Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/312 Sun, 22 Oct 2017 17:41:28 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Planned Change to Veterans Department Budget Causes Stir http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6739:proposed-budget-cut-to-veterans-department-causes-stir http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6739:proposed-budget-cut-to-veterans-department-causes-stir bdb vets via nycveterans

photo: @nycveterans


Mayor Bill de Blasio’s preliminary budget, released January 24, proposes nearly $1 billion in increased spending for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. But a conspicuous, albeit infinitesimal, reduction for one agency has irked elected officials and advocates.

The mayor’s spending plan, which will be evaluated by and negotiated with the City Council, includes a $318,000 decrease in the budget for the newly-minted Department of Veterans Services, which was created last year as an agency outside of the Mayor’s Office and given a significant budget boost. The DVS budget for the current fiscal year is $3.95 million, but de Blasio has $3.63 million budgeted for fiscal year 2018.

While it is a tiny fraction of the $84.7 billion preliminary budget plan, stakeholders argue that it is a step back for an administration that just last year made the major commitment to expanding veteran services by establishing a stand-alone agency after much lobbying by City Council members and advocates. The city, however, explains that the budget reduction is because one-time department start-up costs are coming off the books.

“It’s pretty sad that the Mayor of the city of New York decided to cut the department’s budget,” said state Senator Marty Golden, a Republican who represents Bay Ridge and sits on the Senate’s Committee on Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs. “It’s cutting case management for veterans, it’s cutting healthcare for veterans, it’s cutting homelessness services for veterans.”

Golden has organized a rally outside City Hall on Wednesday afternoon to protest the budget change as well as call for additional tax relief for veterans. He’ll be joined by the City Council’s three Republican members -- Steven Matteo, Joe Borelli and Eric Ulrich, who chairs the council’s veterans committee --  as well as mayoral candidates Michel Faulkner, Paul Massey, and Richard "Bo" Dietl, and veterans advocates. Council Member Ulrich, the leading governmental force behind the creation of the Department of Veterans Services, did not respond to requests for comment.

“This is a bad signal to send to veterans and to the homeless,” Golden said of the budget change. “I’m hoping [Mayor de Blasio] reevaluates and he redirects that money.”

Mayoral spokesperson Freddi Goldstein explained in an email that the funding decrease is primarily due to one-time costs incurred in setting up the new agency last year, including fees paid to a consultant, costs for office equipment, and the non-renewal of a one-year position funded by a private grant. That funding runs through the end of the 2017 calendar year and is not reflected in the fiscal 2018 budget, according to a DVS spokesperson. A spokesperson for the mayor said that like other funding elements, the position could be negotiated back in over the course of the coming months.

In an office of about 30, the loss of that one position, related to homelessness prevention, would be “significant,” said Kristen Rouse, an Army veteran and president and founding director of NYC Veterans Alliance, an advocacy organization. The group will hold its own rally on February 14. “I completely understand that there were one-time costs, but they should be expanding regardless,” she said. “The trajectory needs to be an upward motion, not a downward one. Funding directly reflects that.”

Rouse pointed out that homelessness prevention is the biggest challenge for the department and said it should be part of a broader strategy of ensuring access to affordable housing for veterans. “There’s hundreds of veterans in shelter,” she said. “That’s important progress but that’s not a victory.”

The city ended chronic veteran homelessness by the end of 2015 and has set up an effective pipeline for getting veterans off the street. According to DVS spokesperson Alexis Wichowski, the latest count from January showed about 35 military veterans remain homeless and not in shelter. She also pointed out that the median stay for veterans in homeless shelters is about 79 days, compared to 355 for single adults, per the Mayor’s Management Report.

Wichowski said the budget changes were not a matter of concern and were always part of the plan in setting up the agency. “We are almost at full capacity, that’s a huge milestone,” she said. The agency has hired 33 of its 35-person budgeted staff and is set to embark on a number of projects and programs. “Getting people on board and getting them trained has been the focus for the last few months,” Wichowski said.

Under the direction of Commissioner Loree Sutton, the department now also has satellite offices in the Bronx and Queens and two on Staten Island, and is in the process of establishing agreements for offices in Manhattan and Brooklyn. DVS primarily offers help so that the 210,000 military veterans living in New York City can access services and benefits available to them.

City Council Member Borelli, a member of the veterans committee, was surprised and disappointed by the budget reduction. “It’s a question of the mayor’s long-term commitment to supporting the veterans agency,” he said. He critiqued the mayor for funding other items at comparable levels of the cuts, particularly $500,000 for speed cameras. “We can’t be blinded by the desire to see certain policy goals met while we abandon commitments we’ve already made,” he said.

At Wednesday’s rally, Borelli said the budget shift wouldn’t be the only item they will push. A key proposal, one promoted by veteran advocacy organizations for years, is the expansion of an alternative property tax exemption for veterans, which the NYC Veterans Alliance estimates would cost the city about $40 million at a time when the city’s assessed property tax value increased by $17.6 billion. It is a measure of much-needed housing affordability, several advocates and elected officials agree.

“The budget is about outlining priorities through a document,” Borelli said. “This is just saying that [DVS is] less pressing than other priorities.”

