Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/2008 Wed, 18 Oct 2017 00:22:10 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Leveling the Playing Field for Minority- & Women-Owned Businesses http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7005:leveling-the-playing-field-for-minority-and-women-owned-businesses http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=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.

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

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

]]>
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/?id=6966:anger-protests-potential-bellwether-in-democratic-senate-primary-already-underway http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=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, City government 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.   

]]>
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/?id=6818:adjusting-to-albany-meet-nyc-s-new-class-of-state-legislators http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=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.

]]>
Adjusting to Albany: Meet NYC’s New Class of State Legislators Sun, 19 Mar 2017 04:00:00 +0000
IDC Housekeeping Account Raises Questions, May Not Be Challenged http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6538:idc-housekeeping-account-raises-questions-but-may-not-be-challenged http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6538:idc-housekeeping-account-raises-questions-but-may-not-be-challenged Klein at Cuomo event w Biden

IDC leader Sen. Jeff Klein (photo via The Governor's Office on Flickr)


As the Independent Democratic Conference of the State Senate prepares to cut a power-sharing deal, its hand has been bolstered by two new accounts, one of which has already paid dividends. The IDC, led by Senator Jeff Klein of the Bronx, has a new campaign committee that allows spending in races of interest and a party housekeeping account allows the IDC to raise unlimited cash to spend on party building, headquarters, and staffing expenses.

Currently five members including Klein, the conference, which has aligned with Republicans and may do so again after November’s elections, is set to add a sixth member. Thanks in part to the spending of its new campaign committee, the IDC bolstered the candidacy of Marisol Alcantara, who won a crowded September 13 primary to replace Senator Adriano Espaillat, who is headed to Congress. Alcantara has pledged to sit with the IDC when she takes office in January. Recent filings show the IDC spent over $97,000 on ads and other support for Alcantara.

While the New York political world has focused on Alcantara readying to join the IDC’s ranks and the spending of the new campaign committee, it is the party housekeeping account that could allow the IDC to establish itself as a more permanent fixture in state politics.

The rules governing housekeeping accounts have been criticized by a host of reform-minded politicians, good government groups, and even the defunct Moreland Commission on Public Corruption, set up and prematurely disbanded by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Housekeeping accounts tend to take in massive amounts of cash from limited liability corporations, or LLCs, allowing corporations and the wealthy outsize influence on the party apparatus. And, groups like Common Cause/NY have found that housekeeping accounts routinely violate restrictions that forbid them from spending on individual races.

Senator Klein himself has vowed that he wants to enact major reforms - he has called for banning outside income for legislators and instituting campaign finance reform. Klein has repeatedly touted that the IDC is the only conference to have signed on to “The Clean Conscience Pledge” pushed by good government groups that calls for closing the LLC loophole, limiting outside income, and making budget spending more transparent. The IDC has also repeatedly introduced “The Integrity in Elections Act” that establishes public financing of campaigns while limiting certain kinds of transfers between political committees and puts limits on independent expenditure campaigns.

Yet, the IDC has had a power-sharing agreement with Senate Republicans, who are steadfastly against campaign finance reform, closing the LLC loophole, and other reform measures. With the establishment of the campaign committee and housekeeping account, the IDC appears set to advance itself through the existing system.

Questions remain whether the creation of the committee and account are actually legal and those questions won’t likely be answered unless someone challenges them in court. Two parties that could do that - mainline Senate Democrats and Senate Republicans - don’t want to anger the IDC before it chooses who to caucus with and may not even want to anger the IDC afterwards, with future alliances in mind. Balance of power in the 63-seat state Senate is almost evenly split and there are a handful of swing districts around the state being decided upon in November. The IDC could provide a definitive bloc in chamber control.

Both the Senate Independent Campaign Committee and the housekeeping account were created in cooperation with the Independence Party, which has a limited electoral profile but does maintain a ballot line and its endorsement is sought after in many races. As of April 1, there were 475,566 New Yorkers registered to vote with the Independence Party, according to the state Board of Elections, many of whom have likely mistaken it for registering as an “independent,” or party-unaffiliated voter.

