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The Week Ahead in New York Politics, October 24

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

We're in the home stretch of the Presidential race -- and all the other races that are on the ballot November 8 -- with Tuesday marking two weeks until Election Day. As Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and other presidential candidates fight for votes, there are also a variety of races happening in New York. Some will determine party control of the State Senate; others will help decide control of the U.S. House of Representatives -- there are several swing districts in New York. In New York City, there's few, if any, competitive races for local Senate, Assembly, or House seats. [Read: Limited Down Ballot Choices for New Yorkers Come November 8]

Mayor Bill de Blasio spent time this weekend again campaigning for Clinton, this time in Virginia. Back in the city, de Blasio starts his week with no public events. De Blasio will hold a town hall meeting in the Bronx on Thursday evening and will appear at a live event on WNYC radio on Friday morning from the station's The Greene Space.

Governor Andrew Cuomo begins his week on Long Island, campaigning for Democratic state Senate candidates.

This week will see the four-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy hitting New York.

And, along with a variety of committee hearings this week -- details of which are below -- this week the City Council holds its second of two October full-body Stated Meetings, at which new bills are introduced and bills that have passed through committee are voted on by the full Council.  

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

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

The run of the week in detail:

At 10 a.m. on Monday, the State Assembly’s Ethics and Guidance Committee will meet.

On Monday at 11 a.m. in Corona, Queens, ""First Lady Chirlane McCray and American Psychiatric Association President Maria A. Oquendo, M.D will be joined by elected officials, advocates and health leaders to announce a major investment in the health of NYC’s communities."

At 11 a.m. Monday, Public Advocate Letitia James will attend the ribbon cutting ceremony for the NYPD Candidate Assessment Center.

At 1 p.m. on Monday, “Council Member Rory I. Lancman and the New York Democratic Lawyers Council (NYDLC) are rallying New York lawyers to protect the right to vote against suppression and intimidation efforts in this fall’s election in New York and in swing states.” Council Member Lancman, Council Member Costa Constantinides, and Representative Hakeem Jeffries will be among those who participate.

"On Monday evening, Mayor de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray will host a reception at Gracie Mansion with business, non-profit and philanthropic leaders who participated in the Ladders For Leaders program. They will celebrate a record-breaking year for the City's Summer Youth Employment Program. This event is closed press."

Tuesday marks two weeks until Election Day.

Starting at 8 a.m. Tuesday, Crain’s New York will hold its 2016 Family Business Summit. This event will “explore how New York family-owned businesses have managed to survive in the city while growing their businesses through the generations.”

At 8 a.m. Tuesday, “City & State’s Borough 50 Series will recognize top 50 community leaders from Queens at a breakfast.”

At 8 a.m. Tuesday, there will be a “New York Building Congress Breakfast Forum with Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen.” The event will “feature the release of the latest Building Congress research report, New York City Construction Outlook 2016-2018.”

On Tuesday at 10 a.m. City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will participate in a Women and Girls and Civic Engagement panel at The Young Women’s Leadership School of East Harlem, an event being hosted by Generation Citizen.

On Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. in Manhattan, "Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman will announce a first-of-its-kind gun trafficking report...The report analyzes tens of thousands of crime guns recovered by law enforcement, illustrating gun trafficking trends that undermine New York’s strong laws."

At 11 a.m. Tuesday outside the David Dinkins Municipal Building, "Public Advocate Letitia James will call on New York City and New York State to expand access to 3-D digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT) technology, a new breast cancer screening technology proven to increase early detection of breast cancer."

At 11:15 a.m. Tuesday, schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña and Police Commissioner James O'Neill will attend Team Up! at The Hunts Point School in the Bronx. At 6:30 p.m. Fariña will attend a District 20 Town Hall at P.S. 204 in Brooklyn.

At 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, the Vera Institute of Justice will hold an event on the question of what drives jail growth.

On Tuesday at 1 p.m., "lawmakers and immigrant advocates from around the country will host a call to discuss the significant progress that has been made and to describe what more states and cities can do. The call is coordinated with the release of a new Center for Popular Democracy report, Promoting Equality, that highlights innovative policies that cities and states have passed to promote community safety, inclusion and equality, such as language access initiatives, municipal IDs (NYC has issued almost one million), access to counsel programs for people facing deportation, and policies to prevent co-optation of city and state police for federal immigration enforcement." Participants on the call will include Cristina Jimenez, Co-Founder, United We Dream; Nisha Agarwal, Commissioner, New York City Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs; Natalia Aristizabal, Lead Organizer, Make The Road New York; John Avalos, Member, San Francisco Board of Supervisors, District 11; and Shena Elrington, Director of Immigrant Rights and Racial Justice, Center for Popular Democracy.

At 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, the New York City Board of Elections will hold a Commissioners Meeting.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, the New York City Bar Association will hold its “Barbara Paul Robinson Series: Profiles of Leaders in the Law, with U.S. Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg & Sonia Sotomayor.” Charlie Rose of CBS News will moderate the discussion with the two justices.

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, there will be a fundraiser for State Senate Democrats, hosted by Senators Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Michael Gianaris, with Governor Andrew Cuomo the special guest, according to Politico New York.

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, the Brooklyn Historical Society will hold “Criminalizing Poverty: A Dirty Truth.” This event will explore the question of whether being poor really is a “crime.” A panel discussion will be moderated by Alysia Santo of The Marshall Project and Peter Goldberg, Executive Director of the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, will give opening remarks. Public Advocate Letitia James is scheduled to speak as well.

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, the Urban Democracy Lab will hold a discussion on “The Politics of Documenting Neighborhood Change.” Zaheer Ali (Oral Historian, Brooklyn Historical Society), Heather Dalmage (Professor of Sociology and Director of the Mansfield Institute for Social Justice at Roosevelt University), Max Holleran (PhD candidate, Sociology, New York University), and Rebecca Amato (Historian and Associate Director of the Urban Democracy Lab at New York University) will speak at this event. Jack Tchen (Associate Professor and Director of the A/P/A Institute at New York University) will be the moderator.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday at Gracie Mansion, "Mayor de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray will host the third annual UpStander Awards at Gracie Mansion."

At the City Council on Wednesday:

  • The Committee on Aging will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss “a Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to providing legal counsel for senior citizens subject to eviction, ejectment or foreclosure proceedings.”
  • The Committee on Juvenile Justice will meet at 10 a.m. for a tour of The Ryer Limited Secure Placement in The Bronx.
  • The Committee on Governmental Operations will meet at 10 a.m. for oversight of the New York City Board of Elections.
  • The Committee on Consumer Affairs will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss several proposed laws on food vendors.
  • The Committee on Higher Education will meet at 1 p.m. for oversight of CUNY Pathways.
  • The Committee on Courts and Legal Services will meet at 1 p.m. for oversight: “Evaluating the Progression of Justice Reboot.”
  • The Committee on General Welfare will meet at 3 p.m. to discuss several proposed laws.

The New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics will hold a meeting on Wednesday.

At 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance will speak at a Citizens Budget Commission breakfast. Vance will “discuss the Criminal Justice Investment Initiative and his office's efforts to invest in public safety, crime prevention, and the justice system.”

At 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, the Center on Media Crime and Justice at John Jay College will hold a briefing on domestic violence in New York City. Deputy Chief Martin Morales, the Commander of the NYPD Domestic Violence Unit, will be the keynote speaker.

At 9 a.m. Wednesday, the Center for New York City Affairs will host a panel on New York City Public Schools that have successfully achieved racial and economic integration.

At 1 p.m. Wednesday, New York Law School will hold “Master Class: NYC’s Land Use and Zoning Laws.”

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, the Brooklyn Historical Society will hold “Voting Against Hunger: Presidential Elections and Food Assistance in the US.” There will be discussion of “how figures like FDR, JFK, and Ronald Reagan have dramatically changed the course of hunger in our country.”

At the City Council on Thursday:

  • The Committee on Rules, Privileges, and Elections will meet at 10 a.m. to continue discussions from its October 20 meeting.
  • The Committee on Finance will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss a “resolution approving the new designation and changes in the designation of certain organizations to receive funding in the Expense Budget.”
  • The City Council will hold a Stated Meeting at 1:30 p.m. It will be prefaced, as usual, by a pre-stated press conference led by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

At 8 a.m. Thursday, City & State New York will hold “State of NY Health.” Discussion will focus on both advances and risks in health-related issues in New York State. State Senators Liz Krueger and Kemp Hannon will participate.

On Thursday at 6 p.m., the Brennan Center for Justice will hold “Corporate Citizen? A Book Talk with Ciara Torres-Spelliscy.” Torres-Spelliscy “will explore this resistance and offer reforms to support these new understandings of the corporation in contemporary society.” She will be joined by Alyssa Katz from the New York Daily News.

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, the Department of City Planning will have its first kickoff meeting for the Gowanus Neighborhood Planning Study. Among other things, this study “seeks to foster a thriving neighborhood by reinforcing and encouraging a robust local economy anchored by a mix of uses and businesses, while creating opportunities for new housing with affordable housing in appropriate locations.”

At 7 p.m. Thursday, Mayor de Blasio and City Council Member Rafael Salamanca, Jr. will hold a town hall meeting in the Bronx.

Friday and the weekend
At the City Council on Friday:

  • The Committee on Transportation will meet at 10 a.m. for oversight of “the future of driverless vehicles in New York City.”
  • The Committee on Environmental Protection will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss “a Local Law to amend the building code of the city of New York, in relation to establishing requirements for the selection, installation and maintenance of plants for green roof systems.”
  • The Committee on Veterans will meet at 1 p.m. to discuss a “resolution calling on the United States Congress to pass, and the President to sign into law, the Fairness for Veterans Act of 2016.”
  • The Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management will meet at 1 p.m. to discuss two issues related to snow and ice removal.

Over the weekend of October 28, Mayor Bill de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray will be hosting weekend Halloween Parties at Gracie Mansion.

