Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/blair-horner 2018-12-15T20:44:47+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com ‘It’s just not designed to do its job’: Will New York reform its state ethics agency? 2018-12-12T05:00:00+00:00 2018-12-12T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8141-it-s-just-not-designed-to-do-its-job-will-new-york-reform-its-state-ethics-agency Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/ethics-reform-announc.jpg" alt="ethics reform announc" /></p> <p>Skelos, Cuomo &amp; Silver in 2011 (photo via the Governor's office)</p> <hr /> <p>This year’s elections in New York saw the issues of public corruption and government ethics reform take centerstage in several campaigns. Insurgent Democratic candidates, some who succeeded and others who did not, challenged incumbent elected officials on their parts in the broken system of corruption prevention and ethics enforcement at the state level that has allowed -- some say encouraged -- rampant corruption and self-enrichment.</p> <p>Much criticism has been levelled at the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics, or JCOPE, a relatively young agency with a lackluster record of keeping watch on wrongdoing in state government. Since the agency’s inception seven years ago, several sitting lawmakers have been indicted and convicted of public corruption. But in most, if not all, those cases, JCOPE seems to have sat idly by as other enforcement agencies eventually stepped in. JCOPE has brought <a href="https://jcope.ny.gov/enforcement-actions" target="_blank" rel="noopener">enforcement actions</a> for ethical violations against only two lawmakers in that time -- one in 2013 against former Assemblymember Vito Lopez and then in 2015 against former Assemblymember Dennis Gabryszak. The body does not appear to many as much of a deterrent or enforcer.</p> <p>Now, with Democrats set to take full control of the state Legislature and legislative leaders signalling a renewed commitment to reform, there’s talk of altering, or even repealing and replacing JCOPE, with some reform-minded legislators eyeing their new opportunity and even some relevant campaign season words from Governor Andrew Cuomo about making the ethics body more independent. Among them are Assemblymember Tom Abinanti, who wants to reform the agency’s membership, and State Senator Liz Krueger, who has proposed eliminating JCOPE and creating an entirely new agency from scratch.</p> <p>Good government advocates are pushing for a soup-to-nuts reimagining of ethics enforcement. At minimum, they say, there should be changes to how JCOPE commissioners are appointed and that the agency should be given more teeth. The best-case scenario? Do away with JCOPE entirely and replace it with an entity as close to completely independent of political interference as possible.</p> <p>JCOPE was created in 2011 during Cuomo’s first term, after he came into office promising to wipe clean the rot that had infected state government. Part of a deal with a hesitant Legislature, the agency was charged with overseeing lobbying activities and ethics violations by members of the state Assembly and Senate, the executive branch, dozens of state agencies, and candidates for elected office. It’s composed of 14 commissioners who serve five-year terms -- six appointed by the governor and lieutenant governor, three appointed by the Assembly speaker, three appointed by the Senate majority leader, and one each appointed by the minority leaders in both legislative chambers. The governor also appoints the chair of JCOPE while its executive director is chosen by the commissioners.</p> <p>To advocates, JCOPE’s structure is plainly at the root of its problems. “The fundamental problem is, if you don’t have independent enforcement of the law, it doesn’t matter how good the laws are,” said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group. “While that’s not a bumper sticker issue, it’s not the sexy ethics issue to talk about, it is the critical one. The cornerstone of effective ethics enforcement is the independence of the agency that deals with it.”</p> <p>Advocates and reform-minded elected officials have argued for years that JCOPE commissioners cannot be expected to conduct robust investigations of the very institutions, entities, and individuals that appoint them. JCOPE’s current executive director Seth Agata, a former aide to Cuomo, was a particular target of that criticism during the election. Cuomo’s Republican opponent, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, repeatedly called on Agata to step down over having failed to adequately scrutinize the executive chamber, particularly after the corruption conviction of Joe Percoco, a former top aide to Cuomo, who was found to have used his executive chamber office while working on Cuomo’s first reelection campaign.</p> <p>In their only debate of the race, even Cuomo <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8011-during-debate-molinaro-attacks-while-cuomo-ties-opponent-to-trump" target="_blank" rel="noopener">conceded</a> that he would prefer to see a more independent JCOPE. “I believe we need more independence on JCOPE, I believe we need totally independent appointees and not necessarily representatives of both houses [of the Legislature],” he said. “I’d be open to a number of configurations, but they’d have to be independent. I’d have the attorney general involved; I’d have the chief judge involved in appointing the members.”</p> <p>As he often has, Cuomo indicated his belief that even getting the Legislature to agree to creating JCOPE was a significant lift, and he added that it provided an opportunity to push further, having cracked the door open.</p> <p>In the Democratic attorney general primary race as well, Fordham Law professor and anti-corruption crusader Zephyr Teachout led the charge in calling for Agata’s resignation, inflamed in part by JCOPE’s investigation and subsequent clearing of Sam Hoyt, a former state economic development official who was accused of sexual harassment and assault by a woman who said he helped her obtain a job at the state DMV. Hoyt was previously a long-serving member of the Assembly and was also investigated for sexual harassment while in office, and was later disciplined for having an inappropriate relationship with an intern. He was recruited after that by the Cuomo administration.</p> <p>Public Advocate Letitia James, who went on to win the attorney general seat, initially took a softer position on JCOPE but eventually too joined Teachout in calling for Agata to step down, as did Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who was also in the race. Former Verizon executive Leecia Eve, who worked with Agata in Cuomo’s administration, was the only Democratic attorney general candidate not to issue that demand but did say that JCOPE should be scrapped and a new agency created from the ground up.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8117-agenda-2019-high-hopes-for-long-awaited-reforms" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Agenda 2019: High Hopes for Long-Awaited Reforms</a>]</p> <p>There have been bills introduced in the state Legislature that would accomplish these goals. Earlier this year, Assembly Member Tom Abinanti, a Democrat representing parts of Westchester County, proposed restrictions to JCOPE’s membership. His <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/S920" target="_blank" rel="noopener">bill</a> would prohibit an individual from serving on the commission if they had been a registered lobbyist, elected official, state officer or employee, or a legislative employee within the previous ten years. “We should ensure that no member of JCOPE is inclined to act preferentially for or prejudicially against any subject of a JCOPE inquiry,” Abinanti said in a phone interview.</p> <p>Abinanti said he was open to the idea of potentially scrapping the agency but said his bill was a necessary half-measure in the absence of broader action. “My bill is a more practical approach that, so long as we have JCOPE, we have to make some reforms and we need to make sure that the members of JCOPE do not have any relationships with the people who might become the subjects of their inquiry,” he said.</p> <p>The office of Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, did not respond to a request for comment. Senate Democratic spokesperson Mike Murphy said, “There was much done by the previous majority in furtherance of Senate Republicans’ partisan agenda and we expect to reform those inequalities to create more fairness,” likely referring to the fact that the Senate Republicans will still maintain control of a majority of the chamber’s appointments to JCOPE even after Democrats take the majority. &nbsp;</p> <p>Good government advocates agree that, in the absence of a new independent agency, the Legislature should make fixes to JCOPE’s problems, which are many. Besides the perceived conflicts of interest in appointments, the agency is notoriously opaque to the public. It does not release the details of investigations or even say whether an investigation has been initiated or concluded, for which it was <a href="https://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/ny-pol-underwood-jcope-cox-gop-lawsuit-20180819-story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">recently sued</a> by New York State Republican Party Chair Ed Cox. Its bizarre rules also effectively allow three Republicans out of the 14 members to block a majority vote for an investigation to proceed into a state elected official, said Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor at Reinvent Albany. The <a href="https://jcope.ny.gov/system/files/documents/2018/04/2017-annual-report-compiled-4162018full-version.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">law mandates</a> that the majority vote must include “at least two members appointed by the governor and lieutenant governor and enrolled in the individual's major political party, if he or she is enrolled in a major political party.”</p> <p>“That’s probably the greatest flaw with JCOPE,” Camarda said. And, owing to how the original JCOPE law was written, both parties also <a href="https://www.timesunion.com/news/article/Senate-GOP-holds-on-to-JCOPE-appointment-power-13439276.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener">retain</a> the number of appointments they can make even if they are not in the majority in a legislative chamber.</p> <p>“There’s tweaks and adjustments to the current structure or there’s scrap the whole thing and start over,” said Camarda. “The best practice is to start with a nominating pool from which elected officials choose and the candidates that are put into the nominating pool would be put there by an outside body like the City Bar Association or judges, people who are unaffiliated with the targets of ethics investigations.”</p> <p>Senator Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat, agrees with that sentiment and has proposed a state constitutional amendment to create that independent entity.</p> <p>Krueger introduced a <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/s8309" target="_blank" rel="noopener">resolution</a>, co-sponsored by Assembly Member Robert Carroll, a Brooklyn Democrat, at the tail end of the 2018 legislative session that would add a new article on state government integrity to the constitution. It would establish a New York State Commission on Government Integrity to take over the role currently played by JCOPE. The new commission would be made up of nine members -- two appointed jointly by the governor, attorney general and comptroller; five appointed by the state’s chief judge and the presiding justices of the appellate courts; and one each by legislative conference leaders of political parties that are the top-two vote getters in the previous gubernatorial election.</p> <p>Pursuing a constitutional amendment would also remove Governor Cuomo from the process. Unlike a bill that he could choose to sign or veto, the amendment would have to be approved by both legislative chambers in two consecutive sessions and then be presented to voters as a ballot measure.</p> <p>“So do I assume [the governor] wouldn’t like this? Yes, probably he wouldn’t like this,” said Krueger, who will be a powerful member of the incoming Senate majority. “He wrote the existing JCOPE language. I don’t think that current model is working and I think we need to fix that...It’s just not designed to do its job.”</p> <p>Krueger plans on reintroducing her resolution in the upcoming legislative session in January, with a few changes, which her office shared with Gotham Gazette, after consulting with the state’s chief judge and attorney general’s office. The earlier version allowed the commission to remove a legislator from office but the new version does not give the body that authority. Another revision allows the commission to give informal advice, which can then be used by an individual as defense in any potential future investigation.</p> <p>The bill hasn’t been discussed yet by Senate Democrats and Krueger said it isn’t on the list of priorities for the conference as it meets this week to prepare for January. But Krueger is particularly optimistic that the Legislature will be under added public pressure after this election to move ahead on ethics reforms, both preventative and in enforcement. “I always have said, never waste a good crisis in government,” she said, “and when people have serious doubts about the honesty and integrity of their government leaders, it is a serious problem for all of us.”</p> <p>She continued, “We depend on federal prosecutors to come in and play gotcha with us to finally get anything done. I’m not opposed to federal prosecutors playing gotcha, I just think the state of New York ought to have a system in place that can self-police, that can investigate, that can find people innocent when wrongfully accused and direct those, where there are findings of bad behavior and guilt, that those people be referred to the appropriate people in criminal justice.”</p> <p>Another area where JCOPE is thought to be unequipped is in examining allegations of sexual harassment, an issue brought into recent relief by the allegation of forcible kissing brought against Senator Jeff Klein by a former aide, Erica Vladimer. Not only is it unclear if JCOPE has the expertise to examine sexual harassment claims, but there is little transparency related to any investigation that may or may not be happening, nor clarity around whether an accuser is provided information about the status of an investigation.</p> <p>JCOPE spokesperson Walter McClure declined to comment on the proposals put forward by Krueger and Abinanti. “Any decisions on changes to our enabling legislation or the laws that we have oversight over are up to the Legislature and the Executive,” he said in an email.</p> <p>It’s unclear whether the governor will back these efforts. On government ethics reform he has a history of promising big but delivering small, something that has left critics wary. As Camarda noted, “The governor told the editorial board of the Daily News that he was going to put into place a database of [economic development] deals, which he could do via executive order or pass legislation. He has not done that.” He also cited Cuomo’s unfulfilled promise to restrict campaign contributions from vendors bidding on state contracts.</p> <p>The governor also made promises to pursue campaign finance reforms, including closing the so-called LLC loophole, and has repeatedly emphasized banning outside income for legislators as a sweeping ethics solution, even when the corruption has touched his own inner circle, removed from the Legislature. He lauded the recent recommendations of a state panel that would give lawmakers a pay raise while severely curtailing the money they can make from outside sources. Cuomo has been less vocal, however, about the issues within his own administration as highlighted by the scandal-ridden Buffalo Billion economic development program.</p> <p>The governor’s office also did not provide any concrete proposals for reforming JCOPE when asked for comment. Hazel Crampton-Hays, a spokesperson for the governor, said in an email, “Governor Cuomo will continue to lead the fight on ethics reform to restore confidence in government, and we look forward to engaging with the new legislature to update and refine our laws and identify which new reforms will be most effective.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/ethics-reform-announc.jpg" alt="ethics reform announc" /></p> <p>Skelos, Cuomo &amp; Silver in 2011 (photo via the Governor's office)</p> <hr /> <p>This year’s elections in New York saw the issues of public corruption and government ethics reform take centerstage in several campaigns. Insurgent Democratic candidates, some who succeeded and others who did not, challenged incumbent elected officials on their parts in the broken system of corruption prevention and ethics enforcement at the state level that has allowed -- some say encouraged -- rampant corruption and self-enrichment.</p> <p>Much criticism has been levelled at the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics, or JCOPE, a relatively young agency with a lackluster record of keeping watch on wrongdoing in state government. Since the agency’s inception seven years ago, several sitting lawmakers have been indicted and convicted of public corruption. But in most, if not all, those cases, JCOPE seems to have sat idly by as other enforcement agencies eventually stepped in. JCOPE has brought <a href="https://jcope.ny.gov/enforcement-actions" target="_blank" rel="noopener">enforcement actions</a> for ethical violations against only two lawmakers in that time -- one in 2013 against former Assemblymember Vito Lopez and then in 2015 against former Assemblymember Dennis Gabryszak. The body does not appear to many as much of a deterrent or enforcer.</p> <p>Now, with Democrats set to take full control of the state Legislature and legislative leaders signalling a renewed commitment to reform, there’s talk of altering, or even repealing and replacing JCOPE, with some reform-minded legislators eyeing their new opportunity and even some relevant campaign season words from Governor Andrew Cuomo about making the ethics body more independent. Among them are Assemblymember Tom Abinanti, who wants to reform the agency’s membership, and State Senator Liz Krueger, who has proposed eliminating JCOPE and creating an entirely new agency from scratch.</p> <p>Good government advocates are pushing for a soup-to-nuts reimagining of ethics enforcement. At minimum, they say, there should be changes to how JCOPE commissioners are appointed and that the agency should be given more teeth. The best-case scenario? Do away with JCOPE entirely and replace it with an entity as close to completely independent of political interference as possible.</p> <p>JCOPE was created in 2011 during Cuomo’s first term, after he came into office promising to wipe clean the rot that had infected state government. Part of a deal with a hesitant Legislature, the agency was charged with overseeing lobbying activities and ethics violations by members of the state Assembly and Senate, the executive branch, dozens of state agencies, and candidates for elected office. It’s composed of 14 commissioners who serve five-year terms -- six appointed by the governor and lieutenant governor, three appointed by the Assembly speaker, three appointed by the Senate majority leader, and one each appointed by the minority leaders in both legislative chambers. The governor also appoints the chair of JCOPE while its executive director is chosen by the commissioners.</p> <p>To advocates, JCOPE’s structure is plainly at the root of its problems. “The fundamental problem is, if you don’t have independent enforcement of the law, it doesn’t matter how good the laws are,” said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group. “While that’s not a bumper sticker issue, it’s not the sexy ethics issue to talk about, it is the critical one. The cornerstone of effective ethics enforcement is the independence of the agency that deals with it.”</p> <p>Advocates and reform-minded elected officials have argued for years that JCOPE commissioners cannot be expected to conduct robust investigations of the very institutions, entities, and individuals that appoint them. JCOPE’s current executive director Seth Agata, a former aide to Cuomo, was a particular target of that criticism during the election. Cuomo’s Republican opponent, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, repeatedly called on Agata to step down over having failed to adequately scrutinize the executive chamber, particularly after the corruption conviction of Joe Percoco, a former top aide to Cuomo, who was found to have used his executive chamber office while working on Cuomo’s first reelection campaign.</p> <p>In their only debate of the race, even Cuomo <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8011-during-debate-molinaro-attacks-while-cuomo-ties-opponent-to-trump" target="_blank" rel="noopener">conceded</a> that he would prefer to see a more independent JCOPE. “I believe we need more independence on JCOPE, I believe we need totally independent appointees and not necessarily representatives of both houses [of the Legislature],” he said. “I’d be open to a number of configurations, but they’d have to be independent. I’d have the attorney general involved; I’d have the chief judge involved in appointing the members.”</p> <p>As he often has, Cuomo indicated his belief that even getting the Legislature to agree to creating JCOPE was a significant lift, and he added that it provided an opportunity to push further, having cracked the door open.</p> <p>In the Democratic attorney general primary race as well, Fordham Law professor and anti-corruption crusader Zephyr Teachout led the charge in calling for Agata’s resignation, inflamed in part by JCOPE’s investigation and subsequent clearing of Sam Hoyt, a former state economic development official who was accused of sexual harassment and assault by a woman who said he helped her obtain a job at the state DMV. Hoyt was previously a long-serving member of the Assembly and was also investigated for sexual harassment while in office, and was later disciplined for having an inappropriate relationship with an intern. He was recruited after that by the Cuomo administration.</p> <p>Public Advocate Letitia James, who went on to win the attorney general seat, initially took a softer position on JCOPE but eventually too joined Teachout in calling for Agata to step down, as did Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who was also in the race. Former Verizon executive Leecia Eve, who worked with Agata in Cuomo’s administration, was the only Democratic attorney general candidate not to issue that demand but did say that JCOPE should be scrapped and a new agency created from the ground up.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8117-agenda-2019-high-hopes-for-long-awaited-reforms" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Agenda 2019: High Hopes for Long-Awaited Reforms</a>]</p> <p>There have been bills introduced in the state Legislature that would accomplish these goals. Earlier this year, Assembly Member Tom Abinanti, a Democrat representing parts of Westchester County, proposed restrictions to JCOPE’s membership. His <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/S920" target="_blank" rel="noopener">bill</a> would prohibit an individual from serving on the commission if they had been a registered lobbyist, elected official, state officer or employee, or a legislative employee within the previous ten years. “We should ensure that no member of JCOPE is inclined to act preferentially for or prejudicially against any subject of a JCOPE inquiry,” Abinanti said in a phone interview.</p> <p>Abinanti said he was open to the idea of potentially scrapping the agency but said his bill was a necessary half-measure in the absence of broader action. “My bill is a more practical approach that, so long as we have JCOPE, we have to make some reforms and we need to make sure that the members of JCOPE do not have any relationships with the people who might become the subjects of their inquiry,” he said.</p> <p>The office of Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, did not respond to a request for comment. Senate Democratic spokesperson Mike Murphy said, “There was much done by the previous majority in furtherance of Senate Republicans’ partisan agenda and we expect to reform those inequalities to create more fairness,” likely referring to the fact that the Senate Republicans will still maintain control of a majority of the chamber’s appointments to JCOPE even after Democrats take the majority. &nbsp;</p> <p>Good government advocates agree that, in the absence of a new independent agency, the Legislature should make fixes to JCOPE’s problems, which are many. Besides the perceived conflicts of interest in appointments, the agency is notoriously opaque to the public. It does not release the details of investigations or even say whether an investigation has been initiated or concluded, for which it was <a href="https://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/ny-pol-underwood-jcope-cox-gop-lawsuit-20180819-story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">recently sued</a> by New York State Republican Party Chair Ed Cox. Its bizarre rules also effectively allow three Republicans out of the 14 members to block a majority vote for an investigation to proceed into a state elected official, said Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor at Reinvent Albany. The <a href="https://jcope.ny.gov/system/files/documents/2018/04/2017-annual-report-compiled-4162018full-version.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">law mandates</a> that the majority vote must include “at least two members appointed by the governor and lieutenant governor and enrolled in the individual's major political party, if he or she is enrolled in a major political party.”</p> <p>“That’s probably the greatest flaw with JCOPE,” Camarda said. And, owing to how the original JCOPE law was written, both parties also <a href="https://www.timesunion.com/news/article/Senate-GOP-holds-on-to-JCOPE-appointment-power-13439276.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener">retain</a> the number of appointments they can make even if they are not in the majority in a legislative chamber.</p> <p>“There’s tweaks and adjustments to the current structure or there’s scrap the whole thing and start over,” said Camarda. “The best practice is to start with a nominating pool from which elected officials choose and the candidates that are put into the nominating pool would be put there by an outside body like the City Bar Association or judges, people who are unaffiliated with the targets of ethics investigations.”</p> <p>Senator Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat, agrees with that sentiment and has proposed a state constitutional amendment to create that independent entity.</p> <p>Krueger introduced a <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/s8309" target="_blank" rel="noopener">resolution</a>, co-sponsored by Assembly Member Robert Carroll, a Brooklyn Democrat, at the tail end of the 2018 legislative session that would add a new article on state government integrity to the constitution. It would establish a New York State Commission on Government Integrity to take over the role currently played by JCOPE. The new commission would be made up of nine members -- two appointed jointly by the governor, attorney general and comptroller; five appointed by the state’s chief judge and the presiding justices of the appellate courts; and one each by legislative conference leaders of political parties that are the top-two vote getters in the previous gubernatorial election.</p> <p>Pursuing a constitutional amendment would also remove Governor Cuomo from the process. Unlike a bill that he could choose to sign or veto, the amendment would have to be approved by both legislative chambers in two consecutive sessions and then be presented to voters as a ballot measure.</p> <p>“So do I assume [the governor] wouldn’t like this? Yes, probably he wouldn’t like this,” said Krueger, who will be a powerful member of the incoming Senate majority. “He wrote the existing JCOPE language. I don’t think that current model is working and I think we need to fix that...It’s just not designed to do its job.”</p> <p>Krueger plans on reintroducing her resolution in the upcoming legislative session in January, with a few changes, which her office shared with Gotham Gazette, after consulting with the state’s chief judge and attorney general’s office. The earlier version allowed the commission to remove a legislator from office but the new version does not give the body that authority. Another revision allows the commission to give informal advice, which can then be used by an individual as defense in any potential future investigation.</p> <p>The bill hasn’t been discussed yet by Senate Democrats and Krueger said it isn’t on the list of priorities for the conference as it meets this week to prepare for January. But Krueger is particularly optimistic that the Legislature will be under added public pressure after this election to move ahead on ethics reforms, both preventative and in enforcement. “I always have said, never waste a good crisis in government,” she said, “and when people have serious doubts about the honesty and integrity of their government leaders, it is a serious problem for all of us.”</p> <p>She continued, “We depend on federal prosecutors to come in and play gotcha with us to finally get anything done. I’m not opposed to federal prosecutors playing gotcha, I just think the state of New York ought to have a system in place that can self-police, that can investigate, that can find people innocent when wrongfully accused and direct those, where there are findings of bad behavior and guilt, that those people be referred to the appropriate people in criminal justice.”</p> <p>Another area where JCOPE is thought to be unequipped is in examining allegations of sexual harassment, an issue brought into recent relief by the allegation of forcible kissing brought against Senator Jeff Klein by a former aide, Erica Vladimer. Not only is it unclear if JCOPE has the expertise to examine sexual harassment claims, but there is little transparency related to any investigation that may or may not be happening, nor clarity around whether an accuser is provided information about the status of an investigation.</p> <p>JCOPE spokesperson Walter McClure declined to comment on the proposals put forward by Krueger and Abinanti. “Any decisions on changes to our enabling legislation or the laws that we have oversight over are up to the Legislature and the Executive,” he said in an email.</p> <p>It’s unclear whether the governor will back these efforts. On government ethics reform he has a history of promising big but delivering small, something that has left critics wary. As Camarda noted, “The governor told the editorial board of the Daily News that he was going to put into place a database of [economic development] deals, which he could do via executive order or pass legislation. He has not done that.” He also cited Cuomo’s unfulfilled promise to restrict campaign contributions from vendors bidding on state contracts.</p> <p>The governor also made promises to pursue campaign finance reforms, including closing the so-called LLC loophole, and has repeatedly emphasized banning outside income for legislators as a sweeping ethics solution, even when the corruption has touched his own inner circle, removed from the Legislature. He lauded the recent recommendations of a state panel that would give lawmakers a pay raise while severely curtailing the money they can make from outside sources. Cuomo has been less vocal, however, about the issues within his own administration as highlighted by the scandal-ridden Buffalo Billion economic development program.