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The August Financial Picture for Former IDC Senators and Their Primary Challengers


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Zellnor Myrie, center, and other IDC challengers


With one month to go until primary day, candidates for state office filed their latest campaign finance disclosures on Tuesday, covering the period between July 17 and August 13 of this year.

The entire state legislature, with 213 seats, is on the ballot but most of the competitive races are taking place for positions in the 63-member state Senate, where the Republican and Democratic conferences each hold 31 seats. Republicans maintain control with the help of Sen. Simcha Felder, a conservative Democrat from Brooklyn who professes no party loyalty. The 150-member state Assembly, on the other hand, is overwhelmingly Democratic and has few competitive races.

The most closely watched primary races involve members of the former Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), a group of eight Democratic senators who caucused with Republicans from 2011 until earlier this year, when they rejoined the mainline Democratic conference. All eight of them are facing primary challenges from insurgent progressive candidates.

When Governor Cuomo announced a unity deal in April that brought the rogue Democrats back into the Democratic fold, there was an agreement that the state Democratic Party and prominent unions would support the members of the former IDC. However, the shock primary victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York’s 14th Congressional District over Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley -- who played a prominent role in brokering the unity deal -- spurred many elected officials, activist groups, and unions to support the challengers over the senators.

Six out of the eight former IDC senators were outraised in July and August by their challengers, some by significant margins. But the IDC members have significant amounts of campaign cash already and enjoy support from Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state Democratic Party. Senator Jeff Klein, the leader of the former IDC, was significantly outraised by challenger Alessandra Biaggi, but has over $1.6 million already in the bank.

What remains unclear is whether the former IDC members will have to return hundreds of thousands in donations from the Senate Independence Campaign Committee, a fundraising committee set up in 2016 by the IDC and the Independence Party that was declared illegal by a state Supreme Court judge in June this year. In July, the state Board of Elections’ enforcement counsel Risa Sugarman, in a strongly worded letter, called on the senators to return over-the-limit contributions received from the SICC. But the senators have refused to do so, ignoring a deadline set by Sugarman that lapsed last week. Sugarman has declined to comment on what steps she may take next.

The former IDC Senators include Tony Avella of District 11 in Queens, Jose Peralta of District 13 in Queens, Jesse Hamilton of District 20 in Brooklyn, Diane Savino of District 23 in Staten Island and Brooklyn, Marisol Alcantara of District 31 in Manhattan, and Klein of District 34 the Bronx and Westchester, as well as David Carlucci of District 38 and David Valesky of District 53, both north of the city.

Those are not the only competitive Democratic primaries, however. Senator Felder, who represents District 17 in Brooklyn, is being challenged by Blake Morris. In District 20, also in Brooklyn, Democratic Senator Martin Dilan, who was never an IDC member but who received funds from the SICC, is being challenged by democratic socialist Julia Salazar. And in District 22, also in Brooklyn, the winner of the Democratic primary contest between Andrew Gounardes, general counsel to Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, and Ross Barkan, a journalist-turned-politician, will face incumbent Republican Senator Marty Golden in the general.

Senate District 11
Senator Tony Avella, who represents northeastern Queens, raised $27,000 and spent about $76,000 in the latest filing period. He has just under $122,000 in cash on hand. Avella has raised a total of $268,000 and spent about $171,000 since January 2017, the beginning of his current term.

Avella’s challenger John Liu raised $202,000 and spent $13,000. He has just under $190,000 in cash on hand. Liu, the former New York City Comptroller who unsuccessfully challenged Avella in 2014, started the filing period with less than $1,000 in his campaign coffers, owing to a late start to his campaign just before the filing deadline. Liu’s supporters, including City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, facilitated a petitioning and fundraising blitz in July to get him onto the primary ballot against Avella, who at that point was the only former IDC member not to have a primary challenger.

Senate District 13
Senator Jose Peralta has appeared particularly vulnerable among the former IDC members since Ocasio-Cortez’s insurgent primary victory over Crowley, the head of the Queens Democratic establishment. Peralta’s district is situated within the congressional district that Ocasio-Cortez won and the senator has the backing of Crowley, which some observers believe could redound to his opponent’s benefit. He raised $30,000 in this last filing and spent $102,000. He has $112,000 cash on hand. Peralta has raised a total of $545,000 this election cycle, and has spent $503,000.

Peralta is being challenged by Jessica Ramos, a former aide to Mayor Bill de Blasio. Ramos raised $37,000 and spent about $33,000. She has $103,000 cash on hand. She was recently endorsed by the mayor, and has racked up endorsements from local leaders and Democratic clubs. In total, Ramos has raised $239,000 and spent $136,000 during her campaign.

Senate District 20
Senator Jesse Hamilton, who represents parts of central and western Brooklyn, raised $22,000 and spent just under $100,000. He has $135,000 cash on hand. Hamilton has raised a total of $506,000 this election cycle, and has spent $388,000.

Challenger Zellnor Myrie, a Brooklyn-based attorney, raised $43,000 and spent $53,000. He has $145,000 cash on hand. In total, Myrie has raised $308,000 and spent $163,000 during his campaign. Myrie was endorsed by Mayor de Blasio over the weekend, and has garnered support from several prominent elected officials in the district, including most recently Congressional Representatives Yvette Clarke, Hakeem Jeffries, Nydia Velázquez and Jerry Nadler.

Senate District 23
Senator Diane Savino, who represents Staten Island’s North Shore and part of southern Brooklyn, raised $8,500 and spent $59,000. She has $208,000 cash on hand. Savino has raised a total of about $795,000 this election cycle, and has spent $769,000.

Savino faces activist Jasmine Robinson in the primary, who has yet to raise significant funds for the race. Robinson only brought in $6,000 and spent $1,600 in the latest filing. She has less than $5,000 in cash on hand. In total, Robinson, who dropped out and then immediately re-entered the race after a controversy involving fraudulent petition signatures, has raised about $6,000 and spent $1,600.

Senate District 31
Senator Marisol Alcantara, who joined the IDC right after being elected in November 2016 with financial support from the SICC, raised $22,000 and spent $115,000. She has $37,000 cash on hand. Alcantara has raised a total of $476,000 this election cycle, and spent $497,000.

Though she was the handpicked successor of her predecessor, now-U.S. Rep. Adriano Espaillat, and is the only Latina serving in the Senate, her short tenure in the body and her membership in the IDC has made her vulnerable in the election.

Robert Jackson, a former City Council member who lost to Alcantara in 2016, is challenging her again this year. He raised $43,000 and spent $49,000 over the last month. He has $152,000 in cash on hand. In total, Jackson has raised $328,000 and spent $173,000 during his campaign.

Senate District 34
Senator Jeff Klein, the leader of the former IDC and currently the deputy Democratic conference leader, raised $15,000 and spent $550,000 in just 30 days. He has $1.6 million in cash on hand, far in excess of his other former IDC colleagues. Klein has raised a total of $1.8 million this election cycle, and spent $1.6 million.

