Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/1516 Fri, 20 Jul 2018 20:14:26 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Citing Broken Cuomo Promises, Nixon Unveils Campaign Finance Reform Plan http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7746:citing-broken-cuomo-promises-nixon-unveils-campaign-finance-reform-plan http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7746:citing-broken-cuomo-promises-nixon-unveils-campaign-finance-reform-plan cyn nixon cam fin plan unveils

Cynthia Nixon outside Tweed Courthouse (photo: Gotham Gazette)


Standing on the steps of the Tweed Courthouse in Manhattan, a symbol of corruption in New York government, Andrew Cuomo launched his run for governor eight years ago last month, vowing to clean up the rot in Albany. On Monday -- as the corruption trial of a close ally to the two-term governor began in federal court -- Cynthia Nixon, the actor and activist and Democratic primary challenger to Cuomo, stood at the same spot to criticize the governor’s broken promise and to propose a far-reaching plan to fight the graft and corruption that she says has become further entrenched under Cuomo’s tenure.

“Instead of taking on corruption in the state capital, Andrew Cuomo’s administration has taken it to new heights,” Nixon said at an afternoon news conference. “Cuomo’s two terms in office have been a greatest-hits reel of dysfunction, corruption, and pay-to-play politics. If Washington is a swamp, then Albany under Andrew Cuomo is a cesspool.”

Taking aim at the “legalized bribery” rampant in the state’s election system, Nixon proposed “Government by the People,” a 15-page plan to promote public financing of elections, close loopholes in state campaign finance laws, reduce pay-to-play in state contracting, and shore up independent ethics oversight of state government.

The plan also details many conflicts and corruption scandals that have emerged from Cuomo’s administration and political campaigns in recent years, while the announcement coincided with the start of the corruption trial of Alain Kaloyeros, the former SUNY Polytechnic Institute president who was charged with rigging state contracts under Cuomo’s signature Buffalo Billion economic revitalization program. Prominent real estate developers who are major Cuomo campaign donors are also charged in the scheme.

Nixon critiqued the “networks of vast wealth” and power that she said are necessary to run for office in New York and that historically shut out women and people of color. “Too many of the people in power, and the donors who keep them there, don’t want things to change,” she said, insisting that she can herald reforms as an “outsider” to Albany. New York is known to have porous campaign finance laws, which allow large individual and corporate contributions to candidates, alongside loopholes that effectively do away with those limits for entities that created multiple limited liability companies, each of which can give up to the individual corporate limit. There are also no “doing business” limits that would place restrictions on entities with or seeking government contracts.

By exploiting the current rules, Cuomo has raised many tens of millions of dollars over his handful of statewide campaigns, including his now third consecutive gubernatorial run. At the same time, the governor has expressed support for campaign finance reform, but seen almost no changes move through the Legislature. A pilot campaign finance program with public matching was passed in 2014, but quickly fizzled. In a statement, Abbey Fashouer, a spokesperson for Cuomo's campaign, claimed credit for the reforms that Nixon proposed. "We thank Ms. Nixon for her support for our reforms. Unlike others who claim to be good Democrats, the governor is 100 percent focused on flipping the State Senate to pass these important reforms to increase government transparency and accountability,” Fashouer said.  

Nixon’s plan envisions phasing in a voluntary statewide public financing system for elections, largely resembling the current program administered in New York City by the Campaign Finance Board, where small-dollar donations are incentivized with public matching funds. Some of Nixon’s ideas are nearly identical, proposing a 6-to-1 match for campaign donations up to $175 or a greater match of 9-to-1 for donations below $50.

Nixon proposed similar thresholds to qualify for public funds as those used in the city, including a minimum amount raised from a minimum number of contributors. Under her plan, for instance, a candidate for governor would have to raise at least $500,000 from a minimum of 5,000 contributors who gave at least $10. The plan proposes similar thresholds, with lower amounts, for the posts of lieutenant governor, attorney general, comptroller, state Senate, and Assembly.

The plan also brings individual contribution limits for all state offices in line with the $2,700 limit for members of Congress, for each of the primary and general elections. It would also require candidates to participate in a debate and return unspent public funds after satisfying a campaign’s liabilities.

Nixon proposes creating a new agency called the “Fair Elections Board,” with enforcement powers, to administer the program, with a seven-member board appointed by the governor, comptroller, attorney general, and each of the four legislative major-party conference leaders. The entire program would cost between $100 and $160 million for each four-year cycle, the plan estimates, and would be paid for by a “New York State Fair Elections Fund” with several funding sources.

Nixon also reiterated proposals that she has voiced over the last few months while pitching herself as the progressive alternative to Cuomo’s centrist politics. She said she would ban campaign contributions from companies or individuals who hold or are actively seeking state contracts. She has insisted that the state should do away with the so-called LLC loophole that allows limited liability companies with opaque ownership to donate virtually unlimited funds to candidates. She also said she would ban donations from political appointees, an apparent reference to a New York Times expose showing that Cuomo has loosely interpreted an executive order limiting donations that the governor can receive from appointees or their family members.

Throughout her campaign, Nixon has derided Cuomo’s reliance on wealthy donors -- over years the governor has raised more than $30 million in campaign cash available to his current campaign while Nixon has raised a little more than $1 million during her few months in the race -- and insists that his policies on everything from affordable housing to criminal justice are driven by fealty to those contributors. “When candidates have to start their campaigns from day one by asking the wealthy for contributions...the culture of pay-to-play becomes inescapable,” she said.

The upstart candidate’s plan would give more teeth to state watchdogs to fight corruption. Nixon promised to dissolve the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics -- which many have criticized for being beholden to the governor and generally ineffective -- and said she would empanel a new independent Moreland Commission to tackle corruption unlike the one convened and abruptly disbanded by Cuomo in his first term.

She also proposed giving the attorney general a “standing referral” to investigate corruption on an ongoing basis, something Cuomo called for during his time as AG but has not granted his successors in the post -- and said she would restore the comptroller’s oversight powers over various state contracts that was stripped by Cuomo and the Legislature in 2011. She said she would sign a “database of deals” bill that was recently passed by the Republican-led state Senate but has been held up by the Democrat-controlled Assembly.

Recent polls have shown that New Yorkers have jaded views of their state government, but also that Cuomo is in relatively strong position with less than three months until the Democratic primary. Nixon argued Monday that voters do care about honest government, though corruption is not generally seen as a winning focus issue, taking a back seat to “kitchen table” or “pocketbook” issues like jobs, education, and health care. Nixon did recently release her campaign platform on education, her top issue area of focus.

She also presented her campaign finance reform platform the same day that former Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, a Democrat, announced she would run for governor this year as an independent, creating her own ballot line. Asked about Miner's candidacy, Nixon said that she is focused on winning the Democratic primary and understands Miner is running in the general election. She also called Miner "more of a moderate" and referred to herself as "definitely part of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party."

Nixon wasn’t the only candidate to use the Kaloyeros trial as the backdrop to pounce on the governor’s record. On Monday morning, outside federal district court just around the corner, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, the Republican nominee for governor, and his lieutenant governor running mate, Julie Killian, called out the governor for enabling Kaloyeros’ corruption.

“Every instance of corruption and corruption charges being brought against individuals around New York’s corrupted government is about enabling and benefitting a governor who has consumed an obscene amount of campaign contributions,” Molinaro said.

Zephyr Teachout, who unsuccessfully challenged Cuomo in the 2014 Democratic primary and is now running for attorney general, also held a separate news conference outside the court. The Kaloyeros trial, she said, highlights the need for an independent attorney general willing to challenge the state’s top elected official and root out graft. “When people break the law in New York state, even if they are powerful people, it is the job of the attorney general to make sure that justice is done,” she said.

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

Read more by this writer.

Note - This article has been updated with comment from a Cuomo campaign spokesperson. 

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Citing Broken Cuomo Promises, Nixon Unveils Campaign Finance Reform Plan Mon, 18 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Mayoral Charter Revision Commission Hears Expert Testimony on Campaign Finance Reform http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7744:mayor-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-campaign-finance-reform http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7744:mayor-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-campaign-finance-reform charter comm rev2

The Charter Revision Commission


The Charter Revision Commission empaneled by Mayor Bill de Blasio met on Thursday at NYU for the second of four expert advisory issue forums, discussing what could be the marquee issue for this year’s commission: changing the city’s campaign finance system. The first meeting, held Tuesday, focused on voting and election reform.

Like the first hearing, Thursday’s saw the commission hear from invited experts on the topic at hand, and was broken into two sections. For campaign finance, the first panel discussed context and perspective of the city’s system from politicians and experts, and the second provided recommendations.

The commission, consisting of 15 members appointed by de Blasio, including Chair Cesar Perales, will finalize a list of proposed changes to the city Charter by early September that will then appear on the general election ballot in November for voters to approve or disapprove.

Representatives from the city’s nonpartisan Campaign Finance Board provided five recommendations to the commission for improving the city’s public campaign finance system and its centerpiece, the public matching funds program. The board recommends:

  1. Lowering individual contribution limits from $5,100 to $2,250 for citywide offices, from $3,950 to $1,750 for boroughwide offices, and from $2,850 to $1,250 for City Council seats.

  2. Increase the matching funds rate from 6-to-1 (for every dollar under $175 raised via an individual contribution, the city disburses $6) to 8-to-1. This would be coupled with an increase of the maximum matchable amount, from $175 to $250.

  3. Increase the cap on public funds as a percentage of a campaign’s total spending limit from 55 percent to 65 percent.

  4. Lower the threshold to qualify for matching funds for citywide races, from $250,000 from 1,000 eligible contributors for mayor and $125,000 from 500 contributors for public advocate and comptroller, to $125,000 and $75,000 respectively with the same number of contributors.

  5. Lower the minimum individual contribution counted toward the public match threshold, from $10 to $5.

Others, including advocates, elected officials, and academics, also provided recommendations to the commission, with some differing from the CFB and others in line with it.

The city’s public election financing system, whereby donations to candidates of up to $175 are matched by public dollars at a rate of 6 to 1, has been cited as a model nationwide for placing more power in elections in the hands of the average voter. City Council Member Carlos Menchaca testified to the committee that he never would have been able to mount an insurgent campaign without the system, and that it also allowed him to spend more time with voters rather than donors from out of the district.

“What the system allowed me to do was to have a conversation with donors at $5, $10, and my branded experience of $38 for the 38th District, about the campaign finance,” Menchaca said. “That was my beginning part of my conversation with everyone, that their dollars would multiply by six. That allowed folks to feel empowered in a challenger, and for people that were not entrenched in the system, which is where I had to go build my political support, became possible.” Menchaca said his average contribution amount for his 2013 campaign, in which he pulled off the rare feat of unseating an incumbent, was “around $100.”

