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2018 New York State Primary Results: Cuomo, Hochul, James Prevail While Senate Upsets Abound

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(photo: @andrewcuomo)

Governor Andrew Cuomo won the Democratic nomination by a wide margin Thursday, with his running-mate Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul surviving a much closer race, Public Advocate Letitia James prevailing comfortably in a crowded Attorney General primary, and more than half a dozen upsets of sitting state Senators, including six of the eight former members of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC).

Additionally, voter turnout was significantly higher than 2014, the last gubernatorial election year, perhaps owing to the combination of the number and intensity of the challenges to incumbents as well as the awakening spurred by the election of Donald Trump, which itself contributed to those challenges being waged.

Cuomo, who spent more than $20 million in the campaign, defeated actor and activist Cynthia Nixon by about 30 percentage points; the governor seeking a third term earning more than 64% to Nixon’s 34.6%, with 96% of precincts reporting as of about 11:30 p.m. primary night.

Hochul beat Williams by about 53% to 47% in what was a hard-fought Lieutenant Governor primary.

James won the four-way Democratic primary for Attorney General, pulling in 40% to 31% for Zephyr Teachout, 25% for Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who will now seek reelection to the House of Representatives, and 3% for Leecia Eve.

With the state party-backed candidates, including incumbents Cuomo and Hochul, winning those statewide primaries (Comptroller Tom DiNapoli was not challenged), perhaps the biggest storyline of the night was progressive upsets that occurred in state Senate primaries, including the complete demolish of the IDC, which had folded back into the mainline Democratic minority conference in April, in a deal brokered by Cuomo.

The former leader of the IDC, Senator Jeff Klein, was defeated by Alessandra Biaggi in the Bronx and Westchester seat, despite Klein spending well over $1 million in the race.

Other IDC races included Jessica Ramos unseating Senator Jose Peralta in Queens; Robert Jackson unseating Senator Marisol Alcantara in Manhattan; Zellnor Myrie unseating Senator Jesse Hamilton in Brooklyn; John Liu unseating Senator Tony Avella in Queens; and Rachel May unseating Senator David Valesky in the Syracuse area.

Former IDC members who beat back challengers were Senator Diane Savino of Staten Island and Brooklyn, who defeated Jasmine Robinson, and Senator David Carlucci of Rockland, who defeated Julie Goldberg.

In another upset, Julia Salazar unseated Senator Martin Dilan in Brooklyn.

Senator Simcha Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat who has been part of the Republican conference, giving the GOP a one-seat majority, defeated challenger Blake Morris.

In a Democratic primary to see who will take on Republican Brooklyn Senator Martin Golden in the general election, Andrew Gounardes defeated Ross Barkan.
There were far fewer storylines in Assembly races, but Catalina Cruz did unseat Assemblymember Ari Espinal in a Democratic primary in Queens. Democratic Assemblymember Brian Barnwell held off a challenge from Melissa Sklarz; As of Friday morning, votes were still being counted in the 46th Assembly district in Brooklyn where Mathylde Frontus is leading with 40.68 percent against Ethan Lustig-Elgrably, who has 39.75 percent of the vote; and Michael Reilly won the primary in the Republican Assembly stronghold on the South Shore of Staten Island, where no incumbent is running.

Additionally, Nancy Sliwa won a three-candidate race for the Reform Party nomination for Attorney General.

All of the primary winners will now move on to the general election, where a statewide slate of Republican nominees has been waiting -- the GOP strategically avoided any statewide primaries -- along with some minor party candidates. Along with the statewide races, the focus for the general election will be on which party can win the requisite seats to control the state Senate (the Assembly is overwhelmingly Democratic and will remain so), and battleground House races where New York swing seats could factor into whether Democrats can take control of that congressional chamber.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note- This article has been updated to clarify that Ethan Lustic-Elgrably has not been declared the winner in Brooklyn's 46th Assembly district. Votes were still being counted as of Friday morning. 

Cuomo Gives Limited Insight Into Third Term Agenda

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

As Governor Andrew Cuomo seeks a third term in office, facing actor and education activist Cynthia Nixon in the primary on Thursday, he has pitched himself as a man of action, a chief executive who gets things done with little regard for politicking. But as even Nixon acknowledges Cuomo as a heavy favorite and Cuomo remains the likeliest winner in November, the Democratic incumbent has largely run on his accomplishments, perceived, exaggerated, and real, while downplaying his actual tendency for political gamesmanship, and has proposed few new ideas about what he will deliver for the state if re-elected.

Nor has Cuomo given much attention to even the long-standing policies and programs that he has supported in the past that would appear to form the foundation of a rationale for another term. His campaign website, perhaps the easiest place for a candidate to outline his or her proposals, offers virtually no mention of forward-looking policy, instead touting the governor’s two-term record on several high-profile issues, like marriage equality, the minimum wage, and gun control.

In their only debate of the race, hosted by WCBS, Cuomo and Nixon were not afforded time to give opening or closing statements to lay out their respective visions for the state -- a format that Cuomo is said to have held great sway over in agreeing to the one debate -- and Cuomo is notoriously averse to taking questions from reporters both at campaign and government events, though he does take a handful of questions after some appearances. He has done no sit-down TV or radio interviews to discuss his re-election bid, and has spoken with one print reporter at length, Chris Smith of New York Magazine. The governor has largely centered his pitch around fighting President Donald Trump.

But in April, when Cuomo brought together a split Democratic conference in the state Senate, he came closer than he has since to articulating a legislative agenda for his third term, listing off priorities that he has long expressed support for but that he said Republican senators had shown they will not pass. A Cuomo campaign spokesperson said the governor typically outlines new proposals in his January State of the State address, which is a government event.

Cuomo’s critics have derided him as a Clintonian centrist who has, for two terms, triangulated with Republicans and members of his own party to deliver a mixed record of achievement. He has undoubtedly ushered progressive policies through the state Legislature, such as marriage equality and significant gun regulations, while conceding to popular demand for others, including a $15 minimum wage program, paid family leave, and raising the age of criminal responsibility.

But Cuomo has failed in the eyes of many progressives who say he has shown only performative support for their various priorities. The state’s campaign finance and ethics laws remain woefully anaemic, with Cuomo taking full advantage of loopholes and seeing top aides convicted of corruption; while voting and elections laws are considered archaic and even suppressive. The governor has not enacted speedy trial reform or done away with cash bail. Activists believe he hasn’t provided equitable funding for under-resourced schools and hasn’t paid enough attention to environmental justice issues. They critique him for largely ignoring a housing affordability crisis across the state, only paying attention to public housing when it fit his political needs, and channeling billions to economic development programs rife with corruption and conflicts of interest and showing lackluster results. He has also raised the ire of many on the left by not winning codification of the abortion protections of Roe v. Wade or the Dream Act, and hasn’t pushed for state-funded single-payer healthcare or driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants.

And perhaps the biggest black eye of all that cuts across political ideologies and allegiances, he has let New York City’s subway system fall into crisis while refusing to rightfully take ownership of the state authority that controls it.

Cuomo has said he can achieve most, if not all of those agenda items in a third term if Democrats win full control of the state Legislature, which would require only a net gain of one seat in the state Senate (the Assembly is overwhelmingly Democratic). Here again, Cuomo has been criticized for tolerating -- some say enabling -- an eight-member rogue Democratic faction in the Senate called the Independent Democratic Conference that caucused with Republicans to either create or bolster the GOP majority.

After years of insisting he was helpless to bring them back into the mainline Democratic conference -- and blaming Republicans for not moving legislation he says he supports -- he did just that in April, promising that New York can yet again be a progressive leader on legislation across the country once Democrats pick up more seats to get a numerical majority in the 63-member Senate. The Republican conference currently holds 32 seats including conservative Brooklyn Democrat Senator Simcha Felder, who Cuomo has also apparently left alone in his movement across the aisle.

When Cuomo announced he had brokered the Democratic “unity” deal in April, wherein all involved pledged not to support primary challengers to the others, he provided something of an agenda for 2019, if not beyond, briefly rattling off priorities that he has long-backed but that he said Republicans senators had shown they will not pass.

“We did a lot of good things in the budget, but there are also things that we didn't pass that we need to pass,” Cuomo said at the April news conference announcing the newly united Democratic conference that came just after a new state budget was agreed upon. “Child Victims Act, more gun safety, bail reform, the Dream Act, banning outside income, campaign finance reform, early voting - these are all progressive principles that were not passed in the budget and which we will not pass until we have a Democratic Senate.”

In response to an inquiry from Gotham Gazette two days before the primary, Cuomo’s campaign provided a list of the items that make up his third-term vision, including proposals he has supported but failed to pass for years, including from his first term, and initiatives already under way that he plans to build on.

They include voting reform (early voting, automatic voter registration and same-day voter registration); criminal justice reform (related to bail, discovery, speedy trials and asset forfeiture, closing Rikers Island, passing the Child Victims Act and legalizing the recreational use of marijuana); passing the DREAM Act; strengthening rent regulations; funding the MTA’s Fast Forward plan and passing congestion pricing; strengthening the Excelsior program to make college affordable; closing the per-pupil funding gap; ensuring access to quality, affordable healthcare; and ethics and campaign finance reform (closing the LLC loophole and banning outside income for legislators chief among them); gun control; and infrastructure.

“The Governor has led the way in making New York the progressive capital of the nation — from $15 minimum wage to paid family leave to marriage equality to first-in-the-nation Excelsior Scholarship to the toughest and strongest gun laws in the country,” said campaign spokesperson Abbey Collins, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “While Washington tries to take us backward, the governor will continue to build on this unmatched record of accomplishment by winning a Democratic Senate Majority to pass ethics, voting, and criminal justice reform, make college affordable, invest $150 billion in our infrastructure, strengthen our gun laws, protect immigrant families and achieve universal healthcare for all New Yorkers.”

Gun control may be the one area where Cuomo has consistently led the way. After successfully passing the SAFE Act in his first term, Cuomo proposed a red flag bill earlier this year, also known as the Extreme Risk Protection Order bill, that would allow courts to order the temporary seizure of firearms from individuals and the homes of individuals deemed a risk to themselves or others. He has also pushed for a ten-day background check waiting period and raising the age for buying a gun to 21.

On some issues like recreational marijuana, Cuomo has been pulled to the left. Last year, Cuomo called marijuana a “gateway drug” but then, in January this year, he announced a task force to analyze the legalization of recreational use for adults. Though it came a few months before Nixon entered the race, some, including Nixon herself, have attributed the governor’s movement on the issue, which has since accelerated, to her primary challenge.  

“This is the classic tale of the third term,” said Douglas Muzzio, political science professor at Baruch College’s School of Public and International Affairs. “It’s the running for the third term playbook. After two terms, you’ve spent your energy and your thinking. You get most of the stuff done in your first term and then it tails off, and that was true of Governor [George] Pataki, it was true of the first Cuomo, it was true of Ed Koch [as mayor]. If you think of New York executives who have run for third terms, they haven’t been very successful third terms, and they’ve won them.”

Cuomo’s biggest bet, however, is infrastructure, with a promised $150 billion five-year plan set to begin in 2019, apparently subsuming and adding to an ongoing $100 billion investment in infrastructure around the state that Cuomo has repeatedly touted. “We’re going to show the nation how to build a state that is the epitome of the infrastructure and transportation of the next century,” Cuomo said at a news conference last week, announcing the construction of a new entrance to Penn Station.

“There are no new detailed policy ideas with some kind of numbers attached. And if there are discrete pieces, there’s no coherence to it, there’s no vision to hold it together,” Muzzio said.

The inevitable result, he said, is voter fatigue. “You’ve run through all your ideas in the first two terms, and then on top of that, you’ve made two terms worth of enemies and people who are dissatisfied,” he said. “So the number of dissatisfieds rises dramatically and there’s an urge to throw the bums out, whether they’re bums or not. And it becomes an ‘anybody but’ election.”

What remains to be seen, of course, is whether Cynthia Nixon has galvanized enough of that Cuomo fatigue, especially around the subways, and provided a vision to voters that will carry her to what would be one of the most shocking political upsets in history. Public polls, however questionable they may be, have shown a Cuomo blowout is likely on Thursday, though the governor has been at the center of several last-minute controversies and continues to spend millions to ensure victory.

The Penn Station announcement was one of several Cuomo has held in recent weeks, and some, including his primary and general election opponents, have criticized him for holding a long series of recent government events to bolster his reelection. Case in point, on Friday, the governor held a grandiose event featuring Hillary Clinton to open the new span of the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge (called the Governor Malcolm Wilson Tappan Zee bridge before it was renamed this year) and just a day later, was forced to acknowledge that it would remain closed due to safety concerns arising from the old span. It opened late Tuesday night.

Asked if Cuomo has presented a third-term vision, Ted Hamm, associate professor and chair of journalism and new media studies at St. Joseph’s College, said, “I think the short answer is ‘no.’”

“I guess if you say that his infrastructure projects are his vision, then maybe you could make the case that he needs to see those through,” he added. “But given what happened with the Tappan Zee, who knows how he’ll politicize those projects. Also, he still hasn’t accomplished much with the subways as an essential infrastructure project...So if that’s his main vision, it’s got holes, particularly the subway.”

“The Governor has given New Yorkers nothing to vote for,” said Lauren Hitt, a Nixon campaign spokesperson, in an email. “His whole campaign strategy has been to get them to see him as anti-Trump, which is tough considering he won't return the $64,000 Trump gave to his campaign - and the many other similarities between them.”

Though Nixon is new to running for office, she has issued detailed policy platforms on a raft of issues to make up for what she lacks in government experience, though she has at times stumbled in discussing the specifics or outlining the details of her vision when asked. Nixon’s plans also pull mostly from existing proposals, both before the Legislature and put out by various advocacy groups, though together they present an unabashed progressive direction for the state that the candidate has herself aligned with democratic socialism.

“The Governor hasn't presented a plan to fix the subways, he refuses to hold hearings on sexual harassment, he won't support single payer, or promise to end cash bail. All these issues are so important to New Yorkers and progressives across the country, and he won't stand up for one of them,” Hitt added. (Cuomo has said he supports single-payer healthcare, also known as Medicare for All, but has insisted that it must be funded by the federal government rather than the state.)

“In terms of policy, there’s no comparison, at least from a progressive perspective,” Hamm said. “You can get into the questions of how do we pay for this type of stuff, but that’s pretty much the case of what you have to do when you’re a challenger against a long time incumbent. The corruption stuff only goes so far politically. But she’s put forth the agenda of the progressive wing, the Bernie Sanders wing of the party.”

