Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/2059 Sun, 21 Oct 2018 01:52:31 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Cuomo Challengers Level Critiques; Will Anything Stick? http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7983:cuomo-challengers-levy-critiques-will-anything-stick http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7983:cuomo-challengers-levy-critiques-will-anything-stick Cuomo made in the shade

Gov. Cuomo (photo: Mike Groll/Govenor's Office)


With less than a month till voters go to the polls on November 6, it appears Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, has little cause for worry as he seeks a third term. His favorability among voters may have dropped but public polling has shown him holding consistently wide leads over his opponents. His campaign war chest, though massively depleted by a bruising primary battle, still remains formidable at $9 million-plus, dwarfing his four general election competitors. And he is instantly recognizable to most voters, unlike his challengers.

Though Cuomo saw some of his weaknesses -- including a crumbling subway system and an epidemic of corruption in state government -- exposed and prodded in the primary by actor and activist Cynthia Nixon, a first-time candidate who managed to get more than half a million votes, he nonetheless came through it in relatively good shape, albeit with some egg on his face, defeating Nixon by 30 points with nearly a million votes of his own as primary turnout surged.

Despite several gaffes and scandals, questionable use of his government powers for apparent campaign purposes, and an egregious mailer that falsely smeared Nixon as anti-semitic, Cuomo emerged after primary day with an emboldened sense of his accomplishments, support, and chances at a third term. He also turned the corner in a campaign already geared largely toward opposing President Donald Trump, now with the opportunity to directly tie his main competitor to the president who remains unpopular in his home state.

With few signs that voters, at least Democratic ones, will punish him for a litany of troubles associated with his administration and his failure to have passed progressive legislation urgently demanded by an energized base, he is surging ahead in a race that is his to lose. While Cuomo has said little directly to make amends with those 500,000-plus Democrats who voted for Nixon, one major step he has taken is to begin following through on a pledge to help flip the New York State Senate to Democratic control, and help flip New York seats in the House of Representatives as part of a national effort to give the chamber a Democratic majority.

As Cuomo woos the state’s 6.2 million Democratic voters and its 2.6 million independents, among others -- including some of the 2.8 million Republicans who may like aspects of his moderate record -- the governor’s opponents have been leveling attacks against the incumbent with the hopes of taking him down a notch while building their own stature. Polling indicates those efforts have not yet borne fruit, and as the election rapidly approaches, a governor with significant achievements and vulnerabilities appears to be deflecting, dodging, and defusing criticisms of his record on corruption, jobs, taxes, the MTA, and more.

In the latest Siena College poll, the first of the general election, released October 1, Cuomo held a 22-point lead among likely voters over his main rival, Republican nominee Marc Molinaro, the Dutchess county executive. Cuomo received 50 percent of the vote to Molinaro’s 28 percent. Ten percent said they would vote for Nixon if she stayed on the Working Families Party line, which has since gone to Cuomo, paving the way for him to capture a higher percentage, while 4 percent said they would vote for other “third party” candidates, who include Green Party nominee Howie Hawkins, Libertarian nominee Larry Sharpe, and independent Stephanie Miner; and 8 percent were undecided.

“Electorally, barring something unexpected, a month out now, it’s hard to imagine that he’s going to do anything except walk away with this thing,” said Dr. Jeanne Zaino, professor of political science at Iona College, in a phone interview. “I’m not sure that that speaks as much to the governor as it does to the fact that Republicans in the state are in a very, very difficult position.”

As Molinaro runs uphill against an anti-Trump wind, Miner, the former Democratic mayor of Syracuse now with the new Serve America Movement, has struggled to gain traction with her message of experience and bipartisanship. Hawkins, who received 5 percent of the vote in the 2014 gubernatorial race, says he hopes to beat that this year, but is severely underfunded, and Sharpe, who has kept an especially active campaign schedule, does not appear to have broken through.

Some of the major criticisms levelled by the challengers are similar to Nixon’s own volleys against Cuomo, that he has allowed corruption to fester in government, catered to wealthy donors at the expense of everyday New Yorkers, largely mismanaged a multi-billion-dollar economic development program, and let New York City’s subway system slide into chaos.

There are of course more specific critiques. Molinaro and Miner, for instance, have both stressed that taxes are far too high and living in the state has become increasingly unaffordable, blaming Cuomo for the resulting exodus of New York residents, especially from distressed upstate areas. Hawkins has condemned Cuomo’s environmental policies for not going far enough, laments that the governor does not support state-funded single-payer health care (Cuomo believes the federal government should pass it and pay for it) and argues that the state has yet to fund the foundation aid formula for fair student funding across the state as required by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity court decision. Sharpe wants to repeal the SAFE Act, Cuomo’s signature gun control measure passed in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, and significantly reduce the size and scope of state government in other ways, returning more power to localities.

Besides the seemingly insurmountable advantages  of incumbency, Cuomo has largely chosen to ignore his opponents and focus on Trump, in a year where Democrats are seeing the signs of a “blue wave” across the country. He has sought to paint Molinaro and nearly every New York Republican as a “Trump mini-me” who supports what he says are harmful policies of a Republican-led federal government and the retrogressive outlook of a platform based on the president’s pledge to “Make America Great Again,” which, to Cuomo and many others, includes racial and ethnic prejudice.

“Molinaro is vastly, in almost every way, he is on the losing end of this,” said Zaino. “From name recognition, to funding, to party registration, I mean up and down this is a very tough year for Republicans.”

Besides taxes, Molinaro’s campaign is largely built on highlighting the corruption scandals that have marred Cuomo’s two terms in office, and on painting Cuomo as an incompetent leader who relies on intimidation tactics.

“Andrew Cuomo has no credibility,” said Katy Delgado, a Molinaro campaign spokesperson, in a statement. “The people of New York are suffering from high taxation and corruption has stained the Governor’s office. It’s time for New Yorkers to have the leadership we deserve. A Governor who will cut taxes by 30% and show this corrupt administration the door on January 1, 2019.”

In fact, in the Siena Poll, likely voters said that by a 41-36 percent margin, Molinaro would do a better job of tackling corruption (a majority said Cuomo is better on infrastructure, public education and job creation). Cuomo came into office in 2011 promising to clean up state government, and has failed to do so, with recent federal convictions resulting in members of his inner circle headed to prison, along with a long list of state legislators who have been removed from office for abusing the public trust. But those results appear to have done little to sour voters on Cuomo.

Zaino said the trifecta of corruption, the MTA, and taxes are areas where Cuomo could see some disaffection among voters. “He is very vulnerable on corruption,” she said. “He’s made the case obviously that it’s not him, but it has been people very, very close to him. And he hasn’t done enough to put a stop to it, as he promised eight years ago.”

Government corruption has not proved to be a major voter motivator, however.

The issue of the MTA also “strikes very close to home for some voters,” Zaino said. “The MTA is something that people deal with on a daily basis, and that is his, and he owns it.”

On taxes, she said Cuomo is between a rock and a hard place -- a progressive left movement that wants to see higher taxes on the wealthy and Cuomo’s own predilection for fiscal moderation. “I think he’s going to be caught in between this progressive left, and obviously Republicans, but also more importantly, the moderate Democrats, and I think it’s really going to highlight some of the upstate-downstate tensions as well,” she said.

Dr. Christina Greer, political science professor at Fordham University, also pointed to the governor’s strengths in the general, chiefly the campaign cash at his disposal. “Money in many ways can elevate his narrative and drown out his opponents’ narrative,” she said in a phone interview. “I think he’ll use it strategically. I think Molinaro has an uphill battle because he doesn’t have name recognition and he doesn’t seem to be inspiring voters as of yet.”

New York City is the most expensive media market in the country and Cuomo’s millions in campaign cash can buy him ample air time, in the city and beyond. “Cuomo certainly has vulnerabilities,” said Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg. “He can have a vulnerability but if the voters don’t know about it, it’s sort of the tree in the forest.” On corruption, for instance, he said Molinaro would have to work hard to make it a “salient” campaign issue among undecided voters who aren’t already pledged to either of the two major party candidates.

“[Molinaro] has to worry about the folks in the middle,” Greenberg said. “Independent voters, those soft Democrats, those moderate Democrats, those moderate Republicans, the folks in the middle, the folks who decide elections. But that costs money.” Molinaro’s latest campaign finance disclosure from this week showed he had only about $210,000 in cash on hand.

Greenberg also noted that a Republican has not prevailed in any statewide race since George Pataki won a third term as governor in 2002.

“For a Republican to win statewide is a very difficult proposition…How do they do it? They win upstate. They either win or hold their own in the downstate suburbs and they find a way to cut the deficit in New York City...Marc Molinaro can put out statements every day, he can do events every day, but the vast majority of voters don’t see those statements or know about those events. You gotta get on TV, you gotta be on radio, you gotta do mailings, you gotta do phone calls, you gotta have the volunteers to go door-to-door and talk to voters. All of that is expensive.”

Greer, however, doesn’t believe Molinaro has made an effective argument against Cuomo. “I don’t know if Molinaro has the message to sway voters. Cuomo has an advantage because all he has to say is ‘Molinaro is a Republican’ and that will turn off many Democrats,” she said. “That’s a strong card to have in this moment.”

But, she noted, there is likely to be some voter fatigue with Cuomo having been in office for nearly eight years. “He’s asking people for a third term and I think some folks just don’t feel like he deserves it,” Greer said. “Based on temperament, based on lack of productivity in particular areas that they’re interested in.”

The challengers themselves are confident of breaking through to voters, noting what they see as Cuomo’s weaknesses, his lack of a coherent vision for a third term, and the fact that more than 500,000 voters cast a ballot for Nixon in the primary.

“Governor Cuomo’s entire campaign is based on his fear of Donald Trump alone,” said Sharpe, the Libertarian candidate, in a statement. “There is no plan to actually help any New Yorker in any way, shape or form. It is only a fear-based platform.”

Sharpe said Cuomo has focused on “the crown jewel” of $22,000 in per-pupil education funding, which the governor repeatedly cites as the highest in the nation. But Sharpe says the state ranks below 30th in education outcomes. “This crown jewel is actually a cubic zirconia. The current educational system is an expensive and bloated embarrassment for which he should be ashamed. Everything else of value he has abandoned, including economic development, the family courts, the MTA and infrastructure overall. His 8 years can be summed up in one statement, ‘One million New Yorkers have voted with their feet by leaving the state since his majesty took the throne.’”

