Gotham Gazette Sat, 18 Aug 2018 13:07:03 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Democratic Candidates for Governor and Lieutenant Governor File Pre-Primary Fundraising Numbers nixon williams

Cynthia Nixon and Council Member Jumaane Williams (photo:@CynthiaNixon)

Governor Andrew Cuomo, a two-term Democrat, spent millions over the last month on his reelection campaign, far outpacing his Democratic primary rival, actor and education activist Cynthia Nixon, according to pre-primary campaign finance disclosures filed by candidates this week with the state Board of Elections. Cuomo’s running mate, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, overwhelmingly outraised her own primary opponent, New York City Council Member Jumaane Williams.

Cuomo spent a whopping $7.5 million and raised about $845,000 in just one month, between July 17 and August 13, and still has $24 million left in cash on hand. Most of the money was spent on television advertisements, with over $4 million paid to New Jersey-based Media Fortitude Partners, a media buying firm. Another $1.3 million for advertisements went to Motus Strategies LLC. The campaign also paid $384,000 to Bully Pulpit Interactive, a communications consulting firm based in Washington, D.C. Over the course of the election cycle, the governor has raised $35.5 million and spent $19.6 million in total. 

The governor’s campaign also made large charitable contributions in this most recent filing period totalling $422,000 to various organizations across the state including the Legal Aid Society, Planned Parenthood, the Puerto Rican Family Institute, the National Institute for Reproductive Health Action and NOW NYC. The donations seem to be drawn from a pot of money set aside by Cuomo in January last year owing to the arrest on corruption charges of several upstate executives who had donated large sums to his campaign along with Joe Percoco, a former top aide and Cuomo campaign manager. Percoco and the executives were recently convicted in federal court. 

As he seeks a third term in office, Cuomo has also been bent on making an impact at the national level. He has been putting the state Democratic party’s resources into electing more Democrats to the House of Representatives, to reclaim control of the chamber from Republicans. On Tuesday, his campaign announced the creation of a federal political action committee called “Cuomo NY Take Back the House PAC” which, according to the campaign, has contributed the maximum $2,700 each to ten Democratic congressional candidates across New York State. The PAC has yet to file financial disclosures with the Federal Election Commission.

“With Trump and Republicans in Washington threatening New York’s way of life – from healthcare and women’s rights to immigration and tax reform – the Governor is laser focused on taking back the U.S. House to protect the people of this state,” said Maggie Moran, Cuomo’s campaign manager, in a statement.

Nixon, on the other hand, raised only about $392,000 for her insurgent gubernatorial bid, and spent $606,000 in the same one-month period. Though Nixon has only about $442,000 left to spend, her campaign has touted the nearly 43,000 thousand individual donations it has received in the last five months as evidence of the strength of her campaign and has repeatedly emphasized that Nixon has refused all corporate donations. Nixon’s campaign pointed out Tuesday that those individual donations outnumber Cuomo’s own individual donors from his four runs for governor and that 98 percent of Nixon’s contributions came from small dollar donors, who only accounted for about 0.2 percent of Cuomo’s fundraising. In-kind contributions made up a large part of Nixon’s fundraising, with just under $88,000 coming from the Working Families Party and $11,250 that Nixon gave herself. Since jumping into the race, Nixon has raised a total of $2 million and spent $1.3 million.

“We are seeing a level of grassroots momentum that Cuomo has failed to tap into during his entire two decade career in New York politics,” said Hayley Prim, Nixon’s campaign manager, in a statement. “There is a real hunger in New York to elect a real progressive who is beholden to the people, not corporations and millionaires.”

On Monday, Cuomo finally agreed to a primary debate, which Nixon had pushed for months. The two will participate in an hour-long debate hosted by WCBS at Hofstra University on August 29, just two weeks before primary day.

In the lieutenant governor race, Hochul, the Democratic incumbent, raised nearly $460,000 and only had about $143,000 in expenditures, leaving her a balance of about $1.6 million. Candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run separately in the primary election, which is September 13, and on a joint ticket for the general. Hochul has raised a total of $1.7 million for her reelection so far and spent about $375,000.

Williams, Hochul’s primary opponent, only raised about $25,000 and spent about $32,000. He has just under $39,000 in cash on hand. Notably, Williams refunded $10,000 to Glenwood Masonry Products after it emerged in his previous filing that he had accepted multiple over-the-limit contributions. He has not yet returned another $25,000 in improper contributions in total from two other firms linked to the same developer as Glenwood Masonry, despite promising to do so. Once he does, his campaign balance will fall to just under $14,000. Williams' total fundraising for the race, including those contributions, is about $207,000, of which he has spent $151,000 so far. A Williams campaign spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

The Hochul campaign, which has also repeatedly chastised Williams for not releasing his tax returns from the last five years, pounced on the Council member’s failure to return the money. “The question is simple...where’s the money?” read a statement from the campaign, “Councilman Williams stated in late July that he would ‘definitely’ return the donations, and after almost a month he still hasn’t kept his word. New Yorkers are clearly seeing that Mr. Williams thinks the rules don’t apply to him - they’ll have their opportunity to respond September 13th.”

Hochul and Williams are set face each other later this month in the second debate of the race. The debate will be hosted by the Manhattan Neighborhood Network and moderated by Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max. It will be taped on the morning of August 29 and will air on September 2.

There is no other contested primary in either the race for governor or lieutenant governor. The Democratic primary victors will face off in the general against Republican nominee for governor Marc Molinaro and his running mate Julie Killian; the Green Party's Howie Hawkins; Libertarian Larry Sharpe; and independent candidate Stephanie Miner who is running on a ticket with Michael Volpe. 

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note- This article has been updated with the candidates' total fundraising and expenditure for the entire election cycle. 

