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Molinaro Emerges on Top After Manhattan GOP Gubernatorial Candidate Forum

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Marc Molinaro (photo via Facebook)

Weeks before he is set to officially launch his campaign for governor, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro has all but claimed the Republican nomination, and on Wednesday, he locked up another endorsement putting him closer to the goal.

At a gubernatorial candidate screening Wednesday night at the Metropolitan Republican Club in Manhattan, Molinaro emerged as the top choice of the Manhattan County Republicans over state Senator John DeFrancisco and Joseph Holland, a former aide to Governor George Pataki.

Over the course of about 90 minutes, one by one, the three candidates pitched their qualifications and their electability to a gathering of more than 100 Republicans. The crowd cheered, and jeered, as the three each took their jabs at Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, both second-term Democrats, and presented their vision for governing New York State. Though few concrete policy prescriptions were aired, the gathering seemed pleased to hear each candidate variously criticize the Cuomo administration for how, as Holland said, it “over-taxes, over-spends, and over-regulates.”

Cuomo has said he is seeking a third term this year, and has more than $30 million in his campaign account. But, given several issues, including the upstate economy, the MTA subway crisis, and, on Tuesday, the corruption conviction of Cuomo’s former top aide and closest confidante, Joseph Percoco, Republicans see an opening to win the governorship for the first time since 2002.

On Wednesday night in Manhattan, each of the three candidates had roughly 20 minutes to demonstrate how they’d reach what Manhattan GOP Chair Andrea Catsimatidis called the “magic 30 percent number” of New York City voters who could give them enough votes to beat Cuomo. While the governor is less popular outside the city, he relies on the five boroughs for a significant portion of his ability to win statewide elections.

Molinaro, who spoke last, framed himself as a committed public servant who would work with his opponents across the aisle, and has no interest in political posturing. “I think that we are paralyzed in New York by elected officials all too often working to posture instead of trying to produce real results,” he said.

Speaking first was Holland, a Harlem minister who has previously served as state housing commissioner under the last Republican governor, George Pataki, has never been in elected office but pitched himself as the “most electable” of the three candidates. His appeal, he slowly and deliberately said, breaks down to three P’s: Profile. Proven. Power.

“It’s a profile that I have which is unique, it’s a proven track record as an experienced outsider, and then the power to win at the ballot box in November,” he told the audience. Holland spoke of his past -- which includes playing all-American football, founding and running a homeless shelter, a law degree, and a career in the real estate industry -- and recounted a previous failed run for state Senate. He mentioned his upstate roots in Auburn in Cayuga County, and his time working for both the executive chamber and the state Legislature in Albany.

“I’m an outsider with experience, and ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you, that’s what the electorate wants right now,” he said, referring to the election of Donald Trump as president. Noting that the party had never before nominated an African-American for governor, he promised a “fresh, bold, dynamic approach” that can forge a winning coalition of upstate and downstate voters.

In each candidate’s Q&A after their individual presentations, moderator Frederic Umane (the Republican Board of Elections Commissioner from Manhattan) asked how they’d raise the necessary funds to go against Cuomo’s $30 million war chest “without having to cook ziti,” in a reference to the preferred term for bribes used by Percoco and co-conspirators, as revealed through the federal corruption trial that just concluded.     

Holland admitted it would be a challenge, but said he’d tap his varied networks from his time at Cornell University, Harvard Law School, and his ties to the real estate industry. He pointed out, though, that “it’s more difficult until you’re the actual nominee.”

But when questioned on specific issues such as homelessness, the MTA, school safety, infrastructure projects, and public housing, Holland had few proposals. In each instance, he said he would work with the necessary stakeholders while avoiding the public spats that Cuomo has resorted to with de Blasio and others, and the open defiance of President Trump.

While Holland has no experience with public office, DeFrancisco, a Syracuse native, has served in the Legislature for more than 20 years. Armed with an acerbic wit and disinterest in political correctness, DeFrancisco took his turn at convincing the audience to support his candidacy. “I’ve had leadership positions in everything I’ve ever done,” he said, listing everything he’s done from being top of his class in high school and captain of his college baseball team to now, serving as deputy majority leader of the Senate. (DeFrancisco sought the position of majority leader in 2015 but lost that bid to current Majority Leader John Flanagan, who is among those to endorse the senator for governor.)

“President Lincoln once said that ‘If I had six hours to chop a tree, I’d use the first four hours to sharpen the axe.’ And my axe is sharpened and it’s directly aimed at our current governor, Andrew Cuomo,” DeFrancisco said.

Touting the 17 electoral victories over the course of his career, DeFrancisco said he could easily remain in the Senate for the foreseeable future. “But I find, as a legislator, you can only make changes along the edges. The real fundamental changes that have to be made, in my mind, only can come from the governor’s office,” he said.

DeFrancisco insisted that an earnest campaign based on building trust with voters could be successful. “Whether you’re from the far left, the far right, or in between, people don’t like the manner in which this person does business...it’s a very personal campaign against Cuomo,” he said.

In response to queries from the audience, DeFrancisco did take some policy positions but did not advance many new ideas. He said he is in favor of fracking, against congestion pricing, and for a set-aside of a percentage of income taxes to fund the MTA. He opposes term limits for statewide elected officials and state legislators, and is against the Child Victims Act, which would extend the statute of limitations for victims of child abuse to make claims. He called for cuts to spending and streamlining bloat at state agencies.

DeFrancisco also expressed confidence that Cuomo’s campaign funds weren’t a threat to him but rather a liability for Cuomo himself, alluding to the governor’s heavy reliance on campaign finance loopholes that has allowed large sums of money to flow to him from entities doing business with the state (Yet another aspect of the Percoco trial.) The senator noted that he already has about $1.5 million for his campaign.

“You can’t just be Mr. Nice Guy and be able to compete with his money and the negative things he’s going to say about you or his surrogates are going to say about you without fighting back,” he said. Proudly referencing a New York Times article from last year which referred to him as an “irascible straight shooter,” DeFrancisco said, “You couldn’t have a better contrast with an irascible straight shooter and a lying sack of you-know-what. That’s the race that you should have and I’m ready, willing, and able to do that.”

molinaro manhattan gopLast to speak but far from least was Molinaro, who charismatically sped through an almost bulleted list of positions he’s held, his accomplishments, and his reasons for running. The latest entrant into the race, Molinaro had just two months ago said he would not run, but as he explained Wednesday, he changed his tune after he received a flood of solicitations and endorsements from more than two dozen Republican county leaders and officials following Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb’s early exit from the race.

Those endorsements, including from Kolb, also mean that, coming into Wednesday night, Molinaro had already secured roughly 45 percent of the necessary votes he needs for the nomination from the Republican convention in May. Manhattan put him over 50 percent in terms of county chairs or delegations that have endorsed him -- while Molinaro is the clear frontrunner, votes still have to be taken at the convention.

“I have admittedly spent every day of my adult life in public service because I believe deeply in the responsibility to contribute to one’s community,” Molinaro said, hearkening back to when he was first elected at the age of 18 to the board of trustees for the Village of Tivoli on the banks of the Hudson River in Dutchess County. “Where I come from, you hold elected office because its an honor, it’s a duty, it’s a dignified responsibility,” he said.

Molinaro criticized the “new normal” of a pay-to-play culture in Albany and a state government that continues to “spend more than it can, tax more than it should and borrow to make up the difference.”

Emphasizing that the Republican Party can “breathe new fresh air into Albany,” he said he would work to empower state legislators if elected. Molinaro is a former member of the Assembly himself. He also said a successful campaign would have to be based on strong messaging that touches at the heart of issues affecting everyday New Yorkers, and by creating an extensive presence on the ground in communities.

“I think that our party has to assemble a ticket that reflects the complexion of New York, the people of New York. There needs to be a New York City voice,” he said. There has been no indication who Molinaro might seek as a lieutenant governor running mate.

Molinaro was also confident that he’d be able to elevate the importance of the Republican ticket beyond the confines of New York to bring in the funds that he needs to challenge Cuomo. “I have run for office for a while. I’ve always had competition. I have always raised enough to be competitive...I do believe I have the ability to nationalize this election,” he said. “I do, because I believe that our party wants candidates like us, to stand up nationally and say, ‘The Republican Party cares about people.’”

