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Max & Murphy Podcast: 'Minor Party' Candidates for Comptroller & Attorney General


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


October 31, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: 'Minor Party' Candidates for Comptroller & Attorney General

voting line in277With Election Day less than a week away, several of the "minor party" candidates for state comptroller and attorney general joined the show to make their cases: Comptroller candidates Mark Dunlea of the Green Party and Cruger Gallaudet of the Libertarian Party; Attorney General candidates Nancy Sliwa of the Reform Party, Chris Garvey of the Libertarian Party, and Michael Sussman of the Green Party.

Listen to the show 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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Climate Change, and What To Do About It, Largely Missing from Governor’s Race


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Gov. Cuomo and former VP Gore in 2015 (photo: The Governor's Office)


New York’s 2018 gubernatorial election has largely been eclipsed, like so many things in United States politics, by a massive Trump-shaped shadow. Within that shadow, Andrew Cuomo and Marc Molinaro have argued about the health of upstate New York, management of the MTA, and dueling corruption charges, among other topics. But one looming issue, climate change, has seemed to escape the notice of the two candidates, even as news related to it becomes more dire and New York’s Legislature sits on proposals to shift the state to a 100 percent renewable energy environment.

“I would say no, but that's generally my answer for most candidates,” Aracely Jimenez-Hudis, a member of the climate justice organization Sunrise NYC said when asked if she thought either of the major party gubernatorial candidates were talking enough about climate change. And while Jimenez-Hudis works with a group whose main focus is climate change, the fact remains that it simply isn’t an issue either candidate has decided to address this year.

Molinaro doesn’t include a platform on climate change or the environment on his website, but told Gotham Gazette that he accepts climate change as science and that it is a trend impacted by humans; he believes in “the inherent capacity of man to overcome any challenge.” Molinaro also said he agrees with the governor’s idea to get New York to 50 percent renewable energy by 2030, but that rather than the state investing large amounts of money in private companies, government “ought to create an economic climate where the industry can actually compete and thrive.” He doesn’t believe in “cutting checks,” he said, but he is open to the right blend of tax incentives and regulatory changes to encourage a greener economy.

Beyond the question of energy sources, Molinaro said that congestion pricing as a funding mechanism for expanding public transportation and reducing street congestion, and changing zoning codes to reduce damage to the environment and make clean energy use more effective were ideas he’d look to in order to reduce emissions as a whole.

On the trail, though, the Dutchess county executive and Republican nominee for governor has said he’s open to a “pilot program” allowing fracking in New York’s Southern Tier and has expressed a worry that New York is missing out on an economic boom by not allowing the practice. While Molinaro has touted his past endorsements by the Sierra Club as part of his proof that he’s a different kind of Republican, the organization endorsed Cuomo over him this year.

On his own campaign website, Cuomo writes that his administration has made New York a national leader on climate change, casting it through the lens of resisting the Trump administration, writing that he’s “picking up the mantle of climate leadership where Washington is failing.” His office has funded over $20 million worth of flood protection efforts on Long Island this year, and the Sierra Club endorsement for the governor notes his leadership in banning fracking in 2014 and lauds him for committing New York to generating 50 percent of its energy from renewable powers like wind and solar by 2030, but the biggest instance of the governor’s name being attached to the word “climate” this campaign was when he suggested “climate-based” reasons were driving people’s decision to move out of upstate New York.

Cuomo has campaigned little on forward-looking policy of any kind, mostly highlighting past accomplishments and staking out anti-Trump ground. When he has discussed a third-term agenda, climate change is background noise. His Nine Point Pledge for a Stronger Long Island, signed with each of the Democratic state Senate candidates on the island, contains passing references to “resiliency projects” and passing the governor’s bill outlawing offshore drilling in New York.

The governor has faced his own criticism on environmental policy, including an occupation of his Manhattan office earlier this summer by activists with Sunrise over his refusal to sign a pledge to not take fossil fuel-linked campaign donations and for not getting behind the Climate and Community Protection Act. The CCPA, a bill that seeks to move New York to a 100 percent clean energy economy by 2050, with power grid transitions and resiliency efforts paid for by a tax on greenhouse gas emissions, got a boost of media and campaign attention during the primary campaign when Cynthia Nixon threw her support behind it. Nixon called the CCPA the most important work of her campaign at a recent gala for New York Communities for Change, work that got her kudos from environmental activists. But even in the primary’s lone debate, the bill only came up briefly.

There was no discussion of climate change in the single Cuomo-Molinaro debate, which took place last week. It’s an unfortunate turn of events according to Howie Hawkins, the Green Party’s gubernatorial candidate, because New York could set the tone for the way the rest of the country reacts to the issue. “What we do counts,” Hawkins said, citing the size of New York’s economy compared to the economies of entire nations, “and we think what it does for the economy, besides what it does for the climate, will set an example that other people will want to emulate. Just like Franklin Roosevelt did some public employment when he was governor and it became a model for the jobs programs of the New Deal, I think we set an example [with a Green New Deal], we get ahead of the curve and other people are gonna want to follow our lead.”

Hawkins sees a transition to a green economy, part of what he calls a Green New Deal, as one of the many issues residents north of Westchester say have been ignored this year. “The thing about a serious climate action program is it’s a big economic stimulus, particularly upstate where you have to do a lot of energy installation,” Hawkins said, adding that the region could also become a manufacturing hub for green technology that could create jobs and be an example for the rest of the country.

