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Cuomo Challengers Level Critiques; Will Anything Stick?


Cuomo made in the shade

Gov. Cuomo (photo: Mike Groll/Govenor's Office)


With less than a month till voters go to the polls on November 6, it appears Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, has little cause for worry as he seeks a third term. His favorability among voters may have dropped but public polling has shown him holding consistently wide leads over his opponents. His campaign war chest, though massively depleted by a bruising primary battle, still remains formidable at $9 million-plus, dwarfing his four general election competitors. And he is instantly recognizable to most voters, unlike his challengers.

Though Cuomo saw some of his weaknesses -- including a crumbling subway system and an epidemic of corruption in state government -- exposed and prodded in the primary by actor and activist Cynthia Nixon, a first-time candidate who managed to get more than half a million votes, he nonetheless came through it in relatively good shape, albeit with some egg on his face, defeating Nixon by 30 points with nearly a million votes of his own as primary turnout surged.

Despite several gaffes and scandals, questionable use of his government powers for apparent campaign purposes, and an egregious mailer that falsely smeared Nixon as anti-semitic, Cuomo emerged after primary day with an emboldened sense of his accomplishments, support, and chances at a third term. He also turned the corner in a campaign already geared largely toward opposing President Donald Trump, now with the opportunity to directly tie his main competitor to the president who remains unpopular in his home state.

With few signs that voters, at least Democratic ones, will punish him for a litany of troubles associated with his administration and his failure to have passed progressive legislation urgently demanded by an energized base, he is surging ahead in a race that is his to lose. While Cuomo has said little directly to make amends with those 500,000-plus Democrats who voted for Nixon, one major step he has taken is to begin following through on a pledge to help flip the New York State Senate to Democratic control, and help flip New York seats in the House of Representatives as part of a national effort to give the chamber a Democratic majority.

As Cuomo woos the state’s 6.2 million Democratic voters and its 2.6 million independents, among others -- including some of the 2.8 million Republicans who may like aspects of his moderate record -- the governor’s opponents have been leveling attacks against the incumbent with the hopes of taking him down a notch while building their own stature. Polling indicates those efforts have not yet borne fruit, and as the election rapidly approaches, a governor with significant achievements and vulnerabilities appears to be deflecting, dodging, and defusing criticisms of his record on corruption, jobs, taxes, the MTA, and more.

In the latest Siena College poll, the first of the general election, released October 1, Cuomo held a 22-point lead among likely voters over his main rival, Republican nominee Marc Molinaro, the Dutchess county executive. Cuomo received 50 percent of the vote to Molinaro’s 28 percent. Ten percent said they would vote for Nixon if she stayed on the Working Families Party line, which has since gone to Cuomo, paving the way for him to capture a higher percentage, while 4 percent said they would vote for other “third party” candidates, who include Green Party nominee Howie Hawkins, Libertarian nominee Larry Sharpe, and independent Stephanie Miner; and 8 percent were undecided.

“Electorally, barring something unexpected, a month out now, it’s hard to imagine that he’s going to do anything except walk away with this thing,” said Dr. Jeanne Zaino, professor of political science at Iona College, in a phone interview. “I’m not sure that that speaks as much to the governor as it does to the fact that Republicans in the state are in a very, very difficult position.”

As Molinaro runs uphill against an anti-Trump wind, Miner, the former Democratic mayor of Syracuse now with the new Serve America Movement, has struggled to gain traction with her message of experience and bipartisanship. Hawkins, who received 5 percent of the vote in the 2014 gubernatorial race, says he hopes to beat that this year, but is severely underfunded, and Sharpe, who has kept an especially active campaign schedule, does not appear to have broken through.

Some of the major criticisms levelled by the challengers are similar to Nixon’s own volleys against Cuomo, that he has allowed corruption to fester in government, catered to wealthy donors at the expense of everyday New Yorkers, largely mismanaged a multi-billion-dollar economic development program, and let New York City’s subway system slide into chaos.

There are of course more specific critiques. Molinaro and Miner, for instance, have both stressed that taxes are far too high and living in the state has become increasingly unaffordable, blaming Cuomo for the resulting exodus of New York residents, especially from distressed upstate areas. Hawkins has condemned Cuomo’s environmental policies for not going far enough, laments that the governor does not support state-funded single-payer health care (Cuomo believes the federal government should pass it and pay for it) and argues that the state has yet to fund the foundation aid formula for fair student funding across the state as required by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity court decision. Sharpe wants to repeal the SAFE Act, Cuomo’s signature gun control measure passed in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, and significantly reduce the size and scope of state government in other ways, returning more power to localities.

Besides the seemingly insurmountable advantages  of incumbency, Cuomo has largely chosen to ignore his opponents and focus on Trump, in a year where Democrats are seeing the signs of a “blue wave” across the country. He has sought to paint Molinaro and nearly every New York Republican as a “Trump mini-me” who supports what he says are harmful policies of a Republican-led federal government and the retrogressive outlook of a platform based on the president’s pledge to “Make America Great Again,” which, to Cuomo and many others, includes racial and ethnic prejudice.

“Molinaro is vastly, in almost every way, he is on the losing end of this,” said Zaino. “From name recognition, to funding, to party registration, I mean up and down this is a very tough year for Republicans.”

Besides taxes, Molinaro’s campaign is largely built on highlighting the corruption scandals that have marred Cuomo’s two terms in office, and on painting Cuomo as an incompetent leader who relies on intimidation tactics.

“Andrew Cuomo has no credibility,” said Katy Delgado, a Molinaro campaign spokesperson, in a statement. “The people of New York are suffering from high taxation and corruption has stained the Governor’s office. It’s time for New Yorkers to have the leadership we deserve. A Governor who will cut taxes by 30% and show this corrupt administration the door on January 1, 2019.”

In fact, in the Siena Poll, likely voters said that by a 41-36 percent margin, Molinaro would do a better job of tackling corruption (a majority said Cuomo is better on infrastructure, public education and job creation). Cuomo came into office in 2011 promising to clean up state government, and has failed to do so, with recent federal convictions resulting in members of his inner circle headed to prison, along with a long list of state legislators who have been removed from office for abusing the public trust. But those results appear to have done little to sour voters on Cuomo.

Zaino said the trifecta of corruption, the MTA, and taxes are areas where Cuomo could see some disaffection among voters. “He is very vulnerable on corruption,” she said. “He’s made the case obviously that it’s not him, but it has been people very, very close to him. And he hasn’t done enough to put a stop to it, as he promised eight years ago.”

Government corruption has not proved to be a major voter motivator, however.

The issue of the MTA also “strikes very close to home for some voters,” Zaino said. “The MTA is something that people deal with on a daily basis, and that is his, and he owns it.”

On taxes, she said Cuomo is between a rock and a hard place -- a progressive left movement that wants to see higher taxes on the wealthy and Cuomo’s own predilection for fiscal moderation. “I think he’s going to be caught in between this progressive left, and obviously Republicans, but also more importantly, the moderate Democrats, and I think it’s really going to highlight some of the upstate-downstate tensions as well,” she said.

Dr. Christina Greer, political science professor at Fordham University, also pointed to the governor’s strengths in the general, chiefly the campaign cash at his disposal. “Money in many ways can elevate his narrative and drown out his opponents’ narrative,” she said in a phone interview. “I think he’ll use it strategically. I think Molinaro has an uphill battle because he doesn’t have name recognition and he doesn’t seem to be inspiring voters as of yet.”

New York City is the most expensive media market in the country and Cuomo’s millions in campaign cash can buy him ample air time, in the city and beyond. “Cuomo certainly has vulnerabilities,” said Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg. “He can have a vulnerability but if the voters don’t know about it, it’s sort of the tree in the forest.” On corruption, for instance, he said Molinaro would have to work hard to make it a “salient” campaign issue among undecided voters who aren’t already pledged to either of the two major party candidates.

“[Molinaro] has to worry about the folks in the middle,” Greenberg said. “Independent voters, those soft Democrats, those moderate Democrats, those moderate Republicans, the folks in the middle, the folks who decide elections. But that costs money.” Molinaro’s latest campaign finance disclosure from this week showed he had only about $210,000 in cash on hand.

Greenberg also noted that a Republican has not prevailed in any statewide race since George Pataki won a third term as governor in 2002.

“For a Republican to win statewide is a very difficult proposition…How do they do it? They win upstate. They either win or hold their own in the downstate suburbs and they find a way to cut the deficit in New York City...Marc Molinaro can put out statements every day, he can do events every day, but the vast majority of voters don’t see those statements or know about those events. You gotta get on TV, you gotta be on radio, you gotta do mailings, you gotta do phone calls, you gotta have the volunteers to go door-to-door and talk to voters. All of that is expensive.”

Greer, however, doesn’t believe Molinaro has made an effective argument against Cuomo. “I don’t know if Molinaro has the message to sway voters. Cuomo has an advantage because all he has to say is ‘Molinaro is a Republican’ and that will turn off many Democrats,” she said. “That’s a strong card to have in this moment.”

