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'Speaker Heastie PAC' Brings in Big Money from Special Interests, Starts Giving to Candidates

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Carl Heastie, right, with Joe Morelle (photo: @JoeMorelle)

New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who rose to lead the chamber following the fall from grace of his predecessor, Sheldon Silver, on charges of corruption, has been in at least one way followed in Silver’s footsteps by establishing a political action committee, which he is using to support allies in this year’s state elections.  

Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, is in no danger of being unseated himself as he seeks another two-year term in the Assembly, but Democrats are hoping to flip enough seats to take control of the upper house of the state Legislature, the state Senate. Heastie’s political committee, titled “Speaker Heastie PAC,” was registered in January and has raised and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars. Thus far, those funds have gone to fellow Assembly members seeking reelection, two state Senators, and local Democratic clubs and county committees. A few of the contributions also suggest that Heastie hopes to influence the political sphere beyond the legislative branch and the State of New York.

Since January, the PAC has raised a total of $318,600 and spent about $254,000, leaving a balance of about $65,000, according to mid-August campaign finance filings with the state Board of Elections. The largest donors to Heastie’s PAC have significant dealings with the Assembly, broader Legislature, and state government in general.

The PAC received large donations from several prominent labor unions and PACs representing legal professionals, real estate, law enforcement, and other industries.

Three PACs -- 32BJ United ADF, affiliated with the property services workers union; Charter Communications PAC, which represents the communications company of the same name; and Law PAC of New York, affiliated with the New York State Trial Lawyers Association -- each gave $25,000 to Heastie’s PAC. The state teachers union, New York State United Teachers, donated $22,500. “Speaker Heastie is a true champion for public education,” said NYSUT spokesperson Carl Korn. “New York's public schools and colleges -- and the students who attend them -- are better off thanks to his steadfast leadership. We are proud to offer him our support.”

Among other donors were political committees associated with the Corrections Officers Benevolent Association, the Real Estate Board of New York, the Hotel Trades Council, the New York Gaming Association, the Transit Workers Union, the New York City Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, Communications Workers of America, to name a few. Even billionaire supermarket magnate John Catsimatidis, a prominent Republican donor who has also given to many Democrats in the past, gave a $5,000 contribution to the PAC.

Heastie has been generous in distributing the money he has raised so far.

His PAC has contributed $21,000 to the Attorney General campaign of New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, whom Heastie endorsed soon after she announced her campaign in May. James has also been endorsed by Governor Andrew Cuomo and the State Democratic Party, leading to criticism from opponents that she is too connected to the party establishment to be a necessarily independent and effective attorney general, especially as it relates to investigated and rooting out public corruption.

“The Speaker supports candidates he believes in and who share his values,” a Heastie spokesperson told Gotham Gazette in a brief email.

A 32BJ union spokesperson said in an email that the union donated to Heastie to push for more Democratic seats in the state Senate. “We have always supported efforts to make New York a progressive state,” the spokesperson said. “This includes having a Democrat-led Senate. Heastie’s PAC is focused on flipping the Senate to the Democrats, so this effort is another step to ensure a truly blue New York.”

But so far Heastie’s PAC hasn’t spent much along those lines. Heastie did direct $11,000 to the state Senate campaign of Shelley Mayer, who successfully ran in an April special election to replace George Latimer, who stepped down after being elected Westchester county executive. But other than that and a $7,000 contribution to state Senator Jamaal Bailey, a close Heastie friend, the PAC has steered clear of state Senate races, particularly those in districts represented by members of the former Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group of eight Democrats who caucused with Republicans for more than seven years and recently returned to the mainline Democratic conference, or swing districts around the state.

Responding to this fact in a subsequent email, the 32BJ spokesperson said, “It’s early in the election cycle and we expect that the focus on many of the Senate races will happen after the primaries. Our contribution is intended to help in Senate races.”

Primary elections, including the challenges to the eight former IDC members, will take place September 13. Heastie signed on to the unity agreement brokered by Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is facing his own spirited primary from Cynthia Nixon but is not wanting for funds, whereby he pledged not to support primaries against sitting Democrats. The former leader of the IDC, Senator Jeff Klein, represents part of Heastie’s native Bronx.

As a representative from the Bronx, it isn’t necessarily surprising that Heastie also chose to contribute $10,000 from his PAC to Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark, even though she is not up for reelection until next year. Clark sailed through the election in 2015 after being nominated for the position in a controversial move by the Bronx Democratic County Committee -- which Heastie used to chair and is still influential with -- when her predecessor Robert Johnson dropped out after winning the Democratic primary to accept a nomination for a state judgeship offered by the county party leadership.

Heastie’s PAC also gave $40,000 to the Bronx Democratic County Committee (one of the four $10,000 donations seems to have been mislabelled as given to Bronx County PAC, which doesn’t exist but was listed with the same address.) Heastie’s PAC also directed $35,000 to the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee, of which Heastie is the honorary chair as speaker.  

All 150 seats in the overwhelmingly Democratic state Assembly are on the ballot this year and several members of the Democratic conference benefited from the speaker’s largesse. Chief among them was Ari Espinal, the first-term incumbent from Queens facing a competitive challenge from Catalina Cruz, a “dreamer” running on a progressive platform. Heastie’s PAC gave Espinal $5,400 for her reelection.

Additionally, Assemblymember James Skoufis got $4,750 from the PAC; Assemblymembers Carmen Arroyo, Carmen De La Rosa, Al Taylor, and Jeffrion Aubry each received $4,400; Assemblymember Latoya Joyner received $2,000; and Assemblymembers Nathalia Fernandez, Kimberly Jean-Pierre, and Harvey Epstein each got a $1,000 contribution.

An Bronx Assembly candidate, Karines Reyes, got a $2,000 contribution. Reyes is running for an open seat left vacant after Luis Sepulveda was elected to the state Senate in the April special election.

The PAC donated $1,000 to the congressional campaign of Anthony Brindisi, a Democrat attempting to unseat Republican Rep. Claudia Tenney in New York’s 22nd district upstate. Another $1,000 went to Assemblymember Joe Morelle, who is running for Congress in the 25th district against Republican Jim Maxwell. The seat has been vacant since the death of Rep. Louise Slaughter, a Democrat, in March. Morelle is a close friend of Heastie’s and is the Assembly majority leader.