Klein, who as leader of the IDC was the fourth man in the room negotiating the state budget, is currently the Deputy Minority Leader in the Senate. Klein has been accused of sexual misconduct by former aide Erica Vladimer.

Alessandra Biaggi, Klein’s challenger, raised $77,000 and spent $49,000. She has $242,000 cash on hand. In total, Biaggi has raised $432,000 and spent $156,000 during her campaign.

Senate District 38
Senator David Carlucci, who represents Rockland County and part of Westchester County, raised $7,700 and spent $81,000. He has $368,000 cash on hand. Carlucci has raised a total of $403,000 this election cycle, and spent $398,000.

His primary opponent, Julie Goldberg, raised $16,000 and spent $12,000. She has $16,500 cash on hand. In total, Goldberg has raised about $33,000 and spent $16,000 during her campaign.

Senate District 53
Senator David Valesky, who represents part of Syracuse, Madison County, Oneida County, and Onondaga County, raised $7,000 and spent $36,000. He has $636,000 cash on hand. Valesky has raised a total of $263,000 this election cycle, and spent just under $200,000

Valesky’s primary opponent is Rachel May, who raised $25,000, spent $39,000, and has $67,000 cash on hand. In total, May has raised about $145,000 and spent $78,000 this election cycle.

Other Senate primary races to watch:

Senate District 17
Senator Simcha Felder raised about $9,600 and spent $34,000. He has $613,000 cash on hand. Felder has raised a total of $514,000 this election cycle, and has spent $195,000.

Challenger Blake Morris raised $24,000 and spent $17,000. He has $17,000 cash on hand. In total, Morris has raised $66,000 and spent $49,000 during his campaign.

Though he’s facing off a senator who is unpopular among state Democrats, Morris has not attracted as much support from city elected officials as the other IDC challengers. He has, however, been endorsed by the Working Families Party, 32BJ, and a few advocacy organizations and Democratic clubs.

Senate District 18
Senator Martin Dilan, who represents parts of North Brooklyn, raised $52,000 and spent $28,000. He has $101,000 cash on hand. Dilan has raised a total of $139,000 this election cycle, and has spent $64,000.

Julia Salazar, his primary challenger, raised $64,000 and spent $37,000. She has $93,000 in cash on hand. In total, Salazar has raised $182,000 and spent $90,000 during her campaign.

Salazar, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, has attracted significant attention for her race, with many calling her the “next Ocasio-Cortez.” She has criticized Dilan for his record on housing, including his now-disavowed vote for vacancy decontrol while he served on the City Council, and has questioned past donations he received from the SICC and Sen. Klein. Salazar has been endorsed by the Working Families Party, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez, the United Auto Workers union, and several advocacy organizations.

Senate District 22
Andrew Gounardes, who is running as a Democrat to replace Senator Marty Golden in southern Brooklyn, raised $23,600 and spent $35,000, and has $170,000 cash on hand. Gounardes has raised $262,000 and spent $92,000 over the election cycle.

Gounardes’ primary opponent, Ross Barkan, raised $7,600 and spent $43,000, and has $23,000 cash on hand. Barkan has raised $146,000 and spent $123,000 since he began the race.

Sen. Golden has raised a total of $782,000 this election cycle, and has spent $720,000. According to his latest filings from July, he had 485,000 in cash on hand.

The primary election is on Thursday, September 13.

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ahead of Primary, Democrats Running for Attorney General File Campaign Finance Disclosures


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Public Advocate Letitia James (photo: @TishJames)


With a month to go before the September 13 primary for statewide elected offices, the four candidates running for the Democratic nomination for attorney general filed their latest campaign finance disclosures on Tuesday, covering the period between July 17 and August 13. The filings, along with a Siena College poll from June, suggest that the race remains competitive as the candidates each seek to gain name-recognition among voters in the closing stretch of the race.

US Representative Sean Patrick Maloney led the pack in the pre-primary fundraising period in both contributions and expenditures. He raised about $696,000 and spent about $883,000. Maloney has about $795,000 in cash on hand. He has retained several consulting firms, including Red Horse Strategies and Canal Partners Media; he spent about $718,000 in fees for those two firms in the filing period, far in excess of any other candidate’s spending on consultants. Maloney’s largest contributor was the Durst Organization, which gave $150,000 through five real estate LLCs associated with Durst properties under the name “Dolp,” and an additional LLC related to the Helena, a building in the Durst portfolio.

Public Advocate Letitia James, who is the most well-known of the four and is the chosen candidate of the state Democratic Party and Governor Andrew Cuomo, did not raise as much as Maloney in the last month, but still has Maloney bested in total cash-on-hand: James has about $1.2 million in her campaign account, against Maloney’s $795,000. James paid $85,000 to consulting firm Hamilton Campaign Network. James raised $434,000 in the filing period, and spent about $217,000. James’s largest contributor in the filing period was the Transport Workers Union Local 100, which gave her $40,000.

Fordham law professor Zephyr Teachout’s haul came in third, totaling about $370,000. She spent the least among the four candidates, dispensing just under $113,000 in the filing period, leaving her with a balance of $474,000. She spent $40,000 in fees for the consulting firm Middle Seat. Teachout’s largest contributor was an individual named Clay Kirk, who gave $15,000.

Former Cuomo and Hillary Clinton official Leecia Eve outspent Teachout, with $133,000 in expenditures, but raised by far the smallest amount in the filing period, bringing in about $42,000. She ends the filing period with $159,000 on hand. Eve paid $19,000 to Trippi Norton Rossmeissl for consulting work and $18,750 to Community Linked for canvassing; she also spent $25,000 in fees for Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, a law firm. Eve’s largest total contributions came from her own personal funds, about $8,700 in seventy-two individual donations.

James and Maloney have each received $15,000 donations in total during the race from the Real Estate Board PAC, associated with the powerful Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) lobbying group. Eve got a $5,000 donation from the group in a previous filing while Teachout did not receive any money from REBNY.

The Teachout campaign touted the fact that it had received 6,561 unique donations in the filing period from 5,410 individuals, the most among all the candidates. She had $88,000 in “unitemized contributions,” meaning that the contributor’s name, address, and amount contributed need not be filed on a disclosure report, if a contributor gives less than $99 in the aggregate of one or multiple donations. Teachout is the only one among the four Democratic attorney general contenders refusing money from corporate political action committees and limited liability companies. 

Maloney brought in 1,023 individual donations, James had 374, and Eve had only 118. James and Maloney had no unitemized contributions in this filing period, while Eve had $495 in unitemized contributions.

Maloney may have significantly more funds available to him than are reported in his disclosure. He has over $3 million in his congressional campaign account that he believes he is free to spend in the state race. The legality of Maloney running both for reelection to Congress and for the open attorney general seat was challenged separately by James and Maloney's Republican opponent for his congressional seat, Jim O'Donnell. James' challenge was invalidated by the state Board of Elections, and O'Donnell narrowed his court challenge to only remove Maloney from the congressional race, leaving the congressman free to pursue the attorney general primary nomination.

