Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/2293 Fri, 15 Dec 2017 12:08:08 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Possible GOP Gubernatorial Candidates Weigh Chances to Unseat Cuomo http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7329:possible-gop-gubernatorial-candidates-weigh-chances-to-unseat-cuomo http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7329:possible-gop-gubernatorial-candidates-weigh-chances-to-unseat-cuomo gop governor candidates

L-R: Harry Wilson, John DeFrancisco, Marc Molinaro, Brian Kolb


The Republican pool of candidates exploring an attempt to unseat Governor Andrew Cuomo in the 2018 gubernatorial race appears to be shrinking. Now just four Republicans say they are exploring a run -- down from at least seven prior to this past Election Day -- with the potential candidates vowing to announce their decisions by Christmas.

Targeting the well-funded Democratic governor seeking his third term would typically be a bold but calculated bet. On one hand, Cuomo has significant vulnerabilities going into 2018, but the outcome of Election Day 2017, which many are interpreting as a “blue wave” of Democratic wins in reaction to the presidency of Donald Trump, may give some Republicans more pause.

A GOP gubernatorial win in New York, which has not happened since George Pataki won a third term in 2002, would require sizeable success in the New York City suburbs, but after voters handed GOP county executive seats in Westchester and Nassau to Democrats earlier this month, potential 2018 candidates must consider how the anti-Trump sentiment will play out next year.

"What looked to be a very deep pool suddenly got ankle-deep shallow, with the water still going down. That's what a mini-tsunami election will do to anyone rationally thinking of running against a political tide,” said William O’Reilly, a Republican strategist who runs the November Team. That wave seems to have both unseated and knocked from 2018 contention Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, an O’Reilly client who lost to Cuomo in the 2014 gubernatorial race.

Harry Wilson, a hedge fund manager from Westchester, is seen as a clear front-runner to become the GOP nominee next year, as he may be capable of coming closest to Cuomo’s immense fundraising capabilities and he performed well in his 2010 bid for state comptroller. The other three most-discussed potential GOP gubernatorial candidates are all current officeholders -- Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, and state Senator John DeFrancisco -- who would begin a race with a solid local base of support and some name recognition.

“I would hope that Senator DeFrancisco or County Executive Molinaro will make the leap,” said O’Reilly, “but in the end the 2018 Republican candidate for governor may have to come down to a recruitment effort.”

For his part, Cuomo is heading toward his reelection year facing criticism from the right and the left for New York City’s subway crisis. Among other issues, he is also maligned for high property taxes around the state, not to mention corruption trials about to begin involving his economic development initiatives, which involve some of his closest associates. Cuomo is not especially popular outside of New York City, where his favorability remains fairly high, and the second-term Democrat may very well face a tough primary of his own, as he did in 2014, given that many in the left flank of his party see him as too centrist.

The New York State Republican Party has calculated that ideally it should avoid a primary to have a shot at victory -- assuming Cuomo is in the running -- so the four potential candidates are now courting GOP leadership for the nod. All four men say they are on good terms with each other and each is taking his own path to testing the waters. Molinaro and Kolb have discussed running on a ticket together for governor and lieutenant governor, but both say that no such decision has been made (and it is not clear which would run for what).

Publically, the party leadership is shrugging off the losses from Election Day, pointing to other victories like that of Republican Steve McLaughlin, an Assembly member elected county executive of Rensselaer. State Republican Party Chair Ed Cox, on Fred Dicker’s Focus on Albany radio show, chalked up Astorino’s loss to “third term-itis,” the same challenge now facing Cuomo, whereby it is notoriously difficult to win third terms in politics.

Regarding the election of Democrat Laura Curran to the historically-Republican Nassau county executive seat, Cox pointed to a Democratic voter base energized by opposition to the constitutional convention ballot question. Former County Executive Ed Mangano’s indictment last year on federal corruption charges also tainted the Republican Party and turned many independents, who make up a large segment of Nassau’s electorate, against GOP contender Jack Martins, he said.

Wilson, who did well in his 2010 run for state comptroller, losing to Democrat Tom DiNapoli 49.7 percent to 47.2 percent and has had private sector success, may be willing to put in $10 million or more of his own money. Molinaro, Kolb, and DeFrancisco would each be able to kick off fundraising from their local supporters.

