Gotham Gazette Sun, 24 Jun 2018 05:19:01 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) 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

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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
The Contradictions of Cross-Endorsements in the Governor’s Race howie h gov

(photo via Facebook: @HowieHawkinsForGovernorPolitician)

That didn’t take long. On Saturday, April 13 the Working Families Party endorsed Democrat Cynthia Nixon for New York Governor. By the following Tuesday, the WFP said they didn’t really mean it.

“We will not be a spoiler,” said Bill Lipton, the WFP’s political director, indicating that the WFP will take Nixon off its ballot line if she loses the Democratic primary against Governor Andrew Cuomo. Perhaps the WFP will offer Cuomo their ballot line for a third time if he wins the Democratic primary – if he will take it.

I feel for rank-and-file WFP progressives. It’s an abusive relationship. They got double-crossed by Cuomo in 2014 when they endorsed him. This year they got strong-armed by Cuomo when they didn’t.

I would like to reassure WFP progressives that, whatever happens in the Democratic primary, the Green Party gubernatorial ticket will offer a progressive alternative in the November 6 general election.

Only three parties – Democratic, Republican, and Green – created their ballot lines by running their own candidates. The other five ballot-qualified parties got the 50,000 votes for governor needed for a ballot line by cross-endorsing the Democrat or Republican. These so-called “fusion” parties function like political clubs inside the major parties, not independent parties.

When the WFP endorsed Cuomo over Zephyr Teachout in 2014, Cuomo’s double-cross began immediately. He backed away the next day from promises he made to get the endorsement in his so-called hostage video to the WFP convention. At the Celebrate Israel Parade the morning after, Cuomo told reporters, “It’s very simple at these political conventions: you either win or you lose. Uh, and I won…At the end of the day I won the endorsement, and that’s what’s really relevant.”

On that morning after, Cuomo broke his promise of the night before to allow municipalities to raise the minimum wage. Asked about his promise to help Democrats take control of the State Senate, Cuomo said, “This is about electing people who support an agenda. I also will oppose Democrats who have opposed things that we have tried to pass."

Over the next nearly four years, Cuomo spent none of his political capital to pressure the Independent Democratic Conference to break its governing coalition with Senate Republicans. Cuomo used the Senate to deflect blame for his failure to enact so much of what he had promised the WFP, including full funding of public schools, the Dream Act, abortion-rights protections, government ethics reform, and public campaign financing. Cuomo played the WFP and took their votes for granted.

So this year the WFP was right to endorse a progressive challenger. Cuomo’s response, according to WFP leaders, was a power play to pull the unions out of the WFP and threaten to cut union and state funding for WFP-affiliated community organizations.

Then there are the scores of WFP-endorsed “Working Families Democrats,” as this nominal third party refers to them, who are running for the State Senate and Assembly. No doubt these Democrats feel pressure from the Democratic machine, and particularly the big Democratic donors who back Cuomo, to endorse Cuomo...or else.

Such are the contradictions of fusion balloting. It would be confusing for the WFP to run Nixon against Cuomo in November when it is also supporting Democrats whose ticket would be headed by Cuomo. Organizing working people to vote for the corporate-sponsored Democrats is like organizing workers into a company union run by the bosses.

The Green Party takes a different approach. We organize working people and progressives into a party that is independent of the Democrats’ corporate donor swamp of real estate barons, Wall Street bankers, media and movie moguls, military contractors, and big pharma and insurance. Our political independence forces Democrats to compete for progressive voters instead of taking them for granted. The Green vote gives us political leverage. We try to win, but we don’t have to win the office to make a difference.

The 184,419 votes for 5% in the general election that the Green gubernatorial ticket received in 2014 reinforced the 192,210 votes that Zephyr Teachout got in the Democratic primary. Cuomo, who had wanted to run up his vote for a presidential run, received a smaller percentage than he had in 2010. Seeking those votes to his left after that election, Cuomo adopted a number of Green demands, from the fracking ban and paid family leave to partial implementation of the $15 minimum wage and tuition-free public college.

Greens will demand more this year, including single-payer health care, fully-funded public schools, a stop to fracked-gas infrastructure, 100% clean energy by 2030, and public campaign finance. And we will still be on the ballot in November.

