Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/1589 Mon, 11 Dec 2017 07:31:09 +0000 en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Education-Focused Super PAC Spends on Additional Legislative Races http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6505:education-focused-super-pac-spends-on-additional-legislative-races http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6505:education-focused-super-pac-spends-on-additional-legislative-races Cabrera Rivera NY1 screenshot 2

screenshot of CM Cabrera, left, & Sen. Rivera from NY1


A Super PAC backed by the education reform lobby and a number of wealthy out-of-state donors has earned the enmity of establishment Democrats by pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into races in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Long Island in an effort to unseat Democrat incumbents. The group, New Yorkers for Independent Action, now appears to be adjusting its strategy by supporting some incumbents.

The PAC is at least partially focused on passing an education tax credit proposal through Albany that would provide tax breaks to those who donate to private and charter schools. It is currently spending, largely in mailings - some of which attack candidates and some that are supportive of candidates - six state Assembly and Senate races. Opposed by the majority in the Democrat-controlled Assembly, the education tax credit proposal has been stuck in Albany despite prior lobbying efforts.

“This group and its funders are sadly mistaken if they think this will do anything to further their issue,” said Michael Whyland, spokesperson for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. A number of Heastie’s allies in the Bronx have been targeted by the PAC’s spending.

New Yorkers for Independent Action has been attacked by liberal activist groups and incumbent Democrats as the work of hedge-fund profiteers looking to advance their agenda by involving themselves in local races they have no real investment in or knowledge of. Teachers unions decry the measure as siphoning tax dollars away from public schools to reward wealthy donors, who it is assumed will monopolize the tax breaks by donating large sums to applicable private institutions. The PAC of the state teachers union has upped its spending in response to that of New Yorkers for Independent Action.

The group initially targeted for defeat Bronx Sen. Gustavo Rivera, Assemblymember Phil Ramos of Long Island, and Assemblymembers Latrice Walker and Pamela Harris of Brooklyn, all Democrats. Now, it is spending in support of Sen. Roxanne Persaud of Brooklyn and Assemblymember Victor Pichardo of the Bronx, both incumbent Democrats.

Recent filings show that in late June the group allocated $2,000 a piece to support Persaud and Pichardo. Those expenditures pale in comparison, though, to what the PAC has spent on mailers and canvassers in other races. It is unclear exactly what the $2,000 went towards as it is unlikely it could have funded the kinds of district-wide mailers that have popped up in the Rivera, Ramos, Harris, and Walker races.

Future disclosures will show how committed the PAC is to those races, but the spending is meant to influence the outcomes of the quickly-approaching September 13 primaries for all state legislative seats. As of mid-July, New Yorkers for Independent Action reported spending $1,295,672 and raising $2,780,000.

NYFIA’s treasurer, Thomas Carroll, is former president of The Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability, did not return requests for comment.

The money spent so far by New Yorkers for Independent Action has mainly gone in large sums to help four candidates, each of whom has seen at least $300,000 spent by the PAC in their race. Council Member Fernando Cabrera is being aided in his rematch with Sen. Gustavo Rivera; Council Member Darlene Mealy is getting support in her challenge to Assemblymember  Latrice Walker; Giovanni Mata is being backed in his second challenge to Assemblymember Phil Ramos and Kate Cucco is being bolstered in her bid to oust Assemblymember Pamela Harris.

While NYFIA spends big money to defeat Rivera, backing his challenger, City Council Member Fernando Cabrera, in a twist, it is now spending to buoy Pichardo, who previously worked as director of community affairs for Rivera and won his Assembly seat with major guidance from Rivera and his allies.

The PAC has already spent over $356,000 to back Cabrera, with flyers attacking Rivera, others boosting Cabrera, and teams of canvassers carrying the literature.

Asked about NYFIA’s support during a debate on NY1’s Inside City Hall on Tuesday night, Cabrera pointed out that Rivera had endorsed Pichardo and Assemblymember Jose Rivera, who both back the EITC, and said that Rivera had a “double standard.”

Cabrera went on to say, “With this PAC we are working to pass the educational tax credit.” He added that he felt it was “fair to provide this tax credit to parents.”

Rivera responded that the PAC is supported by people who are “anti-choice, anti-gay and anti-labor.”