Cuomo has in fact focused some of his energies on creating more affordable forms of power through the Reforming the Energy Vision program, the umbrella strategy to move New York towards 50 percent renewable power by 2030 and reduce greenhouse gasses by 40 percent from their levels in the 1990s. Within that strategy, New York State has partnered with utility companies to work on projects testing out ways to efficiently deliver green energy, has invested in workforce training in green energy and companies related to the field and has taken “a more market-based, decentralized approach” to shifting the state to renewable power. The state also has a high-stakes partnership with Tesla that’s supposed to bring 1,460 jobs to Buffalo, following the company’s acquisition of SolarCity, the solar panel manufacturer the state invested $750 million in (an investment that was later discovered to be caught up in Alain Kaloyeros’ bid-rigging scheme).

The lack of climate change talk has “been the pattern in the presidential debates, and certainly in New York-level debates,” Pete Sikora, an activist with New York Communities for Change focused on environmental issues, told Gotham Gazette. “Climate change is an important issue to voters, but if you're looking at Molinaro versus Cuomo, it hasn't become a defining contrast.” NYCC endorsed Nixon in the primary.

Hudis-Jimenez said that Nixon’s focus on the the Climate and Community Protection Act allowed her and other canvassers to do specific outreach directly to voters through climate canvasses for Nixon, which was helpful to spread the bill’s message, but ultimately not as scalable as something beamed into homes across the state.

“More people will tune into a debate probably than are contacted by canvassing or phone-banking, so the issues that get talked about during a debate are the ones voters will think about when they're going to the polls,” she said. “So the fact that climate change got maybe five seconds [in the Cuomo-Nixon debate] said a lot about the work that still needs to be done getting climate change to be a top electoral issue.”

“I don't know why it's not a huge issue,” Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer told Gotham Gazette. “You would think, considering Long Island and Westchester, so much of the region was underwater, you would think it would be more of a discussion.” Part of the reason for its absence as a front and center issue, Brewer speculated, was that unlike the everyday experience for New Yorkers that is a broken subway, “we don't experience water coming into our buildings everyday.”

It is getting to be more of an issue though, Brewer noted, though there can be a subtlety to it that hides the more dire nature of the crisis. “There's a difference between a big storm and just plain old surge. Even if you don’t get a big storm, the water surge is a different issue. So you could get something like no storm and still a high water situation,” she said, noting she got a high water alert before this weekend’s Nor’easter.

The absence of climate change and what to do about it from the broader gubernatorial campaign also chills questions of whether even the proposals that Nixon pushed go far enough, or if something like the Green Party-supported New York Off Fossil Fuels Act is the right path for the state. That bill, sponsored by Assemblymember William Colton and state Senator Brad Hoylman (who also just wrote an op-ed calling on the state to pass the CCPA), both Democrats, would move New York to 100 percent clean energy by 2030, a necessary step in the face of the continuing climate crisis and what Hawkins said were insufficient proposals by Cuomo and Nixon, whose proposals both called for New York to use 50 percent renewable electricity by 2030.

“They want 50 percent clean electricity by 2030, but electricity is just 28 percent of the carbon footprint, it doesn't deal with transportation, industry, agriculture or buildings,” Hawkins said. You get 50 percent of that reduced, that's 14 percent really,” he said as a critique of both approaches.

Even if climate change hasn’t taken a star turn in any general election campaigns getting media attention, activists like Sikora and Hudis-Jimenez are gearing up to keep fighting after the election. “Working towards a goal of 50 percent renewable energy is half-assing it,” Hudis-Jimenez said, promising to continue to keep the pressure on legislators to be more ambitious.

“Whether the governor is talking about it now or not, what we want is for him to embrace [the CCPA], put it in the budget and pass it,” Sikora said. “We'll have a Senate and Assembly that is Democratic, hopefully, and in that scenario, this legislation should pass and the governor should lead the charge. We'll be coming hard on passage of that kind of legislation.”

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by Dave Colon, Gotham Gazette
     

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In Attorney General Debate, James and Wofford Contrast Careers, Approaches to Cuomo and Trump


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Letitia James and Keith Wofford at NY1 (Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times - pool)


The two leading candidates to become New York State’s next Attorney General faced off in the sole televised debate of the race on Tuesday night, going back and forth about the role of the state’s top legal officer and the degree to which political considerations might affect the way they handle their duties.

New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, a Democrat, is the frontrunner in the race competing against Republican Keith Wofford, a Buffalo-native attorney who is attempting his first run for elected office. The seat became open in May when then-Attorney General Eric Schneiderman resigned in the wake of allegations of physical abuse by multiple intimate partners. His replacement, Attorney General Barbara Underwood, said upon her appointment by the Legislature that she would not seek election.

The hour-long debate, hosted by Spectrum News NY1 and moderated by Inside City Hall anchor Errol Louis and Capital Tonight anchor Liz Benjamin, saw James reiterate her history of public service, addressing the camera directly throughout as she repeated practiced lines from her campaign stump speeches. Wofford, on the other hand, spoke in more relaxed fashion and in the direction of the moderators as he sought to make the case that the next attorney general should not be a career politician but an independent professional. Both candidates are African-American, meaning that whichever wins would make history as the first African-American elected attorney general in New York. Other candidates who will be on the ballot, including Green Party nominee Michael Sussman and Reform Party nominee Nancy Sliwa, were not invited to the debate.

Unlike recent debates in the races for governor and comptroller, Tuesday’s one-on-one faceoff did not take any particularly nasty turns, though there was significant disagreement between the two, and also a few occasions for consensus.