</p> <p>The governor’s office also did not provide any concrete proposals for reforming JCOPE when asked for comment. Hazel Crampton-Hays, a spokesperson for the governor, said in an email, “Governor Cuomo will continue to lead the fight on ethics reform to restore confidence in government, and we look forward to engaging with the new legislature to update and refine our laws and identify which new reforms will be most effective.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Cuomo Criticized for Failing to Call Special Election January 1 2018-01-02T05:00:00+00:00 2018-01-02T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7399-cuomo-criticized-for-failing-to-call-special-election-january-1 Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/38327452395_6411fb6775_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo Flanagan Long Island" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo and John Flanagan, right (photo:&nbsp;Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>As the legislative session kicks off this week, there are a slew of open state Senate and Assembly seats, and Governor Andrew Cuomo has not indicated when or whether he will call a special election to fill the vacancies.</p> <p>January 1 was the earliest the second-term governor could have called the election day to fill all 11 vacancies, and a growing number of critics are pressuring Cuomo to make the pronouncement as soon as possible. The election would occur 70 days after declared by Cuomo, who has not made clear if he intends to do so in time for the seats to be filled before the state budget is due, by April 1.</p> <p>On the first of this month, George Latimer officially vacated his Westchester County Senate seat to take on his new role as Westchester County Executive, which he won in the fall, and Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., of the Bronx, left his Senate seat to assume his newly won City Council position. Nine Assembly seats remain empty for a variety of reasons, including officials who have won other elected posts, like Brian Kavanagh, who moved from the Assembly to the Senate.</p> <p>If the governor calls a special election this week, 70 days would mean votes cast in the middle of March. However, Cuomo, a Democrat, has indicated that he may call the elections for a date after the budget process is concluded. Cuomo’s delay is being criticized by progressive activists and good government leaders, either because of how the Senate elections factor into majority control of the chamber, which is currently held by a narrow margin by a coalition of Republicans and breakaway Democrats, or because of the basic lack of representation hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers are experiencing with the seats unfilled.</p> <p>The state’s $160-plus billion budget will be negotiated over the coming months by a heavily Democratic Assembly and the Senate, which has multiple party fractures and a Democratic unity deal on the table that could throw the process into disarray if the two vacant seats are filled by Democrats before April 1.</p> <p>“The governor has a responsibility to his constituents to call a special election immediately,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of good government group Common Cause NY in a statement on Tuesday. “There’s no excuse to delay.” Lerner stressed that all New Yorkers deserve their due representation in government.</p> <p>The stakes are highest for the 63-seat Senate, where Democrats are now two seats short of the 32 votes needed to pass legislation. A Democratic majority can only occur if mainline conference members are joined by the nine Democrats who caucus with Republicans, along with Democratic victories for the Latimer and Diaz, Sr. seats. Complicating the situation is a potential deal between Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein, <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2017/12/21/asc-unity-deal-is-cuomos-doing-for-better-or-worse-159909" target="_blank" rel="noopener">brokered by Cuomo and his allies</a>, which would reunify the Democratic conference at the end of the 2018 legislative session, provided multiple developments and guarantees.</p> <p>The vacancies have less of an impact on the 150-seat Assembly, which Democrats control handily under Speaker Carl Heastie of the Bronx. But leaving nine vacancies would undermine the state’s democratic budget process and leave millions of New Yorkers without representation, notes Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Group.</p> <p>According to NYPIRG’s calculation, 625,484 Senate constituents and more than 1.1 million Assembly constituents are unrepresented as the legislative session starts on Wednesday, January 3 in Albany.</p> <p>Joining the calls for a special election sooner rather than later is Kat Brezler, a public school teacher and former Bernie Sanders organizer who is <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7118-progressive-activist-starts-campaign-committee-for-latimer-s-senate-seat" target="_blank" rel="noopener">seeking Latimer’s seat in the event that a special election is called</a>.</p> <p>“If you, the Governor, do not call a special election before the budget vote, you will effectively disenfranchise more than 700,000 residents in these Districts,” Brezler said in a statement. “Representation matters. The residents of District 37 deserve to have a seat at the table” during budget negotiations. “It is for this reason that a special election cannot wait,” Brezler said.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Cuomo’s office, when asked whether governor planned to call the election during the legislative session, pointed to the governor’s comments during recent press appearances, when he said he would make a decision in January.</p> <p>“There are some that want it sooner, some that want it later, there’s some who don’t,” Cuomo told reporters in December. “Some would argue politicizing the budget isn’t the best idea. It’s a decision that we have to make next year in January.”</p> <p>Bronx Assemblymember Luis Sepulveda, <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/bronx-assemblyman-run-nys-senate-article-1.3625964" target="_blank" rel="noopener">who announced</a> that he plans to run for Diaz, Sr.’s Senate seat, said in an interview with Gotham Gazette that he is confident both Senate seats will be filled by Democrats and hopes that a special election will happen in March.</p> <p>“I think one of the most pressing things in the state Legislature is to continue to push for progressive policies and progressive legislation,” said Sepulveda. “I encourage the governor to call the special election as soon as possible.”</p> <p>While the Bronx seat is virtually guaranteed to stay Democratic, the Westchester seat is less of a sure thing, though Democrats will have multiple advantages there.</p> <p>Policy changes coming out of Washington are expected to have serious implications for New York, which is facing a larger than usual budget deficit, and progressives are mounting pressure on the governor, who, like all of the Legislature, is up for reelection this year, to call the special election before budget negotiations really heat up.</p> <p>The balance of power in the state Senate will have significant influence over the final state spending plan that emerges. A number of Democratic activists insist Cuomo prefers Republican control of the Senate for as long as possible, especially during budget season, so that he can best limit state spending.</p> <p>Heastie, whose Assembly majority conference is down several members, <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2017/12/06/heastie-wants-a-democratic-senate-as-soon-as-possible-137436" target="_blank" rel="noopener">said in December</a> that he hopes for a Democratic majority in the Senate, but in an <a href="http://www.wcny.org/december-8-2017-assembly-speaker-carl-heastie/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">interview with WCNY’s Susan Arbetter</a> said that he would defer to the governor’s decision about the election.</p> <p>“I’ve always said, as a Democrat, I look forward to the day of a Democratic Senate. I hope they get it together as soon as possible — particularly in light of what’s happening in Washington,” Heastie told reporters during a gaggle at the Capitol in December.</p> <p>In the meantime, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Long Island Republican, wields enormous influence over how state funds are distributed. Flanagan, outlining his priorities for the coming session, struck a conciliatory note, but made clear that raising property taxes was a non-starter for addressing New York’s growing budget shortfall.</p> <p>“In Washington, Democrats and Republicans battle each other with predictable ferocity -- sometimes producing gridlock and dysfunction, and sometimes producing policies that are counterproductive for many New Yorkers. Here in New York, we’ve taken a vastly different approach,” he said in a Tuesday statement. “We’re working across the aisle to find common ground, partnering with Upstate and suburban Democrats to move our state forward.”</p> <p>Spokespersons for Heastie and Flanagan did not return requests for comment on when Cuomo should call the special election. The governor will deliver his 2018 State of the State speech on Wednesday in Albany.</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/38327452395_6411fb6775_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo Flanagan Long Island" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo and John Flanagan, right (photo:&nbsp;Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>As the legislative session kicks off this week, there are a slew of open state Senate and Assembly seats, and Governor Andrew Cuomo has not indicated when or whether he will call a special election to fill the vacancies.</p> <p>January 1 was the earliest the second-term governor could have called the election day to fill all 11 vacancies, and a growing number of critics are pressuring Cuomo to make the pronouncement as soon as possible. The election would occur 70 days after declared by Cuomo, who has not made clear if he intends to do so in time for the seats to be filled before the state budget is due, by April 1.</p> <p>On the first of this month, George Latimer officially vacated his Westchester County Senate seat to take on his new role as Westchester County Executive, which he won in the fall, and Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., of the Bronx, left his Senate seat to assume his newly won City Council position. Nine Assembly seats remain empty for a variety of reasons, including officials who have won other elected posts, like Brian Kavanagh, who moved from the Assembly to the Senate.</p> <p>If the governor calls a special election this week, 70 days would mean votes cast in the middle of March. However, Cuomo, a Democrat, has indicated that he may call the elections for a date after the budget process is concluded. Cuomo’s delay is being criticized by progressive activists and good government leaders, either because of how the Senate elections factor into majority control of the chamber, which is currently held by a narrow margin by a coalition of Republicans and breakaway Democrats, or because of the basic lack of representation hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers are experiencing with the seats unfilled.</p> <p>The state’s $160-plus billion budget will be negotiated over the coming months by a heavily Democratic Assembly and the Senate, which has multiple party fractures and a Democratic unity deal on the table that could throw the process into disarray if the two vacant seats are filled by Democrats before April 1.</p> <p>“The governor has a responsibility to his constituents to call a special election immediately,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of good government group Common Cause NY in a statement on Tuesday. “There’s no excuse to delay.” Lerner stressed that all New Yorkers deserve their due representation in government.</p> <p>The stakes are highest for the 63-seat Senate, where Democrats are now two seats short of the 32 votes needed to pass legislation. A Democratic majority can only occur if mainline conference members are joined by the nine Democrats who caucus with Republicans, along with Democratic victories for the Latimer and Diaz, Sr. seats. Complicating the situation is a potential deal between Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein, <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2017/12/21/asc-unity-deal-is-cuomos-doing-for-better-or-worse-159909" target="_blank" rel="noopener">brokered by Cuomo and his allies</a>, which would reunify the Democratic conference at the end of the 2018 legislative session, provided multiple developments and guarantees.</p> <p>The vacancies have less of an impact on the 150-seat Assembly, which Democrats control handily under Speaker Carl Heastie of the Bronx. But leaving nine vacancies would undermine the state’s democratic budget process and leave millions of New Yorkers without representation, notes Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Group.</p> <p>According to NYPIRG’s calculation, 625,484 Senate constituents and more than 1.1 million Assembly constituents are unrepresented as the legislative session starts on Wednesday, January 3 in Albany.</p> <p>Joining the calls for a special election sooner rather than later is Kat Brezler, a public school teacher and former Bernie Sanders organizer who is <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7118-progressive-activist-starts-campaign-committee-for-latimer-s-senate-seat" target="_blank" rel="noopener">seeking Latimer’s seat in the event that a special election is called</a>.</p> <p>“If you, the Governor, do not call a special election before the budget vote, you will effectively disenfranchise more than 700,000 residents in these Districts,” Brezler said in a statement. “Representation matters. The residents of District 37 deserve to have a seat at the table” during budget negotiations. “It is for this reason that a special election cannot wait,” Brezler said.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Cuomo’s office, when asked whether governor planned to call the election during the legislative session, pointed to the governor’s comments during recent press appearances, when he said he would make a decision in January.</p> <p>“There are some that want it sooner, some that want it later, there’s some who don’t,” Cuomo told reporters in December. “Some would argue politicizing the budget isn’t the best idea. It’s a decision that we have to make next year in January.”</p> <p>Bronx Assemblymember Luis Sepulveda, <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/bronx-assemblyman-run-nys-senate-article-1.3625964" target="_blank" rel="noopener">who announced</a> that he plans to run for Diaz, Sr.’s Senate seat, said in an interview with Gotham Gazette that he is confident both Senate seats will be filled by Democrats and hopes that a special election will happen in March.</p> <p>“I think one of the most pressing things in the state Legislature is to continue to push for progressive policies and progressive legislation,” said Sepulveda. “I encourage the governor to call the special election as soon as possible.”</p> <p>While the Bronx seat is virtually guaranteed to stay Democratic, the Westchester seat is less of a sure thing, though Democrats will have multiple advantages there.</p> <p>Policy changes coming out of Washington are expected to have serious implications for New York, which is facing a larger than usual budget deficit, and progressives are mounting pressure on the governor, who, like all of the Legislature, is up for reelection this year, to call the special election before budget negotiations really heat up.</p> <p>The balance of power in the state Senate will have significant influence over the final state spending plan that emerges. A number of Democratic activists insist Cuomo prefers Republican control of the Senate for as long as possible, especially during budget season, so that he can best limit state spending.</p> <p>Heastie, whose Assembly majority conference is down several members, <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2017/12/06/heastie-wants-a-democratic-senate-as-soon-as-possible-137436" target="_blank" rel="noopener">said in December</a> that he hopes for a Democratic majority in the Senate, but in an <a href="http://www.wcny.org/december-8-2017-assembly-speaker-carl-heastie/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">interview with WCNY’s Susan Arbetter</a> said that he would defer to the governor’s decision about the election.</p> <p>“I’ve always said, as a Democrat, I look forward to the day of a Democratic Senate. I hope they get it together as soon as possible — particularly in light of what’s happening in Washington,” Heastie told reporters during a gaggle at the Capitol in December.</p> <p>In the meantime, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Long Island Republican, wields enormous influence over how state funds are distributed. Flanagan, outlining his priorities for the coming session, struck a conciliatory note, but made clear that raising property taxes was a non-starter for addressing New York’s growing budget shortfall.</p> <p>“In Washington, Democrats and Republicans battle each other with predictable ferocity -- sometimes producing gridlock and dysfunction, and sometimes producing policies that are counterproductive for many New Yorkers. Here in New York, we’ve taken a vastly different approach,” he said in a Tuesday statement. “We’re working across the aisle to find common ground, partnering with Upstate and suburban Democrats to move our state forward.”</p> <p>Spokespersons for Heastie and Flanagan did not return requests for comment on when Cuomo should call the special election. The governor will deliver his 2018 State of the State speech on Wednesday in Albany.</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
Departure of Assembly Ethics Official Prompts Calls for Broader Reforms 2017-11-02T04:00:00+00:00 2017-11-02T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7294-departure-of-assembly-ethics-official-prompts-calls-for-broader-reforms Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/36651878000_a15510bf8a_z.jpg" alt="Carl Heastie Assembly" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Carl Heastie (photo:&nbsp;Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>When ethics expert Jane Feldman’s departure from the New York State Assembly, and her appraisal of the experience as “as waste of money,” was <a href="http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Former-top-Assembly-ethics-official-Position-a-12296842.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">first reported</a> by the Times Union last week, many saw it as another blow to reform efforts in Albany.</p> <p>Feldman <a href="http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Former-top-Assembly-ethics-official-Position-a-12296842.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told the outlet</a> she she “didn’t do anything” and called her hiring as executive director of the Office of Ethics and Compliance in September 2015 a “P.R. move.” The office itself, according to Feldman, was a windowless space on the ninth floor of the Legislative Office Building with airflow problems that had been carved out of a larger conference room.</p> <p>Two years ago, the office was created by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie as part of the newly-selected speaker’s larger commitment to introduce more ethics and transparency measures to the 150-seat chamber. Promises were made, in part, to appease critics frustrated by the backroom speakership appointment process, and to signal a new era after that of infamous former Speaker Sheldon Silver.</p> <p>Heastie, a representative of the Bronx, created <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6229-assembly-announces-internal-reform-plan-to-mixed-reviews" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a working group</a> on rules reform, led by Assemblymembers Brian Kavanagh, of Manhattan, and Gary Pretlow, of Mount Vernon, and vowed to choose an “independent” advisor who could offer guidance to members and offer suggestions for improving Assembly processes. Feldman, who previously headed the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission for six years, was chosen by a six-person team following a nationwide search, and was seen as a fresh and independent perspective, someone from outside Albany’s long-standing and secretive power structures.</p> <p>But during her two years in Albany, Feldman says she rarely spoke to Heastie and found even members who were interested in reforming the Albany process rebuffed her suggestions.</p> <p>"There are so many things that are so entrenched,” said Feldman, in an interview with Gotham Gazette. “There are a lot of good members who I think want to see ethics reforms, but when I would tell them how other states do things, the attitude was, 'well, that would never work here.'"</p> <p>Heastie’s office chalked up her experience to a misunderstanding about the job description, saying in a statement, “there was a disconnect between our expectations for the office and this individual’s view of her responsibilities.”</p> <p>But good government watchdogs say the larger problem is that no in-house advisor could make much of a dent in Albany’s ways, including how the legislative houses operate, the loophole-riddled campaign finance system, an opaque budget negotiation process, and flawed oversight structures.</p> <p>“Internal oversight is sort of an oxymoron,” said New York Public Interest Group’s Blair Horner. “The fundamental problem is you can’t really self-regulate when it comes to ethics. It’s like self-policing. An honor system only works for the honorable.”</p> <p>While it might have been helpful to have a person for members to go to for advice, Feldman’s described duties essentially duplicated the role of the Legislative Ethic Commission (LEC), a bi-partisan entity comprised of senators, Assembly members, and outside experts that provides advice to lawmakers on outside income, fundraising, and other conflict of interest queries. In at least one instance, this created a conflict, when the LEC offered one lawmaker different advice than Feldman did about whether the lawmaker could accept a speaking engagement, Feldman told the Times Union.</p> <p>It would be difficult to reconcile the two interpretations of the law given that opinions produced by the LEC are not made available to the public, and even Feldman said she could not access them. Legislative ethics advisory bodies in other states all make their opinions available to the public, and some of them even tweet out their opinions, she noted.</p> <p>Even the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), which acts in an advisory role for the executive branch, and its predecessor agencies have made opinions public and publishes a bulk of information online.</p> <p>By many accounts, the Assembly has become more democratic under Heastie. The majority Democratic conference is consulted more frequently during budget negotiations, leadership opportunities are created for new members, and more hearings for legislation are held. Silver’s extremely intense grip on power has been loosened by his successor. But these strides are “infinitesimally small compared to the needs of the state, which is for radical overhaul of ethics oversight in New York,” according to Horner. “To have an office in the Assembly -- even if it doesn’t have any windows -- to sort of generate recommendations and answers to people’s questions is sort of in the chicken soup category. It doesn’t deal with the cancer of corruption that has plagued the Capitol.”</p> <p>John Kaehny, executive director of ReInvent Albany, said that the biggest problem plaguing state government is its rampant pay-to-play culture. But while the overwhelmingly Democratic Assembly has repeatedly passed legislation that would curb the notorious LLC loophole, which allows wealthy interests to attempt to influence lawmakers with virtually unlimited campaign donations, the bill has been blocked from consideration in the Republican-controlled Senate. Other efforts at campaign finance reform, including instituting lower caps on individual donations and a public-matching system, have also stalled.</p> <p>“If it were up to the Assembly, they would probably pass a New York City-style small donor matching campaign finance system, but that’s not the law, and they have to exist within a system that is really corrupt and just a complete swamp of money,” said Kaehny. “So the question of what exactly Jane Feldman was supposed to do is a little elusive.”</p> <p>When Heastie announced a 2016 ethics reform package -- which included a bill limiting outside income for lawmakers and closure of the LLC loophole -- Feldman said she learned about it viewing the roll-out on T.V., and it became obvious that the job was not as she felt it had been described to her during interviews with the search committee and with the Speaker.</p> <p>In a statement, Heastie spokesperson Mike Whyland said, “the office was created as a training and expertise resource for members and staff and independent of the Speaker’s office. It was never meant as a position that would craft policy and take part in negotiations, something that would obviously compromise the independent nature of the office. This is an independent, bipartisan office that serves both the majority and the minority and thus has no responsibilities to negotiate laws.”</p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">According to Heastie's own press release, the Feldman was supposed to be involved in "reviewing best practices in legislative ethics to make recommendations for improvements."&nbsp;</span></p> <p>But Feldman said the Assembly was resistant to changes as small as publicizing on its website the times that it would go into legislative session. She said she was told that the parties go into conference so it was impossible to predict. “To me this is kind of archaic, but the way members learned what time session would be, is they would get a phone call that said ‘session is going to be at 11.’”</p> <p>“I was told many times by people that I saw my job as much more important than it was intended to be,” said Feldman.</p> <p>In 2015, good government groups sent a series of proposals to Kavanaugh and Pretlow for how the Assembly rules could be improved. The letter, signed by Common Cause, Citizens Union, NYPIRG, ReInvent Albany, and the Brennan Center for Justice, recommended that rank-and-file members be able to independently bring legislation with majority support to the floor -- even over objection of leadership -- that allocation of resources be more equitably distributed among members, as well as other transparency and efficiency measures.</p> <p>“There was resistance to our recommendations, because they didn’t like anything that encroaches on the power of the speaker,” said Horner. “They did make some changes, but I still think there’s a long way to go.”</p> <p>The working group was criticized for not holding any public hearings and for failing to include input from members of the minority conference, but it did produce a lengthy list of <a href="http://assembly.state.ny.us/Press/20160317/recommendations20160317.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recommendations</a>. The fixes were technological and procedural, with an eye on more transparency and communication, such as ensuring wi-fi service throughout the Assembly chamber, increased use of text alerts for staff and members, improvements to the Assembly legislation database, and livestreaming more committee meetings. <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6229-assembly-announces-internal-reform-plan-to-mixed-reviews" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">There were</a> a handful of notable changes to the committee process, such as one that would allow all members five opportunities to force a bill to be voted on in committee.</p> <p>“I think there were 90 suggestions that we made, some of them take a longer time than others to be addressed, and most of them were accepted by the speaker,” said Pretlow.</p> <p>But helping to craft the Assembly’s internal rules reform also, apparently, did not fall under Feldman’s purview. Pretlow said Feldman was not at all involved, adding that he did not interact with her during her time in Albany. Feldman, in an email, clarified that the working group met and had decided on recommendations shortly before she arrived in Albany.</p> <p>Whyland did not respond to a request for comment on whether any candidates have emerged to replace Feldman or whether the role would be redefined, but he told the Times Union that the Assembly is looking to fill her former post with "someone who understands New York law, truly grasps the serious responsibilities of the office and its independent and bipartisan nature, and is willing to carry out its mission in full."</p> <p><em>Clarification: The article has been updated to indicate that decisions about rules reform in the Assembly were made prior to Feldman's arrival.</em></p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/36651878000_a15510bf8a_z.jpg" alt="Carl Heastie Assembly" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Carl Heastie (photo:&nbsp;Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>When ethics expert Jane Feldman’s departure from the New York State Assembly, and her appraisal of the experience as “as waste of money,” was <a href="http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Former-top-Assembly-ethics-official-Position-a-12296842.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">first reported</a> by the Times Union last week, many saw it as another blow to reform efforts in Albany.</p> <p>Feldman <a href="http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Former-top-Assembly-ethics-official-Position-a-12296842.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told the outlet</a> she she “didn’t do anything” and called her hiring as executive director of the Office of Ethics and Compliance in September 2015 a “P.R. move.” The office itself, according to Feldman, was a windowless space on the ninth floor of the Legislative Office Building with airflow problems that had been carved out of a larger conference room.</p> <p>Two years ago, the office was created by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie as part of the newly-selected speaker’s larger commitment to introduce more ethics and transparency measures to the 150-seat chamber. Promises were made, in part, to appease critics frustrated by the backroom speakership appointment process, and to signal a new era after that of infamous former Speaker Sheldon Silver.</p> <p>Heastie, a representative of the Bronx, created <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6229-assembly-announces-internal-reform-plan-to-mixed-reviews" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a working group</a> on rules reform, led by Assemblymembers Brian Kavanagh, of Manhattan, and Gary Pretlow, of Mount Vernon, and vowed to choose an “independent” advisor who could offer guidance to members and offer suggestions for improving Assembly processes. Feldman, who previously headed the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission for six years, was chosen by a six-person team following a nationwide search, and was seen as a fresh and independent perspective, someone from outside Albany’s long-standing and secretive power structures.</p> <p>But during her two years in Albany, Feldman says she rarely spoke to Heastie and found even members who were interested in reforming the Albany process rebuffed her suggestions.