Gotham Gazette Sun, 29 Nov 2020 11:14:42 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Brooklyn, Staten Island Democrats Look to Absentee Ballots to Help Them Hold Their Seats 3 runaway

Several local races hing on absentee ballots (photo: @JustinBrannan)

As New York election officials begin counting absentee ballots from the general election, there are dozens of races that have yet to be decided. Based on the in-person tallies, Democrats in several state and congressional races are currently running behind Republicans and are hoping that absentees will deliver them victories. But in three races in overlapping districts in Southern Brooklyn and Staten Island, areas home to more Republican voters than most other parts of the heavily Democratic city, absentees may not be enough to overcome leads buoyed by immense turnout for the GOP candidates for Congress, State Senate, and Assembly.

In New York’s 11th Congressional District, 22nd State Senate District, and 46th Assembly District, Republicans stand a chance of reclaiming Democrat-held seats after turnout swelled this year, likely in large part because President Donald Trump was on top of the ticket. Each district is home to large pockets of Republican-leaning voters, anomalies in a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans eight to one and Joe Biden received three-quarters of the in-person vote. Trump’s job performance, New York State coronavirus restrictions, criminal justice reform and public safety, and how far left New York City progressives want to take city government were all key themes in the three races.

In the 11th Congressional District, which covers the entirety of Staten Island and parts of Southern Brooklyn, first-term Democratic U.S. Rep. Max Rose trails Republican Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis by a margin of 37,158 votes going into the absentee counting, which begins Tuesday for some districts. Though Malliotakis declared victory on election night due to her more than 15-point margin based on the in-person vote, Rose has refused to concede the race. According to New York City Board of Election data, he received 99,224 votes (42.04%) to Malliotakis’ 136,382 (57.79%).

Rose is all but assured to lose his seat, which has mostly been in Republican hands for many years. With more mailed votes still being accepted for several days to come, the latest Board of Elections numbers show there were 48,259 absentee ballots returned in the district as of Election Day – 27,598 came from Democrats, 9,213 from Republicans, and 9,508 from party-unaffiliated voters. As absentee ballots continued to come in, the Democratic share was expected to remain high, favoring Rose.

Rose also appeared on the Independence Party ballot line and 1,212 voters from the party cast absentee ballots. Malliotakis appeared on the Conservative Party line, whose voters cast 401 absentees. If Rose won all those Democrat, Independence, and unaffiliated voters, which is very unlikely, it would give him 38,318 votes, for a total just past what Malliotakis got in the in-person vote. Meanwhile, Malliotakis will easily pick up the bulk of the 9,900 Republican and Conservative absentee voter votes, not to mention some percentage of the unaffiliated voters. (Some voters will likely leave the race blank, a not-uncommon practice down ballot during presidential elections.)

Of the 48,259 absentee ballots returned as of the Election Day tally, Rose would need to win at least 88.5% of them to surpass Malliotakis, though more valid absentee votes surely came in since Election Day.

State Senate district 22 in Southern Brooklyn falls within the 11th Congressional District. It covers the neighborhoods of Bay Ridge, Bensonhurst, Fort Hamilton, Dyker Heights, Marine Park, Gerritsen Beach, and Manhattan Beach. Democratic State Senator Andrew Gounardes, also a first-term incumbent, is 6,035 votes behind Republican challenger Vito Bruno. Gounardes received 34,586 votes (45.94%) via in-person voting, while Bruno tallied 40,621 votes (53.95%).

Gounardes doesn’t face an insurmountable lead. Through Election Day, 18,524 absentee ballots were returned in the district; 11,622 were from Democrats, 2,651 from Republicans, and 3,714 from party-unaffiliated voters, according to the Board of Elections. Bruno also appeared on the Conservative and Independence Party lines, whose voters returned 101 and 345 absentee ballots respectively.

Taking the 6,035-vote margin and the 18,524 absentee votes into account, even though the latter figure has certainly grown, Gounardes would need to win 66.3% of the absentees to surpass Bruno. That percentage is not far off the percentage of absentee ballots tallied by election night that were from Democratic voters alone.

Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus from Brooklyn’s District 46 also represents some of the same neighborhoods as Gounardes and Rose. She received 15,030 votes (45.66%) via in-person voting. Her little-known opponent, Mark Szuszkiewicz, received 17,852 votes (54.23%), giving him a 2,822 vote lead heading into the absentee count.

Frontus could overcome that lead with absentee ballots largely in favor of Democrats. Of the 7,081 absentee ballots returned in the district, 4,525 were Democratic voters, 1,035 were Republicans, and 1,273 were unaffiliated voters.

To make up the 2,822-vote deficit via the 7,081 absentee ballots that came in by Election Day (a number that has surely grown), Frontus would need to win 70% of those votes. That percentage is slightly higher than the 64% of the 7,081 absentee ballots that came in from Democratic voters alone.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Brooklyn, Staten Island Democrats Look to Absentee Ballots to Help Them Hold Their Seats Mon, 09 Nov 2020 05:00:00 +0000
After Significant Help for State Senate Democrats in 2018, Cuomo Largely Absent from 2020 Races Cuomo state senate Democrats Gounardes

Gov. Cuomo with now-State Senator Andrew Gounardes in Oct. 2018 (photo: Cuomo/Flickr)

After flipping several State Senate seats in 2018 and taking control of the upper legislative chamber and therefore all of state government, Democrats sought to hold onto their wide majority this year even with a Republican president atop the ticket. They believed they might be able to win a supermajority in the chamber to match that of Democrats in the Assembly by picking up at least two additional Senate seats, if not more.

But as Senate Democrats faced tough races in a number of districts, including some they had won by narrow margins amid a “blue wave” two years ago, New York’s top Democrat seemed to take a relatively hands off approach and did what some believe is the bare minimum to help his party-mates defend or win new seats.

Though in 2018, when he was on top of the ticket seeking a third term, Governor Andrew Cuomo was active helping Democrats flip State Senate seats in swing districts from Brooklyn to Long Island to the Hudson Valley, this year he was absent but for a handful of virtual fundraising events and robocalls. Some Democrats believe he mostly prefers the split Legislature he had for his first two terms and very much wanted to avoid the possibility of veto-proof majorities in the two legislative houses.

As the vote-counting moves to absentee ballots, which are expected to significantly favor Democrats, there is a long list of State Senate races that haven’t been called. Overall, Democrats are confident that while they may lose a few seats back to Republicans they are also on the verge of picking up others and will wind up with a majority close but not quite as large as what they had coming into the election: 40 seats in the 63-seat chamber. Republicans believe they are narrowing the margin to 36-27, perhaps slimmer.

To get to that 40-seat majority, the 2018 elections saw several progressive Democrats eject more moderate members of the party in primaries while relatively moderate Democrats flipped Republican seats in the general. Cuomo was a significant presence in the latter, rallying with Democratic nominees in parts of the state where he remains popular but Republicans have had success and that he would need in his own reelection bid, which he went on to win by a wide margin.

The 2018 State Senate results set the stage, along with Cuomo’s win and continued Democratic dominance in the Assembly, for the passage of a long list of progressive priorities in 2019.

This year, despite Democrats’ hope that they could pick up as many as ten Senate seats, defend seven, and be competitive in a few others, it was bound to be a tough election. With President Donald Trump on the ballot, Republican turnout was undoubtedly going to be far higher than in 2018 even if Democrats voted in higher numbers too. And despite a fundraising and expenditure advantage for the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, there were millions being spent against them in targeted independent expenditures by outside entities, including billionaire Ron Lauder and law enforcement unions, who opposed criminal justice reforms enacted by the Democrat-led Legislature and governor. Lauder, a prominent donor to Cuomo, alone spent nearly $5 million while police unions spent more than $1 million in trying to inaccurately paint Democrats as anti-police and pro-crime.

To some observers, the governor made minimal effort to help Democrats on the receiving end of that spending and even less so in challenging Republican messaging statewide about a Democrat-controlled Legislature run amok. Many have even speculated that Lauder’s independent expenditures had the governor’s tacit approval. “That’s bullshit,” said Rich Azzopardi, a Cuomo spokesperson, in an email, when presented with those arguments.

Azzopardi insisted that the governor did his best to help Democrats’ chances. The governor endorsed a slate of candidates including Senators John Brooks, Todd Kaminsky, Monica Martinez, Anna Kaplan, Jim Gaughran, Kevin Thomas, and Pete Harckham, and nominees Sean Ryan and Laura Ahern. He recorded robocalls and made appearances at virtual fundraisers for Kaplan, Martinez, Gaughran, Thomas, and Harckham, and made additional virtual fundraising appearances for Senator Kaminsky and nominees Karen Smythe, Samra Brouk, and Jacqualine Berger, and signed a fundraising letter for nominee Jeremy Cooney.

“In what world, during a pandemic when you can't barnstorm and do rallies – if you look at that list of endorsements, robocalls and fundraisers – can they say he didn't do enough,” Azzopardi said in a subsequent phone interview. “It’s ridiculous.”

“The governor worked really hard to bring this majority in under his ticket in 2018,” Azzopardi added. “And we worked really hard to maintain it. Let all the votes be counted and let's see where it goes...We did a lot together. We did a lot of good for the state of New York. And we look forward to working with the Senate Democratic majority next year.”

While no one expected Cuomo to travel the state holding large rallies amid the coronavirus pandemic, the governor did no in-person campaign events. At the same time, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, Cuomo's running-mate and “partner in government,” did barnstorm the state, holding campaign appearances with several Democratic candidates in tough races -- including Brooklyn’s Andrew Gounardes, whom Cuomo campaigned with in 2018 as he flipped a Senate seat but is noticeably absent from the governor’s 2020 list. Cuomo made at least three appearances with Gounardes in October and November 2018, but none, whether virtual or in-person, in 2020. Hochul campaigned with Gounardes in Brooklyn the day before Election Day this year.

Overall, Cuomo opted against joining Democratic candidates in person to bring local and media attention to their campaigns and boost their messages.

A source in the State Democratic Party said the governor was “somewhat helpful” with his fundraisers and endorsements. “But it's a little bit like it's almost just for show,” the source said, noting that the State Democratic Party, which is controlled by Cuomo, could have done more.

“The state party could have done mailers, done TV...there could have been more money spent, more sort-of consolidated or coordinated messaging,” the source said, pointing out that while the state party gave massive contributions to specific candidates, they paled in comparison to the Lauder spending. “The money thing is the big thing. You have states around the country where the state party literally will drop millions of dollars into these local races,” said the source, who insisted on anonymity in order to speak freely.

While Cuomo had transferred campaign funds to some Democrats in 2018, he did not do so this cycle even though, as of July, he had more than $13 million in campaign cash. The State Democratic Party did transfer funds to candidates in the closing weeks of the election – $50,000 each to Thomas and Gaughran and $25,000 to Monica Martinez. None of those numbers account for the money Cuomo helped some candidates raise via his appearances at the virtual fundraisers.

