Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/112 Mon, 18 Dec 2017 01:07:13 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Small Number of Votes Likely to Carry Harlem Special Election http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6745:small-number-of-votes-likely-to-carry-harlem-special-election http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6745:small-number-of-votes-likely-to-carry-harlem-special-election nyc boe photo voting machines cropped

photo: NYC Board of Elections


When City Council Member Rafael Salamanca Jr., a Bronx Democrat, was elected in a special held on February 23 last year, only 3,764 ballots were cast and he received 1,455 of them. There were five other candidates in the race.

In 2013, almost exactly four years ago, Donovan Richards was elected to represent Queens’ 31st Council District. Eight candidates ran and 9,147 people voted. Richards received 2,646 votes, closely beating out Pesach Osina who got 2,567 votes.

Special elections for City Council are fairly rare, almost always low-turnout, and much more important than people may realize. Not only do specials, like any election, change the course of the candidates lives and careers, but they determine local representation for district residents and larger policy contributions that winners may make to the city.

In just a few days -- on February 14 -- nearly a dozen candidates will be on the ballot for a special City Council election in Harlem to replace former Council Member Inez Dickens, who was elected to the state Assembly in November. But the especially large slate of candidates is unlikely to mean there will be strong voter turnout. Special elections tend to draw far fewer people to the polls than regularly-scheduled primary and general elections, which themselves typically host unimpressive turnout in New York.

“It’s twice as hard, if not more, to get people to vote in a special election,” said Steven Romalewski, director of the Center for Urban Research’s mapping service at CUNY Graduate Center. “People aren’t used to voting in February.”

“The challenge with a special election,” said Romalewski, “is that not only do candidates and supporters need to make the case for why people should vote for them, but they also have to cross the threshold of getting people to know that there is an election. During the general, you don’t have that issue.”

Special elections in New York City are nonpartisan, meaning that there are no party primaries and candidates do not run on the typical party ballot lines. Instead, they create their own party name and can appear on the ballot if they collect the requisite number of valid petition signatures from district residents.

Including those that elected Council Members Salamanca and Richards, there have been six City Council special elections between 2010 and 2016. Although each was held in different circumstances, and there’s no easy apples-to-apples comparisons to be made, some factors do hold true. For instance, specials scheduled the same day as the general election see higher turnout, in part because of increased awareness among voters and votes cast down party lines.

Voters have the “ingrained” habit of going to the polls in November during general elections, Romalewski noted, and if a special is held the same day, people may cast votes along party lines. Then even an unopposed candidate could receive a substantial number of votes that are mostly unavailable during a special election held in, say, February.

As of April 1, City Council District 9 -- the Harlem seat home to this month’s special election -- had 96,797 active registered voters, according to the New York City Board of Elections. This includes 79,482 Democrats, 3,108 Republicans and 11,241 unaffiliated voters.

In the September 2013 Democratic primary election for the seat, 18,412 votes were cast, 12,878 of which were for Inez Dickens, who was running for re-election and had only one opponent. In the general, Dickens ran unopposed, but received 23,454 out of 28,647 votes cast.

This next vote for the Council member from District 9 will not be on primary or general election day, though. It will be February 14, and turnout could be exceedingly low. With eleven candidates on the ballot, a winner may prevail with fewer than 2,000 votes, if that. The candidates are State Senator Bill Perkins; Marvin Holland; Charles Cooper; Donald Fields; Pierre Gooding; Athena Moore; Todd Stevens; Larry Blackmon; Cordell Cleare; Caprice Alves; and Dawn Simmons.

Aside from the eleven who did make it, two other candidates were kicked off the ballot by the Board of Elections on Tuesday, one for having submitted ballot petitions past the deadline and another for attempting to run on the Democratic Party line in a nonpartisan election.

Two recent “special” elections, in Staten Island’s District 51 and Queens District 23, were held on November 3, 2015, the day of the general election, to fill vacancies created from the separate resignations of two City Council members. Owing to technicalities in election law, based on the timing of the vacancies the District 51 race was considered a special election and the other was an “off-year” election, which involves different rules.

In the Staten Island race, there were 13,002 votes in total, of which 9,111 went to now-Council Member Joe Borelli, a Republican Assembly member at the time. (Borelli was on the ballot again in 2016, running in an “off-year” election for the last year of the term.) The Queens “off-year” election, on the other hand, involved a party primary in September 2015, in which Barry Grodenchik won the Democratic nomination with 1,942 votes out of the total 7,196. On November 3, he received 6,156 votes out of 11,305 cast, beating his Republican opponent by 2,000 votes.

Similarly, in 2012, Andy King was elected to the City Council from District 12 in the Bronx, in another special election held with the general election. King received 35,580 votes out of 58,505 votes cast in the nonpartisan race. He had five competitors.

