Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/325 Mon, 24 Sep 2018 12:18:34 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Max & Murphy Podcast: Intense Queens Senate Primary Centers on Delivering for Immigrant Communities http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7897:max-murphy-podcast-an-intense-queens-senate-primary-with-jessica-ramos-and-senator-jose-peralta http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7897:max-murphy-podcast-an-intense-queens-senate-primary-with-jessica-ramos-and-senator-jose-peralta mxm logo

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


August 29, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: An Intense Queens Senate Primary with Jessica Ramos and Senator Jose Peralta

podcast ramos perlata 277Jessica Ramos is challenging state Senator Jose Peralta in the Democratic primary, in a Queens district with a large immigrant population. Ramos, then Peralta joined the program to discuss their candidacies and to take questions from the hosts and listeners. At the center of the race are issues like the Dream Act, subway service, small business survival, and more. Also at play is Peralta's membership in the now-defunct Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group of eight senators that formed a ruling coalition with Republicans in the Senate.

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

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Intense Queens Senate Primary Centers on Delivering for Immigrant Communities Wed, 29 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Leading Immigrant-Advocacy Group Backs Ramos in Bid to Unseat Peralta http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7820:leading-immigrant-advocacy-group-backs-ramos-in-bid-to-unseat-peralta http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7820:leading-immigrant-advocacy-group-backs-ramos-in-bid-to-unseat-peralta jessica ramos cm

Jessica Ramos (photo: @JessicaRamos)


When state Senator Jose Peralta joined the Independent Democratic Conference at the beginning of last year, he became the latest Democrat to sever ties with his own party and become part of a coalition with Republicans, a move that further consolidated GOP control over the upper chamber of the state Legislature and enraged many Democrats. Fast forward a year and a half, and after considerable criticism and facing primary challengers in this year’s elections, the IDC dissolved its breakaway faction and rejoined the mainline Democrats in a deal brokered in part by Governor Andrew Cuomo, another Democrat facing a primary challenge from his left after being accused of propping up the IDC and Senate Republicans.

But the “unity” deal did not dissuade the primary challengers, nor did it stem the tide of grassroots organizations backing them.

On Tuesday, Make the Road Action, an advocacy group representing the interests of Latino, immigrant, and working-class communities, is endorsing Jessica Ramos’ bid to unseat Peralta in the Democratic primary for Queens’ District 13, which will be voted on September 13. In explaining its endorsement of Ramos, the group notes her track record as a community organizer as well as her progressive platform, which promises to fight for issues like immigrant rights, affordable housing, and public school funding.

In the time leading up to the election, Make the Road Action plans to canvas for Ramos by activating thousands of members to engage voters in the district by going door-to-door and phone-banking. On Tuesday, the group will participate in a walking tour of the district’s public schools with Ramos, gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon, and City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, both of whom have also backed Ramos.

“Jessica Ramos has made it clear that she’s ready to fight for our community,” said Ruth López, a member of Make the Road Action, in a statement.

The Senate district -- one of 63 across the state and one of eight represented by former members of the IDC -- encompasses parts of northern Queens. Peralta is in his fourth two-year term as a senator.

Make the Road Action’s endorsement is the latest in a series for Ramos, who is seen as having among the best chances of the challengers taking on former members of the IDC. The challengers and their backers call the previously rogue senators things like “Trump Democrats” for their partnership with Republicans in Albany. Ramos has also been endorsed by advocacy groups including the Working Families Party and Our Revolution, by Nixon, who is challenging Cuomo in the primary, and by Comptroller Scott Stringer, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, as well as Queens City Council Members Van Bramer and Costa Constantinides.

“They deserve a partner in the State Senate who is a real Democrat and will lead on measures to help workers and immigrants thrive,” Ramos said in a statement, referring to Make the Road Action, its members, and the Latinos, immigrants, and workers it represents. “I will be that partner.”

Ramos formerly served as the Director of Latino Media for Mayor Bill de Blasio and as the Democratic District Leader in the 39th Assembly District from 2010 to 2014.

A key pillar of her campaign against Peralta is that the IDC empowered Republicans, helping to keep Democrats from the majority and blocking progressive legislation. IDC members, on the other hand, have argued that they’ve been able to push the Senate Republicans to adopt some progressive policies and that they have been able to deliver more resources to their individual districts.

In particular, Peralta’s move to the IDC last year garnered backlash because of his sponsorship of the DREAM Act, a bill that would allow undocumented students access to college financial aid. Republicans have opposed the bill, raising questions about Peralta’s rationale for working with the IDC and its GOP partners.

In an April interview with City & State, Peralta defended his break with mainline Democrats by citing how the DREAM Act failed to pass by a count of two votes in 2014 because of the internal opposition of two Democrats. “I need to exhaust every opportunity and every avenue to make sure that we can pass these pieces of legislation that are landmark legislation,” he told City & State. The former members of the IDC have pledged that the breakaway conference is over for good, even if Democrats don’t swing enough seats this November to take majority control of the Senate, and thus both houses of the Legislature (the Assembly is controlled by Democrats by a wide margin).

Make the Road Action’s endorsement of Ramos points to immigrant-advocates’ dissatisfaction with Peralta, of particular interest in the immigrant and Latino-heavy district the two candidates are vying to represent. The winner of the primary is virtually assured of winning the general election in the Democrat-dominated district.

“We are proud to endorse her today,” López said of Ramos, “and we’ll do everything we can to get her elected.”

