Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/1356 Wed, 15 Aug 2018 21:15:10 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) How Much Does Brooklyn Congressional Primary Result Show Path in Overlapping State Senate Race? http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7860:how-much-does-brooklyn-congressional-primary-result-show-path-in-overlapping-state-senate-race http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7860:how-much-does-brooklyn-congressional-primary-result-show-path-in-overlapping-state-senate-race myrie w congressmembers via indivisble bk

Zellnor Myrie receives the endorsement of Rep. Clarke, among others (photo: @BKIndivisible)


A wide swath of central Brooklyn is hosting its second contentious Democratic primary race this year. After a surprisingly close congressional primary in June, voters in a largely overlapping state Senate district will vote in September in another race where an incumbent is facing an upstart challenger.

Brooklyn Congressional District 9An array of neighborhoods in the borough, including Brownsville, Crown Heights, Park Slope, Flatbush, and Prospect Heights, make up New York’s Ninth Congressional District (map left), where Democratic voters narrowly voted to nominate Yvette Clarke for re-election over her challenger, Adem Bunkeddeko, in a race that drew national attention for its closeness, especially alongside the defeat of Rep. Joe Crowley by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

The Brooklyn neighborhoods of Clarke’s district, with the exception of a few, like Sheepshead Bay and Marine Park, also make up State Senate District 20 (map below), which adds Gowanus, South Slope, and Sunset Park, and is represented by incumbent Senator Jesse Hamilton, who is facing a primary challenge from Zellnor Myrie.

Brooklyn State Senate District 20The two primaries bear some similar contours: a youthful progressive candidate goes for the left flank of a Democratic incumbent amid an anti-establishment milieu, hoping to motivate voters upset by Donald Trump and looking for something different from their elected officials. Bunkedekko’s success as a previously little-known activist and lawyer in the district—he lost by just 1,075 votes—may help provide a roadmap for Myrie, especially in terms of where in the district to go for those anti-establishment votes.

But there are key differences between the Clarke-Bunkedekko and Hamilton-Myrie races, including Hamilton’s prior membership in the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference and the flood of endorsements behind Myrie, but a key question for the challenger, incumbent, and all those watching, is: How much can we apply from the results of the race in Congressional District Nine to the race in State Senate District 20?

NY9 resultsThough ultimately unsuccessful in his bid to unseat Representative Clarke, daughter of legendary former City Council Member Una Clarke, Bunkeddeko certainly came close, losing by four points to a politician who won her previous primary challenge, in 2012, by 77%. Results of the June 26 vote show Bunkeddeko’s strongholds were in wealthier, whiter, gentrified areas of the district like Park Slope and Prospect Heights, while Clarke excelled in poorer, predominantly black neighborhoods in the eastern part of NY-9 like East Flatbush and Brownsville (map left, via CUNY Mapping Service).

It remains to be seen whether this dynamic will be replicated in the race between Hamilton and Myrie. Hamilton is a former member of the Independent Democratic Conference, a coalition of eight Democrats in the New York State Senate that formed a years-long coalition agreement with Republicans to bolster GOP control of the chamber. The IDC formally disbanded this April amid criticism and the declaration of primary challenges by Myrie and a cohort of other candidates.

Myrie spokesman André M. Richardson told Gotham Gazette that the campaign was surprised by Central Brooklynites’ widespread knowledge of the IDC.

“More people knew about it than we thought would,” he said. “A lot of the conversation is in the Park Slope and Prospect Heights area, but folks in Flatbush recognize it, as well.”

Hamilton’s participation in the IDC is a useful cudgel for the Myrie campaign, providing a unifying talking point about propping up Republican control of the state Senate and blocking progressive legislation in a racially and economically diverse district.

In predominantly-black neighborhoods like Brownsville, Richardson said, the IDC ties Hamilton to the prevention of Andrea Stewart-Cousins from becoming the State Senate’s first black female majority leader; in heavily-Hispanic Sunset Park, the Myrie campaign tells voters that the IDC is why the Dream Act was blocked. Through this, and with an intense focus on the ever-relevant housing crisis, the challenger hopes to avoid the polarization of the district seen in the results from June and appeal to voters in every neighborhood. That effort is likely to be helped by the fact that Myrie has been endorsed by a wide swathe of elected officials and clubs, including Rep. Clarke and other elected officials from the area, such as Assemblymember Diana Richardson.

The IDC is one of several factors that complicate attempts to use the results of the Clarke-Bunkeddeko race to predict the Hamilton-Myrie contest, despite the two races taking place in, more or less, the same territory. Also, noted Steven Romalewski, director of the CUNY Mapping Service, to Gotham Gazette, “different groups of voters turn out for different races.” Only about 8.2% of eligible Democratic voters voted in the primary between Clarke and Bunkeddeko, making it difficult to generalize characteristics of the voter pool.

Voter turnout is expected to increase in September, when the Democratic nominees for the statewide positions of governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general will also be decided. Two of those races feature black candidates from Central Brooklyn: Jumaane Williams, running for lieutenant governor, and Letitia James, for attorney general. Governor Andrew Cuomo and his primary opponent, Cynthia Nixon, have also focused campaign efforts in the area, aware that black voters are essential to winning Democratic primaries.

In last year’s September primaries for city elections, Senate District 20 was home to 21,000 voters, while only around 10,000 residents of the Senate district cast votes in June’s contest when the congressional primary was the only race on the ballot.

Though it’s nearly impossible to accurately predict whether increased turnout will help or harm Hamilton, who was first elected to the Senate in 2014, political consultant Jerry Skurnik told Gotham Gazette that “the gentrifiers” constitute a larger proportion of Senate District 20 than they do Congressional District Nine.

By Skurnik’s admittedly “not 100% accurate” demographic calculations, 82% of the Senate district lies within the Congressional district, and the overlapping area is about 72% black. But the overall Senate district is just slightly over 60% black, since it includes smaller portions of near-exclusively African-American neighborhoods like Brownsville and East Flatbush and extends farther out of Central Brooklyn, into neighborhoods like Gowanus and Sunset Park that have relatively few black residents. This could spell an advantage for Myrie, if Bunkeddeko’s strength in Park Slope is any indication, and if he is able to move the same voters to the polls while motivating others. But, there are many complicating factors, and neither Romalewski nor Skurnik felt comfortable prognosticating with any certainty.

In line with Romalewski’s cautioning that different races motivate different voters, Skurnik emphasized to Gotham Gazette that a race for the New York State Senate necessarily involves issues different from those in a contest for the U.S. House of Representatives. For instance, rent regulations are a marquee issue for state legislators, who will renegotiate current rent laws next year, while the issue is less central to Congressional races like Clarke and Bunkeddeko’s, though candidates for all offices must discuss housing affordability in New York City. Myrie may have an easier time mobilizing residents around his housing-focused campaign than Bunkeddeko, who devoted extensive time to attacking Clarke’s Congressional record (or lack thereof, as he framed it). But, Myrie is also focused on Hamilton’s record in the Senate, especially around progressive bills that have not passed because Republicans, supported by the IDC, did not favor them.

The polarized, racially and economically divided results of the NY-9 primary will not necessarily reproduce as such in Senate District 20, Skurnik said, because both Hamilton and Myrie have seen them. “Senator Hamilton knows what happened,” Skurnik said. “He knows where the Congresswoman did badly...He’s not going to be surprised.” The same holds true for Myrie, he added. If the results of the June primary can teach the candidates of District 20 anything, it seems, it’s what to avoid.

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by Daniel Yadin for Gotham Gazette

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How Much Does Brooklyn Congressional Primary Result Show Path in Overlapping State Senate Race? Fri, 10 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Rematch of Tight Manhattan Senate Primary Takes Shape in Different Political Environment http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7856:manhattan-rematch-of-tight-primary-takes-shape-in-different-political-environment http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7856:manhattan-rematch-of-tight-primary-takes-shape-in-different-political-environment marisol alcantara reelect

Sen. Alcántara, middle (photo: @NY31Alcantara)


Both are Democrats with a steady history of politics and activism in New York. Both graduated from in-state universities and began their careers by working with labor unions. Both are people of color and have participated in the political arena while being the only one of their demographic in the room. On virtually every policy issue, they agree, yet the two -- Marisol Alcántara and Robert Jackson -- are engaged in a nasty political race that will be decided on primary election day, September 13.

Alcántara is the first-term state senator of District 31, a western sliver of Manhattan that covers parts of Midtown West and the Upper West Side before widening into neighborhoods like Washington Heights and Inwood. She’s currently the only Latina elected to the New York State Senate, the 63-seat upper house of the state Legislature where the Republican conference recently held a one-seat majority, bolstered for the last seven years by the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway faction of elected Democrats that Alcántara joined after her election two years ago. The IDC, which folded in April of this year under immense pressure to rejoin the larger mainline Democratic conference, invested heavily in Alcántara’s first campaign, providing her with hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding as she narrowly won a four-way primary guaranteeing her ascension to the Senate given the district’s overwhelming Democratic enrollment.

Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, himself seeking a third term this year and facing a tough primary challenge from Cynthia Nixon, brokered the IDC reunification deal just after this year’s state budget was decided, attempting to undercut a central line of criticism he’s received: that he supported the existence of the IDC to help bolster Republican control of the Senate and govern more from the center than the left.

The deal made Senator Jeff Klein, leader of the IDC, deputy leader of the Democratic conference, behind Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who could become the first woman of color to lead the Senate majority if Democrats take control of the chamber through this year’s elections. Despite these efforts to sew the intra-party split shut, all eight former IDC members face spirited primary challenges, with Alcántara widely seen as the most vulnerable to defeat given her limited tenure, the closeness of her 2016 victory, the increase in IDC awareness and anti-IDC activism, Jackson’s history in the district, the one-on-one nature of the race, and other factors.

Jackson – a former Community School Board President in the 1990s and the only Muslim City Council Member during his 12-year tenure – is running for the seat for the third straight eletion, having lost to former senator, now U.S. Representative Adriano Espaillat in 2014 and Alcántara is 2016 (he also ran unsuccessfully for Manhattan borough president in 2013 as he was term-limited out of the Council). While last time around Jackson warned of Alcántara’s ties to the IDC, this time he is using her membership in the conference against her as he tries to unseat her, while she touts bills she has been able to pass and funding for the district she has been able to secure as the results of that IDC membership.

“I’m helping to flip a seat,” Jackson said on a recent episode of Max & Murphy on WBAI radio, during which both candidates separately appeared, responding to a question of whether or not Democrats should focus their attention on flipping Republican seats rather than challenging incumbent Democrats, “where you basically have a Trump Democrat, a turncoat Democrat, a rogue Democrat, representing the district.”

Alcántara, on the other hand, refuted the idea that joining the IDC – which has been criticized for helping to block the passage of key progressive legislation like the DREAM Act and the Reproductive Health Act, both issues that she says she supports in her reelection campaign – affected her decision-making in Albany. “I have never taken a vote in the Senate that has been against my principles, as a trade unionist or as an immigrant, as a Latina,” she told Max & Murphy. “So, I’m very proud of my record.”