James, who led Wofford by 14 points in the most recent public poll of the race from early October, drew a sharp contrast between her own experience and her opponent’s, pointing to his work as a corporate lawyer, his support for President Donald Trump, and his representation of clients on Wall Street who have an interest in seeing an attorney general’s office less interested in prosecuting financial crimes. “I live by one simple message and that is this, I believe in justice. Simple justice,” James said in her opening statement.

The two candidates differed on whether New York’s attorney general should challenge the policies of the Trump administration, which Schneiderman took an active role in and which Underwood has continued on multiple fronts. James promised to continue each of the lawsuits currently being pursued by the attorney general’s office, while Wofford did not.

“The key issue...is to look at how the policies impact the sovereignty and freedom of New York as a state and the state’s people,” Wofford said, emphasizing that he sees political motivations in many of the lawsuits initiated by Schneiderman and that the office should instead focus on areas that have a legal and economic impact on New Yorkers. For instance, he said the attorney general’s lawsuit against the nonprofit Trump Foundation “pales in comparison to the size and significance” of the potential wrongdoing in Trump’s financial and tax history, as enumerated in a recent New York Times investigation, which he said merits greater attention. He later also said he would drop the office’s lawsuit against ExxonMobil, which he said was an inappropriate use of taxpayer money to protect the company’s shareholders.

James insisted that the Trump Foundation lawsuit, as with others against the Trump administration and Trump family, is “not based on politics, they’re based on violations of the law.” She pledged to further pursue the ExxonMobil suit as well.

Coming so close on the heels of the mass shooting at The Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, James and Wofford also faced questions about whether it would be appropriate to call for the death penalty for the alleged perpetrator and about the president’s role in fomenting hatred across the country.

James struggled with the question. “I oppose the death penalty but in situations like this it’s difficult...to oppose the death penalty,” she said. She said she based her decision in this instance “purely on emotion because my heart is heavy...as a result emotionally I feel the death penalty is the answer, but legally and professionally I oppose the death penalty.” She insisted, however, that New York should not reinstate the practice. And she later blamed Trump’s rhetoric for emboldening white supremacists. “The president should take some responsibility,” she said.

Wofford said it would be “consistent to have the death penalty in the same circumstances that the federal death penalty is allowed.” And though he agreed that Trump should tone down his rhetoric, he downplayed the president’s role in inciting division. “I disagree with putting it at the hands or the feet of the president...Certainly hate groups and white supremacist groups and anti-semitic groups long predate any particular politician on the scene today,” he said.

On the questions of independence and tackling corruption in Albany -- which James faced in the primary and that have largely formed the basis of Wofford’s campaign -- the two presented different visions. Wofford believes the office of attorney general can investigate corruption unilaterally while James has said referrals for many investigations must come from the governor’s office and that she will demand a standing referral to investigate public corruption if elected, while also pursuing legislation to further empower the attorney general.

Wofford listed several ways he would approach the issue, including in partnership with the state comptroller and district attorneys, and said he would also preemptively tackle corruption through the office’s civil authority rather than wait for criminal prosecution. He also criticized James for being the governor’s “hand-picked” candidate who could not sufficiently hold him and his administration accountable. “The fact of the matter is that my opponent Tish James is not going to go after her brethren and sisters who are Democrats, career politicians who have been riding around in limousines, benefiting their contributors and ripping off the public for years,” he said.

James, who insisted that rooting out government corruption is one of her top priorities, has emphasized that she would work with the governor and Legislature to enact ethics and campaign finance reforms, enhance the public integrity office under the attorney general, and work with the comptroller and district attorneys. She said the attorney general’s criminal jurisdiction is “circumscribed” and that she understands the office better than Wofford, having worked there previously. “All of my life, I’ve represented the powerless,” James said. “Mr. Wofford, all of your life you’ve represented the powerful.”

There were a few areas of agreement between the two, even if they argued on the details.

For instance, they both agreed to continue the state’s lawsuit over the inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 census and agreed that President Trump could not end birthright citizenship through an executive order, as he has threatened.

But James is a staunch supporter of immigrant rights who pledged to uphold protections for undocumented immigrants and fight Trump’s “regressive” policies. “We have to say loud and clear that immigrants are welcome here,” she said. Wofford, however, expressed clear concerns about illegal immigration and raised questions about the state risking the loss of federal funding by putting in place sanctuary policies to protect the undocumented by refusing coordination between state and federal law enforcement, as has been proposed in the state Assembly. “My view as the top law enforcement officer for the state is that you have to deal with public safety issues first,” he said.

Halfway through the debate, the candidates were given an opportunity to ask each other a question. James, specifically citing Trump’s ‘birther’ lie about President Obama, his bragging about sexual assault on tape, and calling Mexicans “rapists” when he launched his campaign, asked Wofford why he voted for the president. Wofford said his “simple reason” was that Trump spoke of increasing jobs and economic opportunity in struggling parts of America like his native Buffalo. At the same time, he attacked the “out of touch” coastal billionaires that he said largely fund the Democratic Party.

Wofford asked James whether she believes Cuomo’s denials about knowledge of the pay-to-play scandals that have marred his signature Buffalo Billion economic development program, and if she would investigate Cuomo’s administration if elected. James did not have a simple answer. “Andrew Cuomo is not running for attorney general,” she initially said, before defending her independence yet again. “I will follow corruption and I will follow the facts and the evidence wherever it leads me, to the White House, to the State house and to municipal governments all across the state of New York without fear and or favor,” she said, never directly answering the question.

