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Possible GOP Gubernatorial Candidates Weigh Chances to Unseat Cuomo

gop governor candidates

L-R: Harry Wilson, John DeFrancisco, Marc Molinaro, Brian Kolb

The Republican pool of candidates exploring an attempt to unseat Governor Andrew Cuomo in the 2018 gubernatorial race appears to be shrinking. Now just four Republicans say they are exploring a run -- down from at least seven prior to this past Election Day -- with the potential candidates vowing to announce their decisions by Christmas.

Targeting the well-funded Democratic governor seeking his third term would typically be a bold but calculated bet. On one hand, Cuomo has significant vulnerabilities going into 2018, but the outcome of Election Day 2017, which many are interpreting as a “blue wave” of Democratic wins in reaction to the presidency of Donald Trump, may give some Republicans more pause.

A GOP gubernatorial win in New York, which has not happened since George Pataki won a third term in 2002, would require sizeable success in the New York City suburbs, but after voters handed GOP county executive seats in Westchester and Nassau to Democrats earlier this month, potential 2018 candidates must consider how the anti-Trump sentiment will play out next year.

"What looked to be a very deep pool suddenly got ankle-deep shallow, with the water still going down. That's what a mini-tsunami election will do to anyone rationally thinking of running against a political tide,” said William O’Reilly, a Republican strategist who runs the November Team. That wave seems to have both unseated and knocked from 2018 contention Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, an O’Reilly client who lost to Cuomo in the 2014 gubernatorial race.

Harry Wilson, a hedge fund manager from Westchester, is seen as a clear front-runner to become the GOP nominee next year, as he may be capable of coming closest to Cuomo’s immense fundraising capabilities and he performed well in his 2010 bid for state comptroller. The other three most-discussed potential GOP gubernatorial candidates are all current officeholders -- Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, and state Senator John DeFrancisco -- who would begin a race with a solid local base of support and some name recognition.

“I would hope that Senator DeFrancisco or County Executive Molinaro will make the leap,” said O’Reilly, “but in the end the 2018 Republican candidate for governor may have to come down to a recruitment effort.”

For his part, Cuomo is heading toward his reelection year facing criticism from the right and the left for New York City’s subway crisis. Among other issues, he is also maligned for high property taxes around the state, not to mention corruption trials about to begin involving his economic development initiatives, which involve some of his closest associates. Cuomo is not especially popular outside of New York City, where his favorability remains fairly high, and the second-term Democrat may very well face a tough primary of his own, as he did in 2014, given that many in the left flank of his party see him as too centrist.

The New York State Republican Party has calculated that ideally it should avoid a primary to have a shot at victory -- assuming Cuomo is in the running -- so the four potential candidates are now courting GOP leadership for the nod. All four men say they are on good terms with each other and each is taking his own path to testing the waters. Molinaro and Kolb have discussed running on a ticket together for governor and lieutenant governor, but both say that no such decision has been made (and it is not clear which would run for what).

Publically, the party leadership is shrugging off the losses from Election Day, pointing to other victories like that of Republican Steve McLaughlin, an Assembly member elected county executive of Rensselaer. State Republican Party Chair Ed Cox, on Fred Dicker’s Focus on Albany radio show, chalked up Astorino’s loss to “third term-itis,” the same challenge now facing Cuomo, whereby it is notoriously difficult to win third terms in politics.

Regarding the election of Democrat Laura Curran to the historically-Republican Nassau county executive seat, Cox pointed to a Democratic voter base energized by opposition to the constitutional convention ballot question. Former County Executive Ed Mangano’s indictment last year on federal corruption charges also tainted the Republican Party and turned many independents, who make up a large segment of Nassau’s electorate, against GOP contender Jack Martins, he said.

Wilson, who did well in his 2010 run for state comptroller, losing to Democrat Tom DiNapoli 49.7 percent to 47.2 percent and has had private sector success, may be willing to put in $10 million or more of his own money. Molinaro, Kolb, and DeFrancisco would each be able to kick off fundraising from their local supporters.

With a governor that has $25 million and counting in the bank, and was recently in California courting major donors, Republican candidates might want to get an early start in fundraising, but that would require more commitment to exploring or declaring a run (on the Democratic side, for example, former state Senator Terry Gibson, considering a primary challenge to Cuomo, recently opened a campaign account so he could start raising money).

Prior to his run for comptroller, Wilson flexed his business acumen and negotiating chops when he helped President Barack Obama execute the auto industry bailout early in Obama’s first term. One “prominent Republican county chairman” told The Daily News that “If Harry Wilson says he wants to be the nominee, he’ll be the nominee.” Wilson’s bipartisanship could prove helpful in a general election against Cuomo, as could his New York City-focused criticisms of the governor.

On Dicker’s show, on November 15, Wilson suggested that his current priority is raising his four daughters, two of whom are teenagers, and said he would decide over the holidays whether the timing was right for his family.

“In four years from now two of our girls will be out of the house. In eight years from now, all our girls will be out of the house and I’ll still be a young man,” said Wilson, referring to the possibility of holding off this year and running in the future. “It’s a question of that tradeoff of where I can be most useful, most effective, and balancing my commitment to my family and helping others.”

Meanwhile, Molinaro, a suburban county executive who felt the Nassau and Westchester losses close to home, said in an interview with Gotham Gazette that those outcomes would likely factor into his own decision-making.

“What occurred certainly in the suburbs of New York City in 2017 should weigh on us,” said Molinaro. “I think what happened [on Election Day] is the result of an energized [Democratic] base, which is upset with the national politics -- no question -- and organized opposition to the constitutional convention question; those two things combined, with a few other local variables.”

Molinaro, who has been a vocal critic of Cuomo on social media and elsewhere, is especially critical of the administration’s failure to accompany the state’s property tax cap with adequate mandate relief, the heroin crisis, and failing schools, and has a good reputation as a county manager. Like Wilson, he has emphasized city metro area interests like fixing the subway system. He has also cited his young family, including a 6-month-old son, as one reservation about running.

On the more conservative end of the spectrum are the two upstate legislators, DeFrancisco and Kolb, both of whom have extensive legislative experience and have not been shy about criticizing the governor and his policies.

DeFrancisco, who has been representing the Syracuse area since 1992, says he recognizes Cuomo’s fundraising advantage and name recognition, but also sees many similarities between today and 1994, the year Pataki beat Cuomo’s father, former Governor Mario Cuomo, who was then seeking a third term amid buzz about presidential aspirations, like those that surround Andrew Cuomo now.

“Back then people were leaving the state, exactly like it it is now. There was a deficit back then -- I remember it vividly -- of $5 billion. The Democratic comptroller is estimating that the budget deficit going into January is going to be $4 to $6 billion. Almost an identical situation,” said DeFrancisco. “And there was a feeling out there -- the same thing I’m hearing now -- that it’s ‘anybody but Cuomo.’ An individual by the name of George Pataki that nobody knew, the former mayor of Peekskill, a first-term senator, ends up being the nominee and beats him.”

DeFrancisco regularly attacks Cuomo, and he hasn’t hid his frustration with the fact that much of his legislation, including a bill to restore procurement oversight powers to the state comptroller, has not reached the Senate floor, even as the chamber is controlled by Republicans. “I believe the best way to make change and the fastest way to make substantial change is by having a Republican governor,” he said.

Kolb, as leader of the minority conference in the Assembly, has had the liberty of taking principled stands, such as pushing for significant ethics reform and advocating for a “yes” vote on the constitutional convention. The Republican from Canandaigua has consistently voted against legislation that is controversial in upstate’s more conservative, rural areas, like Cuomo’s signature 2013 gun-control legislation, the SAFE Act.

Kolb, who prior to taking office in 2000 was an entrepreneur and ran two manufacturing companies, Refractron Technologies and North American Filter Corporation, said he believes he has “the best blend of private sector and public sector experience.”

