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In Retrial, Dean Skelos Again Convicted of Corrupt Acts


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Dean Skelos, middles, with Silver and Cuomo (photo via the Governor's Office)


The once-powerful Dean Skelos, former Republican majority leader of the New York State Senate, and his son Adam were found guilty on federal corruption charges on Tuesday after a month-long trial in federal court in Manhattan. Skelos and his son had been similarly found guilty on all charges in late-2015 but their convictions were vacated after a Supreme Court ruling changed the definition of public corruption, precipitating a retrial that began last month.

Prosecutors charged Skelos with using his official position as leverage over companies that had business with the state, pressuring them to give his son more than $200,000 in payments. In turn, Skelos took actions to benefit those firms.

“Yet again, a New York jury heard a sordid tale of bribery, extortion, and the abuse of power by a powerful public official of this State,” reads a statement from the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, which brought the prosecution. “And yet again, a jury responded with a unanimous verdict of guilt, in this case of Dean Skelos and his son Adam – sending the resounding message that political corruption will not be tolerated.”

The Skelos verdict is just the latest in a series of corruption convictions that have rocked state government, the Legislature, and the executive branch. Just last week, Alain Kaloyeros, a prominent ally of Governor Andrew Cuomo, was found guilty of bid-rigging state contracts under the Buffalo Billion economic development program. In May, former Democratic state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was similarly found guilty of misusing his office for personal gain (Silver faced a retrial just like Skelos). And in March, Joe Percoco, a former top aide and campaign manager to the governor, was also found guilty of federal corruption.

Preet Bharara, the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District who brought all four of those cases, tweeted Tuesday, “More congratulations to the fine team at SDNY, who just convicted — again — former NY senate majority leader Dean Skelos and his son Adam on all counts. Skelos and Silver will both be resentenced.”

In a statement, State Senator Todd Kaminsky, a former federal prosecutor who won Skelos’ vacant Long Island seat after the first trial, called on the state Legislature to pass stronger anti-corruption laws. “[T]his trial once again laid bare how broken and dirty Albany has become, and how far we have to go to reform it,” he said. “People want their faith in government restored, and they have been let down by years of inaction. It is time for a change.”

Since the multiple scandals broke, state government has taken no significant action to alter the playing field on which Silver, Skelos, Percoco, Kaloyeros, and others committed their misdeeds.

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Statewide Candidates File July Fundraising Numbers


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Gov. Cuomo at a funding event (photo: The Governor's Office)


With less than two months till the September 13 primary election, candidates running for state office filed campaign financial disclosure reports with the New York State Board of Elections by the Monday deadline, showing fundraising and expenditures from a six-month period between January 16 and July 16.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, the two-term incumbent Democrat who is running for reelection, continues to maintain an overwhelming funding advantage with more than $31 million in his campaign coffers. Cuomo raised more than $6 million since January and spent about $5.3 million in the same period.

Cuomo’s campaign attempted to tout the number of small-dollar donations it received, likely a response to criticism of the governor’s reliance on wealthy donors and contributions from Limited Liability Companies (LLCs). The campaign said 57 percent of the number of donations received were for less than $250. But those donations only added up to less than $64,000, eliding the fact that nearly 99 percent of the total value of the fundraising came from big donors, including $500,000 in corporate donations and $2.5 million from LLCs and PACs. Cuomo also received 69 separate contributions from the same individual, Christopher Kim of Long Island City, which his primary opponent Cynthia Nixon, the actor and education activist, called an attempt to “astroturf” his campaign (New York Times reporter Shane Goldmacher found that Kim shares an address with a Cuomo aide; several other Cuomo aides, relatives of aides, and long-time associates gave Cuomo small donations in an apparent attempt to inflate his small-dollar numbers).

Nixon, who has staked her campaign on small donors, has been issuing scathing critiques of Cuomo’s fundraising practices that she says are a symptom and cause of a pay-to-play culture in state government. Nixon brought in about $500,000 in the last six months, paling in comparison with Cuomo’s haul, and spent about $274,000. Her campaign has noted that she received more than 30,000 individual contributions since she launched her campaign, and that 97 percent of those were small-dollar contributions. She has just under $658,000 in cash-on-hand.

Marc Molinaro, the Republican nominee for governor who doesn’t have a primary challenger, raised more than $1.1 million and has spent $250,000, leaving him with $887,000 with four months to go until the November 7 Election Day. Molinaro’s general election competition will become more clear after the Democratic primary is settled, but there are several smaller party and independent candidates running. His running-mate, Julie Killian, does not appear to have filed her discloure yet, but Molinaro's campaign filing shows a $45,000 loan from Killian herself, as reported by Nick Reisman of Spectrum News.

Green Party nominee Howie Hawkins brought in $24,000 and spent $7,000 in the filing period, leaving him just under $17,000 in his campaign account.

Former Democratic Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, who only jumped into the governor’s race last month and is running as an independent, and her running mate Republican Michael Volpe, the mayor of Pelham, together raised $409,000, spent $247,000 and have $162,000 in cash on hand. The two plan a general election ticket on the Serve America Movement ballot line, for which they are petitioning with the help of the organizers of the new movement.

Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Larry Sharpe, who, like Miner, is petitioning his way onto the general election ballot, has raised $115,000, but his expenditures amounted to $154,000, leaving him with a negative balance of just above $13,000.

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, a Democrat seeking a second term alongside Cuomo, faces New York City Council Member Jumaane Williams in the primary, which will be Thursday, September 13. Hochul reported an intake of $1.25 million and had only spent $150,000 in the same time. She has about $1.24 million at her disposal. Williams’ fundraising report was delayed in being published to the Board of Elections website, something the campaign said was over "technical issues" and Hochul criticized him for.

"Our campaign's financial disclosure report was filed on time Monday evening but there were technical issues that we are working with the Board of Elections to immediately address," said William Gerlich, a spokesperson for Williams' campaign, in a Tuesday statement. Gerlich said Williams had raised nearly $200,000. When the report was finally published, it showed Williams having raised $183,469.62 and spending $137,967.13, to leave a balance of $45,502.49. However, the campaign appeared to take in several corporate contributions over the limit, and a subsequent need to refund several thousand dollars.

Candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run separately in a primary and on a joint ticket in the general.

Four candidates are competing for the Democratic nomination for attorney general, in a spirited race that has seen several of them posting strong fundraising numbers.

New York City Public Advocate Letitia James was chosen as the Democratic Party’s designee at its state convention. Before her disclosure was posted to the BOE website, her campaign claimed it had raised more than $1.1 million in just two months, and nearly 60 percent of the contributors gave $200 or less. According to the actual filing, James raised exactly $1,165,897.55 and spent $174,417.04, leaving her campaign $991,480.51 in the bank.

Zephyr Teachout, the Fordham Law professor who unsuccessfully challenged Governor Cuomo in the 2014 Democratic primary, is running for attorney general, pledging to refuse corporate, LLC, and PAC donations. Teachout showed about $551,000 in fundraising from more than 10,000 individual donors -- 97 percent of her funds came from donors who gave less than $200 -- and has spent about $284,000. She has $314,000 in cash on hand.

Former Cuomo and Hillary Clinton aide Leecia Eve raised $300,000 in total for her bid for attorney general and spent about $50,000. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney reported a $1.1 million haul and spent $145,000, but his campaign told The New York Times last week that he has another $3.1 million in funds raised for his congressional reelection that he believes he can use in the statewide race. He is running for both offices simultaneously, with the state AG primary set to determine whether he stays on the November ballot for congressional reelection.

The latest filings also revealed that former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who resigned after facing accusations of physical abuse by several romantic partners, triggering the Democratic primary, returned $982,000 to campaign contributors. He still has several million dollars in the bank.

Keith Wofford, the Republican nominee for attorney general, raised more than $1 million in total and has only spent about $25,000 since entering the race. He is not facing a primary.

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, an incumbent Democrat, isn’t facing a primary opponent this year either. He reported raising $683,000 since January and spent $351,000. He has about $2.6 million in his campaign account, eclipsing his two general election opponents.

John Trichter, until recently a registered Democrat, received the Republican Party’s nomination for comptroller. Trichter has only raised $156,000 and spent $18,500. He has about $138,000 in his campaign chest. The Green Party’s Mark Dunlea is also running for comptroller and has $5,000 in campaign cash.

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Note: This article has been updated with comment from a spokesperson for Jumaane Williams' campaign and additional information.

Amid Primary Fights, Cuomo and Hochul Increase Frequency of Joint Governmental Events


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Gov. Cuomo and Lt. Gov. Hochul (photo: The Governor's Office)


Governor Andrew Cuomo and Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul have increased the frequency of their public appearances together in recent months, perhaps a reaction to the Democratic primary challenge against Hochul by City Council Member Jumaane Williams, not to mention Cynthia Nixon’s parallel attempt to unseat Cuomo.

Between the close of state budget season at the end of March and mid-July, Cuomo and Hochul appeared together at 17 separate public government events, eight more than their nine joint events in the same period of 2017. And, ahead of the September 13 primary, the pace of Cuomo-Hochul events has picked up in June and July, with 14 events together as of July 13, compared to four such events last year through the same period.

Many of these events have revolved around two hot-button issues, women’s reproductive rights and gun control. Notably, these are not only high-profile national issues, but also topics already important to both the Cuomo-Nixon and Hochul-Williams races. They represent strong and weak points for Hochul and Williams: in their Democratic primary, Williams is strong on guns and vulnerable on reproductive rights, while Hochul is strong on reproductive rights and vulnerable on guns.

Meanwhile, Nixon has attacked Cuomo for a failure to pass the Reproductive Health Act, which would codify Roe v. Wade abortion rights into New York state law and he has expressed support for but pointed to refusal to pass it by Republicans who control the state Senate. Nixon, in turn, accuses Cuomo of having long tolerated, if not propped up, that Republican control of the upper house of the Legislature. On guns, however, Cuomo continues to run on his aggressive Safe Act, which he pushed through the Legislature in the months after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.

