Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/248 Mon, 18 Dec 2017 14:38:58 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Meet The Three State Legislators Likely Heading To The City Council http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7195:meet-the-three-state-legislators-coming-to-the-city-council http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7195:meet-the-three-state-legislators-coming-to-the-city-council gjonaj election night crop 

Mark Gjonaj & Bronx Democratic leadership (photo: @MarkGjonajNY)


With the New York City primary election behind us, it appears that at least three state legislators are likely to be leaving behind the trips to Albany for plush City Council seats.

Following the path of former State Senator Bill Perkins, who was elected to the City Council in a special election earlier this year, two Assembly members and one state senator are likely to be making the same jump come January: State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr, Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj, and Assemblymember Francisco Moya were all victorious in determinative Democratic primaries Tuesday night.

Assemblymembers Felix Ortiz and Robert Rodriguez also ran in Democratic City Council primaries, but appear to have lost their respective bids. Ortiz came in a distant second attempting to unseat incumbent Council Member Carlos Menchaca and Rodriguez is narrowly behind Diana Ayala in a race he has not conceded, though Ayala did declare victory. Gjonaj will have to defeat Republican candidate John Cerini in the general election, who is expected to be tougher competition than Diaz Sr.'s Republican opponent, Eisley Constantine. Moya does not have any general election competition.

The three state legislators who won on Tuesday would join the City Council as part of the full new class of 51 members for a four-year term starting in January. For Diaz Sr., it would be a return to a Council district he once represented before being elected to the state Senate.

Gjonaj, Moya, and Diaz Sr. will likely be part of a Democratic supermajority in the Council that will elect a new Speaker and work with Mayor Bill de Blasio -- if he prevails in November’s general election as expected. They will be asked to help deal with problems like a lack of housing affordability, a deteriorating transportation system, substandard schools, and more.

The state lawmakers would bring to the City Council significant legislative experience as they fill three of the 10 seats set to change hands.

"The powers of the Legislature are infinitely broader, as a result these candidates bring a functional experience which is invaluable and would help City Council immensely,” says former Assemblymember Richard Brodsky.

Last year, Mayor de Blasio and the City Council approved a large pay boost for all city elected officials, including Council members -- to $148,000, up from $112,500 -- in exchange for a ban on most outside income, which may continue to draw a steady stream of candidates from state government, where legislative salaries have been frozen at $79,000 since 1999. In addition to the pay bump, state lawmakers from New York City may be attracted to the proximity of City Hall as opposed to the state capital, as well as the influence and visibility that come with a City Council position.

Leaving the Legislature, the three would join a number of other rank-and-file state lawmakers who have abandoned Albany for other offices where they believe they can be more effective. Additionally, this year, Republican Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, who was largely unnoticed outside of her district while serving in the Assembly minority, is now posing a fierce challenge to de Blasio in the mayoral race.

In August, State Senator Daniel Squadron, penning a letter in The Daily News about his own disillusionment with the Albany process, announced that he would leave the Senate to pursue a national initiative. During his eight years in Albany, his legislation to close the infamous “LLC loophole” had never made it to the Senate floor.

The moves from the state Legislature to the City Council often come down to opportunity. Diaz Sr., Rodriguez, Gjonaj and Moya all sought to replace City Council members who are term-limited or not seeking re-election. As soon as an elected official enters a City Council race, they typically become the favorite, given their higher profile, ability to fund-raise, and ties to important entities like labor unions. They almost always win.

Lawmakers say they find it easier to have an impact legislatively from the City Council than in the State Assembly, where Democrats have an overwhelming majority, or in the State Senate where the Democratic conference is fractured and in the minority, according to those who have made the switch. The Albany budget and legislative processes are also known to be closed off to many rank-and-file legislators, given the “three men in a room” decision-making that often dominates.

“In order to be effective in Albany you have to be there a long time, to accumulate seniority, to get a committee chairmanship. It’s very hard to get legislation passed without clout,” said Brooklyn Council Member Alan Maisel, who was elected to the body in 2013 after seven years in the Assembly.

Some leave Albany in part because they have young children at home and being Upstate for portions of six months out of the year is grueling for their families, while others are motivated to move to the City Council as they near retirement, because the state’s pension system determines disbursements based on a lawmaker’s most recent salary. Maisel said he enjoyed his time Albany, but the turning point for him was the months after Hurricane Sandy, when he felt helpless to support his constituents from Albany. When the seat became available, he ran.