“I’ve created jobs. I know the obstacles and how to fix them. I’m problem solver and I’ve done it in the public sector and the public sector and I’ve also shown I could work across the aisle,” he said.

The Republican contenders all say they would work to capture the disillusionment in Cuomo’s policies felt on both sides of the aisle. In 2014, Cuomo endured a bruising primary amid criticisms from progressives that he empowers the Senate GOP alliance with rouge Democrats, impeding the state from moving in a more progressive direction, a rallying cry that has since picked up steam. Zephyr Teachout, a professor at Fordham’s law school, won a surprising 34 percent of the Democratic vote in that primary after running a truncated campaign that began with no name recognition or money. Another tough primary in 2018, which Cuomo has done some work to avoid by passing more progressive legislation, could hurt the governor in a general election, largely depending on the opponent.

The potential GOP candidates said they plan to hold Cuomo accountable on issues like the subways, upstate’s crumbling infrastructure and outmigration, rising property taxes, his failure to tackle corruption in state government, and what they see as his failing economic development initiatives.

A key initial step for those exploring the race and possibly seeking the GOP nomination is to appeal to Republican county chairs, who make up the party committee and meetings have been taking place, with candidates touring the state. A deal may be cut in advance in order to avoid a primary, but there have been years when the committee votes are split between two or three candidates and an open contest for the GOP nomination is held. Candidates unhappy with or outside the party establishment process can always petition themselves onto the ballot whether an intra-party deal is struck or not.

Some watchers of state politics say that regardless of the GOP nominee, the math just doesn’t work for the Republican Party. “When you break it down arithmetically, they have to crack 35 percent in New York City to have a chance to win, and carry 57 percent of the vote of the Suburban downstate counties -- Suffolk, Nassau, Westchester and Rockland -- and then pass 60 percent upstate,” said Bruce Gyory, a former advisor to three Democratic governors and now a professor at Albany University. “That was the Pataki model for his three terms and particularly his third term, and boy-oh-boy the Republicans are nowhere close to meeting that challenge in any region.”

In 2014, the Republican Party made strides from 2010 with Astorino as their candidate, grabbing 41 percent of the vote compared to Cuomo’s 57 percent. Astorino took 42 of 50 upstate counties, compared to just 13 upstate counties won by 2010 GOP candidate Carl Paladino. In the suburbs, Astorino also gained ground, but ultimately did not crack 50 percent in the crucial Westchester, Nassau, and Rockland counties. He drew approximately 15 percent of the vote in the five boroughs.

Cuomo’s approval rating took a hit earlier this year, apparently due to New York City’s ongoing subway woes, but his popularity has appeared to be on the rebound, with a Quinnipiac University poll from October showing that 70 percent of city voters approved of the Democratic governor, including more than 50 percent of Republicans.

Another threat to party-affiliated GOP candidates may be coming from Paladino, the Buffalo-area businessman and Donald Trump supporter. Paladino was reported to be mulling another run, but went silent after his removal from the Buffalo school board for allegedly leaking confidential information from executive board meetings. He also drew negative attention last year for racist comments sent to a Buffalo publication about former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. A Paladino entrance into the race could drag a prefered Republican establishment candidate to the right or cause other problems for the GOP, including additional focus on Trump or requiring Paladino's opposition to raise and spend significant money to win the primary. Paladino did not return a request for comment about whether he will run.

“I could see him coming to the conclusion that the only way to regain public prestige is to run again for governor and he could complicate the primary field a great deal because he could change the regional balance of power if he continues to have that hold on western New York,” said Gyory. “He's a man who, if you study him, his public person, he has a thin skin and great pride.”

Correction: A previous version of this article mistated the totals for the 2010 New York Comptroller's race.

by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Assembly Takes Stock of State Economic Development Programs Ahead of Next Negotiations

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Howard Zemsky in Buffalo (via Governor's Office)

Ahead of the 2018 legislative session, the New York State Assembly’s Economic Development Committee held a hearing Monday in Albany to evaluate the progress of the state’s multitude of economic development programs and hear testimony from companies and organizations that have benefited from state grants.

Taking center stage was Howard Zemsky, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s economic development czar as president and CEO of Empire State Development, who defended the state’s jobs programs and was grilled for nearly an hour by members of the committee. Committee members, led by chair Robin Schimminger, a Democrat from Erie County, raised concerns about the effectiveness of Buffalo’s annual 43North competition and Regional Economic Development Council grants; lower-than-expected job production; and increased regulatory burdens on small businesses.

Cuomo has staked much of his legacy and devoted billions of state dollars to revitalizing the upstate economy. The state has infused $8 billion a year into economic projects since he took office in 2011, according to a Gannett Albany review. But as Cuomo’s economic development programs have multiplied each year, the Legislature has failed to pass any meaningful oversight measures to ensure transparency, that beneficiaries are meeting job creation goals, or that grants and incentives are going to well-vetted recipients. While some efforts, such as those aimed at farms and breweries, have been successful, others, like Cuomo’s Start-Up New York program, have fallen short of job creation goals.

At Monday’s hearing, Zemsky noted that upstate cities have seen a boom in tech sector jobs, which on average pay more than non-tech sector jobs, and touted a dramatic increase in venture capital investment throughout the state. The Empire State Development head said that ESD takes a “holistic” approach, pointing to the success of its downtown and waterfront revitalization efforts, which aim to attract a younger, more vibrant talent base, and investing in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.

He briefly defended the Regional Economic Development Councils, which have been accused of favoritism and conflicts of interests, and touted Buffalo as a success story -- a city that has been a major focus for Gov. Cuomo and transformed from a financially depressed post-industrial town to a vibrant hub of entrepreneurship.

“A lot of what we have done in Buffalo we have used as a template in many other parts of the state and I’m proud that we took some risks and took some chance,” said Zemsky. “Every year we improve and make adjustments.”

Schimminger cited an article noting that three-quarters of companies that are attracted to Buffalo by the 43North program have since left the city and inquired about whether the residency requirements, currently a year, could be extended.

“We’re only a few years into the program, but after every year the 43North board reassesses and reevaluates what went right, what didn’t go right, just like we do in government. Is it possible that we might change the regulations, that we might change the time frame? That’s under active discussion,” said Zemsky, noting that many companies retain active connections to Buffalo even after they leave.

Zemsky’s presentation rang hollow for at least one committee member, Assemblymember Raymond Walter, a Republican from Amherst, who told Zemsky to provide hard data about the returns delivered by the state’s Buffalo investments rather than “offering platitudes.”

“Our job here is to draw a direct connection between what we are doing with taxpayer dollars to that renaissance and I’m not convinced you can do that,” said Walter. “If we could focus on that, rather than the platitudes, that would be great.”

Zemsky pointed Walter to ESD’s progress report, insisting the number of new firms has grown and jobs have dramatically accelerated in Buffalo, by “almost any metric,” particularly when compared to other struggling cities.

The conversation quickly turned personal, with Zemsky, who is a Buffalo businessman, accusing the Assembly member of opposing the state’s efforts to spur Buffalo’s economy, and demanding, “Do you go to any of the REDC meetings, do you know anything that is actually going on?”

At one point during the heated exchange about interpreting Buffalo’s jobs data, which Walter said mostly highlights low-skill jobs growth, Zemsky snapped, “You don’t know anything about the innovation economy.”

The biggest indicator of Buffalo’s growth, Zemsky pointed to the rise of the area’s millennial population over the last decade. “Turning the corner on that is the most important thing we can do,” he said.

After Zemsky, the Assembly panel was addressed by various industry leaders and experts, who described how programs like the Start-Up New York jobs program and the Southern Tier Startup Alliance (NYSTAR) have created or retained thousands of jobs and spurred both investment and innovation.