Heastie also made another early donation to a candidate in New York City, doling out $4,784 to Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., the first candidate to officially declare he is running for mayor in 2021, when Mayor Bill de Blasio is term-limited out of office. Diaz Jr. has just over $600,000 in cash on hand already for the campaign.  

But Heastie’s contributions also leave the borders of the state. His PAC donated $1,000 to Stacey Abrams, the Democratic nominee for Georgia governor. If elected, Abrams stands to be the first African-American woman elected governor of any state in the country.

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Brachfeld contributed to this story.

Rep. Jeffries Backs Gov. Cuomo for Reelection

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Gov. Cuomo with Rep. Jeffries (photo via the Governor's office)

U.S. Representative Hakeem Jeffries, a rising Congressional star and Brooklyn political power-broker, is backing Governor Andrew Cuomo for reelection.

Jeffries, who represents the 8th Congressional District of New York, which includes parts of Brooklyn and Queens, sees Cuomo’s case as airtight, despite a fierce gubernatorial primary challenge being waged by actor and activist Cynthia Nixon.

“As the governor of the state of New York, he’s done a phenomenal job over the last eight years,” Jeffries told Gotham Gazette in a brief interview, just after endorsing fellow Brooklynite and New York City Public Advocate Letitia James in her run for state attorney general. “I’m looking forward to his leadership over the next four when he’s successful in November.”

Since even before Jeffries’ start in Congress, the former member of the state Assembly has enjoyed a close relationship with Cuomo. Jeffries joins a growing list of elected officials, including several members of the city’s congressional delegation, backing the incumbent governor for a third term. His support signifies additional reinforcement of the firewall Cuomo is relying on to beat Nixon in New York City, especially in communities of color, where Democratic primaries are often won, particularly in New York.

“Congressman Jeffries been a strong partner and advocate for New York, and the governor is proud to have his support,” said Abbey Collins, a spokesperson for the Cuomo campaign. “Together, we will continue to fight back against Donald Trump’s divisive, ultra-conservative agenda and move New York forward.”

Nixon has made Brooklyn – a large part of which is included in Jeffries’ district, which covers Coney Island, Canarsie, East New York, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and Clinton Hill, and a chunk of southern Queens – the nexus of her own campaign trail. It was in Brownsville that Nixon first launched her gubernatorial campaign, the event taking place in a neighborhood partially encompassed by the Eighth Congressional District, although Nixon’s event occurred just outside its border. Then, in March, Nixon also accepted Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams’ invitation to visit NYCHA housing in Crown Heights and, in May, Nixon did a subway tour, where she made her way from Cobble Hill to Williamsburg.

While Adams has not endorsed in the gubernatorial primary, Nixon has won the backing of a number of the borough’s political clubs and advocacy groups, as well as a handful of election officials, including City Council Members Antonio Reynoso and Brad Lander. Cuomo, on the other hand, has the support of ten other Brooklyn City Council members.

Last month, Nixon formally announced a cross-endorsement with Brooklyn City Council Member Jumaane Williams, who is challenging Cuomo’s lieutenant governor, Kathy Hochul, in the primary, which will be held September 13. The Nixon-Williams press conference was held at an entrance of Prospect Park; Williams’ 45th City Council District slightly overlaps with Jeffries’ congressional district. Jeffries, however, is endorsing Hochul, a former member of Congress from Erie County, for reelection to her statewide post in what is an increasingly contentious primary.

“I think Democratic primaries are healthy at the end of the day as long as we respect the will of the people once they make a decision and we all come together afterward,” Jeffries said of Williams’ bid for lieutenant governor. “If Kathy Hochul is successful, I’m hopeful that Jumaane Williams will be supportive of the ticket moving forward. And if Jumaane Williams is successful, we have to find a way to stand behind our governor and our lieutenant governor nominee.”

Hochul and Cuomo have both made Brooklyn a major focus in recent months, with the governor announcing “Brooklyn women for Cuomo,” the endorsements of elected officials at various levels of government, and holding several government events that often have the feel of campaign rallies. Hochul spoke at four African-American churches in Brooklyn this past weekend while on the campaign trail, while Cuomo spoke at one, in Crown Heights, in what was listed as a government event.

Prior to Jeffries’ endorsement, Cuomo’s campaign has announced support from other members of Congress, including U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Reps. Nydia Velázquez, Jose E. Serrano, and Adriano Espaillat, with others expected. Cuomo’s campaign highlights that the governor’s new federal political action committee has given maximum $2,700 donations to each of 10 congressional candidates in competitive districts across the state, including Max Rose, who is trying to unseat the only Republican member of the New York City House delegation, Rep. Dan Donovan.

Though his campaign does not highlight the endorsement, the governor has also been backed by Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who is running for attorney general in the four-way primary that includes James, who has cross-endorsed with Cuomo and has her base of support in central Brooklyn, where she was a City Council member.

Polling continues to show Cuomo with a major advantage over Nixon in New York City, especially among black voters. Brooklyn has the most Democratic voters of any county in the state, with more than 1 million registered as of April, many of whom reside in Jeffries’ congressional district.

“Andrew Cuomo has consistently led in the polls by 30 or more points and I expect that the margin of victory at the end of the day will be extremely comfortable, both because of his track record and because of the inexperience of his opponent,” Jeffries told Gotham Gazette.

Of Nixon, Jeffries said, “The electorate in New York City, including very progressive individuals, seem disinclined to put another actor in a position of importance in the context of the governor’s mansion, having seen the disaster that Donald Trump has been as president.”

In response, Lauren Hitt, a spokesperson for the Nixon campaign, said, “Cynthia Nixon was raised by a single mom, and she started acting when she was 12 in order to pay for college. She has nothing in common with Donald Trump. Governor Cuomo, on the other hand, has accepted $64,000 from the Donald, which he refuses to return.”

[Read: Key to Victory, Black Voters Appear Solidly Behind Cuomo Over Nixon]

by Chelsey Sanchez, Gotham Gazette
@chelseynsanchez  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this article.

