Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/ruben-diaz-sr 2017-10-20T07:18:00+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com City Council Members Still Navigating Outside Income Divestment Ahead of Deadline 2017-10-04T04:00:00+00:00 2017-10-04T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7234:city-council-members-still-navigating-outside-income-divestment-ahead-of-deadline Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/paul_vallone_by_john_mccarten.jpg" alt="paul vallone by john mccarten" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Council Member Paul Vallone (photo: John McCarten)</span></p> <hr /> <p>Legislation barring City Council members from making outside income will go into effect on January 1, forcing several sitting and incoming Council members to make tough decisions about their side jobs.</p> <p>The regulations, which were linked to a significant pay increase for all city elected officials, including a salary bump from $112,500 to $148,000 for City Council members, were approved by Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council last year. Only three current City Council members, two of whom voted against the new restrictions, continue to be involved in their private sector businesses, and each is still in the process of figuring out divestment as mandated by the new law.</p> <p>Council Members Peter Koo, Chaim Deutsch, and Paul Vallone -- all still in the process of being reelected to another term -- were required to submit letters to City Council Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito by March 1, 2016 indicating whether or not they intended to continue earning outside income and stating an intention to comply with the rules by the January deadline -- in time for the 2018-2021 Council session.</p> <p>When reached by Gotham Gazette, each of the three Council members or a representative described legal and logistical complexities in divesting from or dissolving a limited liability company (LLC), resigning from a job, or recusing oneself from duties in anticipation of the deadline.</p> <p>Meanwhile, some still question whether the Council should have gone to a near-complete ban on outside income (small allowances are provided for members who teach a college course, for example), or if the model should have been akin to the cap on what members of Congress are allowed to make outside of their governmental duty -- a small percentage of their salaries.</p> <p>Vallone, a Democrat who represents District 19 in Eastern Queens, reported earning between $5,000 and $47,999 from his family’s law practice on his 2016 financial disclosure forms. In opposing the new outside income restrictions on Council members, he introduced a last-ditch <a href="http://cityandstateny.com/articles/politics/new-york-city/vallone-to-propose-capping,-not-barring,-city-council-members-outside-income.html#.WdPBx2JSw6U" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">amendment</a> -- citing a statement made by good government group Citizens Union -- that Council members’ outside income should be capped at 15 percent of their Council salaries rather than eliminated. The amendment did not pass, and a spokesperson for Vallone said he is working with his lawyers to figure out how the rules apply to the family’s legal firm, which was founded by his grandfather Judge Charles J. Vallone in 1932, and where three generations of Vallones have since practiced.</p> <p>As managing Partner of Vallone &amp; Vallone, the Council member oversees the company’s day-to-day operations and serves as general counsel for corporate clients, according to <a href="http://vallonelaw.com/partners/paul-vallone-esq/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the firm’s website</a>. The firm also handles estate law, real estate transactions, civil and personal injury litigation, and criminal law.</p> <p>Also a Democrat, Deutsch represents the 48th Council District, in Southern Brooklyn, and currently makes between $100,000 and $250,000 a year through a real estate management company he owns. He said he intends to shut down the business by January, but has not yet determined the process for doing so.</p> <p>“It’s going to take some time to shut down the corporation. I don’t know exactly what the process is,” said Deutsch, who voted against the bills. “What I do know, is that I’m not accepting any more managing fees. I could keep the corporation open for the next five years, and maybe reopen it after term limits. But I will not be receiving the outside income.”</p> <p>Deutsch, like Vallone and Koo, will be term-limited out of office at the end of 2021 if successful on Election Day this year, which each is expected to be.</p> <p>Koo is a Democrat who owns a chain of pharmacies and represents the 20th Council District in Queens. He reported making between $60,000 and $99,999 as the president of a pharmacy, and another $5,000 to $47,999 at another pharmacy. He did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but he was the only one of the three who voted in favor of the legislation.</p> <p>Other newly elected Democratic nominees for the City Council said that they had already quit their jobs to focus on their campaigns and that they have no intentions to returning to work before January.</p> <p>“I quit in 2017 in April to be a full-time candidate,” said Keith Powers, who won a crowded District 4 Democratic primary and is the favorite to win the seat in November. “No matter what job I had at the time, I would have given it up; you want to make sure you have all the time to talk to voters.”</p> <p>Like Powers, most candidates for City Council either leave their jobs entirely or take a leave of absence for the key months of the campaign.</p> <p>Powers, a former government aide and, more recently, lobbyist who ran partly on a reform and transparency platform, said he hopes that the City Council rules can be a model for the state Legislature, where the salaries are far lower but the outside income restrictions are minimal and the job is considered part-time.</p> <p>“You should be fully committed to the job that you’ve been elected to for the district. In the district that I am in, I don’t know how you would even have time to do both,” Powers said.</p> <p>State government appeared to be moving toward pay raises for state legislators and others in government last year, but the process was stalled amid disagreements among Governor Andrew Cuomo, members of the Legislature, and appointees to a special panel tasked with determining pay raises and, potentially, other reforms to the relevant jobs. Legislators haven’t had a salary increase in nearly 20 years, with base pay stuck at $79,000, though many legislators receive additional bonuses as well as per diem payouts for trips to Albany.</p> <p>There were and continue to be criticisms about the requirement that City Council members relinquish virtually all outside income. Some stemmed from concerns that an outright ban on outside income could discourage small business owners from running for office, according to Council Member Ben Kallos, who co-sponsored the legislation and chairs the governmental operations committee. The bill was tweaked to make allowances for passive income and would not force electeds to dissolve their business entities completely.</p> <p>“It’s just what we could reasonably expect from people. So, if somebody has spent their career as a small business person, and brought that small business experience to the City Council, &nbsp;which can be invaluable…,” said Kallos. “After four years or eight years, [that person] could return to their community, and continue doing what they did to begin with.”</p> <p>Rather than stripping a small number of elected officials of their non-governmental livelihoods, the goal was to ensure that Council members focus on their districts full-time, and to avoid any real or apparent conflicts of interest.</p> <p>“It is a concern for me that someone with business before the city could hire a member of the City Council in the hopes of gaining influence,” said Kallos, who represents Manhattan’s 5th Council District.</p> <p>Kallos said that before taking office in 2014, he personally retired from the practice of law in three states and dissolved LLCs for companies he had started. He said he is still in the process of dissolving several non-profits he created.</p> <p>“All of them have had, literally had no business since I got elected. But, it can be a complicated and weird, long process,” he said.</p> <p>While dissolving these entities is not required by the bill, Kallos said, “I felt that as the author of the law in question, I have to set a good example and go one step further than the law requires.”</p> <p>Certain passive income, such as interest, dividends, rent, annuities, capital gains, copyright royalties, or retirement payouts are acceptable under the new rules. Council members may also accept compensation for speaking engagements or artistic performances, with advance approval by the Conflicts of Interest Board (COIB), and income for teaching an accredited college course, “so long as such compensation does not exceed that normally received by others at the institution for a comparable type and amount of instruction.”</p> <p>The language also leaves room for jobs drawing “minimal income, involving a limited time commitment,” with advance approval by the Office of General Counsel, as long as the role does not interfere with the member’s official duties.</p> <p>The pay raise at the City Council may have helped attract a number of candidates from state government, where legislative salaries have been frozen since 1999. But, the new city guidelines can also create complications for an Assembly member and state senator earning outside income on the verge of election to the City Council. Three state lawmakers won Democratic City Council primaries in September and are either heavily favored or guaranteed to win the seat in November.</p> <p>State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., who won the primary for Council District 18 in the Bronx, earns between $5,000 and $20,000 for his role as pastor at the Christian Community Neighborhood Church, which he founded, according to his most recent financial disclosure forms. Diaz Sr. could not be reached for comment.</p> <p>Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj, who won the primary for Council District 13 in the Bronx, has earned between $75,000 &nbsp;and $100,000 from a real estate brokerage firm he owns with a family member. A spokesperson for Gjonai said he has started the process with his lawyers and accountants to take the necessary steps to comply with city law.</p> <p>“It's difficult for him to comment, because he's learning himself about that process,” said Jennifer Blatus, a spokesperson for Gjonaj. “I can say that it’s something the Assemblyman is happy to do in order to better serve his constituents.”</p> <p>Assemblymember Francisco Moya, who won the primary in Queen’s 21st Council District, receives between $5,000 and $20,000 in rental income, according to his state disclosure filings, and will not be obligated to give up the income.</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/paul_vallone_by_john_mccarten.jpg" alt="paul vallone by john mccarten" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Council Member Paul Vallone (photo: John McCarten)</span></p> <hr /> <p>Legislation barring City Council members from making outside income will go into effect on January 1, forcing several sitting and incoming Council members to make tough decisions about their side jobs.</p> <p>The regulations, which were linked to a significant pay increase for all city elected officials, including a salary bump from $112,500 to $148,000 for City Council members, were approved by Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council last year. Only three current City Council members, two of whom voted against the new restrictions, continue to be involved in their private sector businesses, and each is still in the process of figuring out divestment as mandated by the new law.</p> <p>Council Members Peter Koo, Chaim Deutsch, and Paul Vallone -- all still in the process of being reelected to another term -- were required to submit letters to City Council Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito by March 1, 2016 indicating whether or not they intended to continue earning outside income and stating an intention to comply with the rules by the January deadline -- in time for the 2018-2021 Council session.</p> <p>When reached by Gotham Gazette, each of the three Council members or a representative described legal and logistical complexities in divesting from or dissolving a limited liability company (LLC), resigning from a job, or recusing oneself from duties in anticipation of the deadline.</p> <p>Meanwhile, some still question whether the Council should have gone to a near-complete ban on outside income (small allowances are provided for members who teach a college course, for example), or if the model should have been akin to the cap on what members of Congress are allowed to make outside of their governmental duty -- a small percentage of their salaries.</p> <p>Vallone, a Democrat who represents District 19 in Eastern Queens, reported earning between $5,000 and $47,999 from his family’s law practice on his 2016 financial disclosure forms. In opposing the new outside income restrictions on Council members, he introduced a last-ditch <a href="http://cityandstateny.com/articles/politics/new-york-city/vallone-to-propose-capping,-not-barring,-city-council-members-outside-income.html#.WdPBx2JSw6U" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">amendment</a> -- citing a statement made by good government group Citizens Union -- that Council members’ outside income should be capped at 15 percent of their Council salaries rather than eliminated. The amendment did not pass, and a spokesperson for Vallone said he is working with his lawyers to figure out how the rules apply to the family’s legal firm, which was founded by his grandfather Judge Charles J. Vallone in 1932, and where three generations of Vallones have since practiced.</p> <p>As managing Partner of Vallone &amp; Vallone, the Council member oversees the company’s day-to-day operations and serves as general counsel for corporate clients, according to <a href="http://vallonelaw.com/partners/paul-vallone-esq/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the firm’s website</a>. The firm also handles estate law, real estate transactions, civil and personal injury litigation, and criminal law.</p> <p>Also a Democrat, Deutsch represents the 48th Council District, in Southern Brooklyn, and currently makes between $100,000 and $250,000 a year through a real estate management company he owns. He said he intends to shut down the business by January, but has not yet determined the process for doing so.</p> <p>“It’s going to take some time to shut down the corporation. I don’t know exactly what the process is,” said Deutsch, who voted against the bills. “What I do know, is that I’m not accepting any more managing fees. I could keep the corporation open for the next five years, and maybe reopen it after term limits. But I will not be receiving the outside income.”</p> <p>Deutsch, like Vallone and Koo, will be term-limited out of office at the end of 2021 if successful on Election Day this year, which each is expected to be.</p> <p>Koo is a Democrat who owns a chain of pharmacies and represents the 20th Council District in Queens. He reported making between $60,000 and $99,999 as the president of a pharmacy, and another $5,000 to $47,999 at another pharmacy. He did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but he was the only one of the three who voted in favor of the legislation.</p> <p>Other newly elected Democratic nominees for the City Council said that they had already quit their jobs to focus on their campaigns and that they have no intentions to returning to work before January.</p> <p>“I quit in 2017 in April to be a full-time candidate,” said Keith Powers, who won a crowded District 4 Democratic primary and is the favorite to win the seat in November. “No matter what job I had at the time, I would have given it up; you want to make sure you have all the time to talk to voters.”</p> <p>Like Powers, most candidates for City Council either leave their jobs entirely or take a leave of absence for the key months of the campaign.</p> <p>Powers, a former government aide and, more recently, lobbyist who ran partly on a reform and transparency platform, said he hopes that the City Council rules can be a model for the state Legislature, where the salaries are far lower but the outside income restrictions are minimal and the job is considered part-time.</p> <p>“You should be fully committed to the job that you’ve been elected to for the district. In the district that I am in, I don’t know how you would even have time to do both,” Powers said.</p> <p>State government appeared to be moving toward pay raises for state legislators and others in government last year, but the process was stalled amid disagreements among Governor Andrew Cuomo, members of the Legislature, and appointees to a special panel tasked with determining pay raises and, potentially, other reforms to the relevant jobs. Legislators haven’t had a salary increase in nearly 20 years, with base pay stuck at $79,000, though many legislators receive additional bonuses as well as per diem payouts for trips to Albany.