A representative of watchdog group ReInvent Albany then presented the positions of good government organizations, calling for the passage of a number of bills introduced in the Legislature last year, which would increase oversight of and transparency in the state’s economic development programs.

Among the legislative fixes proposed by Reinvent Albany and others is the creation of a “database of deals,” which would digitally list every entity receiving funds from the state along with where each dollar is going; a bill to restore the powers of the state Comptroller to review procurement contracts for SUNY, CUNY, and Office of General Services; and campaign finance restrictions to curb the appearance or reality of pay-to-play politics.

At least two bills, including the database of deals and one requiring nonprofit organizations affiliated with government entities to be subject to the freedom of information law and the open meetings law, are sponsored by Schimminger, but did not make it to the Assembly floor. Legislation related to procurement reform appeared to gain steam early this year in light of a major bid-rigging scandal that will see close associates of and donors to Cuomo on trial for corruption in 2018, but nothing was passed as the Legislature acquiesced to the governor’s objections.

“The only thing the Legislature did do is write a check for $1.8 billion in the extender budget passed in April, a blank check granted by the Legislature to Governor Cuomo for economic development projects with no additional oversight,” said Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor for Reinvent Albany.

Schimminger welcomed Camarda’s comments, saying that  good government groups are “preaching to the choir” when they call for increased accountability and oversight.

“Not a single one of those bills that you mentioned have been blocked by the committee, in fact, many of them -- the database of deals, the Start-Up fix -- have come out of the committee but are delayed elsewhere,” said the Assembly member, referring to the fact that the legislation had been held up in other legislative committees.

The wisdom behind Start-Up New York, which creates tax-free zones for new businesses, local development corporations and other economic development programs is the finding that startups create significantly more jobs than companies that have matured 10 to 30 years and drive economic development. But critics say these programs continue to fall short of the job creation goals and many beneficiaries of these state incentives have failed to report on sufficient or any progress made through their grants.

Despite the fact that several members of Cuomo’s circle are set to appear in court next year for their roles in the bid-rigging scandal involving the state’s Buffalo Billion program, a second round of cash investment to the project was approved in this year’s budget, with no new accountability measures.

While Schimminger acknowledged these problems in his opening remarks, the hearing was primarily an information-gathering session, and those outstanding issues will be addressed during the next legislative session, he told Camarda. The governor will unveil his next executive budget in January, leading to months of negotiations and hearings.

by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Defeated on Con Con, Gerald Benjamin Plots His Next Move

Gerald Benjamin SUNY

Gerald Benjamin

“It was a devastating defeat,” said Gerald Benjamin, wounds still fresh from a blowout he had, in his seventies, worked very hard to avoid. “The size of the defeat upset me more than the fact of the defeat,” he added, referring to the overwhelming vote against holding a New York state constitutional convention.

“I really think that this was a major missed opportunity,” Benjamin said by phone Monday, less than a week after New York voters decided 83 percent to 17 percent not to hold a convention to amend the state’s most powerful governing document. “The nature of the opportunity was misunderstood; the nature of the risk was miscalculated,” said Benjamin, from New Paltz, where he continues his work at the State University of New York, leading the Benjamin Center for Public Policy Initiatives, which was renamed after him in 2015.

The constitutional convention vote result was despite Benjamin’s best efforts, barnstorming the state giving talks and participating in debates, explaining the once-in-a-generation opportunity to truly reform state government. He’s advocated for a constitutional convention for decades, including ahead of the last every-20-years vote, in 1997, which also resulted in no gathering to debate the structures and mandates of state law.

Benjamin believes that the state constitution desperately needs modernization, the court system needs to be redesigned, and a host of changes should be made to how state government functions, including rebalancing of power between the executive and legislative branches, term limits for state legislators, and more, like home rule and campaign finance reforms.

“I did my best. I don’t feel I could’ve done anything more,” Benjamin said. “I was glad I got to vote ‘yes.’ In retrospect I felt disappointed by the margin.”

Asked if he had felt like he was voting for himself on the ballot, Benjamin laughed, and commented that the questioner appeared to be pushing him toward sentimentality. Throughout the campaign leading up to Election Day, Benjamin had regularly said that this would be the last opportunity for a convention “in my lifetime.” He’s now actively plotting his next moves toward reform.

While Benjamin and other scholars and reformers were for calling a convention, in large part to pursue changes that entrenched powers have been unwilling to consider, the opposition to a convention was an immense coalition of labor unions, civil rights and environmental groups, and others, including many on both sides of the political aisle, with a few exceptions. They vastly outspent the “yes” side, using a campaign of fear (that pensions would be stripped or natural preserves unprotected) to drive members and activists to the polls to flip over the ballot and vote “no” on proposition one.

“Those are the right were being rational,” Benjamin said, noting that Republicans are a dwindling minority in New York. “Those on the left, I don’t know.” Benjamin expressed what was a fairly common belief, that labor unions, civil rights groups, environmentalists, and allies of each were being too cynical in their opposition, that they could easily dominate a constitutional convention, which, if approved, would have taken place in 2019, with its proposals likely to be on the November 2020 ballot for voters to approve or vote down.

In 2018, there would have been delegate elections, a process some, including Governor Andrew Cuomo, pointed to as problematic, since there are no rules restricting current officeholders or their associates from running, and no campaign finance rules beyond the porous state-level ones. Cuomo had expressed support for holding a convention in the past, but that had all but vanished by the start of this year.

“I think he made the political calculation and acted in accord with it,” Benjamin said of Cuomo. “It had to do with ambition for himself and ambition for his program. And he’s good at that.I’m not condemnatory of a man making a political judgement...but I’m disappointed, it wasn’t a profile in courage. It’s indicative that the path is so narrow.”

As for the concern from Cuomo and others about the delegate election process, Benjamin said one way to negate that issue in the future is to move legislation well ahead of the next convention vote, due for 2037.

“Conversations have just started to make that happen and make some other things happen constitutionally,” Benjamin said, explaining that he is already facing the reality dealt to him on Election Day. “I’m not sitting here being discouraged,” he said.

Instead, he is talking with others about how to make changes, related to both the convention process and, perhaps more importantly, key aspects of state governance. ”I certainly will help pressure the Legislature,” Benjamin said, noting that he is not optimistic, but that not trying isn’t an option. “You can’t do anything without having a proposal...you have to have a bill, something beyond an idea. We are going to keep the conversation going in some measure.”

Reforms that would have been sought at a convention can be approached piecemeal, whether it is electoral reforms like early voting or a campaign finance system.

As for the 2017 vote that wasn’t, despite the political moment, wherein New Yorkers have little faith in state government after seeing corruption scandal after corruption scandal, Benjamin said “At the end of the day, it was a harder test than I thought it was from a political point of view.” But, he added, while “We were really outgunned, in retrospect that wasn’t really the problem.’

Benjamin cited “one structural and one operational” deficit his side faced. One on hand, he noted that with all the rights and protections that have been added to the constitution over many years, including some at constitutional conventions, ”every increment of positive rights that were added created a constituency to protect that the document wouldn’t be changed...it’s very powerful politically that aggregation of interests in favor of not opening the document.”

Second, he said, “The nature of the question doesn’t tell late-arriving people that they are talking about the state constitution.” The wording of the ballot question, which is mandated by the current constitution, does not indicate whether the convention would deal with the state or federal constitution, and people with little background knowledge may be worried that the much-revered federal constitution could be on the chopping block.

Benjamin cited the organized effort of the opposition, as well as the shifting poll numbers that helped convince many that the proposition would not pass as the vote approached, and what he called a “really problematic” and “poorly argued editorial” by The New York Times editorial board, which advocated voting “no.”

Steadfast that he’s nowhere near done seeking reform and improvement to state government structure and process, Benjamin said it’s hard to see a constitutional convention being approved in the future. “I can’t imagine the conditions that would arise, even the crisis conditions, in that case we’d address the crisis,” he said.