The winner of the Democratic primary will face Republican Keith Wofford in the November 6 general election.

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note - this article has been updated to note that Leecia Eve received a $5,000 donation from REBNY in a previous filing.

Democratic Candidates for Governor and Lieutenant Governor File Pre-Primary Fundraising Numbers


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Cynthia Nixon and Council Member Jumaane Williams (photo:@CynthiaNixon)


Governor Andrew Cuomo, a two-term Democrat, spent millions over the last month on his reelection campaign, far outpacing his Democratic primary rival, actor and education activist Cynthia Nixon, according to pre-primary campaign finance disclosures filed by candidates this week with the state Board of Elections. Cuomo’s running mate, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, overwhelmingly outraised her own primary opponent, New York City Council Member Jumaane Williams.

Cuomo spent a whopping $7.5 million and raised about $845,000 in just one month, between July 17 and August 13, and still has $24 million left in cash on hand. Most of the money was spent on television advertisements, with over $4 million paid to New Jersey-based Media Fortitude Partners, a media buying firm. Another $1.3 million for advertisements went to Motus Strategies LLC. The campaign also paid $384,000 to Bully Pulpit Interactive, a communications consulting firm based in Washington, D.C. Over the course of the election cycle, the governor has raised $35.5 million and spent $19.6 million in total. 

The governor’s campaign also made large charitable contributions in this most recent filing period totalling $422,000 to various organizations across the state including the Legal Aid Society, Planned Parenthood, the Puerto Rican Family Institute, the National Institute for Reproductive Health Action and NOW NYC. The donations seem to be drawn from a pot of money set aside by Cuomo in January last year owing to the arrest on corruption charges of several upstate executives who had donated large sums to his campaign along with Joe Percoco, a former top aide and Cuomo campaign manager. Percoco and the executives were recently convicted in federal court. 

As he seeks a third term in office, Cuomo has also been bent on making an impact at the national level. He has been putting the state Democratic party’s resources into electing more Democrats to the House of Representatives, to reclaim control of the chamber from Republicans. On Tuesday, his campaign announced the creation of a federal political action committee called “Cuomo NY Take Back the House PAC” which, according to the campaign, has contributed the maximum $2,700 each to ten Democratic congressional candidates across New York State. The PAC has yet to file financial disclosures with the Federal Election Commission.

“With Trump and Republicans in Washington threatening New York’s way of life – from healthcare and women’s rights to immigration and tax reform – the Governor is laser focused on taking back the U.S. House to protect the people of this state,” said Maggie Moran, Cuomo’s campaign manager, in a statement.

Nixon, on the other hand, raised only about $392,000 for her insurgent gubernatorial bid, and spent $606,000 in the same one-month period. Though Nixon has only about $442,000 left to spend, her campaign has touted the nearly 43,000 thousand individual donations it has received in the last five months as evidence of the strength of her campaign and has repeatedly emphasized that Nixon has refused all corporate donations. Nixon’s campaign pointed out Tuesday that those individual donations outnumber Cuomo’s own individual donors from his four runs for governor and that 98 percent of Nixon’s contributions came from small dollar donors, who only accounted for about 0.2 percent of Cuomo’s fundraising. In-kind contributions made up a large part of Nixon’s fundraising, with just under $88,000 coming from the Working Families Party and $11,250 that Nixon gave herself. Since jumping into the race, Nixon has raised a total of $2 million and spent $1.3 million.

“We are seeing a level of grassroots momentum that Cuomo has failed to tap into during his entire two decade career in New York politics,” said Hayley Prim, Nixon’s campaign manager, in a statement. “There is a real hunger in New York to elect a real progressive who is beholden to the people, not corporations and millionaires.”

On Monday, Cuomo finally agreed to a primary debate, which Nixon had pushed for months. The two will participate in an hour-long debate hosted by WCBS at Hofstra University on August 29, just two weeks before primary day.

In the lieutenant governor race, Hochul, the Democratic incumbent, raised nearly $460,000 and only had about $143,000 in expenditures, leaving her a balance of about $1.6 million. Candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run separately in the primary election, which is September 13, and on a joint ticket for the general. Hochul has raised a total of $1.7 million for her reelection so far and spent about $375,000.

Williams, Hochul’s primary opponent, only raised about $25,000 and spent about $32,000. He has just under $39,000 in cash on hand. Notably, Williams refunded $10,000 to Glenwood Masonry Products after it emerged in his previous filing that he had accepted multiple over-the-limit contributions. He has not yet returned another $25,000 in improper contributions in total from two other firms linked to the same developer as Glenwood Masonry, despite promising to do so. Once he does, his campaign balance will fall to just under $14,000. Williams' total fundraising for the race, including those contributions, is about $207,000, of which he has spent $151,000 so far. A Williams campaign spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

The Hochul campaign, which has also repeatedly chastised Williams for not releasing his tax returns from the last five years, pounced on the Council member’s failure to return the money. “The question is simple...where’s the money?” read a statement from the campaign, “Councilman Williams stated in late July that he would ‘definitely’ return the donations, and after almost a month he still hasn’t kept his word. New Yorkers are clearly seeing that Mr. Williams thinks the rules don’t apply to him - they’ll have their opportunity to respond September 13th.”

Hochul and Williams are set face each other later this month in the second debate of the race. The debate will be hosted by the Manhattan Neighborhood Network and moderated by Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max. It will be taped on the morning of August 29 and will air on September 2.

There is no other contested primary in either the race for governor or lieutenant governor. The Democratic primary victors will face off in the general against Republican nominee for governor Marc Molinaro and his running mate Julie Killian; the Green Party's Howie Hawkins; Libertarian Larry Sharpe; and independent candidate Stephanie Miner who is running on a ticket with Michael Volpe. 

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note- This article has been updated with the candidates' total fundraising and expenditure for the entire election cycle. 

Opponents of Democratic Senator Raise Questions About Past IDC Financial Support


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Senator Martin Dilan (Photo: Sen. Dilan's Office)


A campaign fundraising committee set up to bankroll the state Senators from the erstwhile Independent Democratic Conference was recently ruled to have been illegal by a state Supreme Court judge. Campaign finance records show that Brooklyn Senator Martin Dilan, who was never part of the IDC but is facing a tough primary challenge this year, was also a beneficiary of thousands of dollars spent by that committee for his last reelection campaign, a fact opponents are using as fodder to criticize his commitment to the Democratic base.

The Senate Independence Campaign Committee (SICC) was created in 2016 in an arrangement between the Republican-allied IDC, a conference but not political party led by Bronx Senator Jeff Klein, and the Independence Party. Klein chaired the SICC and funnelled about $1.4 million in total to his campaign and those of his fellow IDC members, allocating funds even after the IDC was dissolved in April, when its members rejoined the mainline Democratic conference. While there were questions about the legality of the SICC from its inception, there had been no legal rulings about it until recently.

