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New York Congressional Races to Watch - Start of October


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Election Day is Tuesday, November 6.

How ‘Blue’ is New York?


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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


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


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

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

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

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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


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


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

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

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

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Post-Primary Campaign Finance Filings Show Cuomo’s Already Spent $28 Million


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Photo: Mike Groll/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)


Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat running for reelection to a third term, successfully claimed the Democratic Party nomination earlier this month after a bitter primary battle against actor and education activist Cynthia Nixon. But the victory came at significant cost as Cuomo spent more than $20 million this year alone, nearly ten times what Nixon spent in total as she attempted to unseat him.

Cuomo, who won with 64.4 percent of the vote to Nixon’s 34.4 percent in the September 13 primary, is headed into the general election with roughly $11.6 million at his disposal, according to the latest campaign finance disclosures filed with the State Board of Elections.

In the three weeks covered by the filing, between September 1 and September 21, Cuomo’s campaign spent more than $5 million and raised about $567,000. About $1.9 million was spent on television ads through the firm Media Fortitude Partners, and the campaign also transferred about $2.4 million to the New York State Democratic Committee, which Cuomo controls and which has been boosting his campaign with ads of its own, while also supporting Cuomo-aligned candidates, especially Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul and attorney general nominee Letitia James, the New York City Public Advocate.

So far, in this four-year election cycle, Cuomo has raised more than $36 million and spent more than $28 million. Not all of Cuomo’s spending thus far went directly toward the primary alone -- even prior to defeating Nixon, he had begun spending on ads targeting Republican gubernatorial nominee Marc Molinaro, the Dutchess county executive. Cuomo received a total of 964,883 votes, spending about $29 per vote, while Nixon got 508,125, spending roughly $4.4 per vote.

Nixon raised $2.7 million in total for her campaign and spent about $2.2 million in her first-time bid for office, as of this post-primary filing. Her relatively lean campaign relied mostly on small-dollar individual donors rather than wealthy corporate ones and LLCs, which funded Cuomo’s deep coffers. Nixon only ran ads in the last few days before the primary and was unable to overcome Cuomo’s significant incumbency advantages, any issues Democratic voters had with her candidacy, and the governor’s two-term resume.

Hochul, Cuomo’s running-mate who has now joined him on the general election ticket, also beat her own primary challenger, Brooklyn City Council Member Jumaane Williams. Though Williams had far fewer resources for his campaign, the race was fairly tight. Hochul won with 53.3 percent against Williams’ 46.7 percent.

Hochul spent about $318,000 in the last few weeks and raised $251,000. Her campaign has another $323,000 left. She raised a total of $2.3 million this cycle and has spent nearly $2.2 million of it.

Williams stumbled with his fundraising early on and only raised a total of $322,000 and spent about $278,000 over the entire campaign. He has just over $20,000 left in his account, which he could transfer to another city or state campaign account if he decides to run for another position before he is term-limited out of his current office in 2021.

Cuomo and Hochul will face the joint Republican ticket of Molinaro and lieutenant governor nominee Julie Killian, a former Rye City Council member and recent state senate candidate. Other general election contenders include the Green Party’s Howie Hawkins, Libertarian Larry Sharpe, and Stephanie Miner, the former Syracuse mayor who is running as an independent, and their respective lieutenant governor running-mates.

In the four-way contest for the Democratic nomination for attorney general, James emerged as the victor, setting her up to face Republican Keith Wofford, Green Party nominee Michael Sussman, and the Reform Party’s Nancy Sliwa. The seat was vacated by former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who resigned after facing allegations of physical abuse by multiple intimate partners.

James raised $2.2 million and spent about $1.9 million in total for her successful campaign, which got her 40.6 percent of the vote in the primary. She had about $275,000 left for the general election as of the post-primary filing, but is heavily favored in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans two-to-one and no Republican has won statewide since 2002.

Fordham law professor Zephyr Teachout came in second in the race, with 31 percent, after running a grassroots campaign that also received the backing of several newspaper editorial boards. At times, Teachout’s opponents appeared to view her as the frontrunner rather than James, who had the backing of Cuomo and the state’s Democratic establishment. Teachout raised about $1.9 million and spent about $1.85 million in total.

Democratic Congressional Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney campaigned fairly lightly but doled out massive amounts of cash to blanket the airwaves with ads. Utilizing funds raised for his congressional reelection, Maloney raised nearly $3 million to run for attorney general and spent more than $5 million, but finished third with 25 percent of the vote.

Leecia Eve, a Verizon executive who has served as an aide to Cuomo, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, came in last with 3.4 percent. She raised about $408,000 and spent $417,000 on the campaign.

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

Read more by this writer.

Note - This article has been updated to note the amount that Cuomo and Nixon spent per vote. 

Cuomo and His Progressive Critics Face Moment of Truth


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Gov. Cuomo (photo: @andrewcuomo)


Governor Andrew Cuomo, emboldened after a sizeable Democratic primary victory, and an invigorated progressive movement with recent wins of its own, are again forced to grapple with the rift between them, as the factions must decide what steps they are willing to take to unite in the aftermath of a contentious primary season.

Facing a handful of general election opponents led by Republican Marc Molinaro, Cuomo has given mixed signals to the 500,000-plus voters who chose Cynthia Nixon on September 13, many of whom likely helped lift a group of left-wing challengers over seven sitting state senators. Some of those challengers -- Molinaro, Green Party nominee Howie Hawkins, independent Stephanie Miner, and Libertarian Larry Sharpe -- have begun making direct appeals to Nixon voters, while Cuomo has not.

