Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/317 Sat, 21 Oct 2017 02:53:32 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Republican Mayoral Hopefuls Pitch Candidacies at Manhattan Forum http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6896:republican-mayoral-hopefuls-pitch-candidacies-at-manhattan-forum http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6896:republican-mayoral-hopefuls-pitch-candidacies-at-manhattan-forum manhattan gop forum

Wednesday's forum (photo via Manhattan GOP)


Candidates running, or hoping to run, for the Republican mayoral nomination made the case for their candidacies at a GOP forum in Manhattan on Wednesday night, pitching their qualifications and levelling criticism at Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio. Indicative of de Blasio’s incumbent status and the nature of the opposition field, the event featured more criticism of the mayor than forward-looking policy talk.

The Metropolitan Republican Club, on the Upper East Side, hosted four candidates -- real estate executive Paul Massey, state Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, Harlem pastor Michel Faulkner, and retired NYPD detective and private investigator Richard “Bo” Dietl. The first three are registered Republicans and can compete for the nomination if they collect the required petition signatures, but Dietl is currently running as an independent and seeking a Wilson-Pakula certificate from Republican county leaders that would allow him to also run in the Republican primary. Dietl originally sought to run as a Democrat against de Blasio in the primary but made errors in his filing paperwork that precluded him from doing so and also left him out of the Republican Party, which he had been a member of for decades, he’s said.

Meanwhile, billionaire John Catsimatidis, who unsuccessfully sought the GOP mayoral nomination in 2013, was also in attendance Wednesday night. Catsimatidis has been exploring another run, but appears unlikely to enter the race. Malliotakis, who declared her candidacy this week, is close to Catsimatidis and has said she would step aside if he decided to run again.

“We are all here, united around one thing,” said Adele Malpass, chair of the Manhattan County GOP, in opening remarks. “It is to make Bill de Blasio a one-term mayor.”

Malpass said a Republican candidate has a path to victory if they can pull together a broad and diverse coalition that includes Republicans, independents, 150,000 families on charter school waitlists, the orthodox Jewish community that voted for Donald Trump, common sense Bloomberg Democrats on the Upper East Side that voted for Joe Lhota, small business owners, and rank-and-file first responders. A Republican can reach 51 percent, she said, scoffing at perceived media skepticism over a Republican’s chances of beating de Blasio. “I can guarantee you tomorrow, when you look in the newspapers, the narrative is going to be ‘Oh they can’t win,’” she said.

Wednesday’s candidate screening was for Republican leaders from across the city to gauge the viability of each candidate, in part with an eye toward attempting to coalesce around a single candidate and avoid a primary battle that could be damaging to their side. Over the course of nearly two hours, the candidates were questioned on why they would appeal to voters and their positions on various policies and issues including the city budget, transit infrastructure, public safety, quality of life, Rikers Island, and the Campaign Finance Board’s public matching funds program. Save for a few occasional jabs, the candidates refrained from criticizing each other.

Just two minutes were given to each candidate on each issue, contributing to a lack of concrete policy proposals. More so, the candidates lobbed critiques, and at times insults, at de Blasio, met often by applause and jeers from the 100 or so people gathered.

Malliotakis is currently the only woman on either side of the mayoral race and the only Republican candidate to have held elected office -- she represents parts of Staten Island and a sliver of Southern Brooklyn in the state Assembly. She called de Blasio a “tax and spend” mayor who is throwing “good money after bad money,” citing the significant increase in the city’s budget in the last three years. “I believe that we can change the direction of the city,” she said. As a daughter of immigrants and a Latina, she said, she’ll be able to pull votes from the Democratic base, and she was confident that she’ll be able to raise significant funds for her campaign, enough to meet the thresholds for the public matching funds program which gives 6-to-1 funds to each contribution up to $175.

“I’m not a big money politician,” said Michel Faulkner, who has so far struggled to raise funds, lending his campaign much of his own money and outspending what he has raised. But, as an African-American candidate, he believes he can build groundswell support and appeal to cross-party voters, particularly African-Americans and Hispanics. He prodded his fellow candidates, joking about Bo Dietl’s shifting party affiliation and taking a swipe at Massey for his maximum donation to de Blasio’s 2013 campaign, and made eye-catching, possibly tongue-in-cheek, policy pronouncements like vowing to put a homeless shelter in City Hall and an airport in every borough.

Massey, who so far has led the race in fundraising and spending by wide margins, called de Blasio corrupt and an “Olympic-level failure,” and said he would beat the mayor with a “legendary campaign” built on a massive ground game. Massey, who made millions in his real estate sales business, which he sold a few years ago, won’t be participating in the public matching funds program, since he doesn’t want to limit his spending, and has criticized the mayor for being a participant, since it means taxpayer money will go to his campaign. He expressed confidence that the party will eventually rally around him, since he also has the Independence Party’s endorsement and can build a fusion candidacy.

Massey, whose business operated across the five boroughs, lived in Westchester until recently, moving to the city in time to register to vote in last year’s presidential election (he has said he wrote in Michael Bloomberg for president) and to begin laying the groundwork for his mayoral campaign. NY1 reported that Massey rarely voted in Westchester over 20 years, which the candidate attributed to his busy work schedule. Massey is the only Republican candidate who has begun to lay out detailed policy proposals, though he has yet to show a strong command of city government or speak fluently about the nuts and bolts of policy. He is billing himself as an expert manager and above reproach ethically, both of which he contrasts with his criticisms of de Blasio.

Perhaps the most animated speaker of the night was Dietl, who said he could appeal to all New Yorkers as socially liberal and fiscally conservative. “I’m not beholden to any special interest group, and I’m not a career politician,” he said. A brash, tough-talking candidate, Dietl turned red with his varied and colorful critiques of the mayor. More than a few times he called de Blasio “Big Bird” and said the city was turning into a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah under the mayor’s first term, citing topless street performers in Times Square (desnudas) as illustrative of his point. He boasted that he could tap his numerous wealthy friends to fund his campaign and that, even though he tried to run as a Democrat, he is a Republican through and through. Dietl promises to be tough on crime but with a big heart. He also promised to rip out the city's bike lanes.

At one point, Dietl made an apparently racist remark when relaying the story of his appearance before a judge to appeal his registration in the Democratic Party. The judge, Debra James, he said, looked just like First Lady Chirlane McCray and he knew he was in trouble when he saw her. James and McCray are both African-American. Dietl later attempted to clarify, insisting that his comments were not meant to be racist and that the two did indeed look alike. He continued to stress the point on Thursday amid a storm of negative attention to the remarks.

On most issues, there was little daylight among the four. They all oppose the decriminalization of low-level offenses, critiqued the soaring city budget, hammered the mayor on the city’s homelessness crisis and decried his transit policies and the MTA (which the mayor often reminds people is actually controlled by Governor Andrew Cuomo). On certain policies they varied, albeit slightly, such as the closure of the Rikers Island jail complex. For instance, Faulkner supports reforming it but not closing it, while Massey supports closing it but opposes community-based facilities being built in its stead -- he wants modern facilities built on the island.

“I don’t know if this provided enough clarity tonight,” Malpass told Gotham Gazette, after the forum. “I was hoping there might be someone who knocks it out of the park and we would all coalesce. I think this kind of confirmed more opinions that people had. If you had a preconceived idea about each candidate, that kind of reinforced that.”

Malpass has been among the county chairs for the GOP interested in coalescing behind one mayoral candidate and pushing others out of the race, so that all resources can be focused on defeating de Blasio. She said Wednesday night that the next campaign finance filing, due May 15, might shed more light on which candidate is doing well on fundraising. Besides, she said, there are four valid candidates and other citywide nominees -- public advocate and comptroller -- to choose as well.

