Gotham Gazette Thu, 26 Nov 2020 09:41:32 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Why Chuck Schumer Should Fear the Election of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez chuck schumer phone

Senator Schumer on a tele-town hall (photo: @SenSchumer)

Pay heed Chuck Schumer. The base is coming for you.

And for good reason. The Democratic establishment is historically unpopular. And there is no exception even in deep blue New York.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s resounding defeat of Rep. Joe Crowley, the so-called King of the Queens machine, makes clear that establishment Democrats need to wake up. The election of an overnight socialist sensation was a clear demonstration that the groundswell of grassroots progressive activism in New York has moved from street protests to the voting booth.

Ever since Democrats lost to the least qualified presidential candidate in the history of the republic in 2016, there has been a growing repulsion with the status quo on the left across the country generally and in New York City specifically.

Soon after Donald Trump took office, progressive activists took to protesting Senator Schumer outside his Park Slope home. Disgusted by his admitted willingness to work with the demagogue-in-chief, progressive activist groups like Indivisible Nation BK, of which I am a board member, braved the cold winter months to deliver a message: Donald Trump is a racist, xenophobic, treasonous existential threat to the nation and the world. And we want our senators, particularly the Senate minority leader, to say that loud and clear.

Senator Schumer would be wise not to take the base for granted. Just this month, members of Indivisible Nation BK gathered to hear him address his first town hall since Trump’s election. The event was the culmination of over a year of protests, pushing, and prodding by our group and others. However, the senator abruptly altered the event a mere 90 minutes before it was supposed to start. Apparently dealing with plane trouble, Senator Schumer told us he was stuck at an airport in Utica and would conduct a tele-town hall instead.

We were not impressed. As we anxiously waited for the opportunity to ask him how he would save our country, we listened in disbelief as the senator launched into a monologue about how he played basketball in high school and then got into Harvard.

We do not need a regurgitation of the senator’s well-known biography. What we need is leadership. As one tele-town hall participant put it, it’s like we are playing a basketball game, and while Democrats are practicing their bounce passes, Republicans are cutting players’ throats on the court.

Meanwhile, Trump is about to shape the Supreme Court for a generation. Incredibly, if you listened only to Sen. Schumer talk about the matter, you would never know that Trump is poised to do so while under federal investigation for obstruction of justice after his campaign blatantly and wantonly courted a hostile foreign adversary to swing his election. Just last week, Trump stood, quite literally, shoulder-to-shoulder with Vladimir Putin in rejecting his own intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential campaign. Why is Chuck Schumer not taking every opportunity to call Trump an illegitimate traitor when talking about the Supreme Court fight? What weakness.

If Senator Schumer cannot whip his entire caucus to vote against any nominee not named Merrick Garland, then he should step aside as minority leader. Such a failure would further demonstrate what is becoming readily apparent: that Senator Schumer is not the leader for this dire hour. What we need is a progressive firebrand to lead the charge and throw as many wrenches into the machinery of corruption as possible.

We cannot compromise with the Republican Party. That is because there no longer is a Republican Party. It has been replaced by a reactionary white nationalist party masquerading as the Republican Party, beholden to only Trump. And there can be no compromise with what is dead and rotting. We expect our leaders to adopt a war footing, because, have no doubt, we are at war for the soul of our nation.

A war footing also means supporting bold and clear progressive policies such as Medicare-for-all, federal jobs and affordable housing guarantees, paid parental leave, and tuition-free public universities. When so-called “pragmatic” Democrats inevitably and facetiously ask us how we plan to pay for it, let us be equally resolute in our reply: by taxing corporations, millionaires, and billionaires. No more 12-point plans and carefully crafted, round table-produced cookie cutter messaging.

These progressive policies are overwhelmingly popular both nationally and in New York. This is why, for example, bold progressive policies have been the cornerstones of Cynthia Nixon’s campaign for governor against the comically establishment Andrew Cuomo. And it is also why Cuomo has been moving to the left as quickly as possible ever since Nixon announced her running.

Half-measures are no longer sufficient. New York’s Democratic voters expect our Democratic officials to bleed blue like us. They must be both moral authorities and fearless leaders.

So pay attention and take action, Senator Schumer. We are.

Steve Wagner is a Brooklyn-based activist and personal injury trial lawyer. He is an executive board member of Indivisible Nation BK. He blogs at On Twitter @stevedwagner.

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Why Chuck Schumer Should Fear the Election of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Wed, 25 Jul 2018 04:00:00 +0000
New York's Charles Schumer and the Future of the Nation chuck schumer sn2

Sen. Schumer (photo via @SenSchumer)

New York's Charles Schumer has suddenly become the most important Democratic leader in the country through his selection as Minority Leader in the United States Senate. Schumer’s role over the next few years will be critical in shaping the nation's future.

Leading 46 Democrats, Schumer looks back on a net loss of several Senate seats since 2009 and forward to 2018, when 10 Senate Democrats will be up for re-election in states won by Donald Trump. Schumer is said to get along well with Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, but says he will draw the line at being too accommodationist with Trump and the Republicans. "When he is opposed to our values, we're going to go after him tooth and nail," Schumer said of President-elect Trump. "For instance, we're not going to let him repeal Dodd-Frank or the rules we've put in place to limit Wall Street."

Democrats will oppose Trump every time he takes "a dark, divisive turn," Schumer has promised. Already, Schumer has charged that the choice of former Breitbart News chief Stephen Bannon as White House senior counselor and strategist means that "dangerous and bigoted ideas will have a seat at the table."