A state Supreme Court judge ruled in June that the SICC arrangement was not compliant with state election law, and the state Board of Elections enforcement counsel, Risa Sugarman, subsequently called on the IDC members in a June 20 letter to return the contributions they had received from the SICC within 20 days. That deadline passed on Wednesday, and the senators have shown no indication that they intend to refund any of the donations. IDC members maintain that the issue identified by the court, which related to the party affiliation of the SICC leadership, has been resolved, and say that the judge did not order them to return any money. Sugarman declined to comment for this article.

Then or soon-to-be members of the IDC received various amounts of campaign money from the SICC last election cycle, two years ago, including about $540,000 that went to help Marisol Alcantara win a close, four-way Democratic primary, after which she joined the IDC. Like the other seven former members of the breakaway conference, Alcantara is facing a primary challenge this year.

In 2016, when Dilan was running for reelection and faced a primary challenge, the SICC spent about $8,000 in his favor. Dilan was the only member of the mainline Democratic conference to receive aid from the committee, a fact his primary opponent, Julia Salazar, a young democratic socialist, has highlighted. Dilan also got a $5,000 donation from Klein himself. “The fact that Senator Dilan accepted support from the IDC's illegal slush fund just two years ago raises troubling questions about where his loyalties lie,” said Michael Kinnucan, a Salazar campaign spokesperson, in an email. “The voters of District 18 deserve a senator who is accountable to his constituents, not to wealthy donors and Republican-linked special interests.”

[Read: Running for State Senate, Julia Salazar Attempts Progressive Primary Upset]

Salazar, a community organizer, is running as a progressive from Dilan’s left, focusing on issues such as affordable housing, healthcare, and immigration while refusing donations from the real estate industry, which has been generous to Dilan and, even more so, to Klein and the IDC. She has criticized Dilan’s record, particularly on housing and tenant protections, over his eight terms in office, highlighting the rampant gentrification that has hit the northern Brooklyn district, which includes Williamsburg and Bushwick, and taking aim at his vote for vacancy decontrol, which he has since disavowed.

Graham Parker, a spokesperson for Dilan’s campaign, issued a scathing response to his opponents’ criticism of the SICC expenditures, without mentioning Salazar’s name at all. He said Dilan “was not considering, and has not considered leaving the Senate Democratic Conference.”

“These attacks and accusations only serve to hide who the opponent really is and who really backs her candidacy,” Parker said in an email. “[Salazar] has nearly $50 thousand in unitemized contributions. She hosts lavish fundraisers with Wall Street executives. Most all of her money is from out of the district. She lives in luxury, and decries displacement. She's a republican one year, a socialist the next. She is the exact opposite of what’s been portrayed. It’s fitting the [Working Families Party] supports her; they haven’t been about workers or families in a decade. It’s why the laborers left, and now support the Senator.”

The funds behind the SICC came from donors who are more often linked with Republicans -- including the real estate and charter school sectors -- which is anathema to several progressive challengers who are taking on Democratic incumbents across statewide races. At a Thursday news conference on the steps of City Hall, four of the eight candidates challenging the former IDC senators excoriated them for refusing to give the SICC funds back. They were joined by Bill Lipton, political director of the New York Working Families Party, which has endorsed the challengers as well as Salazar.

“I think it’s a really important data point that defines a certain type of Democrat,” Lipton said of the SICC expenditure for Dilan, shortly after the news conference. “That you would be willing to take money from a party that openly supports Republicans for Congress, openly has supported Republicans for state Senate and the money itself...it comes from some of the wealthiest people in the world. These hedge fund and real estate barons are extremely powerful and they support the Independence Party and they support candidates like Dilan and the IDC because they want their interests protected.”

The SICC money “suggests that he’s IDC-friendly,” Lipton said. It’s not clear if there was ever anything further than the 2016 expenditure to indicate that the IDC was recruiting Dilan or if he was at any point considering joining the breakaway faction. Dilan has had harsh words about the IDC in the past, saying in 2014, “They’re not Democrats, no matter what they say. They should all be disenrolled by the Democratic Party.”

Barbara Brancaccio, a Klein spokesperson, did not address the Dilan expenditure but had caustic criticism for the IDC challengers and the WFP. “There is no legal basis for returning these funds and the account is fully compliant, unlike their Working Fraud Party, who continues to violate finance and election laws in campaigns throughout New York State,” she said in a statement, before identifying three challengers to former IDC senators by name and making apparently unsubstantiated allegations against them.

“The recent flood of endorsements for Julia Salazar and IDC challengers demonstrate how electeds and key institutional players are following the cues of progressive grassroots activists,” said Susan Kang, a spokesperson for No IDC NY, a group opposing the former IDC members which has its own multi-candidate campaign committee. “Incumbents like Dilan with deeper connections to the real estate interests than his own constituents are out of the step with the current political moment,” she added.

The primary is September 13.

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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As Senator Faces Tough Primary, He’s Spending $1 Million in Public Funds from Brooklyn Borough President


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Senator Jesse Hamilton with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, center (photo: @BPEricAdams)


Amid a heated Democratic primary race in central Brooklyn’s state Senate District 20, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams is making $1 million of government money available for spending in the district through a process run by Senator Jesse Hamilton, his handpicked, newly-embattled successor in the state Legislature.

Hamilton is a former member of the Independent Democratic Conference, a group of eight Democratic state senators who formed a coalition with the Senate Republican conference from 2011 to earlier this year, bolstering the Republicans’ slim legislative majority in the upper house of the state Legislature. After being elected to replace Adams in the Senate in 2014, just after Adams was elected borough president the year before, Hamilton announced he was joining the IDC in November 2016 right before being reelected.

Now, this election year, every former IDC member faces a progressive primary challenger, with the votes set for September 13. Hamilton’s challenger, Zellnor Myrie, is receiving widespread institutional support, including the recent endorsements of four Brooklyn members of Congress—Yvette Clarke, Nydia Velázquez, Jerry Nadler, and Hakeem Jeffries—and Mayor Bill de Blasio, among others. Adams, though, seems firmly in support of Hamilton: campaign finance records show that he donated $5,000 on January 12, 2018, to Friends of Jesse Hamilton, the senator’s election committee, though Adams has not yet offered a formal endorsement of his protege.

The two have a long-lasting and well-documented relationship. Adams represented District 20, which includes parts of Brownsville, Crown Heights, Park Slope, and East Flatbush, in the state Senate for four terms, from 2006 until just after his election to the borough presidency in late 2013. After Adams vacated his seat, Hamilton, then an attorney and elected district leader, competed against Department of Education administrator Rubain Dorancy in a 2014 race widely seen at the time as a proxy battle between Adams, supporting Hamilton, and Hakeem Jeffries, who’d backed Dorancy.

After Hamilton won the nomination to the seat by a wide margin, Adams reportedly shouted at a victory party, “We showed them who the real kingmaker in Brooklyn is.”

The two have partnered frequently since Hamilton’s election, the senator’s director of communications Ean Fullerton told Gotham Gazette in an email, pointing to past immigration forums, health fairs, and cultural events in Brooklyn.

