Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/512 Tue, 24 Oct 2017 04:07:31 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Progressive Activist Registers Campaign Committee for Latimer’s Senate Seat http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7118:progressive-activist-starts-campaign-committee-for-latimer-s-senate-seat http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7118:progressive-activist-starts-campaign-committee-for-latimer-s-senate-seat brezler 2

Katherine Brezler (photo via Facebook)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I'm not going anywhere,” she said.

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

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

 ]]>
Progressive Activist Registers Campaign Committee for Latimer’s Senate Seat Wed, 09 Aug 2017 04:00:00 +0000
New York Must Lead on Civil Rights http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7040:new-york-must-lead-on-civil-rights http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7040:new-york-must-lead-on-civil-rights ellia at a school nysednews

(photo via @NYSEDNews)


The silence from D.C. is deafening.

As The Washington Post recently reported, “the Trump administration is reducing the role of the federal government in fighting discrimination and protecting minorities by cutting budgets, dissolving programs and appointing officials unsympathetic to previous practices.”

Earlier this month, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testified that “this department is not going to be issuing decrees” on major civil rights issues – even though interpreting and enforcing civil rights law is, in fact, the role of the agency she leads.

And Secretary DeVos’ agency then announced major changes that will dramatically weaken civil rights enforcement.

This lack of national leadership is shameful. But if the federal government is going to devolve its historic role protecting civil rights to the states, New York is well-positioned to be a beacon for the nation at a time when our students need it the most.

Building on significant work already underway by state leaders, there are three additional steps that New York should take.

First, New York must modernize its laws to protect students who are the victims of discrimination. Due to a court decision in 2012, the state’s Division of Human Rights has only been allowed to enforce anti-discrimination protections in private schools – not in public K-12 schools or public colleges and universities. These anti-discrimination protections should be immediately extended to all students in all public schools.

In fact, legislation has already been endorsed by Governor Cuomo and passed the Assembly. All that’s standing in the way of protecting students is a vote by the State Senate. The federal government’s abrogation of its duty to protect students should give new impetus to legislators from both parties to vote. When the Legislature returns in January, this bill deserves an immediate vote.

But there’s more the state can do right now.

Government also has a broader responsibility to set standards, investigate systemic disparities and enforce civil rights protections. The U.S. Department of Education could previously be counted on to issue guidelines specifying how federal laws and regulations should be interpreted, and then monitor and report on whether they are being properly implemented. Under President Obama, for example, guidelines were used to protect transgender students and to demand that colleges prevent and address sexual violence.

Not anymore. The federal guidelines protecting transgender students have already been rescinded, and the Office of Civil Rights’ budget would be decimated under the current president’s proposal. Where the federal government is newly silent, New York should take up the mantle on behalf of students. The Attorney General’s Office and State Education Department have already shown clear leadership – for example, protecting immigrant students and transgender students and committing resources and staff to monitor school districts – as has the Governor’s Office on issues including college sexual assault.

These three state offices should now work together to take additional steps to fill the federal vacuum – issuing or strengthening guidelines, conducting investigations, and publicly reporting on their findings. For example, disparities in access to college-prep coursework and the disproportionate use of exclusionary discipline such as suspensions are two issues ripe for greater focus from a civil rights perspective. And LGBT students, immigrant students, students with disabilities, and victims of sexual violence are only a few of the groups that would benefit from a sustained civil rights presence.

In addition, individuals and advocates have counted on the ability to file civil rights complaints with sympathetic U.S. Departments of Education and Justice. Since those federal agencies now can’t be counted on to stand up for students, the state needs to bulk up its enforcement mechanisms.

These important functions will no doubt require additional resources – an important reason that the state should plan now.

Finally, data is often what makes it possible to identify patterns of systemic injustice. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights operates a rich source of data on educational inequities called the Civil Rights Data Collection. These data shine a light on critical issues like access to college-prep courses, student discipline measures, and school staffing.

The State Education Department should commit to maintain this data collection (regardless of whether the federal government continues to require it), validate New York’s data so that it is accurate and actionable, and put it to use through standardized reporting and public tools. Acting now will send an important signal to school districts and provide time to request any additional resources needed to carry out these data integrity and dissemination functions.

Because if the federal government is going to abandon the students most at risk, we should be able to count on New York stepping up in their defense.

***
Ian Rosenblum is the executive director of The Education Trust—New York. On Twitter @ianrosenblum & @EdTrustNY.

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

]]>
New York Must Lead on Civil Rights Wed, 28 Jun 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Anger, Protests & Potential Bellwether in Democratic Senate Primary Already Underway http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6966:anger-protests-potential-bellwether-in-democratic-senate-primary-already-underway http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6966:anger-protests-potential-bellwether-in-democratic-senate-primary-already-underway protest alcantara IDC

(photos: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)


“No fake Democrats! Take the New York Senate back!,” yelled the crowd of protestors huddled on the sidewalk outside 5030 Broadway in Inwood, near the northern tip of Manhattan. The demonstrators -- a cohort of about three dozen older New Yorkers, millennials, and one as young as 10 years old -- were one of a number of groups that had gathered at locations across the city on a recent Wednesday to protest at the offices of Democratic state Senators who the protesters believe have betrayed them. These senators are members of a breakaway faction called the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), which leverages its numbers to help Republicans control the legislative chamber, at odds with the Democratically-controlled Assembly.

The protest at 5030 Broadway, organized by True Blue NY, a four-month-old grassroots group, took aim at Sen. Marisol Alcántara of District 31, who was elected last year and joined the now eight-member IDC. Alcántara’s election has coincided with a groundswell awareness of state politics -- owing largely to the election of Donald Trump as president, a wake-up call to many Democrats -- and a growing movement by grassroots groups to make the bicameral New York Legislature entirely Democratic. Activists’ patience with the IDC has vanished, and with it much tolerance for the breakaway Democrats from other Democratic elected officials.

protest IDC senateAlcántara’s membership in the IDC is anathema to those hoping that New York Democrats can stand up to Trump administration policies, many of which Democrats believe will do significant harm to the state’s most vulnerable people. Democrats at the national, state and local level have increasingly come to call for IDC members to make their way back into the fold and caucus with the 23 mainline Democrats, as well as one other nominal Democrat, Senator Simcha Felder, who conferences with Republicans. After the recent election of Democrat Brian Benjamin to the state Senate, Democrats have 32 members, including Felder and the IDC, to 31 Republicans. But, they remain in the minority.

Many leaders in the Democratic National Committee, the state Legislature, local county committees, and elsewhere have weighed in, urging the wayward Democrats to make their way back home. (Democrats like Governor Andrew Cuomo and Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand have largely stayed out of the discussion, however. Gillibrand recently indicated her disapproval of the IDC and called for Democratic unity.)