Campaign committees can take over $100,000 from single donors and distribute unlimited amounts to their candidates’ campaigns. This has allowed donors to skirt lower limits on direct contributions to candidate campaigns (and has landed Mayor Bill de Blasio and his associates under investigation from their 2014 efforts to swing the state Senate to Democrats).

“I really want to use this campaign committee as a vehicle for change,” Klein told Gotham Gazette during an interview in July, noting that he wanted to “elect new IDC members.” The IDC has positioned itself as a conference with appeal to the middle class and homeowners, backing a number of tax cuts and initiatives while also supporting charter schools. Short of Alcantara, its members are from more suburban communities. The IDC has also championed some progressive causes like paid family leave and tends to seize on headline-grabbing, hot-button issues, recently backing, for example, legislation designed to protect young Pokemon players from sex offenders.

Richard Fife, the campaign manager for Robert Jackson, who came in third place in the race to replace Espaillat, questioned the legality of the IDC’s spending on behalf of Alcantara. “We have these laws that we abide by and they found tricks,” Fife told The Daily News.

While the benefits of the IDC campaign committee is glaringly obvious, it has yet to be revealed what kind of role the housekeeping account will have.

According to state law, a party housekeeping account can be used for party building, paying staff, and promoting the party and its issues. It can’t spend on individual candidates or races.

However, one prominent New York election lawyer and a Democratic Party insider told Gotham Gazette they believe the IDC’s housekeeping account can’t spend to promote itself because the IDC is not actually a registered party -- its members all run on the Democratic ballot line.

The attorney also told Gotham Gazette that he believes the creation of the committee and the account could be easily challenged in court by anyone who takes issue with their creation. “No one has pushed back,” the lawyer said, “it will stand until someone challenges it in court.”

Both the lawyer and the Democrat, who requested anonymity to avoid getting personally involved in the complicated politics at play, framed the creation of the housekeeping account as being “creative” with the law. Klein has promised that he supports reforming the state’s campaign finance laws.

It will remain unclear for months what the housekeeping account is spending on because state law only requires housekeeping accounts to file their spending with the state Board of Elections in January and July. Gotham Gazette asked IDC spokesperson Candice Giove to disclose what the party has spent on and would be spending on, but she declined.

"The SICC housekeeping account will be used for housekeeping expenses in accordance with New York State election law,” said a spokesperson for the Senate Independence Campaign Committee.

Lawrence Mandelker, a lawyer representing the SICC, told Gotham Gazette that he felt legal concern with the creation of the committee is “Totally just noise-making,” and that he didn’t expect the committee and housekeeping account to be challenged in court. “Everything we did was totally researched, and complies with the letter of the law,” Mandelker said.

Pushed further for information on what the housekeeping account could be used for, Mandelker replied, “The Independence Party did this. We didn't create it, the Independence Party did it, you should talk to them.”

The only disclosed contributor to the SICC housekeeping account at this point is the IDC’s political action committee, The IDC Initiative, which gave two donations totaling $699,424 on August 16.

Independence Party Chair Frank MacKay did not respond to requests for comment.

Democratic Board of Elections Co-Chair Douglas Kellner told Gotham Gazette that although the BOE has yet to issue a formal opinion of the IDC’s use of a campaign committee and a housekeeping account, he personally sees nothing wrong with it. “If the Independence Party is saying it is their party, then I’m not aware how it would violate state statute.”

It is unlikely Democrats or Republicans will challenge the creation of the SICC and the SICC housekeeping account until after the IDC concludes its bi-annual negotiations and announces which conference it will empower. Even then, there may be no challenge.

Klein has spent this summer improving his negotiating position by electing Alcantara, spending at least $97,000 through the SICC on ads and polling in the process, according to the SICC’s 11-day pre-primary filing.

In aiding Alcantara, Klein has also cemented his alliance with Espaillat, who is himself building a powerful coalition and could prove a useful ally to the IDC in the future.

The SICC’s spending and addition of Alcantara may also go a ways toward quieting critics who have charged that the currently all-white conference has been effectively nullifying the votes of hundreds of thousands of diverse Democratic voters.

