Gotham Gazette Thu, 19 Jul 2018 04:17:41 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Former Hillary Clinton Email Director Tells Young Democrats to ‘Run For Something’ amanda litman voted twitter

Amanda Litman (via @amandalitman)

Gripping two drinks, Amanda Litman, co-founder of a political action committee dedicated to helping young people run for office, arrived at a New York University classroom with a kick in her step. The 27-year-old political campaign veteran-turned-author walked in holding an iced coffee with soy milk and three Splendas in one hand and a tiny bottle of San Pellegrino water in the other.

“The quickest way to age is to work on a political campaign,” said Litman, former email director for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. “I kept a box of wine under my desk at all times.”

The 27-year-old Brooklynite’s book, published this month by Simon & Schuster, explains how to run for office, how the government works, how to get a job on a campaign, and basics of voter mobilization and campaign finance. Written in just seven weeks, “Run For Something: A Real-Talk Guide to Fixing the System Yourself,” features an introduction by Hillary Clinton along with sections by Cory Booker, United States Senator from New Jersey; and Jason Kander, founder of Let America Vote.  

The book was a side project to her organization, Run For Something, which she founded after the 2016 election with Ross Rocketto, former management consultant at Deloitte Consulting’s innovation center. The organization, which recruits, supports and endorses first or second-timers under age 35 to run for office, launched Inauguration Day, as Donald Trump was taking the oath of office.

After nine months and with the help of many volunteers, the group claims 11,000 newcomers have signed up to run for office and nearly $500,000 raised from about 5,000 donors.

“My goal is that in 10,15, 20 years you’ll see a presidential candidate who got their start because we told them they could run for office when they were 25 years old,” said Litman.

One of the New York City candidates connected with the program, Marjorie Velazquez, 36, praised the social media promotion Run for Something gave her campaign. A lifetime Bronx native running for City Council in the Bronx, in District 13, Velazquez is a proponent of women’s rights who will appear on the general election ballot under the Working Families Party after losing the Democratic nomination to state Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj by 390 votes.

“It’s important for people to know running for office is acceptable,” said Velazquez, who was significantly outspent by Gjonaj in the Council race and is not actively campaigning in the general. “I have friends in government and politics and I still needed guidance. Having a book that explains how to run for office will change things.”

Christopher Marte, 28, another Run for Something candidate, lost the Democratic primary in Manhattan’s City Council District 1 by only 200 votes in an effort to unseat incumbent Margaret Chin. Marte also said having such a guidebook in the market and an organization that can be so helpful to young candidates is significant. “When I was looking up how to run or get on the ballot, there was no one to answer the most basic questions—how do you get a petition form, how do you get a committee started,” said Marte, who will appear on the ballot in November under the Independence Party. He is actively campaigning in a continued effort to topple Chin.

Along with Velazquez and Marte, Litman’s organization endorsed other City Council candidates running this fall, including Amanda Farias, the only woman who ran for a City Council seat in the Bronx’s District 18; Vanessa Aronson, who ran in Manhattan’s District 4; Ronnie Cho, a former White House director of public engagement during the Obama presidency, who ran in Manhattan’s District 2; and Justin Sanchez, an L.G.B.T candidate who opposed an openly anti-L.G.B.T incumbent in the Bronx’s Council District 14.

All these candidates fit the Run For Something support criteria. Candidates must be under 35, Democratic, pro-choice, L.G.B.T. rights supporters, believe in climate change, and advocate to reduce gun violence. The organization provides guidance on how to run, mentorship from political experts and consultants, partnerships with candidate support programs, and endorsements.

At least thus far in the 2017 cycle, none of Run for Something’s candidates has been successful in New York City. But, first-time candidates winning their elections is not nearly the entire frame of Run for Something.

Litman decided politics was her calling at a young age, spending her high school weekends campaigning for Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tim Kaine, now a Senator and recently Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential running mate, and reproductive rights advocacy group NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia.

