STATE Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/state 2018-10-16T23:05:53+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com 'Speaker Heastie PAC' Gives to James for AG, Skoufis for Senate 2018-10-17T04:00:00+00:00 2018-10-17T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7997-speaker-heastie-pac-gives-to-james-for-ag-skoufis-for-senate Samar Khurshid samarkhurshid@gmail.com <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/heastie-w-cuomo-and-morelle.jpg" alt="heastie w cuomo and morelle" width="600" /></p> <p>Speaker Heastie, with Gov. Cuomo and Assemblymember Morelle (Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s eponymous political action committee has continued to donate to Democrats in competitive races this year, recently making new contributions to Public Advocate Letitia James’ attorney general campaign and Assembly Member James Skoufis’ bid for State Senate. &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>The latest campaign finance filings with the State Board of Elections showed that Speaker Heastie PAC spent about $26,000 between September 21 and October 2, including $10,000 each to James and to the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee -- as speaker, Heastie is honorary chair of the DACC and he has donated $55,000 in total through his PAC, which has raised its money mostly from a variety of special interests. The PAC gave Skoufis’ campaign a $5,000 contribution -- it has sent Skoufis $12,250 overall as he seeks to move from Heastie’s conference to the upper chamber as part of the Democrats’ attempt to win control of the Senate and thus both houses of the Legislature.</p> <p>Since its creation in January, Heastie’s PAC has raised $326,100 <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7886-heastie-pac-brings-in-big-money-from-special-interests-starts-spending-on-candidates" target="_blank" rel="noopener">from a combination</a> of other PACs, limited liability companies, and individuals, and has doled out just over $303,000 to several Assembly members running for reelection, candidates for State Senate, Democratic clubs in the Bronx, home to Heastie’s Assembly district and where he is intricately involved in the county Democratic Party, and to James, who is seeking to ascend from a citywide to a statewide official and become the state’s top legal officer.</p> <p>James’ campaign is also being supported by much of the rest of the Democratic establishment in the state, including Governor Andrew Cuomo, while she is facing questions about her independence from figures like Heastie and Cuomo, and whether she would effectively work to root out government corruption as attorney general.</p> <p>Heastie has donated a total of $31,000 to James’ campaign, which has raised more than $2.5 million and spent over $2 million so far, including during a hard-fought four-way Democrtic primary. She had about $384,000 in cash on hand as of her most recent filing, while raising more money for the home stretch before Election Day. James’ Republican opponent, Keith Wofford, is a lawyer at an international corporate firm and a first-time candidate for elected office. He has raised more than $1.6 million for his run and spent almost $1.4 million. He had about $400,000 remaining with three weeks left in the race, while also working to bring in more in order to spend it.</p> <p>With Heastie assured to be reelected to another two-year term -- he is not facing a challenger -- and with Democrats overwhelmingly represented in the Assembly, his PAC has focused part of its efforts on the State Senate, where Republicans hold a one-seat majority, in an effort to regain control of the legislative chamber. Cuomo and the State Democratic Committee are spearheading that effort with a $2 million infusion of cash.</p> <p>As of the last filing, Heastie’s PAC did not show any new fundraising and had about $23,000 left to dish out.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/heastie-w-cuomo-and-morelle.jpg" alt="heastie w cuomo and morelle" width="600" /></p> <p>Speaker Heastie, with Gov. Cuomo and Assemblymember Morelle (Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s eponymous political action committee has continued to donate to Democrats in competitive races this year, recently making new contributions to Public Advocate Letitia James’ attorney general campaign and Assembly Member James Skoufis’ bid for State Senate. &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>The latest campaign finance filings with the State Board of Elections showed that Speaker Heastie PAC spent about $26,000 between September 21 and October 2, including $10,000 each to James and to the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee -- as speaker, Heastie is honorary chair of the DACC and he has donated $55,000 in total through his PAC, which has raised its money mostly from a variety of special interests. The PAC gave Skoufis’ campaign a $5,000 contribution -- it has sent Skoufis $12,250 overall as he seeks to move from Heastie’s conference to the upper chamber as part of the Democrats’ attempt to win control of the Senate and thus both houses of the Legislature.</p> <p>Since its creation in January, Heastie’s PAC has raised $326,100 <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7886-heastie-pac-brings-in-big-money-from-special-interests-starts-spending-on-candidates" target="_blank" rel="noopener">from a combination</a> of other PACs, limited liability companies, and individuals, and has doled out just over $303,000 to several Assembly members running for reelection, candidates for State Senate, Democratic clubs in the Bronx, home to Heastie’s Assembly district and where he is intricately involved in the county Democratic Party, and to James, who is seeking to ascend from a citywide to a statewide official and become the state’s top legal officer.</p> <p>James’ campaign is also being supported by much of the rest of the Democratic establishment in the state, including Governor Andrew Cuomo, while she is facing questions about her independence from figures like Heastie and Cuomo, and whether she would effectively work to root out government corruption as attorney general.</p> <p>Heastie has donated a total of $31,000 to James’ campaign, which has raised more than $2.5 million and spent over $2 million so far, including during a hard-fought four-way Democrtic primary. She had about $384,000 in cash on hand as of her most recent filing, while raising more money for the home stretch before Election Day. James’ Republican opponent, Keith Wofford, is a lawyer at an international corporate firm and a first-time candidate for elected office. He has raised more than $1.6 million for his run and spent almost $1.4 million. He had about $400,000 remaining with three weeks left in the race, while also working to bring in more in order to spend it.</p> <p>With Heastie assured to be reelected to another two-year term -- he is not facing a challenger -- and with Democrats overwhelmingly represented in the Assembly, his PAC has focused part of its efforts on the State Senate, where Republicans hold a one-seat majority, in an effort to regain control of the legislative chamber. Cuomo and the State Democratic Committee are spearheading that effort with a $2 million infusion of cash.</p> <p>As of the last filing, Heastie’s PAC did not show any new fundraising and had about $23,000 left to dish out.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
Democrats in Swing Districts Run On, Not From, Single-Payer Health Care 2018-10-16T04:00:00+00:00 2018-10-16T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7995-despite-lack-of-support-from-cuomo-democrats-in-swing-districts-run-on-not-from-single-payer-health-care Dave Colon dcolon@gg.com <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/andrewcuomo-affor.jpg" alt="andrewcuomo affor" width="819" height="281" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo &amp; Long Island Democratic Senate candidates (photo: @andrewcuomo)</p> <hr /> <p>Since the Affordable Care Act has failed to tame the beast that is America’s private health insurance system, and a new presidential administration is actively hostile to even that modest attempt at near-universal coverage, activists and many Democrats in New York have recently come to embrace a way forward. Single-payer, state-government-administered health care coverage has become something of a rallying cry for progressive activists in New York even as Governor Andrew Cuomo has argued it’s a program better-suited for the federal government to tackle.</p> <p>While often thought of as a politically risky issue to embrace outside of solidly progressive areas, candidates in swing districts across the state are carrying the torch for single-payer and calling it a morally correct thing to do that will also save the state money. And with criticism of the proposal from Republicans, the issue has become a flashpoint in the battle for control of the New York State Senate, the GOP’s only source of power at the state level and the key for Democrats hoping to enact a long list of progressive goals.</p> <p>The New York Health Act, the proposed law that would set up single-payer health insurance in New York, has <a href="https://www.villagevoice.com/2017/05/16/new-yorks-legislature-is-on-the-brink-of-passing-universal-healthcare/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">gained</a> <a href="http://gothamist.com/2017/05/26/new_york_healthcare_battle.php">momentum</a> in the state Senate after years as an Assembly-focused effort. Every Democrat in the upper chamber of the state Legislature, where the party is in the minority by one seat, signed on to the bill last session.</p> <p>The push saw added attention as Democratic gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon <a href="http://www.wamc.org/post/single-payer-health-care-becomes-issue-race-ny-governor" target="_blank" rel="noopener">made passing the bill a centerpiece of her campaign</a>, although unlike on other issues like legalizing marijuana, Nixon didn’t appear to push Cuomo left on healthcare. But while Nixon and New York City Democrats -- the lead sponsors of the NYHA are Manhattan Assembly Member Dick Gottfried and Bronx Senator Gustavo Rivera -- have received the most attention for their embrace of the plan, Democratic state Senate candidates in the Hudson Valley and Long Island are also running on the passage of the bill despite the risk that an embrace of big government socialism could be a liability in their swing districts.</p> <p>Conventional wisdom about the relative conservatism in many areas outside of New York City, and Cuomo’s own reluctance to embrace statewide single-payer (during his debate with Nixon he said it is a good idea “<a href="https://www.timesunion.com/news/article/Cuomo-Universal-healthcare-easier-on-federal-13194080.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener">in theory</a>,” but that it would double the state’s tax burden and he supports single-payer at the federal level), would suggest that Democrats in tight races would avoid the New York Health Act. Prominent Cuomo-led events where he’s endorsed suburban Democrats haven’t included mention the bill at all, <a href="https://www.newsday.com/long-island/politics/andrew-cuomo-suffolk-democrats-tilles-1.21355038" target="_blank" rel="noopener">instead focusing on issues</a> like the continuation of the two percent property tax cap, the passage of the Reproductive Health Act and a “red flag” gun control law, and funding an effort to fight the MS-13 gang.</p> <p>As Cuomo avoided the issue, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan brought up the specter of socialism and high taxes <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2018/10/flanagan-oped-the-stakes-for-the-senate/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">in an op-ed column</a> arguing for the GOP’s continued control of the state Senate. “The Democrat Conference vows to enact single payer health care, and so do all the candidates they are running. Medicaid for All would double the state’s budget while taking away Medicare from our seniors. You cannot support a cap on spending and a permanent cap on property taxes, while supporting budget-doubling policies like socialized medicine.”</p> <p>But for some suburban Democrats, single-payer is as much of a winning issue as any other. “There's definite support [for the New York Health Act],” said candidate Pete Harckham, running to unseat Republican Terrence Murphy in the Senate’s 40th District, in the Hudson Valley. “People are tired of fighting with insurance companies, hospitals are tired of fighting with insurance companies, doctors are tired of fighting with insurance companies. So I think there's a very high appetite for the discussion and the dialogue with the New York Health Act as the starting place.”</p> <p>Jen Metzger, running against Ann Rabbit in the 42nd District for the retiring Senator John Bonancic’s Hudson Valley seat, also said that she’s heard support for the bill out on the trail. “I come right out and say I'm a supporter of the New York Health Act and no one has said yet that it's a terrible idea or a scary idea,” Metzger told Gotham Gazette. “People understand that this system is not working and that major change is needed.”</p> <p>“We've got to put every option on the table, because we're coming to a breaking point,” John Mannion, running against Bob Antonacci in the race to replace retiring Senator John DeFrancisco in western New York’s 50th District, told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>Both Metzger and Harckham don’t hedge their support either; each candidate told Gotham Gazette that they view healthcare as a human right and believe in a single-payer insurance system. It’s a view that’s become common enough among Democrats that Andrew Gounardes, running against state Senator Marty Golden in a relatively conservative district in southern Brooklyn, said, “frankly I don’t think it’s out of the mainstream to talk about universal health care in the year 2018,” during <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7947-democrats-target-previously-ignored-brooklyn-shot-at-state-senate-majority" target="_blank">a previous interview with Gotham Gazette</a>. Cuomo has also endorsed Gounardes, at a rally in Brooklyn where there was no mention of single-payer healthcare.</p> <p>Support for the bill, even in districts currently held by Republicans, may not be as much of a liability in a wave year for the candidates who’ve expressed their support for it. The 40th and 50th Districts <a href="https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1YZRfFiCDBEYB7M18fDGLH8IrmyMQGdQKqpOu9lLvmdo/edit#gid=1513373530" target="_blank" rel="noopener">went for Hillary Clinton in 2016</a> by more than 5 points each, though the 42nd District went for Donald Trump by 5 points.</p> <p>Gounardes and his primary opponent Ross Barkan were hardly the only New York City Democrats banging the drum for the New York Health Act this primary season. It was one of a slew of issues that challengers to the former members of the Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) regularly used to explain how the incumbents had not represented progressive values while forming a power-sharing agreement with the Republican conference.</p> <p>Jessica Ramos <a href="https://www.ramosforstatesenate.com/new-page/">promoted single-payer</a> on her website, Alessandra Biaggi <a href="http://www.thisisthebronx.info/weekday-magazine-healthcare-in-america-an-ongoing-series-14/">explained her support for it</a> using her own father’s Parkinson’s Disease as an example of how the current healthcare system was failing, and Zellnor Myrie <a href="https://twitter.com/zellnor4ny/status/1024672126203248642">promoted a recently-released RAND Corporation study</a> that suggested the New York Health Act would save the state money over time -- all three of them defeated former IDC members in the primary.</p> <p>Even John Brooks, a Long Island Democrat running a tough re-election campaign for his seat on Long Island <a href="http://brooks2018.com/issues/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">states on his website</a> that he supports the New York Health Act, and has called affordable health insurance “<a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/andrea-stewart-cousins/senate-democrats-blast-president-trump-and-unveil">a right, not a privilege</a>.” Harckham though, said that the bill has appeal outside of the city because “the economic and the healthcare hardship is the same in the suburbs as it is in the city.”</p> <p>Just under 5 percent of New Yorkers lack health insurance, <a href="https://nypost.com/2018/09/05/number-of-new-yorkers-on-medicaid-has-skyrocketed-in-the-last-decade/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">according to a recent report</a> by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, and 7 million New Yorkers are receiving Medicaid, the federal program administered by the state with localities. Beyond the rhetoric of health insurance as a right and not a privilege, these Democratic candidates are also insisting the move to a single-payer system would actually save taxpayers and businesses money in the long run. “Shifting to a single-payer system would actually reduce property taxes, because it would reduce the cost of local taxes and government costs from how they pay for their employees' health insurance,” Metzger, a member of the Rosendale Town Council, told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>This is of course disputed by state Senate Republicans, who have cast the possible change to a single-payer system as a big government takeover of the healthcare sector. “You can’t hold the line on taxes and spending when you’re calling for creation of a new government-run health care system that would double the size of the state budget and cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars more than they already pay,” Senate GOP spokesperson Scott Reif <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2018/10/cuomo-with-li-dems-finds-common-ground-with-pledge/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">said in response</a> to a Democratic pledge -- signed by Cuomo and Long Island Democratic Senate candidates -- that included a promise to keep property taxes low, but made no mention of single-payer health care.</p> <p>The RAND Corporation study concluded the change to a single-payer system in New York could (if certain assumptions were made true) save the state money in the long run, as even the bill’s primary sponsor in the Assembly, Gottfried, has said, that <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2018/08/01/rand-study-finds-single-payer-viable-in-new-york-but-with-big-caveats-536072" target="_blank" rel="noopener">payroll and other taxes would need to increase</a> to pay for the new system. The New York Health Act legislation itself doesn’t provide an exact way to pay for the single-payer system, instead authorizing a commission to figure out how to fund the plan should the bill pass. But Mannion posited that it’s not as if health insurance costs are affordable or helpful at the moment.<br /><br />“I spoke to someone, a small business owner in my district, who said the entire health insurance premium he paid was $300,000 for his employees six years ago, and this year alone it increased by $300,000,” Mannion said, in response to a question on whether he’s prepared to explain tax increases necessary for a single-payer system.</p> <p>Still, some Democrats are wary to discuss their views on the issue, even if they list it as an issue they’re running on. Jim Gaughran, running against Republican Senator Carl Marcellino in Long Island’s 5th District, called healthcare a right and not a privilege <a href="http://gaughran2018.com/issues-page-gaughran#health-act" target="_blank" rel="noopener">on his website</a>, but did not respond to a request for comment, even after he was reached on his cell phone and promised a return call that did not materialize. The same situation came up with candidates Karen Smythe, whose website <a href="https://karen4nysenate.com/issues/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">calls for universal single-payer</a>, and <a href="https://votepatstrong.com/issues/">Pat Strong</a>, who said she would pass the New York Health Act. In the case of Assembly Member James Skoufis, running to represent the 39th Senate District, he’s already voted for the bill <a href="https://www.recordonline.com/news/20180929/control-of-state-senate-could-be-decided-here" target="_blank" rel="noopener">more than once</a> in his time in the Assembly, but doesn’t list is as one of his main issues on his campaign website. Skoufis <a href="https://twitter.com/JamesSkoufis/status/1042066707299397633" target="_blank" rel="noopener">released a campaign ad</a> touting his a fight with insurance companies on behalf of a constituent, but his campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment on whether or not he would support the New York Health Act in the Senate the way he did in the Assembly.</p> <p>The candidates who spoke to Gotham Gazette did insist that even if they won and Democrats capture a majority in the state Senate, voters shouldn’t expect an immediate passage of the bill in the first budget session.</p> <p>“During the gubernatorial primary, Cynthia Nixon said ‘Oh just pass [the bill] and pay for it,’ but that's not how you pass and craft legislation,” Harckham said, referring to when Nixon <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/ny-pol-nixon-deblasio-nycha-lead-cuomo-20180905-story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">told the Daily News editorial board</a> “Pass it and then figure out how to fund it” when its members asked her about the New York Health Act. “My starting point is New York Health, and let's sit down with the experts. The Assembly has passed this version, so it's pretty far along, but that doesn't mean the Senate can't alter it,” she continued. “Let's do our due diligence, with the goal of providing universal single-payer coverage for all New Yorkers.”</p> <p>Harckham did say, though, that he felt “two years of legislative time” is long enough to debate and pass a bill, which he called <a href="http://peteforny.com/issues/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a first-term priority on his website</a> (state legislative terms are two years long).</p> <p>“The Assembly bill has to be revamped, and we have get it right,” Mannion said. A spokesperson for Mannion later told Gotham Gazette that “getting it right” meant that Mannion believed “a transition from the current system to universal coverage as per the bill would likely require a transitional period in which purchasing into a Medicare-for-all like system would be a possible step, including offering that option on the NY State of Health exchange website.” That website is currently where New Yorkers can purchase health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act.</p> <p>And even though the governor has said he prefers single-payer on a federal level, Metzger said there might be hope of convincing him to embrace the New York Health Act by playing to <a href="https://www.andrewcuomo.com/issues" target="_blank" rel="noopener">his love of New York being first</a>. “I think we can show that [single-payer] can be done, I think there's a lot of value in demonstration value,” Metzger said. “It's been these academic debates in this country for a long time. If anyone can do it, I think New York can do it.”</p> <p>

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by Dave Colon, Gotham Gazette
     

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/andrewcuomo-affor.jpg" alt="andrewcuomo affor" width="819" height="281" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo &amp; Long Island Democratic Senate candidates (photo: @andrewcuomo)</p> <hr /> <p>Since the Affordable Care Act has failed to tame the beast that is America’s private health insurance system, and a new presidential administration is actively hostile to even that modest attempt at near-universal coverage, activists and many Democrats in New York have recently come to embrace a way forward. Single-payer, state-government-administered health care coverage has become something of a rallying cry for progressive activists in New York even as Governor Andrew Cuomo has argued it’s a program better-suited for the federal government to tackle.</p> <p>While often thought of as a politically risky issue to embrace outside of solidly progressive areas, candidates in swing districts across the state are carrying the torch for single-payer and calling it a morally correct thing to do that will also save the state money. And with criticism of the proposal from Republicans, the issue has become a flashpoint in the battle for control of the New York State Senate, the GOP’s only source of power at the state level and the key for Democrats hoping to enact a long list of progressive goals.</p> <p>The New York Health Act, the proposed law that would set up single-payer health insurance in New York, has <a href="https://www.villagevoice.com/2017/05/16/new-yorks-legislature-is-on-the-brink-of-passing-universal-healthcare/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">gained</a> <a href="http://gothamist.com/2017/05/26/new_york_healthcare_battle.php">momentum</a> in the state Senate after years as an Assembly-focused effort. Every Democrat in the upper chamber of the state Legislature, where the party is in the minority by one seat, signed on to the bill last session.</p> <p>The push saw added attention as Democratic gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon <a href="http://www.wamc.org/post/single-payer-health-care-becomes-issue-race-ny-governor" target="_blank" rel="noopener">made passing the bill a centerpiece of her campaign</a>, although unlike on other issues like legalizing marijuana, Nixon didn’t appear to push Cuomo left on healthcare. But while Nixon and New York City Democrats -- the lead sponsors of the NYHA are Manhattan Assembly Member Dick Gottfried and Bronx Senator Gustavo Rivera -- have received the most attention for their embrace of the plan, Democratic state Senate candidates in the Hudson Valley and Long Island are also running on the passage of the bill despite the risk that an embrace of big government socialism could be a liability in their swing districts.</p> <p>Conventional wisdom about the relative conservatism in many areas outside of New York City, and Cuomo’s own reluctance to embrace statewide single-payer (during his debate with Nixon he said it is a good idea “<a href="https://www.timesunion.com/news/article/Cuomo-Universal-healthcare-easier-on-federal-13194080.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener">in theory</a>,” but that it would double the state’s tax burden and he supports single-payer at the federal level), would suggest that Democrats in tight races would avoid the New York Health Act. Prominent Cuomo-led events where he’s endorsed suburban Democrats haven’t included mention the bill at all, <a href="https://www.newsday.com/long-island/politics/andrew-cuomo-suffolk-democrats-tilles-1.21355038" target="_blank" rel="noopener">instead focusing on issues</a> like the continuation of the two percent property tax cap, the passage of the Reproductive Health Act and a “red flag” gun control law, and funding an effort to fight the MS-13 gang.</p> <p>As Cuomo avoided the issue, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan brought up the specter of socialism and high taxes <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2018/10/flanagan-oped-the-stakes-for-the-senate/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">in an op-ed column</a> arguing for the GOP’s continued control of the state Senate. “The Democrat Conference vows to enact single payer health care, and so do all the candidates they are running. Medicaid for All would double the state’s budget while taking away Medicare from our seniors. You cannot support a cap on spending and a permanent cap on property taxes, while supporting budget-doubling policies like socialized medicine.”</p> <p>But for some suburban Democrats, single-payer is as much of a winning issue as any other. “There's definite support [for the New York Health Act],” said candidate Pete Harckham, running to unseat Republican Terrence Murphy in the Senate’s 40th District, in the Hudson Valley. “People are tired of fighting with insurance companies, hospitals are tired of fighting with insurance companies, doctors are tired of fighting with insurance companies. So I think there's a very high appetite for the discussion and the dialogue with the New York Health Act as the starting place.”</p> <p>Jen Metzger, running against Ann Rabbit in the 42nd District for the retiring Senator John Bonancic’s Hudson Valley seat, also said that she’s heard support for the bill out on the trail. “I come right out and say I'm a supporter of the New York Health Act and no one has said yet that it's a terrible idea or a scary idea,” Metzger told Gotham Gazette. “People understand that this system is not working and that major change is needed.”</p> <p>“We've got to put every option on the table, because we're coming to a breaking point,” John Mannion, running against Bob Antonacci in the race to replace retiring Senator John DeFrancisco in western New York’s 50th District, told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>Both Metzger and Harckham don’t hedge their support either; each candidate told Gotham Gazette that they view healthcare as a human right and believe in a single-payer insurance system. It’s a view that’s become common enough among Democrats that Andrew Gounardes, running against state Senator Marty Golden in a relatively conservative district in southern Brooklyn, said, “frankly I don’t think it’s out of the mainstream to talk about universal health care in the year 2018,” during <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7947-democrats-target-previously-ignored-brooklyn-shot-at-state-senate-majority" target="_blank">a previous interview with Gotham Gazette</a>. Cuomo has also endorsed Gounardes, at a rally in Brooklyn where there was no mention of single-payer healthcare.