[Listen: Max & Murphy Podcast: IDC Challengers Robert Jackson & Jessica Ramos]

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by Chelsey Sanchez, Gotham Gazette
@chelseynsanchez  @GothamGazette

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Leading Immigrant-Advocacy Group Backs Ramos in Bid to Unseat Peralta Mon, 23 Jul 2018 04:00:00 +0000
The July Financial Picture for Former Breakaway Democrats and Their Primary Challengers http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7813:the-july-financial-picture-for-former-breakaway-democrats-and-their-primary-challengers http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7813:the-july-financial-picture-for-former-breakaway-democrats-and-their-primary-challengers liu and ramos via jessicaramos

John Liu and Jessica Ramos (photo: @JessicaRamos)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

jeff klein campaign kickoff

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Read: New York Democrats’ Season of Choosing]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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

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The July Financial Picture for Former Breakaway Democrats and Their Primary Challengers Wed, 18 Jul 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Senate Candidates Outline Primary Campaigns Against ‘Trump Democrats’ http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7504:senate-candidates-outline-primary-campaigns-against-trump-democrats http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7504:senate-candidates-outline-primary-campaigns-against-trump-democrats jackson ramos presser

Jessica Ramos and Robert Jackson


The eight-member Independent Democratic Conference of the New York State Senate has drawn increasing ire from Democrats around the state, especially in New York City. Democratic senators who have broken away from their colleagues in the regular Democratic conference, IDC senators form a power-sharing agreement with Senate Republicans, helping the GOP enhance its razor thin majority. The Senate is the only current Republican stronghold in state government.

Several factors, including the election of Donald Trump as President, have led to increased awareness about the IDC, and most IDC members are now facing primary challenges from the left in this election year where all seats in the state Legislature are on the ballot.

Jessica Ramos and Robert Jackson are two candidates taking on IDC members: Jose Peralta of Queens and Marisol Alcantara of Manhattan, respectively. On Monday, Ramos and Jackson joined the Max & Murphy Podcast from Gotham Gazette and City Limits to discuss their candidacies, why they are taking on the “Trump Democrats” of the IDC, and more.

“I’m running for state Senate because the Queens I was born in, the Queens that I’m raising two sons in, the Queens I love, isn’t being represented in the state Senate,” Ramos said, indicating that the anti-IDC push is aimed at ensuring “real” Democrats occupy seats in the Legislature, not “turncoat” elected officials, as Jackson put it. Both candidates agreed that the IDC was helping Republicans stand in the way of a more progressive state.

They called discretionary funding that IDC members bring back to their districts “blood money,” the spoils of a rotten power grab.

Jackson, a former City Council member, is running in the Democratic primary for the 31st State Senate District against incumbent Sen. Alcantara, who was first elected to the seat in 2016, narrowly defeating Jackson and Micah Lasher, who came in second and is backing Jackson this time around, in a contentious primary. The district encompasses much of the west side of Manhattan, from Hell's Kitchen to Inwood.

Ramos, a former aide to Mayor Bill de Blasio, is a first-time candidate, running against Sen. Peralta, who was first elected in 2010 to represent the 13th State Senate District, which includes communities of Jackson Heights, Corona, and East Elmhurst in central and northwestern Queens.

While the IDC has claimed it is able to work with Senate Republicans to pass more progressive legislation than would otherwise be passed, Ramos, Jackson, and other IDC critics have sought to debunk that claim. The legislation has been “watered down,” Jackson said, referring to things like the state’s relatively new minimum wage program, and Ramos agreed.

“They're eating crumbs off the Republican plates,” Jackson said of IDC members.

Ramos describes funding IDC members get -- often significantly more than mainline Democratic senators and even some members of the Republican conference -- as “payment that they are receiving in exchange for supporting the Republican majority, and lest we forget that that discretionary funding is actually our very own taxpayer dollars.” The funding, she says, is more about politics than really serving the district.

“Every single district that has New Yorkers that pay taxes should be receiving the same amount of funding,” Ramos said.

“The bigger picture,” Jackson said, “is all of the legislative stuff that can be done, that’s where our people are going to benefit from.”

Both Ramos and Jackson said that replacing IDC members with true Democrats would help lead New York in a more progressive direction. In total, they listed more than half a dozen bills or programs that they believe a Democratic majority in the Senate could deliver, including more education funding, single-payer health care, codification of Roe v. Wade abortion protections into state law, and more.

The two candidates touted early endorsements they’ve received, such as Ramos getting the backing of The Working Families Party.

During the podcast the candidates answered questions about their records on particular issues, whether they have a path to victory, and other tougher subjects than simply going on the attack against the incumbents they hope to unseat.

Ramos, for example, worked for de Blasio, and has to navigate how she approaches the mayor during her campaign. She discussed her work at City Hall whether she expects the mayor to campaign for her leading up to September’s primary vote.

Listen to the full Max & Murphy episode with Jessica Ramos and Robert Jackson here, or find Max & Murphy wherever you get your podcasts.

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by Matthew Sweeney, Gotham Gazette

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Ben Max contributed to this article.

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Senate Candidates Outline Primary Campaigns Against ‘Trump Democrats’ Tue, 27 Feb 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: IDC Challengers Robert Jackson & Jessica Ramos http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7494:max-murphy-podcast-idc-challengers-robert-jackson-jessica-ramos http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7494:max-murphy-podcast-idc-challengers-robert-jackson-jessica-ramos mxm logo

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


February 26, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: IDC Challengers Robert Jackson & Jessica Ramos

ramos jackson podcast 277

Jessica Ramos and Robert Jackson have launched Democratic primary challenges to two state senators who are members of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), a group of eight breakaway Democrats that forms a ruling coalition with the Senate Republican majority. Ramos, a former aide to Mayor Bill de Blasio, and Jackson, a former City Council member, joined the podcast to explain their reasons for running, their criticisms of the IDC, and what they would hope to bring to Albany and their districts if elected this fall.