With a governor that has $25 million and counting in the bank, and was recently in California courting major donors, Republican candidates might want to get an early start in fundraising, but that would require more commitment to exploring or declaring a run (on the Democratic side, for example, former state Senator Terry Gibson, considering a primary challenge to Cuomo, recently opened a campaign account so he could start raising money).

Prior to his run for comptroller, Wilson flexed his business acumen and negotiating chops when he helped President Barack Obama execute the auto industry bailout early in Obama’s first term. One “prominent Republican county chairman” told The Daily News that “If Harry Wilson says he wants to be the nominee, he’ll be the nominee.” Wilson’s bipartisanship could prove helpful in a general election against Cuomo, as could his New York City-focused criticisms of the governor.

On Dicker’s show, on November 15, Wilson suggested that his current priority is raising his four daughters, two of whom are teenagers, and said he would decide over the holidays whether the timing was right for his family.

“In four years from now two of our girls will be out of the house. In eight years from now, all our girls will be out of the house and I’ll still be a young man,” said Wilson, referring to the possibility of holding off this year and running in the future. “It’s a question of that tradeoff of where I can be most useful, most effective, and balancing my commitment to my family and helping others.”

Meanwhile, Molinaro, a suburban county executive who felt the Nassau and Westchester losses close to home, said in an interview with Gotham Gazette that those outcomes would likely factor into his own decision-making.

“What occurred certainly in the suburbs of New York City in 2017 should weigh on us,” said Molinaro. “I think what happened [on Election Day] is the result of an energized [Democratic] base, which is upset with the national politics -- no question -- and organized opposition to the constitutional convention question; those two things combined, with a few other local variables.”

Molinaro, who has been a vocal critic of Cuomo on social media and elsewhere, is especially critical of the administration’s failure to accompany the state’s property tax cap with adequate mandate relief, the heroin crisis, and failing schools, and has a good reputation as a county manager. Like Wilson, he has emphasized city metro area interests like fixing the subway system. He has also cited his young family, including a 6-month-old son, as one reservation about running.

On the more conservative end of the spectrum are the two upstate legislators, DeFrancisco and Kolb, both of whom have extensive legislative experience and have not been shy about criticizing the governor and his policies.

DeFrancisco, who has been representing the Syracuse area since 1992, says he recognizes Cuomo’s fundraising advantage and name recognition, but also sees many similarities between today and 1994, the year Pataki beat Cuomo’s father, former Governor Mario Cuomo, who was then seeking a third term amid buzz about presidential aspirations, like those that surround Andrew Cuomo now.

“Back then people were leaving the state, exactly like it it is now. There was a deficit back then -- I remember it vividly -- of $5 billion. The Democratic comptroller is estimating that the budget deficit going into January is going to be $4 to $6 billion. Almost an identical situation,” said DeFrancisco. “And there was a feeling out there -- the same thing I’m hearing now -- that it’s ‘anybody but Cuomo.’ An individual by the name of George Pataki that nobody knew, the former mayor of Peekskill, a first-term senator, ends up being the nominee and beats him.”

DeFrancisco regularly attacks Cuomo, and he hasn’t hid his frustration with the fact that much of his legislation, including a bill to restore procurement oversight powers to the state comptroller, has not reached the Senate floor, even as the chamber is controlled by Republicans. “I believe the best way to make change and the fastest way to make substantial change is by having a Republican governor,” he said.

Kolb, as leader of the minority conference in the Assembly, has had the liberty of taking principled stands, such as pushing for significant ethics reform and advocating for a “yes” vote on the constitutional convention. The Republican from Canandaigua has consistently voted against legislation that is controversial in upstate’s more conservative, rural areas, like Cuomo’s signature 2013 gun-control legislation, the SAFE Act.

Kolb, who prior to taking office in 2000 was an entrepreneur and ran two manufacturing companies, Refractron Technologies and North American Filter Corporation, said he believes he has “the best blend of private sector and public sector experience.”

“I’ve created jobs. I know the obstacles and how to fix them. I’m problem solver and I’ve done it in the public sector and the public sector and I’ve also shown I could work across the aisle,” he said.

The Republican contenders all say they would work to capture the disillusionment in Cuomo’s policies felt on both sides of the aisle. In 2014, Cuomo endured a bruising primary amid criticisms from progressives that he empowers the Senate GOP alliance with rouge Democrats, impeding the state from moving in a more progressive direction, a rallying cry that has since picked up steam. Zephyr Teachout, a professor at Fordham’s law school, won a surprising 34 percent of the Democratic vote in that primary after running a truncated campaign that began with no name recognition or money. Another tough primary in 2018, which Cuomo has done some work to avoid by passing more progressive legislation, could hurt the governor in a general election, largely depending on the opponent.

