better off expending that energy against Republicans. “We can all be purists about everything when we have a Democrat in the White House, when we have the House and the Senate, and when we have New York State Legislature,” she said. “Then we can fight each other on the nuances.”</p> <p>Along with the decisions facing them now about who to back in the primaries, one major question for New York Democrats is what happens after September 13, and whether party members can coalesce for the general election. Republicans have completely avoided primaries for all four state-level statewide races of governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller, and attorney general, and in virtually every state Senate district held by an incumbent.</p> <p>“I don’t think [the Democratic Party] fractures,” said the Democratic consultant who didn’t want to be named. “I think that’s the evolution of the party. That’s the direction that you’re seeing the party, and it’s largely driven by a local reaction to federal issues. It’s very largely a reaction to Trump on a number of things, on immigration, on labor, on health care, on taxes, on women’s rights.” &nbsp;</p> <p>The frustration with Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress, the consultant said, means that Democrats want “a much more aggressive stance and debate” from their own leaders.</p> <p>Koch from Precision Strategies said the party will likely come together in the face of a larger enemy to sweep the major statewide races -- governor and lieutenant governor, attorney general, and comptroller. “The Democratic Party has always been a very big tent party, it’s always run the ideological spectrum from the progressive wing through to a more centrist wing,” he said, “and that’s why the party has been successful…After these primaries are done, Democrats will come together and unite because there are bigger threats and what unites us is definitely stronger than what divides us.”</p> <p>“I think the relationships will by and large repair themselves,” Koch added, “I suspect that after the primary, folks will get together and hash out whatever needs to be hashed out.”</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note - This story has been updated to include mention of endorsements received by Zellnor Myrie from four state Assembly members.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/corey-johnson-jessica-ramos-robert-jackson-cityhall.jpg" alt="corey johnson jessica ramos robert jackson cityhall" width="600" height="475" /></p> <p>Corey Johnson endorses IDC challengers (photo: Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>As progressives aggressively attempt to wrest control of the Democratic Party from the hands of those they call centrists and establishment politicians, elected Democrats across New York find themselves in an unenviable position. Abiding by their self-professed progressive values to support insurgent Democratic primary challengers could mean bucking the state party establishment and its leader, Governor Andrew Cuomo, while, on the other hand, toeing the party line risks opening them up to accusations of hypocrisy and betrayal -- and perhaps even a future primary challenge -- levelled by an enraged and engaged base.</p> <p>A battle that played out during the 2016 presidential primary between Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State and New York Senator Hillary Clinton has only intensified since Donald Trump’s victory. The 2018 election cycle is offering many opportunities across the country for Democrats, elected officials and otherwise, to decide between what is essentially two wings of the party. The Democrats’ season of choosing is easier for some than others, but many prominent party figures find themselves in uncomfortable situations. At stake is nothing short of political careers, the fate of activist organizations, the policy agenda and future of the Democratic Party, the outcomes of current and prospective elections, and their aftermaths in terms of government policies that affect millions.</p> <p>At the center in New York is Cuomo, his lieutenant governor, Kathy Hochul, and the state Senate’s erstwhile Independent Democratic Conference, eight senators who chose power over party for as many as seven years by empowering Republican control of the legislative chamber, what has been the GOP’s only stronghold in state government. In April, the renegades returned to the fold with assurances from Cuomo, who long tolerated and allegedly enabled their infidelity, that their seats were secure, at least from other Democrats. Under the accord brokered by the governor just after a new state budget was passed, the state Democratic Party machinery, fellow state-level electeds, and prominent labor unions would support these former IDC members -- who were time and again blamed for obstructing the passage of progressive legislation -- and would refuse to aid their challengers.</p> <p>Though Cuomo and the former IDC members have professed support for progressive priorities -- voting, elections and campaign finance reform, criminal justice reform, women’s reproductive rights, stronger rent regulations, immigrant protections, to name a few -- they have failed to pass legislation along those lines, blaming staunch opposition by Senate Republicans. Their progressive challengers instead say they have been the obstacles to progressive bills by empowering Republicans.