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Agenda 2019: Major Policy Tests Ahead for State and City


cuomo stewart-cousins democrats

Byron Brown, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Andrew Cuomo (photo: NY Democratic State Party)


This is the opening story in a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project: AGENDA 2019
Find the rest of the series here

The voting machines are back in storage, the “Vote Here” signs are gone, and politics in New York have entered the interregnum between Election Day and the start of the new term in Albany, when a newly-Democratic State Senate and a re-elected Democratic Assembly majority and Democratic governor will begin to set the direction of the Empire State in 2019 -- while a new Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives vies with a Republican U.S. Senate and President Trump over where and how to steer the nation.

The rhetoric, posturing, and proposals of the campaign will give way to the rhetoric and posturing -- and, ultimately, policymaking -- of government. It’s too early to know how the new balances of power will play out, but some of the newly powerful or electorally emboldened are already giving indications of some of their priorities, which, in combination with campaign trail promises, form the outline of what to expect in Albany in the year ahead. Governor Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders have quickly provided a sense of what they plan to tackle first and what might be on the backburner as the state governing session begins in January.

“I did better than I had done in my previous election which is normally unheard of,” Cuomo said the day after the election, on WVOX radio, “but we also won the Senate, which is very important and I worked very hard to make that happen, which it allows me to get all sorts of things done that we haven’t done before.”

As is always the case, so much of what happens in the state capital will impact New York City, and though there were no elections for city-level positions this year, those who live and work in the city have a great deal at stake as the new state government takes shape. Mayor Bill de Blasio and others are already laying out their priorities for 2019 in Albany, where the mayor and other city Democrats hope the atmosphere will be more friendly toward the five boroughs than in the past.

“[T]he fact that we not only have a Democratic majority in the State Senate but a resounding Democratic majority is going to allow for a host of progress for this state and going to allow some really important initiatives to finally be acted on that we’ve been waiting for, for years and in some cases decades,” de Blasio said on Wednesday. “Most especially reform to our election process, campaign finance reform, finally getting a solution for the MTA. Huge changes could come from the fact that we now have a strong, clear Democratic majority in the State Senate.”

Still, much will happen at the city level in the year ahead that is not necessarily a product of Albany decision-making. Even as he seeks legislative and funding changes in the state capital, de Blasio has city challenges to address, programs to implement, and major decisions to make. There is a Charter Revision Commission exploring sweeping changes to how city government operates, and there will be a handful of elections in the city, starting with a special election for Public Advocate, likely in February.

There will be a great deal at stake in 2019. Advocates, organizers, strategists, and elected and appointed officials have already provided a long list of topics and decisions that will come to the fore next year. So City Limits, Gotham Gazette, and other partners are teaming up over the next eight weeks to explore major policy issues where action is expected over the next 12 months.

Each week we will bring you an in-depth look at one issue area with comprehensive reporting, broadcast interviews, opinion columns, and other features to provide insight into the policies, politics, and people involved and set the stage for what will be an incredibly important year in New York City, New York State, and national politics.

First, an overview of what’s on hand.

Albany
The story begins in Albany. The 2019 landscape in the state capital will be unlike anything seen in roughly a decade: full Democratic control of the executive and legislative branches. This time around is likely to be far more functional than last, when the Senate Democratic conference quickly devolved into chaos and a weak governor was unable to keep his party-mates from disgracing themselves (several of those involved have served time in jail) and bringing legislative business to a long halt.

In 2019, Cuomo enters a third term with wind at his back, major infrastructure projects in motion, and a long to-do list; while Democratic majorities in the Assembly and Senate finally get the opportunity they’ve been waiting for to pass an agenda repeatedly stalled by Republicans in the upper chamber.

The questions that hang over this new arrangement include to what extent various Democrats with varied priorities are able to agree upon an order of operation and the specific details of policies they’ve championed but never actually had the power to pass into law without compromising with Republicans. Expected Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and others have already given indication of what they see as the top priorities with widespread agreement.

Cuomo, who has appeared mostly happy with a split Legislature, now faces the challenge of dictating terms to legislative majorities that may want to move faster and further left than he’s comfortable with, though Democrats also know that the next legislative elections are now less than two years away and their members from swing suburban districts need to be especially careful with ‘pocketbook’ issues. Taxpayers across the state will soon be adjusting to the full new reality of federal tax reforms, which capped state and local deductions and are of great concern to suburban homeowners. Plus, the state’s current “millionaires tax” is set to expire in 2019 and Cuomo hasn’t yet indicated his stance on renewing it, even as he faces upcoming budget deficits.

“I am a suburban legislator,” Stewart-Cousins of Westchester told Long Island-based Newsday. “I am very proud that New Yorkers have elected many great suburban legislators to take their place in the Senate Democratic Majority.”

Cuomo has been clear that he plans to continue the fiscal restraint and center-left governance of his first two terms. At the same time, he’s poised to push through many significant policies his critics have blamed him for not delivering, while addressing the twin crises of his second term: the failing New York City subways and the corruption that has continued to plague state government, recently in the governor’s own inner circle.

Cuomo wants to keep state spending increases to roughly two percent annually, to keep an annual cap on property tax growth everywhere outside New York City, and to take steps to mitigate the effects of federal tax reform, especially the new cap on state and local deductions. But he also has a lengthy professed agenda for 2019 and his larger third term, including voting reform, additional gun control regulations, the Child Victims Act, codifying Roe v. Wade abortion protections into state law, the Dream Act, the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), and more. For the most part, the policy agenda Cuomo has laid out, which is noticeably light on new spending, should not be a heavy lift in either house of the Legislature with both under Democratic control.

There may very well be areas of conflict, however, even if legislators stay away from raising taxes or pursuing policies like single-payer health care that Cuomo has thrown cold water on. These include government ethics and campaign finance reform, funding the MTA, rent regulations, education funding, charter schools, criminal justice reform, and others. How to move the state ahead in combating climate change may also be a source of disagreement in terms of degree.

The governor knows he must -- and has promised to -- move ahead with congestion pricing for Manhattan travel as part of funding the MTA and the Fast Forward subway modernization plan that is ballparked at around $35 billion. It’s unclear where the rest of the needed money will come from, though Cuomo has already indicated he expects the New York City government to kick in more (de Blasio continues to call for an additional tax on high-earners, which Cuomo has mocked). The governor even got several Senate candidates on Long Island to sign a pledge that they’d squeeze the city for more transit money -- not the only episode of the fall campaign to raise the possibility that Cuomo is readying to continue to hold sway over policy-making in Albany no matter how other pieces may shift.

The governor is also frustrated with hearing about his failures on government ethics and campaign finance reform, and will likely look to put that talk to bed by the time a new state budget is passed at the end of March. The details of any such deals will be closely examined for whether they truly advance the causes of good government and provide the best possible circumstances for both preventing and punishing corruption.

A major unknown is whether some of the newly elected State Senate Democrats, especially those on Long Island, will feel more beholden to Cuomo than to the conference itself, and help him restrain the larger group. On the other hand, it is unclear how the new group of state senators who defeated members of what was the Independent Democratic Conference, some of whom cross-endorsed with Cynthia Nixon in her challenge to Cuomo, will approach the governor and raising their voices within the Senate majority.

During a Wednesday appearance on Spectrum’s Capitol Tonight, Stewart-Cousins was asked about unifying her new conference and finding agreement. “So people understand that there’s a lot of great hope in our ascension to power,” she said, “and in order to really fulfill those hopes, we have to move as a body. That means we’re going to have to find ways to get to the desired end...We must consider that it is one New York, but there are a lot of different places, a lot of different regions and areas and needs and interests, and if we do our job right we will be able to manage and take care of all of it.”

Democrats in the state Assembly, which is dominated by New York City members and led by Speaker Carl Heastie of the Bronx, may be itching to enact an agenda they have repeatedly passed that has not had Cuomo’s full support and that is not necessarily the same agenda as the new Senate Democratic majority. Assembly Democrats have spent years passing one-house bills and budgets advancing progressive priorities, including things like single-payer health care, higher taxes on top earners, tighter rent regulations, and sweeping criminal justice reforms.

Still, there is much that Democrats in the Assembly, Senate, and governor’s mansion agree on and will all-but-certainly find common ground to pass, starting with a handful of policies that Cuomo, Stewart-Cousins, and Heastie have already mentioned since the election results came in: voting reform, women’s reproductive choice, gun control, and more.

“There have been measures that I could not get done with a Republican Senate and I believe they were short-sighted,” Cuomo said Wednesday. “...And I worked so hard for a Democratic Senate, because these are pieces that I believe are essential to really move this state forward.”

“We need ethics reform and there's no reason not to pass it,” he continued, mentioning making legislative positions full-time with no outside income, campaign finance reform (including closure of the LLC loophole), and voting reform, including early voting.

“The women's right to choose has to be protected,” Cuomo said, referring to the Reproductive Health Act, which would codify Roe v. Wade into state law. He also mentioned the Dream Act, “gun safety” legislation, which would likely include a “red flag bill” to remove guns from the homes of potentially troubled young people and extending the background check wait time from three to ten days.

All of the issues listed by Cuomo are ones that Stewart-Cousins, members of her conference, and Heastie have mentioned in the first days after the election as top priorities.

While Cuomo appears ready to knock down any criticism that he is not a ‘real Democrat’ and create additional buzz around a possible presidential run, he always wants to move on his terms. A deal-maker who leverages his counterparts, the governor has clearly been sizing up the new dynamics he’s facing ahead of the state budget session that will kick off in January with his State of the State speech and Executive Budget presentation. Discussing the facts that he received the most votes of any governor ever and won this year by a bigger margin than in 2014, Cuomo said Wednesday that it “helps practically in governmentally when you have a larger mandate electorally, the other elected officials know you’ve literally come into government with a stronger hand, and having a larger victory helps you governmentally, I believe that.”

And even as Cuomo has pledged to serve another four-year term and there are very serious questions about his viability as a presidential candidate, he has regularly stoked the flames and after another resounding electoral victory, may be poised to flirt even more explicitly with a run for president.

One possibility is that Cuomo focuses intently on moving an aggressive progressive agenda through in the first few months of the Albany year, then takes his new list of accomplishments to a few of the necessary stops on a presidential exploration tour, such as New Hampshire.