</p> <p>"There are so many things that are so entrenched,” said Feldman, in an interview with Gotham Gazette. “There are a lot of good members who I think want to see ethics reforms, but when I would tell them how other states do things, the attitude was, 'well, that would never work here.'"</p> <p>Heastie’s office chalked up her experience to a misunderstanding about the job description, saying in a statement, “there was a disconnect between our expectations for the office and this individual’s view of her responsibilities.”</p> <p>But good government watchdogs say the larger problem is that no in-house advisor could make much of a dent in Albany’s ways, including how the legislative houses operate, the loophole-riddled campaign finance system, an opaque budget negotiation process, and flawed oversight structures.</p> <p>“Internal oversight is sort of an oxymoron,” said New York Public Interest Group’s Blair Horner. “The fundamental problem is you can’t really self-regulate when it comes to ethics. It’s like self-policing. An honor system only works for the honorable.”</p> <p>While it might have been helpful to have a person for members to go to for advice, Feldman’s described duties essentially duplicated the role of the Legislative Ethic Commission (LEC), a bi-partisan entity comprised of senators, Assembly members, and outside experts that provides advice to lawmakers on outside income, fundraising, and other conflict of interest queries. In at least one instance, this created a conflict, when the LEC offered one lawmaker different advice than Feldman did about whether the lawmaker could accept a speaking engagement, Feldman told the Times Union.</p> <p>It would be difficult to reconcile the two interpretations of the law given that opinions produced by the LEC are not made available to the public, and even Feldman said she could not access them. Legislative ethics advisory bodies in other states all make their opinions available to the public, and some of them even tweet out their opinions, she noted.</p> <p>Even the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), which acts in an advisory role for the executive branch, and its predecessor agencies have made opinions public and publishes a bulk of information online.</p> <p>By many accounts, the Assembly has become more democratic under Heastie. The majority Democratic conference is consulted more frequently during budget negotiations, leadership opportunities are created for new members, and more hearings for legislation are held. Silver’s extremely intense grip on power has been loosened by his successor. But these strides are “infinitesimally small compared to the needs of the state, which is for radical overhaul of ethics oversight in New York,” according to Horner. “To have an office in the Assembly -- even if it doesn’t have any windows -- to sort of generate recommendations and answers to people’s questions is sort of in the chicken soup category. It doesn’t deal with the cancer of corruption that has plagued the Capitol.”</p> <p>John Kaehny, executive director of ReInvent Albany, said that the biggest problem plaguing state government is its rampant pay-to-play culture. But while the overwhelmingly Democratic Assembly has repeatedly passed legislation that would curb the notorious LLC loophole, which allows wealthy interests to attempt to influence lawmakers with virtually unlimited campaign donations, the bill has been blocked from consideration in the Republican-controlled Senate. Other efforts at campaign finance reform, including instituting lower caps on individual donations and a public-matching system, have also stalled.</p> <p>“If it were up to the Assembly, they would probably pass a New York City-style small donor matching campaign finance system, but that’s not the law, and they have to exist within a system that is really corrupt and just a complete swamp of money,” said Kaehny. “So the question of what exactly Jane Feldman was supposed to do is a little elusive.”</p> <p>When Heastie announced a 2016 ethics reform package -- which included a bill limiting outside income for lawmakers and closure of the LLC loophole -- Feldman said she learned about it viewing the roll-out on T.V., and it became obvious that the job was not as she felt it had been described to her during interviews with the search committee and with the Speaker.</p> <p>In a statement, Heastie spokesperson Mike Whyland said, “the office was created as a training and expertise resource for members and staff and independent of the Speaker’s office. It was never meant as a position that would craft policy and take part in negotiations, something that would obviously compromise the independent nature of the office. This is an independent, bipartisan office that serves both the majority and the minority and thus has no responsibilities to negotiate laws.”</p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">According to Heastie's own press release, the Feldman was supposed to be involved in "reviewing best practices in legislative ethics to make recommendations for improvements."&nbsp;</span></p> <p>But Feldman said the Assembly was resistant to changes as small as publicizing on its website the times that it would go into legislative session. She said she was told that the parties go into conference so it was impossible to predict. “To me this is kind of archaic, but the way members learned what time session would be, is they would get a phone call that said ‘session is going to be at 11.’”</p> <p>“I was told many times by people that I saw my job as much more important than it was intended to be,” said Feldman.</p> <p>In 2015, good government groups sent a series of proposals to Kavanaugh and Pretlow for how the Assembly rules could be improved. The letter, signed by Common Cause, Citizens Union, NYPIRG, ReInvent Albany, and the Brennan Center for Justice, recommended that rank-and-file members be able to independently bring legislation with majority support to the floor -- even over objection of leadership -- that allocation of resources be more equitably distributed among members, as well as other transparency and efficiency measures.</p> <p>“There was resistance to our recommendations, because they didn’t like anything that encroaches on the power of the speaker,” said Horner. “They did make some changes, but I still think there’s a long way to go.”</p> <p>The working group was criticized for not holding any public hearings and for failing to include input from members of the minority conference, but it did produce a lengthy list of <a href="http://assembly.state.ny.us/Press/20160317/recommendations20160317.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recommendations</a>. The fixes were technological and procedural, with an eye on more transparency and communication, such as ensuring wi-fi service throughout the Assembly chamber, increased use of text alerts for staff and members, improvements to the Assembly legislation database, and livestreaming more committee meetings. <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6229-assembly-announces-internal-reform-plan-to-mixed-reviews" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">There were</a> a handful of notable changes to the committee process, such as one that would allow all members five opportunities to force a bill to be voted on in committee.</p> <p>“I think there were 90 suggestions that we made, some of them take a longer time than others to be addressed, and most of them were accepted by the speaker,” said Pretlow.</p> <p>But helping to craft the Assembly’s internal rules reform also, apparently, did not fall under Feldman’s purview. Pretlow said Feldman was not at all involved, adding that he did not interact with her during her time in Albany. Feldman, in an email, clarified that the working group met and had decided on recommendations shortly before she arrived in Albany.</p> <p>Whyland did not respond to a request for comment on whether any candidates have emerged to replace Feldman or whether the role would be redefined, but he told the Times Union that the Assembly is looking to fill her former post with "someone who understands New York law, truly grasps the serious responsibilities of the office and its independent and bipartisan nature, and is willing to carry out its mission in full."</p> <p><em>Clarification: The article has been updated to indicate that decisions about rules reform in the Assembly were made prior to Feldman's arrival.</em></p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
Mass Mailer Loophole Gives State Legislators Advantage in City Council Races 2017-08-29T04:00:00+00:00 2017-08-29T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7163-mass-mailer-loophole-gives-state-legislators-advantage-in-city-council-races Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/ortiz_mailer_crop.png" alt="ortiz mailer crop" width="600" height="342" /></p> <p>The top of Assemblymember Felix Ortiz's recent constituent mailer</p> <hr /> <p>Members of the New York State Legislature have a key resource at their disposal to communicate with their constituents: mass mailers. Both the Senate and Assembly allow lawmakers to send public communications through different media -- chiefly employed in the form of direct printed newsletters and mailers -- to inform residents of their districts about recent legislation or special events, or to alert them of emergencies, and more. While these mailers are subject to certain restrictions in the run up to an election, differences between state rules and city regulations mean that state legislators running for City Council have a distinct advantage over their opponents at the local level.</p> <p>In at least three City Council races where sitting state Assemblymembers are candidates, separate complaints have been filed with the city Campaign Finance Board alleging that each of them has violated prohibitions against using government-funded mass mailers within a mandated 90-day communication blackout period before the September 12 primary. Copies of the complaints were provided to Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>The rules governing mass mailers are adopted by each legislative chamber, but they differ from the <a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/PDF/guidance/restrictions_on_resources.pdf">rules and guidelines</a> established by the New York City Campaign Finance Board, which oversees expenditure by campaigns in the city. Each set of rules establishes ‘blackout’ periods ahead of an election, during which communications funded through government resources are prohibited unless they meet certain exceptions.</p> <p>The <a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/law/charter/prohibitions-on-the-use-of-government-funds-and-resources/">New York City Charter</a> states that “public servants” may not use government funds or resources for mass mailers within 90 days of a primary or general election. (The law also prohibits officials from appearing in government-funded advertisements in an election year.)</p> <p>There are certain exceptions, for instance allowing one mailer to be sent out within 21 days of the passage of the city’s budget, and permitting communications required by law or those necessary for public safety or health emergencies, among others.</p> <p>For City Council candidates currently working for New York City -- including incumbent Council members and even community board members -- the CFB blackout period began June 15, roughly three months before the September 12 primary.</p> <p>But since the City Charter only applies to “all officials, officers and employees of the city,” state officials and legislators are out of reach of those provisions and prohibitions. The <a href="http://assembly.state.ny.us/Rules/?sec=r5#s10">state Assembly’s</a> blackout period, in comparison, is only 30 days before a local, special or primary election and 60 days before the general. This effectively allows state legislators to use their offices to promote their image and build greater name recognition, enhancing the already-significant power of incumbency and giving them an additional leg up over their opponents who would have to rely on campaign funds to communicate with voters.</p> <p>“It’s a clear loophole,” said John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, a government reform organization. “The problem is that city law is always subordinate to state law. So the CFB cannot tell a state legislator what they can or cannot do.”</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/ortiz_mailer_crop.png" alt="ortiz mailer crop" width="250" height="142" style="margin-right: 8px; float: left;" />In District 38, incumbent Democratic City Council Member Carlos Menchaca is facing a slew of challengers, including sitting Assemblymember Felix Ortiz. A complaint filed with the CFB earlier this month alleged that Ortiz had violated the CFB’s blackout provisions by sending out four mailers from his government office over the summer. But these mailers, a regular function of state legislative offices, are exempt from the CFB’s purview.</p> <p>“Part of Felix’s job as an Assemblyman is to inform his constituents, whether he’s running for office or not,” said Robinson Iglesias, Ortiz’s campaign treasurer. “He has been in full compliance with the CFB and he will continue to do so.”</p> <p>“For sure, it’s unfair. For sure, it’s an advantage,” said Kaehny of the loophole. “It hasn’t been effectively exploited until now. The reality is, an incumbent already has an advantage in name identity. Using their mail privileges helps reinforce that name identity...This is a real unfairness under the law.”</p> <p>Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj, the frontrunner for the District 13 seat being vacated by Council Member James Vacca, similarly sent out a legislative update to his constituents at the end of June.</p> <p>Of Gjonaj’s four opponents in the Democratic primary, John Doyle has been his most vociferous critic and lodged objections with the CFB over potential violations regarding mass mailers and government-sponsored communications. When informed that the communications were largely permitted under the Assembly’s rules, Doyle directed his ire at both the state Legislature and Gjonaj. “We have a culture of corruption in Albany that allows this,” Doyle said in a phone interview. “This is the state Legislature that can’t seem to pass comprehensive campaign finance reform.”</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/gjonaj_mailer_crop.jpg" alt="gjonaj mailer crop" width="250" height="242" style="margin-right: 8px; float: left;" />Doyle also insisted that Gjonaj has ample campaign resources at his disposal to get his message out and should have eschewed the Legislature’s mass mailing resources. “He’s against public funds to augment the voice of ordinary citizens,” Doyle said, referring to Gjonaj’s decision to not participate in the CFB’s public matching funds program, “but he has no problem using public funds when it supports his interests.”</p> <p>Gjonaj’s campaign spokesperson Jennifer Blatus pushed back against Doyle’s complaint. “Let's be clear, there was no unfair advantage in the District 13 council race,” Blatus said in an email. “This is another ridiculous attempt by John Doyle to distract voters and continue his negative and divisive campaign.” Insisting that the CFB allows elected officials to conduct ordinary communications with constituents, she added, “In the final days of this election, while Mr. Doyle continues to complain over the experience Mark Gjonaj brings to this race, our campaign remains focused on the issues at hand, which is quality of life, public safety, education and transportation.”</p> <p>In District 21, where Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland is stepping down at the end of her current term, two Democrats are facing off in the primary: Assemblymember Francisco Moya and Hiram Monserrate, a disgraced former state Senator and Council member who is attempting a comeback after a checkered recent past that includes separate criminal convictions on fraud and assault charges.</p> <p>Monserrate claims that Moya misused government resources to send mass email blasts within the 90-day period, including references to events Moya attended outside his district. Moya’s Assembly district overlaps with parts of Council District 21 but excludes large sections. “Moya is a liar and a fraud,” Monserrate said in a statement. “He lies about where he lives. And now we know he's committing fraud by using tax-dollars illegally to campaign.”</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/moya_mailer_crop.jpg" alt="moya mailer crop" width="250" height="169" style="margin-right: 8px; float: left;" />In a written response to the CFB on Monserrate’s complaint, Moya noted, correctly, that “as an Assemblymember my mail cut off deadline is different than sitting City electeds.” In a statement to Gotham Gazette, Moya had harsher words for his opponent. “My opponent is a convicted felon who has zero credibility on this or any other issue in the campaign,” he said. “He is using these baseless claims to attack my record of public service, and direct attention away from his corrupt, violent history. These charges have been easily refuted by my campaign, and simply bear no resemblance to the facts.”</p> <p>Moya went on to criticize Monserrate for his own misuse of taxpayer funds. “The questions voters are asking are, ‘Hiram, where is our money that you stole and how can we ever trust you again?’”</p> <p>The CFB and the City are mostly powerless to bridge the gap in the law. “Obviously we provide extensive guidance on how candidates should handle constituent communications in the days leading up to an election, It’s certainly something we monitor,” said Matt Sollars, a CFB spokesperson.</p> <p>Reinvent Albany’s Kaehny says closing the loophole would require the state Legislature to take action, “which it seems very unlikely to do.” In the absence of legislation, he said, “The best thing CFB could do is keep track and include as much information in their post-election report to note how much of a problem it is and bring attention to that.”</p> <p>The CFB issues a comprehensive report after each city election that includes numerous recommendations on improving the campaign finance and election system. Many of the recommendations from their 2013 report were passed into law by the City Council.</p> <p>Two other state Legislators are also running for “open” City Council seats, though no apparent complaints have been lodged against either. Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez, who has also sent out mass mailers from his office, is running for the District 8 seat currently held by term-limited Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito; and in District 18, state Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., famous for his constituent e-blasts, which have continued apace, is vying for the seat being vacated by term-limited Council Member Annabel Palma.</p> <p>Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, another good government group, conceded that the CFB has no authority over the state and insisted that the Legislature should increase its own communication blackout periods to undo the advantage that accrues to lawmakers.</p> <p>“Legislators wouldn’t send [mailers] out if they didn’t think it will bolster public good will,” Horner said, adding that perhaps it will fall to voters to ensure a level standard. “I think it’s fair for the public to urge state elected officials running for City Council to follow the same rules,” he said.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/ortiz_mailer_crop.png" alt="ortiz mailer crop" width="600" height="342" /></p> <p>The top of Assemblymember Felix Ortiz's recent constituent mailer</p> <hr /> <p>Members of the New York State Legislature have a key resource at their disposal to communicate with their constituents: mass mailers. Both the Senate and Assembly allow lawmakers to send public communications through different media -- chiefly employed in the form of direct printed newsletters and mailers -- to inform residents of their districts about recent legislation or special events, or to alert them of emergencies, and more. While these mailers are subject to certain restrictions in the run up to an election, differences between state rules and city regulations mean that state legislators running for City Council have a distinct advantage over their opponents at the local level.</p> <p>In at least three City Council races where sitting state Assemblymembers are candidates, separate complaints have been filed with the city Campaign Finance Board alleging that each of them has violated prohibitions against using government-funded mass mailers within a mandated 90-day communication blackout period before the September 12 primary. Copies of the complaints were provided to Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>The rules governing mass mailers are adopted by each legislative chamber, but they differ from the <a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/PDF/guidance/restrictions_on_resources.pdf">rules and guidelines</a> established by the New York City Campaign Finance Board, which oversees expenditure by campaigns in the city. Each set of rules establishes ‘blackout’ periods ahead of an election, during which communications funded through government resources are prohibited unless they meet certain exceptions.</p> <p>The <a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/law/charter/prohibitions-on-the-use-of-government-funds-and-resources/">New York City Charter</a> states that “public servants” may not use government funds or resources for mass mailers within 90 days of a primary or general election. (The law also prohibits officials from appearing in government-funded advertisements in an election year.)</p> <p>There are certain exceptions, for instance allowing one mailer to be sent out within 21 days of the passage of the city’s budget, and permitting communications required by law or those necessary for public safety or health emergencies, among others.</p> <p>For City Council candidates currently working for New York City -- including incumbent Council members and even community board members -- the CFB blackout period began June 15, roughly three months before the September 12 primary.</p> <p>But since the City Charter only applies to “all officials, officers and employees of the city,” state officials and legislators are out of reach of those provisions and prohibitions. The <a href="http://assembly.state.ny.us/Rules/?sec=r5#s10">state Assembly’s</a> blackout period, in comparison, is only 30 days before a local, special or primary election and 60 days before the general. This effectively allows state legislators to use their offices to promote their image and build greater name recognition, enhancing the already-significant power of incumbency and giving them an additional leg up over their opponents who would have to rely on campaign funds to communicate with voters.</p> <p>“It’s a clear loophole,” said John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, a government reform organization. “The problem is that city law is always subordinate to state law. So the CFB cannot tell a state legislator what they can or cannot do.”</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/ortiz_mailer_crop.png" alt="ortiz mailer crop" width="250" height="142" style="margin-right: 8px; float: left;" />In District 38, incumbent Democratic City Council Member Carlos Menchaca is facing a slew of challengers, including sitting Assemblymember Felix Ortiz. A complaint filed with the CFB earlier this month alleged that Ortiz had violated the CFB’s blackout provisions by sending out four mailers from his government office over the summer. But these mailers, a regular function of state legislative offices, are exempt from the CFB’s purview.</p> <p>“Part of Felix’s job as an Assemblyman is to inform his constituents, whether he’s running for office or not,” said Robinson Iglesias, Ortiz’s campaign treasurer. “He has been in full compliance with the CFB and he will continue to do so.”</p> <p>“For sure, it’s unfair. For sure, it’s an advantage,” said Kaehny of the loophole. “It hasn’t been effectively exploited until now. The reality is, an incumbent already has an advantage in name identity. Using their mail privileges helps reinforce that name identity...This is a real unfairness under the law.”</p> <p>Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj, the frontrunner for the District 13 seat being vacated by Council Member James Vacca, similarly sent out a legislative update to his constituents at the end of June.</p> <p>Of Gjonaj’s four opponents in the Democratic primary, John Doyle has been his most vociferous critic and lodged objections with the CFB over potential violations regarding mass mailers and government-sponsored communications. When informed that the communications were largely permitted under the Assembly’s rules, Doyle directed his ire at both the state Legislature and Gjonaj. “We have a culture of corruption in Albany that allows this,” Doyle said in a phone interview. “This is the state Legislature that can’t seem to pass comprehensive campaign finance reform.”</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/gjonaj_mailer_crop.jpg" alt="gjonaj mailer crop" width="250" height="242" style="margin-right: 8px; float: left;" />Doyle also insisted that Gjonaj has ample campaign resources at his disposal to get his message out and should have eschewed the Legislature’s mass mailing resources. “He’s against public funds to augment the voice of ordinary citizens,” Doyle said, referring to Gjonaj’s decision to not participate in the CFB’s public matching funds program, “but he has no problem using public funds when it supports his interests.”</p> <p>Gjonaj’s campaign spokesperson Jennifer Blatus pushed back against Doyle’s complaint. “Let's be clear, there was no unfair advantage in the District 13 council race,” Blatus said in an email. “This is another ridiculous attempt by John Doyle to distract voters and continue his negative and divisive campaign.” Insisting that the CFB allows elected officials to conduct ordinary communications with constituents, she added, “In the final days of this election, while Mr. Doyle continues to complain over the experience Mark Gjonaj brings to this race, our campaign remains focused on the issues at hand, which is quality of life, public safety, education and transportation.”</p> <p>In District 21, where Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland is stepping down at the end of her current term, two Democrats are facing off in the primary: Assemblymember Francisco Moya and Hiram Monserrate, a disgraced former state Senator and Council member who is attempting a comeback after a checkered recent past that includes separate criminal convictions on fraud and assault charges.</p> <p>Monserrate claims that Moya misused government resources to send mass email blasts within the 90-day period, including references to events Moya attended outside his district. Moya’s Assembly district overlaps with parts of Council District 21 but excludes large sections. “Moya is a liar and a fraud,” Monserrate said in a statement. “He lies about where he lives. And now we know he's committing fraud by using tax-dollars illegally to campaign.”</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/moya_mailer_crop.jpg" alt="moya mailer crop" width="250" height="169" style="margin-right: 8px; float: left;" />In a written response to the CFB on Monserrate’s complaint, Moya noted, correctly, that “as an Assemblymember my mail cut off deadline is different than sitting City electeds.” In a statement to Gotham Gazette, Moya had harsher words for his opponent. “My opponent is a convicted felon who has zero credibility on this or any other issue in the campaign,” he said. “He is using these baseless claims to attack my record of public service, and direct attention away from his corrupt, violent history. These charges have been easily refuted by my campaign, and simply bear no resemblance to the facts.”</p> <p>Moya went on to criticize Monserrate for his own misuse of taxpayer funds. “The questions voters are asking are, ‘Hiram, where is our money that you stole and how can we ever trust you again?’”</p> <p>The CFB and the City are mostly powerless to bridge the gap in the law. “Obviously we provide extensive guidance on how candidates should handle constituent communications in the days leading up to an election, It’s certainly something we monitor,” said Matt Sollars, a CFB spokesperson.</p> <p>Reinvent Albany’s Kaehny says closing the loophole would require the state Legislature to take action, “which it seems very unlikely to do.” In the absence of legislation, he said, “The best thing CFB could do is keep track and include as much information in their post-election report to note how much of a problem it is and bring attention to that.”</p> <p>The CFB issues a comprehensive report after each city election that includes numerous recommendations on improving the campaign finance and election system. Many of the recommendations from their 2013 report were passed into law by the City Council.</p> <p>Two other state Legislators are also running for “open” City Council seats, though no apparent complaints have been lodged against either. Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez, who has also sent out mass mailers from his office, is running for the District 8 seat currently held by term-limited Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito; and in District 18, state Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., famous for his constituent e-blasts, which have continued apace, is vying for the seat being vacated by term-limited Council Member Annabel Palma.</p> <p>Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, another good government group, conceded that the CFB has no authority over the state and insisted that the Legislature should increase its own communication blackout periods to undo the advantage that accrues to lawmakers.</p> <p>“Legislators wouldn’t send [mailers] out if they didn’t think it will bolster public good will,” Horner said, adding that perhaps it will fall to voters to ensure a level standard. “I think it’s fair for the public to urge state elected officials running for City Council to follow the same rules,” he said.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
