Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/512 Thu, 13 Dec 2018 23:22:17 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Commission Recommends Pay Increases and Ethics Reforms for State Legislators http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8125-commission-recommends-pay-increases-and-ethics-reforms-for-state-legislators http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8125-commission-recommends-pay-increases-and-ethics-reforms-for-state-legislators senatechamberalbany2

(Photo via Wiki Commons)


Statewide elected officials, legislators and agency heads are slated to get pay raises next year following recommendations issued Thursday by a four-member panel that was created in this year’s state budget.

The New York State Compensation Committee voted on Thursday to raise the salaries of legislators for the first time in nearly twenty years, as well as for the four statewide offices and for executive agency commissioners. The committee will publicly release a report and deliver it to Governor Andrew Cuomo and the State Legislature on Monday outlining their binding recommendations on phasing in the salary increases over three years, accompanied by certain ethics reform measures. The raises will go into effect by January 1 unless the state legislature meets and rejects them.

The committee -- which included State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, former State Comptroller and SUNY Board Chair Carl McCall, and former New York City Comptroller and CUNY Board Chair Bill Thompson -- was created in the state budget to determine an appropriate raise for legislators, based on cost of living and on salaries for legislators in other states. The current base pay for state legislators stands at $79,500 and has remained unchanged since 1999.

Per the panel’s unanimous recommendations, salaries for legislators will be raised to $130,000 by 2021, with lawmakers set to receive $110,000 in 2019 and $120,000 in 2020. The commission also recommended limiting outside income for legislators to 15 percent of their salary, in line with the rules for members of Congress, and the elimination of committee stipends -- commonly referred to as lulus -- for all but the top leadership in both legislative chambers.

“I think in looking at the fact that they haven’t had a raise in twenty years...when you talk about the issues of fairness, it is not the right thing,” Thompson said, arguing that the idea that legislators only work part-time is a mischaracterization due to their in-district work. The limits on outside income will take effect in 2020, because, according to McCall, legislators would need time to disengage from their outside income-generating activities and could not do so right away.

The panel also endorsed raising the governor’s salary to $250,000 by 2021, up from the current $179,000. The lieutenant governor, attorney general, and state comptroller, each of whom currently make $151,000, will see their pay rise to $210,000 salary by 2021. DiNapoli recused himself from that vote.

The pay raise committee was originally meant to be chaired by Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, but DiFiore announced in May that she would not serve because she believed a judge determining legislative pay was unconstitutional. The broader constitutionality of the committee has also been challenged, as it is still unclear whether a pay raise can be authorized by outside officials or if it must be approved by the legislature. The panel members, however, insisted that their recommendations are enforceable for all their proposals except the raises for the governor and lieutenant governor, which must be approved by a joint resolution of the legislature. They also maintained that tying the raises to an outside income limitation and curbing committee stipends was within their authority, which could potentially invite legal challenges going forward.

When the salary raises are fully implemented by 2021, New York will surpass California and have the highest-paid governor and legislature in the nation. McCall noted that coupling the pay increase with outside income limitations would also quell the discontent New Yorkers feel about giving raises to a legislature that has long been marred by scandal and corruption. “We really have to make sure that we send the signals to the public about how serious they are about doing their job and doing it well,” McCall said.

For executive agency heads, the panel proposed four classes of salary, a decrease from the current six, which will be assigned depending on the agency. By 2021, commissioners in the top class will make $220,000 and commissioners in the bottom class will make $170,000.

Legislative leaders have expressed support for the panel’s recommendations. Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins announced her support for the measure on Thursday, hours before the meeting, while also concurrently declaring support for ethics reform. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie testified to the Commission last week in favor of the raise, noting that legislators have financial strains similar to their constituents. “They too must finance college loans, meet the cost of child care, and provide for the wellbeing of elderly parents and loved ones at home,” Heastie said. He further argued that, because so many legislators live in the expensive New York City metro area, a pay raise was warranted to more adequately reflect the high cost of living here.

The New York Public Interest Research Group, which advocates for government reform, was skeptical of the panel’s recommendations, pushing for a more comprehensive set of “corruption-busting” reforms. “While we agree that the Congressional model is appropriate to regulate legislators’ outside income, advancing a reform in this area alone is inadequate,” said NYPIRG’s Blair Horner, in a statement. “We note that the ethical problems that have plagued the state have not been limited to the legislative branch. Given the stunning pay-to-play scandals that have rocked government, reforms in that area must be addressed. Failure to do so highlights the inadequacy of the reform package.”

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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Commission Recommends Pay Increases and Ethics Reforms for State Legislators Thu, 06 Dec 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Andrea Stewart-Cousins on Taking the Senate Reins, the Democratic Agenda & Getting Inside 'The Room' http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8085-andrea-stewart-cousins-on-taking-the-senate-reins-the-democratic-agenda-getting-inside-the-room http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8085-andrea-stewart-cousins-on-taking-the-senate-reins-the-democratic-agenda-getting-inside-the-room stewart cousins senate

Andrea Stewart-Cousins (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)


This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
Find the rest of the series here

After the election results from earlier this month, Andrea Stewart-Cousins is set to become majority leader of the state Senate and, beginning in January, to preside over the chamber as it works with Democrats in charge of the Assembly and Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat headed into his third term, to address a long-delayed liberal agenda. Stewart-Cousins, who represents parts of Westchester, will become the first woman and first woman of color to lead a legislative chamber in New York.

Appearing on the Max & Murphy program on WBAI radio, Stewart-Cousins discussed her approach to leading the Senate, outlined a few priorities for the upcoming session, explained some ways in which Democrats will differ from Republican who have led the upper chamber, and commented on becoming one of three people who will be in “the room,” ultimately making major decisions about the state budget and legislation along with Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

When asked, Stewart-Cousins mostly demurred about what issues would be at the top of the Senate agenda, saying that, especially with 15 new members in her roughly 40-member majority conference, senators would first need to meet and discuss how they will approach the upcoming legislative session.

“I have avoided that ‘my first hundred days will look like this’ and ‘this is the batting order,’” Stewart-Cousins said, repeating the terms of the question from one of the hosts. “Because I think the first and foremost thing we’re going to do is [create] the type of conference and senators that people have frankly been voting for again and again and not been getting.”

However, some policies she did mention were those that had already been set as first-order-of-business and seemingly non-controversial among virtually all Democrats: early voting, the Child Victims Act, and the Reproductive Health Act. These are among many policies Stewart-Cousins said “have not been able to move under Republican leadership for so many years” that Democrats plan to get to.

Stewart-Cousins noted that she has faith in the new members of the Senate, some of whom are part of a younger and more progressive movement that successfully claimed many of the seats formerly held by members of the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group that had formed a coalition with the Republicans, at times giving them the seats for a majority. While these new members certainly won’t cut deals with Republicans, they still may not be on the same page with more senior members of the body, perhaps pushing for different, more progressive priorities like single-payer health care.

“We have 15 brand new members and we have to make sure everyone is up to speed,” Stewart-Cousins said. “I am so impressed with every single one of them that I have no doubt that the leadership they will provide, along with my current members, will be absolutely outstanding.”

Stewart-Cousins was also hesitant to name specifics when asked what legislation she sees as being tougher to pass, suggesting with a laugh that there could be conflict about anything and everything.

“I almost want to say all of the above because, you know, we’re Democrats,” she said with a chuckle. “I think everyone agrees on the outcomes we want, it’s just how to get there.”

Stewart-Cousins stressed her belief that Democratic takeover of the Senate is a major step forward for the state, as rather than having to debate over why policies that, for example, raise the minimum wage or ensure access to quality affordable healthcare, are necessary, the new Democrat supermajority will only have to decide on how to best design said policies.

“We’re not starting at convincing people that these things are important,” she said. “Now we’re starting a conversation where we understand [what] the objectives are.”