Another uncertainty for the year ahead is exactly how Attorney General-elect Letitia James approaches her new role. James, a Democrat who is currently the New York City public advocate, will vacate that position and take charge of a vast and immensely powerful legal office. She has promised to continue the aggressive approach the office of attorney general has taken to President Trump, his administration and his other enterprises, while also taking on criminal justice reform in New York and working to root out public corruption, among other aspects of the role she has said she will embrace. In the face of skepticism about her closeness to Cuomo and other Democrats, James has promised to be an independent voice and to pursue wrongdoing wherever it may be.

There is no speculating that much of New York City’s policy agenda depends on legislative action in Albany. Speedy trial and bail reform legislation seen as vital to the effort to close Rikers island jails will be a top priority for progressives in the capital and City Hall. And the renewal of rent regulations presents a major opportunity to reduce the displacement pressures that dog de Blasio’s rezoning and development plans. There is almost guaranteed to be city-state tension in 2019 over funding the MTA, among other policy and budget issues.

Asked the day after the election about his top priorities for the Albany year ahead, de Blasio said, “One: strengthen rent regulations, protect affordable housing. Two: fix the MTA, provide a permanent funding source for our subways and buses. Three: continue our progress on education funding and on having the power to keep fixing our schools.”

New York City
Under normal circumstances, 2019 would be a quiet year in city politics—an off-year between the 2018 statewide elections and the presidential race in 2020, with municipal elections a full two years off in 2021.

But circumstances are not normal. A a citywide official is leaving her office vacant, a veteran district attorney is retiring, and big decisions on everything from charter revision to jail-siting and neighborhood rezoning are due.

As is always the case in the years after statewide elections, three district attorney races are on the docket in the city. All five of the city’s sitting district attorneys are Democrats. Incumbent Darcel Clark in the Bronx, who was elected in 2015 with 80 percent of the vote, is unlikely to be threatened. Staten Island's Michael McMahon won his post in 2015 with 55 percent of the vote, and could face a more competitive re-election contest. But the Queens DA's race is shaping up to be the most dramatic affair, with incumbent Richard Brown—who ran uncontested in '15 and has held his post since '91—likely to step down and a roster of well-known names (City Council Member Rory Lancman, former Council Member Peter Vallone, Jr., Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, State Senator Michael Gianaris) in the mix of declared or potential candidates.

Letitia James' victory in the race for attorney general means there'll be a special election to fill the post of public advocate. Brooklyn Council Member Jumaane Williams, fresh off his campaign for lieutenant governor, and Bronx Assembly Member Michael Blake are already in the mix for that post, along with a couple of others like Nomiki Konst and David Eisenbach, and a host of other names are considered possible candidates.

The special election to select an interim public advocate will be a nonpartisan affair held in early 2019; the winner of that could then face a primary in September before a general election in November 2019 to decide who serves the remainder of James' term. Worth noting: If someone currently in elected office wins the special election for public advocate, there will need to be another election to fill the slot the winner vacates. It could be a very special year.

Also expected to be on the ballot next November: the proposals from the City Council's 2019 charter revision commission. The hearings and meetings (and behind the scenes machinations) that will shape those proposals will be a significant story to watch in the city next year, because the changes on the table next November could be the most significant in 30 years. Already, the commission has been asked to consider ambitious alterations to how the city does budgeting and land-use planning.

Critical housing policy decisions will come throughout the year. The city's "Where We Live NYC" fair-housing planning process—a landmark examination of whether city housing programs have reduced or exacerbated segregation—is supposed to wrap up by the fall of 2019. A decision could come in the lawsuits over the fairness of the community preference policy and the property-tax system, and the property-tax reform commission empaneled by de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson is holding its final first-wave meetings in later November and December and could issue a report soon—with whatever plan emerges subject to intense debate, as well as legislation at both the city and state levels.

Major neighborhood rezonings of Bushwick, Gowanus, and Bay Street are likely, with action on Long Island City and the Southern Boulevard area of the Bronx also possible. And the Council and mayor will render decisions on the plans to build new jails to replace the facilities on Rikers Island.

Meanwhile, the NYCHA settlement with federal authorities awaits approval—and NYCHA families await another winter and the potential for heat and hot-water problems. The federal criminal investigation of NYCHA and its decision-makers is not over and could produce more news, and some housing advocates will bring more pressure on the mayor to build new senior housing on NYCHA land rather than market-rate units. De Blasio may name a permanent head of NYCHA, or keep the interim leader, Stan Brezenoff, in place. The city will also be looking to Washington for more funding help for public housing, and may put forward a revamped long-term plan for NYCHA that accelerates the pace of development on under-utilized NYCHA land as a way to bring in revenue.

2019 is the year when the hit from the Trump tax plan's capping of federal income tax deductions for state and local taxes will start to affect high earners—and it will be interesting to see if that encourages calls to rein in spending during the city's budget process. As one business advocate notes, "Only a relatively small number of high earners have to relocate to lower tax states for NYC to suffer major revenue losses." People in the top 1 percent – those in the 38,000 households making more than $713,000—earned about 35 percent of the city's income and contributed roughly 44 percent of total income-tax revenue in 2016. But keeping budget growth modest will be challenging, with the MTA, NYCHA, and the public hospital system in need of major investment.

The city's ability to implement the Fair Fares Metrocard subsidy program will be tested, and bus riders should get a glimpse of the newly redesigned bus routes coming under the MTA's Fast Forward plan. The rollout of the school desegregation effort in District 15 will continue as New Yorkers get more of a sense of whether and how Richard Carranza will put his stamp on the school system.

The x-factor in all these stories is how much power Bill de Blasio will have to shape these critical policy decisions, all of which will help sculpt his legacy.

The mayor did little to define a second-term agenda before he was re-elected in a landslide a year ago, and he's not done much to fill in those blanks over the past 12 months. His signature policy idea of 2018, the democracy initiative, has not had an auspicious start, though de Blasio did see the three ballot proposals from his charter revision commission approved by voters on Election Day. While the mayor has made substantive policy moves, on cybersecurity and guns for instance, they have been drowned out by a torrent of dreadful headlines about NYCHA, his school renewal plan, his beef with the Department of Investigations commissioner, and, of course, the "agent of the city" emails.

Some of that static is merely what comes with the territory of a second term in one of the toughest jobs in the country. But de Blasio's unusually acrimonious relationship with the press, his feud with a governor who was just resoundingly elected for a third time, the rise of a less-cooperative City Council and the pre-2021 positioning that is already taking place among his partners in government could combine to irreversibly weaken the mayor years before he ought to look like a lame duck. While that might sound like good news to those who dislike de Blasio, the fact is the city's interests in Albany or Washington depend on there being a strong figure in City Hall. Other players might claim some spotlight and gain some juice, but Bill de Blasio is alone at New York City's helm for another 1,150 days. That would be a long time to be adrift.

Washington, D.C.
And then there’s Washington. The new Democratic House could move a legislative agenda to try to limit the impact of the limitations on SALT deductions, support infrastructure spending, shore up the Affordable Care Act, and take steps to thwart the president’s harshest moves on immigration -- all of which would have direct impact on New York City and State. But with Republicans maintaining control of the Senate and the White House, Democrats will not be able to move anything through Congress without major compromise. It’s unclear who will lead the House Democrats or what their strategy over the next year will be: seeking a deal with centrist Republicans, or even with the mercurial president himself, to create new policy, or instead maintaining a more combative posture until the 2020 presidential election resets the country.

The Iowa caucus, after all, is only 15 months away.

This is the opening story in a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project: AGENDA 2019
Find the rest of the series here

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by Ben Max of Gotham Gazette & Jarrett Murphy of City Limits. Part of "Agenda 2019," a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project to get New Yorkers ready for the political year ahead.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Agenda 2019

Voter Turnout Booms in New York


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(photo: mayoral photography office)


In concert with national trends, turnout in the 2018 presidential midterm election in New York smashed that of previous elections by significant margins. In a highly unusual development for a non-presidential election, statewide turnout approached 50 percent in the race for governor, in which Governor Andrew Cuomo easily defeated Republican challenger Marc Molinaro and others to win a third term.

As of Wednesday morning, the total statewide turnout (number of votes out of total registered voters, active and inactive) stood at 45.57 percent with 99.5 percent of precincts reporting, and a total of 5,790,035 votes cast for governor out of 12,706,050 registered voters across the state.

This marked a significant increase from turnout four years ago, which stood at 33.2 percent. Turnout did not, however, approach the levels seen in the 2016 presidential election, when it reached as high as 62.5 percent.

The nearly 5.8 million New Yorkers tallied to have voted by the state Board of Elections, a number only expected to go up as the final precincts report results and absentee ballots are counted, makes for a roughly 33 percent stronger turnout than in 2014, when 3.9 million voters showed up to the polls.

In New York City, as of Wednesday morning, the Board of Elections had logged 1,951,714 votes with 5,849 out of 5,901 precincts across the five boroughs reporting. This results in a citywide turnout of 38 percent; as typically occurs, this is lower than the statewide turnout. Nonetheless, turnout in the city increased significantly from the 22.7 percent seen in 2014, despite significant problems encountered at poll sites concerning ballot-reading machines that caused extensive waiting periods.

Michael Ryan, chair of the City Board of Elections, blamed inclement weather for dampening ballots, higher turnout, and the two-page ballot that many city voters had to use as a result of the number of elections and the charter revision questions. City Council Speaker Corey Johnson called on Ryan to resign, while Mayor de Blasio called for “top to bottom” reforms at the BOE.

Staten Island, with its high profile, competitive congressional race, saw the highest turnout of the five boroughs, at 42.8 percent. The heavily-Democratic Bronx, home to virtually no competitive local races, saw the lowest, at 32 percent. Those who did vote in the Bronx overwhelmingly went for Cuomo.

In the key State Senate race in District 22, the southern Brooklyn constituency where Democrat Andrew Gounardes appears to have narrowly defeated longtime Republican Senator Marty Golden, turnout stands at 36.5 percent with all precincts reporting -- roughly 62,600 voters turned out at initial count. Turnout in this district decreased significantly from Golden’s and Gounardes’ previous matchup in 2012, when 74,451 voters showed up to the polls and turnout stood at 48.25 percent. But 2012 was, of course, a presidential year, when turnout is nearly always higher.

