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What You Can Learn From Gubernatorial Candidates' Campaign Websites

cuomo campaign site

(image: Cuomo campaign website home page)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Chelsey Sanchez, Gotham Gazette
@chelseynsanchez  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

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

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


Zellnor Myrie, center, and other IDC challengers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Senate primary races to watch:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The primary election is on Thursday, September 13.

by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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

tish james

Public Advocate Letitia James (photo: @TishJames)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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

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

nixon williams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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

Opponents of Democratic Senator Raise Questions About Past IDC Financial Support

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The primary is September 13.

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Daniel Yadin for Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, August 13

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

A fundraising deadline for candidates for state office passed last week and the latest campaign finance filings are due Monday, August 13, with the state Board of Elections. With just one month till the September 13, and with several competitive primary races for statewide and legislative seats, candidates have been trying to muster all the resources they can to reach voters. Many insurgent challengers in Democratic primaries this year have been more focused on reaching small donors in large numbers as they face off against well-funded incumbents.    

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

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

The run of the week in detail:

President Donald Trump will headline fundraisers for US Representatives Claudia Tenney and Elise Stefanik on Monday.

From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday, WeWork and New York Immigration Coalition will host a voter registration day open to the public at WeWork's 110 Wall Street location.

At 1 p.m. Monday, the state Senate Standing Committees on Labor and Economic Development will hold a public hearing at Binghamton University’s Symposium Hall, to discuss the state’s Minority-and-Women-Owned Business Enterprises (MWBE) program.

At the City Council on Tuesday
-- The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet at 9:30 a.m.
-- The Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting, and Maritime Uses will meet at noon.
-- The Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions, and Concessions will meet at 2 p.m.

At 1 p.m. Tuesday, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams will launch the Platinum Edition of his "BK Sings" karaoke competition, for Brooklyn residents over the age of 60, at the United Senior Citizens Center in Sunset Park.

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, City & State will host its 2018 “Albany 40 Under 40” reception at Battery Gardens in Battery Park City, honoring 40 individuals under the age of 40 who work in state government and politics. Keynote speakers will include U.S. Representative Grace Meng and Republican gubernatorial nominee Marc Molinaro.

At the City Council on Wednesday
-- The Committee on Land Use will meet at 11 a.m.
-- The Committee on Transportation will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding speed cameras, to call on the legislature and governor to reauthorize the city’s school speed camera program, and to discuss proposed laws relating to street design, to “requiring a study of dangerous driving,” and to “installing radar speed display signs in school zones.”

At 9 a.m. Wednesday, Democratic Attorney General candidate Leecia Eve will join the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce to discuss her candidacy, as part of the Chamber’s “Attorney General Roundtable” series, open to Chamber members.

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Indivisible Harlem will host a forum for Democratic candidates for Attorney General at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun on the Upper West Side. Attending candidates will be Leecia Eve, Letitia James, and Zephyr Teachout.

There are no events scheduled on the calendar as of the start of the week. 

Friday and the weekend
Mayor de Blasio may make his weekly appearance on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show on Friday at 10 a.m.

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 Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max

How Much Does Brooklyn Congressional Primary Result Show Path in Overlapping State Senate Race?

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Zellnor Myrie receives the endorsement of Rep. Clarke, among others (photo: @BKIndivisible)

A wide swath of central Brooklyn is hosting its second contentious Democratic primary race this year. After a surprisingly close congressional primary in June, voters in a largely overlapping state Senate district will vote in September in another race where an incumbent is facing an upstart challenger.

Brooklyn Congressional District 9An array of neighborhoods in the borough, including Brownsville, Crown Heights, Park Slope, Flatbush, and Prospect Heights, make up New York’s Ninth Congressional District (map left), where Democratic voters narrowly voted to nominate Yvette Clarke for re-election over her challenger, Adem Bunkeddeko, in a race that drew national attention for its closeness, especially alongside the defeat of Rep. Joe Crowley by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

The Brooklyn neighborhoods of Clarke’s district, with the exception of a few, like Sheepshead Bay and Marine Park, also make up State Senate District 20 (map below), which adds Gowanus, South Slope, and Sunset Park, and is represented by incumbent Senator Jesse Hamilton, who is facing a primary challenge from Zellnor Myrie.

Brooklyn State Senate District 20The two primaries bear some similar contours: a youthful progressive candidate goes for the left flank of a Democratic incumbent amid an anti-establishment milieu, hoping to motivate voters upset by Donald Trump and looking for something different from their elected officials. Bunkedekko’s success as a previously little-known activist and lawyer in the district—he lost by just 1,075 votes—may help provide a roadmap for Myrie, especially in terms of where in the district to go for those anti-establishment votes.