Democratic Candidates for Governor and Lieutenant Governor File Pre-Primary Fundraising Numbers Tue, 14 Aug 2018 22:46:05 +0000
Working Families Party Puts It All On The Line Cynthia Nixon, Jummane Williams, and Alessandra Biaggi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Read: New York Democrats’ Season of Choosing]

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Working Families Party Puts It All On The Line Thu, 02 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000
In Wide Open Lieutenant Governor Primary, Hochul Targets Votes in Williams’ Backyard hochul in brooklyn w lawmakers

Lt. Gov. Hochul, center, in Brooklyn (photo: @KathyHochul)

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, in campaign mode, has appeared in the Bronx and Brooklyn several times over the past few weeks. The Democratic lieutenant governor, facing a challenge from Brooklyn City Council Member Jumaane Williams as she seeks a second term, has been spending more time in New York City as primary day gets closer.

Hochul’s focus on the city, and its communities of color in particular, are indicative of the importance of voters from the five boroughs, especially voters of color, in statewide Democratic primaries, and of her potential vulnerability to Williams, who has been an elected official in Brooklyn since 2010 and is black. A Siena Research poll released Tuesday -- just over six weeks until the September 13 statewide primary vote -- shows Hochul with a 30-21 percent lead among likely Democratic primary voters, with nearly half undecided. In other words, a wide open race.

Hochul seems to know it. The lieutenant governor spent Saturday July 28 at a “Brooklyn Women for Cuomo” event, July 22 in the Bronx with Assemblymember Nathalia Fernandez and City Council Member Vanessa Gibson, July 18 giving remarks at the Bronx Democratic Party’s Annual Gala, and July 14 in Brooklyn with State Senator Roxanne Persaud, attending a block party and the opening of Public Advocate Letitia James’ attorney general campaign office in Prospect Heights.

These events, among others both campaign and governmental -- in her role as lieutenant governor, she made an announcement at the Brooklyn Public Library main branch on Tuesday afternoon and appeared at a June gun control rally in the Bronx, for example -- have had Hochul appearing with black and Latino elected officials and posting photos with them to her social media feeds, and highlighting state investments in the boroughs with the highest proportions of people of color.

“Beautiful Saturday with my sisters in #Brooklyn – thank you for coming out to support @AndrewCuomo and I as we run for re-election,” Hochul tweeted on Saturday, with two photos attached, one of herself with four African-American women including Senator Persaud and Assemblymember Latrice Walker.

At the same time, Hochul has begun to zero in on Williams, returning some of his criticism of her as little more than a booster of Governor Andrew Cuomo, unwilling to be independent or speak up about corruption in state government. Hochul, who is from Erie County, where she was county clerk and a one-term member of Congress, has a conservative record on gun control and immigration that Williams has criticized and she has since distanced herself from, expressing more liberal views.

Hochul’s counterattacks have homed in on Williams’ own more conservative stances on abortion and marriage equality, and she has also taken him to task around his late and faulty campaign finance disclosures and unwillingness to release his past tax returns.

Last Tuesday, Hochul released a statement chastising Williams for failing to release his tax returns despite having introduced a resolution in the City Council calling for presidential candidates do so. “It's time for Councilman Williams to live up to his calls for transparency,” Hochul tweeted recently. “Stop trying to deflect and delay. Release your tax returns to the people of New York.”

She has also criticized Williams for issues with filing his campaign finance disclosure and for having to return $50,000 in illegal corporate donations. He has fired back saying that she has talked more about his campaign finance disclosures than about corruption in the state economic development programs that are key to her portfolio as lieutenant governor and have centered in Buffalo, which she represented in Congress.

In some ways, Hochul has appeared to embrace the challenge from Williams -- she calls herself a fighter and has said that while she thinks Democratic infighting hurts the party’s chances to flip Republican seats in Congress and the state Senate, she is happy to defend her record and Cuomo’s -- she enthusiastically supports the governor and explains her role as helping to get administration programs over the finish line and then to promote them around the state. While Cuomo has declined thus far to debate Cynthia Nixon in the gubernatorial primary, Hochul recently took to a Westchester stage with Williams for a forum, with only a moderator between them.

Any Democrat running for statewide office will have to spend a significant amount of time in New York City, with 55 percent of registered Democrats statewide residing within the five boroughs according to an April report from the State Board of Elections. But Williams may pose a different challenge to Hochul than did Tim Wu, Hochul’s 2014 Democratic challenger who ran alongside Zephyr Teachout, who took on Cuomo that year, as he was seeking a second term (Robert Duffy was Cuomo’s first-term lieutenant governor).

People of color, and particularly African-Americans, in the city play an outsize role in statewide Democratic primaries, the “base” of the party that is the most strongly identifies as Democratic.

“We can look at the record, just across the entire United States of America: black women are strong voters and strong leaders in our communities,” Brooklyn City Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel told Gotham Gazette on Monday. “Elected or not elected. And we usually are the ones that come out and help folks to get elected. Look at Alabama, right? And so, [Hochul] knows that, campaigns know that, and so it’s the same way you see Jumaane Williams now having conversations with women.”

In seeking to draw a wedge between the two candidates that will resonate with Democratic primary voters, Williams has pointed to Hochul’s votes in Congress for “concealed carry reciprocity,” allowing concealed carry gun permits to be valid in states without concealed carry (it did not pass the Senate), and for Hochul’s opposition to former Governor Eliot Spitzer’s plan to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.

“The lieutenant governor has no real record to speak of in 25 years,” Williams told Gotham Gazette near City Hall on Tuesday, after receiving the endorsement of the City Council’s Progressive Caucus Alliance. “There’s a lot of conversation of what their hands have been in, but my record is rich, in the past nine years, whether it’s communities of more color, whether it’s the LGBT community, whether it’s reproductive rights.”

Hochul has distanced herself from her more conservative past, criticizing the Trump administration’s child separation policy and unsuccessfully campaigning with Cuomo to get the state Senate to pass a “red flag” gun bill, while trumpeting Cuomo’s prior gun control victories. She has also expressed regret about, when Erie County Clerk, threatening to turn in to law enforcement any undocumented immigrants who may seek a driver’s license from her office. And she’s repeatedly pointed to Williams’ conservative personal views on abortion and marriage equality, which he has modified in recent years while touting his legislative record on the subjects as separate from his personal beliefs.