Two terms and four years after his succession of Adams, Hamilton is again battling for his party’s nomination in Senate District 20, after no Democrat contested his renomination in 2016. Concurrently, he is asking his constituents how they’d like to spend the $1 million that Adams recently funded for participatory budgeting in Senate District 20. The borough president made no such allocation available in any other senate district.

Participatory budgeting is a process that allows constituents to decide how to spend a portion of the public budget. Community members submit proposals for capital projects, like school and park improvements, which are then put to a vote among residents in the relevant geographic area. In New York, this typically occurs in a City Council district—this year, 31 of 51 City Council members participated, using a portion of the capital funding they receive each year through the larger Council budget process—though Adams has taken up participatory budgeting using the funds at his disposal as borough president.

In New York City, representatives who opt to participate in participatory budgeting must allocate at least $1 million of their district’s budget to the process. Senate District 20 is the site of the first participatory budgeting conducted by a New York state legislator, a landmark made especially noteworthy by the fact that the funds arrived from a borough president. The timing is also exceptional, given its alignment with the election calendar. The senator’s spokesperson said Hamilton and Adams had discussed a participatory budgeting proposal “some time ago” and have been working to launch it “as soon as we were ready.”

“Sen. Hamilton believes this initiative can serve as an example for more state leaders to pursue [participatory budgeting] on the state level,” he added.

ddvioltvaaaad9mThe process began this past May 22 with an announcement from Senator Hamilton’s office that framed the participatory budgeting as “in partnership with Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams.” Proposals were due, atypically, only 12 days later, on June 4, though on that day Hamilton extended the deadline to June 8. The proposed PB projects in District 20 would upgrade school facilities, repave streets and sidewalks, install security cameras, and improve green space in the district. Residents aged 11 and up could vote on the proposals between August 6 and August 12, and Hamilton’s office, in partnership with the Bridge Street Development Corporation, launched a get-out-the-vote effort replete with "mailers to the district, email blasts, robocalls, text messages, flyering at subway stations, and community meetings," according to a handout from a May 23 neighborhood assembly on the topic in Crown Heights.

All proposed projects must be located within Senate District 20, and flyers and mailers publicizing the initiative prominently feature Hamilton’s face and name. (They also come alongside a series of other mailers that Hamilton has sent to constituents using state funds allocated to his office for communications with district residents, a perk state legislators have long taken advantage of during election years.)

The New York City Charter allows the five borough presidents to allocate funds towards capital projects in their boroughs, and Adams was the first elected official in New York City beyond the City Council to fund participatory budgeting, said Stefan Ringel, Adams’ communications director. Adams has funded projects in various Brooklyn Council districts to the tune of $1 million a year for the past three years.

Hamilton approached Adams in March 2016 about setting up participatory budgeting in his Senate district, Ringel told Gotham Gazette. Adams obliged, doubling his annual allocation of PB funds in the borough to $2 million, setting aside half of that sum for Hamilton’s district, one of nine Senate districts that include at least parts of the borough.

Through his communications director, Adams emphasized that the district includes Brownsville, Brooklyn’s poorest neighborhood, where he was born and where he “has committed to reverse decades of underinvestment.”

The borough president “would welcome other legislators and agencies who wish to partner on any further expansions,” said Ringel. But, for now, he’s allocated $1 million only to District 20, as insurgency threatens his hand-picked successor there.

***
by Daniel Yadin for Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note - this article has been updated to clarify that Sen. Hamilton is running the participatory budgeting process, not spending the money himself, and that he approached Borough President Adams about participatory budgeting in March 2016, not March 2017.   

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, August 13


New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

A fundraising deadline for candidates for state office passed last week and the latest campaign finance filings are due Monday, August 13, with the state Board of Elections. With just one month till the September 13, and with several competitive primary races for statewide and legislative seats, candidates have been trying to muster all the resources they can to reach voters. Many insurgent challengers in Democratic primaries this year have been more focused on reaching small donors in large numbers as they face off against well-funded incumbents.    

As always, there's a great deal happening all over the city, with many events to be aware of - see our day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
e-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.***

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
President Donald Trump will headline fundraisers for US Representatives Claudia Tenney and Elise Stefanik on Monday.

From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday, WeWork and New York Immigration Coalition will host a voter registration day open to the public at WeWork's 110 Wall Street location.

At 1 p.m. Monday, the state Senate Standing Committees on Labor and Economic Development will hold a public hearing at Binghamton University’s Symposium Hall, to discuss the state’s Minority-and-Women-Owned Business Enterprises (MWBE) program.

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

At 1 p.m. Tuesday, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams will launch the Platinum Edition of his "BK Sings" karaoke competition, for Brooklyn residents over the age of 60, at the United Senior Citizens Center in Sunset Park.

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, City & State will host its 2018 “Albany 40 Under 40” reception at Battery Gardens in Battery Park City, honoring 40 individuals under the age of 40 who work in state government and politics. Keynote speakers will include U.S. Representative Grace Meng and Republican gubernatorial nominee Marc Molinaro.

Wednesday
At the City Council on Wednesday
-- The Committee on Land Use will meet at 11 a.m.
-- The Committee on Transportation will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding speed cameras, to call on the legislature and governor to reauthorize the city’s school speed camera program, and to discuss proposed laws relating to street design, to “requiring a study of dangerous driving,” and to “installing radar speed display signs in school zones.”

At 9 a.m. Wednesday, Democratic Attorney General candidate Leecia Eve will join the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce to discuss her candidacy, as part of the Chamber’s “Attorney General Roundtable” series, open to Chamber members.

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Indivisible Harlem will host a forum for Democratic candidates for Attorney General at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun on the Upper West Side. Attending candidates will be Leecia Eve, Letitia James, and Zephyr Teachout.

Thursday
There are no events scheduled on the calendar as of the start of the week. 

Friday and the weekend
Mayor de Blasio may make his weekly appearance on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show on Friday at 10 a.m.

***
Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

***
by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

How Much Does Brooklyn Congressional Primary Result Show Path in Overlapping State Senate Race?


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Zellnor Myrie receives the endorsement of Rep. Clarke, among others (photo: @BKIndivisible)


A wide swath of central Brooklyn is hosting its second contentious Democratic primary race this year. After a surprisingly close congressional primary in June, voters in a largely overlapping state Senate district will vote in September in another race where an incumbent is facing an upstart challenger.

Brooklyn Congressional District 9An array of neighborhoods in the borough, including Brownsville, Crown Heights, Park Slope, Flatbush, and Prospect Heights, make up New York’s Ninth Congressional District (map left), where Democratic voters narrowly voted to nominate Yvette Clarke for re-election over her challenger, Adem Bunkeddeko, in a race that drew national attention for its closeness, especially alongside the defeat of Rep. Joe Crowley by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

The Brooklyn neighborhoods of Clarke’s district, with the exception of a few, like Sheepshead Bay and Marine Park, also make up State Senate District 20 (map below), which adds Gowanus, South Slope, and Sunset Park, and is represented by incumbent Senator Jesse Hamilton, who is facing a primary challenge from Zellnor Myrie.

