Gotham Gazette Tue, 25 Sep 2018 15:36:15 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Cuomo and His Progressive Critics Face Moment of Truth cuomo smiling andrewcuomo

Gov. Cuomo (photo: @andrewcuomo)

Governor Andrew Cuomo, emboldened after a sizeable Democratic primary victory, and an invigorated progressive movement with recent wins of its own, are again forced to grapple with the rift between them, as the factions must decide what steps they are willing to take to unite in the aftermath of a contentious primary season.

Facing a handful of general election opponents led by Republican Marc Molinaro, Cuomo has given mixed signals to the 500,000-plus voters who chose Cynthia Nixon on September 13, many of whom likely helped lift a group of left-wing challengers over seven sitting state senators. Some of those challengers -- Molinaro, Green Party nominee Howie Hawkins, independent Stephanie Miner, and Libertarian Larry Sharpe -- have begun making direct appeals to Nixon voters, while Cuomo has not.

Before the end of next week, one of the governor’s chief progressive critics, the Working Families Party, is expected to have determined what to do with its ballot line after Cuomo defeated its first choice in round one. The WFP nominated Nixon for governor and Jumaane Williams for lieutenant governor, but saw them both lose in the Democratic primary, throwing into question whether the two will actually appear as WFP candidates on the November ballot. Party members will in the coming days decide via internal meetings who they are willing to support in November.

The party may offer its ballot line to Cuomo, who has downplayed the magnitude of his left-wing critics after he won two-thirds of the primary vote and openly warred with the WFP for years, including since just after it agreed to nominate him in 2014.

As NY1’s Zack Fink reported Monday, WFP leaders will meet privately on Wednesday to discuss the party’s next steps, and will the following Wednesday convene in a public meeting as a full WFP state committee, apparently to vote on a general election slate for governor and lieutenant governor, as well as an attorney general candidate. (The party had previously installed a placeholder, while expressing support for both Zephyr Teachout and primary winner Letitia James).

The impending decision will come after the WFP backed Nixon, who took up the cause of the state’s disgruntled progressives frustrated with Cuomo’s centrist triangulation on a host of issues, enabled in part by his support of a Republican state Senate bolstered by breakaway Democrats. With just six weeks until Election Day, November 6, the WFP is faced with the decision of backing a governor with whom it has had a deeply antagonistic relationship — and who has thus far declined to extend an olive branch to the WFP and more broadly those to the left of Cuomo — or a candidate who has little-to-no chance of becoming governor, possibly putting a dent in Cuomo’s vote total.

The WFP, notably, needs at least 50,000 votes on its ballot line for its gubernatorial candidate in order to keep that automatic line in elections for the next four years. If no alternative move is made, Nixon and Williams would remain on the line. (Governor and lieutenant governor are voted on separately in party primaries but as a ticket in the general). A back-up plan for removing Nixon from the gubernatorial ballot line — a somewhat tricky process — has been in place for months, with the WFP and Nixon acknowledging that her chances in the primary were slim and pledging not to play “spoiler” in the general election by peeling away votes from Cuomo.

The party will answer the looming question of whether to leave Nixon on its line, pick Cuomo, which would necessitate a deal with the notoriously score-keeping governor, or possibly someone else, based on what members believe is best for the causes it champons, the party’s political director, Bill Lipton, told Gotham Gazette on Monday.

“The WFP is having its own internal deliberations,” Lipton said by phone. “We’ll be having meetings, phone calls and other communications, where people are going to air their views, and, as has been oft-stated, the candidates, the leadership, the grassroots members of the WFP will be arriving at a decision together.”

Lipton declined to say if any discussions with Cuomo’s camp had occurred in recent weeks.

“We’re focused on our internal deliberations and doing what’s best for working families in New York State,” he said.

Additionally, Lipton said the WFP has, as expected, been communicating with Nixon and Williams, the Brooklyn City Council member who ran against incumbent Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul in the primary. “We’re going to talk a lot with Cynthia and Jumaane,” Lipton said. “We consider them part of our community.”

Nixon has made no public comments since her primary night concessive speech, which was celebratory and forward-looking. A top Nixon campaign operative was noncommittal when asked about the matter last week.

“I don’t want to divulge much,” Nixon campaign chief strategist Rebecca Katz said on the Max and Murphy podcast. “There will be some answers, and they will be coming soon.” Katz went on to acknowledge that Nixon had previously said she’d prefer Cuomo to Molinaro, and reiterated that Nixon has always been and will remain a Democrat.

Though Nixon came up well short of defeating Cuomo, all but two of the eight challengers to former members of the Independent Democratic Conference — a group of breakaway Democrats allied with Republicans in the State Senate — pulled off victories that shook up the New York political world. Additionally, left-wing insurgent Julia Salazar knocked off veteran state Senator Martin Dilan. All nine Senate challengers were backed by the WFP. But Cuomo said in his defiant post-primary press conference that their success did not serve as a rejection of his brand of progressivism.

Though Cuomo had given his tacit support and generic endorsement to his fellow Democratic incumbents as part of the April unity deal that brought the IDC back to the mainline Democratic fold, the governor downplayed the results and anything they might say about the extent to which his leadership was rebuked by voters.

Democrats clearly approved of his get-things-done, somewhat-tempered progressivism, the governor explained the day after the primary, pointing to his margin of victory — 65.6 percent to Nixon’s 34.4 percent — even with a major boom in turnout from four years ago, when he prevailed by a similar percentage over Zephyr Teachout. While the former IDC members struggled immensely, the two Cuomo-endorsed statewide candidates — Hochul and James — won their hotly-contested primaries.

What many deemed a progressive wave was “not even a ripple,” the two-term governor said the day after the primary, throwing cold water on the narrative that the primary was part of a surge in popularity of a Democratic vision in stark contrast to his.

“Where was that effect yesterday?” Cuomo said of a supposed progressive wave in the state, represented by the candidacies of Nixon and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. “Where was it?”

“It was upstate. It was downstate, white, black, brown — it was across the board,” he said of the coalition that contributed to his decisive win.

He added the victory proved that he and New York Democrats “provided and achieved progress,” which was the “message” voters delivered in the election.

But what about those 500,000 Nixon voters and the disenchanted left they represent? Will they rally behind Cuomo, beaming with confidence and dismissiveness, as the Democratic nominee? Will WFP members swallow the indignity of offering him their ballot line?

At least two of the leaders of the successful primary purity push backed by the WFP are staying out of the fray.

André Richardson, a spokesperson for successful IDC challenger Zellnor Myrie, said in a statement that Myrie “respects” the WFP’s “internal process.”

“He looks forward to continuing to fight side by side with them on progressive issues,” Richardson said.

David Neustadt, a spokesperson for Alessandra Biaggi, who defeated former IDC leader Jeff Klein, said in a statement that Biaggi is “supporting the Democratic Party nominees for Governor, Lt. Governor and Attorney General.” He declined to say whether Biaggi has a preference on the WFP’s choice, but said the candidate “respects the internal democratic process of the WFP, which appropriately allows the members of the Party to determine whom that party endorses."

Rachel May, who prevailed over former IDC member David Valesky in her primary and like Myrie and Biaggi received Nixon’s support, said she believed Cuomo is the definitive leader of the Democratic Party, and is open to the WFP handing the ballot line to Cuomo.

“I’m not categorically opposed to it,” she explained. “I was running for Democratic unity all along. That’s what our whole campaign against the IDC was about. And so I feel like Democratic voters have spoken about who should be the standard-bearer moving forward.”

“I supported her in the primary but I think I would encourage her not to campaign actively against the governor in the general,” May said of Nixon.

May stopped short of saying it is her preference that the WFP give Cuomo its nomination. “I’m willing to only say ‘I will not object,’” she said.

May, who said the governor’s team was among the first to congratulate her after the primary, went on to speak to the need of uniting the warring factions of the party — something Cuomo and his team have been loathe to do following the primary. Cuomo, for example, made no mention of Nixon or her supporters during an event billed as a unity rally held the week after the election.

“I want to work together with whoever is elected governor. It’s looking more and more like Governor Cuomo,” said May, who may be facing a tough general election that could include Valesky on the Independence and Women’s Equality ballot lines, both of which Cuomo also has. “I think the less we divide the more progressive voters the better, at this point.”

Asked if Cuomo’s post-primary press conference — where he did more spiking the football than calling for party unity — worked toward that goal, May said Cuomo and his allies are “eager to work with Democrats moving forward.”

“I feel like we we’re going to all get on the same page,” she continued. “We still need reform in Albany. It’s not going to be a rubber stamp Senate for [Cuomo]. So I understand that, but I also understand that he wants to work with us.”

Cuomo and His Progressive Critics Face Moment of Truth Mon, 24 Sep 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Opponents of Democratic Senator Raise Questions About Past IDC Financial Support loft law presser

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The primary is September 13.

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Opponents of Democratic Senator Raise Questions About Past IDC Financial Support Tue, 14 Aug 2018 02:38:55 +0000
Working Families Party Puts It All On The Line Cynthia Nixon, Jummane Williams, and Alessandra Biaggi

Cynthia Nixon (left), Alessandra Biaggi (top right), Bill Lipton & Jumaane Williams (bottom)

The Working Families Party celebrated its 20th anniversary last month at Brooklyn Bowl in Williamsburg, with its rank-and-file cheering on a line up of politicians that have served as standard bearers, past and present. But it’s the future of the party that is especially uncertain as the upstart liberal organization lays it all on the line in backing insurgent candidates in state elections this year.

In doing so, especially in its decision to take on Governor Andrew Cuomo by backing Cynthia Nixon, some the party’s longtime allies have turned adversaries, portending a potentially diminished presence in the state’s political landscape if its gamble does not pay off over the next several weeks. At the anniversary celebration, which featured Mayor Bill de Blasio, among others singing the party’s praises for its push to create a more fair and equal New York, there was little sign of uneasiness about its bold choices this election year; an atmosphere of revelry prevailed, possibly the sign of progressive activists happy to be going for it all instead of triangulating with Cuomo and other more centrist Democrats as it had in the past.

There is also a sense among WFP leaders and supporters that the party is already where the Democratic Party is heading, and where it needs to be, with a more progressive vision of left politics reflective of a new post-Clinton, post-Cuomo Democratic era.