Asked how he’d approach working with Mayor de Blasio if elected, Molinaro insisted he’d rise above petty squabbles and wouldn’t seek to politically “outmaneuver” the mayor, as Cuomo has often tended to do with his fellow Democrat. (He did, however, smile cheekily as he said he’d work with anyone who is “honest and earnest,” clearly alluding to de Blasio’s checkered ethics record).

On the inevitable Trump question, Molinaro made no bones about supporting the president when he champions hard-working, middle-class Americans. But, he was clear that he disagreed with using the bully pulpit to belittle his opponents.

“You’ll always hear me say it the way I see it just like I think many people admire the way he says it the way he sees it,” Molinaro said.

Molinaro’s charm offensive was clearly effective. Within an hour after the forum, the Manhattan GOP’s executive committee had “overwhelmingly endorsed” his candidacy.

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Progressive Groups Endorse Democrat in Key Westchester Senate Race

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Shelley Mayor, center (photo: @Shelley4Senate)

A coalition of progressive community organizations representing thousands of members across New York State will support Shelley Mayer, the Democratic Assemblymember who is running for an open state Senate seat in Westchester that could decide which party leads the legislative chamber.

Mayer is running against Republican Julie Killian for the 37th Senate District seat, in a special election scheduled for April 24. The seat has been vacant since January after its previous occupant, George Latimer, was elected Westchester county executive.

A Mayer victory in the district would likely give Democrats the numerical majority in the state Senate, paving the way for a unity deal between mainline Senate Democrats and the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group of eight senators who prop up Republican control of the chamber along with renegade Democrat Simcha Felder. A deal is on the table that parties other than Felder have agreed to pending the results of two special Senate elections, the highly competitive Mayer-Killian race and one in the Bronx, where Assemblymember Luis Sepulveda is all but guaranteed to win.

The state Democratic Party has begun to put its weight behind Mayer’s candidacy, and Governor Andrew Cuomo has also endorsed her. Earlier this week in Larchmont, Cuomo rallied with fellow Democratic elected officials in support of Mayer. “This is a crucial race and Shelley’s victory will help bring the Democratic Majority in the Senate we need to continue our proud legacy of fighting and advancing progressive change for New Yorkers,” Cuomo said in a statement on Sunday. (The Westchester County Independence Party has also backed Mayer.)

Now adding its voice to the growing support for Mayer is the “Progressive Power Coalition” of five community advocacy groups -- Make the Road Action, NY Communities for Change, Citizen Action of New York, Community Voices Heard Power, and VOCAL-NY Action Fund -- which will announce its endorsement of Mayer on Friday.

The groups cite, as reasons for their support, Mayer’s impressive record of fighting for working New Yorkers and immigrants, her support of campaign finance reforms that prioritize small donors over wealthy interests, her advocacy for expanding childcare, affordable housing and combating homelessness, and her leadership on protections against wage theft by bad-actor employers. Democratic control of the state Senate, currently Republicans’ only stronghold at the state level, is seen as key to ushering through a wave of progressive policies.

"Shelley Mayer is a powerful leader for New York State,” said Sojourner Salinas, a member-leader of Community Voices Heard Power from White Plains, in a statement. “She stands tall and firm on what we believe in: fighting for communities of color and low-income families of New York State on all the tough issues that we are being attacked on by the Trump administration."    

Members of the coalition intend to bolster Mayer’s campaign by mobilizing their base of activists to knock on doors, call constituents and get out the vote in the lead up to, and on, Election Day. Several of the groups are known for their abilities to have boots on the ground for such activities. Mayer is considered a favorite given the district’s Democratic enrollment advantage and recent election trends, including Latimer’s runaway victory over two-term incumbent Rob Astorino.

Mayer said in a statement that she was “proud” to receive the coalition’s endorsement. “Donald Trump's constant attacks on our values and the failures of his Republican allies in the State Senate have made this special election critical for our future,” she said. “I’m proud of my track record fighting for families and creating better opportunities for Westchester’s hard working families, and I will continue that work in the State Senate.”

Killian, Mayer’s opponent, is a former Rye City Council member and deputy mayor taking her second shot at the 37th Senate District, after failing to unseat then-Senator Latimer in 2016. Her campaign has focused on portraying Mayer as an Albany insider and on decrying the culture of corruption that has flourished in the state Capitol. Earlier this week, after Joseph Percoco, a former top aide to Cuomo, was found guilty on federal corruption charges, Killian’s campaign tweeted, “One would hope that today’s conviction of Gov. Cuomo’s top aide in a bribery scheme would help slow down Albany’s rampant corruption, but history sadly shows us that it will continue unimpeded. Only way to change Albany is to change who we send there.”

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Max & Murphy Podcast: A Journalist Runs for State Senate

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

March 13, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: A Journalist Runs for State Senate, with Ross Barkan

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Ross Barkan announced late last year that he was making the leap from journalism to running for elected office and entered the race in the 22nd State Senate District, a Brooklyn seat currently held by Republican Marty Golden that is on the ballot this fall. Golden is part of the GOP majority in the Senate that Democrats like Barkan blame for preventing a host of progressive legislation from moving through the Legislature.

Before he can directly take on Golden, Barkan must first prevail in the Democratic primary, where he faces Andrew Gounardes, an aide to Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams who lost to Golden in 2012. (We had booked both Barkan and Gounardes for this episode, but Gounardes later said a work obligation came up, so Barkan appeared alone.)

In this episode, Barkan explains his rationale for running, how journalism has prepared him for elected office, his campaign platform, and more.

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

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Joseph Percoco, Former Top Cuomo Aide, Convicted of Fraud, Soliciting Bribes

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Joe Percoco behind his lawyer (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)

The jury in the federal corruption trial of Joseph Percoco, a former top aide to Governor Andrew Cuomo, returned with a verdict on Tuesday, finding Percoco guilty of two counts of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud and one count of soliciting bribes, charges related to a pair of bribery and bid-rigging schemes involving firms seeking to do business with the state. Percoco was also found not guilty on three charges he was facing.

Over the course of more than seven weeks, the Percoco trial laid bare the inner workings of the state government and the lax regulations around government ethics and election financing. Prosecutors also touched on the functioning of the executive chamber, though no allegations of illegal wrongdoing were brought against Governor Andrew Cuomo, who once referred to his longtime friend Percoco as his father’s “third son.”

After closing arguments last week, the jury deliberated for eight days -- and deadlocked twice -- before coming to a mixed verdict. In total, there were ten felony counts against Percoco and three co-defendants, upstate business executives who allegedly paid Percoco more than $300,000 for his help in getting favorable treatment from the state government. Former lobbyist Todd Howe, the government’s star witness in the case, pleaded guilty to facilitating the bribes to Percoco along with seven other felony counts related to the schemes.

One of the bribery schemes involved the real estate developer COR Development and its executives, Joseph Gerardi and Steven Aiello, who were accused of bribing Percoco for assistance with labor unions on a real estate project as well as to obtain a raise for Aiello’s son. Both men faced charges of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud, paying bribes to Peroco and making false statements to federal investigators. Although Gerardi was found not guilty of all three charges, Aiello was found guilty on the conspiracy charge.

The jury also deadlocked on two charges against Peter Galbraith Kelly, an executive from Competitive Power Ventures, an energy firm that was at the center of the second bribery scheme. Prosecutors alleged that Kelly organized a “low-show” job paying $90,000 a year for Percoco’s wife, which they said were actually bribes for Percoco. The jury’s decision led federal district judge Valerie Caproni to declare a mistrial for Kelly.

Percoco himself was found not guilty on the three charges, including extortion under the color of official right, conspiracy to commit extortion under the color of official right, and soliciting bribes related to the COR scheme. He could face 50 years in prison on the three charges on which he was found guilty. Percoco’s sentencing is set for June 11; he and his lawyer said outside the courthouse that they would explore their legal options, including “what we might do in terms of making motions and pursuing our appellate rights.”

