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With Proposal, Advocates Attempt to Jumpstart State Affordable Housing Spending


housing rally

Advocates outside Gov. Cuomo's office Wednesday (photo via Coalition for the Homeless)


Housing advocates have done a job shirked by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders this session and crafted a plan for how the state should spend $1.9 billion on affordable and supportive housing over the next five years.

The governor and Legislature agreed to dedicate $1.9 billion in the April 1 budget, but negotiations on how to actually fully allocate the funds fell apart at the close of the legislative session in June. The details of the spending was to be determined through “memorandum of understanding,” or MOU, among Cuomo and legislative leaders. By the end of the session, they outlined $150 million in spending through two narrow MOUs, leaving a lot of money on the table and many people frustrated, including housing advocates and providers, local elected officials, and others.

Advocates, lenders, and developers now say the affordable housing pipeline has begun to dry up due to uncertainty about what the state’s priorities will be once a larger MOU is negotiated. This is one big reason that they crafted their newly-released blueprint for how to spend the money and why they organized another rally outside the governor’s office on Wednesday morning.

“We hope this will kickstart negotiations,” said Rachel Fee, executive director of The New York Housing Conference, a group involved in putting forward the suggested MOU. “All they have to do is sign this,” she said of the proposal. Other groups of the ten involved in putting forward the MOU proposal include the AARP, the Center for NYC Neighborhoods, the Community Preservation Corporation, Enterprise Community Partners, and the Supportive Housing Network of New York.

Advocates say that the state is missing out on 1,000 units of new affordable, senior, and supportive housing every month that the MOU goes unsigned. “People don't know what the state wants so the pipeline isn't moving,” said Fee. “Do they want elder housing and if so how much and where do they want it? So, it is very important they agree and get the money out the door.”

State cash will be used to subsidize the building and maintainence of affordable and supportive housing across the state. Exactly how it does that will be determined by the MOU. Supportive housing is designed to give homeless people, especially those dealing with mental illness or substance abuse, affordable housing paired with the services they need to maintain to live healthy lives. Some funds will go to maintaining existing affordable housing stock and neighborhood revitalization. Other funds will be used to assist the construction buildings of various sizes. Until the state actually lays out which initiatives will be funded and how much is to be spend on each, those interested in utilizing the subsidies either have to guess or wait.

Cuomo administration spokesperson Rich Azzopardi indicated that the governor is waiting for the Legislature to negotiate.

“It was the Governor who advanced this unprecedented state commitment to affordable housing and, like these advocates, we’re seeking to get this this MOU signed and this much-needed funding out the door as soon as possible. We urge the legislature to join us in this effort,” Azzopardi told Gotham Gazette.

During a briefing on Tuesday at City Hall, New York City Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, who heads the city’s housing efforts, said that it was “a tragedy” that the state failed to agree on a complete MOU during this past session. “I would be thrilled if they came to an agreement on what projects they wanted to fund,” Glen said, adding, “It would be a big tragedy for New Yorkers if the state wasn't able to put together a fully-funded affordable housing plan.”

Advocates say they are trying to avoid such an outcome long-term by presenting a plan that takes into account the major concerns aired by all sides during negotiations over the MOU. New York City, meanwhile, continues with its own affordable housing plan - the Tuesday briefing was called to inform reporters and the public that the administration is on track with its 200,000 unit, ten-year affordable housing plan.

Fee said that the proposal includes all of the priorities put forward by Cuomo and legislative leaders. The plan has a framework to provide parity in investments in housing upstate as was pressed for by Senate Republicans, including $9 million for main street revitalization projects and a measure allocating $100 million for roof replacements for aging New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) housing stock as pushed for by Assembly Democrats.

The administration was able to push $150 million in funding for supportive housing out the door before the end of session but advocates say it does very little to provide certainty for developers about the state’s future plans.

Fee said that her group is hopeful the Legislature could use the suggested MOU as a quick, ready-to-use starting point for negotiations to get a deal signed before “everyone goes on vacation in August.”

The groups’ MOU may not be the catalyst needed to move negotiations forward. Three legislators familiar with negotiations told Gotham Gazette that discussions have been tied to separate deal making on the expired 421-a tax abatement meant to spur rental housing that includes a set percentage of affordable units. Many legislators expect the housing funds will continue to be held hostage until a deal can be reached to replace or renew 421-a. Developers are anxious to see the incentive return to play, they say. On Tuesday, Glen and other city housing officials said that the lack of 421-a is hampering affordable and market-rate rental housing development in the city.

“Negotiations over 421-a got in the way,” said Fee. “They love to package things in Albany. We support a tax credit to boost the private market but we can't wait for a deal on that. They need to sign the MOU now.”

The coalition's proposed spending plan looks like this:

statewide affordable housing plan spending

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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.”

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, July 25


New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

All eyes are on Philadelphia this week as the Democratic National Convention takes place there, Monday through Thursday. Last week saw the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, where Donald Trump was formally nominated for President, and Mike Pence for Vice President. This week, Hillary Clinton will be officially named the Democrats' presidential nominee, with her recently-announced running mate Tim Kaine for Vice President.

Though there was some drama (a minor push by anti-Trump delegates to have a roll call vote; host-state delegates from Ohio showing their displeasure with Trump; the Melania Trump plagiarism uproar; and the Ted Cruz non-endorsement debacle), proceedings went fairly smoothly at the RNC, and things were surprisingly peaceful outside, with some protest, little violence, and relatively few arrests. Trump gave a long, angry acceptance speech on Thursday night, diagnosing and promising to fix America's wounds, and quickly, and to thus "Make America Great Again."

In Philadelphia, both New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio will speak. Cuomo is the head of the New York delegation to the DNC. Other New York speakers - along with the nominee herself, Clinton, a former Senator from the state calls New York home - will be Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, Reps. Joe Crowley and Nita Lowey. On Sunday, The New York Times reported that former Mayor Michael Bloomberg will speak at the DNC on Wednesday, endorsing Clinton and warning of the dangers of electing Trump. [Read our preview of the DNC here]

Before leaving for Philadelphia, de Blasio will hold a press conference Monday morning with NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton "to make a law enforcement announcement." It will be at 10:30 a.m. at the 84th Precinct in Brooklyn.

Because most prominent New York officials are Democrats and they'll be at the DNC, it will be another fairly quiet week in New York City and around the state in terms of political events - but there are several to be aware of - see our day-by-day rundown of those and DNC proceedings below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
e-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com***

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
On Monday at 10:30 a.m. at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City Council Members Helen Rosenthal and Inez Dickens and the New York City Economic Development Corporation will host a Request for Proposal (RFP) access workshop; “We are expanding our outreach efforts to make sure that emerging and established developers like you - including M/WBE firms - know about the opportunities at NYCEDC and how to submit an RFP.” A second workshop will be held on Thursday.

On Monday at 1 p.m. in Manhattan, the City Planning Commission will host a Review Session meeting.

At 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Museum of the City of New York, the Museum and the Municipal Art Society will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the city’s Zoning Law with an event focusing on the law’s impact “with an eye towards the future.” Carl Weisbrod, Director of the New York City Department of City Planning and Chairman of the New York City Planning Commission will give remarks, and a panel of experts will discuss “the hurdles and potential improvements to zoning for the century to come.”

After his Brooklyn press conference Monday morning, Mayor de Blasio will leave for Philadelphia, where he will be until Friday. De Blasio will deliver remarks at the "Democratic National Convention Immigration Forum" at the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia Monday afternoon. He'll then attend a welcome reception held by the DNC. In the evening, de Blasio will appear on NY1 in the 7 o'clock hour before attending the evening session of the DNC -- The Democratic National Convention kicks off Monday at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. [Read more about the DNC here]

Tuesday
At 8:30 a.m. at the Greene Space at WNYC & WQXR, the Center for an Urban Future will hold a symposium on “the power and potential of women entrepreneurs in New York City.” The forum will feature a keynote speech from Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen and two panel discussions focusing on the challenges women entrepreneurs face in the five boroughs and how to boost their success, specifically in the technology sector. The event will build upon the Center's March 2016 report, "Breaking Through: The Economic Impact of Women Entrepreneurs."

At 11 a.m. Tuesday, the Commission on Legislative, Judicial & Executive Compensation will hold a public meeting at the New York City Bar Association in Manhattan. [Read about the commission's work toward making recommendations about pay for state officials here]

The Democratic National Convention continues Tuesday in Philadelphia. Mid-day, Mayor de Blasio is scheduled to participate in a National League of Cities panel discussion at Philadelphia City Hall.

