Gotham Gazette Tue, 25 Sep 2018 07:09:26 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Activists, Lawmakers Rally for Voting Reform at Capitol vote better ny capitol

Tuesday's rally (photo: @NYCVotes)

A coalition of electoral reform activists were joined by Democratic state lawmakers during their annual pilgrimage to the New York State Capitol Tuesday to call for legislation that would remove barriers to the ballot and ensure that eligible New Yorkers are provided more opportunity to vote.

“Vote Better NY” seeks common sense changes to New York's voting laws to ensure that more eligible New Yorkers make it to the polls. This year, the organization is advocating for a slew of bills, including early voting, the Voter Empowerment Act, which would streamline the registration process, the New York Votes Act, which refers to automatic registration, as well as new preclearance measures before any additional requirements are added to the current voter registration process.

Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Senator Michael Gianaris, Assemblymember Latrice Walker, and Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh attended the rally, which was organized in large part by NYC Votes, the voter engagement arm of the New York City Campaign Finance Board, and key member of the Vote Better NY coalition. More than 100 organizers and activists boarded three coach buses from the city early Tuesday morning to rally at the Capitol and then meet in small groups with individual legislators to lobby them toward supporting the voting reform agenda. There has been little movement on such reform in Albany despite a good deal of support and New York’s decidedly antiquated laws.

“Elections have consequences. New York has one of the lowest voter turnout rates in the nation and that should embarrass us,” said Stewart-Cousins, in a statement put out by Vote Better NY. “We should be making it easier to vote and not be putting up roadblocks. That is why I have advanced legislation to enable early voting, and why the Senate Democratic Conference has rolled out multiple pro-voter bills.”

New York has some of the most arcane voter access guidelines in the nation. In 2014, the state ranked 49 of the country’s 50 states in terms of voter turnout. While other states have improved their voting laws to increase ballot access, New York’s abysmal turnout has grown worse for presidential, gubernatorial, and New York City mayoral elections.

Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Group (NYPIRG), who participated the rally, said, “New York ranks consistently as one of the nation's worst states in terms of voter participation, driven by our archaic voter registration and election administration systems. Still, young people want to participate in democracy. NYPIRG sees that every day on college campuses across the state.”

In the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, a new movement to overhaul New York’s voting laws gained support from several high-profile city and state officials, including Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

During his 2017 State of the State speaking tour and in his executive budget, Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed a trio of significant reforms: automatic registration, same-day registration, and early voting. Though the governor vowed to “try like heck” to have the reforms included in the state budget, they did not make it into the final policy and spending plan that was announced last month. In an April appearance at the governor’s mansion, Cuomo blamed the Legislature, which he said lacked the appetite for such reforms.

"My point is: There is more to do; there is no political will to do it. Otherwise we would have done it in the budget," Cuomo told reporters during an annual Easter open house.

While increasing voter access should be a bipartisan issue, Republicans in the State Senate have historically blocked electoral reform measures, for fear that the conference would lose its razor-thin majority. After appearing at a rally for the corrections officers’ union Monday, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, suggested he may be open to discussing the idea, but couple that sentiment with skepticism about the cost and implementation of any real voting reform.

“It depends how you define voter access; it’s a conversation we should be having regardless,” Flanagan told reporters, citing enlarging the font on the ballot as a sensible reform measure.

When asked about early voting, he told reporters, “Early voting is defined so many ways, is it just one day? I was just joking around that I’m supportive of early voting, just start 5 o’clock instead of 6. It is a serious subject and something we should be talking about, but how do you do that without costing astronomical amounts of money? Our county boards of election are strapped right now.”

by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Activists, Lawmakers Rally for Voting Reform at Capitol Tue, 02 May 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Cuomo Holds the Key to Bold Climate Action in 2017  latrice walker

Assemblymember Latrice Walker, the author

Here are a few things we know:

President Trump’s policies benefit the one-percent.