</p> <p>There were and continue to be criticisms about the requirement that City Council members relinquish virtually all outside income. Some stemmed from concerns that an outright ban on outside income could discourage small business owners from running for office, according to Council Member Ben Kallos, who co-sponsored the legislation and chairs the governmental operations committee. The bill was tweaked to make allowances for passive income and would not force electeds to dissolve their business entities completely.</p> <p>“It’s just what we could reasonably expect from people. So, if somebody has spent their career as a small business person, and brought that small business experience to the City Council, &nbsp;which can be invaluable…,” said Kallos. “After four years or eight years, [that person] could return to their community, and continue doing what they did to begin with.”</p> <p>Rather than stripping a small number of elected officials of their non-governmental livelihoods, the goal was to ensure that Council members focus on their districts full-time, and to avoid any real or apparent conflicts of interest.</p> <p>“It is a concern for me that someone with business before the city could hire a member of the City Council in the hopes of gaining influence,” said Kallos, who represents Manhattan’s 5th Council District.</p> <p>Kallos said that before taking office in 2014, he personally retired from the practice of law in three states and dissolved LLCs for companies he had started. He said he is still in the process of dissolving several non-profits he created.</p> <p>“All of them have had, literally had no business since I got elected. But, it can be a complicated and weird, long process,” he said.</p> <p>While dissolving these entities is not required by the bill, Kallos said, “I felt that as the author of the law in question, I have to set a good example and go one step further than the law requires.”</p> <p>Certain passive income, such as interest, dividends, rent, annuities, capital gains, copyright royalties, or retirement payouts are acceptable under the new rules. Council members may also accept compensation for speaking engagements or artistic performances, with advance approval by the Conflicts of Interest Board (COIB), and income for teaching an accredited college course, “so long as such compensation does not exceed that normally received by others at the institution for a comparable type and amount of instruction.”</p> <p>The language also leaves room for jobs drawing “minimal income, involving a limited time commitment,” with advance approval by the Office of General Counsel, as long as the role does not interfere with the member’s official duties.</p> <p>The pay raise at the City Council may have helped attract a number of candidates from state government, where legislative salaries have been frozen since 1999. But, the new city guidelines can also create complications for an Assembly member and state senator earning outside income on the verge of election to the City Council. Three state lawmakers won Democratic City Council primaries in September and are either heavily favored or guaranteed to win the seat in November.</p> <p>State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., who won the primary for Council District 18 in the Bronx, earns between $5,000 and $20,000 for his role as pastor at the Christian Community Neighborhood Church, which he founded, according to his most recent financial disclosure forms. Diaz Sr. could not be reached for comment.</p> <p>Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj, who won the primary for Council District 13 in the Bronx, has earned between $75,000 &nbsp;and $100,000 from a real estate brokerage firm he owns with a family member. A spokesperson for Gjonai said he has started the process with his lawyers and accountants to take the necessary steps to comply with city law.</p> <p>“It's difficult for him to comment, because he's learning himself about that process,” said Jennifer Blatus, a spokesperson for Gjonaj. “I can say that it’s something the Assemblyman is happy to do in order to better serve his constituents.”</p> <p>Assemblymember Francisco Moya, who won the primary in Queen’s 21st Council District, receives between $5,000 and $20,000 in rental income, according to his state disclosure filings, and will not be obligated to give up the income.</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Meet The Three State Legislators Likely Heading To The City Council 2017-09-13T04:00:00+00:00 2017-09-13T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7195:meet-the-three-state-legislators-coming-to-the-city-council Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/gjonaj_election_night_crop.jpg" alt="gjonaj election night crop" width="600" height="416" />&nbsp;</p> <p>Mark Gjonaj &amp; Bronx Democratic leadership (photo: @MarkGjonajNY)</p> <hr /> <p>With the New York City primary election behind us, it appears that at least three state legislators are likely to be leaving behind the trips to Albany for plush City Council seats.</p> <p>Following the path of former State Senator Bill Perkins, who was elected to the City Council in a special election earlier this year, two Assembly members and one state senator are likely to be making the same jump come January: State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr, Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj, and Assemblymember Francisco Moya were all victorious in determinative Democratic primaries Tuesday night.</p> <p>Assemblymembers Felix Ortiz and Robert Rodriguez also ran in Democratic City Council primaries, but appear to have lost their respective bids. Ortiz came in a distant second attempting to unseat incumbent Council Member Carlos Menchaca and Rodriguez is narrowly behind Diana Ayala in a race he has not conceded, though Ayala did declare victory. Gjonaj will have to defeat Republican candidate John Cerini in the general election, who is expected to be tougher competition than Diaz Sr.'s Republican opponent,&nbsp;Eisley Constantine. Moya does not have any general election competition.</p> <p>The three state legislators who won on Tuesday would join the City Council as part of the full new class of 51 members for a four-year term starting in January. For Diaz Sr., it would be a return to a Council district he once represented before being elected to the state Senate.</p> <p>Gjonaj, Moya, and Diaz Sr. will likely be part of a Democratic supermajority in the Council that will elect a new Speaker and work with Mayor Bill de Blasio -- if he prevails in November’s general election as expected. They will be asked to help deal with problems like a lack of housing affordability, a deteriorating transportation system, substandard schools, and more.</p> <p>The state lawmakers would bring to the City Council significant legislative experience as they fill three of the 10 seats set to change hands.</p> <p>"The powers of the Legislature are infinitely broader, as a result these candidates bring a functional experience which is invaluable and would help City Council immensely,” says former Assemblymember Richard Brodsky.</p> <p>Last year, Mayor de Blasio and the City Council approved a large pay boost for all city elected officials, including Council members -- to $148,000, up from $112,500 -- in exchange for a ban on most outside income, which may continue to draw a steady stream of candidates from state government, where legislative salaries have been frozen at $79,000 since 1999. In addition to the pay bump, state lawmakers from New York City may be attracted to the proximity of City Hall as opposed to the state capital, as well as the influence and visibility that come with a City Council position.</p> <p>Leaving the Legislature, the three would join a number of other rank-and-file state lawmakers who have abandoned Albany for other offices where they believe they can be more effective. Additionally, this year, Republican Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, who was largely unnoticed outside of her district while serving in the Assembly minority, is now posing a fierce challenge to de Blasio in the mayoral race.</p> <p>In August, State Senator Daniel Squadron, penning a letter <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/leaving-n-y-senate-article-1.3394774" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in The Daily News</a> about his own disillusionment with the Albany process, announced that he would leave the Senate to pursue a national initiative. During his eight years in Albany, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7122-dan-squadron-fought-the-llc-loophole-and-the-loophole-won" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">his legislation to close the infamous “LLC loophole”</a> had never made it to the Senate floor.</p> <p>The moves from the state Legislature to the City Council often come down to opportunity. Diaz Sr., Rodriguez, Gjonaj and Moya all sought to replace City Council members who are term-limited or not seeking re-election. As soon as an elected official enters a City Council race, they typically become the favorite, given their higher profile, ability to fund-raise, and ties to important entities like labor unions. They almost always win.</p> <p>Lawmakers say they find it easier to have an impact legislatively from the City Council than in the State Assembly, where Democrats have an overwhelming majority, or in the State Senate where the Democratic conference is fractured and in the minority, according to those who have made the switch. The Albany budget and legislative processes are also known to be closed off to many rank-and-file legislators, given the “three men in a room” decision-making that often dominates.</p> <p>“In order to be effective in Albany you have to be there a long time, to accumulate seniority, to get a committee chairmanship. It’s very hard to get legislation passed without clout,” said Brooklyn Council Member Alan Maisel, who was elected to the body in 2013 after seven years in the Assembly.</p> <p>Some leave Albany in part because they have young children at home and being Upstate for portions of six months out of the year is grueling for their families, while others are motivated to move to the City Council as they near retirement, because the state’s pension system determines disbursements based on a lawmaker’s most recent salary. Maisel said he enjoyed his time Albany, but the turning point for him was the months after Hurricane Sandy, when he felt helpless to support his constituents from Albany. When the seat became available, he ran.</p> <p>“Here I am in Albany, from January till June, and I didn’t like that,” he said. “I wanted to be involved in local community things.”</p> <p>In 2021, when 37 Council members will be term-limited out of office, there is expected to be a marked influx of state legislators to the City Council. Other City Council members who have came from the State Legislature in recent years include Council Members Vanessa Gibson, Rafael Espinal, Joe Borelli, Inez Barron, and Rory Lancman.</p> <p>The departure of Squadron, Moya and, likely, Diaz Sr. and Gjonaj, will set off a series of special elections, which will be called at the discretion of Governor Andrew Cuomo. Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause/NY, has called for Cuomo to consolidate all the special elections into one, on November 7, Election Day.</p> <p>"We need to remove barriers to voting with early voting, instant runoff voting, and automatic voter registration -- an advance the Governor could accomplish administratively without legislative action," said Lerner.</p> <p>To enable this, Lerner called on the Diaz Sr., Gjonaj, and Moya to "put the public's interest ahead of their own self-interest and resign from the Legislature immediately." If the lawmakers remain in office for the remainder of the term, their seats will remain unfilled during the start of the 2018 legislative session.</p> <p>This year’s likely migrants have already been thrust into the next big fight in City Hall, that for the coveted role of City Council speaker, held by term-limited Melissa Mark-Viverito until the end of the year. It is for Mark-Viverito’s Council seat in District 8 (East Harlem and the South Bronx) where Assemblymember Rodriguez could still possibly join the wave, if his attempt to see affidavit and absentee ballots counted puts him ahead of Ayala, Mark-Viverito’s preferred successor and former aide.</p> <p>As their votes are being sought by their soon-to-be-colleagues seeking the speakership, there is more to know about the three legislators likely moving to the City Council.</p> <p><strong>Ruben Diaz Sr.: Council District 18</strong><br />Famous for his signature cowboy hat, his unvarnished “What You Should Know” <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/newsroom/articles/ruben-diaz/what-you-should-know-0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">newsletter</a>, and his passionate speeches on behalf of immigrants and the working class on the Senate floor, Reverend Ruben Diaz Sr. will soon be bringing his distinctive sartorial style to the Bronx’s 18th City Council District, a position he briefly held in 2001.</p> <p>An ordained minister who was born in Puerto Rico, Diaz leads the Christian Community Neighborhood Church on Longfellow Avenue and the New York Hispanic Clergy Organization, an organization of 150 local evangelical ministers. He is known as a conservative Democrat who may be out of step with many more socially progressive Council members.</p> <p>Diaz, who replaces the term-limited Annabel Palma, enjoys widespread support in the district. Legislatively, during his 13 years in the Senate, 18 of his bills have made it to the governor’s desk, 16 signed into law. His record ranges from <a href="http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/240132/diaz-will-introduce-legislation-to-address-toplessness-crisis/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">targeting the topless panhandlers</a> in Times Square, to pushing Cuomo to implement <a href="http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/246064/ruben-diaz-sr-to-cuomo-implement-id-program-that-helps-immigrants/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an identification card program</a> similar to IDNYC across the state, which is available to all immigrants regardless of documentation.</p> <p>Diaz Sr. also has much to gain from returning to his former district, which he left in 2002 to replace the scandal-scarred Senator Pedro Espada. Moving back to New York City and joining the City Council will allow Diaz, who is 74, to collect a higher pension when he eventually retires and cementing the Diaz brand could be beneficial for his son, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who may have broader, citywide political aspirations in the future.</p> <p>Diaz Sr. has drawn criticism for his socially conservative views, particularly his vote against New York’s Marriage Equality Act in 2011 and his anti-abortion stance. The reverend’s views have made for tricky politics for allies such as City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, who is seeking the Council speakership and was <a href="http://nypost.com/2017/08/14/city-councilman-slammed-by-gay-activists-for-endorsing-ruben-diaz-sr/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">criticized</a> by gay activists for endorsing Diaz Sr. in his Council bid. A prominent LGBT political club, the Stonewall Democrats, rescinded its support for Rodriguez as a result.</p> <p>“While we obviously do not agree on every issue–particularly his stances on abortion and the rights of the LGBTQ community–I know Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. has been a strong advocate for Latino representation and his working class constituents in the Bronx,” Rodriguez <a href="http://nypost.com/2017/08/14/city-councilman-slammed-by-gay-activists-for-endorsing-ruben-diaz-sr/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told the New York Post</a>. “As an experienced legislator, he will continue to serve them well in the Council.”</p> <p>Another speaker hopeful, Council Member Corey Johnson, who is gay, also caught flack for friendliness toward Diaz Sr., but much earlier in the election cycle.</p> <p>In 2011, Diaz’s grandaughter, Erica, who is a lesbian, <a href="http://cityandstateny.com/articles/personality/interviews-and-profiles/state-sen-ruben-diaz-sr-city-council-interview.html#.WbkpPkqGM6U" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">famously</a> organized a counter protest to her grandfather’s anti-gay marriage rally.</p> <p>Regarding his views on homosexuality, Diaz Sr. <a href="https://citylimits.org/2017/08/03/i-am-the-church-i-am-the-state-diaz-sr-faces-younger-voices-in-bronx-primary/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told City Limits</a>, “You don’t believe in this, you don’t believe in that, but you respect the people. And you provide the service you are supposed to provide and you make sure they get the same service as everyone else.”</p> <p>Many are surely hoping that his “What you Need to Know” columns, which are published <a href="http://thebronxchronicle.com/2016/02/17/wysk-eliot-spitzer-vs-hiram-monserrate/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in the Bronx Chronicle</a> continue. In his blunt columns, he’s taken to task his <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/ruben-diaz/3-new-amigos-%E2%80%93-what%E2%80%99s-difference" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">colleagues</a> in the Senate, Governor Cuomo’s <a href="http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/228751/diaz-whats-good-for-the-ethics-goose/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ethics reform attempts</a>, actor/director <a href="http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/229541/diaz-goes-out-of-his-way-to-be-offended-by-sean-penn/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Sean Penn’s comment</a> at the Oscars, and most recently, Council Speaker Mark-Viverito was caught <a href="http://thebronxchronicle.com/2015/12/09/melissa-mark-viverito-is-the-wrong-person-to-teach-american-values-to-donald-trump/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in his crosshairs</a>.