Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/35 Wed, 15 Aug 2018 09:39:31 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Democratic Candidates for Governor and Lieutenant Governor File Pre-Primary Fundraising Numbers http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7865:candidates-for-governor-and-lieutenant-governor-file-pre-primary-fundraising-numbers http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7865:candidates-for-governor-and-lieutenant-governor-file-pre-primary-fundraising-numbers nixon williams

Cynthia Nixon and Council Member Jumaane Williams (photo:@CynthiaNixon)


Governor Andrew Cuomo, a two-term Democrat, spent millions over the last month on his reelection campaign, far outpacing his Democratic primary rival, actor and education activist Cynthia Nixon, according to pre-primary campaign finance disclosures filed by candidates this week with the state Board of Elections. Cuomo’s running mate, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, overwhelmingly outraised her own primary opponent, New York City Council Member Jumaane Williams.

Cuomo spent a whopping $7.5 million and raised about $845,000 in just one month, between July 17 and August 13, and still has $24 million left in cash on hand. Most of the money was spent on television advertisements, with over $4 million paid to New Jersey-based Media Fortitude Partners, a media buying firm. Another $1.3 million for advertisements went to Motus Strategies LLC. The campaign also paid $384,000 to Bully Pulpit Interactive, a communications consulting firm based in Washington, D.C.

The governor’s campaign also made large charitable contributions totalling $422,000 to various organizations across the state including the Legal Aid Society, Planned Parenthood, the Puerto Rican Family Institute, the National Institute for Reproductive Health Action and NOW NYC. The donations seem to be drawn from a pot of money set aside by Cuomo in January last year owing to the arrest on corruption charges of several upstate executives who had donated large sums to his campaign along with Joe Percoco, a former top aide and Cuomo campaign manager. Percoco and the executives were recently convicted in federal court.

As he seeks a third term in office, Cuomo has also been bent on making an impact at the national level. He has been putting the state Democratic party’s resources into electing more Democrats to the House of Representatives, to reclaim control of the chamber from Republicans. On Tuesday, his campaign announced the creation of a federal political action committee called “Cuomo NY Take Back the House PAC” which, according to the campaign, has contributed the maximum $2,700 each to ten Democratic congressional candidates across New York State. The PAC has yet to file financial disclosures with the Federal Election Commission.

“With Trump and Republicans in Washington threatening New York’s way of life – from healthcare and women’s rights to immigration and tax reform – the Governor is laser focused on taking back the U.S. House to protect the people of this state,” said Maggie Moran, Cuomo’s campaign manager, in a statement.

Nixon, on the other hand, raised only about $392,000 for her insurgent gubernatorial bid, and spent $606,000 in the same one-month period. Though Nixon has only about $442,000 left to spend, her campaign has touted the nearly 43,000 thousand individual donations it has received in the last five months as evidence of the strength of her campaign and has repeatedly emphasized that Nixon has refused all corporate donations. Nixon’s campaign pointed out Tuesday that those individual donations outnumber Cuomo’s own individual donors from his four runs for governor and that 98 percent of Nixon’s contributions came from small dollar donors, who only accounted for about 0.2 percent of Cuomo’s fundraising. In-kind contributions made up a large part of Nixon’s fundraising, with just under $88,000 coming from the Working Families Party and $11,250 that Nixon gave herself.

“We are seeing a level of grassroots momentum that Cuomo has failed to tap into during his entire two decade career in New York politics,” said Hayley Prim, Nixon’s campaign manager, in a statement. “There is a real hunger in New York to elect a real progressive who is beholden to the people, not corporations and millionaires.”

On Monday, Cuomo finally agreed to a primary debate, which Nixon had pushed for months. The two will participated in an hour-long debate hosted by WCBS at Hofstra University on August 29, just two weeks before primary day.

In the lieutenant governor race, Hochul, the Democratic incumbent, raised nearly $460,000 and only had about $143,000 in expenditures, leaving her a balance of about $1.6 million. Candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run separately in the primary election, which is September 13, and on a joint ticket for the general. 

Williams, Hochul’s primary opponent, only raised about $25,000 and spent about $32,000. He has just under $39,000 in cash on hand. Notably, Williams refunded $10,000 to Glenwood Masonry Products after it emerged in his previous filing that he had accepted multiple over-the-limit contributions. He has not yet returned another $25,000 in improper contributions in total from two other firms linked to the same developer as Glenwood Masonry, despite promising to do so. Once he does, his campaign balance will fall to just under $14,000. A Williams campaign spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

The Hochul campaign, which has also repeatedly chastised Williams for not releasing his tax returns from the last five years, pounced on the Council member’s failure to return the money. “The question is simple...where’s the money?” read a statement from the campaign, “Councilman Williams stated in late July that he would ‘definitely’ return the donations, and after almost a month he still hasn’t kept his word. New Yorkers are clearly seeing that Mr. Williams thinks the rules don’t apply to him - they’ll have their opportunity to respond September 13th.”

Hochul and Williams are set face each other later this month in the second debate of the race. The debate will be hosted by the Manhattan Neighborhood Network and moderated by Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max. It will be taped on the morning of August 29 and will air on September 2.

There is no other contested primary in either the race for governor or lieutenant governor. The Democratic primary victors will face off in the general against Republican nominee for governor Marc Molinaro and his running mate Julie Killian; the Green Party's Howie Hawkins; Libertarian Larry Sharpe; and independent candidate Stephanie Miner who is running on a ticket with Michael Volpe. 

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Democratic Candidates for Governor and Lieutenant Governor File Pre-Primary Fundraising Numbers Tue, 14 Aug 2018 22:46:05 +0000
Terrified About Climate Change? Vote Cynthia Nixon http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7855:terrified-about-climate-change-vote-cynthia-nixon http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7855:terrified-about-climate-change-vote-cynthia-nixon cynthia nixon gas

Cynthia Nixon (photo: @CynthiaNixon)


Governor Andrew Cuomo seeks to portray himself as a leading environmentalist. But in reality, he is too wrapped up in his own political ambitions to be the 21st century climate champion New York needs.

The surface is rosy. Governor Cuomo formed the impressive sounding U.S. Climate Alliance, he banned fracking (while building infrastructure to transport fracked gas from nearby states) and is expanding wind farming in the state.

Take a closer look, however, and it’s much seedier.

While portraying himself as a climate leader, Cuomo is hoarding hundreds of thousands of dollars that he has accepted from fossil fuel companies in his campaign war chest. Recently, after facing pressure from constituent advocates and Cynthia Nixon’s candidacy, he said he would no longer accept fossil fuel-funded donations. But then he walked back that pledge, saying he misheard a question, and signaling that he is more concerned with financially positioning himself to run for President -- let’s be honest: he does not need $30 million to run for Governor -- than the wellbeing of his constituents.  

With thousands of New Yorkers still recovering from Hurricane Sandy, wildfires scorching the West, and Puerto Rico still not recovered from Maria, there is no excuse for a Governor who claims to be a climate champion but accepts blood money from the fossil fuel industry.

Governor Cuomo has also refused to publicly support the Climate and Community Protection Act, which would shift New York off fossil fuels to a 100% renewable economy by 2050 and has the support of over 100 unions, community groups, and advocacy organizations across New York State. The CCPA has passed the State Assembly multiple times, but has stalled in the Senate, partially due to lack of support from the Governor. When asked about the legislation’s provision for completely shifting New York state to renewable energy over the next 30 years, he insisted it isn’t “practical” to make that rapid a transition.

Polar ice caps will not stop melting to accommodate Andrew Cuomo’s political ambitions nor his sense of practicality. Ask any scientist, and they will tell you that we no longer have time for an incremental approach to climate change. As climate leader Bill McKibben has said, with climate change, winning slowly is the same as losing.

Cynthia Nixon is running on a bold climate action agenda that includes supporting both the Climate and Community Protection Act as well as the Climate and Community Investment Act, which would levy a tax on corporate polluters, generating billions in revenue for investment in renewable energy, green jobs, and resiliency. Most important, Nixon is putting her money where her mouth is -- from the start of her campaign, she has refused all funding from the fossil fuel industry.

Climate consequences are here and only getting worse. Hurricanes supercharged by warming oceans, drought, heat, wildfires, flooding, rising sea levels: it is all underway. Over time, New York will suffer increasingly frequent and devastating storms and floods. Coastal towns will erode into the ocean. Changing weather patterns will impact everything from farms, fisheries, and our food supply to tourism, housing, transportation, and public health.

We need bold, transformative leadership and we need it now. With Donald Trump in Washington, New York needs to aggressively pave its own way into an uncertain, climate-altered future. Cynthia Nixon wants to lead us there by rejecting fossil fuels, protecting vulnerable communities, and embracing a shift to a fairer, renewable energy economy. Andrew Cuomo wants to fill his wallet and run for President.