The public matching program came into being in 1989, after a wave of corruption scandals in city, state, and federal government led to the passage of Local Law 8, which established a 1:1 match. The match was increased to 4:1 through the 1998 Charter Revision Commission, and was increased again to the current 6:1 in 2007.

The system has significantly lowered candidate reliance on political action committee (PAC) money and other “big money” donations found at other levels of elected government, including state-level elections in New York. The CFB presented data comparing an unnamed City Council member’s finances with that of a member of Congress and of the state Senate. The member of Congress raised 77 percent of their money from PACs and 0.6 percent from small contributions of $200 or less. The state senator raised 89 percent from PACs and 7 percent from small contributions. The City Council member, on the other hand, raised 25 percent from PACs, and 62 percent from small contributions when matching fund allocations were taken into account.

However, for citywide offices, the contribution percentages can be a red herring. In 2017, while 73 percent of contributions to mayoral candidates participating in the public match program came from donors who contributed under $175, 45 percent of the actual dollar value of the total contributions came from 650 individuals who donated the maximum for the 2017 election, which was $4,950 (it has since risen automatically, per law, to $5,100). For the City Council, the distribution is more equal, and in fact, Council candidates as a whole received more money in 2017 from small donors than from contributors of the maximum amount allowed by the program.

Non-participants in the program can take the form of a rich self-funder like Michael Bloomberg, but can also take the form of an incumbent without serious competition not wanting to use taxpayer funds for a formality election or interested in looser restrictions on their spending. Non-participation in competitive races is fairly rare, though. According to the CFB’s Assistant Executive Director for Public Affairs, Eric Friedman, 28 out of 64 non-participants in the public finance system in 2017 reported raising $0.

Others who testified were largely in line with the CFB on raising the match rate and reducing the maximum allowable contribution by about half. Advocates broke with the CFB on the issue of the match cap: while the CFB recommended that the cap be lifted to 65 percent, Alex Camarda of Reinvent Albany and Michael Malbin of SUNY Albany’s Campaign Finance Institute recommended that the cap be eliminated entirely, which would have the city provide more public funds relative to the spending limit.

“I don’t see what purpose that serves,” Malbin said of the matching cap. Camarda and Malbin both endorsed raising the rate of matching funds rate above 6-to-1, but did not recommend a specific rate.

For the 2021 election, the spending limit for a City Council candidate is set at $190,000, and the maximum public funds disbursement is $104,500, or 55 percent of the spending limit. Eliminating the cap would mean that a candidate could spend up to 85 percent of the spending limit using public funds. City Council Member Ben Kallos recently re-introduced a bill that would eliminate the matching funds cap.

CFB representatives were asked by Commissioner Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at NYU’s Brennan Center, why the board is endorsing a 65 percent cap instead of elimination. CFB Executive Director Amy Loprest said that raising it to 85 percent would be impractical.

“We make public funds payments to candidates who are on the ballot and who are opposed on the ballot, therefore we can only make those payments once the ballot has been set,” said Loprest. She noted that according to state election law, ballots could only be set after the end of petitioning. “The ballot is set roughly at the end of July, beginning of August. Which means that we make our first public funds payments at the beginning of August, which leaves about five weeks before the primary.” She noted that this would cause campaigns to be constrained to spending most of their money in the five weeks before the primary.

Camarda agreed in part.

“I think that in citywide races, 65 percent is plenty because citywide candidates don’t often hit the cap,” he said. “Our concern would be for City Council, because as I mentioned, 30 percent of the candidates in 2013 actually hit the cap.” The CFB stated that it wouldn’t oppose eliminating the cap, but that it was not its first preference.

The commissioners, including Chair Perales, a former Secretary of State under Governor Andrew Cuomo, appeared receptive to the changes proposed by the CFB and the other testifiers, for the most part. Most lines of questioning were of an inquisitive rather than adversarial tone. The commissioner who was most skeptical and critical of the proposed changes was John Siegal, an attorney and a de Blasio appointee to the Civilian Complaint Review Board.

“The reason, clearly, that mayoral candidates rely more on big contributions is because it takes a lot of money to run an effective mayoral campaign,” said Siegal, who donated $4,500 to de Blasio’s 2013 mayoral campaign. “And while it sounds good and feels good to say ‘let’s lower the contribution limit,’ that is going to have consequences. Candidates are going to have to work way harder to raise money. They’re going to have to spend a lot more time raising money.” He noted that there is an “efficiency to getting on the phone and getting 500 people to give $4,500 or $5,100 that is going to be lost here.”

The CFB’s Chair, Frederick Schaffer, said that he would agree with Siegal if the only recommendation made by the Board was to lower the contribution limit.

“That’s why we want to increase the match for citywide officials from 6-to-1 to 8-to-1, and increase the actual amount from $175 to $250,” Schaffer said. “We crunched those numbers precisely with this problem in mind, and we think that the overall effect of those three things together meets the concern that you have just expressed.”

Siegal was also critical of a proposed “geographical requirement” for citywide candidates, which would force them to fundraise around the city. Malbin’s presentation to the commission noted that most money raised for citywide contests comes from only five City Council districts, representing Manhattan around Central Park and Brownstone Brooklyn. For citywide candidates, Malbin recommended that they must show a minimum number of contributors in 20 of 51 Council districts to qualify for public matching funds. The CFB suggested that citywide candidates raise 50 contributions from each borough.

Siegal called this a “fundamentally different requirement than we’ve ever had in the system,” saying that previous campaign finance law was limiting the money candidates can raise rather than explicitly saying who it must be raised from, which he said would set a bad precedent, “engineering campaign fundraising.”

“Have you actually looked at how many Republicans raise 50 matching contributions in [the] Bronx? Or how many Democrats actually raise 50 contributions in Staten Island? And do we really want to tell candidates that they have to go out and introduce themselves to communities where they have no background and no ties, and the first thing they have to do is go ask for money. That doesn’t seem to me that it’s getting money out of politics, it seems to me like it’s pushing the fundraising race into places for other reasons,” he added.

Schaffer dismissed the notion that 50 contributions per borough was unattainable for a seeker of citywide office.

“We’re trying to identify people who are reasonably likely to be real candidates, and so we thought the number 50 was really quite minimal, even for a Democrat in Staten Island or a Republican in the Bronx,” Schaffer said. There are currently three citywide elected offices: Mayor, Public Advocate, and Comptroller.

Other commissioners also had questions and concerns. Dale Ho, of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, questioned whether it was appropriate to put such specific numbers, limits, and thresholds into the city charter, which he characterized as difficult to change and rarely brought up for debate, versus the easier-to-change city code.

“As you can see from all this machinery here, [the charter] is quite difficult to amend,” Ho said. “If it turns out that the number should change over time, maybe the limits need to be reduced even more, maybe the match numbers need to go up even higher, maybe we miscalibrate something and we need to adjust something. If these changes are in the city charter, that kind of ties the hands of the city in a way that if they’re in the code, maybe they’re a little easier to adjust.”

Schaffer, a former top appointee in the office of the city’s Corporation Counsel, its top lawyer, said he believed that the City Council can amend the charter “just like ordinary legislation,” which Perales agreed with.

Other issues beyond those encompassed by the CFB’s recommendations also arose.

Government reform group Citizens Union remained neutral on increasing public funds disbursement to candidates, but gave suggestions for transparency measures if the commission decided to increase the disbursement. Rachel Bloom, Citizens Union’s director of public policy, called on the commission to prohibit public funds disbursed to candidates to be used to pay consultants that also lobby the city, subject candidate coordination with union members to campaign finance regulations, tighten Local Law 181, which regulates the nonprofits of elected officials, restrict the transfer of campaign funds running for one office to another office, and to transfer lobbying reporting and enforcement to the CFB.

When asked by Siegal if the CFB was interested in regulating lobbying, Loprest was ambivalent on whether the organization’s independence lent itself to being a watchdog on lobbying.

Meanwhile, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams advocated for eliminating money from politics entirely and moving to a 100 percent publicly funded system. Adams said that candidacies receiving public funding could be gauged by petition signatures, or by reaching a threshold through $1 donations that would end up in the public finance system. He also suggested that the members of the commission, none of whom have held elected office, were not fully equipped to know what raising money as a politician is like, and that they should hold a “mock election” to gain fuller experience.

“I think a good mock exercise is for everyone at CFB, everyone who’s making these decisions, to run a mock election,” Adams said. “Those who have never felt what what you go through to run an election can never really understand. I think to run a mock election, give them the task of calling people and giving them $500, if ever you want people to lose your number, try to raise that $500.”

Adams has already made his own appointee to the charter revision commission empaneled through City Council legislation, which will begin its business soon and put forth recommendations next year. Adams has chosen former City Council Member Sal Albanese, who has been a proponent for campaign finance reform, organizing much of his 2017 mayoral run around the “democracy vouchers” program that has been implemented in Seattle.

“Money is the enemy,” Adams said. “It is always going to be the enemy. We are always going to have a problem with corruption until we get money out of campaigns.”

The mayoral charter revision commission will meet twice more next week, on Tuesday and Thursday, to hear expert testimony on community boards and land use, then civic engagement and independent redistricting.

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. ]]>
Mayoral Charter Revision Commission Hears Expert Testimony on Campaign Finance Reform Fri, 15 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Campaign Finance Board to Propose Reforms at Charter Commission Hearing http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7735:campaign-finance-board-to-propose-reforms-at-charter-commission-hearing http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7735:campaign-finance-board-to-propose-reforms-at-charter-commission-hearing mayor cityhall march

(photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office)


New York City’s modern campaign finance system is undoubtedly a model program -- it’s being emulated in other municipalities -- that has diversified and democratized the city’s quadrennial local elections since it was created 30 years ago. Among its strengths is that the public-matching program is consistently tweaked and updated with the times, and the Campaign Finance Board is taking the opportunity afforded by a mayoral charter revision commission to propose further reforms to the system.

CFB officials are set to present five proposals to the charter revision commission, empaneled in April by Mayor Bill de Blasio, on Thursday afternoon, at an issue forum at NYU focused on campaign finance reform, which was one of the mayor’s stated goals in creating the commission. The commission has been holding public hearings for the last few months and is now digging deeper into a few core subject areas including election administration, voter access and participation, land use, community boards, civic engagement, and independent redistricting.