Two special elections held in 2010 also bear the same pattern -- much higher turnout when held in conjunction with the general election. When Brooklyn’s David Greenfield was elected to the District 44 seat in March of that year, he received 7,242 votes of the 12,762 cast. Later in November, on general election day, when Ruben Wills ran for District 28 in Queens, he received 6,145 votes but 22,428 people voted.

By law, the mayor must call for a special election within three days of a vacancy occurring and the election must take place on the first Tuesday at least 45 days after the vacancy. This helps avoid prolonged periods without community representation, but leads to specials on seemingly random Tuesdays.

“In November, most voters know about the election.” said political consultant Jerry Skurnik, co-founder of Prime New York. In specials held during the rest of the year, he said, candidates have two necessary tasks to perform. “You’ve got to convince people to vote and then convince people to vote for you,” he said.

Skurnik did point out that the range of turnout in special elections is usually between 10 to 15 percent, trending towards the lower end, implying that there is a dedicated base of voters that will cast a ballot regardless of the timing of the election or even the weather on the particular day. The difference, though, comes down to the race and the candidates. “It’s driven largely by how competitive it is and how active candidates are,” Skurnik said.

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Small Number of Votes Likely to Carry Harlem Special Election Thu, 02 Feb 2017 05:00:00 +0000
With Chamber Control at Stake, No Democratic Challenger to Republican Senator from Brooklyn http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6580:with-chamber-control-at-stake-no-democratic-challenger-to-republican-senator-from-brooklyn http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6580:with-chamber-control-at-stake-no-democratic-challenger-to-republican-senator-from-brooklyn golden nypd

Sen. Marty Golden (photo: @NYPDAuxilary)


With a great deal on the line for New York City, Democrats are trying to flip the State Senate and a handful of races across the state will make the difference. One Brooklyn district has a significant Democratic voter registration advantage and an incumbent Republican, yet no one is challenging Senator Martin Golden. In 2012, a Democratic challenger won 42% of the vote against Golden.

In the overwhelmingly Blue state of New York, and an even Bluer New York City, a Democratic challenge to an incumbent Republican in a presidential election year would seem to be a no-brainer. But in the 22nd State Senate district in Southern Brooklyn, Democrats have failed to put forward a candidate to run against Golden, a long-serving senator, the only Republican senator from the borough, and one of only two in the entire city.

Golden, a former NYPD officer and New York City Council member, has represented the district for nearly 14 years. He has a strong base of support and has defeated recent challengers despite a heavy enrollment advantage for Democrats in the district. As of April, the district has 27,599 active registered Republican voters, 66,990 Democrats, and 31,756 unaffiliated voters across Bay Ridge, Fort Hamilton, Dyker Heights, parts of Bensonhurst, Gravesend, Sheepshead Bay, Manhattan Beach and Marine Park.

Although Golden faced challenges in the last two cycles, 2014 and 2012, he wasn’t too surprised that he has no Democratic opponent this year. “I’m sure they wanted to spend their money wisely,” he said of the Democratic Party, “to try to take over the Senate and look for better opportunities across the state.”

That confidence seems to stem from an ability to work well with all his colleagues, including those across the aisle. “It’s not about Republican or Democrat, it’s about what we can do,” he said. “I work across party lines to deliver resources to our county and our city and that’s one of the reasons I’m running unchallenged.”

A self-proclaimed “economic development nut,” his main focus once he is reelected will be creating jobs for his district while reducing the tax burden on constituents, he said. His other priorities include education, transportation, public safety and seniors.

For the Democrats, the odds of posing a strong challenge to Golden were better this time around than they have been in years. At the state level, the party has seen renewed hope of taking back the Senate from Republicans, who do not have outright numerical dominance of the chamber but retain control by partnering with the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway faction of Democrats. One other Democrat, Simcha Felder from Brooklyn, also caucuses with the Republicans. With the presidential election this year, more Democrats are expected to turn out on Election Day, and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s strong approval ratings in the state have buoyed other New York Democrats, who hope to leverage that enthusiasm into down ballot races.

Golden, an avowed supporter of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, brushed aside any concern that the Democrats could indeed succeed. “The Senate Democrats are definitely not taking over the majority,” he said. “Between the Independent Democratic Conference and elected Republicans, we’ll have a good number and a majority to carry forward our agenda.”

Local Democrats disagree and believe that the party should have offered up a challenge to the incumbent. “I definitely think it’s a missed opportunity,” said Jamie Kemmerer, a member of the Bay Ridge Democrats political club who unsuccessfully ran against Golden in 2014. “You could reasonably expect Republican turnout to go down based on the last couple of weeks of the cycle,” Kemmerer added, in apparent reference to Republican nominee Donald Trump’s fall in the polls.

When Kemmerer initially ran two years ago, he expected he would run again this year, having built some name and face recognition. But, after his wife gave birth to their second son shortly after the 2014 election, he decided it would be “too much to put the family through.” Personal reasons aside, he also admitted that running against Golden is an uphill battle given the way the district lines are drawn. “The reality is it’s a very gerrymandered district,” he said. “It will be very difficult for anyone to win until the lines are redrawn.”