It is illegal for candidates to coordinate with Super PACs.

Pichardo’s office did not return requests for comment; it is unclear if his re-election campaign welcomes the independent spending on his behalf.

Karen Scharff, head of Citizen Action NY, is also part of the anti-hedge-fund group Hedge Clippers, which often criticizes the education reform movement and its wealthy backers. Scharff said that Super PAC spending of this type in primaries is a new development, and she fears it is just a preview of the kind of outside spending that will occur in the general election when control of the State Senate will be contested.

“The problem with this flood of cash from outside billionaires is that it impacts who gets elected in these communities that billionaires have no interest in. It is doubly disempowering the community, because they lose their voice in local matters and then have electeds who are more dedicated and accountable to the billionaires who elected them.”

Most of the candidates targeted by New Yorkers for Independent Action are not going unaided. Fund for Great Public Schools, a Super PAC controlled by Andrew Pollotta, the vice president of the New York State United Teachers union (NYSUT), was recently aided by a $4 million transfer from New Yorkers For a Brighter Future. The group has begun spending on mailers and advertisements to support Ramos, Walker, Rivera, and Harris, and attacking their opponents.  As of the last campaign filing report, on August 26, they appear to have spent a little over $80,000 on the four candidates.

In the 46th Assembly District, Kate Cucco, a former Assembly aide, is challenging Harris. Residents of the Southern Brooklyn district have been bombarded with flyers and polls from both independent groups. The race feels to many to be a proxy war for the education reform and union movements.

Asked whether Cucco supports the involvement of New Yorkers for Independent Action in her race, a spokesperson sent Gotham Gazette a statement:  

"Kate Cucco has long been on record urging for the overturn of Citizen's [sic] United and has been a staunch advocate for major reforms to campaign finance laws. Kate is in favor of public financing of campaigns that put hard limits of the amount of money a candidate can raise/spend, she is in favor of closing the LLC loophole, increasing the disclaimer requirements so voters know exactly who paid for campaign ads, as well as easing barriers to voting such as having one primary in June, allowing mail in voting, same day voter registration, and allowing for party enrollment changes right up until 60 days before an election."

Cucco is a supporter of a version of the Education Investment Tax Credit that NYFIA wants to see passed.

The PAC has used a similar theme for some of its mailers; in both the Rivera and Ramos races the mailer focuses on a New York Times editorial that accuses legislative leaders of failing to act on ethics reform in the wake of major scandals. Neither Ramos nor Rivera were at the center of the negotiations surrounding ethics reforms. There appear to have been about seven or eight mailers sent out in both districts, with varying themes.

In a statement, Assemblymember Ramos decried NYFIA, describing its donors as “millionaires and billionaires from Manhattan’s Upper East Side.”

“Why are they investing so heavily in a Brentwood Central Islip and Bay Shore Assembly race?” the statement says. “Because I stood up for my community and said NO to a million dollar tax break that they are pitching as an education opportunity for poor kids. I will stand up and fight anyone who tries to exploit our community. We deserve better.” Ramos also said that the Super PAC has “no grassroots” and that “Anyone that actually lives here knows we can't be bought. That's why I'm confident this multi-million dollar plan will fail, I trust my neighbors and they trust me."

Some candidates insist that NYFIA is interested only in passing the EITC and has no further political agenda. Scharff scoffs at the idea, pointing out that billionaire non-New Yorkers like Alice Walton, the Wal-Mart heir and Arkansas resident, and some donors who have traditionally given to conservative Christian causes have donated heavily to the PAC.

Hedge Clippers has also highlighted that the incumbents targeted by NYFIA were major advocates for a $15 minimum wage and other progressive issues.

“The problem with this kind of money being poured into these districts by billionaires is that it drowns out the voices of voters,” said Scharff. She said she expects a number of progressive issues to be at the center of the next legislative session and that those issues will be in jeopardy if NYFIA gets its candidates in place. “If this spending continues into the general election it really could shift balance of power.”