</p> <p>Cuomo, at the top of the Democratic ticket, faces an aggressive challenge from actress and activist Cynthia Nixon in the primary. Nixon’s candidacy, from the left of Cuomo, parallels Fordham Law professor Zephyr Teachout’s unsuccessful gubernatorial bid four years ago, except it comes in a more heightened atmosphere of displeasure on the left following Trump’s election, amid disappointment with Cuomo’s relatively centrist record, and with increased awareness of the IDC. Nixon also has other advantages Teachout lacked, like name recognition and fundraising prowess, though Cuomo has worked over the past four years to make amends with some of his past critics, such as those in certain labor unions.</p> <p>A similar fight is being replicated in the race for lieutenant governor, between incumbent Democrat Hochul and her progressive challenger, Jumaane Williams, a City Council member from Brooklyn. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>All eight former IDC members face primary challenges ahead of the September 13 vote. Five of those districts fall squarely in New York City while another is split between the Bronx and Westchester, with two others upstate.</p> <p>In District 13, in Queens, Jessica Ramos is taking on Sen. Jose Peralta; in Brooklyn’s District 20, Zellnor Myrie is challenging Sen. Jesse Hamilton; on Manhattan’s west side, Robert Jackson is going up against Sen. Marisol Alcantara; in District 23, which spans Staten Island’s north shore and parts of Brooklyn, Jasmine Robinson is confronting Sen. Diane Savino; in District 11 in Queens, Sen. Tony Avella will again face former city Comptroller John Liu, who earned 47 percent in a losing 2014 bid to unseat Avella; and in District 34 that covers Westchester and the Bronx, Alessandra Biaggi is attempting to unseat the leader of the what was the IDC, Sen. Jeff Klein, who now serves as the deputy leader in the unified Senate Democratic Conference.</p> <p>Outside the city, in District 38 that spreads across Rockland and Westchester, Sen. David Carlucci faces a challenge from Julie Goldberg; and in District 53 covering Madison County and parts of Onondaga and Oneida, Sen. David Valesky faces Rachel May in the primary.</p> <p>For Cuomo and the state party, maintaining what Democratic seats they have in the Senate is paramount as they seek to flip the chamber by picking up more. Republicans have recently held control of the 63-seat chamber by a one-seat margin thanks to their own ranks and a single rogue conservative Senator from Brooklyn, Simcha Felder, a registered Democrat who won his most recent reelection on the Democratic, Republican, and Conservative Party lines -- Felder is also facing a Democratic primary this year, from Blake Morris.</p> <p>But while they also want to see Republican seats flipped in November, many progressive activists insist that the party needs to elect better, “bluer Democrats” than Cuomo, Hochul, and the former IDC members. Nixon has explained that it is her motivation to run for governor, saying that in the age of Trump not any Democrat will do. Cuomo and his supporters argue that not only has the governor been a progressive powerhouse, but that Democratic energy of all kinds would be better spent working in concert to flip red seats to blue.</p> <p>That argument has largely fallen on deaf ears among those displeased with Cuomo, Klein, and other Democratic incumbents.</p> <p>The shiny veneer of the Senate Democrat reunification deal and its accompanying pact of nonaggression has seemed to be wearing off as challengers to the IDC senators pick up endorsements from top Democratic incumbents and, in one candidate’s case, from an influential labor union that helped broker the merger of the Senate Democrats. Meanwhile, Nixon and Williams have picked up far more support from elected officials and organizations than Teachout and her lieutenant governor running mate, Tim Wu, achieved in 2014.</p> <p>Democrats across the spectrum are taking sides, and others will be expected to do so over the next few months, in decisions that could be determinative for those they endorse, for their own political trajectories, and for the larger map of New York’s Democratic world currently dominated by one set of elected and appointed officials, consultants, labor leaders, and the networks of power they control.</p> <p><strong>Mayoral Hopefuls</strong><br />On June 28, New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson announced his endorsement of Biaggi, Jackson, Ramos, and Myrie, providing them a boost at a time when progressives were already feeling emboldened by the congressional primary victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez earlier that week.</p> <p>A declared democratic socialist with a deeply progressive campaign platform, Ocasio-Cortez defeated Democratic giant Rep. Joe Crowley, a ten-term incumbent and the powerful boss of the Queens Democratic Party who was among the chief drivers of the Senate Democratic reunification and a possible next speaker of the House of Representatives. The stunning upset shook the foundations of the Democratic Party and undercut the conventional wisdom of the primacy of incumbents and machine politics, and its ramifications will likely be dissected for years. In New York, it’s immediate effects were quickly felt. Johnson, who had endorsed Crowley in the race, insisted the result did not affect his decision to endorse the four IDC challengers, which he said was in the works for months, but that did not stop observers from drawing a connection.