A South Brooklyn political operative, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, presented the same reasoning. “For the past several election cycles Golden has won re-election thanks to a wretchedly gerrymandered district,” the operative said, insisting that Golden’s numbers have actually been dwindling in southern parts of the district but he has won because of support in Marine Park, Gerritsen Beach and Midwood. “So while his power is becoming more and more of an eroding mirage, the fear of real estate developers coming in and dropping a few million to bury any challenger has made some candidates think twice. But electorally, Marty is definitely vulnerable, no doubt about it. His days are numbered and I think he knows it. South Brooklyn is a markedly different place than it was in 1998 when Marty was first elected to the Council.”

Past election results do, however, indicate that the district will continue to vote Republican. “Regardless of what enrollment numbers show, the vote pattern shows that voters in the area have supported Republicans,” said Steven Romalewski, director of CUNY Graduate Center’s mapping service, which tracks and charts voting patterns (see district map below). “I wouldn’t be surprised that the redistricting effort had something to do with it.”

senate district 22

In the April presidential primary, the district largely favored Trump over other Republican contenders, and mostly voted for Senator Bernie Sanders over Clinton. Both were closed party primaries, though, which excluded the district’s sizable unaffiliated pool of voters.

A key element of Democratic reticence seems to be the lack of support from the Democratic political machinery. There hasn’t been a concerted effort by Kings County Democrats to challenge Golden and even in years past, local contenders have received little in the way of institutional support. This year would likely have been no different, particularly since Mayor Bill de Blasio, who attempted to sway Senate elections for Democrats in 2014, has taken a step back from state legislative races following controversy over his previous involvement. But even in 2014, de Blasio and others gave almost no help to Kemmerer in his bid to unseat Golden.

With a Democratic Governor and a large Democratic majority in the state Assembly, Democrats would have full control of state government if they were to win the Senate. Whichever mainline conference has more seats is still expected to have to make a coalition deal with the Independent Democratic Conference between November's elections and the start of the new legislative session in January.

The last competitive challenge Golden faced was in 2012 when Andrew Gounardes, another member of the Bay Ridge Democrats, did better than Kemmerer would subsequently do. But Gounardes, who now works in the Brooklyn Borough President’s office, was outspent and outmatched. Gounardes received 42.3 percent of votes in 2012 against 57.7 percent for Golden; in 2014, Kemmerer garnered 29.3 percent while Golden won with 64.9 percent.

“For many years, the worst kept secret was the sweetheart deal made to protect Marty Golden from any serious Democratic challengers,” said the political operative from Brooklyn. “This deal was strictly enforced by [former Brooklyn Democratic party chair] Vito Lopez. Andrew Gounardes in 2012 was the first year the Democrats were given the green light to run a real candidate against Marty. The fact that Gounardes defeated Marty in Bay Ridge and gave him the race of his life shows why that sweetheart deal was so important to keeping Marty in power for so long. It is much different now and County is not protecting Marty anymore but they aren't exactly drafting or recruiting challengers either.”

Another political operative who spoke on the condition of anonymity echoed that view. “It’d be great if we had a Democratic Party committed to electing Democrats, if we had local officials who supported those efforts,” the second operative said. “It’s a really winnable seat if you look at the numbers and enrollment, it’s winnable if you have the right support and resources.”

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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With Chamber Control at Stake, No Democratic Challenger to Republican Senator from Brooklyn Wed, 19 Oct 2016 04:00:00 +0000
The Week That Was in New York Politics, Feb. 22-26 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6195:the-week-that-was-in-new-york-politics-feb-22-26 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6195:the-week-that-was-in-new-york-politics-feb-22-26 week in review bus readers

photo: Stanley Kubrick via Museum of the City of New York


Gotham Gazette's Week in Review, Friday February 26, 2015.

PHOTO OF THE WEEK: Mayor de Blasio & NYPD officials unveil CompStat 2.0, via Demetrius Freeman/Mayoral Photography Office; Gov. Cuomo and his minimum wage bus, via Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of the Governor.

de blasio bratton compstat

cuomo minimum wage bus

TOP FIVE STORIES OF THE WEEK:
1. Private Sector Retirement:
On Thursday, Mayor de Blasio, joined by Public Advocate Letitia James, Comptroller Scott Stringer, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, and others, held a press conference in City Hall to advocate for a city-run retirement savings program for private sector workers. The ‘Security for All New Yorkers’ plan aims to allow some 1.4 million private sector workers who do not have a retirement savings plan through their employer to have contributions automatically deducted from their paycheck. However, federal regulations must change for the retirement plan to move forward. [Read: Private Sector Retirement Security Plans Become Next Progressive Cause]