In the mayor’s race, however, “We might have a primary,” she said. “I don’t know if we can prevent it.”

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Republican Mayoral Hopefuls Pitch Candidacies at Manhattan Forum Thu, 27 Apr 2017 04:00:00 +0000
In GOP Mayoral Primary, Lopsided Fundraising Numbers & One Big Question http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6813:in-the-gop-mayoral-primary-lopsided-fundraising-numbers-one-big-question http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6813:in-the-gop-mayoral-primary-lopsided-fundraising-numbers-one-big-question Massey city hall

Paul Massey (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)


With just six months until the primaries in this year’s city elections, declared candidates for the Republican mayoral nomination have begun to step up fundraising and campaigning. Meanwhile, two potential GOP mayoral candidates are still exploring a run, and the entrance of one or both could shake up a race that is off to a seemingly lopsided start.

Midnight on Wednesday was the deadline for the latest round of campaign finance disclosures, covering a two-month period from January to March. Three candidates have officially declared their runs for the Republican nomination -- real estate executive Paul Massey; Harlem pastor Michel Faulkner; and disability rights activist Darren Aquino.

Two others have also been flirting with the idea of running -- Queens City Council Member Eric Ulrich, one of three Republicans in the legislative body; and billionaire supermarket magnate John Catsimatidis, who lost in the GOP mayoral primary in 2013. While Ulrich’s fundraising picture may prevent him from launching a campaign -- plus he could run for another term in the Council; Catsimatidis would self-fund if he runs and has the resources to mount a robust campaign.

Massey is far ahead of the fundraising pack, having raised $865,000 in the last two months from 983 contributions. But, he also spent about $1.09 million in the same period. His campaign’s contributions to date total $2.48 million and his expenditure is about $3.3 million. He has also personally loaned his campaign about $1.97 million, leaving a balance of $1.16 million in his campaign account as of this week’s mid-March filing with the city’s Campaign Finance Board.

In an email blast on Wednesday, Massey touted his recent “fundraising record” which was more than double Mayor Bill de Blasio’s $394,000 raised in the last two months. “This is a significant indicator of what we have known all along – de Blasio is vulnerable and beatable,” the email read. De Blasio, however, has raised much more overall and spent far less, and has $2.32 million in his own campaign coffers. Unlike Massey, the mayor is also participating in the city’s public matching program.

At this point, fundraising comparisons between Massey and de Blasio are limited in value considering that each much emerge from their party primary before they would face off in the general as the two major party candidates. (Massey has secured the Independence Party line, so he is already assured a place in the general election.)

Massey, who officially launched his campaign in Queens on Monday, has emphasized the mayor’s vulnerability based on the two corruption investigations into the administration. He continued to harp on the controversy, even after federal and state prosecutors announced Thursday that they would not be bringing criminal charges against the mayor or his aides.

Massey is also not participating in the city’s public matching funds program -- which gives candidates 6-to-1 matching funds for every qualifying contribution up to $175 -- but boasted the strength of small dollar donors to his campaign. “[W]e almost doubled our donor base and almost half of that was from donors under $175, which proves the other thing we’ve known all along -- the more voters hear our message of integrity and leadership, the more they want to get involved,” the Wednesday campaign email read.

Faulkner’s fundraising haul pales in comparison. He has raised a total of $64,514 in contributions and has loans to his campaign worth $152,875, most of which was his own money. His campaign spending, about $268,000 outpaces his total fundraising, putting him just over $50,000 in the red. Between January and March, he raised $13,300 but spent $82,177.

Faulkner fashions himself as a candidate who will appeal broadly to Republicans and moderate Democrats, but that is at odds with his vocal support for President Donald Trump, who was soundly rejected by New York City voters in the presidential election. Faulkner has echoed some Trump policies, and opposes New York’s “sanctuary city” status. Like other Republicans, he has criticized the mayor for presiding over a decline in the quality of life in the city, citing an explosion in homelessness and the perception that the streets are unsafe, even though crime is at historic lows.

Darren Aquino’s fundraising and presence in the campaign has been almost negligible. He has raised just $1,800 total, and spent half of it. He has also made no media appearances other than participating in a March 9 mayoral candidate forum alongside Massey and Faulkner at Columbia University.

Council Member Ulrich was also on stage at that forum, organized by the Columbia University College Republicans, but not as a declared candidate. Ulrich has been hesitant to jump into the race and may be even more so now that the mayor has been cleared in the two investigations. His fundraising numbers also don’t indicate that he’s readying a run. He has raised just over $57,000 and spent about $16,000, leaving him $41,000 in his campaign account. In the last two months, he raised $5,455 and spent $791.

The second-term Council member, who recently became the subject of a reality television show pilot, said after the forum last week, “I haven’t made a decision yet. I’m very close to making a decision and I should have an announcement soon, but I’m still considering a run for mayor because I’m concerned about the future of the city and because I do believe that Bill de Blasio can be beaten.”

Appearing on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show on Tuesday, Ulrich criticized Mayor de Blasio while also putting on display his anti-Trump bonafides. Ulrich supported Ohio Gov. John Kasich in the Republican presidential primary last year, and Kasich has fundraised for Ulrich’s potential mayoral candidacy. When Ulrich began exploring a mayoral campaign last year, he told Gotham Gazette in October that he would not run if he was going to be embarrassed, and that a key piece of running a viable campaign is fundraising.

Then there is Catsimatidis, who lost the 2013 Republican nomination to Joe Lhota and wants to run one more time, he has said. Catsimatidis has been noncommittal and has not even registered a committee with the campaign finance board. But, he can rely on his deep pockets to self-fund his campaign, and poses potentially the biggest threat to the fundraising frontrunner Massey. At the very least, Catsimatidis may force Massey to spend even more money during the primary.

At a St. Patrick’s Day event on March 11, the Observer reported, Catsimatidis dropped hints about a mayoral run while appealing to his own Democratic side. “Look, Bill de Blasio’s a friend of mine and it’s all about—it’s not running as a Democrat or Republican, it’s running as a New Yorker,” he said. “About running for mayor,” he said later, “we haven’t made up our mind.”

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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In GOP Mayoral Primary, Lopsided Fundraising Numbers & One Big Question Thu, 16 Mar 2017 04:00:00 +0000
To Defeat De Blasio, Republicans Attempt Early Rally Behind One Candidate http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6735:to-defeat-de-blasio-republicans-look-for-early-rally-behind-one-candidate http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6735:to-defeat-de-blasio-republicans-look-for-early-rally-behind-one-candidate massey mayor

GOP mayoral candidate Paul Massey, right (photo: @MasseyforMayor)


In hopes of denying Mayor Bill de Blasio a second term, some New York City Republican leaders intend to rally around a single candidate to avoid a contentious primary and present a stronger challenge in the general election.

Starting this week, Republican Party leaders and members will begin the process of vetting candidates who have declared their intention to run for mayor or are exploring a mayoral bid. Party organizations will host public meetings where each candidate will have the opportunity to present their ideas to party voters and functionaries. When it fielded Joe Lhota in 2013 after a primary battle, the GOP lost in a landslide to de Blasio, but with the mayor’s poll numbers showing some vulnerability ahead of this fall’s vote, Republicans hope to identify one candidate to throw their weight behind.

