Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/268 Sun, 18 Nov 2018 11:01:33 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) With Full Democratic Control, Sponsors of New York Single-Payer Health Care Hopeful About 2019 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8066-with-full-democratic-control-sponsors-of-new-york-single-payer-health-care-hopeful-about-2019 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8066-with-full-democratic-control-sponsors-of-new-york-single-payer-health-care-hopeful-about-2019 Cuomo health care

Gov. Cuomo (photo: Kevin Coughlin/Governor's Office)


Though Governor Andrew Cuomo has not expressed support for instituting a single-payer health care system in New York, his fellow Democrats campaigned on the issue as they flipped control of the state Senate, landing all of state government into Democratic hands and providing a significant boost of optimism to the lead sponsors of the New York Health Act, which would create a government-administered single-payer health care system.

The bill has passed the Democrat-dominated state Assembly several times and all the members of Senate Democratic conference signed on as co-sponsors at the end of last legislative session in a unified show of support for the program heading into the election season.

Cuomo has said he supports a Medicare for all-type system at the federal level, but cast doubts on the cost and complexity of doing it in New York, and since their resounding wins on Election Day, the incoming leaders of the Democratic Senate majority have indicated that the massive undertaking of single-payer is not at the top of the agenda.

Still, with Democratic control of the Senate and the Assembly by wide margins, single-payer healthcare could be passed as early as the 2019 session, according to Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, chair of the Assembly Health Committee and lead sponsor of the New York Health Act.

“It was clear in the country and New York that healthcare was the number one issue on voters’ minds,” Gottfried said, before pointing to his legislation. “A solid majority of the new state Senate has either been a cosigner, voted for it in the Assembly, or campaigned on it. So I think we’re on track to get it passed in the Assembly and state Senate.”

The New York Health Act would replace health insurance companies with New York state government as the payer of healthcare costs for all New Yorkers. It has been passed in the Assembly four years running but has yet to be voted on in the Senate, where Republicans have held control. All of the other 30 Democratic senators joined lead sponsor Senator Gustavo Rivera of the Bronx to co-sponsor the legislation, though the Senate Democratic conference is seeing significant turnover due to primary wins by insurgent challengers. But, those challengers have in general been even more vocally supportive of single-payer health care than their more moderate predecessors. These facts give Gottfried confidence that the New York Health Act will pass during the 2019 session, which begins in January.

But the bill still faces an uphill battle, in part because of the massive changes it would institute, and the fact that though it might reduce overall individual and business healthcare costs after implementation, for the state to run the system it would require raising taxes significantly, something many Democrats have promised not to do and Cuomo is vehemently opposed to. It would also drastically impact the state’s private and public hospitals, the health insurance industry, and more. Some of the changes would of course be beneficial to New Yorkers, but the undertaking is complex and the New York Health Act as currently written leaves a lot of detail undetermined, including funding.

The governor has repeatedly opposed single-payer healthcare at the state level, suggesting that it would be more rational and financially feasible if administered by the federal government. Cuomo questioned in the past how a single-payer system could be put in place without doubling the tax burden, and cited California’s and Vermont’s debates over single-payer — which both ended when supporters were not able to answer one question: where would the funding come from? — as paragons of the impracticality of state-level single-payer.

Gottfried, a Manhattan Democrat, is confident that with his fellow lead sponsor Senator Rivera, who is likely to be the Senate health committee chair come January, and other legislators, he will be able to sway Cuomo to support the legislation.

“He’s obviously not on board yet, but he and his staff are very open to working with the Legislature on the issue,” Gottfried said. “I’m convinced we can satisfy their concerns.”

And after a recent study by RAND Corporation concluded that the New York Health Act would result in a reduction of administrative costs, provide all New Yorkers with healthcare, and reduce healthcare costs for most, Gottfried says the financing of the bill will not be a problem.

“New Yorkers are all going to have to think about what they will do with the hundreds of thousands of dollars that will end up in their pockets, and that’s a nice problem to have,” Gottfried said.

The study has a caveat, however, stating in its conclusion that “the estimated effects depend heavily on the assumptions about provider payments, administrative costs and drug prices.” Politico highlighted these assumptions as well as the likely tax increases that have largely been brushed aside by Democrats supporting the legislation. Wealthy people leaving the state, companies restructuring, the cost of hospital expenses rising at a faster rate or the Trump administration not issuing a federal waiver to redirect all healthcare-related funds to the new state entity are all possible events that could result in RAND’s conclusion falling apart.

For it to work, while health care costs drop, taxes would undoubtedly increase significantly for many New Yorkers. As cited by Politico, “a household reporting $150,000 in income would see its state tax rate increase from 6.45 percent in 2017 to 18.3 percent,” under one model scenario. Additionally, those who receive Medicaid or fall under the state’s Essential Plan, which subsidizes health insurance for low-income New Yorkers, have less to gain from the expansion. According to RAND, though, 1.2 million New Yorkers would gain health coverage.

It is likely that funds for New York single-payer health care would partially come from a new payroll tax, which RAND projects to fall largely on employers. However, RAND suggests the health act payroll tax would cost less for businesses already contributing toward employee health insurance and the Medicare payroll tax, estimating decreases in employer costs fairly quickly.

Concerns about businesses and high-income individuals leaving the state persist, with a tax atmosphere in New York that many, including Cuomo, acknowledge is already burdensome and became more so for many taxpayers, especially top earners, under the new federal tax code.

Senator Rivera, aware that cost is the primary argument against single-payer health care, repeatedly emphasized the need to work towards a version of the bill that would reduce the financial strain.

“I will continue working diligently with Assembly Member Gottfried, Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins and the Senate Democratic Conference to make the New York Health Act a bill that is not only fiscally responsible, but that provides comprehensive coverage to all New Yorkers,” Rivera wrote in an email to Gotham Gazette.

The bill and its potential ramifications have been studied closely by Bill Hammond, director of health policy at The Empire Center, a think tank. "Regardless of which party controls the state Senate, the New York Health Act remains a wildly unrealistic idea," Hammond said by email. "It means putting New York's entire health-care system — representing one-fifth of the economy — in the hands of the same state government that struggles to run the subways. It requires massive, draconian tax hikes, enough to roughly triple total state revenues."

"Plus, a true single-payer plan would need federal waivers that the Trump administration has vowed to block," Hammond continued, also noting a political angle -- that if Democrats spend great sums of money and political capital on a health care overhaul of this magnitude, what will they ignore, like fighting climate change or improving mass transit.

"It was easy to cast a symbolic yes vote for a single-payer bill that had no chance of passing," Hammond said. "Now that that it might actually happen, supporters are going to be forced to confront the practical realities. Then, hopefully, they’ll focus on helping the 6% of New Yorkers who still lack insurance, rather than disrupting coverage for those who already have it."

Rivera acknowledged that moving to single-payer would not satisfy everyone, especially those who benefit from the current system, and that there are negotiations to come that will likely adjust the bill to make it more palatable to holdouts.

“The biggest challenge will be to reach a consensus among stakeholders that the NY Health Act is feasible [and] fiscally responsible,” Rivera wrote.

Citing “healthcare practitioners, prescription drug companies, healthcare providers, employers, unions and New Yorkers,” as the various groups involved, Rivera also mentioned courting Cuomo as an important step to take in the coming legislative session.

“Our main priority for the next legislative session is to continue shaping the bill so that it is feasible, affordable, that the Governor is willing to sign, and that primarily, provides quality healthcare for everybody,” Rivera wrote. “During the next legislative session, we will focus on making the necessary amendments to the bill so that it truly reflects the different healthcare needs affecting all New Yorkers.”

For now, it is very difficult to imagine Cuomo coming on board, especially given the pains he’s taken to keep state spending increases at around 2 percent per year and to lower taxes. Asked about single-payer health care during a Thursday appearance on The Capitol Pressroom with host Susan Arbetter, Cuomo painted it as unrealistic given budget constraints. He said Democrats are generally in agreement on the concept, but legislators will have to deal with reality in working with him on a state budget next year, while he also said he thinks it's much more workable on the federal level. “Single-payer health plan, for example," Cuomo said, "conceptually I think it’s the right way to go in. I believe it’s more feasible financially on the national level. No state has been able to finance the transition costs.”

A variety of factors, including the challenge of getting Cuomo’s support and not wanting to come into power quickly pursuing something as revolutionary as single-payer health care, may be why the likely next Senate majority leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and her likely deputy, Senator Michael Gianaris, have not highlighted it as top priorities for the coming session.

Assemblymember Gottfried noted that state Senators’ public approval of the bill gives him no reason not to “take them at their word,” and said he expects the legislation to move through the Legislature. He knows that private health insurers are certain to vehemently oppose the continued push.

“The insurance industry will be fiercely lobbying against the bill and they have a lot of money, going up against their lobbying will take a lot of work,” Gottfried said. “but I’m convinced with so many senators on the record in support of the bill, we will prevail.”

***
by Victor Porcelli, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

This article has been updated with Cuomo's comments from 11/15/18 on The Capitol Pressroom.

]]>
With Full Democratic Control, Sponsors of New York Single-Payer Health Care Hopeful About 2019 Tue, 13 Nov 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Democrats in Swing Districts Run On, Not From, Single-Payer Health Care http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7995-despite-lack-of-support-from-cuomo-democrats-in-swing-districts-run-on-not-from-single-payer-health-care http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7995-despite-lack-of-support-from-cuomo-democrats-in-swing-districts-run-on-not-from-single-payer-health-care andrewcuomo affor

Gov. Cuomo & Long Island Democratic Senate candidates (photo: @andrewcuomo)


Since the Affordable Care Act has failed to tame the beast that is America’s private health insurance system, and a new presidential administration is actively hostile to even that modest attempt at near-universal coverage, activists and many Democrats in New York have recently come to embrace a way forward. Single-payer, state-government-administered health care coverage has become something of a rallying cry for progressive activists in New York even as Governor Andrew Cuomo has argued it’s a program better-suited for the federal government to tackle.