<br /><br />On Tuesday, Diaz Sr. defeated Elvin Garcia, a former Bronx aide in Mayor de Blasio’s community assistance unit who is gay; activist Amanda Farias, who was backed by the National Organization of Women; and others.</p> <p>“I disagree with Diaz [Sr.] on just about everything, but I find him to be active and engaged and a serious member of the Legislature,” said Brodsky of his former colleague. “The tendency for these candidates to be colorful and independent is a virtue," he added.</p> <p><strong>Mark Gjonaj: Council District 13</strong><br />Gjonaj joined the state Assembly in 2012, after defeating incumbent Assemblymember Naomi Rivera, the daughter of Assemblymember Jose Rivera and sister Councilman Joel Rivera, in the 2012 Democratic primary. A real estate broker without political background aside from a stint as the Bronx representative on the Taxi and Limousine Commission, his victory caught the political establishment <a href="http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20120930/POLITICS/309309975/the-unlikely-assemblyman" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">by surprise</a>.</p> <p>The son of Albanian immigrant union workers, Gjonaj is seen as something of a trailblazer for the Bronx’s Albanian-American community, which includes a population of more than 12,500, according to 2011 figures, and he continues to have widespread support in the district.</p> <p>The 48-year-old Gjonaj, <a href="http://bronxink.org/2012/10/20/24603-from-albanian-roots-to-an-albany-job-mark-gjonajs-long-trail-to-the-assemblybly/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">who is known</a> for his extravagant fundraising tactics, recently drew criticism for spending campaign dollars on his own family businesses as well accepting donations from questionable sources. He is credited with <a href="http://observer.com/2017/03/bronx-mark-gjonaj-assembly-council-albanian-flag-day-don-coqui/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">energizing</a> a somewhat conservative constituency in the Bronx. His centrist Democratic politics is evidenced by the endorsement of state Senator Jeff Klein, leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, which forms a ruling majority with the Senate GOP. Both politicians represent suburban areas of the Bronx.</p> <p>Gjonaj served as chairperson of the subcommittee on micro business and has <a href="http://cityandstateny.com/articles/policy/education/charter-schools-republicans-vs-democrats.html#.WbLXNdOGPVo" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">signaled support</a> for charter schools. He has been <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/bronx-pol-brags-pushing-women-rights-bill-voted-no-article-1.2964989" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">criticized for taking credit</a> for the Women’s Equality Act, which he voted against, and he has promoted drug-fighting legislation, including a bill criminalizing and increasing penalties for the sale of synthetic marijuana.</p> <p>During his bid for City Council, Gjonaj scooped up all the major endorsements from the Bronx Democratic party machine and power players, as well as major labor unions. He spent a record amount -- <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/city-council-hopeful-sets-record-pumping-716g-bid-article-1.3485386" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">more than $716,469</a> -- on his campaign, defeating Marjorie Velazquez, a Democratic district leader and community board member who was endorsed by progressive and women’s groups, and John Doyle, a hospital official who once worked for Klein.</p> <p>“I am honored that the people of the 13th District have chosen me to fight for The Bronx and help lead the way in protecting the common-sense Democratic values that are vital in safeguarding our working and middle-class families, keeping our streets safe, ensuring every child receives a quality education and securing affordable housing options for the most vulnerable,” Gjonaj said in a statement following his primary win. “From City Hall, I will be in a better position to bring attention to those issues and take action.”</p> <p>But, Gjonaj does have an active general election competition ahead, even if he is a heavy favorite. Following the primary, Bronx County Republican Party Chair Michael Rendino said in a statement that Gjonaj's primary win showed a lack of popular support. "In a stunning rebuke to politics as usual, Mark Gjonaj couldn't even break 40% in his Democratic primary election after spending more money than any council candidate in the history of the City’s campaign finance system," Rendino said. "Developer Mark Gjonaj is now going to have to defend his record against John Cerini in the general election. John is a longtime community leader and small business owner in Throgg's Neck and has been fighting for us his whole life. I like our chances."</p> <p><strong>Francisco Moya: Council District 21</strong><br />Good governance won out on primary day when Francisco Moya successfully beat out disgraced ex-Senator Hiram Monserrate, who was coming off of a two-year stint in jail for misappropriating $100,000 of taxpayer funds after previously having been expelled from the Senate for a domestic violence incident involving his then girlfriend.</p> <p>Monserrate has been seeking a return to elected office and has shown he can still turn out votes. After a particularly ugly battle, the margin was close, with Moya pulling in 56 percent of the vote, compared to Monserrate’s 44 percent.</p> <p>"Honesty and integrity won tonight,” Moya, 43, told the crowd at a victory party in Corona Tuesday night, <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/crooked-domestic-abuser-monserrate-sees-city-council-hopes-dashed-article-1.3491279?cid=bitly" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">according to The Daily News</a>.</p> <p>That sentiment was echoed by the National Organization for Women (NOW) which released a statement of congratulations to the incoming Council member. “We are proud to congratulate Francisco Moya for his victory today, because we know that he is going to fight for women, fight for immigrants, and fight for his community, and he can stand up as a role model for them as well,” said Sonia Ossorio, president of the NOW, which had come out strongly against Monserrate’s candidacy in recent weeks.</p> <p>Beyond Monserrate’s criminal record and ethics, a key point of contention during the race was the fate of Willets Point, a large plot of land that is in limbo after a proposed development there was blocked by a Court of Appeals ruling. The initial deal had been struck by Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, who announced earlier this year that she would not seek reelection for the seat and will leave it at the end of the year. She endorsed Moya as her successor and campaigned with him in the days before the primary.</p> <p>Moya’s progressive legislative record during his seven years in Albany -- not to mention universal disdain for Monserrate from the Democratic establishment -- allowed the Assembly member to sweep up <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2017/08/cuomo-endorses-moya/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">endorsements</a> from the Working Families Party, unions, and numerous politicians, including Mayor de Blasio, Governor Andrew Cuomo, and Public Advocate Tish James.</p> <p>Elected to the Assembly in 2010 over Monserrate, Moya has been known for <a href="http://www.latinpost.com/articles/15552/20140625/dream-act-fails-pass-ny-bill-sponsor-francisco-moya-acts-immigration-reform.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">his efforts</a> to fight for the passage of the NY DREAM Act, which would enable undocumented immigrant college students to be eligible for state financial aid. But year after year, the legislation died in the Republican controlled Senate.</p> <p>As a Council member, Moya won’t have to worry about his bills being blocked by Republicans, who control only three seats in the 51-seat body.</p> <p>Moya, who has said that he is the first state legislator of Ecuadorian descent and represents Jackson Heights, Queens, this year introduced <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6749-citing-trump-threat-assembly-passes-new-immigrant-protections-along-with-dream-act" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an extensive legislative package</a> aimed at protecting immigrants from police and enforcement agencies amidst a federal immigration crackdown, which would provide undocumented individuals with access to public defenders.</p> <p>He has <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/legislators-step-protect-wage-workers-article-1.2218229" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">introduced legislation</a> to stop employment agencies from committing fraud against job seekers, and went to bat for New York’s Scaffold Law, which places all liability for injured construction workers on employers. An avid soccer enthusiast, he's also championed <a href="http://thenycfcnation.com/2017/01/queens-borough-president-open-to-soccer-stadium-in-willets-point/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">bringing </a>a Major League Soccer stadium to Queens -- an idea that may come to fruition soon.</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Update: this article has been updated with a revised statement from Common Cause NY.</p> <p>Update: this article and its headline have been corrected to reflect that Diaz Sr. and Gjonaj have general election opponents.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/gjonaj_election_night_crop.jpg" alt="gjonaj election night crop" width="600" height="416" />&nbsp;</p> <p>Mark Gjonaj &amp; Bronx Democratic leadership (photo: @MarkGjonajNY)</p> <hr /> <p>With the New York City primary election behind us, it appears that at least three state legislators are likely to be leaving behind the trips to Albany for plush City Council seats.</p> <p>Following the path of former State Senator Bill Perkins, who was elected to the City Council in a special election earlier this year, two Assembly members and one state senator are likely to be making the same jump come January: State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr, Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj, and Assemblymember Francisco Moya were all victorious in determinative Democratic primaries Tuesday night.</p> <p>Assemblymembers Felix Ortiz and Robert Rodriguez also ran in Democratic City Council primaries, but appear to have lost their respective bids. Ortiz came in a distant second attempting to unseat incumbent Council Member Carlos Menchaca and Rodriguez is narrowly behind Diana Ayala in a race he has not conceded, though Ayala did declare victory. Gjonaj will have to defeat Republican candidate John Cerini in the general election, who is expected to be tougher competition than Diaz Sr.'s Republican opponent,&nbsp;Eisley Constantine. Moya does not have any general election competition.</p> <p>The three state legislators who won on Tuesday would join the City Council as part of the full new class of 51 members for a four-year term starting in January. For Diaz Sr., it would be a return to a Council district he once represented before being elected to the state Senate.</p> <p>Gjonaj, Moya, and Diaz Sr. will likely be part of a Democratic supermajority in the Council that will elect a new Speaker and work with Mayor Bill de Blasio -- if he prevails in November’s general election as expected. They will be asked to help deal with problems like a lack of housing affordability, a deteriorating transportation system, substandard schools, and more.</p> <p>The state lawmakers would bring to the City Council significant legislative experience as they fill three of the 10 seats set to change hands.</p> <p>"The powers of the Legislature are infinitely broader, as a result these candidates bring a functional experience which is invaluable and would help City Council immensely,” says former Assemblymember Richard Brodsky.</p> <p>Last year, Mayor de Blasio and the City Council approved a large pay boost for all city elected officials, including Council members -- to $148,000, up from $112,500 -- in exchange for a ban on most outside income, which may continue to draw a steady stream of candidates from state government, where legislative salaries have been frozen at $79,000 since 1999. In addition to the pay bump, state lawmakers from New York City may be attracted to the proximity of City Hall as opposed to the state capital, as well as the influence and visibility that come with a City Council position.</p> <p>Leaving the Legislature, the three would join a number of other rank-and-file state lawmakers who have abandoned Albany for other offices where they believe they can be more effective. Additionally, this year, Republican Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, who was largely unnoticed outside of her district while serving in the Assembly minority, is now posing a fierce challenge to de Blasio in the mayoral race.</p> <p>In August, State Senator Daniel Squadron, penning a letter <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/leaving-n-y-senate-article-1.3394774" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in The Daily News</a> about his own disillusionment with the Albany process, announced that he would leave the Senate to pursue a national initiative. During his eight years in Albany, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7122-dan-squadron-fought-the-llc-loophole-and-the-loophole-won" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">his legislation to close the infamous “LLC loophole”</a> had never made it to the Senate floor.</p> <p>The moves from the state Legislature to the City Council often come down to opportunity. Diaz Sr., Rodriguez, Gjonaj and Moya all sought to replace City Council members who are term-limited or not seeking re-election. As soon as an elected official enters a City Council race, they typically become the favorite, given their higher profile, ability to fund-raise, and ties to important entities like labor unions. They almost always win.</p> <p>Lawmakers say they find it easier to have an impact legislatively from the City Council than in the State Assembly, where Democrats have an overwhelming majority, or in the State Senate where the Democratic conference is fractured and in the minority, according to those who have made the switch. The Albany budget and legislative processes are also known to be closed off to many rank-and-file legislators, given the “three men in a room” decision-making that often dominates.</p> <p>“In order to be effective in Albany you have to be there a long time, to accumulate seniority, to get a committee chairmanship. It’s very hard to get legislation passed without clout,” said Brooklyn Council Member Alan Maisel, who was elected to the body in 2013 after seven years in the Assembly.</p> <p>Some leave Albany in part because they have young children at home and being Upstate for portions of six months out of the year is grueling for their families, while others are motivated to move to the City Council as they near retirement, because the state’s pension system determines disbursements based on a lawmaker’s most recent salary. Maisel said he enjoyed his time Albany, but the turning point for him was the months after Hurricane Sandy, when he felt helpless to support his constituents from Albany. When the seat became available, he ran.</p> <p>“Here I am in Albany, from January till June, and I didn’t like that,” he said. “I wanted to be involved in local community things.”</p> <p>In 2021, when 37 Council members will be term-limited out of office, there is expected to be a marked influx of state legislators to the City Council. Other City Council members who have came from the State Legislature in recent years include Council Members Vanessa Gibson, Rafael Espinal, Joe Borelli, Inez Barron, and Rory Lancman.</p> <p>The departure of Squadron, Moya and, likely, Diaz Sr. and Gjonaj, will set off a series of special elections, which will be called at the discretion of Governor Andrew Cuomo. Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause/NY, has called for Cuomo to consolidate all the special elections into one, on November 7, Election Day.</p> <p>"We need to remove barriers to voting with early voting, instant runoff voting, and automatic voter registration -- an advance the Governor could accomplish administratively without legislative action," said Lerner.</p> <p>To enable this, Lerner called on the Diaz Sr., Gjonaj, and Moya to "put the public's interest ahead of their own self-interest and resign from the Legislature immediately." If the lawmakers remain in office for the remainder of the term, their seats will remain unfilled during the start of the 2018 legislative session.