A New Yorker with flair, drive, and self-confidence
Senator Chuck Schumer has a good deal of New York support, enthusiasm, and momentum behind him. He easily beat his Republican challenger, Wendy Long, in his 2016 re-election campaign, garnering about 70% of the vote (Democratic presidential nominee and former New York Senator Hillary Clinton, by contrast, got about 58% in New York).

Over his 19-year career in the Senate, Schumer has come across as an energetic, hard-charging New Yorker. When he was elected to the Senate in 1998, he made a pledge that he has kept, to visit each of New York's 62 counties at least once a year. The biographical sketch on his Facebook page says "he has built a reputation as a leader in finding common-sense solutions to national issues and a tireless fighter for New York."

Schumer has expressed a vision for rebuilding and re-energizing the national Democratic Party. "We need to have a party that works on behalf of all Americans," he said in his first speech as minority leader. "And a bigger, bolder, sharper-edged economic message that talks about how people in the middle class and those struggling to make it there can do better, but also deals with the unfairness in the American economic system, will unite our caucus and speak to the blue-collar worker in West Virginia and Michigan as well as the people who live along the coasts."

What is Schumer likely to do? Looking back along two historical paths may give us some guidance.

Schumer's revealing 2007 book
Senator Schumer's book “Positively American: Winning Back the Middle Class Majority One Family at a Time,” published in 2007, offers insights into the senator's thinking and strategies.

Three themes in particular stand out.

1. Republicans are skilled at getting their "message" across to voters. Schumer contended that the Republican Party was mostly dominated by "theocrats" (conservatives who dislike government and want to minimize it) and "economic royalists" (people who want unfettered property rights and minimal or no government regulations or restrictions on business). Neither group represents mainline American values, Schumer says. But Republicans have used three shrewd marketing tactics, driven by the right-wing media: 1) Keep stressing that "What's good for the wealthiest is always, always, good for America."; 2) practice politics of fear and division; and 3) identify issues that connect with their values and then repeatedly return to them.
That worked for Republicans in 2004 and 2006, Schumer said. It sounds like some of his analysis about what happened in 2016.

2. Democrats need to really understand the middle class. Schumer argued that the Democrats had better policy positions than their opponents but did not connect well with the vast majority of voters. To help sharpen their strategies, Schumer invented and inserted in his book a hypothetical middle-class family, headed by Joe and Eileen Bailey, which he placed in Massapequa, Long Island. They should be supporting Democrats, but in recent elections, they tilted toward Republicans.

Schumer presents a detailed, insightful profile:

They have a house, a mortgage, property taxes that never cease to go up, monthly payments for two cars, and three kids in the local public schools. They both work because they want to and because they need to...The Baileys are generally optimists. They do not see impending doom on the horizon, though they sometimes worry that America's place in the world is under threat...But they are increasingly bothered by nagging worries. They're worried about terrorists who are...bent on killing Americans...They also worry about economic forces that are beyond their control...They don't see how they can possibly pay for college for their children. They haven't lost jobs to outsourcing, but some neighbors have...They are bothered by the corporate excesses that they read about in the paper [and the] moral excesses they see all around them...They believe that everyone deserves a fair chance and are sympathetic to those who are less fortunate than they are...

Politically, they are up for grabs...they are part of the new wave of independents...They support government when they feel it supports them, which isn't often...Most of the time, it seems to them that government is focused on someone else -- the very poor or the very rich.

That all sounds familiar. The electorate in 2016 was very divided, characterized by vague feelings that something is amiss in the nation, and mistrustful or cynical about both major parties.

3. Democrats can win by offering concrete, credible policies and solutions that appeal to the middle class. Over half of the book (pp. 117-263) is devoted to advancing and discussing specific policy proposals. Schumer titled his proposals with a clever catchphrase, "The 50% Solution." Here are a few examples (some are dated; but others still have a ring of relevance):

*Increase reading and math scores by 50%
* Increase the number of college graduates by 50%
*Reduce illegal immigration by at least 50% and increase legal migration by up to 50%
*Reduce our dependence on foreign oil by 50%
*Reduce cancer mortality by 50%
*Reduce abortions by 50%
*Reduce tax evasion and avoidance by 50%
*Increase our ability to fight terrorism by 50%

Nine years later, this year, Schumer is again patiently explaining that it is not enough just to oppose what the other party is trying to do. Political leaders have a responsibility to advance specific ideas and credible, concrete proposals in terms that people can understand and appreciate. “Positively American” is a good model, and many of its ideas still seem relevant.

Schumer's legacy from New York's previous eminent U.S. Senators
A second way of discerning Schumer's possible directions and influence is to look back at five of his predecessor U.S. senators from New York. Each had outsized talent, influence, and accomplishments, sometimes leaving legacies that were surpassed only by those of presidents.

*Daniel P. Moynihan (D, 1977-2001) came to the Senate after a long career, including White House advisor, Counselor to the President, and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. He had served under two Democratic presidents, Kennedy and Johnson, and two Republicans, Nixon and Ford, and was exceptionally skilled in bi-partisan negotiating and finding common ground. He was also a notable scholar, authoring 15 books and studies, including several influential works on important policy issues.