The potential GOP candidates said they plan to hold Cuomo accountable on issues like the subways, upstate’s crumbling infrastructure and outmigration, rising property taxes, his failure to tackle corruption in state government, and what they see as his failing economic development initiatives.

A key initial step for those exploring the race and possibly seeking the GOP nomination is to appeal to Republican county chairs, who make up the party committee and meetings have been taking place, with candidates touring the state. A deal may be cut in advance in order to avoid a primary, but there have been years when the committee votes are split between two or three candidates and an open contest for the GOP nomination is held. Candidates unhappy with or outside the party establishment process can always petition themselves onto the ballot whether an intra-party deal is struck or not.

Some watchers of state politics say that regardless of the GOP nominee, the math just doesn’t work for the Republican Party. “When you break it down arithmetically, they have to crack 35 percent in New York City to have a chance to win, and carry 57 percent of the vote of the Suburban downstate counties -- Suffolk, Nassau, Westchester and Rockland -- and then pass 60 percent upstate,” said Bruce Gyory, a former advisor to three Democratic governors and now a professor at Albany University. “That was the Pataki model for his three terms and particularly his third term, and boy-oh-boy the Republicans are nowhere close to meeting that challenge in any region.”

In 2014, the Republican Party made strides from 2010 with Astorino as their candidate, grabbing 41 percent of the vote compared to Cuomo’s 57 percent. Astorino took 42 of 50 upstate counties, compared to just 13 upstate counties won by 2010 GOP candidate Carl Paladino. In the suburbs, Astorino also gained ground, but ultimately did not crack 50 percent in the crucial Westchester, Nassau, and Rockland counties. He drew approximately 15 percent of the vote in the five boroughs.

Cuomo’s approval rating took a hit earlier this year, apparently due to New York City’s ongoing subway woes, but his popularity has appeared to be on the rebound, with a Quinnipiac University poll from October showing that 70 percent of city voters approved of the Democratic governor, including more than 50 percent of Republicans.

Another threat to party-affiliated GOP candidates may be coming from Paladino, the Buffalo-area businessman and Donald Trump supporter. Paladino was reported to be mulling another run, but went silent after his removal from the Buffalo school board for allegedly leaking confidential information from executive board meetings. He also drew negative attention last year for racist comments sent to a Buffalo publication about former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. A Paladino entrance into the race could drag a prefered Republican establishment candidate to the right or cause other problems for the GOP, including additional focus on Trump or requiring Paladino's opposition to raise and spend significant money to win the primary. Paladino did not return a request for comment about whether he will run.

“I could see him coming to the conclusion that the only way to regain public prestige is to run again for governor and he could complicate the primary field a great deal because he could change the regional balance of power if he continues to have that hold on western New York,” said Gyory. “He's a man who, if you study him, his public person, he has a thin skin and great pride.”

Correction: A previous version of this article mistated the totals for the 2010 New York Comptroller's race.

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Possible GOP Gubernatorial Candidates Weigh Chances to Unseat Cuomo Sun, 19 Nov 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Races to Watch on Election Day, Inside and Outside New York City http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7302:races-inside-outside-new-york-city-to-watch-on-election-day http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7302:races-inside-outside-new-york-city-to-watch-on-election-day astorino latimeer

Rob Astorino, left, and George Latimer


Welcome to Election Day 2017. In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to sweep comfortably to reelection over six other candidates, including Republican challenger Nicole Malliotakis, an Assembly member from Staten Island, despite their efforts to paint him as an ineffective manager beholden to his campaign donors. Similarly, many of the city’s 51 City Council seats that are up for grabs are predetermined by a heavily Democratic electorate, but there are a few spirited city races heading into Election Day, Tuesday November 7.

There are also a handful of especially interesting races to watch outside of New York City, as voters will choose two significant suburban county executives and others in hotly contested elections.

A Few to Watch in New York City
In the city, it’s the battle of the aides in the 43rd Council District, centered in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, one of the city’s last bastions of Republican strength, where punk rocker-turned-government aide Justin Brannan, a Democrat who has worked for outgoing Council Member Vincent Gentile and for Mayor Bill de Blasio, faces John Quaglione, a top staffer to Republican State Senator Marty Golden. While Democrats outnumber Republicans in the district, it is one area that has elected GOP representatives like Golden.