Hawkins of the Green Party is banking on progressives being dissatisfied with the governor, and thinks he is the logical choice for Nixon voters in the general. “He talks progressive but he governs to the right,” Hawkins said of Cuomo in a brief phone interview. He pointed out, for example, that the governor’s much-vaunted $15 minimum wage isn’t in effect upstate, where the minimum wage is set to increase to $12.50 by the end of 2020. He criticized Cuomo for hesitating on extending the state’s millionaires tax, his handling of issues at the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), and lead poisoning issues in upstate communities in Syracuse, Buffalo, and Ithaca.

“I think it resonates but the question is, do we have the reach to reach all the progressives who I think on these issues are the majority of people in New York State,” Hawkins said.

He recognized Cuomo’s many advantages. “The only way we can overcome it is if the media narrative changes,” he said, noting for instance that though the Green Party received more than twice the votes the Working Families Party did in 2014 (with Cuomo on its line), the WFP’s political moves tend to get more attention. “That would make a big difference...It’s not just what Cuomo’s got, it’s the way he’s being treated by the media, which is frustrating for us.”

One way Cuomo's challengers could earn a boost and the governor could potentially fall in favorability is through a debate, but Cuomo has yet to agree to one, and while he may, the odds of such an event having a drastic impact on the race are small. Cuomo survived a contentious, high-stakes one-on-one debate with Nixon in the primary; if he agrees to a general election debate, he's likely to insist all five candidates are present, diluting his exposure.

In a phone interview, Miner reiterated her three-part criticism. “The state government is mired in corruption, money is being wasted, and problems are not being solved,” she said. Miner believes that though Cuomo had a decisive primary victory, the general electorate is likely to more accurately reflect and vote on statewide issues. “I think you’re gonna have a much broader and more representative population across the state that’s gonna vote,” she said. She believes Cuomo will continue to spend massively in the general because “he has to try to distract people from the fundamental problems that are happening in New York state under his administration and his tenure.”

It’s unclear what the general electorate will look like, though trends including Democratic enthusiasm appear to be to Cuomo’s advantage. Nixon’s move from the WFP line to make way for Cuomo and eliminate any chance of her being a spoiler also works toward his securing a third term. But, a Cuomo win is not necessarily a complete given.

“Anything can happen in the real world,” said Greenberg of Siena. “So is it a foregone conclusion? No. Is he the prohibitive favorite? Would you go to Vegas and place a bet on it? Absolutely.”

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Cuomo Challengers Level Critiques; Will Anything Stick? Tue, 09 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Stephanie Miner, Serve America Movement Nominee for Governor http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7958:max-murphy-podcast-stephanie-miner-serve-america-movement-nominee-for-governor http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7958:max-murphy-podcast-stephanie-miner-serve-america-movement-nominee-for-governor mxm logo

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


September 26, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Stephanie Miner, Serve America Movement Nominee for Governor

sm mediakit 01Former Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, a Democrat, is running for Governor as an independent, on the new and bipartisan Serve America Movement party ballot line, which she helped create through petitioning for this year's race. Miner, who has had a contentious relationship with Governor Andrew Cuomo, says there's "no place" for her "in Andrew Cuomo's Democratic Party." Miner is running on her government experience and plans to revamp how the state invests in jobs and infrastructure, among other plans, and joined the show to discuss her candidacy.

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: Stephanie Miner, Serve America Movement Nominee for Governor Wed, 26 Sep 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Post-Primary Campaign Finance Filings Show Cuomo’s Already Spent $28 Million http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7957:post-primary-campaign-finance-filings-show-cuomo-s-already-spent-28-million http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7957:post-primary-campaign-finance-filings-show-cuomo-s-already-spent-28-million govandrewcuomo office

Photo: Mike Groll/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)


Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat running for reelection to a third term, successfully claimed the Democratic Party nomination earlier this month after a bitter primary battle against actor and education activist Cynthia Nixon. But the victory came at significant cost as Cuomo spent more than $20 million this year alone, nearly ten times what Nixon spent in total as she attempted to unseat him.

Cuomo, who won with 64.4 percent of the vote to Nixon’s 34.4 percent in the September 13 primary, is headed into the general election with roughly $11.6 million at his disposal, according to the latest campaign finance disclosures filed with the State Board of Elections.

In the three weeks covered by the filing, between September 1 and September 21, Cuomo’s campaign spent more than $5 million and raised about $567,000. About $1.9 million was spent on television ads through the firm Media Fortitude Partners, and the campaign also transferred about $2.4 million to the New York State Democratic Committee, which Cuomo controls and which has been boosting his campaign with ads of its own, while also supporting Cuomo-aligned candidates, especially Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul and attorney general nominee Letitia James, the New York City Public Advocate.

So far, in this four-year election cycle, Cuomo has raised more than $36 million and spent more than $28 million. Not all of Cuomo’s spending thus far went directly toward the primary alone -- even prior to defeating Nixon, he had begun spending on ads targeting Republican gubernatorial nominee Marc Molinaro, the Dutchess county executive. Cuomo received a total of 964,883 votes, spending about $29 per vote, while Nixon got 508,125, spending roughly $4.4 per vote.

Nixon raised $2.7 million in total for her campaign and spent about $2.2 million in her first-time bid for office, as of this post-primary filing. Her relatively lean campaign relied mostly on small-dollar individual donors rather than wealthy corporate ones and LLCs, which funded Cuomo’s deep coffers. Nixon only ran ads in the last few days before the primary and was unable to overcome Cuomo’s significant incumbency advantages, any issues Democratic voters had with her candidacy, and the governor’s two-term resume.

Hochul, Cuomo’s running-mate who has now joined him on the general election ticket, also beat her own primary challenger, Brooklyn City Council Member Jumaane Williams. Though Williams had far fewer resources for his campaign, the race was fairly tight. Hochul won with 53.3 percent against Williams’ 46.7 percent.

Hochul spent about $318,000 in the last few weeks and raised $251,000. Her campaign has another $323,000 left. She raised a total of $2.3 million this cycle and has spent nearly $2.2 million of it.

Williams stumbled with his fundraising early on and only raised a total of $322,000 and spent about $278,000 over the entire campaign. He has just over $20,000 left in his account, which he could transfer to another city or state campaign account if he decides to run for another position before he is term-limited out of his current office in 2021.

Cuomo and Hochul will face the joint Republican ticket of Molinaro and lieutenant governor nominee Julie Killian, a former Rye City Council member and recent state senate candidate. Other general election contenders include the Green Party’s Howie Hawkins, Libertarian Larry Sharpe, and Stephanie Miner, the former Syracuse mayor who is running as an independent, and their respective lieutenant governor running-mates.

In the four-way contest for the Democratic nomination for attorney general, James emerged as the victor, setting her up to face Republican Keith Wofford, Green Party nominee Michael Sussman, and the Reform Party’s Nancy Sliwa. The seat was vacated by former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who resigned after facing allegations of physical abuse by multiple intimate partners.

James raised $2.2 million and spent about $1.9 million in total for her successful campaign, which got her 40.6 percent of the vote in the primary. She had about $275,000 left for the general election as of the post-primary filing, but is heavily favored in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans two-to-one and no Republican has won statewide since 2002.

Fordham law professor Zephyr Teachout came in second in the race, with 31 percent, after running a grassroots campaign that also received the backing of several newspaper editorial boards. At times, Teachout’s opponents appeared to view her as the frontrunner rather than James, who had the backing of Cuomo and the state’s Democratic establishment. Teachout raised about $1.9 million and spent about $1.85 million in total.

Democratic Congressional Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney campaigned fairly lightly but doled out massive amounts of cash to blanket the airwaves with ads. Utilizing funds raised for his congressional reelection, Maloney raised nearly $3 million to run for attorney general and spent more than $5 million, but finished third with 25 percent of the vote.

Leecia Eve, a Verizon executive who has served as an aide to Cuomo, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, came in last with 3.4 percent. She raised about $408,000 and spent $417,000 on the campaign.

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Note - This article has been updated to note the amount that Cuomo and Nixon spent per vote. 

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Post-Primary Campaign Finance Filings Show Cuomo’s Already Spent $28 Million Tue, 25 Sep 2018 20:47:05 +0000
Gubernatorial Candidates Miner, Sharpe & Hawkins Lay Out Campaign Platforms, Cases Against Cuomo http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7950:gubernatorial-candidates-miner-sharpe-hawkins-lay-out-campaign-platforms-cases-against-cuomo http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7950:gubernatorial-candidates-miner-sharpe-hawkins-lay-out-campaign-platforms-cases-against-cuomo miner hawkins sharpe

Miner, Sharpe, Hawkins (l-r)


Governor Andrew Cuomo defeated Democratic primary challenger Cynthia Nixon fairly handily on September 13, when attention began to shift to the race between Cuomo and Republican gubernatorial nominee Marc Molinaro, currently the Dutchess county executive.

But while Cuomo and Molinaro are the nominees of the two major parties, and each will also appear on at least two other party ballot lines in November, there are three other candidates running serious general election campaigns for governor of New York. (It remains to be seen if Nixon will stay in the race as the Working Families Party nominee, though several signs point to her relinquishing the ballot line, possibly even to Cuomo.)

Like Nixon and Molinaro, Stephanie Miner, Howie Hawkins, and Larry Sharpe are campaigning both on criticisms of Cuomo and their own visions for leading the state. Miner, a Democrat and former two-term mayor of Syracuse, is running with the Serve America Movement party, a new bipartisan group she is seeking to help establish with this campaign. Hawkins, who has thrown his hat in the ring for the third straight time, is again the Green Party nominee. In 2014, he won about 5 percent of the vote as Cuomo secured a second term with 54 percent, and Republican nominee Rob Astorino received 39 percent. Sharpe is the Libertarian Party nominee.

All three candidates are attempting to stake out an alternate vision to Cuomo and, to a lesser degree, Molinaro. Hawkins has made a direct plea to Nixon primary voters that he is now the clear progressive alternative to Cuomo. Sharpe offers himself as the only true outsider voice who can provide a makeover to state government. And Miner says she has the right blend of executive experience, independence, political know-how, and focus on the key issues facing New Yorkers, like infrastructure.

While their paths to victory appear daunting, each candidate is offering something they hope will appeal to an increasing number of New Yorkers sick of the status quo, both in terms of the incumbent and the two major parties. How many votes each can earn remains an open question, but all three are likely to impact the race.

Monday, September 24 will mark 44 days until Election Day, November 6. Gotham Gazette spoke with Miner, Hawkins, and Sharpe about their candidacies.