Ramos is taking on Senator Jose Peralta in their Queens district, while Jackson is taking on Senator Marisol Alcantara in their Manhattan district. The two challengers did not hold back in criticizing the IDC members, saying the "Trump Democrats" had turned their back on voters and that propping up a GOP majority is bad for the city and the state overall when it comes to policies like rent regulations, education funding, and more.

Listen to the full conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy, with guests Robert Jackson (@RJackson_NYC) & Jessica Ramos (@JessicaRamos). You can listen to the episode through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: IDC Challengers Robert Jackson & Jessica Ramos Mon, 26 Feb 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Running Without Establishment Support, IDC Challengers Show Initial Fundraising Strides http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7439:running-without-establishment-support-idc-challengers-show-initial-fundraising-strides http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7439:running-without-establishment-support-idc-challengers-show-initial-fundraising-strides zellnor myrie event

Zellnor Myrie at a campaign event (photo: @zellnor4ny)


Despite a tentative unity deal between the Senate Democratic conference and the breakaway Democrats in the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), a number of progressives are pushing forward in their bids to unseat the so-called “turncoat Democrats.”

Challengers of the eight-member IDC, which forms a ruling coalition government with Senate Republicans, say they have drummed up broad grassroots support, as evidenced by pulling impressive fundraising numbers over a short period of time, with the bulk of the campaign funds raised from small donations.

They argue that Democrats are energized to unseat defectors who are empowering Republicans and blocking essential progressive legislation from moving through the Legislature; the Assembly is overwhelmingly controlled by Democrats, who often pass bills that die in the upper house.

Elections for every seat in the state Legislature are on the ballot this fall. While IDC challengers may have some solid initial money in the bank, without the support of the Democratic Party establishment -- members of which are behind the precarious Senate Democratic unity deal -- the candidates are looking at an uphill battle.

Two candidates have emerged to take on IDC Leader Jeff Klein, a Bronx senator. Lewis Kaminski, a Bronx attorney, has raised $11,075, while Alessandra Biaggi, a former aide in the Cuomo administration, has raised $8,042 and spent around $2,000 in the early going. Klein, who has well over $2 million in his campaign account and access to a great deal more money in broader IDC campaign accounts, will be an especially difficult figure to unseat. He easily survived a primary challenge in 2014 from former City Council Member Oliver Koppel, though some activists and candidates argue that circumstances in 2018 are far different, in part shifted by both awareness of the IDC and the election of Donald Trump as president.

Other members of the IDC may have a harder time beating back primary challenges.

Zellnor Myrie, a Brooklyn native and community activist who is challenging Brooklyn IDC Senator Jesse Hamilton, for example, began fundraising in late October and has since secured over 650 donations totaling $93,577, according to his January filings with the state Board of Elections (BOE). Seventy-five percent of the campaign’s contributions were $100 or less and 100 percent of contributions came from individuals, Myrie said.

“This is a people driven campaign,” said Myrie in a statement. “This early success shows that this community is ready for a real Democrat to bring real change. I am the only real Democrat in this race who can say they will fight back against the Trump-Democrats in Albany and truly represent working families and the middle class residents of central Brooklyn when elected.”

Hamilton has pulled $99,525 in receipts since July, $20,000 of which is a transfer from the Senate Independent Campaign Committee, a fundraising arm of the IDC, and has about $119,600 in the bank, according to his January filings. In a statement, Myrie noted that “an alarming sixty-six percent of my opponent’s contributions come from Corporations and GOP friendly donors, and he only received 36 individual contributions.”

IDC Senator Jose Peralta, of Queens’ 13th Senate District, also holds a small but comfortable initial fundraising lead over his two challengers, raising $79,460 and holding $157,006 in the bank. LGBTQ activist Andrea Marra has pulled in $47,630 in contributions and has $46,043 in the bank, while Jessica Ramos, a former aide to Mayor Bill de Blasio, received $30,997 and has $29,687 in the bank after a short early fundraising period since she left City Hall and declared her intention to unseat Peralta.

“More than half of those contributions came from residents of Senate District 13. 94% of donations were $100 or less,” Ramos said by email. “This filing shows a groundswell of support to elect a real Democrat who represents the progressive values of our communities.”

A third Peralta challenger, Tahseen Chowdhury, a 17-year-old high school student, had $895 in July 2017, but has not completed a January filing.

Senator Marisol Alcantara, of the 31st district in Manhattan, is facing a challenge from former City Council Member Robert Jackson, who lost to the incumbent in 2016, coming in third. This time, Jackson has the support of the second place finisher in that race, Micah Lasher, former chief of staff to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. The 2016 Democratic primary to replace senator-turned-congressman Adriano Espaillat was close; Alcantara pulled in 32.43 percent of the vote, compared to Lasher's 30.19 percent and Jackson's 29.72 percent.

Per his January filing with the state BOE, Jackson has raised $81,971 since July from thousands of individual donors and has a little over $105,000 in the bank. A source from the IDC noted that Jackson has spent funds from an old 2016 campaign account. Jackson's 2016 account reports $268.88 spent, apparently due to automatic cellphone app payments linked to a campaign credit card, a problem that has since been rectified, according to Jackson's spokesperson. Alcantara has raised $106,323, including a $10,000 transfer from the IDC, and has a little over $120,000 in the bank, according to her BOE filings.