The CFB’s proposals are meant to enhance its voluntary public matching funds system, which encourages candidates to seek small-dollar donations that are matched at a 6-to-1 ratio for contributions up to $175, or the first $175 of larger donations. The program aids those seeking public office without the help of wealthy donors or support from political party machinery, and gives everyday New Yorkers a greater voice by boosting the impact of their contributions.

Perhaps the CFB’s most significant proposal involves significantly lowering contribution limits for all offices. Currently, individual donors can give candidates for citywide office up to $5,100; candidates for borough president can receive up to $3,950, and City Council candidates can get $2,850 at maximum. The CFB proposes reducing those limits by more than half to $2,250, $1,750, and $1,250 respectively.   

There’s a clear rationale for these changes. In the 2017 election, the CFB noted, contributions to mayoral candidates larger than $2,250 accounted for only 5 percent of all contributions but 59 percent of the total funds raised by those candidates. Similarly, donations of $1,250 and more made up only 2 percent of contributions to City Council candidates but 32 percent of the money raised.

A few of the proposals are directly targeted at citywide positions -- mayor, comptroller and public advocate -- where large donors tend to play a greater role. The CFB suggests increasing the matching fund ratio for citywides from 6-to-1 to 8-to-1 and increasing the matchable donations from $175 to $250. In essence, candidates would be further incentivized to seek small-dollar donations, which would carry a bigger reward. For instance, a donation of $175 to a participating candidate would currently get them another $1,050 in public funds. The changed formula would mean that a $250 donation would net candidates an additional $2,000 in public funds.

Reforms along the lines of the CFB’s proposals have been advanced in the City Council but members have waited to act as the charter commission carries out its work. The CFB, an independently-operating body whose members are chosen by the mayor and the City Council speaker, releases a mandated post-election report every four years with a series of recommendations that typically leads to City Council legislation and at least some tweaks to the system that are passed into law. Such a report is expected by September, and is likely to include proposals similar to those being presented to the mayor’s charter revision commission. When de Blasio announced his charter revision commission and said he intended it to focus in part on campaign finance reform, some questioned why he wouldn’t allow the usual process to unfold.

The mayoral charter revision commission’s proposals will be announced in early September and placed on the ballot in the November general election, with city voters approving or rejecting them.

A second charter revision commission is being formed after legislation passed the City Council earlier this year. Its work will culminate with ballot proposals in 2019.

One bill currently at the City Council, proposed by Council Member Ben Kallos, would increase the cap on public campaign matching funds from the current 55 percent of the spending limit for a particular seat to 85 percent. The CFB is now proposing a more moderate increase to 65 percent of the spending limit, reasoning that it nonetheless boosts small donations while giving candidates the flexibility to raise and spend funds from private sources since public funds payments are usually doled out in the closing stretches of each election cycle.

Two other new CFB proposals would alter the thresholds for candidates to qualify for public funds. As it stands now, citywide candidates have to raise a minimum amount from a minimum number of donations. As an example, mayoral candidates have to raise at least $250,000 from at least 1,000 donors who gave a minimum of $10, while comptroller and public advocate candidates have to raise $125,000 from 500 donors giving at least $10. The CFB is proposing reducing these thresholds to $125,000 for mayor and $75,000 for the other citywide seats, while also pitching a new “geographic requirement” that each candidate receive at least 50 contributions from each of the five boroughs. They are also proposing lowering the minimum qualifying contribution to $5 for all elected positions.

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Campaign Finance Board to Propose Reforms at Charter Commission Hearing Wed, 13 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Stephanie Miner Diagnoses What’s Wrong with New York Politics http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7694:stephanie-miner-diagnoses-what-s-wrong-with-new-york-politics http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7694:stephanie-miner-diagnoses-what-s-wrong-with-new-york-politics stephanie miner podcast

Stephanie Miner (photo: Ben Max/Gotham Gazette)


She describes herself as a “romantic about government,” but former Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner sees a lot wrong with how it is currently being practiced in New York.

“When I think about what motivates me to be in government, it’s making change and impacting public policy,” Miner said on a recent episode of the Max & Murphy podcast from Gotham Gazette and City Limits, adding her contention that “real people are suffering” because of poor public policy in transit, affordable housing, and infrastructure across the state.

Miner, a Democrat who was term-limited out of office as mayor of the state’s fifth biggest city at the end of last year, has for months explored the possibility of challenging Governor Andrew Cuomo in this year’s gubernatorial primary election. She spent the first semester of the year teaching at NYU’s Wagner School and meeting with people about her political future. Her resume also includes the fact that she was the first woman to be elected mayor of Syracuse and her time as the chair of the state Democratic Party, a position she earned in part because of support from Cuomo, who she subsequently had a major falling out with.

Time out of office has allowed her to “take a breath and look at where we are in our state and where we are in our country in terms of politics and government,” she said on the podcast. In the meantime, Miner is not mincing words about Cuomo and his leadership of the state.

“For me backroom dealings and politics as usual is not serving anybody,” she said on the podcast. “We have rampant corruption, everywhere we look in the state there are more and more news stories about trials, guilty pleas, guilty verdicts, more investigations, FBI’s executing search warrants, and yet you have the power establishment just being silent.”

She specifically referenced corruption scandals including the recent conviction of Cuomo’s former top aide Joseph Percoco, who was found guilty on multiple federal corruption charges in March, as well as the “Buffalo Billion” saga in which federal prosecutors allege a handful of people involved in Cuomo’s economic development project are guilty of bid-rigging. Some of those accused, including another former top aide and several major donors to Cuomo, are set to stand trial beginning in June.

She criticized Cuomo for saying he would be interviewing potential attorney general candidates in the aftermath of Eric Schneiderman’s resignation after allegations he physically assaulted four women, in an apparent effort to help decide who would become the Democratic nominee. “When you have Cuomo saying he’s going to quote, “interview candidates” for the attorney general vacancy spot, I think that is wrong and violates a bunch of standards in ethical practice…and that’s where we find ourselves in this state,” she said.

The mentality of officials, Miner said, with clear reference to Cuomo, is too often to “get the quick win, stand up and take credit for it and don’t think about what’s behind it because you’re not going to be around when everything falls apart.”

What’s really at the heart of the issue?

“I think elected officials are more interested in serving the needs and desires of vested special interests who give big campaign contributions,” Miner said. “It becomes very transactional and...as the number of people who actually vote grows smaller and smaller, it becomes this perfect cycle for elected officials: They are much more interested in getting reelected than they are at solving problems and getting reelected is much easier if you can raise a million dollars and you only have 2,000 voters who show up.”

Other problems she said are at the top of the list for the state include transit, income inequality, affordable housing, and failed economic development projects. She is also concerned for the future of jobs with the rise of technology replacing people in industries such as transport and hospitality.

Solving these problems is especially difficult in a “brittle” system that discourages a considered and forward-thinking discussion of issues, Miner said. “It’s not helpful to say there are only two sides…For example, I’m in favor of the $15 minimum wage but the fact that becomes like a buzz question, ‘where are you on minimum wage?’ it ignores this huge public policy challenge about automation and what that’s going to do to our economy. Whether or not you’re earning a $15 wage, it’s not going to matter if you can’t get a job.”

As for solutions, Miner wants to see both campaign finance and election reform, in order to remove the influence of big donors and give more access to the process to all New Yorkers. She wants to see closure of the infamous LLC loophole and changes such as early voting, automatic registration, and vote by mail.

But there’s a fundamental change in leadership need, she said -- New York needs people in power who are collaborative, who listen, who consider alternative viewpoints.

Miner said her professional relationship with the governor has been marred by conflict, with a key turning point being Miner’s 2013 op-ed in The New York Times, in which she criticized Cuomo for his plan to allow municipalities to reduce their current pension payments and make up for it in the future. She said she wrote the op-ed after being given the “runaround” and pressured by the party to “get onboard” with the Cuomo plan, despite believing the move was fiscally irresponsible, especially given municipal finance is a top issue for her.

“It became clear to me after that, that the governor and I had very different views on public policy and public policy disagreements. You’re always going to know why I disagree with you, and what those grounds are, and that was not something that was tolerated in Andrew Cuomo’s world,” she said.

The former Syracuse mayor will have to decide soon whether or not to enter the gubernatorial race, and she said during the May 15 podcast taping that part of that consideration involves the ideas she has, the team she will be able to put together, and her positioning to deliver positive change to the state.

“There are lots of different things that I find myself in a very good position to talk about,” she said, listing examples such as being mayor of a city facing significant poverty and income inequality and having her area be central to the corruption scandals plaguing the Cuomo administration.

Miner disagreed with the notion that it is basically too late to get into the race given that actor and activist Cynthia Nixon has already declared a challenge to Cuomo from the left and swooped up a number of endorsements.

Nixon’s presence in the raise is “beneficial for everyone,” Miner said, as it contributes to a “vibrant political dialogue.” But with less than four months until the September primaries, the clock is certainly ticking for Miner. Cuomo was just backed with 95 percent of the state committee vote at the party’s convention. In a brief email exchange on Monday, May 28, Miner indicated that nothing had materially changed in her thinking since the podcast discussion.

“The old rules of dates and times an how you put together a campaign no longer apply,” she said. “We are in uncharted waters and it is a tremendously turbulent time. People are hungry for change.”

[LISTEN: Max & Murphy Podcast: Former Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner]

***
by Caitlin Bishop, Gotham Gazette
@caitybishop  @GothamGazette

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Stephanie Miner Diagnoses What’s Wrong with New York Politics Mon, 28 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Brooklynites Testify at Charter Revision Commission Hearing http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7662:brooklynites-testify-at-charter-revision-commission-hearing http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7662:brooklynites-testify-at-charter-revision-commission-hearing Mayor de Blasio charter revision

Mayor de Blasio at a hearing at City Hall (photo: Mayoral Photography Office)


Calls for campaign finance improvements, election reform, and changes to the structure and functions of community boards dominated the fourth borough hearing of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Charter Revision Commission, held Monday night at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Created by the mayor to review the charter, which outlines the city’s foundational governance, the commission is holding a slew of hearings across the city to solicit public input on changes that New Yorkers want to see in the powers and role of the municipal government. Those proposed changes will eventually be included as referenda on the November election ballot. On Monday, over the course of three-and-a-half hours, about two dozen people testified before the commission on concerns both broad and parochial.

With the mayor having formed the commission with particular goals in mind -- improving voter participation and reducing the influence of money in elections -- it wasn’t surprising that campaign finance reform was a large focus of the hearing. Government reform groups urged the commissioners to consider a slew of changes, some controversial, and to further strengthen the city’s campaign finance system, which is considered a national model.  