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Liat Olenick is a public school science teacher, union leader, and co-president of non-profit Indivisible Nation BK. On Twitter @Liat_RO of @bkindivisible

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Terrified About Climate Change? Vote Cynthia Nixon Thu, 09 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Independence from Cuomo, or Lack Thereof, Becomes Flashpoint in Attorney General Race http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7857:independence-from-cuomo-or-lack-thereof-becomes-flashpoint-in-attorney-general-race http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7857:independence-from-cuomo-or-lack-thereof-becomes-flashpoint-in-attorney-general-race Andrew Cuomo Tish James

Cuomo & James (photo: The Governor's Office)


New York City Public Advocate Letitia James is performing a balancing act as she runs for state Attorney General, at once cross-endorsing with Governor Andrew Cuomo, a fellow Democrat seeking a third term, and accepting his fundraising support, while also attempting to convince skeptical voters that she would be sufficiently independent if both are victorious this fall.

After the shocking resignation of Eric Schneiderman amid domestic abuse allegations and James’ decision to run for attorney general, Cuomo quickly backed her, and she embraced his support and that of the State Democratic Party that he controls.

Given several other key facts -- the attorney general’s role as a popularly elected statewide official responsible for upholding the law and rooting out certain violations of the public trust, the rampant corruption in New York state government, including among former Cuomo aides, Cuomo’s efforts to raise funds and other support for James, and the governor’s reputation for overpowering other elected officials -- James has repeatedly faced questions about independence.

“I stand before you in the spirit of Shirley Chisholm: I’m unbought and unbossed,” James recently told Gotham Gazette, after a press conference at which she was endorsed by most of the women elected to the City Council. “And all throughout my career I’ve been independent and despite the innate, the sheer nature of who I am, and just based on my background, coming from Brooklyn, a humble woman, a woman of color, I’m someone who has been counted out but consistently has overperformed. I’m not beholden to anyone. All I’m beholden to is a simple concept and that’s called justice.”

James’ competitors in the Democratic primary for attorney general -- Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, Zephyr Teachout, and Leecia Eve -- have each made a concerted effort to highlight the fact that they are not the state party- and Cuomo-backed candidate, while promising to pursue corruption in state government and be an independent voice if elected attorney general. They all also acknowledge that the attorney general must work closely with the governor on a lot of the office’s work, given that the attorney general defends the state against lawsuits and also files litigation on behalf of the state, often in conjunction with the governor. The winner of the Democratic primary will face Republican Keith Wofford and minor party candidates in the general election.

Though she has been careful not to criticize Cuomo, James is also promising to pursue bad actors in state government if elected attorney general, even if they are in the executive branch.

“If state officials step over the line, I will not hesitate to prosecute,” James said on a recent episode of the Max & Murphy podcast. “If I disagree with a state action, I will make that abundantly clear. I’ll make sure that the laws of the state of New York are enforced.”

And James has not shied away from Cuomo’s backing. “He is of the opinion that I am in a position to get things done and I have gotten things done,” she said when asked about their mutual support. “So, there is no quid-pro-quo, and there is no allegiance or loyalty to anyone. The only loyalty that I have is to the rule of law.” When asked to explain her endorsement of Cuomo, she first cited his leadership in helping Puerto Rico recover from Hurricane Maria (James recently joined Cuomo on a relief trip to the island), and mentioned his work in regards to marriage equality, economic development, women’s advocacy, and workers’ rights.

Meanwhile, corruption scandals have plagued Cuomo’s economic development programs, including two trials this year that ended with convictions of officials Cuomo had empowered. There has also been a series of corruption convictions of other state officials, including many state legislators, before and during Cuomo’s tenure. Cuomo ran for governor in 2010 promising to clean up state government, but has not accomplished that lofty goal.

When asked if Cuomo bears any responsibility for the recent malpractice that’s been exposed among his aides and donors, James stopped short of blaming him. “It really speaks to a larger issue and that is reform,” she said on Max & Murphy. She recommended reforming the state’s procurement process and creating checks and balance on mega agencies, both public and private. In a different interview, James recently said Cuomo should not have shut down the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption that he ended prematurely in 2015.

Maloney, who represents a Hudson Valley congressional district, has also endorsed Cuomo for reelection, while Teachout has endorsed Cuomo’s primary challenger, Cynthia Nixon, and Eve has said she is staying out of the gubernatorial primary.

Maloney’s campaign declined to provide comment for this article about his support for the governor, but in March, Maloney released a statement that urged Nixon not to run against Cuomo, citing his support for Cuomo’s work on LGBT rights in the state of New York, including passage of marriage equality, which led to Maloney and his husband’s vows.

“We must remember that Governor Cuomo took on the marriage equality issue when few politicians dared broach the subject,” Maloney said in the statement. “He was full-throated in his support and unabashed in his efforts, often to his political detriment. That’s called leadership.”

“We should not have intramural contests that only aid Republicans,” Maloney also said in the statement, urging a unified Democratic front in the Trump era.

But even given his support for Cuomo’s re-election, Maloney insists he would be an independent attorney general whether or not Cuomo is given another term. He’s also said James is “running a campaign that is propped up by insiders and the political machine,” as he told City & State NY. “That’s her race. My race is not to rely on the governor’s fundraising or the endorsements of Albany insiders or political bosses,” Maloney added.

“I think that is a losing strategy, and it is a terrible message right now when the Democratic Party voters I talk to want the Democratic Party blown up and rebuilt,” he continued, eventually saying that voters “don’t want somebody picked because of somebody else’s political agenda or some inside deal,” in apparent reference to Cuomo.

Acknowledging his endorsement of Cuomo and saying he’s been "a good governor,” Maloney said, “But I don’t think he should pick the attorney general. Let me ask you this: How is an attorney general going to look at the Buffalo Billion if you’re in Andrew Cuomo’s back pocket? So I think what this state deserves is someone with real independence and an independent ability to get elected and do the job.”

Meanwhile, Teachout’s bid for the attorney general’s seat comes after she stepped down as Nixon’s campaign treasurer this past May in order to run.

During her own appearance on Max & Murphy, Teachout said that, if elected attorney general, she would treat whoever wins the gubernatorial race the same. “You need to also have that independence because the attorney general’s office can’t be either perceived as or be an arm of the executive branch,” she said. “So, I’m not concerned about a smooth operation.”

Teachout has additionally centered her run for attorney general by eyeing both the Trump administration in Washington and Cuomo’s conduct in Albany, which she has criticized since she ran against him in the 2014 gubernatorial primary. “I think that’s very important not to be alleging crimes, but there’s no question that there’s a culture of corruption in Albany and that Andrew Cuomo has both promised to do something about it in 2010 and not only not done something about it, but encouraged instead a culture of secrecy.”

She said Cuomo has concentrated too much power.

Eve, meanwhile, has said she is not endorsing in the gubernatorial primary between Cuomo and Nixon.

“I am running, not as an endorsed candidate, not as the party candidate, but as an independent voice for New Yorkers,” said Eve on a recent episode of Max & Murphy. “And without question, [I] would prosecute corruption wherever I would find it, regardless of what administration or what person engaged in it.”

Eve, most recently a Verizon executive before taking a leave to run for attorney general, previously worked for Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and Cuomo, including overseeing the governor’s economic development programs, some of which became embroiled in the aforementioned corruption scandals (Eve was not at all implicated).

“I’m focused solely on my race and not engaging in others,” Eve said on Max & Murphy, “and I’m very proud, frankly, that I am not the endorsed candidate.”

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by Chelsey Sanchez & Ben Max

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Independence from Cuomo, or Lack Thereof, Becomes Flashpoint in Attorney General Race Thu, 09 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000
State Board of Elections Curtails Power of Enforcement Counsel http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7852:state-board-of-elections-curtails-power-of-enforcement-counsel http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7852:state-board-of-elections-curtails-power-of-enforcement-counsel gov and cuomo coughlin votes

(Photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of the Governor)


The State Board of Elections voted on Wednesday to hobble the subpoena powers of Chief Enforcement Counsel Risa Sugarman, dealing a significant blow to one of the state’s only election law watchdogs.

The new rules, which were voted on by the board at a commissioners’ meeting in Albany, would require Sugarman to obtain permission from the board members (two Democrats, two Republicans) for each subpoena she plans to issue in a probe, and for the “circumstances of the investigation” to be divulged to the members. Previously, the board approved Sugarman’s ability to make subpoenas in probes, but she was given latitude to make individual subpoenas within a probe.