His agenda, particularly dismantling the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as rolling back climate and public health protections that New Yorkers benefit from, disproportionately harms low-income communities of color. (The World Health Organization just released data that 1.7 million children die annually worldwide due to environmental pollution.)

Trump’s denial of the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change, and gutting of life-saving policies like strong vehicle emission standards, will push our planet to the brink of catastrophe, jeopardizing vulnerable people while enriching the fossil fuel executives driving his backwards energy policy.

Here’s what we also know:

Governor Cuomo holds the key to leading the nation in climate action with passage of the Climate and Community Protection Act in this year’s State Budget.

This groundbreaking bill sets into law the elimination of climate pollution from all economic sectors in New York, while making sure at least 40-percent of state energy funding is directed to disadvantaged communities, also attaching fair labor standards to a robust renewable jobs agenda.

Like most New Yorkers, I’ve seen the devastating impacts of climate change, especially in the communities I represent in New York City. Superstorm Sandy hit frontline communities first and worst – after the flood, there were outbreaks of mold in public housing that greatly exacerbated the already chronic problems of asthma and bronchitis in communities like East New York and Brownsville.

Another well-documented firsthand impact is the “urban heat island,” which creates dangerous temperatures in the summer, especially for seniors, children, and those with chronic illness.

In other words, even when New Yorkers are not directly harmed by a weather event, the pollution fostering extreme weather, and the aftermath when the storm has passed, compromises our health.

If we don’t get a handle on this problem, it’s going to run away from us, with disastrous consequences.

Tackling climate change isn’t just a safety measure for my community, but every community represented by the Governor and my colleagues in state government. As Chair of the Assembly’s Subcommittee on Renewable Energy, I know that bold action is a down payment on a new future – one built on wind power, solar power, microgrids, energy retrofits, and community-shared renewable energy.

According to data from the Solar Foundation, the solar industry in 2015 added jobs 12-times faster than the rest of the economy.

Last August, wind industry jobs were on track to end the year up more than 20 percent according to the U.S. Wind Industry Annual Market Report.

That means if we make the right policies now, those jobs can be guaranteed to support families and lift up our communities.

There’s a tremendous risk in doing nothing in the face of Trump’s intransigence, or to simply continue the status quo. If New York ups its ambition, we can be the lodestar to the entire country, rising to the climate challenge in a way that lifts thousands of people into the middle class and protects our most vulnerable communities at the same time.

No state in the country is better prepared, and no legislation in the country better accomplishes that goal, than the Climate and Community Protection Act, sponsored by Assemblymember Steven Englebright, championed by the NY Renews coalition, and placed on the budget negotiating table by the Assembly Majority.

Last year it passed the Assembly easily. But Senate leadership refused to allow a vote despite having a clear and bipartisan majority of support. If Senate leadership continues to blindly follow the lead of the only national political party that denies climate science, then it’s up to Governor Cuomo to join the Assembly to make sure that the key provisions of the bill are included in this year’s enacted state budget.

Climate change is not an “environmental issue.” It is fundamentally an issue of both racial and economic justice, two principles we hold dear as New Yorkers. As Trump and his cronies shirk the responsibilities of history, New Yorkers can and must lead.

Assemblymember Latrice Walker represents parts of Brooklyn and is Chair of the Assembly Subcommittee on Renewable Energy. On Twitter @AssemblyLWalker.

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

Cuomo Holds the Key to Bold Climate Action in 2017 Tue, 21 Mar 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Assembly Candidates Turn Down Televised Debates Errol No Debate

NY1 Anchor Errol Louis (NY1 screenshot)

New York City’s premiere political television news show, NY1’s Inside City Hall, has been hosting candidate debates in the weeks leading up to the September 13 state legislative primaries, as it has ahead of past elections.

NY1 has been home to many debates over the years, including earlier this year, when it hosted seven Democratic candidates seeking to replace retiring Rep. Charles Rangel and the NY1-CNN presidential primary debate between Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

Moving toward the upcoming primaries for New York State Assembly and Senate, the network has, as of Thursday evening’s Inside City Hall program, hosted candidates from six primaries. Two of those, however, were solo candidate interviews when the second person running in each of two races declined NY1’s debate invitation.