Howie Hawkins, a recently retired Teamster from Syracuse, was the Green Party candidate for Governor of New York in 2010 and 2014 and is seeking its nomination again this year. On Twitter @HowieHawkins.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email

The Contradictions of Cross-Endorsements in the Governor’s Race Wed, 09 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Fusion, Spoilers, and New York's Many Ballot Lines Cuomo voting 2017 primary

Gov. Cuomo voting (photo: Governor's Office)

New York’s unique fusion voting system is again in the spotlight this year, with renewed attention in the wake of Cynthia Nixon’s insurgent challenge for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination against Governor Andrew Cuomo, with the potential for vote-splitting on the left leading to a Republican victory in November. Cuomo and Nixon have each now been endorsed by a minor party with automatic general election ballot access, even as they vie for the big prize of the Democratic nomination.

Fusion voting, which allows candidates to combine the votes they receive from appearing on multiple ballot lines, is used in only eight states. But it takes its highest profile in New York, where numerous minor parties can cross-endorse rather than all having to run their own nominees, and still keep their own line on the ballot. Parties can secure a ballot line by having their gubernatorial nominee secure 50,000 votes statewide in the general election.

In New York, fusion voting has often led to individual candidates appearing on multiple ballot lines, whereby the minor parties do not threaten to play a spoiler role by costing a major party nominee victory by siphoning a determinative number of votes. For example, the Republican and Conservative parties often back the same candidates for various offices, and they appear set to do so again in this year’s gubernatorial race, behind Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro.

Governor Cuomo has appeared on several ballots lines in his runs for office over the years, including on the Democratic, Working Families, Women’s Equality, and Independence Party lines during his 2014 reelection. This year, however, the Working Families Party has backed Cynthia Nixon, who hopes to defeat Cuomo in the Democratic primary, but may appear on the general election ballot regardless and therefore risk pulling a decisive number of votes from Cuomo in the general election. Having earned the backing of the Independence Party this year, Cuomo could do similarly if Nixon has the Democratic Party nomination.

The Green Party, which typically fields its own candidates, could also play a role, pulling some voters on the left. This year it is again nominating for governor Howie Hawkins, who received over 184,000 votes in 2014. The Reform Party and Women’s Equality Party have yet to settle on a nominee.

The practice of fusion voting was common in the 19th and early 20th centuries, as a means for minor organizing arms to defeat powerful Tammany Hall machine candidates. These tickets sometimes worked: the second mayor of the consolidated City of New York, Seth Low, defeated Tammany Hall Democrat Edward Shepard on a fusion Republican-Citizens Union ticket in 1901.

The Wilson-Pakula Law of 1947, passed allegedly to disempower the American Labor Party, which was accused of having ties to communists, prevented candidates from running in the primaries for different parties; instead, a candidate must gain permission from the minor party that they’re not registered with in order to run on their ballot line. The alleged ties to communists caused ALP members to flock to the newer Liberal Party, which did not face the same allegations; the Democrats and Republicans did not want to grant their line to members of the ALP.

Cuomo criticized the Wilson-Pakula Law in 2013 after it came under scrutiny following Senator Malcolm Smith’s alleged attempt to bribe his way onto the Republican line. Some have called for repeal of the law, but so far efforts at repeal have gone nowhere in Albany.

The minor parties gain prominence unseen in most other states due to their ability to influence the major parties, and often act more like advocacy organizations than vast political organizing machines, though some have party infrastructure. According to Gerald Benjamin, a political scientist and the Director of SUNY New Paltz’s Benjamin Center, this has made New York’s politics more ideological and polarized.

“There are people who believe that periphery-oriented politics is desirable,” Benjamin said. “Pulling to the left and right is desirable. I think pulling to the center is desirable, having a two-party system that contains the conflict within that system is centrist.” He said that the system, in a way, is “mischievous” in empowering a minority of ideologically-inclined voters to have outsized influence on the process. As such, instead of allowing for more representation on the ballot, the third parties give their lines to major candidates and influence the platform and positions of the major parties and candidates.

Benjamin also says that the parties have become more prominent over time, though not to the degree they were in the 19th century.

“Their significance is higher than in the recent past,” Benjamin said, though he noted that the parties often have disparate periods of high significance, such as when James Buckley was elected to the U.S. Senate on only the Conservative line in 1970 or when John Lindsay won the New York City mayoralty on the Liberal line in 1969. “There have been peak moments. But systemically, and through politics at all levels, I think they’re at a pretty high level of significance relatively to history.”

Though there have been minor party successes for New York City mayor and U.S. senator, none has ever alone elected a governor of New York. The Democrats and Republicans have controlled the governorship exclusively since Whig Party member Myron Clark left office in 1856. The Whigs were one of the two major parties in the U.S. before being replaced by the Republicans in the 1850s.