The 2016 Election
When Espaillat left the New York State Senate in 2016 to join Congress, Alcántara made her bid for the newly empty Senate District 31 seat, as did Jackson and fellow Democrats Micah Lasher and Luis Tejada. Alcántara won the primary, with 8,309 votes, and Lasher and Jackson trailed closely behind, at 7,737 and 7,616, respectively. Tejada received 1,253 votes. Lasher is not running this year and has instead thrown his support behind Jackson. Tejada is not running either.

While she was overlooked for support by most Democratic officials and clubs, labor unions, and others, Alcántara found support from the IDC, receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars and political support from the group, which was looking to grow its ranks. She reportedly did not publicly commit herself to the breakaway coalition during the campaign, but, on the night of her victory, Alcántara’s spokesperson announced that she would be joining its ranks in Albany.

It is Alcántara’s IDC membership that is the core of Jackson’s challenge.

“If you truly believe you’re a Democrat, then stand with the Democrats,” Jackson said on Max & Murphy. “Micah Lasher and I took a pledge, we raised our right hand two years ago and said we will always be Democrats fighting for the people of our district, not selling them down the river.”

Alcántara defended the dissolved coalition, arguing that the IDC’s existence did not change the fact that Democrats would still not have held a majority in the Senate, but also that her values and the policies she stood for were not put in peril by her membership. “Marriage equality was done with a coalition government. Raise the Age was done with a coalition government. Paid family leave was done with a coalition government. A lot of free college tuition was done with a coalition government, also,” she said of policies that have been passed through a Republican-IDC led state Senate over the past several years.

Policy
Both candidates espouse similar policy issues as the pillars for their senatorial campaigns. If reelected, Alcántara has a Ten Point Action Plan that deals with issues ranging from immigrant protections to gun control. Likewise, Jackson’s platform, according to his campaign website, devotes attention to nine separate issues, spanning his views on topics like education and the environment. The candidates’ policy positions show a lot of overlap, and they cite similar legislation they want to see passed through Albany next year, though they do prioritize some different bills.

At the top of Alcántara’s agenda is the issue of immigrant rights, namely the Dream Act, a bill she co-sponsors that would allow undocumented immigrants and their children access to state financial aid for college, as well as a farmworkers’ rights bill; meanwhile, Jackson’s campaign has been less outspoken on immigrant rights and his campaign website makes no mention of the Dream Act, which has not passed the Senate along with many other top Democratic priorities, a fact Jackson linked to his opponent and the IDC, while Alcántara blamed a Republican Senate majority.

“When you look at what has occurred in the tenure since the IDC, Marisol Alcántara included as one of those, nothing has been passed as far as legislation that benefits the people I represent,” Jackson said on Max & Murphy. Along with the Dream Act, Jackson mentioned bills dealing with rent control, health care, and women’s reproductive rights, all of which are listed in both Alcántara’s and Jackson’s platforms. He’s consistently had education funding at the top of his agenda over decades and believes that New York City schools are owed billions more from the state as a result of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit.

Alcántara highlights her own accomplishments, especially related to Latinas. During her two year tenure in the state Senate, Alcántara says she has secured over $7 million in state funding to her district, using these resources to develop community-based organizations such as Upper Manhattan’s first LGBTQ Youth Homeless Center and the establishment of the Immigrant Defense Fund, which provides free legal services to documented and undocumented immigrants. She has also invested $500,000 into implementing a pilot program that works to reduce class sizes for English language learning students -- “Such as myself,” Alcántara, who moved to the United States at age 12 from the Dominican Republic, added on Max & Murphy -- and has worked to address issues on the Senate floor that have traditionally not been spotlighted.

“I addressed issues in the Senate in terms of issues with Latina suicide that had never been addressed before,” the senator said. “My bill, which talks about why there’s such a high number of African-American women and women of African descent that died after childbirth, that was never addressed before in the Senate.”

Jackson has said that Alcántara only focuses on the northern part of the district, where she got the bulk of her votes in 2016 and which is heavily Latino. She has staked some of her argument for reelection on the fact that she is the only Latina in the Senate, while Jackson dismissed any concern with unseating her and removing a woman and the lone Latina senator from office, saying that demographic qualities don’t supercede making the right, or wrong, choices while in office.

Still, the two agree on much policy -- the senator and her challenger have both announced their support for two key pieces of legislation in regards to reproductive rights, the Comprehensive Contraceptive Coverage Act and the Reproductive Health Act, which would, respectively, mandate insurance coverage for contraceptive options and uphold a woman’s right to choose contraception or an abortion. Both Alcántara and Jackson support the passage of the New York Health Act, another bill that Alcántara co-sponsors, which would establish universal health coverage to New Yorkers statewide.

Affordable housing and voting reform are other key issues across this year’s races, including in the Alcántara-Jackson contest. For the former, both candidates have campaigned on the promise to repeal vacancy decontrol and set an end to vacancy bonuses. For the latter, both support the establishment of early voting, no-excuse absentee ballots, and same day voter registration. Additionally, Alcántara and Jackson support the establishment of a public campaign financing program and closure of the Limited Liability Companies loophole, which allows entities to donate virtually limitless sums to candidates by using various LLCs.

Campaign Finance Picture
Alcántara and her former IDC mates find themselves in controversy given that a state Supreme Court ruled as illegal a campaign financing deal struck between the IDC and the Independence Party – which allowed the IDC and Senator Klein as its leader to raise its own funds despite not being a political party and to funnel unlimited amounts to its candidates. Critics and constituents alike have called for Alcántara and other former IDC members to return the money raised through the account, but thus far it appears that the parties involved met the only court-mandated requirement involving details of how the account is registered. Former IDC members have said they have no intention of returning the money, though the State Board of Elections Enforcement Counsel, Risa Sugarman, has said they should. The issue has become a major point of attack from Jackson and other IDC challengers.

In response to a caller’s question as to why she has not returned the money she received through the account, Alcántara said, “The money that we spent in 2016 was spent. My attorneys have not received any letters stating that I have to give money back. I will do whatever the court says I have to do.”

January to July, Alcántara raised $116,000 for her reelection campaign, falling short of her $130,000 expenditures it that time, according to July campaign finance filings. Additionally, she received about $66,000 from the IDC committee in question, and had about $132,000 cash on hand at the filing.

Jackson has claimed 8,800 campaign donations, with an average contribution of $31, according to his campaign office, which pointed out that Alcántara had received only 503 donations. Jackson raised a little more than $156,00 in the most recent six-month filing period, and had raised a total of $284,490 for this race as of mid-July. At that filing, he had about $158,000 on hand to spend.

Endorsements
A string of city and state figures have endorsed Jackson to be the next State Senator of the 31st District. These figures include the New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, former Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messinger, gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon, and various others. Organizations such as the Working Families Party, No IDC NY and Tenants PAC have also thrown their support behind Jackson. Additionally, while Jackson holds the endorsements of 15 Democratic clubs within the district – all of District 31’s Democratic clubs save for the Northern Manhattan Democrats for Change – Alcántara lacks the endorsement of any of the district’s clubs, according to the Jackson campaign and a review of Alcántara’s endorsement list.

Alcántara, meanwhile, currently holds the endorsement of Senate Minority Leader Stewart-Cousins, City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, Senators Roxanne Persaud and Velmanette Montgomery, as well as of a wide variety of labor unions, such as the Uniformed Firefighters Association, the Transport Workers Union Local 100, the New York State Nurses Association and Uniformed EMTs. She also has the tacit support of Gov. Cuomo, who said when announcing the Democratic Senate unity deal that the parties involved would not support primaries against any of the others involved.

In a telling sign of which way the wind is blowing, however, Espaillat -- who strongly backed Alcántara as his successor in 2016 -- says he’s not taking a side. “I’m staying neutral,” he told Gotham Gazette on Wednesday, when asked if he’s backing Alcántara again this year. “I decided not to get involved, I spoke to her, I spoke to Robert - and let the community decide.”

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by Chelsey Sanchez, Gotham Gazette
@chelseynsanchez  @GothamGazette

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Rematch of Tight Manhattan Senate Primary Takes Shape in Different Political Environment Thu, 09 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Queens State Senate Rematch Features Different Kinds of Democrat http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7850:max-murphy-podcast-queens-state-senate-rematch-features-different-kinds-of-democrat http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7850:max-murphy-podcast-queens-state-senate-rematch-features-different-kinds-of-democrat mxm logo

Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette, and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits


August 8, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Queens State Senate Rematch Features Different Kinds of Democrats, with Senator Tony Avella and challenger John Liu

tony avella john liu wbai 277 bState Senator Tony Avella says he decided to become part of the Independent Democratic Conference, which entered into a power-sharing agreement with Senate Republicans, in order to move his bills and bring resources back to his district. Avella's decision to join the breakaway faction of Democrats led to a primary challenge from former New York City Comptroller John Liu in 2014. Avella won.

Four years later, the negative attention on the IDC, which folded in April of this year to reunite with the much larger mainline Senate Democratic conference, has grown exponentially and Liu was recruited to take on Avella again. All eight members of the IDC are facing spirited primary challenges. Some of the challengers, like Liu, have a better shot than others. Liu, then Avella joined the Max & Murphy show on WBAI radio to discuss their race (they appeared in the second half hour of the show -- Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney was the guest in the first half).

Listen to the conversation with the two candidates and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Queens State Senate Rematch Features Different Kinds of Democrat Wed, 08 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Cuomo Brought Rogue Democrats Back, But Hasn't Offered or Accepted Endorsements http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7846:cuomo-brought-rogue-democrats-back-but-hasn-t-offered-or-accepted-endorsements-idc http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7846:cuomo-brought-rogue-democrats-back-but-hasn-t-offered-or-accepted-endorsements-idc Cuomo Klein Stewart-Cousins

Gov. Cuomo, center, with Sens. Stewart-Cousins, left, & Klein (photo: The Governor's Office)


Governor Andrew Cuomo says he wants Democrats to take control of the state Senate and, in reunifying two factions to be able to focus on flipping Republican seats, he publicly offered support for senators who once made up the Independent Democratic Conference, a group of breakaway Democrats that until April held a years-long power-sharing agreement with Republicans.

Cuomo and the leaders of the two Senate groups -- mainline conference leader Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins and IDC leader Senator Jeff Klein -- said at their “unity” news conference at the governor’s Manhattan office that none of the parties would support primary challengers to the other.

Yet with only five weeks till the September 13 primary, Cuomo has not formally endorsed, or been endorsed by, any of the eight senators that made up the IDC. Stewart-Cousins, by contrast, has offered her endorsement of Klein and the other seven members of what was the IDC, each of whom faces a primary challenge.

The now-defunct conference led by Klein agreed last November to disband his breakaway group that had caucused with Republican senators for seven years and to rejoin the mainline Democrats, pending certain developments. Cuomo brokered the deal, which was announced in April (just after a new state budget was announced), after years of saying he was helpless to force the IDC back into the fold. His critics, including his Democratic primary challenger, Cynthia Nixon, say he enabled and benefited from the odd arrangement and that the reunification came too little too late.

Four years ago while also facing primary challenges, Cuomo and Klein endorsed each other for reelection, but this year, amid heightened awareness and criticism of the IDC’s role in the Senate, the two have thus far decided to forego a mutual endorsement that could potentially give their opponents ammunition to criticize them. The same goes with the other seven former IDC members, all of whom face primary challengers that are backed to varying degrees by a number of liberal activist groups -- including some that sprung up in direct opposition to the existence of the IDC and a local senator’s membership in the group -- and elected officials, like city Comptroller Scott Stringer and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.

