Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/2008 Thu, 15 Nov 2018 14:55:27 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Manhattan Senate Debate Offers Another Round of IDC Argument, Few Ideas to Fix NYCHA or the MTA http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7889-senate-debate-offers-another-round-of-idc-argument-few-ideas-to-fix-nycha-or-mta http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7889-senate-debate-offers-another-round-of-idc-argument-few-ideas-to-fix-nycha-or-mta alcantara jackson leon

Sen. Alcántara, Jackson, & Leon (l-r) during the MNN debate


Roughly three weeks before the September 13 primary elections, three candidates running for the Democratic nomination in state Senate District 31 – an area that spans the west coast of Midtown and the Upper West Side before encompassing most of Northern Manhattan – debated the incumbent’s involvement with the now defunct Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) and discussed some of the district’s most pressing issues, including those regarding transit, public and affordable housing, and the recently-passed rezoning of a portion of Inwood by city officials.

The debate hosted by Manhattan Neighborhood Network -- which taped Wednesday, aired Thursday, and was moderated by Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max -- saw first-term Senator Marisol Alcántara continue to defend her IDC membership, reiterating that her break from the mainline Democratic conference did not affect her voting record while in Albany and resulted in benefits for her constituents. Meanwhile, Robert Jackson, a Democrat making his third straight bid for the seat, continued to criticize the senator, questioning her Democratic credibility given the IDC’s alignment with the Republican conference and that majority’s blockage of a multitude of progressive legislation, much of which both Alcántara and Jackson say they support.

Another Democratic challenger, Thomas Leon, struggled to answer questions during the debate and a fourth candidate, Tirso Pina, was absent from the event altogether. What Leon did make clear was his negative view of all the sniping back and forth between Alcántara and Jackson, but he largely did not provide concrete policy positions.

While Alcántara and Jackson seemed to agree on major policy problems and solutions, such as the crises facing the MTA and NYCHA, neither offered detailed proposals or radical new approaches to resolve the existential threats facing the two public authorities, even as the candidates were pressed for more information.

Alcántara was first elected in 2016 after a four-way race between her, Jackson, Micah Lasher, and Luis Tejada. She, Jackson, and Lasher each garnered about a third of the votes cast, with Alcántara, of course, coming in first, followed by Lasher, then Jackson. Lasher is not running again, he has endorsed Jackson’s candidacy, but there are questions about who will actually come out to vote this year, including the number of new voters, some possibly spurred by the extensive anti-IDC movement that has sprung up.

“So, the expectation [is] that all of the votes that he received are coming to me, give or take a few,” Jackson said of Lasher’s 2016 supporters during the debate, when the two candidates were asked about how they are reaching out to voters that did not vote for them last cycle. Jackson additionally has the support of many activist organizations, almost all of the district’s Democratic clubs, and many elected officials. Alcántara has much a great deal of support from organized labor, including several of the city’s most politically active unions.

When asked how she has been targeting new voters in her campaign, Alcántara said, “We send out mailers like every campaign to everybody...We have tried to reach out to everyone in our district and work with everybody in our district regardless of where they’re from, because we feel that’s the best way to represent.” Alcántara also repeatedly stressed that she has the advantage with labor, including the United Federation of Teachers, the New York State Nurses Association, and 1199SEIU, the health care workers.

MTA and NYCHA
The state of the MTA and NYCHA have been flashpoints in this year’s election cycle. Both authorities are badly in need of repairs, with rampant delays plaguing the subways and NYCHA developments falling apart and riddled with mold, lead paint, and heating issues. Both authorities need better management and tens of billions of dollars in funding for repairs and upgrades.

During the debate, both Alcántara and Jackson expressed support for congestion pricing, both to reduce traffic and raise revenue for the MTA.

“We need to get more cars off the streets,” Alcántara said. “We have a high asthma rate in the district. We can do two things by congestion pricing: we can fix our asthma and our environmental issues and we can bring in funding for our subway system.” Alcántara additionally suggested that legalizing recreational marijuana may aid the subway crisis if its tax revenue can be funneled into funding public transit.

While the senator avoided blaming anyone for the MTA crisis, Jackson placed the weight of the problem on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s shoulders. The governor has frequently come under fire for the deterioration of the city’s subway system, especially from his gubernatorial primary challenger, Cynthia Nixon, who has cross-endorsed with Jackson. The governor appoints a plurality of members to the MTA board and the leader of the authority, while also playing the largest role in determining how the MTA is funded and its top priorities. “The governor needs to be able to deal with that because he’s the primary one responsible for the MTA,” Jackson said. While he agrees with the importance of congestion pricing, Jackson also believes that “there needs to be a better working relationship between the governor and the mayor to work together to address the issues” and that “the primary responsibility is for the state of New York to provide the resources.”

As for Leon, his answer to repeated MTA questions including that there must be “a team” in place, but he did not discuss any details when given the opportunity.

Somewhat like with the MTA, it is estimated that around $30 billion is needed over the next five years in order to address the NYCHA crisis.

Asked about solutions for NYCHA, especially around new revenue, Alcántara discussed her work for NYCHA residents, which she said includes funding for tenant organizations, calling for an independent monitor for NYCHA, surveying over a thousand NYCHA residents, touring all NYCHA buildings in her district, and fighting to include $200 million for NYCHA in the state budget.

“I have a seniors building that is NYCHA that has six apartments that are vacant. Why are they vacant?,” the senator said. “Because the roof is not working and it leaks into the apartment.” When confronted with such building damages, Alcántara said the first thing she does is snap a picture send it to NYCHA. “I say, ‘Look, you have six apartments empty. We have a homeless crisis in the city. We could house six different families in these apartments,’” she said.