Wednesday
Wednesday at 10 a.m. in Manhattan, the City Planning Commission will host a public meeting.

On Wednesday at 6 p.m., the city Panel for Education Policy will hold a public meeting at M.S. 131.

The Democratic National Convention continues Wednesday in Philadelphia. On Wednesday afternoon, Mayor de Blasio is scheduled to deliver remarks at a Democratic National Committee Labor Council Panel discussion at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

Thursday
On Thursday morning in Philadelphia, Mayor de Blasio is scheduled to participate in "City Solutions: Income Inequality" panel discussion.

At 8 a.m. Thursday, City and State Reports will host Awards in Sustainability, honoring "outstanding corporate citizens for their work in sustainability - from the construction, energy, transportation and food industries and beyond." The event will feature keynote remarks by Daniel A. Zarrilli, Senior Director of Climate Policy and Programs and Chief Resilience Officer, Office of the Mayor.

At 1 p.m. Thursday in Queens, the offices of Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, City Council Members Ferreras-Copeland, Miller, and Richards, and the New York Economic Development Corporation will host a second Request for Proposal (RFP) access workshop.

Thursday At 5 p.m in Queens, the Department of Consumer Affairs and Queens Chamber of Commerce will host a seminar for employees on their rights regarding New York City’s Paid Sick Leave and Commuter Benefits Laws.

Hillary Clinton will accept the Democratic nomination for President Thursday evening as the Democratic National Convention concludes in Philadelphia.

Friday and the weekend
Nothing on the political calendar as of now.

***
Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: bmax@gothamgazette.com (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

***
by Amanda Sherwin and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

New Yorkers Head to the Democratic National Convention


clinton rally w de blasio cuomo mark-viverito stringer

A March Clinton rally in NYC (photo: Barbara Kinney for Hillary for America)


New York is heavily Democratic and the state will have a major presence at this week's Democratic National Convention, not least because its delegation will be seated front and center in the Philadelphia arena because the presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, calls the Empire State home. It's a similar dynamic, at least in that last regard, to last week's Republican National Convention, where lifelong New Yorker Donald Trump was formally nominated for President.

One key difference between the two conventions is that New York's elected officials are overwhelmingly Democrats, so the political star power from the state at the DNC will be greater than it was at the RNC. While former Mayor Rudy Giuliani spoke passionately at the RNC in primetime, current Mayor Bill de Blasio is on the speakers' list for the DNC, though it has not yet been announced when he will speak, and The New York Times reported on Sunday that former Mayor Michael Bloomberg will endorse Clinton during a primte-time speech on Wednesday at the DNC. Bloomberg, a Democrat-turned Republican-turned independent, had announced earlier this year that he was not pursuing an independent run for the White House in part because he didn't want to risk taking votes from Clinton and giving the presidency to Trump.

Governor Andrew Cuomo and Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York will also speak at the DNC, along with Congressional Reps. Joe Crowley and Nita Lowey. State Senator Adriano Espaillat, who recently won the Democratic primary to replace Charles Rangel in Congress and is expected to easily win the general election, will also speak - Espaillat is poised to become the first person of Dominican descent to join Congress. They lead a large -- 345-member -- New York delegation to Philadelphia that includes other elected officials from Congress to the City Council, party operatives, and others.

While the RNC did feature a number of prominent Republicans from across the country like House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Senator Ted Cruz (who was booed by the crowd for refusing to endorse Trump during his remarks), there were many notable Republicans missing, which fit with Trump's reputation as an anti-establishment political outsider. The Bush family was absent, meaning neither former President George H.W. Bush nor former President George W. Bush (nor former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who was a main target of Trump during the Republican primary). Neither 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney nor 2008 Republican nominee John McCain was present either.

Unlike Trump’s convention, Clinton’s will feature a "who’s who" of major party names - Democratic National Convention speakers will include President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, former President Bill Clinton, Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and others. Bloomberg will take clear aim at independents and even some moderate Republicans in explaining his support for Clinton over Trump.

One clear theme of the RNC was party unity and while that will be much less of an issue during the DNC, newly leaked emails have led to the resignation of Democratic National Committee head Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who will have a very limited role at the DNC and step down thereafter. The emails showed the DNC favoring Clinton over Sanders during their primary contest. When Sanders speaks Monday night, though, much of the division in the party may be put to rest.

Trump's vice presidential running mate Indiana Gov. Mike Pence accepted his nomination and spoke on Wednesday night of the RNC - this week, newly named Democratic vice presidential nominee Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine will do likewise on the third of the four convention nights. As the Republicans did last week, this week the Democrats will adopt their party policy platform.

As the DNC kicks off there is much to know and to watch for - read more below. The close of the convention will also set off the final three-and-a-half months of the campaign, leading to Election Day on November 8: the final stretch of speeches, platforms, polls, ads, debates, and more.

When and Where is the DNC?
The Democratic National Convention will take place Monday through Thursday, July 25-28, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at the Wells Fargo Center. Though Brooklyn was seriously considered to host the convention amid a strong push from Mayor Bill de Blasio and others, Philadelphia won the honor.

The Delegates
There are three types of delegates for the Democrats: pledged delegates, who petitioned in order to get on the ballot and become a delegate, and are legally bound to support a particular candidate; at-large delegates, chosen by the state Democratic Party, who pledge to vote for a particular candidate; and unpledged delegates, otherwise known as superdelegates, who are prominent party leaders not bound to any candidate.

There is no drama expected at the Democratic convention in terms of delegate allocation as Bernie Sanders has conceded and endorsed Hillary Clinton, so the types of delegates are unlikely to be a factor. Sanders supporters are making noise in the streets of Philadelphia already, and are likely to continue doing so all week, inside and outside the convention hall.

As more signs were pointing to a Clinton win by a solid margin, she won her home state of New York on April 19. Throughout the race, Clinton accumulated an overwhelming majority of the superdelegates, known party insiders always supportive of her over Sanders, who has not been an establishment Democrat. This led to some of the calls from Sanders and his supporters of a ‘rigged system.’ Leading up to the DNC, the conventions rules committee did vote to keep the superdelegate system in place, but also to study that system and very likely adjust it.

The Democratic Party Platform and Speakers
Sanders and his supporters, plus the national Democratic tilt leftward, have had a significant influence on the party platform being adopted this year -- progressive influence throughout the primary season as well as recent, more explicit demands. Three issues are emblematic: calling for a $15 per hour minimum wage, standing against capital punishment in all circumstances, and a vision for debt-free college for all students from families earning under $120,000 annually. The party platform has stepped to the ideological left of Clinton, who has spoken in favor of a $12 federal minimum wage (with states going higher per their judgement) and capital punishment for certain crimes.

Dr. David Birdsell, a professor and dean at Baruch College, does not believe that Sanders’ endorsement of Clinton is enough to dissipate all of the tension within the Democratic Party - and that was before the recent leak, by Wikileaks, of many Democratic National Committee emails, which show that the committee was indeed biased toward Clinton and against Sanders. DNC Chair Wasserman Schultz will have a very limited role at the convention and has announced she is resigning as chair as of week's end.

“The Sanders endorsement – and he did use the word ‘endorse’ – of Clinton will go a long way toward reducing contention and controversy in Philadelphia,” Birdsell said in an interview. “[However,] there will still be some tension; Hillary Clinton is too polarizing a figure to expect an entirely smooth process. But chances are good at this point that Democrats will come together and unite for the fall campaign - barring further repercussions from the FBI’s decision not to prosecute [Clinton, regarding her email scandal], but that’s a general election problem, not a convention problem.”

Sanders will address the convention in prime-time on Monday night, along with First Lady Michelle Obama, and others. Sanders has been saying that his main goal is to make sure that Donald Trump does not become President, and while he has had some kind words for Hillary Clinton, he is likely to focus his remarks more on the dangers that Trump poses to the country and the key issues that he and his supporters have been fighting for.

While Sanders and Michelle Obama are the featured Monday evening speakers, Tuesday evening's big name is former President Bill Clinton. But Tuesday evening will also have a very New York-centric feel, with other speakers including students from Eagle Academy; Joe Sweeney, who was an NYPD detective on September 11, 2001; Lauren Manning, a severely wounded survivor of the September 11, 2001 attacks; and the "Mothers of the Movement" - mothers of men killed in police encounters, which will include Eric Garner's mother, Gwen Carr.

Wednesday's top speakers will be former Mayor Bloomberg, President Obama and Vice President Biden; and Tim Kaine will accept his VP nomination and speak. On Thursday, Chelsea Clinton and Hillary Clinton will speak.

It is not yet clear when Mayor de Blasio, Gov. Cuomo, or Sens. Schumer and Gillibrand will speak.