Syracuse University administrator Rachel May, who recently announced a challenge against IDC Senator David Valesky, has netted $34,799 in donations since she opened her campaign committee in late November. In an apparent attempt to undercut the initial haul, an IDC source noted that a large chunk of May’s money has come from family and friends outside the district.

Valesky, of Oneida County, has raised $66,309 and has $612,761 in the bank. He told the Syracuse Post Standard he is unfazed by the competition.

Currently, no challenger has declared candidacy for the seats of IDC Senators Tony Avella of Queens, Diane Savino of Staten Island, or David Carlucci of Rockland and Westchester Counties.

A number of high profile New York Democrats, from Governor Andrew Cuomo to U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, have thrown their support behind the potential unity deal, which would preclude IDC challengers from receiving the potentially critical backing of the Senate Democrats’ fundraising apparatus, the state Democratic Party controlled by Cuomo, or Democratic Party leadership.  

“There is a deal in place with the Independent Democratic Conference. Therefore, we will not support any primaries,” said Mike Murphy, spokesperson for the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee.

Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins has said that the deal will only be on the table if the Democrats regain 32 seats in the 63-seat chamber, which would have to happen through a special election to fill currently vacant Senate seats. Mainline Democrats led by Stewart-Cousins would have to follow through on the deal with Klein and the IDC, while also convincing rogue Democrat Simcha Felder of Brooklyn, who conferences with the Senate Republicans, to join them as well.

Cuomo has not yet indicated whether he will call the special election to fill two Senate and nine Assembly vacancies before the session ends in June. A source from the mainline Democratic conference said that if the unity deal falls through, IDC challengers will be backed by the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (DSCC), which is sitting on more than $1 million and raising more as the election year heats up.

For Queens Democratic Party boss and Congressional Rep. Joe Crowley, the deadline for reunification is even sooner. In recent comments to the Queens Chronicle, he warned wayward Democrats to return to the fold by April -- when the budget process is complete -- or see a “head-on primary by everyone.”

Peralta and Avella are the two Queens IDC members, though Crowley’s reach extends beyond the borough. Crowley had a stern warning for Peralta in particular.

“If [Peralta] comes back then, we’ve agreed that he would have the support of the apparatus,” he said. “If he comes back earlier, that I think is better for him...if he doesn’t, he will have a primary sanctioned by me and the state apparatus, as well as working with our friends in labor.”

Currently, IDC challengers are supported by a number of grassroots progressive groups, including NO IDC NY, which since opening a multi-candidate campaign committee in August, has raised more than $20,000, mostly from small donations of $5 or $10. Since the summer, NO IDC has spent more than $8,500 in support for May, Biaggi, Zellnor, and Ramos, according to Board of Elections records.

While a number of progressive groups oppose the IDC, those organizations tend to support a host of progressive issues, but NO IDC is focused exclusively on unseating the breakaway Democrats, according to the group’s treasurer, Jim Casteleiro.

“We make the commitment of saying this is a very important issue and regardless of what happens, we cannot take our eye off the ball,” said Casteleiro. “We exist because there is no institutional body that has stood up to say, unconditionally, ‘We are going to get rid of these people who are blocking us from having a majority.’”

Meanwhile, IDC members have additional support from the Senate Independence Campaign Committee (SICC), which has $1.2 million in the bank. In addition to transferring money to Alcantara and Hamilton, records show the SICC has sent $25,000 to Avella, who may face another challenge from former City Council Member, Comptroller and mayoral candidate John Liu.

An IDC spokesperson dismissed the notion that any of the anti-IDC candidates pose a serious threat. "The Independent Democratic Conference and all eight members demonstrated they have the resources necessary to communicate with voters and are all well positioned to win reelection," said conference spokesperson Candice Giove.

Clarification: The article has been updated with an explanation from Robert Jackson's campaign for payments made from a 2016 campaign account.

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Running Without Establishment Support, IDC Challengers Show Initial Fundraising Strides Wed, 24 Jan 2018 05:00:00 +0000
The IDC Leaves Tenants Out in the Cold http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7366:the-idc-leaves-tenants-out-in-the-cold http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7366:the-idc-leaves-tenants-out-in-the-cold idc unions presser crop2

IDC members (photo: @IDC4NY)


For years, dysfunction and real estate power brokers have prevented Albany from strengthening tenant protections in New York, and the result of these failures has been devastating for our neighborhoods: we continue to suffer from record homelessness and increasing displacement across the state.

The Independent Democratic Conference — a group of eight breakaway state senators elected as Democrats — has been a leading force of obstruction since 2011, partnering with Senate Republicans to shut out tenant voices in policy-making.

Recently, things began to look like they were changing in the Senate for the first time in years. The mainline Democrats and the IDC took up serious discussion about how to unify the conference. During the course of negotiations, the IDC claimed that its focus is “policies, not politics,” and outlined a series of key priorities for the conference.

We were extremely disappointed to learn that strengthening tenant protections was not one of them — especially since several members of the conference have both privately and publicly stated to us that this would be their top issue in 2018.

We are tenants and we are constituents of three IDC members: Senators Marisol Alcantara, Jose Peralta, and Jesse Hamilton. Joined together, these State Senators have the highest concentration of rent-regulated units in New York City.

We are fighting every day to be able to stay in our homes. Our neighborhoods are facing gentrification, and our landlords know loopholes in the rent laws mean they can raise our rents to market rate as soon as we leave. As a result, we face harassment, reduced services, and deplorable living conditions – all in an attempt to get us out of our homes. We have called on our state-level elected leaders to prioritize strengthening the rent laws through closing two major loopholes: the 20% eviction bonus and preferential rent. Our communities are experiencing increased rents, speculative landlords, and mass gentrification.