2. Special Election: Rafael Salamanca, Jr., a district manager at Bronx Community Board 2, is the newest member of the City Council after winning a special election in District 17 in the Bronx on Tuesday. Salamanca’s win against the five other candidates didn’t come as much of a surprise, as he had the backing of the Bronx Democratic County Committee, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., and unions. Salamanca will replace Maria del Carmen Arroyo, who resigned last December. [Read: Voters to Fill Vacant Bronx Council Seat in Special Election]

3. Rezoning East New York: On Wednesday, the City Planning Commission approved Mayor de Blasio’s rezoning plan for the East New York section of Brooklyn, despite vocal opposition from community members. The proposal now heads to the City Council, and Council members who represent the area have expressed concern about the plan’s affordability levels for their constituents. East New York will be the first of 15 neighborhoods to be rezoned as part of de Blasio’s affordable housing plan. [Read: Richards Puts Communities of Color at Forefront of Housing Debate]

4. CompStat 2.0: On Tuesday, Mayor de Blasio, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, and Deputy Commissioner of Information and Technology Jessica Tish unveiled CompStat 2.0, an interactive online crime data system that tracks the date and location to the nearest intersection of major crimes like shootings, murders, and rapes.

5. Homelessness Dispute: The feud between the city and state over the city’s homelessness problems escalated this week after HRA Commissioner Steven Banks sent a letter to a state official blasting the Cuomo administration for leaking a false report of a gang rape in a city homeless shelter to a tabloid in what Banks described as a “political media hit” that undermined the city’s efforts to help homeless individuals. Banks called on the state to address its own shortcomings to improve the homelessness crisis.

THIS WEEK’S NUMBERS:

  • 3296 votes cast during Tuesday’s special election in the Bronx, according to the Board of Elections’ unofficial election night results.
  • 19% increase in reported sex crimes on the subways, from 620 in 2014 to 738 in 2015, the Times reports.
  • 9 second increase in the amount of time ambulances took to respond to life threatening emergencies in 2015 (9 minutes, 22 seconds), despite added funding to reduce response times, the Daily News reports.
  • 81 ambulance tours - 10% of shifts citywide - will be eliminated as one of the city’s biggest private ambulance companies shut down Wednesday after filing for bankruptcy, according to WNYC.
  • 49% of New York City residents see the ongoing feud between Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo as a “power struggle,” rather than actual policy differences according to an NY1/Baruch College poll.
  • 43% of working New Yorkers have access to a retirement plan and 40% of New Yorkers between the ages of 50 and 64 have less than $10,000 saved for retirement, Gotham Gazette reports.
  • 11 letters exchanged between city and state officials in recent weeks over the conditions of New York City’s homeless shelters and violence in the shelters, culminating in a scathing letter from HRA Commissioner Steven Banks this week, the Times reports
  • $71.9 million spent by lobbyists in an effort to sway city government in 2014, the Journal reports.
  • 1.4 million New Yorkers currently do not have a retirement savings plan through their employers, the Times reports.
  • 1,083 teachers from New York City schools still collect salaries and benefits without holding full-time positions in the school, according to data released by the education department, Chalkbeat reports.

THE GLORY AND THE GOAT:
It was a good week for
Mayor de Blasio, whose approval rating is up 14 points from September according to a NY1/Baruch College poll, which found 58 percent of New York City residents approve of the job the mayor is doing.

It was a bad week for Brooklyn City Council Member David Greenfield, who saw his leadership role questioned amid disagreements within the Council.

THE FLASH:
Around this time 51 years ago, on February 21, 1965, Malcolm X was shot and killed by Nation of Islam followers at the Audubon Ballroom in Washington Heights.

Around this time last year, on February 24, 2015, former Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver pleaded not guilty to the federal corruption charges against him during his arraignment. Silver was found guilty on all seven counts against him in November, 2015.

Around this time 19 years ago, on February 23, 1997, a gunman opened fire on the observation deck of the Empire State Building, killing one person and wounding six others before turning the gun on himself.

Around this time two years ago, on February 26, 2014, the City Council passed a bill expanding paid sick leave.

GOTHAM GAZETTE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK:

Richards Puts Communities of Color at Forefront of Housing Debate, by Ben Max

Caucus Members Cheerful But Cautious as Cuomo Embraces Their Agenda, by David Howard King

Private Sector Retirement Security Plans Become Next Progressive Cause, David Howard King

Application Season Underscores Community Board Reform Efforts, Ryan Brady

Voters to Fill Vacant Bronx Council Seat in Special Election, Samar Khurshid

Special Election Shows Need for Democratization, by Serin Choi (opinion)

Protecting Freelancers: Policy Innovation at Work, by Jesse Strauss (opinion)

No Surprise Uber Drivers Are Protesting, by David Beier (opinion)

Shut Down the Criminal Court, by Steven Zeidman (opinion)

Peter Liang’s Conviction Shouldn't Be Dividing the Asian American Community, by Justin Chan (opinion)

Safe and Healthy Housing for All New Yorkers, by Dulce María Rivera (opinion)

MORE FOR THE WEEKEND:

Gotham Gazette’s city government reporter Samar Khurshid and Alex Armlovich, policy analyst from the Manhattan Institute talk about welfare reform under Mayor de Blasio with City Limits executive editor Jarrett Murphy on BRIC TV.

