Gotham Gazette Thu, 15 Nov 2018 12:51:56 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Cuomo Reelected, Democrats Take the State Senate; 2018 General Election Results in New York and cuomo nov

Gov. Cuomo votes (photo: @andrewcuomo)

Democrats will take full control of New York state government in 2019 thanks to the reelection of Governor Andrew Cuomo and other candidates for statewide office, as well as wins in the state Senate that flipped control of the upper chamber. Democrats continue to hold a wide majority in the state Assembly. With help from New York, Democrats also flipped the U.S. House of Representatives.

The state Senate and gubernatorial victories open the door for Democrats to move a sweeping policy agenda that has been blocked by Republicans, some items for years, in areas such as voting, campaign finance, and criminal justice reform, women's reproductive rights, alterations to rent regulations, and more. While some results are still to be finalized, Democrats may have 39 seats in the 63-seat chamber come January.

Cuomo won a third term on Tuesday, easily defeating Republican challenger Marc Molinaro and three other candidates, while his running-mate Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul won a second term alongside the governor.

Letitia James, currently the New York City Public Advocate, was elected Attorney General and is the first woman of color elected to a statewide position in New York. She's also the first woman and first person of color elected to become New York Attorney General.

The other Democrats running for statewide positions were also victorious, with U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli both winning reelection by wide margins, as expected.

New York City and State races also contributed to a Democratic takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives.

And, in New York City, the three ballot proposals from Mayor de Blasio’s charter revision commission were all approved by wide margins, ushering in campaign finance reform, a new civic engagement commission, and term limits for community board members.

In the overall race for control of the state Senate, Democrats claimed a majority, and seemed on their way to winning at least 36 and up to 39 seats while several remained neck-and-neck and could also tilt their way, according to unofficial state Board of Elections results. With Democrats in control, Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins will become the first woman of color majority leader of the state Senate. "I am confident our majority will grow even larger after all results are counted, and we will finally give New Yorkers the progressive leadership they have been demanding," she tweeted Tuesday night.

Much of the action was on Long Island, but one of the few Republican-held seats in New York City was also hotly-contested and appears to be a Democratic pick-up for Andrew Gounardes, though Senator Marty Golden has not conceded.

In the open race for District 3, Democrat Monica Martinez defeated Republican Dean Murray. In District 5, Democrat James Gaughran won by more than 9 points against Republican Carl Marcellino. In District 39, Democrat James Skoufis beat Republican Tom Basile. Kevin Thomas, the Democrat in District 6, closely defeated Republican Kemp Hannon. In District 7, Democrat Anna Kaplan defeated Republican Elaine Phillips with an almost ten-point margin.

In two other open races, however, Democrats lost to their Republican opponents. In District 43, Aaron Gladd was defeated by Republican Daphne Jordan, and in District 50, John Mannion was defeated by Bob Antonacci.

The current Republican majority leader, Senator John Flanagan, said in a statement, "This election is over, but our mission is not. Senate Republicans will never stop advocating for the principles we believe in or the agenda that New Yorkers and their families deserve."

Along with competitive races for state Senate seats, many eyes were on potential swing districts for New York seats in the House of Representatives, part of the national picture whereby Democrats flipped the chamber to secure some control of government in Washington, D.C. and a significant leverage point regarding legislation, funding, and oversight of President Trump and his administration. That effort was aided by outcomes in New York, including an upset in New York City.

In the one city-based congressional seat held by a Republican, Rep. Dan Donovan lost to Democrat Max Rose, who will go to the House to represent New York’s 11th congressional district of Staten Island and part of southern Brooklyn. In the 19th congressional district covering parts of the Hudson Valley and Catskills, Democrat Antonio Delgado defeated incumbent Republican Rep. John Faso. And in Central New York's District 22, Democratic candidate Anthony Brindisi was ahead by a razor-thin margin over incumbent Republican Rep. Claudia Tenney, in a race that seems too close to call. In Congressional District 27, though Democrat Nate McMurray had conceded to Republican incumbent Rep. Chris Collins, McMurray's campaign later called for a recount when the margin between the two was only one point.

Back in the five boroughs, of the three ballot proposals passing, Mayor de Blasio said in an election night statement, “Tonight we took a big step toward becoming the fairest big city in America. The question in front of voters was simple: are we going to be a city that works for everyone? New Yorkers answered with a resounding ‘YES, YES, YES!’ They voted to set a historic new direction for campaigns in our city by getting big money out of politics. They voted to give voters more power over their tax dollars. They voted to bring new voices into our democracy. The end result of the charter revision process that began nine months ago at the State of City is a democracy that can work for all of us – not just the wealthy and well-connected.”

In terms of specific outcomes in important New York races, as of 2 a.m. on election night, initial results and tentative margins included:

-Governor Cuomo was reelected with about 58% to 36% for Molinaro, while Green Party nominee Howie Hawkins received 1.7%, Libertarian Larry Sharpe won 1.6%, and Stephanie Miner of the Serve America Movement got less than 1%. Both Sharpe and Miner earned their parties automatic ballot access for the next four years (Cuomo on the Women's Equality Party line and Molinaro on the Reform Party line did not get enough votes on those lines and parties will lose their automatic ballot lines.

-James won the attorney general office with 60% over Republican Keith Wofford, who received 34.3%, and other candidates splitting 2.3%.

-DiNapoli was reelected comptroller with 64.4%, while Republican nominee Jonathan Trichter got about 31%, and other candidates split 1.7%.

-Gillibrand won 64.5% of the vote, while Republican Chele Farley received 32.5%.

In competitive state Senate races, the results included:

-Democrat Andrew Gounardes appears to have won with 49.8% over Republican Senator Marty Golden's 48% in Senate District 22

-Democrat Monica Martinez won with 52.2% over Republican incumbent Dean Murray's 47.5% in Senate District 3, which includes parts of Suffolk County.

-Republican Phil Boyle won with 50.4% over Democrat Louis D’Amaro's 46.7% in Senate District 4, which also includes parts of Suffolk County.

-Democrat James Gaughran won with 53.23% over Republican incumbent Carl Marcellino's 44.7% in Senate District 5, which includes parts of Suffolk County.

-Democrat Kevin Thomas won with 49.2% over Republican incumbent Kemp Hannon's 48% in Senate District 6, which includes a portion of Nassau County.

-Democrat Anna Kaplan won with 53.7% over Republican incumbent Elaine Phillips' 44.5% in Senate District 7, which a portion of Nassau County.

-Democrat incumbent John Brooks successfully defended his seat, with 53% against Republican Jeff Pravato's 44% in Senate District 8, which includes Eastern Nassau and Western Suffolk counties.

-Democrat James Skoufis won with 52% over Republican Tom Basile's 45% in Senate District 39, which includes parts of Rockland, Orange, and Ulster counties.

-Democrat Pete Harckham won with 49.9% over Republican incumbent Terrence Murphy's 48% in Senate District 40, which includes Yorktown and Putnam, Westchester and Dutchess counties. 

-Republican incumbent Sue Serino won with 50% over Democrat Karen Smythe's 48% in Senate District 41, which includes parts of Dutchess County.

-Democrat Jen Metzger won with 50% over Republican Ann Rabbitt's 47.4% in Senate District 42, includes parts of Delaware, Orange, Sullivan, and Ulster counties. 

-Republican Daphne Jordan won with 52.1% over Democrat Aaron Gladd's 44.2% in Senate District 43, which includes parts of Saratoga, Rensselaer, Columbia, Washington counties. 

-Republican incumbent George Amedore Jr. won with 55% over Democrat Pat Strong's 42.2% in Senate District 46, which includes Montgomery and Greene counties and portions of Schenectady, Albany and Ulster counties. 

-Republican Robert Antonacci won with 50.4% over Democrat John Mannion's 48% in Senate District 50, which includes Syracuse and the surrounding area.

In competitive House of Representatives races, the results included: 

-Democrat Max Rose won with 52% against Republican incumbent Dan Donovan's 46% in Congressional District 11, which includes Staten Island and parts of South Brooklyn. 

-Democrat Antonio Delgado won with 49.2% against Republican incumbent John Faso's 46.4% in Congressional District 19, which includes the Hudson Valley and Catskills region.

-Democrat Anthony Brindisi led with 49.5% against Republican incumbent Claudia Tenney's 48.9% in Congressional District 22, which includes parts of Chenango, Cortland, Madison, and Oneida counties.

-Republican Incumbent John Katko won with 52.2% against Democrat Dana Balter's 46% in Congressional District 24, which includes pats of Cayuga, Onondaga, and Wayne counties.

- Republican incumbent Chris Collins, who is under indictment for insider trading, received 48.1% over Democrat Nate McMurray's 47.1% in Congressional District 27, which includes Orleans, Genesee, Wyoming, and Livingston counties. McMurray's campaign has called for a recount.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Samar Khurshid contributed to this article.

Note - This article has been updated.

Cuomo Reelected, Democrats Take the State Senate; 2018 General Election Results in New York Tue, 06 Nov 2018 05:00:00 +0000
10 Things to Watch on Election Day in New York Cuomo voting New York

(photo: The Governor's Office)

New Yorkers will head to the polls on Tuesday, November 6, to vote for federal and state candidates in an election that could radically alter the direction of the state and the entire nation. Every seat in the state Legislature is on the ballot, as are the joint ticket of governor-lieutenant governor, the positions of state comptroller and attorney general, New York’s 27 seats in the House of Representatives, and one U.S. Senate position.

Democrats, hoping to ride a surge of engagement in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election, plan to keep all the statewide seats and control of the state Assembly, while flipping the state Senate and enough U.S. House seats to contribute to a national swing of control. Republicans, meanwhile, are trying to hold onto the limited power they have in New York, a blue state that has become significantly more blue over the last several months, according to new data from the state Board of Elections.

Ten things to watch on Election Day in New York:

1. Will turnout surge?
New York has in past years seen anaemic voter turnout, particularly in the 2016 presidential election when the state ranked 46 out of 50. But if the results of the September primary are any indicator, turnout is expected to surge on November 6.

Nearly three times more Democrats voted in the September 13 primary this year than in the 2014 primary. Cynthia Nixon, the actor and activist who challenged Governor Andrew Cuomo, the two-term incumbent, received 512,585 votes to Cuomo’s 978,138. In 2014, Cuomo won the primary after receiving only 361,380 votes, though his margin of victory was nearly identical.

