Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/861 Thu, 19 Oct 2017 12:40:15 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Crowded Assembly Field Looks to Quickly Unseat Silver Replacement http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6513:crowded-assembly-field-looks-to-quickly-unseat-silver-replacement http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6513:crowded-assembly-field-looks-to-quickly-unseat-silver-replacement AD65 panel Li mic

AD65 candidates at a debate (photo: @FilAmDems)


In a world where U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara hadn’t turned his eye toward public corruption in state government, Sheldon Silver would likely be running for his 21st term in the Assembly and easily extending by another two years his 40-year reign over Manhattan’s 65th Assembly District.

In the real world, Silver, who had already resigned the powerful Assembly speakership he held for almost 20 years, was automatically stripped of his seat in November 2015 when he was convicted on multiple federal corruption charges.

Silver’s Assembly seat was filled during an April 19 special election - a process notorious for being easily controlled by local political parties - by Alice Cancel, the preferred choice of Silver’s still-active and -influential network.

Now, fewer than five months later, a Democratic primary contest between Cancel, the short-term incumbent, and five other local political and community activists will be far less malleable for the disgraced former speaker’s allies. In the heavily-Democratic district, the primary winner is all-but-certain to win November’s general election. Republican candidate Lester Chang is running again; Chang earned just under 19 percent of the vote in the April special election.

While Silver’s pall will hang over the district for decades to come, this election is its first chance at a fresh start, an argument being made by Cancel’s challengers.

The change from Silver has already come at a price for the district, given the immense power held by an Assembly Speaker. Cancel took Silver’s place as a rank-and-file legislator with little sway in the Assembly majority. Whoever wins this year, Cancel or another candidate, will head to Albany as a rookie legislator without major committee assignments; with little leverage to push for major initiatives’ and unable to deliver the millions of dollars in community funding Silver was so revered for in his district and derided for from outside it.

Cancel, a former district leader, won the seat with the backing of the Manhattan Democratic Party, Silver’s wife, and a number of his allies. Since winning the seat Cancel has made a number of gaffes and appeared to many as unprepared to hold the seat.

Normally, incumbency is seen as a major advantage, bringing with it name recognition, powerful endorsements, and a dedicated fundraising apparatus. But Cancel hasn’t demonstrated that to be the case. She drastically trails other candidates in fundraising and hasn’t had much time to establish constituent services that would allow her to ingratiate herself with her voter base. She has also underperformed in her few public appearances and primary debates. Cancel has been media shy and reluctant to campaign, though during the special election she explained that her public scarcity had to do with health concerns.

The incumbent’s perceived weakness appears to be part of why five challengers hope they can marshall a dedicated base of support in what is expected to be a low turnout affair. The September 13 vote is the third primary day in New York this year.

Challenging Cancel are Paul Newell, Yuh-Line Niou, Jenifer Rajkumar, Gigi Li, and Don Lee.

Newell is a community activist and district leader who was the first Democrat to challenge Silver in nearly two decades, when he ran against him in 2008. Newell, who was endorsed by The New York Times editorial board, won about 22 percent of the vote with Silver at 69 percent. The effort gained Newell experience and notoriety that he hopes to capitalize on during this year’s primary.

Niou also has experience running for office in the district - she challenged Cancel in the special election with the backing of the Working Families Party (WFP). Niou lost by 700 votes in an effort that won her the support of The Times’ editorial board and major elected officials. (While saying that any of the challengers would be better than Cancel, The Times is again supporting Niou this month.)

Rajkumar is a human rights lawyer and district leader who has been involved in advocacy initiatives on tenant rights, labor protections, and women in politics. She challenged City Council Member Margaret Chin in a 2013 primary and, like others running now, sought the Democratic nomination for the April special election.

Li is chair of Manhattan Community Board 3 and made history in 2012 when she became the first Asian-American to be elected to chair a city community board. Li has been involved in advocating for services for families and children.

Lee is a technology executive with a long history of community activism. He got his start in politics in the Koch Administration and is now running as an outsider candidate.

The void left by Silver is immense as he brought billions worth of pork to the district over the decades, used his power to micromanage almost all changes in the district, and stood as a champion for many liberal causes. At the same time, many in Albany saw Silver as a long-term impediment to state government ethics reform and to policy reforms that could have positively impacted his district, especially on affordable housing.

The federal corruption charges against Silver revealed his close financial ties to the real estate lobby that he swore he was fighting during Albany negotiations over rent control and other major housing issues.

While many expected Silver’s conviction to bring real change to Albany the special election to replace him was a sign to many across the state that there were still plenty of roadblocks in place. When Manhattan Democrats gathered to back a candidate for the empty seat, Silver’s allies maneuvered to ensure that Cancel got the nod. Special elections in New York remain largely controlled by local party committees.

Niou and her supporters protested the selection process and campaigned against Cancel with the backing of the WFP, which is supporting her again. Other candidates plotted for their current runs.

This crop of candidates for the 65th will be looking to tap into voting bases across a district that includes Chinatown, the Lower East Side. and most of Lower Manhattan. Political consultants expect that the district’s powerful Asian vote, which could have been tapped as a bloc by one candidate, to be splintered, making the race less easy to predict.

According to the state Board of Elections, as of April 1, 2016, there were 65,766 active registered voters in the 65th Assembly District, 43,094 of them Democrats. (There were 6,320 active registered Republicans and 14,100 active registered voters unaffiliated with a party.)

Top issues facing the district include affordability, especially in housing, as well as education, including school space, climate resiliency, senior services, and health care infrastructure. There is also, of course, a lot of discussion of government ethics and state government reform.

Gotham Gazette spoke to all of the challengers about the race, but attempts to secure an interview with Cancel were unsuccessful.

Candidates painted a picture of a district where elderly residents are finding it harder to afford to stay, where immigrant families can’t afford more than one bedroom, and where properties owned by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) are in constant disrepair. Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature managed to put aside $2 billion for affordable housing and supportive housing, but have yet to actually allocate spending for most of that sum.

Niou said it must be a priority to get the money out of the state’s coffers and into districts. Asked about Cuomo’s plan to revive the expired 421-a tax break for developers who agree to build a certain percentage of affordable housing, Niou was skeptical. “Affordability is a huge issue for our district and the thing is you can't lose money building apartments in Manhattan,” she said, noting the escalating cost of rent. Niou said that if 421-a is necessary checks must be in place.

“We need to make sure developers pay workers the proper wage and make sure we are actually getting affordable units,” Niou said. She also advocated reopening discussions over rent regulation laws to end practices that incentivize landlords to push tenants out.

Meanwhile, Li said the state needs a multi-pronged approach to affordable housing. “We can't just throw money at new development to solve the affordability issue,” she said. “We need preservation. Repairing NYCHA properties and dealing with sustainability must be a priority, but it is important we build new apartments.” She added that she believes it is time to alter the Urstadt Law that gives the State say over major city issues in order to give the City more power.

