Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/george-latimer 2017-10-20T08:50:14+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Progressive Activist Registers Campaign Committee for Latimer’s Senate Seat 2017-08-09T04:00:00+00:00 2017-08-09T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7118:progressive-activist-starts-campaign-committee-for-latimer-s-senate-seat Samar Khurshid <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/brezler_2.jpg" alt="brezler 2" width="600" height="488" /></p> <p>Katherine Brezler (photo via Facebook)</p> <hr /> <p>A teacher and grassroots organizer is scoping out the Westchester Democratic Party nod in a potential special election for state Senator George Latimer’s seat, which would be triggered if the Democratic senator wins the race for Westchester county executive this fall.</p> <p>On July 24, Katherine Brezler, a 35-year-old from White Plains who campaigned for Senator Bernie Sanders' presidential bid, became the first to register a campaign committee for the 37th Senate District seat currently held by Latimer, according to the New York State Board of Elections.</p> <p>Latimer is <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6958-potential-departure-of-two-senate-democrats-poses-another-threat-to-unity" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">challenging</a> Republican incumbent Rob Astorino for the county executive position with the blessing of his fellow Democrats in the Senate minority conference. At least four mainline Democrats contributed to Latimer’s county executive campaign. The largest donation, of $2,500, came from Senator Michael Gianaris, deputy leader of the mainline Democratic conference and head of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (DSCC). Latimer has received endorsements from the&nbsp;Independence, Working Families,&nbsp;and Women’s Equality parties and will first face county legislator Ken Jenkins, from Yonkers, in the September 12 primary.&nbsp;</p> <p>Brezler is also rooting for Latimer, whom she describes as “a mentor,” and has been making phone calls on his behalf. “I have good feelings about the future of Westchester and the voters making [Senator] George Latimer county executive,” she said. “I wouldn’t be out here this early if I didn’t believe that. But there is still a lot of work to do. We have a lot of doors to knock on.”</p> <p>If Latimer does unseat Astorino, the Senate seat he would vacate is likely to be highly contested. Since 2012, the last time the seat was empty, both the Republican and Democratic campaign committees have <a href="http://www.elections.ny.gov:8080/reports/rwservlet?cmdkey=efs_sch_report+p_filer_id=A01540+p_e_year=2012+p_freport_id=F+p_transaction_code=R" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">collectively poured</a> nearly $2 million into district races. Governor Andrew Cuomo also <a href="http://www.poughkeepsiejournal.com/story/news/local/new-york/2016/10/24/cuomo-senate-dems/92695220/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">threw his support</a> behind Latimer last year to ensure that the seat remained Democratic.</p> <p>By all accounts, Latimer has been an exceptional Democratic candidate. Despite a 2012 redistricting of the 37th Senate District, which the League of Women Voters of Westchester <a href="http://www.lwvw.org/redistricting.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">criticized for </a>cutting out minority voters and favoring Republicans, Latimer won the seat that year, and retained his popularity in the district for three consecutive terms. In 2014, Latimer kept the seat with 49.9 percent of the vote, barely beating out Republican Joe Dillon, who drew 45.8 percent of the vote.&nbsp;Latimer’s office did not respond to a message seeking comment for this article.</p> <p>Brezler, who previously was a Sanders delegate and founding member of <a href="https://www.facebook.com/PeopleForBernie/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the People For Bernie</a>, a national network that rallied support for the former presidential candidate, boasts a slew of progressive accomplishments. She was part of a national organizing campaign for the movement to “opt-out” of state school testing, is an advocate for affordable housing and, citing her background as the daughter of a doctor and nurse, she has made the passage of universal, single-payer health care a central part of her platform. She noted that there is a 2-1 ratio of registered Democrats over Republicans in the district, and that Democratic engagement in Westchester is on the rise since the 2016 election of President Donald Trump.</p> <p>Brezler, who has also worked as a delegate for the Westchester/Putnam chapter of the AFL-CIO union, said she was inspired to run, in part, because of the stagnant state of progressive legislation in the New York State Senate, despite Democrats holding a narrow majority in the body. The Senate GOP maintains the legislative majority with the help of Senator Simcha Felder, of Brooklyn, who caucuses with the conference, and through an alliance with eight rogue Democrats who make up the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC).</p> <p>“Two-thirds of this country supports universal healthcare and it’s unconscionable that it’s popped three years in a row, and the state Senate thinks it’s acceptable not to bring it to the floor,” Brezler said in an interview with Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>Brezler said she spoke to a number of local elected officials who told her they were not interested in the seat, although she did not specify whom, and saw an opportunity to ensure that the district remained in Democratic hands.