On Thursday’s Inside City Hall, host Errol Louis moderated a four-candidate debate in the 31st state Senate District race. He also held two separate individual interviews with candidates: incumbent Assembly Member Latrice Walker spoke with Louis when her challenger, current City Council Member Darlene Mealy, declined to appear for a debate; and Tremaine Wright spoke with Louis when Karen Cherry, her competitor for the 56th Assembly District seat, which is being vacated by the long-term incumbent, opted not to appear.

When an Inside City Hall producer emailed the show’s press list to advise of Thursday night’s program line-up, it was noted that Mealy and Cherry had declined to accept debate invitations. Gotham Gazette attempted to reach Mealy through her City Council office, to no avail, despite talking with an aide. A spokesperson for Cherry indicated that the candidate had a scheduling conflict.

“Those were the only two candidates this cycle who declined to attend. We held four debates (Senate District 10, Senate District 33, Senate District 31 and Assembly District 46) in addition to these two,” said said Bob Hardt, NY1 political director, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “Generally, we try to give ample time before a debate but if space opens up at the last minute, we occasionally try to put together a debate within days in the interest of providing a service to our audience. In the case of the Mealy-Walker race, we reached out to both campaigns in the middle of August. In the case of the Cherry-Wright race, we reached out to both campaigns last week and Wright accepted but Cherry declined, indicating a desire to stay in the district.“

In local elections, an invitation to debate on NY1 is often candidates’ only opportunity to speak on television and reach a broader audience than typical campaigning allows. Inside City Hall is also watched by political insiders, the civic-minded public, and many New Yorkers interested in local political news. Debates offer candidates an opportunity for a performance to share by video afterward as well.

Cherry’s campaign communications director, Tony Herbert, told Gotham Gazette that the candidate was “meeting with seniors and other people in the community” at the time of the debate taping on Thursday. “The option that was given was a conflict with her schedule,” Herbert said. “There was no other option. We would’ve loved to have done it, but we couldn’t meet that timeframe.”

“We think she’s gonna do well,” he added. “But we can’t take anything for granted. We’ve gotta be out there with constituents.”

In Wright’s interview with Louis, the candidate discussed her pursuit of the Brooklyn Assembly seat, including her resume, which includes being a small business owner and chair of the local community board in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

Wright said she wants to move to the Assembly in order to be a part of the budget process, provide legislative oversight, and bring resources back to her district. She did not mention the absence of her opponent, but Inside City Hall did have a graphic showing a map of the district with “No Debate” written above it.

AM WalkerAssembly Member Walker’s primary challenger in the 55th Assembly District, also in Brooklyn, City Council Member Darlene Mealy, is not known as an especially active Council member. Mealy, who is term-limited out of the Council at the end of 2017, is challenging Assembly Member Walker in an attempt to move to the state Legislature.

The Council member’s campaign committee has no clear contact information listed with the Board of Elections. An aide in her Council office did not make her available for an interview or send a statement explaining Mealy’s decision not to debate on NY1.

In Walker’s NY1 interview, the short-term incumbent (pictured) explained her roots in her district and what she described as the privilege of representing her community in Albany. She touted bringing millions of dollars back to the district for a hospital and NYCHA repairs and described introducing bills aimed at expanding voting rights and registration. The Assembly member also explained how she is attempting to restore her constituents’ trust in government after her predecessor wound up in prison on corruption charges.

While Louis, the Inside City Hall anchor, did lament the absence of Mealy, Walker did not discuss her opponent. The interview also featured a NY1 map of the district and the "No Debate" headline.

State legislative primaries are Tuesday, September 13.

by William Fowler and Ben Max, with reporting from Samar Khurshid

Assembly Candidates Turn Down Televised Debates Thu, 08 Sep 2016 04:00:00 +0000