Some New York Democrats are Backing Nixon for Governor and James for Attorney General

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Mark-Viverito & Nixon (photo: @CynthiaNixon)

Two of the most compelling storylines of the contentious primaries playing out this election season in New York are which Democrats decide to back Cynthia Nixon in her challenge to two-term incumbent Governor Andrew Cuomo and to what extent an alliance with Cuomo is to the benefit of Letitia James as she seeks to win an open, four-way primary for Attorney General.

Loyalty and litmus tests are being taken daily by elected officials, political club members, labor leaders, and others as the September 13 primary vote approaches. As the party wages something of a civil war both here and nationally, Democrats are choosing sides. Sometimes those choices get complicated.

While Nixon offers many frustrated progressives an alternative to the more centrist Cuomo, the choice for attorney general has different dynamics. Crossing, or pleasing, the notoriously sensitive Cuomo is a factor in both races, as well as the contentious lieutenant governor primary, given his support for both James for attorney general and his running mate Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul for reelection. But James has a reputation as a progressive, with her bona fides questioned far less often than Cuomo's. Although she is outflanked on the left by Fordham Law professor Zephyr Teachout in the attorney general primary and some Democrats are raising questions about James’ acceptance of Cuomo’s support, James is holding her own in terms of winning endorsements from progressive groups and leaders. In fact, though Teachout has won the endorsements of many more left-leaning entities, there is a small but growing list of liberal individuals and groups that are endorsing Nixon for governor and James for attorney general.

Several Democratic clubs and current or former elected officials, and one political action committee, have backed both Nixon and James. Generally speaking, those on the list who Gotham Gazette spoke with cite Nixon’s history of activism for progressive issues, compared with Cuomo’s relative centrism over his two terms, and James’ long-time commitment to those same progressive values. Several have deep ties to James from her roots in Brooklyn, where she lives and was a City Council member, before being elected citywide.

Nixon and James’ overlapping endorsements come from the Brooklyn Young Democrats, Downtown Independent Democrats, Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, New Visions Democratic Club, Grand Street Democrats and the Village Independent Democrats. Elected officials supporting the two include City Council Members Brad Lander and Jimmy Van Bramer, Assembly Members Harvey Epstein, Andrew Hevesi, and Daniel O’Donnell, and former New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito. Tenants PAC, which is funded by tenants, labor unions, and other affordable housing advocates, has also endorsed both candidates. The Working Families Party is, to a degree, on the list.

Mark-Viverito was an early backer of James, endorsing her former City Council colleague the day she announced her campaign for attorney general, just ten days after then-office holder Eric Schneiderman resigned following allegations of physical and emotional abuse by several intimate partners. James faces three other Democrats in the primary - Teachout, who unsuccessfully challenged Cuomo in the 2014 Democratic gubernatorial primary; Congressional Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney; and Leecia Eve, a former Verizon executive and former aide to Cuomo, Hillary Clinton, and Joe Biden.

The former City Council speaker’s support for James was no surprise, the two having been allies for years when they served together on the Council before James rose to public advocate and Mark-Viverito to speaker. The two are both progressive women of color who held top elected offices in a city where few have done so. Mark-Viverito was the first Latina speaker of the Council and James is the first African-American woman to be elected citywide. James will similarly make history if she wins the race for attorney general, making her the first African-American woman to hold a statewide post.

“I’ve known Tish a very long time...I value her heart and I value what she stands for,” Mark-Viverito said in a phone interview. “For me it was not a leap to be able to stand alongside her and to be able to support her for the position.”

Mark-Viverito said she had long conversations with Nixon’s camp before announcing her support for the insurgent first-time candidate and her progressive platform. “For me it was again someone that stands and consistently has stood on issues I care about and I believe that that level of thought, without hesitation, her progressive heart and the vision that she has for the state is one that is truly inclusive...So it definitely felt that it was the right place to be in regards to endorsing her.”

Mark-Viverito also brushed aside concerns raised about James’ alignment with Cuomo and the Democratic establishment. “I take each endorsement separately,” she said, praising the “passion” that James brought to the issues before her office as a Council member and public advocate. “To me, Cynthia Nixon’s gonna win the governor’s race, so that to me is irrelevant,” she said of the James-Cuomo connection, with a slight chuckle. “But I don’t agree with that. I know Tish, I know what she stands for, I know the issues she’s fought on...I see her independence.”

In a sense, Mark-Viverito said she wants to see drastic change in direction in the governor’s office but a level of continuity and stability in the office of attorney general. Cuomo, she said, has failed to pursue strong progressive legislation the likes of which defined the City Council’s own agenda under her leadership on issues such as criminal justice reform and immigrant protections. But the attorney general’s office, even under Schneiderman, she acknowledged, has been working on a slew of successful legal challenges in concert with other state attorneys general against a federal administration under President Donald Trump that “seeks to dehumanize us and strip us of rights that we’ve fought so hard to achieve.”

“Despite the horrific reality that we came to terms with with regards to Schneiderman, he was doing a good job. Separate that from the horrible news and what we know about him now,” she said. “I definitely think that we need to continue that, take up the baton. [Attorney General] Barbara Underwood is doing good work as well in terms of continuing on that line...I definitely believe that needs to continue and I believe Tish can do that.”

“I believe they each have their role to play and I see those roles as very distinct,” she added.

Mark-Viverito herself has been rumored as a potential successor to the public advocate’s office, should James win, and she said she hasn’t “closed the door” on that possibility.

“New Yorkers know Tish James as a fearless leader who has spent two decades fighting to protect and uplift our families. The support from these grassroots groups and elected officials speaks to Tish’s longstanding work for progressive causes and her experience and qualifications to defend our rights as our next Attorney General,” said Delaney Kempner, a James campaign spokesperson, in a statement.

For some who also threw their weight behind James, her increasing association with the governor and her apparent rejection of her roots in the progressive Working Families Party have hurt how they view their preferred candidate. The WFP endorsed Nixon, putting it in the governor’s crosshairs, and James, in seeking the governor’s support, decided against asking the prominent third party for its endorsement. The WFP eventually decided to hold off, reserving support for either James or Teachout, if one of the two candidates prevails in the September 13 primary.

