STATE http://www.gothamgazette.com/state Wed, 24 Oct 2018 01:14:56 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Senate Republicans Leave Molinaro Out of Only Hope Messaging http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8009-senate-republicans-leave-molinaro-out-of-only-hope-messaging http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8009-senate-republicans-leave-molinaro-out-of-only-hope-messaging molinaro golden

Marc Molinaro & Senator Marty Golden campaign (photo: @marcmolinaro)


Republicans fighting to keep control of the state Senate this year have been adamant that their continued majority in the chamber is the only thing standing between New York and socialism. And with the party playing defense in a number of races, there’s a certain logic to motivating voters to come out based on the idea that their district could be the one that determines who controls the entire Senate, especially resonant given the one-seat margin the Republican conference holds.

But the rhetoric around preserving the GOP majority in its lone source of statewide power seems to leave out a major issue: the party also has a gubernatorial candidate in Marc Molinaro, whose election would guarantee a divided government in Albany thanks to the Democratic supermajority in the Assembly. Molinaro may be facing long odds, but to read much GOP messaging, one could easily think the party isn’t running a candidate against Governor Andrew Cuomo at all.

In the most glaring example of this trend, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, of Long Island, wrote an op-ed arguing for continued GOP control of the Senate, casting the majority as “the most important firewall in history between every taxpayers’ wallet and government coffers,” and hitting common themes of higher taxes and government-run health care if Democrats are victorious. While the editorial confidently predicted “when” and not “if” Republicans control the chamber again, it makes no mention of Molinaro’s campaign for governor on the same ticket.

In a pair of stories about the governor’s involvement in close state Senate races, Scott Reif, the Republican Senate conference spokesperson, kept up the messaging that the Senate GOP was the only chance to hold back Democratic ambitions, telling the Daily News that the governor was trying to “create one-man, one-party rule” and that “there will be no accountability, no checks and balances” if Cuomo successfully helps elect a Democratic Senate majority.

"What Andrew Cuomo really wants is absolute power in Albany, and we're the only ones who can stop it," Reif told the News, again leaving out any mention of Molinaro defeating the two-term incumbent. Reif did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Molinaro is of course facing an uphill battle in taking on Cuomo, especially in an environment seen as hostile to Republicans, and recent statewide polling saw him down 58-35 to Cuomo. Republican donors seem to believe his campaign is less of a wise investment than the state Senate, as Republican strategist Chapin Fay told the New York Times that “The funding class are investors, and they want to invest in something where they would see a return,” in a story about how the Senate GOP has greatly outraised Molinaro this year. The Business Council of New York’s PAC endorsed Cuomo over Molinaro at the same time as they endorsed only a single Democrat (of sorts) in Senator Simcha Felder, who has long-conferenced with Republicans, in an otherwise GOP set of state Senate endorsements.

Molinaro, for his part, said that he felt his campaign and the Senate Republicans were on the same page as far as messaging and working together. “Almost all of the members are helping to spread our message, we’re magnifying our resources, and working with Senator Flanagan,” Molinaro told Gotham Gazette following a Monday event in New York City. “The entire Republican conference has been good for us,” he said, favorably comparing the relationship his campaign has with the Senate GOP to the fraught one that the Rob Astorino campaign had in 2014. (Cuomo himself has been more actively campaigning for his party-mates to control the Senate, and Democrats are exceedingly optimistic they can flip the chamber.)

Currently the Dutchess county executive, Molinaro is a former member of the Assembly who was quickly endorsed by some of his former colleagues in the lower chamber of the state Legislature when he entered the race. Molinaro’s entrance fairly quickly led then-frontrunner Senator John DeFrancisco to drop out as Republican leaders from around the state coalesced behind Molinaro. DeFrancisco had been endorsed by Flanagan and several other senators before leaving the race, frustrated and headed toward retirement. Molinaro and Flanagan have not campaigned together.

But Molinaro, or his lieutenant gubernatorial running mate Julie Killian, have made campaign stops with a number of Republican state Senate candidates, like the Hudson Valley’s Annie Rabbitt, Long Island’s Jeff Pravato and Brooklyn’s Marty Golden, all of whom are in tight races for seats that could control the balance of the body.

Molinaro also brought his anti-corruption message to Syracuse in September for an appearance with Republican Bon Antonacci, who’s running to succeed DeFrancisco. Rabbit is a candidate who said she was “absolutely” motivated to run by the prospect of a Democratic Senate, and Antonacci has said a Democratic state Senate means tax hikes and increased state spending, a scenario that’s only possible if there’s a Democratic governor around to agree to them.