</p> <p>This year’s likely migrants have already been thrust into the next big fight in City Hall, that for the coveted role of City Council speaker, held by term-limited Melissa Mark-Viverito until the end of the year. It is for Mark-Viverito’s Council seat in District 8 (East Harlem and the South Bronx) where Assemblymember Rodriguez could still possibly join the wave, if his attempt to see affidavit and absentee ballots counted puts him ahead of Ayala, Mark-Viverito’s preferred successor and former aide.</p> <p>As their votes are being sought by their soon-to-be-colleagues seeking the speakership, there is more to know about the three legislators likely moving to the City Council.</p> <p><strong>Ruben Diaz Sr.: Council District 18</strong><br />Famous for his signature cowboy hat, his unvarnished “What You Should Know” <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/newsroom/articles/ruben-diaz/what-you-should-know-0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">newsletter</a>, and his passionate speeches on behalf of immigrants and the working class on the Senate floor, Reverend Ruben Diaz Sr. will soon be bringing his distinctive sartorial style to the Bronx’s 18th City Council District, a position he briefly held in 2001.</p> <p>An ordained minister who was born in Puerto Rico, Diaz leads the Christian Community Neighborhood Church on Longfellow Avenue and the New York Hispanic Clergy Organization, an organization of 150 local evangelical ministers. He is known as a conservative Democrat who may be out of step with many more socially progressive Council members.</p> <p>Diaz, who replaces the term-limited Annabel Palma, enjoys widespread support in the district. Legislatively, during his 13 years in the Senate, 18 of his bills have made it to the governor’s desk, 16 signed into law. His record ranges from <a href="http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/240132/diaz-will-introduce-legislation-to-address-toplessness-crisis/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">targeting the topless panhandlers</a> in Times Square, to pushing Cuomo to implement <a href="http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/246064/ruben-diaz-sr-to-cuomo-implement-id-program-that-helps-immigrants/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an identification card program</a> similar to IDNYC across the state, which is available to all immigrants regardless of documentation.</p> <p>Diaz Sr. also has much to gain from returning to his former district, which he left in 2002 to replace the scandal-scarred Senator Pedro Espada. Moving back to New York City and joining the City Council will allow Diaz, who is 74, to collect a higher pension when he eventually retires and cementing the Diaz brand could be beneficial for his son, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who may have broader, citywide political aspirations in the future.</p> <p>Diaz Sr. has drawn criticism for his socially conservative views, particularly his vote against New York’s Marriage Equality Act in 2011 and his anti-abortion stance. The reverend’s views have made for tricky politics for allies such as City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, who is seeking the Council speakership and was <a href="http://nypost.com/2017/08/14/city-councilman-slammed-by-gay-activists-for-endorsing-ruben-diaz-sr/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">criticized</a> by gay activists for endorsing Diaz Sr. in his Council bid. A prominent LGBT political club, the Stonewall Democrats, rescinded its support for Rodriguez as a result.</p> <p>“While we obviously do not agree on every issue–particularly his stances on abortion and the rights of the LGBTQ community–I know Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. has been a strong advocate for Latino representation and his working class constituents in the Bronx,” Rodriguez <a href="http://nypost.com/2017/08/14/city-councilman-slammed-by-gay-activists-for-endorsing-ruben-diaz-sr/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told the New York Post</a>. “As an experienced legislator, he will continue to serve them well in the Council.”</p> <p>Another speaker hopeful, Council Member Corey Johnson, who is gay, also caught flack for friendliness toward Diaz Sr., but much earlier in the election cycle.</p> <p>In 2011, Diaz’s grandaughter, Erica, who is a lesbian, <a href="http://cityandstateny.com/articles/personality/interviews-and-profiles/state-sen-ruben-diaz-sr-city-council-interview.html#.WbkpPkqGM6U" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">famously</a> organized a counter protest to her grandfather’s anti-gay marriage rally.</p> <p>Regarding his views on homosexuality, Diaz Sr. <a href="https://citylimits.org/2017/08/03/i-am-the-church-i-am-the-state-diaz-sr-faces-younger-voices-in-bronx-primary/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told City Limits</a>, “You don’t believe in this, you don’t believe in that, but you respect the people. And you provide the service you are supposed to provide and you make sure they get the same service as everyone else.”</p> <p>Many are surely hoping that his “What you Need to Know” columns, which are published <a href="http://thebronxchronicle.com/2016/02/17/wysk-eliot-spitzer-vs-hiram-monserrate/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in the Bronx Chronicle</a> continue. In his blunt columns, he’s taken to task his <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/ruben-diaz/3-new-amigos-%E2%80%93-what%E2%80%99s-difference" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">colleagues</a> in the Senate, Governor Cuomo’s <a href="http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/228751/diaz-whats-good-for-the-ethics-goose/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ethics reform attempts</a>, actor/director <a href="http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/229541/diaz-goes-out-of-his-way-to-be-offended-by-sean-penn/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Sean Penn’s comment</a> at the Oscars, and most recently, Council Speaker Mark-Viverito was caught <a href="http://thebronxchronicle.com/2015/12/09/melissa-mark-viverito-is-the-wrong-person-to-teach-american-values-to-donald-trump/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in his crosshairs</a>.<br /><br />On Tuesday, Diaz Sr. defeated Elvin Garcia, a former Bronx aide in Mayor de Blasio’s community assistance unit who is gay; activist Amanda Farias, who was backed by the National Organization of Women; and others.</p> <p>“I disagree with Diaz [Sr.] on just about everything, but I find him to be active and engaged and a serious member of the Legislature,” said Brodsky of his former colleague. “The tendency for these candidates to be colorful and independent is a virtue," he added.</p> <p><strong>Mark Gjonaj: Council District 13</strong><br />Gjonaj joined the state Assembly in 2012, after defeating incumbent Assemblymember Naomi Rivera, the daughter of Assemblymember Jose Rivera and sister Councilman Joel Rivera, in the 2012 Democratic primary. A real estate broker without political background aside from a stint as the Bronx representative on the Taxi and Limousine Commission, his victory caught the political establishment <a href="http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20120930/POLITICS/309309975/the-unlikely-assemblyman" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">by surprise</a>.</p> <p>The son of Albanian immigrant union workers, Gjonaj is seen as something of a trailblazer for the Bronx’s Albanian-American community, which includes a population of more than 12,500, according to 2011 figures, and he continues to have widespread support in the district.</p> <p>The 48-year-old Gjonaj, <a href="http://bronxink.org/2012/10/20/24603-from-albanian-roots-to-an-albany-job-mark-gjonajs-long-trail-to-the-assemblybly/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">who is known</a> for his extravagant fundraising tactics, recently drew criticism for spending campaign dollars on his own family businesses as well accepting donations from questionable sources. He is credited with <a href="http://observer.com/2017/03/bronx-mark-gjonaj-assembly-council-albanian-flag-day-don-coqui/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">energizing</a> a somewhat conservative constituency in the Bronx. His centrist Democratic politics is evidenced by the endorsement of state Senator Jeff Klein, leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, which forms a ruling majority with the Senate GOP. Both politicians represent suburban areas of the Bronx.</p> <p>Gjonaj served as chairperson of the subcommittee on micro business and has <a href="http://cityandstateny.com/articles/policy/education/charter-schools-republicans-vs-democrats.html#.WbLXNdOGPVo" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">signaled support</a> for charter schools. He has been <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/bronx-pol-brags-pushing-women-rights-bill-voted-no-article-1.2964989" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">criticized for taking credit</a> for the Women’s Equality Act, which he voted against, and he has promoted drug-fighting legislation, including a bill criminalizing and increasing penalties for the sale of synthetic marijuana.</p> <p>During his bid for City Council, Gjonaj scooped up all the major endorsements from the Bronx Democratic party machine and power players, as well as major labor unions. He spent a record amount -- <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/city-council-hopeful-sets-record-pumping-716g-bid-article-1.3485386" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">more than $716,469</a> -- on his campaign, defeating Marjorie Velazquez, a Democratic district leader and community board member who was endorsed by progressive and women’s groups, and John Doyle, a hospital official who once worked for Klein.</p> <p>“I am honored that the people of the 13th District have chosen me to fight for The Bronx and help lead the way in protecting the common-sense Democratic values that are vital in safeguarding our working and middle-class families, keeping our streets safe, ensuring every child receives a quality education and securing affordable housing options for the most vulnerable,” Gjonaj said in a statement following his primary win. “From City Hall, I will be in a better position to bring attention to those issues and take action.”</p> <p>But, Gjonaj does have an active general election competition ahead, even if he is a heavy favorite. Following the primary, Bronx County Republican Party Chair Michael Rendino said in a statement that Gjonaj's primary win showed a lack of popular support. "In a stunning rebuke to politics as usual, Mark Gjonaj couldn't even break 40% in his Democratic primary election after spending more money than any council candidate in the history of the City’s campaign finance system," Rendino said. "Developer Mark Gjonaj is now going to have to defend his record against John Cerini in the general election. John is a longtime community leader and small business owner in Throgg's Neck and has been fighting for us his whole life. I like our chances."</p> <p><strong>Francisco Moya: Council District 21</strong><br />Good governance won out on primary day when Francisco Moya successfully beat out disgraced ex-Senator Hiram Monserrate, who was coming off of a two-year stint in jail for misappropriating $100,000 of taxpayer funds after previously having been expelled from the Senate for a domestic violence incident involving his then girlfriend.</p> <p>Monserrate has been seeking a return to elected office and has shown he can still turn out votes. After a particularly ugly battle, the margin was close, with Moya pulling in 56 percent of the vote, compared to Monserrate’s 44 percent.</p> <p>"Honesty and integrity won tonight,” Moya, 43, told the crowd at a victory party in Corona Tuesday night, <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/crooked-domestic-abuser-monserrate-sees-city-council-hopes-dashed-article-1.3491279?cid=bitly" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">according to The Daily News</a>.</p> <p>That sentiment was echoed by the National Organization for Women (NOW) which released a statement of congratulations to the incoming Council member. “We are proud to congratulate Francisco Moya for his victory today, because we know that he is going to fight for women, fight for immigrants, and fight for his community, and he can stand up as a role model for them as well,” said Sonia Ossorio, president of the NOW, which had come out strongly against Monserrate’s candidacy in recent weeks.</p> <p>Beyond Monserrate’s criminal record and ethics, a key point of contention during the race was the fate of Willets Point, a large plot of land that is in limbo after a proposed development there was blocked by a Court of Appeals ruling. The initial deal had been struck by Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, who announced earlier this year that she would not seek reelection for the seat and will leave it at the end of the year. She endorsed Moya as her successor and campaigned with him in the days before the primary.</p> <p>Moya’s progressive legislative record during his seven years in Albany -- not to mention universal disdain for Monserrate from the Democratic establishment -- allowed the Assembly member to sweep up <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2017/08/cuomo-endorses-moya/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">endorsements</a> from the Working Families Party, unions, and numerous politicians, including Mayor de Blasio, Governor Andrew Cuomo, and Public Advocate Tish James.</p> <p>Elected to the Assembly in 2010 over Monserrate, Moya has been known for <a href="http://www.latinpost.com/articles/15552/20140625/dream-act-fails-pass-ny-bill-sponsor-francisco-moya-acts-immigration-reform.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">his efforts</a> to fight for the passage of the NY DREAM Act, which would enable undocumented immigrant college students to be eligible for state financial aid. But year after year, the legislation died in the Republican controlled Senate.</p> <p>As a Council member, Moya won’t have to worry about his bills being blocked by Republicans, who control only three seats in the 51-seat body.</p> <p>Moya, who has said that he is the first state legislator of Ecuadorian descent and represents Jackson Heights, Queens, this year introduced <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6749-citing-trump-threat-assembly-passes-new-immigrant-protections-along-with-dream-act" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an extensive legislative package</a> aimed at protecting immigrants from police and enforcement agencies amidst a federal immigration crackdown, which would provide undocumented individuals with access to public defenders.</p> <p>He has <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/legislators-step-protect-wage-workers-article-1.2218229" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">introduced legislation</a> to stop employment agencies from committing fraud against job seekers, and went to bat for New York’s Scaffold Law, which places all liability for injured construction workers on employers. An avid soccer enthusiast, he's also championed <a href="http://thenycfcnation.com/2017/01/queens-borough-president-open-to-soccer-stadium-in-willets-point/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">bringing </a>a Major League Soccer stadium to Queens -- an idea that may come to fruition soon.</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Update: this article has been updated with a revised statement from Common Cause NY.</p> <p>Update: this article and its headline have been corrected to reflect that Diaz Sr. and Gjonaj have general election opponents.</p>
