Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/512 Sun, 21 Oct 2018 11:02:43 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) [Updated] Can Democrats win the state Senate? How progressive is Cuomo? New Yorkers are about to find out http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=8003:updated-can-democrats-win-the-state-senate-how-progressive-is-cuomo-new-yorkers-are-about-to-find-out http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=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/?id=7998:max-murphy-podcast-battle-for-control-of-the-state-senate http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=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
Democrats in Swing Districts Run On, Not From, Single-Payer Health Care http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7995:despite-lack-of-support-from-cuomo-democrats-in-swing-districts-run-on-not-from-single-payer-health-care http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7995:despite-lack-of-support-from-cuomo-democrats-in-swing-districts-run-on-not-from-single-payer-health-care andrewcuomo affor

Gov. Cuomo & Long Island Democratic Senate candidates (photo: @andrewcuomo)


Since the Affordable Care Act has failed to tame the beast that is America’s private health insurance system, and a new presidential administration is actively hostile to even that modest attempt at near-universal coverage, activists and many Democrats in New York have recently come to embrace a way forward. Single-payer, state-government-administered health care coverage has become something of a rallying cry for progressive activists in New York even as Governor Andrew Cuomo has argued it’s a program better-suited for the federal government to tackle.

While often thought of as a politically risky issue to embrace outside of solidly progressive areas, candidates in swing districts across the state are carrying the torch for single-payer and calling it a morally correct thing to do that will also save the state money. And with criticism of the proposal from Republicans, the issue has become a flashpoint in the battle for control of the New York State Senate, the GOP’s only source of power at the state level and the key for Democrats hoping to enact a long list of progressive goals.

The New York Health Act, the proposed law that would set up single-payer health insurance in New York, has gained momentum in the state Senate after years as an Assembly-focused effort. Every Democrat in the upper chamber of the state Legislature, where the party is in the minority by one seat, signed on to the bill last session.

The push saw added attention as Democratic gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon made passing the bill a centerpiece of her campaign, although unlike on other issues like legalizing marijuana, Nixon didn’t appear to push Cuomo left on healthcare. But while Nixon and New York City Democrats -- the lead sponsors of the NYHA are Manhattan Assembly Member Dick Gottfried and Bronx Senator Gustavo Rivera -- have received the most attention for their embrace of the plan, Democratic state Senate candidates in the Hudson Valley and Long Island are also running on the passage of the bill despite the risk that an embrace of big government socialism could be a liability in their swing districts.

Conventional wisdom about the relative conservatism in many areas outside of New York City, and Cuomo’s own reluctance to embrace statewide single-payer (during his debate with Nixon he said it is a good idea “in theory,” but that it would double the state’s tax burden and he supports single-payer at the federal level), would suggest that Democrats in tight races would avoid the New York Health Act. Prominent Cuomo-led events where he’s endorsed suburban Democrats haven’t included mention the bill at all, instead focusing on issues like the continuation of the two percent property tax cap, the passage of the Reproductive Health Act and a “red flag” gun control law, and funding an effort to fight the MS-13 gang.

As Cuomo avoided the issue, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan brought up the specter of socialism and high taxes in an op-ed column arguing for the GOP’s continued control of the state Senate. “The Democrat Conference vows to enact single payer health care, and so do all the candidates they are running. Medicaid for All would double the state’s budget while taking away Medicare from our seniors. You cannot support a cap on spending and a permanent cap on property taxes, while supporting budget-doubling policies like socialized medicine.”

But for some suburban Democrats, single-payer is as much of a winning issue as any other. “There's definite support [for the New York Health Act],” said candidate Pete Harckham, running to unseat Republican Terrence Murphy in the Senate’s 40th District, in the Hudson Valley. “People are tired of fighting with insurance companies, hospitals are tired of fighting with insurance companies, doctors are tired of fighting with insurance companies. So I think there's a very high appetite for the discussion and the dialogue with the New York Health Act as the starting place.”

Jen Metzger, running against Ann Rabbit in the 42nd District for the retiring Senator John Bonancic’s Hudson Valley seat, also said that she’s heard support for the bill out on the trail. “I come right out and say I'm a supporter of the New York Health Act and no one has said yet that it's a terrible idea or a scary idea,” Metzger told Gotham Gazette. “People understand that this system is not working and that major change is needed.”

“We've got to put every option on the table, because we're coming to a breaking point,” John Mannion, running against Bob Antonacci in the race to replace retiring Senator John DeFrancisco in western New York’s 50th District, told Gotham Gazette.

Both Metzger and Harckham don’t hedge their support either; each candidate told Gotham Gazette that they view healthcare as a human right and believe in a single-payer insurance system. It’s a view that’s become common enough among Democrats that Andrew Gounardes, running against state Senator Marty Golden in a relatively conservative district in southern Brooklyn, said, “frankly I don’t think it’s out of the mainstream to talk about universal health care in the year 2018,” during a previous interview with Gotham Gazette. Cuomo has also endorsed Gounardes, at a rally in Brooklyn where there was no mention of single-payer healthcare.

Support for the bill, even in districts currently held by Republicans, may not be as much of a liability in a wave year for the candidates who’ve expressed their support for it. The 40th and 50th Districts went for Hillary Clinton in 2016 by more than 5 points each, though the 42nd District went for Donald Trump by 5 points.

Gounardes and his primary opponent Ross Barkan were hardly the only New York City Democrats banging the drum for the New York Health Act this primary season. It was one of a slew of issues that challengers to the former members of the Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) regularly used to explain how the incumbents had not represented progressive values while forming a power-sharing agreement with the Republican conference.

Jessica Ramos promoted single-payer on her website, Alessandra Biaggi explained her support for it using her own father’s Parkinson’s Disease as an example of how the current healthcare system was failing, and Zellnor Myrie promoted a recently-released RAND Corporation study that suggested the New York Health Act would save the state money over time -- all three of them defeated former IDC members in the primary.

Even John Brooks, a Long Island Democrat running a tough re-election campaign for his seat on Long Island states on his website that he supports the New York Health Act, and has called affordable health insurance “a right, not a privilege.” Harckham though, said that the bill has appeal outside of the city because “the economic and the healthcare hardship is the same in the suburbs as it is in the city.”