At 10 a.m. on Friday, State Senators Liz Krueger and Brad Hoylman, and Assembly Assistant Speaker Felix Ortiz will “present a moderated discussion on the financial and fiduciary implications of divesting New York State's pension fund from fossil fuels.”

On Friday, beginning at 4 p.m., “State Senator James Sanders Jr. (D-Rochdale Village, Far Rockaway) will host his Annual Hurricane Sandy Remembrance and Recovery Walk...Attendees will gather at Rockaway Beach at Beach 67th Street where there will be a prayer and moment of silence, reflections by elected officials, community leaders and residents and a singing and mime performance by youth from Battalion Pentecostal Assembly Church. Attendees will then walk from the beach to Battalion Pentecostal Assembly Church.”

At 2 p.m. on Sunday, City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez will hold his annual “State of the District” event.

At 8 p.m. on Sunday, Time Warner Cable News and NY1 will televise the only U.S. Senate Debate between Senator Charles Schumer, a Democrat, and Republican Wendy Long. The debate will be held at Union College, and Errol Louis and Liz Benjamin will moderate. 

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

by Brendan Birth and Ben Max

With Chamber Control at Stake, No Democratic Challenger to Republican Senator from Brooklyn

golden nypd

Sen. Marty Golden (photo: @NYPDAuxilary)

With a great deal on the line for New York City, Democrats are trying to flip the State Senate and a handful of races across the state will make the difference. One Brooklyn district has a significant Democratic voter registration advantage and an incumbent Republican, yet no one is challenging Senator Martin Golden. In 2012, a Democratic challenger won 42% of the vote against Golden.

In the overwhelmingly Blue state of New York, and an even Bluer New York City, a Democratic challenge to an incumbent Republican in a presidential election year would seem to be a no-brainer. But in the 22nd State Senate district in Southern Brooklyn, Democrats have failed to put forward a candidate to run against Golden, a long-serving senator, the only Republican senator from the borough, and one of only two in the entire city.

Golden, a former NYPD officer and New York City Council member, has represented the district for nearly 14 years. He has a strong base of support and has defeated recent challengers despite a heavy enrollment advantage for Democrats in the district. As of April, the district has 27,599 active registered Republican voters, 66,990 Democrats, and 31,756 unaffiliated voters across Bay Ridge, Fort Hamilton, Dyker Heights, parts of Bensonhurst, Gravesend, Sheepshead Bay, Manhattan Beach and Marine Park.

Although Golden faced challenges in the last two cycles, 2014 and 2012, he wasn’t too surprised that he has no Democratic opponent this year. “I’m sure they wanted to spend their money wisely,” he said of the Democratic Party, “to try to take over the Senate and look for better opportunities across the state.”

That confidence seems to stem from an ability to work well with all his colleagues, including those across the aisle. “It’s not about Republican or Democrat, it’s about what we can do,” he said. “I work across party lines to deliver resources to our county and our city and that’s one of the reasons I’m running unchallenged.”

A self-proclaimed “economic development nut,” his main focus once he is reelected will be creating jobs for his district while reducing the tax burden on constituents, he said. His other priorities include education, transportation, public safety and seniors.

For the Democrats, the odds of posing a strong challenge to Golden were better this time around than they have been in years. At the state level, the party has seen renewed hope of taking back the Senate from Republicans, who do not have outright numerical dominance of the chamber but retain control by partnering with the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway faction of Democrats. One other Democrat, Simcha Felder from Brooklyn, also caucuses with the Republicans. With the presidential election this year, more Democrats are expected to turn out on Election Day, and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s strong approval ratings in the state have buoyed other New York Democrats, who hope to leverage that enthusiasm into down ballot races.

Golden, an avowed supporter of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, brushed aside any concern that the Democrats could indeed succeed. “The Senate Democrats are definitely not taking over the majority,” he said. “Between the Independent Democratic Conference and elected Republicans, we’ll have a good number and a majority to carry forward our agenda.”

Local Democrats disagree and believe that the party should have offered up a challenge to the incumbent. “I definitely think it’s a missed opportunity,” said Jamie Kemmerer, a member of the Bay Ridge Democrats political club who unsuccessfully ran against Golden in 2014. “You could reasonably expect Republican turnout to go down based on the last couple of weeks of the cycle,” Kemmerer added, in apparent reference to Republican nominee Donald Trump’s fall in the polls.

When Kemmerer initially ran two years ago, he expected he would run again this year, having built some name and face recognition. But, after his wife gave birth to their second son shortly after the 2014 election, he decided it would be “too much to put the family through.” Personal reasons aside, he also admitted that running against Golden is an uphill battle given the way the district lines are drawn. “The reality is it’s a very gerrymandered district,” he said. “It will be very difficult for anyone to win until the lines are redrawn.”

A South Brooklyn political operative, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, presented the same reasoning. “For the past several election cycles Golden has won re-election thanks to a wretchedly gerrymandered district,” the operative said, insisting that Golden’s numbers have actually been dwindling in southern parts of the district but he has won because of support in Marine Park, Gerritsen Beach and Midwood. “So while his power is becoming more and more of an eroding mirage, the fear of real estate developers coming in and dropping a few million to bury any challenger has made some candidates think twice. But electorally, Marty is definitely vulnerable, no doubt about it. His days are numbered and I think he knows it. South Brooklyn is a markedly different place than it was in 1998 when Marty was first elected to the Council.”

Past election results do, however, indicate that the district will continue to vote Republican. “Regardless of what enrollment numbers show, the vote pattern shows that voters in the area have supported Republicans,” said Steven Romalewski, director of CUNY Graduate Center’s mapping service, which tracks and charts voting patterns (see district map below). “I wouldn’t be surprised that the redistricting effort had something to do with it.”

senate district 22

In the April presidential primary, the district largely favored Trump over other Republican contenders, and mostly voted for Senator Bernie Sanders over Clinton. Both were closed party primaries, though, which excluded the district’s sizable unaffiliated pool of voters.

A key element of Democratic reticence seems to be the lack of support from the Democratic political machinery. There hasn’t been a concerted effort by Kings County Democrats to challenge Golden and even in years past, local contenders have received little in the way of institutional support. This year would likely have been no different, particularly since Mayor Bill de Blasio, who attempted to sway Senate elections for Democrats in 2014, has taken a step back from state legislative races following controversy over his previous involvement. But even in 2014, de Blasio and others gave almost no help to Kemmerer in his bid to unseat Golden.

With a Democratic Governor and a large Democratic majority in the state Assembly, Democrats would have full control of state government if they were to win the Senate. Whichever mainline conference has more seats is still expected to have to make a coalition deal with the Independent Democratic Conference between November's elections and the start of the new legislative session in January.

The last competitive challenge Golden faced was in 2012 when Andrew Gounardes, another member of the Bay Ridge Democrats, did better than Kemmerer would subsequently do. But Gounardes, who now works in the Brooklyn Borough President’s office, was outspent and outmatched. Gounardes received 42.3 percent of votes in 2012 against 57.7 percent for Golden; in 2014, Kemmerer garnered 29.3 percent while Golden won with 64.9 percent.

“For many years, the worst kept secret was the sweetheart deal made to protect Marty Golden from any serious Democratic challengers,” said the political operative from Brooklyn. “This deal was strictly enforced by [former Brooklyn Democratic party chair] Vito Lopez. Andrew Gounardes in 2012 was the first year the Democrats were given the green light to run a real candidate against Marty. The fact that Gounardes defeated Marty in Bay Ridge and gave him the race of his life shows why that sweetheart deal was so important to keeping Marty in power for so long. It is much different now and County is not protecting Marty anymore but they aren't exactly drafting or recruiting challengers either.”

Another political operative who spoke on the condition of anonymity echoed that view. “It’d be great if we had a Democratic Party committed to electing Democrats, if we had local officials who supported those efforts,” the second operative said. “It’s a really winnable seat if you look at the numbers and enrollment, it’s winnable if you have the right support and resources.”

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Limited Down Ballot Choices for New Yorkers Come November 8

Sample BK ballot for Nov 2016 short

sample ballot

When New Yorkers go to the polls November 8, they’ll be facing a big choice at the top of the ballot, with four presidential candidates to choose from. Further down the ballot, however, there will be much more limited choice for many given the number of uncontested general election races for state legislative seats.

New York City residents are represented by 91 seats in the New York State Legislature. Of those, 26 are in the 63-seat Senate and 65 in the 150-seat Assembly. Every two years, the entire state legislature is up for election. As has become tradition, the state legislative primaries that took place September 13 were riddled with uncontested races in both the Senate and Assembly, wherein many incumbents were not challenged from within their own parties.

While you might think the general elections would provide a healthier show of democracy, that is not the case. There are another slate of uncontested races: in total, 32 candidates from across the city -- or 35% of city representation in the Legislature -- will run uncontested in the general election. Twenty-one candidates will have run unopposed in both the primary and general elections. Those 21 constitute 23% of the city’s seats in the Legislature. Data on uncontested candidates was first compiled by Citizens Union, a democracy reform group.

In many cases, an incumbent’s opposing party has not even filed a challenger for the general, much less running a robust campaign. In some cases, there is nominal opposition on the ballot, but incumbents will cruise to re-election. Many of New York City’s election districts are so overwhelmingly Democratic that the winner of the party primary is a lock to win the general -- which, combined with the power of incumbency, makes becoming an incumbent Democrat a virtual lifetime appointment to the Legislature, which has no term limits.

“It’s very difficult for newcomers to unseat incumbents,” Dr. Christina Greer, associate professor of political science at Fordham University told Gotham Gazette last month. “Once you’re in office it’s much easier to stay in and protect that office, so a lot of people see it as a David versus Goliath situation and choose not to engage in trying to break into the political system.”

In the State Senate, seven of the city’s 26 seats -- 27% -- will remain in the hands of incumbents facing no opponent and therefore little pressure to further tailor their agendas to the wants and needs of their constituents. Of the city’s 64 Assembly seats, 25 -- or 39% -- will be won by candidates that faced no opponent in the general election.