Rajkumar advocated for quickly funding supportive housing projects and reforming 421-a to “hold developers accountable.”

Newell said his district faces an “acute capital need” as far as housing goes, citing the disrepair of NYCHA properties. “We obviously need to continue building to meet our housing demands, but not I’m sure we need 421-a, with or without a wage subsidy.” He said that he would favor increased checks on the subsidy program to ensure developers are actually delivering the affordable units they receive breaks for.

Lee said that “special interests” must be removed from housing policy and that the State is “playing with funny money.”

Asked how she would preserve affordable housing at a recent debate, Cancel responded: “To be very honest with you, I don’t know the answer to that question, in terms of how do we stop what’s going on,” before suggesting rezoning might help, according to The New York Times. Rezoning is under purview of the City Council.

With education funding a major issue in the district and a proposed tax credit for donations to education institutions likely to be a major factor during the next legislative session in Albany, Gotham Gazette asked the candidates about their position on the controversial measure that is aimed at helping private and charter schools. The five challengers all appeared opposed to the measure, to varying degrees. Li said that while she generally supports “compromise,” she is “focused on funding public education first and foremost.”

Newell said flatly that he opposes the tax credit. Niou, who noted that Cuomo supports the credit said, “The Governor wants lots of things but he hasn't paid us for the CFE case yet,” referring to the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit that resulted in a judge saying the state chronically underfunds the poorest schools. “So he owes public schools, so it is ridiculous to give breaks to people who support private schools when public schools are suffering,” Niou said.

Rajkumar said CFE funding is critical to make sure city schools can serve students from all districts equally. She also decried how legislators use funding for city schools as a political “football.”

Lee said he was concerned that people who make donations not be allowed to dictate how the money is spent.

The candidates also all came together on the need to save local health care providers given the closing of Beth-Israel Hospital. They were also concerned about resiliency issues the city was forced to confront during Superstorm Sandy.

Li said she discovered while campaigning that many residents of the district don’t realize they are eligible for health care and other benefits under the Federal Zagroda Act. Li and Niou said that they saw a desperate need in the district for constituent service efforts to connect residents with government programs.

All of the challengers to Cancel professed to support a list of government ethics reforms that include limiting or banning outside income for legislators, implementing a statewide system of public campaign financing similar to that employed in New York City; ending the LLC loophole; and adjusting the budget process to make it more open and inclusive.

They differed less on what they wanted done and more on how they would achieve it.

“I think we have a window of opportunity for real change that hasn’t existed for generations,” said Newell, who added that he expected Democrats to take control of the state Senate thereby ending a Republican blockade on most of the aforementioned reforms. “On the Assembly side, Carl Heastie did not expect to be Speaker, and he filled out last session without putting dramatic changes into action,” said Newell. “Next session I think we will see who Carl Heastie really is when he brings the Assembly into the 21st Century.”

Rajkumar said she believes individual Assembly members and committee chairs need more individual power. She also wants lobbying on legislation to be revealed in a database in real time.

Lee said voters are tired of waiting for the system to change. “These guys see problems and they say ‘let's kick it to the next election cycle.’ They have no sense of urgency. They are so out of touch and expectations have gotten to be so low. The bigger issue is that we need true reform - not fresh blood but a blood transfusion,” Lee said.

Asked about the differences between challenging Silver and 2008 and running in a crowded field in 2016, Newell first said the difference is “we are going to win,” but added having a crowded field of deeply invested community members means that the district will have the first “healthy debate process” it has had in decades.

As for campaign funds to support stretch-run efforts, Cancel reported having $11,581 on hand as of her 11-day pre-primary filing.

Other candidates have significantly more money for final flyering and other advertising and get-out-the-vote efforts. Endorsements from unions, elected officials, and other groups have also been divided, mostly among Cancel’s challengers.

Rajkumar reported having $182,826 on hand in her 32-day pre-primary filing; her 11-day pre-primary filing has not been posted by the BOE. Rajkumar has been endorsed by The Public Employees Federation and Citizens Union of New York, a government reform group.

Newell reported having $92,347 on hand as of his 32-day pre-primary filing. He has been endorsed by the United Federation of Teachers, New York State United Teachers, Citizen Action of New York, and City Council Members Rosie Mendez, Mark Levine, and Ben Kallos.

Niou reported having $76,635 on hand in her 11-day pre-primary filing. Along with her endorsements from The New York Times and The Working Families Party, Niou is supported by City Comptroller Scott Stringer, state Senator Daniel Squadron, and others.

Li reported having $36,404 on hand as of her 11-day pre-primary filing. She has been endorsed by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, City Council Members Margaret Chin and Helen Rosenthal, and state Senator Jesse Hamilton.

Lee reported having $31,856 on hand of his 11-day pre-primary filing.

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Crowded Assembly Field Looks to Quickly Unseat Silver Replacement Wed, 07 Sep 2016 04:00:00 +0000
2016 A Far Different Election Year for Independent Democrats http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6454:2016-a-far-different-election-year-for-independent-democrats http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6454:2016-a-far-different-election-year-for-independent-democrats John Nilson

Sen. Jeff Klein (photo: John Nilsen/Governor's Office)


The five-member Independent Democratic Conference was under siege. Mainstream Democrats, liberal activists, and the Working Families Party were out to punish IDC members for having empowered Senate Republicans and for preventing a progressive agenda from advancing in the New York State Senate. In 2014, the groups fielded candidates to challenge Bronx Senator Jeff Klein, head of the IDC, and newly-minted IDC member Tony Avella, senator of Queens, in party primaries. It began as an aggressive attempt to oust two of the five members of the IDC, including its leader.

Leading up to the September elections, pressure mounted as former City Council Member Oliver Koppell raised cash in his bid to defeat Klein and former city Comptroller John Liu lashed into Avella for his “betrayal.”

“Let’s help a real Democrat defeat a fake one,” read the Daily Kos’ June 2014 endorsement of Liu.

But on June 26 of that year, Klein issued a joint statement with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat dealing with his own challenge from the left, pledging that the IDC - made up of Sens. Klein, Avella, Diane Savino, David Valesky, and David Carlucci - would partner with mainline Democrats for a new governing coalition.

“Therefore all IDC members are united and agree to work together to form a new majority coalition between the Independent Democratic Conference and the Senate Democratic Conference after the November elections in order to deliver the results that working families across this state still need and deserve,” Klein said in the statement.

Dean Skelos, the Republican Senate majority leader at the time, didn’t buy it. He issued a statement saying, “This ‘agreement’ is nothing more than a short-term political deal designed to make threatened primaries go away.”

The Working Families Party and mainline Democrats dropped their support for Koppell and both he and Liu were defeated.