Among other things, Citizens Union, one of the groups, pushed for a top-two election system regardless of party, instant runoff voting, independent redistricting for City Council seats, and transferring oversight of lobbying disclosure from the City Clerk’s office to the Campaign Finance Board.

Another advocate, Jeremy Gruber, senior vice president of Open Primaries, as his organization’s name suggests, called on the commission to propose allowing all registered voters to cast a ballot in primary elections, which currently are limited to voters registered with a political party and exclude nearly a million independent voters. “Every New York City voter benefits from a healthier, more inclusive political system that encourages competition,” Gruber said, noting the chaos that accompanied the 2016 presidential primary in the state when hundreds of thousands of independent voters were incensed by being shut out of the Democratic primary between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.

Questions were raised about a few of those recommendations. Commissioner Larian Angelo expressed concern that a top-two election system, in which the top two vote-getters in a primary advance to the general election, might shut out Republicans in a Democrat-heavy city. And nonpartisan open primaries, Commission Chair Cesar Perales pointed out, had been put before the voters in a referendum years ago and was soundly rejected. “I’m playing the devil’s advocate here,” he conceded.

Gruber, though, insisted that the concept was “incredibly relevant” in the current political climate, with voters increasingly alienated from political parties and seeking to exercise their voting rights as independents.

Other ideas that found purchase among the audience and the commissioners were proposals to institutionalize participatory budgeting. Certain City Council members employ the program in their districts, allowing constituents to vote on how to direct $1 million or more in funding towards various programs and initiatives. Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, said the program could be expanded citywide. She also said members of the Campaign Finance Board should no longer be solely appointed by the mayor, to increase ethics oversight of the agency.

Lerner, and others, also pushed for a move towards full public financing of elections, by first increasing the amount of funds that the CFB provides to candidates under it’s public matching funds system, which incentivizes small-dollar donations up to $175 by matching them at a 6-to-1 ratio. Those who testified included individuals who have unsuccessfully run for City Council in the past, and who said that the current system continues to favor candidates with access to wealthy donors and those with the resources to navigate the CFB’s at-times onerous regulations.

“Everyone deserves a fair and equal voice and now giving that opportunity of raising someone’s voice who is less fortunate can help ensure that their opinions and needs do not fade off into night behind those who can afford to raise their own,” said RJ DeMello, a community activist.

Another popular proposal, put forward by Brooklyn Council Member Brad Lander and supported by many of those who testified, involves creating a New York City Office of Civic Engagement, to encourage voter participation and local involvement in civic affairs. Amina Fofana, a member of Integrate NYC, a youth-led organization working towards school integration, said Lander’s civic engagement office was necessary so “youth can be able to voice their opinions and have a part in the decisions that are being made.”

Lander, who has introduced legislation to create the office, also spoke at Monday’s hearing. A nonpartisan, independent citywide Office of Civic Engagement could “truly empower people to engage in shaping their communities, which is really what democracy is supposed to be about,” he said. However, in his State of the City speech in February when he announced plans for his charter revision commission, de Blasio also said he was going to name a Chief Democracy Officer in the mayor’s office, though the scope of that position does not appear as wide-ranging as the office Lander is pushing for.

Several local residents at Monday’s hearing had narrower but substantive concerns about the functioning of community boards, the most localized iteration of municipal government. Some suggested that community board members should be elected rather than appointed, with term limits, and that borough presidents should be removed from the appointment process. “Community boards are their own political entity. Without term limits, their ability to represent constituents goes down,” said one resident and community organizer, Juan Restrepo.

Other suggestions included proportional representation from the population of the local district, a standard regulating structure for boards citywide, and a stronger role in local land use decisions.

Paula Segal, a senior staff attorney in the Equitable Neighborhoods practice at the Community Development Project, advocated for more equitable land use policies, noting that publicly owned land is leased out or sold without being subject to the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). She pushed for improvements to ULURP and increased transparency in land use applications, and reforms to the tax lien process for charities and nonprofits. Segal’s boldest proposal was the “enshrinement of a right to housing” for the homeless, as opposed to the state law which provides for a right to shelter and creates what Segal called a “shelter industrial complex.”

There were also some speakers on tangential matters, who urged changes in voter registration and voting laws, which fall under the purview of the state Legislature and cannot be affected by revisions of the city charter. At least two people, including Republican congressional candidate Lutchi Gayot, said that Commissioner Una Clarke should recuse herself from the panel because her daughter, Congressional Rep. Yvette Clarke, is running for reelection and that posed a conflict of interest. Commission members had to repeatedly remind the audience that the commission’s work has no bearing on federal election regulations or practices. “[N]obody ever considered me a rubber stamp for anything,” Clarke retorted to one resident, noting that she and the other members of the commission are independent volunteers.

Yet others seemed slighted by how the commission was carrying out its work. Matt Fairley, who said he is a resident of Lander’s district, critiqued the commission for allowing representatives of established organizations to testify first, which “only increases the sense of alienation that voters in this city feel that people who are connected will be given primacy of place,” he said.

Fairley proposed a sweeping change in city government, insisting that New York City needs to increase the number of elected officials from the 64 that currently hold office across different levels. The idea found support from others as well, including Dr. John Flateau, a professor at Medgar Evers College who also serves as the Democratic Board of Elections commissioner from Brooklyn.

Flateau suggested that the City Council should have 59 seats, up from 51, to match the number of community boards. He had 21 proposals in total for the commission, though he was afforded only enough time to verbally advance a few, including granting legal permanent residents the right to vote in municipal elections, reviewing the composition of various city boards and commissions, and advice and consent powers for the City Council on mayoral appointments.  

The Commission will hold its next hearing in Manhattan on Wednesday. An initial draft list of recommendations from the commission is expected in July.

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

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Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. ]]>
Brooklynites Testify at Charter Revision Commission Hearing Tue, 08 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Charter Revision Commission Urged to Consider Tighter Donation Rules for City-Affiliated Nonprofits http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7654:charter-revision-commission-urged-to-consider-tighter-donation-rules-for-city-affiliated-nonprofits http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7654:charter-revision-commission-urged-to-consider-tighter-donation-rules-for-city-affiliated-nonprofits m bdb first lady chirlane

Mayor de Blasio & the Mayor's Fund (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photo Office)


A government reform group is urging Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Charter Revision Commission to explore stronger restrictions on donations to nonprofits affiliated with city agencies, building on a raft of laws passed through the New York City Council and signed by the mayor in 2016, which are set to go into effect next year.

Reinvent Albany, an organization focused on government transparency and accountability, is advocating for greater disclosure requirements and lower limits for donations made to city-affiliated nonprofits by entities and individuals who have contracts and other business with the city and appear on its “doing business” database. One of the most prominent examples of a city nonprofit is the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, which carries out programming through public-private partnerships and raises millions in private funding to do so every year, and is currently chaired by de Blasio’s wife, First Lady Chirlane McCray.

Reinvent Albany will present its recommendations at a public hearing of the mayor’s Charter Revision Commission in Queens on Thursday.

The recommendations are an outgrowth of controversy involving several top elected officials and organizations, most recently in de Blasio’s first term, when he formed a nonprofit called the Campaign for One New York to help promote his political agenda, particularly his push for universal pre-kindergarten and a tax increase to fund it. The group accepted large donations from many wealthy donors and special interests, including labor unions and real estate developers, many of whom had business with the city and had also been backers of the mayor’s electoral campaign. At the time, electoral campaigns were far more restricted in donations they could accept from entities with city business -- no such limits applied to elected official-affiliated nonprofits.

Though it wasn’t required, the mayor disclosed the group’s donors voluntarily every six months. But, the entire scheme invited criticism, and its efforts helped trigger a federal investigation of the mayor and his associates. The investigation eventually closed without charges being filed, but de Blasio and his team were criticized by federal prosecutors as well as the city’s Campaign Finance Board.

In response, the City Council passed a bill to rein in donations to nonprofits affiliated with elected officials, bringing “doing business” donation limits in line with those that apply to electoral campaigns -- just $400 for mayoral candidates -- and putting those nonprofits under the jurisdiction of the Conflicts of Interest Board. In 2019, the COIB will start to issue detailed reports of such nonprofits, including their donors and how much they contributed. The bill, spearheaded by then-Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, was signed by de Blasio, who called it the right thing to do despite claiming he had done nothing illegal or unethical with the Campaign for One New York.

But the new rules do not cover nonprofits affiliated with city agencies, which, Reinvent Albany points out, number in the hundreds and currently have no “doing business” restrictions.

“We’re increasingly concerned about nonprofits that have existed for years affiliated with city agencies, and donors giving to these nonprofits and having business with those same city agencies,” said Alex Camarda, Reinvent Albany’s senior policy advisor, in a phone interview. The lack of regulation could create the “perception of undue influence, if not actual conflict,” he said. With the mayor having formed a Charter Revision Commission with the express mandate to look at campaign finance reform, the issue appears to be right up the commission’s alley, if not necessarily something de Blasio had in mind.

To close several holes, Reinvent Albany recommends that all donations to nonprofits affiliated with elected officials be capped. The law currently only applies the $400 doing-business cap to those nonprofits that spend more than 10 percent of their budget on public-facing communications featuring the elected official. Camarda said the limit could be higher, though he did not suggest a specific amount.

Further, as Camarda mentioned, the group is calling for expanding donation restrictions to all city agencies, public benefit corporations, public authorities, and local development corporations. “A company that does business with the city could give millions” toward a city agency under the current law, Camarda said. “That’s where we feel the [Council’s law] doesn’t go far enough.

The COIB requires that agencies report any private donations above $5,000 made either to the agency or to an affiliated nonprofit. Those donations are reported in broad ranges that obscure how much an agency has received. For instance, The Fund for Public Schools, a nonprofit tied to the Department of Education, reported more than $4 million in donations from May through September 2017, per the latest disclosures available, including exact donations though it was not required. Reinvent Albany is also pushing for disclosure of all donations in their exact amounts, and on the city’s Open Data portal to allow for easy data analysis.

Finally, the group is calling for the city’s ethics laws to apply to volunteers who are involved in major policy work and senior appointments and that are also fundraising for nonprofits affiliated with electeds. Though their testimony does not say so, the recommendation clearly alludes to First Lady McCray, who has played an increasingly prominent role in de Blasio’s administration, appearing with the mayor at major personnel announcements and continuing to roll out aspects of her main policy and program initiatives. In late 2016, amid investigations into the mayor’s administration, Politico New York reported that the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City was more thoroughly vetting donors to avoid potential conflicts. McCray recently told Gotham Gazette and City Limits that she does not worry much about conflicts given that lawyers handle those issues. The Fund provides assistance for programs at 30 city agencies and has played a prominent role in the administration’s ThriveNYC mental health initiative, which was spearheaded by McCray.