</p> <p>“Whether it’s in Washington, D.C., or in Albany, the status quo isn’t working and that is why I’m here today in supporting four amazing candidates,” Johnson said at the steps of City Hall. “They are Democrats, they are progressive Democrats, they will caucus with the Democrats and they will support all the issues that Democrats support.” On Saturday, Johnson said on Twitter that he was ready to fully support Liu. At a Tuesday event in support of Biaggi, Johnson <a href="https://twitter.com/CoreyinNYC/status/1016874584489021440" target="_blank" rel="noopener">said</a>, “It feels really good to be able to tell the truth and for too long, people were not telling the truth about the IDC and the damage that they’ve done to the state of New York. And that damage was all in their own self-interest, putting their own self-interest above the entire state of New York.” &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>In a statement following Johnson’s endorsement, Barbara Brancaccio, a spokesperson for Klein, said, “Frankly we are surprised that our opponent would accept the endorsement of such a radioactive figure coming on the heels of his endorsement of Joe Crowley. We are sure that Johnson will do for this challenger, exactly what he did for Joe Crowley."</p> <p>At the same time, Johnson has also endorsed Governor Cuomo for reelection over Nixon, who continues to criticize the governor for supporting the IDC and whose platform largely resembles those of the IDC opponents. She shares stark similarities with Ocasio-Cortez and others seeking to upend incumbent Democrats who insurgents believe are too close to big-money interests and not in touch with their constituents who most need them. Nixon has begun to align herself more closely with those IDC challengers, cross-endorsing with Ramos earlier this week, for example.</p> <p>The same day as Johnson’s endorsement of the IDC challengers, 32BJ SEIU, the prominent building workers union, endorsed Biaggi, though their president Hector Figueroa had months ago been among those who proposed the Democratic reunification deal and the union is among several that have endorsed Cuomo and had also backed Crowley. “Jeff Klein and the IDC have empowered obstructionist Republicans set on blocking key reforms for too long,” Figueroa said <a href="http://www.seiu32bj.org/press-releases/32bj-seiu-endorses-biaggi/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">in a statement</a> announcing the endorsement. “Never again.”</p> <p>And just one day prior, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer also endorsed Biaggi, a few months after he had already announced his support for Ramos and Jackson. The endorsements by Stringer, well before the Ocasio-Cortez win and its initial fallout, have won him much praise from liberal activists.</p> <p>Since his union came out for Biaggi, Figueroa has also addressed the Democratic split in New York, <a href="https://twitter.com/figue32bj/status/1016043465493372930" target="_blank" rel="noopener">writing on Twitter</a>, “Dems upset about IDC folks being primaried ‘for it may lead to the GOP winning a majority of NY Senate’ do not blame the ‘left’. The ones to be blamed are IDC incumbents themselves &amp; those STILL defending them. IDC betrayed voters creating a big political mess. Time to clean up.”</p> <p>Along with the number and strength of the progressive primary challengers to established incumbents and Ocasio-Cortez’s win, these endorsements, headlining still others, are the clearest cracks in the Democratic foundation that Cuomo and other state leaders have tried to set.</p> <p>“I think it’s fascinating because we do see a lack of cohesion as to whether or not people are going to support the IDC members or their challengers,” said Dr. Christina Greer, a political science professor at Fordham University. “And I think this debate is sort of reflective of a larger debate that’s going on in the Democratic Party, for the soul of the Democratic party…‘Are we centrist, conservative-leaning Democrats or are we progressive?’”</p> <p>To some, these moves may smack of political opportunism, particularly in the case of Johnson, who is supporting progressives on the one hand while propping up establishment centrists like Crowley and Cuomo on the other. But in the New York political landscape, Greer said these endorsements are equally driven by philosophical considerations as they are by pragmatic ones. “These are politicians…I think that they can genuinely care about an issue and I think that they can also be calculating and strategic about it,” she said.</p> <p>For some, there is also a difference between backing a less experienced candidate for state Senate based on ideological reasons as opposed to the chief executive of the state.</p> <p>Both Johnson and Stringer are widely expected to run for mayor in 2021, the next city election cycle, when Mayor Bill de Blasio will be term-limited out of office, and tapping the progressive energy that Ocasio-Cortez rode to power, and that is now propelling Nixon, Williams, the IDC challengers, and others, would likewise boost their own political fortunes.