As Session Nears End, Electoral Reforms Mostly Stalled & Cuomo Quiet 2017-06-04T04:00:00+00:00 2017-06-04T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6972-as-session-nears-end-electoral-reforms-mostly-stalled-cuomo-quiet Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/22127912963_5f30becd97_z_3.jpg" alt="Cuomo voting 2015" width="600" height="390" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo votes (photo: The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Governor Andrew Cuomo’s <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2017/04/cuomo-says-goodbye-to-albany-and-any-ethics-push-for-the-year-111271" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">prediction</a> that there is insufficient political will at the New York State Legislature to pass any significant voting reform measures this year may be coming to fruition.</p> <p>During the final weeks before the end of the legislative session, this year June 21 -- when lawmakers leave the Capitol and return to their districts for the remainder of the year -- there is typically a final thrust for policy measures that did not make it into the budget, which this year was passed in early April.</p> <p>On the electoral front, there has been a growing push from voting reform activists, civil rights organizations, and some Democratic elected officials to modernize New York’s arcane system, but, given the reluctance of Senate Republicans and, at least in part, Cuomo’s lack of prioritization of electoral reform despite saying in January he backs an ambitious agenda, major reforms appear to be elusive.</p> <p>Citing numerous barriers faced by voters during the 2016 elections, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and New York City Bill de Blasio have joined the call for Albany to pass meaningful electoral reform, a cause that has been <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6908-activists-lawmakers-rally-for-voting-reform-at-capitol" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">championed</a> by other Democrats in the state Assembly majority and Senate minority.</p> <p>Democrats in both legislative houses have introduced a slew of voting reform bills -- including legislation on early voting, automatic voter registration, electronic poll books, and “no excuse” absentee ballots, among other measures -- as they do each year. While most <a href="http://nyassembly.gov/Press/20170515/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">passed</a> the Democrat-controlled Assembly, as usual, the efforts are stalled in the Senate, where Republicans control the chamber by a slim majority given the help of Senator Simcha Felder, a nominal Democrat who conferences with Republicans, and bolstered by the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) in a coalition agreement.</p> <p>The Senate has passed a significantly slimmer electoral package, most of which would do little to increase voter access or enhance voter registration.</p> <p>So far, the only electoral legislation passed in both houses would allow polling place inspectors to work eight-hour half-shifts, when previously they were made to work 16-hour days. It is a move intended to help Boards of Elections recruit staff and improve efficiency on election days.</p> <p>Another piece of legislation, sponsored by IDC Senator Diane Savino and Assemblymember Amy Paulin in their respective chambers, would require special ballots to be mailed to domestic violence victims and has passed each house’s election committee and is calendared for floor votes.</p> <p>The Assembly election committee <a href="http://nyassembly.gov/leg/?sh=agen2&amp;agenda=2017-06-02-20.51.46.129889&amp;ver=2017-06-02-20.51.46.188449&amp;ano=18&amp;com=Election%20Law" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">is meeting</a> on Tuesday, June 6, to consider a dozen more electoral law changes.</p> <p>Other relatively minor pieces of electoral <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/S1567/amendment/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">legislation</a> close to being passed in both houses relate to the way candidates are listed on the ballot, the creation of an inventory of official campaign websites, and protecting the ballot information of domestic violence victims.</p> <p>One sign of the lack of agreement on major electoral reforms, though, relates to consolidating New York’s repetitive primary election days, a cause that has bipartisan support -- in theory. Both the Senate and Assembly have passed bills to consolidate federal and state primary elections -- a move projected to save the state $25 million and help increase voter turnout -- however the houses cannot disagree on which month to hold the joint election.</p> <p>The congressional primaries were split from state level primaries in 2012, when the federal MOVE Act mandated that federal elections allow sufficient time for absentee ballots from those in the army and overseas to be collected. The Assembly bill requires the joint primary to happen in June, in order to allow more absentee ballots to trickle in, while the Senate suggests an August date, which would still meet federal regulations. Democrats argue that the August date would suppress voter turnout given peoples’ summer vacations.</p> <p>The only bill designed to expand voter access that has advanced in the Senate is an early voting bill, sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, which would allow eligible New Yorkers an additional seven-day window prior to election day to cast their ballots, but it too appears unlikely to reach the Senate floor.</p> <p>Stewart-Cousins’ bill, which mirrors legislation by Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh that has passed the Assembly, would open poll sites for seven days ahead of election day, allowing one day in between the early voting period and elections. Each county, depending on its size, would be required to make at least one and up to seven polling sites available during that period.</p> <p>In March, when Stewart-Cousins forced the Senate election committee to vote on the measure, Democratic members of the committee voted to advance the bill to the Senate floor, only to have it diverted to the local government committee by GOP members. <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2017/05/01/senate-committee-advances-early-voting-bill-111684" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">As Politico wrote</a>, the majority conference is able to kill legislation without explicitly voting against it by pawning it off to another committee, which is unlikely to meet more than once or twice before the end of session and does not have to calendar a vote.</p> <p><a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/S3304" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A bill</a> for automatic voter registration, sponsored by Senator Michael Gianaris, a Democrat from Queens, was defeated after a vote was compelled in the same manner.</p> <p>While Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, unveiled a sweeping electoral reform agenda during his 2017 State of the State, by April, following the passage of the budget, he appeared to have lost any can-do, <a href="http://www.twcnews.com/nys/capital-region/politics/2017/04/28/new-york-democrats-still-trying-to-overhaul-state-voting-laws.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">telling reporters</a>, “There is more to do; there is no political will to do it. Otherwise we would have done it in the budget."</p> <p>This lack of enthusiasm on voting reform is echoed by Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, Republican of Long Island, who, when asked recently by a reporter, noted the fiscal component of early voting. “Early voting is defined so many ways, is it just one day?” he asked rhetorically. “I was just joking around that I’m supportive of early voting, just start 5 o’clock instead of 6. It is a serious subject and something we should be talking about, but how do you do that without costing astronomical amounts of money? Our county boards of election are strapped right now.”</p> <p>While there is still time left in the legislative session, without Cuomo using his influence, movement on the issue in unlikely, according the Blair Horner, executive director of New York Public Interest Group, one of the advocacy organizations lobbying for electoral reform.</p> <p>“Lawmakers don't have to face voters until next year so they are more likely to do popular things on even number years than odd number years. The governor has not shown a lot of leadership on this, so they haven't felt a lot of pressure,” Horner said.</p> <p>De Blasio, no ally of Cuomo, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6964-de-blasio-announces-plan-to-push-electoral-reform-in-albany" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told Gotham Gazette</a> last week that he and unnamed partners intend “to launch a major effort” to see voting and election reforms passed in Albany by the end of the session.<br /><br />Cuomo’s office <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6964-de-blasio-announces-plan-to-push-electoral-reform-in-albany" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told Gotham Gazette</a> that the governor continues to support modernizing the state’s electoral laws and will keep pushing for measures to do so despite their lack of movement through the Legislature. A spokesperson did not answer whether the governor would make any public push to see his desired electoral reforms passed.</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/22127912963_5f30becd97_z_3.jpg" alt="Cuomo voting 2015" width="600" height="390" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo votes (photo: The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Governor Andrew Cuomo’s <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2017/04/cuomo-says-goodbye-to-albany-and-any-ethics-push-for-the-year-111271" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">prediction</a> that there is insufficient political will at the New York State Legislature to pass any significant voting reform measures this year may be coming to fruition.</p> <p>During the final weeks before the end of the legislative session, this year June 21 -- when lawmakers leave the Capitol and return to their districts for the remainder of the year -- there is typically a final thrust for policy measures that did not make it into the budget, which this year was passed in early April.</p> <p>On the electoral front, there has been a growing push from voting reform activists, civil rights organizations, and some Democratic elected officials to modernize New York’s arcane system, but, given the reluctance of Senate Republicans and, at least in part, Cuomo’s lack of prioritization of electoral reform despite saying in January he backs an ambitious agenda, major reforms appear to be elusive.</p> <p>Citing numerous barriers faced by voters during the 2016 elections, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and New York City Bill de Blasio have joined the call for Albany to pass meaningful electoral reform, a cause that has been <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6908-activists-lawmakers-rally-for-voting-reform-at-capitol" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">championed</a> by other Democrats in the state Assembly majority and Senate minority.</p> <p>Democrats in both legislative houses have introduced a slew of voting reform bills -- including legislation on early voting, automatic voter registration, electronic poll books, and “no excuse” absentee ballots, among other measures -- as they do each year. While most <a href="http://nyassembly.gov/Press/20170515/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">passed</a> the Democrat-controlled Assembly, as usual, the efforts are stalled in the Senate, where Republicans control the chamber by a slim majority given the help of Senator Simcha Felder, a nominal Democrat who conferences with Republicans, and bolstered by the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) in a coalition agreement.</p> <p>The Senate has passed a significantly slimmer electoral package, most of which would do little to increase voter access or enhance voter registration.</p> <p>So far, the only electoral legislation passed in both houses would allow polling place inspectors to work eight-hour half-shifts, when previously they were made to work 16-hour days. It is a move intended to help Boards of Elections recruit staff and improve efficiency on election days.</p> <p>Another piece of legislation, sponsored by IDC Senator Diane Savino and Assemblymember Amy Paulin in their respective chambers, would require special ballots to be mailed to domestic violence victims and has passed each house’s election committee and is calendared for floor votes.</p> <p>The Assembly election committee <a href="http://nyassembly.gov/leg/?sh=agen2&amp;agenda=2017-06-02-20.51.46.129889&amp;ver=2017-06-02-20.51.46.188449&amp;ano=18&amp;com=Election%20Law" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">is meeting</a> on Tuesday, June 6, to consider a dozen more electoral law changes.</p> <p>Other relatively minor pieces of electoral <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/S1567/amendment/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">legislation</a> close to being passed in both houses relate to the way candidates are listed on the ballot, the creation of an inventory of official campaign websites, and protecting the ballot information of domestic violence victims.</p> <p>One sign of the lack of agreement on major electoral reforms, though, relates to consolidating New York’s repetitive primary election days, a cause that has bipartisan support -- in theory. Both the Senate and Assembly have passed bills to consolidate federal and state primary elections -- a move projected to save the state $25 million and help increase voter turnout -- however the houses cannot disagree on which month to hold the joint election.</p> <p>The congressional primaries were split from state level primaries in 2012, when the federal MOVE Act mandated that federal elections allow sufficient time for absentee ballots from those in the army and overseas to be collected. The Assembly bill requires the joint primary to happen in June, in order to allow more absentee ballots to trickle in, while the Senate suggests an August date, which would still meet federal regulations. Democrats argue that the August date would suppress voter turnout given peoples’ summer vacations.</p> <p>The only bill designed to expand voter access that has advanced in the Senate is an early voting bill, sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, which would allow eligible New Yorkers an additional seven-day window prior to election day to cast their ballots, but it too appears unlikely to reach the Senate floor.</p> <p>Stewart-Cousins’ bill, which mirrors legislation by Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh that has passed the Assembly, would open poll sites for seven days ahead of election day, allowing one day in between the early voting period and elections. Each county, depending on its size, would be required to make at least one and up to seven polling sites available during that period.</p> <p>In March, when Stewart-Cousins forced the Senate election committee to vote on the measure, Democratic members of the committee voted to advance the bill to the Senate floor, only to have it diverted to the local government committee by GOP members. <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2017/05/01/senate-committee-advances-early-voting-bill-111684" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">As Politico wrote</a>, the majority conference is able to kill legislation without explicitly voting against it by pawning it off to another committee, which is unlikely to meet more than once or twice before the end of session and does not have to calendar a vote.</p> <p><a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/S3304" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A bill</a> for automatic voter registration, sponsored by Senator Michael Gianaris, a Democrat from Queens, was defeated after a vote was compelled in the same manner.</p> <p>While Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, unveiled a sweeping electoral reform agenda during his 2017 State of the State, by April, following the passage of the budget, he appeared to have lost any can-do, <a href="http://www.twcnews.com/nys/capital-region/politics/2017/04/28/new-york-democrats-still-trying-to-overhaul-state-voting-laws.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">telling reporters</a>, “There is more to do; there is no political will to do it. Otherwise we would have done it in the budget."</p> <p>This lack of enthusiasm on voting reform is echoed by Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, Republican of Long Island, who, when asked recently by a reporter, noted the fiscal component of early voting. “Early voting is defined so many ways, is it just one day?” he asked rhetorically. “I was just joking around that I’m supportive of early voting, just start 5 o’clock instead of 6. It is a serious subject and something we should be talking about, but how do you do that without costing astronomical amounts of money? Our county boards of election are strapped right now.”</p> <p>While there is still time left in the legislative session, without Cuomo using his influence, movement on the issue in unlikely, according the Blair Horner, executive director of New York Public Interest Group, one of the advocacy organizations lobbying for electoral reform.</p> <p>“Lawmakers don't have to face voters until next year so they are more likely to do popular things on even number years than odd number years. The governor has not shown a lot of leadership on this, so they haven't felt a lot of pressure,” Horner said.</p> <p>De Blasio, no ally of Cuomo, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6964-de-blasio-announces-plan-to-push-electoral-reform-in-albany" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told Gotham Gazette</a> last week that he and unnamed partners intend “to launch a major effort” to see voting and election reforms passed in Albany by the end of the session.<br /><br />Cuomo’s office <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6964-de-blasio-announces-plan-to-push-electoral-reform-in-albany" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told Gotham Gazette</a> that the governor continues to support modernizing the state’s electoral laws and will keep pushing for measures to do so despite their lack of movement through the Legislature. A spokesperson did not answer whether the governor would make any public push to see his desired electoral reforms passed.</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
As Legislative Leaders Warn of Con Con Dangers, Good Government Groups Come Out in Favor 2017-05-16T04:00:00+00:00 2017-05-16T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6935-as-legislative-leaders-warn-of-con-con-dangers-good-government-groups-come-out-in-favor Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/assembly_chamber_via_wikicommons.jpg" alt="assembly chamber via wikicommons" width="600" height="351" /></p> <p>The Assembly (photo: wikicommons)</p> <hr /> <p>While legislative leaders are declaring opposition to a New York State constitutional convention, government reform organizations are trending in the other direction, with some who were wary of the idea in previous years coming out in support or considering doing so.</p> <p>Leading up to the November 7 vote on whether to hold a convention, the debate is shaping up around fear of what could be taken away versus hope that the public can take a shot at democratic reform.</p> <p>Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, in a joint appearance in Albany on May 9, both warned of dangers posed by deep-pocketed interests from outside the state, who could potentially derail a “people’s convention.”</p> <p>“I understand people’s desire to put it in the hands of the people to decide. But people are also subjected to campaigns,” Heastie said at the event at the Albany Times Union’s Hearst Media Center. “I think we should be very, very careful in exposing the constitution to the whims of someone from outside of the state who can decide to spend millions of dollars to put forward their position.”</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6769-as-con-con-debate-heats-up-heastie-declares-opposition" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Heastie</a> and Flanagan, of the Bronx and Long Island, respectively, suggested that the state instead continue using piecemeal constitutional amendments to update the lengthy, outdated document. Such amendments must be passed by two consecutive legislative classes, then the public via singular ballot amendment.</p> <p>Similar sentiments have been expressed by Senator Jeff Klein, leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group of Senate Democrats that forms a ruling coalition with the GOP, and, most recently, by Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/dem-warns-convention-change-n-y-constitution-article-1.3148452" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an interview with The Daily News</a>. On the other hand, Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, an upstate Republican, has for years been an outspoken proponent of holding a convention and is the only legislative conference leader in support of a “yes” vote on this year’s November ballot question as to whether New York should hold a convention to edit or rewrite its constitution.</p> <p>The authors of the New York State Constitution included a provision that once every 20 years, the public would have the opportunity to completely overhaul and modernize the document. So, this Election Day, voters will vote on whether to hold a constitutional convention -- or a “con con,” as it is sometimes called -- and if the referendum passes, the people will then elect delegates, who would convene to potentially rewrite, or significantly propose modifications to the state constitution. Those proposals would then go before voters as a slate of changes to be voted up or down.</p> <p>While legislative leaders are expressing their fear of a con con, a growing number of government reform advocates say it’s an opportunity to enact long-sought reforms that have been stagnant in the Legislature.</p> <p>In March, for the first time in half a century, the League of Women Voters’ New York chapter <a href="http://files.constantcontact.com/37d635eb001/d805e949-b29f-4b1b-86a3-6ca4c081d62c.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">endorsed a “yes” vote</a> for the once-in-a-generation referendum, citing electoral reforms, campaign finance reform, fair legislative redistricting, and the modernization of New York’s court system as motivating factors. The League had been instrumental in the last convention, which took place in 1967, but did not produce the sweeping reforms many had hoped for, and ultimately all the proposed amendments, which were controversially presented to voters as a package deal, were voted down.</p> <p>In the 1990s, the group’s board had a policy that the League would not endorse another constitutional convention unless the essential changes were made to the delegate selection and convention process. Five years ago, LWV board members agreed to modify that policy; rather than automatically opposing a convention that did not meet those requirements, the board would reconvene and consider whether to support a convention while thoroughly weighing delegate election and transparency concerns.</p> <p>In 1997, the last time a con con was on the ballot, most good government groups chose to remain neutral on the ballot question, focussing instead on launching educational campaigns about the pros and cons of holding a convention, and potential issues to be addressed. Only Citizens Union, one of New York’s leading government reform organizations (and sister organization to Gotham Gazette’s publisher, Citizens Union Foundation), has consistently backed a constitutional convention, despite what was to many a disappointing outcome from the 1967 convention.</p> <p>Twenty years ago, as was the case during previous con con votes, there was some momentum to back a convention prior to the vote, and public opinion polls showed significant interest. But a last-minute ad campaign by labor unions and other interest groups ultimately dissuaded voters for voting “yes” on the ballot question.</p> <p>“The campaign to defeat the convention referendum has created some of the oddest political bedfellows in recent memory. The A.F.L.-C.I.O., the Conservative Party, the Sierra Club, the National Abortion Rights Action League, legislators of both parties and Change New York, the anti-tax group, were united against the measure,” wrote Richard Perez-Pena, for the New York Times, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/1997/11/05/nyregion/the-1997-elections-ballot-question-voters-reject-constitutional-convention.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">on November 5, 1997</a>, just before the con con vote that year.</p> <p>This year -- which follows a two-decade stretch that has seen dozens of elected officials leave office due to ethical or legal scandal -- there appears to be a marked shift and legislative leaders are finding themselves at odds with government reform organizations who view the convention more favorably, even those who sat out the vote in 1997.</p> <p>Citizens Union is again in suppor and the League of Women Voters is not the only government reform organization reevaluating its stance. The New York State Bar Association (NYSBA), which as part of its mission seeks to raise judicial standards and reform the legal system, will discuss the issue at its upcoming House of Delegates meeting on June 17, and consider voting on whether to take a position on the ballot measure, a spokesperson has confirmed.</p> <p>In February, NYSBA issued <a href="http://www.nysba.org/CustomTemplates/SecondaryStandard.aspx?id=70868" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a report</a> highlighting how a constitutional convention could streamline all aspects of New York’s bafflingly complex legal system, from traffic ticket processing to child support orders.</p> <p>The League of Women Voters does still hold concerns about how a convention would be implemented, but decided the potential benefits outweigh the risks.</p> <p>“We’re not saying this is the end-all and be-all, but we are going to try get all we want out of it. And there are risks, but it’s a balancing act. We asked the question: Is it worth it that we could gain more than people think might be lost? And the state League has decided yes, that it’s worth opening it up and trying to get the changes that we can’t get through the Legislature now,” said Laura Ladd Bierman, executive director of League of Women Voters New York.</p> <p>Ladd Bierman noted that some state lawmakers recently told members of the League they would be more amenable to pushing for voting reform if the public voted in favor of a convention.</p> <p>SUNY New Paltz professor Gerald Benjamin, who has been on the front lines pushing for constitutional reform for decades, said he is not surprised government reform organizations are coming around on the issue.</p> <p>“Twenty years ago they made a set of decisions, so they have 20 years of experience in observing whether they have been able to achieve the reforms necessary -- they have not -- so they rightfully understand that this is the only way they are going to make progress,” said Benjamin. “Twenty years have reinforced the observation that the Legislature will not make fundamental structural changes, and the reputation in New York governance has steadily declined.”</p> <p>Representatives from other government watchdog organizations -- including New York Public Interest Group (NYPIRG), Reinvent Albany, Common Cause, and Citizens Budget Commission -- told Gotham Gazette that they have not taken a position on the ballot question, but that the issue is being debated vigorously internally.</p> <p>“I'm not sure what we will do. Twenty years ago we thought we could play the most useful role by staying neutral and offering a balanced look at the pros and cons of a convention,” said NYPIRG’s executive director Blair Horner. “It's possible we'll be in the same place this year.”</p> <p>Bill Samuels, a businessman, con con advocate, and chair of the board of EffectiveNY, a think tank, believes the chaos surrounding President Donald Trump’s administration will also help fuel a “yes” vote in November.</p> <p>“The same activists who were around in 1967 during the civil rights-anti war movement are still around today,” he said. “When you combine that with what’s happening in Washington -- if I had to sum it up: we still have a system in Albany that’s still not reaching its goal. New York and California have emerged as the great stand-up states to Trump. We want to be excited, we want to have the best Legislature in the country, and we think we can! The best way to fight Trump is to move New York forward.”</p> <p>In the past, Governor Andrew Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, has repeatedly expressed support for a convention, suggesting a con con may be the only way to enact comprehensive campaign finance reform while Republicans who oppose a public matching system and donation limits continue to control the state Senate. While Cuomo came out in vocal support last year and attempted to insert money into the state budget for a preparatory committee, the issue was not included in his 2017 State of the State policy book nor his executive budget proposal. Cuomo’s office told Gotham Gazette the governor still favors a con con, but Cuomo has not been vocal about the issue. This governor has not set aside funds to plot out a potential convention like his father, former Governor Mario Cuomo, did ahead of the 1997 vote.</p> <p>During a recent meeting with The Daily News editorial board, Cuomo said he supports the idea of a convention, but “you have to find a way where the delegates do not wind up being the same legislators who you are trying to change the rules on. I have not heard a plan that does that." In this point, Cuomo echoed what a variety of other elected officials, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, have said about concerns regarding the delegate process.</p> <p>Meanwhile, a 40-member coalition of con con supporters called the Committee for a Constitutional Convention <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2017/01/committee-formed-to-support-constitutional-convention-vote-108991" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">has launched</a>. The group includes many prominent public figures including former chief judge Jonathan Lippman, former lieutenant governor Stan Lundine, and former state senator Seymour Lachman. They are joined by constitutional experts like Professor Benjamin and Touro Law Center dean Patty Salkin and slew of well-known attorneys like the Brennan Center’s Fritz Schwarz. Bill Samuels is a member as well.</p> <p>For Citizens Union, support for a convention has only been reinforced over the last two decades. “Twenty years ago, we felt like money in politics was a problem, that effective strong oversight of public ethics was a problem, that our court system was a problem, and the balance of power between the governor and the Legislature were a problem,” said Citizen Union executive director Dick Dadey. “Those problems have not gone away. In fact, they’ve gotten worse. Our state government is broken. Budget bills are passed in the dark of night with little time to scrutinize them, pay to play culture is thriving, and voter apathy is rising.”</p> <p>Opponents of a convention fear opening up the constitution could put at risk hard-won labor and environmental protections, among others. Those concerned about outside interests swaying the outcome of a convention also note that delegates are frequently people who are well-known in public life, often those who hold or previously held a public office, and point to a skewed delegate election process, which they say undermines the point of a “people’s convention.”</p> <p>The current system allows major political parties to influence <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/6628-the-best-delegate-election-process-for-a-new-york-constitutional-convention" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the delegate election</a>, by grouping together a “slate” of candidates on the ballot. Further, of 204 elected delegates, 189 would be chosen from New York’s 63 state Senate districts, three from each, which Democrats note are heavily gerrymandered in favor of Republican interests.</p> <p>While opposition forces, led by labor unions, have already begun to spend sizeable sums of money to encourage a “no” vote, it is unclear how<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6620-could-trump-sanders-populism-fuel-constitutional-convention-approval" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> rising populist sentiments</a> indicated in last year’s presidential election -- especially through the campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump -- may factor in.