Alcántara’s opponents have declared their ultimatum to the senator: either join mainline Democrats or be replaced by someone who will. And those opponents see a clear path to deposing her in next year’s election by supporting former City Council Member Robert Jackson, who has already declared that he is challenging Alcántara though the primary is 16 months away.

Jackson, a three-term Democratic Council member who left office in 2013, also ran for Senate District 31 last year, losing to Alcántara by a margin of just 533 votes in a four-way Democratic primary (He ran in 2014 as well but lost to Adriano Espaillat, who is now a member of the U.S. House of Representatives). Jackson was a close third, after Micah Lasher, who was just 294 votes behind Alcántara but has thrown his weight behind Jackson’s campaign this time around.

Jackson is confident that the numbers are in his favor. “The race is pretty simplistic,” he said in a phone interview, citing last year’s vote totals and touting the recent endorsement he received from Lasher, which he believes will be more than enough to put him past Alcántara in a 2018 primary. “Then you take into factor, after Trump’s election as president, all of the various groups that have basically risen up from the dirt as beautiful flowers,” he said, referring to grassroots organizations that have sprung up to protest the IDC, groups that can mobilize support for his campaign. “There are many groups that are basically now standing up and fighting the system that basically they feel is not in their best interest.”

Democrats who backed Alcántara and other IDC members now find themselves in an awkward position of explaining their support while also calling for a unified Democratic conference. Public Advocate Letitia James endorsed Alcántara in last year’s race, but recently wrote in an editorial for City & State that “it’s time for Albany’s Democrats – mainline and Independent Democratic Conference – to come together. This is the only real way we will move forward on so many critical issues like reproductive choice, health care, education funding and the DREAM Act.”

Gotham Gazette sought comment from James’ office on whether she would support Alcántara next year, but a spokesperson did not respond.

Jackson cited the same policy issues, challenging Alcántara’s assertions, and those of her colleagues and supporters, that the IDC allows its members a place at the negotiating table and the ability to deliver resources to their communities. Instead, Jackson said, the IDC is simply “eating crumbs off the Republican plate,” while holding up the larger progressive Democratic agenda.

But Alcántara’s victory resonated with residents of her district who are glad to see a Latina representative in the overwhelmingly white and male Senate. Some of those residents and local Democratic party functionaries showed up at the protest outside Alcántara’s office to stand up for her and drown out the voices of her critics. “Marisol! Latino power!,” they yelled in unison, inching forward and eventually circling the members of True Blue NY to, peacefully, drive them away. True Blue NY members slowly trickled away as police officers stepped in with barricades to cordon off the two groups and clear the sidewalk.

“The IDC exists because of lack of leadership from the Democrats themselves,” said Alcántara supporter Manny De Los Santos, a state committee member and president of the Northern Manhattan Democrats for Change, at the protest. “At the end of the day, we need leaders that can not only represent the district where they live but also bring resources to this community, and Marisol has done just that. We had a senator who spent a lifetime in the Senate and wasn’t able to deliver resources to the community. As a rookie state senator, she has done that.” De Los Santos said Alcántara is a “pure Democrat” and vowed to fight back against those questioning her credentials. Alcántara has a history in labor unions and clearly progressive politics, which made her joining the IDC so shocking to some. The IDC pumped thousands of dollars into her primary, however, as she aligned with the breakaway faction.

The fight is likely to be a long, drawn out battle -- both in the 31st Senate District and elsewhere -- as groups like True Blue NY and No IDC are vowing a sustained campaign of opposition to the entire IDC. Just recently, the Manhattan County Democratic Committee, headed by Chair Keith Wright, a former Assembly member, passed a resolution vowing not to support members of the IDC in next year’s elections, and the prominent progressive Working Families Party (WFP) rallied against the IDC once the Democrats gained the numerical majority.

“Here in this very supposedly blue state, we have a state Senate controlled by the Republicans and propped up and enabled...by these eight Democrats,” said Bill Lipton, New York State Director of the WFP, in a May 25 NY1 interview, “these IDC independent Democrats whose voters elected them under the auspices that they were going to stand up and caucus with the Democrats. So people are extremely frustrated, they’ve become woke to this idea that these folks are not doing what they’re supposed to and we’ve just seen an outpouring of support.”

The WFP, with its considerable resources and strong grassroots following, could play a strong role in swaying voters away from reelecting IDC members. At the same time, the IDC will also be able to wield its own campaign finance machinery, which they employed in Alcantara’s favor last year, spending nearly $100,000 dollars in advertising and other support.

As it stands, Alcántara seems the most vulnerable of the lot. “People are really surprised to learn about [the IDC] and dismayed and that’s why all these people are out here,” said Lisa DellAquila, a co-leader of True Blue NY, at the Wednesday protest. DellAquila said the group had signed up hundreds of people in the last three months alone and held a recent summit attended by representatives of about 50 community groups, nonprofits and advocacy organizations. “We’re gonna have a big push to primary all the members of the IDC and Simcha Felder,” she said, insisting that the IDC dynamic, propping up Senate Republicans, is increasingly becoming untenable. “[IDC Leader] Jeff Klein is severely wounded right now,” she said. “I think he needs to come back to the Democrats and bring the IDC with him. Let’s unify and pass progressive legislation in New York.”

Alcántara was not made available to comment for this article. Instead, IDC spokesperson Candice Giove pushed back against the criticism, both of the senator and of the IDC at large. "Senator Alcántara was humbled to see so many Latina women come out to support her in the face of protesters from outside of the district attempting to distort her record, which includes securing $10 million in legal aid for immigrants in the face of bad policy coming from Washington,” said Giove, in a statement.

That pushback, along with Alcantara’s statements on the Senate floor in response to criticism of the IDC, have invited accusations of race-baiting by critics. Jackson reiterated that line in the phone interview. “They’re playing the race card,” said Jackson, who is black. “All of those people out there [protesting] are from the community...they live in the district.”

Giove also addressed the growing calls for Democratic unity, insisting that, "Thirty-two is not a magic number unless there are 32 Democrats who are ready to stand up and unite on policies that combat Donald Trump.”

“Until we achieve unity and stand up for women, immigrants, and the most vulnerable New Yorkers, all talk about a majority is nothing more than meaningless rhetoric on the part of failed leadership,” she said in the statement. “The Independent Democratic Conference has made its positions and its values clear. We are asking every other Senator to do the same. It's time to call the roll.” Giove’s comments are in reference to the fact that Felder continues to conference with Republicans and that at least one mainline Democratic senator, Ruben Diaz Sr., is not supportive of a variety of socially progressive measures.