The New York Angle
Basil Smikle, executive director of the New York State Democratic Committee, is excited about the amendments to the party’s platform. Smikle sees them as an expansion of New York values to the rest of the nation. “I think New York has been in this conversation and led it for a long time,” he said.

“I think the state and the party has had a tremendous impact on the platform itself, and going to the convention with the leadership of the governor is certainly carrying the work that Hillary Clinton has done for New York and the Senate, and what she's been able to accomplish and discuss on the campaign trail,” Smikle continued. “Those are New York values, and we are thankful that they've been able to influence other states, other delegates, and certainly the platform itself."

Cuomo has been selected to chair New York state’s delegation at the DNC - a choice that caused Sanders supporters to protest.

Other notable New York Democratic superdelegates include former President Bill Clinton, Schumer and Gillibrand, and Mayor de Blasio. While Cuomo and de Blasio are set to speak at the convention, it does not look like the same will be true for City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who has been a frequent Clinton surrogate and campaigner this election season and will be part of the delegation to Philadelphia. Mark-Viverito will be active in Philadelphia this week, including an event on Wednesday afternoon with the Latino Victory Project. She is also expected to be on the campaign trail on Clinton's behalf this fall, especially in states like Florida with large Hispanic populations (Mark-Viverito is Puerto Rican and the first Latina to be Speaker of the City Council).

Other members of the New York Democratic delegation to the DNC include Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and a variety of Democratic Assembly members and state Senators; much of the state’s Democratic House delegation; city Public Advocate Letitia James; city Comptroller Scott Stringer; Queens Borough President Melinda Katz; Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer; Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.; and City Council Members Jumaane Williams, Vanessa Gibson, Corey Johnson, Richie Torres, Ydanis Rodriguez, and others. (A complete list of the 345 New York DNC delegation is available here, courtesy of the State Democratic Committee.)

According to Smikle, this year’s delegation “brings a tremendous sense of pride for us as New Yorkers.” He cited work New York leaders have done to move progressive policy and their impact on national politics.

“I think what New York broadly and the delegation specifically brings is that a lot of what's in the platform has been discussed and implemented in New York for quite some time, so I do think members of our delegation have had an incredible impact,” he said.

***
by Amanda Sherwin, Rebecca Oh, and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

Super PAC Begins Flyering Bronx Senate Race


 riveraflyer2 1


A super PAC has started to blanket the 33rd Senate District in the Bronx with mailers attacking incumbent Democratic state Senator Gustavo Rivera and praising his challenger, Democratic City Council Member Fernando Cabrera. A flyer sent to voters last week praises Cabrera for standing up for family values and for knowing that “single women, mothers and our wives need protection.”

Flyers sent this week accuse Rivera of “Playing Us For Fools” and excerpts heavily from the June 21 New York Times editorial, “The Old Albany Hustle,” which criticized Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders for failing to enact any meaningful ethics reforms this year.

Rivera has advocated for the very ethics reforms the editorial accuses the governor and majority leaders of avoiding and Rivera is part of the Democratic minority in the Senate that has no power at the negotiating table. Cabrera and Rivera will face off for the second consecutive cycle during the September 13 primary.

riveraflyer1“I think it's ridiculous and laughable on its face,” Rivera told Gotham Gazette. “But it is a deceiving piece. The New York Times article does not have my name in it, but it is an editorial I agree with 100 percent. We should have done more on ethics. Ethics reform is the reason I came to the Senate, it is the reason I ran against a corrupt senator. I’ve been fighting for reform since the second I got to Albany.”

New Yorkers For Independent Action, the PAC paying for the mailers, is advocating for the education tax credit that would see the state give tax rebates to individuals and companies who donate to private, religious, and charter schools. Teachers unions say the measure basically acts as a backdoor to vouchers and will be taken advantage of by companies and the wealthy; while proponents say it boosts educational choice.

Cabrera lost his primary challenge to Rivera two years ago by 20 points and according to a number of sources he promised members of the Bronx Democratic Committee not to run again and to work with Rivera. However, many Democrats see the financial backing of NYIA as the impetus for the repeat challenge.

The PAC has reported taking in $2.7 million since its creation and has spent over $1 million on polls and research on different races. The New York Daily News reported earlier this month that the PAC is targeting Rivera as well as Assembly Democratic incumbents Pamela Harris of Brooklyn, Phil Ramos of Suffolk County, and Latrice Harris of Brooklyn.

Major donors include Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton, who gave $450,000, and Peter Grauer of Bloomberg L.P., who gave $75,000. The PAC also has major support from Catholic activists.

cabreraflyer2Cabrera has proven a controversial figure in the City Council for his support of Ugandan anti-gay laws and his association with anti-gay group The Family Research Council. Cabrera’s run is not insignificant in a year when Senate Democrats are banking on the presidential election to help them seize the majority from Senate Republicans. Rivera, who would have otherwise spent the summer campaigning for other Democrats, is now forced into a costly primary.

Cabrera reported raising $72,015 in his July filing with the state campaign finance board and spending $47,549 -- he now has $24,315 to spend. Many of his donations came from the real estate industry. Rivera reported raising $139,486, while spending $79,299; he has $114,012 to spend. Rivera took a significant number of contributions from beer distributors.

Rivera said he expects to see mailers every week from the PAC until the September primary. “He wouldn’t have been able to afford this kind of campaign on his own,” Rivera said of Cabrera, questioning whether Cabrera knew of the PAC’s involvement in advance. Cabrera's office did not return requests for comment for this story.

“Knowing you are going to have this kind of money behind you gives you a pretty good reason to run,” Rivera said.

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

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Can Trump Win New York? Inside the Numbers


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Donald Trump & Mike Pence (photo via @GOP)


Donald Trump’s nomination for President at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland was the culmination of a primary campaign that overturned precedent and defied expectations of the political class. Now, as he shifts his attention the general election, Trump has set his sights on another lofty goal, one which has been out of reach for Republicans for over two decades: winning New York, his home state.

Recent polls, voter enrollment data, and primary turnout patterns indicate that defeating presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in New York would require near-unanimous support from both Republican and independent voters—a feat that Trump does not seem poised to accomplish.

Trump’s campaign announced in May that it will focus on 15 states in the general election, including traditional swing states like Ohio, Michigan, and Virginia, as well as Democratic strongholds like California and New York. Since then, Clinton has maintained a comfortable double-digit lead in New York polls, with the most recent from Quinnipiac University released on Tuesday giving her a 47 to 35 percent advantage - a slightly smaller margin than the prior poll, however. Election-modeling publication FiveThirtyEight gives Clinton a 97.1 percent chance of winning here.

But Trump and other members of his party seem undeterred by polling trends, instead touting his overwhelming win in the New York primary in April as evidence that the state is in play for the general election. Trump is clearly not to be underestimated, they say, and there are months until Election Day.

“If we carry New York by the margin we should, we will have changed American history...If you can break the city then you have the state,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said on Monday at a breakfast for the New York Republican delegation in Cleveland. Along with his primary success across the country, including in New York, Trump’s New York pedigree and presence in the city’s public life for decades appear to be giving him and his supporters added confidence.

“The win in New York really helped set the momentum,” Rep. Chris Collins, a Republican who represents the 27th Congressional District in Western New York and was the first member of Congress to endorse Trump, told State of Politics. “New York is in play.”

Collins refers to Trump’s decisive victory in the New York Republican primary, in which he received 60 percent of the vote and won every county but Manhattan, Trump’s home turf, which went to Ohio Governor John Kasich. This was a slightly larger percentage than Clinton - who also calls New York home - won in the Democratic primary, where she earned 58 percent of the vote while facing just one opponent (there were four Republicans on the ballot: Trump, Kasich, Ted Cruz and Ben Carson, who had dropped out before the vote).

Winning a vast majority of New York Republicans, however, will not be enough to secure a Trump victory here. Even though he won a higher percentage, Trump won half as many raw votes in the primary as Clinton, securing 525,000 to her 1 million. Had he secured 100 percent of Republican primary voters, Trump would still have trailed Clinton in New York primary votes.

As of April 1, there were 5.8 million Democrats and 2.7 million Republicans enrolled across the state, according to the New York Board of Elections, with New York City voters comprising 3.1 million of the Democrats and 460,000 Republicans. There are another 2.5 million “unaffiliated” registered voters, otherwise known as independents, and another 705,000 voters registered with smaller parties, like the Green Party or the Independence Party.