Michael McKee, treasurer of Tenants PAC, said the optics were far from ideal but stood firmly behind Nixon and James. “It’s much less complicated in the case of Cynthia Nixon,” he said in a phone interview, “because [Cuomo] has been a disaster on everything to do with tenants. It’s not just that he has failed to push for stronger rent laws, he has refused to push for them.”

In 2011 and 2015, both years when rent regulations were expiring and would have to be renewed by the state Legislature, on concert with the governor, McKee said Cuomo “didn’t even mention ‘rent’ in his State of the State speech. Not one word. He didn’t even mention that the laws have to be renewed.”

The governor has only pushed minor amendments to rent laws, he said, leaving major loopholes intact that allow landlords to harass and force tenants out of rent-regulated apartments. He called Nixon’s housing platform “very bold, very expansive and very imaginative,” and said she had a “tremendous grasp” of rent issues when she interviewed with the group for its endorsement. “There’s no one in the tenant movement in New York City or in the suburbs who at this point would believe [Cuomo] when he says he’s pro-tenant,” he said.  Tenants PAC donated $5,000 to Nixon, a “very big check,” McKee said, for a group with limited resources.

“It’s a little more complicated for the attorney general’s office,” he conceded. “I love Tish, I think she’s one of the best of all elected officials but we were extremely unhappy with what she did in terms of tying herself to the governor and screwing the WFP.”

James has said she expects reconciliation with the WFP, perhaps after the primary, and attended its recent twentieth anniversary gala. James was first elected to the City Council solely on the WFP ballot line.

McKee’s group has endorsed James in her past races for elected office and has found her to be a true ally for tenants. As public advocate, James has continued to publish the annual “Worst Landlords” watchlist, and taken legal action and introduced bills in the City Council to protect tenants against harassment. McKee said attorney general is “an ideal job” for James and that she would in no way be beholden to the governor, despite the perception that has emerged in recent weeks.

McKee did say that he thought James could have told Cuomo she was taking the WFP nomination and still gone to the Democratic state convention and gotten the requisite support to automatically make the primary ballot. “Now, she’s sort of painted herself into a corner where she’s in effect the establishment candidate in a year where that’s not the optics of the Democratic Party,” McKee said.

Democratic organizers felt much the same, that Nixon is the change candidate they need in executive office while James is an accomplished elected official with a strong record who would do well as the state’s top legal officer. Jeanne Wilcke, treasurer of Downtown Independent Democrats, painted it as a tough decision to endorse James over Teachout, who they had endorsed in the 2014 governor’s race. Both candidates were familiar to the club but James had continued her association with them as Teachout seemed to fade after 2014. “A number of people voted for Teachout but James edged it out,” she said.

In broad terms, Wilcke said her club is fighting for the broader direction of the Democratic Party. “Our own party has to look its ownself and really grasp what they have to do and follow the grassroots sentiment,” she said. “They can’t be behind the times.” It’s an argument carried by Nixon as she paints Cuomo as a “fake Democrat” and pushes for a truly progressive Democratic polity in the state. “The Crowley race gave us a lot of heart,” Wilcke said, referring to ten-term Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley’s congressional primary loss to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a young, insurgent democratic socialist. “If it can happen once, it can happen again.”

She did admit that James relationship with the governor is “a little too close for comfort” and that she should keep an arms length from the establishment. But nonetheless, James’ record impressed DID’s members. “They’ve seen her on the ground for years. She stood up for people. That resonated,” Wilcke said.

“Given Cuomo's record, it's not a surprise at all that Democratic clubs are rejecting him,” said Lauren Hitt, a Nixon campaign spokesperson, in an email. “He empowered the IDC, refused to return Trump's $64k in donations, cut taxes for the wealthy, and governed like a Republican in so many other respects.”

Cuomo’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment. Nixon and Teachout have endorsed each other in their respective races (Teachout was Nixon’s campaign treasurer until Schneiderman’s resignation prompted her to run for attorney general).

There were a few other endorsements that have shown a similar pattern of embrace of establishment-aligned candidates on the one hand and their rejection on the other. NYC Kids PAC, for instance, endorsed James for attorney general and also New York City Council Member Jumaane Williams, who is running against Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. Both Williams and James have also been endorsed by City Council Member Carlina Rivera.

This year was the first time that the Grand Street Democrats made endorsements in the races for governor and attorney general, said Caroline Laskow, a Democratic district leader from the club. “We evaluated all the candidates on their merits,” Laskow said of Nixon and James in a phone interview. “We feel that they’re both going to be excellent advocates for all of New York, for different reasons. But I don’t think one cancels out the other.”

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this article.

Note - This article has been updated to clarify comments from Jeanne Wilcke of DID. It has also been updated to note that Wilcke is treasurer, not president of DID. 

Democratic Attorney General Candidates Seek to Set Themselves Apart During First Televised Debate

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Democratic AG candidates debate (photo: MNN)

The four Democratic candidates for New York Attorney General met Tuesday for the first televised debate of their race, agreeing that the next chief legal officer of the state must continue to be a check on President Donald Trump, while also addressing corruption in state government and other areas of reform they would pursue in the role.

Each of the four candidates -- New York City Public Advocate Letitia James; U.S. Representative Sean Patrick Maloney; Fordham Law professor Zephyr Teachout; and Leecia Eve, a former aide to Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, and Governor Andrew Cuomo -- sought to set themselves apart in what appears to be a wide open race for the party nomination, with candidates repeatedly calling themselves the only one in the race with certain qualifications.

The debate aired Wednesday evening on Manhattan Neighborhood Network and was moderated by Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max. Democratic voters will choose an attorney general nominee, among other races, on Thursday September 13.

All four candidates promised to ratchet up the already fever pitch with which the New York attorney general’s office is fighting Trump administration policies. On more direct state and local matters, there was also agreed upon acknowledgement of certain problems, such as public corruption and an outdated criminal justice system, but the candidates offered some differences in perspective as they sought to make a winning pitch to voters.