Hamm noted, though that Nixon lacks the government experience that various editorial boards cited in endorsing Cuomo while acknowledging his failures. “Mr. Cuomo is flawed. When he allows petty enmity and political grievance to distract him from his commitment to public service, he is his own worst enemy. But when he confronts a real problem and gets down to work, he is a very capable governor,” the New York Times editorial board wrote. The board said Nixon’s “lack of experience in government or management of any sort do not inspire confidence that she could overcome the old guard in Albany to fulfill her promises and run the state.”

Muzzio echoed that view, expecting that Cuomo will get reelected and govern as he always has. “Very strategically, very Machiavellian in the best sense of the word,” he said. “There’s this clear-headedness of the Machiavellian leader. Even though he often times has a fatal flaw -- It’s ego and paranoia...He’s a tough force to work for and he’s a tough person to deal with.”

“His father once said, ‘You campaign in poetry and you govern in prose.’ And he is a master at his prose,” Muzzio said.

But there are early signs that New York may not become the progressive bastion people expect if -- and it’s a big if given Republicans’ abilities to win state Senate seats -- Democrats are no longer hamstrung in the Legislature. Cuomo himself tempered those expectations when he was interviewed by the New York Daily News editorial board, which endorsed him over Nixon. “It will still be hard,” he said. “Whoever is in the minority, it’s always easy to say ‘I’ll vote for that.’ But as we learned painfully, when the minority becomes the majority, they often change their tune.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max and Victor Porcelli contributed to this article.

Teachout-Maloney Battle May Help James Win Attorney General Nomination

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Rep. Maloney at a Syracuse pub (photo: @MaloneyForNY)

While the four Democratic attorney general candidates will be in New York City on Thursday evening watching the primary election results come in, two of the race’s three frontrunners — Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney and Zephyr Teachout — are polling best upstate, competing for votes there as Public Advocate Letitia James dominates in the city.

Though the New York political establishment has coalesced around James, and several editorial boards have endorsed Teachout, Maloney led the pack in a Siena College poll released Monday, though he was just ahead of James, well within the margin of error of 4.5 percentage points. Maloney received 25 percent of the vote from likely Democratic primary voters; James was at 24 percent and Teachout at 18 percent, with Eve trailing far behind at 3 percent. It also showed Maloney and Teachout running neck-and-neck in upstate New York, with many likely voters undecided.

While there are questions about whether polls are accurately capturing the likely electorate, especially the energized left, likely for the most part behind Teachout in the attorney general primary, the surveys appear to capture the general trend of where each candidate has a base of support. And the polling points to an dynamic in the race that has been clear and could be determinative in the primary: Teachout and Maloney may be competing for so many of the same voters that either may have a hard time outpacing James when all the votes come in.

Still, neither Teachout nor Maloney has ignored New York City by any means, with Maloney blanketing the airwaves and holding events across the city over the past two months, and Teachout regularly appearing all over the city, including a primary day schedule with numerous events in three boroughs. Yet Westchester, the Hudson Valley, and beyond may decide the outcome of the election.

The most recent poll showed Maloney, who represents a Hudson Valley district in Congress, ahead upstate. “Maloney leads by seven points over Teachout upstate, with James a distant third, and has a significant lead in the downstate suburbs, with James 20 points back and Teachout right behind her,” Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg said.

While Maloney (39 percent) and Teachout (34 percent) had similar favorability ratings in the upstate region, Maloney polled far better than Teachout in the crucial suburbs of New York City, where he has a 50 percent approval rating compared to 23 percent for Teachout. When she challenged Governor Cuomo in the 2014 primary, Teachout did well outside of New York City, posting a surprisingly high 34 percent of the vote overall. She then built her name recognition and following among Democrats during her 2016 congressional race, while Maloney has been in Congress since flipping his district in 2012.

Asked at an unrelated press conference about her message for voters in the Hudson Valley deciding between her and Maloney, Teachout noted that Maloney had frequently voted with Republican, and added, “We need an attorney general whose going to stand up to Trump, and I have been engaged in the legal fight against Trump since the beginning, and he has a record of voting with him 34 percent of the time.”

“He’s also taken a lot of money from big real estate interests, which doesn’t represent the Hudson Valley,” she continued.

Even before the latest poll was released, signs suggested Teachout, who unsuccessfully ran for a neighboring Hudson Valley congressional seat in 2016, and had Maloney’s endorsement, viewed Maloney as a threat, as she launched attacks at him at a much higher rate than at either James or Eve. Maloney has mostly shied away from attacking other candidates, but when criticized by Teachout, has intensely fired back, most boldly at debates. Teachout has been the main target of the other candidates in the three broadcast debates of the race.

Teachout throughout the campaign has said that Maloney is ideologically compromised, in cahoots with big real estate and Wall Street financial firms. And while in Congress, he has voted with Trump far too much to show that he’s a reliable bastion against him, she has said, while he has boasted of getting things done and working across the aisle for his constituents. Teachout, who has pledged to investigate malpractice in the industry if elected, has criticized Maloney for taking big money from the real estate industry, totaling $338,000 in donations from individuals with ties to the industry, according to Sludge, and from the Real Estate Board of New York’s PAC.

Teachout, for example, recently blasted out a Financial Times story that reported that Wall Street had chosen Maloney as its favorite candidate in the race.

“You can’t be the Sheriff of Wall Street if you just handed big banks a massive, early Christmas bonus. And you can’t protect New Yorkers from consumer fraud, predatory lenders, or housing discrimination or if you’re awash in corporate cash and helping Donald Trump deregulate the financial services industry by voting with the administration 34% of the time,” she said in a press release. “It’s fundamentally disqualifying.”

Maloney has responded to attacks by arguing that, unlike Teachout, he does not plan to wage ideological warfare while in office. And, he has said, it is hypocritical for her to lambast him for taking donations from special interests, because she has in the past as well.

Additionally, at a debate last week, Maloney used what the Teachout campaign and others called gendered language to describe Teachout’s criticism of his vote to rollback some Dodd-Frank banking regulations. "Her rhetoric on this is completely unhinged," he said, sparking criticism.

On September 6, Teachout escalated the war of words to a legal battle, filing a lawsuit against Maloney for transferring $1.4 million funds from his congressional campaign account into his attorney general coffers. Part of the lawsuit was denied, prompting Maloney campaign spokesperson Caitlin Girouard to reiterate one of the campaign’s broader attack lines against Teachout.

"This last-ditch lawsuit was like so much of Zephyr Teachout's legal and political career: mere theatre, designed to generate headlines for her benefit, denigrate others, and achieve nothing of lasting substance," she said.

Get Ready to Vote in the Hochul-Williams Lieutenant Governor Primary

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Jumanne Williams, left, & Kathy Hochul (photos: @JumaaneWilliams & @KathyHochul)

New York City Council Member Jumaane Williams in January announced that he was running for lieutenant governor, posing a Democratic primary challenge to Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. While doing so, Williams took aim at both Hochul and her partner in government and running-mate, Governor Andrew Cuomo. Williams criticized from the left Cuomo’s policies and management, while saying that Hochul has done little to hold the governor accountable, and promised to if elected transform the role of lieutenant governor into something of a public advocate at the state level.

Williams’ vision for the role is in stark contrast to Hochul’s. The incumbent, finishing her first term in the statewide post, argues that the lieutenant governor’s job is to work hand-in-hand with the governor. The two positions are decided together as a ticket in the general election, of course. But for primary nominations, candidates are selected separately by voters. So as Cuomo faces a challenge from his left by Cynthia Nixon, Hochul is attempting to fight off Williams, who has cross-endorsed with Nixon.

Hochul is running on what she cites as a record of accomplishment over nearly four years working with Cuomo, who is seeking a third term. Cuomo’s first-term lieutenant governor was Robert Duffy. Along with a variety of policy achievements under Cuomo, Hochul also cites her work on several issues, including economic development and fighting the opioid epidemic. Williams is running on not only his vision to reinvent the role, but his record of activism and legislation in the City Council, especially on housing and criminal justice reform.

Throughout the race, which appears to be wide open, (though a Siena poll released Monday shows Hochul with a 43-21 percent lead), with more than a third of likely voters undecided, the two candidates have attacked each other on several fronts, debated Cuomo’s record and outlines diametric visions for the office. Hochul and Williams participated in just one televised debate, hosted by Manhattan Neighborhood Network, while Hochul backed out on a promise to debate on NY1. (She has appeared at a variety of forums and made several media appearances to answer media questions).

With the Thursday September 13 primary vote fast approaching, a guide to the hotly-contested Democratic primary for Lieutenant Governor:

Role of the Lieutenant Governor
Jumaane Williams seeks to reimagine the lieutenant governor role as one akin to that of New York City’s public advocate. In addition to presiding over the state Senate, one of the lieutenant governor’s constitutional powers, Williams thinks the lieutenant governor should hold the governor’s feet to the fire.

Too often, Williams says, the lieutenant governor “does what the governor says to do,” as he said during the lone debate of the primary. Cuomo, Williams claims, has “put on a progressive cloak,” while not truly pursuing a progressive agenda and governing as a “corporate Democrat.” He wants what he views as mostly a ribbon-cutting, ceremonial position to be one that takes the governor to task when the lieutenant governor sees that “the emperor has no clothes.”

“I believe the lieutenant governor should be the eyes, the ears, and the voice of the people of the state of New York,” he said at the debate, as opposed to the eyes and ears of the governor.

Hochul, however, says she is proud of partnering with the governor — a role she says should be carried on through the next term and not to be reinvented in Williams’ image. “This state is better served when you have the two executive officials, the governor and lieutenant governor, working in partnership,” she told reporters after the debate.

She also believes she is better qualified to step in as governor if needed due to the governor’s departure from office. “The role of lieutenant governor is to be experienced and prepared to step in as governor should the need arise,” she said during the debate, arguing that she is “uniquely” ready having served with Cuomo for the current term.  

Williams has criticized Hochul for traveling the state to do ribbon-cutting ceremonies, while Hochul said ribbon-cuttings mean something “new and good” is happening for New Yorkers, and argues her role has been more full-scale than what the Council members describes.

[Watch the only Kathy Hochul-Jumaane Williams primary debate]

Resume and Accomplishments
The son of Grenadian-born immigrants, Williams comes from an activists background — something he speaks about often on the campaign trail. After working at a local school, he served as executive director of New York State Tenants & Neighbors — a group that advocates for tenants, helping them “build and effectively wield their power” to fight for their rights and preservation of affordable housing. In 2009, Williams was elected to the City Council, representing Brooklyn’s District 45, which includes neighborhoods such as Flatbush, East Flatbush, and Midlands. During the last Council term, 2014-2017, Williams was its most prolific lawmaker, enacting 15 bills, second only to then-speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

Williams’ top legislative achievements include a bill to rein in the New York City police department use of stop-and-frisk and create the Office of the Inspector General for the NYPD, and a “ban the box” policy forbidding employers from asking about a job applicant’s criminal history until an initial offer is made. He also chaired the committee on Housing and Buildings and has been frequent critic of the city’s relatively new Mandatory Inclusionary Housing policy, arguing that the numbers it sets do not create affordable enough housing for low-income people. Last month, Williams told Jacobin he now characterizes himself as a democratic socialist.  

The Buffalo-born Hochul began her career as an aide to then-Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, was a member of Hamburg’s Town Board and went on to be the County Clerk of Erie County Clerk and after that as a member of Congress. Representing a heavily-Republican western New York district in the House for one term, Hochul has touted votes on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), to advance women’s reproductive rights and LGBTQ rights as evidence of her ability and willingness to take bold, courageous action to stand up for her beliefs regardless of political ramifications. She believes that her votes for Obamacare, as the ACA is known, cost her the seat in Congress, something she says she wears as a badge of honor.

After her losing her congressional seat, Hochul took a job at M&T Bank as a lobbyist. Not long after, Andrew Cuomo's first-term lieutenant governor, Bob Duffy, decided against running again, and Hochul was added to the ticket.

During her time as lieutenant governor, Hochul has touted her efforts in economic development programs, particularly in struggling parts of upstate New York, heading advocacy for the governor’s “Enough is Enough” program to prevent sexual assault on college campuses, and, as chair of the Governor’s Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction, fighting the opioid epidemic. Throughout the campaign, she has boasted of the impacts of the Cuomo administration's economic development investements, while distancing herself and the governor from the corruption convictions that have involved those programs and two top Cuomo aides.

“Today, as the only woman in statewide office, I feel a special responsibility to continue using this platform to fight on these issues because I’ve done it before,” Hochul said on the Max & Murphy podcast of her work on women’s issues.

Additionally, Hochul says she helps get certain programs over the finish line and then travels the state to promote them and help with their implementation. She has called herself the “advancer in chief” for her role moving Cuomo administration programs forward.

Lines of attack and controversies
During the campaign Williams’ past statements on same-sex marriage as well as reproductive rights have been criticized in Hochul’s campaign commercials and beyond. While he did tell Politico New York in 2013 that he is “personally not in favor of abortion" and “[I] personally believe the definition of marriage is between a male and a female” (though he added the “government has to recognize everybody's relationships as equal”), he has for years stressed that he has no legislative record of opposing women’s reproductive rights or LGBT rights.

In August, the race heated up, featuring a roughly week-long back-and-forth over a Hochul ad pointing out Williams’ past financial troubles — he is in foreclosure over a home mortgage that ballooned to over $600,000 after he had leveraged the original loan in part to help him open a restaurant that failed, and he owes back state business taxes of roughly $10,000 — in turn sparking accusations from the Williams camp and others that the ad was racially insensitive and classist. Williams said the ad reflected that Hochul was out of touch with cash-strapped New Yorkers, and argued that his struggles have helped him become a better legislator. Hochul’s ad questioned whether Williams was fit to help oversee the state’s massive budget given his personal financial issues.

Williams, for his part, has levied his broader attacks on Hochul as an out-of-touch establishment Democrat, and has specifically pointed to her record on gun control and her opposition to the state’s efforts to grant driver’s licenses to undocumented New Yorkers last decade, when she was Erie County Clerk and pledged to report undocumented immigrants to the authorities if they came to her clerk’s office for a license.  

On the Max & Murphy podcast earlier this year, Hochul said she regretted how she handled the matter.  

“I wish I had not gone that route at the time, I really do, because I realize it was hurtful to people and that was not my intent,” she said. “I don’t think you can question my commitment to [immigrants] in a larger context.”

During an appearance on Max & Murphy last week, Hochul said she has disavowed her prior pro-gun positions.