Jackson, however, sees it another way. If nine people in a room are holding up a ceiling, he said, and eight of them walk away, “What happens to that ceiling?” If the eight-member IDC abandons the Republicans, he’s confident the ninth holdout, Simcha Felder, will too. Otherwise, he thinks they will all see a backlash at the polls.

“This is a movement that Jeff Klein and the IDC cannot stop,” he said.

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

Read more by this writer.

Note - This post has been updated to include a reference to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's recent comments on the IDC.   

]]>
Anger, Protests & Potential Bellwether in Democratic Senate Primary Already Underway Thu, 01 Jun 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Potential Departure of Two Senate Democrats Poses Another Threat to Unity http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6958:potential-departure-of-two-senate-democrats-poses-another-threat-to-unity http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6958:potential-departure-of-two-senate-democrats-poses-another-threat-to-unity rev ruben diaz sr town hall bdb crop

Ruben Diaz Sr. (photo: @NYPD43Pct)


While Democrats technically reclaimed a majority of state Senate seats through a special election Tuesday, a deeply fractured party picture remains. As different factions point fingers and call for unity, it seems likely that the headcount will drop down again by the end of the year.

Two mainline Democratic senators have announced that they are running for other offices this year. Senator George Latimer, of Westchester County’s 37th District, is eying the county executive seat, while Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., representing the Bronx’s 32nd District, is a candidate for a City Council seat he briefly held in 2001.

On Tuesday, real estate developer Brian Benjamin replaced Bill Perkins, who left the Senate for the City Council in February, by winning a special election for Manhattan’s 30th Senate District, bringing the number of Democratic lawmakers in the 63-seat Senate to 32, a bare majority.

Benjamin’s win (on top of Donald Trump’s presidential victory) has amplified deep-seated divisions among Senate Democrats. Currently, the eight-member Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) forms a ruling coalition with Republicans, while a ninth nominal Democrat, Senator Simcha Felder, conferences with the Republicans. This leaves 23 mainline Democrats in the chamber, including Benjamin. The dynamics have prompted New York progressive leaders to call for breakaway Democrats to return to the fold, form a Democratic majority conference, and pass legislation that is reflective of the heavily Democratic state.

However, unity would not be possible under the current Senate rules, which list Republican Leader John Flanagan as the president of the chamber, as voted by Senate Republicans and Felder. And, before the next scheduled elections, in 2018, for all 63 Senate seats, there is a good chance that one or both of Diaz Sr. and Latimer will vacate their seat.

On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins sent letters to each IDC member, calling on them to realign with the Democrats. “As Donald Trump continues to propose devastating cuts to critical programs. it is more important than ever for progressive New Yorkers to unite. That is why we are asking you to join the now-23 members of the Democratic Conlèrence by pledging to only enter a coalition to lead the Senate with fellow Democrats and abandoning your coalition with Republicans,” wrote Stewart-Cousins.

Also calling for Democratic unity is the Working Families Party, which organized rallies outside the district offices of IDC members on Wednesday, top officials from the Democratic National Committee, and a variety of other Democratic elected officials and activists.

But some political insiders say that these calls and letters are ultimately meaningless if the Democrats’ control of 32 seats is short lived. If Diaz Sr. and Latimer win their respective races, Democrats would control 30 seats, two short of a majority stake. A Diaz Sr. or Latimer vacancy would occur as of January, leaving one or two seats empty for at least 90 days, the required window before Governor Andrew Cuomo could call a special election -- if he chooses to call one at all.

Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, is unlikely to call a special election for April, which is when budget negotiations are finalized -- which, depending on unity negotiations, could easily leave Senate Democrats out of the discussion on the final spending agreement.

Whether the governor calls a special election in May, after budget, or decides to wait out the rest of year until the regularly scheduled election, depends on a variety of factors and remains to be seen, according to veteran political consultant Hank Sheinkopf.

“It will depend on the state of play at the time,” said Sheinkopf. “Why should he call a special election in January if he’s got to get that budget done. What’s the best way for him to get it done? We don’t know yet.”

Cuomo’s decision may also be influenced by how active the Democratic base is in lobbying him, especially given his own 2018 reelection bid on the horizon, not to mention his possible 2020 presidential ambitions.

The odds are good for Diaz Sr. to win the City Council seat. While he faces a crowded primary, Diaz is popular in the Bronx, where his son Ruben Diaz Jr. is the borough president. He is a beloved community leader and minister at a local Pentecostal church, and his standing among his constituents is reflected by the district’s Senate primary results for the last few years. In 2016, Diaz Sr. beat out his Democratic rival with 8,557 votes out of 9,648 cast, or 88.7 percent.

“The Diaz name has magic in the Bronx, he’s going to be tough to beat, but in crowded primary, it’s hard to predict,” says Sheinkopf.

For Latimer, who is challenging incumbent Rob Astorino, a Republican seeking his third term, the path to victory is less clear. While Westchester is heavily Democratic on paper, experts say it is a classic suburban 'bellwether' county, meaning it can be turned red or blue based on the winds of influence from Washington, D.C. Astorino, who challenged Gov. Cuomo in 2014, is popular in the county, and in a typical year, Latimer would be fighting an uphill battle. But with the GOP at risk almost everywhere due to President Trump’s unpopularity, Latimer's chances may continue to improve, according to insiders.

“Latimer is unique in that he has a very significant following. He served the area as an Assemblyman and he’s highly regarded there. But could a Republican with the appropriate anti-Trump sentiment as part of his platform have an opportunity to make it a race? The answer is yes, it’s not impossible,” said Sheinkopf.

Both Diaz Sr. and Latimer would leave the Senate for better paying jobs. The County Executive position pays $160,760, up from the long-stagnant $79,500 state legislators make. As a City Council member, Diaz Sr. would also see a significant salary bump, earning $148,500.

The IDC, members of which receive financial and legislative perks as part of their partnership with the GOP, has little to gain from seeking a unity deal before November 2017, when the Diaz. Sr. and Latimer races will be decided.

In anticipation of this week’s special election in Harlem, the IDC released a video, calling on all 32 Democrats -- the number required to pass legislation -- to join them in declaring their support for progressive measures like ethics and voting reform, codifying a woman’s right to choose, and more. The video implies that there are Democrats who don’t support the measures named, references to the socially conservative views of Diaz Sr. and Felder.

"Thirty-two is not a magic number unless there are 32 Democrats who are ready to stand up and unite on policies that combat Donald Trump. Until we achieve unity and stand up for women, immigrants, and the most vulnerable New Yorkers, all talk about a majority is nothing more than meaningless rhetoric on the part of failed leadership,” said IDC spokesperson Candice Giove in a statement.