</p> <p>“I think in the Democratic primary, the progressive energy in the city, that’s what you want to tap into if you’re running for mayor,” said Eric Koch, managing principal at Precision Strategies, a Democratic consulting firm, and former director of communications for City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “So it makes sense to endorse the folks running against the IDC people because in terms of the activists and the people who are organizing against the IDC versus who is a Democratic primary voter in a mayoral election, there’s a pretty big overlap there.”</p> <p>It’s important to note that the IDC incumbents themselves have powerful backers, including unions like 1199 SEIU, many of which are in Cuomo’s corner as well.</p> <p>While Stringer and Johnson have decided to buck Cuomo and those involved in the unity deal, other likely 2021 mayoral candidates have not. Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. is a Cuomo ally and closely aligned with the Bronx Democratic Party apparatus, led by its chair, Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, and its former chair, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who signed onto the unity deal.</p> <p>Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams has been critical of Cuomo over the course of years, but has not made endorsements yet. His approach is complicated given his alliance with Senator Hamilton, formerly of the IDC. Adams did invite Nixon early in her campaign to tour a Brooklyn NYCHA complex and the two went to Albany Houses together. The Brooklyn borough president has <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7648-max-murphy-podcast-brooklyn-borough-president-eric-adams" target="_blank" rel="noopener">voiced strong criticism of Cuomo</a>, but has not embraced Nixon beyond the NYCHA visit, nor has he weighed in on Williams’ challenge to Hochul or the IDC races.</p> <p>“They’re looking at these challengers and their districts, I’m sure, to sort of see what kind of coalition they would need to put together,” Greer said. “When they run for mayor, Andrew Cuomo may or may not still be in office...but a great campaign marketing slogan is, ‘We fight Albany. We fight Albany to make sure that New York City gets the money and resources we need.’”</p> <p>“Sure they care, but it’s also a very strategic move,” Greer said, “to make sure that they’re distancing themselves from the status quo to say that, ‘When tough decisions needed to be made, I didn’t just go along to get along.’”</p> <p><strong>Statewide Case</strong><br />Public Advocate Letitia James, who is running in the Democratic primary for attorney general (and had been a likely 2021 mayoral candidate), is charting a course similar to Diaz, Jr., but with a much higher profile given her bid for statewide office. James quickly jumped at the opportunity when Eric Schneiderman resigned the post after facing allegations of physical and emotional abuse by several intimate partners. Seen as an early frontrunner, with the blessing of the state Democratic Party and the governor, James rejected the possible endorsement of the progressive Working Families Party that had helped launch her political career as a City Council member.</p> <p>The WFP has been closely aligned with the IDC challengers, as well as Nixon and Williams, supporting their insurgent bids for office, while James has in the past supported at least one member of the IDC, Senator Alcantara, though she has come to criticize the IDC and called for reunification well before her attorney general bid.</p> <p>“I would essentially argue, if I were in these progressive groups that used to support Tish very openly, well what now gives you progressive bonafides?,” said Greer. “So her messaging has to be very clear for her supporters. Because they have progressive choices.”</p> <p>“Two days after Schneiderman resigned, it was essentially reported that Tish would be heir apparent and that’s the way much of the press is writing about the race...and I don’t necessarily see that to be the case anymore,” she added.</p> <p>James faces three other primary contenders: former Cuomo aide Leecia Eve, congressional Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, and Fordham Law professor Zephyr Teachout, who challenged Cuomo in the 2014 Democratic primary and lost, but managed to get a significant share of the vote, at 34 percent. Teachout, like Nixon, has been severely critical of the IDC and <a href="https://makenytrueblue.org/grassroots-coalition-formed-to-endorse-idc-challengers/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">endorsed</a> five IDC challengers as part of the TrueBlueNY coalition months before the attorney general position became available and she decided to run. When Schneiderman resigned, Teachout was at the time Nixon’s campaign treasurer, a position she has since vacated to run for attorney general.</p> <p>Among the four Democratic attorney general candidates, Teachout is undoubtedly furthest to the left. At the WFP nominating convention, delegates chose Nixon and Williams, and opted to install a placeholder for attorney general until, they hope, either James or Teachout emerges from the Democratic primary victorious and is offered the additional ballot line for the general election. James has expressed her love for the WFP despite initially shunning its endorsement and has said she believes everyone will coalesce again in the near future.