Gotham Gazette

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In Philadelphia, Cuomo and De Blasio Call for Unity, Show None

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Cuomo, de Blasio & others at the DNC (photo via NY Democratic Party on flickr)

“Number one, the main goal coming into this convention was to make sure we left unified,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Thursday morning, apparently without a sense of the irony in such a statement. Cuomo, the Democratic governor of New York, continues to be locked in a feud with Bill de Blasio, the Democratic mayor of New York City, which produces a current of disunity running through any and all politics the two are involved with.

The conflict follows them everywhere, even to the Democratic National Convention, where each spoke on the main stage without mentioning the other, and can overshadow such speeches, policy announcements, and other events. Even while both were in Philadelphia calling for party unity behind Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, there is no evidence that either Cuomo or de Blasio is doing anything to bridge their own ongoing divide.

Each took pains to compliment Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders on his presidential campaign, attempting to help heal the divide between the Sanders and Clinton camps after a contentious presidential primary. A far different approach than they take with each other.

“Governor Cuomo and I and Democrats all across the state of New York are absolutely unified when it comes to Hillary Clinton,” de Blasio told WNYC’s Brigid Bergin during a Tuesday interview at the convention when Bergin pressed him on the unity contradiction.

“I don’t think anything is irreconcilable in life,” de Blasio went on to say, as he often does when asked about the frayed relationship. “But I would say there are fundamental, ideological differences. And then I would also say there’s the issue of how the State of New York treats the City of New York,” he added, in a now-familiar refrain.

Last month, when Gotham Gazette asked the mayor if he had any plans to try to improve the relationship, de Blasio did not say yes or no, but said he’s always open to working with the governor. At a recent press conference, de Blasio gave a typical answer about the conflict: “I’ll always look to work with the governor whenever we can. And when I think he’s doing something right for New York City, I will commend him, I’ll work with him. When I think he’s doing something wrong, I’ll call it out.”

At a Democratic convention, both Cuomo and de Blasio have a lot to boast - combined they’ve made significant progress on LGBT rights, the minimum wage, paid family leave, affordable housing, education, and more top progressive agenda items. Instead of crediting one another, they avoid each other.

De Blasio was scheduled to speak at the Thursday morning breakfast event at which Cuomo was talking of party unity. But due to some combination of the length of the program, a lack of communication, the feud, and de Blasio having another event to get to, he left without addressing those gathered.

The New York State Democratic Party, controlled by Cuomo, hosted three such breakfasts this week. De Blasio attended just the one.

There, he heard Cuomo call New York “the progressive capital for the country,” but make no mention of the liberal mayor of the country’s biggest city who has pushed New York politics leftward. “We have really made this progressive agenda a reality,” Cuomo said after laying out accomplishments like marriage equality and a path toward a $15 per hour minimum wage. He made no mention of the pre-kindergarten program that has been de Blasio's biggest accomplishment as Mayor and is supported by state funding.

The 2014 fight over funding for pre-K saw some of the earliest seeds of the conflict between Cuomo and de Blasio that has become more intense over time - especially after the mayor publicly lashed out at the governor on June 30, 2015 for undermining the city's interests. The two have clashed over a wide variety of policy issues over the past two-plus years. Spokespeople for Cuomo and de Blasio did not return requests for comment for this story.

At that same Thursday DNC breakfast, the Democratic state Senate Minority Leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, also addressed party unity. Cuomo has been accused, including by de Blasio, of hurting Democratic attempts to take control of the Senate and therefore all of state government. “I want you to understand that as we unify Democrats on the national level,” Stewart-Cousins said, “we can unify Democrats on the state level.”

New York’s top two Democrats, Cuomo and de Blasio, went to Philadelphia ready and able to brag of the progressive accomplishments made back home, but not on speaking terms. They left just as far apart, if not more so.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Campaign Finance Filings Show Candidates for Council Seats Being Vacated


At The City Council (photo: Sofie Hecht for Gotham Gazette)

With the latest New York City Campaign Finance Board filing deadline just passed, the 2017 city elections are beginning to take more clear shape. The races for Mayor, Public Advocate, Comptroller, Borough Presidents, and City Council members may be currently overshadowed by the presidential election, but the new city campaign finance filings further reveal who is planning to run for which seats in 2017 and the extent to which candidates for local positions have been successful in their fundraising efforts.

While money isn’t everything - and the city’s public-matching program rewards small donations and helps allow more candidates to compete - the financial activity outlined in campaign filings is indicative of both the amount of support candidates have so far and their chances of success next year.