The two also argued over the Martin Act, which gives the attorney general broad jurisdiction over Wall Street fraud and has been used liberally by New York’s recent attorneys general. James said earlier that the law should be strengthened and went after Wofford for taking large donations from Hank Greenberg, a Wall Street executive who has in the past run afoul of the Martin Act and is working to undermine it through the courts.

Wofford dismissed that those donations created any conflict, saying Greenberg’s case was long resolved and that the Martin Act had been used and abused by publicity-seeking officeholders who, instead of fighting for restitution for actual victims of fraud, had instead sought to make a name for themselves. Wofford has previously expressed concerns that recent attorneys general have contributed to a negative business climate in New York, driving away jobs and top earners.

James faced questions about whether she would apply that law to the real estate interests who have donated to her campaign for attorney general. James insisted, in response, that most of her donations have come from small donors and labor unions and pointed to her work as public advocate in taking on bad landlords in New York. She also said she would voluntarily ban donations from individuals with business before the attorney general’s office.

Wofford pounced on her answer, insisting that she already has donors who overlap with the governor and who have business with the state. “Career politicians do this all the time and the voters aren’t buying it,” he said.

Near the tail end of the debate, the two faced a lightning round of questions from the moderators. James said police disciplinary records should be released while Wofford said they should not. Wofford opposed supervised injection sites for those addicted to heroin and opioids, while James simply said she had concerns about them.

On criminal justice reform, the two also held varied positions. James said that cash bail should be restricted or eliminated, while Wofford said it should be reformed but with an eye towards the “dangerousness” of a defendant. Asked about their positions on Kalief’s Law, a form of speedy trial reform -- named for Bronx youth Kalief Browder, who spent years on Rikers Island without being convicted of a crime and later died by suicide -- they both seemed to agree on its intent. But while James said it was a step in the right direction, Wofford said he opposed the law because it did not go far enough and should be replaced with a more comprehensive, bipartisan legislation.

Earlier this year, the Legislature passed and the governor signed a first-in-the-nation bill to create a prosecutorial conduct commission, a move beset with legal questions given opposition from the district attorneys association. James said she supported the bill and that the Legislature could resolve any issues in the upcoming legislative session in January. Wofford mused at the notion. “I think that saying you’re gonna pass a law unconstitutionally and then undo the unconstitutionality is a fool’s errand,” he said.

James and Wofford shared similar views on the recent sexual harassment bills passed by the state Legislature and Cuomo this year. They both said said the new laws were inadequate and that the state should hold public hearings to solicit the input of survivors of harassment and assault to implement stronger protections; hearings that Cuomo and legislative leaders have shown no interest in.

Election Day is Tuesday, November 6.

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by Samar Khurshid, Senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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This story has been corrected with the accurate names of the Attorney General nominees for the Green and Reform parties.

Two-Tiered Agenda for Democrats If They Take State Senate


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Senate Democrats (photo via @nysenatedems)


State Senate Democrats are already contemplating which policies they will pass under a one-party state government, confident they will win big in the upcoming November 6 elections, keeping control of the governor’s office and Assembly, while flipping the upper house of the Legislature. According to one leader of both the government and campaign agendas, Democrats have a general sense of a two-tiered policy agenda they plan to take up if victorious, prioritizing a long list of stalled progressive demands.

Meanwhile, Republicans hoping to cling to their lone stronghold in statewide government, where they currently hold a one-seat majority, campaign on the argument that their control of the Senate is all that is keeping taxpayers from a massive increase in costs, an even more bloated and intrusive state government, and a state virtually run by New York City interests.

State Senator Michael Gianaris, a Queens Democrat who chairs the party’s Senate campaign committee, outlined the preliminary agenda on the Max & Murphy program on WBAI radio, citing a series of policies where there seems to be clear consensus and Democrats could move quickly on long-sought bills, and then other, more contentious and complicated legislation that will likely need extensive consideration and negotiation.

Gianaris said a unified Democratic state government would make “quick progress” in 2019 on the Reproductive Health Act, which expands abortion rights; a “red flag” gun control bill; and voting and campaign finance reforms.

These are among the policies, Gianaris explained, that have been sidelined by the Republican control of the Senate.

“We have lost that opportunity because an artificial Republican majority in the Senate has stopped us from voting on the types of things we should be voting on,” Gianaris said, in apparent reference to the fact that Republicans only had a majority because of their coalition with the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference (which is no more) and the decision by Senator Simcha Felder of Brooklyn to join the Republican conference, despite the fact that he is a Democrat.

The Reproductive Health Act, which Gianaris mentioned, would essentially pass Roe v. Wade abortion rights into law, something Democrats are especially concerned about given the fear that a new Supreme Court with Justice Brett Kavanaugh will overturn the landmark 1973 abortion decision. The red flag bill would allow teachers and school administrators to petition a judge to remove guns from the homes of students seen as troubled, an additional measure to prevent gun violence in schools.

While he didn’t go into detail on consensus around campaign finance reform, Gianaris did emphasize the need for certain voting reforms.

“We want to make it easier for people to vote,” Gianaris said. “We’re one of the few states that doesn’t have early voting, or automatic registration, or same-day registration or any of the ways that we can improve our democracy.”

Generally, Democrats have been interested in closing the LLC loophole in state campaign finance, reducing individual contribution limits, and creating a system of public campaign financing, perhaps modeled in some way on New York City’s system.

These policies would form at least much of the first wave, according to Gianaris, who said they will be doable prior to or in a deal on the state budget, which generally passes at the end of March. Full Democratic control of the executive and legislative branches would test how well the party can come to agreement on the details of a variety of measures where this is broad support in general terms.