Stephanie Miner
Miner, formerly mayor of Syracuse and chair of the state Democratic Party, is running chiefly as a good-government reformer and infrastructure expert with sound ethics and a no-nonsense leadership style. She’s to the left of Cuomo on certain issues and to his right on others, running with a Republican for lieutenant governor, as they attempt to help build a bipartisan movement that appeals to voters of all stripes. She presents her candidacy as a “rebuke of Andrew Cuomo’s policies and a rebuke of where we are as a state,” as she described it to the New York Times in June, announcing her candidacy.

Miner has for years argued that the Empire State’s politics are in need of an overhaul, especially following a falling-out with Cuomo. During an appearance on the Max and Murphy podcast, recorded as Miner was mulling a run for governor, she painted a grim picture of the status quo.

“For me, backroom dealings and politics as usual is not serving anybody,” she said. Every time New Yorkers look at the news, Miner said, someone else in the governor’s circle was being tried or sentenced for corruption or other wrongdoing. And while the establishment has been “silent,” she said, voters across the state are “angry and upset and frustrated.”

But clearly not everyone appears to be fed up with the way the state is being governed. In the primary, Cuomo won by a wide margin over an outsider who promised to if elected reimagine the state’s politics. Miner, in an interview Tuesday, painted herself as a different kind of opponent, and explained how she is highlighting Cuomo’s faults. She also downplayed his decisive primary victory and outlined a different general election landscape.

“Twenty-five million dollars blanketing the airwaves can get you a lot of votes,” she said. “Democrats are eager to vote, they have enthusiasm, and they despise Donald Trump.”

In a higher-turnout election with a broader electorate, including many unaffiliated voters, Miner said she would be able to gain traction ahead of November, despite Cuomo’s domination of the September primary. She has also pointed to her very different resume from Nixon’s.

“My target voter is someone who is fed up with the corruption, both in Washington and in Albany, wants problems to be solved, and recognizes that we have a state government that is not solving problems, and is instead appealing to only vested interests and campaign contributors,” said Miner, who previously served as a Common Councilor in Syracuse and a labor attorney at Blitman & King.

Miner also favors nonpartisan legislative redistricting and closing the LLC loophole in campaign finance laws, which allows entities to donate money to candidates in virtually unlimited sums by using several limited liability companies.

While harmful effects of money in politics is a cause regularly taken up by the left, it’s also clear that Miner could not have served as a candidate in the mold of the unabashedly left-wing Nixon in the the Democratic primary. Miner, for example, does not include raising taxes on the wealthy as a campaign pledge -- she believes taxes are too high already, on the wealthy and many others.

And when asked about how to fix the MTA, Miner begins with her core message: the governor’s chronies must be uprooted from positions and replaced with people who truly have the best interest of New Yorkers at heart. Cuomo’s appointments to the MTA board, she said, “would have to resign” is she is elected governor and “be replaced with people who have actual experience in transit.”

“For too long,” she went on, “we have a system that just reacts to people who give campaign contributions, that swings widley when other vested groups make noise. We need to make sure that we get everybody gathered around the table to figure out how we can put the best policy forward to solve all of our goals.”

But in lieu of additionally taxing high earners to help fund the desperately needed subway repairs, one method preferred by Nixon and Mayor Bill de Blasio, Miner emphasized reining in costs.

“The issue with the MTA is that you can’t simply say ‘Give the MTA more money.’ The MTA also has to take responsibility for managing more effectively and to changing their policies, so that we are no longer the place with the single most expensive mile of track,” she explained. “The MTA has to accept management responsibility for changing those trends as well.”

She went on to note that employee benefits like health care costs need to be discussed at the bargaining table, and described excessive spending on them as an obstacle to mending the struggling MTA.

“If your benefits outstrip in terms of cost what is the national average, that’s going to be less money for you to improve the system,” she said. Miner added that she would ensure that the mentality at the MTA would be an obligation to riders first and foremost.

“Your responsibility is to make sure that we have a transit system that works,’” is the approach Miner said she would instill if elected governor, who appoints a plurality of MTA board members and the leadership of the authority, while also playing a key role in MTA budget decisions.

Asked how she would navigate the treacherous politics of cutting MTA project costs, which would in all likelihood spark outcry from the Transit Workers Union, among others, Miner cited her experience as Syracuse mayor being willing to take heat from a firefighters union, because it favored spending money on a revamping a firehouse — an effort she thought was not worth the cost.

“When I was mayor, we had a firehouse that needed millions of dollars of improvement in order to be viable,” she explained. “And the firefighter union desperately wanted to keep the firehouse open. And I looked at the cost and benefits and said ‘No, we can’t, because it would be too expensive for us to do. We need to make sure that we take that money and actually provide service to people of the city of Syracuse, not using it to spend on a firehouse that we don’t need.’”

Her moved sparked outcry — Miner was picketed, she recalled — but she said she stuck to her central approach to government, putting her constituents first.

“The union still is very angry at me, but sometimes you have to risk the wrath of vested interests in order to make sure that you’re doing the public’s work,” she said.

Miner has a similar critique of Cuomo on economic development, saying that the state ought not be “picking winners and losers.” She prefers investment in infrastructure that will create jobs, she has said, and spur economic activity.

Miner has several times lamented that New York has the highest tax burden in the country.

She said that if elected she would seek to “stimulate the market” to build more housing. And, Miner outlines on her website, rent regulation alone is an insufficient measure in the goal of “maintain[ing] affordable housing for New York City’s residents.”

In an interview on The Capitol Pressroom, Miner described herself as more open to charter schools than some other Democrats who have decried Cuomo’s stance on the privately-run public schools that the governor has supported and have proliferated in New York City especially.

“I was the mayor of a city that had completely unacceptable education results. And I determined that the best way to change those results was to work together to give families choice,” she explained in the interview with Gotham Gazette when asked to explain her stance further. “So families had opportunities to go to charter schools, they had opportunity to go to parochial schools, and they had opportunities to go to public schools.”

“What we need to understand is that…there’s not a magic solution for everybody, and what we need to do is give everybody the flexibility that they need to determine what is the best option for their child and at the same time, schools and teachers and administrators the support necessary to implement innovative and creative solutions,” she said.

Miner also breaks from more free-spending Democrats on pensions — an issue that in part led to her falling out with Cuomo after he had appointed her as a leader of the state party. She said this was a “hard and fast example” of her not fitting neatly on either side of the ideological spectrum.

“[I]t was clear to me there needed to be a discussion about how pensions, and the costs of paying for pensions were impacting local government, and Andrew Cuomo and the leadership of the state said that the best way to solve this problem was to allow localities to borrow to pay their pensions, and I stood up and said ‘That is fiscally irresponsible. It’s what got the city of Detroit into bankruptcy, and we shouldn’t do this,’” she recalled.

Miner said she could have gone along with the borrowing and let the next mayor deal with the financial repercussions, “but it was not fiscally responsible, and I think we need to be very open about that and I did that.” What’s more, after not getting the response she felt was necessary from the governor and party officials, she expressed the view in a New York Times op-ed, which cracked the gulf with Cuomo wide open into a rivalry that persists to this day.

Miner may have sound critiques of Cuomo and her own vision to run on, but does she, along with running-mate Michael Volpe, the Pelham mayor, have a path to victory? Does any 'minor party' candidate?

The most recent data from the state Board of Elections shows that as of April there were about 11.3 million active registered voters in the state. Of those, the largest group by far is Democrats, at 5.6 million, followed by 2.6 million Republicans, and closely behind, nearly 2.4 million voters unaffiliated with a party. The fourth largest group is roughly 436,000 active voters registered with the Independence Party, many of whom likely believe they simply registered to be independent of any party, or unaffiliated. (Cuomo has the Independence Party ballot line in November.)

Turnout is often very low in non-presidential elections, but this year is expected to see a significant surge, brought on by anti-Trump sentiment as well as high-stakes elections for Congress, the state Senate, and the governor’s race.

It is unclear exactly which voters Miner, a Democrat running as an independent, needs to attract in order to outpace all of her competitors, but it’s certain she will need significant funding to get her name and message out, especially in the short time period before Election Day. In that regard, she and all the other candidates lag far behind Cuomo.

In addition to his sizeable fundraising advantage, one key part of Cuomo’s resounding victory over Nixon was his support among black New Yorkers. Miner attributed this outcome to Cuomo casting himself as someone who offered a starkly different vision than the president’s. “I think that his message in saying that he is not Donald Trump was successful and I think it clearly resonated in those communities,” she told Gotham Gazette.

Miner also touted her experience as mayor of Syracuse, where she said she implemented “enlightened” criminal justice policies.

“I’m going to talk about the fact that I will end cash bail,” she continued. “The governor has just talked about it, [but] hasn’t done anything. We need to approach criminal justice in a very different way. We need to talk about issues like bias and looking at reforming the way our criminal justice system operates, so that it is not victimizing people, ending mass incarceration and the school-to-prison pipeline."

In an interview with New York NOW, Miner said that she favors legalization of recreational marijuana, but said she is opposed to New York attempting to institute its own single-payer health care system. Like Cuomo, she said she favors such a system on the federal level, but worries how New York would pay for it.

Despite the uphill climb ahead, Miner is convinced her broader message will resonate with a vast swath of the electorate.

“I think that there are a great number of New Yorkers who are deeply dissatisfied with the direction the state is going…And so those are the people who I think are very open to the message of the current status quo being terrible, and that both parties are complicit in this culture of corruption and the politics of status quo,” she said. “Whether you are in New York and see the subway system crumbling around you, or you’re upstate and you see your family fleeing because of a lack of opportunity, you’ll understand that all these policies start at Andrew Cuomo’s feet.”

Howie Hawkins
Hawkins, who was among the Green Party co-founders and is a perennial candidate who ran for governor in 2010 and 2014, has since launching his 2018 campaign in April made social, racial, and environmental justice again at the center of his vision, including tenets like desegregating public schools and improving environmental sustainability. He hopes to gain the votes of the 26,462 active Green Party voters in the state along with others on the left disappointed with the governor.

“We call it the Green New Deal,” he told Gotham Gazette on Monday in an interview. “Basic economic human rights, the right to a job or an income above poverty, comprehensive healthcare, a decent home, a good education…Those are the things [President Franklin Delano] Roosevelt said in his last state of the union address that ought to be part of a second Bill of Rights.”

Hawkins, who in Syracuse has run for Common Council, mayor, and auditor, said the plan would create an “economic boom” and that Democrats have pushed for similar policies but have “watered down the content.” A socialist, Hawkins says capitalism is the enemy of sound environmental policy.