Molinaro, while admitting that “any one of us could lose,” also said he wasn’t bothered by the theoretical erasure of his candidacy by state Senate candidates, because there are other balances in the state Legislature to think about beyond the party balance. “I look forward to working with whomever, but I think the balance between the Senate and Assembly is important. The Senate Republican conference tends to focus its attention on upstate and Long Island, so this regional balance that’s created there, I think there’s an important benefit to that,” he said.

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by Dave Colon, Gotham Gazette
     

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Samar Khurshid and Ben Max contributed to this article.

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dcolon@gg.com (David Colon) State Tue, 23 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Battle for Control of the State Senate http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7998-max-murphy-podcast-battle-for-control-of-the-state-senate http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7998-max-murphy-podcast-battle-for-control-of-the-state-senate mxm logo

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


October 17, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Senator Michael Gianaris and Thomas Doherty

Michael Gianaris Thomas Doherty WBAI

Control of the State Senate is at stake this election year in New York, with Democrats hopeful they can overcome what is now a one-seat margin that leaves them in the minority and win a majority, possibly by several seats in what many in the party hope will be a wave election. Meanwhile, Republicans hope to hold onto what is their only foothold at the state level.

Senator Michael Gianaris of Queens is the chair of the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee and joined the show to discuss Democratic efforts to flip the Senate blue and other election year dynamics, as well as the path ahead for Democrats if they do win the majority and keep their other centers of power in the Assembly and Governor's Office.

Tom Doherty is a former top aide to Republican Governor George Pataki and now a partner at Mercury, a public affairs consultancy. Doherty joined the show to give his take on the state of the Republican Party in New York and what's at stake in this year's elections.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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bmax@gothamgazette.com (Ben Max) State Thu, 18 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
'Speaker Heastie PAC' Gives to James for AG, Skoufis for Senate http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7997-speaker-heastie-pac-gives-to-james-for-ag-skoufis-for-senate http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7997-speaker-heastie-pac-gives-to-james-for-ag-skoufis-for-senate heastie w cuomo and morelle

Speaker Heastie, with Gov. Cuomo and Assemblymember Morelle (Governor's Office)


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.    

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.

Since its creation in January, Heastie’s PAC has raised $326,100 from a combination 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.

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.

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.

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.

As of the last filing, Heastie’s PAC did not show any new fundraising and had about $23,000 left to dish out.

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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samarkhurshid@gmail.com (Samar Khurshid) State Wed, 17 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
The Path Forward for Cuomo's 'One Real Answer,' Congestion Pricing http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7999-the-path-forward-for-cuomo-s-one-real-answer-congestion-pricing http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7999-the-path-forward-for-cuomo-s-one-real-answer-congestion-pricing gov cuomo congepric

Cuomo in the midst of his ABNY presentation


One major issue that hung over the 2018 state budget season was congestion pricing, a plan to charge a fee to all motor vehicles entering parts of Manhattan and diverting the revenue toward funding the beleaguered subway system. Governor Andrew Cuomo directed a panel to study the issue, which determined that a congestion pricing scheme should be implemented and offered options for what it could look like, including a three-year, three-phase proposal. Activist groups applied significant public pressure on the governor and the Legislature. Newspaper opinion pages endorsed the idea.

But in the end, only a small part of the plan came to fruition in the budget: a surcharge on for-hire vehicles, including traditional taxis and app-based rides, entering the Manhattan business district. New charges on other cars and trucks did not come to pass. Activists excoriated Cuomo, while the governor blamed the Legislature. Cuomo said that an important first step had been passed and that he would work on additional steps in the future. That process would be led by a budget-created advisory “workgroup” made up of appointees from various stakeholders, including the governor, legislative leaders, and Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Since the March budget deal, the chorus calling for congestion pricing -- both to reduce street traffic in Manhattan and to secure a steady revenue stream to help support repair of the faltering subways -- has only grown, in number and volume.

Now, supporters of congestion pricing, from activists to City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and many others, want to ensure that it makes it into the next budget. They see a potentially more favorable environment, though a lot will be determined by the results of November’s elections, and by the pressure they put on those running.

“It's my impression that pretty much everyone running for office right now at least in the city supports congestion pricing, so I think that puts us in a position to win this year,” said Rebecca Bailin, the political director of the transit advocacy group Riders Alliance, referring to candidates for state Assembly and Senate.