Before the end of next week, one of the governor’s chief progressive critics, the Working Families Party, is expected to have determined what to do with its ballot line after Cuomo defeated its first choice in round one. The WFP nominated Nixon for governor and Jumaane Williams for lieutenant governor, but saw them both lose in the Democratic primary, throwing into question whether the two will actually appear as WFP candidates on the November ballot. Party members will in the coming days decide via internal meetings who they are willing to support in November.

The party may offer its ballot line to Cuomo, who has downplayed the magnitude of his left-wing critics after he won two-thirds of the primary vote and openly warred with the WFP for years, including since just after it agreed to nominate him in 2014.

As NY1’s Zack Fink reported Monday, WFP leaders will meet privately on Wednesday to discuss the party’s next steps, and will the following Wednesday convene in a public meeting as a full WFP state committee, apparently to vote on a general election slate for governor and lieutenant governor, as well as an attorney general candidate. (The party had previously installed a placeholder, while expressing support for both Zephyr Teachout and primary winner Letitia James).

The impending decision will come after the WFP backed Nixon, who took up the cause of the state’s disgruntled progressives frustrated with Cuomo’s centrist triangulation on a host of issues, enabled in part by his support of a Republican state Senate bolstered by breakaway Democrats. With just six weeks until Election Day, November 6, the WFP is faced with the decision of backing a governor with whom it has had a deeply antagonistic relationship — and who has thus far declined to extend an olive branch to the WFP and more broadly those to the left of Cuomo — or a candidate who has little-to-no chance of becoming governor, possibly putting a dent in Cuomo’s vote total.

The WFP, notably, needs at least 50,000 votes on its ballot line for its gubernatorial candidate in order to keep that automatic line in elections for the next four years. If no alternative move is made, Nixon and Williams would remain on the line. (Governor and lieutenant governor are voted on separately in party primaries but as a ticket in the general). A back-up plan for removing Nixon from the gubernatorial ballot line — a somewhat tricky process — has been in place for months, with the WFP and Nixon acknowledging that her chances in the primary were slim and pledging not to play “spoiler” in the general election by peeling away votes from Cuomo.

The party will answer the looming question of whether to leave Nixon on its line, pick Cuomo, which would necessitate a deal with the notoriously score-keeping governor, or possibly someone else, based on what members believe is best for the causes it champons, the party’s political director, Bill Lipton, told Gotham Gazette on Monday.

“The WFP is having its own internal deliberations,” Lipton said by phone. “We’ll be having meetings, phone calls and other communications, where people are going to air their views, and, as has been oft-stated, the candidates, the leadership, the grassroots members of the WFP will be arriving at a decision together.”

Lipton declined to say if any discussions with Cuomo’s camp had occurred in recent weeks.

“We’re focused on our internal deliberations and doing what’s best for working families in New York State,” he said.

Additionally, Lipton said the WFP has, as expected, been communicating with Nixon and Williams, the Brooklyn City Council member who ran against incumbent Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul in the primary. “We’re going to talk a lot with Cynthia and Jumaane,” Lipton said. “We consider them part of our community.”

Nixon has made no public comments since her primary night concessive speech, which was celebratory and forward-looking. A top Nixon campaign operative was noncommittal when asked about the matter last week.

“I don’t want to divulge much,” Nixon campaign chief strategist Rebecca Katz said on the Max and Murphy podcast. “There will be some answers, and they will be coming soon.” Katz went on to acknowledge that Nixon had previously said she’d prefer Cuomo to Molinaro, and reiterated that Nixon has always been and will remain a Democrat.

Though Nixon came up well short of defeating Cuomo, all but two of the eight challengers to former members of the Independent Democratic Conference — a group of breakaway Democrats allied with Republicans in the State Senate — pulled off victories that shook up the New York political world. Additionally, left-wing insurgent Julia Salazar knocked off veteran state Senator Martin Dilan. All nine Senate challengers were backed by the WFP. But Cuomo said in his defiant post-primary press conference that their success did not serve as a rejection of his brand of progressivism.

Though Cuomo had given his tacit support and generic endorsement to his fellow Democratic incumbents as part of the April unity deal that brought the IDC back to the mainline Democratic fold, the governor downplayed the results and anything they might say about the extent to which his leadership was rebuked by voters.

Democrats clearly approved of his get-things-done, somewhat-tempered progressivism, the governor explained the day after the primary, pointing to his margin of victory — 65.6 percent to Nixon’s 34.4 percent — even with a major boom in turnout from four years ago, when he prevailed by a similar percentage over Zephyr Teachout. While the former IDC members struggled immensely, the two Cuomo-endorsed statewide candidates — Hochul and James — won their hotly-contested primaries.

What many deemed a progressive wave was “not even a ripple,” the two-term governor said the day after the primary, throwing cold water on the narrative that the primary was part of a surge in popularity of a Democratic vision in stark contrast to his.

“Where was that effect yesterday?” Cuomo said of a supposed progressive wave in the state, represented by the candidacies of Nixon and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. “Where was it?”

“It was upstate. It was downstate, white, black, brown — it was across the board,” he said of the coalition that contributed to his decisive win.

He added the victory proved that he and New York Democrats “provided and achieved progress,” which was the “message” voters delivered in the election.

But what about those 500,000 Nixon voters and the disenchanted left they represent? Will they rally behind Cuomo, beaming with confidence and dismissiveness, as the Democratic nominee? Will WFP members swallow the indignity of offering him their ballot line?

At least two of the leaders of the successful primary purity push backed by the WFP are staying out of the fray.

André Richardson, a spokesperson for successful IDC challenger Zellnor Myrie, said in a statement that Myrie “respects” the WFP’s “internal process.”