Just under 5 percent of New Yorkers lack health insurance, according to a recent report by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, and 7 million New Yorkers are receiving Medicaid, the federal program administered by the state with localities. Beyond the rhetoric of health insurance as a right and not a privilege, these Democratic candidates are also insisting the move to a single-payer system would actually save taxpayers and businesses money in the long run. “Shifting to a single-payer system would actually reduce property taxes, because it would reduce the cost of local taxes and government costs from how they pay for their employees' health insurance,” Metzger, a member of the Rosendale Town Council, told Gotham Gazette.

This is of course disputed by state Senate Republicans, who have cast the possible change to a single-payer system as a big government takeover of the healthcare sector. “You can’t hold the line on taxes and spending when you’re calling for creation of a new government-run health care system that would double the size of the state budget and cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars more than they already pay,” Senate GOP spokesperson Scott Reif said in response to a Democratic pledge -- signed by Cuomo and Long Island Democratic Senate candidates -- that included a promise to keep property taxes low, but made no mention of single-payer health care.

The RAND Corporation study concluded the change to a single-payer system in New York could (if certain assumptions were made true) save the state money in the long run, as even the bill’s primary sponsor in the Assembly, Gottfried, has said, that payroll and other taxes would need to increase to pay for the new system. The New York Health Act legislation itself doesn’t provide an exact way to pay for the single-payer system, instead authorizing a commission to figure out how to fund the plan should the bill pass. But Mannion posited that it’s not as if health insurance costs are affordable or helpful at the moment.

“I spoke to someone, a small business owner in my district, who said the entire health insurance premium he paid was $300,000 for his employees six years ago, and this year alone it increased by $300,000,” Mannion said, in response to a question on whether he’s prepared to explain tax increases necessary for a single-payer system.

Still, some Democrats are wary to discuss their views on the issue, even if they list it as an issue they’re running on. Jim Gaughran, running against Republican Senator Carl Marcellino in Long Island’s 5th District, called healthcare a right and not a privilege on his website, but did not respond to a request for comment, even after he was reached on his cell phone and promised a return call that did not materialize. The same situation came up with candidates Karen Smythe, whose website calls for universal single-payer, and Pat Strong, who said she would pass the New York Health Act. In the case of Assembly Member James Skoufis, running to represent the 39th Senate District, he’s already voted for the bill more than once in his time in the Assembly, but doesn’t list is as one of his main issues on his campaign website. Skoufis released a campaign ad touting his a fight with insurance companies on behalf of a constituent, but his campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment on whether or not he would support the New York Health Act in the Senate the way he did in the Assembly.

The candidates who spoke to Gotham Gazette did insist that even if they won and Democrats capture a majority in the state Senate, voters shouldn’t expect an immediate passage of the bill in the first budget session.

“During the gubernatorial primary, Cynthia Nixon said ‘Oh just pass [the bill] and pay for it,’ but that's not how you pass and craft legislation,” Harckham said, referring to when Nixon told the Daily News editorial board “Pass it and then figure out how to fund it” when its members asked her about the New York Health Act. “My starting point is New York Health, and let's sit down with the experts. The Assembly has passed this version, so it's pretty far along, but that doesn't mean the Senate can't alter it,” she continued. “Let's do our due diligence, with the goal of providing universal single-payer coverage for all New Yorkers.”

Harckham did say, though, that he felt “two years of legislative time” is long enough to debate and pass a bill, which he called a first-term priority on his website (state legislative terms are two years long).

“The Assembly bill has to be revamped, and we have get it right,” Mannion said. A spokesperson for Mannion later told Gotham Gazette that “getting it right” meant that Mannion believed “a transition from the current system to universal coverage as per the bill would likely require a transitional period in which purchasing into a Medicare-for-all like system would be a possible step, including offering that option on the NY State of Health exchange website.” That website is currently where New Yorkers can purchase health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act.

And even though the governor has said he prefers single-payer on a federal level, Metzger said there might be hope of convincing him to embrace the New York Health Act by playing to his love of New York being first. “I think we can show that [single-payer] can be done, I think there's a lot of value in demonstration value,” Metzger said. “It's been these academic debates in this country for a long time. If anyone can do it, I think New York can do it.”

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by Dave Colon, Gotham Gazette
     

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Democrats in Swing Districts Run On, Not From, Single-Payer Health Care Mon, 15 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Klein, Filing Late Post-Primary, Shows Over $3 Million in Senate Campaign Spending http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7973:klein-filing-late-post-primary-shows-over-3-million-in-senate-campaign-spending http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7973:klein-filing-late-post-primary-shows-over-3-million-in-senate-campaign-spending shakinghands

Sen. Jeff Klein meets voters (Photo: jeffkleinny.com)


Already spending at what is likely a record pace, with two weeks until the September 13 primary, New York State Senator Jeff Klein kept spending his campaign cash at a rapid clip to try to beat back a Democratic primary challenge from Alessandra Biaggi, a lawyer and first-time candidate, Klein’s late post-primary campaign finance filing shows. In sum, Klein spent nearly ten times more than Biaggi, but was still unsuccessful as Biaggi claimed the nomination, likely unseating one of the state’s major powerbrokers of the past decade, in the district that covers parts of the Bronx and Westchester.

Klein spent nearly $700,000 in September, out of more than $3 million -- an astronomical sum for a state legislative race -- that he depleted in trying to retain his seat in this two-year election cycle. He also raised another $246,000 in those final weeks of the primary -- he has brought in $1.8 million since January 2017 -- including $103,000 from the Senate Independence Campaign Committee, which he and partners originally set up jointly between the Independence Party and the erstwhile Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group of eight senators led by Klein that formed a power-sharing agreement with Republicans in the Senate. The SICC was ruled by a state supreme court judge to be illegal, though it apparently moved into compliance thereafter, and the state BOE had ordered that IDC members refund its contributions, but they refused. In total, the SICC directed $403,000 to Klein’s reelection coffers.

The SICC also moved hundreds of thousands of dollars, largely from major donors in real estate and education reform, to other members of the IDC, with Klein and five other former IDC members losing their primaries.

In the days leading up to September 13, Klein received $90,500 in donations from limited liability companies and from political action committees, including some associated with law enforcement unions and the nursing and beverage industries. Klein has benefited greatly from the largesse of corporations, PACs and LLCs, the last of which are not required to name their owners and can therefore circumvent contribution limits. In total, those types of contributors gave him about $1.16 million for his reelection.