</p> <p>Assemblyman Steven Otis, a Democrat whose district encompasses much of Latimer’s and who previously worked as chief of staff to Latimer’s predecessor, is one name likely to be floated for the post, according to people familiar with the district. Otis told Gotham Gazette he intends to remain in the Assembly where he is “excelling” and “can deliver the best results” for the communities he represents.</p> <p>If Latimer wins the county executive primary election and then the general this fall, he will vacate his current seat by January, and it will be up to Governor Cuomo’s discretion to call a special election. In a special election, a competitive primary is bypassed, and the Democratic and Republican nominees are picked by the party boss and county executive committee, which comprised of district leaders. In Westchester, the nominee may also be selected by party chair persons of city, towns and villages, Brezler said.</p> <p>A former Yonkers district leader herself, Brezler says she has had productive conversations with Westchester County Democratic Party chairman Reginald LaFayette and believes she has the name recognition required to drum up county committee support.</p> <p>"I've been working in local politics for a very long time,” Brezler said. “They know me by name, face, and work; it’s not a surprise to anyone that I’m running.”&nbsp;</p> <p>Brezler has also <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2016/06/sanders-supporters-wont-recognize-cuomo-as-delegation-leader-103147" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">voiced opposition</a> to Cuomo on a number of issues in the past, but noted the second-term governor’s evolution since his re-election in 2014. “The governor is trying his best to put his progressive foot forward and I’m interested in seeing what this year looks like," she said.</p> <p>Brezler said the supposed fissure between the progressive, grassroots Sanders faction of the Democratic Party and the Democratic establishment has been overstated in the media and is not as pronounced on the state level, where she believes Democrats are coming together to resist the policies of the Trump administration.</p> <p>Veteran Democratic political consultant Hank Sheinkopf said Brezler’s past criticisms of Cuomo could be a liability for her candidacy. “It’s unlikely that someone who has attacked the governor will be picked as the nominee,” he said, noting that, “Cuomo got the 2 percent property tax cap for the people of Westchester,” which is plagued by some of the highest rates in the nation.</p> <p>However, getting a headstart on fundraising and the potential to tap into support from a national Sanders coalition could help Brezler, because it may “scare off other candidates,” he said.</p> <p>As an educator, Brezler has been a proponent of the state meeting its school aid obligations under the Campaign for Fiscal Equity court decision -- the results of a lawsuit seeking to ensure “the constitutional right to a sound basic education” for all public school students -- which she says would infuse struggling schools in Yonkers and elsewhere with millions of dollars needed to ease the county’s notorious property tax burden.</p> <p>Brezler said her next objective is to win over the DSCC, chaired by Senator Gianaris of Queens, who she said will likely have a conversation with LaFayette about what is best for the party.</p> <p>“If the DSCC isn’t super excited about me then I think they will find that the network behind me is able to raise a considerable amount, and that I have more name recognition than they think,” said Brezler.</p> <p>Brezler, who is a first-generation Argentine immigrant on her father’s side, noted that she would be a diverse choice for the Senate Democrats as the first openly queer woman in the legislative body.</p> <p>A spokesperson for the Senate Democratic conference declined to weigh in on “hypothetical” candidates and Gianaris’ office did not return a request for comment.</p> <p>It may still be too early for Democrats to vet potential replacements for Latimer not knowing the outcome of the election, said Sheinkopf. “She’s just out front faster than anyone else,” he said of Brezler. “First order of business, is to know whether Latimer will beat Astorino. For that you would have to hire a magician and get the divine inspiration. Is it possible? Yes. Is it highly likely? 50-50.”</p> <p>Julie Killian, a Council member from the city of Rye in Westchester who challenged Latimer for the Senate seat in 2016 and received 44.3 percent of the vote, is rumored to be running again on the Republican party line, but she has not announced an interest in the race and her Senate fundraising account has been cleared out, according to her most recent BOE filings.</p> <p>Regardless of whether Latimer wins the county executive race, Brezler said she intends to continue to shake things up on the state and local level.</p> <p>“I'm not going anywhere,” she said.</p> <p><em>Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified Latimer's 2014 Republican challenger.