</p> <p>If the ballot measure does pass, Ladd Bierman of LWV noted, there are many questions that must be addressed in the following legislative session. Will voters be presented with a preselected slate of delegates? Will the convention be made subject to Freedom of Information Law? Where will the convention take place? The constitution says it must take place at the Capitol on April 2, but if the convention overlaps with the legislative session, there may not be sufficient office space to host the event.</p> <p>Regardless of where they stand on the ballot measure, she said, if it passes good government groups will be on the front lines pushing for a process that is as fair, transparent, and as democratic as possible.</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/assembly_chamber_via_wikicommons.jpg" alt="assembly chamber via wikicommons" width="600" height="351" /></p> <p>The Assembly (photo: wikicommons)</p> <hr /> <p>While legislative leaders are declaring opposition to a New York State constitutional convention, government reform organizations are trending in the other direction, with some who were wary of the idea in previous years coming out in support or considering doing so.</p> <p>Leading up to the November 7 vote on whether to hold a convention, the debate is shaping up around fear of what could be taken away versus hope that the public can take a shot at democratic reform.</p> <p>Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, in a joint appearance in Albany on May 9, both warned of dangers posed by deep-pocketed interests from outside the state, who could potentially derail a “people’s convention.”</p> <p>“I understand people’s desire to put it in the hands of the people to decide. But people are also subjected to campaigns,” Heastie said at the event at the Albany Times Union’s Hearst Media Center. “I think we should be very, very careful in exposing the constitution to the whims of someone from outside of the state who can decide to spend millions of dollars to put forward their position.”</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6769-as-con-con-debate-heats-up-heastie-declares-opposition" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Heastie</a> and Flanagan, of the Bronx and Long Island, respectively, suggested that the state instead continue using piecemeal constitutional amendments to update the lengthy, outdated document. Such amendments must be passed by two consecutive legislative classes, then the public via singular ballot amendment.</p> <p>Similar sentiments have been expressed by Senator Jeff Klein, leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group of Senate Democrats that forms a ruling coalition with the GOP, and, most recently, by Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/dem-warns-convention-change-n-y-constitution-article-1.3148452" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an interview with The Daily News</a>. On the other hand, Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, an upstate Republican, has for years been an outspoken proponent of holding a convention and is the only legislative conference leader in support of a “yes” vote on this year’s November ballot question as to whether New York should hold a convention to edit or rewrite its constitution.</p> <p>The authors of the New York State Constitution included a provision that once every 20 years, the public would have the opportunity to completely overhaul and modernize the document. So, this Election Day, voters will vote on whether to hold a constitutional convention -- or a “con con,” as it is sometimes called -- and if the referendum passes, the people will then elect delegates, who would convene to potentially rewrite, or significantly propose modifications to the state constitution. Those proposals would then go before voters as a slate of changes to be voted up or down.</p> <p>While legislative leaders are expressing their fear of a con con, a growing number of government reform advocates say it’s an opportunity to enact long-sought reforms that have been stagnant in the Legislature.</p> <p>In March, for the first time in half a century, the League of Women Voters’ New York chapter <a href="http://files.constantcontact.com/37d635eb001/d805e949-b29f-4b1b-86a3-6ca4c081d62c.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">endorsed a “yes” vote</a> for the once-in-a-generation referendum, citing electoral reforms, campaign finance reform, fair legislative redistricting, and the modernization of New York’s court system as motivating factors. The League had been instrumental in the last convention, which took place in 1967, but did not produce the sweeping reforms many had hoped for, and ultimately all the proposed amendments, which were controversially presented to voters as a package deal, were voted down.</p> <p>In the 1990s, the group’s board had a policy that the League would not endorse another constitutional convention unless the essential changes were made to the delegate selection and convention process. Five years ago, LWV board members agreed to modify that policy; rather than automatically opposing a convention that did not meet those requirements, the board would reconvene and consider whether to support a convention while thoroughly weighing delegate election and transparency concerns.</p> <p>In 1997, the last time a con con was on the ballot, most good government groups chose to remain neutral on the ballot question, focussing instead on launching educational campaigns about the pros and cons of holding a convention, and potential issues to be addressed. Only Citizens Union, one of New York’s leading government reform organizations (and sister organization to Gotham Gazette’s publisher, Citizens Union Foundation), has consistently backed a constitutional convention, despite what was to many a disappointing outcome from the 1967 convention.</p> <p>Twenty years ago, as was the case during previous con con votes, there was some momentum to back a convention prior to the vote, and public opinion polls showed significant interest. But a last-minute ad campaign by labor unions and other interest groups ultimately dissuaded voters for voting “yes” on the ballot question.</p> <p>“The campaign to defeat the convention referendum has created some of the oddest political bedfellows in recent memory. The A.F.L.-C.I.O., the Conservative Party, the Sierra Club, the National Abortion Rights Action League, legislators of both parties and Change New York, the anti-tax group, were united against the measure,” wrote Richard Perez-Pena, for the New York Times, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/1997/11/05/nyregion/the-1997-elections-ballot-question-voters-reject-constitutional-convention.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">on November 5, 1997</a>, just before the con con vote that year.</p> <p>This year -- which follows a two-decade stretch that has seen dozens of elected officials leave office due to ethical or legal scandal -- there appears to be a marked shift and legislative leaders are finding themselves at odds with government reform organizations who view the convention more favorably, even those who sat out the vote in 1997.</p> <p>Citizens Union is again in suppor and the League of Women Voters is not the only government reform organization reevaluating its stance. The New York State Bar Association (NYSBA), which as part of its mission seeks to raise judicial standards and reform the legal system, will discuss the issue at its upcoming House of Delegates meeting on June 17, and consider voting on whether to take a position on the ballot measure, a spokesperson has confirmed.</p> <p>In February, NYSBA issued <a href="http://www.nysba.org/CustomTemplates/SecondaryStandard.aspx?id=70868" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a report</a> highlighting how a constitutional convention could streamline all aspects of New York’s bafflingly complex legal system, from traffic ticket processing to child support orders.</p> <p>The League of Women Voters does still hold concerns about how a convention would be implemented, but decided the potential benefits outweigh the risks.</p> <p>“We’re not saying this is the end-all and be-all, but we are going to try get all we want out of it. And there are risks, but it’s a balancing act. We asked the question: Is it worth it that we could gain more than people think might be lost? And the state League has decided yes, that it’s worth opening it up and trying to get the changes that we can’t get through the Legislature now,” said Laura Ladd Bierman, executive director of League of Women Voters New York.</p> <p>Ladd Bierman noted that some state lawmakers recently told members of the League they would be more amenable to pushing for voting reform if the public voted in favor of a convention.</p> <p>SUNY New Paltz professor Gerald Benjamin, who has been on the front lines pushing for constitutional reform for decades, said he is not surprised government reform organizations are coming around on the issue.</p> <p>“Twenty years ago they made a set of decisions, so they have 20 years of experience in observing whether they have been able to achieve the reforms necessary -- they have not -- so they rightfully understand that this is the only way they are going to make progress,” said Benjamin. “Twenty years have reinforced the observation that the Legislature will not make fundamental structural changes, and the reputation in New York governance has steadily declined.”</p> <p>Representatives from other government watchdog organizations -- including New York Public Interest Group (NYPIRG), Reinvent Albany, Common Cause, and Citizens Budget Commission -- told Gotham Gazette that they have not taken a position on the ballot question, but that the issue is being debated vigorously internally.</p> <p>“I'm not sure what we will do. Twenty years ago we thought we could play the most useful role by staying neutral and offering a balanced look at the pros and cons of a convention,” said NYPIRG’s executive director Blair Horner. “It's possible we'll be in the same place this year.”</p> <p>Bill Samuels, a businessman, con con advocate, and chair of the board of EffectiveNY, a think tank, believes the chaos surrounding President Donald Trump’s administration will also help fuel a “yes” vote in November.</p> <p>“The same activists who were around in 1967 during the civil rights-anti war movement are still around today,” he said. “When you combine that with what’s happening in Washington -- if I had to sum it up: we still have a system in Albany that’s still not reaching its goal. New York and California have emerged as the great stand-up states to Trump. We want to be excited, we want to have the best Legislature in the country, and we think we can! The best way to fight Trump is to move New York forward.”</p> <p>In the past, Governor Andrew Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, has repeatedly expressed support for a convention, suggesting a con con may be the only way to enact comprehensive campaign finance reform while Republicans who oppose a public matching system and donation limits continue to control the state Senate. While Cuomo came out in vocal support last year and attempted to insert money into the state budget for a preparatory committee, the issue was not included in his 2017 State of the State policy book nor his executive budget proposal. Cuomo’s office told Gotham Gazette the governor still favors a con con, but Cuomo has not been vocal about the issue. This governor has not set aside funds to plot out a potential convention like his father, former Governor Mario Cuomo, did ahead of the 1997 vote.</p> <p>During a recent meeting with The Daily News editorial board, Cuomo said he supports the idea of a convention, but “you have to find a way where the delegates do not wind up being the same legislators who you are trying to change the rules on. I have not heard a plan that does that." In this point, Cuomo echoed what a variety of other elected officials, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, have said about concerns regarding the delegate process.</p> <p>Meanwhile, a 40-member coalition of con con supporters called the Committee for a Constitutional Convention <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2017/01/committee-formed-to-support-constitutional-convention-vote-108991" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">has launched</a>. The group includes many prominent public figures including former chief judge Jonathan Lippman, former lieutenant governor Stan Lundine, and former state senator Seymour Lachman. They are joined by constitutional experts like Professor Benjamin and Touro Law Center dean Patty Salkin and slew of well-known attorneys like the Brennan Center’s Fritz Schwarz. Bill Samuels is a member as well.</p> <p>For Citizens Union, support for a convention has only been reinforced over the last two decades. “Twenty years ago, we felt like money in politics was a problem, that effective strong oversight of public ethics was a problem, that our court system was a problem, and the balance of power between the governor and the Legislature were a problem,” said Citizen Union executive director Dick Dadey. “Those problems have not gone away. In fact, they’ve gotten worse. Our state government is broken. Budget bills are passed in the dark of night with little time to scrutinize them, pay to play culture is thriving, and voter apathy is rising.”</p> <p>Opponents of a convention fear opening up the constitution could put at risk hard-won labor and environmental protections, among others. Those concerned about outside interests swaying the outcome of a convention also note that delegates are frequently people who are well-known in public life, often those who hold or previously held a public office, and point to a skewed delegate election process, which they say undermines the point of a “people’s convention.”</p> <p>The current system allows major political parties to influence <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/6628-the-best-delegate-election-process-for-a-new-york-constitutional-convention" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the delegate election</a>, by grouping together a “slate” of candidates on the ballot. Further, of 204 elected delegates, 189 would be chosen from New York’s 63 state Senate districts, three from each, which Democrats note are heavily gerrymandered in favor of Republican interests.</p> <p>While opposition forces, led by labor unions, have already begun to spend sizeable sums of money to encourage a “no” vote, it is unclear how<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6620-could-trump-sanders-populism-fuel-constitutional-convention-approval" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> rising populist sentiments</a> indicated in last year’s presidential election -- especially through the campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump -- may factor in.</p> <p>If the ballot measure does pass, Ladd Bierman of LWV noted, there are many questions that must be addressed in the following legislative session. Will voters be presented with a preselected slate of delegates? Will the convention be made subject to Freedom of Information Law? Where will the convention take place? The constitution says it must take place at the Capitol on April 2, but if the convention overlaps with the legislative session, there may not be sufficient office space to host the event.</p> <p>Regardless of where they stand on the ballot measure, she said, if it passes good government groups will be on the front lines pushing for a process that is as fair, transparent, and as democratic as possible.</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
Will Latest Indictment Give New Life to Ethics Reform in Albany? Don’t Bet On It 2017-03-23T04:00:00+00:00 2017-03-23T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6829-will-latest-indictment-give-new-life-to-ethics-reform-in-albany-don-t-bet-on-it Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/rob_ort.jpg" alt="rob ortt" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>State Sen. Rob Ortt (photo: @SenatorOrtt)</p> <hr /> <p>Corruption charges brought against a member of the state Senate Republican majority Wednesday have provided an opportunity for Democrats to jumpstart the seemingly dormant conversation on government ethics as state budget negotiations enter their final week.</p> <p>Senator Rob Ortt, of Niagara County, pleaded not guilty in Albany County Court Thursday morning, following his indictment on three felony counts of filing a false instrument, <a href="http://buffalonews.com/2017/03/23/ortt-pleads-not-guilty-three-felony-counts/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">according to reports</a>. For state government, this is just the latest scandal in an unrelenting stream of misconduct cases brought against members of both legislative houses on both sides of the political aisle, as well as individuals from and associated with the executive branch.</p> <p>More than 30 current or former New York state lawmakers have been convicted of crimes or accused of wrongdoing over the last decade, according to <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/07/23/nyregion/23moreland-commission-and-new-york-political-scandals.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a New York Times tally</a>.</p> <p>The charges against Ortt, who maintains his innocence, come as legislative leaders and Governor Andrew Cuomo face an April 1 deadline for a new budget. They also add a new dynamic to the miniscule difference that accounts for party control in the state Senate, where Republicans hold a bare majority and Democrats are divided among themselves.</p> <p>The Senate’s mainline Democrats, eager to regain control of the house, quickly jumped on this latest scandal as an opportunity to once again push for ethics reform, something that leaders of the majority conferences and the governor have shown reluctance in addressing this year. Cuomo laid out an ambitious reform agenda in January, but <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6814-since-state-of-the-state-cuomo-silent-on-ethics-reform" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">has done nothing to promote it publicly since</a>.</p> <p>“Once again this highlights the need for real ethics reforms, something the Senate Democrats have been calling on for years, and really shows the absurdity that there has been no talk in this budget process of cleaning up Albany and passing the strong ethics reforms,” said Senate Democratic Conference communications director Mike Murphy in a statement.</p> <p>Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s probe of election fraud in Niagara County found that Ortt’s wife held a no-show job, allegedly in order to offset a $5,000 salary reduction in Ortt’s previous capacity as Mayor of North Tonawanda, according to the charges.</p> <p>A defiant Ortt denied the allegations to reporters after a court appearance Thursday with his lawyer Steve Coffey. “I am not guilty. I am not resigning. I believe I will be exonerated and vindicated,” said Ortt.</p> <p>Ortt and his attorney both maintain that the indictment brought by the attorney general’s office is politically motivated, a charge denied by Schneiderman.</p> <p>The Niagara County case was referred to Schneiderman by the state Board of Elections, a bipartisan agency. Schneiderman, a Democrat and former state senator, has prosecuted cases involving Democrats like former Senator Shirley Huntley of Queens, New York City Council Member Ruben Wills, and Democratic political operative Steve Pigeon, as well as Republicans.</p> <p>Additional charges related to the probe were brought against Ortt’s predecessor, former Senator George Maziarz, also a Republican, who is alleged to have “orchestrated a multilayered pass-through scheme that enabled him to use money from his own campaign committee” as well as the from the Niagara County Republican Committee, “to funnel secret campaign payments to a former senate staffer who had left government service amid charges of sexual harassment,” according to the Attorney General’s Office.</p> <p>“No-show jobs and secret payments are the lifeblood of public corruption,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “New Yorkers deserve full and honest disclosures by their elected officials — not the graft and shadowy payments uncovered by our investigation. These allegations represent a shameful breach of the public trust — and we will hold those responsible to account.”</p> <p>Maziarz, who also pleaded not guilty Thursday, was charged with five felony counts of offering a false instrument for filing. If convicted, both Ortt and Maziarz face maximum sentences of one and a third to four years on each count.</p> <p>Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, in an appearance with reporters, stood behind Ortt, saying he was confident in the judicial system and that he would not expect his colleague to resign.</p> <p>“I’m going to continue to work with Rob, I’m sure he’s going to be back here tomorrow. The primary thing that he’s concerned about and I am concerned with is getting the budget done in a timely fashion,” said Flanagan.</p> <p>Typically, leaders of majority legislative conferences are resistant to increased oversight and transparency measures, as well as limitations on outside income or campaign contributions, while members of the minority conferences are for more reform. In the Legislature’s one-house budget resolutions, voted through last week, the Senate and Assembly presented ethics reform plans that were not particularly aligned. Notably, the Assembly’s resolution included more support for reform, including provisions for early and automatic voting, restrictions on use of campaign housekeeping accounts, and closure of the LLC loophole, which allows lawmakers to benefit from nearly unlimited and opaque campaign contributions.</p> <p>The resolutions are meant to serve as guiding documents during budget negotiations, which occur among the “three men in a room” -- in this case, Governor Cuomo, Flanagan, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and, this year, a fourth man, Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein.</p> <p>Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6814-since-state-of-the-state-cuomo-silent-on-ethics-reform" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">has been mostly silent on ethics</a> since introducing his wide-ranging plan for reform during his State of the State, which touched on campaign finance reform, increased contract oversight, and electoral reform. At a press conference earlier this week, Cuomo, who wields significant leverage over priorities addressed in budget talks, said policy matters, such as voting and ethics reforms, would likely be tackled after the budget was delivered.</p> <p>“The budget is primarily about finances,” Cuomo said in response to a question from a WNYC reporter. “If there’s a policy matter that is related to the finances then I try to include it, because the budget is a good vehicle to reconcile as much as you can. Many of the democracy issues that you talk about, we are going to take up after the budget.”</p> <p>"[I]t’s hard to believe that charges against one senator and one former senator will move the needle when convictions against the former leader of the Senate and the former speaker of the Assembly didn’t,” said Blair Horner of NYPIRG about the prospects of the latest indictments leading to reform.&nbsp;"It does remind everybody about how bad things are in Albany, that they have not really solved the problem," Horner said.</p> <p>Senate Republicans have opposed closure of the LLC loophole, which good government groups argue makes lawmakers particularly susceptible to pay-to-play politics. Earlier this week, when asked about calls from good government to include significant ethics reform in the state budget, Flanagan pointed to the Legislature’s moves to increase transparency.</p> <p>“I would say that the good government advocates have not been looking at what we’ve done in the past six years,” Flanagan said. “We have more transparency and more disclosure measures for elected officials than any other state in the country.”</p> <p>John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, said that the increased transparency measures are good, but only meaningful campaign finance reform will stem the flow of corruption in Albany.</p> <p>“Transparency is the first step you take in the long road towards clean government,” said Kaehny. “The crucial steps that have to happen are restrictions on unlimited political giving, in particular, closing the LLC loophole and housekeeping accounts. Otherwise there’s just a gusher of money pouring in.”</p> <p>But will the latest indictment drive the Legislature to overhaul its laws? “I think that’s pretty unlikely,” said Kaehny.</p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/rob_ort.jpg" alt="rob ortt" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>State Sen. Rob Ortt (photo: @SenatorOrtt)</p> <hr /> <p>Corruption charges brought against a member of the state Senate Republican majority Wednesday have provided an opportunity for Democrats to jumpstart the seemingly dormant conversation on government ethics as state budget negotiations enter their final week.</p> <p>Senator Rob Ortt, of Niagara County, pleaded not guilty in Albany County Court Thursday morning, following his indictment on three felony counts of filing a false instrument, <a href="http://buffalonews.com/2017/03/23/ortt-pleads-not-guilty-three-felony-counts/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">according to reports</a>. For state government, this is just the latest scandal in an unrelenting stream of misconduct cases brought against members of both legislative houses on both sides of the political aisle, as well as individuals from and associated with the executive branch.</p> <p>More than 30 current or former New York state lawmakers have been convicted of crimes or accused of wrongdoing over the last decade, according to <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/07/23/nyregion/23moreland-commission-and-new-york-political-scandals.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a New York Times tally</a>.</p> <p>The charges against Ortt, who maintains his innocence, come as legislative leaders and Governor Andrew Cuomo face an April 1 deadline for a new budget. They also add a new dynamic to the miniscule difference that accounts for party control in the state Senate, where Republicans hold a bare majority and Democrats are divided among themselves.</p> <p>The Senate’s mainline Democrats, eager to regain control of the house, quickly jumped on this latest scandal as an opportunity to once again push for ethics reform, something that leaders of the majority conferences and the governor have shown reluctance in addressing this year. Cuomo laid out an ambitious reform agenda in January, but <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6814-since-state-of-the-state-cuomo-silent-on-ethics-reform" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">has done nothing to promote it publicly since</a>.</p> <p>“Once again this highlights the need for real ethics reforms, something the Senate Democrats have been calling on for years, and really shows the absurdity that there has been no talk in this budget process of cleaning up Albany and passing the strong ethics reforms,” said Senate Democratic Conference communications director Mike Murphy in a statement.</p> <p>Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s probe of election fraud in Niagara County found that Ortt’s wife held a no-show job, allegedly in order to offset a $5,000 salary reduction in Ortt’s previous capacity as Mayor of North Tonawanda, according to the charges.</p> <p>A defiant Ortt denied the allegations to reporters after a court appearance Thursday with his lawyer Steve Coffey. “I am not guilty. I am not resigning. I believe I will be exonerated and vindicated,” said Ortt.</p> <p>Ortt and his attorney both maintain that the indictment brought by the attorney general’s office is politically motivated, a charge denied by Schneiderman.</p> <p>The Niagara County case was referred to Schneiderman by the state Board of Elections, a bipartisan agency. Schneiderman, a Democrat and former state senator, has prosecuted cases involving Democrats like former Senator Shirley Huntley of Queens, New York City Council Member Ruben Wills, and Democratic political operative Steve Pigeon, as well as Republicans.</p> <p>Additional charges related to the probe were brought against Ortt’s predecessor, former Senator George Maziarz, also a Republican, who is alleged to have “orchestrated a multilayered pass-through scheme that enabled him to use money from his own campaign committee” as well as the from the Niagara County Republican Committee, “to funnel secret campaign payments to a former senate staffer who had left government service amid charges of sexual harassment,” according to the Attorney General’s Office.</p> <p>“No-show jobs and secret payments are the lifeblood of public corruption,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “New Yorkers deserve full and honest disclosures by their elected officials — not the graft and shadowy payments uncovered by our investigation. These allegations represent a shameful breach of the public trust — and we will hold those responsible to account.”</p> <p>Maziarz, who also pleaded not guilty Thursday, was charged with five felony counts of offering a false instrument for filing. If convicted, both Ortt and Maziarz face maximum sentences of one and a third to four years on each count.</p> <p>Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, in an appearance with reporters, stood behind Ortt, saying he was confident in the judicial system and that he would not expect his colleague to resign.</p> <p>“I’m going to continue to work with Rob, I’m sure he’s going to be back here tomorrow. The primary thing that he’s concerned about and I am concerned with is getting the budget done in a timely fashion,” said Flanagan.</p> <p>Typically, leaders of majority legislative conferences are resistant to increased oversight and transparency measures, as well as limitations on outside income or campaign contributions, while members of the minority conferences are for more reform. In the Legislature’s one-house budget resolutions, voted through last week, the Senate and Assembly presented ethics reform plans that were not particularly aligned. Notably, the Assembly’s resolution included more support for reform, including provisions for early and automatic voting, restrictions on use of campaign housekeeping accounts, and closure of the LLC loophole, which allows lawmakers to benefit from nearly unlimited and opaque campaign contributions.</p> <p>The resolutions are meant to serve as guiding documents during budget negotiations, which occur among the “three men in a room” -- in this case, Governor Cuomo, Flanagan, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and, this year, a fourth man, Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein.</p> <p>Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6814-since-state-of-the-state-cuomo-silent-on-ethics-reform" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">has been mostly silent on ethics</a> since introducing his wide-ranging plan for reform during his State of the State, which touched on campaign finance reform, increased contract oversight, and electoral reform. At a press conference earlier this week, Cuomo, who wields significant leverage over priorities addressed in budget talks, said policy matters, such as voting and ethics reforms, would likely be tackled after the budget was delivered.</p> <p>“The budget is primarily about finances,” Cuomo said in response to a question from a WNYC reporter. “If there’s a policy matter that is related to the finances then I try to include it, because the budget is a good vehicle to reconcile as much as you can. Many of the democracy issues that you talk about, we are going to take up after the budget.”