The liberal Working Families Party (WFP), a coalition of left-wing activist groups and labor unions, is one of the more prominent minor parties in New York. The WFP typically cross-endorses the Democratic nominee and attempts to pull its nominees to the left. Cuomo and the WFP recently split dramatically after several activist groups involved with the party endorsed Nixon for governor, which led to unions leaving the party to side with Cuomo, reportedly at his behest. The unions have provided key funding to those activist groups, whose futures are at risk, along with the larger WFP, which is taking a significant gamble on Nixon.

Cuomo and the WFP have a rocky history. Cuomo initially declined the WFP endorsement in 2010 but eventually agreed to take the line, despite their platforms not being wholly aligned, especially on the issue of taxation. As such, the WFP won 50,000 votes and retained statewide ballot access.

The WFP had more leverage over Cuomo in 2014, when the party agreed to endorse him over liberal challenger Zephyr Teachout in exchange for a pledge to unify the Senate Democrats and support a more progressive platform. Cuomo did not follow through on the agreement, and also created the Women’s Equality Party, whose acronym, WEP, is very similar to WFP. His campaign urged supporters to vote for him on the Democratic or WEP lines, omitting the WFP from get-out-the-vote emails.

Having endorsed Nixon over Cuomo this year, some have raised the possibility of a vote split on the left that could land Molinaro in the Governor’s Mansion. WFP Political Director Bill Lipton, in response, declared that the party didn’t intend to act as a spoiler, telling the Associated Press that in the event Nixon loses the primary, she would “meet with our leaders, and we will make a decision that puts the interests of working families first.” However, Lipton does not think that will happen anyway.

“The more voters learn about Cynthia's progressive values, the more they like her,” Lipton told Gotham Gazette in an email. “Working Families feels confident Cynthia will win the Democratic Primary in September and go on to be both the Working Families and Democratic Nominees in November. The real problem is Andrew Cuomo being a spoiler. It looks like he will have the WEP and Independence Party lines - what happens when he loses the Democratic primary - is he willing to be a spoiler and elect a Republican Governor?”

The Independence Party has indeed endorsed Cuomo for the third election in a row, landing him on the November ballot no matter what. He is also likely to receive the nomination of the WEP, with the new party leader telling Politico that it’s “very likely the party will support Cuomo’s reelection bid.” Neither the Independence Party nor the WEP responded to requests for comment for this story.

Nixon has taken notice of Cuomo’s Independence Party endorsement. When asked about being a potential spoiler in Buffalo, she flipped the script, according to the Buffalo News.

“Why is nobody asking Andrew Cuomo that question, who is running on the Independence line and the Women’s Equality line he created,” Nixon said.

The Cuomo campaign did not respond to requests for comment from Gotham Gazette.

“Could he win without the Democrat line? Maybe,” Professor Benjamin said, while noting that the governor losing the Democratic primary would be an unlikely scenario and that a continued run would be based on a future calculation by Cuomo. The most recent poll, from Quinnipiac University, has Cuomo leading Nixon by 28 points. However, Benjamin conceded that Donald Trump winning the Republican nomination for president was also initially seen as exceedingly unlikely.

The Independence Party has had significant showings in both of Cuomo’s elections: in 2010, it received 146,576 votes statewide, while in 2014 it received 77,762, according to the State Board of Elections. In both instances, however, it was bested by the Working Families Party in vote count.

The Independence Party is, however, by far the largest third party in New York State based on enrollment. According to the State Board of Elections’ Annual Report for 2016, the most recent year available, the Independence Party had 501,738 registered voters in the state, outnumbering the second largest, the Conservative Party, by almost 340,000 voters. WFP had 50,039 registered voters. The Independence Party’s high membership, despite a relatively low electoral profile, is due in no small part to people mistakenly registering as Independence when meaning to register as unaffiliated, or “independent,” as shown by the Daily News in 2012.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has derided the Independence Party as a “bizarre and fractious political group” that “survives on confusion” of people thinking they’re registering as independent. The editorial board urged Cuomo to reject its endorsement in 2014 in order to cause the party to lose its automatic place on the ballot; Cuomo did not do that.

Unlike the WFP, the Independence Party has not committed to endorsing either the Democratic or Republican nominee in the event that Cuomo loses the primary; as such, Cuomo could theoretically continue his campaign as the Independence nominee if he loses the Democratic primary. However, like a potential Nixon campaign as the WFP nominee, a Cuomo Independence campaign against Nixon and Molinaro would allow the possibility of a vote split that would likely send Molinaro to Albany.