</em></p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/brezler_2.jpg" alt="brezler 2" width="600" height="488" /></p> <p>Katherine Brezler (photo via Facebook)</p> <hr /> <p>A teacher and grassroots organizer is scoping out the Westchester Democratic Party nod in a potential special election for state Senator George Latimer’s seat, which would be triggered if the Democratic senator wins the race for Westchester county executive this fall.</p> <p>On July 24, Katherine Brezler, a 35-year-old from White Plains who campaigned for Senator Bernie Sanders' presidential bid, became the first to register a campaign committee for the 37th Senate District seat currently held by Latimer, according to the New York State Board of Elections.</p> <p>Latimer is <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6958-potential-departure-of-two-senate-democrats-poses-another-threat-to-unity" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">challenging</a> Republican incumbent Rob Astorino for the county executive position with the blessing of his fellow Democrats in the Senate minority conference. At least four mainline Democrats contributed to Latimer’s county executive campaign. The largest donation, of $2,500, came from Senator Michael Gianaris, deputy leader of the mainline Democratic conference and head of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (DSCC). Latimer has received endorsements from the&nbsp;Independence, Working Families,&nbsp;and Women’s Equality parties and will first face county legislator Ken Jenkins, from Yonkers, in the September 12 primary.&nbsp;</p> <p>Brezler is also rooting for Latimer, whom she describes as “a mentor,” and has been making phone calls on his behalf. “I have good feelings about the future of Westchester and the voters making [Senator] George Latimer county executive,” she said. “I wouldn’t be out here this early if I didn’t believe that. But there is still a lot of work to do. We have a lot of doors to knock on.”</p> <p>If Latimer does unseat Astorino, the Senate seat he would vacate is likely to be highly contested. Since 2012, the last time the seat was empty, both the Republican and Democratic campaign committees have <a href="http://www.elections.ny.gov:8080/reports/rwservlet?cmdkey=efs_sch_report+p_filer_id=A01540+p_e_year=2012+p_freport_id=F+p_transaction_code=R" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">collectively poured</a> nearly $2 million into district races. Governor Andrew Cuomo also <a href="http://www.poughkeepsiejournal.com/story/news/local/new-york/2016/10/24/cuomo-senate-dems/92695220/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">threw his support</a> behind Latimer last year to ensure that the seat remained Democratic.</p> <p>By all accounts, Latimer has been an exceptional Democratic candidate. Despite a 2012 redistricting of the 37th Senate District, which the League of Women Voters of Westchester <a href="http://www.lwvw.org/redistricting.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">criticized for </a>cutting out minority voters and favoring Republicans, Latimer won the seat that year, and retained his popularity in the district for three consecutive terms. In 2014, Latimer kept the seat with 49.9 percent of the vote, barely beating out Republican Joe Dillon, who drew 45.8 percent of the vote.&nbsp;Latimer’s office did not respond to a message seeking comment for this article.</p> <p>Brezler, who previously was a Sanders delegate and founding member of <a href="https://www.facebook.com/PeopleForBernie/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the People For Bernie</a>, a national network that rallied support for the former presidential candidate, boasts a slew of progressive accomplishments. She was part of a national organizing campaign for the movement to “opt-out” of state school testing, is an advocate for affordable housing and, citing her background as the daughter of a doctor and nurse, she has made the passage of universal, single-payer health care a central part of her platform. She noted that there is a 2-1 ratio of registered Democrats over Republicans in the district, and that Democratic engagement in Westchester is on the rise since the 2016 election of President Donald Trump.</p> <p>Brezler, who has also worked as a delegate for the Westchester/Putnam chapter of the AFL-CIO union, said she was inspired to run, in part, because of the stagnant state of progressive legislation in the New York State Senate, despite Democrats holding a narrow majority in the body. The Senate GOP maintains the legislative majority with the help of Senator Simcha Felder, of Brooklyn, who caucuses with the conference, and through an alliance with eight rogue Democrats who make up the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC).</p> <p>“Two-thirds of this country supports universal healthcare and it’s unconscionable that it’s popped three years in a row, and the state Senate thinks it’s acceptable not to bring it to the floor,” Brezler said in an interview with Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>Brezler said she spoke to a number of local elected officials who told her they were not interested in the seat, although she did not specify whom, and saw an opportunity to ensure that the district remained in Democratic hands.</p> <p>Assemblyman Steven Otis, a Democrat whose district encompasses much of Latimer’s and who previously worked as chief of staff to Latimer’s predecessor, is one name likely to be floated for the post, according to people familiar with the district. Otis told Gotham Gazette he intends to remain in the Assembly where he is “excelling” and “can deliver the best results” for the communities he represents.