This is how New Yorkers for Independent Action has allocated its spending on candidates through its July 11 filing:
$302,878.91 to support Giovanni Mata, who is challenging Assemblymember Phil Ramos.
$358,235.33 to support City Council Member Fernando Cabrera in his second attempt to defeat Sen. Gustavo Rivera.
$309,404.25 on Kate Cucco, who is challenging Assemblymember Pamela Harris.
$321,153.54 on City Council Member Darlene Mealy, who is challenging Assemblymember Latrice Walker.
$2,000 on Sen. Roxanne Persaud, who is facing a challenge from Mercedes Narcisse.
$2,000 on Assemblymember Victor Pichardo, who is engaged in a rematch with Hector Ramirez.

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note: this article has been corrected to accurately reflect Thomas Carroll's former position as past president of The Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability, not president of The Center for Education Reform as was stated.

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Education-Focused Super PAC Spends on Additional Legislative Races Wed, 31 Aug 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Cuomo’s Minimum Wage Nonprofit Through the Lens of His New Regulatory Scheme http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6498:cuomo-s-minimum-wage-nonprofit-through-the-lens-of-his-new-regulatory-scheme http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6498:cuomo-s-minimum-wage-nonprofit-through-the-lens-of-his-new-regulatory-scheme mario cuomo campaign for economic justice bus capitol

photos via The Governor's Office on Flickr


Earlier this year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo successfully advocated for the passage of a $15 minimum wage plan with the help of major labor unions and a nonprofit they created called The Mario Cuomo Campaign for Economic Justice. Teaming with 1199-SEIU, the health care workers union, and 32BJ-SEIU, the buildings workers union, Cuomo made campaign stops in an RV paid for by the nonprofit, which was funded largely by unions.

In a complicated confluence of relationships, Cuomo’s government office notified the press about the events and streamed the governor’s appearances at rallies organized by the group; while his reelection campaign spokesperson served in that role for MCCEJ. Cuomo’s office and the MCCEJ at times appeared to be one.

After the state budget agreement reached at the start of April included the $15 wage phase-in, the campaign celebrated success and closed up shop.

Later in the legislative session, in June, Cuomo created and won passage of a package of reforms that define new restrictions on coordination among candidate campaigns, former government employees, and Super PACs; and stricter reporting requirements of donors to Super PACs. Another aspect of the legislation, which Cuomo signed into law on Wednesday, requires more reporting of donors to nonprofit advocacy groups and reporting of some of their previously private communications.

Cuomo calls the bill an historic stand against dark money, the influence of Super PACs, and the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that opened up the floodgates for major, secretive political donations.

“New York is taking aggressive action to restore the people’s faith in government and increase accountability and transparency in the electoral process,” Cuomo said in a statement announcing his signing of the bill. “These actions roll back the disastrous influence of Citizens United and prohibit coordination between candidates and independent expenditure committees. Through enhanced enforcement and increased penalties for political consultants who flout the law, this new legislation will root out bad actors and shine a spotlight on the sordid influence of dark money in politics. With this legislation, New York is raising the bar once again – and now it’s time for the rest of the nation to follow suit.”

On the other hand, many reform advocates believe the bill is both a strange mix of regulations and ones that do very little to address areas where there has been real corruption in New York, namely among state legislators.

Robert Perry, legislative director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, says Cuomo has pushed through a confusing bag of proposals and that the way it was presented belies the ways in which the bill will impact small issue-based nonprofits.

“This legislation was touted and marketed as an attempt to address corruption in campaign expenditures - secretly collaborating with candidates in violation of the law - but the bill goes far beyond campaign and coordination,” said Perry. “Context is important. Look at the bill, it is full of broad sweeping provisions and disclosure requirements that have nothing to do with campaign expenditures that include organizations that aren’t even involved in lobbying, but pure issue advocacy. This bill will have a chilling impact on their donors.”

Perry points out that the bill is further confusing because the areas of law regarding political spending by groups like Super PACs and nonprofit advocacy groups are completely separate and yet the bill puts them side by side.

In Cuomo’s not-too-distant past, he aligned himself with a nonprofit formed by business interests to advocate for his agenda, the Committee to Save New York. Like Mayor Bill de Blasio’s more recent Campaign for One New York, Cuomo’s group was shut down amid criticism and controversy. The new regulations would apply to these types of groups in terms of donor disclosure. Cuomo’s group did not disclose its donors; de Blasio’s group did so voluntarily. The Committee to Save New York was not the subject of federal investigation whereas the Campaign for One New York is as authorities probe whether government favors were promised or delivered in exchange for donations to the nonprofit.