In the end, the housekeeping account may prove just as vital of a role but short of voluntary early disclosure by the IDC, voters won’t know until January.

A Common Cause/NY report from 2013, “Life of The Party,” detailed how housekeeping accounts have historically been used to benefit candidates, in direct conflict with state law. ""Non-campaign" soft money housekeeping expenditures regularly peak in the months prior to an election indicating that much of the spending is campaign related,” the report reads. “The election season spikes in housekeeping expenses are correlated to sharp increases in spending on advertising and mass-mailings, as well as hiring of political consultants.”

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
IDC Housekeeping Account Raises Questions, May Not Be Challenged Wed, 21 Sep 2016 04:00:00 +0000
In Race to Replace Espaillat, Ramifications for Senate Control, His Power, and More http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6492:in-race-to-replace-espaillat-ramifications-for-senate-control-his-power-and-more http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6492:in-race-to-replace-espaillat-ramifications-for-senate-control-his-power-and-more Espaillat Alcantara

Espaillat, center, & Alcantara, right of center (photo: @Espaillat4NY)


Marisol Alcantara, a labor organizer who ran a successful insurgent campaign for district leader in 2010, is seen by many in her Uptown district as a liberal firebrand. As Alcantara now pursues election to the New York State Senate, she is also fighting a proxy war for Senator Adriano Espaillat, who is about to be elected to Congress and Alcantara hopes to replace. The hotly contested Democratic primary for Espaillat’s Senate seat is becoming a test of his power and that of his top allies.

Alcantara’s candidacy is also backed by the Senate Independent Democratic Conference, or IDC, which she has pledged to join if elected, a scenario that may enable Senate Republicans to keep control of the chamber in a year when mainline Democrats believe they have the best chance to take power and see all major parts of state government run by the party.

In other words, the race to replace Espaillat, along with several Senate races around the state, could have significant implication for billions of dollars in state budget money and major policies of all kinds - these decisions are currently made among Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, the Democratic leader of the state Assembly, and the Republican leader of the state Senate, with some input from the IDC.

On Tuesday, Alcantara was endorsed by Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. who is an ally of IDC head Jeff Klein, senator from the Bronx, and of Cuomo, who has encouraged the IDC’s ruling coalition arrangement with Senate Republicans in the past.

“From organizing voter registration drives, to helping tenants facing eviction navigate city bureaucracy, to standing with workers on the picket line, to passionately advocating for education funding, Marisol Alcantara has spent her career fighting for the issues that New Yorkers care about,” Diaz Jr. said in a press release.

According to five sources involved in the race, Espaillat is flexing his new-found muscle after his Democratic primary win to replace retiring Rep. Charles Rangel in Congress. Espaillat, set to become the first Dominican-American elected to Congress during a formality of a November general election, has called in favors and is lobbying other electeds to back Alcantara. In the state Senate primary set for September 13, she is facing former City Council Member Robert Jackson; Micah Lasher, former chief of staff to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman; and Luis Tejada, a community activist.

The 31st Senate District runs from the Upper Manhattan neighborhoods of Inwood and Washington Heights, down the West Side to Hell’s Kitchen.

“This is a lady who stands on her own two feet,” Espaillat said of Alcantara last week as she received the endorsement of the Transit Workers Union Local 100. “I listen to her and I know that we will not always agree, because she is her own person, as she should be, because leadership is about that.”

Jackson, who has been running since February, is allied with Assembly Member Keith Wright, who Espaillat defeated in the Congressional primary. Jackson challenged Espaillat for his Senate seat two years ago, winning about 43 percent of the vote, when Espaillat was losing to Rangel for the second cycle in a row.

Lasher, who has been running since April, is a first-time candidate but is known as an expert political strategist and has deep political connections to many top city and state politicians, such as Schneiderman and city Comptroller Scott Stringer.

There is concern in Espaillat’s camp that a Jackson or Lasher victory could create a ready-made primary challenger for Espaillat two years from now, when it is assumed he’ll be seeking re-election to Congress. Neither Lasher’s nor Jackson’s campaign returned requests for comment.