At the April news conference, in a show of bonhomie, Cuomo sat at a table between Klein and Stewart-Cousins, where they announced the reunification deal and Klein’s new position as deputy conference leader. Cuomo sounded the alarm about “the Washington agenda” under a Republican-led Congress and President Donald Trump as he emphasized in lofty terms the need for Democrats to take the state Senate and the House of Representatives. “We’re all going to, within legal limits, pool our resources, pool our strategy because it’s a different type of election this year. It’s about getting Democrats energized and getting Democrats out. So I’m all in,” Cuomo said.

He later added, “All the Senators agree to support each other. So there will be no primaries supported by one senator against another senator and we agree that we’re all gonna work in a coordinated way.”

As part of the deal, the State Democratic Party, elected officials and several prominent labor unions vowed to support the former IDC Senators while refusing aid to their challengers. “Together under Governor Cuomo’s leadership, we’re on the right path, the necessary path to demonstrate to our nation what New Yorkers are made of and the values that we all stand for,” Klein said at the news conference.

But that camaraderie doesn’t seem to extend to the campaign trail. Asked if the governor planned on endorsing Klein or the other former IDC members, a Cuomo campaign spokesperson, Abbey Collins, did not answer directly but instead emphasized that the governor is more focused on protecting Democrat-held seats.

“For over a decade the Senate Democratic Conference has been dysfunctional and fractured,” Collins said in a statement. “The governor supports democratic unity and is focused on growing the Democratic majority in the senate by picking up seats on Long Island and across Upstate to fight Donald Trump and his destructive, ultra-conservative agenda. We stand alongside Andrea Stewart Cousins in supporting all members of the senate Democratic conference.”

A Klein spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

Stewart-Cousins has indeed formally announced her endorsement of Klein and the other former IDC members, in individual news releases to the press. She has not campaigned alongside Klein or any of the other senators: Sens. Tony Avella, Diane Savino, Marisol Alcantara, Jesse Hamilton, David Carlucci, and David Valesky.

They face challenges from, respectively, Alessandra Biaggi, John Liu, Jasmine Robinson, Robert Jackson, Zellnor Myrie, Julie Goldberg, and Rachel May.

As election season unfolds ahead of the September 13 primary vote, Cuomo, Klein, and many other candidates continue to announce endorsements of their candidacies by groups and leaders. The lists put forth by Cuomo and Klein, both heavy on labor unions and elected officials, continue to grow, but with the glaring absence of one another. Some elected officials, like Johnson, the Council speaker, have endorsed Cuomo and IDC challengers, including Biaggi, who is taking on Klein and used to work in the Cuomo administration, in the governor’s counsel’s office. Some, like Stewart-Cousins and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., are backing Cuomo and Klein.

Over the course of the last few months, Nixon has repeatedly criticized Cuomo for allowing the IDC to exist unchecked for years and more specifically for his direct support of Klein in this year’s election. Lauren Hitt, a spokesperson for Nixon, pointed to Nixon’s comments last month after a New York Times report noted that Klein was sending out campaign mailers that included a photo of him aside Cuomo.

“The Governor cannot be both a feminist and a supporter of Senator Klein,” Nixon said in a statement at the time, pointing to allegations that Klein forcibly kissed a former staffer outside a bar in Albany in April 2015. “Klein has not only been accused of sexual misconduct by his own staff, but he led the coalition that repeatedly blocked critical protections for New Yorkers’ reproductive rights. Several other New York Democrats have already appreciated what’s at stake for New Yorkers and endorsed against Senator Klein. The Governor can either stand with New York’s women or against us,” Nixon said.

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Cuomo Brought Rogue Democrats Back, But Hasn't Offered or Accepted Endorsements Tue, 07 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Working Families Party Puts It All On The Line http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7840:working-families-party-puts-it-all-on-the-line http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7840:working-families-party-puts-it-all-on-the-line Cynthia Nixon, Jummane Williams, and Alessandra Biaggi

Cynthia Nixon (left), Alessandra Biaggi (top right), Bill Lipton & Jumaane Williams (bottom)


The Working Families Party celebrated its 20th anniversary last month at Brooklyn Bowl in Williamsburg, with its rank-and-file cheering on a line up of politicians that have served as standard bearers, past and present. But it’s the future of the party that is especially uncertain as the upstart liberal organization lays it all on the line in backing insurgent candidates in state elections this year.

In doing so, especially in its decision to take on Governor Andrew Cuomo by backing Cynthia Nixon, some the party’s longtime allies have turned adversaries, portending a potentially diminished presence in the state’s political landscape if its gamble does not pay off over the next several weeks. At the anniversary celebration, which featured Mayor Bill de Blasio, among others singing the party’s praises for its push to create a more fair and equal New York, there was little sign of uneasiness about its bold choices this election year; an atmosphere of revelry prevailed, possibly the sign of progressive activists happy to be going for it all instead of triangulating with Cuomo and other more centrist Democrats as it had in the past.

There is also a sense among WFP leaders and supporters that the party is already where the Democratic Party is heading, and where it needs to be, with a more progressive vision of left politics reflective of a new post-Clinton, post-Cuomo Democratic era.

Created by community advocates and labor unions with a vision of pulling Democrats to the progressive left, the WFP has played a prominent role in championing the bread-and-butter issues that most affect working, low- and middle-income Americans. Through activism and advocacy around policy and funding, the party battles inequity, whether it be in housing, employment, wages, criminal justice, education, environment, or electoral access. In local and state elections, Democrats eager to brandish their progressive bonafides have coveted and sought the WFP’s endorsement, and the party’s vocal leaders and active network of members and volunteers.

But after years of being let down by elected officials they propped up, the WFP’s leadership made a drastic decision this year to endorse underdogs in key Democratic primaries. They backed Nixon’s challenge to Cuomo, a two-term incumbent seeking reelection, and New York City Council Member Jumaane Williams in his attempt to unseat Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul; and they are fiercely rallying behind progressive candidates who are trying to replace Democratic state Senators who until recently made up the Republican-allied Independent Democratic Conference (IDC).

The reaction to the WFP’s moves has been significant, and potentially crippling. Several unions that had filled the party’s coffers for years pulled their support for fear of angering the governor, who made explicit threats against anyone who would stay, according to a WFP leader. But advocacy groups and a progressive activist base rallied, resolute to take on Cuomo, whom they no longer trusted after a 2014 deal went bad, and the former IDC members, who had betrayed their Democratic party-mates.

While acknowledging its newfound vulnerability, WFP leaders and supporters also had a sense that they were on the right side of history, pursuing their true vision of where the Democratic Party should be (with the necessary help of the WFP), representative of the national trendlines -- the WFP did back Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary -- a feeling only bolstered in recent weeks by events like the shocking congressional primary victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whom the WFP had not endorsed over Rep. Joe Crowley, but quickly sought to align with thereafter.

“I think the unions are dismayed by the way the Working Families Party has chosen to operate this cycle,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, in a phone interview. RWDSU was among those unions that left the party this year and Appelbaum is one of several labor leaders who say that Cuomo deserves to be reelected.

“They’re diverting energy and resources from the effort to send more Democratic congresspeople from New York to Washington, [and] our prime responsibility is to work to take back the House of Representatives…Our concern is that the WFP no longer is representing, in its current rendition, the interests of working men and women, despite their name, and that is why unions felt it was necessary to disassociate themselves.”

WFP leaders and allied elected officials say the party made a calculated wager, riding a groundswell of progressive sentiment that has moved the state’s political center, and that no matter how the chips fall on September 13, primary day, the party has already won.

“This is the party they founded 20 years ago...to pull the Democratic Party to the left and with a coalitional approach to building power,” Brooklyn City Council Member Brad Lander told Gotham Gazette at the WFP’s anniversary gala. Lander spoke of the “radical but also practical vision” of Jon Kest, the progressive organizer who founded the WFP as well as the advocacy groups New York Communities for Change and its predecessor, the now-defunct Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN).

“The WFP’s always contained this dynamic tension,” Lander said, between “the strength of voice of grassroots activists” and “established but still progressive” institutions such as labor unions. “At this moment, given shifts in the broader zeitgeist...and of course because of the way the governor has approached this, the party is in a more activist movement space,” he said. Like the WFP, Lander is backing Williams for lieutenant governor and several of the challengers to the former IDC members.

Surely, if the WFP notches wins in the many primaries it is involved in -- the WFP offers a general election ballot line, but does much of its work backing its preferred candidates in their Democratic primaries -- it will strengthen the party, and conversely, losses will set them back, Lander said. Though, given the state of New York’s politics, “There’s no choice,” Lander said.

For nearly eight years, the WFP has cried foul about Democratic recalcitrance as key progressive policies have failed to pass the state Legislature. The WFP continues to advocate for issues that include healthcare for all, ending the school-to-prison pipeline, fair wages, fixing the city’s subways, increasing funding to under-resourced schools, the DREAM Act, campaign finance and voting reform.  

Cuomo and the members of the erstwhile IDC largely claim to support that agenda and have repeatedly blamed the Republican-controlled Senate for thwarting its planks. But Cuomo tolerated, if not supported, the presence of the IDC, and critics hold its members up as a major obstacle to full Democratic control of both legislative chambers. Democrats have a comfortable majority in the 150-seat Assembly but, with the return of the IDC to the mainline Democratic conference, hold 31 seats in the 63-seat Senate.

And though the State Democratic Party, at Cuomo’s behest, is focused on recapturing the Senate, which necessitates flipping seats in the general election, groups like the WFP insist on replacing rogue Democrats with candidates who better embody progressive values and they trust to not flee for a deal with Republicans.

The party is taking a “big risk,” Dorothy Siegel, WFP treasurer, conceded on the sidelines of the gala, where Nixon, Williams, de Blasio, and Ben Jealous, the WFP-backed Democratic nominee for governor in Maryland, took the stage one by one to celebrate the WFP’s history. “Because, the power structure doesn’t like to be challenged...and the WFP is a really small organization,” Siegel said. “The people who control the levers of power win. Individual people never win.”

Siegel lamented her belief that the state’s politics, the governor, and state Legislature are powered by special interests, largely real estate developers and Wall Street executives (she left out the extensive influence of labor unions). “The WFP is not powered by any of those powerful people. We’re only powered by people who pay us $5 a month,” she said. “It’s a true David and Goliath situation. If we lose the governor’s race, we run the risk of very powerful people being very angry. They can do a lot of things to us that would make our lives difficult.”

Siegel pointed to the investigation involving the WFP that stemmed from alleged campaign finance violations in the election of City Council Member Debi Rose on Staten Island in 2009. Two campaign workers were accused, and later cleared, of charges that they worked with the WFP’s consulting firm, Data and Field Services, to circumvent campaign finance law. The years-long episode cost time and money that the WFP could ill-afford. “Lots of people got laid off. We almost went out of business,” Siegel said. “They could do that again. Do not underestimate the power of super-wealthy people to trample people who want to take away their power.”

Is it worth the risk? “Absolutely. 100 percent,” she said.