“Here I am in Albany, from January till June, and I didn’t like that,” he said. “I wanted to be involved in local community things.”

In 2021, when 37 Council members will be term-limited out of office, there is expected to be a marked influx of state legislators to the City Council. Other City Council members who have came from the State Legislature in recent years include Council Members Vanessa Gibson, Rafael Espinal, Joe Borelli, Inez Barron, and Rory Lancman.

The departure of Squadron, Moya and, likely, Diaz Sr. and Gjonaj, will set off a series of special elections, which will be called at the discretion of Governor Andrew Cuomo. Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause/NY, has called for Cuomo to consolidate all the special elections into one, on November 7, Election Day.

"We need to remove barriers to voting with early voting, instant runoff voting, and automatic voter registration -- an advance the Governor could accomplish administratively without legislative action," said Lerner.

To enable this, Lerner called on the Diaz Sr., Gjonaj, and Moya to "put the public's interest ahead of their own self-interest and resign from the Legislature immediately." If the lawmakers remain in office for the remainder of the term, their seats will remain unfilled during the start of the 2018 legislative session.

This year’s likely migrants have already been thrust into the next big fight in City Hall, that for the coveted role of City Council speaker, held by term-limited Melissa Mark-Viverito until the end of the year. It is for Mark-Viverito’s Council seat in District 8 (East Harlem and the South Bronx) where Assemblymember Rodriguez could still possibly join the wave, if his attempt to see affidavit and absentee ballots counted puts him ahead of Ayala, Mark-Viverito’s preferred successor and former aide.

As their votes are being sought by their soon-to-be-colleagues seeking the speakership, there is more to know about the three legislators likely moving to the City Council.

Ruben Diaz Sr.: Council District 18
Famous for his signature cowboy hat, his unvarnished “What You Should Know” newsletter, and his passionate speeches on behalf of immigrants and the working class on the Senate floor, Reverend Ruben Diaz Sr. will soon be bringing his distinctive sartorial style to the Bronx’s 18th City Council District, a position he briefly held in 2001.

An ordained minister who was born in Puerto Rico, Diaz leads the Christian Community Neighborhood Church on Longfellow Avenue and the New York Hispanic Clergy Organization, an organization of 150 local evangelical ministers. He is known as a conservative Democrat who may be out of step with many more socially progressive Council members.

Diaz, who replaces the term-limited Annabel Palma, enjoys widespread support in the district. Legislatively, during his 13 years in the Senate, 18 of his bills have made it to the governor’s desk, 16 signed into law. His record ranges from targeting the topless panhandlers in Times Square, to pushing Cuomo to implement an identification card program similar to IDNYC across the state, which is available to all immigrants regardless of documentation.

Diaz Sr. also has much to gain from returning to his former district, which he left in 2002 to replace the scandal-scarred Senator Pedro Espada. Moving back to New York City and joining the City Council will allow Diaz, who is 74, to collect a higher pension when he eventually retires and cementing the Diaz brand could be beneficial for his son, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who may have broader, citywide political aspirations in the future.

Diaz Sr. has drawn criticism for his socially conservative views, particularly his vote against New York’s Marriage Equality Act in 2011 and his anti-abortion stance. The reverend’s views have made for tricky politics for allies such as City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, who is seeking the Council speakership and was criticized by gay activists for endorsing Diaz Sr. in his Council bid. A prominent LGBT political club, the Stonewall Democrats, rescinded its support for Rodriguez as a result.

“While we obviously do not agree on every issue–particularly his stances on abortion and the rights of the LGBTQ community–I know Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. has been a strong advocate for Latino representation and his working class constituents in the Bronx,” Rodriguez told the New York Post. “As an experienced legislator, he will continue to serve them well in the Council.”

Another speaker hopeful, Council Member Corey Johnson, who is gay, also caught flack for friendliness toward Diaz Sr., but much earlier in the election cycle.

In 2011, Diaz’s grandaughter, Erica, who is a lesbian, famously organized a counter protest to her grandfather’s anti-gay marriage rally.

Regarding his views on homosexuality, Diaz Sr. told City Limits, “You don’t believe in this, you don’t believe in that, but you respect the people. And you provide the service you are supposed to provide and you make sure they get the same service as everyone else.”