At recent events, all billed as official government rallies and press conferences, Cuomo and Hochul have regularly praised each other, at times appearing to blur campaign lines with talk of the upcoming November elections and their shared mission to help flip the U.S. House of Representatives and the state Senate to Democrats.

“I would guess that the optics of the team is stronger when together, particularly when the governor’s opponent is a woman,” said Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, in an email. “Also, the lieutenant governor is facing a contested primary of her own. By appearing with the governor, it helps build her visibility among voters.”

Williams, a New York City Council Member from Brooklyn, has aligned himself with the Working Families Party and activist organizations, and is running to Hochul’s left on many issues, like rent regulations. He is also building his campaign around the notion that the lieutenant governor should not simply be a booster for the governor, but a check on the state’s chief executive. He is seen as a significant threat to Hochul given his New York City base (she is from the Buffalo area), the progressive energy within the Democratic Party, and his ability to appeal to people of color and white progressives who make up a sizeable total share of the primary electorate (Williams is black, Hochul is white).

Williams, who describes himself as an “activist-elected official,” criticized Hochul’s characterization of her office as “advancer-in-chief.” "I don't think that that is what people want to see in a lieutenant governor now,” Williams told Gotham Gazette in an interview. “They do want to see the type of leadership which is working with the governor, he or she, to advance projects, policies, that is helping the people of the state.”

The lieutenant governor’s office told Gotham Gazette that the increased frequency of Cuomo-Hochul events is because the actions out of Washington, D.C. bring increased urgency to policy-making in New York.

“Now more than ever they're working together standing up for protections against gun violence and fighting for the rights of women and immigrants that are under attack by the federal government,” said Haley Viccaro, a spokesperson for Hochul, in an email.

On the campaign trail, Williams is regularly lambasting Hochul’s record on issues such as guns and immigration, calling her conservative. “With that kind of record,” Williams said in an interview, “my guess is that you would have to try to tack on to someone, in this case Cuomo, who has his own questionable record.” Williams noted Hochul’s 2011 vote in Congress for a concealed carry “reciprocity” bill, allowing individuals licensed to carry concealed weapons in one state to legally bring it to another state without legal concealed carry. Hochul, who was a one-term representative, has said that she regrets voting for the bill, and has been strongly behind the “red flag” gun control bill that she, Cuomo, and others have been pushing this year, to no avail in the GOP-held state Senate.

In the state budget deal reached in March, Cuomo was able to convince Senate Republicans to back a measure to strip guns from those convicted of domestic violence.

Hochul, meanwhile, recently released a campaign video accusing Williams of not being committed to women’s reproductive rights, given his history of personal opposition to abortion. “Mr. Williams has been socially conservative and has not consistently supported a woman’s right to choose,” Hochul said, adding that New York’s leaders need to be “100 percent personally committed” to upholding Roe v. Wade.

Williams said that he was “better” on both gun control and reproductive rights than Hochul “in terms of achievement.” “It was strange to me when I watched that ad, what the lieutenant governor seemed to imply is that any person has to choose to have an abortion in order to personally support a woman’s right to have a safe, legal abortion,” Williams said, claiming that he has always been in support of a woman’s right to choose.

“If you have no real record of achievement as an elected official, what else do you have,” Williams said. He told Gotham Gazette that he would like to debate Hochul on an issue of her choice, and on her terms. Hochul has said she is happy to engage in debates, though none have been scheduled at this time.

Nixon has repeatedly challenged Cuomo to debate, and the governor at one point said there would be a debate, but there has been no further public movement on the topic in months.

The second-term governor, who added Hochul to the ticket four years ago after his first-term lieutenant governor, Robert Duffy, declined to seek another term, has been focusing his attacks on Trump and Congressional Republicans, as well as Republicans in the state Senate, while largely ignoring Nixon. His campaign and governmental spokespeople have regularly criticized her, however, while she has gone on the attack against Cuomo over his management of the MTA, corruption in state economic development programs, and more.

While touting his record over two terms, Cuomo has sought to train the public focus on his fight for abortion rights and gun control. And, he has apparently sought to raise Hochul’s profile. The lieutenant governor, meanwhile, is closely aligning herself with a governor who remains well ahead in the polls, including among New York City voters and voters of color. While the two positions are voted on separately in party primaries, they form a party ticket for the general election.

On Monday, the Cuomo campaign announced that the governor had raised another $6 million in the latest state campaign finance filing period, spending almost the same amount, and maintaining about $31 million in the bank, far outpacing Nixon's roughly $1 million cash-on-hand. The Cuomo campaign noted that of the governor's disbursements, he had maxed out to Hochul's campaign committee, with a $21,000 donation, helping her bring in about $1.2 million over the filing period, which is about the same amount that she now has on-hand to spend.

Last month, Cuomo and Hochul held twin events around the “red flag” gun control bill, including in the Bronx and Westchester, and Hochul appeared at other related events without the governor. Cuomo said he did not expect that Senate Republicans would return to a special session in Albany to pass the measure, but that he wanted to apply public pressure and that voters should remove Republicans from power in the fall.

Then, the Cuomo-Hochul events increased in frequency after the announcement by Donald Trump of his Supreme Court pick, elevating the status of Roe v. Wade in the national and state conversation. In July, Cuomo and Hochul appeared at events centered around reproductive rights on five consecutive days, July 9-13. Hochul has introduced Cuomo at the events while noting that she and Cuomo are responding to “the onslaught of attacks on women’s rights coming out of our nation’s capital,” as she said on July 13.

In contrast, their joint events last July included the 2017 Adirondack Challenge and the announcement of a neighborhood stabilization initiative for Buffalo.

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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Ben Max contributed to this article.

Assembly Race Poses Another Test for Queens Machine


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Catalina Cruz (photo: @CatalinaCruzNY)


Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Democratic primary victory over Rep. Joe Crowley last month in New York’s 14th congressional district sent shockwaves throughout the country and signalled a monumental shift in Queens politics, where the Crowley-led county party has held significant sway in local elections for many years. The effects of Ocasio-Cortez’s win and Crowley’s loss, both nationally and locally, are still developing, but reverberations are certainly being felt in the already-competitive Democratic primary for New York Assembly District 39, where a county-backed incumbent is facing an independent challenger.

The district -- part of the 150-seat lower house of the state Legislature, all of which are on the ballot this fall, first in September 13 primaries -- covers the immigrant-heavy neighborhoods of Corona, Elmhurst, and Jackson Heights, and large parts of those fall within Crowley’s congressional district. It is currently represented by Assembly Member Ari Espinal, who was elected in a low-turnout special election barely three months ago, with fewer than 800 votes. Espinal was previously an aide to Francisco Moya, who held the Assembly seat before being elected to the New York City Council last year.

Espinal’s challenger in the primary is Catalina Cruz, an attorney with government experience who most recently served as chief of staff to former City Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland.

Espinal, whose cousin is Brooklyn City Council Member Rafael Epsinal, ran unopposed for the Assembly seat, having been endorsed by the Queens Democratic Party, which is chaired by Crowley and has played an influential role in not just Queens, but city and state elections for decades, as well as the selection of the powerful City Council speaker and a variety of other appointed positions. For a special election to the state Legislature, there are no party primaries, instead the party county committee selects its candidate for what is a singular public vote. In a heavily Democratic district like most in New York City, the party’s nominee is virtually  assured victory in a special election, and therefore gains at least some of the benefits of incumbency ahead of any subsequent intra-party challenges.

But the power of the Queens County Democrats’ endorsement is under question following Crowley’s landslide defeat to Ocasio-Cortez as he finishes his tenth term in the House. Queens Democratic insiders say Cruz is in important ways a stronger candidate than Espinal and that the Queens county machine -- a descriptor some take issue with -- is playing a minimal role in the race and has a far less threatening presence in the immediate aftermath of last month’s election. Some also point to the fact that the Queens county party has been defeated in a number of elections over the years by strong insurgent candidates, such as the victories of current City Council Members Daniel Dromm and Jimmy Van Bramer, as well as Ferreras-Copeland’s first win. Moya, meanwhile, helped orchestrate Espinal’s ascension and is actively campaigning on her behalf in an area where he has won several recent elections.

For her part, Espinal is confident about the race. “I welcome any challenge,” she said in a phone interview. “I’m from Corona, Queens. I was raised in this neighborhood. I welcome any challenge and it’s exciting. I feel like it’s the Democratic process, too. Why wouldn’t you want a challenge? You would want your voters to get engaged. This is how they get engaged more when they have to pick, to choose and say, ‘Who’s going to represent me the way I want to be represented?’”

Having been in office just under three months, Espinal has been prime sponsor on one bill that was passed by both legislative chambers, to extend a labor law relating to unemployment insurance proceedings, and another, called Carlos’ Law, which enacts punishments for developers that put workers at risk of injury or death, which passed only the Assembly. Espinal has also allocated hundreds of thousands of dollars to her community, she said. She signed on to the Dream Act, which aims to provide state financial aid to undocumented immigrants seeking higher education. She’s received support for her reelection bid from Moya, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, Bronx Rep. Jose Serrano, and the Working Families Party.

Espinal is relying on her experience as a longtime community organizer and former Democratic district leader, promising voters that she will bring resources back to her community. She has pledged to fight for immigrant protections, affordable housing, school funding, small businesses, and workers rights, and other locally-important issues. And she pushed back against the notion that she is the establishment candidate in the race. “Quite so often you have politicians who are not from the area and just want to run for office because they just want the power. I’m not looking for the power,” she said. “What I’m looking for is to actually engage my community and tell them, ‘I’m here. I’m here for you because I’ve lived here and I know the issues...because I’m your neighbor.’”