One issue with the strategy at this point, though, is that at least two potential Republican mayoral candidates have not decided whether they will run or not: Queens City Council Member Eric Ulrich and businessman John Catsimatidis, who lost in the 2013 primary to Lhota.

So far, two Republicans have officially filed papers to run: real estate developer Paul Massey and Harlem pastor Michel Faulkner. Massey, who has raised and spent well over a million dollars in his campaign so far and is contributing some of his own vast wealth to the effort, is seen as the frontrunner at this point. He’s also been endorsed by the state Independence Party, which backed Mayor Michael Bloomberg twice for reelection.  

Massey is scheduled to speak on Monday evening at the Manhattan Republican Party headquarters, a building which holds about 200 people. An e-blast advertising the event told Manhattan GOP subscribers, “We need to unite this year in the mission of making Bill de Blasio a one term Mayor...We plan to endorse a candidate around April 1 and we hope to prevent a primary by working with the other Republican county chairs in that effort.”

Also scheduled to speak at Manhattan GOP headquarters next week, on Thursday, is Council Member Ulrich, one of three Republicans on the Council, who has been exploring a mayoral run but has yet to officially declare his candidacy.

Republican county leaders say they will weigh each candidate’s platform and the strength of their campaign before they make their decision in the next few months. “We’re going to screen all the candidates,” said Adele Malpass, chair of the Manhattan Republican Party. “We’d like to hear everyone’s vision for New York.”

Malpass said the general intent is to back a single candidate after an open and transparent process that involves all stakeholders -- voters, district leaders, county committee members. “It’s evolving, but I think all five [county chairs] are in agreement that if we can avoid a primary, we’ll go into the general much stronger,” she told Gotham Gazette.

In the 2013 mayoral election, Lhota, former chair of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and a deputy mayor under Rudolph Giuliani, lost to then-Public Advocate de Blasio, receiving just 24.3 percent of vote to de Blasio’s 73.3 percent. Lhota, currently senior vice president and chief of staff at NYU Langone Medical Center, declined to comment for this article through a spokesperson.

Lhota’s grasp of the 2013 Republican nomination did come at a price. This, with the electoral deck already stacked against him due to New York City’s heavy Democratic enrollment. Lhota was pitted against Catsimatidis, a billionaire who spent heavily in mounting his campaign, leading to an at-times acrimonious primary battle accented by attack ads. After he won the nomination, Lhota promised, “It is time to unify our party, strengthen it and prepare it for victory in November.”

The September to November general election campaign never really took off for Lhota and the GOP, with polls quickly showing de Blasio at a significant advantage, lackluster debates, and no significant outside spending to damage de Blasio and promote Lhota.

This time around, the party may be taking Lhota’s 2013 call for unity to heart. “After seeing the results in 2013, most Republicans realized that a joint effort would lead to more favorable results,” said City Council Member Joe Borelli, the newest Republican to join the Council. “But it’s easier said than done.”

Borelli, who represents part of Staten Island -- the lone borough that went for Lhota -- and was a prominent Donald Trump supporter in the presidential race, hasn’t yet endorsed a candidate, but looks forward to doing so when the party rallies around one.

So far, Borelli said, the only candidates that could prove to be effective are Massey and Ulrich. “I think Paul Massey’s substantial haul of $1.6 million sent the right kind of message to the GOP leaders and potential candidates that it’s time to start campaigning and raising money or time to get out of the race,” Borelli said, referring to Massey’s campaign fundraising from the last six months that he declared this month. “With the exception of a sitting elected official like Eric Ulrich, it would be difficult for another candidate to enter the race...Eric has a much better built media platform and ability to generate anti-de Blasio press. I can’t see other candidates generating much buzz.”

And although Borelli said Faulkner is “such a genuine guy,” he added, “I just think it’s such an uphill fight for him, lacking the infrastructure and funding.”

Ulrich has started speaking out against de Blasio more, has held meetings with key political figures, and has done some fundraising on the message of taking on the incumbent, but his exploration of a run has remained fairly quiet. Lhota, though not seemingly active in party politics, has encouraged Ulrich to run. The Council member has also started filming a possible reality show following his mayoral campaign.

In part by default, Massey is currently the frontrunner in the race, having raised the $1.6 million and having also personally loaned his campaign another $1.2 million, per the latest disclosures filed with the Campaign Finance Board. His expenditures of $1.8 million through early January and a few outstanding liabilities leave him with a current balance of about $937,000. Among several consultancies, Massey has retained the November Team, a firm that handled Lhota’s 2013 campaign communications and also represents the State Republican Party.

Faulkner and Ulrich are far behind in money. Faulkner had contributions of $206,000, including about $152,000 in loans, for his campaign. But his expenditures of $213,000 surpassed that, leaving him with a negative balance of $6,900. Ulrich has raised $48,396 and spent $15,027, leaving $33,369 in his campaign account. He is eligible to run for another term on the Council, and may do so -- he said he’ll only run for mayor if he can run a viable campaign, which in large part starts with fundraising.

As Borelli said, the choice may not be as simple as picking the candidate with the most funds, though. Meanwhile, the Republican primary is more complex than relying on the choices of county leaders. Each borough of the city represents a different county and each county committee has dozens of members. Then there are district leaders whose opinions must be sought, and any candidate who can get the petition signatures to appear on the ballot can run.

“I think we’re all going in the same direction but we haven’t put all the pieces together yet,” said Robert Turner, former U.S. Representative and chair of the Queens County Republican Party. “The plan would be to look at the candidates and their positions and if someone has a clear lead, we would like to coalesce around that candidate,” he added.

Although he admitted that a primary “is not a disaster” and may help with drumming up recognition for unknown candidates, in general, he said, “Life would be easier without a primary.” Lamenting the lack of organization in 2013, he hopes this cycle will be different. “We had a very capable candidate,” Turner said of Lhota. “The organization was not as cohesive and thought-out as it needed to be and I’m hoping it can be a lot better.”

There’s wide agreement that primary infighting among Republicans would serve to strengthen de Blasio, who Republicans believe is beatable with the right combination of candidate, message, spending, and strategy. The oft-repeated stand taken by the party and candidates is that quality of life in the city has declined, especially with regard to the city’s homelessness crisis; income inequality has remained relatively unchanged; and crime is on the rise (though statistics show that, overall, crime has declined under de Blasio).

There are also the state and federal investigations into the mayor, his administration and allies, which have given fodder to his opponents, even in his own party. De Blasio is facing a few primary challengers himself, though none appears to be mounting a formidable campaign at this point. Other potential Democratic challengers, like Scott Stringer and Ruben Diaz Jr., are waiting to see the results of the investigations. De Blasio maintains that he and his associates did nothing wrong, and no one has been charged with a crime.

“We want to rally around a candidate and take on Bill de Blasio, and Paul Massey is that candidate,” said Evan Siegfried, a Republican consultant who is unaffiliated with Massey’s campaign. “What we have to avoid is a long drawn-out primary process, which only helps Bill de Blasio’s reelection chances.”

Brooklyn Republican Chair Ted Ghorra told Politico New York, "If there is a primary, I don’t think it would be in anyone’s interest to have the kind of primary that was conducted in 2013." Ulrich told Politico that there are strong potential candidates and, in apparent acknowledgement that h expects a tough GOP nominating contest, "I’m confident the party will unite behind our candidate after the primary."