In 2015, Klein and the IDC continued their deal to empower Senate Republicans and carve out as much power for themselves as possible. In the following months the IDC pushed its agenda more forcefully, inserting issues like paid family leave into the Senate Republican budget proposal and advocating for a larger minimum wage increase. In the waning months of the 2015 legislative session in Albany, Klein’s push for those issues seemed to irk Cuomo, but, in retrospect, may have helped him evolve his position on the issues.

In 2016, paid family leave and a $15 minimum wage seemed to suddenly become Cuomo’s top priorities despite his having dismissed them the year before. Both issues passed with bipartisan support with the new state budget on April 1.

Now, Klein and the IDC face a strikingly different election year than in the previous cycle, even while control of the state Senate - and with it, full control of state government by Democrats - remains at stake.

The 63-seat Senate is currently made up of 32 Democrats and 31 Republicans. However, Republicans maintain control and are able to appoint Sen. John Flanagan as majority leader thanks to the support of Simcha Felder, a Democrat from Brooklyn who caucuses with Republicans, and the five members of the IDC, who have a coalition agreement with the GOP.

Heading toward this year’s elections, The Working Families Party has not made much noise in opposition to the IDC. Senate Democrats, even those with the most resentment toward the IDC, admit relations with the IDC have improved drastically and hold out hope that Klein will switch sides in 2017. The general perception of the IDC as obstructionists has all but dissipated. Bad feelings still fester and trust is hard to come by, but this year two IDC members may face challenges only from Republican candidates.

“Last time I was approached a year before by Senator [Michael] Gianaris and the Working Families Party, but both pulled their support along with the mayor and governor after Klein pledged he'd go back to the Democrats,” Koppell told Gotham Gazette in a recent interview, referring to the head of the mainline Democrats’ Senate campaign committee, Gianaris, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Cuomo. “No one approached me this time,” Koppell added, noting that he would not have run anyway.

Asked about their relationship with the IDC, the WFP sent Gotham Gazette a statement from state director Bill Lipton. "Given that the IDC and [mainline] Dems share views on so many issues, it's always been our hope that Democrats could unite to better represent working families in the State Senate,” it says.

The Senate Democratic Conference did not respond to a request for comment.

Sen. Savino, an IDC member who represents parts of Brooklyn and Staten Island, said she thinks advocates and Senate Democrats “took a step back and asked ‘what are they trying to accomplish, and what did they accomplish? What was the IDC advocating?’ and they saw it is for things like medical marijuana, dealing with the foreclosure crisis, paid family leave, and increasing the minimum wage.”

Klein told Gotham Gazette that the last two years have proven out his rationale for the IDC as it successfully achieved major progressive victories through bipartisan negotiation.

“I think I said all along since we formed six years ago that we wanted to use the IDC as a vehicle for change and the only way we would be able to achieve it is in a bipartisan fashion,” Klein said in an interview. He pointed to the gridlock in Washington and noted that there are “sit-ins” in Congress over gun control while “We passed the SAFE Act here in New York with bipartisan support.”

Klein noted that it took time and consistent advocacy to move not only the $15 minimum wage increase and paid family leave but other IDC priorities like the zombie properties bill, which gives homeowners more rights to fight foreclosure while expediting the foreclosure process on abandoned properties, and legislation to stop the sale of synthetic drugs.

Koppell said he thinks the passage of the minimum wage and family leave changed perceptions of the IDC. “I think it reduces blame the IDC faces for being obstructionists. The Republicans stopped blocking some things and it helps the IDC,” he said.

Just before the primary election in September 2014, Koppell, reeling from the loss of WFP and mainline Democratic support, told Gotham Gazette that if he was victorious it would mean the IDC was “dead.”

"I will tell them they can come back as full-fledged Democrats and if not, I will tell them: 'as far as I am concerned, you will have a primary opponent and I will finance it,’” Koppell said at the time.

Five members and staffers of the mainline Senate Democratic Conference told Gotham Gazette that relations between their conference and the IDC are significantly better now and that lines of communication have been established ahead of possible Democratic victories in the fall elections. Democrats are hoping that a presidential election year surge in voter turnout will help them retake the chamber.

Asked about an improving relationship, Klein was quick to praise Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan. “I said early on that the IDC is not an exclusive club and it isn’t about us, it is about governing. It is hard to say we didn’t get things done this year. It’s been fantastic working with Senator Flanagan. He has been more focused on policy than any other Republican leader.”

Klein also noted that he worked well with Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in efforts to pass the $15 minimum wage, paid family leave, and other priorities. “I worked extremely well this year with Senator John Flanagan and yes, this session we were able to work well with Andrea Stewart-Cousins - it is a much better relationship, but I think the Republican Conference has been even better and a lot of credit has to go to the relationship with Senator Flanagan, again.”

Asked to comment on Flanagan’s relationship with Klein, a spokesperson for Flanagan, Scott Reif, said, “People want Democrats and Republicans to work together to get results, and that's exactly what Senate Republicans and the IDC have been able to achieve for the citizens of New York. Senator Flanagan enjoys a strong working relationship with Senator Klein, and he has tremendous respect for him as a legislator and as a leader."

Doug Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College, said Democrats should temper their hopes that Klein will bring the IDC in their direction. “I’d be very wary about any deal. This is politics, don’t assume anything is based on principle, it’s based on ‘What am I gonna get?’,” Muzzio said.

Savino agreed that relationships with Senate Democrats have improved. “The rhetoric between the IDC and Senate Democrats has been toned down,” she said. “You don't see the same nasty comments. There’s been a softening of hardline stances across the board. But tell me who would have predicted that a $15 minimum wage increase and paid family leave would have gotten done while Senate Republicans control the Senate?”

With all the successes and warm feelings toward Flanagan, Klein did note that one of the IDC’s top priorities for last session and next, campaign finance reform, was blocked by Senate Republicans. Klein said he is “optimistic” that Republicans might be willing to move campaign finance legislation next year.

Earlier this month, the IDC worked with the Independence Party to create a campaign committee that will allow the IDC to funnel cash to their candidates. Klein said that this year the focus will be on defending IDC members Avella and Carlucci from general election challenges, but in the future it could be used to advance new IDC members and political positions. “I really want to try to use this campaign committee as a vehicle for change,” Klein said, adding that he may create a ten-point litmus test for candidates who seek the IDC’s support. He said backing campaign finance reform would be a part of any test.

As the battle for control of the Senate plays out, Democrats say they will continue to keep open lines of communication with Klein and the rest of the IDC in hopes that they will be inclined to rejoin the fold. There is no doubt that major resentment still exists - it appears Minority Leader Stewart-Cousins has led the communications with the IDC while Sen. Gianaris, chair of the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, has remained on the sidelines. Gianaris and Klein have a notoriously bad relationship.

Savino said she isn’t sure how things will play out in November. “A week is a lifetime in politics. I think the Democrats will win some seats, but I don’t think anyone can predict what is going to happen this election cycle,” she told Gotham Gazette. “I think the things that happened nationally during this election cycle have made experts throw out what they think they know about politics. There is a lot of middle class anger and I’m not sure how that trickles down into local races.”