But, she noted, there is likely to be some voter fatigue with Cuomo having been in office for nearly eight years. “He’s asking people for a third term and I think some folks just don’t feel like he deserves it,” Greer said. “Based on temperament, based on lack of productivity in particular areas that they’re interested in.”

The challengers themselves are confident of breaking through to voters, noting what they see as Cuomo’s weaknesses, his lack of a coherent vision for a third term, and the fact that more than 500,000 voters cast a ballot for Nixon in the primary.

“Governor Cuomo’s entire campaign is based on his fear of Donald Trump alone,” said Sharpe, the Libertarian candidate, in a statement. “There is no plan to actually help any New Yorker in any way, shape or form. It is only a fear-based platform.”

Sharpe said Cuomo has focused on “the crown jewel” of $22,000 in per-pupil education funding, which the governor repeatedly cites as the highest in the nation. But Sharpe says the state ranks below 30th in education outcomes. “This crown jewel is actually a cubic zirconia. The current educational system is an expensive and bloated embarrassment for which he should be ashamed. Everything else of value he has abandoned, including economic development, the family courts, the MTA and infrastructure overall. His 8 years can be summed up in one statement, ‘One million New Yorkers have voted with their feet by leaving the state since his majesty took the throne.’”

Hawkins of the Green Party is banking on progressives being dissatisfied with the governor, and thinks he is the logical choice for Nixon voters in the general. “He talks progressive but he governs to the right,” Hawkins said of Cuomo in a brief phone interview. He pointed out, for example, that the governor’s much-vaunted $15 minimum wage isn’t in effect upstate, where the minimum wage is set to increase to $12.50 by the end of 2020. He criticized Cuomo for hesitating on extending the state’s millionaires tax, his handling of issues at the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), and lead poisoning issues in upstate communities in Syracuse, Buffalo, and Ithaca.

“I think it resonates but the question is, do we have the reach to reach all the progressives who I think on these issues are the majority of people in New York State,” Hawkins said.

He recognized Cuomo’s many advantages. “The only way we can overcome it is if the media narrative changes,” he said, noting for instance that though the Green Party received more than twice the votes the Working Families Party did in 2014 (with Cuomo on its line), the WFP’s political moves tend to get more attention. “That would make a big difference...It’s not just what Cuomo’s got, it’s the way he’s being treated by the media, which is frustrating for us.”

One way Cuomo's challengers could earn a boost and the governor could potentially fall in favorability is through a debate, but Cuomo has yet to agree to one, and while he may, the odds of such an event having a drastic impact on the race are small. Cuomo survived a contentious, high-stakes one-on-one debate with Nixon in the primary; if he agrees to a general election debate, he's likely to insist all five candidates are present, diluting his exposure.

In a phone interview, Miner reiterated her three-part criticism. “The state government is mired in corruption, money is being wasted, and problems are not being solved,” she said. Miner believes that though Cuomo had a decisive primary victory, the general electorate is likely to more accurately reflect and vote on statewide issues. “I think you’re gonna have a much broader and more representative population across the state that’s gonna vote,” she said. She believes Cuomo will continue to spend massively in the general because “he has to try to distract people from the fundamental problems that are happening in New York state under his administration and his tenure.”

It’s unclear what the general electorate will look like, though trends including Democratic enthusiasm appear to be to Cuomo’s advantage. Nixon’s move from the WFP line to make way for Cuomo and eliminate any chance of her being a spoiler also works toward his securing a third term. But, a Cuomo win is not necessarily a complete given.

“Anything can happen in the real world,” said Greenberg of Siena. “So is it a foregone conclusion? No. Is he the prohibitive favorite? Would you go to Vegas and place a bet on it? Absolutely.”

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

Read more by this writer.

A Lifelong Democrat and Famed Civil Rights Attorney, Michael Sussman Runs for Attorney General as a Green


peace exist sussman

photo via Sussman campaign on Twitter


A 19-year-old from Flatbush, Brooklyn sat in the Iron Forge, a middle-eastern restaurant on Q Street in Washington, D.C., and looked around. He had started his internship with the Democratic National Committee, and was given the opportunity to choose from a group of candidates whose campaign he wanted to work on. He saw the men around him, who he would work with in the coming months, the fall of 1973: Georgians Hamilton Jordan, Jodi Powell, Bert Lance, and Griffin Bell, along with the governor, Jimmy Carter.

The young Brooklynite took that fall semester off from college as he transferred from the University of Chicago to Amherst College, immersing himself in politics, and went on to work on Carter’s campaign for president, meeting Ralph Nader, a well-known political activist and attorney credited with pushing consumer protection legislation such as the Clean Water Act, Freedom of Information Act, Whistleblower Protection Act, and more. He learned from Nader, and worked with him and Mark Green, later the New York City Public Advocate, on environmental issues, and went on to do his own public-interest work as a civil rights lawyer, including in the Department of Justice and for the NAACP. His most famous work came in Yonkers, New York, where he won a landmark case aimed at tearing down the city’s racial segregation, among other cases, and where he organized his fellow Democrats, holding rallies, and speaking at many public events on a variety of causes over decades.

Now 64 years old, Michael Sussman is running for Attorney General of New York as the Green Party candidate, his first run for statewide elected office after decades of political and legal work advancing progressive causes. He’s abandoned the Democrats for the Greens, he says, because “leading Democrats in the state have failed to advocate strongly enough for the interests that I care about, and I think that in some cases they’ve failed to do that because of personal interests and corruption.”

He’s running for attorney general because “from corruption to public health to the environment...these areas are all of huge and critical importance and I think you need someone as attorney general who has life experience as a litigator.”

He’s promising if elected to investigate Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is favored to win a third term this fall, and he’s pulling few punches when it comes to the frontrunner in his race, Democratic nominee Letitia James, currently the New York City Public Advocate, who has Cuomo’s full backing.

“I was a Democrat for 45 years,” Sussman said at a recent candidates event in Yonkers, addressing the crowd just after James spoke. “I ran for county executive of my county, I’ve done some of the most significant civil rights and environmental cases of my generation, but I refused in 2017 to run as a Democrat in New York State for Attorney General, for one good reason: the duopoly of corrupt practices.”

“We cannot have someone running on the slate with Mr. Cuomo expected to vigorously prosecute Mr. Cuomo and political corruption in our state -- it’s an inherent conflict,” Sussman said, “and until and unless we recognize it frontally and say we need an independent attorney general, someone like me who has 40 years of experience litigating, in every court -- Supreme Court of the United States, 400 arguments in the Court of Appeals in New York, a thousand cases in federal court...I don’t want to depend on the Trump Justice Department to clean up political corruption in New York. I want an attorney general in New York who is independent enough to clean up corruption, it’s very simple.”

If he can somehow get enough New Yorkers to hear his message and consider voting Green, Sussman believes he would be the clear choice for attorney general among voters who are overwhelmingly Democratic. He’s traveling the state, walking local communities from Brooklyn to Buffalo, he says, posting short videos to his Twitter feed, and proposing things like strengthening the public integrity unit of the attorney general’s office and imposing “a sweeping public finance law to disconnect big money from state politics.”

Lou Young, Sussman's communications director, tweeted, “If he could meet every voter in person he would win in a landslide. Michael Sussman just needs to he heard to be believed. It's that simple.”

He won’t meet every voter and it may not be that simple even if he did, of course, given the strength of James’ candidacy, which includes the powerful backing of Cuomo and the state party he controls, not to mention challenges raising money and name recognition.

While the odds of him pulling off a victory that would shock New York, and beyond, are quite long, Sussman is the type of “third party” candidate who may garner significant attention in a political atmosphere where voters on the left are frustrated with what many perceive as a corrupt and disconnected gubernatorial administration and state Legislature. But how many of the hundreds of thousands of voters who backed Cynthia Nixon for governor or Zephyr Teachout for attorney general in their respective Democratic primaries are willing to consider Sussman is an open question, especially given James’ progressive bona fides (she would also be the first woman of color to win a statewide position).

But with the question of independence from Cuomo still hanging over the attorney general race, which also includes Republican nominee Keith Wofford, among others, and given his decades of relevant experience, Sussman believes more voters should take a look at his campaign.

Roots
Sussman, born in 1954 the son of an accountant father and music teacher mother, is unsure exactly where his interest in civil rights first began. Perhaps from his father, who had done work with African-Americans in the discriminatory south but emphasized to his son that the north was no different, or from his grandmother, a radical socialist. But Sussman points to something simpler.

“I always had a feeling in the playground for the underdog,” Sussman said in an hour-long interview. “When we chose teams to play ball and I was 6, 7, 8 years old, I was a fairly good athlete then and would always take the kids on my team that the good athletes didn’t want on their team. It’s something that I can remember back a long way, feeling an affinity for people who are viewed as either nonconforming or not functional at the same level — whatever that level was — of others, and otherwise being excluded from the game so to speak. So I guess my life’s work has been about that subject in a general sense and consistent for a very long time.”