In terms of funding NYCHA’s repairs, Alcántara suggested the possibility of renting out NYCHA-owned parking spaces and appeared somewhat open to new development on NYCHA land that includes some market-rate housing.

Jackson expressed more clear and full opposition to market-rate housing on NYCHA land, though he provided few ideas about how to bring in new revenue for NYCHA, mostly referencing the idea of winning more federal funding, though he acknowledged that is unlikely given current federal leadership.

While they did not articulate clear ideas for addressing NYCHA funding requirements, both candidates emphasized the need to include NYCHA residents in the conversations that may precipitate new programs.

“We need to get together with the residents of NYCHA and come up with a plan that works for everybody,” Alcántara said.

“I wanna hold hearings in order to get the input from the government officials and from advocates in the field and from the public,” Jackson said. “And, I’m open to considering everything. But, the end result should be where the residents are involved.”

Leon, who didn’t speak of specific policy details to resolve the NYCHA funding crisis, suggested that the funds were not being allocated properly. “We don’t have the funds and the state has the money,” he said.

None of the candidates mentioned raising taxes on high earners to fund the MTA, as Mayor Bill de Blasio has called for, or to add dedicated revenue for NYCHA.

Affordable Housing and Rezoning Inwood
All three candidates agreed that affordable housing is a major issue afflicting the 31st Senate District. The three additionally oppose the Inwood Neighborhood Rezoning, a plan of new neighborhood land use rules developed by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration and local City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, which was officially approved by the City Council earlier this month.

“To have the opportunity to get an apartment for rezoning, we need to have a very high salary,” Leon said of the plan. “More than 40,000 [dollars]. And our workers, they hardly make 20,000 a year.”

“I remember when my neighborhood [West Harlem] was rezoned in 2014,” Alcántara said, recalling “the number of people that have moved out of our neighborhood because of rezoning and what that means for real estate. So, seeing the Inwood rezoning is like playing the same movie again.”

The rezoning is aimed at allowing more housing to be built in the area, with certain affordability guidelines on some units, and will provide a variety of new city investments into the community.

The senator, who has been endorsed again by Rodriguez, criticized the city for not properly addressing infrastructure and labor issues. “What does that mean when you’re gonna have an additional 20,000 people taking the A and 1 train in Upper Manhattan without building any additional space?” she said. “There’s no labor agreement, so we are seeing the number of construction workers that have died in the city over 30, most of them immigrants from Latin America, and I am afraid that if we’re gonna start construction on Inwood, how come we didn’t address any of the labor issues?”

Jobs should go to people within the community, the community must have access to all of the new services, and small businesses need the opportunity to move into any new real estate space, Alcántara said.

Jackson’s opposition to the plan stems from the notion that rezoning Inwood will expel those already living within the neighborhood due to higher costs of living. “It’s gonna have a negative impact on the people that lived there and it’s gonna accelerate gentrification,” said Jackson. “It should’ve been voted down, but, in fact, it’s moving forward. And people are looking at what the options [are].”

The IDC Debate
The debate over Alcántara’s membership in the IDC – the conference of eight breakaway Democrats that caucused with Republicans in the state Senate, and was dissolved in April whereby its members joined the mainline Democratic conference – is a well-worn one, especially as all the former IDC members continue to defend their defection as they face-off against challengers of their own this primary season. In her own defense, Alcántara argued that a unified Democratic minority conference in the Senate still brought no progress on key Democratic legislation, that joining the IDC did not sway her voting record away from progressivism, and that she has accomplished a lot for her district.

“I believe my record speaks for itself,” the senator said. “I brought in a record of investment in our community. That’s why I have been endorsed by the teachers union, because of the work that I have done in education.” She cited three teacher centers built within the district and funding she allocated for a CUNY campus.

When asked if she justified her IDC membership by the potential to obtain greater resources for her district, Alcántara offered a different rationale. “When I ran for office [in 2016], I reached out to all the Democratic establishment in the city of New York...No one from the entire establishment supported or were interested in bringing some label of diversity to the state Senate. I had a prior relationship with Diane Savino [a co-founder of the IDC], who came out of the labor movement like I did, and thus how I came in contact and thus how I joined the IDC.”

The IDC was well-established and growing when Alcántara joined after taking office in early 2017, after he narrow 2016 primary was funded by more than $500,000 through IDC accounts.

Jackson, whose campaign is centered on Alcántara’s IDC membership and what he calls betrayal of her constituents, countered that the 2016 election “was an open seat. The establishment really does not support an open seat.”

Alcántara said that despite major donations from real estate and charter school and education reform interests, her votes in Albany still aligned with her own moral compass as a long-time progressive.

“For example, I voted for charter schools to be cut. I have voted for transparency in the way charter schools operate,” Alcántara said, responding to a question of how she reconciles her involvement with IDC and those sources of money that she says she is opposed to. “Just because they gave money, it has not stopped my vote or how I feel and what I think is the best for students of my district.”

Still, Jackson distinguishes himself from Alcántara based on her alliance with Republicans on the Senate floor. “I will always be a Democrat, a true blue Democrat, and never swim across the river in order to sleep with the Republicans,” he said.