Many are surely hoping that his “What you Need to Know” columns, which are published in the Bronx Chronicle continue. In his blunt columns, he’s taken to task his colleagues in the Senate, Governor Cuomo’s ethics reform attempts, actor/director Sean Penn’s comment at the Oscars, and most recently, Council Speaker Mark-Viverito was caught in his crosshairs.

On Tuesday, Diaz Sr. defeated Elvin Garcia, a former Bronx aide in Mayor de Blasio’s community assistance unit who is gay; activist Amanda Farias, who was backed by the National Organization of Women; and others.

“I disagree with Diaz [Sr.] on just about everything, but I find him to be active and engaged and a serious member of the Legislature,” said Brodsky of his former colleague. “The tendency for these candidates to be colorful and independent is a virtue," he added.

Mark Gjonaj: Council District 13
Gjonaj joined the state Assembly in 2012, after defeating incumbent Assemblymember Naomi Rivera, the daughter of Assemblymember Jose Rivera and sister Councilman Joel Rivera, in the 2012 Democratic primary. A real estate broker without political background aside from a stint as the Bronx representative on the Taxi and Limousine Commission, his victory caught the political establishment by surprise.

The son of Albanian immigrant union workers, Gjonaj is seen as something of a trailblazer for the Bronx’s Albanian-American community, which includes a population of more than 12,500, according to 2011 figures, and he continues to have widespread support in the district.

The 48-year-old Gjonaj, who is known for his extravagant fundraising tactics, recently drew criticism for spending campaign dollars on his own family businesses as well accepting donations from questionable sources. He is credited with energizing a somewhat conservative constituency in the Bronx. His centrist Democratic politics is evidenced by the endorsement of state Senator Jeff Klein, leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, which forms a ruling majority with the Senate GOP. Both politicians represent suburban areas of the Bronx.

Gjonaj served as chairperson of the subcommittee on micro business and has signaled support for charter schools. He has been criticized for taking credit for the Women’s Equality Act, which he voted against, and he has promoted drug-fighting legislation, including a bill criminalizing and increasing penalties for the sale of synthetic marijuana.

During his bid for City Council, Gjonaj scooped up all the major endorsements from the Bronx Democratic party machine and power players, as well as major labor unions. He spent a record amount -- more than $716,469 -- on his campaign, defeating Marjorie Velazquez, a Democratic district leader and community board member who was endorsed by progressive and women’s groups, and John Doyle, a hospital official who once worked for Klein.

“I am honored that the people of the 13th District have chosen me to fight for The Bronx and help lead the way in protecting the common-sense Democratic values that are vital in safeguarding our working and middle-class families, keeping our streets safe, ensuring every child receives a quality education and securing affordable housing options for the most vulnerable,” Gjonaj said in a statement following his primary win. “From City Hall, I will be in a better position to bring attention to those issues and take action.”

But, Gjonaj does have an active general election competition ahead, even if he is a heavy favorite. Following the primary, Bronx County Republican Party Chair Michael Rendino said in a statement that Gjonaj's primary win showed a lack of popular support. "In a stunning rebuke to politics as usual, Mark Gjonaj couldn't even break 40% in his Democratic primary election after spending more money than any council candidate in the history of the City’s campaign finance system," Rendino said. "Developer Mark Gjonaj is now going to have to defend his record against John Cerini in the general election. John is a longtime community leader and small business owner in Throgg's Neck and has been fighting for us his whole life. I like our chances."

Francisco Moya: Council District 21
Good governance won out on primary day when Francisco Moya successfully beat out disgraced ex-Senator Hiram Monserrate, who was coming off of a two-year stint in jail for misappropriating $100,000 of taxpayer funds after previously having been expelled from the Senate for a domestic violence incident involving his then girlfriend.

Monserrate has been seeking a return to elected office and has shown he can still turn out votes. After a particularly ugly battle, the margin was close, with Moya pulling in 56 percent of the vote, compared to Monserrate’s 44 percent.

"Honesty and integrity won tonight,” Moya, 43, told the crowd at a victory party in Corona Tuesday night, according to The Daily News.