While often thought of as a politically risky issue to embrace outside of solidly progressive areas, candidates in swing districts across the state are carrying the torch for single-payer and calling it a morally correct thing to do that will also save the state money. And with criticism of the proposal from Republicans, the issue has become a flashpoint in the battle for control of the New York State Senate, the GOP’s only source of power at the state level and the key for Democrats hoping to enact a long list of progressive goals.

The New York Health Act, the proposed law that would set up single-payer health insurance in New York, has gained momentum in the state Senate after years as an Assembly-focused effort. Every Democrat in the upper chamber of the state Legislature, where the party is in the minority by one seat, signed on to the bill last session.

The push saw added attention as Democratic gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon made passing the bill a centerpiece of her campaign, although unlike on other issues like legalizing marijuana, Nixon didn’t appear to push Cuomo left on healthcare. But while Nixon and New York City Democrats -- the lead sponsors of the NYHA are Manhattan Assembly Member Dick Gottfried and Bronx Senator Gustavo Rivera -- have received the most attention for their embrace of the plan, Democratic state Senate candidates in the Hudson Valley and Long Island are also running on the passage of the bill despite the risk that an embrace of big government socialism could be a liability in their swing districts.

Conventional wisdom about the relative conservatism in many areas outside of New York City, and Cuomo’s own reluctance to embrace statewide single-payer (during his debate with Nixon he said it is a good idea “in theory,” but that it would double the state’s tax burden and he supports single-payer at the federal level), would suggest that Democrats in tight races would avoid the New York Health Act. Prominent Cuomo-led events where he’s endorsed suburban Democrats haven’t included mention the bill at all, instead focusing on issues like the continuation of the two percent property tax cap, the passage of the Reproductive Health Act and a “red flag” gun control law, and funding an effort to fight the MS-13 gang.

As Cuomo avoided the issue, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan brought up the specter of socialism and high taxes in an op-ed column arguing for the GOP’s continued control of the state Senate. “The Democrat Conference vows to enact single payer health care, and so do all the candidates they are running. Medicaid for All would double the state’s budget while taking away Medicare from our seniors. You cannot support a cap on spending and a permanent cap on property taxes, while supporting budget-doubling policies like socialized medicine.”

But for some suburban Democrats, single-payer is as much of a winning issue as any other. “There's definite support [for the New York Health Act],” said candidate Pete Harckham, running to unseat Republican Terrence Murphy in the Senate’s 40th District, in the Hudson Valley. “People are tired of fighting with insurance companies, hospitals are tired of fighting with insurance companies, doctors are tired of fighting with insurance companies. So I think there's a very high appetite for the discussion and the dialogue with the New York Health Act as the starting place.”

Jen Metzger, running against Ann Rabbit in the 42nd District for the retiring Senator John Bonancic’s Hudson Valley seat, also said that she’s heard support for the bill out on the trail. “I come right out and say I'm a supporter of the New York Health Act and no one has said yet that it's a terrible idea or a scary idea,” Metzger told Gotham Gazette. “People understand that this system is not working and that major change is needed.”

“We've got to put every option on the table, because we're coming to a breaking point,” John Mannion, running against Bob Antonacci in the race to replace retiring Senator John DeFrancisco in western New York’s 50th District, told Gotham Gazette.

Both Metzger and Harckham don’t hedge their support either; each candidate told Gotham Gazette that they view healthcare as a human right and believe in a single-payer insurance system. It’s a view that’s become common enough among Democrats that Andrew Gounardes, running against state Senator Marty Golden in a relatively conservative district in southern Brooklyn, said, “frankly I don’t think it’s out of the mainstream to talk about universal health care in the year 2018,” during a previous interview with Gotham Gazette. Cuomo has also endorsed Gounardes, at a rally in Brooklyn where there was no mention of single-payer healthcare.

Support for the bill, even in districts currently held by Republicans, may not be as much of a liability in a wave year for the candidates who’ve expressed their support for it. The 40th and 50th Districts went for Hillary Clinton in 2016 by more than 5 points each, though the 42nd District went for Donald Trump by 5 points.

Gounardes and his primary opponent Ross Barkan were hardly the only New York City Democrats banging the drum for the New York Health Act this primary season. It was one of a slew of issues that challengers to the former members of the Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) regularly used to explain how the incumbents had not represented progressive values while forming a power-sharing agreement with the Republican conference.

Jessica Ramos promoted single-payer on her website, Alessandra Biaggi explained her support for it using her own father’s Parkinson’s Disease as an example of how the current healthcare system was failing, and Zellnor Myrie promoted a recently-released RAND Corporation study that suggested the New York Health Act would save the state money over time -- all three of them defeated former IDC members in the primary.

Even John Brooks, a Long Island Democrat running a tough re-election campaign for his seat on Long Island states on his website that he supports the New York Health Act, and has called affordable health insurance “a right, not a privilege.” Harckham though, said that the bill has appeal outside of the city because “the economic and the healthcare hardship is the same in the suburbs as it is in the city.”

Just under 5 percent of New Yorkers lack health insurance, according to a recent report by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, and 7 million New Yorkers are receiving Medicaid, the federal program administered by the state with localities. Beyond the rhetoric of health insurance as a right and not a privilege, these Democratic candidates are also insisting the move to a single-payer system would actually save taxpayers and businesses money in the long run. “Shifting to a single-payer system would actually reduce property taxes, because it would reduce the cost of local taxes and government costs from how they pay for their employees' health insurance,” Metzger, a member of the Rosendale Town Council, told Gotham Gazette.

This is of course disputed by state Senate Republicans, who have cast the possible change to a single-payer system as a big government takeover of the healthcare sector. “You can’t hold the line on taxes and spending when you’re calling for creation of a new government-run health care system that would double the size of the state budget and cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars more than they already pay,” Senate GOP spokesperson Scott Reif said in response to a Democratic pledge -- signed by Cuomo and Long Island Democratic Senate candidates -- that included a promise to keep property taxes low, but made no mention of single-payer health care.

The RAND Corporation study concluded the change to a single-payer system in New York could (if certain assumptions were made true) save the state money in the long run, as even the bill’s primary sponsor in the Assembly, Gottfried, has said, that payroll and other taxes would need to increase to pay for the new system. The New York Health Act legislation itself doesn’t provide an exact way to pay for the single-payer system, instead authorizing a commission to figure out how to fund the plan should the bill pass. But Mannion posited that it’s not as if health insurance costs are affordable or helpful at the moment.

“I spoke to someone, a small business owner in my district, who said the entire health insurance premium he paid was $300,000 for his employees six years ago, and this year alone it increased by $300,000,” Mannion said, in response to a question on whether he’s prepared to explain tax increases necessary for a single-payer system.

Still, some Democrats are wary to discuss their views on the issue, even if they list it as an issue they’re running on. Jim Gaughran, running against Republican Senator Carl Marcellino in Long Island’s 5th District, called healthcare a right and not a privilege on his website, but did not respond to a request for comment, even after he was reached on his cell phone and promised a return call that did not materialize. The same situation came up with candidates Karen Smythe, whose website calls for universal single-payer, and Pat Strong, who said she would pass the New York Health Act. In the case of Assembly Member James Skoufis, running to represent the 39th Senate District, he’s already voted for the bill more than once in his time in the Assembly, but doesn’t list is as one of his main issues on his campaign website. Skoufis released a campaign ad touting his a fight with insurance companies on behalf of a constituent, but his campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment on whether or not he would support the New York Health Act in the Senate the way he did in the Assembly.

The candidates who spoke to Gotham Gazette did insist that even if they won and Democrats capture a majority in the state Senate, voters shouldn’t expect an immediate passage of the bill in the first budget session.

“During the gubernatorial primary, Cynthia Nixon said ‘Oh just pass [the bill] and pay for it,’ but that's not how you pass and craft legislation,” Harckham said, referring to when Nixon told the Daily News editorial board “Pass it and then figure out how to fund it” when its members asked her about the New York Health Act. “My starting point is New York Health, and let's sit down with the experts. The Assembly has passed this version, so it's pretty far along, but that doesn't mean the Senate can't alter it,” she continued. “Let's do our due diligence, with the goal of providing universal single-payer coverage for all New Yorkers.”

Harckham did say, though, that he felt “two years of legislative time” is long enough to debate and pass a bill, which he called a first-term priority on his website (state legislative terms are two years long).

“The Assembly bill has to be revamped, and we have get it right,” Mannion said. A spokesperson for Mannion later told Gotham Gazette that “getting it right” meant that Mannion believed “a transition from the current system to universal coverage as per the bill would likely require a transitional period in which purchasing into a Medicare-for-all like system would be a possible step, including offering that option on the NY State of Health exchange website.” That website is currently where New Yorkers can purchase health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act.

And even though the governor has said he prefers single-payer on a federal level, Metzger said there might be hope of convincing him to embrace the New York Health Act by playing to his love of New York being first. “I think we can show that [single-payer] can be done, I think there's a lot of value in demonstration value,” Metzger said. “It's been these academic debates in this country for a long time. If anyone can do it, I think New York can do it.”

***
by Dave Colon, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
Democrats in Swing Districts Run On, Not From, Single-Payer Health Care Mon, 15 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
As Broader Debate Intensifies, New York Nonprofits Consider Throwing Weight Behind Single-Payer http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7944-as-broader-debate-intensifies-new-york-nonprofits-consider-throwing-weight-behind-single-payer http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7944-as-broader-debate-intensifies-new-york-nonprofits-consider-throwing-weight-behind-single-payer gottfried org 2

Assemblymember Gottfried (photo: Dickgottfried.org)


Wendy Stark is ready to press the reset button on health care. The executive director of Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, based in Lower Manhattan, Stark is hopeful that an overhaul may be on the horizon in New York through controversial legislation gaining increasing attention as this fall’s elections determine the upcoming balance of power in state government, from the governor’s office through the state Legislature.

