Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/1072 Sun, 18 Nov 2018 14:38:09 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Is this the Election that Kills Fusion Voting in New York? http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7984-is-this-the-election-that-kills-fusion-voting-in-new-york http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7984-is-this-the-election-that-kills-fusion-voting-in-new-york govcuomo office pr

(photo via the Governor's office)


As New York lumbers out of its double primary season and rolls into a general election that’s being closely watched for its potential to give Democrats control of the state Senate and therefore the entire Legislature, another issue more central to the democratic process itself is being debated in pockets across the state.

Fusion voting, the practice of allowing one candidate to take multiple political party ballot lines in a single election and aggregate the votes received on each, is under the gun as both Democratic establishment figures and progressive activists are reaching the conclusion that the practice does more harm than good to New York’s democracy. Yet, this isn’t the first time in the Andrew Cuomo era fusion has faced a threat, much less the first time some in the state have looked to dismantle the practice, which continues to have its defenders.

New York put a dent in fusion voting in the mid-20th century with the Wilson-Pakula Law, passed largely in reaction to the victories of the suspected Communist-linked American Labor Party’s Representative Vito Marcantonio, who ran with multiple nominations including the Democratic and Republican lines on his way to victories in his East Harlem district. The law made it illegal for a candidate to run on the line of a party for which they weren’t registered, unless party leadership gave the candidate express permission through what is now commonly referred to as “a Wilson-Pakula.”

Smaller parties still exerted influence sometimes in New York though, as seen in John Lindsay’s successful re-election bid in 1969 on the Liberal Party line, undertaken after he lost the Republican primary. Decades later, Rudy Giuliani won his 1993 election thanks in part to the Liberal Party endorsement over incumbent Democratic Mayor David Dinkins. The party’s decision was largely seen as a power move by its leader, Ray Harding, and while it got Harding’s sons jobs in the new administration, the Giuliani endorsement also put into motion the eventual demise of the party, which lost its ballot line after endorsing Andrew Cuomo for governor in 2002 and failing to get 50,000 votes, and the rise of the Working Families Party, one of the most influential fusion parties in the state, along with the Conservative and Independence parties.

In the aftermath of the Liberal Party decision to endorse Giuliani, Dan Cantor, Bob Masters and Jon Kest convinced activism organization ACORN and several New York labor unions to join forces under the new Working Families Party umbrella and endorse Peter Vallone for governor in 1998. The endorsement, the beginning of the WFP’s blend of pragmatism and progressivism as American Prospect noted, worked as Vallone got just over the 50,000 votes on the WFP line the party needed to secure a statewide ballot line for at least the next four years. The party’s existence as a left flank with the Democrats allowed voters who wanted to express those left tendencies to have a voice in the Democratic firmament, and the WFP has managed to elect a City Council member, Letitia James, on their line and put their cross-endorsed stamp of approval on Mayor Bill de Blasio, Comptroller Scott Stringer, James -- now the Public Advocate and likely next Attorney General -- and members of the City Council Progressive Caucus. Candidates have regularly secured thousands more votes on the WFP line than there are registered members of the WFP eligible, meaning many Democrats choose to vote WFP to indicate their support for the party and its efforts to move Democrats left. By having a ballot line to offer, the WFP is able to influence Democratic candidates on its issues.

But the WFP’s victories on a citywide level haven’t been replicated on the statewide level, at least in terms of influencing progressive bête noire Andrew Cuomo. From the start of his successful gubernatorial runs, Cuomo has had a fraught relationship with the party, though he’s now on its ballot line for the third straight election.

Unlike the previous two elections in which he got the WFP line, Cuomo and the WFP’s mutual frustration with each other boiled over into the party nominating Cynthia Nixon in an effort to either shock the world and have their chosen leftist as the Democratic nominee or at least push Cuomo leftward, and Cuomo allegedly threatening progressive organizations that had been critical of him. The feud between the two sides cooled down enough after the very heated primary to allow the WFP to offer Cuomo its line in November, though -- in an indication of the messiness of fusion voting -- having to move Nixon off the line and into an Assembly election spot has led to other headaches.

The party had a well-publicized argument with Joe Crowley over his refusal to leave its ballot line after it endorsed him over Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, since under New York State law candidates can only be removed from a ballot line if they transfer to another race, move out of their district, or die, a trio of options Crowley found unappealing. And while the WFP notched a series of victories in efforts to depose six the of eight members of the state Senate Independent Democratic Conference, some of those members are lingering or outright running in the general election on ballot on lines like those of the Independence Party and Women’s Equality Party.

While only Tony Avella has announced his intention to mount a vigorous general election campaign, Democratic Party bosses were rumored to have dangled judgeships to Senators Jeff Klein and Jesse Hamilton in order to persuade them to step away from the ballots, blatantly undemocratic horse-trading that also would have rewarded a state Senator, Klein, who was accused earlier this year of forcibly kissing a staffer. Those moves have not been made, and neither Klein or Hamilton has officially declared their general election intentions.

Perhaps sensing an opportunity to assert their power, the Democratic establishment across New York is making noise about ending fusion.