That sentiment was echoed by the National Organization for Women (NOW) which released a statement of congratulations to the incoming Council member. “We are proud to congratulate Francisco Moya for his victory today, because we know that he is going to fight for women, fight for immigrants, and fight for his community, and he can stand up as a role model for them as well,” said Sonia Ossorio, president of the NOW, which had come out strongly against Monserrate’s candidacy in recent weeks.

Beyond Monserrate’s criminal record and ethics, a key point of contention during the race was the fate of Willets Point, a large plot of land that is in limbo after a proposed development there was blocked by a Court of Appeals ruling. The initial deal had been struck by Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, who announced earlier this year that she would not seek reelection for the seat and will leave it at the end of the year. She endorsed Moya as her successor and campaigned with him in the days before the primary.

Moya’s progressive legislative record during his seven years in Albany -- not to mention universal disdain for Monserrate from the Democratic establishment -- allowed the Assembly member to sweep up endorsements from the Working Families Party, unions, and numerous politicians, including Mayor de Blasio, Governor Andrew Cuomo, and Public Advocate Tish James.

Elected to the Assembly in 2010 over Monserrate, Moya has been known for his efforts to fight for the passage of the NY DREAM Act, which would enable undocumented immigrant college students to be eligible for state financial aid. But year after year, the legislation died in the Republican controlled Senate.

As a Council member, Moya won’t have to worry about his bills being blocked by Republicans, who control only three seats in the 51-seat body.

Moya, who has said that he is the first state legislator of Ecuadorian descent and represents Jackson Heights, Queens, this year introduced an extensive legislative package aimed at protecting immigrants from police and enforcement agencies amidst a federal immigration crackdown, which would provide undocumented individuals with access to public defenders.

He has introduced legislation to stop employment agencies from committing fraud against job seekers, and went to bat for New York’s Scaffold Law, which places all liability for injured construction workers on employers. An avid soccer enthusiast, he's also championed bringing a Major League Soccer stadium to Queens -- an idea that may come to fruition soon.

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Update: this article has been updated with a revised statement from Common Cause NY.

Update: this article and its headline have been corrected to reflect that Diaz Sr. and Gjonaj have general election opponents.

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Meet The Three State Legislators Likely Heading To The City Council Wed, 13 Sep 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Incumbent Brooklyn City Council Rep Attempts to Fend Off Prominent Challengers http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7144:incumbent-brooklyn-city-council-rep-attempts-to-fend-off-prominent-challengers-menchaca http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7144:incumbent-brooklyn-city-council-rep-attempts-to-fend-off-prominent-challengers-menchaca Carlos Menchaca

City Council Member Menchaca (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)


As he runs for reelection this fall, Carlos Menchaca, the City Council member for District 38, which includes Red Hook, Sunset Park and Windsor Terrace, faces several challengers in the Democratic primary. In a rare occurrence, one of his opponents is another sitting elected official from the same party, Assemblymember Felix Ortiz.

Though he was not an elected official at the time, Menchaca himself challenged and unseated an incumbent from the same party in a contentious 2013 primary that focused on then-Council Member Sara Gonzalez’s insufficient response to the devastation Superstorm Sandy wrought in the waterfront district. In another twist to the exceptional storyline of the 2017 race in this district, Gonzalez is back and also challenging Menchaca in the primary.

Also among Menchaca’s primary opponents this year are Gonzalez, Delvis Valdes, an attorney and former community board member, and Chris Miao, a real estate attorney. (Carmen Hulbert is the Green Party candidate in the race, awaiting the Democratic nominee in the general election.)

Ortiz appears to be the most dangerous threat to Menchaca, and the race between the two has become especially pointed as it nears the September 12 vote.

In an interview with Gotham Gazette, Menchaca mostly spoke in positive terms about his candidacy and campaign, touting accomplishments related to adult literacy funding, immigrant legal services, the city’s IDNYC municipal identification card program, and new schools opening in the district, along with new city investment to spur jobs along the waterfront. He did have a few sharp words for Ortiz, though.

“I’m the only one that has a true sense of vision that is connected to the community of the district,” Menchaca said earlier this week. “What I’ve done is not only to be incredibly visible and vocal on issues that matter to the community, but to bring resources, like five new schools, and more jobs being created in this district than anywhere in the city. This is testament to my leadership and holding the line for the community.”

Of Ortiz he said, “This is someone who is going to challenge a sitting incumbent of his party, someone distracted from the job he was just elected to do. Voters are soon going to say, ‘Go back and do your job that we just elected you to do.’”