Also of note are the seven “open” state legislative seats in New York City. Two of the seven, Senate District 36 in the Bronx and Assembly District 33 in Queens, were vacated prior to the primaries. In the other five, incumbents are choosing not to run for re-election.   

Two of the uncontested races -- in Assembly Districts 56 and 72 -- are for seats currently held by Annette Robinson, who is retiring, and Guillermo Linares, respectively. These seats will be won by first-time candidates Tremaine S. Wright (AD56) and Carmen De La Rosa (AD72). De La Rosa was one of just three candidates to unseat a New York City-based incumbent in the primaries when she defeated Linares.

Notwithstanding the wins by De La Rosa, Brian Barnwell, and Yuh-Line Niou, who each defeated a sitting legislator, being an incumbent is almost always a safe space.

“I think the voting public increasingly believes that they will not see competitive elections by and large, and it’s a reflection of a system that is designed to be an incumbency protection machine,” said Blair Horner, of the New York Public Interest Group, in a September interview. It is a self-perpetuating problem Horner calls the “democracy death spiral.”

Though all five boroughs are suffering from a lack of competition, Staten Island provides the starkest example of this troubling trend. All six of the borough’s seats, counting both Senate and Assembly, will go uncontested. Only one candidate, Ronald Castorina Jr., a Republican from Assembly District 62, faced competition in the primaries.

Brooklyn and Queens, the city’s two largest boroughs, lead the count of uncontested races with 12 and 11, respectively. There are a number of Republican challengers to Democratic incumbents, in Manhattan especially -- the candidates have campaigns with varied levels of legitimacy, though. There are not any New York City-based races expected to be close. Meanwhile, control of the state Senate is likely to be determined by November's elections, turning on districts outside of New York City, but with a great deal at stake for residents of the city and the rest of the state.

Between the Presidential races and state legislative races, on the November ballot will be one U.S. Senate race in New York - Senator Charles Schumer, a Democrat, is being challenged by Republican Wendy Long - and local races for the House of Representatives.

[Find your poll site and see your sample ballot here]

Below is a list of the 32 uncontested state legislative districts by borough. An asterisk indicates a candidate who did not face opposition in the primary election either.

Uncontested New York City-based Senate and Assembly Seats, 2016 General Election, courtesy of Citizens Union:

The Bronx:
Assembly District 83: Carl Heastie (D)*

Senate District 17: Simcha Felder (D)*
Senate District 18: Martin Malave Dilan (D)
Senate District 19: Roxanne Persaud (D)
Senate District 22: Martin Golden (R)*
Senate District 26: Daniel Squadron (D)*
Assembly District 43: Diana Richardson (D)
Assembly District 48: Dov Hikind (D)*
Assembly District 50: Joseph R. Lentol (D)*
Assembly District 53: Maritza Davila (D)
Assembly District 56: Tremaine Wright (D)
Assembly District 57: Walter Mosley III (D)*
Assembly District 58: N. Nick Perry (D)*

Assembly District 66: Deborah J. Glick (D)
Assembly District 72: Carmen N. De La Rosa (D)

Assembly District 26: Edward C. Braunstein (D)*
Assembly District 27: Michael Simanowitz (D)*
Assembly District 28: Andrew Hevesi (D)*
Assembly District 29: Alicia Hyndman (D)
Assembly District 31: Michele Titus (D)
Assembly District 32: Vivian Cook (D)
Assembly District 34: Michael DenDekker (D)*
Assembly District 35: Jeffrion Aubry (D)*
Assembly District 36: Aravella Simotas (D)*
Assembly District 37: Catherine Nolan (D)*
Assembly District 39: Francisco Moya (D)*

Staten Island:
Senate District 23: Diane Savino (D)*
Senate District 24: Andrew Lanza (R)*
Assembly District 61: Matthew Titone (D) *
Assembly District 62: Ronald Castorina Jr. (R)
Assembly District 63: Michael Cusick (D)*
Assembly District 64: Nicole Malliotakis (D)*

by Luke Foley and Ben Max for Gotham Gazette

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.

Top Cuomo Aide Moves to Avoid Conflicts of Interest Before Leaving for Private Sector

malatras cuomo site

Jim Malatras, right, with Gov. Cuomo, center (Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)

Jim Malatras, director of state operations for the Cuomo administration, has walled himself off from healthcare issues as he prepares to leave his post early next year to join the Healthcare Association of New York State as its new chief operating officer. Precautions, including guidance from a state ethics panel, are being taken so that Malatras will avoid conflicts of interest as he continues working for Cuomo for the next several months before moving into a top role with one of the state’s most powerful lobbying entities.

Politico New York first reported that Malatras will be resigning soon after the Governor’s next State of the State address, in January. Known as a policy wonk, Malatras started his public career in 2001 working for Assembly Member Richard Brodsky. In 2007, he joined the office of Andrew Cuomo, then-Attorney General of New York State. He has been by Cuomo’s side since, save for a one-year stint as vice chancellor for policy and chief of staff at the State University of New York from 2013 to 2014. For the last two years, he has held his current position as state operations director.

In August, Malatras was approached by the Healthcare Association for its top managerial position, as current COO Richard Cook is resigning, according to HANYS. The association is one of the state’s largest trade groups and represents about 550 hospitals, nursing homes, and health care facilities. It is a $30-million operation, part for-profit and part nonprofit, which employs more than 200 people. The group also has a large lobbying presence in Albany. “The COO is the chief management role at the organization,” said Darren Dopp, senior vice president of corporate communications at HANYS. “It’s not a lobbying role, it’s not a political role. It’s a purely management position.”

Considering the scope of healthcare issues in New York State and Malatras’ position as essentially the overseer of all state agencies, the move provokes a number of questions about conflicts or the appearance of conflicts of interest. These are questions that the Cuomo administration says are being accounted for as Malatras continues to work for the governor.

“If you include federal aid, healthcare is the biggest part of the state budget,” said Bill Hammond, director of health policy at the Empire Center for Public Policy. “Even without federal aid, it’s the second biggest behind school aid.” Hammond pointed out that healthcare has “receded as a political fight” in Albany in the last few years after having been one of the major sticking points that led to budget delays in the past.

Still, there are key healthcare and hospitals-related issues facing the state. Medicaid funding levels for the city through the state budget became a sticking point this past budget season. Hammond pointed out that the Healthcare Reform Act is due to expire on December 31, 2017 and he expects that the governor will address it either in his State of the State or the next budget. Surcharges under the act bring in millions of dollars for the state and large amounts of that funding are funneled to hospitals. The act will likely be extended, as it has been in the past.

Another issue is permanent guarantee funds, which insulate healthcare providers if insurance companies go bankrupt. These funds were the subject of much debate this year following the closure of Health Republic Insurance of New York State. Hammond also said a perennial issue in Albany is whether the legislature should establish nurse staffing ratios. A “sleeper issue,” he said, for the state could be New York City Health + Hospitals, the city’s municipal health care system which is currently being overhauled to compensate for massive deficits. “At some point, there might be a push for the state Legislature to do something,” Hammond said.

Malatras has put measures in place to avoid any possible conflicts. Before even receiving an official offer from HANYS, he filed two written notifications recusing himself from all healthcare matters on August 11 and August 18. He then sought guidance from the Joint Commission on Public Ethics on the prospective job. In an informal advisory on August 26 and a supplemental informal opinion on September 12, copies of which were provided to Gotham Gazette by the Cuomo administration, JCOPE approved of the precautions that Malatras has taken and informed him of the restrictions he will face with his new employer.

“Jim has been an invaluable member of this administration and spearheaded many of the Governor’s key initiatives – such as the tax cap, Clean Energy Standard and college loan forgiveness – which have improved the lives of New Yorkers and will ensure a better a brighter future for this state,” said Abbey Fashouer, deputy press secretary for the governor, in a statement to Gotham Gazette.

“Per state ethics laws, Jim informed Counsel’s Office upon being approached for his new position as well as sought, received, and followed guidance from JCOPE regarding his ongoing duties to avoid conflicts in post-state employment,” Fashouer continued. “He intends to abide by those ongoing ethical obligations to avoid even the appearance of a conflict both as he concludes his work with the Executive Chamber and in the private sector.”

Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, praised Malatras’ foresight. “That’s why JCOPE exists,” he said, “and it sounds like the correct steps for the administration to have taken.”

As per the Public Officers Law, Malatras will face a two-year bar against appearing before a state agency or receiving any compensation for services related to cases before his former agency. Since he was employed by the executive branch, the two-year bar applies more broadly to all state agencies. He also faces a lifetime ban against providing services that would involve any matter that he directly oversaw or was personally involved in while in state government.

Hammond, describing Malatras as “a sharp guy” and “very capable and intelligent,” also said he was glad that Malatras has tried to preempt any conflicts in his work going forward. “Taking those precautions in and of itself doesn’t necessarily solve the problem,” he said, “but it’s a sign of good faith that he’s acknowledged the issue and taken steps to address it.”

The governor’s office did not make Malatras available for an interview for this article.

Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a government watchdog organization, said Malatras will no doubt be constrained by the state’s laws. “However, having a top administration official within a large organization like [HANYS] does provide the association with the unique perspective on the governor’s thinking and the decisions that will be made over the next couple of years,” Dadey said.

Dadey lauded Malatras as a principled public servant but warned of the tough scrutiny he will face in his transition into the private sector. “[Malatras’] last couple of months in government will be examined closely,” he said, “to ensure that he acts with his usual integrity in handling of matters that affect the healthcare industry. He’s a good guy with a strong compass and I’m sure that will guide him in how he exits state government service successfully and with integrity.”

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, October 17

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

Tuesday marks three weeks until Election Day and Wednesday night the third and final Presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is scheduled to occur. Don't forget, a variety of key New York congressional and state legislative races are also in the home stretch -- November 8 is Election Day.

Mayor Bill de Blasio did more campaigning for Clinton this weekend, in Dayton, Ohio. The mayor traveled there after giving remarks at the funeral for Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson -- many other New York elected officials, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, also paid their respects to Thompson and his loved ones on Saturday. 