Critics have said that the Mario Cuomo Campaign for Economic Justice, like de Blasio’s Campaign for One New York, created a shadow government apparatus, in this case where government employees did work for lobbying groups and consultants were paid for their efforts by the MCCEJ while also representing Cuomo’s campaign.

“Clearly the governor is coordinating with this outside entity, and the governor's political operatives seem to have basically been set up and guiding it,” Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, told Politico New York in February. “This is setting up a shadow government and it blurs the line between private campaigning and public policy. The goal is an admirable one, but the way it is being done gives us pause.”

Cuomo appeared to criticize de Blasio’s relationship with the Campaign for One New York while unveiling his reform plan in June. “The collusion, the coordination, the subterfuge, the fraud in the current political system is rampant,” Cuomo said, according to The Observer, without naming de Blasio’s group. When speaking with reporters after the event, Gotham Gazette twice asked the governor for examples of the types of groups he was targeting, but Cuomo declined to name any, saying that he did not want to accuse anyone of illegality at that time.

The new restrictions on coordination would have no impact on the MCCEJ or even the Campaign for One New York - both are nonprofit 501(c)(4) advocacy groups and thus only subject to the additional donor transparency requirements.

Political action committees, or PACs, are tied to candidates, while independent expenditure campaigns, commonly referred to as Super PACs, are not allowed to coordinate with candidate campaigns. Both operate during elections to influence their outcomes - those groups register and report their fundraising to the Board of Elections. New restrictions on coordination and additional reporting requirements will apply to Super PACs.

“The members of 1199SEIU have been proud to be a part of raising the minimum wage to $15 for nearly three million working New Yorkers, and passing the strongest paid family leave law in the nation. We hope that similar efforts are successful throughout the country, so that working people can provide a better future for their families and we can rebuild the middle-class.” said Mark Riley, press secretary for 1199SEIU, in a statement. The union declined to make its president, George Gresham, who served as chair of the MCCEJ, available to discuss how the campaign was coordinated.

Cuomo mario cuomo campaign economic justice speechSources close to the Mario Cuomo Campaign for Economic Justice told Gotham Gazette that the new rules on nonprofit donor disclosure would have had no impact on the MCCEJ as they lower the thresholds for nonprofits to report donors, but donations to the MCCEJ were already covered by the old lobbying law.

Now, more disclosure is required of smaller donors after nonprofits spend smaller amounts of total money on lobbying. The MCCEJ’s donations appear to mostly have come in large sums. But, it will be impossible to know until the MCCEJ’s final disclosure documents are made public by the state regulatory agency they must report to: JCOPE, the Joint Committee on Public Ethics.

So far, all of the reported donations to MCCEJ far exceed the new reporting requirements and therefore were covered by the old law. The SEIU Labor Management Initiative donated $637,781 in February and then gave the same amount again in April; Service Employees International gave $212,594 in January; in March, RWDSU Realty Group donated $63,778 in March; The New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council gave $85,038; and the SEIU1199 New York State Political Action Fund gave $85,038.

New York’s previous lobbying act requires nonprofits that fit under the 501(C)(4) designation of the IRS tax code to disclose donations of over $5,000 and the personal information of those who make such donations if the group has spent more than $50,000 on lobbying in a calendar year. The new bill sets the total lobbying disclosure threshold at $15,000, while requiring disclosure of donations of more than $2,500, as well as those donors’ personal information. The MCCEJ is expected to have spent around $2 million from January to July.

Sources told Gotham Gazette that MCCEJ disclosed its donors to JCOPE in July but the filing has yet to be made public. Most MCCEJ activity occurred in the early months of 2016 when Cuomo and company traveled the state on the $15 minimum wage campaign. The group’s final filing should be available in September.

The new law also requires 501(C)(4) groups to disclose to the Attorney General any communications, whether written, broadcast or otherwise, having to do with legislation, votes on legislation, pending legislation, government action on rules, regulations or the decisions of any legislative or executive administrative body.

A number of issue-focused nonprofits, some that lobby and some that do not, are opposed to the new rules because, unlike the MCCEJ, they do not enjoy a close relationship with the Cuomo administration or other parts of state government.