The appeal of Litman’s activist enterprise is borne of and extends to her persona, which young people can relate to. She comes across as genuine and relatable; not lecturing, but laughing at herself and cursing in the flow of her conversation. She gushes over her dog, Sadie, who’s “too cute to discipline.” She reads romance novels that she buys on her mother’s credit card. And she says it like it is, never claiming that running for office will be easy; instead, she emphasizes that it will be exhausting and hard, but worth it.

Her book reads like a conversation with her. It explains why it’s OK to be flawed and run. It breaks down technical jargon in easy to understand ways; she defines “grassroots tweeter” as a meaningless and convoluted phrase that just means a person advocating a campaign on the internet. The pages of the step-by-step guide are filled with little pep talks, humor, and rhetorical questions to encourage readers to do their bit for democracy. Her fresh demeanor also translates to her startup’s activities. The organization, which does not yet have office space, is currently touring with a rock band to recruit signups, uses Facebook ads to reach younger audiences, and calls its fundraising events “money parties.”

Even if her new candidates lose, what matters to Litman is young people getting on the ballot in the first place. She believes that as more progressives run for office, voter contact will increase, more volunteers will get involved, more Democratic ideas will be advocated, and eventually, the system will improve.

“It’s very easy to talk about the business you want to start, or the organization you think should exist, or a problem you see in a political system,” she said. “It’s much harder to sit down and try because you might fail.”

“It’s not failure,” she added, catching herself and pausing for a second, then continuing with a chuckle and a smile. “It’s redirection.”

Daniela Cobos and Vedika Kumar are journalism students at New York University.

Former Hillary Clinton Email Director Tells Young Democrats to ‘Run For Something’ Thu, 19 Oct 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Lower East Side City Council Candidates Make Their Case in Debate City Council District 2 candidates

The CD2 Democratic candidates at Manhattan Neighborhood Network

There are five candidates vying for the Democratic nomination in the race to replace term-limited Rosie Mendez as the City Council representative for District 2, which includes the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The candidates -- Carlina Rivera, Ronnie Cho, Mary Silver, Jasmin Sanchez, and Jorge Vasquez -- gathered recently at the Manhattan Neighborhood Network (MNN) for a debate to be televised by the station.

The debate, moderated by Gotham Gazette’s Ben Max, focused on issues such as affordable housing, small businesses, education, and development within the district, as well as the performance of Mendez, a Democrat, and of Mayor Bill de Blasio, a fellow Democrat seeking a second term this fall.

Along with discussing those topics, and more, the candidates also attempted to explain to viewers and District 2 voters why they are the right person to represent the district moving forward. Each candidate discussed his or her background and qualifications in public service.

Rivera is a former legislative director for Mendez and has the outgoing Council member’s support; Cho worked on Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign and became his administration's millennial outreach director before moving to New York and working at MTV; Vasquez is a housing attorney; Sanchez is a nonprofit director and former community liaison for State Senator Daniel Squadron; and Silver is a community board member and attorney with a background in education.

The winner of the Democratic primary among the five is all but certain to win in November’s general election, when he or she will face Jimmy McMillan, of the Rent is Too Damn High party, who is also running as a Republican, and Libertarian nominee Donald Garrity.

In their opening and closing statements, the candidates made the case for their candidacies and indicated how they are framing their qualifications for the job. Rivera presented herself as having ample government experience given her time as Mendez’s legislative director, allowing her to swiftly enter the Council without a learning window and immediately start working for her constituents. She also namechecked Donald Trump more than the other candidates, stating that she would be best prepared to resist the president’s agenda on the local level.

Cho presented himself as someone who has seen how government works at its highest levels, and therefore wants to take the lessons he’s learned and apply them in the city. He also presented himself as an outsider to city politics, and repeatedly called for a “new generation of leadership.”

Silver distinguished herself by her education background, having been a PTA president and a community board member, and stating that working in politics on the “other side of the Council” allows her to know what it’s like being a constituent who’s been ignored by her elected official.

Vasquez called for unifying the district and ensuring representation of everyone at the table in the Council, and also described himself as uniquely qualified to represent the district due to having worked as a litigator and for a judge on issues relevant to his potential constituents.