</p> <p>"[I]t’s hard to believe that charges against one senator and one former senator will move the needle when convictions against the former leader of the Senate and the former speaker of the Assembly didn’t,” said Blair Horner of NYPIRG about the prospects of the latest indictments leading to reform.&nbsp;"It does remind everybody about how bad things are in Albany, that they have not really solved the problem," Horner said.</p> <p>Senate Republicans have opposed closure of the LLC loophole, which good government groups argue makes lawmakers particularly susceptible to pay-to-play politics. Earlier this week, when asked about calls from good government to include significant ethics reform in the state budget, Flanagan pointed to the Legislature’s moves to increase transparency.</p> <p>“I would say that the good government advocates have not been looking at what we’ve done in the past six years,” Flanagan said. “We have more transparency and more disclosure measures for elected officials than any other state in the country.”</p> <p>John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, said that the increased transparency measures are good, but only meaningful campaign finance reform will stem the flow of corruption in Albany.</p> <p>“Transparency is the first step you take in the long road towards clean government,” said Kaehny. “The crucial steps that have to happen are restrictions on unlimited political giving, in particular, closing the LLC loophole and housekeeping accounts. Otherwise there’s just a gusher of money pouring in.”</p> <p>But will the latest indictment drive the Legislature to overhaul its laws? “I think that’s pretty unlikely,” said Kaehny.</p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Now a Lobbyist, Democratic Power Broker Faces Restrictions in New Job 2017-01-05T05:00:00+00:00 2017-01-05T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6702-now-a-lobbyist-democratic-power-broker-faces-restrictions-in-new-job Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/25090668205_33a25be8b3_z.jpg" alt="Keith Wright Governor Cuomo" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Keith Wright, left, &amp; Gov. Cuomo photo:&nbsp;(Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">A Democratic power broker from Harlem has been hired by a prominent lobbying firm to join its efforts to influence city and state government. Formerly state Democratic Party chair and a member of the state Assembly, Keith Wright is joining Davidoff Hutcher &amp; Citron LLP, but under state law he must avoid matters before both chambers of the state Legislature for two years after leaving office.</p> <p dir="ltr">Wright, who has been involved in New York politics for several decades, is currently chair of the Manhattan Democratic Party. He had been rumored as a City Council or state Senate candidate after he lost in a June Congressional primary and subsequently vacated his Assembly seat after declining to seek reelection. Wright’s move to Davidoff Hutcher &amp; Citron LLP was <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2017/01/keith-wright-joins-davidoff-hutcher-citron-108429" target="_blank">first reported</a> by Politico New York on Wednesday morning.</p> <p dir="ltr">The former legislator will “immediately take on a leadership role” in the firm’s lobbying at the state and city levels, according to a press release posted on <a href="http://dhclegal.com/former-assemblyman-keith-l-t-wright-joins-government-relations-practice-davidoff-hutcher-citron-llp/" target="_blank">the DHC website</a>. A partner told Gotham Gazette that Wright's exact role is still being defined.</p> <p dir="ltr">Under New York State’s <a href="http://www.jcope.ny.gov/about/ethc/PUBLIC%20OFFICERS%20LAW%2073.pdf" target="_blank">Public Officers Law</a>, however, Wright would be barred from lobbying before the state Legislature for two years. Without commenting specifically on Wright’s case, Walter McClure, director of communications for the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics, said in an email that restrictions under Section 8(a)(iii) apply to former legislators. That section of the law prohibits a former member of the Senate or Assembly from receiving compensation for “any services on behalf of any person, firm, corporation or association to promote or oppose, directly or indirectly, the passage of bills or resolutions by either house of the legislature.”</p> <p dir="ltr">McClure clarified though that a former legislator “could appear before other local, state (such as agencies and/or the Executive Chamber), or federal bodies.” &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">Wright has been figuring out his next step since his unsuccessful attempt for retiring Congressional Rep. Charles Rangel’s seat. Wright lost to fellow Democrat Adriano Espaillat in that June primary.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Keith Wright’s only career has been in government and he’s a valuable commodity because of his public service as an elected official,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a government reform group. “He needs to do what he knows and he knows how government functions very well so he is doing what I think anyone would do in his position.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Dadey said Wright is “an honorable guy” and he should be careful not to come in contact with the state Legislature, but, “everything else is fair game” if he follows the law.</p> <p dir="ltr">Wright’s move comes as budget negotiations will soon begin in Albany. The former Assembly member and Democratic leader has a close relationship with Governor Andrew Cuomo -- as chair of the state party, Wright strongly advocated for the governor’s reelection in 2014. He’s also held crucial positions in the Assembly majority, chairing key committees like housing, and heads the New York County Democratic Party Committee.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We’ve known Keith for a lot of years,” said Charles Capetanakis, partner at DHC and member of the firm’s management committee. Capetanakis said Wright would be part of the government relations team but could not specify in what capacity. “His role and involvement is yet to be determined,” he said, noting the prohibitions that Wright will face under state law. Wright was not made available for comment.</p> <p>In the announcement of his hire, Wright said, “While I will always cherish my time as a New York State Assemblyman, I am ready for a new challenge."</p> <p>DHC's&nbsp;"team of lobbyists" is "led by Sid Davidoff in New York City and Steve Malito in Albany," <a href="http://dhclegal.com/former-assemblyman-keith-l-t-wright-joins-government-relations-practice-davidoff-hutcher-citron-llp/" target="_blank">according to the firm</a>,&nbsp;and "DHC Government Relations clients have included Fortune 500 companies, major cultural institutions, land developers, government contractors, educational institutions, municipalities, public authorities, community interest groups, labor and professional organizations, non-profit corporations, and charities. We have seen success in local, state, and federal advocacy efforts in all of these areas."</p> <p dir="ltr">Government watchdogs do warn that Wright must tread carefully in his new role on the other side of the fence. “[Wright] has to be very careful in the ethically charged political environment in Albany,” said Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group. “My advice to the assemblyman is to follow the spirit, not just the letter of the law in terms of how he deals with government.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Although Horner acknowledged that Wright’s new employment opportunity is “perfectly allowed” under state law and is “a well-tried path” for many lawmakers, he said his organization would instead like to see a more comprehensive ban on lobbying across the state Legislature and the Executive.</p> <p>Citizens Union’s Dadey said, “There is a bright line there that can be followed and [Wright] needs to make sure he follows it, between the Executive and the Legislature. He can influence what the Executive branch presents and decides on the budget but he can’t come anywhere near any legislative activity. There are two halves to this budget process and he needs to make sure he stays in only one half.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6665-special-election-for-harlem-city-council-seat-kicks-off" target="_blank">Special Election for Harlem City Council Seat Kicks Off</a>]</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/25090668205_33a25be8b3_z.jpg" alt="Keith Wright Governor Cuomo" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Keith Wright, left, &amp; Gov. Cuomo photo:&nbsp;(Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">A Democratic power broker from Harlem has been hired by a prominent lobbying firm to join its efforts to influence city and state government. Formerly state Democratic Party chair and a member of the state Assembly, Keith Wright is joining Davidoff Hutcher &amp; Citron LLP, but under state law he must avoid matters before both chambers of the state Legislature for two years after leaving office.</p> <p dir="ltr">Wright, who has been involved in New York politics for several decades, is currently chair of the Manhattan Democratic Party. He had been rumored as a City Council or state Senate candidate after he lost in a June Congressional primary and subsequently vacated his Assembly seat after declining to seek reelection. Wright’s move to Davidoff Hutcher &amp; Citron LLP was <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2017/01/keith-wright-joins-davidoff-hutcher-citron-108429" target="_blank">first reported</a> by Politico New York on Wednesday morning.</p> <p dir="ltr">The former legislator will “immediately take on a leadership role” in the firm’s lobbying at the state and city levels, according to a press release posted on <a href="http://dhclegal.com/former-assemblyman-keith-l-t-wright-joins-government-relations-practice-davidoff-hutcher-citron-llp/" target="_blank">the DHC website</a>. A partner told Gotham Gazette that Wright's exact role is still being defined.</p> <p dir="ltr">Under New York State’s <a href="http://www.jcope.ny.gov/about/ethc/PUBLIC%20OFFICERS%20LAW%2073.pdf" target="_blank">Public Officers Law</a>, however, Wright would be barred from lobbying before the state Legislature for two years. Without commenting specifically on Wright’s case, Walter McClure, director of communications for the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics, said in an email that restrictions under Section 8(a)(iii) apply to former legislators. That section of the law prohibits a former member of the Senate or Assembly from receiving compensation for “any services on behalf of any person, firm, corporation or association to promote or oppose, directly or indirectly, the passage of bills or resolutions by either house of the legislature.”</p> <p dir="ltr">McClure clarified though that a former legislator “could appear before other local, state (such as agencies and/or the Executive Chamber), or federal bodies.” &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">Wright has been figuring out his next step since his unsuccessful attempt for retiring Congressional Rep. Charles Rangel’s seat. Wright lost to fellow Democrat Adriano Espaillat in that June primary.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Keith Wright’s only career has been in government and he’s a valuable commodity because of his public service as an elected official,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a government reform group. “He needs to do what he knows and he knows how government functions very well so he is doing what I think anyone would do in his position.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Dadey said Wright is “an honorable guy” and he should be careful not to come in contact with the state Legislature, but, “everything else is fair game” if he follows the law.</p> <p dir="ltr">Wright’s move comes as budget negotiations will soon begin in Albany. The former Assembly member and Democratic leader has a close relationship with Governor Andrew Cuomo -- as chair of the state party, Wright strongly advocated for the governor’s reelection in 2014. He’s also held crucial positions in the Assembly majority, chairing key committees like housing, and heads the New York County Democratic Party Committee.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We’ve known Keith for a lot of years,” said Charles Capetanakis, partner at DHC and member of the firm’s management committee. Capetanakis said Wright would be part of the government relations team but could not specify in what capacity. “His role and involvement is yet to be determined,” he said, noting the prohibitions that Wright will face under state law. Wright was not made available for comment.</p> <p>In the announcement of his hire, Wright said, “While I will always cherish my time as a New York State Assemblyman, I am ready for a new challenge."</p> <p>DHC's&nbsp;"team of lobbyists" is "led by Sid Davidoff in New York City and Steve Malito in Albany," <a href="http://dhclegal.com/former-assemblyman-keith-l-t-wright-joins-government-relations-practice-davidoff-hutcher-citron-llp/" target="_blank">according to the firm</a>,&nbsp;and "DHC Government Relations clients have included Fortune 500 companies, major cultural institutions, land developers, government contractors, educational institutions, municipalities, public authorities, community interest groups, labor and professional organizations, non-profit corporations, and charities. We have seen success in local, state, and federal advocacy efforts in all of these areas."</p> <p dir="ltr">Government watchdogs do warn that Wright must tread carefully in his new role on the other side of the fence. “[Wright] has to be very careful in the ethically charged political environment in Albany,” said Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group. “My advice to the assemblyman is to follow the spirit, not just the letter of the law in terms of how he deals with government.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Although Horner acknowledged that Wright’s new employment opportunity is “perfectly allowed” under state law and is “a well-tried path” for many lawmakers, he said his organization would instead like to see a more comprehensive ban on lobbying across the state Legislature and the Executive.</p> <p>Citizens Union’s Dadey said, “There is a bright line there that can be followed and [Wright] needs to make sure he follows it, between the Executive and the Legislature. He can influence what the Executive branch presents and decides on the budget but he can’t come anywhere near any legislative activity. There are two halves to this budget process and he needs to make sure he stays in only one half.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6665-special-election-for-harlem-city-council-seat-kicks-off" target="_blank">Special Election for Harlem City Council Seat Kicks Off</a>]</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
2016 Again Highlights New York ‘Incumbency Protection Machine’ 2016-09-19T04:00:00+00:00 2016-09-19T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6536-2016-again-highlights-new-york-incumbency-protection-machine Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/NYC_BOE_photo_voting_machines_cropped.png" alt="NYC BOE photo voting machines cropped" width="600" height="419" /></p> <p>(photo via NYC Board of Elections)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">New York City residents are represented in the state Legislature by a total of 91 seats, 26 in the state Senate and 65 in the state Assembly. Among them, 60 are held by incumbents who were uncontested in their party primary elections that took place Tuesday, September 13.</p> <p dir="ltr">In these just-completed primaries, 66 percent -- or about two-thirds -- of the city&rsquo;s state legislative seats saw no intra-party competition. Twenty-four New York City-based legislators did face primary challengers this month, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6526-new-york-state-legislative-primary-results" target="_blank">three of whom</a> lost.</p> <p dir="ltr">Additionally, there were seven already-vacant seats or seats where the current officeholder is not seeking re-election -- most of these seats saw competitive primaries, but City Council Member Inez Dickens <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6534-keith-wright-weighs-options-amid-uptown-power-shifts" target="_blank">ran unopposed</a> for the Assembly seat <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6534-keith-wright-weighs-options-amid-uptown-power-shifts" target="_blank">being vacated</a> by Keith Wright in Harlem.</p> <p>In total, there are 150 Assembly seats and 63 Senate seats in the state Legislature. There are no term limits for state legislators in New York.</p> <p dir="ltr">Of the 60 New York City-based incumbents who were uncontested from within their parties this cycle, 58 are Democrats, including State Senator Simcha Felder, who caucuses with Republicans in Albany and has both the Democrat and Republican lines on the ballot this year. In most, if not all, of these districts, Board of Elections voter enrollment data show registered Democrats outnumbering registered Republican voters 4-to-1, or more in some cases.</p> <p dir="ltr">The single party dominance in many districts renders general election competition virtually meaningless and allows incumbents to be re-elected without lifting a finger. In some districts, the opposing party isn&rsquo;t running a general election candidate at all. As many as 23 state legislators across the city will face neither a primary nor general election opponent this election cycle.</p> <p dir="ltr">For example, Queens Democratic Assemblymember Michael DenDekker is running unopposed in the general election after facing no challenger in the primary. Elected into office in 2008, DenDekker has never faced a primary or general election challenger, <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Michael_DenDekker" target="_blank">according to Ballotpedia</a>. Like with many other legislative races, especially so for uncontested votes, a small percentage of registered voters cast ballots for DenDekker and other uncontested incumbents, though numbers do rise when there is a presidential contest the same day.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the 2010 general election, not a presidential year, just 10,117 people -- 1-in-5 registered voters in Assembly District 34 -- selected DenDekker&rsquo;s name at the polls. New York State Assembly members each represent an average of 129,089 district residents, while state Senators have larger districts and represent roughly 307,356 residents, <a href="http://www.latfor.state.ny.us/faqs/" target="_blank">according to</a> the New York State Legislative Task Force on Demographics and Reapportionment.</p> <p>Senator Felder of Brooklyn, who has been instrumental in maintaining a narrow Republican majority in the state Senate, will appear on the Democratic, Republican and Conservative ballot lines in District 17 for the general election. Felder won his first state Senate election in 2012. In that first <a href="http://www.elections.ny.gov/NYSBOE/elections/2012/General/SD_07292013.pdf" target="_blank">general election</a> he defeated incumbent Republican David Storobin. He hasn&rsquo;t faced a primary or general election challenger since.</p> <p dir="ltr">Repeatedly uncontested primaries and general elections has become the norm for many seats across New York City and at least partially explains dismally low voter turnout in legislative elections around the city and state.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the <a href="http://nyenr.elections.state.ny.us/home.aspx" target="_blank">2016 primary elections</a>, 115,819 New Yorkers cast a ballot for state Senator out of nearly 1.1 million active voters within the districts where elections were held -- just 11 percent of the active voting population in those districts.</p> <p dir="ltr">With so few New Yorkers casting ballots and so little competition, state legislators are more likely to listen less to their constituents and more to the people and interest groups who fund their campaigns, political consultants, and lobbyists. Elected officials become indebted to these power brokers for maintaining their office as big donors could just as easily funnel their money to a primary challenger should their interests go unheard.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;That&rsquo;s not good enough, people should be made aware of that,&rdquo; said Olateju &ldquo;Remi&rdquo; Ogunremi, 54, a civil servant who has lived in Brooklyn for ten years, when told that his local Assembly member is running unopposed and fits a larger pattern. Residing in Crown Heights, Remi is represented in the state Assembly by Walter Mosley, a Democrat who is uncontested in his primary and general election this year. &ldquo;There should be a competitor to make it more democratic,&rdquo; Remi said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Without a public campaign finance system that matches private donations and encourages small-dollar contributions, outsider legislative candidates have little to no chance of raising enough cash to stage a significant challenge without strong name recognition or support of established organizations, unions, and local political figures. Once elected, incumbents have helped redraw their own districts to their and their party&rsquo;s advantage and regularly pass legislation benefiting the people and interest groups that help them stay in office (redistricting will be done differently in New York next time thanks to a constitutional amendment <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2014/11/voters-approve-all-three-ballot-propositions-017202" target="_blank">passed at the ballot by voters in 2014</a>).</p> <p dir="ltr">Without term limits in place, state legislators get comfortable. The average tenure in Albany is over a decade long, according to a <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2014/12/average-tenure-in-albany-more-than-a-decade-018476" target="_blank">2015 report by Politico New York</a>. State lawmakers have also been at the center of a rash of corruption schemes and convictions, including recent leaders of each house.</p> <p dir="ltr">As discontent and disapproval of state government grows, so does a lack of interest and involvement in the political system - less voting by those who are eligible; fewer aspirants willing to run for office. With loyal incumbents securely in office and fewer competitive races for which to distribute resources, campaign donors are free to hone their attention on strategic districts where they seek to broaden their influence and push their agenda.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;It&rsquo;s very difficult for newcomers to unseat incumbents,&rdquo; said Christina Greer, associate professor of political science at Fordham University. &ldquo;Once you&rsquo;re in office it&rsquo;s much easier to stay in and protect that office, so a lot of people see it as a David versus Goliath situation and choose not to engage in trying to break into the political system.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Greer paints a striking picture of the situation: &ldquo;If you are from a very Democratic district and won your primary, then you&rsquo;re probably not going to have a credible Republican challenger when you&rsquo;re on the ballot in November. You&rsquo;re going to Albany with 4,000 votes. You&rsquo;re going to be in charge of a budget that&rsquo;s larger than most countries on the planet. You&rsquo;re going to be able to control children&rsquo;s education, what happens to a woman&rsquo;s body, prisons, drug use, punishment, marriage equality-- and you&rsquo;re being sent there with 4,000 votes.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Representing District 57, Assemblymember Mosley has no electoral competition this year. He was first elected to an open seat in 2012 when he faced challengers in both the primary and general election.</p> <p dir="ltr">District 57 -- representing large portions of Brooklyn neighborhoods like Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant -- is one of many districts that is overwhelmingly dominated by the Democratic Party to the point that general election contests are virtually meaningless. Any serious candidate, liberal or conservative, would be smart to run as a Democrat in the district if they expect to stand a chance.</p> <p dir="ltr">In 2012, 47,844 votes were cast in District 57 for the Assembly general election, which Mosley handily won with 98 percent of the vote. Occurring at the same time as the Presidential vote with Barack Obama seeking re-election against Mitt Romney, over half of the registered voters in AD57 went to the polls for the general. But, many missed the actual Assembly race that took place months before.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the AD57 Democratic primary that year, out of 72,380 registered Democrats in the district, just 7,268 cast a ballot -- about 10 percent. Mosley won with 4,565 votes, or 1-in-16 registered Democrats in a district representing over 129,000 residents.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;People are not enthusiastic, they are not willing to come out and vote,&rdquo; said Remi in a conversation with Gotham Gazette outside of the Franklin Avenue subway station on Eastern Parkway. &ldquo;People need to be aware of which contestant they need to fight for.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">AD57 fits a pattern.</p> <p dir="ltr">Multiple forces produce the current system of so many uncontested elections. On one hand, there are the natural incumbency advantages of name recognition and access to financial means, but there is more to it than that.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;One, is the gerrymandering that occurs allowing lawmakers to draw their own district lines&hellip;[two is] a disgraceful campaign finance system that allows them to hit up special interests for ridiculous amounts of money,&rdquo; said Blair Horner, executive director at the New York Public Interest Research Group, referring to a lack of &ldquo;pay-to-play&rdquo; restrictions on campaign donors with government business. &ldquo;You overlay that with the lousy system of running elections in general -- which is, voter registration laws are cumbersome, we have a closed primary system, getting on the ballot is difficult -- and as a result New York has anemic voter turnout, one of the worst in the country.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I think the voting public increasingly believes that they will not see competitive elections by and large, and it&rsquo;s a reflection of a system that is designed to be an incumbency protection machine,&rdquo; said Horner. This is a self-perpetuating problem Horner calls a &ldquo;democracy death spiral.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;One of the reasons I think the public is so unhappy with Albany is to some extent a reflection of policies that have emerged that are also not in the public&rsquo;s interest,&rdquo; said Horner. &ldquo;As the public gets more turned off you can see it in the voter turnout numbers, interest groups wield more clout, which further alienates the voting public.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">This lack of competition has a negative impact on voter turnout, and as Greer also points out, it&rsquo;s not limited to New York City. &ldquo;Think about places in the deep south that are very red where we&rsquo;re seeing a dismal turnout among Republicans,&rdquo; said Greer. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s not just a Democratic problem, it&rsquo;s an elected official problem.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Horner agrees that incumbent dominance to the point of mass uncontested elections is not unique to the Democratic Party&rsquo;s control in New York City. &ldquo;What you&rsquo;ve found in New York City sadly is the case across the state,&rdquo; said Horner. &ldquo;New York has always had a twisted system like this&hellip;and as the stakes get higher, more and more money comes in, it too often crowds out the public&rsquo;s interest.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">With such a history of one party dominance in New York City and decades of policies that have favored incumbents, mitigating this problem is a daunting task.</p> <p dir="ltr">One place to look for possible solutions is New York City itself. With one of the most highly regarded public campaign financing systems and term limits, City Council elections have been opened up for candidates of modest means to run, and sometimes win.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;A system of public financing allows individuals who are not beholden to any groups to actually run significant campaigns for public office,&rdquo; said Horner. &ldquo;You see that in New York and you don&rsquo;t see it at the state level because you have the highest campaign contribution limits of any state that has limits in the country, coupled with a rigged system of redistricting and the normal powers of incumbency.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">The state Legislature could pass a <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6295-there-is-a-long-list-of-voting-reforms-new-york-can-pass" target="_blank">variety of measures</a> that would make elections more democratic. There are advocates for the general idea of more open and fair elections throughout both the state Senate and Assembly, though most of the relevant legislation has failed to come up in each passing session, often in the Republican-controlled Senate.</p> <p dir="ltr">Another avenue of reform could be through improved civics education programs. &ldquo;I worry that we&rsquo;re just creating more and more generations of people who are disaffected and non-participatory,&rdquo; said Greer. &ldquo;I wish we could figure out a way in which we could better educate the public about these offices, but I don&rsquo;t really know how to solve that. Obviously the literature that we&rsquo;re sending out to voters isn&rsquo;t resonating in a way, [and] it&rsquo;s not being taught in schools where students are actually retaining the information.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Voters can be among those who see it as a shared responsibility. &ldquo;Everyone has their own role to play; Republicans, Democrats, and the Board of Elections needs to generate more awareness, they need to distribute more information into the grassroots,&rdquo; said Remi. &ldquo;I mean, a grassroots election is the most important election, but having nobody to contest with, that means we&rsquo;re going to be getting the same ideas and nothing is going to change.