Created by community advocates and labor unions with a vision of pulling Democrats to the progressive left, the WFP has played a prominent role in championing the bread-and-butter issues that most affect working, low- and middle-income Americans. Through activism and advocacy around policy and funding, the party battles inequity, whether it be in housing, employment, wages, criminal justice, education, environment, or electoral access. In local and state elections, Democrats eager to brandish their progressive bonafides have coveted and sought the WFP’s endorsement, and the party’s vocal leaders and active network of members and volunteers.

But after years of being let down by elected officials they propped up, the WFP’s leadership made a drastic decision this year to endorse underdogs in key Democratic primaries. They backed Nixon’s challenge to Cuomo, a two-term incumbent seeking reelection, and New York City Council Member Jumaane Williams in his attempt to unseat Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul; and they are fiercely rallying behind progressive candidates who are trying to replace Democratic state Senators who until recently made up the Republican-allied Independent Democratic Conference (IDC).

The reaction to the WFP’s moves has been significant, and potentially crippling. Several unions that had filled the party’s coffers for years pulled their support for fear of angering the governor, who made explicit threats against anyone who would stay, according to a WFP leader. But advocacy groups and a progressive activist base rallied, resolute to take on Cuomo, whom they no longer trusted after a 2014 deal went bad, and the former IDC members, who had betrayed their Democratic party-mates.

While acknowledging its newfound vulnerability, WFP leaders and supporters also had a sense that they were on the right side of history, pursuing their true vision of where the Democratic Party should be (with the necessary help of the WFP), representative of the national trendlines -- the WFP did back Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary -- a feeling only bolstered in recent weeks by events like the shocking congressional primary victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whom the WFP had not endorsed over Rep. Joe Crowley, but quickly sought to align with thereafter.

“I think the unions are dismayed by the way the Working Families Party has chosen to operate this cycle,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, in a phone interview. RWDSU was among those unions that left the party this year and Appelbaum is one of several labor leaders who say that Cuomo deserves to be reelected.

“They’re diverting energy and resources from the effort to send more Democratic congresspeople from New York to Washington, [and] our prime responsibility is to work to take back the House of Representatives…Our concern is that the WFP no longer is representing, in its current rendition, the interests of working men and women, despite their name, and that is why unions felt it was necessary to disassociate themselves.”

WFP leaders and allied elected officials say the party made a calculated wager, riding a groundswell of progressive sentiment that has moved the state’s political center, and that no matter how the chips fall on September 13, primary day, the party has already won.

“This is the party they founded 20 years pull the Democratic Party to the left and with a coalitional approach to building power,” Brooklyn City Council Member Brad Lander told Gotham Gazette at the WFP’s anniversary gala. Lander spoke of the “radical but also practical vision” of Jon Kest, the progressive organizer who founded the WFP as well as the advocacy groups New York Communities for Change and its predecessor, the now-defunct Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN).

“The WFP’s always contained this dynamic tension,” Lander said, between “the strength of voice of grassroots activists” and “established but still progressive” institutions such as labor unions. “At this moment, given shifts in the broader zeitgeist...and of course because of the way the governor has approached this, the party is in a more activist movement space,” he said. Like the WFP, Lander is backing Williams for lieutenant governor and several of the challengers to the former IDC members.

Surely, if the WFP notches wins in the many primaries it is involved in -- the WFP offers a general election ballot line, but does much of its work backing its preferred candidates in their Democratic primaries -- it will strengthen the party, and conversely, losses will set them back, Lander said. Though, given the state of New York’s politics, “There’s no choice,” Lander said.

For nearly eight years, the WFP has cried foul about Democratic recalcitrance as key progressive policies have failed to pass the state Legislature. The WFP continues to advocate for issues that include healthcare for all, ending the school-to-prison pipeline, fair wages, fixing the city’s subways, increasing funding to under-resourced schools, the DREAM Act, campaign finance and voting reform.  

Cuomo and the members of the erstwhile IDC largely claim to support that agenda and have repeatedly blamed the Republican-controlled Senate for thwarting its planks. But Cuomo tolerated, if not supported, the presence of the IDC, and critics hold its members up as a major obstacle to full Democratic control of both legislative chambers. Democrats have a comfortable majority in the 150-seat Assembly but, with the return of the IDC to the mainline Democratic conference, hold 31 seats in the 63-seat Senate.

And though the State Democratic Party, at Cuomo’s behest, is focused on recapturing the Senate, which necessitates flipping seats in the general election, groups like the WFP insist on replacing rogue Democrats with candidates who better embody progressive values and they trust to not flee for a deal with Republicans.

The party is taking a “big risk,” Dorothy Siegel, WFP treasurer, conceded on the sidelines of the gala, where Nixon, Williams, de Blasio, and Ben Jealous, the WFP-backed Democratic nominee for governor in Maryland, took the stage one by one to celebrate the WFP’s history. “Because, the power structure doesn’t like to be challenged...and the WFP is a really small organization,” Siegel said. “The people who control the levers of power win. Individual people never win.”

Siegel lamented her belief that the state’s politics, the governor, and state Legislature are powered by special interests, largely real estate developers and Wall Street executives (she left out the extensive influence of labor unions). “The WFP is not powered by any of those powerful people. We’re only powered by people who pay us $5 a month,” she said. “It’s a true David and Goliath situation. If we lose the governor’s race, we run the risk of very powerful people being very angry. They can do a lot of things to us that would make our lives difficult.”

Siegel pointed to the investigation involving the WFP that stemmed from alleged campaign finance violations in the election of City Council Member Debi Rose on Staten Island in 2009. Two campaign workers were accused, and later cleared, of charges that they worked with the WFP’s consulting firm, Data and Field Services, to circumvent campaign finance law. The years-long episode cost time and money that the WFP could ill-afford. “Lots of people got laid off. We almost went out of business,” Siegel said. “They could do that again. Do not underestimate the power of super-wealthy people to trample people who want to take away their power.”

Is it worth the risk? “Absolutely. 100 percent,” she said.

One of the most consequential possible effects of the WFP backing Nixon over Cuomo -- who they endorsed in 2014 after he promised to bring the IDC to an end and enact many of the same policies he’s promising again this year, which he did not follow through on -- is that it could cost the party automatic ballot access. A “third party” like the WFP needs at least 50,000 votes for its candidate for governor to maintain its ballot line into the future, which Nixon could easily attain in the general election. But Nixon losing the Democratic primary would put the WFP in a tough spot. Its leaders claim they won’t play spoiler and risk electing a Republican by drawing general election votes away from Cuomo. The party could feasibly get behind Cuomo while removing Nixon from the gubernatorial ballot line. A back-up plan is in place to move her to an Assembly race, in which she would not run, they say.

[Read: The Cynthia Nixon-Working Families Party Back-up Plan]

“We’re confident that Cynthia’s going to win and that the insurgents running against the IDC are all going to win,” said Bill Lipton, NYWFP political director, in a phone interview. “There’s a progressive wave coming. In the unlikely event that she loses, Cynthia’s agreed to meet with the leaders of the WFP and we’ll have an important decision to make. We’re very confident about any of the possible scenarios.”

A Nixon win would shock the political world, and catapult the WFP to never-before-seen power for a minor party. While initial polls show Nixon losing badly, her campaign argues that polling has been skewed and that polls are unable to capture the insurgent energy among Democrats and behind her candidacy. On the other hand, polling shows Williams to have a very real shot at unseating Hochul, which would also strengthen the WFP and cause major headaches for Cuomo (candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run separately in the primary, but as a ticket for the general election).

If Lipton had concerns about the WFP’s undertaking in this election cycle, he betrayed none of them. “We’re not taking a risk. We’re fulfilling our mission. The risk would be for us if we stray from our mission,” he said, critiquing the Democratic establishment for relying on the same wealthy donors as their Republican opponents. “The mission of the WFP is to break up that cozy relationship between these parties and these oligarchs and demand that there be a party that is truly fighting for working people,” he added. “And Cuomo and the IDC fundamentally made the problem worse by not just taking money from the same wealthy donors that fund the Republican attacks on working people but actually openly supporting and aligning themselves with the Republicans. The danger for us would’ve been not standing up to these Trump Democrats. That would’ve been the greater danger.”

The WFP hasn’t been a pure supporter of every progressive candidate, as evidenced by its choice of Cuomo over Zephyr Teachout in 2014, among others. Though the party derived momentum after the recent primary victory by Ocasio-Cortez, the young democratic socialist who defeated ten-term incumbent Rep. Crowley in Queens, its backing of Crowley left many questioning the WFP afterward. Lipton said the party was now fully behind her and that their earlier decisions owed to the fact that Crowley was moving to his left and the party had already committed to challenging former IDC state senators. “In retrospect, we clearly made a mistake. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has inspired us and working people around New York and the nation,” Lipton said.  

The party also hasn’t made an endorsement in the state Senate District 18 race where Julia Salazar, also a democratic socialist, is posing a primary challenge to Democratic Senator Martin Dilan, an eight-term incumbent. Although, Lipton did not close the door on the prospect of an endorsement. “As of now, the WFP has made no endorsement in the race,” he simply said. The party is backing Andrew Gounardes in a competitive Brooklyn Democratic primary with Ross Barkan, the winner of which will try to unseat one of the few Republican elected officials in the city, Senator Marty Golden.

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

Karen Scharff, co-chair of the NYWFP and, until recently, longtime executive director of Citizen Action of New York, an activist group and member of the WFP, insists the party will come through September 13 with several victories, similarly citing Ocasio-Cortez, among other progressives, who prevailed in the congressional primaries.

“The headline that came out of June 26 was not ‘Democratic establishment wins big.’ It was quite the opposite,’” Scharff said in a phone interview. “I think really that Cuomo and the IDC and the establishment Democrats took a major risk themselves by ignoring the growth of the progressive movement as it really built up steam over the past seven years going back to Occupy Wall Street and then Bill de Blasio’s election in New York City, the Black Lives Matter movement, the Bernie Sanders momentum, and they’re showing that they realize it.”

She noted that Cuomo has moved to his left in the last few months on several fronts, owing to the shifting dynamics of the Democratic base. “I think that the risk we’ve taken in our endorsements this year have already paid off in moving the dominant issues in our state in a direction that is gonna meet the needs of working families instead of the needs of hedge fund donors and real estate donors,” she said, insisting that the governor and state Legislature, no matter who wins, can ill-afford to ignore the WFP’s agenda next year. “I think this is the direction the electorate is moving in and the Democratic Party’s going to have to either move with it or risk being left behind,” she said.