Watch the full debate:

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by Chelsey Sanchez, Gotham Gazette
@chelseynsanchez  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

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Manhattan Senate Debate Offers Another Round of IDC Argument, Few Ideas to Fix NYCHA or the MTA Sun, 26 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Rematch of Tight Manhattan Senate Primary Takes Shape in Different Political Environment http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7856-manhattan-rematch-of-tight-primary-takes-shape-in-different-political-environment http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7856-manhattan-rematch-of-tight-primary-takes-shape-in-different-political-environment marisol alcantara reelect

Sen. Alcántara, middle (photo: @NY31Alcantara)


Both are Democrats with a steady history of politics and activism in New York. Both graduated from in-state universities and began their careers by working with labor unions. Both are people of color and have participated in the political arena while being the only one of their demographic in the room. On virtually every policy issue, they agree, yet the two -- Marisol Alcántara and Robert Jackson -- are engaged in a nasty political race that will be decided on primary election day, September 13.

Alcántara is the first-term state senator of District 31, a western sliver of Manhattan that covers parts of Midtown West and the Upper West Side before widening into neighborhoods like Washington Heights and Inwood. She’s currently the only Latina elected to the New York State Senate, the 63-seat upper house of the state Legislature where the Republican conference recently held a one-seat majority, bolstered for the last seven years by the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway faction of elected Democrats that Alcántara joined after her election two years ago. The IDC, which folded in April of this year under immense pressure to rejoin the larger mainline Democratic conference, invested heavily in Alcántara’s first campaign, providing her with hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding as she narrowly won a four-way primary guaranteeing her ascension to the Senate given the district’s overwhelming Democratic enrollment.

Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, himself seeking a third term this year and facing a tough primary challenge from Cynthia Nixon, brokered the IDC reunification deal just after this year’s state budget was decided, attempting to undercut a central line of criticism he’s received: that he supported the existence of the IDC to help bolster Republican control of the Senate and govern more from the center than the left.

The deal made Senator Jeff Klein, leader of the IDC, deputy leader of the Democratic conference, behind Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who could become the first woman of color to lead the Senate majority if Democrats take control of the chamber through this year’s elections. Despite these efforts to sew the intra-party split shut, all eight former IDC members face spirited primary challenges, with Alcántara widely seen as the most vulnerable to defeat given her limited tenure, the closeness of her 2016 victory, the increase in IDC awareness and anti-IDC activism, Jackson’s history in the district, the one-on-one nature of the race, and other factors.

Jackson – a former Community School Board President in the 1990s and the only Muslim City Council Member during his 12-year tenure – is running for the seat for the third straight eletion, having lost to former senator, now U.S. Representative Adriano Espaillat in 2014 and Alcántara is 2016 (he also ran unsuccessfully for Manhattan borough president in 2013 as he was term-limited out of the Council). While last time around Jackson warned of Alcántara’s ties to the IDC, this time he is using her membership in the conference against her as he tries to unseat her, while she touts bills she has been able to pass and funding for the district she has been able to secure as the results of that IDC membership.

“I’m helping to flip a seat,” Jackson said on a recent episode of Max & Murphy on WBAI radio, during which both candidates separately appeared, responding to a question of whether or not Democrats should focus their attention on flipping Republican seats rather than challenging incumbent Democrats, “where you basically have a Trump Democrat, a turncoat Democrat, a rogue Democrat, representing the district.”

Alcántara, on the other hand, refuted the idea that joining the IDC – which has been criticized for helping to block the passage of key progressive legislation like the DREAM Act and the Reproductive Health Act, both issues that she says she supports in her reelection campaign – affected her decision-making in Albany. “I have never taken a vote in the Senate that has been against my principles, as a trade unionist or as an immigrant, as a Latina,” she told Max & Murphy. “So, I’m very proud of my record.”

The 2016 Election
When Espaillat left the New York State Senate in 2016 to join Congress, Alcántara made her bid for the newly empty Senate District 31 seat, as did Jackson and fellow Democrats Micah Lasher and Luis Tejada. Alcántara won the primary, with 8,309 votes, and Lasher and Jackson trailed closely behind, at 7,737 and 7,616, respectively. Tejada received 1,253 votes. Lasher is not running this year and has instead thrown his support behind Jackson. Tejada is not running either.

While she was overlooked for support by most Democratic officials and clubs, labor unions, and others, Alcántara found support from the IDC, receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars and political support from the group, which was looking to grow its ranks. She reportedly did not publicly commit herself to the breakaway coalition during the campaign, but, on the night of her victory, Alcántara’s spokesperson announced that she would be joining its ranks in Albany.

It is Alcántara’s IDC membership that is the core of Jackson’s challenge.

“If you truly believe you’re a Democrat, then stand with the Democrats,” Jackson said on Max & Murphy. “Micah Lasher and I took a pledge, we raised our right hand two years ago and said we will always be Democrats fighting for the people of our district, not selling them down the river.”

Alcántara defended the dissolved coalition, arguing that the IDC’s existence did not change the fact that Democrats would still not have held a majority in the Senate, but also that her values and the policies she stood for were not put in peril by her membership. “Marriage equality was done with a coalition government. Raise the Age was done with a coalition government. Paid family leave was done with a coalition government. A lot of free college tuition was done with a coalition government, also,” she said of policies that have been passed through a Republican-IDC led state Senate over the past several years.

Policy
Both candidates espouse similar policy issues as the pillars for their senatorial campaigns. If reelected, Alcántara has a Ten Point Action Plan that deals with issues ranging from immigrant protections to gun control. Likewise, Jackson’s platform, according to his campaign website, devotes attention to nine separate issues, spanning his views on topics like education and the environment. The candidates’ policy positions show a lot of overlap, and they cite similar legislation they want to see passed through Albany next year, though they do prioritize some different bills.