Not everyone is convinced that Williams is a threat to Hochul. Political scientist and Democratic strategist Bruce Gyory, of Manatt, Phelps, and Phillips and SUNY Albany, believes that Williams may not have the political capital among African-Americans necessary to mount a statewide challenge against Hochul.

“Does Jumaane Williams start out with overwhelming black support?” Gyory said in an interview with Gotham Gazette. “He didn’t back Bill Thompson [in the 2013 mayoral race], he backed de Blasio that time. He never endorsed Ken Thompson [for Brooklyn District Attorney] in the seminal reform race for black progressives in Brooklyn. He undercut black unity by not stepping out of the race for City Council [speaker] and backing [Robert] Cornegy, who had more support. And if you look at blacks in the Council, they were kinda begging him to do that, I’m sure they’re not thrilled that right after losing that race, he runs here for this.”

Gyory also noted that Williams has not endorsed Tish James, a fellow Brooklynite who would become the first black woman to hold statewide office, for Attorney General. Williams has endorsed Cynthia Nixon for governor and the two are both backed by The Working Families Party. He has also campaigned with Teachout, who is now running for attorney general, and the two seem set up to endorse each other.

Cuomo remains highly popular among black voters, and he, Hochul, and James have all endorsed each other. It’s not immediately clear that support from Cuomo and James will help Hochul among black voters, but it is exceedingly unlikely to hurt. The race may hinge in part on money, and there Williams appears at a significant disadvantage -- not only has Hochul raised more, but she has Cuomo’s immense largesse behind her as well, while Williams has never been a prolific fund-raiser.

"The Lieutenant Governor is very happy with where she stands in this race and the support that she is receiving statewide,” reads a statement from the Hochul campaign. “The poll clearly shows that the people of New York are happy with the record of accomplishments the Governor and Lieutenant Governor have achieved over the past four years. The Lieutenant Governor always campaigns hard and will be spending the next six weeks all over the state talking about that record."

Williams was also optimistic about the poll.

“The biggest poll for me is on election day,” he told Gotham Gazette. “So, don’t get too high or low on the polls in general. We’ve seen polls be completely wrong, so it’s hard. But I will say, it’s encouraging.” He noted that the high numbers of undecided voters in the poll -- roughly 50 percent of respondents -- as a good sign for his campaign.

Hochul’s campaign acknowledged that New York is a difficult state to become well known in, but expressed confidence that it will have the resources to continue to build her name recognition.

Gyory said that the swingiest demographic in statewide Democratic primaries is upper middle class, educated Catholic white women from the suburban counties; he said that Williams’ past personal opposition to abortion rights and LGBT rights would hurt him among that demographic.

He believes that Hochul is being tactically wise to target city voters and voters of color, explaining the recent spate of appearances in the city. While there are just over 300,000 registered Democratic voters in Hochul’s home county of Erie, which includes the state’s second-largest city of Buffalo, there are more than 3.4 million registered Democrats in New York City, including 1,096,765 in Williams’ home borough of Brooklyn.

“It would be hard to argue that she’s not being smart, that it’s not a good use of her time, to make him work as hard as he can for those votes in New York City,” Gyory said. “Because if she pins him down there, it’s tough to see him doing what he needs to do outside of New York City. So I think that’s a smart approach.”

by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

In Wide Open Lieutenant Governor Primary, Hochul Targets Votes in Williams’ Backyard Tue, 31 Jul 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Statewide Candidates File July Fundraising Numbers Cuomo check

Gov. Cuomo at a funding event (photo: The Governor's Office)

With less than two months till the September 13 primary election, candidates running for state office filed campaign financial disclosure reports with the New York State Board of Elections by the Monday deadline, showing fundraising and expenditures from a six-month period between January 16 and July 16.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, the two-term incumbent Democrat who is running for reelection, continues to maintain an overwhelming funding advantage with more than $31 million in his campaign coffers. Cuomo raised more than $6 million since January and spent about $5.3 million in the same period.

Cuomo’s campaign attempted to tout the number of small-dollar donations it received, likely a response to criticism of the governor’s reliance on wealthy donors and contributions from Limited Liability Companies (LLCs). The campaign said 57 percent of the number of donations received were for less than $250. But those donations only added up to less than $64,000, eliding the fact that nearly 99 percent of the total value of the fundraising came from big donors, including $500,000 in corporate donations and $2.5 million from LLCs and PACs. Cuomo also received 69 separate contributions from the same individual, Christopher Kim of Long Island City, which his primary opponent Cynthia Nixon, the actor and education activist, called an attempt to “astroturf” his campaign (New York Times reporter Shane Goldmacher found that Kim shares an address with a Cuomo aide; several other Cuomo aides, relatives of aides, and long-time associates gave Cuomo small donations in an apparent attempt to inflate his small-dollar numbers).

Nixon, who has staked her campaign on small donors, has been issuing scathing critiques of Cuomo’s fundraising practices that she says are a symptom and cause of a pay-to-play culture in state government. Nixon brought in about $500,000 in the last six months, paling in comparison with Cuomo’s haul, and spent about $274,000. Her campaign has noted that she received more than 30,000 individual contributions since she launched her campaign, and that 97 percent of those were small-dollar contributions. She has just under $658,000 in cash-on-hand.

Marc Molinaro, the Republican nominee for governor who doesn’t have a primary challenger, raised more than $1.1 million and has spent $250,000, leaving him with $887,000 with four months to go until the November 7 Election Day. Molinaro’s general election competition will become more clear after the Democratic primary is settled, but there are several smaller party and independent candidates running. His running-mate, Julie Killian, does not appear to have filed her discloure yet, but Molinaro's campaign filing shows a $45,000 loan from Killian herself, as reported by Nick Reisman of Spectrum News.