“We do not oppose per diem or unpaid volunteers serving on city boards, task forces and commissions, much like the members of this commission,” the Reinvent Albany testimony reads. “But they should not also be fundraising simultaneously for nonprofits affiliated with elected officials.”

The group acknowledged that there were nonetheless nonprofit organizations that may not be covered by any changes they recommend, such as organizations that receive large sums in city funding and whose board members are donors to city elected officials.

“Many of these nonprofits do important work that helps the city,” Camarda said. “We don’t want them to become avenues for companies and wealthy donors to circumvent the campaign finance system.”

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Charter Revision Commission Urged to Consider Tighter Donation Rules for City-Affiliated Nonprofits Thu, 03 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Eric Adams Previews Vision for Becoming City’s CEO http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7652:eric-adams-previews-vision-for-becoming-city-s-ceo http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7652:eric-adams-previews-vision-for-becoming-city-s-ceo bpericadams twitter 2

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams (photo: @bpericadams)


“I’m working towards City Hall,” Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said on Tuesday, explaining during a wide-ranging interview that he has begun planning his run for mayor.

It’s no secret that Adams, 57, who was elected borough president in 2013 and reelected last year, wants to succeed Mayor Bill de Blasio, a fellow Democrat who will be term-limited out of office at the end of 2021 -- he has made that clear for years. But on Tuesday, during an appearance on the Max & Murphy podcast from Gotham Gazette and City Limits, Adams for the first time publicly offered insight into his vision for running the city and what part of his campaign pitch will be.

“What we’ve been able to do here in Brooklyn, and my perception of where I believe the city needs to go, I think it’s different from all the candidates who are running and thinking about running,” he said, sitting in the vast conference room of Brooklyn Borough Hall.         

That difference comes in part from Adams’ background in policing. For 22 years, the borough president was a member of the NYPD. In the early 1990s, he said on Tuesday, he was active in developing the management system CompStat under Police Commissioner Bill Bratton — a system that has been credited for helping to drastically reduce crime and, according to Adams, “changed the culture of policing not only for New York but for the rest of America.”

“When the police department made this change, every agency should have followed,” Adams said, pivoting toward his vision for managing the city’s immense bureaucracy and dozens of agencies. “We have enough money, the right agencies, and the right people in place, but the systems are broken.”

A CompStat approach across all agencies, Adams said, would include technology to inspect and track progress in “real time.” “I’m going to professionalize our agencies so...we can start seeing our results not yearly, but daily. CompStat would be a model that would be used in every agency.”

CompStat is known for its data-driven approach and tough culture of accountability on NYPD leaders, such as precinct commanders. “Commissioner Bratton came in and said, ‘We have to change the culture’, and he had to move people out of the way who couldn’t understand that change,” Adams said, adding there must be clear goals that relevant agencies are working together to achieve, efforts that today are too disjointed.

Adams is typically supportive of de Blasio — even applauding the mayor during the podcast for “doing a good job” in improving access to after-school care and reducing both the use of stop-and-frisk policing as well as crime, among other positives he cited. But the borough president also noted problems with education, healthcare, police accountability, and affordability in the city, saying: “when you look at it, either we’re going downwards or we’re flat-lining, we don’t see any improvements.”

Using the example of unemployment (which was at a near-record low of 4.2 percent in March 2018, down from 8.3 percent when de Blasio first took office in January 2014) Adams said government agencies must work together more coherently.

“I want to create a clear mission for the city that means every agency, although they have their individual portion of the mission, they should be all moving towards that vision. If the goal is to improve unemployment numbers, then we cannot have agencies that are in the way of allowing companies to open and do business in the city,” he said.

“Yes, your mission might be to ensure buildings are safe, but that mission should also feed into the overall mission of the city. It should not take a year to grant a building permit.”

Though there’s a ways to go until Adams presents voters his promises ahead of the 2021 mayoral election -- where he is expected to face Public Advocate Letitia James, Comptroller Scott Stringer, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., and possibly others in the Democratic primary -- the Brooklyn borough president is clearly thinking about how he will make his pitch and what would separate him from the crowd.

During the podcast, Adams touched on other aspects of current policy debates that may come into play during a future campaign, but are already playing out now.

Most notably, Adams said he wants to examine whether the city should “tear down” and rebuild public housing developments. With crises plaguing the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and many billions of dollars in infrastructure needs across its portfolio, Adams said the “only way to change the problem narrative is to think outside of the box.”

“We’re asking Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to do a real analysis of repairs and the cost of going in and doing these repairs,” he said. “We need to have a conversation: do we tear down NYCHA and rebuild it at the quality level it needs to be?”

“I say we must be committed to zero displacement: the current tenants are guaranteed to remain there,” he continued. “But there are old pipes, old roofs, and old wiring. What is it going to cost us to make NYCHA housing sustainable for the future?”

Adams is also critical of politicians who treat NYCHA like a pony show to garner media attention and boost voter confidence, making apparent reference to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recent interest in public housing. Adams recently stepped further into the politics surrounding NYCHA by inviting Cuomo’s Democratic primary opponent in this year’s election to tour NYCHA with him -- an offer Cynthia Nixon quickly took him up on, touring Albany Houses in Crown Heights with the borough president.

Adams said the way some politicians treat NYCHA has created an “angry and distrustful” community of residents who are living in such impoverished conditions “they’ve given up.”

“Folks have finally discovered there is a NYCHA and they’re walking through it, I don’t know where they’ve been all these years, the NYCHA problem did not start now,” Adams said.

During the conversation with Gotham Gazette and City Limits, Adams also touched on other areas where he wants to usher in change.

A top priority for Adams is campaign finance reform, with the borough president saying the current system means candidates are spending more time in affluent areas, away from where they need to be.

“There is no reason we shouldn’t have a public-funded system,” he said. “People are not going to NYCHA or South Bronx or South Jamaica, Queens. They are going to affluent zip codes and focusing on finding donors in those areas.”

At the moment, the city’s public financing program matches contributions up to $175 from locals at a six-to-one rate, with several requisite thresholds. As Adams puts it: “If I live in an affluent area, I don’t care what amount you lower [the donation limit to] it’s easier for me to call a hundred friends and say, ‘Hey, on your way to The Hamptons can you get 1,000 of your friends to donate $175?’ I can’t call someone from the Pink House and say, ‘Hey, you’re on your way to Coney Island Beach, can you give $175?’ It’s not going to happen.”

“The number of calls you make to raise money is taking away from the quality time you should be spending doing your job,” he said. Adams wants a fully public system, whereby candidates don’t have to raise private money. He said that he wants an upcoming City Charter Revision Commission, on which he will have one of 15 appointees, to pursue such a change.

That commission -- organized through City Council legislation at the behest of Public Advocate James, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson (himself another possible 2021 mayoral candidate) -- will soon be formed, working toward proposals for the 2018 general election ballot. Mayor de Blasio has already formed his own Charter Revision Commission that just began its work, with a mandate to look closely at campaign finance reform.

Adams is also particularly concerned with public health. He believes city schools shouldn’t be feeding students processed meat, and he regularly references the World Health Organization’s 2015 report that found “processed meat is carcinogenic to humans” — meaning it causes cancer.

His concern for public health is personal, too. Adams completely changed his lifestyle upon receiving a Type Two Diabetes diagnosis in 2016. By changing his diet to vegan and increasing his exercise regimen, Adams’ blood sugar levels had returned to normal six months on from the diagnosis and he says he completely reversed the disease.

“We are so dysfunctional as a city when you stop to think about it,” he said. “We have a schizophrenic healthcare philosophy. In one area we say that childhood obesity is an issue, asthma is an issue, yet we feed the children food that cause the diseases. There’s a disconnect.”

These are just a few of the issues that are central to Adams’ work now, and could be central to his mayoral campaign.

Yet before the 2021 city elections, there is the 2018 New York gubernatorial race and Adams is giving no indication of the candidate he’s planning to endorse in the Democratic primary, choosing between Cuomo, who he’s “disappointed in,” and Nixon (at least one other name is likely to be on the ballot, perennial candidate Randy Credico).

“I have not kept it a secret that I’m extremely disappointed in the treatment of Brooklyn in comparison to other boroughs, particularly the Bronx,” Adams said when asked about Cuomo, who has a long, close relationship with Diaz, Jr. “We’re looking at all the candidates to determine which way we’re going to go.”

“I think the primaries allow us to hear the voices of those who are running. It’s going to an exciting time,” Adams said. He also spoke about possibly backing Brooklyn City Council Member Jumaane Williams, who is running for Lieutenant Governor in the primary against incumbent Kathy Hochul and Adams knows well.

Also on the podcast, Adams spoke about plans for redevelopment in Brooklyn; his reaction to the April shooting of Brooklyn resident Saheed Vassell by police; the mayor’s recent budget proposal; and de Blasio’s record more broadly.

Listen to Eric Adams on the Max & Murphy podcast here, or find it wherever you get your podcasts.

***
by Caitlin Bishop, Gotham Gazette
@caitybishop  @GothamGazette

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Eric Adams Previews Vision for Becoming City’s CEO Wed, 02 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Defining 'Real Democrat,' Cynthia Nixon Offers Early Policy Platform http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7647:defining-real-democrat-cynthia-nixon-offers-early-policy-platform http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7647:defining-real-democrat-cynthia-nixon-offers-early-policy-platform cynthia nixon gov rally event

Cynthia Nixon (photo: Cynthia for NY on Facebook)


Actor and activist Cynthia Nixon launched her challenge to two-term incumbent Governor Andrew Cuomo by calling him a fake Democrat who has governed like a Republican and only takes progressive stances when they are politically expedient or he has no choice.

Nixon, who certainly has an uphill climb if she wants to beat Cuomo in the September 13 Democratic primary, has staked her campaign on claiming to be a true progressive, with a liberal agenda focused on racial and economic justice, led by what has been her marquee issue as an activist over the past two decades: education funding. As a spokesperson with the Alliance for Quality Education, Nixon has long-championed increased investment in the state’s public schools, especially those in disadvantaged communities.

Running to Cuomo’s left, Nixon has quickly outlined a variety of policy positions that are garnering her additional media attention, beyond the significant amount she captures as a celebrity running for elected office, while she also criticizes Cuomo on topics that are less easily placed on the ideological spectrum: management of the MTA and its subways, government corruption, and personality. Like Cuomo’s Republican opponents, Nixon calls him a bully who governs out of fear rather than collaboration.