“Capitalism's blind, ceaseless growth is devouring the environment,” he said in April. “As long as workers are bound to a fixed wage and capitalists take the remaining value that labor creates as profit, the rich get richer and the rest of us struggle to make ends meet. We need more social ownership and democratic planning to provide a decent standard of living for all that is ecologically sustainable.”

Hawkins is a marine corp veteran from the Vietnam War and a retired Teamster. He said the Green New Deal is "the alternative to Cuomo's corrupt corporate welfare posing as economic development.”

He favors single-payer health care funded through payroll taxes, and allocating additional funding to public schools.

Asked about his school integration plan, Hawkins called it “controlled choice” and cited what he said were similar policies in Wake County, North Carolina and Cambridge, Massachusetts.

“So you have the public school choice, the children pick the schools in order of preference, they rank them, and you combine that with the plan to have them socioeconomically balanced. So basically, family income,” he explained. “That’s because [in] integrated schools, the lower-class kids test scores come up, the upper-class kids scores don’t go down, and all kids show do better on things like intellectual self-confidence, and creativity and problem solving, teamwork.”

He added, “Those are good qualities that ought to be part of the education system.”

And high-stakes testing, he said, was about “competition not education,” and should be done away with. Hawkins’ lieutenant governor running mate this campaign is Jia Lee, a New York City public school teacher and United Federation of Teachers chapter leader.

On housing, Hawkins favors a system of rent control, but says the current set-up is not enough, especially without repealing the Urstadt law, which handed control of rent policies to the state, and without building a lot more new housing. “We need to radically expand public housing in order to make affordable housing a reality for all,” he said in a press release earlier this month.

Asked who he sees as his target voters, Hawkins said he hopes to gain the support of those who voted for Nixon in the Democratic primary.

“Nixon got the same percentage as [Zephyr] Teachout [in 2014], which means about a third of the Democratic Party doesn’t like Cuomo. That looks good to me,” he said. “Those are my people.” Hawkins got 4.7 percent of the votes in the 2014 general election to Cuomo’s 53 percent, but 2018 is forecast to be a much higher turnout year, as indicated in part by the massive increase in Democratic primary voters from four years ago.

Hawkins in June told the Post-Standard that Miner will peel away some of the centrist vote for Cuomo. “It seems it's really going to hurt him,” he said of her candidacy. He also believes he should be able to lure liberal voters who picked Cuomo over Nixon but didn’t have his candidacy to choose from at the time.

Additionally, he believes he will earn a decent share of votes well outside New York City.

“I think upstate we can do really well, I think part of our program is having the state pay for its unfair disadvantage, something they talk about but don’t do much about. Because our property taxes kill us upstate,” he said. “The state doesn’t pay for its mandates, it balances the state budget on the back of the property tax payers and it doesn’t share revenues like it used to.”

“We’re going to the neighborhoods, we’re doing the traditional things, I mean there’s no magic bullet. … In seven weeks it’s hard. In the long run, we’ve got to establish grassroots, Green Party clubs and chapters in those neighborhoods so that people have a relationship to us,” he said of campaigning and forming a successful coalition.

Hawkins also insisted he would fair well among black voters.

“They’re not in love with the Democratic Party,” he said. “They’re afraid of the Republicans so they vote defensively. I think if you look at the polls, where we stand on the issues, like single-payer healthcare, now they’re with us on that, the majority.”

Larry Sharpe
Sharpe, who in 2016 ran unsuccessfully for the Libertarian Party presidential nomination, is running on legalizing marijuana, severing ties with the United States Department of Education, including by refusing its funding, licensing bridge and tunnel naming rights to corporations to pay for subway repairs, allowing students to graduate high school earlier, and expanding gun rights.

A former marine who now works as a consultant, Sharpe said in an interview with Gotham Gazette that his top goal is decentralizing power. “The campaign is all about having a decentralized situation where counties can be counties, regions can be regions, and cities can be cities,” he said. “We are a very diverse state and we should be allowing our counties to be different. Albany shouldn’t be telling every single county what is should do or not do.”

Sharpe is vying for the governorship alongside Andrew Hollister, the libertarian lieutenant governor candidate. The pair is campaigning in the Libertarian model on a platform of shrinking government and making what remains much more efficient and decentralized.

Among the ways Sharpe wants to cut what he sees as overly burdensome regulations is repealing the SAFE Act, a gun control bill passed in early 2013 that Cuomo touts as one of his signature accomplishments.

“The problem with the SAFE Act is the SAFE Act didn’t make anybody safer,” Sharpe said, delivering one of his most frequent campaign lines. “You lose your Second Amendment rights because you’re on some secret list. That’s a bad idea,” he added, in apparent reference to the list of individuals deemed mentally unfit for gun ownership. The law also banned new sales of assault-style weapons, made current owners of those guns register them, and put limits on magazine sizes, among other provisions.

Sharpe said in an interview with New York NOW that the SAFE Act was a “bandaid” and that other problems aside from guns are what must really be targeted.

“[T]he problem is we have unhappy people. Unhappy people is the problem. If you take away his gun, he uses something else. If he’s unhappy he will do bad things,” he said. “There are two things that most of these people, one that they have and one that they don’t have. … Number one thing they don’t have, a girlfriend. The thing they do have: a prescription to psychotropic drugs.”

Asked to clarify what he meant, Sharpe said that while school shootings are murders, they’re “at their core public suicides.”

“The goal is not to simply say ‘Lets take away guns.’ The goal is to say ‘Stop having so many unhappy kids that want to kill other kids,’” he said. “I don’t want our kids to be killing other kids. I want happier children. That’s the key.”

Further, Sharpe favors allowing teachers and administrators who are licensed to carry guns to do so in schools.

Asked if his stance on guns would be appealing to voters in a blue state, where just over 3 percent of voters in the 2016 presidential election voted for the libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson, and Hillary Clinton won handily, Sharpe said his policies on the matter would have “legs.”

“There are over four million gun owners in New York state,” he said. (The gun ownership rate in New York is slightly over 10 percent). “They’re more than happy to hear someone say ‘Let’s repeal the SAFE Act. Let’s have our second amendment rights back.’"

As the debate continues over how best to fund and fix the beleaguered MTA, Sharpe has raised ideas that are not yet part of mainstream discussions: allowing public bridges and tunnels to lease their naming rights to corporations, for example. It’s part of his “Faster Forward” plan on the subject he has released, which takes its name from the MTA’s new Fast Forward plan that has yet to be approved or funded. Molinaro has also released a plan of his own.

“These are companies that drop millions of dollars every year on marketing,” he said. “They drop $20 million on a stadium that gets used on the weekends. They will easily drop $20, $30, $40 million on a bridge or tunnel.”

Sharpe also pledged to not give the MTA a dime until its management figures out a way to cut costs.

“I’m not giving them a new contract until they change their practices. The practices of the MTA are a disaster,” he said. “They are one of the most inefficient organizations we have. They will shift and adjust. Why? I’m not giving them extra money, period. They’re not getting extra money, period!…They will change their way of doing business.”

On criminal justice, Sharpe does not want people to be put in jail for marijuana use. “Why in the world are we putting people in jail for having a plant in their pocket?” he said.

“We need to make sure that we absolutely regulate hemp and cannabis like onions,” he said, adding that farmers upstate should be allowed to grow cannabis if they opt to do so.

“We have a lot of farmers who are suffering,” he added.

He also would like to put an end to cash bail. “We’re putting people in jail because they’re poor,” he said.

Sharpe articulated a drastically different vision for K-12 education. For too many high-schoolers, 11th and 12th grades are a waste of time, he argues.

“The last two years of high school for too many kids is just gym, study hall, video games, and probably smoking weed,” said Sharpe. “Nothing but bad.”

After students complete the 10th grade, under his plan, they would take a test and would graduate if they pass it. Then, graduates would able to go to attend a college or university, a two-year prep school, go straight to work or a trade school.

Additionally, Sharpe said he would get rid of standardized testing altogether until students reached high school, stop abiding by Common Core learning standards, stop taking government funds from the Department of Education, and reduce the number of administrators at schools, using the saved funds for more teachers and school supplies.

Asked about government corruption, an issue dogging Cuomo as he seeks a third term, especially given recent convictions of members of the governor’s inner circle, Sharpe explained the issue isn’t something he really emphasizes in the campaign, other than to criticize Cuomo.

“I don’t talk much about this, and the reason is everyone’s answer is ‘Put ‘em in jail, put ‘em in jail, put ‘em in jail, more laws, more laws. That’s not the answer. The more laws you put and the more people you put in jail, it doesn’t help anybody,” he said. “If Cuomo goes to jail, or his cronies go to jail, that’s fine. I’m fine with that. I just want Cuomo to leave Albany, so I can start fixing things.”  

Sharpe, who has been keeping an aggressive campaign schedule for many months, holding events throughout the state, expressed confidence his message will triumph over those of the major parties as well as Miner, who he called part of the establishment.

“The two frontrunners are the definition of career politicians. They're the definition of the establishment. Both of them only know politics. Nothing else. They can’t drain the swamp they live in a swamp,” Sharpe said of Cuomo and Molinaro, who he has repeatedly attacked during his campaign. “To ask them for change is to ask them to burn their own house down.”

“The only person that has any chance of making any real impact is me,” he went on. “I’m the only one who can get Democrats and Republicans and independents and people who haven’t voted. I’m the only one out there crossing the state, doing north of 30 events every single month. I’m the only one that’s exciting. It’s only me.”

[Listen to Republican gubernatorial nominee Marc Molinaro on Max & Murphy from September 19]

with contributions from Victor Porcelli and Ben Max

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Gubernatorial Candidates Miner, Sharpe & Hawkins Lay Out Campaign Platforms, Cases Against Cuomo Sun, 23 Sep 2018 04:00:00 +0000
What You Can Learn From Gubernatorial Candidates' Campaign Websites http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7875:what-you-can-learn-from-the-gubernatorial-candidates-campaign-websites http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7875:what-you-can-learn-from-the-gubernatorial-candidates-campaign-websites cuomo campaign site

(image: Cuomo campaign website home page)


The digital presence of elected government officials and candidates seeking elected office – whether it’s a fledgling Instagram account with a humble following or a tweet gone viral with tens of thousands of retweets – cannot be underestimated in today’s world. Social media provides direct access between candidates and voters, and can remove traditional barriers between constituents and their elected officials.