Green Party nominee Howie Hawkins brought in $24,000 and spent $7,000 in the filing period, leaving him just under $17,000 in his campaign account.

Former Democratic Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, who only jumped into the governor’s race last month and is running as an independent, and her running mate Republican Michael Volpe, the mayor of Pelham, together raised $409,000, spent $247,000 and have $162,000 in cash on hand. The two plan a general election ticket on the Serve America Movement ballot line, for which they are petitioning with the help of the organizers of the new movement.

Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Larry Sharpe, who, like Miner, is petitioning his way onto the general election ballot, has raised $115,000, but his expenditures amounted to $154,000, leaving him with a negative balance of just above $13,000.

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, a Democrat seeking a second term alongside Cuomo, faces New York City Council Member Jumaane Williams in the primary, which will be Thursday, September 13. Hochul reported an intake of $1.25 million and had only spent $150,000 in the same time. She has about $1.24 million at her disposal. Williams’ fundraising report was delayed in being published to the Board of Elections website, something the campaign said was over "technical issues" and Hochul criticized him for.

"Our campaign's financial disclosure report was filed on time Monday evening but there were technical issues that we are working with the Board of Elections to immediately address," said William Gerlich, a spokesperson for Williams' campaign, in a Tuesday statement. Gerlich said Williams had raised nearly $200,000. When the report was finally published, it showed Williams having raised $183,469.62 and spending $137,967.13, to leave a balance of $45,502.49. However, the campaign appeared to take in several corporate contributions over the limit, and a subsequent need to refund several thousand dollars.

Candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run separately in a primary and on a joint ticket in the general.

Four candidates are competing for the Democratic nomination for attorney general, in a spirited race that has seen several of them posting strong fundraising numbers.

New York City Public Advocate Letitia James was chosen as the Democratic Party’s designee at its state convention. Before her disclosure was posted to the BOE website, her campaign claimed it had raised more than $1.1 million in just two months, and nearly 60 percent of the contributors gave $200 or less. According to the actual filing, James raised exactly $1,165,897.55 and spent $174,417.04, leaving her campaign $991,480.51 in the bank.

Zephyr Teachout, the Fordham Law professor who unsuccessfully challenged Governor Cuomo in the 2014 Democratic primary, is running for attorney general, pledging to refuse corporate, LLC, and PAC donations. Teachout showed about $551,000 in fundraising from more than 10,000 individual donors -- 97 percent of her funds came from donors who gave less than $200 -- and has spent about $284,000. She has $314,000 in cash on hand.

Former Cuomo and Hillary Clinton aide Leecia Eve raised $300,000 in total for her bid for attorney general and spent about $50,000. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney reported a $1.1 million haul and spent $145,000, but his campaign told The New York Times last week that he has another $3.1 million in funds raised for his congressional reelection that he believes he can use in the statewide race. He is running for both offices simultaneously, with the state AG primary set to determine whether he stays on the November ballot for congressional reelection.

The latest filings also revealed that former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who resigned after facing accusations of physical abuse by several romantic partners, triggering the Democratic primary, returned $982,000 to campaign contributors. He still has several million dollars in the bank.

Keith Wofford, the Republican nominee for attorney general, raised more than $1 million in total and has only spent about $25,000 since entering the race. He is not facing a primary.

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, an incumbent Democrat, isn’t facing a primary opponent this year either. He reported raising $683,000 since January and spent $351,000. He has about $2.6 million in his campaign account, eclipsing his two general election opponents.

John Trichter, until recently a registered Democrat, received the Republican Party’s nomination for comptroller. Trichter has only raised $156,000 and spent $18,500. He has about $138,000 in his campaign chest. The Green Party’s Mark Dunlea is also running for comptroller and has $5,000 in campaign cash.

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: This article has been updated with comment from a spokesperson for Jumaane Williams' campaign and additional information.

Statewide Candidates File July Fundraising Numbers Tue, 17 Jul 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Amid Primary Fights, Cuomo and Hochul Increase Frequency of Joint Governmental Events cuomo hochul bus stop

Gov. Cuomo and Lt. Gov. Hochul (photo: The Governor's Office)

Governor Andrew Cuomo and Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul have increased the frequency of their public appearances together in recent months, perhaps a reaction to the Democratic primary challenge against Hochul by City Council Member Jumaane Williams, not to mention Cynthia Nixon’s parallel attempt to unseat Cuomo.

Between the close of state budget season at the end of March and mid-July, Cuomo and Hochul appeared together at 17 separate public government events, eight more than their nine joint events in the same period of 2017. And, ahead of the September 13 primary, the pace of Cuomo-Hochul events has picked up in June and July, with 14 events together as of July 13, compared to four such events last year through the same period.

Many of these events have revolved around two hot-button issues, women’s reproductive rights and gun control. Notably, these are not only high-profile national issues, but also topics already important to both the Cuomo-Nixon and Hochul-Williams races. They represent strong and weak points for Hochul and Williams: in their Democratic primary, Williams is strong on guns and vulnerable on reproductive rights, while Hochul is strong on reproductive rights and vulnerable on guns.

Meanwhile, Nixon has attacked Cuomo for a failure to pass the Reproductive Health Act, which would codify Roe v. Wade abortion rights into New York state law and he has expressed support for but pointed to refusal to pass it by Republicans who control the state Senate. Nixon, in turn, accuses Cuomo of having long tolerated, if not propped up, that Republican control of the upper house of the Legislature. On guns, however, Cuomo continues to run on his aggressive Safe Act, which he pushed through the Legislature in the months after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.

At recent events, all billed as official government rallies and press conferences, Cuomo and Hochul have regularly praised each other, at times appearing to blur campaign lines with talk of the upcoming November elections and their shared mission to help flip the U.S. House of Representatives and the state Senate to Democrats.

“I would guess that the optics of the team is stronger when together, particularly when the governor’s opponent is a woman,” said Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, in an email. “Also, the lieutenant governor is facing a contested primary of her own. By appearing with the governor, it helps build her visibility among voters.”