“Guess what, we’ll have a conference that is willing to acknowledge climate change and therefore, work towards ensuring our planet’s future,” she continued.

agenda19v2 aWhile expectations are high about addressing climate change, criminal justice reform, gun control, voting and campaign finance reform, tightening rent regulations, and more, there have been concerns that if Democrats were to flip the Senate and full control of state government that taxes would go up in order for the new regime to pay for all its new programs. But, during the campaign and since, Stewart-Cousins and others in her incoming majority have said they have no plans to raise taxes, an approach in line with Cuomo’s, but not necessarily Assembly Democrats.

Asked on Max & Murphy if she is indeed committed to not raising taxes, Stewart-Cousins reiterated her stance, and pointed to the federal tax reforms passed in late 2017 that are likely to negatively affect many New Yorkers due to the new cap and local and state deductions from federal tax obligations.

“We are not coming in there to raise people’s taxes,” Stewart-Cousins said. “We understand that New York is a big state and we understand that we need to make sure that it is affordable. I’m personally concerned about the impact of this federal tax bill on the New York taxpayers, and I think most people in our position are.”

Taxpayers will find out if Democrats stay true to their promise in their first big test: the next state budget, which Stewart-Cousins and her conference will have significant influence on, as the new Senate majority leader negotiates with Cuomo and Heastie. As the first woman to lead a legislative majority, she will be entering that negotiating room that has been male-dominated. When asked what that may mean, Stewart-Cousins said it shows progress made and more to do.

“I think it means that people see that once again another glass ceiling, marble ceiling, whatever you want to call it, has been broken,” she said. “We make certain assumptions about how far we’ve come, and we have in many ways, but I think everyday we’re also being reminded that there is more ground that has to be covered more ceilings to break.”

When asked if she has any plans on how to change the backroom process that often leads to major budget and legislative agreements that are voted on with virtually no public review, Stewart-Cousins said she couldn’t yet say.

“It’d be impossible to say, because I’ve never been in it,” she said, pausing to laugh. “I’m interested to see how this thing really works as well. I’m sure I’ll have a lot of opinions once I’ve actually been part of it.”

When it comes to those outside the Democratic conference, Stewart-Cousins said that she has not spoken to any Republicans who want to switch conferences, but would be happy to meet with Senator Simcha Felder, a Democrat who previously gave Republicans a one-seat majority in the Senate, about his role in the upcoming session. She said Felder had reached out and they would set something up, though he is not expected to command any special perks as he had from Republicans for helping give them the majority.

Of the former IDC members who kept their seats, Senators Diane Savino and David Carlucci, Stewart-Cousins said they have been and continue to be part of the Democratic conference, which they returned to in an April deal reached by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

[Listen to the full conversation: Soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins on Max & Murphy Nov. 14, 2018]

This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
Find the rest of the series here

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by Victor Porcelli, Gotham Gazette

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Andrea Stewart-Cousins on Taking the Senate Reins, the Democratic Agenda & Getting Inside 'The Room' Sun, 18 Nov 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8071-max-murphy-podcast-senate-democratic-leader-andrea-stewart-cousins-election-aftermath http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8071-max-murphy-podcast-senate-democratic-leader-andrea-stewart-cousins-election-aftermath mxm logo

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


This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
Find the rest of the series here

November 14, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins

asc andreastewartcousinswbai crpDemocrat Andrea Stewart-Cousins is on the verge of becoming the majority leader of the New York State Senate -- and she'll be the first woman and first woman of color to lead a legisative chamber in New York. Just more than a week after Democrats dominated Election Day in New York to flip the upper chamber of the state Legislature and ensure full Democratic control of state government, Stewart-Cousins joined the show to discuss her vision for the path ahead.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org

agenda19v2 a

This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
Find the rest of the series here

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins Wed, 14 Nov 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Tax Issues at Center of State Elections, Albany Year to Come http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8047-tax-issues-at-center-of-new-york-elections-albany-year-to-come http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8047-tax-issues-at-center-of-new-york-elections-albany-year-to-come Cuomo taxes

Gov. Cuomo (photo: Don Pollard/Governor's Office)


When the dust settles on the 2018 elections, whoever is governing the state will be faced with problems like what to do about NYCHA and the MTA, and how New York should respond to climate change, among many others. Another pressing issue that has been an area of focus in many campaigns around the state, from the governor’s race through those for the state Senate, is taxes, and what the next governor and Legislature will or won’t do about them in a number of ways, including the ongoing question of how New York must adjust to the new federal tax code.

Though proposals and arguments have often been hazy, the issue of taxes has been among the most discussed this election season and will be a topic of significant debate when the new state government starts doing business in January. The contours of those discussions and the actual proposals put forward will vary greatly depending on the outcomes of the governor’s race and which party controls the state Senate (the Assembly is home to an overwhelming Democratic majority).

Marc Molinaro, the Republican nominee for governor, has pitched his candidacy largely based on a plan that he says will lead to a 30 percent reduction in property taxes for New Yorkers over five years, but the party’s state Senate conference, hoping to cling to a one-seat majority during a promising year for the opposition, has mostly stuck to arguing that Democrats will increase taxes to previously unseen levels if given full control of state government.

For their part, Democrats have been quieter on taxes, with Governor Andrew Cuomo promising to extend the state’s property tax cap and keep state spending to two percent annual increases, even as some members of his party’s Senate slate push for things like state-run single-payer healthcare and a polluter’s tax -- neither of which Cuomo supports. Running for a third term, Cuomo has said little else about taxes, despite the fact that his attempts to thwart the impact of the federal tax reform have thus far not panned out, the state’s current millionaires tax is set to expire next year, the state is facing upcoming budget gaps, and the state-run MTA is in need of tens of billions of dollars to get the New York City subway system functioning properly.

Molinaro has made broad tax reform one of the centerpieces of his campaign, along with restoring trust in government and generally being a governor who isn’t followed by corruption investigations. His tax plan proposes reductions across the board, from the end of the millionaires tax to an expansion of the earned income tax credit to childless workers and noncustodial parents and the indexing the state’s income tax brackets, standard deduction and dependent exemptions to inflation (a move that Molinaro says prevents a filer’s tax bracket increasing due to inflation without any real change in their earning power).

Molinaro wants to limit annual state spending increases to three percent, but wants that cap codified into state law, unlike Cuomo’s two percent cap, which is self-imposed and the governor, despite his claims to the contrary, has not completely kept to.

The Dutchess county executive’s plan has “a lot of good elements in it and establishes some very worthy and desirable goals,” according to E.J. McMahon, the founder and research director of the conservative Empire Center of New York, although McMahon said he didn’t think the math behind the plan added up to the promised 30 percent reduction in property taxes. Asked repeatedly throughout the campaign, Molinaro has not laid out exactly how he would get there, only promising in broad terms to modernize state government, find efficiencies, and more effectively deliver services.

On the Democratic side, clarity also doesn’t come easy. Cuomo’s priorities on socially liberal but fiscally moderate governance can be seen most clearly in something like his Long Island Senate Democratic Agenda, but even that plan lacks specifics and has seemingly competing priorities. On the one hand, the agenda lays out a promise to keep the two percent property tax cap and the two percent spending cap going, while also promising “historic tax cuts.” On the other hand, there are promises to include Long Island in increased infrastructure, education, and economic development funding.

Cuomo has resisted calls for a New York City-based addition to the millionaires tax, recently pitting his philosophy against Mayor Bill de Blasio in sarcastic terms, saying, “'[W]ell, ideally we would like to have a millionaires tax.' Yes, I wish I could be an elected official who lived in the ideal,” at a gathering of the Association for A Better New York, a business group. He also explicitly cast himself as a different kind of politician than legislators and local politicians “who like to spend” at a speech in front of the Business Council of New York, boasting that he has overseen lower year-over-year state spending increases than previous governors including Republicans and his father.