Next month, the City Council will begin to examine the mayor’s budget and issue its formal response, after which the mayor will release his executive budget, a revised spending plan. Following another round of Council hearings, the Council and mayor will move to closed-door negotiations before agreeing to a final budget for the next fiscal year by the June 30 deadline.

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Planned Change to Veterans Department Budget Causes Stir Tue, 31 Jan 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Board of Elections Dysfunction on Display Again Ahead of Hearing http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6592:board-of-elections-dysfunction-on-display-again-ahead-of-hearing http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6592:board-of-elections-dysfunction-on-display-again-ahead-of-hearing borelli council hearing

Council Member Joe Borelli (photo: William Alatriste)


The dysfunction that has seemed to define the New York City Board of Elections this year was again on display Tuesday when its executive director first declined to testify at an imminent City Council oversight hearing and within hours reversed that decision.

With just two weeks to go before the November 8 general election, the City Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations scheduled an oversight hearing for Wednesday to gauge the BOE’s preparedness -- something typical of all election cycles. After the board’s abysmal management of voter rolls ahead of the April presidential primary in New York, it was already under pressure to ensure that the general election goes smoothly. Then, the board got pulled into controversy after the recent release of a secretly-recorded video that showed Democratic Manhattan election commissioner Alan Schulkin alleging widespread voter fraud in the city facilitated in part, he said, by the municipal identification program, IDNYC, which has nothing to do with voting.

Following the release of the video, City Council members have been rearing to grill the BOE for answers and it seemed for a few hours on Tuesday that they would be left disappointed. Council Member Joe Borelli, a Staten Island Republican and government operations committee member, had written to the committee’s chair, Council Member Ben Kallos, calling for a hearing on Schulkin’s claims. Kallos, Manhattan Democrat, pointed out that the BOE would be in for a pre-election oversight hearing as usual, and mostly dismissed claims of voter fraud. In the meantime, Mayor Bill de Blasio called for Schilkin to resign and said there is no evidence of voter fraud. Schulkin walked back his claims, somewhat, and said he had no intentions of resigning.

On Tuesday afternoon, Borelli tweeted out the image of a letter in which BOE executive director Michael Ryan declined to testify before the committee.

“Given the timing of the hearing, the notice date and the proximity to the election, unfortunately, it is not possible to cease election day preparations to prepare testimony and appear before the council,” Ryan wrote. The letter pointed out that BOE was given short notice of the hearing, being informed by email on Monday. Ryan also requested that the committee push the hearing to a date after the general election, “preferably after the anticipated election certification date,” which is expected to be November 22.

By 5 p.m., however, Borelli was told by City Council central staff that the BOE had agreed to appear before the committee for its pre-election check-in, as scheduled: Wednesday at 10 a.m. at City Hall.

A BOE spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment and there is no explanation for the flip-flop. “I don’t know if they’re afraid I have some smoking gun, which I don’t,” Borelli told Gotham Gazette when reached by phone. “I just want to know why the commissioner would say those things.”

Borelli pointed out that the hearing has been on the Council’s public calendar for at least a week, but conceded that the BOE may have been given little notice. “I give them the benefit of the doubt,” he said, “because at the end of the day, they agreed to come.” At the hearing, he intends to question the nature of Schulkin’s comments, whether they were true and deserve to be investigated, or whether they were false and warrant Schulkin’s resignation. Council Member Kallos was not available for comment on Tuesday, but will chair Wednesday’s hearing.

Notably, the BOE also cancelled its own weekly meeting that was scheduled for Tuesday afternoon. When reached by phone, a spokesperson did not give a reason except to say that the executive committee had made the decision and that the board would meet as scheduled next week on November 1.

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Board of Elections Dysfunction on Display Again Ahead of Hearing Tue, 25 Oct 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Ulrich Starts Raising Funds on Message of Beating De Blasio in 2017 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6590:ulrich-starts-raising-funds-on-message-of-beating-de-blasio-in-2017 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6590:ulrich-starts-raising-funds-on-message-of-beating-de-blasio-in-2017 ulrich de blasio 2017

de Blasio, seated, & Ulrich, to his right (photo: Ed Reed, Mayor's Office)


He’s not sure he’ll take the plunge, but City Council Member Eric Ulrich is beginning to raise money and test the waters for a possible 2017 mayoral run. The key motivator for Ulrich, a Queens Republican, is his belief that “Mayor de Blasio is destroying and dividing our beloved city.”

That is how Ulrich is framing a fundraiser he is holding Tuesday evening, adding of Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, “I believe he can be beat in 2017 but I need your help” on the Facebook event page. For the fundraiser, a $1,000 donation puts you on the “dump de Blasio” level.

Ulrich, who calls himself a “moderate Republican,” supported Ohio Gov. John Kasich in the Republican presidential primary and readily talks about working across the aisle. He’s holding Tuesday’s event “to raise some money and have a discussion with my supporters and my friends about running next year,” he said during a Monday interview. “I’m seriously considering a run for Mayor,” he said.