Williams, a New York City Council Member from Brooklyn, has aligned himself with the Working Families Party and activist organizations, and is running to Hochul’s left on many issues, like rent regulations. He is also building his campaign around the notion that the lieutenant governor should not simply be a booster for the governor, but a check on the state’s chief executive. He is seen as a significant threat to Hochul given his New York City base (she is from the Buffalo area), the progressive energy within the Democratic Party, and his ability to appeal to people of color and white progressives who make up a sizeable total share of the primary electorate (Williams is black, Hochul is white).

Williams, who describes himself as an “activist-elected official,” criticized Hochul’s characterization of her office as “advancer-in-chief.” "I don't think that that is what people want to see in a lieutenant governor now,” Williams told Gotham Gazette in an interview. “They do want to see the type of leadership which is working with the governor, he or she, to advance projects, policies, that is helping the people of the state.”

The lieutenant governor’s office told Gotham Gazette that the increased frequency of Cuomo-Hochul events is because the actions out of Washington, D.C. bring increased urgency to policy-making in New York.

“Now more than ever they're working together standing up for protections against gun violence and fighting for the rights of women and immigrants that are under attack by the federal government,” said Haley Viccaro, a spokesperson for Hochul, in an email.

On the campaign trail, Williams is regularly lambasting Hochul’s record on issues such as guns and immigration, calling her conservative. “With that kind of record,” Williams said in an interview, “my guess is that you would have to try to tack on to someone, in this case Cuomo, who has his own questionable record.” Williams noted Hochul’s 2011 vote in Congress for a concealed carry “reciprocity” bill, allowing individuals licensed to carry concealed weapons in one state to legally bring it to another state without legal concealed carry. Hochul, who was a one-term representative, has said that she regrets voting for the bill, and has been strongly behind the “red flag” gun control bill that she, Cuomo, and others have been pushing this year, to no avail in the GOP-held state Senate.

In the state budget deal reached in March, Cuomo was able to convince Senate Republicans to back a measure to strip guns from those convicted of domestic violence.

Hochul, meanwhile, recently released a campaign video accusing Williams of not being committed to women’s reproductive rights, given his history of personal opposition to abortion. “Mr. Williams has been socially conservative and has not consistently supported a woman’s right to choose,” Hochul said, adding that New York’s leaders need to be “100 percent personally committed” to upholding Roe v. Wade.

Williams said that he was “better” on both gun control and reproductive rights than Hochul “in terms of achievement.” “It was strange to me when I watched that ad, what the lieutenant governor seemed to imply is that any person has to choose to have an abortion in order to personally support a woman’s right to have a safe, legal abortion,” Williams said, claiming that he has always been in support of a woman’s right to choose.

“If you have no real record of achievement as an elected official, what else do you have,” Williams said. He told Gotham Gazette that he would like to debate Hochul on an issue of her choice, and on her terms. Hochul has said she is happy to engage in debates, though none have been scheduled at this time.

Nixon has repeatedly challenged Cuomo to debate, and the governor at one point said there would be a debate, but there has been no further public movement on the topic in months.

The second-term governor, who added Hochul to the ticket four years ago after his first-term lieutenant governor, Robert Duffy, declined to seek another term, has been focusing his attacks on Trump and Congressional Republicans, as well as Republicans in the state Senate, while largely ignoring Nixon. His campaign and governmental spokespeople have regularly criticized her, however, while she has gone on the attack against Cuomo over his management of the MTA, corruption in state economic development programs, and more.

While touting his record over two terms, Cuomo has sought to train the public focus on his fight for abortion rights and gun control. And, he has apparently sought to raise Hochul’s profile. The lieutenant governor, meanwhile, is closely aligning herself with a governor who remains well ahead in the polls, including among New York City voters and voters of color. While the two positions are voted on separately in party primaries, they form a party ticket for the general election.

On Monday, the Cuomo campaign announced that the governor had raised another $6 million in the latest state campaign finance filing period, spending almost the same amount, and maintaining about $31 million in the bank, far outpacing Nixon's roughly $1 million cash-on-hand. The Cuomo campaign noted that of the governor's disbursements, he had maxed out to Hochul's campaign committee, with a $21,000 donation, helping her bring in about $1.2 million over the filing period, which is about the same amount that she now has on-hand to spend.

Last month, Cuomo and Hochul held twin events around the “red flag” gun control bill, including in the Bronx and Westchester, and Hochul appeared at other related events without the governor. Cuomo said he did not expect that Senate Republicans would return to a special session in Albany to pass the measure, but that he wanted to apply public pressure and that voters should remove Republicans from power in the fall.

Then, the Cuomo-Hochul events increased in frequency after the announcement by Donald Trump of his Supreme Court pick, elevating the status of Roe v. Wade in the national and state conversation. In July, Cuomo and Hochul appeared at events centered around reproductive rights on five consecutive days, July 9-13. Hochul has introduced Cuomo at the events while noting that she and Cuomo are responding to “the onslaught of attacks on women’s rights coming out of our nation’s capital,” as she said on July 13.

In contrast, their joint events last July included the 2017 Adirondack Challenge and the announcement of a neighborhood stabilization initiative for Buffalo.

by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this article.

Amid Primary Fights, Cuomo and Hochul Increase Frequency of Joint Governmental Events Mon, 16 Jul 2018 04:00:00 +0000
New York Democrats’ Season of Choosing corey johnson jessica ramos robert jackson cityhall

Corey Johnson endorses IDC challengers (photo: Gotham Gazette)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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

New York Democrats’ Season of Choosing Wed, 11 Jul 2018 04:00:00 +0000
EMILY’s List Backs Hochul for Reelection as Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul (photo: Governor's Office)

One of the country’s most powerful political organizations, EMILY’s List, has endorsed Kathy Hochul for reelection as lieutenant governor of New York.