But there are key differences between the Clarke-Bunkedekko and Hamilton-Myrie races, including Hamilton’s prior membership in the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference and the flood of endorsements behind Myrie, but a key question for the challenger, incumbent, and all those watching, is: How much can we apply from the results of the race in Congressional District Nine to the race in State Senate District 20?

NY9 resultsThough ultimately unsuccessful in his bid to unseat Representative Clarke, daughter of legendary former City Council Member Una Clarke, Bunkeddeko certainly came close, losing by four points to a politician who won her previous primary challenge, in 2012, by 77%. Results of the June 26 vote show Bunkeddeko’s strongholds were in wealthier, whiter, gentrified areas of the district like Park Slope and Prospect Heights, while Clarke excelled in poorer, predominantly black neighborhoods in the eastern part of NY-9 like East Flatbush and Brownsville (map left, via CUNY Mapping Service).

It remains to be seen whether this dynamic will be replicated in the race between Hamilton and Myrie. Hamilton is a former member of the Independent Democratic Conference, a coalition of eight Democrats in the New York State Senate that formed a years-long coalition agreement with Republicans to bolster GOP control of the chamber. The IDC formally disbanded this April amid criticism and the declaration of primary challenges by Myrie and a cohort of other candidates.

Myrie spokesman André M. Richardson told Gotham Gazette that the campaign was surprised by Central Brooklynites’ widespread knowledge of the IDC.

“More people knew about it than we thought would,” he said. “A lot of the conversation is in the Park Slope and Prospect Heights area, but folks in Flatbush recognize it, as well.”

Hamilton’s participation in the IDC is a useful cudgel for the Myrie campaign, providing a unifying talking point about propping up Republican control of the state Senate and blocking progressive legislation in a racially and economically diverse district.

In predominantly-black neighborhoods like Brownsville, Richardson said, the IDC ties Hamilton to the prevention of Andrea Stewart-Cousins from becoming the State Senate’s first black female majority leader; in heavily-Hispanic Sunset Park, the Myrie campaign tells voters that the IDC is why the Dream Act was blocked. Through this, and with an intense focus on the ever-relevant housing crisis, the challenger hopes to avoid the polarization of the district seen in the results from June and appeal to voters in every neighborhood. That effort is likely to be helped by the fact that Myrie has been endorsed by a wide swathe of elected officials and clubs, including Rep. Clarke and other elected officials from the area, such as Assemblymember Diana Richardson.

The IDC is one of several factors that complicate attempts to use the results of the Clarke-Bunkeddeko race to predict the Hamilton-Myrie contest, despite the two races taking place in, more or less, the same territory. Also, noted Steven Romalewski, director of the CUNY Mapping Service, to Gotham Gazette, “different groups of voters turn out for different races.” Only about 8.2% of eligible Democratic voters voted in the primary between Clarke and Bunkeddeko, making it difficult to generalize characteristics of the voter pool.

Voter turnout is expected to increase in September, when the Democratic nominees for the statewide positions of governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general will also be decided. Two of those races feature black candidates from Central Brooklyn: Jumaane Williams, running for lieutenant governor, and Letitia James, for attorney general. Governor Andrew Cuomo and his primary opponent, Cynthia Nixon, have also focused campaign efforts in the area, aware that black voters are essential to winning Democratic primaries.

In last year’s September primaries for city elections, Senate District 20 was home to 21,000 voters, while only around 10,000 residents of the Senate district cast votes in June’s contest when the congressional primary was the only race on the ballot.

Though it’s nearly impossible to accurately predict whether increased turnout will help or harm Hamilton, who was first elected to the Senate in 2014, political consultant Jerry Skurnik told Gotham Gazette that “the gentrifiers” constitute a larger proportion of Senate District 20 than they do Congressional District Nine.

By Skurnik’s admittedly “not 100% accurate” demographic calculations, 82% of the Senate district lies within the Congressional district, and the overlapping area is about 72% black. But the overall Senate district is just slightly over 60% black, since it includes smaller portions of near-exclusively African-American neighborhoods like Brownsville and East Flatbush and extends farther out of Central Brooklyn, into neighborhoods like Gowanus and Sunset Park that have relatively few black residents. This could spell an advantage for Myrie, if Bunkeddeko’s strength in Park Slope is any indication, and if he is able to move the same voters to the polls while motivating others. But, there are many complicating factors, and neither Romalewski nor Skurnik felt comfortable prognosticating with any certainty.