“I don’t think WFP is out on a limb by itself here,” Scharff continued. “This is really part of the establishment versus the entire progressive and resistance movement….We’re definitely acting as part of a broader movement with a lot of allies.”

Public Advocate Letitia James, who first got elected to the City Council on the WFP line in 2003, also attended the 20th anniversary gala, though her presence was more muted. Despite being a longtime WFP poster star, she did not speak to the gathering, choosing to mingle on the sides. James is running for attorney general with the governor’s support and eschewed the WFP’s endorsement, which the party has reserved for either James or one of her primary opponents, Zephyr Teachout, hoping that one of the two prevails September 13. Asked about the party’s risky endeavors this year, which include the challenge against Cuomo, James demurred. “I was with WFP when they had fundraisers at churches and if you didn’t get there early enough, all the cheese and crackers were gone. They’ve come a long way,” she said.

“They took a chance on me several years ago,” she said, “and they are voting their values. I just wanted to come because they are my friends and because when I needed a party to run on, the Working Families Party was there and that’s something I’ll never forget.”

Theodore Hamm, associate professor and chair of journalism and new media studies at St. Joseph’s College and longtime Brooklyn politics watcher, struck an optimistic note about the state Senate candidates that the WFP has endorsed, though he said that Nixon and Williams are unlikely to win. “The question, I guess, is if those people win but Cuomo holds on, then how will the new state Senate take shape with the some of the IDC figures no longer there and the challengers now taking those seats,” he wondered. “But that would certainly give the WFP influence, to a much greater degree than they’ve had thus far in the state Senate. That really should be where they put their energy.”

Even Hamm admitted, though, that after Ocasio-Cortez’s shocking upset, “There’s no certainties anymore of what will happen in the future. In the wake of her victory, even though they didn’t support her, it made it seem like their gamble was worth at least pursuing.”

At the WFP gala, Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke early and eagerly. His association with the party goes back to his years as a City Council member from Park Slope. “People try and bet against the Working Families Party all the time, the status quo loves to discount them,” the mayor said to whoops and applause. “But guess what? The Working Families Party is here to stay.”

[Read: New York Democrats’ Season of Choosing]

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Working Families Party Puts It All On The Line Thu, 02 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000
The Cynthia Nixon-Working Families Party Back-up Plan nixon wfp via nixon twitter

Cynthia Nixon and the WFP (photo: @CynthiaNixon)

If Cynthia Nixon is unsuccessful in her attempt to defeat Governor Andrew Cuomo in the September 13 Democratic primary, she is likely to vacate the Working Families Party ballot line for the general election in order to avoid playing “spoiler” by pulling votes from Cuomo and helping elect another candidate, such as Republican gubernatorial nominee Marc Molinaro.

While Nixon has been endorsed by the Working Families Party, in a move that has put the WFP’s existence at risk, the party has arranged a back-up plan to move Nixon off its gubernatorial ballot line and onto its line in the state Assembly race in Nixon’s home district on Manhattan’s west side. The 66th Assembly District, which includes neighborhoods like Greenwich Village and Tribeca, is currently represented by long-time Democratic Assemblymember Deborah Glick, whom the WFP informed of its plans before the party filed ballot petitions for a placeholder candidate to occupy the ballot line in anticipation of its possible use by Nixon.

The broad contours of the arrangement were first reported this weekend by The New York Post. However, The Post indicated that Nixon may run against Glick for the Assembly seat if she moves to that ballot line, something that both the Nixon campaign and WFP told Gotham Gazette would not occur.

According to spokespeople for the Nixon campaign and the WFP, both have high hopes for a Nixon upset victory over Cuomo in the Democratic primary, at which time Nixon would remain on the WFP line for the general election and have two ballot lines.

"We are very confident that Cynthia will win the Democratic primary, but if she does not, as we have said many times before, she will decide at that time if she will continue on the WFP line or not,” said Lauren Hitt, a Nixon campaign spokesperson, in a Monday statement to Gotham Gazette. “And as we told the Post, Cynthia has no intention whatsoever of running against Glick and will in fact campaign for her. The only questions that remain unanswered are what the Governor will do when he loses - as he is on the WEP [Women’s Equality Party] and Independence Party Lines."

A WFP spokesperson said the party had explained the precautions to Glick and indicated the party has no intention of running Nixon, or the placeholder, Doug Seidman, against her in the general election. There are a handful of ways that a candidate can be removed from a ballot line, one of which is to be nominated for another race.

"WFP has put everything on the line for Cynthia because we believe in her, and from the start, we've known she could win,” said Working Families Party New York Director Bill Lipton, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “Over the last few weeks, the path to that win is getting clearer. We're creating a placeholder as a precaution that we take in almost every contested primary, in case our candidate wants to remove themselves from the ballot.”

Like Hitt, Lipton also noted that if Nixon wins the Democratic primary, there will be questions about Cuomo’s status on the two general election ballot lines he has secured.

Glick, meanwhile, told Gotham Gazette that she plans to be successful in winning another term this November, no matter who is on the ballot against her.

"I didn't speak to the Nixon campaign,” Glick said in a brief Monday phone call. “I spoke with Working Families Party representatives shortly before they were going to be filing petitions for Doug Seidman for the November election. And I fully expect to win that general race, regardless of who is on the line, whether it's Mr. Seidman or Cynthia Nixon. And, the explanation as to what their machinations are, should really be discussed with the Working Families Party, not me."

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Brachfeld contributed reporting.

The Cynthia Nixon-Working Families Party Back-up Plan Tue, 17 Jul 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Hochul: Divided Democratic Party Only Benefits Republicans cuomo hochul bus stop

Gov. Cuomo and Lt. Gov. Hochul (photo: Governor's Office)

With the September primaries for New York state elections fast approaching, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, both Democratic incumbents, are being forced to defend their records in challenges from the left. While many other elected officials and labor unions are supporting the incumbents, a wide swath of activists that form part of the party’s base is supporting challengers to Cuomo, Hochul, and a group of state senators who, until recently, made up the rogue Democratic faction known as the Independent Democratic Conference, which aligned itself with Senate Republicans.

It is a contentious, and potentially damaging, split within the party that Cuomo, Hochul, and other incumbents are attempting to overcome, keeping them from focusing their full attention on unseating Republicans in the state Senate or House of Representatives, both of which could swing to Democratic control through the fall elections.

Actor and activist Cynthia Nixon, who is campaigning to become governor, and City Council Member Jumaane Williams, vying to become lieutenant governor, have both been endorsed by the liberal Working Families Party (WFP) and are currently petitioning the public for a place on the September Democratic primary ballot, claiming the party under Cuomo’s leadership has lost its way, falling into corruption and leaning too far across the aisle.

Hochul, a former member of Congress from western New York who was also Cuomo’s 2014 running mate, lamented the challenge, saying the “only beneficiaries” of a divided Democratic party are Republicans.

“I approach every challenge with the effort and an attempt to understand where people come from, so I am trying to put myself in their shoes, but I also understand history very well and I know what happens when Democrats attack each other and there’s polarization,” Hochul said on a recent episode of the Max & Murphy podcast from Gotham Gazette and City Limits, when asked about the Nixon and Williams campaigns.

“What I would love to do is harness all that energy and set it on fire against the Republicans because what I would be doing right now, if I didn’t have a challenge, is what I set out to do, which is to help elect Democrats to Congress,” said Hochul, who Williams has accused of being too moderate and not being an independent voice to check Cuomo.

Hochul’s sentiment is opposite to that of Nixon and Williams, who have made no mention of running together but who’ve appeared jointly on community calls run by the WFP (governor and lieutenant governor are voted on separately during party primaries but appear on the ballot as a ticket in the general).

Speaking on a May 24 call, Nixon said, “A Democratic primary is good for the party and good for the state.” Both candidates are critical of Cuomo’s lack of action, rhetoric to the contrary, in areas of criminal justice reform; protecting undocumented immigrants; rent regulations, and education funding fairness, among other issues.

A cornerstone of Williams’ campaign is his promise to redefine the role of lieutenant governor and act only for the benefit of New Yorkers, even if it means independently of the governor. “I will make certain that our governor and elected officials uphold their promises to you and will hold them accountable for the actions they take,” his website reads, a sentiment he echoed on an earlier WFP call to rally volunteers in early May.

Though he doesn’t mention Hochul by name, Williams has drawn a clear comparison to the incumbent, who herself acknowledges that she sees the job as to support the governor and be the “advocate in chief,” as she said on the podcast. Hochul travels the state promoting and explaining Cuomo administration initiatives, while at times also helping craft them. Economic development and women’s issues are key pieces of her portfolio. During the podcast discussion, Hochul applauded Cuomo for his efforts in reinventing the city of Buffalo with an injection of $1 billion, and saying he has done “an exceptional job” in fighting for working-class people across the state.

“A primary keeps you on the ropes; you have to focus on it, because I need to be there to finish the job with Governor Cuomo,” Hochul said. “It is what it is, but I wish people would understand this energy is better spent on the other party right now because of the threat of [Republican President] Donald Trump.”

“We can all be purists about everything when we have a Democrat in the White House, when we have the House and the Senate, and when we have New York State Legislature,” she continued. “Then we can fight each other on the nuances.”

On the Republican side of the aisle, there is no corresponding set of primaries -- the GOP is nominating Marc Molinaro for governor and Julie Killian for lieutenant governor. They now have months to join in the attacks on Cuomo and Hochul, raise money, and stake out their positions, while also watching Democrats in-fight.

While Nixon and Williams are calling upon a grassroots movement of volunteers and a network of liberal groups to expand their support base, Hochul and Cuomo are embracing the establishment while reminding voters of their work over the past four, or in Cuomo’s case, eight, years.

“You ask anybody on the streets of Buffalo, you go up there today and ask anyone if they can see and feel the difference and the answer will be ‘yes’,” Hochul told the podcast. “There is literally not just a physical change where you can see an area that was abandoned wasteland on our waterfront which is now a place where 2 million people go every summer for concerts…And the businesses that are coming, it’s one of the top destinations for millennials in the country. The success is seen in the jobs, the transformation of neighbourhoods, the physical change but also the psychological change. There’s a pride that never used to be there.”

The change can be replicated -- is being replicated, according to Hochul -- in other places in New York. She spoke of Syracuse (now the “international capital for drone technology”) and Rochester (“we’re now bringing technology jobs there”), saying the Buffalo example shows: “If we can bring back the hardest hit area of the state, we can bring back anything.”