Part of the lack of clarity on the Democratic side has to do with the uncertainty of where the party will be after the general election. A newly won Senate majority may rely on seats outside New York City, which would require a collaboration of city, suburban, and upstate interests that don’t always align perfectly. And even as Democrats in swing districts run on platforms that include single-payer healthcare in New York, they are pledging not to increase the taxes that would fund it, and many are seeking to represent high-tax Long Island and north-of-the-city areas very sensitive to any additional tax increases and another election right around the corner in 2020, when all the seats in the Legislature will again be on the ballot.

“I think out of the gate you're gonna see a Senate Democratic Conference that's gonna correct some of the wrongs, the missed opportunities by the Senate Republicans like voting reform and gun control, women's health,” Democratic state Senate spokesperson Mike Murphy told Gotham Gazette, suggesting the party would focus on progressive social issues at the beginning of the 2019 session if in the majority. And even as the New York Health Act that would establish state single-payer health care emerged as a hot issue for New York City progressives, among other Democrats, they will have the state’s expiring laws around rent control to deal with next year, and candidates outside of the city, like the Hudson Valley’s Pete Harckham, want much of a full two-year term to work out how a single-payer program would look, or to craft a universal health insurance program compromise with Cuomo.

On the issues of the new federal limitations on state and local tax (SALT) deductions, which dramatically affects high-tax states like New York, the state has joined with other Democratic states to sue the federal government over the $10,000 cap that was included in federal tax reform efforts, in part on the grounds that they were targeted after not voting for Donald Trump for president. At the same time, the IRS has blocked efforts by New York and other states to get around the deduction cap by limiting the federal tax credit taxpayers would get by “donating” their property tax payments to charitable organizations designed to accept the taxes.

Cuomo has been otherwise quiet about how he would solve the issue of the SALT deduction problem, which is likely to most acutely hurt high earners as well as suburban middle and upper middle class property owners, though he has said one goal is for Democrats to recapture control of the federal government and repeal the deduction cap.

The governor has been silent on the question of whether the millionaires tax will be allowed to sunset next year as its currently designed to -- it has been extended multiple times under Cuomo, in partnership with a split Legislature, and there is a significant question around how the state would make up for the revenue if it is not extended. On the other hand, it affects many individuals and families that will be paying higher taxes given the new SALT cap, and Cuomo and others have expressed concern about high-income individuals leaving the state. Cuomo’s campaign did not provide an answer to multiple Gotham Gazette inquiries about the governor’s stance on the millionaires tax.

Molinaro has said he would let the millionaires tax expire.

His plan on the SALT deduction cap is to get rid of New York’s “tax benefit recapture” policy, a practice that charges the highest marginal tax rate for taxpayers above a certain income band, for New Yorkers making between $107,650 and $323,200, thus addressing some of the lost deductions for those earners.

Tax shifts rather than cuts or increases are the most common kinds of plans on the table from both parties. On the Democratic side, Long Island’s John Brooks, running for reelection in a swing district, has offered up a plan that he says would allow areas like Long Island to get out from under high property tax bills related to education spending by capping the amount of school funding coming from property taxes at 50 percent, with any budget needs above 50 percent picked up by the state.

“What Brooks is saying is we need to lower your taxes by finding someone else to pay them. But if you're in Long Island, there is no ‘someone else,’ it's you, you have the higher average incomes,” McMahon said in reaction to the proposal.

For Republicans, requiring the state government to pick up Medicaid costs from local governments is something that Molinaro and state Senate Republicans are running on (to the delight of local editorial boards). It would cost $7 to $8 billion, and require either new or higher taxes or a reduction in the actual delivered services according to a Citizens Budget Commission study on the shift (Cuomo has mocked it as an unserious proposal). But the state Senate conference has also endorsed the idea of exempting seniors from paying property taxes, arguing that since they don’t make use of the schools, they shouldn’t pay to keep them running. It’s a proposition McMahon has panned before and he compared it unfavorably to Brooks’ plan as irresponsible and unfeasible. “How is that fair to a working couple with three or four kids living paycheck to paycheck, and the retired couple next door get to pay no property tax? Are you kidding?”

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by Dave Colon, Gotham Gazette
     

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Tax Issues at Center of State Elections, Albany Year to Come Sun, 04 Nov 2018 04:00:00 +0000
10 Things to Watch on Election Day in New York http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8046-10-things-to-watch-on-election-day-in-new-york http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8046-10-things-to-watch-on-election-day-in-new-york Cuomo voting New York

(photo: The Governor's Office)


New Yorkers will head to the polls on Tuesday, November 6, to vote for federal and state candidates in an election that could radically alter the direction of the state and the entire nation. Every seat in the state Legislature is on the ballot, as are the joint ticket of governor-lieutenant governor, the positions of state comptroller and attorney general, New York’s 27 seats in the House of Representatives, and one U.S. Senate position.

Democrats, hoping to ride a surge of engagement in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election, plan to keep all the statewide seats and control of the state Assembly, while flipping the state Senate and enough U.S. House seats to contribute to a national swing of control. Republicans, meanwhile, are trying to hold onto the limited power they have in New York, a blue state that has become significantly more blue over the last several months, according to new data from the state Board of Elections.

Ten things to watch on Election Day in New York:

1. Will turnout surge?
New York has in past years seen anaemic voter turnout, particularly in the 2016 presidential election when the state ranked 46 out of 50. But if the results of the September primary are any indicator, turnout is expected to surge on November 6.

Nearly three times more Democrats voted in the September 13 primary this year than in the 2014 primary. Cynthia Nixon, the actor and activist who challenged Governor Andrew Cuomo, the two-term incumbent, received 512,585 votes to Cuomo’s 978,138. In 2014, Cuomo won the primary after receiving only 361,380 votes, though his margin of victory was nearly identical.

Democrats are also making a concerted attempt to flip the state Senate from Republican control and capture more seats in the House of Representatives, amid what they hope is a “blue wave” pushing back against President Trump and the Republican-led Congress. By most accounts, the general election in New York is looking good for Democrats; the state is home to 6.2 million registered Democrats compared to 2.8 million registered Republicans, and about 2.6 million party-unaffiliated registered voters.

2. Can any Republican win statewide?
A Republican has not won a statewide election in New York since 2002, when Governor George Pataki was reelected to a third term. Since then, Democrats have managed to dominate the offices of governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and comptroller.

Cuomo is running on a joint ticket with Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, a first-term incumbent, and is heavily favored to be reelected. In a mid-October Quinnipiac University poll, Cuomo led his Republican rival, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, 58-35 percent among likely voters, but a Siena College poll released Sunday showed a more narrow gap, with Cuomo leading 49-36, with other voters split among the three 'minor party' candidates on the ballot. Molinaro’s running mate is Julie Killian, a former Rye City Council member who unsuccessfully ran for state Senate earlier this year. The other three gubernatorial candidates are Howie Hawkins of the Green Party, Larry Sharpe of the Libertarian Party, and Stephanie Miner, the former Democratic Syracuse mayor running with the Serve America Movement.

Other than Molinaro, Republicans are running statewide candidates without experience in elected office and with virtually no name recognition across the state coming into the election, especially daunting when trying to unseat an incumbent in a state with such a Democratic registration advantage.

In the race for comptroller, in the same poll, incumbent Democrat Tom DiNapoli held a 32-point lead over Jonathan Trichter, the Republican nominee. The Sunday Siena poll had DiNpoli up 62-25 percent. [Watch: State Comptroller Candidates Debate]

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, also a Democrat seeking reelection, led her Republican challenger Chele Farley by 32 points in that poll. But in Quinnipiac’s polling weeks later, her lead had fallen to 25 points. The Sunday Siena poll showed Gillibrand up 58-35 percent.

The open race for attorney general, the lone statewide race without an incumbent, appears closest. New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, the Democratic nominee, had a 14-point lead in an early October Siena College poll over Republican nominee Keith Wofford, a white-collar attorney running for elected office for the first time, but able to raise enough money to air television ads. The Sunday Siena poll had James up 49-37 percent. Either James or Wofford would become the first African-American person to become New York Attorney General; if elected, James would be the first woman of color elected statewide in New York. (There are also ‘minor party’ candidates for comptroller and attorney general.)