The New York Health Act -- which has increasingly strong chances of passing the state Legislature but does not have the support of Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is favored to win a third term -- would set the stage for New York to toss out the current health insurance system in favor of a single taxpayer-funded, government-administered health care program for everyone.

As the bill has been the subject of more debate in recent months, partially stemming from gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon’s support for it, powerful lobbyist groups representing insurers, hospitals, and businesses have been vocal about their opposition. The Business Council of New York State took to Fox & Friends to denounce the legislation, while others have written op-eds in local publications. Republicans running for office, including gubernatorial nominee Marc Molinaro, are warning New Yorkers about a potential government takeover of health care.

But as the leader of a health care provider that serves mostly low-income members of the LGBT community through its clinics in Manhattan and the Bronx and employs more than 350 people, Stark has a very different take. She says in addition to allowing her organization to save on employee benefits and administrative costs -- a projection generally backed up by the RAND Corp.’s recently-published analysis of the New York Health Act -- a single-payer system would cut down on the red tape patients have to deal with.

“So many of the barriers to care people experience are rooted in the economics of health care,” Stark said. “We don’t believe health care can make adequate improvements without changing the foundational economics of how it works and is paid for.”

Under the proposed single-payer system, insurance premiums, deductibles and copays would all go out the window, and patients could visit any health care provider without having to worry about whether they were in their insurance network. Meanwhile, taxes would go up, with the wealthiest New Yorkers paying a greater portion of their income and employers paying a certain amount per employee. Under the sample tax model proposed by the RAND Corp., the state would have to collect an estimated $139 billion in new taxes in 2022 to pay for the single-payer system. Still, RAND projected that overall spending on health care would go down -- barring a few caveats that that could stand in the way of the system being successful.

Callen-Lorde is one of 10 community-based health centers and 183 total nonprofit groups statewide that have publicly endorsed the campaign supporting the New York Health Act (in addition to a variety of mostly small for-profit businesses). But while it may seem like a natural fit, the bill still has a ways to go to become a widespread legislative priority for the large contingent of community-based organizations that help connect immigrants, people with behavioral health problems and housing insecurity, formerly incarcerated individuals, and members of other marginalized groups to needed health care and social services.

Many nonprofit health centers and other organizations, including those in the human services sector -- which employ a growing workforce and have formed coalitions to represent their interests in Albany and Washington, D.C. -- are still examining the implications of the New York Health Act before issuing full-throated endorsements. Others are directing their limited resources to what they see as more pressing policy and funding concerns.

But that may change as the policy conversation develops. Groups like the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, FPWA, which represents 170 human-services and faith-based organizations, are hoping to help move things along.

“We believe the New York Health Act would strengthen nonprofits both for the communities they serve as well as their employees, and make the system more tenable long-term,” said Winn Periyasamy, policy analyst at FPWA.

FPWA, along with the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families and the New York Immigration Coalition, hosted a forum on single-payer for nonprofit representatives on the Lower East Side last month, where they heard about the New York Health Act directly from its lead sponsors in the Legislature, Assemblymember Richard Gottfried and Senator Gustavo Rivera, both Democrats who represent parts of New York City in their respective legislative houses.

New Yorkers in favor of a single-payer health system will know they’re winning, Rivera told the audience, when sinister images of him and Gottfried start appearing in insurance-industry funded attack ads.

“I can’t wait for that gritty video, I can’t wait for it!” said Rivera, of the Bronx, exuding confidence that the debate over the state’s single-payer bill is on its way to reaching a fever pitch.

The New York Health Act passed the Assembly the last four years in a row, but was thwarted each time by the Republican-controlled Senate. Now the bill--which was already only one sponsor short of a majority in the Senate in the last session--is among a slew of progressive measures that have been infused with new hope following the dissolution of the Independent Democratic Conference, which allowed Senate Democrats to caucus with Republicans.

“This is real,” Gottfried insisted at the forum. “This is not a dream. And you and your people are really crucial to making sure it gets done.”

Those in attendance were particularly interested in how the bill would affect undocumented New Yorkers, who are generally not eligible for health insurance now but would be under the single-payer system. Undocumented New Yorkers currently often use public hospitals at great expense, having eschewed preventative care due to their documentation status and lack of insurance. Dr. Mitchell Katz, chief executive of the cash-strapped NYC Health + Hospitals system, praised the Assembly on Twitter for passing the New York Health Act in June.

Attendees at the event also talked about the need to properly translate materials on single-payer into the languages of the communities they serve.

“We’re reaching into our Asian-American communities,” said Anita Gundanna, co-executive director of the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families. “A lot of people had never heard of the [single-payer] proposal before or thought through the impact of it, so for us the very beginning step is to expose our communities to what’s going on and how it might impact them.”

CACF and other groups serving Asian-Pacific Americans advocate for health care initiatives through Project CHARGE, the Coalition for Health Access to Reach Greater Equity. Gundanna said there’s a need to get more buy-in from individual organizations before single-payer can become an official part of the coalition’s policy agenda.

“We have to be strategic and patient,” she said. “We can’t move without having our coalition behind us.”

On the bright side, Gundanna pointed out, the nonprofit sector had to increase its capacity to share information about health policy a few years ago in order to help people understand and get insured through the federal Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

But more recently everyone has been on the defensive, using their resources to try to preserve the ACA and prevent a wide array of federal policies from taking effect. Lately, many organizations are preoccupied with changes the Trump administration is considering to the Public Charge Rule, which people in the social-services sector say are already discouraging some immigrants from using public benefits, including subsidized health insurance, for fear it could be used as a strike against them later.

Gundanna said she wants to present nonprofits with proactive solutions like single-payer but acknowledges that everyone must consider, “How many resources are there to explore these quote-unquote ideal options in this quote-unquote ideal world?”

Asked about the New York Health Act, the Community Healthcare Association of New York State, which spent much of 2017 and early 2018 consumed by a battle to secure endangered federal funding for its members, said in a statement, “CHCANYS supports innovations in health policy that improve access to high-quality health care for everyone. We continue to study the options for expanding coverage to all New Yorkers and are closely monitoring the current political discourse.”

Meanwhile, the Human Services Council, whose advocacy focuses on improving the government contracts its member organizations rely on for funding, is not likely to take a position on the New York Health Act, said Allison Sesso, the coalition’s executive director.

“Doing stuff on this is not why we exist and could eat up resources,” said Sesso, although she added, “I think this conversation is really important and I’m glad it’s being elevated.”

As advocates for the New York Health Act work to make the case that it’s worth the time and effort for would-be proponents to support the bill, they are also faced with the uphill battle of getting the governor on their side. A year ago, before the bill stood much of a chance of passing both houses of the state Legislature, Cuomo signaled some slight openness to the idea of implementing a single-payer system in New York. Asked about it again during his debate with Nixon, before he beat her in the gubernatorial primary this month, Cuomo came out against the idea. He said he thought it could work at the federal level but would be too costly an endeavor for the state to embark on alone.

***
by Caroline Lewis for Gotham Gazette. On Twitter @clewisreports and @GothamGazette.

]]>
As Broader Debate Intensifies, New York Nonprofits Consider Throwing Weight Behind Single-Payer Thu, 20 Sep 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Without the Federal Government But With New York, Puerto Rico Endures http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7763-without-the-federal-government-but-with-new-york-puerto-rico-endures http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7763-without-the-federal-government-but-with-new-york-puerto-rico-endures gov puertorican day

(photo via the Governor's office)


Loíza is a town on the northeastern coast of Puerto Rico, home to almost 30,000 American citizens. For 72 hours last September, as Hurricane Maria ravaged the island and other territories in the Caribbean, Loíza and all of its residents became isolated from the outside world when the three main roads that connect this medium-sized town to the rest of the island became impassable. 

The challenges that residents of Loíza faced and continue to deal with are not only emblematic of the lack of resources invested in rebuilding efforts and the crumbling economy hindering the island's recovery, but also of the resilience and resourcefulness of the Puerto Rican people. 

Last March, I returned to my native Puerto Rico to see the impact of the disaster firsthand. I visited six different towns across the island, including Loíza, and with a great deal of frustration and heartbreak, I confirmed what I had feared: the inadequate and anemic responses from the federal government and the island’s central administration have left almost 3 million Puerto Ricans on the island and their local governments to fend for themselves.  

Thousands, especially those in low-income communities, continue to suffer from unreliable electricity and water systems, food and resource shortages, and serious mental and physical health emergencies. Considering this, it should come as no surprise that the real number of storm-related fatalities is closer to 4,600 souls, according to a recent Harvard University report, as opposed to the 64 official deaths counted by the U.S. government.      

While the trip was disheartening in many ways, it was also inspiring and hopeful. I met several mayors, nonprofit organizations, scholars, labor leaders, and dedicated individuals whose steadfast leadership in helping Puerto Rico recover has been nothing short of heroic. Together, they have slowly built an important grassroots recovery movement that has made significant progress despite minimal resources. 

For instance, Taller Salud, a Loíza-based nonprofit organization seeking to ensure the physical and emotional well-being of low-income women and girls, saw its mission transform out of necessity, becoming a critical emergency response provider giving out life-saving assistance to thousands.  

To put it plainly, Puerto Ricans do not need or want charity. What they need is our support to further invest in those leaders and communities working tirelessly to implement innovative visions and projects locally. They want to maintain full agency over how their hometowns and infrastructure are rebuilt. We do not need to tell them or show them how to survive or thrive -- what we need to do is augment their ability to do what they have already been doing.

Many states and cities across the mainland United States have stepped up to provide support in the face of the failed response by our federal government. I am proud to say that New York has done this and in spades.