One district over, in Brooklyn’s 44th Council District, Democrat Kalman Yeger, the chosen successor of outgoing Council Member David Greenfield, faces Yoni Hikind, the son of Democratic Assemblymember Dov Hikind, who has created the “Our Community” ballot line, he says, in order to provide voters with “a choice.” Greenfield decided not to run for reelection at a time when his campaign could install Yeger as the Democratic nominee, and Greenfield and the elder Hikind have a long-running rivalry.

In Manhattan, District Attorney Cy Vance, a Democrat, is seeking reelection while facing blowback for campaign contributions linked to cases he declined to prosecute involving disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein, members of the Trump family, and Mayor de Blasio. Vance will be the only name on the ballot for Manhattan D.A., but Marc Fliedner, a progressive former Brooklyn prosecutor who ran an unsuccessful primary campaign for Brooklyn DA earlier this year, is waging an assertive write-in campaign, which is attracting some buzz. Fliedner is a long-shot, but he moved to a Manhattan apartment and has a lot of social media attention on his campaign.

There are also interesting city races to watch in Council Districts 1, 35, and 40, where three incumbent Democrats -- Margaret Chin, Laurie Cumbo, and Mathieu Eugene, respectively -- are trying to hold onto their seats against spirited foes.

And there are of course the three citywide races, for Mayor as well as City Comptroller and Public Advocate. De Blasio faces Malliotakis as well as independents Bo Dietl and Mike Tolkin, each running on a self-created ballot line; Reform Party nominee Sal Albanese, Green Party nominee Akeem Browder, and Libertarian nominee Aaron Commey.

Incumbent Democratic Comptroller Scott Stringer is being challenged by Republican Michel Faulkner, as well as Green Party nominee Julia Willebrand and Libertarian Alex Merced. Incumbent Democratic Public Advocate Letitia James is being challenged by Republican J.C. Polanco, as well as Green Party nominee James Lane, Libertarian nominee Devin Balkind, and Conservative Party nominee Michael O’Reilly. Both Stringer and James are heavily favored to win second terms.

One Important Reason to Vote Across the State
But even those in the city, or across the entire state, who may find their ballot choices uninspiring should head to the polls Tuesday, at least for the opportunity to flip over the ballot and answer three big “yes” or “no” questions with serious implications. One referendum would determine whether New York will hold a state constitutional convention; the second would allow judges to strip some or all public pensions from officials who are convicted of corruption; and the third would allow limited flexibility in preserved land to permit localities to make certain infrastructure improvements.

Outside New York City
Incumbent Democratic mayors of the state’s three largest cities outside New York City -- Lovely Warren in Rochester, Kathy Sheehan in Albany, and Byron Brown in Buffalo -- successfully beat out formidable challengers in their primaries and are expected to win reelection easily in the general.

There are several exciting races worth paying attention to in the state’s swing areas, the outcomes of which are bound to have a significant impact on politics and government at various levels. Not all are a traditional toss-ups between Democrats and Republicans, though they are on Long Island and in Westchester. In Syracuse, however, a fight within the Democratic Party has unfolded, as two candidates, one a Democrat and the other Independent, are going head-to-head for the mayoral seat. In Erie County, where many are following a hotly contested race for county clerk, party affiliation gets a bit messier.

Westchester County Executive
Despite its 2-to-1 Democratic leaning electorate, Westchester County has twice elected Republican Rob Astorino as its top executive over formidable opponents. Astorino, seeking another term, lost the 2014 gubernatorial race to Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has endorsed State Senator George Latimer in his quest to unseat Astorino. Astorino’s popularity appears to be owed in large part to his fiscal policies, including keeping a campaign promise not to raise property taxes, but that may wane due to his vocal support for President Donald Trump and the political moment occurring one year after Trump’s surprise win.

The Latimer-Astorino race has featured a lot of mud-slinging, including accusations of bribery, corruption, tax evasion, and the nefarious influence of outside money. While Astorino’s campaign has cast Latimer as a delinquent state legislator and tax deadbeat, Latimer and his supporters are pointing to the infusion of $1 million in support of Astorino from controversial billionaires Robert and Rebekah Mercer.

The race is seen as a toss-up by many.

