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Can Trump Win New York? Inside the Numbers


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Donald Trump & Mike Pence (photo via @GOP)


Donald Trump’s nomination for President at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland was the culmination of a primary campaign that overturned precedent and defied expectations of the political class. Now, as he shifts his attention the general election, Trump has set his sights on another lofty goal, one which has been out of reach for Republicans for over two decades: winning New York, his home state.

Recent polls, voter enrollment data, and primary turnout patterns indicate that defeating presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in New York would require near-unanimous support from both Republican and independent voters—a feat that Trump does not seem poised to accomplish.

Trump’s campaign announced in May that it will focus on 15 states in the general election, including traditional swing states like Ohio, Michigan, and Virginia, as well as Democratic strongholds like California and New York. Since then, Clinton has maintained a comfortable double-digit lead in New York polls, with the most recent from Quinnipiac University released on Tuesday giving her a 47 to 35 percent advantage - a slightly smaller margin than the prior poll, however. Election-modeling publication FiveThirtyEight gives Clinton a 97.1 percent chance of winning here.

But Trump and other members of his party seem undeterred by polling trends, instead touting his overwhelming win in the New York primary in April as evidence that the state is in play for the general election. Trump is clearly not to be underestimated, they say, and there are months until Election Day.

“If we carry New York by the margin we should, we will have changed American history...If you can break the city then you have the state,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said on Monday at a breakfast for the New York Republican delegation in Cleveland. Along with his primary success across the country, including in New York, Trump’s New York pedigree and presence in the city’s public life for decades appear to be giving him and his supporters added confidence.

“The win in New York really helped set the momentum,” Rep. Chris Collins, a Republican who represents the 27th Congressional District in Western New York and was the first member of Congress to endorse Trump, told State of Politics. “New York is in play.”

Collins refers to Trump’s decisive victory in the New York Republican primary, in which he received 60 percent of the vote and won every county but Manhattan, Trump’s home turf, which went to Ohio Governor John Kasich. This was a slightly larger percentage than Clinton - who also calls New York home - won in the Democratic primary, where she earned 58 percent of the vote while facing just one opponent (there were four Republicans on the ballot: Trump, Kasich, Ted Cruz and Ben Carson, who had dropped out before the vote).

Winning a vast majority of New York Republicans, however, will not be enough to secure a Trump victory here. Even though he won a higher percentage, Trump won half as many raw votes in the primary as Clinton, securing 525,000 to her 1 million. Had he secured 100 percent of Republican primary voters, Trump would still have trailed Clinton in New York primary votes.

As of April 1, there were 5.8 million Democrats and 2.7 million Republicans enrolled across the state, according to the New York Board of Elections, with New York City voters comprising 3.1 million of the Democrats and 460,000 Republicans. There are another 2.5 million “unaffiliated” registered voters, otherwise known as independents, and another 705,000 voters registered with smaller parties, like the Green Party or the Independence Party.

Trump statewide via CUNY graduate centerA total of 2.9 million New Yorkers voted in the presidential primaries this year (2 million Democrats and 922,000 Republicans). For a glimpse of the increase to anticipate in November, the last time there was a non-incumbent presidential election, in 2008, 7.6 million New Yorkers voted in the general election (4.8 million voted Democrat and 2.8 million voted Republican).

The Democratic enrollment advantage is expected to continue to favor Clinton this year as voter turnout surges for the general election, though Trump supporters are planning to attract many voters not registered as Republican. According to Steven Romalewski, mapping service director for the Center for Urban Research at the CUNY Graduate Center, the last time there were both Democratic and Republican primaries in New York, in 2008, the number of Republican voters jumped from 670,000 to 2.75 million between the primary and general elections, while Democratic voters lept from 1.9 million to 4.8 million voters.

Clinton statewide map via CUNY graduate centerRomalewski said the increase in voters between the primary and general election was especially prominent within the New York City area. This does not bode well for Trump, who, according to the Quinnipiac poll, leads among upstate voters 48 to 36 percent, but is behind among New York City voters 63 to 20 percent. Trump and Clinton are neck-and-neck among suburban voters.

“If the turnout surges even by half the amount [it surged in 2008] from the primary to the general on the
Democratic side, it’s going to be really hard from a number of perspectives for the GOP side to overcome this,” Romalewski said in a phone interview with Gotham Gazette.

To win New York, Trump will likely need at least 2 million more voters than the 2.75 million Republican Senator John McCain received here in 2008—a total that Romalewski said would require winning all Republican-registered voters as well as nearly all independent voters. As of April 1, there were about 2.5 million unaffiliated, or independent, registered voters in New York, and new voters will be able to register until Oct. 14.

Trump and Clinton could, however, face a radically different electoral map than McCain, in part because of the unpredictable nature of this year’s election.

“It’s especially hard this year to look back for similar situations in presidential campaigns and kind of use those examples to predict or expect what might happen this time,” Romalewski said. “On the other hand, when you look at the math, it seems highly unlikely that the Republican candidate will be able to pull it out.”

To predict election outcomes, FiveThirtyEight uses an algorithm that weighs polling trends and demographic data. Its New York forecast begins with a strong Clinton lead indicated by polls which is then slightly widened when demographic data is taken into account. The website now predicts that Clinton will win about 54 percent of the vote in New York and that Trump will win 37.5 percent.

Currently, Trump’s progress to unite the bulk of non-Democratic New Yorkers has wavered according to polls. Trump performs poorly with independents in New York, as evidenced by Tuesday’s Quinnipiac Poll revealing a 41 to 35 percent advantage for Clinton among independents (most respondents said they did not know enough about Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson or Green Party nominee Jill Stein to support or oppose them).

Further, Trump has not yet won unequivocal support from Republicans—nearly 10 percent of Republican New Yorkers do not support him; five of the state’s 10 Republican U.S. Congressional Representatives have endorsed his bid for presidency. By contrast, all 18 Democratic Representatives and both Democratic Senators from New York have endorsed Clinton.

The last time a Republican presidential candidate won in New York was 1984, when incumbent President Ronald Reagan defeated Walter Mondale -- Reagan won every state but Mondale’s home state of Minnesota that year.

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by Aaron Holmes, Gotham Gazette

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Senate Republicans Face Departures with Battle for Control Looming


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Senate Majority Leader Flanagan, second from right (photo via Facebook)


New York State Senate Republicans are headed into a fight for their survival, dealing with the departure of veteran lawmakers, top staff, and one rising star.

The impending fall elections for all 63 Senate seats will test control of the chamber by Senate Republicans, the party’s only check on Democratic strongholds in the state Assembly and four statewide offices, including Governor. There are currently 32 Democrats and 31 Republicans in the chamber but Republicans maintain control with the help of Brooklyn Democrat Simcha Felder, who caucuses with Senate Republicans, and the five-member Independent Democratic Conference.

Senate Democrats have picked up seats in every presidential election year since 2000.

Sen. Hugh Farley, an 83-year-old Republican representing the 49th Senate District, announced earlier this year that he won’t seek another term. He’s served in the Senate since 1977.

Sen. Mike Nozzolio, a 65-year-old Republican representing the 54th Senate District, decided not to seek reelection this year citing a heart condition. He’s served in the Senate since 1992.

Sen. Jack Martins, a younger member of the Republican conference at 49, was only elected in 2010 and was seen as a future leader in the conference, but he has forgone reelection for a congressional bid. Senate Republicans reportedly pushed Martins to stay in the Senate to help them hold a majority.

And top Republican staffers Robert Mujica (budget) and Kelly Cummings (communications) departed for the Cuomo administration this year, resulting in something of a brain-drain. The conference faced a challenging year as divisions between upstate and downstate members appeared to boil over during budget negotiations, a rarity for the generally lockstep conference. Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan of Long Island, who defeated Sen. John DeFrancisco of Syracuse to replace former Majority Leader Dean Skelos, has kept up the friendly, mutually beneficial relationship with Cuomo that Skelos started, which has irked a number of upstate legislators.

To hear Democrats tell it, Senate Republicans are realizing that they won’t be able to keep the chamber during a presidential election year. “We’ve picked up multiple seats during each presidential election year in this millennium,” said Queens Sen. Mike Gianaris, who chairs the state Senate Democratic Campaign Committee. “I can't blame them,” Gianaris said, referring to senior Senate Republicans deciding not to seek reelection. “They see the writing on the wall.”

“When talented people see that their future isn't with the Senate Republicans it is telling,” he said of the departures of Cummings, who left recently, and Mujica, who became Cuomo’s budget director at the start of the year.

Senate Republican spokesperson Scott Reif said that recent departures are not a reaction to changing political tides. "Whether it's a long-serving Senator who chooses to retire or a staffer who decides to pursue another opportunity, these are personal decisions that were made at an appropriate time,” Reif said. “While the Senate Democrats want to make this out to be far more than it really is, the truth is that these changes will have no impact whatsoever on the state of the Senate Republican Conference or our prospects for the fall. We have strong incumbents who are running on a record of accomplishment, first-class challengers who are going to help us pick up seats, and an experienced and professional staff that is second to none. We are confident we're going to grow our majority in November."

Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group said that the departure of Mujica and Cummings to Cuomo’s office may not be indicative of anything more than the governor’s need for staff with high-level experience in state government and their desire to advance their careers. “They have the experience in the higher levels of government, so it makes their hiring unsurprising,” said Horner, who once left NYPIRG to work for the governor during Cuomo’s time as attorney general. “New York has tough revolving-door rules so in some cases it's hard for folks to leave government, so they are constantly looking for ways to move up to gain new experience.”

Senate Republicans lost control of the State Senate for the first time in decades in 2008, when Democrats rode the Barack Obama wave. In 2009 Senate Republican leadership and rogue Democrats launched a coup that paralyzed state government for weeks. Republicans won back control through the 2010 elections (seats in the state Legislature are voted on every two years), but after Democrats picked up seats in 2012, Republicans cut a deal with the Independent Democratic Conference and Democratic Sen. Simcha Felder that allowed them to keep control.

Republicans again won outright control of the chamber in 2014 and the IDC took on a lesser role while continuing a governing coalition. However, Republicans were unable to win the special election to replace Skelos, the former majority leader removed from office after a corruption conviction. That election sets the stage for this fall.