While Diaz Sr.’s more socially conservative views on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage sometimes pose a problem for fellow Democrats, his district is one of the few heavily Democratic areas of New York City where these positions are not a liability. In 2010, Diaz Sr. was challenged by a Democrat backed by LGBT groups and still won 79.4% of the vote. The senator was not primaried in 2012 or 2014.

While the Democratic Conference might welcome a more progressive replacement for Diaz Sr., the conference is at risk of losing the seat to a Democrat with loyalty to IDC leader Senator Jeffrey Klein, who also hails from the Bronx, noted Sheinkopf.

Meanwhile, Felder, the Brooklyn Democrat who caucuses with Republicans, told Gotham Gazette Wednesday that he would be “very interested in renegotiating the priorities” of his district, provided that the IDC first commit themselves to rejoining with mainline Democrats.

“The IDC represents 25 percent of the Democrats. I think it’s incumbent upon them to rejoin the Democrats to try to take back the majority and not play around, trying to make believe they are any different than the Republican conference,” he said, referencing a letter he sent to Senators Klein and Stewart-Cousins stating as much.

The GOP conference, which does not have without a numerical majority without Felder, is also at risk of losing members this year, which could force them to rely on the IDC for a majority in 2018. Senator Rob Ortt, a Republican from Niagara County, was indicted on charges of filing with a false instrument, and if found guilty, could eventually lose his seat. Senator Philip Boyle, of Suffolk County, was recently nominated as the Republican candidate for county sheriff, though he may face a GOP primary.

Even if the Democrats did unite, it is unclear what a coalition among mainline Democrats, the IDC, and Felder would look like, and who would lead the conference -- Klein, Stewart-Cousins, both, or someone else.

Ultimately, the only way the party will reunite during this short window, is if the governor decides to use his influence to compel party loyalty, according to Richard Brodsky, a former Assemblymember from Westchester and now a Demos scholar.

While Cuomo has signalled that he is comfortable with keeping the Senate GOP in power, Brodsky says the Working Families Party and other progressives have done a good job at publicly pressuring him to reunite the party, and may be more impactful if Cuomo pursues his rumored presidential aspirations.

“In the end, until the governor uses his influence -- which is a strong influence -- there's not going to be a resolution here,” said Brodsky. "The WFP has found innovative ways to step up the pressure and the consequences for Governor Cuomo in 2020 are not, as we say in Italian, ‘chopped liver.’”

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
Potential Departure of Two Senate Democrats Poses Another Threat to Unity Thu, 25 May 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Will Latest Indictment Give New Life to Ethics Reform in Albany? Don’t Bet On It http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6829:will-latest-indictment-give-new-life-to-ethics-reform-in-albany-don-t-bet-on-it http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6829:will-latest-indictment-give-new-life-to-ethics-reform-in-albany-don-t-bet-on-it rob ortt

State Sen. Rob Ortt (photo: @SenatorOrtt)


Corruption charges brought against a member of the state Senate Republican majority Wednesday have provided an opportunity for Democrats to jumpstart the seemingly dormant conversation on government ethics as state budget negotiations enter their final week.

Senator Rob Ortt, of Niagara County, pleaded not guilty in Albany County Court Thursday morning, following his indictment on three felony counts of filing a false instrument, according to reports. For state government, this is just the latest scandal in an unrelenting stream of misconduct cases brought against members of both legislative houses on both sides of the political aisle, as well as individuals from and associated with the executive branch.

More than 30 current or former New York state lawmakers have been convicted of crimes or accused of wrongdoing over the last decade, according to a New York Times tally.

The charges against Ortt, who maintains his innocence, come as legislative leaders and Governor Andrew Cuomo face an April 1 deadline for a new budget. They also add a new dynamic to the miniscule difference that accounts for party control in the state Senate, where Republicans hold a bare majority and Democrats are divided among themselves.

The Senate’s mainline Democrats, eager to regain control of the house, quickly jumped on this latest scandal as an opportunity to once again push for ethics reform, something that leaders of the majority conferences and the governor have shown reluctance in addressing this year. Cuomo laid out an ambitious reform agenda in January, but has done nothing to promote it publicly since.

“Once again this highlights the need for real ethics reforms, something the Senate Democrats have been calling on for years, and really shows the absurdity that there has been no talk in this budget process of cleaning up Albany and passing the strong ethics reforms,” said Senate Democratic Conference communications director Mike Murphy in a statement.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s probe of election fraud in Niagara County found that Ortt’s wife held a no-show job, allegedly in order to offset a $5,000 salary reduction in Ortt’s previous capacity as Mayor of North Tonawanda, according to the charges.

A defiant Ortt denied the allegations to reporters after a court appearance Thursday with his lawyer Steve Coffey. “I am not guilty. I am not resigning. I believe I will be exonerated and vindicated,” said Ortt.

Ortt and his attorney both maintain that the indictment brought by the attorney general’s office is politically motivated, a charge denied by Schneiderman.

The Niagara County case was referred to Schneiderman by the state Board of Elections, a bipartisan agency. Schneiderman, a Democrat and former state senator, has prosecuted cases involving Democrats like former Senator Shirley Huntley of Queens, New York City Council Member Ruben Wills, and Democratic political operative Steve Pigeon, as well as Republicans.

Additional charges related to the probe were brought against Ortt’s predecessor, former Senator George Maziarz, also a Republican, who is alleged to have “orchestrated a multilayered pass-through scheme that enabled him to use money from his own campaign committee” as well as the from the Niagara County Republican Committee, “to funnel secret campaign payments to a former senate staffer who had left government service amid charges of sexual harassment,” according to the Attorney General’s Office.

“No-show jobs and secret payments are the lifeblood of public corruption,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “New Yorkers deserve full and honest disclosures by their elected officials — not the graft and shadowy payments uncovered by our investigation. These allegations represent a shameful breach of the public trust — and we will hold those responsible to account.”

Maziarz, who also pleaded not guilty Thursday, was charged with five felony counts of offering a false instrument for filing. If convicted, both Ortt and Maziarz face maximum sentences of one and a third to four years on each count.

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, in an appearance with reporters, stood behind Ortt, saying he was confident in the judicial system and that he would not expect his colleague to resign.

“I’m going to continue to work with Rob, I’m sure he’s going to be back here tomorrow. The primary thing that he’s concerned about and I am concerned with is getting the budget done in a timely fashion,” said Flanagan.

Typically, leaders of majority legislative conferences are resistant to increased oversight and transparency measures, as well as limitations on outside income or campaign contributions, while members of the minority conferences are for more reform. In the Legislature’s one-house budget resolutions, voted through last week, the Senate and Assembly presented ethics reform plans that were not particularly aligned. Notably, the Assembly’s resolution included more support for reform, including provisions for early and automatic voting, restrictions on use of campaign housekeeping accounts, and closure of the LLC loophole, which allows lawmakers to benefit from nearly unlimited and opaque campaign contributions.