Two candidates -- Teachout and Maloney -- made new pledges to release their tax returns in line with what James has done, while two candidates -- Maloney and James -- joined calls by Teachout and Eve for state hearings on sexual harassment. Eve continued to decline to make her tax returns public. All four candidates said that it may be appropriate for further legal investigation into the fact that Cuomo’s former top aide and campaign manager, Joseph Percoco, used his government office while on leave to run Cuomo’s 2014 re-election campaign, information that came to light during Percoco’s recent corruption trial, wherein he was found guilty on several charges.

Teachout, who has offered herself as the candidate most independent of Cuomo -- she did challenge him in the 2014 primary, of course -- and of special interests due to her refusal of corporate PAC or LLC funding, said that despite Cuomo’s shuttering of the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, the executive order creating it is still on the books, and promised to use its powers if elected Attorney General.

“Corruption is really holding us back as a state,” Teachout said. “It’s hurting us. And when the Moreland Commission was shut down four years ago, I spoke out loudly. I actually testified at the Moreland Commission. But actually, I don’t know that all people realize this, Andrew Cuomo shut the Moreland Commission down in a press call. He never formally rescinded Executive Order 106.”

James expressed support for the creation of a new Moreland Commission. James, Maloney, and Eve all said that they would push the Legislature to give power to the attorney general to more ably address public corruption without referrals from other entities.

“Existing law should be changed to give the attorney general primary criminal jurisdiction over public corruption, period, full stop,” Maloney said. “Shouldn’t be any referrals or anything else, you oughta just go get it and prosecute it. We need to change the law.”

Eve said that she would utilize an existing agreement with the state comptroller to refer more investigative matters regarding state funds to the attorney general.

“Any time we’re talking about the use of taxpayer funds, whether it is funds used to pay a legislator, whether it’s funds to fund different economic development programs, the authority, the existing authority because of this unprecedented relationship and agreement between the state comptroller and attorney general, gives the current attorney general, gives me as the next attorney general, significant powers to root out corruption,” Eve said.

James, who has faced questions about her independence from Cuomo in recent weeks given their cross-endorsement and his help with her fundraising, said that she would be the most diligent addressing public corruption, even if it led to “the second floor,” where the governor’s office is located in the state Capitol. She noted that, while serving in the City Council, she had taken a leading role in uncovering the City Time scandal, which she characterized as “the biggest scandal in the City of New York.” “We recovered $700 million for taxpayers, working with Juan Gonzalez from the Daily News” she said.

James also set her sights on what she characterized as unaccountable, opaque public benefit corporations and authorities, which are state run but operate like corporations; examples include the MTA, the Dormitory Authority, and Empire State Development.

“It is really critically important that we continue to focus on all of the authorities that continue to exist throughout the State of New York,” James said, “these public benefit corporations that need to be investigated, that focus really on alleged economic development in the State of New York, and that’s what’s critically important.”

With the exception of Teachout, each candidate has somewhat close ties to Cuomo: Maloney endorsed Cuomo for reelection and urged Cynthia Nixon not to run against him; Eve headed economic development programming under Cuomo; and James has been endorsed by Cuomo and the State Democratic Party that Cuomo leads. Independence from the governor, who saw two top aides convicted of bribery and bid-rigging this year related to millions of dollars in economic development money, has become a major campaign issue in the attorney general race.

Asked whether there should be an investigation into whether Percoco had used state resources for campaign purposes under Cuomo’s supervision, as some of the governor’s critics have called for, all of the candidates said a variation of yes, with Teachout the most affirmative.

The candidates were also asked how they would approach the job of attorney general with regard to investigating financial firms for fraud or other wrongdoing. James had courted controversy when she recently told The New York Times that she did not want to be known as “the Sheriff on Wall Street,” a statement which propelled criticism from her opponents, who embraced the moniker and did so again Tuesday. At the debate, James reiterated her point, however, even after Eve said that she would want to be known as “the Sheriff of Wall Street.”

“No I don’t want to be known as the Sheriff on Wall Street, that’s reserved for someone else,” James said, apparently referring to former Attorney General and Governor Eliot Spitzer. “I want to chart my own path. I want my own title, my own title has always been and will continue to be ‘fighter.’” She proposed strengthening the Martin Act, a 1921 state law that gives the attorney general broad power to investigate financial fraud that was revived by Spitzer. James said she would seek to expand, within her first 100 days in office, the act’s statute of limitations from three years to six years.

“You know I want to be called the Sheriff of Wall Street,” Teachout said, claiming that the role of the attorney general as “regulator of last resort” was important with a federal government uninterested in regulating big banks and financial firms.

“One of the things I really take from Spitzer’s use of the Martin Act is that was an example of an old tool that hadn’t been used,” Teachout said, “being dusted off and used in new and critical ways to hold Wall Street accountable. That’s the kind of creative lawyering, creative legal strategy, that I as the next sheriff will pursue.”

Maloney, too, was quick to rebuke James. “Of course you’re gonna be the sheriff of Wall Street, that’s literally the job,” he said. But like James had explained of her perspective, he made sure to say that he would also be the “sheriff” of such issues as Trump, environmental protection, LGBT equality, and criminal justice reform.

The representative from the upper Hudson Valley repeatedly noted that he has fought and beaten Republicans, referencing the fact that he has been elected several times in what is a swing district, and touted his government and management experience. James and Eve also highlighted their work in goverment and overseeing teams of employees, while Teachout focused on her expertise in corruption and law, and her work helping to craft litigation against President Trump for alleged violations of the emoluments clause of the Constitution.

During a series of “lightning round” questions with quick answers, James and Maloney both stated for the first time that open, public state hearings should be held regarding sexual harassment in state government and beyond; Teachout and Eve had both said previously that hearings should be held.

While James answered that she had released five years of tax returns, and was the only candidate to release returns, Teachout and Maloney each said that they would release five years of tax returns by the end of this week. Eve demurred, saying that she had years of government-mandated financial disclosures publicly available.

And when asked which other candidate they would vote for if they couldn’t vote for themselves, Maloney and Teachout each said that they would vote for Eve, while Eve and James said only that they promise to vote for the winner of the Democratic primary. Eve, who has trailed significantly in public polling, may have been the safe choice for Maloney and Teachout, though when The New York Times editorial board endorsed Teachout earlier this week, it also noted Eve as its second choice.