There were a few notable individual donations in the most recent filing as well. On primary day itself, Carl Icahn, the billionaire investor with close ties to President Donald Trump, gave Klein $11,000; two days before that, hedge fund billionaire Paul Tudor Jones gave him $15,000; and in the week before, Larry Robbins, also a billionaire and of the KIPP charter school network, donated $10,000.

Of the latest spending spree, about $390,000 went to the Hamilton Campaign Network, a Democratic campaign consulting firm, which organized campaign mailers, phone and text banking efforts, and produced videos for Klein’s campaign.

After all his spending, Klein still had $510,000 sitting in his campaign account as of this filing, which was sent to the Board of Elections a week late. He could retain that cash or potentially transfer it to another campaign account, should he decide to run in any upcoming elections, or he can donate to other candidates running in the general. He may decide to use it for his own continued campaign, given that he has the Independence Party ballot line to run on in November after losing the Democratic nomination, and Klein has not formally conceded his race or endorsed Biaggi.

In the Democratic primary, Klein received 14,754 votes, about 44.5 percent, losing to Biaggi’s 17,618 votes, or 53.1 percent. All told, Klein spent roughly $207 for each vote while Biaggi only disbursed $18.90 per vote.

Independent expenditure groups also showed their support for Klein. Those include Laborers Building a Better New York, a group associated with the Construction and General Building Laborers Local 79 union, which spent $109,360 to favor several candidates, including Klein. New Yorkers for Quality Healthcare, affiliated with the Greater New York Hospital Association, spent a whopping $447,450 on digital ads, direct mailers, web design, and tv production to support Klein and State Senator David Valesky, another former IDC member who lost to his own primary challenger, Rachel May. The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association’s independent expenditure committee also spent $65,338 on direct mailers boosting Klein.

In total, Biaggi spent $332,000 on her campaign and raised about $534,000. While Klein was attempting a well-funded last ditch effort to sway voters, Biaggi only dropped about $160,000 in that final three week period, raising only $62,500 in the same time. She has another $133,000 as she heads into the general election, where she would be unopposed unless Klein continues to run.

A spokesperson for Klein’s campaign did not return a request for comment for this article. He has not appeared in public since primary day, and did not address supporters on primary night.

Biaggi also received outside help in the primary. The Empire State 32BJ SEIU PAC spent $97,285 to support her election, through mailers, canvassing efforts and social media ads. They also spent $11,540 on a mailer opposing Klein. The union, 32BJ, dedicated significant resources, including financial and human, to Biaggi’s successful bid.

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Klein, Filing Late Post-Primary, Shows Over $3 Million in Senate Campaign Spending Wed, 03 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Can Democrats win the state Senate? How progressive is Cuomo? New Yorkers are about to find out http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7967:can-democrats-win-the-state-senate-how-progressive-is-cuomo-new-yorkers-are-about-to-find-out http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7967:can-democrats-win-the-state-senate-how-progressive-is-cuomo-new-yorkers-are-about-to-find-out govandcuomo moynihan

Gov. Cuomo (photo via the Governor's office)


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 should temper optimism, however. New York Democratic voters chose the status quo over the bold reforms represented by the Cynthia Nixon-Jumaane Williams-Zephyr Teachout ticket 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, though one good sign for Democrats in their quest to take over the chamber is the handful of retirements in the GOP conference.

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. There’s no guarantee they won’t actively campaign if for no other reason than as spoilers, though most appear unlikely to do so. Democratic leaders may try to reward defeated IDC members -- like former conference leader Senator Jeff Klein and Senator Jesse Hamilton -- with judgeships to keep them from actively campaigning. Klein, along with Senators Jesse Hamilton and Tony Avella, is one of three former IDC members who were defeated in the primary and have not yet declared that they won’t campaign in the general.

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. There’s also a seat in Southern Brooklyn that represents why many GOP-held districts are vulnerable.

Since 2012, when incumbent Republican Senator Marty 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 Andrew Gounardes, Golden’s opponent in 2012.

What’s possible?
Flipping nine seats. My most optimistic scenario has Democrats flipping nine GOP-held seats for a 40-23 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 officeholder is seen as beatable.

Here is my list for the best opportunities for Democrats to flip GOP-held Senate seats. In compiling this list, I considered voting results by state Senate in the two most recent presidential elections, fundraising, the power of incumbency and signals of grassroots support.

best opportunies for Democrats to flip the Senate

Past voter preferences matter. 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 primary. In addition, changing demographics have also affected these districts in ways that potentially favor progressive Democratic candidates.

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 September 24, and showing money in the bank as of the filing. Some candidates benefited from the lack of a primary, which means they have more funds for the general election, but may not have benefited from public exposure without opposition.

The New York Daily News reports that Cuomo intends to fund-raise for several Senate candidates, including Gounardes, D’Amaro, Kaplan, Skoufis, Smythe, and Metzger. The two other Democratic candidates mentioned in the Daily News story -- Monica Martinez in SD-3 and Pete Harckham in SD-40 -- don’t appear to be currently competitive based on funds raised and the lack of time before Election Day.

Aren’t there Democrats at risk?
Incumbent Democrats largely 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 the current GOP candidate, Jeff Pravato, in a district that went for Hillary Clinton and Obama 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 $340,038 post-primary 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 $957,827 just before the primary to Biaggi’s post-primary balance of $172,909. As of this writing, Klein’s post-primary filing still hadn’t been published and he had not indicated his general election plans.

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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Can Democrats win the state Senate? How progressive is Cuomo? New Yorkers are about to find out Mon, 01 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Democrats Target Previously Ignored Brooklyn Shot at State Senate Majority http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7947:democrats-target-previously-ignored-brooklyn-shot-at-state-senate-majority http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7947:democrats-target-previously-ignored-brooklyn-shot-at-state-senate-majority a gounardes2

(Photo: @agounardes)


As Democrats eye majority control of the New York State Senate that has effectively eluded them for a decade, party leaders and a coalition of progressive activists are descending on Southern Brooklyn’s District 22, where Democrat Andrew Gounardes is challenging Republican Senator Marty Golden and where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans more than two-to-one.