Brooklyn State Senate District 20The two primaries bear some similar contours: a youthful progressive candidate goes for the left flank of a Democratic incumbent amid an anti-establishment milieu, hoping to motivate voters upset by Donald Trump and looking for something different from their elected officials. Bunkedekko’s success as a previously little-known activist and lawyer in the district—he lost by just 1,075 votes—may help provide a roadmap for Myrie, especially in terms of where in the district to go for those anti-establishment votes.

But there are key differences between the Clarke-Bunkedekko and Hamilton-Myrie races, including Hamilton’s prior membership in the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference and the flood of endorsements behind Myrie, but a key question for the challenger, incumbent, and all those watching, is: How much can we apply from the results of the race in Congressional District Nine to the race in State Senate District 20?

NY9 resultsThough ultimately unsuccessful in his bid to unseat Representative Clarke, daughter of legendary former City Council Member Una Clarke, Bunkeddeko certainly came close, losing by four points to a politician who won her previous primary challenge, in 2012, by 77%. Results of the June 26 vote show Bunkeddeko’s strongholds were in wealthier, whiter, gentrified areas of the district like Park Slope and Prospect Heights, while Clarke excelled in poorer, predominantly black neighborhoods in the eastern part of NY-9 like East Flatbush and Brownsville (map left, via CUNY Mapping Service).

It remains to be seen whether this dynamic will be replicated in the race between Hamilton and Myrie. Hamilton is a former member of the Independent Democratic Conference, a coalition of eight Democrats in the New York State Senate that formed a years-long coalition agreement with Republicans to bolster GOP control of the chamber. The IDC formally disbanded this April amid criticism and the declaration of primary challenges by Myrie and a cohort of other candidates.

Myrie spokesman André M. Richardson told Gotham Gazette that the campaign was surprised by Central Brooklynites’ widespread knowledge of the IDC.

“More people knew about it than we thought would,” he said. “A lot of the conversation is in the Park Slope and Prospect Heights area, but folks in Flatbush recognize it, as well.”

Hamilton’s participation in the IDC is a useful cudgel for the Myrie campaign, providing a unifying talking point about propping up Republican control of the state Senate and blocking progressive legislation in a racially and economically diverse district.

In predominantly-black neighborhoods like Brownsville, Richardson said, the IDC ties Hamilton to the prevention of Andrea Stewart-Cousins from becoming the State Senate’s first black female majority leader; in heavily-Hispanic Sunset Park, the Myrie campaign tells voters that the IDC is why the Dream Act was blocked. Through this, and with an intense focus on the ever-relevant housing crisis, the challenger hopes to avoid the polarization of the district seen in the results from June and appeal to voters in every neighborhood. That effort is likely to be helped by the fact that Myrie has been endorsed by a wide swathe of elected officials and clubs, including Rep. Clarke and other elected officials from the area, such as Assemblymember Diana Richardson.

The IDC is one of several factors that complicate attempts to use the results of the Clarke-Bunkeddeko race to predict the Hamilton-Myrie contest, despite the two races taking place in, more or less, the same territory. Also, noted Steven Romalewski, director of the CUNY Mapping Service, to Gotham Gazette, “different groups of voters turn out for different races.” Only about 8.2% of eligible Democratic voters voted in the primary between Clarke and Bunkeddeko, making it difficult to generalize characteristics of the voter pool.

Voter turnout is expected to increase in September, when the Democratic nominees for the statewide positions of governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general will also be decided. Two of those races feature black candidates from Central Brooklyn: Jumaane Williams, running for lieutenant governor, and Letitia James, for attorney general. Governor Andrew Cuomo and his primary opponent, Cynthia Nixon, have also focused campaign efforts in the area, aware that black voters are essential to winning Democratic primaries.

In last year’s September primaries for city elections, Senate District 20 was home to 21,000 voters, while only around 10,000 residents of the Senate district cast votes in June’s contest when the congressional primary was the only race on the ballot.

Though it’s nearly impossible to accurately predict whether increased turnout will help or harm Hamilton, who was first elected to the Senate in 2014, political consultant Jerry Skurnik told Gotham Gazette that “the gentrifiers” constitute a larger proportion of Senate District 20 than they do Congressional District Nine.

By Skurnik’s admittedly “not 100% accurate” demographic calculations, 82% of the Senate district lies within the Congressional district, and the overlapping area is about 72% black. But the overall Senate district is just slightly over 60% black, since it includes smaller portions of near-exclusively African-American neighborhoods like Brownsville and East Flatbush and extends farther out of Central Brooklyn, into neighborhoods like Gowanus and Sunset Park that have relatively few black residents. This could spell an advantage for Myrie, if Bunkeddeko’s strength in Park Slope is any indication, and if he is able to move the same voters to the polls while motivating others. But, there are many complicating factors, and neither Romalewski nor Skurnik felt comfortable prognosticating with any certainty.

In line with Romalewski’s cautioning that different races motivate different voters, Skurnik emphasized to Gotham Gazette that a race for the New York State Senate necessarily involves issues different from those in a contest for the U.S. House of Representatives. For instance, rent regulations are a marquee issue for state legislators, who will renegotiate current rent laws next year, while the issue is less central to Congressional races like Clarke and Bunkeddeko’s, though candidates for all offices must discuss housing affordability in New York City. Myrie may have an easier time mobilizing residents around his housing-focused campaign than Bunkeddeko, who devoted extensive time to attacking Clarke’s Congressional record (or lack thereof, as he framed it). But, Myrie is also focused on Hamilton’s record in the Senate, especially around progressive bills that have not passed because Republicans, supported by the IDC, did not favor them.

The polarized, racially and economically divided results of the NY-9 primary will not necessarily reproduce as such in Senate District 20, Skurnik said, because both Hamilton and Myrie have seen them. “Senator Hamilton knows what happened,” Skurnik said. “He knows where the Congresswoman did badly...He’s not going to be surprised.” The same holds true for Myrie, he added. If the results of the June primary can teach the candidates of District 20 anything, it seems, it’s what to avoid.

***
by Daniel Yadin for Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Independence from Cuomo, or Lack Thereof, Becomes Flashpoint in Attorney General Race


Andrew Cuomo Tish James

Cuomo & James (photo: The Governor's Office)


New York City Public Advocate Letitia James is performing a balancing act as she runs for state Attorney General, at once cross-endorsing with Governor Andrew Cuomo, a fellow Democrat seeking a third term, and accepting his fundraising support, while also attempting to convince skeptical voters that she would be sufficiently independent if both are victorious this fall.

After the shocking resignation of Eric Schneiderman amid domestic abuse allegations and James’ decision to run for attorney general, Cuomo quickly backed her, and she embraced his support and that of the State Democratic Party that he controls.

Given several other key facts -- the attorney general’s role as a popularly elected statewide official responsible for upholding the law and rooting out certain violations of the public trust, the rampant corruption in New York state government, including among former Cuomo aides, Cuomo’s efforts to raise funds and other support for James, and the governor’s reputation for overpowering other elected officials -- James has repeatedly faced questions about independence.

