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:
-Bill de Blasio
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?