The Senate Democratic conference currently holds 31 seats and needs just one more for a majority in the 63-seat upper chamber of the state Legislature, while their party-mates already overwhelmingly control the Assembly. With surging turnout and a blue wave of progressive energy rousing the party’s base, they see an opportunity to pick up several seats across the state. Senate District 22 -- which covers the neighborhoods of Bay Ridge, Fort Hamilton, Dyker Heights, parts of Bensonhurst, Gravesend, Sheepshead Bay, Manhattan Beach and Marine Park -- is one of only two in New York City represented by a Republican (the other is District 24 in Staten Island, a solidly Republican seat held by Senator Andrew Lanza). Golden, a former NYPD officer, has held the seat for 16 years, prior to which he served on the New York City Council.

In the September 13 primary, Gounardes, who is counsel to Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, beat journalist-turned-politician Ross Barkan to win the Democratic nomination. The race was less bitter than other Democratic primaries across the city, and saw more attention focused on Golden’s eight-term Senate record and history of personal controversy.

“We’ve been running full-speed, nonstop since [primary] night,” Gounardes said in a Wednesday phone interview, 47 days until Election Day, November 6. “I was at the subway at 7:30 on Friday morning and we’ve been campaigning straight through.”

Gounardes has challenged Golden before, in 2012, but Golden outspent him and easily defeated him, getting 38,584 votes, or 52 percent, against Gounardes’ 28,243 votes, 38 percent, out of a total 74,451 votes cast. There were a total of 154,316 registered voters in the district at the time, including 77,594 Democrats, 33,621 Republicans and 36,731 unaffiliated voters. (Gounardes also ran on the Working Families Party Line and Golden ran additionally on the Independence Party and Conservative Party lines).

In 2014, Golden again faced a Democratic challenger, Jamie Kemmerer, who received little support from the Democratic establishment and lost by a wide margin in a low turnout election. Only 36,348 voters cast a ballot in that race, with 23,580 voters, or 65 percent, voting for Golden and 10,633, or 29 percent, for Kemmerer. Voter enrollment was largely unchanged -- there were 154,001 total registered in the district, with 77,328 Democrats, 32,710 Republicans, and 37,250 unaffiliateds.

Two years ago, the Democrats did not put up any opponent even as they were attempting to win back the Senate, allowing Golden to be reelected unopposed with more than 62,000 votes.

This year, however, is nothing like the last two elections. As Golden cruised unopposed in 2016, Donald Trump was surprisingly elected president. Awareness of the New York State Senate -- the fact that it has been controlled by Republicans, with the help of nine rogue Democrats -- grew. Activists organized. Party leaders, while feeling pressure from the base, began to see more seats as in play.

Turnout surged on primary day, September 13, and is expected to carry forward into the general. Voter registration has also climbed. As of April this year, there were 167,219 registered voters in District 22: 83,244 Democrats, 35,786 Republicans and 41,458 unaffiliateds.

“My approach has always been pragmatic progressivism,” Gounardes said, noting the issues that have defined his campaign and that he will be talking about for the next seven weeks: education, pedestrian safety, the city’s subway crisis, the high cost of living in the district, especially housing and health care, and corruption and good government reform.

“I have very progressive values but I’m also a very pragmatic person. Nothing in my platform is anything that I think is out of the mainstream,” he said. “I don’t think it’s out of the mainstream to talk about speed cameras. I don’t think it’s out of the mainstream to talk about fixing the MTA. Frankly I don’t think it’s out of the mainstream to talk about universal health care in the year 2018...I’m really focused on issues that we can have a direct impact on in as pragmatic a way as possible.”

He credited his primary victory to a robust field operation and a strong coalition of activists and labor unions that backed him. “We’re gonna do the same thing we did in the primary, we’re just gonna do more of it,” he said of his strategy to beat Golden. “The last four days of the election, we knocked on, I think, north of 15,000 doors in four days....We identified more than half of the voters in our target universe and we pulled them all out. And we predicted our turnout numbers, we predicted our margin, we hit all our metrics really, really strong. So we’re gonna do all of that but we’re gonna do it ten times more. That’s how we’re gonna win.”

Golden seems unperturbed by the challenge. The senator prides himself on being able to work with lawmakers from across the aisle and has called himself an “economic development nut,” who cares about lowering taxes and creating jobs. “My neighbors know I get good things done,” he said in an emailed statement to Gotham Gazette. “Bringing back billions of dollars to schools, advocating for common sense MTA reforms, standing up for labor, supporting law enforcement, driving economic development and job creation, keeping prescription medicine affordable and Brooklyn health care excellent - these have always been my priorities year in, year out.”

He has a strong fundraising advantage. He has raised more than $782,000 for reelection, spent just about $720,000 and has about $485,000 in cash on hand. Gounardes has only raised about $276,000, spent about $101,000 and has about $153,000 left.

Golden has also been endorsed for reelection by several prominent law enforcement and uniformed workers unions, including the Sergeant’s Benevolent Association and the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, and by the Civil Service Employees Association Local 1000, the New York League of Conservation Voters, and DC37, an influential labor group. “My focus - beginning, middle and end - are the Southern Brooklyn neighborhoods I have the honor of representing. The support I get is from them. However others try to frame this this race, it's not about - and has never been about - anything other than our communities,” Golden said.

State Republican Party Chair Ed Cox said in a statement, “Marty Golden is one of the most effective leaders in the state. He delivers for his district and his constituent service is second to none. People trust him and know they can count on him -- it's why Brooklynites from all political persuasions vote for him and it's why he'll be re-elected this November.”

On the other side, Gounardes is being aided in his effort by prominent elected officials and labor unions as well, including 32BJ, the powerful building services workers union that just played a significant role in defeating Senator Jeff Klein, former leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, in the primary. A campaign spokesperson for Governor Andrew Cuomo said they see the seat as in play and will be supporting Gounardes as the governor spearheads the party’s effort to flip the senate.

“We believe in this blue wave year, every seat is in play and the governor is laser focused on doing our part to take back the House and flip control of the State Senate this November to fight back against Donald Trump’s divisive, anti- New York agenda,” the spokesperson, Abbey Collins, said in a statement.

The Working Families Party and the True Blue coalition, made up of 60 activist groups, also intend to flood the district with volunteers and efforts to turn out voters, which they successfully employed in several other contested Democratic primaries. On Saturday, the Gounardes campaign is holding a large general election kickoff rally, and on Sunday, True Blue activists will join with City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and others to canvass in the district.