“He looks forward to continuing to fight side by side with them on progressive issues,” Richardson said.

David Neustadt, a spokesperson for Alessandra Biaggi, who defeated former IDC leader Jeff Klein, said in a statement that Biaggi is “supporting the Democratic Party nominees for Governor, Lt. Governor and Attorney General.” He declined to say whether Biaggi has a preference on the WFP’s choice, but said the candidate “respects the internal democratic process of the WFP, which appropriately allows the members of the Party to determine whom that party endorses."

Rachel May, who prevailed over former IDC member David Valesky in her primary and like Myrie and Biaggi received Nixon’s support, said she believed Cuomo is the definitive leader of the Democratic Party, and is open to the WFP handing the ballot line to Cuomo.

“I’m not categorically opposed to it,” she explained. “I was running for Democratic unity all along. That’s what our whole campaign against the IDC was about. And so I feel like Democratic voters have spoken about who should be the standard-bearer moving forward.”

“I supported her in the primary but I think I would encourage her not to campaign actively against the governor in the general,” May said of Nixon.

May stopped short of saying it is her preference that the WFP give Cuomo its nomination. “I’m willing to only say ‘I will not object,’” she said.

May, who said the governor’s team was among the first to congratulate her after the primary, went on to speak to the need of uniting the warring factions of the party — something Cuomo and his team have been loathe to do following the primary. Cuomo, for example, made no mention of Nixon or her supporters during an event billed as a unity rally held the week after the election.

“I want to work together with whoever is elected governor. It’s looking more and more like Governor Cuomo,” said May, who may be facing a tough general election that could include Valesky on the Independence and Women’s Equality ballot lines, both of which Cuomo also has. “I think the less we divide the more progressive voters the better, at this point.”

Asked if Cuomo’s post-primary press conference — where he did more spiking the football than calling for party unity — worked toward that goal, May said Cuomo and his allies are “eager to work with Democrats moving forward.”

“I feel like we we’re going to all get on the same page,” she continued. “We still need reform in Albany. It’s not going to be a rubber stamp Senate for [Cuomo]. So I understand that, but I also understand that he wants to work with us.”

Gubernatorial Candidates Miner, Sharpe & Hawkins Lay Out Campaign Platforms, Cases Against Cuomo


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Miner, Sharpe, Hawkins (l-r)


Governor Andrew Cuomo defeated Democratic primary challenger Cynthia Nixon fairly handily on September 13, when attention began to shift to the race between Cuomo and Republican gubernatorial nominee Marc Molinaro, currently the Dutchess county executive.

But while Cuomo and Molinaro are the nominees of the two major parties, and each will also appear on at least two other party ballot lines in November, there are three other candidates running serious general election campaigns for governor of New York. (It remains to be seen if Nixon will stay in the race as the Working Families Party nominee, though several signs point to her relinquishing the ballot line, possibly even to Cuomo.)

Like Nixon and Molinaro, Stephanie Miner, Howie Hawkins, and Larry Sharpe are campaigning both on criticisms of Cuomo and their own visions for leading the state. Miner, a Democrat and former two-term mayor of Syracuse, is running with the Serve America Movement party, a new bipartisan group she is seeking to help establish with this campaign. Hawkins, who has thrown his hat in the ring for the third straight time, is again the Green Party nominee. In 2014, he won about 5 percent of the vote as Cuomo secured a second term with 54 percent, and Republican nominee Rob Astorino received 39 percent. Sharpe is the Libertarian Party nominee.

All three candidates are attempting to stake out an alternate vision to Cuomo and, to a lesser degree, Molinaro. Hawkins has made a direct plea to Nixon primary voters that he is now the clear progressive alternative to Cuomo. Sharpe offers himself as the only true outsider voice who can provide a makeover to state government. And Miner says she has the right blend of executive experience, independence, political know-how, and focus on the key issues facing New Yorkers, like infrastructure.

While their paths to victory appear daunting, each candidate is offering something they hope will appeal to an increasing number of New Yorkers sick of the status quo, both in terms of the incumbent and the two major parties. How many votes each can earn remains an open question, but all three are likely to impact the race.

Monday, September 24 will mark 44 days until Election Day, November 6. Gotham Gazette spoke with Miner, Hawkins, and Sharpe about their candidacies.

Stephanie Miner
Miner, formerly mayor of Syracuse and chair of the state Democratic Party, is running chiefly as a good-government reformer and infrastructure expert with sound ethics and a no-nonsense leadership style. She’s to the left of Cuomo on certain issues and to his right on others, running with a Republican for lieutenant governor, as they attempt to help build a bipartisan movement that appeals to voters of all stripes. She presents her candidacy as a “rebuke of Andrew Cuomo’s policies and a rebuke of where we are as a state,” as she described it to the New York Times in June, announcing her candidacy.

Miner has for years argued that the Empire State’s politics are in need of an overhaul, especially following a falling-out with Cuomo. During an appearance on the Max and Murphy podcast, recorded as Miner was mulling a run for governor, she painted a grim picture of the status quo.

“For me, backroom dealings and politics as usual is not serving anybody,” she said. Every time New Yorkers look at the news, Miner said, someone else in the governor’s circle was being tried or sentenced for corruption or other wrongdoing. And while the establishment has been “silent,” she said, voters across the state are “angry and upset and frustrated.”

But clearly not everyone appears to be fed up with the way the state is being governed. In the primary, Cuomo won by a wide margin over an outsider who promised to if elected reimagine the state’s politics. Miner, in an interview Tuesday, painted herself as a different kind of opponent, and explained how she is highlighting Cuomo’s faults. She also downplayed his decisive primary victory and outlined a different general election landscape.