Many in and around city politics are watching to see who emerges to challenge Mayor Bill de Blasio in his re-election bid. But, that is not the real story right now. The City Council won’t see much turnover in 2017: just eight of the Council’s 51 members are term-limited from running again and must be replaced. But, these are the only seats in city government where an incumbent cannot seek reelection next year - all three citywide officials, all five borough presidents, and the other 43 Council members can all seek another term (this is in part due to the fact that some are allowed a third term after term-limits were temporarily lifted in 2008).

The latest CFB filings show intense competition brewing in several of these eight districts as voters will be asked to replace City Council Members Rosie Mendez, Dan Garodnick, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Inez Dickens, James Vacca, Annabel Palma, Darlene Mealy, and Vincent Gentile. All of these term-limited members are Democrats - 48 of the Council’s 51 members are currently Democrats - so the September 2017 primaries will very likely be the key vote to determine this next class of local legislator.

One other significant theme to watch is that five of the eight outgoing members are women (and women of color) - the Council currently includes just 14 women among its 51 members, something that Mark-Viverito, the Council Speaker, and others have repeatedly raised as a concern going into the next round of city elections.

And while additional candidates could easily declare in the coming months - the primary is not for another 14 months - CFB filings show the following candidates in each of the eight districts where the current City Council member is term-limited:

District 2: Manhattan, Lower East Side - currently represented by Rosie Mendez
Thus far, the only candidate filed to run to replace Mendez is Carlina Rivera. Born and raised in the LES, Rivera is currently a district leader of Assembly District 74 and Mendez’s legislative director.

According to the CFB, Rivera has raised $47,932 in campaign funds, $47,208 of which was raised in the last six-month filing period. Rivera reported spending $1,581 during that time. Rivera has won an endorsement from CoDA (Coalition for a District Alternative), an independent progressive political organization from the Lower East Side, who announced their support for her on Twitter in March.

Several current Council members, including Mendez, Elizabeth Crowley, and Helen Rosenthal, have contributed to Rivera’s campaign.

District 4: East Side of Manhattan - currently represented by Dan Garodnick
While Garodnick appears to be eyeing a statewide run for Attorney General or State Comptroller in 2018 or beyond, according to Politico in January, after he leaves the Council, several candidates are looking to replace the term-limited Council member.

Garodnick has a 2017 city account open (he could mount a run for city Comptroller or another office in 2017 or beyond) but it saw no activity this filing period - it holds an estimated balance of $191,624. Additionally, Garodnick has $888,124 in private funds left in the citywide account he opened in 2013 when he flirted with a run for Comptroller. Garodnick could move city funds into his statewide campaign account, which he has already registered with the State Board of Elections as “New Yorkers for Garodnick.” The account began filing almost a year ago and holds $515,544 as of July 20.

As for Garodnick’s successor in the City Council, according to the latest filings, four candidates are vying to replace him: Diane Grayson, Jeffrey Mailman, Keith Powers, and Martha Speranza.

Mailman, a legislative aide to Queens Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, raised $20,378 in the past six months, and spent $2,198. Crowley has donated to Mailman, who is a member of Community Board 6.

Since announcing his campaign on June 2, Powers, Vice President at Constantinople & Vallone Consulting and a leader of Community Board 6 and the Eleanor Roosevelt Democratic Club, has raised $50,077 and spent $585. On July 18, Powers told Town & Village that his fundraising thus far has been “a grassroots effort that is supported by average New Yorkers and small contributions.”

Speranza, Democratic State Committeewoman for the 74th Assembly District and member of Community Board 5, currently boasts “the earliest and strongest fundraising start to any Council campaign in New York City history” according to a July 20 press release from her camp.

During the recent six-month filing period, she raised $169,706 and spent $5,727. Like Powers, Speranza seeks to highlight not just the quantity of her fundraising efforts, but their source: “52% of our contributions came from women, 73% gave less than $250, and 35% of our contributions came from people of color,” her campaign said in the release.

Meanwhile, Grayson is on the opposite end of the fundraising spectrum - she has set up a Facebook page announcing her City Council candidacy, but as of the latest filing deadline she has neither raised nor spent any money. When asked by Gotham Gazette, Grayson explained, “Campaign finance reform is something I care deeply about, and I want to be the candidate that represents many people in the district who would ideally like to reduce money in politics.” Grayson has pledged to run her campaign on a $50 budget, and if elected, donate back $50,000 of her salary “to projects that benefit the community.”

District 8: Manhattan's El Barrio/East Harlem and a slice of the Bronx - currently represented by Melissa Mark-Viverito, also the City Council Speaker
Like Garodnick, Mark-Viverito has money in the bank and no clear post-Council plans. In the past six months, Mark-Viverito raised $186,581 and has an overall estimated balance of $319,911 in her CFB account.