Our State and City governments, along with elected officials across all levels of government, local nonprofit organizations, civic leaders, and many New Yorkers launched an extremely dynamic relief effort, which continues to this day. From millions of dollars in monetary donations, to collecting tons of essential items, to sending highly qualified emergency responders, medical staff, and expert personnel to help rebuild the island’s decayed infrastructure, New York has led by example as to how to coordinate a comprehensive relief response and empower the Puerto Rican people to take the lead in its recovery efforts.

During a recent meeting of Governor Cuomo’s New York Stands with Puerto Rico Rebuilding and Reconstructing Committee, I joined my fellow committee members and Governor Cuomo’s administration to identify a list of priorities and recommendations to help facilitate Puerto Rico’s rebuilding efforts.

01 29 14 rivera hs 009My list of recommendations focuses on counseling and mental health services, access to higher education, employment assistance, accessibility of clean water, and promotion of green energy infrastructure. 

As a result of the recent committee meeting, I penned a letter with members of the Senate Democratic Conference urging SUNY and CUNY to extend their in-state tuition credit program. This program aims to ensure that Puerto Rican and U.S. Virgin Islands students who relocated to New York are able to continue their higher education for the next academic year. Last week, SUNY extended the program and CUNY is expected to do the same imminently.

Puerto Ricans have not only seen their lives completely torn apart by a natural disaster, but also by the criminal inaction of our federal government. While the road to recovery will be long and filled with challenges, the spirit of my fellow Boricuas remains intact. At a time of such darkness, the clarity of their ideas and their commitment to rebuilding is worthy of support. The goal of the diaspora, and all who seek to help, must be to empower our Puerto Rican brothers and sisters to transform and improve their neighborhoods and towns as they see fit. The storm and this administration have dealt a painful blow to Puerto Rico, but the island and Puerto Ricans endure.

***
Gustavo Rivera is a state senator representing part of the Bronx and a native of Puerto Rico. On Twitter @NYSenatorRivera.

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

]]>
Without the Federal Government But With New York, Puerto Rico Endures Fri, 22 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
State Senator Calls for Investigation of Opponent's Campaign Finances http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6792-state-senator-calls-for-investigation-of-opponent-s-campaign-finances http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6792-state-senator-calls-for-investigation-of-opponent-s-campaign-finances Rivera

Senator Gustavo Rivera (photo: Senate Democrats)


A state Senator from the Bronx is calling on the state Board of Elections to investigate a former opponent’s campaign finances for violations.

Senator Gustavo Rivera, a Democrat, alleges that the Senate campaign of Fernando Cabrera, a New York City Council Member, committed multiple violations in the Democratic primary for the District 33 Senate seat last year. In a Feb. 28 letter to the state Board of Elections, Rivera’s campaign attorney, Sarah Steiner, noted the alleged violations and asked for updates on the status of three previous requests the campaign has made to look into earlier alleged violations.

In the letter, which was addressed to state BOE chief enforcement counsel Risa Sugarman and was made available to Gotham Gazette by the campaign, Steiner identified the new alleged violations by Cabrera’s Senate campaign, including a failure to file a 10-day post primary disclosure and a January periodic report with the BOE.

The letter also alleges that Cabrera’s City Council campaign filed necessary disclosures with the New York City Campaign Finance Board but not with the state BOE; and that Cabrera’s Council campaign committee transferred $11,000 to his Senate campaign committee, which Steiner alleges exceeds the $7,000 limit for contributions to a state Senate primary campaign. However, that last allegation seems to be dubious since transfers by a candidate from one authorized political committee to another do not count as contributions, according to state election law.

Steiner also referred to earlier requests made to the BOE to investigate whether Cabrera’s campaign had illegally coordinated independent expenditures with New Yorkers for Independent Action (NYFIA), a political action committee that was involved in four Democratic primary races last year.

“This person has a history of violating campaign finance laws and skirting ethical boundaries left and right,” said Sen. Rivera, in a phone interview, of Council Member Cabrera. Cabrera has unsuccessfully challenged Rivera in two straight election cycles, in 2014 and 2016. Rivera’s move was prompted by the recent news, reported by the Daily News, that the BOE had recommended criminal prosecutions in five cases last year. Although it’s unknown which specific campaigns were involved, Sugarman told the Daily News that they covered “a more wide-ranging group of violations” than the nine prosecution referrals she made in 2015.

BOE’s Sugarman declined to comment for this article.

That Rivera has chosen to publicly call out his opponent is not surprising. The primary race for District 33 turned bitter at times, particularly with NYFIA criticizing Rivera’s record and seeking to link him with the culture of corruption in Albany. Rivera, for his part, criticized Cabrera as a political opportunist and blasted his conservative leanings on issues such as abortion and marriage equality.

In a statement to Gotham Gazette, Cabrera refuted the allegations in Steiner’s letter. “My campaign meticulously complied with all rules and requirements established by the New York State Board of Elections,” he said, adding that his campaign was notified that they were in full compliance of election law. “I am disappointed that Senator Rivera continues to invest time and energy in negative campaign tactics post-election, rather than devoting his resources to serving his constituents,” he added. “It’s time for Senator Rivera to get to work and start doing his job.”

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

Read more by this writer.

]]>
State Senator Calls for Investigation of Opponent's Campaign Finances Mon, 06 Mar 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Education-Focused Super PAC Spends on Additional Legislative Races http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6505-education-focused-super-pac-spends-on-additional-legislative-races http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6505-education-focused-super-pac-spends-on-additional-legislative-races Cabrera Rivera NY1 screenshot 2

screenshot of CM Cabrera, left, & Sen. Rivera from NY1


A Super PAC backed by the education reform lobby and a number of wealthy out-of-state donors has earned the enmity of establishment Democrats by pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into races in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Long Island in an effort to unseat Democrat incumbents. The group, New Yorkers for Independent Action, now appears to be adjusting its strategy by supporting some incumbents.

The PAC is at least partially focused on passing an education tax credit proposal through Albany that would provide tax breaks to those who donate to private and charter schools. It is currently spending, largely in mailings - some of which attack candidates and some that are supportive of candidates - six state Assembly and Senate races. Opposed by the majority in the Democrat-controlled Assembly, the education tax credit proposal has been stuck in Albany despite prior lobbying efforts.

“This group and its funders are sadly mistaken if they think this will do anything to further their issue,” said Michael Whyland, spokesperson for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. A number of Heastie’s allies in the Bronx have been targeted by the PAC’s spending.

New Yorkers for Independent Action has been attacked by liberal activist groups and incumbent Democrats as the work of hedge-fund profiteers looking to advance their agenda by involving themselves in local races they have no real investment in or knowledge of. Teachers unions decry the measure as siphoning tax dollars away from public schools to reward wealthy donors, who it is assumed will monopolize the tax breaks by donating large sums to applicable private institutions. The PAC of the state teachers union has upped its spending in response to that of New Yorkers for Independent Action.

The group initially targeted for defeat Bronx Sen. Gustavo Rivera, Assemblymember Phil Ramos of Long Island, and Assemblymembers Latrice Walker and Pamela Harris of Brooklyn, all Democrats. Now, it is spending in support of Sen. Roxanne Persaud of Brooklyn and Assemblymember Victor Pichardo of the Bronx, both incumbent Democrats.

Recent filings show that in late June the group allocated $2,000 a piece to support Persaud and Pichardo. Those expenditures pale in comparison, though, to what the PAC has spent on mailers and canvassers in other races. It is unclear exactly what the $2,000 went towards as it is unlikely it could have funded the kinds of district-wide mailers that have popped up in the Rivera, Ramos, Harris, and Walker races.

Future disclosures will show how committed the PAC is to those races, but the spending is meant to influence the outcomes of the quickly-approaching September 13 primaries for all state legislative seats. As of mid-July, New Yorkers for Independent Action reported spending $1,295,672 and raising $2,780,000.

NYFIA’s treasurer, Thomas Carroll, is former president of The Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability, did not return requests for comment.

The money spent so far by New Yorkers for Independent Action has mainly gone in large sums to help four candidates, each of whom has seen at least $300,000 spent by the PAC in their race. Council Member Fernando Cabrera is being aided in his rematch with Sen. Gustavo Rivera; Council Member Darlene Mealy is getting support in her challenge to Assemblymember  Latrice Walker; Giovanni Mata is being backed in his second challenge to Assemblymember Phil Ramos and Kate Cucco is being bolstered in her bid to oust Assemblymember Pamela Harris.

While NYFIA spends big money to defeat Rivera, backing his challenger, City Council Member Fernando Cabrera, in a twist, it is now spending to buoy Pichardo, who previously worked as director of community affairs for Rivera and won his Assembly seat with major guidance from Rivera and his allies.

The PAC has already spent over $356,000 to back Cabrera, with flyers attacking Rivera, others boosting Cabrera, and teams of canvassers carrying the literature.

Asked about NYFIA’s support during a debate on NY1’s Inside City Hall on Tuesday night, Cabrera pointed out that Rivera had endorsed Pichardo and Assemblymember Jose Rivera, who both back the EITC, and said that Rivera had a “double standard.”

Cabrera went on to say, “With this PAC we are working to pass the educational tax credit.” He added that he felt it was “fair to provide this tax credit to parents.”

Rivera responded that the PAC is supported by people who are “anti-choice, anti-gay and anti-labor.”

It is illegal for candidates to coordinate with Super PACs.

Pichardo’s office did not return requests for comment; it is unclear if his re-election campaign welcomes the independent spending on his behalf.

Karen Scharff, head of Citizen Action NY, is also part of the anti-hedge-fund group Hedge Clippers, which often criticizes the education reform movement and its wealthy backers. Scharff said that Super PAC spending of this type in primaries is a new development, and she fears it is just a preview of the kind of outside spending that will occur in the general election when control of the State Senate will be contested.