Explaining that he wants to launch a campaign that is both “a referendum on the mayor” and an opportunity to put forward a different vision from current city leadership, Ulrich said he would model himself after former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s “bipartisan, independent” approach. Ulrich heaped prasie on Bloomberg during the interview, calling the former mayor “a friend,” and said, “I should hope that I would be half as good as Mike Bloomberg was.”

In that vein, Ulrich said he has met with Howard Wolfson, a top Bloomberg aide, and other Bloomberg administration veterans, and that he plans to meet with Bradley Tusk, Bloomberg’s 2009 campaign manager who has launched an independent effort, “NYC Deserves Better,” to find the right candidate to defeat de Blasio.

While Tusk has declared he’s looking to back a Democrat in 2017 because he thinks the best path to defeat de Blasio is through the primary, Ulrich said he hopes to get him “to change his theory” and explained what he sees as his wide-ranging appeal: he is fiscally conservative, but also pro-choice, pro-marriage equality, pro-labor, and always ready to work with people of all viewpoints and party affiliations, he said.

“I’ve met with Howard Wolfson privately,” Ulrich said of Bloomberg’s top political advisor. “I’m not going to divulge everything we discussed. We talked about next year’s race, and I was very encouraged by the conversation.”

Ulrich represents neighborhoods including Breezy Point, Ozone Park, and Rockaway Beach, and is the chair of the Council’s veterans affairs committee. He said Monday his plan is to bring in several hundred donors and launch a significant fundraising haul with a series of events between now and the next Campaign Finance Board filing in January. Admitting he has hurdles to clear before declaring a run for Mayor and an uphill battle if he does run, Ulrich said he wants to test the waters and, hopefully, take on de Blasio, who is mostly seen as a heavy favorite to win re-election. A key, Ulrich acknowledged, is raising solid early money and showing he can qualify for the city’s public matching funds program.

He’s been meeting with political, civic, business, and faith leaders across the city, Ulrich said, “on my own time” (as opposed to when he’s performing his City Council duties). Democrats, Republicans, and independents included, the 31-year-old Council member said, many of whom are supportive, though interested in what kind of campaign he can begin moving before endorsing him or offering concrete help. Ulrich said he hasn’t hired a political consultancy yet, but has had several show interest.

Ulrich acknowledges the steep challenge for a Republican in an overwhelmingly Democratic city, but also believes that a strong enough candidate could convince the city’s Republicans, most of its unaffiliated voters, and some of its Democrats to change course from de Blasio. He predicts a good likelihood of major independent expenditure money flooding the race in order to remove de Blasio from office.

“Some of the people rumored to run for Mayor, both on the Democratic side and the Republican side, have missed the mark,” Ulrich said. “It’s going to be a referendum on de Blasio -- whether or not people want Bill de Blasio to be a one-term mayor. If you like the direction of the city...vote for Bill de Blasio. If you want to put the city on a different direction...then you’ve got to vote for somebody else.”

While he said that “The big albatross around the mayor’s neck is the homeless crisis -- this is an issue that he’s failed to address,” Ulrich listed a few specific issues that he thinks the mayor has not performed on, but appears more focus on pointing to something less tangible, but important.

“I think that we’re facing a crisis of confidence,” Ulrich said. “I believe people simply don’t have confidence in the mayor’s ability to do a good job...People just don’t like the guy, and that’s important to being in public office.” Ulrich referenced the investigations into the mayor’s fundraising practices.

Allies of the mayor are quick to point out that Ulrich doesn’t have the resume, gravitas, name recognition, or money that Bloomberg had when he won three citywide elections as a Republican or independent.

Dan Levitan, a spokesperson for de Blasio’s re-election campaign, said in a statement, “Under Mayor de Blasio, crime just hit another all-time low, jobs are at record highs, the City is building and preserving affordable housing at a record pace, while graduation rates and test scores continue to improve. We are happy to match that record against anyone.”

Speaking on Monday, Ulrich gave de Blasio credit for his universal pre-kindergarten program, but said state funding made it possible and that he otherwise doesn’t have anything positive to say for the mayor. He pointed to questions around de Blasio’s education agenda, his mismanagement of the city’s Build It Back Sandy recovery program; said there is low morale in the NYPD, and criticized the mayor for “his combative relationship with the press and the governor.”

Ulrich admitted he has big questions to answer, with the fundraising near or at the top. “I’m not going to run to get embarrassed,” he said. “Am I going to give up my seat on the City Council, where I could run for reelection one more time...do I want to give that up to run for Mayor? Only if I really thought there was a path to victory and I could get the support that I needed.”

Most experts believe de Blasio has a very strong chance of winning another term. He is popular among Democrats and has many advantages of incumbency. But, he is much less popular among Republicans and unaffiliated voters, and he is deeply unpopular among white New Yorkers, polls show. One question for any de Blasio general election challenger is whether there are enough votes out there to be captured in a city that is heavily Democratic and increasingly made up of people of color.

According to the state Board of Elections, as of April 1, there were just over 4 million active registered voters in New York City: 2.76 million of them Democrats; 460,000 Republicans; 785,700 unaffiliated; and about 162,000 registered with other parties, like the Independence, Green, Working Families, and Conservative parties.