</p> <p>If Latimer wins the county executive primary election and then the general this fall, he will vacate his current seat by January, and it will be up to Governor Cuomo’s discretion to call a special election. In a special election, a competitive primary is bypassed, and the Democratic and Republican nominees are picked by the party boss and county executive committee, which comprised of district leaders. In Westchester, the nominee may also be selected by party chair persons of city, towns and villages, Brezler said.</p> <p>A former Yonkers district leader herself, Brezler says she has had productive conversations with Westchester County Democratic Party chairman Reginald LaFayette and believes she has the name recognition required to drum up county committee support.</p> <p>"I've been working in local politics for a very long time,” Brezler said. “They know me by name, face, and work; it’s not a surprise to anyone that I’m running.”&nbsp;</p> <p>Brezler has also <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2016/06/sanders-supporters-wont-recognize-cuomo-as-delegation-leader-103147" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">voiced opposition</a> to Cuomo on a number of issues in the past, but noted the second-term governor’s evolution since his re-election in 2014. “The governor is trying his best to put his progressive foot forward and I’m interested in seeing what this year looks like," she said.</p> <p>Brezler said the supposed fissure between the progressive, grassroots Sanders faction of the Democratic Party and the Democratic establishment has been overstated in the media and is not as pronounced on the state level, where she believes Democrats are coming together to resist the policies of the Trump administration.</p> <p>Veteran Democratic political consultant Hank Sheinkopf said Brezler’s past criticisms of Cuomo could be a liability for her candidacy. “It’s unlikely that someone who has attacked the governor will be picked as the nominee,” he said, noting that, “Cuomo got the 2 percent property tax cap for the people of Westchester,” which is plagued by some of the highest rates in the nation.</p> <p>However, getting a headstart on fundraising and the potential to tap into support from a national Sanders coalition could help Brezler, because it may “scare off other candidates,” he said.</p> <p>As an educator, Brezler has been a proponent of the state meeting its school aid obligations under the Campaign for Fiscal Equity court decision -- the results of a lawsuit seeking to ensure “the constitutional right to a sound basic education” for all public school students -- which she says would infuse struggling schools in Yonkers and elsewhere with millions of dollars needed to ease the county’s notorious property tax burden.</p> <p>Brezler said her next objective is to win over the DSCC, chaired by Senator Gianaris of Queens, who she said will likely have a conversation with LaFayette about what is best for the party.</p> <p>“If the DSCC isn’t super excited about me then I think they will find that the network behind me is able to raise a considerable amount, and that I have more name recognition than they think,” said Brezler.</p> <p>Brezler, who is a first-generation Argentine immigrant on her father’s side, noted that she would be a diverse choice for the Senate Democrats as the first openly queer woman in the legislative body.</p> <p>A spokesperson for the Senate Democratic conference declined to weigh in on “hypothetical” candidates and Gianaris’ office did not return a request for comment.</p> <p>It may still be too early for Democrats to vet potential replacements for Latimer not knowing the outcome of the election, said Sheinkopf. “She’s just out front faster than anyone else,” he said of Brezler. “First order of business, is to know whether Latimer will beat Astorino. For that you would have to hire a magician and get the divine inspiration. Is it possible? Yes. Is it highly likely? 50-50.”</p> <p>Julie Killian, a Council member from the city of Rye in Westchester who challenged Latimer for the Senate seat in 2016 and received 44.3 percent of the vote, is rumored to be running again on the Republican party line, but she has not announced an interest in the race and her Senate fundraising account has been cleared out, according to her most recent BOE filings.</p> <p>Regardless of whether Latimer wins the county executive race, Brezler said she intends to continue to shake things up on the state and local level.</p> <p>“I'm not going anywhere,” she said.</p> <p><em>Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified Latimer's 2014 Republican challenger.</em></p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Potential Departure of Two Senate Democrats Poses Another Threat to Unity 2017-05-25T04:00:00+00:00 2017-05-25T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6958:potential-departure-of-two-senate-democrats-poses-another-threat-to-unity Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/rev_ruben_diaz_sr_town_hall_bdb_crop.jpg" alt="rev ruben diaz sr town hall bdb crop" width="600" height="345" /></p> <p>Ruben Diaz Sr. (photo: @NYPD43Pct)</p> <hr /> <p>While Democrats technically reclaimed a majority of state Senate seats through a special election Tuesday, a deeply fractured party picture remains. As different factions point fingers and call for unity, it seems likely that the headcount will drop down again by the end of the year.