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Others Unchallenged</strong></p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Queens</strong><br />Democratic Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Aravella_Simotas" target="_blank">Aravella Simotas</a> (AD36) has held her seat in Queens since winning an open seat election in 2010. She ran uncontested in both the <a href="http://elections.nytimes.com/2010/results/new-york/state-legislature" target="_blank">Democratic primary</a> and <a href="http://www.elections.ny.gov/NYSBOE/elections/2010/general/2010AssemblyRecertified09122012.pdf" target="_blank">general election</a> that year despite there being no incumbent in the race. In 2012, Simontas handily defeated Republican Julia Haich in the general election. She has run unopposed since, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Queens Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Michael_Simanowitz" target="_blank">Michael Simanowitz</a>, an elected Democrat who also appears on the Republican and Conservative ballot lines, is running unopposed in both the Democratic primary and the general election for Assembly District 27. In 2011, Simanowitz won a special election against Republican Marco Desena. He&rsquo;s been unchallenged in the primaries and general elections since, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Andrew_Hevesi" target="_blank">Andrew Hevesi</a> is a Democrat representing Assembly District 28 in Queens since he was first elected in 2005. The last general election fight Hevesi faced was in 2010. He was also challenged in the Democratic primary that year. He&rsquo;s run unopposed in all primaries and general elections since, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p>Assemblymember Michelle Titus represents District 31 in Queens and is facing neither a Democratic primary opponent or any general election competition. Titus, who was first elected 2002, ran unchallenged in the primary even that year, and has never faced a primary opponent. She faced a general eleciton opponent in 2002, 2004, and 2006; while in 2008, 2010, 2012, and 2014, Titus faced no opponents whatsoever, al according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Queens Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Jeffrion_Aubry" target="_blank">Jeffrion Aubry</a> has served in the state Assembly since he was first elected in a 1992 special election for District 35. The veteran Democrat has run unopposed in at least five straight election cycles including the current one, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Veteran Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Catherine_Nolan" target="_blank">Catherine Nolan</a> of Queens, a Democrat, has served residents of District 37 since 1984. She has not faced a primary competitor in the last five election cycles. John Kevin Wilson challenged Nolan as a Republican in 2012 and as a Libertarian in the 2014 general elections, which Nolan easily won. In the 2014 general election, Nolan defeated Wilson with just 10,336 votes, or one-in-six register voters, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Francisco_Moya" target="_blank">Francisco Moya</a> is a Democrat representing District 39 in Queens since he was first elected in 2010. He is running uncontested in the general election this November after running uncontested in the Democratic primary. The 2008 election cycle was the last time Moya faced a primary or general election opponent, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Queens incumbents in addition who did not face primary competitors include:</p> <p>SD11 - Democratic State Senator Tony Avella;<br />SD12 - Democratic State Senator Michael Gianaris;<br />SD13 - Democratic State Senator Jose Peralta;<br />SD14 - Democratic State Senator Leroy Comrie; and<br />SD15 - Democratic State Senator Joe Addabbo;</p> <p dir="ltr">AD24 - Democratic State Assemblymember David Weprin;<br />AD25 - Democratic State Assemblymember Nily Rozic;<br />AD26 - Democratic State Assemblymember Edward Braunstein;<br />AD38 - Democratic State Assemblymember Michael Miller; and<br />AD40 - Democratic State Assemblymember Ron Kim</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Brooklyn</strong><br />Republican State Senator <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Martin_Golden" target="_blank">Martin Golden</a> has held the District 22 seat since he was first elected in 2002. He was uncontested for the Republican nomination this year and will not face a challenger in November either, despite Democrats outnumbering Republicans 2-to-1 in the district, which largely covers Southern Brooklyn. Registered voters with no party affiliation also outnumber Republicans in the 22nd District. Golden faced a serious challenger each of the past two general elections, though Democrats are not putting up a fight this cycle, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">In Brooklyn&rsquo;s District 43, State Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Diana_Richardson" target="_blank">Diana Richardson</a> has held office since winning a 2015 special election in which she won 49% of the vote as a Working Families and Green Party candidate. Now an incumbent Democrat, Richardson was unchallenged in 2016 party primary, nor will she face a general election opponent, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Dov_Hikind" target="_blank">Dov Hikind</a>, a Democrat, has served Brooklyn&rsquo;s District 48 since 1983. There is no one challenging Hikind this election cycle. In 2012, Mitchell Tischler challenged Hikind for his seat in both the Democratic primary and in the general election as a School Choice Party candidate. In 2014, Hikind ran unopposed in the Democratic primary and defeated Nachman Caller in the general election. In a solidly Democratic district, Caller was able to achieve over 20 percent of the total vote count. Hikind won his re-election against a serious Republican challenger with just 12,317 votes, or one-in-four registered voters in the district, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Democrat <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Joseph_Lentol" target="_blank">Joseph Lentol</a> has served in the State Assembly representing Brooklyn&rsquo;s District 50 since he was first elected in 1972. He is running unopposed in both the Democratic primary and general election this election cycle. In 2014, Lentol faced Republican challenger William Davidson and won with 9,789 votes -- one-in-eight registered voters cast a ballot for their Assembly member in a District representing over 129,000 residents, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">In Assembly District 53, Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Maritza_Davila" target="_blank">Maritza Davila</a> has represented Brooklyn since winning a special election in 2013. She ran uncontested in the Democratic primary this year and will run unchallenged in the general election, as was the case in the 2014 election cycle, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr"><a href="https://ballotpedia.org/N._Nick_Perry" target="_blank">Nick Perry</a> has served as the Assemblymember for District 58 in Brooklyn since he was first elected in 1992. He will be running unopposed in the general election this year after facing no challenger in the Democratic primary either. In the last five election cycles, Perry has only faced one primary opponent, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Brooklyn incumbents in addition who did not face primary competitors include:</p> <p dir="ltr">SD20 - Democratic State Senator Jesse Hamilton; and<br />SD21 - Democratic State Senator Kevin Parker;</p> <p>AD41 - Democratic State Assemblymember Helene Weinstein;<br />AD45 - Democratic State Assemblymember Steven Cymbrowitz;<br />AD47 - Democratic State Assemblymember William Colton;<br />AD49 - Democratic State Assemblymember Peter Abbate;<br />AD51 - Democratic State Assemblymember Felix Ortiz;<br />AD52 - Democratic State Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon;<br />AD54 - Democratic State Assemblymember Erik Dilan;<br />AD59 - Democratic State Assemblymember Jaime Williams; and<br />AD60 - Democratic State Assemblymember Charles Barron</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Staten Island</strong><br />Democratic State Senator <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Diane_Savino" target="_blank">Diane Savino</a> is part of the five-member Independent Democratic Conference and incumbent for District 23 on Staten Island and in parts of Brooklyn. She has held her seat since she was first elected in 2004. The IDC has helped Republicans maintain a majority in the State Senate. In 2014 multiple IDC members were challenged in the Democratic primary, though not Savino, who was again unopposed in the Democratic primary this year (other IDC members were not challenged this year either.) Savino is also running unopposed in the general election. She has never faced a primary challenger; she faced a general election opponent two cycles ago, in 2012, in Lisa Grey, who Savino handily defeated. One-in-three registered voters in District 23 cast a vote in that general election, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">In Senate District 24, also on Staten Island, Republican State Senator <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Andrew_Lanza" target="_blank">Andrew Lanza</a> has held his seat since winning in 2006. The district is home to many more Republicans than most New York City districts, though they are still outnumbered by registered Democrats in the district. Lanza has never faced a Republican primary challenger. He handily defeated Democrat Gary Carsel in the 2012 and 2014 general elections. Carsel nor any other Democrat has staged a campaign against Lanza this election cycle, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Matthew_Titone" target="_blank">Matthew Titone</a> of Staten Island ran unopposed in the District 61 Democratic Primary and will not face a challenger in the general election either. Titone won a special election in 2007 that gained him the seat. He has never faced a primary opponent though he has handily defeated several general election contestants. He ran totally unopposed in the previous election cycle of 2014, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr"><a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Michael_Cusick" target="_blank">Michael Cusick</a> is a Staten Island Democratic Assemblymember who won his first District 63 election in 2002. Cusick has run unopposed in the past five Democratic primaries, though he has faced a general election contestant every year up until now. He&rsquo;s running unopposed in the general election, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Republican Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Nicole_Malliotakis" target="_blank">Nicole Malliotakis</a> has represented the people of District 64 on Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn since first winning the seat in 2010. Previously she represented District 60 in the State Assembly. The Democrats have ran campaigns against Malliotakis in the last three general elections, while she has ran unopposed in the Republican Primaries. This election cycle Malliotakis will not face an opponent in the general election in addition to the primary, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Manhattan</strong><br />In Senate District 27 of Manhattan, Democrat State Senator <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Brad_M._Hoylman" target="_blank">Brad Hoylman</a> has held office since he was first elected in 2012. This election cycle he faces no Republican opposition in winning back his seat. During the 2012 open seat election, Hoylman came through the Democratic primary, then won an uncontested general election in which 93,469 registered voters cast a ballot for him. In the primary of that year, Hoylman split the vote with two other Democratic contenders, with only 13,051 Democrats voting, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p>State Senator Daniel Squadron, a Democrat who represents District 26, which encompasses downtown Manhattan and part of downtown Brooklyn, is running unoppposed in the general after facing no primary opponent either. Squadron was elected in 2008, but did not face a primary opponent then and has not faced one since.</p> <p dir="ltr">There are nine other Manhattan legislators listed below who did not face a primary challenger this year. On the other hand, Sheldon Silver&rsquo;s replacement Alice Cancel (AD65) and Guillermo Linares (AD72) lost their seats, while Sen. Adriano Espaillat&rsquo;s chosen successor Marisol Alcantara (SD31) won her election.</p> <p dir="ltr">On the Upper East Side, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6497-manhattan-gop-sees-hope-on-upper-east-side" target="_blank">Republicans</a> are seeing hope in gaining more support for general elections in the Assembly.</p> <p dir="ltr">Manhattan incumbents in addition who did not face primary competitors include:</p> <p dir="ltr">SD28 - Democratic State Senator Liz Krueger;<br />SD29 - Democratic State Senator Jose Serrano;<br />SD30 - Democratic State Senator Bill Perkins;</p> <p dir="ltr">AD68 - Democratic State Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez;<br />AD71 - Democratic State Assemblymember Herman Farrell;<br />AD73 - Democratic State Assemblymember Dan Quart;<br />AD74 - Democratic State Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh;<br />AD75 - Democratic State Assemblymember Richard Gottfried; and<br />AD76 - Democratic State Assemblymember Rebecca Seawright</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>The Bronx</strong><br />Senate Minority Leader <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Andrea_Stewart-Cousins" target="_blank">Andrea Stewart-Cousins</a> (SD35) has represented residents north of the Bronx in Westchester County since 2006. She has never faced a Democratic primary challenger as she previously served as the vice-chair of the Westchester County Democratic Party and in the Westchester County Legislature from 1996 and until she was elected to the state Senate. Stewart-Cousins will not face a challenger in the general election this year, as was the case in the 2012 election cycle, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p>Bronx State Senator Jeff Klein, a Democrat who leads the five-member Independent Democratic Conference, had to primary opponent, unlike in 2014 when mainline Democrats tried to unseat him. He is also facing no Republican challenger in November. Klein's IDC has formed a ruling coalition with Republicans in the Senate for the past two sessions. Klein represents the 34th Senate District.</p> <p dir="ltr">And finally, Democratic Speaker of the Assembly <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Carl_Heastie" target="_blank">Carl Heastie</a> -- of the Bronx&rsquo;s 83rd Assembly District -- was first elected to the chamber in 2000. He is not facing a competition in his general election contest after running uncontested in the Democratic primary. Heastie ran unopposed in the last five Democratic primaries, while he defeated general election challengers in those election cycles with upwards of 95 percent of the vote, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Bronx incumbents in addition who did not face primary competitors include:</p> <p>AD77 - Democratic State Assemblymember Latoya Joyner;<br />AD79 - Democratic State Assemblymember Michael Blake;<br />AD80 - Democratic State Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj;<br />AD81 - Democratic State Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz; and<br />AD82 - Democratic State Assemblymember Michael Benedetto</p> <p dir="ltr">Many of the incumbents without a primary challenge will see an opponent from another party in the general election. That said, given that New York City voters are overwhelmingly Democrats, general election competition is often symbolic.</p> <p>&ldquo;Oftentimes for so many districts across the country, the primary is the election for all intents and purposes,&rdquo; said Greer. &ldquo;In either strong Republican or Democratic districts, if you win your primary you essentially don&rsquo;t even face anyone in November, and if you do it&rsquo;s almost a joke.&rdquo;</p> <p>

***
by William Fowler for Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>*note: as stated, many of the references to past elections are based on aggregation done by <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/" target="_blank">Ballotpedia</a>.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/NYC_BOE_photo_voting_machines_cropped.png" alt="NYC BOE photo voting machines cropped" width="600" height="419" /></p> <p>(photo via NYC Board of Elections)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">New York City residents are represented in the state Legislature by a total of 91 seats, 26 in the state Senate and 65 in the state Assembly. Among them, 60 are held by incumbents who were uncontested in their party primary elections that took place Tuesday, September 13.</p> <p dir="ltr">In these just-completed primaries, 66 percent -- or about two-thirds -- of the city&rsquo;s state legislative seats saw no intra-party competition. Twenty-four New York City-based legislators did face primary challengers this month, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6526-new-york-state-legislative-primary-results" target="_blank">three of whom</a> lost.</p> <p dir="ltr">Additionally, there were seven already-vacant seats or seats where the current officeholder is not seeking re-election -- most of these seats saw competitive primaries, but City Council Member Inez Dickens <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6534-keith-wright-weighs-options-amid-uptown-power-shifts" target="_blank">ran unopposed</a> for the Assembly seat <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6534-keith-wright-weighs-options-amid-uptown-power-shifts" target="_blank">being vacated</a> by Keith Wright in Harlem.</p> <p>In total, there are 150 Assembly seats and 63 Senate seats in the state Legislature. There are no term limits for state legislators in New York.</p> <p dir="ltr">Of the 60 New York City-based incumbents who were uncontested from within their parties this cycle, 58 are Democrats, including State Senator Simcha Felder, who caucuses with Republicans in Albany and has both the Democrat and Republican lines on the ballot this year. In most, if not all, of these districts, Board of Elections voter enrollment data show registered Democrats outnumbering registered Republican voters 4-to-1, or more in some cases.</p> <p dir="ltr">The single party dominance in many districts renders general election competition virtually meaningless and allows incumbents to be re-elected without lifting a finger. In some districts, the opposing party isn&rsquo;t running a general election candidate at all. As many as 23 state legislators across the city will face neither a primary nor general election opponent this election cycle.</p> <p dir="ltr">For example, Queens Democratic Assemblymember Michael DenDekker is running unopposed in the general election after facing no challenger in the primary. Elected into office in 2008, DenDekker has never faced a primary or general election challenger, <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Michael_DenDekker" target="_blank">according to Ballotpedia</a>. Like with many other legislative races, especially so for uncontested votes, a small percentage of registered voters cast ballots for DenDekker and other uncontested incumbents, though numbers do rise when there is a presidential contest the same day.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the 2010 general election, not a presidential year, just 10,117 people -- 1-in-5 registered voters in Assembly District 34 -- selected DenDekker&rsquo;s name at the polls. New York State Assembly members each represent an average of 129,089 district residents, while state Senators have larger districts and represent roughly 307,356 residents, <a href="http://www.latfor.state.ny.us/faqs/" target="_blank">according to</a> the New York State Legislative Task Force on Demographics and Reapportionment.</p> <p>Senator Felder of Brooklyn, who has been instrumental in maintaining a narrow Republican majority in the state Senate, will appear on the Democratic, Republican and Conservative ballot lines in District 17 for the general election. Felder won his first state Senate election in 2012. In that first <a href="http://www.elections.ny.gov/NYSBOE/elections/2012/General/SD_07292013.pdf" target="_blank">general election</a> he defeated incumbent Republican David Storobin. He hasn&rsquo;t faced a primary or general election challenger since.</p> <p dir="ltr">Repeatedly uncontested primaries and general elections has become the norm for many seats across New York City and at least partially explains dismally low voter turnout in legislative elections around the city and state.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the <a href="http://nyenr.elections.state.ny.us/home.aspx" target="_blank">2016 primary elections</a>, 115,819 New Yorkers cast a ballot for state Senator out of nearly 1.1 million active voters within the districts where elections were held -- just 11 percent of the active voting population in those districts.</p> <p dir="ltr">With so few New Yorkers casting ballots and so little competition, state legislators are more likely to listen less to their constituents and more to the people and interest groups who fund their campaigns, political consultants, and lobbyists. Elected officials become indebted to these power brokers for maintaining their office as big donors could just as easily funnel their money to a primary challenger should their interests go unheard.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;That&rsquo;s not good enough, people should be made aware of that,&rdquo; said Olateju &ldquo;Remi&rdquo; Ogunremi, 54, a civil servant who has lived in Brooklyn for ten years, when told that his local Assembly member is running unopposed and fits a larger pattern. Residing in Crown Heights, Remi is represented in the state Assembly by Walter Mosley, a Democrat who is uncontested in his primary and general election this year. &ldquo;There should be a competitor to make it more democratic,&rdquo; Remi said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Without a public campaign finance system that matches private donations and encourages small-dollar contributions, outsider legislative candidates have little to no chance of raising enough cash to stage a significant challenge without strong name recognition or support of established organizations, unions, and local political figures. Once elected, incumbents have helped redraw their own districts to their and their party&rsquo;s advantage and regularly pass legislation benefiting the people and interest groups that help them stay in office (redistricting will be done differently in New York next time thanks to a constitutional amendment <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2014/11/voters-approve-all-three-ballot-propositions-017202" target="_blank">passed at the ballot by voters in 2014</a>).</p> <p dir="ltr">Without term limits in place, state legislators get comfortable. The average tenure in Albany is over a decade long, according to a <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2014/12/average-tenure-in-albany-more-than-a-decade-018476" target="_blank">2015 report by Politico New York</a>. State lawmakers have also been at the center of a rash of corruption schemes and convictions, including recent leaders of each house.</p> <p dir="ltr">As discontent and disapproval of state government grows, so does a lack of interest and involvement in the political system - less voting by those who are eligible; fewer aspirants willing to run for office. With loyal incumbents securely in office and fewer competitive races for which to distribute resources, campaign donors are free to hone their attention on strategic districts where they seek to broaden their influence and push their agenda.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;It&rsquo;s very difficult for newcomers to unseat incumbents,&rdquo; said Christina Greer, associate professor of political science at Fordham University. &ldquo;Once you&rsquo;re in office it&rsquo;s much easier to stay in and protect that office, so a lot of people see it as a David versus Goliath situation and choose not to engage in trying to break into the political system.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Greer paints a striking picture of the situation: &ldquo;If you are from a very Democratic district and won your primary, then you&rsquo;re probably not going to have a credible Republican challenger when you&rsquo;re on the ballot in November. You&rsquo;re going to Albany with 4,000 votes. You&rsquo;re going to be in charge of a budget that&rsquo;s larger than most countries on the planet. You&rsquo;re going to be able to control children&rsquo;s education, what happens to a woman&rsquo;s body, prisons, drug use, punishment, marriage equality-- and you&rsquo;re being sent there with 4,000 votes.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Representing District 57, Assemblymember Mosley has no electoral competition this year. He was first elected to an open seat in 2012 when he faced challengers in both the primary and general election.</p> <p dir="ltr">District 57 -- representing large portions of Brooklyn neighborhoods like Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant -- is one of many districts that is overwhelmingly dominated by the Democratic Party to the point that general election contests are virtually meaningless. Any serious candidate, liberal or conservative, would be smart to run as a Democrat in the district if they expect to stand a chance.</p> <p dir="ltr">In 2012, 47,844 votes were cast in District 57 for the Assembly general election, which Mosley handily won with 98 percent of the vote. Occurring at the same time as the Presidential vote with Barack Obama seeking re-election against Mitt Romney, over half of the registered voters in AD57 went to the polls for the general. But, many missed the actual Assembly race that took place months before.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the AD57 Democratic primary that year, out of 72,380 registered Democrats in the district, just 7,268 cast a ballot -- about 10 percent. Mosley won with 4,565 votes, or 1-in-16 registered Democrats in a district representing over 129,000 residents.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;People are not enthusiastic, they are not willing to come out and vote,&rdquo; said Remi in a conversation with Gotham Gazette outside of the Franklin Avenue subway station on Eastern Parkway. &ldquo;People need to be aware of which contestant they need to fight for.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">AD57 fits a pattern.</p> <p dir="ltr">Multiple forces produce the current system of so many uncontested elections. On one hand, there are the natural incumbency advantages of name recognition and access to financial means, but there is more to it than that.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;One, is the gerrymandering that occurs allowing lawmakers to draw their own district lines&hellip;[two is] a disgraceful campaign finance system that allows them to hit up special interests for ridiculous amounts of money,&rdquo; said Blair Horner, executive director at the New York Public Interest Research Group, referring to a lack of &ldquo;pay-to-play&rdquo; restrictions on campaign donors with government business. &ldquo;You overlay that with the lousy system of running elections in general -- which is, voter registration laws are cumbersome, we have a closed primary system, getting on the ballot is difficult -- and as a result New York has anemic voter turnout, one of the worst in the country.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I think the voting public increasingly believes that they will not see competitive elections by and large, and it&rsquo;s a reflection of a system that is designed to be an incumbency protection machine,&rdquo; said Horner. This is a self-perpetuating problem Horner calls a &ldquo;democracy death spiral.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;One of the reasons I think the public is so unhappy with Albany is to some extent a reflection of policies that have emerged that are also not in the public&rsquo;s interest,&rdquo; said Horner. &ldquo;As the public gets more turned off you can see it in the voter turnout numbers, interest groups wield more clout, which further alienates the voting public.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">This lack of competition has a negative impact on voter turnout, and as Greer also points out, it&rsquo;s not limited to New York City. &ldquo;Think about places in the deep south that are very red where we&rsquo;re seeing a dismal turnout among Republicans,&rdquo; said Greer. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s not just a Democratic problem, it&rsquo;s an elected official problem.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Horner agrees that incumbent dominance to the point of mass uncontested elections is not unique to the Democratic Party&rsquo;s control in New York City. &ldquo;What you&rsquo;ve found in New York City sadly is the case across the state,&rdquo; said Horner. &ldquo;New York has always had a twisted system like this&hellip;and as the stakes get higher, more and more money comes in, it too often crowds out the public&rsquo;s interest.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">With such a history of one party dominance in New York City and decades of policies that have favored incumbents, mitigating this problem is a daunting task.</p> <p dir="ltr">One place to look for possible solutions is New York City itself. With one of the most highly regarded public campaign financing systems and term limits, City Council elections have been opened up for candidates of modest means to run, and sometimes win.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;A system of public financing allows individuals who are not beholden to any groups to actually run significant campaigns for public office,&rdquo; said Horner. &ldquo;You see that in New York and you don&rsquo;t see it at the state level because you have the highest campaign contribution limits of any state that has limits in the country, coupled with a rigged system of redistricting and the normal powers of incumbency.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">The state Legislature could pass a <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6295-there-is-a-long-list-of-voting-reforms-new-york-can-pass" target="_blank">variety of measures</a> that would make elections more democratic. There are advocates for the general idea of more open and fair elections throughout both the state Senate and Assembly, though most of the relevant legislation has failed to come up in each passing session, often in the Republican-controlled Senate.</p> <p dir="ltr">Another avenue of reform could be through improved civics education programs. &ldquo;I worry that we&rsquo;re just creating more and more generations of people who are disaffected and non-participatory,&rdquo; said Greer. &ldquo;I wish we could figure out a way in which we could better educate the public about these offices, but I don&rsquo;t really know how to solve that. Obviously the literature that we&rsquo;re sending out to voters isn&rsquo;t resonating in a way, [and] it&rsquo;s not being taught in schools where students are actually retaining the information.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Voters can be among those who see it as a shared responsibility. &ldquo;Everyone has their own role to play; Republicans, Democrats, and the Board of Elections needs to generate more awareness, they need to distribute more information into the grassroots,&rdquo; said Remi. &ldquo;I mean, a grassroots election is the most important election, but having nobody to contest with, that means we&rsquo;re going to be getting the same ideas and nothing is going to change.