Gianaris, who may be named deputy majority leader to Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins if their campaign efforts are successful, did not indicate he was giving a comprehensive list, and there are several politices that Democrats have appeared eager to pass that he did not mention, such as the Gender Non-Descrimination Act and the Child Victims Act.

Gianaris said the more contentious policies that may require discussion among the Democratic conference and whose chances of passing could depend on how large the conference is, would likely be discussed in earnest post-budget.

Health care and rent regulations were two policy areas mentioned by Gianaris as falling under this category.

“The rent laws expire right around June, if I’m not mistaken, so certainly that is going to create pressure to make those changes before the current laws expire,” Gianaris said, previewing what is expected to be one of the most important issues to New York City residents of the 2019 state session, which will be slated to end in June. In the past, the Democratic State Assembly has passed legislation increasing regulations on landowners in the hopes of helping tenants, while the Senate has generally gone along with extensions of the current laws, with some tweaks.

Part of the MTA Sustainability Task Force, Gianaris and his colleagues are responsible for coming up with recommendations to Governor Cuomo for how to improve the MTA by the end of the year.

Gianaris said the MTA is “obviously something that has bedeviled the state for some time,” and that if Democrats were to win big, it is “hopefully one that we can make some progress on this year.”

A variety of solutions are possible when it comes to dealing with the MTA, with one that comes up in conversation often being congestion pricing, which essentially taxes traffic in hopes of reducing it.

When asked about congestion pricing, Gianaris said it may be a step forward but is not a solution to the entire problem.

“I don’t think that alone is the silver bullet that solves the MTA crisis,” Gianaris said. “So we’ll have some more work to do.” Cuomo has pledged to fight aggressively for congestion pricing to be included in the next state budget, while also saying he’s awaiting the task force’s recommendations and expects New York City to kick in more to fund the MTA’s tens of billions of dollars in needs.

However, as confident as Democrats may be -- Gianaris has said roughly ten seats in the 63-seat Senate could flip their way -- Republicans believe they can hold the chamber, and are arguing that the stakes are incredibly high. In an op-ed written for State of Politics, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan of Long Island outlined what he believes Democrats would do with complete control of the government, and how it would hurt New Yorkers.

Flanagan said Republican hold of the Senate this year would be the “most important firewall in history between every taxpayers’ wallet and government coffers.”

He labeled Democratic policy priorities as socialist, listing single-payer healthcare, and put to the fore several items that Democrats are not listing at the top of their list, such as supervised injection sites for heroin users, campaign finance reform — which he referred to as “taxpayer funded campaigns” — abolishing ICE and the potential for New York to be a “sanctuary state,” which he wrote would be deportation protections “for illegal immigrants who commit aggravated felonies.”

Flanagan also wrote that New York becoming a sanctuary state would make it difficult to fight the international gang MS-13, and that health insurance for all would “double the state’s budget while taking away Medicare from our seniors.”

“Nobody wants to pay a single cent more in taxes, and only a Republican majority will not allow it,” Flanagan wrote.

For his part, Gianaris on Max & Murphy framed Democratic progress as a necessary response to what is happening at the federal level under President Donald Trump and a Republican Congress. “We have an opportunity to lead the nation in standing up for progressive values and pushing back against what’s coming out of Washington,” Gianaris said, “and we have lost that opportunity, in the bluest of blue states,” because of the Republican majority in the state Senate.

Elections Day is November 6.

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by Victor Porcelli, Gotham Gazette

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Top Republican Strategist on Where the New York GOP Went Wrong and What To Do About It


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former Gov. George Pataki at the 2018 NY GOP convention


The New York Republican Party is on the brink -- perhaps not of extinction, but of a certain type of political wilderness -- and one longtime party figure says he knows where things went wrong and what to do about it.

Republicans have not occupied a statewide office since George Pataki left the governor’s mansion at the end of 2006, and barring a massive upset in November, the statewide offices will continue to be occupied by Democrats from 2019 through 2022. Meanwhile, the state Senate, New York’s lone longstanding bastion of Republican power, appears increasingly likely to be captured by the Democrats this year, producing the first unified state government since 2009.

Republicans currently hold a slim one-seat majority in the Senate and Democrats believe they could flip a half-dozen or more seats in what is broadly expected to be a wave year as the party responds to election of Donald Trump and subsequent policies out of Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, GOP gubernatorial nominee Marc Molinaro, currently the Dutchess county executive and a talented politician with a moderate message, is not only behind the Trump eight ball, but severely underfunded and not well-known as he tries to topple a second-generation governor seeking a third term.

“The state has moved farther to the left, and the idea that somehow people are actually saying that Marc could pull an upset, I don’t know what world they’re living in,” said Tom Doherty, a former top aide to Pataki and currently a political consultant, during a recent interview on the Max & Murphy radio show on WBAI.

Trying to unseat Governor Andrew Cuomo, Molinaro has staked out a Pataki-esque Republican platform, criticizing high property taxes, increasing state spending, mismanagement of key state functions, runaway labor giveaways, and Albany’s culture of corruption. Still, the most recent poll from Quinnipiac gave Cuomo a 23-point advantage over Molinaro in the general election.

Doherty, who has been active in Republican state politics for decades and has seen ups-and-downs in the GOP’s fortunes in New York, characterized this poor showing, coupled with the apparently imminent loss in the Senate, as not a failure on the part of Molinaro, but on the existing leadership in the state party. In Doherty’s eyes, leadership, particularly State Chair Ed Cox, has not provided the right vision and execution in the post-Pataki years.

“He’s a wonderful man,” Doherty said of Cox. “But I’ve known a lot of wonderful men who should not be the party leader.”