As Gotham Gazette reported earlier this month, Mark-Viverito has already endorsed Diana Ayala, currently her deputy chief of staff, to be her District 8 successor. Ayala’s first campaign fundraiser was held July 7, and according to the most recent filings, her campaign has raised $11,273 and spent $531 in the past six months. Based on their donations, Ayala is also backed by several female Council members, including Margaret Chin, Elizabeth Crowley, and Helen Rosenthal. Ayala also seems to be allied with District 2 candidate Carlina Rivera; they have donated to each other’s campaigns.

So far, Ayala’s only opponent appears to be Edward Gibbs, who trails her in fundraising, even though he started campaigning as early as November of last year. During the past six months, Gibbs, a former convict turned community activist who ran for State Assembly back in 2010, raised $3,545, bringing his estimated balance to $5,562.

District 9: Harlem and other parts of Upper Manhattan - currently represented by Inez Dickens
Dickens is said to be strongly leaning toward a run for State Assembly, namely the seat currently held by Keith Wright, who promised during his congressional campaign, which he lost, to not seek reelection. Many expect the two to attempt a seat-swap.

Short of that, right now the race to claim Dickens’ seat is not much of a race at all. Only one candidate, so far, has made known his intention to run by filing with the CFB: Donald Fields.

According to his Linkedin profile, Fields is currently a managing partner at Fields & Associates, and does not yet seem to be a competitive candidate. Fields’ CFB records reveal that he has only raised $165, while having spent $20. Fields has not raised any money since the CFB’s third deadline of this cycle, which was about 18 months ago. Fields was not made available to Gotham Gazette for comment and it is unclear if he is actually running.

District 13: Mid-Bronx - currently represented by James Vacca
After twelve years of service, Council Member James Vacca will be stepping down next year. Three candidates have thus far registered with the CFB: John Doyle, Alex Gomez, and John Marano.

According to his campaign website, John Doyle has been a life-long resident of the Bronx, and is currently working as the Associate Director of Public Affairs at Jacobi Medical Center. Issues that are important to Doyle include government accountability and public safety. Doyle has raised $10,816.34 in the last six months and has raised $33,835.93 in total. He currently has $25,544 on hand, minus expenditures, according to his last filing.

Alex Gomez, according to his campaign website, has spent 20 years of his life working in social service, with “New York City's youthful offenders, and under employed and unemployed youth, young adults and adults.” Gomez, according to his filings, has raised $1,080 in the last six months, and $3,299 in total. Interestingly, Gomez has received $1,117.45 in-kind contributions; these particular contributions do not come in checks or cash, but rather as gratuitous services. The bulk of the in-kind contributions is from Gomez's sister, who created a campaign video that has yet to be released. According to Gomez’s last filing, he currently has an estimated balance of about $3,148. Gomez boasts that he is "the only candidate [in CD13 the race] to not take monies from unions, corporations, real estate developers, businesses or PACs."

According to John Marano’s campaign website, he has worked as a NYPD officer, a NYC Fireman, and served Community Board 10 as its Chairman. Marano volunteers in a number of local organizations. In terms of campaign fundraising, Marano has raised $24,855, all of which was raised in the last six months. He currently has $22,474 on hand.

District 18: Parts of the Bronx including Hunts Point, Parkchester, and Soundview - currently represented by Annabel Palma
Only one candidate has registered a campaign to replace Palma: Dwayne Gathers.

According to Gathers’ CFB filing, he has yet to raise any funds for his campaign. But, Gathers only registered his campaign with the NYC Campaign Finance Board on July 11, 2016. In a phone interview with Gotham Gazette, Gathers confirmed his intentions to run for the District 18 Council seat.

District 41: Central Brooklyn including parts of Bedford Stuyvesant and Crown Heights - currently represented by Darlene Mealy
Two candidates have filed to campaign for the vacancy being created by Mealy’s departure: Deidre Olivera and Boris Santos.

According to the latest CFB filings, Olivera, a community activist from Brownsville, has raised $1,838 in contributions and has an account balance of $945. Santos, a Brooklyn native and public school teacher has raised $1,940 and has a current balance of $982 after expenditures.

District 43: Southern Brooklyn including Bay Ridge - currently represented by Vincent Gentile
According to CFB listings, there are no candidates who have filed to replace Gentile. That does not mean that the seat will go vacant come 2018, of course.