Democrats are also making a concerted attempt to flip the state Senate from Republican control and capture more seats in the House of Representatives, amid what they hope is a “blue wave” pushing back against President Trump and the Republican-led Congress. By most accounts, the general election in New York is looking good for Democrats; the state is home to 6.2 million registered Democrats compared to 2.8 million registered Republicans, and about 2.6 million party-unaffiliated registered voters.

2. Can any Republican win statewide?
A Republican has not won a statewide election in New York since 2002, when Governor George Pataki was reelected to a third term. Since then, Democrats have managed to dominate the offices of governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and comptroller.

Cuomo is running on a joint ticket with Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, a first-term incumbent, and is heavily favored to be reelected. In a mid-October Quinnipiac University poll, Cuomo led his Republican rival, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, 58-35 percent among likely voters, but a Siena College poll released Sunday showed a more narrow gap, with Cuomo leading 49-36, with other voters split among the three 'minor party' candidates on the ballot. Molinaro’s running mate is Julie Killian, a former Rye City Council member who unsuccessfully ran for state Senate earlier this year. The other three gubernatorial candidates are Howie Hawkins of the Green Party, Larry Sharpe of the Libertarian Party, and Stephanie Miner, the former Democratic Syracuse mayor running with the Serve America Movement.

Other than Molinaro, Republicans are running statewide candidates without experience in elected office and with virtually no name recognition across the state coming into the election, especially daunting when trying to unseat an incumbent in a state with such a Democratic registration advantage.

In the race for comptroller, in the same poll, incumbent Democrat Tom DiNapoli held a 32-point lead over Jonathan Trichter, the Republican nominee. The Sunday Siena poll had DiNpoli up 62-25 percent. [Watch: State Comptroller Candidates Debate]

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, also a Democrat seeking reelection, led her Republican challenger Chele Farley by 32 points in that poll. But in Quinnipiac’s polling weeks later, her lead had fallen to 25 points. The Sunday Siena poll showed Gillibrand up 58-35 percent.

The open race for attorney general, the lone statewide race without an incumbent, appears closest. New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, the Democratic nominee, had a 14-point lead in an early October Siena College poll over Republican nominee Keith Wofford, a white-collar attorney running for elected office for the first time, but able to raise enough money to air television ads. The Sunday Siena poll had James up 49-37 percent. Either James or Wofford would become the first African-American person to become New York Attorney General; if elected, James would be the first woman of color elected statewide in New York. (There are also ‘minor party’ candidates for comptroller and attorney general.)

3. Margins
Though Democrats are expected to sweep statewide races, their margins of victory will ultimately show the level of support they have among New Yorkers. Though those margins won’t necessarily mean much once the new government year begins in January, they can influence how elected officials are treated and how they behave.

Cuomo is seeking a third term and is likely to face some voter fatigue, though he may be getting a significant boost from Democrats upset by Trump, whom the governor has made a major focus of his campaign. Cuomo’s opponents have sought to highlight the several corruption scandals that have marred state government in the last eight years -- two of the governor’s close allies and several other associates and donors were convicted on federal corruption charges this year -- as well as the governor’s handling of the MTA as New York City’s subways have slid into crisis.

Though Cuomo won the primary with 65 percent of the vote to Nixon’s 35 percent, he will likely not fare as well in the general where millions of unaffiliated voters can also cast a ballot. In 2014, Cuomo received 53 percent in the general while Republican Rob Astorino got 39 percent; the Green Party’s Hawkins pulled about 5 percent that year. Molinaro is, of course, talking about pulling off the type of upset that would shock the state and the country, though even he admits he is a significant underdog.

DiNapoli got about 164,000 more votes than Cuomo did in 2014, receiving about 57 percent of the vote over his Republican rival Robert Antonacci, who got 35 percent. It’s unclear how much of a dent Trichter can make this year given his limited fundraising and name recognition.

In the attorney general race, Wofford has faced significant hurdles, but the recent Siena poll that showed him down 14 points to James also showed independents were split 40-38 in James’ favor, meaning that the race could potentially tighten.

4. Will minor parties keep/claim ballot lines?
New York’s fusion voting system allows candidates to run on multiple ballot lines from several parties, giving minor parties somewhat outsize influence in elections. But, for a party to automatically receive an automatic ballot line in elections around the state, they must receive at least 50,000 votes for their chosen gubernatorial candidate in the previous election. Besides the big two, the other parties on the ballot include the Working Families Party, the Conservative Party, the Independence Party, the Green Party, and the Women’s Equality Party. The Stop Common Core Party, created by Astorino in 2014 when he challenged Cuomo, received just over 50,000 votes and has since been rebranded as the Reform Party, though it has no affiliation with the Reform Party at the national level.

Cuomo is running on the Democrat, WFP, Independence, and WEP ballot lines. Molinaro has the Republican, Conservative, and Reform Party lines. Hawkins is the Green Party nominee.

Of the various parties, the Reform Party and WEP seem to be at most risk of losing their place on the ballot. Both parties were strategically created in 2014 -- the first by Astorino to create a platform to oppose Common Core education standards, and the second by Cuomo to bolster his standing with women and apparently to diminish the WFP. The WEP has been barely active and lacks the resources for a strong electoral presence. The Reform Party has played a role in electing candidates to local offices and is also involved in assisting at least two Democratic state Senate candidates this year. But neither of the parties has a strong base of registered voters across the state and would need to meet the 50,000 vote threshold for their endorsed gubernatorial candidates.

Between the Green Party and the WFP, it may come down to a matter of ballot placement, depending on which one fares better. The WFP has made a significant showing this year by backing several progressive upstarts in state Senate races and successfully deposing several incumbent Democrats, putting them squarely in the spotlight, while also initially backing Cynthia Nixon and Jumaane Williams for governor and lieutenant governor until they lost in the Democratic primaries. Hawkins has also shown a fare bit of success on the Green Party line, pulling in 184,419 votes in 2014 compared to 126,244 on the WFP line for Cuomo.

For the Libertarian Party and the Serve America Movement, Sharpe and Miner’s performances will determine if they also claim a spot on the ballot moving forward. The closest that Libertarians have come to the threshold is when Warren Redlich got 48,359 votes on the line in 2010.

5. Will the State Senate flip to Democrats or stay Republican?
The State Senate is the only bastion of Republican power in New York state government, which they have held for all but two of the last 50 years. But Democrats need to flip only one seat in the State Senate to regain control -- both party conferences have 31 members but Republicans hold the majority with the help of Senator Simcha Felder, a conservative Democrat from Brooklyn.

The State Democratic Committee and Governor Cuomo are spending millions to take back the Senate and a network of progressive activists who helped trounce Democratic incumbents in the primary are also aiding those efforts. If the Democrats are successful, Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins would become the majority leader, the first African-American woman to occupy that position. It would also open the doors to a slew of progressive legislation -- reforms to voting, government ethics, campaign finance, criminal justice, and more -- which the Democratic base has long demanded.

Republicans and their supporters are doing everything they can to hold their majority, attempting to keep all of their conference’s seats, including where a handful of members are retiring, and even possibly flip one or two their way. Democrats see a path to not just a slim majority, but a wide one that would buffer the conference’s ability to move legislation that more moderate members may not be supportive of. There are roughly 10 seats in the 63-seat chamber that Democrats see as in play, with only one of their own they believe they need to defend.

Democratic wins could mean full party control of state government and the opportunity to dominate the agenda in 2019. All of the state Legislature will be back on the ballot in 2020, a presidential year.

6. Will New York help flip the House of Representatives?
New York’s 27 House of Representatives seats are all on the ballot and as Democrats hope to reclaim the chamber, there are several races where the party is fighting competitive battles and attempting to unseat Republican representatives. Democrats need to net 23 seats in total across the country to flip the House.

Democrats are hoping that Trump’s deep unpopularity in the state will drive voters to the polls even in historically safe Republican districts while winning out most swing seats. Democratic candidates have been outraising their opponents in several races but Republicans have been putting up a strong fight, and Trump has even stumped for a few candidates to bolster their chances.

Out of nine competitive races with Republican incumbents, according to the Cook Political Report, two are toss-ups, three ‘lean Republican’ and four are ‘likely Republican.’ The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is focused on seven of those races as part of its ‘Red to Blue’ effort -- including Districts 1, 11, 19, 21, 22, 24, 27. New York Democrats could also claim prominent leadership positions in the House if they obtain a majority.

7. Will Republicans lose some of their few seats in New York City?
There are only a few elected Republicans representing New York City at any level of government, and after November 6, there could be even fewer.

In South Brooklyn, State Senator Marty Golden, an eight-term incumbent Republican, has become one of the main targets of Democratic efforts to flip the Senate. Golden is a pro-Trump Republican with a controversial record who was reelected in 2016 with no opposition. This year, however, prominent Democratic elected officials and activists from across the city are dedicating time and resources to unseat him. His Democratic opponent, Andrew Gounardes, took Golden on in 2012, but the candidate and his party believe circumstances are different in 2018, and they have approached this race with far more intensity.

Meanwhile, Republican Congressional Rep. Dan Donovan is seeking reelection to Congress, where he represents Staten Island and a sliver of southern Brooklyn. He faces a spirited challenge from Democrat Max Rose, an Army veteran with a fairly moderate platform, reflective of the district he’s hoping to represent. Rose has raised a significant amount of campaign cash and has been pushing a message focused on borough-specific issues rather than following in the vein of his party at large. The DCCC has also invested in the race as part of the ‘Red to Blue’ effort. [Listen: Max & Murphy Podcast: Rep. Dan Donovan]

8. How will New York City’s ballot measures fare?
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s charter revision commission placed three yes/no questions on the ballot for New York City voters that would need a simple majority to be approved. The proposals would drastically reduce campaign contribution limits in city elections and expand the city’s campaign finance program; create a citywide civic engagement commission with the majority of members appointed by the mayor; and impose term limits on community boards -- among a variety of other aspects of each proposal.

In the last week, de Blasio has stumped for those proposals, urging a “yes” vote on each. Some community advocates and labor unions have also backed the proposals, but prominent elected officials have given mixed reviews, with many coming out against proposal three, especially. [Listen: Cesar Perales, chair of the mayor's charter revision commission, appears on the What's The [Data] Point? podcast]

9. Election administration and security
Following the broad influence effort carried out by Russians in the 2016 presidential election, states across the country have sought to beef up election and ballot security. The New York State Board of Elections has implemented a plan called “ARMOR” -- Assessing Risk, Remediation, Monitoring Operations and Response -- with $5 million in state funding and $19.5 in federal funds. The BOE created a Secure Elections Center to protect against potential cybersecurity threats and to ensure that elections run smoothly, and has been training local and county elections boards to respond to those incidents.