Tom Staudter, a spokesperson for Harckham’s campaign, said the governor’s assistance was definitely helpful. “Governor Cuomo was a big help to Senator Harckham’s campaign,” he said. “In our district, there were only positives. His leadership during the pandemic was recognized as safeguarding and benefiting our residents and I know Senator Harckham is looking forward to partnering with the governor in the future.” Though Harckham trails by about 7,000 votes after in-person vote tallies, there are still 40,000 absentee ballots to count in the district, and Staudter expects that a major portion of those will be from Democrats.

In an interview on the Max & Murphy podcast prior to the election, State Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs made a similar argument to Azzopardi. “He's doing a lot. The governor’s been on fundraising zooms. He’s given me the request to raise money through the state party and he said use his name to raise money. I've done just that,” Jacobs said. “So he's been very helpful and he's been giving guidance and strategic advice. What he can't do is hold big rallies, like Trump does around the country, which I know he'd like to do and he's done in the past. This environment just won't permit it.”

Almost exclusively standing by while Democrats got relentlessly attacked by Republicans and their outside allies would seem counterintuitive for a Democratic governor. But Cuomo has never been one to easily share power or attention with members of his own party and has, in the past, appeared content to preside over a split Legislature where he can mostly call the shots without getting pulled too far to the left. He has oftentimes rebuffed progressive policies proposed by Democrats, slowly embracing them once they become too popular to oppose or appear especially advantageous politically. Prior to Democrats flipping the Senate, he triangulated with an erstwhile rogue offshoot of moderate Democrats who called themselves the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), which helped Republicans control the legislative chamber and was seen by many as a Cuomo-backed effort. 

A supermajority in the Senate, combined with that already in the Assembly, would allow Democrats stronger negotiating position on legislative and budget matters, and to override the governor’s veto if they pursue legislation that Cuomo rejected.

“Cuomo has always preferred working with Republicans than working with Democrats,” said Benjamin Rosenblatt, president of Tidal Wave Strategies, a political consulting firm. “We saw that when he helped gerrymander the State Senate map for Republicans. We saw that when he helped them with the IDC, with majorities over and over again. And we saw that this time when his billionaire friends bankrolled efforts to stop Democrats from getting a State Senate supermajority.”

Rosenblatt said Cuomo could have used his popularity, particularly in parts of the state such as Long Island, to help boost incumbent Democrats who are now uncertain about their victories. “That could have helped push Democrats over the line when they are facing these attacks against them, trying to connect them to [New York City Mayor] Bill de blasio, saying that they're anti-police,” he said.

Cuomo himself conceded on Thursday that the statewide Republican campaign had a strong impact, though he appeared to be speaking as a casual observer that had no role to play. “It shouldn't have been this close,” he said on WAMC radio with host Alan Chartock. “I believe the Republicans beat the Democrats on the messaging. I think they branded Democrats as anti-law and order. And that hurt Democrats. It was untrue.”

As Cuomo seemingly watched that messaging unfold across the state, including in districts where he had campaigned with Democrats in 2018, he was not moved to be more assertive in helping his party-mates beat back the focused, sustained barrage from Republicans.

Cuomo also pointed to how Republicans tied Democratic candidates to de Blasio, who has been widely unpopular in the state for years and who undertook a failed effort to flip the State Senate from Republican control in 2014 that led to an investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney over questionable fundraising tactics. No charges were filed. “They ran de Blasio’s picture all over the state. ‘They'll turn New York State into New York City, looting and crime and homelessness...That was their message and it resonated more than it should have,” said Cuomo, who has himself repeatedly painted New York City in such negative light during his press briefings over the past several months.

Asked about Cuomo’s comments at his daily news briefing on Thursday, de Blasio dismissed them. “I think whatever the Republicans did was pretty modest honestly,” he said, joking that in the future he would endorse Republicans to cause confusion.

Some political observers pointed out that many Republicans used images of Cuomo on their negative campaign literature.

Unlike Cuomo, Hochul kept a busy campaign schedule as election day neared. She appeared at events for State Senate incumbents Gounardes, Harckham, and Thomas, and candidates Berger, Brouk, Ryan, and John Mannion. Without the absentee ballot counts, only Brouk and Ryan are ahead in their races.

In 2018, on the other hand, Cuomo launched a concerted effort to help Democrats flip both the State Senate and the House of Representatives. With much fanfare, he appeared with State Senate seats on Long Island and together signed a nine-point pledge of policies they would pursue. He publicly endorsed Gounardes in similar fashion in Southern Brooklyn, with a slightly modified pledge more focused on New York City. Gounardes went on to replace Martin Golden, then the only Republican State Senator in the five boroughs outside of Staten Island, after winning by just 1,271 votes.

Gounardes is now at risk of losing his seat, running behind Republican challenger Vito Bruno by about 6,000 votes after the in-person tally, a deficit he has a shot at making up through absentee ballots that number more than 18,500.

In Southern Brooklyn, where Republicans did well against Democrats at the state and federal levels, though outcomes are still being determined through the absentee ballot count, Cuomo’s government actions ahead of the election may have hurt Democrats politically. 

“In 2018, he came out here and campaigned with everybody and was actively trying to gain more seats in the Senate,” said a Democratic source in Southern Brooklyn who requested anonymity to speak freely. “And this time around, it was the opposite. There was no presence out here at all.” What made it worse, on top of the Lauder-funded ads, the source said, was Cuomo’s botched rollout of new lockdown restrictions in response to localized coronavirus infection spikes that angered constituents in those districts. “It was a lot of incoming,” the source said of Republican attacks. “We took on a lot of water and there was very little air support.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

After Significant Help for State Senate Democrats in 2018, Cuomo Largely Absent from 2020 Races Sun, 08 Nov 2020 05:00:00 +0000
9 Things to Watch in the 2020 General Election in New York 2 malliotakis rose

Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, left, & Rep. Max Rose face off in NY-11

Voting in the 2020 general election is set to come to a conclusion on Tuesday, November 3, Election Day. The full, official results won't be known for weeks.

The eyes of the world are on the presidential race between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, and it's unclear when a winner may be declared.

Though it's unlikely Trump can pull off an upset and beat Biden in New York, voters here have been going to the polls in large numbers, just like across the country, with 2020 expected to see modern record voter turnout. How exactly the presidential race shakes out in New York is among many things to watch as we count the votes. 

1. Voter Turnout
Voter turnout, both in person and by mail, is likely to reach historic highs in the 2020 general election.

There are 5.3 million voters registered in New York City​ and just under 13 million registered across New York State, as of February 2020. (Many thousands more registered between then and the October deadline, but those numbers are not yet available.)

In the 2016 presidential election, only about 64,000 absentee ballots were cast in New York City. This year, eligibility for absentee balloting has been expanded to all registered voters due to the coronavirus pandemic, a change that led to a huge surge in such voting in the June primaries. As of October 20 of this year, over 1 million absentee ballots for the general election had been processed in New York City, according to the city Board of Elections (BOE). The board will accept absentee ballots that are put in the mail or dropped off by Election Day.

The nine-day early voting period, October 24-November 1, has yielded over 1.1 million in-person votes cast in New York City alone, a little more than 21% of registered voters in the city (using the February number). This is the first presidential general election with either universal absentee voting or early voting in New York. (In 2019, the first year of early voting when only a handful of local races were on the ballot, only about 60,000 people citywide and 256,000 statewide voted at an early voting site.)

While many New Yorkers are taking advantage of voting by mail or early voting, Election Day is still expected to see a large surge of voters, with many expecting New York turnout, like that across the country, to surpass recent election cycles.

In the 2016 presidential election, 2.76 million voters cast ballots in New York City (roughly 56% of registered voters) out of a total 7.8 million votes cast statewide (a 62% turnout rate).

In the 2012 presidential election 2.47 million votes were cast in New York City (a 53% turnout rate), out of 7.13 million votes across the state (59% turnout). In 2008, when Barack Obama was first elected president, there were 2.6 million votes cast in New York City (57% turnout), of 7.7 million votes cast across the state (64% turnout).

2. New York City Tries to Run a Smoother Election with Expanded Options
It has already been another election marred by poor execution by the New York City Board of Elections. What Election Day itself will bring is yet to be seen. While some changes and challenges have been brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, some problems this year look like those made by the Board of Elections and its vendors in prior years.

There are many outstanding questions about what will unfold on Election Day and in the counting of ballots thereafter.

The 2020 elections have seen an unprecedented level of absentee voting, the result of the state expanding eligibility to all registered voters as part of the larger effort to combat the spread of COVID-19. The high volume and the amount of time it takes to receive and verify mail-in ballots means that many races may not be officially called until weeks after polls close. The New York City Board of Elections has predicted it will complete the ballot canvassing process by November 24, four days before the statutory deadline. The Electoral College is set to formally elect the president on December 14.

Lines at the polls will be long this year, not only because of high turnout, but because of social distancing. The city Board of Elections says it has hired 4,800 additional poll site workers who will be assigned specifically to line management. The board has also mailed "Fast Pass Tags" to all registered voters that have scannable barcodes for expedited and "contactless" poll site check-in. Voters may (but are not required to) bring them to their early voting or Election Day poll location, where electronic poll books are also now in use, having been first instituted last year among a wave of voting and election reforms.

Completed absentee ballots can also be dropped off during open hours at early voting and Election Day polling locations and at BOE borough offices. There is no check-in required for using one of the dropboxes.

The city BOE opened 88 early voting sites this fall, up from 79 for the June primaries and 61 during the general election last year, when early voting began in New York. That number, which became 89 after the threat of a lawsuit by a Manhattan Assembly member, has proven too small, however, given the large turnout, adding to the list of issues with Board of Elections planning and administration.

After having reduced the total number of early voting hours by ten, from 74 to 64 hours, according to Vote Early New York, a non-profit advocacy group, the BOE responded to large turnout on the first several days by adding additional early voting hours. In one Upper East Side district, following days of long lines and a planned court challenge from Assemblymember Rebecca Seawright, herself on the ballot this year, the BOE opened up an alternative early voting site. The sites were open for nine days from October 24 through November 1.

New York City is the only jurisdiction in the state that assigns voters to a specific early voting site, rather than having universal centers where any registered voter can go. Voting rights advocates have pushed the city to adopt borough-wide and citywide early voting but administrators have said memory limitations on the machines it uses make it impossible to store the ballots of every election district.

On top of the new absentee voting element this year, election administrators are operating under a brand new state requirement to notify voters when their mail-in ballots are being rejected on certain technical errors and provide them a channel to correct the mistake.

The new mandate, signed into law in August, applies to missing or incorrect signatures on the inner "oath" envelope and to ballots that were returned without the oath envelope entirely. When there is a “cure” eligible error, the Board of Elections is required to send notices to all mailing and email addresses on file for the voter at hand, and must make attempts by phone wherever possible to reach each voter. The notice will include a form through which voters can "cure" the mistake and return to the BOE to be reviewed and counted. Pursuant to an executive order signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, administrators are allowed to review ballot envelopes for defects as soon as they are received, but state law requires they remain sealed with the ballot uncounted until seven days after Election Day.