Sources from both the mainline Democratic conference and IDC say relationships between the two have improved and that there is room for discussion about a partnership after the November elections.

Republicans face the departure of three incumbents and increasing Democratic voter registration in key districts, but their campaign committee does have a fundraising advantage over the Democrats.

While Democrats see the decision of some Senior Republicans not to seek reelection as a sign of their impending victory, in most cases, the departing Republicans are not at all likely to be replaced by Democrats. Instead, Democrats expect to make big gains on Long Island while the open seats will prove a distraction where Republicans will have to invest some resources to establish their new candidates.

Sen. Farley anointed Assemblymember Jim Tedisco, a former Assembly minority leader, to replace him. Tedisco has served in the Assembly since 1983 and his Assembly district shares much of Farley’s Senate district in Schenectady and Saratoga counties. He is the favorite in the upcoming Republican primary in September. Democrat Chad Putman announced his campaign earlier this year before Farley had decided to retire. He said he is happy residents of his district will have new representation for the first time in 40 years, but he recognizes that Tedisco is equally well known as Farley and while he isn’t the incumbent, Tedisco enjoys many of the benefits of incumbency.

“I’m 41 years old and when I jumped into the race in January I was facing someone who has served for 40 years,” said Putman, referring to Farley. “So it is exciting that everyone in the district will have a new representative, but it speaks to the need for various reform measures so that more folks are able to get involved in the process. Farley’s departure means that I’m now facing an assemblyman who has served for 30 years and was able to roll over $100,000 from one campaign account to another. He already has the groundwork in place.”

Putman said he is trying to lead by example - refusing to take large donations from political action committees (PACs), corporations, and LLCs. “I’m implementing the changes I’d like to make to the system in my own campaign,” said Putman.

Tedisco’s campaign did not return requests for comment.

Democrats also have their eyes on the seat of 88-year-old Sen. Bill Larkin, who began his political career in the Assembly, where he served from 1979 to 1990 before being elected to the Senate. Many political operatives thought Senate Republicans might replace Larkin on the ballot as he’s recently come under attack for taking two state pensions; writing a letter of support for Skelos during his trial; and controversy over a criminal investigation into the treasurer of his campaign committee. But Larkin remains in the contest. The district has seen Democratic registration rise drastically and Larkin is now set to face former challenger Chris Eachus, a county legislator who came within two percent of defeating him in 2010.

The race to replace Nozzolio in the district that includes the area around Lake Ontario and the Finger Lakes, is expected to be settled in the Republican primary although a Democrat is running in the general.

Sen. Gianaris, of the Democratic conference, said that there is still a silver lining for Democrats in the races to replace Farley and Nozzolio despite the fact that Republicans are favored to win. “It’s not only the debate, but the ideas put forward by [a Democrat] who wins or comes close. It shows that those issues are something people care about and in a year where people are screaming for change, Democrats are the only ones who can give it to them because the Senate Republicans have been champions of the status quo.”

The seat held by Martin, the Republican Senator running for Congress on Long Island, will come down to a contest between Republican Elaine Phillips, mayor of Flower Hill, a small town in Nassau, and Adam Haber, a Democratic businessman who lost a challenge to Martins 56-43 percent during the last election. Democrats are bullish on Haber’s candidacy.

As bright as Senate Democrats think their future may be there always appears to be storm clouds on the horizon for them. Democrats have hoped to capture multiple seats on Long Island before only to see their candidates fall apart.

There is still the question of whether Gov. Andrew Cuomo will take any measurable action to boost Democratic Senate candidates - especially since Senate Republicans helped Cuomo deliver a $15 minimum wage and paid family leave this year, along with Cuomo’s general predilection to boost, or at least not target, Senate Republicans.

The Times Union recently reported that the powerful health care union 1199-SEIU plans to back Senate Republicans, although Gianaris said he had not heard that from the union. Politico NY reports that 1199 has actually donated more money to Senate Democrats than Republicans thus far in this cycle.

As they do every four years, Democrats are planning on a stronger turnout due to the race for President, and some think that having Donald Trump at the top of the ticket will hurt down-ballot Republicans. Both Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton have strong New York ties, though.

“Every bit matters,” admitted Gianaris, “but none of it compares to the tidal wave that accompanies the presidential elections. It is more pronounced every year.”

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

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New Yorkers, Including the Presidential Nominees, Head to the National Party Conventions


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The RNC approaches (image via @GOPconvention)


The next two weeks will see the formal nominations of the two major party candidates in the contest to succeed Barack Obama as President of The United States. First, this week, Republicans are expected to nominate Donald J. Trump, who on Saturday morning introduced Indiana Governor Mike Pence as his vice presidential running mate. On Saturday, Trump promised “we’re going to have an incredible convention.” The theme of the convention is "Make America Great Again," which has been Trump's campaign slogan.

All eyes will be on Cleveland Monday through Thursday as the Republicans convene, with New York delegates front and center at the convention given that the presumptive nominee calls the Empire State home. Americans are also bracing for protests and many are hoping that there is no violence outside or inside Quicken Loans Arena.

The same goes for Philadelphia, where the following week, that of July 25, the Democrats are set to name Hillary Clinton their nominee for President.

Clinton also calls New York home, and there are many New York angles to the upcoming Republican and Democratic national conventions. These include the delegations traveling to Cleveland and Philadelphia, which for the Democrats will include both Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, among many other high-profile New Yorkers.

Aside from officially nominating their presidential and vice-presidential candidates, the conventions will also see formal adoption of the official party policy platforms. These decisions are being made by the thousands of delegates from across the country who attend each convention - an assortment of current and former elected officials, prominent party members, activists, businesspeople, and others - in part as dictated by the voting that occurred in each state.

As the Republican convention kicks off, it appears that any last-ditch efforts from within the party to keep Trump from the nomination have been scuttled. The speakers list for the convention fit with Trump’s campaign as an anti-establishment outsider and is largely devoid of major party figures - there will be no appearance by prior presidential candidate Mitt Romney, former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, or a variety of Republican governors, senators, and others who are prominent in the party. Home-state Governor John Kasich, of Ohio, one of Trump’s rivals for the nomination, is not scheduled to be part of the proceedings.

There will be a full slate of speakers, of course, including Trump’s four adult children, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Gov. Chris Christie, Senator Ted Cruz, Gov. Scott Walker, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, GOP Chair Reince Priebus, and others. Pence will be the headline speaker on Wednesday night, while Trump will give the convention's final words on Thursday evening.

With some time still before the Democratic convention, the big news everyone is waiting for is Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential nominee. Many are calling Virginia Senator Tim Kaine the frontrunner, but nothing official has been announced. Unlike Trump’s convention, Clinton’s will feature a ‘who’s who’ of major party names - Democratic National Convention speakers will include President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, former President Bill Clinton, Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and others. Like Trump, Clinton will see her adult child, Chelsea, speak.

As the conventions kick off there is much to watch for over the next two weeks; they also signal the start to the final three-and-a-half months of the campaign, leading to Election Day on November 8: the final stretch of speeches, platforms, polls, ads, debates, and more.

Here’s what New Yorkers need to know and should be watching for as the national conventions arrive:

REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CONVENTION, July 18-21

When and Where is the RNC?
The 2016 Republican National Convention (RNC) will be held July 18-21 (Monday-Thursday) in Cleveland, Ohio at the Quicken Loans Arena. After a tough and controversial primary season, the RNC is an opportunity for more party healing and unity. In the lead up, most discussion of a coup to replace Trump with another nominee has quieted. Trump said on Saturday that one reason he chose Pence as his running mate is “party unity.”

Trump, who has been a media and reality TV star, told the Washington Post that he intends to put his own “showbiz” spin on the convention’s proceedings, though the official list of speakers is looking lighter on sports and entertainment legends than at one time thought.

Who Are the Delegates?
Though the exact process varies by state party rules, delegates to the RNC generally fall within three categories. Each state gets ten at-large delegates, plus delegates awarded based on that state’s Republican electoral success in the past (for instance, having a Republican Governor). Each state is allocated delegates based on congressional districts and each state’s Republican National Committeeman, Committeewoman, and State Chair all attend as delegates.

Following this formula, New York will have a total of 95 delegates, including 27 from New York City, 54 from around the rest of the state, and 14 at-large. In a change of long-time state party rules, New York’s GOP delegates this year were selected by the State Republican Committee and several mini-committees for each of New York’s twenty-seven congressional districts, rather than having many determined by the presidential candidates on the ballot. The switch was intended to reward long-time party loyalists over the candidates’ friends and family, who were often favored in the past, according to Syracuse.com.

Jessica Proud, spokesperson for the State Republican Party, considers the new delegate selection process a welcome shift from a “top-down” to “bottom-up” approach.

“It's considered a coveted role to be a delegate,” she said in a phone interview with Gotham Gazette, “so this was a way to help reward the people that have really been the stalwarts of the party, helping to elect our candidates and grow our party every year. They were really pleased with it.”

Currently, 89 of New York’s delegates are pledged to Trump, while 6 remain bound to Kasich (who won Manhattan), though the Ohio governor officially suspended his campaign on May 4.

The New York Angle
“In a lot of ways, New York was the catalyst to help Trump seal in the nomination,” Proud recalls.

“It was the first time he had gotten over 50 percent of the vote, and then right after that was Indiana, and then Cruz and Kasich both dropped out,” Proud said. “So it all came together in New York; he won every demographic. It was the first time he really proved that he could go outside a larger box than he had in previous primaries and caucuses.”

Trump came out of New York’s April 19 primary with a large lead over Kasich and Cruz and the writing was all but on the wall. While Kasich did squeak out New York County (aka Manhattan), Trump dominated the rest of the state, winning 60.4 percent of the total vote.

This success, plus Trump’s extensive New York networks, both personal and professional, means this year’s RNC will be dominated by New Yorkers.

At-large delegates include Chair of the state GOP Ed Cox, state party Finance Chair Arcadio Casillas, Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, and Wendy Long, who is challenging Senator Charles Schumer in November.

On Friday, Cox released a statement praising Trump’s choice of Pence as a running mate, saying, in part, that "Mr. Trump has once again demonstrated the leadership skills required to make the changes necessary to put America on the right track."

Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani has been publicly backing Trump and is set to speak at the convention. He is a delegate to the convention, pledged to Kasich. City Council Member Joseph Borelli, of Staten Island, is a Trump delegate. Borelli has been a frequent Trump surrogate on TV for many months. He travelled to Ohio with his successor in the state Assembly, Ron Castorina, and former Council Member Vincent Ignizio.

Other prominent GOP delegates include Alfonse D’Amato, former U.S. Senator; Carl Paladino, honorary co-chair of Trump’s New York campaign and 2010 gubernatorial candidate; Tom Dadey, first vice chairman of the state GOP and co-chair of Trump’s New York campaign; and state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan - several other state senators will be in attendance: Golden, DeFrancisco, O’Mara, Croci, though DeFrancisco is the only delegate among them (he is pledged to Kasich). Assembly members Kolb and DiPietro are delegates. Assembly Member Bill Nojay, an upstate Republican who in the past played a significant role in attempting to push Trump to run for New York Governor and helped lay the groundwork for Trump’s presidential bid, will not be attending.

New York State Senators are hoping to maintain or expand their slim majority through the November elections and Trump’s candidacy may pose challenging for some candidates running in more moderate districts.

Rubye Wright will also attend to vote for Trump - at 94 years of age, she is the oldest delegate heading to the convention, according to amNewYork. A Harlem native and lifelong Republican, Wright has attended every national convention except one since 1968. A complete listing of New York GOP delegates can be found on Ballotpedia.

According to the New York Post, the State GOP has considered offering Donald Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., the ceremonial role of announcing New York’s 95 delegate votes. Trump Jr. will be attending the convention as one of Manhattan’s high-profile district delegates, and has been actively involved in his father’s campaign. Convention organizers may also position Trump Jr.’s announcement so that the New York delegation’s votes send Trump over the majority threshold to secure the nomination. Both details have yet to be confirmed.

“We certainly would love to have him in that role,” Proud said of Trump Jr., who will speak at the convention, “but the logistics are being worked out between the campaign and the State Committee.”

New York City’s only Republican member of its House of Representatives delegation, Daniel Donovan, will attend the convention. In an interview with the Staten Island Advance, Donovan said, "It's going to be exciting for our state.” Looking ahead to November, he said, "Traditionally, Republicans don't win New York, but we have a New Yorker as the Republican nominee for the first time in a very long time."

Role of the Delegates
Unlike the Democratic Party’s superdelegates, most of the 2,472 delegates at the RNC are technically bound to vote for a certain candidate. According to the Associated Press, only 95 delegates are unbound and can vote for whomever they choose. Trump amassed 1,542 pledged delegates, which puts him over the majority threshold of 1,237 to secure the nomination. According to Adele Malpass, chair of the Manhattan Republican Party and a New York congressional district delegate, Trump’s nomination is nothing short of guaranteed; “We're having an infomercial kind of convention, not a brokered convention. Everyone's going as a Trump delegate.”

With calls for a “Dump Trump” movement subsiding, the 112-member Convention Rules Committee finished its business without changing things to aid the naming of a different nominee. At least a few opposing Trump may continue fighting. "Whether you supported Donald Trump along the way or not: He. Is. Our. Nominee," said RNC Rules Committee Chairman Bruce Ash on Tuesday, according to CNN.

Delegates at the convention must vote on the party’s official policy platform. Members of the Platform Committee finished the draft platform while Trump himself took a hands-off approach, according to the New York Times, which cites discrepancies between the conservative language of the Republican platform and Trump’s more moderate views on issues such as LGBT rights.

According to the Times, moderate Republicans pushing for amendments to be made “secured enough signatures on Tuesday to demand a vote on their proposals from all 2,475 delegates,” so there may be some concessions made on the convention floor Monday before the final vote.

See You in Cleveland
For all aspects of the convention, New York will be front and center. “There'll be a big spotlight on us,” Proud noted, referring to the New York delegation as a whole.

“New York is already prominently featured, but the fact that our nominee is from the state really adds a whole other level of excitement and anticipation. It's definitely evidenced by the volume of requests that the state party has had of people wanting to attend. We've had way more requests than tickets that were given to us. The downside is you can't accommodate everyone, but from a party standpoint, it’s very encouraging that so many people wanted to be there and that people are very excited.”

DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION, July 25-28

When and Where is the DNC?
The Democratic National Convention will take place July 25-28 (Monday through Thursday) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Though Brooklyn was seriously considered to host the convention amid a strong push from Mayor Bill de Blasio and others, Philadelphia won the honor.

How are the Delegates Allocated?
There are three types of delegates for the Democrats: pledged delegates, who petitioned in order to get on the ballot and become a delegate, and are legally bound to support a particular candidate; at-large delegates, chosen by the state Democratic Party, who pledge to vote for a particular candidate; and unpledged delegates, otherwise known as superdelegates, who are prominent party leaders not bound to any candidate. There are 345 representatives of the New York State Democratic Party heading to the convention, according to the party.

There is no drama expected at the Democratic convention in terms of delegate allocation as Bernie Sanders has conceded and endorsed Hillary Clinton, so the types of delegates are unlikely to be a factor.

As more signs were pointing to a Clinton win by a solid margin, she won her home state of New York on April 19. Throughout the race, Clinton accumulated an overwhelming majority of the superdelegates, known party insiders always supportive of her over Sanders, who has not been an establishment Democrat. This led to some of the calls from Sanders and his supporters of a ‘rigged system.’

The Democratic Party Platform
Sanders and his supporters, plus the national Democratic tilt leftward, have had a significant influence on the party platform being adopted this year -- progressive influence throughout the primary season as well as recent, more explicit demands. Two issues are emblematic: calling for a $15 per hour minimum wage and standing against capital punishment in all circumstances. The party platform has stepped to the ideological left of Clinton, who has spoken in favor of a $12 federal minimum wage (with states going higher per their judgement) and capital punishment for certain crimes.

Dr. David Birdsell, a professor and dean at Baruch College, does not believe that Sanders’ endorsement of Clinton is enough to dissipate all of the tension within the Democratic Party.

“The Sanders endorsement – and he did use the word ‘endorse’ – of Clinton will go a long way toward reducing contention and controversy in Philadelphia,” Birdsell said in an interview. “[However,] there will still be some tension; Hillary Clinton is too polarizing a figure to expect an entirely smooth process. But chances are good at this point that Democrats will come together and unite for the fall campaign - barring further repercussions from the FBI’s decision not to prosecute [Clinton, regarding her email scandal], but that’s a general election problem, not a convention problem.”

Birdsell also believes that the concessions that the Democratic Party has made will be the only ones for a while.

“I suspect the concessions made to date are the end of the story, at least through the convention. Could there be a rear-guard effort to get TPP language in the platform? Yes, but given the deep affront that would pose to the sitting President, who is and will remain through November the Party’s principal asset, I think anything public highly unlikely.”

The New York Angle
Basil Smikle, executive director of the New York State Democratic Committee, is excited about the amendments to the party’s platform. Smikle sees them as an expansion of New York values to the rest of the nation. “I think New York has been in this conversation and led it for a long time,” he said.

“I think the state and the party has had a tremendous impact on the platform itself, and going to the convention with the leadership of the Governor is certainly carrying the work that Hillary Clinton has done for New York and the Senate, and what she's been able to accomplish and discuss on the campaign trail,” Smikle continued. “Those are New York values, and we are thankful that they've been able to influence other states, other delegates, and certainly the platform itself."

The Democrats released only the headline speakers as of Sunday, July 17, which includes the top-level names mentioned earlier: both Obamas, Bill and Chelsea Clinton, Joe Biden, and Bernie Sanders. It is unclear whether Gov. Cuomo or Mayor de Blasio will have a speaking role.

Smikle, a Cuomo appointee, confirmed that Cuomo has not yet been selected to speak at the convention. “We haven't gotten a schedule of speakers from the DNC yet, so that may still be discussed by the folks at the DNC at this point...I would love for [Cuomo] to have a speaking role. I hope he does."

“I’m sure I’ll have some role, but I’m also sure it’s not about me,” Cuomo said in late June, according to New York State of Politics.

Cuomo has been selected to chair New York state’s delegation at the DNC - a choice that caused Sanders supporters to protest. Delegates backing Sanders have refused to recognize Cuomo’s authority as the chair, and have said they will “file a legal challenge to the nomination of Gov. Andrew Cuomo as the chair of New York’s delegation.” It’s unclear if this controversy has subsided in the wake of Sanders’ endorsement of Clinton and the approach of the convention itself.

Other notable New York Democratic superdelegates include former President Clinton, Senators Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and Mayor de Blasio. De Blasio said on Wednesday that nothing around his speaking role had been decided. The same was true for City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who has been a frequent Clinton surrogate and campaigner this election season and will be part of the delegation to Philadelphia.

Other members of the New York Democratic delegation include Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, much of the state’s Democratic House delegation; City Council Members Jumaane Williams, Rafael Espinal, and Richie Torres, Public Advocate Letitia James, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.

According to Smikle, this year’s delegation “brings a tremendous sense of pride for us as New Yorkers.” He cited work New York leaders have done to move progressive policy and their impact on national politics.

“I think what New York broadly and the delegation specifically brings is that a lot of what's in the platform has been discussed and implemented in New York for quite some time, so I do think members of our delegation have had an incredible impact,” he said.

A complete list of the 345 New York DNC delegation is available here, courtesy of the State Democratic Committee.

See You in Philadelphia
Asked on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show if he was attending the DNC, Mayor de Blasio said on June 29, “Of course. I’m a delegate, and I’m looking forward to going there and voting for Hillary.”

***
by Amanda Sherwin and Rebecca Oh
@GothamGazette

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, July 18


New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week and next will be dominated by the race for President. The Republican National Convention takes place this week - Monday through Thursday - in Cleveland, followed by the Democratic National convention next week - June 25-28 - in Philadelphia.

Read our comprehensive preview of the two conventions, with a distinct focus on the many New York angles, including the fact that the presumptive presidential nominees of the two major parties both call New York home.

Before he attends the Democratic convention, Mayor Bill de Blasio is on a family vacation this week in Italy. He returns to New York on Sunday, July 24.