“Call it CON-fusion voting” Democratic consultant Bob Liff wrote in the Daily News in the wake of the Crowley situation, calling the practice transactional as opposed to reformist as it exists in New York. The practice only exists as an avenue for patronage, wrote Joshua Spivak of the Hugh Carey Institute for Government Reform, and third parties could actually grow without fusion.

Norman Green, chair of the Chautauqua County Democratic Party, wrote that the practice encourages corruption on a local level and a tail wags the dog situation on a statewide level, and the Erie County Democratic Town Chairs Association called for an end to Wilson-Pakula because of what they said resulted in overstuffed ballots featuring the same candidates on a series of different ballot lines.

State Senator Diane Savino, one of the original founders of the Working Families Party and Independent Democratic Conference, who in an ironic twist saw the WFP’s organizing prowess help unseat six of her IDC allies, told the Daily News that a Democratic Senate majority should explore including ending fusion voting as part of electoral reform efforts because the practice pulls candidates too far left or right.

A spokesperson for Governor Cuomo, who cites election reform as a top 2019 priority, did not respond to a question on whether ending fusion voting would be on his agenda if he wins reelection this year.

So is fusion on the way out?

“It's nothing new,” Mike Long, the chair of the New York State Conservative Party, told Gotham Gazette. “The Conservative Party has been in business since 1962, I've heard those cries over the 50-some-odd years. I hear those cries every governor's race for sure, especially when independent parties nominate someone other than those who think they should be crowned.”

As it typically does, the Conservative Party has cross-endorsed the Republican nominee for governor, Marc Molinaro. Like the WFP on the left, the Conservative Party is seen on the right as an important seal of approval and a force that pulls away from the middle.

Recent history is on Long’s side. Governor Cuomo floated the idea of nixing Wilson-Pakula in 2013 in the wake of a bribery scandal involving Malcolm Smith attempting to buy his way onto the Republican ballot line for the New York City mayoral election.

The effort ran into resistance from the smaller parties and reform groups like Common Cause New York and the Brennan Center for Justice and never went anywhere. And Bill Lipton, the Working Families Party’s political director in New York, says current anti-fusion sentiment is misplaced, especially given there are other reforms the state can make.

“We think fusion is a good idea that allows a minority viewpoint to have a say, and that gives voters who don’t find their views fully represented by either major party a political home,” he told Gotham Gazette. “The real issue is the bizarre set of laws that govern how candidates can get off the ballot, and those do need to be fixed,” Lipton said, referring to the die, move, or change races stipulations that allow someone to come off a ballot.

But this year’s frustration with the practice among progressives and good government advocates doesn’t stop at ballot law shenanigans, and extends to critiques about third parties run like local fiefdoms and prominent but ideology-free parties using fusion to gain prominence.

“This isn't about pushing third parties and their values,” said Rachel Barnhart, a journalist turned politician who’s run for several offices in Rochester and is currently working on Stephanie Miner’s independent bid for governor, about fusion voting. “It's about keeping a place at the table, it's about power-brokering. The Working Families Party has given perfunctory interviews and then just given the nod to the person they already know. These parties that exist to just extract money from powerful parties, and it handicaps people trying to defeat the establishment.”

Barnhart had especially harsh words for the WFP-endorsed Joe Morelle, the Rochester Assembly member and current Democratic nominee to replace the late Louise Slaughter in Congress, and his relationship with the Conservative Party of Monroe County, suggesting there was some kind of agreement between the candidate and party to make sure he often ran unopposed in his Assembly races, a frequent circumstance in those races. Democrats have a big registration advantage in Morelle’s district, and he has run unopposed for years, while state campaign finance records show donations given to the Conservative Party of Monroe County by both Morelle and various local Democratic Party organizations.

“It might have been a personal donation or whatever, I know he was friendly with the party leader up there, but I can’t speak to why he gave money to the Conservative Party,” Long said when asked about the donations. Told that Morelle ran unopposed, Long said, “I guess two and two makes four, maybe that’s why he donated some money.”

Using local parties as a kind of personal fiefdom is enough of a concern for even some allies of groups that rely on fusion.

“The baseline position among [good government groups] is fusion voting is a bad thing,” said Gus Christensen of the organization No IDC, which helped lead campaign efforts against the former IDC members. “Forgetting whether it benefits Democrats or Republicans in whatever election, it empowers some deeply corrupt and non-representative individuals who run these parties and small groups.”

Even fusion advocates see the occasional weakness in the system. “You can look at the Conservative Party and get a platform from us and know where we stand on all the issues,” Long said, when asked about the issue of minor parties and ideology. “You can look at the Working Families Party, our philosophical opposite, and see where they stand. No one knows where the Reform Party stands or what issues are important to them. It's pretty hard when a party endorses far left and in the next breath they support very conservative candidates. Certainly the Independence Party doesn't have a whole host of issues or an agenda they're trying to promote.”

New York’s Independence Party has come under criticism for years due to what critics say is a membership driven more by confusion from voters who think they’re registering merely as “independent” -- the party boasts over 436,612 active registered voters, outpacing all the other parties in New York except Democrats and Republicans. It has also been run by fringe political figures who’ve gotten the ear of mainstream candidates banking on the almost half a million people registered with the party, prominence that inspired a weeklong Daily News investigation into the party.