Over and over, Senators Alcantara, Hamilton, and Peralta told us that the IDC is the best vehicle to meet so-called progressive priorities. After serious pressure, they had committed to prioritizing these issues for the overwhelming number of tenants who live in their districts.

But once it came time to deliver, these senators and the IDC once again proved that they are the conference of the real estate industry. This is devastating for the tenants who are suffering in their districts daily because of laws that favor landlords.

In Peralta’s district, families at LeFrak City are sacrificing their savings, pulling their kids out of after-school programs, getting second jobs, and moving into smaller cramped apartments just to make ends meet. Many of us are seeing large rent hikes. At the end of every month, moving trucks haul the belongings of yet another family that has lost its apartment due to the preferential rent scam that Senator Peralta could fix next year.

In Brooklyn, just a few weeks ago, Senator Hamilton joined the Flatbush Tenants Coalition to tell the story of an 85-year-old grandmother recently evicted and now forced to live with friends on their couches, with her belongings in storage. Housing court in Brooklyn often has lines stretched around the block because the state ludicrously rewards landlords for evictions by allowing management to collect a 20% increase in rent — an eviction bonus.

The eviction bonus is the largest contributor to rent increases in rent-stabilized apartments. It doesn’t matter if the tenant moved out willingly or because the landlord refused to provide basic services to keep the apartment livable. The landlord can take that 20% increase, even if it raises the rent above market value.

Preferential rent is a bait-and-switch scam to get tenants out and collect the 20% eviction bonus. When a tenant first moves into an apartment, the landlord offers them a “discounted” rent. But when the lease is up, tenants can see increases of hundreds of dollars on their monthly rent.

This is simply a tactic used to get the eviction bonus and keep rents skyrocketing.

Preferential rents are causing tenants in Alcantara’s district to face potential increases of $1,000 or more when their lease expires, causing tenants to move and disrupting communities.

To be very clear, this can be changed through legislation in Albany.

Senators Alcantara, Hamilton, and Peralta could help change this next year. They have spent the past years and months promising tenants in their districts that this is a top priority. Alcantara and Peralta went as far as publishing their promises in an op-ed. But we have since seen that like so many things with IDC senators, these promises ring hollow, as the IDC did not list rent regulations as a priority area in its negotiations to realign with mainline Democrats.

There are only a few months left for the members of the IDC to deliver for tenants. If they fail to do so, we will remember in September.

***
Aisha Gomez is a resident of LeFrak City in Senator Jose Peralta’s district in Queens
Sherryann Bain is a resident of Flatbush in Senator Jesse Hamilton’s district in Brooklyn
Lauren Nye is a resident of Washington Heights in Senator Marisol Alcantara’s district in Manhattan

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

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The IDC Leaves Tenants Out in the Cold Tue, 12 Dec 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Cuomo is Keeping New York from Emulating California, De Blasio Says http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6434:cuomo-is-keeping-new-york-from-emulating-california-de-blasio-says http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6434:cuomo-is-keeping-new-york-from-emulating-california-de-blasio-says de blasio cuomo january 2014

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

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Cuomo is Keeping New York from Emulating California, De Blasio Says Tue, 12 Jul 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Major City Issues at Play in Politically Charged, Post-Budget Legislative Session http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6267:major-city-issues-at-play-in-politically-charged-post-budget-legislative-session http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6267:major-city-issues-at-play-in-politically-charged-post-budget-legislative-session cuomo budget paid leave pic

Gov. Cuomo announces the budget deal (photo via The Governor's Office)


Governor Andrew Cuomo dismissed the idea of extending state government's legislative session this year to tackle ethics reform during an appearance in Binghamton on Wednesday. "We have a relatively light agenda because we did so much work in the budget," the governor said. "We passed the minimum wage increase, we passed paid family leave, we passed a great package for the middle class, we passed a great package for upstate New York, more education funding than ever before."

It's a concerning statement for some advocates and elected officials who see the session full of unresolved issues - including, but beyond ethics - especially ones that impact New York City, issues that the governor himself tackled during his January State of the State speech or has since brought to the table. Some advocates take the governor's statement as an acknowledgement that he traded away issues Senate Republicans oppose to get a minimum wage increase, and not only in the budget, but for the rest of the legislative session that has just begun and is scheduled to end in June.

All-important control of the State Senate will be up for grabs again in November, but a key battle in the overall war will be decided on April 19 in the contest to fill the seat vacated by former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, recently convicted on federal corruption charges. The April special and impending November elections mean legislators are anxious to get back to their districts while avoiding political landmines.

Ethics reforms are one of the many issues jettisoned from budget talks that lawmakers say were dominated by minimum wage negotiations. Major issues of particular importance to New York City yet to be addressed this year include mayoral control of schools; a multitude of criminal justice reforms, some of which were introduced by Cuomo; housing programs, including a replacement for the 421-a property tax credit aimed at spurring affordable housing development; and two education matters that have been linked in the past: The DREAM Act and the education investment tax credit.

Mayoral Control
Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and his conference have used Mayor Bill de Blasio as a progressive boogieman since the mayor tried to help Democrats win control of the chamber in 2014. Last year Flanagan successfully beat back the mayor's push for a seven-year extension of mayoral control, getting his negotiating partners to settle on one year. He again maneuvered discussion of renewal out of this year's budget discussions and before a spending deal was even announced, he scheduled hearings on mayoral control for May 4 in Albany and May 19 in New York City. Mayoral control is due to sunset on June 30.