Siegfried said that Massey’s lack of name recognition would not be an issue, and that he could do better if he actually avoided a primary battle and instead focused on reaching out to voters.  “And when he does that in conjunction with highlighting de Blasio’s utter inability to manage the city -- his presiding over the reduction in quality of life and explosion in homelessness, which [de Blasio] ignores -- then New Yorkers of all stripes will be willing to meet Massey and give him a fair hearing,” Siegfried said. “Many New Yorkers including liberal Democrats are very upset that Bill de Blasio did not continue the 20 years of progress that preceded his taking office.”

De Blasio is the first Democratic mayor of New York City to face a reelection since David Dinkins, who lost to Rudy Giuliani in 1993. But de Blasio doesn’t face the same obstacles. Under Dinkins, unemployment was skyrocketing and people felt unsafe. Under de Blasio, crime has largely decreased and employment has grown for the last three years. It’s a refrain of his campaign, one that spokesperson Dan Levitan repeated when asked about the Republican Party’s effort to avoid a primary. “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,” Levitan wrote in an email. “We are happy to match that record against anyone.”

The most recent Quinnipiac University public opinion poll, from January 18, shows support for the mayor almost split down the middle. Overall, 45 percent of respondents said they approve of the way de Blasio is handling his job while 46 percent disapproved. As can be expected, his support comes overwhelmingly from Democrats, 59 percent of whom gave him a thumbs up while only 17 percent of Republicans felt the same. His reelection numbers are marginally lower than his approval ratings, however. Only 42 percent said he deserves to be reelected while 48 percent said he doesn’t. Thirteen percent of Republicans want to see him get a second term compared to 52 percent of Democrats.

At this point, de Blasio is quite likely to win in the Democratic primary and would go into the general election a heavy favorite, especially due to New York City’s significant Democratic voter enrollment advantage. But, anything can happen, and the primary is still more than seven months away.

Not all the potential or declared Republican candidates have said whether they’ll support the party’s final decision and avoid a primary. Requests for comment to Ulrich and to Massey’s campaign went unanswered. Faulkner, however, believes “it’s a great idea.” “I understand that it’s in the best interest of the party,” he said. When Gotham Gazette asked what he would do if the chosen candidate isn’t him, he said, “I have supported every Republican candidate that has run in New York City. I’ve been loyal to the Republican Party for nearly 30 years and I don’t think that will change.”

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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To Defeat De Blasio, Republicans Attempt Early Rally Behind One Candidate Sun, 29 Jan 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Manhattan GOP Sees Hope on Upper East Side http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6497:manhattan-gop-sees-hope-on-upper-east-side http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6497:manhattan-gop-sees-hope-on-upper-east-side Harary AD73

Rebecca Harary with supporters (photo via @TeamHarary)


When it comes to the New York State Legislature, most electoral attention is paid to the Senate, which Republicans control by a thin majority and only because an elected Democrat caucuses with them and they have a power-sharing agreement with a five-member faction of breakaway “independent” Democrats. This November’s elections will determine control of the chamber.

In the State Assembly, however, the balance of power is not close. Republicans have been at a massive disadvantage. The Democrats have a stranglehold on the house, which is unlikely to drastically shift come November - Democrats currently hold 104 seats to the Republicans’ 44 (one seat is held by a Working Families Party member and there is one vacancy in the 150-seat chamber). This holds particularly true for seats in New York City, a liberal bastion that helps make New York an overwhelmingly blue state. There are currently only two Republican Assembly members, both from Staten Island, representing New York City’s 66 Assembly districts.

But come November, the Manhattan GOP believes it can make inroads and put not one, but two of their own in Assembly seats on the Upper East Side where Republicans believe that registered Democrats won’t necessarily vote along the party line.

Manhattan Republicans are banking on voting trends from 2013, when Mayor Bill de Blasio’s landslide victory wasn’t reflected on the Upper East Side and he lost the neighborhood to his GOP opponent, Joe Lhota, by double digits.

“The Upper East Side is very Bloomberg-centric,” said Adele Malpass, chair of the Manhattan Republican Party, insisting that the neighborhood tends to vote along more conservative lines. “The Upper East Side is not a progressive spot,” she said. The neighborhood is predominantly white and relatively affluent, and has historically supported Republican mayoral candidates. Malpass hopes her party can tap this sentiment in the upcoming election, and win the 73rd and 76th Assembly districts by defeating Democratic incumbents.

The two districts run side by side on the East Side: District 73 extends from 34th Street to 94th Street, bounded by 5th avenue on it’s west side. On the east, it reaches the river in certain sections but mostly stops at 3rd Avenue where District 76 begins. District 76 stretches from 61st to 92nd Street, and includes Roosevelt Island.

While it may be an uphill battle - incumbents are exceedingly difficult to beat - Republicans see some reason for optimism. "The Upper East Side is where we have the best odds of winning a seat this election, but it can't be done without your support and involvement," Malpass recently wrote in an e-newsletter to Manhattan GOP subscribers.

The 73rd district is represented by Assemblymember Dan Quart, who has held the seat since winning it in a special election in 2011. He’s being challenged by Rebecca Harary, a community activist with a long history of nonprofit work. She founded a school for children with autism and a high school for teenagers with mild learning disorders. She is currently the  founding executive director of the Propel Network, an organization that helps Jewish women enter the workforce. She is a mother of six and grandmother of seven, she said in an interview.

In the 76th district, first-term Assemblymember Rebecca Seawright, elected in 2014, will face off against Jon Kostakopoulos, a writer for financial news website The Street and former director of field operations for John Catsimatidis’ 2013 mayoral campaign. Kostakopoulos is also Catsimatidis’ godson and the supermarket magnate is set to host a fundraiser for Kostakopoulos in late September.

The two challengers believe they have a solid chance to make these races competitive by focusing on a few core issues -- quality of life, public safety, transportation and education -- and they aren’t worried that the Democrats have an enrollment advantage over Republicans in Manhattan. Active registered Democrats in the borough outnumber Republicans 8 to 1, but that ratio in the 76th district is only about 3.3 to 1, and in the 73rd district it's even closer at 2.5 to 1. 

“We have an absentee Assemblyman,” said Rebecca Harary about Quart, in a phone interview with Gotham Gazette. “His silence is deafening, and that speaks volumes about the leadership in this district.” Democrats, she said, and particularly Mayor Bill de Blasio, are responsible for rising homelessness and worsening quality of life in the district and across the city. Her opponent, she said, is a company man like most incumbent Democrats. “They’re just going to vote the company line and make no waves,” she said, insisting that there’s a need for an independent voice in the district. “It’s time to ask the real questions,” she said.

Her top priority, besides public safety, is education. She supports charter schools and believes the state should offer tuition tax credits, with increased income thresholds, to parents who choose to send their children to private and parochial schools.  

Assemblymember Quart doesn’t seem worried about the challenge from Harary. “I look forward to November,” he said. His plan is to run on the successes of the last five years, he said, pointing to improvement of air quality in the district, sponsoring and passing legislation on criminal justice issues and helping secure $1 billion in additional funding to the MTA Capital Plan for the Second Avenue subway line. “By any objective measure, I’ve been successful in helping my constituents,” he said.

“I run on my record,” he added. “The politics will work itself out.” Quart has a significant fundraising advantage over his opponent. He has raised more than $335,000 for the race compared to Harary’s $59,000. (Quart also has a city campaign account with $104,375 in it for a possible future race, but he said he does not intend to run for any city office in 2017.)

Fellow Democrat Rebecca Seawright is also confident about her prospects, although she’s not being complacent about the race. “I’m a full-time legislator, I take this job very seriously,” she told Gotham Gazette, alluding to the fact that state legislators are technically part-time and allowed to earn outside money, which has gotten some into trouble.