And while Christensen dismissed the chances of any of the former IDC members mounting a successful challenge on a third party line, he said when it comes to statewide offices, the WFP’s clout was neutralized by the existence of these other third parties.

“The pull of the Independence and Reform parties for the more right-wing members of our party, they pull people like Andrew Cuomo to the right in a way that's much more significant to the lives of New Yorkers because he can't stop hearing the siren song of the Independence and Reform endorsements. So I think there's an emerging view that it's a net-negative for progressive politics in New York State. That as much as there's a benefit from the WFP getting to use fusion voting, it’s more than offset by the damage done by the Independence Party and the Reform Party.”

It’s a weakness in the coalition-building attempts that has some people demanding more wholesale change. The WFP’s endorsement of Cuomo crossed from pragmatism to cynicism for some, including Green Party gubernatorial nominee Howie Hawkins, who issued a statement calling the WFP’s attempt the pull the Democratic Party left a “futile effort” and invited socialist and progressive voters to fill in the circle for him instead.

Barnhart is also challenging third parties to stand on their own. “New York State has kept this because keeping fusion voting means you're keeping both [major] parties strong. They don't want to have to deal with a strong independent candidate. You never know what could happen with a third party, and that's why New York State makes it so difficult to establish a ballot line and that's why they do fusion voting. Because these third parties just wind up being cogs of a party machine.”

It’s not as simple as that, though, according to Lipton, who said the realities of America’s electoral system are what make fusion necessary. “Our first-past-the-post electoral system doesn’t exist in most countries,” he said. “It’s arguably undemocratic, because even a party that gets 49 percent of the vote sees no representation. Fusion is good for democracy because it gives minority viewpoints a fair shot to participate in the electoral process.”

And that current reality of an electoral system that lays out the choice between being an unheard minority or a spoiler means that fusion as practiced by the Working Families and Conservative parties can also come in for praise by good government activists.

"I think that the Working Families Party and the Conservative Party are the best example of how fusion can work and is beneficial,” Alex Carmada, the senior policy adviser for Reinvent Albany, told Gotham Gazette. “They're true in their beliefs, they've existed for a long time, and they don't play the role of spoilers."

The relatively new Reform Party in New York has indeed endorsed a strange mix of candidates, including Molinaro and Democratic Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, but it does have several clearly outlined principles, mostly focused on government reform, like term limits for elected officials. The party, which is not formally affiliated with the national Reform Party by the larger group’s choice, was only created in 2014 by then-Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino, who launched the Stop Common Core Party, earned 50,000 votes on the line, then changed its name to Reform after the election. It has just 1802 active voters registered as Reform across the entire state, but it has a ballot line.

Something somewhat similar took place with Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Party, which he created in 2014 as an election gimmick and to hurt the WFP, even as he appeared on both ballot lines, along with the Democratic and Independence party lines. Cuomo earned just over 50,000 on the WEP line and will again appear on it this year, though he does not appear to have mentioned it yet this year on the campaign trail (he has loaned it some money, however, from his campaign account).

Carmada said it’s all life under fusion.

"The Stop Common Core Party is the equivalent of the WEP, an of-the-moment election issue that becomes a party and then its usefulness diminishes by the next election. Especially for Stop Common Core, the original message was not sustainable, but the system we have in New York encourages the creation of these of-the-moment parties," Carmada said.

If the end of fusion is near though, Long at least was copacetic about the future of the Conservative Party.

“Just because the insiders do away with fusion voting, doesn't mean the minor parties go out of business,” he said. “We’ll run our own candidates for governor, United States Senate. We did that in the beginning and we can do it again. The Conservative Party has done that off and on quite often.”

***
by Dave Colon, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note - this article has been updated. 

]]>
Is this the Election that Kills Fusion Voting in New York? Thu, 11 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Cuomo and His Progressive Critics Face Moment of Truth http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7954-cuomo-and-his-progressive-critics-face-moment-of-truth http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7954-cuomo-and-his-progressive-critics-face-moment-of-truth cuomo smiling andrewcuomo

Gov. Cuomo (photo: @andrewcuomo)


Governor Andrew Cuomo, emboldened after a sizeable Democratic primary victory, and an invigorated progressive movement with recent wins of its own, are again forced to grapple with the rift between them, as the factions must decide what steps they are willing to take to unite in the aftermath of a contentious primary season.

Facing a handful of general election opponents led by Republican Marc Molinaro, Cuomo has given mixed signals to the 500,000-plus voters who chose Cynthia Nixon on September 13, many of whom likely helped lift a group of left-wing challengers over seven sitting state senators. Some of those challengers -- Molinaro, Green Party nominee Howie Hawkins, independent Stephanie Miner, and Libertarian Larry Sharpe -- have begun making direct appeals to Nixon voters, while Cuomo has not.

Before the end of next week, one of the governor’s chief progressive critics, the Working Families Party, is expected to have determined what to do with its ballot line after Cuomo defeated its first choice in round one. The WFP nominated Nixon for governor and Jumaane Williams for lieutenant governor, but saw them both lose in the Democratic primary, throwing into question whether the two will actually appear as WFP candidates on the November ballot. Party members will in the coming days decide via internal meetings who they are willing to support in November.