Last year, Gotham Gazette reported that Justin Brannan, a former aide to Gentile who now works at the Department of Education, is a very likely candidate, and he remains a near certainty to run, though he declined to comment for this story. Gotham Gazette also reported that Linda Sarsour, a political activist and nonprofit leader, could run for the seat. As was the case at the time of the Gotham Gazette story, Sarsour remains focused on her advocacy work, which often deals with national issues. Without indicating her own candidacy, Sarsour - who is Arab American and runs the Arab American Association of New York - did recently tell Brooklyn Paper that, “Our community is having our own personal conversation about it...Someone who is Arab-American is definitely running in 2017. That is a fact.”

By Amanda Sherwin & Rebecca Oh

Note: this article has been updated to more accurately capture the nature of the in-kind donations to Alex Gomez's campaign.

WeWork, a City Partner, Now Benefactor to and Beneficiary of De Blasio Campaign

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Mayor de Blasio (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

A company that has spent thousands of dollars lobbying City Hall, is doing business with the city, and whose founders have made large campaign contributions to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s campaign is now also a beneficiary of the mayor’s 2017 re-election campaign.

Campaign finance filings show that since June 2, de Blasio’s campaign has occupied a space in Downtown Manhattan run by WeWork, a company that markets affordable, professional co-working spaces and office amenities to individuals, businesses, and other groups.

WeWork has achieved success in New York City and was recently valued at $16 billion. The company has 65 locations so far, with 32 in New York City alone, and plans to expand into Asian markets. It is also one of the key partners in the $380 million Dock 72 project at the city-owned Brooklyn Navy Yard that was announced in May. The 675,000 square-foot building is being developed by Boston Properties, Inc. and Rudin Development, and was designed by WeWork. It is expected to create 4,000 living wage jobs.

In the most recent filings with the city Campaign Finance Board, de Blasio’s 2017 campaign listed three payments made to WeWork -- two payments totalling $11,500 on June 2, for office rent and a security deposit, and another $4,400 rent payment on July 1. The zipcode listed on the filing indicates WeWork’s 222 Broadway location - ironically titled “City Hall” given its proximity to the seat of city government - which has ten floors of office space, with about 1,700 people representing 450 businesses.

The campaign’s rental payment fits the company’s range for a private office accommodating between five and seven people, according to WeWork’s website. A de Blasio campaign spokesperson confirmed that the campaign is currently working out of the WeWork space, but did not provide any other details of the arrangement. “They offer a flexible space on a month-to-month basis for a flat fee, which makes a lot of sense for the campaign at this stage,” the spokesperson said in an email.

De Blasio is gearing up for his 2017 re-election bid, having upped the pace of fundraising ahead of the recent July 15 filing deadline. The campaign raised over $1.1 million between January and July and spent nearly $340,000. In total, the campaign has over $1.6 million on hand.

Meanwhile, contributions to de Blasio’s 2013 campaign have recently been the source of scrutiny after news broke that there are several law enforcement investigations into the mayor, his administration, his allies, and their fundraising activities.

In April, The Real Deal reported that one WeWork employee, Arana Hankin, was at that point the top bundler for de Blasio’s 2017 run. Hankin, identified in Campaign Finance Board filings as a WeWork senior vice president, raised $68,750 between January 8 and 11 from 16 donors, including WeWork co-founders Miguel McKelvey and Adam Neumann, who each donated $4,950, the maximum any individual can give to a mayoral candidate under the CFB system. McKelvey and Neumann’s wives also donated $4,950 each in that bundle. WeWork is not technically doing business with the city and is not in the "doing business" database with the Campaign Finance Board. If it were, its founders and top brass would be limited to a $400 contribution each, per campaign finance laws.

A recent New York Post report found possible problems with some of those bundled contributions, raising questions about potential straw donations. “We are reviewing the donations and will amend the filing if necessary,” the spokesperson for de Blasio’s campaign told Gotham Gazette in an email. A WeWork spokesperson declined comment for this story.

WeWork has also spent $200,000 since last year to lobby the city. Between April 2015 and February 2016, the company paid Scott Levenson, president of The Advance Group, $100,000 to lobby the Department of Buildings for permits for a project at 110 Wall Street, The Real Deal reported. The permits were awarded in July. This year, the company paid $100,000 to consulting firm Global Strategy Group to lobby the Mayor’s office on “procurement,” although it’s unclear what that entails. The New York Daily News reported that soon after, on January 6, GSG’s Jon Silvan spoke over the phone with Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen and pitched “future projects” in the city. Hankin’s bundle came in a few days after that conversation.

Neumann and his wife also contributed $25,000 each and McKelvey contributed $50,000 to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2018 campaign, on January 11, according to state Board of Elections filings.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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