As always, Westchester’s notoriously high property taxes are central to the policy debate, with both candidates vowing to keep rates stagnant, but this year, at times overshadowing the discussion is whether Westchester’s socially liberal electorate -- which overwhelmingly voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election -- will stick with an enthusiastic Trump supporter in Astorino, who has sought to keep much of the campaign’s focus on his local record and on attacking Latimer.

This race will have significant implications for New York State’s political landscape regardless of the outcome. A Latimer win, while it would be a victory for Westchester Democrats, would also deal a blow to state Senate Democrats who hope to retake that house, and therefore the entirety of state government, in 2018. Latimer’s open seat would trigger a special election that could see a member of the Independent Democratic Conference or a Republican take the seat.

For Astorino, who is mulling another run for governor next year, the stakes are exceptionally high. While the GOP county executive has had a lengthy run, if he loses, or even wins by a small margin, he may be forced to reconsider any gubernatorial ambitions.

Nassau County Executive
With current Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano facing federal corruption charges and not seeking reelection, both Democrat Laura Curran and Republican Jack Martins have made reform a central part of their platforms. Each candidate has spent over $1 million on attack ads, accusing each other of corruption in the final days before the general election.

Martins, a former three-term state senator, has criticized Curran for hiring BerlinRosen, a consulting firm with ties to Mayor Bill de Blasio, and said that Curran wants to allow New York City progressives to take over the Long Island county. Meanwhile, Curran, a county legislator, has tried to associate Martins with former Senator Majority Leader Skelos, who was convicted on corruption charges that were then overturned but will be retried in 2018, and Martins once supported.

Similar to the Westchester race, Democrats are seizing on growing antipathy towards the president with the hope of swaying Nassau’s slightly Democratic leaning electorate. Nassau often competes with Westchester for the distinction of highest taxed county, and property taxes have also dominated the discussion.

Cassandra Lems is running on the Green Party line.

Rensselaer County Executive
Democrat Andrea Smyth faces an uphill battle against GOP Assemblymember Steve McLaughlin for the open position of Rensselaer County Executive. The debates and campaigns have turned personal, with Smyth’s campaign highlighting leaked audio recordings of McLaughlin speaking abusively to female staff members. McLaughlin has accused his opponent of running a negative campaign.

The candidates are running to succeed Republican County Executive Kathleen Jimino, who is retiring after four four-year terms. The last four county executives have been Republicans, but some speculate that the controversies surrounding McLaughlin could turn the seat blue.

Both candidates have focused their platforms on infrastructure, particularly on rebuilding the area’s ailing water systems. While Smyth has expressed interest in exploring consolidation and cutting costs by creating service-sharing agreements between municipalities, McLaughlin has said he will be focused on ways to boost and develop the local economy.

Green Party candidate Wayne Foy is also on the ballot.

Syracuse Mayor
With Democratic Mayor Stephanie Miner term-limited, on Election Day Syracuse residents will choose between Democrat Juanita Perez Williams and Ben Walsh, who is running on the Reform Party, Independence Party, and Upstate Jobs Party lines.

Initially, Walsh was running on just two minor ballot lines, but he scored a small victory in the primary when he managed to snag the Independence line from Republican candidate Laura Lavine -- who trails far behind in polls -- with a concerted write-in campaign targeting those voters. The additional party line will allow Walsh to appear higher on the ballot.

A recent Siena College poll shows Walsh leading Perez Williams by just two points, within the margin of error, and despite calls for party unity, Democrats are apparently divided between the two candidates.

Walsh, who previously served as economic development director for Mayor Miner, has been leading his opponent in fundraising, gaining support from influential real estate interests, and has garnered several endorsements from local Democrats breaking with the party. Meanwhile, Perez Williams, a lawyer and navy veteran, has drawn financial support from the Democratic National Committee and state Democratic Party, as well as endorsements from numerous top state and national Democratic officials including Governor Andrew Cuomo, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, the mayors of Ithaca, Buffalo, and Rochester, and, most recently, former Vice President Joe Biden.

Both candidates have previously worked for the city and would make history if elected. Perez Williams would be the first Latina elected mayor of Syracuse and Walsh would be Syracuse's first mayor not affiliated with a major political party.

Green Party nominee Howie Hawkins is also seeking the seat. Joe Nicoletti, who has endorsed Perez Williams in the general, is still running on the Working Families Party line though he has reportedly stopped campaigning.