There are always unforeseen mishaps that impact the voting experience leading up to and on Election Day in New York City. In September, a vendor printing error led as many as 100,000 Brooklynites to receive another voter's oath envelope, which would render the ballot inside invalid if cast. The BOE says it has contacted all impacted voters and has provided new, correct ballots and envelopes.

Between a fifth and a quarter of absentee ballots are rejected every year on technicalities, a majority of which are because of missing signatures. The state has redesigned the oath envelope to emphasize with a prominent red 'X' where a signature is required and passed the ‘curing’ law.

3. Presidential Election Results Across New York City and State
If the last presidential election result is any indication, Joe Biden will handily win New York and pick up its 29 electoral votes. In 2016, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton won 4.5 million votes across the state, compared to Trump’s 2.8 million. In New York City, the Clinton-Kaine ticket beat the Trump-Pence ticket overwhelmingly, garnering 2.16 million votes to 494,549 votes.

Trump, however, won 45 New York counties to Clinton’s 17, particularly as he was successful in less-populated rural and suburban areas. He did win both Staten Island (Richmond County) and Suffolk County, one of the two on Long Island, along with Nassau, where Clinton won fairly narrowly.

In New York City, there are a few pockets of Republican strength beyond much of Staten Island. Trump won parts of Queens that are home to white ethnic voters and a significant swathe of Brooklyn where there is a concentration of Orthodox Jewish communities.

While Trump did well in some suburbs of the city, many parts of the region moved towards Democrats in the 2018 elections, when Trump was not on the ballot himself but many voters appeared motivated by his initial nearly two years on the job. Case in point, in the 2018 state elections, Democrats won several State Senate seats in districts long held by Republicans, some in extremely tight races, including one in Southern Brooklyn’s 22nd State Senate District. The same was true in Congressional races in the city and beyond, especially New York’s 11th Congressional District, where Democratic wins helped the party take over the House of Representatives. It remains to be seen whether Trump can help those Republicans make a comeback or if Democrats will retain their hold. 

Though Republicans are hoping that Trump’s presence at the top of the ticket will help them win back those seats in more conservative and moderate districts in rural and suburban areas outside New York City, Democrats are perhaps more confident that their base will turn out in greater numbers and they will win independents by large margins.

4. Can Minor Political Parties Keep Their Ballot Lines?
The presidential election is likely to have major consequences for the state’s minor political parties and what the New York ballot looks like in 2021 and beyond. New York’s fusion voting system, which allows candidates to run on several party lines on the ballot and accumulate votes, is not itself at risk of ending, but there are new thresholds parties must meet to keep an automatic ballot line on which to nominate candidates for offices all across the state.

The system gives minor parties like the Working Families, Conservative, Independence, Green, and Libertarian parties the ability to cross-endorse a candidate also backed by the Democratic or Republican Party to run on their line. The arrangement is mutually beneficial – candidates get allies that can help them expand their voter base and the parties garner influence with candidates and office-holders.

This year’s state budget included legislation creating a new campaign finance system for state elections, based on the recommendations of a state-created commission, while also creating new hurdles for minor parties that could place many of them in a tenuous position heading into the election.

Starting this year and continuing every two years, political parties now have to meet new, higher thresholds to automatically qualify for a ballot line. Where previously they only had to win 50,000 votes every four years in a gubernatorial election, they now have to win 2% of votes cast or 130,000 votes, whichever is greater, every two years, in a gubernatorial or presidential election. Based on the 2018 election, none of the state’s minor parties would have met that threshold except the Conservative Party. The Working Families Party is in the midst of a massive effort to keep its line.

[Read: New York's Smaller Political Parties Must Quickly Meet New Ballot Thresholds]

5. Max Rose Tries to Keep the Congressional Seat He Flipped in 2018
In New York’s 11th Congressional District, first-term Democrat Max Rose is in a pitched battle for his seat against Republican Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis. A recent NBC 4 New York / Marist Poll found that Malliotakis held a slight lead in the race, with 48% of likely voters to Rose’s 46%.

The district, which has swung several times between the two parties, covers all of Staten Island and parts of Southern Brooklyn along the waterfront. It has been a target for Republicans ever since Rose won it in 2018, defeating incumbent Dan Donovan, the Republican former Staten Island District Attorney.

Rose, a military veteran, is a moderate, center-left Democrat who has often sought to distance himself from the party’s more progressive policies and members. As he runs for reelection, he has repeatedly criticized Mayor Bill de Blasio, a two-term Democrat, for his perceived failures in running the city and has at times even expressed support for President Trump, though Rose did vote to impeach Trump.

Malliotakis represents the Assembly in a district that covers most of the east shore of Staten Island and a small part of Southern Brooklyn. She previously ran for mayor of New York City in 2017, but only won 27.1% of the vote, losing handily to de Blasio who won 65.1%. She did, however, win Staten Island that year with 70% to de Blasio’s 25.3%.

The seat is rated one of the most competitive across the country, and while it helped Democrats flip the House of Representatives in 2018, the party does not appear to need it to keep the House after this election. But whether it is part of Democrats keeping and expanding their majority or Republicans narrowing it or possibly flipping control back is yet to be seen. The seat had been Republicans’ only congressional office in New York City until Rose took it.

6. Other Congressional Races in New York and Control of the House
In the 2018 midterm elections, Democrats flipped control of the 435-seat House of Representatives, with a net gain of 40 seats. In New York, the party flipped three seats – Max Rose defeated Dan Donovan in the 11th District, Antonio Delgado prevailed over John Faso in the 19th District, and Anthony Brindisi was victorious against Claudia Tenney in the 22nd District.

Delgado looks to be headed to reelection, facing first-time Republican candidate Kyle Van De Water, an Army veteran and attorney, in a district slightly north of New York City. Further upstate, Brindisi is again facing Tenney this year as she seeks to reclaim the position. Though Tenney is hoping to be boosted by Trump’s presence on the top of the ticket, a recent Siena College poll showed that Brindisi has a comfortable nine-point lead in the race. Rose is the most vulnerable of the three Democrats, as he faces a tough fight against Malliotakis in a pro-Trump district. 

The state will also send some new Democrats to the House, candidates finalizing their journeys after tough primaries but easy general elections given teh overwhelmingly Democratic districts they’re running in. In the 15th District in the Bronx, Ritchie Torres, currently a City Council member, won the Democratic nomination from a crowded field vying to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Jose Serrano. In the 16th District, including parts of the Bronx and Westchester, progressive Democrat Jamaal Bowman won the June primary to unseat Rep. Eliot Engel, who had been in office for 16 terms. Both Torres and Bowman are all but assured to win the general election and head to Congress, as is another Democrat, Mondaire Jones, who won a tough primary north of the city to replace retiring Rep. Nita Lowey. 

7. Andrew Gounardes Tries to Keep the State Senate Seat He Flipped in 2018
Democrat Andrew Gounardes flipped Brooklyn’s State Senate District 22 in 2018, defeating longtime incumbent Marty Golden, one of the last remaining Republicans in the state Legislature representing New York City.

The district, situated in Southern Brooklyn, includes some of the more moderate parts of the city. Though it has more than twice as many registered Democratic voters as Republicans, Gounardes nonetheless won in 2018 by a narrow margin. This year, he’s being challenged by Vito Bruno, a former nightclub owner and president of the Edmund G. Seergy Republican Club.

Democrats have expressed confidence they can hold the seat given the registration advantage and Bruno’s relative lack of name recognition as well as Gounardes’ first-term accomplishments, while Republicans think Trump’s presence at the top of the ballot can help Bruno win, along with controversial criminal justice reforms passed by Democrats in the State Legislature.

[Read: Democrats Flipped a Brooklyn State Senate Seat in 2018; Is It In Play In 2020?]

8. Other State Senate Races Outside the City and Control of the Senate
After winning control of the State Senate in 2018 and working with their party-mates in the Assembly and governor’s office to pass a long list of liberal legislation, Democrats are now looking at the possibility of capturing a supermajority in the chamber. They currently hold 40 out of 63 seats; Republicans hold 20 while three are vacant from Republican resignations. Several Republicans have also announced their retirements at the end of the year, creating a slew of “open” seats that are being hotly contested.

Since 2018, Trump has grown increasingly unpopular in the state, Democratic voter enrollment has continued to increase, and the party has vastly outraised and outspent the GOP in state Senate campaign funds. Democrats are hoping that turnout will be in their favor again this year and believe they can pick up as many as ten seats; they only need a net gain of two for a supermajority, which would allow the Senate Democratic majority to work with the supermajority of Democrats in the Assembly to potentially override gubernatorial vetoes.

Republicans, however, maintain that they will hold on to all their seats and that they will be able to appeal to moderate Democrats and conservatives to unseat several first-term Democrats who have pushed the Legislature and the state overall towards the left.

Brooklyn’s 25th State Senate District will also see new representation from Jabari Brisport, who won the June primary over Assemblymember Tremaine Wright and others to fill a vacancy being left by the retirement of State Senator Velmanette Montgomery. Brisport, a democratic socialist, is running unopposed in the general election.

[Read: Democrats Eye a Supermajority, Republicans Look to Regain Seats: the 2020 New York State Senate Battle]

9. Other Races of Note in the City
Queens is set to get a new Borough President and it’s all but certain to be Democratic City Council Member Donovan Richards. In the June primary, Richards emerged victorious in a crowded field to claim the nomination; the seat has been held on an interim basis by BP Sharon Lee since former Borough President Melinda Katz resigned at the start of the year to become the borough’s district attorney.

Richards’ most prominent opponent is Republican nominee Joann Ariola, chair of the Queens County Republican Party. But Democrats hold a massive voter enrollment advantage and the borough has not elected a Republican as borough president since the 1950s.

[Read: Donovan Richards Lays Out His Vision As Likely Next Queens Borough President]

In Assembly District 76 on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, incumbent Democrat Rebecca Seawright is running for reelection. But Seawright’s bid is only noteworthy because she is running on the self-created “Rise and Unite" party line that she had to create after she was kicked off the Demorcatic and Working Families Party ballot lines after failing to file the proper ballot paperwork. She is being challenged by Republican Louis Puliafito in a race where the GOP is hoping to eek out a win based on there being no Democratic nominee on the ballot and the fact that the Upper East Side is still home to a sizable group of Republicans.

In Assembly District 64, Democrats may have a chance to flip a Republican-held seat as the current incumbent is Nicole Malliotakis, who is not running for reelection as she runs for Congress. Democrat Brandon Patterson, former deputy chief of staff to state Senator Diane Savino, and Republican Michael Tannousis, a former assistant district attorney in the Bronx and Staten Island DAs offices, are running against each other.

In Assembly District 57, incumbent Democrat Walter Mosley lost the Democratic primary to Phara Souffrant Forrest, a nurse and first-time candidate who was endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America. After losing the primary, Mosley is running on the Working Families Party line, having received their endorsement as well. But the WFP has asked him to stand down and urged their members to vote for Forrest instead, giving her their endorsement after the primary.