At trial, prosecutors painted a picture of Percoco as the governor’s right-hand man, who could move mountains with a single phone call and who often bullied others in state government to do his bidding. The defense, however, sought to portray him as simply an “advance man” who managed events, scheduling, and day-to-day minutiae for the governor. The case was further complicated by the testimony of Howe, who was arrested midway through the trial after admitting to violating his cooperation agreement with the government. Although prosecutors, in their closing arguments, sought to downplay Howe’s role in the case, defense attorneys leaned heavily into the idea that Howe was a manipulative operator who was framing their clients for his own misdeeds.

“Joseph Percoco was found guilty of taking over $300,000 in cash bribes by selling something priceless that was not his to sell – the sacred obligation to honestly and faithfully serve the citizens of New York,” said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman, in a statement after the verdict was announced. Berman said Percoco “corruptly chose to disregard” the fact that “government officials who sell their influence to select insiders violate the basic tenets of a democracy.”

Speaking with reporters outside the courthouse, Percoco said he was “disappointed” with the verdict, but betrayed little emotion as he said he would consider the options with his lawyers. “I am thankful to my wonderful legal team and I‘m thankful to my family and friends that have stood by me throughout this entire process and I look forward to them all standing by me as we go forward,” he said.

Barry Bohrer, Percoco’s defense attorney, questioned the jury’s divided verdict. “There is an inconsistency in the verdict as we read it,” he conceded, when asked by a reporter, “and we are...gonna review and figure out what it means and what options are open to us and we will pursue all available options.”

Asked if his client was a “victim of politics,” Bohrer declined comment, but said, “Look, it was a difficult time and place to be trying a case involving Albany politics, there’s no question about that. We think that it was a much closer case than some were led to believe and I think the jury’s verdict is a reflection of that and so we are going to look at any and all options going forward in terms of pursuing further review.”

A coalition of government reform groups called on the state Legislature and governor to pass reforms to prevent such corruption in the future. “Percoco’s trial spotlighted a state government riddled with pay to play, influence peddling and unethical behavior,” they said in a statement.

The groups -- Citizens Union, Common Cause/NY, League of Women Voters, NYPIRG, and Reinvent Albany -- are calling for strict limits on campaign contributions from entities seeking state contracts; restrictions on outside income for state legislators and those in the executive branch; and closure of the so-called LLC loophole which allows limited liability companies with hidden donors to contribute large sums of money to state candidates. They are also pushing for greater accountability and transparency within the state budget, contracting, and more teeth for state ethics watchdogs and agencies with oversight of state economic development spending.

Cuomo’s critics and opponents, including two Republican candidates for governor this year, pointed fingers at the Democratic incumbent for enabling a culture of corruption and called for an investigation into Cuomo allowing Percoco to use a government office while he was running the governor’s 2014 reelection campaign.

The governor responded to the verdict In a statement put out Tuesday afternoon:

"The jury has reached a verdict and I respect that decision. While I am sad for Joe Percoco's young daughters who will have to deal with this pain, I echo the message of the verdict - there is no tolerance for any violation of the public trust.

"There is no higher calling than public service and integrity is paramount - principles that have guided my work during the last 40 years.

"The verdict demonstrated that these ideals have been violated by someone I knew for a long time. That is personally painful; however, we must learn from what happened and put additional safeguards in place to secure the public trust. Anything less is unacceptable."

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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The Week Ahead in New York Politics, March 12

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week we're awaiting gubernatorial campaign announcements from Republican Marc Molinaro and Democrat Cynthia Nixon.

As those election year moves happen, or don't, government is happening in Albany, where the Legislature will be in session four days this week as we enter crunch time for a new state budget, which is due by the April 1 start to the new fiscal year. One-house budgets are expected this week from the Assembly and Senate. The Independent Democratic Conference of the Senate may also put forth its own budget plan. As Governor Andrew Cuomo himself said this past week, once the one-house budgets are out, negotiations can really get going.

As Cuomo works on a budget, which may include a major overhaul of the state's tax system to respond to the new federal tax code, and waits to see if Nixon will challenge him in the Democratic primary, we're also waiting to see if former top Cuomo aide and brother-like figure Joe Percoco is convicted on any of the corruption charges in his federal case, which is in jury deliberations.

On Monday, however, Cuomo will wade deeper into his recent focus on NYCHA, which has been one of several areas around which his feud with Mayor Bill de Blasio has escalated of late and as he considers declaring a state of emergency at the housing authority -- see below for details.

As the week starts, we're also waiting for de Blasio to return from out of town, he's on a five-day, three-stop trip that has him returning to the city on Tuesday. On Friday, de Blasio left the city for Baltimore, Maryland, to deliver remarks at the Congressional Progressive Caucus Center Strategy Summit. On Saturday, he went to Austin, Texas, where on Sunday he was scheduled to "participate in a SXSW panel discussion with Mayor Adler of Austin, Texas and Mayor Wheeler of Portland, Oregon on the growing role of mayors nationally." The Mayor also made an announcement that New York will be among other cities that won't do business with internet companies that don't honor net neutrality.

On Monday, de Blasio will "attend a U.S. Conference of Mayors’ strategy session on the 2020 census and immigration...After that, the Mayor will travel from Austin, Texas to Washington, D.C. Later, the Mayor will deliver remarks at the National League of Cities spring meeting" at 4:45 p.m. Monday at Wardman Park Marriott in D.C.

Meanwhile, City Council budget hearings continue this week on de Blasio's preliminary budget plan -- details on those and a whole lot more below, via our day-by-day rundown

***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: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.***

The run of the week in detail:

At 10:15 a.m. Monday, Governor Cuomo will hold a press briefing at NYCHA Jackson Houses in the Bronx. "Before the press briefing, Governor Cuomo will tour residences at the Jackson Houses."

At the City Council on Monday, the following committees will hold preliminary budget hearings:
--Public Safety at 10 a.m., regarding the NYPD and Civilian Complaint Review Board
--Veterans at 1 p.m., regarding the Department of Veterans Affairs
--Public Safety and Justice System jointly at 2 p.m., regarding District Attorneys and the Special Narcotics Prosecutor

Also at the City Council on Monday:
--The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet at 9:30 a.m.
--The Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting, and Maritime Uses will meet at noon
--The Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions, and Concessions will meet at 2 p.m.

The New York State Legislature will be in session on Monday in Albany.

The New York State Board of Regents will meet on Monday and Tuesday in Albany.

At 9 a.m. Monday, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson will speak at Congressman Joe Crowley’s Annual National Women’s History Month Commemoration, at Bronx Botanical Garden.

At 10:30 a.m. Monday, Comptroller Scott Stringer will deliver remarks at Access Denied Campaign Rally and Press Conference, 163rd Street Subway Station, 161st Street and Amsterdam Avenue.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will be in Washington, D.C. Monday  for the National League of Cities Congressional City Conference. Brewer will chair a meeting of the Large Cities Council and participate in panel discussion on infrastructure.

At 6 p.m. Monday, First Lady Chirlane McCray will deliver an address to the New York City Bar Association about the ThriveNYC program. The address will be called “Breaking the Silence: A New Way Forward on Mental Health.”

At 6 p.m. Monday, there will be a march down 9th Street in Park Slope demanding greater safety for children and pedestrians on streets. The march comes in the wake of a hit and run in Park Slope that killed two children. The event is sponsored by Borough President Eric Adams and several community organizations, including Families for Safe Streets and Transportation Alternatives. City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Comptroller Scott Stringer will also participate, as well as Council Members Brad Lander, Carlos Menchaca, Antonio Reynoso and Mark Treyger.

At 7 p.m. Monday, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and EBC-Metro IAF Co-chair Rev. David K Brawley will hold the first in a series of forums on the Metro IAF “proposal to reconstruct NYCHA and build more senior housing.” The first forum will take place at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church in Brownsville. Comptroller Scott Stringer will deliver remarks.

The New York State Legislature will be in session on Tuesday in Albany.

At 9 a.m. Tuesday, the New York City Board of Correction will hold a public meeting at 125 Worth Street.

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, "New York’s top environmental advocates will convene on the steps of City Hall to forcefully call on policymakers to tackle the city’s transit and environmental crises and pass the Fix NYC plan as part of this year’s state budget." Participants will include Environmental Defense Fund, Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, Move NY, Natural Resources Defense Council, New York League of Conservation Voters, New Yorkers for Parks.