The MCCEJ would likely have been subject to and impacted by this communication disclosure rule, but the group existed in that fairly unique position - its communications were already likely privy to the Cuomo administration and its donors were not likely to ever fear political reprisal for their support of the group’s lobbying efforts.

“The problem becomes when the law applies to groups that are not sponsored and created by the chief executive of the state,” said Perry.

The NYCLU urged Cuomo to veto the bill, saying that it violates freedom of speech and will temper donations to small issue-advocacy groups because donors will fear being exposed and possible reprisals. “This will have a chilling effect,” said Perry. “This intrusive, burdensome, regulatory scheme where you have to provide a donor's name and address will intimidate donors and reduce their willingness to engage due to the prospect of retaliation from the government, or someone else who disagrees with them.”

Mike Durant, New York State director of the National Federation of Independent Business, a group that lobbied against the minimum wage hike said he found it quite challenging to go up against the combination of Cuomo and well-funded labor groups. Durant’s organization, a national nonprofit, is still reviewing what, if any, impact the new regulations will have on it.

Durant said he is concerned about the new laws and how they might affect dissent and perhaps earn political retribution. “It’s always been a concern with any governor, but with this governor it’s a bit heightened,” he said. “You can't stifle opposition. Government is supposed to be an argument between various sides about an issue and you see where that argument goes. Stifling dissent is not doing the public any favors.”

Doug Kellogg of Reclaim New York, a group focused on government transparency that has been critical of Cuomo in general and this legislation specifically, said that it's almost impossible to gauge how groups will be impacted because it is still uncertain how JCOPE will administer the law.

Kellogg noted that JCOPE can set exemptions for certain groups. “They get to determine whether a donor has legitimate fear of retaliation, and thus does not have to have their name released,” he said. “It's completely twisted to have a government spinoff that's not fully subject to basic transparency law deciding which citizens that fear retaliation for their speech get to stay private, and which have their names published. Until we see it in practice, we can't be sure how awful the law will truly be, but it’s definitely going to be ugly.”

JCOPE approved a set of regulations having to do with the law earlier this month. Many groups are anxiously waiting to see how the new regulations are actually enforced.

Perry of NYCLU and a host of good government groups including Citizens Union, the New York Public Interest Research Group, and Common Cause New York say that the governor has given no evidence that these new disclosure rules for nonprofits will do anything to impact corruption.

They say unlike the convictions of Dean Skelos and Sheldon Silver and the dozens of other legislators who have been removed from their seats, a trend that demonstrates a corruption epidemic in the Legislature, there is no indicator that nonprofits need more regulation.

“As you know, non-profit charities are already tightly regulated by the Internal Revenue Service,” the groups wrote Cuomo in a letter urging him to veto the bill. “These organizations, known as 501(c)(3)s have strict limits on their lobbying involvement – limitations that amount to a small fraction of their budgets. They are forbidden from intervening in political campaigns on penalty of being disqualified as a charity. Yet, with no demonstrated evidence of a problem and no evidence of any meaningful problems in New York State (evidence, which if it existed, you could have brought to light in a public debate) you assert that such a problem exists. As a result, these parts generally harm charitable organizations in the state through their lack of clarity and astoundingly broad reach. Rather than being targeted, the bill would impose onerous requirements on many nonprofits and inhibit contributions to nonprofits seeking to carry out charitable work, and could jeopardize the ability of many nonprofit organizations to operate in New York.”

Asked whether Cuomo had evidence there was corruption or malfeasance among these groups, Cuomo spokesperson Dani Lever forwarded a Times Union article titled “Who Funds New York’s Good Government Groups?” The article says that some groups are not always forthright about their donors, but that on the whole most are; while also noting that at times a group has released a report related to a donor with a particular interest.

Lever also provided a comment that the administration has widely circulated in response to criticism of the new legislation, which Cuomo spokesperson Rich Azzopardi has also tweeted in response to recent articles on the matter: “Everyone is all for transparency, except when it comes to them. We are just surprised to learn that applies to self-appointed good-government groups, too.”

A lawsuit challenging the bill is expected in the coming months - the suit will likely argue the law is an overreach and violates the First Amendment.