“The problem with this flood of cash from outside billionaires is that it impacts who gets elected in these communities that billionaires have no interest in. It is doubly disempowering the community, because they lose their voice in local matters and then have electeds who are more dedicated and accountable to the billionaires who elected them.”

Most of the candidates targeted by New Yorkers for Independent Action are not going unaided. Fund for Great Public Schools, a Super PAC controlled by Andrew Pollotta, the vice president of the New York State United Teachers union (NYSUT), was recently aided by a $4 million transfer from New Yorkers For a Brighter Future. The group has begun spending on mailers and advertisements to support Ramos, Walker, Rivera, and Harris, and attacking their opponents.  As of the last campaign filing report, on August 26, they appear to have spent a little over $80,000 on the four candidates.

In the 46th Assembly District, Kate Cucco, a former Assembly aide, is challenging Harris. Residents of the Southern Brooklyn district have been bombarded with flyers and polls from both independent groups. The race feels to many to be a proxy war for the education reform and union movements.

Asked whether Cucco supports the involvement of New Yorkers for Independent Action in her race, a spokesperson sent Gotham Gazette a statement:  

"Kate Cucco has long been on record urging for the overturn of Citizen's [sic] United and has been a staunch advocate for major reforms to campaign finance laws. Kate is in favor of public financing of campaigns that put hard limits of the amount of money a candidate can raise/spend, she is in favor of closing the LLC loophole, increasing the disclaimer requirements so voters know exactly who paid for campaign ads, as well as easing barriers to voting such as having one primary in June, allowing mail in voting, same day voter registration, and allowing for party enrollment changes right up until 60 days before an election."

Cucco is a supporter of a version of the Education Investment Tax Credit that NYFIA wants to see passed.

The PAC has used a similar theme for some of its mailers; in both the Rivera and Ramos races the mailer focuses on a New York Times editorial that accuses legislative leaders of failing to act on ethics reform in the wake of major scandals. Neither Ramos nor Rivera were at the center of the negotiations surrounding ethics reforms. There appear to have been about seven or eight mailers sent out in both districts, with varying themes.

In a statement, Assemblymember Ramos decried NYFIA, describing its donors as “millionaires and billionaires from Manhattan’s Upper East Side.”

“Why are they investing so heavily in a Brentwood Central Islip and Bay Shore Assembly race?” the statement says. “Because I stood up for my community and said NO to a million dollar tax break that they are pitching as an education opportunity for poor kids. I will stand up and fight anyone who tries to exploit our community. We deserve better.” Ramos also said that the Super PAC has “no grassroots” and that “Anyone that actually lives here knows we can't be bought. That's why I'm confident this multi-million dollar plan will fail, I trust my neighbors and they trust me."

Some candidates insist that NYFIA is interested only in passing the EITC and has no further political agenda. Scharff scoffs at the idea, pointing out that billionaire non-New Yorkers like Alice Walton, the Wal-Mart heir and Arkansas resident, and some donors who have traditionally given to conservative Christian causes have donated heavily to the PAC.

Hedge Clippers has also highlighted that the incumbents targeted by NYFIA were major advocates for a $15 minimum wage and other progressive issues.

“The problem with this kind of money being poured into these districts by billionaires is that it drowns out the voices of voters,” said Scharff. She said she expects a number of progressive issues to be at the center of the next legislative session and that those issues will be in jeopardy if NYFIA gets its candidates in place. “If this spending continues into the general election it really could shift balance of power.”

This is how New Yorkers for Independent Action has allocated its spending on candidates through its July 11 filing:
$302,878.91 to support Giovanni Mata, who is challenging Assemblymember Phil Ramos.
$358,235.33 to support City Council Member Fernando Cabrera in his second attempt to defeat Sen. Gustavo Rivera.
$309,404.25 on Kate Cucco, who is challenging Assemblymember Pamela Harris.
$321,153.54 on City Council Member Darlene Mealy, who is challenging Assemblymember Latrice Walker.
$2,000 on Sen. Roxanne Persaud, who is facing a challenge from Mercedes Narcisse.
$2,000 on Assemblymember Victor Pichardo, who is engaged in a rematch with Hector Ramirez.

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

Read more by this writer.

Note: this article has been corrected to accurately reflect Thomas Carroll's former position as past president of The Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability, not president of The Center for Education Reform as was stated.

]]>
Education-Focused Super PAC Spends on Additional Legislative Races Wed, 31 Aug 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Current Providers Welcome Addition of Coming City Bail Fund http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6462-current-providers-welcome-addition-of-coming-city-bail-fund http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6462-current-providers-welcome-addition-of-coming-city-bail-fund MMV council pre stated

Council Speaker Mark-Viverito and Council members (photo: William Alatriste)


Last year, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito’s office began seeking state approval for a public bail fund to keep poor low-level offenders out of jail, with Mark-Viverito citing the costs even a short jail stay can have on both lives and city funds. Now, after almost a year-and-a-half, the convoluted process of establishing the bail fund as a charity and obtaining a state license to run it appears to be nearing an end.

Mark-Viverito touted the program in her first State of the City address as Speaker, in February 2015.

"[I]f you can't afford bail you will spend on average 15 days in jail," said Mark-Viverito in her speech, given Feb. 11 from a public housing facility in East Harlem. "The results are predictable: people lose their jobs, or their housing, and cannot take care of their children while they are in custody. These are people who are accused of minor offenses and are still considered innocent in the eyes of the law. This is not justice."

The city’s recently-passed fiscal year 2017 budget includes $1.4 million for The Liberty Fund, to cover operation and administration. The same amount was included in the previous year’s budget, but not used.

For many criminal justice advocates, Mark-Viverito, and her team, the bail fund is a key program in a larger push for criminal justice reform. It goes hand-in-hand, they say, with a variety of other efforts spurred by either the Council or the de Blasio administration: a commission chaired by former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman that is looking at closing Rikers Island; reforms to the city’s summons system and reduced penalties for low-level nonviolent offenses (see the Council’s Criminal Justice Reform Act); increased diversionary sentencing; and reductions in the number of arrests for possession of small amounts of marijuana.

“From passing expansive summons reform to creating a citywide bail fund to instituting a Commission to tackle injustice on Rikers Island, the New York City Council is committed to commonsense reforms that will bring more justice and proportionality to our criminal justice system,” Mark-Viverito said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “Across the nation, cities and states are engaged in a much-needed conversation about how we approach criminal justice as a country. New York City is at the forefront of these debates, and we are unafraid to lead,” she said.

Some criminal justice reformers view bail funds as “band-aids” that don’t actually address what they see as the core problem: charging too many people with jailable offenses. They worry bail funds could actually prevent action on larger reforms.

The city bail fund would establish a set of criteria for whom bail would be covered. State law that allows bail funds - there are already other funds operable but none at the scale of the City Council’s - restricts such funds to paying in misdemeanor cases where bail is less than $2,000. Members of Mark-Viverito’s staff say they expect the Council-aligned fund will be able to cover bail for 1,000 individuals each year and hope to reach as high as 2,000 annually.

State law allows judges to set bail as an incentive for individuals charged with a crime to return for their court dates. But many poor individuals can’t pay and are forced to sit in jail waiting for trial - an outcome that forces the city to spend money for intake costs like transportation, beds, medical exams, and meals.

According to a 2011 report from the Independent Budget Office, almost 40 percent of the city's then-12,000-member jail population was pretrial detainees who couldn't afford bail. The IBO estimated the cost of holding those alleged offenders at $125 million. The city’s jail population has continued a decades-long decline and is around 10,000 now, with about three-quarters of those detainees at Riker’s Island jail complex.

The city has two other bail funds at the moment: The Bronx Freedom Fund and The Brooklyn Community Bail Fund. The organizations see over 95 percent of the people they serve return for all their court dates, a number far higher than for people who actually pay bail on their own.

“The people we bail out have zero financial incentive to return,” said Ezra Ritchin of The Bronx Freedom Fund. “You would imagine if the law was executed correctly people wouldn't be coming back in droves,” Ritchin said, referring to the idea that what brings defendants back to court is the bail they put up. “But that is not the case, we get a 96 percent return and all we’re doing is calling people to remind them of their court dates - sending texts, letters, and calls letting them know where they have to be.”

Despite the success they’ve had with bail funds, Ritchin and his colleagues at both funds don’t totally disagree with the idea that bail funds are short-term, sub-ideal measures. “Band-aids are helpful tools for people who have cuts,” said Ritchin. The lives of the people they serve, he said, “would unravel if they weren't bailed out. It’s good to have a high-level view of policy change, but we can also help people. Hopefully bail funds do set the groundwork for policy change so that bail funds don't have to exist.”

Peter Goldberg, executive director of The Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, said it is his hope that bail funds will act as a “stop-gap” effort while drawing attention to larger necessary reforms. “We shouldn’t be asking for money for bail from people who can’t afford it. We need to increase diversion services.”

As far as the impact the city’s other criminal justice reforms are having, Ritchin and other bail fund representatives say they have not witnessed a major reduction in clients having been arrested for minor offenses like violating open container laws or possession of small amounts of marijuana.

“Last year there were a quarter-million misdemeanor arrests in New York City,” said Goldberg “We are making additional progress in that area, but if we want to reduce the number of people we are incarcerating for short periods of times it will really require taking a look at if that number of arrests is appropriate.”

A member of Mark-Viverito’s team said that ideally people committing minor offenses would not be sent to jail at all, but that change is up to the state.

“New York City is taking aggressive steps to ensure that people who can safely await trial in their communities are able to do so,” said Monica Klein, a spokesperson for Mayor Bill de Blasio, when asked about the city’s bail reform efforts. “By enrolling over 1,000 New Yorkers in our supervised release program to-date, the City has avoided the money bail system for these individuals.”