Democrats identified the seat, situated in a longtime Republican stronghold that has become significantly more diverse in recent years and has been represented by Democrats in the City Council for years, as key to their quest to wrest control of the state Senate from Republicans. Democrats pulled that feat off in fairly spectacular fashion, going from a one-seat deficit to what might turn out to be a seven-seat majority.

Turnout was higher outside the city, as is typically observed: 3,838,321 non-city voters cast a ballot on Tuesday, for a turnout rate of 50.7 percent. This bested the 2014 non-city turnout rate of 39.9 percent by nearly 11 percentage points. Molinaro won most rural upstate counties by significant margins, losing in urban upstate counties and Tompkins County, where Ithaca is located. Cuomo won the suburban counties of Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, and Rockland, all of which saw increased turnout rates similar to the state writ large. Suffolk, on Long Island, was fairly close, but Cuomo won it by about 20,000 votes. He even appears to have won on Staten Island, by about 1,000 votes.

Turnout in congressional races was down from 2016, owing to 2016 being a presidential election year, but was up across the board from 2014. The Staten Island-focused race, which had been a target for national Democrats and had seen an influx of outside cash and volunteers, had a 40.8 percent turnout, and Democrat Max Rose unseats incumbent Republican Rep. Dan Donovan but a surprising 53-47 percent margin. The race in the Hudson Valley 19th district, where Democrat Antonio Delgado dispatched incumbent Republican Rep. John Faso, saw a 55.2 percent turnout. The 19th was also a major target for national Democrats.

The unusually high turnout for a midterm election was undoubtedly largely fomented by President Donald Trump, the sting of his election for many Democrats and some independents, and the events of his nearly two years in office. Beyond reelecting the governor to a third term, the state elected an Attorney General who has promised to use the law to go after Trump, swapped several incumbent Republican members of Congress for Democrats, and decisively flipped the State Senate from Republican to Democratic control, largely thanks to Long Island seats home to many independent voters and giving Democrats unified control of state government for the first time in a decade.

And New York City decisively voted in favor of all three of de Blasio’s charter revision proposals: to lower campaign contribution limits and increase the public match, create a civic engagement commission, and implement term limits for community boards.

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Max & Murphy Podcast: Analyzing 2018 Election Results & Looking Ahead to 2019


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


November 7, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Analyzing 2018 Election Results

alyssa katz wbai 150The votes have been cast and the results are in. Election Day 2018 had some monumental outcomes in New York and beyond. Alyssa Katz of the New York Daily News editorial board joined Max & Murphy to break it all down, from Democrats taking control of the U.S. House of Representatives to Governor Andrew Cuomo winning a third term to Letitia James being elected Attorney General to Democrats flipping control of the State Senate and what the policy agenda for 2019 might look like.

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.

Cuomo Reelected, Democrats Take the State Senate; 2018 General Election Results in New York


and cuomo nov

Gov. Cuomo votes (photo: @andrewcuomo)


Democrats will take full control of New York state government in 2019 thanks to the reelection of Governor Andrew Cuomo and other candidates for statewide office, as well as wins in the state Senate that flipped control of the upper chamber. Democrats continue to hold a wide majority in the state Assembly. With help from New York, Democrats also flipped the U.S. House of Representatives.

The state Senate and gubernatorial victories open the door for Democrats to move a sweeping policy agenda that has been blocked by Republicans, some items for years, in areas such as voting, campaign finance, and criminal justice reform, women's reproductive rights, alterations to rent regulations, and more. While some results are still to be finalized, Democrats may have 39 seats in the 63-seat chamber come January.

Cuomo won a third term on Tuesday, easily defeating Republican challenger Marc Molinaro and three other candidates, while his running-mate Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul won a second term alongside the governor.

Letitia James, currently the New York City Public Advocate, was elected Attorney General and is the first woman of color elected to a statewide position in New York. She's also the first woman and first person of color elected to become New York Attorney General.

The other Democrats running for statewide positions were also victorious, with U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli both winning reelection by wide margins, as expected.

New York City and State races also contributed to a Democratic takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives.

And, in New York City, the three ballot proposals from Mayor de Blasio’s charter revision commission were all approved by wide margins, ushering in campaign finance reform, a new civic engagement commission, and term limits for community board members.

In the overall race for control of the state Senate, Democrats claimed a majority, and seemed on their way to winning at least 36 and up to 39 seats while several remained neck-and-neck and could also tilt their way, according to unofficial state Board of Elections results. With Democrats in control, Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins will become the first woman of color majority leader of the state Senate. "I am confident our majority will grow even larger after all results are counted, and we will finally give New Yorkers the progressive leadership they have been demanding," she tweeted Tuesday night.

Much of the action was on Long Island, but one of the few Republican-held seats in New York City was also hotly-contested and appears to be a Democratic pick-up for Andrew Gounardes, though Senator Marty Golden has not conceded.

In the open race for District 3, Democrat Monica Martinez defeated Republican Dean Murray. In District 5, Democrat James Gaughran won by more than 9 points against Republican Carl Marcellino. In District 39, Democrat James Skoufis beat Republican Tom Basile. Kevin Thomas, the Democrat in District 6, closely defeated Republican Kemp Hannon. In District 7, Democrat Anna Kaplan defeated Republican Elaine Phillips with an almost ten-point margin.

In two other open races, however, Democrats lost to their Republican opponents. In District 43, Aaron Gladd was defeated by Republican Daphne Jordan, and in District 50, John Mannion was defeated by Bob Antonacci.

The current Republican majority leader, Senator John Flanagan, said in a statement, "This election is over, but our mission is not. Senate Republicans will never stop advocating for the principles we believe in or the agenda that New Yorkers and their families deserve."

Along with competitive races for state Senate seats, many eyes were on potential swing districts for New York seats in the House of Representatives, part of the national picture whereby Democrats flipped the chamber to secure some control of government in Washington, D.C. and a significant leverage point regarding legislation, funding, and oversight of President Trump and his administration. That effort was aided by outcomes in New York, including an upset in New York City.

In the one city-based congressional seat held by a Republican, Rep. Dan Donovan lost to Democrat Max Rose, who will go to the House to represent New York’s 11th congressional district of Staten Island and part of southern Brooklyn. In the 19th congressional district covering parts of the Hudson Valley and Catskills, Democrat Antonio Delgado defeated incumbent Republican Rep. John Faso. And in Central New York's District 22, Democratic candidate Anthony Brindisi was ahead by a razor-thin margin over incumbent Republican Rep. Claudia Tenney, in a race that seems too close to call. In Congressional District 27, though Democrat Nate McMurray had conceded to Republican incumbent Rep. Chris Collins, McMurray's campaign later called for a recount when the margin between the two was only one point.

Back in the five boroughs, of the three ballot proposals passing, Mayor de Blasio said in an election night statement, “Tonight we took a big step toward becoming the fairest big city in America. The question in front of voters was simple: are we going to be a city that works for everyone? New Yorkers answered with a resounding ‘YES, YES, YES!’ They voted to set a historic new direction for campaigns in our city by getting big money out of politics. They voted to give voters more power over their tax dollars. They voted to bring new voices into our democracy. The end result of the charter revision process that began nine months ago at the State of City is a democracy that can work for all of us – not just the wealthy and well-connected.”

In terms of specific outcomes in important New York races, as of 2 a.m. on election night, initial results and tentative margins included:

-Governor Cuomo was reelected with about 58% to 36% for Molinaro, while Green Party nominee Howie Hawkins received 1.7%, Libertarian Larry Sharpe won 1.6%, and Stephanie Miner of the Serve America Movement got less than 1%. Both Sharpe and Miner earned their parties automatic ballot access for the next four years (Cuomo on the Women's Equality Party line and Molinaro on the Reform Party line did not get enough votes on those lines and parties will lose their automatic ballot lines.

-James won the attorney general office with 60% over Republican Keith Wofford, who received 34.3%, and other candidates splitting 2.3%.

-DiNapoli was reelected comptroller with 64.4%, while Republican nominee Jonathan Trichter got about 31%, and other candidates split 1.7%.

-Gillibrand won 64.5% of the vote, while Republican Chele Farley received 32.5%.

In competitive state Senate races, the results included:

-Democrat Andrew Gounardes appears to have won with 49.8% over Republican Senator Marty Golden's 48% in Senate District 22

-Democrat Monica Martinez won with 52.2% over Republican incumbent Dean Murray's 47.5% in Senate District 3, which includes parts of Suffolk County.

-Republican Phil Boyle won with 50.4% over Democrat Louis D’Amaro's 46.7% in Senate District 4, which also includes parts of Suffolk County.

-Democrat James Gaughran won with 53.23% over Republican incumbent Carl Marcellino's 44.7% in Senate District 5, which includes parts of Suffolk County.

-Democrat Kevin Thomas won with 49.2% over Republican incumbent Kemp Hannon's 48% in Senate District 6, which includes a portion of Nassau County.

-Democrat Anna Kaplan won with 53.7% over Republican incumbent Elaine Phillips' 44.5% in Senate District 7, which a portion of Nassau County.

-Democrat incumbent John Brooks successfully defended his seat, with 53% against Republican Jeff Pravato's 44% in Senate District 8, which includes Eastern Nassau and Western Suffolk counties.

-Democrat James Skoufis won with 52% over Republican Tom Basile's 45% in Senate District 39, which includes parts of Rockland, Orange, and Ulster counties.

-Democrat Pete Harckham won with 49.9% over Republican incumbent Terrence Murphy's 48% in Senate District 40, which includes Yorktown and Putnam, Westchester and Dutchess counties. 

-Republican incumbent Sue Serino won with 50% over Democrat Karen Smythe's 48% in Senate District 41, which includes parts of Dutchess County.

-Democrat Jen Metzger won with 50% over Republican Ann Rabbitt's 47.4% in Senate District 42, includes parts of Delaware, Orange, Sullivan, and Ulster counties. 

-Republican Daphne Jordan won with 52.1% over Democrat Aaron Gladd's 44.2% in Senate District 43, which includes parts of Saratoga, Rensselaer, Columbia, Washington counties. 