Riders Alliance is a part of a new coalition, announced earlier this month, consisting of a diverse group of advocacy organizations, including those focused on the environment, immigrants, social justice, low-income communities and communities of color, and others, organized to push congestion pricing over the finish line. Between now and budget season, the groups will engage in both public demonstrations and private meetings with legislators in an attempt to steer the Legislature and governor toward implementing a full congestion pricing plan.

“We are all so reliant on our subways and buses,” Bailin said. “It is a social justice issue because it can either be a barrier or an entryway to economic opportunity, to cultural access in this city, to all the things that the city has to offer.”

The results of the recent primary elections have renewed hope that 2019 could finally be the year.

Discussion of congestion pricing and funding and fixing the MTA was a centerpiece of the Cuomo-Cynthia Nixon primary, with the governor regularly pointing to congestion pricing and the new Fast Forward plan put forth by MTA leadership to upgrade the transit system. Six of the eight members of the recently-defunct Independent Democratic Conference of the state Senate were defeated by insurgent Democrats who largely staked out more strongly supportive positions on congestion pricing than the incumbents.

Some of those defeated, like Senators Jesse Hamilton and Jose Peralta, were supporters of the scheme and were replaced by other supporters; on the other hand, cautious supporter John Liu defeated a vocal opponent, Senator Tony Avella, who is continuing his run in the general election on the Independence and Women’s Equality lines. Even Republican Senator Martin Golden of Southern Brooklyn, a perennial foe of transit and street safety activists, calls himself a supporter of congestion pricing.

"The Senate, whether controlled by the Democrats or the Republicans, is always a complicated picture,” said Alex Matthiessen, the founder of the Move NY campaign, whose comprehensive congestion pricing plan has served as a model for legislative proposals since 2015, in an email. “But the replacement of the IDC and many of its members with a crop of progressive, hungry and decidedly pro-congestion pricing senators-in-waiting portends well for this effort. But regardless of partisan control of the legislature there’s one constant: city transportation is a disaster and it’s on lawmakers to act.”

Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the likely majority leader if the Democrats take the Senate, represents a suburban district and does not have a clear position on congestion pricing. A report by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign found that only 3.9 percent of Stewart-Cousins’ constituents, those driving alone into Manhattan’s proposed congestion pricing zone, would be affected by the charge. Stewart-Cousins’ office did not respond to a request for comment for this article.

In the Assembly, Speaker Carl Heastie of the Bronx is a supporter of congestion pricing, though some advocates criticized him last year for not pushing hard enough for the proposal. Heastie’s office also did not respond to a request for comment.

Senator Michael Gianaris of Queens, who served as deputy minority leader prior to the reunification of the IDC and may return to a deputy leader role in January, was once a skeptic of congestion pricing, but is now a supporter. He also supports Mayor de Blasio’s millionaires’ tax proposal, which he says can help fill the gap left between what’s funded by congestion pricing and what a comprehensive transit fix will actually cost.

“A Democratic Senate would certainly prioritize the stability and funding of the MTA, which the Republican Senate has not done,” Gianaris said in an interview. “So I think it’s a prerequisite to get to a realistic end to have a Democratic Senate. As for whether the Senate would embrace congestion pricing, beyond those of us that already do, I can’t speak for others. We’re gonna have to have those conversations. I don’t even know which senators I’m going to be looking at, because we’re hoping to pick up a lot more senators in a couple weeks.”

Cuomo, too, has only attached himself more to congestion pricing. At an event hosted by the Association for a Better New York on October 4, Cuomo said that since neither God, the city, nor the state would cough up $33 billion needed for the Fast Forward plan, “the only realistic option is congestion pricing, we have to get it done, we have to get it done next year, I need your help.”

For now, Cuomo has activists somewhat convinced.

“I am optimistic based on what he said about the need to fund the MTA,” Bailin said of Cuomo’s ABNY remarks.

Cuomo’s FixNYC panel recommended, in a January report, a broad but “phased” congestion pricing program. The for-hire vehicle surcharge, phase 2, passed, but other parts and phases of the plan did not, leaving many boosters disappointed, and some accusing Cuomo of a “bait-and-switch.”