“Now that the primary’s behind us, there’s no other competitive general election to the State Senate in any one of the five boroughs except for our race here,” Gounardes pointed out. “So we feel very, very bullish about that fact and we’re encouraged by it because it means that volunteers, instead of getting on a bus and going to Pennsylvania or New Jersey or wherever else to go help with a congressional race, they now have an opportunity to take the subway down, if it’s running, and come down to Bay Ridge, and help us knock on doors and make phone calls.”

He has also been in touch with Barkan, his primary opponent, inviting him to the Saturday campaign event, and said that Barkan’s campaign volunteers and donors have reached out to offer support. “[H]e really spoke about Marty’s record in a way that I couldn’t have, with a platform that I just didn’t have,” Gounardes acknowledged of Barkan.

Barkan intends to assist the campaign which, he said in phone interview, could lead to a “sea change” in Southern Brooklyn. But he is still figuring out how he will get involved. “To defeat Marty Golden, you have to motivate Democrats, progressives, newer voters, younger voters, and really get them to come out,” he said. “I think this could be the year to do it. I certainly think Marty Golden is vulnerable, I always did. He is a state senator whose views are out of step with much of the district. It’s not an easy fight. I knew that going in, Andrew knows that too. But it’s a winnable fight.”

To Democrats, Golden’s weaknesses are legion. He is an avid supporter of President Donald Trump and has made a variety of bad headlines. In February last year, he falsely claimed that some of the 9/11 hijackers were Bay Ridge residents. In June 2017, he referred to now-Council Member Justin Brannan as “fat boy” at a sit-down with reporters. Then, in December, he apparently impersonated a police officer while his driver tried to force a cyclist out of a bike lane to get through traffic. In 2015, he made, and later deleted, a crass joke on Facebook about same-sex marriage and recreational marijuana being legalized. In 2012, he advertised and then later cancelled a workforce development seminar for women that had sexist overtones. In 2008, he spent more than $200,000 in campaign funds on events at a catering hall that he previously ran. He was investigated in 2014 for alleged campaign finance violations and used campaign funds for his defense, though no charges were filed. In 2005, Golden hit an elderly woman with his car -- she fell into a coma and died six months later -- and paid her family a settlement though he was found not to be at fault. He also believes Palestinian and Arab communities don’t vote because of cultural differences. And, in January, he made remarks about the opioid crisis that invited allegations of racism.

“We’re not talking about a quality candidate here,” said Harris Doran, a steering committee member of No IDC NY and an activist at Rise and Resist, two activist groups under the True Blue coalition. “He’s messed up his own record. No one else needs to do that. This is just a list of facts that are horrible. And he’s also super for Trump.”

[Read: After Primary Wins, Progressive Activists Eye Flipping State Senate Seats, and Wide Majority]

Golden also has a lengthy record of speeding tickets, which many saw as particularly hypocritical because of his shifting positions on the renewal of a law in this year’s state legislative session related to a speed camera program in place around New York City schools. The Democratic Assembly pushed to expand the program and the Republican Senate refused, leading to an expiration of the program that has since been resurrected by City Council legislation and a Cuomo executive order.

“A lot of people frankly are startled or shocked when they hear some of the policy positions or some of the things that Marty Golden stands for and the fact that someone can hold these views in 2018 in the city of New York,” said Brannan, a close Gounardes ally whose City Council district overlaps with Senate District 22. Brannan won his seat by defeating John Quaglione, who is Golden’s deputy chief of staff.

Brannan conceded it will be a tough battle. “We’re gonna have to work very hard because the district is very heavily gerrymandered but I think we’ve got the numbers,” he said.

Golden, however, downplayed the massive uptick in turnout in the district. “Slogans like ‘blue wave’ have a way of glossing over and missing the reality of neighborhoods,” he said. “Every district and community is different. I am proud and grateful to have longstanding support from all parties, all ages, all backgrounds, and from throughout the district.”

Gounardes believes Golden’s base has likely soured on his record. “The message has always been for years that if we run a strong, smart campaign, Golden is vulnerable,” he said. “We know that because his support in the district is a mile wide but an inch deep and his record is really poor on a lot of critical issues.”

He added, “We’re gonna flip the Senate when we win this race and so people wanna be a part of that history-making moment and they can do it without having to leave the city.”

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Democrats Target Previously Ignored Brooklyn Shot at State Senate Majority Thu, 20 Sep 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Central Brooklyn Senate Primary Tests IDC Awareness http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7869:max-murphy-podcast-central-brooklyn-senate-primary-tests-idc-awareness http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7869:max-murphy-podcast-central-brooklyn-senate-primary-tests-idc-awareness mxm logo

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


August 15, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Central Brooklyn Senate Primary Tests IDC Awareness with Zellnor Myrie and Senator Jesse Hamilton

myrie hamilton 277State Senator Jesse Hamilton is a member of the now-defunct Independent Democratic Conference, a group of Democrats who caucused with Republicans for seven years and, in April, rejoined the Senate's mainline Democratic conference. This year, Hamilton faces an insurgent primary challenge from Zellnor Myrie, a Brooklyn-based attorney. Hamilton and Myrie joined the Max & Murphy show on WBAI radio on Wednesday to discuss their race.  

Listen to the conversation with the two candidates 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: Central Brooklyn Senate Primary Tests IDC Awareness Wed, 15 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Opponents of Democratic Senator Raise Questions About Past IDC Financial Support http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7863:dilan-opponents-question-past-financial-support-from-idc http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7863:dilan-opponents-question-past-financial-support-from-idc loft law presser

Senator Martin Dilan (Photo: Sen. Dilan's Office)


A campaign fundraising committee set up to bankroll the state Senators from the erstwhile Independent Democratic Conference was recently ruled to have been illegal by a state Supreme Court judge. Campaign finance records show that Brooklyn Senator Martin Dilan, who was never part of the IDC but is facing a tough primary challenge this year, was also a beneficiary of thousands of dollars spent by that committee for his last reelection campaign, a fact opponents are using as fodder to criticize his commitment to the Democratic base.

The Senate Independence Campaign Committee (SICC) was created in 2016 in an arrangement between the Republican-allied IDC, a conference but not political party led by Bronx Senator Jeff Klein, and the Independence Party. Klein chaired the SICC and funnelled about $1.4 million in total to his campaign and those of his fellow IDC members, allocating funds even after the IDC was dissolved in April, when its members rejoined the mainline Democratic conference. While there were questions about the legality of the SICC from its inception, there had been no legal rulings about it until recently.