-Republican incumbent George Amedore Jr. won with 55% over Democrat Pat Strong's 42.2% in Senate District 46, which includes Montgomery and Greene counties and portions of Schenectady, Albany and Ulster counties. 

-Republican Robert Antonacci won with 50.4% over Democrat John Mannion's 48% in Senate District 50, which includes Syracuse and the surrounding area.

In competitive House of Representatives races, the results included: 

-Democrat Max Rose won with 52% against Republican incumbent Dan Donovan's 46% in Congressional District 11, which includes Staten Island and parts of South Brooklyn. 

-Democrat Antonio Delgado won with 49.2% against Republican incumbent John Faso's 46.4% in Congressional District 19, which includes the Hudson Valley and Catskills region.

-Democrat Anthony Brindisi led with 49.5% against Republican incumbent Claudia Tenney's 48.9% in Congressional District 22, which includes parts of Chenango, Cortland, Madison, and Oneida counties.

-Republican Incumbent John Katko won with 52.2% against Democrat Dana Balter's 46% in Congressional District 24, which includes pats of Cayuga, Onondaga, and Wayne counties.

- Republican incumbent Chris Collins, who is under indictment for insider trading, received 48.1% over Democrat Nate McMurray's 47.1% in Congressional District 27, which includes Orleans, Genesee, Wyoming, and Livingston counties. McMurray's campaign has called for a recount.

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Samar Khurshid contributed to this article.

Note - This article has been updated.

10 Things to Watch on Election Day in New York


Cuomo voting New York

(photo: The Governor's Office)


New Yorkers will head to the polls on Tuesday, November 6, to vote for federal and state candidates in an election that could radically alter the direction of the state and the entire nation. Every seat in the state Legislature is on the ballot, as are the joint ticket of governor-lieutenant governor, the positions of state comptroller and attorney general, New York’s 27 seats in the House of Representatives, and one U.S. Senate position.

Democrats, hoping to ride a surge of engagement in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election, plan to keep all the statewide seats and control of the state Assembly, while flipping the state Senate and enough U.S. House seats to contribute to a national swing of control. Republicans, meanwhile, are trying to hold onto the limited power they have in New York, a blue state that has become significantly more blue over the last several months, according to new data from the state Board of Elections.

Ten things to watch on Election Day in New York:

1. Will turnout surge?
New York has in past years seen anaemic voter turnout, particularly in the 2016 presidential election when the state ranked 46 out of 50. But if the results of the September primary are any indicator, turnout is expected to surge on November 6.

Nearly three times more Democrats voted in the September 13 primary this year than in the 2014 primary. Cynthia Nixon, the actor and activist who challenged Governor Andrew Cuomo, the two-term incumbent, received 512,585 votes to Cuomo’s 978,138. In 2014, Cuomo won the primary after receiving only 361,380 votes, though his margin of victory was nearly identical.

Democrats are also making a concerted attempt to flip the state Senate from Republican control and capture more seats in the House of Representatives, amid what they hope is a “blue wave” pushing back against President Trump and the Republican-led Congress. By most accounts, the general election in New York is looking good for Democrats; the state is home to 6.2 million registered Democrats compared to 2.8 million registered Republicans, and about 2.6 million party-unaffiliated registered voters.

2. Can any Republican win statewide?
A Republican has not won a statewide election in New York since 2002, when Governor George Pataki was reelected to a third term. Since then, Democrats have managed to dominate the offices of governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and comptroller.

Cuomo is running on a joint ticket with Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, a first-term incumbent, and is heavily favored to be reelected. In a mid-October Quinnipiac University poll, Cuomo led his Republican rival, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, 58-35 percent among likely voters, but a Siena College poll released Sunday showed a more narrow gap, with Cuomo leading 49-36, with other voters split among the three 'minor party' candidates on the ballot. Molinaro’s running mate is Julie Killian, a former Rye City Council member who unsuccessfully ran for state Senate earlier this year. The other three gubernatorial candidates are Howie Hawkins of the Green Party, Larry Sharpe of the Libertarian Party, and Stephanie Miner, the former Democratic Syracuse mayor running with the Serve America Movement.

Other than Molinaro, Republicans are running statewide candidates without experience in elected office and with virtually no name recognition across the state coming into the election, especially daunting when trying to unseat an incumbent in a state with such a Democratic registration advantage.

In the race for comptroller, in the same poll, incumbent Democrat Tom DiNapoli held a 32-point lead over Jonathan Trichter, the Republican nominee. The Sunday Siena poll had DiNpoli up 62-25 percent. [Watch: State Comptroller Candidates Debate]

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, also a Democrat seeking reelection, led her Republican challenger Chele Farley by 32 points in that poll. But in Quinnipiac’s polling weeks later, her lead had fallen to 25 points. The Sunday Siena poll showed Gillibrand up 58-35 percent.

The open race for attorney general, the lone statewide race without an incumbent, appears closest. New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, the Democratic nominee, had a 14-point lead in an early October Siena College poll over Republican nominee Keith Wofford, a white-collar attorney running for elected office for the first time, but able to raise enough money to air television ads. The Sunday Siena poll had James up 49-37 percent. Either James or Wofford would become the first African-American person to become New York Attorney General; if elected, James would be the first woman of color elected statewide in New York. (There are also ‘minor party’ candidates for comptroller and attorney general.)

3. Margins
Though Democrats are expected to sweep statewide races, their margins of victory will ultimately show the level of support they have among New Yorkers. Though those margins won’t necessarily mean much once the new government year begins in January, they can influence how elected officials are treated and how they behave.

Cuomo is seeking a third term and is likely to face some voter fatigue, though he may be getting a significant boost from Democrats upset by Trump, whom the governor has made a major focus of his campaign. Cuomo’s opponents have sought to highlight the several corruption scandals that have marred state government in the last eight years -- two of the governor’s close allies and several other associates and donors were convicted on federal corruption charges this year -- as well as the governor’s handling of the MTA as New York City’s subways have slid into crisis.

Though Cuomo won the primary with 65 percent of the vote to Nixon’s 35 percent, he will likely not fare as well in the general where millions of unaffiliated voters can also cast a ballot. In 2014, Cuomo received 53 percent in the general while Republican Rob Astorino got 39 percent; the Green Party’s Hawkins pulled about 5 percent that year. Molinaro is, of course, talking about pulling off the type of upset that would shock the state and the country, though even he admits he is a significant underdog.

DiNapoli got about 164,000 more votes than Cuomo did in 2014, receiving about 57 percent of the vote over his Republican rival Robert Antonacci, who got 35 percent. It’s unclear how much of a dent Trichter can make this year given his limited fundraising and name recognition.

In the attorney general race, Wofford has faced significant hurdles, but the recent Siena poll that showed him down 14 points to James also showed independents were split 40-38 in James’ favor, meaning that the race could potentially tighten.

4. Will minor parties keep/claim ballot lines?
New York’s fusion voting system allows candidates to run on multiple ballot lines from several parties, giving minor parties somewhat outsize influence in elections. But, for a party to automatically receive an automatic ballot line in elections around the state, they must receive at least 50,000 votes for their chosen gubernatorial candidate in the previous election. Besides the big two, the other parties on the ballot include the Working Families Party, the Conservative Party, the Independence Party, the Green Party, and the Women’s Equality Party. The Stop Common Core Party, created by Astorino in 2014 when he challenged Cuomo, received just over 50,000 votes and has since been rebranded as the Reform Party, though it has no affiliation with the Reform Party at the national level.

Cuomo is running on the Democrat, WFP, Independence, and WEP ballot lines. Molinaro has the Republican, Conservative, and Reform Party lines. Hawkins is the Green Party nominee.

Of the various parties, the Reform Party and WEP seem to be at most risk of losing their place on the ballot. Both parties were strategically created in 2014 -- the first by Astorino to create a platform to oppose Common Core education standards, and the second by Cuomo to bolster his standing with women and apparently to diminish the WFP. The WEP has been barely active and lacks the resources for a strong electoral presence. The Reform Party has played a role in electing candidates to local offices and is also involved in assisting at least two Democratic state Senate candidates this year. But neither of the parties has a strong base of registered voters across the state and would need to meet the 50,000 vote threshold for their endorsed gubernatorial candidates.

Between the Green Party and the WFP, it may come down to a matter of ballot placement, depending on which one fares better. The WFP has made a significant showing this year by backing several progressive upstarts in state Senate races and successfully deposing several incumbent Democrats, putting them squarely in the spotlight, while also initially backing Cynthia Nixon and Jumaane Williams for governor and lieutenant governor until they lost in the Democratic primaries. Hawkins has also shown a fare bit of success on the Green Party line, pulling in 184,419 votes in 2014 compared to 126,244 on the WFP line for Cuomo.

For the Libertarian Party and the Serve America Movement, Sharpe and Miner’s performances will determine if they also claim a spot on the ballot moving forward. The closest that Libertarians have come to the threshold is when Warren Redlich got 48,359 votes on the line in 2010.

5. Will the State Senate flip to Democrats or stay Republican?
The State Senate is the only bastion of Republican power in New York state government, which they have held for all but two of the last 50 years. But Democrats need to flip only one seat in the State Senate to regain control -- both party conferences have 31 members but Republicans hold the majority with the help of Senator Simcha Felder, a conservative Democrat from Brooklyn.

The State Democratic Committee and Governor Cuomo are spending millions to take back the Senate and a network of progressive activists who helped trounce Democratic incumbents in the primary are also aiding those efforts. If the Democrats are successful, Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins would become the majority leader, the first African-American woman to occupy that position. It would also open the doors to a slew of progressive legislation -- reforms to voting, government ethics, campaign finance, criminal justice, and more -- which the Democratic base has long demanded.

Republicans and their supporters are doing everything they can to hold their majority, attempting to keep all of their conference’s seats, including where a handful of members are retiring, and even possibly flip one or two their way. Democrats see a path to not just a slim majority, but a wide one that would buffer the conference’s ability to move legislation that more moderate members may not be supportive of. There are roughly 10 seats in the 63-seat chamber that Democrats see as in play, with only one of their own they believe they need to defend.

Democratic wins could mean full party control of state government and the opportunity to dominate the agenda in 2019. All of the state Legislature will be back on the ballot in 2020, a presidential year.