</p> <p>Two mainline Democratic senators have announced that they are running for other offices this year. Senator George Latimer, of Westchester County’s 37th District, is eying the county executive seat, while Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., representing the Bronx’s 32nd District, is a candidate for a City Council seat he briefly held in 2001.</p> <p>On Tuesday, real estate developer Brian Benjamin replaced Bill Perkins, who left the Senate for the City Council in February, by winning a special election for Manhattan’s 30th Senate District, bringing the number of Democratic lawmakers in the 63-seat Senate to 32, a bare majority.</p> <p>Benjamin’s win (on top of Donald Trump’s presidential victory) has amplified deep-seated divisions among Senate Democrats. Currently, the eight-member Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) forms a ruling coalition with Republicans, while a ninth nominal Democrat, Senator Simcha Felder, conferences with the Republicans. This leaves 23 mainline Democrats in the chamber, including Benjamin. The dynamics have prompted New York progressive leaders to call for breakaway Democrats to return to the fold, form a Democratic majority conference, and pass legislation that is reflective of the heavily Democratic state.</p> <p>However, unity would not be possible under the current Senate rules, which list Republican Leader John Flanagan as the president of the chamber, as voted by Senate Republicans and Felder. And, before the next scheduled elections, in 2018, for all 63 Senate seats, there is a good chance that one or both of Diaz Sr. and Latimer will vacate their seat.</p> <p>On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins sent letters to each IDC member, calling on them to realign with the Democrats. “As Donald Trump continues to propose devastating cuts to critical programs. it is more important than ever for progressive New Yorkers to unite. That is why we are asking you to join the now-23 members of the Democratic Conlèrence by pledging to only enter a coalition to lead the Senate with fellow Democrats and abandoning your coalition with Republicans,” wrote Stewart-Cousins.</p> <p>Also calling for Democratic unity is the Working Families Party, which organized rallies outside the district offices of IDC members on Wednesday, top officials from the Democratic National Committee, and a variety of other Democratic elected officials and activists.</p> <p>But some political insiders say that these calls and letters are ultimately meaningless if the Democrats’ control of 32 seats is short lived. If Diaz Sr. and Latimer win their respective races, Democrats would control 30 seats, two short of a majority stake. A Diaz Sr. or Latimer vacancy would occur as of January, leaving one or two seats empty for at least 90 days, the required window before Governor Andrew Cuomo could call a special election -- if he chooses to call one at all.</p> <p>Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, is unlikely to call a special election for April, which is when budget negotiations are finalized -- which, depending on unity negotiations, could easily leave Senate Democrats out of the discussion on the final spending agreement.</p> <p>Whether the governor calls a special election in May, after budget, or decides to wait out the rest of year until the regularly scheduled election, depends on a variety of factors and remains to be seen, according to veteran political consultant Hank Sheinkopf.</p> <p>“It will depend on the state of play at the time,” said Sheinkopf. “Why should he call a special election in January if he’s got to get that budget done. What’s the best way for him to get it done? We don’t know yet.”</p> <p>Cuomo’s decision may also be influenced by how active the Democratic base is in lobbying him, especially given his own 2018 reelection bid on the horizon, not to mention his possible 2020 presidential ambitions.</p> <p>The odds are good for Diaz Sr. to win the City Council seat. While he faces <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6676-candidates-for-2017-city-elections-mayor-city-council-comptroller" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a crowded primary</a>, Diaz is popular in the Bronx, where his son Ruben Diaz Jr. is the borough president. He is a beloved community leader and minister at a local Pentecostal church, and his standing among his constituents is reflected by the district’s Senate primary results for the last few years. In 2016, Diaz Sr. beat out his Democratic rival with <a href="http://vote.nyc.ny.us/downloads/pdf/election_results/2016/20160913Primary%20Election/01202100032Bronx%20Democratic%20State%20Senator%2032nd%20Senatorial%20District%20Recap.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">8,557 votes out of 9,648 cast</a>, or 88.7 percent.</p> <p>“The Diaz name has magic in the Bronx, he’s going to be tough to beat, but in crowded primary, it’s hard to predict,” says Sheinkopf.</p> <p>For Latimer, who is challenging incumbent Rob Astorino, a Republican seeking his third term, the path to victory is less clear. While Westchester is heavily Democratic on paper, experts say it is a classic suburban 'bellwether' county, meaning it can be turned red or blue based on the winds of influence from Washington, D.C. Astorino, who challenged Gov. Cuomo in 2014, is popular in the county, and in a typical year, Latimer would be fighting an uphill battle. But with the GOP at risk almost everywhere due to President Trump’s unpopularity, Latimer's chances may continue to improve, according to insiders.