At the top of Alcántara’s agenda is the issue of immigrant rights, namely the Dream Act, a bill she co-sponsors that would allow undocumented immigrants and their children access to state financial aid for college, as well as a farmworkers’ rights bill; meanwhile, Jackson’s campaign has been less outspoken on immigrant rights and his campaign website makes no mention of the Dream Act, which has not passed the Senate along with many other top Democratic priorities, a fact Jackson linked to his opponent and the IDC, while Alcántara blamed a Republican Senate majority.

“When you look at what has occurred in the tenure since the IDC, Marisol Alcántara included as one of those, nothing has been passed as far as legislation that benefits the people I represent,” Jackson said on Max & Murphy. Along with the Dream Act, Jackson mentioned bills dealing with rent control, health care, and women’s reproductive rights, all of which are listed in both Alcántara’s and Jackson’s platforms. He’s consistently had education funding at the top of his agenda over decades and believes that New York City schools are owed billions more from the state as a result of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit.

Alcántara highlights her own accomplishments, especially related to Latinas. During her two year tenure in the state Senate, Alcántara says she has secured over $7 million in state funding to her district, using these resources to develop community-based organizations such as Upper Manhattan’s first LGBTQ Youth Homeless Center and the establishment of the Immigrant Defense Fund, which provides free legal services to documented and undocumented immigrants. She has also invested $500,000 into implementing a pilot program that works to reduce class sizes for English language learning students -- “Such as myself,” Alcántara, who moved to the United States at age 12 from the Dominican Republic, added on Max & Murphy -- and has worked to address issues on the Senate floor that have traditionally not been spotlighted.

“I addressed issues in the Senate in terms of issues with Latina suicide that had never been addressed before,” the senator said. “My bill, which talks about why there’s such a high number of African-American women and women of African descent that died after childbirth, that was never addressed before in the Senate.”

Jackson has said that Alcántara only focuses on the northern part of the district, where she got the bulk of her votes in 2016 and which is heavily Latino. She has staked some of her argument for reelection on the fact that she is the only Latina in the Senate, while Jackson dismissed any concern with unseating her and removing a woman and the lone Latina senator from office, saying that demographic qualities don’t supercede making the right, or wrong, choices while in office.

Still, the two agree on much policy -- the senator and her challenger have both announced their support for two key pieces of legislation in regards to reproductive rights, the Comprehensive Contraceptive Coverage Act and the Reproductive Health Act, which would, respectively, mandate insurance coverage for contraceptive options and uphold a woman’s right to choose contraception or an abortion. Both Alcántara and Jackson support the passage of the New York Health Act, another bill that Alcántara co-sponsors, which would establish universal health coverage to New Yorkers statewide.

Affordable housing and voting reform are other key issues across this year’s races, including in the Alcántara-Jackson contest. For the former, both candidates have campaigned on the promise to repeal vacancy decontrol and set an end to vacancy bonuses. For the latter, both support the establishment of early voting, no-excuse absentee ballots, and same day voter registration. Additionally, Alcántara and Jackson support the establishment of a public campaign financing program and closure of the Limited Liability Companies loophole, which allows entities to donate virtually limitless sums to candidates by using various LLCs.

Campaign Finance Picture
Alcántara and her former IDC mates find themselves in controversy given that a state Supreme Court ruled as illegal a campaign financing deal struck between the IDC and the Independence Party – which allowed the IDC and Senator Klein as its leader to raise its own funds despite not being a political party and to funnel unlimited amounts to its candidates. Critics and constituents alike have called for Alcántara and other former IDC members to return the money raised through the account, but thus far it appears that the parties involved met the only court-mandated requirement involving details of how the account is registered. Former IDC members have said they have no intention of returning the money, though the State Board of Elections Enforcement Counsel, Risa Sugarman, has said they should. The issue has become a major point of attack from Jackson and other IDC challengers.

In response to a caller’s question as to why she has not returned the money she received through the account, Alcántara said, “The money that we spent in 2016 was spent. My attorneys have not received any letters stating that I have to give money back. I will do whatever the court says I have to do.”

January to July, Alcántara raised $116,000 for her reelection campaign, falling short of her $130,000 expenditures it that time, according to July campaign finance filings. Additionally, she received about $66,000 from the IDC committee in question, and had about $132,000 cash on hand at the filing.

Jackson has claimed 8,800 campaign donations, with an average contribution of $31, according to his campaign office, which pointed out that Alcántara had received only 503 donations. Jackson raised a little more than $156,00 in the most recent six-month filing period, and had raised a total of $284,490 for this race as of mid-July. At that filing, he had about $158,000 on hand to spend.

Endorsements
A string of city and state figures have endorsed Jackson to be the next State Senator of the 31st District. These figures include the New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, former Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messinger, gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon, and various others. Organizations such as the Working Families Party, No IDC NY and Tenants PAC have also thrown their support behind Jackson. Additionally, while Jackson holds the endorsements of 15 Democratic clubs within the district – all of District 31’s Democratic clubs save for the Northern Manhattan Democrats for Change – Alcántara lacks the endorsement of any of the district’s clubs, according to the Jackson campaign and a review of Alcántara’s endorsement list.

Alcántara, meanwhile, currently holds the endorsement of Senate Minority Leader Stewart-Cousins, City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, Senators Roxanne Persaud and Velmanette Montgomery, as well as of a wide variety of labor unions, such as the Uniformed Firefighters Association, the Transport Workers Union Local 100, the New York State Nurses Association and Uniformed EMTs. She also has the tacit support of Gov. Cuomo, who said when announcing the Democratic Senate unity deal that the parties involved would not support primaries against any of the others involved.