Cuomo’s stormy history with minor parties goes back a long way. In 2002, he was endorsed for governor by the Liberal Party, but dropped out of the race before the Democratic primary. He remained on the party’s line for the general election, where he failed to receive 50,000 votes and thus the Liberal Party lost its automatic place on the ballot. Historically a vehicle for candidates with the backing of labor unions, the party ceded that ground to the WFP and has not appeared on the gubernatorial ballot since Cuomo’s 2002 run.

Things are looking less tense on the Republican side. Molinaro appears to have consolidated support among the state’s GOP establishment; he recently won the endorsement of the Conservative Party, and his main competition for that and the Republican nomination, State Senator John DeFrancisco, recently pulled out of the race.

There’s also the Reform Party, which has a history of maverick actions and public stunts by its founder and leader, Curtis Sliwa. Last year, the party publicly urged Preet Bharara to run for either mayor or governor; Bharara, the former U.S. Attorney who was fired by President Donald Trump, has instead become a renowned podcaster.

Now, the party is apparently split on endorsing either Molinaro or former Erie County Executive Joel Giambra, who mounted a brief campaign for the Republican nomination before dropping out. According to the Daily News, the party has “punted” the decision to its May 19 party convention in Queens; if the party can’t make a decision there, it will hold a primary in September. In late April, it was reported that Sliwa himself was considering a run, saying he had “no other choice” if doctors give him a “clean bill of health.” Democrats and Republicans will hold their nominating conventions toward the end of May.

“There was a motion made to table consideration of the Governor's race until the state convention so that all of the state committee members could speak with the candidates,” Frank Morano, a spokesman for the Reform Party, told Gotham Gazette.

The party has its own outsized role in New York politics compared to its membership; according to the 2016 BOE report, the Reform Party has only 900 registered members in all of New York State.

by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Fusion, Spoilers, and New York's Many Ballot Lines Thu, 03 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Political Purity Tests in New York

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

April 25, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Political Purity Tests in New York

m m stanley fritz citizen action 277px

Stanley Fritz is the New York City campaigns manager for Citizen Action NY, a progressive advocacy organization that has endorsed Cynthia Nixon for governor and is an affiliate of The Working Families Party, which has also endorsed Nixon. Fritz explains the work he does as a community organizer and political operative, his views about Governor Cuomo's tenure, his take on the Cuomo-Nixon primary, why moderates and Republicans shouldn't be afraid of progressives, and more.

Listen to the full conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy and guest Stanley Fritz (@StanFritz). You can listen to the episode through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Max & Murphy Podcast: Political Purity Tests in New York Wed, 25 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000
As Cuomo Chooses Democratic Unity, Party Activist Base Chooses Nixon Governor Andrew Cuomo

Gov. Cuomo at NAN (photo: Don Pollard/Governor's Office)

“Unity” is the trending word in New York politics, ever since Gov. Andrew Cuomo stepped into the back room of a Manhattan steakhouse and put together a deal to end the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group of Democratic senators who collaborated with Republicans to control the state Senate. As a result of that “unity” deal, Democrats in Albany are prepared for the possibility of a truly united front in the upper chamber of the Legislature, with the ability to pass long-gestating progressive legislation blocked by Republican/IDC control.

But just in time for Cuomo to celebrate his Democratic leadership and progressive bona fides, a rift has blown wide open between the governor and activist groups that have been at the forefront of some of Cuomo's most noteworthy legislative victories. Tired of what they call Cuomo’s broken promises and centrist governing style, the left-wing groups walked away. Given a new opportunity to back a challenger to the governor, the Working Families Party officially endorsed Cynthia Nixon one day after Cuomo allegedly asked labor unions to pull their financial support of the community groups who endorsed his challenger. And with that rift has come increased scrutiny of who is actually responsible for progressive victories in the state — and a clear indication the New York left is ready to pursue defeating Cuomo at almost any cost.

Just as he did in 2014 when he was seeking a second term, Cuomo has banked on a series of promises made to progressive organizations in order to get their approval over a left-wing challenger. Unlike that year though, left-wing organizations -- such as Citizen Action NY, Make The Road New York, and the Working Families Party they are affiliates of -- have chosen to throw their heft and organizing ability behind Cuomo’s main opponent, unwilling to trust him again and challenging a governor whose progressivism they feel has come from political expediency, not deep conviction.

“He’s scared, because he knows an unknown law professor ran away with one-third of the vote in 2014,” Matthew Miles Goodrich, an organizer with the environmental advocacy group Sunrise Movement, which endorsed Nixon last Friday, told Gotham Gazette. “Part of it is survival instincts from him. New York has millions of Democratic voters who want to see institutional change, and he’s positioned himself as a centrist for so long he has to swing left now.”