We Need to Do More - Not Less - to Elect Women to Office 2017-08-15T04:00:00+00:00 2017-08-15T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7130:we-need-to-do-more-not-less-to-elect-women-to-office Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/sonia-ossorio.png" alt="sonia ossorio" width="600" height="526" /></p> <p>Sonia Ossorio, the author, is president of National Organization of Women – New York</p> <hr /> <p>Across the country, women are working to reclaim their power on the front lines of the resistance against the misogyny and xenophobia of the Trump administration. Yet when women decide to run for office themselves, they continue to face significant barriers — and in one local City Council race — those barriers have become starkly clear.</p> <p>In the Bronx, Amanda Farias is running to represent District 18, which includes the neighborhoods of Soundview, Castle Hill, Parkchester, Clason Point and Harding Park. Born and raised in the Bronx, Amanda has made a career of serving her community. She brings extensive political experience running the City Council’s Women’s Caucus, working for Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, and leading participatory budgeting efforts for Council District 30. Amanda is exactly the kind of qualified, experienced and committed candidate we should be working to elevate and support.</p> <p>But the Bronx County Democrats decided instead to back a candidate—Ruben Diaz Sr.— who fails to support the basic tenets of the Democratic Party and human rights, who seeks to put a woman’s decisions about her body into the hands of government, and who has demonstrated contempt for the LGBTQ community. &nbsp;</p> <p>To add insult to injury, the Bronx County Democrats are trying to build roadblocks to prevent Amanda Farias from even getting on the ballot, leaving Bronx voters with fewer options. There’s nothing democratic about that.</p> <p>Amanda gathered over six times the number of signatures required to be placed on the ballot, a testament to the desire of residents of the Bronx to see more qualified candidates run for office. Instead of embracing the opportunity for new voices, the Bronx County Democrats challenged the validity of her petitions. This cynical move makes their intentions all too clear: the Bronx County Democrats don’t just want their candidate to win. They want to prevent Amanda from even running. They don’t care if you have choices.</p> <p>As the nation faces an onslaught of hate and bigotry across the country, the Bronx County Democrats’ petition challenge is especially chilling. In a time when the leader of our country dismissed bragging about sexual assault as “locker room talk,” when leaders of the current administration have threatened to defund the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), and access to women’s healthcare is diminished, it is more important than ever to support strong, progressive leaders like Amanda Farias at the local level. And before we can even elect women, we need to make sure they get on the ballot.</p> <p>There are currently only 13 women serving in the 51-seat City Council. Five are set to leave at the end of the year (four due to term limits)—all of whom are women of color. Unless we empower and support women to run and fill these seats, women’s representation in the Council will drop to an abysmal 16 percent.</p> <p>No matter who is elected this fall to replace the departing Council members, one thing is clear. If we want to elect women, then we must be more proactive about giving women a platform. This isn’t just a Bronx problem—it’s a systemic issue for women who aspire to leadership positions from the corporate boardroom to national political office. But to change this culture and give women a path to the top, we must start locally.</p> <p>This means cultivating women leaders from the start, organizing activist nights and holding events to create a network that amplifies women’s voices, similar to the work we do at the National Organization for Women – New York. This means being deliberate in recruiting women and diverse voices on community boards, by investing in campaigns early on, by not making women the last token choice when an opening comes up, and at the very least by not purposefully blocking the democratic process when women do pursue opportunities.</p> <p>At the end of the day, voters should have more choices, not fewer, if we are going to move this country and this city forward. And it can and should start here in the Bronx.</p> <p>***<br /> Sonia Ossorio is President of the National Organization for Women – New York. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/NOW_NYC" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@NOW_NYC</a>.</p> <p>

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

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/sonia-ossorio.png" alt="sonia ossorio" width="600" height="526" /></p> <p>Sonia Ossorio, the author, is president of National Organization of Women – New York</p> <hr /> <p>Across the country, women are working to reclaim their power on the front lines of the resistance against the misogyny and xenophobia of the Trump administration. Yet when women decide to run for office themselves, they continue to face significant barriers — and in one local City Council race — those barriers have become starkly clear.</p> <p>In the Bronx, Amanda Farias is running to represent District 18, which includes the neighborhoods of Soundview, Castle Hill, Parkchester, Clason Point and Harding Park. Born and raised in the Bronx, Amanda has made a career of serving her community. She brings extensive political experience running the City Council’s Women’s Caucus, working for Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, and leading participatory budgeting efforts for Council District 30. Amanda is exactly the kind of qualified, experienced and committed candidate we should be working to elevate and support.</p> <p>But the Bronx County Democrats decided instead to back a candidate—Ruben Diaz Sr.— who fails to support the basic tenets of the Democratic Party and human rights, who seeks to put a woman’s decisions about her body into the hands of government, and who has demonstrated contempt for the LGBTQ community. &nbsp;</p> <p>To add insult to injury, the Bronx County Democrats are trying to build roadblocks to prevent Amanda Farias from even getting on the ballot, leaving Bronx voters with fewer options. There’s nothing democratic about that.</p> <p>Amanda gathered over six times the number of signatures required to be placed on the ballot, a testament to the desire of residents of the Bronx to see more qualified candidates run for office. Instead of embracing the opportunity for new voices, the Bronx County Democrats challenged the validity of her petitions. This cynical move makes their intentions all too clear: the Bronx County Democrats don’t just want their candidate to win. They want to prevent Amanda from even running. They don’t care if you have choices.</p> <p>As the nation faces an onslaught of hate and bigotry across the country, the Bronx County Democrats’ petition challenge is especially chilling. In a time when the leader of our country dismissed bragging about sexual assault as “locker room talk,” when leaders of the current administration have threatened to defund the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), and access to women’s healthcare is diminished, it is more important than ever to support strong, progressive leaders like Amanda Farias at the local level. And before we can even elect women, we need to make sure they get on the ballot.</p> <p>There are currently only 13 women serving in the 51-seat City Council. Five are set to leave at the end of the year (four due to term limits)—all of whom are women of color. Unless we empower and support women to run and fill these seats, women’s representation in the Council will drop to an abysmal 16 percent.</p> <p>No matter who is elected this fall to replace the departing Council members, one thing is clear. If we want to elect women, then we must be more proactive about giving women a platform. This isn’t just a Bronx problem—it’s a systemic issue for women who aspire to leadership positions from the corporate boardroom to national political office. But to change this culture and give women a path to the top, we must start locally.</p> <p>This means cultivating women leaders from the start, organizing activist nights and holding events to create a network that amplifies women’s voices, similar to the work we do at the National Organization for Women – New York. This means being deliberate in recruiting women and diverse voices on community boards, by investing in campaigns early on, by not making women the last token choice when an opening comes up, and at the very least by not purposefully blocking the democratic process when women do pursue opportunities.</p> <p>At the end of the day, voters should have more choices, not fewer, if we are going to move this country and this city forward. And it can and should start here in the Bronx.</p> <p>***<br /> Sonia Ossorio is President of the National Organization for Women – New York. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/NOW_NYC" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@NOW_NYC</a>.</p> <p>

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

</p>
Potential Departure of Two Senate Democrats Poses Another Threat to Unity 2017-05-25T04:00:00+00:00 2017-05-25T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6958:potential-departure-of-two-senate-democrats-poses-another-threat-to-unity Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/rev_ruben_diaz_sr_town_hall_bdb_crop.jpg" alt="rev ruben diaz sr town hall bdb crop" width="600" height="345" /></p> <p>Ruben Diaz Sr. (photo: @NYPD43Pct)</p> <hr /> <p>While Democrats technically reclaimed a majority of state Senate seats through a special election Tuesday, a deeply fractured party picture remains. As different factions point fingers and call for unity, it seems likely that the headcount will drop down again by the end of the year.</p> <p>Two mainline Democratic senators have announced that they are running for other offices this year. Senator George Latimer, of Westchester County’s 37th District, is eying the county executive seat, while Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., representing the Bronx’s 32nd District, is a candidate for a City Council seat he briefly held in 2001.</p> <p>On Tuesday, real estate developer Brian Benjamin replaced Bill Perkins, who left the Senate for the City Council in February, by winning a special election for Manhattan’s 30th Senate District, bringing the number of Democratic lawmakers in the 63-seat Senate to 32, a bare majority.</p> <p>Benjamin’s win (on top of Donald Trump’s presidential victory) has amplified deep-seated divisions among Senate Democrats. Currently, the eight-member Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) forms a ruling coalition with Republicans, while a ninth nominal Democrat, Senator Simcha Felder, conferences with the Republicans. This leaves 23 mainline Democrats in the chamber, including Benjamin. The dynamics have prompted New York progressive leaders to call for breakaway Democrats to return to the fold, form a Democratic majority conference, and pass legislation that is reflective of the heavily Democratic state.</p> <p>However, unity would not be possible under the current Senate rules, which list Republican Leader John Flanagan as the president of the chamber, as voted by Senate Republicans and Felder. And, before the next scheduled elections, in 2018, for all 63 Senate seats, there is a good chance that one or both of Diaz Sr. and Latimer will vacate their seat.</p> <p>On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins sent letters to each IDC member, calling on them to realign with the Democrats. “As Donald Trump continues to propose devastating cuts to critical programs. it is more important than ever for progressive New Yorkers to unite. That is why we are asking you to join the now-23 members of the Democratic Conlèrence by pledging to only enter a coalition to lead the Senate with fellow Democrats and abandoning your coalition with Republicans,” wrote Stewart-Cousins.</p> <p>Also calling for Democratic unity is the Working Families Party, which organized rallies outside the district offices of IDC members on Wednesday, top officials from the Democratic National Committee, and a variety of other Democratic elected officials and activists.</p> <p>But some political insiders say that these calls and letters are ultimately meaningless if the Democrats’ control of 32 seats is short lived. If Diaz Sr. and Latimer win their respective races, Democrats would control 30 seats, two short of a majority stake. A Diaz Sr. or Latimer vacancy would occur as of January, leaving one or two seats empty for at least 90 days, the required window before Governor Andrew Cuomo could call a special election -- if he chooses to call one at all.</p> <p>Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, is unlikely to call a special election for April, which is when budget negotiations are finalized -- which, depending on unity negotiations, could easily leave Senate Democrats out of the discussion on the final spending agreement.</p> <p>Whether the governor calls a special election in May, after budget, or decides to wait out the rest of year until the regularly scheduled election, depends on a variety of factors and remains to be seen, according to veteran political consultant Hank Sheinkopf.</p> <p>“It will depend on the state of play at the time,” said Sheinkopf. “Why should he call a special election in January if he’s got to get that budget done. What’s the best way for him to get it done? We don’t know yet.”</p> <p>Cuomo’s decision may also be influenced by how active the Democratic base is in lobbying him, especially given his own 2018 reelection bid on the horizon, not to mention his possible 2020 presidential ambitions.</p> <p>The odds are good for Diaz Sr. to win the City Council seat. While he faces <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6676-candidates-for-2017-city-elections-mayor-city-council-comptroller" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a crowded primary</a>, Diaz is popular in the Bronx, where his son Ruben Diaz Jr. is the borough president. He is a beloved community leader and minister at a local Pentecostal church, and his standing among his constituents is reflected by the district’s Senate primary results for the last few years. In 2016, Diaz Sr. beat out his Democratic rival with <a href="http://vote.nyc.ny.us/downloads/pdf/election_results/2016/20160913Primary%20Election/01202100032Bronx%20Democratic%20State%20Senator%2032nd%20Senatorial%20District%20Recap.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">8,557 votes out of 9,648 cast</a>, or 88.7 percent.</p> <p>“The Diaz name has magic in the Bronx, he’s going to be tough to beat, but in crowded primary, it’s hard to predict,” says Sheinkopf.</p> <p>For Latimer, who is challenging incumbent Rob Astorino, a Republican seeking his third term, the path to victory is less clear. While Westchester is heavily Democratic on paper, experts say it is a classic suburban 'bellwether' county, meaning it can be turned red or blue based on the winds of influence from Washington, D.C. Astorino, who challenged Gov. Cuomo in 2014, is popular in the county, and in a typical year, Latimer would be fighting an uphill battle. But with the GOP at risk almost everywhere due to President Trump’s unpopularity, Latimer's chances may continue to improve, according to insiders.</p> <p>“Latimer is unique in that he has a very significant following. He served the area as an Assemblyman and he’s highly regarded there. But could a Republican with the appropriate anti-Trump sentiment as part of his platform have an opportunity to make it a race? The answer is yes, it’s not impossible,” said Sheinkopf.</p> <p>Both Diaz Sr. and Latimer would leave the Senate for better paying jobs. The County Executive position pays $160,760, up from the long-stagnant $79,500 state legislators make. As a City Council member, Diaz Sr. would also see a significant salary bump, earning $148,500.</p> <p>The IDC, members of which receive financial and legislative perks as part of their partnership with the GOP, has little to gain from seeking a unity deal before November 2017, when the Diaz. Sr. and Latimer races will be decided.</p> <p>In anticipation of this week’s special election in Harlem, the IDC released a video, calling on all 32 Democrats -- the number required to pass legislation -- to join them in declaring their support for progressive measures like ethics and voting reform, codifying a woman’s right to choose, and more. The video implies that there are Democrats who don’t support the measures named, references to the socially conservative views of Diaz Sr. and Felder.</p> <p>"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,” said IDC spokesperson Candice Giove in a statement.</p> <p>While Diaz Sr.’s more socially conservative views on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage sometimes pose a problem for fellow Democrats, his district is one of the few heavily Democratic areas of New York City where these positions are not a liability. In 2010, Diaz Sr. was challenged by a Democrat backed by LGBT groups and still won 79.4% of the vote. The senator was not primaried in 2012 or 2014.</p> <p>While the Democratic Conference might welcome a more progressive replacement for Diaz Sr., the conference is at risk of losing the seat to a Democrat with loyalty to IDC leader Senator Jeffrey Klein, who also hails from the Bronx, noted Sheinkopf.</p> <p>Meanwhile, Felder, the Brooklyn Democrat who caucuses with Republicans, told Gotham Gazette Wednesday that he would be “very interested in renegotiating the priorities” of his district, provided that the IDC first commit themselves to rejoining with mainline Democrats.</p> <p>“The IDC represents 25 percent of the Democrats. I think it’s incumbent upon them to rejoin the Democrats to try to take back the majority and not play around, trying to make believe they are any different than the Republican conference,” he said, referencing a letter he sent to Senators Klein and Stewart-Cousins stating as much.</p> <p>The GOP conference, which does not have without a numerical majority without Felder, is also at risk of losing members this year, which could force them to rely on the IDC for a majority in 2018. Senator Rob Ortt, a Republican from Niagara County, was&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wgrz.com/news/local/new-york/judge-upholds-charges-against-sen-rob-ortt/433766633">indicted on charges</a>&nbsp;of filing with a false instrument, and if found guilty, could eventually lose his seat. Senator Philip Boyle, of Suffolk County, was&nbsp;<a href="http://www.newsday.com/long-island/politics/suffolk-republicans-choose-perini-for-da-boyle-for-sheriff-1.13662536">recently nominated&nbsp;</a>as the Republican candidate for county sheriff, though he may face a GOP primary.</p> <p>Even if the Democrats did unite, it is unclear what a coalition among mainline Democrats, the IDC, and Felder would look like, and who would lead the conference -- Klein, Stewart-Cousins, both, or someone else.