“Twenty-five million dollars blanketing the airwaves can get you a lot of votes,” she said. “Democrats are eager to vote, they have enthusiasm, and they despise Donald Trump.”

In a higher-turnout election with a broader electorate, including many unaffiliated voters, Miner said she would be able to gain traction ahead of November, despite Cuomo’s domination of the September primary. She has also pointed to her very different resume from Nixon’s.

“My target voter is someone who is fed up with the corruption, both in Washington and in Albany, wants problems to be solved, and recognizes that we have a state government that is not solving problems, and is instead appealing to only vested interests and campaign contributors,” said Miner, who previously served as a Common Councilor in Syracuse and a labor attorney at Blitman & King.

Miner also favors nonpartisan legislative redistricting and closing the LLC loophole in campaign finance laws, which allows entities to donate money to candidates in virtually unlimited sums by using several limited liability companies.

While harmful effects of money in politics is a cause regularly taken up by the left, it’s also clear that Miner could not have served as a candidate in the mold of the unabashedly left-wing Nixon in the the Democratic primary. Miner, for example, does not include raising taxes on the wealthy as a campaign pledge -- she believes taxes are too high already, on the wealthy and many others.

And when asked about how to fix the MTA, Miner begins with her core message: the governor’s chronies must be uprooted from positions and replaced with people who truly have the best interest of New Yorkers at heart. Cuomo’s appointments to the MTA board, she said, “would have to resign” is she is elected governor and “be replaced with people who have actual experience in transit.”

“For too long,” she went on, “we have a system that just reacts to people who give campaign contributions, that swings widley when other vested groups make noise. We need to make sure that we get everybody gathered around the table to figure out how we can put the best policy forward to solve all of our goals.”

But in lieu of additionally taxing high earners to help fund the desperately needed subway repairs, one method preferred by Nixon and Mayor Bill de Blasio, Miner emphasized reining in costs.

“The issue with the MTA is that you can’t simply say ‘Give the MTA more money.’ The MTA also has to take responsibility for managing more effectively and to changing their policies, so that we are no longer the place with the single most expensive mile of track,” she explained. “The MTA has to accept management responsibility for changing those trends as well.”

She went on to note that employee benefits like health care costs need to be discussed at the bargaining table, and described excessive spending on them as an obstacle to mending the struggling MTA.

“If your benefits outstrip in terms of cost what is the national average, that’s going to be less money for you to improve the system,” she said. Miner added that she would ensure that the mentality at the MTA would be an obligation to riders first and foremost.

“Your responsibility is to make sure that we have a transit system that works,’” is the approach Miner said she would instill if elected governor, who appoints a plurality of MTA board members and the leadership of the authority, while also playing a key role in MTA budget decisions.

Asked how she would navigate the treacherous politics of cutting MTA project costs, which would in all likelihood spark outcry from the Transit Workers Union, among others, Miner cited her experience as Syracuse mayor being willing to take heat from a firefighters union, because it favored spending money on a revamping a firehouse — an effort she thought was not worth the cost.

“When I was mayor, we had a firehouse that needed millions of dollars of improvement in order to be viable,” she explained. “And the firefighter union desperately wanted to keep the firehouse open. And I looked at the cost and benefits and said ‘No, we can’t, because it would be too expensive for us to do. We need to make sure that we take that money and actually provide service to people of the city of Syracuse, not using it to spend on a firehouse that we don’t need.’”

Her moved sparked outcry — Miner was picketed, she recalled — but she said she stuck to her central approach to government, putting her constituents first.

“The union still is very angry at me, but sometimes you have to risk the wrath of vested interests in order to make sure that you’re doing the public’s work,” she said.

Miner has a similar critique of Cuomo on economic development, saying that the state ought not be “picking winners and losers.” She prefers investment in infrastructure that will create jobs, she has said, and spur economic activity.

Miner has several times lamented that New York has the highest tax burden in the country.

She said that if elected she would seek to “stimulate the market” to build more housing. And, Miner outlines on her website, rent regulation alone is an insufficient measure in the goal of “maintain[ing] affordable housing for New York City’s residents.”

In an interview on The Capitol Pressroom, Miner described herself as more open to charter schools than some other Democrats who have decried Cuomo’s stance on the privately-run public schools that the governor has supported and have proliferated in New York City especially.

“I was the mayor of a city that had completely unacceptable education results. And I determined that the best way to change those results was to work together to give families choice,” she explained in the interview with Gotham Gazette when asked to explain her stance further. “So families had opportunities to go to charter schools, they had opportunity to go to parochial schools, and they had opportunities to go to public schools.”

“What we need to understand is that…there’s not a magic solution for everybody, and what we need to do is give everybody the flexibility that they need to determine what is the best option for their child and at the same time, schools and teachers and administrators the support necessary to implement innovative and creative solutions,” she said.

Miner also breaks from more free-spending Democrats on pensions — an issue that in part led to her falling out with Cuomo after he had appointed her as a leader of the state party. She said this was a “hard and fast example” of her not fitting neatly on either side of the ideological spectrum.

“[I]t was clear to me there needed to be a discussion about how pensions, and the costs of paying for pensions were impacting local government, and Andrew Cuomo and the leadership of the state said that the best way to solve this problem was to allow localities to borrow to pay their pensions, and I stood up and said ‘That is fiscally irresponsible. It’s what got the city of Detroit into bankruptcy, and we shouldn’t do this,’” she recalled.