“My position changed, I’m very proud that when I ran for lieutenant governor, the NRA was working against my race. I have today an F rating. I wear that proudly. And I have supported the SAFE Act from the very beginning, since its inception,” she said. “So I took positions way back. I said I rejected those and I’m very proud to say I stand with the governor and protect the SAFE Act, and even enhance the SAFE Act.”

Overall, Hochul has been endorsed by many major and minor establishment figures, while more a number of left-leaning candidates and officeholders are backing Williams. Cuomo has endorsed Hochul and Nixon has endorsed Williams. Hochul is also linked up with Letitia James, who is running for the Democratic nomination for attorney general, while Williams and AG candidate Zephyr Teachout have cross-endorsed. Williams has garnered the backing of many of his City Council colleagues, though some in the body are behind Hochul or sitting it out.

Hochul has a long list of labor unions and political clubs behind her, as well as women’s rights groups, while Williams has several progressive groups, highlighted by the Working Families Party. On Monday, Williams received the support of Vermont Senator and former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

Hochul has received the backing of the editorial boards of the Buffalo News and Newsday, while Williams is backed by the New York Times editorial board.

[Watch the only Kathy Hochul-Jumaane Williams primary debate here]

A Closer Look at the Democratic Attorney General Candidates’ Legal Careers

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The Democratic AG candidates at the NYC Bar Association forum (photo: @NYCBarAssnNews)

At one of several attorney general candidate forums last week, the four Democrats in the race were asked for a highlight of their legal careers, and what is shows about how they’d approach the job.

New York City Public Advocate Letitia James began with a quip about embracing an attack line against her that she wakes up every morning looking for someone to sue, going on to describe a pro bono client she took on whose father was murdered, whose mother abandoned him, and was himself facing deportation. Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham Law professor and corruption expert, spoke about her time working with a team of death penalty lawyers early in her career.  

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who has worked at high-end law firms and in the White House under President Bill Clinton, said he did not have much courtroom experience, because he worked at elite firms, but listed other legal credentials, like working at Willkie Farr & Gallagher, Kirkland and Ellis, and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. And Leecia Eve, a lobbyist for Verizon who previously worked for Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and Andrew Cuomo, hearkened back to her time as a young lawyer who sued the Washington, D.C. prison system on behalf of incarcerated women.

The candidates’ answers to that question, at an event hosted by the New York City Bar Association and New York Law Journal, and to others at prior and subsequent debates and forums, highlight both the candidates’ varying backgrounds and the skill sets they believe they would bring to the state’s top legal office. The attorney general is both a defense attorney and litigator, tasked with defending New York when the state is sued and upholding many New York laws, protecting consumers, tenants, investors, and others.

A closer look at the four Democrats’ legal careers heading into the Thursday September 13 primary vote, when a party nominee will be chosen for the general election against Republican Keith Wofford and smaller-party candidates, shows differing legal backgrounds and expertise and sheds light on the candidates’ possible priorities should they be elected.

Tish James
When James kicked off her campaign, she presented herself as a “champion in government” for New Yorkers, and “watchdog for the people.”

“Throughout my entire career I have been fueled by this idea that the law is our most effective tool in our quest for justice and for progress,” she said in Brooklyn.

James’ legal career is extensive, including work as a public defender, government counsel, and assistant attorney general. She’s been a legislator as a member of the New York City Council, and as New York City Public Advocate she has focused on both filing lawsuits and passing legislation, both to further degrees than her three predecessors in the citywide elected position, though with mixed results.

Throughout her political career, James has largely been seen as reliably progressive, and has been close with labor unions, activist groups, Democratic clubs, and the liberal Working Families Party, on whose ballot line she was first elected to office. James has mostly been an ally of Mayor Bill de Blasio, a fellow Democrat whom she succeeded as public advocate, and, though she has sued his administration on a number of occasions and at times been critical of the mayor, she has shied away from holding him accountable on a variety of matters that have been among the mayor’s largest headaches over almost five years in office.

Seeking to become the next New York Attorney General, James has the backing of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state Democratic Party, as well as many members of the party establishment, and she is running on her experience, while trying to downplay questions about her independence from the governor and other elected officials.

Throughout her campaign, James has sought to distinguish herself from Teachout, especially, regularly pointing to her practical own work in government while referring to Teachout as “professor” at multiple debates in an apparent effort to brand her as detached from the type of work she’s implying an attorney general should have on his or her resume. James, who was previously expected to be a 2021 mayoral candidate before Eric Schneiderman resigned as attorney general amid allegations he had abused several intimate partners, also presents herself as an advocate for the downtrodden and vulnerable rather than a lawyer for the well-heeled.

“As a public defender, I represented New Yorkers who couldn’t afford fancy lawyers — but that didn’t mean they shouldn’t be afforded any less justice,” James said in an emailed statement in response to several questions about her legal experience Gotham Gazette sent to the campaign. “And I saw firsthand how so many New Yorkers, especially young men of color, were targeted by an unfair criminal justice system. I’ve taken these lessons to heart, and I’ve fought against these injustices throughout my career. I’ve fought for and won — real criminal justice reforms.”

These criminal justice reforms include, suing to obtain the minutes for the Eric Garner grand jury, being the first elected official to push for the NYPD to implement the use of body cameras after a police officer killed Garner. It’s a program, currently being implemented in New York City, that James says she wants to help take statewide.

“As Attorney General,” she continued, “I’ll keep that focus — on using the law to help real people.”

At a recent Manhattan Neighborhood Network debate, James took her pitch as a public defender a bit further, saying she has continued to represent defendants.  “I’m a former public defender. I’ve represented countless people in the criminal justice system, and in fact still do,” she said. Asked which cases she has been working on, a James spokesperson did not cite any specific instances, saying only that as public advocate James is tasked with representing all New Yorkers, including people affected by the criminal justice system.   

Before she ran successfully for the City Council in 2003, James worked for years in Brooklyn as a public defender, then as an assistant attorney general. She has Albany experience as well. There, she served as counsel in then-Assembleymember Roger Green’s office. During her time as a City Council member, she sued Mayor Michael Bloomberg when he was attempting to run for a third term over the wishes of the public, and sued on behalf of multiple plaintiffs who were arrested in Zuccotti Park in the Rodriguez v. Winsky case stemming from Occupy Wall Street.  

Additionally, James was one of the key figures opposing Atlantic Yards, the mixed-use project sited in her Council district that continues to be built. As Norman Oder, the leading Atlantic Yards watchdog, recently wrote for Gotham Gazette, James was tough and inquisitive when going toe-to-toe with the developers and the city, but has softened her stance in the years since she left the Council and has stretched her record a bit far when touting it in public, including during the attorney general race. James’ imprecise language, Oder and others have written, is part of a pattern for the public advocate.

While serving as an assistant attorney general, James led investigations into predatory lenders, worked on consumer complaints, and collaborated with the civil rights bureau in investigating the New York City Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policy, her campaign said.

And while during her time as public advocate James’ independence from de Blasio and willingness to hold his feet to the fire have been called into question — a charge she has ignored while running for attorney general and claiming her independence had never been questioned until she linked up with Cuomo —  she has filed a number of lawsuits against city agencies. James has also filed suits against bad landlords and other entities. In her telling, she has “turned the public advocate’s office into a public interest law firm.” James also touts that she has passed more legislation than all previous public advocates combined.

It was what James had promised to do upon becoming public advocate and she followed through, hiring more attorneys to the relatively small office and focusing on both litigation and legislation, while largely ignoring hot-button issues related to de Blasio’s multitude of political scandals and controversies. Still, her efforts at litigation have brought limited returns, with the public advocate kicked off a number of lawsuits over a lack of standing, according to presiding judges (James has said she wants the City Charter changed to give her more standing). She has had successes as well.

Among the cases James has brought are ones against NYCHA’s heating policies, which were found to violate New York City Health and Administrative codes. The suit resulted in a shift from policy where the buildings would only turn on the heat when the temperature dipped below 20 degrees. James also invoked New York City Human Rights Law to file an amicus brief alongside City Council members on behalf of rent-stabilized tenants after a landlord denied them services. The tenants were awarded financial compensation in 2016.

Also in 2016, James alleged the Department of Education was providing insufficient services to students with special needs due to a faulty information portal. A court ruled in James’ favor, prompting the DOE to appeal. The case is pending.

During the Bar Association forum, James embraced her reputation for frequently filing lawsuits — an approach she plans to carry with her should she be the state’s next attorney general.  

“Someone once ridiculed me and said, ‘Tish James goes into the office of the public advocate each and every day, she thinks of a lawsuit, and she sues somebody and then goes home.’ That’s true,” she quipped.

James has promised that, if elected, she will go after those who violate the law with respect to the rights of tenants, consumers, workers, and others. Like her competitors, she’s pledged to push criminal justice reform. But she received heavy criticism when she told The New York Times that she wouldn’t embrace the moniker ‘Sheriff of Wall Street’ that had been applied to former Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. While James has said she meant that the name belonged to Spitzer and she wants to chart her own path, her opponents seized on the comment, arguing that the New York attorney general must investigate abuses in the financial industry. James during debates and in an op-ed sought to clarify her remarks.

Often citing her office’s Worst Landlords List, saying she has “supercharged it” after it had been launched by her predecessor, de Blasio, James is pledging to go after building owners who try to force rent-regulated tenants out or practice other unscrupulous tactics.

During the Bar Association forum, James also cited a specific case in which she represented pro bono an unaccompanied minor whose father was murdered in Honduras and came to the United States without authorization. He was granted Special Immigrant Juvenile Status after a family member was given guardianship, and now lives in the U.S with a green card.   

“His mother abandoned him and I went to court and I represented him and was successful in getting an asylum petition granted,” she recalled, going on to note the personal relationship they forged. “He recently graduated from high school. And he just introduced me to his girlfriend, who I do not like,” she joked.

Zephyr Teachout
Teachout has pitched herself as the candidate who has the experience to tackle what she views as the key issues at hand for the next attorney general, most especially corruption in state government and in Donald Trump’s administration, businesses, and other dealings. And as the only candidate who hasn’t accepted corporate money for her campaign, Teachout argues New Yorkers can trust her to police Wall Street firms, real estate interests, and others.

Teachout, a Fordham Law professor, has cast herself as the most left-wing candidate in the race, with the most independence and crucial experience addressing public corruption, including her work suing Trump, providing legal advice around prosecuting public corruption cases, and writing a book on the history of the subject in the United States. She also touts that she took on Governor Cuomo in the 2014 primary with a focus on the corruption that he had promised to clean up but hadn’t.

Teachout graduated from Duke Law School, serving as editor-in-chief of the school’s law review. She worked as a clerk for Chief Judge Edward Becker of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and in North Carolina served as a death penalty defense lawyer at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation. In the good government relm, Teachout served as the Sunlight Foundation’s first national executive director from 2006 to 2007. She has also worked on political campaigns, including Howard Dean’s 2004 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.  

Teachout has since 2009 taught at Fordham Law School, where she is an associate law professor. She was previously a visiting professor at Duke University’s law school as well as a lecturer at the University of Vermont.

In 2014, just days after she lost her quixotic gubernatorial primary challenge to Cuomo, Teachout’s book, “Corruption in America,” was published. It was widely praised and helped elevate her status as a national corruption expert, though she had already been involved in the issue, including, as she has said on the campaign trail, efforts to fight the Supreme Court’s eventual Citizens United campaign finance ruling.

It is her scholarship, and her job as a professor more broadly — along with the fact that she is running for her third office in four years — that has been the source of repeated attacks levied against Teachout. Using phrases like, “this is not an academic exercise,” her rivals seem to claim that Teachout may know the legal texts from cover to cover but lacks real experience as an attorney and putting theory into action.

Teachout rejects this characterization, saying that she has led teams of lawyers and made complex legal arguments. In a campaign ad released in June, she said she has spent her life combating corruption and democratizing law, ensuring the powerful are held accountable and the powerless defended. One example she often cites is her instrumental role in invoking the emoluments clause against President Trump, alleging he was personally profiting off the presidency by being paid by foreign powers that patronize his hotels and other businesses.

“I have a deep expertise in this area of law that is now painfully relevant,” Teachout told The Atlantic.

Teachout only recently joined the New York Bar after being registered in North Carolina, sparking criticism about the depths of her roots in the state and her commitment to practicing law here.

Further, a reprimand from the North Carolina Bar during her time as an attorney there has also been a source of fodder for opponents, especially James, who has claimed that Teachout “abandoned” a death row inmate and was reprimanded by the bar for it (James inaccurately said Teachout had been “censured”). The facts appear to show a minor mistake being blown out of proportion during a political campaign. Teachout was indeed reprimanded, but for failing to notify the court and her opposing counsel that she had a new address. And while the bar did reprimand her — a relatively uncommon finding — it also ruled that the infraction had no bearing on the client or outcome of the case.

In a statement provided by the Teachout campaign, Stephen Greenwald, who worked alongside Teachout on death penalty cases in North Carolina, attempted to clear the air on the matter, and heaped praise on Teachout’s legal abilities.

“I worked with Zephyr on several death penalty cases and she was a devoted and excellent attorney,” he said. “I worked with her specifically on the case for which she was reprimanded on a procedural point that had nothing to do with the case itself, and I can confirm that it had absolutely no impact on the case, as the bar determined.”

He added that Teachout did not in fact “abandon” a client, and said “it's wrong and ridiculous to claim she did.”

Greenwald also cited a case in which he worked alongside Teachout to defend a man named Robert Bacon, whose life he said Teachout helped to save via “creative lawyering.”

“A week before he was scheduled to be executed we managed to get a stay because we determined that the governor had a been the attorney general previously and therefore had a conflict of interest in determining whether to grant clemency,” Greenwald explained. “The state Supreme Court ruled in our favor six hours before Robert was going to be executed.”

At a recent press conference, Teachout also spoke about a specific death penalty case, and said she learned how to be creative and use every tool in the box to defend her clients.

“One of the first cases I worked on involved a situation where I was working with a team of lawyers who was representing their client on a case where they had sought clemency — life imprisonment without parole, instead of execution — but they were seeking it from a governor who had previously been a prosecutor,” she said. “And we built an equal protection clause challenge around that, which actually led to a three-month moratorium on [death penalty] cases in North Carolina.”

Though she is best-known for her book and scholarship on corruption, it was her time working with inmates facing the death penalty that she chose to draw upon at the New York City Bar Association forum. She spoke about representing defendants in post-conviction review.