On Sunday, activists, advocates, and a variety of New York elected officials gathered at City Hall as Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood of New York City began to "celebrate turning 100 Years Strong with a press conference to commemorate the opening of the first clinic by Margaret Sanger in 1916 in Brooklyn." Participating public officials included First Lady Chirlane McCray; Comptroller Scott Stringer; City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito; Public Advocate Tish James; Attorney General Eric Schneiderman; and others.

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

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

The run of the week in detail:

The New York State Board of Regents will hold its monthly meeting on Monday and Tuesday.

Mayor de Blasio is participating in three events Monday, all of which are closed to the press: according to his public schedule, he "will deliver remarks at the 2016 NYSNA Biennial Conference," then "deliver remarks at a reception celebrating the life of Elizabeth Rohatyn," and, "In the evening, the Mayor and First Lady will host a dinner to benefit the Gracie Mansion Conservancy."

At noon on Monday at City Hall, "Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and Captain Mark Kelly, the Co-Founders of the gun violence prevention organization Americans for Responsible Solutions PAC, will join Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, State Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, and other city and state leaders for a press conference as part of Congresswoman Giffords’ and Captain Kelly’s 2016 Vocal Majority Tour, a 14-state, 42-day national bus tour that stretches until Election Day." The event "will focus on urging the vocal majority of New Yorkers who support responsible change to help keep guns out of the wrong to vote to stop gun violence in this election." Also set to participate are Comptroller Scott Stringer; First Lady of New York City Chirlane McCray; Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance; State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins; Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer; and other local elected officials and leaders.

The NYC Planning Commission will hold a Special Meeting and Review Session at 1 p.m. Monday.

On Monday, Governor Cuomo will headline a fundraiser for State Senator Todd Kaminsky, who is running for re-election, according to Politico New York.

At 6 p.m. Monday, State Senator Liz Krueger will hold a free screening of “Connie Cook: A Documentary.” This documentary focuses on a Republican Assemblymember who helped legalize abortion in New York. After the screening, there will be “a discussion with the film’s director, Sue Perlgut, and guests from prominent women’s rights groups about what Connie’s message means for us today.”

At 6:30 p.m. Monday, New America, ProPublica, and Discovery will sponsor “a discussion on the commodification of water and what’s at stake for a secure water supply, secure economy, and secure environment.”

Tuesday marks three weeks until Election Day.

At 8 a.m. Tuesday, the Center for an Urban Future will hold a “policy symposium on the future of middle income jobs in New York City.” This event will be held at Civic Hall and feature Maria Torres-Springer (President and CEO, New York City Economic Development Corporation), John Alschuler (Chairman, HR&A Advisors), Colvin Grannum (President, Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corp.), Andrew Kimball (CEO, Industry City), and Julie Samuels (Executive Director, Tech:NYC).

On Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. "Mayor de Blasio will deliver remarks at a groundbreaking ceremony for a new office building, One Vanderbilt Avenue, which will include $220 million in local transit upgrades." At 4 p.m., "the Mayor will hold public hearings for, and sign, seven pieces of legislation into law – Intros. 899-A, 1014-A, 1064-A, 1144-A, 1183-A, in relation to increasing reporting and transparency around programs and services for inmates; and Intros. 1277-A and 642-A, in relation to aligning the City of New York’s energy code with recent amendments to the 2016 New York state energy code and ratio of biodiesel in heating oil, respectively."

At 1 p.m. Tuesday, the New York State Commission on Legislative, Judicial, and Executive Compensation will hold a public hearing and meeting at NYU Law School.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, the Brennan Center for Justice will host a book talk with former New York City Public Advocate Mark Green. Green wrote Bright, Infinite Future: A Generational Memoir on the Progressive Rise, which discusses “how tidal trends from the ’60s to ’16 — both political and demographic — will affect the outcome of this election.” The event is co-sponsored by the Brennan Center, Citizens Union, Common Cause New York, and New York Public Interest Research Group.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, the Brennan Center for Justice will hold a book talk with MSNBC’s Zachary Roth on the quieting of voices of people of color, students, and other disadvantaged groups through means such as gerrymandering and Supreme Court Decisions.

On Tuesday at 6:30 p.m., City & State NY will host its annual “40 Under 40” awards, given to “exceptional individuals working in NYC government, advocacy, media, and more” (list of honorees). New York City Council Member Dan Garodnick will give opening remarks.

At the City Council on Wednesday:

  • The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet at 9:30 a.m.
  • The Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice Services will meet at 10 a.m.
  • The Subcommittee on Landmarks, Siting, and Maritime Uses will meet at 11 a.m.
  • The Committee on Education will meet at 1 p.m. for oversight on bullying, harassment, and discrimination in the public schools; there will be a particular focus on LGBT students and other vulnerable students.
  • The Committee on Environmental Protection will meet at 1 p.m. to discuss “a Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to the sale of nonwoven disposable products.”
  • The Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions, and Concessions will meet at 1 p.m.

At 8 a.m. Wednesday, Crain’s New York Business will hold an entertainment summit which discusses a recent tax break and its potential impacts for the film and television industries. Former United States Senator Chris Dodd will deliver the opening keynote address. Julie Menin, Commissioner of the Mayor's Office of Media and Entertainment, will be among those participating in the panel discussion.

The NYC Planning Commission will hold a Public Meeting at 10 a.m. on Wednesday.

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, Cornell Tech will hold a press briefing to discuss the progress on the institution’s new campus on Roosevelt Island. This event will be held at Cornell Tech at the Google Building. Founding Dean Dan Huttenlocher and several others will participate.

At noon Wednesday, the Manhattan Institute will host Barry Latzer, Professor Emeritus at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the CUNY Graduate Center, to talk about the rise and fall of violent crime in the United States, and how America can prevent a continuation in the 2015 rise in violent crimes.

At noon Wednesday, the New York City Bar will have a Public Affairs Luncheon on “Money, Politics, and Public Policy.” Former New York State Assemblymember G. Oliver Koppell will discuss “the dominance of fundraising in politics and how that affects the political arena.”

At 3 p.m. Wednesday, the Center for Community and Ethnic Media at CUNY Journalism School will hold a Q&A session with Steven Banks, the Commissioner of the NYC Department of Social Services. NY1’s and CUNY J-School’s Errol Louis will moderate.

On Wednesday at 3:30 p.m., "thousands of teachers will rally in Foley Square to call on Mayor Bill de Blasio to support growing the charter sector to 200,000 students by 2020," per Families for Excellent Schools.

At 4 p.m. Wednesday, the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute will hold “Beyond the Kale: Urban Agriculture and Social Justice Activism in New York City.”

On Wednesday at 6 p.m., NAACP President and CEO Cornell Brooks will speak at NYU. This event will be a “conversation on issues including voting rights, Black Lives Matter, youth and education, and how leaders can work across public and private sectors to solve society’s problems.”

A public meeting of the NYC Panel for Educational Policy will be held at 6 p.m. on Wednesday at the Michael J. Petrides School on Staten Island.

The third and final Presidential Debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is scheduled for 9 p.m. Wednesday. This debate will be hosted by the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, and it will be moderated by Chris Wallace of Fox News.

At the City Council on Thursday:

  • The Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss oversight of Percent for Art, and to discuss three amendments to the New York City Charter.
  • The Committee on Health will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss “a Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to prohibiting the display of wild or exotic animals for public entertainment or amusement.”
  • The Committee on Recovery and Resiliency will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss oversight on the finances of the Build it Back Program.
  • The Committee on Land Use will meet at 11 a.m.
  • The Committee on Rules, Privileges, and Elections will meet at 1 p.m. to get advice and consent for the appointment of someone to the New York City Art Commission.
  • The Committee on Parks and Recreation will meet at 1 p.m. to discuss three proposed laws related to tree maintenance and tree removal.
  • The Committee on Economic Development will meet at 1 p.m. to discuss oversight on “the economic impact of the Hunts Point Cooperative Market.” The committee will also discuss “a Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to requiring the department of small business services to report violations concerning public wholesale markets.”

On Thursday at 8 a.m., former New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn will speak at the Association for a Better New York. She will speak about some of the recent work she has done at Women in Need (WIN), where she is President and CEO.

At 8:30 a.m. Thursday, Lower Manhattan HQ will host a breakfast panel discussion on “Women’s Rights in Policy and Politics.” The event will be moderated by Jessica Lappin (Alliance for Downtown NY President), and the panelists are Congressional Rep. Carolyn Maloney, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, Brette McSweeney (Executive Director of Eleanor’s Legacy), and Vivien Labaton (Co-founder of the Make it Work Campaign).

The NYC Campaign Finance Board will have a board meeting at 10 a.m. on Thursday.

On Thursday, the 71st Annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner will be held at the Waldorf-Astoria in Manhattan. Presidential Candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will both be at this dinner. The Mayor, Governor, and other current and former elected officials usually attend.

Friday and the Weekend
At the City Council on Friday:

  • The Committee on Public Safety will meet at 10 a.m. to examine the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board.
  • The Committee on Immigration will meet at 10 a.m. for oversight of “coordinating multi-agency support for immigrant families.”

Starting at 8 a.m. on Friday, City & State NY and NYU’s Robert Wagner Graduate School of Public Service will co-host “Government Ethics: A New Study.” The goal of this conference is to “explore how public officials, corporations, attorneys, lobbyists, nonprofits, and the public can work to create incentives, policies and programs that help with navigating through the ethical dilemmas and the conflicts of interest that cause problems in our interactions with state and city government.” Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. and former New York Lieutenant Governor Richard Ravitch will be among the speakers at this conference.

"Councilman Eric Ulrich is organizing a public demonstration on the steps of City Hall to protest Mayor de Blasio's failed homeless policies. The protest will take place Friday, October 21, at 10:00 am. Community leaders and other elected officials are invited to attend."