Miner said she could have gone along with the borrowing and let the next mayor deal with the financial repercussions, “but it was not fiscally responsible, and I think we need to be very open about that and I did that.” What’s more, after not getting the response she felt was necessary from the governor and party officials, she expressed the view in a New York Times op-ed, which cracked the gulf with Cuomo wide open into a rivalry that persists to this day.

Miner may have sound critiques of Cuomo and her own vision to run on, but does she, along with running-mate Michael Volpe, the Pelham mayor, have a path to victory? Does any 'minor party' candidate?

The most recent data from the state Board of Elections shows that as of April there were about 11.3 million active registered voters in the state. Of those, the largest group by far is Democrats, at 5.6 million, followed by 2.6 million Republicans, and closely behind, nearly 2.4 million voters unaffiliated with a party. The fourth largest group is roughly 436,000 active voters registered with the Independence Party, many of whom likely believe they simply registered to be independent of any party, or unaffiliated. (Cuomo has the Independence Party ballot line in November.)

Turnout is often very low in non-presidential elections, but this year is expected to see a significant surge, brought on by anti-Trump sentiment as well as high-stakes elections for Congress, the state Senate, and the governor’s race.

It is unclear exactly which voters Miner, a Democrat running as an independent, needs to attract in order to outpace all of her competitors, but it’s certain she will need significant funding to get her name and message out, especially in the short time period before Election Day. In that regard, she and all the other candidates lag far behind Cuomo.

In addition to his sizeable fundraising advantage, one key part of Cuomo’s resounding victory over Nixon was his support among black New Yorkers. Miner attributed this outcome to Cuomo casting himself as someone who offered a starkly different vision than the president’s. “I think that his message in saying that he is not Donald Trump was successful and I think it clearly resonated in those communities,” she told Gotham Gazette.

Miner also touted her experience as mayor of Syracuse, where she said she implemented “enlightened” criminal justice policies.

“I’m going to talk about the fact that I will end cash bail,” she continued. “The governor has just talked about it, [but] hasn’t done anything. We need to approach criminal justice in a very different way. We need to talk about issues like bias and looking at reforming the way our criminal justice system operates, so that it is not victimizing people, ending mass incarceration and the school-to-prison pipeline."

In an interview with New York NOW, Miner said that she favors legalization of recreational marijuana, but said she is opposed to New York attempting to institute its own single-payer health care system. Like Cuomo, she said she favors such a system on the federal level, but worries how New York would pay for it.

Despite the uphill climb ahead, Miner is convinced her broader message will resonate with a vast swath of the electorate.

“I think that there are a great number of New Yorkers who are deeply dissatisfied with the direction the state is going…And so those are the people who I think are very open to the message of the current status quo being terrible, and that both parties are complicit in this culture of corruption and the politics of status quo,” she said. “Whether you are in New York and see the subway system crumbling around you, or you’re upstate and you see your family fleeing because of a lack of opportunity, you’ll understand that all these policies start at Andrew Cuomo’s feet.”

Howie Hawkins
Hawkins, who was among the Green Party co-founders and is a perennial candidate who ran for governor in 2010 and 2014, has since launching his 2018 campaign in April made social, racial, and environmental justice again at the center of his vision, including tenets like desegregating public schools and improving environmental sustainability. He hopes to gain the votes of the 26,462 active Green Party voters in the state along with others on the left disappointed with the governor.

“We call it the Green New Deal,” he told Gotham Gazette on Monday in an interview. “Basic economic human rights, the right to a job or an income above poverty, comprehensive healthcare, a decent home, a good education…Those are the things [President Franklin Delano] Roosevelt said in his last state of the union address that ought to be part of a second Bill of Rights.”

Hawkins, who in Syracuse has run for Common Council, mayor, and auditor, said the plan would create an “economic boom” and that Democrats have pushed for similar policies but have “watered down the content.” A socialist, Hawkins says capitalism is the enemy of sound environmental policy.

“Capitalism's blind, ceaseless growth is devouring the environment,” he said in April. “As long as workers are bound to a fixed wage and capitalists take the remaining value that labor creates as profit, the rich get richer and the rest of us struggle to make ends meet. We need more social ownership and democratic planning to provide a decent standard of living for all that is ecologically sustainable.”

Hawkins is a marine corp veteran from the Vietnam War and a retired Teamster. He said the Green New Deal is "the alternative to Cuomo's corrupt corporate welfare posing as economic development.”

He favors single-payer health care funded through payroll taxes, and allocating additional funding to public schools.

Asked about his school integration plan, Hawkins called it “controlled choice” and cited what he said were similar policies in Wake County, North Carolina and Cambridge, Massachusetts.

“So you have the public school choice, the children pick the schools in order of preference, they rank them, and you combine that with the plan to have them socioeconomically balanced. So basically, family income,” he explained. “That’s because [in] integrated schools, the lower-class kids test scores come up, the upper-class kids scores don’t go down, and all kids show do better on things like intellectual self-confidence, and creativity and problem solving, teamwork.”

He added, “Those are good qualities that ought to be part of the education system.”

And high-stakes testing, he said, was about “competition not education,” and should be done away with. Hawkins’ lieutenant governor running mate this campaign is Jia Lee, a New York City public school teacher and United Federation of Teachers chapter leader.

On housing, Hawkins favors a system of rent control, but says the current set-up is not enough, especially without repealing the Urstadt law, which handed control of rent policies to the state, and without building a lot more new housing. “We need to radically expand public housing in order to make affordable housing a reality for all,” he said in a press release earlier this month.

Asked who he sees as his target voters, Hawkins said he hopes to gain the support of those who voted for Nixon in the Democratic primary.