3. Margins
Though Democrats are expected to sweep statewide races, their margins of victory will ultimately show the level of support they have among New Yorkers. Though those margins won’t necessarily mean much once the new government year begins in January, they can influence how elected officials are treated and how they behave.

Cuomo is seeking a third term and is likely to face some voter fatigue, though he may be getting a significant boost from Democrats upset by Trump, whom the governor has made a major focus of his campaign. Cuomo’s opponents have sought to highlight the several corruption scandals that have marred state government in the last eight years -- two of the governor’s close allies and several other associates and donors were convicted on federal corruption charges this year -- as well as the governor’s handling of the MTA as New York City’s subways have slid into crisis.

Though Cuomo won the primary with 65 percent of the vote to Nixon’s 35 percent, he will likely not fare as well in the general where millions of unaffiliated voters can also cast a ballot. In 2014, Cuomo received 53 percent in the general while Republican Rob Astorino got 39 percent; the Green Party’s Hawkins pulled about 5 percent that year. Molinaro is, of course, talking about pulling off the type of upset that would shock the state and the country, though even he admits he is a significant underdog.

DiNapoli got about 164,000 more votes than Cuomo did in 2014, receiving about 57 percent of the vote over his Republican rival Robert Antonacci, who got 35 percent. It’s unclear how much of a dent Trichter can make this year given his limited fundraising and name recognition.

In the attorney general race, Wofford has faced significant hurdles, but the recent Siena poll that showed him down 14 points to James also showed independents were split 40-38 in James’ favor, meaning that the race could potentially tighten.

4. Will minor parties keep/claim ballot lines?
New York’s fusion voting system allows candidates to run on multiple ballot lines from several parties, giving minor parties somewhat outsize influence in elections. But, for a party to automatically receive an automatic ballot line in elections around the state, they must receive at least 50,000 votes for their chosen gubernatorial candidate in the previous election. Besides the big two, the other parties on the ballot include the Working Families Party, the Conservative Party, the Independence Party, the Green Party, and the Women’s Equality Party. The Stop Common Core Party, created by Astorino in 2014 when he challenged Cuomo, received just over 50,000 votes and has since been rebranded as the Reform Party, though it has no affiliation with the Reform Party at the national level.

Cuomo is running on the Democrat, WFP, Independence, and WEP ballot lines. Molinaro has the Republican, Conservative, and Reform Party lines. Hawkins is the Green Party nominee.

Of the various parties, the Reform Party and WEP seem to be at most risk of losing their place on the ballot. Both parties were strategically created in 2014 -- the first by Astorino to create a platform to oppose Common Core education standards, and the second by Cuomo to bolster his standing with women and apparently to diminish the WFP. The WEP has been barely active and lacks the resources for a strong electoral presence. The Reform Party has played a role in electing candidates to local offices and is also involved in assisting at least two Democratic state Senate candidates this year. But neither of the parties has a strong base of registered voters across the state and would need to meet the 50,000 vote threshold for their endorsed gubernatorial candidates.

Between the Green Party and the WFP, it may come down to a matter of ballot placement, depending on which one fares better. The WFP has made a significant showing this year by backing several progressive upstarts in state Senate races and successfully deposing several incumbent Democrats, putting them squarely in the spotlight, while also initially backing Cynthia Nixon and Jumaane Williams for governor and lieutenant governor until they lost in the Democratic primaries. Hawkins has also shown a fare bit of success on the Green Party line, pulling in 184,419 votes in 2014 compared to 126,244 on the WFP line for Cuomo.

For the Libertarian Party and the Serve America Movement, Sharpe and Miner’s performances will determine if they also claim a spot on the ballot moving forward. The closest that Libertarians have come to the threshold is when Warren Redlich got 48,359 votes on the line in 2010.

5. Will the State Senate flip to Democrats or stay Republican?
The State Senate is the only bastion of Republican power in New York state government, which they have held for all but two of the last 50 years. But Democrats need to flip only one seat in the State Senate to regain control -- both party conferences have 31 members but Republicans hold the majority with the help of Senator Simcha Felder, a conservative Democrat from Brooklyn.

The State Democratic Committee and Governor Cuomo are spending millions to take back the Senate and a network of progressive activists who helped trounce Democratic incumbents in the primary are also aiding those efforts. If the Democrats are successful, Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins would become the majority leader, the first African-American woman to occupy that position. It would also open the doors to a slew of progressive legislation -- reforms to voting, government ethics, campaign finance, criminal justice, and more -- which the Democratic base has long demanded.

Republicans and their supporters are doing everything they can to hold their majority, attempting to keep all of their conference’s seats, including where a handful of members are retiring, and even possibly flip one or two their way. Democrats see a path to not just a slim majority, but a wide one that would buffer the conference’s ability to move legislation that more moderate members may not be supportive of. There are roughly 10 seats in the 63-seat chamber that Democrats see as in play, with only one of their own they believe they need to defend.

Democratic wins could mean full party control of state government and the opportunity to dominate the agenda in 2019. All of the state Legislature will be back on the ballot in 2020, a presidential year.

6. Will New York help flip the House of Representatives?
New York’s 27 House of Representatives seats are all on the ballot and as Democrats hope to reclaim the chamber, there are several races where the party is fighting competitive battles and attempting to unseat Republican representatives. Democrats need to net 23 seats in total across the country to flip the House.

Democrats are hoping that Trump’s deep unpopularity in the state will drive voters to the polls even in historically safe Republican districts while winning out most swing seats. Democratic candidates have been outraising their opponents in several races but Republicans have been putting up a strong fight, and Trump has even stumped for a few candidates to bolster their chances.

Out of nine competitive races with Republican incumbents, according to the Cook Political Report, two are toss-ups, three ‘lean Republican’ and four are ‘likely Republican.’ The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is focused on seven of those races as part of its ‘Red to Blue’ effort -- including Districts 1, 11, 19, 21, 22, 24, 27. New York Democrats could also claim prominent leadership positions in the House if they obtain a majority.

7. Will Republicans lose some of their few seats in New York City?
There are only a few elected Republicans representing New York City at any level of government, and after November 6, there could be even fewer.

In South Brooklyn, State Senator Marty Golden, an eight-term incumbent Republican, has become one of the main targets of Democratic efforts to flip the Senate. Golden is a pro-Trump Republican with a controversial record who was reelected in 2016 with no opposition. This year, however, prominent Democratic elected officials and activists from across the city are dedicating time and resources to unseat him. His Democratic opponent, Andrew Gounardes, took Golden on in 2012, but the candidate and his party believe circumstances are different in 2018, and they have approached this race with far more intensity.

Meanwhile, Republican Congressional Rep. Dan Donovan is seeking reelection to Congress, where he represents Staten Island and a sliver of southern Brooklyn. He faces a spirited challenge from Democrat Max Rose, an Army veteran with a fairly moderate platform, reflective of the district he’s hoping to represent. Rose has raised a significant amount of campaign cash and has been pushing a message focused on borough-specific issues rather than following in the vein of his party at large. The DCCC has also invested in the race as part of the ‘Red to Blue’ effort. [Listen: Max & Murphy Podcast: Rep. Dan Donovan]

8. How will New York City’s ballot measures fare?
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s charter revision commission placed three yes/no questions on the ballot for New York City voters that would need a simple majority to be approved. The proposals would drastically reduce campaign contribution limits in city elections and expand the city’s campaign finance program; create a citywide civic engagement commission with the majority of members appointed by the mayor; and impose term limits on community boards -- among a variety of other aspects of each proposal.

