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Letitia James Launches Campaign for Attorney General

tish ag kickoff in bk sara valenzuela

Public Advocate Letitia James at her AG campaign kickoff (photo: @saritamanhattan)

New York City Public Advocate Letitia James officially launched her campaign for attorney general on Wednesday, seeking to make history as the first woman of color to serve as the state’s top legal officer.

James, who is serving her second and final term as public advocate, and is the first woman of color elected to a citywide position, is running in the Democratic primary to replace former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who resigned last week after facing allegations of physical abuse from four women with whom he was intimately involved. The position is being held in the interim by Barbara Underwood, who was solicitor general under Schneiderman and his predecessor, now-Governor Andrew Cuomo, while the state Legislature is assessing a slate of candidates, including Underwood, from which they will select an appointee to serve the rest of the term.

The Democratic primary for attorney general and other state-level positions is September 13.

James was seen as the frontrunner for the position even before the Legislature began its selection process, but amid outcry for Underwood to keep the position and against any backroom deals, she declined to seek the appointment and decided instead to only compete in the election. From a dais at the Brooklyn Historical Society on Wednesday, flanked by labor leaders and several members of the New York City Council, where she once served, James spoke of the inspiration she draws from legal stalwarts like Barbara Jordan and Thurgood Marshall, and made the opening pitch her candidacy.

“I was taught at Howard University that the law should be an instrument of change,” James said in humble tones, “that the law must be used as a vehicle to right wrongs.” She pledged to defend the state’s most vulnerable communities, touting her past work as a public defender for the Legal Aid Society and an an assistant attorney general, and her current role heading the office of the public advocate, where she has often used litigation to fight for tenant protections, for children with disabilities, and others, waging high-profile legal battles against the de Blasio administration and against predatory landlords.

James promised to “never, ever waver in my fight to uphold and defend your basic rights,” vowing to oppose any harmful policies imposed by the federal government.

There are no other declared Democratic candidates for the fall election at this time. The state party will hold its nominating convention next week, at which James is expected to at least earn a place on the ballot, if not the party’s official backing. James has a strong base of support in New York City, including from the labor unions that immediately endorsed her and others likely to follow, but she will need to expand her reach outside the five boroughs to win statewide, both in the primary and what is likely to be a more competitive general election than she has ever faced in heavily Democratic New York City. She’ll also need to raise a significant sum of money quickly, which could be helped if she wins the backing of Cuomo, a prodigious fundraiser with deep ties to wealthy donors and seeking a third term this fall.

Although James said in her speech that she tends “not to be about politics,” the politics of the race were nonetheless inescapable. The New York Times reported earlier this week that James was telling supporters that Governor Andrew Cuomo and his allies were pushing her to refuse the nomination of the Working Families Party, a prominent smaller political party with a progressive base, or risk losing his support. The governor, who is known for his strong-arm tactics and has clashed with the WFP, which is backing his primary challenger, Cynthia Nixon, denied making the overtures.

On Wednesday morning, James’ campaign indicated she will not seek the endorsement of the WFP, saying that she is focused on winning the Democratic nomination, though she has sought and earned both parties’ support in the past (James was first elected to office in 2003 as a City Council member solely on the WFP line). The declaration sparked a rebuke of Cuomo from the WFP.

“It is nothing short of outrageous to see Andrew Cuomo demand Tish James jump through hoops that he would never ask a white man to do,” four WFP leaders said in a statement that included further attacks on the governor, who had the WFP’s backing in his 2010 and 2014 gubernatorial campaigns.

Asked repeatedly by reporters about eschewing the WFP after her launch announcement, James said, “My focus has been on securing the Democratic nomination and I’ve been working from sunup to sundown securing that nomination.” She also denied that pressure from the governor had played a part in her decision not to seek the WFP’s backing. “I’m an independent individual, I’ve always been an independent individual, and if you know anything about me you can rest assured that no one's going to bully me, no one's going to threaten me and no one's going to hold anything over my head.”

The Democratic nominating convention will be held next week, while the WFP nominees are expected to be announced this weekend at its own convention. The party is already behind Nixon for governor and City Council Member Jumaane Williams for Lieutenant Governor. It is also backing Comptroller Tom DiNapoli for reelection.

Zephyr Teachout, a law professor who unsuccessfully challenged Cuomo in the Democratic primary four years ago, told Gotham Gazette on Wednesday that she is seeking the WFP nomination for attorney general and that she also plans to appear on the Democratic primary ballot for the position, a spot she will either earn through a vote at the convention next week or through collecting enough ballot petition signatures around the state. Teachout, who is not officially running for AG yet, is currently Nixon’s campaign treasurer, an arrangement that may change if she officially declares her candidacy for attorney general.

James’ announcement was backed by the forceful endorsements of three labor unions: the New York State Nurses Association, Communications Workers of America Local 1180; and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. “Tish James listens to every voice and fights for those without a place at the table. She doesn’t preach. She acts,” said Gloria Middleton, president of CWA Local 1180.

Former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito also showed her support to the public advocate, standing on stage along with current City Council Members Laurie Cumbo, Alicka Ampry-Samuel, Andrew King, Mark Levine, Robert Cornegy, and Justin Brannan.

“[James’] whole public experience has been about utilizing the law to really right wrongs and to create equity,” Mark-Viverito told Gotham Gazette. “So this particular time when we have such an affront to our democracy by the Trump administration, this attorney general position is critical in us pushing back.”

She said James would be a “standard bearer of equity and justice” and said it’s “way overdue” that a woman serves as attorney general. “I think it’s critical,” she said. “Gender does matter, and representation at all levels. We have a diverse state, a diverse city. So government needs to be truly reflective of those experiences and that reality.”

While James is the first to officially jump into the primary race and Teachout appears close, several other possible AG candidates are possible. Democratic State Senator Michael Gianaris has said he’s considering a run, as has Congressional Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, also a Democrat. Former United States Attorney Preet Bharara has not ruled it out when making public comments. While Bharara is a Democrat, Bloomberg News reported he may run for AG as an independent. The only declared Republican in the race is attorney Manny Alicandro, though others are said to be considering a run given Schneiderman’s resignation.

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed reporting.

Exploring Attorney General Run, Zephyr Teachout Pursues Working Families Nomination, Democratic Ballot Line

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Zephyr Teachout at an anti-IDC rally (photo: Ben Max)

The recent resignation of former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sent shockwaves through the New York political world, and with just six months until New Yorkers elect a new attorney general in November, it sent potential candidates scrambling. Political party nominations are being decided, ballot spots must be secured, and party primaries are September 13.

Soon after Schneiderman’s departure amid accusations that he was physically abusive of four women he had been in romantic relationships with, according to reporting by The New Yorker, several individuals expressed interest in becoming attorney general.

One is Zephyr Teachout, the law professor who challenged Governor Andrew Cuomo from the left in the 2014 Democratic gubernatorial primary, who quickly said she was forming an exploratory committee. Among other moves, Teachout sent out e-blasts to her supporters asking if they want her to run and used her Twitter account to discuss her resume and the role of attorney general. Currently the campaign treasurer for Cuomo’s leading 2018 primary opponent, Cynthia Nixon, Teachout even had a logo mocked up for her potential attorney general run.

On Wednesday, Teachout told Gotham Gazette that she has submitted her name for consideration by the Working Families Party, which is holding its nominating convention this weekend in Manhattan, and that she will be pursuing enough support at next week’s State Democratic Party convention to secure a ballot line.

On the same day that New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, a Democrat, formally announced her candidacy for attorney general, Teachout also indicated that she’s prepared to collect enough petition signatures to compete in the Democratic primary if she does not meet the threshold at the party convention.

"I'll be making a decision fairly shortly," Teachout told Gotham Gazette about whether she will indeed seek the statewide office that is New York’s chief legal officer. "I'm grateful for the incredible response I've gotten from people I know from different aspects of my work: anti-corruption work, antitrust work, Trump work,” she said. “It's been really wonderful to get this kind of support."

"I submitted my name to be considered,” she said of the Working Families Party, which came close to backing her against Cuomo in 2014, but went with the governor after he agreed to a series of policy and political goals that he mostly did not follow through on. “I'm planning to be at the convention on Saturday," she added.

It is not clear who else is seeking the WFP nomination for attorney general -- a spokesperson for the party did not respond to an inquiry for the list.

"I plan to seek the Democratic Party threshold to get on the ballot, and I'll be at the convention next week,” Teachout also said. “One of the most important things that I think can bring Democrats together is that the next AG can lead the fight against the Trump administration's lawlessness."

As Teachout has pointed out, her past and current work is suited toward continuing some of the attorney general office’s most high-profile litigation against the Trump administration, something Schneiderman had made a top priority and is being continued by interim Attorney General Barbara Underwood, formerly solicitor general, who is seeking a legislative appointment to stay in the role through at least Election Day, if not the end of the year, but is not planning to run for election.