</p> <p>“Latimer is unique in that he has a very significant following. He served the area as an Assemblyman and he’s highly regarded there. But could a Republican with the appropriate anti-Trump sentiment as part of his platform have an opportunity to make it a race? The answer is yes, it’s not impossible,” said Sheinkopf.</p> <p>Both Diaz Sr. and Latimer would leave the Senate for better paying jobs. The County Executive position pays $160,760, up from the long-stagnant $79,500 state legislators make. As a City Council member, Diaz Sr. would also see a significant salary bump, earning $148,500.</p> <p>The IDC, members of which receive financial and legislative perks as part of their partnership with the GOP, has little to gain from seeking a unity deal before November 2017, when the Diaz. Sr. and Latimer races will be decided.</p> <p>In anticipation of this week’s special election in Harlem, the IDC released a video, calling on all 32 Democrats -- the number required to pass legislation -- to join them in declaring their support for progressive measures like ethics and voting reform, codifying a woman’s right to choose, and more. The video implies that there are Democrats who don’t support the measures named, references to the socially conservative views of Diaz Sr. and Felder.</p> <p>"Thirty-two is not a magic number unless there are 32 Democrats who are ready to stand up and unite on policies that combat Donald Trump. Until we achieve unity and stand up for women, immigrants, and the most vulnerable New Yorkers, all talk about a majority is nothing more than meaningless rhetoric on the part of failed leadership,” said IDC spokesperson Candice Giove in a statement.</p> <p>While Diaz Sr.’s more socially conservative views on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage sometimes pose a problem for fellow Democrats, his district is one of the few heavily Democratic areas of New York City where these positions are not a liability. In 2010, Diaz Sr. was challenged by a Democrat backed by LGBT groups and still won 79.4% of the vote. The senator was not primaried in 2012 or 2014.</p> <p>While the Democratic Conference might welcome a more progressive replacement for Diaz Sr., the conference is at risk of losing the seat to a Democrat with loyalty to IDC leader Senator Jeffrey Klein, who also hails from the Bronx, noted Sheinkopf.</p> <p>Meanwhile, Felder, the Brooklyn Democrat who caucuses with Republicans, told Gotham Gazette Wednesday that he would be “very interested in renegotiating the priorities” of his district, provided that the IDC first commit themselves to rejoining with mainline Democrats.</p> <p>“The IDC represents 25 percent of the Democrats. I think it’s incumbent upon them to rejoin the Democrats to try to take back the majority and not play around, trying to make believe they are any different than the Republican conference,” he said, referencing a letter he sent to Senators Klein and Stewart-Cousins stating as much.</p> <p>The GOP conference, which does not have without a numerical majority without Felder, is also at risk of losing members this year, which could force them to rely on the IDC for a majority in 2018. Senator Rob Ortt, a Republican from Niagara County, was&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wgrz.com/news/local/new-york/judge-upholds-charges-against-sen-rob-ortt/433766633">indicted on charges</a>&nbsp;of filing with a false instrument, and if found guilty, could eventually lose his seat. Senator Philip Boyle, of Suffolk County, was&nbsp;<a href="http://www.newsday.com/long-island/politics/suffolk-republicans-choose-perini-for-da-boyle-for-sheriff-1.13662536">recently nominated&nbsp;</a>as the Republican candidate for county sheriff, though he may face a GOP primary.</p> <p>Even if the Democrats did unite, it is unclear what a coalition among mainline Democrats, the IDC, and Felder would look like, and who would lead the conference -- Klein, Stewart-Cousins, both, or someone else.</p> <p>Ultimately, the only way the party will reunite during this short window, is if the governor decides to use his influence to compel party loyalty, according to Richard Brodsky, a former Assemblymember from Westchester and now a Demos scholar.</p> <p>While Cuomo has signalled that he is comfortable with keeping the Senate GOP in power, Brodsky says the Working Families Party and other progressives have done a good job <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/pol-rips-cuomo-doubting-democratic-n-y-senate-article-1.3137747" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at publicly pressuring him</a> to reunite the party, and may be more impactful if Cuomo pursues his rumored presidential aspirations.</p> <p>“In the end, until the governor uses his influence -- which is a strong influence -- there's not going to be a resolution here,” said Brodsky. "The WFP has found innovative ways to step up the pressure and the consequences for Governor Cuomo in 2020 are not, as we say in Italian, ‘chopped liver.’”</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/rev_ruben_diaz_sr_town_hall_bdb_crop.jpg" alt="rev ruben diaz sr town hall bdb crop" width="600" height="345" /></p> <p>Ruben Diaz Sr. (photo: @NYPD43Pct)</p> <hr /> <p>While Democrats technically reclaimed a majority of state Senate seats through a special election Tuesday, a deeply fractured party picture remains. As different factions point fingers and call for unity, it seems likely that the headcount will drop down again by the end of the year.