When offered the opportunity to cross-examine one opponent, none of the candidates opted to ask a question of James, who has led in that public polling for the race despite a high undecided count; she has the support of most of the party “establishment,” including elected officials, clubs, and labor unions. Instead, two questions were leveled at Maloney, and two at Teachout.

Teachout was asked by James about opposition to the NY SAFE Act, a signature Cuomo gun control law, during her 2016 Congressional run, to which Teachout said her opposition was only to the secretive process to its passage, part of a pattern of how business is done in the state Capitol that she has consistently denounced. Teachout was asked by Maloney about a citation she had received from the North Carolina Bar, where she is licensed to practice law, which she said was due to not sharing a change in address during a case.

Maloney was asked by Eve about why he had chosen to run simultaneously for attorney general and for his congressional seat, a situation that led fellow member of Congress Kathleen Rice to not seek the nomination for attorney general. Maloney said that a judge had already decided in his favor.

Maloney was asked by Teachout about $150,000 he received in donations from eight LLCs connected to the Durst Organization, one of the largest real estate developers in New York City. Maloney first attempted to say that Durst felt he was the most qualified candidate and to deflect to in-kind and super PAC contributions Teachout had received in 2016, but when pressed for a more full response by the moderator, he said that the Durst contributions were a “small part of” his overall fundraising. Maloney had earlier concurred with his opponents that the “LLC loophole,” wherein corporations can give virtually unlimited amounts of money to candidates by forming various limited liability companies, should be closed.

Other targets for investigations, lawsuits, and prosecutions specifically named by the candidates included the fossil fuel industry, the pharmaceutical industry, the National Rifle Association, real estate developers, and “bad landlords.” The candidates also said that they would use the bully pulpit to advance civil rights causes, particularly in the realm of criminal justice reform: each candidate said that they believe cash bail should be abolished, and that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 10-year timeline for closing Rikers Island jails is too long. All four said they will not run for governor, which would separate them from recent attorneys general-turned-governors Spitzer and Cuomo.

The Democratic primary for attorney general, governor, lieutenant governor, and state legislative seats, among other races, will be held on Thursday, September 13; the winner of the Democratic primary for attorney general will face Republican Keith Wofford and other candidates in the general election. The Democratic attorney general candidates will meet again for a televised debate on NY1 on Tuesday August 28 at John Jay College. The Manhattan Neighborhood Network debat aired Wednesday and can be watched on YouTube.

by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this article.

What You Can Learn From Gubernatorial Candidates' Campaign Websites

cuomo campaign site

(image: Cuomo campaign website home page)

The digital presence of elected government officials and candidates seeking elected office – whether it’s a fledgling Instagram account with a humble following or a tweet gone viral with tens of thousands of retweets – cannot be underestimated in today’s world. Social media provides direct access between candidates and voters, and can remove traditional barriers between constituents and their elected officials.

Many, for instance, have partly ascribed the triumph of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – the 28-year-old democratic socialist who upended 10-term Democratic Congressional Rep. Joseph Crowley in New York’s primary -- to her strong social media presence and digital outreach efforts. Ocasio-Cortez’s first campaign ad went viral -- it has now reached over 3.7 million views on Twitter -- as it revelled in the basics of New York life, following the first-time candidate as she rode the subway and greeted a cashier at her local bodega.

Undoubtedly, electoral success depends on a broad range of tried-and-tested campaign tactics, but internet virality, it seems, can pay off, leading many candidates to dedicate robust efforts at Facebook, Twitter, and other social media streams. Some, like Ocasio-Cortez, as well as New York gubernatorial candidates Marc Molinaro, Stephanie Miner, and Howie Hawkins, appear to largely run their own Twitter accounts, directly responding to voters, journalists, even competitors.

Interested parties can often learn a lot about a candidate from social media, however curated and stiff, or full of personality and policy the campaign presence might be.

But what about campaign websites, often the place that candidates first direct voters or that show up in Internet searches? What portrait can hopeful elected officials shape for themselves within the virtually unlimited scope of the Internet? And, perhaps more importantly, what can voters learn about candidates from those sites?

Many candidates attempt to entrance the electorate with professional videos, sharp social media posts, and flashy websites – in part to communicate their policy platforms with access that comes as easy as a click of a mouse or a tap on a smartphone.

In this election year for many federal and state offices, one key question for New Yorkers is what they can learn about this year’s candidates for governor, especially in terms of policy proposals, by looking at those candidates’ campaign websites.

Two-term Governor Andrew Cuomo faces a Democratic primary challenge this year from Cynthia Nixon, the actor and education activist. On the Republican side, there’s no primary and the party chose Molinaro, the Dutchess county executive as its nominee. Then there are the ‘third-party’ candidates such as Howie Hawkins from the Green Party and Larry Sharpe from the Libertarian Party. Stephanie Miner, a Democrat and the former mayor of Syracuse, is running as an independent with the new Serve America Movement.

In each candidate’s case, their campaign website articulates his or her policy positions to varying degrees, with some choosing to unveil lengthy detailed policy packages while others cover little or minutely describe a presented legacy of prior accomplishments with few forward-looking proposals.

Andrew Cuomo
Cuomo’s campaign website is an example of the latter. It lists many issues and few proposals, providing more of a resume that touts accomplishments, mostly in brief. The issues page -- titled with his campaign slogan “Proven Leadership” -- presents 10 subjects, accompanied by just 10 paragraphs (the longest paragraph, reciting his work for “Civil Rights and Criminal Justice Reform,” is just six sentences long) explaining his commitment to the issues and the ways he has already tackled them during his two-term tenure.

Even issues that the governor has been actively campaigning on over the last few months with specific policy goals, such as protecting women’s reproductive rights and additional gun control measures, are not listed on Cuomo’s campaign website.

Under “Fighting for Women’s Equality,” for example, it states that he “passed the most comprehensive paid family leave program in the nation, launched the most aggressive public university sexual assault policy in the country, fought for a comprehensive policy to combat sexual harassment, achieved the smallest wage gap in the country, and ensured that contraceptive coverage is not interrupted regardless of what happens in Washington.”