When announcing her exploratory committee on Twitter, Teachout said, “The next Attorney General of New York should be an independent fighter and a voice for the people, ready to take on corruption and lawlessness at the highest pinnacles of power” and “ready to investigate corruption in Albany, in real estate, and on Wall Street.”

She touted resume items such as “writing about and fighting corruption my entire career,” working as a death penalty defense lawyer, pushing for stronger antitrust enforcement and prosecution of financial crimes, being “the first national director of the Sunlight Foundation,” and her work as a professor at Fordham Law School.

Teachout has received public support from a number of progressives with significant followings or resumes, including Professor Laurence Tribe, and several liberal New York activists. 

“I have a great exploratory team--Tim Tagaris and Hector Sigala from Bernie's digital juggernaut, BrownMiller Group; ALG Research; Putnam Partners (whose past clients include Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Kamala Harris' AG race),” she tweeted.

Notably, BrownMiller is the firm that in 2013 “ran the petition drive that placed Eliot Spitzer on the ballot with over 27,000 signatures in just four days,” as its website states of the blitz that got the former governor on the Democratic primary ballot for the city comptroller race. That type of work would come in handy if Teachout needs to go the petition route to make the Democratic primary ballot again the state party nominee, which at this point is likely to be James, and possibly others.

The public advocate, whose first win of elected office was on the Working Families Party line in a 2003 City Council race, has indicated that she is not seeking the WFP nomination, apparently siding with Cuomo after the governor’s recent split with the party as it endorsed Nixon for governor after backing Cuomo in his 2010 and 2014 wins.

After her campaign kickoff event in Brooklyn on Wednesday, James declined to answer with specificity why she had made that choice, instead repeatedly stating that she is focused on winning the Democratic nomination. She did say that she is independent and not one to be bullied, though she did not explicitly state that Cuomo had not factored into the decision in some way.

Four leaders of the WFP put out a statement Wednesday morning accusing Cuomo of essentially forcing James to choose him and the Democratic Party apparatus that he controls over the WFP, even assigning racial and gender components to the alleged arm-twisting. The Cuomo campaign shot back in reciprocal fashion.

If Cuomo does support James’ candidacy, she will have significant advantages as she seeks to become the first woman of color elected New York attorney general. James has a solid base of support in New York City and the likely backing of many labor unions, three of which endorsed her at her launch, but she has never been a strong fund-raiser and is not well-known outside of the city.

Teachout, meanwhile, has some degree of name recognition and support outside the city after her 2014 gubernatorial run -- when she won 34 percent of the primary vote against Cuomo, largely by doing well upstate -- and her 2016 congressional run in the Hudson Valley, which she lost to Rep. John Faso, 54-46 percent.

As for her role with the Nixon campaign, Teachout did not directly answer on Wednesday whether she would step down as treasurer if she does formally throw her hat in the attorney general race. "I've been very clear about my support for Cynthia Nixon, but if she's governor and I'm attorney general, if there's anything within the AG's purview, even a whiff of corruption, I would pursue it,” Teachout said. “I'm a very independent person." But on Friday morning, Teachout told Gotham Gazette that she will indeed step down as Nixon campaign treasurer as she pursues an attorney general run.

[Related: Letitia James Launches Campaign for Attorney General]

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: this story has been updated with Teachout's decision on Friday to step down from the Nixon campaign as she explores an AG bid.

Max & Murphy Podcast: Stephanie Miner

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

May 15, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Stephanie Miner

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Since leaving office due to term limits, former Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner has been teaching at NYU Wagner School and deciding whether to challenge Governor Andrew Cuomo in the Democratic primary. She's still deciding, she said on the Max & Murphy podcast, while also outlining key aspects of her political career thus far, her assessment of what's broken in our politics, what it means to be "a romantic about government," her falling out with Cuomo, her assessment of Cynthia Nixon's candidacy, and more.

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

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, May 14

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

On Friday, state legislative leaders released the list of candidates who applied to be named Attorney General through a process that will include public hearings on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. The list of candidates includes current Attorney General Barbara Underwood, who took over upon Eric Schneiderman’s resignation:

Thomas J. Abinanti; Lloyd Constantine; Michael D. Diederich, Jr; Jose W. Fernandez; Nicole Gueron; Elizabeth Holtzman; Thomas E. Humbach; Doris Ling-Cohan; Daniel J. O’Donnell; Sean Patrick Maloney; Mina Quinto Malik; Leecia Roberta Eve; Jennifer P. Stergion; Barbara D. Underwood; David Yassky; Alex Zapesochny

“Interviews will be held by a bi-partisan, bicameral committee of the Legislature on Tuesday, May 15, 2018, beginning at 2:00 p.m. and Wednesday, May 16, 2018, beginning at 10:00 a.m. in the Hamilton Hearing Room B, Legislative Office Building in Albany. These interviews will be open to the public and will be available for live viewing on the New York State Assembly website...Candidates will be given the opportunity to make an opening statement and to answer questions from members of the committee in order to assess their qualifications for the position.”

The process is being led by Assembly Democrats. Senate Republicans have declined to participate, seemingly knowing that Democrats in the two chambers have enough votes to name their preferred candidate as AG through the end of this year and presumably not wanting the process to unfold and thus give an appointed person an advantage in this year’s election. Assemblymember Joseph Lentol is heading the interview committee, which also includes Assemblymembers Jeffrey Dinowitz, Crystal Peoples-Stokes; Matthew Titone; William Barclay and Brian Curran; and Senators Martin Dilan and Brad Hoylman.

Public Advocate Letitia James is among several big names who have expressed or are known to have interest in the position of Attorney General who are not participating in the legislature’s process. When James announced she would not be applying for the appointment, she said she would have more news this coming week about her future plans. Others who have also said they are considering jumping into this year’s electoral race or are rumored to be interested or have expressed some openness to considering it include Rep. Kathleen Rice, law professor Zephyr Teachout, Senator Michael Gianaris, former City Council Member Daniel Garodnick, former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, former de Blasio counsel Maya Wiley, and Senator Todd Kaminsky, among others.

That’s the headline of what to watch for this week, but there’s a lot more happening, including Governor Cuomo’s likely trip to Israel, Mayor de Blasio's trip to Washington, D.C., executive budget hearings continuing at the City Council, and more -- see our day-by-day rundown below.

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

The run of the week in detail:

“On Monday, Mayor de Blasio will attend the viewing for NYPD Sergeant Richard Wetzel. This event is closed press. Later, the Mayor will appear on NY1’s Inside City Hall,” in the 7 and 11 p.m. hours.

At 2 p.m. Monday, Governor Cuomo will make an announcement from his Manhattan office. In the evening, Cuomo will deliver remarks at the New York League of Conservation Voters' annual gala in Manhattan.

The New York State Legislature will be in session on Monday in Albany.

On Monday morning, the New York Working Families Party announced it is starting to vet candidates for Attorney General "and plans to make an endorsement at the WFP's Convention on Saturday, May 19th at First Corinthian Baptist Church...The WFP believes that New York needs an independent Attorney General who will be unafraid to stand up to the powerful and investigate Donald Trump and Wall Street crime, and will restore public integrity."

At the City Council on Monday, the following committees will hold Executive Budget hearings:
--Public Safety at 10 a.m., regarding the NYPD.
--Justice System at 1 p.m., regarding District Attorneys and the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice.
--Housing and Buildings at 2:30 p.m., regarding the Department of Housing Preservation & Development and the Department of Buildings.

At 10 a.m. Monday in Bushwick at NYCHA Hope Gardens, “Council Member Rafael Espinal (D37- Bushwick, Cypress Hills, East New York) joins NYCHA tenants who are leaders of Metro Industrial Areas Foundation and faith leaders to commend Mayor de Blasio’s administration on their commitment to build affordable housing on underused NYCHA property. The coalition is hoping this site will be the model for the next 200 lots they have identified as viable for similar uses.” The “lot at Hope Gardens is among the first of three projects slated to be used for affordable senior housing. An RFP for the development has gone out; the property will be officially revealed by the advocates for the first time at Monday’s press conference.”

At 10 a.m. Monday at City Hall, "Food delivery workers will be joined by advocates from Asian American Federation, Biking Public Project, Transportation Alternatives, Make the Road New York, Legal Aid Society, Council Member Carlos Menchaca, Council Member Margaret Chin, and other elected officials to demand revisions to the Department of Transportation (DOT) rule clarifying the legality of pedal-assist electric bicycles (“e-bikes”), and changes to the current NYPD practice of punishing food delivery workers." Participants will include food delivery workers, City Council Members Margaret Chin and Carlos Menchaca; Asian American Federation; Biking Public Project; Transportation Alternatives; Make the Road New York; The Legal Aid Society; and other elected officials.