Short of viability against de Blasio, unknown for Ulrich is what the Republican primary field will look like. Real estate executive Paul Massey has declared a run, and there are other rumored candidates, but it’s not clear what the city and state GOP leadership are doing in terms of cultivating candidates. Ulrich said he’s had some encouraging conversations with county and club leaders; some people have told him he’d give de Blasio “the best fight,” he said.

Ulrich added, “Some of have said, ‘Eric’s a good guy, but we want another rich white guy...a billionaire.’” But, Ulrich said he’s not sure that Bloomberg-like figure is out there -- a strong candidate who can also self-finance. “If we’re tied with CFB funds,” Ulrich said of himself and de Blasio, “I can’t imagine powerful business and civic folks not getting involved” with independent expenditures.

“Eric has a lot of talent,” said City Council Member Joseph Borelli, a Staten Island Republican. “The mayor is unpopular in many parts of the city where Eric’s voice could resonate, but it’s early in the process and there are a number of Republicans who’ve expressed interest, and we should be careful with who we nominate.”

Borelli and Ulrich come from different wings of the GOP -- Borelli has been a major supporter of Donald Trump’s candidacy, while Ulrich has been in the “never Trump” category and backed Kasich. Ulrich has regularly voted for City Council bills that Borelli and the third Republican in the City Council, Minority Leader Steven Matteo, vote against. Still, if Ulrich is the Republican nominee for Mayor in 2017, it’s all-but-certain that Borelli and other Republicans back him. The question is how much money and enthusiasm Ulrich or any Republican nominee for Mayor can attract -- de Blasio’s 2013 opponent, Joe Lhota, was not the beneficiary of a major rallying of the troops. De Blasio won in a landslide.

One place Ulrich could be looking for support is through Tusk and his ambition to unseat de Blasio, who he has called corrupt and incompetent. Asked about the prospect of meeting with and supporting Ulrich, Patrick Muncie, who works at Tusk Strategies and is a spokesperson for NYC Deserves Better, sent Gotham Gazette a statement saying, “While we like and respect Council Member Ulrich, and are happy to meet with him to discuss our shared belief that New Yorkers deserve honest, competent leadership in City Hall, we’re confident the most realistic path [to defeating de Blasio] is through the Democratic primary.”

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Ulrich Starts Raising Funds on Message of Beating De Blasio in 2017 Mon, 24 Oct 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Election Commissioner’s Rant Prompts Dispute Over IDNYC and Voter ID in New York http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6572:election-commissioner-s-rant-prompts-dispute-over-idnyc-and-voter-id-in-new-york http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6572:election-commissioner-s-rant-prompts-dispute-over-idnyc-and-voter-id-in-new-york de blasio mccray arrive to vote

Mayor de Blasio & First Lady McCray arrive to vote (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


City Council Member Joe Borelli, one of three Republicans in the 51-seat City Council, on Tuesday called for a hearing on voter fraud and said that he supports a statewide voter identification law to combat potential fraud. Borelli’s calls came after the release of a secretly-recorded video that showed a Democratic Commissioner for the city Board of Elections claiming significant voting fraud and criticizing the city’s municipal identification program for contributing to it.

Borelli, who sits on the Council’s governmental operations committee, which has oversight of the Board of Elections, wrote to committee chair Ben Kallos, a Democrat from Manhattan, requesting the hearing. Kallos told Gotham Gazette on Thursday that he disagrees with Borelli about the need for a state voter identification law and said that he will bring up the fraud allegations by BOE Commissioner Alan Schulkin at an already-planned elections oversight hearing in October.

Schulkin’s comments and the call for a voter identification law also prompted strong rebukes from the offices of Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

The video in question, first reported by the New York Post, is the work of Project Veritas, a conservative group that purports to investigate corruption in public institutions through hidden camera exposes. The group’s founder, James O’Keefe, has a checkered history of using ‘gotcha’ tactics and manipulated videos to pursue his agenda.

In the video, shot by a Project Veritas member at a holiday party hosted by the United Federation of Teachers in December, Schulkin, the Democratic election commissioner from Manhattan, said, “I think there is a lot of voter fraud” and claimed, falsely, that the city gives away its municipal identification card without any prerequisites. There is also no relationship between the municipal ID and voting in New York.

The New York City Board of Elections is composed of a Democratic and Republican commissioner from each of the five boroughs. In the video, Schulkin suggested that IDNYC, the municipal ID card that is a signature accomplishment for both de Blasio and Mark-Viverito, can be used fraudulently, even to cast a vote, and that the law should establish a form of identification for voters.

“You know, I don’t think it’s too much to ask somebody to show some kind of an ID,” Schulkin said. Schulkin clarified his remarks to the Post on Monday but did not entirely recant his words. “I should have said ‘potential fraud’ instead of ‘fraud,’” he said.

The de Blasio administration and other local elected officials didn’t take kindly to the unsubstantiated claims made by Schulkin or the calls for voter identification.