Seawright said she’s had a successful first term in the Assembly majority. “I’ve passed 10 pieces of legislation and seven have been signed into law by the governor,” she said, also touting her 100 percent attendance record.

Refutes Republicans’ assertion that quality of life is decreasing in the district, Seawright said, “I’m extremely proud of the progress that’s been made. We’re constantly picking up the phone and reaching out to city agencies about getting the homeless into shelters, picking up garbage.”

Seawright is also confident that with Hillary Clinton on the top of the Democratic ticket, voter turnout will be robust on the Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island, which falls in her district. One aspect strongly in Seawright’s favor is her opponent’s late entry into the fray. Kostakopoulos started his campaign only a few weeks ago - he’s holding a campaign launch event September 8 - and has yet to raise any money. Seawright has just short of $100,000 in the bank.

Kostakopoulos told Gotham Gazette he got into the race because Seawright would otherwise have been uncontested, and that during her tenure, quality of life, particularly the issue of homelessness, has become abysmal in District 76. “I’ve been there my entire life and I’ve never seen it so bad,” he said in a phone interview, mentioning homelessness specifically.

He doesn’t intend to make an ideological appeal to voters, however. “I’m not running as a Republican or a Democrat even though I’m on the Republican line,” he said. “I’m running as a resident of the 76th district.” Calling himself a “New York Republican” like former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, he said he appeals to voters on the Upper East Side who are socially liberal and fiscally conservative.

If elected, he intends to advocate for quicker completion of the Second Avenue subway, which he said has been perennially delayed under Assembly Democrats. “These career politicians have had enough time,” he said. “Someone’s got to be held accountable.”

Republicans are hoping to see a repeat of the results of the 2013 mayoral race and Manhattan party Chair Malpass is rallying the troops on that message. In an email blast to subscribers, she laid out the strategy and outlined five upcoming events for the candidates, including Kostakopoulos’ campaign launch and fundraiser.

“What we accomplish between now and Election Day will lay the groundwork for winning the Mayor's race in 2017 and making Bill deBlasio [sic] a one-term Mayor,” the email reads. They intend to reach out to independents and moderate Democrats and will use “cutting edge campaign technology” to do so, including merging their voter rolls with internet services and online publications for targeted ads and narrowing down specific buildings and districts to directly reach voters online. It is important that they are funded to do the work, the party wrote.

But relying on the 2013 mayoral voting numbers may be problematic. Steve Romalewski, director of the CUNY Mapping Service at the Center for Urban Research/The Graduate Center, pointed out that just the next year (2014), in both the 73rd and 76th districts, the Democratic candidates won with overwhelming majorities. “I don’t see how the mayoral results have anything to do with the likelihood of a Republican winning either seat,” he said of the Assembly races, pointing out that Democrats have won these districts all the way back to 2000. “That’s just a reality of the New York City electoral patterns,” he said. “There tends to be a vast difference between municipal elections and state elections, and executive branch results and legislative branch results.”

“If the Republican candidates are trying to pin their hopes on the results of the 2013 mayoral election,” he said, “they’ll be sadly mistaken and they should rethink their strategy.”

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Note: this article has been updated.

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Manhattan GOP Sees Hope on Upper East Side Fri, 26 Aug 2016 04:00:00 +0000
With De Blasio Appearing Vulnerable, Heightened Examination of Paths to Defeat Him http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6480:with-de-blasio-appearing-vulnerable-heightened-examination-of-paths-to-defeat-him http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6480:with-de-blasio-appearing-vulnerable-heightened-examination-of-paths-to-defeat-him de blasio balcony

Mayor Bill de Blasio (photo: Ed Reed, Mayor's Office)


Mayor Bill de Blasio often says he doesn’t put much stock in public opinion polls; he believes they’re about as accurate as weather predictions. When asked, he didn’t express much concern after a Quinnipiac University poll released August 1 showed that 51 percent of New York City voters don’t think he deserves to be re-elected in 2017. But even if de Blasio didn’t care, his critics and potential opponents surely did, and are likely buoyed in their belief that there is a way to beat an incumbent Democrat who has been arguably the most progressive mayor in the city’s history and overseen dropping crime, growing jobs, and a record tourism.

As polls show de Blasio’s relative weakness, some voices have grown louder calling for his ouster, and potential opponents weigh jumping into the race, one key question is the best path to defeating him. In an overwhelmingly Democratic city that saw 20 years of Republican dominance of the mayoralty before his election, it’s not immediately clear where de Blasio is most vulnerable.

As can be expected, political consultants are divided on the prospect of de Blasio’s re-election. Republican consultants believe he can be beaten if an opponent uses the right strategy, aptly highlighting the mayor’s weaknesses, while many Democrats are certain the chances of that are negligible at best.

“[De Blasio’s opponents] need to make it a referendum on his competence and his management,” said Evan Siegfried, a Republican strategist. “That includes Democrats, especially in the primaries.”

“An incompetent mayor can lose,” he added.

It is the competence argument that is already being made by the loudest voice to thus far openly declare intention to defeat de Blasio in 2017 - that of consultant Bradley Tusk, who ran former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s third successful mayoral campaign, in 2009. Tusk has said, though, that he believes the most likely path to defeating de Blasio in 2017 is through the Democratic primary. He’s currently waging a public relations campaign to damage the mayor while he attempts to recruit the strongest candidate possible.

As Tusk and others, even Republicans, acknowledge, the voter registration numbers don’t lie. They also see that while de Blasio’s approval rating is low, he still has fairly strong support among Democrats, especially African-Americans.

In order to beat de Blasio, “Republicans and independents will have to appeal to disaffected Democrats and have to bring in pretty much every constituency,” said Siegfried. “Bill de Blasio is absolutely beatable only if you run a good and strong campaign with a solid candidate...They should aim to peel off the pork from where de Blasio is strong, particularly the African-American community.”

On the Republican end, there are already a few candidates who’ve indicated they may run against the mayor, including Queens City Council Member Eric Ulrich; billionaire businessman John Catsimatidis, who lost in the 2013 Republican primary; real estate developer Paul Massey; and former professional football player and Harlem pastor Michel Faulkner. The latter two have officially declared their runs.

Republican campaign consultant Jessica Proud of The November Team, who is working for Massey’s campaign, believes there is a path to victory against the incumbent mayor. “Clearly de Blasio has not been able to inspire the confidence of voters,” she said. “He has not shown himself to be a good manager of the city.” Proud said Massey’s appeal is that he’s not a politician. “He’s not an ideologue, his approach would be one of good management,” she said, with an implicit nod toward a Bloomberg-esque technocrat and citing Massey’s top priorities in the campaign: public safety and quality of life issues, housing, and improving city schools.

The management issue is a common refrain and relates directly to competence. Even though crime is down, Republican consultants point to polls that show the perception of crime remains skewed. Many people believe other quality of life issues, like street cleanliness, are getting worse even if there is evidence to the contrary. The Quinnipiac poll released August 1 showed that 49 percent of New York City voters disapproved of how the mayor is handling crime, compared to 42 percent who approved.

George Arzt, a Democratic consultant, said, “[De Blasio is] vulnerable to a challenge but not from a Republican.” He said that contenders like Massey or Catsimatidis don’t have the same level of resources as Bloomberg did, and that they definitely don’t have the political skills or organization. “There were circumstances that cannot be duplicated as we see now,” he said of Bloomberg’s election as a Republican candidate. “It’s doubtful that anyone even with money can make a go of it.”