When carrots like ending the IDC didn’t work as a way to keep the Working Families Party and other community organizations from embracing Nixon, Cuomo’s use of the stick, by allegedly asking unions to choose him over the WFP and to pull their funding from groups like Make The Road and New York Communities For Change, appears to have emboldened his critics.

Rather than bring those groups in line, it led them to go on the offensive against a governor they call a bully and hold a rally last Thursday as a show of strength. While some speakers talked about confrontation with Cuomo, expressed frustration with his strongarm tactics, and, in the case of The Black Institute’s Bertha Lewis, compared the governor’s defunding threats to progressive arch villain Rudy Giuliani’s efforts, City Council Member Brad Lander laid out the fight as one between competing philosophies of where policy change really comes from.

“When people get elected to public office, they can sometimes come to think change happens because elected officials make it happen. They can sometimes come to think that community groups and the people are the ones who are there to serve and support the elected officials,” Lander told the crowd, giving credit for the state’s $15 minimum wage program and raise the age legislation to organizing efforts by the groups in attendance.

In Lander’s point is the essence of a refrain being used against Cuomo by those to his left: that he has mostly adopted progressive stances when there was enough grassroots pressure and a clear political payoff. And, the resulting achievements are often watered down, critics say, the products of triangulation including Republicans the governor has at best tolerated and at worst empowered. For many, Cuomo’s tenure has been marked by some significant successes, but also an extensive list of essential policy priorities left on the chopping block due to a chief executive who “governs like a Republican,” as Nixon has said. It is only political pressure that moves Cuomo to adopt progressive stances he is otherwise cold to, those on his left say.

In the one month since Nixon entered the race, Cuomo has put an end to the IDC, said “the facts have changed” about legal recreational marijuana, announced plans to restore voting rights to felons on parole in New York, killed an offshore natural gas pipeline that had been in the works, and issued an executive order to prevent federal immigration official from state buildings. And yet Cuomo hasn’t once acknowledged increased left-wing pressure is responsible for these abrupt turns, despite years of tolerating the IDC, calling marijuana a gateway drug just a year ago, and his top aide, Melissa DeRosa, dismissing activist pressure for environmental laws as “a counterproductive fraud.

The disconnect between how Cuomo uses power and who can compel him to use it is at the heart of the fight, according to Goodrich, who said the governor’s recent actions have shown what he could have been doing in office all along.

“He feels he deserves the support of the grassroots since he’s made significant [things] happen, like the fracking ban, which he should be credited for,” Goodrich said. “It’s nowhere near enough, though, and he doesn’t get that because it runs up against his interests. His ideology is warped by pretty centrist and right megadonors. While he’s trying to figure out what’ll appease the grassroots, he thinks he deserves our support. Just because he’s thrown us a bone a couple times though doesn’t mean he automatically gets it.”

With community groups still spurning Cuomo despite his attempt to strongarm Democratic unity and win WFP support, the New York political world entered something of a parallel universe in which the governor and his allies act like Cuomo has always been a champion of party unity and that the primary fight is about anything but progressive policy failures due to years of a sanctioned Democratic split.

DeRosa, the secretary to the governor, tweeted that left-wing activists aren’t really Democrats (a possibly reference to the WFP as its own political party) and don’t “support unity,” given the WFP promise to continue backing primary challengers to IDC members after years of the governor inviting the IDC’s leader, Senator Jeff Klein, into budget negotiations. Klein, who led the IDC for all seven years of its existence, embraced this new unity with the bizarre claim that the Working Families Party was “for disunity.”

“They're an enemy of reform,” he continued. “And, quite frankly, they're an enemy of a strong [Senate] Democratic majority.” Cuomo campaign adviser Sarah Paden went as far as suggesting that the Working Families Party could become “a new IDC dynamic.”

Cuomo isn’t in any way totally cut off from normal Democratic areas of strength, finding support at a rally celebrating a successful unionization effort by nurses at the Albany Medical Center, and using his appearance at Al Sharpton’s National Action Network convention to announce the plan to restore voting rights for parolees. He has significant labor union support, and cast his role in the WFP crackup as merely standing in solidarity with the unions who chose to leave the party.

But community organizations have used Cuomo’s rhetoric to accuse him of being a hypocrite and a fraud by what they say is a gap between his words and actions, and by pointing to the paper trail of a governor who has dismissed progressive policies only to adopt them when the moment appeared politically advantageous.

His claim that he’s just a normal “middle-class guy” from Queens was blasted by Citizen Action New York, which said the governor’s idea of what a middle class person is “would explain why he’s consistently given tax cuts to the wealthiest households in New York–like his own–while neglecting the true middle and working class families of our state.” Similarly, Make The Road New York, an immigrants’ advocacy group allegedly threatened by Cuomo, took aim at his historically dubious, if symbolic, statement that he’s an “undocumented person.”