The new rule also requires that Sugarman provide regular reports to the board members detailing metrics related to her investigations, and for investigations to be limited to six-month timeframes. Sugarman is the first and only person to hold the relatively new position at the board.

She has, in the past, criticized the proposed rule changes as being designed to hobble the powers given to her in 2014, after Governor Andrew Cuomo and Legislature passed a law designed to depoliticize the BOE’s enforcement process.

"These amendments would allow the politically partisan commissioners of the SBOE to impose their own political will on the independent chief enforcement counsel's investigations," Sugarman said in a June letter to the board, obtained by the Albany Times-Union.

The final vote on the measure was 3-1 in favor, with Democratic appointee Andrew Spano dissenting. Before the vote, Sugarman provided sharply critical testimony wherein she accused the board members of attempting to hobble a crucial state watchdog.

“By your vote today, you will send a message,” she said, saying that a “yes” vote would stand for partisan intervention into independent oversight, while a “no” vote would stand for “fair and complete investigations.” Sugarman said that the rescission of unmitigated subpoena power, as well as reporting requirements and a six-month timeframe for investigations, would hobble the enforcement counsel’s ability to fairly investigate campaign finance violations.

Sugarman claimed that the regulations would slow the pace of investigations by requiring approval of subpoenas by the BOE, and would hinder the independence of the investigation by needing approval from partisan appointees. In effect, the commissioners, not the enforcement counsel, would “control the course and content of an investigation,” she said.

Sugarman brought up supporters of her fight against the new regulations: seven state residents who submitted public comment, gubernatorial candidate and former Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, the Office of the New York Attorney General, good government groups Reinvent Albany and Rochester for All, five members of the former Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, three District Attorneys, and attorney Milton Williams.

“Gutting the Enforcement Counsel’s authority and independence will only serve to encourage more corruption in New York,” Attorney General Barbara Underwood said in a statement. “Our partnership with a strong, independent Enforcement Counsel has allowed us to hold public officials to account for breaking campaign finance laws and cheating New Yorkers. With today’s vote, that work is jeopardized by potential political interference in law enforcement investigations.”

Governor Cuomo, too, opposed the new regulations, expressing his opinion just before the board meeting, though it had been sought for weeks.

“‎We reviewed these draft regulations and believe they are unnecessary and ‎could harm the operations and the independence of the enforcement counsel's office,” Cuomo spokesperson Tyrone Stevens said in a statement on Wednesday morning. “We don't support their adoption and, believe that today's vote should be delayed and members should go back to the drawing board to address these concerns. The Democratic members of the Board of Elections have been informed of our stance."

Spokespeople for Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan did not respond to requests for comment.

The enforcement counsel was created to independently deliberate election law violations, instead of leaving the job to the partisan board of elections. After Cuomo faced intense controversy for his shuttering of the Moreland Commission, interpreted by many as a reaction to investigations into his administration or people close to him, he and legislative leaders Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos (both now convicted of public corruption) fostered the creation of the enforcement counsel as a compromise.

Regardless, the members of the board criticized Sugarman, saying that her office was inadequately enforcing campaign finance law. Douglas Kellner, the Democratic co-chair of the board, said that enforcement had “effectively stopped” since 2014, the year the enforcement counsel was created, in the areas of deficiencies and non-filings of campaign finance disclosures.

Kellner and other board members said that despite thousands of referrals to Sugarman, only a few dozen hearings had been commenced.

“It’s beyond me why there has not been public outrage at the fact that this has happened,” Kellner said, singling out good government groups for a lack of criticism. Kellner said that he had spoken to good government groups who were in support of the new rule, but did not say which ones.

"I think it's pretty clear that I'm fed up with the current process of the enforcement unit,” Kellner said. “I call upon people in the good government groups...to look at the numbers. Look at the numbers of non-filers, and to how enforcement counsel has handled those non-filers."

One of those government reform groups, Reinvent Albany, issued a statement Wednesday expressing opposition to “the sections of the proposed rules which create new procedures for the chief enforcement counsel to issue subpoenas to persons and committees being investigated for violations of Election or other laws.”

“We believe these procedures will slow or terminate important investigations of alleged violations of Election Law,” the statement continues. “The Board should not seek to undercut the independence of the chief enforcement counsel, who has investigated types of cases not previously taken on by the Election Law enforcement unit of the Board.”

Reinvent Albany supports, however, “the sections related to reporting enforcement activity but believe reporting should be made public and expanded to include all aspects of compliance and

enforcement by the State and county boards of election. The Board currently does not report much, if any, compliance and enforcement activity to the general public, and it should do so as is done by other state agencies while respecting the rights of the accused.”

Republican co-chair Peter Kosinski said that the six-month timetable was necessary in order for voters to know who they were voting for, and whether they had not committed election law violations; Sugarman had earlier said that the timeframe was “arbitrary.”

However, Rockland County District Attorney Thomas Zugibe, who submitted testimony against the new rule, said in an op-ed for loHud in July that board members had admitted in 2013 to only undertaking a single probe in the preceding four years. According to the 2015 Board of Elections annual report, Sugarman received board authorization to seek subpoenas in 19 probes in 2015, with nine cases being referred for possible prosecution. The 2017 report noted that Sugarman had received subpoena authorization in four cases and referred one for prosecution.

The 2013 annual report, before the enforcement counsel position was created, lists no subpoenas or prosecutions.

The board also voted on Wednesday to implement new regulations on political advertising on social media platforms, rules that follow the adoption of a new law passed in this year’s state budget. The new rules will ban foreign entities from purchasing digital ads on social media platforms, and will require ad buyers to register an independent expenditure committee; the board will require that IE’s name be displayed prominently on the ad, as having paid for it.

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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State Board of Elections Curtails Power of Enforcement Counsel Wed, 08 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Cuomo Brought Rogue Democrats Back, But Hasn't Offered or Accepted Endorsements http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7846:cuomo-brought-rogue-democrats-back-but-hasn-t-offered-or-accepted-endorsements-idc http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7846:cuomo-brought-rogue-democrats-back-but-hasn-t-offered-or-accepted-endorsements-idc Cuomo Klein Stewart-Cousins

Gov. Cuomo, center, with Sens. Stewart-Cousins, left, & Klein (photo: The Governor's Office)


Governor Andrew Cuomo says he wants Democrats to take control of the state Senate and, in reunifying two factions to be able to focus on flipping Republican seats, he publicly offered support for senators who once made up the Independent Democratic Conference, a group of breakaway Democrats that until April held a years-long power-sharing agreement with Republicans.

Cuomo and the leaders of the two Senate groups -- mainline conference leader Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins and IDC leader Senator Jeff Klein -- said at their “unity” news conference at the governor’s Manhattan office that none of the parties would support primary challengers to the other.

Yet with only five weeks till the September 13 primary, Cuomo has not formally endorsed, or been endorsed by, any of the eight senators that made up the IDC. Stewart-Cousins, by contrast, has offered her endorsement of Klein and the other seven members of what was the IDC, each of whom faces a primary challenge.

The now-defunct conference led by Klein agreed last November to disband his breakaway group that had caucused with Republican senators for seven years and to rejoin the mainline Democrats, pending certain developments. Cuomo brokered the deal, which was announced in April (just after a new state budget was announced), after years of saying he was helpless to force the IDC back into the fold. His critics, including his Democratic primary challenger, Cynthia Nixon, say he enabled and benefited from the odd arrangement and that the reunification came too little too late.

Four years ago while also facing primary challenges, Cuomo and Klein endorsed each other for reelection, but this year, amid heightened awareness and criticism of the IDC’s role in the Senate, the two have thus far decided to forego a mutual endorsement that could potentially give their opponents ammunition to criticize them. The same goes with the other seven former IDC members, all of whom face primary challengers that are backed to varying degrees by a number of liberal activist groups -- including some that sprung up in direct opposition to the existence of the IDC and a local senator’s membership in the group -- and elected officials, like city Comptroller Scott Stringer and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.

At the April news conference, in a show of bonhomie, Cuomo sat at a table between Klein and Stewart-Cousins, where they announced the reunification deal and Klein’s new position as deputy conference leader. Cuomo sounded the alarm about “the Washington agenda” under a Republican-led Congress and President Donald Trump as he emphasized in lofty terms the need for Democrats to take the state Senate and the House of Representatives. “We’re all going to, within legal limits, pool our resources, pool our strategy because it’s a different type of election this year. It’s about getting Democrats energized and getting Democrats out. So I’m all in,” Cuomo said.

He later added, “All the Senators agree to support each other. So there will be no primaries supported by one senator against another senator and we agree that we’re all gonna work in a coordinated way.”