City officials point to statistics showing that summonses and arrests for low-level offenses are less frequent than they have been in decades and that 2015 saw the lowest number of criminal summonses since 1997.

They also say they as the Criminal Justice Reform Act is implemented they expect jail populations to further decline, given that police officers will be encouraged to issue civil summonses over criminal ones and defendants found guilty of some crimes will be allowed to complete community service rather than pay a fine.

Both Ritchin and Goldberg stressed that they are unable to meet the overwhelming demand for their services and that they welcome the city’s bail fund.

With the need so great, it may be a wonder to some why it has taken so long to get it up and running. Earlier this year, Mark-Viverito told Gotham Gazette that the bail fund as moving through the approval process at a slow pace because of state bureaucracy.

The state only began licensing bail funds in 2012. Before then they were operating in a legal grey area. Ritchin and Goldberg say they understand why the city’s fund has taken so long to get licensed. From their experience the licensing process is protracted, frustrating, and perhaps not completely logical.

Gotham Gazette has periodically checked in on the process involving the speaker’s office and state regulators. Those check-ins showed the name, The Liberty Fund; that it is being overseen by The Doe Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to helping homeless people; and that it was officially recognized as a charity by the Attorney General’s office in March. Since then there has been a bumpy back-and-forth application process with the state’s Department of Financial Services, which licenses charitable bail funds.

DFS representatives have told Gotham Gazette that they waited at least a month for relevant information after requesting it from the applicants. Gotham Gazette was told on Tuesday by a DFS official that the process is likely to last a few more weeks.

The city bail fund will be the first of its size in the state, available to people city-wide.

Ritchin was involved in helping the Brooklyn fund secure its license while writing a guide for other funds to get licensed. He said the process was rocky despite his past experience and that bureaucracy in general would cause some delay, but, “It’s not just that it takes so long but that a lot of the requirements just shouldn’t exist,” Ritchin said.

“Charitable funds face all the requirements of a for-profit business,” Ritchin said, noting that part of the process involves licensing bondsmen and making sure the fund will take absorbetent fees. Charitable funds naturally do not take fees and do not act as bondsmen. Bondsmen require clients put up a fraction of their bail and then promise the court they will cover the full bail should a client fail to make it to court. Charitable bail funds simply pay the bail. If a client doesn’t show the court keeps that money, just as if a client had paid bail themselves and then did not show up.

However, bail funds put a different system in place to help ensure that clients make their court appearances. (New York City is also moving forward with its own reforms to make sure more people know about their court dates when given criminal summonses.)

Goldberg was a corporate attorney out of powerhouse firm Cleary Gottlieb when he began working with the Brooklyn bail fund. “I very much understand why it has taken them awhile,” Goldberg said of the City Council fund. “We had tremendous support forming our fund and yet it took us around two-and-a-half years before we could pay our first bail,” Goldberg explained.

“We cannot charge and never would charge anyone for our services, which you would think obviates the concerns you might have in licensing commercial bail bondsmen,” said Goldberg. “You are dealing with an incredibly vulnerable population in court so it needs to be highly regulated, but if no money is ever going to be charged and no profit secured it is not easy to understand why the process is the same for charity funds as for-profit bondsmen.”

State Senator Gustavo Rivera, a Bronx Democrat, successfully advocated for licensing of bail funds after a judge ordered the Bronx Fund to stop issuing bail because he said it operated in a legal grey area. Rivera told Gotham Gazette earlier this year that he would love to revisit the law and that he has been working with the Department of Financial Services to streamline the process since it became law.

Ritchin said he believes that hitting the City Council goal of paying bail for at least 1,000 clients a year would make a big difference. However, he said “It’s a big problem: 45,000 people are held on bail every year. But [the city fund] may be able to make a big difference in something like reducing the temporary population at Rikers, it could lead to shutting down Rikers.”

Goldberg says he’s spoken to representatives of the Mayor’s Office and the DOE Fund about the bail fund and he welcomes it. “I am happy the city is taking on part of this problem,” said Goldberg, who acknowledged that even with the city fund fully operational there will still be more demand for bail services than all of the funds combined can handle.

The fund should continue to fuel the discussion about criminal justice reform, Goldberg said. “We very much view this as a necessary intervention. Bail funds do important work but I don't view this as the ultimate solution,” he said. “We are quite cognizant of that, and we hope the city will continue to use resources to diminish the number of people entering the system on the front end.”

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

Read more by this writer.

]]>
Current Providers Welcome Addition of Coming City Bail Fund Sun, 31 Jul 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Super PAC Begins Flyering Bronx Senate Race http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6450-super-pac-begins-flyering-bronx-senate-race http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6450-super-pac-begins-flyering-bronx-senate-race  riveraflyer2 1


A super PAC has started to blanket the 33rd Senate District in the Bronx with mailers attacking incumbent Democratic state Senator Gustavo Rivera and praising his challenger, Democratic City Council Member Fernando Cabrera. A flyer sent to voters last week praises Cabrera for standing up for family values and for knowing that “single women, mothers and our wives need protection.”

Flyers sent this week accuse Rivera of “Playing Us For Fools” and excerpts heavily from the June 21 New York Times editorial, “The Old Albany Hustle,” which criticized Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders for failing to enact any meaningful ethics reforms this year.

Rivera has advocated for the very ethics reforms the editorial accuses the governor and majority leaders of avoiding and Rivera is part of the Democratic minority in the Senate that has no power at the negotiating table. Cabrera and Rivera will face off for the second consecutive cycle during the September 13 primary.

riveraflyer1“I think it's ridiculous and laughable on its face,” Rivera told Gotham Gazette. “But it is a deceiving piece. The New York Times article does not have my name in it, but it is an editorial I agree with 100 percent. We should have done more on ethics. Ethics reform is the reason I came to the Senate, it is the reason I ran against a corrupt senator. I’ve been fighting for reform since the second I got to Albany.”

New Yorkers For Independent Action, the PAC paying for the mailers, is advocating for the education tax credit that would see the state give tax rebates to individuals and companies who donate to private, religious, and charter schools. Teachers unions say the measure basically acts as a backdoor to vouchers and will be taken advantage of by companies and the wealthy; while proponents say it boosts educational choice.

Cabrera lost his primary challenge to Rivera two years ago by 20 points and according to a number of sources he promised members of the Bronx Democratic Committee not to run again and to work with Rivera. However, many Democrats see the financial backing of NYIA as the impetus for the repeat challenge.

The PAC has reported taking in $2.7 million since its creation and has spent over $1 million on polls and research on different races. The New York Daily News reported earlier this month that the PAC is targeting Rivera as well as Assembly Democratic incumbents Pamela Harris of Brooklyn, Phil Ramos of Suffolk County, and Latrice Harris of Brooklyn.

Major donors include Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton, who gave $450,000, and Peter Grauer of Bloomberg L.P., who gave $75,000. The PAC also has major support from Catholic activists.

cabreraflyer2Cabrera has proven a controversial figure in the City Council for his support of Ugandan anti-gay laws and his association with anti-gay group The Family Research Council. Cabrera’s run is not insignificant in a year when Senate Democrats are banking on the presidential election to help them seize the majority from Senate Republicans. Rivera, who would have otherwise spent the summer campaigning for other Democrats, is now forced into a costly primary.

Cabrera reported raising $72,015 in his July filing with the state campaign finance board and spending $47,549 -- he now has $24,315 to spend. Many of his donations came from the real estate industry. Rivera reported raising $139,486, while spending $79,299; he has $114,012 to spend. Rivera took a significant number of contributions from beer distributors.

Rivera said he expects to see mailers every week from the PAC until the September primary. “He wouldn’t have been able to afford this kind of campaign on his own,” Rivera said of Cabrera, questioning whether Cabrera knew of the PAC’s involvement in advance. Cabrera's office did not return requests for comment for this story.

“Knowing you are going to have this kind of money behind you gives you a pretty good reason to run,” Rivera said.

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

Read more by this writer.

]]>
Super PAC Begins Flyering Bronx Senate Race Fri, 22 Jul 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Cuomo is Keeping New York from Emulating California, De Blasio Says http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6434-cuomo-is-keeping-new-york-from-emulating-california-de-blasio-says http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6434-cuomo-is-keeping-new-york-from-emulating-california-de-blasio-says de blasio cuomo january 2014

De Blasio & Cuomo in 2014 (photo: Rob Bennett, Mayor's Office)


Mayor Bill de Blasio has repeatedly voiced his frustration with his fellow Democrat, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who he says has worked with Senate Republicans in the state Legislature to stymie his agenda and major progressive legislation. In an interview with Harry Siegel of the Daily News late last month, the mayor said Cuomo could have “done a lot more to avert” the “divided government in Albany,” where Democrats control the Assembly and Republicans the Senate.

De Blasio said that New York could be more like California “where Democrats have consolidated power and have done some remarkable things with it.”

The mayor’s comments come as his allies face two investigations for improper fundraising in efforts to win the Senate for Democrats in 2014 and after a legislative session during which Cuomo worked with Senate Republicans to pass a budget containing a $15 minimum wage phase-in and a comprehensive paid family leave program. Cuomo and the Legislature also allocate hundreds of millions of dollars each year to fund de Blasio’s signature pre-kindergarten program.

And yet, de Blasio’s sentiments are not unique, many Democrats feel Cuomo has empowered Senate Republicans in order to prevent the passage of a full slate of progressive legislation that could in theory alienate his moderate and conservative backers, including those upstate, on Long Island, and in New York City. The mayor and Assembly Democrats have a fairly long list of specific policy and funding grievances.

By pointing to California, de Blasio offered up a measuring stick. At first glance it would appear that California and New York are neck-and-neck on progressive issues. Both states have passed marriage equality, a $15 minimum wage plan, and paid family leave.