</p> <p>Two mainline Democratic senators have announced that they are running for other offices this year. Senator George Latimer, of Westchester County’s 37th District, is eying the county executive seat, while Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., representing the Bronx’s 32nd District, is a candidate for a City Council seat he briefly held in 2001.</p> <p>On Tuesday, real estate developer Brian Benjamin replaced Bill Perkins, who left the Senate for the City Council in February, by winning a special election for Manhattan’s 30th Senate District, bringing the number of Democratic lawmakers in the 63-seat Senate to 32, a bare majority.</p> <p>Benjamin’s win (on top of Donald Trump’s presidential victory) has amplified deep-seated divisions among Senate Democrats. Currently, the eight-member Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) forms a ruling coalition with Republicans, while a ninth nominal Democrat, Senator Simcha Felder, conferences with the Republicans. This leaves 23 mainline Democrats in the chamber, including Benjamin. The dynamics have prompted New York progressive leaders to call for breakaway Democrats to return to the fold, form a Democratic majority conference, and pass legislation that is reflective of the heavily Democratic state.</p> <p>However, unity would not be possible under the current Senate rules, which list Republican Leader John Flanagan as the president of the chamber, as voted by Senate Republicans and Felder. And, before the next scheduled elections, in 2018, for all 63 Senate seats, there is a good chance that one or both of Diaz Sr. and Latimer will vacate their seat.</p> <p>On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins sent letters to each IDC member, calling on them to realign with the Democrats. “As Donald Trump continues to propose devastating cuts to critical programs. it is more important than ever for progressive New Yorkers to unite. That is why we are asking you to join the now-23 members of the Democratic Conlèrence by pledging to only enter a coalition to lead the Senate with fellow Democrats and abandoning your coalition with Republicans,” wrote Stewart-Cousins.</p> <p>Also calling for Democratic unity is the Working Families Party, which organized rallies outside the district offices of IDC members on Wednesday, top officials from the Democratic National Committee, and a variety of other Democratic elected officials and activists.</p> <p>But some political insiders say that these calls and letters are ultimately meaningless if the Democrats’ control of 32 seats is short lived. If Diaz Sr. and Latimer win their respective races, Democrats would control 30 seats, two short of a majority stake. A Diaz Sr. or Latimer vacancy would occur as of January, leaving one or two seats empty for at least 90 days, the required window before Governor Andrew Cuomo could call a special election -- if he chooses to call one at all.</p> <p>Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, is unlikely to call a special election for April, which is when budget negotiations are finalized -- which, depending on unity negotiations, could easily leave Senate Democrats out of the discussion on the final spending agreement.</p> <p>Whether the governor calls a special election in May, after budget, or decides to wait out the rest of year until the regularly scheduled election, depends on a variety of factors and remains to be seen, according to veteran political consultant Hank Sheinkopf.</p> <p>“It will depend on the state of play at the time,” said Sheinkopf. “Why should he call a special election in January if he’s got to get that budget done. What’s the best way for him to get it done? We don’t know yet.”</p> <p>Cuomo’s decision may also be influenced by how active the Democratic base is in lobbying him, especially given his own 2018 reelection bid on the horizon, not to mention his possible 2020 presidential ambitions.</p> <p>The odds are good for Diaz Sr. to win the City Council seat. While he faces <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6676-candidates-for-2017-city-elections-mayor-city-council-comptroller" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a crowded primary</a>, Diaz is popular in the Bronx, where his son Ruben Diaz Jr. is the borough president. He is a beloved community leader and minister at a local Pentecostal church, and his standing among his constituents is reflected by the district’s Senate primary results for the last few years. In 2016, Diaz Sr. beat out his Democratic rival with <a href="http://vote.nyc.ny.us/downloads/pdf/election_results/2016/20160913Primary%20Election/01202100032Bronx%20Democratic%20State%20Senator%2032nd%20Senatorial%20District%20Recap.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">8,557 votes out of 9,648 cast</a>, or 88.7 percent.</p> <p>“The Diaz name has magic in the Bronx, he’s going to be tough to beat, but in crowded primary, it’s hard to predict,” says Sheinkopf.