At 11 a.m., Governor Cuomo will speak at a Planned Parenthood rally in Albany. Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul will also deliver remarks. And at 4:15 p.m., Hochul will speak at the Orthodox Union Student rally.

On Tuesday at 11 a.m. at Hispanic Federation, "First Lady McCray and Deputy Mayor Palacio will make an announcement about New York City’s assistance to Puerto Rico’s hurricane recovery efforts."

At 12:45 p.m. Tuesday in Washington, D.C., Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will participate in a "panel on local infrastructure with Mayor Marie Melendez-Altier (Ponce, PR), Council Member Rachel Hundley (Sonoma, CA), and Council Member Rebecca Viagran (San Antonio, TX), during lunch session of the National League of Cities Congressional City Conference."

"House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joe Crowley (D-NY) will hold a press conference with students from the Renaissance School in Jackson Heights, local elected officials, and community activists from MomsRising on Tuesday, March 13, at 1:30 p.m. to demand congressional action on gun safety." City Council Member Danny Dromm will be among those participating.

At 2:45 p.m. Tuesday in Albany, "As part of Advocacy Day for #HALTsolitary, in which 300+ New Yorkers from across the state will convene in Albany to meet with 70 legislators, survivors of solitary, their family members, and other advocates will hold a speak-out and press conference outside Governor Cuomo’s office. The Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC) will also deliver a card inviting the Governor to spend 24 consecutive hours in solitary confinement in one of his prisons, as Rick Raemisch, the Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, did upon taking the job. (Mr. Raemisch’s experiences ultimately helped inspire significant reforms in that state that are similar to legislation pushed by CAIC.) This will be the second invitation; advocates delivered the first one just before X-mas but received no response. CAIC will also be calling on Governor Cuomo and the State Legislature to enact the Humane Alternatives to Long Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act (A.3080B-Aubry/S.4784A-Parker)." The event is being organized by Vocal-New York, JustLeadershipUSA, and others.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson will appear on NY1's Inside City Hall Tuesday evening.

Wednesday will mark one month since the school massacre in Florida, during which 17 people were killed, that has led to a student-led movement for gun control. There are 17-minute-long school walkouts planned all over the country, including in New York City.

At the City Council on Wednesday, the following committees will hold preliminary budget hearings:
--Environmental Protection at 10 a.m., regarding the Department of Environmental Protection. The Subcommittee on the Capital Budget will join at 11:30 to discuss the DEP capital budget
--Housing and Buildings at 10 a.m., regarding the Department of Housing Preservation and Development and the Department of Buildings
--Sanitation and Solid Waste Management at 1 p.m., regarding the Department of Sanitation and the Business Integrity Commission
--Public Housing and Capital Budget jointly at 1 p.m., regarding NYCHA

The New York State Legislature will be in session on Wednesday in Albany.

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, the City Planning Commission will hold a public meeting at 120 Broadway.

On Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. in Albany, "Legislators, families, providers and advocates will be urging the Legislature and Governor to reject the Executive Budget proposal to cap and cut child welfare services reimbursement to NYC, which includes child protective services and preventive services. New York’s child welfare financing structure, in place since 2002, incentivizes good outcomes by capping foster care reimbursement while reimbursing counties 62% of the costs for the services that keep children and youth safe and out of foster care. New York City has leveraged this funding stream to lower child protective caseloads, decrease juvenile justice detention and placement, dramatically reduce the use of foster care, and become a national model for its continuum of high quality, effective preventive services. The budget proposal puts the safety of children at risk." The event is being organized by Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York.

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, the Civilian Complaint Review Board will hold a public board meeting at the Adam Clayton Powell Jr State Office Building in Harlem.

At the City Council on Thursday, the following committees will hold preliminary budget hearings:
--Land Use at 9:30 a.m., regarding the Landmarks Preservation Commission and Department of City Planning
--Criminal Justice at 10 a.m., regarding the Department of Probation, the Department of Correction, and the Board of Correction. The Subcommittee on the Capital Budget will join at 11:30 a.m. to examine DOC’s capital budget.
--Land Use and Technology jointly at 11:30 a.m., regarding DoITT
--Hospitals at 1 p.m., regarding the Health and Hospitals Corporation

The New York State Legislature will be in session on Thursday.

On Thursday at 6:30 p.m. "What's Happening in Albany: The NY DREAM Act: A Panel Discussion with Candidates, Experts, and Activists" will take place at Fourth Universalist Society in the City of New York in Manhattan. Empire State Indivisible is hosting, with panelists Zellnor Myrie, candidate for State Senate District 20; Luis Yumbla, United We Dream; Karina Davila, Yonkers Sanctuary Movement; and Yatziri Tovar, Make the Road NY.

On Thursday at 7 p.m. "at the Local 46 the Metallic Lathers Union (1322 Third Avenue), neighborhood organization Eastsiders for Sensible Development will hold a meeting with Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts and Urban Planner George Janes to learn about the 370 ft tower in development on Third Ave between East 74th and 75th streets and what the Community can do about it."

Friday and the weekend
At the City Council on Friday, the following committees will hold preliminary budget hearings:
--Cultural Affairs at 10 a.m., regarding libraries and the Department of Cultural Affairs
--Youth Services at 1 p.m., regarding the Department of Youth and Community Development

At 9:30 a.m. Friday, City Council Member Carlina Rivera will deliver keynote remarks at the Bellevue Hospital Community Advisory Board Legislative Breakfast.

Mayor de Blasio is expected to make his weekly appearance on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show at 10 a.m. Friday.

At 2 p.m. Sunday, Let NY Vote will rally at Foley Square to urge the state legislature to early voting in the final state budget.

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: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max

Adding to the Menu at the Coming Museum of Political Corruption in Albany

museum of political corruption

(image: Museum of Political Corruption)

The New York State legislature is often cited as the most corrupt in the nation and Bruce Roter, founder and president of the board of trustees of Albany’s upcoming Museum of Political Corruption, wants to tell the story of how we got there and help the state change course.

A music professor by trade, Roter made a name for himself in the Albany area in 2012, when he led a successful grassroots campaign to bring Trader Joe’s to the capital region.

Roter has since turned his energy to a somewhat more ambitious endeavor: tackling New York state government’s reputed “culture of corruption” by building an interactive, state-of-the-art, national attraction in downtown Albany.

bruce roter“We want to make sure we do this right. We want this museum to be a source of pride for our downtown,” said Roter (pictured), who has been plotting, planning, and building support for the not-for-profit museum for a few years.

While the tentative open date for the brick-and-mortar location is in 2019, the museum team has kept the project in the limelight by hosting panel discussions and attending various events around town. On May 5, Nelly Bly’s birthday, the group will present its second annual Nelly Bly Award for investigative reporting, and a virtual exhibit may become available on the website soon. Susanne Craig of The New York Times was given the first Nelly Bly award in November 2017 at an event in downtown Albany.

In an interview with Gotham Gazette, Roter discussed the museum’s progress and importance, this year’s series of state government-related corruption trials, and a very special menu item that will be featured in the museum’s “Cozy Crony Cafe.”

The Q-and-A below is lightly edited for clarity.

Gotham Gazette (GG): We seem to be in an important moment in New York corruption history. The fate of Governor Cuomo’s former top aide Joe Percoco is being decided, two former legislative leaders will be retried this spring, among others. Have you been keeping up with the headlines?

Bruce Roter (BR): “I do try to follow when I can. It’s all very concerning, of course. On the one hand, it’s concerning, and on the other hand, I just remember that this is just one more stage in corruption that our state has had, and that’s the long-term view that we are taking.

“There are those who think that this is probably the most corrupt time that New York has ever had. That’s not the truth at all. One can look at other eras, the 1800s, the 1900s, the Tammany Hall period, and other periods like that.

“So I think we need a historical perspective when it comes to corruption, and thwarting immediate frustration. It didn’t happen overnight and it’s not going to get solved overnight.”

GG: What’s the latest on the Museum of Corruption?