Trump statewide via CUNY graduate centerA total of 2.9 million New Yorkers voted in the presidential primaries this year (2 million Democrats and 922,000 Republicans). For a glimpse of the increase to anticipate in November, the last time there was a non-incumbent presidential election, in 2008, 7.6 million New Yorkers voted in the general election (4.8 million voted Democrat and 2.8 million voted Republican).

The Democratic enrollment advantage is expected to continue to favor Clinton this year as voter turnout surges for the general election, though Trump supporters are planning to attract many voters not registered as Republican. According to Steven Romalewski, mapping service director for the Center for Urban Research at the CUNY Graduate Center, the last time there were both Democratic and Republican primaries in New York, in 2008, the number of Republican voters jumped from 670,000 to 2.75 million between the primary and general elections, while Democratic voters lept from 1.9 million to 4.8 million voters.

Clinton statewide map via CUNY graduate centerRomalewski said the increase in voters between the primary and general election was especially prominent within the New York City area. This does not bode well for Trump, who, according to the Quinnipiac poll, leads among upstate voters 48 to 36 percent, but is behind among New York City voters 63 to 20 percent. Trump and Clinton are neck-and-neck among suburban voters.

“If the turnout surges even by half the amount [it surged in 2008] from the primary to the general on the
Democratic side, it’s going to be really hard from a number of perspectives for the GOP side to overcome this,” Romalewski said in a phone interview with Gotham Gazette.

To win New York, Trump will likely need at least 2 million more voters than the 2.75 million Republican Senator John McCain received here in 2008—a total that Romalewski said would require winning all Republican-registered voters as well as nearly all independent voters. As of April 1, there were about 2.5 million unaffiliated, or independent, registered voters in New York, and new voters will be able to register until Oct. 14.

Trump and Clinton could, however, face a radically different electoral map than McCain, in part because of the unpredictable nature of this year’s election.

“It’s especially hard this year to look back for similar situations in presidential campaigns and kind of use those examples to predict or expect what might happen this time,” Romalewski said. “On the other hand, when you look at the math, it seems highly unlikely that the Republican candidate will be able to pull it out.”

To predict election outcomes, FiveThirtyEight uses an algorithm that weighs polling trends and demographic data. Its New York forecast begins with a strong Clinton lead indicated by polls which is then slightly widened when demographic data is taken into account. The website now predicts that Clinton will win about 54 percent of the vote in New York and that Trump will win 37.5 percent.

Currently, Trump’s progress to unite the bulk of non-Democratic New Yorkers has wavered according to polls. Trump performs poorly with independents in New York, as evidenced by Tuesday’s Quinnipiac Poll revealing a 41 to 35 percent advantage for Clinton among independents (most respondents said they did not know enough about Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson or Green Party nominee Jill Stein to support or oppose them).

Further, Trump has not yet won unequivocal support from Republicans—nearly 10 percent of Republican New Yorkers do not support him; five of the state’s 10 Republican U.S. Congressional Representatives have endorsed his bid for presidency. By contrast, all 18 Democratic Representatives and both Democratic Senators from New York have endorsed Clinton.

The last time a Republican presidential candidate won in New York was 1984, when incumbent President Ronald Reagan defeated Walter Mondale -- Reagan won every state but Mondale’s home state of Minnesota that year.

***
by Aaron Holmes, Gotham Gazette

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Senate Republicans Face Departures with Battle for Control Looming


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Senate Majority Leader Flanagan, second from right (photo via Facebook)


New York State Senate Republicans are headed into a fight for their survival, dealing with the departure of veteran lawmakers, top staff, and one rising star.

The impending fall elections for all 63 Senate seats will test control of the chamber by Senate Republicans, the party’s only check on Democratic strongholds in the state Assembly and four statewide offices, including Governor. There are currently 32 Democrats and 31 Republicans in the chamber but Republicans maintain control with the help of Brooklyn Democrat Simcha Felder, who caucuses with Senate Republicans, and the five-member Independent Democratic Conference.

Senate Democrats have picked up seats in every presidential election year since 2000.

Sen. Hugh Farley, an 83-year-old Republican representing the 49th Senate District, announced earlier this year that he won’t seek another term. He’s served in the Senate since 1977.

Sen. Mike Nozzolio, a 65-year-old Republican representing the 54th Senate District, decided not to seek reelection this year citing a heart condition. He’s served in the Senate since 1992.

Sen. Jack Martins, a younger member of the Republican conference at 49, was only elected in 2010 and was seen as a future leader in the conference, but he has forgone reelection for a congressional bid. Senate Republicans reportedly pushed Martins to stay in the Senate to help them hold a majority.

And top Republican staffers Robert Mujica (budget) and Kelly Cummings (communications) departed for the Cuomo administration this year, resulting in something of a brain-drain. The conference faced a challenging year as divisions between upstate and downstate members appeared to boil over during budget negotiations, a rarity for the generally lockstep conference. Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan of Long Island, who defeated Sen. John DeFrancisco of Syracuse to replace former Majority Leader Dean Skelos, has kept up the friendly, mutually beneficial relationship with Cuomo that Skelos started, which has irked a number of upstate legislators.

To hear Democrats tell it, Senate Republicans are realizing that they won’t be able to keep the chamber during a presidential election year. “We’ve picked up multiple seats during each presidential election year in this millennium,” said Queens Sen. Mike Gianaris, who chairs the state Senate Democratic Campaign Committee. “I can't blame them,” Gianaris said, referring to senior Senate Republicans deciding not to seek reelection. “They see the writing on the wall.”

“When talented people see that their future isn't with the Senate Republicans it is telling,” he said of the departures of Cummings, who left recently, and Mujica, who became Cuomo’s budget director at the start of the year.

Senate Republican spokesperson Scott Reif said that recent departures are not a reaction to changing political tides. "Whether it's a long-serving Senator who chooses to retire or a staffer who decides to pursue another opportunity, these are personal decisions that were made at an appropriate time,” Reif said. “While the Senate Democrats want to make this out to be far more than it really is, the truth is that these changes will have no impact whatsoever on the state of the Senate Republican Conference or our prospects for the fall. We have strong incumbents who are running on a record of accomplishment, first-class challengers who are going to help us pick up seats, and an experienced and professional staff that is second to none. We are confident we're going to grow our majority in November."

Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group said that the departure of Mujica and Cummings to Cuomo’s office may not be indicative of anything more than the governor’s need for staff with high-level experience in state government and their desire to advance their careers. “They have the experience in the higher levels of government, so it makes their hiring unsurprising,” said Horner, who once left NYPIRG to work for the governor during Cuomo’s time as attorney general. “New York has tough revolving-door rules so in some cases it's hard for folks to leave government, so they are constantly looking for ways to move up to gain new experience.”

Senate Republicans lost control of the State Senate for the first time in decades in 2008, when Democrats rode the Barack Obama wave. In 2009 Senate Republican leadership and rogue Democrats launched a coup that paralyzed state government for weeks. Republicans won back control through the 2010 elections (seats in the state Legislature are voted on every two years), but after Democrats picked up seats in 2012, Republicans cut a deal with the Independent Democratic Conference and Democratic Sen. Simcha Felder that allowed them to keep control.

Republicans again won outright control of the chamber in 2014 and the IDC took on a lesser role while continuing a governing coalition. However, Republicans were unable to win the special election to replace Skelos, the former majority leader removed from office after a corruption conviction. That election sets the stage for this fall.

Sources from both the mainline Democratic conference and IDC say relationships between the two have improved and that there is room for discussion about a partnership after the November elections.

Republicans face the departure of three incumbents and increasing Democratic voter registration in key districts, but their campaign committee does have a fundraising advantage over the Democrats.

While Democrats see the decision of some Senior Republicans not to seek reelection as a sign of their impending victory, in most cases, the departing Republicans are not at all likely to be replaced by Democrats. Instead, Democrats expect to make big gains on Long Island while the open seats will prove a distraction where Republicans will have to invest some resources to establish their new candidates.

Sen. Farley anointed Assemblymember Jim Tedisco, a former Assembly minority leader, to replace him. Tedisco has served in the Assembly since 1983 and his Assembly district shares much of Farley’s Senate district in Schenectady and Saratoga counties. He is the favorite in the upcoming Republican primary in September. Democrat Chad Putman announced his campaign earlier this year before Farley had decided to retire. He said he is happy residents of his district will have new representation for the first time in 40 years, but he recognizes that Tedisco is equally well known as Farley and while he isn’t the incumbent, Tedisco enjoys many of the benefits of incumbency.