</p> <p>Support for the bill, even in districts currently held by Republicans, may not be as much of a liability in a wave year for the candidates who’ve expressed their support for it. The 40th and 50th Districts <a href="https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1YZRfFiCDBEYB7M18fDGLH8IrmyMQGdQKqpOu9lLvmdo/edit#gid=1513373530" target="_blank" rel="noopener">went for Hillary Clinton in 2016</a> by more than 5 points each, though the 42nd District went for Donald Trump by 5 points.</p> <p>Gounardes and his primary opponent Ross Barkan were hardly the only New York City Democrats banging the drum for the New York Health Act this primary season. It was one of a slew of issues that challengers to the former members of the Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) regularly used to explain how the incumbents had not represented progressive values while forming a power-sharing agreement with the Republican conference.</p> <p>Jessica Ramos <a href="https://www.ramosforstatesenate.com/new-page/">promoted single-payer</a> on her website, Alessandra Biaggi <a href="http://www.thisisthebronx.info/weekday-magazine-healthcare-in-america-an-ongoing-series-14/">explained her support for it</a> using her own father’s Parkinson’s Disease as an example of how the current healthcare system was failing, and Zellnor Myrie <a href="https://twitter.com/zellnor4ny/status/1024672126203248642">promoted a recently-released RAND Corporation study</a> that suggested the New York Health Act would save the state money over time -- all three of them defeated former IDC members in the primary.</p> <p>Even John Brooks, a Long Island Democrat running a tough re-election campaign for his seat on Long Island <a href="http://brooks2018.com/issues/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">states on his website</a> that he supports the New York Health Act, and has called affordable health insurance “<a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/andrea-stewart-cousins/senate-democrats-blast-president-trump-and-unveil">a right, not a privilege</a>.” Harckham though, said that the bill has appeal outside of the city because “the economic and the healthcare hardship is the same in the suburbs as it is in the city.”</p> <p>Just under 5 percent of New Yorkers lack health insurance, <a href="https://nypost.com/2018/09/05/number-of-new-yorkers-on-medicaid-has-skyrocketed-in-the-last-decade/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">according to a recent report</a> by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, and 7 million New Yorkers are receiving Medicaid, the federal program administered by the state with localities. Beyond the rhetoric of health insurance as a right and not a privilege, these Democratic candidates are also insisting the move to a single-payer system would actually save taxpayers and businesses money in the long run. “Shifting to a single-payer system would actually reduce property taxes, because it would reduce the cost of local taxes and government costs from how they pay for their employees' health insurance,” Metzger, a member of the Rosendale Town Council, told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>This is of course disputed by state Senate Republicans, who have cast the possible change to a single-payer system as a big government takeover of the healthcare sector. “You can’t hold the line on taxes and spending when you’re calling for creation of a new government-run health care system that would double the size of the state budget and cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars more than they already pay,” Senate GOP spokesperson Scott Reif <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2018/10/cuomo-with-li-dems-finds-common-ground-with-pledge/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">said in response</a> to a Democratic pledge -- signed by Cuomo and Long Island Democratic Senate candidates -- that included a promise to keep property taxes low, but made no mention of single-payer health care.</p> <p>The RAND Corporation study concluded the change to a single-payer system in New York could (if certain assumptions were made true) save the state money in the long run, as even the bill’s primary sponsor in the Assembly, Gottfried, has said, that <a href="https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2018/08/01/rand-study-finds-single-payer-viable-in-new-york-but-with-big-caveats-536072" target="_blank" rel="noopener">payroll and other taxes would need to increase</a> to pay for the new system. The New York Health Act legislation itself doesn’t provide an exact way to pay for the single-payer system, instead authorizing a commission to figure out how to fund the plan should the bill pass. But Mannion posited that it’s not as if health insurance costs are affordable or helpful at the moment.<br /><br />“I spoke to someone, a small business owner in my district, who said the entire health insurance premium he paid was $300,000 for his employees six years ago, and this year alone it increased by $300,000,” Mannion said, in response to a question on whether he’s prepared to explain tax increases necessary for a single-payer system.</p> <p>Still, some Democrats are wary to discuss their views on the issue, even if they list it as an issue they’re running on. Jim Gaughran, running against Republican Senator Carl Marcellino in Long Island’s 5th District, called healthcare a right and not a privilege <a href="http://gaughran2018.com/issues-page-gaughran#health-act" target="_blank" rel="noopener">on his website</a>, but did not respond to a request for comment, even after he was reached on his cell phone and promised a return call that did not materialize. The same situation came up with candidates Karen Smythe, whose website <a href="https://karen4nysenate.com/issues/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">calls for universal single-payer</a>, and <a href="https://votepatstrong.com/issues/">Pat Strong</a>, who said she would pass the New York Health Act. In the case of Assembly Member James Skoufis, running to represent the 39th Senate District, he’s already voted for the bill <a href="https://www.recordonline.com/news/20180929/control-of-state-senate-could-be-decided-here" target="_blank" rel="noopener">more than once</a> in his time in the Assembly, but doesn’t list is as one of his main issues on his campaign website. Skoufis <a href="https://twitter.com/JamesSkoufis/status/1042066707299397633" target="_blank" rel="noopener">released a campaign ad</a> touting his a fight with insurance companies on behalf of a constituent, but his campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment on whether or not he would support the New York Health Act in the Senate the way he did in the Assembly.</p> <p>The candidates who spoke to Gotham Gazette did insist that even if they won and Democrats capture a majority in the state Senate, voters shouldn’t expect an immediate passage of the bill in the first budget session.</p> <p>“During the gubernatorial primary, Cynthia Nixon said ‘Oh just pass [the bill] and pay for it,’ but that's not how you pass and craft legislation,” Harckham said, referring to when Nixon <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/ny-pol-nixon-deblasio-nycha-lead-cuomo-20180905-story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">told the Daily News editorial board</a> “Pass it and then figure out how to fund it” when its members asked her about the New York Health Act. “My starting point is New York Health, and let's sit down with the experts. The Assembly has passed this version, so it's pretty far along, but that doesn't mean the Senate can't alter it,” she continued. “Let's do our due diligence, with the goal of providing universal single-payer coverage for all New Yorkers.”</p> <p>Harckham did say, though, that he felt “two years of legislative time” is long enough to debate and pass a bill, which he called <a href="http://peteforny.com/issues/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a first-term priority on his website</a> (state legislative terms are two years long).</p> <p>“The Assembly bill has to be revamped, and we have get it right,” Mannion said. A spokesperson for Mannion later told Gotham Gazette that “getting it right” meant that Mannion believed “a transition from the current system to universal coverage as per the bill would likely require a transitional period in which purchasing into a Medicare-for-all like system would be a possible step, including offering that option on the NY State of Health exchange website.” That website is currently where New Yorkers can purchase health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act.</p> <p>And even though the governor has said he prefers single-payer on a federal level, Metzger said there might be hope of convincing him to embrace the New York Health Act by playing to <a href="https://www.andrewcuomo.com/issues" target="_blank" rel="noopener">his love of New York being first</a>. “I think we can show that [single-payer] can be done, I think there's a lot of value in demonstration value,” Metzger said. “It's been these academic debates in this country for a long time. If anyone can do it, I think New York can do it.”</p> <p>

***
by Dave Colon, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Close Ties Among Bronx Electeds, Campaign Consultants, Lobbyists and Donors 2018-10-16T01:14:04+00:00 2018-10-16T01:14:04+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7993-close-ties-among-bronx-electeds-campaign-consultants-lobbyists-and-donors Jake Shore jshore@gg.com <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/klein_gjonaj_office_share_shot.png" alt="klein gjonaj office share shot" width="600" height="371" /></p> <p>Klein-Gjonaj offices (photo via Google Maps)</p> <hr /> <p>Bronx City Council Member Mark Gjonaj already has a 2021 campaign office, and an officemate. The “Gjonaj 2021” re-election campaign account pays rent for a headquarters in Morris Park that is shared with State Senator Jeff Klein, a longtime Gjonaj ally and founder of the now-defunct Independent Democratic Conference who recently lost in the Democratic primary to challenger Alessandra Biaggi. The two have shared <a href="https://www.google.com/maps/place/2018+Williamsbridge+Rd,+Bronx,+NY+10461/@40.8547644,-73.8548097,3a,75y,71.79h,90t/data=!3m7!1e1!3m5!1saNGYXL0lULvUiwe__gojGA!2e0!6s%2F%2Fgeo1.ggpht.com%2Fcbk%3Fpanoid%3DaNGYXL0lULvUiwe__gojGA%26output%3Dthumbnail%26cb_client%3Dmaps_sv.tactile.gps%26thumb%3D2%26w%3D203%26h%3D100%26yaw%3D71.791664%26pitch%3D0%26thumbfov%3D100!7i13312!8i6656!4m5!3m4!1s0x89c2f4a7f1017577:0xc995ad5e49b32a5b!8m2!3d40.8547728!4d-73.8545989" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the office space</a> since Gjonaj’s days as a member of the state Assembly.</p> <p>The two Bronx politicians share a lot. Gjonaj’s City Council district and Klein’s State Senate district overlap significantly. In 2017, Klein endorsed Gjonaj for City Council, and Gjonaj then campaigned for Klein’s re-election this year, going viral in August <a href="http://gothamist.com/2018/08/31/mark_gjonaj_shame_game.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener">for yelling “Shame!”</a> through a megaphone at Biaggi as she entered a campaign event.</p> <p>The two also share connections to a campaign consultancy, lobbyist, and the Squitieri family, large donors to both officials. <a href="https://www.propublica.org/article/sanitation-salvage-embattled-garbage-hauler-co-owns-dump-with-person-expelled-from-trash-industry" target="_blank" rel="noopener">ProPublica recently exposed</a>&nbsp;Sanitation Salvage, the Squitieri family-run business, for its problematic and deadly business practices in the private waste carting industry. The reporting caused its license to be suspended by the Business Integrity Commission (BIC), punishment both Klein and Gjonaj have fought against.</p> <p>Klein made major headlines losing his re-election bid last month. He is the largest figure from the IDC, which he started and led, and that previously had a power-sharing agreement with Senate Republicans. Six of the eight former IDC members lost in their Democratic primaries, though some, including Klein, may continue into the general election on other ballot lines. Klein also made news for dropping an unheard-of $3 million in the race as a whole, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7973-klein-filing-late-post-primary-shows-over-3-million-in-senate-campaign-spending?mc_cid=2e933e1dbc&amp;mc_eid=d650251069" target="_blank">spending around eleven times more per vote than his opponent.</a></p> <p>The Hamilton Campaign Network received about a third of Klein’s spending, though it in turn paid other vendors for campaign work. The political consultancy received $1,014,197 from Klein’s committee in 2018 for mailers and TV and online ads, among other services, according to state campaign finance records. Gjonaj’s 2017 campaign for City Council, which itself set records for spending, paid $212,034 to the group, according to city records.</p> <p>The head of the Hamilton Campaign Network is John Emrick, former chief of staff to Jeff Klein. Emrick<a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/playing-hamilton-political-consultant-article-1.2777740" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> left the IDC fold</a> in 2016 to work in campaigns, returning to work for Klein in a different way this year.</p> <p>Emrick also lobbies government on behalf of the company that owns the Hamilton Campaign Network, MirRam LLC. During the recent primary election, MirRam’s campaign consultancy company has been a client to most of the former members of the IDC, including Marisol Alcantara, Tony Avella, and David Carlucci along with Attorney General hopeful Letitia James, who has paid MirRam for consultancy since she successfully ran for Public Advocate in 2013.</p> <p>After Emrick left Klein’s office to campaign and lobby at MirRam, state law places a two-year wait period for former public officials to lobby where they once worked. However, Emrick was still allowed to lobby New York City officials, which would include Gjonaj, and city records show he lobbied on behalf of prominent donors to both Klein and Gjonaj.</p> <p>Emrick worked as a lobbyist on behalf of the Squitieri brothers in the Bronx since 2016, according to city lobbying records. Sanitation Salvage, run by the Squitieri family, is one of the largest private trash companies in New York City. <a href="https://features.propublica.org/sanitation-salvage/sanitation-salvage-accidents-new-york-city-commercial-carting-garbage/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">ProPublica</a> reported that Sanitation Salvage skirted regulation for years, even after worker deaths, through lobbying and a strong foothold in the Bronx political machine.</p> <p>Since 2016, Steven Squitieri has paid MirRam Group LLC, where Emrick is listed as an employee and as involved in these lobbying efforts, $122,500 to lobby the City Council for Sanitation Salvage.</p> <p>A spokesman for MirRam said Emrick was not available for comment on this story.</p> <p>"Hamilton Campaign Network appreciates the trust so many candidates have placed with the firm since its creation in 2016,” said a spokesperson for the Hamilton Campaign Network in a statement. “All required disclosures for Hamilton Campaign Network and its employees are filed regularly and are in order.”</p> <p>Gjonaj’s connections to the Squitieris go beyond Emrick. Gjonaj’s political club, the North Bronx Democratic Club, has had little activity in the last few years, but Gjonaj has <a href="https://www.bxtimes.com/stories/2014/9/09-beat-2014-02-27-bx_2014_9.html">said it was formed</a> to seek out “disenfranchised voters.” More notable is the <a href="https://www.facebook.com/MarkGjonajNY/photos/a.341203035934793/976554679066289/?type=1&amp;theater" target="_blank" rel="noopener">club’s president, John Squitieri</a>, one of the owners of Sanitation Salvage. The location of the political clubhouse is 2018 Williamsbridge Road, or the campaign headquarters of Gjonaj 2021 and Klein 2018.</p> <p>Through a number of LLCs and corporations, the Squitieri family has given $120,000 to Klein and $40,000 to Gjonaj since 2007, according to ProPublica.</p> <p>After criticism that the BIC had softened its oversight of the private trash industry, in August the regulatory agency suspended Sanitation Salvage’s license for unsafe business practices. Salvage quickly filed a lawsuit in Manhattan Supreme Court to fight the suspension.</p> <p>Klein and Gjonaj then joined in to submit a<a href="https://iapps.courts.state.ny.us/fbem/DocumentDisplayServlet?documentId=NLkxGisDq21d_PLUS_MCaGci8jg==&amp;system=prod" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> letter of support</a> for Sanitation Salvage to restore the company’s license. They called the suspension “troubling.”</p> <p>“Sanitation Salvage has been an exemplary example of a good corporate citizen. Each of our offices have worked directly with Sanitation Salvage in different capacities and have had very positive experiences,” reads the letter.</p> <p>Gjonaj’s office did not respond to several requests for comment for this story. Sen. Klein could not be reached for comment and has not appeared in public since primary day a month ago.</p> <p>Good government groups argue that the problem is much larger than Gjonaj and Klein’s close relationship with donors. Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor for Reinvent Albany, contends that problems arise when campaign consultants with established relationships to candidates can also lobby on behalf of other parties, including donors.</p> <p>"There ought to be a cooling off period before political consultants can lobby the very elected officials whose campaigns they ran," said Camarda. "There is a great deal of public cynicism about government these days, and arrangements like these undermine people's confidence that government officials are making decisions in the public interest."</p> <p>MirRam Group, run by one of its founders, Luis Manuel Miranda, is not the only group that dabbles in both campaign management and lobbying. The Parkside Group is one of the largest similar groups. This year, it worked on the campaigns of Rep. Joe Crowley and State Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins along with lobbying for state interest groups like developers and unions.</p> <p>State Senator Avella, another former member of the IDC, actually <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/S1449" target="_blank" rel="noopener">proposed legislation</a> in January of last year to prohibit “certain lobbyists and political consultants from being affiliated with each other, or engaging in the other's profession.” The other two sponsors were then-IDC member Senators Diane Savino and David Carlucci (Savino and Carlucci were the only two of the eight IDC members to win their Democratic primaries in September).</p> <p>A similar version of Avella’s bill was <a href="https://citylimits.org/2013/05/13/when-campaign-aides-are-lobbyists-questions-mount/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">introduced in 2013</a> by Senator David Valesky, then of the IDC, but the legislation went nowhere. Avella also sponsored a bill in 2015 as a response to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s close relationship with Jonathan Rosen, co-founder of BerlinRosen, who was a very involved outside advisor to the mayor but also lobbied for a number of special interest groups. BerlinRosen helped de Blasio get elected and re-elected as mayor, and Rosen has remained a close confidante throughout, often attending government-related meetings hosted by the mayor.</p> <p>Avella’s legislation this year, which has not gone to the floor for a vote, details some of the issues that arise when campaign consultants are able to lobby their former employers:</p> <p>“The relationship forged between a candidate and his or her political consultant during a campaign is tight, often unassailable. Political consultants who also lobby have a unique opportunity to trade on this personal capital when pushing the interests of their other clients for new laws, government approvals or funding,” it reads.</p> <p>Emrick has not directly lobbied the State Senate since leaving his former office, according to filings with the New York Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE). He has lobbied the State Assembly, the City Council, and Council Member Gjonaj after working to help him win his election.</p> <p>***<br />by Jake Shore for Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/jake4shore">@Jake4Shore<br /></a><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette">@GothamGazette</a></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/klein_gjonaj_office_share_shot.png" alt="klein gjonaj office share shot" width="600" height="371" /></p> <p>Klein-Gjonaj offices (photo via Google Maps)</p> <hr /> <p>Bronx City Council Member Mark Gjonaj already has a 2021 campaign office, and an officemate. The “Gjonaj 2021” re-election campaign account pays rent for a headquarters in Morris Park that is shared with State Senator Jeff Klein, a longtime Gjonaj ally and founder of the now-defunct Independent Democratic Conference who recently lost in the Democratic primary to challenger Alessandra Biaggi. The two have shared <a href="https://www.google.com/maps/place/2018+Williamsbridge+Rd,+Bronx,+NY+10461/@40.8547644,-73.8548097,3a,75y,71.79h,90t/data=!3m7!1e1!3m5!1saNGYXL0lULvUiwe__gojGA!2e0!6s%2F%2Fgeo1.ggpht.com%2Fcbk%3Fpanoid%3DaNGYXL0lULvUiwe__gojGA%26output%3Dthumbnail%26cb_client%3Dmaps_sv.tactile.gps%26thumb%3D2%26w%3D203%26h%3D100%26yaw%3D71.791664%26pitch%3D0%26thumbfov%3D100!7i13312!8i6656!4m5!3m4!1s0x89c2f4a7f1017577:0xc995ad5e49b32a5b!8m2!3d40.8547728!4d-73.8545989" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the office space</a> since Gjonaj’s days as a member of the state Assembly.</p> <p>The two Bronx politicians share a lot. Gjonaj’s City Council district and Klein’s State Senate district overlap significantly. In 2017, Klein endorsed Gjonaj for City Council, and Gjonaj then campaigned for Klein’s re-election this year, going viral in August <a href="http://gothamist.com/2018/08/31/mark_gjonaj_shame_game.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener">for yelling “Shame!”</a> through a megaphone at Biaggi as she entered a campaign event.</p> <p>The two also share connections to a campaign consultancy, lobbyist, and the Squitieri family, large donors to both officials. <a href="https://www.propublica.org/article/sanitation-salvage-embattled-garbage-hauler-co-owns-dump-with-person-expelled-from-trash-industry" target="_blank" rel="noopener">ProPublica recently exposed</a>&nbsp;Sanitation Salvage, the Squitieri family-run business, for its problematic and deadly business practices in the private waste carting industry. The reporting caused its license to be suspended by the Business Integrity Commission (BIC), punishment both Klein and Gjonaj have fought against.</p> <p>Klein made major headlines losing his re-election bid last month. He is the largest figure from the IDC, which he started and led, and that previously had a power-sharing agreement with Senate Republicans. Six of the eight former IDC members lost in their Democratic primaries, though some, including Klein, may continue into the general election on other ballot lines. Klein also made news for dropping an unheard-of $3 million in the race as a whole, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7973-klein-filing-late-post-primary-shows-over-3-million-in-senate-campaign-spending?mc_cid=2e933e1dbc&amp;mc_eid=d650251069" target="_blank">spending around eleven times more per vote than his opponent.</a></p> <p>The Hamilton Campaign Network received about a third of Klein’s spending, though it in turn paid other vendors for campaign work. The political consultancy received $1,014,197 from Klein’s committee in 2018 for mailers and TV and online ads, among other services, according to state campaign finance records. Gjonaj’s 2017 campaign for City Council, which itself set records for spending, paid $212,034 to the group, according to city records.</p> <p>The head of the Hamilton Campaign Network is John Emrick, former chief of staff to Jeff Klein. Emrick<a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/playing-hamilton-political-consultant-article-1.2777740" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> left the IDC fold</a> in 2016 to work in campaigns, returning to work for Klein in a different way this year.</p> <p>Emrick also lobbies government on behalf of the company that owns the Hamilton Campaign Network, MirRam LLC. During the recent primary election, MirRam’s campaign consultancy company has been a client to most of the former members of the IDC, including Marisol Alcantara, Tony Avella, and David Carlucci along with Attorney General hopeful Letitia James, who has paid MirRam for consultancy since she successfully ran for Public Advocate in 2013.</p> <p>After Emrick left Klein’s office to campaign and lobby at MirRam, state law places a two-year wait period for former public officials to lobby where they once worked. However, Emrick was still allowed to lobby New York City officials, which would include Gjonaj, and city records show he lobbied on behalf of prominent donors to both Klein and Gjonaj.</p> <p>Emrick worked as a lobbyist on behalf of the Squitieri brothers in the Bronx since 2016, according to city lobbying records. Sanitation Salvage, run by the Squitieri family, is one of the largest private trash companies in New York City. <a href="https://features.propublica.org/sanitation-salvage/sanitation-salvage-accidents-new-york-city-commercial-carting-garbage/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">ProPublica</a> reported that Sanitation Salvage skirted regulation for years, even after worker deaths, through lobbying and a strong foothold in the Bronx political machine.</p> <p>Since 2016, Steven Squitieri has paid MirRam Group LLC, where Emrick is listed as an employee and as involved in these lobbying efforts, $122,500 to lobby the City Council for Sanitation Salvage.</p> <p>A spokesman for MirRam said Emrick was not available for comment on this story.</p> <p>"Hamilton Campaign Network appreciates the trust so many candidates have placed with the firm since its creation in 2016,” said a spokesperson for the Hamilton Campaign Network in a statement. “All required disclosures for Hamilton Campaign Network and its employees are filed regularly and are in order.”</p> <p>Gjonaj’s connections to the Squitieris go beyond Emrick. Gjonaj’s political club, the North Bronx Democratic Club, has had little activity in the last few years, but Gjonaj has <a href="https://www.bxtimes.com/stories/2014/9/09-beat-2014-02-27-bx_2014_9.html">said it was formed</a> to seek out “disenfranchised voters.” More notable is the <a href="https://www.facebook.com/MarkGjonajNY/photos/a.341203035934793/976554679066289/?type=1&amp;theater" target="_blank" rel="noopener">club’s president, John Squitieri</a>, one of the owners of Sanitation Salvage. The location of the political clubhouse is 2018 Williamsbridge Road, or the campaign headquarters of Gjonaj 2021 and Klein 2018.</p> <p>Through a number of LLCs and corporations, the Squitieri family has given $120,000 to Klein and $40,000 to Gjonaj since 2007, according to ProPublica.</p> <p>After criticism that the BIC had softened its oversight of the private trash industry, in August the regulatory agency suspended Sanitation Salvage’s license for unsafe business practices. Salvage quickly filed a lawsuit in Manhattan Supreme Court to fight the suspension.</p> <p>Klein and Gjonaj then joined in to submit a<a href="https://iapps.courts.state.ny.us/fbem/DocumentDisplayServlet?documentId=NLkxGisDq21d_PLUS_MCaGci8jg==&amp;system=prod" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> letter of support</a> for Sanitation Salvage to restore the company’s license. They called the suspension “troubling.”</p> <p>“Sanitation Salvage has been an exemplary example of a good corporate citizen. Each of our offices have worked directly with Sanitation Salvage in different capacities and have had very positive experiences,” reads the letter.</p> <p>Gjonaj’s office did not respond to several requests for comment for this story. Sen. Klein could not be reached for comment and has not appeared in public since primary day a month ago.</p> <p>Good government groups argue that the problem is much larger than Gjonaj and Klein’s close relationship with donors. Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor for Reinvent Albany, contends that problems arise when campaign consultants with established relationships to candidates can also lobby on behalf of other parties, including donors.</p> <p>"There ought to be a cooling off period before political consultants can lobby the very elected officials whose campaigns they ran," said Camarda. "There is a great deal of public cynicism about government these days, and arrangements like these undermine people's confidence that government officials are making decisions in the public interest."