The party may offer its ballot line to Cuomo, who has downplayed the magnitude of his left-wing critics after he won two-thirds of the primary vote and openly warred with the WFP for years, including since just after it agreed to nominate him in 2014.

As NY1’s Zack Fink reported Monday, WFP leaders will meet privately on Wednesday to discuss the party’s next steps, and will the following Wednesday convene in a public meeting as a full WFP state committee, apparently to vote on a general election slate for governor and lieutenant governor, as well as an attorney general candidate. (The party had previously installed a placeholder, while expressing support for both Zephyr Teachout and primary winner Letitia James).

The impending decision will come after the WFP backed Nixon, who took up the cause of the state’s disgruntled progressives frustrated with Cuomo’s centrist triangulation on a host of issues, enabled in part by his support of a Republican state Senate bolstered by breakaway Democrats. With just six weeks until Election Day, November 6, the WFP is faced with the decision of backing a governor with whom it has had a deeply antagonistic relationship — and who has thus far declined to extend an olive branch to the WFP and more broadly those to the left of Cuomo — or a candidate who has little-to-no chance of becoming governor, possibly putting a dent in Cuomo’s vote total.

The WFP, notably, needs at least 50,000 votes on its ballot line for its gubernatorial candidate in order to keep that automatic line in elections for the next four years. If no alternative move is made, Nixon and Williams would remain on the line. (Governor and lieutenant governor are voted on separately in party primaries but as a ticket in the general). A back-up plan for removing Nixon from the gubernatorial ballot line — a somewhat tricky process — has been in place for months, with the WFP and Nixon acknowledging that her chances in the primary were slim and pledging not to play “spoiler” in the general election by peeling away votes from Cuomo.

The party will answer the looming question of whether to leave Nixon on its line, pick Cuomo, which would necessitate a deal with the notoriously score-keeping governor, or possibly someone else, based on what members believe is best for the causes it champons, the party’s political director, Bill Lipton, told Gotham Gazette on Monday.

“The WFP is having its own internal deliberations,” Lipton said by phone. “We’ll be having meetings, phone calls and other communications, where people are going to air their views, and, as has been oft-stated, the candidates, the leadership, the grassroots members of the WFP will be arriving at a decision together.”

Lipton declined to say if any discussions with Cuomo’s camp had occurred in recent weeks.

“We’re focused on our internal deliberations and doing what’s best for working families in New York State,” he said.

Additionally, Lipton said the WFP has, as expected, been communicating with Nixon and Williams, the Brooklyn City Council member who ran against incumbent Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul in the primary. “We’re going to talk a lot with Cynthia and Jumaane,” Lipton said. “We consider them part of our community.”

Nixon has made no public comments since her primary night concessive speech, which was celebratory and forward-looking. A top Nixon campaign operative was noncommittal when asked about the matter last week.

“I don’t want to divulge much,” Nixon campaign chief strategist Rebecca Katz said on the Max and Murphy podcast. “There will be some answers, and they will be coming soon.” Katz went on to acknowledge that Nixon had previously said she’d prefer Cuomo to Molinaro, and reiterated that Nixon has always been and will remain a Democrat.

Though Nixon came up well short of defeating Cuomo, all but two of the eight challengers to former members of the Independent Democratic Conference — a group of breakaway Democrats allied with Republicans in the State Senate — pulled off victories that shook up the New York political world. Additionally, left-wing insurgent Julia Salazar knocked off veteran state Senator Martin Dilan. All nine Senate challengers were backed by the WFP. But Cuomo said in his defiant post-primary press conference that their success did not serve as a rejection of his brand of progressivism.

Though Cuomo had given his tacit support and generic endorsement to his fellow Democratic incumbents as part of the April unity deal that brought the IDC back to the mainline Democratic fold, the governor downplayed the results and anything they might say about the extent to which his leadership was rebuked by voters.

Democrats clearly approved of his get-things-done, somewhat-tempered progressivism, the governor explained the day after the primary, pointing to his margin of victory — 65.6 percent to Nixon’s 34.4 percent — even with a major boom in turnout from four years ago, when he prevailed by a similar percentage over Zephyr Teachout. While the former IDC members struggled immensely, the two Cuomo-endorsed statewide candidates — Hochul and James — won their hotly-contested primaries.

What many deemed a progressive wave was “not even a ripple,” the two-term governor said the day after the primary, throwing cold water on the narrative that the primary was part of a surge in popularity of a Democratic vision in stark contrast to his.

“Where was that effect yesterday?” Cuomo said of a supposed progressive wave in the state, represented by the candidacies of Nixon and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. “Where was it?”

“It was upstate. It was downstate, white, black, brown — it was across the board,” he said of the coalition that contributed to his decisive win.

He added the victory proved that he and New York Democrats “provided and achieved progress,” which was the “message” voters delivered in the election.

But what about those 500,000 Nixon voters and the disenchanted left they represent? Will they rally behind Cuomo, beaming with confidence and dismissiveness, as the Democratic nominee? Will WFP members swallow the indignity of offering him their ballot line?