In a telling sign of which way the wind is blowing, however, Espaillat -- who strongly backed Alcántara as his successor in 2016 -- says he’s not taking a side. “I’m staying neutral,” he told Gotham Gazette on Wednesday, when asked if he’s backing Alcántara again this year. “I decided not to get involved, I spoke to her, I spoke to Robert - and let the community decide.”

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by Chelsey Sanchez, Gotham Gazette
@chelseynsanchez  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

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Rematch of Tight Manhattan Senate Primary Takes Shape in Different Political Environment Thu, 09 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Manhattan State Senate Rematch Centered on Breakaway Democrats http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7836-max-murphy-podcast-manhattan-state-senate-rematch-centered-on-breakaway-democrats http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7836-max-murphy-podcast-manhattan-state-senate-rematch-centered-on-breakaway-democrats mxm logo

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


August 1, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: The Epicenter of the Fight Over the IDC, with guests State Senator Marisol Alcántara and challenger Robert Jackson

marisol alcantara robert jackson stateMarisol Alcántara won a close, competitive four-way Democratic primary in 2016 to take her seat in the state Senate, and promptly joined the controversial Independent Democratic Conference (the rogue Democrats who formed a coalition with the majority Senate Republicans), which had supported her in her narrow primary victory, including with hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding. Alcántara says she did not keep Democrats from the Senate majority and that she has accomplished a great deal in her first term.

But Robert Jackson, who narrowly lost to Alcántara in 2016, is challenging her, and this time it's head to head and amid a major backlash against the IDC members, who returned to the mainline Democratic conference in April, in an apparent effort to quell primary challenges that have continued.

Alcántara then Jackson joined Max & Murphy for this week's podcast, originally aired on WBAI radio, where each also took listener calls. The podcast includes the full Max & Murphy hour on WBAI, including the two interviews, listener calls, and other discussion. Alcántara is on starting about five minutes in and Jackson is on starting at about 30 minutes into the hour.

Listen to the full 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 the show on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Manhattan State Senate Rematch Centered on Breakaway Democrats Thu, 02 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Senate Candidates Outline Primary Campaigns Against ‘Trump Democrats’ http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7504-senate-candidates-outline-primary-campaigns-against-trump-democrats http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7504-senate-candidates-outline-primary-campaigns-against-trump-democrats jackson ramos presser

Jessica Ramos and Robert Jackson


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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by Matthew Sweeney, Gotham Gazette

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Ben Max contributed to this article.

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

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


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

ramos jackson podcast 277

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

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

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

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Running Without Establishment Support, IDC Challengers Show Initial Fundraising Strides Wed, 24 Jan 2018 05:00:00 +0000
The IDC Leaves Tenants Out in the Cold http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7366-the-idc-leaves-tenants-out-in-the-cold http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7366-the-idc-leaves-tenants-out-in-the-cold idc unions presser crop2

IDC members (photo: @IDC4NY)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The IDC Leaves Tenants Out in the Cold Tue, 12 Dec 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Leveling the Playing Field for Minority- & Women-Owned Businesses http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7005-leveling-the-playing-field-for-minority-and-women-owned-businesses http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7005-leveling-the-playing-field-for-minority-and-women-owned-businesses Marisol Alcantara and BdB

Sen. Alcantara, the author, & Mayor de Blasio (NY State Senate Photography)


In April, New York City certified its 5,000th Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprise (M/WBE). Its proud owner is Miguel Cabrera, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic who came to the U.S. in 2009 and owns a transportation business.

When I met Miguel earlier this month in Albany, we talked about immigrant life in the United States. He told me that he became City-certified so that he could reinvest in his local community in the Bronx.

He embodies the spirit of New York City. It is a place that empowers people from different backgrounds to display their entrepreneurial spirit and turn their American Dream into a reality.

There are countless business owners like Miguel who need the support of the City to overcome historical barriers to accessible capital and contracting opportunities. In order to address the impact that discrimination has had on the marketplace for City contracts, Mayor de Blasio has made an aggressive commitment to help foster success among the city’s M/WBEs, including establishing a goal of certifying 9,000 firms by 2019; awarding $16 billion in contracts to M/WBEs by 2025; awarding 30 percent of the value of City contracts to M/WBEs by 2021; and creating loan programs such as the Contract Financing Loan Fund, which give M/WBEs access to loans of up to $500,000 at a low 3 percent interest.

This renewed focus on M/WBEs has led to slight but significant increases in the number of M/WBEs that do business with the City. In Fiscal Year 2015, the City had an 8 percent rate of M/WBE participation among firms that did business with the City. That number rose to 14 percent in FY 2016 and then 19 percent in the first two quarters of FY 2017.

To continue seeing progress, the State must step up and give the City additional tools to address the historic effects of discrimination in the marketplace and spur growth among M/WBEs, which make up more than 50 percent of New York City businesses.

A bill I introduced earlier this month, S.6513, would do just that.

Currently, City agencies have discretionary spending authority that allows them to spend $20,000 to $35,000 without a formal competitive process. The State’s threshold, however, is up to $200,000 and it’s time we allow the City similar flexibility, a move the de Blasio administration fully supports.