At noon Friday, the Manhattan Institute will have Edward Coward, the Co-founder of Bain Capital, discuss “The Upside Of Inequality: How Good Intentions Undermine The Middle Class.”

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

by Brendan Birth and Ben Max

DiNapoli, Seeking Restored Power, Points Finger at Only the System

DiNapoli speech charts

Comptroller DiNapoli (photo: @NYSComptroller)

Comptroller Tom Dinapoli is not interested in pointing fingers at any of his fellow elected officials when it comes to the massive scheme alleged to have corrupted major state economic development programs under the noses of Governor Andrew Cuomo and state legislators.

In the wake of corruption charges brought against nine individuals by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, DiNapoli was given multiple opportunities Friday during a radio interview, but he declined to criticize either Cuomo or the Legislature. Speaking with host Susan Arbetter on The Capitol Pressroom, DiNapoli instead called for greater oversight through his office of the large state contracts that had been awarded by SUNY Polytechnic and two affiliated nonprofits as part of Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion program and other state efforts to boost the economies of central and western New York.

Calling the bribery and bid-rigging allegations “very troubling,” DiNapoli said that the situation “seems to speak to a systemic failure, as to not having adequate checks and balances.” But asked by Arbetter if Cuomo helped create the system that was so ripe for abuse, DiNapoli demurred. After pausing and searching for his words, DiNapoli said, ”I don’t know that it’s productive to, you know, finger-point at the governor.”

The comptroller repeatedly said that the system lacked oversight and accountability, but excused the mindset behind its creation, saying that communities needed help and that he understood the desire for efficiency in moving money to projects meant to stimulate local economies that had not recovered from the Great Recession. His office, he said, is designed to approve contracts and is incorrectly known for slowing down the process -- when his office does slow something down, DiNapoli said, it is for good reason.

In September, Bharara brought charges against former Cuomo aides, prominent developers who were generous Cuomo campaign donors, and the now former head of SUNY Poly, Alain Kaloyeros, on whom Cuomo heaped praise and responsibility over years.

When Arbetter pressed DiNapoli on Cuomo and the Legislature enabling SUNY Poly and the system that appears to have been abused by what the comptroller called “a web” of stakeholders, DiNapoli again struggled to find his answer, then said, “From my perspective there was not adequate oversight in the way the process was set up, both with SUNY Poly and with the use of Fuller Road or Fort Schuyler, these nonprofits that were set up.” He pointed to the fact that the Comptroller’s oversight of construction contracts was diminished in 2011 and called for it to be restored.

Later in the interview, Arbetter asked DiNapoli why the Legislature, which he was once part of as an Assembly member, had been so quiet about the questionable system at play. DiNapoli began answering by saying officials were trying to help downtrodden communities, that there was consensus “we need to do more.”

“There is a hopeful expectation that it’s all going to be handled in the right way,” DiNapoli said of the mindset when a key priority is established by state government. Arbetter asked, “So lawmakers don’t want to get in the way?” To which DiNapoli said, “Well, unless there’s a reason to. In fairness, you did have the hearing that the economic development committee had in the Assembly and some fireworks came out of that.”

DiNapoli was referring to a recent hearing that came well after media reports of the federal investigation into the Buffalo Billion and years after flags were raised by watchdogs about the system at hand.

After Arbetter pushed back further, DiNapoli conceded, “Well, I think clearly that there’s more that could have been done, more questions asked...Clearly the lesson of this is that you can’t just trust that it’s all going to be handled in the right way.”

“I think the Legislature does have to play a more effective role in oversight,” DiNapoli said. DiNapoli's office did not provide further comment when asked on Sunday to clarify why the comptroller was hesitant to more directly hold anyone accountable.

When Cuomo and the Legislature stripped power from the Comptroller in 2011, they left the independent auditor’s office on the sidelines as hundreds of millions of tax dollars flowed to developers and other corporations through SUNY Poly. It was this cash flow, the opaque contracting process, and the state’s loose campaign finance laws that helped allow former Cuomo aides Joseph Percoco and Todd Howe to manipulate the system for their means, according to Bharara’s allegations.

While DiNapoli has called for restoration of all contract vetting powers before, he, like legislative leaders, has largely been quiet as Cuomo and others have revved up economic development programming through a system some watchdogs have long warned can too easily be taken advantage of by nefarious actors.

A careful, serious elected official who is well-regarded by many across the state, DiNapoli, a Democrat like Cuomo, is not one to throw verbal bombs or pursue headlines. Not necessarily media shy, DiNapoli is, however, inclined to let his audit and contract oversight work do the talking.

Recently, DiNapoli was on the receiving end of Cuomo vitriol when the comptroller released audits of other Cuomo economic stimulus programs, calling into question their efficacy. In turn, Cuomo called audits “opinion” and said that DiNapoli needed to “educate himself,” referring to him as “the Assemblymember” in an apparent effort to undermine him further.

DiNapoli responded in typical fashion -- by downplaying conflict and pointing to the content rather than escalating the back-and-forth. An astute headline from Politico New York read, “Cuomo thunders, and DiNapoli shrugs.” It is unsurprising that DiNapoli took the path he did on Arbetter’s show, pointing toward the future and needed changes, rather than laying direct blame with the governor or legislative leaders for past mistakes.

In May, DiNapoli did announce a series of proposed “reforms to state fiscal practices” that he led with a call for restrictions on “‘backdoor spending’ by public authorities” and requirements for “more comprehensive public authority disclosure.” In a press release, DiNapoli’s office said that “public authorities are not subject to the same checks and balances that apply to state agencies, resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars being spent annually with limited oversight.”

The proposals also came after news reports of the federal investigation into Cuomo’s economic development programming.

Earlier in May, DiNapoli had released his analysis of the recently-passed state budget for Fiscal Year 2017. His office wrote, “the budget expands on actions in recent years that have blurred both fiscal and operational distinctions among state agencies and public authorities.”

Cuomo paid DiNapoli's May suggestions and analysis little public mind, but did announce plans for procurement reform in the wake of the September charges brought by Bharara. The day after the U.S. attorney outlined the criminal complaint, Cuomo said in Buffalo that the revitalization of the city would not miss a beat, but that he was immediately moving power from SUNY Poly to the Empire State Development Corp. Cuomo also said that he had received recommendations from a private investigator he had hired and that he was accepting all of them -- but he declined to make them public.

On Thursday budget and government watchdog groups called on state legislative leaders to “hold emergency oversight hearings on the allegations by the U.S. Attorney of the largest bid-rigging scandals in state history.” A coalition including Reinvent Albany, Citizens Union, NYPIRG, Citizens Budget Commission, and others said that the public deserves more information about how “more than a billion dollars in state contracts were rigged and what reforms will be implemented to address this huge and systemic failure.”

Asked by Arbetter about the call for such hearings, DiNapoli said no one should rush to do anything, that it is important for all the best minds to get together and figure out the path ahead. Noting that state legislators are focused on their impending elections next month, he said that if they want to hold hearings toward the end of the year, that would be “their prerogative.”

The watchdog groups on Thursday also laid out “five clean contracting reforms” including that all state funds be awarded through “competitive and transparent contracting” and empowering “the comptroller to review and approve all state contracts over $250k.” Additionally, they called on the state to enact “pay to play” laws as are found in 19 states and New York City that would limit what entities with state business can donate to political campaigns.

DiNapoli appears to be largely on the same page. The comptroller has not been aggressive about publicly pushing his reforms, though -- while he gave a speech in May to outline his proposals, he has not, for example, called a press conference to put more public pressure on lawmakers to act.

When asked by Arbetter what he could have done differently to protect against the type of corruption alleged by Bharara, DiNapoli said he could have been more aggressive, but focused more on his “limited authority.”

“I would hope the Legislature would look at our role, restore what’s been taken away...perhaps some areas where our role can be strengthened,” he said. When Arbetter asked if he’s going to be more aggressive, DiNapoli paused and said, “We will certainly be more vigilant.”

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.

Lobbying Cuomo: How to Get the Governor on Your Side

Cuomo speech better NY

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

Have an issue you want addressed in Albany? Perhaps you’d like the state to legalize your new multi-million dollar venture into the “sharing economy” -- one that terrifies existing business interests and labor unions; maybe you want to change the protections offered by New York’s civil rights laws; or maybe you want in on the hundreds of millions of dollars the state allocates to economic development programs. No matter the issue, you’re going to want Governor Andrew Cuomo, the most powerful person in New York, on your side.

Cuomo, a Democrat known to get his way in Albany, is revered by many for being able to dictate terms to the state Legislature on controversial issues and accomplishing what could not be accomplished by others, once he sets his mind to it.

But while the governor sometimes has his own pet issues that he pushes with intensity, he often doesn’t come along easily on a cause. And if campaign finance filings are any indication, Cuomo doesn’t often move without significant campaign donations either before or after the fact. A lot of the time the notoriously prickly governor, whose administration has been known for its “get along or kill” approach, won’t get behind an issue without a fight. But taking Cuomo on in any public way comes with serious risk and can have major consequences.

Those, whether deep-pocketed or not, interested in seeing the governor support an issue he is not immediately draw to must wrestle with the best approach to lobbying Cuomo.

As government is a continuous stream of policy and program decisions, there are no shortage of interested parties pushing their causes, and the governor often has the final word, legislators, labor groups, lobbyists, and others often must decide what combination of tactics is best to convince Cuomo to back a proposal.

Gotham Gazette spoke to a number of lobbyists and heads of issue-focused campaigns about what a successful lobbying effort needs in order to get the right kind of attention from Cuomo.

As this article is published, public education advocates are finishing a walk from New York City to Albany to push for school funding and the governor continues to weigh whether to sign a bill that could crush Airbnb in the state. These are just two examples of current issues where people are trying put pressure on the governor to act. For the former, teachers-union-backed advocates have jousted with Cuomo to the point of hostility. On the latter, those who want to see Cuomo sign the bill regulated Airbnb have mostly left him alone publicly, while Airbnb has more outwardly sought to make its case for a veto.