6. Will New York help flip the House of Representatives?
New York’s 27 House of Representatives seats are all on the ballot and as Democrats hope to reclaim the chamber, there are several races where the party is fighting competitive battles and attempting to unseat Republican representatives. Democrats need to net 23 seats in total across the country to flip the House.

Democrats are hoping that Trump’s deep unpopularity in the state will drive voters to the polls even in historically safe Republican districts while winning out most swing seats. Democratic candidates have been outraising their opponents in several races but Republicans have been putting up a strong fight, and Trump has even stumped for a few candidates to bolster their chances.

Out of nine competitive races with Republican incumbents, according to the Cook Political Report, two are toss-ups, three ‘lean Republican’ and four are ‘likely Republican.’ The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is focused on seven of those races as part of its ‘Red to Blue’ effort -- including Districts 1, 11, 19, 21, 22, 24, 27. New York Democrats could also claim prominent leadership positions in the House if they obtain a majority.

7. Will Republicans lose some of their few seats in New York City?
There are only a few elected Republicans representing New York City at any level of government, and after November 6, there could be even fewer.

In South Brooklyn, State Senator Marty Golden, an eight-term incumbent Republican, has become one of the main targets of Democratic efforts to flip the Senate. Golden is a pro-Trump Republican with a controversial record who was reelected in 2016 with no opposition. This year, however, prominent Democratic elected officials and activists from across the city are dedicating time and resources to unseat him. His Democratic opponent, Andrew Gounardes, took Golden on in 2012, but the candidate and his party believe circumstances are different in 2018, and they have approached this race with far more intensity.

Meanwhile, Republican Congressional Rep. Dan Donovan is seeking reelection to Congress, where he represents Staten Island and a sliver of southern Brooklyn. He faces a spirited challenge from Democrat Max Rose, an Army veteran with a fairly moderate platform, reflective of the district he’s hoping to represent. Rose has raised a significant amount of campaign cash and has been pushing a message focused on borough-specific issues rather than following in the vein of his party at large. The DCCC has also invested in the race as part of the ‘Red to Blue’ effort. [Listen: Max & Murphy Podcast: Rep. Dan Donovan]

8. How will New York City’s ballot measures fare?
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s charter revision commission placed three yes/no questions on the ballot for New York City voters that would need a simple majority to be approved. The proposals would drastically reduce campaign contribution limits in city elections and expand the city’s campaign finance program; create a citywide civic engagement commission with the majority of members appointed by the mayor; and impose term limits on community boards -- among a variety of other aspects of each proposal.

In the last week, de Blasio has stumped for those proposals, urging a “yes” vote on each. Some community advocates and labor unions have also backed the proposals, but prominent elected officials have given mixed reviews, with many coming out against proposal three, especially. [Listen: Cesar Perales, chair of the mayor's charter revision commission, appears on the What's The [Data] Point? podcast]

9. Election administration and security
Following the broad influence effort carried out by Russians in the 2016 presidential election, states across the country have sought to beef up election and ballot security. The New York State Board of Elections has implemented a plan called “ARMOR” -- Assessing Risk, Remediation, Monitoring Operations and Response -- with $5 million in state funding and $19.5 in federal funds. The BOE created a Secure Elections Center to protect against potential cybersecurity threats and to ensure that elections run smoothly, and has been training local and county elections boards to respond to those incidents.

Observers will be watching for any attempts to break into election systems, as the Russians successfully did in seven states ahead of the 2016 election while targeting about 21 states (New York was not among those).

There are always questions in New York City around administration of elections by the city’s Board of Elections, including related to issues like whether proper notice has been given about changes in polling locations or whether voters have been improperly removed from the rolls. And, higher than usual voter turnout is expected on Tuesday, perhaps on par with a presidential election, putting boards of election all over the state to the test.

10. A vacancy to fill?
If Letitia James wins the attorney general’s race, she would take the oath of office on January 1, 2019, triggering a nonpartisan special election for the office of public advocate that would likely take place in late February. But the race will likely kick off in earnest almost immediately after Tuesday, if James wins, with dozens of potential candidates waiting in the wings to jump into the race and several having already announced their intentions, including City Council Member Jumaane Williams and Assembly Member Michael Blake.

The nature of the race -- a short timeline with no party affiliations and several candidates largely indistinguishable in their political ideologies -- could potentially help a Republican claim the seat. But the victor would have to run for reelection later in the year, in a “normal” election with primaries and a general, with regular party lines and Democrats a massive enrollment advantage.

***
by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note - This article has been updated. 

Antonio Delgado Makes Final Pitch in Bid to Swing New York-19


Antonio Delgado town hall

Antonio Delgado at Friday's town hall (photo: Brianna Zimmerman)


Hyde Park, New York — In one of the most critical battleground races of the Congressional midterm elections, Democrat Antonio Delgado held the last town hall of his campaign in Dutchess County on Friday, seeking to cement his relationship with constituents and drive home his message of unity and solutions-based leadership. Delgado is attempting to swing New York’s 19th Congressional District out of Republican hands, part of Democrats’ national effort to win back the House of Representatives this fall. He’s facing incumbent Republican Rep. John Faso, who is seeking a second term representing parts of the state including the Catskills and Hudson Valley, north of New York City.

The race appears close in a swing district with nearly even Democratic and Republican voter enrollment. It voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, then went for Donald Trump in 2016. The district is nearly 90% white, and is characterized by small towns, a large constituency of farmers, small businesses, and the working poor, with huge infrastructure projects running through it like the Metro North rail line and the Taconic Parkway. Winning what was then an open seat due to the retirement of former Rep. Chris Gibson, a moderate Republican, Faso beat Zephyr Teachout in 2016 by a 9% margin as Trump won the district and the presidency.

Tuesday’s polls showed this year’s Faso-Delgado race to have razor-thin margins, though Delgado was up by 5 points in the most recent Monmouth survey, other polls show Faso leading. Outside money has poured into the race, with both candidates receiving support from the national campaign committees of the two major parties, though controversy has accompanied ads paid for by Republicans.

Both candidates have expressed support for bipartisanship in Congress, for local farmers, for bringing businesses back into the region, for protecting the gorgeous upstate environment, and for combating the opioid epidemic. They differ along party lines on other central issues to the campaign like gun rights, abortion, immigration, military funding, and healthcare.

Over the course of an hour and a half on Friday night at St. James Episcopal Church in Hyde Park, Delgado spoke of his youth growing up in Schenectady and and his wife’s background in Woodstock, saying that coming from working-class families meant they were both raised with an idea of what it meant to “grow up before greed.” He pitched a return to the values of his youth, when the working poor was not the largest growing class in America and teachers and education and labor were, according to him, valued differently.

“We were the last generation to really benefit from that old economic model,” the 41-year-old said. “And we were standing — we still stand — on those values: integrity, honesty, decency, service, compassion, love, because that’s how we were raised.”

Delgado’s central message to the roughly 100 people gathered — some of whom were clearly already supporters — was that his style of leadership and representation would emphasize accountability to his constituents and a higher moral standard for political leaders. At times prompted by questions and at times not, he repeatedly pitched a vision for the district that includes bipartisan infrastructure investment and decriminalized substance abuse, as well as job growth while preserving the environment. He emphasized civil discourse.

“It’s important to set the example, for ourselves and the community beyond, of what democracy ought to look like and feel like,” Delgado said early in the evening, sounding more like Obama than Trump. “That we can disagree and do so agreeably. That we can be respectful towards each other, and be civil, and ground our conversation in intellectual honesty, and decency.”

Delgado, who is African-American, is running against Faso, who is white, on a liberal platform in what has been a heated campaign where race has been a significant factor and racism has boiled to the surface. Should Delgado win, he would be the first person of color to represent New York’s 19th district in Congress.

But Delgado hasn’t focused on race in his campaign — rather the need for a set of elected officials who can find common ground when dealing with diverse views and perspectives. Even as the National Republican Congressional Committee has run a series of ads highlighting the Harvard-trained lawyer and Rhodes scholar’s past foray into rap music, which many have called racialized or racist.

At Friday’s town hall, Delgado joked about the ads, saying, “My parents were a little bemused by that choice not ‘cause of what I was saying but because they thought — well, you might want to use your law degree.”

Delgado’s focus on issues he sees as unifying a divided constituency was clear as he sought to make his closing pitch, win votes, and inspire volunteers in the final days before the election. He gave charismatic oratory and detailed answers to questions about complex problems throughout the night.

President Trump is supporting Faso, while former President Obama has endorsed Delgado. The race has received national attention both due to its closeness, as well as the amount of money raised and spent by both sides, and the controversial ads.

While the attacks have flown, both candidates have also preached bipartisanship, understanding that the path to victory is through voters in the middle, perhaps many of them unaffiliated with any party.

“Rebuilding and remaking this country anew, economically speaking, is where we can meet across the aisle,” Delgado said on Friday to a round of applause.

For his part, Faso has run his campaign on promises to work on bipartisan legislation on healthcare, fixing immigration policy, climate change, and infrastructure.

While Delgado applauded Faso’s support of the STOP Act, which deals with opioid abuse, on Friday he criticized several of Faso’s first term choices. Delgado disavowed Faso’s vote for the Financial Support Act, which he said enables risky lending practices for large banks, among others, and accused him of being swayed in office due to donations from big pharmaceutical companies. In contrast Delgado asked those in attendance to remember that his campaign has not taken any money from those drug companies.  

“We don’t owe anybody in D.C. anything, no one brought me up, no one recruited me,” Delgado said to those gathered. “Only folks I care about and are beholden to, day in and day out, are you. And we need to restore that bar [for elected officials].”

Faso voted against the Trump-led tax overhaul and voted for the Trump-supported American Health Care Act of 2017, which peeled back aspects of the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.

After beating out seven other Democrats in the June primary and earning 22% of the vote, Delgado has been able to raise significant funds and excite audiences with his speeches, but while polls show a close race, only Tuesday will tell whether he’s been able to capture enough of his primary opponents’ supporters and earn the confidence of thousands of other voters in this swing district.

In New York and across the country, every seat in the House of Representatives is on the ballot this year, and as Democrats attempt to swing the chamber and take some control of government in Washington, the Delgado-Faso race is seen by some as one of the most critical bellwethers. If Democrats are going to take the House, it is the type of race they need to win.