The resolutions are meant to serve as guiding documents during budget negotiations, which occur among the “three men in a room” -- in this case, Governor Cuomo, Flanagan, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and, this year, a fourth man, Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein.

Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, has been mostly silent on ethics since introducing his wide-ranging plan for reform during his State of the State, which touched on campaign finance reform, increased contract oversight, and electoral reform. At a press conference earlier this week, Cuomo, who wields significant leverage over priorities addressed in budget talks, said policy matters, such as voting and ethics reforms, would likely be tackled after the budget was delivered.

“The budget is primarily about finances,” Cuomo said in response to a question from a WNYC reporter. “If there’s a policy matter that is related to the finances then I try to include it, because the budget is a good vehicle to reconcile as much as you can. Many of the democracy issues that you talk about, we are going to take up after the budget.”

"[I]t’s hard to believe that charges against one senator and one former senator will move the needle when convictions against the former leader of the Senate and the former speaker of the Assembly didn’t,” said Blair Horner of NYPIRG about the prospects of the latest indictments leading to reform. "It does remind everybody about how bad things are in Albany, that they have not really solved the problem," Horner said.

Senate Republicans have opposed closure of the LLC loophole, which good government groups argue makes lawmakers particularly susceptible to pay-to-play politics. Earlier this week, when asked about calls from good government to include significant ethics reform in the state budget, Flanagan pointed to the Legislature’s moves to increase transparency.

“I would say that the good government advocates have not been looking at what we’ve done in the past six years,” Flanagan said. “We have more transparency and more disclosure measures for elected officials than any other state in the country.”

John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, said that the increased transparency measures are good, but only meaningful campaign finance reform will stem the flow of corruption in Albany.

“Transparency is the first step you take in the long road towards clean government,” said Kaehny. “The crucial steps that have to happen are restrictions on unlimited political giving, in particular, closing the LLC loophole and housekeeping accounts. Otherwise there’s just a gusher of money pouring in.”

But will the latest indictment drive the Legislature to overhaul its laws? “I think that’s pretty unlikely,” said Kaehny.

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
Will Latest Indictment Give New Life to Ethics Reform in Albany? Don’t Bet On It Thu, 23 Mar 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Adjusting to Albany: Senator Jamaal Bailey http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6807:adjusting-to-albany-senator-jamaal-bailey http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6807:adjusting-to-albany-senator-jamaal-bailey jamaal bailey

Sen. Jamaal Bailey (photo via @jamaaltbailey)


State Senator Jamaal Bailey knows his way around Albany. A University of Albany graduate, Bailey launched his legislative career as an intern for Assemblymember Carl Heastie, who is now Speaker of the Assembly and one of most powerful people in the state. Working for Heastie, Bailey was instrumental in pushing legislation to enact more stringent safety measures on nicotine-laced water, a bill that eventually became law, and one that he’s proud of today.

A Democrat who grew up in Co-Op City in the Bronx, Bailey went on to serve as District Leader for the 83rd Assembly District and, most recently, as Heastie’s community relations director. In 2016, state Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson, representing parts of the Bronx and Mount Vernon, left the Senate for a position in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration. Bailey -- with the backing of the Bronx Democratic County Party -- ran for the 36th District seat, and won by a wide margin after beating four other candidates in a crowded primary.

Now, the youngest member of the Senate (Bailey is 34) is looking to make an impact outside of Heastie’s shadow. But, he faces a challenging climate on several fronts. At the top of the list is the fact that Democrats are in the minority in the state Senate, which makes moving priorities difficult.

In February, Gotham Gazette spoke with Bailey about starting his tenure as a state senator, making his voice heard, his priorities for the coming legislative session, and more.

GG: How is your first month at the Senate going? What’s the orientation like?

JB: I’m really excited about being able to lead the community that I’ve grown up in and to just be able to represent them in Albany. Honestly, it’s an amazing feeling; it’s an amazing pleasure.

The training is kind of hit the ground running. You get familiar with what’s in the building, the support staff and how they do it. But a lot of the preparation, it just comes in real time. Just seeing the bill and you have to vote on it. You go to committees and see what kind of policy is being advanced.

A lot of it is on-the-job training, despite the fact that my conference has done a lot in terms of getting me oriented and teaching me the ropes. But I feel like when it’s game time, it’s just a different feeling when it’s real.

GG: You got your start working for Speaker Carl Heastie, so you are familiar with Albany, but what’s your commute and living arrangement like?

JB: The commute itself isn’t bad. As you said, I used to work for the Speaker, so I’m used to it. I also went to University of Albany. The more difficult portion about the commute, the hardest part, is being away from my two daughters.

I drive; I’m on my own schedule. I know other members prefer the train and it gives them time to think and read and digest things, and I think that’s awesome, you know, to each their own. If I want to come down and see my family after a session, and drive back up, it gives me flexibility. I have a 2-year-old and 2-month-old.

GG: How do you connect with your 2-year-old during session? Facetime?

JB: Absolutely, I don’t know how my predecessors in the state Legislature did it before without Facetime -- and I don’t want to know. It’s not face-to-face interaction, but I get to see my wife and my children and even if I’m 150 miles away, it’s something positive.

GG: Where do you stay when you are in Albany?

JB: I generally try to stay uptown at the University of Albany. It’s a little bit out of the way, and I guess I’m familiar with the territory. Restaurants: The Wings over Albany was my college favorite — and I still frequent there — on Western Avenue.

Also, the City Line Diner is also on Western Avenue. My chief of staff, Jason, and I travel up there. Those are my favorite locations so far. The New World Bistro, a colleague introduced us to that location and it’s a pretty good place as well. Having been up here before, it helps. It’s a little different than being a student, but knowing where things like the mall is, and Target — those little things help.

GG: Have you had much floor time?

JB: I think I spoke on the floor four or five times [so far]. The first time I spoke was concerning a resolution concerning Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It was a honor to have that be my first time speaking on the floor of the Senate, at such a hallowed institution, and about such a revered individual, so I was honored to do that.

Concerning matters that would be specifically related to my constituency — I think everything is related to my constituency — I just haven’t spoken a lot on bills, so to speak.

GG: What policies would you like to see passed this session?

JB: I’m solidly behind raising the age of criminal responsibility. As you know, New York State is one of only two states that prosecute 16- and 17-year-olds this way. It’s obviously much more nuanced than just a hashtag. I think it has to be well thought out and implemented properly, but I am hopeful that we can raise the age of criminal responsibility.

I would also like to see the Dream Act passed. There are so many folks that are undocumented individuals who are seeking an education and the Dream Act would be able to assist them. I’m also a huge proponent of local business cooperatives. I believe it could be a method of building community wealth that we really haven’t examined as a state, so I would like to direct my colleagues in that direction -- of taking a hard look at cooperatives as a form of economic development, which we haven’t as a state yet.