There are also some other notable Assembly races in the city, largely pro-forma finalizing of contested June primaries through the general election.

In Assembly District 31 in Queens, Khaleel Anderson, who is just 24 years old, came out on top in a crowded Democratic primary to win the nomination. The race was for an open seat left vacant after Assemblymember Michele Titus was elected as a civil court judge.

There were other upsets along with those by Souffrant Forrest and Anderson in Assembly districts in the primary, as leftist candidates unseated longtime establishment Democrats and are now poised to sail to election in the general.

In Assembly District 50 in Brooklyn, activist Emily Gallagher defeated Assemblymember Joe Lentol. In Assembly District 51 in Brooklyn, Marcela Mitaynes defeated Assemblymember Felix Ortiz. In Assembly District 34 in Queens, Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas defeated Assemblymember Michael DenDekker. In Assembly District 36 in Queens, Zohran Mamdani defeated Assemblymember Aravella Simotas. In Assembly District 38 in Queens, Jenifer Rajkumar defeated Assemblymember Michael Miller. In Assembly District 84 in the Bronx, Amanda Septimo won after Assemblymember Carmen Arroyo was disqualified from the ballot.

by Ethan Geringer-Sameth and Samar Khurshid

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

9 Things to Watch in the 2020 General Election in New York Sun, 01 Nov 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: State Senator Andrew Gounardes on His Case for Reelection 2 gounardes oct7

State Senator Andrew Gounardes (photo: @Sen_Gounardes)

October 7, 2020 - Max & Murphy Podcast: State Senator Andrew Gounardes on His Case for Reelection

State Senator Andrew Gounardes joined the show to discuss his reelection bid.

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

Max & Murphy · Episode 254: State Senator Andrew Gounardes On His Case For Reelection

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Max & Murphy Podcast: State Senator Andrew Gounardes on His Case for Reelection Wed, 07 Oct 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Democrats Flipped a Brooklyn State Senate Seat in 2018; Is It In Play In 2020? Senator Andrew Gounardes Brooklyn Albany presser

State Senator Andrew Gounardes in Albany (photo: @sen_gounardes)

Pro-NYPD and Black Lives Matter protesters clashed, sometimes violently, in Southern Brooklyn last weekend, a conflict emblematic of the changing and complicated politics in traditionally moderate to conservative neighborhoods that have been home to leftward political movement, partially due to an influx of new residents.

One marker of the changes was the 2018 election of Democrat Andrew Gounardes in State Senate District 22, where he defeated long-time Republican incumbent and former police officer Marty Golden to flip the seat and help flip the Senate, thus creating all-Democratic control of state government and ushering in an era of sweeping progressive change in New York.

Now, Gounardes is up for reelection and facing an opponent whose platform centers around the polarizing topic of police reform and argument that Democrats in Albany have lurched too far left. In fact, Gounardes’ opponent in the upcoming November general election, former nightclub owner Vito Bruno, who ran unsuccessfully for Brooklyn borough president in 2017 and also serves as president of Brooklyn’s Edmund G. Seergy Republican Club, attended the pro-NYPD rally, as did Golden, which wasn't simply supportive of the police, but included people espousing racism and misogyny in virulent verbal and sometimes physical attacks on Black Lives Matter supporters.

Like many Democrats, Gounardes has walked something of a middle ground, expressing support for police officers and public safety, while lamenting police brutality and racism and calling for reform. He’s also voted for reform, with the Legislature recently passing a package of new police oversight and accountability measures.

In response to the weekend protests and chaos that ensued at times, Gounardes and his close ally, City Council Member Justin Brannan, who represents an overlapping district, denounced all violence involved and reiterated a nuanced stance.

“We’ve seen videos and read eyewitness accounts of the protests in Bay Ridge. What we saw and read is deeply troubling and disturbing. Violence initiated by both protestors and counter-protestors, eggs thrown at police officers, people being pepper-sprayed, American flags burning, and inflammatory and hateful rhetoric spewed venomously,” the statement reads. “As we have done consistently when violence has erupted at protests across the city, we forcefully condemn this unacceptable behavior. All of it. We support everyone’s right to demonstrate for what they believe in, but will not stand for instigating violence.”

Multiple videos circulated of pro-NYPD protesters using sexist, racist language against counter-protesters. Some said they hoped Black Lives Matter protesters would be raped and that Black lives were "garbage," as reported by Gothamist. And despite assaults being committed by individuals of both groups, as Gounardes and Brannan noted in their statement, two Black men part of the Black Lives Matter protests were arrested, while no pro-NYPD protesters displaying similar behavior faced charges, according to Gothamist. Gounardes and Brannan did not address this in their statement, although they condemned local organizers for not doing more to denounce the “violence, racism and misogyny” of Sunday’s protest in Dyker Heights.

They also said they have asked for a full investigation into a video showing a Black man having a brief exchange with police officers before being shoved, tased, and tackled by police (video appeared to show that protestor previously throwing a helmet into a crowd of pro-NYPD ralliers), and said they would be meeting with the captain of the 68th precinct for a full briefing of the events.

Although it is unclear if they live in the district, Twitter users on both sides of the issue seemed displeased with the politicians’ response, indicative of some of what both Gounardes and Brannan must navigate in what is about as much of a swing district as exists in New York City. Gounardes defeated Golden in 2018 by less than 2% of the vote, with 33,507 votes to 32,236 votes. Brannan won his 2017 general election by just 794 votes over his Republican opponent, John Quaglione.

“Real ‘very fine people on both sides’ energy,” Nicole Murray wrote, referencing President Donald Trump’s remarks about a 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA that were widely criticized for equating white supremacists to anti-racist protesters.

“You guys are a disgrace to Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, NYC and politics for not supporting your police. You don’t deserve to live in my city,” Carlo D'Angelo Jr. wrote.

Bruno has made support for the police and a tough-on-crime stance a focus of his campaign and has blamed spikes in crime on Democratic policies like state bail reform. He’s been endorsed by Curtis Sliwa, a radio host and the founder of the Guardian Angels anti-crime organization that encourages street patrols, and who has a history of misogyny and racially insensitive comments.

“Nobody out here is with the defunding of the police,” Bruno said of the district in an interview. “The crime has gone through the roof since the bail reform laws were passed, I know they tried to do a little bit of a fix, but the crime has gone through the roof. It’s absolutely frightening to the people that live out here.”

Bruno was referring to changes in the law that went into effect at the start of the year that drastically curtailed the use of cash bail for almost all defendants, other than those accused of violent misdemeanors or felonies. The laws expanded use of supervised release and other pre-trial mechanisms for ensuring defendants continue to show up for court and their proceedings without being jailed while not convicted of a crime.

However, after backlash from District Attorneys, Mayor Bill de Blasio and the NYPD, and others who claimed crime rates increased because of the new bail system, Governor Andrew Cuomo and the State Legislature rolled back portions of the law to expand bailable offenses. In a deal reached in early April that went into effect July 1, crimes like second-degree burglary, any crime that results in a person’s death, and others, were again made eligible for bail. Added restrictions were also put on certain people with narcotics related charges, who are on probation or parole, and who are charged with a felony after having two prior felonies.

“When it comes to things like bail reform, it is all a part of the Republican fear machine of — even yesterday the New York Post put out an article showing how the NYPD’s own statistics disprove that the increase in crime, which is happening nationwide, it’s not like a New York City thing, has nothing to do with bail,” Gounardes said in a recent interview. “Obviously, I take every issue of public safety very seriously and I’m just as concerned as the next person about spikes in shootings and spikes in fireworks and spikes in handle surfing crimes and crimes of convenience, but we have to be smart about the approach we’re going to take to combat those issues, and work with our law enforcement partners, target solutions that actually get to the root cause of this stuff and that’s how we’re going to solve these problems. Not fear-mongering, not scapegoating, not finger-pointing, and certainly not pumping your chest and saying that just because you support police you’re a better person.”

The Post cited NYPD statistics of shootings through June 30 that show just one person released under the bail reform laws has been charged with a shooting. It also shows 91 of 11,000 people released from Rikers Island through the same reforms were involved in a shooting, and of those over half were either victims or witnesses.

Asked about that data, Bruno said it does not prove those released without bail are not committing more of the shootings as the data only uses information on people who are caught by police. He claimed more people released due to the bail reform could be committing shootings but not getting caught and stood by the claim by the NYPD that the legislation was responsible for the spike in crime.

“If somebody does a violent crime, they should not be out in two hours. It’s just wrong,” Bruno said, although the bail reforms allowed for those accused of two violent crimes — burglary in the second degree and robbery in the second degree — to be released without bail. Otherwise, those accused of other violent crimes have been required to post bail, if they are released at all.

Gounardes refutes Bruno’s depiction of him as lacking support of the police, referencing his sponsorship of a bill that made first grade police officers who have served for 25 to 30 years eligible for the same pension benefits as those in higher positions and of a bill that increases the benefits by 3% for spouses of fallen police and firefighters, among other legislation.

“My record on supporting law enforcement is pretty unimpeachable when it comes to those things, and I have no problem matching my record against his on these things,” Gounardes said.

“It’s just kind of ironic that Vito himself is trying to be the law and order candidate when he’s made his entire career on the club and drug scene of the ‘80s and ‘90s that ravaged New York City,” Gounardes said. “I just find it very rich that all of a sudden he found the gospel and is now preaching law and order.”

Bruno had been accused of (and even appeared to admit to) breaking multiple laws while running his nightclub, Odyssey, including throwing parties that broke the curfew at the time, bribing police officers, and obtaining drugs for his celebrity friends. When asked, Bruno denied the claims, said those times were long behind him and expressed frustration that they continue to be brought up.

“Everybody likes the sensationalism of stuff that’s 40 years old. It’s really all settled,” Bruno said. “All of that’s not true and all of that stuff is just me being sarcastic with people. Me running a nightclub that, back in those days, the clubs all stayed open late, that’s what it was. And you’re competing with somebody and then you get in trouble. That’s all in the past.”

The effectiveness of Bruno’s law and order platform is yet to be seen, but some, like Liam McCabe, who ran in the 2017 Republican primary in the 43rd City Council District now represented by Brannan, believe Gounardes is in a difficult position as a representative often seeking to find a middle-ground amongst his constituents in a district with vocal supporters of President Donald Trump and more conservative views but also of progressive politics and politicians. A potentially ‘silent majority’ of voters, though, seem to support candidates who seek middle ground and don’t regularly flock to one political pole or the other, such as their current representatives: Gounardes, Brannan and Congressional Representative Max Rose.

“Andrew and Justin and Max are all in a very, very difficult political situation because they can’t, ultimately, appease both sides,” McCabe said of the three Democratic officials representing the area.

McCabe mentioned members of the “Defund the NYPD” movement who protested outside Brannan’s house after he voted ‘yes’ for the new city budget that did not cut the demanded $1 billion from the NYPD. He said those on the right would be just as unhappy with Brannan, who had committed to voting for a budget only if it had $1 billion in meaningful NYPD cuts, for supporting the defund movement, while those on the left were not satisfied with the final result, either. Brannan voted in favor of a budget deal he said did meaningfully shift resources from the police department to things like youth services, including a significant amount of capital money that allowed the total figure to surpass $1 billion.