</p> <p>While James has aligned herself with Cuomo and his unity deal, Teachout, who endorsed Ocasio-Cortez in May, is staunchly behind IDC challengers and has recently campaigned alongside Williams.</p> <p>Koch doesn’t believe her endorsements will give her a significant edge, however. “I do think that there might be some benefit in endorsing some of the folks against the IDC because that’s where the progressive energy is,” he said, “but at the end of the day, people who are voting for attorney general aren’t basing their votes on just the issue of the IDC, they’re coming at it from a much more holistic spectrum.”</p> <p>The experts who spoke with Gotham Gazette noted the significance of the ‘Ocasio effect.’ Both Teachout and Nixon had endorsed Ocasio-Cortez in the run up to the congressional primary and seized on her victory to emphasize that progressive challengers can defeat machine-backed incumbents. “There’s very much a movement that’s energizing the left and politicians who ignore it or who fall too far behind are really doing so at their own peril,” said a Democratic consultant who wished to remain unnamed so he could speak freely.</p> <p>“There’s certainly a lot of parallels between Cuomo and Crowley, you know, representing the old guard, like white-working class Democrats,” said the Democratic consultant. “But that being said, I wouldn’t read too much into the Ocasio win as portending a loss for Cuomo because Cuomo’s still extraordinarily popular among African-Americans, particularly African-American women, and Cynthia Nixon hasn’t to this point been able to show the ability to break into that base of support, which is really what you’re seeing here. It’s a combination of minority voters and very young, progressive voters.”</p> <p>For their part, top Nixon campaign aides cite Ocasio-Cortez’s victory in expressing their belief that public opinion polls can no longer be trusted to capture the progressive energy that has largely emerged since the 2016 election of Donald Trump.</p> <p>Koch said activist pressure against the IDC and its supporters has been building but “at the state level, people are gonna hedge their bets a little bit more because, one way or another, they’re gonna have to work with some of these folks.”</p> <p>Greer seemed more bullish about how far the momentum behind Ocasio-Cortez would carry into state elections. She conceded that Democrats across New York are not as progressive as they are in New York City, but that the win gave a much-needed confidence boost to IDC challengers as well as Nixon and Teachout, not to mention obvious opportunities to add volunteers and donors. “It’ll be fascinating to see if, all of a sudden, Cynthia and Zephyr can ride the coattails of Alexandria,” she said, a notion that, before the congressional primary, “would’ve sounded like crazy talk.”</p> <p>“But the reality here is...Alexandria’s getting national attention for the message that Cynthia and Zephyr have been championing,” she said.</p> <p><strong>Other Democrats Choose</strong><br />Virtually every elected Democrat in New York is expected to pick sides: Cuomo or Nixon; Hochul or Williams; James or Teachout or Eve or Maloney; Klein or Biaggi; and so on.</p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio, one of the most powerful Democratic officials in the state by virtue of his position, has so far stayed on the sidelines, regularly declining to comment on the 2018 New York elections, but promising to weigh in at some point. Given that Nixon was a fervent supporter during his winning 2013 campaign for mayor and again supported him for reelection in 2017, and his ongoing feud with Cuomo, de Blasio’s decision in the gubernatorial race is especially interesting. In 2014, before their feud had really escalated, de Blasio backed Cuomo for reelection, even helping broker him the Working Families Party nomination. He has indicated it did not work out as planned.</p> <p>Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, not facing a primary challenge himself, has backed Cuomo and Hochul, but says he’s likely staying out of the attorney general primary, even though the state party is behind James.</p> <p>While many Democratic officials have already or are expected to back Cuomo, there are local electeds who, beholden neither to the governor nor their respective Democratic machines, have chosen to break from the pack. New York City Council Member Carlos Menchaca was the first of his colleagues to endorse Nixon’s bid for governor, and Council Members Jimmy Van Bramer and Antonio Reynoso later followed suit. Williams, running for lieutenant governor, is also an apparent Nixon backer, but the two have not formally linked up as a ticket, so to speak (the two positions are elected separately in party primaries, but together in the general election).</p> <p>Reynoso and Menchaca, and Council Members Brad Lander, Adrienne Adams, and I. Daneek Miller have also backed Williams for lieutenant governor. Williams has also announced the backing of state Senator Kevin Parker, and across the state he has picked up endorsements from legislators in Albany and Syracuse, while Nixon was recently endorsed by more than a dozen Hudson Valley elected officials.