“For whatever reason and however it happened,” Sussman says, his upbringing “imprinted on me a sense of obligation that even though we were not a wealthy family, we were a middle-income family, that our job was essentially to give back.”

Sussman says he decided at age 12 he would do this by becoming a civil rights lawyer. Although he would go on to represent people of color in countless cases, Sussman says he grew up in a monoracial Flatbush. The only black person he knew was his mother’s maid, he said, adding that having a maid was “somewhat usual for even middle-income people in those days.”

“I remember trying to understand the experience of, Esse was her name, as even though she lived in New York City, in the same borough we were in, it seemed like miles away, centuries away,” Sussman said.

Later, while attending the University of Chicago as an undergraduate, Sussman had his internship with the DNC, meeting Jimmy Carter. Yet Carter’s early presidential campaign was not the most historic event he was being exposed to — his uncle, Barry Sussman, was then an editor at the Washington Post, Michael Sussman recounts, and it was in Barry’s home that the now famous Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein began their investigation.

“So I was able to see the origins of the Watergate case as it was developed in their basement in Barry’s house in Potomac, Maryland, and then during the days I worked with Jimmy Carter,” Sussman said about his 1973 experience.

Sussman says he’s sought to surround himself with people doing great things.

“I’ve always told my children, I have seven children, ‘Try to find yourself amongst the people who are doing what you think is important,’” Sussman said. “I think that you have to see what your capabilities are, you have to see who is doing work that you emulate and that you admire, and I think you have to try and put yourself in a position to learn from greatness, really.”

While Sussman is not a household name himself, he became a prominent civil rights lawyer with an acclaimed show on HBO, “Show Me a Hero,” about his most famous case.

Resume
Sussman graduated in 1978 with honors from Harvard Law School, where he was in the same class as now-CEO of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein, who Sussman says “was not a stellar student.” After graduating, Sussman took his most well-known case, the aforementioned, representing a local chapter of the NAACP in Yonkers that sued the city for its segregated school districts. After 26 years of legal proceedings that went all the way to the Supreme Court, the 2007 result was $300 million in funding to desegregate schools and build affordable housing.

Out of law school, Sussman had been working at the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division in October of 1978, during Carter’s presidency. He worked on efforts to stop school segregation and housing discrimination. However, Sussman says this changed in 1981 when Ronald Reagan became president. According to Sussman, William French Smith, Reagan’s attorney general, said that the Civil Rights Division needed to focus on elevating the rights of white people. Sussman says he “made a fuss internally,” speaking to a former debate partner of his from University of Chicago and the man he was working under, Deputy Attorney General Edward Schmults. After getting no response, Sussman left the Justice Department, and was offered a job with the NAACP.

“I met the major forces in American Civil Rights Law at that time: Joseph Rowl, William Taylor, Thomas Atkins, Nathaniel Jones, lawyers from generations older than mine who were doing the major work as I thought,” Sussman said, “and I became friends with them and they viewed me as someone that could carry on the work. So, I was blessed to be offered a job as assistant general counsel at the NAACP national office in New York City.”

It was then that Sussman began work on the case, which had been filed by a local chapter of the NAACP in 1980. The case accused the city of Yonkers — including city officials, lawyers and judges — of being discriminatory and engaging in housing segregation, which caused school segregation. To diminish said segregation, the city and school board would have to work together to reorganize the school system and create housing opportunities for low-income people that were not in “ghettoized areas,” as Sussman put it.

Believing the Reagan administration’s stance on civil rights made it unreliable in defense, the national office of the NAACP saw an opportunity to become involved and secure a victory. Still, it was 2007 before a ruling in the case, with Judge Leonard B. Sand ruling in favor of the NAACP and ordering Yonkers to build 200 public housing units and allow 600 houses to go to low-income families in the majority middle-class and white east side of town.

Sussman’s civil rights career unfolded alongside that case, with some cases taken on behalf of friends but most dedicated to advancing certain causes, he says. He has represented a Pace University student who was shot by police in 2010 — although the Justice Department decided not to charges against the officer involved — and won $6 million for the family, and won a $45 million settlement against the state for black and Hispanic workers in a discrimination case, for example.

Sussman now lives in Orange County, where his law firm, Sussman and Associates, is based in the town of Goshen. While he’s mainly worked in Washington, Yonkers, and Orange County, Sussman has also opened “empowerment centers” designed to help underprivileged people in Liberty, Monticello, and Port Jervis.

Sussman has also worked defending students suspended by their schools, including Elzie Coleman, then a potential Olympic sprinter who was suspended for getting in a fight. Sussman argued that suspending Coleman violated his due process and would cause “immediate and irreparable harm” as it would impact Coleman’s ability to qualify for scholarships necessary for him to go to college. Sussman used this same argument in a variety of cases against school districts. He also represented Putnam County District Attorney Adam Levy in a case of defamation, after the sheriff of the county accused him of harboring an undocumented immigrant, among other things — Sussman won the case, reaching a $150,000 settlement.

In a case of sexual harassment, Sussman represented an Orange County Health Department worker who accused her boss of making sexual advances, and firing her after she refused them. Sussman says his work was mainly centered around certain causes, while he occasionally took work due to relationships with clients.

“There are situations where people will come to and out of personal loyalty or out of the feeling that there is some important issue that is being raised in their case, I will defend them, if you will,” Sussman said. “Most of the work I’ve done is not based on that. Most of the work I’ve done is based on what I might call cause-driven lawyering. That is, I’m known to do cases of employment discrimination, sexual harassment, education law.”

In some cases Sussman found him defending those accused of sexual harassment, rather than the other way around. In 2002, when a coworker accused forensic scientist for the New York State Police John Graziano of sexual harassment, her complaint did not lead to any punishment, as despite human resources finding probable cause, it did not go to trial. After this, women working with Graziano started treating him poorly, and so he filed a lawsuit alleging they harassed him due to his gender, suing under Title IX. Sussman defended him in this case, which was dismissed.

One of the students Sussman represented was suspended for allegedly having sex with two girls on school property, but separately accused of forcing another student to touch him sexually. Sussman focused on the cases of sexual activity, and claimed that the school punishing him much more severely than the girls involved was a Title IX violation. He won the case.

“It posed an issue of gender stereotyping that I think is interesting and important,” Sussman said. “[The student] was engaged in what the school district defined as consensual sexual activity with two girls in school, separately, and the two girls were slapped on the wrist and he was suspended for a school year basically and I thought that was absurd.”

According to a press release announcing his 2018 run for attorney general, the Green Party highlighted that from 2006 to 2010, Sussman represented “a class of 4,700 African American and Hispanic state workers [against the Attorney General’s office] in a lawsuit challenging the promotional test used by the State of New York for civil service promotions” and that the “cae ended in a settlement of $45,000,000 for the class.”

One apparent blemish on Sussman’s record came in 2002. In 2014, the New York Post reported that in 2002 Sussman had had his law license suspended for a year for “commingling personal and client funds.”

Running for Attorney General
It is in the areas he’s focused his legal career that Sussman believes the state should be enforcing laws more strictly. He argues his experience makes him uniquely suited to do so if elected as attorney general, and should cause voters to take notice of his candidacy to become the state’s top legal officer, charged with upholding laws, defending the state in legal action, and other responsibilities.

“I feel that there needs to be vigorous enforcement of our state’s laws in those regards and I’m aware that laws are not self-enforcing,” Sussman said. “I’m also aware that there are not many civil-rights lawyers in our region that have expertise like I have in the courts.”

“It’s shameful that both in regards to civil rights laws and environmental laws and laws protecting health and safety in our state, the AG office has made, from my perspective, minimal contributions over the last 30 or 40 years, despite so-called progressive people running the office,” he continued. “Either they don’t understand the laws or they’re not really interested in enforcing them to the extent necessary in our state.”

Sussman, who had previously been on his town board as a Democrat, and ran for county executive of Orange County as one, says his shift to the Green Party in November came due to frustration over issues of corruption and failure to act by Democrats in New York.

“First of all, I feel that Mr. Cuomo is corrupt, I feel that Mr. Schumer is in the pocket of Wall Street,” Sussman said of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and U.S. Senator from New York Charles Schumer, the minority leader. “I feel that leading Democrats in the state have failed to advocate strongly enough for the interests that I care about, and I think that in some cases they’ve failed to do that because of personal interests and corruption. So I don’t see the Democratic Party right now as being the answer.”

Sussman gave an example of a Competitive Power Ventures gas-fired power plant being approved in his county despite residents being outspoken concerning the potential environmental and human health risks from large emissions of carbon dioxide, carcinogens, neurotoxins, and other dangerous chemicals. In this case, Sussman says neither Democrats nor Republicans would talk to protestors when trying to prevent the plant from getting approved. Yet, now that it has started operating, both Democrats and Republicans are against the plant. Both Democrats and Republicans, he believes, are seen by many as representing a politics-first mentality.