“I’m 41 years old and when I jumped into the race in January I was facing someone who has served for 40 years,” said Putman, referring to Farley. “So it is exciting that everyone in the district will have a new representative, but it speaks to the need for various reform measures so that more folks are able to get involved in the process. Farley’s departure means that I’m now facing an assemblyman who has served for 30 years and was able to roll over $100,000 from one campaign account to another. He already has the groundwork in place.”

Putman said he is trying to lead by example - refusing to take large donations from political action committees (PACs), corporations, and LLCs. “I’m implementing the changes I’d like to make to the system in my own campaign,” said Putman.

Tedisco’s campaign did not return requests for comment.

Democrats also have their eyes on the seat of 88-year-old Sen. Bill Larkin, who began his political career in the Assembly, where he served from 1979 to 1990 before being elected to the Senate. Many political operatives thought Senate Republicans might replace Larkin on the ballot as he’s recently come under attack for taking two state pensions; writing a letter of support for Skelos during his trial; and controversy over a criminal investigation into the treasurer of his campaign committee. But Larkin remains in the contest. The district has seen Democratic registration rise drastically and Larkin is now set to face former challenger Chris Eachus, a county legislator who came within two percent of defeating him in 2010.

The race to replace Nozzolio in the district that includes the area around Lake Ontario and the Finger Lakes, is expected to be settled in the Republican primary although a Democrat is running in the general.

Sen. Gianaris, of the Democratic conference, said that there is still a silver lining for Democrats in the races to replace Farley and Nozzolio despite the fact that Republicans are favored to win. “It’s not only the debate, but the ideas put forward by [a Democrat] who wins or comes close. It shows that those issues are something people care about and in a year where people are screaming for change, Democrats are the only ones who can give it to them because the Senate Republicans have been champions of the status quo.”

The seat held by Martin, the Republican Senator running for Congress on Long Island, will come down to a contest between Republican Elaine Phillips, mayor of Flower Hill, a small town in Nassau, and Adam Haber, a Democratic businessman who lost a challenge to Martins 56-43 percent during the last election. Democrats are bullish on Haber’s candidacy.

As bright as Senate Democrats think their future may be there always appears to be storm clouds on the horizon for them. Democrats have hoped to capture multiple seats on Long Island before only to see their candidates fall apart.

There is still the question of whether Gov. Andrew Cuomo will take any measurable action to boost Democratic Senate candidates - especially since Senate Republicans helped Cuomo deliver a $15 minimum wage and paid family leave this year, along with Cuomo’s general predilection to boost, or at least not target, Senate Republicans.

The Times Union recently reported that the powerful health care union 1199-SEIU plans to back Senate Republicans, although Gianaris said he had not heard that from the union. Politico NY reports that 1199 has actually donated more money to Senate Democrats than Republicans thus far in this cycle.

As they do every four years, Democrats are planning on a stronger turnout due to the race for President, and some think that having Donald Trump at the top of the ticket will hurt down-ballot Republicans. Both Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton have strong New York ties, though.

“Every bit matters,” admitted Gianaris, “but none of it compares to the tidal wave that accompanies the presidential elections. It is more pronounced every year.”

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

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New Yorkers, Including the Presidential Nominees, Head to the National Party Conventions


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The RNC approaches (image via @GOPconvention)


The next two weeks will see the formal nominations of the two major party candidates in the contest to succeed Barack Obama as President of The United States. First, this week, Republicans are expected to nominate Donald J. Trump, who on Saturday morning introduced Indiana Governor Mike Pence as his vice presidential running mate. On Saturday, Trump promised “we’re going to have an incredible convention.” The theme of the convention is "Make America Great Again," which has been Trump's campaign slogan.

All eyes will be on Cleveland Monday through Thursday as the Republicans convene, with New York delegates front and center at the convention given that the presumptive nominee calls the Empire State home. Americans are also bracing for protests and many are hoping that there is no violence outside or inside Quicken Loans Arena.

The same goes for Philadelphia, where the following week, that of July 25, the Democrats are set to name Hillary Clinton their nominee for President.

Clinton also calls New York home, and there are many New York angles to the upcoming Republican and Democratic national conventions. These include the delegations traveling to Cleveland and Philadelphia, which for the Democrats will include both Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, among many other high-profile New Yorkers.

Aside from officially nominating their presidential and vice-presidential candidates, the conventions will also see formal adoption of the official party policy platforms. These decisions are being made by the thousands of delegates from across the country who attend each convention - an assortment of current and former elected officials, prominent party members, activists, businesspeople, and others - in part as dictated by the voting that occurred in each state.

As the Republican convention kicks off, it appears that any last-ditch efforts from within the party to keep Trump from the nomination have been scuttled. The speakers list for the convention fit with Trump’s campaign as an anti-establishment outsider and is largely devoid of major party figures - there will be no appearance by prior presidential candidate Mitt Romney, former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, or a variety of Republican governors, senators, and others who are prominent in the party. Home-state Governor John Kasich, of Ohio, one of Trump’s rivals for the nomination, is not scheduled to be part of the proceedings.

There will be a full slate of speakers, of course, including Trump’s four adult children, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Gov. Chris Christie, Senator Ted Cruz, Gov. Scott Walker, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, GOP Chair Reince Priebus, and others. Pence will be the headline speaker on Wednesday night, while Trump will give the convention's final words on Thursday evening.

With some time still before the Democratic convention, the big news everyone is waiting for is Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential nominee. Many are calling Virginia Senator Tim Kaine the frontrunner, but nothing official has been announced. Unlike Trump’s convention, Clinton’s will feature a ‘who’s who’ of major party names - Democratic National Convention speakers will include President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, former President Bill Clinton, Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and others. Like Trump, Clinton will see her adult child, Chelsea, speak.

As the conventions kick off there is much to watch for over the next two weeks; they also signal the start to the final three-and-a-half months of the campaign, leading to Election Day on November 8: the final stretch of speeches, platforms, polls, ads, debates, and more.

Here’s what New Yorkers need to know and should be watching for as the national conventions arrive:

REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CONVENTION, July 18-21

When and Where is the RNC?
The 2016 Republican National Convention (RNC) will be held July 18-21 (Monday-Thursday) in Cleveland, Ohio at the Quicken Loans Arena. After a tough and controversial primary season, the RNC is an opportunity for more party healing and unity. In the lead up, most discussion of a coup to replace Trump with another nominee has quieted. Trump said on Saturday that one reason he chose Pence as his running mate is “party unity.”

Trump, who has been a media and reality TV star, told the Washington Post that he intends to put his own “showbiz” spin on the convention’s proceedings, though the official list of speakers is looking lighter on sports and entertainment legends than at one time thought.

Who Are the Delegates?
Though the exact process varies by state party rules, delegates to the RNC generally fall within three categories. Each state gets ten at-large delegates, plus delegates awarded based on that state’s Republican electoral success in the past (for instance, having a Republican Governor). Each state is allocated delegates based on congressional districts and each state’s Republican National Committeeman, Committeewoman, and State Chair all attend as delegates.

Following this formula, New York will have a total of 95 delegates, including 27 from New York City, 54 from around the rest of the state, and 14 at-large. In a change of long-time state party rules, New York’s GOP delegates this year were selected by the State Republican Committee and several mini-committees for each of New York’s twenty-seven congressional districts, rather than having many determined by the presidential candidates on the ballot. The switch was intended to reward long-time party loyalists over the candidates’ friends and family, who were often favored in the past, according to Syracuse.com.

Jessica Proud, spokesperson for the State Republican Party, considers the new delegate selection process a welcome shift from a “top-down” to “bottom-up” approach.

“It's considered a coveted role to be a delegate,” she said in a phone interview with Gotham Gazette, “so this was a way to help reward the people that have really been the stalwarts of the party, helping to elect our candidates and grow our party every year. They were really pleased with it.”

Currently, 89 of New York’s delegates are pledged to Trump, while 6 remain bound to Kasich (who won Manhattan), though the Ohio governor officially suspended his campaign on May 4.

The New York Angle
“In a lot of ways, New York was the catalyst to help Trump seal in the nomination,” Proud recalls.

“It was the first time he had gotten over 50 percent of the vote, and then right after that was Indiana, and then Cruz and Kasich both dropped out,” Proud said. “So it all came together in New York; he won every demographic. It was the first time he really proved that he could go outside a larger box than he had in previous primaries and caucuses.”

Trump came out of New York’s April 19 primary with a large lead over Kasich and Cruz and the writing was all but on the wall. While Kasich did squeak out New York County (aka Manhattan), Trump dominated the rest of the state, winning 60.4 percent of the total vote.

This success, plus Trump’s extensive New York networks, both personal and professional, means this year’s RNC will be dominated by New Yorkers.