On Monday at noon at City Hall, “City Council Health Chair Mark Levine will be joined by colleagues and advocates to call on the City to increase Tuberculosis (TB) funding for the City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) Bureau of Tuberculosis Control (BTBC). TB is a communicable airborne disease and the leading infectious killer worldwide. In 2017, there were 613 new TB cases in NYC, a 10 percent increase. This marked the city’s first increase since 2003 and its largest since 1993...Over the past 10 years, federal, state and city funding for TB has been cut by more than half, dropping from $29 million in 2007 to $14.7 million in 2017, with only $8.6M of that coming from the City.” Levine will be joined by City Council Finance Chair Daniel Dromm, among others.

At noon on Monday, “Community Service Society and Riders Alliance's Grassroots Fair Fares leaders representing an unprecedented coalition of transit, anti-poverty, civil rights and racial justice organizations” will be at the 125th Street subway station in Harlem “engaging subway riders to call Mayor Bill de Blasio's office, get on the record in support of Fair Fares, and ask their mayor to join the cause in this year's city budget.”

On Monday at 2 p.m., City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez and taxi drivers "will be calling for a amnesty for fines of taxi drivers in New York City, this measure would benefit a large percentage of taxi drivers, who have pending payments totaling between $2 and $3 million and who do not have fines on major safety violations."

At noon Monday, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul will deliver remarks at the Laborers' International Union of North America Conference, Albany Capital Center. At 6:30 p.m., Hochul will attend the Fortune Most Powerful Women Event, at Time Warner Conference Center in Columbus Circle.

"The Queens Borough Board, chaired by Borough President Melinda Katz, will hear a presentation from the New York City Department of City Planning (DCP) on its proposed M1 Hotel Text Amendment during the Board’s meeting on Monday, May 14, 2018 at 5:30 PM in Queens Borough Hall."

Monday evening is the annual League of Conservation Voters gala, in Manhattan. Gubernatorial candidate Marc Molinaro will be among those in attendance. As mentioned, Governor Cuomo will deliver keynote remarks.

On Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. at City Hall, Rev. Al Sharpton and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson will lead a press conference to "call for the legalization and decriminalization of marijuana in the wake of published reports regarding a disproportionality of arrests targeting blacks and Hispanics" in New York City, per an advisory from Sharpton's National Action Network. Other elected officials and advocates will also participate, including Council Members Donovan Richards, Rory Lancman, and Ydanis Rodriguez. Sharpton will also call for a meeting with NYPD Commissioner O'Neill on the subject.

On Tuesday, Mayor de Blasio will be in Washington, D.C. to speak at the Center for American Progress' 2018 Big Ideas Conference. The mayor is expected to speak at 11:30 a.m.

At the City Council on Tuesday, the following committees will hold Executive Budget hearings:
--General Welfare at 10 a.m., regarding the Human Resources Administration and the Department of Homeless Services.
--General Welfare and Juvenile Justice jointly at 1 p.m., regarding the Administration for Children’s Services.
--Fire and Emergency Management at 3 p.m., regarding the FDNY.

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

The New York State Legislature will be in session on Tuesday in Albany.

Legislative committee interviews of Attorney General candidates will take place in Albany on Tuesday afternoon.

At 6:30 a.m. Tuesday, Comptroller Scott Stringer will appear on NY1's "Mornings on 1" with Pat Kiernan. Afterward, Stringer will deliver remarks at the National Conference On Public Employee Retirement Systems.

Republican candidate for governor Marc Molinaro will also be a guest on NY1's "Mornings on 1" Tuesday morning, at 7:30 a.m.

On Tuesday, "Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. will host the annual Bronx Week Business Luncheon, which recognizes business leaders in the borough for their contributions to the civic and economic health of The Bronx. During his remarks, Borough President Diaz will release the “Bronx Annual Development Report,” outlining the total development that took place in The Bronx during 2017."

On Tuesday at 2 p.m., First Lady Chirlane McCray "will participate in a Facebook Live discussion with Kay Warren—a national faith leader, author and co-founder of Saddleback Church—about how faith leaders can address mental illness and addiction in their communities ahead of the upcoming third annual weekend for mental health with faith and community leaders nationwide (May 17-20)."

At 2 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, "women leaders and activists will gather at City Hall to condemn Governor Cuomo’s bullying of elected officials and community organizations. Cuomo is reportedly trying to block New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, a prominent woman of color, from accepting the endorsement of the Working Families Party for her Attorney General candidacy. This bullying of James comes on heels of Cuomo threatening to defund community organizations aligned with the Working Families Party. Many low-income women of color will be harmed if Cuomo follows through on such threats...Speakers will include Nomiki Konst, Zakiyah Ansari, and Natasha Capers. The list of speakers is still in formation. Other women involved in organizing or supporting this event include: Zenayda Mendez, Bertha Lewis, and Kat Brezler."

At 4:30 p.m. Tuesday in Union Square, “hundreds expected at first U.S. rally for age justice to confront ageism...organized by the Radical Age Movement and more than two dozen co-sponsors...Speakers and entertainers at the rally will testify loud and clear that “We are part of the future, too!” “Ageism exists because American culture demeans older adults and ignores how they can and will contribute to the country’s future,” says Alice Fisher, co-founder of The Radical Age Movement, a national non-profit based in New York that rejects long-standing misinterpretations of aging."

On Tuesday afternoon as MS 131 in Manhattan, schools Chancellor Richard Carranza will host two town hall s with parents.

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, City Limits will host “Fair Housing in a Rezoned City” at WeWork Harlem, examining the “difficult questions surrounding the city’s fair housing assessment process.” City Limits Executive Editor Jarrett Murphy will moderate a panel consisting of City Council Member Brad Lander, Leila Bozorg of HPD, Chanera Pierce of the Fair Housing Justice Center, and Barika Williams of the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development.

On Tuesday evening, Council Speaker Johnson will speak at the WearingIrish New York City 2018 Showcase, at Bank of Ireland.

At the City Council on Wednesday, the following committees will hold Executive Budget hearings:
--Public Housing at 10 a.m., regarding NYCHA.
--Transportation at 2 p.m., regarding the Department of Transportation.

The New York State Legislature will be in session on Wednesday in Albany.

Legislative committee interviews of Attorney General candidates will continue in Albany on Wednesday morning.

At 8 a.m. Wednesday, the Center for an Urban Future will host “Scaling Up Small Businesses in the Bronx” at Hostos Community College, with a panel discussing the small business boom in the Bronx and the simultaneous lack of scaling and “sustained growth.” The panel will consist of Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr, City Council Member Mark Gjonaj, Jessica Johnson of Johnson Security Bureau, Kerry McLean of WHEDco, Joyce Moy of the Asian American Research Institute, Anthony Ramirez II of Mainland Media, and Hashem Yehiya of Tasty Picks.

"On Wednesday, May 16th at 8am Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, Melinda Hunt of The Hart Island Project and other council members will tour the burial grounds of Hart Island on the 150th anniversary since the purchase of the island by the City of New York in 1868."

Beginning at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, a “Hospital Community Benefit Symposium” on “how hospitals can engage and invest in our health and well-being.” The event at the Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. State Office Building on 125th Street is being hosted by WE ACT for Environmental Justice and partners.

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and MTA New York City Transit Commissioner Andy Byford will host a town hall on the L train shutdown and potential transit alternatives for Brooklyn L train riders at the Progress School in Williamsburg. This is the second of two town halls after a Manhattan event last week.

At the City Council on Thursday, the following committees will hold Executive Budget hearings:
--Sanitation and Solid Waste Management at 11 a.m., regarding the Department of Sanitation.
--Governmental Operations at 1 p.m., regarding the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, the Board of Elections, the Campaign Finance Board, and the Law Department.

Also at the City Council on Thursday: The Committee on Land Use will meet at 11 a.m.

At 9 a.m. Thursday, City & State will host its Sustainable New York Summit at the National Geographic Encounter in Midtown. The summit will “offer industry executives, public sector leaders and academics the opportunity to share ideas about how to connect, design, and implement innovative sustainability strategies in New York.” Speakers will include City Buildings Commissioner Rick Chandler, Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia, Environmental Protection Commissioner Vincent Sapienza, City Council Members Ydanis Rodriguez and Costa Constantinides, State Senator Todd Kaminsky, and others.

At 9 a.m. Thursday, the Empire Center will host “Critical Condition: The State of New York’s Hospitals and What Should Be Done to Revive Them” at the Yale Club in Midtown, discussing strategies for improving New York State’s below-average hospitals. Empire Center Health Policy Director Bill Hammond will deliver opening remarks, and then will join a panel moderated by the NYS Health Foundation’s David Sandman. In addition to Hammond, the panel will feature State Senate Health Committee Chair Kemp Hannon, former US Health Care Financing Administrator Bruce Vladeck, Elisabeth Ryden Benjamin of the Community Service Society, and former Chair of the NYS Commission on Health Care Facilities in the 21st Century Stephen Berger.