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Others Unchallenged</strong></p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Queens</strong><br />Democratic Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Aravella_Simotas" target="_blank">Aravella Simotas</a> (AD36) has held her seat in Queens since winning an open seat election in 2010. She ran uncontested in both the <a href="http://elections.nytimes.com/2010/results/new-york/state-legislature" target="_blank">Democratic primary</a> and <a href="http://www.elections.ny.gov/NYSBOE/elections/2010/general/2010AssemblyRecertified09122012.pdf" target="_blank">general election</a> that year despite there being no incumbent in the race. In 2012, Simontas handily defeated Republican Julia Haich in the general election. She has run unopposed since, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Queens Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Michael_Simanowitz" target="_blank">Michael Simanowitz</a>, an elected Democrat who also appears on the Republican and Conservative ballot lines, is running unopposed in both the Democratic primary and the general election for Assembly District 27. In 2011, Simanowitz won a special election against Republican Marco Desena. He&rsquo;s been unchallenged in the primaries and general elections since, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Andrew_Hevesi" target="_blank">Andrew Hevesi</a> is a Democrat representing Assembly District 28 in Queens since he was first elected in 2005. The last general election fight Hevesi faced was in 2010. He was also challenged in the Democratic primary that year. He&rsquo;s run unopposed in all primaries and general elections since, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p>Assemblymember Michelle Titus represents District 31 in Queens and is facing neither a Democratic primary opponent or any general election competition. Titus, who was first elected 2002, ran unchallenged in the primary even that year, and has never faced a primary opponent. She faced a general eleciton opponent in 2002, 2004, and 2006; while in 2008, 2010, 2012, and 2014, Titus faced no opponents whatsoever, al according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Queens Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Jeffrion_Aubry" target="_blank">Jeffrion Aubry</a> has served in the state Assembly since he was first elected in a 1992 special election for District 35. The veteran Democrat has run unopposed in at least five straight election cycles including the current one, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Veteran Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Catherine_Nolan" target="_blank">Catherine Nolan</a> of Queens, a Democrat, has served residents of District 37 since 1984. She has not faced a primary competitor in the last five election cycles. John Kevin Wilson challenged Nolan as a Republican in 2012 and as a Libertarian in the 2014 general elections, which Nolan easily won. In the 2014 general election, Nolan defeated Wilson with just 10,336 votes, or one-in-six register voters, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Francisco_Moya" target="_blank">Francisco Moya</a> is a Democrat representing District 39 in Queens since he was first elected in 2010. He is running uncontested in the general election this November after running uncontested in the Democratic primary. The 2008 election cycle was the last time Moya faced a primary or general election opponent, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Queens incumbents in addition who did not face primary competitors include:</p> <p>SD11 - Democratic State Senator Tony Avella;<br />SD12 - Democratic State Senator Michael Gianaris;<br />SD13 - Democratic State Senator Jose Peralta;<br />SD14 - Democratic State Senator Leroy Comrie; and<br />SD15 - Democratic State Senator Joe Addabbo;</p> <p dir="ltr">AD24 - Democratic State Assemblymember David Weprin;<br />AD25 - Democratic State Assemblymember Nily Rozic;<br />AD26 - Democratic State Assemblymember Edward Braunstein;<br />AD38 - Democratic State Assemblymember Michael Miller; and<br />AD40 - Democratic State Assemblymember Ron Kim</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Brooklyn</strong><br />Republican State Senator <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Martin_Golden" target="_blank">Martin Golden</a> has held the District 22 seat since he was first elected in 2002. He was uncontested for the Republican nomination this year and will not face a challenger in November either, despite Democrats outnumbering Republicans 2-to-1 in the district, which largely covers Southern Brooklyn. Registered voters with no party affiliation also outnumber Republicans in the 22nd District. Golden faced a serious challenger each of the past two general elections, though Democrats are not putting up a fight this cycle, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">In Brooklyn&rsquo;s District 43, State Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Diana_Richardson" target="_blank">Diana Richardson</a> has held office since winning a 2015 special election in which she won 49% of the vote as a Working Families and Green Party candidate. Now an incumbent Democrat, Richardson was unchallenged in 2016 party primary, nor will she face a general election opponent, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Dov_Hikind" target="_blank">Dov Hikind</a>, a Democrat, has served Brooklyn&rsquo;s District 48 since 1983. There is no one challenging Hikind this election cycle. In 2012, Mitchell Tischler challenged Hikind for his seat in both the Democratic primary and in the general election as a School Choice Party candidate. In 2014, Hikind ran unopposed in the Democratic primary and defeated Nachman Caller in the general election. In a solidly Democratic district, Caller was able to achieve over 20 percent of the total vote count. Hikind won his re-election against a serious Republican challenger with just 12,317 votes, or one-in-four registered voters in the district, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Democrat <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Joseph_Lentol" target="_blank">Joseph Lentol</a> has served in the State Assembly representing Brooklyn&rsquo;s District 50 since he was first elected in 1972. He is running unopposed in both the Democratic primary and general election this election cycle. In 2014, Lentol faced Republican challenger William Davidson and won with 9,789 votes -- one-in-eight registered voters cast a ballot for their Assembly member in a District representing over 129,000 residents, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">In Assembly District 53, Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Maritza_Davila" target="_blank">Maritza Davila</a> has represented Brooklyn since winning a special election in 2013. She ran uncontested in the Democratic primary this year and will run unchallenged in the general election, as was the case in the 2014 election cycle, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr"><a href="https://ballotpedia.org/N._Nick_Perry" target="_blank">Nick Perry</a> has served as the Assemblymember for District 58 in Brooklyn since he was first elected in 1992. He will be running unopposed in the general election this year after facing no challenger in the Democratic primary either. In the last five election cycles, Perry has only faced one primary opponent, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Brooklyn incumbents in addition who did not face primary competitors include:</p> <p dir="ltr">SD20 - Democratic State Senator Jesse Hamilton; and<br />SD21 - Democratic State Senator Kevin Parker;</p> <p>AD41 - Democratic State Assemblymember Helene Weinstein;<br />AD45 - Democratic State Assemblymember Steven Cymbrowitz;<br />AD47 - Democratic State Assemblymember William Colton;<br />AD49 - Democratic State Assemblymember Peter Abbate;<br />AD51 - Democratic State Assemblymember Felix Ortiz;<br />AD52 - Democratic State Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon;<br />AD54 - Democratic State Assemblymember Erik Dilan;<br />AD59 - Democratic State Assemblymember Jaime Williams; and<br />AD60 - Democratic State Assemblymember Charles Barron</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Staten Island</strong><br />Democratic State Senator <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Diane_Savino" target="_blank">Diane Savino</a> is part of the five-member Independent Democratic Conference and incumbent for District 23 on Staten Island and in parts of Brooklyn. She has held her seat since she was first elected in 2004. The IDC has helped Republicans maintain a majority in the State Senate. In 2014 multiple IDC members were challenged in the Democratic primary, though not Savino, who was again unopposed in the Democratic primary this year (other IDC members were not challenged this year either.) Savino is also running unopposed in the general election. She has never faced a primary challenger; she faced a general election opponent two cycles ago, in 2012, in Lisa Grey, who Savino handily defeated. One-in-three registered voters in District 23 cast a vote in that general election, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">In Senate District 24, also on Staten Island, Republican State Senator <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Andrew_Lanza" target="_blank">Andrew Lanza</a> has held his seat since winning in 2006. The district is home to many more Republicans than most New York City districts, though they are still outnumbered by registered Democrats in the district. Lanza has never faced a Republican primary challenger. He handily defeated Democrat Gary Carsel in the 2012 and 2014 general elections. Carsel nor any other Democrat has staged a campaign against Lanza this election cycle, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Matthew_Titone" target="_blank">Matthew Titone</a> of Staten Island ran unopposed in the District 61 Democratic Primary and will not face a challenger in the general election either. Titone won a special election in 2007 that gained him the seat. He has never faced a primary opponent though he has handily defeated several general election contestants. He ran totally unopposed in the previous election cycle of 2014, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr"><a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Michael_Cusick" target="_blank">Michael Cusick</a> is a Staten Island Democratic Assemblymember who won his first District 63 election in 2002. Cusick has run unopposed in the past five Democratic primaries, though he has faced a general election contestant every year up until now. He&rsquo;s running unopposed in the general election, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Republican Assemblymember <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Nicole_Malliotakis" target="_blank">Nicole Malliotakis</a> has represented the people of District 64 on Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn since first winning the seat in 2010. Previously she represented District 60 in the State Assembly. The Democrats have ran campaigns against Malliotakis in the last three general elections, while she has ran unopposed in the Republican Primaries. This election cycle Malliotakis will not face an opponent in the general election in addition to the primary, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Manhattan</strong><br />In Senate District 27 of Manhattan, Democrat State Senator <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Brad_M._Hoylman" target="_blank">Brad Hoylman</a> has held office since he was first elected in 2012. This election cycle he faces no Republican opposition in winning back his seat. During the 2012 open seat election, Hoylman came through the Democratic primary, then won an uncontested general election in which 93,469 registered voters cast a ballot for him. In the primary of that year, Hoylman split the vote with two other Democratic contenders, with only 13,051 Democrats voting, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p>State Senator Daniel Squadron, a Democrat who represents District 26, which encompasses downtown Manhattan and part of downtown Brooklyn, is running unoppposed in the general after facing no primary opponent either. Squadron was elected in 2008, but did not face a primary opponent then and has not faced one since.</p> <p dir="ltr">There are nine other Manhattan legislators listed below who did not face a primary challenger this year. On the other hand, Sheldon Silver&rsquo;s replacement Alice Cancel (AD65) and Guillermo Linares (AD72) lost their seats, while Sen. Adriano Espaillat&rsquo;s chosen successor Marisol Alcantara (SD31) won her election.</p> <p dir="ltr">On the Upper East Side, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6497-manhattan-gop-sees-hope-on-upper-east-side" target="_blank">Republicans</a> are seeing hope in gaining more support for general elections in the Assembly.</p> <p dir="ltr">Manhattan incumbents in addition who did not face primary competitors include:</p> <p dir="ltr">SD28 - Democratic State Senator Liz Krueger;<br />SD29 - Democratic State Senator Jose Serrano;<br />SD30 - Democratic State Senator Bill Perkins;</p> <p dir="ltr">AD68 - Democratic State Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez;<br />AD71 - Democratic State Assemblymember Herman Farrell;<br />AD73 - Democratic State Assemblymember Dan Quart;<br />AD74 - Democratic State Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh;<br />AD75 - Democratic State Assemblymember Richard Gottfried; and<br />AD76 - Democratic State Assemblymember Rebecca Seawright</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>The Bronx</strong><br />Senate Minority Leader <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Andrea_Stewart-Cousins" target="_blank">Andrea Stewart-Cousins</a> (SD35) has represented residents north of the Bronx in Westchester County since 2006. She has never faced a Democratic primary challenger as she previously served as the vice-chair of the Westchester County Democratic Party and in the Westchester County Legislature from 1996 and until she was elected to the state Senate. Stewart-Cousins will not face a challenger in the general election this year, as was the case in the 2012 election cycle, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p>Bronx State Senator Jeff Klein, a Democrat who leads the five-member Independent Democratic Conference, had to primary opponent, unlike in 2014 when mainline Democrats tried to unseat him. He is also facing no Republican challenger in November. Klein's IDC has formed a ruling coalition with Republicans in the Senate for the past two sessions. Klein represents the 34th Senate District.</p> <p dir="ltr">And finally, Democratic Speaker of the Assembly <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/Carl_Heastie" target="_blank">Carl Heastie</a> -- of the Bronx&rsquo;s 83rd Assembly District -- was first elected to the chamber in 2000. He is not facing a competition in his general election contest after running uncontested in the Democratic primary. Heastie ran unopposed in the last five Democratic primaries, while he defeated general election challengers in those election cycles with upwards of 95 percent of the vote, all according to Ballotpedia.</p> <p dir="ltr">Bronx incumbents in addition who did not face primary competitors include:</p> <p>AD77 - Democratic State Assemblymember Latoya Joyner;<br />AD79 - Democratic State Assemblymember Michael Blake;<br />AD80 - Democratic State Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj;<br />AD81 - Democratic State Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz; and<br />AD82 - Democratic State Assemblymember Michael Benedetto</p> <p dir="ltr">Many of the incumbents without a primary challenge will see an opponent from another party in the general election. That said, given that New York City voters are overwhelmingly Democrats, general election competition is often symbolic.</p> <p>&ldquo;Oftentimes for so many districts across the country, the primary is the election for all intents and purposes,&rdquo; said Greer. &ldquo;In either strong Republican or Democratic districts, if you win your primary you essentially don&rsquo;t even face anyone in November, and if you do it&rsquo;s almost a joke.&rdquo;</p> <p>

***
by William Fowler for Gotham Gazette

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</p> <p>*note: as stated, many of the references to past elections are based on aggregation done by <a href="https://ballotpedia.org/" target="_blank">Ballotpedia</a>.</p>
Board of Elections to Consider Emergency Regulations for Independent Expenditures 2016-09-14T04:00:00+00:00 2016-09-14T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6527-board-of-elections-set-to-consider-emergency-regulations-for-independent-expenditures Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/24278049491_ffa076d6a7_z_1.jpg" alt="cuomo podium state of the state" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo (photo: Governor's Office on Flickr)</p> <hr /> <p>The State Board of Elections is set to consider a set of emergency regulations governing independent expenditure campaigns at its board meeting on Thursday morning in Albany. The regulations will come just two days after state legislative primary elections and two months before the general election. Political action committees (PACs) and Super Pacs, or independent expenditure committees, have already had a significant presence in this year&rsquo;s primary contests.</p> <p>The BOE is responding to new legislation championed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who signed his controversial reform bill on August 24 after passing it through the Legislature by message of necessity in late June. The bill goes into effect 30 days after Cuomo signs it, thus putting pressure on the BOE to respond.</p> <p>The law enacts restrictions on how independent expenditure campaigns operate; expands what constitutes illegal coordination with a candidate and limits who can work for Super PACs. The legislation also sets new disclosure requirements for nonprofit lobbying groups and issue advocacy groups - for this piece, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics moved on emergency regulations earlier this year.</p> <p>On Thursday, the BOE will consider emergency regulations in the middle of an election season that has already seen major spending by Super PACs, especially in New York City where New Yorkers For Independent Action, a pro-charter school group, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6505-education-focused-super-pac-spends-on-additional-legislative-races" target="_blank">pumped millions of dollars</a> into Democratic primary contests.</p> <p>Board members have expressed concern at previous meetings that the law could be disruptive and counterintuitive given that election season is already well underway.</p> <p>Democratic BOE Chair Douglas Kellner told Gotham Gazette that he isn&rsquo;t convinced the board needs to act on emergency regulations. &ldquo;From my point of view I&rsquo;m not exactly sure why we need emergency regulations that just track the bill, but we will discuss that on Thursday,&rdquo; Kellner said.</p> <p>Republican BOE Chair Peter Kosinski said that the emergency regulations are necessary to keep interested parties informed of the changes to the laws relating to independent expenditures and to put the information in one place.</p> <p>Once the emergency regulations are adopted the public will have 45 days to comment on them.</p> <p>&rdquo;The reality is that the emergency regulation idea is related to the fact that we are headed into the November election and people need information about the changes,&rdquo; said Kosinski. &ldquo;This does not preclude the normal regulation process or any future changes. We will go through the normal process in a couple of months.&rdquo; In other words, any emergency regulations will be temporary and then re-evaluated after the election cycle.</p> <p>Kellner said he also shares concerns about the timing of the bill&rsquo;s enactment given that election season is already in full swing.</p> <p>&ldquo;The board is really between a rock and a hard place,&rdquo; said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group. &ldquo;If the Governor wanted the law to be in effect for the election he should have signed it in June.&rdquo; It is unclear why Cuomo waited until August to sign the bill. After unveiling the plan for the legislation during a speech in New York City toward the end of the legislative session, the governor held no public ceremony to sign and promote the bill.</p> <p>Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, said the BOE is being &ldquo;responsible in providing necessary guidance on the law even if it is poorly written and flawed.&rdquo; Dadey added that &ldquo;we shouldn&rsquo;t be changing the rules in the fourth quarter of the game.&rdquo;</p> <p>Speaking <a href="http://www.twcnews.com/nys/capital-region/politics/2016/08/25/cuomo-ethics-bill-follow-new-york-state-albany.html" target="_blank">with reporters</a> in August, Cuomo touted the new regulations. Of not getting everything he wants done on government ethics reform, he also said, &ldquo;Ethics in many ways is like other activities in life. It's an ongoing pursuit.&rdquo;</p> <p>Kosinski, the Republican BOE chair, said that the time for fretting over the implementation timeline is over. &ldquo;People have to deal with that best they can. These emergency regulations are our effort to inform people of the law so that when people look for guidance on the new laws we give them accurate information,&rdquo; he said.</p> <p>Advocates had decried the process by which the bill was passed. Cuomo introduced the measure late in session claiming that it was designed to beat back the Supreme Court&rsquo;s Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates for outside money in candidate campaigns. But the bill also included a section forcing non-profit advocacy groups to disclose more of their donors, and to report to the state, through JCOPE, their various communications about legislation, government officials, regulations, and government-related matters.</p> <p>Like other times he has used them, Cuomo was criticized for his issuance of a message of necessity that preempts the required three-day aging process designed to encourage public review. Legislators received the bill after midnight and voted on it only a few hours later.</p> <p>Cuomo, who generally controls when passed bills come to his desk for signature or veto, <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2016/08/questions-of-timing-surround-reform-bills-implementation-104652" target="_blank">didn&rsquo;t call the bill up</a> from the Legislature until mid-August <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6476-for-cuomo-passing-ethics-bill-was-urgent-signing-it-is-not" target="_blank">after facing public pressure</a>.</p> <p>The Joint Commission on Public Ethics, which is headed by former Cuomo staffer Seth Agata and is controlled by appointees of Cuomo and legislative leaders, moved on emergency regulations in early August. The part of the bill that deals with sources of funding for nonprofits goes into effect 30 days after the bill is signed.</p> <p>The new law sets a definition of what is coordination between independent expenditure campaigns and candidates, and according to Kosinski the law could catch some off guard. &ldquo;There were significant changes going where the state hasn&rsquo;t gone before in detailing coordination, it was really fleshed out and I think people need to be aware of that going forward.&rdquo;</p> <p>Dadey said that he hopes there will be time for the kind of careful and nuanced discussion of the implementation of the law that was denied to the public before the bill was passed.</p> <p>&ldquo;I hope whatever is adopted on Thursday does not lead to greater confusion or conflict with existing law,&rdquo; said Dadey. &ldquo;We had no time to talk about this piece of legislation as a public, I hope more time is taken to discuss it now that it is law.&rdquo;</p> <p>Brandon Muir, executive director of Reclaim New York, an organization focused on government transparency, said that Albany lawmakers waited until the last minute to formulate the bill and then wasted more time signing it. &ldquo;Because they dodged having a timely, open process, we&rsquo;re in for another last-second &ldquo;emergency&rdquo; push that serves political interests and an agenda that New Yorkers didn&rsquo;t ask for,&rdquo; Muir said.</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/24278049491_ffa076d6a7_z_1.jpg" alt="cuomo podium state of the state" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo (photo: Governor's Office on Flickr)</p> <hr /> <p>The State Board of Elections is set to consider a set of emergency regulations governing independent expenditure campaigns at its board meeting on Thursday morning in Albany. The regulations will come just two days after state legislative primary elections and two months before the general election. Political action committees (PACs) and Super Pacs, or independent expenditure committees, have already had a significant presence in this year&rsquo;s primary contests.</p> <p>The BOE is responding to new legislation championed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who signed his controversial reform bill on August 24 after passing it through the Legislature by message of necessity in late June. The bill goes into effect 30 days after Cuomo signs it, thus putting pressure on the BOE to respond.</p> <p>The law enacts restrictions on how independent expenditure campaigns operate; expands what constitutes illegal coordination with a candidate and limits who can work for Super PACs. The legislation also sets new disclosure requirements for nonprofit lobbying groups and issue advocacy groups - for this piece, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics moved on emergency regulations earlier this year.</p> <p>On Thursday, the BOE will consider emergency regulations in the middle of an election season that has already seen major spending by Super PACs, especially in New York City where New Yorkers For Independent Action, a pro-charter school group, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6505-education-focused-super-pac-spends-on-additional-legislative-races" target="_blank">pumped millions of dollars</a> into Democratic primary contests.</p> <p>Board members have expressed concern at previous meetings that the law could be disruptive and counterintuitive given that election season is already well underway.</p> <p>Democratic BOE Chair Douglas Kellner told Gotham Gazette that he isn&rsquo;t convinced the board needs to act on emergency regulations. &ldquo;From my point of view I&rsquo;m not exactly sure why we need emergency regulations that just track the bill, but we will discuss that on Thursday,&rdquo; Kellner said.</p> <p>Republican BOE Chair Peter Kosinski said that the emergency regulations are necessary to keep interested parties informed of the changes to the laws relating to independent expenditures and to put the information in one place.</p> <p>Once the emergency regulations are adopted the public will have 45 days to comment on them.</p> <p>&rdquo;The reality is that the emergency regulation idea is related to the fact that we are headed into the November election and people need information about the changes,&rdquo; said Kosinski. &ldquo;This does not preclude the normal regulation process or any future changes. We will go through the normal process in a couple of months.&rdquo; In other words, any emergency regulations will be temporary and then re-evaluated after the election cycle.</p> <p>Kellner said he also shares concerns about the timing of the bill&rsquo;s enactment given that election season is already in full swing.</p> <p>&ldquo;The board is really between a rock and a hard place,&rdquo; said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group. &ldquo;If the Governor wanted the law to be in effect for the election he should have signed it in June.&rdquo; It is unclear why Cuomo waited until August to sign the bill. After unveiling the plan for the legislation during a speech in New York City toward the end of the legislative session, the governor held no public ceremony to sign and promote the bill.</p> <p>Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, said the BOE is being &ldquo;responsible in providing necessary guidance on the law even if it is poorly written and flawed.&rdquo; Dadey added that &ldquo;we shouldn&rsquo;t be changing the rules in the fourth quarter of the game.&rdquo;</p> <p>Speaking <a href="http://www.twcnews.com/nys/capital-region/politics/2016/08/25/cuomo-ethics-bill-follow-new-york-state-albany.html" target="_blank">with reporters</a> in August, Cuomo touted the new regulations. Of not getting everything he wants done on government ethics reform, he also said, &ldquo;Ethics in many ways is like other activities in life. It's an ongoing pursuit.&rdquo;</p> <p>Kosinski, the Republican BOE chair, said that the time for fretting over the implementation timeline is over. &ldquo;People have to deal with that best they can. These emergency regulations are our effort to inform people of the law so that when people look for guidance on the new laws we give them accurate information,&rdquo; he said.</p> <p>Advocates had decried the process by which the bill was passed. Cuomo introduced the measure late in session claiming that it was designed to beat back the Supreme Court&rsquo;s Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates for outside money in candidate campaigns. But the bill also included a section forcing non-profit advocacy groups to disclose more of their donors, and to report to the state, through JCOPE, their various communications about legislation, government officials, regulations, and government-related matters.</p> <p>Like other times he has used them, Cuomo was criticized for his issuance of a message of necessity that preempts the required three-day aging process designed to encourage public review. Legislators received the bill after midnight and voted on it only a few hours later.</p> <p>Cuomo, who generally controls when passed bills come to his desk for signature or veto, <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2016/08/questions-of-timing-surround-reform-bills-implementation-104652" target="_blank">didn&rsquo;t call the bill up</a> from the Legislature until mid-August <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6476-for-cuomo-passing-ethics-bill-was-urgent-signing-it-is-not" target="_blank">after facing public pressure</a>.</p> <p>The Joint Commission on Public Ethics, which is headed by former Cuomo staffer Seth Agata and is controlled by appointees of Cuomo and legislative leaders, moved on emergency regulations in early August. The part of the bill that deals with sources of funding for nonprofits goes into effect 30 days after the bill is signed.</p> <p>The new law sets a definition of what is coordination between independent expenditure campaigns and candidates, and according to Kosinski the law could catch some off guard. &ldquo;There were significant changes going where the state hasn&rsquo;t gone before in detailing coordination, it was really fleshed out and I think people need to be aware of that going forward.&rdquo;</p> <p>Dadey said that he hopes there will be time for the kind of careful and nuanced discussion of the implementation of the law that was denied to the public before the bill was passed.</p> <p>&ldquo;I hope whatever is adopted on Thursday does not lead to greater confusion or conflict with existing law,&rdquo; said Dadey. &ldquo;We had no time to talk about this piece of legislation as a public, I hope more time is taken to discuss it now that it is law.&rdquo;</p> <p>Brandon Muir, executive director of Reclaim New York, an organization focused on government transparency, said that Albany lawmakers waited until the last minute to formulate the bill and then wasted more time signing it. &ldquo;Because they dodged having a timely, open process, we&rsquo;re in for another last-second &ldquo;emergency&rdquo; push that serves political interests and an agenda that New Yorkers didn&rsquo;t ask for,&rdquo; Muir said.</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.</p>