But, he added, “Who knows what opportunities circumstances will present.”

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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The Week Ahead in New York Politics, November 13

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week after the election does not look like it will be too quiet, though Mayor Bill de Blasio will be away on a family vacation in Connecticut all week, Monday through Friday. Still, there is a lot going on, including the ongoing attempts to fight a Republican effort to overhaul the federal tax code that has many in New York very concerned; two City Council speaker candidates forums (Monday and Tuesday); and a variety of City Council hearings, as well as a "stated meeting" of the full Council at which bills are passed and new bills introduced. One bill likely to move through committee and the full Council this week would allow online voter registration in New York City.

On Sunday at City Hall, de Blasio, Senators Kirsten Gillebrand and Charles Schumer, and many others rallied against the GOP tax plan, which would drastically reduce corporate taxes as well as federal deductions people can take for their local and state taxes. Since New York is a high-tax state, New Yorkers no longer able to deduct their local and state taxes from their federal taxes would significantly add to New Yorkers' tax bills. Some Republicans, including in New York, are against the plan, and GOP members of Congress who are undecided are being lobbied from both sides.

As always, there are many events to be aware of this week - see our day-by-day rundown below.

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The run of the week in detail:

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli is in Germany on Monday and Tuesday for a climate change conference.

Governor Andrew Cuomo leaves New York on Monday for California, where he is set to hold multiple fundraisers.

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul has two public events Monday: at 11 a.m. she will deliver remarks at New York University Veterans Incubator Ribbon Cutting, at Veterans Future Lab in Brooklyn; and at 6:30 p.m. she will be in Buffalo to congratulate inductees at the inaugural Business First WNY Hall of Fame Ceremony, art the Buffalo History Museum.

On Monday, schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña is Mott Haven Community High School, where she will "visit a new AP class, a Career and Technical Education class, and a recording studio at a transfer school in the Bronx."

At 10 a.m. Monday, the Assembly Standing Committees on Small Business and Economic Development will meet jointly in Albany for an oversight hearing regarding “the economic development programs that leverage state funds to translate technology advancements into viable long-term business development and economic growth.”

At 10 a.m. Monday, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, City Council Member Corey Johnson, and the National Supermarket Association will hold a rally at the City Hall steps to call for an end to Manhattan’s commercial rent tax.

On Monday at noon outside Governor Cuomo’s Manhattan office, “climate activists and concerned New Yorkers will form a picket line outside Governor Cuomo’s Manhattan office and call on him to halt all fracking infrastructure projects in the state, and begin a rapid transition from fossil fuel to 100 percent renewable energy....This New York City event is part of a statewide week of action to launch a major new campaign to push Governor Cuomo to move New York away from fossil fuels as fast as possible.”

At 6 p.m. Monday, the Association for a Better New York will host a panel discussion at New Lab in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, exploring “policies and actions New York can do today to position itself as the most attractive and competitive place for major employers” such as Amazon, but also “beyond Amazon.” The panel will consist of Juliette Michaelson of the Regional Plan Association, Bishop Mitchell Taylor of Urban Upbound, Serkan Piantino of Spell, and Jed Walentas of Two Trees Management. The panel will open with remarks from Michael Rudin of Rudin Management Company.

At 6 p.m. Monday evening there will be a forum for City Council speaker candidates focused on "the candidates’ policy priorities, strategies to alleviate poverty in New York City, and proposals to strengthen the human services sector," and co-sponsored by FPWA, Catholic Charities, United Neighborhood Houses, UJA - Federation of NY, Human Services Council; and hosts The New School's Center for NYC Affairs and Milano School of International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy. It will be moderated by Bill Ritter of ABC News.

At 6:30 p.m. Monday, the Brooklyn Historical Society will host “Digital Democracy: How Technology Impacts Politics.” Matthew McGregor, who worked for Barack Obama, will discuss “how a mastery of technology, from real-time data analytics to quick draw social media, is the driving force of political campaigns today.”

At 7:15 p.m. Monday, Public Advocate Letitia James will attend the Higher Heights' "Moving to Higher Heights When #BlackWomenLead" at the Rainbow Room.

At the City Council on Tuesday:
--The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet at 9:30 a.m.
--The Committee on Governmental Operations will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss a proposed law relating to online voter registration. [Read: Online Voter Registration on Verge of Passage in New York City]
--The Committee on Youth Services will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “DYCD’s neighborhood development area (NDA) opportunity youth program.”
--The Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting, and Maritime Uses will meet at 11 a.m.
--The Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions, and Concessions will meet at 1 p.m.

On Tuesday at 8 a.m. at NYU Wagner, "The Center for an Urban Future will hold a high-level symposium...Scaling Up Successful Workforce Development Programs in NYC." A "panel of experts that will analyze why so few of New York City’s most successful workforce development programs ever manage scale up and serve more New Yorkers." Panelists will be Plinio Ayala, President & CEO, Per Scholas; David Fischer, Founding Executive Director, NYC Center for Youth Employment; Angie Kamath, University Dean for Continuing Education and Workforce Development, City University of New York; Abby Jo Sigal, Founding CEO, HERE to HERE; Stacy Woodruff, Director, Workforce Field Building Hub, Workforce Professionals Training Institute; and moderator Christian González-Rivera, Senior Researcher, Center for an Urban Future.

At 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, City & State will host “Front Page Roundtable Series: Real Estate” at the New York Institute of Technology, discussing urban issues of land use, zoning, planning, and development, among other things. City & State editor Jon Lentz and Real Deal reporter Kathryn Brenzel will moderate a panel consisting of Council Member David Greenfield, chair of the Land Use Committee; Council Member Jumaane Williams, Chair of the Housing and Buildings Committee; Purnima Kapur, Executive Director of the Department of City Planning; and Molly Park, Deputy Commissioner for Development at HPD.

On Tuesday, "Public Advocate Letitia James will host a tenant rally and release the 2017 Worst Landlord Watchlist. Following the rally, Public Advocate James will tour buildings in Manhattan and Brooklyn on this year’s Watchlist." The rally will be at 10 a.m. at Foley Square.

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, the Senate Joint Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction will meet at 321 S William St in Newburgh, Orange County to “examine the issues facing communities in the wake of increased heroin abuse.”

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, the Senate Public Forum on Climate Change and Community Protection will meet at CUNY Law School in Long Island City, Queens to “provide an open forum for experts in the climate change community to craft the most accurate version of a comprehensive act relating to climate change and community protection.”

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, Public Advocate Letitia James will join the Association for a Better New York for their “What’s On Tap” happy hour series, at the Dark Horse in the Financial District.

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, the New York Civil Liberties Union, Make the Road NY, JustLeadershipUSA, the Working Families Party, Citizen Action, Vocal NY, and Change the NYPD will host a forum for City Council Speaker candidates focusing on “police accountability, closing Rikers, and criminal justice reform” at Columbia University’s Horace Mann Hall. Dr. Christina Greer, Fordham University political science professor, will moderate.

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Riders Alliance will hold a meeting discussing “next steps in our campaign to fix the subway.”

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, City Council Member Dan Garodnick, State Senator Liz Krueger, Assemblymember Deborah Glick, and others will host a public forum on the Reproductive Health Act, currently held up in the State Senate. The forum will take place at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Proshansky Auditorium.

At the City Council on Wednesday:
--The Committee on Health will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss a proposed law relating to “the documentation of annual water tank inspections and the reporting of such inspections.”
--The Committee on Consumer Affairs will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “Enforcement of Local Law 17 of 2011 and the Regulation of Pregnancy Service Centers.”
--The Committee on Finance will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss proposed laws relating to “the inclusion of information on registration of rent-stabilized units and housing affordability programs on real property tax bills” and to “requiring the Department of Finance to provide new homeowners with information about real property taxes and exemptions.”
--The Committee on Land Use will meet at 11 a.m.
--The Committees on Public Safety and Oversight & Investigations will meet jointly at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing “examining the office of Inspector General for the NYPD.”