I’m also a proponent of making sure people are eating healthy. Trying to attack the issue of food deserts and eating healthy. These are all issues that I care about and I am honored of being one of a few individuals who has the honor of calling himself senator.

GG: Is it difficult being in the minority, particularly at a time when the Democratic conference is so fractured?

JB: You obviously would like to be in a position where you’re able to set policy and govern, but being in the minority, it doesn’t mean you don’t try. You still fight just as hard as I would if I was in the majority conference. I think it’s very important to me -- especially as a freshman -- to remember what I’m doing this for I need to make sure I’m advancing the wants and needs of my constituents.

It’s a different situation, but I am hopeful that we can one day come together and govern together as Democrats. That would be a goal to see that we can set some progressive policy, and ideal for the residents of the state of New York.

GG: Anything unexpected or surprising about working at the state Legislature?

JB: I would say that I am excited that I have a great staff, and I get to have great young folks that work for me. I am the youngest member of the state Senate now. On the first day of orientation I spoke to Senator [David] Carlucci [of the IDC] and he said told me, essentially -- and I’m paraphrasing -- “Congratulations, you are now the youngest senator.” It had formerly been Senator Carlucci.

There is a point a pride in being the the youngest member of a legislative body and I want to make sure I’m setting an example especially for the young people in my district, that you know, you can be anything you want to be. I spoke to two different groups today: I spoke to high school kids and for a Black History celebration, to third-to-fifth-graders. I want the children to know that I grew up in the Northeast Bronx just like them, and went to school there. I want the children in my district to know that being a state legislator was not something that I thought was within the realm of possibility. I want to be a shining example of what you could be if you work hard, and stay focused, and set goals for yourself.

[Read more from our series, Adjusting to Albany: Meet NYC's New Class of State Legislators]

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
Adjusting to Albany: Senator Jamaal Bailey Sun, 19 Mar 2017 04:00:00 +0000
State Senator Calls for Investigation of Opponent's Campaign Finances http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6792:state-senator-calls-for-investigation-of-opponent-s-campaign-finances http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6792:state-senator-calls-for-investigation-of-opponent-s-campaign-finances Rivera

Senator Gustavo Rivera (photo: Senate Democrats)


A state Senator from the Bronx is calling on the state Board of Elections to investigate a former opponent’s campaign finances for violations.

Senator Gustavo Rivera, a Democrat, alleges that the Senate campaign of Fernando Cabrera, a New York City Council Member, committed multiple violations in the Democratic primary for the District 33 Senate seat last year. In a Feb. 28 letter to the state Board of Elections, Rivera’s campaign attorney, Sarah Steiner, noted the alleged violations and asked for updates on the status of three previous requests the campaign has made to look into earlier alleged violations.

In the letter, which was addressed to state BOE chief enforcement counsel Risa Sugarman and was made available to Gotham Gazette by the campaign, Steiner identified the new alleged violations by Cabrera’s Senate campaign, including a failure to file a 10-day post primary disclosure and a January periodic report with the BOE.

The letter also alleges that Cabrera’s City Council campaign filed necessary disclosures with the New York City Campaign Finance Board but not with the state BOE; and that Cabrera’s Council campaign committee transferred $11,000 to his Senate campaign committee, which Steiner alleges exceeds the $7,000 limit for contributions to a state Senate primary campaign. However, that last allegation seems to be dubious since transfers by a candidate from one authorized political committee to another do not count as contributions, according to state election law.

Steiner also referred to earlier requests made to the BOE to investigate whether Cabrera’s campaign had illegally coordinated independent expenditures with New Yorkers for Independent Action (NYFIA), a political action committee that was involved in four Democratic primary races last year.

“This person has a history of violating campaign finance laws and skirting ethical boundaries left and right,” said Sen. Rivera, in a phone interview, of Council Member Cabrera. Cabrera has unsuccessfully challenged Rivera in two straight election cycles, in 2014 and 2016. Rivera’s move was prompted by the recent news, reported by the Daily News, that the BOE had recommended criminal prosecutions in five cases last year. Although it’s unknown which specific campaigns were involved, Sugarman told the Daily News that they covered “a more wide-ranging group of violations” than the nine prosecution referrals she made in 2015.

BOE’s Sugarman declined to comment for this article.

That Rivera has chosen to publicly call out his opponent is not surprising. The primary race for District 33 turned bitter at times, particularly with NYFIA criticizing Rivera’s record and seeking to link him with the culture of corruption in Albany. Rivera, for his part, criticized Cabrera as a political opportunist and blasted his conservative leanings on issues such as abortion and marriage equality.

In a statement to Gotham Gazette, Cabrera refuted the allegations in Steiner’s letter. “My campaign meticulously complied with all rules and requirements established by the New York State Board of Elections,” he said, adding that his campaign was notified that they were in full compliance of election law. “I am disappointed that Senator Rivera continues to invest time and energy in negative campaign tactics post-election, rather than devoting his resources to serving his constituents,” he added. “It’s time for Senator Rivera to get to work and start doing his job.”

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

Read more by this writer.

]]>
State Senator Calls for Investigation of Opponent's Campaign Finances Mon, 06 Mar 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Beware of 'Common Sense' Arguments Against the Millionaire's Tax http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6759:beware-of-republicans-bearing-common-sense-arguments http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6759:beware-of-republicans-bearing-common-sense-arguments Speaker Carl Heastie

 Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (photo: The Governor's Office)


Higher taxes on New York’s wealthy are on the table in three places for this year’s budget negotiations. Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Budget for 2018 includes an extension of the so-called "millionaire’s tax”. The state Assembly has decided to see the governor and raise him with their proposed “gazillionaire’s tax”, while Mayor de Blasio has proposed a “mansion tax”.

The Democratic-controlled Assembly favors them all. The Republicans, who control the state Senate, are against all three. But the governor exerts a great deal of control over the New York State budget process and holds most of the cards. And while the governor is the one proposing the extension of the millionaire’s tax, he doesn’t appear to support the others. So is there any reason for progressives to believe that the mansion tax, let alone the gazillionaire’s tax, might pass now?

For starters, taxes on the wealthy are broadly popular with voters. Just like raising the minimum wage, even Republican voters tend to favor these types of taxes, as do the wealthy themselves irrespective of party affiliation. A recent Siena Poll showed New Yorkers in favor of extending the millionaire’s tax by a margin of 74 percent to 23 percent, with 61 percent of Republicans on board along with 81 percent of Democrats.