Neil Barsky, founder and chairman of the Marshall Project, and Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union joined NY Slant’s Gerson Borrero and Nick Powell to discuss feasibility, motives, and politics around the movement to close Rikers Island, and efforts to reform the notorious jail complex.

After the City Planning Commission approved a comprehensive plan to rezone East New York as part of an effort to create more affordable housing, Planning Commission Chair Carl Weisbrod sat down with NY1’s Errol Louis to discuss the plan.

Catch up on the latest discussion of housing policy and politics in New York with Gotham Gazette's Ben Max and City Limits' Jarrett Murphy.

Following the dismal turnout in Tuesday’s special election in the Bronx, former Bronx state Assemblymember Michael Benjamin wrote in NY Slant about the dire need for more efforts to increase voter engagement and participation.

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NOTE TO READERS: we hope you enjoy this new Gotham Gazette weekly feature - please share it if you do; on Twitter, use our handle @GothamGazette.

If you have feedback on this feature for us, you can email editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com

Watch Sunday evening for our latest Week Ahead in New York Politics, which gives you a preview of key issues and events to be aware of for the week about to start. In the meantime, catch up on the latest original reporting from Gotham Gazette here. And have a great weekend!

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by Meg O'Connor and Ben Max

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The Week That Was in New York Politics, Feb. 22-26 Fri, 26 Feb 2016 19:41:37 +0000
Voters to Fill Vacant Bronx Council Seat in Special Election http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6185:voters-to-fill-vacant-bronx-council-seat-in-special-election http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6185:voters-to-fill-vacant-bronx-council-seat-in-special-election salamanca

Rafael Salamanca meets voters before Tuesday's election (via @JohnJrBX)


Residents of District 17 in the Bronx will vote for a new City Council Member on Tuesday in a special election to fill the vacancy left by former Council Member Maria del Carmen Arroyo, who resigned and the end of last year. As with all special elections for the City Council not held on regularly scheduled election days, it is a nonpartisan contest, meaning no candidate will appear on the major party ballot lines. Instead, each candidate had to create his or her own “party.”

Voter turnout is expected to be low and the winner will likely be decided by level of institutional support - from labor unions and the Democratic Party apparatus - and access to campaign funds. The winner is all but certain to enter the Council as a Democrat - the Bronx is overwhelmingly Democratic in terms of party registration and the party identification of elected officials (every elected official representing the Bronx at all three levels of government is a Democrat).

There are six candidates still in the running, down from eleven initial contenders after several were knocked from ballot contention for various mistakes. Those who will be on the ballot include small business owner George Alvarez; Marlon Molina, a community activist and banker; Joann Otero, former chief of staff for del Carmen Arroyo; Julio Pabon, an activist and entrepreneur; J. Loren Russell, a financial consultant; and Rafael Salamanca, Jr., district manager at Bronx Community Board 2.

In this crowded field, Salamanca, Jr. seems to be the frontrunner, with the backing of the Bronx Democratic County Committee, support from Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. and virtually all of the City Council members from the Bronx, as well as the endorsement of Maria del Carmen Arroyo’s mother, Carmen Arroyo.  

Salamanca, who was also endorsed by the District Council 37 labor union, has far surpassed his opponents in raising campaign funds. He has raised $70,107 and has received $36,732 in public matching funds. Other candidates have raised $7,000-$20,000. Russell and Pabon are the closest - Russell has raised $15,795 and received $42,846 in matching funds; Pabon has raised $15,813 and received $33,432 in matching funds.

“Usually the candidate with the most institutional support wins a special election,” said Jerry Skurnik of Prime NY, a political consultancy. He pointed out that the short timeframe within which special elections are held are an advantage to candidates like Salamanca, who have the local political machinery behind them. City Council special elections are usually held on the first Tuesday after a seat has been vacant for 45 days.

Skurnik also said that other candidates only stand a chance if they can outspend opponents or invoke wide grassroots support. “There have been some upsets in special elections, but there’s usually some kind of special circumstance which doesn’t look like it’s happening in this Bronx special election,” he said.

One major issue in specials is getting people out to vote. “Between 5 and 10 percent of registered voters is relatively good for a special election,” Skurnik said. The numbers bear this out.

Three recent elections to City Council seats give an indication of what turnout looks like. Donovan Richards won the 31st Council District in Queens in a special election held on Feb. 19, 2013. There were 76,866 active voters enrolled in the district in 2012 (the number increased to 81,165 as of April the next year). Of those active voters, 9,147 - or 11.89 percent - cast their ballots in that special election, with 2,646 voting for Richards.