One of the most consequential possible effects of the WFP backing Nixon over Cuomo -- who they endorsed in 2014 after he promised to bring the IDC to an end and enact many of the same policies he’s promising again this year, which he did not follow through on -- is that it could cost the party automatic ballot access. A “third party” like the WFP needs at least 50,000 votes for its candidate for governor to maintain its ballot line into the future, which Nixon could easily attain in the general election. But Nixon losing the Democratic primary would put the WFP in a tough spot. Its leaders claim they won’t play spoiler and risk electing a Republican by drawing general election votes away from Cuomo. The party could feasibly get behind Cuomo while removing Nixon from the gubernatorial ballot line. A back-up plan is in place to move her to an Assembly race, in which she would not run, they say.

[Read: The Cynthia Nixon-Working Families Party Back-up Plan]

“We’re confident that Cynthia’s going to win and that the insurgents running against the IDC are all going to win,” said Bill Lipton, NYWFP political director, in a phone interview. “There’s a progressive wave coming. In the unlikely event that she loses, Cynthia’s agreed to meet with the leaders of the WFP and we’ll have an important decision to make. We’re very confident about any of the possible scenarios.”

A Nixon win would shock the political world, and catapult the WFP to never-before-seen power for a minor party. While initial polls show Nixon losing badly, her campaign argues that polling has been skewed and that polls are unable to capture the insurgent energy among Democrats and behind her candidacy. On the other hand, polling shows Williams to have a very real shot at unseating Hochul, which would also strengthen the WFP and cause major headaches for Cuomo (candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run separately in the primary, but as a ticket for the general election).

If Lipton had concerns about the WFP’s undertaking in this election cycle, he betrayed none of them. “We’re not taking a risk. We’re fulfilling our mission. The risk would be for us if we stray from our mission,” he said, critiquing the Democratic establishment for relying on the same wealthy donors as their Republican opponents. “The mission of the WFP is to break up that cozy relationship between these parties and these oligarchs and demand that there be a party that is truly fighting for working people,” he added. “And Cuomo and the IDC fundamentally made the problem worse by not just taking money from the same wealthy donors that fund the Republican attacks on working people but actually openly supporting and aligning themselves with the Republicans. The danger for us would’ve been not standing up to these Trump Democrats. That would’ve been the greater danger.”

The WFP hasn’t been a pure supporter of every progressive candidate, as evidenced by its choice of Cuomo over Zephyr Teachout in 2014, among others. Though the party derived momentum after the recent primary victory by Ocasio-Cortez, the young democratic socialist who defeated ten-term incumbent Rep. Crowley in Queens, its backing of Crowley left many questioning the WFP afterward. Lipton said the party was now fully behind her and that their earlier decisions owed to the fact that Crowley was moving to his left and the party had already committed to challenging former IDC state senators. “In retrospect, we clearly made a mistake. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has inspired us and working people around New York and the nation,” Lipton said.  

The party also hasn’t made an endorsement in the state Senate District 18 race where Julia Salazar, also a democratic socialist, is posing a primary challenge to Democratic Senator Martin Dilan, an eight-term incumbent. Although, Lipton did not close the door on the prospect of an endorsement. “As of now, the WFP has made no endorsement in the race,” he simply said. The party is backing Andrew Gounardes in a competitive Brooklyn Democratic primary with Ross Barkan, the winner of which will try to unseat one of the few Republican elected officials in the city, Senator Marty Golden.

[Read: Running for State Senate, Julia Salazar Attempts Progressive Primary Upset]

Karen Scharff, co-chair of the NYWFP and, until recently, longtime executive director of Citizen Action of New York, an activist group and member of the WFP, insists the party will come through September 13 with several victories, similarly citing Ocasio-Cortez, among other progressives, who prevailed in the congressional primaries.

“The headline that came out of June 26 was not ‘Democratic establishment wins big.’ It was quite the opposite,’” Scharff said in a phone interview. “I think really that Cuomo and the IDC and the establishment Democrats took a major risk themselves by ignoring the growth of the progressive movement as it really built up steam over the past seven years going back to Occupy Wall Street and then Bill de Blasio’s election in New York City, the Black Lives Matter movement, the Bernie Sanders momentum, and they’re showing that they realize it.”

She noted that Cuomo has moved to his left in the last few months on several fronts, owing to the shifting dynamics of the Democratic base. “I think that the risk we’ve taken in our endorsements this year have already paid off in moving the dominant issues in our state in a direction that is gonna meet the needs of working families instead of the needs of hedge fund donors and real estate donors,” she said, insisting that the governor and state Legislature, no matter who wins, can ill-afford to ignore the WFP’s agenda next year. “I think this is the direction the electorate is moving in and the Democratic Party’s going to have to either move with it or risk being left behind,” she said.

“I don’t think WFP is out on a limb by itself here,” Scharff continued. “This is really part of the establishment versus the entire progressive and resistance movement….We’re definitely acting as part of a broader movement with a lot of allies.”

Public Advocate Letitia James, who first got elected to the City Council on the WFP line in 2003, also attended the 20th anniversary gala, though her presence was more muted. Despite being a longtime WFP poster star, she did not speak to the gathering, choosing to mingle on the sides. James is running for attorney general with the governor’s support and eschewed the WFP’s endorsement, which the party has reserved for either James or one of her primary opponents, Zephyr Teachout, hoping that one of the two prevails September 13. Asked about the party’s risky endeavors this year, which include the challenge against Cuomo, James demurred. “I was with WFP when they had fundraisers at churches and if you didn’t get there early enough, all the cheese and crackers were gone. They’ve come a long way,” she said.

“They took a chance on me several years ago,” she said, “and they are voting their values. I just wanted to come because they are my friends and because when I needed a party to run on, the Working Families Party was there and that’s something I’ll never forget.”

Theodore Hamm, associate professor and chair of journalism and new media studies at St. Joseph’s College and longtime Brooklyn politics watcher, struck an optimistic note about the state Senate candidates that the WFP has endorsed, though he said that Nixon and Williams are unlikely to win. “The question, I guess, is if those people win but Cuomo holds on, then how will the new state Senate take shape with the some of the IDC figures no longer there and the challengers now taking those seats,” he wondered. “But that would certainly give the WFP influence, to a much greater degree than they’ve had thus far in the state Senate. That really should be where they put their energy.”

Even Hamm admitted, though, that after Ocasio-Cortez’s shocking upset, “There’s no certainties anymore of what will happen in the future. In the wake of her victory, even though they didn’t support her, it made it seem like their gamble was worth at least pursuing.”

At the WFP gala, Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke early and eagerly. His association with the party goes back to his years as a City Council member from Park Slope. “People try and bet against the Working Families Party all the time, the status quo loves to discount them,” the mayor said to whoops and applause. “But guess what? The Working Families Party is here to stay.”

[Read: New York Democrats’ Season of Choosing]

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Working Families Party Puts It All On The Line Thu, 02 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Manhattan State Senate Rematch Centered on Breakaway Democrats http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7836:max-murphy-podcast-manhattan-state-senate-rematch-centered-on-breakaway-democrats http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7836:max-murphy-podcast-manhattan-state-senate-rematch-centered-on-breakaway-democrats mxm logo

Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette, and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits


August 1, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: The Epicenter of the Fight Over the IDC, with guests State Senator Marisol Alcántara and challenger Robert Jackson

marisol alcantara robert jackson stateMarisol Alcántara won a close, competitive four-way Democratic primary in 2016 to take her seat in the state Senate, and promptly joined the controversial Independent Democratic Conference (the rogue Democrats who formed a coalition with the majority Senate Republicans), which had supported her in her narrow primary victory, including with hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding. Alcántara says she did not keep Democrats from the Senate majority and that she has accomplished a great deal in her first term.

But Robert Jackson, who narrowly lost to Alcántara in 2016, is challenging her, and this time it's head to head and amid a major backlash against the IDC members, who returned to the mainline Democratic conference in April, in an apparent effort to quell primary challenges that have continued.

Alcántara then Jackson joined Max & Murphy for this week's podcast, originally aired on WBAI radio, where each also took listener calls. The podcast includes the full Max & Murphy hour on WBAI, including the two interviews, listener calls, and other discussion. Alcántara is on starting about five minutes in and Jackson is on starting at about 30 minutes into the hour.

Listen to the full conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to the show on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Manhattan State Senate Rematch Centered on Breakaway Democrats Thu, 02 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000
The July Financial Picture for Former Breakaway Democrats and Their Primary Challengers http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7813:the-july-financial-picture-for-former-breakaway-democrats-and-their-primary-challengers http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7813:the-july-financial-picture-for-former-breakaway-democrats-and-their-primary-challengers liu and ramos via jessicaramos

John Liu and Jessica Ramos (photo: @JessicaRamos)


The deadline for candidates for state office to file their latest campaign finance disclosures with the state Board of Elections was Monday, July 16. The disclosures show candidate fundraising and expenditures from the last six months, from January to July.

All 213 seats in the state Legislature -- 150 Assembly and 63 Senate -- are on the ballot this year, but few incumbents face competitive races. The state Assembly is overwhelmingly composed of Democrats, most of whom do not have a primary challenger. The state Senate, however, has become a battleground for control between Democrats and Republicans, with Democratic conference members holding 31 seats and Republican conference members 32 seats. After a Democratic unity deal in April, bringing a rogue group of eight “independent” Democrats back into the mainline conference, Republicans continued to hold power over the chamber with the help of Senator Simcha Felder, a conservative Democrat from Brooklyn who professes no loyalty to political parties and only votes on policies that he believes suit his district’s interests.

In eight races, incumbent Democratic Senators who were once part of the Independent Democratic Conference -- a breakaway group that caucused with Republicans and helped them hold the majority -- face primary contests from progressive challengers. Those challengers are buoyed by an increasingly aware, angry, and active Democratic base that is set on removing the former IDC members from office.

Those former IDC members, led by Senator Jeff Klein of the Bronx, continue to face criticism over their alliance with Republicans and the progressive legislation and budgeting that it may have held up. The challengers and those supporting them have gained momentum following the recent victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who defeated ten-term U.S. Representative Joe Crowley in the Democratic primary for New York’s 14th congressional district. Notably, Crowley had helped brokered the reunification of the Senate Democrats, along with Governor Andrew Cuomo and other top party officials. Cuomo is himself facing a spirited primary challenge from actor and activist Cynthia Nixon.

The former IDC Senators include six representing parts of New York City: Tony Avella of District 11 in Queens, Jose Peralta of District 13 in Queens, Jesse Hamilton of District 20 in Brooklyn, Diane Savino of District 23 in Staten Island and Brooklyn, Marisol Alcantara of District 31 in Manhattan, and Klein of District 34 the Bronx and Westchester, as well as David Carlucci of District 38 and David Valesky of District 53, both north of the five boroughs.

While fundraising numbers only tell a portion of the story of a campaign or a race, campaign finance filings help indicate where candidate support comes from and what resources a candidate has to help get his or her message out to voters. Challengers to the IDC veterans were eager to tout their number of low-dollar donations as indicative of grassroots support, while the incumbents often posted healthy coffers, though possibly tainted by money transferred from a party account ruled in violation of election law.