“As a death penalty lawyer, you learn a lot. You certainly learn about the horrors of our current criminal justice system, but you also learn how to both dig up facts in intense investigations, find things that haven’t been found before because there is a threat of the state trying to kill your client,” she said. “You also learn how to take out laws and legal theories that haven’t been used before.”

Teachout has promised to do this as attorney general, and has praised Spitzer for reinvigorating the office’s use of the Martin Act to become the ‘Sheriff of Wall Street.’

“A lot of the work that I’ve been involved in has been working in money in politics groups on long-term strategic litigation,” she said at the press conference. “As you may know, I was cited in dissent in Citizens United, which is part of a long-term strategy to shift the way the court understands money in politics...I regularly talk to people — when there’s a constitutional change like McDonnell [a recent Supreme Court ruling that changed the definition of public corruption], prosecutors will call me and talk through what are the strategies we can deal with in recharging, because I have a specialty in white collar crime.”

Teachout then tied her legal work to what she wants to accomplish as attorney general — goals for which she says she has been a consistent champion.

“One of the key themes of my campaign is the wrong people are in jail,” she said. “We have to end mass incarceration, and return our focus to white-collar crime. And in the antitrust world, I also worked on strategic litigation there. I’ve worked on filing briefs myself, but also working with teams of lawyers on shifting the shape of the law.”

Sean Patrick Maloney
Maloney has on the campaign trail cast himself as a candidate who is less ideological about the job he wants, but is battle-tested in the upper echelons of law and the toughest political fights. In order to take on Trump, and handle the issues that come the office’s way, Maloney has said, an attorney general needs both public and private sector know-how. After graduating from the University of Virginia’s law school in 1992, he worked in high-level jobs in law, technology and politics; he went on to unsuccessfully run for New York attorney general and successfully for Congress.

“I think what is critical in this job is to understand the combination of legal and policy issues together with the political issues that determine the success or failure of the attorney general,” Maloney told Gotham Gazette in an interview eight days before the primary. “The attorney general needs to be able to win complex legal cases, run major investigations, and to do all that in the context of public policy and political questions that are also at play. If you think about going toe-to-toe with Donald Trump, you’ve got to both understand the law and the political angle.”

In a campaign ad, Maloney says New York is in a “street fight” for its future, arguing that having “nailed corrupt CEOs and landlords,” defended hate crime victims, and while in Congress taking on the NRA, he’s the most prepared candidate to win the fight.

Maloney began his legal career at Willkie Farr & Gallagher, an international corporate law firm, where he worked as an associate from 1992 through 1997.

Maloney was hired to work in President Bill Clinton’s White House, where he served from 1997 to 1998 as special assistant to the president, deputy assistant to the president from 1998 to 1999, and as assistant to the president and staff secretary from 1999 to 2000. After his years in the Clinton White House, he worked from 2000 to 2003 at Kiodex, a software company, as its chief operating officer, managing $40 million in private equity, according to his campaign. He then returned to work as an associate attorney at Willkie Farr & Gallagher from 2004 to 2005. In 2006, he ran for attorney general for the first time, losing in the Democratic primary to Cuomo.   

Maloney then returned to government, working in the gubernatorial administration of Eliot Spitzer, working in the executive chamber under Spitzer and his successor, David Paterson. From 2007 into 2009, Maloney served as senior adviser, handled budgetary matters and oversaw 13 state agencies and departments while in the governor’s office, according to his campaign.

In early 2007, Maloney began serving as first deputy secretary under then-top Spitzer aide Rich Baum. While in that role, “Troopergate” — a scandal in which the Democratic governor's office misused state police to track then-Republican Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno — took place, though Maloney has denied he played any part in it. The New York Times editorial board, however, endorsed the incumbent Maloney was challenging in his successful 2012 congressional race because Maloney “appeared to be most interested in holding back the staff’s personal emails from investigators” during a probe into the Troopergate controversy.  

Maloney worked briefly for Governor Paterson, who took over when Spitzer resigned amid a prostitution scandal. Maloney moved back to the corporate legal world at the end of 2009 and became partner at Kirkland & Ellis, where he stayed until 2011.  

In 2011, he was made partner at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, a firm specializing in technology and energy law, in its global finance group, working in large part on public-private partnerships and infrastructure projects, according to Law360. In 2012, he ran for Congress and won a seat where he represents what has been a swing district in the Hudson Valley. Maloney defeated a Republican incumbent, and won reelection in 2014 and 2016.

He’s on the ballot again this year, though he plans to drop his congressional bid if he wins the attorney general primary. Maloney’s dual candidacies have been the source of much criticism from his opponents and others. Maloney insists he’s suspended all congressional campaigning, and is pursuing the job he wants in attorney general. He has said if he could get off the congressional ballot already he would have.

Maloney has also been criticized — and sued by Teachout — for transferring well over $1 million from his congressional campaign account to his attorney general coffers. He insists his actions have been legal.

During last week’s Bar Association forum, Maloney acknowledged he has not spent much time in a courtroom, but brandished his credentials as an elite lawyer, arguing his experience made him best-equipped to take on bad actors of all kinds.

“You’re talking to somebody who’s spent years at Willkie, Farr & Gallagher, as partner at Kirkland and Ellis, and Orrick Herrington, so when you’re at a really good law firm, they don’t let you near a lot of courtrooms,” he said to the experienced New York City legal crowd.  

While his opponents have not denied his legal experience, some have argued he is too cozy with certain industries and sectors — like big real estate and financial firms — that he’d need to investigate, prosecute, and hold accountable as attorney general, making him less-than-ideal for the job. The Teachout campaign last Tuesday blasted out a story from The Financial Times, which reported that Wall Street had chosen its candidate, Maloney, because the industry had donated the most to him out of the candidates.  

Maloney in the interview forcefully denied that he wouldn't take on Wall Street if need be.

“Yeah, that’s a bulls*** thing to say,” he said when asked about the claim he was Wall Street’s candidate and thus would not sufficiently take on its bad actors.

Asked to elaborate, Maloney said that the “city’s best lawyers,” are supporting his campaign, which “means they respect me as a legal mind and practitioner who can go toe-to-toe with any lawyers the big Wall Street guys throw at me.”

“I don’t have any experience in Wall Street,” he added. “But I have experience in doing sophisticated legal work, and being able to compete at any level.”

Moreover, Maloney argued his experience handling classified material and receiving briefings as a member of Congress would be of assistance in combatting Trump.  

“I’m the only candidate with a top secret security clearance and I am currently regularly briefed in the Russia investigation and the Justice Department probe. And that’s unique in this field of candidates and that’s very important right now,” he said. “That means I can hit the ground running.”

“I have a level of understanding of the extent and scope of the Russia investigation that includes having received classified briefings that just better prepares me to do this work,” he added.

Leecia Eve
Born in Western New York, a graduate of Harvard Law School who now lives in Harlem, Eve has described herself as the candidate most well-versed in the in-and-outs of all of New York State, while possessing a broad range of legal skills that prepared her for the attorney general job.   

“I’m running as the most qualified and best prepared candidate,” she said in Buffalo at the beginning of her campaign. “I’m telling people they should want somebody with an understanding of the needs of this state. And my roots in New York State run deep.”

Eve, who like Maloney is also taking her second shot at running for attorney general, has shifted her focus over the decades. As City Limits reported on Tuesday, Eve’s career went from taking on the D.C. prison system to a lobbyist for Verizon — a job she described to the outlet as entailing “educating stakeholders.” Between, she worked at one of upstate New York’s largest law firms as the first African-American general equity partner at Hodgson Russ, specializing in commercial, securities and intellectual property litigation. Eve previously served as an aide to then-Senator Joe Biden and then-Senator Hillary Clinton, giving her broad experience on legal, legislative, and security matters. She is currently on the board of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

In an interview with Gotham Gazette, Eve made the case that, due to her deep familiarity of legal issues in New York and experience working on them, she is the best fit for the job.  

“There is no comparison whatsoever, frankly, between my diverse background as a litigator, but also someone who understands a wide array of issues of concern to New Yorkers from a both legal and a policy perspective,” she said on September 3.

As she did during the Bar Association forum — and as referenced in a campaign commercial — Eve pointed to her about her time representing incarcerated women as a young lawyer as a high point of her career that she said sheds light on how she would act as attorney general.

As a young associate at Covington & Burling, she was part of a pro bono legal team representing women incarcerated in the Washington D.C. whose rights, the court found, were systematically violated. Eve has also described the conditions faced by the women she represented.

“One of my clients literally had her legs shackled to a hospital bed as she was bringing a child into this world,” she said in the interview, reiterating something she has stressed repeatedly on the campaign trail. “Some of our clients literally felt that they had no choice but to engage in sexual acts with prison guards in order to be guaranteed an opportunity to visit with their children, something that they otherwise were entitled to do.”

“Obviously, this is inhumane conduct, it’s illegal conduct, it’s unconstitutional conduct,” she continued, “and I’m proud to say that I took on the D.C. prison system, filed suit, fought hard, and we won.”

The precedent-setting case — which she said sparked prison reform nationwide — was not the only case from the early part of her career in which she successfully represented victims whose civil rights were violated. A church group of African-American young women who stayed at a hotel in Western New York, Eve recalled, were subjected to racial discrimination, and were granted a favorable ruling after she represented them pro bono.

Asked what she took away from her time in law, Eve said she learned how to “best and powerfully give voice to an injustice” while facing off against a more puissant opponent.  

“I say that because I have these very powerful, vivid memories of being in some of the D.C. prisons, spending time with my clients, hearing about what happened to them, and then saying, ‘We must fix this, we must stop this,’ and then translating that experience … into a detailed complaint,” she explained. ”When you represent hundreds of women who are incarcerated, who by and large are powerless, by and large [are] uneducated, and your opponent is the government representing the most powerful city in the most powerful nation on earth, you have a battle on your hands.”

Thus before she even turned 30 — a “baby lawyer,” as she described it — she learned how to fight and beat powerful forces.  

Yet those highlights from the fledgling stages of her law career — working to help incarcerated women and victims of racial discrimination — come in contrast to her more corporate, establishment-oriented work in recent years. Eve was proud of her work in both Clinton’s and Biden’s offices, where she says she advised then-Senator Biden on immigration issues and the Violence Against Women Act. She said these jobs should and would be viewed as an asset, not a fault. She has repeatedly defended her ties to the long-time Democratic politicians whose politics have fallen out of favor with much of the left wing of the party that appears energized by the presidential candidacy of Senator Bernie Sanders and Trump’s election.

Eve has argued her own progressive credentials, including her work drafting votings rights legislation and her plan to pursue both voting and criminal justice reform if elected attorney general. For Cuomo, Eve was a top economic development aide.

Asked about her most recent work, corporate lobbying for Verizon, she said, “I am proud to work for a company that employs nearly 20,000 people with good jobs and invests billion in this state.”

“People are still hungry for good-paying jobs,” she continued. “You want companies to be here. You want companies to expand and grow.”

She said should two unnamed candidates — presumably Teachout and James — take the attorney general job some companies would be “running for the hills,” in an apparent reference to the candidates’ being furthest to the left and promising to crack down on bad actors in a variety of sectors.  

Eve went on to say she knows how to appropriately do that work due to her experience and took a less-than-subtle jab at Teachout.

“What you need as an attorney general that understands how most aggressively to go after bad corporate actors. And someone who knows only what she teaches in a classroom is not that person,” she said. “Taking on extremely tough fights has prepared me to take on what are going to be tough fights to hold this administration accountable, to hold Donald Trump personally accountable, and to hold bad actors in this state accountable as well.”

With additional reporting from Victor Porcelli and Annie Abreu

Last-Minute Guide to Voting on Primary Day, September 13

Cuomo voting

Gov. Cuomo voting in 2011 (photo: The Governor's Office)

The 2018 New York state-level primary elections are Thursday, with mostly Democratic races on the ballot, including hotly-contested primaries for three statewide positions of Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General. There are also many legislative primaries, mostly on the Democratic side, including eight state Senate races in which the former members of the Independent Democratic Conference, which folded in April amid a great deal of criticism, are being challenged. There are a few other Senate primaries of note for New York City voters, as well as a few Assembly primaries.

All four state-level statewide positions will be on the ballot this fall, there is no Democratic primary for Comptroller and Republicans have avoided any primaries for the statewide posts. All 150 Assembly and 63 Senate seats are also up for election this year, with control of the Senate hanging in the balance -- the Assembly is certain to remain under Democratic control. Republicans have held a very narrow majority in the Senate for several years, ensured through 31 GOP seats, almost all of which are from outside New York City, and Brooklyn Senator Simcha Felder, who was reelected in 2016 on both the Democratic and Republican ballot lines. The IDC has also bolstered that majority in recent years. Like the former IDC members, Felder is also facing a primary challenge.

The three statewide Democratic primaries have been highly competitive, though it is unclear what the margins will be once voters go to the polls on Thursday. Polls have shown certain possible outcomes, but few are putting much weight into those metrics given what New York and the country have seen in recent months and years.

Governor Andrew Cuomo and Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul are trying to beat back progressive primary challenges from actor and activist Cynthia Nixon and City Council Member Jumaane Williams, respectively, while the Attorney General primary is wide open, with no incumbent running and an apparently tight three-way race in a four candidate field.

Below is a relatively brief rundown of races for New York City voters to be aware of heading into Thursday’s primary, with some additional resources in some instances to help voters be ready to cast their ballots. The winners of these primaries will move on to the general election, which will be decided November 6, at which time New Yorkers will also decide on one U.S. Senate race, for the seat currently held by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, all 27 New York seats in the House of Representatives, and, for New York City voters, three ballot questions proposed by Mayor de Blasio’s charter revision commission.

But first, the Thursday September 13 primaries. And before our rundown of the key races and information about them, details about voting:

Where to vote & your ballot
Polls in New York City and the counties of Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, Rockland, Orange, Putnam, Dutchess, and Erie will open at 6 a.m., and polls in all other locations statewide will open at noon. All polls statewide will close at 9 p.m. Check your registration statuspreview your ballot; and check your polling place.

The big-ticket item is, of course, the race for Governor. While Governor Andrew Cuomo is expected to prevail on Thursday, with polls showing him well ahead of primary challenger Cynthia Nixon, recent upset wins by left-wing candidates in Florida, Massachusetts, and New York have Nixon and her supporters optimistic that she has a shot to defeat Cuomo.

Nixon has hit Cuomo hard on the subways, affordable housing, education, the environment, criminal justice, healthcare, ethics, and more. She has promised to fully implement MTA New York City Transit President Andy Byford’s “Fast Forward” plan and pay for it with congestion pricing, a millionaires’ tax, and a carbon tax. Nixon has also slammed Cuomo for what she characterizes as his tacit endorsement of the Independent Democratic Conference, a rogue group of Democrats who aligned with the state Senate Republican majority, and for corruption within his administration and the larger state government, and for his broader approach to economic development as indicative of his penchant for catering to wealthy donors.