“Part of that increasing alienation is that people think both parties represent the same thing, and I think that’s true,” Sussman said. “Particularly for the attorney general race, I see a perpetuation of the same patterns of clubishness and I don’t think that’s going to solve anything.”

Sussman has been critical of James, the Democratic nominee, as seeking the attorney general position only to increase her chances of becoming governor in the future, of which there is little evidence, in part given James’ own background as a public defender and assistant attorney general. Recently, he has said that Republican nominee Keith Wofford also sees the position as a way to reach higher office, an assertion there’s also little support for as Wofford, a corporate attorney, runs for office for the first time.

“I genuinely believe that the Democratic Party candidate wants to be governor, which she has every right, but I don’t see this position as a stepping stone,” Sussman said. “With that sort of ambition, what ends up happening, is that people don’t do what they need to do in this office because of looking over their shoulder.”

At the Yonkers candidates’ event, Sussman both praised James’ work as public advocate and said that her use of the office as a litigator has been wanting, given that she has been kicked off of a number of suits for lack of standing. He said the two agree on almost every social issue, from taking on the NRA to protecting immigrants, but said that the deciding factors for voters must be his resume as an attorney and the contrast between his and James’ relationships with Governor Cuomo.

“I am ready from day one to litigate -- whether it’s Donald Trump or whether it’s Andrew Cuomo,” Sussman said. “And guess what, it’s going to be Andrew Cuomo.”

Cuomo’s shuttering of the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption was “insulting to every citizen in New York State,” Sussman said, speaking just after James. “I didn’t hear my opponent say one thing about him, nor would I expect to, she’s running on the same ticket. You can proclaim independence, but you can’t be independent if that’s your running mate, it’s simply impossible.”

On Wofford, Sussman said in the interview, “The Republican candidate is not someone who has experience with public law, he’s chosen other career paths, and I don’t think that you start in public law as attorney general of New York.”

“This is it for me, and if I get the position, against all odds, then I would use the office and the lawyers in that office, 672 of them, to the fullest extent I could do enforce the laws I see in New York that deal with discrimination and environmental degradation, health threats,” Sussman said, pointing to the powers of the attorney general to uphold certain laws in New York, along with the office’s responsibilities to defend state government. But on the latter, Sussman says, “I would do much less knee-jerk defense of state agencies, which engage, unfortunately, in ongoing patterns of segregated behavior, discriminatory behavior.”

Sussman has litigated against the state on multiple occasions, and believes that a 45-day review period should be put in place for every case filed against the state, allowing the attorney general’s office to decide if the state had committed whatever alleged infraction the suit claims. Sussman says if he were to find that the behavior is as it’s alleged and if it is lawless, he would not defend it — instead, he would “settle the case, resolve the issue, take action against the individuals and agencies responsible and clean up the state.”

“I would not just knee-jerk defend them in state or federal court. I would force those agencies to comply with the law,” Sussman said. “Again, no attorney general has ever said that or done that. Certainly my opponents in this race are not saying that or doing that. Tish James was with the state attorney general’s office and was involved in the defense of many discrimination cases, which is quite the contrary to my feelings and philosophy.”

Sussman continually asserted his advantage in experience over his competition, which also includes Libertarian Christopher Garvey and Nancy Sliwa of the Reform Party, and said that if elected he would begin to clean the state of the stains of corruption by pushing public campaign financing and prosecuting those who use their positions for their own gain.

“I feel that they don’t have the depth of my experience in public law, they don’t have the depth of my experience as an advocate,’ Sussman concluded about his opponents, “they don’t have the depth of my life experience, that’s just how I feel about it.”

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by Victor Porcelli, Gotham Gazette

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Ben Max contributed to this story.

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

Max & Murphy Podcast: Jonathan Trichter, Republican nominee for Comptroller


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


October 03, 2018 - Jonathan Trichter, Republican nominee for Comptroller

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Jonathan Trichter, the Republican candidate for state comptroller, joined the show to discuss his candidacy, including his critiques of incumbent Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and his plans for doing things differently if elected.

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

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Comptroller Tom DiNapoli


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


October 03, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Comptroller Tom DiNapoli

tom dinapoli 130Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, a Democrat who has held the office for roughly ten years, joined the show to discuss his case for reelection.

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

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Klein, Filing Late Post-Primary, Shows Over $3 Million in Senate Campaign Spending


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Sen. Jeff Klein meets voters (Photo: jeffkleinny.com)


Already spending at what is likely a record pace, with two weeks until the September 13 primary, New York State Senator Jeff Klein kept spending his campaign cash at a rapid clip to try to beat back a Democratic primary challenge from Alessandra Biaggi, a lawyer and first-time candidate, Klein’s late post-primary campaign finance filing shows. In sum, Klein spent nearly ten times more than Biaggi, but was still unsuccessful as Biaggi claimed the nomination, likely unseating one of the state’s major powerbrokers of the past decade, in the district that covers parts of the Bronx and Westchester.

Klein spent nearly $700,000 in September, out of more than $3 million -- an astronomical sum for a state legislative race -- that he depleted in trying to retain his seat in this two-year election cycle. He also raised another $246,000 in those final weeks of the primary -- he has brought in $1.8 million since January 2017 -- including $103,000 from the Senate Independence Campaign Committee, which he and partners originally set up jointly between the Independence Party and the erstwhile Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group of eight senators led by Klein that formed a power-sharing agreement with Republicans in the Senate. The SICC was ruled by a state supreme court judge to be illegal, though it apparently moved into compliance thereafter, and the state BOE had ordered that IDC members refund its contributions, but they refused. In total, the SICC directed $403,000 to Klein’s reelection coffers.

The SICC also moved hundreds of thousands of dollars, largely from major donors in real estate and education reform, to other members of the IDC, with Klein and five other former IDC members losing their primaries.

In the days leading up to September 13, Klein received $90,500 in donations from limited liability companies and from political action committees, including some associated with law enforcement unions and the nursing and beverage industries. Klein has benefited greatly from the largesse of corporations, PACs and LLCs, the last of which are not required to name their owners and can therefore circumvent contribution limits. In total, those types of contributors gave him about $1.16 million for his reelection.

There were a few notable individual donations in the most recent filing as well. On primary day itself, Carl Icahn, the billionaire investor with close ties to President Donald Trump, gave Klein $11,000; two days before that, hedge fund billionaire Paul Tudor Jones gave him $15,000; and in the week before, Larry Robbins, also a billionaire and of the KIPP charter school network, donated $10,000.

Of the latest spending spree, about $390,000 went to the Hamilton Campaign Network, a Democratic campaign consulting firm, which organized campaign mailers, phone and text banking efforts, and produced videos for Klein’s campaign.

After all his spending, Klein still had $510,000 sitting in his campaign account as of this filing, which was sent to the Board of Elections a week late. He could retain that cash or potentially transfer it to another campaign account, should he decide to run in any upcoming elections, or he can donate to other candidates running in the general. He may decide to use it for his own continued campaign, given that he has the Independence Party ballot line to run on in November after losing the Democratic nomination, and Klein has not formally conceded his race or endorsed Biaggi.

In the Democratic primary, Klein received 14,754 votes, about 44.5 percent, losing to Biaggi’s 17,618 votes, or 53.1 percent. All told, Klein spent roughly $207 for each vote while Biaggi only disbursed $18.90 per vote.

Independent expenditure groups also showed their support for Klein. Those include Laborers Building a Better New York, a group associated with the Construction and General Building Laborers Local 79 union, which spent $109,360 to favor several candidates, including Klein. New Yorkers for Quality Healthcare, affiliated with the Greater New York Hospital Association, spent a whopping $447,450 on digital ads, direct mailers, web design, and tv production to support Klein and State Senator David Valesky, another former IDC member who lost to his own primary challenger, Rachel May. The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association’s independent expenditure committee also spent $65,338 on direct mailers boosting Klein.

In total, Biaggi spent $332,000 on her campaign and raised about $534,000. While Klein was attempting a well-funded last ditch effort to sway voters, Biaggi only dropped about $160,000 in that final three week period, raising only $62,500 in the same time. She has another $133,000 as she heads into the general election, where she would be unopposed unless Klein continues to run.

A spokesperson for Klein’s campaign did not return a request for comment for this article. He has not appeared in public since primary day, and did not address supporters on primary night.