Cruz, Espinal’s opponent, strikes a similar chord with her campaign pitch. “My entire life is a spectrum of the people of Jackson Heights, Corona and Elmhurst,” she said in a phone interview. But one thing that sets her far apart from Espinal is that Cruz herself is a “Dreamer,” a child of undocumented immigrants who came to New York at the age of nine and who only recently gained permanent resident status in 2009. “I went from being an undocumented child who picked cans in the street with her mom to survive, to being a Dreamer who was going to undergrad and paying for school for herself to a working poor lawyer...to being a middle-class New Yorker, which is basically the spectrum of the people who are here in our community,” she said.

After graduating law school and working as a housing attorney, Cruz joined the Attorney General’s office, then headed by Andrew Cuomo, before he was elected governor. Cruz served afterwards in the Department of Labor as counsel in the division of immigrant affairs. She worked with former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito -- who has endorsed her -- to write the legislation that kicked ICE agents off Rikers Island. She also returned to working for Cuomo, heading up his Exploited Workers Task Force, after which she joined Council Member Ferreras-Copeland’s staff. Her former boss has endorsed her, as have Council Members Dromm and Van Bramer, Helen Rosenthal, and Margaret Chin.

“We’re a people-driven campaign,” Cruz said of her approach to the race. “We start with people and we end with people. We start with the idea that all of our policies should be informed by people.” Though her policy platform largely resembles Espinal’s, Cruz says she sets herself apart by virtue of her independence, experience, her focus on the residents of the district who cannot vote, and her pledge to refuse corporate and luxury developer money (the latter a promise like one made by Ocasio-Cortez, who attacked Crowley for the large corporate donations he received).

“We are running a campaign that’s very much driven by people that live in the district and we’re independent from any ties to a political organization,” Cruz said.

Those ties or the lack thereof may not be determinative in the Assembly race that does again put the power of the Queens County Democrats in the spotlight, observers who spoke with Gotham Gazette said. One former Assembly candidate from Queens said the path to victory lies in a robust ground game and organization. “You knock on enough doors, you meet enough people, and you raise enough money, and the barriers to entry are very low,” the former candidate said. “How many people are gonna vote in an Assembly race? A few thousand? How much money do you need to raise for an assembly race? $100,000? How many doors are you gonna knock on?...You put your walking shoes on and you can do it. So I think party power is very limited and Ari and Catalina will win or lose on the strengths of their own organic, local operation.”

Democratic insiders pointed out that the Queens Democratic Party’s endorsement comes with political validation but not necessarily the resources to bolster a campaign, such as funding or boots on the ground. It’s why they disputed the characterization of the county party as a machine that can determine the course of campaigns. The party does, however, pressure potential contenders against considering a challenge to an incumbent and often brings with its endorsement a slew of loyal elected officials who coalesce around the county’s candidate and use their own resources and networks to boost them. The party also has connections at the Board of Elections and often attempts to knock challengers off the ballot and at times activates a network of district leaders and county committee members to help with ballot petition signature-gathering, door-knocking, and flyering.

“It seems like [Cruz] has real momentum and...everyone’s going to attest the strength of her campaign to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez but I think the reality of it is the dynamics of that race were shaped well before the congressional race,” said a Queens Democratic operative who asked to remain anonymous to discuss things freely.

“I think people have an impression of the Queens county organization as a faulty machine,” the operative said, insisting that a loss by a county-backed candidate did not mean the so-called machine is faltering. “I think the reality is that’s not what the organization is...In my experience, they support somebody and their support will provide the significant assistance of validation from other elected officials. That’s very helpful...but it was never designed to overcome bad campaigns or great opposing candidates.”

If the incumbent candidate backed by the Queens Democrats loses to an independent challenger, the optics are far from ideal coming so close on the heels of Crowley’s loss. But the county has invested little in the race, said another Democratic insider from Queens who knows both Espinal and Cruz and who decried the term “machine” as a “loaded expression” for a county party that simply tries to elect its own members to office.

But the Queens county organization is undoubtedly powerful. The “machine” moniker stems from the fact that the party holds sway over more than just candidate endorsements -- its backing often also means a candidate will not receive a primary challenger. The county organization selects judicial nominees, and allies of Crowley have made hefty profits from being appointed as guardians in Surrogate’s Court. The party’s executive secretary is Michael Reich, whose partner Gerard Sweeney in the law firm Sweeney, Reich and Bolz, has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of Surrogate’s Court business. The county also selects one of the ten commissioners on the New York City Board of Elections, who decide which candidates qualify to appear on the ballot.

The City Council speaker’s race has more often than not also been decided by the influence of the Queens and Bronx county parties; Council central staffers are frequently picked from the county’s ranks; and Council committee chairs are influenced by county allegiances. And though Crowley may no longer represent the House next year, City & State reported that he’s expected to be reelected county chair by district leaders for another two-year term in September. The county organization did not return a request for comment for this article about its support for Espinal.

“I don’t think it would be a fair characterization to say this is a test of the county organization because I’m not sure they have all hands on deck for this one,” the insider said. The insider insisted that neither candidate needs the county party’s help to win the race, which would be won on the merits of their candidacies, and that Crowley’s fall is more likely to have an effect on the state Senate District 13 race, where Jessica Ramos is challenging Senator Jose Peralta, formerly of the rogue Independent Democratic Conference, which empowered Republicans. “I don’t think the Catalina-Ari race is affected by the Crowley result as much,” the insider said. “I just don’t get the sense that that changed everything...They weren’t dependent on Crowley for the win. Peralta was kinda depending on the county guys propping him up, keeping him strong and I feel like that has turned and now Ramos, if I had to bet, will win that race.”

Cruz herself drew a parallel with Ocasio-Cortez’s win, noting that voters turned out in higher numbers for the progressive challenger than Crowley in his own backyard, which encompasses large parts of the Assembly district, to vote out the incumbent. “[Ocasio-Cortez] believed in the everyday person and the everyday person believed in her so much that they went out and overwhelmingly voted for her,” she said. “And that’s where we find ourselves, in the exact same situation.”

But even she denied that she was poking the bear through her candidacy. “I wouldn’t call it testing their power because I never said I’m running against the machine,” Cruz said. “I’ve always said I’m running for the people. We have an organization that was just shown what people powered campaigns can do and we’re about to show them a second time.”

If anything, the race may show that the Queens party’s once-coveted support has turned sour, seen by some as a signal of establishment politics that has been too out of touch with regular voters. “I think it definitely suffered,” said the Democratic insider of the county party’s endorsement. “It’s very raw and very recent, the whole Joe thing...I don’t know if this is a permanent problem or just a temporary one. But the timing right now is bad for those people.”

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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The Week Ahead in New York Politics, July 16


New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

We’re less than two months from primary day, September 13, in the 2018 races for state-level seats. The entire state Legislature is on the ballot this fall, as well as the statewide offices of Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Comptroller, and Attorney General. There are far more Democratic than Republican primaries given that the GOP has few, if any, sitting state legislators being challenged and the party ensured that its four statewide candidates would not be challenged. Republicans haven’t won a statewide election since Gov. George Pataki won his last term in 2002.

On the Democratic side, there are intense, possibly damaging primaries happening in the races for Governor and Lieutenant Governor, where incumbents Andrew Cuomo and Kathy Hochul are being challenged by Cynthia Nixon and Jumaane Williams, respectively. The open Attorney General primary is a contentious four-way race. Comptroller Tom DiNapoli is not facing a primary challenger. And, there are spirited, intense campaigns being run against all eight state senators who made up what was the Independent Democratic Conference, six of whom represent parts of New York City.

There are other intraparty fights happening, including three in Brooklyn where Julia Salazar is challenging Senator Martin Dilan, Blake Morris is challenging Senator Simcha Felder, a registered Democrat who has conferenced with Republicans, helping ensure them a slim majority, and the Ross Barkan-Andrew Gounardes primary to see who will try to unseat Senator Marty Golden. There are also a few Assembly primaries worth watching, though that chamber is less interesting in election season because of Democrats’ significant majority.

So this week we’re watching candidate fundraising totals that are made public through Board of Election filings; to see if there are any new polls in the statewide races; for any news of whether Cuomo will accept a debate challenge from Nixon (he has said there would be a debate) and when there might be one or more Hochul-Williams or AG candidate debates (the AG candidates have been participating in candidate forums, but not debates as of yet), and how things progress in some of the aforementioned legislative primaries. Nixon's campaign got a boost this past week when additional Cuomo associates were convicted on federal corruption charges related to the governor's Buffalo Billion economic development program. It is the second trial this year involving Cuomo aides and donors to result in convictions.

It’s not all elections, of course, as there is action this week at the City Council, a few panel events to be aware of, and more happening -- see our day-by-day rundown below. We're also watching for the announcement of a federal monitor to oversee the city's NYCHA consent decree, which could come as early as this week, and for any news of a possible special legislative session in Albany to address issues such as speed cameras around city schools and the Reproductive Health Act, which would codify Roe v. Wade abortion protections in New York law.

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The run of the week in detail:

Monday
The New York State Board of Regents will meet on Monday and Tuesday.

At 8:45 a.m. Monday, city schools Chancellor Richard Carranza will deliver remarks at the 21st Annual National Principals Leadership Institute, at Lincoln Center.

On Monday at 11 a.m. in Brooklyn, "Lieutenant Governor candidate Jumaane Williams will announce his endorsement Julia Salazar, a progressive candidate running for New York State Senate today in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Salazar will also announce her support for Williams, and both will be endorsed by the Jewish Vote, a grassroots organization focused on organizing the people-powered wing of the Democratic Party."