Cuomo’s lurch leftward on numerous issues over the course of the campaign, including on NYCHA, marijuana, voting rights for parolees, and the IDC unity deal, has been referred to by the campaign and observers as “The Cynthia Effect.”

Cuomo has countered by expounding on his accomplishments in office, such as paid family leave, a minimum wage program aimed at getting to a $15 baseline, same-sex marriage, gun control, raising the age of adult criminal responsibility, and major infrastructure investments. He has also touted his ability to manage government and what he calls smart fiscal policy, including the cap on annual property tax increases and annual state budget growth, as well as the timeliness those budgets have been passed, which has come in stark contrast to the years before he took office in 2011.

Save for a contentious debate in August, Cuomo has largely ignored Nixon throughout the primary campaign, preferring instead to carry out government business and take on President Donald Trump. When he has addressed Nixon, Cuomo has largely been dismissive of her candidacy, though his approach to the campaign -- including spending well over $20 million -- has indicated he does not see it as a slam dunk.

Cuomo has made a number of gaffes and errors during the campaign, but he has the significant powers of incumbency and his unmatched fundraising to his advantage. He also has Nixon’s lack of government experience working for him, which many supporters, including newspaper editorial boards, have repeatedly point to in endorsing the governor in the primary as he seeks a third term.

Nixon has countered the experience argument by saying that she is the only Democrat who had the guts to take Cuomo on in the primary given that she is an outsider with little to lose. She has also pointed to Cuomo’s alleged and confirmed failures, such as management of the MTA, to argue that despite all his experience, Cuomo is “not good at governing.”

The winner on Thursday will have the Democratic nomination for a general election that could include the loser, depending on what the loser does with other ballot lines that have been awarded -- the Working Families Party for Nixon, the Independence and Women’s Equality Parties for Cuomo. The general election will include Republican nominee Marc Molinaro, Green Party nominee Howie Hawkins, Libertarian nominee Larry Sharpe, and Stephanie Miner, running on the newly-created Serve America Movement ballot line.

Watch the lone Democratic primary debate between Governor Cuomo and Cynthia Nixon

Find much more to read about the race here

Lieutenant Governor
City Council Member Jumaane Williams, Nixon’s running mate, is trying to unseat incumbent Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. Williams is seen as a real threat to Hochul, though she has had a solid lead in public polling, due to his Brooklyn base, her limited name recognition, and his endorsements from the likes of the New York Times editorial board, among many other backers of his campaign.

Hochul and Williams have major differences in background and focus areas, and have outlined drastically different visions for the office of Lieutenant Governor. Hochul says she wants to continue her partnership with Cuomo while Williams says he wants to be a thorn in the side of whomever the governor is, turning the position into something of a public advocate at the state level.

Read much more about the Hochul-Williams primary here.

Watch the lone Hochul-Williams primary debate here.

Attorney General
Though the gubernatorial race has dominated headlines both in-state and nationally, perhaps the most consequential race being contested on Thursday is the Democratic primary for Attorney General.

After the abrupt resignation of Eric Schneiderman, Public Advocate Letitia James quickly emerged as the frontrunner in the all-of-a-sudden race, shoring up support from the State Democratic Party, Governor Cuomo, most of the state’s large labor unions, and a bevy of other elected officials. Other candidates include Fordham Law professor Zephyr Teachout, Congressional Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, and Verizon lobbyist Leecia Eve. Polls have shown many undecided voters and a three-way race with Eve far behind the others.

Teachout, an expert on political corruption who is refusing corporate donations, gained endorsements from the New York Times and the New York Daily News editorial boards in August, indicating the momentum shifting her way. In three broadcast primary debates, James, Maloney, and Eve have all targeted Teachout, attempting to undercut her main arguments for election and cast doubts on her values and qualifications. She has thrown some attacks of her own, mostly at Maloney. The two appear to be competing for many of the same Hudson Valley and upstate votes and may stand in each other’s way in terms of who can best James, whose base is New York City.

Maloney, who entered the race relatively late, has spent his large war chest on television ads but has been criticized for running a concurrent congressional campaign, and transferring over $1 million from his federal committee to his state committee. Teachout has sued him over the latter practice, saying he is violating campaign finance law.

The race has largely centered around who can best combat President Donald Trump. Both Schneiderman and his temporary replacement, Attorney General Barbara Underwood, who had been the solicitor general, have sued the federal government numerous times, and the candidates have made suing to stop the president’s policy agenda, on items such as environmental protections and net neutrality, a focus of their campaign pitches.

The candidates have also promised to varying degrees to go after corruption on Wall Street, in big real estate, and throughout state government. James has taken heat for her supposed lack of independence from Cuomo. Maloney has also endorsed the governor and Eve has said he deserves another term, while Teachout and Nixon are supporting each other.

There is also a three-way primary for the Reform Party nomination for Attorney General. The candidates are Michael Diederich, Nancy Sliwa, and Christopher Garvey. The vote is open to all registered members of the Reform Party and the many New Yorkers who are registered to vote but not with a party, otherwise known as independent or unaffiliated voters.

Read more: A Closer Look at the Democratic Attorney General Candidates' Legal Careers

Watch the Democratic Attorney General Candidates Debate

There is also a Reform Party primary for Attorney General, with three candidates running: Nancy Sliwa, Mike Diederich and Chris Garvey, that is open to the small number of voters registered with the Reform Party as well as the more than 2 million New Yorkers who are registered to vote, but unaffiliatd with any party.

Senate District 11 - Queens - Democrats
In eastern Queens, former City Comptroller John Liu is again challenging former IDC member and incumbent Senator Tony Avella. Very little separates the two candidates on policy, but political allegiances and Avella’s membership in the IDC are at the forefront of the campaign.

Liu challenged Avella in 2014 but did not succeed. Winning the seat would be a political comeback for Liu, whose 2013 campaign for mayor collapsed as a result of a campaign finance scandal involving straw donors, for which he was eventually fined $26,000 and a top aide went to jail. Liu entered the race late, joining the slate of challengers to all eight members of what was the IDC until it dissolved to rejoin the mainline Democratic conference in an April deal brokered by Cuomo. But, Liu has strong name recognition and a long-time following, positioning him to ride a wave of activism to victory, if the added IDC awareness and turnout numbers pan out as planned by the forces opposing Avella and company.

Avella has countered Liu’s charges of Republican-enabling by saying that the crucial vote for the Republicans was Senator Simcha Felder, not any of the IDC members. Liu has stated that Avella’s IDC membership has blocked equal funding of schools and the Reproductive Health Act, and rejects the notion that the Republican majority was propped up by Felder alone. On transit, Avella is against congestion pricing while Liu is for it; the district is sparsely served by the subway and much of it is a public transit desert, so both are in support of increased bus service.

The district is heavily Asian and possible reforms to the entrance criteria for the city’s specialized high schools is a key campaign issue -- both Avella and Liu are opposed to eliminating the SHSAT, the entrance exam for the schools.

Senate District 13 - Queens - Democrats
In one of the most diverse legislative districts in the city, Senator Jose Peralta, another former member of the IDC, is being challenged by Jessica Ramos, a former de Blasio staffer who has gained the support of her former boss as well as numerous other electeds and progressive groups. Peralta has mostly maintained the support of labor unions. Peralta’s and Ramos’ views overlap on several key issues, but the race again appears to be centered around the incumbent’s membership in the IDC, record of accomplishment, and what Ramos promises to do if elected. Peralta has pitched his experience and ability to get funds back to the district, including some of $15 million for immigrant legal defense that was allocated for the state, while Ramos has repeatedly stated that he should have been part of the mainline Democratic conference fighting for progressive policies and that his membership in the IDC accomplished little for the district. She has pointed to the Dream Act, which Peralta is the lead sponsor of, as continuing to stall despite his arrangement with the IDC and Republicans. Peralta has responded that he’s been adding sponsors to the bill, having to convince many Democrats to back it before he could even work on Republicans.

In the immigrant-heavy district, both Peralta and Ramos have also expressed support for abolishing ICE and allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. Also figuring heavily into the race, as with many others, is the condition of the subway -- both Peralta and Ramos support congestion pricing. On housing, Peralta and Ramos are both in support of repealing vacancy decontrol, the vacancy bonus, and preferential rent.

Senate District 15 - Queens - Republicans
In the 15th Senate District in eastern Queens, two Republicans are battling to take on the task of defeating Democratic Senator Joe Addabbo. Tom Sullivan, a veteran and community board member, is backed by the Queens Republican Party and by City Council Member Eric Ulrich, who represents part of the area and is the only elected Republican legislator in Queens. Sullivan is opposed to the mayor’s plan to eliminate the SHSAT, and has criticized what he calls overdevelopment in the district.

He is facing Slawomir Platta, a lawyer whose campaign has centered around his opposition to the construction of homeless shelters in the community, particularly in Ozone Park. Platta formed the No Homeless Shelter Party in August after filing 4,000 signatures with the State Board of Elections.

Senate District 17 - Brooklyn - Democrats
In the wake of the IDC unity deal, Senator Simcha Felder is the only remaining Senator elected as a Democrat but caucusing with Republicans. Felder is being challenged by attorney Blake Morris, who has, like the IDC challengers, cast himself as the “real Democrat” in the race. Felder most recently has courted broader criticism for his central role in controversies surrounding yeshiva oversight and school speed cameras, but his main bloc of support, Orthodox Jews, is likely pleased with his legislative efforts.

Morris has received the endorsement of the New York Times and Daily News editorial boards, as well as a variety of progressive groups and unions, but it is unclear if he can topple Felder in such a heavily Orthodox district.

Senate District 18 - Brooklyn - Democrats
State Senator Martin Dilan, who has represented north Brooklyn in the State Senate for 15 years and for ten years in the City Council before that, is, other than Felder, the only non-IDC Democratic State Senator facing a serious challenge this year. Unlike Felder, Dilan never caucused with Republicans. However, the IDC’s erstwhile campaign committee gave $8,000 to Dilan, the only non-IDC Senator to receive such funds, and a recent report by Gothamist accused Dilan of receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars from real estate donors while voting for vacancy decontrol and presiding over widespread displacement and gentrification in North Brooklyn.

His opponent, Julia Salazar, is a democratic socialist who had a huge amount of momentum until massive press attention on her turned to uncovering controversies in her past, as well as several instances of her not telling the truth during her campaign.

While she has been surrounded by negative press over the past several weeks, her campaign had gained a large following and many endorsements based on her plans to push for stronger rent laws and combating the gentrification she says Dilan has facilitated, promising to end vacancy decontrol and preferential rent and expand rent stabilization. Dilan has expressed regret in the years since his vote for vacancy decontrol, saying he didn’t anticipate the gentrification of the neighborhood.

Salazar, however, has been caught telling misleading statements and outright lies about her background. These include emphasizing her Jewish heritage when she was raised Catholic, calling herself an immigrant when she was born and raised in Miami, claiming to have graduated from Columbia University when she did not, and painting herself as working class despite having grown up in relative affluence. Dilan has branded her as a gentrifier in the neighborhood herself.

Senate District 20 - Brooklyn - Democrats
In Central Brooklyn, former IDC member Senator Jesse Hamilton is being challenged by attorney Zellnor Myrie, a well-funded opponent who has received numerous endorsements from labor, progressive groups, and elected officials, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, who used to represent part of the Senate district when he was in the City Council.

Hamilton portrayed Myrie in a debate on NY1 as a carpetbagger from the Bronx, and also criticized his former employment by City Council Member Fernando Cabrera, one of the most conservative members of the Council who has a history of anti-LGBT statements. Myrie responded by saying that he had only worked for Cabrera for one year, that Cabrera’s statements about LGBT people occurred after he worked for him, and that he had lived in the Bronx to attend Fordham Law School. Myrie says that during his time in the City Council, he helped write the Tenants’ Bill of Rights. Myrie has focused his campaign around the need for Democratic control of the Senate in order to combat the affordable housing crisis in the city.

Hamilton, who announced his intention to join the IDC a day before the 2016 general election, has been accused by Myrie of blocking reforms to criminal justice and housing through his alliance with the Republicans. Hamilton has countered by saying that his affiliation with the IDC brought much-needed investments into the underserved, majority-minority district. While Myrie has received a significant amount of support from elected officials, including the members of Congress who represent the area, Hamilton has continued support from Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, whom Hamilton succeeded in the seat in 2014.

Senate District 22 - Brooklyn - Democrats
In south Brooklyn, Andrew Gounardes, an aide to Borough President Adams, is facing journalist Ross Barkan for the chance to challenge incumbent Senator Marty Golden, the only Republican Senator representing Brooklyn and one of only two in the entire city, along with Staten Island’s Andrew Lanza.

Gounardes’ and Barkan’s policy preferences largely overlap. Instead, Gounardes is distinguishing himself via political experience and connection to the district, while Barkan is touting his refusal to accept corporate contributions and independence from establishment Democrats. He’s also focused much of his campaign on outlining policy plans, with a focus on the MTA, including accessibility. Both are also making the race about replacing Golden, who has made inflammatory statements about immigrants, used campaign money at a catering hall his family owns, and has a history of reckless driving, including killing a woman with his car.

Senate District 23 - Staten Island and Brooklyn - Democrats
In District 23, which covers parts of south Brooklyn and Staten Island’s North Shore, former IDC Deputy Leader Diane Savino is being challenged by Jasi Robinson, an activist. The district is one of the more conservative ones represented by Democrats, and Robinson has raised little money compared to her fellow IDC challengers.

Robinson has said that, especially in the wake of Eric Garner’s death at the hands of NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo, Savino failed to be a leader in the community for people of color. Like other IDC challengers, she has said that the IDC has blocked the passage of universal healthcare and the Reproductive Health Act, and plans to support those in Albany. Savino is known as a hard-working legislator with many partners in government who is also well-known and -liked in her district. Many of those supporting IDC challengers have stayed away from this race, likely expecting Savino to win easily.

Senate District 31 - Manhattan - Democrats
State Senator Marisol Alcantara, who represents northern Manhattan and parts of the West Side, is perhaps the most vulnerable IDC incumbent facing a challenge this year, having scraped by in a tight race in 2016 to replace now U.S. Representative Adriano Espaillat, who had backed her then but has decided to stay neutral this year.