As part of the deal, the State Democratic Party, elected officials and several prominent labor unions vowed to support the former IDC Senators while refusing aid to their challengers. “Together under Governor Cuomo’s leadership, we’re on the right path, the necessary path to demonstrate to our nation what New Yorkers are made of and the values that we all stand for,” Klein said at the news conference.

But that camaraderie doesn’t seem to extend to the campaign trail. Asked if the governor planned on endorsing Klein or the other former IDC members, a Cuomo campaign spokesperson, Abbey Collins, did not answer directly but instead emphasized that the governor is more focused on protecting Democrat-held seats.

“For over a decade the Senate Democratic Conference has been dysfunctional and fractured,” Collins said in a statement. “The governor supports democratic unity and is focused on growing the Democratic majority in the senate by picking up seats on Long Island and across Upstate to fight Donald Trump and his destructive, ultra-conservative agenda. We stand alongside Andrea Stewart Cousins in supporting all members of the senate Democratic conference.”

A Klein spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

Stewart-Cousins has indeed formally announced her endorsement of Klein and the other former IDC members, in individual news releases to the press. She has not campaigned alongside Klein or any of the other senators: Sens. Tony Avella, Diane Savino, Marisol Alcantara, Jesse Hamilton, David Carlucci, and David Valesky.

They face challenges from, respectively, Alessandra Biaggi, John Liu, Jasmine Robinson, Robert Jackson, Zellnor Myrie, Julie Goldberg, and Rachel May.

As election season unfolds ahead of the September 13 primary vote, Cuomo, Klein, and many other candidates continue to announce endorsements of their candidacies by groups and leaders. The lists put forth by Cuomo and Klein, both heavy on labor unions and elected officials, continue to grow, but with the glaring absence of one another. Some elected officials, like Johnson, the Council speaker, have endorsed Cuomo and IDC challengers, including Biaggi, who is taking on Klein and used to work in the Cuomo administration, in the governor’s counsel’s office. Some, like Stewart-Cousins and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., are backing Cuomo and Klein.

Over the course of the last few months, Nixon has repeatedly criticized Cuomo for allowing the IDC to exist unchecked for years and more specifically for his direct support of Klein in this year’s election. Lauren Hitt, a spokesperson for Nixon, pointed to Nixon’s comments last month after a New York Times report noted that Klein was sending out campaign mailers that included a photo of him aside Cuomo.

“The Governor cannot be both a feminist and a supporter of Senator Klein,” Nixon said in a statement at the time, pointing to allegations that Klein forcibly kissed a former staffer outside a bar in Albany in April 2015. “Klein has not only been accused of sexual misconduct by his own staff, but he led the coalition that repeatedly blocked critical protections for New Yorkers’ reproductive rights. Several other New York Democrats have already appreciated what’s at stake for New Yorkers and endorsed against Senator Klein. The Governor can either stand with New York’s women or against us,” Nixon said.

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Cuomo Brought Rogue Democrats Back, But Hasn't Offered or Accepted Endorsements Tue, 07 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Cuomo and Legislative Leaders Silent Amid Intensifying Calls for Sexual Harassment Hearings http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7845:cuomo-and-legislative-leaders-silent-amid-intensifying-calls-for-sexual-harassment-hearings http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7845:cuomo-and-legislative-leaders-silent-amid-intensifying-calls-for-sexual-harassment-hearings Cuomo Women's Equality Act presser 2013

Gov. Cuomo in 2013 (photo: The Governor's Office)


As part of the #MeToo movement, a group of women who experienced sexual harassment or abuse while working in New York state government have for months been advocating for public hearings on the culture that enables that misconduct in government, especially the state capital, and in the private sector. Their calls have intensified -- and been echoed by prominent women running for state elected offices this year -- after Governor Andrew Cuomo and state legislative leaders passed new anti-harassment laws without any public hearings and without going far enough, according to the women.

Those calls have fallen on deaf ears from the men who control state government, however, with Cuomo touting the new laws as the “strongest in the nation” as he seeks a third term and leaders of the Assembly and Senate, including one accused of forcibly kissing an aide, largely remaining silent.

The Sexual Harassment Working Group, seven women who launched the #HarassmentFreeAlbany movement, have criticized the Democratic governor and bi-partisan Legislature for passing an inadequate package of anti-sexual harassment legislation in this year’s budget, agreed upon in late March. The policies were negotiated by Cuomo, Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, and Senator Jeff Klein, then-leader of the Independent Democratic Conference that has since rejoined the mainline Democrats.

The criticism that the “four men in a room” had for years epitomized the opacity of state budget negotiations was made all the more stark by the fact that they decided how to tackle sexual harassment without hearings, without significant consultation with female legislators -- including the lone woman to lead a legislative conference, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who had been promised a seat at the table -- and without those who had been subject to harassment or abuse, as well as the glaring inclusion of Klein, who was accused earlier this year of forcibly kissing a staffer in 2015 outside an Albany bar. Klein’s accuser, Erica Vladimer is among the members of The Sexual Harassment Working Group.   

In consultation with experts, the group has issued a set of recommendations for enacting stronger anti-harassment protections and have been joined in their cause by the likes of Fordham Law professor Zephyr Teachout, who is running for the Democratic nomination for attorney general, and actor and activist Cynthia Nixon, who is challenging Cuomo in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, along with rank-and-file state legislators and other advocates.

At a news conference in Manhattan on Wednesday, August 1, Vladimer, other members of the group, and Zenaida Mendez, former President of NOW New York, appeared with Nixon, urging Cuomo to take action.

“It’s time to stop putting politics over human rights,” Vladimer said, “and the first way we can do that is with public hearings...where workers from every industry -- government, retail, food service, hospitality -- can be heard by those we elect to legislatie on our behalf and those who are appointed to enforce those protections.”

Nixon, running to be the first woman elected governor of New York, issued scathing remarks against Cuomo. “New Yorkers deserve better than a governor who ignores victims and chooses instead to protect and sometimes even promote those accused of harassment and worse,” she said. The first-time candidate recently released a video ad that cut back-and-forth between footage of Cuomo and President Donald Trump using similar rhetoric that smacks of ‘toxic masculinity.’

In an editorial for the Albany Times Union on Friday, two members of the group, Leah Hebert and Rita Pasarell, who were subjected to harassment by former Assemblymember Vito Lopez when they worked in his office, criticized Cuomo for his “strongest in the nation” claim about New York’s new anti-sexual harassment laws.

“[E]ven after accounting for rhetorical hyperbole in an election year, the new measures fall far short of what's needed,” Hebert and Pasarell wrote. “They lack teeth for enforcement. They fail to address many obstacles that prevent victims from seeking redress in court. They do nothing to fix the pervasive abuse in Albany, highlighted by more than 100 current and former state employees in an open letter. These new measures were passed in the same way gender-based harassment and discrimination often happen: behind closed doors.” 

They noted how the New York City Council recently passed its own set of bills on sexual harassment after holding hearings to solicit testimony from those affected by it and from experts. The Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act included almost a dozen bills that were crafted after multiple hours-long hearings of the Council’s Committee on Women and the Committee on Civil and Human Rights. The bills, signed into law by the mayor, mandated, among other things, anti-sexual harassment trainings at city agencies and in private businesses, increased transparency from agencies on harassment complaints, stronger protections under the city’s human rights law, and added reporting requirements for city contractors.

Besides the open and very public process compared with how the new state policies were created, the city laws appear to be somewhat more expansive. The state policies require state contractors to provide anti-harassment training to all employees, prohibit mandatory arbitration for sexual harassment complaints, ban non-disclosure agreements unless a victim demands one, and extend harassment protections to non-traditional employees such as freelanders, contractors, and vendors. A broader model policy is still due from the state Division of Human Rights, which is meant to apply across the public and private sectors.

Cuomo, Heastie, and Flanagan, on the other hand, have shown no indication that they are listening. Spokespeople for all three officials did not respond to, or even acknowledge, requests for comment from Gotham Gazette about why there have been no public hearings, whether they are open to the idea, or if they had reviewed the recommendations put out by the Sexual Harassment Working Group. A Cuomo spokesperson told Gotham Gazette in late June that the administrations did “look forward to reviewing these recommendations,” but there’s no indication that has happened.

Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, the Republican nominee for governor, also backed the call for public hearings on Thursday. “I pledge to insist on such hearings in Albany next year, should I be honored to be elected governor in November,” he said. “Albany’s culture will change. The coverups we have seen under Andrew Cuomo’s tenure are inexcusable and wrong.”

Molinaro, Nixon, and other Cuomo opponents and critics have also been seizing on recent revelations reported by the Albany Times Union around how victims of sexual harassment have been treated within the broader executive branch.