On the other hand, Republicans are offering arguments that have worked before. They say that New York is already over-taxed, and that taxes on the high earners will just drive them to leave the state and take their job-creating business with them. Corporate-backed “non-partisan” groups take the same position, as Governor Cuomo often does as well.

If Republicans can be said to believe in just one thing, it is that progressive tax policies will drive the rich away and impoverish all who remain, bereft of “job creators”. From Ayn Rand and Galt’s Gulch, to Ronald Reagan and the Laffer Curve, to ALEC and Stephen Moore today, the argument that higher taxes will make the rich work less or move to some promised land of lower taxes is one of the most consistent pieces of Republican philosophy. But are any of their arguments actually grounded in observable reality? 

Republicans rarely cite any empirical research to back their claims. Why should they when it’s just “common sense”? But does reality back up the “common sense” of the GOP? The answer is definitively “no”.

Study after study after study has shown no significant pattern of wealthy people moving from high-tax to low-tax states, and no noticeable change in the net migration rates of high earners between US states in the wake of changes in their relative tax rates. And there is no evidence that either hours worked or income earned by high earners overall is reduced meaningfully by higher tax rates.

Republicans can always find anecdotal evidence that high taxes will drive or are driving the rich from high to low-tax states. But one rich person who moves from Manhattan to Miami proves nothing. All kinds of people, rich and poor, move from New York to Florida every year. And all kinds of people move from Florida to New York. The net effect is tiny, and made up for by people moving to New York from other states and other countries.

New York’s millionaire’s tax first passed in 2009. As you can see here, here, here and here, the primary argument used against it was that rich people were going to move. And when the millionaire’s tax was renewed in 2011, the same arguments were made, including by Governor Cuomo himself.

With the better part of a decade’s worth of data, were the “common sense” mongers of the Right actually correct? No, no and no. New York’s rich haven’t flown off to lower tax states. Property values at the upper end of the New York real estate market have risen unabated. All their warnings have come to naught.

So Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Assemblymember Herman Farrell, armed with observable fact and measurable experience, have introduced the gazillionaire’s tax. It extends the logic of the millionaire’s tax with a series of four additional tax brackets starting at $5,000,000 and adding at most 1.5 percentage points of incremental tax on incomes over $100,000,000 per year. That’s not a typo, and yes there are multiple households in New York with annual incomes above $100,000,000, and former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s isn’t the only one.

The objections to the gazillionaire’s tax are no different than the objections to the millionaire’s tax, and they are just as certain to be completely wrong in the real world. Republican arguments against higher taxes are premised in deeply faulty views of both human nature and economics. The richest of the rich don’t wake up every morning and say, “Hmmm, I will work today if my tax rate is 47 percent, but I will go back to sleep or move to Florida if it’s 48.5 percent.” We are talking about people who could never spend all of the money they have already earned. They keep working as hard as they do for a variety of reasons, like relative success, prestige, and actual enjoyment in their work, with take-home pay being just one item on a long list.

Arguments against the mansion tax are essentially the same but even weaker. They don’t even have “common sense” to fall back on. Where’s the common sense in stating that a 2.5 percent tax surcharge on proceeds in excess of $2 million will have any effect on home sales? Are people not going to move when it’s time to move because of it? Of course not. It’s just a wealth tax applied on a transactional basis.

Massive, long-term, structural trends -- trends that many Trump voters are incidentally rebelling against -- have been and will continue to drive the relative success of America’s, and the world’s, largest and strongest cities. Clusters of like-minded people, of competitive college graduates from all over the country and the world, will continue to grow and prosper. “Trends” that major industries, like financial services, are going to move to low-tax states are perennially flogged by the Right. But they never actually happen.

So the next time you hear someone say, “You can’t raise taxes on the rich in New York, they already pay too much and they’ll just move to Texas or Florida; it’s just common sense”, you should say, “Yes we can raise taxes on the richest New Yorkers, all of the data over many years and many studies has shown definitively that they aren’t going anywhere, so you can stick your common sense in a hot, humid, boring low-tax state with low-wage jobs.” Now that’s just common sense.

***
Gus Christensen is a financial consultant to non-profits and start-ups, as well as a former investment banker and political candidate.

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

]]>
Beware of 'Common Sense' Arguments Against the Millionaire's Tax Thu, 16 Feb 2017 06:20:21 +0000
Citing Trump Threat, Assembly Passes New Immigrant Protections Along With DREAM Act http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6749:citing-trump-threat-assembly-passes-new-immigrant-protections-along-with-dream-act http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6749:citing-trump-threat-assembly-passes-new-immigrant-protections-along-with-dream-act heastie

Assembly Speaker Heastie (photo: @CarlHeastie) 


The New York State Assembly passed a slew of bills on Monday aimed at protecting immigrant New Yorkers in the wake of the federal government’s anti-immigrant crackdown which sparked protests at airports around the country last week.

The legislative package, called the New York State Liberty Act, prohibits city and state law enforcement officials from unnecessarily questioning someone’s immigration status, decreases jail time for misdemeanor offenses, and protects the privacy of data collected through New York City’s municipal identification program. The Act, which was first announced at a news conference on Monday prior to the legislative session, was passed in conjunction with the Assembly’s fifth passage of the New York DREAM Act, which provides tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants attending higher education institutions.

The first bill, which dictates how police and government agencies may interact with immigrant New Yorkers, was sponsored by Assemblymember Francisco Moya, a Democrat from Queens who also sponsored the DREAM Act bill. “Immigrants are a vital asset to our nation and their contributions are undeniable in New York's communities, work force, colleges and universities,” Moya said, in a statement. "Our conference has been championing the DREAM Act for years and the stakes have never been higher. We cannot stifle the potential of thousands of New York students in the name of moral high ground."

The Liberty Act would also prohibit state and local agencies from expending resources to help the federal government create or maintain a database or registry based on race, color, creed, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or national or ethnic origin -- a response to President Donald Trump’s so-called “Muslim ban,” an executive order barring immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the country. The president’s order was suspended by a federal appeals court over the weekend.

The second half of the Assembly’s legislation wades into a political tug-of-war between Mayor Bill de Blasio and a pair of Republican state lawmakers over New York City’s policy towards undocumented immigrants and what will become of the data associated with New York City’s municipal identification program (IDNYC).

The IDNYC program, launched by de Blasio’s administration in 2015, aimed to remove barriers that some New Yorkers face in obtaining identification -- including undocumented immigrants, the homeless, transgendered individuals, and the formerly incarcerated -- granting them access to important city services. So far, the city has received more than 900,000 applications for IDNYC.