The manifold problems plaguing the state GOP, according to Doherty and others, include a hard rightward lurch in a heavily Democratic state, a failure to build effective organizations all across the state with geographically applicable messaging and priorities that run good candidates for everything, and, of course, Donald Trump atop a party wherein most of the leadership has embraced the president despite his being deeply unpopular in New York. Cuomo has labeled Molinaro, who has said he didn’t vote for Trump and has criticized some of his immigration and tax policies, a “Trump mini-me.” Though it is not a fair characterization, it is likely effective with much of the New York electorate.

“Elections are always about the middle,” Doherty said. “Where are the independents voting? The problem in New York is, you have so few Republicans in terms of the numbers versus Democrats that you have to get so many of the independents in your corner. Not only do you have to make sure your guys come out to vote, and this year that’s a problem because Democrats seem very energized, extremely energized, it just made it more difficult for him.”

While much of the New York GOP, including Cox and even county leaders in extremely-deep-blue New York City, has embraced Trump, the statewide path to victory for a Republican must include some Democrats and many independents, while also holding onto the Republican base. It’s a tricky equation any year, but especially with a figure as polarizing as Trump involved.

Doherty said Molinaro needed to be better-funded, and that again goes to party leadership and infrastructure. Molinaro is a great candidate with a good message, Doherty said, but he has not had the support needed to get his name and message out to voters, making his very long odds nearly non-existent.

“Marc Molinaro is a phenomenal candidate,” Doherty said on Max & Murphy. “If you were going to take a Republican candidate in the northeast, you need a George Pataki-like, moderate Republican to compete in the places like Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, et cetera. He’s a great guy. He has no state party operation behind him, he has no money behind him.”

“And I keep hearing about these comparisons to George Pataki,” he continued, drawing important distinctions in his eyes. “New York is not the George Pataki New York of 1994, where you were fighting to go get the Conservative Party endorsement, because you needed that. Quite frankly, you don’t want that today in New York State.”

New York is now a more Democratic state, while Pataki also had advantages, perhaps most especially a sitting Republican United States Senator, Al D’Amato, Doherty pointed out, and a very strong finance director and a state party chair, as well as ready-to-help and competent local leaders. “[E]very time we landed a plane somewhere, or got off the helicopter,” Doherty said, local leaders “were there with massive rallies. None of that exists for Marc this time around, and that’s sad.”

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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Ben Max contributed to this story.

Gubernatorial Candidate Larry Sharpe Wants to Reinvent New York's Education System


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Larry Sharpe on the trail (photo: @Sharpe4Gov)


Larry Sharpe has a radical plan to reshape New York’s education system. The Libertarian candidate for governor, Sharpe has been campaigning vigorously around the state, making lively and entertaining media appearances, and putting forth substantive policy proposals far different from those typically discussed in mainstream state politics by the two major political parties.

Among those is Sharpe’s education plan. A former marine and University of Maryland graduate who spent some of his youth in the Bronx, Sharpe characterizes the costs of education as unsustainable, and in dire need of reform, both in terms of policy and funding. He proposes several outside-the-box policies and engages only slightly in some of the more traditional education debates, such as over charter schools and foundation aid formulas from the state to localities. He’s thinking of much more sweeping change, detailing his platform during interviews and in a policy paper released by his campaign.

At the core of his plan is a proposal to make mandatory public education in the state end at 10th grade, upon which Sharpe says that “most of the major schoolwork has already been completed and most remaining courses are electives and, for many students, college prep.” Though for too many, he says, 11th and 12th grade have too little academic rigor and purpose, too many gym classes and study halls.

In Sharpe’s proposal, students would graduate upon passing an exam at the end of 10th grade and have a series of options in front of them. With New York spending an average of more than $20,000 per year per pupil, the highest in the nation, this would free up significant funds.

Sharpe would make grants of $20,000 available to each student over the course of several years to spend on a selection of options including prep schools, which would proliferate, he believes, under his plan, to entice that newly available money and help students become ready for higher education. In what he describes as something of a GI Bill for New York youth, Sharpe would also allow the money to be used for trade school or other training programs, or even to start a business. Students could also earn an associate’s degree, he said, then pursue a bachelor’s if college is right for them.

“When we go off to college most of the time, it is 13th grade,” Sharpe said on the Max & Murphy radio show on WBAI. “You can check out all the studies. Ask anyone who has been there, our kids are not ready for college. It takes about six years for the average kid to graduate college, we should be ashamed of that.”

Sharpe also thinks that standardized tests should be done away with prior to high school, to let students learn and teachers teach without the pressure and undue influence of the exams, and that decisions on curriculum, programs, and other facets of education policy should be left at the local level.

He envisions a loss of $4 billion in federal education grant money as a result of abandoning standardized testing and Common Core learning standards, which would allow for greater experimentation in education policy, while the $4 billion deficit would be made up for with the savings from the elimination of 11th and 12th grades, he says.

“So what did I just do? I replaced all of the federal money, plus more, and provided a surplus and allowed local school districts to get rid of unnecessary administrators,” he said. “All of that happened without one extra tax dollar.”

His plan also includes severely cutting administrative staff within the school system, characterizing them as overpaid and contributing little to the system, only drawing a large paycheck and needed only because of all the overbearing federal and state regulations that he plans to either do away with or extricate New York from.

“The average administrator makes over six figures, you can easily let some of these administrators go,” he said. “You let some of these administrators go, what can you do? Teachers will have more freedom, but not just that. Teachers will have more raises, or hire more teachers, or do things that a local district should do.”