Erie County Clerk
Former journalist Steve Cichon and state Assemblymember Mickey Kearns are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in the competitive race for Erie County Clerk, a seat left vacant by Senator Chris Jacobs earlier this year. Upstate, county clerks are the second most important county-wide elected position, after county executive, and are responsible for running local elections, issuing licences, and maintaining public records.

In Erie County, party affiliation can get complicated. Despite Democrats holding a lead of a nearly 135,000 voters over Republicans in Erie County, Republicans have a tight grip on many county-wide elected positions. Voter turnout tends to be lower in the heavily Democratic city of Buffalo, while Republican candidates often draw deep-pocketed donors from the more affluent and politically moderate suburban areas.

Kearns is a registered Democrat, but has disappointed Democratic leaders with some of his more conservative positions, such as his stances on women’s rights and abortion, and is running on the Republican line. Kearns touts his record of standing up against corruption; he was the first in the Assembly to call for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to resign amid 2013 sexual harassment scandals and temporarily broke from his conference.

Meanwhile, Cichon, who has received financial backing from the county Democratic Party, was a Republican while working as news director at WBEN, but is now running on the Democratic line. As someone who has not been a politician before, he says he hopes he can bring civility and common sense to the administrative position.

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Races to Watch on Election Day, Inside and Outside New York City Mon, 06 Nov 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Progressive Activist Registers Campaign Committee for Latimer’s Senate Seat http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7118:progressive-activist-starts-campaign-committee-for-latimer-s-senate-seat http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7118:progressive-activist-starts-campaign-committee-for-latimer-s-senate-seat brezler 2

Katherine Brezler (photo via Facebook)


A teacher and grassroots organizer is scoping out the Westchester Democratic Party nod in a potential special election for state Senator George Latimer’s seat, which would be triggered if the Democratic senator wins the race for Westchester county executive this fall.

On July 24, Katherine Brezler, a 35-year-old from White Plains who campaigned for Senator Bernie Sanders' presidential bid, became the first to register a campaign committee for the 37th Senate District seat currently held by Latimer, according to the New York State Board of Elections.

Latimer is challenging Republican incumbent Rob Astorino for the county executive position with the blessing of his fellow Democrats in the Senate minority conference. At least four mainline Democrats contributed to Latimer’s county executive campaign. The largest donation, of $2,500, came from Senator Michael Gianaris, deputy leader of the mainline Democratic conference and head of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (DSCC). Latimer has received endorsements from the Independence, Working Families, and Women’s Equality parties and will first face county legislator Ken Jenkins, from Yonkers, in the September 12 primary. 

Brezler is also rooting for Latimer, whom she describes as “a mentor,” and has been making phone calls on his behalf. “I have good feelings about the future of Westchester and the voters making [Senator] George Latimer county executive,” she said. “I wouldn’t be out here this early if I didn’t believe that. But there is still a lot of work to do. We have a lot of doors to knock on.”

If Latimer does unseat Astorino, the Senate seat he would vacate is likely to be highly contested. Since 2012, the last time the seat was empty, both the Republican and Democratic campaign committees have collectively poured nearly $2 million into district races. Governor Andrew Cuomo also threw his support behind Latimer last year to ensure that the seat remained Democratic.

By all accounts, Latimer has been an exceptional Democratic candidate. Despite a 2012 redistricting of the 37th Senate District, which the League of Women Voters of Westchester criticized for cutting out minority voters and favoring Republicans, Latimer won the seat that year, and retained his popularity in the district for three consecutive terms. In 2014, Latimer kept the seat with 49.9 percent of the vote, barely beating out Republican Joe Dillon, who drew 45.8 percent of the vote. Latimer’s office did not respond to a message seeking comment for this article.

Brezler, who previously was a Sanders delegate and founding member of the People For Bernie, a national network that rallied support for the former presidential candidate, boasts a slew of progressive accomplishments. She was part of a national organizing campaign for the movement to “opt-out” of state school testing, is an advocate for affordable housing and, citing her background as the daughter of a doctor and nurse, she has made the passage of universal, single-payer health care a central part of her platform. She noted that there is a 2-1 ratio of registered Democrats over Republicans in the district, and that Democratic engagement in Westchester is on the rise since the 2016 election of President Donald Trump.

Brezler, who has also worked as a delegate for the Westchester/Putnam chapter of the AFL-CIO union, said she was inspired to run, in part, because of the stagnant state of progressive legislation in the New York State Senate, despite Democrats holding a narrow majority in the body. The Senate GOP maintains the legislative majority with the help of Senator Simcha Felder, of Brooklyn, who caucuses with the conference, and through an alliance with eight rogue Democrats who make up the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC).