Observers will be watching for any attempts to break into election systems, as the Russians successfully did in seven states ahead of the 2016 election while targeting about 21 states (New York was not among those).

There are always questions in New York City around administration of elections by the city’s Board of Elections, including related to issues like whether proper notice has been given about changes in polling locations or whether voters have been improperly removed from the rolls. And, higher than usual voter turnout is expected on Tuesday, perhaps on par with a presidential election, putting boards of election all over the state to the test.

10. A vacancy to fill?
If Letitia James wins the attorney general’s race, she would take the oath of office on January 1, 2019, triggering a nonpartisan special election for the office of public advocate that would likely take place in late February. But the race will likely kick off in earnest almost immediately after Tuesday, if James wins, with dozens of potential candidates waiting in the wings to jump into the race and several having already announced their intentions, including City Council Member Jumaane Williams and Assembly Member Michael Blake.

The nature of the race -- a short timeline with no party affiliations and several candidates largely indistinguishable in their political ideologies -- could potentially help a Republican claim the seat. But the victor would have to run for reelection later in the year, in a “normal” election with primaries and a general, with regular party lines and Democrats a massive enrollment advantage.

by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note - This article has been updated. 

10 Things to Watch on Election Day in New York Sun, 04 Nov 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Running for Attorney General, Wofford Promises to Step Up Fighting Corruption, Step Back Fighting Wall Street wofford podium

Kieth Wofford (photo via @Wofford4AG)

Keith Wofford, the Republican nominee for Attorney General, appears to have a simple campaign message: he’ll make it harder for corrupt government officials to waste taxpayer money and make it easier for New York businesses to thrive.

The first-time candidate for political office who has made a highly-lucrative career for himself as a attorney says that if elected the state’s top legal officer, he would step back what he calls the over-prosecution of corporations, especially financial institutions that have so often been the focus of the last few New York attorneys general. While in the Democratic primary for attorney general candidates competed over who would be the toughest “Sheriff of Wall Street,” as former Attorney General Eliot Spitzer was known, Wofford wants nothing to do with that title. He’d much prefer to be the Sheriff of State Street, in Albany, home to the governor’s office and state Legislature.

Wofford is competing with Democratic nominee Letitia James, currently the New York City Public Advocate, and several smaller party candidates. While James is favored and has led in the public polling, she is not particularly well-known outside of the five boroughs and Wofford has raised significant funds to air the types of television commercials needed to build his own name recognition, which started at virtually zero.

James has attacked Wofford for his vision for the role of attorney general, particularly as it relates to aggressiveness with big firms, and for voting for President Donald Trump, who is deeply unpopular in New York, though Trump won many, mostly less-populated pockets of the state in 2016. Wofford has explained his vote as due to the promise of Trump helping economically struggling people in upstate New York, including his native Buffalo, while attacking James for her closeness to Governor Andrew Cuomo and other Democratic establishment figures.

Wofford’s campaign message starts around his working class roots in western New York. His father spent 32 years working at a Chevy plant near Buffalo, he explains, and his mother was working retail jobs while taking care of two sons. He says he’s running “because the state’s been great to me, and it’s time to give something back,” as he said during a recent appearance on the Max & Murphy show on WBAI radio. He argues the state has veered off course, largely due to corruption among its elected officials, and that as the attorney general, he would focus on making sure that taxpayers are not being ripped off. He also wants to use the position to help create a better business climate in a state that has seen many factories close and residents leave.

“We had an environment where my dad could get study employment and a great job for 32 years. There were good public schools, great public libraries that I spent a lot of time at with my mom, but those underpinnings are going away or in some cases are gone because we have a government that chases jobs away,” said Wofford. State government has been “hopelessly corrupt,” he said, along with attorneys general chasing jobs away through overzealous and politically-motivated enforcement -- work that the officeholders and their supporters, as well as James and her Democratic competitors this year, have said was done to protect New Yorkers’ rights, enforce the law, and hold powerful entities responsible for wrongdoing.

“Let’s just look at all of the strong-arming and settlements,” Wofford said, when asked how attorneys general have hurt the state economy, and referring to settlements reached with financial institutions in the aftermath of the Great Recession. “We got this crazy law called the Martin Act, and it allows you to accuse companies of fraud, but you don’t have to prove that the company intended to fraud anybody.”

“The statue does not serve to protect the people or companies from being harmed, nor does it provide the necessary enforcement to hold the wrongdoers accountable,” he continued, staking out a stance far different from how Democrats have viewed the Martin Act since Spitzer re-established its use in aggressive fashion. “The law does, however, give the Attorney General intimidation powers which they use to twist the companies’ arms behind closed doors and threaten them with criminal liability and make them pay money.”

The result is a hostile environment that keeps companies from creating jobs in New York. According to Wofford the “combination of the hostility to business plus the unremitting corruption” has made the business community lose confidence in New York.

Wofford argues that he can use existing powers of the attorney general to go after public corruption in a more aggressive way than others have in the role.

“There are a number of ways already on the books” to do it, he told Max & Murphy. “I think you really just have to have a re-emphasis on looking, and asking the right questions, and making sure that you find the red flags and try to get ahead of some of this before it gets to be a problem.”

James has also released an anti-corruption plan, that includes using existing powers while seeking new ones to root out malfeasance in state and local governments. She’s also much more focused on Trump and federal policy than Wofford, making such fights perhaps the main focus of her campaign, while Wofford has largely said his focus would be New York. He has argued that the two New York attorneys general during the Trump presidency have been over-eager to attack the president, but has said there are some lawsuits and investigations worth continuing, like the office’s fight against a citizenship question on the 2020 Census.

James says she plans to work with lawmakers to “reform outdated laws to give the Attorney General civil and criminal authority to go after corruption,” while also pledging to use the existing powers of the attorney general to investigate corruption in state government, and “Trump’s corrupt empire.” Regarding the former, the powers given to the attorney general under “Executive Law 63(12), the False Claims Act,” will allow James to “investigate and prosecute legislators, businesses, and charities involved in self-dealing,” as stated in her corruption plan.

Wofford criticized James for “passing the buck to someone else,” arguing that she does not intend to investigate corruption until she receives permission from both the governor and the Legislature. James has stated otherwise in her plan, saying that “until the legislature takes action, I will use the full powers of the office creatively to find new ways to take on corruption, from Albany to Washington, D.C.” However, even in her Democratic primary, James’ opponents pointed out her closeness to both Cuomo and Democratic members of the Legislature.

In Wofford’s plan he names a few of the existing powers that he believes give the Attorney General legislative and investigative authority. According to the definition provided by Cornell Law School, under the auspices of “parens patriae,” the government, or any authority, are to be regarded "as [the] guardian for those who are unable to care for themselves.” The Attorney General’s office can then use this doctrine “to investigate, and if necessary, commence litigation for the benefit of state residents.” Executive Law 63(12), allows the Attorney General to investigate private entities “who conspire with public officials to take advantage of competing bidders or taxpayers,” Wofford notes. Operation Integrity, also listed in James’ plan is, “a pact between the Attorney General and the Comptroller which allows the Attorney General to investigate pay-to-play.” These serve as “a few examples of existing tools that an independent, energized Attorney General can use to combat corruption.”

As Wofford has previously stated, he believes that it takes someone from the outside to come in and clean up Albany. However, according to James, Wofford’s work at the law firm Ropes and Gray LLP, where he is a partner earning several million dollars per year, and his failure to disclose his client list should raise flags for voters. James, who repeatedly called for Wofford to release his tax returns, which he briefly showed The New York Law Journal last week, has said the Republican nominee should also delineate which of his firm’s clients have had business before the Attorney General’s office. While James views Wofford’s work with the law firm as a conflict of interest, Wofford regards it as preparation for what he would be dealing with as Attorney General.

During his time at Ropes and Gray, Wofford’s focus was on bankruptcy and creditors’ rights. In an interview with WAMC, Wofford summed up his job by saying that he was responsible for getting money back to investors after they’d given it companies that would either send it away, waste it, or use it on projects that later failed. Wofford claimed that this is what is happening to the taxpayers of the state who don’t get to see where their money really goes or how well it is being used.

“A man who makes $4.5 million from a law firm that represents the makers of OxyContin, vulture funds that pillaged Puerto Rico, and big banks that caused the subprime mortgage crisis can’t claim to be independent to tackle corruption,” said James spokesperson Jack Sterne, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “By turning his back on the Martin Act, Mr. Wofford is ignoring the very abuses and criminal conduct that led to the subprime mortgage crisis -- which cost tens of thousands of New York families their homes. If New Yorkers can’t trust him to hold corporate giants accountable, how can they trust him to take on corruption?”

As James called for him to release his taxes, Wofford was calling on her to agree to debates. She agreed to one, which occurred earlier this week on Spectrum News NY1 and hit most of the talking points that each candidate has been putting forth on the trail for months. Both candidates talked about pursuing criminal justice reforms if elected, though their lists of reforms differ somewhat, with Wofford mostly focused on ensuring speedy trials actually occur as guaranteed in the constitution, while James has a more expansive list including bail reform and outfitting police officers across the state with body cameras.

Wofford’s central policy focus is improving the business climate, and he plans to help small- and medium-sized businesses with the addition of small business liaison or assistance office within the Economic Justice Bureau of the Attorney General’s office. Small businesses would be able to make appropriate filings “without having to hire armies of lawyers,” he said.

“It’s long overdue that there’s someone in the state is on their side. So they can focus on growing jobs and growing business, rather than focusing on paying lawyers and which lawyers to hire,” said Wofford.

Wofford’s platform has also focused on creating a plan to deal with the opioid epidemic; he’s stressed that the attorney general’s office needs to be more active and plans to use the Organized Crime Task Force to investigate individuals suspected of bringing drugs into the state illegally. The Medical Fraud Control unit would serve to carry out the investigations of companies that fail to disclose the risks associated with opioids, and of physicians who overprescribed the drugs, he says.