BR: “We’re moving forward. We are still seeking sources of funding. We do want to build a state-of-the-art museum in downtown Albany. We’re definitely taking the long-term view, not only of our project, but of corruption in general. We can’t simply look at any particular headline. We understand that to fix corruption, it’s going to take a long-term cultural change, and that’s what we hope our institution will do.”

GG: What birthed the idea to create a museum of corruption?

BR: “I think the idea originally started because there were so many headlines of corruption back in 2012 and 2013. What started off as just an idea soon blossomed into a full-blown project, once I began discussing this with others, who also thought it was an excellent and unique idea and a way that we here in Albany could contribute to ethical governance in our state. That’s when we got serious and became chartered and are moving this forward.”

GG: You are a music professor at the College of Saint Rose. Have you ever worked for government before, or is your interest in ethical governance a byproduct of growing up in Albany?

BR: “I actually grew up downstate and I’ve been here 20 years now. I’ve always had an interest in government and public affairs even in my own creative work as a composer. I’ve often been inspired by public causes. I’m the composer of a piece called the Camp David Overture for the Middle East Peace Accords.

“Several years ago, I was commissioned to write a piece for the Albany Symphony on speeches and writings of [President and New York State Governor] Theodore Roosevelt, and I became very inspired by him, especially Roosevelt’s call for the public to engage in the civil discourse of their community. So that’s what I’m seeking to do also.

“Also, I have to admit, I have also enjoyed being part of the public discussion when I organized a grassroots campaign to bring Trader Joe’s to the capital district.”

GG: Thank you for that…

BR: “Well, yeah, everyone thanks me for that. Your quite welcome, I’m enjoying it myself. It was just the gratitude that I received from the community for being involved with that that has spurred my continued interest in working for the community. I feel the best way I can do that is to try and find an educational way that we can address governmental corruption.”

GG: What’s the long game? Have you selected partners to run the museum while you are at your day job once you have a brick-and-mortar location?

BR: “The long game is -- obviously, we do have a board of trustees -- is to hire a full staff, including an executive director, who is knowledgeable about museum management, running our museum as a museum ought to be run. We want this to be a first-class cultural institution for our city and a tourist draw at that.”

GG: How will you keep up with the endless stream of headlines and corruption trials and incorporate them into the museum’s exhibits?

BR: “We will keep up. We want the museum to be current. There will be rotating or evolving exhibits that will address what is going on currently, even as we also take the broader, historic view of corruption that has gone on for centuries in New York, as well as understanding the causes of corruption, and what we can do about corruption.

“We do want to have in the museum what I’m calling Solutions Hall, where museum-goers will be invited to participate in discussing or uncovering solutions that can help us to achieve more ethical government.”

GG: Have any lawmakers have reached out in support of this idea or taken an interest in this project?

BR: “I can tell you that [Republican] Minority Assembly Leader Brian Kolb has been interested in our project -- along with some others. We are completely non-partisan and we want to make sure that we reach across the aisle and we want to bring all of our leaders onboard. Because this is not about a particular leader, this is about fixing our government and the public working with our leaders to create a better, more effective government.

“I can tell you that one of the initiatives in which we are currently engaged is a collection of quotes on ethical leadership. We’re seeking quotes from leaders in a number of different fields, including politics and sports and religion and education. We do want to collect these quotes and perhaps even put them into a volume some day. We already received a quote -- a handwritten quote at that -- from former President Jimmy Carter, we’ve received a quote from Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, and one from Congressman Paul Tonko -- here in the Capital District -- and from Assemblymember Pat Fahy, and also Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon.

“I want to make sure we have a wonderful, diverse representation of quotes on ethical leadership. Because even though we are a Museum of Political Corruption, we want to turn this around and make sure it leads to something positive.”

GG: Corruption is certainly not limited to government. Do you hope that the ideas that come out of this will produce solutions that transcend government and apply to other institutions?

BR: “Absolutely. I think it will. If we can address ethical leadership in one field, we can certainly address ethical leadership in every field. That’s of course why we want to get the leaders in the world of sports and arts and entertainment to engage with us in this search for bits of wisdom of how we can be more ethical in all facets of our society.”

GG: So is the objective to educate the public about corruption or to solicit feedback and crowdsource some solutions to the problem?

BR: “It’s both. Ultimately we want to educate and inform, but we also want to empower as well....For those people who are cynical and think nothing can ever be done and nothing can ever change, we hope that by the time they leave our exhibits, they too feel that they can make a difference in our society.

“We look at all of these headlines, and trials, and retrials, and with tremendous respect to everything that’s is going on with our legislature and our prosecutors, we also think the public needs to get involved too. Of course, the best way and the first way we get involved is at the ballot booth. That’s why we feel education is import part of any change.

“If there is indeed a culture of corruption in Albany, it’s going to take a cultural institution to fix it. And that’s what we are going to be: a cultural institution.”

GG: Having moved to Albany last year to cover the Capitol, one thing I was struck by is how dramatic state government is, from the castle-like building, to the theatrics that happen daily on the Senate floor. As someone with a music background, do you plan to incorporate art, music, and performance into the museum’s exhibits?

BR: “Of course! The whole discussion of public corruption can be held on so many levels. We’re going to have a Tammany Lecture hall in the museum where we can do panel discussions and public speaking, but can also do film theories or musical productions that address the subject as well. Art frequently has important things to say about what is going on in society. And so, I certainly want to encourage that.

“I could also see us engaging or commissioning visual artists to have an art collection. We are certainly going to have a collection of political historic cartoons. So very much, art definitely has something to say about politics, and we will incorporate that into our design.”

GG: Circling back to the current trials. Any new additions inspired by the trial of former Cuomo top aide Joe Percoco?

BR: “You can expect that on the menu for the Cozy Crony Cafe we will be serving ziti.”

by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Fierce Cuomo Critics, De Blasio-Allied Advisors Have Been ‘Ready for Cynthia’

katz broad room mansplain

Rebecca Katz at The Broad Room (photo: Monica Klein on Twitter)

Actress and education activist Cynthia Nixon is reportedly close to launching a gubernatorial bid and may challenge Governor Andrew Cuomo in this year’s Democratic primary.

Nixon has long been rumored as a candidate for governor and is close to making an official announcement that she is running, according to NY1’s Zack Fink, who also reported that Nixon has tapped two prominent Democratic political consultants, and former campaign staffers to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, to help her prepare for a possible run. The two advisors, Rebecca Katz and Bill Hyers, lead the New York office of Hilltop Public Solutions, a political consulting firm that works with progressive candidates and includes de Blasio as a client.

“Many concerned New Yorkers have been encouraging Cynthia to run for office, and as she has said previously, she will continue to explore it,” said Rebecca Capellan, a spokesperson for Nixon, in an emailed statement to Gotham Gazette. “If and when such a decision is made, Cynthia will be sure to make her plans public.”

In an unrelated conference call with reporters on Tuesday, Cuomo seemed unconcerned about a potential run by Nixon. “On people who may or may not run for governor on both sides of the aisle, that’s up to them, and we’ll deal with it as the campaign progresses,” he said. On Wednesday, on yet another conference call press briefing, Cuomo was asked who he thought may have put Nixon up for running, and joked, “I think it was probably either the mayor of New York or Vladimir Putin. I am going to leave it to you, great investigative reporters to follow the facts and ferret out the truth.”

Nixon has also been a close ally of de Blasio -- she campaigned for him in 2013 and sat on the City Hall dais during both his mayoral inaugurations -- and it should come as no surprise that she would look to Katz and Hyers for their expertise. De Blasio relationships aside, a number of progressive Democrats have been looking for a strong primary challenger to Cuomo, including some of the same people who backed insurgent Zephyr Teachout in 2014, when the law school professor made things uneasy for Cuomo as he sought a second term.

Katz and Hyers are fierce defenders of de Blasio and his agenda, and are relentless critics of Cuomo, with whom de Blasio has had a long-running feud despite the fact that they are members of the same party and share similar positions on many issues.

That feud again escalated Wednesday as questions about Nixon’s potential candidacy gave the mayor another opportunity to criticize Cuomo, after which the governor called in to NY1 and bashed the mayor for too much talk, not enough action, and defended his own progressive record.