At least two of the leaders of the successful primary purity push backed by the WFP are staying out of the fray.

André Richardson, a spokesperson for successful IDC challenger Zellnor Myrie, said in a statement that Myrie “respects” the WFP’s “internal process.”

“He looks forward to continuing to fight side by side with them on progressive issues,” Richardson said.

David Neustadt, a spokesperson for Alessandra Biaggi, who defeated former IDC leader Jeff Klein, said in a statement that Biaggi is “supporting the Democratic Party nominees for Governor, Lt. Governor and Attorney General.” He declined to say whether Biaggi has a preference on the WFP’s choice, but said the candidate “respects the internal democratic process of the WFP, which appropriately allows the members of the Party to determine whom that party endorses."

Rachel May, who prevailed over former IDC member David Valesky in her primary and like Myrie and Biaggi received Nixon’s support, said she believed Cuomo is the definitive leader of the Democratic Party, and is open to the WFP handing the ballot line to Cuomo.

“I’m not categorically opposed to it,” she explained. “I was running for Democratic unity all along. That’s what our whole campaign against the IDC was about. And so I feel like Democratic voters have spoken about who should be the standard-bearer moving forward.”

“I supported her in the primary but I think I would encourage her not to campaign actively against the governor in the general,” May said of Nixon.

May stopped short of saying it is her preference that the WFP give Cuomo its nomination. “I’m willing to only say ‘I will not object,’” she said.

May, who said the governor’s team was among the first to congratulate her after the primary, went on to speak to the need of uniting the warring factions of the party — something Cuomo and his team have been loathe to do following the primary. Cuomo, for example, made no mention of Nixon or her supporters during an event billed as a unity rally held the week after the election.

“I want to work together with whoever is elected governor. It’s looking more and more like Governor Cuomo,” said May, who may be facing a tough general election that could include Valesky on the Independence and Women’s Equality ballot lines, both of which Cuomo also has. “I think the less we divide the more progressive voters the better, at this point.”

Asked if Cuomo’s post-primary press conference — where he did more spiking the football than calling for party unity — worked toward that goal, May said Cuomo and his allies are “eager to work with Democrats moving forward.”

“I feel like we we’re going to all get on the same page,” she continued. “We still need reform in Albany. It’s not going to be a rubber stamp Senate for [Cuomo]. So I understand that, but I also understand that he wants to work with us.”

]]>
Cuomo and His Progressive Critics Face Moment of Truth Mon, 24 Sep 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Working Families Party Puts It All On The Line http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7840-working-families-party-puts-it-all-on-the-line http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7840-working-families-party-puts-it-all-on-the-line Cynthia Nixon, Jummane Williams, and Alessandra Biaggi

Cynthia Nixon (left), Alessandra Biaggi (top right), Bill Lipton & Jumaane Williams (bottom)


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.

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.

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.

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.

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).

The reaction to the WFP’s moves has been significant, and potentially crippling. Several unions that had filled the party’s coffers for years pulled their support 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.

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.

“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.

“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.”

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.

“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).

“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.

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.

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.  

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.

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.

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.”

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.”

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.”

Is it worth the risk? “Absolutely. 100 percent,” she said.

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.

[Read: The Cynthia Nixon-Working Families Party Back-up Plan]

“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.”

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).

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.”

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.  

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.

[Read: Running for State Senate, Julia Salazar Attempts Progressive Primary Upset]

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.

“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.”

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.

“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.”

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.

“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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

[Read: New York Democrats’ Season of Choosing]

***
by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
Working Families Party Puts It All On The Line Thu, 02 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Is Cynthia Nixon Qualified to be Governor? http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7631-is-cynthia-nixon-qualified-to-be-governor http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7631-is-cynthia-nixon-qualified-to-be-governor twitter cynthia nixon1

Cynthia Nixon (photo: @CynthiaNixon)


In 2016, leading up to the presidential election, Democrats criticized Republican candidate Donald Trump’s lack of political and governmental experience while heralding Hillary Clinton’s long career in politics. This year, New York Democrats face a somewhat similar situation within the party given the primary challenge from actor and activist Cynthia Nixon to incumbent Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Since Nixon announced her candidacy in March, questions of qualifications and experience have been raised repeatedly. Is an actor, even a highly-regarded and award-winning one, with a history of political activism qualified to run the third-most populous state in the country with an annual operating budget of nearly $170 billion?

Nixon has never held any elected office or worked in government, though she has been an outspoken advocate on several issues, most frequently public education funding, and an unpaid spokesperson for the Alliance for Quality Education. Meanwhile, Cuomo has been involved in politics most of his adult life and worked in government on and off since joining the Clinton administration in 1993. His father was, of course, governor of New York, from 1983 through 1994, and Andrew Cuomo got his start in politics working to help get Mario Cuomo elected.

Many have quickly asked if New Yorkers, especially Democrats who largely despise Trump, have any appetite for a celebrity candidate for governor. Nixon and her surrogates have said that character and values matter more than government experience, that Cuomo only got into government because of his famous father, and that all of Cuomo’s experience hasn’t resulted in good policy for New Yorkers. Albany needs an outsider, they argue, and virtually all high-level elected Democrats have too much to risk by going after the powerful incumbent governor.