“The Governor single-handedly revived the idea of congestion pricing and succeeded in passing the first phase of the FixNYC plan including a fee on for-hire vehicles that will go into effect next year as well as empaneling a new MTA advisory group that will provide recommendations before end of year as we develop the executive budget proposal,” Cuomo spokesperson Peter Ajemian said in a statement. “The Governor has been clear congestion pricing is the most realistic way to help fund the NYCT modernization plan and will continue leading the charge to convince legislators to pass it next year.”

The new advisory group is the MTA Sustainability Advisory Workgroup, which formally met for the first time last month and is tasked with coming up with a comprehensive plan for funding a major transit overhaul plan like Fast Forward by December 31. Though created in the enacted budget that passed in March, the panel’s members were not named until August, after Riders Alliance publicly called for the appointments. The group’s fairly tight timeline is compounded by the sheer immensity of the task before it.

But, the workgroup represents a much broader array of perspectives than FixNYC, which was an entirely Cuomo-appointed panel. The panel consists of two Cuomo appointees: CEO of the Partnership for New York City Kathryn Wylde and Metro North Commuter Council member Rhonda Herman; two appointees of congestion pricing skeptic Mayor Bill de Blasio: former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Senator Gianaris; one appointee of MTA Chair Joe Lhota: Vice Chair Fernando Ferrer; two from the Senate: former City Council Member Andrew Eristoff and former DOT engineer Michael Shamma; and two from the Assembly: Assemblymembers Amy Paulin and Michael Benedetto.

“It is a group of well-meaning individuals who are trying to make recommendations to solve the MTA’s funding crisis,” Gianaris said. “And the MTA crisis in general, regardless of funding. I think efficiency is one of the other things we’re going to be looking at as well.”

Even de Blasio appears to be warming to the idea of congestion pricing, evidenced by his appointment of two supporters to the panel.

The panel has met three times so far, and Wylde, the chair, says that the meetings will occur weekly or biweekly until the end of the year, when a set of recommendations must be produced. The initial focus has been determining what the funding needs of the MTA are and how congestion pricing could form part of a solution, but the panel is empowered to go well beyond that in its recommended solutions.

“FixNYC was really focused on congestion pricing and how to implement it,” Gianaris said. “That is just one element of what this group is doing.”

Wylde elaborated on that point.

“It may be funding mechanisms, it may be reforms,” Wylde said in an interview with Gotham Gazette. “Structural and other reforms in how the MTA raises its own revenues. And then all the issues associated with congestion pricing: 1) to build support, and 2) to achieve the dual goals of new revenue generation and traffic reduction. So those have been the focus of the conversation so far.”

New York City Transit President Andy Byford’s much-talked about Fast Forward plan to modernize the subway system has been projected to cost roughly $40 billion over ten years, though Cuomo has used the $33 billion figure. Wylde said that unanimity on a true cost does not exist on the panel, and that part of the panel’s focus is in determining what it would be.

Congestion pricing remains the crux of the negotiations, and its status as a major part of the long-term transit solution appears to be agreed upon. But most analysts agree that congestion pricing would not alone cover the massive cost of fixing the transit system, and that other mechanisms are necessary as well. Estimates for annual congestion pricing revenue vary, and depend on what the program actually looks like, but have been in the $1 billion range.

The new advisory panel’s recommended solutions could, theoretically, include any of a variety of measures beyond congestion pricing -- including labor reforms, changes to the MTA’s budgeting process, an added surcharge to high-income earners’ taxes, fare hikes, or value capture -- to address long-term funding and spending issues.

“We will be careful about mission creep,” Wylde said. “The primary goal here is to identify the gap and make specific recommendations on how to deal with it, and most specifically, it’s to try and resolve an approach to congestion pricing. And so, I think that’s the focus, and to the extent that the gap exceeds the revenues that one can project from congestion pricing, looking at other sources of funding or cost reduction.”

The panel’s work will be informed by that of outside experts and advocates, and by previous plans such as FixNYC and Move NY, as well as by the expertise that the panel members themselves have from work on these issues. Political questions will come into consideration as well, especially considering the presence of three current and two former elected officials. The nature of the panel’s makeup -- that numerous stakeholders, rather than just one, appointed its members -- may allow for a broader consensus to be formed in such a way that is palatable to all parties.

“To date, I don't think party politics are playing a role,” Wylde said. “Obviously, the political sensibilities of all members of the group play into what they think is realistic and what can be accomplished. So, it's a politically sophisticated group, but not one that's just gonna be at the mercy of party politics.”