At 11 a.m. Wednesday, the Senate Standing Committee on Civil Service will meet at 250 Broadway in Manhattan to discuss “the denial of accidental disability applications from those who participated in the World Trade Center rescue, recovery and clean up.”

The full City Council will meet at 1:30 p.m. Thursday. The meeting will be prefaced by a press conference hosted by Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

At 8 a.m. Thursday, the Daily News and City & State will host the “Politics of Food Conference” at the New York Institute of Technology, convening “over 250 top chefs, policy makers, innovators and leaders from diverse fields to uncover and assess the most important issues and trends affecting the nourishment of our New York.” New York State Agriculture Department Commissioner Richard Ball will deliver keynote remarks. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will sit on a panel at 10 a.m. on “nutrition and sustainability.”

At 6 p.m. Thursday, Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal and State Senator Brad Hoylman will host a panel discussion on childhood sexual assault, and how “New York State can better help protect your children from harm.” The event will take place at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Friday and the weekend
No events on our radar as of Sunday night.

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

What’s The [DATA] Point? $67 billion

whats the data point

What's The Data Point? Episode 19 -- $67 billion, with Jay Kriegel of Related Companies and Americans Against Double Taxation [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

wtdp 19

$67 billion is the amount of state and local taxes paid that New York State residents deduct from their federal tax returns each year, under a deduction, SALT for short, that has been part of the federal tax code since it began in 1913, but is again being targeted by Republicans in Washington, D.C.

The push to end or drastically limit SALT is part of a larger effort by the Trump administration and congressional Republicans to overhaul the tax code, including a major corporate tax cut and the removal or reduction of other popular deductions, like for medical expense and student loan payments.

New York elected and civic leaders -- including this episode's guest, Jay Kriegel, are vehemently opposed to the effort to reduce SALT. Kriegel explains what's at stake and what he is doing to prevent what many believe would be a catastrophe for New Yorkers, and residents of other states as well.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Carol Kellerman of CBC (@cbcny), and guest Jay Kriegel (@NoDoubleTax). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

As New York Votes, a Push to Allow 17-Year-Olds the Ballot Next

bobbt carroll presser

Assemblymember Robert Carroll at Monday's rally

On the eve of Election Day 2017, a state Assembly member from Brooklyn held a press conference focused on voter engagement and turnout, but it wasn’t in support of his own candidacy -- he’s not up for reelection until next year -- or anyone else’s. Instead, Assemblymember Robert Carroll was talking about his push to allow 17-year-olds to vote.

In the state capital of Albany, Carroll recently introduced a bill, the Young Voter Act, that would allow 17-year-olds to cast ballots in state and local elections. The voting age is currently 18 for national elections and within New York. The legislation would also require that all students in public high schools receive at least eight hours of formal civics education, and that schools provide voter registration forms to students when they turn 17.

The proposal, which Caroll will attempt to see moved when the Legislature returns to session in January, is aimed at improving New York’s dismal record of voter turnout (among the worst states in the country). On Monday, Carroll rallied in support of the bill outside the city’s Board of Elections with fellow Brooklyn Democratic Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon, as well as several politically engaged high school students and advocates.

This included the leadership of the Youth Progressive Policy Group (YPPG), a group of students whose stated mission is to “give the youth of New York a voice in our state’s political process.” The group claims that engaging people in the electoral process early will lead to a more civically active life later on, and it is thus important to not only educate students in civics at an early age, but also to empower them to be a part of it.

YPPG’s President, Eli Frankel, a senior at Manhattan’s Bard High School, was quick to note that 17-year-olds are productive members of civic society in other ways, and that this should be extended to voting.

“We are organizing rallies like this, we’re going out and we’re talking to people, and a lot of 17-year-olds are contributing to their communities and have responsibilities of adulthood already,” Frankel told Gotham Gazette. “They’re paying taxes, they’re driving, some can enlist in the military. So, it’s time that voting is incorporated into those responsibilities that 17-year-olds already have so they can begin participating in government in a really substantive way so their voice is heard.”

Chris Stauffer, YPPG’s vice chair and a senior at Bard, noted that in places where voting rights were extended to high school students, the turnout results have been very promising.

“Sixteen- to 18-year-olds in Takoma Park, Maryland actually have double the turnout than 18- to 25-year-olds,” Stauffer told Gotham Gazette of the locality that has lowered its voting age to 16. “This is without any reform to civics education.” People who are still in high school may have fewer extraneous obligations than someone in the age bracket immediately following, where many are away from home at college, allowing them to vote with regularity and consistency and setting them up for a lifetime of civic engagement.

Lowering the voting age alone might not be enough to spur extensive turnout among high school students and young people in general, which is why the bill includes more robust, comprehensive civics education in New York schools.

The non-profit group Generation Citizen partners with schools in cities around the country, including New York City, to provide students with an “action civics” curriculum centered around local issues, wherein students seek to enact change in specific issue areas. Generation Citizen helps fill a gap in civics education found in many schools and school systems, but it currently operates in a relatively small percentage of classrooms.

Civics education is often lacking in schools, especially as it relates to close-to-home politics and government.

“A lot of civics courses focus on larger, more grand themes in American history,” Frankel said. “And the civics seminars that this bill mandates all students get really directs students on the nuts and bolts of how they can go out and vote, how they can fill out a ballot correctly, how to register to vote, how to make sure their voice is heard outside of voting, how elections work, and where they can find the information about candidates and about elections that they need to go out and turn out.”

The bill also would provide for instant registration within schools. Schools currently have most relevant information for voter registration anyway, aside from an individual’s signature and party registration, according to YPPG Policy Director Max Shatan, a senior at Bard. This allows the process to involve minimal effort on the part of students.

According to YPPG PR Director Ilana Cohen, a senior at the Beacon School in Manhattan, these foundational steps in schools would engage people in the process even more than simply allowing them to vote at 17.

“Establishing the importance of voting in the classroom has a much greater effect than simply allowing teenagers to go out after high school and let them independently register to vote,” Cohen said.

Prior to the bill’s introduction, Assemblymember Carroll sat down with some of the students at YPPG to gather input on a pre-registration bill already in the Assembly. According to Carroll’s chief of staff, Dan Campanelli, during this conversation Carroll suggested crafting a bill to lower the voting age to 17, which was ecstatically received by the students. Carroll subsequently worked on the bill with the students.

“In this age of civic participation and interest, we need to make sure, in New York State, that we are teaching our young people what it means to be an active participant in their democracy,” Carroll said at Monday’s rally. “We teach young people all sorts of things. We teach them how to drive cars, we teach them how to take the SAT. We should teach them how to be active citizens and how to vote.”

Although the bill has 23 co-sponsors in the 150-seat Assembly including Carroll, it would have to overcome the significant hurdle of passing the Republican-controlled state Senate, as well as to bypass a culture in Albany that is notoriously resistant to voting reform. Senate Republicans have been resistant to election reform measures that have passed the Assembly, like early voting and same-day registration. Younger voters typically skew Democratic, giving another reason for the GOP to oppose Carroll’s bill, especially as Republicans cling to the slimmest of majorities in the Senate, only due to several rogue Democrats who either caucus or form a coalition with the GOP. Though Carroll largely did not speak to its chances in the Senate, he is confident in its ability to pass the Assembly if it gets out of committee there.

“If you are against more people accessing the ballot box, then guess what? You’re against democracy,” Carroll said Monday. “And maybe you should get out of the business of holding elected office, because that’s the point of it.”

by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note - This article has been updated to clarify that YPPG's members are seniors at Bard High School, not juniors.