Cuomo and his camp point to his long political resume and record of achievements.

Ultimately it will be up to voters to decide whether Nixon is qualified to be governor, and whether they think she could do a better job than Cuomo.

“The Democratic reaction – revulsion if you will – to Donald Trump, one of the elements, not the only element, is this notion that Trump was entirely unprepared to be president, with no governing experience and that’s showing,” said Democratic political consultant Bruce Gyory. “It’s a consistent jab at the eye of Republicans. ‘How could you put forward somebody with no experience?’ Now the question will be, how will Democratic voters react to Nixon on that scale?”

Nixon’s campaign is courting more liberal Democrats who are dissatisfied with Cuomo’s sometimes more centrist policies. She was recently endorsed by the Working Families Party, an influential group of left-wing activists that came close to backing Zephyr Teachout’s primary challenge against Cuomo in 2014 before New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio stepped in and the group ultimately endorsed Cuomo. The WFP will now aim to help Nixon court the more progressive wing of the party, led by advocacy groups but not labor unions, which have largely sided with the incumbent.

Nixon backers, including those in the WFP, are among those being asked the qualifications question.

“Experience can be good,” tweeted WFP Director Bill Lipton. “But character and values: priceless."

As she has done a round of initial interviews, Nixon has been asked several variations of the question about her qualifications and whether, given Trump, anyone should be seeking another “political amateur” or “celebrity candidate.”

“I think first and foremost Donald Trump was real estate developer, and he inherited his money and his company from his father. That could not be more different from me,” Nixon said during a recent appearance on CBS’ The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. “I grew up here, in a single bedroom, five-floor walk-up, with a single mom. I went to public school. I started acting when I was twelve, in order to pay for my college, because my family couldn’t afford to.”

“I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with celebrity in politics,” Nixon continued. “It gives you a platform, but it’s what you choose to do with that platform. Do you choose do give yourself and other one-percenters a massive tax break that they don’t need, or do you choose to advocate for important things that need your voice, like LGBTQ equality, or women’s rights, including women’s right to choose, or better public schools, which I have been advocating for, and fighting for, for the better part of 20 years. I think that’s exactly the kind of progressive resume that a progressive leader of New York should have right now.”

Nixon has previously said that Cuomo was able to become governor because his father had been governor and he had a famous name, a charge the incumbent and his allies pushed back on, pointing to Andrew Cuomo’s experience in the administration of President Bill Clinton and tenure as New York attorney general.

Over the past 80 years, every governor of New York has had some political or government background. Most served in government on the federal level, in the state Legislature, or as state attorney general.

Not only is the governor responsible for outlining and negotiating a state budget every year, but, as the chief executive of the state signs or vetoes bills passed by the Legislature, runs the executive branch of the government that implements laws that pass and oversees local governments, makes appointments to a variety of courts, authorities, and boards, issues pardons, and calls special elections, among other powers.

The governor is also the face and voice of the state in many respects, both formal and informal. By state law, the governor must simply be at least 30 years old, a United States citizen, and a New York resident for at least five years. The governor is elected to a four-year term, and there are no term limits.

Teachout -- a law professor also running without government experience -- was seen by many as a protest candidate with no real chance of winning the 2014 Democratic primary against Cuomo, but ultimately forced him to support more liberal policies and won 34 percent of the vote with limited resources and name recognition. It appears Nixon will have neither of those problems, and she is already polling close to where Teachout finished.

“Obviously Andrew Cuomo starts in a very strong place. He’s been elected statewide three times, he’s got $30 million in the bank, and Democrats like him,” said Steve Greenberg, founder of Greenberg Public Relations. “Nixon has certain challenges. The real tough part for Nixon…is that she has to convince voters who are inclined to like Andrew Cuomo, who do like Andrew Cuomo – she’s got to give them a reason to not like and support Cuomo and come to her side.”

A Siena College poll released April 17 showed Cuomo is favored by 62 percent of Democrats, while 33 percent supported Nixon. Though Nixon may not be a household name like actors-turned-political-candidates Trump or Arnold Schwarzenegger, her celebrity status gives her name recognition, fundraising potential, and widespread media buzz Teachout lacked. But can she translate intrigue into confidence and convince enough voters to believe she is the right person to be the next governor?

“Donald Trump struck a chord with certain voters because of the issues he talked about, whether it was building a wall and getting Mexico to pay for it or ‘Lock her up’ or getting us out of TPP, at least for a year. Donald Trump may have been a celebrity, but he talked about issues that appealed to voters,” Greenberg said. “(Nixon’s) been talking about a variety of issues and the question is, are the issues she’s talking about going to break through and motivate people to vote for her and how many people vote for her.”

Former U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, who retired in 2017, was for a time a possible Republican gubernatorial candidate for this year, and now chairs the campaign of Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro, the likely GOP nominee. While Gibson had decades of military experience, before running for Congress he had no background in electoral politics before he was elected in 2011.

“I was a soldier for 29 years, so when I was elected to the Congress, I had no political experience,” Gibson said. “So, I think as long as one is committed to listening and learning and committed to service, I think with aptitude you can really make tremendous strides, so I don’t think it’s the case that if you’ve had no experience, you can’t be effective.”