The section, however, lacks any mention of the Reproductive Health Act and the Comprehensive Contraception Act, two key pieces of legislation that would, respectively, codify Roe v. Wade into New York law and mandate that insurers cover birth control fees. These bills have been integral to many state candidates’ platforms regarding women’s rights in this election cycle, and many of those candidates have criticized the governor for failing to push the two bills through the Legislature.

Under a separate website page that calls for New Yorkers to sign a petition to protect reproductive rights, it reads, “Republicans in the NY Senate have repeatedly refused to guarantee reproductive health care by codifying Roe v. Wade into our State Constitution. Now, we need to vote them out.” While Cuomo’s campaign has on social media promoted his push to codify Roe v. Wade into state law, the website offers scant insight.

The same goes for the governor’s goals on gun control.

Under “Gun Safety,” the Cuomo’s campaign cites his passage of the SAFE Act and “enacting legislation that removes guns from domestic abusers,” but mentions nothing of the Red Flag Gun Protection Bill, a piece of legislation that would prevent those deemed a threat by the court from obtaining firearms, despite another petition asking for support of the bill appearing as a banner (“NY is beating the NRA. Join the Fight.”) on his website’s homepage.

Other issues his website speaks of are aimed towards the LGBTQ community (he pledges a promise to end the AIDS epidemic by 2020, without stating how), education, health care, the environment, income inequality, the state economy and the economic mobility of the middle class. But the site almost exclusively presents the Cuomo campaign’s account of the governor’s two-term record, with little clarity about where he wants to take the state if voters give him a third term this fall. In other venues, such as government press conferences, Cuomo has been much more clear about what legislation he wants to see passed in the future, which he has said he needs a Democratic state Senate in order to pass (the Assembly is overwhelmingly Democratic), though Nixon and others have accused Cuomo of supporting a split Legislature, which, they say, makes his pencient for centrism more excusable to Democratic voters.

Cynthia Nixon
Meanwhile, Nixon devotes entire pages and packed PDF files to her platform’s 12 chosen issues, which cover education, rent control, fixing the subways, the economy, criminal justice reform, government corruption, voter reform, reproductive rights, the environment, health care, immigrant rights and the legalization of marijuana.

Some pages are more exhaustive than others. “Legalize Marijuana,” for example, features a video Nixon posted on Twitter and a paragraph that calls for the legalization of recreational marijuana use. A page advocating for criminal justice reform includes a 21-page-long PDF file detailing Nixon’s plan to revamp “a justice system designed to target and criminalize communities of color and the poor.” The plan, which is divvied up into nine separate sections ranging from “Police Accountability” to “Abolish Solitary Confinement,” allows voters to discover her views on cash bail (to abolish it in all cases) or her perspective on the shutdown of Rikers Island jails (that they must be closed in less than the proposed 10 years (a view Cuomo shares)), in varying degrees of detail.

Her policy packages also at times include estimated costs. For example, her plan for revamping the educational system – which includes things like investing in universal pre-kindergarten, establishing a Deputy Commissioner for Racial and Economic Equity within the State Education Department and providing free college tuition for qualified students – estimates that it would cost about $7.367 billion, a hefty sum that she plans to allocate through the implementation of a “millionaires tax,” which would effectively increase the taxes of those with an annual income between $300,000 and $10 million at varying rates.

While their websites differ significantly, Cuomo’s and Nixon’s campaign sites do share a focus on Cuomo’s record, though they paint very different pictures of it. While Cuomo highlights legislation he spearheaded or progress he achieved, Nixon finds shortcomings and negligence. In “#SchoolsNotJails,” a bolded paragraph reads, “The Governor’s refusal to address inequity has devastating consequences,” and in “Climate Justice,” Nixon characterizes Cuomo’s announcement of an energy efficiency plan as “Too little, too late.”

The websites aren’t nearly the entirety of a campaign, of course. Cuomo has been announcing endorsements and airing TV ads amounting to $7.5 million in the last month alone, vastly outspending Nixon’s $606,000 total expenditure in that period, and the governor has appeared at a number of government events that often sound like campaign rallies. He has not done more than a couple of interviews about his candidacy with print, TV or radio journalists.

On the other hand, while Nixon’s website adopts an extensive policy platform and she has organized many events around her plans, she has on occasion struggled to discuss her proposals in detail when questioned by reporter, though she takes questions far more often than Cuomo. She has done a number profile interviews with national publications and made appearances on mostly friendly TV shows while thus far declining invitations to appear with TV and radio hosts who may ask her tougher, more detailed questions -- opportunities Cuomo has also declined.

The two are set to debate on WCBS TV on August 29, under conditions that Nixon’s campaign said Cuomo only agreed to because they were favorable to him. She has agreed to other broadcast debates that Cuomo has declined, while she has also made many appearances in front of clubs and groups to pitch her candidacy, fitting a long-shot challenger to an entrenched incumbent.

Marc Molinaro
Molinaro, the Republican nominee, also delves into a heavy critique of Governor Cuomo on his campaign website. “When this governor came into office, I had the greatest amount of hope that he’d bring with him a new day,” Molinaro said on his campaign website’s “Reforming Albany” page, “but instead we have a new normal.” A culture of corruption and pay-to-play politics has permeated state government, Molinaro argues.

Molinaro’s website doesn’t explicitly have an “Issues” page, and overall it is very light on detailed policy proposals or views. The Republican nominee, who appears to be waiting until after the Democratic primary to outline the majority of his policy plans, largely seeks to present himself in general get-to-know-me fashion as a person and career-long elected official to voters who might visit the site.

What seems to replace an issues page, at least for now, is one titled “Moments With Marc” with six subpages, where a user can scroll through a grid of videos, typically no longer than three minutes and usually with Molinaro either seated in front of a camera or speaking at a rally, rather than presented as a read-through text format. The subpages include reforming Albany, education, transportation, the opioid and heroin crisis and improving the quality of life. There is additionally a subpage that allows users to learn “More About Marc.”