Still, Brannan, Gounardes, and other politicians in the area have sought to maintain something of a middle ground, while mostly trying to focus on local, quality of life, and community issues, and constituent services.

When it comes to the Defund the NYPD movement, Gounardes was not prepared to provide an answer during the interview with Gotham Gazette, but later said in a statement, “Many of our law enforcement officers’ current responsibilities relate to mental health and social services — we can and should allocate resources for the safety of all New Yorkers while ensuring NYPD officers can do their core jobs.”

On bail reform, Gounardes said in a statement, “The old system of guilty until proven rich wasn’t working but we made changes to the law that were responsive to the concerns of people on the ground.”

Gounardes believes his record of listening to his constituents and to all sides on an issue while trying to find common ground will help him win come November. It’s unclear how competitive Bruno and Republicans can make the race, and what kind of effort Gounardes and his supporters will have to make to ensure his reelection. In Gounardes’ 2018 win over Golden, Governor Andrew Cuomo campaigned with him in the district multiple times, and progressive groups who had focused a great deal of energy on Senate primaries were able to also devote significant attention to the only competitive general election Senate race in the city.

This year, Gounardes has been endorsed by the Working Family Party, New York Immigration Coalition Action, Planned Parenthood, labor unions including 1199 SEIU, UAW Region 9A, CWA D1, the New York State Nurses Association, and the National Association of Social Workers, and political clubs Bay Ridge Democrats and Stonewall Democrats. That list is likely to continue to grow significantly as November approaches.

“I haven’t seen a single plan or idea from my opponent since he announced his candidacy,” Gounardes said in the interview. “It’s easy for someone to come in and just yell and scream and point fingers. It’s another thing for someone to come to the table with solutions and come to the table and say that you were wrong and listen to and speak to everyone in your community. I think that my record shows that I have given everyone in the community a voice and a seat at the table, it doesn’t matter who they are or where they come from or what language they speak. We have a very, very diverse district and anyone that wants to represent this district has to acknowledge and empower that diversity.”

Gounardes cited his votes as part of the new Democratic majority for legislation he had said he would help pass if elected in 2018, such as the Child Victims Act, the Reproductive Health Act, speed camera authorization, and gun control legislation.

With the city’s spike in shootings front-and-center as the race unfolds, Gounardes’ campaign emphasized his role in gun control legislation, especially as a sign that he has meaningfully worked toward addressing the problem while his opponent has not proposed any solutions.

Asked to elaborate on what he sees as the solution to the increase in gun violence, Bruno again emphasized his opposition to Gounardes.

“Obviously, the gun control is not working,” Bruno said, going on to restate his criticism of defunding the NYPD and bail reform, as well as the recent disbandment of the NYPD’s “anti-crime unit” made up of plain-clothed officers who focused on getting guns off the street but NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said had at times exacerbated tensions with communities.

Bruno also said that emphasis from the Defund the NYPD movement and others on redistributing resources from the police to mental health, employment, youth, and other services in order to reduce what they believe are root causes of crime is misguided.

“I know what they’re all saying and a lot of those programs do already exist,” Bruno said. “It’s the culture that’s the problem. And statistics will show — and I know they’ll turn it into a racial thing, which I do not want to. I do not want to — but statistics show that households that don’t have a father, the crime and all that is through the roof.”

Bruno also mentioned affordability and relief for small businesses as priorities for his campaign. When asked on multiple occasions to name policies or legislation he supports, Bruno declined to do so but said his campaign will roll out “legitimate policies and legislation” in the next few weeks.

Mike Murphy, a campaign spokesperson for New York Senate Democrats, said he believes Gounardes’ track record when it comes to legislation, especially compared to Bruno’s limited experience in government, makes the seat one Democrats are confident they will hold.

“Gounardes has been a huge part of the conference and has really made a name for himself. I think it’s one of those districts that we expect to win pretty handily,” said Murphy, who also runs communications for Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. “Bruno has a lot of issues that will obviously be highlighted.”

The district, which voted for Obama in 2012 and then Trump in 2016, has been considered fairly favorable for Republicans — as were others prior to 2018 — though Democrats have had a voter registration advantage for several years. It is among the areas previously helpful to electing Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg as mayor, and parts of the Senate district went for Republican Nicole Malliotakis in 2017 as she attempted to unseat Mayor Bill de Blasio, even as district voters also elected Brannan to the Council by a narrow margin. While it has a sizeable pro-Trump voting bloc, it is also home to many supporters of Bernie Sanders.

The Senate District has 176,315 registered voters, with 87,648 Democrats and 36,645 Republicans; 1,323 registered with the Conservative Party and 4,498 with the Independence Party; and 45,129 unaffiliated with a political party (often referred to as “independents”).

Shockingly to some, Golden ran for reelection unopposed in 2016. In 2014, he won by over 30% of the vote against Democrat Jamie Kemmerer, and defeated Gounardes himself in 2012 by about 15% of the vote.

After the 2018 elections, when Republicans lost many seats in the State Senate, there is not a clear path back to the majority for the party that is now down to only 23 seats in the 63-seat Senate.

When Republicans lost the Senate majority, they lost significant financial support, too. They have received fewer donations from formerly-reliable sources, like the real estate lobby, which went from donating over $200,000 to the Senate Republican Campaign Committee in 2016 to about $60,000 in 2018 to $0 so far this year. Meanwhile, the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee raised more than $2 million in the last six months, from January to this month’s filing deadline, according to the New York Daily News, and the SRCC just $248,000.

That checks out in Senate District 22, where Gounardes has over 10 times more money on-hand than Bruno, with a nearly $400,000 balance compared to Bruno’s $24,000, as of the most recent campaign finance filings. Gounardes outraised his opponent, with $340,000 this last six-month period to add to a starting balance of around $170,000. Comparatively, Bruno raised a little under $40,000 for his campaign.

Since losing the majority by such a wide margin in 2018, Republicans have tempered expectations about retaking it in 2020, seeing it more as a two-cycle project, going through the 2022 elections, which will be the next gubernatorial election year. Even McCabe, a staunch Republican, said flipping the Senate is likely a long-term process. Still, he said winning seats like Gounardes’ back is a “big part” of being able to do so.

Republicans have “always had seats in the Senate, in the city, and I think they need to continue to regain those and hold on to them,” McCabe said. “You don’t have to win the entire city, but you have to hold on to a certain position of it to do well statewide.”

State Senator Pam Helming, the newly-named chair of the Senate Republican Campaign Committee, said there “is not a seat we are not focused on,” and that, although Democratic enrollment far exceeds that of Republicans, she feels areas including the Hudson Valley, the Finger Lakes region, Western New York, and the North Country have voters across the political spectrum who are concerned about one-party rule of the state and want to see a change.

Helming, who represents Canandaigua, said it would be Bruno’s presence in the community, more than anything, that would be key in propelling him to victory.

“I’m very excited about our candidate, Vito Bruno, he is an exceptional candidate, a very successful businessman and he’s just brought this level of energy and excitement to the neighborhood,” she said in an interview. “The feedback we’re getting from people, it’s something that’s missing, something that the present senator, he’s not actively engaged in the community, he’s not out there and he doesn’t have a strong presence. This is going to be a close race that we win.”

Gounardes has disputed the idea that he is not in the community and cited the work his office has done in feeding thousands of families by providing hot meals five days a week, groceries, and unemployment filing assistance throughout the pandemic.

He’s also made a pitch to voters about the work he will continue to do if reelected, highlighting priorities like free public higher education, improvements to the MTA, specifically with regards to accessibility, and improved action on climate change. He said “We have to start talking about what it means to live in a post-COVID world,” and referenced the need to address child care, creating an education system that works for everyone, investing in public hospitals, and having a safety net for people as key issues he is “going to run on, and that’s what I’m going to win on.”

But Helming, like Bruno, also focused on high crime rates she says Gounardes’ constituents are concerned about.

“The Republicans are going to take back this seat because they want common sense restored,” Helming said. “They are seeing this dramatic rise in crime in the New York City area, they are feeling like it’s becoming dangerous to live in their areas. They want change, they want stability back, they don’t want someone who supports criminals over crime victims. They want someone who’s going to protect all people, including our law enforcement.”

In a statement, Gounardes further framed himself as a legislator who finds a middle ground in a diverse district.

“The local Republican leadership here keeps running on the same old tired tropes,” Gounardes said. “They don’t understand that yes, you can be against racism, believe that Black Lives Matter, and still respect our local police. It's the job of a leader to find common ground and not further contribute to the divisive politics that are tearing our country apart — and now threaten the civic fabric of our own communities."

by Victor Porcelli, Gotham Gazette

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Democrats Flipped a Brooklyn State Senate Seat in 2018; Is It In Play In 2020? Sun, 19 Jul 2020 04:00:00 +0000
No to Austerity, Yes to Efficiency and Fairness: Getting Our Budget Priorities Straight for a Strong Post-COVID New York exec bud 18

Major budget questions loom as coronavirus takes its toll (photo: Edwin J. Torres/ Mayor's Office)

As we work to show COVID the door, tough budget decisions are ahead. Governments at every level are grappling with the unprecedented toll this pandemic has had on the economy. 

COVID has laid bare structural inequities too stark to ignore. While some work comfortably from home, others put themselves in danger on the front lines. While some flee to the Hamptons, others pass the virus between family members in cramped New York City apartments.

These choices become even more stark when we take a cold, hard look at post-coronavirus state and municipal budgets. New York State is facing a $10-$15 billion budget deficit. New York City projects a $7.4 billion loss in tax revenue. 

Where should we go to fill the budget gaps? 

Our executives have given us hints of what they want to do. We are told that painful cuts are necessary, that sacrifices must be made.

Mayor de Blasio already took a scythe to just about every program with the prefix summer including the Summer Youth Employment Program, a program that provides summer jobs for at-risk teenagers. He has also cut services that affect our daily lives, like trash pickup days and electronics recycling.

Governor Cuomo pushed to cut health-care funding in this year’s budget, even as our public hospitals struggle to treat an influx of coronavirus patients, and we’re told to wait with baited breath for more cuts to come.

The mayor continually refuses to lessen property tax burdens on low- and middle-class homeowners and renters, many of whom are bearing the brunt of COVID’s pain, while the governor has refused to consider revenue raisers on ultra-millionaires, billionaires, and large corporations, many of whom are left unaffected by the virus’ scourge.

We believe these are misguided decisions. We reject the choice between austerity budgeting and a tax burden shouldered by low- and middle-income New Yorkers.

Instead, we need an honest assessment of how we can raise revenues by looking to those who can afford to pay their fair share.

The very wealthiest New Yorkers will not face eviction or foreclosure, like so many other New Yorkers. They will not struggle to access unemployment benefits. They will wait out the storm in second homes.

As a matter of basic fairness, these individuals less impacted by COVID can and should contribute more.