A state Supreme Court judge ruled in June that the SICC arrangement was not compliant with state election law, and the state Board of Elections enforcement counsel, Risa Sugarman, subsequently called on the IDC members in a June 20 letter to return the contributions they had received from the SICC within 20 days. That deadline passed on Wednesday, and the senators have shown no indication that they intend to refund any of the donations. IDC members maintain that the issue identified by the court, which related to the party affiliation of the SICC leadership, has been resolved, and say that the judge did not order them to return any money. Sugarman declined to comment for this article.

Then or soon-to-be members of the IDC received various amounts of campaign money from the SICC last election cycle, two years ago, including about $540,000 that went to help Marisol Alcantara win a close, four-way Democratic primary, after which she joined the IDC. Like the other seven former members of the breakaway conference, Alcantara is facing a primary challenge this year.

In 2016, when Dilan was running for reelection and faced a primary challenge, the SICC spent about $8,000 in his favor. Dilan was the only member of the mainline Democratic conference to receive aid from the committee, a fact his primary opponent, Julia Salazar, a young democratic socialist, has highlighted. Dilan also got a $5,000 donation from Klein himself. “The fact that Senator Dilan accepted support from the IDC's illegal slush fund just two years ago raises troubling questions about where his loyalties lie,” said Michael Kinnucan, a Salazar campaign spokesperson, in an email. “The voters of District 18 deserve a senator who is accountable to his constituents, not to wealthy donors and Republican-linked special interests.”

[Read: Running for State Senate, Julia Salazar Attempts Progressive Primary Upset]

Salazar, a community organizer, is running as a progressive from Dilan’s left, focusing on issues such as affordable housing, healthcare, and immigration while refusing donations from the real estate industry, which has been generous to Dilan and, even more so, to Klein and the IDC. She has criticized Dilan’s record, particularly on housing and tenant protections, over his eight terms in office, highlighting the rampant gentrification that has hit the northern Brooklyn district, which includes Williamsburg and Bushwick, and taking aim at his vote for vacancy decontrol, which he has since disavowed.

Graham Parker, a spokesperson for Dilan’s campaign, issued a scathing response to his opponents’ criticism of the SICC expenditures, without mentioning Salazar’s name at all. He said Dilan “was not considering, and has not considered leaving the Senate Democratic Conference.”

“These attacks and accusations only serve to hide who the opponent really is and who really backs her candidacy,” Parker said in an email. “[Salazar] has nearly $50 thousand in unitemized contributions. She hosts lavish fundraisers with Wall Street executives. Most all of her money is from out of the district. She lives in luxury, and decries displacement. She's a republican one year, a socialist the next. She is the exact opposite of what’s been portrayed. It’s fitting the [Working Families Party] supports her; they haven’t been about workers or families in a decade. It’s why the laborers left, and now support the Senator.”

The funds behind the SICC came from donors who are more often linked with Republicans -- including the real estate and charter school sectors -- which is anathema to several progressive challengers who are taking on Democratic incumbents across statewide races. At a Thursday news conference on the steps of City Hall, four of the eight candidates challenging the former IDC senators excoriated them for refusing to give the SICC funds back. They were joined by Bill Lipton, political director of the New York Working Families Party, which has endorsed the challengers as well as Salazar.

“I think it’s a really important data point that defines a certain type of Democrat,” Lipton said of the SICC expenditure for Dilan, shortly after the news conference. “That you would be willing to take money from a party that openly supports Republicans for Congress, openly has supported Republicans for state Senate and the money itself...it comes from some of the wealthiest people in the world. These hedge fund and real estate barons are extremely powerful and they support the Independence Party and they support candidates like Dilan and the IDC because they want their interests protected.”

The SICC money “suggests that he’s IDC-friendly,” Lipton said. It’s not clear if there was ever anything further than the 2016 expenditure to indicate that the IDC was recruiting Dilan or if he was at any point considering joining the breakaway faction. Dilan has had harsh words about the IDC in the past, saying in 2014, “They’re not Democrats, no matter what they say. They should all be disenrolled by the Democratic Party.”

Barbara Brancaccio, a Klein spokesperson, did not address the Dilan expenditure but had caustic criticism for the IDC challengers and the WFP. “There is no legal basis for returning these funds and the account is fully compliant, unlike their Working Fraud Party, who continues to violate finance and election laws in campaigns throughout New York State,” she said in a statement, before identifying three challengers to former IDC senators by name and making apparently unsubstantiated allegations against them.

“The recent flood of endorsements for Julia Salazar and IDC challengers demonstrate how electeds and key institutional players are following the cues of progressive grassroots activists,” said Susan Kang, a spokesperson for No IDC NY, a group opposing the former IDC members which has its own multi-candidate campaign committee. “Incumbents like Dilan with deeper connections to the real estate interests than his own constituents are out of the step with the current political moment,” she added.

The primary is September 13.

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Opponents of Democratic Senator Raise Questions About Past IDC Financial Support Tue, 14 Aug 2018 02:38:55 +0000
As Senator Faces Tough Primary, He’s Spending $1 Million in Public Funds from Brooklyn Borough President http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7862:adams-allocates-1-million-in-government-funding-as-hamilton-attempts-to-fend-off-primary-challenger http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7862:adams-allocates-1-million-in-government-funding-as-hamilton-attempts-to-fend-off-primary-challenger cd2a0nexeaa1wgl

Senator Jesse Hamilton with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, center (photo: @BPEricAdams)


Amid a heated Democratic primary race in central Brooklyn’s state Senate District 20, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams is making $1 million of government money available for spending in the district through a process run by Senator Jesse Hamilton, his handpicked, newly-embattled successor in the state Legislature.

Hamilton is a former member of the Independent Democratic Conference, a group of eight Democratic state senators who formed a coalition with the Senate Republican conference from 2011 to earlier this year, bolstering the Republicans’ slim legislative majority in the upper house of the state Legislature. After being elected to replace Adams in the Senate in 2014, just after Adams was elected borough president the year before, Hamilton announced he was joining the IDC in November 2016 right before being reelected.