District 11
Former New York City Comptroller John Liu launched a late-stage challenge against Sen. Avella, jumping into the race earlier this month in time to petition his way onto the ballot. Liu has yet to raise funds for the race but he has an open campaign account, likely from his previous attempt to unseat Avella in 2014, with a little more than $3,000 in cash on hand as of January. Liu won 47 percent of the vote that year, just after he had lost in the Democratic primary for mayor of New York City in 2013.

Avella, whose district covers who represents northeastern Queens, raised nearly $147,000 in the last six months, of which $68,000 was transferred from the Senate Independence Campaign Committee fund set up by the then-IDC and the Independence Party. A state court ruled last month that the joint fundraising arrangement was illegal, and the transfers could possibly even violate contribution limits established in election law. Avella spent about $80,000 over the filing period and has a balance of about $170,000 in his campaign account.

District 13
One of the Democrats likely most affected by Crowley’s loss is Sen. Peralta, who is relying on the support of the Queens Democratic Party -- chaired by Crowley -- to help him retain his seat in northern Queens. With the party having lost the sheen of immense power, some Queens Democratic insiders say it could affect the candidates who have received its endorsement.

Peralta has raised $322,000 and spent $297,000 of it since January. The SICC was more generous with him, transferring $113,500 to his campaign, with the most recent check having been sent just last week. He has about $182,000 remaining in his campaign account.

Peralta is being challenged by Jessica Ramos, a former aide to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Ramos raised $171,000 over the last six months and has spent $102,000 of it. She has just about $99,000 in cash on hand. In publicizing her haul, Ramos promoted the fact that she had raised most of the funds, about $129,000, from more than 1,400 individual donors, contrasting it with Peralta’s 238 individual donors who gave him about $69,000.

District 20
Sen. Hamilton, who represents parts of central Brooklyn, pulled in about $295,000 for his reelection bid and spent $202,000. As with the other IDC senators, the SICC gave him a major boost with $109,700 transferred to his account. He has about $212,000 left to spend.

Hamilton’s challenger is Zellnor Myrie, an attorney from Brooklyn. Myrie raised $163,000 in this filing period and spent about $96,000. He has just under $156,000 left in cash on hand. Myrie had more than 4,400 individual donors accounting for 98 percent of his fundraising haul, a fact he highlighted while pointing out that Hamilton had only 243 individual donors.

District 23
The district covers Staten Island’s northern shore and parts of southern Brooklyn and is represented by Sen. Savino. The senator hauled in $451,000, of which $270,000 was transferred from an earlier campaign account to a new one. She spent $193,000 in the same period and has $259,000 left in her campaign account.

Savino’s primary challenger, community activist Jasmine Robinson, has not yet filed her disclosure with the BOE. She said in an email that her campaign received an extension and will file the report next week.

District 31
Sen. Alcantara, who is running for a second term, represents a district that covers long stretches of the west side of Manhattan. The incumbent, who narrowly won a tight three-way race in 2016, raised $116,000, which was outpaced by her $130,000 in expenditures. She also had the benefit of receiving $66,000 from the SICC. She has about $132,000 in cash on hand.

Alcantara is facing Robert Jackson, a former City Council member who unsuccessfully challenged her in the 2016 primary for District 31. Jackson raised more than $156,000 and spent about $103,000. He has $157,000 remaining in his account.

District 34
District 34 spans across Westchester and parts of the Bronx, and is currently held by Sen. Klein. As the former leader of the IDC, Klein played a powerful role in the state Legislature for more than seven years and was one of the proverbial ‘four men in a room’ who decide the state budget, along with the governor, Senate majority leader, and Assembly speaker. As part of the Democratic reunification deal, Klein assumed the position of deputy to the Democratic conference leader Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

jeff klein campaign kickoff

Klein raised nearly $740,000 -- $200,000 from the SICC -- between January and July and spent $613,000. He has a whopping balance of $2.1 million, having built up his campaign warchest over the last several years.

Alessandra Biaggi is the upstart candidate taking on Klein in the primary. Biaggi’s latest filings were not available on the BOE website but her campaign said she had raised $260,000 and had about $50,000 in expenditures.

District 38
Sen. Carlucci, who represents Rockland County and parts of Westchester, raised $114,000 for reelection and spent only $32,000. He received $26,000 from the SICC. He has a balance of more than $440,000.

Carlucci’s opponent is Julie Goldberg, whose disclosures were not available with the BOE. Goldberg’s campaign manager, Susanne Kernan, pointed to technical issues with the submission and provided the filings to Gotham Gazette. They showed nearly $17,000 in contributions and and about $4,000 in expenditures, leaving her a balance of under $13,000.

District 53
The district spans Madison County and parts of Onondaga and Oneida, and is represented by Sen. Valesky. He raised $126,000 and spent about $74,000 in the last six months. The SICC gave him $36,000. He has $665,000 remaining in his campaign account.

Valesky’s opponent, Rachel May, raised $84,000 and had expenses worth about $38,000. She has $81,000 in cash on hand.

[Read: New York Democrats’ Season of Choosing]

Other Senate Primaries To Watch
District 22
Democrats see an opportunity this year to unseat Brooklyn Sen. Marty Golden, one of the few Republican elected officials in New York City. His district is situated in southern Brooklyn covering the neighborhoods of Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst, Marine Park, and Gerritsen Beach. Golden raised about $32,000 and has spent more than $125,000 since January. But he maintains a healthy campaign account, with $485,000 in cash on hand.

Two Democrats are competing in the September 13 primary -- Andrew Gounardes, who was an aide to former City Council Member Vincent Gentile, and Ross Barkan, a journalist-turned-candidate. The winner will take on Golden in the general election.

Gounardes raised $124,000 and spent $47,000, and had a closing balance of $181,000. Barkan raised about $71,000 and spent $66,000. He has about $59,000 remaining.

District 17
Felder’s role in propping up the Senate Republicans has prompted a primary challenge from attorney Blake Morris.

Felder represents the neighborhoods of Borough Park, Midwood, and parts of Flatbush, Kensington, Sunset Park, and Sheepshead Bay. The senator is well resourced, having raised more than $430,000 since January and having spent about $110,000. He has a balance of $637,000, far surpassing his opponent.

Morris had raised $41,000 by the Monday deadline and had spent $31,000 of it. He has a little over $10,000 in his campaign account with under two months till the primary.

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note - This article has been updated to more accurately reflect Sen. Jeff Klein's fundraising and expenditure over the last six months. The numbers previously included were from his latest disclosure report which only showed his campaign finance activity since May. 

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The July Financial Picture for Former Breakaway Democrats and Their Primary Challengers Wed, 18 Jul 2018 04:00:00 +0000
New York Democrats’ Season of Choosing http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7798:new-york-democrats-season-of-choosing http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7798:new-york-democrats-season-of-choosing corey johnson jessica ramos robert jackson cityhall

Corey Johnson endorses IDC challengers (photo: Gotham Gazette)


As progressives aggressively attempt to wrest control of the Democratic Party from the hands of those they call centrists and establishment politicians, elected Democrats across New York find themselves in an unenviable position. Abiding by their self-professed progressive values to support insurgent Democratic primary challengers could mean bucking the state party establishment and its leader, Governor Andrew Cuomo, while, on the other hand, toeing the party line risks opening them up to accusations of hypocrisy and betrayal -- and perhaps even a future primary challenge -- levelled by an enraged and engaged base.

A battle that played out during the 2016 presidential primary between Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State and New York Senator Hillary Clinton has only intensified since Donald Trump’s victory. The 2018 election cycle is offering many opportunities across the country for Democrats, elected officials and otherwise, to decide between what is essentially two wings of the party. The Democrats’ season of choosing is easier for some than others, but many prominent party figures find themselves in uncomfortable situations. At stake is nothing short of political careers, the fate of activist organizations, the policy agenda and future of the Democratic Party, the outcomes of current and prospective elections, and their aftermaths in terms of government policies that affect millions.

At the center in New York is Cuomo, his lieutenant governor, Kathy Hochul, and the state Senate’s erstwhile Independent Democratic Conference, eight senators who chose power over party for as many as seven years by empowering Republican control of the legislative chamber, what has been the GOP’s only stronghold in state government. In April, the renegades returned to the fold with assurances from Cuomo, who long tolerated and allegedly enabled their infidelity, that their seats were secure, at least from other Democrats. Under the accord brokered by the governor just after a new state budget was passed, the state Democratic Party machinery, fellow state-level electeds, and prominent labor unions would support these former IDC members -- who were time and again blamed for obstructing the passage of progressive legislation -- and would refuse to aid their challengers.

Though Cuomo and the former IDC members have professed support for progressive priorities -- voting, elections and campaign finance reform, criminal justice reform, women’s reproductive rights, stronger rent regulations, immigrant protections, to name a few -- they have failed to pass legislation along those lines, blaming staunch opposition by Senate Republicans. Their progressive challengers instead say they have been the obstacles to progressive bills by empowering Republicans.

Cuomo, at the top of the Democratic ticket, faces an aggressive challenge from actress and activist Cynthia Nixon in the primary. Nixon’s candidacy, from the left of Cuomo, parallels Fordham Law professor Zephyr Teachout’s unsuccessful gubernatorial bid four years ago, except it comes in a more heightened atmosphere of displeasure on the left following Trump’s election, amid disappointment with Cuomo’s relatively centrist record, and with increased awareness of the IDC. Nixon also has other advantages Teachout lacked, like name recognition and fundraising prowess, though Cuomo has worked over the past four years to make amends with some of his past critics, such as those in certain labor unions.

A similar fight is being replicated in the race for lieutenant governor, between incumbent Democrat Hochul and her progressive challenger, Jumaane Williams, a City Council member from Brooklyn.   

All eight former IDC members face primary challenges ahead of the September 13 vote. Five of those districts fall squarely in New York City while another is split between the Bronx and Westchester, with two others upstate.

In District 13, in Queens, Jessica Ramos is taking on Sen. Jose Peralta; in Brooklyn’s District 20, Zellnor Myrie is challenging Sen. Jesse Hamilton; on Manhattan’s west side, Robert Jackson is going up against Sen. Marisol Alcantara; in District 23, which spans Staten Island’s north shore and parts of Brooklyn, Jasmine Robinson is confronting Sen. Diane Savino; in District 11 in Queens, Sen. Tony Avella will again face former city Comptroller John Liu, who earned 47 percent in a losing 2014 bid to unseat Avella; and in District 34 that covers Westchester and the Bronx, Alessandra Biaggi is attempting to unseat the leader of the what was the IDC, Sen. Jeff Klein, who now serves as the deputy leader in the unified Senate Democratic Conference.

Outside the city, in District 38 that spreads across Rockland and Westchester, Sen. David Carlucci faces a challenge from Julie Goldberg; and in District 53 covering Madison County and parts of Onondaga and Oneida, Sen. David Valesky faces Rachel May in the primary.

For Cuomo and the state party, maintaining what Democratic seats they have in the Senate is paramount as they seek to flip the chamber by picking up more. Republicans have recently held control of the 63-seat chamber by a one-seat margin thanks to their own ranks and a single rogue conservative Senator from Brooklyn, Simcha Felder, a registered Democrat who won his most recent reelection on the Democratic, Republican, and Conservative Party lines -- Felder is also facing a Democratic primary this year, from Blake Morris.