There is nothing scheduled at the City Council this week, and as of Sunday, no hearings on the Council calendar until mid-August. This past week, the Council held several committees hearings and its one full-body Stated Meeting of July (there are two Stateds each month other than July and August, when there are one each.)

All that being said, there are political events happening in New York City this week - 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:

Monday
According to City & State NY, on Monday “Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Assemblyman Joe Morelle host the 29th Annual Speaker's Cup golf tournament, Saratoga National Golf Club.”

Monday at 10 a.m. in the Bronx, City Council Member Vanessa Gibson will announce capital allocations for NYCHA developments in District 16 for the new fiscal year that began July 1. The allocation includes funding for security cameras, playground renovation, and programmatic funding for other improvements.

According to City & State NY, at 10 a.m. “The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission hold a public meeting” in Manhattan.

At 11 a.m. Monday in Rockaway Park, City Council Member Eric Ulrich will host a press conference “denouncing Mayor Bill de Blasio's handling of the Build it Back program and recommending changes that will make it more accountable to taxpayers and residents.”

According to City & State NY, at 11 a.m. “New York City Department of Probation Commissioner Ana Bermudez, Brady Koch, chief program officer of Food Bank For New York City, DOP clients and professionals from the food industry hold and participate in 5th annual “Health & Harmony Day,” South Bronx Neon.”

Also at 11 a.m. Monday on the steps of City Hall, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Council member Andy Kings and student track members from around the city will hold a press conference to honor Brooklyn native Justin Gatlin, who is set to compete in his third Olympic Games on the U.S. track team. Three “up-and-coming” student athletes from the city will be honored.

At 5 p.m. Monday, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will host a “Melissa Meet Up” at La Isla Garden in the Bronx. The Speaker’s monthly meet up is a chance for New Yorkers to ask questions and present concerns to Mark-Viverito one-on-one.

According to City & State NY, at 6:30 p.m. “Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte speaks at Straight Talk Forum on Race, Community, and Law Enforcement, Mount Zion Church of God 7th Day,” in Brooklyn.

The Republican National Convention kicks off on Monday in Cleveland. Read all about it.

Tuesday
At 8 a.m. Tuesday, City and State will host “On Diversity,” a forum bringing together leading professionals to discuss “women in government, creating an inclusive company culture, and MWBE opportunities in contracting.” The forum will feature a one-on-one interview with Congressional Rep. Hakeem Jeffries as well as panelists Letitia James, Public Advocate, Melissa Mark-Viverito, City Council Speaker, and Carra Wallace, Chief Diversity Officer at the New York City Comptroller’s Office.

The Republican National Convention continues Tuesday in Cleveland.

Wednesday
At 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, the Association for a Better New York will hold a breakfast with John Miller, Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence & Counter-terrorism of the NYPD. Miller will discuss current trends in terrorism and the NYPD’s assessment of and response to New York City’s overall security.

Also Wednesday at 8:30 a.m., “Crain’s Business of Garbage,” a program focused on the multibillion-dollar commercial and residential waste disposal industry, hosted by Crain’s New York Business at John Jay College. Kathryn Garcia, Commissioner of the NYC Department of Sanitation, will be among the panelists who will speak about the practical and political challenges encountered when dealing with the city’s waste collection and disposal.

At 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) Board of Trustees will hold a meeting to consider the development of a wind farm to produce renewable energy off the coast of Long Island. In a press release from Thursday, July 14, Governor Cuomo stated, “I strongly encourage the Trustees to once again demonstrate New York's leadership on climate change and help achieve the state's ambitious goal of supplying 50 percent of our electricity from renewable energy by 2030. Investing in New York’s clean energy economy strengthens our communities by providing access to clean, affordable power and good quality green jobs. Next week marks another opportunity for this state to lead the nation in creating a stronger, more resilient energy system and protecting the environment for future generations.”

Also at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday outside Brooklyn Borough Hall, Riders Alliance members will host a campaign launch rally for “Turnaround: Fixing NYC’s Buses.” The new initiative is geared toward implementing “an ambitious set of recommendations to upgrade and modernize bus service in New York City.”

At 3 p.m. Wednesday the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) and the CUNY Center for Community and Ethnic Media will hold a joint press briefing to present the most recent updates on the Zika virus and preventative measures being taken in New York City. “The briefing will also present a Vital Signs Report on Immigrant Health examining access to preventive and primary healthcare among immigrants in New York City.”

At 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Duggal Greenhouse, the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce and its Real Estate & Development Committee will present the 2016 Building Brooklyn Awards, “an annual event that celebrates recently completed construction and renovation projects that enrich Brooklyn’s neighborhoods and economy.” New York Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) President Maria Torres-Springer and Toby Moskovits and Michael Lichtenstein of Heritage Equity Partners will be honored at the event.

Also on Wednesday at 6 p.m. in Morningside Heights, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will host the first of two community conversations centered around “how systemic racism impacts our neighborhoods and is experienced in our communities.”

The Republican National Convention continues Wednesday in Cleveland.

Thursday
On Thursday at 6 p.m. in East Harlem, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will host the second of two community conversations centered around “how systemic racism impacts our neighborhoods and is experienced in our communities.” Brewer is expected to schedule more of these conversations around Manhattan in the coming months.

At 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, the Museum of the City of New York will present “FAST | Reimagining Traffic in New York City”. Former NYC Traffic Commissioner Samuel Schwartz will share insights on “how we can speed traffic, improve our transit system, and make the city safer and healthier for all.”

The Republican National Convention is scheduled to conclude Thursday night in Cleveland with the nomination acceptance speech of Donald Trump.

Friday and the weekend
Nothing on the calendar as of now. Prepare for the Democratic National Convention with our preview here.

***
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 Amanda Sherwin and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

New York Primaries are Closed, Repetitive and Costly


cuomo voting 2015 machine

Gov. Cuomo votes in 2015 (photo via Governor's Office)


In April, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump won the Democratic and Republican New York presidential primaries, respectively. New York has a well-publicized and worsening voter turnout problem, and approximately one in four registered New York voters could have no say in the presidential primary outcomes even if they wanted to - other than by changing their party affiliation more than a year prior.

New York is one of only nine states in the country, as of 2016, in which both major parties run closed primaries, meaning that voting in the Democratic primary is only open to registered Democrats and voting in the Republican primary is only open to registered Republicans. Closed party primaries are closed to unaffiliated registered voters - often referred to as independents - and to voters registered with smaller parties like the Green Party.

According to the New York State Board of Elections, as of April 1 there are 11,726,842 registered voters in New York (this figure includes both active and inactive voters). Of those voters, 2,485,475 are unaffiliated with a party, and 717,182 are registered with parties outside the two major political parties (Conservative, Green, Libertarian, Working Families, Independence, etc. - people regularly register with the Independence Party incorrectly thinking they are registering as “independent,” or unaffiliated). There are almost as many unaffiliated registered voters in New York as there are registered Republicans (2.7 million). There are 5.8 million registered Democrats across the state.

Despite not being allowed to vote in party primary elections, unaffiliated voters, along with registered Democrats and Republicans and “third party” voters, foot the bill for the administration of those elections. In New York, the cost of a primary election in 2016 is $25 million, which amounts to the fourth most expensive primary election in the country, and this cost to taxpayers is not limited to presidential primaries; New York Congressional primaries and local and state legislative primaries cost $25 million each. In 2016, New York is holding three different primary days (presidential in April, congressional in June, and state/local in September).

New York’s closed primary system and the costs associated with it - both monetary and democratic - have resulted in calls for change.

New York State Assemblymember Michael Cusick, a Democrat who represents part of Staten Island, introduced legislation earlier this year that would consolidate all non-presidential primaries to a single election day (Assembly bill A09108). Currently, U.S. Congressional primaries and state and local primaries are held on two separate days, costing the state $50 million, about half of which could be saved by consolidating. In February, the Democrat-controlled Assembly passed the bill, which would move all non-presidential primaries to the fourth Tuesday in June, the current date of congressional primaries. In the Republican-led state Senate, however, the bill was not taken up.

Some state senators are hesitant to support legislation that would require them to prepare for an election while they are still working in the capital - the state legislative session runs from January to mid-June. Currently, senators and Assembly members have the summer of election years to prepare for their September primaries as needed (state legislators serve two-year terms).

A bill almost identical to Assemblymember Cusick’s was introduced to the state Senate by Republican Sen. Fred Ashkar, who represents the Binghamton area (Senate bill S6604). But, Ashkar’s bill would assign the third Tuesday in August as the singular election day for all non-presidential New York primary elections rather than the fourth Tuesday in June. The bill, introduced in January and passed by the Senate in March, would still save taxpayers money by consolidating election days but because it calls for an August election day, it would allow state legislators to avoid the conflict between working and campaigning. Yet, Ashkar’s bill has no chance in the Assembly because Democrats see it as an effort to suppress the vote, given the late August date, when people are even less likely than usual to be paying attention to politics or in town to vote.

While either consolidation of the congressional and state/local primaries would save taxpayers money, without opening up the primaries voters registered as unaffiliated would remain unable to vote until the November general elections.

Assemblymember Fred Thiele of Long Island is unaffiliated with a political party. Thiele introduced legislation (Assembly bill A9661) in March that would allow unaffiliated voters to vote in primary elections. Many voters were hoping that the bill would be passed in time for this year’s presidential primary; however, election day came and went as the bill sat in committee.

This year’s presidential primaries were notably frustrating for many New York voters. While unaffiliated New York voters are ordinarily unable to vote in their state’s closed party primaries, thousands of voters found themselves unable to vote despite having registered in one of the two major parties. With one day remaining before the April 19 primaries, voter advocacy group Election Justice USA filed a lawsuit in New York federal court on behalf of thousands of voters.

According to Election Justice USA, the lawsuit represented both voters whose party affiliation had been inexplicably changed to unaffiliated and voters who had been left off of voter rolls.The group’s goal was to secure an emergency declaratory judgement, which would open New York’s Democratic primary to voters registered as unaffiliated and Republican. The judgement was deferred and the primary remained closed.

Jerry Skurnik, partner at Prime New York, a consultancy, specializes in providing political candidates with demographic information on New York voters. He believes that open elections have benefits for less partisan candidates.