“These allegations are not only false, they’re racist,” said Austin Finan, a mayoral spokesperson, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “Voter fraud fear-mongering is a rightwing smokescreen designed to not only disenfranchise the poor and people of color, but thwart efforts to deliver sorely needed electoral reforms in New York and across the country. New Yorkers deserve public officials who are committed to defending democracy, not undermining it.”

Another spokesperson pointed out that the municipal ID program has built-in fraud prevention measures and involves layers of screening and authentication. According to the latest quarterly report from September, the program detected 92 instances of suspected fraud and prevented those applications from going through, out of more than 996,000 applications. In another 18 cases, an applicant may have applied with a different name and in a single case, the application documents could not be verified.

Council Member Borelli took Schulkin’s allegations quite seriously in another way. In his letter on Tuesday to Council Member Kallos, Borelli wrote, “I believe that we have an obligation to our constituents to do our due diligence and investigate the veracity of these claims as they relate to potential fraudulent activities by perpetrators who fall under the jurisdiction of a city agency.”

Saying that he was “weary of the potential for fraud that could be committed by those that would abuse this program,” Borelli pushed for a hearing where Schulkin should testify. He also said the “merits and effectiveness” of the IDNYC program should be evaluated to “reassure taxpayers that their money is being spent judiciously and with proper oversight.” When Gotham Gazette asked Borelli on Twitter whether he supports a voter identification law for New York, Borelli responded, “yes, statewide. Would be state law.”

During a phone interview Thursday evening, Borelli said, “I want to remind the administration that this is a Democratic commissioner, and to my knowledge no Republican commissioner has made a claim of voter fraud.” “I’m not sure why there’s a hint of protectionism over what this person is saying,” Borelli added, noting that "any other allegation of fraud from a commissioner anywhere would be investigated."

“How often is it you have an agency head saying there is fraud in their own agency and you have people trying to sweep it under the rug?” Borelli asked, rhetorically.

Any claim that the IDNYC can be used for voter fraud is dubious, since New York State requires no identification to vote except a signature -- something Borelli acknowledged Thursday, saying he is focused on the allegations of voter fraud.

Voter identification laws, meanwhile, are almost always controversial and have been the subject of a number of legal battles across the country, particularly in Republican-led states. Those on the left say that there is scant evidence of voter fraud that would necessitate such laws and that such voting requirements tend to keep people of color from voting.

A spokesperson for the New York Attorney General’s office said in an email, “We haven’t received reports of widespread voter impersonation fraud discussed in the video.”

Council Member Kallos told Gotham Gazette he “fervently” disagrees with Borelli. “I do not believe that we need voter identification,” he said. “I believe it is a tool used to disenfranchise voters.”

Kallos said he was “troubled and concerned” about Schulkin’s comments in the video and would bring the issue up at an oversight hearing already in the works before Borelli sent his letter -- the City Council holds a hearing ahead of election administration.

“Everything that was said is troubling,” Kallos said of the video, which released the same day that Kallos hosted an IDNYC pop-up registration event on Roosevelt Island. “We hope to have oversight of the BOE...to find out what happened, whether any of these views had an impact in the conduct of any of the presidential primary elections or any election since this man has been appointed to the BOE.”

Borelli wants to drill down on voter fraud. “To say there are no individual cases of fraud within the Board of Elections system when we have annual hearings on fraudulent petition signatures would be false,” he said Thursday. The Staten Island Council member pointed to discussions across the country about the possible need for voter identification and questioned the matching signatures approach currently used in New York, saying that he's sure there are instances where a voter's signature does not match what is in the sign-in book but the discrepancy is not reported.

Kallos said the oversight hearing, which will be held by the end of October, already planned to focus on whether the Board of Elections is prepared for the presidential election on November 8. The agenda will touch upon the state voter file, whether or not voters who were incorrectly purged from the rolls before the April presidential primary had been restored, whether the BOE will have enough people to work on Election Day, and any concerns brought up by Council members, including Borelli.

In an emailed statement, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said of the video, “These uninformed opinions have no basis in fact.” Spokesperson Eric Koch said the speaker does not believe in voter identification laws.

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Reporting contributed by Ben Max.

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Election Commissioner’s Rant Prompts Dispute Over IDNYC and Voter ID in New York Thu, 13 Oct 2016 04:00:00 +0000
New Yorkers, Including the Presidential Nominees, Head to the National Party Conventions http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6439:new-yorkers-including-the-presidential-nominees-head-to-the-national-party-conventions http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6439:new-yorkers-including-the-presidential-nominees-head-to-the-national-party-conventions RNC banner

The RNC approaches (image via @GOPconvention)


The next two weeks will see the formal nominations of the two major party candidates in the contest to succeed Barack Obama as President of The United States. First, this week, Republicans are expected to nominate Donald J. Trump, who on Saturday morning introduced Indiana Governor Mike Pence as his vice presidential running mate. On Saturday, Trump promised “we’re going to have an incredible convention.” The theme of the convention is "Make America Great Again," which has been Trump's campaign slogan.

All eyes will be on Cleveland Monday through Thursday as the Republicans convene, with New York delegates front and center at the convention given that the presumptive nominee calls the Empire State home. Americans are also bracing for protests and many are hoping that there is no violence outside or inside Quicken Loans Arena.