Biaggi also received outside help in the primary. The Empire State 32BJ SEIU PAC spent $97,285 to support her election, through mailers, canvassing efforts and social media ads. They also spent $11,540 on a mailer opposing Klein. The union, 32BJ, dedicated significant resources, including financial and human, to Biaggi’s successful bid.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Cuomo Begins Push to Flip State Senate and House of Representatives


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Cuomo & Long Island candidates (photo: @andrewcuomo)


Having resoundingly won the Democratic Party nomination for a third term last month, Governor Andrew Cuomo is now directing the enormous campaign and party machinery that propelled his victory to focus its efforts on the New York State Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. In a break from past cycles when he has been criticized for doing too little for his party and its candidates, Cuomo has pledged to leverage the significant resources, financial and human, at his fingertips to help Democrats flip control of the two legislative chambers, one each at the state and federal levels, to better counter what he says are harmful policies of the Trump administration and Republican-led Congress.

On Monday, Cuomo stood alongside several state Senate candidates at LIU Post on Long Island, unveiling a nine-point Long Island-focused pledge to regain Democratic control of the legislative chamber -- Democrats need to pick up a net of one seat in the Senate, while in the Assembly they enjoy an overwhelming majority. Alongside a slate of Democratic Senate candidates, Cuomo signed the pledge, which includes measures he’s already put into place and others he has said he supports but hasn’t been able to get through the Republican-led Senate.

Cuomo and the battleground candidates promised to continue the state’s 2 percent property tax cap, which he says will protect Long Island residents from the federal government’s reduction of state and local tax (SALT) deductibility; he called for more funding for the MTA from New York City; he touted his $150 billion infrastructure plan, which includes modernizing the Long Island Rail Road; pledged to codify the protections of Roe v. Wade into state law; backed ethics and voting reforms; promised to continue investing in combating the MS-13 gang; and pushed his proposal for a red flag gun protection bill. He also spoke of providing more funding to public schools and protecting access to clean water.

“We need the New York State Senate, because the only security we’re going to have are the laws of the State of New York as they are tearing down our rights and values in Washington,” Cuomo said.

On Tuesday, the governor made a brief stop at the Stars & Stripes Democratic Club in southern Brooklyn to publicly endorse Andrew Gounardes, the Democrat challenging State Senator Marty Golden in one of the few New York City districts represented by a Republican. Cuomo repeated many of the same talking points from his Monday speech, which he has honed for his own campaign, warning of the ills of Republican control of government at the state and federal level and painting himself and New York State as the bulwark against Trump and the many threats his administration has levelled -- against women, immigrants, the LGBTQ community, Puerto Ricans, for instance.

“Elections matter. This one really, really matters,” Cuomo said, speaking of a broad disaffection among the electorate, on both sides of the aisle. The governor and Gounardes also signed a pledge, mostly similar to the one from Monday but including a focus on New York City issues such as a promise to pass speed camera legislation for school zones and expanding rent stabilization, and not including Long Island-focused planks like the LIRR and demanding more MTA funding from the city.

The September 13 primary saw a massive increase in turnout among Democratic voters, which many have cited as evidence of an ongoing and growing “blue wave” that is similarly boosting Democratic candidates across the country and expected by some to come crashing down upon Republicans on Election Day, November 6. But Cuomo’s own interpretation has differed somewhat, including when he dismissed the notion of a progressive wave the day after he won his primary, despite the fact that his under-funded opponent received more than 500,000 votes (to Cuomo’s nearly 1 million).

“I don’t like the expression the ‘blue wave’, because the ‘blue wave’ suggests its partisan,” Cuomo said at Tuesday’s rally in Bensonhurst, “that it’s Democrats who are offended. It’s not just Democrats who are offended...What this president is doing is not anti-Democratic, it’s anti-American...This is not a blue wave, my friends. This is a red, white, and blue wave.”

Last month, in the immediate aftermath of his primary win, just as he had done a few months after Donald Trump assumed office, Cuomo rallied the troops, but to his tune. “[T]he truth is this president and his extreme conservative colleagues have declared war on the State of New York. They are attacking our rights, our values, and our economy,” Cuomo said at a September 18 Democratic rally billed as an effort to relaunch the general election campaign to swing the state Senate and help flip the U.S. House. For nearly 20 minutes, Cuomo, newly invigorated from his primary win, inveighed against the “extreme conservative freight train” from Washington running roughshod over New Yorkers, and promised “more organizing, more mobilizing” to capture the energy of the Democratic base.

“[W]e’re gonna take this energy that we now have and we’re going to build on this energy,” he said. “It’s not going away...There’s a whole new Democratic movement. They’re responding to what we did and they’re responding to what they want to do by stopping this threat in Washington. And we have to build on that energy.”

A spokesperson for Cuomo’s campaign said he plans to personally raise funds and campaign for ten Democratic candidates running against sitting Republican congressional representatives -- he’s already sent each of them a maximum donation of $2,700 through a federal political action committee, Cuomo NY Take Back the House. The candidates include Perry Gershon, Liuba Grechen Shirley, Max Rose, Antonio Delgado, Tedra Cobb, Anthony Brindisi, Tracy Mitrano, Dana Balter, Joe Morelle and Nate McMurray. Politico New York reported last month that the broader effort Cuomo had promised had yet to materialize as he seemed more preoccupied with his own primary challenger, actor and education activist Cynthia Nixon. He has so far only held a fundraiser for Brindisi.

Among the Democratic state Senate candidates who have Cuomo’s support are some who are challenging incumbents and others running for open seats. He is also bolstering two Democratic Senators facing Republican challengers. They include Monica Martinez who is challenging Dean Murray in District 3; Lou D’Amaro, who is challenging Sen. Phil Boyle in District 4; Jim Gaughran, who is challenging Sen. Carl Marcellino in District 5; Anna Kaplan, who is challenging Sen. Elaine Phillips in District 7; Peter Harkham, who is challenging Sen. Terrence Murphy in District 40; Karyn Smythe who is challenging Sen. Sue Serino in District 41; Gounardes challenging Golden in District 22; and Democratic Senators John Brooks, who is being challenged by Massapequa Park Mayor Jeff Pravato in District 8, and Todd Kaminsky, who is being challenged by former Nassau lawmaker Francis Becker Jr. Cuomo’s campaign has donated the maximum primary limit of $7,000 to all those candidates, save for Gounardes and Kaminsky. If he decides to do so, Cuomo could direct another $11,000 to each candidate’s campaign for the general election.

The campaign is currently in the process of scheduling fundraisers for the congressional candidates and has already set up eight events to support the state Senate contenders, starting on Wednesday, October 3, with a fundraiser for Smythe. Fundraisers are scheduled to support Gounardes and D’Amaro on October 9; for Martinez on October 12; for Brooks and Kaminsky on October 15; for Harckham on October 21; and for Kaplan on October 22.

But it’s not only campaign cash that Cuomo will corral for the candidates. His campaign infrastructure and the State Democratic Party’s assets are being put to use to raise name recognition for the candidates and to get voters to the polls. Some of the congressional seats also overlap with the competitive Senate districts, giving Cuomo the ability to kill three birds with one stone as he also campaigns for his own reelection, perhaps without making it too obvious. The governor is facing a handful of challengers led by Republican nominee Marc Molinaro.

According to the Cuomo campaign spokesperson, there are more than 25 state party staffers in the field, training and engaging Democrats on the ground and leading Get Out The Vote efforts across the state. In congressional districts 1, 11, 19, 22 and 24 -- the five identified by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee under their ‘Red to Blue’ campaign effort -- the state party has sent campus organizers to rally young people, and in major metropolitan regions, organizers are recruiting volunteers to aid in those battleground districts. The party is also using digital and social media and data analytics to bolster outreach.

There’s also the tried-and-tested method of campaign mailers, in which the State Democratic Party has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars, the campaign spokesperson said, urging voters to support candidates including Rose, Brindisi, Gershon, and Delgado. (At this point there have been no other controversies with such mailers beyond the one that has dogged Cuomo and the party that sought to falsely tie Cynthia Nixon to anti-semitism in the final weeks of the primary.)

The party and campaign together spent millions on its statewide primary ticket -- to set up field offices and organizers -- and the campaign spokesperson said they would expand on that infrastructure for the general election.

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, who prevailed in last month’s primary over challenger Jumaane Williams, a Brooklyn City Council member, is also leading her own parallel effort to support female candidates for Congress and State Senate. “Republican control of Congress and the New York State Senate has been a disastrous disappointment for all New Yorkers, especially women and middle class families,” Hochul said in a September 28 statement, launching the general election effort. She announced her support for four Congressional candidates -- Grechen Shirley, Cobb, Mitrano and Balter -- and five State Senate candidates -- Martinez, Kaplan, Smythe, Jen Metzger and Jen Lunsford.

On Sunday, Hochul was scheduled to meet voters alongside Alessandra Biaggi, who defeated Democratic State Senator Jeff Klein in the September 13 primary, but the event was cancelled because Biaggi was sick, according to Hochul’s campaign. The planned event appeared to be a signal to Senator Jeff Klein, who Biaggi defeated in the primary, to publicly concede and bow out of the race on the other ballot lines he has for the general election. Election Day is November 6.

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

Read more by this writer.