On the ground in Hyde Park before the town hall, constituents expressed very different needs and takes on the race, in which there are two other candidates: Steven Greenfield is the Green Party nominee, and Diane Neil is running as an independent.

Lesley Pinto, the 20-year-old owner of El Guacamole in Hyde Park, plans to vote for Delgado in the hope that her two small local businesses will receive tax breaks, allowing her to buy a house with her husband, Carlos Pinto. She also likes his stance on immigration laws, as both her parents and many friends and family are Mexican immigrants.

A 71-year-old man and his wife who own a small jewelry store in Hyde Park are firm Faso supporters. They spoke of their concern that social welfare programs are cutting into their profits as the minimum wage rises and tax breaks don’t favor them -- and they expressed doubts about Delgado’s promises to help small businesses. Episcopalians, they support Faso’s anti-abortion stance and, gun owners, appreciate his opposition to more gun regulations.

Toward the end of the town hall, Delgado was asked how he would maintain his moral compass in office in the current political climate.

“You,” Delgado said. “I’m gonna do the work for everyday Americans. I’m gonna come back and host town halls, just like this. I’m gonna show up and listen and be accountable.”

***
by Brianna Zimmerman for Gotham Gazette

Tax Issues at Center of State Elections, Albany Year to Come


Cuomo taxes

Gov. Cuomo (photo: Don Pollard/Governor's Office)


When the dust settles on the 2018 elections, whoever is governing the state will be faced with problems like what to do about NYCHA and the MTA, and how New York should respond to climate change, among many others. Another pressing issue that has been an area of focus in many campaigns around the state, from the governor’s race through those for the state Senate, is taxes, and what the next governor and Legislature will or won’t do about them in a number of ways, including the ongoing question of how New York must adjust to the new federal tax code.

Though proposals and arguments have often been hazy, the issue of taxes has been among the most discussed this election season and will be a topic of significant debate when the new state government starts doing business in January. The contours of those discussions and the actual proposals put forward will vary greatly depending on the outcomes of the governor’s race and which party controls the state Senate (the Assembly is home to an overwhelming Democratic majority).

Marc Molinaro, the Republican nominee for governor, has pitched his candidacy largely based on a plan that he says will lead to a 30 percent reduction in property taxes for New Yorkers over five years, but the party’s state Senate conference, hoping to cling to a one-seat majority during a promising year for the opposition, has mostly stuck to arguing that Democrats will increase taxes to previously unseen levels if given full control of state government.

For their part, Democrats have been quieter on taxes, with Governor Andrew Cuomo promising to extend the state’s property tax cap and keep state spending to two percent annual increases, even as some members of his party’s Senate slate push for things like state-run single-payer healthcare and a polluter’s tax -- neither of which Cuomo supports. Running for a third term, Cuomo has said little else about taxes, despite the fact that his attempts to thwart the impact of the federal tax reform have thus far not panned out, the state’s current millionaires tax is set to expire next year, the state is facing upcoming budget gaps, and the state-run MTA is in need of tens of billions of dollars to get the New York City subway system functioning properly.

Molinaro has made broad tax reform one of the centerpieces of his campaign, along with restoring trust in government and generally being a governor who isn’t followed by corruption investigations. His tax plan proposes reductions across the board, from the end of the millionaires tax to an expansion of the earned income tax credit to childless workers and noncustodial parents and the indexing the state’s income tax brackets, standard deduction and dependent exemptions to inflation (a move that Molinaro says prevents a filer’s tax bracket increasing due to inflation without any real change in their earning power).

Molinaro wants to limit annual state spending increases to three percent, but wants that cap codified into state law, unlike Cuomo’s two percent cap, which is self-imposed and the governor, despite his claims to the contrary, has not completely kept to.

The Dutchess county executive’s plan has “a lot of good elements in it and establishes some very worthy and desirable goals,” according to E.J. McMahon, the founder and research director of the conservative Empire Center of New York, although McMahon said he didn’t think the math behind the plan added up to the promised 30 percent reduction in property taxes. Asked repeatedly throughout the campaign, Molinaro has not laid out exactly how he would get there, only promising in broad terms to modernize state government, find efficiencies, and more effectively deliver services.

On the Democratic side, clarity also doesn’t come easy. Cuomo’s priorities on socially liberal but fiscally moderate governance can be seen most clearly in something like his Long Island Senate Democratic Agenda, but even that plan lacks specifics and has seemingly competing priorities. On the one hand, the agenda lays out a promise to keep the two percent property tax cap and the two percent spending cap going, while also promising “historic tax cuts.” On the other hand, there are promises to include Long Island in increased infrastructure, education, and economic development funding.

Cuomo has resisted calls for a New York City-based addition to the millionaires tax, recently pitting his philosophy against Mayor Bill de Blasio in sarcastic terms, saying, “'[W]ell, ideally we would like to have a millionaires tax.' Yes, I wish I could be an elected official who lived in the ideal,” at a gathering of the Association for A Better New York, a business group. He also explicitly cast himself as a different kind of politician than legislators and local politicians “who like to spend” at a speech in front of the Business Council of New York, boasting that he has overseen lower year-over-year state spending increases than previous governors including Republicans and his father.

Part of the lack of clarity on the Democratic side has to do with the uncertainty of where the party will be after the general election. A newly won Senate majority may rely on seats outside New York City, which would require a collaboration of city, suburban, and upstate interests that don’t always align perfectly. And even as Democrats in swing districts run on platforms that include single-payer healthcare in New York, they are pledging not to increase the taxes that would fund it, and many are seeking to represent high-tax Long Island and north-of-the-city areas very sensitive to any additional tax increases and another election right around the corner in 2020, when all the seats in the Legislature will again be on the ballot.

“I think out of the gate you're gonna see a Senate Democratic Conference that's gonna correct some of the wrongs, the missed opportunities by the Senate Republicans like voting reform and gun control, women's health,” Democratic state Senate spokesperson Mike Murphy told Gotham Gazette, suggesting the party would focus on progressive social issues at the beginning of the 2019 session if in the majority. And even as the New York Health Act that would establish state single-payer health care emerged as a hot issue for New York City progressives, among other Democrats, they will have the state’s expiring laws around rent control to deal with next year, and candidates outside of the city, like the Hudson Valley’s Pete Harckham, want much of a full two-year term to work out how a single-payer program would look, or to craft a universal health insurance program compromise with Cuomo.

On the issues of the new federal limitations on state and local tax (SALT) deductions, which dramatically affects high-tax states like New York, the state has joined with other Democratic states to sue the federal government over the $10,000 cap that was included in federal tax reform efforts, in part on the grounds that they were targeted after not voting for Donald Trump for president. At the same time, the IRS has blocked efforts by New York and other states to get around the deduction cap by limiting the federal tax credit taxpayers would get by “donating” their property tax payments to charitable organizations designed to accept the taxes.

Cuomo has been otherwise quiet about how he would solve the issue of the SALT deduction problem, which is likely to most acutely hurt high earners as well as suburban middle and upper middle class property owners, though he has said one goal is for Democrats to recapture control of the federal government and repeal the deduction cap.

The governor has been silent on the question of whether the millionaires tax will be allowed to sunset next year as its currently designed to -- it has been extended multiple times under Cuomo, in partnership with a split Legislature, and there is a significant question around how the state would make up for the revenue if it is not extended. On the other hand, it affects many individuals and families that will be paying higher taxes given the new SALT cap, and Cuomo and others have expressed concern about high-income individuals leaving the state. Cuomo’s campaign did not provide an answer to multiple Gotham Gazette inquiries about the governor’s stance on the millionaires tax.

Molinaro has said he would let the millionaires tax expire.

His plan on the SALT deduction cap is to get rid of New York’s “tax benefit recapture” policy, a practice that charges the highest marginal tax rate for taxpayers above a certain income band, for New Yorkers making between $107,650 and $323,200, thus addressing some of the lost deductions for those earners.

Tax shifts rather than cuts or increases are the most common kinds of plans on the table from both parties. On the Democratic side, Long Island’s John Brooks, running for reelection in a swing district, has offered up a plan that he says would allow areas like Long Island to get out from under high property tax bills related to education spending by capping the amount of school funding coming from property taxes at 50 percent, with any budget needs above 50 percent picked up by the state.

“What Brooks is saying is we need to lower your taxes by finding someone else to pay them. But if you're in Long Island, there is no ‘someone else,’ it's you, you have the higher average incomes,” McMahon said in reaction to the proposal.

For Republicans, requiring the state government to pick up Medicaid costs from local governments is something that Molinaro and state Senate Republicans are running on (to the delight of local editorial boards). It would cost $7 to $8 billion, and require either new or higher taxes or a reduction in the actual delivered services according to a Citizens Budget Commission study on the shift (Cuomo has mocked it as an unserious proposal). But the state Senate conference has also endorsed the idea of exempting seniors from paying property taxes, arguing that since they don’t make use of the schools, they shouldn’t pay to keep them running. It’s a proposition McMahon has panned before and he compared it unfavorably to Brooks’ plan as irresponsible and unfeasible. “How is that fair to a working couple with three or four kids living paycheck to paycheck, and the retired couple next door get to pay no property tax? Are you kidding?”

***
by Dave Colon, Gotham Gazette
     

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Without Cuomo, Other Candidates for Governor Present Ideas in Tempered Debate


Cuomo Molinaro Miner Hawkins Sharpe

Cuomo, Molinaro, Miner, Hawkins, Sharpe


New York’s gubernatorial candidates (minus Governor Andrew Cuomo, who declined the invitation) took the stage at Albany’s College of Saint Rose Thursday evening for the second debate of the general election, but, unlike the first, one that did not once summon the name “Trump” and focused more on the intricacies of running the government.

Whether it was because of the four-candidate field, the real target for each seeming to be the missing incumbent, or the pre-debate call for civility from College of Saint Rose President Carolyn Stefanco, over 90 minutes Republican Marc Molinaro, Green Party nominee Howie Hawkins, Serve America Movement’s Stephanie Miner, and Libertarian Larry Sharpe did less back-and-forth debating and more delivering pieces of their platforms and criticisms of Cuomo’s record.