“Nixon got the same percentage as [Zephyr] Teachout [in 2014], which means about a third of the Democratic Party doesn’t like Cuomo. That looks good to me,” he said. “Those are my people.” Hawkins got 4.7 percent of the votes in the 2014 general election to Cuomo’s 53 percent, but 2018 is forecast to be a much higher turnout year, as indicated in part by the massive increase in Democratic primary voters from four years ago.

Hawkins in June told the Post-Standard that Miner will peel away some of the centrist vote for Cuomo. “It seems it's really going to hurt him,” he said of her candidacy. He also believes he should be able to lure liberal voters who picked Cuomo over Nixon but didn’t have his candidacy to choose from at the time.

Additionally, he believes he will earn a decent share of votes well outside New York City.

“I think upstate we can do really well, I think part of our program is having the state pay for its unfair disadvantage, something they talk about but don’t do much about. Because our property taxes kill us upstate,” he said. “The state doesn’t pay for its mandates, it balances the state budget on the back of the property tax payers and it doesn’t share revenues like it used to.”

“We’re going to the neighborhoods, we’re doing the traditional things, I mean there’s no magic bullet. … In seven weeks it’s hard. In the long run, we’ve got to establish grassroots, Green Party clubs and chapters in those neighborhoods so that people have a relationship to us,” he said of campaigning and forming a successful coalition.

Hawkins also insisted he would fair well among black voters.

“They’re not in love with the Democratic Party,” he said. “They’re afraid of the Republicans so they vote defensively. I think if you look at the polls, where we stand on the issues, like single-payer healthcare, now they’re with us on that, the majority.”

Larry Sharpe
Sharpe, who in 2016 ran unsuccessfully for the Libertarian Party presidential nomination, is running on legalizing marijuana, severing ties with the United States Department of Education, including by refusing its funding, licensing bridge and tunnel naming rights to corporations to pay for subway repairs, allowing students to graduate high school earlier, and expanding gun rights.

A former marine who now works as a consultant, Sharpe said in an interview with Gotham Gazette that his top goal is decentralizing power. “The campaign is all about having a decentralized situation where counties can be counties, regions can be regions, and cities can be cities,” he said. “We are a very diverse state and we should be allowing our counties to be different. Albany shouldn’t be telling every single county what is should do or not do.”

Sharpe is vying for the governorship alongside Andrew Hollister, the libertarian lieutenant governor candidate. The pair is campaigning in the Libertarian model on a platform of shrinking government and making what remains much more efficient and decentralized.

Among the ways Sharpe wants to cut what he sees as overly burdensome regulations is repealing the SAFE Act, a gun control bill passed in early 2013 that Cuomo touts as one of his signature accomplishments.

“The problem with the SAFE Act is the SAFE Act didn’t make anybody safer,” Sharpe said, delivering one of his most frequent campaign lines. “You lose your Second Amendment rights because you’re on some secret list. That’s a bad idea,” he added, in apparent reference to the list of individuals deemed mentally unfit for gun ownership. The law also banned new sales of assault-style weapons, made current owners of those guns register them, and put limits on magazine sizes, among other provisions.

Sharpe said in an interview with New York NOW that the SAFE Act was a “bandaid” and that other problems aside from guns are what must really be targeted.

“[T]he problem is we have unhappy people. Unhappy people is the problem. If you take away his gun, he uses something else. If he’s unhappy he will do bad things,” he said. “There are two things that most of these people, one that they have and one that they don’t have. … Number one thing they don’t have, a girlfriend. The thing they do have: a prescription to psychotropic drugs.”

Asked to clarify what he meant, Sharpe said that while school shootings are murders, they’re “at their core public suicides.”

“The goal is not to simply say ‘Lets take away guns.’ The goal is to say ‘Stop having so many unhappy kids that want to kill other kids,’” he said. “I don’t want our kids to be killing other kids. I want happier children. That’s the key.”

Further, Sharpe favors allowing teachers and administrators who are licensed to carry guns to do so in schools.

Asked if his stance on guns would be appealing to voters in a blue state, where just over 3 percent of voters in the 2016 presidential election voted for the libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson, and Hillary Clinton won handily, Sharpe said his policies on the matter would have “legs.”

“There are over four million gun owners in New York state,” he said. (The gun ownership rate in New York is slightly over 10 percent). “They’re more than happy to hear someone say ‘Let’s repeal the SAFE Act. Let’s have our second amendment rights back.’"

As the debate continues over how best to fund and fix the beleaguered MTA, Sharpe has raised ideas that are not yet part of mainstream discussions: allowing public bridges and tunnels to lease their naming rights to corporations, for example. It’s part of his “Faster Forward” plan on the subject he has released, which takes its name from the MTA’s new Fast Forward plan that has yet to be approved or funded. Molinaro has also released a plan of his own.

“These are companies that drop millions of dollars every year on marketing,” he said. “They drop $20 million on a stadium that gets used on the weekends. They will easily drop $20, $30, $40 million on a bridge or tunnel.”

Sharpe also pledged to not give the MTA a dime until its management figures out a way to cut costs.

“I’m not giving them a new contract until they change their practices. The practices of the MTA are a disaster,” he said. “They are one of the most inefficient organizations we have. They will shift and adjust. Why? I’m not giving them extra money, period. They’re not getting extra money, period!…They will change their way of doing business.”

On criminal justice, Sharpe does not want people to be put in jail for marijuana use. “Why in the world are we putting people in jail for having a plant in their pocket?” he said.

“We need to make sure that we absolutely regulate hemp and cannabis like onions,” he said, adding that farmers upstate should be allowed to grow cannabis if they opt to do so.

“We have a lot of farmers who are suffering,” he added.