“Most of the talk this year had to do with the presidential primary, and it was sort of an exception in that a lot of young people who were unaffiliated were vehemently for [Bernie] Sanders, but I think in general, [open primaries] would probably help more moderate candidates and less partisan Democrats,” Skurnik said in a phone interview with Gotham Gazette.

While less strict partisanship might be one potential benefit of opening primary elections, Skurnik also points out that there is a question of fairness that should be considered when discussing open primaries.

“[A closed primary] allows people who are supporters of the Democratic or Republican party to pick the candidates. It doesn’t allow people who really aren’t loyal or committed Democrats or Republicans to have a say in who’s going to be the party nominee. There’s an argument -- why should someone who votes for Democrats for office 25 percent of the time have any say in picking a Democratic candidate?”

This question of fairness is not limited to the role of unaffiliated voters in the Democratic and Republican primaries. While much smaller than the Democratic and Republican parties, third parties have active registered voters, and opening presidential primaries to allow any voter to vote in any primary regardless of party affiliation could be detrimental to these minor parties.

Minor parties, according are Skurnik, “are really ideological parties.”

“They stand for something, so why should the conservative who’s unaffiliated have a right to vote in the primary for the Green Party -- someone who’s in favor of fracking. Because they’re unaffiliated, should they be allowed to vote in the Green Party or vice versa? Should someone who’s pro-choice, should they be allowed to help pick the Conservative Party candidate because they’re unaffiliated?”

While they tend to be actively engaged in politics, voters registered with minor parties don’t make up a large portion of the electorate in New York. For example, there are 50,000 voters registered with the Working Families Party across New York according to Skurnik, and while unaffiliated New York voters are more numerous than “third party” voters, their political tendencies are more difficult to determine. However, there is one observable pattern shared among unaffiliated voters.

“We may not know where [unaffiliated voters] lean politically, but we do know they vote less often than people who registered in a party,” Skurnik said. “A higher percentage of Democrats and a higher percentage of Republicans and even a higher percentage of minor party registrants vote in general elections than unaffiliated voters. So a larger proportion of unaffiliated voters are less active, more apathetic.”

Across the country, 43 percent of all registered voters are registered as unaffiliated. According to Open Primaries, an advocacy group that advocates for the establishment of open primaries in all 50 states, there are approximately 26 million registered voters closed out of voting in major party primary elections across the country. Currently, there are 14 states in which both major parties run open presidential primaries.

The total cost of running elections in all closed primary states is $300 million. This figure only includes closed primaries run by the state -- caucuses, while also exclusionary to unaffiliated voters, do not cost taxpayers anything in the states in which they are held. This is because caucuses are paid for by the parties themselves. Some question why states pay for and implement closed primary elections at all given that they are controlled by the parties. (For the recent presidential primaries in New York, Democratic voters voted not just for a nominee, but also for delegates to the party convention; Republicans voted only for a nominee, their New York delegates to the RNC are chosen at a party meeting.)

One alternative to the closed primary system is the system employed by California for its presidential primary elections, which is something of a hybrid. In California, parties can choose between running a closed primary or a modified closed primary in which the party can choose to allow “no party preference” (NPP) voters, otherwise known as independent or unaffiliated voters, to vote in their primaries. In this year’s California presidential primary held on June 7, the Republican Party chose to run a closed primary, excluding NPP voters and allowing only registered Republicans to vote. The Democratic Party chose to run a modified closed primary, allowing both registered Democrats and NPP voters to vote in the Democratic primary.

California not only runs a modified closed presidential primary, but it also joins Washington and Nebraska in running a “top two” open primary system for all non-presidential primary elections. In the “top two” system, all qualified candidates are listed on the ballot; all voters, irrespective of party affiliation, can vote for whichever candidate they prefer; and the top two vote-getters, irrespective of party affiliation, move on to the general election. This system often results in two candidates of the same party opposing each other in the general election.

This system is also known as a nonpartisan primary, and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg - a Democrat turned Republican turned independent - once unsuccessfully advocated for its establishment in New York during his mayoral tenure. In New York City, Democrats hold an even more stark registration advantage than across the state: there are just over 3 million registered Democrats in New York City and just about 460,000 registered Republicans. Meanwhile, there are more than 785,700 registered New York City voters not affiliated with a party.

While Bloomberg’s efforts failed in 2003, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, recently supported the implementation of nonpartisan primaries in a 2014 New York Times op-ed.

Within the op-ed, Senator Schumer not only called for nonpartisan primaries in New York, but for nonpartisan primaries all across the United States.

“We need a national movement to adopt the “top-two” primary (also known as an open primary), in which all voters, regardless of party registration, can vote and the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, then enter a runoff,” Schumer wrote. “This would prevent a hard-right or hard-left candidate from gaining office with the support of just a sliver of the voters of the vastly diminished primary electorate; to finish in the top two, candidates from either party would have to reach out to the broad middle.”

***
by Libby Wetzler for Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

Former Informant, Out; Candidate Indicted on Voter Fraud, In


Hector Ramirez petitioning

Hector Ramirez petitioning in the Bronx (photo via Facebook)


Bronx Assemblymember Victor Pichardo will no longer be facing former Assemblymember Nelson Castro, a onetime federal informant who helped dig up dirt on fellow electeds in an attempt to reduce charges he was facing for election-related perjury, in the upcoming Democratic primary.

Instead, Pichardo will again be opposed by Bronx activist Hector Ramirez, who is facing a 242-count indictment for voter fraud in relation to his activities in his last race against Pichardo.

According to the Bronx District Attorney’s office Ramirez has a date in court before Bronx Supreme Court Justice Steven Barrett on September 13, the day of the Democratic primary.

While Castro has dropped his plans to run, Ramirez presents a stiffer challenge to the incumbent as the former districts leader’s name has appeared on ballots in the Bronx for over 20 years and he recently challenged Pichardo in the special election to replace Castro in 2013 and during the Democratic primary in 2014.

Ramirez’s entrance into the race is another chapter for the 86th Assembly District, which has been rocked by scandal and infighting for years. Castro served two terms in the Assembly while also working as an informant before abruptly resigning in April 2013. Ramirez announced his candidacy in a press release on Tuesday night touting that he had filed three times the required signatures to get on the ballot.

Pichardo’s camp is expected to challenge Ramirez’s petitions, with the possibility of knocking him off the ballot.

Castro told Gotham Gazette that he decided to bow out of the race after collecting 2,300 signatures petitioning because it was difficult to raise money. He said he now expects to back Ramirez. “I decided to stay out, but I think I will be endorsing Hector Ramirez,” Castro said. Asked if the indictment against Ramirez concerns him at all, Castro replied: “I haven’t endorsed yet. He’s not guilty until proven guilty in a court of law.”

Ramirez, who has clashed with county Democrats, is positioning himself as a man of the people running against Pichardo, who he has labeled the establishment candidate and an outsider. "[T]he first step in having our voice and concerns heard in Albany is allowing the people of the district to exercise their constitutional right of electing whomever they want fighting for them in Albany, not a poppet [sic] imposed by politicians," Ramirez said in the statement.

Pichardo reacted to Ramirez’s announcement by requesting the Department of Justice monitor the contest. "This announcement is yet another example of both Hector Ramirez’s contempt for the law and his lack of respect for the voters of the 86th Assembly district,” Pichardo said in a statement.

In 2014, dozens of witnesses told the Bronx DA office that Ramirez and his staffers duped them into handing over their absentee ballots - some of which Ramirez’s staff then filed as votes for their candidate. After the first tally Ramirez led Pichardo by 11 votes out of over 3,500 ballots cast. A hand recount put Pichardo ahead by only two votes.

At the time, Ramirez accused Pichardo of election fraud because Pichardo’s mother was active as a poll worker in the district. Further, Ramirez and other candidates complained that levers were missing on voting machines making it impossible to cast a ballot for Ramirez. The Board of Elections said that anyone who encountered a problem was offered a paper ballot.

Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, chair of the Bronx County Democrats, said he believes Pichardo will defeat any challenge because “Victor brings integrity to the job.” He said, “The Bronx deserves better than this continual parade of candidates with clouds around them.”

Crespo added that he thinks candidates should wait to run until “their legal issues are behind them.”

Ramirez was not immediately made available for an interview for this story.

Castro said he feels Pichardo and Ramirez have something to settle. “It’s a matter of principle. Hector won those elections but apparently after they counted paper ballots Pichardo won by two votes. I decided to stay out to let them duke it out. They have something there to work out.”

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Cuomo is Keeping New York from Emulating California, De Blasio Says


de blasio cuomo january 2014

De Blasio & Cuomo in 2014 (photo: Rob Bennett, Mayor's Office)


Mayor Bill de Blasio has repeatedly voiced his frustration with his fellow Democrat, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who he says has worked with Senate Republicans in the state Legislature to stymie his agenda and major progressive legislation. In an interview with Harry Siegel of the Daily News late last month, the mayor said Cuomo could have “done a lot more to avert” the “divided government in Albany,” where Democrats control the Assembly and Republicans the Senate.

De Blasio said that New York could be more like California “where Democrats have consolidated power and have done some remarkable things with it.”

The mayor’s comments come as his allies face two investigations for improper fundraising in efforts to win the Senate for Democrats in 2014 and after a legislative session during which Cuomo worked with Senate Republicans to pass a budget containing a $15 minimum wage phase-in and a comprehensive paid family leave program. Cuomo and the Legislature also allocate hundreds of millions of dollars each year to fund de Blasio’s signature pre-kindergarten program.

And yet, de Blasio’s sentiments are not unique, many Democrats feel Cuomo has empowered Senate Republicans in order to prevent the passage of a full slate of progressive legislation that could in theory alienate his moderate and conservative backers, including those upstate, on Long Island, and in New York City. The mayor and Assembly Democrats have a fairly long list of specific policy and funding grievances.

By pointing to California, de Blasio offered up a measuring stick. At first glance it would appear that California and New York are neck-and-neck on progressive issues. Both states have passed marriage equality, a $15 minimum wage plan, and paid family leave.