Looking ahead to 2017, there will be no shortage of issues where interested parties will be trying to convince the governor and the Legislature to act one way or another, from upstate Uber legalization to the cap on charter schools and much more.

To court just about any elected official, you need at least one of: a ground game, as in grassroots supporters willing to demonstrate publicly and able to grab media attention, or at least the appearance of one; a money game, as in the ability to show that your cause has the attention of large campaign donors; and a behind-the-scenes game, as in the ability to influence insiders, which many include consistent, even constant, lobbying and contact with key administration officials. The ground game and the money game usually indicate, to varying degrees, that you have some semblance of solid rationale to your proposal.

Along with these basics, lobbyists have to consider the nuances of Gov. Cuomo’s personality and long history in politics. Known as a master strategist, Cuomo is also seen as flexible on many of his political stances because he, like many governors, tries to combine being socially liberal and fiscally conservative. The key with Cuomo is often showing him how the proposal fits his image and gives him a chance to be big and bold. Cuomo is not shy about wanting to be first on issues.

“People have to be very sensitive when they deal with the administration,” said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group, which often pushes the administration on reform. “They have to be very careful not to come off as a threat to the administration because the administration is a unitary organization. The governor deals with politics and policy directly, in a way that is unseen in other states. When a group works with him he likes it and when groups work against him, he hates it.”

Cuomo likes, of course, to move on things when he’s ready to, and when they make sense for him politically and for the state generally. He is keenly aware of his political standing among key constituencies and of what it takes to remain in power.

There’s a long line of lobbyists willing to lament off the record about being “put in the penalty box” by the administration for one public statement or another: a quote that was too sharp, a press release that was too pointed. For some the penalty is being denied access to the administration for a period of time; for others penalties mount and they end up with an outright ban. “It's as though you no longer exist to them,” one lobbyist told Gotham Gazette. “They forget your name and encourage everyone else to do the same.”*

With six years as New York’s chief executive, it's become clear to a number of lobbyists that the best way to get Cuomo onboard with a policy proposal is to present a campaign that has everything: grassroots supporters who can promote an issue and also make life miserable for the opposition; big-money donors who can support major campaign efforts; and a lobbying apparatus that works behind the scenes to sway legislators.

“If you are going to confront this Governor and any Governor, really, you have to show public opinion is with you,” said Horner. “And if the donor class is upset it can also move the administration. Put both together and you’ve got something.”

Cuomo has made his name as Governor by joining with these type of efforts, from marriage equality to the minimum wage. Including several recent examples, the governor does appear susceptible to loud outcry by a group of advocates, whether it is on police killings of unarmed civilians, allocating affordable housing funds, or a moratorium on fracking.

“The most successful lobbying efforts in New York combine grassroots supporters with major donors,” said John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, also a government reform group.

When Cuomo ran for Governor in 2010, he was far from an outspoken supporter of marriage equality, but early in his term it became clear that several major donors were interested in advancing the policy behind the scenes, while activist groups were more than willing to press the issue publicly. Essentially, it would also give Cuomo a chance to make big, national news.

A vote on marriage equality had failed by inches under Gov. David Paterson and advocates weren’t ready to give up. Cuomo initially feared the same kind of embarrassing result that befell Paterson -- left standing on the state Senate floor with dissapointed legislators.

According to two sources involved in the campaign, Cuomo saw the opportunity to lead on a national issue while endearing himself to his liberal base at the same time he was angering other parts of that base by advancing fiscally conservative measures.

When Cuomo decides he wants to accomplish something - no matter how much cajoling it takes to get him there - he goes after his goal aggressively.

The Cuomo administration and a number of wealthy donors, including hedge fund managers Dan Loeb and Cliff Asness, quickly began the work of wooing Senate Republicans to their side, and by June 24, 2011 Cuomo had the votes he needed to pass marriage equality in New York. The administration monitored the floor vote in the Senate obsessively, interjecting at times to ensure Senate Republicans would not renege on their promise to bring the bill to a vote and to show sensitivity to the Republican members who had made what would be a career-ending decision to vote for it.

The proceedings were so tightly choreographed that most Senate Democrats who supported the bill were not allowed to speak about it. When the final votes were cast Cuomo took to the airwaves to claim credit for a successful campaign that a year before he seemed uninterested in.

Donations from grateful supporters of marriage equality swept into Cuomo’s campaign coffers before and after the vote. The Empire State Pride Agenda gave Cuomo $60,000 in May 2011; Loeb gave Cuomo $19,367 in 2012; and a number of marriage equality supporters organized high-dollar fundraisers for the governor.

The governor has repeated these kind of issue campaign takeovers in years since, showcasing the power of his elected position with the virtually unmatched will and desire for big accomplishments possessed by the officeholder.

“I got the sense that within the right national political moment anything is possible with the governor,” one veteran social justice advocate told Gotham Gazette of Cuomo. “It is on the table as long as he is the first to do something.”*

That feeling was reinforced in 2015 when Cuomo suddenly paired with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) “Fight for $15” to champion a minimum wage increase he had once dismissed as fantasy. Cuomo was working alongside some of his biggest critics from the left, like Michael Kink and Citizen Action and other Working Families Party members, while touring the state in a recreational vehicle paid for by unions. The governor, who at times in the past was the target of angry Fight for $15 rallies, was now attending them and hosting streaming video of them on his website.

Labor groups poured nearly $2 million into the Mario Cuomo Campaign For Economic Justice - most of the cash from SEIU and its various committees and affiliates.

SEIU is also a consistent donor to Cuomo’s reelection campaign and the campaigns of his allies.

The Fight for $15 had gotten the governor on board after showing a groundswell on the issue, with the power of active and deep-pocketed labor unions, and in the wake of an embarrassing challenge from the governor’s left in his 2014 re-election. Big name Democrats were also taking up the issue and becoming heroes to significant blocs of Democratic voters.

While large public campaigns that involve the governor have clearly been effective, perhaps the most impactful lobbying of Cuomo is done almost completely out of public eye.

Multiple lobbyists point to Cuomo’s relationships with 1199-SEIU, the powerful hospital workers union, and Jennifer Cunningham of the firm SKD Knickerbocker as ideal arrangements for an issue-focused organization and a lobbyist looking to move their agendas in New York.

Cunningham has been labeled “The Most Powerful Woman in Albany” and was an adviser to Cuomo during his early years as Governor. Cunningham and 1199 annihilated Paterson’s ambitions to run for election in 2010, unleashing a brutal $1 million a week advertising campaign in response to his proposed $3.5 billion cut to the state’s Medicaid program.

Cunningham declined to comment or be interviewed for this article.

Cuomo has handled the union much differently than many others, giving it a seat at the table when cuts are proposed and rarely, if ever, having any public conflict with it.

“They are the most powerful lobbying force in the state,” marveled one lobbyist. “They combine labor and management and are extremely sophisticated. They are so powerful you don’t have to hear about them until they have to crush someone. There is no fight with them because it's like, ‘Godzilla is in my closet. Do I need to let him out to stomp on you?’”

Most lobbyists and issue groups don’t have an operation anywhere near the scope of 1199-SEIU, and over the last two years smaller advocacy groups have been confronted with how to lobby the administration on limited resources.

For groups pushing for criminal justice reform and for state government to fund supportive and affordable housing, for example, lobbying the administration in a friendly manner failed initially and they took the risk of confronting the governor publicly.

Shelly Nortz of Coalition for the Homeless said that 2014 efforts to get the Cuomo administration to deliver on supportive housing funding. The group continued to pressure Cuomo, working with and praising Mayor Bill de Blasio, Cuomo’s rival, for his supportive housing initiative in 2015, and then getting more and more vocal calling for Cuomo to do what they said was his part.

The Coalition and its allies were encouraged when Cuomo prioritized funding to fight homelessness in his 2016 State of the State address, but when the governor and the Legislature failed to agree on how to distribute it, Nortz’s group kicked the public pressure campaign into high gear.

“We’ve been having a presence outside the governor’s office,” Nortz said of regular rallies to call for release of the funds set aside in the state budget. As the group and other members of the NY/NY Housing coalition have issued press releases and done interviews on the subject, sometimes harshly criticizing Cuomo, the governor’s office has reacted in various ways. At one point, an administration spokesperson said that the governor hadn’t intended to sign the memorandum of understanding (MOU) that would distribute the housing funds this year and instead expected to do it next year.

After being rebuffed, the administration tried a different path: releasing an MOU approved by the administration, essentially to move the ball into state legislative leaders’ court. The MOU wasn’t signed by either legislative leader, but it was an indication that the administration was squirming under the pressure brought by housing groups.

Nortz acknowledged that most small advocacy groups can’t manage to turn out the kind of presence housing groups have to pressure the governor. She said she is unsure how effective their efforts have been given that the MOU remains unsigned. “It’s reminiscent of 2014 in a lot of ways,” said Nortz. “There is talk but there is no agreement.”

Criminal justice reform advocates describe having to pull Cuomo forward kicking and screaming to ensure oversight by a special prosecutor in instances of police killings of civilians. In 2015 the governor felt pressure from the mothers and family members of civilians killed by police, black and Latino legislators, and major advocacy groups. Unable to move the Legislature to action during session, activists didn’t let go, instead amplifying their calls for the governor to do something.

On July 8, 2015 Cuomo announced an executive order giving the Attorney General jurisdiction to investigate police killings of civilians. The move angered many conservatives and law enforcement officials across the state, but pleased many activists and elected officials, especially legislators of color, many of whom joined Cuomo at the signing of the order.

Advocates involved in the push say they believe they were successful in moving Cuomo because the governor is particularly sensitive about his most concentrated voting base, which consists of African-Americans from New York City. Furthermore, Cuomo was able to claim that he was “the first” governor to take action on what was coming into focus as a major national issue.

While the executive order was a victory for advocates, their momentum has stalled since. Cuomo has acknowledged that he would like to see legislation to make a special prosecutor permanent in such cases, but he has not pushed the issue with the Republican Senate Majority, where opposition lies.