At-large delegates include Chair of the state GOP Ed Cox, state party Finance Chair Arcadio Casillas, Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, and Wendy Long, who is challenging Senator Charles Schumer in November.

On Friday, Cox released a statement praising Trump’s choice of Pence as a running mate, saying, in part, that "Mr. Trump has once again demonstrated the leadership skills required to make the changes necessary to put America on the right track."

Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani has been publicly backing Trump and is set to speak at the convention. He is a delegate to the convention, pledged to Kasich. City Council Member Joseph Borelli, of Staten Island, is a Trump delegate. Borelli has been a frequent Trump surrogate on TV for many months. He travelled to Ohio with his successor in the state Assembly, Ron Castorina, and former Council Member Vincent Ignizio.

Other prominent GOP delegates include Alfonse D’Amato, former U.S. Senator; Carl Paladino, honorary co-chair of Trump’s New York campaign and 2010 gubernatorial candidate; Tom Dadey, first vice chairman of the state GOP and co-chair of Trump’s New York campaign; and state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan - several other state senators will be in attendance: Golden, DeFrancisco, O’Mara, Croci, though DeFrancisco is the only delegate among them (he is pledged to Kasich). Assembly members Kolb and DiPietro are delegates. Assembly Member Bill Nojay, an upstate Republican who in the past played a significant role in attempting to push Trump to run for New York Governor and helped lay the groundwork for Trump’s presidential bid, will not be attending.

New York State Senators are hoping to maintain or expand their slim majority through the November elections and Trump’s candidacy may pose challenging for some candidates running in more moderate districts.

Rubye Wright will also attend to vote for Trump - at 94 years of age, she is the oldest delegate heading to the convention, according to amNewYork. A Harlem native and lifelong Republican, Wright has attended every national convention except one since 1968. A complete listing of New York GOP delegates can be found on Ballotpedia.

According to the New York Post, the State GOP has considered offering Donald Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., the ceremonial role of announcing New York’s 95 delegate votes. Trump Jr. will be attending the convention as one of Manhattan’s high-profile district delegates, and has been actively involved in his father’s campaign. Convention organizers may also position Trump Jr.’s announcement so that the New York delegation’s votes send Trump over the majority threshold to secure the nomination. Both details have yet to be confirmed.

“We certainly would love to have him in that role,” Proud said of Trump Jr., who will speak at the convention, “but the logistics are being worked out between the campaign and the State Committee.”

New York City’s only Republican member of its House of Representatives delegation, Daniel Donovan, will attend the convention. In an interview with the Staten Island Advance, Donovan said, "It's going to be exciting for our state.” Looking ahead to November, he said, "Traditionally, Republicans don't win New York, but we have a New Yorker as the Republican nominee for the first time in a very long time."

Role of the Delegates
Unlike the Democratic Party’s superdelegates, most of the 2,472 delegates at the RNC are technically bound to vote for a certain candidate. According to the Associated Press, only 95 delegates are unbound and can vote for whomever they choose. Trump amassed 1,542 pledged delegates, which puts him over the majority threshold of 1,237 to secure the nomination. According to Adele Malpass, chair of the Manhattan Republican Party and a New York congressional district delegate, Trump’s nomination is nothing short of guaranteed; “We're having an infomercial kind of convention, not a brokered convention. Everyone's going as a Trump delegate.”

With calls for a “Dump Trump” movement subsiding, the 112-member Convention Rules Committee finished its business without changing things to aid the naming of a different nominee. At least a few opposing Trump may continue fighting. "Whether you supported Donald Trump along the way or not: He. Is. Our. Nominee," said RNC Rules Committee Chairman Bruce Ash on Tuesday, according to CNN.

Delegates at the convention must vote on the party’s official policy platform. Members of the Platform Committee finished the draft platform while Trump himself took a hands-off approach, according to the New York Times, which cites discrepancies between the conservative language of the Republican platform and Trump’s more moderate views on issues such as LGBT rights.

According to the Times, moderate Republicans pushing for amendments to be made “secured enough signatures on Tuesday to demand a vote on their proposals from all 2,475 delegates,” so there may be some concessions made on the convention floor Monday before the final vote.

See You in Cleveland
For all aspects of the convention, New York will be front and center. “There'll be a big spotlight on us,” Proud noted, referring to the New York delegation as a whole.

“New York is already prominently featured, but the fact that our nominee is from the state really adds a whole other level of excitement and anticipation. It's definitely evidenced by the volume of requests that the state party has had of people wanting to attend. We've had way more requests than tickets that were given to us. The downside is you can't accommodate everyone, but from a party standpoint, it’s very encouraging that so many people wanted to be there and that people are very excited.”

DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION, July 25-28

When and Where is the DNC?
The Democratic National Convention will take place July 25-28 (Monday through Thursday) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Though Brooklyn was seriously considered to host the convention amid a strong push from Mayor Bill de Blasio and others, Philadelphia won the honor.

How are the Delegates Allocated?
There are three types of delegates for the Democrats: pledged delegates, who petitioned in order to get on the ballot and become a delegate, and are legally bound to support a particular candidate; at-large delegates, chosen by the state Democratic Party, who pledge to vote for a particular candidate; and unpledged delegates, otherwise known as superdelegates, who are prominent party leaders not bound to any candidate. There are 345 representatives of the New York State Democratic Party heading to the convention, according to the party.

There is no drama expected at the Democratic convention in terms of delegate allocation as Bernie Sanders has conceded and endorsed Hillary Clinton, so the types of delegates are unlikely to be a factor.

As more signs were pointing to a Clinton win by a solid margin, she won her home state of New York on April 19. Throughout the race, Clinton accumulated an overwhelming majority of the superdelegates, known party insiders always supportive of her over Sanders, who has not been an establishment Democrat. This led to some of the calls from Sanders and his supporters of a ‘rigged system.’

The Democratic Party Platform
Sanders and his supporters, plus the national Democratic tilt leftward, have had a significant influence on the party platform being adopted this year -- progressive influence throughout the primary season as well as recent, more explicit demands. Two issues are emblematic: calling for a $15 per hour minimum wage and standing against capital punishment in all circumstances. The party platform has stepped to the ideological left of Clinton, who has spoken in favor of a $12 federal minimum wage (with states going higher per their judgement) and capital punishment for certain crimes.

Dr. David Birdsell, a professor and dean at Baruch College, does not believe that Sanders’ endorsement of Clinton is enough to dissipate all of the tension within the Democratic Party.

“The Sanders endorsement – and he did use the word ‘endorse’ – of Clinton will go a long way toward reducing contention and controversy in Philadelphia,” Birdsell said in an interview. “[However,] there will still be some tension; Hillary Clinton is too polarizing a figure to expect an entirely smooth process. But chances are good at this point that Democrats will come together and unite for the fall campaign - barring further repercussions from the FBI’s decision not to prosecute [Clinton, regarding her email scandal], but that’s a general election problem, not a convention problem.”

Birdsell also believes that the concessions that the Democratic Party has made will be the only ones for a while.

“I suspect the concessions made to date are the end of the story, at least through the convention. Could there be a rear-guard effort to get TPP language in the platform? Yes, but given the deep affront that would pose to the sitting President, who is and will remain through November the Party’s principal asset, I think anything public highly unlikely.”

The New York Angle
Basil Smikle, executive director of the New York State Democratic Committee, is excited about the amendments to the party’s platform. Smikle sees them as an expansion of New York values to the rest of the nation. “I think New York has been in this conversation and led it for a long time,” he said.

“I think the state and the party has had a tremendous impact on the platform itself, and going to the convention with the leadership of the Governor is certainly carrying the work that Hillary Clinton has done for New York and the Senate, and what she's been able to accomplish and discuss on the campaign trail,” Smikle continued. “Those are New York values, and we are thankful that they've been able to influence other states, other delegates, and certainly the platform itself."

The Democrats released only the headline speakers as of Sunday, July 17, which includes the top-level names mentioned earlier: both Obamas, Bill and Chelsea Clinton, Joe Biden, and Bernie Sanders. It is unclear whether Gov. Cuomo or Mayor de Blasio will have a speaking role.

Smikle, a Cuomo appointee, confirmed that Cuomo has not yet been selected to speak at the convention. “We haven't gotten a schedule of speakers from the DNC yet, so that may still be discussed by the folks at the DNC at this point...I would love for [Cuomo] to have a speaking role. I hope he does."

“I’m sure I’ll have some role, but I’m also sure it’s not about me,” Cuomo said in late June, according to New York State of Politics.