Hochul, a Democrat seeking a second term in the statewide position, is facing a primary challenge from New York City Council Member Jumaane Williams, with the vote just over two months away, on September 13.

EMILY’s List is a national organization founded in 1985 to “elect pro-choice Democratic women to office” that helps recruit, train, and support female candidates across the country. It is a powerhouse fundraising entity and claims over five million members. The group -- an acronym for Early Money Is Like Yeast, signifying the importance of early fundraising to the growth of electoral campaigns -- calls itself “the nation’s largest resource for women in politics” and boasts that it has “helped elect 116 women to the House, 23 to the Senate, 12 governors, and over 800 to state and local office.” It is a list that already includes Hochul, who became Governor Andrew Cuomo’s running mate in 2014 as he sought a second term and after his first-term lieutenant governor, Robert Duffy, declined to seek reelection.

“Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul has been a progressive champion New York families can count on,” said Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List, in a statement. “Kathy helped lead the way in New York’s fight for a desperately needed minimum wage increase and one of the most generous paid family leave policies in the country. Lieutenant Governor Hochul has tirelessly defended access to affordable health care, supported LGBTQ rights, and criticized Republican efforts to pass massive tax breaks for the wealthiest few. EMILY’s List is proud to endorse Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul’s campaign for re-election.”

Hochul speaks proudly of her history fighting for women’s reproductive freedoms and for LGBTQ rights, and highlights her work leading economic development projects for the Cuomo administration.

The challenge from Williams -- a Brooklyn representative who has the backing of several activist groups that make up The Working Families Party, as well as a handful of his City Council colleagues, among other individuals and groups -- is formidable. While Hochul has the advantages of incumbency and her ties to Cuomo and the larger Democratic establishment, help from EMILY’s List with fundraising, volunteers, and voter turnout could be pivotal. The group says it has raised over $500 million since its inception, including over $90 million during the 2016 election cycle, when it backed Hillary Clinton for president, among many other candidates.

Williams has repeatedly faced questions about his stance on abortion, which has evolved in recent years. He has said in the past that he held personal views in opposition to abortion but never acted in his official capacity to challenge reproductive rights. More recently, he has given full-throated support to a woman’s right to choose and made efforts to assuage concerns that he is against reproductive choice.

Hochul and her supporters have already repeatedly made reference to Williams’ views on women’s reproductive rights as well as his similarly evolved stance on marriage equality for LGBTQ people. Those lines of attack are likely to intensify as the campaign season heats up, especially if the two candidates engage in debates.

For his part, Williams has criticized Hochul for being unequivocally supportive of Cuomo (which she has said is her job as lieutenant governor), for being too centrist overall, and for her past opposition to driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants (Hochul has expressed regret about how she handled the issue as Erie County Clerk a decade ago).

Hochul told Gotham Gazette that she has tried to understand why Williams and Cynthia Nixon, who is trying to unseat Cuomo in the Democratic primary, are mounting their campaigns, but that, ultimately, she believes the intraparty battles only advantage Republicans, in part by fracturing Democrats but also by forcing the diversion of resources from flipping Republican-held seats in the House of Representatives and New York State Senate, both bodies currently led by the GOP.

The EMILY’s List endorsement of Hochul comes as the group is working to help flip the House this November, among other races at various levels of government it is hoping to support women in winning. In New York, for example, EMILY’s List is behind Liuba Grechen Shirley, who is seeking to unseat Republican Representative Peter King of Long Island. The organization has also significantly expanded its state and local efforts, Schriock recently explained to CNBC, saying that Republican-controlled state legislatures are “devastating women and families.” Other EMILY’s List endorsements in New York races could come ahead of important general election votes for New York House and State Senate seats.

“Our vision is a government that reflects the people it serves, and decision makers who genuinely and enthusiastically fight for greater opportunity and better lives for the Americans they represent,” the EMILY’s List website explains of the organization’s mission. “We will work for larger leadership roles for pro-choice Democratic women in our legislative bodies and executive seats so that our families can benefit from the open-minded, productive contributions that women have consistently made in office.”

EMILY’s List has entered somewhat new territory this year given the exponential groundswell of women interested in running for office and those who have made the leap, in many cases with support from EMILY’s List, which can come in forms that don’t include a formal endorsement. The organization has faced several difficult choices about where and when to get involved in Democratic primaries with two or more women running, and in some cases where female candidates are taking on establishment-backed male candidates (as The New York Times recently explored). The organization is closely aligned with the Democratic establishment and is careful in assessing viability of campaigns.

It almost never endorses primary challengers to sitting Democrats, making it unlikely to back Nixon in her quest to unseat Cuomo. EMILY’s List has supported another Cuomo opponent, Stephanie Miner, in her past, successful effort to get reelected as mayor of Syracuse. Miner is attempting to make the general election ballot for governor on a newly-created independent line. On the other hand, there is a wide open Democratic primary for Attorney General of New York that includes three women: New York City Public Advocate, the state party’s designee and a former endorsee of EMILY’s List, as well as Fordham Law professor Zephyr Teachout, and former Cuomo and Clinton aide Leecia Eve. Representative Sean Patrick Maloney is also running.

If Hochul is successful in defeating Williams in the primary, she will join a ticket with the Democratic nominee for governor to face the joint tickets of other parties on the ballot.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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EMILY’s List Backs Hochul for Reelection as Lieutenant Governor Mon, 09 Jul 2018 04:00:00 +0000
From Awareness to Action: Combating The Epidemic of Gun Violence jum williams stop

Jumaane Williams, co-author, center (photo: @JumaaneWilliams)

Throughout June, we observed Gun Violence Awareness Month. In the year since we last marked this occasion, 33,000 people lost their lives to gun violence in this country. A mass shooting of four or more casualties occurred nearly every day of that year, and just last week, five people were killed and two injured as a shooter opened fire on an Annapolis newsroom. Over the course of the month about 3,000 people were killed. Over 200 were children.