I often hear from constituents that the time associated with a formal competition can discourage M/WBEs, which are mostly small businesses, from going through a lengthy procurement process for projects that are small and offer only a slight profit margin. The loss of time and resources M/WBEs shoulder during the competitive process can hinder their growth. This is compounded by the fact that this is a subset of small businesses that have historically been at a competitive disadvantage. To address this problem, my bill will significantly raise the City’s threshold for discretionary spending to be more in line with the State’s.

This provision would help the City make swifter progress in addressing the historical and current impact of discrimination, and would help M/WBEs build capacity and the experience needed to successfully bid and perform on City projects.

To my colleagues in the Senate: small businesses are the backbone of any successful economy. They hire locally and reinvest in their communities. All of our local communities and businesses should have the opportunity to flourish. Please join me in giving the City and its M/WBEs these much needed tools.

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Marisol Alcantara is a state Senator whose district includes Washington Heights, Inwood, and the Upper West Side. On Twitter @NY31Alcantara.

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

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Leveling the Playing Field for Minority- & Women-Owned Businesses Sun, 18 Jun 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Anger, Protests & Potential Bellwether in Democratic Senate Primary Already Underway http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6966-anger-protests-potential-bellwether-in-democratic-senate-primary-already-underway http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6966-anger-protests-potential-bellwether-in-democratic-senate-primary-already-underway protest alcantara IDC

(photos: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)


“No fake Democrats! Take the New York Senate back!,” yelled the crowd of protestors huddled on the sidewalk outside 5030 Broadway in Inwood, near the northern tip of Manhattan. The demonstrators -- a cohort of about three dozen older New Yorkers, millennials, and one as young as 10 years old -- were one of a number of groups that had gathered at locations across the city on a recent Wednesday to protest at the offices of Democratic state Senators who the protesters believe have betrayed them. These senators are members of a breakaway faction called the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), which leverages its numbers to help Republicans control the legislative chamber, at odds with the Democratically-controlled Assembly.

The protest at 5030 Broadway, organized by True Blue NY, a four-month-old grassroots group, took aim at Sen. Marisol Alcántara of District 31, who was elected last year and joined the now eight-member IDC. Alcántara’s election has coincided with a groundswell awareness of state politics -- owing largely to the election of Donald Trump as president, a wake-up call to many Democrats -- and a growing movement by grassroots groups to make the bicameral New York Legislature entirely Democratic. Activists’ patience with the IDC has vanished, and with it much tolerance for the breakaway Democrats from other Democratic elected officials.

protest IDC senateAlcántara’s membership in the IDC is anathema to those hoping that New York Democrats can stand up to Trump administration policies, many of which Democrats believe will do significant harm to the state’s most vulnerable people. Democrats at the national, state and local level have increasingly come to call for IDC members to make their way back into the fold and caucus with the 23 mainline Democrats, as well as one other nominal Democrat, Senator Simcha Felder, who conferences with Republicans. After the recent election of Democrat Brian Benjamin to the state Senate, Democrats have 32 members, including Felder and the IDC, to 31 Republicans. But, they remain in the minority.

Many leaders in the Democratic National Committee, the state Legislature, local county committees, and elsewhere have weighed in, urging the wayward Democrats to make their way back home. (Democrats like Governor Andrew Cuomo and Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand have largely stayed out of the discussion, however. Gillibrand recently indicated her disapproval of the IDC and called for Democratic unity.)

Alcántara’s opponents have declared their ultimatum to the senator: either join mainline Democrats or be replaced by someone who will. And those opponents see a clear path to deposing her in next year’s election by supporting former City Council Member Robert Jackson, who has already declared that he is challenging Alcántara though the primary is 16 months away.

Jackson, a three-term Democratic Council member who left office in 2013, also ran for Senate District 31 last year, losing to Alcántara by a margin of just 533 votes in a four-way Democratic primary (He ran in 2014 as well but lost to Adriano Espaillat, who is now a member of the U.S. House of Representatives). Jackson was a close third, after Micah Lasher, who was just 294 votes behind Alcántara but has thrown his weight behind Jackson’s campaign this time around.

Jackson is confident that the numbers are in his favor. “The race is pretty simplistic,” he said in a phone interview, citing last year’s vote totals and touting the recent endorsement he received from Lasher, which he believes will be more than enough to put him past Alcántara in a 2018 primary. “Then you take into factor, after Trump’s election as president, all of the various groups that have basically risen up from the dirt as beautiful flowers,” he said, referring to grassroots organizations that have sprung up to protest the IDC, groups that can mobilize support for his campaign. “There are many groups that are basically now standing up and fighting the system that basically they feel is not in their best interest.”

Democrats who backed Alcántara and other IDC members now find themselves in an awkward position of explaining their support while also calling for a unified Democratic conference. Public Advocate Letitia James endorsed Alcántara in last year’s race, but recently wrote in an editorial for City & State that “it’s time for Albany’s Democrats – mainline and Independent Democratic Conference – to come together. This is the only real way we will move forward on so many critical issues like reproductive choice, health care, education funding and the DREAM Act.”

Gotham Gazette sought comment from James’ office on whether she would support Alcántara next year, but a spokesperson did not respond.

Jackson cited the same policy issues, challenging Alcántara’s assertions, and those of her colleagues and supporters, that the IDC allows its members a place at the negotiating table and the ability to deliver resources to their communities. Instead, Jackson said, the IDC is simply “eating crumbs off the Republican plate,” while holding up the larger progressive Democratic agenda.