In the last week, de Blasio has stumped for those proposals, urging a “yes” vote on each. Some community advocates and labor unions have also backed the proposals, but prominent elected officials have given mixed reviews, with many coming out against proposal three, especially. [Listen: Cesar Perales, chair of the mayor's charter revision commission, appears on the What's The [Data] Point? podcast]

9. Election administration and security
Following the broad influence effort carried out by Russians in the 2016 presidential election, states across the country have sought to beef up election and ballot security. The New York State Board of Elections has implemented a plan called “ARMOR” -- Assessing Risk, Remediation, Monitoring Operations and Response -- with $5 million in state funding and $19.5 in federal funds. The BOE created a Secure Elections Center to protect against potential cybersecurity threats and to ensure that elections run smoothly, and has been training local and county elections boards to respond to those incidents.

Observers will be watching for any attempts to break into election systems, as the Russians successfully did in seven states ahead of the 2016 election while targeting about 21 states (New York was not among those).

There are always questions in New York City around administration of elections by the city’s Board of Elections, including related to issues like whether proper notice has been given about changes in polling locations or whether voters have been improperly removed from the rolls. And, higher than usual voter turnout is expected on Tuesday, perhaps on par with a presidential election, putting boards of election all over the state to the test.

10. A vacancy to fill?
If Letitia James wins the attorney general’s race, she would take the oath of office on January 1, 2019, triggering a nonpartisan special election for the office of public advocate that would likely take place in late February. But the race will likely kick off in earnest almost immediately after Tuesday, if James wins, with dozens of potential candidates waiting in the wings to jump into the race and several having already announced their intentions, including City Council Member Jumaane Williams and Assembly Member Michael Blake.

The nature of the race -- a short timeline with no party affiliations and several candidates largely indistinguishable in their political ideologies -- could potentially help a Republican claim the seat. But the victor would have to run for reelection later in the year, in a “normal” election with primaries and a general, with regular party lines and Democrats a massive enrollment advantage.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note - This article has been updated. 

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10 Things to Watch on Election Day in New York Sun, 04 Nov 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Two-Tiered Agenda for Democrats If They Take State Senate http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8024-two-tiered-agenda-for-democrats-if-they-take-state-senate http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8024-two-tiered-agenda-for-democrats-if-they-take-state-senate asc and senate dems

Senate Democrats (photo via @nysenatedems)


State Senate Democrats are already contemplating which policies they will pass under a one-party state government, confident they will win big in the upcoming November 6 elections, keeping control of the governor’s office and Assembly, while flipping the upper house of the Legislature. According to one leader of both the government and campaign agendas, Democrats have a general sense of a two-tiered policy agenda they plan to take up if victorious, prioritizing a long list of stalled progressive demands.

Meanwhile, Republicans hoping to cling to their lone stronghold in statewide government, where they currently hold a one-seat majority, campaign on the argument that their control of the Senate is all that is keeping taxpayers from a massive increase in costs, an even more bloated and intrusive state government, and a state virtually run by New York City interests.

State Senator Michael Gianaris, a Queens Democrat who chairs the party’s Senate campaign committee, outlined the preliminary agenda on the Max & Murphy program on WBAI radio, citing a series of policies where there seems to be clear consensus and Democrats could move quickly on long-sought bills, and then other, more contentious and complicated legislation that will likely need extensive consideration and negotiation.

Gianaris said a unified Democratic state government would make “quick progress” in 2019 on the Reproductive Health Act, which expands abortion rights; a “red flag” gun control bill; and voting and campaign finance reforms.

These are among the policies, Gianaris explained, that have been sidelined by the Republican control of the Senate.

“We have lost that opportunity because an artificial Republican majority in the Senate has stopped us from voting on the types of things we should be voting on,” Gianaris said, in apparent reference to the fact that Republicans only had a majority because of their coalition with the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference (which is no more) and the decision by Senator Simcha Felder of Brooklyn to join the Republican conference, despite the fact that he is a Democrat.

The Reproductive Health Act, which Gianaris mentioned, would essentially pass Roe v. Wade abortion rights into law, something Democrats are especially concerned about given the fear that a new Supreme Court with Justice Brett Kavanaugh will overturn the landmark 1973 abortion decision. The red flag bill would allow teachers and school administrators to petition a judge to remove guns from the homes of students seen as troubled, an additional measure to prevent gun violence in schools.

While he didn’t go into detail on consensus around campaign finance reform, Gianaris did emphasize the need for certain voting reforms.

“We want to make it easier for people to vote,” Gianaris said. “We’re one of the few states that doesn’t have early voting, or automatic registration, or same-day registration or any of the ways that we can improve our democracy.”

Generally, Democrats have been interested in closing the LLC loophole in state campaign finance, reducing individual contribution limits, and creating a system of public campaign financing, perhaps modeled in some way on New York City’s system.

These policies would form at least much of the first wave, according to Gianaris, who said they will be doable prior to or in a deal on the state budget, which generally passes at the end of March. Full Democratic control of the executive and legislative branches would test how well the party can come to agreement on the details of a variety of measures where this is broad support in general terms.

Gianaris, who may be named deputy majority leader to Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins if their campaign efforts are successful, did not indicate he was giving a comprehensive list, and there are several politices that Democrats have appeared eager to pass that he did not mention, such as the Gender Non-Descrimination Act and the Child Victims Act.

Gianaris said the more contentious policies that may require discussion among the Democratic conference and whose chances of passing could depend on how large the conference is, would likely be discussed in earnest post-budget.

Health care and rent regulations were two policy areas mentioned by Gianaris as falling under this category.

“The rent laws expire right around June, if I’m not mistaken, so certainly that is going to create pressure to make those changes before the current laws expire,” Gianaris said, previewing what is expected to be one of the most important issues to New York City residents of the 2019 state session, which will be slated to end in June. In the past, the Democratic State Assembly has passed legislation increasing regulations on landowners in the hopes of helping tenants, while the Senate has generally gone along with extensions of the current laws, with some tweaks.

Part of the MTA Sustainability Task Force, Gianaris and his colleagues are responsible for coming up with recommendations to Governor Cuomo for how to improve the MTA by the end of the year.

Gianaris said the MTA is “obviously something that has bedeviled the state for some time,” and that if Democrats were to win big, it is “hopefully one that we can make some progress on this year.”

A variety of solutions are possible when it comes to dealing with the MTA, with one that comes up in conversation often being congestion pricing, which essentially taxes traffic in hopes of reducing it.

When asked about congestion pricing, Gianaris said it may be a step forward but is not a solution to the entire problem.

“I don’t think that alone is the silver bullet that solves the MTA crisis,” Gianaris said. “So we’ll have some more work to do.” Cuomo has pledged to fight aggressively for congestion pricing to be included in the next state budget, while also saying he’s awaiting the task force’s recommendations and expects New York City to kick in more to fund the MTA’s tens of billions of dollars in needs.

However, as confident as Democrats may be -- Gianaris has said roughly ten seats in the 63-seat Senate could flip their way -- Republicans believe they can hold the chamber, and are arguing that the stakes are incredibly high. In an op-ed written for State of Politics, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan of Long Island outlined what he believes Democrats would do with complete control of the government, and how it would hurt New Yorkers.

Flanagan said Republican hold of the Senate this year would be the “most important firewall in history between every taxpayers’ wallet and government coffers.”

He labeled Democratic policy priorities as socialist, listing single-payer healthcare, and put to the fore several items that Democrats are not listing at the top of their list, such as supervised injection sites for heroin users, campaign finance reform — which he referred to as “taxpayer funded campaigns” — abolishing ICE and the potential for New York to be a “sanctuary state,” which he wrote would be deportation protections “for illegal immigrants who commit aggravated felonies.”

Flanagan also wrote that New York becoming a sanctuary state would make it difficult to fight the international gang MS-13, and that health insurance for all would “double the state’s budget while taking away Medicare from our seniors.”

“Nobody wants to pay a single cent more in taxes, and only a Republican majority will not allow it,” Flanagan wrote.