In 2016, New York’s highest-in-the-nation spending was roughly $22,366 per pupil, about 90 percent more than the national average of $11,762, according to the US Census Bureau, though numbers vary widely among New York school districts, with rich districts spending far more per pupil. That year, total spending in New York’s public schools, via local, state, and federal money, was $61.4 billion. This year, the state increased its school spending yet again, by $912 million, up to $26.7 billion total in state funds.

The state’s funding formula, Foundation Aid, plays a part in the funding inequality: a USA Today investigation in 2016 found that the formula uses obsolete data and doesn’t reduce aid to a locality, even if migratory shifts take place. A report from the State Association of School Business Officials in 2016 found that rich districts spend about $5,800 more per pupil on average than poor districts. Sharpe has noted these issues and proposes doing away with local spending on schools, having everything go through the state in an effort to make things more equal.

There's been little discussion of K-12 or higher education during the gubernatorial campaign from frontrunners Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat seeking a third term, and Republican Marc Molinaro, though Molinaro recently released a plan for reimagining services for people with developmental and physical disabilities that includes elements related to K-12 and workforce education. In their recent debate, Cuomo and Molinaro both said they believe in expanding charter schools and school choice, hot button education issues that often dominate the conversation. Sharpe says he believes in choices, as outlined above, but as he recently told Susan Arbetter on The Capitol Pressroom, he does not foresee much role for charter schools if his education plan is realized.

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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Ben Max contributed to this story.

Senate Democrats Full of Optimism About Flipping Chamber, One-Party Control of State Government


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Senator Michael Gianaris (photo: @SenGianaris)


New York Democrats are confident that the upcoming elections will result in a completely blue state government, believing they will easily upend the current one-seat majority held by Republicans in the State Senate, according to the head of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, State Senator Michael Gianaris of Queens.

If they hold the governorship, and Democratic incumbent Governor Andrew Cuomo is expected to win a third term, and their supermajority in the Assembly, Democrats could have unfettered control of the law-making process in Albany if they are able to win a Senate majority on Election Day, November 6.

Appearing on the Max & Murphy program on WBAI radio, Gianaris recently outlined a rosy picture for Democrats, citing “about a dozen” Senate races as competitive, almost all of them for seats currently held by Republicans.

“We’re only defending one and they’re defending about 10,” Gianaris said. “We’re feeling very good about our chances in a year where Democratic turnout is reaching historic levels for an off-year.”

In the primary elections, Democratic turnout more than doubled compared to 2014, with roughly 1.5 million people casting a vote. While New York is a deeply Democratic state overall, Republicans have held to a tight Senate majority, in part by winning close races in swing districts, aided by prior drawing of legislative districts that favored their chances. But Democrats believe that registration and demographic trends, a stable of strong candidates, and broader trends including President Donald Trump’s unpopularity in New York, give them a significant edge this year.

Gianaris puts the dozen or so competitive elections into two categories — elections for seats where current Republican officeholders are retiring and elections where Republican incumbents are vulnerable. He feels the likelihood of the retirees’ seats going blue is “very, very good.” The battleground seats are largely on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley, though there are others further north and west in the state, and even one in Brooklyn.

“What’s really happening is these races have all become nationalized, and you saw the turnout spike in the primaries,” Gianaris said. “What’s happening, as we understand it, is Democrats, female Democrats in particular, are very activated by the Trump administration, by the Trump presidency, and have decided to take their country back.”

The effect of this change may first be felt in the five districts where GOP senators have retired leading up to the midterm elections.

In Syracuse, Republican John DeFrancisco is retiring, with Democrat John Mannion and Republican Robert Antonacci fighting for the seat in a district that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016. Republicans William Larkin, Tom Croci, John Bonacic, and Kathy Marchione have also announced their retirements in districts Democrats believe they have a chance of winning and have invested significantly to do so — in the fights for Larkin’s and DeFrancisco’s seats, the DSCC invested $193,000 and $270,000, respectively. This is only a small percentage of the millions of dollars Gianaris says the DSCC has put behind candidates this year, which he says is more than “any time since I’ve been in the Senate.”

Gianaris also indicated that support from Cuomo is better than it has been in cycles past, when the governor has been accused of sitting things out, tacitly approving a Republican Senate so that he can negotiate more moderate policies.

Citing six different races featuring Democratic challengers to Republicans who are not retiring, Gianaris continued his list of winnable seats, noting where the DSCC has invested resources. In Brooklyn’s District 22, Democrat Andrew Gounardes hopes to unseat Republican Senator Marty Golden, a seat Golden has held for nearly two decades but where Democrats have an enrollment advantage. Cuomo has gone to the district to campaign with Gounardes, and also cut a video ad for him.

The challenge districts Democrats think they can win extend to Putnam County’s District 40 in a race featuring Democrat Pete Harckham and Republican incumbent Terrence Murphy, and other districts, especially on Long Island, where Democrats see pick-up opportunities in the seats held by Senators Carl Marcellino and Elaine Phillips, as well as the one seat, currently held by Senator John Brooks, that Gianaris and others have acknowledged is the one they see as vulnerable. Brooks is being challenged by Republican nominee Jeff Pravato.

Gianaris sees this year as a chance for redemption for Democrats who feel robbed after seeing the Independent Democratic Conference break away from mainline Democrats and form a coalition government with Senate Republicans and Democratic Senator Simcha Felder joining the Republican conference to create an “artificial Republican majority.”  The has stopped the Senate from “voting on the types of things that we should be voting on,” Gianaris said, going to list a variety of issues from women’s reproductive rights to voting reform.