But progressive critics of the governor say he has failed to fully go to bat on reforms that would actually change how state government works, modernize voting and elections, and advance immigration and criminal justice policies opposed by conservatives. California has implemented a variety of these policies since 2010.

Cuomo allies say criticism the governor faces on these issues is unfair and comes mainly from the sharp edge of success - that critics say because he achieved some major policy victories he should achieve them all, while also winning the Senate for Democrats.

“I have my real disagreements with the governor and then there's individual achievements that are absolutely progressive and very meaningful,” de Blasio told Siegel. “But on the question of ‘Have we created a unified Democratic Party to have the maximum Democratic leadership and the maximum progressive policy of state?’ Of course not. Not even close.”

The de Blasio administration failed to respond to multiple inquiries about which specific policies California has enacted that he feels New York should emulate, but a number of his allies and political experts say California is in fact far ahead of New York on a number of progressive issues. These include immigration reforms like the DREAM Act and drivers’ licenses for undocumented immigrants; criminal justice reform measures like providing college education for inmates and laws to address holding police accountable for the deaths of civilians; and election reforms like independent redistricting and open primaries.

Meanwhile, in New York, Cuomo has enacted what many progressive analysts see as austerity measures, such as strictly limiting agency spending and instituting a property tax cap for municipalities, something California Governor Jerry Brown has moved away from. The Cuomo administration declined to comment for this article without the de Blasio administration listing which policies from California the mayor wants to see in New York.

Even beyond de Blasio, Cuomo’s relationship with progressive Democrats remains complicated. He’s had well-publicized roller coaster relationships with the Working Families Party and with the Legislature’s Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus. Administration officials point out that the governor has backed the DREAM Act and various criminal justice measures that are in place in California only to have Senate Republicans reject them. But de Blasio’s point to Siegel and that of many other Democrats is that Cuomo has ensured Senate Republicans are in the position to block those bills.

“I think a lot of the governor’s proposals are holograms so that he can come downstate and say ‘I suggested college for inmates,’ but he can also go upstate and say ‘I listened to your concerns and the bill didn’t pass,’” said Dr. Christina Greer, professor of political science at Fordham University.

Bill Samuels, head of EffectiveNY, longtime Democratic fundraiser and Cuomo critic, said that the governor has repeatedly failed to help Democrats win the state Senate and by doing so is responsible for failed progressive policies.

“We are way behind states like California and Oregon,” said Samuels. “It’s pathetic, if we had elected a Democratic Senate and had a different governor we would at least be considered a progressive state.There are exceptions, the governor came on strong with marriage equality, guns, and the minimum wage. So we aren’t like Mississippi, he’s done good things.”

But Samuels says one of Cuomo’s first major moves - deciding to abandon a push to take the 2010 electoral redistricting out of the hands of the Legislature - ensured he would have Senate Republicans as governing partners for the foreseeable future. Samuels notes that the plan Cuomo signed off on allowed Republicans to gerrymander Senate districts to dilute Democratic centers upstate and in the city while creating a 63rd Senate seat that they could easily win. “It was the most backward, bizarre redistricting in the United States,” said Samuels.”California took the redistricting process away from the Legislature and now they have an un-gerrymandered process.”

Cuomo’s deal with the Legislature also included a promise that the Legislature would vote to amend the constitution to allow an independent commission to draw districts starting in 2020.

California put redistricting of state-level seats in the hands of a citizens redistricting commission after a proposition vote in 2008. In 2010, Californians approved a proposition tasking the commission with drawing congressional districts.

Greer noted that when evaluating de Blasio’s and Cuomo’s governing approaches it is important to recognize they have distinctly different constituencies. Cuomo works within the bounds created by his and is aided in doing so by having a Republican Senate, she said. “The governor has a conservative base across the state. If you look at the electoral map the city may be progressive, but the rest of the map is still very red.”

Samuels said that de Blasio is right to focus on putting Democrats in charge of the Senate and that he has done more to champion progressive ideas in the state than Cuomo. “De Blasio may have been naive and been too transparent in his [2014] bid to win a Democratic Senate,” said Samuels. “He should have used burner phones and emails like the Cuomo administration does, but regardless I applaud him for doing it and he was right to do it.”

Senate Republicans continue to use de Blasio as a boogeyman in their quest to hold their control of the Senate. “Allowing these New York City radicals to have unchecked power over our entire state, especially in light of the U.S. Attorney and Manhattan D.A.'s investigations into the fundraising scandal they hatched two years ago, would be a disaster for the hardworking taxpayers and families who call New York home,” Senate Republican spokesman Scott Reif told Politico New York for a Tuesday article about de Blasio’s distance from this year’s Senate contests. Democrats are hoping to swing the chamber by riding Hillary Clinton’s voter turnout coattails and many are eager to see how involved Cuomo gets.

Karthick Ramakrishnan, professor and associate dean at University of California Riverside, told Gotham Gazette that Gov. Brown spent his early years in office playing a fiscal conservative and threatening and delivering vetoes of bills he felt weren’t fiscally responsible. But as the economy has flourished Brown has welcomed more progressive legislation.

Ramakrishnan said there is no doubt that a host of progressive legislation has passed California’s Legislature since Democrats won a supermajority in both houses in 2012 - major immigration and electoral reforms put the state far ahead of New York in those areas from a progressive standpoint - but he notes that there were other factors at play besides party control.

Gov. Brown has made it clear that he has no higher political ambitions, he will be term-limited out of office when his current term ends, Ramakrishnan said. Cuomo, however, has no term limits and announced he plans to run for a third term; is active in national politics; and believed by many close to him to still have ambitions for the White House. “Brown has declared he has no further political ambition so there is not much tension between him and other Democrats,” Ramakrishnan said, noting that de Blasio might also hold broader political ambitions that may have irked Cuomo.

Another quirk in California politics that Ramakrishnan points to as allowing for more progressive legislation is a ballot provision that passed in 2010 that did away with a previous requirement that the state budget be passed with a two-thirds majority. The ballot provision now requires a majority of legislators to support the budget. “Removing the supermajority rule really opened things up,” Ramakrishnan said. In the past, he said, “The legislature had to come up with carefully crafted compromises to even pass a budget and those deals prevented other [more progressive] legislation from passing.”

The situation sounds similar to Albany’s budget process where leaders trade on a host of issues and in some cases give away the chance to vote on major legislation to make sure they achieve top priorities in the budget. Having Senate Republicans on his side on certain issues during negotiations has helped Cuomo stop the Assembly’s push for progressive legislation that he does not support.

Another major factor Ramakrishnan points to in California’s progressive surge is changing demographics across the state. Ramakrishnan said a number of safe Republican districts saw an influx of immigrants and Democratic voters over the last decade.

“We’ve had the DREAM Act in since 2011, but most of the major immigration laws were passed in the last four years,” said Ramakrishnan. “It took a long time to build coalitions outside of the big cities like Los Angeles and it took demographic change in counties that used to be safe for Republicans.”

Senate Democrats have long touted demographic changes on Long Island as the key to what they see as their inevitable takeover of the chamber. Democrats recently won the Long Island seat formerly held by Republican Sen. Dean Skelos for two decades. Although Skelos’ corruption conviction likely played a major role in swaying voters, Democrats say a victory there might not have been possible if the demographics there hadn’t been trending Democratic for years.

Finally, Californians have the ability to put major issues before voters through ballot propositions, thereby bypassing the Legislature, which can take much longer to process an issue.

Sen. Jose Peralta, a Democrat from Queens, said he hopes Cuomo will be involved in campaigning for Senate Democrats this year. “I feel the governor is our leader and as a Democrat he should step up to the plate and help us gain the majority,” said Peralta. “It's in his best interest to move progressive issues like immigration and affordable housing. I hope the governor will take a lead role in helping Democrats win the Senate this year just as he is making sure Hillary [Clinton] becomes President.”

Asked if he supported a full Democratic takeover of the Senate on Tuesday, Cuomo told reporters that it is “too early for any political conversation about that," instead indicating he is focused on Clinton and the upcoming Democratic National Convention that he is attending, and may be speaking at. Elections determining control of the state Senate are four months away - the same day as Clinton’s likely face-off with Republican Donald Trump.

A look at major progressive issues and where they stand in New York and California:

Paid Family Leave
This year New York passed a 12-month paid family leave program that has been praised as the most “generous” in the nation. The program won’t be fully phased in until 2021.

California passed its six-week paid family leave program in 2002 and it went into operation in 2004.

Immigration
Cuomo touted his support for the DREAM Act, a program that would give undocumented students access to college tuition aid, during campaign stops in the city and made it part of his State of the State agenda, but he has said very little about it when the Legislature is in session and made no dramatic public push for the bill. Senate Republicans have made blocking the DREAM Act a major part of their reelection campaigns.

Brown signed California’s Dream Act into law in October of 2011. Since then he has signed a series of major immigration reform bills. In 2013 Brown signed a bill that allowed undocumented immigrants to apply for drivers’ licenses. The last time a New York Governor pushed for drivers’ licenses for undocumented immigrants was in 2007, under former Gov. Eliot Spitzer. The backlash against the proposal from conservatives and even Democrats was so strong that Spitzer dropped the plan.

This year Brown signed a bill that allows undocumented immigrants to buy health care on the state exchange created under the Affordable Care Act - making California the first state to offer that kind of coverage. New York offers undocumented immigrants emergency Medicaid and coverage for end-stage cancer and renal disease.

“I think it's very hard for the Governor to go into these economically depressed areas upstate and tell them he supports a bill to help immigrants that they see as undermining their already very tenuous way of life,” said Dr. Greer, of Fordham.

Sen. Gustavo Rivera, a Bronx Democrat, said that the first step for New York to achieve what California has on immigration reform would be for Democrats to take control of the Senate. But it wouldn’t end there. “We would also have to move conservative Democrats on these issues, we’d have to move the needle,” Rivera said, adding that he thinks Senate Democrats could move the DREAM Act during a first year in the majority, but acknowledged it isn’t a sure thing.