But while they also want to see Republican seats flipped in November, many progressive activists insist that the party needs to elect better, “bluer Democrats” than Cuomo, Hochul, and the former IDC members. Nixon has explained that it is her motivation to run for governor, saying that in the age of Trump not any Democrat will do. Cuomo and his supporters argue that not only has the governor been a progressive powerhouse, but that Democratic energy of all kinds would be better spent working in concert to flip red seats to blue.

That argument has largely fallen on deaf ears among those displeased with Cuomo, Klein, and other Democratic incumbents.

The shiny veneer of the Senate Democrat reunification deal and its accompanying pact of nonaggression has seemed to be wearing off as challengers to the IDC senators pick up endorsements from top Democratic incumbents and, in one candidate’s case, from an influential labor union that helped broker the merger of the Senate Democrats. Meanwhile, Nixon and Williams have picked up far more support from elected officials and organizations than Teachout and her lieutenant governor running mate, Tim Wu, achieved in 2014.

Democrats across the spectrum are taking sides, and others will be expected to do so over the next few months, in decisions that could be determinative for those they endorse, for their own political trajectories, and for the larger map of New York’s Democratic world currently dominated by one set of elected and appointed officials, consultants, labor leaders, and the networks of power they control.

Mayoral Hopefuls
On June 28, New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson announced his endorsement of Biaggi, Jackson, Ramos, and Myrie, providing them a boost at a time when progressives were already feeling emboldened by the congressional primary victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez earlier that week.

A declared democratic socialist with a deeply progressive campaign platform, Ocasio-Cortez defeated Democratic giant Rep. Joe Crowley, a ten-term incumbent and the powerful boss of the Queens Democratic Party who was among the chief drivers of the Senate Democratic reunification and a possible next speaker of the House of Representatives. The stunning upset shook the foundations of the Democratic Party and undercut the conventional wisdom of the primacy of incumbents and machine politics, and its ramifications will likely be dissected for years. In New York, it’s immediate effects were quickly felt. Johnson, who had endorsed Crowley in the race, insisted the result did not affect his decision to endorse the four IDC challengers, which he said was in the works for months, but that did not stop observers from drawing a connection.

“Whether it’s in Washington, D.C., or in Albany, the status quo isn’t working and that is why I’m here today in supporting four amazing candidates,” Johnson said at the steps of City Hall. “They are Democrats, they are progressive Democrats, they will caucus with the Democrats and they will support all the issues that Democrats support.” On Saturday, Johnson said on Twitter that he was ready to fully support Liu. At a Tuesday event in support of Biaggi, Johnson said, “It feels really good to be able to tell the truth and for too long, people were not telling the truth about the IDC and the damage that they’ve done to the state of New York. And that damage was all in their own self-interest, putting their own self-interest above the entire state of New York.”   

In a statement following Johnson’s endorsement, Barbara Brancaccio, a spokesperson for Klein, said, “Frankly we are surprised that our opponent would accept the endorsement of such a radioactive figure coming on the heels of his endorsement of Joe Crowley. We are sure that Johnson will do for this challenger, exactly what he did for Joe Crowley."

At the same time, Johnson has also endorsed Governor Cuomo for reelection over Nixon, who continues to criticize the governor for supporting the IDC and whose platform largely resembles those of the IDC opponents. She shares stark similarities with Ocasio-Cortez and others seeking to upend incumbent Democrats who insurgents believe are too close to big-money interests and not in touch with their constituents who most need them. Nixon has begun to align herself more closely with those IDC challengers, cross-endorsing with Ramos earlier this week, for example.

The same day as Johnson’s endorsement of the IDC challengers, 32BJ SEIU, the prominent building workers union, endorsed Biaggi, though their president Hector Figueroa had months ago been among those who proposed the Democratic reunification deal and the union is among several that have endorsed Cuomo and had also backed Crowley. “Jeff Klein and the IDC have empowered obstructionist Republicans set on blocking key reforms for too long,” Figueroa said in a statement announcing the endorsement. “Never again.”

And just one day prior, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer also endorsed Biaggi, a few months after he had already announced his support for Ramos and Jackson. The endorsements by Stringer, well before the Ocasio-Cortez win and its initial fallout, have won him much praise from liberal activists.

Since his union came out for Biaggi, Figueroa has also addressed the Democratic split in New York, writing on Twitter, “Dems upset about IDC folks being primaried ‘for it may lead to the GOP winning a majority of NY Senate’ do not blame the ‘left’. The ones to be blamed are IDC incumbents themselves & those STILL defending them. IDC betrayed voters creating a big political mess. Time to clean up.”

Along with the number and strength of the progressive primary challengers to established incumbents and Ocasio-Cortez’s win, these endorsements, headlining still others, are the clearest cracks in the Democratic foundation that Cuomo and other state leaders have tried to set.

“I think it’s fascinating because we do see a lack of cohesion as to whether or not people are going to support the IDC members or their challengers,” said Dr. Christina Greer, a political science professor at Fordham University. “And I think this debate is sort of reflective of a larger debate that’s going on in the Democratic Party, for the soul of the Democratic party…‘Are we centrist, conservative-leaning Democrats or are we progressive?’”

To some, these moves may smack of political opportunism, particularly in the case of Johnson, who is supporting progressives on the one hand while propping up establishment centrists like Crowley and Cuomo on the other. But in the New York political landscape, Greer said these endorsements are equally driven by philosophical considerations as they are by pragmatic ones. “These are politicians…I think that they can genuinely care about an issue and I think that they can also be calculating and strategic about it,” she said.

For some, there is also a difference between backing a less experienced candidate for state Senate based on ideological reasons as opposed to the chief executive of the state.

Both Johnson and Stringer are widely expected to run for mayor in 2021, the next city election cycle, when Mayor Bill de Blasio will be term-limited out of office, and tapping the progressive energy that Ocasio-Cortez rode to power, and that is now propelling Nixon, Williams, the IDC challengers, and others, would likewise boost their own political fortunes.

“I think in the Democratic primary, the progressive energy in the city, that’s what you want to tap into if you’re running for mayor,” said Eric Koch, managing principal at Precision Strategies, a Democratic consulting firm, and former director of communications for City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “So it makes sense to endorse the folks running against the IDC people because in terms of the activists and the people who are organizing against the IDC versus who is a Democratic primary voter in a mayoral election, there’s a pretty big overlap there.”

It’s important to note that the IDC incumbents themselves have powerful backers, including unions like 1199 SEIU, many of which are in Cuomo’s corner as well.

While Stringer and Johnson have decided to buck Cuomo and those involved in the unity deal, other likely 2021 mayoral candidates have not. Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. is a Cuomo ally and closely aligned with the Bronx Democratic Party apparatus, led by its chair, Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, and its former chair, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who signed onto the unity deal.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams has been critical of Cuomo over the course of years, but has not made endorsements yet. His approach is complicated given his alliance with Senator Hamilton, formerly of the IDC. Adams did invite Nixon early in her campaign to tour a Brooklyn NYCHA complex and the two went to Albany Houses together. The Brooklyn borough president has voiced strong criticism of Cuomo, but has not embraced Nixon beyond the NYCHA visit, nor has he weighed in on Williams’ challenge to Hochul or the IDC races.

“They’re looking at these challengers and their districts, I’m sure, to sort of see what kind of coalition they would need to put together,” Greer said. “When they run for mayor, Andrew Cuomo may or may not still be in office...but a great campaign marketing slogan is, ‘We fight Albany. We fight Albany to make sure that New York City gets the money and resources we need.’”

“Sure they care, but it’s also a very strategic move,” Greer said, “to make sure that they’re distancing themselves from the status quo to say that, ‘When tough decisions needed to be made, I didn’t just go along to get along.’”

Statewide Case
Public Advocate Letitia James, who is running in the Democratic primary for attorney general (and had been a likely 2021 mayoral candidate), is charting a course similar to Diaz, Jr., but with a much higher profile given her bid for statewide office. James quickly jumped at the opportunity when Eric Schneiderman resigned the post after facing allegations of physical and emotional abuse by several intimate partners. Seen as an early frontrunner, with the blessing of the state Democratic Party and the governor, James rejected the possible endorsement of the progressive Working Families Party that had helped launch her political career as a City Council member.

The WFP has been closely aligned with the IDC challengers, as well as Nixon and Williams, supporting their insurgent bids for office, while James has in the past supported at least one member of the IDC, Senator Alcantara, though she has come to criticize the IDC and called for reunification well before her attorney general bid.

“I would essentially argue, if I were in these progressive groups that used to support Tish very openly, well what now gives you progressive bonafides?,” said Greer. “So her messaging has to be very clear for her supporters. Because they have progressive choices.”

“Two days after Schneiderman resigned, it was essentially reported that Tish would be heir apparent and that’s the way much of the press is writing about the race...and I don’t necessarily see that to be the case anymore,” she added.

James faces three other primary contenders: former Cuomo aide Leecia Eve, congressional Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, and Fordham Law professor Zephyr Teachout, who challenged Cuomo in the 2014 Democratic primary and lost, but managed to get a significant share of the vote, at 34 percent. Teachout, like Nixon, has been severely critical of the IDC and endorsed five IDC challengers as part of the TrueBlueNY coalition months before the attorney general position became available and she decided to run. When Schneiderman resigned, Teachout was at the time Nixon’s campaign treasurer, a position she has since vacated to run for attorney general.

Among the four Democratic attorney general candidates, Teachout is undoubtedly furthest to the left. At the WFP nominating convention, delegates chose Nixon and Williams, and opted to install a placeholder for attorney general until, they hope, either James or Teachout emerges from the Democratic primary victorious and is offered the additional ballot line for the general election. James has expressed her love for the WFP despite initially shunning its endorsement and has said she believes everyone will coalesce again in the near future.

While James has aligned herself with Cuomo and his unity deal, Teachout, who endorsed Ocasio-Cortez in May, is staunchly behind IDC challengers and has recently campaigned alongside Williams.

Koch doesn’t believe her endorsements will give her a significant edge, however. “I do think that there might be some benefit in endorsing some of the folks against the IDC because that’s where the progressive energy is,” he said, “but at the end of the day, people who are voting for attorney general aren’t basing their votes on just the issue of the IDC, they’re coming at it from a much more holistic spectrum.”

The experts who spoke with Gotham Gazette noted the significance of the ‘Ocasio effect.’ Both Teachout and Nixon had endorsed Ocasio-Cortez in the run up to the congressional primary and seized on her victory to emphasize that progressive challengers can defeat machine-backed incumbents. “There’s very much a movement that’s energizing the left and politicians who ignore it or who fall too far behind are really doing so at their own peril,” said a Democratic consultant who wished to remain unnamed so he could speak freely.

“There’s certainly a lot of parallels between Cuomo and Crowley, you know, representing the old guard, like white-working class Democrats,” said the Democratic consultant. “But that being said, I wouldn’t read too much into the Ocasio win as portending a loss for Cuomo because Cuomo’s still extraordinarily popular among African-Americans, particularly African-American women, and Cynthia Nixon hasn’t to this point been able to show the ability to break into that base of support, which is really what you’re seeing here. It’s a combination of minority voters and very young, progressive voters.”