Cuomo has been selected to chair New York state’s delegation at the DNC - a choice that caused Sanders supporters to protest. Delegates backing Sanders have refused to recognize Cuomo’s authority as the chair, and have said they will “file a legal challenge to the nomination of Gov. Andrew Cuomo as the chair of New York’s delegation.” It’s unclear if this controversy has subsided in the wake of Sanders’ endorsement of Clinton and the approach of the convention itself.

Other notable New York Democratic superdelegates include former President Clinton, Senators Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and Mayor de Blasio. De Blasio said on Wednesday that nothing around his speaking role had been decided. The same was true for City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who has been a frequent Clinton surrogate and campaigner this election season and will be part of the delegation to Philadelphia.

Other members of the New York Democratic delegation include Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, much of the state’s Democratic House delegation; City Council Members Jumaane Williams, Rafael Espinal, and Richie Torres, Public Advocate Letitia James, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.

According to Smikle, this year’s delegation “brings a tremendous sense of pride for us as New Yorkers.” He cited work New York leaders have done to move progressive policy and their impact on national politics.

“I think what New York broadly and the delegation specifically brings is that a lot of what's in the platform has been discussed and implemented in New York for quite some time, so I do think members of our delegation have had an incredible impact,” he said.

A complete list of the 345 New York DNC delegation is available here, courtesy of the State Democratic Committee.

See You in Philadelphia
Asked on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show if he was attending the DNC, Mayor de Blasio said on June 29, “Of course. I’m a delegate, and I’m looking forward to going there and voting for Hillary.”

***
by Amanda Sherwin and Rebecca Oh
@GothamGazette

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, July 18


New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week and next will be dominated by the race for President. The Republican National Convention takes place this week - Monday through Thursday - in Cleveland, followed by the Democratic National convention next week - June 25-28 - in Philadelphia.

Read our comprehensive preview of the two conventions, with a distinct focus on the many New York angles, including the fact that the presumptive presidential nominees of the two major parties both call New York home.

Before he attends the Democratic convention, Mayor Bill de Blasio is on a family vacation this week in Italy. He returns to New York on Sunday, July 24.

There is nothing scheduled at the City Council this week, and as of Sunday, no hearings on the Council calendar until mid-August. This past week, the Council held several committees hearings and its one full-body Stated Meeting of July (there are two Stateds each month other than July and August, when there are one each.)

All that being said, there are political events happening in New York City this week - see our day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
e-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com***

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
According to City & State NY, on Monday “Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Assemblyman Joe Morelle host the 29th Annual Speaker's Cup golf tournament, Saratoga National Golf Club.”

Monday at 10 a.m. in the Bronx, City Council Member Vanessa Gibson will announce capital allocations for NYCHA developments in District 16 for the new fiscal year that began July 1. The allocation includes funding for security cameras, playground renovation, and programmatic funding for other improvements.

According to City & State NY, at 10 a.m. “The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission hold a public meeting” in Manhattan.

At 11 a.m. Monday in Rockaway Park, City Council Member Eric Ulrich will host a press conference “denouncing Mayor Bill de Blasio's handling of the Build it Back program and recommending changes that will make it more accountable to taxpayers and residents.”

According to City & State NY, at 11 a.m. “New York City Department of Probation Commissioner Ana Bermudez, Brady Koch, chief program officer of Food Bank For New York City, DOP clients and professionals from the food industry hold and participate in 5th annual “Health & Harmony Day,” South Bronx Neon.”

Also at 11 a.m. Monday on the steps of City Hall, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Council member Andy Kings and student track members from around the city will hold a press conference to honor Brooklyn native Justin Gatlin, who is set to compete in his third Olympic Games on the U.S. track team. Three “up-and-coming” student athletes from the city will be honored.

At 5 p.m. Monday, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will host a “Melissa Meet Up” at La Isla Garden in the Bronx. The Speaker’s monthly meet up is a chance for New Yorkers to ask questions and present concerns to Mark-Viverito one-on-one.

According to City & State NY, at 6:30 p.m. “Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte speaks at Straight Talk Forum on Race, Community, and Law Enforcement, Mount Zion Church of God 7th Day,” in Brooklyn.

The Republican National Convention kicks off on Monday in Cleveland. Read all about it.

Tuesday
At 8 a.m. Tuesday, City and State will host “On Diversity,” a forum bringing together leading professionals to discuss “women in government, creating an inclusive company culture, and MWBE opportunities in contracting.” The forum will feature a one-on-one interview with Congressional Rep. Hakeem Jeffries as well as panelists Letitia James, Public Advocate, Melissa Mark-Viverito, City Council Speaker, and Carra Wallace, Chief Diversity Officer at the New York City Comptroller’s Office.

The Republican National Convention continues Tuesday in Cleveland.

Wednesday
At 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, the Association for a Better New York will hold a breakfast with John Miller, Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence & Counter-terrorism of the NYPD. Miller will discuss current trends in terrorism and the NYPD’s assessment of and response to New York City’s overall security.

Also Wednesday at 8:30 a.m., “Crain’s Business of Garbage,” a program focused on the multibillion-dollar commercial and residential waste disposal industry, hosted by Crain’s New York Business at John Jay College. Kathryn Garcia, Commissioner of the NYC Department of Sanitation, will be among the panelists who will speak about the practical and political challenges encountered when dealing with the city’s waste collection and disposal.

At 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) Board of Trustees will hold a meeting to consider the development of a wind farm to produce renewable energy off the coast of Long Island. In a press release from Thursday, July 14, Governor Cuomo stated, “I strongly encourage the Trustees to once again demonstrate New York's leadership on climate change and help achieve the state's ambitious goal of supplying 50 percent of our electricity from renewable energy by 2030. Investing in New York’s clean energy economy strengthens our communities by providing access to clean, affordable power and good quality green jobs. Next week marks another opportunity for this state to lead the nation in creating a stronger, more resilient energy system and protecting the environment for future generations.”

Also at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday outside Brooklyn Borough Hall, Riders Alliance members will host a campaign launch rally for “Turnaround: Fixing NYC’s Buses.” The new initiative is geared toward implementing “an ambitious set of recommendations to upgrade and modernize bus service in New York City.”

At 3 p.m. Wednesday the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) and the CUNY Center for Community and Ethnic Media will hold a joint press briefing to present the most recent updates on the Zika virus and preventative measures being taken in New York City. “The briefing will also present a Vital Signs Report on Immigrant Health examining access to preventive and primary healthcare among immigrants in New York City.”

At 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Duggal Greenhouse, the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce and its Real Estate & Development Committee will present the 2016 Building Brooklyn Awards, “an annual event that celebrates recently completed construction and renovation projects that enrich Brooklyn’s neighborhoods and economy.” New York Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) President Maria Torres-Springer and Toby Moskovits and Michael Lichtenstein of Heritage Equity Partners will be honored at the event.

Also on Wednesday at 6 p.m. in Morningside Heights, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will host the first of two community conversations centered around “how systemic racism impacts our neighborhoods and is experienced in our communities.”

The Republican National Convention continues Wednesday in Cleveland.

Thursday
On Thursday at 6 p.m. in East Harlem, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will host the second of two community conversations centered around “how systemic racism impacts our neighborhoods and is experienced in our communities.” Brewer is expected to schedule more of these conversations around Manhattan in the coming months.

At 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, the Museum of the City of New York will present “FAST | Reimagining Traffic in New York City”. Former NYC Traffic Commissioner Samuel Schwartz will share insights on “how we can speed traffic, improve our transit system, and make the city safer and healthier for all.”

The Republican National Convention is scheduled to conclude Thursday night in Cleveland with the nomination acceptance speech of Donald Trump.

Friday and the weekend
Nothing on the calendar as of now. Prepare for the Democratic National Convention with our preview here.

***
Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: bmax@gothamgazette.com (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

***
by Amanda Sherwin and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

New York Primaries are Closed, Repetitive and Costly


cuomo voting 2015 machine

Gov. Cuomo votes in 2015 (photo via Governor's Office)


In April, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump won the Democratic and Republican New York presidential primaries, respectively. New York has a well-publicized and worsening voter turnout problem, and approximately one in four registered New York voters could have no say in the presidential primary outcomes even if they wanted to - other than by changing their party affiliation more than a year prior.

New York is one of only nine states in the country, as of 2016, in which both major parties run closed primaries, meaning that voting in the Democratic primary is only open to registered Democrats and voting in the Republican primary is only open to registered Republicans. Closed party primaries are closed to unaffiliated registered voters - often referred to as independents - and to voters registered with smaller parties like the Green Party.