Peralta agreed, saying, “A Democratic majority gets the ball rolling in New York State.” But he warned, “We won’t be able to move everything at once. There are some issues that don’t play well in marginal districts upstate. We will have to tackle them in bite-size pieces - The DREAM Act one year, then drivers’ licenses the next.”

Minimum Wage
The two states appeared to be locked in a race to get to $15 per hour this year as both Brown and Cuomo pushed for a minimum wage increase - the governors signed their bills on the same day, April 4. But the bills are not equal: both call for incremental increases to the wage until finally reaching $15 - in California it will be 2022 before the wage is fully implemented; in New York it depends on where you live. Residents of New York City will have a $15 minimum wage by the end of 2018; Long Island and Westchester reach $15 to start 2022; while the rest of the state will reach $12.50 by the last day of 2020, with a 2019 panel to review the economic impact and able to halt the increase.

Election Reform
California adopted a new primary system in 2012 that allows the top two vote getters in primary races to move on the general election regardless of party affiliation. That move in combination with California’s citizen redistricting commission has opened up seats once kept in a stranglehold by incumbents.

Good government groups have pushed New York City to adopt nonpartisan primaries but there has yet to be significant movement. The idea is a nonstarter at the state level.

In October of last year, Brown signed an automatic voter registration bill that would have citizens registered to vote during visits to the DMV for drivers’ licenses or ID cards. Cuomo proposed a similar initiative in February during his State of the State speech, but met with opposition from Democratic lawmakers who worried registration would favor suburban and rural areas of the state where there are move drivers. Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, a Manhattan Democrat, suggested empowering other agencies to also register voters to create parity.

Criminal Justice Reform
Cuomo called for a review of the criminal justice system in the wake of the July 2014 death of Eric Garner during an NYPD stop. That review did not come about in the Legislature. Instead of passing legislation to create a special prosecutor to review police killings of unarmed civilians Cuomo issued an executive order empowering Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to take such cases out of the hands of the local district attorney.

Cuomo’s move was hailed by advocates who say local DAs are biased and unwilling to prosecute members of their local police force. But many advocates are still pushing for a similar system to be made law as executive orders can be undone. Senate Republicans have refused to consider any number of criminal justice initiatives Cuomo has proposed, including raising the age of adult criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 (New York is one of only two states where it is 16, with North Carolina).

California does not have a special prosecutor system in place for police killings of civilians but last year Brown signed a law banning the use of grand juries in such cases. The move came in response to outcry that a grand jury refused to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo for Garner’s death. "The use of the criminal grand jury process, and the refusal to indict as occurred in Ferguson and other communities of color, has fostered an atmosphere of suspicion that threatens to compromise our justice system," state Sen. Holly Mitchell, a Democrat from Los Angeles who sponsored the bill, said in a statement at the time.

Cuomo has tried and failed to get the Republican state Senate to act on college for inmates, something California expanded in 2015 in a partnership with a number of community colleges. Cuomo instead put forward a privately financed plan this year.

Brown currently supports a ballot initiative that will come before voters this fall that is designed to reduce recidivism and revise how it is decided if youth are tried as adults.

Fiscal Policy
While Brown has been considered more fiscally conservative than some of his allies in the Legislature, he did sponsor a 2012 ballot proposition that raised taxes on high-income earners. His initiative merged two other ballot initiatives - including one from the California teachers union branded a “millionaire’s tax” that would have increased the personal income tax on those earning $1 million and more. Brown’s plan created four new upper-income brackets for those making $250,000, $300,000, $500,000 and $1,000,000. The new tax rates are supposed to last seven years. The plan also increased the state sales tax. A group of unions recently introduced a new proposition that would make the tax increases of Brown’s proposition permanent.

New York adopted a millionaire’s tax under Democratic Gov. David Paterson in 2009 that Cuomo partially renewed in 2011. It is now set to expire in 2017. Many unions have pushed to extend the tax as has the state Assembly.

Cuomo has fought back against any tax increases. De Blasio insisted his universal pre-k plan be funded by a New York City income tax hike on households earning more than a million dollars a year. Cuomo delivered the cash for the plan and not the tax - something de Blasio publicly lamented.

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

Read more by this writer.

]]>
Cuomo is Keeping New York from Emulating California, De Blasio Says Tue, 12 Jul 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Bronx Council Member Preparing to Again Challenge Incumbent State Senator http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6386-bronx-council-member-preparing-to-again-challenge-incumbent-state-senator http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6386-bronx-council-member-preparing-to-again-challenge-incumbent-state-senator 16005101264 d25557eee7 z

City Council Member Cabrera (photo: William Alatriste)


City Council Member Fernando Cabrera is preparing for a rematch with incumbent State Senator Gustavo Rivera in the 33rd Senate District in the Bronx, according to sources familiar with Cabrera’s intentions.

Cabrera did not have an easy go of things when he first challenged Rivera in the 2014 Democratic primary. Reports by various publications highlighted Cabrera’s connections to extreme anti-gay groups like The Family Research Council, his praise of Ugandan anti-gay laws, and his conservative voting record.

Cabrera lost the 2014 primary by 20 points. He told The Observer that he believed his loss was due to “the liberal media.” 

“He had the mayor, he had the borough president, he had county, he had all the unions, he had liberal media, he had the LGBT community–what was left?” Cabrera said, according to The Observer. “It was absolutely unfair. I think [the media] was very biased. It was clear, every time we tried to put our message out, it was not being put forth correctly or misrepresented.”

According to five sources familiar with his intentions, Cabrera plans to again challenge Rivera this year - a move that is causing tension with the Bronx Democratic County Committee, whose leaders were hoping to maintain peace between their elected Council member and senator.

Cabrera and his office did not respond to multiple requests for comment. He is in the midst of his second four-year term as a Council member and can run for one more in 2017. State Senators serve two-year terms and have no term limits.

“Whatever decision [Cabrera] makes the results from the last election are what they are, and I’m not sure they could be any different,” said Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, who heads the Bronx County Democratic Committee.

Asked whether he shares concerns voiced by other insiders that the time and resources of both elected officials, Cabrera and Rivera, would be better spent representing their shared constituents rather than battling each other, Crespo replied; “I would agree with that statement.”

Rivera said that while he welcomed all challengers he is taken aback by Cabrera’s candidacy because he thinks Cabrera’s beliefs fly in the face of those of Senate Democrats.

“Since I defeated Pedro Espada in 2010 I’ve been working consistently to return the Democrats to the Senate Majority, I’ve been fighting for my constituents, for tenants rights, for equality. We saw before how the Democratic majority was undone by a backroom deal,” Rivera said. “My opponent is someone who changed registration from Republican to Democrat, is anti-choice, anti-women, has dangerous views on the LGBT community, and has taken major donations from landlords while the rent laws are up [for reauthorization] next year.”

Rivera said he feels that Cabrera is the kind of politician who could jeopardize a Democratic majority, which the party is hoping for through this fall’s elections.

“We want to make sure when we get to the majority we can can do the right thing, and this endangers that,” Rivera said of Cabrera’s challenge.

Rivera is seen by many as an outsider to the Bronx County Democrats. He has openly clashed with Sen. Ruben Diaz, Sr., who holds conservative views similar to Cabrera’s, and has warred with Independent Democratic Conference leader Sen. Jeff Klein over Klein’s decision to split from mainline Democrats and essentially give Republicans rule over the chamber (even after Democrats won a numerical majority).

Rivera was further seen to have rankled the county machine when he supported his chief of staff, Katrina Asante, in the race to replace Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson, who was recently hired by the Cuomo administration, creating an open seat. County Democrats have rallied behind District Leader Jamaal Bailey, who is seen as a protege of Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who has endorsed him. Asante officially dropped her bid on Wednesday.

Norwood News reported in April that some involved in Bronx politics see Hassell-Thompson’s hiring and Heastie’s endorsement of Bailey as an undemocratic conspiracy parallel to the backroom maneuvering that allowed Bronx County Democrats to replace former Bronx County District Attorney Robert Johnson on the ballot with Darcel Clark, a Heastie ally.

Crespo refuted the idea, telling Norwood News, “The notion that the only way Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson could get something is by somebody asking, that’s nonsense. People either have too much fun believing somehow running strings everywhere."

While some insiders say Asante faced trouble raising funds due to Heastie’s support of Bailey, most insiders Gotham Gazette spoke to said they see Cabrera’s planned challenge to Rivera as unrelated.

During his last run for Senate, Cabrera voiced interest in joining Klein in the IDC and appeared to benefit from many of Klein’s donors. This year, with control of the Senate extremely tenuous, it appears unlikely the IDC will get involved in the race.

Gary Axelbank, a political observer and host of BronxTalk, said that he sees Cabrera’s run against Rivera as a boon for constituents. “When two elected officials from one district oppose each other, it's very healthy for constituents to have that sort of high-level choice. It speaks to the best of our participatory democracy.”

However, Axelbank noted that Cabrera turned down his invitation to a televised debate with Rivera in 2014. “We invited Councilman Cabrera to participate in a debate the last time these two ran against each other, but he declined to participate, which we found to be very disappointing. We plan to invite both the candidates to debate again this summer and we hope and expect that Councilman Cabrera will join us so that the voters have the best chance to make their choice."

Meanwhile, Rivera is not hiding the fact that he takes Cabrera’s challenge as an affront to not only his work but the work done by all elected Senate Democrats to win back the majority from Senate Republicans.

“It's more than a little offensive that this person is more interested in his political future than serving our constituents,” Rivera said.

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

Read more by this writer.

]]>
Bronx Council Member Preparing to Again Challenge Incumbent State Senator Thu, 09 Jun 2016 00:00:00 +0000