“I stand before you in the spirit of Shirley Chisholm: I’m unbought and unbossed,” James recently told Gotham Gazette, after a press conference at which she was endorsed by most of the women elected to the City Council. “And all throughout my career I’ve been independent and despite the innate, the sheer nature of who I am, and just based on my background, coming from Brooklyn, a humble woman, a woman of color, I’m someone who has been counted out but consistently has overperformed. I’m not beholden to anyone. All I’m beholden to is a simple concept and that’s called justice.”

James’ competitors in the Democratic primary for attorney general -- Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, Zephyr Teachout, and Leecia Eve -- have each made a concerted effort to highlight the fact that they are not the state party- and Cuomo-backed candidate, while promising to pursue corruption in state government and be an independent voice if elected attorney general. They all also acknowledge that the attorney general must work closely with the governor on a lot of the office’s work, given that the attorney general defends the state against lawsuits and also files litigation on behalf of the state, often in conjunction with the governor. The winner of the Democratic primary will face Republican Keith Wofford and minor party candidates in the general election.

Though she has been careful not to criticize Cuomo, James is also promising to pursue bad actors in state government if elected attorney general, even if they are in the executive branch.

“If state officials step over the line, I will not hesitate to prosecute,” James said on a recent episode of the Max & Murphy podcast. “If I disagree with a state action, I will make that abundantly clear. I’ll make sure that the laws of the state of New York are enforced.”

And James has not shied away from Cuomo’s backing. “He is of the opinion that I am in a position to get things done and I have gotten things done,” she said when asked about their mutual support. “So, there is no quid-pro-quo, and there is no allegiance or loyalty to anyone. The only loyalty that I have is to the rule of law.” When asked to explain her endorsement of Cuomo, she first cited his leadership in helping Puerto Rico recover from Hurricane Maria (James recently joined Cuomo on a relief trip to the island), and mentioned his work in regards to marriage equality, economic development, women’s advocacy, and workers’ rights.

Meanwhile, corruption scandals have plagued Cuomo’s economic development programs, including two trials this year that ended with convictions of officials Cuomo had empowered. There has also been a series of corruption convictions of other state officials, including many state legislators, before and during Cuomo’s tenure. Cuomo ran for governor in 2010 promising to clean up state government, but has not accomplished that lofty goal.

When asked if Cuomo bears any responsibility for the recent malpractice that’s been exposed among his aides and donors, James stopped short of blaming him. “It really speaks to a larger issue and that is reform,” she said on Max & Murphy. She recommended reforming the state’s procurement process and creating checks and balance on mega agencies, both public and private. In a different interview, James recently said Cuomo should not have shut down the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption that he ended prematurely in 2015.

Maloney, who represents a Hudson Valley congressional district, has also endorsed Cuomo for reelection, while Teachout has endorsed Cuomo’s primary challenger, Cynthia Nixon, and Eve has said she is staying out of the gubernatorial primary.

Maloney’s campaign declined to provide comment for this article about his support for the governor, but in March, Maloney released a statement that urged Nixon not to run against Cuomo, citing his support for Cuomo’s work on LGBT rights in the state of New York, including passage of marriage equality, which led to Maloney and his husband’s vows.

“We must remember that Governor Cuomo took on the marriage equality issue when few politicians dared broach the subject,” Maloney said in the statement. “He was full-throated in his support and unabashed in his efforts, often to his political detriment. That’s called leadership.”

“We should not have intramural contests that only aid Republicans,” Maloney also said in the statement, urging a unified Democratic front in the Trump era.

But even given his support for Cuomo’s re-election, Maloney insists he would be an independent attorney general whether or not Cuomo is given another term. He’s also said James is “running a campaign that is propped up by insiders and the political machine,” as he told City & State NY. “That’s her race. My race is not to rely on the governor’s fundraising or the endorsements of Albany insiders or political bosses,” Maloney added.

“I think that is a losing strategy, and it is a terrible message right now when the Democratic Party voters I talk to want the Democratic Party blown up and rebuilt,” he continued, eventually saying that voters “don’t want somebody picked because of somebody else’s political agenda or some inside deal,” in apparent reference to Cuomo.

Acknowledging his endorsement of Cuomo and saying he’s been "a good governor,” Maloney said, “But I don’t think he should pick the attorney general. Let me ask you this: How is an attorney general going to look at the Buffalo Billion if you’re in Andrew Cuomo’s back pocket? So I think what this state deserves is someone with real independence and an independent ability to get elected and do the job.”

Meanwhile, Teachout’s bid for the attorney general’s seat comes after she stepped down as Nixon’s campaign treasurer this past May in order to run.

During her own appearance on Max & Murphy, Teachout said that, if elected attorney general, she would treat whoever wins the gubernatorial race the same. “You need to also have that independence because the attorney general’s office can’t be either perceived as or be an arm of the executive branch,” she said. “So, I’m not concerned about a smooth operation.”

Teachout has additionally centered her run for attorney general by eyeing both the Trump administration in Washington and Cuomo’s conduct in Albany, which she has criticized since she ran against him in the 2014 gubernatorial primary. “I think that’s very important not to be alleging crimes, but there’s no question that there’s a culture of corruption in Albany and that Andrew Cuomo has both promised to do something about it in 2010 and not only not done something about it, but encouraged instead a culture of secrecy.”

She said Cuomo has concentrated too much power.

Eve, meanwhile, has said she is not endorsing in the gubernatorial primary between Cuomo and Nixon.

“I am running, not as an endorsed candidate, not as the party candidate, but as an independent voice for New Yorkers,” said Eve on a recent episode of Max & Murphy. “And without question, [I] would prosecute corruption wherever I would find it, regardless of what administration or what person engaged in it.”

Eve, most recently a Verizon executive before taking a leave to run for attorney general, previously worked for Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and Cuomo, including overseeing the governor’s economic development programs, some of which became embroiled in the aforementioned corruption scandals (Eve was not at all implicated).

“I’m focused solely on my race and not engaging in others,” Eve said on Max & Murphy, “and I’m very proud, frankly, that I am not the endorsed candidate.”

***
by Chelsey Sanchez & Ben Max

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Max & Murphy Podcast: Attorney General Candidate Sean Patrick Maloney


mxm logo

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


August 8, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Attorney General Candidate Sean Patrick Maloney

sean patrick maloney wbai podcast 277U.S. Representative Sean Patrick Maloney is running in the Democratic primary for Attorney General of New York. Maloney, who has a long government and private sector resume and represents a mid-Hudson Valley congressional district, unsuccessfully ran for AG in 2006, before eventually being elected to Congress in 2012. He joined Max & Murphy to discuss his work in Congress, his candidacy for Attorney General, and what might happen to his congressional seat if he is successful in the Democratic primary and leaves the congressional race to another Democrat.