The statistics are staggering, but at the same time, we have come, over time, to acknowledge and accept this carnage as part of American life. No one can deny it -- we are, in fact, well aware of the plague of gun violence in America.

Yet while this past year has seen death and heartbreak on a massive scale, it has also been marked by a heightened, sustained awareness of the problem that extends beyond the headlines and the evening news. More than many previous years, the horrors and the causes of gun violence in this country have been spotlighted and a central part of the public consciousness. School walkouts and the March for Our Lives, driven by young people across the country, have made it clear that awareness itself is insufficient. We must continue to use this moment to propel awareness into action.

This action, of course, can take many forms. People can use their votes to demand representatives who will stand up to the NRA and other special interests, to fight for common sense gun safety measures. People have the power to make gun reform—not lip service, but real progress—a defining issue of this year’s elections. To make elected officials aware that thoughts, prayers, and passive support are not enough.

Shootings permeate every area of American life -- from churches and schools to concerts and workplaces. The vast majority of gun violence deaths, though, still stems from the daily plague of gun violence in our streets. This is the form of violence that often evades the national consciousness, but is devastating to communities.

This week, as the nation celebrates the Fourth of July, historical trends would suggest that on the ground, in certain neighborhoods, gun violence and the devastation it causes will increase. At odds with the air of celebration, this is a sobering reminder that awareness alone does not create solutions. Much of the recent awareness and attention has rightly been directed at the volume of firearms entering communities. While the availability of guns is one side of the problem we also have to consider why people use them.

Gun violence is a crisis with roots in social-structural inequality, economic distress, trauma, behavioral and public health, and when it is treated as such, we can stop the spread of the disease and combat it at its core. In cities like New York, black men are 13 times more likely to be killed in an act of gun violence than their white counterparts. These wounds—despite rarely making national news—leave a history of trauma in low-income communities of color.

And in New York City, we are relying on community to lead, activating what is known as the Crisis Management System. The Crisis Management System is a network of 50 community-based organizations attached to sites throughout the five boroughs that focus on violence interruption. The organizations employ people who have experienced many of the same things as the young people most at risk, and these violence interrupters identify and intervene in conflicts before they escalate into bloodshed. Recognizing that violence is exacerbated by social stressors, these interventions include additional supports such as job training programs, mental health services, legal aid, hospital responder programs, links to institutions of higher education, and art programming.

The approach is working.

In 2017, the city saw its lowest rates of violence since the 1950s, with a significantly greater drop in areas targeted by Cure Violence than the citywide average. There is much work to be done, but these successes show that with meaningful investment of energy and resources, violence can be prevented and lives saved.

As Congress refuses to take up the fight to end gun violence, community activists and their organizations are on the streets, effecting vital, incremental change. Just as Americans must continue to push their representatives in Congress toward gun violence solutions, they need also to work within their towns and cities to support local voices, groups, and movements, to demand the kind of reforms that we know can have a meaningful impact on the pervasive epidemic that is gun violence.

We are aware of gun violence. When not in our streets it is on our screens, America’s most predictable tragedy. This heightened awareness, raised by the wave of activism against gun violence that has swept over the country since the Parkland shooting, could too easily turn into numbness and complacency. It is imperative that we continue to feel each act of senseless violence, and work to prevent the next, moving past the month of June and carrying throughout the entire year.  

Jumaane D. Williams is a City Council member from Brooklyn and Eric Cumberbatch is the executive director of the Mayor's Office to Prevent Gun Violence. On Twitter @JumaaneWilliams and @NYCMayorsOffice.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email

From Awareness to Action: Combating The Epidemic of Gun Violence Mon, 02 Jul 2018 20:03:29 +0000
Hochul: Divided Democratic Party Only Benefits Republicans cuomo hochul bus stop

Gov. Cuomo and Lt. Gov. Hochul (photo: Governor's Office)

With the September primaries for New York state elections fast approaching, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, both Democratic incumbents, are being forced to defend their records in challenges from the left. While many other elected officials and labor unions are supporting the incumbents, a wide swath of activists that form part of the party’s base is supporting challengers to Cuomo, Hochul, and a group of state senators who, until recently, made up the rogue Democratic faction known as the Independent Democratic Conference, which aligned itself with Senate Republicans.

It is a contentious, and potentially damaging, split within the party that Cuomo, Hochul, and other incumbents are attempting to overcome, keeping them from focusing their full attention on unseating Republicans in the state Senate or House of Representatives, both of which could swing to Democratic control through the fall elections.

Actor and activist Cynthia Nixon, who is campaigning to become governor, and City Council Member Jumaane Williams, vying to become lieutenant governor, have both been endorsed by the liberal Working Families Party (WFP) and are currently petitioning the public for a place on the September Democratic primary ballot, claiming the party under Cuomo’s leadership has lost its way, falling into corruption and leaning too far across the aisle.

Hochul, a former member of Congress from western New York who was also Cuomo’s 2014 running mate, lamented the challenge, saying the “only beneficiaries” of a divided Democratic party are Republicans.

“I approach every challenge with the effort and an attempt to understand where people come from, so I am trying to put myself in their shoes, but I also understand history very well and I know what happens when Democrats attack each other and there’s polarization,” Hochul said on a recent episode of the Max & Murphy podcast from Gotham Gazette and City Limits, when asked about the Nixon and Williams campaigns.

“What I would love to do is harness all that energy and set it on fire against the Republicans because what I would be doing right now, if I didn’t have a challenge, is what I set out to do, which is to help elect Democrats to Congress,” said Hochul, who Williams has accused of being too moderate and not being an independent voice to check Cuomo.

Hochul’s sentiment is opposite to that of Nixon and Williams, who have made no mention of running together but who’ve appeared jointly on community calls run by the WFP (governor and lieutenant governor are voted on separately during party primaries but appear on the ballot as a ticket in the general).