Alcantara is facing three challengers in the Democratic primary: former City Council Member Robert Jackson, who narrowly lost to Alcantara in 2016, Tirso Pina, and Thomas Leon. Jackson, a former City Council Member from the area, has been endorsed by many elected officials, including Mayor de Blasio, and progressive organizations, while labor unions and the local City Council Member, Ydanis Rodriguez, have stuck with Alcantara.

Both Alcantara and Jackson have expressed unease with the Inwood rezoning that passed the City Council earlier this summer, echoing community members worried that it could cause displacement and gentrification. Like other IDC challengers, Jackson has emphasized Alcantara’s membership with the IDC, saying that it hindered the ability to reform rent laws, codify Roe v Wade, and fully fund public schools. She has touted resources brought back to the district and bills she has passed, as well as the fact that she is currently the only Latina in the state Senate.

The 2016 saw Alcantara, Jackson, and Micah Lasher each earn about one third of the vote, with Alcantara winning by several hundred. This year, Lasher is behind Jackson and working to get him elected, as are a number of elected officials with sway in parts of the Senate district where Lasher did well two years ago.

Senate District 34 - Bronx and Westchester - Democrats
Senator Jeff Klein was the founder and leader of the IDC and, since its demise earlier this year, became deputy minority leader in the Senate under the “unity” deal orchestrated by Governor Cuomo, who pledged not to support any primary challenges to sitting senators, but has kept a lot of distance from Klein. Klein, however, has been sending mailers depicting himself with Cuomo and kind words about the senator from the governor. Cuomo, meanwhile, does not list Klein among those who have endorsed him on a very long list of officials and groups.

Klein is being challenged by Alessandra Biaggi, an attorney, formerly within the Cuomo administration, and the granddaughter of former Congressional Rep. Mario Biaggi. She has questioned Klein’s alliance with Republicans and an extensive agenda of progressive policies not passed given GOP control of the Senate. She has won the backing of a number of progressive groups and elected officials, like Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Comptroller Scott Stringer, and is getting a lot of help from the Working Families Party and 32BJ SEIU, the building workers’ union. She’s also been endorsed by likely future Congressional Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose district overlaps some with the one Biaggi wants to represent in the state Senate.

Klein’s campaign coffers are some of the most flush in the state, and for years he has been one of the vaunted “four men in a room” negotiating the state budget, but he appears to be taking the Biaggi challenge seriously. State campaign finance records show that Klein has spent over $1 million of campaign funds since July; his July disclosure form listed over $2 million in the bank, while his September disclosure listed $950,000.

Though Klein was in the room negotiating new sexual harassment policies for elected officials and others, he himself was accused of sexual misconduct by a former staffer in January, which helped kick off a push for hearings on sexual harassment in Albany. Klein has denied the allegation of forcibly kissing Erica Vladimer, and requested an investigation by the state’s ethics body, JCOPE. The status of that investigation is unclear.

Nevertheless, Klein has been endorsed by a long list of labor unions and a number of elected officials.

Biaggi’s platform includes legislation she claims Klein has helped stymie, such as the Reproductive Health Act, GENDA, the Climate and Community Protection Act, and rent law reforms. Klein maintains that his alliance with the GOP benefitted the district, including investments for seniors and domestic violence survivors, and that the “32nd vote” bolstering the GOP was not any member of the IDC, but Felder.

Senate District 38 - Westchester and Rockland - Democrats
State Senator David Carlucci, a former IDC member who represents Rockland County and part of Westchester, is facing a challenge from Julie Goldberg, a librarian and former teacher.

Talking with LoHud about the race, Carlucci said his highest priority issue for his constituents is lowering property taxes, while also noting his experience as a senator includes on-time budgets, holding to a 2 percent property tax cap, capping state spending, and expanding STAR (School Tax Relief Program). Goldberg’s highest priority is fully funding public schools in the district, which she said were owed $74 million from the state. She also listed “protections for women’s rights, safety for our immigrant communities, universal healthcare, election reform, and criminal justice reform” as other issues she prioritizes.

Carlucci told LoHud that his membership in the IDC brought significant progressive victories, including “marriage equality, the SAFE Act, 12 weeks paid family leave, $15 minimum wage plan, and raised the age of criminal responsibility.” Goldberg said that the IDC is a “complex, cynical machine whose purpose is to ensure its members’ re-election” and that significant progressive legislation was blocked from the floor by Republicans.

Senate District 53 - Upstate - Democrats
State Senator David Valesky, a former IDC member representing parts of Syracuse, Madison County, Oneida County, and Onondaga County, is facing a challenge from Syracuse University administrator Rachel May.

At a debate on WRVO public radio earlier this month, Goldberg said that Valesky’s membership in the IDC had hurt the district by preventing important legislation from coming to the floor. Like other IDC members defending their seats, Valesky claimed that the IDC had delivered significant legislative victories, and that the Republican majority was propped up by Felder, not IDC members. He said some of the legislation that failed in the Senate, such as the Dream Act, had failed despite the IDC’s support because it didn’t have enough votes.

May said that the district’s schools could be fully funded by a small increase of “.03, .04 percent” in the financial transactions tax, yielding “billions of dollars in revenue.” Valesky did not explicitly oppose raising taxes to fund education, but said that raising taxes in an already high-taxed state would drive people away from New York.

Assembly District 30 - Queens - Democrats

Assemblymember Brian Barnwell, who represents Maspeth, Middle Village, Sunnyside, and Woodside, is facing a challenge from Melissa Sklarz, who hopes to become the first transgender person elected to the state Legislature.

Sklarz has criticized Barnwell for voting against the Reproductive Health Act, and has made women’s rights a focal point of her campaign. Barnwell has protested the city’s placement of homeless shelters in the district, a stance which Sklarz, who was once homeless, has criticized while also calling for placing homeless people into permanent housing. Barnwell has only been in the Assembly a short time after having pulled off a shocking 2016 primary upset of Marge Markey.

Assembly District 39 - Queens - Democrats
Assemblymember Ari Espinal, who entered the Assembly in April after winning a special election to replace now-City Council Member Francisco Moya as his chosen successor, is facing a two-pronged challenge for the seat from Catalina Cruz, who was an aide to former City Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland and former Peralta staffer Yonel Letellier Sosa.

In the largely immigrant district, Espinal, who was born in the U.S., is being challenged by two immigrants, including one, Cruz, who is herself a “Dreamer.” Espinal supports abolishing ICE, while Cruz has called the idea “beautiful” but unrealistic. Both candidates have called for passing the Dream Act and for allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. Other issues figuring into the Assembly race include education and transit. On the controversial 82nd Street rezoning, all candidates have expressed opposition.

Espinal has the backing of the Queens County Democratic Party, but Cruz, who has received a good deal of support from elected officials and groups, hopes that the Ocasio-Cortez victory signals that the machine’s support is not as meaningful as it once was.

Assembly District 62 - Staten Island - Republicans
Staten Island Assemblymember Ron Castorina announced he would retire from the Assembly for a seat on Surrogate’s Court. Three Republicans are vying in the primary to replace him: Staten Island Community Education Council President Michael Reilly, attorney Glenn Yost, and public health advocate Ashley Zanatta.

Reilly is backed by City Council Member Joe Borelli, a prominent Trump surrogate who represents the South Shore in the Council and previously held the Assembly seat, which could propel him in a borough where 56 percent of voters picked Trump in 2016, most heavily on the South Shore. Meanwhile, Yost is backed by State Senator Andrew Lanza, who represents the southern part of the island in the Senate, and by Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, the former Republican nominee for mayor who represents the eastern shore and part of southern Brooklyn.

Like many Republicans in the heavily Democratic city, both Reilly and Yost have made lowering property taxes a major campaign issue, as Staten Island is the borough with the highest homeownership rate by far, at nearly 70 percent according to the Furman Center. All three candidates have also cited the need to control the deer population, and to better address the opioid epidemic that has hit the South Shore harder than most other places in the city.

Assembly District 68 - Brooklyn - Democrats
There's an open Assembly seat race in southern Brooklyn after Democratic Assemblymember Pam Harris resigned amid corruption charges. Mathylde Frontus and Ethan Lustig-Elgrably are the two Democrats seeking to replace Harris, and they are engaged in what has been an intense primary. Lustig-Elgraby, recently an aide to City Council Member Mark Treyger, has the backing of a number of elected officials.

Assembly District 84 - the Bronx - Democrats
Amanda Septimo, a former aide to Congressional Rep. Jose Serrano, is challenging Assemblymember Carmen E. Arroyo, who has been in offie since 1994, when she was , according to her website, "the first and only Puerto Rican/Hispanic woman elected to the NYS Assembly...[and] first Puerto Rican woman elected to any State Assembly in the US." Septimo is arguing that it is time for new leadership and is focusing her campaign on issues such as affordable housing and youth programs.

by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this article.

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, September 10

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

Thursday is primary day! After a few more days of intense campaigning, by the end of the night on Thursday, we should know the victors in the primaries -- almost all of them in the Democratic Party -- for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, many state legislative seats, and more.

The most closely watched races are the statewide primaries between Governor Andrew Cuomo and Cynthia Nixon and between Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul and City Council Member Jumaane Williams; the Attorney General primary among Public Advocate Letitia James, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, Professor Zephyr Teachout, and Leecia Eve, a Verizon lobbyist and former aide to several major Democratic officials, including Cuomo. Also, about a dozen Democratic state Senate primaries, including the eight involving former members of the Independent Democratic Conference, six of which include districts covering parts of New York City.

The week starts after an eventful weekend of campaigning and controversy. While candidates and their supporters were rallying and canvassing and announcing endorsements and tweeting and texting and more, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced he will not make endorsements in either of the primaries for Governor and Lieutenant Governor. A de Blasio spokesperson told Gotham Gazette the mayor has not decided yet whether he will endorse in the Attorney General primary; wherein his wife, Chirlane McCray is backing Teachout, though both de Blasio and McCray have a long relationship with James.

More controversial than de Blasio’s announcement, though, was news of a mailing made by the State Democratic Party targeting Nixon as anti-Semitic, which Cuomo and the state party’s executive director, Andrew Berman, both denounced after it became public on Saturday. A Cuomo spokesperson said the governor knew nothing about it and Berman said likewise about himself, and that he was going to hold the responsible parties to account. Both declarations appeared confusing to those familiar with how the state party and election season mailers work, including that Cuomo has moved millions of dollars from his campaign account to the state party’s, and is the de facto leader of the party apparatus.

Also this weekend, the Cuomo administration had to explain the fact that the governor had held a celebratory ribbon-cutting for a new span of the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge (which replaces the Tappan Zee), including Hillary Clinton, only to have the portion of the bridge not opened due to safety precautions emanating from the old bridge, which is being demolished. Cuomo held the celebration on Friday, just six days before the primary, and questions arose as to whether he had rushed the event to take advantage of good pre-primary press.

While the focus of the week will largely be the primaries, the week starts with the Rosh Hashanah holiday and the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.

There are several governmental and other events to be aware of this week -- see the day-by-day rundown below.

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

The run of the week in detail:

Monday is Rosh Hashanah. There will be campaigning, but no public government events.

At 10:30 a.m. Monday, Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max and City Limits editor Jarrett Murphy will appear on The Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC radio, at 93.9FM or wnyc.org.

Mayor Bill de Blasio will be on the campaign trail for one of the three state Senate candidates he has endorsed, Jessica Ramos, in Queens, and he will make his usual weekly appearance on NY1's Inside City Hall in the 7 and 11 p.m. hours.

Tuesday is the 17th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. There will be remembrances across the city. One of this will be at 6:30 p.m., when Staten Island Borough President James Oddo will preside over an annual memorial ceremony for victims of the 9/11 attacks at the Postcards memorial.

The City Council will hold a stated meeting at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday. It will be preceded by a press conference hosted by Speaker Corey Johnson.

Also at the City Council on Wednesday: the Committee on Transportation will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss proposed laws laws related to the L train shutdown, including “designating community information centers in the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn” for the duration of the shutdown, “establishing an ombudsperson within the department of transportation,” and to discuss a resolution “calling upon the Governor and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to commit to an expeditious transition to an electric bus fleet and to use electric buses as a robust part of its replacement service during the upcoming L train shutdown.”

At 8 a.m. Wednesday, the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership Business Improvement District (BID) and Baruch College will host their annual Small Business Assistance Forum at Baruch College’s William and Anita Newman Conference Center. The event will include a discussion on issues important to small businesses in New York City featuring Rachel Van Tosh, Deputy Commissioner for Business Services at the New York City Department of Small Business Services, and Carlina Rivera, City Council Member for the 2nd Council District, which includes a portion of Flatiron. That conversation will be moderated by Gotham Gazette Executive Editor Ben Max.

At 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics will hold a commission meeting at 540 Broadway in Albany.

At 5 p.m. Wednesday, the latest episode of Max & Murphy will be on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org. The show will be a preview of Thursday’s primary elections.

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, the City Council’s Charter Revision Commission will hold its first public hearing, at Lehman College’s Lovinger Theatre. The hearing kicks off a series of events across the five boroughs over the next few weeks.

Thursday is primary day in New York for state races, including Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, State Legislature, Judgeships, and other races. Polls in New York City and the counties of Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, Rockland, Orange, Putnam, Dutchess, and Erie will open at 6 a.m., and polls in all other locations statewide will open at noon. All polls statewide will close at 9 p.m. Check your registration status; preview your ballot; and check your polling place.

Friday and the weekend
At 8 a.m. Friday, the Association for a Better New York will host Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza for a “Power Breakfast” at the Roosevelt Hotel in Midtown. Carranza will “present his vision and priorities for the New York City Department of Education and New York City public schools.”

At 8:30 a.m. Friday, the Murphy Institute of Labor will host “Is a Democratic Capitalism Possible?” discussing the erosion of democracy as a result of wealth concentration, and steps to “bolster our democracy and create a more equitable society.” Speakers will include Deputy Mayor J. Phillip Thompson; Maurice Weeks, Co-Executive Director of the Action Center on Race & The Economy; and NYU professor Kim Phillips Fein. CUNY professor Frances Fox Piven will moderate.

At 9 a.m. Friday, the New York City Board of Correction will hold a public meeting at 125 Worth Street.

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


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by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max

One of the State's Most Powerful Unions Tries to Take Down One of Its Most Powerful Politicians

32BJ for Biaggi

photo: @32BJSEIU

As Alessandra Biaggi, a first-time candidate for office, attempts to unseat Democratic state Senator Jeff Klein, once the powerful leader of a rogue faction of Democratic senators, a prominent labor union is pulling no punches to ensure that her insurgent campaign prevails in the September 13 primary.