Many, for instance, have partly ascribed the triumph of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – the 28-year-old democratic socialist who upended 10-term Democratic Congressional Rep. Joseph Crowley in New York’s primary -- to her strong social media presence and digital outreach efforts. Ocasio-Cortez’s first campaign ad went viral -- it has now reached over 3.7 million views on Twitter -- as it revelled in the basics of New York life, following the first-time candidate as she rode the subway and greeted a cashier at her local bodega.

Undoubtedly, electoral success depends on a broad range of tried-and-tested campaign tactics, but internet virality, it seems, can pay off, leading many candidates to dedicate robust efforts at Facebook, Twitter, and other social media streams. Some, like Ocasio-Cortez, as well as New York gubernatorial candidates Marc Molinaro, Stephanie Miner, and Howie Hawkins, appear to largely run their own Twitter accounts, directly responding to voters, journalists, even competitors.

Interested parties can often learn a lot about a candidate from social media, however curated and stiff, or full of personality and policy the campaign presence might be.

But what about campaign websites, often the place that candidates first direct voters or that show up in Internet searches? What portrait can hopeful elected officials shape for themselves within the virtually unlimited scope of the Internet? And, perhaps more importantly, what can voters learn about candidates from those sites?

Many candidates attempt to entrance the electorate with professional videos, sharp social media posts, and flashy websites – in part to communicate their policy platforms with access that comes as easy as a click of a mouse or a tap on a smartphone.

In this election year for many federal and state offices, one key question for New Yorkers is what they can learn about this year’s candidates for governor, especially in terms of policy proposals, by looking at those candidates’ campaign websites.

Two-term Governor Andrew Cuomo faces a Democratic primary challenge this year from Cynthia Nixon, the actor and education activist. On the Republican side, there’s no primary and the party chose Molinaro, the Dutchess county executive as its nominee. Then there are the ‘third-party’ candidates such as Howie Hawkins from the Green Party and Larry Sharpe from the Libertarian Party. Stephanie Miner, a Democrat and the former mayor of Syracuse, is running as an independent with the new Serve America Movement.

In each candidate’s case, their campaign website articulates his or her policy positions to varying degrees, with some choosing to unveil lengthy detailed policy packages while others cover little or minutely describe a presented legacy of prior accomplishments with few forward-looking proposals.

Andrew Cuomo
Cuomo’s campaign website is an example of the latter. It lists many issues and few proposals, providing more of a resume that touts accomplishments, mostly in brief. The issues page -- titled with his campaign slogan “Proven Leadership” -- presents 10 subjects, accompanied by just 10 paragraphs (the longest paragraph, reciting his work for “Civil Rights and Criminal Justice Reform,” is just six sentences long) explaining his commitment to the issues and the ways he has already tackled them during his two-term tenure.

Even issues that the governor has been actively campaigning on over the last few months with specific policy goals, such as protecting women’s reproductive rights and additional gun control measures, are not listed on Cuomo’s campaign website.

Under “Fighting for Women’s Equality,” for example, it states that he “passed the most comprehensive paid family leave program in the nation, launched the most aggressive public university sexual assault policy in the country, fought for a comprehensive policy to combat sexual harassment, achieved the smallest wage gap in the country, and ensured that contraceptive coverage is not interrupted regardless of what happens in Washington.”

The section, however, lacks any mention of the Reproductive Health Act and the Comprehensive Contraception Act, two key pieces of legislation that would, respectively, codify Roe v. Wade into New York law and mandate that insurers cover birth control fees. These bills have been integral to many state candidates’ platforms regarding women’s rights in this election cycle, and many of those candidates have criticized the governor for failing to push the two bills through the Legislature.

Under a separate website page that calls for New Yorkers to sign a petition to protect reproductive rights, it reads, “Republicans in the NY Senate have repeatedly refused to guarantee reproductive health care by codifying Roe v. Wade into our State Constitution. Now, we need to vote them out.” While Cuomo’s campaign has on social media promoted his push to codify Roe v. Wade into state law, the website offers scant insight.

The same goes for the governor’s goals on gun control.

Under “Gun Safety,” the Cuomo’s campaign cites his passage of the SAFE Act and “enacting legislation that removes guns from domestic abusers,” but mentions nothing of the Red Flag Gun Protection Bill, a piece of legislation that would prevent those deemed a threat by the court from obtaining firearms, despite another petition asking for support of the bill appearing as a banner (“NY is beating the NRA. Join the Fight.”) on his website’s homepage.

Other issues his website speaks of are aimed towards the LGBTQ community (he pledges a promise to end the AIDS epidemic by 2020, without stating how), education, health care, the environment, income inequality, the state economy and the economic mobility of the middle class. But the site almost exclusively presents the Cuomo campaign’s account of the governor’s two-term record, with little clarity about where he wants to take the state if voters give him a third term this fall. In other venues, such as government press conferences, Cuomo has been much more clear about what legislation he wants to see passed in the future, which he has said he needs a Democratic state Senate in order to pass (the Assembly is overwhelmingly Democratic), though Nixon and others have accused Cuomo of supporting a split Legislature, which, they say, makes his pencient for centrism more excusable to Democratic voters.

Cynthia Nixon
Meanwhile, Nixon devotes entire pages and packed PDF files to her platform’s 12 chosen issues, which cover education, rent control, fixing the subways, the economy, criminal justice reform, government corruption, voter reform, reproductive rights, the environment, health care, immigrant rights and the legalization of marijuana.

Some pages are more exhaustive than others. “Legalize Marijuana,” for example, features a video Nixon posted on Twitter and a paragraph that calls for the legalization of recreational marijuana use. A page advocating for criminal justice reform includes a 21-page-long PDF file detailing Nixon’s plan to revamp “a justice system designed to target and criminalize communities of color and the poor.” The plan, which is divvied up into nine separate sections ranging from “Police Accountability” to “Abolish Solitary Confinement,” allows voters to discover her views on cash bail (to abolish it in all cases) or her perspective on the shutdown of Rikers Island jails (that they must be closed in less than the proposed 10 years (a view Cuomo shares)), in varying degrees of detail.

Her policy packages also at times include estimated costs. For example, her plan for revamping the educational system – which includes things like investing in universal pre-kindergarten, establishing a Deputy Commissioner for Racial and Economic Equity within the State Education Department and providing free college tuition for qualified students – estimates that it would cost about $7.367 billion, a hefty sum that she plans to allocate through the implementation of a “millionaires tax,” which would effectively increase the taxes of those with an annual income between $300,000 and $10 million at varying rates.

While their websites differ significantly, Cuomo’s and Nixon’s campaign sites do share a focus on Cuomo’s record, though they paint very different pictures of it. While Cuomo highlights legislation he spearheaded or progress he achieved, Nixon finds shortcomings and negligence. In “#SchoolsNotJails,” a bolded paragraph reads, “The Governor’s refusal to address inequity has devastating consequences,” and in “Climate Justice,” Nixon characterizes Cuomo’s announcement of an energy efficiency plan as “Too little, too late.”

The websites aren’t nearly the entirety of a campaign, of course. Cuomo has been announcing endorsements and airing TV ads amounting to $7.5 million in the last month alone, vastly outspending Nixon’s $606,000 total expenditure in that period, and the governor has appeared at a number of government events that often sound like campaign rallies. He has not done more than a couple of interviews about his candidacy with print, TV or radio journalists.

On the other hand, while Nixon’s website adopts an extensive policy platform and she has organized many events around her plans, she has on occasion struggled to discuss her proposals in detail when questioned by reporter, though she takes questions far more often than Cuomo. She has done a number profile interviews with national publications and made appearances on mostly friendly TV shows while thus far declining invitations to appear with TV and radio hosts who may ask her tougher, more detailed questions -- opportunities Cuomo has also declined.

The two are set to debate on WCBS TV on August 29, under conditions that Nixon’s campaign said Cuomo only agreed to because they were favorable to him. She has agreed to other broadcast debates that Cuomo has declined, while she has also made many appearances in front of clubs and groups to pitch her candidacy, fitting a long-shot challenger to an entrenched incumbent.

Marc Molinaro
Molinaro, the Republican nominee, also delves into a heavy critique of Governor Cuomo on his campaign website. “When this governor came into office, I had the greatest amount of hope that he’d bring with him a new day,” Molinaro said on his campaign website’s “Reforming Albany” page, “but instead we have a new normal.” A culture of corruption and pay-to-play politics has permeated state government, Molinaro argues.

Molinaro’s website doesn’t explicitly have an “Issues” page, and overall it is very light on detailed policy proposals or views. The Republican nominee, who appears to be waiting until after the Democratic primary to outline the majority of his policy plans, largely seeks to present himself in general get-to-know-me fashion as a person and career-long elected official to voters who might visit the site.

What seems to replace an issues page, at least for now, is one titled “Moments With Marc” with six subpages, where a user can scroll through a grid of videos, typically no longer than three minutes and usually with Molinaro either seated in front of a camera or speaking at a rally, rather than presented as a read-through text format. The subpages include reforming Albany, education, transportation, the opioid and heroin crisis and improving the quality of life. There is additionally a subpage that allows users to learn “More About Marc.”

Some subpages display videos with more extensive policy proposals than others. In “Reforming Albany,” for example, Molinaro said he would rid state government of corruption by asking the state Legislature to adopt a universal code of ethics, creating an independent ethics commission, expanding the Freedom of Information Act to all state government entities, restoring the state comptroller’s power to independent oversight and pushing for a two-term limit for New York governors. It is the one policy area where Molinaro has released detailed plans, fitting a top theme of his campaign, that Cuomo has not cleaned up Albany and it is time for a governor who will.

Molinaro is far less specific about resolving what he calls the “Opioid and Heroin Crisis,” where he says there is a need to provide “the right help at the right time.” In this video, which is the sole video for this particular section and is less than two minutes long, Molinaro presents his case for wanting to ensure that “the criminal justice system treats people humanely” and that those affected by drug addiction have access to rehabilitative resources, but fails to provide a more detailed proposal on how he would follow through with that notion.

On the campaign trail, Molinaro has talked about fixing the MTA and blamed Cuomo for mismanaging the state-run authority, but he has not outlined his plans for accomplishing such a turnaround, instead promising more detail in the coming weeks and months. Similarly, Molinaro has promised to propose major overhauls of the state tax system and how the state does economic development, but neither plan has been presented yet.

Howie Hawkins
Hawkins, running on the Green Party line, includes over 20 issue platforms on his campaign website. The socialist candidate presents broad policy proposals to address issues from “Guaranteed Health Care” (enact the New York Health Act, defend public hospitals from closures and privatizations) to “End the War on Drugs and Mass Incarceration” (establish a Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission, as well as decriminalize hard drugs and enable access to drug abuse treatment on demand).