A number of lobbyists say this is a typical result for a lobbying effort that confronts and calls out Gov. Cuomo. “They got something but they didn’t get all of it,” said one long-time lobbyist. “You can rattle him and force him to move to stop the bleeding but it isn’t the best move in the long run.”

Advocates, legislators, businesspeople, and lobbyists who don’t have a direct line to Cuomo or a long-standing alliance are often faced with that risky question of when to go at the governor with an aggressive public relations campaign. They can pay off wildly or they can put you on the governor’s bad side -- sometimes both.

Business lobbyists say confrontational campaigns are their absolute last resort with any administration, but note that smaller issue-based groups don’t have a wealth of options at their disposal.

Efforts to expand newer, technology-based businesses like Airbnb and Uber have set the stage for what some lobbyists say will be “heavyweight showdowns” with the well-established hotel trades and taxi lobbies, respectively. As Cuomo weighs whether to sign a bill that would be damaging to Airbnb, both supporters and opponents of the bill have struggled some with how to cajole him in their direction, especially around how much public pressure to mount.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s investigation into the Governor’s economic development programs has put considerably more scrutiny on how lobbyists and those with business before the state use donations to get the attention of the governor and his closest allies. Fear over corruption was triggered because major developers, including two charged by Bharara, made major donations to Cuomo’s reelection campaign within months of winning major economic development contracts with the state. Bharara has also charged three of Cuomo’s allies with working to fix bids for the contractors they prefer. Cuomo has denied knowledge of the alleged arrangement and he has not been accused of wrongdoing, but it is his campaign that benefited.

New York lacks the conflict of interest laws that limit campaign contributions from groups with business before the state. A July report by Politico New York showed that most of the donors to Cuomo’s campaign have business before the state, or interest in pending legislation. Cuomo has always claimed that he makes decisions on the merits.

by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

*Note: due to a mistake on the part of Gotham Gazette, attempts to reach the Cuomo administration for comment for this article did not reach the intended party. Cuomo's office should have been afforded to opportunity to respond to the questins at hand in this article, including certain allegations, and we apologize for the error. A prior note that indicated Cuomo's office did not respond to a request for comment was removed after it became clear that requests for comment did not reach representatives for Cuomo. After making this realization in communication with Cuomo's office, Gotham Gazette offered the Cuomo administration an opportunity to comment.

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, October 11

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week begins with great attention on the Presidential race as we're within a month of the November 8 election and the candidates faced off in their second of three scheduled debates Sunday evening. The debate came in the wake of much turmoil in the Republican Party and the campaign of nominee Donald Trump, whose lewd comments about women and boasts of unwanted touching and sexual assault surfaced toward the end of last week. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's advantage in the polls, both nationally and in key swing states, had been improving after the first debate and its fallout, even before the release of the tapes of Trump from several years ago.

By some accounts Trump performed well during Sunday's debate, but he also made comments troubling to many, including that if he were President he would look to put Clinton in jail for her use of a private email server. After a number of prominent Republicans rescinded their endorsements of Trump on Friday and Saturday, GOP leaders continued to grapple with the nominee on Monday, with House Speaker Paul Ryan - who had disinvited Trump from what was supposed to be a joint weekend appearance in Wisconsin - reportedly telling House members to do what they need to do to win their districts and saying he would not be publicly defending Trump.

In New York, this Friday is the last day to register to vote in November - in the Presidential race and others that will be on the ballot, such as state legislative and congressional races.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and his wife, Chirlane McCray, traveled to Detroit Sunday to campaign for Clinton. They returned to New York City on Monday and de Blasio marched in the Columbus Day Parade in Manhattan, as did Gov. Andrew Cuomo and a number of other city and state officials.

One highlight of the week ahead: on Friday, de Blasio is scheduled to give a speech at the Association for a Better New York - details below.

It may be a somewhat quiet political week given the Monday Columbus Day holiday and Yom Kippur, which begins at sundown Tuesday. Still there are several interesting events happening, including both de Blasio's ABNY speech and one by new NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill on Tuesday morning, also at ABNY, and several City Council hearings, including a full-body Stated Meeting on Thursday -- details of those and more below.

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

The run of the week in detail:

Monday is Columbus Day.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will appear on NY1's Inside City Hall Monday evening at 7 and 10 p.m.

Tuesday marks exactly four weeks from the Presidential election and others taking place Nov. 8.

At 8 a.m. Tuesday, the Association for a Better New York will host a breakfast with new NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill to “discuss the NYPD’s efforts to address public safety and quality of life conditions, and share his overall vision for a better and safer New York.” Public Advocate Letitia James will be among those in attendance.

On Tuesday at 1 p.m. Mayor de Blasio and Police Commissioner O’Neill will deliver remarks at the NYPD Swearing-In Ceremony of 700 new officers. In the evening, the Mayor will appear on Fusion’s AMERICA with Jorge Ramos at 10 p.m.

At 4 p.m. Tuesday, Public Advocate James will participate in a conversation with youth leaders for National Coming Out Day at The LGBT Center in Manhattan. And in the evening, James will attend the Parkash Tenant Coalition Meeting in the Bronx.

The city’s Board of Correction will hold a meeting at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

At the City Council on Tuesday: at 10 a.m., the Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations will discuss a “resolution declaring support for Muslim communities, affirming the religious pluralism of the United States, and urging all residents to stand together for peace and understanding.”

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and government officials at various levels will hold a press conference to announce a new IDNYC pop-up location on Roosevelt Island, at the Roosevelt Island Senior Center. Assistant Immigrant Affairs Commissioner Kavita Pawria-Sanchez, Council Member Ben Kallos, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Senator José Serrano, and Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright will all be present.

On Wednesday at 6:30 p.m., the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board will hold a board meeting.

At the City Council on Thursday:

  • The Committee on Finance will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss “a Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to authorizing an increase in the amount to be expended annually in eight business improvement districts and two special assessment districts.”
  • The City Council will hold a stated meeting at 1:30 p.m. As usual, this will be prefaced by a press conference led by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

On Thursday, there will be a public hearing for the NYPD’s body camera program.

At noon Thursday, the Manhattan Institute will hold a forum on disagreements over “fundamentally opposing constitutional traditions” -- the “living document” view and the “originalist” view. Randy Barnett, the Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Legal Theory at Georgetown University, will be the featured speaker.

On Thursday at noon, "The U.S. Conference of Mayors, in partnership with the NYU Wagner Graduate School for Public Service, will host a bipartisan discussion with mayors and the presidential campaigns on why infrastructure in U.S. cities is key to both economic security and public safety, and to urge a stronger federal partnership with cities." A discussion will be moderated by NY1's Errol Louis: "USCM President Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, USCM Vice President New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, USCM Second Vice President Columbia, SC Mayor Stephen Benjamin, USCM Past President Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and USCM Advisory Board Member Albuquerque Mayor Richard J. Berry, will engage in an interactive question-and-answer session with surrogates representing both the Trump and Clinton campaigns who will present their candidates' views on infrastructure."

On Thursday at 4 p.m. at Medgar Evers College, a "Why She Ran" event encouraging women to run for public office and to work in government, hosted by the City Council's Women's Caucus, led by Council Members Laurie Cumbo, Inez Barron, and Darlene Mealy. Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul will give remarks.

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Baruch College’s Robert Zicklin Center for Corporate Integrity and Corporate Communication International (CCI) will co-host “Ads, Money and Politics: The Impact of Citizens United on the 2016 Election.” This event will look at the consequential Citizens United Supreme Court Case in 2010 and how the decision is influencing the current election.

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, the Brooklyn Historical Society will hold “100 Years of Planned Parenthood: Born in Brooklyn, Building for the Future.” Alex Sanger (Chair of the International Planned Parenthood Council and grandson of Margaret Sanger, the co-founder of the first birth control clinic in the U.S.), Imani Gandy (Senior Legal Analyst at Rewire News and co-host of This Week in Blackness Prime), and Professor Lynn Roberts (CUNY School of Public Health) will be the panelists. Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! will moderate the discussion.

Friday and the weekend
Friday is the last day to register to vote for the November general election. Find information on voter registration at NYC Votes' register to vote page.

At 8 a.m. Friday, the Association for a Better New York will host Mayor Bill de Blasio for a breakfast speech. De Blasio will discuss the his Equity and Excellence education agenda.

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

by Brendan Birth and Ben Max

Another Shockingly Low Turnout Election

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(photo via The Governor's Office)

The numbers are bad again, additional proof that New Yorkers don’t pay much attention to local elections or make voting in them a priority. There were several hotly contested state legislative party primary elections on September 13, even a few for open seats, yet the best an individual New York City-based Assembly or Senate district did was 20% participation among active eligible voters.

The winner of this unglamorous prize was Assembly District 65, Sheldon Silver’s old seat, where short-term incumbent Alice Cancel was defeated in the Democratic primary by Yuh-Line Niou. Of 43,094 active eligible Democrats in the Lower Manhattan district, 8,880 votes were cast, equal to 20.61%.

Niou was one of three challengers to unseat New York City incumbents this primary cycle.

Another, all the way Uptown in Inwood and nearby areas, saw long-term incumbent Assemblymember Guillermo Linares defeated in the Democratic primary by Carmen De La Rosa. There are 57,053 active eligible Democrats in AD72 and 8,511 voted (4,485 for De La Rosa), for 14.91% turnout.

In Queens’ AD30, long-time Assemblymember Margaret Markey lost to Brian Barnwell in a Democratic primary that saw 8.72% turnout -- Barnwell won the primary, and thus the seat, with 1,710 votes to Markey’s 1,082. There are 32,162 active registered Democratic voters in the district.

All three of these seats, like in most New York City districts, are overwhelmingly Democratic, so the primary winner is all but certain to win the November 8 general election. Sometimes there isn’t even a general election opponent on the ballot.