Sanchez discussed her roots in the district, at the Baruch Houses, and also stated that her background in the nonprofit sector has given her important experience in constituent services. Sanchez also singled out two important projects for her as a Council member: redeveloping the Baruch Bath Houses, and CHARAS.

Rivera has received the lion’s share of endorsements from elected officials, including Congressional Rep. Nydia Velazquez, who represents the Lower East Side, as well as unions and advocacy groups. Because of this and her work for Mendez, which came up several times at the debate, Rivera is seen by many as the “status quo” or establishment choice. This led her opponents, especially Cho, to tie her to the alleged shortcomings of Mendez’s tenure and to advocate themselves as a change in leadership style.

Cho has raised the second largest amount of money in the race, behind Rivera, and was particularly critical of the perceived frontrunner. When asked about particular community issues the district needs solved, Cho repeatedly took the opportunity to bring up what he considers Mendez’s lack of attention to the community, and at times referenced Rivera in doing so.

For example, Mendez failed to vote for a bill to end on-call scheduling for workers, which was passed through the Council and signed by the mayor. Cho wondered why members of Mendez’s staff, particularly her legislative director (Rivera) didn’t stress the importance of voting for the bill, and called absenteeism in leadership “the biggest problem we have.” When asked by the moderator, Rivera stated that she would have voted for the bill if she was in the Council.

“I think that it’s a very important bill,” Rivera said. “I think on-call scheduling is a big problem in retail, amongst other industries. And I will say that, you know, Council Member Mendez is her own person, and that I was actually endorsed by the labor organizations that championed that bill, including RWDSU,” referencing the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union.

Cho was not convinced, questioning Rivera’s faculties as a “legislative director who can’t get her member to vote for a piece of legislation.”

It was the most pointed moment of a mostly calm, collegial, and forward-looking debate. The candidates mostly answered the moderator’s questions and spoke to the audience watching the televised debate, which will also be available online through MNN’s website.

Like in most Council districts, the issue that is dominating the race is affordability, particularly in regards to housing, but also regarding local businesses.

All five candidates on the debate dais indicated support for the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (SBJSA), which aims to level the playing field in commercial rent renewals between landlords and small business owners, but has been stalled in the Council for decades, despite majority support and the support of Mayor de Blasio and Public Advocate Tish James during their election campaigns in 2013 and of Speaker Mark-Viverito when she was a rank-and-file Council member.

Cho questioned the continuing inaction on the legislation.

“I’m just tired of hearing people say how much they, ra ra, about small businesses and these community pillars,” he said. “But at the end of the day, where’s the actual action? Where are we delivering for people?” When asked what he would do as a Council member to ensure the passage of the act, he said “I think we need to hold the mayor accountable, I think we need coalitions of Democrats across the city, and actually ask the mayor, ‘why aren’t you in support of this? Why won’t you sign this bill? And let him explain himself.” It was pointed out to Cho that he would have to help get the bill through the Council whether the mayor was supportive or not.

Silver suggested that the reason the act has stalled is because of politicians putting the interests of developers before those of their constituents.

“This has been investigated, researched by attorneys. There was a commission set up for this. There’s no legality issues, let’s get on with it,” Silver said, referring to one of the oft-offered reasons that electeds have balked on the SBJSA, the question of whether a version of commercial rent control is legal. “The truth is, this has to do with real estate developers and this has to do with greedy landlords, and it has to do with the fact that they’re the ones who fund campaign committees and elections across the board.” Silver further stated that excessive city fees are also hampering small businesses in the district, though these fees have drastically receded under de Blasio.

The candidates were also in agreement on reforming the commercial rent tax, which has widespread support in the Council, but where no action has taken place to move the bill through committee and beyond. The reform would raise the threshold at which the tax, which affects businesses below 96th Street in Manhattan, is levied. The bill, sponsored by Council Member Dan Garodnick, who is also term-limited this year, would raise the amount of rent paid in a year required for the tax to be levied from $250,000 to $500,000. The bill has 41 sponsors in the 51-seat Council.