On Monday at 11:15 a.m. at City Hall, advocates and elected officials will rally to raise issues related to zoning and development of “megatoweres” on the Upper East and Upper West Sides, with a particular focus on a Tuesday hearing at the Board of Standards and Appeals related to two planned megatowers that are said to be exploiting zoning loopholes. “Join Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, State Senator Liz Krueger (rep.), and Council Member Ben Kallos, together with FRIENDS, Carnegie Hill Neighbors, Landmark West! and others in calling for a comprehensive solution now, not six months from now.”

On Monday at 11:30 a.m. at Brooklyn Army Terminal, “New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and City officials plan to unveil Freight NYC, an action plan that includes various strategies to modernize and strengthen the City’s freight distribution network. This plan is a major component of the City’s NY Works initiative to create 100,000 good-paying jobs by 2027.” The announcement will feature Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development Alicia Glen; James Patchett, NYCEDC President and CEO; Congressional Reps. Jerrold Nadler and Nydia Velazquez; City Council Member Carlos Menchaca; Assistant Assembly Speaker Felix W. Ortiz; and others.

At 1 p.m. Monday at City Hall, the City Council “Committee on Standards and Ethics will hold a meeting on a matter regarding section 10.80 of the Council Rules.” Section 10.80 relates to the code of conduct and “disorderly behavior,” which can include sexual harassment and using a government for office for political work -- there is no other information available at this time on what matter the committee may be dealing with or who may be involved.

At 1 p.m. Monday outside City Hall, Republican gubernatorial candidate Marc Molinaro, with lieutenant governor candidate Julie Killian and City Council Member Joe Borelli, "will call on Governor Andrew Cuomo to keep his hands off New York tip wages."

At 1 p.m. Monday outside Kings County Supreme Court, “Housing Rights Initiative (HRI) and Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams will announce a $10 million, 19-plaintiff lawsuit, filed by the Law Offices of Jack Lester in Kings County Supreme Court, based on a comprehensive investigation by HRI that has found that Kushner Companies appears to have employed a deliberate campaign to systematically harass rent-stabilized tenants in a 338-unit building out of their apartments using illegal, destructive, and dangerous construction practices. According to an independent lab analysis, families, including children and babies, were exposed to highly toxic and cancer-causing substances, including, but not limited to, the lung carcinogen crystalline silica and lead.”

At 5 p.m. Monday, the City Council’s Charter Revision Commission will hold its first public meeting since its members were named, at the Council Chambers in City Hall. The commission, separate from the mayor’s ongoing charter revision commission, will work toward ballot proposals for November 2019.

Mayor Bill de Blasio will make his weekly appearance on NY1’s Inside City Hall on Monday in the 7 and 11 p.m. hours.

Tuesday
At the City Council on Tuesday:
--The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet at 9:30 a.m.
--The Committee on Criminal Justice will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss proposed laws relating to telephone services for inmates in city jails and prisons, and to “requiring the department of correction to report on use by department staff of any device capable of administering an electric shock.”
--The Committee on Consumer Affairs will meet at 10:30 a.m. to discuss proposed laws related to “disclosure of premium or compensation charged by bail bond agents” and to “requiring that bail bond agents make certain disclosures.”
--The Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting, and Maritime Uses will meet at noon to discuss the landmarking proposal for the Coney Island Riegelmann Boardwalk.
--The Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions, and Concessions will meet at 2 p.m.

"On Tuesday, the First Lady Chirlane McCray will travel to Oakland, California to participate in the Well Being Legacy Convening." She will return on Friday.

At 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, the Association for a Better New York will host John Miller, the NYPD’s Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counter-Terrorism, for a “Power Breakfast” at the Roosevelt Hotel in Midtown.

At 9 a.m. Tuesday, City & State will host its “Protecting New York Summit” at Baruch College, discussing “New York’s security strategy from elections to community policing.” NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill and Roger Parrino, Commissioner of the State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, will deliver keynote addresses. Other speakers will include Elizabeth Glazer, director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice; Michael Ryan, executive director of the New York City Board of Elections; State Senators Todd Kaminsky and Liz Krueger; Assemblymember David Buchwald; City Council Member Donovan Richards; and others. Gotham Gazette’s Ben Max will moderate a panel on election integrity at 11:15 a.m.

At 9 a.m. Tuesday, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Comptroller Scott Stringer, and Public Advocate Letitia James will be among those to deliver remarks at a rally against hate at the Annual Amazon Web Summit, at Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.

At 11:30 a.m., Stringer will host a press conference outside of City Hall Park. At 3 p.m., James will hold a press conference at her office at 1 Centre Street. At 11:30 a.m., Johnson will delivers remarks at Judith White Senior Center, and at 6 p.m. Johnson will deliver remarks at the LGBTQ Memorial Launch, at the LGBT Center.

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, the State Senate Standing Committees on Labor and Economic Development will meet at the Dulles State Office Building in Watertown, Jefferson County, for a public hearing regarding the state’s MWBE program.

At 11 a.m. Tuesday, the mayor’s Charter Revision Commission will hold a public meeting to discuss the “preliminary staff report” at the Pratt Institute’s Manhattan campus.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, TransitCenter will host “Access Delayed” at One Whitehall Street, discussing how New York became the “least accessible subway system in the country” for people with disabilities, and strategies for remedying it. Panelists will include NYC Transit President Andy Byford, State Senator Michael Gianaris, Monica Bartley of the Center for Independence of the Disabled NY, and Emily Seelenfreund of Disability Rights Advocates. City Comptroller Scott Stringer will deliver opening remarks.

On Tuesday at 6 p.m. at LaGuardia Community College, the "Department of Consumer Affairs’ (DCA) Office of Labor Policy & Standards (OLPS), in partnership with the City Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) and the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA), will hold a public hearing on the state of workers’ rights in New York City. “The State of Workers’ Rights in NYC: Advances and Setbacks in Turbulent Times” public hearing will include panels of workers who will testify on issues they face in today’s workplace, followed by an open session for testimony from low-wage and immigrant workers, advocacy groups, labor unions, nonprofits, and community-based organizations on topics including access to paid safe and sick leave, scheduling problems, freelancer payment issues, wage and hour, immigrant worksite enforcement issues and more. The hearing will inform DCA’s future efforts to protect workers, particularly low-wage and vulnerable workers." Participants will include Lorelei Salas, DCA Commissioner, Carmelyn Malalis, CCHR Commissioner, Bitta Mostofi, MOIA Commissioner, Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer, Council Member I. Daneek Miller, and "dozens of workers."

The Working Families Party is holding its 20th anniversary gala on Tuesday evening in Brooklyn. The event will include the WFP's endorsed candidates for governor and lieutenant governor, Cynthia Nixon and Jumaane Williams, as well as other WFP candidates, supporters, and allies.

Wednesday
The City Council will hold a stated meeting at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday. There is expected to be the usual pre-stated press conference led by Speaker Corey Johnson at 12:30 p.m.

Also at the City Council on Wednesday:
--The Committee on Land Use will meet at 9:30 a.m.
--The Committee on Housing and Buildings will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss a proposed law relating to “regulation of short-term residential rentals.”
--The Committee on Finance will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss the distribution of funds to organizations in the new city budget.

Just ahead of the Council’s stated meeting, at 1 p.m. outside City Hall, “Council Members Antonio Reynoso and Steve Levin will join with advocates to rally for the passage of Intro 157, a bill to cap the amount of waste handled by overburdened communities.” Along with Reynoso, Levin, and other Council members, including those in the Progressive Caucus, participants will include Teamsters Joint Council 16, Teamsters Local 813, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, The Natural Resources Defense Council, and other community groups and environmental justice advocates.

Wednesday from 5 to 6 p.m. will be the first weekly Max & Murphy show on WBAI radio (listen at 99.FM or stream at WBAI.org). Gotham Gazette’s Ben Max and City Limits’ Jarrett Murphy are moving their weekly podcast to the radio -- the show will still consist of interviews with newsmakers and analysts that will be made available as podcasts, and it will include listener calls! The first episode will include a conversation with Public Advocate Letitia James, who is running for Attorney General.

At 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, the New York City Campaign Finance Board’s Voter Assistance Advisory Committee will hold a public meeting at the CFB’s headquarters at 100 Church Street.

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver will deliver a two-year update on the “Parks Without Borders” initiative at the Museum of Natural History’s Kaufmann Theater.

Thursday
At 8 a.m. Thursday, the Citizens Budget Commission will host New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood as a guest speaker at its annual trustee breakfast at the Harvard Club. The Attorney General will discuss “the U.S. Supreme Court nomination; the Attorney General's lawsuits to protect New Yorkers, such as on family separation, the 2020 Census, and more; and the ways in which New York State can lead to protect New Yorkers' rights.”

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, City & State will unveil its Queens Power 50 list at the Ravel Hotel in Long Island City. Queens Borough President Melinda Katz will speak.

Friday and the weekend
There are no Friday or weekend events of note on our radar as of Sunday evening.

***
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
@GothamGazette

Alain Kaloyeros, Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion Star, Found Guilty on All Charges


Kaloyeros Cuomo Buffalo Billion

Alain Kaloyeros (photo via The Governor's Office)


Alain Kaloyeros, the former president of SUNY Polytechnic Institute who spearheaded key pieces of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s vaunted Buffalo Billion economic revitalization program, was found guilty in federal court on Thursday of bid-rigging state contracts in favor of upstate firms whose executives were major donors to the governor’s campaign.

Following a trial that lasted just under a month, a jury found Kaloyeros guilty on charges of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with two separate schemes in which he colluded with a prominent lobbyist to manipulate state contract bids. Prosecutors charged Kaloyeros with rigging requests for proposals (RFPs) to favor prominent executives from two specific firms -- Louis Ciminelli from Buffalo-based LPCiminelli, and Joseph Gerardi and Steven Aiello from Syracuse-based COR Development. Ciminelli, Gerardi and Aiello also stood trial with Kaloyeros and were found guilty on Thursday as well. The defendants are all expected to be sentenced in October.