With an active presence on social media, Hyers and Katz have often shielded their former boss from criticism and also regularly strike out at Cuomo and his administration. Niether Hyers nor Katz responded to requests for comment for this article.

In January, for instance, when the federal corruption trial of Joseph Percoco, a former top aide to Cuomo, had just begun, Katz tweeted, “Worth asking what kind of press coverage this trial would get if it involved the closest confidant of the Mayor, and not Governor Cuomo’s second brother.”

When Teachout -- who managed to get a significant 34 percent vote share despite limited funds, no name recognition, and almost no institutional support -- criticized Cuomo for not calling special elections for 11 vacant seats in the state Legislature, Katz highlighted the comments for her 11,000-odd Twitter followers. “There's a lot going on right now, but don't miss this important @ZephyrTeachout thread. And then don't let Andrew Cuomo ever call himself a progressive Democrat,” she wrote.

In December, when Cuomo’s campaign was planning a birthday fundraiser for the governor featuring former President Bill Clinton, Katz wrote sardonically, “$50k to sit with the Governor. Cuomo, man of the people.”

In November, when the U.S. Congress was considering an overhaul of the federal tax code, Governor Cuomo criticized the “treasonous” Republicans from New York who voted for it. Katz, who also worked in the de Blasio administration for about 15 months before departing in 2015, added to her criticism of the governor for allowing Republicans to control the New York State Senate. “Wonder what he’d call a Democratic Governor who helped bring us a Republican State Senate,” she tweeted sarcastically.

Katz has also called out Cuomo for lying or flip-flopping on key issues. Last year, when the MTA was amid a growing operational crisis and the governor sought to shift responsibility away from the state, she tweeted, “Cuomo at launch of 2nd Ave Subway - it's me me me! Cuomo lying today 👇”

Recently, Katz spoke at a training put on by The Broad Room for women in politics, and discussed dealing with “mansplaining," which included having participants watch a clip of Cuomo talking.

Hyers has a slightly more infrequent presence on Twitter, and fewer followers, with about 2,600, but his anti-Cuomo tweets are no less acerbic, and he’s also been a willing Cuomo critic in the press.

In late November, there was yet another Cuomo-de Blasio dust up when the mayor said the governor’s apparent presidential ambitions were the only reason Cuomo was supporting a deal to reunite the mainline state Senate Democrats with the Independent Democratic Conference. De Blasio noted as example that Cuomo had failed to hold to an agreement in 2014 to help elect a Democratic majority to the state Senate, brokered when de Blasio helped Cuomo get the reelection endorsement of the Working Families Party.

In response, a Cuomo spokesperson hit out at the mayor for his failed 2014 attempt at flipping the Senate, which invited a state investigation of his fundraising efforts. Hyers was not happy.

“So were all supposed to buy that Cuomo didn't help the IDC for years? Are we all this stupid? This is very Trumpian…,” he tweeted.

On Wednesday, de Blasio laughed off the notion that he would again help Cuomo earn the WFP endorsement and ballot line.

Earlier that same November day, Hyers wrote, “So Cuomo land pushes stories about his Presidential ambitions everywhere then takes pop [sic] shots when the Mayor points it out?”

In July of last year, Hyers also weighed in on Cuomo’s effort to distance himself from the MTA’s problems, repeatedly criticizing the governor’s hands-off approach. He also pointed out the governor’s tendency at that time to avoid mentioning the president by name when being critical of the federal government. “Now I know why Cuomo doesnt mention Trump, he's going to adopt his flat out lying style,” Hyers wrote.

When Nomiki Konst, a correspondent with The Young Turks network and also a vocal Cuomo critic, said in July 2017 that the second-term Democrat did not have a base of supporters on the left, Hyers mused, “Wait, Cuomo is a Democrat? When did he switch parties?”

On Wednesday, de Blasio was asked if he’d encouraged Nixon to take on Cuomo. The mayor danced around the subject, praising his long-time friend and saying Nixon makes her own decisions, and that though he hasn’t spoken with her lately, he said, he also wouldn’t divulge the contents of private conversations. Including on Wednesday, the mayor has declined to endorse Cuomo for a third term, but has also shied away from definitively saying the governor deserves a primary challenge from the left. He did say he wants to see “real Democrats” in charge, and that he’d have more to say on the 2018 elections at a later date.

Hyers himself has acknowledged that he goes out of his way to take jabs at the governor. In late June 2017, a campaign ad for Democratic Congressional candidate Randy Bryce, an ironworker from Wisconsin known popularly as “IronStache” who is challenging Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan in this year’s midterms, went viral. Bryce’s campaign strategist was Hyers, which a reporter pointed out on Twitter with a link to a story about the viral ad.

“I do some things besides horseraces and heckling Cuomo,” Hyers joked, and Katz retweeted.

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note- This article has been updated to note that Nomiki Konst is a correspondent with The Young Turks network, not a Democratic consultant. 

What's The [Data] Point? $32.2 Billion, with Rick Cotton and Jamison Dague

whats the data point

What's The [Data] Point? Episode 33 -- $32.2 billion, with Rick Cotton of the Port Authority and Jamison Dague of CBC [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

rick cotton cbc bfast

This week's episode includes remarks from new Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton at a recent CBC breakfast, during which he describes the five pillars of his agenda at the Port Authority: Safety and Security; Ethics and Integrity; First-Class Operations; Reinvesting in Infrastructure; and Improving Customer Service. After those remarks and some Q&A with the CBC audience, you'll hear some discussion of Port Authority issues among our hosts Ben Max and Maria Doulis, along with Jamison Dague of CBC.

The data point, $32.2 billion, is the size of the 2017-2026 Capital Plan of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. As we’ve noted previously on this podcast, the Port Authority is responsible for some of the most critical infrastructure in the region, including the airports; the ports; PATH train; the recently redone Goethals and Bayonne Bridges; and the George Washington Bridge and Lincoln and Holland Tunnels; and the 42nd Street Bus Terminal.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Maria Doulis of CBC (@MariaDoulis). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Poll Targeting Brooklyn District Gauges Anti-IDC Sentiment

Jesse Hamilton IDC

Members of the IDC, including Sen. Hamilton (center), and others (photo: @IDC4NY)

A recent phone poll surveying residents of Senator Jesse Hamilton’s Brooklyn district asked residents to react to a number of statements associating the Independent Democratic Conference with President Donald Trump, among a variety of other questions, according to two residents of the district.

The polling was conducted “on behalf of a Democrat regarding state Senate elections in September 2018” by the Florida-based Kalamata Group, one resident, who took meticulous notes during a February 10 phone call, told Gotham Gazette.

Kalamata Group is associated with Global Strategy Group, which works closely with IDC, indicating that the poll was funded by the conference. Hamilton is one of eight members of the IDC, which forms a ruling coalition with the Senate Republicans, along with nominal Democrat Senator Simcha Felder. The alliance has been blamed for keeping Republicans in power in state government, effectively blocking the passage of key Democratic legislation, such as voting reforms, women’s reproductive health provisions, the Dream Act, and the Child Victims Act.

The breakaway Democrats, led by Senator Jeff Klein of the Bronx, are currently in talks to reunify with the mainline Democratic conference later this year, provided Democrats regain a total of 32 seats in the 63-seat chamber after a set of special elections in April, but that has not stopped a number of challengers, backed by a coalition of progressive activists, from launching primary challenges against IDC members.

One of the residents of Hamilton’s district, who was polled, lives in Prospect Heights and asked to remain anonymous. He said he was asked to indicate whether he approved or disapproved of the IDC, Jesse Hamilton, Zellnor Myrie -- a lawyer who is running in the Democratic primary against Hamilton in the fall -- Mayor Bill de Blasio, and President Donald Trump.

Several poll questions seem to evaluate whether Hamilton will be negatively impacted by criticisms that link him and his conference with Trump’s presidency, which appears to be hurting the Republican Party in New York. IDC challengers and their supporters have taken to calling IDC members “Trump Democrats.”

The poll, for example, asks residents to rank how convincing they found a series of statements about Hamilton’s record, with the pollster telling saying that the statements were from Hamilton’s opponents.