Rivera, Sanchez, and Vasquez called for small business owners and families affected by the commercial rent tax to testify at the City Council as to the effect of the tax. Sanchez also called for the creation of a Business Improvement District, or BID, on the Lower East Side bound by Avenue A, Avenue D, 14th Street, and Houston Street.

On housing, a plank in the NextGen NYCHA initiative to allow development of market-rate apartments on vacant NYCHA land was sharply rebuked by most of the prospective Council members. Rivera stated that NYCHA must begin to be looked at as a part of the city’s infrastructure, akin to the MTA, and called for a reform of the authority’s repair system.

The subject of housing was where the most disagreement came to the fore during the debate. Cho signaled a more pro-development stance than his colleagues, saying that to be pro-affordable housing but anti-development doesn’t “square up.”

Sanchez, meanwhile, staked her position less on new development and rather on preserving the existing housing stock. “In regards to affordable housing, the preservation of it is really important,” Sanchez said. “And I think one way of doing so is declaring certain areas historical districts. Therefore, there’s no way of building NYCHA towers if it’s a historical district, because I am completely against the privatization of public lands.” She also discussed the sorry state of affairs regarding repairs in NYCHA, and discussed a lack of accountability regarding people being added to leases in NYCHA, echoing a point made by Vasquez.

“The first thing we need to do is transparency,” Vasquez said, regarding his course of action on NYCHA as a Council member. He believes it should be easier for young adult children of NYCHA residents to be added to apartment leases. “There’s no documentation of who asks to be put on the lease. How many people who asked to be added onto something, right? We know how many people applied to NYCHA, but we don’t know how many people applied to be added onto an existing account. And that’s important, because we’re throwing away resources, we’re throwing away money. We’re throwing away the affordability and the fabric of our city, especially within District 2.”

Specific new developments or neighborhood rezonings, and related community opposition, can often serve as a cudgel for a local legislative race. This is being seen in Council races this year in District 8, with the East Harlem rezoning; and District 35, with the Bedford Union Armory redevelopment, among others.

The only specific new development that served as a discussion point during the District 2 debate for MNN was the development of a new tech hub in Union Square, slated to be built on city-owned land. The candidates were largely in agreement that the development would be a net positive for the community, bringing in new jobs, particularly in STEM, but that the community must get something in return, such as the ability to use the space rather than it serving as simply a tech hub for what Cho described as white, wealthy men from or in the mold of Silicon Valley.

The five were hesitant to praise Mayor de Blasio. Asked to give a letter grade to his mayoralty and whether they would vote for him in November, Rivera and Vasquez gave him a “B” while Cho and Sanchez each gave a “C”; Silver, a former educator, gave an “incomplete.”

Cho and Silver said they would vote for de Blasio this fall over his Republican opponent, Staten Island Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis; Sanchez said she wouldn’t, and Vasquez and Rivera said they are undecided. Universal pre-K was praised as an ameliorative effort to address the “tale of two cities” that de Blasio campaigned on; however, the continuing rise in the cost of living led the candidates to lower their marks for the mayor, some said. Vasquez also criticized the mayor for claiming support of SBJSA but then backtracking upon entering the mayoralty.

Watch the full CD2 MNN debate:

by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Lower East Side City Council Candidates Make Their Case in Debate Thu, 24 Aug 2017 04:00:00 +0000
On the Lower East Side, Council Contenders Seek to Upend Favorite for Open Seat Carlina Rivera City Council

Carlina Rivera (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)

One of the 10 “open” City Council seat races is taking place on the East Side of Manhattan, in District 2, currently represented by Rosie Mendez, who is term-limited out of office. Several candidates, including Mendez’s preferred successor, Carlina Rivera, are competing in the Democratic primary, which will determine who holds the seat next given it is a staunchly Democratic district.

Rivera, Mendez’s former legislative director, has a good deal of momentum and support from the Democratic establishment. She has received endorsements of numerous elected officials, such as Public Advocate Letitia James, Comptroller Scott Stringer, Congressional Rep. Nydia Velazquez, State Senators Brad Hoylman and Daniel Squadron, and others, as well as endorsements from unions and advocacy organizations. She has released a broad campaign platform touching on issues including housing, education, immigration, and criminal justice, putting down progressive markers on each.