</p> <p>Ultimately, the only way the party will reunite during this short window, is if the governor decides to use his influence to compel party loyalty, according to Richard Brodsky, a former Assemblymember from Westchester and now a Demos scholar.</p> <p>While Cuomo has signalled that he is comfortable with keeping the Senate GOP in power, Brodsky says the Working Families Party and other progressives have done a good job <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/pol-rips-cuomo-doubting-democratic-n-y-senate-article-1.3137747" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at publicly pressuring him</a> to reunite the party, and may be more impactful if Cuomo pursues his rumored presidential aspirations.</p> <p>“In the end, until the governor uses his influence -- which is a strong influence -- there's not going to be a resolution here,” said Brodsky. "The WFP has found innovative ways to step up the pressure and the consequences for Governor Cuomo in 2020 are not, as we say in Italian, ‘chopped liver.’”</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/rev_ruben_diaz_sr_town_hall_bdb_crop.jpg" alt="rev ruben diaz sr town hall bdb crop" width="600" height="345" /></p> <p>Ruben Diaz Sr. (photo: @NYPD43Pct)</p> <hr /> <p>While Democrats technically reclaimed a majority of state Senate seats through a special election Tuesday, a deeply fractured party picture remains. As different factions point fingers and call for unity, it seems likely that the headcount will drop down again by the end of the year.</p> <p>Two mainline Democratic senators have announced that they are running for other offices this year. Senator George Latimer, of Westchester County’s 37th District, is eying the county executive seat, while Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., representing the Bronx’s 32nd District, is a candidate for a City Council seat he briefly held in 2001.</p> <p>On Tuesday, real estate developer Brian Benjamin replaced Bill Perkins, who left the Senate for the City Council in February, by winning a special election for Manhattan’s 30th Senate District, bringing the number of Democratic lawmakers in the 63-seat Senate to 32, a bare majority.</p> <p>Benjamin’s win (on top of Donald Trump’s presidential victory) has amplified deep-seated divisions among Senate Democrats. Currently, the eight-member Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) forms a ruling coalition with Republicans, while a ninth nominal Democrat, Senator Simcha Felder, conferences with the Republicans. This leaves 23 mainline Democrats in the chamber, including Benjamin. The dynamics have prompted New York progressive leaders to call for breakaway Democrats to return to the fold, form a Democratic majority conference, and pass legislation that is reflective of the heavily Democratic state.</p> <p>However, unity would not be possible under the current Senate rules, which list Republican Leader John Flanagan as the president of the chamber, as voted by Senate Republicans and Felder. And, before the next scheduled elections, in 2018, for all 63 Senate seats, there is a good chance that one or both of Diaz Sr. and Latimer will vacate their seat.</p> <p>On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins sent letters to each IDC member, calling on them to realign with the Democrats. “As Donald Trump continues to propose devastating cuts to critical programs. it is more important than ever for progressive New Yorkers to unite. That is why we are asking you to join the now-23 members of the Democratic Conlèrence by pledging to only enter a coalition to lead the Senate with fellow Democrats and abandoning your coalition with Republicans,” wrote Stewart-Cousins.</p> <p>Also calling for Democratic unity is the Working Families Party, which organized rallies outside the district offices of IDC members on Wednesday, top officials from the Democratic National Committee, and a variety of other Democratic elected officials and activists.</p> <p>But some political insiders say that these calls and letters are ultimately meaningless if the Democrats’ control of 32 seats is short lived. If Diaz Sr. and Latimer win their respective races, Democrats would control 30 seats, two short of a majority stake. A Diaz Sr. or Latimer vacancy would occur as of January, leaving one or two seats empty for at least 90 days, the required window before Governor Andrew Cuomo could call a special election -- if he chooses to call one at all.</p> <p>Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, is unlikely to call a special election for April, which is when budget negotiations are finalized -- which, depending on unity negotiations, could easily leave Senate Democrats out of the discussion on the final spending agreement.</p> <p>Whether the governor calls a special election in May, after budget, or decides to wait out the rest of year until the regularly scheduled election, depends on a variety of factors and remains to be seen, according to veteran political consultant Hank Sheinkopf.</p> <p>“It will depend on the state of play at the time,” said Sheinkopf. “Why should he call a special election in January if he’s got to get that budget done. What’s the best way for him to get it done? We don’t know yet.”</p> <p>Cuomo’s decision may also be influenced by how active the Democratic base is in lobbying him, especially given his own 2018 reelection bid on the horizon, not to mention his possible 2020 presidential ambitions.</p> <p>The odds are good for Diaz Sr. to win the City Council seat. While he faces <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6676-candidates-for-2017-city-elections-mayor-city-council-comptroller" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a crowded primary</a>, Diaz is popular in the Bronx, where his son Ruben Diaz Jr. is the borough president. He is a beloved community leader and minister at a local Pentecostal church, and his standing among his constituents is reflected by the district’s Senate primary results for the last few years. In 2016, Diaz Sr. beat out his Democratic rival with <a href="http://vote.nyc.ny.us/downloads/pdf/election_results/2016/20160913Primary%20Election/01202100032Bronx%20Democratic%20State%20Senator%2032nd%20Senatorial%20District%20Recap.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">8,557 votes out of 9,648 cast</a>, or 88.7 percent.</p> <p>“The Diaz name has magic in the Bronx, he’s going to be tough to beat, but in crowded primary, it’s hard to predict,” says Sheinkopf.</p> <p>For Latimer, who is challenging incumbent Rob Astorino, a Republican seeking his third term, the path to victory is less clear. While Westchester is heavily Democratic on paper, experts say it is a classic suburban 'bellwether' county, meaning it can be turned red or blue based on the winds of influence from Washington, D.C. Astorino, who challenged Gov. Cuomo in 2014, is popular in the county, and in a typical year, Latimer would be fighting an uphill battle. But with the GOP at risk almost everywhere due to President Trump’s unpopularity, Latimer's chances may continue to improve, according to insiders.</p> <p>“Latimer is unique in that he has a very significant following. He served the area as an Assemblyman and he’s highly regarded there. But could a Republican with the appropriate anti-Trump sentiment as part of his platform have an opportunity to make it a race? The answer is yes, it’s not impossible,” said Sheinkopf.</p> <p>Both Diaz Sr. and Latimer would leave the Senate for better paying jobs. The County Executive position pays $160,760, up from the long-stagnant $79,500 state legislators make. As a City Council member, Diaz Sr. would also see a significant salary bump, earning $148,500.</p> <p>The IDC, members of which receive financial and legislative perks as part of their partnership with the GOP, has little to gain from seeking a unity deal before November 2017, when the Diaz. Sr. and Latimer races will be decided.</p> <p>In anticipation of this week’s special election in Harlem, the IDC released a video, calling on all 32 Democrats -- the number required to pass legislation -- to join them in declaring their support for progressive measures like ethics and voting reform, codifying a woman’s right to choose, and more. The video implies that there are Democrats who don’t support the measures named, references to the socially conservative views of Diaz Sr. and Felder.</p> <p>"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,” said IDC spokesperson Candice Giove in a statement.</p> <p>While Diaz Sr.’s more socially conservative views on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage sometimes pose a problem for fellow Democrats, his district is one of the few heavily Democratic areas of New York City where these positions are not a liability. In 2010, Diaz Sr. was challenged by a Democrat backed by LGBT groups and still won 79.4% of the vote. The senator was not primaried in 2012 or 2014.</p> <p>While the Democratic Conference might welcome a more progressive replacement for Diaz Sr., the conference is at risk of losing the seat to a Democrat with loyalty to IDC leader Senator Jeffrey Klein, who also hails from the Bronx, noted Sheinkopf.</p> <p>Meanwhile, Felder, the Brooklyn Democrat who caucuses with Republicans, told Gotham Gazette Wednesday that he would be “very interested in renegotiating the priorities” of his district, provided that the IDC first commit themselves to rejoining with mainline Democrats.</p> <p>“The IDC represents 25 percent of the Democrats. I think it’s incumbent upon them to rejoin the Democrats to try to take back the majority and not play around, trying to make believe they are any different than the Republican conference,” he said, referencing a letter he sent to Senators Klein and Stewart-Cousins stating as much.</p> <p>The GOP conference, which does not have without a numerical majority without Felder, is also at risk of losing members this year, which could force them to rely on the IDC for a majority in 2018. Senator Rob Ortt, a Republican from Niagara County, was&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wgrz.com/news/local/new-york/judge-upholds-charges-against-sen-rob-ortt/433766633">indicted on charges</a>&nbsp;of filing with a false instrument, and if found guilty, could eventually lose his seat. Senator Philip Boyle, of Suffolk County, was&nbsp;<a href="http://www.newsday.com/long-island/politics/suffolk-republicans-choose-perini-for-da-boyle-for-sheriff-1.13662536">recently nominated&nbsp;</a>as the Republican candidate for county sheriff, though he may face a GOP primary.</p> <p>Even if the Democrats did unite, it is unclear what a coalition among mainline Democrats, the IDC, and Felder would look like, and who would lead the conference -- Klein, Stewart-Cousins, both, or someone else.</p> <p>Ultimately, the only way the party will reunite during this short window, is if the governor decides to use his influence to compel party loyalty, according to Richard Brodsky, a former Assemblymember from Westchester and now a Demos scholar.</p> <p>While Cuomo has signalled that he is comfortable with keeping the Senate GOP in power, Brodsky says the Working Families Party and other progressives have done a good job <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/pol-rips-cuomo-doubting-democratic-n-y-senate-article-1.3137747" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at publicly pressuring him</a> to reunite the party, and may be more impactful if Cuomo pursues his rumored presidential aspirations.</p> <p>“In the end, until the governor uses his influence -- which is a strong influence -- there's not going to be a resolution here,” said Brodsky. "The WFP has found innovative ways to step up the pressure and the consequences for Governor Cuomo in 2020 are not, as we say in Italian, ‘chopped liver.’”</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Three More State Legislators Seek City Council Seats 2017-05-22T04:00:00+00:00 2017-05-22T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6948:three-more-state-legislators-seek-city-council-seats Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/diaz_sr_and_gjonaj_crop.jpg" alt="diaz sr and gjonaj crop" width="600" height="479" /></p> <p>Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., left, &amp; AM Mark Gjonaj (photo: @RevRubenDiaz)</p> <hr /> <p>There are only a handful of City Council seats opening up this year due to term limits. Of the seven “open” races in the 51-seat Council, all of which are up for election this fall, several feature state legislators seeking to make the jump to the city’s legislative body.</p> <p>Seeking to stay closer to home for work, legislators who now have to commute to Albany several days a week for half the year have declared their candidacies. Entering City Council races to succeed a term-limited officeholder, the state legislators immediately became favorites to win, first in the September Democratic primaries, then the November general election. State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj, and Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez, all Democrats, are seeking “open” seats in the City Council. (One former Democratic legislator, Hiram Monserrate, is even attempting a comeback after having been expelled from the state Senate in 2010 following his conviction on misdemeanor assault charges.)</p> <p>Current and former state legislators vying for seats in the City Council is nothing new. A number of sitting Council members themselves were state representatives, many of them just prior to joining the Council. For instance, Council Members Vanessa Gibson, Joe Borelli, Rafael Espinal, Inez Barron, and Alan Maisel have all served in the state Assembly. Council Member Vincent Gentile was formerly a state Senator, as was Bill Perkins, who just recently won a special election in Council District 9 in February.</p> <p>The advantages to being in the Council are plain to see: Council members receive a much higher pay than state legislators and, after receiving recommendations from a special commission, just recently voted to give themselves a pay raise from $112,500 to $148,500. State lawmakers’ salaries are $79,500 annually, plus stipends for chairing issue committees or house leadership posts (a pay commission convened to explore pay hikes ended its work late last year without any recommendations). There is also the obvious ease of commuting to City Hall and offices in the five boroughs rather than constant trips to Albany. And, for some legislators, being in the Council offers a chance to have a greater say over local policy and the ability to more directly address community concerns. This was true for Perkins, who said when he ran in February that, as a Democrat in the minority in the state Senate, he was less able to affect legislation than he could in the overwhelmingly Democratic City Council.</p> <p>Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez only recently announced that he is running for the Council District 8 seat that will be vacated by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito at the end of the year. The district covers East Harlem and parts of the South Bronx. Mark-Viverito has endorsed her deputy chief of staff, Diana Ayala, for the seat, and the Bronx Democratic machinery has split its support for the two candidates. Rodriguez received endorsements last week from Bronx Democratic Party Chair Marcos Crespo, Manhattan Democratic Party Chair Keith Wright, former U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, and Council Member Bill Perkins. Ayala on the other hand has the support of Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.</p> <p>“There’s work to be done and I think there’s ways to translate priorities from the Legislature into the district,” Rodriguez said in a phone interview. He said the open seat was a unique opportunity that “literally comes along every eight years, sometimes 12.” “An opportunity too good to turn down,” he said. Rodriguez has already raised $78,647 for his run and spent $22,620, leaving him a balance of $56,017. (He is still currently listed as “undeclared” with the Campaign Finance Board in terms of which office he’ll seek.)</p> <p>Rodriguez acknowledged the potential advantages of working in the City Council with like-minded lawmakers, unlike Albany where any single piece of legislation must navigate two chambers. “It’s a smaller body and decisions are made differently,” he said of the unicameral and heavily Democratic Council, “there’s less institutional interplay.” And he’s confident that he’ll bring a “sense of experience and confidence” into the race that will sway voters.</p> <p>As a member of the Assembly for six years, Rodriguez said he’s also seen a lot of turnover and brushes aside any criticism that could be levelled against him for running for the Council just six months after being reelected to the Assembly. “ He also expects that in 2021, when more City Council seats are up for grabs, that many colleagues will make similar moves.</p> <p>Diana Ayala finds the timing of Rodriguez’s entry into the race puzzling. “Why certain members chose this year to run, I find it questionable,” she told Gotham Gazette. “Public service should be about people, not personal gain. So that concerns me.”</p> <p>For Ayala, facing off against a sitting state legislator presents an uphill battle, but she said she’s not worried. “Our campaign is picking up steam,” she said. “I’m not gonna dispute that [Rodriguez] has name recognition and establishment support. But I have a lot of community support. I’m pretty confident I can stand on my feet.” Ayala is also participating in the Campaign Finance Board’s public matching funds program, which she says will be instrumental to running a competitive race. She has $52,089 in campaign cash, as of May 11, before factoring in any matching funds.