But Alcántara’s victory resonated with residents of her district who are glad to see a Latina representative in the overwhelmingly white and male Senate. Some of those residents and local Democratic party functionaries showed up at the protest outside Alcántara’s office to stand up for her and drown out the voices of her critics. “Marisol! Latino power!,” they yelled in unison, inching forward and eventually circling the members of True Blue NY to, peacefully, drive them away. True Blue NY members slowly trickled away as police officers stepped in with barricades to cordon off the two groups and clear the sidewalk.

“The IDC exists because of lack of leadership from the Democrats themselves,” said Alcántara supporter Manny De Los Santos, a state committee member and president of the Northern Manhattan Democrats for Change, at the protest. “At the end of the day, we need leaders that can not only represent the district where they live but also bring resources to this community, and Marisol has done just that. We had a senator who spent a lifetime in the Senate and wasn’t able to deliver resources to the community. As a rookie state senator, she has done that.” De Los Santos said Alcántara is a “pure Democrat” and vowed to fight back against those questioning her credentials. Alcántara has a history in labor unions and clearly progressive politics, which made her joining the IDC so shocking to some. The IDC pumped thousands of dollars into her primary, however, as she aligned with the breakaway faction.

The fight is likely to be a long, drawn out battle -- both in the 31st Senate District and elsewhere -- as groups like True Blue NY and No IDC are vowing a sustained campaign of opposition to the entire IDC. Just recently, the Manhattan County Democratic Committee, headed by Chair Keith Wright, a former Assembly member, passed a resolution vowing not to support members of the IDC in next year’s elections, and the prominent progressive Working Families Party (WFP) rallied against the IDC once the Democrats gained the numerical majority.

“Here in this very supposedly blue state, we have a state Senate controlled by the Republicans and propped up and enabled...by these eight Democrats,” said Bill Lipton, New York State Director of the WFP, in a May 25 NY1 interview, “these IDC independent Democrats whose voters elected them under the auspices that they were going to stand up and caucus with the Democrats. So people are extremely frustrated, they’ve become woke to this idea that these folks are not doing what they’re supposed to and we’ve just seen an outpouring of support.”

The WFP, with its considerable resources and strong grassroots following, could play a strong role in swaying voters away from reelecting IDC members. At the same time, the IDC will also be able to wield its own campaign finance machinery, which they employed in Alcantara’s favor last year, spending nearly $100,000 dollars in advertising and other support.

As it stands, Alcántara seems the most vulnerable of the lot. “People are really surprised to learn about [the IDC] and dismayed and that’s why all these people are out here,” said Lisa DellAquila, a co-leader of True Blue NY, at the Wednesday protest. DellAquila said the group had signed up hundreds of people in the last three months alone and held a recent summit attended by representatives of about 50 community groups, nonprofits and advocacy organizations. “We’re gonna have a big push to primary all the members of the IDC and Simcha Felder,” she said, insisting that the IDC dynamic, propping up Senate Republicans, is increasingly becoming untenable. “[IDC Leader] Jeff Klein is severely wounded right now,” she said. “I think he needs to come back to the Democrats and bring the IDC with him. Let’s unify and pass progressive legislation in New York.”

Alcántara was not made available to comment for this article. Instead, IDC spokesperson Candice Giove pushed back against the criticism, both of the senator and of the IDC at large. "Senator Alcántara was humbled to see so many Latina women come out to support her in the face of protesters from outside of the district attempting to distort her record, which includes securing $10 million in legal aid for immigrants in the face of bad policy coming from Washington,” said Giove, in a statement.

That pushback, along with Alcantara’s statements on the Senate floor in response to criticism of the IDC, have invited accusations of race-baiting by critics. Jackson reiterated that line in the phone interview. “They’re playing the race card,” said Jackson, who is black. “All of those people out there [protesting] are from the community...they live in the district.”

Giove also addressed the growing calls for Democratic unity, insisting that, "Thirty-two is not a magic number unless there are 32 Democrats who are ready to stand up and unite on policies that combat Donald Trump.”

“Until we achieve unity and stand up for women, immigrants, and the most vulnerable New Yorkers, all talk about a majority is nothing more than meaningless rhetoric on the part of failed leadership,” she said in the statement. “The Independent Democratic Conference has made its positions and its values clear. We are asking every other Senator to do the same. It's time to call the roll.” Giove’s comments are in reference to the fact that Felder continues to conference with Republicans and that at least one mainline Democratic senator, Ruben Diaz Sr., is not supportive of a variety of socially progressive measures.

Jackson, however, sees it another way. If nine people in a room are holding up a ceiling, he said, and eight of them walk away, “What happens to that ceiling?” If the eight-member IDC abandons the Republicans, he’s confident the ninth holdout, Simcha Felder, will too. Otherwise, he thinks they will all see a backlash at the polls.

“This is a movement that Jeff Klein and the IDC cannot stop,” he said.

***
by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note - This post has been updated to include a reference to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's recent comments on the IDC.   

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Anger, Protests & Potential Bellwether in Democratic Senate Primary Already Underway Thu, 01 Jun 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Adjusting to Albany: Meet NYC’s New Class of State Legislators http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6818-adjusting-to-albany-meet-nyc-s-new-class-of-state-legislators http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6818-adjusting-to-albany-meet-nyc-s-new-class-of-state-legislators nyscapitolbuilding2

photo via @NYSCapitolTours


While the ethics trainings and orientation for new state legislators may have evolved over the years, one thing has remained constant: the daunting task of navigating the Capitol’s maze-like corridors during one’s first weeks of work in Albany.

Orientation provides some roadmap to Albany’s byzantine legislative processes, including workshops in drafting bills, organizing a press conference, and conducting research, and legislative staffers are provided for support, but it can take a few weeks, if not months, for newly minted politicians to fully acclimate to life as a state lawmaker.