In line with Romalewski’s cautioning that different races motivate different voters, Skurnik emphasized to Gotham Gazette that a race for the New York State Senate necessarily involves issues different from those in a contest for the U.S. House of Representatives. For instance, rent regulations are a marquee issue for state legislators, who will renegotiate current rent laws next year, while the issue is less central to Congressional races like Clarke and Bunkeddeko’s, though candidates for all offices must discuss housing affordability in New York City. Myrie may have an easier time mobilizing residents around his housing-focused campaign than Bunkeddeko, who devoted extensive time to attacking Clarke’s Congressional record (or lack thereof, as he framed it). But, Myrie is also focused on Hamilton’s record in the Senate, especially around progressive bills that have not passed because Republicans, supported by the IDC, did not favor them.

The polarized, racially and economically divided results of the NY-9 primary will not necessarily reproduce as such in Senate District 20, Skurnik said, because both Hamilton and Myrie have seen them. “Senator Hamilton knows what happened,” Skurnik said. “He knows where the Congresswoman did badly...He’s not going to be surprised.” The same holds true for Myrie, he added. If the results of the June primary can teach the candidates of District 20 anything, it seems, it’s what to avoid.

by Daniel Yadin for Gotham Gazette

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Independence from Cuomo, or Lack Thereof, Becomes Flashpoint in Attorney General Race

Andrew Cuomo Tish James

Cuomo & James (photo: The Governor's Office)

New York City Public Advocate Letitia James is performing a balancing act as she runs for state Attorney General, at once cross-endorsing with Governor Andrew Cuomo, a fellow Democrat seeking a third term, and accepting his fundraising support, while also attempting to convince skeptical voters that she would be sufficiently independent if both are victorious this fall.

After the shocking resignation of Eric Schneiderman amid domestic abuse allegations and James’ decision to run for attorney general, Cuomo quickly backed her, and she embraced his support and that of the State Democratic Party that he controls.

Given several other key facts -- the attorney general’s role as a popularly elected statewide official responsible for upholding the law and rooting out certain violations of the public trust, the rampant corruption in New York state government, including among former Cuomo aides, Cuomo’s efforts to raise funds and other support for James, and the governor’s reputation for overpowering other elected officials -- James has repeatedly faced questions about independence.

“I stand before you in the spirit of Shirley Chisholm: I’m unbought and unbossed,” James recently told Gotham Gazette, after a press conference at which she was endorsed by most of the women elected to the City Council. “And all throughout my career I’ve been independent and despite the innate, the sheer nature of who I am, and just based on my background, coming from Brooklyn, a humble woman, a woman of color, I’m someone who has been counted out but consistently has overperformed. I’m not beholden to anyone. All I’m beholden to is a simple concept and that’s called justice.”

James’ competitors in the Democratic primary for attorney general -- Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, Zephyr Teachout, and Leecia Eve -- have each made a concerted effort to highlight the fact that they are not the state party- and Cuomo-backed candidate, while promising to pursue corruption in state government and be an independent voice if elected attorney general. They all also acknowledge that the attorney general must work closely with the governor on a lot of the office’s work, given that the attorney general defends the state against lawsuits and also files litigation on behalf of the state, often in conjunction with the governor. The winner of the Democratic primary will face Republican Keith Wofford and minor party candidates in the general election.

Though she has been careful not to criticize Cuomo, James is also promising to pursue bad actors in state government if elected attorney general, even if they are in the executive branch.

“If state officials step over the line, I will not hesitate to prosecute,” James said on a recent episode of the Max & Murphy podcast. “If I disagree with a state action, I will make that abundantly clear. I’ll make sure that the laws of the state of New York are enforced.”

And James has not shied away from Cuomo’s backing. “He is of the opinion that I am in a position to get things done and I have gotten things done,” she said when asked about their mutual support. “So, there is no quid-pro-quo, and there is no allegiance or loyalty to anyone. The only loyalty that I have is to the rule of law.” When asked to explain her endorsement of Cuomo, she first cited his leadership in helping Puerto Rico recover from Hurricane Maria (James recently joined Cuomo on a relief trip to the island), and mentioned his work in regards to marriage equality, economic development, women’s advocacy, and workers’ rights.

Meanwhile, corruption scandals have plagued Cuomo’s economic development programs, including two trials this year that ended with convictions of officials Cuomo had empowered. There has also been a series of corruption convictions of other state officials, including many state legislators, before and during Cuomo’s tenure. Cuomo ran for governor in 2010 promising to clean up state government, but has not accomplished that lofty goal.