</p> <p>City Council Member Ben Kallos, who won his seat in 2013 after beating then-Assemblymember Micah Kellner in the Democratic primary, expressed apprehension last month in an interview with Gotham Gazette about the trend of Albany insiders running for local office. “I am growing concerned with the specter of Senate and Assembly members coming from a broken Albany down to the City Council and bringing back dysfunction with them,” he said outside the Council chambers. “I think it is imperative for democracy for there to be candidates who will run against members of the Assembly or Senate...and I hope that voters evaluate candidates regardless of whether or not they’ve served in Albany.”</p> <p>“I would actually hope,” he added, “that if somebody is coming down from Albany as a career politician, folks might hold that against them and support a citizen legislator.”</p> <p>In District 13, Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj is running to replace outgoing Council Member James Vacca. Gjonaj has a massive fundraising lead over his opponents already, with $212,684 on hand for his campaign. He was also endorsed by the Bronx Democratic County Committee last week. “I’m looking to continue the work that I began in the Assembly and delivering for my constituents, being more accessible to them and being in the district,” Gjonaj said in a brief phone interview. He was confident that he brings the most experience to the race, insisting that he was proud to be in the state Legislature although it’s a “complicated institution.”</p> <p>John Doyle, a former staffer for State Senator Jeff Klein is one of seven other candidates in the race with Gjonaj. “There’s nothing inherently wrong with someone looking to change their position,” Doyle said of Gjonaj’s campaign, “but I think there’s something disingenuous when somebody’s running for reelection saying they’ll be a voice for two years and after their reelection, they announced for a new position.” Gjonaj was reelected to the Assembly last year.</p> <p>Doyle criticized Gjonaj’s campaign fundraising, much of which comes from outside the city, and also broadly stressed that many of the systemic corruption issues in Albany stemmed from the way lawmakers raise funds. He noted that Gjonaj had voted for campaign finance reform in 2014, but has chosen not to participate in the public matching funds system.</p> <p>In response to Doyle's comments, a spokesperson for Gjonaj said, "Mr. Doyle's platform seems to be 'I'm not the other guy.' As for Assemblyman Gjonaj he is committed, above all, to representing the best interests of his constituency. He is at work passing progressive legislation and meeting voters." Spokesperson Jennifer Blatus went on to say that Gjonaj has widespread support and that "Doyle is desperate for attention. He doesn't have a clue on how to pass legislation or attract capital projects." She also indicated that Gjonaj is not participating in the city's campaign finance program because he "prefers tax payers dollars be used for after school programs for youth, senior programs, and libraries - not political campaigns."</p> <p>State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr.’s run in Council District 18 may be the most controversial of the state legislators’ this cycle. Diaz Sr., although a Democrat, is conservative on social issues, such as LGBT rights, and running for a seat on a body that is heavily progressive. (There are only three Republicans in the Council, one of whom is pro-choice.) But Diaz Sr. has been able to raise significant funds in a short period, and has $93,901 in his campaign account, surpassing candidates who have been in the race for months.</p> <p>All of the state legislators running start the race with community ties and significant advantage in name recognition, especially among those who vote.</p> <p>Council Member Gibson, a former Assembly member, admits that moving from Albany to the city is not an easy move but it comes with advantages, both for the member and the legislative body. “Although it was a transition,” she said, “I think being a state elected official gave me a lot of understanding of how Albany works and navigating the state Legislature, and really about the City Council relying so heavily on state funds.”</p> <p>But she also said that elected experience is far from necessary to run for the Council. “There is no manual on how to do this well,” she said. “You have to be a team player, you have to be someone that can build a coalition around you. You have to be someone who has leadership and management skills...and you really have to have an ability to work with all people.”</p> <p>Gibson also pushed back against the idea that state legislators would bring Albany dysfunction with them. “I think when you talk about dysfunction and a culture, I don’t think you can define it to one individual legislator or even a few legislators. I think it’s almost the system that’s been in place. And it’s really the entire body of government.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6946-the-may-money-race-in-open-city-council-seats" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The May Money Race in 'Open' City Council Seats</a>]</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/diaz_sr_and_gjonaj_crop.jpg" alt="diaz sr and gjonaj crop" width="600" height="479" /></p> <p>Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., left, &amp; AM Mark Gjonaj (photo: @RevRubenDiaz)</p> <hr /> <p>There are only a handful of City Council seats opening up this year due to term limits. Of the seven “open” races in the 51-seat Council, all of which are up for election this fall, several feature state legislators seeking to make the jump to the city’s legislative body.</p> <p>Seeking to stay closer to home for work, legislators who now have to commute to Albany several days a week for half the year have declared their candidacies. Entering City Council races to succeed a term-limited officeholder, the state legislators immediately became favorites to win, first in the September Democratic primaries, then the November general election. State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj, and Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez, all Democrats, are seeking “open” seats in the City Council. (One former Democratic legislator, Hiram Monserrate, is even attempting a comeback after having been expelled from the state Senate in 2010 following his conviction on misdemeanor assault charges.)</p> <p>Current and former state legislators vying for seats in the City Council is nothing new. A number of sitting Council members themselves were state representatives, many of them just prior to joining the Council. For instance, Council Members Vanessa Gibson, Joe Borelli, Rafael Espinal, Inez Barron, and Alan Maisel have all served in the state Assembly. Council Member Vincent Gentile was formerly a state Senator, as was Bill Perkins, who just recently won a special election in Council District 9 in February.</p> <p>The advantages to being in the Council are plain to see: Council members receive a much higher pay than state legislators and, after receiving recommendations from a special commission, just recently voted to give themselves a pay raise from $112,500 to $148,500. State lawmakers’ salaries are $79,500 annually, plus stipends for chairing issue committees or house leadership posts (a pay commission convened to explore pay hikes ended its work late last year without any recommendations). There is also the obvious ease of commuting to City Hall and offices in the five boroughs rather than constant trips to Albany. And, for some legislators, being in the Council offers a chance to have a greater say over local policy and the ability to more directly address community concerns. This was true for Perkins, who said when he ran in February that, as a Democrat in the minority in the state Senate, he was less able to affect legislation than he could in the overwhelmingly Democratic City Council.</p> <p>Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez only recently announced that he is running for the Council District 8 seat that will be vacated by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito at the end of the year. The district covers East Harlem and parts of the South Bronx. Mark-Viverito has endorsed her deputy chief of staff, Diana Ayala, for the seat, and the Bronx Democratic machinery has split its support for the two candidates. Rodriguez received endorsements last week from Bronx Democratic Party Chair Marcos Crespo, Manhattan Democratic Party Chair Keith Wright, former U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, and Council Member Bill Perkins. Ayala on the other hand has the support of Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.</p> <p>“There’s work to be done and I think there’s ways to translate priorities from the Legislature into the district,” Rodriguez said in a phone interview. He said the open seat was a unique opportunity that “literally comes along every eight years, sometimes 12.” “An opportunity too good to turn down,” he said. Rodriguez has already raised $78,647 for his run and spent $22,620, leaving him a balance of $56,017. (He is still currently listed as “undeclared” with the Campaign Finance Board in terms of which office he’ll seek.)</p> <p>Rodriguez acknowledged the potential advantages of working in the City Council with like-minded lawmakers, unlike Albany where any single piece of legislation must navigate two chambers. “It’s a smaller body and decisions are made differently,” he said of the unicameral and heavily Democratic Council, “there’s less institutional interplay.” And he’s confident that he’ll bring a “sense of experience and confidence” into the race that will sway voters.</p> <p>As a member of the Assembly for six years, Rodriguez said he’s also seen a lot of turnover and brushes aside any criticism that could be levelled against him for running for the Council just six months after being reelected to the Assembly. “ He also expects that in 2021, when more City Council seats are up for grabs, that many colleagues will make similar moves.</p> <p>Diana Ayala finds the timing of Rodriguez’s entry into the race puzzling. “Why certain members chose this year to run, I find it questionable,” she told Gotham Gazette. “Public service should be about people, not personal gain. So that concerns me.”</p> <p>For Ayala, facing off against a sitting state legislator presents an uphill battle, but she said she’s not worried. “Our campaign is picking up steam,” she said. “I’m not gonna dispute that [Rodriguez] has name recognition and establishment support. But I have a lot of community support. I’m pretty confident I can stand on my feet.” Ayala is also participating in the Campaign Finance Board’s public matching funds program, which she says will be instrumental to running a competitive race. She has $52,089 in campaign cash, as of May 11, before factoring in any matching funds.</p> <p>City Council Member Ben Kallos, who won his seat in 2013 after beating then-Assemblymember Micah Kellner in the Democratic primary, expressed apprehension last month in an interview with Gotham Gazette about the trend of Albany insiders running for local office. “I am growing concerned with the specter of Senate and Assembly members coming from a broken Albany down to the City Council and bringing back dysfunction with them,” he said outside the Council chambers. “I think it is imperative for democracy for there to be candidates who will run against members of the Assembly or Senate...and I hope that voters evaluate candidates regardless of whether or not they’ve served in Albany.”</p> <p>“I would actually hope,” he added, “that if somebody is coming down from Albany as a career politician, folks might hold that against them and support a citizen legislator.”</p> <p>In District 13, Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj is running to replace outgoing Council Member James Vacca. Gjonaj has a massive fundraising lead over his opponents already, with $212,684 on hand for his campaign. He was also endorsed by the Bronx Democratic County Committee last week. “I’m looking to continue the work that I began in the Assembly and delivering for my constituents, being more accessible to them and being in the district,” Gjonaj said in a brief phone interview. He was confident that he brings the most experience to the race, insisting that he was proud to be in the state Legislature although it’s a “complicated institution.”</p> <p>John Doyle, a former staffer for State Senator Jeff Klein is one of seven other candidates in the race with Gjonaj. “There’s nothing inherently wrong with someone looking to change their position,” Doyle said of Gjonaj’s campaign, “but I think there’s something disingenuous when somebody’s running for reelection saying they’ll be a voice for two years and after their reelection, they announced for a new position.” Gjonaj was reelected to the Assembly last year.</p> <p>Doyle criticized Gjonaj’s campaign fundraising, much of which comes from outside the city, and also broadly stressed that many of the systemic corruption issues in Albany stemmed from the way lawmakers raise funds. He noted that Gjonaj had voted for campaign finance reform in 2014, but has chosen not to participate in the public matching funds system.</p> <p>In response to Doyle's comments, a spokesperson for Gjonaj said, "Mr. Doyle's platform seems to be 'I'm not the other guy.' As for Assemblyman Gjonaj he is committed, above all, to representing the best interests of his constituency. He is at work passing progressive legislation and meeting voters." Spokesperson Jennifer Blatus went on to say that Gjonaj has widespread support and that "Doyle is desperate for attention. He doesn't have a clue on how to pass legislation or attract capital projects." She also indicated that Gjonaj is not participating in the city's campaign finance program because he "prefers tax payers dollars be used for after school programs for youth, senior programs, and libraries - not political campaigns."</p> <p>State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr.’s run in Council District 18 may be the most controversial of the state legislators’ this cycle. Diaz Sr., although a Democrat, is conservative on social issues, such as LGBT rights, and running for a seat on a body that is heavily progressive. (There are only three Republicans in the Council, one of whom is pro-choice.) But Diaz Sr. has been able to raise significant funds in a short period, and has $93,901 in his campaign account, surpassing candidates who have been in the race for months.</p> <p>All of the state legislators running start the race with community ties and significant advantage in name recognition, especially among those who vote.</p> <p>Council Member Gibson, a former Assembly member, admits that moving from Albany to the city is not an easy move but it comes with advantages, both for the member and the legislative body. “Although it was a transition,” she said, “I think being a state elected official gave me a lot of understanding of how Albany works and navigating the state Legislature, and really about the City Council relying so heavily on state funds.”</p> <p>But she also said that elected experience is far from necessary to run for the Council. “There is no manual on how to do this well,” she said. “You have to be a team player, you have to be someone that can build a coalition around you. You have to be someone who has leadership and management skills...and you really have to have an ability to work with all people.”</p> <p>Gibson also pushed back against the idea that state legislators would bring Albany dysfunction with them. “I think when you talk about dysfunction and a culture, I don’t think you can define it to one individual legislator or even a few legislators. I think it’s almost the system that’s been in place. And it’s really the entire body of government.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6946-the-may-money-race-in-open-city-council-seats" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The May Money Race in 'Open' City Council Seats</a>]</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