We should also look at corporations that have profited specifically because of this pandemic. These large corporations can and should pay more to rebuild our economy when this is all over.

Passing austerity budgets that cut essential services will only doubly punish our frontline workers and those struggling to make ends meet during and after this pandemic. After all, our essential workers — EMS, police, firefighters, Parks Department employees, grocery store workers, transit workers, nurses, doctors, and so many others — are about 40% people of color; 75% of whom live in the so-called outer boroughs. One-third of our frontline workers are from low-income households.

An austerity approach will inevitably push our city deeper into recession and make it even harder to dig out of this financial hole.

In addition to revenue raisers on those who can afford it, we need substantial federal funds and can borrow up to 20% of the budget from the Federal Reserve’s COVID-19 emergency lending program.

Finally, we also must take a hard look at the waste in our budgets. The New York City budget has ballooned by $20 billion in the last six years alone. The state budget is certainly not immune to wasteful spending either. 

Instead of making cuts to hospitals, CUNY, and summer employment, we need to look at the programs with unproven impact, the spending that doesn’t go directly into communities.

For example, procurement contracts make up nearly 40% of the city budget’s recent growth. These contracts should be reviewed and scrapped or renegotiated as necessary. In 2018, the Independent Budget Office suggested that simply switching to open source software could save the city $30 million per year.

For every wasteful or unproven program we know about, there may be many more that we haven’t yet identified, in part for lack of looking close enough. These budgets need to be scrutinized and every revenue-raising option must be explored before we cut a single dollar to any program that working-class New Yorkers rely on. 

This pandemic has put us through the wringer in the most brutal way. All of us are reflecting on what kind of society we want to be when we emerge from this dark time. 

Our post-COVID government budgets will demonstrate our values. We stand for a New York City and State that cares for its people and lifts up those who need it most.

State Senator Andrew Gounardes and City Council Member Justin Brannan represent parts of Brooklyn. On Twitter @agounardes & @JustinBrannan.

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No to Austerity, Yes to Efficiency and Fairness: Getting Our Budget Priorities Straight for a Strong Post-COVID New York Thu, 21 May 2020 04:00:00 +0000
‘Not a Budget Anybody Should Be Celebrating’: Democratic Legislators Displeased with Albany Compromise 3 maj leader asc

A nearly-empty State Senate Chamber as business is conducted amid coronavirus outbreak (photo: NY Senate)

If New Yorkers take Governor Andrew Cuomo’s word for it, the new $177 billion budget approved last week will “deliver results” for the people of the state and was a far cry from a “bare minimum” spending plan at a time when the state’s finances are racked by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. But within his own Democratic Party, which controls both houses of the Legislature where the plan was passed, the budget is a highly unpopular document that to many legislators fails to live up to the needs and priorities of New Yorkers.

"This is a moment in history unlike any other, and government needs to function and deliver results for the people of this state now more than ever — and that's exactly what we did with this budget," Cuomo, now in his third term, said in a statement last Thursday, after announcing the highlights of the budget agreement with the Legislature, which included a wide variety of policy and fiscal decisions.

Cuomo cited a number of policies that were passed, including a paid sick leave bill, legalizing gestational surrogacy, creating a new felony for hate crimes considered acts of ‘domestic terrorism,” banning gender-pricing disparities known as the “pink tax,” creating new regulations on vaping and e-cigarettes, establishing a $3 billion bond act for environmental restoration and climate mitigation projects, among others.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins similarly touted some of the same and other accomplishments, such as new controls of prescription drug prices, easing access to public assistance, bolstering unemployment insurance by $1 billion, and preventing huge cuts to education spending, and more -- but she also sounded a bittersweet note.

“This is not the budget we had hoped to pass at the beginning of Session, or even the budget we had envisioned just a month ago,” she said in a statement after the budget passed. “Our state’s financial situation has been thrust into a true economic crisis due to the coronavirus pandemic. Yet even in this crisis we managed to achieve a balanced budget that includes victories for the people of New York.”

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie boasted about environmental protection legislation, new gun control measures, the expansion of paid sick leave and particularly investments in higher education. “In these challenging and uncertain times, education and upward mobility have never been more important. That is why we fought relentlessly to ensure the preservation of critical funding for the programs New Yorkers count on to climb the economic ladder,” he said in a statement.

But the vote totals on the various budget bills and some of the floor speeches by Democratic legislators told a different story than the three people in ‘the room.’ An usually large number of Democratic lawmakers showed their displeasure with the fact that several progressive priorities were left out or modified, and chafed at some of the spending and tax decisions.

Recreational marijuana was not legalized. Bail reforms implemented just three months ago were rolled back. Renters suffering from the economic devastation of the coronavirus were not given any relief. Hospital funding was cut. A plan to reduce homelessness was again shelved. No new taxes on the wealthy were approved. Funding for public housing was not bolstered. School aid remained flat.

[Read: 10 Major Proposals Not Included in New State Budget]

This is the only the second year in Cuomo’s long tenure that Democrats have controlled both chambers of the state Legislature, after a decade of a Republican-led Senate and Democrat-dominated Assembly. Last year saw a raft of progressive bills across a range of issues: criminal justice reform, tenant protections, voting reform, women’s reproductive health, gun control, LGBTQ rights, environmental preservation, to name a few. So it wasn’t surprising that many Democrats, particularly in the 150-seat Assembly where they hold an overwhelming majority, were frustrated by the budget. What was unusual, though, was the number of "no" votes.

There isn’t one singular budget vote, but rather several appropriation bills that lawmakers vote on separately related to state operations, aid to localities, the legislature and judiciary, debt service, and capital projects. Then there are the Article VII Bills, grouped under four categories:  Public Protection and General Government (PPGG); Education, Labor and Family Assistance (ELFA); Transportation, Economic Development and Environmental Conservation (TED); and Revenue. They often include major policy decisions.

The votes varied but it was clear that a sizable number of Democrats were displeased. The ELFA bill, which contained the bail reform changes and included Medicaid overhaul provisions, barely squeaked through the Assembly, where it received 76 “yes” votes to 66 “no” votes, meaning it received the bare minimum number of votes to pass the chamber. It passed the 63-seat Senate 35-26. The TED bill was also a somewhat close vote in the Assembly, where it was approved 81-60, while the Senate passed it 39-22. There are 105 Democrats in the Assembly, and 40 members of the Senate Democratic conference.

In past years, Assembly Democrats voted in lock-step and near-unanimity to pass budgets agreed upon by the governor and legislative leaders, who typically conference major aspects of the compromises as they develop to ensure that most if not all members are on board. This year, however, a number of Democrats voted against key portions of the deal reached among Democratic leaders and didn’t hold back how they feel about the budget, even as some admitted that they voted for it despite the flaws they saw in it.

Assemblymember Aravella Simotas, a Queens Democrat who voted against the ELFA, TED and revenue bills, criticized the lack of new revenue raisers in the budget, the watering down of bail reform, cuts to healthcare and the underfunding of school aid, among other issues. “Decades of underfunding our most vital human services so the wealthy could get by without paying their fair share brought us to this point,” she said in a public statement

Assemblymember Yuh-line Niou, a Manhattan Democrat, similarly voted against the ELFA and TED bills. “In the recovery that must come after this crisis, what we need is not the cuts proposed by our governor but strong investments in our infrastructure and the public assets that could have mitigated this crisis had we only been willing to fund them previously,” she said as she explained her vote on the Assembly floor (the video of her remarks has been circulated widely on social media among progressives). “This budget, this values document, makes a terrible statement that we value big businesses and profits more than we value people, our people, the people of this state, and that is simply not who we are.”

Senator Brian Benjamin, also a Democrat from Manhattan, conceded that he was faced with impossible competing priorities. “I had 3 choices: a) vote yes for a negotiated budget where the Legislature has limited power; b) vote no and accept the Governor’s extender; or c) vote no on both and shut down the Govt. As a leader of the Senate, I took the hard vote and voted yes so others didn’t have to,” he tweeted on April 4.

If the government shut down, state employees would have gone unpaid during the outbreak, Benjamin noted. And he refused to cast a symbolic “no” vote to express his anger. “The ultimate lesson here is that the Senate and the Assembly have to work together and address our important nonbudgetary concerns BEFORE the budget process because if we don’t then the Governor has outsized power to address the issue and we will end up in this place again,” he added.

Senator Roxanne Persaud, a Brooklyn Democrat, professed a similar ambivalence in a statement to her constituents, noting that the final budget shows the “numerous tremendously difficult decisions” the Legislature had to make during the current crisis. “While I am not pleased with a number of final agreements contained in the thousands of pages of legislation, I am confident that my colleagues and I fought our hardest to deliver a balanced budget that mitigates some of the toughest possible outcomes,” she said.

In the days leading up to the budget deal, Assemblymember Robert Carroll, also a Brooklyn Democrat, wrote an op-ed asserting that negotiations were focused on the wrong priorities, calling for holding off on most policy decisions and passing a robust coronavirus relief agenda including a rent freeze and funded in part by higher taxes on top earners.

During a Wednesday interview on the Max & Murphy podcast, Queens State Senator Jessica Ramos criticized the bail rollbacks, hospital funding cuts, and other aspects of the budget deal in explaining her votes against pieces of it. She also lamented a lack of new revenue-generating measures, and connected what she sees as long-standing patterns of too-little investment in communities like she represents -- largely low-income and immigrant -- to the depth of the current coronavirus crisis.

"That’s why I’m so disappointed in the budget and why I voted 'no' on a few of the bills," Ramos said, "and I’m really hoping that we’re canceling rent soon, especially as May begins, and to figure out what the bailout looks like because every single New Yorker deserves the opportunity to be able to thrive after this calamity.”

“This is not a budget that anybody should be celebrating,” said Senator Andrew Gounardes, another Brooklyn Democrat, in his own public statement, though he did not vote against any bills. He pointed out that the budget was two days late, leading to delayed paychecks for state workers. If there had been any further delay, he said, New Yorkers waiting for unemployment checks from the state government would have continued to suffer.

Gounardes continued, “This is a budget that cut state spending by $5.7 billion, including more than $1 billion in healthcare at a time when our health network is working overtime to keep people alive. This is a budget that ignores the moral imperative to tax the ultrawealthy, raising the revenue we need to stave off cuts to critical services. This is a budget that failed to invest in our public higher education system, when it was needed most.”

Gounardes cited the same issue that Benjamin raised, as did Senator Zellnor Myrie, a Brooklyn Democrat, that the state budget process places far too much power in the governor’s office.

Myrie, who outlined the good and bad in the budget, said in a public statement to his constituents, “You should know that the budget process is constitutionally flawed. The Executive has enormous control over the agenda and the Legislature is often left with a "take it or leave it" proposition. During a pandemic, this imbalance is magnified. Under these conditions, the Leadership was faced with the prospects of shutting down the government during a public health crisis, or, accepting a flawed budget. They made the excruciatingly difficult decision to accept a flawed budget.” He noted that he nonetheless voted “no” on bills that contained provisions he did not agree with, including the cuts to Medicaid spending for hospitals and the bail reform rollback.