But progressive critics of the governor say he has failed to fully go to bat on reforms that would actually change how state government works, modernize voting and elections, and advance immigration and criminal justice policies opposed by conservatives. California has implemented a variety of these policies since 2010.

Cuomo allies say criticism the governor faces on these issues is unfair and comes mainly from the sharp edge of success - that critics say because he achieved some major policy victories he should achieve them all, while also winning the Senate for Democrats.

“I have my real disagreements with the governor and then there's individual achievements that are absolutely progressive and very meaningful,” de Blasio told Siegel. “But on the question of ‘Have we created a unified Democratic Party to have the maximum Democratic leadership and the maximum progressive policy of state?’ Of course not. Not even close.”

The de Blasio administration failed to respond to multiple inquiries about which specific policies California has enacted that he feels New York should emulate, but a number of his allies and political experts say California is in fact far ahead of New York on a number of progressive issues. These include immigration reforms like the DREAM Act and drivers’ licenses for undocumented immigrants; criminal justice reform measures like providing college education for inmates and laws to address holding police accountable for the deaths of civilians; and election reforms like independent redistricting and open primaries.

Meanwhile, in New York, Cuomo has enacted what many progressive analysts see as austerity measures, such as strictly limiting agency spending and instituting a property tax cap for municipalities, something California Governor Jerry Brown has moved away from. The Cuomo administration declined to comment for this article without the de Blasio administration listing which policies from California the mayor wants to see in New York.

Even beyond de Blasio, Cuomo’s relationship with progressive Democrats remains complicated. He’s had well-publicized roller coaster relationships with the Working Families Party and with the Legislature’s Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus. Administration officials point out that the governor has backed the DREAM Act and various criminal justice measures that are in place in California only to have Senate Republicans reject them. But de Blasio’s point to Siegel and that of many other Democrats is that Cuomo has ensured Senate Republicans are in the position to block those bills.

“I think a lot of the governor’s proposals are holograms so that he can come downstate and say ‘I suggested college for inmates,’ but he can also go upstate and say ‘I listened to your concerns and the bill didn’t pass,’” said Dr. Christina Greer, professor of political science at Fordham University.

Bill Samuels, head of EffectiveNY, longtime Democratic fundraiser and Cuomo critic, said that the governor has repeatedly failed to help Democrats win the state Senate and by doing so is responsible for failed progressive policies.

“We are way behind states like California and Oregon,” said Samuels. “It’s pathetic, if we had elected a Democratic Senate and had a different governor we would at least be considered a progressive state.There are exceptions, the governor came on strong with marriage equality, guns, and the minimum wage. So we aren’t like Mississippi, he’s done good things.”

But Samuels says one of Cuomo’s first major moves - deciding to abandon a push to take the 2010 electoral redistricting out of the hands of the Legislature - ensured he would have Senate Republicans as governing partners for the foreseeable future. Samuels notes that the plan Cuomo signed off on allowed Republicans to gerrymander Senate districts to dilute Democratic centers upstate and in the city while creating a 63rd Senate seat that they could easily win. “It was the most backward, bizarre redistricting in the United States,” said Samuels.”California took the redistricting process away from the Legislature and now they have an un-gerrymandered process.”

Cuomo’s deal with the Legislature also included a promise that the Legislature would vote to amend the constitution to allow an independent commission to draw districts starting in 2020.

California put redistricting of state-level seats in the hands of a citizens redistricting commission after a proposition vote in 2008. In 2010, Californians approved a proposition tasking the commission with drawing congressional districts.

Greer noted that when evaluating de Blasio’s and Cuomo’s governing approaches it is important to recognize they have distinctly different constituencies. Cuomo works within the bounds created by his and is aided in doing so by having a Republican Senate, she said. “The governor has a conservative base across the state. If you look at the electoral map the city may be progressive, but the rest of the map is still very red.”

Samuels said that de Blasio is right to focus on putting Democrats in charge of the Senate and that he has done more to champion progressive ideas in the state than Cuomo. “De Blasio may have been naive and been too transparent in his [2014] bid to win a Democratic Senate,” said Samuels. “He should have used burner phones and emails like the Cuomo administration does, but regardless I applaud him for doing it and he was right to do it.”

Senate Republicans continue to use de Blasio as a boogeyman in their quest to hold their control of the Senate. “Allowing these New York City radicals to have unchecked power over our entire state, especially in light of the U.S. Attorney and Manhattan D.A.'s investigations into the fundraising scandal they hatched two years ago, would be a disaster for the hardworking taxpayers and families who call New York home,” Senate Republican spokesman Scott Reif told Politico New York for a Tuesday article about de Blasio’s distance from this year’s Senate contests. Democrats are hoping to swing the chamber by riding Hillary Clinton’s voter turnout coattails and many are eager to see how involved Cuomo gets.

Karthick Ramakrishnan, professor and associate dean at University of California Riverside, told Gotham Gazette that Gov. Brown spent his early years in office playing a fiscal conservative and threatening and delivering vetoes of bills he felt weren’t fiscally responsible. But as the economy has flourished Brown has welcomed more progressive legislation.

Ramakrishnan said there is no doubt that a host of progressive legislation has passed California’s Legislature since Democrats won a supermajority in both houses in 2012 - major immigration and electoral reforms put the state far ahead of New York in those areas from a progressive standpoint - but he notes that there were other factors at play besides party control.

Gov. Brown has made it clear that he has no higher political ambitions, he will be term-limited out of office when his current term ends, Ramakrishnan said. Cuomo, however, has no term limits and announced he plans to run for a third term; is active in national politics; and believed by many close to him to still have ambitions for the White House. “Brown has declared he has no further political ambition so there is not much tension between him and other Democrats,” Ramakrishnan said, noting that de Blasio might also hold broader political ambitions that may have irked Cuomo.

Another quirk in California politics that Ramakrishnan points to as allowing for more progressive legislation is a ballot provision that passed in 2010 that did away with a previous requirement that the state budget be passed with a two-thirds majority. The ballot provision now requires a majority of legislators to support the budget. “Removing the supermajority rule really opened things up,” Ramakrishnan said. In the past, he said, “The legislature had to come up with carefully crafted compromises to even pass a budget and those deals prevented other [more progressive] legislation from passing.”

The situation sounds similar to Albany’s budget process where leaders trade on a host of issues and in some cases give away the chance to vote on major legislation to make sure they achieve top priorities in the budget. Having Senate Republicans on his side on certain issues during negotiations has helped Cuomo stop the Assembly’s push for progressive legislation that he does not support.

Another major factor Ramakrishnan points to in California’s progressive surge is changing demographics across the state. Ramakrishnan said a number of safe Republican districts saw an influx of immigrants and Democratic voters over the last decade.

“We’ve had the DREAM Act in since 2011, but most of the major immigration laws were passed in the last four years,” said Ramakrishnan. “It took a long time to build coalitions outside of the big cities like Los Angeles and it took demographic change in counties that used to be safe for Republicans.”

Senate Democrats have long touted demographic changes on Long Island as the key to what they see as their inevitable takeover of the chamber. Democrats recently won the Long Island seat formerly held by Republican Sen. Dean Skelos for two decades. Although Skelos’ corruption conviction likely played a major role in swaying voters, Democrats say a victory there might not have been possible if the demographics there hadn’t been trending Democratic for years.

Finally, Californians have the ability to put major issues before voters through ballot propositions, thereby bypassing the Legislature, which can take much longer to process an issue.

Sen. Jose Peralta, a Democrat from Queens, said he hopes Cuomo will be involved in campaigning for Senate Democrats this year. “I feel the governor is our leader and as a Democrat he should step up to the plate and help us gain the majority,” said Peralta. “It's in his best interest to move progressive issues like immigration and affordable housing. I hope the governor will take a lead role in helping Democrats win the Senate this year just as he is making sure Hillary [Clinton] becomes President.”

Asked if he supported a full Democratic takeover of the Senate on Tuesday, Cuomo told reporters that it is “too early for any political conversation about that," instead indicating he is focused on Clinton and the upcoming Democratic National Convention that he is attending, and may be speaking at. Elections determining control of the state Senate are four months away - the same day as Clinton’s likely face-off with Republican Donald Trump.

A look at major progressive issues and where they stand in New York and California:

Paid Family Leave
This year New York passed a 12-month paid family leave program that has been praised as the most “generous” in the nation. The program won’t be fully phased in until 2021.

California passed its six-week paid family leave program in 2002 and it went into operation in 2004.

Immigration
Cuomo touted his support for the DREAM Act, a program that would give undocumented students access to college tuition aid, during campaign stops in the city and made it part of his State of the State agenda, but he has said very little about it when the Legislature is in session and made no dramatic public push for the bill. Senate Republicans have made blocking the DREAM Act a major part of their reelection campaigns.

Brown signed California’s Dream Act into law in October of 2011. Since then he has signed a series of major immigration reform bills. In 2013 Brown signed a bill that allowed undocumented immigrants to apply for drivers’ licenses. The last time a New York Governor pushed for drivers’ licenses for undocumented immigrants was in 2007, under former Gov. Eliot Spitzer. The backlash against the proposal from conservatives and even Democrats was so strong that Spitzer dropped the plan.

This year Brown signed a bill that allows undocumented immigrants to buy health care on the state exchange created under the Affordable Care Act - making California the first state to offer that kind of coverage. New York offers undocumented immigrants emergency Medicaid and coverage for end-stage cancer and renal disease.

“I think it's very hard for the Governor to go into these economically depressed areas upstate and tell them he supports a bill to help immigrants that they see as undermining their already very tenuous way of life,” said Dr. Greer, of Fordham.

Sen. Gustavo Rivera, a Bronx Democrat, said that the first step for New York to achieve what California has on immigration reform would be for Democrats to take control of the Senate. But it wouldn’t end there. “We would also have to move conservative Democrats on these issues, we’d have to move the needle,” Rivera said, adding that he thinks Senate Democrats could move the DREAM Act during a first year in the majority, but acknowledged it isn’t a sure thing.

Peralta agreed, saying, “A Democratic majority gets the ball rolling in New York State.” But he warned, “We won’t be able to move everything at once. There are some issues that don’t play well in marginal districts upstate. We will have to tackle them in bite-size pieces - The DREAM Act one year, then drivers’ licenses the next.”