While some of his proposed issues are aligned with those espoused by the aforementioned candidates, like his claim to expand affordable housing or to rebuild the MTA infrastructure, others are much more radical, such as the complete decriminalization of hard drugs. His overall policy platform is an ever further left version of that put forth by Nixon, who is challenging Cuomo from the progressive end of the political spectrum. For instance, while Nixon advocates for a 100 percent transition to clean energy by 2050, Hawkins proposes that the transition should be made by the year 2030.

A key focus for Hawkins and other Green Party candidates is the “Green New Deal,” which is composed of three main tenets: revitalizing the public sector by fully funding public services and investing in clean energy infrastructure; eliminate policies of supply-side, trickle-down economics; and enact a plan of demand-side, bottom-up economics, which “will increase effective demand and stimulate business expansion and jobs to meet the demand,” according to his website.

“The historic role of third parties has been to force issues neglected by the major parties into public debate,” Hawkins states at the top of his issues webpage. “The Green Party has increasingly been playing this role.”

Larry Sharpe
For Sharpe, the Libertarian Party nominee, under his “Sharpe Policy” page, lists seven issues: “Business Matters;” “Family Law;” “Education;” “Second Amendment Rights;” “Drugs, Cannabis, and Hemp;” and “Tax Reform;” and “Digital Government.” There is a lot of language under each issue, though much of it is broad, with some specific policy plans. Fitting his status as a Libertarian, much of Sharpe’s platform is focused on reducing the scope of government and increasing individual liberties.

His platform espouses the support of certain unconventional policies, such as suggesting that traditional high school education should conclude after the tenth grade in order to “give students and parents the opportunity to choose the best path for the next two years and beyond,” and, under “Second Amendment Rights,” establishing a new firearms permit waiting period of 90 days rather than the current six months. Rolling back gun regulations appears to be a major focus of the Sharpe campaign.

Sharpe also focuses on digitalizing the state government, either through increasing the functionality of state government websites or using onlines tools to increase civic participation in regards to public projects or local legislation. According to this section, Sharpe “will bring the entrepreneurial energy, digital savvy and startup mentality necessary to make the state of New York a leader in open and effective government in the digital age.”

While Sharpe’s website occasionally presents “White Papers,” which redirect users to research documents, only two sections currently have these white papers attached, these being “Education” and “Drug, Cannabis and Hemp.” Two other sections, “Family Law” and “Second Amendment Rights,” allocate a section for a white paper but have no link that redirects the user to the document, and the remaining sections say that the white paper will be revealed soon.

Stephanie Miner
Miner, who became the first female mayor of Syracuse when she was first elected in 2010 and served two terms in the position, presents four major issues on her campaign website: “Crush Corruption,” “Upend Politics as Usual,” “Investing in New York’s Future” and “Accountable Spending.”.

Miner has vehemently critiqued Cuomo and his administration, including on its approach to economic development and infrastructure, and the various corruption scandals that have sprung up within Cuomo’s orbit of aides and donors, and she makes corruption in state government a focal point for her platform.

Under the webpage “Crush Corruption,” she advocates for the disbanding of the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, a state agency that investigates corruption and ethics in Albany that is composed of members appointed by Cuomo. She also argues for the provision of the state comptroller’s full oversight over economic development proposals, an authority which has been reduced over the years under Cuomo’s tenure. The argument made by the governor and Legislature for reducing State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s power is that it expedites the state’s economic development work, especially awarding contracts; critics, on the other hand, including DiNapoli, argue that reduced oversight has lent a hand to easy exploitation of the system.

In “Investing in New York’s Future,” Miner also lays out her plan on developing the state’s infrastructure, which involves resolving the MTA crisis through establishing a multi-year agreement on revenue and expenses, among other proposals, cutting property taxes and delivering universal high-speed broadband access to all New Yorkers. The remaining two issues on her website advocate for reforming the voting process, where she advocates for policies such as a non-partisan redistricting of the state and consolidation of the state and federal primaries, and the state’s budget spending, where she calls for transparency during budget negotiations and restoring the state comptroller’s oversight during a competitive bidding process.

The Cuomo-Nixon primary is September 13, a Thursday. The general election is on Tuesday, November 6.

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by Chelsey Sanchez, Gotham Gazette
@chelseynsanchez  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: this article has been corrected to reflect that Joel Giambra is not running for governor as the Reform Party nominee, the party has backed Molinaro.

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What You Can Learn From Gubernatorial Candidates' Campaign Websites Sun, 19 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Stephanie Miner Diagnoses What’s Wrong with New York Politics http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7694:stephanie-miner-diagnoses-what-s-wrong-with-new-york-politics http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7694:stephanie-miner-diagnoses-what-s-wrong-with-new-york-politics stephanie miner podcast

Stephanie Miner (photo: Ben Max/Gotham Gazette)


She describes herself as a “romantic about government,” but former Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner sees a lot wrong with how it is currently being practiced in New York.

“When I think about what motivates me to be in government, it’s making change and impacting public policy,” Miner said on a recent episode of the Max & Murphy podcast from Gotham Gazette and City Limits, adding her contention that “real people are suffering” because of poor public policy in transit, affordable housing, and infrastructure across the state.

Miner, a Democrat who was term-limited out of office as mayor of the state’s fifth biggest city at the end of last year, has for months explored the possibility of challenging Governor Andrew Cuomo in this year’s gubernatorial primary election. She spent the first semester of the year teaching at NYU’s Wagner School and meeting with people about her political future. Her resume also includes the fact that she was the first woman to be elected mayor of Syracuse and her time as the chair of the state Democratic Party, a position she earned in part because of support from Cuomo, who she subsequently had a major falling out with.

Time out of office has allowed her to “take a breath and look at where we are in our state and where we are in our country in terms of politics and government,” she said on the podcast. In the meantime, Miner is not mincing words about Cuomo and his leadership of the state.

“For me backroom dealings and politics as usual is not serving anybody,” she said on the podcast. “We have rampant corruption, everywhere we look in the state there are more and more news stories about trials, guilty pleas, guilty verdicts, more investigations, FBI’s executing search warrants, and yet you have the power establishment just being silent.”

She specifically referenced corruption scandals including the recent conviction of Cuomo’s former top aide Joseph Percoco, who was found guilty on multiple federal corruption charges in March, as well as the “Buffalo Billion” saga in which federal prosecutors allege a handful of people involved in Cuomo’s economic development project are guilty of bid-rigging. Some of those accused, including another former top aide and several major donors to Cuomo, are set to stand trial beginning in June.

She criticized Cuomo for saying he would be interviewing potential attorney general candidates in the aftermath of Eric Schneiderman’s resignation after allegations he physically assaulted four women, in an apparent effort to help decide who would become the Democratic nominee. “When you have Cuomo saying he’s going to quote, “interview candidates” for the attorney general vacancy spot, I think that is wrong and violates a bunch of standards in ethical practice…and that’s where we find ourselves in this state,” she said.

The mentality of officials, Miner said, with clear reference to Cuomo, is too often to “get the quick win, stand up and take credit for it and don’t think about what’s behind it because you’re not going to be around when everything falls apart.”

What’s really at the heart of the issue?

“I think elected officials are more interested in serving the needs and desires of vested special interests who give big campaign contributions,” Miner said. “It becomes very transactional and...as the number of people who actually vote grows smaller and smaller, it becomes this perfect cycle for elected officials: They are much more interested in getting reelected than they are at solving problems and getting reelected is much easier if you can raise a million dollars and you only have 2,000 voters who show up.”

Other problems she said are at the top of the list for the state include transit, income inequality, affordable housing, and failed economic development projects. She is also concerned for the future of jobs with the rise of technology replacing people in industries such as transport and hospitality.

Solving these problems is especially difficult in a “brittle” system that discourages a considered and forward-thinking discussion of issues, Miner said. “It’s not helpful to say there are only two sides…For example, I’m in favor of the $15 minimum wage but the fact that becomes like a buzz question, ‘where are you on minimum wage?’ it ignores this huge public policy challenge about automation and what that’s going to do to our economy. Whether or not you’re earning a $15 wage, it’s not going to matter if you can’t get a job.”

As for solutions, Miner wants to see both campaign finance and election reform, in order to remove the influence of big donors and give more access to the process to all New Yorkers. She wants to see closure of the infamous LLC loophole and changes such as early voting, automatic registration, and vote by mail.

But there’s a fundamental change in leadership need, she said -- New York needs people in power who are collaborative, who listen, who consider alternative viewpoints.

Miner said her professional relationship with the governor has been marred by conflict, with a key turning point being Miner’s 2013 op-ed in The New York Times, in which she criticized Cuomo for his plan to allow municipalities to reduce their current pension payments and make up for it in the future. She said she wrote the op-ed after being given the “runaround” and pressured by the party to “get onboard” with the Cuomo plan, despite believing the move was fiscally irresponsible, especially given municipal finance is a top issue for her.

“It became clear to me after that, that the governor and I had very different views on public policy and public policy disagreements. You’re always going to know why I disagree with you, and what those grounds are, and that was not something that was tolerated in Andrew Cuomo’s world,” she said.

The former Syracuse mayor will have to decide soon whether or not to enter the gubernatorial race, and she said during the May 15 podcast taping that part of that consideration involves the ideas she has, the team she will be able to put together, and her positioning to deliver positive change to the state.

“There are lots of different things that I find myself in a very good position to talk about,” she said, listing examples such as being mayor of a city facing significant poverty and income inequality and having her area be central to the corruption scandals plaguing the Cuomo administration.

Miner disagreed with the notion that it is basically too late to get into the race given that actor and activist Cynthia Nixon has already declared a challenge to Cuomo from the left and swooped up a number of endorsements.

Nixon’s presence in the raise is “beneficial for everyone,” Miner said, as it contributes to a “vibrant political dialogue.” But with less than four months until the September primaries, the clock is certainly ticking for Miner. Cuomo was just backed with 95 percent of the state committee vote at the party’s convention. In a brief email exchange on Monday, May 28, Miner indicated that nothing had materially changed in her thinking since the podcast discussion.

“The old rules of dates and times an how you put together a campaign no longer apply,” she said. “We are in uncharted waters and it is a tremendously turbulent time. People are hungry for change.”