For their part, top Nixon campaign aides cite Ocasio-Cortez’s victory in expressing their belief that public opinion polls can no longer be trusted to capture the progressive energy that has largely emerged since the 2016 election of Donald Trump.

Koch said activist pressure against the IDC and its supporters has been building but “at the state level, people are gonna hedge their bets a little bit more because, one way or another, they’re gonna have to work with some of these folks.”

Greer seemed more bullish about how far the momentum behind Ocasio-Cortez would carry into state elections. She conceded that Democrats across New York are not as progressive as they are in New York City, but that the win gave a much-needed confidence boost to IDC challengers as well as Nixon and Teachout, not to mention obvious opportunities to add volunteers and donors. “It’ll be fascinating to see if, all of a sudden, Cynthia and Zephyr can ride the coattails of Alexandria,” she said, a notion that, before the congressional primary, “would’ve sounded like crazy talk.”

“But the reality here is...Alexandria’s getting national attention for the message that Cynthia and Zephyr have been championing,” she said.

Other Democrats Choose
Virtually every elected Democrat in New York is expected to pick sides: Cuomo or Nixon; Hochul or Williams; James or Teachout or Eve or Maloney; Klein or Biaggi; and so on.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, one of the most powerful Democratic officials in the state by virtue of his position, has so far stayed on the sidelines, regularly declining to comment on the 2018 New York elections, but promising to weigh in at some point. Given that Nixon was a fervent supporter during his winning 2013 campaign for mayor and again supported him for reelection in 2017, and his ongoing feud with Cuomo, de Blasio’s decision in the gubernatorial race is especially interesting. In 2014, before their feud had really escalated, de Blasio backed Cuomo for reelection, even helping broker him the Working Families Party nomination. He has indicated it did not work out as planned.

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, not facing a primary challenge himself, has backed Cuomo and Hochul, but says he’s likely staying out of the attorney general primary, even though the state party is behind James.

While many Democratic officials have already or are expected to back Cuomo, there are local electeds who, beholden neither to the governor nor their respective Democratic machines, have chosen to break from the pack. New York City Council Member Carlos Menchaca was the first of his colleagues to endorse Nixon’s bid for governor, and Council Members Jimmy Van Bramer and Antonio Reynoso later followed suit. Williams, running for lieutenant governor, is also an apparent Nixon backer, but the two have not formally linked up as a ticket, so to speak (the two positions are elected separately in party primaries, but together in the general election).

Reynoso and Menchaca, and Council Members Brad Lander, Adrienne Adams, and I. Daneek Miller have also backed Williams for lieutenant governor. Williams has also announced the backing of state Senator Kevin Parker, and across the state he has picked up endorsements from legislators in Albany and Syracuse, while Nixon was recently endorsed by more than a dozen Hudson Valley elected officials.

Nixon’s most prominent recent endorsement came from the former City Council Speaker, Mark-Viverito, a progressive in the same vein who drew parallels between Nixon and Ocasio-Cortez. “These two boldly progressive women share the same values and priorities,” Mark-Viverito wrote in the New York Daily News. Nixon also cross-endorsed with Ocasio-Cortez the day before the congressional primary, and in the last week, has done so with Ramos, who is seeking to unseat Senator Peralta, formerly of the IDC, and Julia Salazar, a democratic socialist challenging Democratic state Senator Martin Dilan in northern Brooklyn.

On Wednesday, Senator Hamilton's challenger, Myrie, announced four new endorsements from Assembly Members Walter Mosley, Diana Richardson, Jo Anne Simon and Robert Carroll, who represent Central Brooklyn.    

Democratic Unity?
“It goes back to the basic tenet: a house divided against itself can’t stand,” said Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the Senate Democratic leader, in a recent appearance on the Max & Murphy podcast hosted by Gotham Gazette and City Limits. The senator was addressing the Senate unity deal and whether Klein would be loyal to it. “How are we gonna do this?...I’m not gonna be sitting there having people somehow undermine the efforts that we have to be a team. That’s always been the case.”

Sen. Michael Gianaris, the chair of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, has ruled out endorsing the former IDC members, according to the Daily News -- Gianaris has had a long running feud with Klein, the IDC head -- and has been noncommittal on whether he may support their opponents. “Everyone seems to be on their best behavior on both sides and there seems to be genuine effort to work cooperatively and get to where we’re trying to go, so hopefully that continues,” Gianaris said in a separate Max & Murphy interview.

Lieutenant Governor Hochul, in her own appearance on the podcast, said Democrats attacking each other only serve to polarize voters and that the party would be better off expending that energy against Republicans. “We can all be purists about everything when we have a Democrat in the White House, when we have the House and the Senate, and when we have New York State Legislature,” she said. “Then we can fight each other on the nuances.”

Along with the decisions facing them now about who to back in the primaries, one major question for New York Democrats is what happens after September 13, and whether party members can coalesce for the general election. Republicans have completely avoided primaries for all four state-level statewide races of governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller, and attorney general, and in virtually every state Senate district held by an incumbent.

“I don’t think [the Democratic Party] fractures,” said the Democratic consultant who didn’t want to be named. “I think that’s the evolution of the party. That’s the direction that you’re seeing the party, and it’s largely driven by a local reaction to federal issues. It’s very largely a reaction to Trump on a number of things, on immigration, on labor, on health care, on taxes, on women’s rights.”  

The frustration with Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress, the consultant said, means that Democrats want “a much more aggressive stance and debate” from their own leaders.

Koch from Precision Strategies said the party will likely come together in the face of a larger enemy to sweep the major statewide races -- governor and lieutenant governor, attorney general, and comptroller. “The Democratic Party has always been a very big tent party, it’s always run the ideological spectrum from the progressive wing through to a more centrist wing,” he said, “and that’s why the party has been successful…After these primaries are done, Democrats will come together and unite because there are bigger threats and what unites us is definitely stronger than what divides us.”

“I think the relationships will by and large repair themselves,” Koch added, “I suspect that after the primary, folks will get together and hash out whatever needs to be hashed out.”

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note - This story has been updated to include mention of endorsements received by Zellnor Myrie from four state Assembly members.

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New York Democrats’ Season of Choosing Wed, 11 Jul 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Andrew Cuomo’s Missing Endorsements http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7615:andrew-cuomo-s-missing-endorsements http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7615:andrew-cuomo-s-missing-endorsements Cuomo

Gov. Cuomo (photo: Governor's Office)


On March 19, New York’s gubernatorial race intensified when actor and activist Cynthia Nixon declared her candidacy. The incumbent, Governor Andrew Cuomo, shifted into high gear, chasing down endorsements from all quarters. He got a few -- a Senator, some labor unions, an old rock star who doesn’t live in New York. All fine and good, but where are the endorsements from the New York City Council, the Public Advocate, City Comptroller and borough presidents? Even more curious, where are the endorsements from the 133 people who know him best?

Who are these 133 people? They are the Democratic members of the New York State Assembly and Senate. They are the elected representatives who ostensibly share an agenda with the governor and, in theory, work with him to pass laws. But all 133 Democratic members of the Senate and Assembly have remained conspicuously silent when it comes to the leader of their party. What’s more, they haven’t criticized Nixon’s primary challenge. Instead, they remain in patient equipoise at a time that Cuomo seems increasingly anxious to secure support against a formidable primary opponent. Why?

The Legislature is tired of Cuomo’s business as usual. First, lawmakers are no doubt angered by Cuomo’s repeated exclusion of the chosen leader of the Senate Democrats, Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, from budget negotiations and policy pushes. Never has this been more glaring than this year, when he publicly promised to seek her feedback on sexual harassment laws, and then reneged -- but kept Senator Jeffrey Klein in these negotiations despite the accusations of sexual assault recently leveled against him. In a year where the #MeToo movement has flexed its considerable political power, Cuomo underestimated the impact of excluding women from negotiations (resulting in a sexual harassment package, and budget, that is not even close to as strong as it could have been).

Second, Cuomo has mismanaged his preferred mechanism for excluding Senator Stewart-Cousins from the leadership, otherwise known the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC). Albany’s worst-kept secret is that this rogue group of senators, Democrats who have empowered Senate Republicans to run the State Senate since 2011, has been supported by Cuomo. Seven years ago, Cuomo could get away with this. Now, in the age of Trump, enabling Republicans is untenable.

It took Cuomo too long to realize his support of the IDC hurts him at the polls, as it has with fellow Democratic elected officials. In fact, in a miscalculation of epic proportions, he kept the IDC on during budget negotiations. He could have had a trifecta of Democrats (himself, Carl Heastie and Sen. Stewart-Cousins) build the budget, achieved if he had called special elections earlier in the year. Instead, he waited, calling them for April 24 so he could keep Sens. Jeff Klein and John Flanagan in budget negotiations with him instead. As a result, the budget left out major planks of the Democrats’ progressive platform, like early voting, the Child Victims Act, criminal justice reforms, and more. New Yorkers noticed. In particular, many Westchester voters (those suburban voters that Cuomo so eagerly courts) noticed because they went unrepresented in budget negotiations, and their empty Senate seat could have tipped the balance of the upper chamber to the Democrats.

This budget fiasco caused Cuomo to scramble to solve his IDC problem. His promised “deal” to reunify the IDC with the mainline Democrats, originally scheduled for after the special elections, abruptly accelerated. In a hastily devised agreement, Cuomo forced Sens. Stewart-Cousins and Klein to shake hands for the cameras and work out most of the details later, without even the courtesy of a heads-up to Sen. Stewart-Cousins before the meeting where he exerted a unifying power he had not-that-long-ago said he did not possess.

Democratic lawmakers across New York have good reason to doubt the veracity of this rushed reunification. (Progressives are also dubious.) Perhaps they recall 2014, when Cuomo, in order to secure the endorsement of the Working Families Party, promised to undo the IDC (that never happened). They see that the IDC continues to hold high-dollar fundraisers, with Cuomo in attendance, signalling that real unification has not happened at all, and the IDC’s return to the GOP is inevitable. Perhaps they are just tired of Democrats who need to be forced to work with their own party, who hold bills hostage in committee, and suck up an unfair share of legislative resources year after year. Whatever the reason, Cuomo’s after-the-fact “reunification” of the IDC with the mainline Democrats is truly a case of too little, too late.

The governor wants to get these missing 133 endorsements, by hook or by crook. During the press conference announcing the “reunification” deal, Cuomo declared by fiat that the newly united Democrats will support one another, including his gubernatorial campaign. Yet, the 133 endorsements have still failed to materialize. Democratic lawmakers are resisting Cuomo’s machinations in the one way they can, and as they say, the silence is deafening.

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Lisa DellAquila is a co-leader of True Blue NY. Heather Stewart is an organizer with Empire State Indivisible.  On Twitter @makeNYTrueBlue and @es_indivisible.