New York One Signature Away from Calling for Overturn of Citizens United 2016-01-11T18:11:32+00:00 2016-01-11T18:11:32+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6080:new-york-one-signature-away-from-calling-for-overturn-of-citizens-united kfan <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/nys.jpg" alt="nys" height="298" width="600" /></p> <p dir="ltr">(photo: nysenate.gov)</p> <hr /> <p>In a landmark year for corruption in the state legislature, 2015 saw the arrest and conviction of two of the most powerful political leaders in New York. A crescendo of voices across the state -- from good government watchdogs to lawmakers -- expressed outrage and demanded stronger ethics laws and campaign finance reforms. In one sense, Albany now has the opportunity to put its money where its mouth is -- and all it needs is one signature. &nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">New York is one signatory away from becoming the 17th state in the country to call for a constitutional amendment to negate the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in the Citizens United case, which gave entities such as corporations and unions the same rights as individuals in contributing to electoral campaigns.</p> <p dir="ltr">A successful bipartisan appeal for a federal constitutional amendment in the State Assembly has yet to be replicated by the State Senate, where 31 senators -- one short of a majority -- support overturning Citizens United to minimize the role of money in politics. While agreement by a majority of each house from New York would only be advisory, like the other states that have reached consensus, a groundswell for negating Citizens United could influence Congress.</p> <p dir="ltr">"As we've seen again and again, Citizens United has opened the floodgate to unchecked and often opaque corporate political contributions, muscling real people out of the political process,” said State Senator Daniel Squadron, a Brooklyn Democrat, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. Squadron is leading the effort among the Senate Democratic Conference and has 23 co-signers on <a href="http://www.ny4democracy.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/NY-Senate-Citizens-United-Constitutional-Amendment-Letter-to-Congress.pdf" target="_blank">a letter</a> addressed to the United States Congress which calls for the constitutional amendment.</p> <p dir="ltr">(Squadron also said that the state legislature should support his Corporate Political Activity Accountability to Shareholders Act, which would increase transparency and accountability.)</p> <p dir="ltr">Senators Ruben Diaz Sr. and Simcha Felder are the only Democrats who have not joined their colleagues on the letter. The five members of the Independent Democratic Conference together signed an identical version of Squadron’s letter while Senate Democratic leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins independently wrote to members of Congress. (Felder is elected as a Democrat but caucuses with Republicans in the Senate, and Diaz Sr. is often difficult to pin down ideologically.)</p> <p dir="ltr">Sen. Stewart-Cousins, in her missive, said that the independent contributions made possible by Citizens United “represent a deliberate effort to unfairly influence the electorate and empower a small group of individuals and corporations. Elected officials are becoming more beholden to the interests facilitating these outside funds while the public’s trust in our democracy erodes.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Stewart-Cousins is adamant about reforming the state’s campaign finance system and believes that Senate Democrats have led the fight on many fronts. She lays blame with the members on the other side of the aisle. “We need to restore the public’s trust in state government and that will only happen when the Senate Republicans agree to listen to the voters and take meaningful steps to clean up Albany,” she said in a statement to Gotham Gazette.</p> <p dir="ltr">While the Democrats who support overturning Citizens United total 29 votes, only 2 Republican state senators have supported the effort -- Senators Phil Boyle and Kemp Hannon, albeit in language different from the Democrats’ letters (it, for example, <a href="http://www.citizen.org/documents/citizens-united-senator-boyle-sign-on-letter.pdf" target="_blank">decries</a> the massive potential outside spending to support Hillary Clinton's presidential bid). Sen. Boyle, who circulated his letter among his colleagues, refused to comment for this article.</p> <p dir="ltr">Reluctance of New York Republicans to join the effort comes as a growing number of voters, including Republicans, oppose Citizens United. In a <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2015-09-28/bloomberg-poll-americans-want-supreme-court-to-turn-off-political-spending-spigot">Bloomberg poll</a> from September, 78 percent of respondents said they wanted the decision overturned.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We’re at a crossroads in the movement where Democrats who hadn’t signed on are signing on, and where Republican voters are strongly in favor of a constitutional amendment, but we’re working to make that transition with Republican legislators,” said Jonah Minkoff-Zern, co-director of the Democracy Is For People campaign at Public Citizen, a nonprofit advocacy group that has been garnering a coalition to lobby state legislators for their support in the matter.</p> <p dir="ltr">Senior attorney Gene Russianoff, from the New York Public Interest Research Group, is not surprised by the Republican legislators’ lack of support. Some of these state senators, he said, “feel teflon-proofed” and he applauded those who signed the petition. “Citizens United is the right target to fight the influence of money and political interests,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">For good government groups like NYPIRG and Citizens Union of the City of New York, the Supreme Court’s decision to treat corporations as individuals in campaign finance has wreaked untold havoc on elections.</p> <p dir="ltr">“New York State is severely hampered by federal court decisions in terms of how it can address the corrosive role of money in politics,” said Rachael Fauss, director of public policy, Citizens Union. “Action by the New York State Legislature would help drive attention to this national problem, and put New York on the record as being against campaign money being considered free speech.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whom many reformers look to be more of a leader on campaign finance reform in New York, recently made clear he thinks that as long Citizens United is around, his hands are largely tied. In an <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/governor-cuomo-says-its-time-pardon-one-time-youth-offenders/">interview</a> with WNYC’s Brian Lehrer on Dec. 21, the governor promised that he will advocate for campaign finance reform in 2016, but conceded that he could only do so much.</p> <p dir="ltr">“If you say, 'Well, money influences,' then forget it, because [with] Citizens United you're not going to get the money out of the system until the federal government changes the court or the law or both,” he said. He was also dismissive of New York City’s public campaign financing system, calling it a “mockery” that independent committees can donate large sums of money to candidates as a result of Citizens United.</p> <p dir="ltr">Advocates and reform-minded legislators continue to push Cuomo to call for a statewide public campaign finance system, which he has given lukewarm support for in the past.</p> <p dir="ltr">Just a few hours after Cuomo’s Dec. 21 WNYC remarks, Mayor Bill de Blasio held a <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/966-15/transcript-mayor-de-blasio-hosts-media-roundtable-discuss-mid-term-accomplishments" target="_blank">roundtable</a> with members &nbsp;of the news media at which he also said passing a constitutional amendment was an “imperative” without which “we’re in an environment where a lot of very wealthy, powerful people will use their money to reinforce the status quo.”</p> <p dir="ltr">In an <a href="http://blog.timesunion.com/opinion/who-will-heed-the-call/34136/" target="_blank">editorial</a> on Dec. 22, a day after Cuomo’s remarks on WNYC, the Albany Times Union called on the remaining state senators to take the bold step and join the growing call for an amendment. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">On the surface, New York calling for a constitutional amendment may be symbolic in the absence of Congressional action. But, according to Common Cause NY executive director Susan Lerner, “In this instance, symbolism is especially potent.” She believes that owing to New York’s large congressional delegation, even symbolic measures carry significant weight.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Remember, New York is a donor state,” she said, referring to New York’s influence on elections all over the country. “Everybody running for office comes to New York for campaign contributions. When New York elected officials say the system has gotten out of control, it’s particularly applicable.”</p> <p dir="ltr">***<br />by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/samarkhurshid" target="_blank">@samarkhurshid</a> &nbsp; &nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a></p> <p>Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.</p> <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/nys.jpg" alt="nys" height="298" width="600" /></p> <p dir="ltr">(photo: nysenate.gov)</p> <hr /> <p>In a landmark year for corruption in the state legislature, 2015 saw the arrest and conviction of two of the most powerful political leaders in New York. A crescendo of voices across the state -- from good government watchdogs to lawmakers -- expressed outrage and demanded stronger ethics laws and campaign finance reforms. In one sense, Albany now has the opportunity to put its money where its mouth is -- and all it needs is one signature. &nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">New York is one signatory away from becoming the 17th state in the country to call for a constitutional amendment to negate the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in the Citizens United case, which gave entities such as corporations and unions the same rights as individuals in contributing to electoral campaigns.</p> <p dir="ltr">A successful bipartisan appeal for a federal constitutional amendment in the State Assembly has yet to be replicated by the State Senate, where 31 senators -- one short of a majority -- support overturning Citizens United to minimize the role of money in politics. While agreement by a majority of each house from New York would only be advisory, like the other states that have reached consensus, a groundswell for negating Citizens United could influence Congress.</p> <p dir="ltr">"As we've seen again and again, Citizens United has opened the floodgate to unchecked and often opaque corporate political contributions, muscling real people out of the political process,” said State Senator Daniel Squadron, a Brooklyn Democrat, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. Squadron is leading the effort among the Senate Democratic Conference and has 23 co-signers on <a href="http://www.ny4democracy.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/NY-Senate-Citizens-United-Constitutional-Amendment-Letter-to-Congress.pdf" target="_blank">a letter</a> addressed to the United States Congress which calls for the constitutional amendment.</p> <p dir="ltr">(Squadron also said that the state legislature should support his Corporate Political Activity Accountability to Shareholders Act, which would increase transparency and accountability.)</p> <p dir="ltr">Senators Ruben Diaz Sr. and Simcha Felder are the only Democrats who have not joined their colleagues on the letter. The five members of the Independent Democratic Conference together signed an identical version of Squadron’s letter while Senate Democratic leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins independently wrote to members of Congress. (Felder is elected as a Democrat but caucuses with Republicans in the Senate, and Diaz Sr. is often difficult to pin down ideologically.)</p> <p dir="ltr">Sen. Stewart-Cousins, in her missive, said that the independent contributions made possible by Citizens United “represent a deliberate effort to unfairly influence the electorate and empower a small group of individuals and corporations. Elected officials are becoming more beholden to the interests facilitating these outside funds while the public’s trust in our democracy erodes.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Stewart-Cousins is adamant about reforming the state’s campaign finance system and believes that Senate Democrats have led the fight on many fronts. She lays blame with the members on the other side of the aisle. “We need to restore the public’s trust in state government and that will only happen when the Senate Republicans agree to listen to the voters and take meaningful steps to clean up Albany,” she said in a statement to Gotham Gazette.</p> <p dir="ltr">While the Democrats who support overturning Citizens United total 29 votes, only 2 Republican state senators have supported the effort -- Senators Phil Boyle and Kemp Hannon, albeit in language different from the Democrats’ letters (it, for example, <a href="http://www.citizen.org/documents/citizens-united-senator-boyle-sign-on-letter.pdf" target="_blank">decries</a> the massive potential outside spending to support Hillary Clinton's presidential bid). Sen. Boyle, who circulated his letter among his colleagues, refused to comment for this article.</p> <p dir="ltr">Reluctance of New York Republicans to join the effort comes as a growing number of voters, including Republicans, oppose Citizens United. In a <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2015-09-28/bloomberg-poll-americans-want-supreme-court-to-turn-off-political-spending-spigot">Bloomberg poll</a> from September, 78 percent of respondents said they wanted the decision overturned.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We’re at a crossroads in the movement where Democrats who hadn’t signed on are signing on, and where Republican voters are strongly in favor of a constitutional amendment, but we’re working to make that transition with Republican legislators,” said Jonah Minkoff-Zern, co-director of the Democracy Is For People campaign at Public Citizen, a nonprofit advocacy group that has been garnering a coalition to lobby state legislators for their support in the matter.</p> <p dir="ltr">Senior attorney Gene Russianoff, from the New York Public Interest Research Group, is not surprised by the Republican legislators’ lack of support. Some of these state senators, he said, “feel teflon-proofed” and he applauded those who signed the petition. “Citizens United is the right target to fight the influence of money and political interests,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">For good government groups like NYPIRG and Citizens Union of the City of New York, the Supreme Court’s decision to treat corporations as individuals in campaign finance has wreaked untold havoc on elections.</p> <p dir="ltr">“New York State is severely hampered by federal court decisions in terms of how it can address the corrosive role of money in politics,” said Rachael Fauss, director of public policy, Citizens Union. “Action by the New York State Legislature would help drive attention to this national problem, and put New York on the record as being against campaign money being considered free speech.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whom many reformers look to be more of a leader on campaign finance reform in New York, recently made clear he thinks that as long Citizens United is around, his hands are largely tied. In an <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/governor-cuomo-says-its-time-pardon-one-time-youth-offenders/">interview</a> with WNYC’s Brian Lehrer on Dec. 21, the governor promised that he will advocate for campaign finance reform in 2016, but conceded that he could only do so much.</p> <p dir="ltr">“If you say, 'Well, money influences,' then forget it, because [with] Citizens United you're not going to get the money out of the system until the federal government changes the court or the law or both,” he said. He was also dismissive of New York City’s public campaign financing system, calling it a “mockery” that independent committees can donate large sums of money to candidates as a result of Citizens United.</p> <p dir="ltr">Advocates and reform-minded legislators continue to push Cuomo to call for a statewide public campaign finance system, which he has given lukewarm support for in the past.</p> <p dir="ltr">Just a few hours after Cuomo’s Dec. 21 WNYC remarks, Mayor Bill de Blasio held a <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/966-15/transcript-mayor-de-blasio-hosts-media-roundtable-discuss-mid-term-accomplishments" target="_blank">roundtable</a> with members &nbsp;of the news media at which he also said passing a constitutional amendment was an “imperative” without which “we’re in an environment where a lot of very wealthy, powerful people will use their money to reinforce the status quo.”</p> <p dir="ltr">In an <a href="http://blog.timesunion.com/opinion/who-will-heed-the-call/34136/" target="_blank">editorial</a> on Dec. 22, a day after Cuomo’s remarks on WNYC, the Albany Times Union called on the remaining state senators to take the bold step and join the growing call for an amendment. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">On the surface, New York calling for a constitutional amendment may be symbolic in the absence of Congressional action. But, according to Common Cause NY executive director Susan Lerner, “In this instance, symbolism is especially potent.” She believes that owing to New York’s large congressional delegation, even symbolic measures carry significant weight.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Remember, New York is a donor state,” she said, referring to New York’s influence on elections all over the country. “Everybody running for office comes to New York for campaign contributions. When New York elected officials say the system has gotten out of control, it’s particularly applicable.”</p> <p dir="ltr">***<br />by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/samarkhurshid" target="_blank">@samarkhurshid</a> &nbsp; &nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a></p> <p>Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.</p>