New York Congressional Races to Watch - Start of October


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House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi at a NY rally (photo: New York Democratic Party)


Four-and-a-half months after Donald Trump became president, Governor Andrew Cuomo held a rally in New York City with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, pledging to help take back the lower chamber of Congress by flipping several New York seats through the midterm elections, which were then well over a year out.

Those elections are now five weeks away, and, after his decisive victory in the gubernatorial primary on September 13, Cuomo held another rally recommitting himself and the state party he controls to the effort Democrats are waging across the country in the hopes of securing at least one foothold of power on the federal level.

Along with his own reelection and that of his statewide state-level slate of party-mates, Cuomo has verbally committed to working to flip the New York State Senate and several U.S. House seats in the state. There are a number of potential targets for Democrats in New York in a year that is expected to see a so-called blue wave of energy and voter turnout in many parts of the country. That notion was bolstered in New York by an explosion in turnout for the primaries, which saw Cuomo dispatch Cynthia Nixon, but several progressive challengers unseat Democratic incumbents in the state Senate.

With a reconstituted group of state Senate nominees, Democrats must flip only a net of one seat to take the majority in the upper chamber of the state Legislature, while they already enjoy a sweeping majority in the Assembly.

As for House, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committees’ national “Red to Blue” districts — a list of tens of races it is focusing its resources to unseat Republicans — includes five New York congressional races. A state that Hillary Clinton won over Trump by a 22.5 points in 2016, though of course redder in the districts home to competitive races, Democrats hope New York will be fertile ground for them in November.

“I think we have to win at least two seats in New York to contribute to the overall effort to take back the house,” Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of Brooklyn and Queens told reporters after a recent event. Jeffries listed Antonio Delgado (NY-19), Anthony Brindisi (NY-22), Max Rose (NY-11), and Dana Balter (NY-24) as Democratic candidates most likely to flip seats in November.  

“The progressive delegation is clear we have to play our part in delivering the House majority to Democrats, and the road to doing so runs in part through New York State,” Jeffries said.

Asked about a recent commercial from Rose’s campaign that presents the Democratic candidate as an independent-minded candidate who doesn’t align himself with the leaders in either major party in Washington and New York — and attacks Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio by name — Jeffries said that as long as they speak “affirmatively talk about pocketbook issues,” it’s fine by him if candidates running in purple or red districts keep the more liberal party leadership at arm’s length. .   

“I don’t think Nancy Pelosi holds it against anyone,” he continued, “and she‘s basically indicated to everyone ‘Do what’s necessary to run the race that you have to run in your district.’”

Many races are at least in part seen as referendums on Trump, his leadership, character, and policies. In some of the swing congressional districts in New York, the new federal tax reforms signed by Trump late last year are central campaign issues. The vote split New York’s Republican delegation, but even those like Donovan who voted against it may be forced to answer for it.

Rep. Grace Meng of Queens was optimistic about the potential for New York races contributing to the Democrats effort to take control of the House in January, saying she expects Democrats to this year flip more seats than what is currently forecasted.

“The definition of viable doesn’t necessarily hold in this political climate,” she said. “I’m hopeful for a lot of these races.”

Meng went on to say there are many college campuses in the five swing district, so she is counting on young voters and campaigners to help push the candidates over the edge. “In these five districts, there are 23 college campuses,” she said, referring to the DCCC-identified “Red to Blue” candidates. “I’m hoping that our college-aged voters will make a difference.”

Rep. Carolyn Maloney of Manhattan also said she expects young voters to make a difference, based on the elections this summer and earlier in the fall.

“We saw that in the elections in New York, in the [Rep. Joe] Crowley race and some of the races that we just had in the State Senate,” she said in reference to to Crowley’s upset loss to insurgent democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the June primary and the September primary wins by state Senate primary challengers to the former members of the rogue Independent Democratic Conference that worked closely with Republicans.

But while members of Congress who spoke to Gotham Gazette were eager to help out fellow Democratic House candidates, many eyes have turned to the state’s Democratic governor, and how he is spending his immense power, including his fundraising capabilities. As Politico reported recently, several Democrats in New York are waiting for Cuomo to fulfill his promise to allocate resources to competitive 2018 House races in the state. Recently released campaign finance filings from the Cuomo and the Cuomo-controlled New York State Democratic Committee showed that the governor spent over $26 million during the primary, the vast majority on his own campaign, and the state party spent about $1 million for Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul in her primary win, and $860,000 for Public Advocate Letitia James in her successful attorney general primary bid. But the committee had spent no money on Congressional Democratic candidates as of September 25.

A Cuomo campaign spokesperson stressed to Gotham Gazette that with the state primaries now over, the governor is turning his attention to the House and state Senate races. The spokesperson, Abbey Collins, also pointed out that from his campaign coffers, Cuomo has given max donations to the Democratic nominees in 10 House races and seven state Senate races, and said that the governor has several fundraisers with candidates already scheduled and is in the process of scheduling others, that he plans to campaign with Democratic candidates over the coming weeks, and that the state party has a robust organizing effort underway.

"The Governor launched an aggressive coordinated campaign over a year ago and has laid a robust infrastructure to take back the House and State Senate to fight back against Donald Trump and Washington Republicans. As we head towards November, we will continue to build on the State Party’s dynamic field, data and mail program and ramp up fundraising and advertising efforts," Collins said in a statement. "There is no more urgent task ahead than defeating Trump and Democrats have never been more energized and united to win the day.”

As Election Day approaches, Cuomo’s efforts for both the state Senate and House will be of interest, but his role will only be a piece of the puzzle in a variety of contests that will help determine which party controls the two chambers.

In June, just after the congressional primaries, Gotham Gazette examined the congressional races to watch in New York for the general election. Since then, Democrats’ chances to gain seats in New York have only improved, by all projections. Below is an updated look at where things stand on the Congressional side, starting with the lone competitive New York City-based race, followed by numerical order by district beyond the five boroughs.

New York Congressional District 11
Rep. Dan Donovan, New York City’s sole Republican member of Congress, is facing a challenge this year from military veteran Max Rose, who is running as a middle-of-the-road Democrat in a district of diverse political leanings. District 11, comprised of Staten Island and parts of Southern Brooklyn, includes some of the city’s most conservative territory, some liberal areas, and a large portion of moderate neighborhoods full of Democrats who supported politicians like Rudy Giuliani, Michael Bloomberg, and Dan Donovan.

The seat has largely been held by Republicans, and Trump is more popular in the district than any other in the city. Donovan, who defeated his predecessor, Michael Grimm in a hard-fought primary earlier this year, has touted his support for Trump, though he did vote against Trump’s signature tax reforms. The president endorsed Donovan in the primary.

In a recent ad, Rose lamented the “traffic” and “drugs,” among other problems that the “establishment” — including Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is unpopular in the district — has allowed to feser in New York-11.

Donovan is favored to win by the Cook Political Report, which places the seat he has represented since 2015 in the “likely Republican” category; Real Clear Politics is a bit more bullish on Rose’s chances, placing the seat in the “leans GOP” category.  

District 1
New York’s first Congressional District, which includes most of eastern Long Island’s Suffolk County, is represented by Rep. Lee Zeldin, in his second term in the House. A President Donald Trump-supporting Republican in a district where he isn’t unpopular, Zeldin is perhaps the most likely of the “Red to Blue” districts to stay in Republican control.

Perry Gershon, a commercial real estate lender, is the Democratic nominee, and faces an uphill climb in a district where Zeldin prevailed over his last Democratic opponent by over 15 percent. According Cook Report’s ranking of the district’s partisan leanings, the district compared to the rest of the country is R+5, which means the district went for Trump by five points more than the nation as a whole.

Cook puts the seat in the “likely Republican” category as does Real Clear Politics. The race, however, was recently targeted by the DCC. And it was represented by a Democrat not long ago, noted Rep. Jeffries.  

“That is a race that I think can be won. Tim Bishop held that seat for six terms as a Democrat and just lost in 2014,” Jeffries said. “Trump did win the district in 2016 but his numbers are falling. But it’s a district that can be won, particularly in a Democratic wave.”

District 2
On Wednesday, the Cook Political Report moved Congressional District 2, held for decades by Rep. Peter King from being deemed an uncompetitive race to “likely Republican.” Vying to represent the South Shore of Long Island district is Democrat Liuba Grechen Shirley, who previously worked for nonprofits in global economic development and human rights as well as New York University and the United Nations Foundation.

King has been in Congress for 25 years and has a relatively moderate voting record, though he is also a prominent Trump supporter on most topics. Cook Report has the district as R+3, and it voted for Trump by nine points. Still, given enrollment numbers, a wave election could put the seat in play if turnout for Democrats surges to the degree some are expecting.

District 18
Coming off his second unsuccessful run for New York Attorney General, Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney will attempt to hold onto his seat against Republican opponent James O'Donnell, an Orange County legislator. District 18, a swing district, is currently “likely Democrat,” according to the Cook Political Report. Maloney in 2012 flipped the seat from red to blue, and has kept it in two elections since.