Kaloyeros, who the governor praised in lofty terms when appointing him to lead the Buffalo Billion and over the course of subsequent years, conspired on the two schemes with the developers and Todd Howe, a now infamous lobbyist with close ties to Cuomo. Howe was the government’s star witness in another federal corruption case earlier this year involving former top Cuomo aide Joe Percoco, who was also convicted. COR executives Gerardi and Aiello were co-defendants in that trial as well.

Prosecutors in the Kaloyeros trial relied on email records that showed the eccentric tech guru plotted to ensure that LPCiminelli received a contract to construct a solar panel factory, which eventually ballooned in cost to $750 million, and that COR development was awarded more than $100 million to build a manufacturing plant and film studio. The bid-rigging was done in apparent effort to please Cuomo, though the governor himself was not accused of committing any crimes.

In a statement, Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, whose office prosecuted the case, expressed pride that the Kaloyeros verdict was just the latest successful conviction won by the office’s Public Corruption Unit, following the conviction of Percoco and former state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. “The guiding principle of the Southern District holds that true justice can only be achieved through independence from politics or influence, and that has never been more important than today,” he said.

All of the cases were originally brought by former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who was fired by President Donald Trump and celebrated the verdicts on Twitter, writing, “All four Buffalo Billion defendants guilty on all counts. Congratulations to the team at SDNY for continuing to strike big blows against corruption in New York State.”

The two corruption cases involving Percoco, Howe, and Kaloyeros, among others, have been a black eye for Cuomo, though he was never accused of criminal wrongdoing in either one, and his political opponents have repeatedly used them to criticize both the governor and the pay-to-play culture in state government. In a harshly worded statement following the verdict, actor and activist Cynthia Nixon, the governor’s Democratic primary challenger, scoffed at the governor’s proclaimed ignorance of Kaloyeros and Percoco’s misdeeds. “Andrew Cuomo is either corrupt or he is spectacularly incompetent,” Nixon said. “Either way, the facts from the trials of Joe Percoco and Alain Kaloyeros lead to only one conclusion: We can’t clean up Albany until we clean out the governor’s mansion. Nothing is going to change until we change who’s in charge.”

Cuomo, who has said that he has not followed the case closely, said in his own statement, “The jury has spoken and justice has been done. There can be no tolerance for those who seek to defraud the system to advance their own personal interests. Anyone who has committed such an egregious act should be punished to the full extent of the law." Cuomo did not mention anyone by name or promise any reforms. He has not followed through on several governmental and campaign promises he made when the scandal broke.

In response to the verdict, government watchdogs warned that the lax state regulations that allowed Kaloyeros’ criminal actions remain unchanged. A coalition of groups including Reinvent Albany, Citizens Budget Commission, NYPIRG, and Fiscal Policy Institute issued a statement repeating calls for “clean contracting” reforms, saying that “evidence introduced at the federal trial of Alain Kaloyeros, the governor's former nano-czar, and executives from LP Ciminelli and COR Development highlight the vulnerability of the state’s economic development programs to corruption and abuse.”

“The convictions in the ‘Buffalo Billion’ trial underscore the huge corruption risks that continue to plague Albany,” read a statement from the New York Public Interest Research Group. “The Governor 's failure to produce meaningful reforms, coupled with the Legislature's inability to come to an agreement on its own, highlight the failures of the state's elected leadership to grapple with unending scandals.”

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

New York Democrats’ Season of Choosing


corey johnson jessica ramos robert jackson cityhall

Corey Johnson endorses IDC challengers (photo: Gotham Gazette)


As progressives aggressively attempt to wrest control of the Democratic Party from the hands of those they call centrists and establishment politicians, elected Democrats across New York find themselves in an unenviable position. Abiding by their self-professed progressive values to support insurgent Democratic primary challengers could mean bucking the state party establishment and its leader, Governor Andrew Cuomo, while, on the other hand, toeing the party line risks opening them up to accusations of hypocrisy and betrayal -- and perhaps even a future primary challenge -- levelled by an enraged and engaged base.

A battle that played out during the 2016 presidential primary between Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State and New York Senator Hillary Clinton has only intensified since Donald Trump’s victory. The 2018 election cycle is offering many opportunities across the country for Democrats, elected officials and otherwise, to decide between what is essentially two wings of the party. The Democrats’ season of choosing is easier for some than others, but many prominent party figures find themselves in uncomfortable situations. At stake is nothing short of political careers, the fate of activist organizations, the policy agenda and future of the Democratic Party, the outcomes of current and prospective elections, and their aftermaths in terms of government policies that affect millions.

At the center in New York is Cuomo, his lieutenant governor, Kathy Hochul, and the state Senate’s erstwhile Independent Democratic Conference, eight senators who chose power over party for as many as seven years by empowering Republican control of the legislative chamber, what has been the GOP’s only stronghold in state government. In April, the renegades returned to the fold with assurances from Cuomo, who long tolerated and allegedly enabled their infidelity, that their seats were secure, at least from other Democrats. Under the accord brokered by the governor just after a new state budget was passed, the state Democratic Party machinery, fellow state-level electeds, and prominent labor unions would support these former IDC members -- who were time and again blamed for obstructing the passage of progressive legislation -- and would refuse to aid their challengers.

Though Cuomo and the former IDC members have professed support for progressive priorities -- voting, elections and campaign finance reform, criminal justice reform, women’s reproductive rights, stronger rent regulations, immigrant protections, to name a few -- they have failed to pass legislation along those lines, blaming staunch opposition by Senate Republicans. Their progressive challengers instead say they have been the obstacles to progressive bills by empowering Republicans.

Cuomo, at the top of the Democratic ticket, faces an aggressive challenge from actress and activist Cynthia Nixon in the primary. Nixon’s candidacy, from the left of Cuomo, parallels Fordham Law professor Zephyr Teachout’s unsuccessful gubernatorial bid four years ago, except it comes in a more heightened atmosphere of displeasure on the left following Trump’s election, amid disappointment with Cuomo’s relatively centrist record, and with increased awareness of the IDC. Nixon also has other advantages Teachout lacked, like name recognition and fundraising prowess, though Cuomo has worked over the past four years to make amends with some of his past critics, such as those in certain labor unions.

A similar fight is being replicated in the race for lieutenant governor, between incumbent Democrat Hochul and her progressive challenger, Jumaane Williams, a City Council member from Brooklyn.   

All eight former IDC members face primary challenges ahead of the September 13 vote. Five of those districts fall squarely in New York City while another is split between the Bronx and Westchester, with two others upstate.

In District 13, in Queens, Jessica Ramos is taking on Sen. Jose Peralta; in Brooklyn’s District 20, Zellnor Myrie is challenging Sen. Jesse Hamilton; on Manhattan’s west side, Robert Jackson is going up against Sen. Marisol Alcantara; in District 23, which spans Staten Island’s north shore and parts of Brooklyn, Jasmine Robinson is confronting Sen. Diane Savino; in District 11 in Queens, Sen. Tony Avella will again face former city Comptroller John Liu, who earned 47 percent in a losing 2014 bid to unseat Avella; and in District 34 that covers Westchester and the Bronx, Alessandra Biaggi is attempting to unseat the leader of the what was the IDC, Sen. Jeff Klein, who now serves as the deputy leader in the unified Senate Democratic Conference.

Outside the city, in District 38 that spreads across Rockland and Westchester, Sen. David Carlucci faces a challenge from Julie Goldberg; and in District 53 covering Madison County and parts of Onondaga and Oneida, Sen. David Valesky faces Rachel May in the primary.

For Cuomo and the state party, maintaining what Democratic seats they have in the Senate is paramount as they seek to flip the chamber by picking up more. Republicans have recently held control of the 63-seat chamber by a one-seat margin thanks to their own ranks and a single rogue conservative Senator from Brooklyn, Simcha Felder, a registered Democrat who won his most recent reelection on the Democratic, Republican, and Conservative Party lines -- Felder is also facing a Democratic primary this year, from Blake Morris.

But while they also want to see Republican seats flipped in November, many progressive activists insist that the party needs to elect better, “bluer Democrats” than Cuomo, Hochul, and the former IDC members. Nixon has explained that it is her motivation to run for governor, saying that in the age of Trump not any Democrat will do. Cuomo and his supporters argue that not only has the governor been a progressive powerhouse, but that Democratic energy of all kinds would be better spent working in concert to flip red seats to blue.

That argument has largely fallen on deaf ears among those displeased with Cuomo, Klein, and other Democratic incumbents.

The shiny veneer of the Senate Democrat reunification deal and its accompanying pact of nonaggression has seemed to be wearing off as challengers to the IDC senators pick up endorsements from top Democratic incumbents and, in one candidate’s case, from an influential labor union that helped broker the merger of the Senate Democrats. Meanwhile, Nixon and Williams have picked up far more support from elected officials and organizations than Teachout and her lieutenant governor running mate, Tim Wu, achieved in 2014.

Democrats across the spectrum are taking sides, and others will be expected to do so over the next few months, in decisions that could be determinative for those they endorse, for their own political trajectories, and for the larger map of New York’s Democratic world currently dominated by one set of elected and appointed officials, consultants, labor leaders, and the networks of power they control.

Mayoral Hopefuls
On June 28, New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson announced his endorsement of Biaggi, Jackson, Ramos, and Myrie, providing them a boost at a time when progressives were already feeling emboldened by the congressional primary victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez earlier that week.

A declared democratic socialist with a deeply progressive campaign platform, Ocasio-Cortez defeated Democratic giant Rep. Joe Crowley, a ten-term incumbent and the powerful boss of the Queens Democratic Party who was among the chief drivers of the Senate Democratic reunification and a possible next speaker of the House of Representatives. The stunning upset shook the foundations of the Democratic Party and undercut the conventional wisdom of the primacy of incumbents and machine politics, and its ramifications will likely be dissected for years. In New York, it’s immediate effects were quickly felt. Johnson, who had endorsed Crowley in the race, insisted the result did not affect his decision to endorse the four IDC challengers, which he said was in the works for months, but that did not stop observers from drawing a connection.