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

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2016 A Far Different Election Year for Independent Democrats Mon, 25 Jul 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Heastie Takes to Twitter to Respond to Cuomo on Tax Plan http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6158:heastie-takes-to-twitter-to-respond-to-cuomo-on-tax-plan http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6158:heastie-takes-to-twitter-to-respond-to-cuomo-on-tax-plan cuomo heastie standing photo

Cuomo and Heastie (photo: The Governor's Office)


Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie's Twitter account lit up Tuesday with a stream of "fun facts" about income inequality and his proposed millionaire's tax just a day after Gov. Andrew Cuomo dismissed the plan.

"I don't believe there's any reason or appetite to take up taxes this year," Cuomo told reporters on Monday, responding to questions about the taxation agenda put forth by the Democratic Assembly majority on Feb. 2, which calls for increasing taxes on the state's highest earners.

Heastie's tweet storm appeared to be a rebuke to Cuomo, though it did not mention the governor by name.

A few hours after Heastie's tweets stopped, the Working Families Party issued its own retort. "We need our tax system to put working families first, not hedge funds and wealthy campaign donors. That's what both Democratic presidential candidates have been calling for, and it's what New Yorkers expect from our elected officials in Albany too," said WFP New York State Director Bill Lipton in a statement.

Heastie surprised some when he proposed expanding and extending the state's millionaire's tax that isn't set to expire until 2017. Assembly Democrats' plan would create a number of higher tax brackets with those who earn from $1 million to $5 million a year paying the state's current highest rate of 8.82 percent. Those earning from $5 to $10 million annually would pay 9.32 percent and those making over $10 million would pay 9.82 percent.

The increase for millionaires would be paired with a middle-class tax cut. And according to Heastie the income generated by new tax brackets would add funding to education, infrastructure repair, and "other priorities."

Many see Heastie's plan as a way to strengthen his position as leader, cater to major interest groups that back his conference, and give him a popular proposal to use during budget negotiations.

Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan has said that higher taxes would drive millionaires out of the state. "We don't support raising taxes," replied Scott Reif, spokesperson for the Senate Republican Conference when asked for a comment on Heastie's tweets.

A spokesperon for Gov. Cuomo, Rich Azzopardi, said by email that "What the public is hungry for, post Shelly Silver, is ethics reform -- specifically the pension forfeiture bill that was agreed to last year and promptly reneged on by the assembly. We hope they will join us this year and pass this and the other important reforms the Governor outlined."

Heastie's office did not reply to inquiries about whether Heastie was the author of the tweets. As the day progressed, Heastie's spokesperon, Mike Whyland, also took to Twitter on the subject, and more directly criticized the governor.

The speaker's earlier messages had a distinctly populist tone:

E.J. McMahon, director of the fiscally conservative Empire Center, quickly responded to Heastie on Twitter, questioning the data Heastie cited and combatting the notion he said Heastie was propagating that millionaires don't pay anything.

"The whole premise that they are not paying their fair share is nonsense," McMahon told Gotham Gazette of millionaires and taxes. "There is no standard in existence under which they don't pay a major share of their income. Eighty percent of filers in New York pay 15 percent of the taxes collected."

"The premise of these tweets is unsupported by facts," McMahon continued. "They aren't tweeting 'Hey, we need money and here is the best way to get it.' The whole point of these tweets seems to be to make someone who doesn't know better think millionaires aren't paying anything and that just isn't true."

McMahon said that he felt Heastie's tax proposal was motivated by the education lobby that wants to see an increase in education spending. Cuomo's budget factors in a 4 percent increase in education spending but advocates and unions have demanded no less than eight percent.

"You can see the people who support this and are retweeting Heastie are the people tied to the education lobby who think taxes can never be high enough," said McMahon.

Michael Kink, director of Strong Economy for All, a labor-backed progressive group falling into the category mentioned by McMahon, praised Heastie's proposal and said that it is about funding schools as well as having enough funding for other major proposals and needs.

Kink and his allies appear ready to hammer Gov. Cuomo on recent infrastructure problems such as a water main break in Troy that shut off water to at least two towns and the environmental disaster in Hoosick where it was found that toxic chemicals had poisoned the public water supply. Cuomo has recently tried to downplay the Hoosick issue.

"Assembly members have sat in day-long hearings about the budget and heard parents and students testify they need school funding, heard businesses say they support the $15 minimum wage but need some help so it doesn't overburden them; they know about the water line explosion in Troy and not too far away they've seen families drinking poisoned water coming out of a source that should have been overseen by an agency that is suffering under the governor's austerity budget," Kink told Gotham Gazette. "If the state wants to meet these significant needs it is entirely responsible to have a strong funding mechanism."

Kink said that the tenor of the presidential race shows that the electorate is in a populist mood. "I think these will be an interesting set of budget negotiations because the Assembly is more in tune with the populist mood than Flanagan or the austerity version of Governor Cuomo," Kink said.

The idea that there are 'two versions' of Cuomo have supporters of the tax plan ready to campaign hard for it as they've seen Cuomo flip on proposals after gauging voter sentiment. It was only last year that Cuomo said a $13 minimum wage was a non-starter and there was "no appetite" for paid family leave. Now the Governor has made a $15 minimum wage and paid family leave top priorities, expressing strong personal connections to both issues.

McMahon notes that Cuomo actually changed his position on the millionaire's tax in 2011. "He pivoted in 2011 on this issue. So nothing he says is frankly dispositive that this tax will be part of the budget," said McMahon. "The fact [the governor] does things like this encourages them to keep pushing."

Karen Scharff of Citizen Action NY, a grassroots progressive group that supports Heastie's plan, said she certainly won't be writing off the plan until the budget is actually decided on, since negotiations tend to lead to surprising results, no matter what any stakeholder has said. "This is the right time for this plan because one, the wealthiest New Yorkers are wealthier than ever, and, at the same time, the state has desperate needs that have to be funded. Every year things in the budget are up in the air until negotiations are over. And they aren't over."

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note: this story has been updated with comment from the governor's spokesperson and news of social media response from Heastie's spokesperson.

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Heastie Takes to Twitter to Respond to Cuomo on Tax Plan Tue, 09 Feb 2016 21:43:46 +0000
The Wisdom of Primaries http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6105:the-wisdom-of-primaries http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6105:the-wisdom-of-primaries teachout fracktivists

Zephyr Teachout, in yellow, with "fractivists" (photo: @zephyrteachout)


In her zeal to attach herself to Barack Obama at the recent Democratic debate in Charleston, Hillary Clinton at one point issued a somewhat unexpected line of attack. In advance of the 2012 campaign, Clinton charged, Bernie Sanders had "publicly sought someone to run in a primary against President Obama." 