As Senator, Moynihan blended academic erudition, wit, and experience. He fought to get New York's fair share of federal aid. He moderated his strong anti-Soviet views and opposed the Reagan administration's hawkish Cold War policies. Taking on complex issues, he helped shape the Tax Reform Act of 1986. He supported protection of the environment and systematic transportation policy. But he maintained his position as a highly respected, independent-minded statesman by breaking with the liberal positions of his party on several occasions. For instance, as chair of the Senate Finance Committee in the 1990s, he opposed President Bill Clinton's proposal to expand healthcare coverage to all Americans, asserting that the dimensions of the health care crisis in the nation had been exaggerated.

*Herbert H. Lehman (D, 1949-1957), a former governor, was distinguished in the Senate for his defense of civil liberties. He was one of the first and most persistent opponents of Senator Joseph McCarthy's irresponsible crusade against alleged Communist influence in the government. He challenged McCarthy to produce proof, questioned his sources and tactics, and complained about his browbeating of witnesses McCarthy hauled before his investigating committee.

Lehman gave speeches in McCarthy's home state of Wisconsin, denouncing the senator and his followers for inciting fear to advance political ambition. He helped lead the campaign that resulted in McCarthy's censure by the Senate in 1954 for his ruthless, reckless tactics. Lehman voted against the Internal Security Act of 1950, calling it a threat to civil liberties. He was particularly alarmed about a provision giving the President authority to round up and detain people when there was a "reasonable ground" to believe that they will engage in acts of espionage or sabotage.

*Robert F. Wagner (D, 1927-1949) proposed initiatives to help organized labor and combat unemployment as the Great Depression began to grip the nation after 1929, but his efforts were rebuffed by Republicans. He became one of the chief critics of President Herbert Hoover's inaction to combat the Depression, calling for bold, national action. When Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected president in 1932, Wagner became one of his key advisors and policy architects. He was so influential that Roosevelt once called him "the co-pilot of the New Deal." Wagner drafted and sponsored several key pieces of legislation, including the National Industrial Recovery Act (1933), National Labor Relations Act (the "Wagner Act") (1935), and Social Security (1935).

*Elihu Root (R, 1909-1915) was one of the nation's most influential and respected statesmen for more than a quarter century. He came to the Senate after stints as U.S. Secretary of War and Secretary of State, where he had advised a number of presidents on several issues and helped transform the United States into a world power. He helped persuade business interests and press leaders to support an activist foreign policy and measured economic reform, a tactic he continued to champion as senator.

In 1912, as a result of his work in bringing countries together through cooperation and arbitration, Root was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. That year, he helped sidetrack his old friend Theodore Roosevelt's bid for another term as president by supporting the incumbent, William H. Taft. Root counseled preparedness as the U.S. readied for World War I and, after the war, supported membership in the League of Nations, with reservations. Along the way, he served in other important capacities, including chairing the convention to revise the state constitution in 1915.

*William H. Seward (Whig/Republican, 1849-1861), a former governor, was a leading opponent of slavery expansion in the 1850s. In an 1858 speech, he asserted that the U.S. had two "antagonistic systems...continually coming into closer contact, and collision results...It is an irrepressible conflict between opposing and enduring forces, and it means that the United States must and will, sooner or later, become entirely either a slave-holding nation, or entirely a free-labor nation."

Seward vocally opposed the federal Fugitive Slave Act, passed in 1850, and set an example for evading it by occasionally letting fugitive slaves shelter at his house in Auburn. Seward helped establish and shape the Republican Party in the late 1850s and was the leading candidate for the party's presidential nomination in 1860. His strident opposition to slavery undermined his candidacy but, when Abraham Lincoln was nominated, Seward campaigned for him. Lincoln appointed Seward as secretary of state and he became one of Lincoln's most trusted confidantes and advisors on war issues, emancipation of slaves, and political strategy. Seward was perhaps second only to Lincoln himself in importance in key policy-making areas.

Chuck Schumer will make his own Senatorial history
In the days ahead, Chuck Schumer, always independent-minded, will strike his own course according to his conscience.

But he can draw on the legacy of previous U.S. Senators from New York -- Seward, for uncompromising, principled stands on issues with social justice and moral dimensions; Root, for appealing to business interests to support responsible public policies; Wagner, for opposing federal policies of neglect and for formulating crisp policy and effective laws; Lehman, for defending the innocent against public bullies; and Moynihan, for political independence, principled positions (even when unpopular in his own party), and skilled bipartisanship.

Of course, Schumer needs to do all of that while at the same time looking out for New York's interests.

History suggests that Chuck Schumer is up to the challenge.

Dr. Bruce W. Dearstyne's latest book is The Spirit of New York: Defining Events in the Empire State's History, published in 2015 by SUNY Press.

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New York's Charles Schumer and the Future of the Nation Tue, 29 Nov 2016 05:00:00 +0000
New York Primaries are Closed, Repetitive and Costly cuomo voting 2015 machine

Gov. Cuomo votes in 2015 (photo via Governor's Office)

In April, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump won the Democratic and Republican New York presidential primaries, respectively. New York has a well-publicized and worsening voter turnout problem, and approximately one in four registered New York voters could have no say in the presidential primary outcomes even if they wanted to - other than by changing their party affiliation more than a year prior.

New York is one of only nine states in the country, as of 2016, in which both major parties run closed primaries, meaning that voting in the Democratic primary is only open to registered Democrats and voting in the Republican primary is only open to registered Republicans. Closed party primaries are closed to unaffiliated registered voters - often referred to as independents - and to voters registered with smaller parties like the Green Party.