</p> <p>MirRam Group, run by one of its founders, Luis Manuel Miranda, is not the only group that dabbles in both campaign management and lobbying. The Parkside Group is one of the largest similar groups. This year, it worked on the campaigns of Rep. Joe Crowley and State Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins along with lobbying for state interest groups like developers and unions.</p> <p>State Senator Avella, another former member of the IDC, actually <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/S1449" target="_blank" rel="noopener">proposed legislation</a> in January of last year to prohibit “certain lobbyists and political consultants from being affiliated with each other, or engaging in the other's profession.” The other two sponsors were then-IDC member Senators Diane Savino and David Carlucci (Savino and Carlucci were the only two of the eight IDC members to win their Democratic primaries in September).</p> <p>A similar version of Avella’s bill was <a href="https://citylimits.org/2013/05/13/when-campaign-aides-are-lobbyists-questions-mount/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">introduced in 2013</a> by Senator David Valesky, then of the IDC, but the legislation went nowhere. Avella also sponsored a bill in 2015 as a response to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s close relationship with Jonathan Rosen, co-founder of BerlinRosen, who was a very involved outside advisor to the mayor but also lobbied for a number of special interest groups. BerlinRosen helped de Blasio get elected and re-elected as mayor, and Rosen has remained a close confidante throughout, often attending government-related meetings hosted by the mayor.</p> <p>Avella’s legislation this year, which has not gone to the floor for a vote, details some of the issues that arise when campaign consultants are able to lobby their former employers:</p> <p>“The relationship forged between a candidate and his or her political consultant during a campaign is tight, often unassailable. Political consultants who also lobby have a unique opportunity to trade on this personal capital when pushing the interests of their other clients for new laws, government approvals or funding,” it reads.</p> <p>Emrick has not directly lobbied the State Senate since leaving his former office, according to filings with the New York Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE). He has lobbied the State Assembly, the City Council, and Council Member Gjonaj after working to help him win his election.</p> <p>***<br />by Jake Shore for Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/jake4shore">@Jake4Shore<br /></a><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette">@GothamGazette</a></p> WATCH: State Comptroller Candidate Debate 2018-10-15T04:00:00+00:00 2018-10-15T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7989-watch-state-comptroller-candidate-debate-dinapoli-trichter-2018 Ben Max bmax@gothamgazette.com <p>&nbsp;<img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/img-6200-2.jpg" alt="img 6200 2" width="600" /></p> <p>Candidates DiNapoli, Dunlea, Gallaudet, Trichter (l-r) (Photo: MNN)</p> <hr /> <p>Watch the first debate in the general election race for New York State Comptroller, among the four candidates who will be on the ballot: incumbent Democrat Tom DiNapoli, Republican nominee Jonathan Trichter, Green Party nominee Mark Dunlea, and Libertarian Party nominee Cruger Gallaudet. DiNapoli will also appear on the Reform, Independence, Women's Equality and Working Families Party ballot lines on the November 6 ballot, while Trichter also has the Conservative Party line.</p> <p>The debate, embedded below, aired on Manhattan Neighborhood Network and was moderated by Gotham Gazette's Ben Max.</p> <p class="feed-readmore"><a target="_blank" href ="/state/7989-watch-state-comptroller-candidate-debate-dinapoli-trichter-2018">Read More ...</a></p> <p>&nbsp;<img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/img-6200-2.jpg" alt="img 6200 2" width="600" /></p> <p>Candidates DiNapoli, Dunlea, Gallaudet, Trichter (l-r) (Photo: MNN)</p> <hr /> <p>Watch the first debate in the general election race for New York State Comptroller, among the four candidates who will be on the ballot: incumbent Democrat Tom DiNapoli, Republican nominee Jonathan Trichter, Green Party nominee Mark Dunlea, and Libertarian Party nominee Cruger Gallaudet. DiNapoli will also appear on the Reform, Independence, Women's Equality and Working Families Party ballot lines on the November 6 ballot, while Trichter also has the Conservative Party line.</p> <p>The debate, embedded below, aired on Manhattan Neighborhood Network and was moderated by Gotham Gazette's Ben Max.</p> <p class="feed-readmore"><a target="_blank" href ="/state/7989-watch-state-comptroller-candidate-debate-dinapoli-trichter-2018">Read More ...</a></p> Is this the Election that Kills Fusion Voting in New York? 2018-10-12T04:00:00+00:00 2018-10-12T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7984-is-this-the-election-that-kills-fusion-voting-in-new-york Dave Colon dcolon@gg.com <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/govcuomo-office-pr.jpg" alt="govcuomo office pr" width="600" /></p> <p>(photo via the Governor's office)</p> <hr /> <p>As New York lumbers out of its double primary season and rolls into a general election that’s being closely watched for its potential to give Democrats control of the state Senate and therefore the entire Legislature, another issue more central to the democratic process itself is being debated in pockets across the state.</p> <p>Fusion voting, the practice of allowing one candidate to take multiple political party ballot lines in a single election and aggregate the votes received on each, is under the gun as both Democratic establishment figures and progressive activists are reaching the conclusion that the practice does more harm than good to New York’s democracy. Yet, this isn’t the first time in the Andrew Cuomo era fusion has faced a threat, much less the first time some in the state have looked to dismantle the practice, which continues to have its defenders.</p> <p>New York put a dent in fusion voting in the mid-20th century with the Wilson-Pakula Law, passed <a href="https://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/02/wilson-pakula-obscure-to-all-but-ballot-hopping-politicians/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">largely in reaction</a> to the victories of the suspected Communist-linked American Labor Party’s Representative Vito Marcantonio, who ran with multiple nominations including the Democratic and Republican lines on his way to victories in his East Harlem district. The law made it illegal for a candidate to run on the line of a party for which they weren’t registered, unless party leadership gave the candidate express permission through what is now commonly referred to as “a Wilson-Pakula.”</p> <p>Smaller parties still exerted influence sometimes in New York though, as seen in John Lindsay’s successful re-election bid in 1969 on the Liberal Party line, undertaken after he lost the Republican primary. Decades later, Rudy Giuliani won his 1993 election <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/1993/05/16/nyregion/giuliani-is-endorsed-by-new-york-liberal-party.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">thanks in part to the Liberal Party endorsement</a> over incumbent Democratic Mayor David Dinkins. The party’s decision was largely seen as a power move by its leader, Ray Harding, <a href="https://www.huffingtonpost.com/daniel-collins/new-yorks-third-party-mes_b_608010.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">and while it got Harding’s sons jobs in the new administration</a>, the Giuliani endorsement also put into motion the eventual demise of the party, which lost its ballot line after endorsing Andrew Cuomo for governor in 2002 and failing to get 50,000 votes, and the rise of the Working Families Party, one of the most influential fusion parties in the state, along with the Conservative and Independence parties.</p> <p><a href="http://prospect.org/article/dan-cantors-machine" target="_blank" rel="noopener">In the aftermath of the Liberal Party decision</a> to endorse Giuliani, Dan Cantor, Bob Masters and Jon Kest convinced activism organization ACORN and several New York labor unions to join forces under the new Working Families Party umbrella and endorse Peter Vallone for governor in 1998. The endorsement, the beginning of the WFP’s blend of pragmatism and progressivism as American Prospect noted, worked as Vallone got just over the 50,000 votes on the WFP line the party needed to secure a statewide ballot line for at least the next four years. The party’s existence as a left flank with the Democrats allowed voters who wanted to express those left tendencies to have a voice in the Democratic firmament, and the WFP has managed to elect a City Council member, Letitia James, on their line and put their cross-endorsed stamp of approval on Mayor Bill de Blasio, Comptroller Scott Stringer, James -- now the Public Advocate and likely next Attorney General -- and members of <a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/01/working-families-party/422949/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the City Council Progressive Caucus</a>. Candidates have regularly secured thousands more votes on the WFP line than there are registered members of the WFP eligible, meaning many Democrats choose to vote WFP to indicate their support for the party and its efforts to move Democrats left. By having a ballot line to offer, the WFP is able to influence Democratic candidates on its issues.</p> <p>But the WFP’s victories on a citywide level haven’t been replicated on the statewide level, at least in terms of influencing progressive bête noire Andrew Cuomo. From the start of his successful gubernatorial runs, Cuomo has had a fraught relationship with the party, though he’s now on its ballot line for the third straight election.</p> <p>Unlike the previous two elections in which he got the WFP line, Cuomo and the WFP’s mutual frustration with each other boiled over into the party nominating Cynthia Nixon in an effort to either shock the world and have their chosen leftist as the Democratic nominee or at least push Cuomo leftward, and Cuomo <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/13/nyregion/cuomo-nixon-wfp-labor-governor-election.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">allegedly threatening progressive organizations</a> that had been critical of him. The feud between the two sides cooled down enough after the very heated primary to allow the WFP to offer Cuomo its line in November, though -- in an indication of the messiness of fusion voting -- having to move Nixon off the line and into an Assembly election spot has led to <a href="https://nypost.com/2018/10/07/working-families-party-wants-nixon-to-run-for-state-assembly/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">other headaches</a>.</p> <p>The party had a well-publicized argument with Joe Crowley over his refusal to leave its ballot line after it endorsed him over Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, since under New York State law candidates can only be removed from a ballot line if they transfer to another race, move out of their district, or die, a trio of options Crowley found unappealing. And while the WFP notched a series of victories in efforts to depose six the of eight members of the state Senate Independent Democratic Conference, some of those members are lingering or outright running in the general election on ballot on lines like those of the Independence Party and Women’s Equality Party.</p> <p>While <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xLml-WxZbXs&amp;feature=youtu.be" target="_blank" rel="noopener">only Tony Avella has announced his intention</a> to mount a vigorous general election campaign, Democratic Party bosses <a href="https://www.cityandstateny.com/articles/politics/news-politics/no-jeff-klein-judgeship-jesse-hamilton.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">were rumored to have dangled judgeships</a> to Senators Jeff Klein and Jesse Hamilton in order to persuade them to step away from the ballots, blatantly undemocratic horse-trading that also would have rewarded a state Senator, Klein, who was accused earlier this year of forcibly kissing a staffer. Those moves have not been made, and neither Klein or Hamilton has officially declared their general election intentions.</p> <p>Perhaps sensing an opportunity to assert their power, the Democratic establishment across New York is making noise about ending fusion.</p> <p>“Call it CON-fusion voting” Democratic consultant Bob Liff <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/ny-oped-call-it-confusion-voting-20180718-story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">wrote in the Daily News</a> in the wake of the Crowley situation, calling the practice transactional as opposed to reformist as it exists in New York. The practice only exists as an avenue for patronage, <a href="https://thehill.com/opinion/campaign/385716-race-for-new-york-governor-shows-why-fusion-tickets-must-be-banned" target="_blank" rel="noopener">wrote Joshua Spivak</a> of the Hugh Carey Institute for Government Reform, and third parties could actually grow without fusion.</p> <p>Norman Green, chair of the Chautauqua County Democratic Party, <a href="http://www.post-journal.com/life/viewpoints/2018/04/fusion-voting-needs-to-end-in-new-york-state/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">wrote that the practice encourages corruption</a> on a local level and a tail wags the dog situation on a statewide level, and the Erie County Democratic Town Chairs Association <a href="http://spectrumlocalnews.com/nys/buffalo/politics/2018/05/02/fusion-voting-wilson-pakula-lorigo-zellner" target="_blank" rel="noopener">called for an end</a> to Wilson-Pakula because of what they said resulted in overstuffed ballots featuring the same candidates on a series of different ballot lines.</p> <p>State Senator Diane Savino, one of the original founders of the Working Families Party and Independent Democratic Conference, who in an ironic twist saw the WFP’s organizing prowess help unseat six of her IDC allies, <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/ny-pol-savino-fusion-voting-idc-20180923-story.html#" target="_blank" rel="noopener">told the Daily News</a> that a Democratic Senate majority should explore including ending fusion voting as part of electoral reform efforts because the practice pulls candidates too far left or right.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Governor Cuomo, who cites election reform as a top 2019 priority, did not respond to a question on whether ending fusion voting would be on his agenda if he wins reelection this year.</p> <p>So is fusion on the way out?</p> <p>“It's nothing new,” Mike Long, the chair of the New York State Conservative Party, told Gotham Gazette. “The Conservative Party has been in business since 1962, I've heard those cries over the 50-some-odd years. I hear those cries every governor's race for sure, especially when independent parties nominate someone other than those who think they should be crowned.”</p> <p>As it typically does, the Conservative Party has cross-endorsed the Republican nominee for governor, Marc Molinaro. Like the WFP on the left, the Conservative Party is seen on the right as an important seal of approval and a force that pulls away from the middle.</p> <p>Recent history is on Long’s side. Governor Cuomo <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2013/04/cuomo-wants-end-to-wilson-pakula/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">floated the idea of nixing Wilson-Pakula</a> in 2013 in the wake of a bribery scandal involving Malcolm Smith attempting to buy his way onto the Republican ballot line for the New York City mayoral election.</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">By eliminating Wilson-Pakula, candidates would have to collect signatures rather than seek the permission of party leaders <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/electionreform?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw" target="_blank" rel="noopener">#electionreform</a></p> — Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) <a href="https://twitter.com/NYGovCuomo/status/324246987094519808?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw" target="_blank" rel="noopener">April 16, 2013</a></blockquote> <p>
<script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
</p> <p>The effort <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/19/nyregion/one-candidate-2-or-3-ballot-lines-bid-to-alter-practice-stirs-debate.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">ran into resistance</a> from the smaller parties and reform groups like <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/new-york-healthy-small-parties-article-1.1332489" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Common Cause New York and the Brennan Center for Justice</a> and never went anywhere. And Bill Lipton, the Working Families Party’s political director in New York, says current anti-fusion sentiment is misplaced, especially given there are other reforms the state can make.</p> <p>“We think fusion is a good idea that allows a minority viewpoint to have a say, and that gives voters who don’t find their views fully represented by either major party a political home,” he told Gotham Gazette. “The real issue is the bizarre set of laws that govern how candidates can get off the ballot, and those do need to be fixed,” Lipton said, referring to the die, move, or change races stipulations that allow someone to come off a ballot.</p> <p>But this year’s frustration with the practice among progressives and good government advocates doesn’t stop at ballot law shenanigans, and extends to critiques about third parties run like local fiefdoms and prominent but ideology-free parties using fusion to gain prominence.</p> <p>“This isn't about pushing third parties and their values,” said Rachel Barnhart, a journalist turned politician who’s run for several offices in Rochester and is currently working on Stephanie Miner’s independent bid for governor, about fusion voting. “It's about keeping a place at the table, it's about power-brokering. The Working Families Party has given perfunctory interviews and then just given the nod to the person they already know. These parties that exist to just extract money from powerful parties, and it handicaps people trying to defeat the establishment.”</p> <p>Barnhart had especially harsh words for the WFP-endorsed Joe Morelle, the Rochester Assembly member and current Democratic nominee to replace the late Louise Slaughter in Congress, and his relationship with the Conservative Party of Monroe County, suggesting there was some kind of agreement between the candidate and party to make sure he often ran unopposed in his Assembly races, a frequent circumstance in those races. Democrats have a big registration advantage in Morelle’s district, and he has run unopposed for years, while state campaign finance records show donations given to the Conservative Party of Monroe County by both Morelle and various local Democratic Party organizations.</p> <p>“It might have been a personal donation or whatever, I know he was friendly with the party leader up there, but I can’t speak to why he gave money to the Conservative Party,” Long said when asked about the donations. Told that Morelle ran unopposed, Long said, “I guess two and two makes four, maybe that’s why he donated some money.”</p> <p>Using local parties as a kind of personal fiefdom is enough of a concern for even some allies of groups that rely on fusion.</p> <p>“The baseline position among [good government groups] is fusion voting is a bad thing,” said Gus Christensen of the organization No IDC, which helped lead campaign efforts against the former IDC members. “Forgetting whether it benefits Democrats or Republicans in whatever election, it empowers some deeply corrupt and non-representative individuals who run these parties and small groups.”</p> <p>Even fusion advocates see the occasional weakness in the system. “You can look at the Conservative Party and get a platform from us and know where we stand on all the issues,” Long said, when asked about the issue of minor parties and ideology. “You can look at the Working Families Party, our philosophical opposite, and see where they stand. No one knows where the Reform Party stands or what issues are important to them. It's pretty hard when a party endorses far left and in the next breath they support very conservative candidates. Certainly the Independence Party doesn't have a whole host of issues or an agenda they're trying to promote.”</p> <p>New York’s Independence Party has <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/07/opinion/independent-of-the-independence-party.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">come under criticism for years</a> due to what critics say is a membership driven more by confusion from voters who think they’re registering merely as “independent” -- the party boasts over 436,612 active registered voters, outpacing all the other parties in New York except Democrats and Republicans. It has also <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/28/nyregion/in-new-york-fringe-politics-in-mainstream.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">been run by fringe political figures</a> who’ve gotten the ear of mainstream candidates banking on the almost half a million people registered with the party, prominence that <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/party-fraud-daily-news-series-article-1.1540235" target="_blank" rel="noopener">inspired a weeklong Daily News investigation into the party</a>.</p> <p>And while Christensen dismissed the chances of any of the former IDC members mounting a successful challenge on a third party line, he said when it comes to statewide offices, the WFP’s clout was neutralized by the existence of these other third parties.</p> <p>“The pull of the Independence and Reform parties for the more right-wing members of our party, they pull people like Andrew Cuomo to the right in a way that's much more significant to the lives of New Yorkers because he can't stop hearing the siren song of the Independence and Reform endorsements. So I think there's an emerging view that it's a net-negative for progressive politics in New York State. That as much as there's a benefit from the WFP getting to use fusion voting, it’s more than offset by the damage done by the Independence Party and the Reform Party.”</p> <p>It’s a weakness in the coalition-building attempts that has some people demanding more wholesale change. The WFP’s endorsement of Cuomo crossed from pragmatism to cynicism for some, including Green Party gubernatorial nominee Howie Hawkins, <a href="https://twitter.com/HowieHawkins/status/1047653995454631936" target="_blank" rel="noopener">who issued a statement</a> calling the WFP’s attempt the pull the Democratic Party left a “futile effort” and invited socialist and progressive voters to fill in the circle for him instead.</p> <p>Barnhart is also challenging third parties to stand on their own. “New York State has kept this because keeping fusion voting means you're keeping both [major] parties strong. They don't want to have to deal with a strong independent candidate. You never know what could happen with a third party, and that's why New York State <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/advertise/252-understanding-the-labyrinth-new-yorks-ballot-access-laws" target="_blank" rel="noopener">makes it so difficult to establish a ballot line</a> and that's why they do fusion voting. Because these third parties just wind up being cogs of a party machine.”</p> <p>It’s not as simple as that, though, according to Lipton, who said the realities of America’s electoral system are what make fusion necessary. “Our first-past-the-post electoral system doesn’t exist in most countries,” he said. “It’s arguably undemocratic, because even a party that gets 49 percent of the vote sees no representation. Fusion is good for democracy because it gives minority viewpoints a fair shot to participate in the electoral process.”</p> <p>And that current reality of an electoral system that lays out the choice between being an unheard minority or a spoiler means that fusion as practiced by the Working Families and Conservative parties can also come in for praise by good government activists.</p> <p>"I think that the Working Families Party and the Conservative Party are the best example of how fusion can work and is beneficial,” Alex Carmada, the senior policy adviser for Reinvent Albany, told Gotham Gazette. “They're true in their beliefs, they've existed for a long time, and they don't play the role of spoilers."</p> <p>The relatively new Reform Party in New York has indeed endorsed a strange mix of candidates, including Molinaro and Democratic Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, but it does have several clearly outlined principles, mostly focused on government reform, like term limits for elected officials. The party, which is not formally affiliated with the national Reform Party by the larger group’s choice, was only created in 2014 by then-Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino, who launched the Stop Common Core Party, earned 50,000 votes on the line, then changed its name to Reform after the election. It has just 1802 active voters registered as Reform across the entire state, but it has a ballot line.</p> <p>Something somewhat similar took place with Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Party, which he created in 2014 as an election gimmick and to hurt the WFP, even as he appeared on both ballot lines, along with the Democratic and Independence party lines. Cuomo earned just over 50,000 on the WEP line and will again appear on it this year, though he does not appear to have mentioned it yet this year on the campaign trail (he has loaned it some money, however, from his campaign account).</p> <p>Carmada said it’s all life under fusion.</p> <p>"The Stop Common Core Party is the equivalent of the WEP, an of-the-moment election issue that becomes a party and then its usefulness diminishes by the next election. Especially for Stop Common Core, the original message was not sustainable, but the system we have in New York encourages the creation of these of-the-moment parties," Carmada said.</p> <p>If the end of fusion is near though, Long at least was copacetic about the future of the Conservative Party.</p> <p>“Just because the insiders do away with fusion voting, doesn't mean the minor parties go out of business,” he said. “We’ll run our own candidates for governor, United States Senate. We did that in the beginning and we can do it again. The Conservative Party has done that off and on quite often.”</p> <p>