“Whether it’s in Washington, D.C., or in Albany, the status quo isn’t working and that is why I’m here today in supporting four amazing candidates,” Johnson said at the steps of City Hall. “They are Democrats, they are progressive Democrats, they will caucus with the Democrats and they will support all the issues that Democrats support.” On Saturday, Johnson said on Twitter that he was ready to fully support Liu. At a Tuesday event in support of Biaggi, Johnson said, “It feels really good to be able to tell the truth and for too long, people were not telling the truth about the IDC and the damage that they’ve done to the state of New York. And that damage was all in their own self-interest, putting their own self-interest above the entire state of New York.”   

In a statement following Johnson’s endorsement, Barbara Brancaccio, a spokesperson for Klein, said, “Frankly we are surprised that our opponent would accept the endorsement of such a radioactive figure coming on the heels of his endorsement of Joe Crowley. We are sure that Johnson will do for this challenger, exactly what he did for Joe Crowley."

At the same time, Johnson has also endorsed Governor Cuomo for reelection over Nixon, who continues to criticize the governor for supporting the IDC and whose platform largely resembles those of the IDC opponents. She shares stark similarities with Ocasio-Cortez and others seeking to upend incumbent Democrats who insurgents believe are too close to big-money interests and not in touch with their constituents who most need them. Nixon has begun to align herself more closely with those IDC challengers, cross-endorsing with Ramos earlier this week, for example.

The same day as Johnson’s endorsement of the IDC challengers, 32BJ SEIU, the prominent building workers union, endorsed Biaggi, though their president Hector Figueroa had months ago been among those who proposed the Democratic reunification deal and the union is among several that have endorsed Cuomo and had also backed Crowley. “Jeff Klein and the IDC have empowered obstructionist Republicans set on blocking key reforms for too long,” Figueroa said in a statement announcing the endorsement. “Never again.”

And just one day prior, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer also endorsed Biaggi, a few months after he had already announced his support for Ramos and Jackson. The endorsements by Stringer, well before the Ocasio-Cortez win and its initial fallout, have won him much praise from liberal activists.

Since his union came out for Biaggi, Figueroa has also addressed the Democratic split in New York, writing on Twitter, “Dems upset about IDC folks being primaried ‘for it may lead to the GOP winning a majority of NY Senate’ do not blame the ‘left’. The ones to be blamed are IDC incumbents themselves & those STILL defending them. IDC betrayed voters creating a big political mess. Time to clean up.”

Along with the number and strength of the progressive primary challengers to established incumbents and Ocasio-Cortez’s win, these endorsements, headlining still others, are the clearest cracks in the Democratic foundation that Cuomo and other state leaders have tried to set.

“I think it’s fascinating because we do see a lack of cohesion as to whether or not people are going to support the IDC members or their challengers,” said Dr. Christina Greer, a political science professor at Fordham University. “And I think this debate is sort of reflective of a larger debate that’s going on in the Democratic Party, for the soul of the Democratic party…‘Are we centrist, conservative-leaning Democrats or are we progressive?’”

To some, these moves may smack of political opportunism, particularly in the case of Johnson, who is supporting progressives on the one hand while propping up establishment centrists like Crowley and Cuomo on the other. But in the New York political landscape, Greer said these endorsements are equally driven by philosophical considerations as they are by pragmatic ones. “These are politicians…I think that they can genuinely care about an issue and I think that they can also be calculating and strategic about it,” she said.

For some, there is also a difference between backing a less experienced candidate for state Senate based on ideological reasons as opposed to the chief executive of the state.

Both Johnson and Stringer are widely expected to run for mayor in 2021, the next city election cycle, when Mayor Bill de Blasio will be term-limited out of office, and tapping the progressive energy that Ocasio-Cortez rode to power, and that is now propelling Nixon, Williams, the IDC challengers, and others, would likewise boost their own political fortunes.

“I think in the Democratic primary, the progressive energy in the city, that’s what you want to tap into if you’re running for mayor,” said Eric Koch, managing principal at Precision Strategies, a Democratic consulting firm, and former director of communications for City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “So it makes sense to endorse the folks running against the IDC people because in terms of the activists and the people who are organizing against the IDC versus who is a Democratic primary voter in a mayoral election, there’s a pretty big overlap there.”

It’s important to note that the IDC incumbents themselves have powerful backers, including unions like 1199 SEIU, many of which are in Cuomo’s corner as well.

While Stringer and Johnson have decided to buck Cuomo and those involved in the unity deal, other likely 2021 mayoral candidates have not. Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. is a Cuomo ally and closely aligned with the Bronx Democratic Party apparatus, led by its chair, Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, and its former chair, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who signed onto the unity deal.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams has been critical of Cuomo over the course of years, but has not made endorsements yet. His approach is complicated given his alliance with Senator Hamilton, formerly of the IDC. Adams did invite Nixon early in her campaign to tour a Brooklyn NYCHA complex and the two went to Albany Houses together. The Brooklyn borough president has voiced strong criticism of Cuomo, but has not embraced Nixon beyond the NYCHA visit, nor has he weighed in on Williams’ challenge to Hochul or the IDC races.

“They’re looking at these challengers and their districts, I’m sure, to sort of see what kind of coalition they would need to put together,” Greer said. “When they run for mayor, Andrew Cuomo may or may not still be in office...but a great campaign marketing slogan is, ‘We fight Albany. We fight Albany to make sure that New York City gets the money and resources we need.’”

“Sure they care, but it’s also a very strategic move,” Greer said, “to make sure that they’re distancing themselves from the status quo to say that, ‘When tough decisions needed to be made, I didn’t just go along to get along.’”

Statewide Case
Public Advocate Letitia James, who is running in the Democratic primary for attorney general (and had been a likely 2021 mayoral candidate), is charting a course similar to Diaz, Jr., but with a much higher profile given her bid for statewide office. James quickly jumped at the opportunity when Eric Schneiderman resigned the post after facing allegations of physical and emotional abuse by several intimate partners. Seen as an early frontrunner, with the blessing of the state Democratic Party and the governor, James rejected the possible endorsement of the progressive Working Families Party that had helped launch her political career as a City Council member.

The WFP has been closely aligned with the IDC challengers, as well as Nixon and Williams, supporting their insurgent bids for office, while James has in the past supported at least one member of the IDC, Senator Alcantara, though she has come to criticize the IDC and called for reunification well before her attorney general bid.

“I would essentially argue, if I were in these progressive groups that used to support Tish very openly, well what now gives you progressive bonafides?,” said Greer. “So her messaging has to be very clear for her supporters. Because they have progressive choices.”

“Two days after Schneiderman resigned, it was essentially reported that Tish would be heir apparent and that’s the way much of the press is writing about the race...and I don’t necessarily see that to be the case anymore,” she added.

James faces three other primary contenders: former Cuomo aide Leecia Eve, congressional Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, and Fordham Law professor Zephyr Teachout, who challenged Cuomo in the 2014 Democratic primary and lost, but managed to get a significant share of the vote, at 34 percent. Teachout, like Nixon, has been severely critical of the IDC and endorsed five IDC challengers as part of the TrueBlueNY coalition months before the attorney general position became available and she decided to run. When Schneiderman resigned, Teachout was at the time Nixon’s campaign treasurer, a position she has since vacated to run for attorney general.

Among the four Democratic attorney general candidates, Teachout is undoubtedly furthest to the left. At the WFP nominating convention, delegates chose Nixon and Williams, and opted to install a placeholder for attorney general until, they hope, either James or Teachout emerges from the Democratic primary victorious and is offered the additional ballot line for the general election. James has expressed her love for the WFP despite initially shunning its endorsement and has said she believes everyone will coalesce again in the near future.

While James has aligned herself with Cuomo and his unity deal, Teachout, who endorsed Ocasio-Cortez in May, is staunchly behind IDC challengers and has recently campaigned alongside Williams.

Koch doesn’t believe her endorsements will give her a significant edge, however. “I do think that there might be some benefit in endorsing some of the folks against the IDC because that’s where the progressive energy is,” he said, “but at the end of the day, people who are voting for attorney general aren’t basing their votes on just the issue of the IDC, they’re coming at it from a much more holistic spectrum.”

The experts who spoke with Gotham Gazette noted the significance of the ‘Ocasio effect.’ Both Teachout and Nixon had endorsed Ocasio-Cortez in the run up to the congressional primary and seized on her victory to emphasize that progressive challengers can defeat machine-backed incumbents. “There’s very much a movement that’s energizing the left and politicians who ignore it or who fall too far behind are really doing so at their own peril,” said a Democratic consultant who wished to remain unnamed so he could speak freely.

“There’s certainly a lot of parallels between Cuomo and Crowley, you know, representing the old guard, like white-working class Democrats,” said the Democratic consultant. “But that being said, I wouldn’t read too much into the Ocasio win as portending a loss for Cuomo because Cuomo’s still extraordinarily popular among African-Americans, particularly African-American women, and Cynthia Nixon hasn’t to this point been able to show the ability to break into that base of support, which is really what you’re seeing here. It’s a combination of minority voters and very young, progressive voters.”

For their part, top Nixon campaign aides cite Ocasio-Cortez’s victory in expressing their belief that public opinion polls can no longer be trusted to capture the progressive energy that has largely emerged since the 2016 election of Donald Trump.

Koch said activist pressure against the IDC and its supporters has been building but “at the state level, people are gonna hedge their bets a little bit more because, one way or another, they’re gonna have to work with some of these folks.”