Another Democratic strategist, Hank Sheinkopf, said a Republican candidate could only be elected if the city were to undergo a serious crisis, say a crime wave, massive corruption, or another recession. De Blasio's administration and campaign allies are being investigated on multiple fronts by state and federal law enforcement officials - the results of those investigations could shift political dynamics drastically, of course. Short of major indictments, Sheinkopf did point out early indicators of problems -- certain crimes have increased, like rape, but overall the crime rate is at historic lows; school test scores may be improving but the schools are underperforming in general; violence in the city’s jails; and future budget deficits despite the city being flush with cash.

Even with those considerations, Sheinkopf said, “A fusion candidate will have a better chance,”  referring to a candidate who runs on multiple party lines. “They have the Republican line and other lines which makes it easier for people to vote for them.” An effective Republican challenger would have to draw crossover votes from traditionally Democratic voting sections of the population, as Siegfried also suggested and any Republican candidate or consultant must understand.

Democrats’ immense voter registration advantage is simply a reality that all involved in New York City political campaigns must recognize. However, one caveat to the voter registration numbers are the voter turnout numbers, which are often quite low. If a certain candidate, incumbent or otherwise, can motivate more people to vote in a significant mass, an election can be swung.

As of April 1, there are more than 4 million active registered voters in the city, of which 2.75 million are Democrats and only 414,478 are Republicans. However, that advantage isn’t necessarily borne out by history, a fact pointed to by Steven Romalewski, director of the mapping service at the Center for Urban Research at the CUNY Graduate Center. In an interview with Gotham Gazette, Romalewski said, “The enrollment advantage doesn’t necessarily tell you much. It matters less than personality of the candidates and the issues. If everyone turned out to vote who is registered to vote and voted the party line, a Democrat would win. But that doesn’t always happen.”

Romalewski noted that a 2013 general election analysis showed that in certain districts, de Blasio received fewer Democratic votes than the total votes cast by registered Democrats, indicating that some may have voted for his Republican opponent, Joe Lhota. In other districts, de Blasio received more votes than the total Democratic votes cast, meaning he had support from outside the Democratic party as well. There were six major qualified parties and 14 minor parties on the general election ballot, with de Blasio holding the Democratic and Working Families Party lines.

The city also has nearly 800,000 unaffiliated voters, often called “independents,” which adds another facet to the Democrat-Republican enrollment imbalance.

“In 2017, I think the same kind of analysis holds,” Romalewski said in an email. “If none or just a small number of Democrats vote for de Blasio's opponent, he'll do ok.  But if his challenger can persuade enough Dems to "defect," he'll be in trouble.”

But de Blasio’s great strength, as Romalewski pointed out, is that he “not only did well and much better than the prior three Democratic candidates [for mayor] but also did well in areas where Bloomberg did well. He kinda combined the traditional Democratic base -- Black and Hispanic areas -- with liberal white areas.” De Blasio won a dominant 73 percent of the general election vote against Lhota in 2013.

Critics point to the fact that only 26 percent of registered voters cast ballots in that election, which indicates some combination of apathy, recognition that de Blasio had a huge polling advantage heading toward Election Day, and limited enthusiasm for Lhota from Republicans and independents.

A Republican would have to have a “cache” of progressive politics combined with the skills of a good manager, Romalewski said, to cut into de Blasio’s voter base. “The conventional wisdom is that it’s unlikely [de Blasio will] have effective challengers,” he said.

Most observers assume that the mayor will only face a stiff challenge in the Democratic primary, due to the aforementioned factors and no obvious other big name Republican or independent waiting in the wings. And a tough Democratic primary is only possible, some say, if a single strong candidate runs against de Blasio instead of multiple candidates who could split the anti-de Blasio vote. “If two or three Democrats challenge the mayor, he’s going to win,” said Bill Cunningham, managing director at DKC and former communications director for Bloomberg. “If only one runs, there’s a chance to coalesce the people who view [de Blasio] unfavorably and give them a place to go vote.”

One other path some experts float would be for a strong African-American candidate to enter the race - someone like Congressional Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, for example - who would chip away at de Blasio’s deep African-American base, and one strong white candidate - someone like Comptroller Scott Stringer - who could pick up as many other disaffected Democrats as possible.

Cunningham said for a competitive race, “You need a message, a messenger and you need to be able to deliver that to the public. There’s no mystery to what the recipe is. The trick is finding a candidate who is intelligent and can campaign effectively and has the money to deliver the message to the voters.” Bloomberg had those qualities, he pointed out, but the current crop of contenders don’t. Along with Stringer, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. is currently seen as the other most likely Democratic challenger to the mayor.

When asked about potential opponents, de Blasio has repeatedly said he’s ready to take on all comers, at times mentioning the pillars of his term: universal pre-kindergarten, affordable housing, and low crime. At one point last year de Blasio discussed his "record of achievement" and said of potential 2017 opponents, "come one, come all."

A spokesperson for de Blasio’s campaign, Dan Levitan, emailed a statement about the prospects for 2017, saying, “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. That is Mayor de Blasio's record and that is what next year's election will be about.”

Even Tusk, who is arguably de Blasio’s most vocal opponent right now, acknowledges that he’ll be hard pressed to find a candidate who fits the bill of a Democrat with appeal among Republican voters. He recently indicated to the New York Times that a successful candidate could run on a third-party line in the general even if they lost the Democratic primary; or a candidate could possibly skip the Democratic primary altogether and run on an independent line.

As CUNY’s Romalewski notes, in the 2009 general, Bloomberg did well in areas where he consistently won votes in the prior two elections -- much of Queens, the Upper East Side, Upper West Side, Downtown Manhattan, South Brooklyn, and almost all of Staten Island. His Democratic opponent at the time, Bill Thompson, made it a close race, losing by less than five points. Thompson, who is black, won large blocks in Southeast Queens, Central Brooklyn, Harlem, and the Bronx. Unfortunately for him, though, turnout wasn’t as high in these areas as he needed for a victory. De Blasio upended the pattern in 2013, pulling votes from constituencies that voted for both Bloomberg and Thompson in ‘09.

Romalewski’s analysis of the 2013 election also notes areas de Blasio lost to Lhota, including the traditionally Republican-leaning Upper East Side, Middle Village and other areas in northeast Queens, a few orthodox Jewish communities in Southern Brooklyn, and most of Staten Island. In general, these areas were dominated by white New Yorkers who have been increasingly critical of de Blasio. The mayor overwhelmingly won communities dominated by African-Americans and Hispanics, who continue to support him. The Quinnipiac poll noted as much, finding that in hypothetical match-ups whites largely favored Comptroller Scott Stringer and former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn over de Blasio, who maintained huge margins among African-Americans and Hispanics. (The poll did not include possible Republican candidates.)

In terms of approval rating, 63 percent of black voters and 50 percent of Hispanic voters approve of de Blasio’s handling of the job, while only 25 percent of white voters felt the same. The Democrat-Republican divide is even greater, with 55 percent of Democrats giving de Blasio a thumbs up and only 9 percent of Republicans doing so. Among independents, 30 percent approved of the mayor.

On Tusk’s “NYC Deserves Better” podcast, Democratic consultant and pollster Jefrey Pollock pointed out that despite the mayor’s weakening numbers, he has enough support among African-Americans and Hispanics for a strong showing in the Democratic primary. Pollock noted, and Tusk reiterated, that popular adage that almost every political expert and consultant says of the mayoral race -- “You can’t beat somebody with nobody.” Pollock said independent groups support an opponent of de Blasio, if an effective one were to emerge.

“That is the great challenge,” Tusk said.