According to the New York State Board of Elections, as of April 1 there are 11,726,842 registered voters in New York (this figure includes both active and inactive voters). Of those voters, 2,485,475 are unaffiliated with a party, and 717,182 are registered with parties outside the two major political parties (Conservative, Green, Libertarian, Working Families, Independence, etc. - people regularly register with the Independence Party incorrectly thinking they are registering as “independent,” or unaffiliated). There are almost as many unaffiliated registered voters in New York as there are registered Republicans (2.7 million). There are 5.8 million registered Democrats across the state.

Despite not being allowed to vote in party primary elections, unaffiliated voters, along with registered Democrats and Republicans and “third party” voters, foot the bill for the administration of those elections. In New York, the cost of a primary election in 2016 is $25 million, which amounts to the fourth most expensive primary election in the country, and this cost to taxpayers is not limited to presidential primaries; New York Congressional primaries and local and state legislative primaries cost $25 million each. In 2016, New York is holding three different primary days (presidential in April, congressional in June, and state/local in September).

New York’s closed primary system and the costs associated with it - both monetary and democratic - have resulted in calls for change.

New York State Assemblymember Michael Cusick, a Democrat who represents part of Staten Island, introduced legislation earlier this year that would consolidate all non-presidential primaries to a single election day (Assembly bill A09108). Currently, U.S. Congressional primaries and state and local primaries are held on two separate days, costing the state $50 million, about half of which could be saved by consolidating. In February, the Democrat-controlled Assembly passed the bill, which would move all non-presidential primaries to the fourth Tuesday in June, the current date of congressional primaries. In the Republican-led state Senate, however, the bill was not taken up.

Some state senators are hesitant to support legislation that would require them to prepare for an election while they are still working in the capital - the state legislative session runs from January to mid-June. Currently, senators and Assembly members have the summer of election years to prepare for their September primaries as needed (state legislators serve two-year terms).

A bill almost identical to Assemblymember Cusick’s was introduced to the state Senate by Republican Sen. Fred Ashkar, who represents the Binghamton area (Senate bill S6604). But, Ashkar’s bill would assign the third Tuesday in August as the singular election day for all non-presidential New York primary elections rather than the fourth Tuesday in June. The bill, introduced in January and passed by the Senate in March, would still save taxpayers money by consolidating election days but because it calls for an August election day, it would allow state legislators to avoid the conflict between working and campaigning. Yet, Ashkar’s bill has no chance in the Assembly because Democrats see it as an effort to suppress the vote, given the late August date, when people are even less likely than usual to be paying attention to politics or in town to vote.

While either consolidation of the congressional and state/local primaries would save taxpayers money, without opening up the primaries voters registered as unaffiliated would remain unable to vote until the November general elections.

Assemblymember Fred Thiele of Long Island is unaffiliated with a political party. Thiele introduced legislation (Assembly bill A9661) in March that would allow unaffiliated voters to vote in primary elections. Many voters were hoping that the bill would be passed in time for this year’s presidential primary; however, election day came and went as the bill sat in committee.

This year’s presidential primaries were notably frustrating for many New York voters. While unaffiliated New York voters are ordinarily unable to vote in their state’s closed party primaries, thousands of voters found themselves unable to vote despite having registered in one of the two major parties. With one day remaining before the April 19 primaries, voter advocacy group Election Justice USA filed a lawsuit in New York federal court on behalf of thousands of voters.

According to Election Justice USA, the lawsuit represented both voters whose party affiliation had been inexplicably changed to unaffiliated and voters who had been left off of voter rolls.The group’s goal was to secure an emergency declaratory judgement, which would open New York’s Democratic primary to voters registered as unaffiliated and Republican. The judgement was deferred and the primary remained closed.

Jerry Skurnik, partner at Prime New York, a consultancy, specializes in providing political candidates with demographic information on New York voters. He believes that open elections have benefits for less partisan candidates.

“Most of the talk this year had to do with the presidential primary, and it was sort of an exception in that a lot of young people who were unaffiliated were vehemently for [Bernie] Sanders, but I think in general, [open primaries] would probably help more moderate candidates and less partisan Democrats,” Skurnik said in a phone interview with Gotham Gazette.

While less strict partisanship might be one potential benefit of opening primary elections, Skurnik also points out that there is a question of fairness that should be considered when discussing open primaries.

“[A closed primary] allows people who are supporters of the Democratic or Republican party to pick the candidates. It doesn’t allow people who really aren’t loyal or committed Democrats or Republicans to have a say in who’s going to be the party nominee. There’s an argument -- why should someone who votes for Democrats for office 25 percent of the time have any say in picking a Democratic candidate?”

This question of fairness is not limited to the role of unaffiliated voters in the Democratic and Republican primaries. While much smaller than the Democratic and Republican parties, third parties have active registered voters, and opening presidential primaries to allow any voter to vote in any primary regardless of party affiliation could be detrimental to these minor parties.

Minor parties, according are Skurnik, “are really ideological parties.”

“They stand for something, so why should the conservative who’s unaffiliated have a right to vote in the primary for the Green Party -- someone who’s in favor of fracking. Because they’re unaffiliated, should they be allowed to vote in the Green Party or vice versa? Should someone who’s pro-choice, should they be allowed to help pick the Conservative Party candidate because they’re unaffiliated?”