When Gotham Gazette asked Ortiz why he would take on a member of his own party in a primary, he said, “The biggest motivating factor was a group of constituents across the Councilmatic district” who came to him multiple times over the past year to encourage him to run. He said constituents were frustrated with Menchaca, who they felt had been unavailable. “I listen to the constituents,” Ortiz said, “when the people ask me to do something, I listen.”

The constituents pushing him to run were “regular, normal people, senior citizens, people who’ve lived in the community a long time...most of these people are not involved in politics,” Ortiz said on Thursday.

Ortiz, who, like several other state legislators running this year, is seeking to leave behind the regular trips to Albany for the much better pay of the City Council (without having to risk his seat), accuses Menchaca of inflating his record. “The New York City ID was not his bill,” Ortiz said. “You’re talking about someone who lies like crazy.”

“I’ve been in this business long enough to know not to lie,” he added.

While Menchaca touts his role in passage of the IDNYC bill, it’s not clear that he has claimed it as his own legislation, which it was not. He did sign on to the bill as a co-sponsor and usher it through committee, though, and he was an outspoken promoter of the highly popular program in its early phases.

Asked about other elements of the record Menchaca is running on, including the new schools, Ortiz continued to be dismissive. “The only thing I give credit to him, is to approve the budget to use the money we gave from Albany,” he said, with reference to the school funding in particular. “He can take credit, but the money came from the state.”

Dominant issues in the district that must be tackled include immigrants’ rights and protections, jobs, affordable housing, transportation, and education. Development of city-owned land and potential private development along the waterfront are also key issues.

Menchaca has promised to protect the waterfront, which is a key landing strip for industrial jobs and has been expanding as renovations continue to be made to the Brooklyn Army Terminal, Brooklyn Navy Yard, and South Brooklyn Marine Terminal, which is becoming a key hub in the 38th district. He knows, though, that many of his constituents are wary of development, gentrification, and displacement, which have hit some parts of the district, especially Red Hook.

“I’ve shown time and again that I’m holding the line in preserving Sunset Park and Red Hook for what it is,” Menchaca said, adding that he says “‘no’ a lot.”

“I’ve not just said ‘no’ to developers, I’ve said ‘yes’ to city investment,” Menchaca added. “Hundreds of millions of dollars is coming to the waterfront for our community. Countless times developers have come to me with beautiful renderings of luxury towers on the waterfront, I’ve told them basically that this is not something that resonates with our community. They’re waiting for me to leave.”

And trying to push Menchaca out is Ortiz, the assistant speaker of the state Assembly, who has been in the Assembly since 1995, and has touted efforts such as the passage of Briana's Law, which he introduced and was signed into law last week by Governor Andrew Cuomo. The law requires state police and NYPD officers to receive CPR training at the police academy and every two years after that. It is named for 11-year-old Briana Ojeda who died in 2010 after suffering a severe asthma attack. Briana's mother was pulled over by an NYPD officer on the way to the hospital, but the officer was not trained in CPR and could not administer aid.     

Ortiz is also proud of having introduced legislation to create a $2 billion bond act to repair infrastructure throughout the state, which did not pass, and of his successful efforts to recover back wages for unpaid workers that had been denied by factory owners when he was a part of the Subcommittee on Sweatshops. He does not, however, have an official campaign website with a policy platform for what he hopes to accomplish should he be elected to the City Council.

Asked by Gotham Gazette what he hopes to accomplish as a Council member or what his campaign policy agenda is, Ortiz did not offer any specific policies, but remained focused on “constituent services” as the essence of his run. “What I have done and what I will continue to do, is what the CIty Council needs at this point: someone with the knowledge, the experience, the leadership, someone who knows how to listen and to get results,” Ortiz said. “The district needs me now,” he added.

According to information he provided to NYC Votes for its official voter guide ahead of the primary, Ortiz's top three issues are housing, a living wage, and education. In the section of the guide where candidates are able to be more specific, Ortiz provided only a few vague sentences about "a proven record of leadership" and "a record of taking action and getting results." He did specifically cite defending "the rights of all New Yorkers from consumer fraud to Immigrant rights," but did not provide specifics.