When asked if Cuomo bears any responsibility for the recent malpractice that’s been exposed among his aides and donors, James stopped short of blaming him. “It really speaks to a larger issue and that is reform,” she said on Max & Murphy. She recommended reforming the state’s procurement process and creating checks and balance on mega agencies, both public and private. In a different interview, James recently said Cuomo should not have shut down the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption that he ended prematurely in 2015.

Maloney, who represents a Hudson Valley congressional district, has also endorsed Cuomo for reelection, while Teachout has endorsed Cuomo’s primary challenger, Cynthia Nixon, and Eve has said she is staying out of the gubernatorial primary.

Maloney’s campaign declined to provide comment for this article about his support for the governor, but in March, Maloney released a statement that urged Nixon not to run against Cuomo, citing his support for Cuomo’s work on LGBT rights in the state of New York, including passage of marriage equality, which led to Maloney and his husband’s vows.

“We must remember that Governor Cuomo took on the marriage equality issue when few politicians dared broach the subject,” Maloney said in the statement. “He was full-throated in his support and unabashed in his efforts, often to his political detriment. That’s called leadership.”

“We should not have intramural contests that only aid Republicans,” Maloney also said in the statement, urging a unified Democratic front in the Trump era.

But even given his support for Cuomo’s re-election, Maloney insists he would be an independent attorney general whether or not Cuomo is given another term. He’s also said James is “running a campaign that is propped up by insiders and the political machine,” as he told City & State NY. “That’s her race. My race is not to rely on the governor’s fundraising or the endorsements of Albany insiders or political bosses,” Maloney added.

“I think that is a losing strategy, and it is a terrible message right now when the Democratic Party voters I talk to want the Democratic Party blown up and rebuilt,” he continued, eventually saying that voters “don’t want somebody picked because of somebody else’s political agenda or some inside deal,” in apparent reference to Cuomo.

Acknowledging his endorsement of Cuomo and saying he’s been "a good governor,” Maloney said, “But I don’t think he should pick the attorney general. Let me ask you this: How is an attorney general going to look at the Buffalo Billion if you’re in Andrew Cuomo’s back pocket? So I think what this state deserves is someone with real independence and an independent ability to get elected and do the job.”

Meanwhile, Teachout’s bid for the attorney general’s seat comes after she stepped down as Nixon’s campaign treasurer this past May in order to run.

During her own appearance on Max & Murphy, Teachout said that, if elected attorney general, she would treat whoever wins the gubernatorial race the same. “You need to also have that independence because the attorney general’s office can’t be either perceived as or be an arm of the executive branch,” she said. “So, I’m not concerned about a smooth operation.”

Teachout has additionally centered her run for attorney general by eyeing both the Trump administration in Washington and Cuomo’s conduct in Albany, which she has criticized since she ran against him in the 2014 gubernatorial primary. “I think that’s very important not to be alleging crimes, but there’s no question that there’s a culture of corruption in Albany and that Andrew Cuomo has both promised to do something about it in 2010 and not only not done something about it, but encouraged instead a culture of secrecy.”

She said Cuomo has concentrated too much power.

Eve, meanwhile, has said she is not endorsing in the gubernatorial primary between Cuomo and Nixon.

“I am running, not as an endorsed candidate, not as the party candidate, but as an independent voice for New Yorkers,” said Eve on a recent episode of Max & Murphy. “And without question, [I] would prosecute corruption wherever I would find it, regardless of what administration or what person engaged in it.”

Eve, most recently a Verizon executive before taking a leave to run for attorney general, previously worked for Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and Cuomo, including overseeing the governor’s economic development programs, some of which became embroiled in the aforementioned corruption scandals (Eve was not at all implicated).

“I’m focused solely on my race and not engaging in others,” Eve said on Max & Murphy, “and I’m very proud, frankly, that I am not the endorsed candidate.”

by Chelsey Sanchez & Ben Max

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Attorney General Candidate Sean Patrick Maloney

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

August 8, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Attorney General Candidate Sean Patrick Maloney

sean patrick maloney wbai podcast 277U.S. Representative Sean Patrick Maloney is running in the Democratic primary for Attorney General of New York. Maloney, who has a long government and private sector resume and represents a mid-Hudson Valley congressional district, unsuccessfully ran for AG in 2006, before eventually being elected to Congress in 2012. He joined Max & Murphy to discuss his work in Congress, his candidacy for Attorney General, and what might happen to his congressional seat if he is successful in the Democratic primary and leaves the congressional race to another Democrat.

Listen to the full 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 the show on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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