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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With De Blasio Appearing Vulnerable, Heightened Examination of Paths to Defeat Him Sun, 14 Aug 2016 04:00:00 +0000
In End of Session 'Scorecard,' Plenty for Next Year's Albany Agenda http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5791:in-end-of-session-scorecard-plenty-for-next-years-albany-agenda http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5791:in-end-of-session-scorecard-plenty-for-next-years-albany-agenda Cuomo Heastie Flanagan

Heastie, Cuomo, Flanagan (L-R) (photo: Governor's Office via flickr)


In the Democrat-controlled Assembly, it was 122-13; in the Republican-controlled Senate, 47-12. With those votes and a Governor Andrew Cuomo signature, a final policy package brought an underwhelming end to a tumultuous 2015 legislative session in New York's capital. 

Look at the bill, which combines laws on a variety of disparate issues, and see it's headlined "relates to rent-control provisions," referencing what was to many the most important aspect of the deal reached by Governor Cuomo, Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, and Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. This year's 'three men in a room' took a little extra time to get to "yes," with the 2015 'big ugly' passed through the Legislature a little over a week after the originally scheduled end of session.

You can forgive Albany lawmakers for being a little tardy, though - as Governor Cuomo has said, it was no ordinary year in Albany. "This was a very difficult year," Cuomo said last Tuesday when announcing the framework of a deal. "There were extraordinary developments...It was almost unimaginable to have this kind of change in this period of time. You wound up with two new leaders." He was, of course, alluding to the fact that both Flanagan's and Heastie's predeccesors were arrested on corruption charges earlier this year.

Along with an extension of rent regulations that mostly concern New York City tenants and their allies, the deal includes action briefly extending mayoral control of city schools and the 421-a real estate tax abatement program; providing property tax rebates; setting aside funding for nonpublic schools; and altering the cap on charter schools so more can open in New York City. Cuomo and the Legislature also struck deals on campus sexual conduct and nail salon regulation.

While extensions were passed on major sunsetting items, the 2015 deal may be more notable for how much it did not include than for what it did.

Cases in point: noting the absence of items he had promised action on, Cuomo announced two executive orders he would be issuing on criminal justice issues. Facing an uncooperative Senate, the governor had also already set things in motion to up the minimum wage on his own, with his Department of Labor convening a fast food worker wage board set to deliver recommendations soon.

But on those issues some action is being taken - there is also a wide variety of policy seeing no movement through the end of session deal or Cuomo on his own, angering advocates behind pushes to enact paid family leave, the Gender Non-Discrimination Act, the DREAM Act, government ethics and campaign finance reform, and mixed martial arts (MMA), to name a few of the most-sought. New York will continue to be the only state that does not sanction MMA and one of only two that continues to try 16- and 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system.

Yet according to Cuomo, the end-of-session deal is a robust package, plenty good for New Yorkers, and further evidence that New York government is functional. Speaking at a press conference announcing a final agreement, Cuomo said, "I am personally very happy and very proud of this legislative package. I think that it is responsive to the problems that are pressing the state right now. I think that it is actually a very robust and extensive legislative package of reforms that goes a long way towards making this state a better state."

The governor also praised Flanagan and Heastie. "These gentlemen were in a very difficult situation to step in as a new leader," Cuomo said, adding that it was "extraordinary" that the two could step into the legislative process in the middle of negotiations and ensure government keeps working.

Flanagan seemed mostly pleased with the session's policy outcomes. Heastie less so. But, Heastie and many of his supporters have been quick to note that the deal appears to be the best the new speaker could do. He was fighting an uphill battle, many Democrats argue, against an obstinate Senate Republican conference and, in some cases, an unsympathetic Democratic governor. New York City Democrats - elected and otherwise - were largely disappointed, and many point a finger at Cuomo, who they say did not fight hard enough on key issues or for tenants.

State Senator Adriano Espaillat, a Manhattan Democrat who voted against the end-of-session deal, said, "We are far from where we need to be to protect tenants...we need strong rent laws, not a slight improvement."

City Comptroller Scott Stringer said similarly, "When it came to protecting tenants, Albany failed miserably," Stringer said Sunday on John Catsimatidis' radio show, according to the Daily News. "We have an affordable housing crisis," Stringer added, "But the rent stabilization deal didn't address those issues."

The rent laws took center stage as Albany lawmakers let them briefly expire and the session puttered into overtime. But, the regulations were among many issues at play, some of which saw action. In looking at the outcomes of the 2015 legislative session - which some have called anemic or "the absolutely bare minimum" - we see the initial framework for next year's policy agenda.

WHAT WAS DONE
Rent Regulations: extended for four years, and strengthened slightly with an increase and indexing of the threshold by which units can be removed from the regulated rolls; an increase in civil harassment penalties where owners harass a tenant to obtain a vacancy; and an adjustment to the limits landlords can charge tenants to receive reimbursement for building improvements. Senate Republicans attempted to insert income verification measures, but they did not make the final deal.

Of Assembly Speaker Heastie's push on rent regulations, Governor Cuomo said, "I believe the rent package that he has obtained is a major step forward. You have certain voices that would say rent regulations should just go away - I understand that, but that's not going to happen any time soon. But he has done an extraordinary job in crafting a program that addresses the entire spectrum of the problem."

Reaction: the extension came as a relief to tenants and their allies, but is seen as largely inadequate, as the comments from Espaillat and Stringer indicate. City Council Member Jumaane Williams has said that "Governor Cuomo completely and thoroughly let New York City tenants down."

A spokesperson for a coalition of pro-tenant groups, Real Affordability for All, said "This deal is very bad for tenants, good for corruption and a step further to eliminating the largest source of affordable housing in the state. The changes included to the laws are as insignificant as the reforms made in 2011, which led to the displacement of thousands of working class New Yorkers and to the high record number of families who ended up in city shelters. It completely ignores the affordable housing crisis." Activists say thousands of rent regulated apartments will be lost each year and they plan to continue to protest the deal.

Taxes: the state property tax cap, limiting growth at two percent per year, is extended for an additional four years, and a new property tax credit, "$3.1 billion over four years in direct relief to struggling New York taxpayers," is included. In a statement, Senate Majority Leader Flanagan said, "We are taking action on long-held Republican priorities that reduce the property tax burden here in New York so that we can create jobs, grow businesses, and help taxpayers keep more of their hard-earned money."

Reaction: the governor is largely praised for fiscal discipline when it comes to property tax increases, while the property tax cap and the new tax credit are seen as wins for middle class and wealthy homeowners. The Citizens Budget Commission, however, expresses concern about the tax credit, writing, "The legislative package passed in Albany last week rejected some misguided and expensive proposals, including a tax credit for benefactors of private schools. Unfortunately, other expensive proposals were included, adding to current and future state expenses without providing offsetting savings or revenues...By far the largest part is a new property tax relief rebate program, which will cost $1.3 billion annually when fully implemented."

421-a: "The legislation extends the 421-a program for six months, with a provision that allows representatives of labor and industry groups to reach a memorandum of understanding regarding wage protections for construction workers. If such an agreement is reached, the program will automatically be extended for four years," according to a release from the governor's office. A key piece of the deal is that affordable housing will be mandated as part of any development approved to receive the tax break, a significant change from the previous version, which included major exceptions. The deal also bans the so-called "poor door" setup that some developers enacted with separate entrances for market-rate tenants and affordable unit tenants.

Reaction: 421-a was a source of conflict between Governor Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio. The final plan - assuming that the two sides can come to a wage agreement - is very close to what de Blasio proposed, which he and his aides have pointed out, including through a convincing infographic.