While they tend to be actively engaged in politics, voters registered with minor parties don’t make up a large portion of the electorate in New York. For example, there are 50,000 voters registered with the Working Families Party across New York according to Skurnik, and while unaffiliated New York voters are more numerous than “third party” voters, their political tendencies are more difficult to determine. However, there is one observable pattern shared among unaffiliated voters.

“We may not know where [unaffiliated voters] lean politically, but we do know they vote less often than people who registered in a party,” Skurnik said. “A higher percentage of Democrats and a higher percentage of Republicans and even a higher percentage of minor party registrants vote in general elections than unaffiliated voters. So a larger proportion of unaffiliated voters are less active, more apathetic.”

Across the country, 43 percent of all registered voters are registered as unaffiliated. According to Open Primaries, an advocacy group that advocates for the establishment of open primaries in all 50 states, there are approximately 26 million registered voters closed out of voting in major party primary elections across the country. Currently, there are 14 states in which both major parties run open presidential primaries.

The total cost of running elections in all closed primary states is $300 million. This figure only includes closed primaries run by the state -- caucuses, while also exclusionary to unaffiliated voters, do not cost taxpayers anything in the states in which they are held. This is because caucuses are paid for by the parties themselves. Some question why states pay for and implement closed primary elections at all given that they are controlled by the parties. (For the recent presidential primaries in New York, Democratic voters voted not just for a nominee, but also for delegates to the party convention; Republicans voted only for a nominee, their New York delegates to the RNC are chosen at a party meeting.)

One alternative to the closed primary system is the system employed by California for its presidential primary elections, which is something of a hybrid. In California, parties can choose between running a closed primary or a modified closed primary in which the party can choose to allow “no party preference” (NPP) voters, otherwise known as independent or unaffiliated voters, to vote in their primaries. In this year’s California presidential primary held on June 7, the Republican Party chose to run a closed primary, excluding NPP voters and allowing only registered Republicans to vote. The Democratic Party chose to run a modified closed primary, allowing both registered Democrats and NPP voters to vote in the Democratic primary.

California not only runs a modified closed presidential primary, but it also joins Washington and Nebraska in running a “top two” open primary system for all non-presidential primary elections. In the “top two” system, all qualified candidates are listed on the ballot; all voters, irrespective of party affiliation, can vote for whichever candidate they prefer; and the top two vote-getters, irrespective of party affiliation, move on to the general election. This system often results in two candidates of the same party opposing each other in the general election.

This system is also known as a nonpartisan primary, and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg - a Democrat turned Republican turned independent - once unsuccessfully advocated for its establishment in New York during his mayoral tenure. In New York City, Democrats hold an even more stark registration advantage than across the state: there are just over 3 million registered Democrats in New York City and just about 460,000 registered Republicans. Meanwhile, there are more than 785,700 registered New York City voters not affiliated with a party.

While Bloomberg’s efforts failed in 2003, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, recently supported the implementation of nonpartisan primaries in a 2014 New York Times op-ed.

Within the op-ed, Senator Schumer not only called for nonpartisan primaries in New York, but for nonpartisan primaries all across the United States.

“We need a national movement to adopt the “top-two” primary (also known as an open primary), in which all voters, regardless of party registration, can vote and the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, then enter a runoff,” Schumer wrote. “This would prevent a hard-right or hard-left candidate from gaining office with the support of just a sliver of the voters of the vastly diminished primary electorate; to finish in the top two, candidates from either party would have to reach out to the broad middle.”

by Libby Wetzler for Gotham Gazette

New York Primaries are Closed, Repetitive and Costly Thu, 14 Jul 2016 04:00:00 +0000
New Yorkers Vote in Congressional Primaries June 28 rangel voting congress new york

Rep. Charles Rangel is retiring (photo via Rep. Rangel on Flickr)

While many voters and most media are focused on the race for President, this year will also see all 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and 34 of the 100 U.S. Senate seats on the ballot. New York’s 27 seats in the House and one of its two Senate seats - the one held by Senator Charles Schumer -  will be voted on during June 28 primaries and the November 8 general election.

In an odd - some say counterproductive and undemocratic - twist, New York is holding four election days this year. Many New Yorkers have already had the chance to vote in one election this year—the April 19 presidential primaries—and, in the fall, will have the opportunity to vote in September state Senate and state Assembly primary elections before the general election with all of the aforementioned offices on the ballot.

Ahead of the June 28 congressional primaries, things are largely quiet in New York City’s 13 districts, though a few incumbents are being challenged and there is one particularly prominent primary - that to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel. Rangel is one of three congressional incumbents across the state not seeking reelection this year.

Twelve of New York City’s 13 districts are currently represented by Democrats, with the exception of District 11, which includes Staten Island and part of Brooklyn and is represented by Rep. Daniel Donovan, who is not facing a primary challenge.

Rangel represents New York’s thirteenth congressional district, which includes upper Manhattan and a small part of the Bronx. Rangel has served the area since 1971. His decision to retire has prompted a crowded field eager to fill the rare empty seat. That crowd includes state Senator Adriano Espaillat, who challenged Rangel in both 2012 and 2014. Rangel has endorsed Assembly Member Keith Wright as his chosen successor.

Christine Greer, a political science professor at Fordham University, says that Rangel’s endorsement is a boon to Wright’ campaign. “Having Charlie Rangel’s endorsement is important because Charlie Rangel’s people, who support [Wright], know they have to vote in June, not just in November,” Greer told Gotham Gazette.