In the attorney general race, Teachout has been vocal about using the office’s power, if she is elected, to investigate sexual harassment, even in the private sector if it happens under her jurisdiction. Teachout also joined the Sexual Harassment Working Group when they were in Albany last month pressing their demands.

“The idea that New York State — in the middle of a national #TimesUp movement, after the Harvey Weinstein scandal, after all these scandals — that New York has not fixed its own problem is a total shame and disaster and suggests that our old boys club isn’t only covering up corruption but also covering up sexual misconduct,” Teachout said at the news conference, Politico New York reported. She urged her three Democratic primary opponents to join the calls for hearings and improved laws.

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, also running for attorney general, has called for a “full-scale investigation” into harassment in state government. Leecia Eve, a former Cuomo and Hillary Clinton aide now running for attorney general, also supports holding hearings, according to a campaign spokesperson.

Delaney Kempner, a campaign spokesperson for Public Advocate Letitia James, who is the State Democratic Party’s preferred candidate for attorney general and has cross-endorsed with Cuomo, sent a statement to Gotham Gazette that touted work James has done co-sponsoring legislation on mandatory sexual harassment training and reporting, and advocating against forced arbitration clauses in employment contracts.

But the statement did not indicate whether James supports the call for hearings on sexual harassment in state government and beyond or believes that the new state laws passed are sufficient. “It is clear that our laws have not protected women in the workforce from harassment and abuse, both in Albany and across the state…,” Kempner said. “We must improve our laws and change our culture. As Attorney General, Tish will continue to stand up for the women of New York and investigate anyone who seeks to abuse or harass us. That is how we make lasting change.”

[Read: Pointing to Deficiencies, Victims Call for Changes to State’s New Sexual Harassment Policies]

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Cuomo and Legislative Leaders Silent Amid Intensifying Calls for Sexual Harassment Hearings Mon, 06 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000
State Commission Boots Charter Communications from New York, Raising Questions http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7847:cuomo-commission-boots-charter-communications-from-new-york-raising-questions http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7847:cuomo-commission-boots-charter-communications-from-new-york-raising-questions Cuomo Charter broadband

Gov. Cuomo at a broadband event (photo: The Governor's Office)


The revocation of Charter Communications’ ability to do business in New York State may be seen by many as a win for consumers and for striking workers, but several key questions remain unanswered, including what cable operator will replace it, and if the company will really be forced to relinquish its assets in the first place.

Charter is the largest cable operator in the state, with its umbrella including most of New York City (the Bronx and parts of Brooklyn are dominated by Cablevision) and large swaths of upstate New York. Cable companies are sometimes described as “cartels,” divvying up territory where each can be the only operator, enabling higher prices and poorer customer service. Some have accused cable companies of explicit collusion.

When Charter acquired Time Warner Cable, New York City’s previous main cable operator, in 2016, the state’s Public Service Commission (PSC) approved the merger on the condition that Charter provide statewide broadband at 100 megabits per second (mbps) by the end of 2018 and 300 mbps by the end of 2019, and to provide broadband access to 145,000 unserved or underserved households in rural parts of the state.

The state says that Charter failed to live up to its promises and attempted to deceive the public into thinking that it had fulfilled them, via advertising campaigns. As such, the state revoked its approval of the Charter-TWC merger on July 27 in a hastily called meeting without one of its most vocal members, and banned Charter from operating in the state.

The PSC ordered Charter to “file within 60 days a plan with the Commission to ensure an orderly transition to a successor provider(s).” Charter can appeal or sue to block the decision, but as of yet has not done so.

As it was for Charter, approval from the PSC of a franchise agreement for the replacement provider is potentially extremely lucrative. It is not clear which company will become the successor, though the list of potential suitors includes large donors to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s campaigns.

Cablevision, the regional behemoth that operates in the Bronx and upstate, has donated $617,500 to Cuomo’s gubernatorial campaigns since 2008, with $92,500 coming since July of 2017. The donations have come from various LLCs affiliated with local affiliates (e.g. Cablevision of New Jersey, Cablevision of Rockland/Ramapo, etc.) as well as from a corporate PAC, though all donations list the address of its headquarters in Bethpage on Long Island.

Cablevision is now a subsidiary of European telecom giant Altice, which is not listed as having ever donated to Cuomo under its name.

Comcast, which has a limited presence in New York State, has given Cuomo $164,700 since 2009, with $55,180 coming on November 27 of last year. With Charter being evicted from the state, Comcast, the largest cable provider in the United States despite being routinely criticized for poor customer service and anticompetitive business practices, may attempt to gain a foothold in the Empire State and the single largest media market in the country.

AT&T and Verizon, both of which compete with cable companies with fiber optic offerings, have donated $137,900 and $72,815.89, respectively, to Cuomo’s gubernatorial campaigns. AT&T donated $20,100 on May 28. Cuomo received $187,800 from Time Warner, whose parent company his administration banned from the state.

Asked whether the campaign contributions could influence the process to replace Charter, Cuomo spokesperson Tyrone Stevens called any such notion "baseless" and noted that the replacement process is controlled by PSC without interference from the governor.

“The Governor believes the PSC should not back down to a media giant that has failed to live up to its promises and violated its obligation to build out our broadband system," Stevens said. "The PSC stepped up and took aggressive action to enforce the law, and the Governor stands with New York consumers who deserve the broadband service Charter-Spectrum promised, but has failed to provide."

The PSC, which regulates public utilities in the state such as gas, electricity, water, and telecommunications, is made up of five commissioners, each appointed by the governor. The PSC fined Charter $2 million in June for failing to adequately expand its network.

Charter has 60 days to present to the PSC a six-month transition plan to another cable operator. Charter is entitled to make its preference known as to which company it wants to replace it, but any new operator must prove to the PSC that it intends to serve the public interest in order to be approved to conduct business, and the actual broadband contracts are with localities, not the state.

“The properties that are owned by Charter/Time Warner in New York State are very profitable, and they’re essentially a known entity,” said Richard Berkley, the executive director of the Public Utility Law Project, a non-profit representing low-income and rural consumers seeking better service and consumer protection by public utilities, in an interview with Gotham Gazette. “So I think you’d see a lot of private entities interested in that.”

Charter can seek a “temporary restraining order” from a court, which Berkley had expected the company to do, but as of Monday afternoon, August 6, Charter does not appear to have filed any motions for a restraining order, or filed an appeal or lawsuit.

“In the same way that the state had a role in deciding whether or not Charter could buy Time Warner, or for that matter Comcast could buy Time Warner, whoever is proposed by the company will have to go through that same process,” Berkley said of PSC approval.

A large and profitable network of infrastructure suddenly being up-for-grabs may lead to intense lobbying of the PSC for the franchise.

“I would assume to the extent that they’re interested in stepping into the shoes of Charter that they have probably started checking in with the department or the state,” Berkley said.

“It’s a very profitable enterprise, and there are any number of large telecom firms that would want to step forward and try to buy it. The thing which is gonna make it more difficult still is that they have to be responsible. They have to be able to run the operation.”

A spokesperson for Altice declined to comment. Spokespeople for AT&T and Verizon did not respond to requests for comment. A spokesperson for Comcast told Gotham Gazette, “at this time we aren’t commenting on this issue.”

A spokesperson for the PSC told Gotham Gazette, “The final decision as to who succeeds Charter is up to the PSC.” The spokesperson did not respond when asked whether telecom companies had been lobbying the PSC, or whether they were expected to. Cuomo told reporters Auburn on July 27 that the PSC is “talking to a number of companies.”

Cuomo has repeatedly publicly criticized Charter in the wake of its failure to live up to the terms of the merger deal. On July 31 in Queens, in response to a question about the Crystal Run straw donor scandal by NY1 reporter Zack Fink, Cuomo said that Charter/Spectrum had been “defrauding” the state. NY1’s future in a Spectrum-less New York is uncertain.

“You are defrauding the people of this state,” Cuomo told Fink. “That’s a fraud.”

A Cuomo spokesperson has insisted the governor was discussing Spectrum and has no ill-will toward Fink, a veteran reporter who has covered Cuomo for several years. Still, many noted Cuomo's response to legitimate questions about a campaign finance scandal that is being investigated by federal authorities.

In Auburn, where Cuomo was announcing a $10 million economic development initiative, the governor said that he asked the Attorney General to investigate advertisements making potentially false claims about Charter’s adherence to the conditions.

“They have breached their franchise agreement by being behind schedule in their build-out, even though their ads state the exact opposite, and they have not been forthright with the consumers in this state,” Cuomo said. “If you watch Spectrum-Charter, this issue has been going on for months. They haven’t even reported on it. Meanwhile, they’re running advertising that says the exact opposite. So, that’s why the PSC took that action today, and I support it.” Last Thursday, Charter halted its ad campaign touting its expanded broadband network, described by Cuomo and the PSC as misleading, a month after being ordered by the PSC to do so.