</p> <p>Nixon’s most prominent recent endorsement came from the former City Council Speaker, Mark-Viverito, a progressive in the same vein who drew parallels between Nixon and Ocasio-Cortez. “These two boldly progressive women share the same values and priorities,” Mark-Viverito <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/ny-oped-why-i-back-cynthia-nixon-20180629-story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">wrote in the New York Daily News</a>. Nixon also cross-endorsed with Ocasio-Cortez the day before the congressional primary, and in the last week, has done so with Ramos, who is seeking to unseat Senator Peralta, formerly of the IDC, and Julia Salazar, a democratic socialist challenging Democratic state Senator Martin Dilan in northern Brooklyn.</p> <p>On Wednesday, Senator Hamilton's challenger, Myrie, announced four new endorsements from Assembly Members Walter Mosley, Diana Richardson, Jo Anne Simon and Robert Carroll, who represent Central Brooklyn. &nbsp; &nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Democratic Unity?</strong><br />“It goes back to the basic tenet: a house divided against itself can’t stand,” said Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the Senate Democratic leader, in <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7745-andrea-stewart-cousins-on-democratic-unity-and-the-value-of-primaries" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a recent appearance on the Max &amp; Murphy podcast</a> hosted by Gotham Gazette and City Limits. The senator was addressing the Senate unity deal and whether Klein would be loyal to it. “How are we gonna do this?...I’m not gonna be sitting there having people somehow undermine the efforts that we have to be a team. That’s always been the case.”</p> <p>Sen. Michael Gianaris, the chair of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/ny-pol-idc-gianaris-breakaway-democrats-peralta-20180708-story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">has ruled out endorsing</a> the former IDC members, according to the Daily News -- Gianaris has had a long running feud with Klein, the IDC head -- and has been noncommittal on whether he may support their opponents. “Everyone seems to be on their best behavior on both sides and there seems to be genuine effort to work cooperatively and get to where we’re trying to go, so hopefully that continues,” Gianaris said in <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7758:democratic-campaign-chief-even-a-blue-trickle-will-flip-state-senate" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a separate Max &amp; Murphy interview</a>.</p> <p>Lieutenant Governor Hochul, in her own <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7768-hochul-divided-democratic-party-only-benefits-republicans" target="_blank" rel="noopener">appearance on the podcast</a>, said Democrats attacking each other only serve to polarize voters and that the party would be better off expending that energy against Republicans. “We can all be purists about everything when we have a Democrat in the White House, when we have the House and the Senate, and when we have New York State Legislature,” she said. “Then we can fight each other on the nuances.”</p> <p>Along with the decisions facing them now about who to back in the primaries, one major question for New York Democrats is what happens after September 13, and whether party members can coalesce for the general election. Republicans have completely avoided primaries for all four state-level statewide races of governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller, and attorney general, and in virtually every state Senate district held by an incumbent.</p> <p>“I don’t think [the Democratic Party] fractures,” said the Democratic consultant who didn’t want to be named. “I think that’s the evolution of the party. That’s the direction that you’re seeing the party, and it’s largely driven by a local reaction to federal issues. It’s very largely a reaction to Trump on a number of things, on immigration, on labor, on health care, on taxes, on women’s rights.” &nbsp;</p> <p>The frustration with Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress, the consultant said, means that Democrats want “a much more aggressive stance and debate” from their own leaders.</p> <p>Koch from Precision Strategies said the party will likely come together in the face of a larger enemy to sweep the major statewide races -- governor and lieutenant governor, attorney general, and comptroller. “The Democratic Party has always been a very big tent party, it’s always run the ideological spectrum from the progressive wing through to a more centrist wing,” he said, “and that’s why the party has been successful…After these primaries are done, Democrats will come together and unite because there are bigger threats and what unites us is definitely stronger than what divides us.”</p> <p>“I think the relationships will by and large repair themselves,” Koch added, “I suspect that after the primary, folks will get together and hash out whatever needs to be hashed out.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p> <p>Note - This story has been updated to include mention of endorsements received by Zellnor Myrie from four state Assembly members.</p>