The other two elections, for District 51 in Staten Island and District 23 in Queens, were technically not special elections, in that they weren’t nonpartisan, but they were held this past year to replace two Council Members who resigned midway through their terms. A primary was held in September followed by the general election on November 3, Election Day. But the voter statistics are comparable.

Held in a low-key election cycle in an off-year, turnout was low, but relatively higher than with Richards’ election. In District 23, there were 11,305 votes cast (13.9 percent of the 81,027 active voters in the district), with 6,156 going to the winner, Barry Grodenchik, a Democrat.

In District 51, Republican Joe Borelli received 9,111 votes out of the 13,002 cast (14.2 percent of the 91,224 active registered voters) even though he ran unopposed.

To reach out to the 71,795 active registered voters from District 17 to get them to vote in Tuesday’s special election, the Bronx-based nonprofit Nos Quedamos Community Development Corporation partnered with the New York City Campaign Finance Board’s voter engagement arm, NYC Votes.

Nos Quedamos organized a community forum last month, livestreamed by BronxNet, to inform residents of del Carmen Arroyo’s resignation and to introduce the candidates who wanted to replace her. Ten of the eleven initial candidates were present.

Nos Quedamos has also been holding a voter registration drive for the last two weeks, first targeting the large concentration of homeless shelters in the district, whose residents are often overlooked when it comes to registering to vote. As election day approaches, they have been focused on reaching out to the nearly 4,000 housing units in the 19 buildings in their organization’s network.

“For special elections like this, (turnout) is a concern for us because it’s not on everyone’s radar,” said Jessica Clemente, CEO and president of Nos Quedamos. She said the resignation announcement being made over the holidays meant that very few people were aware that their Council representative had resigned and Nos Quedamos had little time to tell them. “Forty-five days is a blink of an eye,” Clemente said, pointing out that grassroots door-knocking is crucial in such a short time frame to inform voters and bring them to the polls.

“You are always going to have low voter turnout when a special election is held,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a good government advocacy group. “But better it’s held in an open nonpartisan way than a closed partisan way because voters at least have a choice of candidates in City Council special elections.”

Citizens Union last year called for state legislature vacancies to be filled through nonpartisan elections so that they are no longer “party-controlled coronations.”

Dadey conceded that party support does still have a role to play in nonpartisan elections. “The major political parties still exercise a great degree of control because of their ability to pull out voters and support candidates,” he said. “But we’ve seen time and time again where the favorite candidate does not always win. So there’s an opportunity for community leaders unaffiliated with a political party to win an election.”

[Related: Special Election Spotlights Machine Politics in the Bronx]

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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

Note: this article has been updated to clarify that it is Carmen Arroyo, not Maria del Carmen Arroyo, who has endorsed Salamanca; and to add campaign finance information for candidate J. Loren Russell.

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Voters to Fill Vacant Bronx Council Seat in Special Election Mon, 22 Feb 2016 03:24:54 +0000
Special Election Spotlights Machine Politics in The Bronx http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6091:special-election-spotlights-machine-politics-in-the-bronx http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6091:special-election-spotlights-machine-politics-in-the-bronx heastie diaz jr crespo

Heastie, Diaz Jr., Crespo (l-r)


By the time Julio Pabón got called in for his interview with the Bronx Democratic County Committee, he had heard all the chatter. Political insiders were saying that party leadership had already chosen a candidate. What's more, Pabón had seen a telling flyer for a Christmas event to be held at a local public school. It had been emailed, on Dec. 8, from the state Senate account of Ruben Diaz Sr. At the head of the flyer were portraits of New York Republican Party Chair Ed Cox and the senator himself, alongside a relatively unknown community board manager—Rafael Salamanca—the rumored choice of the county organization in the upcoming special election for the District 17 City Council seat, from which Maria del Carmen Arroyo recently resigned.

Present at the interview, conducted on Dec. 11 at the Bronx Democratic County Committee headquarters, were a handful of elected officials, including Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, the committee chair, Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz, City Council Member Annabel Palma, along with other committee members and Democratic club members. Stanley Schlein, a Bronx attorney and long-time Democratic operative, made an appearance toward the end of the interview, according to Pabón.

In Pabón's retelling, Crespo opened the interview with an assurance that, contrary to what he may have heard, the committee was yet to settle on a candidate. It was how the interview ended, however, that further cemented Pabón's belief that the opposite was in fact true. Crespo asked him, Pabón recalled to Gotham Gazette, whether he would step aside if the committee chose to support another candidate.

BX Christmas Cox Diaz Sr Salamanca Flyer BX Three Kings flyer Salamanca Crespo others

One week later, on Dec. 18, at a holiday event hosted by party leaders in the Bronx, Diaz Sr. and Crespo all but endorsed Salamanca, whose candidacy was still unofficial, before the assembled crowd. Pabón, in the meantime, got word from an influential stakeholder that the county chair had called to solicit support for the district manager. On Dec. 29, Diaz Sr. sent another flyer, this one for a Three Kings Day event, with Rafael Salamanca alongside the senator, Crespo, and Assemblymember Luis Sepulveda. 