Yet when pressed on the corruption attached to the “Buffalo Billion” and other Cuomo administration economic development programming, which has seen one completed and one ongoing federal trial this year, with charges against individuals including former top aides and major donors to Cuomo, Hochul downplayed its significance.

“There are trials on that right now and it was heartbreaking to see how people abused the trust that was placed in them. It really is,” she said, apparently referring to former Secretary to the Governor Joseph Percoco, who was convicted earlier this year, and former SUNY Polytechnic President Alain Kaloyeros, who is currently on trial. “We need accountability and we’re getting accountability. There was a separate entity that had been orchestrating much of the economic development that has changed.”

Now, Buffalo’s development projects are consolidated under Empire State Development with former Buffalo business leader Howard Zemsky at the helm (Zemsky also co-chaired the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council, part of the network of REDCs that Cuomo and Hochul oversee) and with a new entity, NY CREATES, about to launch under new leadership, while consolidating the assets of two scandal-plagued nonprofits.

Of Zemsky, Hochul said she “trusts him enormously” and that he has a “stellar reputation for integrity.”

On other touchpoints that appear pivotal in the Hochul-Williams Democratic primary, such as LGBTQ rights and support for immigrant communities, Hochul is adamant she’s been consistent in upholding true “democratic values,” though she did admit to some regrets from her time as Erie County Clerk. She’s been a stalwart supporter of marriage equality, which was legalized in New York under Cuomo in 2011, she said, while also taking an apparent shot at Williams, who has not always been vocally behind marriage rights for same-sex couples (or abortion rights for women).

On the other hand, on the podcast Hochul said she regrets the opposition she expressed in 2007 to providing driver’s licenses to undocumented New Yorkers. At the time, Hochul threatened to turn undocumented immigrants in to law enforcement if they sought licenses, which were a controversial topic at the time and are again a key issue this year.

“It was the time, and I said I would uphold the law. There were people who would break the law and I said ‘if this is what the state of New York decides to do, I will uphold that law.’ It became very contentious within our community,” Hochul said, noting work she did on Capitol Hill early in her career helping immigrants should speak to her “commitment” to the issue.

“I wish I had not gone that route [in 2007], I really do, because I realize it was hurtful to people and that was never my intent,” Hochul said. “I would never do anything to intentionally hurt anybody.”

[Listen to the full conversation: Max & Murphy Podcast: Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul]

by Caitlin Bishop, Gotham Gazette
@caitybishop  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

Hochul: Divided Democratic Party Only Benefits Republicans Mon, 25 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Inside Cynthia Nixon’s Developing Campaign Infrastructure Cynthia Nixon Facebook rally

Nixon in New Paltz (photo: Cynthia for New York Facebook)

If elected governor, Cynthia Nixon is promising to “transform New York" into a state “for the many” but her campaign for governor is already rapidly transforming the landscape of New York politics. She is putting pressure on incumbent Governor Andrew Cuomo, whom she hopes to defeat in the Democratic primary, and broadening her supporter base by linking up with the Working Families Party and other liberal groups that have endorsed her.

Three-and-a-half months from the September 13 primary, Nixon and her allies are plotting and executing a developing plan to create a statewide network and the campaign infrastructure necessary to carry her to what would be one of the most shocking upsets in recent political history.

The effort has begun through Nixon’s early campaigning, including house parties and speaking appearances at rallies, marches, and meetings of clubs and other organizations, as well as organizing calls, e-blasts, and campaign website portals. Nixon has also done several interviews with national magazines and television programs. Much of the still-growing campaign’s activity is being coordinated with the Working Families Party (WFP), which comes with ready-built infrastructure around the state and an extensive email list of supporters.

A key first task for the coordinated campaign is collecting the signatures necessary to get Nixon onto the Democratic primary ballot, an essential effort that can complement and significantly boost other tasks leading toward the September vote. Several petitioning kickoff trainings are among about a dozen events across the state currently scheduled by the WFP-Nixon campaign, designed to equip volunteers with the tools to collect signatures and increase voter turnout.

Ballot Signatures and Voter Turnout Goals
According to Nixon and WFP leaders, the campaign is a grassroots, volunteer-driven effort, that’s accepting no contributions from big corporations or through the infamous loophole in state campaign finance law that allows limited liability companies (LLCs) to donate virtually unlimited funds without naming their owners. The campaign itself is designed to position Nixon in stark contrast to Cuomo, who has relied on large donors, benefited greatly from the loophole, and, critics say, retains shallow support among many of the New Yorkers who have backed him in the past.

"Cynthia's campaign is laser-focused on building a strong, statewide volunteer team,” Nixon campaign spokesperson Lauren Hitt said in a Tuesday statement to Gotham Gazette. “We know we'll never get close to out-raising Governor Cuomo with his millions in donations from Wall Street and real estate developers, but we are confident we will out-organize him with a robust voter-to-voter contact operation.”

Nixon has captured the support of a growing list of progressive groups and liberal Democratic clubs, bolstering her attempt to lay the groundwork for the type of campaign need to give her any chance at victory. Her campaign, in conjunction with those groups, especially the WFP, is now accelerating its volunteer-recruitment efforts, organizing events around the state, and raising money.

“We have community activists on the ground,” Nixon told an open campaign call on Thursday, May 24, run by her own campaign but promoted via email by the WFP. A press release from Nixon’s campaign following the call said more than 600 participants had logged on to watch her speak about the campaign’s next steps and the ways she aims to create change if elected. “We have community groups who know the creative solutions…the community-based solutions” to New York’s problems, she told participants.

The conversation came a day after the Democratic state convention, at which Nixon failed to receive enough support from state Democratic Party committee members for an automatic spot on the primary election ballot. Nixon said the convention result was “unsurprising” and is determined to make the ballot through collecting petition signatures. She needs 15,000 valid signatures from registered Democrats across the state to qualify for a ballot line, including “at least 100 or 5% of enrolled voters from each of one-half of the congressional districts,” according to the State Board of Elections. She told the call she aims to collect 50,000 signatures “as a show of force and enthusiasm.”

In large part a call to action, Nixon also outlined for the first time the overarching structure of her campaign and its underlying goals, including the upcoming petition drive and to increase voter turnout for the September primaries. Just under 600,000 people voted in the 2014 primaries, the last gubernatorial election year, when Cuomo defeated little-known and under-funded Democratic primary opponent, Zephyr Teachout, by a 62-34 percent margin (Randy Credico received 4 percent) in a surprisingly strong showing by the challenger.

A campaign representative and the facilitator of Thursday’s call, referred to as "Caroline," said they’re expecting voter turnout for the Democratic primary to increase to “anywhere from around 700,000 voters up to a little over 900,000 voters” this year. She said that “a bigger turnout helps us, we know that…the more people who vote, the more likely we are to bring in folks who are drop-off voters, perhaps who are people who don’t typically vote in a midterm a election. They’re not the stalwart Democratic voters, so our strategy is to expand the electorate.”

Nixon said previously the campaign’s strategy to do this will rely heavily on volunteers, telling a WFP call on May 3, “We are going to win this with people, like the people on this call, going out and talking to people on the streets, and door-knocking, and phone banking, and talking to people in their offices and…in their families.”

Nixon’s Four Phases
The first objective for Nixon’s campaign was “about getting out there, and having people meet Cynthia as the ‘real Cynthia’ not as the ‘actor Cynthia’,” Caroline explained on Thursday’s call.

Referring to this as “phase one”, Nixon said she travelled around the state meeting people and “hearing about the issues and the work that people are doing on the ground…and the solutions they see to their problems.” This has been key in re-establishing Nixon - who is known for her work starring in Sex and The City - as a candidate for the highest office in the state fighting for the rights of New Yorkers who’ve been let down by Cuomo.

The WFP also played a critical role during this phase in connecting Nixon with various communities. The party hosted an introductory call on May 3 for Nixon and Council City Member Jumaane Williams — who the WFP has endorsed in his bid for Lieutenant Governor. According to a WFP press release following the call, 20,000 activists from more than 100 organizing parties across the state signed in to listen to the candidates discuss how they plan to “transform New York” if elected.

Though they spoke consecutively on the call, and also at the WFP state convention in Harlem on May 19, Nixon and Williams have been careful to avoid any declaration that they are running as a ticket. It’s unclear when, or if, the pair of WFP-endorsed candidates seeking to topple sitting Democrats will link up. In party primaries, candidates for governor and lieutenant governor are elected separately, but the winners do run as a ticket in the general election.

“Phase two,” listeners on Thursday’s call were told, started directly after the May 23-24 Democratic state convention and will run until July 12 when petitions for a place on the ballot are due to be handed in to the State Board of Elections. It will see the Nixon campaign, the WFP, and other partners train and organize a massive volunteer network across the state, to collect signatures and form the backbone of the campaign thereafter.

“Governor Cuomo may have a $31 million campaign warchest on his side — but we have a grassroots movement,” read the e-blast sent out Tuesday by the WFP to recruit participants to help the “movement” pass “the first test of our campaign,” collecting the signatures.

There is a “petitioning kickoff” event on Wednesday, May 30, in West Village, New York City — run by the WFP for Nixon and Williams — where volunteers will be given initial training on how to door knock; send text messages; work the phones; and speak to groups of people to rally support for Nixon ahead of the primaries.

And an interactive map on both the ‘Cynthia for New York’ and the WFP’s ‘New York 4 the Many’ websites shows similar training events are being held across the state -- in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Owego, Lake George, Albany, Kingston, Nyack, Athens, Long Island, and several in New York City -- over the next week, all designed to train volunteers to collect signatures in support of Nixon and Williams.

“Petitioning is the first phase of testing and strengthening the infrastructure we've been building for the last 2.5 months,” Hitt told Gotham Gazette. “We currently have 2,800 volunteers. Of those, 150 are Super Volunteers, who are responsible for leading the petitioning and voter contact plan in their geographic hub. We have multiple Super Volunteers in every congressional district.”

Beyond the petition deadline, from July through August, “phase three” of the campaign will involve an intensive multi-contact voter plan. “We’re going to be going door knocking, we’ll be phone banking and we’ll be texting our universe of voters to identify them and persuade them to be our supporters,” Caroline said on Thursday’s call. The final phase of the campaign, starting in September, will focus on the final ‘get out the vote’ push.