***
by Dave Colon, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note - this article has been updated.&nbsp;</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/govcuomo-office-pr.jpg" alt="govcuomo office pr" width="600" /></p> <p>(photo via the Governor's office)</p> <hr /> <p>As New York lumbers out of its double primary season and rolls into a general election that’s being closely watched for its potential to give Democrats control of the state Senate and therefore the entire Legislature, another issue more central to the democratic process itself is being debated in pockets across the state.</p> <p>Fusion voting, the practice of allowing one candidate to take multiple political party ballot lines in a single election and aggregate the votes received on each, is under the gun as both Democratic establishment figures and progressive activists are reaching the conclusion that the practice does more harm than good to New York’s democracy. Yet, this isn’t the first time in the Andrew Cuomo era fusion has faced a threat, much less the first time some in the state have looked to dismantle the practice, which continues to have its defenders.</p> <p>New York put a dent in fusion voting in the mid-20th century with the Wilson-Pakula Law, passed <a href="https://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/02/wilson-pakula-obscure-to-all-but-ballot-hopping-politicians/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">largely in reaction</a> to the victories of the suspected Communist-linked American Labor Party’s Representative Vito Marcantonio, who ran with multiple nominations including the Democratic and Republican lines on his way to victories in his East Harlem district. The law made it illegal for a candidate to run on the line of a party for which they weren’t registered, unless party leadership gave the candidate express permission through what is now commonly referred to as “a Wilson-Pakula.”</p> <p>Smaller parties still exerted influence sometimes in New York though, as seen in John Lindsay’s successful re-election bid in 1969 on the Liberal Party line, undertaken after he lost the Republican primary. Decades later, Rudy Giuliani won his 1993 election <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/1993/05/16/nyregion/giuliani-is-endorsed-by-new-york-liberal-party.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">thanks in part to the Liberal Party endorsement</a> over incumbent Democratic Mayor David Dinkins. The party’s decision was largely seen as a power move by its leader, Ray Harding, <a href="https://www.huffingtonpost.com/daniel-collins/new-yorks-third-party-mes_b_608010.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">and while it got Harding’s sons jobs in the new administration</a>, the Giuliani endorsement also put into motion the eventual demise of the party, which lost its ballot line after endorsing Andrew Cuomo for governor in 2002 and failing to get 50,000 votes, and the rise of the Working Families Party, one of the most influential fusion parties in the state, along with the Conservative and Independence parties.</p> <p><a href="http://prospect.org/article/dan-cantors-machine" target="_blank" rel="noopener">In the aftermath of the Liberal Party decision</a> to endorse Giuliani, Dan Cantor, Bob Masters and Jon Kest convinced activism organization ACORN and several New York labor unions to join forces under the new Working Families Party umbrella and endorse Peter Vallone for governor in 1998. The endorsement, the beginning of the WFP’s blend of pragmatism and progressivism as American Prospect noted, worked as Vallone got just over the 50,000 votes on the WFP line the party needed to secure a statewide ballot line for at least the next four years. The party’s existence as a left flank with the Democrats allowed voters who wanted to express those left tendencies to have a voice in the Democratic firmament, and the WFP has managed to elect a City Council member, Letitia James, on their line and put their cross-endorsed stamp of approval on Mayor Bill de Blasio, Comptroller Scott Stringer, James -- now the Public Advocate and likely next Attorney General -- and members of <a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/01/working-families-party/422949/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the City Council Progressive Caucus</a>. Candidates have regularly secured thousands more votes on the WFP line than there are registered members of the WFP eligible, meaning many Democrats choose to vote WFP to indicate their support for the party and its efforts to move Democrats left. By having a ballot line to offer, the WFP is able to influence Democratic candidates on its issues.</p> <p>But the WFP’s victories on a citywide level haven’t been replicated on the statewide level, at least in terms of influencing progressive bête noire Andrew Cuomo. From the start of his successful gubernatorial runs, Cuomo has had a fraught relationship with the party, though he’s now on its ballot line for the third straight election.</p> <p>Unlike the previous two elections in which he got the WFP line, Cuomo and the WFP’s mutual frustration with each other boiled over into the party nominating Cynthia Nixon in an effort to either shock the world and have their chosen leftist as the Democratic nominee or at least push Cuomo leftward, and Cuomo <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/13/nyregion/cuomo-nixon-wfp-labor-governor-election.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">allegedly threatening progressive organizations</a> that had been critical of him. The feud between the two sides cooled down enough after the very heated primary to allow the WFP to offer Cuomo its line in November, though -- in an indication of the messiness of fusion voting -- having to move Nixon off the line and into an Assembly election spot has led to <a href="https://nypost.com/2018/10/07/working-families-party-wants-nixon-to-run-for-state-assembly/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">other headaches</a>.</p> <p>The party had a well-publicized argument with Joe Crowley over his refusal to leave its ballot line after it endorsed him over Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, since under New York State law candidates can only be removed from a ballot line if they transfer to another race, move out of their district, or die, a trio of options Crowley found unappealing. And while the WFP notched a series of victories in efforts to depose six the of eight members of the state Senate Independent Democratic Conference, some of those members are lingering or outright running in the general election on ballot on lines like those of the Independence Party and Women’s Equality Party.</p> <p>While <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xLml-WxZbXs&amp;feature=youtu.be" target="_blank" rel="noopener">only Tony Avella has announced his intention</a> to mount a vigorous general election campaign, Democratic Party bosses <a href="https://www.cityandstateny.com/articles/politics/news-politics/no-jeff-klein-judgeship-jesse-hamilton.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">were rumored to have dangled judgeships</a> to Senators Jeff Klein and Jesse Hamilton in order to persuade them to step away from the ballots, blatantly undemocratic horse-trading that also would have rewarded a state Senator, Klein, who was accused earlier this year of forcibly kissing a staffer. Those moves have not been made, and neither Klein or Hamilton has officially declared their general election intentions.</p> <p>Perhaps sensing an opportunity to assert their power, the Democratic establishment across New York is making noise about ending fusion.</p> <p>“Call it CON-fusion voting” Democratic consultant Bob Liff <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/ny-oped-call-it-confusion-voting-20180718-story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">wrote in the Daily News</a> in the wake of the Crowley situation, calling the practice transactional as opposed to reformist as it exists in New York. The practice only exists as an avenue for patronage, <a href="https://thehill.com/opinion/campaign/385716-race-for-new-york-governor-shows-why-fusion-tickets-must-be-banned" target="_blank" rel="noopener">wrote Joshua Spivak</a> of the Hugh Carey Institute for Government Reform, and third parties could actually grow without fusion.</p> <p>Norman Green, chair of the Chautauqua County Democratic Party, <a href="http://www.post-journal.com/life/viewpoints/2018/04/fusion-voting-needs-to-end-in-new-york-state/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">wrote that the practice encourages corruption</a> on a local level and a tail wags the dog situation on a statewide level, and the Erie County Democratic Town Chairs Association <a href="http://spectrumlocalnews.com/nys/buffalo/politics/2018/05/02/fusion-voting-wilson-pakula-lorigo-zellner" target="_blank" rel="noopener">called for an end</a> to Wilson-Pakula because of what they said resulted in overstuffed ballots featuring the same candidates on a series of different ballot lines.</p> <p>State Senator Diane Savino, one of the original founders of the Working Families Party and Independent Democratic Conference, who in an ironic twist saw the WFP’s organizing prowess help unseat six of her IDC allies, <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/ny-pol-savino-fusion-voting-idc-20180923-story.html#" target="_blank" rel="noopener">told the Daily News</a> that a Democratic Senate majority should explore including ending fusion voting as part of electoral reform efforts because the practice pulls candidates too far left or right.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Governor Cuomo, who cites election reform as a top 2019 priority, did not respond to a question on whether ending fusion voting would be on his agenda if he wins reelection this year.</p> <p>So is fusion on the way out?</p> <p>“It's nothing new,” Mike Long, the chair of the New York State Conservative Party, told Gotham Gazette. “The Conservative Party has been in business since 1962, I've heard those cries over the 50-some-odd years. I hear those cries every governor's race for sure, especially when independent parties nominate someone other than those who think they should be crowned.”</p> <p>As it typically does, the Conservative Party has cross-endorsed the Republican nominee for governor, Marc Molinaro. Like the WFP on the left, the Conservative Party is seen on the right as an important seal of approval and a force that pulls away from the middle.</p> <p>Recent history is on Long’s side. Governor Cuomo <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2013/04/cuomo-wants-end-to-wilson-pakula/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">floated the idea of nixing Wilson-Pakula</a> in 2013 in the wake of a bribery scandal involving Malcolm Smith attempting to buy his way onto the Republican ballot line for the New York City mayoral election.</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">By eliminating Wilson-Pakula, candidates would have to collect signatures rather than seek the permission of party leaders <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/electionreform?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw" target="_blank" rel="noopener">#electionreform</a></p> — Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) <a href="https://twitter.com/NYGovCuomo/status/324246987094519808?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw" target="_blank" rel="noopener">April 16, 2013</a></blockquote> <p>
<script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
</p> <p>The effort <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/19/nyregion/one-candidate-2-or-3-ballot-lines-bid-to-alter-practice-stirs-debate.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">ran into resistance</a> from the smaller parties and reform groups like <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/new-york-healthy-small-parties-article-1.1332489" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Common Cause New York and the Brennan Center for Justice</a> and never went anywhere. And Bill Lipton, the Working Families Party’s political director in New York, says current anti-fusion sentiment is misplaced, especially given there are other reforms the state can make.</p> <p>“We think fusion is a good idea that allows a minority viewpoint to have a say, and that gives voters who don’t find their views fully represented by either major party a political home,” he told Gotham Gazette. “The real issue is the bizarre set of laws that govern how candidates can get off the ballot, and those do need to be fixed,” Lipton said, referring to the die, move, or change races stipulations that allow someone to come off a ballot.</p> <p>But this year’s frustration with the practice among progressives and good government advocates doesn’t stop at ballot law shenanigans, and extends to critiques about third parties run like local fiefdoms and prominent but ideology-free parties using fusion to gain prominence.</p> <p>“This isn't about pushing third parties and their values,” said Rachel Barnhart, a journalist turned politician who’s run for several offices in Rochester and is currently working on Stephanie Miner’s independent bid for governor, about fusion voting. “It's about keeping a place at the table, it's about power-brokering. The Working Families Party has given perfunctory interviews and then just given the nod to the person they already know. These parties that exist to just extract money from powerful parties, and it handicaps people trying to defeat the establishment.”</p> <p>Barnhart had especially harsh words for the WFP-endorsed Joe Morelle, the Rochester Assembly member and current Democratic nominee to replace the late Louise Slaughter in Congress, and his relationship with the Conservative Party of Monroe County, suggesting there was some kind of agreement between the candidate and party to make sure he often ran unopposed in his Assembly races, a frequent circumstance in those races. Democrats have a big registration advantage in Morelle’s district, and he has run unopposed for years, while state campaign finance records show donations given to the Conservative Party of Monroe County by both Morelle and various local Democratic Party organizations.</p> <p>“It might have been a personal donation or whatever, I know he was friendly with the party leader up there, but I can’t speak to why he gave money to the Conservative Party,” Long said when asked about the donations. Told that Morelle ran unopposed, Long said, “I guess two and two makes four, maybe that’s why he donated some money.”</p> <p>Using local parties as a kind of personal fiefdom is enough of a concern for even some allies of groups that rely on fusion.</p> <p>“The baseline position among [good government groups] is fusion voting is a bad thing,” said Gus Christensen of the organization No IDC, which helped lead campaign efforts against the former IDC members. “Forgetting whether it benefits Democrats or Republicans in whatever election, it empowers some deeply corrupt and non-representative individuals who run these parties and small groups.”</p> <p>Even fusion advocates see the occasional weakness in the system. “You can look at the Conservative Party and get a platform from us and know where we stand on all the issues,” Long said, when asked about the issue of minor parties and ideology. “You can look at the Working Families Party, our philosophical opposite, and see where they stand. No one knows where the Reform Party stands or what issues are important to them. It's pretty hard when a party endorses far left and in the next breath they support very conservative candidates. Certainly the Independence Party doesn't have a whole host of issues or an agenda they're trying to promote.”</p> <p>New York’s Independence Party has <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/07/opinion/independent-of-the-independence-party.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">come under criticism for years</a> due to what critics say is a membership driven more by confusion from voters who think they’re registering merely as “independent” -- the party boasts over 436,612 active registered voters, outpacing all the other parties in New York except Democrats and Republicans. It has also <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/28/nyregion/in-new-york-fringe-politics-in-mainstream.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">been run by fringe political figures</a> who’ve gotten the ear of mainstream candidates banking on the almost half a million people registered with the party, prominence that <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/party-fraud-daily-news-series-article-1.1540235" target="_blank" rel="noopener">inspired a weeklong Daily News investigation into the party</a>.</p> <p>And while Christensen dismissed the chances of any of the former IDC members mounting a successful challenge on a third party line, he said when it comes to statewide offices, the WFP’s clout was neutralized by the existence of these other third parties.</p> <p>“The pull of the Independence and Reform parties for the more right-wing members of our party, they pull people like Andrew Cuomo to the right in a way that's much more significant to the lives of New Yorkers because he can't stop hearing the siren song of the Independence and Reform endorsements. So I think there's an emerging view that it's a net-negative for progressive politics in New York State. That as much as there's a benefit from the WFP getting to use fusion voting, it’s more than offset by the damage done by the Independence Party and the Reform Party.”</p> <p>It’s a weakness in the coalition-building attempts that has some people demanding more wholesale change. The WFP’s endorsement of Cuomo crossed from pragmatism to cynicism for some, including Green Party gubernatorial nominee Howie Hawkins, <a href="https://twitter.com/HowieHawkins/status/1047653995454631936" target="_blank" rel="noopener">who issued a statement</a> calling the WFP’s attempt the pull the Democratic Party left a “futile effort” and invited socialist and progressive voters to fill in the circle for him instead.</p> <p>Barnhart is also challenging third parties to stand on their own. “New York State has kept this because keeping fusion voting means you're keeping both [major] parties strong. They don't want to have to deal with a strong independent candidate. You never know what could happen with a third party, and that's why New York State <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/advertise/252-understanding-the-labyrinth-new-yorks-ballot-access-laws" target="_blank" rel="noopener">makes it so difficult to establish a ballot line</a> and that's why they do fusion voting. Because these third parties just wind up being cogs of a party machine.”</p> <p>It’s not as simple as that, though, according to Lipton, who said the realities of America’s electoral system are what make fusion necessary. “Our first-past-the-post electoral system doesn’t exist in most countries,” he said. “It’s arguably undemocratic, because even a party that gets 49 percent of the vote sees no representation. Fusion is good for democracy because it gives minority viewpoints a fair shot to participate in the electoral process.”</p> <p>And that current reality of an electoral system that lays out the choice between being an unheard minority or a spoiler means that fusion as practiced by the Working Families and Conservative parties can also come in for praise by good government activists.</p> <p>"I think that the Working Families Party and the Conservative Party are the best example of how fusion can work and is beneficial,” Alex Carmada, the senior policy adviser for Reinvent Albany, told Gotham Gazette. “They're true in their beliefs, they've existed for a long time, and they don't play the role of spoilers."</p> <p>The relatively new Reform Party in New York has indeed endorsed a strange mix of candidates, including Molinaro and Democratic Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, but it does have several clearly outlined principles, mostly focused on government reform, like term limits for elected officials. The party, which is not formally affiliated with the national Reform Party by the larger group’s choice, was only created in 2014 by then-Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino, who launched the Stop Common Core Party, earned 50,000 votes on the line, then changed its name to Reform after the election. It has just 1802 active voters registered as Reform across the entire state, but it has a ballot line.</p> <p>Something somewhat similar took place with Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Party, which he created in 2014 as an election gimmick and to hurt the WFP, even as he appeared on both ballot lines, along with the Democratic and Independence party lines. Cuomo earned just over 50,000 on the WEP line and will again appear on it this year, though he does not appear to have mentioned it yet this year on the campaign trail (he has loaned it some money, however, from his campaign account).</p> <p>Carmada said it’s all life under fusion.</p> <p>"The Stop Common Core Party is the equivalent of the WEP, an of-the-moment election issue that becomes a party and then its usefulness diminishes by the next election. Especially for Stop Common Core, the original message was not sustainable, but the system we have in New York encourages the creation of these of-the-moment parties," Carmada said.</p> <p>If the end of fusion is near though, Long at least was copacetic about the future of the Conservative Party.</p> <p>“Just because the insiders do away with fusion voting, doesn't mean the minor parties go out of business,” he said. “We’ll run our own candidates for governor, United States Senate. We did that in the beginning and we can do it again. The Conservative Party has done that off and on quite often.”</p> <p>

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by Dave Colon, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p> <p>Note - this article has been updated.&nbsp;</p>
Max & Murphy Podcast: Republican Attorney General Nominee Keith Wofford 2018-10-11T04:00:00+00:00 2018-10-11T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7985-max-murphy-podcast-republican-attorney-general-nominee-keith-wofford Ben Max bmax@gothamgazette.com <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/mxm-logo.jpg" alt="mxm logo" width="600" height="239" /></p> <p>Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette,&nbsp;and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits</p> <hr /> <p><strong>October 10, 2018 - Max &amp; Murphy Podcast: Republican Attorney General Nominee Keith Wofford<br /></strong></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/keith-wofford-wbai-277.jpg" alt="keith wofford wbai 277" width="190" height="177" style="margin: 10px; float: left;" />Keith Wofford, the Republican nominee for Attorney General, joined the show to discuss his platform for assuming the role of the state's chief legal officer, outlining a vision very different from his main rival, Democratic nominee Letitia James. A first-time candidate for office, Wofford explained his resume and his top priorities for the job of Attorney General.</p> <p>Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@TweetBenMax </a>and <a href="https://twitter.com/jarrettmurphy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@JarrettMurphy</a>. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max &amp; Murphy," and listen to Max &amp; Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org</p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/512504121%3Fsecret_token%3Ds-j7npe&amp;color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="175" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/mxm-logo.jpg" alt="mxm logo" width="600" height="239" /></p> <p>Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette,&nbsp;and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits</p> <hr /> <p><strong>October 10, 2018 - Max &amp; Murphy Podcast: Republican Attorney General Nominee Keith Wofford<br /></strong></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/keith-wofford-wbai-277.jpg" alt="keith wofford wbai 277" width="190" height="177" style="margin: 10px; float: left;" />Keith Wofford, the Republican nominee for Attorney General, joined the show to discuss his platform for assuming the role of the state's chief legal officer, outlining a vision very different from his main rival, Democratic nominee Letitia James. A first-time candidate for office, Wofford explained his resume and his top priorities for the job of Attorney General.</p> <p>Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@TweetBenMax </a>and <a href="https://twitter.com/jarrettmurphy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@JarrettMurphy</a>. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max &amp; Murphy," and listen to Max &amp; Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org</p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/512504121%3Fsecret_token%3Ds-j7npe&amp;color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="175" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
Max & Murphy Podcast: Larry Sharpe, Libertarian nominee for Governor 2018-10-11T04:00:00+00:00 2018-10-11T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7986-max-murphy-podcast-larry-sharpe-libertarian-nominee-for-governor Ben Max bmax@gothamgazette.com <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/mxm-logo.jpg" alt="mxm logo" width="600" height="239" /></p> <p>Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette,&nbsp;and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits</p> <hr /> <p><strong>October 10, 2018 - Max &amp; Murphy Podcast: Larry Sharpe, Libertarian nominee for Governor<br /></strong></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/larry-sharpe-wbai-277.jpg" alt="larry sharpe wbai 277" width="167" height="167" style="margin: 10px; float: left;" />Larry Sharpe, the Libertarian nominee for Governor, joined the show do discuss his platform, which includes decentralizing government, slashing the state budget, and overhauling the state's education system. He discussed his views on gun control, funding the MTA, and more.</p> <p>Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@TweetBenMax </a>and <a href="https://twitter.com/jarrettmurphy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@JarrettMurphy</a>. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max &amp; Murphy," and listen to Max &amp; Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org</p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/512507703&amp;color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="175" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/mxm-logo.jpg" alt="mxm logo" width="600" height="239" /></p> <p>Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette,&nbsp;and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits</p> <hr /> <p><strong>October 10, 2018 - Max &amp; Murphy Podcast: Larry Sharpe, Libertarian nominee for Governor<br /></strong></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/larry-sharpe-wbai-277.jpg" alt="larry sharpe wbai 277" width="167" height="167" style="margin: 10px; float: left;" />Larry Sharpe, the Libertarian nominee for Governor, joined the show do discuss his platform, which includes decentralizing government, slashing the state budget, and overhauling the state's education system. He discussed his views on gun control, funding the MTA, and more.</p> <p>Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@TweetBenMax </a>and <a href="https://twitter.com/jarrettmurphy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@JarrettMurphy</a>. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max &amp; Murphy," and listen to Max &amp; Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org</p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/512507703&amp;color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="175" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