Berkley is skeptical that the donations to Cuomo’s campaigns by cable companies would significantly influence the PSC’s decision. “In the end, the Public Service Commission is an independent entity,” he said, despite the fact that Cuomo has a history of interfering in purportedly independent entities. “The governor doesn’t sit on the board. Yes, he gets to pick the people who come before the Senate to be vetted and confirmed. But, you know, the Senate has the ability to say ‘no’ to people.”

Berkley said that, rather than looking at large donations to Cuomo’s campaign coffers, the greater political influence lies in how much money companies have invested in state and local economic development initiatives. The cable infrastructure is privately owned and constructed, but built on public land, which is what makes it a public utility. Time Warner had, as a public utility, invested in local economic development initiatives such as the governor’s now-tarnished Buffalo Billion, announcing in 2013 that it would build a new call center in Buffalo. The larger Buffalo Billion program was at the center of a major public corruption trial earlier this year, which resulted in the conviction of a top Cuomo economic development official as well as Cuomo donors.

Berkley is not optimistic about the chances for municipal broadband to take hold in New York over private companies. Democratic State Senate candidate Ross Barkan has higher hopes: he thinks that the state should create a publicly owned internet company to compete with private cable companies and “break these monopolies once and for all.”

“Many New Yorkers are stuck with expensive, slow internet, and can't even shop among companies,” Barkan said in a direct message. “A public option for the internet would force private companies to provide better service, lower their prices, and would guarantee everyone in this city and state has a right to access the internet.”

Barkan, who is running in a competitive Brooklyn primary to try to unseat Republican Senator Marty Golden, said that if the proposal could be done through the legislative, rather than executive, process, he would be on the front lines for it.

“Either way, we need it. If it came down to introducing and passing a bill, I would do it,” he said.

In contrast to Cuomo and the PSC, who blame Charter, the Empire Center, a think tank, has laid blame for the situation on the cozy relationship between Cuomo and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 3, which represents Spectrum workers who have been striking for over a year. Just one day before the PSC announced Charter’s banishment, New York City launched its own probe into whether Spectrum was fulfilling the conditions of its franchise with the city, namely whether their “cable techs” were local union workers; the IBEW told the Daily News that Spectrum had begun utilizing out-of-state staffers. And on July 31, 23 New York City Council Members called for Charter to not be considered for any future contracts in New York City.

Ken Girardin, a policy analyst at the Empire Center, cited a speech by Cuomo at a rally for striking IBEW workers, where he questioned how Charter could “improve customer service without the workforce that knows how to provide customer service” in the wake of the merger and its attached conditions.

“Cuomo’s rhetoric makes it impossible to separate the PSC’s actions from the Charter-IBEW dispute,” Girardin said. He doubted that Charter would even be kicked out of the state at all, asserting instead that the PSC would revise the merger’s conditional deadlines if Charter acquiesced to the demands of the striking workers. Charter can seek a restraining order and settlement to block the state’s actions, but has not filed motions to do so at this time.

A spokesperson for IBEW did not respond to a request for comment from Gotham Gazette. The union and its affiliates have also donated generously to Cuomo’s campaign accounts.

In an interview, Girardin described the PSC as a “kangaroo commission,” an institution that is operating on Cuomo’s behalf unchecked by the state Legislature, and said that if the Charter decision stands it would allow the governor to extort favorable outcomes out of companies lest they be kicked out of the state, too.

“The governor makes no illusion about the control he exercises over the PSC,” Girardin said. “The PSC has done mental and legal backflips to implement policy on the governor’s behalf. And that ranges from inventing a way to subsidize nuclear power plants to creating a basis for expelling Charter out of the state. The PSC’s core mission is to ensure the reliability of utilities and to regulate the rates that they charge. Governors going back to Pataki have exploited the PSC’s statutory authority.”

Girardin is also more suspicious of the cable companies’ donations to Cuomo’s campaign.

“I can't speak to how contributions influence decision-making,” he told Gotham Gazette in an email, “but if the governor were to let the PSC operate as intended -- as an independent panel of experts focused on rates and reliability -- there would be less incentive for regulated utilities to contribute to his campaign.”

Cuomo has been a regular target of pay-to-play allegations given the state’s porous campaign finance laws, his acceptance of campaign contributions from entities with or seeking state business, and policy decisions that have favored donors. Cuomo’s office has consistently said that government decisions are based on the merits, not influenced by campaign donations of any size.

Nevertheless, Girardin said that, despite some seemingly political decisions such as the seizure of the Fitzpatrick Power Plant when the operator wished to close it, and bailouts for nuclear plants lacking in transparency, the banishment of Charter would be without precedent in the state.

“Nothing that the PSC has done in the past rises to this level,” Girardin said. Girardin said that the PSC, in normal circumstances, would simply levy a fine and lay out an enforcement plan against Charter, and that it should attempt to foster competition in the market instead of simply choosing a replacement for Charter’s franchise.

Republican gubernatorial nominee Marc Molinaro also claimed that the revocation of Charter’s franchise was politically motivated, in order to punish NY1, which is owned by Charter/Spectrum.

Molinaro called on the state’s Inspector General to look into the decision to revoke Charter’s franchise, to determine if the Cuomo administration had “orchestrated” the action for political purposes.

“I’ll come right out and say it: It looks to me like Andrew Cuomo is trying to send a chilling message to the news media—’don’t mess with me’—and I hope the Inspector General can prove me wrong,” Molinaro said.

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: this story has been updated to reflect additional comments from the governor's office.

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State Commission Boots Charter Communications from New York, Raising Questions Mon, 06 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Key to Victory, Black Voters Appear Solidly Behind Cuomo Over Nixon http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7843:key-to-victory-black-voters-appear-solidly-behind-cuomo-over-nixon http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7843:key-to-victory-black-voters-appear-solidly-behind-cuomo-over-nixon Cuomo Brooklyn church

Gov. Cuomo at God's Battalion Church in Brooklyn (both photos via Governor's Office)


On a recent morning at Sylvia's, the historic soul food restaurant in Harlem, caterer Lindsey Williams was weighing his upcoming vote in New York's gubernatorial primary election.

"I listened to Cynthia Nixon, and I liked what she was saying," said Williams, the 52 year-old grandson of Sylvia's founder Sylvia Woods.

Ultimately, however, Governor Andrew Cuomo had his vote, Williams said, citing his admiration for the governor's father, late Governor Mario Cuomo, and the younger Cuomo's years of experience.

"I commend [Nixon] for running," he said, "but I trust Cuomo."

That wariness towards the first-time candidate for elected office reflects a hurdle for the actor-turned-insurgent: winning over black voters, a bloc that has helped buoy New York Democrats from Mayor Bill de Blasio to Hillary Clinton and now, according to polls, strongly supports Cuomo, who is seeking a third term as governor.

In a July survey from Siena College, 75% of black likely Democratic primary voters polled said they would vote Cuomo over Nixon. Nineteen percent went with Nixon, and 6% were undecided. Of the total polled, 60% went with Cuomo to Nixon's 29%.

In a July Quinnipiac University poll, 61% of non-white voters approved of Cuomo, compared to 42% approval among white people.

Cuomo's favorability rating with black likely voters hit 79% in both June and July Siena polls. That number is more than double Nixon's -- and it bests Siena favorability ratings with the same demographic this year for de Blasio and U.S. Senators from New York Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer.

Cuomo's favorability rating with black voters in the polls is also higher than the 65% favorability rating with the same demographic for Public Advocate Letitia James, a Brooklyn native who would become the state's first black attorney general if she wins her race this year but is not nearly as well-known as Cuomo among voters across the state.

James and Cuomo have allied throughout their races and cross-endorsed, a partnership that may bolster the standing of both among black voters.

"We work with people who have worked with us," said Keith Wright, a Cuomo backer and former state legislator representing Harlem, the neighborhood that has long been a center of black power in New York. "Black people don't throw their votes away."

As for Nixon, Wright said: "I don't know the woman."

Longevity, Trust
In interviews, black Democratic party leaders, religious officials, and voters cited the Cuomo family's longevity in politics and the governor's reliability visiting their communities and pushing issues from gun-control to an outside monitor overseeing the New York City Housing Authority.

"People are familiar with him," said Brooklyn Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte, the first Haitian-American woman elected to the state Legislature. "It takes a lot of time to penetrate these communities and get name-recognition."