Now, this election year, every former IDC member faces a progressive primary challenger, with the votes set for September 13. Hamilton’s challenger, Zellnor Myrie, is receiving widespread institutional support, including the recent endorsements of four Brooklyn members of Congress—Yvette Clarke, Nydia Velázquez, Jerry Nadler, and Hakeem Jeffries—and Mayor Bill de Blasio, among others. Adams, though, seems firmly in support of Hamilton: campaign finance records show that he donated $5,000 on January 12, 2018, to Friends of Jesse Hamilton, the senator’s election committee, though Adams has not yet offered a formal endorsement of his protege.

The two have a long-lasting and well-documented relationship. Adams represented District 20, which includes parts of Brownsville, Crown Heights, Park Slope, and East Flatbush, in the state Senate for four terms, from 2006 until just after his election to the borough presidency in late 2013. After Adams vacated his seat, Hamilton, then an attorney and elected district leader, competed against Department of Education administrator Rubain Dorancy in a 2014 race widely seen at the time as a proxy battle between Adams, supporting Hamilton, and Hakeem Jeffries, who’d backed Dorancy.

After Hamilton won the nomination to the seat by a wide margin, Adams reportedly shouted at a victory party, “We showed them who the real kingmaker in Brooklyn is.”

The two have partnered frequently since Hamilton’s election, the senator’s director of communications Ean Fullerton told Gotham Gazette in an email, pointing to past immigration forums, health fairs, and cultural events in Brooklyn.

Two terms and four years after his succession of Adams, Hamilton is again battling for his party’s nomination in Senate District 20, after no Democrat contested his renomination in 2016. Concurrently, he is asking his constituents how they’d like to spend the $1 million that Adams recently funded for participatory budgeting in Senate District 20. The borough president made no such allocation available in any other senate district.

Participatory budgeting is a process that allows constituents to decide how to spend a portion of the public budget. Community members submit proposals for capital projects, like school and park improvements, which are then put to a vote among residents in the relevant geographic area. In New York, this typically occurs in a City Council district—this year, 31 of 51 City Council members participated, using a portion of the capital funding they receive each year through the larger Council budget process—though Adams has taken up participatory budgeting using the funds at his disposal as borough president.

In New York City, representatives who opt to participate in participatory budgeting must allocate at least $1 million of their district’s budget to the process. Senate District 20 is the site of the first participatory budgeting conducted by a New York state legislator, a landmark made especially noteworthy by the fact that the funds arrived from a borough president. The timing is also exceptional, given its alignment with the election calendar. The senator’s spokesperson said Hamilton and Adams had discussed a participatory budgeting proposal “some time ago” and have been working to launch it “as soon as we were ready.”

“Sen. Hamilton believes this initiative can serve as an example for more state leaders to pursue [participatory budgeting] on the state level,” he added.

ddvioltvaaaad9mThe process began this past May 22 with an announcement from Senator Hamilton’s office that framed the participatory budgeting as “in partnership with Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams.” Proposals were due, atypically, only 12 days later, on June 4, though on that day Hamilton extended the deadline to June 8. The proposed PB projects in District 20 would upgrade school facilities, repave streets and sidewalks, install security cameras, and improve green space in the district. Residents aged 11 and up could vote on the proposals between August 6 and August 12, and Hamilton’s office, in partnership with the Bridge Street Development Corporation, launched a get-out-the-vote effort replete with "mailers to the district, email blasts, robocalls, text messages, flyering at subway stations, and community meetings," according to a handout from a May 23 neighborhood assembly on the topic in Crown Heights.

All proposed projects must be located within Senate District 20, and flyers and mailers publicizing the initiative prominently feature Hamilton’s face and name. (They also come alongside a series of other mailers that Hamilton has sent to constituents using state funds allocated to his office for communications with district residents, a perk state legislators have long taken advantage of during election years.)

The New York City Charter allows the five borough presidents to allocate funds towards capital projects in their boroughs, and Adams was the first elected official in New York City beyond the City Council to fund participatory budgeting, said Stefan Ringel, Adams’ communications director. Adams has funded projects in various Brooklyn Council districts to the tune of $1 million a year for the past three years.

Hamilton approached Adams in March 2016 about setting up participatory budgeting in his Senate district, Ringel told Gotham Gazette. Adams obliged, doubling his annual allocation of PB funds in the borough to $2 million, setting aside half of that sum for Hamilton’s district, one of nine Senate districts that include at least parts of the borough.

Through his communications director, Adams emphasized that the district includes Brownsville, Brooklyn’s poorest neighborhood, where he was born and where he “has committed to reverse decades of underinvestment.”

The borough president “would welcome other legislators and agencies who wish to partner on any further expansions,” said Ringel. But, for now, he’s allocated $1 million only to District 20, as insurgency threatens his hand-picked successor there.

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by Daniel Yadin for Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note - this article has been updated to clarify that Sen. Hamilton is running the participatory budgeting process, not spending the money himself, and that he approached Borough President Adams about participatory budgeting in March 2016, not March 2017.   

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As Senator Faces Tough Primary, He’s Spending $1 Million in Public Funds from Brooklyn Borough President Tue, 14 Aug 2018 00:34:43 +0000
Democratic Campaign Chief: Even a ‘Blue Trickle’ Will Flip State Senate http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7758:democratic-campaign-chief-even-a-blue-trickle-will-flip-state-senate http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7758:democratic-campaign-chief-even-a-blue-trickle-will-flip-state-senate gianaris via facebook

Senator Gianaris and colleagues (photo via Gianaris Facebook)


Predictions of a nationwide “blue wave” of anti-Trump sentiment resulting in major Democratic gains have been tempered as the president maintains strong support among Republicans and the economy, broadly speaking, is going strong.

But even if the blue wave ends up being more like a trickle, that would be good news to state Senator Michael Gianaris of Queens, who chairs the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (DSCC) and needs to net just one seat this fall to take control of the chamber and thus the entire Legislature.

In an interview as the end of session and official start of campaign season approached, Gianaris said Republicans have been holding on to numerous seats by slim margins.

“By virtue of the gerrymandering that’s happened here in New York in the Senate, Republican districts are stretched so thin and their margins of victory are always so narrow that a trickle is enough for us to make a difference,” he told Gotham Gazette.

“It’s just a question of degrees. Any tip in our favor will lead to more seats in our hands, and we’re one seat shy. So, we’re very optimistic,” he said, echoing a sentiment shared by Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who could become the first woman and first woman of color to lead the Senate if the Democrats take control.