Comptroller Candidates Debate Powers and Responsibilities of State's Top Fiscal Officer 2018-10-11T04:00:00+00:00 2018-10-11T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7987-comptroller-candidates-debate-powers-and-responsibilities-of-state-s-top-fiscal-officer Samar Khurshid samarkhurshid@gmail.com <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/comptroller-fall.jpg" alt="comptroller fall" width="600" height="378" /></p> <p>Candidates DiNapoli, Dunlea, Gallaudet, Trichter (l-r) during their first debate</p> <hr /> <p>New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, a Democrat running for reelection as the state’s top fiscal officer, faced his three challengers on Tuesday in the first debate of the general election, hosted by Manhattan Neighborhood Network.</p> <p>The four candidates offered their views on the powers and role of the state comptroller, charged with managing the state’s $207 billion public pension fund, overseeing state and local spending, auditing state contracts and the finances of hundreds of state agencies and authorities, and ensuring that New York’s debt obligations and funding needs are carefully calibrated to current and future revenue.</p> <p>DiNapoli, who first took office in 2007 following the resignation of his predecessor, Alan Hevesi, amid scandal, was elected by voters in 2010 and 2014. He went unopposed in this year’s primary and is running with nominations from the Democratic Party, Working Families Party, Reform Party, Women’s Equality Party, and Independence Party -- his name will appear on all five lines on the November 6 ballot. His opponents include the Republican nominee Jonathan Trichter, who also has the Conservative Party ballot line; the Green Party’s Mark Dunlea; and Cruger Gallaudet, a Libertarian.</p> <p>The debate, just over an hour long and moderated by Gotham Gazette Executive Editor Ben Max, will air on MNN and be posted to its YouTube channel on Sunday night.</p> <p>It mostly saw DiNapoli defend his record against criticism from Trichter, a previously registered Democrat who switched his party registration to Republican and received the necessary Wilson-Pakula certificate to run on the party’s line this fall. The back-and-forth arguments between the two largely centered in wonky fiscal issues, some of which it would take an unaffiliated expert on state finances and constitutional powers to wade through (Gotham Gazette is working on a detailed fact check).</p> <p>DiNapoli stressed that he has been a prudent steward of the pension fund and a strong, independent voice for sound fiscal practices, promoting reform and providing a steady hand both for an office previously mired in scandal and a state going through the Great Recession and its aftermath. Trichter alleged that DiNapoli has been a subpar investment manager and not a forceful enough voice for change in state budget and other fiscal practices where the comptroller has oversight.</p> <p>Dunlea spent his time reliably offering up suggestions to divest the state pension from the fossil fuel industry and pushing for more accountability and transparency in the fiscal management of state authorities. Gallaudet had little to offer in terms of specific ideas, and instead repeatedly pleaded to viewers to reject the “duopoly” of the Democratic and Republican parties and to cast a ballot for the Libertarian statewide ticket. He said the comptroller race would be a good place for voters to use a “split-ticket,” presumably where they would select a Democrat (Governor Andrew Cuomo) or Republican (Marc Molinaro) in the governor’s race, in order to send a message, but also repeatedly said voters should examine Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Larry Sharpe.</p> <p><strong>DiNapoli States His Case and Defends His Record</strong><br />“It’s really the office that promotes accountability and transparency in state government and local government as well,” said DiNapoli, explaining the role in his opening remarks. He also took a dig at Trichter for switching to the Republican Party, the party of President Donald Trump, and for claiming to be a financial professional though he has worked as a political operative in the past. Some of DiNapoli’s responses to Trichter, who attacked the incumbent in nearly every answer he gave, were as aggressive as most who’ve followed the typically mild-mannered comptroller’s career have heard from him.</p> <p>“Unlike Jon, I have my values as a Democrat and have stuck with them all my life...If you have to sell yourself to get the nomination, I don’t think that’s the best standard to be running for office,” DiNapoli said early on.</p> <p>DiNapoli touted his history of public service, as a local school board member for a decade and then 11 terms as a member of the State Assembly, where he served on the Ways and Means committee, he said. He defended being appointed to the position of comptroller by the Legislature in 2007, a move that was opposed by many newspaper editorial boards, Trichter had noted, arguing DiNapoli was unqualified for the job.</p> <p>In his time as comptroller, DiNapoli said he has restored the integrity of the office, helped guide state finances through the Great Recession, and grown the pension fund to an all-time high. “That is an enviable record,” he said.</p> <p>Trichter pitched himself as a candidate who would take a “fiscally pragmatic” approach to the comptroller’s office, banking on his credentials as a public finance expert with years of experience in the private sector as he critiqued DiNapoli’s management of state finances over the last decade-plus. He said DiNapoli had only created an average 6 percent growth over 11 years for the state pension fund, though his target was 7.5 percent, a gulf of $65 billion that he accused DiNapoli of extracting through taxation from municipalities. “The state comptroller has siphoned off local tax dollars ten times more than localities around the country have for their own public pension problems and underperformance,” he said.</p> <p>Trichter said he would invest the pension fund in passive index funds such as the S&amp;P 500 -- which mirror the rise and fall of the larger market -- and move away from investing in hedge funds and private equity, managers of which he said have received more than $6 billion in fees from DiNapoli’s office since 2007. “He’s paid $6 billion to hedge funds for underperformance,” Trichter alleged.</p> <p>DiNapoli, in his defense, repeatedly accused Trichter of issuing misleading arguments and outright falsehoods, noting that the state pension fund grew by $100 billion under his tenure, that state pensions are funded up to 98 percent, with a diversified portfolio mitigating risk, and that the state weathered the storm of the recession. He also said New York’s outlook has been more conservative, with a new target of 7 percent growth for the pension system.</p> <p>“To put all of our money in index funds would be totally irresponsible, to put all your eggs in one basket,” DiNapoli said, noting that hedge funds performed better when markets crashed during the recession, balancing out the poorer performance of public equity funds. “If we did learn anything from the global financial crisis, you have to be diversified.”</p> <p>Dunlea, who co-founded the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), a good government group, and the Fiscal Policy Institute, a nonprofit think tank, said the pension fund would be $22 billion richer if the comptroller had divested it from fossil fuels ten years ago, even as he praised DiNapoli for divesting from the private prison industry and taking some steps in the direction of fossil fuel divestment.</p> <p>“When the world is saying an industry has to end, that’s not a wise financial investment to continue somewhere between $6 to $11 billion,” Dunlea said of fossil fuel companies and the state pension fund.</p> <p>DiNapoli insisted that simple divestment would not solve a problem as large and daunting as climate change and that the comptroller could more effectively push for environmental friendly corporate policies from within the room, as an activist shareholder in major fossil fuel companies.</p> <p>He touted a $7 billion investment allocation in sustainability initiatives through the state pension fund and insisted that short of broad societal transition away from reliance on fossil fuels, the industry continues to provide a safe return on investment. “Climate’s a big issue and just selling stock in fossil fuel companies is not gonna solve it,” he said. When asked by the moderator if his argument was that fossil fuel companies continued to be a good investment, DiNapoli said “[W]e have to go through a societal change and for now, in the short run, we still are making money from the oil and gas stocks.”</p> <p>“I don’t like the concept of being the sole trustee,” of the pension fund, said Gallaudet. He said he would urge the state Legislature to create a board to oversee the pension fund rather than have it in the hands of the comptroller alone. DiNapoli sought to demystify the comptroller’s role by noting he is not there making all the investment decisions by himself, far from it, he pointed to his bevvy of internal employees and “advisory committees.”</p> <p><strong>Audit Power</strong><br /> On the audit powers of the comptroller that allow the office to conduct oversight of state agencies and contracts and public authority spending, the candidates showed some disagreement.</p> <p>“I think we need to be more aggressive about examining pay-to-play contracts,” said Dunlea, insisting that the comptroller needs to pay extra attention to individuals and entities that make large campaign contributions to elected officials and have business before the state. In particular, he pledged to closely examine local social services departments to ensure that needy people get the benefits they are entitled to receive.</p> <p>Gallaudet simply said he would use the comptroller’s audit power to “reduce the scope of government,” though he did not elaborate how.</p> <p>Trichter said the audit power is “one of the more powerful roles of the office,” as he critiqued DiNapoli for failing to use it appropriately. For instance, he alleged DiNapoli had repeatedly audited the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) but failed to unearth its many fiscal troubles even as the subway system has slid into disrepair and its capital funding needs ballooned to nearly $40 billion. “He’s the one Albany politician responsible for finding out what’s wrong with our infrastructure at the MTA before things start to break,” Trichter said, pointing to dozens of comptroller audits of the MTA that he said were <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/18/nyregion/new-york-subway-system-failure-delays.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">outpaced by one New York Times reporter</a>, though he also cited think tanks Citizens Budget Commission and The Manhattan Institute.</p> <p>DiNapoli, however, insisted he has been a responsible and effective watchdog, including on the MTA. Dismissing Trichter’s criticisms as “crazy notions,” he said he had repeatedly raised the alarm about the MTA, including on its antiquated and failing signal system, and that his office has conducted robust audits of state agencies. “The strength of our audits is the credibility of the work that we do, and in many cases, we’ve effectuated change…We’ve saved taxpayers money through our audit work,” DiNapoli said.</p> <p><strong>State Budget Oversight</strong><br /> On state budget oversight responsibility, DiNapoli sought to portray the comptroller’s powers as limited, though he acknowledged he has a bully pulpit to advocate for more transparency and accountability. New York State’s budget process is notoriously opaque, and the annual spending document is invariably hashed out in the dead of night, with little public review, by the so-called “three men in a room” -- the governor, the Assembly speaker and Senate majority leader -- with a variety of gimmicks, hidden aspects, and unspecified, lump sum appropriations.</p> <p>“Our role is one of lending a voice,” DiNapoli said. “And what we’ve tried to do with our budget reports, and what we’ll continue to do, is not only focus on the short term but on the long term.” He issued a note of caution about growing budget gaps in the years ahead, insufficient rainy day funds, and the heavy reliance on lump sums that hide the true purpose of spending. “Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the Legislature and the governor to make sure that these issues are addressed.”</p> <p>Dunlea promised to more aggressively pursue budget oversight, pushing for reforms also backed by DiNapoli that give the comptroller more power over state contracting. He also said the comptroller should push harder on tax fairness and crack down on “out of control” debt incurred by public authorities.</p> <p>“It is within the comptroller’s authority to refuse certifying the budget every year,” Trichter insisted, arguing that under the state constitution, the comptroller can leverage that certification power over the state budget to push for reforms. Though what Trichter is suggesting has never been tested, he believes it would hold up under the precedent set by the 1971 case of Posner v. Levitt in which the New York State Supreme Court’s appellate division ruled that the Comptroller “may have standing to test the validity of the budget, but he is not obliged to do so,” and could not be compelled.</p> <p>DiNapoli has denied that interpretation. “[H]e’s making things up as he goes along,” he said of Trichter. “The comptroller has no authority to certify the budget. There is no statutory constitutional authority to do that. You can’t make up law.”</p> <p>“If you’re gonna try to assert an authority that you don’t have, well all you’re gonna do is gum up the works and create more gridlock than you have already,” he added. “You’re gonna end up in court.”</p> <p><strong>Cross-Examination</strong><br /> The candidates were also given a chance to ask a question of one other candidate, which Trichter and Dunlea unsurprisingly used to question Dinapoli, who is seen as a prohibitive favorite to win reelection. &nbsp;</p> <p>Trichter accused DiNapoli of participating in secretive payments to silence the women who were victims of sexual harassment by former Assembly Member Vito Lopez and asked if he would apologize. Dunlea pushed him on how he would avoid conflicts of interest in the future, pointing to a recent <a href="https://www.wnyc.org/story/ny-pension-chief-cashes-natural-gas/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">news report</a> that showed the former Chief Investment Officer of the state pension fund, Vicki Fuller, joining the board of a company in which the state pension fund was invested.</p> <p>In both cases, DiNapoli denied the accusation. He insisted that the comptroller’s office put in more accountability measures following the Lopez scandal, and that he had no say in negotiating the payments made to Lopez’s victims, nor were the submissions for those payments made to his office for approval clearly identified as related to sexual harassment. He said that his office certifies thousands of payment requests from the Legislature and indicated the settlements hadn’t appeared abnormal. “Women were victimized. They were entitled to some justice and entitled to compensation,” DiNapoli said. “That was the agreement. We made sure that they were paid. There was no secret payment...and in the aftermath of what happened with the Lopez situation, we did institute changes, more transparency, more accountability...and of course we’ve all evolved governmentally on this issue.”</p> <p>And DiNapoli pushed back against the alleged conflict of interest, noting that the pension fund is invested broadly in hundreds of companies, that investments were made on the merit and that the former CIO is barred under state law from doing any business with the pension fund for two years. He said that the bulk of the company’s debt that the pension fund purchased three years ago was quite unlikely to have influenced where Fuller landed after retiring from the comptroller’s office this summer.</p> <p>DiNapoli used his own question to give Gallaudet more time to say anything he wanted, and Gallaudet asked Trichter to explain how he could justify voters backing him given DiNapoli’s strong chances of winning, which gave Trichter another minute to reiterate his case.</p> <p><strong>Managing State Debt and Federal Tax Reforms</strong><br /> DiNapoli has repeatedly flagged that there is too much governmental debt in New York, for the state government as well as local governments and authorities. On managing such debt, there seemed to be at least some area of agreement among the comptroller candidates on the ends if not the means. Dunlea said again that he would rein in public authorities and make their workings more transparent. Gallaudet conceded, “I have no silver bullet, no easy answers on how to tackle this issue.”</p> <p>Trichter, however, insisted, “I do have a silver bullet or a magic solution to all of this.” He said the state should end so-called “backdoor borrowing” or incurring debt without getting approval from voters, which is otherwise required by the state constitution and often happens through the public authorities.</p> <p>“The comptroller has signed off on $32 billion in backdoor debt since he’s been in office in 2007,” Trichter said. “If he refused to sign off on backdoor debt, he could unilaterally end the practice once and for all and institute his own debt policy. This is something he absolutely has the authority to do.” He also noted that DiNapoli himself has supported a constitutional amendment to end backdoor debt.</p> <p>Yet again, DiNapoli said Trichter was being misleading. “You can’t create authority or powers that you don’t have...It is not our authority, nor should it be our role, to just stop the debt that happens in the state,” he said, while also insisting that his office had reduced negotiated debt where it could do so.</p> <p>There was little clarity on what the comptroller candidates would recommend or do about the federal tax overhaul passed by the Republican-led Congress and signed by President Trump at the end of 2017 -- reforms that Governor Cuomo and some in both major parties have decried as harmful to New Yorkers. Trichter said the office could not do anything about it and DiNapoli seemed to feel the same even as he praised Cuomo and the state Legislature for attempting to create a workaround for state taxpayers suffering from the reduction in the deductibility of state and local taxes (SALT), though those attempts may not pan out, he noted.</p> <p><strong>Lightning Round of Questions</strong><br /> In a brief lightning round, there was no unanimity among the candidates. All of them except Trichter supported extending the state’s soon-to-expire “millionaires tax” on income as well as a $15 minimum wage (Dunlea said it should be $20); Trichter was the only one opposed to the state passing a single-payer health care law, though DiNapoli said it should be federally funded.</p> <p>Trichter had no answer on whether congestion pricing should be enacted to raise funds for mass transit while Dunlea and DiNapoli supported it (Gallaudet just said he wasn’t opposed). Dunlea and DiNapoli said they want the state’s fracking ban to continue, while Gallaudet and Trichter said fracking should be allowed.</p> <p>All of the candidates favored holding state government hearings on sexual harassment in the public and private sectors, though Gallaudet said he wasn’t sure about the issue. He also had no opinion on scrapping the much-critiqued Joint Commission on Public Ethics, the state ethics entity often seen as too close to state power brokers, while the other three said they would like to see it replaced with a more independent body.</p> <p>They all agreed on one lightning round question: closing the loophole in state campaign finance law that allows limited liability companies, which often have opaque ownership, to circumvent individual contribution limits, though Trichter added that it should apply to labor unions as well.</p> <p>DiNapoli has committed to one other debate, being hosted by NY1 at the end of the month.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/comptroller-fall.jpg" alt="comptroller fall" width="600" height="378" /></p> <p>Candidates DiNapoli, Dunlea, Gallaudet, Trichter (l-r) during their first debate</p> <hr /> <p>New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, a Democrat running for reelection as the state’s top fiscal officer, faced his three challengers on Tuesday in the first debate of the general election, hosted by Manhattan Neighborhood Network.</p> <p>The four candidates offered their views on the powers and role of the state comptroller, charged with managing the state’s $207 billion public pension fund, overseeing state and local spending, auditing state contracts and the finances of hundreds of state agencies and authorities, and ensuring that New York’s debt obligations and funding needs are carefully calibrated to current and future revenue.</p> <p>DiNapoli, who first took office in 2007 following the resignation of his predecessor, Alan Hevesi, amid scandal, was elected by voters in 2010 and 2014. He went unopposed in this year’s primary and is running with nominations from the Democratic Party, Working Families Party, Reform Party, Women’s Equality Party, and Independence Party -- his name will appear on all five lines on the November 6 ballot. His opponents include the Republican nominee Jonathan Trichter, who also has the Conservative Party ballot line; the Green Party’s Mark Dunlea; and Cruger Gallaudet, a Libertarian.</p> <p>The debate, just over an hour long and moderated by Gotham Gazette Executive Editor Ben Max, will air on MNN and be posted to its YouTube channel on Sunday night.</p> <p>It mostly saw DiNapoli defend his record against criticism from Trichter, a previously registered Democrat who switched his party registration to Republican and received the necessary Wilson-Pakula certificate to run on the party’s line this fall. The back-and-forth arguments between the two largely centered in wonky fiscal issues, some of which it would take an unaffiliated expert on state finances and constitutional powers to wade through (Gotham Gazette is working on a detailed fact check).</p> <p>DiNapoli stressed that he has been a prudent steward of the pension fund and a strong, independent voice for sound fiscal practices, promoting reform and providing a steady hand both for an office previously mired in scandal and a state going through the Great Recession and its aftermath. Trichter alleged that DiNapoli has been a subpar investment manager and not a forceful enough voice for change in state budget and other fiscal practices where the comptroller has oversight.</p> <p>Dunlea spent his time reliably offering up suggestions to divest the state pension from the fossil fuel industry and pushing for more accountability and transparency in the fiscal management of state authorities. Gallaudet had little to offer in terms of specific ideas, and instead repeatedly pleaded to viewers to reject the “duopoly” of the Democratic and Republican parties and to cast a ballot for the Libertarian statewide ticket. He said the comptroller race would be a good place for voters to use a “split-ticket,” presumably where they would select a Democrat (Governor Andrew Cuomo) or Republican (Marc Molinaro) in the governor’s race, in order to send a message, but also repeatedly said voters should examine Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Larry Sharpe.</p> <p><strong>DiNapoli States His Case and Defends His Record</strong><br />“It’s really the office that promotes accountability and transparency in state government and local government as well,” said DiNapoli, explaining the role in his opening remarks. He also took a dig at Trichter for switching to the Republican Party, the party of President Donald Trump, and for claiming to be a financial professional though he has worked as a political operative in the past. Some of DiNapoli’s responses to Trichter, who attacked the incumbent in nearly every answer he gave, were as aggressive as most who’ve followed the typically mild-mannered comptroller’s career have heard from him.</p> <p>“Unlike Jon, I have my values as a Democrat and have stuck with them all my life...If you have to sell yourself to get the nomination, I don’t think that’s the best standard to be running for office,” DiNapoli said early on.</p> <p>DiNapoli touted his history of public service, as a local school board member for a decade and then 11 terms as a member of the State Assembly, where he served on the Ways and Means committee, he said. He defended being appointed to the position of comptroller by the Legislature in 2007, a move that was opposed by many newspaper editorial boards, Trichter had noted, arguing DiNapoli was unqualified for the job.</p> <p>In his time as comptroller, DiNapoli said he has restored the integrity of the office, helped guide state finances through the Great Recession, and grown the pension fund to an all-time high. “That is an enviable record,” he said.</p> <p>Trichter pitched himself as a candidate who would take a “fiscally pragmatic” approach to the comptroller’s office, banking on his credentials as a public finance expert with years of experience in the private sector as he critiqued DiNapoli’s management of state finances over the last decade-plus. He said DiNapoli had only created an average 6 percent growth over 11 years for the state pension fund, though his target was 7.5 percent, a gulf of $65 billion that he accused DiNapoli of extracting through taxation from municipalities. “The state comptroller has siphoned off local tax dollars ten times more than localities around the country have for their own public pension problems and underperformance,” he said.</p> <p>Trichter said he would invest the pension fund in passive index funds such as the S&amp;P 500 -- which mirror the rise and fall of the larger market -- and move away from investing in hedge funds and private equity, managers of which he said have received more than $6 billion in fees from DiNapoli’s office since 2007. “He’s paid $6 billion to hedge funds for underperformance,” Trichter alleged.</p> <p>DiNapoli, in his defense, repeatedly accused Trichter of issuing misleading arguments and outright falsehoods, noting that the state pension fund grew by $100 billion under his tenure, that state pensions are funded up to 98 percent, with a diversified portfolio mitigating risk, and that the state weathered the storm of the recession. He also said New York’s outlook has been more conservative, with a new target of 7 percent growth for the pension system.</p> <p>“To put all of our money in index funds would be totally irresponsible, to put all your eggs in one basket,” DiNapoli said, noting that hedge funds performed better when markets crashed during the recession, balancing out the poorer performance of public equity funds. “If we did learn anything from the global financial crisis, you have to be diversified.”</p> <p>Dunlea, who co-founded the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), a good government group, and the Fiscal Policy Institute, a nonprofit think tank, said the pension fund would be $22 billion richer if the comptroller had divested it from fossil fuels ten years ago, even as he praised DiNapoli for divesting from the private prison industry and taking some steps in the direction of fossil fuel divestment.</p> <p>“When the world is saying an industry has to end, that’s not a wise financial investment to continue somewhere between $6 to $11 billion,” Dunlea said of fossil fuel companies and the state pension fund.</p> <p>DiNapoli insisted that simple divestment would not solve a problem as large and daunting as climate change and that the comptroller could more effectively push for environmental friendly corporate policies from within the room, as an activist shareholder in major fossil fuel companies.</p> <p>He touted a $7 billion investment allocation in sustainability initiatives through the state pension fund and insisted that short of broad societal transition away from reliance on fossil fuels, the industry continues to provide a safe return on investment. “Climate’s a big issue and just selling stock in fossil fuel companies is not gonna solve it,” he said. When asked by the moderator if his argument was that fossil fuel companies continued to be a good investment, DiNapoli said “[W]e have to go through a societal change and for now, in the short run, we still are making money from the oil and gas stocks.”</p> <p>“I don’t like the concept of being the sole trustee,” of the pension fund, said Gallaudet. He said he would urge the state Legislature to create a board to oversee the pension fund rather than have it in the hands of the comptroller alone. DiNapoli sought to demystify the comptroller’s role by noting he is not there making all the investment decisions by himself, far from it, he pointed to his bevvy of internal employees and “advisory committees.”</p> <p><strong>Audit Power</strong><br /> On the audit powers of the comptroller that allow the office to conduct oversight of state agencies and contracts and public authority spending, the candidates showed some disagreement.</p> <p>“I think we need to be more aggressive about examining pay-to-play contracts,” said Dunlea, insisting that the comptroller needs to pay extra attention to individuals and entities that make large campaign contributions to elected officials and have business before the state. In particular, he pledged to closely examine local social services departments to ensure that needy people get the benefits they are entitled to receive.</p> <p>Gallaudet simply said he would use the comptroller’s audit power to “reduce the scope of government,” though he did not elaborate how.</p> <p>Trichter said the audit power is “one of the more powerful roles of the office,” as he critiqued DiNapoli for failing to use it appropriately. For instance, he alleged DiNapoli had repeatedly audited the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) but failed to unearth its many fiscal troubles even as the subway system has slid into disrepair and its capital funding needs ballooned to nearly $40 billion. “He’s the one Albany politician responsible for finding out what’s wrong with our infrastructure at the MTA before things start to break,” Trichter said, pointing to dozens of comptroller audits of the MTA that he said were <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/18/nyregion/new-york-subway-system-failure-delays.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">outpaced by one New York Times reporter</a>, though he also cited think tanks Citizens Budget Commission and The Manhattan Institute.</p> <p>DiNapoli, however, insisted he has been a responsible and effective watchdog, including on the MTA. Dismissing Trichter’s criticisms as “crazy notions,” he said he had repeatedly raised the alarm about the MTA, including on its antiquated and failing signal system, and that his office has conducted robust audits of state agencies. “The strength of our audits is the credibility of the work that we do, and in many cases, we’ve effectuated change…We’ve saved taxpayers money through our audit work,” DiNapoli said.</p> <p><strong>State Budget Oversight</strong><br /> On state budget oversight responsibility, DiNapoli sought to portray the comptroller’s powers as limited, though he acknowledged he has a bully pulpit to advocate for more transparency and accountability. New York State’s budget process is notoriously opaque, and the annual spending document is invariably hashed out in the dead of night, with little public review, by the so-called “three men in a room” -- the governor, the Assembly speaker and Senate majority leader -- with a variety of gimmicks, hidden aspects, and unspecified, lump sum appropriations.</p> <p>“Our role is one of lending a voice,” DiNapoli said. “And what we’ve tried to do with our budget reports, and what we’ll continue to do, is not only focus on the short term but on the long term.” He issued a note of caution about growing budget gaps in the years ahead, insufficient rainy day funds, and the heavy reliance on lump sums that hide the true purpose of spending. “Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the Legislature and the governor to make sure that these issues are addressed.”</p> <p>Dunlea promised to more aggressively pursue budget oversight, pushing for reforms also backed by DiNapoli that give the comptroller more power over state contracting. He also said the comptroller should push harder on tax fairness and crack down on “out of control” debt incurred by public authorities.</p> <p>“It is within the comptroller’s authority to refuse certifying the budget every year,” Trichter insisted, arguing that under the state constitution, the comptroller can leverage that certification power over the state budget to push for reforms. Though what Trichter is suggesting has never been tested, he believes it would hold up under the precedent set by the 1971 case of Posner v. Levitt in which the New York State Supreme Court’s appellate division ruled that the Comptroller “may have standing to test the validity of the budget, but he is not obliged to do so,” and could not be compelled.</p> <p>DiNapoli has denied that interpretation. “[H]e’s making things up as he goes along,” he said of Trichter. “The comptroller has no authority to certify the budget. There is no statutory constitutional authority to do that. You can’t make up law.”</p> <p>“If you’re gonna try to assert an authority that you don’t have, well all you’re gonna do is gum up the works and create more gridlock than you have already,” he added. “You’re gonna end up in court.”