A Growing Network of Groups
Though the WFP is assisting in the training of volunteers, and is perhaps the most powerful group to so far endorse Nixon, it is not alone in its support of her candidacy. The regularly growing list of organizations backing Nixon, and the participation of these groups in raising awareness, offering volunteers, and activating voters will be essential to her chances. There is no doubt that Nixon faces extremely uphill odds, especially considering Cuomo has the powers of incumbency, including overflowing coffers, near-universal name recognition, the perch of his office, an extensive party apparatus, including many local clubs, and support from a long list of labor unions.

Speaking on the Thursday call, Stephanie Woodward, director for advocacy at the Center for Disability Rights in Rochester, said the disabled community is “frustrated with having a governor who’s ignoring our issues.” Woodward touched on several, including her contention that under Cuomo the state budget sees disabled people pushed into nursing homes because the state will cover the costs of “permanent placement”; the inaccessibility of the subway system to disabled people; the low wages, through Medicaid, given to disability attendants; and the lack of accessible housing in New York. Her group is hosting a petition drive and aims to reach 10,000 signatures to help Nixon land a spot on the Democratic ballot.

Wanda Salaman, executive director at Mothers on the Move, also spoke on the call, telling listeners she is reaching out to a network of churches and community groups in the Bronx with a goal of delivering 20,000 signatures to Nixon’s bid for a place on the primary ballot, which as of now may only include Cuomo and Nixon, if she qualifies.

Jamaica Miles, the Lead Organizer at the capital district branch of Citizen Action of New York — an affiliate organization of the WFP — told listeners that the response to the Albany petition kickoff event has been so impressive, they’re looking at another location to hold more people. Citizen Action and Nixon, along with other partners, have a long history in advocating for education equity, especially in funding for poor schools. According to its website, Citizen Action has more than 30,000 members across the state, and Miles said she is hoping to secure 5,000 signatures in Albany alone.

As well as Citizen Action, Nixon has been endorsed by other WFP affiliates with considerable member networks, such as New York Communities for Change (NYCC), which focuses on affordable housing, and Make the Road Action, which focuses on immigrant communities. Citizen Action is also affiliated with the state’s Public Policy and Education Fund and the Alliance for Quality Education (AQE), a group Nixon has worked with for many years and that hosted her at a press conference in Albany several days after she launched her campaign in March. A leader of AQE, Zakiyah Ansari, nominated Nixon at the state Democratic convention, where she received about 5 percent of the state committee vote.

A variety of other groups have also publicly declared their support for Nixon, such as the national organization launched by Senator Bernie Sanders in mid-2016, Our Revolution, which has more than 30 local groups in New York. In endorsing Nixon on May 15, its president, Nina Turner, said Nixon is “a bold progressive who is running in the spirit of Bernie Sanders.” The New York Progressive Action Network, which also grew out of the Sanders movement, endorsed Nixon in mid-April, and has 35 chapters and affiliates across the state, including Black Lives Matter of Greater New York and the LGBTQ-focused Jim Owles Democratic Club.

In April, the leader of The Black Institute, Bertha Lewis, endorsed Nixon, telling The New York Post that Cuomo “talks a good game” but is not a real progressive. On Tuesday, environmentalist author Bill McKibben and his grassroots environmental group 350 Action announced their support of Nixon for governor.

Members and supporters of these and other groups are now seeing Nixon, a first-time candidate for elected office, as a valid choice, receiving information about her by email and in their social media feeds, highlighted by alignment on issues they care about. The Nixon campaign is counting on these endorsements and subsequent networking as key components in its bid to unseat a two-term incumbent with a long political resume, deep knowledge of issues and regions of the state, experience in running a government, and an extensive rolodex of potentially helpful surrogates and validators.

As well as more formal organizations, there are communities that, through the campaign’s website, have created their own “hubs” of volunteers. Dozens of teachers have listed their names under #Educators4Cynthia. Also listed on the website are hubs for organizing under #Tenants4Cynthia, #Students4Cynthia, and an LGBTQ Pride Hub.

“We have an innovative hub model where people can organize by constituency or issue,” Hitt told Gotham Gazette, adding there are currently 10 hubs involved in the campaign.

A member of #Students4Cynthia, Carlos Jesus Calzadilla, told the Thursday call he is planning to recruit student leaders across the City University of New York (CUNY) and the State University of New York (SUNY) and run meetups on different college campuses. He also aims to organize a presence at high-traffic public events, such as parades and concerts.

Calzadilla said “students have been at the forefront of social change throughout history” and slammed Cuomo for underfunding public schools. He called the Excelsior Scholarship — a Cuomo initiative affording many middle-class students tuition-free enrollment at public universities — a “fake free college experience that [Cuomo] talks about because the reality is barely anyone qualifies for it.”

Campaign Funding
Even with volunteerism, networking, and grassroots advocacy, the campaign effort requires significant funds. Nixon is hoping that her decision not to take corporate donations will help boost her efforts to attract small donors, though she also appears to be holding fundraisers where wealthy individuals, like those in the entertainment world, may be willing to provide large contributions. New York has high donation limits, whereby an individual can give up to $21,100 to a gubernatorial candidate during the primary (the limits are higher for family members of candidates).

Nixon boasted early on of her small-donor fundraising, and using it to position herself as an outsider unmarred by the corruption of institutionalized politicians and in contract to Cuomo, who has received very few low-dollar contributions.

In late April, the Nixon campaign announced it had received “10,000 individual donations” in six weeks of campaigning. “Of those donations, 98 percent are low-dollar donations below $200,” a press release said. “By comparison, Andrew Cuomo collected a total of just 1,369 small dollar donations since the start of 2011. Over 800 individuals have also committed to making recurring donations to Cynthia’s people-powered campaign in the months leading up to the primary on September 13.”

On the May 3 call, Nixon said of Cuomo’s $31 million campaign fund, “just .1 percent comes from small donors,” before referencing her ‘Rent Justice For All’ policy platform that aims to restabilize rent in apartments that dropped out of the stabilizing system under Cuomo due to vacancy decontrol: “It is very hard to stand up against the real estate lobby when you’re getting millions of dollars from them,” Nixon said of Cuomo. “It’s very hard to do the right thing when you are getting millions of dollars to do wrong.”

Hitt told Gotham Gazette that Nixon’s initial campaign finances will be released at the filing date in mid-July, as mandated by the state’s Board of Elections, and not before. Nixon will have to disclose the receipts of, contributions to, expenditures by, and liabilities of her campaign, including any use of her own money.

According to a report by the Associated Press on Nixon’s tax returns, which she made available to the media in early May, Nixon and her wife, Christine Marinoni, had an income of $1.5 million last year and donated around $53,000 to charity. The AP report said Nixon’s campaign claimed her true income was $1 million in 2017, as there were expenses not reflected in the return. She has thus far declined to release returns for prior years. Nixon has not given any indication that she plans to spend her own funds on her campaign.

It’s also unclear at this point how many paid staff are working on the Nixon campaign. Hitt and Sarah Ford are both running communications and acting as spokespeople. According to The Daily News, a new campaign manager, Hayley Prim, was hired in early May, quickly replacing the original person in that role, Nicole Aro. State of Politics reported in April that Monica Barnes is the campaign’s finance director. And consultants including Rebecca Katz of Hilltop Public Solutions and L. Joy Williams have also been actively involved with the campaign. Nixon did lose her original campaign treasurer, Teachout, who decided to step away from the role to run for attorney general after Eric Schneiderman resigned in disgrace amid allegations of physically abusing four women.

In addition to the Nixon campaign itself, the WFP will be spending on behalf of its endorsed candidates, including Nixon. A WFP spokesperson told Gotham Gazette in April that the party raised $82,000 from 1,500 donors over the course of a week just after it became evident that the WFP was on the verge of endorsing Nixon, and that the party had around $1 million in the bank at the time.

"We're going to be spending a couple hundred thousand to put organizers on the ground and build a massive statewide field operation,” the WFP spokesperson said. “We're not going to be putting money into television, that's not how we win. We build volunteer operations, we hire organizers, we get out the vote."

The WFP Vote
While both Nixon and Williams have the WFP nomination and ballot line for the general election, it is not clear that either or both would run in the general election if they lose the Democratic primary. WFP leaders have maintained that the party does not intend to play a spoiler and risk helping the election of any Republicans.

Heading toward the September primary, the WFP is also backing challengers to the former members of the state Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference, or IDC. Nixon has repeatedly connected Cuomo to the formerly rogue Democrats who had formed a coalition government with Senate Republicans, allegedly with Cuomo’s consent, until the governor brokered a Democratic reunification just after Nixon launched her candidacy.

It’s not clear how many New Yorkers the WFP can reach or see the WFP endorsement of Nixon as a decisive or especially influential seal of approval. There is no WFP ballot line for her in the primary, but the party appears all-in to see her win it and carry its line in the general.

As of April 1, 2018, there were 46,453 people across New York State registered to vote with the WFP, including 15,572 in New York City. This compares to 6,201,033 Democratic voters across the state, of which 3,401,637 are in New York City. According to the WFP spokesperson, these “numbers have been growing statewide, and are expected to be even higher this year.”

In 2014, Cuomo, who was endorsed by the WFP, received 126,244 votes on the WFP line in the general gubernatorial election, after beating Teachout, a Fordham law professor, in the Democratic primary. In that primary, Teachout received 34 percent of the Democratic vote, 192,210 votes compared to Cuomo’s 361,380.

In 2010, Cuomo received more than 150,000 votes on the WFP line in the general gubernatorial election.

Though the WFP endorsed senator Bernie Sanders ahead of the 2016 primaries for the presidential election, the endorsement didn’t come with a ballot line. The party’s backing of the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, saw Clinton receive 140,043 votes across New York on the WFP ballot line.

Emails and Social Media
As the WFP and Nixon’s campaign continues bolstering numbers of volunteers and voters across the state, Nixon is running an assertive digital strategy that includes email campaigns swinging between outlining her policy positions and aggressively criticizing Cuomo. Her campaign also sends e-blasts to members of the media fact-checking the governor, as it did repeatedly during the state convention, at which he was roundly applauded and endorsed by Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and others.