Greer seemed more bullish about how far the momentum behind Ocasio-Cortez would carry into state elections. She conceded that Democrats across New York are not as progressive as they are in New York City, but that the win gave a much-needed confidence boost to IDC challengers as well as Nixon and Teachout, not to mention obvious opportunities to add volunteers and donors. “It’ll be fascinating to see if, all of a sudden, Cynthia and Zephyr can ride the coattails of Alexandria,” she said, a notion that, before the congressional primary, “would’ve sounded like crazy talk.”

“But the reality here is...Alexandria’s getting national attention for the message that Cynthia and Zephyr have been championing,” she said.

Other Democrats Choose
Virtually every elected Democrat in New York is expected to pick sides: Cuomo or Nixon; Hochul or Williams; James or Teachout or Eve or Maloney; Klein or Biaggi; and so on.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, one of the most powerful Democratic officials in the state by virtue of his position, has so far stayed on the sidelines, regularly declining to comment on the 2018 New York elections, but promising to weigh in at some point. Given that Nixon was a fervent supporter during his winning 2013 campaign for mayor and again supported him for reelection in 2017, and his ongoing feud with Cuomo, de Blasio’s decision in the gubernatorial race is especially interesting. In 2014, before their feud had really escalated, de Blasio backed Cuomo for reelection, even helping broker him the Working Families Party nomination. He has indicated it did not work out as planned.

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, not facing a primary challenge himself, has backed Cuomo and Hochul, but says he’s likely staying out of the attorney general primary, even though the state party is behind James.

While many Democratic officials have already or are expected to back Cuomo, there are local electeds who, beholden neither to the governor nor their respective Democratic machines, have chosen to break from the pack. New York City Council Member Carlos Menchaca was the first of his colleagues to endorse Nixon’s bid for governor, and Council Members Jimmy Van Bramer and Antonio Reynoso later followed suit. Williams, running for lieutenant governor, is also an apparent Nixon backer, but the two have not formally linked up as a ticket, so to speak (the two positions are elected separately in party primaries, but together in the general election).

Reynoso and Menchaca, and Council Members Brad Lander, Adrienne Adams, and I. Daneek Miller have also backed Williams for lieutenant governor. Williams has also announced the backing of state Senator Kevin Parker, and across the state he has picked up endorsements from legislators in Albany and Syracuse, while Nixon was recently endorsed by more than a dozen Hudson Valley elected officials.

Nixon’s most prominent recent endorsement came from the former City Council Speaker, Mark-Viverito, a progressive in the same vein who drew parallels between Nixon and Ocasio-Cortez. “These two boldly progressive women share the same values and priorities,” Mark-Viverito wrote in the New York Daily News. Nixon also cross-endorsed with Ocasio-Cortez the day before the congressional primary, and in the last week, has done so with Ramos, who is seeking to unseat Senator Peralta, formerly of the IDC, and Julia Salazar, a democratic socialist challenging Democratic state Senator Martin Dilan in northern Brooklyn.

On Wednesday, Senator Hamilton's challenger, Myrie, announced four new endorsements from Assembly Members Walter Mosley, Diana Richardson, Jo Anne Simon and Robert Carroll, who represent Central Brooklyn.    

Democratic Unity?
“It goes back to the basic tenet: a house divided against itself can’t stand,” said Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the Senate Democratic leader, in a recent appearance on the Max & Murphy podcast hosted by Gotham Gazette and City Limits. The senator was addressing the Senate unity deal and whether Klein would be loyal to it. “How are we gonna do this?...I’m not gonna be sitting there having people somehow undermine the efforts that we have to be a team. That’s always been the case.”

Sen. Michael Gianaris, the chair of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, has ruled out endorsing the former IDC members, according to the Daily News -- Gianaris has had a long running feud with Klein, the IDC head -- and has been noncommittal on whether he may support their opponents. “Everyone seems to be on their best behavior on both sides and there seems to be genuine effort to work cooperatively and get to where we’re trying to go, so hopefully that continues,” Gianaris said in a separate Max & Murphy interview.

Lieutenant Governor Hochul, in her own appearance on the podcast, said Democrats attacking each other only serve to polarize voters and that the party would be better off expending that energy against Republicans. “We can all be purists about everything when we have a Democrat in the White House, when we have the House and the Senate, and when we have New York State Legislature,” she said. “Then we can fight each other on the nuances.”

Along with the decisions facing them now about who to back in the primaries, one major question for New York Democrats is what happens after September 13, and whether party members can coalesce for the general election. Republicans have completely avoided primaries for all four state-level statewide races of governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller, and attorney general, and in virtually every state Senate district held by an incumbent.

“I don’t think [the Democratic Party] fractures,” said the Democratic consultant who didn’t want to be named. “I think that’s the evolution of the party. That’s the direction that you’re seeing the party, and it’s largely driven by a local reaction to federal issues. It’s very largely a reaction to Trump on a number of things, on immigration, on labor, on health care, on taxes, on women’s rights.”  

The frustration with Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress, the consultant said, means that Democrats want “a much more aggressive stance and debate” from their own leaders.

Koch from Precision Strategies said the party will likely come together in the face of a larger enemy to sweep the major statewide races -- governor and lieutenant governor, attorney general, and comptroller. “The Democratic Party has always been a very big tent party, it’s always run the ideological spectrum from the progressive wing through to a more centrist wing,” he said, “and that’s why the party has been successful…After these primaries are done, Democrats will come together and unite because there are bigger threats and what unites us is definitely stronger than what divides us.”

“I think the relationships will by and large repair themselves,” Koch added, “I suspect that after the primary, folks will get together and hash out whatever needs to be hashed out.”

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Note - This story has been updated to include mention of endorsements received by Zellnor Myrie from four state Assembly members.

Cuomo Faces Another Decision on MTA Funding ‘Lockbox’


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Gov. Cuomo at an MTA-related event (photo: Don Pollard/Governor's Office)


A bill to create a “transit lockbox” passed both houses of the state Legislature at the end of the session last month, setting up a showdown between the Legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has presided over hundreds of millions of dollars in diverted MTA funds and has been hesitant to lose flexibility to use money allocated to MTA operations and improvements for other purposes, such as debt service. Cuomo vetoed an identical bill in 2013.

The legislation would fully prohibit the executive branch from diverting any funds dedicated to public transit, whether operational or capital. If any funds were to be diverted with approval of the Legislature, such as through the budget process or other legislative means, the governor’s administration would be required to provide a full accounting of the diversion to the Legislature, such as its impact on fares, capital needs, or maintenance.

Cuomo, who has taken heat for numerous “transit raids” throughout his tenure, vetoed a lockbox bill five years ago, but faces new pressure amid an ongoing crisis in the New York City subway system, which has seen deteriorated service and reliability and is in need of major repairs and upgrades. The bill passed both the Republican-led state Senate and Democrat-controlled Assembly without any dissenting votes. Its sponsors are counting on that increased pressure forcing Cuomo’s hand.

“Money meant for transit should be spent on transit. And if it doesn’t get spent on transit, then transit users deserve to know exactly why their money is being diverted and how it will impact their fares and their quality of service,” said Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz, a Bronx Democrat and the Assembly’s main sponsor of the bill, in an emailed statement to Gotham Gazette.

In the Senate, the main sponsor was Senator Marty Golden, a Brooklyn Republican. In a statement about passage of the bill, Golden referred to the diversions as “shortsighted measures,” and said that the bill “ensures that we have the funding needed to bring the MTA transportation system up to speed.”

Estimates for the total dollar amount of diverted funds during Cuomo’s tenure reach the hundreds of millions. Mayor Bill de Blasio frequently accuses the governor of having raided the MTA’s budget of $456 million. The mayor’s office elaborated in July of last year, noting $391.5 million in diversions from the operating budget to the state’s general fund, and $65 million in “reduction[s] in state reimbursements to the MTA in 2017.”

During this year’s state budget negotiations, de Blasio repeatedly argued that the $456 million should be returned to the MTA by the state in order to cover the half of the $836 million emergency Subway Action Plan that Cuomo and his appointed MTA board chair, Joe Lhota, were asking the mayor to allocate in city funds. Cuomo refused, and, working with the Legislature, forced the city to pay using a state budget mechanism. With little recourse left, the city acquiesced, apparently content with the plan’s lockbox provisions. Three years ago, the city pledged $2.5 billion in city funds to seal a hole in the MTA’s five-year Capital Plan, in exchange for a promise from the state not to divert the funds. The state also promised additional funding, more than $8 billion, to that plan, which runs through 2019, though, as usual, the MTA has not drawn down very much of the allocated capital plan money as of yet.

The governor disputes the mayor’s numbers on diverted funds, and has noted in the past that the state contributes more to the MTA than the city, which is true but for the fact that much of the state money originates with city taxpayers and commuters. The MTA has countered the mayor’s allegations by noting that “diversion” is a misnomer, given that substantial portions of the moved funds go toward paying down the MTA’s debt, rather than being used to fund completely unrelated projects. The MTA has said that $235 million of the $456 million diversion went toward debt service, with another $169 million diverted to “direct capital aid,” $30 million for operating aid, and $22 million saved.

In Fiscal Year 2018, the MTA’s debt service payments reached $2.5 billion, a total of 16 percent of the Authority’s total operating budget. Ten years ago, in Fiscal Year 2008, the MTA’s debt service payments totaled $997 million. Increased debt service has coincided with growing debt, which has reached $38 billion this year; with the most recent capital plan boost in 2017, the debt is expected to reach $43 billion by 2024.

The “lockbox” is seen as a transparency and accountability measure, and the governor has in the past made his contempt for reporting on the diversions apparent. The governor vetoed the 2013 bill because of its lack of any “emergency” diversion powers, according to his veto statement, but critics charged that requirement of a “diversion impact statement” whenever money was to be diverted from the MTA played a part in his decision. An earlier bill that passed both houses and was signed by the governor in 2011 had been stripped of that requirement and added a provision allowing the governor to divert funds in “emergencies,” which was removed in the 2013 bill.