Listen to the full 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 the show on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Running for Attorney General, James Outlines Initial Policy Platform


tish james tishjames

Letitia James (photo: @TishJames)


While initial polls show that many voters are too unfamiliar with their choices in the Democratic primary for Attorney General to have a preference, Public Advocate Letitia James has led the polling among those who do make a choice. The latest poll from Siena College, of Democratic voters likely to cast a ballot on September 13, has James at 25 percent, with U.S. Representative Sean Patrick Maloney at 16 percent, Zephyr Teachout at 13 percent, Leecia Eve at 4 percent, and undecided at 42 percent.

Though there are questions about the reliability of polls, especially a small number of them and in the current political environment with many newly-engaged potential voters, James does appear to be the frontrunner in the race, in part due to her support from the State Democratic Party and its leader, Governor Andrew Cuomo, as well as many other elected officials, labor unions, and Democratic clubs.

But James says she is running like it is anybody’s race, as it just might be, and in doing so she has expressed her views on wide range of topics, often when asked by journalists during interviews or press conferences, but she has also proactively released several campaign policy platforms, the most recent on criminal justice reform. James has also put forth detailed plans on reproductive rights, gun safety, workers’ rights, sexual harassment, and gender equity.

“As you know, we’ve stretched the boundaries of the office of the Public Advocate, and we’re gonna do the same in our role as Attorney General,” James said on an episode of the Max & Murphy radio show on WBAI last month, saying that she would use the office as a check against corrupt public officials and to protect the rights of marginalized individuals threatened by the Trump administration.

While the powers of Attorney General are largely upholding the laws of the state and defending the state in lawsuits, officeholders set many their own priorities and often pursue changes to state law through legislation.

On criminal justice, James said that she would seek to “expand and codify” the Attorney’s General’s status as special prosecutor responsible for instances of police killings of civilians. The current power was granted by Cuomo through executive order.

In addition, James’ platform calls for the governor to sign a bill creating a prosecutor misconduct commission, which has passed through the Legislature; repeal of the 50-a statute that allows the NYPD to hide the outcomes of officer disciplinary hearings; passage of discovery reform, and plans to push a statewide police body camera program -- James was a leading advocate for such a program in New York City, which is now being rolled out. Bail reform, a popular criminal justice reform plank that has been embraced by many Democrats, including Cuomo, was not listed in the announcement from James’ campaign, but a spokesperson for James said that she supports eliminating cash bail.

The platform has won James the support of former New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman and the National Action Network.

Lippman said in a statement that James’ package “is exactly what all candidates for Attorney General should be doing to ensure equal justice in our State.”

James would not be able to implement any of these top-line proposals unilaterally, but rather would have to use her bully pulpit as attorney general to push them through the state Legislature and gubernatorial approval. One item of her criminal justice reform platform that she could implement unilaterally is a promise to have the Office of Attorney General abide by strict discovery rules, even if the Legislature doesn’t pass such requirements into law as James is advocating.

“When too many feel the scales of justice are tilted against them, we must change the system,” James said in a statement accompanying the policy release. “As the State’s top law enforcement official, I will bring accountability and transparency to outdated systems in dire need of reform.”

Criminal justice reform is also at the center of Teachout’s campaign -- the two candidates have said the most about policy thus far, and most clearly outlined their visions for the office. Eve has also talked about criminal justice reform, while Maloney is just beginning to campaign in earnest.

James’ workers’ rights platform is one where she would have a great deal of power to act unilaterally as attorney general. It includes the creation of an “arbitration review team” to litigate on behalf of workers barred from suing their employers due to forced arbitration agreements. James also says in the platform that she would target companies using contracts that include non-disclosure agreements and non-compete clauses, and would also use the office of Attorney General to combat sexual harassment, enforce equal pay laws, combat “gender wage discrimination,” and defend immigrant workers.

She would also sue companies that engage in wage theft, “aggressively” police “wage violations on public contracts,” and investigate “worker misclassification.”

James has also pledged to take legal action against individuals or groups who block access to abortion clinics or other reproductive health care facilities. She also said she would investigate “pregnancy crisis centers engaged in fraud,” employers who commit “workplace pregnancy discrimination,” and employers who attempt to skirt the Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate.

“I will use every tool at my disposal as Attorney General to protect the right to reproductive healthcare, taking legal actions, launching investigations, and fighting for the right to choose,” James said in a statement. “Reproductive health care is a fundamental right, and as Attorney General, protecting this right will be one of my top priorities.”

James would investigate the National Rifle Association, she has said, claiming that its status as a charitable organization is dubious. She also says that she would investigate arms dealers and securities fraud among gun manufacturers, while creating a new interstate coalition to fight gun trafficking along the east coast.

James’ platform includes the creation of a “wage discrimination task force” to conduct audits and probes into companies committing wage discrimination, and using the “framework created by the Weinstein Company litigation” to sue companies with a “culture of abuse.”

Otherwise, the agenda would require James to work with the state Legislature. If the state Senate flips to the Democrats in November, this would likely be far easier, given certain Democratic control of the Assembly and likely Democratic control of the executive branch. But if the Republicans maintain control of the Senate, then much of James’ platform, which has passed the Democratic Assembly but failed in the Senate in the past, will likely gain little traction.

In keeping with a theme of the attorney general race that involves Donald Trump, James has said that she would push the Legislature to close New York’s “double jeopardy loophole,” which would allow the state Attorney General to prosecute individuals pardoned by the president at the federal level for crimes committed in New York State.

Asked about other areas where James plans to release detailed policy proposals, a campaign spokesperson declined to provide any examples.

James and her three primary opponents appear to a agree on many things, though just five weeks from primary day it is becoming more clear what each says she or he would focus on if elected. Zephyr Teachout has placed greater emphasis in her campaign on using the attorney general’s office to pursue litigation against Trump, while James has increased some of her rhetoric around going after the president -- likely a popular stance to take in a Democratic primary -- and placed somewhat more emphasis on intra-state concerns. Teachout has also said that she would target corporate monopolies, the real estate industry and financial institutions, and Albany corruption.

On the latter topic, corruption in state government, Teachout also appears to be the most aggressive candidate in the race, frequently citing her expertise on government corruption and past calls for reform, including when she ran against Cuomo in the 2014 primary. James has pledged to be an independent attorney general if elected, but she has been reticent to criticize Cuomo, especially related to corruption in his economic development programs, which has been at the center of two recent corruption trials that ended in guilty verdicts. She did recently tell WAMC’s Karen DeWitt that Cuomo should not have prematurely shuttered his Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, and she has called for reforms to JCOPE, the state’s much-maligned ethics watchdog.

Teachout, who has cross-endorsed with Cynthia Nixon, has faced some of her own questions about independence in the event of wins by the pair, and will face many more if she and Nixon are victorious in their Democratic primaries.

The other Democratic candidates, Rep. Maloney and Eve, do not have official policy documents on their websites, though both have discussed policy areas on social media and in media interviews. Eve, for example, has talked about the need to uphold and enhance voting rights, while Maloney has thus far focused on combating Trump.

***
by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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