He also would like to put an end to cash bail. “We’re putting people in jail because they’re poor,” he said.

Sharpe articulated a drastically different vision for K-12 education. For too many high-schoolers, 11th and 12th grades are a waste of time, he argues.

“The last two years of high school for too many kids is just gym, study hall, video games, and probably smoking weed,” said Sharpe. “Nothing but bad.”

After students complete the 10th grade, under his plan, they would take a test and would graduate if they pass it. Then, graduates would able to go to attend a college or university, a two-year prep school, go straight to work or a trade school.

Additionally, Sharpe said he would get rid of standardized testing altogether until students reached high school, stop abiding by Common Core learning standards, stop taking government funds from the Department of Education, and reduce the number of administrators at schools, using the saved funds for more teachers and school supplies.

Asked about government corruption, an issue dogging Cuomo as he seeks a third term, especially given recent convictions of members of the governor’s inner circle, Sharpe explained the issue isn’t something he really emphasizes in the campaign, other than to criticize Cuomo.

“I don’t talk much about this, and the reason is everyone’s answer is ‘Put ‘em in jail, put ‘em in jail, put ‘em in jail, more laws, more laws. That’s not the answer. The more laws you put and the more people you put in jail, it doesn’t help anybody,” he said. “If Cuomo goes to jail, or his cronies go to jail, that’s fine. I’m fine with that. I just want Cuomo to leave Albany, so I can start fixing things.”  

Sharpe, who has been keeping an aggressive campaign schedule for many months, holding events throughout the state, expressed confidence his message will triumph over those of the major parties as well as Miner, who he called part of the establishment.

“The two frontrunners are the definition of career politicians. They're the definition of the establishment. Both of them only know politics. Nothing else. They can’t drain the swamp they live in a swamp,” Sharpe said of Cuomo and Molinaro, who he has repeatedly attacked during his campaign. “To ask them for change is to ask them to burn their own house down.”

“The only person that has any chance of making any real impact is me,” he went on. “I’m the only one who can get Democrats and Republicans and independents and people who haven’t voted. I’m the only one out there crossing the state, doing north of 30 events every single month. I’m the only one that’s exciting. It’s only me.”

[Listen to Republican gubernatorial nominee Marc Molinaro on Max & Murphy from September 19]

with contributions from Victor Porcelli and Ben Max

As Broader Debate Intensifies, New York Nonprofits Consider Throwing Weight Behind Single-Payer


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Assemblymember Gottfried (photo: Dickgottfried.org)


Wendy Stark is ready to press the reset button on health care. The executive director of Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, based in Lower Manhattan, Stark is hopeful that an overhaul may be on the horizon in New York through controversial legislation gaining increasing attention as this fall’s elections determine the upcoming balance of power in state government, from the governor’s office through the state Legislature.

The New York Health Act -- which has increasingly strong chances of passing the state Legislature but does not have the support of Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is favored to win a third term -- would set the stage for New York to toss out the current health insurance system in favor of a single taxpayer-funded, government-administered health care program for everyone.

As the bill has been the subject of more debate in recent months, partially stemming from gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon’s support for it, powerful lobbyist groups representing insurers, hospitals, and businesses have been vocal about their opposition. The Business Council of New York State took to Fox & Friends to denounce the legislation, while others have written op-eds in local publications. Republicans running for office, including gubernatorial nominee Marc Molinaro, are warning New Yorkers about a potential government takeover of health care.

But as the leader of a health care provider that serves mostly low-income members of the LGBT community through its clinics in Manhattan and the Bronx and employs more than 350 people, Stark has a very different take. She says in addition to allowing her organization to save on employee benefits and administrative costs -- a projection generally backed up by the RAND Corp.’s recently-published analysis of the New York Health Act -- a single-payer system would cut down on the red tape patients have to deal with.

“So many of the barriers to care people experience are rooted in the economics of health care,” Stark said. “We don’t believe health care can make adequate improvements without changing the foundational economics of how it works and is paid for.”

Under the proposed single-payer system, insurance premiums, deductibles and copays would all go out the window, and patients could visit any health care provider without having to worry about whether they were in their insurance network. Meanwhile, taxes would go up, with the wealthiest New Yorkers paying a greater portion of their income and employers paying a certain amount per employee. Under the sample tax model proposed by the RAND Corp., the state would have to collect an estimated $139 billion in new taxes in 2022 to pay for the single-payer system. Still, RAND projected that overall spending on health care would go down -- barring a few caveats that that could stand in the way of the system being successful.

Callen-Lorde is one of 10 community-based health centers and 183 total nonprofit groups statewide that have publicly endorsed the campaign supporting the New York Health Act (in addition to a variety of mostly small for-profit businesses). But while it may seem like a natural fit, the bill still has a ways to go to become a widespread legislative priority for the large contingent of community-based organizations that help connect immigrants, people with behavioral health problems and housing insecurity, formerly incarcerated individuals, and members of other marginalized groups to needed health care and social services.

Many nonprofit health centers and other organizations, including those in the human services sector -- which employ a growing workforce and have formed coalitions to represent their interests in Albany and Washington, D.C. -- are still examining the implications of the New York Health Act before issuing full-throated endorsements. Others are directing their limited resources to what they see as more pressing policy and funding concerns.

But that may change as the policy conversation develops. Groups like the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, FPWA, which represents 170 human-services and faith-based organizations, are hoping to help move things along.

“We believe the New York Health Act would strengthen nonprofits both for the communities they serve as well as their employees, and make the system more tenable long-term,” said Winn Periyasamy, policy analyst at FPWA.