Gibson stressed that a potential candidate with no government experience does face more challenges than those that have some, but with a humble temperament and being a good listener, a candidate can overcome those challenges.

“I think for any leader the most important attribute is being a good listener. If you’re going to be an executive, it’s vitally important to understand the people you’re going to lead and where they’re coming from,” he said. “I think you have to have a real temperament of humility to understand how much you need to learn. I think that’s an important feature here.”

Gibson said he did not know much about Nixon personally, but sees her participation in the gubernatorial election as a positive thing.

“The hallmark of democracy is vibrant debate and I think her being in the race will be a plus for the state, because she’s really going start this debate on what kind of leadership we want going forward and towards that end, I think it will hold Cuomo accountable,” he said.

Nixon has argued that she would govern very differently from Cuomo, whom she and other critics of the governor see as someone more focused on his own power than on being collaborative -- a charge also being made by Republicans like Molinaro. Both Nixon and Molinaro have already sought to portray themselves as in better touch with average New Yorkers than Cuomo.

Some Republicans have pointed to Molinaro’s resume as including a strong blend of legislative and executive experience, with limited time spent in Albany, where he was a member of the state Assembly for a handful of years, that gives him credibility as an outsider who will shake things up in the capital. Nixon has advocacy and organizing experience, but has made her career as an actor, with no formal executive experience, something that other political outsiders running for office, like Trump and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, could offer from their business empires.

Along with her advocacy work, Nixon talks up her experiences as a public school parent, regular subway rider, and nearly life-long union member, given the early age at which she began her professional acting career. On her campaign website, Nixon also boasts of her efforts to travel the state and the country pushing elected officials on a variety of issues, and raising money for her favored causes: education equity, LGBTQ rights, and women’s reprodutive freedoms.

She has appeared to acknowledge early in the campaign that she has a lot to learn about issues facing New Yorkers and communities across the vast state, and stressed the importance of listening to people. It is unclear how familiar she is with the details of state government and the nuances of the job she is seeking.

Above all, it seems, Nixon and her supporters are offering her as a candidate with the right values, character, and approach to decision-making.

Generally, Republicans, including those in the Molinaro campaign, have celebrated Nixon’s entrance into the race, believing that it will help their candidate prevail in the general election, either over a battered Cuomo or over Nixon after a shocking primary victory.

“Governor Cuomo’s record of progressive accomplishment is unmatched – from delivering a $15 minimum wage, marriage equality, the strongest gun safety laws in the nation, free college tuition, paid family leave, a record $27 billion in funding for education and sweeping measures to protect new York’s environment,” said campaign spokesperson Abbey Fashouer, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “We’ll put that record up against anyone, anytime.”

Along with some of those policy accomplishments, Cuomo is running on his work as an executive, including what he and supporters have described as getting New York state government functioning again, perhaps best exemplified by Cuomo’s record of overseeing passage of eight straight on-time or nearly on-time budgets -- a break from Albany tradition when the spending plans were at times passed months late.

On the other hand, Cuomo promised to clean up state government and has not been successful in doing so, with a continued parade of ethical and legal violations from those in and around state government, including Cuomo’s former top aide, Joseph Percoco, who was recently convicted of multiple federal corruption charges.

Nixon is not only running on criticism of Cuomo for not instituting sweeping government ethics and campaign finance reforms, but a variety of liberal positions, including the legalization of recreational marijuana and a promise to strengthen rent regulations, increase education funding to poorer school districts, and more.

All political observers Gotham Gazette spoke with stressed that at the end of the day, voters determine their own criteria and Democratic primary voters will decide whether Nixon is qualified to be governor.

“It really is not up to the pundits. It really is not up to the media. It is up to the voters to determine whether a candidate is qualified for the office he or she is running for,” said Greenberg. “Talking heads can say all they want…but voters get to decide.”

***
Ashley Hupfl is a freelance journalist. On Twitter @AshleyHupfl.
@GothamGazette

Ben Max contributed to this article.

]]>
Is Cynthia Nixon Qualified to be Governor? Mon, 23 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Heastie Takes to Twitter to Respond to Cuomo on Tax Plan http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6158-heastie-takes-to-twitter-to-respond-to-cuomo-on-tax-plan http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6158-heastie-takes-to-twitter-to-respond-to-cuomo-on-tax-plan cuomo heastie standing photo

Cuomo and Heastie (photo: The Governor's Office)


Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie's Twitter account lit up Tuesday with a stream of "fun facts" about income inequality and his proposed millionaire's tax just a day after Gov. Andrew Cuomo dismissed the plan.

"I don't believe there's any reason or appetite to take up taxes this year," Cuomo told reporters on Monday, responding to questions about the taxation agenda put forth by the Democratic Assembly majority on Feb. 2, which calls for increasing taxes on the state's highest earners.

Heastie's tweet storm appeared to be a rebuke to Cuomo, though it did not mention the governor by name.