“Some of Andrew Cuomo’s well-off friends like to tell me that I should stick to acting. Personally, I think Andrew Cuomo should stop acting,” the opening line to one of Nixon’s recent emails reads. The email calls out Cuomo for failing to “clean up” Albany, and discussed the Moreland Commission into public corruption that he launched in July 2013, only to shut down eight months later amid controversy, as it had begun looking at some of Cuomo’s allies and donors and he agreed to close it in a compromise with state legislators. Nixon ended the email comparing Cuomo’s unfulfilled promise to that of President Donald Trump’s pledge to “drain the swamp” in Washington.

Nixon’s campaign is active on social media, using her Twitter and Facebook accounts to criticize Cuomo, respond to supporters, share relevant news that fits her campaign narrative, point followers to her website, and highlight her policy positions and endorsements.

“Andrew Cuomo is running paid Facebook ads on a sexual harassment policy,” Nixon tweeted on Wednesday. “We need a governor who will actually break down gender barriers — not reinforce them — and when I am her, I will never break your trust.”

by Caitlin Bishop, Gotham Gazette
@caitybishop  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

Inside Cynthia Nixon’s Developing Campaign Infrastructure Wed, 30 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Rallying Volunteers, Nixon Responds to Democratic Convention Result cyn nixon

Cynthia Nixon (photo: @CynthiaNixon)

Cynthia Nixon is “unsurprised” by the result of the state Democratic party convention held this past week on Long Island, where she received less than five percent of the party committee members’ vote ahead of the gubernatorial primary election in September, much less than the 25 percent she needed to have her name automatically included on the ballot.

The result means Nixon will have to petition thousands of people across the state to appear on the primary ballot against two-term incumbent Governor Andrew Cuomo, an endeavor she says she is confident she can achieve ahead of the July 12 petition deadline.

“I welcome this day with the Democratic convention behind us and I just want to be clear: This was not a shocking outcome, this is the outcome we expected,” she told those on a Thursday evening video conference call run by the Working Families Party, a liberal party that, along with several other progressive groups, has endorsed her. “We’re going to hit the streets and we’re going to collect 50,000 signatures across the state.”

Speaking to volunteers and supporters who had logged in to see Nixon speak about the campaign’s next steps, she said she doesn’t feel threatened by the party’s overwhelming endorsement of Cuomo, who received 95 percent of the vote and was endorsed at the convention by a variety of figures, including by former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and former Vice President Joe Biden. As governor, Cuomo effectively controls the state party apparatus, though some of criticized him for exercising too much control amid primaries, when the party is in theory supposed to stay largely neutral.

“The Democratic state committee made their choice and, on September 13, the people of New York state are going to make their choice,” Nixon told the call, referencing the primary election date in September, ahead of the general election set for November 6. “[They will] make their choice, not for an administration that’s in the pocket of big money and the real estate industry and the fossil fuel executives and the hedge fund managers, but...for a New York that works for all of us.”

Since announcing her intention to run for governor in March, Nixon has been highly critical of Cuomo, saying his relationships with big corporate donors and tendency toward centrism prohibit him from delivering real change in areas such as education, immigration, affordable housing, and criminal justice reform. She escalated this criticism on the Working Families call, referencing a range of political touchpoints and slamming the governor for failing to deliver results.

“We can’t just pay lip service to being a sanctuary state, we have to be a real sanctuary state,” Nixon said, before taking a jab at Cuomo for his speech at the convention that accused President Donald Trump of demeaning and degrading the people of New York. “You can’t just oppose Donald Trump rhetorically,” Nixon said. “You have to do it with action and you have to do it with policy, if you mean it.”

Nixon was particularly critical of Cuomo’s hesitation in protecting undocumented New Yorkers with access to driver's licenses. “The governor could do this via Executive Order today if he had the will to,” Nixon said. “Why doesn’t he? And why aren’t we offering protection?”

Another example of Cuomo failing to meet his promises, Nixon said, is his failure to pass “Kalief’s Law,” named after Bronx teenager Kalief Browder, who took his life in June 2015 after three years in Rikers Island prison where he was awaiting trial for allegedly stealing a backpack at age 16. The bill includes several measures to ensure the “effective and humane treatment” of incarcerated youth and, though Cuomo signed into law the “Raise the Age” bill in April last year,  which will see the majority of cases involving 16- and 17-year-old defendants referred to Family Court, Nixon said the governor has not done enough for Browder’s family or to prevent a similar tragedy from happening again. Cuomo had said bail reform was at the top of his agenda this year, but did not pass any measures through in the budget, blaming Republicans.

“Our governor says he’s going to do it, he affirms it, he touts this family, and their tragedy, and their pain, but when push comes to shove it’s not in the budget,” Nixon said. “The session is almost over, we’ve got just a few more weeks, and I don’t think…the Browder family is going to see their promise kept.”

Nixon had held a community roundtable discussion in the Bronx earlier in the day, at which Browder’s brother, Akeem, was an organizer and participant.

On education, Nixon said the governor doesn’t have the “political will” to end segregation and inequality in state public schools. She also spoke about affordable housing, gentrification, and supporting small businesses, criticizing Cuomo between reiterating some of her own policy positions.

Nixon is seemingly using the convention result -- calling it a decision of the party’s “power brokers” -- to enhance her public appeal as an outsider and an underdog. A cornerstone of her campaign is that institutionalized politicians like Cuomo are failing to deliver change because the institution itself -- in terms of campaign finance and voter accessibility -- is broken or corrupt.

She said that “at the state Democratic convention the voice of progressives was intentionally not being amplified,” in reference to the fact that the meeting of the state committee’s progressive caucus did not have a microphone set-up.

At the convention, Cuomo basked in the adulation of top party luminaries as well as the rank-and-file committee members. Other speakers and the governor himself painted Cuomo as the present and future of the Democratic Party, someone who is leading the progressive way in New York by getting things accomplished. Critics including Nixon say the convention was filled with party loyalists who represent more of the establishment wing of the party, not the ascendant progressive wing, frustrated with Cuomo for his triangulating approach to government.

Nixon said she knew what would happen at the convention, “but we wanted to show our faces and say: ‘We’re not afraid, we’re not intimidated, we’re here. You’re going to make your choice, we know the choice you’re going to make, and tomorrow we’re going to hit the streets.’”

A portion of the call was dedicated to strategy around volunteer recruitment and, according to a press release from the Nixon campaign on Friday, more than 600 people were logged in listening to the best ways to become involved and support Nixon over the next few months. The call was designed to activate volunteers, who will go on to canvas and knock on doors to reach voters across the state. Community leaders, student leaders and a disability rights advocate also spoke, sharing their reasons for joining Nixon’s campaign.

“I’m a lifelong Democrat and this is my party, too,” Nixon told those on the call. “A Democratic primary is good for the party and good for the state and we were there to…walk right into the lion’s den.”

by Caitlin Bishop, Gotham Gazette
@caitybishop  @GothamGazette

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Note: this article has been corrected to reflect that Nixon was talking about driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants, not the Dream Act as originally stated.

Rallying Volunteers, Nixon Responds to Democratic Convention Result Fri, 25 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Party Nominations for Statewide Elections Come Into Focus Cynthia Nixon WFP nomination

Cynthia Nixon at the WFP convention (photo: Make The Road Action)

It’s political party convention season as this state and federal election year heats up in New York, with federal primaries on June 26, state primaries September 13, and the general election November 6.

Over the weekend, the Working Families Party and Green Party held their nominating conventions on Saturday and the Reform Party held its on Sunday. This week the Democratic and Republican state parties will hold their conventions, nominating candidates for the four statewide positions of governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller, and attorney general. It is also an election year for one of the state’s two United State Senate seats, the one currently held by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Democrats currently hold all five of these positions.

Along with those formally backed by the political parties, in some cases other candidates may qualify for the primary ballot if they can earn enough votes from state committee members at the conventions. Candidates also have the opportunity to claim a primary ballot spot by collecting the requisite petition signatures across the state.

Given the weekend conventions, along with other announcements from parties and campaigns, the statewide tickets of the major and minor parties are coming into view.

As expected, on Saturday the Working Families Party nominated Cynthia Nixon for governor, Jumaane Williams for lieutenant governor, and incumbent Tom DiNapoli for comptroller.

The party’s state committee members decided to install a placeholder for attorney general and give its backing to both Letitia James and Zephyr Teachout, with the intention to give its ballot line to whichever of the two emerges from the Democratic primary. James had said she wasn’t seeking the WFP nomination, and her campaign declined to comment on the WFP decision on Saturday. But, James seemed to take a softer stance during remarks on Sunday, according to tweets from the New York Progressive Action Network, where she made an appearance.

"I am still a member of the WFP,” James said according to one tweet. “We are joined at the hip. I am proud to be their standard bearer and to be the face of the WFP going forward." Another tweet said that James indicated she would eventually appear on the WFP line, but the language was not completely clear. A Sunday afternoon inquiry to James’ campaign was not returned.

The WFP convention was a raucous affair in Harlem on Saturday, with hundreds of party members and supporters gathered to enthusiastically back its slate and rally as it faces an existential crisis given its nasty split with Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is known for attempting to wipe his adversaries off the political map.

In her acceptance speech, Nixon went right after the incumbent governor, who the WFP backed in his 2010 and 2014 runs and she is hoping to defeat in the Democratic primary. (If she does not win that primary, the WFP may seek to replace her on the general election ballot so as to not play spoiler and allow Republican Marc Molinaro to win.)

But Nixon, WFP supporters, and many liberal Democrats are hopeful about the primary and pulling no punches when it comes to attacking Cuomo, who they say has governed as a centrist.

Listing off a progressive agenda of policy plans including tougher rent regulations, a more accessible ballot box, and legalized marijuana, Nixon pledged an inclusive New York for “all of us,” that pursues racial, social, and economic justice.

“WFP founders Jon Kest and Bertha Lewis were the first ones to ask me eight years ago to consider running for Governor,” Nixon said from the stage on Saturday. “Now, after eight years of Cuomo, and Trump in the White House, I couldn’t say ‘no.’”

In accepting his nomination, City Council Member Williams reiterated his promise to break the recent mold of lieutenant governors, and not be a rubber stamp or cheerleader for the governor.

“I am running to be the voice of the people in state government, and I could not be more proud to have the Working Families Party by my side,” Williams said, during remarks that had the crowd more energized than any other portion of the program that Gotham Gazette saw. “As the people’s Lieutenant Governor, I will be an independent advocate for all New Yorkers. I will make certain that our Governor and elected officials uphold their promises, and will hold them accountable for the actions they take.”