FPWA, along with the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families and the New York Immigration Coalition, hosted a forum on single-payer for nonprofit representatives on the Lower East Side last month, where they heard about the New York Health Act directly from its lead sponsors in the Legislature, Assemblymember Richard Gottfried and Senator Gustavo Rivera, both Democrats who represent parts of New York City in their respective legislative houses.

New Yorkers in favor of a single-payer health system will know they’re winning, Rivera told the audience, when sinister images of him and Gottfried start appearing in insurance-industry funded attack ads.

“I can’t wait for that gritty video, I can’t wait for it!” said Rivera, of the Bronx, exuding confidence that the debate over the state’s single-payer bill is on its way to reaching a fever pitch.

The New York Health Act passed the Assembly the last four years in a row, but was thwarted each time by the Republican-controlled Senate. Now the bill--which was already only one sponsor short of a majority in the Senate in the last session--is among a slew of progressive measures that have been infused with new hope following the dissolution of the Independent Democratic Conference, which allowed Senate Democrats to caucus with Republicans.

“This is real,” Gottfried insisted at the forum. “This is not a dream. And you and your people are really crucial to making sure it gets done.”

Those in attendance were particularly interested in how the bill would affect undocumented New Yorkers, who are generally not eligible for health insurance now but would be under the single-payer system. Undocumented New Yorkers currently often use public hospitals at great expense, having eschewed preventative care due to their documentation status and lack of insurance. Dr. Mitchell Katz, chief executive of the cash-strapped NYC Health + Hospitals system, praised the Assembly on Twitter for passing the New York Health Act in June.

Attendees at the event also talked about the need to properly translate materials on single-payer into the languages of the communities they serve.

“We’re reaching into our Asian-American communities,” said Anita Gundanna, co-executive director of the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families. “A lot of people had never heard of the [single-payer] proposal before or thought through the impact of it, so for us the very beginning step is to expose our communities to what’s going on and how it might impact them.”

CACF and other groups serving Asian-Pacific Americans advocate for health care initiatives through Project CHARGE, the Coalition for Health Access to Reach Greater Equity. Gundanna said there’s a need to get more buy-in from individual organizations before single-payer can become an official part of the coalition’s policy agenda.

“We have to be strategic and patient,” she said. “We can’t move without having our coalition behind us.”

On the bright side, Gundanna pointed out, the nonprofit sector had to increase its capacity to share information about health policy a few years ago in order to help people understand and get insured through the federal Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

But more recently everyone has been on the defensive, using their resources to try to preserve the ACA and prevent a wide array of federal policies from taking effect. Lately, many organizations are preoccupied with changes the Trump administration is considering to the Public Charge Rule, which people in the social-services sector say are already discouraging some immigrants from using public benefits, including subsidized health insurance, for fear it could be used as a strike against them later.

Gundanna said she wants to present nonprofits with proactive solutions like single-payer but acknowledges that everyone must consider, “How many resources are there to explore these quote-unquote ideal options in this quote-unquote ideal world?”

Asked about the New York Health Act, the Community Healthcare Association of New York State, which spent much of 2017 and early 2018 consumed by a battle to secure endangered federal funding for its members, said in a statement, “CHCANYS supports innovations in health policy that improve access to high-quality health care for everyone. We continue to study the options for expanding coverage to all New Yorkers and are closely monitoring the current political discourse.”

Meanwhile, the Human Services Council, whose advocacy focuses on improving the government contracts its member organizations rely on for funding, is not likely to take a position on the New York Health Act, said Allison Sesso, the coalition’s executive director.

“Doing stuff on this is not why we exist and could eat up resources,” said Sesso, although she added, “I think this conversation is really important and I’m glad it’s being elevated.”

As advocates for the New York Health Act work to make the case that it’s worth the time and effort for would-be proponents to support the bill, they are also faced with the uphill battle of getting the governor on their side. A year ago, before the bill stood much of a chance of passing both houses of the state Legislature, Cuomo signaled some slight openness to the idea of implementing a single-payer system in New York. Asked about it again during his debate with Nixon, before he beat her in the gubernatorial primary this month, Cuomo came out against the idea. He said he thought it could work at the federal level but would be too costly an endeavor for the state to embark on alone.

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by Caroline Lewis for Gotham Gazette. On Twitter @clewisreports and @GothamGazette.

Max & Murphy Podcast: Marc Molinaro, Republican Nominee for Governor


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


September 19, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Marc Molinaro, Republican Nominee for Governor

marc molinaro pod277Republican gubernatorial candidate Marc Molinaro joined the show to talk about his background and his candidacy. In the interview, he touched upon aspects of his career, his critiques of Governor Cuomo, his plans for the MTA, his soon-to-be-released tax overhaul plan, his views on gun control, and much more. Molinaro, who also has the Conservative and Reform Party nominations this fall, is hoping to overcome some of Cuomo's advantages to become the first Republican elected statewide since Gov. George Pataki won a third term in 2002.

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

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Max & Murphy Podcast: Primary Post-Mortem with Rebecca Katz, Top Cynthia Nixon Strategist


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


September 19, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Primary Post-Mortem with Rebecca Katz, Top Cynthia Nixon Strategist

rebecca katz 277Rebecca Katz was the chief strategist for Cynthia Nixon's campaign for governor. Katz, a principal at Hilltop Public Solitions and veteran of Bill de Blasio's 2013 campaign and 2014 City Hall, joined the show to recap and dissect the primary election between Nixon and Governor Andrew Cuomo, who prevailed by a wide margin against the first-time candidate. Katz described some of the strategies behind the campaign, working closely with Nixon, preparing for the lone Nixon-Cuomo debate, and much more.

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

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.



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