In his 2013 veto statement, the governor said that the bill would “repudiate” the 2011 compromise, despite his insistence that he had “never declared a fiscal emergency and directed such transfers.” In the end, he called the bill “unnecessary.”

The veto was harshly criticized by both transit advocates and good government groups alike. In Cuomo’s next executive budget, he proposed that $40 million be diverted from the MTA operating budget to finance debt service; the end result was $30 million to service debt. The governor wields enormous power in the state budget process.

This year’s bill again requires that any diversion of funds be accompanied by a diversion impact statement. The governor would have to publicly account for the full dollar amount of a diversion, which funds (operational, capital, or otherwise) will be depleted, the total amount of diverted funds over the preceding five years, and a “detailed estimate of the impact of diversion from dedicated mass transit funds will have on the level of public transportation system service, maintenance, security, and the current capital program.”

In fact, the new bill is identical to the old bill that Cuomo vetoed five years ago. But MTA-related pressure on Cuomo this time is greater than last time, with the governor earning low marks in polls for his handling of the MTA during his tenure and election year critics, including his opponents from the left and the right, making MTA management a key campaign issue.

Advocates want to see the bill signed, among other actions they are pushing Cuomo and state lawmakers to take to drastically improve the transit system. “With NYCT President Andy Byford's Fast Forward plan to modernize the subway on the table, Governor Cuomo and the state legislature must raise the billions of dollars that will be required to make the plan a reality and spend them as intended,” said John Raskin, executive director of Riders Alliance, in a press release upon the bill’s passage.

Dinowitz concurred, noting that the urgency of the measure has been amplified by the subway crisis being acute in a manner not seen five years ago.

“Service quality on our subways and buses has deteriorated, especially in recent years,” Dinowitz told Gotham Gazette in an emailed statement. “As we look at the significant price tag of the MTA’s Fast Forward plan as well as transit needs in the rest of New York State, we must ensure that our public transportation systems actually receive the funding that they are allocated.”

The subway’s demise, and what to do about it, has become a major issue in this year’s gubernatorial election. Cuomo has said he supports the long-term plan put forth by Byford, a relatively recent MTA hire brought in to save the subways and improve bus service, but the governor has said how to pay for it is still the big question. The Daily News reported in May that the subway overhaul plan drawn up by Byford would cost $37 billion over ten years.

Cuomo has promised to continue to push for a congestion pricing plan during the next session in Albany. The second-term Democrat must first be reelected this fall. Cynthia Nixon, his challenger in the Democratic primary, has also backed Byford’s plan, and says she would pay for it through congestion pricing, a new millionaires tax, and a carbon tax. Along with congestion pricing, Cuomo has indicated he will expect New York City to kick in more for the MTA -- a new five-year MTA capital plan will soon be negotiated. Cuomo has not expressed support for a carbon tax or an added millionaires tax, Mayor de Blasio’s favored potential funding stream.

The governor’s office did not give any indication of support or opposition to the lockbox bill when asked by Gotham Gazette. “This appears to be one of 557 bills that passed both houses in the last few weeks of session and will be reviewed by Counsel’s office,” said Cuomo spokesperson Tyrone Stevens.

***
by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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EMILY’s List Backs Hochul for Reelection as Lieutenant Governor


Kathy Hochul

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul (photo: Governor's Office)


One of the country’s most powerful political organizations, EMILY’s List, has endorsed Kathy Hochul for reelection as lieutenant governor of New York.

Hochul, a Democrat seeking a second term in the statewide position, is facing a primary challenge from New York City Council Member Jumaane Williams, with the vote just over two months away, on September 13.

EMILY’s List is a national organization founded in 1985 to “elect pro-choice Democratic women to office” that helps recruit, train, and support female candidates across the country. It is a powerhouse fundraising entity and claims over five million members. The group -- an acronym for Early Money Is Like Yeast, signifying the importance of early fundraising to the growth of electoral campaigns -- calls itself “the nation’s largest resource for women in politics” and boasts that it has “helped elect 116 women to the House, 23 to the Senate, 12 governors, and over 800 to state and local office.” It is a list that already includes Hochul, who became Governor Andrew Cuomo’s running mate in 2014 as he sought a second term and after his first-term lieutenant governor, Robert Duffy, declined to seek reelection.

“Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul has been a progressive champion New York families can count on,” said Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List, in a statement. “Kathy helped lead the way in New York’s fight for a desperately needed minimum wage increase and one of the most generous paid family leave policies in the country. Lieutenant Governor Hochul has tirelessly defended access to affordable health care, supported LGBTQ rights, and criticized Republican efforts to pass massive tax breaks for the wealthiest few. EMILY’s List is proud to endorse Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul’s campaign for re-election.”

Hochul speaks proudly of her history fighting for women’s reproductive freedoms and for LGBTQ rights, and highlights her work leading economic development projects for the Cuomo administration.

The challenge from Williams -- a Brooklyn representative who has the backing of several activist groups that make up The Working Families Party, as well as a handful of his City Council colleagues, among other individuals and groups -- is formidable. While Hochul has the advantages of incumbency and her ties to Cuomo and the larger Democratic establishment, help from EMILY’s List with fundraising, volunteers, and voter turnout could be pivotal. The group says it has raised over $500 million since its inception, including over $90 million during the 2016 election cycle, when it backed Hillary Clinton for president, among many other candidates.

Williams has repeatedly faced questions about his stance on abortion, which has evolved in recent years. He has said in the past that he held personal views in opposition to abortion but never acted in his official capacity to challenge reproductive rights. More recently, he has given full-throated support to a woman’s right to choose and made efforts to assuage concerns that he is against reproductive choice.

Hochul and her supporters have already repeatedly made reference to Williams’ views on women’s reproductive rights as well as his similarly evolved stance on marriage equality for LGBTQ people. Those lines of attack are likely to intensify as the campaign season heats up, especially if the two candidates engage in debates.

For his part, Williams has criticized Hochul for being unequivocally supportive of Cuomo (which she has said is her job as lieutenant governor), for being too centrist overall, and for her past opposition to driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants (Hochul has expressed regret about how she handled the issue as Erie County Clerk a decade ago).

Hochul told Gotham Gazette that she has tried to understand why Williams and Cynthia Nixon, who is trying to unseat Cuomo in the Democratic primary, are mounting their campaigns, but that, ultimately, she believes the intraparty battles only advantage Republicans, in part by fracturing Democrats but also by forcing the diversion of resources from flipping Republican-held seats in the House of Representatives and New York State Senate, both bodies currently led by the GOP.

The EMILY’s List endorsement of Hochul comes as the group is working to help flip the House this November, among other races at various levels of government it is hoping to support women in winning. In New York, for example, EMILY’s List is behind Liuba Grechen Shirley, who is seeking to unseat Republican Representative Peter King of Long Island. The organization has also significantly expanded its state and local efforts, Schriock recently explained to CNBC, saying that Republican-controlled state legislatures are “devastating women and families.” Other EMILY’s List endorsements in New York races could come ahead of important general election votes for New York House and State Senate seats.

“Our vision is a government that reflects the people it serves, and decision makers who genuinely and enthusiastically fight for greater opportunity and better lives for the Americans they represent,” the EMILY’s List website explains of the organization’s mission. “We will work for larger leadership roles for pro-choice Democratic women in our legislative bodies and executive seats so that our families can benefit from the open-minded, productive contributions that women have consistently made in office.”

EMILY’s List has entered somewhat new territory this year given the exponential groundswell of women interested in running for office and those who have made the leap, in many cases with support from EMILY’s List, which can come in forms that don’t include a formal endorsement. The organization has faced several difficult choices about where and when to get involved in Democratic primaries with two or more women running, and in some cases where female candidates are taking on establishment-backed male candidates (as The New York Times recently explored). The organization is closely aligned with the Democratic establishment and is careful in assessing viability of campaigns.

It almost never endorses primary challengers to sitting Democrats, making it unlikely to back Nixon in her quest to unseat Cuomo. EMILY’s List has supported another Cuomo opponent, Stephanie Miner, in her past, successful effort to get reelected as mayor of Syracuse. Miner is attempting to make the general election ballot for governor on a newly-created independent line. On the other hand, there is a wide open Democratic primary for Attorney General of New York that includes three women: New York City Public Advocate, the state party’s designee and a former endorsee of EMILY’s List, as well as Fordham Law professor Zephyr Teachout, and former Cuomo and Clinton aide Leecia Eve. Representative Sean Patrick Maloney is also running.

If Hochul is successful in defeating Williams in the primary, she will join a ticket with the Democratic nominee for governor to face the joint tickets of other parties on the ballot.

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Attorney General Candidate Zephyr Teachout


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


July 9, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Attorney General Candidate Zephyr Teachout

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Zephyr Teachout is pursuing the Democratic nomination for Attorney General of the State of New York, part of a somewhat crowded group of candidates that also includes New York City Public Advocate Letitia James; Representative Sean Patrick Maloney; and Leecia Eve, a Verizon executive who is a former Hillary Clinton and Andrew Cuomo aide.

Teachout joined the podcast to discuss her vision for becoming the next Attorney General, highlighting the importance of fighting what she calls the law-breaking of President Donald Trump, his businesses and his presidential administration. Teachout also discussed fighting corruption in state government, and how the Attorney General must both work closely with and be an "independent voice" from the gubernatorial administration, no matter who the governor may be (Teachout ran a primary against Gov. Cuomo in 2014 and was campaign treasurer for Cynthia Nixon in this year's election until Eric Schneiderman's abrupt resignation created this year's AG electoral scramble). Teachout expressed concerns about Cuomo's concentrated power and the facts of the federal corruption cases occurring this year and involving top former aides to Cuomo, and much more.

Listen to the full conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy, and guest @ZephyrTeachout. You can listen to the episode through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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