Greer says that the June congressional primary is often forgotten, especially since New Yorkers will be asked to go to the polls three other times this year. With a bevy of other Democratic candidates in the running, Rangel’s endorsement could indeed be a difference-maker. It is a virtual certainty that the Democratic primary winner will win the general election in November and be seated in Congress come January.

Along with Wright and Espaillat, other Democratic primary candidates in NY13 are Assembly Member Guillermo Linares, Adam Clayton Powell IV, Clyde Williams, Suzan Johnson Cook, and Michael Gallagher.

In New York City, several Democratic congressional incumbents will face primary challengers, though they are expected to win reelection easily:

In District 5, which is located largely in Queens, incumbent Rep. Gregory Meeks will face Ali Mirza, a businessman and advocate for immigrants, according to his campaign website.

In District 7,  which is mostly located in Brooklyn, incumbent Rep. Nydia Valázquez will face two Democratic challengers: Jeff Kurzon and Yungman Lee. Kurzon, an attorney, challenged Valázquez in 2014, but lost to the 24 year-incumbent. Lee is a community banker, who has worked as an attorney and a bank regulator, according to his campaign website.

In District 10, mostly in Manhattan, incumbent Rep. Jerrold Nadler will take on his first Democratic primary challenger in 20 years - Oliver Rosenberg. Rosenberg is a businessman, a banker, and advocate for the LGBTQ Jewish community, according to his campaign website.

In District 12, which includes parts of Manhattan and Queens, incumbent Rep. Carolyn Maloney is being challenged by Pete Lindner, who, according to his campaign website, is a statistical analyst and advocate for the national legalization of marijuana.

In District 15, in the Bronx, José Serrano, the incumbent, has served the district for 26 years. Democratic challenger Leonel Baez will also be on the ballot; however, it does not seem that Baez has made a strong effort to campaign (his official campaign website is limited).

Meanwhile, several city-based races appear that they will see incumbents unopposed in the primary. This will also be the case outside New York City. However, there will also be a number of contested races leading to November’s Election Day, especially in places considered swing districts, where Republicans and Democrats have recently held the same seat or where party registration numbers are closer than they are in many heavily-Democratic New York City districts.

Within the bounds of New York City, only one congressional seat appears open to party oscillation - the eleventh congressional district, which includes Staten Island and part of Southern Brooklyn. That congressional seat is currently held by Daniel Donovan, a Republican, who succeeded his predecessor Michael Grimm in a 2015 special election called after Grimm pleaded guilty to tax fraud. Even while facing charges in 2014, Grimm had kept his seat in a reelection bid.

Donovan, formerly the Staten Island District Attorney, is heavily favored to keep the seat, though Richard Reichard, the Democratic challenger, and his supporters are looking to see how a likely Hillary Clinton-Donald Trump presidential matchup could help lift down-ballot Democrats.  

David Birdsell, a professor and dean at Baruch College, doubts that the race will be competitive.

“This seat has seen a good deal of turnover in recent years, owing to redistricting and to incumbents’ personal and legal troubles. Donovan won the special election handily against a Democrat and a Green Party candidate; he’s drawing the same mix in the fall,” said Birdsell.

Despite believing that there won’t be much of a district 11 contest in November, Birdsell concedes that Trump’s candidacy could potentially boost Democratic voter turnout.  “[Trump’s candidacy] could help Reichard in the eleventh, irrespective of what Republican voters think of Donovan’s willingness to campaign on Trump’s behalf. There isn’t compelling evidence as yet that Trump has expanded GOP appeal, but he could yet deliver on the promise of lots of independent votes, and that could make a major difference in the other direction. Probably not enough so to make a difference in any city races with the possible exception of the eleventh.”

While New Yorkers will vote for their congressional representatives in the House and for President come November, there will also be one New York Senate seat on the ballot as well as all 213 seats of the state Legislature. Incumbent Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer will be running for reelection against Republican candidate Wendy Long and Libertarian candidate Alex Merced. If Schumer wins, he would enter his fourth six-year term serving as a senator.

As of now, New York’s two Senators are Democrats, as are 18 of its 27 congressional representatives. However, the U.S. Senate and U.S. House are both controlled by Republicans. November’s elections will determine control of both houses, as well as the presidency.

Within New York, Democrats hold an overwhelming majority in the state Assembly, with more than 100 of the Assembly’s 150 seats. The state Senate has a much more complicated picture, with its 63 seats split in somewhat strange fashion and control of the chamber on the line in November. Republicans currently hold 31 seats, not quite a majority, but one Democrat, Simcha Felder of Brooklyn, continues to caucus with them. There are also five members of the Independent Democratic Conference, which has a governing coalition with Republicans through this year. Democrats recently flipped one seat in a special election, that for the Long Island seat vacated by former Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelos, who was convicted on federal corruption charges.

In terms of party control of government and the policy ramifications thereof, there is a great deal at stake for New York and the country come November 8.

For the upcoming New York congressional primaries June 28, only voters registered with a party can vote - voters can check their registration through the state Board of Elections. New voters had to register several weeks ago to be eligible for this vote, while anyone changing party registration had to do so more than a year ago.

by Rebecca Oh, Gotham Gazette

New Yorkers Vote in Congressional Primaries June 28 Mon, 06 Jun 2016 04:00:00 +0000
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, April 18 New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week will be a fun one as New York votes in consequential presidential primaries on Tuesday. Expect a whole lot of last-minute campaigning and getting out the vote. All five major party presidential candidates are focused on New York, with Tuesday's results sure to have a significant impact on the races thereafter. Also Tuesday, several special elections for vacant seats in the state Legislature. Most importantly, the Long Island state Senate race to replace Dean Skelos, which will significantly affect control of the chamber now held by Republicans. There are also three New York City-based vacancies in the Assembly being filled, including Sheldon Silver's old seat.