In a fiery speech on the Assembly floor, Bronx Assemblymember Michael Blake invoked the history of slavery, emancipation and the civil rights movement as he critiqued the watering down of bail reform, urging his colleagues to join him in voting “no.”

“It’s in this moment that we must truly ask ourselves what is more important, rushing to vote on a budget when many of us are afraid of being paid for a day or rushing to lock up more black or brown folk who get paid cents in a day?….For students, our seniors, our humans behind bars, this budget bill is not justice, it is the justification of continuing 401 years of injustice,” Blake said.

Other "no" votes by Democratic legislators on at least one budget bill included Senators Alessandra Biaggi, Gustavo Rivera, and Julia Salazar, as well as Assemblymembers Harvey Epstein, Jeff Aubry, Charles Barron, Catalina Cruz, Carmen De La Rosa, Mathylde Frontus, Nathalia Fernandez, Ron Kim, Joe Lentol, Walter Mosley, Danny O'Donnell, Felix Ortiz, Dan Quart, Jo Anne Simon, Latrice Walker, and Tremaine Wright. 

Republicans, meanwhile, still made up the vast majority of "no" votes in both houses. They were incensed that the budget was not a bare bones spending plan and that Democrats advanced a slew of non-revenue legislation. Most also wanted to see the changes to last year's bail reforms go further in the other direction.

“During unprecedented times that demand a concentrated focus, [the] state Majority rushed out a cluttered state budget that offered nothing of the kind,” said Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay, in a statement on the budget. “Concocted behind closed doors and advanced under the cover of darkness, the state’s final spending plan drifted too far from our current crisis and was entirely bogged down by misguided political policies.”

He added, “Assembly Majority rejected a Minority proposal to help small businesses and employees, but they extended tax credits to Hollywood studios. As restaurants everywhere are forced to close their doors, Majority politicians added more regulations that stifle growth and cut deeper into the industry’s bottom line. The appropriate time to discuss taxpayer-funded campaigns, gestational surrogacy or criminal justice reforms is in the light of day, with an open debate and transparent process.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

‘Not a Budget Anybody Should Be Celebrating’: Democratic Legislators Displeased with Albany Compromise Thu, 09 Apr 2020 04:00:00 +0000
State Senate Looks Ahead to Complicated Task of Property Tax Reform sen br be3

Wednesday's Senate roundtable (photo: @NYSenBenjamin)

A roomful of top experts on New York’s property tax system -- an opaque topic that nonetheless touches every New Yorker, property-owner or not -- gathered for a roundtable discussion convened by state lawmakers Wednesday in downtown Manhattan. They were assembled at the hearing by State Senator Brian Benjamin, a Manhattan Democrat and chair of the Senate’s budget and revenues committee, to discuss solutions to the antiquated and unequal levy system that many want to see tackled in 2020, however overdue the action would be.

The issue has been a political “hot potato,” to use one lawmaker’s words, since the current property tax system was established through state law 40 years ago. Lawmakers, analysts, property owners, and others are now looking ahead to the next legislative session in Albany, which begins in early January, where a number of the issues raised Wednesday are promised to be on the table.

“What I have found so far as chair of this that the real property tax system is confusing, it’s complicated, and it’s not entirely fair,” said Benjamin, in opening remarks. The roundtable Wednesday followed a series of six public forums held by Benjamin’s office in all five boroughs over the past three months.

“The system as it currently exists was a temporary fix that was quickly outdated...Another bandaid or patch, in my opinion, will not fix this system. This system is broken at its core,” he said.

Wednesday’s conversation, which included economists, lawyers, and tax policy veterans, also unfolds in the context of a lawsuit challenging the system on the grounds that it imposes taxes disproportionately without regard to true market value -- a case that has the potential to drastically shake-up the property tax landscape.

At the same time, interested parties are awaiting the final report of an advisory commission established by city officials to comprehensively examine the entire system and make recommendations. The commission’s report, which was promised this year, would undoubtedly have implications for state legislators going into session in January. Wednesday’s roundtable was a kind of parallel effort by Benjamin to ready his committee for the technical and political heavy lifting it will face next year.

Other senators present Wednesday, all Democrats, included Liz Krueger, Leroy Comrie, Brad Hoylman, Robert Jackson, Zellnor Myrie, Andrew Gounardes, and John Liu, the former New York City Comptroller. For those legislators, in all but Comrie’s district in Queens, the effective tax rate on small owner-occupied homes is below the citywide average, according to an analysis of FY 2017 data by Tax Equity Now.

“This is by far one of the biggest issues I hear from my constituents,” said Gounardes, who represents parts of southern Brooklyn.

Among the biggest problems facing the state’s troubled system is that owners of similar properties can pay drastically different taxes. A 2018 study by the Citizens Budget Commission found that homeowners in the Bronx and Staten Island pay a higher percentage of the market value of their homes than they would in other boroughs, even though their homes tend to be worth less.

Another is the differential assessment formula used for different classifications of property, a vestige of the politically fraught landscape that created the current system, which now means the owners of some of the city’s most expensive co-ops and condos pay among the lowest real estate taxes.

The arithmetic used to levy taxes is complex. It involves four classes of property, each of which is valued differently and taxed on a different percentage of that value. To complicate matters, the rate at which the assessed value can climb in each property class is uniquely capped. Over time, the caps can lead to tax rates that lag behind the growth in market value, especially in booming neighborhoods.

Adding to the opacity of the system is a regime of abatements, rebates, and exemptions that obfuscate the logic behind a particular tax rate.

“The problem with the property tax is...nobody understands it, but nobody thinks they’re benefiting from it either. You have a really crazy system if nobody is actually patting themselves on the back and saying, ‘Wow, I’m getting away with paying much less,’” said Martha Stark, the former commissioner of the Department of Finance under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Stark is the policy director of Tax Equity Now, the group that brought the lawsuit against the city and state.

That case survived motions to dismiss by both the city and the state, which are now appealing the lower court’s determination. Stark said the courts could decide whether the suit can move forward in as little as a matter of weeks.

While it may be months before the lawsuit is resolved, officials say the city’s advisory commission may be coming out with its report soon, though no timeline has been provided.

In a statement to Gotham Gazette, Marc Shaw, chair of the commission and senior advisor at the CUNY Institute on State and Local Governance, wrote, “This is an enormously important issue for our city, and we want to get this right. We have made significant progress on the majority of the issues we believe are needed for reform, but a few do remain. Those issues need to be resolved before we release any report. We expect to have a preliminary report out soon for the public to review.”

A spokesperson for Mayor Bill de Blasio, who signed the executive order creating the commission, said the administration does not have an update on the commission’s status.

Many of the experts in the room agreed that a starting point for reform should be that each class’s baseline assessment be a property’s market price, which in some cases is estimated based on sales of similar properties. Under the state’s current assessment methodology that is not always the case.

For the past four decades, the state has placed 1-, 2-, and 3-family homes in Class 1, where their assessed values are based on the sales price of the property. By contrast, larger residential buildings fall into Class 2, where they are valued based on the annual income they receive in rent. But co-ops and condos, which are often owner-occupied and comprise some of the city’s most expensive properties, also fall into Class 2. As a result, it is not uncommon for a co-op that sold in the millions to be valued at a few hundred-thousand dollars or less, based on estimates of so-called “comparable” apartments nearby. (A number of experts said Wednesday that the way the city identifies comparable apartments is also flawed, at times going far afield to find them without adjusting for variables like the differing land values in a region or whether they have comparable amenities.)

Complicating the politics further is the fact that in many areas incomes have not kept pace with the market value growth of property. That means people who purchased homes when prices were low often struggle to keep up with property taxes when neighborhoods gentrify. Several of the state senators present, all of whom represented districts in New York City, expressed concern that moving to a fully market-based system could mean some long-term homeowners will see a sudden rise in property taxes so great they would not be able to keep their homes.

“When I say the system should be based on market value, the starting point should be a real market value that people recognize. How one then decides what taxes someone is going to pay is very, very different. If you want to consider a person’s income afterward you could do that,” said Stark, responding to the concerns.

Jeff Golkin, a veteran property tax lawyer, warned against making changes too quickly, especially in real estate where the return on investment is often registered in the long-term. “You can’t take away rights that people have now. You can’t take people who are protected now and throw them into the fire,” he said, “ change has to be done in a transitional grandfathering type of mechanism.”

Another issue is the size of the levy after a property’s value is determined. While state law dictates the tax assessment, the city controls the tax rate.

Roughly a third of the city’s budget comes from real estate taxes, the single largest revenue stream. Since fiscal year 2009, City Hall has kept the tax rate frozen, but rising market values and annual reassessments have allowed revenue from property taxes to increase year over year. The city’s advisory commission, created jointly by Mayor Bill de Blasio and Council Speaker Corey Johnson, was mandated to make recommendations to reform the system without diminishing the revenue it generates.

One analysis found that under Bloomberg the city budget rose 31.6 percent above inflation. In 2002, his first year in office and as the city was reeling from the effects of the 2001 terror attacks, Bloomberg raised the property tax rate by 18.5 percent. Since de Blasio took office, the city budget has grown over $20 billion.

“I think that there is a real need for some fiscal responsibility, not just on the state level but on the city level. The city should not be able to levy themselves out of fiscal responsibility every year,” said Comrie, who previously served in the City Council.

“At some point you can’t keep burdening folks who can’t pay. Most people in my district are on fixed income, they’re not getting Wall Street bonuses every year,” he said.

Senator Krueger summarized the feelings of many of her constituents. “Please God, give us a system that we can understand,” she said.

by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

State Senate Looks Ahead to Complicated Task of Property Tax Reform Thu, 05 Dec 2019 05:00:00 +0000
The Right to a Free and Quality Public Higher Education in New York cuny com 12

(photo: The City College of New York)

CUNY has long been the pride of New York City and its cradle of opportunity. But at a recent legislative hearing on higher education in Brooklyn, we heard from teachers, administrators, and students about a harsh reality: After years of state underinvestment in public college, our CUNY system is teetering on the edge of crisis. 

Both of us have been blessed with a CUNY education. Yet both of us see firsthand the heartbreak and struggle that many students face when they seek to advance themselves through higher education. In the end, some graduate. Some don’t. And some never get to try because it’s just not affordable.

Students desperately need relief. CUNY’s six-year degree completion rate is only 55%, and financial strain is one of the main reasons students drop out. In a 2017 report on college success, the Center for an Urban Future shared that 75% of dropouts at Kingsborough Community College had a financial “red flag” in their accounts such as owing money or loss of scholarship. To make matters worse, a staggering half of all CUNY students experience food insecurity, and many struggle with housing insecurity or even homelessness. 

There’s a reason for this dire situation: Tuitions have risen steadily year after year, as the share of the budget that comes from tuition has grown from 20% to almost 50% over the past 30 years.

In other words, students are bearing the burden of our failure to invest in quality public higher education.