The property services workers union, 32BJ SEIU, which boasts more than 160,000 members and is a regular political heavyweight, has been aggressively courting voters and spending money to help Biaggi defeat Klein, a Democrat the union once backed. A force in state politics with allies at the highest reaches of government, 32BJ could put Biaggi over the top in what is increasingly being viewed, despite Klein’s significant advantages, as an unpredictable race given broader trends and recent upsets, Biaggi’s strengths as a campaigner, and the activism behind her bid.

Klein represents Senate District 34, which covers parts of the Bronx and Westchester, and has been in office since 2005. Along the way, he acquired power and prestige, forming the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), an alliance that grew to eight senators who broke from the chamber’s mainline Democratic conference and formed a coalition majority with Senate Republicans, at times ensuring GOP leadership of the only Republican stronghold in state government. In turn, IDC members received leadership positions, additional stipends, more discretionary funding for their districts, and other benefits. The infamous “three men in a room” of state government decision-making -- the governor, Assembly speaker and Senate majority leader -- became four, with Klein joining to influence the fate of key legislation and the state budget.

The IDC rejoined the mainline Democrats in April, after another state budget agreement and no shortage of criticism from progressive activists, unions, and elected Democrats who viewed their power-sharing agreement with visceral hatred and outright derision. A slate of challengers, including Biaggi, had already launched their campaigns to unseat the IDC members in the primary, promising “real” as opposed to “Trump Democrats.”

The Democratic unity deal had its beginnings in a letter sent in November 2017 by leaders of the state Democratic Party, Congressional Rep. Joe Crowley and, notably, Hector Figueroa, an at-large member of the Democratic National Committee, the president of 32BJ, and an active and powerful voice in New York politics. They appealed to Klein and Democratic conference leader Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins to reunite the disparate factions of the same party. In April this year, the two sides finally came together, with Governor Andrew Cuomo literally in the middle at a press conference, expressing a newfound bonhomie that tried to erase years of bad blood. Both sides promised mutual support in the upcoming elections. Klein was appointed deputy conference leader under Stewart-Cousins and pledged that the IDC was dead forever as a conference.

But, damage was already done. Following Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election, a wave of grassroots activists had vowed to oppose the IDC Senators and, one by one, challengers emerged to take on each senator in the primary. They shared similar policy platforms, pledging to support causes near and dear to progressives -- such as single-payer health care, criminal justice reform, enhanced rent regulations, voting, ethics and campaign finance reform, and increased education funding -- which they blamed IDC members for blocking. Among them was Biaggi, who formerly worked in Cuomo’s counsel’s office and was deputy national operations director for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

In late June, two months after the unity compact, 32BJ announced its endorsement of Biaggi, which shocked the New York political world and many saw as the crumbling of the facade of a unified effort to keep Democratic incumbents, including Cuomo and Klein, in power. Figueroa, who remains a staunch Cuomo supporter, was accused by some of reneging on a commitment to not oppose the former IDC members, a charge he has repeatedly dismissed.

“I think that Democratic unity was already broken,” Figueroa said in a phone interview on Thursday. “The efforts to fix it were not really sincerely driven, or even embraced when others were driving it, by the IDC.” He emphasized that the IDC had ample opportunity to return to the fold, and should have done so when the need for unity became clear. First was after the 2014 elections, when 32BJ had endorsed Klein after he promised to end the IDC alliance with Republicans. Klein subsequently broke that promise. Then came Trump’s election, after which Democrats saw a dire need to regain complete control of state government. Again, the IDC stuck with Republicans.

“So the effort that we undertook throughout 2017, showing them the reality of where the country was and what it meant to be sharing power with Republicans, finally caught up with them when they were primaried,” Figueroa said, “When they experienced rejection in their own districts, then they decided that it was time to try to figure out how to come back.”

The terms of the deal were also unacceptable, he said, noting that the former IDC members insisted on funding their campaigns with money raised with the Independence Party through the Senate Independence Campaign Committee (SICC), which received contributions from donors more friendly to Republican causes, such as real estate and charter school interests. (The committee was recently ruled by a judge to be illegal and the IDC members were directed by a Board of Elections official to return millions in campaign funds they had received, though they have refused to do so, while they took steps to get the SICC into compliance.)

“Even when they accepted the offer, they kept the [SICC] money and they demanded what cannot be demanded, which is that everybody bow to their leadership and ignore their opponents,” Figueroa said. “So to me, this was already set to fail, unfortunately,...because of the attitude and arrogance of the head of the IDC and his minions in the conference.”

He continued, “The roots of division were very, very deep and had they behaved in a different way, had they refunded the money, had they taken the attitude that they have to talk to voters, they have to talk to people in the district like we asked Klein to do with our members, had they been more humble, maybe they could have avoided the ferocity of the opposition. But they didn’t do that. They felt that institutional politics protects them and now they’re paying the price.”

Endorsing Biaggi was an easy calculation for the union. Klein refused to be interviewed by its screening committee, which then unanimously voted for Biaggi, Figueroa said.

Biaggi said the union’s support was “incredibly massive,” touting shared values and the union’s organizing efforts around progressive legislation in the state. “They were also the first union to come out and support me before any other union, and that’s something that I will absolutely never forget. It is incredibly politically courageous,” she said.

The union had already committed to hitting the ground for Biaggi, traversing the district to knock on doors and canvass for votes. Then, just over a month after their endorsement of Biaggi, Klein pulled a stunt that left Figueroa “perplexed.”

The senator hosted about a dozen rank-and-file members of Figueroa’s union and posted a video to Twitter in which they held up signs for his campaign and chanted, “32BJ!” In a subsequent tweet, Klein wrote, “These are the doormen, the superintendents, maintenance staff and security companies in our building and our public schools, who provide clean and safe environments for our families. This is a testament to loyalty, and I am truly honored by the rank and file support of @32BJSEIU.”

“[It] doesn’t mean anything except that it revealed one of the personality flaws that we find in Klein - the vanity, the arrogance of doing that is really innovative and unique,” Figueroa said, having never experienced a candidate attempting to project support that he does not have from the union’s majority and endorsement vote. “And it’s that style of politics that we have to reject at this time. The politics of confusion and the politics of divisiveness and the politics of deceiving the electorate, which is what has been the trademark of Jeff Klein and the IDC. That only energized us more to support Biaggi.”

The move also annoyed many union members and the next day, Figueroa said, 109 members volunteered to assist the effort behind Biaggi’s candidacy. They went to the Bronx in a show of force.

Biaggi said the move was of a piece with Klein’s career, that he was attempting to fool voters just as he had done for years as part of the IDC, misleading “all of the voters of District 34 into thinking that they were voting for a Democrat when they were really voting for someone who was empowering Republicans. And now he’s trying to pretend that he has a union that did not endorse him...I would never in my wildest dreams do that. It kind of reduces his credibility as a leader.” (City & State reported that, in late August, Klein’s campaign also sent a letter to constituents that made a few misleading claims about his record.)

A spokesperson did not respond to a request for an interview with Klein for this article, and he has declined multiple Gotham Gazette invitations to make radio show appearances, though he has participated in at least two debates with Biaggi and other candidate forums.

In one of the debates, hosted by BronxTalk, Klein downplayed the IDC’s role in empowering Republicans while touting its record passing progressive legislation including raising the age of criminal responsibility and a phased $15 minimum wage program. Klein said his opponent was playing “fast and loose” with the facts and he insisted that the IDC couldn’t have given Democrats a majority since the 32nd vote that gave Republicans control over the 63-member chamber came from Simcha Felder, a conservative Democrat from Brooklyn. That continues to be the case, which is why Democrats are hoping to notch victories in several swing districts outside New York City in November, while some eye unseating Brooklyn Republican Senator Marty Golden and others, including 32BJ, support Blake Morris in his primary challenge to Felder.

Klein insisted the IDC was a creation of necessity, pointing to the last time the Democrats won a majority in 2008. “The minute we won that majority, it was all downhill -- corruption, dysfunction,” he said, pointing to four Democratic state Senators who had attempted their own independent faction that year which plunged the chamber into chaos. “I originally decided to run for the state Senate to make sure we had a Democratic majority. And over the years, even though there wasn’t a Democratic majority, I was able to get a lot of things done,” Klein said in his closing statement.

A Democratic consultant who lives in the district and requested anonymity to speak freely said Klein’s move to court union members made sense. “I can see it as a viable tactic by an elected official like Jeff Klein to have public meetings with union members even if he didn’t get support from their leadership,” the consultant said.

Klein may not have 32BJ’s backing, but he does have a whole host of unions, some very powerful ones, that want to see him reelected including 1199 SEIU, DC37, the Hotel Trades Council, TWU Local 100, RWDSU, and several law enforcement unions. Klein has also raised and spent much more money than his challenger.

“I am still the underdog in this race,” Biaggi acknowledged, “which means that I have double the amount of work that I have to do to make sure that people know who I am, that people understand what this race is about and what's at stake for really everyone in New York and why it’s so important for our community to actually have a real Democrat representing them.”

Besides the hundreds of volunteers that 32BJ has put into the ground game week after week, the union has also put money behind Biaggi. It donated $7,000 to her campaign and its independent expenditure committee, Empire State 32BJ SEIU PAC, had spent $75,938 to support her campaign through mailers and social media through the most recent filing. Figueroa also signalled that more outside spending was on the way, and the PAC’s latest financial disclosure to the Board of Elections shows $43,861 in outstanding liabilities for expenditures both in favor of Biaggi and opposing Klein.

Biaggi herself has raised more than $504,000 over the course of the race, and has, so far, spent $184,000, which pales in comparison to Klein’s campaign finances, but left her a solid chunk, with more surely coming in, to spend in the final 10 days of the race. In just this two-year cycle, however, the incumbent senator has raised $1.66 million and spent almost $2.4 million, dropping $836,000 in just three weeks in August. While Biaggi had about $263,000 in cash on hand, Klein had nearly $960,000 in the bank for the final stretch.

The Democratic consultant said there has been an “insane amount of mail” going out from both campaigns and their surrogates. “At least one piece a week,” the consultant said. On the ground, the campaigns seem to have split the district in their approach, the consultant said. Klein’s campaign seems focused on holding his home turf in the east, in Morris Park and Wakefield, while Biaggi campaign workers have been hitting the ground hard in the west side of the district, in Riverdale, Van Cortlandt and Kingsbridge. “The farther west you go, prime voters are not getting door-knocked at all by Klein’s people,” the consultant said.

[Read: Candidates in Contested State Senate Primaries File Final Pre-Primary Financials]

Biaggi said Klein’s outsize spending on the race is a clear signal of weakness. “It says that he is not certain that he’s going to win and that sends a signal to everybody who has supported him previously to say, am I on the right side of this?”

stringer biaggiSeveral Democratic elected officials have also declared for Biaggi, including U.S. Senator from New York Kirsten Gillibrand, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Comptroller Scott Stringer (pictured with Biaggi), Congressional candidate and progressive rising star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (whom 32BJ did not endorse in her primary win), former Mayor David Dinkins, Congressional Reps. Jerrold Nadler and Carolyn Maloney, and City Council Members Brad Lander, Ben Kallos and Carlina Rivera, Mt. Vernon City Council President Lisa Copeland, Catherine Parker, the majority leader of the Westchester County Board of Legislators, among others. The Working Families Party has also endorsed her and is providing similar on-ground support like 32BJ. 

Biaggi was also among four Senate candidates to receive the coveted endorsement of the New York Times editorial board, which wrote, “Alessandra Biaggi, who describes herself pointedly as ‘a real Democrat,’ is the kind of smart, dedicated reformer so desperately needed in Albany.” Biaggi was subsequently endorsed by the New York Daily News editorial board.

A side effect of 32BJ’s mobilization in the district, which is home to 6,000 of its members, said Figueroa, is a new awakening about the local issues and community that is unlikely to fade even if Klein retains his seat. “This is a district where we’re gonna be setting roots for years to come,” he said.

“We have seen the process be hijacked year after year to put a break on what could effectively be the most progressive legislature in the country,” he added. “That is really what is behind the dynamics of this race. And that is only growing. If people feel that somehow if Klein wins, the opposition will go away, they are making a big mistake.”

The next challenge is getting people to turn out to vote on a Thursday. “I am feeling great, I am feeling excited, I’m feeling motivated,” Biaggi said exactly one week before the September 13 primary. “I’m feeling that this next week is going to be incredibly critical to making sure that everybody gets out to vote, that is my number one goal for the next seven days.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note - This article has been updated to note that Alessandra Biaggi has also been endorsed by the Working Families Party. 

Max & Murphy Podcast: Final Days of the Lieutenant Governor Primary

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

September 5, 2018 - Final Days of the Lieutenant Governor Primary between Kathy Hochul & Jumaane Williams

podcast hocul williams 277Just eight days before their Democratic primary for Lieutenant Governor will (most likely) be decided by voters, incumbent Kathy Hochul and challenger Jumaane Williams joined the show to discuss their candidacies and the race.

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

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

In Brooklyn, Blake Morris Tries to Upend the State Senate Power Balance All By Himself

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Blake Morris (photo: @BlakeMorris4NYS)

The race for control of the New York State Senate is again this year a key touchstone of a state election cycle, but before the November general election that will determine whether Democrats can win a majority from Republicans, and thus control both houses of the Legislature, there is a series of competitive primaries on the Democratic side that will be decided September 13.

Among them are eight races in which incumbents -- former members of the now-defunct Independent Democratic Conference -- are being challenged, mostly by young progressives, despite a “unity deal” fostered earlier this year by Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, whereby the rogue conference returned to the mainline Democratic fold, leaving the Democrats just one seat shy of a 32-member majority in the 63-seat chamber.

And while those eight races, including six in New York City districts, have offered immense intrigue and garnered a great deal of attention, it’s unlikely that any of them will actually affect which party controls the Senate at the start of the next legislative session in January (though the challengers and some other Democrats say they do not trust the former IDC members to stay true to their Democratic colleagues).

More clearly relevant to party control of the upper chamber (the Assembly is a Democratic stronghold and will remain such), is a primary in Brooklyn where an incumbent Democratic senator who has been part of the Republican conference, giving it a one-seat edge in recent years, is being challenged in the primary.

Senator Simcha Felder, who since 2012 has run as a Democrat but caucused with Republicans, while also running on the Republican line in 2016, has ensured the Republican majority, which was bolstered by the IDC. Felder ran in 2012 after that year’s redistricting made the 17th a heavily-Orthodox Jewish district essentially for Felder’s taking; that year, Felder, who had left the City Council in 2010, soundly defeated 21-year-old Abraham Tischler in the primary and then defeated Republican David Storobin, who briefly held the seat the year prior to the redistricting. Felder also ran on the Conservative Party line that year.