For his part, Gianaris on Max & Murphy framed Democratic progress as a necessary response to what is happening at the federal level under President Donald Trump and a Republican Congress. “We have an opportunity to lead the nation in standing up for progressive values and pushing back against what’s coming out of Washington,” Gianaris said, “and we have lost that opportunity, in the bluest of blue states,” because of the Republican majority in the state Senate.

Elections Day is November 6.

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by Victor Porcelli, Gotham Gazette

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Two-Tiered Agenda for Democrats If They Take State Senate Sun, 28 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Senate Democrats Full of Optimism About Flipping Chamber, One-Party Control of State Government http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8012-senate-democrats-full-of-optimism-about-flipping-chamber-one-party-control-of-state-government http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8012-senate-democrats-full-of-optimism-about-flipping-chamber-one-party-control-of-state-government gianaris public land

Senator Michael Gianaris (photo: @SenGianaris)


New York Democrats are confident that the upcoming elections will result in a completely blue state government, believing they will easily upend the current one-seat majority held by Republicans in the State Senate, according to the head of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, State Senator Michael Gianaris of Queens.

If they hold the governorship, and Democratic incumbent Governor Andrew Cuomo is expected to win a third term, and their supermajority in the Assembly, Democrats could have unfettered control of the law-making process in Albany if they are able to win a Senate majority on Election Day, November 6.

Appearing on the Max & Murphy program on WBAI radio, Gianaris recently outlined a rosy picture for Democrats, citing “about a dozen” Senate races as competitive, almost all of them for seats currently held by Republicans.

“We’re only defending one and they’re defending about 10,” Gianaris said. “We’re feeling very good about our chances in a year where Democratic turnout is reaching historic levels for an off-year.”

In the primary elections, Democratic turnout more than doubled compared to 2014, with roughly 1.5 million people casting a vote. While New York is a deeply Democratic state overall, Republicans have held to a tight Senate majority, in part by winning close races in swing districts, aided by prior drawing of legislative districts that favored their chances. But Democrats believe that registration and demographic trends, a stable of strong candidates, and broader trends including President Donald Trump’s unpopularity in New York, give them a significant edge this year.

Gianaris puts the dozen or so competitive elections into two categories — elections for seats where current Republican officeholders are retiring and elections where Republican incumbents are vulnerable. He feels the likelihood of the retirees’ seats going blue is “very, very good.” The battleground seats are largely on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley, though there are others further north and west in the state, and even one in Brooklyn.

“What’s really happening is these races have all become nationalized, and you saw the turnout spike in the primaries,” Gianaris said. “What’s happening, as we understand it, is Democrats, female Democrats in particular, are very activated by the Trump administration, by the Trump presidency, and have decided to take their country back.”

The effect of this change may first be felt in the five districts where GOP senators have retired leading up to the midterm elections.

In Syracuse, Republican John DeFrancisco is retiring, with Democrat John Mannion and Republican Robert Antonacci fighting for the seat in a district that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016. Republicans William Larkin, Tom Croci, John Bonacic, and Kathy Marchione have also announced their retirements in districts Democrats believe they have a chance of winning and have invested significantly to do so — in the fights for Larkin’s and DeFrancisco’s seats, the DSCC invested $193,000 and $270,000, respectively. This is only a small percentage of the millions of dollars Gianaris says the DSCC has put behind candidates this year, which he says is more than “any time since I’ve been in the Senate.”

Gianaris also indicated that support from Cuomo is better than it has been in cycles past, when the governor has been accused of sitting things out, tacitly approving a Republican Senate so that he can negotiate more moderate policies.

Citing six different races featuring Democratic challengers to Republicans who are not retiring, Gianaris continued his list of winnable seats, noting where the DSCC has invested resources. In Brooklyn’s District 22, Democrat Andrew Gounardes hopes to unseat Republican Senator Marty Golden, a seat Golden has held for nearly two decades but where Democrats have an enrollment advantage. Cuomo has gone to the district to campaign with Gounardes, and also cut a video ad for him.

The challenge districts Democrats think they can win extend to Putnam County’s District 40 in a race featuring Democrat Pete Harckham and Republican incumbent Terrence Murphy, and other districts, especially on Long Island, where Democrats see pick-up opportunities in the seats held by Senators Carl Marcellino and Elaine Phillips, as well as the one seat, currently held by Senator John Brooks, that Gianaris and others have acknowledged is the one they see as vulnerable. Brooks is being challenged by Republican nominee Jeff Pravato.

Gianaris sees this year as a chance for redemption for Democrats who feel robbed after seeing the Independent Democratic Conference break away from mainline Democrats and form a coalition government with Senate Republicans and Democratic Senator Simcha Felder joining the Republican conference to create an “artificial Republican majority.”  The has stopped the Senate from “voting on the types of things that we should be voting on,” Gianaris said, going to list a variety of issues from women’s reproductive rights to voting reform.

Gianaris and other Democrats see New York potentially becoming a progressive leader if things go as they expect on Election Day. But Senate Republicans are doing everything in their power to sound the alarm on one-party rule in New York, arguing that the state Senate is all that stands between New Yorkers and higher taxes, government-run health care, and a state government far too oriented toward New York City at the expense of upstate and Long Island.

Gianaris dismisses those warnings. “We have an opportunity to lead the nation in standing up for progressive values and pushing back against what’s coming out of Washington,” he said.

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by Victor Porcelli, Gotham Gazette

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Senate Democrats Full of Optimism About Flipping Chamber, One-Party Control of State Government Thu, 25 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Senate Republicans Leave Molinaro Out of Only Hope Messaging http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8009-senate-republicans-leave-molinaro-out-of-only-hope-messaging http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8009-senate-republicans-leave-molinaro-out-of-only-hope-messaging molinaro golden

Marc Molinaro & Senator Marty Golden campaign (photo: @marcmolinaro)


Republicans fighting to keep control of the state Senate this year have been adamant that their continued majority in the chamber is the only thing standing between New York and socialism. And with the party playing defense in a number of races, there’s a certain logic to motivating voters to come out based on the idea that their district could be the one that determines who controls the entire Senate, especially resonant given the one-seat margin the Republican conference holds.

But the rhetoric around preserving the GOP majority in its lone source of statewide power seems to leave out a major issue: the party also has a gubernatorial candidate in Marc Molinaro, whose election would guarantee a divided government in Albany thanks to the Democratic supermajority in the Assembly. Molinaro may be facing long odds, but to read much GOP messaging, one could easily think the party isn’t running a candidate against Governor Andrew Cuomo at all.

In the most glaring example of this trend, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, of Long Island, wrote an op-ed arguing for continued GOP control of the Senate, casting the majority as “the most important firewall in history between every taxpayers’ wallet and government coffers,” and hitting common themes of higher taxes and government-run health care if Democrats are victorious. While the editorial confidently predicted “when” and not “if” Republicans control the chamber again, it makes no mention of Molinaro’s campaign for governor on the same ticket.

In a pair of stories about the governor’s involvement in close state Senate races, Scott Reif, the Republican Senate conference spokesperson, kept up the messaging that the Senate GOP was the only chance to hold back Democratic ambitions, telling the Daily News that the governor was trying to “create one-man, one-party rule” and that “there will be no accountability, no checks and balances” if Cuomo successfully helps elect a Democratic Senate majority.

"What Andrew Cuomo really wants is absolute power in Albany, and we're the only ones who can stop it," Reif told the News, again leaving out any mention of Molinaro defeating the two-term incumbent. Reif did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Molinaro is of course facing an uphill battle in taking on Cuomo, especially in an environment seen as hostile to Republicans, and recent statewide polling saw him down 58-35 to Cuomo. Republican donors seem to believe his campaign is less of a wise investment than the state Senate, as Republican strategist Chapin Fay told the New York Times that “The funding class are investors, and they want to invest in something where they would see a return,” in a story about how the Senate GOP has greatly outraised Molinaro this year. The Business Council of New York’s PAC endorsed Cuomo over Molinaro at the same time as they endorsed only a single Democrat (of sorts) in Senator Simcha Felder, who has long-conferenced with Republicans, in an otherwise GOP set of state Senate endorsements.