“[I]t’s unbelievable that the Governor would try to claim to have shared our experience,” Make The Road member Antonio Alarcon said in a statement responding to the governor’s claims. “It’s even worse coming from someone who has failed repeatedly to use his political capital for our community’s top priorities in Albany—including the New York Dream Act and passing driver’s licenses for all.”

Now, with a Democratic win in a Westchester state Senate special election that theoretically makes 32 registered Democrats in the chamber, Cuomo is fairly resigned to passing none of the remaining progressive wishlist items as Senator Simcha Felder chooses to continue to sit with Senate Republicans, though Cuomo is making public entreaties to Felder to switch conferences now and at least help ensure Senate votes on a series of policies before the legislative session ends in June. This, after Cuomo declined to call the special elections until they would occur after a state budget was passed, leaving Democratic districts underrepresented and no chance of a unified Democratic majority for budget negotiations.

Rather than make themselves a vessel through which Cuomo can position himself as a national progressive leader, community groups are backing candidates like Nixon, lieutenant governor candidate Jumaane Williams, and a slate of IDC challengers in September’s primary in order to help remake the party in their image. While the governor has said Democratic unity is essential to passing a slate of progressive goals, like the Dream Act and campaign finance reform, groups at the forefront of advocacy on those issues are abandoning him, and he is threatening their very existence.

“I think for careful observers, there’s a big progressive movement formed by activists that’s coming, and the Working Families Party is going to electoralize that at the polls,” WFP state director Bill Lipton told Gotham Gazette at Thursday’s rally. “I think we’re going to be able to elect great progressives who are going to pass all the things that have been bottled up by state Senate Republicans, the IDC, and Andrew Cuomo over the last eight years.”

By David Colon for Gotham Gazette. Colon is a freelance journalist; on Twitter @DaveColon.

As Cuomo Chooses Democratic Unity, Party Activist Base Chooses Nixon Wed, 25 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Cuomo's Progressive Promises, Reminiscent of Four Years Ago, Received Differently Cuomo Klein IDC Stewart-Cousins

Stewart-Cousins, Cuomo, and Klein at unity event (photo: Govenor's Office)

In May 2014, Governor Andrew Cuomo attempted to earn the last-minute endorsement of The Working Families Party with a video address at its nominating convention. As Cuomo sought a second term that year, he made a series of promises demanded by WFP members and received the party’s backing and ballot line. The deal with frustrated progressive activists and labor union leaders, who make up the WFP, was in part brokered by Mayor Bill de Blasio after the WFP threatened to run Zephyr Teachout to Cuomo’s left.

Cuomo, a Democrat, promised to back a series of progressive policies and a Democratic takeover of the state Senate -- including the reunification of mainline Democrats and the Independent Democratic Conference -- where he acknowledged that many of those policies had been blocked.

Nearly four years later and with little he had promised the WFP accomplished, Cuomo made similar pronouncements, this time weeks ahead of the planned WFP convention, while he is facing a challenge from the left by actor and activist Cynthia Nixon. Nixon won the endorsement of the WFP on Saturday, however, with the party losing union members loyal to Cuomo and being driven by activists disillusioned by the governor, though he has made attempts to win them over. Those activists pushed for an early endorsement vote and got one, with the progressive, activist wing of the party ready to move beyond past support for Cuomo.

Last week, Cuomo announced from his Manhattan government office the end of the IDC, a group of eight breakaway Democrats that has often voted with and empowered Senate Republicans, as a legislative conference. Part of the motivation for his work brokering a deal between the IDC and mainline Democrats, Cuomo said, was to pass a progressive agenda that had not made it through the Legislature, including the Dream Act and campaign finance reform.

The 2014 and 2018 announcements both served as olive branches to the left, where trust of Cuomo has been thin for many years. In 2014, there was much skepticism of his commitment to the WFP agenda and to flipping Republican-held Senate seats, and in 2018, many do not believe in his commitment to fully dissolving the IDC or fighting for a unified Democratic Senate that pushes a sufficiently progressive agenda. Without acknowledging he did not keep any prior promises, Cuomo, again seeking the WFP endorsement until it became clear he would not get it, has said this time will be different.

But the relationship between Cuomo and progressive activists appears beyond repair, and with the WFP nearing a Nixon endorsement, two major unions and Cuomo allies -- 32BJ SEIU and CWA -- announced on Friday they are leaving the WFP, as first reported by The New York Times.