“If we had a governor who acted like a Democrat," Nixon said at a recent house party meet-and-greet, "we could have fully funded our schools, we could have enacted campaign finance reform, we could have enacted the women’s equality agenda, we could have enacted the New York Dream Act, we could have fought for single-payer health care, we could have strengthened our rent regulations, and we could have fixed our subway.”

She also indicated she would "invest in public housing," end mass-incarceration and "the over-policing of communities of color" and "make our state into a real sanctuary state.”

“We cannot depend on career politicians to deliver the change that we have been begging for, for literally decades,” she said to the roughly 15 attendees, according to a video posted to Facebook.

The governor has responded to Nixon’s candidacy with a fit of effort, rallying allies, tacking leftward on several fronts, and making a couple of gaffes. Cuomo is running on a record that impresses many, including high-profile progressive achievements such as the passage of marriage equality in New York in 2011, an aggressive gun regulation program in 2013, a large increase in the minimum wage and a paid family leave program in 2015, and more.

“During my administration we have made this state the most progressive state in the United States of America,” Cuomo recently said, and dismisses the notion that Nixon has pushed him leftward.

Asked about his apparent move in that direction since Nixon announced her candidacy, Cuomo recently said:

“Yeah, I say: look at what I have done all my life, all I did with Mario Cuomo. When we took a position against the death penalty every year, at tremendous political cost. Look at what I did at HUD when I was with President Clinton, and we went all over the country building an agenda for poor people. I sued the Klu Klux Klan. Look at what I did when I was the first big state in the United States to pass marriage equality...when I passed $15 minimum wage, when I passed paid family leave, when I closed more prisons than any governor in the history of the state...Look at a lifetime of work, my friend. I have been doing the same thing since I entered public service. When I was in my twenties, I was doing homeless housing in Brooklyn, homeless housing for homeless families and people and victims of domestic violence, so I’m a very simple, consistent fellow. We got into this business because my father taught me that the Democratic Party at its best was a vehicle for social justice and social change; it’s what I’ve been doing since day one.”

Nixon and her supporters, like those in the liberal Working Families Party, which endorsed her after backing Cuomo in his previous two gubernatorial races, have said some of Cuomo’s big achievements are watered down and there’s a long list of progressive goals that could have been achieved if Cuomo didn’t govern from the center, empower Republicans and breakaway Democrats in the state Senate, appease his big-money donors, and focus on the wrong priorities. Indeed, much of Nixon’s platform includes policy priorities that Cuomo has said he backs but has not gotten passed through the Legislature, something his critics say has been by design.

A recent Siena College poll shows Nixon gaining ground, though she still appears a significant underdog to a governor with near-universal name recognition in New York, $30 million and counting in the bank, and other advantages of incumbency. Cuomo’s 66%-19% advantage among Democratic voters in a poll released just as Nixon launched her campaign in mid-March shrank to 58%-27% in a poll released mid-April, but the governor still appears to be in strong position as the campaign begins to heat up. With the primary vote set for September 13, Nixon clearly needs to show Democratic voters around the state that she understands their concerns, while continuing to answer questions about her qualifications.

In her early campaign, she has begun to hold events around New York, while attending rallies where she is not a featured speaker, and sitting for several magazine profiles and appearing on television with Wendy Williams and Stephen Colbert. Twitter has become one of her key campaign tools, which she uses to reach her roughly 173,000 followers and many others through retweets and press coverage. Through these appearances and tweets, as well as press releases and campaign videos, Nixon has made a variety of policy positions clear, some of which are affirmative plans, others that are only critiques of how Cuomo has done things, with her own specific proposals still unannounced.

A little more than a month after declaring her candidacy, Nixon does not have a page on her website dedicated to policy, and has released one detailed issue plan, on energy and the environment. Her campaign did not respond to a request for comment about her policy agenda and what New Yorkers might expect in the future in terms of policy rollout.

But, Nixon has expressed support for a number of long-standing but unpassed policy proposals like the New York Dream Act, and begun to put forth other elements of her platform, which, given her lack of experience in government, she will be relying on heavily to woo voters. She has also listed off a number of ways in which she would govern differently from Cuomo, typically to the left.

Cannabis
Nixon has called for legalizing recreational use of marijuana in New York.

She has framed it as an issue of racial equity and criminal justice. “We have to stop putting people of color in jail for something white people do with impunity,” she said in a video posted to Twitter. At the same time, she frames the issue as an opportunity for economic growth and a potential new source of state tax revenue, “Legalizing marijuana can generate millions of dollars in tax revenue to improve the lives of all New Yorkers,” Nixon said in a tweet. She has also pointed out the potential agricultural opportunities in further tweets on the subject.

Another reform that Nixon has expressed support for relates to forgiveness for those who have been arrested and convicted on charges relating to cannabis. “Ending the injustice of putting New Yorkers in prison for marijuana is a start but we also have to correct past injustices, by expunging prior convictions — particularly for nonviolent offenders whose only convictions are for marijuana use,” Nixon tweeted.

Education
Nixon has been a vocal activist on education issues in the city and state for the better part of 20 years. Working with the Alliance for Quality Education, she has decried what they call the underfunding and unequal funding of schools, while also opposing the over-emphasis on standardized testing and the expansion of charter schools.

Talking to reporters in Syracuse recently, Nixon said of more education funding, “We need it to improve buildings that have mold, that have lead, that have asbestos, but we also need it to stop the school-to-prison pipeline. We need to have more social workers and psychologists, and we need to have people who are really trained in conflict resolution.”

At a press conference in March, during her first week as a declared gubernatorial candidate, Nixon appeared with the Alliance for Quality Education in Albany. She said of local education funding, “We need to not have it based on property values,” while suggesting that schools should rely primarily on state funding, not local. She also criticized the 2% cap on annual property tax growth everywhere in New York except New York City, which Cuomo implemented and points to as a major accomplishment. “He makes it very difficult if a locality wants to raise taxes on itself for education," Nixon said.

She also expressed support for the Assembly Democrats’ plan to increase public school funding in the state at the AQE press conference, which occurred during state budget negotiations before a deal was reached in late March. The Assembly plan would have directed an additional $1.5 billion in funding to public school districts, slightly more than double the funding that Cuomo had proposed, at an increase of $769 million over the prior year. The new state budget for the fiscal year that started April 1 increased state education spending by $1 billion, to a total of $26.7 billion.  Cuomo regularly notes that New York spends more per pupil than any other state, and has long asked if the state and its localities are getting enough from that high level of spending, leading him to some of his calls for education reforms.

Nixon also frames education funding as a social and racial justice issue. “There is a $7 million budget for school resource officers, and a quarter of a million budget for mental health, we need to flip that,” she said. “We are treating our black and brown children, we’re viewing them as criminals, we’re viewing them as a threat from the very earliest ages.”

“Allowing more police into our schools will only fuel the school-to-prison pipeline which has ruined the lives of so many young black and brown students. More smartboards, less metal detectors,” she tweeted.

Nixon has also shown her opposition to charter schools, which are publicly-funded and privately run. Cuomo has been a major supporter of charter schools, helping them expand, especially in New York City. “We have to stop diverting education funding into privately run charter schools, and put the focus back where it should be: on strengthening our public schools and keeping them public,” Nixon wrote on Twitter.  

She has also criticized Cuomo’s Excelsior Scholarship program that attempts to make city and state colleges tuition-free for students from many middle-class families. Cuomo considers it a crowning achievement, but critics like Nixon have put it in the bucket of progressive policies that don’t go as far as they should.

“In terms of free college for all, it only affects a very narrow group of New Yorkers who are middle class New Yorkers who earn too much money to be affected by the federal grant, the pell grant, and people who can afford to go to college full-time, don’t have to work, can graduate in four years, can guarantee they won’t move out of state for four years, and, importantly, don't need any help with books, with room, with board, with transportation -- that’s a very narrow targeted group of people,” Nixon said in an interview with Karen DeWitt of upstate public radio, WXXI News.

Nixon has come out in favor of repealing one of Cuomo’s major education reform initiatives, though something the governor has already largely abandoned. She is calling for removing any ties between state standardized test scores and teacher evaluations, otherwise known as the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) system. The initial passage of the system as well as the implementation of the Common Core learning standards helped fuel an opt-out movement whereby many parents have kept their children from taking the grades 3-8 tests in English language arts and math. The movement has also been bolstered by teachers unions decrying the focus on the tests, which themselves have seen both much criticism and some adjustments in terms of duration of testing and more.

Elections, Voting, and Campaign Finance
Nixon has thus far been light on details regarding campaign finance reform, though she has indicated support for an overhaul of New York’s system, which is known for its sky-high individual contribution limits and for the infamous LLC loophole, which allows virtually unlimited campaign donations from those who set up multiple limited liability corporations and has been a major boon to Cuomo’s coffers.

Nixon has been particularly critical of how Cuomo has built up his $30-plus million campaign warchest, pointing out that a tiny percentage has come from small donors, as exposed by The New York Times, while the rest is predominantly from wealthy individuals, corporations, and real estate developers.

Nixon has repeatedly stressed she is not accepting any corporate donations, opting to highlight the role that small donations have played in her campaign, but the nature of “corporate donations” has been loosely translated and Nixon is still accepting donations from LLCs, which at the federal level are considered corporations, but are are considered people at the state level.

In tweeting about her endorsement from Citizen Action of New York, Nixon appeared to support the public financing of elections, one of the advocacy group’s top priorities. Nixon’s endorsement from the Working Families Party mentions Nixon’s commitment to campaign finance reform, however it does not reference specifics.

On voting reform, Nixon has said New York is lagging behind on things like early voting. One of Cuomo’s recent moves, which added to claims that Nixon has moved him to take progressive action, was to move toward granting parolees the right to vote. Nixon tweeted that “Voter suppression in New York should have ended eight years ago, from the rights of parolees to access to early voting and automatic registration.”

Campaign finance reform and early voting are on the list of policies that Cuomo has said he backs and proposed year after year, only to see them die in the Republican-led Senate, while Nixon and others say that Cuomo either could have done more to get them passed even given current political dynamics or that his support for Republican control of the Senate has led to these policy failures.

Energy & Environment
Energy and environmental issues, like education, were major topics in the 2014 gubernatorial primary in which Cuomo defeated law professor Zephyr Teachout, who is now campaign treasurer for Nixon. Teachout did win a surprising 34% of the primary vote, likely related to her calls to ban fracking and reverse much of Cuomo’s education agenda.