Minimum Wage
The two states appeared to be locked in a race to get to $15 per hour this year as both Brown and Cuomo pushed for a minimum wage increase - the governors signed their bills on the same day, April 4. But the bills are not equal: both call for incremental increases to the wage until finally reaching $15 - in California it will be 2022 before the wage is fully implemented; in New York it depends on where you live. Residents of New York City will have a $15 minimum wage by the end of 2018; Long Island and Westchester reach $15 to start 2022; while the rest of the state will reach $12.50 by the last day of 2020, with a 2019 panel to review the economic impact and able to halt the increase.

Election Reform
California adopted a new primary system in 2012 that allows the top two vote getters in primary races to move on the general election regardless of party affiliation. That move in combination with California’s citizen redistricting commission has opened up seats once kept in a stranglehold by incumbents.

Good government groups have pushed New York City to adopt nonpartisan primaries but there has yet to be significant movement. The idea is a nonstarter at the state level.

In October of last year, Brown signed an automatic voter registration bill that would have citizens registered to vote during visits to the DMV for drivers’ licenses or ID cards. Cuomo proposed a similar initiative in February during his State of the State speech, but met with opposition from Democratic lawmakers who worried registration would favor suburban and rural areas of the state where there are move drivers. Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, a Manhattan Democrat, suggested empowering other agencies to also register voters to create parity.

Criminal Justice Reform
Cuomo called for a review of the criminal justice system in the wake of the July 2014 death of Eric Garner during an NYPD stop. That review did not come about in the Legislature. Instead of passing legislation to create a special prosecutor to review police killings of unarmed civilians Cuomo issued an executive order empowering Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to take such cases out of the hands of the local district attorney.

Cuomo’s move was hailed by advocates who say local DAs are biased and unwilling to prosecute members of their local police force. But many advocates are still pushing for a similar system to be made law as executive orders can be undone. Senate Republicans have refused to consider any number of criminal justice initiatives Cuomo has proposed, including raising the age of adult criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 (New York is one of only two states where it is 16, with North Carolina).

California does not have a special prosecutor system in place for police killings of civilians but last year Brown signed a law banning the use of grand juries in such cases. The move came in response to outcry that a grand jury refused to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo for Garner’s death. "The use of the criminal grand jury process, and the refusal to indict as occurred in Ferguson and other communities of color, has fostered an atmosphere of suspicion that threatens to compromise our justice system," state Sen. Holly Mitchell, a Democrat from Los Angeles who sponsored the bill, said in a statement at the time.

Cuomo has tried and failed to get the Republican state Senate to act on college for inmates, something California expanded in 2015 in a partnership with a number of community colleges. Cuomo instead put forward a privately financed plan this year.

Brown currently supports a ballot initiative that will come before voters this fall that is designed to reduce recidivism and revise how it is decided if youth are tried as adults.

Fiscal Policy
While Brown has been considered more fiscally conservative than some of his allies in the Legislature, he did sponsor a 2012 ballot proposition that raised taxes on high-income earners. His initiative merged two other ballot initiatives - including one from the California teachers union branded a “millionaire’s tax” that would have increased the personal income tax on those earning $1 million and more. Brown’s plan created four new upper-income brackets for those making $250,000, $300,000, $500,000 and $1,000,000. The new tax rates are supposed to last seven years. The plan also increased the state sales tax. A group of unions recently introduced a new proposition that would make the tax increases of Brown’s proposition permanent.

New York adopted a millionaire’s tax under Democratic Gov. David Paterson in 2009 that Cuomo partially renewed in 2011. It is now set to expire in 2017. Many unions have pushed to extend the tax as has the state Assembly.

Cuomo has fought back against any tax increases. De Blasio insisted his universal pre-k plan be funded by a New York City income tax hike on households earning more than a million dollars a year. Cuomo delivered the cash for the plan and not the tax - something de Blasio publicly lamented.

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

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Public Outcry Leads to Hearings On Hoosick Falls Water Contamination


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Cuomo tours Hoosick Falls water filtration system with Senator Marchione (Photo: The Governor's Office)


Earlier this week Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie announced that the Assembly will hold public hearings on water quality in early September. The hearings are considered a long-overdue victory for environmental advocates and victims of water contamination emergencies across the state, such as in Suffolk County, Petersburgh, Newburgh, and most notably, in the village of Hoosick Falls. It was also seen as a potentially embarrassing development for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration, which has fought off the perception that it failed to act quickly enough to address contamination in Hoosick Falls.

On Friday afternoon Senate Republicans announced they will also hold hearings into water contamination in Hoosick Falls.

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan wrote in a statement that the "New York State Senate will hold public hearings in an effort to explore the sources of water contamination, examine state and federal oversight issues, and determine how we can prevent this from happening in the future. The first of those hearings will take place in Hoosick Falls. It goes without saying that we welcome the opportunity to partner with the Assembly to maximize the focus on this important issue."

Shortly after the Assembly hearings were announced this week, Politico NY reported that a congressional oversight committee has sought records from the Cuomo administration detailing its response to the water crisis in Hoosick Falls. Meanwhile, major New York electeds such as Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and Republican Rep. Chris Gibson have called for hearings on the federal level. Gillibrand met with Hoosick Falls residents on Friday for a roundtable on PFOA, the chemical that has contaminated the drinking water there.

“There's been a lot of work. A lot of moms in Hoosick Falls, we've been working together for weeks on this, taken to social media, holding news conferences, talking to local media,” Michele Baker, a local Hoosick Falls resident and staunch advocate for government action on this issue, told Gotham Gazette. “All to get our message out that for eighteen months, the Cuomo administration knew that our water was unsafe to drink, but they continued to allow us to drink it. We want the truth, and the truth is coming hopefully in the form of hearings.”

Hoosick Falls, a small village of 4,000 people in Rensselaer County, has been crippled by a water contamination crisis lasting almost two years to date. Concerns about the village’s water supply arose in 2014. Resident Michael Hickey asked to have the village’s water supply tested as early as August of 2014 for the manufacturing chemical perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), after his father died of kidney cancer. In November, water sampling results indicated PFOA levels of 180 parts per trillion to 540 parts per trillion; far greater than a provisional health advisory established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2009 of 400 parts per trillion, according to Hoosick Falls’ website. Yet, the EPA did not issue an official warning to the village against drinking the water until one year later, at the end of November 2015. The Cuomo administration delayed even longer, failing to classify PFOA as a hazardous substance and unlock State Superfund Site dollars to address the contamination until late January of this year. The governor pointed the finger at federal authorities and has said he doesn't think there is anything else the state could have done - a response that has intensified the calls for public legislative hearings.

In February, a bipartisan group of Assembly members announced that hearings on the Hoosick Falls water crisis would be held in April to examine the causes of water contamination issues statewide, as well as the government’s slow response to them. As April approached, however, support for the hearings essentially vanished. This sudden elimination of support may have been a product of private budget negotiations between the governor, the Assembly speaker, and the Senate majority leader, according to Politico NY.

On May 19, the EPA announced a new lifetime health advisory for PFOA, set at 70 parts per trillion. With the new advisory level, several other localities and communities across the country also suddenly found themselves with toxic drinking water, though the EPA still considers PFOA an unregulated chemical. This makes the advisory non-enforceable, and government response far from guaranteed.

“It's kind of surreal,” Baker said, of the daily challenges faced by residents who lack a safe source of water. “You totally take for granted going to the faucet in the morning to brush your teeth, to fill up the dog's bowl with water. So many times you go to the sink, and have to stop yourself, even six months into this year.”

Baker’s water comes not from the municipal water supply, but a private well, like thousands of other Hoosick Falls residents. In order to decontaminate her water supply, Baker had to have a private filter installed in her home, a process she said “was a mess. They weren't really sure what parts they needed, how to install them, how to get them to work.”

Amidst filters that continue to malfunction, long waits for PFOA test results of private wells, and ongoing bottled water rationing to residents from the local grocery store, the long-overdue hearings are apparently back on. They will be held by the state Assembly in Albany and Suffolk County in early September. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie appears to fully support the hearings, stating in the announcement, "Recent reports of water contamination in municipalities across the state have highlighted the need for a thorough review of measures to ensure clean and healthy water in our communities.”

For Liz Moran of Environmental Advocates of New York, the hearings are an important first step in the prevention of future contamination issues. “We think it's important that what went wrong in Hoosick Falls, in Petersburgh, in Newburgh, is uncovered, to make sure that those mistakes don't happen again,” Moran told Gotham Gazette. “And to make sure that we learn from that experience, and we learn what to do going forward to make sure that we don't see any more water contamination in the state.”

Moran and others, however, agree that an important piece of the effort was previously missing without the state Senate’s support for the hearings. Moran recalls, “Senator Marchione earlier called for hearings, but since then she's been backtracking. And it's odd because she represents Hoosick Falls, and the residents in that community have been calling for hearings for as long as this has been going on. So we really hope the Senate heeds their call and joins the Assembly on this.”

Before the Senate committed to holding hearings, Baker also echoed this sentiment, saying, “No one knows, except Senator Kathy Marchione and Senate Leader John Flanagan, why they will not call for Senate hearings. It's unfortunate, but I think everything else has fallen into place under public pressure." Senator Marchione’s office did not respond to Gotham Gazette’s request for comment.

Perhaps in response to this "public pressure" the Senate finally stepped in on July 8, when Majority Leader Flanagan announced they would also be holding hearings, the first of which will take place in Hoosick Falls. The hearings are scheduled in August, prior to the Assembly's September hearings, most likely to make up for the Senate's delayed response to address residents' concerns. Senate Republicans enjoy a close relationship with Cuomo and many believe they had been working to shield the Governor from potentially embarrassing hearings.

While the August and September hearings appear to be focused on the prevention of future water contamination issues in the state, the federal government is also initiating a probe into the response of the EPA and state and county health departments to the Hoosick Falls contamination issue. According to the Times Union, the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform sent letters to both Cuomo and the EPA on Wednesday, calling for information about their responses to the crisis. According to ABC News, the Committee wrote to Cuomo that it will be “looking into whether residents received misleading information that indicated the water posed no health risks, which exacerbated the crisis."