Many Democrats expect Senate Republicans to delay actually acting on mayoral control until as late as possible in order to keep de Blasio "in check." With no other sensible alternative, de Blasio has been gracious about the situation so far, saying he plans to attend the hearings "personally" and welcomes the chance for "dialogue" on the issue.

Criminal Justice Reforms
Gov. Cuomo has supported three major criminal justice reforms over the last two years: Raise the Age, an effort to end New York's practice of treating 16- and 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system; an effort to create independent review of police killings of civilians; and a program to increase data reporting of the race and ethnicity of individuals involved in police interactions. Unable to deliver on the first two last year, Cuomo took executive action. He moved 16- and 17-year-olds out of adult prisons and gave Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office the discretion to look into police killings of civilians. Advocates were pleased, but acknowledged both issues still needed to be addressed in law.

This year Cuomo has proposed a bill that would give his office the ability to convene an investigation into police killings of civilians but only if certain criteria is met. He has continued to push for Raise the Age but not with the urgency supporters would like. They point out that even being held in separate facilities from older inmates, 16- and 17-year-olds are still treated as adults when arrested and tried, which make negative outcomes and criminal records more likely.

On Tuesday, supporters of a bill that would mandate the state collect data on police interactions with the public gathered in Albany to push Senate Republicans and Cuomo to act on an issue they call "common sense."

The bill, sponsored by Assembly Member Joseph Lentol and state Senator Daniel Squadron, both Brooklyn Democrats, would require the state to collect and report data on the number of tickets and misdemeanor arrests across the state; the number of civilian deaths in police custody or during an arrest; the race, ethnicity, and sex of those charged with misdemeanors and violations; and the geographic location of enforcement-related activity and arrest-related deaths. Lentol said the bill is not "anti-police" but a "transparency" and "open government" tool to improve relations between police and communities across the state. Lentol prodded Gov. Cuomo to act, noting that Cuomo has a similar bill that has failed to garner support.

"Yet again, communities of color were left behind in New York State budget negotiations, with no meaningful advancement of any criminal justice reforms," said Alyssa Aguilera, co-executive director of VOCAL-NY. "Passing the STAT Act this legislative session provides an opportunity for Governor Cuomo and the New York State Legislature to show they value the safety and dignity of all New Yorkers."

Squadron told Gotham Gazette that the bill is one that Senate Republicans "put in a black box, a dark room," never to be seen again. "This isn't something we have debated. We haven't heard their argument against it, it just disappears." Lentol, however, said that he believes police unions are using their influence to block the bill.

Assembly Member Jeffrion Aubry, Democrat of Queens, supports Lentol's bill and said that he feels his constituents and advocates are growing frustrated that the Senate fails to vote on criminal justice reforms year after year. "I think the governor is really going to have to move on some of these bills and not just wave his hands in the air and say 'It's the Republicans'" Aubry said. "We know he can get what he wants. He has an election coming up and he's got to deliver for these communities."

A spokesperson for the governor, Dani Lever, said in a statement that "The governor has and continues to push for comprehensive criminal justice reform to address the treatment of juveniles in the system and the prosecution of fatality cases involving law enforcement. Despite the legislature's failure to agree on these reforms, the governor has taken bold action and issued executive orders appointing a special prosecutor in police cases (the first of its kind in the country) and removing juveniles from adult state prisons. Until the legislature passes real reforms, the governor's executive orders will remain in effect."

Housing
Last year in an unprecedented move, Cuomo put the fate of the 421-a tax abatement program in the hands of the two stakeholder industries - real estate developers and construction unions. Whatever deal they reached on wages in new housing developments utilizing 421-a was to be enacted into law with other reforms to the program, but if they failed, 421-a would sunset. Negotiations floundered and 421-a is dead.

The program is thought to be essential to affordable housing production in New York City, making it profitable for developers to build new rental housing with some affordable units included. When Cuomo rejected compromise legislation crafted by de Blasio last June, it was one of the final straws to break de Blasio's back (along with the mayoral control compromise and more), leading to his now-infamous tirade against the governor on June 30. De Blasio's affordable housing goals rely on 421-a-related production.

On Monday, Cuomo told NY1's Errol Louis that he is looking for a replacement. "You can have a fair program that pays a fair rate to the unions and also a fair rate of profit to the developers," Cuomo said. "I believe there is that balance to be struck. But they have to strike that balance. We're still trying, but the Legislature is not going to approve a plan that kicks the labor unions out of the affordable housing business."

Bill Murrow, the governor's top aide, followed up those comments on Tuesday during a Crain's New York Business breakfast event, indicating that labor and real estate are indeed negotiating again. "The developers, REBNY, and the construction trades...they'll find some common ground. I am hopeful that sometime between now and June that something will actually happen," Mulrow said.

On Tuesday, tenant advocates gathered in Albany to demand that negotiations on 421-a or something like must also include strengthening rent regulations. Delsenia Glover, campaign manager for the Alliance for Tenant Power opened the press conference by condemning the deal that renewed the rent laws last year. "We pretty much got nothing," she said. "At the time Governor Cuomo said they were the 'strongest rent laws in history.' It's not true, we got nothing." Members of the crowd shouted "He lied!"

Glover said she has been disturbed to hear "lamentations" that 421-a is dead, saying she was glad a "giveaway to luxury developers" and "$1.1 billion tax suck" was dead and that assertions that developers won't be able to build affordable housing without it is patently false.