At 10 a.m. Thursday, the New York City Campaign Finance Board will hold a board meeting at 100 Church Street.

On Thursday at 1 p.m. at City Hall, “Council Member Antonio Reynoso and The Protect Our Places Coalition, a conglomerate of community advocacy organizations and institutions, will call for the passage of Intro 245. Each year, numerous charitable organizations, community gardens, and houses of worship are included in the City’s annual tax lien sale even though they qualify for tax exempt status. The exemptions and transparency measures put forth in Intro 245 will protect not-for-profit and charity organizations from being permanently shut down over debt they should have never been charged.” Participants will also include 596 Acres; Equitable Neighborhoods Practice at the Community Development Project; Picture the Homeless; Progressives Educating New Yorkers; religious organizations and groups of faith; and concerned community members.

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

At the City Council on Friday, the following committees will hold Executive Budget hearings:
--Health and Mental Health jointly at 10 a.m., regarding the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
--Cultural Affairs at noon, regarding libraries and the Department of Cultural Affairs.

On Friday at 10 a.m. at Queens Borough Hall, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli is expected to release an economic snapshot of Queens.

On Saturday afternoon in Harlem, the Working Families Party will hold its 2018 state convention. Speakers will include endorsed candidates such as Cynthia Nixon for governor, Jumaane Williams for lieutenant governor, and others, as well as WFP National Director Maurice Mitchell. From 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. at First Corinthian Baptist Church.

On Sunday morning, "NY-12 candidates for Congress Carolyn Maloney and Suraj Patel will appear at a brunch and moderated discussion hosted by Empire State Indivisible and Indivisible Brooklyn." Politico New York’s Laura Nahmias will moderate.

At noon Sunday, the Eleanor Roosevelt Democratic Club will hold its 2018 Spring Brunch at the Yale Club in Midtown. Public Advocate Tish James and State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli will be awarded the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Service to New Yorkers.

Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max

What's The [Data] Point? 176,000, with Patrick Orecki

whats the data point

What's The [Data] Point? Episode 40 -- 176,000, with Patrick Orecki [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

patrick orecki wtpd

176,000 is the number of New Yorkers statewide currently enrolled in Medicaid health homes, a key component of the Cuomo administration's Medicaid redesign efforts that have helped rein in costs and a program that provides care coordination services for Medicaid enrollees with complex health care needs to link these individuals to a full spectrum of health care providers and other social supports.

Patrick Orecki, CBC’s research associate specializing in the state budget and health policy issues, joins the podcast to break down the significance of health homes, what the program is doing well, challenges it has faced, and where it should go next.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Maria Doulis of CBC (@MariaDoulis). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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In Retrial, Sheldon Silver Again Found Guilty on All Counts

Sheldon Shelly Silver

Sheldon Silver and other state leaders in 2011 (photo via the Governor's Office)

Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was found guilty Friday on all seven federal corruption charges he faced, ending a retrial spurred by a United States Supreme Court ruling that changed the definition of public corruption, which led to Silver's prior convictions being vacated and prosecutors from the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York seeking a new chance to convict the man who was for decades one of New York's most powerful elected officials.

In recognizing the outcome, U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said Silver "took an oath to act in the best interests of the people of New York State. As a unanimous jury found, he sold his public office for private greed."

Silver was convicted of fraud, extortion, and money laundering, among other charges.

In a very brief statement reacting to the verdict, Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Friday, "The justice system shows no one is above the law."

But during a Sunday appearance on NY1 television, Cuomo was asked about Silver's conviction and how it connects to other top government officials who have been found guilty of corruption, including Cuomo's own former top aide, Joseph Percoco.

"I think the common thread is...that people will do bad, stupid, criminal, venal things. And that's society. It's state government, it's local government, it's the federal government, it's the private sector," Cuomo said. "The question is do we have a system in place that finds it and corrects it? And we do. We should have, take confidence in that. Eric Schneiderman resigned the office. I went, moved very quickly to give my position which is that kind of behavior doesn't justify remaining in office and I called on him to resign. We then appointed a special prosecutor to make sure there is no conflict, no perception of conflict. And that's Madeline Singas who is the Nassau County District Attorney and a very experienced, proficient prosecutor in just these areas. So, my point is, will people do bad things? Yes. That goes back to Adam and Eve. Do we have a criminal justice system in place that says nobody is beyond the law or above the law? Yes, we do. And that's why we moved so quickly for special persecutor on Eric Schneiderman who was the Attorney General. Top law enforcement officer in the state. And justice will be done and that's how the system works and were going to make sure it works that way."

More from our Thursday story on the closing arguments in the Silver retrial case:

The retrial of former State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on federal corruption charges neared a close on Thursday, with the jury beginning deliberations late in the day.

Silver, a Democrat representing Lower Manhattan who was for years a pillar of New York politics, was convicted in 2016 on charges of honest services fraud, extortion under the color of official right, and money laundering in connection with two separate pay-to-play schemes. He was later sentenced to 12 years in prison, but his conviction was overturned after the Supreme Court’s decision in a separate corruption case redefined what constituted an “official act” that an elected official would have to take in exchange for money or services in order to be guilty of abusing their office. The vacated conviction prompted a retrial.

In federal district court in Manhattan on Thursday, prosecution and defense attorneys made their closing arguments to the jury, recapping a week-and-a-half long trial that saw 26 witnesses testify and a mountain of evidence presented. Like in the initial trial, Silver did not take the stand in his own defense. The case was argued this time by different prosecutors, as there has been significant turnover in the office of the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York since Silver was first charged under the leadership of then-U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

Over the course of nearly three hours, assistant U.S. Attorney Tatiana Martins laid out the case against Silver, detailing the two schemes that he used to enrich himself. For the most part, both the prosecution and the defense agree on the details of the case, but only the prosecution believes Silver’s behavior was illegal.

“What the defendant did to line his own pockets wasn’t just wrong, it was criminal,” Martins said.

Both schemes, Martins noted, involved the same modus operandi -- referrals for cash. In the first scheme, Dr. Robert Taub, a former Columbia University researcher who was a prominent witness at the trial, directed mesothelioma patients to Silver who then referred them to his law firm, Weitz & Luxenberg, for hefty referral fees -- totalling $3 million for 48 patient referrals. In exchange, Silver directed $500,000 in state grants to Taub’s clinic and took other actions favoring Taub’s family. “Dr. Taub was Sheldon Silver’s golden goose and Sheldon Silver did whatever it took to keep getting Dr. Taub’s golden eggs,” Martins said, in outlining the alleged quid-pro-quo.

The second scheme involved Silver nudging two real estate firms -- Glenwood Management and the Witkoff group -- to send business towards a law firm, Goldberg & Iryami, which gave a 25 percent cut of the money to Silver, about $800,000 in total. In turn, Silver allegedly used his office to advance legislation and approve massive state tax credits that benefited the firms.

Silver faces three charges from each of the cases -- honest services wire fraud, honest services mail fraud, and extortion under the color of official right. He also faces a seventh charge of money laundering, stemming from his use of his allegedly ill-gotten gains to invest in blue chip stocks.

Silver corrupted his office, Martins said, “turning his official power into a cash cow to line his own pockets.” She noted that Silver repeatedly lied about these various sources of income, failing to report it on annual disclosure forms required of state legislators. And she insisted that the defense’s arguments were a “red herring” meant to distract the jury.

“This is bribery, this is extortion,” she concluded, “This is corruption. This is the real thing. Don’t let it stand.”

Silver’s defense attorney, Michael Feldberg, sought to poke holes through the prosecution’s theory, broadly insisting that Silver’s actions were far from violating the law. “It is perfectly legal for New York Assembly members to earn outside income,” he pointed out in his closing.

In both schemes, Feldberg insisted that Silver was simply earning income as a lawyer, which was declared on his disclosure forms, and that referral fees for the type of work Silver was doing are a “common, standard and accepted” practice in the field. New Yorkers may not like some of the practices involved, Feldberg argued, but that does not mean they are illegal.

Feldberg insisted that none of the witnesses testified to the existence of a quid-pro-quo arrangement in either scheme. He said Silver and Taub were close friends and that their relationship “wasn’t purely transactional,” rebutting the prosecution’s claims. And he insisted that in the real estate scheme, neither firm was aware that Silver was receiving referral fees, “so they couldn’t have been bribing him.”

“We’re not arguing that Shelly is a perfect man...We’re not arguing that he’s a saint,” he said, impressing upon the jury that even if Silver’s actions were “unseemly,” they were not enough to find him guilty.