Races to Watch on Election Day, Inside and Outside New York City

astorino latimeer

Rob Astorino, left, and George Latimer

Welcome to Election Day 2017. In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to sweep comfortably to reelection over six other candidates, including Republican challenger Nicole Malliotakis, an Assembly member from Staten Island, despite their efforts to paint him as an ineffective manager beholden to his campaign donors. Similarly, many of the city’s 51 City Council seats that are up for grabs are predetermined by a heavily Democratic electorate, but there are a few spirited city races heading into Election Day, Tuesday November 7.

There are also a handful of especially interesting races to watch outside of New York City, as voters will choose two significant suburban county executives and others in hotly contested elections.

A Few to Watch in New York City
In the city, it’s the battle of the aides in the 43rd Council District, centered in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, one of the city’s last bastions of Republican strength, where punk rocker-turned-government aide Justin Brannan, a Democrat who has worked for outgoing Council Member Vincent Gentile and for Mayor Bill de Blasio, faces John Quaglione, a top staffer to Republican State Senator Marty Golden. While Democrats outnumber Republicans in the district, it is one area that has elected GOP representatives like Golden.

One district over, in Brooklyn’s 44th Council District, Democrat Kalman Yeger, the chosen successor of outgoing Council Member David Greenfield, faces Yoni Hikind, the son of Democratic Assemblymember Dov Hikind, who has created the “Our Community” ballot line, he says, in order to provide voters with “a choice.” Greenfield decided not to run for reelection at a time when his campaign could install Yeger as the Democratic nominee, and Greenfield and the elder Hikind have a long-running rivalry.

In Manhattan, District Attorney Cy Vance, a Democrat, is seeking reelection while facing blowback for campaign contributions linked to cases he declined to prosecute involving disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein, members of the Trump family, and Mayor de Blasio. Vance will be the only name on the ballot for Manhattan D.A., but Marc Fliedner, a progressive former Brooklyn prosecutor who ran an unsuccessful primary campaign for Brooklyn DA earlier this year, is waging an assertive write-in campaign, which is attracting some buzz. Fliedner is a long-shot, but he moved to a Manhattan apartment and has a lot of social media attention on his campaign.

There are also interesting city races to watch in Council Districts 1, 35, and 40, where three incumbent Democrats -- Margaret Chin, Laurie Cumbo, and Mathieu Eugene, respectively -- are trying to hold onto their seats against spirited foes.

And there are of course the three citywide races, for Mayor as well as City Comptroller and Public Advocate. De Blasio faces Malliotakis as well as independents Bo Dietl and Mike Tolkin, each running on a self-created ballot line; Reform Party nominee Sal Albanese, Green Party nominee Akeem Browder, and Libertarian nominee Aaron Commey.

Incumbent Democratic Comptroller Scott Stringer is being challenged by Republican Michel Faulkner, as well as Green Party nominee Julia Willebrand and Libertarian Alex Merced. Incumbent Democratic Public Advocate Letitia James is being challenged by Republican J.C. Polanco, as well as Green Party nominee James Lane, Libertarian nominee Devin Balkind, and Conservative Party nominee Michael O’Reilly. Both Stringer and James are heavily favored to win second terms.

One Important Reason to Vote Across the State
But even those in the city, or across the entire state, who may find their ballot choices uninspiring should head to the polls Tuesday, at least for the opportunity to flip over the ballot and answer three big “yes” or “no” questions with serious implications. One referendum would determine whether New York will hold a state constitutional convention; the second would allow judges to strip some or all public pensions from officials who are convicted of corruption; and the third would allow limited flexibility in preserved land to permit localities to make certain infrastructure improvements.

Outside New York City
Incumbent Democratic mayors of the state’s three largest cities outside New York City -- Lovely Warren in Rochester, Kathy Sheehan in Albany, and Byron Brown in Buffalo -- successfully beat out formidable challengers in their primaries and are expected to win reelection easily in the general.

There are several exciting races worth paying attention to in the state’s swing areas, the outcomes of which are bound to have a significant impact on politics and government at various levels. Not all are a traditional toss-ups between Democrats and Republicans, though they are on Long Island and in Westchester. In Syracuse, however, a fight within the Democratic Party has unfolded, as two candidates, one a Democrat and the other Independent, are going head-to-head for the mayoral seat. In Erie County, where many are following a hotly contested race for county clerk, party affiliation gets a bit messier.

Westchester County Executive
Despite its 2-to-1 Democratic leaning electorate, Westchester County has twice elected Republican Rob Astorino as its top executive over formidable opponents. Astorino, seeking another term, lost the 2014 gubernatorial race to Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has endorsed State Senator George Latimer in his quest to unseat Astorino. Astorino’s popularity appears to be owed in large part to his fiscal policies, including keeping a campaign promise not to raise property taxes, but that may wane due to his vocal support for President Donald Trump and the political moment occurring one year after Trump’s surprise win.

The Latimer-Astorino race has featured a lot of mud-slinging, including accusations of bribery, corruption, tax evasion, and the nefarious influence of outside money. While Astorino’s campaign has cast Latimer as a delinquent state legislator and tax deadbeat, Latimer and his supporters are pointing to the infusion of $1 million in support of Astorino from controversial billionaires Robert and Rebekah Mercer.

The race is seen as a toss-up by many.

As always, Westchester’s notoriously high property taxes are central to the policy debate, with both candidates vowing to keep rates stagnant, but this year, at times overshadowing the discussion is whether Westchester’s socially liberal electorate -- which overwhelmingly voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election -- will stick with an enthusiastic Trump supporter in Astorino, who has sought to keep much of the campaign’s focus on his local record and on attacking Latimer.

This race will have significant implications for New York State’s political landscape regardless of the outcome. A Latimer win, while it would be a victory for Westchester Democrats, would also deal a blow to state Senate Democrats who hope to retake that house, and therefore the entirety of state government, in 2018. Latimer’s open seat would trigger a special election that could see a member of the Independent Democratic Conference or a Republican take the seat.

For Astorino, who is mulling another run for governor next year, the stakes are exceptionally high. While the GOP county executive has had a lengthy run, if he loses, or even wins by a small margin, he may be forced to reconsider any gubernatorial ambitions.

Nassau County Executive
With current Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano facing federal corruption charges and not seeking reelection, both Democrat Laura Curran and Republican Jack Martins have made reform a central part of their platforms. Each candidate has spent over $1 million on attack ads, accusing each other of corruption in the final days before the general election.

Martins, a former three-term state senator, has criticized Curran for hiring BerlinRosen, a consulting firm with ties to Mayor Bill de Blasio, and said that Curran wants to allow New York City progressives to take over the Long Island county. Meanwhile, Curran, a county legislator, has tried to associate Martins with former Senator Majority Leader Skelos, who was convicted on corruption charges that were then overturned but will be retried in 2018, and Martins once supported.

Similar to the Westchester race, Democrats are seizing on growing antipathy towards the president with the hope of swaying Nassau’s slightly Democratic leaning electorate. Nassau often competes with Westchester for the distinction of highest taxed county, and property taxes have also dominated the discussion.

Cassandra Lems is running on the Green Party line.

Rensselaer County Executive
Democrat Andrea Smyth faces an uphill battle against GOP Assemblymember Steve McLaughlin for the open position of Rensselaer County Executive. The debates and campaigns have turned personal, with Smyth’s campaign highlighting leaked audio recordings of McLaughlin speaking abusively to female staff members. McLaughlin has accused his opponent of running a negative campaign.

The candidates are running to succeed Republican County Executive Kathleen Jimino, who is retiring after four four-year terms. The last four county executives have been Republicans, but some speculate that the controversies surrounding McLaughlin could turn the seat blue.

Both candidates have focused their platforms on infrastructure, particularly on rebuilding the area’s ailing water systems. While Smyth has expressed interest in exploring consolidation and cutting costs by creating service-sharing agreements between municipalities, McLaughlin has said he will be focused on ways to boost and develop the local economy.

Green Party candidate Wayne Foy is also on the ballot.