On Thursday, Cuomo spokesperson James Allen responded to the House Committee’s letter with the Governor’s willingness to cooperate with the investigation, albeit attempting to take some of the blame for the situation off the state level. “We will gladly share our experience in New York to clarify the facts and the steps we have taken to address these challenges,” Allen said in a statement. “We hope the end result is that Congress and the federal government act swiftly to prioritize and to implement uniform, nationwide regulations of PFOA and similar, currently unregulated contaminants. No town, city, or state should have to fear the water they are drinking. With clear federal regulations, we can achieve that goal.”

Moran praised the federal probe, saying “The residents in Hoosick Falls have been very dismayed, and really don't trust the government right now. They are frustrated that the pollution was supposedly known by the state for well over a year before they learned anything about it. So hopefully this probe will give them some answers and solace.”

Even if residents get the answers they desire, Baker feels it unlikely that relations will ever go back to normal between Hoosick Falls and the government, especially regarding the water supply, saying “many, many, residents will never trust it.”

Current and former residents in Hoosick Falls and other communities continue to struggle with the health effects of water contamination, many of which, like the cancers PFOA has been linked too, are irreversible. Baker stressed that water contamination is an issue that affects everyone at a personal level; “This didn't need to happen to my family and friends,” she said. “Every resident in Hoosick Falls now carries some measure of PFOA in their blood; and not by choice.”

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by Amanda Sherwin, Gotham Gazette
      

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Note: this article has been updated with news of the Senate hearings.

Assembly to Begin Implementation of Technology-Based Reforms


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photo via The Governor's Office


Earlier this year, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie announced he would implement a series of recommendations -- proposed by the Assembly Workgroup on Legislative Process, Operations and Public Participation -- designed to increase transparency, efficiency and participation in the chamber. Some of those changes were voted on as rules reforms, others were made as pledges. But many of them that deal with technology, like a revamp of the Assembly’s website, posting more information about bills and committee hearings online and broadcasting hearings, were not implemented during the legislative session.

Assembly Democrats say staffers will begin implementing those technological improvements between now and the next session that begins in January. “It was difficult for the staff to work on these things while in session but now that legislative work is wrapped up they will begin to put many of these things in place,” Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh a Manhattan Democrat and co-chair of the 12-member workgroup that came up with the recommendations, told Gotham Gazette. “Now that we are in the off session we will be looking to get as many of these things in place as soon as possible.”

He stressed, however, that there is no “item-by-item deadline” to implement the reforms. Heastie’s office did not return requests for comment.

Assembly Republicans have criticized Kavanagh and his taskforce for taking nearly a year to recommend a series of “common sense” changes that don’t actually reform the power structure of the Assembly. They say the Assembly Democrats didn’t seek input on rules changes and have not kept them updated on implementation.

“They worked a whole year supposedly and came up with things that aren't particularly brave, that don’t change the power dynamic and (don’t) give members the ability to move their own legislation,” said Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, a Republican from Canandaigua, to Gotham Gazette.

Some of the technology-focused changes the Assembly pledged to implement include making the functionality of the legislature’s bill-tracking system available to the public; creating a web portal that includes all information related to bills, including committee actions and evaluations by outside groups; the creation of a C-Span like legislative television channel; making the content of the legislative library searchable online and modernizing the Assembly’s phone system to include digital voicemail boxes.

"The recommendations put forth by the work group are thoughtful and comprehensive," Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle said in a statement in March when the reforms were released. "These measures build on the steps that we have taken recently to introduce technology into our operations. While these new changes will take some time to put into operation, this investment will increase efficiencies as well as provide greater transparency and accountability."

The workgroup came together in the wake of the indictment of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on multiple federal corruption charges last year. Heastie, in his bid to replace Silver, promised to appoint a group that would look at changing how the Assembly operates.

Many good government groups had the expectation that the workgroup's proposals would help empower individual members while decreasing the speaker’s ability to control all legislation, something they saw as playing into the charges against Silver, who had long resisted calls for basic technological changes to increase transparency. The Senate Republican Majority made these changes long ago.

Those advocacy groups welcomed the workgroup’s eventual recommendations but saw them as failing to deal with the issues that lead to Silver’s indictment. “Watching this process is like watching paint dry,” said Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group. “They’ve done some good things but they haven't tackled anything to do with reforming the flaws in the system. It fits in with the overall Albany reaction to recent scandals, which has been to do nothing. Little has happened in the Assembly or in the Senate since Silver’s indictment that would really change anything. The name of the game has been public relations.”

John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, said he has faith that the Assembly will make good on promised changes in a timely fashion. “Speaker Heastie has every reason to get this right to show he is a good manager and sincere leader,” Kaehny said. “He is under intense scrutiny by the press and watchdog groups and will lose a great deal of credibility if he can't manage to get these fairly modest improvements done on-time."

As much as Assemblymember Kavanagh would like things implemented quickly, he also wants to make sure any changes are worthwhile. “We need to do it right,” he said, “and make sure we create a high functioning system.”

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

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Rangel’s Replacement Decided, Other Uptown Races Take Shape


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Espaillat & co at unity press conference (photo via @EspaillatNY)


After 46 years and 23 terms, voters in the 13th Congressional District in Harlem have chosen someone other than Rep. Charles Rangel to represent them. The retiring 86-year-old, a legendary figure in Harlem’s political scene, appeared to want to extend his legacy by keeping the seat he had held for decades in the hands of an experienced politician of his choosing, but changing community demographics, a 2012 redistricting, and a crowded 2016 Democratic primary field seem to have thwarted his efforts.

State Senator Adriano Espaillat, who lost to Rangel in the 2012 and 2014 Democratic primaries, appears to have edged out a 1,200-vote win over his closest challenger and Rangel’s prefered successor, Assemblymember Keith Wright. After initially refusing to concede, calling for every vote to be counted, and demanding a federal investigation into voter suppression, Wright declared Espaillat the winner on Thursday. Rangel, Espaillat, and Wright held a unity meeting and press conference, with Espaillat saying he expected to have Rangel as a mentor.

Espaillat would be the first Dominican and the first formerly undocumented member of Congress. His win gives a boon to Hispanic political power, in New York City and elsewhere, while also showing a decline the strength of black political power in Harlem and nearby. In this heavily Democratic district, the winner of the party primary is a lock to win the November general.

The outcome has other implications, too, especially around the state Legislature, with a game of musical chairs appearing to commence.

While every vote in the NY-13 race is indeed counted, Espaillat’s apparent congressional victory lends clarity to the race for his state Senate seat and raises questions about Wright’s political future.

Wright, who chairs the powerful Assembly housing committee, pledged in early June not to seek reelection to his Assembly seat should he lose and challenged Espaillat to promise not to run for his Senate seat should his bid fall short. Espaillat’s camp dismissed the pledge as “desperate.” State legislative primaries are in September.

Contenders have lined up for both seats. Micah Lasher, a former chief of staff to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, launched a campaign last month with the caveat that he would drop out if Espaillat lost his congressional bid and sought reelection to the Senate. With Espaillat’s victory Lasher now seems locked in for a primary battle against former City Council Member Robert Jackson, who challenged Espaillat in 2014. Jackson endorsed Wright in the congressional primary and attended Thursday’s press conference.

So far that race has featured Jackson attacking Lasher for his previous work for education reform group StudentsFirstNY, a pro-charter school group that has campaigned against Senate Democrats. Lasher’s camp has in turn pointed out that Lasher has personally supported Democratic candidates. Lasher has been consolidating support among many elected Democrats, though the race will gain even more clarity now that Espaillat's future is clear.

Less clear is the future of Wright’s Assembly seat. Wright endorsed City Council Member Inez Dickens to replace him (she was also at Thursday’s press conference), but with his loss many Harlem insiders wonder if Wright could renege on his promise. Wright may decide, though, to run for the Council seat Dickens is said to be leaving. There is plenty of chatter about Wright positioning himself to challenge Espaillat in two years, especially if he can work to ensure that there are fewer other black candidates in the running.

On Wednesday, Wright’s campaign invited reporters to an event featuring Wright and Rev. Al Sharpton, who had held a fiery rally condemning Wright’s opponents last weekend. Wright didn’t appear at the event and Sharpton struck a conciliatory tone, asking the district to come together to support Espaillat - which is what happened on Thursday.

“We need to have a climate of coming together, and not of acrimony and rancor that pits communities against communities inside the district,” Sharpton told reporters. Espaillat’s statement on Wednesday echoed Sharpton’s pleas for unity. “To those who voted for one of my worthy opponents - I pledge to work my heart out to represent you, knowing that our district is not a Latino or black or Asian district. It's a district that belongs to all of us, and we simply cannot succeed unless all of us are moving forward together," Espaillat said.

According to The Observer, Charlie King, Wright’s top advisor, who did attend the event on Wednesday, appeared to dismiss the possibility of Wright positioning himself for a future congressional run. “I either see him in Congress, or I see him hanging out with me in the private sector, having fun and going to the beach,” he said. “I would anticipate that whoever wins this race will likely hold the seat for years to come.”

What Wright does about his Assembly seat is the next shoe to drop as the Lasher-Jackson Senate race heats up. Dickens was an active supporter of Wright’s congressional campaign and appears keen to move to the Assembly. She will be term-limited out of the Council at the end of 2017. There are no term limits for state legislators, Wright has served in the Assembly since 1992. Neither Wright’s nor Dickens’ representatives responded to requests for comment for this story.

The practice of trading City Council and state legislative seats is fairly common and easily achievable due to the facts that almost all races in New York City are decided during the Democratic primary and city and state elections do not occur in the same years. Current Council Member Inez Barron ran for her husband Charles Barron’s Council seat after he was term-limited out of office - he then successfully ran for her Assembly seat the following year.

The practice has an extremely high success rate because the Democratic County Committees have major sway in who runs and gets political and financial backing. Wright is the head of the Manhattan Democrats and would likely be able to maneuver himself into an easily winnable race should he choose to do so.

If he does indeed decline to seek re-election, his replacement will be chosen in September’s primary (agian, by virtue of the fact that there is virtually no Republican presence in Upper Manhattan). If Dickens were to win the seat, she would leave the Council and Wright could then run in the special election to replace her.

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

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