The 150-seat state Assembly is dominated by New York City Democrats, whereas the 63-seat state Senate is almost split between Democrats and Republicans. This November’s elections look like they will again go a long way to determining which party controls the Senate. New York City-based races are rarely competitive in November, though there are a few city districts where Republicans hold seats or can show well.

In most cases, though, the real action is in the Democratic primary. Yet, very few people vote. General elections for Mayor of New York City or Governor of New York have recently seen record low turnout. New York ranks near the bottom of all 50 states when it comes to turnout. The 2016 primary numbers closely track their 2014 and 2012 predecessors.

Some blame New York’s antiquated voter registration, voting, and election laws - there is a long list of voting reforms that New York could pass given the political will: things like same-day voter registration and early voting, among others. There is also the fact that New York does things like scheduling three different primary days, which happened this year: an April presidential primary, a June congressional primary, and the September state legislative primaries. There are also issues related to one-party control, which may depress voter engagement, especially in the heaviest Democratic or Republican strongholds, like much of New York City.

Yet even the strength of Democrats in New York City could mean more robust primary contests. While several candidates may run, turnout remains quite low.

In the September contests for seats currently open or opening up due to retirement, the numbers were in the same ballpark as the three races listed above where incumbents lost.

In the lone currently empty state Senate seat, five Democrats jumped into the race to replace for Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson, who resigned for a job in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration. The district is mostly in the Bronx, but stretches into Westchester and is home to 123,140 active registered Democrats (Senate districts are a lot larger than Assembly districts.) With 9.44% turnout, Jamaal Bailey won the primary with 6,938 votes. No other candidate cracked 2,000 votes.

For a state Senate seat opening up Uptown, SD31, currently held by Senator Adriano Espaillat, who is heading to Congress, a crowded primary field yielded 18.46% turnout among active registered Democrats. There were 25,937 votes cast by 140,387 active registered voters in the district. Marisol Alcantara won a very close race with 8,469 votes -- about a third of the 25, 937 votes cast. Runner-up Micah Lasher received 8,175 votes.

There are three New York City-based Assembly seats already vacant or being vacated -- AD33 in Queens and AD44 and AD56 in Brooklyn. Respectively, these primaries saw 10.12%, 16.29%, and 12.11% turnout among active registered Democrats. The primaries were won by Clyde Vanel, Robert Carroll, and Tremaine Wright, respectively.

In a variety of other primaries in which incumbents were being challenged, turnout was in the same neighborhood, though often lower than the aforementioned numbers. In a couple of Bronx districts, turnout was around 7% of active registered Democrats. A few saw around 15% turnout, topped by the unsuccessful challenge from Kate Cucco to Assemblymember Pamela Harris in Brooklyn’s Assembly District 46, which saw 16.54% turnout.

Voter turnout for the November general election is expected to be much higher given the draw of the Presidential race. State Assembly members and Senators with nominal general election competition and those who won crowded open-seat primaries will receive thousands more votes than they did in competitive primaries because more voters will head to the polls to vote for President and select candidates down the ballot.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Research performed by Brendan Birth.

Note: numbers have been updated since publish to reflect absentee ballots and final Board of Elections certified results.

In Wake of Charges, Cuomo Promises Change, Offers Few Details

Cuomo gaggle teacher award night

Gov. Cuomo (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)

A day after United States Attorney Preet Bharara unveiled a myriad of corruption charges against two of his closest allies and some of his biggest donors related to their abuse of the state’s economic development programs, Gov. Andrew Cuomo traveled to Buffalo to announce he was expanding the program that sparked Bharara’s investigation.

Cuomo publicly acknowledged the “truly disappointing” allegations and told the gathered crowd that his administration plans to learn from revelations about bid-rigging and bribery schemes. He also promised not to “miss a beat” and pledged his administration will “redouble our efforts” on economic development projects in Buffalo and Western New York.

What exactly Cuomo has learned and what he and his administration actually plan to do about the alleged corruption - which was uncovered by reporters and watchdogs over a year ago and outlined by Bharara last week - remains largely unclear. The lack of clarity is especially stark given the amount of time the administration has had to formulate a response to problems and change protocols.

On Friday, Cuomo announced that the Empire State Development Corporation would take over a portfolio of projects previously overseen by SUNY Polytechnic President Alain Kaloyeros, who was suspended without pay after he was charged Thursday in two separate bid-rigging investigations (one by Bharara and one by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman).

“We are today going to take that portfolio of responsibility, those projects, transfer them all to the Empire State Development Corporation, which is run by a fellow named Howard Zemsky is his name, and he’ll take over management of that immediately,” Cuomo said on Friday.

Asked if the governor’s announcement would end the use of nonprofits under SUNY Poly to administer economic development projects, Cuomo spokesperson Dani Lever told Gotham Gazette that “ESDC will oversee all economic development projects.”

Cuomo said this week that Zemsky will formulate new procedures and oversight mechanisms to be unveiled in January during the governor’s State of the State Address. Cuomo is also expected to debut a new phase of the Buffalo Billion in the same speech.

On Friday, Cuomo also cited a report from Bart Schwartz, a lawyer retained by the governor in April after it became public that Bharara had subpoenaed a number of Cuomo officials and allies as part of his Buffalo Billion probe.

“We engaged an organization headed by a former prosecutor to review our entire procurement system. We have that report. It recommends changes to the procurement system,” Cuomo said on Friday of Schwartz’s investigation. “We accept all the changes to the procurement system and we are going to be instituting them immediately to make sure whatever can be done to protect the taxpayer dollars is going to be done.”

However, the Cuomo administration has not made Schwartz’s report public. Cuomo announced that the “independent” investigation came to a conclusion on the same day Bharara unveiled related charges, in an apparent attempt at moving the conversation from the charges toward reforms. The governor said earlier this year that he wouldn’t have a problem releasing Schwartz’s report, but that it may not be made public depending on whether Bharara’s office approved its release.

Bharara’s office declined to comment on whether its representatives had spoken to Schwartz or the Cuomo administration about the report.

Schwartz’s office declined to comment on whether the report will be made public or how it will be implemented.

The Cuomo administration failed to return requests for comment about whether the report will be made public and what kind of changes will be made to the state’s economic development programs to reduce corruption risk. Representatives for Cuomo also failed to respond to a question about whether Schwartz looked into, or continues to investigate, malfeasance in the state’s economic development programs.

When Bharara announced the charges at a Thursday news conference, he said that his investigation is “ongoing.” Bharara said that Cuomo was not implicated in the criminal complaint, but would not comment about whether the governor is an ongoing target. On Wednesday, Cuomo told reporters that he was not interviewed by Bharara’s office and that he did not expect to testify in Percoco’s trial, if there is one.

David Friedfel, director of state studies for the Citizens Budget Commission, said CBC welcomes the handover of state projects to Empire State Development Corp. “We certainly think the move to the ESDC is a good idea. In general we take the view that if you can’t do what you want to do with economic development through a government entity you should not be able to do it or be allowed to create a non-government entity to do it,” he said.

While ESDC does appear to have stricter contracting rules in place than SUNY Poly and its nonprofits, in the end both are controlled by Cuomo.

And ESDC didn’t go untouched by the recently revealed criminal charges, which were brought against nine people and showed a system lacking oversight. One of the charges against Cuomo’s close friend and former top aide Joseph Percoco is that he took a $35,000 bribe to get ESDC to select a company for a project it didn’t technically qualify for.

Watchdogs believe the state used SUNY Poly and the nonprofits it oversees, like Fort Schuyler Management, in an end-run around standard state contracting protocols and to reduce public scrutiny, in part to fast track expensive projects. On Wednesday, Cuomo repeatedly blamed the alleged corruption on that same system, which he has done nothing to reform. He told reporters on Wednesday that the system “had worked fine for 15 years. In retrospect I did not revisit their procurement system because they’re a separate branch, they’re a separate agency,” Cuomo said, appearing to reference SUNY Poly. “We will do just that,” he promised of such a reexamination.

Cuomo said on Friday in Buffalo that Zemsky will “learn from what happened and to see how we can improve the system to make sure that it never happens again.”

The idea that there isn’t already a blueprint on the table on how to avoid the pitfalls connected to the administration’s use of nonprofits to administer economic development programs is laughable to many groups that have been calling for drastic changes for years and warning of corruption.

“Right now all we have are vague, undefined reforms wrapped in secrecy,” said John Kaehny of Reinvent Albany, a group that has followed economic development projects closely. “The questions we have about the administration’s approach remain the same as the questions we had last year.”

While Cuomo plans to wait until January to unveil his changes to the state’s economic development procurement system, a number of watchdog groups have been clear for over a year on what changes needed to occur to better prevent corruption. Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has also complained that Cuomo and the Legislature stripped him of his ability to review contracts at SUNY, something watchdogs have echoed. State legislative leaders have said little about the issue.

In a letter dated September 23, 2015, several groups, including CBC, Reinvent Albany, Citizens Union, Fiscal Policy Institute, and the New York Public Interest Research Group, called on Cuomo to increase accountability and transparency surrounding economic development projects. The groups asked Cuomo to consider “making one state agency the sole negotiator and implementer of state subsidy deals with public review and input, and ending the use of state controlled non-profit groups and the state university system in the contract award process.”

In a letter dated December 23, 2015, some of the same groups called on the state to implement a “database of deals” to allow for greater transparency and give New Yorkers a better idea of whether businesses that receive subsidies, like SolarCity, are actually keeping their promises to the state on deliverables like jobs.

Wall Street’s faith in SolarCity has been shaken in recent months and the company has altered the timeline for what it will produce. Meanwhile, the state paused a payment to the company this week that would allow it to purchase factory equipment it needs for its Riverbend Plant. The state has repeatedly skipped scheduled payments to SolarCity this year, as reported by Politico New York.

Friedfel said that CBC would prefer to see the state stick to economic development programs where businesses are forced to deliver on their promises before they see payment from the state. “Our view, taken apart from the criminal charges, is that economic development should be done with set metrics that are accomplished ahead of time the state makes any payments,” he said. “The state should only spend after promises are delivered on.”

by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.

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