Syracuse Mayor
With Democratic Mayor Stephanie Miner term-limited, on Election Day Syracuse residents will choose between Democrat Juanita Perez Williams and Ben Walsh, who is running on the Reform Party, Independence Party, and Upstate Jobs Party lines.

Initially, Walsh was running on just two minor ballot lines, but he scored a small victory in the primary when he managed to snag the Independence line from Republican candidate Laura Lavine -- who trails far behind in polls -- with a concerted write-in campaign targeting those voters. The additional party line will allow Walsh to appear higher on the ballot.

A recent Siena College poll shows Walsh leading Perez Williams by just two points, within the margin of error, and despite calls for party unity, Democrats are apparently divided between the two candidates.

Walsh, who previously served as economic development director for Mayor Miner, has been leading his opponent in fundraising, gaining support from influential real estate interests, and has garnered several endorsements from local Democrats breaking with the party. Meanwhile, Perez Williams, a lawyer and navy veteran, has drawn financial support from the Democratic National Committee and state Democratic Party, as well as endorsements from numerous top state and national Democratic officials including Governor Andrew Cuomo, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, the mayors of Ithaca, Buffalo, and Rochester, and, most recently, former Vice President Joe Biden.

Both candidates have previously worked for the city and would make history if elected. Perez Williams would be the first Latina elected mayor of Syracuse and Walsh would be Syracuse's first mayor not affiliated with a major political party.

Green Party nominee Howie Hawkins is also seeking the seat. Joe Nicoletti, who has endorsed Perez Williams in the general, is still running on the Working Families Party line though he has reportedly stopped campaigning.

Erie County Clerk
Former journalist Steve Cichon and state Assemblymember Mickey Kearns are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in the competitive race for Erie County Clerk, a seat left vacant by Senator Chris Jacobs earlier this year. Upstate, county clerks are the second most important county-wide elected position, after county executive, and are responsible for running local elections, issuing licences, and maintaining public records.

In Erie County, party affiliation can get complicated. Despite Democrats holding a lead of a nearly 135,000 voters over Republicans in Erie County, Republicans have a tight grip on many county-wide elected positions. Voter turnout tends to be lower in the heavily Democratic city of Buffalo, while Republican candidates often draw deep-pocketed donors from the more affluent and politically moderate suburban areas.

Kearns is a registered Democrat, but has disappointed Democratic leaders with some of his more conservative positions, such as his stances on women’s rights and abortion, and is running on the Republican line. Kearns touts his record of standing up against corruption; he was the first in the Assembly to call for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to resign amid 2013 sexual harassment scandals and temporarily broke from his conference.

Meanwhile, Cichon, who has received financial backing from the county Democratic Party, was a Republican while working as news director at WBEN, but is now running on the Democratic line. As someone who has not been a politician before, he says he hopes he can bring civility and common sense to the administrative position.

by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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The Week Ahead in New York Politics, November 6

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

Election Day is Tuesday! Be ready to vote -- both for candidates and on the three back-of-ballot "yes" or "no" questions. Use the Gotham Gazette-WNYC-City Limits voter guide; read up on the three ballot questions; and take a look at 10 Races & More to Watch. Find all of our election coverage, including links to our Max & Murphy Podcast episodes, here.

There's a few other events this week, including Mayor de Blasio giving a speech Monday morning at the Association for a Better New York, and there will be a lot of get-out-the-vote efforts all over the city and beyond -- see our day-by-day rundown below, and stay tuned to Gotham Gazette for your election results and analysis on Tuesday and beyond.

***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 8 a.m. Monday, Mayor de Blasio will be the featured speaker at the Association for a Better New York’s latest “power breakfast,” at the Hilton Hotel in Midtown. At 10:30 a.m. at City Hall, “the Mayor and First Lady McCray will hold a public hearing and sign Intro.1313-A, which creates Paid Safe Leave.” At 11:30 a.m. at West Street and Vestry Street, “the Mayor, First Lady and President Mauricio Macri of Argentina will attend a tribute for victims of the Tribeca terrorist attack.”

At 8:30 a.m. Monday, the New York City Special Education Collaborate will host “Addressing Disproportionality: Equity, Access & Culturally Responsive Education” at the New York Academy of Medicine. Topics explored will include “the root causes of disproportionality, classroom inequity, culturally responsive education, curriculum redesign, intersectionality, and more.”

On Monday at 10 a.m. at City Hall, "Congresswoman Grace Meng, Public Advocate Letitia James, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will join Council Member Helen Rosenthal and the City Council Women’s Caucus in commemorating the one-hundredth anniversary of women's suffrage in New York State." Other elected officials and advocates will also participate.

At 11 a.m. Monday, women leaders who support the constitutional convention will gather at the steps of City Hall to call for a con con and discuss its potential benefits. Participants include State Senator Liz Krueger and Citizens Union Executive Director Betsy Gotbaum.

At 11:30 a.m. Monday, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will preside over the launch of the Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Woman Suffrage Movement Monument in Central Park’s Mall.

At 1 p.m. Monday, Writers Guild of America East will hold a rally on the City Hall steps in support of the employees of DNAinfo and Gothamist, who were laid off after the websites were shut down, a week after the employees voted to unionize.

At 4 p.m. Monday, Assemblymember Robert Carroll will hold a rally in front of the New York City Board of Elections to drum up support for his Young Voter Act, which would lower the voting age to 17 in state and local elections.

At 6 p.m. in Albany, the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice will host a “community conversation on bail” at the Capital South Campus Center.

At 6:30 p.m. Monday, the Brooklyn Historical Society will host “Women’s Suffrage Turns 100: Reshaping Politics.” The BHS’s Julie Golia will lead a conversation on how women in government are changing legislative priorities with Christine Quinn, former Council Speaker and mayoral candidate, and A’Shanti Gholar, Political Director at Emerge America.

Tuesday is Election Day. New Yorkers can head to the polls to vote for Mayor, Public Advocate, Comptroller, City Council, Borough President, Manhattan and Brooklyn District Attorneys, and other offices.

At the City Council on Wednesday: the Committee on Housing and Buildings will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss several proposed laws relating to co-op housing.

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, the Civilian Complaint Review Board will hold a public board meeting at Bronx Community College.

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, the Brooklyn Historical Society will host “Women’s Suffrage Turns 100!: The ‘Nasty Woman’ Stigma,” discussing the prevailing perceptions women have to face in politics and other fields. BHS’ Julie Golia will lead a conversation with Joan Malin, former President of Planned Parenthood NYC; Allison K. Lange, historian of women and gender; and Jamia Wilson, Publisher of Feminist Press.

At 9 a.m. Thursday, the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute will host “Food Policy in New York City Since 2007: Lessons for the Next Decade” as part of its Urban Food Policy Forum series. The event will take place at the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy.

At 4 p.m. Thursday, the state Senate Standing Committee on Environmental Conservation will meet at the Wayne Central School District Performing Arts Center in Ontario, Ontario County “to hear from stakeholders on the implementation of Plan 2014.”

Friday and the weekend
At 3 p.m. Sunday, leaders including Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and former gubernatorial candidate Zephyr Teachout will gather at Lehman College’s Music Building to discuss the ways that the Independent Democratic Caucus supposedly blocks progressive legislation from being passed in New York. The event will take place in IDC leader Jeff Klein’s district.

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

Departure of Assembly Ethics Official Prompts Calls for Broader Reforms

Carl Heastie Assembly

Carl Heastie (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)

When ethics expert Jane Feldman’s departure from the New York State Assembly, and her appraisal of the experience as “as waste of money,” was first reported by the Times Union last week, many saw it as another blow to reform efforts in Albany.

Feldman told the outlet she she “didn’t do anything” and called her hiring as executive director of the Office of Ethics and Compliance in September 2015 a “P.R. move.” The office itself, according to Feldman, was a windowless space on the ninth floor of the Legislative Office Building with airflow problems that had been carved out of a larger conference room.