Among a number of endorsements, Ortiz is being backed by 1199 SEIU and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), two of the city’s biggest labor unions, and the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, which represents police officers. “I am very proud to be endorsed by the finest men and women of the PBA,” Ortiz said in a press release upon receiving the endorsement. “As someone that has family members in the law enforcement, I truly understand the sacrifices that they bring to the job.” He’s also received support from other uniformed unions. Menchaca is known to be among the furthest left in a City Council often not seen as supportive of police and corrections officers.

Menchaca is doing quite well in terms of institutional endorsements himself: he’s been backed by many labor groups and elected officials, including the local union chapters for transportation, auto, and communications workers; SEIU 32BJ, RWDSU, the Teamsters Joint Council 16, the Hotel Trades Council, and others. He’s backed by Congressional Reps. Jerry Nadler and Nydia Velázquez, Assemblymembers Jo Ann Simon and Yuh-Line Niou, State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, and many of his City Council colleagues.

“Almost every union has endorsed my reelection, because they know I’ve been fighting for the working families of my neighborhood,” Menchaca told Gotham Gazette, “whether it’s day laborers or the Teamsters...or the carwasheros in the northern part of the district.” Menchaca has been a regular at labor rallies and protests in favor of workers and raising the minimum wage.

The incumbent regularly points to a handful of key issues, including two of the main themes of this entire city election cycle: Democrats running against President Donald Trump and the issue of affordability. Of Rep. Velázquez, Menchaca said, “the congresswoman is even more committed that I stay in the Council to continue as a partner, with the local and the federal, as we see the chaos out of Washington.”

In an immigrant-heavy district with many Chinese and Spanish speakers who have limited English proficiency, demographics will be a key piece of how the race plays out. While Ortiz does hope to win a large portion of the Latino vote, Menchaca, who is of Mexican descent, has worked to build relationships in both of the large blocs of the district: the Latino bloc and the Chinese bloc, with the latter largely based in the Sunset Park section of the district.

Getting the district’s growing Asian community to turn out to vote will be key. Chris Miao is the only Chinese-American in the race, and while he has not been able to raise enough funds to pose a threat to Menchaca, Ortiz, or possibly even Gonzalez, he could deprive the other top candidates from earning as many Chinese votes as they may otherwise.

Miao listed "protecting the rights of immigrants," "educating the community on politics," and "involving Chinese-Americans in politics" as his three focus issues for NYC Votes. He promises voters "passion and commitment" if elected, but does not spell out any specific proposals for the voter guide or on his campaign website.

For the NYC Votes guide, Menchaca listed immigration reform, economic development and local jobs, and education as his three main focus issues. He touted his work on the legislation creating IDNYC and securing funding for immigrant legal defense and adult literacy services. He writes that "he has transformed the relationship between New Yorkers and city government," but does not explain how he did that. He told Gotham Gazette he is working on additional legislation around adult literacy to make sure that the increased funding is being spent as well as possible.

Another contender in the race is Valdes, an attorney who was involved in a local business improvement district. He has never held public office before but says he has been an activist in the community for decades. He had scathing remarks about his opponents on Facebook: “For 4 years the councilman and for 23 years the assemblyman who I am opposing have done nothing to fix the repair problems at Red Hook and the loss affordable housing that is threatening the very survival of Sunset Park.”

Valdes has raised a good amount of money, enough to compete and, as of the mid-August filing, put him just behind Menchaca in funds raised. He told NY1 that Menchaca -- who has been an outspoken Trump critic, especially on immigrant issues -- is "more concerned about national issues, and we need someone who's going to represent the people here locally." For Menchaca, federal threats to immigrants, both documented and undocumented, are serious issues for the immigrant-heavy district.

For NYC Votes, Valdes listed "gentrification displacement of Sunset Park," "lack of repairs - NYCHA buildings," and education as his top three issues.

For her part, Gonzalez, the former Council member, listed affordable housing, defending and supporting immigrant communities, and more public school seats as her top three issues for NYC Votes. She did not explain a more developed campaign platform in the guide space provided and does not appear to have a campaign website.

The only non-Democratic candidate running in District 38 is Hulbert, an activist on the Green Party ticket. Hulbert told Gotham Gazette, “We want an improvement of the current transportation system we already have in place, a modernized R train and more buses, but nobody is listening.”