</p> <p>For Latimer, who is challenging incumbent Rob Astorino, a Republican seeking his third term, the path to victory is less clear. While Westchester is heavily Democratic on paper, experts say it is a classic suburban 'bellwether' county, meaning it can be turned red or blue based on the winds of influence from Washington, D.C. Astorino, who challenged Gov. Cuomo in 2014, is popular in the county, and in a typical year, Latimer would be fighting an uphill battle. But with the GOP at risk almost everywhere due to President Trump’s unpopularity, Latimer's chances may continue to improve, according to insiders.</p> <p>“Latimer is unique in that he has a very significant following. He served the area as an Assemblyman and he’s highly regarded there. But could a Republican with the appropriate anti-Trump sentiment as part of his platform have an opportunity to make it a race? The answer is yes, it’s not impossible,” said Sheinkopf.</p> <p>Both Diaz Sr. and Latimer would leave the Senate for better paying jobs. The County Executive position pays $160,760, up from the long-stagnant $79,500 state legislators make. As a City Council member, Diaz Sr. would also see a significant salary bump, earning $148,500.</p> <p>The IDC, members of which receive financial and legislative perks as part of their partnership with the GOP, has little to gain from seeking a unity deal before November 2017, when the Diaz. Sr. and Latimer races will be decided.</p> <p>In anticipation of this week’s special election in Harlem, the IDC released a video, calling on all 32 Democrats -- the number required to pass legislation -- to join them in declaring their support for progressive measures like ethics and voting reform, codifying a woman’s right to choose, and more. The video implies that there are Democrats who don’t support the measures named, references to the socially conservative views of Diaz Sr. and Felder.</p> <p>"Thirty-two is not a magic number unless there are 32 Democrats who are ready to stand up and unite on policies that combat Donald Trump. Until we achieve unity and stand up for women, immigrants, and the most vulnerable New Yorkers, all talk about a majority is nothing more than meaningless rhetoric on the part of failed leadership,” said IDC spokesperson Candice Giove in a statement.</p> <p>While Diaz Sr.’s more socially conservative views on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage sometimes pose a problem for fellow Democrats, his district is one of the few heavily Democratic areas of New York City where these positions are not a liability. In 2010, Diaz Sr. was challenged by a Democrat backed by LGBT groups and still won 79.4% of the vote. The senator was not primaried in 2012 or 2014.</p> <p>While the Democratic Conference might welcome a more progressive replacement for Diaz Sr., the conference is at risk of losing the seat to a Democrat with loyalty to IDC leader Senator Jeffrey Klein, who also hails from the Bronx, noted Sheinkopf.</p> <p>Meanwhile, Felder, the Brooklyn Democrat who caucuses with Republicans, told Gotham Gazette Wednesday that he would be “very interested in renegotiating the priorities” of his district, provided that the IDC first commit themselves to rejoining with mainline Democrats.</p> <p>“The IDC represents 25 percent of the Democrats. I think it’s incumbent upon them to rejoin the Democrats to try to take back the majority and not play around, trying to make believe they are any different than the Republican conference,” he said, referencing a letter he sent to Senators Klein and Stewart-Cousins stating as much.</p> <p>The GOP conference, which does not have without a numerical majority without Felder, is also at risk of losing members this year, which could force them to rely on the IDC for a majority in 2018. Senator Rob Ortt, a Republican from Niagara County, was&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wgrz.com/news/local/new-york/judge-upholds-charges-against-sen-rob-ortt/433766633">indicted on charges</a>&nbsp;of filing with a false instrument, and if found guilty, could eventually lose his seat. Senator Philip Boyle, of Suffolk County, was&nbsp;<a href="http://www.newsday.com/long-island/politics/suffolk-republicans-choose-perini-for-da-boyle-for-sheriff-1.13662536">recently nominated&nbsp;</a>as the Republican candidate for county sheriff, though he may face a GOP primary.</p> <p>Even if the Democrats did unite, it is unclear what a coalition among mainline Democrats, the IDC, and Felder would look like, and who would lead the conference -- Klein, Stewart-Cousins, both, or someone else.</p> <p>Ultimately, the only way the party will reunite during this short window, is if the governor decides to use his influence to compel party loyalty, according to Richard Brodsky, a former Assemblymember from Westchester and now a Demos scholar.</p> <p>While Cuomo has signalled that he is comfortable with keeping the Senate GOP in power, Brodsky says the Working Families Party and other progressives have done a good job <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/pol-rips-cuomo-doubting-democratic-n-y-senate-article-1.3137747" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at publicly pressuring him</a> to reunite the party, and may be more impactful if Cuomo pursues his rumored presidential aspirations.</p> <p>“In the end, until the governor uses his influence -- which is a strong influence -- there's not going to be a resolution here,” said Brodsky. "The WFP has found innovative ways to step up the pressure and the consequences for Governor Cuomo in 2020 are not, as we say in Italian, ‘chopped liver.’”</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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