“Time and again, parents and family members cannot find open beds for their loved ones in need of treatment,” Wofford said his press release, where he spoke about his plans to address the opioid crisis. “By creating a dedicated fund administered through the Attorney General’s Office to invest in additional treatment capacity we can help families escape the horrors of opioid addiction and enable patients to receive treatment close to home where they have their families’ support.”

Wofford is also pledging to better equip law enforcement and first responders, and provide victims with access to better treatment options. A part of the funding would come from settlements reached by his office, such the ongoing lawsuit mentioned in his plan, against opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma L.P. Wofford “plans to pursue this litigation [Purdue Pharma lawsuit] aggressively and initiate investigations into those who have profited from opioid addiction.”

“We have to deal with this opioid crisis, it’s a human tragedy, it’s also secondarily, and much less an economic tragedy and it’s a huge problem for our government,” said Wofford. James also has a plan to fight the opioid epidemic.

Wofford’s agenda as laid out during the campaign also touches on criminal justice reform in terms of addressing issues with “speedy trial” assurances.

“We have an affirmative proposal on reform of speedy trial, that we think if there is a bipartisan dialogue on it, together with discovery reform in criminal cases, we can both maintain public safety and maintain an outcome that the D.A., and the cops, and the people protecting our safety can support,” explained Wofford. With some people held for years without going to trial, Wofford says reforms would “get rid of what is currently an unconstitutional situation.”

[Read: In Attorney General Debate, James and Wofford Contrast Careers, Approaches to Cuomo and Trump]

by Annie Abreu, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this article.

Running for Attorney General, Wofford Promises to Step Up Fighting Corruption, Step Back Fighting Wall Street Thu, 01 Nov 2018 04:00:00 +0000
In Attorney General Debate, James and Wofford Contrast Careers, Approaches to Cuomo and Trump james wofford debate

Letitia James and Keith Wofford at NY1 (Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times - pool)

The two leading candidates to become New York State’s next Attorney General faced off in the sole televised debate of the race on Tuesday night, going back and forth about the role of the state’s top legal officer and the degree to which political considerations might affect the way they handle their duties.

New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, a Democrat, is the frontrunner in the race competing against Republican Keith Wofford, a Buffalo-native attorney who is attempting his first run for elected office. The seat became open in May when then-Attorney General Eric Schneiderman resigned in the wake of allegations of physical abuse by multiple intimate partners. His replacement, Attorney General Barbara Underwood, said upon her appointment by the Legislature that she would not seek election.

The hour-long debate, hosted by Spectrum News NY1 and moderated by Inside City Hall anchor Errol Louis and Capital Tonight anchor Liz Benjamin, saw James reiterate her history of public service, addressing the camera directly throughout as she repeated practiced lines from her campaign stump speeches. Wofford, on the other hand, spoke in more relaxed fashion and in the direction of the moderators as he sought to make the case that the next attorney general should not be a career politician but an independent professional. Both candidates are African-American, meaning that whichever wins would make history as the first African-American elected attorney general in New York. Other candidates who will be on the ballot, including Green Party nominee Michael Sussman and Reform Party nominee Nancy Sliwa, were not invited to the debate.

Unlike recent debates in the races for governor and comptroller, Tuesday’s one-on-one faceoff did not take any particularly nasty turns, though there was significant disagreement between the two, and also a few occasions for consensus.

James, who led Wofford by 14 points in the most recent public poll of the race from early October, drew a sharp contrast between her own experience and her opponent’s, pointing to his work as a corporate lawyer, his support for President Donald Trump, and his representation of clients on Wall Street who have an interest in seeing an attorney general’s office less interested in prosecuting financial crimes. “I live by one simple message and that is this, I believe in justice. Simple justice,” James said in her opening statement.

The two candidates differed on whether New York’s attorney general should challenge the policies of the Trump administration, which Schneiderman took an active role in and which Underwood has continued on multiple fronts. James promised to continue each of the lawsuits currently being pursued by the attorney general’s office, while Wofford did not.

“The key to look at how the policies impact the sovereignty and freedom of New York as a state and the state’s people,” Wofford said, emphasizing that he sees political motivations in many of the lawsuits initiated by Schneiderman and that the office should instead focus on areas that have a legal and economic impact on New Yorkers. For instance, he said the attorney general’s lawsuit against the nonprofit Trump Foundation “pales in comparison to the size and significance” of the potential wrongdoing in Trump’s financial and tax history, as enumerated in a recent New York Times investigation, which he said merits greater attention. He later also said he would drop the office’s lawsuit against ExxonMobil, which he said was an inappropriate use of taxpayer money to protect the company’s shareholders.

James insisted that the Trump Foundation lawsuit, as with others against the Trump administration and Trump family, is “not based on politics, they’re based on violations of the law.” She pledged to further pursue the ExxonMobil suit as well.

Coming so close on the heels of the mass shooting at The Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, James and Wofford also faced questions about whether it would be appropriate to call for the death penalty for the alleged perpetrator and about the president’s role in fomenting hatred across the country.

James struggled with the question. “I oppose the death penalty but in situations like this it’s oppose the death penalty,” she said. She said she based her decision in this instance “purely on emotion because my heart is a result emotionally I feel the death penalty is the answer, but legally and professionally I oppose the death penalty.” She insisted, however, that New York should not reinstate the practice. And she later blamed Trump’s rhetoric for emboldening white supremacists. “The president should take some responsibility,” she said.

Wofford said it would be “consistent to have the death penalty in the same circumstances that the federal death penalty is allowed.” And though he agreed that Trump should tone down his rhetoric, he downplayed the president’s role in inciting division. “I disagree with putting it at the hands or the feet of the president...Certainly hate groups and white supremacist groups and anti-semitic groups long predate any particular politician on the scene today,” he said.

On the questions of independence and tackling corruption in Albany -- which James faced in the primary and that have largely formed the basis of Wofford’s campaign -- the two presented different visions. Wofford believes the office of attorney general can investigate corruption unilaterally while James has said referrals for many investigations must come from the governor’s office and that she will demand a standing referral to investigate public corruption if elected, while also pursuing legislation to further empower the attorney general.

Wofford listed several ways he would approach the issue, including in partnership with the state comptroller and district attorneys, and said he would also preemptively tackle corruption through the office’s civil authority rather than wait for criminal prosecution. He also criticized James for being the governor’s “hand-picked” candidate who could not sufficiently hold him and his administration accountable. “The fact of the matter is that my opponent Tish James is not going to go after her brethren and sisters who are Democrats, career politicians who have been riding around in limousines, benefiting their contributors and ripping off the public for years,” he said.

James, who insisted that rooting out government corruption is one of her top priorities, has emphasized that she would work with the governor and Legislature to enact ethics and campaign finance reforms, enhance the public integrity office under the attorney general, and work with the comptroller and district attorneys. She said the attorney general’s criminal jurisdiction is “circumscribed” and that she understands the office better than Wofford, having worked there previously. “All of my life, I’ve represented the powerless,” James said. “Mr. Wofford, all of your life you’ve represented the powerful.”

There were a few areas of agreement between the two, even if they argued on the details.

For instance, they both agreed to continue the state’s lawsuit over the inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 census and agreed that President Trump could not end birthright citizenship through an executive order, as he has threatened.

But James is a staunch supporter of immigrant rights who pledged to uphold protections for undocumented immigrants and fight Trump’s “regressive” policies. “We have to say loud and clear that immigrants are welcome here,” she said. Wofford, however, expressed clear concerns about illegal immigration and raised questions about the state risking the loss of federal funding by putting in place sanctuary policies to protect the undocumented by refusing coordination between state and federal law enforcement, as has been proposed in the state Assembly. “My view as the top law enforcement officer for the state is that you have to deal with public safety issues first,” he said.

Halfway through the debate, the candidates were given an opportunity to ask each other a question. James, specifically citing Trump’s ‘birther’ lie about President Obama, his bragging about sexual assault on tape, and calling Mexicans “rapists” when he launched his campaign, asked Wofford why he voted for the president. Wofford said his “simple reason” was that Trump spoke of increasing jobs and economic opportunity in struggling parts of America like his native Buffalo. At the same time, he attacked the “out of touch” coastal billionaires that he said largely fund the Democratic Party.

Wofford asked James whether she believes Cuomo’s denials about knowledge of the pay-to-play scandals that have marred his signature Buffalo Billion economic development program, and if she would investigate Cuomo’s administration if elected. James did not have a simple answer. “Andrew Cuomo is not running for attorney general,” she initially said, before defending her independence yet again. “I will follow corruption and I will follow the facts and the evidence wherever it leads me, to the White House, to the State house and to municipal governments all across the state of New York without fear and or favor,” she said, never directly answering the question.

The two also argued over the Martin Act, which gives the attorney general broad jurisdiction over Wall Street fraud and has been used liberally by New York’s recent attorneys general. James said earlier that the law should be strengthened and went after Wofford for taking large donations from Hank Greenberg, a Wall Street executive who has in the past run afoul of the Martin Act and is working to undermine it through the courts.

Wofford dismissed that those donations created any conflict, saying Greenberg’s case was long resolved and that the Martin Act had been used and abused by publicity-seeking officeholders who, instead of fighting for restitution for actual victims of fraud, had instead sought to make a name for themselves. Wofford has previously expressed concerns that recent attorneys general have contributed to a negative business climate in New York, driving away jobs and top earners.

James faced questions about whether she would apply that law to the real estate interests who have donated to her campaign for attorney general. James insisted, in response, that most of her donations have come from small donors and labor unions and pointed to her work as public advocate in taking on bad landlords in New York. She also said she would voluntarily ban donations from individuals with business before the attorney general’s office.

Wofford pounced on her answer, insisting that she already has donors who overlap with the governor and who have business with the state. “Career politicians do this all the time and the voters aren’t buying it,” he said.

Near the tail end of the debate, the two faced a lightning round of questions from the moderators. James said police disciplinary records should be released while Wofford said they should not. Wofford opposed supervised injection sites for those addicted to heroin and opioids, while James simply said she had concerns about them.

On criminal justice reform, the two also held varied positions. James said that cash bail should be restricted or eliminated, while Wofford said it should be reformed but with an eye towards the “dangerousness” of a defendant. Asked about their positions on Kalief’s Law, a form of speedy trial reform -- named for Bronx youth Kalief Browder, who spent years on Rikers Island without being convicted of a crime and later died by suicide -- they both seemed to agree on its intent. But while James said it was a step in the right direction, Wofford said he opposed the law because it did not go far enough and should be replaced with a more comprehensive, bipartisan legislation.