The Green Party
The Green Party has put its statewide slate forward, with Howie Hawkins again topping the ticket as the gubernatorial candidate. Jia Lee will be the Green Party nominee for lieutenant governor.

After laying out a progressive policy agenda and framework for social, economic, and environmental justice, Hawkins said at Saturday’s convention, “The way this is going to play out in the fall is there’ll be the progressive Greens, the centrist Democrats, and the conservative Republicans. And the argument, the narrative against us is we’re going to spoil it and elect the Republicans, and we have to say ‘no, we’re the progressive alternative, the Democrats won’t solve our problems, don’t waste your vote, vote for what you want, make your vote count, make the system come to what you want -- and that’s how we leverage power and we make a difference.”

Mark Dunlea will be the Green candidate for comptroller and Michael Sussman will be the Green candidate for attorney general.

The Reform Party
On Sunday, presumptive Republican gubernatorial nominee Marc Molinaro announced that Julie Killian, a former Rye City Council member, would be his lieutenant governor running mate. Killian recently lost a special election for a Westchester state Senate seat to Democrat Shelley Mayer. The pair is expected to form the top of the official ticket of the Republican and Conservative parties. Soon after the announcement, the Reform Party leadership voted to back Molinaro for governor and Killian for lieutenant governor.

"Many thanks to Reform Party for its endorsement of Julie and me today,” Molinaro said in a statement. “Because no matter your political persuasion, if you are a New Yorker who desires reform, you know that the largest roadblock standing in the way is Andrew Cuomo. This state desperately needs change. Defeating Andrew Cuomo and breaking his iron grip over this corrupt state government is the only thing that will break down the floodgates and make change possible."

The Reform Party is also backing former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara for attorney general, though Bharara has given no public indication he will accept the nomination or run for AG at all. The party also designated Chris Garvey, Nancy Regula, and Michael Diederich to run for attorney general, so there will be a Reform Party primary for AG. And, for comptroller the party is backing DiNapoli, who is likely to have the most ballot lines of any statewide candidate in November.

Democrats and Republicans
This week will see the Democratic and Republican state party conventions, both occurring on Wednesday and Thursday, with the Democrats on Long Island and the Republicans in Manhattan. Molinaro and Killian are expected to formally earn and accept their nominations on Wednesday, while on Thursday Cuomo is expected to win and accept his party’s nomination for a third time, while Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul is expected to accept the party’s nomination for her position for a second time.

It appears likely that Democratic state committee members will back Public Advocate James for attorney general, though one or more other candidates could earn the 25% of the vote needed to be automatically placed on the primary ballot. Teachout and Leecia Eve have indicated they will go to the convention to seek such backing. Cuomo endorsed James for attorney general on Tuesday, just before the convention.

Along with the question of whether Teachout and/or Eve can earn the 25% to make the primary ballot for AG is whether Nixon and Williams go to the convention and win the 25% each to appear on Democratic primary ballots as well. If candidates do not qualify at the nominating convention, they can petition to get on the ballot by collecting signatures across the state. Randy Credico, a comedian and activist who also ran for governor in 2014 and New York City mayor in 2013, may also be mounting an effort to make the Democratic primary ballot.

On Monday morning, Nixon announced her intention for the convention. "I am attending the convention because New York Democrats deserve to have at least one actual Democratic candidate for governor at their state convention," she said in a statement. "As Governor Cuomo has said himself, he's run this state in a way that would make any Republican proud. The Governor and his allies have bullied progressive community groups and rallied the full force of the big money establishment because they know he doesn't have any progressive credentials to stand on. But I won't be scared out of the room. New Yorkers deserve a choice."

The Nixon campaign also indicated that Nixon has invited state committee members to a conference call to discuss her candidacy, though the details of the call were not provided.

It’s not completely clear yet who will be the Republican nominee for attorney general, given that former AG Eric Schneiderman’s resignation changed the thinking for many potential candidates of various party affiliations, as well as party leaders. John Cahill, a former top aide to Governor George Pataki and the 2014 GOP nominee for AG was considering another bid but bowed out. Manny Alicandro and Keith Wofford have announced their candidacies.

Jonathan Trichter is likely to be the GOP nominee for comptroller.

State Democratic Party Executive Director Geoff Berman issued a statement on Saturday that took aim at the WFP and the GOP.

“It is convention week in New York, and I am proud to be part of the Democratic Party as we head into our convention,” Berman wrote. “The state of the WFP today stands in stark contrast with the state of the Democratic Party. The union-founded party has no working families left after every union has left their ranks.”

Berman went on to criticize WFP political director Bill Lipton for orchestrating the party’s attorney general nominations and Williams for “an anti-choice and anti-marriage equality record.” Williams has made many attempts, including during his WFP acceptance speech, to clarify his current stances in support of abortion access and marriage equality, but he has in the past expressed personal opinions against both.

Berman called Molinaro a “Trump mini-me,” though Molinaro has said he didn’t vote for Trump in 2016. Molinaro does appear to be mostly aligned with Trump and congressional Republicans on policy, however. “Molinaro is anti choice, anti gun safety, anti LGBTQ, and part of Trump's property and income tax increase plan that ended State and Local deductibility,” Berman wrote, though Molinaro has expressed an ‘evolution’ on marriage equality and inclusiveness toward LGBT New Yorkers, and the Trump-led tax overhaul did not end such deductibility, it reduced it to $10,000 annually.

It is evident that Berman, Cuomo, and other Democrats will attempt to tie Molinaro, Killian, and other Republicans to Trump, who is deeply unpopular overall in New York, though he retains some pockets of significant support in his home state. Molinaro and others will have to rally the Republican base while also appealing to moderates, including many party-unaffiliated voters, in order to win statewide, especially in a year in which Democrats are energized and in good position to swing multiple House and state Senate seats.

One of the most important decisions of the weekend was Molinaro choosing Killian as a running mate. It’s not immediately clear that she will be of significant help as the Dutchess county executive attempts to become the first Republican governor since George Pataki. Killian has only held elected office as a Rye City Council member and was a deputy mayor, and she has lost her last two races.

Republican sources indicated that the Molinaro campaign decided it was important to choose a woman for the ticket. Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo, who was a co-chair of the lieutenant governor candidate search committee for Molinaro, took herself out of the running after Molinaro was apparently strongly considering her, and may have made a better choice. With both Molinaro and Killian lukewarm toward Trump and from downstate, the ticket may not be best suited toward rallying the base or appealing to voters upstate or in western New York.

"Julie Killian is a champion for people who have no voice, who are left behind, who are in crisis and she will never back down from the challenges that are facing our state. I'm proud to have Julie as my partner in this campaign to restore New Yorker's belief in the future of our state," Molinaro said in a statement.

"Marc and I share a vision of New York, that is more affordable, accountable and accessible for all families and I am honored to join his team as a true partner, " said Killian.

A press release from the Molinaro campaign called Killian “a strong campaigner to the key suburban battlegrounds” and noted that in her recent state Senate race she “significantly outperformed President Trump in Westchester in 2016.

“Julie Killian stood out among many great picks to serve as @marcmolinaro’s running mate,” Dinolfo tweeted on Sunday. “As a former city councilwoman, she knows what it takes to run a government while protecting taxpayers. She will make a great LG!”

Other Parties
The three other parties that have guaranteed ballot lines this year include the Independence Party -- which appears to be nominating Cuomo, Hochul, and DiNapoli -- and the Women’s Equality Party, which has not made its nominations yet, but will do so soon. The WEP is likely to back Cuomo, Hochul, and DiNapoli again this year -- the party was launched by Cuomo in 2014 as he attempted to undermine both his female Democratic primary opponent, Zephyr Teachout, and the WFP. It’s not clear if either party will make an attorney general choice, though the WEP did issue a call to interested candidates in the wake of Schneiderman's resignation.

The Conservative Party appears set to cross-endorse the Republican ticket for statewide seats.

The Libertarian Party, meanwhile, typically petitions to get a candidate on the ballot and has this year nominated Larry Sharpe for governor. Sharpe and the Libertarian Party are hoping to crack the 50,000-vote threshold to earn an automatic ballot line over the next four years. The party came close in 2010 with a different candidate, and Sharpe, who has been actively fundraising and campaigning, is seen as the strongest candidate the party has backed in several cycles.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: this story has been updated as events change and to include Larry Sharpe's Libertarian candidacy.

Party Nominations for Statewide Elections Come Into Focus Sun, 20 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Letitia James Launches Campaign for Attorney General tish ag kickoff in bk sara valenzuela

Public Advocate Letitia James at her AG campaign kickoff (photo: @saritamanhattan)

New York City Public Advocate Letitia James officially launched her campaign for attorney general on Wednesday, seeking to make history as the first woman of color to serve as the state’s top legal officer.

James, who is serving her second and final term as public advocate, and is the first woman of color elected to a citywide position, is running in the Democratic primary to replace former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who resigned last week after facing allegations of physical abuse from four women with whom he was intimately involved. The position is being held in the interim by Barbara Underwood, who was solicitor general under Schneiderman and his predecessor, now-Governor Andrew Cuomo, while the state Legislature is assessing a slate of candidates, including Underwood, from which they will select an appointee to serve the rest of the term.

The Democratic primary for attorney general and other state-level positions is September 13.

James was seen as the frontrunner for the position even before the Legislature began its selection process, but amid outcry for Underwood to keep the position and against any backroom deals, she declined to seek the appointment and decided instead to only compete in the election. From a dais at the Brooklyn Historical Society on Wednesday, flanked by labor leaders and several members of the New York City Council, where she once served, James spoke of the inspiration she draws from legal stalwarts like Barbara Jordan and Thurgood Marshall, and made the opening pitch her candidacy.

“I was taught at Howard University that the law should be an instrument of change,” James said in humble tones, “that the law must be used as a vehicle to right wrongs.” She pledged to defend the state’s most vulnerable communities, touting her past work as a public defender for the Legal Aid Society and an an assistant attorney general, and her current role heading the office of the public advocate, where she has often used litigation to fight for tenant protections, for children with disabilities, and others, waging high-profile legal battles against the de Blasio administration and against predatory landlords.

James promised to “never, ever waver in my fight to uphold and defend your basic rights,” vowing to oppose any harmful policies imposed by the federal government.