Following a relatively short rebuttal from the prosecution, Judge Valerie Caproni read the charges to the jury, which then headed into deliberations briefly before the day was over. Jury deliberations will continue on Friday.

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Furthering Split from Cuomo, Senate Passes Reform Bills

flanagan via nysenate

Senate Majority Leader Flanagan and colleagues (photo: @nysenate)

The Republican-led New York State Senate, which for years had a collaborative working relationship with Governor Andrew Cuomo, passed a slew of government transparency and accountability bills on Wednesday that further highlighted the GOP majority’s recent split with the governor.

The package of 11 bills, covering everything from campaign contributions to state contracting processes, made its way through the chamber and was sent for approval to the Assembly, which is controlled by Democrats under Speaker Carl Heastie of the Bronx. Several of the bills have companion legislation in the Assembly and some have even been approved by that chamber. But it’s unclear how the Assembly will vote on the entire package. A spokesperson for Heastie did not respond to a request for comment.

Some of the bills clearly target Cuomo, particularly one directly related to the executive chamber, who has fallen out with Republicans since he ushered the reunification of a divided Democratic conference in the chamber last month and pledged a full-throated campaign to seize control of the upper chamber through the elections this fall. Other bills are intended to end the type of pay-to-play practices laid bare in the recent corruption conviction of Joseph Percoco, a former top aide to Cuomo, and that will likely feature heavily in the upcoming corruption trial of Alain Kaloyeros, another former Cuomo ally.

“It is imperative that the public trusts the actions of their public officials, especially when it comes to spending the people’s money,” said Senator John Flanagan of Long Island, the Republican majority leader, in a statement after the legislative package was approved. “This extensive package would help fix many of the issues that lead to corruption and the misuse of taxpayer funds and will create a system where sound investments will be better able to grow our economy and create more opportunities for all New Yorkers.”

In an op-ed in State of Politics on Monday, Flanagan made clear his differences with Cuomo, “whose unbridled ambition for higher office leaves every New York taxpayer in danger,” he wrote. He criticized the governor for tacking hard to the left because of the primary challenge from Cynthia Nixon. “For years, the Governor worked with me in a bipartisan manner to find common ground and move our state forward. But, I no longer recognize the person who occupies this office,” Flanagan said.

Taking direct aim at the governor’s office, one of the bills passed on Wednesday would prohibit executive chamber appointees and members of their households from making campaign contributions to, or soliciting them for, the same executive who appointed them. Without naming Cuomo, the bill cites a New York Times report that highlighted the governor’s practice of accepting such contributions despite a standing executive order from years ago that prohibited them. Cuomo’s office has presented a much narrower interpretation of the order than has been indicated in the past.

Another bill would limit political donations from individuals or entities applying for state grants, licenses, and contracts to those officials and candidates who would approve them.  

Another requires appointees to Regional Economic Development Councils -- controversial entities created by Cuomo in 2011 to encourage local economic initiatives -- to file the same financial and ethics disclosures as public officers. The bill would also codify REDCs into law. “It is vitally important that we put laws in place that prevent conflicts of interest with taxpayer dollars,” said bill sponsor Senator Thomas Croci, a Republican from Long Island.

Croci also sponsored another bill in the package to create an online public database of projects that receive state subsidies and economic development benefits. Also known as the “database of deals,” the proposal was included in the Assembly’s one-house budget earlier this year but did not pass.

Most of the bills relate to transparency in government contracting and ensuring greater accountability for taxpayer dollars. One of the bills, termed the “New York State Procurement Integrity Act” -- which also has an Assembly counterpart -- reinstates the state Comptroller’s pre-clearance oversight jurisdiction of contracting by SUNY, CUNY, and the state Office of General Services, as well as expands his authority over SUNY Research Foundation contracts worth more than $1 million. It also forbids state-affiliated not-for-profits from awarding state contracts without prior authorization. These bills relate directly to issues that will be front and center in the Kaloyeros trial, which involves the governor’s signature economic development programs, namely the Buffalo Billion, and alleged bid-rigging therein.

One of the bills mandates that the Public Authorities Control Board be given more information before approving funding for any job creation projects, including any provisions that would allow the state to clawback funding if the project’s stated goals aren’t met.

The START-UP NY program, another Cuomo initiative, would have to resume reporting annually on its work under the provisions of another bill. Yet another bill creates a nonpartisan Independent Budget Office to analyze state revenue and expenditures.

Most of the bills seem intended to curtail the powers of the executive branch and of state agencies under its control. For instance, a bill sponsored by Senator Joseph Griffo would define how long, and how often, an interim appointee can serve at the head of a state agency or department. Another bill would limit the ability of state agencies to declare a public emergency unless necessary to protect the health and safety of the public.

Only one bill had a Democrat as lead sponsor -- Senator Liz Krueger of Manhattan -- mandating that the state budget division prepare a Unified Economic Development Budget each year showing how much the state has invested in economic development projects and the results of those investments. It is a measure that watchdogs, especially Citizens Budget Commission, have sought in order for the public to have more information about how successful the state’s economic development initiatives are.

A group of government reform advocates and independent fiscal watchdogs including the CBC praised in particular the “database of deals” and the Public Integrity Act, calling on the state Assembly to approve them. That group also includes Citizens Union, Common Cause NY, Fiscal Policy Institute, League of Women Voters, NYPIRG, and Reinvent Albany.

“Both these bills will be effective in reducing the corruption risk of economic development projects that taxpayers spend billions of dollars on,” said Alex Camarda, senior policy adviser for Reinvent Albany. “They’re good policy. The governor should support them.”

Cuomo’s office did not respond to a request for comment about the Senate package. The governor has proposed his own reform agenda in recent years that includes elements aimed at the Legislature, as well as more sweeping campaign finance reform, government ethics measure, and voting reforms. The governor has indicated a top priority for him is banning outside income for legislators. Most of those proposals have seen less support in the Senate than the Assembly.

[Read: Post-Percoco Conviction, Kaloyeros Trial Likely to Further Stain Cuomo Administration]

by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, May 7

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

As the week begins we’re watching for any signs of possible action in Albany. There are scheduled legislative session days before the session ends in mid-June, including the three scheduled this week. 

The gubernatorial race is in full swing, of course, and this week is sure to see further campaigning from Cynthia Nixon, Marc Molinaro, and others. On Saturday, Nixon participated in a “Cinco de Mayo march in Brooklyn and the NYC Cannabis Parade and Rally in Union Square.” Governor Andrew Cuomo participated in a “Hudson Valley Blue Wave Rally to Take Back the House and State Senate” on Sunday.

As the Democratic and Republican state party conventions approach later this month, Republican candidates for the final statewide positions are emerging -- this week Manny Alicandro is launching his campaign for attorney general.

Meanwhile, in New York City, we’re watching as conflict between Comptroller Scott Stringer and Airbnb escalates. Stringer released a report this past week that showed Airbnb having a negative influence on housing affordability in parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn. The home-sharing platform company pushed back quickly and the allegations of data-manipulation, faulty-methodology, and impure motives have been flying back and forth. Airbnb is holding a press conference call on Monday to continue its rebuttal.

One of Stringer’s main responsibilities, the city budget, enters a new phase this week in the process for determining the spending plan for next fiscal year, which begins July 1. The City Council begins hearings Monday on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s executive budget plan -- details for these and much more below.

[Listen to the latest episode of What's The [Data] Point? from Gotham Gazette and Citizens Budget Commission, featuring guest Sally Goldenberg of Politico New York, discussing the mayor's rezoning and housing policies, and more.]

As always, there are a number of political events to be aware of this week - see our day-by-day rundown below.

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

The run of the week in detail:

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

This week’s Max & Murphy podcast from Gotham Gazette and City Limits will be recorded and published on Monday. This week’s guest is City Council Member Joe Borelli, a former member of the state Assembly from Staten Island, one of three Republicans in the City Council, and a fervent supporter of President Donald Trump.

At the City Council on Monday, the following committees will hold executive budget hearings:
--Finance at 10 a.m.
--Small Business at noon, regarding the Department of Small Business Services.
--Economic Development at 12:30 p.m., regarding the Economic Development Corporation.
--Aging at 3 p.m., regarding the Department for the Aging.

Also at the City Council on Monday: The Committee on Housing and Buildings will meet at 2 p.m. to discuss proposed laws related to residential safety measures.

“New York attorney Manny Alicandro will formally announce his campaign for Attorney General, along with state and local Republican and Conservative Party officials, including NYS Conservative Party Chairman Michael R. Long” on Monday -- in “New York City at Federal Hall at 10:30 am and in Albany in the NYS Capitol, 3rd Floor at 3:30 pm.”

New York City schools Chancellor Richard Carranza will appear on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show at 10:30 a.m. Monday.