‘By aligning with the GOP in New York, Senator Jesse Hamilton is empowering Donald Trump’s agenda in New York. Trump Democrat Hamilton has sided with real estate groups and developers and has effectively blocked efforts to stand up to Trump’s destructive agenda on health care, education, immigrations, tenants rights, and climate change,’ read one statement, according to the resident.

The poll also tested several positive statements about the incumbent: ‘Hamilton secured $10 million to help provide legal services for immigrants. He is working to protect Dreamers in New York by helping to provide college assistance and stronger legal protections against Trump’s attack on so-called sanctuary cities,’ the pollster reportedly said, for example.

The poll also tested for two potential criticisms of Myrie. One referred to a charity he founded in 2009 that had its taxpayer authorization revoked by the IRS after he failed to file the paperwork, and another that he has no government experience and is linked to a local political machine.

After each segment of the poll, the resident was asked a variation of "If the primary were held today, and the candidates Jesse Hamilton and Zellnor Myrie, who would you vote for?" (See full details of the poll below, as noted by the resident from Prospect Heights.)

Barbara Brancaccio, a campaign spokesperson for Hamilton who works for Global Strategy Group, would not confirm that the IDC funded the poll, but as one political operative who Gotham Gazette briefed on the poll’s contents put it, “It's hard to imagine it not being the IDC. [Global Strategy Group] has a very long standing relationship with Jeff [Klein].”

Brancaccio said the survey amounts to standard polling that is done whenever there is an election, and that the campaign does not make the results of its polling public.

New York State law prohibits the partial release of political poll results, so candidates and campaigns often choose not to share their survey results.

Still, the founders of No IDC NY, a political campaign that backs IDC primary challengers, used the poll questions as an opportunity to take a swipe at the breakaway Democrats, noting that No IDC has conducted its own surveys through its collective phone-banking and text-messaging operations.

In the 20th Senate District, home to the Hamilton-Myrie primary, phone-bankers spoke with 1,119 voters, 83 percent of whom are negative on the IDC, said Gus Christensen, chief strategist of No IDC NY.

“The numbers are clear: the IDC has no base. Democratic voters are real Democrats, and real Democrats don't support turncoats who caucus with the Republicans. And I'm sure the only reason why the IDC won't release the results of their own polling is that it says the same thing, only in more detail,” said Christensen.

Polling experts say phone-banking is generally not a reliable method to determine voter behavior, since phone-bankers likely have their own biases, and their questions may not be balanced. Political polling companies also take steps to ensure that the demographic make-up of subjects polled is reflective of the district.

“It would be impossible for me to comment on any of these polls, not knowing the methodology behind them …but the key to making any survey scientifically accurate, is to ensure that you have a representative sample of the geography you are trying to poll,” said Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg.

While overwhelmingly Democratic, Hamilton’s district is diverse and somewhat fragmented, including portions of Brownsville, Crown Heights, East Flatbush, Gowanus, Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Prospect Lefferts Gardens, and snaking down to South Slope, and Sunset Park.

Myrie, in an interview with Gotham Gazette, said it was fair for critics to associate his opponent with President Trump.

“In 2016, my opponent joined the Republican-friendly IDC within 24 hours of Donald Trump becoming the most regressive President our country has ever seen,” say Myrie. “Since that day, they both have pushed or supported the regressive Republican policies that have hurt my community...Republicans in the state Senate are lock and step with the Trump agenda, an agenda my opponent bolsters every single day as a member of the IDC.”


The following is lightly edited notes taken by one resident of the 20th State Senate District who was polled:

Do you have favorable or unfavorable view of:
-The IDC
-Jesse Hamilton
-Zellnor Myrie
-Bill de Blasio
-Donald Trump

If the primary were today, would you vote for Jesse Hamilton or Zellnor Myrie?

Do you approve or disapprove of the job Jesse Hamilton is doing?

What are the two most important issues that will impact your vote?

Would you prefer a a state senator who stands up to policies of Trump and Republicans in New York, or a state senator who addresses local issues?

I am going to read profiles and ask if you find them favorable or unfavorable.
-Democrat Zellnor Myrie is an attorney and local Democratic party leader. He will be a true Democrat in the New York State Senate, an anti-Trump leader who will fight to fully fund schools, will focus on affordable housing, including protecting tenants who are being thrown out of their homes. He will help pave the way for Andrea Stewart-Cousins to become the first African-American woman Senate Majority Leader.
-Democrat Jesse Hamilton, current state senator, brought in $1 million for community land trusts that work to build affordable housing. He won tougher rent projections and a freeze on rent for seniors. He brought back $1 billion for public schools. He helped establish the nation’s first free college tuition program for families earning [amount unclear]. Jesse Hamilton will continue to stand up against Trump, protect women, immigrants, civil rights, and healthcare gains made by President Obama.

If the primary were today, and candidates were Zellnor Myrie and Jesse Hamilton, for whom would you vote?

I will now read statements from supporters of Jesse Hamilton - how convincing do you find them?
-Jesse Hamilton founded United Against Violence Task Force to develop new ways for communities to respond to violence. He funded organizations like Save Our Streets and Cure Violence. He is making a real difference in making our streets safer.
-Jesse Hamilton succeeded in securing $10 million to help provide legal services for immigrants. He is working to protect Dreamers in New York by helping to provide college assistance and stronger legal protections against Trump’s attack on so-called Sanctuary Cities.
(Side note: The woman on the phone didn’t know what “Dreamers” referred to. She said “Dreamers...it’s apparently an organization he is fighting to protect.” She added, “I’m not from New York.”)
-Jesse Hamilton is taking a strong stand against Donald Trump’s attacks on immigrants and his attempts to roll back healthcare coverage, civil rights, marriage equality, and a woman’s right to choose, by writing protections against Trump into New York state law.
-Jesse Hamilton has been successful in bringing back hundreds of thousands of dollars for our school and community groups in need. Last year he secured funds for the Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger, Brooklyn Legal Services, Caribbean Women’s Health Association, and Youth Represent.
-Jesse Hamilton is pushing for the Rider Relief Plan that would repair funding by nearly $900 million to reduce delays and overcrowding for New York subways.
-Jesse Hamilton supports true low-income housing, not multi-million-dollar condos at Bedford Armory. He will make housing more affordable by expanding the number of seniors who qualify for homeowner exemptions, and expand the number of people qualified for rent freezes. He will fight for more affordable housing in New York and strengthen laws to give jail time to landlords who are illegally raising rents.

Once again, if the NYS primary were today, would you vote for Jesse Hamilton or Zellnor Myrie?

Now I will read statements from opponents of Jesse Hamilton. How convincing do you find them?
-By aligning with the GOP in the New York State Senate, Jesse Hamilton is empowering Donald Trump’s agenda in New York. Trump Democrat Hamilton has sided with real estate groups and developers and has effectively blocked efforts to stand up to Trump’s destructive agenda on health care, education, immigrations, tenants rights, and climate change.
-The IDC, of which Jesse Hamilton is a member, took tens of thousands of dollars from one of the biggest landlord groups in the city, called REBNY, which has been working to end rent regulations and eliminate tenant protections.
-Jesse Hamilton is a member of the IDC, a group of state senators who ran for office as Democrats, but then aligned with the GOP once elected. This has resulted in GOP control of the Senate, in spite of the GOP being in the minority, and has allowed the conservative GOP to stop or water down Democratic priorities.
-Jesse Hamilton is a member of the IDC, some of whose members have been exposed for taking extra salary or better office space in exchange for aligning with the GOP in the State Senate. This scheme has involved making false statements, and has led to inquiries by the office of the New York State Attorney General and the United States Attorney in Brooklyn.

If the primary were today, who would you vote for?

I will now read statements from opponents of Zellnor Myrie. How convincing do you find them?
-Zellnor Myrie started a charity that critics said he launched simply to promote himself. He promptly lost interest and the charity had its taxpayer authorization revoked by the IRS, for failing the simple task of failing to file the proper forms.
-Zellnor Myrie has no government experience, but is relying on his political connections in the local party machine to get elected, and would serve their interest, not ours.

If primary were today, who would you vote for?