A few hours after Heastie's tweets stopped, the Working Families Party issued its own retort. "We need our tax system to put working families first, not hedge funds and wealthy campaign donors. That's what both Democratic presidential candidates have been calling for, and it's what New Yorkers expect from our elected officials in Albany too," said WFP New York State Director Bill Lipton in a statement.

Heastie surprised some when he proposed expanding and extending the state's millionaire's tax that isn't set to expire until 2017. Assembly Democrats' plan would create a number of higher tax brackets with those who earn from $1 million to $5 million a year paying the state's current highest rate of 8.82 percent. Those earning from $5 to $10 million annually would pay 9.32 percent and those making over $10 million would pay 9.82 percent.

The increase for millionaires would be paired with a middle-class tax cut. And according to Heastie the income generated by new tax brackets would add funding to education, infrastructure repair, and "other priorities."

Many see Heastie's plan as a way to strengthen his position as leader, cater to major interest groups that back his conference, and give him a popular proposal to use during budget negotiations.

Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan has said that higher taxes would drive millionaires out of the state. "We don't support raising taxes," replied Scott Reif, spokesperson for the Senate Republican Conference when asked for a comment on Heastie's tweets.

A spokesperon for Gov. Cuomo, Rich Azzopardi, said by email that "What the public is hungry for, post Shelly Silver, is ethics reform -- specifically the pension forfeiture bill that was agreed to last year and promptly reneged on by the assembly. We hope they will join us this year and pass this and the other important reforms the Governor outlined."

Heastie's office did not reply to inquiries about whether Heastie was the author of the tweets. As the day progressed, Heastie's spokesperon, Mike Whyland, also took to Twitter on the subject, and more directly criticized the governor.

The speaker's earlier messages had a distinctly populist tone:

E.J. McMahon, director of the fiscally conservative Empire Center, quickly responded to Heastie on Twitter, questioning the data Heastie cited and combatting the notion he said Heastie was propagating that millionaires don't pay anything.

"The whole premise that they are not paying their fair share is nonsense," McMahon told Gotham Gazette of millionaires and taxes. "There is no standard in existence under which they don't pay a major share of their income. Eighty percent of filers in New York pay 15 percent of the taxes collected."

"The premise of these tweets is unsupported by facts," McMahon continued. "They aren't tweeting 'Hey, we need money and here is the best way to get it.' The whole point of these tweets seems to be to make someone who doesn't know better think millionaires aren't paying anything and that just isn't true."

McMahon said that he felt Heastie's tax proposal was motivated by the education lobby that wants to see an increase in education spending. Cuomo's budget factors in a 4 percent increase in education spending but advocates and unions have demanded no less than eight percent.

"You can see the people who support this and are retweeting Heastie are the people tied to the education lobby who think taxes can never be high enough," said McMahon.

Michael Kink, director of Strong Economy for All, a labor-backed progressive group falling into the category mentioned by McMahon, praised Heastie's proposal and said that it is about funding schools as well as having enough funding for other major proposals and needs.

Kink and his allies appear ready to hammer Gov. Cuomo on recent infrastructure problems such as a water main break in Troy that shut off water to at least two towns and the environmental disaster in Hoosick where it was found that toxic chemicals had poisoned the public water supply. Cuomo has recently tried to downplay the Hoosick issue.

"Assembly members have sat in day-long hearings about the budget and heard parents and students testify they need school funding, heard businesses say they support the $15 minimum wage but need some help so it doesn't overburden them; they know about the water line explosion in Troy and not too far away they've seen families drinking poisoned water coming out of a source that should have been overseen by an agency that is suffering under the governor's austerity budget," Kink told Gotham Gazette. "If the state wants to meet these significant needs it is entirely responsible to have a strong funding mechanism."

Kink said that the tenor of the presidential race shows that the electorate is in a populist mood. "I think these will be an interesting set of budget negotiations because the Assembly is more in tune with the populist mood than Flanagan or the austerity version of Governor Cuomo," Kink said.

The idea that there are 'two versions' of Cuomo have supporters of the tax plan ready to campaign hard for it as they've seen Cuomo flip on proposals after gauging voter sentiment. It was only last year that Cuomo said a $13 minimum wage was a non-starter and there was "no appetite" for paid family leave. Now the Governor has made a $15 minimum wage and paid family leave top priorities, expressing strong personal connections to both issues.

McMahon notes that Cuomo actually changed his position on the millionaire's tax in 2011. "He pivoted in 2011 on this issue. So nothing he says is frankly dispositive that this tax will be part of the budget," said McMahon. "The fact [the governor] does things like this encourages them to keep pushing."

Karen Scharff of Citizen Action NY, a grassroots progressive group that supports Heastie's plan, said she certainly won't be writing off the plan until the budget is actually decided on, since negotiations tend to lead to surprising results, no matter what any stakeholder has said. "This is the right time for this plan because one, the wealthiest New Yorkers are wealthier than ever, and, at the same time, the state has desperate needs that have to be funded. Every year things in the budget are up in the air until negotiations are over. And they aren't over."

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note: this story has been updated with comment from the governor's spokesperson and news of social media response from Heastie's spokesperson.

]]>
Heastie Takes to Twitter to Respond to Cuomo on Tax Plan Tue, 09 Feb 2016 21:43:46 +0000