In fact, much of the training happens on the job, according Assemblymember Tom McKevitt, who oversees the trainings for incoming Assembly members in the chamber’s Republican minority.

“For many people they are coming to a different part of the state, they are leaving their families, leaving their hometowns, to come to a very different place,” said McKevitt, who represents part of Long Island, and has served in the Assembly for just over a decade. “New York State government is a massive operation. It really is. So we try to give them as much knowledge as possible and give them as much resources as possible to get them as productive a start to their legislative careers.”

All new legislators in the Senate and the Assembly receive mandated training when they begin their legislative careers in Albany. In addition, each party conference provides training, as McKevitt indicated for the Assembly minority.

NEW LEGISLATORS

* AM Yuh-Line Niou
* Sen. Jamaal Bailey
* AM Robert Carroll
* AM Carmen De La Rosa
* AM Brian Barnwell
* AM Tremaine Wright
* AM Stacey Pheffer Amato
* Sen. Marisol Alcantara
* AM Clyde Vanel
* AM Inez Dickens

This year, there are 10 new state lawmakers from New York City, joining the 150-seat Assembly, which is dominated by Democrats, and the 63-seat Senate, which is narrowly controlled by Republicans. All of the new reps from the city are Democrats -- there are only a handful of New York City Republicans in the Legislature altogether, mostly from Staten Island.

Gotham Gazette began interviewing each of those 10 new members in February to gauge how they are adjusting to life in the state Legislature, which is notoriously dysfunctional and insulated, and has seen its share of corruption scandals in recent years.

While the first weeks of the legislative calendar leading up to one-house budgets in March are always fairly intense for new legislators, this year appears to have been more so. As with other state capitals and city halls around the country, the inauguration of President Donald Trump, followed by the unconventional president’s chaotic first two months in office, have cast a long shadow over governing in New York.

As the Trump administration rushes to follow through on campaign promises to scale back reproductive rights, repeal the Affordable Care Act, and ban immigrants from select countries, many legislators, especially Democrats, are feeling more uncertainty and a greater sense of urgency. Both come in part from their constituents -- New Yorkers who overwhelmingly voted for Hillary Clinton in November.

Several incoming lawmakers hailing from the five boroughs are facing challenging political climates in their districts and given local political dynamics. Yuh-Line Niou, now representing Lower Manhattan’s 65th Assembly District, must deliver for a constituency accustomed to receiving an exceptionally high level of resources given that the seat had been held for decades by (now convicted) former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

The 31st Senate District’s new representative, Marisol Alcantara, is a member of the Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), at a time when the breakaway group of Democrats that forms a coalition majority with Republicans is facing some significant backlash. Meanwhile, Senator Jamaal Bailey, of the 36th Senate District, is joining the mainline Senate Democratic Conference that is struggling in the minority.

To begin our series on new city-based state legislators, Gotham Gazette spoke with Niou, Bailey, and Brooklyn Assemblymember Robert Carroll. Read their interviews through the links below, and stay tuned for our interviews with the seven other new lawmakers from the five boroughs. 

yuh line niou2
Yuh-Line Niou

Assemblymember for the 65th District
Lower Manhattan
Elected 2016; took office 2017
Democrat & Working Families Party
“This is a constituency that literally had the most service and then almost no service for a period of time. It’s been a shock to the system.”
READ THE FULL INTERVIEW with Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou


jamaal bailey
Jamaal Bailey

State Senator for the 36th District
Parts of the Bronx and Mount Vernon
Elected 2016; took office 2017
Democrat & Working Families Party
“But a lot of the preparation, it just comes in real-time. Just seeing the bill and you have to vote on it.”
READ THE FULL INTERVIEW with Senator Jamaal Bailey


robert carroll 2
Robert Carroll

Assembly Member for 44th District
Brooklyn (Windsor Terrace, Kensington, Park Slope, Flatbush)
Elected 2016; took office 2017
Democrat & Working Families Party
“I think if you are going to be in politics, you have to understand that you’re not going to win every fight, and you have to be ready to stay in the arena.” 
READ THE FULL INTERVIEW with Assembly Member Robert Carroll


Carmen for assembly
Carmen De La Rosa

Assembly Member for 72nd District
Manhattan (Harlem, Inwood, Hamilton Heights, and Washington Heights)
Elected 2016; took office 2017
Democrat & Working Families Party
“It’s definitely a great place to be, coming from the City Council, it’s sort of government on a larger scale, so it’s a welcome challenge for me.”
READ THE FULL INTERVIEW with Assemblymember Carmen De La Rosa


Brian Bramwell
Brian Barnwell

Assembly member for the 30th District
Parts of Astoria, Long Island City, Maspeth, Middle Village, and Woodside
Elected 2016; took office 2017
Democrat
“The budget process was certainly long, but I don’t have a problem with that. In my opinion, it’s better to negotiate and negotiate and negotiate, instead of just doing the deal for the sake of doing a deal.”
READ THE FULL INTERVIEW with Assemblymember Brian Barnwell


Coming soon, interviews with:

  • Assemblymember Tremaine Wright
  • Assemblymember Stacey Pheffer Amato
  • Senator Marisol Alacantra
  • Assemblymember Clyde Vanel
  • Assemblymember Inez Dickens

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

Read more by this writer.

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Adjusting to Albany: Meet NYC’s New Class of State Legislators Sun, 19 Mar 2017 04:00:00 +0000