Then there were demographic questions at the end:
-Last grade of school completed?
-Anyone in household a member/retired from union?
-In politics, are you very liberal, somewhat liberal, moderate, somewhat conservative, very conservative.
-Religious background - protestant, catholic, muslim, jewish, something else?
-Do you receive more calls on landline or cell phone
-Can I use your first name?

by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

The Women In ‘The Room’

Cuomo Stewart-Cousins

Gov. Cuomo and Sen. Stewart-Cousins (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)

What would New York State’s budget look like if women were in charge? That is this year’s $168-billion question.

For decades, the final details and compromises in New York’s annual budget have been decided by the so-called “three men in the room,” or the leaders of the two legislative houses and the governor, but with workplace sexual harassment at the forefront this year, it seems that at least one woman will be included in parts of the closed-door talks.

The “three men” -- in recent years four men: Governor Andrew Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, Independent Democratic Conference Leader Senator Jeff Klein, and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie -- is a term first attributed to Albany’s budget process in a 1988 Newsday article and later popularized by former state lawmaker Seymour Lachman, who wrote a book called “Three Men in a Room.” The phrase has become synonymous with Albany’s culture of secrecy and backroom dealings, but it also implicates the gender imbalance that has long plagued the center of power in New York.

Now, amid a national reckoning around sexual misconduct, an effort is being made to elevate female voices in state government as the executive and legislative branches scramble to come up with an acceptable policy response. In addition to workplace protections, Cuomo’s extensive women’s rights agenda includes codification of Roe v. Wade abortion protections, legislation combating revenge porn, and a mandate that free feminine hygiene products to be provided in public school restrooms.

Facing pressure from advocates, editorial boards, and others to include female representation during final negotiations of a new budget -- which is expected to include a statewide anti-harassment policy for government officials -- Cuomo recently announced that the only female legislative conference leader, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, will for the first time play a role in deciding the legislation that goes into the final budget documents.

“Leader Stewart-Cousins will be included in negotiations on the ‎sexual-harassment bill, as well as a wide range of other issues being dealt with in this year’s budget,” a Cuomo spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal.

Notably, the negotiations will occur as Klein is being investigated for allegedly forcing a kiss with an aide in 2015.

While it is not clear what that range of other issues will cover, Stewart-Cousins -- who has long demanded inclusion in budget talks, to no avail -- said at a press conference on the Child Victims Act (CVA), that she will use the opportunity to fight for other bills put forward by her conference that have long stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate.

“When I’m in the room, you can be sure that I will be advocating for this, and other things that our conference is carrying and pushing forward,” Stewart-Cousins said of CVA, adding that by representing the 21-member conference (in the 63-seat chamber), she brings with her “the voices of half of New York.”

The Child’s Victims Act, which has been in limbo for 10 years, lifts New York’s statute of limitations to match that of other states, making it easier for victims of child sexual abuse to bring charges against their abusers. Other big ticket items on the table this year -- many of them carried by members of the Democratic conference -- include gun control, early voting, a state tax overhaul, and criminal justice reforms.

How Stewart-Cousins’ presence in “the room,” typically the governor’s office on the second floor of the state Capitol, shapes the final budget bills, or whether more women-centered legislation and other bills carried by her conference will rise to the top, remains to be seen. While her involvement in leaders’ meetings is a notable start, as one of five powerbrokers in “the room,” there will still be a lopsided ratio considering New York’s female-heavy electorate, according to Dina Refki, executive director of the Center for Women in Government & Civil Society at Albany University.

“Research tells us that when women are outnumbered, their voices tend to be silenced,” said Refki. “Of course, Andrea Stewart-Cousins is a strong legislator, and it’s a good thing to have, but if we are looking at research, we tend to believe that women need to be represented in sufficient numbers to have a meaningful impact on the process.”

Government reformers note that the power in the room is already tilted in favor of the executive, due to the 2004 Silver v. Pataki Court of Appeals decision, which bars the Legislature from making changes to any part of an appropriations bill, short of rejecting the entire bill. The main leverage the legislative leaders have during talks is the ability to delay the budget, which is bound to draw criticism of Albany’s dysfunction from the public and editorial boards, according to former Assemblymember-turned-professor Richard Brodsky.

“You cannot govern a state in perpetuity based upon a tyrannical executive power -- and that’s what we have. If you want to reform government, adjust the balance of power,” said Brodsky.

Tyrannical power or not, having the governor’s ear during those final hours is valuable and if political science studies are any indicator, Stewart-Cousins’ involvement may help tip the scales in favor of better legislative outcomes for women. There is a large body of data indicating that female representation in government leads to the passage of more legislation on issues of concern to women -- whether protections for women’s health, workplace equity, or paid family leave, for example -- but only when there is a “critical mass” of female representation. Political scientists disagree on the exact tipping point, pegging it at 15, 20, 25, or 30 percent.

While the final decision-makers in Albany have historically all been male, there are often women in the room in a supportive or advisory capacity, and numerous female lawmakers who lead legislative committees are heavily involved in budgetary proceedings. At every stage there is an opportunity to women influence the content and the shape of the budget, according to Refki.

“Women are not monolithic. They don’t all think the same, or act in the same way, but by virtue of their socialization as women, they tend to see women-centered issues as priorities,” she said. “The presence of women at each juncture in the process at least brings a voice that could influence what takes shape at the end.”

Melissa DeRosa Cuomo aideMelissa DeRosa, now Cuomo’s top aide as secretary to the governor, has long been involved in budget conversations, including in her previous role as Cuomo’s chief of staff. DeRosa and Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul both chair Cuomo’s newly-created Council on Women and Girls, which helped develop his women’s agenda this year, a spokesperson from Cuomo’s office said.

Hochul, while not directly involved in budget negotiations, aids the process by promoting key pieces of the governor's budget agenda around the state. When interviewed about Hochul’s reelection campaign last month, her chief of staff told Gotham Gazette that she is “focused on ensuring an on-time budget.”

Cuomo has brought a number of women into his inner circle in the past year, including re-hiring former federal prosecutor Linda Lacewell, now as his chief of staff, and Cathy Calhoun as his director of state operations. Lacewell replaced DeRosa (pictured), who was promoted to Cuomo’s top advisory position last year, becoming the first woman to hold the position.

Legislative leaders also have top female aides. Often accompanying Heastie during budget dealings are Louann Ciccone, secretary of program and counsel, and Kathleen O’Keefe, his legislative counsel. To help create policy responses to sexual harassment issues, Heastie has composed a work group of 15 lawmakers, 10 of them female.

“Sexual harassment must be confronted head-on,” said Heastie in a statement. “I look forward to the recommendations of this workgroup so that we can develop a statewide legislative solution to this very serious problem.”

Klein, whose Independent Democratic Conference forms a ruling coalition with the Senate Republicans, also has a female chief of staff, Dana Carotenuto Rico, who typically joins him in “the room.” Other times, IDC members who have expertise in a particular subject are called in, an IDC spokesperson said. For example, in 2017, Senator Diane Savino and Senator Jesse Hamilton were invited into the governor’s chamber to discuss details of legislation to raise the age of criminal responsibility.

Additionally, women play a role at many turns in budgetary proceedings leading up to the final negotiations. The Legislature’s joint budget hearings, which take place in February, are now headed by female lawmakers, and when one-house agendas are released, female staffers from legislative and executive offices participate in subsequent meetings on various budgetary categories called “tables.”

Two women now hold the Legislature’s most powerful committee chair posts: Senate Finance Chair Kathy Young, an upstate Republican, and Assembly Ways and Means Chair Helene Weinstein, a Brooklyn Democrat. The two women, along with IDC’s Senator Savino, of Staten Island, is vice chair of the Senate finance committee, must attend all of legislative budget hearings, which sometimes run late into the night. These hearings help inform one-house budget proposals, conference discussions, and larger budget negotiations, according to those with knowledge of the budget process.

Scott Reif, a spokesperson for Flanagan, said that Young is extensively involved in negotiations on the state budget and that other female staff members advise the leader on key issues related to the budget, like sexual harassment, criminal justice, and education. Reif did not indicate that any of the women are in the negotiating room when the final budget bills are decided.

by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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