Salamanca, who was officially endorsed by the county committee on Jan. 6, told Gotham Gazette that he received no preferential treatment.

"I put in work to get to where I'm at," the Community Board 2 district manager said. "And I'm pretty sure...I went through the interview process just as everyone else went through the interview process, and I had to wait to get a phone call to tell me, 'Hey Raf, the committee has met and decided that you are the best-qualified individual for the seat.' I was home sweating like, 'Oh my God, what's going on?'"

For Pabón, however, there was never any suspense. Earlier in the year, he had met Crespo for lunch to discuss his interest in running for the District 17 seat in 2017, when Arroyo would have been term-limited. During that meeting, Pabón told Gotham Gazette, the newly minted Democratic chair asked him: "What would happen if we were to endorse you and you have a different position than the borough president or my own?"

"They are totally afraid of differences," said Pabón (pictured below), a community activist and entrepreneur who, in 2013, challenged the incumbent Arroyo in the Democratic primary for the District 17 seat. "They want a candidate they can easily mold, rather than one who thinks independently. They think their plan for the Bronx can only happen if they have total control."

pabon

Assemblymember Crespo did not respond to a request for comment about the interview process for the vacant District 17 seat. Given the advantages in resources they normally enjoy, county-backed candidates rarely lose local elections—and institutional support can prove even more critical in expedited special elections, which are typically marked by low voter turnout.

In the Bronx, concerns around open democracy, which have been present for decades, surfaced anew last November, when Democratic county leadership was widely criticized for orchestrating a backroom deal to replace then-District Attorney Robert Johnson. With Johnson resigning from the ballot after he had won the district attorney primary, Democratic leaders were allowed to handpick a candidate to replace him on the ballot. Current DA Darcel Clark was added to the district attorney ballot while Johnson landed in a judge's seat in the state Supreme Court.

"My contention has always been that it's a facade," Pabón said. "County leadership is trying to show that they are different from past organizations, which were all about exclusion and nepotism. But where else do you have a borough that is essentially run by four families? Where are the reformers in the Bronx?"

The current leadership took control of the Bronx Democratic organization in a 2008 insurgency that came to be known as the "Rainbow" rebellion. The overthrow of former party chairman, Assemblymember José Rivera, would give rise to a new era of party politics, so the new leaders claimed—one more committed to inclusion and welcoming of diversity.

Yet numerous sources interviewed for this article see that promise as unfulfilled. "For the most part, there has not been a major change in terms of how inclusive the whole process is," Angelo Falcón, a political scientist and founder of the Institute for Puerto Rican Policy, told Gotham Gazette. "It's not necessarily a process of democratization, but more a transition from one set of elites to another. You have a certain disruption: new players come in, old players move out."

"In the Bronx," Falcón added, "you still have a relatively small number of politicians controlling everything, and mechanisms like community boards are not very strong."

Critics of the Bronx establishment argue that community boards serve as rubber stamps for the borough president, currently Ruben Diaz Jr. "Salamanca is, in essence, already an employee," said Aubrey-Eric Smith, vice president of the South Bronx Community Association, who is advising the Pabón campaign. "[Salamanca] serves at the pleasure of the borough president."

In a Jan. 7 phone interview, Gotham Gazette asked Salamanca whether he had ever been in disagreement, philosophically or on a particular project, with the borough president. "I can tell you what I disagreed with the mayor on," Salamanca responded. "That I can speak on."

Salamanca, who cited affordable housing and public safety as centerpieces of his platform, did not provide any instances of past disagreement with Diaz Jr.

Since the "Rainbow" rebellion, the leaders of the Bronx Democratic party have catapulted to the fore of city and state politics. Assemblymember Carl Heastie, Crespo's predecessor as county chair, is currently the speaker of the Assembly, and Sen. Jeff Klein, the leader of the Independent Democratic Conference in the state Senate. Ruben Diaz Jr., the borough president, is seen by some as a potential mayoral candidate. As the leaders of the "Rainbow" coalition have grown in stature, a handful of their candidates have been elected into public office, further strengthening the base from which they were able to take control of the party apparatus.

County leadership, many believe, is looking to solidify its base and consolidate all the players in the Bronx, to control policy and programming, and in preparation for a future Diaz Jr. run for higher office.

"They need to have as many individuals beholden to them as possible," Smith said.

In the 2013 primary for the same City Council seat, Pabón, the only Democratic challenger to the county-backed Arroyo, received some 2,000 primary votes—slightly over 30 percent of the total. That race is mostly remembered, however, for drama that played out in the courts, when the Pabón campaign challenged thousands of Arroyo nominating petitions, which included fraudulent signatures of "Derek Jeter" and "Kate Moss," among other public figures.