Ms. Bichotte endorsed Nixon's de facto running-mate -- Lieutenant Governor candidate Jumaane Williams -- but declined to endorse in the governor's race even as she is frequently critical of Cuomo.

"He's a charismatic man with a lot of experience," she said of the governor. "New Yorkers want to feel secure."

Wright expressed similar sentiments.

"He has been working on issues important to the black community for years, and his father before him," he said. "There's a track record, and a level of trust."

Nixon Camp Questions Polls
Nixon has sought to address issues of race head-on with a campaign video where she decries "an unjust system that criminalizes communities of color."

At the top of her campaign agenda is ending cash bail and legalizing marijuana, which she says would create a fairer criminal justice system. Her campaign has been centered on the notion that on criminal justice reform and many other issues, Cuomo has pushed through half-measures, if anything at all, to address racial, social, and economic inequality.

A spokeswoman said the Nixon campaign has knocked on doors in predominantly black and Latino communities, "and 70% of the people we talk to support Cynthia and Jumaane."

L. Joy Williams, a senior advisor to the Nixon campaign and president of the NAACP's Brooklyn chapter, said the polls are not capturing people Nixon is eying, who may be newly engaged in state politics and not regular voters.

"The community I am a part of in central Brooklyn is very dissatisfied in terms of affordability, access to services, the criminal-justice system," she said in an interview. "I know a number of people of color feel the same way. The question is whether they have been provided an alternate candidate to address these issues before."

But there isn't "some special thing you do for black voters," she added. "Sometimes campaigns make the mistake of thinking it's criminal justice and that's it. Going into communities, asking them questions, and then engaging people on the issues that matter to them is the key to success no matter the ethnicity."

Cuomo’s Inroads
Some two decades ago Cuomo's support among black voters was shakier. He ran a heated gubernatorial primary against then-Comptroller Carl McCall, who would have become the state's first black governor.

That race ended in Cuomo's defeat, while McCall went on to lose to incumbent Republican Governor George Pataki.

People familiar with the governor's thinking said Cuomo has been self-conscious about his standing among black voters ever since.

Cuomo with young woman"Since [the McCall race] there has been a realignment," said Reverend Alfred Cockfield II, the executive pastor at God's Battalion of Prayer in Brooklyn, a predominantly Caribbean African-American Church where Cuomo spoke in March. "Those hard feelings are washed away."

Mr. Cockfield and other black supporters of the governor's cited a range of policy issues, from large initiatives like removing most minors from adult criminal proceedings for nonviolent crimes and appointing the attorney general to investigate police-related deaths, to smaller-scale ones like efforts to get more state contracts for minority-owned businesses.

Geoffrey Davis, a Democratic district leader in Brooklyn whose brother, a City Council member, was shot to death in 2003, cited Cuomo's gun control work.

"If someone is campaigning of course they'll say what they're going to do," he said. "We want you to say what you have done."

"This is serious business," he added. "Now we're going from 'Sex & the City' to reform. It sounds good, but we know what Governor Cuomo is doing, and we're satisfied."

‘A Subtle Disrespect’
When it comes to issues where Nixon has hit Cuomo hardest -- managing the city's ailing subways, and rooting out corruption in a state government where criminal convictions are common -- Cuomo supporters expressed skepticism she could offer improvements.

"It's a subtle disrespect," said Rev. Cockfield II. "Like they don't think we're wise enough to know she has not come to these communities before."

A minor debacle over Nixon's campaign kickoff location also made some black clergy leaders uneasy, they said.

She began her campaign at Bethesda Healing Center, a church in Brownsville, Brooklyn, but a religious leader there said church leaders thought the meeting would be private and were caught off-guard by the widely-publicized campaign event.

Organizers of the campaign kickoff apologized to church leaders for the misunderstanding, people familiar with the matter said.

A few weeks later, Cuomo invited a number of church leaders from Brooklyn, including an official at Bethesda Healing Center, to his office to highlight efforts like his "Vital Brooklyn" initiative, a multi-faceted state spending program in Brooklyn.

One attendee came away feeling that the governor is "an astute politician," this person said.

Support for Nixon
For some black leaders, the support for Cuomo is frustrating.

"With a $168 billion state budget there should be zero poverty in our community, " said Assemblymember Charles Barron, a Brooklyn Democrat and former member of the Black Panther Party. "It sickens me and saddens me that black leaders will give these two politicians a pass," he said, referring to Cuomo and de Blasio.

He chalked up their support to ambitious politicians who can be "easily bought off by a chairmanship," and voters too easily wooed by policies he said don't help enough.

Education activist Zakiyah Ansari disputed criticisms that Nixon has only come lately to issues affecting people of color, pointing to her years of pushing for more state support for public education.

"Through the advocacy work she was doing with her children, she thought about what it looks like for black and brown communities, who were getting even less," Ansari said.

Ansari, who introduced Nixon at her campaign kickoff and vouched then for her work in communities of color, described legislators darting away when they saw activists at the state Capitol until Nixon walked with them and "elevated our voices."

When Ansari walked 150 miles from New York City to Albany to push for more school spending, on the other hand, Cuomo's office called it a publicity stunt.

"That was the response we got."

Undecided in Harlem
At a recent 56th anniversary breakfast for Sylvia's, a voter registration drive was on hand and patrons encouraged each other to go to the polls this year.

Voters there said they were leaning towards Cuomo in the September 13 primary, but several attendees weren't sure.

Mike Nelson, a 60 year-old respiratory therapist registering voters outside the restaurant, said Nixon "hasn't knocked on my door," but he hasn't yet settled on Cuomo. "My vote is not easy to come by," he said.

Another Sylvia's diner, 67 year-old James Wynn, said he is undecided. His union, 32BJ, endorsed Cuomo, he said, "but I'd give Cynthia a chance."

[Read: In Wide Open Lieutenant Governor Primary, Hochul Targets Votes in Williams’ Backyard]

***
Mike Vilensky is a freelance journalist and student at Brooklyn Law School.
@GothamGazette

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Key to Victory, Black Voters Appear Solidly Behind Cuomo Over Nixon Sun, 05 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000
What New York Voters Care About Ahead of State Elections http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7831:what-new-york-voters-care-about-ahead-of-state-elections http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7831:what-new-york-voters-care-about-ahead-of-state-elections govcuomo rochester

(photo via the Governor's office)


The latest statewide poll from Quinnipiac University shows New York voters’ preferences in the races for governor, attorney general, and others. But it also divulges the issues that New Yorkers say are most important to them in the run-up to the September primary and November general elections.

One question asked what issue voters prioritize most in their vote for governor, with a short list of issues provided to those being polled, as opposed to it being an open-ended question. With 23 percent of those polled, the economy was the number one choice of New York voters, followed by government corruption and health care at 19 percent each, taxes and education at 15 percent, abortion at 4 percent, “don’t know” at 3 percent, and “something else” at 2 percent. Issues like the environment, transportation, affordable housing, and criminal justice were not provided as options, though all are prominent in the public discourse and the gubernatorial campaign.

Among Democrats, health care stood as the most highly prioritized issue of the choices, at 26 percent, with education and the economy at 21 percent each. For Republicans, taxes and the economy co-led at 24 percent; for independent voters, the economy led at 26 percent and government corruption was at 22 percent. Younger respondents were more likely to prioritize the economy than older voters, who were more likely to prioritize health care or government corruption. The poll was taken as federal corruption convictions continued to roll in among former top state lawmakers and former top aides to Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Though transit was not provided as an option in this most recent poll, a February Quinnipiac poll found that just 29 percent of respondents approved of Cuomo’s handling of the MTA, which runs the subways and buses and is largely controlled by the governor, versus 49 percent who disapproved and 22 percent who were unsure. Cynthia Nixon, Cuomo’s Democratic primary opponent, has made the MTA a major focus of her campaign, accusing the governor of negligence and mismanagement.

The percentage of respondents to the July poll who believe government corruption is a very serious or somewhat serious problem is largely unchanged from February, despite the convictions of four high profile government officials, including two with close ties to Cuomo: Joe Percoco, Alain Kaloyeros, Sheldon Silver, and Dean Skelos. In February, 83 percent of respondents said government corruption was a very serious or somewhat serious problem in New York, while in July 85 percent said the same. Among people ages 18-34, there was a drop: 54 percent said government corruption was a very serious problem in February while only 36 percent said so in July. It’s unclear what could account for this.

In February, 47 percent of respondents told Quinnipiac that all current elected office holders in New York State need to be voted out if political corruption is to be addressed, versus 38 percent who said the current crop are capable of addressing the problem. Forty-nine percent called Governor Cuomo “part of the problem.”