During his second term, even as he has tacked left on a number of issues, Cuomo has continuously been pilloried by many progressives for not enacting certain components of the Democratic agenda. This disappointment has been channeled by Nixon, who last month announced her gubernatorial bid and has repeatedly and forcefully criticized the governor from the left, outflanking him on issues from taxing the wealthy to marijuana legalization.

Brokering the IDC deal, Cuomo insisted, is not a result of Nixon’s run. Instead, it was with the aim of unifying Democrats in the Senate and pursuing other seats to form a majority, which would allow unpassed parts of his agenda to move through the Legislature, he said. Nixon has organized her run around the idea that Cuomo is not a “real Democrat,” empowering Republicans and failing to fulfill key policy promises.

The announcement came on the heels of the completion of the 2019 fiscal year budget, which omitted many of those progressive policy items the governor has said he backs, also including early voting and bail reform. Acknowledging some of those failures, Cuomo has pointed to the Senate Republican majority, a group holding onto power by a thin margin, bolstered by the IDC, and, many on the left believe, Cuomo’s tacit consent. The governor also waited to call special elections for two vacant Senate seats previously held by Democrats until after the budget, angering many on the left.

“We finished the budget. We did a lot of good things in the budget, but there are also things that we didn't pass that we need to pass,” he said at the unity press conference last week. “Child Victims Act, more gun safety, bail reform, the Dream Act, banning outside income, campaign finance reform, early voting - these are all progressive principles that were not passed in the budget and which we will not pass until we have a Democratic Senate.”   

Speaking to the advantages of a Democratic Senate was among the several parallels between the WFP convention address and last week’s IDC announcement. “We must pass the DREAM Act, because we believe in immigration, and we are not threatened by differences, we are excited by diversity,” he said in 2014. “I told the Senate leadership coalition, the IDCs and the Republicans, that we needed a success in passing the DREAM Act, public finance, Women’s Equality Act this session, or they would’ve failed the people.“

More broadly, the message of unity at last week’s announcement echoed what he said to the WFP convention attendees. “If we are unified, and if we are mobilized, and if we come together, we can take control of our government and we can make our agenda a reality,” he said in 2014. “But we have to do it together. We can seize this opportunity for historic change. I hope we can do it, I hope we can do it together.”

“We have two goals,” Cuomo said at his Democratic unity announcement last week. “Number one, elect a Democratic Congress so we can stop the Washington agenda and stop the Washington agenda from further damaging our state. And secondly, to elect a Democratic Senate so we can protect ourselves with our own state laws here in New York.”

He added, “Now in many elections, Democrats divide and they splinter their efforts and divide resources, time and energy.”

There are key differences between the contexts surrounding the two sets of Cuomo promises.

Teachout launched her 2014 challenge against Cuomo months later in the cycle than Nixon has this year, deciding to stick with a Democratic primary run after she did not get the WFP nomination. With little money or name recognition, she won 34 percent in what has roundly been regarded as an embarrassment for Cuomo that showed his unpopularity with the left.

In recent years, the relationship between the governor and mayor has frayed, as the two have sparred over many issues. And while de Blasio worked to help Cuomo secure the WFP endorsement during the last election cycle, it appears almost impossible he’ll do so in the coming month. Asked by a reporter from The Observer in March if he would help Cuomo receive the WFP endorsement, he laughed and said, “You are a creative thinker.”

De Blasio has repeatedly said he is not ready to weigh in on the 2018 elections yet, but will at some point.

Furthermore, the national political landscape has shifted a good deal since 2014. With a Trump administration hostile to Democratic legislative aims and values, Cuomo has used the president as a way to unite New York’s left behind him. “The State of New York, I don't think it's over dramatic to say, it is under attack,” the governor said last week. “It is under attack by the Trump Administration, working with Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, which are trying to bring an extreme conservative ideology to this country and to this state.”

But the Trump presidency has also energized an activist left, much of which does not like Cuomo, either. So four years after his WFP video address, which many have likened to a hostage tape, will Cuomo earn the Democratic nomination again? And if he does and subsequently wins reelection, will he fulfill his promises he’s made to New York’s left?

Teachout, now Nixon’s campaign treasurer, does not believe that Cuomo can be trusted to do so. On Twitter Thursday, she reminded her supporters of what she regards as the governor’s shortcomings. “Andrew Cuomo has used his power to serve hedge fund and real estate donors and betray kids, working men and women, basic infrastructure, and the promise of New York State,” she wrote. “So, for all the WFP members out there who voted for me four years ago, AND all of you who didn't: vote for Nixon. Remember Cuomo's 2014 promises to you. His word isn't good. His budgets, his tax priorities, and his donors tell you everything you need to know.”