Pabón succeeded in invalidating more than half of Arroyo's 3,200 petition signatures as forgeries committed by three campaign employees (including an Arroyo nephew), two of whom had worked for the candidate and her Assemblymember mother in previous elections. Pabón's attorney at the time argued that the extent of the forgery should have been enough to knock the incumbent off the ballot based on "permeation of fraud," and his campaign maintains that the legal fight, which ultimately went to the Appellate Court for the First Department, raised questions about the independence of the borough's Board of Elections, as well as the separation of its legislative and judiciary branches.

"You're not going to beat a county-backed candidate in court," Aubrey-Eric Smith said. "The judiciary is not set up to make upsets of incumbents."

"The DA [Robert Johnson] could have gone after Ms. Arroyo, or investigated someone other than just the three low-level individuals," Donald Dunn, Pabón's attorney in 2013, told Gotham Gazette. "I think what they did was more of a dog and pony show than any real investigation."
With the Council seat now vacant, a handful of candidates have thrown their hats in the ring. One contender, Amanda Septimo, is district director for Congressional Rep. José Serrano. Septimo, whose age, 25, has grabbed attention, told Gotham Gazette that environmental and social justice are signature issues of her campaign. According to political insiders, a friendly office holder in District 17 could help buttress the increasingly vulnerable congressman against a primary challenge.

"Serrano hasn't had any real challenge in a long time, and if you look at his finances, he's gotten himself reelected with around $30,000, so it's very little money," Angelo Falcón said. "He could be at his weakest politically at this point. He's had for a long time an understanding with the political machine, and they haven't really gone after him, but there have been some threats."

Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. has in the past called on the long-serving congressman to step aside and, more recently, Council Member Palma contemplated her own challenge, but according to some insiders a more serious threat could emerge in the form of the borough president himself. Rep. Serrano reportedly ran afoul of Diaz Jr. for opposing $3.5 million in subsidies for the FreshDirect move to the Bronx.

At the time, the congressman expressed "deep misgivings about this project because of its impact on the health of Bronx residents."

(Septimo told Gotham Gazette that she has no position on the FreshDirect deal.)

Another Council contender, George Alvarez, held his own in a three-way 2014 Assembly race against the eventual winner, former White House staffer Michael Blake, and a candidate endorsed by the Democratic county committee, Marsha Michaels. Alvarez won nearly 1,200 votes, nearly as many as Michaels, and proved himself capable as a fundraiser. Alvarez is expected to garner support among the growing Dominican-American population in this predominantly Hispanic, though traditionally Puerto Rican, district.

Joann Otero, the long-time chief of staff to former Council Member Arroyo, is another leading contender for the District 17 seat. According to sources, Arroyo's first-choice successor was a Cablevision executive whose potential candidacy came against resistance from party leadership. Otero, who believes she is the candidate most able to "hit the ground running" in the middle of budget season, and touted her personal relationship with stakeholders in the district, confirmed to Gotham Gazette that she has not received the endorsement of her former boss. The candidate claimed that instead of succeeding her as a Council member, Arroyo proposed a "Let's go make cookies plan."

"We never really discussed it," Otero explained, "other than that we were going to do something else. With all the knowledge and skills that I've obtained from both the nonprofit and government sector, she said that makes me a very marketable individual to do just about anything."

Arroyo announced her resignation from the Council late last year, citing "pressing family needs," and has since joined the nonprofit Acacia Network. For the time being, it is unclear whether the former Council member will remain on the sidelines throughout the special election.

One of many unfolding subplots of the race is the role of 1199 SEIU. Montefiore health care network, whose employees are represented by 1199, is the largest employer in the Bronx. One declared candidate, Helen Foreman-Hines, was a political project director at the union, but resigned from 1199 after announcing her intention to enter the race. According to sources, Hines is no lock for support of the union that could prove decisive in this special election, to be held on Feb. 23.

As a nonpartisan special election, the District 17 race will last just 45 days in total. Many see the election as the first real test of Assemblymember Crespo's leadership in the Bronx Democratic party. The new chair is a protégé and close ally of the borough president. A defeat to a grassroots insurgent or other outsider could serve, some political insiders believe, as a symbolic blow to county leadership.

"Generally, the machine has the control in a special election, because there's very low voter turnout," Falcón said. "When you have control of the basic machinery, the petitioning process; when you have control even of the judges that rule on the petitions and all that stuff—that's a lot to go up against."

According to Falcón, political change in the Bronx has typically come in the wake of scandal, such as Gustavo Rivera's 2010 electoral victory over the subsequently convicted Pedro Espada Jr. "You need something extraordinary," he said. And even if a grassroots candidate were to buck history, and prevail in a special election, Falcón cautioned that the battle is not over.

"Once you are in, the problem is there are a lot of ways they can control you," he said, "No matter how old you are, you really need to have an independent base." 

***
by Gabe Ponce de León for Gotham Gazette. Ponce de León is a freelance journalist covering politics and policy in New York.
@GothamGazette

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Special Election Spotlights Machine Politics in The Bronx Fri, 15 Jan 2016 01:19:10 +0000