While Cuomo did institute a fracking ban and has retreated on many education reforms, both larger topics are again at play this year.

Nixon has come out hard against fracking and non-renewable energy, backing environmental activists’ calls for a ban on all fracking-related infrastructure and more ambitious renewable energy goals. “I pledge that if I am elected Governor I will not approve any new use of fracked gas in New York State. Andrew Cuomo should take the same pledge. New York should not build fossil fuel power plants or pipelines that threaten our environment and contribute to climate change,” tweeted Nixon.

She has said she supports the Climate and Community Protection Act, stating that passing it would be at the top of her priority list should she become governor. She has stated her intentions to set New York on a road to achieve 100% reliance on renewable energy by 2050.

As part of her plan to achieve this, Nixon has proposed that she would reject all new investment proposals in fossil fuel infrastructure, such as pipelines and plants. She stated that she wants to hold what she calls “corporate polluters” accountable, suggesting this as a way to raise revenue in the state. While this may lead to calls by Nixon for a carbon tax, she has not given specifics for how she wants to punish those polluters.

Nixon has also been highly critical of nuclear energy as a potential alternative to fossil fuel, going so far as to state that nuclear power will not at all be part of her clean energy plan. On her campaign website, Nixon says she is against the state’s 2016 agreement to bail out aging nuclear power plants for $7.6 billion.

Nixon also recently came out against the Crestwood Liquefied Petroleum Gas Storage Project, a plan to import 1.5 million barrels of liquid propane from Texas and store it under Seneca Lake in unused salt mines in the town of Reading. “The Finger Lakes is a world-class wine and tourist destination that supports thousands of jobs and brings billions of dollars into New York’s economy every year. Clean air and clean water are vital for these businesses to thrive. I am firmly opposed to the Crestwood Gas Storage Project and the Romulus garbage incinerator,” Nixon tweeted.

On the same day that Nixon released her “A Just Transition for New York” environmental platform, Cuomo’s Department of Environmental Conservation rejected a water quality certification for a proposed gas pipeline. The department cited an incomplete application and environmental concerns as a reason, though some are arguing that Nixon’s environmental platform is influencing Cuomo’s actions.

Health Care
Nixon’s thoughts on health care are relatively scarce thus far, but she has expressed support for a single-payer system in New York. However, in a comment on Twitter relating to her recent endorsement from the Working Families Party, Nixon laid out several top policy priorities. “We will fight for equitable schools, good jobs, single-payer health care, subways that actually work, environmental justice, and an end to mass incarceration. It’s time for a New York that belongs to all of us—for the many, not the few,” said Nixon.

She made similar but more vague statement in a tweet thanking advocacy group Citizen Action for its endorsement. “I look forward to working with them on public financing of elections, racial justice, and guaranteeing quality healthcare and education to every New Yorker.” But in her recent interview with New York Magazine, Nixon also brought up the fight for a state level single-payer health care system as something she supports.

Transportation
The New York City subway system appears to be one of the key issues of the gubernatorial race. As the system has been plagued by delays and breakdowns, Cuomo’s management of the MTA has become a focus for elected officials, advocates, and riders. It has also become a focal point for those seeking to unseat him, including both Nixon and Republican Marc Molinaro, the Dutchess County Executive and presumptive GOP nominee for governor.

Nixon has placed the blame for MTA troubles squarely at Cuomo’s feet. “He slashed taxes on the wealthiest, and he’s slashed services on everybody else. He’s lost $25 billion from state revenue,” Nixon said in her interview with New York Magazine, adding that “fixing the subways” is one thing that money could have been spent on.  

Nixon has been highly critical of Cuomo on the MTA but hasn’t fleshed out her own vision, though she has made a few general comments about how she would change priorities. Her campaign website has a section for “#CuomosMTA” and on the site, she says cosmetic changes, like wifi in subway stations, misguided priorities that put resources toward things that don’t actually improve the system. “The subway is the lifeblood of NYC. If the subway dies, so does the City of New York. When I’m governor, I’m going to make fixing the subway a top priority,” Nixon said on Twitter.

While Cuomo has overseen implementation of the MTA’s Subway Action Plan, even forcing New York City to pay for half of the $836 million tab, which seeks to make fast repairs to tracks and signals to return the subways to a more functional state, he has been criticized for acting too late and not prioritizing the subways over other projects like lights on bridges and expansion of the Long Island Railroad.

Nixon has come out in support of a comprehensive congestion pricing plan to reduce traffic congestion in Manhattan and create a new dedicated revenue source for the MTA. Cuomo has also expressed general support for congestion pricing and created a panel that crafted a specific proposal, but the governor never came out in full support of that plan. He saw one initial piece of it, a surcharge on taxis and for-hire vehicles, passed in the new state budget, and called it a first step toward congestion pricing.

“I think we need comprehensive congestion pricing not just on Uber and Lyft and black cars and stuff like that,” said Nixon. “We need money. We need a dedicated revenue stream. We have to be creative. I think congestion pricing is a great place to start.”

Economic Development
Nixon has been critical of Cuomo’s economic development programs. “The thing I keep hearing from people is top-down economic development isn't helping people. There were millions of dollars being doled out to people who then contribute to Cuomo's campaign coffers,” Nixon said recently as she toured upstate areas. She said the governor should listen to the needs of communities and then work to help them with those needs. Both lines of argument are similar to the ways Molinaro has characterized things in his criticisms of Cuomo.

Nixon has further suggested that as part of economic development strategies and contracts, private employers that work with the state government should face requirements to hire and train local workers from the communities that they are working in. “We need to make sure that economic development benefits everybody, not just those who are financially and powerfully connected,” said Nixon. She has not presented a real plan for how she would approach economic development.

Housing
Nixon has placed a fair amount of focus on the affordable housing crisis in New York City and across the state. She has talked about the need to strengthen rent regulations, criticizing Cuomo for not doing more to protect rent-regulated apartments, and she visited NYCHA housing soon after she launched her campaign in March, calling the conditions of the units in the housing authority “devastating”. She appeared to blame both Mayor de Blasio, who is a close ally and she campaigned for heavily in 2013, and Cuomo, though she has criticized Cuomo more heavily for not doing more.

In comments on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, she said, Cuomo “has declared a state of emergency, and yet he's doing nothing about it.” Nixon pointed out how additional funds to deal with the crisis have not yet been spent even though a state of emergency has been declared.

Nixon has said she wants to renew and strengthen state rent laws and protect affordable housing, highlighting issues with how landlords are allowed to raise rents on rent-regulated tenants.

Nixon received the endorsement from activist group NY Communities for Change, which focuses on affordable housing. At an event with the organization, she sharply criticized Cuomo on housing and homelessness. “In the last ten years across this country, we’ve seen a reduction by 14% in homelessness, but not in Andrew Cuomo’s New York State,” she said. “Over the last eight years in New York State, we’ve seen a 36% increase in homelessness.” She promised to work with activists to reduce homelessness in the state, though she did not get into specifics other than one or two of the nuances of rent regulations, leaving undiscussed, for now at least, questions around rental subsidies, a topic of much debate in New York over the past decade and beyond.

Budgeting
Nixon, like Molinaro and many other Cuomo critics, has been critical of the budgeting process in New York state government. In a press release, she said, “Instead of an open and transparent process with a public debate on the issues, Cuomo’s budget cobbles together a series of backroom deals.”

There has been a great deal of criticism for many years of Albany’s “three men in a room” decision-making process, and Nixon has not only criticized the secretive nature of the way big budget deals are made, but also that Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the only woman leading a legislative conference, was kept out of negotiations of new sexual harassment policies, as well as all others.

“Governor Cuomo is allowing essential reforms like tax hikes on multimillionaires, bail reform, and early voting to drop off the table altogether,” she also said, questioning Cuomo’s approach to budget priorities.

In addition to her opposition to the state’s 2% cap on annual property tax growth, applicable everywhere outside New York City, Nixon has also come out as opposed to the 2% cap on annual state spending growth, both signature Cuomo achievements. At a press conference in Albany, Nixon said, “I think that that 2 percent cap on state spending is disastrous and what it means is we shrink the budget year after year.” While this is not really true, given that the budget does continue to grow, because of Medicaid and other costs, state government has in some ways shrunk under Cuomo, who has largely kept spending at his executive agencies flat over the course of several years.

Nixon appears ready to increase taxes on high earners and state spending on services including education. She expressed support for a progressive tax plan proposed by the Democrat-dominated Assembly, led by Speaker Carl Heastie of the Bronx, which would see taxes raised on those earning more than $5 million.

Immigration
Nixon supports the New York DREAM Act, which would allow undocumented students in the state access to in-state tuition and financial aid. Speaking with El Diario, a Spanish-language newspaper, Nixon said, “We have to pass legislation to make sure we do not collaborate with ICE, that they are not welcomed here and we have to pass the New York DREAM Act.” Not long after those comments, Cuomo issued an executive order to keep ICE from many state properties, one of several recent moves that have led to widespread comments that Cuomo is overtly responding to Nixon’s candidacy.

Nixon has come out in support of providing undocumented immigrants in New York with access to state driver’s licenses, saying, “I think that people who are old enough to do this and know how to drive should receive a license.”

“The hard-working members of our community should be able to drive their children to school and go to work without fear that a broken tail-light will lead to deportation. Let’s make driver's licenses available to all qualified New Yorkers and make NY a REAL sanctuary state,” Nixon recently tweeted. In a campaign video that included City Council Member Carlos Menchaca, the first elected official to endorse Nixon for governor, Nixon outlined her call for the restoration of full access to driver’s licenses.

In accepting an endorsement from activist group Make The Road Action, Nixon also announced support for the bill, tweeting, “Our governor has failed to provide hundreds of thousands of otherwise qualified New Yorkers with a path to obtain a license because of their immigration status. I will work with @MaketheRoadAct and working families across the state to pass the Driver's License Bill.”

While Cuomo has expressed some openness to possibly supporting the driver’s license bill, he most recently said it is something that could be done by a change to state law or that could be a county by county decision

Nixon also supports the Liberty Act, which she argues would put New York State on par with California in terms of immigration protections. The act would potentially prohibit state and local official’s interaction with ICE agents and provide a right to counsel for immigrants facing deportation who can’t afford a lawyer. “Our immigrant communities are fighting to keep their families together. They need a governor who will fight with them, from driver’s licenses to making New York a true sanctuary state, and Andrew Cuomo hasn’t. In 2018, you can’t call yourself a Democrat if you’re not doing everything you can to fight for immigrants” remarked Nixon in a press release.