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

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Andrew Cuomo’s Missing Endorsements Sun, 15 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Cuomo's Progressive Promises, Reminiscent of Four Years Ago, Received Differently http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7613:cuomo-s-2018-progressive-promises-reminiscent-of-four-years-ago http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7613:cuomo-s-2018-progressive-promises-reminiscent-of-four-years-ago Cuomo Klein IDC Stewart-Cousins

Stewart-Cousins, Cuomo, and Klein at unity event (photo: Govenor's Office)


In May 2014, Governor Andrew Cuomo attempted to earn the last-minute endorsement of The Working Families Party with a video address at its nominating convention. As Cuomo sought a second term that year, he made a series of promises demanded by WFP members and received the party’s backing and ballot line. The deal with frustrated progressive activists and labor union leaders, who make up the WFP, was in part brokered by Mayor Bill de Blasio after the WFP threatened to run Zephyr Teachout to Cuomo’s left.

Cuomo, a Democrat, promised to back a series of progressive policies and a Democratic takeover of the state Senate -- including the reunification of mainline Democrats and the Independent Democratic Conference -- where he acknowledged that many of those policies had been blocked.

Nearly four years later and with little he had promised the WFP accomplished, Cuomo made similar pronouncements, this time weeks ahead of the planned WFP convention, while he is facing a challenge from the left by actor and activist Cynthia Nixon. Nixon won the endorsement of the WFP on Saturday, however, with the party losing union members loyal to Cuomo and being driven by activists disillusioned by the governor, though he has made attempts to win them over. Those activists pushed for an early endorsement vote and got one, with the progressive, activist wing of the party ready to move beyond past support for Cuomo.

Last week, Cuomo announced from his Manhattan government office the end of the IDC, a group of eight breakaway Democrats that has often voted with and empowered Senate Republicans, as a legislative conference. Part of the motivation for his work brokering a deal between the IDC and mainline Democrats, Cuomo said, was to pass a progressive agenda that had not made it through the Legislature, including the Dream Act and campaign finance reform.

The 2014 and 2018 announcements both served as olive branches to the left, where trust of Cuomo has been thin for many years. In 2014, there was much skepticism of his commitment to the WFP agenda and to flipping Republican-held Senate seats, and in 2018, many do not believe in his commitment to fully dissolving the IDC or fighting for a unified Democratic Senate that pushes a sufficiently progressive agenda. Without acknowledging he did not keep any prior promises, Cuomo, again seeking the WFP endorsement until it became clear he would not get it, has said this time will be different.

But the relationship between Cuomo and progressive activists appears beyond repair, and with the WFP nearing a Nixon endorsement, two major unions and Cuomo allies -- 32BJ SEIU and CWA -- announced on Friday they are leaving the WFP, as first reported by The New York Times.

During his second term, even as he has tacked left on a number of issues, Cuomo has continuously been pilloried by many progressives for not enacting certain components of the Democratic agenda. This disappointment has been channeled by Nixon, who last month announced her gubernatorial bid and has repeatedly and forcefully criticized the governor from the left, outflanking him on issues from taxing the wealthy to marijuana legalization.

Brokering the IDC deal, Cuomo insisted, is not a result of Nixon’s run. Instead, it was with the aim of unifying Democrats in the Senate and pursuing other seats to form a majority, which would allow unpassed parts of his agenda to move through the Legislature, he said. Nixon has organized her run around the idea that Cuomo is not a “real Democrat,” empowering Republicans and failing to fulfill key policy promises.

The announcement came on the heels of the completion of the 2019 fiscal year budget, which omitted many of those progressive policy items the governor has said he backs, also including early voting and bail reform. Acknowledging some of those failures, Cuomo has pointed to the Senate Republican majority, a group holding onto power by a thin margin, bolstered by the IDC, and, many on the left believe, Cuomo’s tacit consent. The governor also waited to call special elections for two vacant Senate seats previously held by Democrats until after the budget, angering many on the left.

“We finished the budget. We did a lot of good things in the budget, but there are also things that we didn't pass that we need to pass,” he said at the unity press conference last week. “Child Victims Act, more gun safety, bail reform, the Dream Act, banning outside income, campaign finance reform, early voting - these are all progressive principles that were not passed in the budget and which we will not pass until we have a Democratic Senate.”   

Speaking to the advantages of a Democratic Senate was among the several parallels between the WFP convention address and last week’s IDC announcement. “We must pass the DREAM Act, because we believe in immigration, and we are not threatened by differences, we are excited by diversity,” he said in 2014. “I told the Senate leadership coalition, the IDCs and the Republicans, that we needed a success in passing the DREAM Act, public finance, Women’s Equality Act this session, or they would’ve failed the people.“

More broadly, the message of unity at last week’s announcement echoed what he said to the WFP convention attendees. “If we are unified, and if we are mobilized, and if we come together, we can take control of our government and we can make our agenda a reality,” he said in 2014. “But we have to do it together. We can seize this opportunity for historic change. I hope we can do it, I hope we can do it together.”

“We have two goals,” Cuomo said at his Democratic unity announcement last week. “Number one, elect a Democratic Congress so we can stop the Washington agenda and stop the Washington agenda from further damaging our state. And secondly, to elect a Democratic Senate so we can protect ourselves with our own state laws here in New York.”

He added, “Now in many elections, Democrats divide and they splinter their efforts and divide resources, time and energy.”

There are key differences between the contexts surrounding the two sets of Cuomo promises.

Teachout launched her 2014 challenge against Cuomo months later in the cycle than Nixon has this year, deciding to stick with a Democratic primary run after she did not get the WFP nomination. With little money or name recognition, she won 34 percent in what has roundly been regarded as an embarrassment for Cuomo that showed his unpopularity with the left.

In recent years, the relationship between the governor and mayor has frayed, as the two have sparred over many issues. And while de Blasio worked to help Cuomo secure the WFP endorsement during the last election cycle, it appears almost impossible he’ll do so in the coming month. Asked by a reporter from The Observer in March if he would help Cuomo receive the WFP endorsement, he laughed and said, “You are a creative thinker.”

De Blasio has repeatedly said he is not ready to weigh in on the 2018 elections yet, but will at some point.

Furthermore, the national political landscape has shifted a good deal since 2014. With a Trump administration hostile to Democratic legislative aims and values, Cuomo has used the president as a way to unite New York’s left behind him. “The State of New York, I don't think it's over dramatic to say, it is under attack,” the governor said last week. “It is under attack by the Trump Administration, working with Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, which are trying to bring an extreme conservative ideology to this country and to this state.”

But the Trump presidency has also energized an activist left, much of which does not like Cuomo, either. So four years after his WFP video address, which many have likened to a hostage tape, will Cuomo earn the Democratic nomination again? And if he does and subsequently wins reelection, will he fulfill his promises he’s made to New York’s left?

Teachout, now Nixon’s campaign treasurer, does not believe that Cuomo can be trusted to do so. On Twitter Thursday, she reminded her supporters of what she regards as the governor’s shortcomings. “Andrew Cuomo has used his power to serve hedge fund and real estate donors and betray kids, working men and women, basic infrastructure, and the promise of New York State,” she wrote. “So, for all the WFP members out there who voted for me four years ago, AND all of you who didn't: vote for Nixon. Remember Cuomo's 2014 promises to you. His word isn't good. His budgets, his tax priorities, and his donors tell you everything you need to know.”

Gerald Benjamin, a longtime SUNY New Paltz political science professor, told Gotham Gazette that the tide would soon turn in the Democrats’ favor. It’s a question of when, not if, the Democrats take control of the Senate, he said. “In my view, a Democratic Senate is inevitable. It’s a question of timing,” he said. “The demographics are what they are.”

When Democrats take the Senate, Benjamin predicted that Cuomo would be maneuvering under different political realities. “The priorities are going to be made different. The balance of outcomes will change, that's for sure," he said.

Still, he cautioned against expecting sweeping changes coming in Albany should Cuomo be re-elected, labeling Cuomo a “mainstream New York liberal Democrat.”  “He's a centrist politician. He's not a left politician,” Benjamin said. “Having said that, he holds many of the values Democrats hold in New York."

Benjamin added that this dynamic is also due to the responsibilities the governor has that advocates, activists, and other interest groups do not, such as tending to the state’s fiscal health. "Governors can't responsibly do all those things,” he said, referring to ambitious and often expensive initiatives. “They have considerations the advocates don't have, and they should.”

In a brief phone interview on Thursday, WFP New York State Director Bill Lipton would not comment directly on what he expected from Cuomo moving forward, but told Gotham Gazette that he was optimistic about accomplishing the goal of a progressive Senate, which he said was “long overdue.”

“I think with the strong WFP-backed candidates challenging IDC incumbents, and the resistance mobilized for November, we feel confident that we’re going to win the progressive majority this fall,” said Lipton.

“We are committed to electing a truly Democratic state Senate that puts New York’s working families first,” said Dom Leon-Davis, WFP’s communications director. With the departure of the two unions, the WFP appears on the verge of endorsing Nixon on Saturday, Lipton told Gotham Gazette on Friday afternoon.

Though its convention is not scheduled to take place for another month, WFP committee members are gathering in Albany Saturday -- WFP leadership has repeatedly stated that its state committee members will vote this time around without the influences of 2014.

“The 233 members of the WFP state committee have an important decision to make tomorrow, things are certainly heating up," Lipton said on Friday. On Saturday Nixon received over 90 percent of the WFP vote at its meeting -- a previously scheduled party get-together that became an endorsement meeting when members of the party were itching to get behind Nixon and start campaigning on her behalf.

Heather Stewart, an organizer for Empire State Indivisible, a progressive activist group, said among the many developments that have occured in the last four years is that frustration among activists with the IDC has grown. “I think things are different now. I think that the public’s opinion on the IDC has changed,” she said. “More people know what it is now.”

The frustration with Cuomo has grown, too, Stewart said. “The activists who are doing the work on the state level are extremely tuned in to what’s happening. So they see the little nuances in how things don’t look right. Even by political standards it doesn’t look like what Cuomo is doing makes any sense,” she explained.  “I don’t think people are buying what he’s saying.”

“I think that Cuomo is very good at saying ‘Hey, look at what I’m doing right now.’ And then things don’t actually follow through,” Stewart continued. “He doesn't follow through.”

Despite Cuomo’s past broken promises or inability or unwillingness to move elements of a progressive agenda, some on the left do see hope for 2018 and beyond, given the circumstances and clear pressure being put on the governor and IDC members. While Cuomo has pointed to policy failures and the Senate Republicans, he has also been far more boastful about what he has accomplished over the past seven-plus years as governor, including marriage equality, gun control, a significant minimum wage increase, paid family leave, and more. He has also increased his standing with organized labor, key in any Democratic primary in New York.

Stewart said activists in New York “want to fortify something legally that are our deepest-held values. We don’t want them threatened by what’s happening on a federal level.” Perhaps nothing signifies this sentiment more than the fact that Roe v. Wade abortion protections have not been enacted into state law, despite Cuomo calling it a priority.

“We have a harmful person in the White House right now and activism has engaged citizens on a local, state, and national level,” Stewart said. “People are watching. The threat of primary challenges is more present than it was even in 2014. It’s not just for the governor now; it’s for the slate of IDC senators.”

“In the wake of the Trump election,” Leon-Davis of the WFP said, “people are looking in their own backyards to see how to make progressive change and people are paying attention now more than ever to what’s happening and have been dissatisfied with the actions of the IDC and are looking for real Democratic leadership.”

Note: this story has been updated to reflect the WFP endorsement decision.

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Cuomo's Progressive Promises, Reminiscent of Four Years Ago, Received Differently Fri, 13 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000