On Monday at 11 a.m., “Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. will host a media preview and celebration to kick-off Bronx Week 2018 at the Mott Haven Bar & Grill...As a highlight of the event, Borough President Diaz and The Bronx Tourism Council will announce the three honorees of the Bronx Walk of Fame Class of 2018.”

The New York State Legislature will be in session on Monday in Albany.

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

At 11:45 a.m. Monday, "Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul Delivers Remarks at the 16th Annual Not-For-Profit Leadership Summit" in Tarrytown. At 7:30 p.m., Hochul will keynote and be honored at the Women's eNews' 21 Leaders for the 21stCentury Gala, at Museum of the City of New York.

At 6 p.m. Monday, the mayoral Charter Revision Commission will hold a public hearing at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

At 6 p.m. Monday, the Community Service Society will host its annual Spring Gala at the Hunt and Fish Club in Midtown.

At 6:30 p.m. Monday, gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, lieutenant gubernatorial candidate Jumaane Williams, and New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli will attend the Village Independent Democrats’ candidate forum at PS 41 in the West Village. Representatives for Governor Andrew Cuomo and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman will also be in attendance.

On Monday at 7 p.m. at Carnegie Hall, “First Lady McCray will present the Corporate Advocate Award to NBCUniversal at the 2018 Child Mind Institute's 4th Annual Change Maker Awards. This event is open press. There will be no Q-and-A.”

On Monday at 7 p.m., Public Advocate Letitia James will will deliver remarks at the Van Nest Neighborhood Alliance Meeting in the Bronx. At 8 p.m. she will deliver remarks at the El Nuevo Caribe Democratic Club Meeting, at El Barrio's Artspace.

At the City Council on Tuesday, the following committees will hold executive budget hearings:
--Finance and Capital Budget jointly at 10 a.m.
--Parks & Recreation at 1:30 a.m., regarding the Department of Parks & Recreation.
--Technology at 3 p.m., regarding DoITT.
--Youth Services at 4 p.m., regarding the Department of Youth and Community Development.

Also at the City Council on Tuesday:
--The Committee on Fire and Emergency Management will meet at 11 a.m. to discuss several proposed laws related to safety and evacuation measures.
--The Committee on Civil Service and Labor will meet at noon to discuss two resolutions, one calling on the city to “extend paid family leave benefits to city employees covered by municipal unions” and another “calling upon the New York State Legislature to pass, and the Governor to sign, legislation to amend the state Paid Family Leave Act to provide workers in New York State with a benefit equal to 100 percent of an employee’s average weekly wage.”

The New York State Legislature will be in session on Tuesday in Albany.

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

At 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, Governor Cuomo will tour the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge.

At 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul will make an announcement at Schenectady High School. At 9:30 a.m., Hochul will deliver remarks at LGBTQI Advocacy Day in Albany. At 11:30 a.m., Hochul will highlight the YWCA's Work for Women and Children at Centennial Celebration in Troy. And at 1 p.m., Hochul will speak at the Police Memorial Remembrance Ceremony in Albany.

At 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, Vote Better NY will hold a rally at the Capitol’s Million Dollar Staircase in Albany to call on lawmakers to pass early voting, the Voter Empowerment Act, automatic and same day registration, no excuse absentee voting, and require preclearance from the Attorney General for changes to the voting process for any county “with populations with at least 10 percent of any racial, ethnic, or language minority group.”

On Tuesday at noon at City Hall, “New York City Council Members Andy King, Antonio Reynoso, Fernando Cabrera, Chaim Deutsch, Laurie Cumbo, Adrienne E. Adams, Rafael Salamanca Jr.,  Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte will be joined by members of the Legal Aid Society, Vulcan Society Inc., National Action Network, NAACP and the Black Institute at a press conference...to call out FDNY’s hypocritical decision not to hire applicant Andre Laurant and denounce FDNY’s hiring of Joseph Cassano, 28, who had quit his former FDNY job as an EMT in 2013 after his hateful tweets against blacks, Jews and others he was employed to served were exposed.”

On Tuesday at 1 p.m. in Albany, "Assistant Speaker Felix W. Ortiz (D-Kings) will hold a press conference to discuss his legislation dealing with gender identity and recognition, identification cards, runaway and LGBT homelessness."

At 1 p.m. Tuesday, Public Advocate Letitia James will deliver remarks at the RWDSU Rally for Food Service Workers Justice, at John Jay College.

On Tuesday at 2 p.m. at One Police Plaza, "Mayor de Blasio will host a press conference on crime statistics. This event is open press. There will be Q-and-A."

At 4 p.m. Tuesday, "Governor Andrew M. Cuomo will join thousands of New Yorkers at the #CountMeIn Rally in Union Square."

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, schools Chancellor Richard Carranza will attend a town hall meeting of District 12’s Community Education in the Bronx.

At 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, the NYU Urban Democracy Lab will host “People’s Cities: A Summit,” discussing the resurgence of cities as locales for investment, innovation, and “urban progressivism.” Juan Gonzalez of Democracy Now will moderate a panel discussing the “possibility - and limits - of municipal, and city-led, politics,” consisting of City Council Member Carlina Rivera, Deputy Mayor of Barcelona Gerardo Pisarello, city planner Kali Akuno, and political science professor Margit Mayer. The event will take at the Labowitz Theatre at NYU’s Gallatin School.

The City Council will hold a stated meeting at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday. It will likely be prefaced by the typical pre-stated press conference led by Council Speaker Corey Johnson.

Also at the City Council on Wednesday:
--The Committee on Finance will meet at 10 a.m.
--The Committee on Rules, Privileges, and Elections will meet at 11 a.m. to discuss two nominees to the City Planning Commission: Alfred Cerullo III and Allen Cappelli.

The New York State Legislature will be in session on Wednesday in Albany.

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, the City Planning Commission will hold a public meeting at 120 Broadway.

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, the mayoral Charter Revision Commission will hold a public hearing at the main branch of the New York Public Library in Midtown Manhattan.

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, the Center for an Urban Future and TransitCenter will host “An Unhealthy Commute: The Transit Challenges Facing New York City’s Healthcare Sector” at One Whitehall Street. Panelists will discuss a recent CUF study showing that healthcare workers have the longest average commutes in the city, affecting their work and life, and will include City Council Health Committee Chair Mark Levine, Jonathan Bowles of CUF, and Danna Dennis of Riders Alliance.

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and MTA New York City Transit Commissioner Andy Byford will host a town hall on the L train shutdown and potential transit alternatives for Manhattan L train riders at the New School’s Johnson Hall. This is the first of two town halls, with another for Brooklyn residents next week.

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, the Civilian Complaint Review Board will hold a board meeting at the Brooklyn College Student Center.

At the City Council on Thursday, the following committees will hold executive budget hearings:
--For-Hire Vehicles at 10 a.m., regarding the Taxi & Limousine Commission.
--Environmental Protection at 1 p.m., regarding the Department of Environmental Protection.

At 8:30 a.m. Thursday, the Association for a Better New York will host Brooklyn Navy Yard CEO David Ehrenberg for a discussion “on the Brooklyn Navy Yard’s recent Master Plan exercise, as well as an update on the current state and overall vision for the yard.”

At 10 a.m. Thursday, the New York City Campaign Finance Board will hold a board meeting at 100 Church Street. (This meeting is not taking place)

At 11 a.m. Thursday, the Assembly Standing Committees on Insurance and Health will meet jointly at 250 Broadway in Manhattan for a public hearing to “evaluate the proposed plan by CVS Health to acquire Aetna Inc. and the potential impacts on the delivery of health care and the health insurance market in New York State.”

At 1 p.m. Thursday, the CUNY Center for Community and Ethnic Media will host city schools Chancellor Richard Carranza for a “Newsmakers Roundtable” at Tweed Courthouse. “The Chancellor will share his vision and agenda with the members of community and ethnic media, and give them a chance to ask him education-related questions that are important to their respective audiences.”

On Thursday evening at New York Athletic Club, "the Brain Aneurysm Foundation will host its inaugural New York Champion Awards and will honor U.S. Representative Yvette Clarke. She will receive the Community Advocate Champion for introducing the “Ellie Helton, Lisa Colagrossi, Teresa Anne Lawrence, and Jennifer Sedney Focused Research Act” (“Ellie’s Law”), on March 21, 2017."

Friday and the weekend
At the City Council on Friday, the Criminal Justice committee will hold its executive budget hearing at 10 a.m., regarding the Department of Correction.

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

Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max

Fusion, Spoilers, and New York's Many Ballot Lines

Cuomo voting 2017 primary

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

New York’s unique fusion voting system is again in the spotlight this year, with renewed attention in the wake of Cynthia Nixon’s insurgent challenge for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination against Governor Andrew Cuomo, with the potential for vote-splitting on the left leading to a Republican victory in November. Cuomo and Nixon have each now been endorsed by a minor party with automatic general election ballot access, even as they vie for the big prize of the Democratic nomination.