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by Matthew Sweeney and Ben Max

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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by Matthew Sweeney, Gotham Gazette

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Defining 'Real Democrat,' Cynthia Nixon Offers Early Policy Platform Mon, 30 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Cuomo Touts Political Ad Transparency Law as Other Reforms Languish http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7623:cuomo-touts-political-ad-transparency-law-as-other-reforms-languish http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7623:cuomo-touts-political-ad-transparency-law-as-other-reforms-languish Cuomo bill signing democracy

Cuomo at Wednesday's bill-signing (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)


Governor Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday held a ceremonial bill-signing, one of several since the state budget was approved, to tout the passage of new restrictions and disclosure requirements for political advertisements on social media. But the bill was a component of Cuomo’s larger Democracy Agenda, measures including voting and campaign finance reform that otherwise fell by the wayside during budget negotiations and seem unlikely to pass in the remaining months of the legislative session in Albany.    

“We have a crisis in our election system,” Cuomo told a room full of people at the Cardozo School of Law in Manhattan on Wednesday. “We now know that our election system was influenced and tampered with by foreign entities. And it’s not partisan rhetoric, it’s not a science fiction novel. We know it. Russia was involved.”

Prompted by the widespread Russian influence campaign that targeted nearly two dozen states during the 2016 presidential election and the proliferation of secretive political advertising on social media platforms like Facebook, Cuomo proposed and the state Legislature successfully passed the “Democracy Protection Act,” which prohibits foreign entities from creating independent expenditure committees or buying political ads, requires anyone who purchases an online political ad to register as an independent expenditure committee, and also requires online ads to include information about who paid for them, as is currently required of traditional media platforms.

The state Board of Elections will also now create an public archive of those online ads and retain them for five years.

“We right now have a toxic cocktail that has brewed,” Cuomo said of the “explosion of social media” and the “anonymity” and “targeting ability” of social media platforms. “They know your preferences, they know who you are, what you look like, what you buy, where you shop. They know your shoe size and they can target a message just to you,” he said, “and we then have the access by the foreign entities to these online platforms.”

Cuomo loftily insisted that the legislation will “fundamentally change” elections in the state and predicted, “This law is going to force national change.” Several progressive movements -- for women’s rights, environmental rights, worker safety rules, gay rights, civil rights -- he exclaimed, started in New York and that inaction in Washington, D.C. necessitates that states forge ahead on tackling the issues accompanying elections in the digital age.

But New York leading the way on election and campaign-related reforms appears to be an imperfect message from New York and a messenger like Cuomo. The state has been a laggard on improving voter participation and access, and its outdated laws fall far behind most other states. Cuomo himself has railed against weaknesses in state campaign finance laws while exploiting them for his own campaigns.

In 2017, Cuomo released a 10-point government ethics and voting reform agenda, which included early voting, automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration, and campaign finance changes such as closing the LLC loophole, which allows anonymous donors to flood candidates’ campaign coffers in New York. Cuomo has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of that loophole and has done little to actually push for its closure. None of those reforms passed last year.

This year, Cuomo proposed many of the reforms again, adding $7 million in proposed funding to implement early voting and banning outside income for legislators. But yet again, all but the online ads bill fell through. Cuomo made no mention of the other planks of his Democracy Agenda at Wednesday’s celebratory event, where he positioned New York as a national leader. He also took no questions from reporters at the two events where he made appearances Wednesday.

Most of the reforms are opposed by Republicans in the state Senate who continue to control the chamber with the help of a rogue Democratic Senator, Simcha Felder of Brooklyn, who caucuses with the GOP to give them a one-vote majority. But Cuomo, when he wants to, has been able to convince Republicans to vote through bills that they might traditionally oppose including marriage equality, gun control measures, and a major hike in the minimum wage.

Cuomo has repeatedly laid the blame for the failure of his proposals on the Republicans, who for seven years were allied with a breakaway group of eight Democratic Senators called the Independent Democratic Conference. In a deal recently brokered by Cuomo, the IDC rejoined the mainline Democratic conference. The Democrats are now counting on victories in special elections for two state Senate races on April 24 to be on par with Republicans in the Senate. Felder’s loyalty in that situation remains an open question. Cuomo has said the goal is to then pick up additional seats in the fall’s regularly-scheduled elections for all seats in the Legislature.

Earlier on Wednesday, Cuomo restored voting rights to individuals on parole through an executive order, arguing that the order was necessary since the measure wouldn’t have passed the Senate. (Cuomo’s primary opponent Cynthia Nixon, and others have said, however, that Cuomo is increasingly pursuing popular progressive measures by any means necessary because of the threat of a strong primary challenge.)

Similarly, Cuomo justified the unification deal by insisting it was necessary to pass progressive reforms that have failed for years. “We finished the budget. We did a lot of good things in the budget, but there are also things that we didn’t pass that we need to pass...The Child Victims Act, more gun safety, bail reform, the DREAM Act, banning outside income, campaign finance reform, early voting,” he said at a news conference announcing the deal at his executive offices in Manhattan.

He went on, “These are all core, essential progressive principles that were not passed in the budget and which we will not pass until we have a Democratic Senate.” It’s unclear, however, if a Democratic Senate itself will come to pass any time soon, or if the appetite would be there for the types of voting, campaign finance, and government ethics reforms that Cuomo has said he supports.

[Read: Cuomo Turns Budget Failures Into Justification for Democratic Unity]

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Cuomo Touts Political Ad Transparency Law as Other Reforms Languish Wed, 18 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Molinaro Outlines Initial Ethics and Campaign Finance Reform Agenda http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7611:molinaro-outlines-initial-ethics-and-campaign-finance-reform-agenda http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7611:molinaro-outlines-initial-ethics-and-campaign-finance-reform-agenda marc molinaro speaking

Marc Molinaro (photo: @marcmolinaro)


When he formally launched his run for governor earlier this month, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro said that “all New Yorkers are paying a corruption tax.” It is a tax, Molinaro explained, that is the result of both legal and illegal malfeasance, of wasteful, ineffective, and corrupt government. In his initial remarks that day, at events in Tivoli and Albany, and during multiple exchanges with journalists, Molinaro has outlined elements of a reform agenda that, he says, will help restore faith in government that has been squandered under Governor Andrew Cuomo.

As Cuomo, a Democrat, seeks a third term this year, his former top aide was recently convicted on multiple federal corruption charges and a trial is set to begin in June that includes charges against a former top state economic development official who Cuomo empowered, as well as Cuomo campaign donors. The charges against members of Cuomo’s inner circle came amid a long-running parade of other ethical and legal violations by members of state government, including dozens of state legislators. Critics across the political spectrum attack the governor for not better cleaning up state government, as he promised to do when running for governor in 2010 and every year since.

Molinaro, a Republican, is positioning himself as an expert in clean, effective government who will be more inclusive and accessible, and will work across the aisle, while in some instances not easily falling into typical issue stances based on party. Notably, Molinaro has indicated an interest in government ethics and campaign finance reforms that have not been popular among many Republicans in state government. There is also limited appetite among many Democrats for additional ethics reforms and some elements of campaign finance reform.

Molinaro has said he wants to lead an overhaul of campaign finance laws, including possible closure of the LLC loophole, which allows virtually unlimited donations from entities that set up multiple limited liability corporations, and indicated he believes that only people should be able to make campaign donations, not companies, unions, or other organizations.

A former member of the state Assembly, Molinaro has said he wants to institute term limits -- there are currently none for statewide officials or members of the state Legislature -- and has pledged to serve no more than two terms if victorious this fall and again in four years. He’s promised to “end four men in a room” decision-making, referring to the secretive closed-door negotiations that take place among the governor and legislative leaders wherein a hodgepodge of compromises are typically worked out twice a year in Albany, followed by legislators voting through major legislation without having read the bills and without any broader public review.

And, Molinaro has said he wants tougher oversight of elected officials and new methods of allowing the public to participate in government. “We must pass tougher ethics law and enforce them by establishing a truly independent oversight ethics commission. We must implement new procurement rules and provide third party auditing.” Along with term limits, he said New York should adopt “initiative and referendum” measures, which allow the public to put items on the ballot. “Together we must redefine democracy in New York,” he said, “and make this government work for the people.”

During an interview before his official campaign launch, Molinaro told Gotham Gazette, “I'd like to engage in a comprehensive reform of campaign finance.” He indicated he wants to look at “limits on contributions, where they can come from, who they can come from, plus you need to look at the reporting requirements and the need for ultimate transparency there. Then what and how campaign dollars can be spent.”

“I m one of the people that only thinks people should be able to contribute money...those are individual rights, those rights extend to individuals.” He added that “unions have a great deal of influence, corporations have a great deal of influence, the state contribution limits are astronomically out of line to other states, independent expenditure opportunities are pretty broad in the state. There are a lot of those reforms that I think should go hand in hand.”

He stopped short of supporting public financing of campaigns, but indicated some openness depending on strict rules for how money can be spent.

During a recent appearance on The Capitol Pressroom with host Susan Arbetter, Molinaro talked about accountability and transparency, and “establishing procurement rules that keep elected officials from sending contracts to political donors.” He energetically attempted to convince a skeptical Arbetter, who said she’s heard these types of promises from candidates, including Cuomo, before. Molinaro criticized Cuomo’s closure of The Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption and said he agreed with watchdogs calling for a “database of deals” to chronicle economic development spending and its effectiveness and renewed contract-review powers to the state Comptroller.

He went on to say that the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, JCOPE, “needs to be independent” and “I would also empower the Committee and Open Government” and its head, Bob Freeman. Saying “I love Bob Freeman,” Molinaro added that “if you don’t have a watchdog to open up the doors of government for taxpayers, then there will continue to be the secrecy that has corrupted and corroded albany.” He said he wants to make Freeman’s non-binding opinions “enforceable.”

Talking with reporters after his launch event in Tivoli, a village where he grew up and was mayor for twelve years, starting at age 19, Molinaro said, “I had great hope, like many people, that when this governor came into office he would sweep in a new day, but what we seen over the course of the past seven years is of course the new normal. With corruption at the highest levels of state government, in fact so high it’s in the office next to his.”

He went on to say that his campaign will include a focus on telling New Yorkers “that they deserve a government that strives to be honest, that works hard to confront the fact that we have a corrosive, invasive culture of corruption that needs to be confronted at all levels, and it starts really by example.”

[Read: In Run for Governor, Marc Molinaro Will Make a Character Argument]

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Molinaro Outlines Initial Ethics and Campaign Finance Reform Agenda Thu, 12 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000