Some subpages display videos with more extensive policy proposals than others. In “Reforming Albany,” for example, Molinaro said he would rid state government of corruption by asking the state Legislature to adopt a universal code of ethics, creating an independent ethics commission, expanding the Freedom of Information Act to all state government entities, restoring the state comptroller’s power to independent oversight and pushing for a two-term limit for New York governors. It is the one policy area where Molinaro has released detailed plans, fitting a top theme of his campaign, that Cuomo has not cleaned up Albany and it is time for a governor who will.

Molinaro is far less specific about resolving what he calls the “Opioid and Heroin Crisis,” where he says there is a need to provide “the right help at the right time.” In this video, which is the sole video for this particular section and is less than two minutes long, Molinaro presents his case for wanting to ensure that “the criminal justice system treats people humanely” and that those affected by drug addiction have access to rehabilitative resources, but fails to provide a more detailed proposal on how he would follow through with that notion.

On the campaign trail, Molinaro has talked about fixing the MTA and blamed Cuomo for mismanaging the state-run authority, but he has not outlined his plans for accomplishing such a turnaround, instead promising more detail in the coming weeks and months. Similarly, Molinaro has promised to propose major overhauls of the state tax system and how the state does economic development, but neither plan has been presented yet.

Howie Hawkins
Hawkins, running on the Green Party line, includes over 20 issue platforms on his campaign website. The socialist candidate presents broad policy proposals to address issues from “Guaranteed Health Care” (enact the New York Health Act, defend public hospitals from closures and privatizations) to “End the War on Drugs and Mass Incarceration” (establish a Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission, as well as decriminalize hard drugs and enable access to drug abuse treatment on demand).

While some of his proposed issues are aligned with those espoused by the aforementioned candidates, like his claim to expand affordable housing or to rebuild the MTA infrastructure, others are much more radical, such as the complete decriminalization of hard drugs. His overall policy platform is an ever further left version of that put forth by Nixon, who is challenging Cuomo from the progressive end of the political spectrum. For instance, while Nixon advocates for a 100 percent transition to clean energy by 2050, Hawkins proposes that the transition should be made by the year 2030.

A key focus for Hawkins and other Green Party candidates is the “Green New Deal,” which is composed of three main tenets: revitalizing the public sector by fully funding public services and investing in clean energy infrastructure; eliminate policies of supply-side, trickle-down economics; and enact a plan of demand-side, bottom-up economics, which “will increase effective demand and stimulate business expansion and jobs to meet the demand,” according to his website.

“The historic role of third parties has been to force issues neglected by the major parties into public debate,” Hawkins states at the top of his issues webpage. “The Green Party has increasingly been playing this role.”

Larry Sharpe
For Sharpe, the Libertarian Party nominee, under his “Sharpe Policy” page, lists seven issues: “Business Matters;” “Family Law;” “Education;” “Second Amendment Rights;” “Drugs, Cannabis, and Hemp;” and “Tax Reform;” and “Digital Government.” There is a lot of language under each issue, though much of it is broad, with some specific policy plans. Fitting his status as a Libertarian, much of Sharpe’s platform is focused on reducing the scope of government and increasing individual liberties.

His platform espouses the support of certain unconventional policies, such as suggesting that traditional high school education should conclude after the tenth grade in order to “give students and parents the opportunity to choose the best path for the next two years and beyond,” and, under “Second Amendment Rights,” establishing a new firearms permit waiting period of 90 days rather than the current six months. Rolling back gun regulations appears to be a major focus of the Sharpe campaign.

Sharpe also focuses on digitalizing the state government, either through increasing the functionality of state government websites or using onlines tools to increase civic participation in regards to public projects or local legislation. According to this section, Sharpe “will bring the entrepreneurial energy, digital savvy and startup mentality necessary to make the state of New York a leader in open and effective government in the digital age.”

While Sharpe’s website occasionally presents “White Papers,” which redirect users to research documents, only two sections currently have these white papers attached, these being “Education” and “Drug, Cannabis and Hemp.” Two other sections, “Family Law” and “Second Amendment Rights,” allocate a section for a white paper but have no link that redirects the user to the document, and the remaining sections say that the white paper will be revealed soon.

Stephanie Miner
Miner, who became the first female mayor of Syracuse when she was first elected in 2010 and served two terms in the position, presents four major issues on her campaign website: “Crush Corruption,” “Upend Politics as Usual,” “Investing in New York’s Future” and “Accountable Spending.”.

Miner has vehemently critiqued Cuomo and his administration, including on its approach to economic development and infrastructure, and the various corruption scandals that have sprung up within Cuomo’s orbit of aides and donors, and she makes corruption in state government a focal point for her platform.

Under the webpage “Crush Corruption,” she advocates for the disbanding of the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, a state agency that investigates corruption and ethics in Albany that is composed of members appointed by Cuomo. She also argues for the provision of the state comptroller’s full oversight over economic development proposals, an authority which has been reduced over the years under Cuomo’s tenure. The argument made by the governor and Legislature for reducing State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s power is that it expedites the state’s economic development work, especially awarding contracts; critics, on the other hand, including DiNapoli, argue that reduced oversight has lent a hand to easy exploitation of the system.

In “Investing in New York’s Future,” Miner also lays out her plan on developing the state’s infrastructure, which involves resolving the MTA crisis through establishing a multi-year agreement on revenue and expenses, among other proposals, cutting property taxes and delivering universal high-speed broadband access to all New Yorkers. The remaining two issues on her website advocate for reforming the voting process, where she advocates for policies such as a non-partisan redistricting of the state and consolidation of the state and federal primaries, and the state’s budget spending, where she calls for transparency during budget negotiations and restoring the state comptroller’s oversight during a competitive bidding process.

The Cuomo-Nixon primary is September 13, a Thursday. The general election is on Tuesday, November 6.

by Chelsey Sanchez, Gotham Gazette
@chelseynsanchez  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: this article has been corrected to reflect that Joel Giambra is not running for governor as the Reform Party nominee, the party has backed Molinaro.

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


Zellnor Myrie, center, and other IDC challengers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Senate primary races to watch:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The primary election is on Thursday, September 13.

by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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

tish james

Public Advocate Letitia James (photo: @TishJames)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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

Opponents of Democratic Senator Raise Questions About Past IDC Financial Support

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The primary is September 13.

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Daniel Yadin for Gotham Gazette

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

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