But Rivera is facing serious competition from other candidates, including Ronnie Cho, a strong fund-raiser, in the district that is largely made up of the Lower East Side. The seat has long been considered a Puerto Rican stronghold, given representation by former Council Member Margarita Lopez and Mendez, along with U.S. Representative Nydia Velazquez, but like many others across the city, the district has seen demographic shifts. Rivera is also Puerto Rican.

According to the most recent campaign finance filings, from mid-July, Rivera has raised the most money in the race. However, Cho, a former aide in the Obama administration, is not far behind. Rivera raised $143,412 and Cho about $132,931, while Cho has spent more of his money than Rivera has -- and Cho has actually spent $136,528, leaving him with a negative balance of $3,597. Rivera has spent $90,248, leaving her with a balance of $53,164 as the race heads toward the September 12 primary vote.

In late July and into August, candidates typically raise and spend funds at a feverish pace leading to primary day. The next filing will make clear whether Cho was able to replenish his coffers and continue to try to get his message out. Candidates are also now receiving public matching funds through the city’s robust campaign finance system, though Cho is the only candidate in the race who is not taking public matching funds, allowing him to abide by fewer rules on spending, but putting him at a disadvantage.

Other candidates running in the Democratic primary include Mary Silver, an attorney and Community Board member; Erin Hussein, a lawyer; Juan Pagan, a community activist who challenged Mendez in 2009; Jasmin Sanchez, founder of the Ana Luisa Garcia Community Center and former community liaison for Senator Squadron; and Jorge Vasquez, an attorney who has worked with Legal Services NYC and the Commission on Human Rights.

Perennial candidate Jimmy McMillan, who initially stated that he was again running for mayor, is running for the District 2 Council seat under the Republican and Rent Is Too Damn High umbrellas. The Libertarian line is occupied by Donald Garrity. They will face the winner of the crowded Democratic primary.

Rivera, like many prospective Council members across the city, sees affordability as the most pressing issue facing her potential constituents.

“From Kips Bay to the Lower East Side, we have seen tremendous changes in just the last 10-20 years,” Rivera told Gotham Gazette. “And this has created a lot of strain for longtime residents both in access to affordable housing and their ability to open or maintain a small business, or even find affordable options for food and other basic needs. In addition, we see a troubling increase in the number of people in our community who are either homeless or are at risk of losing their home.”

Indicative of the job of a City Council member -- which blends constituent services with legislative and oversight responsibilities -- there was a recent crisis for Lower East Side residents at Masaryk Towers, a Mitchell-Lama public housing apartment complex. Building management abruptly told residents that the 1,100-unit complex would go without gas for six weeks. The building did not provide hot plates or meal credits, leaving residents forced to eat out, which many can’t afford on a routine basis.

Rivera says that the situation requires more direct communication between building management and tenants, as well as services like meal delivery. However, she also took a harder line against situations where this is done deliberately.

“In separate cases where service is intentionally cut to force tenants out, we need to use every tool available to hold management companies and owners accountable through either the State Public Service Commission or the Attorney General's office,” she said. “There is also a bill I support currently before the Council that would create a watch list for predatory landlords and the lenders they use to finance these tactics.”

Rivera worked on a bill that requires gas service operators to notify the Department of Buildings 24 hours in advance of a shutoff, which was signed in December by Mayor Bill de Blasio as part of a legislative package on gas safety.

Rivera’s status as the frontrunner has opened her up to criticism from some other candidates. Sanchez, who has the backing of the Liberal Party, has called Rivera a party-line politician.

“Rivera is considered the establishment candidate because she was hand picked like a puppet by the party machinery,” Sanchez told Gotham Gazette. “They are more comfortable with a candidate that supports the status quo as opposed to someone who will challenge and defend the needs of our district.” She further stated that she will “never owe anyone anything.” She did not provide specifics about how she would seek to shift the status quo.