Lever did not respond to a question regarding whether Cuomo is concerned about the blurring of the lines between government and nonprofit lobbying as in the case of the Campaign for One New York and the Mario Cuomo Campaign for Economic Justice.

Asked about the new ethics laws on Thursday, Cuomo told reporters that it wasn’t everything he was hoping for, but still important. “The ethics bill is a major step forward,” Cuomo said, according to State of Politics. “Is it everything? No. Ethics in many ways is like other activities in life, right? That old line — you can never be too rich, you can never be too thin. Well, you can never be too ethical. So, you get everything done that you can get done. But you stay at it and you work at. More and more disclosure, more trust.”

Blair Horner, of the New York Public Interest Research Group, said that the law has served as a distraction in a year when Albany has been rocked by the conviction of two former legislative leaders and a federal investigation into Cuomo’s economic development projects. “This is classic Albany misdirection,” said Horner. “Here we are all talking about (C)(4)s and nonprofits and it's distracting us from discussing corruption in the Legislature and Executive. It is absolutely cynical, but it's effective.”

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization fo Citizens Union.

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Cuomo’s Minimum Wage Nonprofit Through the Lens of His New Regulatory Scheme Mon, 29 Aug 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Resolution Calls for Constitutional Amendment Negating Citizens United http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5725:resolution-calls-for-constitutional-amendment-negating-citizens-united http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5725:resolution-calls-for-constitutional-amendment-negating-citizens-united kallos

Council Member Ben Kallos (photo: William Alatriste)


City Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the governmental operations committee, will introduce a resolution at Thursday’s full-body Stated Meeting calling on members of the United States Congress to commit to a constitutional amendment that would limit independent expenditures in election campaigns. It is a move aimed at reducing the “dark money” spent during political campaigns and to counteract the Supreme Court’s infamous Citizens United ruling.

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Resolution Calls for Constitutional Amendment Negating Citizens United Thu, 14 May 2015 14:54:06 +0000
State Senate Democrats Poised to Ride Hillary Clinton Wave http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5686:state-senate-democrats-poised-to-ride-hillary-clinton-wave http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5686:state-senate-democrats-poised-to-ride-hillary-clinton-wave hillary-clinton

Hillary Clinton during a recent appearance in NYC (photo: NYC Mayor's Office)


Mayor Bill de Blasio may not have endorsed Hillary Clinton's presidential bid yet, but her candidacy could be instrumental in accomplishing something he and Governor Andrew Cuomo failed at last year: putting the State Senate in the hands of Democrats.

"I think she will have longer coattails next year than Cuomo did last year," said Kenneth Sherrill, who taught political science at Hunter College for decades. "Turnout will be higher and more partisan. There won't be any winks and nods toward Republican incumbents."

If the Democrats can wrest control of the Senate in 2016 they would control both houses of the Legislature come 2017 (they already hold a significant majority in the Assembly), and, at least in theory, be able to force the governor to the left.

"A presidential year with a rock star from New York running for president will immensely help voter turn out," State Senator Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat, predicted enthusiastically.

Democrats have been creeping toward the majority in the Senate after holding it briefly from 2009 to 2010. In 2012 the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference, a splinter cell of dissatisfied Democrats, gave Republicans the majority - with Cuomo's blessing.

In 2014 de Blasio launched a campaign to win outright control for Democrats and pressured the IDC to return to the fold - its members promised to conference with Democrats, but that seemed to hinge on the Democrats winning enough seats to have a majority. Cuomo, who faced a tepid response from his liberal base, barely campaigned for himself let alone Democratic candidates and flirted with backing Republican legislators who had supported his major policies in the past.

Republicans won outright control, in part thanks to Brooklyn Sen. Simcha Felder, an elected Democrat who conferences with Republicans. Now de Blasio and like-minded Democrats face a Senate Majority that holds a grudge and the fate of rent laws, mayoral control of schools, and other key elements of de Blasio's progressive agenda in its hands. Cuomo holds a bag of progressive 2014 campaign promises that Senate Republicans seem dead set on preventing him from delivering, while they do enable him to deliver on the more conservative or centrist pieces of his economic and education agendas.