According to the New York State Board of Elections, as of April 1 there are 11,726,842 registered voters in New York (this figure includes both active and inactive voters). Of those voters, 2,485,475 are unaffiliated with a party, and 717,182 are registered with parties outside the two major political parties (Conservative, Green, Libertarian, Working Families, Independence, etc. - people regularly register with the Independence Party incorrectly thinking they are registering as “independent,” or unaffiliated). There are almost as many unaffiliated registered voters in New York as there are registered Republicans (2.7 million). There are 5.8 million registered Democrats across the state.

Despite not being allowed to vote in party primary elections, unaffiliated voters, along with registered Democrats and Republicans and “third party” voters, foot the bill for the administration of those elections. In New York, the cost of a primary election in 2016 is $25 million, which amounts to the fourth most expensive primary election in the country, and this cost to taxpayers is not limited to presidential primaries; New York Congressional primaries and local and state legislative primaries cost $25 million each. In 2016, New York is holding three different primary days (presidential in April, congressional in June, and state/local in September).

New York’s closed primary system and the costs associated with it - both monetary and democratic - have resulted in calls for change.

New York State Assemblymember Michael Cusick, a Democrat who represents part of Staten Island, introduced legislation earlier this year that would consolidate all non-presidential primaries to a single election day (Assembly bill A09108). Currently, U.S. Congressional primaries and state and local primaries are held on two separate days, costing the state $50 million, about half of which could be saved by consolidating. In February, the Democrat-controlled Assembly passed the bill, which would move all non-presidential primaries to the fourth Tuesday in June, the current date of congressional primaries. In the Republican-led state Senate, however, the bill was not taken up.

Some state senators are hesitant to support legislation that would require them to prepare for an election while they are still working in the capital - the state legislative session runs from January to mid-June. Currently, senators and Assembly members have the summer of election years to prepare for their September primaries as needed (state legislators serve two-year terms).

A bill almost identical to Assemblymember Cusick’s was introduced to the state Senate by Republican Sen. Fred Ashkar, who represents the Binghamton area (Senate bill S6604). But, Ashkar’s bill would assign the third Tuesday in August as the singular election day for all non-presidential New York primary elections rather than the fourth Tuesday in June. The bill, introduced in January and passed by the Senate in March, would still save taxpayers money by consolidating election days but because it calls for an August election day, it would allow state legislators to avoid the conflict between working and campaigning. Yet, Ashkar’s bill has no chance in the Assembly because Democrats see it as an effort to suppress the vote, given the late August date, when people are even less likely than usual to be paying attention to politics or in town to vote.

While either consolidation of the congressional and state/local primaries would save taxpayers money, without opening up the primaries voters registered as unaffiliated would remain unable to vote until the November general elections.

Assemblymember Fred Thiele of Long Island is unaffiliated with a political party. Thiele introduced legislation (Assembly bill A9661) in March that would allow unaffiliated voters to vote in primary elections. Many voters were hoping that the bill would be passed in time for this year’s presidential primary; however, election day came and went as the bill sat in committee.

This year’s presidential primaries were notably frustrating for many New York voters. While unaffiliated New York voters are ordinarily unable to vote in their state’s closed party primaries, thousands of voters found themselves unable to vote despite having registered in one of the two major parties. With one day remaining before the April 19 primaries, voter advocacy group Election Justice USA filed a lawsuit in New York federal court on behalf of thousands of voters.

According to Election Justice USA, the lawsuit represented both voters whose party affiliation had been inexplicably changed to unaffiliated and voters who had been left off of voter rolls.The group’s goal was to secure an emergency declaratory judgement, which would open New York’s Democratic primary to voters registered as unaffiliated and Republican. The judgement was deferred and the primary remained closed.

Jerry Skurnik, partner at Prime New York, a consultancy, specializes in providing political candidates with demographic information on New York voters. He believes that open elections have benefits for less partisan candidates.

“Most of the talk this year had to do with the presidential primary, and it was sort of an exception in that a lot of young people who were unaffiliated were vehemently for [Bernie] Sanders, but I think in general, [open primaries] would probably help more moderate candidates and less partisan Democrats,” Skurnik said in a phone interview with Gotham Gazette.

While less strict partisanship might be one potential benefit of opening primary elections, Skurnik also points out that there is a question of fairness that should be considered when discussing open primaries.

“[A closed primary] allows people who are supporters of the Democratic or Republican party to pick the candidates. It doesn’t allow people who really aren’t loyal or committed Democrats or Republicans to have a say in who’s going to be the party nominee. There’s an argument -- why should someone who votes for Democrats for office 25 percent of the time have any say in picking a Democratic candidate?”

This question of fairness is not limited to the role of unaffiliated voters in the Democratic and Republican primaries. While much smaller than the Democratic and Republican parties, third parties have active registered voters, and opening presidential primaries to allow any voter to vote in any primary regardless of party affiliation could be detrimental to these minor parties.

Minor parties, according are Skurnik, “are really ideological parties.”

“They stand for something, so why should the conservative who’s unaffiliated have a right to vote in the primary for the Green Party -- someone who’s in favor of fracking. Because they’re unaffiliated, should they be allowed to vote in the Green Party or vice versa? Should someone who’s pro-choice, should they be allowed to help pick the Conservative Party candidate because they’re unaffiliated?”

While they tend to be actively engaged in politics, voters registered with minor parties don’t make up a large portion of the electorate in New York. For example, there are 50,000 voters registered with the Working Families Party across New York according to Skurnik, and while unaffiliated New York voters are more numerous than “third party” voters, their political tendencies are more difficult to determine. However, there is one observable pattern shared among unaffiliated voters.

“We may not know where [unaffiliated voters] lean politically, but we do know they vote less often than people who registered in a party,” Skurnik said. “A higher percentage of Democrats and a higher percentage of Republicans and even a higher percentage of minor party registrants vote in general elections than unaffiliated voters. So a larger proportion of unaffiliated voters are less active, more apathetic.”

Across the country, 43 percent of all registered voters are registered as unaffiliated. According to Open Primaries, an advocacy group that advocates for the establishment of open primaries in all 50 states, there are approximately 26 million registered voters closed out of voting in major party primary elections across the country. Currently, there are 14 states in which both major parties run open presidential primaries.

The total cost of running elections in all closed primary states is $300 million. This figure only includes closed primaries run by the state -- caucuses, while also exclusionary to unaffiliated voters, do not cost taxpayers anything in the states in which they are held. This is because caucuses are paid for by the parties themselves. Some question why states pay for and implement closed primary elections at all given that they are controlled by the parties. (For the recent presidential primaries in New York, Democratic voters voted not just for a nominee, but also for delegates to the party convention; Republicans voted only for a nominee, their New York delegates to the RNC are chosen at a party meeting.)

One alternative to the closed primary system is the system employed by California for its presidential primary elections, which is something of a hybrid. In California, parties can choose between running a closed primary or a modified closed primary in which the party can choose to allow “no party preference” (NPP) voters, otherwise known as independent or unaffiliated voters, to vote in their primaries. In this year’s California presidential primary held on June 7, the Republican Party chose to run a closed primary, excluding NPP voters and allowing only registered Republicans to vote. The Democratic Party chose to run a modified closed primary, allowing both registered Democrats and NPP voters to vote in the Democratic primary.

California not only runs a modified closed presidential primary, but it also joins Washington and Nebraska in running a “top two” open primary system for all non-presidential primary elections. In the “top two” system, all qualified candidates are listed on the ballot; all voters, irrespective of party affiliation, can vote for whichever candidate they prefer; and the top two vote-getters, irrespective of party affiliation, move on to the general election. This system often results in two candidates of the same party opposing each other in the general election.

This system is also known as a nonpartisan primary, and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg - a Democrat turned Republican turned independent - once unsuccessfully advocated for its establishment in New York during his mayoral tenure. In New York City, Democrats hold an even more stark registration advantage than across the state: there are just over 3 million registered Democrats in New York City and just about 460,000 registered Republicans. Meanwhile, there are more than 785,700 registered New York City voters not affiliated with a party.

While Bloomberg’s efforts failed in 2003, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, recently supported the implementation of nonpartisan primaries in a 2014 New York Times op-ed.

Within the op-ed, Senator Schumer not only called for nonpartisan primaries in New York, but for nonpartisan primaries all across the United States.

“We need a national movement to adopt the “top-two” primary (also known as an open primary), in which all voters, regardless of party registration, can vote and the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, then enter a runoff,” Schumer wrote. “This would prevent a hard-right or hard-left candidate from gaining office with the support of just a sliver of the voters of the vastly diminished primary electorate; to finish in the top two, candidates from either party would have to reach out to the broad middle.”

***
by Libby Wetzler for Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette



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