Two years ago, the office was created by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie as part of the newly-selected speaker’s larger commitment to introduce more ethics and transparency measures to the 150-seat chamber. Promises were made, in part, to appease critics frustrated by the backroom speakership appointment process, and to signal a new era after that of infamous former Speaker Sheldon Silver.

Heastie, a representative of the Bronx, created a working group on rules reform, led by Assemblymembers Brian Kavanagh, of Manhattan, and Gary Pretlow, of Mount Vernon, and vowed to choose an “independent” advisor who could offer guidance to members and offer suggestions for improving Assembly processes. Feldman, who previously headed the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission for six years, was chosen by a six-person team following a nationwide search, and was seen as a fresh and independent perspective, someone from outside Albany’s long-standing and secretive power structures.

But during her two years in Albany, Feldman says she rarely spoke to Heastie and found even members who were interested in reforming the Albany process rebuffed her suggestions.

"There are so many things that are so entrenched,” said Feldman, in an interview with Gotham Gazette. “There are a lot of good members who I think want to see ethics reforms, but when I would tell them how other states do things, the attitude was, 'well, that would never work here.'"

Heastie’s office chalked up her experience to a misunderstanding about the job description, saying in a statement, “there was a disconnect between our expectations for the office and this individual’s view of her responsibilities.”

But good government watchdogs say the larger problem is that no in-house advisor could make much of a dent in Albany’s ways, including how the legislative houses operate, the loophole-riddled campaign finance system, an opaque budget negotiation process, and flawed oversight structures.

“Internal oversight is sort of an oxymoron,” said New York Public Interest Group’s Blair Horner. “The fundamental problem is you can’t really self-regulate when it comes to ethics. It’s like self-policing. An honor system only works for the honorable.”

While it might have been helpful to have a person for members to go to for advice, Feldman’s described duties essentially duplicated the role of the Legislative Ethic Commission (LEC), a bi-partisan entity comprised of senators, Assembly members, and outside experts that provides advice to lawmakers on outside income, fundraising, and other conflict of interest queries. In at least one instance, this created a conflict, when the LEC offered one lawmaker different advice than Feldman did about whether the lawmaker could accept a speaking engagement, Feldman told the Times Union.

It would be difficult to reconcile the two interpretations of the law given that opinions produced by the LEC are not made available to the public, and even Feldman said she could not access them. Legislative ethics advisory bodies in other states all make their opinions available to the public, and some of them even tweet out their opinions, she noted.

Even the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), which acts in an advisory role for the executive branch, and its predecessor agencies have made opinions public and publishes a bulk of information online.

By many accounts, the Assembly has become more democratic under Heastie. The majority Democratic conference is consulted more frequently during budget negotiations, leadership opportunities are created for new members, and more hearings for legislation are held. Silver’s extremely intense grip on power has been loosened by his successor. But these strides are “infinitesimally small compared to the needs of the state, which is for radical overhaul of ethics oversight in New York,” according to Horner. “To have an office in the Assembly -- even if it doesn’t have any windows -- to sort of generate recommendations and answers to people’s questions is sort of in the chicken soup category. It doesn’t deal with the cancer of corruption that has plagued the Capitol.”

John Kaehny, executive director of ReInvent Albany, said that the biggest problem plaguing state government is its rampant pay-to-play culture. But while the overwhelmingly Democratic Assembly has repeatedly passed legislation that would curb the notorious LLC loophole, which allows wealthy interests to attempt to influence lawmakers with virtually unlimited campaign donations, the bill has been blocked from consideration in the Republican-controlled Senate. Other efforts at campaign finance reform, including instituting lower caps on individual donations and a public-matching system, have also stalled.

“If it were up to the Assembly, they would probably pass a New York City-style small donor matching campaign finance system, but that’s not the law, and they have to exist within a system that is really corrupt and just a complete swamp of money,” said Kaehny. “So the question of what exactly Jane Feldman was supposed to do is a little elusive.”

When Heastie announced a 2016 ethics reform package -- which included a bill limiting outside income for lawmakers and closure of the LLC loophole -- Feldman said she learned about it viewing the roll-out on T.V., and it became obvious that the job was not as she felt it had been described to her during interviews with the search committee and with the Speaker.

In a statement, Heastie spokesperson Mike Whyland said, “the office was created as a training and expertise resource for members and staff and independent of the Speaker’s office. It was never meant as a position that would craft policy and take part in negotiations, something that would obviously compromise the independent nature of the office. This is an independent, bipartisan office that serves both the majority and the minority and thus has no responsibilities to negotiate laws.”

According to Heastie's own press release, the Feldman was supposed to be involved in "reviewing best practices in legislative ethics to make recommendations for improvements." 

But Feldman said the Assembly was resistant to changes as small as publicizing on its website the times that it would go into legislative session. She said she was told that the parties go into conference so it was impossible to predict. “To me this is kind of archaic, but the way members learned what time session would be, is they would get a phone call that said ‘session is going to be at 11.’”

“I was told many times by people that I saw my job as much more important than it was intended to be,” said Feldman.

In 2015, good government groups sent a series of proposals to Kavanaugh and Pretlow for how the Assembly rules could be improved. The letter, signed by Common Cause, Citizens Union, NYPIRG, ReInvent Albany, and the Brennan Center for Justice, recommended that rank-and-file members be able to independently bring legislation with majority support to the floor -- even over objection of leadership -- that allocation of resources be more equitably distributed among members, as well as other transparency and efficiency measures.

“There was resistance to our recommendations, because they didn’t like anything that encroaches on the power of the speaker,” said Horner. “They did make some changes, but I still think there’s a long way to go.”

The working group was criticized for not holding any public hearings and for failing to include input from members of the minority conference, but it did produce a lengthy list of recommendations. The fixes were technological and procedural, with an eye on more transparency and communication, such as ensuring wi-fi service throughout the Assembly chamber, increased use of text alerts for staff and members, improvements to the Assembly legislation database, and livestreaming more committee meetings. There were a handful of notable changes to the committee process, such as one that would allow all members five opportunities to force a bill to be voted on in committee.

“I think there were 90 suggestions that we made, some of them take a longer time than others to be addressed, and most of them were accepted by the speaker,” said Pretlow.

But helping to craft the Assembly’s internal rules reform also, apparently, did not fall under Feldman’s purview. Pretlow said Feldman was not at all involved, adding that he did not interact with her during her time in Albany. Feldman, in an email, clarified that the working group met and had decided on recommendations shortly before she arrived in Albany.

Whyland did not respond to a request for comment on whether any candidates have emerged to replace Feldman or whether the role would be redefined, but he told the Times Union that the Assembly is looking to fill her former post with "someone who understands New York law, truly grasps the serious responsibilities of the office and its independent and bipartisan nature, and is willing to carry out its mission in full."

Clarification: The article has been updated to indicate that decisions about rules reform in the Assembly were made prior to Feldman's arrival.

by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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What's The [DATA] Point? 348 and 74

whats the data point

What's The Data Point? Episode 18 -- 348 and 74 [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

348 74 277

This week's data points are 348 and 74 as we bring you a two-part show, each featuring the author of a new CBC report out this week.

348 is the number of Local Development Corporations and Industrial Development Agencies in New York State. These corporations, created by local governments throughout the state, are intended to help spur economic development. But, are they effective? Riley Edwards, the principal author of "Opaque and Duplicative - Local Economic Development in New York State" discusses.

Then: 74 is the number of Business Improvement Districts in New York City. Are BIDs effective? Are they transparent? Tim Sullivan, author of CBC report "BIDS - Oversight, Organization and Transparency" discusses.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Carol Kellerman of CBC (@cbcny), and guests Riley Edwards and Tim Sullivan of CBC. Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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