Earlier this year, the Legislature passed and the governor signed a first-in-the-nation bill to create a prosecutorial conduct commission, a move beset with legal questions given opposition from the district attorneys association. James said she supported the bill and that the Legislature could resolve any issues in the upcoming legislative session in January. Wofford mused at the notion. “I think that saying you’re gonna pass a law unconstitutionally and then undo the unconstitutionality is a fool’s errand,” he said.

James and Wofford shared similar views on the recent sexual harassment bills passed by the state Legislature and Cuomo this year. They both said said the new laws were inadequate and that the state should hold public hearings to solicit the input of survivors of harassment and assault to implement stronger protections; hearings that Cuomo and legislative leaders have shown no interest in.

Election Day is Tuesday, November 6.

by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

This story has been corrected with the accurate names of the Attorney General nominees for the Green and Reform parties.

In Attorney General Debate, James and Wofford Contrast Careers, Approaches to Cuomo and Trump Tue, 30 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Prominent Elected Officials Oppose De Blasio Charter Revision Proposals Mayor de Blasio

Mayor de Blasio (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayor's Office)

Mayor Bill de Blasio is seeking to make a lasting impact on city governance through a charter revision commission that would transform the city’s campaign finance system, promote greater civic involvement in city affairs, and inject new blood into local community boards. But prominent elected officials, most of whom are Democrats like de Blasio, don’t agree with the proposals the mayor’s commission has put on the November 6 ballot and are urging New Yorkers to reject them.

The mayor’s commission put three questions on the ballot for voter approval through a simple majority. The first would significantly reduce individual campaign contribution limits and expand the city’s public matching funds program; the second would create a civic engagement commission with appointments mostly by the mayor to coordinate citywide participatory budgeting and other initiatives such as interpreting services at polling sites; and the third would impose term limits on community board members and alter how those members are recruited and appointed to ensure greater diversity.

Though the mayor appointed the commission and announced its areas of focus, he was not to have direct say over its final report or proposals, but he did announce support for all three and is now campaigning to see them approved by voters.

“These reforms will go a long way toward strengthening our democracy and limiting the influence of big money in our elections,” he said in a September statement, when the proposals were released. “There's no doubt in my mind that these measures will help us build a more fair and equitable city.” On Sunday, de Blasio spoke at two churches in Manhattan, urging congregants to flip their ballot and decide on the three questions. “[V]ote yes, yes, yes. So we can open up the doors of democracy wide and make this an even greater city,” he said at Bethel Gospel Assembly.

Other elected officials, however, are not so certain, and are expressing somewhat mixed reviews, though many are opposed to community board term limits.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, for instance, supports lowering contribution limits and creating a civic engagement commission, but not term limits for community board members. “I don’t think term limits are necessary,” Johnson, a former community boar chair, said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “These aren’t lifetime appointments. They must be reappointed by elected officials who are term limited. I think that provides enough checks and balances to our community boards, while allowing us to keep the good members with experience and wisdom. It is also our job as elected officials to always be looking to appoint new civic minded leaders who are interested in serving.”

It’s an argument that’s also been advanced by four of the five borough presidents -- only Brooklyn’s Eric Adams supports the term limits question.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, in fact, led the creation of an independent expenditure committee to oppose both term limits and the civic engagement commission, an effort in which she was joined by Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, and Staten Island Borough President James Oddo (Oddo is the lone Republican in the group). “These proposals would be a real—and in some cases dangerous—disruption to the way Community Boards protect our communities,” Brewer wrote in an email to supporters earlier this month, arguing that it could lead to a drain in institutional wisdom and give real estate interests and lobbyists a leg up in discussions about community development. The proposal does include a provision whereby individuals term-limited off of community boards are eligible to serve again after a one-term, two-year “cooling off period.”

“Our community boards are the eyes and ears of our neighborhoods and are often the first line of defense against unwanted projects as well as the initial point of contact between city agencies and our neighbors,” said Diaz Jr. “We should be working to strengthen their role, not strip them of the knowledge and historical focus that makes them so important in the first place.”

Katz said the current appointment process allows “ample opportunity” to pick diverse candidates “for a dynamic mix of talent,” while Oddo worried that the “one-size-fits-all solution” could have unintended consequences.

Adams, however, has argued, “While institutional knowledge is valuable, a reasonable term limit for Community Board members will allow the best of both worlds: institutional knowledge and new voices.”

On expanding the campaign finance system, however, only Adams and Oddo have publicly opposed the question among the borough presidents, though for different reasons. “[Brooklyn BP Adams] opposes the campaign finance reform measure because it doesn’t go far enough as he believes in 100 percent public financing,” said an Adams spokesperson. Oddo, on the other hand, has been a staunch opponent of public financing and simply said, “Hell no!” about proposal one.

Spokespeople for Katz and Diaz Jr. did not respond to requests for comment about the campaign finance reform proposal.

[Read: Brewer Creates Committee to Oppose Charter Revision Proposals]

Comptroller Scott Stringer also opposes the second and third questions while supporting the first on campaign finance reform. “The City must take a serious look at our Charter — it’s critical to tackling the important issues facing New Yorkers,” he said in a statement. Stringer has laid out his own exhaustive plan of charter proposals to the 2019 charter commission, a separate one from the mayor’s that was created through City Council legislation that is taking a far broader look at the city’s governing principles. 

Stringer added, “I support the first initiative because we need a campaign finance system that does everything it can to engage New Yorkers and help people run for office. I oppose proposals 2 and 3 which will weaken communities’ voices in shaping their own development.”

At an October 31 news conference at City Hall, Gotham Gazette asked Speaker Johnson if he would urge the 2019 commission to reverse community board term limits if they should pass. Johnson said he would not. "I think it's important to lice by the will of the voters," he said.  

A spokesperson for Public Advocate Letitia James did not provide her stances despite multiple requests for comment, one of which was acknowledged.

Among a few rank-and-file City Council Members, reception of the proposals seems to be mixed. Council Member Brad Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat, for example, supports all three proposals and has in particular been advocating for the creation of the civic engagement commission -- Lander had proposed the idea through legislation and presented it to the commission.

“I truly believe these ballot proposals give us an opportunity to do something important to strengthen our local democracy: To improve our campaign finance rules. To turbo-charge civic engagement. To expand participatory budgeting city-wide,” he said in an email blast to supporters, calling on New Yorkers to pledge their support.

Manhattan Council Member Ben Kallos, also a Democrat, is backing all the proposals as well. Kallos has been a staunch campaign finance reform advocate and the first question would partially achieve what he has in the past tried to do through legislation, to expand the amount of public funds given to candidates running for office. “Democracy in New York City will finally get better,” he said in a September 6 statement, if the first question is passed, “reducing contribution limits and making small dollars more valuable by matching more of them with a greater multiplier.”

City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, a Queens Democrat, is also urging a "yes" vote on all three proposals. City Council Member Jumaane Williams, a Brooklyn Democrat, has expressed support for the campaign finance proposal, but a spokesperson did not respond to a request for his positions on the other two.

On the other end, there’s Council Member Helen Rosenthal, again a Manhattan Democrat, who opposes all three measures. “The spirit of the first two proposals is positive and some of the substance is even promising, but each raises significant concerns to the point where I cannot support them,” she said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. Also noting a criticism that was raised when the mayor first announced his commission, she added, “Of course, all three proposals could be implemented through the current legislative process.”

Even government reform groups appear somewhat split on the ballot proposals. Reinvent Albany is advocating for all three. “Reinvent Albany believes a YES vote on these ballot measures will collectively amplify the voice of everyday New Yorkers and create new opportunities for injecting fresh perspectives into the public debate over how to make our city better for everyone,” the group said in an email blast on Monday.

Citizens Union, another good government advocacy organization opposes the proposal for a civic engagement commission, supports community board term limits, and has not taken a position on the campaign finance question.

by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note - This article has been updated with additional comment from City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Council Members Jimmy Van Bramer and Jumaane Williams.   

Prominent Elected Officials Oppose De Blasio Charter Revision Proposals Mon, 29 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
In Run for New York City Public Advocate, Blake Offers Federal and State Experience michael blake pub adv city

Michael Blake (photo via Blake campaign)

Michael Blake wants to bring his experience in federal and state government to city government as the next Public Advocate of New York City. Currently a member of the state Assembly from the Bronx, Blake worked in the administration of President Barack Obama before he became a political consultant and successfully ran for Assembly, defeating the chosen candidate of the political machine in his home borough thanks to a variety of factors, including his national network and fundraising prowess.

With the anticipated ascension of Public Advocate Letitia James to state Attorney General via November’s election, Blake declared his candidacy for the special election that would occur in February if James is indeed successful.

After visiting five boroughs Sunday, including a cold but lively rally in the Bronx, Blake spoke with Gotham Gazette on Monday about his campaign and how he would shape the public advocate’s office, one of just three citywide elected positions, but one with limited defined powers and resources.

Blake said his focus would be “jobs and justice,” naming issues such as improving conditions at public housing, monitoring the closure of Rikers Island jails and pushing related criminal justice reform, altering the specialized high schools admissions process and improving the quality of K-8 schools, enhancing opportunities for women- and minority-owned businesses, more transparency at the city Department of Education, and holding the MTA accountable for better transit service. He touted successes he says he’s had in the Assembly on several of those issues, especially securing more funding for NYCHA, boosting MWBEs, raising the age of adult criminal responsibility, and bringing to New York Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative that focuses on empowering young men of color.

“I want to be someone that champions causes that people might not be attentive to and might not be fighting for in the way they should,” Blake said, promising to be a "very proactive" public advocate. “Whether that is changing it through legislation in the City Council, whether it be pushing for our colleagues in the state government to make those changes...and, frankly, we can’t ignore the impact of the federal government on our livelihood in the city.”

Would he be ready to call out the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio or any other mayor? “I think of anyone that’s been talking about running, I think I have a pretty good track record of calling out the administration on things that they’ve been wrong on,” he said, going on to contrast himself in particular to former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who is exploring a run for public advocate and Blake indicated he thinks is too close to de Blasio.

Blake said that “criminal” activity had taken place as NYCHA officials “lied” about elevated lead levels in housing developments. Of course he would call out the city administration on such issues, he said.