</p> <p><strong>Cross-Examination</strong><br /> The candidates were also given a chance to ask a question of one other candidate, which Trichter and Dunlea unsurprisingly used to question Dinapoli, who is seen as a prohibitive favorite to win reelection. &nbsp;</p> <p>Trichter accused DiNapoli of participating in secretive payments to silence the women who were victims of sexual harassment by former Assembly Member Vito Lopez and asked if he would apologize. Dunlea pushed him on how he would avoid conflicts of interest in the future, pointing to a recent <a href="https://www.wnyc.org/story/ny-pension-chief-cashes-natural-gas/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">news report</a> that showed the former Chief Investment Officer of the state pension fund, Vicki Fuller, joining the board of a company in which the state pension fund was invested.</p> <p>In both cases, DiNapoli denied the accusation. He insisted that the comptroller’s office put in more accountability measures following the Lopez scandal, and that he had no say in negotiating the payments made to Lopez’s victims, nor were the submissions for those payments made to his office for approval clearly identified as related to sexual harassment. He said that his office certifies thousands of payment requests from the Legislature and indicated the settlements hadn’t appeared abnormal. “Women were victimized. They were entitled to some justice and entitled to compensation,” DiNapoli said. “That was the agreement. We made sure that they were paid. There was no secret payment...and in the aftermath of what happened with the Lopez situation, we did institute changes, more transparency, more accountability...and of course we’ve all evolved governmentally on this issue.”</p> <p>And DiNapoli pushed back against the alleged conflict of interest, noting that the pension fund is invested broadly in hundreds of companies, that investments were made on the merit and that the former CIO is barred under state law from doing any business with the pension fund for two years. He said that the bulk of the company’s debt that the pension fund purchased three years ago was quite unlikely to have influenced where Fuller landed after retiring from the comptroller’s office this summer.</p> <p>DiNapoli used his own question to give Gallaudet more time to say anything he wanted, and Gallaudet asked Trichter to explain how he could justify voters backing him given DiNapoli’s strong chances of winning, which gave Trichter another minute to reiterate his case.</p> <p><strong>Managing State Debt and Federal Tax Reforms</strong><br /> DiNapoli has repeatedly flagged that there is too much governmental debt in New York, for the state government as well as local governments and authorities. On managing such debt, there seemed to be at least some area of agreement among the comptroller candidates on the ends if not the means. Dunlea said again that he would rein in public authorities and make their workings more transparent. Gallaudet conceded, “I have no silver bullet, no easy answers on how to tackle this issue.”</p> <p>Trichter, however, insisted, “I do have a silver bullet or a magic solution to all of this.” He said the state should end so-called “backdoor borrowing” or incurring debt without getting approval from voters, which is otherwise required by the state constitution and often happens through the public authorities.</p> <p>“The comptroller has signed off on $32 billion in backdoor debt since he’s been in office in 2007,” Trichter said. “If he refused to sign off on backdoor debt, he could unilaterally end the practice once and for all and institute his own debt policy. This is something he absolutely has the authority to do.” He also noted that DiNapoli himself has supported a constitutional amendment to end backdoor debt.</p> <p>Yet again, DiNapoli said Trichter was being misleading. “You can’t create authority or powers that you don’t have...It is not our authority, nor should it be our role, to just stop the debt that happens in the state,” he said, while also insisting that his office had reduced negotiated debt where it could do so.</p> <p>There was little clarity on what the comptroller candidates would recommend or do about the federal tax overhaul passed by the Republican-led Congress and signed by President Trump at the end of 2017 -- reforms that Governor Cuomo and some in both major parties have decried as harmful to New Yorkers. Trichter said the office could not do anything about it and DiNapoli seemed to feel the same even as he praised Cuomo and the state Legislature for attempting to create a workaround for state taxpayers suffering from the reduction in the deductibility of state and local taxes (SALT), though those attempts may not pan out, he noted.</p> <p><strong>Lightning Round of Questions</strong><br /> In a brief lightning round, there was no unanimity among the candidates. All of them except Trichter supported extending the state’s soon-to-expire “millionaires tax” on income as well as a $15 minimum wage (Dunlea said it should be $20); Trichter was the only one opposed to the state passing a single-payer health care law, though DiNapoli said it should be federally funded.</p> <p>Trichter had no answer on whether congestion pricing should be enacted to raise funds for mass transit while Dunlea and DiNapoli supported it (Gallaudet just said he wasn’t opposed). Dunlea and DiNapoli said they want the state’s fracking ban to continue, while Gallaudet and Trichter said fracking should be allowed.</p> <p>All of the candidates favored holding state government hearings on sexual harassment in the public and private sectors, though Gallaudet said he wasn’t sure about the issue. He also had no opinion on scrapping the much-critiqued Joint Commission on Public Ethics, the state ethics entity often seen as too close to state power brokers, while the other three said they would like to see it replaced with a more independent body.</p> <p>They all agreed on one lightning round question: closing the loophole in state campaign finance law that allows limited liability companies, which often have opaque ownership, to circumvent individual contribution limits, though Trichter added that it should apply to labor unions as well.</p> <p>DiNapoli has committed to one other debate, being hosted by NY1 at the end of the month.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Cuomo Challengers Level Critiques; Will Anything Stick? 2018-10-10T04:00:00+00:00 2018-10-10T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7983-cuomo-challengers-levy-critiques-will-anything-stick Samar Khurshid samarkhurshid@gmail.com <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/29540734677_08ce46ca06_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo made in the shade" width="600" height="432" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo (photo: Mike Groll/Govenor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>With less than a month till voters go to the polls on November 6, it appears Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, has little cause for worry as he seeks a third term. His favorability among voters may have dropped but public polling has shown him holding consistently wide leads over his opponents. His campaign war chest, though massively depleted by a bruising primary battle, still remains formidable at $9 million-plus, dwarfing his four general election competitors. And he is instantly recognizable to most voters, unlike his challengers.</p> <p>Though Cuomo saw some of his weaknesses -- including a crumbling subway system and an epidemic of corruption in state government -- exposed and prodded in the primary by actor and activist Cynthia Nixon, a first-time candidate who managed to get more than half a million votes, he nonetheless came through it in relatively good shape, albeit with some egg on his face, defeating Nixon by 30 points with nearly a million votes of his own as primary turnout surged.</p> <p>Despite several gaffes and scandals, questionable use of his government powers for apparent campaign purposes, and an egregious mailer that falsely smeared Nixon as anti-semitic, Cuomo emerged after primary day with an emboldened sense of his accomplishments, support, and chances at a third term. He also turned the corner in a campaign already geared largely toward opposing President Donald Trump, now with the opportunity to directly tie his main competitor to the president who remains unpopular in his home state.</p> <p>With few signs that voters, at least Democratic ones, will punish him for a litany of troubles associated with his administration and his failure to have passed progressive legislation urgently demanded by an energized base, he is surging ahead in a race that is his to lose. While Cuomo has said little directly to make amends with those 500,000-plus Democrats who voted for Nixon, one major step he has taken is to begin following through on a pledge to help flip the New York State Senate to Democratic control, and help flip New York seats in the House of Representatives as part of a national effort to give the chamber a Democratic majority.</p> <p>As Cuomo woos the state’s 6.2 million Democratic voters and its 2.6 million independents, among others -- including some of the 2.8 million Republicans who may like aspects of his moderate record -- the governor’s opponents have been leveling attacks against the incumbent with the hopes of taking him down a notch while building their own stature. Polling indicates those efforts have not yet borne fruit, and as the election rapidly approaches, a governor with significant achievements and vulnerabilities appears to be deflecting, dodging, and defusing criticisms of his record on corruption, jobs, taxes, the MTA, and more.</p> <p>In the latest <a href="https://scri.siena.edu/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/SNY-Oct-1-2018-Poll-Release-FINAL_1987.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Siena College poll</a>, the first of the general election, released October 1, Cuomo held a 22-point lead among likely voters over his main rival, Republican nominee Marc Molinaro, the Dutchess county executive. Cuomo received 50 percent of the vote to Molinaro’s 28 percent. Ten percent said they would vote for Nixon if she stayed on the Working Families Party line, which has since gone to Cuomo, paving the way for him to capture a higher percentage, while 4 percent said they would vote for other “third party” candidates, who include Green Party nominee Howie Hawkins, Libertarian nominee Larry Sharpe, and independent Stephanie Miner; and 8 percent were undecided.</p> <p>“Electorally, barring something unexpected, a month out now, it’s hard to imagine that he’s going to do anything except walk away with this thing,” said Dr. Jeanne Zaino, professor of political science at Iona College, in a phone interview. “I’m not sure that that speaks as much to the governor as it does to the fact that Republicans in the state are in a very, very difficult position.”</p> <p>As Molinaro runs uphill against an anti-Trump wind, Miner, the former Democratic mayor of Syracuse now with the new Serve America Movement, has struggled to gain traction with her message of experience and bipartisanship. Hawkins, who received 5 percent of the vote in the 2014 gubernatorial race, says he hopes to beat that this year, but is severely underfunded, and Sharpe, who has kept an especially active campaign schedule, does not appear to have broken through.</p> <p>Some of the major criticisms levelled by the challengers are similar to Nixon’s own volleys against Cuomo, that he has allowed corruption to fester in government, catered to wealthy donors at the expense of everyday New Yorkers, largely mismanaged a multi-billion-dollar economic development program, and let New York City’s subway system slide into chaos.</p> <p>There are of course more specific critiques. Molinaro and Miner, for instance, have both stressed that taxes are far too high and living in the state has become increasingly unaffordable, blaming Cuomo for the resulting exodus of New York residents, especially from distressed upstate areas. Hawkins has condemned Cuomo’s environmental policies for not going far enough, laments that the governor does not support state-funded single-payer health care (Cuomo believes the federal government should pass it and pay for it) and argues that the state has yet to fund the foundation aid formula for fair student funding across the state as required by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity court decision. Sharpe wants to repeal the SAFE Act, Cuomo’s signature gun control measure passed in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, and significantly reduce the size and scope of state government in other ways, returning more power to localities.</p> <p>Besides the seemingly insurmountable advantages &nbsp;of incumbency, Cuomo has largely chosen to ignore his opponents and focus on Trump, in a year where Democrats are seeing the signs of a “blue wave” across the country. He has sought to paint Molinaro and nearly every New York Republican as a “Trump mini-me” who supports what he says are harmful policies of a Republican-led federal government and the retrogressive outlook of a platform based on the president’s pledge to “Make America Great Again,” which, to Cuomo and many others, includes racial and ethnic prejudice.</p> <p>“Molinaro is vastly, in almost every way, he is on the losing end of this,” said Zaino. “From name recognition, to funding, to party registration, I mean up and down this is a very tough year for Republicans.”</p> <p>Besides taxes, Molinaro’s campaign is largely built on highlighting the corruption scandals that have marred Cuomo’s two terms in office, and on painting Cuomo as an incompetent leader who relies on intimidation tactics.</p> <p>“Andrew Cuomo has no credibility,” said Katy Delgado, a Molinaro campaign spokesperson, in a statement. “The people of New York are suffering from high taxation and corruption has stained the Governor’s office. It’s time for New Yorkers to have the leadership we deserve. A Governor who will cut taxes by 30% and show this corrupt administration the door on January 1, 2019.”</p> <p>In fact, in the Siena Poll, likely voters said that by a 41-36 percent margin, Molinaro would do a better job of tackling corruption (a majority said Cuomo is better on infrastructure, public education and job creation). Cuomo came into office in 2011 promising to clean up state government, and has failed to do so, with recent federal convictions resulting in members of his inner circle headed to prison, along with a long list of state legislators who have been removed from office for abusing the public trust. But those results appear to have done little to sour voters on Cuomo.</p> <p>Zaino said the trifecta of corruption, the MTA, and taxes are areas where Cuomo could see some disaffection among voters. “He is very vulnerable on corruption,” she said. “He’s made the case obviously that it’s not him, but it has been people very, very close to him. And he hasn’t done enough to put a stop to it, as he promised eight years ago.”</p> <p>Government corruption has not proved to be a major voter motivator, however.</p> <p>The issue of the MTA also “strikes very close to home for some voters,” Zaino said. “The MTA is something that people deal with on a daily basis, and that is his, and he owns it.”</p> <p>On taxes, she said Cuomo is between a rock and a hard place -- a progressive left movement that wants to see higher taxes on the wealthy and Cuomo’s own predilection for fiscal moderation. “I think he’s going to be caught in between this progressive left, and obviously Republicans, but also more importantly, the moderate Democrats, and I think it’s really going to highlight some of the upstate-downstate tensions as well,” she said.</p> <p>Dr. Christina Greer, political science professor at Fordham University, also pointed to the governor’s strengths in the general, chiefly the campaign cash at his disposal. “Money in many ways can elevate his narrative and drown out his opponents’ narrative,” she said in a phone interview. “I think he’ll use it strategically. I think Molinaro has an uphill battle because he doesn’t have name recognition and he doesn’t seem to be inspiring voters as of yet.”</p> <p>New York City is the most expensive media market in the country and Cuomo’s millions in campaign cash can buy him ample air time, in the city and beyond. “Cuomo certainly has vulnerabilities,” said Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg. “He can have a vulnerability but if the voters don’t know about it, it’s sort of the tree in the forest.” On corruption, for instance, he said Molinaro would have to work hard to make it a “salient” campaign issue among undecided voters who aren’t already pledged to either of the two major party candidates.</p> <p>“[Molinaro] has to worry about the folks in the middle,” Greenberg said. “Independent voters, those soft Democrats, those moderate Democrats, those moderate Republicans, the folks in the middle, the folks who decide elections. But that costs money.” Molinaro’s latest campaign finance disclosure from this week showed he had only about $210,000 in cash on hand.</p> <p>Greenberg also noted that a Republican has not prevailed in any statewide race since George Pataki won a third term as governor in 2002.</p> <p>“For a Republican to win statewide is a very difficult proposition…How do they do it? They win upstate. They either win or hold their own in the downstate suburbs and they find a way to cut the deficit in New York City...Marc Molinaro can put out statements every day, he can do events every day, but the vast majority of voters don’t see those statements or know about those events. You gotta get on TV, you gotta be on radio, you gotta do mailings, you gotta do phone calls, you gotta have the volunteers to go door-to-door and talk to voters. All of that is expensive.”</p> <p>Greer, however, doesn’t believe Molinaro has made an effective argument against Cuomo. “I don’t know if Molinaro has the message to sway voters. Cuomo has an advantage because all he has to say is ‘Molinaro is a Republican’ and that will turn off many Democrats,” she said. “That’s a strong card to have in this moment.”</p> <p>But, she noted, there is likely to be some voter fatigue with Cuomo having been in office for nearly eight years. “He’s asking people for a third term and I think some folks just don’t feel like he deserves it,” Greer said. “Based on temperament, based on lack of productivity in particular areas that they’re interested in.”</p> <p>The challengers themselves are confident of breaking through to voters, noting what they see as Cuomo’s weaknesses, his lack of a coherent vision for a third term, and the fact that more than 500,000 voters cast a ballot for Nixon in the primary.</p> <p>“Governor Cuomo’s entire campaign is based on his fear of Donald Trump alone,” said Sharpe, the Libertarian candidate, in a statement. “There is no plan to actually help any New Yorker in any way, shape or form. It is only a fear-based platform.”</p> <p>Sharpe said Cuomo has focused on “the crown jewel” of $22,000 in per-pupil education funding, which the governor repeatedly cites as the highest in the nation. But Sharpe says the state ranks below 30th in education outcomes. “This crown jewel is actually a cubic zirconia. The current educational system is an expensive and bloated embarrassment for which he should be ashamed. Everything else of value he has abandoned, including economic development, the family courts, the MTA and infrastructure overall. His 8 years can be summed up in one statement, ‘One million New Yorkers have voted with their feet by leaving the state since his majesty took the throne.’”</p> <p>Hawkins of the Green Party is banking on progressives being dissatisfied with the governor, and thinks he is the logical choice for Nixon voters in the general. “He talks progressive but he governs to the right,” Hawkins said of Cuomo in a brief phone interview. He pointed out, for example, that the governor’s much-vaunted $15 minimum wage isn’t in effect upstate, where the minimum wage is set to increase to $12.50 by the end of 2020. He criticized Cuomo for hesitating on extending the state’s millionaires tax, his handling of issues at the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), and lead poisoning issues in upstate communities in Syracuse, Buffalo, and Ithaca.</p> <p>“I think it resonates but the question is, do we have the reach to reach all the progressives who I think on these issues are the majority of people in New York State,” Hawkins said.</p> <p>He recognized Cuomo’s many advantages. “The only way we can overcome it is if the media narrative changes,” he said, noting for instance that though the Green Party received more than twice the votes the Working Families Party did in 2014 (with Cuomo on its line), the WFP’s political moves tend to get more attention. “That would make a big difference...It’s not just what Cuomo’s got, it’s the way he’s being treated by the media, which is frustrating for us.”</p> <p>One way Cuomo's challengers could earn a boost and the governor could potentially fall in favorability is through a debate, but Cuomo has yet to agree to one, and while he may, the odds of such an event having a drastic impact on the race are small. Cuomo survived a contentious, high-stakes one-on-one debate with Nixon in the primary; if he agrees to a general election debate, he's likely to insist all five candidates are present, diluting his exposure.</p> <p>In a phone interview, Miner reiterated her three-part criticism. “The state government is mired in corruption, money is being wasted, and problems are not being solved,” she said. Miner believes that though Cuomo had a decisive primary victory, the general electorate is likely to more accurately reflect and vote on statewide issues. “I think you’re gonna have a much broader and more representative population across the state that’s gonna vote,” she said. She believes Cuomo will continue to spend massively in the general because “he has to try to distract people from the fundamental problems that are happening in New York state under his administration and his tenure.”</p> <p>It’s unclear what the general electorate will look like, though trends including Democratic enthusiasm appear to be to Cuomo’s advantage. Nixon’s move from the WFP line to make way for Cuomo and eliminate any chance of her being a spoiler also works toward his securing a third term. But, a Cuomo win is not necessarily a complete given.</p> <p>“Anything can happen in the real world,” said Greenberg of Siena. “So is it a foregone conclusion? No. Is he the prohibitive favorite? Would you go to Vegas and place a bet on it? Absolutely.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/29540734677_08ce46ca06_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo made in the shade" width="600" height="432" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo (photo: Mike Groll/Govenor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>With less than a month till voters go to the polls on November 6, it appears Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, has little cause for worry as he seeks a third term. His favorability among voters may have dropped but public polling has shown him holding consistently wide leads over his opponents. His campaign war chest, though massively depleted by a bruising primary battle, still remains formidable at $9 million-plus, dwarfing his four general election competitors. And he is instantly recognizable to most voters, unlike his challengers.</p> <p>Though Cuomo saw some of his weaknesses -- including a crumbling subway system and an epidemic of corruption in state government -- exposed and prodded in the primary by actor and activist Cynthia Nixon, a first-time candidate who managed to get more than half a million votes, he nonetheless came through it in relatively good shape, albeit with some egg on his face, defeating Nixon by 30 points with nearly a million votes of his own as primary turnout surged.</p> <p>Despite several gaffes and scandals, questionable use of his government powers for apparent campaign purposes, and an egregious mailer that falsely smeared Nixon as anti-semitic, Cuomo emerged after primary day with an emboldened sense of his accomplishments, support, and chances at a third term. He also turned the corner in a campaign already geared largely toward opposing President Donald Trump, now with the opportunity to directly tie his main competitor to the president who remains unpopular in his home state.</p> <p>With few signs that voters, at least Democratic ones, will punish him for a litany of troubles associated with his administration and his failure to have passed progressive legislation urgently demanded by an energized base, he is surging ahead in a race that is his to lose. While Cuomo has said little directly to make amends with those 500,000-plus Democrats who voted for Nixon, one major step he has taken is to begin following through on a pledge to help flip the New York State Senate to Democratic control, and help flip New York seats in the House of Representatives as part of a national effort to give the chamber a Democratic majority.</p> <p>As Cuomo woos the state’s 6.2 million Democratic voters and its 2.6 million independents, among others -- including some of the 2.8 million Republicans who may like aspects of his moderate record -- the governor’s opponents have been leveling attacks against the incumbent with the hopes of taking him down a notch while building their own stature. Polling indicates those efforts have not yet borne fruit, and as the election rapidly approaches, a governor with significant achievements and vulnerabilities appears to be deflecting, dodging, and defusing criticisms of his record on corruption, jobs, taxes, the MTA, and more.</p> <p>In the latest <a href="https://scri.siena.edu/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/SNY-Oct-1-2018-Poll-Release-FINAL_1987.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Siena College poll</a>, the first of the general election, released October 1, Cuomo held a 22-point lead among likely voters over his main rival, Republican nominee Marc Molinaro, the Dutchess county executive. Cuomo received 50 percent of the vote to Molinaro’s 28 percent. Ten percent said they would vote for Nixon if she stayed on the Working Families Party line, which has since gone to Cuomo, paving the way for him to capture a higher percentage, while 4 percent said they would vote for other “third party” candidates, who include Green Party nominee Howie Hawkins, Libertarian nominee Larry Sharpe, and independent Stephanie Miner; and 8 percent were undecided.</p> <p>“Electorally, barring something unexpected, a month out now, it’s hard to imagine that he’s going to do anything except walk away with this thing,” said Dr. Jeanne Zaino, professor of political science at Iona College, in a phone interview. “I’m not sure that that speaks as much to the governor as it does to the fact that Republicans in the state are in a very, very difficult position.”</p> <p>As Molinaro runs uphill against an anti-Trump wind, Miner, the former Democratic mayor of Syracuse now with the new Serve America Movement, has struggled to gain traction with her message of experience and bipartisanship. Hawkins, who received 5 percent of the vote in the 2014 gubernatorial race, says he hopes to beat that this year, but is severely underfunded, and Sharpe, who has kept an especially active campaign schedule, does not appear to have broken through.</p> <p>Some of the major criticisms levelled by the challengers are similar to Nixon’s own volleys against Cuomo, that he has allowed corruption to fester in government, catered to wealthy donors at the expense of everyday New Yorkers, largely mismanaged a multi-billion-dollar economic development program, and let New York City’s subway system slide into chaos.</p> <p>There are of course more specific critiques. Molinaro and Miner, for instance, have both stressed that taxes are far too high and living in the state has become increasingly unaffordable, blaming Cuomo for the resulting exodus of New York residents, especially from distressed upstate areas. Hawkins has condemned Cuomo’s environmental policies for not going far enough, laments that the governor does not support state-funded single-payer health care (Cuomo believes the federal government should pass it and pay for it) and argues that the state has yet to fund the foundation aid formula for fair student funding across the state as required by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity court decision. Sharpe wants to repeal the SAFE Act, Cuomo’s signature gun control measure passed in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, and significantly reduce the size and scope of state government in other ways, returning more power to localities.</p> <p>Besides the seemingly insurmountable advantages &nbsp;of incumbency, Cuomo has largely chosen to ignore his opponents and focus on Trump, in a year where Democrats are seeing the signs of a “blue wave” across the country. He has sought to paint Molinaro and nearly every New York Republican as a “Trump mini-me” who supports what he says are harmful policies of a Republican-led federal government and the retrogressive outlook of a platform based on the president’s pledge to “Make America Great Again,” which, to Cuomo and many others, includes racial and ethnic prejudice.</p> <p>“Molinaro is vastly, in almost every way, he is on the losing end of this,” said Zaino. “From name recognition, to funding, to party registration, I mean up and down this is a very tough year for Republicans.”</p> <p>Besides taxes, Molinaro’s campaign is largely built on highlighting the corruption scandals that have marred Cuomo’s two terms in office, and on painting Cuomo as an incompetent leader who relies on intimidation tactics.