There's no disputing that Sanders did in fact express such a position, based on his concern that Obama was moving to the right during his first term. But during the debate on Twitter and later that evening on CNN, Obama's chief strategist David Axelrod echoed Clinton's disdain for Sanders' view that a primary might be good for the party.

Notably, neither Clinton nor Axelrod deemed it necessary to explain why in their view, such a challenge would have been a bad thing. Here in New York, meanwhile, we've seen quite clearly the positive benefits of making an incumbent answer to his party's base.

In 2014, Zephyr Teachout bucked the leadership of both the state Democratic Party and the Working Families Party by running a primary challenge against Andrew Cuomo. Though outspent by an astronomical sum, Teachout won the same number of counties as the sitting governor. Cuomo's healthy margin of victory (62-34%) came mainly because of the vote in New York City and Buffalo.

Although weakened by a novice candidate, the legendarily vindictive Cuomo has actually sought to make amends with the constituencies that did not support him in the primary.

First he surprised many upstate activists by banning fracking. Over the past year, he has responded to the teachers unions and public school parents by withdrawing his support for the Common Core (an issue central to Rob Astorino's unsuccessful Republican bid in the general election). And Cuomo has patched up his ties with Working Families Party unions by pushing for a $15 minimum wage and paid family leave.

Ethics reformers—another Teachout constituency—are still holding their breath. Even as the cloud of suspicion cast over by Cuomo by Preet Bharara hovered, the governor paid only lip service to changing the rules in Albany. For example, despite his stated support for closing the LLC loophole, he continued to rake in donations from big real estate developers. Bharara's investigation thus can't be credited with forcing Cuomo to shift gears.

Nor does Cuomo's sandbox sparring with Mayor de Blasio sufficiently explain the governor's leftward lurch. After all, de Blasio campaigned for Cuomo in 2014, and the latter remains the more popular of the two figures in citywide polling.

In short, absent the primary contest that allowed voters across the state to express various disagreements, Cuomo most likely have would have remained on the centrist course of his first term.

Because there no was primary challenge to Obama in 2012, it would be pure speculation to say that a meaningful challenge from the left would have forced him to move in that direction. But in his second term, Obama hasn't offered up any significant new domestic policy initiatives, suggesting that he's not terribly worried about what the activist wing of the party thinks about his presidency.

Here in New York City, it's unclear whether any candidate will wage a primary contest against Mayor de Blasio next year. But those on the left unhappy with the mayor's caution on police reform and closing Rikers, or coziness with developers, might welcome it. So, too, might more centrist voters concerned about the mayor's management of the homeless problem or the budget implications of his deals with unions.

Regardless of whether a strong contender enters the ring, this much is clear: Always be wary of politicians or pundits who argue that more democracy is not a good thing.

***
Theodore Hamm is chair of journalism and new media studies at St. Joseph's College in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. On Twitter @HammerDaily.

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The Wisdom of Primaries Thu, 21 Jan 2016 01:57:13 +0000
More Cities Should Do What States and Federal Government Aren't on Minimum Wage http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6090:more-cities-should-do-what-states-and-federal-government-arent-on-minimum-wage http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6090:more-cities-should-do-what-states-and-federal-government-arent-on-minimum-wage de blasio minimum wage announcement crowd

Mayor de Blasio at his recent minimum wage announcement (photo: Michael Appleton)


Early this month, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a guaranteed $15 minimum wage for all city government employees by the end of 2018. This is a big win for over 50,000 workers across the city struggling to provide for their families.

Unlike in Seattle and Los Angeles, where city officials are empowered to raise the minimum wage for the entire workforce in their cities, Mayor de Blasio is unable to unilaterally raise wages for all New York City workers. That power lies with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature. The governor's efforts to lift the minimum wage to $15 are being hampered by a Republican-controlled state Senate.

De Blasio's decision to raise wages for city employees is a crucial independent step towards a more equitable city - and should be seen as an inspiration for cities around the nation. It also reflects the power and momentum of a groundbreaking worker-led countrywide movement demanding higher wages.

Even as state and federal administrations drag their feet on the inevitable question of a decent minimum wage for working families in the United States, de Blasio's gutsy move shows cities can and should take matters into their own hands.

The mayor's minimum wage raise closely follows his announcement last month giving six weeks paid parental leave, and up to 12 weeks when combined with existing leave, to the city's 20,000 non-unionized employees. The mayor has now moved to negotiate the same benefits with municipal unions. Again, New York City private sector workers must look to Albany or Washington, D.C. to move on paid family leave for all.

Mayor de Blasio's recent actions support his goal of lifting 800,000 New Yorkers out of poverty over ten years. More than 20 percent of the city's population lives in poverty, a huge swath of a city commonly associated with extraordinary wealth.

The last couple of years have seen unparalleled momentum from workers themselves - from New York City to Los Angeles and Chicago - calling for livable wages, resulting in minimum wage raises for fast food workers and other groups.

Workers are not waiting patiently on government officials – they are organizing in an unprecedented way. Progressive mayors like de Blasio are responding with sound policy, while less responsive officials are being put on notice. Cities like Los Angeles, New York City, and Chicago are paving the way, showing that it is possible to act independently of state and federal governments.

In addition, laws raising the minimum wage to more than the pitiful federal standard of $7.25 an hour have passed in a number of states. There are now campaigns to raise the floor and standards for workers being led in 14 states and four cities. This momentum is building into a crescendo that will have deep implications for the 2016 presidential election.

Nearly half of our country's workers earn less than $15 an hour and 43 million are forced to work or place their jobs at risk when sick or faced with a critical care-giving need. Now is the time for cities to listen to their workers and override state and federal passivity to allow millions of hard-working Americans to provide for their families.

***
JoEllen Chernow is minimum wage and paid sick days campaign director at Center for Popular Democracy. On Twitter @popdemoc.

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More Cities Should Do What States and Federal Government Aren't on Minimum Wage Thu, 14 Jan 2016 19:46:39 +0000
Cuomo Seizes on Wage Issue as Legislature Sits Paralyzed by Scandal, Partisanship http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5739:cuomo-seizes-on-wage-issue-as-legislature-sits-paralyzed-by-scandal-partisanship http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5739:cuomo-seizes-on-wage-issue-as-legislature-sits-paralyzed-by-scandal-partisanship Cuomo

Gov. Cuomo at a minimum wage rally (Office of the Governor - Kevin P. Coughlin)


"Do we have any members of labor in the house today? I can't hear you!" Gov. Andrew Cuomo shouted to a crowd of union members holding signs touting the "Fight for $15." Cuomo held a large rally in Manhattan's Union Square earlier this month as he announced he had instructed his labor commissioner to empanel a wage board to consider upping the minimum wage for fast food workers.