Gerald Benjamin, a longtime SUNY New Paltz political science professor, told Gotham Gazette that the tide would soon turn in the Democrats’ favor. It’s a question of when, not if, the Democrats take control of the Senate, he said. “In my view, a Democratic Senate is inevitable. It’s a question of timing,” he said. “The demographics are what they are.”

When Democrats take the Senate, Benjamin predicted that Cuomo would be maneuvering under different political realities. “The priorities are going to be made different. The balance of outcomes will change, that's for sure," he said.

Still, he cautioned against expecting sweeping changes coming in Albany should Cuomo be re-elected, labeling Cuomo a “mainstream New York liberal Democrat.”  “He's a centrist politician. He's not a left politician,” Benjamin said. “Having said that, he holds many of the values Democrats hold in New York."

Benjamin added that this dynamic is also due to the responsibilities the governor has that advocates, activists, and other interest groups do not, such as tending to the state’s fiscal health. "Governors can't responsibly do all those things,” he said, referring to ambitious and often expensive initiatives. “They have considerations the advocates don't have, and they should.”

In a brief phone interview on Thursday, WFP New York State Director Bill Lipton would not comment directly on what he expected from Cuomo moving forward, but told Gotham Gazette that he was optimistic about accomplishing the goal of a progressive Senate, which he said was “long overdue.”

“I think with the strong WFP-backed candidates challenging IDC incumbents, and the resistance mobilized for November, we feel confident that we’re going to win the progressive majority this fall,” said Lipton.

“We are committed to electing a truly Democratic state Senate that puts New York’s working families first,” said Dom Leon-Davis, WFP’s communications director. With the departure of the two unions, the WFP appears on the verge of endorsing Nixon on Saturday, Lipton told Gotham Gazette on Friday afternoon.

Though its convention is not scheduled to take place for another month, WFP committee members are gathering in Albany Saturday -- WFP leadership has repeatedly stated that its state committee members will vote this time around without the influences of 2014.

“The 233 members of the WFP state committee have an important decision to make tomorrow, things are certainly heating up," Lipton said on Friday. On Saturday Nixon received over 90 percent of the WFP vote at its meeting -- a previously scheduled party get-together that became an endorsement meeting when members of the party were itching to get behind Nixon and start campaigning on her behalf.

Heather Stewart, an organizer for Empire State Indivisible, a progressive activist group, said among the many developments that have occured in the last four years is that frustration among activists with the IDC has grown. “I think things are different now. I think that the public’s opinion on the IDC has changed,” she said. “More people know what it is now.”

The frustration with Cuomo has grown, too, Stewart said. “The activists who are doing the work on the state level are extremely tuned in to what’s happening. So they see the little nuances in how things don’t look right. Even by political standards it doesn’t look like what Cuomo is doing makes any sense,” she explained.  “I don’t think people are buying what he’s saying.”

“I think that Cuomo is very good at saying ‘Hey, look at what I’m doing right now.’ And then things don’t actually follow through,” Stewart continued. “He doesn't follow through.”

Despite Cuomo’s past broken promises or inability or unwillingness to move elements of a progressive agenda, some on the left do see hope for 2018 and beyond, given the circumstances and clear pressure being put on the governor and IDC members. While Cuomo has pointed to policy failures and the Senate Republicans, he has also been far more boastful about what he has accomplished over the past seven-plus years as governor, including marriage equality, gun control, a significant minimum wage increase, paid family leave, and more. He has also increased his standing with organized labor, key in any Democratic primary in New York.

Stewart said activists in New York “want to fortify something legally that are our deepest-held values. We don’t want them threatened by what’s happening on a federal level.” Perhaps nothing signifies this sentiment more than the fact that Roe v. Wade abortion protections have not been enacted into state law, despite Cuomo calling it a priority.

“We have a harmful person in the White House right now and activism has engaged citizens on a local, state, and national level,” Stewart said. “People are watching. The threat of primary challenges is more present than it was even in 2014. It’s not just for the governor now; it’s for the slate of IDC senators.”

“In the wake of the Trump election,” Leon-Davis of the WFP said, “people are looking in their own backyards to see how to make progressive change and people are paying attention now more than ever to what’s happening and have been dissatisfied with the actions of the IDC and are looking for real Democratic leadership.”

Note: this story has been updated to reflect the WFP endorsement decision.

Cuomo's Progressive Promises, Reminiscent of Four Years Ago, Received Differently Fri, 13 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000