Hulbert was a delegate for U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders during his presidential campaign in 2016 and is the co-founder of LatinosforBernieNYC. She has said she is championing a progressive platform and her main focus, similar to that of Sanders, is income inequality, which she thinks is the most pressing issue in the community.

“The Democratic Party no longer represents American workers. They have become a corporate party,” she added. “Sunset Park is still uniquely a walk to work community, but high paying, stable jobs are becoming difficult to find in the neighborhood. People cannot support themselves just in a service economy with minimum wage jobs, not with rent increasing as it is throughout Red Hook and Sunset Park.”

Hulbert will face the winner of the Democratic primary in November.

***
by Ben Max, with reporting by Amanda Tukaj

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Incumbent Brooklyn City Council Rep Attempts to Fend Off Prominent Challengers Thu, 31 Aug 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Mass Mailer Loophole Gives State Legislators Advantage in City Council Races http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7163:mass-mailer-loophole-gives-state-legislators-advantage-in-city-council-races http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7163:mass-mailer-loophole-gives-state-legislators-advantage-in-city-council-races ortiz mailer crop

The top of Assemblymember Felix Ortiz's recent constituent mailer


Members of the New York State Legislature have a key resource at their disposal to communicate with their constituents: mass mailers. Both the Senate and Assembly allow lawmakers to send public communications through different media -- chiefly employed in the form of direct printed newsletters and mailers -- to inform residents of their districts about recent legislation or special events, or to alert them of emergencies, and more. While these mailers are subject to certain restrictions in the run up to an election, differences between state rules and city regulations mean that state legislators running for City Council have a distinct advantage over their opponents at the local level.

In at least three City Council races where sitting state Assemblymembers are candidates, separate complaints have been filed with the city Campaign Finance Board alleging that each of them has violated prohibitions against using government-funded mass mailers within a mandated 90-day communication blackout period before the September 12 primary. Copies of the complaints were provided to Gotham Gazette.

The rules governing mass mailers are adopted by each legislative chamber, but they differ from the rules and guidelines established by the New York City Campaign Finance Board, which oversees expenditure by campaigns in the city. Each set of rules establishes ‘blackout’ periods ahead of an election, during which communications funded through government resources are prohibited unless they meet certain exceptions.

The New York City Charter states that “public servants” may not use government funds or resources for mass mailers within 90 days of a primary or general election. (The law also prohibits officials from appearing in government-funded advertisements in an election year.)

There are certain exceptions, for instance allowing one mailer to be sent out within 21 days of the passage of the city’s budget, and permitting communications required by law or those necessary for public safety or health emergencies, among others.

For City Council candidates currently working for New York City -- including incumbent Council members and even community board members -- the CFB blackout period began June 15, roughly three months before the September 12 primary.

But since the City Charter only applies to “all officials, officers and employees of the city,” state officials and legislators are out of reach of those provisions and prohibitions. The state Assembly’s blackout period, in comparison, is only 30 days before a local, special or primary election and 60 days before the general. This effectively allows state legislators to use their offices to promote their image and build greater name recognition, enhancing the already-significant power of incumbency and giving them an additional leg up over their opponents who would have to rely on campaign funds to communicate with voters.

“It’s a clear loophole,” said John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, a government reform organization. “The problem is that city law is always subordinate to state law. So the CFB cannot tell a state legislator what they can or cannot do.”

ortiz mailer cropIn District 38, incumbent Democratic City Council Member Carlos Menchaca is facing a slew of challengers, including sitting Assemblymember Felix Ortiz. A complaint filed with the CFB earlier this month alleged that Ortiz had violated the CFB’s blackout provisions by sending out four mailers from his government office over the summer. But these mailers, a regular function of state legislative offices, are exempt from the CFB’s purview.

“Part of Felix’s job as an Assemblyman is to inform his constituents, whether he’s running for office or not,” said Robinson Iglesias, Ortiz’s campaign treasurer. “He has been in full compliance with the CFB and he will continue to do so.”

“For sure, it’s unfair. For sure, it’s an advantage,” said Kaehny of the loophole. “It hasn’t been effectively exploited until now. The reality is, an incumbent already has an advantage in name identity. Using their mail privileges helps reinforce that name identity...This is a real unfairness under the law.”

Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj, the frontrunner for the District 13 seat being vacated by Council Member James Vacca, similarly sent out a legislative update to his constituents at the end of June.