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Cuomo Seizes on Wage Issue as Legislature Sits Paralyzed by Scandal, Partisanship Tue, 26 May 2015 02:10:07 +0000
After Making History, James Seeks Change http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5631:after-making-history-james-seeks-change http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5631:after-making-history-james-seeks-change tish james at rally

Public Advocate James at a recent rally (photo: @PA_Outreach)


During Women's History Month, the New York City YWCA holds weekly discussion and networking events, leading to a celebration honoring a "YW Woman of the Year." This year's theme is Leadership and Generosity: A Call to Action and the honoree, to be recognized at the celebration Tuesday night in Manhttan, is Public Advocate Letitia James. According to a YWCA spokesperson, James is being honored for "her hard work towards gender and racial equity" and because she "is a shining example with her tireless efforts to advance the agency of women and girls in New York City."

No individual better epitomizes the progress made by women of color in New York City than Letitia "Tish" James. The first woman of color elected to city-wide office, James is a force. She is a powerful public speaker with a commanding physical presence, including a big, broad smile that she flashes judiciously. A labor-friendly attorney, James is also a proud Brooklynite and former City Council member whose 2013 election to the office of public advocate was met with widespread celebration due to its historic nature.

Since becoming one of New York City's three publicly-elected city-wide officials in January of 2014, she has shifted the focus of the office toward her legal background and identified new causes to champion in fulfilling the role's mandate - for example, she filed suit to unseal documents in the Eric Garner grand jury case and she has taken on the issue of sexual assault on college campuses. Her advocacy has at times brought her into direct conflict with her allies, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, though some say James has not been critical enough of her friend and fellow Brooklynite, the mayor. James has tended toward taking on the administration in court over calling out the mayor individually, a different tack that that taken by past public advocates. Among other areas of disagreement, the public advocate has sued the de Blasio administration over school co-locations and in an effort to open up school leadership meetings to the public.

As February rolled into March and Women's History Month follows Black History Month, the city has been celebrating the legacies of black leaders and women leaders. Like no other public figure in New York City, James is a symbol of this history, as well as the present, and the triumphs and struggles of specific constituencies and demographics.

But James hopes, and strives, she says, to be more than just a symbol. "Obviously its an honor and a privilege that New York elected me," she said in a recent phone interview with Gotham Gazette. "There's a historical sentiment to that victory. However, that means nothing. It won't be more than a historical footnote if I don't do anything as Public Advocate."

Since her election, which she won after a tough Democratic primary culminating in a run-off, James has worked to redefine the office of Public Advocate - held prior to her, for one term, by de Blasio. She's also been able to expand the staff of the office due to additional funds allocated by the mayor in his first budget.

Coming from limited resources herself, James' political path has been especially challenging, and she has called for campaign finance reform as a means to level a political playing field dominated by men with access to deep pockets. "For me, the challenge was raising funds, and that continues," she said. "That's unique to women. They are mostly involved in pink collar industries, not white collar ones that pay more. I would not be in this position but for campaign finance reform and the support of working class people." Even then, James says she was outspent three to one in the primary. "But it kept me in the game," she says of the City's system of public matching funds and spending caps.

An active proponent of the "Why She Ran" campaign launched last year by the Working Families Party (WFP) to provide a push to women considering running for public office, James seeks to contribute to a pipeline of those who decide to do so. The WFP has organized a host of events again this year and James will be joining forces with electeds, advocates, and activists to encourage more women to participate in the political arena. James was first elected to the City Council on the WFP ballot line and is a fixture at its rallies and other events - and it at hers, such as at a recent rally at City Hall calling for fair school funding from the State and decrying Governor Andrew Cuomo's education reform proposals, which are vehemently opposed by teachers unions.

james rallyJames at Sunday's rally (photo: @leoniehaimson)

Even while she's receiving awards, as she will Tuesday evening, James' attention in the next weeks and months, she said, will be on broad, sweeping issues that affect all New Yorkers and particularly women. "We're going to keep our heads down and raise issues on the ground," she said. In forums across the city, James has promised to discuss issues of pay equity, child care, student debt, sexual assault on college campuses, criminal justice reform, jobs, education, and the "feminization of poverty in New York. There are more women living in poverty now than ever," she said.

"I'll be going around college campuses and meeting young people so they can recognize that politics is the way to effect change in the system," James said. "As more women see elected officials who happen to be women, they'll be inspired by the advocacy of this office to join political office."

James has just finished a five-borough series of "Mayoral Control Forums," in which she's led community discussions about how New Yorkers want to see the power over the school system allocated. While that will ultimately be a decision made at the state level, James is doing what she often does, pushing a conversation forward - the community recommendations that her office aggregates will be presented to lawmakers.

Her tenacity and focus on her constituents has won her respect in many quarters. "I think it's great every time that we break a glass ceiling and somebody makes history," said new State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie when asked, given his own history-making, to discuss James'. Heastie is the first African-American to hold the post of Assembly Speaker, which he attained in early February. "But as I've said," Heastie continued, echoing James, "just making history is not the most important thing, it's what you do once you get elevated to that position."

Praising James for "doing a wonderful job," Heastie said he hopes that one day "people say the same thing about me."

Other elected officials see James as a role model. Bronx City Council Member Vanessa Gibson, a woman of color herself, looks up to James' example. "[She made] history, but for us it's just an affirmation that women are changing the game and we are stepping up to leadership roles that were never planned nor designed for us," Gibson told Gotham Gazette. "When I look at Tish James and all that she stands for - fairness and equity, always fighting against inequities and fighting against the stigmas, the statistics that are used to define New Yorkers and Bronx residents - it's really an honor to work with her, to call her a friend, to call her my big sister."

PA JamesJames with young constituents (photo: @PA_Outreach)

James has emphasized that she is a representative for all New Yorkers, not just one or two demographic groups that she may fall into or certain neighborhoods. Council Member Julissa Ferreras believes that approach is requisite for the city's progress.

Ferreras is the first woman and person of color to chair the Council's powerful Finance Committee. "Having Tish James in city-wide office shows that we are making our way towards a more inclusive city government," Ferreras emailed. "I have also been welcomed into communities that previously were not open to women and people of color. Still, there is room for improvement and the most practical way I see of improving is by paying careful attention to hiring practices. Government officials appoint hundreds of individuals in their offices — making sure those individuals accurately represent their constituents is a first step."

It is here that James hopes she will leave her mark, in encouraging political participation not only of women and people of color, but all New Yorkers, as artificial ceilings eventually become remnants of the past. "I would hope that we get to the point in history that there are no longer any barriers to break, and qualifying an election as being 'the first' is no more," she said. "It's important that individuals, whether they are people of color or not, recognize their position to effect change. The power lies in their hands, to be the change that so many people are protesting for."

New York Representation, by the Numbers
It is an unfortunate fact that women and people of color are underrepresented in elected office in New York, which is but a microcosm of the representational imbalance in American politics.