“Now, do I think that you need to go down a road where you’re picking fights unnecessarily? Absolutely not, but when someone’s done something wrong you call it out,” he said. People just want help, however you have to get it done, Blake said, arguing he is uniquely situated to best pull the levers of government at all levels.

Success as public advocate would look like helping to “truly transform what’s happening with NYCHA,” Blake said, along with impacting how the school system is functioning, especially with regard to literacy rates, middle school quality, and college- and career-readiness, among other goals.

On criminal justice, Blake said he absolutely wants to see the Rikers jails closed, but that he has questions about the city’s plan to do so. “Building new mini Rikers is not fixing the problem,” he said. “I have repeatedly asked the mayor directly, [First Deputy Mayor] Dean Fuleihan and all of their team, ‘Why do you need to build new jails?’”

Blake cited the high percentage of people detained at Rikers that are not convicted of any crime, mostly locked up because they can’t afford bail. “We’re not having a real conversation around incarceration,” he said, “when you actually look at the numbers, the city’s on record with me, that they can get to this 4,500 number [of detainees] without state policy changes, they can do that through administrative changes.” Combine that city action with what a Democratic state Legislature may be able to do if the elections go the party’s way, he said, “so you then have speedy trial and bail and open discovery,” and the inmate population gets lower and lower -- “then you have not demonstrated why you need new jails.”

Blake pointed out that a commission led by former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, empaneled by Mark-Viverito, had recommended a small jail on Staten Island, part of having a jail in each borough near the courthouses. “If we’re really talking about equity, why are we only talking about four places?” Blake said. “Because of the politics, the politics of it. When we think through the dynamics, the conversations that people don’t want to have, is it really a development deal? Is it that they just want to find a way to get access to the land at Rikers?”

On the controversial topic of admissions to the city’s specialized high schools, Blake said it should move away from a single test. “It should be multi-measured,” he said. “It should be assessed on your grades, it should be assessed on writing samples, it should be assessed on, yes, the exam being one part of that. It should be assessed on an interview.” He spoke of personal experience, saying, “The notion that one exam would determine who I am, I think that’s pretty ridiculous. I recognize, I’m one of the kids who made it. I grew up in the hood, I got a chance to work for a President, I came back home. I’m not the anomaly in terms of having the capability, I’m just maybe the anomaly in having access to the opportunity.”

He said having a man of color as public advocate would be a good thing for the city.

He also said he wants to see a “Rooney Rule” -- a mandate in the National Football League (NFL) that teams must interview a candidate of color for a head coaching vacancy -- for mandating that for most government contracts one finalist must be an MWBE firm.

Blake is sure to promote these policy positions on the campaign trail -- he indicated he’s excited to travel around the city making his case, including at what could be a dozen or more candidate forums as community, advocacy, and other groups seek to have public advocate hopefuls appear before them. If James wins on Election Day, November 6, she would likely not vacate her position until she is sworn in at the beginning of January, which would then trigger the short process whereby the mayor must declare a special election for mid-February.

That special election would be nonpartisan, meaning no party primaries and each candidate must run on a ballot line of their own creation -- there would be no Democratic or Republican nominee, for example. The special election would fill the position for the rest of 2019, with a regular election in the fall of that year to determine who would complete the rest of James’ term, which runs through 2021, the next city election year.

Roughly a dozen potential candidates have been rumored or confirmed they are running or exploring it. Along with Blake, Brooklyn City Council Member Jumaane Williams, fresh off a campaign for lieutenant governor, declared his candidacy for public advocate this week. Activist and journalist Nomiki Konst had previously declared, while Manhattan Assembly member Daniel O’Donnell had already announced his exploration of a bid, and several others, like Mark-Viverito, have told media outlets they are examining the possibility. Those names include a slew of other City Council members beyond Williams. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams is also rumored as a possibility, though he has previously indicated he would be running for mayor in 2021, which would not be ruled out if he ran for public advocate and won.

Blake expressed confidence about his chances.

“There are a lot of people around New York and around the country that will be excited” about his candidacy, he said, when asked if he thought his ability to raise money would again be a major benefit, especially in a shortened campaign. He pledged not to take money from corporate PACs.

In 2013, Blake managed the public advocate campaign of Reshma Saujani, who was among those who lost to James in the Democratic primary. Blake gained insights into running a citywide race, especially learning the intricacies of the city's many neighborhoods.

He said he will be able to build the coalition needed to prevail. “When you look at a path to victory, our work with our communities of color across the city...we’re able to build up a lot of local support, some of them not ready to be public [yet].” Blake acknowledged a need to do well in Brooklyn, Southeast Queens, Harlem, his hometown of the Bronx, and among “white progressives.”

“You have to be a masterful organizer. We’re talking about a race that could be in the dead of winter in February, you have no idea what the weather is like...and nothing else on the ballot...and we have a very good track record of mobilizing,” he said. “We’re ready to build.”

One key to Blake’s Assembly win in 2014 was the support of the large and influential 1199 SEIU labor union, of which Blake’s late father was a longtime member. Blake expressed some cautious optimism about again earning support from 1199 and others, citing the presence of a leader of Local 372 of DC37 at his kickoff rally.

“We’re going to show, very intentionally and methodically, the pretty widespread support that we’re ready to roll out pretty quickly across unions and across all different coalitions,” Blake said.

Asked about his role with the Democratic National Committee, where he is a vice chair who travels the country giving pep talks, leading trainings, and helping to organize, Blake said that much of that will calm down after the midterm elections in November. He also said his priority would be the role of public advocate, which is different than the technically part-time position of state Assembly member, and comes with a much higher salary to boot. Blake has done some consulting while in elected office and has a significant tax debt to New York State that he said stems from residency issues he worked out several years ago and he's been paying down. He added that it could be advantageous to both the national party and the city for him to hold both roles, noting that he had succeeded as a vice chair the former mayor of Minneapolis.

Blake repeatedly indicated that his state and national experience would be advantageous to both his campaign for public advocate and in filling the role if elected, given that the city is so reliant on the state and federal governments. He also said he thinks his independence will stack up well against potential competition when it comes to the de Blasio administration -- the public advocate is expected to hold the mayor accountable, though different officeholders have approached it differently.

“When we think about the dynamics about others that consider running, it would be hard for them to convey that they have independence from the mayor,” Blake said. “I mean, pretty consistent track records, many of them have demonstrated being closely aligned.”

“I am ready to hold them accountable,” he said of the city administration. “But it’s not just about holding people accountable, you have a plan of action, it’s a very concrete thing.”

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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In Run for New York City Public Advocate, Blake Offers Federal and State Experience Wed, 24 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
'Speaker Heastie PAC' Gives to James for AG, Skoufis for Senate heastie w cuomo and morelle

Speaker Heastie, with Gov. Cuomo and Assemblymember Morelle (Governor's Office)

New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s eponymous political action committee has continued to donate to Democrats in competitive races this year, recently making new contributions to Public Advocate Letitia James’ attorney general campaign and Assembly Member James Skoufis’ bid for State Senate.    

The latest campaign finance filings with the State Board of Elections showed that Speaker Heastie PAC spent about $26,000 between September 21 and October 2, including $10,000 each to James and to the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee -- as speaker, Heastie is honorary chair of the DACC and he has donated $55,000 in total through his PAC, which has raised its money mostly from a variety of special interests. The PAC gave Skoufis’ campaign a $5,000 contribution -- it has sent Skoufis $12,250 overall as he seeks to move from Heastie’s conference to the upper chamber as part of the Democrats’ attempt to win control of the Senate and thus both houses of the Legislature.

Since its creation in January, Heastie’s PAC has raised $326,100 from a combination of other PACs, limited liability companies, and individuals, and has doled out just over $303,000 to several Assembly members running for reelection, candidates for State Senate, Democratic clubs in the Bronx, home to Heastie’s Assembly district and where he is intricately involved in the county Democratic Party, and to James, who is seeking to ascend from a citywide to a statewide official and become the state’s top legal officer.

James’ campaign is also being supported by much of the rest of the Democratic establishment in the state, including Governor Andrew Cuomo, while she is facing questions about her independence from figures like Heastie and Cuomo, and whether she would effectively work to root out government corruption as attorney general.

Heastie has donated a total of $31,000 to James’ campaign, which has raised more than $2.5 million and spent over $2 million so far, including during a hard-fought four-way Democrtic primary. She had about $384,000 in cash on hand as of her most recent filing, while raising more money for the home stretch before Election Day. James’ Republican opponent, Keith Wofford, is a lawyer at an international corporate firm and a first-time candidate for elected office. He has raised more than $1.6 million for his run and spent almost $1.4 million. He had about $400,000 remaining with three weeks left in the race, while also working to bring in more in order to spend it.

With Heastie assured to be reelected to another two-year term -- he is not facing a challenger -- and with Democrats overwhelmingly represented in the Assembly, his PAC has focused part of its efforts on the State Senate, where Republicans hold a one-seat majority, in an effort to regain control of the legislative chamber. Cuomo and the State Democratic Committee are spearheading that effort with a $2 million infusion of cash.

As of the last filing, Heastie’s PAC did not show any new fundraising and had about $23,000 left to dish out.

by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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'Speaker Heastie PAC' Gives to James for AG, Skoufis for Senate Tue, 16 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Republican Attorney General Nominee Keith Wofford mxm logo

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

October 10, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Republican Attorney General Nominee Keith Wofford

keith wofford wbai 277Keith Wofford, the Republican nominee for Attorney General, joined the show to discuss his platform for assuming the role of the state's chief legal officer, outlining a vision very different from his main rival, Democratic nominee Letitia James. A first-time candidate for office, Wofford explained his resume and his top priorities for the job of Attorney General.

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

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Republican Attorney General Nominee Keith Wofford Wed, 10 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
A Lifelong Democrat and Famed Civil Rights Attorney, Michael Sussman Runs for Attorney General as a Green peace exist sussman

photo via Sussman campaign on Twitter

A 19-year-old from Flatbush, Brooklyn sat in the Iron Forge, a middle-eastern restaurant on Q Street in Washington, D.C., and looked around. He had started his internship with the Democratic National Committee, and was given the opportunity to choose from a group of candidates whose campaign he wanted to work on. He saw the men around him, who he would work with in the coming months, the fall of 1973: Georgians Hamilton Jordan, Jodi Powell, Bert Lance, and Griffin Bell, along with the governor, Jimmy Carter.