"Our demand," said Glover, "is this: If 421-a or anything that looks like 421-a is revived or created then the rent laws must be reopened, we get rid of vacancy bonus, fix preferential rents, and then maybe we can have a conversation."

A number of legislators who spoke after Glover pushed against the idea of any 421-a renewal. Assembly Member Walter Mosley of Brooklyn said he doesn't use the term '421-a' because "We don't want nothin' like 421-a to resurface, but ultimately we understand if anything like 421-a comes to the floor then we reopen the rent laws. Without that we have no discussion."

Assembly Housing Chair Keith Wright, who introduced a plan of something of a 421-a alternative earlier this year to a tepid response, brought up his proposal in front of the audience that was openly hostile to any replacement. Wright's plan would utilize the state's abandoned property fund to give a subsidy of $100,000 per affordable unit at a cost of about $200 million per year, compared to 421-a's 25-year property tax break and $1 billion annual tax revenue price tag.

"The plan was not...people were intrigued by the idea," Wright told the crowd, seeming to catch himself in an effort to promote the measure, "but listen anything in Albany takes a minute to work up to, but we are still pushing that plan, but we are still under siege."

Wright is a close ally of Cuomo and many expect that his plan was the first shot fired in an effort to restore a 421-a plan. The fact that Cuomo and Wright are openly pushing a replacement and that Senate Republicans are likely to want to deliver for real estate developers makes many advocates think it is a question of "when" not "if" a 421-a replacement comes to the floor of both houses. They hope to keep up public pressure to win some sort of concessions when it takes place.

Other Education Issues
Last year Cuomo tried to connect the DREAM Act that would allow the undocumented access to college tuition assistance and the education tax credit that would give benefits to those who donate to private schools. The DREAM Act has massive support in the Assembly, which has passed the measure repeatedly over the last few years and the education tax credit is a favorite of Senate Republicans. Cuomo's bid at linkage failed last year (he did not attempt to link them again this year, but did include both in his executive budget), but both issues remain on the table and the fact that they were left out of the budget has rankled a number of lawmakers.

Sen. Simcha Felder, a Democrat from Brooklyn who caucuses with Republicans, was said to be so upset that Republicans didn't demand the education tax credit be part of the budget that he didn't conference with them during budget negotiations (he was then the lone Senate "no" vote on the minimum wage and education budget bill). Meanwhile, DREAM supporters like Sen. Jose Peralta, a Democrat from Queens, railed against its exclusion during the late-night budget debate.

For supporters of each measure the problem seems to be that opposition to the other measure has become a litmus test for some in their party's base. Senate Republicans have included language touting the disinclusion of the DREAM Act in the budget on the Senate website, listing it as an accomplishment:

"Rejecting the Use of Taxpayer Dollars to Fund College Tuition for Illegal Immigrants:

"The final budget rejects an Executive Budget proposal that would have cost state taxpayers $27 million and reward people who are here illegally by giving them free college tuition. The measure would have extended all other criteria, exemptions or opportunities found within the education law - including all scholarship and tuition assistance programs funded with state tax dollars - to illegal immigrants while hardworking middle-class families are already being forced to take out massive college loans to pay for higher education."

Meanwhile, public school advocates are entrenched against the education tax credit, saying that it is a taxpayer giveaway to millionaires who will flood their favored schools with donations using up the credit before average families can utilize it. The Alliance for Quality Education, a teachers union-aligned group, has held press conferences and briefings against the policy this year.

Albany Tradition
If the past is indeed prologue than it is a safe bet that many of these issues will not come to a vote in both houses this year. With an important special election, a presidential race, and the entire Legislature up for (re)election, leaders will likely be looking to rest on the work they did in the budget and get back to their districts. While there will be a lot of noise made by the media and good government groups around ethics reform, no one who knows Albany is holding their breath.

Mayoral control of city schools is the only key policy related to New York City facing an expiration date and all-but-sure to see action. The questions are what Senate Republicans demand in exchange for extension, how long it is extended for, and how much they make de Blasio sweat in the process.

Including Wednesday, April 6, there are currently 25 session days remaining until its scheduled end on June 16.

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Major City Issues at Play in Politically Charged, Post-Budget Legislative Session Wed, 06 Apr 2016 22:49:29 +0000
Scott Shooting May Help Reignite New York Criminal Justice Debate http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5677:scott-shooting-may-help-reignite-new-york-criminal-justice-debate http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5677:scott-shooting-may-help-reignite-new-york-criminal-justice-debate peralta nypd

Sen. Jose Peralta with NYPD officers (photo: @SenatorPeralta)


A video of South Carolina Police Officer Michael Slager fatally shooting Walter Scott as he ran away appears to have relit the debate over criminal justice reform in New York.

The graphic video has reminded many advocates and legislators of the video that brought attention to the death of Eric Garner while he was being arrested by members of the NYPD on Staten Island in July. Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who could be seen in the video placing Garner in a chokehold, was not indicted by a grand jury.

Legislators say they expect reforms proposed earlier this year to be front and center when the Legislature returns from spring vacation later in April. Sen. Jose Peralta, a Democrat from Queens who has championed a number of criminal justice reforms, said that he was struck by how quickly South Carolina officials reacted to the video of the shooting.

"It makes me wonder why it took New York so long to act," Peralta told Gotham Gazette. "The South Carolina system acted immediately - they fired the officer and filed charges. Here it took a while for anyone to do anything. It took outcry. What better case to show the discrepancy between the criminal justice system of a supposedly progressive state like New York and a more conservative state."