Molinaro, for his part, said that he felt his campaign and the Senate Republicans were on the same page as far as messaging and working together. “Almost all of the members are helping to spread our message, we’re magnifying our resources, and working with Senator Flanagan,” Molinaro told Gotham Gazette following a Monday event in New York City. “The entire Republican conference has been good for us,” he said, favorably comparing the relationship his campaign has with the Senate GOP to the fraught one that the Rob Astorino campaign had in 2014. (Cuomo himself has been more actively campaigning for his party-mates to control the Senate, and Democrats are exceedingly optimistic they can flip the chamber.)

Currently the Dutchess county executive, Molinaro is a former member of the Assembly who was quickly endorsed by some of his former colleagues in the lower chamber of the state Legislature when he entered the race. Molinaro’s entrance fairly quickly led then-frontrunner Senator John DeFrancisco to drop out as Republican leaders from around the state coalesced behind Molinaro. DeFrancisco had been endorsed by Flanagan and several other senators before leaving the race, frustrated and headed toward retirement. Molinaro and Flanagan have not campaigned together.

But Molinaro, or his lieutenant gubernatorial running mate Julie Killian, have made campaign stops with a number of Republican state Senate candidates, like the Hudson Valley’s Annie Rabbitt, Long Island’s Jeff Pravato and Brooklyn’s Marty Golden, all of whom are in tight races for seats that could control the balance of the body.

Molinaro also brought his anti-corruption message to Syracuse in September for an appearance with Republican Bon Antonacci, who’s running to succeed DeFrancisco. Rabbit is a candidate who said she was “absolutely” motivated to run by the prospect of a Democratic Senate, and Antonacci has said a Democratic state Senate means tax hikes and increased state spending, a scenario that’s only possible if there’s a Democratic governor around to agree to them.

Molinaro, while admitting that “any one of us could lose,” also said he wasn’t bothered by the theoretical erasure of his candidacy by state Senate candidates, because there are other balances in the state Legislature to think about beyond the party balance. “I look forward to working with whomever, but I think the balance between the Senate and Assembly is important. The Senate Republican conference tends to focus its attention on upstate and Long Island, so this regional balance that’s created there, I think there’s an important benefit to that,” he said.

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by Dave Colon, Gotham Gazette
     

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Samar Khurshid and Ben Max contributed to this article.

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Senate Republicans Leave Molinaro Out of Only Hope Messaging Tue, 23 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
[Updated] Can Democrats win the state Senate? How progressive is Cuomo? New Yorkers are about to find out http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8003-updated-can-democrats-win-the-state-senate-how-progressive-is-cuomo-new-yorkers-are-about-to-find-out http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8003-updated-can-democrats-win-the-state-senate-how-progressive-is-cuomo-new-yorkers-are-about-to-find-out New York Democratic Party

Gov. Cuomo (photo via New York Democratic Party)


This op-ed is an updated version of a previously published column, now accounting for the October 32-day Pre-General Campaign Financial Disclosure and incorporating other new information, including reader feedback from the original version, previously published in Gotham Gazette October 2.

In the November 6 general election, New York Democrats have a historic opportunity to take control of the state Senate. If this happens, Democrats would control both houses of the state Legislature for only the third time in the last 100 years, unlocking years of bottled up progressive legislation passed by the Democratically-controlled Assembly but blocked by the Republican-controlled Senate.

Assuming Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, wins reelection as he is expected to, a number of these bills may very well land on his desk, including those related to universal health care; election, voting and campaign finance reforms; reproductive health rights; equal education funding for city schools; equal protections for LGBT and disabled people; carbon emissions elimination; immigration protections, including making New York a sanctuary state; and criminal justice reforms.

Recent history might temper optimism, however. New York Democratic voters chose the status quo over the bold reforms represented by the Cynthia Nixon-Jumaane Williams-Zephyr Teachout slate in September’s primaries and in last year’s constitutional convention ballot referendum. In the 2016 state Senate races, 98% of incumbents were re-elected.

We’ll soon see how powerful New York’s blue wave really is, both on Election Day and in the legislative session that will follow beginning in January. A few key questions:

But didn’t progressives just defeat the IDC?
Sort of and it’s insufficient.

Before the primary, there were actually more “Democrats” in the state Senate than Republicans, even though the GOP conference held a 40-23, then 32-31 majority in the 63-seat chamber.

Nine Democrats were either part of the Republican conference or in a power-sharing agreement via the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), giving the GOP a majority for the recent two-year legislative session (and prior) and preventing progressive legislation from reaching the Senate floor. Eight of those senators were members of the IDC, which did rejoin the “mainline” Democratic conference in April, after a new state budget had been passed, which led to the 32-31 GOP majority for the final months of the session that ended in June.

In the September 13 primary, six former IDC members were defeated. The ninth rogue Democrat, Senator Simcha Felder of Brooklyn, has been part of the Republican Conference for multiple terms, and was even reelected in 2016 on both the Democratic and Republican ballot lines. He won his primary challenge last month.

Despite losing in the Democratic primary, all six defeated former IDC members are likely to remain on November’s ballot on other party lines, often the Independence Party and/or Women’s Equality Party. The October filings indicate that the six defeated IDC members did not have any meaningful campaign activity in the post-primary weeks, but Senator Tony Avella has declared he is campaigning to win in the general election, and neither Senator Jeff Klein nor Senator Jesse Hamilton has formally declared their intentions. Democratic Party leaders may try to reward defeated IDC members -- like former conference leader Klein and Hamilton -- with judgeships to keep them from actively campaigning.

Surviving former IDC Senators David Carlucci and Diane Savino, along with Felder, will almost certainly win re-election in November.  

What do Democrats really need to do?
Net one seat. If Democrats flip just one GOP-held Senate seat and hold onto those they currently have, then Democrats will have a real 32-31 majority heading into next year. Competitive Senate races exist on Long Island and upstate, including several districts where Democrats failed to run any candidate at all in 2016.

What’s possible?
Flipping ten seats. My most optimistic scenario has Democrats flipping ten GOP-held seats and holding onto their own, for a 41-22 majority.

If the primaries were any indicator, November turnout will be high, which will benefit Democrats due to their two-to-one registration advantage across the state. Primary turnout more than doubled since the last comparable election in 2014. In Long Island’s Nassau and Suffolk counties, Democratic primary turnout actually tripled from 2014 to this year.

Democrats are mounting competitive races in the five GOP-held districts where the current officeholder is retiring. In 2012, Obama carried all of those districts; In 2016, Clinton carried one and Trump won by 6% or less in the other four. Democrats are also contesting several other races where the Republican incumbent is seen as beatable.

Below is my list for the best opportunities for Democrats to flip GOP-held Senate seats, categorized as “Most likely to flip,” “Highly competitive,” and “Long-shots.” You can see the full detailed spreadsheet here.

In compiling this list, I considered voter registration differential, popularity as measured by the number of individual campaign contributors, money including party funding, voting results by state Senate in the two most recent presidential elections, the power of incumbency, and signals of grassroots activism.

Senate District

Money matters -- to pay for campaign staff, advertising, get-out-the-vote efforts, and more. The table above includes the most recent Board of Elections campaign disclosures, filed by October 1. Grassroots support can certainly counteract big money, as IDC challenger Alessandra Biaggi demonstrated in her primary defeat of former IDC leader Klein, but it’s difficult to conceive how other candidates could overcome comparable odds. Klein outspent Biaggi nearly seven-to-one -- $2.8 million to Biaggi’s $414,457 -- but Biaggi raised money from 47 times the number of contributors that Klein had.