The young Brooklynite took that fall semester off from college as he transferred from the University of Chicago to Amherst College, immersing himself in politics, and went on to work on Carter’s campaign for president, meeting Ralph Nader, a well-known political activist and attorney credited with pushing consumer protection legislation such as the Clean Water Act, Freedom of Information Act, Whistleblower Protection Act, and more. He learned from Nader, and worked with him and Mark Green, later the New York City Public Advocate, on environmental issues, and went on to do his own public-interest work as a civil rights lawyer, including in the Department of Justice and for the NAACP. His most famous work came in Yonkers, New York, where he won a landmark case aimed at tearing down the city’s racial segregation, among other cases, and where he organized his fellow Democrats, holding rallies, and speaking at many public events on a variety of causes over decades.

Now 64 years old, Michael Sussman is running for Attorney General of New York as the Green Party candidate, his first run for statewide elected office after decades of political and legal work advancing progressive causes. He’s abandoned the Democrats for the Greens, he says, because “leading Democrats in the state have failed to advocate strongly enough for the interests that I care about, and I think that in some cases they’ve failed to do that because of personal interests and corruption.”

He’s running for attorney general because “from corruption to public health to the environment...these areas are all of huge and critical importance and I think you need someone as attorney general who has life experience as a litigator.”

He’s promising if elected to investigate Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is favored to win a third term this fall, and he’s pulling few punches when it comes to the frontrunner in his race, Democratic nominee Letitia James, currently the New York City Public Advocate, who has Cuomo’s full backing.

“I was a Democrat for 45 years,” Sussman said at a recent candidates event in Yonkers, addressing the crowd just after James spoke. “I ran for county executive of my county, I’ve done some of the most significant civil rights and environmental cases of my generation, but I refused in 2017 to run as a Democrat in New York State for Attorney General, for one good reason: the duopoly of corrupt practices.”

“We cannot have someone running on the slate with Mr. Cuomo expected to vigorously prosecute Mr. Cuomo and political corruption in our state -- it’s an inherent conflict,” Sussman said, “and until and unless we recognize it frontally and say we need an independent attorney general, someone like me who has 40 years of experience litigating, in every court -- Supreme Court of the United States, 400 arguments in the Court of Appeals in New York, a thousand cases in federal court...I don’t want to depend on the Trump Justice Department to clean up political corruption in New York. I want an attorney general in New York who is independent enough to clean up corruption, it’s very simple.”

If he can somehow get enough New Yorkers to hear his message and consider voting Green, Sussman believes he would be the clear choice for attorney general among voters who are overwhelmingly Democratic. He’s traveling the state, walking local communities from Brooklyn to Buffalo, he says, posting short videos to his Twitter feed, and proposing things like strengthening the public integrity unit of the attorney general’s office and imposing “a sweeping public finance law to disconnect big money from state politics.”

Lou Young, Sussman's communications director, tweeted, “If he could meet every voter in person he would win in a landslide. Michael Sussman just needs to he heard to be believed. It's that simple.”

He won’t meet every voter and it may not be that simple even if he did, of course, given the strength of James’ candidacy, which includes the powerful backing of Cuomo and the state party he controls, not to mention challenges raising money and name recognition.

While the odds of him pulling off a victory that would shock New York, and beyond, are quite long, Sussman is the type of “third party” candidate who may garner significant attention in a political atmosphere where voters on the left are frustrated with what many perceive as a corrupt and disconnected gubernatorial administration and state Legislature. But how many of the hundreds of thousands of voters who backed Cynthia Nixon for governor or Zephyr Teachout for attorney general in their respective Democratic primaries are willing to consider Sussman is an open question, especially given James’ progressive bona fides (she would also be the first woman of color to win a statewide position).

But with the question of independence from Cuomo still hanging over the attorney general race, which also includes Republican nominee Keith Wofford, among others, and given his decades of relevant experience, Sussman believes more voters should take a look at his campaign.

Sussman, born in 1954 the son of an accountant father and music teacher mother, is unsure exactly where his interest in civil rights first began. Perhaps from his father, who had done work with African-Americans in the discriminatory south but emphasized to his son that the north was no different, or from his grandmother, a radical socialist. But Sussman points to something simpler.

“I always had a feeling in the playground for the underdog,” Sussman said in an hour-long interview. “When we chose teams to play ball and I was 6, 7, 8 years old, I was a fairly good athlete then and would always take the kids on my team that the good athletes didn’t want on their team. It’s something that I can remember back a long way, feeling an affinity for people who are viewed as either nonconforming or not functional at the same level — whatever that level was — of others, and otherwise being excluded from the game so to speak. So I guess my life’s work has been about that subject in a general sense and consistent for a very long time.”

“For whatever reason and however it happened,” Sussman says, his upbringing “imprinted on me a sense of obligation that even though we were not a wealthy family, we were a middle-income family, that our job was essentially to give back.”

Sussman says he decided at age 12 he would do this by becoming a civil rights lawyer. Although he would go on to represent people of color in countless cases, Sussman says he grew up in a monoracial Flatbush. The only black person he knew was his mother’s maid, he said, adding that having a maid was “somewhat usual for even middle-income people in those days.”

“I remember trying to understand the experience of, Esse was her name, as even though she lived in New York City, in the same borough we were in, it seemed like miles away, centuries away,” Sussman said.

Later, while attending the University of Chicago as an undergraduate, Sussman had his internship with the DNC, meeting Jimmy Carter. Yet Carter’s early presidential campaign was not the most historic event he was being exposed to — his uncle, Barry Sussman, was then an editor at the Washington Post, Michael Sussman recounts, and it was in Barry’s home that the now famous Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein began their investigation.

“So I was able to see the origins of the Watergate case as it was developed in their basement in Barry’s house in Potomac, Maryland, and then during the days I worked with Jimmy Carter,” Sussman said about his 1973 experience.

Sussman says he’s sought to surround himself with people doing great things.

“I’ve always told my children, I have seven children, ‘Try to find yourself amongst the people who are doing what you think is important,’” Sussman said. “I think that you have to see what your capabilities are, you have to see who is doing work that you emulate and that you admire, and I think you have to try and put yourself in a position to learn from greatness, really.”

While Sussman is not a household name himself, he became a prominent civil rights lawyer with an acclaimed show on HBO, “Show Me a Hero,” about his most famous case.

Sussman graduated in 1978 with honors from Harvard Law School, where he was in the same class as now-CEO of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein, who Sussman says “was not a stellar student.” After graduating, Sussman took his most well-known case, the aforementioned, representing a local chapter of the NAACP in Yonkers that sued the city for its segregated school districts. After 26 years of legal proceedings that went all the way to the Supreme Court, the 2007 result was $300 million in funding to desegregate schools and build affordable housing.

Out of law school, Sussman had been working at the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division in October of 1978, during Carter’s presidency. He worked on efforts to stop school segregation and housing discrimination. However, Sussman says this changed in 1981 when Ronald Reagan became president. According to Sussman, William French Smith, Reagan’s attorney general, said that the Civil Rights Division needed to focus on elevating the rights of white people. Sussman says he “made a fuss internally,” speaking to a former debate partner of his from University of Chicago and the man he was working under, Deputy Attorney General Edward Schmults. After getting no response, Sussman left the Justice Department, and was offered a job with the NAACP.

“I met the major forces in American Civil Rights Law at that time: Joseph Rowl, William Taylor, Thomas Atkins, Nathaniel Jones, lawyers from generations older than mine who were doing the major work as I thought,” Sussman said, “and I became friends with them and they viewed me as someone that could carry on the work. So, I was blessed to be offered a job as assistant general counsel at the NAACP national office in New York City.”

It was then that Sussman began work on the case, which had been filed by a local chapter of the NAACP in 1980. The case accused the city of Yonkers — including city officials, lawyers and judges — of being discriminatory and engaging in housing segregation, which caused school segregation. To diminish said segregation, the city and school board would have to work together to reorganize the school system and create housing opportunities for low-income people that were not in “ghettoized areas,” as Sussman put it.

Believing the Reagan administration’s stance on civil rights made it unreliable in defense, the national office of the NAACP saw an opportunity to become involved and secure a victory. Still, it was 2007 before a ruling in the case, with Judge Leonard B. Sand ruling in favor of the NAACP and ordering Yonkers to build 200 public housing units and allow 600 houses to go to low-income families in the majority middle-class and white east side of town.

Sussman’s civil rights career unfolded alongside that case, with some cases taken on behalf of friends but most dedicated to advancing certain causes, he says. He has represented a Pace University student who was shot by police in 2010 — although the Justice Department decided not to charges against the officer involved — and won $6 million for the family, and won a $45 million settlement against the state for black and Hispanic workers in a discrimination case, for example.

Sussman now lives in Orange County, where his law firm, Sussman and Associates, is based in the town of Goshen. While he’s mainly worked in Washington, Yonkers, and Orange County, Sussman has also opened “empowerment centers” designed to help underprivileged people in Liberty, Monticello, and Port Jervis.

Sussman has also worked defending students suspended by their schools, including Elzie Coleman, then a potential Olympic sprinter who was suspended for getting in a fight. Sussman argued that suspending Coleman violated his due process and would cause “immediate and irreparable harm” as it would impact Coleman’s ability to qualify for scholarships necessary for him to go to college. Sussman used this same argument in a variety of cases against school districts. He also represented Putnam County District Attorney Adam Levy in a case of defamation, after the sheriff of the county accused him of harboring an undocumented immigrant, among other things — Sussman won the case, reaching a $150,000 settlement.

In a case of sexual harassment, Sussman represented an Orange County Health Department worker who accused her boss of making sexual advances, and firing her after she refused them. Sussman says his work was mainly centered around certain causes, while he occasionally took work due to relationships with clients.

“There are situations where people will come to and out of personal loyalty or out of the feeling that there is some important issue that is being raised in their case, I will defend them, if you will,” Sussman said. “Most of the work I’ve done is not based on that. Most of the work I’ve done is based on what I might call cause-driven lawyering. That is, I’m known to do cases of employment discrimination, sexual harassment, education law.”

In some cases Sussman found him defending those accused of sexual harassment, rather than the other way around. In 2002, when a coworker accused forensic scientist for the New York State Police John Graziano of sexual harassment, her complaint did not lead to any punishment, as despite human resources finding probable cause, it did not go to trial. After this, women working with Graziano started treating him poorly, and so he filed a lawsuit alleging they harassed him due to his gender, suing under Title IX. Sussman defended him in this case, which was dismissed.