The November elections will, of course, hold significant influence over what happens in the next budget season, though Republican gubernatorial nominee Marc Molinaro, the Dutchess county executive, does support congestion pricing. However, if Republicans maintain the majority in the State Senate, they may put the brakes on the momentum toward implementation.

Advocates are, at present, optimistic about the panel and prospects despite the initial hiccups.

“It’s important there’s a panel in place that represents the interests of various government entities whose constituents are affected by our transportation crisis,” Matthiessen said. “As long as the Workgroup delivers the report by the December 31 deadline, the group’s work will be worthwhile.”

And though the December 31 deadline may seem tight for such a complex assignment, the stakeholders are confident that it will get done.

“It may be a broad topic,” Wylde said, “but it’s not a new topic.”

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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bbrachfeld@gg.com (Ben Brachfeld) State Wed, 17 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Democrats in Swing Districts Run On, Not From, Single-Payer Health Care http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7995-despite-lack-of-support-from-cuomo-democrats-in-swing-districts-run-on-not-from-single-payer-health-care http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7995-despite-lack-of-support-from-cuomo-democrats-in-swing-districts-run-on-not-from-single-payer-health-care andrewcuomo affor

Gov. Cuomo & Long Island Democratic Senate candidates (photo: @andrewcuomo)


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.

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.

The New York Health Act, the proposed law that would set up single-payer health insurance in New York, has gained momentum 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.

The push saw added attention as Democratic gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon made passing the bill a centerpiece of her campaign, 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.

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 “in theory,” 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, instead focusing on issues 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.

As Cuomo avoided the issue, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan brought up the specter of socialism and high taxes in an op-ed column 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.”

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.”

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.”

“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.

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 previous interview with Gotham Gazette. Cuomo has also endorsed Gounardes, at a rally in Brooklyn where there was no mention of single-payer healthcare.

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 went for Hillary Clinton in 2016 by more than 5 points each, though the 42nd District went for Donald Trump by 5 points.

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.

Jessica Ramos promoted single-payer on her website, Alessandra Biaggi explained her support for it using her own father’s Parkinson’s Disease as an example of how the current healthcare system was failing, and Zellnor Myrie promoted a recently-released RAND Corporation study 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.

Even John Brooks, a Long Island Democrat running a tough re-election campaign for his seat on Long Island states on his website that he supports the New York Health Act, and has called affordable health insurance “a right, not a privilege.” 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.”

Just under 5 percent of New Yorkers lack health insurance, according to a recent report 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.

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 said in response 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.

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 payroll and other taxes would need to increase 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.

“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.

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 on his website, 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 calls for universal single-payer, and Pat Strong, 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 more than once in his time in the Assembly, but doesn’t list is as one of his main issues on his campaign website. Skoufis released a campaign ad 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.

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.

“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 told the Daily News editorial board “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.”

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 first-term priority on his website (state legislative terms are two years long).

“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.

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 his love of New York being first. “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.”

***
by Dave Colon, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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dcolon@gg.com (Dave Colon) State Tue, 16 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Close Ties Among Bronx Electeds, Campaign Consultants, Lobbyists and Donors http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7993-close-ties-among-bronx-electeds-campaign-consultants-lobbyists-and-donors http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7993-close-ties-among-bronx-electeds-campaign-consultants-lobbyists-and-donors klein gjonaj office share shot

Klein-Gjonaj offices (photo via Google Maps)


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 the office space since Gjonaj’s days as a member of the state Assembly.

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 for yelling “Shame!” through a megaphone at Biaggi as she entered a campaign event.

The two also share connections to a campaign consultancy, lobbyist, and the Squitieri family, large donors to both officials. ProPublica recently exposed 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.

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, spending around eleven times more per vote than his opponent.

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.

The head of the Hamilton Campaign Network is John Emrick, former chief of staff to Jeff Klein. Emrick left the IDC fold in 2016 to work in campaigns, returning to work for Klein in a different way this year.

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.

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.

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. ProPublica reported that Sanitation Salvage skirted regulation for years, even after worker deaths, through lobbying and a strong foothold in the Bronx political machine.

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.

A spokesman for MirRam said Emrick was not available for comment on this story.

"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.”

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 said it was formed to seek out “disenfranchised voters.” More notable is the club’s president, John Squitieri, 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.

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.

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.

Klein and Gjonaj then joined in to submit a letter of support for Sanitation Salvage to restore the company’s license. They called the suspension “troubling.”

“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.

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.

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.

"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."

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.

State Senator Avella, another former member of the IDC, actually proposed legislation 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).