Polls are open in New York City 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Tuesday. You can look up your voter registration status and poll site here.

This week we're also watching for Mayor Bill de Blasio's first Staten Island town hall, set for Wednesday evening. And, any new information that may surface around the issues that have been dogging de Blasio and his administration of late: investigations into the handling of a deed restriction removal on a Lower East Side property; bribery of NYPD officials; and the mayor's fundraising.

And, it's Earth Week, leading up to Friday's Earth Day, watch for a variety of environment-related events and announcements.

As always, there's a great deal happening at the City Council and all over the city, with many events to be aware of. See below for our day-by-day rundown.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
Email Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max:***

The run of the week in detail:

On Monday, Mayor de Blasio will appear on Hot 97’s Ebro in the Morning to discuss the presidential primary at 9:30 a.m. At 1:30 p.m. "the Mayor will host a press conference related to the mosquito season and Zika preparedness...Prior to the press conference, the Mayor will tour a mosquito lab at the Public Health Lab." And at 5 p.m. the Mayor will appear on PIX 11 News to discuss the presidential primary.

On Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo will appear at two phone-bank kick-off rallies in support of Hillary Clinton for President. At both events, one in Buffalo and one in Rochester, Cuomo will join former President Bill Clinton.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will attend an 11 a.m. Verizon workers strike march and rally, 230 West 36th Street. At noon, Mark-Viverito will present an award at a Girl Be Heard luncheon at One Time Warner Center.

At the City Council on Monday:

  • 9:30 a.m., the Subcommittee on Zoning and and Franchises will meet to address two land use applications.
  • 10 a.m., the Committee on Transportation will meet to examine the City’s actions taken toward reducing vehicle emissions, to consider a bill requiring that the Department of Transportation establish a pilot program for street parking electric vehicle charging stations, and to vote on a (non-binding) resolution to make Earth Day 2016 car-free for private and all non-essential city vehicles.
  • 10 a.m., the Committee on Housing and Buildings will meet to consider seven bills, including a bill to alter permit filing fees for new buildings and alterations, a bill to create a real-time enforcement unit in the Department of Buildings responsible for enforcing construction codes, a bill imposing additional penalties for performing construction work without a permit, and others.
  • 11 a.m., the Committee on Rules, Privileges and Elections will meet to receive several communications from the Mayor regarding the appointment of individuals to the Taxi and Limousine Commission, the Landmarks Preservation Commission, the Art Commission, and the Civilian Complaint Review Board.
  • 1 p.m., the Committee on Civil Rights will meet to vote on a resolution recognizing March 5 as the official annual “Three-Fifths Clause Awareness Day” and a resolution calling upon Congress to amend Article 1, Section two, Paragraph 3 of the Constitution of the United States, known as the “three-fifths clause.”  
  • 1 p.m., the Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions and Concessions will meet to address several land use applications.

At 8 a.m. Monday, “Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams will lead local leaders and dozens of Brooklynites on his second annual Bike-to-Work ride, as he kicks off Earth Week celebrations in and around the borough. The event will highlight the positive impact that New Yorkers can have on their local environment by using pedal power to get around the city.”

At noon, Borough President Adams “will cut the ribbon on a free legal services clinic operated in collaboration with the Brooklyn Bar Association Volunteer Lawyer's Project, Brooklyn Legal Services, the Veteran Advocacy Project and the Domestic Violence Project of the Urban Justice Center, and Legal Information for Families Today (LIFT) at Brooklyn Borough Hall.”

At noon on the steps of City Hall, City Council Member Andy King will lead a rally calling on the City Council to pass the aforementioned resolution calling on the federal government to add an amendment to the U.S. Constitution negating the Three-Fifths Compromise. Participating organizations will include the NAACP, the National Action Network, the Justice League, The Black Institute, and others.

On Monday at 1 p.m., schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña will visit a literacy pilot program for students with print-based disabilities at PS 57 on Staten Island. At 6:15 p.m., Fariña will deliver brief remarks at AP Para Todos family event at George Washington Educational Campus in Manhattan.

Also at 1 p.m. Monday, Comptroller Scott Stringer will deliver remarks at Communications Workers of America Verizon strike rally and march, at Verizon Wireless, 125 West 42nd Street.

At 5:30 p.m. Monday, the Queens Borough Board, chaired by Borough President Melinda Katz, will review details and vote on whether to recommend approval of the creation of the JFK Industrial Business Improvement District, which would support the many air cargo and service-related business near John F. Kennedy International Airport. Also present at the event will be Kris Goddard, executive director of the Neighborhood Development Division at the Department of Small Business Services, Barbara Cohen, consultant to the JFK IBID, and Dennis Walcott, president and CEO of the Queens Library.

At 6:00 p.m., City & State will be recognizing 50 of New York’s most prominent leaders in government, business, and media over the age of 50 during a reception and dinner at Federal Hall. The ceremony will be moderated by Betsy Gotbaum, former Public Advocate.