Of Gjonaj’s four opponents in the Democratic primary, John Doyle has been his most vociferous critic and lodged objections with the CFB over potential violations regarding mass mailers and government-sponsored communications. When informed that the communications were largely permitted under the Assembly’s rules, Doyle directed his ire at both the state Legislature and Gjonaj. “We have a culture of corruption in Albany that allows this,” Doyle said in a phone interview. “This is the state Legislature that can’t seem to pass comprehensive campaign finance reform.”

gjonaj mailer cropDoyle also insisted that Gjonaj has ample campaign resources at his disposal to get his message out and should have eschewed the Legislature’s mass mailing resources. “He’s against public funds to augment the voice of ordinary citizens,” Doyle said, referring to Gjonaj’s decision to not participate in the CFB’s public matching funds program, “but he has no problem using public funds when it supports his interests.”

Gjonaj’s campaign spokesperson Jennifer Blatus pushed back against Doyle’s complaint. “Let's be clear, there was no unfair advantage in the District 13 council race,” Blatus said in an email. “This is another ridiculous attempt by John Doyle to distract voters and continue his negative and divisive campaign.” Insisting that the CFB allows elected officials to conduct ordinary communications with constituents, she added, “In the final days of this election, while Mr. Doyle continues to complain over the experience Mark Gjonaj brings to this race, our campaign remains focused on the issues at hand, which is quality of life, public safety, education and transportation.”

In District 21, where Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland is stepping down at the end of her current term, two Democrats are facing off in the primary: Assemblymember Francisco Moya and Hiram Monserrate, a disgraced former state Senator and Council member who is attempting a comeback after a checkered recent past that includes separate criminal convictions on fraud and assault charges.

Monserrate claims that Moya misused government resources to send mass email blasts within the 90-day period, including references to events Moya attended outside his district. Moya’s Assembly district overlaps with parts of Council District 21 but excludes large sections. “Moya is a liar and a fraud,” Monserrate said in a statement. “He lies about where he lives. And now we know he's committing fraud by using tax-dollars illegally to campaign.”

moya mailer cropIn a written response to the CFB on Monserrate’s complaint, Moya noted, correctly, that “as an Assemblymember my mail cut off deadline is different than sitting City electeds.” In a statement to Gotham Gazette, Moya had harsher words for his opponent. “My opponent is a convicted felon who has zero credibility on this or any other issue in the campaign,” he said. “He is using these baseless claims to attack my record of public service, and direct attention away from his corrupt, violent history. These charges have been easily refuted by my campaign, and simply bear no resemblance to the facts.”

Moya went on to criticize Monserrate for his own misuse of taxpayer funds. “The questions voters are asking are, ‘Hiram, where is our money that you stole and how can we ever trust you again?’”

The CFB and the City are mostly powerless to bridge the gap in the law. “Obviously we provide extensive guidance on how candidates should handle constituent communications in the days leading up to an election, It’s certainly something we monitor,” said Matt Sollars, a CFB spokesperson.

Reinvent Albany’s Kaehny says closing the loophole would require the state Legislature to take action, “which it seems very unlikely to do.” In the absence of legislation, he said, “The best thing CFB could do is keep track and include as much information in their post-election report to note how much of a problem it is and bring attention to that.”

The CFB issues a comprehensive report after each city election that includes numerous recommendations on improving the campaign finance and election system. Many of the recommendations from their 2013 report were passed into law by the City Council.

Two other state Legislators are also running for “open” City Council seats, though no apparent complaints have been lodged against either. Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez, who has also sent out mass mailers from his office, is running for the District 8 seat currently held by term-limited Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito; and in District 18, state Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., famous for his constituent e-blasts, which have continued apace, is vying for the seat being vacated by term-limited Council Member Annabel Palma.

Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, another good government group, conceded that the CFB has no authority over the state and insisted that the Legislature should increase its own communication blackout periods to undo the advantage that accrues to lawmakers.

“Legislators wouldn’t send [mailers] out if they didn’t think it will bolster public good will,” Horner said, adding that perhaps it will fall to voters to ensure a level standard. “I think it’s fair for the public to urge state elected officials running for City Council to follow the same rules,” he said.

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Mass Mailer Loophole Gives State Legislators Advantage in City Council Races Tue, 29 Aug 2017 04:00:00 +0000