One of the students Sussman represented was suspended for allegedly having sex with two girls on school property, but separately accused of forcing another student to touch him sexually. Sussman focused on the cases of sexual activity, and claimed that the school punishing him much more severely than the girls involved was a Title IX violation. He won the case.

“It posed an issue of gender stereotyping that I think is interesting and important,” Sussman said. “[The student] was engaged in what the school district defined as consensual sexual activity with two girls in school, separately, and the two girls were slapped on the wrist and he was suspended for a school year basically and I thought that was absurd.”

According to a press release announcing his 2018 run for attorney general, the Green Party highlighted that from 2006 to 2010, Sussman represented “a class of 4,700 African American and Hispanic state workers [against the Attorney General’s office] in a lawsuit challenging the promotional test used by the State of New York for civil service promotions” and that the “cae ended in a settlement of $45,000,000 for the class.”

One apparent blemish on Sussman’s record came in 2002. In 2014, the New York Post reported that in 2002 Sussman had had his law license suspended for a year for “commingling personal and client funds.”

Running for Attorney General
It is in the areas he’s focused his legal career that Sussman believes the state should be enforcing laws more strictly. He argues his experience makes him uniquely suited to do so if elected as attorney general, and should cause voters to take notice of his candidacy to become the state’s top legal officer, charged with upholding laws, defending the state in legal action, and other responsibilities.

“I feel that there needs to be vigorous enforcement of our state’s laws in those regards and I’m aware that laws are not self-enforcing,” Sussman said. “I’m also aware that there are not many civil-rights lawyers in our region that have expertise like I have in the courts.”

“It’s shameful that both in regards to civil rights laws and environmental laws and laws protecting health and safety in our state, the AG office has made, from my perspective, minimal contributions over the last 30 or 40 years, despite so-called progressive people running the office,” he continued. “Either they don’t understand the laws or they’re not really interested in enforcing them to the extent necessary in our state.”

Sussman, who had previously been on his town board as a Democrat, and ran for county executive of Orange County as one, says his shift to the Green Party in November came due to frustration over issues of corruption and failure to act by Democrats in New York.

“First of all, I feel that Mr. Cuomo is corrupt, I feel that Mr. Schumer is in the pocket of Wall Street,” Sussman said of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and U.S. Senator from New York Charles Schumer, the minority leader. “I feel that leading Democrats in the state have failed to advocate strongly enough for the interests that I care about, and I think that in some cases they’ve failed to do that because of personal interests and corruption. So I don’t see the Democratic Party right now as being the answer.”

Sussman gave an example of a Competitive Power Ventures gas-fired power plant being approved in his county despite residents being outspoken concerning the potential environmental and human health risks from large emissions of carbon dioxide, carcinogens, neurotoxins, and other dangerous chemicals. In this case, Sussman says neither Democrats nor Republicans would talk to protestors when trying to prevent the plant from getting approved. Yet, now that it has started operating, both Democrats and Republicans are against the plant. Both Democrats and Republicans, he believes, are seen by many as representing a politics-first mentality.

“Part of that increasing alienation is that people think both parties represent the same thing, and I think that’s true,” Sussman said. “Particularly for the attorney general race, I see a perpetuation of the same patterns of clubishness and I don’t think that’s going to solve anything.”

Sussman has been critical of James, the Democratic nominee, as seeking the attorney general position only to increase her chances of becoming governor in the future, of which there is little evidence, in part given James’ own background as a public defender and assistant attorney general. Recently, he has said that Republican nominee Keith Wofford also sees the position as a way to reach higher office, an assertion there’s also little support for as Wofford, a corporate attorney, runs for office for the first time.

“I genuinely believe that the Democratic Party candidate wants to be governor, which she has every right, but I don’t see this position as a stepping stone,” Sussman said. “With that sort of ambition, what ends up happening, is that people don’t do what they need to do in this office because of looking over their shoulder.”

At the Yonkers candidates’ event, Sussman both praised James’ work as public advocate and said that her use of the office as a litigator has been wanting, given that she has been kicked off of a number of suits for lack of standing. He said the two agree on almost every social issue, from taking on the NRA to protecting immigrants, but said that the deciding factors for voters must be his resume as an attorney and the contrast between his and James’ relationships with Governor Cuomo.

“I am ready from day one to litigate -- whether it’s Donald Trump or whether it’s Andrew Cuomo,” Sussman said. “And guess what, it’s going to be Andrew Cuomo.”

Cuomo’s shuttering of the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption was “insulting to every citizen in New York State,” Sussman said, speaking just after James. “I didn’t hear my opponent say one thing about him, nor would I expect to, she’s running on the same ticket. You can proclaim independence, but you can’t be independent if that’s your running mate, it’s simply impossible.”

On Wofford, Sussman said in the interview, “The Republican candidate is not someone who has experience with public law, he’s chosen other career paths, and I don’t think that you start in public law as attorney general of New York.”

“This is it for me, and if I get the position, against all odds, then I would use the office and the lawyers in that office, 672 of them, to the fullest extent I could do enforce the laws I see in New York that deal with discrimination and environmental degradation, health threats,” Sussman said, pointing to the powers of the attorney general to uphold certain laws in New York, along with the office’s responsibilities to defend state government. But on the latter, Sussman says, “I would do much less knee-jerk defense of state agencies, which engage, unfortunately, in ongoing patterns of segregated behavior, discriminatory behavior.”

Sussman has litigated against the state on multiple occasions, and believes that a 45-day review period should be put in place for every case filed against the state, allowing the attorney general’s office to decide if the state had committed whatever alleged infraction the suit claims. Sussman says if he were to find that the behavior is as it’s alleged and if it is lawless, he would not defend it — instead, he would “settle the case, resolve the issue, take action against the individuals and agencies responsible and clean up the state.”

“I would not just knee-jerk defend them in state or federal court. I would force those agencies to comply with the law,” Sussman said. “Again, no attorney general has ever said that or done that. Certainly my opponents in this race are not saying that or doing that. Tish James was with the state attorney general’s office and was involved in the defense of many discrimination cases, which is quite the contrary to my feelings and philosophy.”

Sussman continually asserted his advantage in experience over his competition, which also includes Libertarian Christopher Garvey and Nancy Sliwa of the Reform Party, and said that if elected he would begin to clean the state of the stains of corruption by pushing public campaign financing and prosecuting those who use their positions for their own gain.

“I feel that they don’t have the depth of my experience in public law, they don’t have the depth of my experience as an advocate,’ Sussman concluded about his opponents, “they don’t have the depth of my life experience, that’s just how I feel about it.”

by Victor Porcelli, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this story.

Note: this article has been updated to clarify Lou Young's relationship to Sussman and Sussman's graduation status from Harvard Law School, which had been misrepresented to do a Gotham Gazette error.

A Lifelong Democrat and Famed Civil Rights Attorney, Michael Sussman Runs for Attorney General as a Green Mon, 08 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Closing the Door on Foreign Money in New York City Elections vote here large

How far and how deep did the Russian government and Russian nationals go to influence United States elections? While hacking and manipulation of social media have garnered significant attention from both the media and the Mueller investigation, it’s also clear that Russian money was being funneled through some surprising channels, such as the National Rifle Association (NRA).

When Citizens United opened the floodgates for corporations to spend unlimited amounts in our elections, it also blasted open a loophole for foreign money to be used to influence U.S. elections. Earlier this month, we collaborated to introduce a bill to close that loophole and keep foreign money out of New York City elections.

While current federal law—affirmed by the Supreme Court in 2012—prohibits foreign governments, foreign-based companies, and people who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents from contributing or spending money in connection with any federal, state, or local elections, after Citizens United, foreign entities can still invest money through U.S.-based corporations that can then spend as much money as they want on American elections. That’s a direct threat to democracy, and one that our federal government has yet to remedy.

This is not a hypothetical. Companies that we consider to be “American” often have significant foreign investment, and at times that investment comes from some questionable sources. DST Global, for example, has gained notoriety for its Russian connections and has significant investment in many U.S. tech companies, including several iconic companies like Airbnb, Facebook, and Twitter. Saudi Arabia has also been “using its wealth for global influence” with over $2 trillion to invest via its sovereign wealth fund, and it has already taken large stakes in U.S. based companies like Uber, Tesla, and Sprint through its joint tech fund with SoftBank Group, a Japanese company. To be clear, we do not mean to say that these companies are controlled by Russia or Saudi Arabia, but they do serve as examples of how little we know about the foreign ownership of American companies, some of which spend significant amounts trying to influence American politics.

As the U.S. midterm elections approach, foreign actors are testing out new ways to hide their trails. They’ve stopped paying in rubles, and that means that the corporate loophole created by Citizens United will be ever more attractive. The evidence is also mounting that Russia was not alone. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and others reportedly sought to put their thumbs on the scale. Though Ellen Weintraub, the vice chair of the Federal Election Commission, has been sounding the alarm about this for years, partisan politics has stopped attempts in Congress and at the Commission to prevent foreign money from being funneled through corporations.

That’s why it is critical to move now to protect our local elections from corrupt foreign influence and to help create a national model for campaign finance reform. In order to protect the integrity of New York City elections, our bill -- Intro. 7087 -- would strengthen the existing federal prohibition on direct foreign and corporate campaign contributions by extending the ban to American corporations under substantial foreign ownership or control.

The bill would prohibit contributions and spending in local elections by “foreign-influenced entities,” which is defined as an entity that is either (1) more than 5 percent owned by a single foreign national, (2) more than 20 percent owned by more than one foreign national, or (3) a corporation in which foreign-national owners call the shots on its political activities. A similar proposal enacted in St. Petersburg, Florida received the backing of constitutional luminaries like Laurence Tribe and Charles Fried, and stands on firm legal ground.

New York has long been a leader in taking action to protect the integrity of its elections and ensure that the voices of New Yorkers are not drowned out by corporate money. New Yorkers deserve to know that foreign money is not flowing into local elections through hard-to-trace corporate channels. This bill upholds the basic principles of American self-government, free from foreign influence. Foreign interference is a clear and present danger, but by closing this gaping loophole New Yorkers can stem the flow of foreign money in their own elections and lead the way for the rest of the nation.

Public Advocate Letitia James
John Bonifaz, President, Free Speech For People
Shanna Cleveland, Senior Counsel, Free Speech For People

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Closing the Door on Foreign Money in New York City Elections Wed, 03 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000