In efforts to elect Alcantara, the candidate, Espaillat, and others also hope to tap into enthusiasm in the Dominican and larger Hispanic communities over Espaillat’s congressional victory. Meanwhile, Alcantara has received the financial backing of the IDC which is looking to expand its membership before negotiating a deal to control the Senate with either the Democrats or Republicans.

City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez switched his endorsement from Lasher to Alcantara when Alcantara declared her candidacy on July 20. It also appears Alcantara has picked up labor endorsements that were expected by Jackson and Lasher, one of which is that of Transit Workers Union Local 100.

Espaillat is featured heavily in Alcantara mailers that are funded by the IDC. Espaillat also recorded a robocall for Alcantara. “As an immigrant to our country just like me, Marisol Alcantara knows the importance of standing up for those without a voice,” Espaillat says on the call before asking voters to “make history” with him again by electing Alcantara. Alcantara immigrated from the Dominican Republic when she was a child.

While in the Senate, Espaillat has been a member of the mainline Democrat conference, not the IDC.

"Marisol is a longtime labor and community activist who's worked closely with elected officials, faith leaders, and non-profits across the district to fight for tenants, seniors, immigrants and working families,” said Jonathan Davis, a spokesperson for Alcantara, in a statement. “Voters know how hard she'll fight to strengthen tenant protection laws, increase education funding, pass the DREAM Act, fix New York's broken campaign finance system, and protect our environment and parks. It's no surprise she's built such a diverse and impressive coalition in a short amount of time, and she's only getting started."

Both Lasher and Jackson have criticized Alcantara for aligning herself with the IDC. Mainline Senate Democrats worry that Alcantara will simply serve to strengthen Klein’s hand when it comes time to negotiate a governing deal. They note that while some major liberal issues have passed the Senate under Republican and IDC control, like a minimum wage increase and paid family leave, other major issues like criminal justice reform, the DREAM Act and ethics reform have foundered.

Klein, in an interview with Gotham Gazette earlier this summer, said, “I worked extremely well this year with Senator John Flanagan and yes, this session we were able to work well with [Democratic Minority Leader] Andrea Stewart-Cousins -- it is a much better relationship, but I think the Republican Conference has been even better and a lot of credit has to go to the relationship with Senator Flanagan, again.”

Alcantara defended her alliance with the IDC in a statement released last week: “I witnessed an increase in the minimum wage twice, paid family leave, and Universal Pre-K for NYC–all possible because of the IDC’s influence. When I am elected I look forward to going to Albany to continue to push for progressive legislation critical to the people of the 31st district.” She added that she will remain an independent voice for “tenants and families” throughout her district, where rent regulation and affordable housing are top concerns.

Sources within Alcantara’s camp insist she will be a vocal proponent of liberal issues and likely clash with Senate Republicans regardless of which conference she sits with, while noting it is likely that the IDC will caucus with Democrats as Republicans are facing the potential negative impact a Trump candidacy may have on turnout.

Alcantara and her allies dismiss criticism from Lasher and Jackson and point to their histories as evidence that they have worked across party lines. Jackson voted in favor of extending term limits in 2008 when then Mayor Michael Bloomberg wanted to run for a third term. Lasher worked as a top state government lobbyist for Bloomberg and also served as executive director of pro-charter school group StudentsFirstNY, a group that has worked to defeat Democrats.

Jackson’s major endorsements include powerful unions the United Federation of Teachers and DC37, and former Mayor David Dinkins. Lasher is backed by Attorney General Schneiderman, Reps. Hakeem Jeffries and Jerry Nadler, Comptroller Stringer and State Sens. Jose Peralta and Jose Serrano.

A win by Alcantara wouldn’t just give the IDC more leverage during negotiations this fall, it would also add diversity to its ranks as the conference is currently made up of only white members, four men and one woman. They’ve come under heavy criticism for taking a seat at the negotiating table with Gov. Andrew Cuomo while mainline Senate Democrats - who are represented by Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a black woman, and represent the majority of city residents - are excluded.

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
In Race to Replace Espaillat, Ramifications for Senate Control, His Power, and More Tue, 23 Aug 2016 04:00:00 +0000