Speaking on a May 24 call, Nixon said, “A Democratic primary is good for the party and good for the state.” Both candidates are critical of Cuomo’s lack of action, rhetoric to the contrary, in areas of criminal justice reform; protecting undocumented immigrants; rent regulations, and education funding fairness, among other issues.

A cornerstone of Williams’ campaign is his promise to redefine the role of lieutenant governor and act only for the benefit of New Yorkers, even if it means independently of the governor. “I will make certain that our governor and elected officials uphold their promises to you and will hold them accountable for the actions they take,” his website reads, a sentiment he echoed on an earlier WFP call to rally volunteers in early May.

Though he doesn’t mention Hochul by name, Williams has drawn a clear comparison to the incumbent, who herself acknowledges that she sees the job as to support the governor and be the “advocate in chief,” as she said on the podcast. Hochul travels the state promoting and explaining Cuomo administration initiatives, while at times also helping craft them. Economic development and women’s issues are key pieces of her portfolio. During the podcast discussion, Hochul applauded Cuomo for his efforts in reinventing the city of Buffalo with an injection of $1 billion, and saying he has done “an exceptional job” in fighting for working-class people across the state.

“A primary keeps you on the ropes; you have to focus on it, because I need to be there to finish the job with Governor Cuomo,” Hochul said. “It is what it is, but I wish people would understand this energy is better spent on the other party right now because of the threat of [Republican President] Donald Trump.”

“We can all be purists about everything when we have a Democrat in the White House, when we have the House and the Senate, and when we have New York State Legislature,” she continued. “Then we can fight each other on the nuances.”

On the Republican side of the aisle, there is no corresponding set of primaries -- the GOP is nominating Marc Molinaro for governor and Julie Killian for lieutenant governor. They now have months to join in the attacks on Cuomo and Hochul, raise money, and stake out their positions, while also watching Democrats in-fight.

While Nixon and Williams are calling upon a grassroots movement of volunteers and a network of liberal groups to expand their support base, Hochul and Cuomo are embracing the establishment while reminding voters of their work over the past four, or in Cuomo’s case, eight, years.

“You ask anybody on the streets of Buffalo, you go up there today and ask anyone if they can see and feel the difference and the answer will be ‘yes’,” Hochul told the podcast. “There is literally not just a physical change where you can see an area that was abandoned wasteland on our waterfront which is now a place where 2 million people go every summer for concerts…And the businesses that are coming, it’s one of the top destinations for millennials in the country. The success is seen in the jobs, the transformation of neighbourhoods, the physical change but also the psychological change. There’s a pride that never used to be there.”

The change can be replicated -- is being replicated, according to Hochul -- in other places in New York. She spoke of Syracuse (now the “international capital for drone technology”) and Rochester (“we’re now bringing technology jobs there”), saying the Buffalo example shows: “If we can bring back the hardest hit area of the state, we can bring back anything.”

Yet when pressed on the corruption attached to the “Buffalo Billion” and other Cuomo administration economic development programming, which has seen one completed and one ongoing federal trial this year, with charges against individuals including former top aides and major donors to Cuomo, Hochul downplayed its significance.

“There are trials on that right now and it was heartbreaking to see how people abused the trust that was placed in them. It really is,” she said, apparently referring to former Secretary to the Governor Joseph Percoco, who was convicted earlier this year, and former SUNY Polytechnic President Alain Kaloyeros, who is currently on trial. “We need accountability and we’re getting accountability. There was a separate entity that had been orchestrating much of the economic development that has changed.”

Now, Buffalo’s development projects are consolidated under Empire State Development with former Buffalo business leader Howard Zemsky at the helm (Zemsky also co-chaired the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council, part of the network of REDCs that Cuomo and Hochul oversee) and with a new entity, NY CREATES, about to launch under new leadership, while consolidating the assets of two scandal-plagued nonprofits.

Of Zemsky, Hochul said she “trusts him enormously” and that he has a “stellar reputation for integrity.”

On other touchpoints that appear pivotal in the Hochul-Williams Democratic primary, such as LGBTQ rights and support for immigrant communities, Hochul is adamant she’s been consistent in upholding true “democratic values,” though she did admit to some regrets from her time as Erie County Clerk. She’s been a stalwart supporter of marriage equality, which was legalized in New York under Cuomo in 2011, she said, while also taking an apparent shot at Williams, who has not always been vocally behind marriage rights for same-sex couples (or abortion rights for women).

On the other hand, on the podcast Hochul said she regrets the opposition she expressed in 2007 to providing driver’s licenses to undocumented New Yorkers. At the time, Hochul threatened to turn undocumented immigrants in to law enforcement if they sought licenses, which were a controversial topic at the time and are again a key issue this year.

“It was the time, and I said I would uphold the law. There were people who would break the law and I said ‘if this is what the state of New York decides to do, I will uphold that law.’ It became very contentious within our community,” Hochul said, noting work she did on Capitol Hill early in her career helping immigrants should speak to her “commitment” to the issue.

“I wish I had not gone that route [in 2007], I really do, because I realize it was hurtful to people and that was never my intent,” Hochul said. “I would never do anything to intentionally hurt anybody.”

[Listen to the full conversation: Max & Murphy Podcast: Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul]

by Caitlin Bishop, Gotham Gazette
@caitybishop  @GothamGazette

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Hochul: Divided Democratic Party Only Benefits Republicans Mon, 25 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul mxm logo

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

June 14, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul

kathy hochul 277

Kathy Hochul is in the fourth year of her first term as lieutenant governor, and, running alongside Governor Andrew Cuomo, seeking another term this fall. She's facing a primary challenge, however, from City Council Member Jumaane Williams. As she runs for reelection (the lieutenant governor and governor run separately in the primary but as a ticket in the general election), Hochul is touting the strength of her record as part of the Cuomo administration. She joined the podcast to discuss her background, the administration's work, especially in economic development, which she has a significant role in, the revitalization of Buffalo, which is in the congressional district she briefly represented in the House of Representatives, and much more.

Listen to the full conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the episode through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul Thu, 14 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000