Fusion voting, which allows candidates to combine the votes they receive from appearing on multiple ballot lines, is used in only eight states. But it takes its highest profile in New York, where numerous minor parties can cross-endorse rather than all having to run their own nominees, and still keep their own line on the ballot. Parties can secure a ballot line by having their gubernatorial nominee secure 50,000 votes statewide in the general election.

In New York, fusion voting has often led to individual candidates appearing on multiple ballot lines, whereby the minor parties do not threaten to play a spoiler role by costing a major party nominee victory by siphoning a determinative number of votes. For example, the Republican and Conservative parties often back the same candidates for various offices, and they appear set to do so again in this year’s gubernatorial race, behind Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro.

Governor Cuomo has appeared on several ballots lines in his runs for office over the years, including on the Democratic, Working Families, Women’s Equality, and Independence Party lines during his 2014 reelection. This year, however, the Working Families Party has backed Cynthia Nixon, who hopes to defeat Cuomo in the Democratic primary, but may appear on the general election ballot regardless and therefore risk pulling a decisive number of votes from Cuomo in the general election. Having earned the backing of the Independence Party this year, Cuomo could do similarly if Nixon has the Democratic Party nomination.

The Green Party, which typically fields its own candidates, could also play a role, pulling some voters on the left. This year it is again nominating for governor Howie Hawkins, who received over 184,000 votes in 2014. The Reform Party and Women’s Equality Party have yet to settle on a nominee.

The practice of fusion voting was common in the 19th and early 20th centuries, as a means for minor organizing arms to defeat powerful Tammany Hall machine candidates. These tickets sometimes worked: the second mayor of the consolidated City of New York, Seth Low, defeated Tammany Hall Democrat Edward Shepard on a fusion Republican-Citizens Union ticket in 1901.

The Wilson-Pakula Law of 1947, passed allegedly to disempower the American Labor Party, which was accused of having ties to communists, prevented candidates from running in the primaries for different parties; instead, a candidate must gain permission from the minor party that they’re not registered with in order to run on their ballot line. The alleged ties to communists caused ALP members to flock to the newer Liberal Party, which did not face the same allegations; the Democrats and Republicans did not want to grant their line to members of the ALP.

Cuomo criticized the Wilson-Pakula Law in 2013 after it came under scrutiny following Senator Malcolm Smith’s alleged attempt to bribe his way onto the Republican line. Some have called for repeal of the law, but so far efforts at repeal have gone nowhere in Albany.

The minor parties gain prominence unseen in most other states due to their ability to influence the major parties, and often act more like advocacy organizations than vast political organizing machines, though some have party infrastructure. According to Gerald Benjamin, a political scientist and the Director of SUNY New Paltz’s Benjamin Center, this has made New York’s politics more ideological and polarized.

“There are people who believe that periphery-oriented politics is desirable,” Benjamin said. “Pulling to the left and right is desirable. I think pulling to the center is desirable, having a two-party system that contains the conflict within that system is centrist.” He said that the system, in a way, is “mischievous” in empowering a minority of ideologically-inclined voters to have outsized influence on the process. As such, instead of allowing for more representation on the ballot, the third parties give their lines to major candidates and influence the platform and positions of the major parties and candidates.

Benjamin also says that the parties have become more prominent over time, though not to the degree they were in the 19th century.

“Their significance is higher than in the recent past,” Benjamin said, though he noted that the parties often have disparate periods of high significance, such as when James Buckley was elected to the U.S. Senate on only the Conservative line in 1970 or when John Lindsay won the New York City mayoralty on the Liberal line in 1969. “There have been peak moments. But systemically, and through politics at all levels, I think they’re at a pretty high level of significance relatively to history.”

Though there have been minor party successes for New York City mayor and U.S. senator, none has ever alone elected a governor of New York. The Democrats and Republicans have controlled the governorship exclusively since Whig Party member Myron Clark left office in 1856. The Whigs were one of the two major parties in the U.S. before being replaced by the Republicans in the 1850s.

The liberal Working Families Party (WFP), a coalition of left-wing activist groups and labor unions, is one of the more prominent minor parties in New York. The WFP typically cross-endorses the Democratic nominee and attempts to pull its nominees to the left. Cuomo and the WFP recently split dramatically after several activist groups involved with the party endorsed Nixon for governor, which led to unions leaving the party to side with Cuomo, reportedly at his behest. The unions have provided key funding to those activist groups, whose futures are at risk, along with the larger WFP, which is taking a significant gamble on Nixon.

Cuomo and the WFP have a rocky history. Cuomo initially declined the WFP endorsement in 2010 but eventually agreed to take the line, despite their platforms not being wholly aligned, especially on the issue of taxation. As such, the WFP won 50,000 votes and retained statewide ballot access.

The WFP had more leverage over Cuomo in 2014, when the party agreed to endorse him over liberal challenger Zephyr Teachout in exchange for a pledge to unify the Senate Democrats and support a more progressive platform. Cuomo did not follow through on the agreement, and also created the Women’s Equality Party, whose acronym, WEP, is very similar to WFP. His campaign urged supporters to vote for him on the Democratic or WEP lines, omitting the WFP from get-out-the-vote emails.

Having endorsed Nixon over Cuomo this year, some have raised the possibility of a vote split on the left that could land Molinaro in the Governor’s Mansion. WFP Political Director Bill Lipton, in response, declared that the party didn’t intend to act as a spoiler, telling the Associated Press that in the event Nixon loses the primary, she would “meet with our leaders, and we will make a decision that puts the interests of working families first.” However, Lipton does not think that will happen anyway.

“The more voters learn about Cynthia's progressive values, the more they like her,” Lipton told Gotham Gazette in an email. “Working Families feels confident Cynthia will win the Democratic Primary in September and go on to be both the Working Families and Democratic Nominees in November. The real problem is Andrew Cuomo being a spoiler. It looks like he will have the WEP and Independence Party lines - what happens when he loses the Democratic primary - is he willing to be a spoiler and elect a Republican Governor?”

The Independence Party has indeed endorsed Cuomo for the third election in a row, landing him on the November ballot no matter what. He is also likely to receive the nomination of the WEP, with the new party leader telling Politico that it’s “very likely the party will support Cuomo’s reelection bid.” Neither the Independence Party nor the WEP responded to requests for comment for this story.

Nixon has taken notice of Cuomo’s Independence Party endorsement. When asked about being a potential spoiler in Buffalo, she flipped the script, according to the Buffalo News.

“Why is nobody asking Andrew Cuomo that question, who is running on the Independence line and the Women’s Equality line he created,” Nixon said.

The Cuomo campaign did not respond to requests for comment from Gotham Gazette.

“Could he win without the Democrat line? Maybe,” Professor Benjamin said, while noting that the governor losing the Democratic primary would be an unlikely scenario and that a continued run would be based on a future calculation by Cuomo. The most recent poll, from Quinnipiac University, has Cuomo leading Nixon by 28 points. However, Benjamin conceded that Donald Trump winning the Republican nomination for president was also initially seen as exceedingly unlikely.

The Independence Party has had significant showings in both of Cuomo’s elections: in 2010, it received 146,576 votes statewide, while in 2014 it received 77,762, according to the State Board of Elections. In both instances, however, it was bested by the Working Families Party in vote count.

The Independence Party is, however, by far the largest third party in New York State based on enrollment. According to the State Board of Elections’ Annual Report for 2016, the most recent year available, the Independence Party had 501,738 registered voters in the state, outnumbering the second largest, the Conservative Party, by almost 340,000 voters. WFP had 50,039 registered voters. The Independence Party’s high membership, despite a relatively low electoral profile, is due in no small part to people mistakenly registering as Independence when meaning to register as unaffiliated, or “independent,” as shown by the Daily News in 2012.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has derided the Independence Party as a “bizarre and fractious political group” that “survives on confusion” of people thinking they’re registering as independent. The editorial board urged Cuomo to reject its endorsement in 2014 in order to cause the party to lose its automatic place on the ballot; Cuomo did not do that.

Unlike the WFP, the Independence Party has not committed to endorsing either the Democratic or Republican nominee in the event that Cuomo loses the primary; as such, Cuomo could theoretically continue his campaign as the Independence nominee if he loses the Democratic primary. However, like a potential Nixon campaign as the WFP nominee, a Cuomo Independence campaign against Nixon and Molinaro would allow the possibility of a vote split that would likely send Molinaro to Albany.

Cuomo’s stormy history with minor parties goes back a long way. In 2002, he was endorsed for governor by the Liberal Party, but dropped out of the race before the Democratic primary. He remained on the party’s line for the general election, where he failed to receive 50,000 votes and thus the Liberal Party lost its automatic place on the ballot. Historically a vehicle for candidates with the backing of labor unions, the party ceded that ground to the WFP and has not appeared on the gubernatorial ballot since Cuomo’s 2002 run.