A similar version of Avella’s bill was introduced in 2013 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.

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:

“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.

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.

***
by Jake Shore for Gotham Gazette
@Jake4Shore
@GothamGazette

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jshore@gg.com (Jake Shore) State Tue, 16 Oct 2018 01:14:04 +0000
WATCH: State Comptroller Candidate Debate http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7989-watch-state-comptroller-candidate-debate-dinapoli-trichter-2018 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7989-watch-state-comptroller-candidate-debate-dinapoli-trichter-2018  img 6200 2

Candidates DiNapoli, Dunlea, Gallaudet, Trichter (l-r) (Photo: MNN)


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.

The debate, embedded below, aired on Manhattan Neighborhood Network and was moderated by Gotham Gazette's Ben Max.

Read More ...

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bmax@gothamgazette.com (Ben Max) State Mon, 15 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Is this the Election that Kills Fusion Voting in New York? http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7984-is-this-the-election-that-kills-fusion-voting-in-new-york http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7984-is-this-the-election-that-kills-fusion-voting-in-new-york govcuomo office pr

(photo via the Governor's office)


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.

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.

New York put a dent in fusion voting in the mid-20th century with the Wilson-Pakula Law, passed largely in reaction 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.”

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 thanks in part to the Liberal Party endorsement over incumbent Democratic Mayor David Dinkins. The party’s decision was largely seen as a power move by its leader, Ray Harding, and while it got Harding’s sons jobs in the new administration, 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.

In the aftermath of the Liberal Party decision 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 the City Council Progressive Caucus. 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.

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.

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 allegedly threatening progressive organizations 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 other headaches.

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.

While only Tony Avella has announced his intention to mount a vigorous general election campaign, Democratic Party bosses were rumored to have dangled judgeships 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.

Perhaps sensing an opportunity to assert their power, the Democratic establishment across New York is making noise about ending fusion.

“Call it CON-fusion voting” Democratic consultant Bob Liff wrote in the Daily News 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, wrote Joshua Spivak of the Hugh Carey Institute for Government Reform, and third parties could actually grow without fusion.

Norman Green, chair of the Chautauqua County Democratic Party, wrote that the practice encourages corruption on a local level and a tail wags the dog situation on a statewide level, and the Erie County Democratic Town Chairs Association called for an end to Wilson-Pakula because of what they said resulted in overstuffed ballots featuring the same candidates on a series of different ballot lines.

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, told the Daily News 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.

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.

So is fusion on the way out?

“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.”

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.

Recent history is on Long’s side. Governor Cuomo floated the idea of nixing Wilson-Pakula 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.

The effort ran into resistance from the smaller parties and reform groups like Common Cause New York and the Brennan Center for Justice 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.

“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.

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.

“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.”

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.

“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.”

Using local parties as a kind of personal fiefdom is enough of a concern for even some allies of groups that rely on fusion.

“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.”

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.”

New York’s Independence Party has come under criticism for years 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 been run by fringe political figures who’ve gotten the ear of mainstream candidates banking on the almost half a million people registered with the party, prominence that inspired a weeklong Daily News investigation into the party.

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.

“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.”

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, who issued a statement 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.

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 makes it so difficult to establish a ballot line and that's why they do fusion voting. Because these third parties just wind up being cogs of a party machine.”

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.”

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.

"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."

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.

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).

Carmada said it’s all life under fusion.

"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.

If the end of fusion is near though, Long at least was copacetic about the future of the Conservative Party.

“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.”

***
by Dave Colon, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note - this article has been updated. 

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dcolon@gg.com (Dave Colon) State Fri, 12 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Republican Attorney General Nominee Keith Wofford http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7985-max-murphy-podcast-republican-attorney-general-nominee-keith-wofford http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7985-max-murphy-podcast-republican-attorney-general-nominee-keith-wofford mxm logo

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


October 10, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Republican Attorney General Nominee Keith Wofford

keith wofford wbai 277Keith 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.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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bmax@gothamgazette.com (Ben Max) State Thu, 11 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Larry Sharpe, Libertarian nominee for Governor http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7986-max-murphy-podcast-larry-sharpe-libertarian-nominee-for-governor http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7986-max-murphy-podcast-larry-sharpe-libertarian-nominee-for-governor mxm logo

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


October 10, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Larry Sharpe, Libertarian nominee for Governor

larry sharpe wbai 277Larry 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.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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bmax@gothamgazette.com (Ben Max) State Thu, 11 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000