The same goes for Philadelphia, where the following week, that of July 25, the Democrats are set to name Hillary Clinton their nominee for President.

Clinton also calls New York home, and there are many New York angles to the upcoming Republican and Democratic national conventions. These include the delegations traveling to Cleveland and Philadelphia, which for the Democrats will include both Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, among many other high-profile New Yorkers.

Aside from officially nominating their presidential and vice-presidential candidates, the conventions will also see formal adoption of the official party policy platforms. These decisions are being made by the thousands of delegates from across the country who attend each convention - an assortment of current and former elected officials, prominent party members, activists, businesspeople, and others - in part as dictated by the voting that occurred in each state.

As the Republican convention kicks off, it appears that any last-ditch efforts from within the party to keep Trump from the nomination have been scuttled. The speakers list for the convention fit with Trump’s campaign as an anti-establishment outsider and is largely devoid of major party figures - there will be no appearance by prior presidential candidate Mitt Romney, former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, or a variety of Republican governors, senators, and others who are prominent in the party. Home-state Governor John Kasich, of Ohio, one of Trump’s rivals for the nomination, is not scheduled to be part of the proceedings.

There will be a full slate of speakers, of course, including Trump’s four adult children, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Gov. Chris Christie, Senator Ted Cruz, Gov. Scott Walker, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, GOP Chair Reince Priebus, and others. Pence will be the headline speaker on Wednesday night, while Trump will give the convention's final words on Thursday evening.

With some time still before the Democratic convention, the big news everyone is waiting for is Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential nominee. Many are calling Virginia Senator Tim Kaine the frontrunner, but nothing official has been announced. Unlike Trump’s convention, Clinton’s will feature a ‘who’s who’ of major party names - Democratic National Convention speakers will include President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, former President Bill Clinton, Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and others. Like Trump, Clinton will see her adult child, Chelsea, speak.

As the conventions kick off there is much to watch for over the next two weeks; they also signal the start to the final three-and-a-half months of the campaign, leading to Election Day on November 8: the final stretch of speeches, platforms, polls, ads, debates, and more.

Here’s what New Yorkers need to know and should be watching for as the national conventions arrive:

REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CONVENTION, July 18-21

When and Where is the RNC?
The 2016 Republican National Convention (RNC) will be held July 18-21 (Monday-Thursday) in Cleveland, Ohio at the Quicken Loans Arena. After a tough and controversial primary season, the RNC is an opportunity for more party healing and unity. In the lead up, most discussion of a coup to replace Trump with another nominee has quieted. Trump said on Saturday that one reason he chose Pence as his running mate is “party unity.”

Trump, who has been a media and reality TV star, told the Washington Post that he intends to put his own “showbiz” spin on the convention’s proceedings, though the official list of speakers is looking lighter on sports and entertainment legends than at one time thought.

Who Are the Delegates?
Though the exact process varies by state party rules, delegates to the RNC generally fall within three categories. Each state gets ten at-large delegates, plus delegates awarded based on that state’s Republican electoral success in the past (for instance, having a Republican Governor). Each state is allocated delegates based on congressional districts and each state’s Republican National Committeeman, Committeewoman, and State Chair all attend as delegates.

Following this formula, New York will have a total of 95 delegates, including 27 from New York City, 54 from around the rest of the state, and 14 at-large. In a change of long-time state party rules, New York’s GOP delegates this year were selected by the State Republican Committee and several mini-committees for each of New York’s twenty-seven congressional districts, rather than having many determined by the presidential candidates on the ballot. The switch was intended to reward long-time party loyalists over the candidates’ friends and family, who were often favored in the past, according to Syracuse.com.

Jessica Proud, spokesperson for the State Republican Party, considers the new delegate selection process a welcome shift from a “top-down” to “bottom-up” approach.

“It's considered a coveted role to be a delegate,” she said in a phone interview with Gotham Gazette, “so this was a way to help reward the people that have really been the stalwarts of the party, helping to elect our candidates and grow our party every year. They were really pleased with it.”

Currently, 89 of New York’s delegates are pledged to Trump, while 6 remain bound to Kasich (who won Manhattan), though the Ohio governor officially suspended his campaign on May 4.

The New York Angle
“In a lot of ways, New York was the catalyst to help Trump seal in the nomination,” Proud recalls.

“It was the first time he had gotten over 50 percent of the vote, and then right after that was Indiana, and then Cruz and Kasich both dropped out,” Proud said. “So it all came together in New York; he won every demographic. It was the first time he really proved that he could go outside a larger box than he had in previous primaries and caucuses.”

Trump came out of New York’s April 19 primary with a large lead over Kasich and Cruz and the writing was all but on the wall. While Kasich did squeak out New York County (aka Manhattan), Trump dominated the rest of the state, winning 60.4 percent of the total vote.

This success, plus Trump’s extensive New York networks, both personal and professional, means this year’s RNC will be dominated by New Yorkers.

At-large delegates include Chair of the state GOP Ed Cox, state party Finance Chair Arcadio Casillas, Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, and Wendy Long, who is challenging Senator Charles Schumer in November.