Cuomo’s absence itself was little remarked upon, referred to early on by Laura Ladd Bierman, the lead moderator and executive director of the League of Women Voters of New York State, with a pointed “thank you to the four of you who agreed to participate,” and toward the end, as Hawkins said “Shame on Andrew Cuomo for not coming here” during his closing statement. But he was a convenient punching bag for all four of the candidates, who despite presenting very different governing philosophies were united in blasting the two-term governor’s economic development and gun control efforts, Excelsior Scholarship program, and ability to retain New York State’s population.

After sustained criticism that the gubernatorial debates this cycle didn’t focus on issues of particular concern in upstate New York, the very first question of the night from moderator Josefa Velasquez of Sludge involved how to encourage young people to move upstate.

Hawkins plugged his Green New Deal as antidote to the lack of jobs in the extensive region, after noting that “most of them [that do exist] are crap.” Sharpe called for a simpler tax code and the exemption of small business from “federal regulatory bodies” if they only sell their goods locally. Miner called for the end of Cuomo’s economic development schemes and more investment in local infrastructure. And Molinaro, who debated Cuomo one-on-one in New York City last week, called for respect from government and property tax relief through the State taking on local costs.

And so a template was set for the evening: Hawkins as the full-throated leftist, Sharpe as the bombastic and soundbite-friendly voice of libertarianism, Miner as the upstate-friendly moderate wonk, and Molinaro as an earnest, caring Republican out of step with the callous, hyper-partisan attitude the national party has turned to. But the candidates were also so focused on their agreement that the status quo in the state is so poor that they forgot to overtly point out disagreements with each other.

Along with Velasquez, questions were asked of the candidates by the Daily News’ Ken Lovett, WRVO’s Susan Arbetter and College of St. Rose junior Takora McIntyre. While the League of Women Voters sponsored the debate and Saint Rose hosted it, the League did not find a media partner, so the debate was not broadcast on television or radio; the League instead streamed it over multiple online channels.

The candidates, none of whom are well-known across New York, sought to establish their biographies and experiences with voters. Molinaro brought up his experience as Dutchess county executive when explaining why he knew how to lower property taxes or lead a statewide effort to find ways where counties could share public services, and pitched his life in government as one dedicated to improving the lives of everyday New Yorkers. Miner talked about her infrastructure modernization efforts as (Democratic) mayor of Syracuse and focused her closing statement on emphasising her eight years of experience running the city as a case study in “solving real problems” in a broken system.

Sharpe brought up his military service as a way for him to compare the GI Bill benefits he got to his proposed grants for students after the 10th grade, and pitched himself as a “business guy” trying to make “customers” (voters) happy. Hawkins reminded voters of his life of activism while encouraging political leaders to listen to young people and his time as a construction worker to pitch himself as a man who knew the struggles of a working person.

Every candidate said they had problems with the gun-control SAFE Act and the way it was passed, professed it is important for young people to vote, and argued the governor’s Regional Economic Development Councils should be scrapped and that the state should pay for mandates that fall on the shoulders of local governments.

On rare occasions, like Hawkins’ dismissal of charter schools as corporate profit-seeking in the guise of education or Miner’s measured support of the proposed ‘red flag’ gun control bill Cuomo is behind or Sharpe promoting his plan to end public education after 10th grade, one candidate disagreed with the general tenor of the other three. But whether it was the number of candidates, the insistence on civility, Cuomo’s absence, or a non-confrontational format, the proceedings largely entailed four candidates standing behind lecterns and reciting their platforms one at a time when prompted by a question.

Sharpe jumped out from the civility constrictions by casting the ideologies of both Democrats and Republicans as uncreative failures (and in one bizarre instance claiming Molinaro “stole” the term “Status Cuomo” from him), and managed to stand out if only because ideas like asking Pepsi to fix lead-lined pipes upstate in exchange for the good press and branding they would get out of it, is in fact something no traditional politician has ever brought up.

Though Sharpe (slash government) and Hawkins (socialism) have drastically different political philosophies and policy ideas, they never had, or took, the opportunity to poke holes in each other’s arguments. Likewise, Miner and Molinaro never went back-and-forth about the best ways to invest in infrastructure and where those investments are first needed. If the Cuomo-Molinaro debate was light on substance, the four-candidate conversation just a few days before Election Day lacked open disagreement.

***
by Dave Colon, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Running for Attorney General, Wofford Promises to Step Up Fighting Corruption, Step Back Fighting Wall Street


wofford podium

Kieth Wofford (photo via @Wofford4AG)


Keith Wofford, the Republican nominee for Attorney General, appears to have a simple campaign message: he’ll make it harder for corrupt government officials to waste taxpayer money and make it easier for New York businesses to thrive.

The first-time candidate for political office who has made a highly-lucrative career for himself as a attorney says that if elected the state’s top legal officer, he would step back what he calls the over-prosecution of corporations, especially financial institutions that have so often been the focus of the last few New York attorneys general. While in the Democratic primary for attorney general candidates competed over who would be the toughest “Sheriff of Wall Street,” as former Attorney General Eliot Spitzer was known, Wofford wants nothing to do with that title. He’d much prefer to be the Sheriff of State Street, in Albany, home to the governor’s office and state Legislature.

Wofford is competing with Democratic nominee Letitia James, currently the New York City Public Advocate, and several smaller party candidates. While James is favored and has led in the public polling, she is not particularly well-known outside of the five boroughs and Wofford has raised significant funds to air the types of television commercials needed to build his own name recognition, which started at virtually zero.

James has attacked Wofford for his vision for the role of attorney general, particularly as it relates to aggressiveness with big firms, and for voting for President Donald Trump, who is deeply unpopular in New York, though Trump won many, mostly less-populated pockets of the state in 2016. Wofford has explained his vote as due to the promise of Trump helping economically struggling people in upstate New York, including his native Buffalo, while attacking James for her closeness to Governor Andrew Cuomo and other Democratic establishment figures.

Wofford’s campaign message starts around his working class roots in western New York. His father spent 32 years working at a Chevy plant near Buffalo, he explains, and his mother was working retail jobs while taking care of two sons. He says he’s running “because the state’s been great to me, and it’s time to give something back,” as he said during a recent appearance on the Max & Murphy show on WBAI radio. He argues the state has veered off course, largely due to corruption among its elected officials, and that as the attorney general, he would focus on making sure that taxpayers are not being ripped off. He also wants to use the position to help create a better business climate in a state that has seen many factories close and residents leave.

“We had an environment where my dad could get study employment and a great job for 32 years. There were good public schools, great public libraries that I spent a lot of time at with my mom, but those underpinnings are going away or in some cases are gone because we have a government that chases jobs away,” said Wofford. State government has been “hopelessly corrupt,” he said, along with attorneys general chasing jobs away through overzealous and politically-motivated enforcement -- work that the officeholders and their supporters, as well as James and her Democratic competitors this year, have said was done to protect New Yorkers’ rights, enforce the law, and hold powerful entities responsible for wrongdoing.

“Let’s just look at all of the strong-arming and settlements,” Wofford said, when asked how attorneys general have hurt the state economy, and referring to settlements reached with financial institutions in the aftermath of the Great Recession. “We got this crazy law called the Martin Act, and it allows you to accuse companies of fraud, but you don’t have to prove that the company intended to fraud anybody.”

“The statue does not serve to protect the people or companies from being harmed, nor does it provide the necessary enforcement to hold the wrongdoers accountable,” he continued, staking out a stance far different from how Democrats have viewed the Martin Act since Spitzer re-established its use in aggressive fashion. “The law does, however, give the Attorney General intimidation powers which they use to twist the companies’ arms behind closed doors and threaten them with criminal liability and make them pay money.”

The result is a hostile environment that keeps companies from creating jobs in New York. According to Wofford the “combination of the hostility to business plus the unremitting corruption” has made the business community lose confidence in New York.

Wofford argues that he can use existing powers of the attorney general to go after public corruption in a more aggressive way than others have in the role.

“There are a number of ways already on the books” to do it, he told Max & Murphy. “I think you really just have to have a re-emphasis on looking, and asking the right questions, and making sure that you find the red flags and try to get ahead of some of this before it gets to be a problem.”

James has also released an anti-corruption plan, that includes using existing powers while seeking new ones to root out malfeasance in state and local governments. She’s also much more focused on Trump and federal policy than Wofford, making such fights perhaps the main focus of her campaign, while Wofford has largely said his focus would be New York. He has argued that the two New York attorneys general during the Trump presidency have been over-eager to attack the president, but has said there are some lawsuits and investigations worth continuing, like the office’s fight against a citizenship question on the 2020 Census.

James says she plans to work with lawmakers to “reform outdated laws to give the Attorney General civil and criminal authority to go after corruption,” while also pledging to use the existing powers of the attorney general to investigate corruption in state government, and “Trump’s corrupt empire.” Regarding the former, the powers given to the attorney general under “Executive Law 63(12), the False Claims Act,” will allow James to “investigate and prosecute legislators, businesses, and charities involved in self-dealing,” as stated in her corruption plan.

Wofford criticized James for “passing the buck to someone else,” arguing that she does not intend to investigate corruption until she receives permission from both the governor and the Legislature. James has stated otherwise in her plan, saying that “until the legislature takes action, I will use the full powers of the office creatively to find new ways to take on corruption, from Albany to Washington, D.C.” However, even in her Democratic primary, James’ opponents pointed out her closeness to both Cuomo and Democratic members of the Legislature.

In Wofford’s plan he names a few of the existing powers that he believes give the Attorney General legislative and investigative authority. According to the definition provided by Cornell Law School, under the auspices of “parens patriae,” the government, or any authority, are to be regarded "as [the] guardian for those who are unable to care for themselves.” The Attorney General’s office can then use this doctrine “to investigate, and if necessary, commence litigation for the benefit of state residents.” Executive Law 63(12), allows the Attorney General to investigate private entities “who conspire with public officials to take advantage of competing bidders or taxpayers,” Wofford notes. Operation Integrity, also listed in James’ plan is, “a pact between the Attorney General and the Comptroller which allows the Attorney General to investigate pay-to-play.” These serve as “a few examples of existing tools that an independent, energized Attorney General can use to combat corruption.”