While Cho has brought in large amounts of campaign money, much of it comes from outside the city, per filings. Obama advisor and CNN personality David Axelrod headlined a recent fundraiser for Cho, and Cho has received backing from other former Obama staff such as former Education Secretary Arne Duncan and actor-turned-public engagement director Kal Penn.

Despite high profile boosters, Cho says he intends to energize the grassroots of the district to overcome a rival with larger local institutional support and a district network. He says that his conversations with his neighbors have led him to the conclusion that “institutional, establishment politics is not serving them very well,” drawing a contrast with Rivera and Mendez, the current officeholder.

A source close to Rivera disagreed, saying that the claim of Rivera being the establishment candidate doesn’t hold up when put against those backing Cho, the so-called “creme de la creme Democratic establishment.”

Cho claims that his experience working in the federal government, specifically in voter outreach, has prepared him to serve as a local legislator.

“I’ve learned from the very best on how government should interact with its people,” Cho told Gotham Gazette, highlighting Obama’s insistence that government be a “force for good in people’s lives.” He also claims that seeing the Affordable Care Act passed while dealing with a hostile Congress has prepared him to challenge Mayor de Blasio when necessary if he is a member of the city’s legislative body.

Like Rivera, Cho admonished the situation at Masaryk Towers as a failure of leadership, characterizing the gas shutoff as emblematic of people’s declining trust in government, and of the city failing to deliver and live up to its progressive reputation.

“It’s insane to me that six weeks is something that they would even think is acceptable in any way,” he said. “This is what happens when you don’t have people who are willing to stand up against these interests and these groups and these powerful entities. So they think ‘oh, six weeks? Let’s do it. Nothing’s gonna happen, they haven’t punished us before, they’ve never challenged us before, so we can get away with that.’ And that just feeds into, I think, the hopelessness that people have around who’s looking out for them. Who’s fighting for me? Is there anyone that actually cares and who’s going to push back and make sure this doesn’t happen again? And right now we have a historic high in terms of lack of faith in institutions. This kind of stuff does not change the trendline.”

The only other candidate who has raised funds in the ballpark of Rivera and Cho is Silver, a member of Community Board 6 and an attorney, who has raised a little over $90,000 per the latest campaign filing with the CFB. Like her opponents, she couched criticism of Rivera into her acknowledgement of the tough road ahead.

Vasquez has raised about $41,000, with public matching funds expected on top of that, and told Gotham Gazette that he acquired four times the required petition signatures.

“No one has been able to do what I’ve done, and the majority of my money is all New York City. A lot of it is in-district,” Vasquez told Gotham Gazette in an interview, referring to the large proportion of donations to other candidates that came from outside the district and the city. Vasquez said that in the Council, he wouldn’t necessarily take on the role of writing new legislation, but rather “using the legislation that we already have” to advocate on behalf of his constituents. He has made disability rights a centerpiece of his campaign, arguing that inadequate facilities for those with disabilities are blocking them from such things as affordable housing and even the right to vote.

Silver was also optimistic. “I knew when I joined this race that it would be a challenge,” Silver told Gotham Gazette. “Incumbents and political staffers are often heavily favored in City Council races.” She pointed out that most of the “open” seat City Council races, where the officeholder is term-limited, include at least one political staffer in the running. Silver still believes that she can win the election.

Silver, like the other candidates, told Gotham Gazette that affordability is the “overarching” issue in the district, but she has also made strengthening public education a centerpiece of her campaign. She says that “teachers and principals have asked me to run because our public schools need a champion in City Hall.” She identifies herself as an education advocate, citing having “raised over $3 million for New York City public schools, identified new school sites to ease overcrowding, and championed equity and excellence in our schools.”

Rivera responded to the criticisms of being the “establishment” candidate in a statement to Gotham Gazette.

“As the youngest person running in this race, I bring a fresh perspective to the Council that is informed by the generations of organizers before me. My track record and the experience I gained working with Council Member Mendez has helped me build strong relationships at all levels of government that will allow me to get right to work in the Council. If this is establishment, then I thank them for recognizing my work.”

by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

On the Lower East Side, Council Contenders Seek to Upend Favorite for Open Seat Mon, 07 Aug 2017 19:38:08 +0000