“Two-thirds of this country supports universal healthcare and it’s unconscionable that it’s popped three years in a row, and the state Senate thinks it’s acceptable not to bring it to the floor,” Brezler said in an interview with Gotham Gazette.

Brezler said she spoke to a number of local elected officials who told her they were not interested in the seat, although she did not specify whom, and saw an opportunity to ensure that the district remained in Democratic hands.

Assemblyman Steven Otis, a Democrat whose district encompasses much of Latimer’s and who previously worked as chief of staff to Latimer’s predecessor, is one name likely to be floated for the post, according to people familiar with the district. Otis told Gotham Gazette he intends to remain in the Assembly where he is “excelling” and “can deliver the best results” for the communities he represents.

If Latimer wins the county executive primary election and then the general this fall, he will vacate his current seat by January, and it will be up to Governor Cuomo’s discretion to call a special election. In a special election, a competitive primary is bypassed, and the Democratic and Republican nominees are picked by the party boss and county executive committee, which comprised of district leaders. In Westchester, the nominee may also be selected by party chair persons of city, towns and villages, Brezler said.

A former Yonkers district leader herself, Brezler says she has had productive conversations with Westchester County Democratic Party chairman Reginald LaFayette and believes she has the name recognition required to drum up county committee support.

"I've been working in local politics for a very long time,” Brezler said. “They know me by name, face, and work; it’s not a surprise to anyone that I’m running.” 

Brezler has also voiced opposition to Cuomo on a number of issues in the past, but noted the second-term governor’s evolution since his re-election in 2014. “The governor is trying his best to put his progressive foot forward and I’m interested in seeing what this year looks like," she said.

Brezler said the supposed fissure between the progressive, grassroots Sanders faction of the Democratic Party and the Democratic establishment has been overstated in the media and is not as pronounced on the state level, where she believes Democrats are coming together to resist the policies of the Trump administration.

Veteran Democratic political consultant Hank Sheinkopf said Brezler’s past criticisms of Cuomo could be a liability for her candidacy. “It’s unlikely that someone who has attacked the governor will be picked as the nominee,” he said, noting that, “Cuomo got the 2 percent property tax cap for the people of Westchester,” which is plagued by some of the highest rates in the nation.

However, getting a headstart on fundraising and the potential to tap into support from a national Sanders coalition could help Brezler, because it may “scare off other candidates,” he said.

As an educator, Brezler has been a proponent of the state meeting its school aid obligations under the Campaign for Fiscal Equity court decision -- the results of a lawsuit seeking to ensure “the constitutional right to a sound basic education” for all public school students -- which she says would infuse struggling schools in Yonkers and elsewhere with millions of dollars needed to ease the county’s notorious property tax burden.

Brezler said her next objective is to win over the DSCC, chaired by Senator Gianaris of Queens, who she said will likely have a conversation with LaFayette about what is best for the party.

“If the DSCC isn’t super excited about me then I think they will find that the network behind me is able to raise a considerable amount, and that I have more name recognition than they think,” said Brezler.

Brezler, who is a first-generation Argentine immigrant on her father’s side, noted that she would be a diverse choice for the Senate Democrats as the first openly queer woman in the legislative body.

A spokesperson for the Senate Democratic conference declined to weigh in on “hypothetical” candidates and Gianaris’ office did not return a request for comment.

It may still be too early for Democrats to vet potential replacements for Latimer not knowing the outcome of the election, said Sheinkopf. “She’s just out front faster than anyone else,” he said of Brezler. “First order of business, is to know whether Latimer will beat Astorino. For that you would have to hire a magician and get the divine inspiration. Is it possible? Yes. Is it highly likely? 50-50.”

Julie Killian, a Council member from the city of Rye in Westchester who challenged Latimer for the Senate seat in 2016 and received 44.3 percent of the vote, is rumored to be running again on the Republican party line, but she has not announced an interest in the race and her Senate fundraising account has been cleared out, according to her most recent BOE filings.

Regardless of whether Latimer wins the county executive race, Brezler said she intends to continue to shake things up on the state and local level.

“I'm not going anywhere,” she said.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified Latimer's 2014 Republican challenger.

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Progressive Activist Registers Campaign Committee for Latimer’s Senate Seat Wed, 09 Aug 2017 04:00:00 +0000