During his bid to become the state’s chief legal executive, Maloney donated a lot of money from his House campaign tranche to that of his Attorney General campaign, sparking criticism, as well as a suit from fellow Democratic candidate Zephyr Teachout. Maloney, holding a seat in a district that voted for Hillary Clinton by just a two-point margin, appears to remain popular, but it remains to be seen if Hudson Valley remain enamored with him in the wake of his third place finish in the Attorney General race. Democrats hope to hang on to his seat to amass a net gain of Congressional seats in New York races.  

District 19
Held by Republican Rep. John Faso, New York’s 19th District, which includes parts of the Hudson Valley and Catskill region, voted for Trump by nearly a seven-point margin, but for Barack Obama in 2012 and 2008. Attempting to unseat Faso is Antonio Delgado, a Harvard graduate, corporate attorney, and former Rhodes Scholar.    

The race has garnered a lot of media attention, in part because of what many regard as race-baiting ads run by Republicans, pointing to the facts that Delgado, who is black, in 2007 released a rap album and expressed certain left-wing views. A recently released ad, for example, labeled Delgado a “bit-city rapper.”

Cook Political Report rates the district R+2 and a “Toss Up,” as does Real Clear Politics.

District 22
Another Cook Political Report and Real Clear Politics “Toss Up” seat is Central New York’s 22nd Congressional District, including Rome, Utica and Cortland, and held by Republican Rep. Claudia Tenney. Running against her in the Cook R+6 district is Anthony Brindisi, a member of the state Assembly, in a race that is among the DCCC’s prime targets in November.

Brindisi is running on a centrist record while Tenney has largely leaned in to a more hard right orthodoxy, and is an unapologetic Trump supporter. They both have “A” ratings from the NRA, which Brindisi earned in part by voting against Cuomo’s SAFE Act, though that didn’t stop gun safety group Giffords from endorsing him.

District 24
Dana Balter, a lifelong educator and currently an assistant professor at Syracuse University, is running to unseat Republican Rep. John Katko, who represents the Syracuse-area 24th District. Katko, who has been in Congress since 2015, may be the most vulnerable Republican incumbent from the New York delegation.

Though she is on the DNC”s Red to Blue list, Real Clear Politics and Cook Report both rate the race likely Republican. The district, however, is a Cook D+3, and Trump in 2016 lost the district by 3.6 points.  

District 27
Republican Rep. Chris Collins, who has represented Western New York’s 23th District since unseating now-Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul in 2012, was Donald Trump’s first congressional endorser for president. Collins is now running for reelection despite having been indicted for insider trading.

Nate McMurray, a Democrat and Grand Island town supervisor, is looking to unseat Collins, who had in the wake of his indictment told Republican leaders in the Buffalo area that he would work with them to get off the ballot, then reversed course, saying he will actively campaign. Real Clear Politics puts the race in its “Toss Up” category and Cook Political Report rates its “lean Republican.” Despite the district’s heavy red tilt — Trump won the district by over 24 points and it’s a Cook Political Report R+11 — Democrats have been potentially handed a gift in Collins’ legal troubles, which he is fighting.

Prosecutors in August charged Collins with using information obtained via his seat in Congress about a drug company’s board to provide a stock tip to his son. There will be a court hearing on the case on October 11.

Election Day is Tuesday, November 6.

How ‘Blue’ is New York?


Cuomo blue

Gov. Cuomo (photo: New York State Democratic Party)


New York is frequently portrayed as one of the most solidly Democratic, “blue” states in the country, along with places like California and Massachusetts. And New York reliably votes for Democrats in presidential elections, has two Democratic United States senators, a majority of its U.S. House members are Democrats, it has exclusively elected Democratic governors and other statewide state-level officials since 2006, and a wide majority of its state Assembly members is Democratic.

But the state Senate is split almost evenly among Democrats and Republicans, nine of 27 members of the U.S. House of Representatives from New York are Republicans; and Donald Trump, while losing the state’s overall vote by a wide margin against Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, won in more than two-thirds of the state’s 62 counties, many of which are represented by Republican county executives and other GOP elected officials.

This year, in the first statewide vote since that election, Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo is seeking a third term, having won by a two-to-one margin in a hotly-contested primary where he was challenged from his left as too much of a centrist, and now facing Republican Marc Molinaro, who portrays himself as a moderate, and others in the general election.

Cuomo is widely favored to win, but Republicans express hope that they can combat national trends and Cuomo’s massive advantages to pull off an upset of a governor they argue has wide but shallow popularity and a long list of scandals and failures. In 2014, Cuomo dispatched Republican nominee Rob Astorino by a 52.7 percent to 39.2 percent margin, with Green Party nominee Howie Hawkins, who is running again this year, winning about 4.7 percent of the vote. Cuomo beat Carl Paladino in 2010 by an even greater margin, 63 percent to 33.5 percent.

Voters are now evaluating Cuomo with another term under his belt, and amid the swirl of both Trump’s relative unpopularity and major corruption convictions in Cuomo’s inner circle.

The vast “red” seen across those Trump counties, while not typically home to the state’s population centers, and New York’s large size and diversity indicate “blue” state is not the whole story. Just how “blue” is New York, really?

Cuomo has provided his own assessments of New York's politics. A day after winning the primary, he argued again that he is a liberal leader who gets things done, while also saying that the much-discussed progressive wave was “not even a ripple” in his race, despite Nixon’s 34% of the primary vote and the fact several state Senate upsets from the left, and calling Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s June primary victory over Rep. Joe Crowley a “fluke.”

“I am progressive, and I delivered progressive results, and this is the most progressive state in the United States of America,” Cuomo said.

Speaking to the Business Council of New York State on Tuesday at their upstate conference, Cuomo touted his passage of a property tax cap, one of his accomplishments most frequently praised by moderates and conservatives, and stressed other aspects of his fiscal restraint and record on taxes.

While Cuomo has regularly stressed that he must govern a vast state that includes conservative, Republican areas, especially upstate, he has also made direct attacks on “extreme conservatives” who he has said have taken over in Washington, D.C. and have had a presence in New York. He’s directly targeted a handful of members of Congress from New York who he says have committed “treason” by voting for bills, like recently-passed tax reforms, that he says are bad for New York.

He went as far as to say, in 2014, that “extreme conservatives” have “no place in the State of New York, because that’s not who New Yorkers are,” comments that have become a regular talking point for Republicans. Still, Cuomo remains popular among Democrats, with solid numbers among independents and even decent approval ratings among Republicans (21% in a recent poll).

The Numbers
As of April of this year, Democratic enrollment statewide stood at 6,201,033 registered voters, just over 50 percent of all registered voters in the state. There are 2,823,758 registered Republicans, 22.7 percent of all registered voters, and 2,644,155 people registered unaffiliated with any party, 21.3 percent of all registered voters. 

Within New York City, 68.28 percent of registered voters are Democrats, while outside the city only 37.76 percent of registered voters are Democrats. Still, Democrats still make up a plurality of registered voters outside the city, but Republicans trail by a much smaller margin, making up 31.15 percent of the non-city electorate.

Often, New York City’s turnout in general elections doesn’t match the enrollment ratio. Democratic turnout in the September primary vastly exceeded that of previous years, and the general election in November comes amid the so-called “blue wave” of Democratic activism opposed to Donald Trump.

The polling agency Gallup has found New York to be a liberal-leaning state in only 2016 and 2017; from 2008 to 2015, New York was grouped with the conservative-leaning states. The only two states that have usually been classified on the liberal end are Vermont and Massachusetts (states were only grouped as leaning liberal or conservative). Despite a reputation as a deep blue state, perhaps because of New York City’s demographics, New York consistently elects more moderate officials like Cuomo, even in Democratic primaries that include the most “blue” New Yorkers, such as Cuomo’s recent primary win by a wide margin.

Cuomo won most counties in the state in 2010, possibly owing to several controversial statements from Paladino that indicated he was racist and homophobic. Paladino only won handily in Western New York and two counties in the “Big Vermont” area. In 2014, Astorino won a wide majority of counties while Cuomo won big in highly populated New York City and the surrounding suburbs, as well as a few historically Democratic counties upstate such as Albany, Tompkins, and Onondaga, as well as Erie County.

The Democratic Divide and Voter Registration
Bruce Gyory, an attorney and Democratic political strategist unaffiliated with any campaigns, said that in primaries, progressives often do best in the eastern area of upstate, from Plattsburgh to Peekskill, which he characterized as a “Big Vermont.” The region then generally votes Republican in general elections. 

He said that white progressives often fail to connect with voters of color.

“The progressives have never been able to craft a true alliance with the larger bloc, which is the minority voters,” Gyory said. This appeared to be true in Nixon’s effort to defeat Cuomo, who has remained popular among voters of color, bedrock Democrats.