On Friday, Cox released a statement praising Trump’s choice of Pence as a running mate, saying, in part, that "Mr. Trump has once again demonstrated the leadership skills required to make the changes necessary to put America on the right track."

Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani has been publicly backing Trump and is set to speak at the convention. He is a delegate to the convention, pledged to Kasich. City Council Member Joseph Borelli, of Staten Island, is a Trump delegate. Borelli has been a frequent Trump surrogate on TV for many months. He travelled to Ohio with his successor in the state Assembly, Ron Castorina, and former Council Member Vincent Ignizio.

Other prominent GOP delegates include Alfonse D’Amato, former U.S. Senator; Carl Paladino, honorary co-chair of Trump’s New York campaign and 2010 gubernatorial candidate; Tom Dadey, first vice chairman of the state GOP and co-chair of Trump’s New York campaign; and state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan - several other state senators will be in attendance: Golden, DeFrancisco, O’Mara, Croci, though DeFrancisco is the only delegate among them (he is pledged to Kasich). Assembly members Kolb and DiPietro are delegates. Assembly Member Bill Nojay, an upstate Republican who in the past played a significant role in attempting to push Trump to run for New York Governor and helped lay the groundwork for Trump’s presidential bid, will not be attending.

New York State Senators are hoping to maintain or expand their slim majority through the November elections and Trump’s candidacy may pose challenging for some candidates running in more moderate districts.

Rubye Wright will also attend to vote for Trump - at 94 years of age, she is the oldest delegate heading to the convention, according to amNewYork. A Harlem native and lifelong Republican, Wright has attended every national convention except one since 1968. A complete listing of New York GOP delegates can be found on Ballotpedia.

According to the New York Post, the State GOP has considered offering Donald Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., the ceremonial role of announcing New York’s 95 delegate votes. Trump Jr. will be attending the convention as one of Manhattan’s high-profile district delegates, and has been actively involved in his father’s campaign. Convention organizers may also position Trump Jr.’s announcement so that the New York delegation’s votes send Trump over the majority threshold to secure the nomination. Both details have yet to be confirmed.

“We certainly would love to have him in that role,” Proud said of Trump Jr., who will speak at the convention, “but the logistics are being worked out between the campaign and the State Committee.”

New York City’s only Republican member of its House of Representatives delegation, Daniel Donovan, will attend the convention. In an interview with the Staten Island Advance, Donovan said, "It's going to be exciting for our state.” Looking ahead to November, he said, "Traditionally, Republicans don't win New York, but we have a New Yorker as the Republican nominee for the first time in a very long time."

Role of the Delegates
Unlike the Democratic Party’s superdelegates, most of the 2,472 delegates at the RNC are technically bound to vote for a certain candidate. According to the Associated Press, only 95 delegates are unbound and can vote for whomever they choose. Trump amassed 1,542 pledged delegates, which puts him over the majority threshold of 1,237 to secure the nomination. According to Adele Malpass, chair of the Manhattan Republican Party and a New York congressional district delegate, Trump’s nomination is nothing short of guaranteed; “We're having an infomercial kind of convention, not a brokered convention. Everyone's going as a Trump delegate.”

With calls for a “Dump Trump” movement subsiding, the 112-member Convention Rules Committee finished its business without changing things to aid the naming of a different nominee. At least a few opposing Trump may continue fighting. "Whether you supported Donald Trump along the way or not: He. Is. Our. Nominee," said RNC Rules Committee Chairman Bruce Ash on Tuesday, according to CNN.

Delegates at the convention must vote on the party’s official policy platform. Members of the Platform Committee finished the draft platform while Trump himself took a hands-off approach, according to the New York Times, which cites discrepancies between the conservative language of the Republican platform and Trump’s more moderate views on issues such as LGBT rights.

According to the Times, moderate Republicans pushing for amendments to be made “secured enough signatures on Tuesday to demand a vote on their proposals from all 2,475 delegates,” so there may be some concessions made on the convention floor Monday before the final vote.

See You in Cleveland
For all aspects of the convention, New York will be front and center. “There'll be a big spotlight on us,” Proud noted, referring to the New York delegation as a whole.

“New York is already prominently featured, but the fact that our nominee is from the state really adds a whole other level of excitement and anticipation. It's definitely evidenced by the volume of requests that the state party has had of people wanting to attend. We've had way more requests than tickets that were given to us. The downside is you can't accommodate everyone, but from a party standpoint, it’s very encouraging that so many people wanted to be there and that people are very excited.”

DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION, July 25-28

When and Where is the DNC?
The Democratic National Convention will take place July 25-28 (Monday through Thursday) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Though Brooklyn was seriously considered to host the convention amid a strong push from Mayor Bill de Blasio and others, Philadelphia won the honor.

How are the Delegates Allocated?
There are three types of delegates for the Democrats: pledged delegates, who petitioned in order to get on the ballot and become a delegate, and are legally bound to support a particular candidate; at-large delegates, chosen by the state Democratic Party, who pledge to vote for a particular candidate; and unpledged delegates, otherwise known as superdelegates, who are prominent party leaders not bound to any candidate. There are 345 representatives of the New York State Democratic Party heading to the convention, according to the party.