"Some real progress was made on 421-a. We were very proud of that fact," de Blasio said on Monday, according to The Observer. "We're going to have a lot more affordable housing than we would have otherwise, and taxpayers are going to get a much better deal, because any time we subsidize a building, there will be affordable housing as part of that." The deal does not include the so-called "mansion tax" de Blasio called for on sales of apartments over $1.75 million and used to fund affordable housing, which the mayor called "a mistake" and a "lost opportunity."

The deal appears to work for just about all the key stakeholders, though the labor agreement that must be reached could halt the celebration, and even if it is worked out by the parties, the proof of this deal's success will be in the pudding that is real estate development and accompanying affordable housing built over the coming years.

Education: there is $250 million to private schools "for the costs of performing State-mandated services," money which many say the schools are already owed; requirements for the "disclosure of state exam questions and answers" and other measures to improve standardized testing; a "one-year extension of mayoral control of the New York City school system"; and an "increase in the number of charter schools available to be issued in New York City to 50 and enhanced flexibility in teacher certification rules" for charter schools.

Reaction: de Blasio and his allies had sought at least three years extension of mayoral control (de Blasio had originally pushed for it to be made permanent and the Assmebly had passed a seven-year extension); the one-year deal is seen as an insult to the mayor and, to some, revenge by Senate Republicans for de Blasio's 2014 efforts to swing the Senate to Democrats. It is unclear how much Governor Cuomo fought for a longer extension, though he had himself originally proposed three years early in 2015. "The outcome of the negotiations was the best that we could do," Cuomo said. Mayoral control will now be a focal point again in 2016 as de Blasio seeks another extension.

Meanwhile, much of the rest of the deal appears to extend the governor's education reform agenda. Cuomo allies in the charter school sector praised the deal. "Today Albany leaders stepped up and delivered for parents and students who demanded more choice," said StudentsFirstNY Executive Director Jenny Sedlis. "Too many children are stuck in failing schools without options...Thankfully, Albany leaders understand that charter schools play a critical role in the delivery of free, public education in New York."

Albany lawmakers also announced a deal enacting Cuomo's "Enough is Enough" campus sexual assault conduct policy across the state. "We have a bill on sexual assault on campuses that is the smartest and toughest bill in the United States," Cuomo said announcing the deal. "I think it's going to set a new national model for other states to follow."

EXECUTIVE ACTION:
The governor is taking executive action on three issues, each of which will still be revisited in terms of legislation, likely in 2016.

Governor Cuomo wanted legislation passed to raise the age of criminal responsibility, but Senate Republicans balked. "To me the single most important piece of 'raise the age' is getting the 16- and 17-year-olds out of state prisons and that's what I can do by executive order," Cuomo said last week. "We'll be creating facilities designed for those 16- and 17-year-olds that will be much more appropriate than a state prison," he said.

Cuomo also announced that since he could not come to a deal with legislative leaders on a special prosecutor in cases where police officers kill unarmed civilians, he was appointing the attorney general as such for one year, and will hope to come to a legislative solution in 2016.

The governor has pushed a further increase in the minimum wage, which is now $8.75 per hour and set to go to $9 at the end of the year. Unable to get Senate Republicans to bite, Cuomo announced he had instructed his Department of Labor to convene a wage board examining wages in the fast food industry. The wage board has held several public hearings and is set to announce its recommendations any day. Hopes are high that the board will "do the right thing and recommend a $15 wage for fast-food workers that will take effect as soon as possible," as a statement from Working Families Party State Director Bill Lipton read. Even if the board announces something less than $15 per hour, it is likely to push a significantly higher wage than $9.

ON TO NEXT YEAR:
While Cuomo acts on his own regarding the minimum wage in the fast food industry, where 16- and 17-year olds are imprisoned, and how investigations into police killings of unarmed civilians are run, it is almost certain that the governor and others will want to see legislative action on the three issues come 2016.

Advocates will have to continue to push for the DREAM Act; paid family leave; the Gender Non-Discrimination Act; raising the age of criminal responsibility and other criminal justice reforms; an increase in the minimum wage; legalizing mixed martial arts; ethics and campaign finance reform; and much more. Cuomo did not get Assembly Democrats to agree to his education tax credit proposal that would have incentivized contributions to nonpublic schools, and it is unclear if there will be another push for it in the future. It is clear, however, that the other issues on this list will remain the focus of much lobbying and activism:

Ethics and Campaign Finance Reform: "I'm disappointed and, frankly, find it incomprehensible, that there were not further measures taken to reform the procedures in our state government and in our campaigns," Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said on Friday, according to The Observer.

Schneiderman, who has put forth his own sweeping ethics reform package, said he wants to see a special legislative session before the scheduled January return of business to Albany. Good government groups, including Citizens Union, the Brennan Center, and NYPIRG, released a statement saying, "New York's leading civic organizations today decried Albany's continuing failure to fully address the ceaseless ethics problems head-on during the 2015 legislative session. The groups called on Governor Cuomo and the state's legislative leaders to convene a special session to tackle ethics reforms before the end of the calendar year."

Among the reforms the good government groups and Schneiderman want to see are limits on legislators' outside income and the closing of the infamous LLC loophole, which allows virtually unlimited campaign donations.

The Gender Non-Discrimination Act: The State Assembly has passed GENDA eight times, but the legislation, which, according to the Empire State Pride Agenda, "would update the state's anti-discrimination protections to cover transgender New Yorkers," has stalled in the Senate. The Pride Agenda released a statement saying that with the end of "a deplorably unproductive legislative session," the Senate has left transgender New Yorkers at continued risk "to the vicious discrimination that haunts countless trans lives." The Pride Agenda and allies also want to see action banning "conversion therapy" on minors in New York, which has also passed the Assembly.

Paid Family Leave: It's an issue gaining more and more traction nationally, but New Yorkers are looking to push paid family leave at the state level in the absene of federal policy. Reacting to a lack of movement before the end of the 2015 session, the New York Paid Family Leave Insurance campaign issued a statement, saying, "It now appears that New York families will have to wait yet another year for paid family leave. Meanwhile, thousands of workers upstate and down are still forced to choose between caring for their loved ones and their families' economic security...While employers and employees in California, Rhode Island, and even next door in New Jersey continue to reap the benefits of this overdue policy, New York is still woefully behind." Advocates cite The Paid Family Leave Insurance Act, which passed the Assembly in March and "would provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave to bond with a new child, care for a seriously ill family member, and deal with issues that arise when a family member is called to active military service."

Business owners and their allies continue to express reservations about any additional mandates placed on owners, both in terms of monetary cost and productivity. Many insist that New York should not take any further action to make the state more unfriendly toward business.

Well before the end-of-session deal was reached, it was clear that little beyond the basics would be done. Those behind the issues above, plus the DREAM Act, a farm workers bill of rights, the abortion plank of the Women's Equality Agenda, MMA, and other pieces of legislation watched the final negotiations in disappointment, and beginning to think about influencing the start of business next year.

In most instances, it is Democrats left wanting more. When the final deal was announced on Thursday, Assembly Speaker Heastie spoke of coming to terms with reality. "You could always want better," he said. "This is a bicameral Legislature and the Republicans in the Senate have their own vision on what they'd like to see and you do the best you can and try to compromise...We would have loved to have done more." 

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
@tweetBenMax

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In End of Session 'Scorecard,' Plenty for Next Year's Albany Agenda Mon, 29 Jun 2015 20:09:15 +0000