Both Cynthia Nixon and Zephyr Teachout achieved their best results in “Big Vermont” in their respective gubernatorial campaigns. Teachout’s attorney general campaign also achieved its best results in this area in this year’s just-completed primary.

Democratic registration has meaningfully increased since the 2014 election, with enrolled Democrats in the state increasing by about 300,000, from 5.9 million to 6.2 million, seeming to track with claims by Cynthia Nixon and others that the Democratic Party’s reach has expanded and greater numbers of voters exist.

However, contrary to that narrative, registration has not meaningfully increased in the Democratic ranks since the election of Trump to the presidency. Records from the State Board of Elections shows that, between November 2016 and April 2018, only 21,300 new New York Democrats joined the party.

Nearly half the state’s registered voters are not Democrats. There are 2.8 million registered Republicans and 2.6 million registered independents. In addition, there are 480,000 people registered with the Independence Party, 155,000 with the Conservative Party, 46,000 with the Working Families Party, 30,000 with the Green Party, 4,700 with the Women’s Equality Party, 1,900 with the Reform Party, and 7,300 with other parties.

Despite Nixon's loss, progressives believe that the mass dislodging of former members of the state Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference shows that the Democratic electorate is indeed progressive. Six of the eight members of what was until April the IDC, a rogue groups of Democrats who shared powers with Republicans in the Senate majority, which has been Republicans’ only statewide stronghold in recent years, were defeated in their primaries earlier this month.

“The defeat of the IDC shows that the voters are tired of corporate Democrats and tired of transactional politics and want to see senators who are really going to represent them,” said Karen Scharff, the outgoing executive director of Citizen Action, a progressive organization that endorsed Nixon in the primary. “I think at the statewide level, we saw the money overwhelm the ability of progressive candidates to get her voice fully heard.”

The True Blue Coalition, a grassroots organizing effort that came out in force against IDC members, announced its support for 12 additional Democratic candidates for state Senate on Tuesday in seats that the group deemed “flippable” in the general election. The group will channel volunteers to their campaigns and promote the candidates’ events; the candidates, all of whom True Blue has deemed progressive, aim to represent districts from Long Island to Brooklyn to Rochester.

Mia Pearlman, co-leader of True Blue NY, one of the activist groups in the coalition, said that New York is a “wannabe progressive state” held back by regressive voting and ethics laws, and by corruption. Pearlman, whose group was on the front lines in the anti-IDC battle, said that the defeat of six of the eight IDC members in the Democratic primary may herald better things to come, and that rallying around IDC challengers was an effective organizing strategy.

“The IDC was a perfect crucible for all these forces, because it was such an obvious wrong that needed to be righted,” Pearlman said. Greater awareness of the IDC very well may have led to its collapse, a fact the coalition is remembering for November. “People want to be more prepared when they get to the ballot box.”

“Success for us will be when the New York State Senate has a real solid majority of not only Democrats, but with a huge majority of progressive democrats,” Pearlman said.

Like Pearlman, Scharff believes that New York is indeed a progressive state, but that “barriers to democracy” such as New York’s voting laws and campaign finance system ensure that progressive candidates are kept out of the halls of power in Albany. She cited New York City’s public election financing system as evidence that progressive candidates can win major elections when structural barriers are torn down, and that the electoral system in the state needs major reforms. Many activists have also focused on legislative redistricting, noting that a deal reached in 2012 among Cuomo and legislative leaders allowed Democrats the likelihood of greater Assembly control and Republicans an upper hand in Senate districts, likely allowing the GOP to keep the slim majority it has held onto of late.

“Money can become overwhelming in a big race like that. And I think we’ve seen in citywide races, like in the mayoral races, that progressive candidates can win,” Scharff said. “Bill de Blasio won on a very progressive platform twice. And Cynthia’s platform and de Blasio’s platform have a lot of similarities, and you would think they’d have a lot of similar appeal to voters. But Bill de Blasio was able to run in a system that had public financing, and in a system where he was able to be competitive in resources with his opponents. And Cynthia had to run in a race where her opponent was outspending her ten-to-one plus eight years of incumbency.”

‘Giuliani Democrats’
Despite the liberal reputations of both Massachusetts and Vermont, both currently have moderate Republican governors. Charlie Baker, the Republican governor of Massachusetts, is the most popular governor in the country, according to Morning Consult

“I live in two-to-one Democratic Rockland County and we’ve had a Republican County Executive for the last 25 years,” said Michael Lawler, a political strategist who is an advisor to the state Republican Party and campaigns. “Why? Because, again, even Democratic voters understand that high taxes are not a solution to every problem. So, when you look at Democratic voters in the suburbs, they may be registered Democrat, but you have a lot of police officers, firefighters, construction trade union members, they’re probably all mostly registered Democrat, but they vote Republican. Why? Because Republicans are much better on their issues.”

It is those voters widely credited with helping to elect both Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg as mayor of New York City, covering the 20 years of Republican or independent leadership before de Blasio’s election in 2013.

Lawler believes that Cuomo’s lurch leftward on certain issues has hurt him among suburban and rural voters, but that the most salient issue is the poor economic performance upstate, where the Democratic registration advantage is very narrow. He noted high taxes and out-migration, and specifically cited Cuomo’s ban on fracking as a job-killing endeavor done to appease environmentalists.

"When you have a governor who's pardoning cop killers and a Democratic Assembly that stands in the way of certain reforms, then these voters are not going to vote reflexively Democratic,” he said.

He also cited corruption, which informs one of the main planks of the Molinaro campaign, with the GOP nominee arguing that it has eroded confidence in state government and led to a “corruption tax” that all New Yorkers pay due to government malfunction. It led one-third of Democratic primary voters to vote against the two-term incumbent, he and other Cuomo opponents say.

“So Andrew Cuomo, there's a reason he spent nearly $25 million in the primary,” said Lawler. “Nobody likes him." To Lawler, the specter of Trump in the minds of voters does not outweigh the performance of the state under Cuomo.

But Gyory believes that the Trump factor has necessarily negated Republicans’ chances this year, and that Molinaro would have been better off running in 2022, at which point Trump may be out of power (if he loses this year, Molinaro could of course run again).

No post-primary general election polls have been taken, but two polls over the summer showed Cuomo with a substantial lead over Molinaro, who was already on a quest to build name recognition, raise funds, and prepare for the September to November sprint. A June Siena poll gave Cuomo 56 percent to Molinaro’s 37 percent and a July Quinnipiac poll gave Cuomo 57 percent to Molinaro’s 31 percent in hypothetical head-to-head match-ups. When the Quinnipiac poll included third party candidates, Cuomo got 43 percent on the Democratic line, Molinaro got 23 percent on the Republican line, Nixon got 13 percent on the Working Families line, Larry Sharpe got 3 percent on the Libertarian line, Howie Hawkins got 2 percent on the Green Party line, and Stephanie Miner got 1 percent on the Serve America Party line.

Trump’s approval rating in New York remains very low, with only 36 percent approval versus 57 percent disapproval according to Quinnipiac in July. This could cast a shadow on any Republican chances at statewide victory, and Cuomo has been attempting to tie Molinaro to Trump for months. Democrats appear motivated to cast anti-Trump votes this November in races across the board.

The current atmosphere is in distinct contrast to New York under previous Republican governors such as Thomas Dewey, Nelson Rockefeller, and George Pataki, when the national Republican brand was not as toxic in the state and the national party did not define the state party, Gyory argues.

“Republicans have been defined by the national Republican brand, and that has really hurt them in New York State,” Gyory said. He noted that, in most instances, Republicans have no hopes of winning statewide unless they dominate the unaffiliated vote and capture roughly one-third of New York City, a particularly daunting endeavor with a moderate Democrat in the Governor’s Mansion.

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Stephanie Miner, Serve America Movement Nominee for Governor


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


September 26, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Stephanie Miner, Serve America Movement Nominee for Governor

sm mediakit 01Former Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, a Democrat, is running for Governor as an independent, on the new and bipartisan Serve America Movement party ballot line, which she helped create through petitioning for this year's race. Miner, who has had a contentious relationship with Governor Andrew Cuomo, says there's "no place" for her "in Andrew Cuomo's Democratic Party." Miner is running on her government experience and plans to revamp how the state invests in jobs and infrastructure, among other plans, and joined the show to discuss her candidacy.

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

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Howie Hawkins, Green Party Nominee for Governor


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


September 26, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Howie Hawkins, Green Party Nominee for Governor

hawkins 2010 f1For the third straight election cycle, Howie Hawkins is the Green Party nominee for Governor. He's improved the Green Party vote total each of his previous two runs, earning 5% of the vote in 2014, and is hoping to eclipse prior totals this year. Arguing that he is the true progressive alternative to Governor Andrew Cuomo, Hawkins is running on a socialist, "Green New Deal" agenda that includes single-payer health care, an aggressive shift to clearn energy, and much more, as well as raising taxes on top earners. He joined the show to discuss his candidacy and the race.

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

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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