Video of Garner's July 17 death circulated widely as many officials resisted passing judgement on whether Garner was murdered. His death was ruled a homicide by the city's medical examiner August 1. On August 19, Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan announced a grand jury would hear charges against Pantaleo. The grand jury began hearing evidence September 29 and decided not to charge Pantaleo December 3.

In South Carolina, Slager shot walker on April 4; he was arrested and charged with murder April 7; and he was fired April 8.

After the grand jury decision in the Pantaleo case, protesters took to the streets across the country, especially in New York City, and an anti-police brutality, criminal justice reform movement continued to build in the aftermath of the deaths of Garner and Michael Brown, who was killed in Ferguson, MO.

New York politicians took notice.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo promised a "soup-to-nuts" review of the justice system and met with prominent leaders of the criminal justice reform movement, including Jay-Z and Russell Simmons. Simmons said Cuomo had promised to issue an executive order putting a special prosecutor in charge of cases where police kill unarmed civilians, Cuomo's office insisted the governor had simply promised to push for legislation to that effect. (On April 9, Simmons wrote an open letter to Cuomo expressing frustration over a lack of action.)

In the weeks that followed Cuomo's December promise of a review, hearings were held, some led by Democrats, others by Republicans; bills were proposed, and lines were drawn. And then a sort-of vortex opened up and swallowed the issue: Christmas, then former Gov. Mario Cuomo passed away on January 1 and Cuomo postponed his State of the State Address until later in January; the indictment of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver soon followed and Albany was thrown into chaos. Budget negotiations were on hold, set to heat up when the Assembly replaced Silver with Carl Heastie in February. Some of the proposed criminal justice reforms were included in ensuing budget negotiations but eventually dropped for expediency's sake.

"I was hopeful because of the dialogue we were having that New York would be a national leader on criminal justice reform," said Justine Luongo of The Legal Aid Society. "But I can't say I was surprised it didn't happen [in the budget] because so many critical reforms are needed."

Exactly why criminal justice reforms were dropped appears up for interpretation. Sen. Diane Savino, who has championed a bill that would create more transparency in grand jury deliberations, told Gotham Gazette that items were dropped from the budget where consensus already existed to save time. "I think there is a future for all of them," Savino said when asked what criminal justice reforms she thought would be in play when legislators return to session. "It will all be dealt with along with mayoral control and the minimum wage and everything else." Savino's bill was referred to the Senate's codes committee on January 15 and has seen no action since.

Luongo said she expects the debate over raising the age teens can be tried as adults in New York to be settled fairly quickly. Cuomo included the policy in the budget but it was dropped after concerns were raised about how it would be implemented. While policy must be negotiated, funding for the program did remain in the budget.

"Clearly we can't wait any longer," said Luongo. "The time must be right to make sure the system treats everyone fairly." Luongo noted that New York and North Carolina are the only two states that try 16- and 17-year-olds as adults.

"The promise of equal justice is a New York promise and it is an American promise. We are currently in the midst of a national problem where people are questioning our justice system," Cuomo said during his State of the State speech in January. "And they're questioning whether the justice system really is fairness for all. And whether the justice system really is colorblind. And that's not just New York, it's a problem all across the country."

In the speech, Cuomo proposed a fairly balanced set of policies, with some intended to please those concerned with police safety following the murder of two NYPD officers and with public safety in general. Those policies include creating a statewide commission on police and community relations, helping police departments hire more people of color, providing funding for bullet-proof glass and vests, allowing district attorneys to issue reports on what happened in closed-door grand juries involving police killings and allowing the governor to appoint an independent monitor to oversee the findings in such cases and then be able to appoint a special prosecutor.

Appointing a special prosecutors to such cases may be the most contentious issue regarding criminal justice reform. Advocates including The Legal Aid Society and a number of Democratic legislators have asked Cuomo to name Attorney General Eric Schneiderman as an independent monitor. That appears unlikely as Cuomo and Schneiderman are rivals, with Cuomo actually working to weaken the AG's reach since becoming governor. On December 8, Schneiderman asked Cuomo to issue an interim executive order allowing the AG's office to investigate and, if necessary, appoint a special prosecutor in cases where police kill unarmed civilians. "While several worthy legislative reforms have been proposed, the Governor has the power to act today to solve this problem," Schneiderman wrote. "I strongly encourage him to take action now."

Sen. Gustavo Rivera has said he plans to use parliamentary procedure in the Senate to force a vote on his bill that would put the AG in charge of cases where police kill unarmed civilians. Rivera requested committee consideration of the bill on March 20. Even if the bill comes to a vote it isn't clear Senate Republicans would go for it as many of them favor keeping local DAs in charge of the cases. The bill is much more likely to pass in teh Assmebly, where it has major support. Assembly Member Keith Wright is the bill's sponsor in that house.

A number of Democratic legislators said that they expect some form of special prosecutor legislation to get done but they aren't quite sure what it will look like in the end. Senate Republicans are looking to deliver on tax breaks and are facing major pressure on the education tax credit from religious groups who have even threatened to primary legislators if the bill doesn't get done. That could give Democrats some leverage when it comes time to negotiate criminal justice reforms - but, there are so many other major issues at stake for Democrats including a minimum wage increase, renewing mayoral control of schools, the sunset of rent laws, and The DREAM Act, that there is a chance that the debate could be overshadowed yet again.

"We really had a perfect storm that kept a lot of these issues in at bay," said Peralta "We had an overly ambitious executive budget and a lot of important things fell out, but now we have three months to get it all done. Its time to get to work."

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing

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Scott Shooting May Help Reignite New York Criminal Justice Debate Fri, 10 Apr 2015 08:36:34 +0000