There is no drama expected at the Democratic convention in terms of delegate allocation as Bernie Sanders has conceded and endorsed Hillary Clinton, so the types of delegates are unlikely to be a factor.

As more signs were pointing to a Clinton win by a solid margin, she won her home state of New York on April 19. Throughout the race, Clinton accumulated an overwhelming majority of the superdelegates, known party insiders always supportive of her over Sanders, who has not been an establishment Democrat. This led to some of the calls from Sanders and his supporters of a ‘rigged system.’

The Democratic Party Platform
Sanders and his supporters, plus the national Democratic tilt leftward, have had a significant influence on the party platform being adopted this year -- progressive influence throughout the primary season as well as recent, more explicit demands. Two issues are emblematic: calling for a $15 per hour minimum wage and standing against capital punishment in all circumstances. The party platform has stepped to the ideological left of Clinton, who has spoken in favor of a $12 federal minimum wage (with states going higher per their judgement) and capital punishment for certain crimes.

Dr. David Birdsell, a professor and dean at Baruch College, does not believe that Sanders’ endorsement of Clinton is enough to dissipate all of the tension within the Democratic Party.

“The Sanders endorsement – and he did use the word ‘endorse’ – of Clinton will go a long way toward reducing contention and controversy in Philadelphia,” Birdsell said in an interview. “[However,] there will still be some tension; Hillary Clinton is too polarizing a figure to expect an entirely smooth process. But chances are good at this point that Democrats will come together and unite for the fall campaign - barring further repercussions from the FBI’s decision not to prosecute [Clinton, regarding her email scandal], but that’s a general election problem, not a convention problem.”

Birdsell also believes that the concessions that the Democratic Party has made will be the only ones for a while.

“I suspect the concessions made to date are the end of the story, at least through the convention. Could there be a rear-guard effort to get TPP language in the platform? Yes, but given the deep affront that would pose to the sitting President, who is and will remain through November the Party’s principal asset, I think anything public highly unlikely.”

The New York Angle
Basil Smikle, executive director of the New York State Democratic Committee, is excited about the amendments to the party’s platform. Smikle sees them as an expansion of New York values to the rest of the nation. “I think New York has been in this conversation and led it for a long time,” he said.

“I think the state and the party has had a tremendous impact on the platform itself, and going to the convention with the leadership of the Governor is certainly carrying the work that Hillary Clinton has done for New York and the Senate, and what she's been able to accomplish and discuss on the campaign trail,” Smikle continued. “Those are New York values, and we are thankful that they've been able to influence other states, other delegates, and certainly the platform itself."

The Democrats released only the headline speakers as of Sunday, July 17, which includes the top-level names mentioned earlier: both Obamas, Bill and Chelsea Clinton, Joe Biden, and Bernie Sanders. It is unclear whether Gov. Cuomo or Mayor de Blasio will have a speaking role.

Smikle, a Cuomo appointee, confirmed that Cuomo has not yet been selected to speak at the convention. “We haven't gotten a schedule of speakers from the DNC yet, so that may still be discussed by the folks at the DNC at this point...I would love for [Cuomo] to have a speaking role. I hope he does."

“I’m sure I’ll have some role, but I’m also sure it’s not about me,” Cuomo said in late June, according to New York State of Politics.

Cuomo has been selected to chair New York state’s delegation at the DNC - a choice that caused Sanders supporters to protest. Delegates backing Sanders have refused to recognize Cuomo’s authority as the chair, and have said they will “file a legal challenge to the nomination of Gov. Andrew Cuomo as the chair of New York’s delegation.” It’s unclear if this controversy has subsided in the wake of Sanders’ endorsement of Clinton and the approach of the convention itself.

Other notable New York Democratic superdelegates include former President Clinton, Senators Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and Mayor de Blasio. De Blasio said on Wednesday that nothing around his speaking role had been decided. The same was true for City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who has been a frequent Clinton surrogate and campaigner this election season and will be part of the delegation to Philadelphia.

Other members of the New York Democratic delegation include Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, much of the state’s Democratic House delegation; City Council Members Jumaane Williams, Rafael Espinal, and Richie Torres, Public Advocate Letitia James, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.

According to Smikle, this year’s delegation “brings a tremendous sense of pride for us as New Yorkers.” He cited work New York leaders have done to move progressive policy and their impact on national politics.

“I think what New York broadly and the delegation specifically brings is that a lot of what's in the platform has been discussed and implemented in New York for quite some time, so I do think members of our delegation have had an incredible impact,” he said.

A complete list of the 345 New York DNC delegation is available here, courtesy of the State Democratic Committee.

See You in Philadelphia
Asked on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show if he was attending the DNC, Mayor de Blasio said on June 29, “Of course. I’m a delegate, and I’m looking forward to going there and voting for Hillary.”

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by Amanda Sherwin and Rebecca Oh
@GothamGazette

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New Yorkers, Including the Presidential Nominees, Head to the National Party Conventions Sun, 17 Jul 2016 04:00:00 +0000