Things are looking less tense on the Republican side. Molinaro appears to have consolidated support among the state’s GOP establishment; he recently won the endorsement of the Conservative Party, and his main competition for that and the Republican nomination, State Senator John DeFrancisco, recently pulled out of the race.

There’s also the Reform Party, which has a history of maverick actions and public stunts by its founder and leader, Curtis Sliwa. Last year, the party publicly urged Preet Bharara to run for either mayor or governor; Bharara, the former U.S. Attorney who was fired by President Donald Trump, has instead become a renowned podcaster.

Now, the party is apparently split on endorsing either Molinaro or former Erie County Executive Joel Giambra, who mounted a brief campaign for the Republican nomination before dropping out. According to the Daily News, the party has “punted” the decision to its May 19 party convention in Queens; if the party can’t make a decision there, it will hold a primary in September. In late April, it was reported that Sliwa himself was considering a run, saying he had “no other choice” if doctors give him a “clean bill of health.” Democrats and Republicans will hold their nominating conventions toward the end of May.

“There was a motion made to table consideration of the Governor's race until the state convention so that all of the state committee members could speak with the candidates,” Frank Morano, a spokesman for the Reform Party, told Gotham Gazette.

The party has its own outsized role in New York politics compared to its membership; according to the 2016 BOE report, the Reform Party has only 900 registered members in all of New York State.

by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Marc Molinaro and The Trump Question

marc molinaro ggbreakfast

Marc Molinaro, left, and Chris Gibson (photo: @marcmolinaro)

The presumptive Republican nominee for governor of New York did not vote for the Republican president of the United States.

One question Marc Molinaro was asked most often in the early weeks of his campaign to replace Governor Andrew Cuomo is whether he voted for Donald Trump in November 2016.

“I did not, I voted for Chris Gibson,” Molinaro told reporters in Albany on April 2, the day of his official campaign launch, naming the former Congressional representative who is now chair of Molinaro’s gubernatorial campaign. It was the second time that day Molinaro, currently Dutchess County Executive, had been asked the question, the first coming in the village of Tivoli, where he grew up, became mayor at the age of 19, and held his first launch event. Both times he answered quickly, and briefly, ready to move on to the next question.

A follow-up question, though: why didn’t you vote for Trump?

“I had significant differences at the time, I didn't vote for him, I voted for Chris Gibson, who would have made a fine president,” Molinaro said in Tivoli. “And this is what I tell people, and I believe it, for those that admire [Trump], they believe he says it the way he sees it, and so do I, but when he doesn't do what is in the best interest of New Yorkers, and New York families, I’ll say it, and when America and the federal government does something in the best interest of New Yorkers I’ll say it too.”

In several iterations of the same answer over the course of weeks, Molinaro has not explained the “significant differences” he had with Trump that led him to write in Gibson.

Molinaro has mentioned two incidents where Trump has disappointed him since taking office -- the president’s response to a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia and the federal tax overhaul that severely limits state and local deductions -- but has not provided details of his issues with Trump during the campaign. A Molinaro campaign spokesperson said she thought he had been clear in his answers about Trump and did not provide more detail when Gotham Gazette inquired.

The campaign spokesperson also declined to answer repeated questions about who Molinaro voted for during the Republican presidential primary in New York, in April 2016. Gibson, meanwhile, has been a fairly outspoken critic of Trump, though he said he did vote for the Republican nominee over Clinton because he thought Trump was more likely to clean up Washington, D.C. Gibson has told the Albany Times Union, however, that Trump has not lived up to his promise to “drain the swamp.”

In August 2017, Gibson condemned Trump’s “both sides” response to the Charlottesville rally and counter-protest, writing in the Poughkeepsie Journal, “In moments like these, leadership can make all the difference. We were all counting on President Donald Trump to help us understand what happened, condemn by name the racist organizations involved, mourn the losses, and bring us together to heal. He utterly failed us.”

Molinaro’s lukewarm approach to the president does not seem to have had an impact on his ability to garner the support of key New York Republican leaders in his bid to earn the party nomination and take on the winner of the Democratic gubernatorial primary, where Cuomo is being challenged from the left by actor and activist Cynthia Nixon, both painting themselves as essential anti-Trump forces.

The Trump question could continue to prove tricky for Molinaro, who appears to want to discuss virtually anything else. There is no question that his Democratic opponent will attempt to tie him to the president and members of the media will want to know what he thinks of various Trump actions.

On the day Molinaro entered the race, Cuomo said, "They want to run a Trump mini-me in New York -- good luck.”

That same day, Geoff Berman, the executive director of the New York State Democratic Committee, released a statement saying, “it's clear that the New York GOP is intent on pushing an ultra-conservative Trump agenda, and a candidate that has the same positions as Trump with a different hair color.”

While he didn’t vote for Trump, Molinaro is loathe to explain why and hesitant to criticize the president. While Trump is deeply unpopular in New York overall, he retains strong support from Republicans in the state (Democrats hold a significant voter enrollment advantage across New York). Trump, a New York City businessman and television star, won 46 of 62 New York counties in his election against former New York Senator Hillary Clinton, though Clinton still won the state handily, 59 to 36.5 percent, thanks to dominating the population centers, including New York City.

A February Quinnipiac poll showed Trump underwater in New York at 30 percent approval and 65 percent disapproval, though it was actually a slight increase in approval for the president. Within those numbers, though, Trump had a 79-15 percent approval rating among Republicans, and a 5-93 percent among Democrats.

It looks as though Molinaro will not be forced into the difficult task of having to hug Trump in a Republican primary to then distance himself in a general election, where he almost certainly will need to win over many independents and some Democrats to win.

The Dutchess County Executive, who has held a handful of different government positions over more than 20 years in elected office, appears to have secured both the Republican and Conservative Party nominations, and their ballot lines in November. Throughout the process of seeking the backing of different county chairs of each of the two parties, Molinaro has had to answer the Trump question in public and in private.

Asked if he supports the president on the Joe Piscopo Show on AM970 radio, Molinaro said, “I support America, and when the president does something good, I’m going to stand up and say it. A lot of people say this about him and that is, he says it the way he sees it, well so do I. So when he does or says something that I can’t stand for, I have to say it as well. I did that when he spoke out, I think inappropriately, after Charlottesville. I didn’t vote for him last November, but my position is that we need America to succeed and we need New York to succeed.”

He then pivoted to criticizing Cuomo, whom Molinaro has repeatedly said “displays the very attributes he demonizes,” as he tweeted recently about Cuomo and Trump, pulling up just shy of criticizing the president while still being able to take a shot at Cuomo as a hypocrite.

Despite his coolness toward the bombastic president, the seemingly even-tempered Molinaro -- who is basing his run in part on the quality of his character, his ethics, values, and willingness to work across the aisle -- has continued to gain support from Trump backers.

“The bottom line is that I would have preferred him to vote for Donald Trump,” said Mike Long, state chair of the Conservative Party. “Marcus Molinaro’s positions on the issues are in sync with conservative Republicans, and therefore I overlooked it.”

Long said he’s spoken with Molinaro about his lack of support for Trump. “What I found out was: number one, father of young children, he at the time, what was going on in the campaign, he wasn’t comfortable voting for Donald Trump, and he felt his vote in New York wouldn’t make a difference in the outcome here,” Long said in an interview with Gotham Gazette.

“The meter is different, but on the issues they mostly see eye to eye,” Long said of Trump and Molinaro, who says that as governor he would lower taxes, rein in state spending, return more power to localities, clean up rampant corruption in state government, and improve management at the MTA. While he holds many conservative positions, Molinaro has also expressed some more moderate stances on immigration and campaign finance reform.

“Marcus is refreshing, he’s energetic, and I think he can give New York a fresh start,” Long said. “Some people may be disappointed he didn’t vote for Trump, but they’re not going to vote for Cuomo.”

New York City Council Member Joseph Borelli, a Republican from Staten Island, was an early endorser of Trump in the presidential race and continues to strongly back the president. He is also vehemently behind Molinaro for governor.

“He is a pragmatic executive, willing to work with all sides, and has a reputation as a problem-solver,” Borelli said in a statement endorsing Molinaro. “Most importantly, he has good character and a strong moral compass that guides his decisions.”

“New York City could benefit from someone like him at the helm of our state,” Borelli also said.

On whether he thinks Trump will be involved in the race personally, Long said he doubts it. “I don’t see the president getting involved at any part of the campaign. I don’t see any need for that happening. The president has his hands full dealing with the anti-Trumpers around the country,” Long said.

“Would he help Marcus? Maybe, maybe not. I don’t think it’s necessary that the president get involved.”

[Read: In Run for Governor, Marc Molinaro Will Make a Character Argument]

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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