Gianaris and other Democrats see New York potentially becoming a progressive leader if things go as they expect on Election Day. But Senate Republicans are doing everything in their power to sound the alarm on one-party rule in New York, arguing that the state Senate is all that stands between New Yorkers and higher taxes, government-run health care, and a state government far too oriented toward New York City at the expense of upstate and Long Island.

Gianaris dismisses those warnings. “We have an opportunity to lead the nation in standing up for progressive values and pushing back against what’s coming out of Washington,” he said.

***
by Victor Porcelli, Gotham Gazette

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Molinaro Reveals Reason He Didn’t Vote for Trump


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Marc Molinaro during Tuesday's debate (photo via @CBSNewYork)


Marc Molinaro, the Republican nominee for governor of New York, has long-insisted that he did not vote for Donald Trump in 2016, saying that he “had significant differences at the time” and decided to write in former Republican U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson for president.

As he’s tried to straddle the Trump divide in the New York Republican Party and appeal to independent and moderate voters in an uphill quest to unseat Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, Molinaro has been hesitant to explain what exactly led him to shun Trump two years ago. On Tuesday, speaking with reporters after his debate with Cuomo, during which the incumbent repeatedly tied his challenger to the president, Molinaro at last revealed more specifically what had made him unable to vote for Trump, the Republican nominee at the time and party standard-bearer.

The father of a daughter with developmental disabilities, Molinaro said that Trump mocking a disabled journalist, Serge Kovaleski of The New York Times, during a late-2015 campaign rally was the tipping point.

Like virtually all Republican candidates running this year, Molinaro is regularly asked his opinions of Trump, and he has cited several areas of disagreement, while also saying he is ready to support or challenge the president as necessary to fight for New Yorkers. Molinaro has specifically mentioned Trump’s “both sides” response to the white nationalist and response marches in Charlottesville, VA; the administration’s child separation policy at the Mexico border; and the federal tax reforms that Trump signed into law and effectively raise taxes for many New Yorkers as three areas where he has disagreed with the president.

But all of those are since Trump was inaugurated. Until Tuesday Molinaro had never explained the specifics behind his vote for Gibson, who is now retired from Congress and the chair of Molinaro’s campaign.

During the debate with Cuomo, hosted by CBS television and radio, Molinaro found himself on the defensive as the governor over and over again tied him to Trump, who has low approval ratings in New York. In one particularly stark exchange Cuomo repeatedly asked Molinaro “Do you support President Trump?” which the challenger refused to answer directly.

Molinaro attempted to get the moderators to move along, but Cuomo thundered away. Molinaro gave partial answers about calling it like he sees it and the impressive overall economy, and also repeatedly sought to turn the tables, pointing out past ties between Cuomo and Trump, who has donated more than $60,000 to Cuomo over the years and appeared in a video at Cuomo’s bachelor party (Molinaro has cozied up to the Trump family more recently, as City & State reported this week). 

Curiously, Molinaro did not offer debate viewers and listeners the fact that he did not vote for Trump in 2016, perhaps indicative of the delicate balancing act he’s trying to perform in appealing to the millions of Trump voters in New York and many independents and moderates who disapprove of the president but may be willing to choose someone other than Cuomo.

When he appeared with a group of reporters covering the debate afterward, Gotham Gazette asked Molinaro why he did not offer that piece of information during the debate, as he has during a number of interviews and press conferences throughout his campaign for governor.

“I wasn’t willing to allow the governor to dictate my answer to that question,” Molinaro said, referring to when Cuomo repeatedly pressed him to explain whether he supports Trump, the governor’s own question, not one from the moderators.

“Listen,” Molinaro went on, before pausing to collect himself and continuing with his voice cracking at times, “I don’t know if the president meant it during the presidential campaign, I don’t know it, but when he acted out in a way that discredited a reporter who lived with a disability, I don’t think it was his intention, but I’ve seen it before -- in fact as a kid I probably did it myself -- and as the father of a child with a disability I wasn’t willing to put myself in the position of demeaning what my daughter goes through every day of her life.”

Molinaro then took a question about what upstate voters may have gotten from the debate.

Asked another question about Trump, and whether he sees him as a net positive or net negative for New York, Molinaro was reminded by a campaign advisor to return the focus to his race against Cuomo.

“I’m running against Andrew Cuomo,” Molinaro said. “As I have said and will repeatedly say: I want New York State to benefit from economic recovery, and to the extent that America now is the most competitive economy in the world, New York needs to benefit from that. But to allow this campaign to be about anything other than Andrew Cuomo’s failure, his incompetence, and his corruption is a disservice to the people of New York.”

[Read: Marc Molinaro and The Trump Question]

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Cuomo-Molinaro Debate Analysis


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


October 23, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Cuomo-Molinaro Debate Analysis

cuomo molinaro debate 277The day after the Andrew Cuomo-Marc Molinaro gubernatorial debate on CBS, hosts Jarrett Murphy and Ben Max break down what went down.

Listen to the conversation with the two candidates 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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What's the [DATA] Point? 8, with David Friedfel and Patrick Orecki


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What's The [Data] Point? Episode 57 -- 8, David Friedfel and Patrick Orecki [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

andrew marcCitizens Budget Commission experts David Friedfel and Patrick Orecki joined the podcast to discuss their recent in-depth report on Governor Andrew Cuomo's two-term record and how the debate between Cuomo and Republican challenger Marc Molinaro touched (and didn't) on elements of that record.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Maria Doulis of CBC (@MariaDoulis). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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