At the state level, there are only 51 women legislators out of 213 members of the State Senate and State Assembly. New York's 23.9 percent representation of women falls marginally below the national average of 24.1 percent, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Although that is an increase in the state over 2014, when the number stood at 45, it is the same as five years ago.

The New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus has 53 members, of which 18 are women (meaning 8.4 percent of the Legislature is women of color).

More locally, the New York City Council has 15 women members, making up 29.4 percent of the 51-member body. The Council's Black, Latino and Asian Caucus makes up more than half the body, 26 of 51 members; and of course Melissa Mark-Viverito is the first woman of color to be elected Speaker - she is Puerto Rican.

City-wide History-makers
Tish James may be the first woman of color to hold the post of public advocate, but she is not the first person of color or the first woman to hold city-wide office. In all, there have only been four politicians of color to hold one of the three current city-wide elected offices in New York, and only four women - James holds each distinction.

Betsy Gotbaum was Public Advocate between 2002 and 2009, serving two terms. Before her, Carol Bellamy held the post when it was still termed President of the City Council, from 1978 to 1985. Besides them, Elizabeth Holtzman was Comptroller between 1990 and 1993, the only woman to ever hold that position.

David Dinkins is the only person of color to ever be elected Mayor - he is African-American. The only other politicians of color elected city-wide are Comptrollers William Thompson (2002-2009) and John Liu (2010-2013).

Could Letitia James become the first woman and first woman of color to be Mayor? Stay tuned.

***
by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette
@samarkhurshid

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After Making History, James Seeks Change Sun, 22 Mar 2015 16:33:28 +0000
On Minimum Wage, Cuomo Again Finds the Not-So-Happy Middle http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5627:on-minimum-wage-cuomo-again-finds-the-not-so-happy-middle http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5627:on-minimum-wage-cuomo-again-finds-the-not-so-happy-middle cuomo fair pay

Gov. Cuomo pushing his minimum wage hike (photo: @NYGovCuomo)


The middle ground is a particularly familiar place for Governor Andrew Cuomo - and it is where he has put himself in the debate over increasing the state's minimum wage. Cuomo has come under fire this week from electeds and advocates on the left who support a significantly larger increase to the wage than the one Cuomo has proposed and from conservative officials and business groups that oppose any increase whatsoever.

Cuomo and his proxies have toured the state this month promoting a proposal that would increase the state minimum wage to $10.50 an hour and New York City's to $11.50, even touting the support of a variety of labor unions and some city business reps. Cuomo and the Legislature enacted a staggered wage increase in 2013 that is set to culminate with a $9 statewide minimum at the end of this year. But, Cuomo now sees that as insufficient.

"I want to increase the minimum wage in this state, because the truth is the minimum wage is at $9, that's $18,000 a year, and you cannot live in this state and raise a family on $18,000 a year. You can't pay the rent, you can't pay for food, you can't pay for insurance, and you can't buy clothes on $18,000 a year," Cuomo said at a rally in Rochester focused on his upstate agenda.

He continued: "The Assembly wants to raise it to $15 an hour. God bless them—shoot for the stars - that's what they did in the Assembly. The Senate is totally against raising the minimum wage. I think the truth is somewhere in the middle, I proposed raising $9 to $10.50 statewide. Often, the political truth is in the middle."

There may be no better, simpler summation of Cuomo's governing philosophy than that.

The State Senate's one-house budget proposal contains no minimum wage increase while the Assembly's would set New York City's minimum wage independently of the state's and tie it to inflation. Per the Assembly outline, the state's minimum wage would be $10.50 by 2017, $12.60 by 2019 and the city's and surrounding suburbs would reach $12.50, then $15 at those times.

In a statement, new Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said, "Raising the minimum wage is about the moral obligation we have to help families across the state who are struggling to get by. The current wage floor is not enough to allow full-time workers who put in a 40- hour work week to afford life's basic necessities, let alone achieve financial independence."

Cuomo's proposal shirks promises he made to the Working Families Party last spring in exchange for its endorsement that he would back a plan to allow the city to increase its minimum wage in connection to the rate of inflation. Mayor Bill de Blaiso, who helped broker the deal between Cuomo and the WFP, is still a major supporter of giving the city control of its own minimum wage and linking it to inflation, as are many Democrats in the state Legislature. The mayor has even asked city businesses to start voluntarily paying a $13 hourly minimum.

Despite his public campaigning on the issue, Cuomo has given signals that he is wavering.

"I hope to get it done this legislative session either in the budget, which is April, or at the end of the legislative session in June," Cuomo reportedly said during an appearance in Buffalo. Putting anything out of the budget and into policy negotiations thereafter gives it less weight, but could lead to expanded time for negotiation.

Advocates like Michael Kink of Strong Economy for All say that if Cuomo is serious about the wage increase he will not abandon it in budget negotiations. "I think obviously he has the most leverage in the budget. It is the only time where all three sides have to agree on something so there will always be something in the budget each of the three leaders view as main," Kink said. "They can stomach something they oppose to get a big win. Obviously Cuomo's priority is the privatization of education and charter schools. I'm glad he is working on it (the minimum wage), but the fact that he is going in signaling he is willing let it go is disturbing."

State Sen. Liz Krueger said it was "troubling" to hear Cuomo indicate he could deal with the minimum wage outside of the budget. "This is the place to get this done and this is the one economic proposal that will help everyone across the state."

Kink doesn't feel Cuomo's wage proposal goes far enough. "We want a wage hike that will a make difference in workers' lives," said Kink. "Fastfood workers didn't start fighting for $9.50, they wanted something that would help people pay bills and lead their lives. That's why they started 'The Fight for 15.'"

Meanwhile, a group of business interests, upstate chambers of commerce, and conservative advocacy groups joined together this week to oppose even Cuomo's smaller wage proposal.

"Any attempt to increase the minimum wage before full implementation [of the plan in place] should be rejected," the groups said in a statement. "We strongly urge Albany to continue the progress made in improving New York's economic competitiveness while focusing on pro-growth initiatives as budget negotiations enter this final stretch." Members of the coalition include The Business Council, Unshackle Upstate, The Farm Bureau of NY, and The National Federation of Independent Business.

The groups say that the full impact of the state's last minimum wage hike on businesses is not yet apparent as the $9 wage won't go into effect until the end of the year.

Business groups took offense earlier this month because Cuomo unveiled his "Fight for Fair Pay" campaign while they held their small business lobby day at the capitol.

"Gov. Cuomo's campaign to increase the minimum wage could push struggling small businesses over the edge," Greg Biryla, Executive Director of Unshackle Upstate, said in a statement on March 3. "For employers who are trying to create new jobs and expand their business, another minimum wage increase and an added $69 million in new health care taxes would be a brutal combination. Albany needs to focus on improving the state's business climate – not make it more toxic."

Senate Republicans have not included a minimum wage increase in their budget proposal but some members indicate it is an issue they are willing to negotiate. However, they note that not only is the state's last wage wage increase not fully implemented, but that the Labor Department also just increased the minimum wage for tipped workers in February.