</p> <p>“Andrew Cuomo has no credibility,” said Katy Delgado, a Molinaro campaign spokesperson, in a statement. “The people of New York are suffering from high taxation and corruption has stained the Governor’s office. It’s time for New Yorkers to have the leadership we deserve. A Governor who will cut taxes by 30% and show this corrupt administration the door on January 1, 2019.”</p> <p>In fact, in the Siena Poll, likely voters said that by a 41-36 percent margin, Molinaro would do a better job of tackling corruption (a majority said Cuomo is better on infrastructure, public education and job creation). Cuomo came into office in 2011 promising to clean up state government, and has failed to do so, with recent federal convictions resulting in members of his inner circle headed to prison, along with a long list of state legislators who have been removed from office for abusing the public trust. But those results appear to have done little to sour voters on Cuomo.</p> <p>Zaino said the trifecta of corruption, the MTA, and taxes are areas where Cuomo could see some disaffection among voters. “He is very vulnerable on corruption,” she said. “He’s made the case obviously that it’s not him, but it has been people very, very close to him. And he hasn’t done enough to put a stop to it, as he promised eight years ago.”</p> <p>Government corruption has not proved to be a major voter motivator, however.</p> <p>The issue of the MTA also “strikes very close to home for some voters,” Zaino said. “The MTA is something that people deal with on a daily basis, and that is his, and he owns it.”</p> <p>On taxes, she said Cuomo is between a rock and a hard place -- a progressive left movement that wants to see higher taxes on the wealthy and Cuomo’s own predilection for fiscal moderation. “I think he’s going to be caught in between this progressive left, and obviously Republicans, but also more importantly, the moderate Democrats, and I think it’s really going to highlight some of the upstate-downstate tensions as well,” she said.</p> <p>Dr. Christina Greer, political science professor at Fordham University, also pointed to the governor’s strengths in the general, chiefly the campaign cash at his disposal. “Money in many ways can elevate his narrative and drown out his opponents’ narrative,” she said in a phone interview. “I think he’ll use it strategically. I think Molinaro has an uphill battle because he doesn’t have name recognition and he doesn’t seem to be inspiring voters as of yet.”</p> <p>New York City is the most expensive media market in the country and Cuomo’s millions in campaign cash can buy him ample air time, in the city and beyond. “Cuomo certainly has vulnerabilities,” said Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg. “He can have a vulnerability but if the voters don’t know about it, it’s sort of the tree in the forest.” On corruption, for instance, he said Molinaro would have to work hard to make it a “salient” campaign issue among undecided voters who aren’t already pledged to either of the two major party candidates.</p> <p>“[Molinaro] has to worry about the folks in the middle,” Greenberg said. “Independent voters, those soft Democrats, those moderate Democrats, those moderate Republicans, the folks in the middle, the folks who decide elections. But that costs money.” Molinaro’s latest campaign finance disclosure from this week showed he had only about $210,000 in cash on hand.</p> <p>Greenberg also noted that a Republican has not prevailed in any statewide race since George Pataki won a third term as governor in 2002.</p> <p>“For a Republican to win statewide is a very difficult proposition…How do they do it? They win upstate. They either win or hold their own in the downstate suburbs and they find a way to cut the deficit in New York City...Marc Molinaro can put out statements every day, he can do events every day, but the vast majority of voters don’t see those statements or know about those events. You gotta get on TV, you gotta be on radio, you gotta do mailings, you gotta do phone calls, you gotta have the volunteers to go door-to-door and talk to voters. All of that is expensive.”</p> <p>Greer, however, doesn’t believe Molinaro has made an effective argument against Cuomo. “I don’t know if Molinaro has the message to sway voters. Cuomo has an advantage because all he has to say is ‘Molinaro is a Republican’ and that will turn off many Democrats,” she said. “That’s a strong card to have in this moment.”</p> <p>But, she noted, there is likely to be some voter fatigue with Cuomo having been in office for nearly eight years. “He’s asking people for a third term and I think some folks just don’t feel like he deserves it,” Greer said. “Based on temperament, based on lack of productivity in particular areas that they’re interested in.”</p> <p>The challengers themselves are confident of breaking through to voters, noting what they see as Cuomo’s weaknesses, his lack of a coherent vision for a third term, and the fact that more than 500,000 voters cast a ballot for Nixon in the primary.</p> <p>“Governor Cuomo’s entire campaign is based on his fear of Donald Trump alone,” said Sharpe, the Libertarian candidate, in a statement. “There is no plan to actually help any New Yorker in any way, shape or form. It is only a fear-based platform.”</p> <p>Sharpe said Cuomo has focused on “the crown jewel” of $22,000 in per-pupil education funding, which the governor repeatedly cites as the highest in the nation. But Sharpe says the state ranks below 30th in education outcomes. “This crown jewel is actually a cubic zirconia. The current educational system is an expensive and bloated embarrassment for which he should be ashamed. Everything else of value he has abandoned, including economic development, the family courts, the MTA and infrastructure overall. His 8 years can be summed up in one statement, ‘One million New Yorkers have voted with their feet by leaving the state since his majesty took the throne.’”</p> <p>Hawkins of the Green Party is banking on progressives being dissatisfied with the governor, and thinks he is the logical choice for Nixon voters in the general. “He talks progressive but he governs to the right,” Hawkins said of Cuomo in a brief phone interview. He pointed out, for example, that the governor’s much-vaunted $15 minimum wage isn’t in effect upstate, where the minimum wage is set to increase to $12.50 by the end of 2020. He criticized Cuomo for hesitating on extending the state’s millionaires tax, his handling of issues at the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), and lead poisoning issues in upstate communities in Syracuse, Buffalo, and Ithaca.</p> <p>“I think it resonates but the question is, do we have the reach to reach all the progressives who I think on these issues are the majority of people in New York State,” Hawkins said.</p> <p>He recognized Cuomo’s many advantages. “The only way we can overcome it is if the media narrative changes,” he said, noting for instance that though the Green Party received more than twice the votes the Working Families Party did in 2014 (with Cuomo on its line), the WFP’s political moves tend to get more attention. “That would make a big difference...It’s not just what Cuomo’s got, it’s the way he’s being treated by the media, which is frustrating for us.”</p> <p>One way Cuomo's challengers could earn a boost and the governor could potentially fall in favorability is through a debate, but Cuomo has yet to agree to one, and while he may, the odds of such an event having a drastic impact on the race are small. Cuomo survived a contentious, high-stakes one-on-one debate with Nixon in the primary; if he agrees to a general election debate, he's likely to insist all five candidates are present, diluting his exposure.</p> <p>In a phone interview, Miner reiterated her three-part criticism. “The state government is mired in corruption, money is being wasted, and problems are not being solved,” she said. Miner believes that though Cuomo had a decisive primary victory, the general electorate is likely to more accurately reflect and vote on statewide issues. “I think you’re gonna have a much broader and more representative population across the state that’s gonna vote,” she said. She believes Cuomo will continue to spend massively in the general because “he has to try to distract people from the fundamental problems that are happening in New York state under his administration and his tenure.”</p> <p>It’s unclear what the general electorate will look like, though trends including Democratic enthusiasm appear to be to Cuomo’s advantage. Nixon’s move from the WFP line to make way for Cuomo and eliminate any chance of her being a spoiler also works toward his securing a third term. But, a Cuomo win is not necessarily a complete given.</p> <p>“Anything can happen in the real world,” said Greenberg of Siena. “So is it a foregone conclusion? No. Is he the prohibitive favorite? Would you go to Vegas and place a bet on it? Absolutely.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
A Lifelong Democrat and Famed Civil Rights Attorney, Michael Sussman Runs for Attorney General as a Green 2018-10-09T04:00:00+00:00 2018-10-09T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7976-a-lifelong-democrat-and-famed-civil-rights-attorney-michael-sussman-runs-for-attorney-general-as-a-green Victor Porcelli vporcelli@gg.com <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/peace-exist-sussman.jpg" alt="peace exist sussman" width="600" /></p> <p>photo via Sussman campaign on Twitter</p> <hr /> <p>A 19-year-old from Flatbush, Brooklyn sat in the Iron Forge, a middle-eastern restaurant on Q Street in Washington, D.C., and looked around. He had started his internship with the Democratic National Committee, and was given the opportunity to choose from a group of candidates whose campaign he wanted to work on. He saw the men around him, who he would work with in the coming months, the fall of 1973: Georgians Hamilton Jordan, Jodi Powell, Bert Lance, and Griffin Bell, along with the governor, Jimmy Carter.</p> <p>The young Brooklynite took that fall semester off from college as he transferred from the University of Chicago to Amherst College, immersing himself in politics, and went on to work on Carter’s campaign for president, meeting Ralph Nader, a well-known political activist and attorney credited with pushing consumer protection legislation such as the Clean Water Act, Freedom of Information Act, Whistleblower Protection Act, and more. He learned from Nader, and worked with him and Mark Green, later the New York City Public Advocate, on environmental issues, and went on to do his own public-interest work as a civil rights lawyer, including in the Department of Justice and for the NAACP. His most famous work came in Yonkers, New York, where he won a landmark case aimed at tearing down the city’s racial segregation, among other cases, and where he organized his fellow Democrats, holding rallies, and speaking at many public events on a variety of causes over decades.</p> <p>Now 64 years old, Michael Sussman is running for Attorney General of New York as the Green Party candidate, his first run for statewide elected office after decades of political and legal work advancing progressive causes. He’s abandoned the Democrats for the Greens, he says, because “leading Democrats in the state have failed to advocate strongly enough for the interests that I care about, and I think that in some cases they’ve failed to do that because of personal interests and corruption.”</p> <p>He’s running for attorney general because “from corruption to public health to the environment...these areas are all of huge and critical importance and I think you need someone as attorney general who has life experience as a litigator.”</p> <p>He’s promising if elected to investigate Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is favored to win a third term this fall, and he’s pulling few punches when it comes to the frontrunner in his race, Democratic nominee Letitia James, currently the New York City Public Advocate, who has Cuomo’s full backing.</p> <p>“I was a Democrat for 45 years,” Sussman said at a recent candidates event in Yonkers, addressing the crowd just after James spoke. “I ran for county executive of my county, I’ve done some of the most significant civil rights and environmental cases of my generation, but I refused in 2017 to run as a Democrat in New York State for Attorney General, for one good reason: the duopoly of corrupt practices.”</p> <p>“We cannot have someone running on the slate with Mr. Cuomo expected to vigorously prosecute Mr. Cuomo and political corruption in our state -- it’s an inherent conflict,” Sussman said, “and until and unless we recognize it frontally and say we need an independent attorney general, someone like me who has 40 years of experience litigating, in every court -- Supreme Court of the United States, 400 arguments in the Court of Appeals in New York, a thousand cases in federal court...I don’t want to depend on the Trump Justice Department to clean up political corruption in New York. I want an attorney general in New York who is independent enough to clean up corruption, it’s very simple.”</p> <p>If he can somehow get enough New Yorkers to hear his message and consider voting Green, Sussman believes he would be the clear choice for attorney general among voters who are overwhelmingly Democratic. He’s traveling the state, walking local communities from Brooklyn to Buffalo, he says, posting short videos to his Twitter feed, and <a href="https://www.electsussman-nyag2018.com/">proposing</a> things like strengthening the public integrity unit of the attorney general’s office and imposing “a sweeping public finance law to disconnect big money from state politics.”</p> <p>Lou Young, Sussman's communications director, <a href="https://twitter.com/LouYoungNY/status/1044224557035507712">tweeted</a>, “If he could meet every voter in person he would win in a landslide. Michael Sussman just needs to he heard to be believed. It's that simple.”</p> <p>He won’t meet every voter and it may not be that simple even if he did, of course, given the strength of James’ candidacy, which includes the powerful backing of Cuomo and the state party he controls, not to mention challenges raising money and name recognition.</p> <p>While the odds of him pulling off a victory that would shock New York, and beyond, are quite long, Sussman is the type of “third party” candidate who may garner significant attention in a political atmosphere where voters on the left are frustrated with what many perceive as a corrupt and disconnected gubernatorial administration and state Legislature. But how many of the hundreds of thousands of voters who backed Cynthia Nixon for governor or Zephyr Teachout for attorney general in their respective Democratic primaries are willing to consider Sussman is an open question, especially given James’ progressive bona fides (she would also be the first woman of color to win a statewide position).</p> <p>But with the question of independence from Cuomo still hanging over the attorney general race, which also includes Republican nominee Keith Wofford, among others, and given his decades of relevant experience, Sussman believes more voters should take a look at his campaign.</p> <p><strong>Roots</strong><br />Sussman, born in 1954 the son of an accountant father and music teacher mother, is unsure exactly where his interest in civil rights first began. Perhaps from his father, who had done work with African-Americans in the discriminatory south but emphasized to his son that the north was no different, or from his grandmother, a radical socialist. But Sussman points to something simpler.</p> <p>“I always had a feeling in the playground for the underdog,” Sussman said in an hour-long interview. “When we chose teams to play ball and I was 6, 7, 8 years old, I was a fairly good athlete then and would always take the kids on my team that the good athletes didn’t want on their team. It’s something that I can remember back a long way, feeling an affinity for people who are viewed as either nonconforming or not functional at the same level — whatever that level was — of others, and otherwise being excluded from the game so to speak. So I guess my life’s work has been about that subject in a general sense and consistent for a very long time.”</p> <p>“For whatever reason and however it happened,” Sussman says, his upbringing “imprinted on me a sense of obligation that even though we were not a wealthy family, we were a middle-income family, that our job was essentially to give back.”</p> <p>Sussman says he decided at age 12 he would do this by becoming a civil rights lawyer. Although he would go on to represent people of color in countless cases, Sussman says he grew up in a monoracial Flatbush. The only black person he knew was his mother’s maid, he said, adding that having a maid was “somewhat usual for even middle-income people in those days.”</p> <p>“I remember trying to understand the experience of, Esse was her name, as even though she lived in New York City, in the same borough we were in, it seemed like miles away, centuries away,” Sussman said.</p> <p>Later, while attending the University of Chicago as an undergraduate, Sussman had his internship with the DNC, meeting Jimmy Carter. Yet Carter’s early presidential campaign was not the most historic event he was being exposed to — his uncle, Barry Sussman, was then an editor at the Washington Post, Michael Sussman recounts, and it was in Barry’s home that the now famous Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein began their investigation.</p> <p>“So I was able to see the origins of the Watergate case as it was developed in their basement in Barry’s house in Potomac, Maryland, and then during the days I worked with Jimmy Carter,” Sussman said about his 1973 experience.</p> <p>Sussman says he’s sought to surround himself with people doing great things.</p> <p>“I’ve always told my children, I have seven children, ‘Try to find yourself amongst the people who are doing what you think is important,’” Sussman said. “I think that you have to see what your capabilities are, you have to see who is doing work that you emulate and that you admire, and I think you have to try and put yourself in a position to learn from greatness, really.”</p> <p>While Sussman is not a household name himself, he became a prominent civil rights lawyer with an acclaimed show on HBO, “Show Me a Hero,” about his most famous case.</p> <p><strong>Resume</strong><br />Sussman graduated in 1978 with honors from Harvard Law School, where he was in the same class as now-CEO of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein, who Sussman says “was not a stellar student.” After graduating, Sussman took his most well-known case, the aforementioned, representing a local chapter of the NAACP in Yonkers that sued the city for its segregated school districts. After 26 years of legal proceedings that went all the way to the Supreme Court, the 2007 <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/02/nyregion/02yonkers.html">result</a> was $300 million in funding to desegregate schools and build affordable housing.</p> <p>Out of law school, Sussman had been working at the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division in October of 1978, during Carter’s presidency. He worked on efforts to stop school segregation and housing discrimination. However, Sussman says this changed in 1981 when Ronald Reagan became president. According to Sussman, William French Smith, Reagan’s attorney general, said that the Civil Rights Division needed to focus on elevating the rights of white people. Sussman says he “made a fuss internally,” speaking to a former debate partner of his from University of Chicago and the man he was working under, Deputy Attorney General Edward Schmults. After getting no response, Sussman left the Justice Department, and was offered a job with the NAACP.</p> <p>“I met the major forces in American Civil Rights Law at that time: Joseph Rowl, William Taylor, Thomas Atkins, Nathaniel Jones, lawyers from generations older than mine who were doing the major work as I thought,” Sussman said, “and I became friends with them and they viewed me as someone that could carry on the work. So, I was blessed to be offered a job as assistant general counsel at the NAACP national office in New York City.”</p> <p>It was then that Sussman began work on the case, which had been filed by a local chapter of the NAACP in 1980. The case accused the city of Yonkers — including city officials, lawyers and judges — of being discriminatory and engaging in housing segregation, which caused school segregation. To diminish said segregation, the city and school board would have to work together to reorganize the school system and create housing opportunities for low-income people that were not in “ghettoized areas,” as Sussman put it.</p> <p>Believing the Reagan administration’s stance on civil rights made it unreliable in defense, the national office of the NAACP saw an opportunity to become involved and secure a victory. Still, it was 2007 before a ruling in the case, with Judge Leonard B. Sand ruling in favor of the NAACP and ordering Yonkers to build 200 public housing units and allow 600 houses to go to low-income families in the majority middle-class and white east side of town.</p> <p>Sussman’s civil rights career unfolded alongside that case, with some cases taken on behalf of friends but most dedicated to advancing certain causes, he says. He has represented a Pace University student who was <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/08/nyregion/no-charges-for-officer-who-killed-pace-university-student-in-2010.html">shot</a> by police in 2010 — although the Justice Department decided not to charges against the officer involved — and won $6 million for the family, and won a $45 million <a href="https://www.timesunion.com/local/article/New-York-state-offers-45M-to-end-civil-service-1313866.php">settlement </a>against the state for black and Hispanic workers in a discrimination case, for example.</p> <p>Sussman now lives in Orange County, where his law firm, Sussman and Associates, is based in the town of Goshen. While he’s mainly worked in Washington, Yonkers, and Orange County, Sussman has also opened “empowerment centers” designed to help underprivileged people in Liberty, Monticello, and Port Jervis.</p> <p>Sussman has also worked defending students suspended by their schools, including <a href="https://www.ostrer.com/federal-court-reinstates-student-athlete-newburgh-high-school/">Elzie Coleman</a>, then a potential Olympic sprinter who was suspended for getting in a fight. Sussman argued that suspending Coleman violated his due process and would cause “immediate and irreparable harm” as it would impact Coleman’s ability to qualify for scholarships necessary for him to go to college. Sussman used this same argument in a variety of cases against school districts. He also represented Putnam County District Attorney Adam Levy in a <a href="https://www.lohud.com/story/news/local/putnam/2017/06/13/adam-levy-defamation-suit-vs-sheriff/392132001/">case</a> of defamation, after the sheriff of the county accused him of harboring an undocumented immigrant, among other things — Sussman won the case, reaching a $150,000 settlement.</p> <p>In a case of sexual harassment, Sussman <a href="https://www.recordonline.com/article/20080602/News/806020336">represented </a>an Orange County Health Department worker who accused her boss of making sexual advances, and firing her after she refused them. Sussman says his work was mainly centered around certain causes, while he occasionally took work due to relationships with clients.</p> <p>“There are situations where people will come to and out of personal loyalty or out of the feeling that there is some important issue that is being raised in their case, I will defend them, if you will,” Sussman said. “Most of the work I’ve done is not based on that. Most of the work I’ve done is based on what I might call cause-driven lawyering. That is, I’m known to do cases of employment discrimination, sexual harassment, education law.”</p> <p>In some cases Sussman found him defending those accused of sexual harassment, rather than the other way around. In <a href="https://law.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/FSupp2/198/570/2513297/">2002</a>, when a coworker accused forensic scientist for the New York State Police John Graziano of sexual harassment, her complaint did not lead to any punishment, as despite human resources finding probable cause, it did not go to trial. After this, women working with Graziano started treating him poorly, and so he filed a lawsuit alleging they harassed him due to his gender, suing under Title IX. Sussman defended him in this case, which was dismissed.</p> <p>One of the students Sussman <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2005/01/23/nyregion/education/the-law-offthecourt-trouble-inthecourt-advocacy.html">represented</a> was suspended for allegedly having sex with two girls on school property, but separately accused of forcing another student to touch him sexually. Sussman focused on the cases of sexual activity, and claimed that the school punishing him much more severely than the girls involved was a Title IX violation. He won the case.</p> <p>“It posed an issue of gender stereotyping that I think is interesting and important,” Sussman said. “[The student] was engaged in what the school district defined as consensual sexual activity with two girls in school, separately, and the two girls were slapped on the wrist and he was suspended for a school year basically and I thought that was absurd.”</p> <p>According to a press release announcing his 2018 run for attorney general, the Green Party highlighted that from 2006 to 2010, Sussman represented “a class of 4,700 African American and Hispanic state workers [against the Attorney General’s office] in a lawsuit challenging the promotional test used by the State of New York for civil service promotions” and that the “cae ended in a settlement of $45,000,000 for the class.”</p> <p>One apparent blemish on Sussman’s record came in 2002. In 2014, the New York Post <a href="https://nypost.com/2014/07/21/anti-casino-lawyers-license-suspended-for-co-mingling-funds/">reported</a> that in 2002 Sussman had had his law license suspended for a year for “commingling personal and client funds.”</p> <p><strong>Running for Attorney General</strong><br />It is in the areas he’s focused his legal career that Sussman believes the state should be enforcing laws more strictly. He argues his experience makes him uniquely suited to do so if elected as attorney general, and should cause voters to take notice of his candidacy to become the state’s top legal officer, charged with upholding laws, defending the state in legal action, and other responsibilities.</p> <p>“I feel that there needs to be vigorous enforcement of our state’s laws in those regards and I’m aware that laws are not self-enforcing,” Sussman said. “I’m also aware that there are not many civil-rights lawyers in our region that have expertise like I have in the courts.”</p> <p>“It’s shameful that both in regards to civil rights laws and environmental laws and laws protecting health and safety in our state, the AG office has made, from my perspective, minimal contributions over the last 30 or 40 years, despite so-called progressive people running the office,” he continued. “Either they don’t understand the laws or they’re not really interested in enforcing them to the extent necessary in our state.”</p> <p>Sussman, who had previously been on his town board as a Democrat, and ran for county executive of Orange County as one, says his shift to the Green Party in November came due to frustration over issues of corruption and failure to act by Democrats in New York.</p> <p>“First of all, I feel that Mr. Cuomo is corrupt, I feel that Mr. Schumer is in the pocket of Wall Street,” Sussman said of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and U.S. Senator from New York Charles Schumer, the minority leader. “I feel that leading Democrats in the state have failed to advocate strongly enough for the interests that I care about, and I think that in some cases they’ve failed to do that because of personal interests and corruption. So I don’t see the Democratic Party right now as being the answer.”</p> <p>Sussman gave an example of a Competitive Power Ventures gas-fired power plant being <a href="http://www.recordonline.com/news/20180708/cpv-power-plant-nearly-ready-for-full-time-operation">approved</a> in his county despite residents being <a href="http://www.warwickadvertiser.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20160201/NEWS01/160209999/Danger-ahead">outspoken</a> concerning the potential environmental and human health risks from large emissions of carbon dioxide, carcinogens, neurotoxins, and other dangerous chemicals. In this case, Sussman says neither Democrats nor Republicans would talk to protestors when trying to prevent the plant from getting approved. Yet, now that it has started operating, both Democrats and Republicans are against the plant. Both Democrats and Republicans, he believes, are seen by many as representing a politics-first mentality.</p> <p>“Part of that increasing alienation is that people think both parties represent the same thing, and I think that’s true,” Sussman said. “Particularly for the attorney general race, I see a perpetuation of the same patterns of clubishness and I don’t think that’s going to solve anything.”</p> <p>Sussman has been critical of James, the Democratic nominee, as seeking the attorney general position only to increase her chances of becoming governor in the future, of which there is little evidence, in part given James’ own background as a public defender and assistant attorney general. Recently, he has <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VilfmwhAJR0">said</a> that Republican nominee Keith Wofford also sees the position as a way to reach higher office, an assertion there’s also little support for as Wofford, a corporate attorney, runs for office for the first time.</p> <p>“I genuinely believe that the Democratic Party candidate wants to be governor, which she has every right, but I don’t see this position as a stepping stone,” Sussman said. “With that sort of ambition, what ends up happening, is that people don’t do what they need to do in this office because of looking over their shoulder.”</p> <p>At the Yonkers candidates’ event, Sussman both praised James’ work as public advocate and said that her use of the office as a litigator has been wanting, given that she has been kicked off of a number of suits for lack of standing. He said the two agree on almost every social issue, from taking on the NRA to protecting immigrants, but said that the deciding factors for voters must be his resume as an attorney and the contrast between his and James’ relationships with Governor Cuomo.</p> <p>“I am ready from day one to litigate -- whether it’s Donald Trump or whether it’s Andrew Cuomo,” Sussman said. “And guess what, it’s going to be Andrew Cuomo.”</p> <p>Cuomo’s shuttering of the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption was “insulting to every citizen in New York State,” Sussman said, speaking just after James. “I didn’t hear my opponent say one thing about him, nor would I expect to, she’s running on the same ticket. You can proclaim independence, but you can’t be independent if that’s your running mate, it’s simply impossible.”</p> <p>On Wofford, Sussman said in the interview, “The Republican candidate is not someone who has experience with public law, he’s chosen other career paths, and I don’t think that you start in public law as attorney general of New York.”</p> <p>“This is it for me, and if I get the position, against all odds, then I would use the office and the lawyers in that office, 672 of them, to the fullest extent I could do enforce the laws I see in New York that deal with discrimination and environmental degradation, health threats,” Sussman said, pointing to the powers of the attorney general to uphold certain laws in New York, along with the office’s responsibilities to defend state government. But on the latter, Sussman says, “I would do much less knee-jerk defense of state agencies, which engage, unfortunately, in ongoing patterns of segregated behavior, discriminatory behavior.”</p> <p>Sussman has litigated against the state on multiple occasions, and believes that a 45-day review period should be put in place for every case filed against the state, allowing the attorney general’s office to decide if the state had committed whatever alleged infraction the suit claims. Sussman says if he were to find that the behavior is as it’s alleged and if it is lawless, he would not defend it — instead, he would “settle the case, resolve the issue, take action against the individuals and agencies responsible and clean up the state.”</p> <p>“I would not just knee-jerk defend them in state or federal court. I would force those agencies to comply with the law,” Sussman said. “Again, no attorney general has ever said that or done that. Certainly my opponents in this race are not saying that or doing that. Tish James was with the state attorney general’s office and was involved in the defense of many discrimination cases, which is quite the contrary to my feelings and philosophy.”</p> <p>Sussman continually asserted his advantage in experience over his competition, which also includes Libertarian Christopher Garvey and Nancy Sliwa of the Reform Party, and said that if elected he would begin to clean the state of the stains of corruption by pushing public campaign financing and prosecuting those who use their positions for their own gain.</p> <p>“I feel that they don’t have the depth of my experience in public law, they don’t have the depth of my experience as an advocate,’ Sussman concluded about his opponents, “they don’t have the depth of my life experience, that’s just how I feel about it.”</p> <p>