There are no other declared Democratic candidates for the fall election at this time. The state party will hold its nominating convention next week, at which James is expected to at least earn a place on the ballot, if not the party’s official backing. James has a strong base of support in New York City, including from the labor unions that immediately endorsed her and others likely to follow, but she will need to expand her reach outside the five boroughs to win statewide, both in the primary and what is likely to be a more competitive general election than she has ever faced in heavily Democratic New York City. She’ll also need to raise a significant sum of money quickly, which could be helped if she wins the backing of Cuomo, a prodigious fundraiser with deep ties to wealthy donors and seeking a third term this fall.

Although James said in her speech that she tends “not to be about politics,” the politics of the race were nonetheless inescapable. The New York Times reported earlier this week that James was telling supporters that Governor Andrew Cuomo and his allies were pushing her to refuse the nomination of the Working Families Party, a prominent smaller political party with a progressive base, or risk losing his support. The governor, who is known for his strong-arm tactics and has clashed with the WFP, which is backing his primary challenger, Cynthia Nixon, denied making the overtures.

On Wednesday morning, James’ campaign indicated she will not seek the endorsement of the WFP, saying that she is focused on winning the Democratic nomination, though she has sought and earned both parties’ support in the past (James was first elected to office in 2003 as a City Council member solely on the WFP line). The declaration sparked a rebuke of Cuomo from the WFP.

“It is nothing short of outrageous to see Andrew Cuomo demand Tish James jump through hoops that he would never ask a white man to do,” four WFP leaders said in a statement that included further attacks on the governor, who had the WFP’s backing in his 2010 and 2014 gubernatorial campaigns.

Asked repeatedly by reporters about eschewing the WFP after her launch announcement, James said, “My focus has been on securing the Democratic nomination and I’ve been working from sunup to sundown securing that nomination.” She also denied that pressure from the governor had played a part in her decision not to seek the WFP’s backing. “I’m an independent individual, I’ve always been an independent individual, and if you know anything about me you can rest assured that no one's going to bully me, no one's going to threaten me and no one's going to hold anything over my head.”

The Democratic nominating convention will be held next week, while the WFP nominees are expected to be announced this weekend at its own convention. The party is already behind Nixon for governor and City Council Member Jumaane Williams for Lieutenant Governor. It is also backing Comptroller Tom DiNapoli for reelection.

Zephyr Teachout, a law professor who unsuccessfully challenged Cuomo in the Democratic primary four years ago, told Gotham Gazette on Wednesday that she is seeking the WFP nomination for attorney general and that she also plans to appear on the Democratic primary ballot for the position, a spot she will either earn through a vote at the convention next week or through collecting enough ballot petition signatures around the state. Teachout, who is not officially running for AG yet, is currently Nixon’s campaign treasurer, an arrangement that may change if she officially declares her candidacy for attorney general.

James’ announcement was backed by the forceful endorsements of three labor unions: the New York State Nurses Association, Communications Workers of America Local 1180; and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. “Tish James listens to every voice and fights for those without a place at the table. She doesn’t preach. She acts,” said Gloria Middleton, president of CWA Local 1180.

Former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito also showed her support to the public advocate, standing on stage along with current City Council Members Laurie Cumbo, Alicka Ampry-Samuel, Andrew King, Mark Levine, Robert Cornegy, and Justin Brannan.

“[James’] whole public experience has been about utilizing the law to really right wrongs and to create equity,” Mark-Viverito told Gotham Gazette. “So this particular time when we have such an affront to our democracy by the Trump administration, this attorney general position is critical in us pushing back.”

She said James would be a “standard bearer of equity and justice” and said it’s “way overdue” that a woman serves as attorney general. “I think it’s critical,” she said. “Gender does matter, and representation at all levels. We have a diverse state, a diverse city. So government needs to be truly reflective of those experiences and that reality.”

While James is the first to officially jump into the primary race and Teachout appears close, several other possible AG candidates are possible. Democratic State Senator Michael Gianaris has said he’s considering a run, as has Congressional Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, also a Democrat. Former United States Attorney Preet Bharara has not ruled it out when making public comments. While Bharara is a Democrat, Bloomberg News reported he may run for AG as an independent. The only declared Republican in the race is attorney Manny Alicandro, though others are said to be considering a run given Schneiderman’s resignation.

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed reporting.

Letitia James Launches Campaign for Attorney General Wed, 16 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Exploring Attorney General Run, Zephyr Teachout Pursues Working Families Nomination, Democratic Ballot Line zephyr teachout anti idc rally

Zephyr Teachout at an anti-IDC rally (photo: Ben Max)

The recent resignation of former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sent shockwaves through the New York political world, and with just six months until New Yorkers elect a new attorney general in November, it sent potential candidates scrambling. Political party nominations are being decided, ballot spots must be secured, and party primaries are September 13.

Soon after Schneiderman’s departure amid accusations that he was physically abusive of four women he had been in romantic relationships with, according to reporting by The New Yorker, several individuals expressed interest in becoming attorney general.

One is Zephyr Teachout, the law professor who challenged Governor Andrew Cuomo from the left in the 2014 Democratic gubernatorial primary, who quickly said she was forming an exploratory committee. Among other moves, Teachout sent out e-blasts to her supporters asking if they want her to run and used her Twitter account to discuss her resume and the role of attorney general. Currently the campaign treasurer for Cuomo’s leading 2018 primary opponent, Cynthia Nixon, Teachout even had a logo mocked up for her potential attorney general run.

On Wednesday, Teachout told Gotham Gazette that she has submitted her name for consideration by the Working Families Party, which is holding its nominating convention this weekend in Manhattan, and that she will be pursuing enough support at next week’s State Democratic Party convention to secure a ballot line.

On the same day that New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, a Democrat, formally announced her candidacy for attorney general, Teachout also indicated that she’s prepared to collect enough petition signatures to compete in the Democratic primary if she does not meet the threshold at the party convention.

"I'll be making a decision fairly shortly," Teachout told Gotham Gazette about whether she will indeed seek the statewide office that is New York’s chief legal officer. "I'm grateful for the incredible response I've gotten from people I know from different aspects of my work: anti-corruption work, antitrust work, Trump work,” she said. “It's been really wonderful to get this kind of support."

"I submitted my name to be considered,” she said of the Working Families Party, which came close to backing her against Cuomo in 2014, but went with the governor after he agreed to a series of policy and political goals that he mostly did not follow through on. “I'm planning to be at the convention on Saturday," she added.

It is not clear who else is seeking the WFP nomination for attorney general -- a spokesperson for the party did not respond to an inquiry for the list.

"I plan to seek the Democratic Party threshold to get on the ballot, and I'll be at the convention next week,” Teachout also said. “One of the most important things that I think can bring Democrats together is that the next AG can lead the fight against the Trump administration's lawlessness."

As Teachout has pointed out, her past and current work is suited toward continuing some of the attorney general office’s most high-profile litigation against the Trump administration, something Schneiderman had made a top priority and is being continued by interim Attorney General Barbara Underwood, formerly solicitor general, who is seeking a legislative appointment to stay in the role through at least Election Day, if not the end of the year, but is not planning to run for election.

When announcing her exploratory committee on Twitter, Teachout said, “The next Attorney General of New York should be an independent fighter and a voice for the people, ready to take on corruption and lawlessness at the highest pinnacles of power” and “ready to investigate corruption in Albany, in real estate, and on Wall Street.”

She touted resume items such as “writing about and fighting corruption my entire career,” working as a death penalty defense lawyer, pushing for stronger antitrust enforcement and prosecution of financial crimes, being “the first national director of the Sunlight Foundation,” and her work as a professor at Fordham Law School.

Teachout has received public support from a number of progressives with significant followings or resumes, including Professor Laurence Tribe, and several liberal New York activists. 

“I have a great exploratory team--Tim Tagaris and Hector Sigala from Bernie's digital juggernaut, BrownMiller Group; ALG Research; Putnam Partners (whose past clients include Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Kamala Harris' AG race),” she tweeted.

Notably, BrownMiller is the firm that in 2013 “ran the petition drive that placed Eliot Spitzer on the ballot with over 27,000 signatures in just four days,” as its website states of the blitz that got the former governor on the Democratic primary ballot for the city comptroller race. That type of work would come in handy if Teachout needs to go the petition route to make the Democratic primary ballot again the state party nominee, which at this point is likely to be James, and possibly others.

The public advocate, whose first win of elected office was on the Working Families Party line in a 2003 City Council race, has indicated that she is not seeking the WFP nomination, apparently siding with Cuomo after the governor’s recent split with the party as it endorsed Nixon for governor after backing Cuomo in his 2010 and 2014 wins.

After her campaign kickoff event in Brooklyn on Wednesday, James declined to answer with specificity why she had made that choice, instead repeatedly stating that she is focused on winning the Democratic nomination. She did say that she is independent and not one to be bullied, though she did not explicitly state that Cuomo had not factored into the decision in some way.

Four leaders of the WFP put out a statement Wednesday morning accusing Cuomo of essentially forcing James to choose him and the Democratic Party apparatus that he controls over the WFP, even assigning racial and gender components to the alleged arm-twisting. The Cuomo campaign shot back in reciprocal fashion.

If Cuomo does support James’ candidacy, she will have significant advantages as she seeks to become the first woman of color elected New York attorney general. James has a solid base of support in New York City and the likely backing of many labor unions, three of which endorsed her at her launch, but she has never been a strong fund-raiser and is not well-known outside of the city.

Teachout, meanwhile, has some degree of name recognition and support outside the city after her 2014 gubernatorial run -- when she won 34 percent of the primary vote against Cuomo, largely by doing well upstate -- and her 2016 congressional run in the Hudson Valley, which she lost to Rep. John Faso, 54-46 percent.

As for her role with the Nixon campaign, Teachout did not directly answer on Wednesday whether she would step down as treasurer if she does formally throw her hat in the attorney general race. "I've been very clear about my support for Cynthia Nixon, but if she's governor and I'm attorney general, if there's anything within the AG's purview, even a whiff of corruption, I would pursue it,” Teachout said. “I'm a very independent person." But on Friday morning, Teachout told Gotham Gazette that she will indeed step down as Nixon campaign treasurer as she pursues an attorney general run.

[Related: Letitia James Launches Campaign for Attorney General]

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: this story has been updated with Teachout's decision on Friday to step down from the Nixon campaign as she explores an AG bid.

Exploring Attorney General Run, Zephyr Teachout Pursues Working Families Nomination, Democratic Ballot Line Wed, 16 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000