As Wofford has previously stated, he believes that it takes someone from the outside to come in and clean up Albany. However, according to James, Wofford’s work at the law firm Ropes and Gray LLP, where he is a partner earning several million dollars per year, and his failure to disclose his client list should raise flags for voters. James, who repeatedly called for Wofford to release his tax returns, which he briefly showed The New York Law Journal last week, has said the Republican nominee should also delineate which of his firm’s clients have had business before the Attorney General’s office. While James views Wofford’s work with the law firm as a conflict of interest, Wofford regards it as preparation for what he would be dealing with as Attorney General.

During his time at Ropes and Gray, Wofford’s focus was on bankruptcy and creditors’ rights. In an interview with WAMC, Wofford summed up his job by saying that he was responsible for getting money back to investors after they’d given it companies that would either send it away, waste it, or use it on projects that later failed. Wofford claimed that this is what is happening to the taxpayers of the state who don’t get to see where their money really goes or how well it is being used.

“A man who makes $4.5 million from a law firm that represents the makers of OxyContin, vulture funds that pillaged Puerto Rico, and big banks that caused the subprime mortgage crisis can’t claim to be independent to tackle corruption,” said James spokesperson Jack Sterne, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “By turning his back on the Martin Act, Mr. Wofford is ignoring the very abuses and criminal conduct that led to the subprime mortgage crisis -- which cost tens of thousands of New York families their homes. If New Yorkers can’t trust him to hold corporate giants accountable, how can they trust him to take on corruption?”

As James called for him to release his taxes, Wofford was calling on her to agree to debates. She agreed to one, which occurred earlier this week on Spectrum News NY1 and hit most of the talking points that each candidate has been putting forth on the trail for months. Both candidates talked about pursuing criminal justice reforms if elected, though their lists of reforms differ somewhat, with Wofford mostly focused on ensuring speedy trials actually occur as guaranteed in the constitution, while James has a more expansive list including bail reform and outfitting police officers across the state with body cameras.

Wofford’s central policy focus is improving the business climate, and he plans to help small- and medium-sized businesses with the addition of small business liaison or assistance office within the Economic Justice Bureau of the Attorney General’s office. Small businesses would be able to make appropriate filings “without having to hire armies of lawyers,” he said.

“It’s long overdue that there’s someone in the state is on their side. So they can focus on growing jobs and growing business, rather than focusing on paying lawyers and which lawyers to hire,” said Wofford.

Wofford’s platform has also focused on creating a plan to deal with the opioid epidemic; he’s stressed that the attorney general’s office needs to be more active and plans to use the Organized Crime Task Force to investigate individuals suspected of bringing drugs into the state illegally. The Medical Fraud Control unit would serve to carry out the investigations of companies that fail to disclose the risks associated with opioids, and of physicians who overprescribed the drugs, he says.

“Time and again, parents and family members cannot find open beds for their loved ones in need of treatment,” Wofford said his press release, where he spoke about his plans to address the opioid crisis. “By creating a dedicated fund administered through the Attorney General’s Office to invest in additional treatment capacity we can help families escape the horrors of opioid addiction and enable patients to receive treatment close to home where they have their families’ support.”

Wofford is also pledging to better equip law enforcement and first responders, and provide victims with access to better treatment options. A part of the funding would come from settlements reached by his office, such the ongoing lawsuit mentioned in his plan, against opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma L.P. Wofford “plans to pursue this litigation [Purdue Pharma lawsuit] aggressively and initiate investigations into those who have profited from opioid addiction.”

“We have to deal with this opioid crisis, it’s a human tragedy, it’s also secondarily, and much less an economic tragedy and it’s a huge problem for our government,” said Wofford. James also has a plan to fight the opioid epidemic.

Wofford’s agenda as laid out during the campaign also touches on criminal justice reform in terms of addressing issues with “speedy trial” assurances.

“We have an affirmative proposal on reform of speedy trial, that we think if there is a bipartisan dialogue on it, together with discovery reform in criminal cases, we can both maintain public safety and maintain an outcome that the D.A., and the cops, and the people protecting our safety can support,” explained Wofford. With some people held for years without going to trial, Wofford says reforms would “get rid of what is currently an unconstitutional situation.”

[Read: In Attorney General Debate, James and Wofford Contrast Careers, Approaches to Cuomo and Trump]

***
by Annie Abreu, Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this article.

Molinaro Pledges Education 'State of Emergency,' Council of Mayors


marc molinaro on twitter

Marc Molinaro (photo: @marcmolinaro)


Republican gubernatorial nominee Marc Molinaro intends to declare a “state of emergency” for struggling school districts to address a plethora of issues and provide districts with more control over their destiny.

Speaking to Gotham Gazette after his Tuesday speech at the Association for a Better New York, Molinaro said that the dismal status of some school districts, especially in upstate cities, requires extraordinary action and significant facets of educational policy-making devolved to local districts.

“You have failing schools upstate that are generationally failing,” Molinaro said. “Rochester and Syracuse, just generationally failing, and the governor has done nothing to address this. I would declare a state of emergency.”

“I’m willing to declare a state of emergency, allow community school districts and the state to establish latitude within the bureaucratic system to get an education, a school functioning again, so we’re educating kids to compete,” he continued, going on to say he would form a “Council of Mayors” also open to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The statewide graduation rate for the class of 2017 was 80.2 percent, but the graduation rate in four of the five largest school districts is lower: Yonkers tops the statewide rate, but New York City, Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse all have graduation rates lower than the statewide average.

Of the “big five,” the crisis is most acute in Rochester, where the 2017 on-time graduation rate was just 51.9 percent, though this was a 4.2 percent increase over 2016. Rochester’s schools are highly segregated and nearly 40 percent of students are low-income. Syracuse’s graduation rate is slightly higher, at 60.5 percent, but was the only “big five” district to see graduation rates decline between 2016 and 2017. Buffalo’s 2017 rate was 62.7 percent, New York City’s was 71.1 percent, and Yonkers’ was 82.8 percent. Graduation rates tell only part of the story, of course, but often provide significant insight into broader, more complex dynamics.

Issues exist elsewhere outside of the “big five” districts. In Hempstead, where 97 percent of students are black or Hispanic, just 37 percent of students graduated on-time in 2017, one of the lowest figures in the state.

Molinaro did not go into explicit detail on what exactly a “state of emergency” would entail and what types of state regulations he would like to unshackle districts from. But he did say that he would establish a “Council of Mayors” that would meet to develop plans and targets, apparently organized and run by the executive chamber if he is governor.

“We will meet every single quarter to identify our work plan, benchmarks to address educational failure, generational failure, nutritional issues, safety,” Molinaro said. “And each quarter we will identify whether or not we’ve achieved that and use an actual, real time dashboard to evaluate success.” Molinaro said that de Blasio, a Democrat who famously does not get along with Governor Andrew Cuomo, would be welcome to join the council, but that its “focus” would be on upstate cities.

Education itself has largely been reduced to the sidelines in this election, with issues such as corruption, taxes, transit, and the Trump administration dominating. Nonetheless, Molinaro has outlined contours of an education agenda (though not a detailed plan) that in many ways departs from arguments traditionally brought forward by Republicans.

Molinaro has largely shied away from the perennial issues of charter schools and school choice, both of which he and Cuomo both support. Molinaro has said several times that he supports lifting the state’s charter school cap, though he joined fellow Republicans in voting against doing so in the Assembly in 2010. Nonetheless, he has not discussed the issue much during the campaign -- wealthy charter school backers continue to support Cuomo with campaign donations.

Molinaro criticized the governor and distanced himself from Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan for calling teachers and the teachers union “enemies” or “forces of evil,” respectively. “Neither is acceptable,” he told Gotham Gazette on Tuesday, pledging to work with and re-empower teachers.

The GOP nominee faces long odds taking on Cuomo and will be joined on the ballot by three other challengers, including Green Party nominee Howie Hawkins, independent Stephanie Miner, the former mayor of Syracuse, and Libertarian Party nominee Larry Sharpe, who has outlined his own, somewhat revolutionary education plan.

While he has put forth detailed plans on taking over the MTA, government reform, tax policy, veterans services, economic opportunity, and services for people with disabilities, Molinaro has not published an education plan, though he said elements of his others include education-focused elements.

The crux of Molinaro’s approach to education is to devolve significant amounts of authority over all sorts of matters from state to local control, including decoupling from education policy like the Common Core learning standards and elements of standardized testing, and providing teachers and administrators wider “latitude” over decisions at hyperlocal levels. This includes more local control of teacher evaluations, he said, though he acknowledged the need for some statewide framework that localities would then work within to pursue their own system for teacher evaluation, a hot-button issue that formed a central part of Cuomo’s education agenda until he retreated from it in the face of opposition from the teachers unions and their legislative allies.

“What you need to reestablish is really a partnership between family, community, and school,” Molinaro said. “And the way you do that is by empowering local districts to start to make more curriculum decisions, and then give even individual buildings and administrators the ability to create work-plans for their students, their teachers, their community. And by doing that, you’ll get greater buy-in from family, and you’ll be able to evaluate success much more.”

Molinaro has spoken extensively, at least relative to other education policy areas, on special education and services for those with disabilities, which he has placed particular importance on since learning his daughter was on the autism spectrum and running into challenges getting her proper services.

In Dutchess County, Molinaro’s administration launched in 2015 the “ThinkDifferently” initiative to change perceptions and improve services for and integration of people with disabilities in schools and elsewhere. The project, annually funded by $2 million of federal Community Development Block Grant, supports projects and outreach for businesses to become accessible and for the community to reevaluate its relationship with individuals with disabilities. Molinaro has said ThinkDifferently has been adopted by roughly 100 communities across the state already.

He has put forth a plan to take ThinkDifferently statewide if elected governor, which includes new deputy secretary and ombudsperson positions, and a reevaluation of all services.

“This state has perpetuated a separate but unequal form of education: general ed and special ed,” Molinaro said at his October 23 debate with Cuomo. “I believe in integrating that because those who are living with special education needs, those living with developmental disabilities are being left behind and parents are being forced to advocate, full hand on combat, to receive services. So that’s a way to reinvigorate and to inspire kids to learn.”

Molinaro has criticized the state’s universal pre-K program as being exclusionary towards people with disabilities, and that Cuomo in particular has neglected that cohort of students. And on Sunday, Molinaro characterized Sharpe’s plan not to accept any federal funds for education as one that would “decimate special education” in New York.

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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Ben Max contributed to this story.



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