The IDNYC law included a clause allowing the city to flush certain information from the records after two years, or before December 31, 2016, a clause the city was ready to invoke in the wake of Donald Trump’s election and his vow to deport all undocumented immigrants. Assembly Members Ron Castorina and Nicole Malliotakis, Republicans from Staten Island, argued that the city would pose a risk to national security by deleting that information, and sued the administration, making the case to a Richmond County Supreme Court judge that it would violate the state’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL), which bars the destruction of city records. The lawmakers dispute privacy violation claims noting that FOIL law allows documents to be submitted with redacted information to protect individual privacy. A judge ruled in December that the city could not purge the data until the lawsuit was resolved. 

Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, a Bronx Democrat, and chair of the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force, the sponsor of the new bill, noted that New York City residents signed up for municipal IDs under the impression that records would be sealed, so any inquiry into the information should be denied under FOIL exemption. A second bill sponsored by Crespo reduces the maximum sentence for misdemeanor offenses by one day from one year to 364 days, an apparent technicality that could potentially spare thousands of immigrants from deportation under federal law over certain lesser offenses. Some misdemeanor offenses can result in automatic deportation because of New York State's current sentencing standards, a harsh mandatory consequence for misdemeanor conviction. This bill would allow judges to use discretion in whether deportation is warranted for each individual case.

Citing the current anti-immigrant political climate, Crespo said, “Immigrants make substantial contributions to our communities and are being scapegoated by the White House. Now more than ever, we must take a stand against those who wish to cast millions of hardworking people to live in the shadows."

In New York City, Mayor de Blasio has vowed to protect the identities of IDNYC cardholders at all costs. "We are not going to sacrifice half a million people who live among us and are part of our community," de Blasio told reporters days after Donald Trump won the presidency.

Monday’s vote in Albany also marked the fifth time the New York DREAM Act has been passed by the state Assembly since 2010, when the federal version of the DREAM Act -- one that would put undocumented immigrants on a path to citizenship -- died in the United States Senate. In 2014, a version of the New York DREAM Act was voted down in the state Senate by a tiny margin, despite having support of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) -- an increasingly powerful breakaway group of Democrats that aligns itself with Republicans. Two democratic senators, Brooklyn’s Simcha Felder, who also caucuses with Senate Republicans, and Ted O’Brien of Rochester, voted against the act. The IDC leadership has indicated that the conference will continue to push for the DREAM Act. IDC member Senator Marisol Alcantara, who was recently elected to the Senate and became the sixth Democrat to join the conference, told Politico New York that passage of the DREAM Act is on the top of her agenda for 2017.

At the Monday news conference, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, said he hoped the Senate would once again take up the bill and pass the DREAM Act. “Let’s hope that this is the last time you have to come up to ask us to get the DREAM Act done,” Heastie told the crowd of activists and Dreamers who had gathered at the Capitol.

When asked how the new legislation and the DREAM Act would interact with Cuomo’s Excelsior scholarship -- which provides tuition free college for middle class New Yorkers, and includes a provision for funding for Dreamers -- Heastie said the plan was a good one, but the Assembly would counter it with their own version of the scholarship.

“Of course we support helping our Dreamers go to college; they’re interconnected issues for us, because we have an overall feeling that we like to see as much access as possible for our young people that are here in the state of New York,” Heastie said. “The premise of the governor's proposal...we’re OK with, but we are going to come out with our own vision.”

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

 

]]>
Citing Trump Threat, Assembly Passes New Immigrant Protections Along With DREAM Act Tue, 07 Feb 2017 00:00:00 +0000
State Legislators from New York City Should Not Be Bagging the Bag Fee http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6748:state-legislators-from-new-york-city-should-not-be-bagging-the-bag-fee http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6748:state-legislators-from-new-york-city-should-not-be-bagging-the-bag-fee plastic bag rally

Elected officials and advocates rally outside City Hall (photo: @bradlander)


New York City is trying to do something about plastic bags, but my state Assemblymember is attempting to undermine the city’s ability to do so. He, along with many of his NYC-based colleagues, are acting against their own constituents’ interests. This is a normal New York State versus City story, but in a moment where the stakes of politics are high because the federal government’s threats are real, this battle between city and state feels more offensive and disheartening than ever.

The story today is that New York City passed a law last year that requires most shops to charge a five cent fee for each carryout bag a person takes when shopping. However, in January, the state Senate passed a bill to say, “Sorry New York City, we don’t like that bill so we’re going to kill it.” The state Assembly, rather than deny the Senate outright, chose to punt and delay the implementation of the city’s law for one year. As of publication, Albany’s compromise would require a new City Council to vote on the carryout bag fee a second time, after different Council members are elected for a 2018 term.

The state Legislature's actions are a structural problem, a political problem, and a problem of spirit in these times.

Structural problem: The state constitution has a problem, because it does not stop the state Legislature from having so much influence over the way the city governs itself. Even though the state constitution provides us the right to make our own laws through the so-called home rule provision, the Legislature is very good at getting around it. Lawmakers often use the language, “In cities with a population of more than one million...” as the preamble to a law intended to impact one city. There is only one city in this state that falls into the category of more than a million people. Although this current block of the bag bill might not be constitutional, the state Legislature knows they have a lot of precedent telling them that they might be able to do this. We could change the state constitution to protect the city’s home rule powers, but not with the Legislature guarding this power so jealously.

Political problem: The state Senate is very confusing. There are more Democrats than Republicans, by one senator. That senator, a Democrat named Simcha Felder, spends his time with the Republicans and does not work with the Democrats. He is proud to be a Democrat in name only. There are also a group of eight Democrats called the Independent Democratic Caucus (IDC) who work with the Republicans, giving the Republicans an effective supermajority. They appear to hate this bag bill, and so they easily gave the Republicans in the Senate the power to undermine New York City’s desire to take another step toward a better environment. Most of the IDC is made of Senators who represent the city.

Spirit of resistance problem: We need to take every stand we can to resist the current White House. This means that our state should be standing proud and together to show the federal government that we care about better environmental law and policy. Seeing Assembly members from the city fighting with the City Council by effectively wagging their legislative finger is not the message we should send right now. I want to see my state legislators prioritizing their energy by improving our healthcare laws here, our worker protections here, and our environmental laws here. All of these policies are under threat or attack from the federal government.

This is why I can’t understand why my Brooklyn Assemblymember, Walter T. Mosley has not publicly stated his opposition to this bill. The state Legislature should support New York City and work together right now for the good of us all. Every environmental advocacy group in the city supports this bill. And most of the time, my Assemblymember supports the progressive legislation that his constituents expect of him. Every New York City-based state Legislator should be with their constituents on this right now and show their spirit of resistance in all forms.

***
Richard Semegram is a tenant lawyer, his Twitter handle is @richagram

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

 

]]>
State Legislators from New York City Should Not Be Bagging the Bag Fee Mon, 06 Feb 2017 16:14:51 +0000