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by Victor Porcelli, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Ben Max contributed to this story.</p> <p>Note: this article has been updated to clarify Lou Young's relationship to Sussman and Sussman's graduation status from Harvard Law School, which had been misrepresented to do a Gotham Gazette error.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/peace-exist-sussman.jpg" alt="peace exist sussman" width="600" /></p> <p>photo via Sussman campaign on Twitter</p> <hr /> <p>A 19-year-old from Flatbush, Brooklyn sat in the Iron Forge, a middle-eastern restaurant on Q Street in Washington, D.C., and looked around. He had started his internship with the Democratic National Committee, and was given the opportunity to choose from a group of candidates whose campaign he wanted to work on. He saw the men around him, who he would work with in the coming months, the fall of 1973: Georgians Hamilton Jordan, Jodi Powell, Bert Lance, and Griffin Bell, along with the governor, Jimmy Carter.</p> <p>The young Brooklynite took that fall semester off from college as he transferred from the University of Chicago to Amherst College, immersing himself in politics, and went on to work on Carter’s campaign for president, meeting Ralph Nader, a well-known political activist and attorney credited with pushing consumer protection legislation such as the Clean Water Act, Freedom of Information Act, Whistleblower Protection Act, and more. He learned from Nader, and worked with him and Mark Green, later the New York City Public Advocate, on environmental issues, and went on to do his own public-interest work as a civil rights lawyer, including in the Department of Justice and for the NAACP. His most famous work came in Yonkers, New York, where he won a landmark case aimed at tearing down the city’s racial segregation, among other cases, and where he organized his fellow Democrats, holding rallies, and speaking at many public events on a variety of causes over decades.</p> <p>Now 64 years old, Michael Sussman is running for Attorney General of New York as the Green Party candidate, his first run for statewide elected office after decades of political and legal work advancing progressive causes. He’s abandoned the Democrats for the Greens, he says, because “leading Democrats in the state have failed to advocate strongly enough for the interests that I care about, and I think that in some cases they’ve failed to do that because of personal interests and corruption.”</p> <p>He’s running for attorney general because “from corruption to public health to the environment...these areas are all of huge and critical importance and I think you need someone as attorney general who has life experience as a litigator.”</p> <p>He’s promising if elected to investigate Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is favored to win a third term this fall, and he’s pulling few punches when it comes to the frontrunner in his race, Democratic nominee Letitia James, currently the New York City Public Advocate, who has Cuomo’s full backing.</p> <p>“I was a Democrat for 45 years,” Sussman said at a recent candidates event in Yonkers, addressing the crowd just after James spoke. “I ran for county executive of my county, I’ve done some of the most significant civil rights and environmental cases of my generation, but I refused in 2017 to run as a Democrat in New York State for Attorney General, for one good reason: the duopoly of corrupt practices.”</p> <p>“We cannot have someone running on the slate with Mr. Cuomo expected to vigorously prosecute Mr. Cuomo and political corruption in our state -- it’s an inherent conflict,” Sussman said, “and until and unless we recognize it frontally and say we need an independent attorney general, someone like me who has 40 years of experience litigating, in every court -- Supreme Court of the United States, 400 arguments in the Court of Appeals in New York, a thousand cases in federal court...I don’t want to depend on the Trump Justice Department to clean up political corruption in New York. I want an attorney general in New York who is independent enough to clean up corruption, it’s very simple.”</p> <p>If he can somehow get enough New Yorkers to hear his message and consider voting Green, Sussman believes he would be the clear choice for attorney general among voters who are overwhelmingly Democratic. He’s traveling the state, walking local communities from Brooklyn to Buffalo, he says, posting short videos to his Twitter feed, and <a href="https://www.electsussman-nyag2018.com/">proposing</a> things like strengthening the public integrity unit of the attorney general’s office and imposing “a sweeping public finance law to disconnect big money from state politics.”</p> <p>Lou Young, Sussman's communications director, <a href="https://twitter.com/LouYoungNY/status/1044224557035507712">tweeted</a>, “If he could meet every voter in person he would win in a landslide. Michael Sussman just needs to he heard to be believed. It's that simple.”</p> <p>He won’t meet every voter and it may not be that simple even if he did, of course, given the strength of James’ candidacy, which includes the powerful backing of Cuomo and the state party he controls, not to mention challenges raising money and name recognition.</p> <p>While the odds of him pulling off a victory that would shock New York, and beyond, are quite long, Sussman is the type of “third party” candidate who may garner significant attention in a political atmosphere where voters on the left are frustrated with what many perceive as a corrupt and disconnected gubernatorial administration and state Legislature. But how many of the hundreds of thousands of voters who backed Cynthia Nixon for governor or Zephyr Teachout for attorney general in their respective Democratic primaries are willing to consider Sussman is an open question, especially given James’ progressive bona fides (she would also be the first woman of color to win a statewide position).</p> <p>But with the question of independence from Cuomo still hanging over the attorney general race, which also includes Republican nominee Keith Wofford, among others, and given his decades of relevant experience, Sussman believes more voters should take a look at his campaign.</p> <p><strong>Roots</strong><br />Sussman, born in 1954 the son of an accountant father and music teacher mother, is unsure exactly where his interest in civil rights first began. Perhaps from his father, who had done work with African-Americans in the discriminatory south but emphasized to his son that the north was no different, or from his grandmother, a radical socialist. But Sussman points to something simpler.</p> <p>“I always had a feeling in the playground for the underdog,” Sussman said in an hour-long interview. “When we chose teams to play ball and I was 6, 7, 8 years old, I was a fairly good athlete then and would always take the kids on my team that the good athletes didn’t want on their team. It’s something that I can remember back a long way, feeling an affinity for people who are viewed as either nonconforming or not functional at the same level — whatever that level was — of others, and otherwise being excluded from the game so to speak. So I guess my life’s work has been about that subject in a general sense and consistent for a very long time.”</p> <p>“For whatever reason and however it happened,” Sussman says, his upbringing “imprinted on me a sense of obligation that even though we were not a wealthy family, we were a middle-income family, that our job was essentially to give back.”</p> <p>Sussman says he decided at age 12 he would do this by becoming a civil rights lawyer. Although he would go on to represent people of color in countless cases, Sussman says he grew up in a monoracial Flatbush. The only black person he knew was his mother’s maid, he said, adding that having a maid was “somewhat usual for even middle-income people in those days.”</p> <p>“I remember trying to understand the experience of, Esse was her name, as even though she lived in New York City, in the same borough we were in, it seemed like miles away, centuries away,” Sussman said.</p> <p>Later, while attending the University of Chicago as an undergraduate, Sussman had his internship with the DNC, meeting Jimmy Carter. Yet Carter’s early presidential campaign was not the most historic event he was being exposed to — his uncle, Barry Sussman, was then an editor at the Washington Post, Michael Sussman recounts, and it was in Barry’s home that the now famous Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein began their investigation.</p> <p>“So I was able to see the origins of the Watergate case as it was developed in their basement in Barry’s house in Potomac, Maryland, and then during the days I worked with Jimmy Carter,” Sussman said about his 1973 experience.</p> <p>Sussman says he’s sought to surround himself with people doing great things.</p> <p>“I’ve always told my children, I have seven children, ‘Try to find yourself amongst the people who are doing what you think is important,’” Sussman said. “I think that you have to see what your capabilities are, you have to see who is doing work that you emulate and that you admire, and I think you have to try and put yourself in a position to learn from greatness, really.”</p> <p>While Sussman is not a household name himself, he became a prominent civil rights lawyer with an acclaimed show on HBO, “Show Me a Hero,” about his most famous case.</p> <p><strong>Resume</strong><br />Sussman graduated in 1978 with honors from Harvard Law School, where he was in the same class as now-CEO of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein, who Sussman says “was not a stellar student.” After graduating, Sussman took his most well-known case, the aforementioned, representing a local chapter of the NAACP in Yonkers that sued the city for its segregated school districts. After 26 years of legal proceedings that went all the way to the Supreme Court, the 2007 <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/02/nyregion/02yonkers.html">result</a> was $300 million in funding to desegregate schools and build affordable housing.</p> <p>Out of law school, Sussman had been working at the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division in October of 1978, during Carter’s presidency. He worked on efforts to stop school segregation and housing discrimination. However, Sussman says this changed in 1981 when Ronald Reagan became president. According to Sussman, William French Smith, Reagan’s attorney general, said that the Civil Rights Division needed to focus on elevating the rights of white people. Sussman says he “made a fuss internally,” speaking to a former debate partner of his from University of Chicago and the man he was working under, Deputy Attorney General Edward Schmults. After getting no response, Sussman left the Justice Department, and was offered a job with the NAACP.</p> <p>“I met the major forces in American Civil Rights Law at that time: Joseph Rowl, William Taylor, Thomas Atkins, Nathaniel Jones, lawyers from generations older than mine who were doing the major work as I thought,” Sussman said, “and I became friends with them and they viewed me as someone that could carry on the work. So, I was blessed to be offered a job as assistant general counsel at the NAACP national office in New York City.”</p> <p>It was then that Sussman began work on the case, which had been filed by a local chapter of the NAACP in 1980. The case accused the city of Yonkers — including city officials, lawyers and judges — of being discriminatory and engaging in housing segregation, which caused school segregation. To diminish said segregation, the city and school board would have to work together to reorganize the school system and create housing opportunities for low-income people that were not in “ghettoized areas,” as Sussman put it.</p> <p>Believing the Reagan administration’s stance on civil rights made it unreliable in defense, the national office of the NAACP saw an opportunity to become involved and secure a victory. Still, it was 2007 before a ruling in the case, with Judge Leonard B. Sand ruling in favor of the NAACP and ordering Yonkers to build 200 public housing units and allow 600 houses to go to low-income families in the majority middle-class and white east side of town.</p> <p>Sussman’s civil rights career unfolded alongside that case, with some cases taken on behalf of friends but most dedicated to advancing certain causes, he says. He has represented a Pace University student who was <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/08/nyregion/no-charges-for-officer-who-killed-pace-university-student-in-2010.html">shot</a> by police in 2010 — although the Justice Department decided not to charges against the officer involved — and won $6 million for the family, and won a $45 million <a href="https://www.timesunion.com/local/article/New-York-state-offers-45M-to-end-civil-service-1313866.php">settlement </a>against the state for black and Hispanic workers in a discrimination case, for example.</p> <p>Sussman now lives in Orange County, where his law firm, Sussman and Associates, is based in the town of Goshen. While he’s mainly worked in Washington, Yonkers, and Orange County, Sussman has also opened “empowerment centers” designed to help underprivileged people in Liberty, Monticello, and Port Jervis.</p> <p>Sussman has also worked defending students suspended by their schools, including <a href="https://www.ostrer.com/federal-court-reinstates-student-athlete-newburgh-high-school/">Elzie Coleman</a>, then a potential Olympic sprinter who was suspended for getting in a fight. Sussman argued that suspending Coleman violated his due process and would cause “immediate and irreparable harm” as it would impact Coleman’s ability to qualify for scholarships necessary for him to go to college. Sussman used this same argument in a variety of cases against school districts. He also represented Putnam County District Attorney Adam Levy in a <a href="https://www.lohud.com/story/news/local/putnam/2017/06/13/adam-levy-defamation-suit-vs-sheriff/392132001/">case</a> of defamation, after the sheriff of the county accused him of harboring an undocumented immigrant, among other things — Sussman won the case, reaching a $150,000 settlement.</p> <p>In a case of sexual harassment, Sussman <a href="https://www.recordonline.com/article/20080602/News/806020336">represented </a>an Orange County Health Department worker who accused her boss of making sexual advances, and firing her after she refused them. Sussman says his work was mainly centered around certain causes, while he occasionally took work due to relationships with clients.</p> <p>“There are situations where people will come to and out of personal loyalty or out of the feeling that there is some important issue that is being raised in their case, I will defend them, if you will,” Sussman said. “Most of the work I’ve done is not based on that. Most of the work I’ve done is based on what I might call cause-driven lawyering. That is, I’m known to do cases of employment discrimination, sexual harassment, education law.”</p> <p>In some cases Sussman found him defending those accused of sexual harassment, rather than the other way around. In <a href="https://law.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/FSupp2/198/570/2513297/">2002</a>, when a coworker accused forensic scientist for the New York State Police John Graziano of sexual harassment, her complaint did not lead to any punishment, as despite human resources finding probable cause, it did not go to trial. After this, women working with Graziano started treating him poorly, and so he filed a lawsuit alleging they harassed him due to his gender, suing under Title IX. Sussman defended him in this case, which was dismissed.</p> <p>One of the students Sussman <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2005/01/23/nyregion/education/the-law-offthecourt-trouble-inthecourt-advocacy.html">represented</a> was suspended for allegedly having sex with two girls on school property, but separately accused of forcing another student to touch him sexually. Sussman focused on the cases of sexual activity, and claimed that the school punishing him much more severely than the girls involved was a Title IX violation. He won the case.</p> <p>“It posed an issue of gender stereotyping that I think is interesting and important,” Sussman said. “[The student] was engaged in what the school district defined as consensual sexual activity with two girls in school, separately, and the two girls were slapped on the wrist and he was suspended for a school year basically and I thought that was absurd.”</p> <p>According to a press release announcing his 2018 run for attorney general, the Green Party highlighted that from 2006 to 2010, Sussman represented “a class of 4,700 African American and Hispanic state workers [against the Attorney General’s office] in a lawsuit challenging the promotional test used by the State of New York for civil service promotions” and that the “cae ended in a settlement of $45,000,000 for the class.”</p> <p>One apparent blemish on Sussman’s record came in 2002. In 2014, the New York Post <a href="https://nypost.com/2014/07/21/anti-casino-lawyers-license-suspended-for-co-mingling-funds/">reported</a> that in 2002 Sussman had had his law license suspended for a year for “commingling personal and client funds.”</p> <p><strong>Running for Attorney General</strong><br />It is in the areas he’s focused his legal career that Sussman believes the state should be enforcing laws more strictly. He argues his experience makes him uniquely suited to do so if elected as attorney general, and should cause voters to take notice of his candidacy to become the state’s top legal officer, charged with upholding laws, defending the state in legal action, and other responsibilities.</p> <p>“I feel that there needs to be vigorous enforcement of our state’s laws in those regards and I’m aware that laws are not self-enforcing,” Sussman said. “I’m also aware that there are not many civil-rights lawyers in our region that have expertise like I have in the courts.”</p> <p>“It’s shameful that both in regards to civil rights laws and environmental laws and laws protecting health and safety in our state, the AG office has made, from my perspective, minimal contributions over the last 30 or 40 years, despite so-called progressive people running the office,” he continued. “Either they don’t understand the laws or they’re not really interested in enforcing them to the extent necessary in our state.”</p> <p>Sussman, who had previously been on his town board as a Democrat, and ran for county executive of Orange County as one, says his shift to the Green Party in November came due to frustration over issues of corruption and failure to act by Democrats in New York.</p> <p>“First of all, I feel that Mr. Cuomo is corrupt, I feel that Mr. Schumer is in the pocket of Wall Street,” Sussman said of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and U.S. Senator from New York Charles Schumer, the minority leader. “I feel that leading Democrats in the state have failed to advocate strongly enough for the interests that I care about, and I think that in some cases they’ve failed to do that because of personal interests and corruption. So I don’t see the Democratic Party right now as being the answer.”</p> <p>Sussman gave an example of a Competitive Power Ventures gas-fired power plant being <a href="http://www.recordonline.com/news/20180708/cpv-power-plant-nearly-ready-for-full-time-operation">approved</a> in his county despite residents being <a href="http://www.warwickadvertiser.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20160201/NEWS01/160209999/Danger-ahead">outspoken</a> concerning the potential environmental and human health risks from large emissions of carbon dioxide, carcinogens, neurotoxins, and other dangerous chemicals. In this case, Sussman says neither Democrats nor Republicans would talk to protestors when trying to prevent the plant from getting approved. Yet, now that it has started operating, both Democrats and Republicans are against the plant. Both Democrats and Republicans, he believes, are seen by many as representing a politics-first mentality.</p> <p>“Part of that increasing alienation is that people think both parties represent the same thing, and I think that’s true,” Sussman said. “Particularly for the attorney general race, I see a perpetuation of the same patterns of clubishness and I don’t think that’s going to solve anything.”</p> <p>Sussman has been critical of James, the Democratic nominee, as seeking the attorney general position only to increase her chances of becoming governor in the future, of which there is little evidence, in part given James’ own background as a public defender and assistant attorney general. Recently, he has <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VilfmwhAJR0">said</a> that Republican nominee Keith Wofford also sees the position as a way to reach higher office, an assertion there’s also little support for as Wofford, a corporate attorney, runs for office for the first time.</p> <p>“I genuinely believe that the Democratic Party candidate wants to be governor, which she has every right, but I don’t see this position as a stepping stone,” Sussman said. “With that sort of ambition, what ends up happening, is that people don’t do what they need to do in this office because of looking over their shoulder.”</p> <p>At the Yonkers candidates’ event, Sussman both praised James’ work as public advocate and said that her use of the office as a litigator has been wanting, given that she has been kicked off of a number of suits for lack of standing. He said the two agree on almost every social issue, from taking on the NRA to protecting immigrants, but said that the deciding factors for voters must be his resume as an attorney and the contrast between his and James’ relationships with Governor Cuomo.</p> <p>“I am ready from day one to litigate -- whether it’s Donald Trump or whether it’s Andrew Cuomo,” Sussman said. “And guess what, it’s going to be Andrew Cuomo.”</p> <p>Cuomo’s shuttering of the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption was “insulting to every citizen in New York State,” Sussman said, speaking just after James. “I didn’t hear my opponent say one thing about him, nor would I expect to, she’s running on the same ticket. You can proclaim independence, but you can’t be independent if that’s your running mate, it’s simply impossible.”</p> <p>On Wofford, Sussman said in the interview, “The Republican candidate is not someone who has experience with public law, he’s chosen other career paths, and I don’t think that you start in public law as attorney general of New York.”</p> <p>“This is it for me, and if I get the position, against all odds, then I would use the office and the lawyers in that office, 672 of them, to the fullest extent I could do enforce the laws I see in New York that deal with discrimination and environmental degradation, health threats,” Sussman said, pointing to the powers of the attorney general to uphold certain laws in New York, along with the office’s responsibilities to defend state government. But on the latter, Sussman says, “I would do much less knee-jerk defense of state agencies, which engage, unfortunately, in ongoing patterns of segregated behavior, discriminatory behavior.”</p> <p>Sussman has litigated against the state on multiple occasions, and believes that a 45-day review period should be put in place for every case filed against the state, allowing the attorney general’s office to decide if the state had committed whatever alleged infraction the suit claims. Sussman says if he were to find that the behavior is as it’s alleged and if it is lawless, he would not defend it — instead, he would “settle the case, resolve the issue, take action against the individuals and agencies responsible and clean up the state.”</p> <p>“I would not just knee-jerk defend them in state or federal court. I would force those agencies to comply with the law,” Sussman said. “Again, no attorney general has ever said that or done that. Certainly my opponents in this race are not saying that or doing that. Tish James was with the state attorney general’s office and was involved in the defense of many discrimination cases, which is quite the contrary to my feelings and philosophy.”</p> <p>Sussman continually asserted his advantage in experience over his competition, which also includes Libertarian Christopher Garvey and Nancy Sliwa of the Reform Party, and said that if elected he would begin to clean the state of the stains of corruption by pushing public campaign financing and prosecuting those who use their positions for their own gain.</p> <p>“I feel that they don’t have the depth of my experience in public law, they don’t have the depth of my experience as an advocate,’ Sussman concluded about his opponents, “they don’t have the depth of my life experience, that’s just how I feel about it.”</p> <p>

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by Victor Porcelli, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Ben Max contributed to this story.</p> <p>Note: this article has been updated to clarify Lou Young's relationship to Sussman and Sussman's graduation status from Harvard Law School, which had been misrepresented to do a Gotham Gazette error.</p>