However, a massive advantage in voter registration and a younger base appear to make a Democratic takeover an eventuality. Hillary Clinton's candidacy could be the shove Democrats need to get them over the threshold and to never look back. Compared to Republicans, Democrats see larger turnout fluctuations in presidential and non-presidential years, with Clinton expected to provide a significant (if not Obama-esque) boost.

Cuomo would be faced with a liberal tidal wave in the Legislature and he might not be able to find a strong middle ground, though underestimating his ability to do so might be dangerous. Democrats further to the left, including de Blasio, would have two houses of the Legislature looking to deliver on progressive issues.

For some Democrats 2016 is D-Day. They expect Democratic turnout will spike and Clinton coattails - Hillary is technically a New York resident who represented the state in the US Senate and whose campaign office is in Brooklyn - will drag Democrats into perhaps permanent control of the chamber.

"I really think this is it," said New York State Senator Neil Breslin, a Democrat from Albany. "Her candidacy will be a strong attractor for new candidates, for veteran legislators to increase their involvement, and it will boost Democratic turnout."

Krueger said that with Clinton's candidacy, the push by US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand to recruit more women candidates, and efforts from advocacy groups and PACs, "I do think we will see more interest in people who are willing to run for state government. The trouble is that a lot of people say: 'Albany, really? Yuck!' We need to get people...past that cynicism. When women see other women in leadership it makes [them] think, 'I can do this,'" she added.

Breslin believes Clinton's candidacy will also give some Republicans pause, and perhaps lead to the retirement of some more senior members.

Senate Republicans have been playing defense for years, fighting off changes to election law, redistricting, and campaign financing. They've also had to convince older members to stay in their seats for fear that their name recognition, not their party affiliation, is what has kept their seats in Republican hands.

"I get a 25,000 boost in votes in a regular presidential year," said Breslin. "That is the margin of victory for most candidates. Now translate that to Hillary."

Senate Democrats have worked diligently on presenting a unified front during their time in the minority, rallied around leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and even begun to openly challenge the policy decisions of Gov. Cuomo, who has done little to help them electorally and undermined and overlooked them legislatively.

In a sense Democrats have been liberated and become less fractious because they have lost some of their more rural and conservative districts to Republicans; meanwhile, districts that used to be fairly conservative are trending more liberal.

"We are in an extremely strong place regardless of whether 2016 is a presidential year," said Sen. Michael Gianaris, a Democrat of Queens, who noted the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee is out of debt for the first time in years. "We have 31 elected Democrats [in a 63-seat chamber] and there could be special elections before then for any number of reasons. Now add a Clinton candidacy to that - [she] is a daughter of New York - and we are in an amazing position."

Gianaris incudes members of the IDC in his count - they may quickly attempt to reconcile with mainline Democrats if the party is able to take a majority.

Republicans have laboriously tried to maintain some level of bipartisanship, fostering their alliance with the IDC and allowing them to bring some more Democratic issues to the floor including the DREAM Act and parts of Cuomo's Womens Equality Agenda. And they partnered with Cuomo to pass marriage equality and the SAFE Act - but they also saw incumbent legislators defeated after facing backlash on their votes on those two issues. And in the past two years Majority Leader Dean Skelos has pushed back hard against the progressive agenda.

Even some Senate Republicans say privately that passing the DREAM Act could be beneficial to the conference in certain districts with growing Latino populations, but Skelos has been adamant that the conference remain united in its public opposition to the measure. It's a certainty that Clinton and other presidential candidates will be heavily courting Latino voters.

Skelos has also refused to budge on a new round of minimum wage increases, and appears to have opposed a number of criminal justice reforms put forward after the July death of Eric Garner in New York City.

"We want to see these policies enacted for the good of the people of New York," said Gianaris of a progressive agenda. "The more these guys reject these common sense issues like a minimum wage increase and paid family leave for things like tax breaks for yachts and private jets the more it becomes obvious to voters how out of touch they are."

As bright as the state Senate future may seem for Democrats and as inevitable a 2016 Democratic ticket headed by Clinton may seem at the moment, some in the party acknowledge that without Hilary they could be in serious trouble. "Forget it," said one Democrat who asked to remain anonymous."If Hillary loses the primary we are in major trouble. All bets are off."

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing

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State Senate Democrats Poised to Ride Hillary Clinton Wave Wed, 15 Apr 2015 16:03:37 +0000