The issues of this year’s race diverge somewhat from the issues that defined the 2014 election cycle. A major issue in 2014 that had largely been out of the discussion this year is fracking, with a July 2014 Siena poll showing sharply divided opinion on the process. Cuomo signed an executive order banning fracking in New York State in December 2014, after winning reelection. This year, environmental activists and some candidates are calling for the banning of all fracking-related infrastructure, often meaning piping that moves fracked gas into or through New York from elsewhere, while Republican nominee Marc Molinaro is saying he would undo Cuomo’s order and allow a pilot fracking program in the Southern Tier of New York.

Government corruption, on the other hand, is similarly in focus this year as it was in 2014. That year, Cuomo disbanded the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, after its investigators reportedly began to probe prominent Cuomo donors and practices by legislators, and a package of ethics reforms were included in the enacted state budget as part of a deal to shutter the commission prematurely. Some, including former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, accused Cuomo of having disbanded the commission after it began looking into him and his administration’s dealings.

According to an August 2014 NBC/WSJ/Marist poll, 62 percent of New York voters felt Cuomo should not have intervened in the commission, with 52 percent of respondents claiming that the governor’s office had acted unethically, though only 23 percent of respondents said that the Moreland Commission scandal was a “major factor” in their vote choice in November.

Nixon has promised to open a new Moreland Commission on Public Corruption if she’s elected governor, while Molinaro has outlined a slate of government ethics reforms. Molinaro has made corruption in state government, especially in the Cuomo orbit, a major focus of his campaign so far. Nixon -- whose election against Cuomo is September 13, while Molinaro awaits the winner for the general election, along with other, smaller-party candidates -- has unveiled several policy packages, including on education, criminal justice reform, and housing. Molinaro has pledged more policy agenda items in the coming weeks and months, including a major plan to overhaul the state’s property tax system.

For his part, Cuomo has staked his pitch for a third term on his accomplishments from terms one and two, as well as a wish-list consisting of progressive priorities that have not passed the state Legislature. Cuomo largely boasts of accomplishing marriage equality, a major gun control law, a paid family leave program, and a significant minimum wage hike, as well as some criminal justice reforms and massive state investments into infrastructure. He’s said other items will pass next term if he’s returned to the executive chamber and Democrats can swing the state Senate (they already control the Assembly by a wide margin), such as voting, campaign finance and bail reforms, among others.

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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What New York Voters Care About Ahead of State Elections Thu, 26 Jul 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Too Much Debt, Not Enough Savings: State Finances on Rocky Ground Comptroller Says http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7832:too-much-debt-not-enough-savings-state-finances-on-rocky-ground-comptroller-says http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7832:too-much-debt-not-enough-savings-state-finances-on-rocky-ground-comptroller-says Tom DiNapoli Comptroller Bronx

Comptroller DiNapoli (photo: @NYSComptroller)


For New York’s fiscal picture, “Trump’s policies are as great a concern as the economic cycle,” according to State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who spoke at length recently about the state’s finances and economy, which are precarious for a number of reasons.

During a 30-minute interview with Gotham Gazette Executive Editor Ben Max for a special on Manhattan Neighborhood Network that aired Sunday, DiNapoli discussed the state’s limited savings relative to its spending, its high indebtedness, and its weak preparedness for any future economic downturn, whether influenced by federal policy or a more expected cyclical recession.

If the economy sours and tax revenues decrease, New York state government has few methods of recourse beyond cutting spending, DiNapoli said, because of the limited amount that has been socked away. If and when another recession hits, “we don’t have the cushion of reserves to draw on,” since the state maintains savings well below the statutorily-set minimum, the comptroller said. DiNapoli said that, while New York could be setting aside up to $5 billion in reserves, it only maintains around $2 billion, and that the state last made a deposit in its reserve account in 2015. That’s compared to a state budget of about $168 billion for the current fiscal year.

DiNapoli pointed out that the state has decided to spend billions in settlements with financial institutions, as opposed to putting some or most of that money away in savings.

Recession or not, “New York State will suffer” if the Republican Party keeps its majorities in both chambers of Congress, DiNapoli added, with a nod toward the federal tax reform legislation passed by Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump in late 2017. Trump and Congressional Republicans could fully repeal the Affordable Care Act or further slash funding for social services, DiNapoli warned, both of which could hurt New York.

Otherwise, DiNapoli mostly shied away from political statements; while he is a Democrat, the state comptroller is an ostensibly nonpartisan position, though political ideology certainly has some effect on policy-making and oversight work. It is one of the four statewide elected positions, along with governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general, and it may be the least-known and least-understood. DiNapoli explained he essentially runs New York’s “Office of Accountability” — which audits state agencies, public authorities, and local governments, approves state contracts, comments on state fiscal practices, and manages the state’s pool of unclaimed funds, returning over $1.5 million a day to New Yorkers, among other tasks. The comptroller also manages the state’s massive public employee pension system.

“It’s the best job in government,” he said.

New York, DiNapoli said, is in better fiscal shape now than it was during the Great Recession, noting that the state has gained back the jobs and revenue lost during the financial crisis.

But economic recovery in the state has been fractured, with most gains heavily concentrated in New York City and its surrounding area. DiNapoli described New York’s post-recession recovery era as “a tale of two economies,” with regions like the Southern Tier, Adirondacks, Mohawk Valley, and Central New York far less economically successful than New York City has been.

Still, DiNapoli emphasized, New York is overall in strong economic shape, and he noted that, as opposed to recoveries from previous economic downturns, the state’s post-2008 bounceback was not led by Wall Street. Rather, a more diverse group of industries — technology, healthcare, and tourism, for instance — collectively resurrected the economy. To this day, the state’s financial industry is smaller than it was before the recession in terms of jobs.

“This strong recovery has been stronger and longer than past recoveries,” he said, though, he added, it will end at a certain point. When that time comes, New York may be in trouble.

Beyond maintaining a thin cushion of reserves, New York is one of the country’s most indebted states, DiNapoli said, and it’s only due to “gimmicks” that the state appears to be under its debt cap. So, when a crisis hits, the state may have no choice but to cut spending on social services. DiNapoli urged New Yorkers to be more conservative in their expectations of future revenue and spending, and he spoke of the political challenge of strengthening New York’s long-term financial security.

As the “least partisan of offices,” in DiNapoli’s framing, the Office of the Comptroller is not as beholden to the political logic of short-term decision-making as the governor’s office or state Legislature may be. Crafting the state’s budget, though, is ultimately a political project, meaning initiatives that would bolster New York’s economic future but provide little immediate political gain, like setting aside reserve funds, are often neglected.

DiNapoli expects the Democrats to take control of the state Senate after this fall’s elections, thus bringing unified Democratic rule to Albany in 2018, assuming the governorship and Assembly remain Democratic, which is likely, and for regional interests to dominate spending debates. When asked if New Yorkers should be worried about that possibility -- Republicans often argue that full Democratic control of state government would be fiscally disastrous -- DiNapoli said he does not distinguish between the spending habits of the two major parties — “Republicans are not shy about spending money,” he said — and therefore does not necessarily foresee an increase in spending under Democratic control. Many Democrats are calling for higher taxes on top earners, though, something that Republicans continue to sound the alarm about.

DiNapoli urged voters to “evaluate candidates not just on their party labels, but on who they are.” A lifelong Democrat who grew up in a Republican household on Long Island, DiNapoli said he joined the Democratic Party for its “open and free-flowing” spirit, which both strengthens and hinders it. Though the response to Trump has made the party stronger, brought more young people and women into its fold, and encouraged “open and honest competition,” DiNapoli said, the Democrats “need to not beat each other up and let others win.”

He pointed to the divide in the party exposed and deepened by the Bernie Sanders-Hillary Clinton presidential primary, a “wound reopened” by Clinton’s loss in the general election, as particularly concerning.

The Democrats “often lose elections by fighting each other,” DiNapoli said. Significant intraparty fighting is occurring for Democrats right now in New York, as both Governor Andrew Cuomo and Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul are being challenged in the primary, by Cynthia Nixon and City Council Member Jumaane Williams, respectively, among other contentious legislative races. There is also a wide open primary for attorney general, with four strong candidates campaigning. DiNapoli, who is not facing a primary challenge, told Max he is endorsing Cuomo and Hochul for reelection, but declined to endorse any of the Democratic attorney general candidates — Letitia James, Zephyr Teachout, Sean Patrick Maloney, and Leecia Eve.

The four candidates are “all good friends of mine,” he said. “So we’ll see how that goes.”

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Watch the full interview from Manhattan Neighborhood Network:

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by Daniel Yadin for Gotham Gazette

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Too Much Debt, Not Enough Savings: State Finances on Rocky Ground Comptroller Says Thu, 26 Jul 2018 04:00:00 +0000