This penny-pinching on the part of New York has led to further consequences. Adjuncts, upon whom CUNY increasingly relies, are grossly underpaid, even with a new contract that would increase the minimum pay per course. The ratio of full-time faculty to students is significantly higher than national standards. Facilities have deteriorated and class sizes have become overcrowded. These trends cause lower retention rates and greater time to graduation.

This is a downward spiral that we must stop. 

In today’s age, a higher education is no less necessary to succeed in most fields as a high school diploma was two generations ago. And a college degree is a pathway to economic opportunity and financial security: according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a person with only a high school diploma has nearly double the unemployment rate of a college graduate and earns on average 39 percent less per week. 

A CUNY education has been shown to be one of the most successful ways to bring a student from the bottom quintile in family income to the top—with a mobility rate of more than three times those of the most elite institutions.

The struggle of our CUNY students and underinvestment in our CUNY system mirrors the budget cuts for public schools across the nation that occurred after the Great Recession. State funding for public schools across the country is $9 billion below 2008 levels, adjusted for inflation, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. 

Recognizing the necessity of free college, Governor Cuomo and the Legislature implemented the Excelsior Scholarship in 2017, aiming to make four-year college tuition-free for many. 

Yet as of 2018, only about 3% of the state’s undergraduates benefited from the scholarship. The majority of applicants who applied were rejected because they didn’t meet the onerous credit requirements.

New York is missing out on future climate scientists, doctors, and other leaders because students can’t pay for rent, food, and a MetroCard without a job, which makes them unable to access or retain the Excelsior Scholarship. 

It’s time to transform New York State with a robust promise for free higher education. We did it once before with K-12 schooling and we should boldly aim to do it again by making New York the first state in the country to constitutionally guarantee a free, quality public college education.

Higher education should not be a luxury for the few but a tool for many. Let New York lead the way and make our state a model of what a commitment to public education in the 21st century should be. 

State Senator Andrew Gounardes represents parts of Brooklyn and is an adjunct professor at Hunter College. Timothy Hunter is chair of the University Student Senate and a CUNY Student Trustee. On Twitter @agounardes & @thunter_tim.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email

The Right to a Free and Quality Public Higher Education in New York Mon, 25 Nov 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Cuomo Begins Push to Flip State Senate and House of Representatives cuomo li senate candidates

Cuomo & Long Island candidates (photo: @andrewcuomo)

Having resoundingly won the Democratic Party nomination for a third term last month, Governor Andrew Cuomo is now directing the enormous campaign and party machinery that propelled his victory to focus its efforts on the New York State Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. In a break from past cycles when he has been criticized for doing too little for his party and its candidates, Cuomo has pledged to leverage the significant resources, financial and human, at his fingertips to help Democrats flip control of the two legislative chambers, one each at the state and federal levels, to better counter what he says are harmful policies of the Trump administration and Republican-led Congress.

On Monday, Cuomo stood alongside several state Senate candidates at LIU Post on Long Island, unveiling a nine-point Long Island-focused pledge to regain Democratic control of the legislative chamber -- Democrats need to pick up a net of one seat in the Senate, while in the Assembly they enjoy an overwhelming majority. Alongside a slate of Democratic Senate candidates, Cuomo signed the pledge, which includes measures he’s already put into place and others he has said he supports but hasn’t been able to get through the Republican-led Senate.

Cuomo and the battleground candidates promised to continue the state’s 2 percent property tax cap, which he says will protect Long Island residents from the federal government’s reduction of state and local tax (SALT) deductibility; he called for more funding for the MTA from New York City; he touted his $150 billion infrastructure plan, which includes modernizing the Long Island Rail Road; pledged to codify the protections of Roe v. Wade into state law; backed ethics and voting reforms; promised to continue investing in combating the MS-13 gang; and pushed his proposal for a red flag gun protection bill. He also spoke of providing more funding to public schools and protecting access to clean water.

“We need the New York State Senate, because the only security we’re going to have are the laws of the State of New York as they are tearing down our rights and values in Washington,” Cuomo said.

On Tuesday, the governor made a brief stop at the Stars & Stripes Democratic Club in southern Brooklyn to publicly endorse Andrew Gounardes, the Democrat challenging State Senator Marty Golden in one of the few New York City districts represented by a Republican. Cuomo repeated many of the same talking points from his Monday speech, which he has honed for his own campaign, warning of the ills of Republican control of government at the state and federal level and painting himself and New York State as the bulwark against Trump and the many threats his administration has levelled -- against women, immigrants, the LGBTQ community, Puerto Ricans, for instance.

“Elections matter. This one really, really matters,” Cuomo said, speaking of a broad disaffection among the electorate, on both sides of the aisle. The governor and Gounardes also signed a pledge, mostly similar to the one from Monday but including a focus on New York City issues such as a promise to pass speed camera legislation for school zones and expanding rent stabilization, and not including Long Island-focused planks like the LIRR and demanding more MTA funding from the city.

The September 13 primary saw a massive increase in turnout among Democratic voters, which many have cited as evidence of an ongoing and growing “blue wave” that is similarly boosting Democratic candidates across the country and expected by some to come crashing down upon Republicans on Election Day, November 6. But Cuomo’s own interpretation has differed somewhat, including when he dismissed the notion of a progressive wave the day after he won his primary, despite the fact that his under-funded opponent received more than 500,000 votes (to Cuomo’s nearly 1 million).

“I don’t like the expression the ‘blue wave’, because the ‘blue wave’ suggests its partisan,” Cuomo said at Tuesday’s rally in Bensonhurst, “that it’s Democrats who are offended. It’s not just Democrats who are offended...What this president is doing is not anti-Democratic, it’s anti-American...This is not a blue wave, my friends. This is a red, white, and blue wave.”

Last month, in the immediate aftermath of his primary win, just as he had done a few months after Donald Trump assumed office, Cuomo rallied the troops, but to his tune. “[T]he truth is this president and his extreme conservative colleagues have declared war on the State of New York. They are attacking our rights, our values, and our economy,” Cuomo said at a September 18 Democratic rally billed as an effort to relaunch the general election campaign to swing the state Senate and help flip the U.S. House. For nearly 20 minutes, Cuomo, newly invigorated from his primary win, inveighed against the “extreme conservative freight train” from Washington running roughshod over New Yorkers, and promised “more organizing, more mobilizing” to capture the energy of the Democratic base.

“[W]e’re gonna take this energy that we now have and we’re going to build on this energy,” he said. “It’s not going away...There’s a whole new Democratic movement. They’re responding to what we did and they’re responding to what they want to do by stopping this threat in Washington. And we have to build on that energy.”

A spokesperson for Cuomo’s campaign said he plans to personally raise funds and campaign for ten Democratic candidates running against sitting Republican congressional representatives -- he’s already sent each of them a maximum donation of $2,700 through a federal political action committee, Cuomo NY Take Back the House. The candidates include Perry Gershon, Liuba Grechen Shirley, Max Rose, Antonio Delgado, Tedra Cobb, Anthony Brindisi, Tracy Mitrano, Dana Balter, Joe Morelle and Nate McMurray. Politico New York reported last month that the broader effort Cuomo had promised had yet to materialize as he seemed more preoccupied with his own primary challenger, actor and education activist Cynthia Nixon. He has so far only held a fundraiser for Brindisi.

Among the Democratic state Senate candidates who have Cuomo’s support are some who are challenging incumbents and others running for open seats. He is also bolstering two Democratic Senators facing Republican challengers. They include Monica Martinez who is challenging Dean Murray in District 3; Lou D’Amaro, who is challenging Sen. Phil Boyle in District 4; Jim Gaughran, who is challenging Sen. Carl Marcellino in District 5; Anna Kaplan, who is challenging Sen. Elaine Phillips in District 7; Peter Harkham, who is challenging Sen. Terrence Murphy in District 40; Karyn Smythe who is challenging Sen. Sue Serino in District 41; Gounardes challenging Golden in District 22; and Democratic Senators John Brooks, who is being challenged by Massapequa Park Mayor Jeff Pravato in District 8, and Todd Kaminsky, who is being challenged by former Nassau lawmaker Francis Becker Jr. Cuomo’s campaign has donated the maximum primary limit of $7,000 to all those candidates, save for Gounardes and Kaminsky. If he decides to do so, Cuomo could direct another $11,000 to each candidate’s campaign for the general election.

The campaign is currently in the process of scheduling fundraisers for the congressional candidates and has already set up eight events to support the state Senate contenders, starting on Wednesday, October 3, with a fundraiser for Smythe. Fundraisers are scheduled to support Gounardes and D’Amaro on October 9; for Martinez on October 12; for Brooks and Kaminsky on October 15; for Harckham on October 21; and for Kaplan on October 22.

But it’s not only campaign cash that Cuomo will corral for the candidates. His campaign infrastructure and the State Democratic Party’s assets are being put to use to raise name recognition for the candidates and to get voters to the polls. Some of the congressional seats also overlap with the competitive Senate districts, giving Cuomo the ability to kill three birds with one stone as he also campaigns for his own reelection, perhaps without making it too obvious. The governor is facing a handful of challengers led by Republican nominee Marc Molinaro.

According to the Cuomo campaign spokesperson, there are more than 25 state party staffers in the field, training and engaging Democrats on the ground and leading Get Out The Vote efforts across the state. In congressional districts 1, 11, 19, 22 and 24 -- the five identified by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee under their ‘Red to Blue’ campaign effort -- the state party has sent campus organizers to rally young people, and in major metropolitan regions, organizers are recruiting volunteers to aid in those battleground districts. The party is also using digital and social media and data analytics to bolster outreach.

There’s also the tried-and-tested method of campaign mailers, in which the State Democratic Party has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars, the campaign spokesperson said, urging voters to support candidates including Rose, Brindisi, Gershon, and Delgado. (At this point there have been no other controversies with such mailers beyond the one that has dogged Cuomo and the party that sought to falsely tie Cynthia Nixon to anti-semitism in the final weeks of the primary.)

The party and campaign together spent millions on its statewide primary ticket -- to set up field offices and organizers -- and the campaign spokesperson said they would expand on that infrastructure for the general election.

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, who prevailed in last month’s primary over challenger Jumaane Williams, a Brooklyn City Council member, is also leading her own parallel effort to support female candidates for Congress and State Senate. “Republican control of Congress and the New York State Senate has been a disastrous disappointment for all New Yorkers, especially women and middle class families,” Hochul said in a September 28 statement, launching the general election effort. She announced her support for four Congressional candidates -- Grechen Shirley, Cobb, Mitrano and Balter -- and five State Senate candidates -- Martinez, Kaplan, Smythe, Jen Metzger and Jen Lunsford.

On Sunday, Hochul was scheduled to meet voters alongside Alessandra Biaggi, who defeated Democratic State Senator Jeff Klein in the September 13 primary, but the event was cancelled because Biaggi was sick, according to Hochul’s campaign. The planned event appeared to be a signal to Senator Jeff Klein, who Biaggi defeated in the primary, to publicly concede and bow out of the race on the other ballot lines he has for the general election. Election Day is November 6.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Cuomo Begins Push to Flip State Senate and House of Representatives Tue, 02 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000