If he wins the Democratic primary, where he is being challenged by Blake Morris, Felder is likely to take the Republican nomination again this year. In the general election he would face Luis Rivera, who is running on the Reform Party ticket.

Felder has not faced any serious opposition since 2012.

But Morris, who is running to Felder’s left as a “real Democrat,” emphasizing Felder’s alliance with Republicans and its impact on New Yorkers, has significant backing from progressive groups, including the Working Families Party, Our Revolution, and Citizen Action, as well as 32BJ SEIU, the property services workers union.

Morris’ campaign has drawn much less media attention and funding, and fewer endorsements from Democratic elected officials, than most of the IDC challengers. Morris says this is because the party “establishment” is afraid of him.

“Elected Democrats are scared,” Morris told Gotham Gazette in an extensive interview covering his position on a wide variety of topics, including controversy over the education provided by Orthodox Jewish yeshivas, the fight for school speed cameras, Felder’s record, Republicans, Democrats, the State Senate, the diverse priorities of the district, and how Thomas Edison sued his family out of business a century ago.

Felder, an Orthodox Jew whose district, allegedly drawn for him in 2012, has a large Orthodox population, has been a lightning rod of controversy throughout his tenure in both the City Council and, since 2013, the State Senate. He has recently drawn Cuomo’s ire, though there is some evidence Cuomo has been happy with a Republican Senate majority, and that of the former members of the IDC. Senator Jeff Klein, the leader of the IDC, has stated repeatedly on the campaign trail and in debates that the Republican majority in the Senate was propped up only by Felder, and not by the IDC -- an argument that is only partially true.

In choosing to remain with the Republicans even after the IDC unity deal, Felder cast his decision as one made for the sake of bipartisanship and the institution of the Senate, while he has long insisted that his top priority is delivering for his constituents, even indicating that his party allegiance is available to the highest bidder.

“Political gamesmanship must not be allowed to jeopardize the leadership, committee structure and staff of the New York State Senate and push this institution into turmoil,” Felder said in April, according to the New York Times, just after Cuomo brokered the post-budget unity deal and there were questions about whether Felder might be persuaded to cross the aisle for the rest of the legislative session.

Prior to the April unity deal, Felder appeared ready to hold up the state budget in order to loosen oversight of yeshivas, the Jewish religious schools, many of which have been accused of failing to provide basic secular education to their students, by diluting state “equivalence” standards for non-public schools. This occurred amid a New York City investigation into the yeshivas that has been thrown into some uncertainty based on the new state laws that Felder achieved.

While Felder partially succeeded, the State Education Commissioner also gained new oversight capabilities over the schools. The yeshiva issue has continued to cause controversy throughout the political season. Felder, as chair of the Senate’s Cities Committee, has also shouldered much blame for the lapse of the city’s school speed camera program, which had been approved by the state, but after expiring was reinstated via an executive order from Governor Cuomo and new City Council legislation. Felder was also one of the loudest voices in opposition to implementing a plastic bag fee in New York City, pushing the state to supercede a city law, much to the consternation of his colleagues in city government.

While he’s better known outside the district for what he’s blocked than for what he’s passed, Felder’s politics have been described as “transactional” on behalf of his Orthodox voting base. In the City Council, he opposed same-sex marriage but voted for Christine Quinn, who is gay, as Speaker. In the Senate, Felder’s alliance with the Republicans has given him, and the community he represents, outsize power in Albany. One of his most notable legislative achievements was securing state-funded “door-to-door” private busing for yeshiva students, amounting to a $42 million community investment.

felderFelder (pictured) declined to be interviewed for this story; his spokesperson said he is not doing interviews.

Morris, a contract and property lawyer whose resume includes volunteer work with Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, a group opposed to the construction of the Atlantic Yards project, told Gotham Gazette that he never intended to run for office, much less Felder’s seat. In 2016, after four years of Felder’s alliance with Republicans and two consecutive elections where Felder was uncontested, Morris was an original member of a new activist group called “NYSD 17 for Progress,” which formed in early 2017 to push for progressive action in state and local government, educating district residents on civic matters and registering voters. Its members appeared interested in a candidate to oppose Felder.

Morris said that he is a “reluctant candidate” and that being a candidate was “absolutely not” his first choice; he said he spent considerable time trying to find someone else to run against Felder. He, and others in his orbit, were expecting Felder, who joined the Republican caucus immediately after his election, to face a Democratic primary challenge in 2014 and 2016. In neither election did Felder face one, however, and so Morris decided to run.

“The concept of actually being the horse was never in my mind,” Morris said. “If it was, I would’ve done this a long time ago.”

Morris captured the special impact his own victory would have, saying that, unlike the IDC races, he could decisively flip the State Senate to Democrats.

"On November 6, when I win the general election, I've already done the major thing,” Morris told Gotham Gazette, forecasting victory. “I hope to do a lot more, but the first big major thing I'm going to do is just by winning the election. Because once I win the election, the Senate gets flipped."

“My election would change everything in New York State,” he said, noting that it would solidify Democratic control. Morris’ analysis does not, of course, take into account that there are at least a handful of swing Senate districts that will be determined in November, potentially complicating the notion that the Felder seat is all-determinative.

“Everyone has a long story of what they’re gonna do for the public when they’re elected,” he said, referring to the reaction to his pitch that Democratic clubs have at endorsement meetings. “No one ever just says their election changes everything.”

Morris' take also does not acknowledge the likely long odds in unseating Felder, though there’s minimal data to assess the race other than the fact that incumbents have extremely high reelection rates. While there has clearly been an awakening among many Democrats, new activists who are backing the IDC challengers, Morris, and others, it is unclear how much power there is behind the Morris campaign.

Soon after Morris entered the race, Felder brought a lawsuit aiming to kick him off the ballot, on the grounds that Morris’s nomination papers, and his name on the ballot, appeared as his middle name Blake, instead of real first name Lawrence. Morris got the suit tossed, and connects the fairly common practice to a broader critique of Felder.

“He doesn’t have any ideology, he doesn’t have any pragmatism. It’s just all extortion. He just holds things up and extorts people,” Morris said. “And so that’s what happened in court, and that’s they thought they were gonna do, they were gonna take my time and money, my campaign money, and extort me in court on a pointless lawsuit.”

As such, the State Democratic Party has abandoned Felder and has pinned its hopes on Morris, as has the Working Families Party, despite Morris’s assertion that those Democrats in power are “scared” of his victory, and a unified Democratic government.

Morris, 56, was born in Pennsylvania, the son of a traveling salesman, and has lived in Ditmas Park for 20 years, he said. He has practiced law for 30 years, and has recently become something of a political activist and good government advocate.

In April, Morris won a lawsuit ordering the State Senate to disclose its guidelines for how taxpayer-funded mailers were distributed, which Morris claimed were significantly weighted to favor certain members, such as Felder. Morris claimed that the disparity in discretionary mailer budgets among senators ranged from $500 to $100,000. The Senate appealed, and the matter is currently pending.

Morris described the mailer controversy as an “incumbency protection program” and “discreet corruption,” the latter referring to micro, “everyday” corruption occurring within the statehouse versus actions that can land politicians in prison.

Morris said that his several months of campaigning have left him optimistic.

“I’ve never met a Democratic-voter Felder-supporter,” he said. “I’ve met Republicans who are Felder supporters.”

Of the Democratic primary voters he meets, he splits them into two groups, but the end result is the same, he said.

“There’s groups who know me and there’s groups that don’t know me,” Morris said. “The groups that know me, those are the people who walk up to me and they say ‘thank you for running, you’re saving us.’ So that’s the level of support, people say ‘thank you, I have been waiting six years for someone to run, you’re saving me.” In contrast, the groups that don’t know Morris, according to him, give him their support essentially blindly when he says he’s running against Felder. “I don’t know who you are, you have my vote. I hope you’re a good guy, because I’m voting for you.”

The Morris campaign told Gotham Gazette that the district is “very diverse,” a statement contradicted by Steve Romalewski, Director of the CUNY Mapping Service at the Center for Urban Research. The data provided to Gotham Gazette by the Morris campaign, compiled on Statistical Atlas and based on U.S. Census data, showed the district at 65.5 percent white, but Romalewski noted that the share of the voting age population that’s white is nearly 73 percent.

“Based on the data I wouldn’t describe the district as ‘highly diverse,’” Romalewski said in an email. “It has some diversity, and I’m sure even within the white population there is diversity...But the core of the district is overwhelmingly white.”

While Morris’ assertion that the district is diverse may not hold up to scrutiny, he wants to change its composition regardless. In 2012, District 17 was gerrymandered, in his view, to specifically empower, and represent the interests of, Borough Park over neighboring communities such as Midwood, Bensonhurst, and Sunset Park.

“All the districts need to be redrawn,” Morris said, arguing that the 2012 redistricting had systematically benefitted Republicans by under-populating upstate districts and over-populating downstate ones; he said the average district upstate, which he defined as north of Bear Mountain Bridge in northwestern Westchester County, has 300,000 people, while the average downstate one, including District 17, has 325,000, a finding largely consistent with an analysis of the 2012 redistricting by the CUNY Center for Urban Research.

The 2012 redistricting process has been widely criticized as a questionable deal among Cuomo and legislative leaders that helped solidify the Democratic Assembly majority and the Republican Senate majority. A new redistricting process, approved by voters in 2014, will be in effect for the next redrawing, in 2022, after the upcoming Census.

The district also has a sizable Asian population, with 18.7 percent identifying as Asian according to U.S. Census data. The Asian sections of the district also contain high proportions of immigrants, according to a comparison of the district map with the City’s 2013 “Newest New Yorkers” report. The only sections of the district with sizable non-white populations, the ones overlapping Assembly Districts 49 and 51, saw very low voter turnout in the 2012 primary, with just 164 and 356 votes cast, respectively, according to the City Board of Elections. The Morris campaign described the district as 60 percent Jewish, with two-thirds of that 60 percent being Orthodox, with a significant ultra-Orthodox population.

Morris firmly believes that the diversity of the district can power him to victory, dispelling the image of the district as a homogenous Orthodox community.

To prevent himself from being two-faced in appealing to both liberal voters and to more conservative Orthodox voters in Borough Park, Morris says that he tries not to mince words.

“I tell them the truth. I say the 17th Senate District is much larger than Borough Park,” he said.

Perhaps the most salient issue in the district beyond Felder himself, that of the investigation into yeshivas accused of failing to educate students according to state law, is a sticking point for Morris, and one he believes distinguishes him from Felder. While Felder helped lead a watering down of the oversight laws, and New York City officials slow-walked an investigation into the yeshivas of whether they are providing the mandated “substantially equivalent” secular education to public schools, Morris called it a “yeshiva dog-and-pony show.”

Morris said Felder “worked mischief” but unintentionally provided the State Education Commissioner with new authority to unilaterally withhold state funds from yeshivas that are deemed to be inadequately educating children.

While yeshivas are classified under the constitutional category of “non-public” education, the state still provides resources to yeshiva students in the form of transportation, building maintenance, and textbooks. If a school is found to be deficiently educating students, the commissioner can recommend that the comptroller not disburse funds to those schools.

Morris believes that, per a letter from New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, the yeshivas that recently turned away city Department of Education inspectors should have their funds withheld, and that the new “status quo” of the commissioner, rather than district superintendents, being able to make recommendations to the comptroller should be maintained.

“I don’t think the district superintendent, which is the mayor, I don’t think the mayor ever asked the state superintendent, as a referral, to suspend payments to the schools that would not let them in,” Morris said. “And that is what should’ve happened. And my suspicion is, being a contract disputes attorney for over 30 years, my suspicion is that when these schools were ordered, got the letter saying that their payments from the state were gonna be suspended, they might’ve opened the door.”

Morris differentiated himself from Felder in yet another way, by pointing out the differences in their campaign contributions. According to the State Board of Elections, Morris has not taken any corporate donations, and has taken few non-individual donations. These include $5,000 from 32BJ, $3,500 in in-kind contributions from the State Democratic Committee, and $1,000 from the Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats. He has raised $91,500 from 769 donations as of the September filing.

For Felder, meanwhile, 138 out of his 240 donations since January 2017 have been from non-individual donors, including several real estate LLCs, the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), charter school advocates, and $11,000 from “Friends of John Flanagan,” the committee controlled by the Republican Senate majority leader. Only 12 donations were under $200, with a total of 40 of $250 or less.

“Felder runs around saying ‘oh, look at my community, you know, I support my community.’ He never uses the word ‘district,’ he never says the word ‘district,’” Morris said. “And he never uses the word ‘constituents,’ he always talks about ‘my community.’ And, for the longest time, I’ve been always saying, we don’t know what his community is because we can’t figure out who he’s representing. And then you look at his financial disclosure, and now you find out his community. His community’s REBNY, it’s John Flanagan, it’s the corrections union, troopers’ union, it’s the PBA. It’s nursing homes, it’s bus companies with state contracts -- basically special interests with loaded state contracts. And the real estate lobby.”

Though Morris has steered clear of corporate donations, he did not rule out accepting them, saying that if a “masochist” real estate company decided to donate to him, despite his policy preferences, he wouldn’t decline the donation.

Morris also said the school speed camera program and establishment of a single-payer healthcare system were key issues for the district he hopes to represent. On his website, Morris’ policy objectives include building the TriboroRX subway line connecting the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn, passing GENDA, implementing early-voting and no-excuse absentee voting, building protected bike lanes, public financing of state elections, and expanding rent stabilization. Though Morris has embraced the mantle of “real” Democrat and is largely in-line with the IDC challengers, he told Gotham Gazette that he not a “handicapper” in saying that he would not publicly endorse either Cuomo or Cynthia Nixon for governor.

As for Morris’ family feud with Thomas Edison, it derives from events of a century ago. Morris’ mother’s family, “known for their steady hands,” was at the apex of the hand-cranked motion projector industry, contracting themselves out to New York City movie theaters to hand-crank the projectors.

“But then Thomas Edison put them all out of business with the electric motor for motion picture projectors,” Morris said, noting that Edison invented a stable electric motor that wouldn’t spark and cause the highly flammable film stock to catch fire.

Afterwards, the family started selling light bulbs without a license; Edison sued them for patent infringement.

by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: this article has been corrected to clarify Morris' role in SD17 for Progress and the organization's mission.

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