Kink said that Cuomo's public support of a minimum wage increase is "valuable" but also just makes political sense. "This is a tremendously popular issue for voters in both parties," Kink said. "I'd love to see increased aggression from the governor on the minimum wage. I'd like to see him throw the kind of ferocity into the faces of minimum wage opponents that he shows to the groups opposed to his education agenda."

Cuomo's public support of a wage increase isn't exactly typical of the governor. He has been criticized by advocates in the past for not stumping on specific policies.This time Cuomo has been on the road and his office is issuing press releases in support of the increase.

"The sweetest and healthiest success is one that enables everyone to do well together – that is what community is all about," Cuomo said announcing his "Fight For Fair Pay."

"As our economy recovers and our businesses add new jobs, we need to ensure our entire workforce has the opportunity to be part of the economic recovery and new momentum we are seeing in all corners of the State," the governor said. "New York has always been a leader in protecting our workers and building strong communities, and this year we must continue to move forward by fighting for fair pay and raising the minimum wage statewide."

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing

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On Minimum Wage, Cuomo Again Finds the Not-So-Happy Middle Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:07:54 +0000
Assembly Budget Champions De Blasio Agenda http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5624:assembly-budget-champions-de-blasio-agenda http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5624:assembly-budget-champions-de-blasio-agenda bdb parade

Mayor de Blasio (photo: @BilldeBlasio)


Mayor Bill de Blasio got a boost from Assembly Democrats on Tuesday in the form of their one-house budget proposal that includes a number of the mayor's major priorities. Facing a state budget negotiation with his agenda at the mercy of his rival-pal Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Senate Republicans who he unsuccessfully tried to unseat last year, de Blasio needed some help.

Bargaining help arrived thanks in part to de Blasio's new Albany ally, recently minted Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Democrat from the Bronx. The most direct symbol of Heastie's and his New York City-dominated chamber's allegiance to de Blasio comes in the form of a budget that renews mayoral control of city schools for 7 years, delivers a major increase in education funding without Cuomo's proposed reforms, increases pre-K monies, and would deliver a $15 minimum wage for the city. It is unlikely any of these proposals make it into the state budget unscathed, but they function as a negotiating post for the Democratically-controlled Assembly.

"I commend the Assembly for its one-house budget proposal, which includes a number of initiatives that will go a long way toward combating inequality and protecting New Yorkers around this city," said de Blasio in a statement. "I am grateful to Speaker Heastie and the Assembly for their leadership."

Cuomo's budget - which de Blasio gave mixed reviews during recent Albany testimony - ties a $1.1 billion increase in education spending to a number of reforms opposed by teachers unions and their allies. The Assembly budget would increase education spending without those proposals, which include increasing the degree to which standardized tests factor into teacher evaluations and raising the charter school cap. Cuomo has insisted that he will only increase education spending by a few million dollars if the Legislature does not agree to his reform package, which is lauded by those in the so-called education reform movement.

De Blasio has been outspoken recently about education funding and even teamed with Cuomo foil Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner to call on the governor and Legislature to increase education funding to what they call necessary levels. Advocates point to the 2003 Campaign For Fiscal Equity Lawsuit where an appellate court judge found the State allows public schools to go "chronically underfunded."

Echoing advocates and unions, de Blasio claimed the State owes New York City schools $2.6 billion, while Miner said the state owes Syracuse schools $87.1 million.

The Assembly also sided with de Blasio on the minimum wage. Cuomo and de Blasio both support a wage increase - and one that would be in some way larger for New York City, where the cost of living is greater, than the rest of the state - but they differ in their plans.

Cuomo's plan would set the state minimum wage to $10.50 per hour, with an $11.50 hourly rate in New York City by the end of this year. De Blasio's calls for the State to allow the City to set its minimum wage based on inflation and a $15 hourly rate by the end of 2019. The Assembly plan essentially mirrors de Blasio's call but also allows New York City suburbs to set their minimum wages to inflation.

"Raising the minimum wage is about the moral obligation we have to help families across the state who are struggling to get by," Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said in a statement. "The current wage floor is not enough to allow full-time workers who put in a 40-hour work week to afford life's basic necessities, let alone achieve financial independence."

De Blasio praised the move in his statement: "The Assembly's minimum wage proposal is also a critical step toward providing the fair wages New Yorkers need and deserve as we continue to take on income inequality in New York City and beyond."

De Blasio has shown an increased appetite to publicly challenge Cuomo this year. His Feburary budget testimony, although at times praiseful of Cuomo, also included criticism of the governor's funding plan around programs to help the homeless and the state's commitment to the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA).

The Assembly budget addresses those issues and others by doing away with Cuomo's proposed decrease in funding the city receives for its Emergency Assistance to Families program. De Blasio testified before the Legislature in February that the plan "would effectively mean a $22.5 million cut to our homeless prevention programs. That money would provide shelter for 500 families for a year."

The Assembly would also give de Blasio an extended break from having to petition Albany to extend mayoral control of schools. Cuomo has proposed a three-year extension while the Assembly prefers seven. De Blasio called for permanent mayoral control last month.

"We feel like Mayor de Blasio shouldn't be treated any differently than Mayor Bloomberg," Heastie told reporters after unveiling the Assembly budget proposal. "Mayor Bloomberg was given more than three years, so to provide the kind of stability the mayor wants to turn around particularly failing schools we feel that more than three years is appropriate."

Liberal advocacy groups like The Working Families Party and Citizen Action also applauded the Assembly budget. "Millions of New York's lowest paid working families can finally imagine a life above the poverty line," said WFP chair Bill Lipton in a statement. "We commend Speaker Carl Heastie, Labor Chair Titus and the Assembly majority for calling for a $15 minimum wage. New York should be a leader in the fight against inequality and for an economy that works for all of us." Lipton also praised the Assembly's education funding proposal.

"We applaud Speaker Heastie and the State Assembly for taking bold action to reverse the state's devastating underfunding of public schools and to ensure working families can earn enough to meet basic needs," said Karen Scharff, executive director of Citizen Action of New York.

The Senate's one-house budget is expected to exclude a number of priorities de Blasio has advocated, including The Dream Act and a minimum wage hike. Senators say their proposal will increase education aid by $1.9 billion.

The Assembly budget ignores a slate of ethics reforms in the governor's budget (which de Blasio has not weighed in on). Cuomo has insisted the reforms are non-negotiable and he is willing to have a late budget to get them. Heastie said that those reforms are still being discussed. "We made reference to the issues on disclosure, we have campaign finance reform and many of the discussions that we've been having with the governor have been going well," Heastie told reporters."I think by the time we get to voting on the budget, we'll have a very detailed and satisfactory ethics reform."

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing

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Assembly Budget Champions De Blasio Agenda Wed, 11 Mar 2015 04:11:43 +0000