Gianaris said the DSCC won’t start investing in individual Democrats’ campaigns until late summer or early fall. He mentioned numerous seats the committee might target throughout the state, though it is yet to make a decision about Senator Simcha Felder and his Brooklyn district.

Republicans are blocking Democrats from controlling the chamber thanks to Felder, who is a registered Democrat and has repeatedly run on the Democratic line, but caucuses with Republicans. Felder ran unopposed in 2016 and appeared on both major party ballot lines.

At their state nominating convention last month, Democrats passed resolutions to kick Felder out of the party and support a challenger to him. He is still running as a Democrat, though.

While Gianaris called Felder’s seat “a hostile district” -- and he faces a Democratic primary challenger, Blake Morris -- Gianaris said the DSCC was still waiting to determine if it would get involved in the race.

“What we’re evaluating is, is beating Felder in a primary more or less likely than winning some of these general election contests?” Gianaris said. “We have a lot of opportunities on our plate.”

Most of those opportunities appear to be outside the five boroughs -- there are just three members of the Senate Republican conference that represent New York City districts -- Senators Felder, Marty Golden, and Andrew Lanza.

Gianaris also shied away from committing to either of the Democrats in the other potentially intriguing New York City general election Senate race, for Golden’s Brooklyn seat (Lanza, of Staten Island, is not seen as beatable). The incumbent has provoked a streak of damaging headlines -- ranging from alleged threats against a bicyclist to parachuting while receiving disability payments -- providing Democratic challengers Ross Barkan and Andrew Gounardes plenty of fodder for attacks.

“There’s one blunder after another that will make that race even more possible than usual,” said Gianaris.

But he added, “I try to look at it coldly. As long as I pick up the seats I need, which right now is one...I’m agnostic as to where it comes from.”

Golden ran unopposed in 2016. He won easily in 2014 and 2012, when he beat Gounardes by a decisive margin.

As this year’s legislative session ended, the Senate -- Republicans’ only stronghold at the state level given Democratic control of the Assembly and all four statewide positions -- was deadlocked 31-31 between Republicans and Democrats since the GOP’s 32nd senator, Tom Croci of Long Island, was called to active duty with the Navy last month. Through the fall elections, Democrats must net just one seat to take the majority in the chamber for the first time in nearly a decade. Depending on the results of the gubernatorial race -- no Republican has been governor since 2006 -- Democratic control of the upper chamber could pave the way for passage of a slew of the party’s priorities.

Gianaris indicated Democrats are likely to focus on two Long Island seats where the incumbent won by razor-thin margins two years ago: Republican Senator Carl Marcellino, who won parts of Nassau and Suffolk Counties by less than 1 percent of the vote; and Democrat Senator John Brooks, who won by an even smaller margin.

Gianaris also pointed to the high number of Republicans who have announced they aren’t seeking reelection. In addition to Croci, they include John Bonacic of the Hudson Valley, John DeFrancisco of Syracuse, William Larkin of Orange County, and Kathy Marchione of Saratoga. Not all of the seats are in play for Democrats, but some appear to be.

Gianaris is also eyeing Republican seats that Democrats have won in the past - the 46th district outside Albany, currently held by George Amedore; and the 41st district in the Hudson Valley, where Sue Serino is the incumbent.

“Before you know it, you’re looking at 10 to 12 pockets of opportunity on offense and, effectively, the only seat we have to defend is John Brooks,’” he said.

Senate Democrats have crowed over Republicans’ resignation announcements, saying they show the GOP knows it’s doomed this year. A Senate Republican spokesperson did not answer a request for comment for this article.

Senator John Flanagan, the Senate majority leader, has tried to sound a confident note amid the flurry of resignations.

"New Yorkers know that our Majority is the only thing standing in the way of the New York City politicians implementing an agenda that will hurt our economy and make life more difficult for hardworking middle-class taxpayers," he told the New York Daily News. "We will succeed in November and maintain our majority so the true priorities of New Yorkers continue to be put first."

Senate Democrats increased their ranks in April, when the group of eight renegades known as the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) ended its coalition with Republicans and rejoined the mainstream Democratic fold, taking the conference from 23 to 31 members. The move came as nearly all of the IDC members faced primary challengers who decried them as “Trump Democrats” willing to empower Republicans in order to gain perks at the expense of progressive values.

Gianaris was one of the strongest critics of the IDC during its seven-year alliance with Republicans, and he was part of a long-term feud with Senator Jeff Klein, the leader of the IDC. But Gianaris said the DSCC has no intention of supporting challengers like Alessandra Biaggi, who is running against Klein, of the Bronx, as long as the ex-IDC members don’t break their promises.

Gianaris noted that Senator Stewart-Cousins, the Democratic leader, is supporting all members of her conference, including former IDC members, a point she recently stressed during a Gotham Gazette/City Limits podcast appearance.

“At this point, the former IDC members are members of our conference,” Gianaris said. “We’ve committed to not opposing them.”

Asked whether he would go so far as to discourage Democrats from challenging ex-IDC members, Gianaris declined to comment.

“Everyone seems to be on their best behavior on both sides and there seems to be genuine effort to work cooperatively and get to where we’re trying to go, so hopefully that continues,” he said of the Democratic conference since ex-IDC members rejoined it.

Asked whether he actually trusts the former IDC members -- who reneged on campaign promises to quit their alliance with Republicans in 2014 -- Gianaris said with a laugh, “I’ve come to trust very few people in politics.”

“But I can say…there’s been action behind the words. Hopefully that holds,” he added.

As in previous years’ elections, the Republican campaign committee has much more cash than the Democrats do -- $1,549,017.70 compared to $691,274.46, according to the latest disclosure reports.

However, Gianaris said trends are favoring Democrats this year.

“That gap is much smaller than it would normally be,” he said. “I think we’re about a half-million ahead of pace and they’re a million below pace, if you went back to 2016.”

Around this time in the 2016 election cycle, Republicans had more than $2 million and Democrats had a little over $225,000.

True to his role as Democratic cheerleader, Gianaris said he’s confident this year will bring a “blue wave” to the state.

“All around the country, Democrats are performing at a higher clip than would normally be expected,” he said. “I think it’s a legitimate wave.”

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by Shant Shahrigianh, Gotham Gazette
      

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Democratic Campaign Chief: Even a ‘Blue Trickle’ Will Flip State Senate Thu, 21 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000