[LISTEN: Max & Murphy Podcast: Former Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner]

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by Caitlin Bishop, Gotham Gazette
@caitybishop  @GothamGazette

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Stephanie Miner Diagnoses What’s Wrong with New York Politics Mon, 28 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Stephanie Miner http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7673:max-murphy-podcast-stephanie-miner-syracuse-mayor-cuomo http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7673:max-murphy-podcast-stephanie-miner-syracuse-mayor-cuomo mxm logo

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


May 15, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Stephanie Miner

podcast steph miner

Since leaving office due to term limits, former Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner has been teaching at NYU Wagner School and deciding whether to challenge Governor Andrew Cuomo in the Democratic primary. She's still deciding, she said on the Max & Murphy podcast, while also outlining key aspects of her political career thus far, her assessment of what's broken in our politics, what it means to be "a romantic about government," her falling out with Cuomo, her assessment of Cynthia Nixon's candidacy, and more.

Listen to the full conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy, and this week's guest Stephanie Miner @MinerNYS. You can listen to the episode through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Stephanie Miner Tue, 15 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy on Politics - Podcast http://www.gothamgazette.com/podcasts/max-murphy-on-politics http://www.gothamgazette.com/podcasts/max-murphy-on-politics mxm logo

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


Max & Murphy on Politics is a podcast hosted by Ben Max of Gotham Gazette and Jarrett Murphy of City Limits. It began in 2016 focused on housing policy and politics when those issues were front and center to city and state politics and government, but it has expanded since. Now, in 2017, we are focused on the city election cycle, heading toward the September primary and November general elections. Find episodes through the links below, or find Max & Murphy wherever you get your podcasts: iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, etc.

Our election coverage began with an overview and preview episode June 1. Then we started to talk with mayoral candidates, with Democrat Bob Gangi on June 12 and Republican Paul Massey June 19. We're following those with Democrat Sal Albanese June 26 and we'll continue from there, also featuring episodes with other political figures and candidates for other offices. Have feedback? Find us on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @jarrettmurphy.

 

Michael Gianaris Thomas Doherty WBAI Battle for Control of the State Senate — October 10, 2018
 
larry sharpe wbai 400 Larry Sharpe, Libertarian nominee for Governor — October 10, 2018
 
keith wofford wbai 400 2 Republican Attorney General Nominee Keith Wofford — October 10, 2018
 
tom dinapoli 400 Comptroller Tom DiNapoli — October 3, 2018
 
john trichter 130 Jonathan Trichter, Republican nominee for Comptroller — October 3, 2018
 
stephanie miner 400px Stephanie Miner, Serve America Movement Nominee for Governor — September 26, 2018
 
Howie Hawkins, Green Party Nominee for Governor Howie Hawkins, Green Party Nominee for Governor — September 26, 2018
 
marc molinaro pod400 Marc Molinaro, Republican Nominee for Governor — September 19, 2018
 
rebecca katz 400 Primary Post-Mortem with Top Cynthia Nixon Strategist — September 19, 2018
 
primary day sept 400 Primary Day Is Here — September 12, 2018
 
Final Days of the Lieutenant Governor Primary between Kathy Hochul & Jumaane Williams Final Days of the Lieutenant Governor Primary between Kathy Hochul & Jumaane Williams — September 5, 2018
 
Intense Queens Senate Primary Centers on Delivering for Immigrant Communities, with Jessica Ramos & State Senator Jose Peralta Intense Queens Senate Primary Centers on Delivering for Immigrant Communities, with Jessica Ramos & State Senator Jose Peralta — August 30, 2018
 
christine greer 400 Race & Politics in Ten Years Since Obama's NominationRace & Politics in Ten Years Since Obama's Nomination — August 22, 2018
 
mara gay 400 Preparing for Primary DayMax & Murphy Podcast: Preparing for Primary Day — August 22, 2018
 
myrie hamilton 400 Central Brooklyn Senate Primary Tests IDC Awareness (with Zellnor Myrie and Senator Jesse Hamilton) — August 15, 2018
 
Queens State Senate Rematch Features Different Kinds of Democrats
(with Senator Tony Avella and challenger John Liu) Queens State Senate Rematch Features Different Kinds of Democrats (with Senator Tony Avella and challenger John Liu) — August 8, 2018
 
Attorney General Candidate Sean Patrick Maloney Attorney General Candidate Sean Patrick Maloney — August 8, 2018
 
marisol alcantara robert jackson state 400 Manhattan State Senate Rematch Centered on Breakaway Democrats — August 1, 2018
 
leecia eve 400px Attorney General Candidate Leecia Eve — July 25, 2018
 
tish james 400px Letitia James & the Attorney General Primary — July 18, 2018
 
zephyr teachout 400 Attorney General Candidate Zephyr Teachout — July 9, 2018
 
rosenthal holtzman pod 400 The Long Fight for New City Sexual Harassment Laws — June 25, 2018
 
gelinas 477 A New Era at The MTA? with Nicole Gelinas — June 21, 2018
 
Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul — June 14, 2018
 
fortune society reps for 400 Criminal Justice Reform in New York — June 5, 2018
 
Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins — June 1, 2018
 
mxm logo 400px State Party Conventions & Nominations — May 25, 2018
 
pod steph miner 400 163 Stephanie Miner — May 15, 2018
 
joe borelli podcast map 400 City Council Member Joe Borelli — May 7, 2018
 
eric adams m m pod 400px Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams — May 1, 2018
 
Stanley fritz citizen action 400px Political Purity Tests in New York — April 25, 2018
 
susan lerner cc ny 400px Reforming Special Elections & More in Albany — April 17, 2018
 
suing nycha 400 Suing NYCHA — April 10, 2018
 
Marc Molinaro Launches Campaign for Governor Molinaro Launches Campaign for Governor — April 2, 2018
 
Chirlane McCray First Lady Chirlane McCray — March 26, 2018
 
michelle de la uz 400 City Planning Commissioner Michelle de la Uz — March 19, 2018
 
ross barkan senate A Journalist Runs for State Senate — March 13, 2018
 
De Blasio's Progress Fighting Homelessness De Blasio's Progress Fighting Homelessness — March 5, 2018
 
ramos jackson podcast IDC Challengers Robert Jackson & Jessica Ramos — February 26, 2018
 
Jumaane Williams Lieutenant Governor Candidate Jumaane Williams — February 23, 2018
 
feb14 podcast Analyzing De Blasio's State of the City Address — February 14, 2018
 
Deconstructing De Blasio's Visit to Albany Deconstructing De Blasio's Visit to Albany — January 30, 2018
 
bdb mayor hearing 400px De Blasio's 2nd Term Focus on Education — January 30, 2018
 
alex matthiessen move ny 400 Congestion Pricing with Alex Matthiessen of Move New York — January 22, 2018
 
ritchie torres 400px City Council Member Ritchie Torres on The New Council & His New Role — January 17, 2018
 
rivera brannan 400x167 New City Council Members Justin Brannan & Carlina Rivera — January 10, 2018
 
bdb400px Big Political News to Start 2018 — January 3, 2018
 
melissa mark viverito alatriste podium400 City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito — December 15, 2017
 
eric koch 400 Eric Koch, former City Council communications director — December 15, 2017
 
Shola Olayote NYCHA CEO Shola Olatoye — December 7, 2017
 
liz crowley podcast 400 City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley — December 5, 2017
 
bill de blasio 2nd term 400px Previewing de Blasio's 2nd term — November 27, 2017
 
bdb voting sign in 400 Analyzing the 2017 Election Results — November 9, 2017
 
mayor bdb 400 10 Things to Think About on Election Day — November 7, 2017
 
mayoral candidates 400 Resetting the Mayoral Race after the Final Debate — November 3, 2017
 
3 mayors stream Akeem Browder, Aaron Commey & Mike Tolkin are Running for Mayor — October 23, 2017
 
brigid at debate nyc votesstream Analyzing the Public Advocate & Comptroller Debates — October 19, 2017
 
debate stage400 Analyzing the First General Election Mayoral Debate — October 11, 2017
 
tish james400 Public Advocate Letitia James — October 2, 2017
 
Michel faulkner Comptroller candidate Michel Faulkner — September 29, 2017
 
jcpolanco 400 Public Advocate Candidate JC Polanco — September 18, 2017
 
gifford miller city council 400px Gifford Miller, former Speaker of the City Council and mayoral candidate — September 11, 2017
 
brigid bergin and ben max400px Brigid Bergin of WNYC radio — September 5, 2017
 
Joseph Viteritti De Blasio Author Joseph Viteritti — August 30, 2017
 
Public advocate Candidate David Eisenbach Public advocate Candidate David Eisenbach — August 28, 2017
 
azi paybarah tv 400px167px Azi Paybarah — August 17, 2017
 
Dr. Christina Greer and Alexis Grenell Representative vs. Substantive Representation, with Dr. Christina Greer and Alexis Grenell — August 15, 2017
 
max murphy katz fullington res The Mayoral Race with Top Political Strategists — July 31, 2017
 
bo dietl Mayoral Candidate Bo Dietl — July 24, 2017
 
nicole malliotakis Republican Mayoral Candidate Nicole Malliotaki — July 13, 2017
 
eric phillips Eric Phillips, press secretary to Mayor Bill de Blasio — July 5, 2017
 
sal albanese Democratic Mayoral Candidate Sal Albanese — June 26, 2017
 
paul massey 

Republican Mayoral Candidate Paul Massey — June 19, 2017 (note: Paul Massey dropped out of the mayoral race on June 28, though the episode is still worth listening to)

 
bob gangi Democratic Mayoral Candidate Bob Gangi — June 12, 2017
 
mxm logo 400px Election Season is Here! — June 1, 2017
 


A variety of earlier episodes of the Max & Murphy Podcast, through the archive, often focused on New York housing policy and politics — see all episodes from the start February 12, 2016 to May 25, 2017

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Max & Murphy on Politics - Podcast Sun, 25 Jun 2017 04:00:00 +0000
New York’s Other Water Crisis http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6525:new-york-s-other-water-crisis http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6525:new-york-s-other-water-crisis Cuomo bridge water

Gov. Cuomo (photo: Governor's Office on Flickr)


In 2014, Gov. Andrew Cuomo was looking at how to fund the construction of a new Tappan Zee Bridge and in such a way that he could promise minimal toll hikes. Construction had actually already begun on the $4 billion project despite no clear funding plan in place and pressure to detail the spending was mounting.

On June 13, 2014 Cuomo announced that the state Environmental Facilities Corp. would loan the state up to $511 million for the multi-billion dollar project from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund. The fund, which is actually backed by federal dollars, exists to dole out low-interest loans for projects like local sewer repairs and wastewater treatment plant upgrades. The state also has a similar Drinking Water Revolving Fund that gives out loans for water main repairs and upgrades.