Past voter preferences matter, especially since they don’t necessarily follow in line with voter registration data. The 2012 presidential election was more reflective of deeply felt beliefs in these districts, which had with one exception solid pluralities for Obama. Democratic voters who stayed home may have contributed to the mixed results of the 2016 election. By this year, 2016’s GOP victories didn’t deter -- and perhaps motivated -- Democratic contributors and may have awakened Democrats who came out in droves to vote in this year’s primaries. In addition, changing demographics have also affected these districts in ways that potentially favor progressive Democratic candidates.

Party money also matters. Both Democrats and Republicans have state Senate campaign committees, which have injected money into select races as shown on my chart. The full extent of Cuomo’s financial support remains to be seen.

What’s the rundown on the races?
James Skoufis vs. Tom Basile (SD-39): Assemblymember Skoufis has a solid lead in every respect that should offset the weak Democratic performance in the past presidential elections. The significant GOP support for Basile signals the party’s concern. Even after the GOP’s $288,300 investment, Skoufis had a commanding 9.5 times more money as of the most recent filing.

Jen Lunsford vs. Rich Funke (SD-55); Anna Kaplan vs. Elaine Phillips (SD-7), Karen Smythe vs. Sue Serino (SD-41): These three races occur in districts with vulnerable GOP incumbents. In all three, huge Democratic Party enrollment and presidential voting advantages could overcome GOP funding advantages. In SD-7, the GOP is concerned enough to invest $254,500 to prop up incumbent Senator Phillips.

Jeremy Cooney vs. Joseph Robach (SD-56): Jeremy Cooney has everything going for him -- but money. He’s in a heavily Democratic district that came out big for Obama and Clinton. His grassroots popularity is reflected in the number of individual donations. But his relatively low cash balance against a well-funded incumbent, Senator Robach, is so large that the GOP seems to have decided Robach doesn’t need additional help.

Jim Gaughran vs. Carl Marcellino (SD-5): This district may define the red-to-blue wave as it is one of the few in the country that flipped from voting Republican to Democrat between the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections, perhaps indicating a demographic shift. As of September, Gaughran and Marcellino had roughly the same balance remaining in their campaign accounts, motivating both parties to pony up for the final weeks of the campaign. GOP support gives Marcellino an edge in overall funding that Gaughran’s enthusiastic grassroots supporters can overcome, especially since Marcellino only won by 1.2% in 2016 over Gaughran.

Jen Metzger vs. Annie Rabbitt (SD-42) and Monica Martinez vs. Dean Murray (SD-3): Both of these districts were solid Trump districts in 2016 after having been solid Obama districts in 2012. Both enjoy large Democratic majorities and no incumbents. Metzger and Martinez are also winning the hearts and dollars of individual contributors over their GOP opponents. Metzger’s impressive overall campaign funding advantage of 1.8 times Rabbitt is solid; Martinez’s deficit to Murray of 1.4 times her fundraising can also be surmounted by a strong grassroots effort down the stretch.

Andrew Gounardes vs. Marty Golden (SD-22): This Southern Brooklyn seat represents why many GOP-held districts are vulnerable. Since 2012, when incumbent Republican Senator Golden won his last competitive race, the district’s demographics have changed dramatically. Today, 40% of residents are now people of color, especially Asian and Hispanic; and 43% are immigrants, primarily Asian, eastern European, and Mexican. Residents work in blue-collar industries like transportation, wholesale, and construction. Virtually every racial group earns less than the median for New York State. These changes create the setting for the red-to-blue opportunity for progressive Democrat Gounardes, Golden’s opponent in 2012.

In less than 30 days between the post-primary and the October filings, Gounardes has substantially narrowed the funding gap with Golden after having spent significantly during a hard-fought Democratic primary. Golden’s 7 times funding advantage shunk to 2.3 times with the help of the state Senate campaign fund. The lopsided Democratic registration advantage in the district is a red herring; some of the district’s constituents register as Democrats in order to have a say in New York City primaries, but vote GOP in the general election. Many registered Democrats in the district have voted Republican in mayoral and other elections for years. [Disclosure: I’m a member of Gounardes’ finance committee.]

Aaron Gladd vs. Daphne Jordan (SD-43): This district is a conundrum. The GOP enjoys a strong registration advantage but went for Obama in 2012 and narrowly chose Trump in 2016. Gladd’s advantage in contributors and overall funding sufficiently concerns the GOP enough to drop money to support Jordan.

Lou D’Amaro vs. Phil Boyle (SD-4) and John Mannion vs. Bob Antonacci (SD-50): In both races, the GOP is winning on number of contributors and overall funding balance going into the final weeks of the election. Mannion’s situation may be so bleak that the Democrats have thrown a pile of cash into this race, while the GOP, smelling a potential win, has also invested.

Kevin Thomas vs. Kemp Hannon (SD-6) and Pete Harckham vs. Terrence Murphy (SD-40): It’s very hard to imagine that Thomas and Harckham can overcome the massive campaign balance deficits as compared to their GOP opponents in the waning weeks of the election.

Aren’t there Democrats at risk?
Incumbent Democrats appear safe. John Brooks in Senate District 8 on Long Island is often mentioned as a potential risk, probably due to his narrow 214-vote (0.2%) win in 2016 over then-incumbent GOP Senator Michael Venditto. But now-incumbent Brooks has a solid fundraising lead over his GOP challenger, Jeff Pravato, in a district that went for Obama and Clinton and has a solid Democratic voter registration advantage.

Democrats need to ensure that primary victors Rachel May in SD-53 and Alessandra Biaggi in SD-34, both of whom beat IDC members, continue their momentum through November. The IDC incumbents they defeated are likely to appear on other ballot lines and have significant money. May’s opponent, David Valesky, reported a $340,038 post-primary balance to May’s $41,209, though he has recently declared that he will not campaign in the general. Biaggi’s opponent, former IDC leader Klein, reported a post-primary balance of $497,267 and has not indicated his plans for the general election.

On October 8, former IDC Senator Avella of Queens, who lost in the Democratic primary to John Liu, announced that he will actively campaign in a long-shot attempt to win the November election on the Independence Party and Women’s Equality Party lines. As of the recent filing, Liu had a 3.3 times funding advantage over Avella and an energized and active campaign operation.

So what’s going to happen?
On November 6, Democrats will take control of the New York State Senate with a solid majority that Republicans cannot hold back. This, along with holding onto a wide majority in the Assembly, will likely result in a steady stream of progressive legislation on the governor’s desk to sign, giving Cuomo the opportunity to make history New York has been waiting for.

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Art Chang is a writer, thinker and strategist at the intersection of technology and government. He is a former board member of New York City’s Campaign Finance Board, where he led the creation of NYC Votes and Voting.NYC. On Twitter @achangnyc.

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

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[Updated] Can Democrats win the state Senate? How progressive is Cuomo? New Yorkers are about to find out Wed, 17 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Battle for Control of the State Senate http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7998-max-murphy-podcast-battle-for-control-of-the-state-senate http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7998-max-murphy-podcast-battle-for-control-of-the-state-senate mxm logo

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


October 17, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Senator Michael Gianaris and Thomas Doherty

Michael Gianaris Thomas Doherty WBAI

Control of the State Senate is at stake this election year in New York, with Democrats hopeful they can overcome what is now a one-seat margin that leaves them in the minority and win a majority, possibly by several seats in what many in the party hope will be a wave election. Meanwhile, Republicans hope to hold onto what is their only foothold at the state level.

Senator Michael Gianaris of Queens is the chair of the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee and joined the show to discuss Democratic efforts to flip the Senate blue and other election year dynamics, as well as the path ahead for Democrats if they do win the majority and keep their other centers of power in the Assembly and Governor's Office.

Tom Doherty is a former top aide to Republican Governor George Pataki and now a partner at Mercury, a public affairs consultancy. Doherty joined the show to give his take on the state of the Republican Party in New York and what's at stake in this year's elections.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Battle for Control of the State Senate Wed, 17 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000