The move was met with immediate backlash from environmental groups that insisted the funds were simply not meant for a transportation project and that the move could set a bad precedent - perhaps undermining the very purpose for the federal funding and killing funding for clean-water infrastructure in New York and elsewhere. Budget watchdogs also attacked the plan as a “gimmick” and “irresponsible.” After much hand-wringing, it did not go forward as the Cuomo administration had sought.

As the Cuomo administration struggles to divert blame for the debacle in Hoosick Falls, where the state resisted calls to notify residents of contaminated drinking water, environmentalists and others point to the Tappan Zee loan episode as evidence that the administration has repeatedly not fully recognized major clean water and water infrastructure issues facing the state, instead concentrating on costly transportation economic development projects that benefit developers while localities grapple with the costs and consequences of decaying water infrastructure. On the other hand, for some legislators and advocates say it represents the administration’s ability to recognize a problem and tackle it head on with an efficient solution.

Asked if the administration could do more to help localities struggling to pay for water-related infrastructure repairs, Cuomo told Gotham Gazette: “I think this is a national crisis when it comes to water quality. I think we are just starting to learn about chemicals in the water and just how dangerous they can be. I think as time goes on you are going to see more and more dangerous chemicals being disclosed in the water we’re drinking.”

Cuomo added that he was advocating for the EPA to update its regulations to force all municipalities to conduct water safety testing (there is currently a 10,000 person population threshold). If the federal government fails to act, Cuomo said he would introduced legislation to force localities of any size to do water quality testing and that the administration would pay for the testing of localities that are strapped for cash.

Environmental groups estimated at the time of the Tappan Zee loan controversy that localities across the state were contending with $36 billion in costs related to clean water infrastructure demands over the next 20 years.

“Clean-water funds have never been used for a transportation project before – and we shouldn’t start now,” said Marcia Bystryn, president of The New York League of Conservation voter, in a 2014 statement. “If approved, this would set a very bad precedent, especially considering the huge backlog of wastewater projects across the state. We urge the Environmental Facilities Corporation Board to reject this proposal.”

The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which provided the state with the billions of dollars for the fund over the last two decades, eventually rejected the proposal. But the state didn’t back down and appealed the decision. In the end a compromise allowed the state to use $1.3 million for oyster bed restoration and the replacement of a falcon box, with none of the money going toward the “New New York Bridge,” the funding of which is still not completely clear.

The ordeal leant new focus to clean water infrastructure demands faced by localities across the state. (As has the recent crisis in Hoosick Falls and questions about water contamination elsewhere in the state.) While Cuomo administration officials noted that millions of dollars were sitting in the revolving fund untouched as proof that they were unneeded, local leaders countered that they simply couldn’t afford to take on anymore debt, regardless of the interest rate, because they would never be able to repay it. Meanwhile, municipalities have grappled with decaying and dilapidated water infrastructure and seen overflowing sewer lines, exploding water mains, and sinkholes.

In 2015 the state Legislature pressed for a new program to help fund water infrastructure projects across the state. Cuomo signed the New York State Water Infrastructure Act to disperse $200 million in grants to localities for water infrastructure repairs and improvements. By December 2015, $75 million in grants had been awarded. This year the state Assembly successfully fought for a $200 million increase to the program.

James Tierney, deputy commissioner for water at the state Department of Environmental Conservation, told Gotham Gazette that the grant program mixes and matches loans from the revolving fund and grants to kickstart projects proposed by municipalities. Tierney said his focus has been on helping “hardship” municipalities in both rural and urban areas. He noted that a lot of communities weren’t in a position to utilize the revolving loan funds. “A lot of communities were making the case after the Great Recession, saying ‘Hey we’ve got nothing here. We can’t afford these loans.’”

Tierney said that the pressure on municipalities and the state to fund water projects has increased as the federal government has altered the strategy behind the Clean Water Act. Early in the 1970s when the program was starting some water infrastructure projects would receive up to 75 percent funding with municipalities covering only 12 percent. “In the olden days it was much more about funding infrastructure and regulations. Then it turned into grants and then loans and then the pot for loans began to sink.” said Tierney.

He noted that the Congressional Budget Office reports that only 4 percent of water infrastructure projects are funded by the federal government.

A number localities, including Syracuse, are focused on advocating for more federal funds. But in the meantime many local officials and state legislators are pleased with the administration’s efforts with the grant program. Advocates have noted a positive trend.

“We have seen a total “180” on water infrastructure funding,” said Liz Moran of Environmental Advocates of New York. Moran said the Tappan Zee raid and the backlash that followed “was a wake up call” for the Cuomo administration about just how necessary water infrastructure funding is.

“After the raid ceased it became clear that the money was needed to go to these problems,” said Moran. “Maybe the governor didn’t know about the need in the first place, but we are very happy he's embraced the programs now.”

The notion that taking on loans from the revolving fund wasn’t the ideal solution to dire infrastructure needs faced by cash-strapped localities across the state wasn’t new in 2014 or 2015.

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, a Democrat like Cuomo who has clashed with the governor, has been calling for state and federal assistance in dealing with her city’s water infrastructure needs for years. In 2014 Miner called for the state to create “The Syracuse Billion,” a take off of Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion program that invested in major economic development projects. But Miner wasn’t looking for deals to draw high-tech firms to the area. Instead she proposed using $750 million of the cash to replace and repair a 550-mile, 100-year-old water pipeline that is in constant disrepair.

Cuomo responded that Syracuse was going “bankrupt,” adding, "You are unsustainable. You need jobs, an economy, business. Show us how you become economically stronger and create jobs. Then you fix your own pipes." He later added he was saying the city was “metaphorically” bankrupt, according to The Post-Standard.

Miner told Gotham Gazette that she thinks the Tappan Zee Bridge funding battle “brought attention to the fund and the overwhelming need for water infrastructure funding throughout the state. Every municipality has water problems,” Miner said, “from Hoosick Falls to Long Island, Kingston and Buffalo.”

During a 2015 budget hearing Miner pressed the State to use bank settlement funds to help struggling localities across the state. She said municipalities are handicapped by the state’s property tax cap and increasing state mandates, and can’t afford to make major infrastructure repairs without drastic intervention.

Cuomo did not grant Miner’s wish, but the Assembly used discretionary funds to allocate $10 million to repair Syracuse’s water infrastructure through the 2015 budget. Cuomo used settlement funds for transportation projects like the Tappan Zee replacement and for economic development grants.

Assemblymember Steve Otis, a Democrat representing Rye who championed the state’s grant program, is intimately familiar with infrastructure funding challenges faced by localities around the state. Otis served as mayor of Rye for 12 years. “We knew there was a great need. But the loan fund does not receive applications for all the money that is available,” Otis said in an interview. “Why? Because these localities couldn't afford to incur 100 percent debt.”

Otis said the program was so successful and the need so great that the Legislature doubled funding for it in 2016. The first round of the program doled out $75 million in grants; the second $175 million; and the third round will come next year with the distribution of another $175 million.

Otis praised the Cuomo administration for expediting the grants. “These are simple projects that are helping communities maintain water quality and the Cuomo administration has done a fantastic job getting the grants out the door and recognizing the need.”

But Otis, as well as advocates and other government officials and workers charged with dealing with water infrastructure across the state, acknowledge the program can’t help everyone. “One or two municipalities could eat up all the funding in one shot,” Otis said, indicating the scale of the need around the state.

Miner said that in her experience the Environmental Facilities Corporation (EFC) grant programs have been targeted toward smaller communities and that some of them require extensive pre-design work even to apply. Syracuse was, however, awarded $679,444 for a water infrastructure project in August through the New York State Water Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2015.

Asked about the program, Miner initially responded that Syracuse was ineligible because of its large population, though the program does not have a population restriction. Miner later clarified through a spokesperson that she was talking about other grant programs offered by the EFC and that she believes the EFC needs to offer a wide array of water infrastructure grant programs for communities of all sizes.

Officials from the EFC, the agency tasked with overseeing both the revolving loan programs and the water grant initiative, confirmed that there are no population restraints on the grant program.

Joe Coffey, the water commissioner for the city of Albany, is all too familiar with just how costly it is to maintain an aging water system. Albany’s dates to the 19th century. The city’s water treatment plant was built in the 1930s, as was the transfer line. And as Coffey points out, age is the greatest indicator of the possibility of infrastructure failure.

This summer residents have had to contend with a number of water main breaks and sinkholes that have gnarled traffic on busy roads not far from the Capitol building while the city continues to remedy sewer system overflows into the Hudson River, which functions not only as a source of recreation and food for some locals but as a water source for those down river.

”You can't print enough money to replace our water and sewer system,” said Coffey. “You are looking at asset management and the probability of failure--if it fails what's the consequence of failure?”

Albany recently won an $837,500 grant from the State. Coffey said the cash will allow Albany’s water department to leverage other funds for more projects and to expedite urgent repairs.

“It’s a tough call on how to balance investment in aide for water infrastructure,” said Coffey. “But without water you have nothing. In this state we are were blessed with an abundant supply of safe, reliable drinking water and from that we can leverage economic development and all the things that come after that. If you don’t make repairs you don’t have that base and these issues become real quality-of-life problems.”

Miner, the Syracuse mayor, echoes Coffey’s concerns about infrastructure. “I don’t want to undercut the [grant] program, but nobody wants to cut a ribbon underground--but at least people are talking about it now,” said Miner, hitting on one of the key reasons for a lack of focus on essential, basic infrastructure repairs.

Miner estimates the total cost of replacing the city’s most troublesome water lines would be around $730 million. According to the Syracuse Post-Standard the city hit its 102nd water main break of this year in May--a lower total than the 171 water main breaks it had suffered by the same time last year.

Tierney, of the DEC, acknowledged that a number of cities across the state are facing problems so large that they can’t be addressed as a whole. “The first step is recognizing the problem. Some of this infrastructure is very old and they are dealing with combined problems and it is a lot. Our approach has been to phase things in in a reasonable way, to use grant programs and EFC loans and coach communities how to apply for funds.”

Miner said Syracuse is now focusing on utilizing data analysis to predict and pinpoint where fixes should be made to preempt major problems, rather than pushing for a comprehensive replacement project.

She remains concerned that the state’s economic development spending may be undermined if it does not provide more assistance to localities facing dire infrastructure needs. “You can’t build a high-tech center if people can’t make coffee or flush their toilets,” said Miner.

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

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New York’s Other Water Crisis Tue, 13 Sep 2016 04:00:00 +0000