At 6 p.m., Council Member Helen Rosenthal will hold her third annual Town Hall, featuring representatives from over a dozen city agencies who will be available to answer questions from the public. Council Member Rosenthal will also announce the year’s winning Participatory Budget project at this event.

At 6:30 p.m. Monday, Fordham University will host “What Is Happening? Part II: A Discussion of the 2016 Primaries” with Alexis Grenell, political strategist and City and State columnist, Jessica Proud, Republican strategist and partner at the November Team, and Dr. Christina Greer, political science professor at Fordham, who is organizing and moderating the discussion.

Tuesday is presidential primary day in New York. Registered Democratic and Republican votes, who registered by certain deadlines, are able to vote in their party primary.

Also, Tuesday will see several special elections - open general election votes for registered voters in the relevant districts - in the races to replace both former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (downtown Manhattan) and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (Long Island) will take place on Tuesday. There are also two other New York City-based special elections for vacant Assembly seats.

At the City Council on Tuesday:

  • 10 a.m., the Committee on Health will meet on a bill requiring the City to provide defibrillators at youth-league baseball fields on City-owned land at no cost.
  • 10 a.m., the Committee on Youth Services will hold an oversight meeting for elementary and middle school summer programs.
  • 11 a.m., the Committee on Civil Service and Labor will meet on a bill amending the 2002 Displaced Building Services Worker Protection Act, so that it includes a broader set of employees protected under the law. The law requires that employers evaluate and retain eligible employees of a building that has just been sold.
  • 11 a.m., the Committee on land use will meet.
  • 1 p.m., the Committee on Consumer Affairs will meet on three bills requiring that the Department of Consumer Affairs provide outreach and education on consumer protection issues for women, seniors, and immigrants.
  • 1 p.m., the Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disability, Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Disability Services will meet jointly with the Committee on Education to conduct an oversight meeting addressing the needs of students with dyslexia and related learning disabilities, to vote on a resolution requiring the Department of Education to include climate change lessons in K-12 schools’ curriculum, and to vote on a resolution requiring the certification of teachers, administrators, and instructors in the area of dyslexia and related disorders.
  • 1 p.m., the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management will hold an oversight hearing addressing the reduction of food waste in New York City.

At 9 a.m. Tuesday, NYC Human Resources Administration Chief of Staff Jennifer Yeaw will host a panel of community respondents to discuss HRA’s efforts to improve ease of access for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) during one in a series of CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute spring 2016 forums. Speakers include Brady Koch, COO of the Food Bank for New York City, and Maureen Lane, co-director of the Welfare Rights Initiative at Hunter College; the moderator will be Jan Poppendieck, Professor Emerita of Sociology, Hunter College and Senior Faculty Fellow, CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute.

At 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, the Urban Democracy Lab will host an event, “Insights into Housing New York: A Five-Borough, Ten-Year Plan” with Daniel Hernandez, Deputy Commissioner for Neighborhood Strategies at the Department of Housing, Preservation, and Development. The event will discuss Mayor de Blasio’s housing plan, and Hernandez will be joined by Michael Ralph, Director of Metropolitan Studies at NYU.

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jarrett Murphy, Executive Editor of City Limits, will be moderating a Brooklyn Historical Society panel of experts on “The Changing Face of Brooklyn’s Latino Community,” featuring Nisha Agarwal, Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs; Laird Bergad, Executive Director of CUNY’s Center for Latin American, Caribbean and Latino Studies; and Javiér Valdes, Co-Executive Director of Make the Road NY.

At the City Council on Wednesday:

  • 10 a.m., the Committee on Finance will vote on a resolution approving designation changes of certain organizations to receive funding in the Expense Budget.
  • 1:30 p.m., the City Council will meet for a full-body Stated Meeting, which, as usual, will be prefaced by Speaker Mark-Viverito’s pre-stated press conference.

Starting at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, City and State NY, Albany Law School, and Rockefeller College host a one-day government ethics conference and training seminar. The event will give executive training for professionals and government officials on the theory and practice of ethics in state government, and will feature Richard Ravitch, former Lieutenant Governor of New York; Alphonso David, counsel to the governor; Eleanor Randolph, veteran New York Times editorial writer; Frederick A.O. Schwarz Jr.; Blair Horner, New York Public Interest Research Group; and others.

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, the Department of Education will host a public meeting for the Panel for Educational Policy.

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Fordham University will host a discussion, “Should there be Quotas for Female Representation,” featuring Mary Wilson, founder and president of Ms. Foundation for Women and The White House Project; Zenaida Mendez, director of the MNN El Barrio Firehouse Community Media Center; Alexis Grenell, political strategist and City and State columnist; and Dr. Christina Greer, Fordham political science professor and organizer and moderator of the event.

At 7 p.m. Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio will be holding a town hall on Staten Island, at PS 48 in Concord. It will be a “Working for Our Neighborhoods” town hall, open to all local concerns.

On Thursday morning, "New York City Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia will address a breakfast meeting of Trustees of the Citizens Budget Commission" (CBC). "She will discuss her priorities for the Department of Sanitation, including improving waste management, recycling, and environmental impact."

At the City Council on Thursday:

  • 9:30 a.m., the Committee on General Welfare will hold an oversight hearing on the Department of Homeless Services’s 90-day review.
  • 10 a.m., the Committee on Higher Education, jointly with the Committee on Health, will hold an oversight hearing to review the status of nursing programs at the City University of New York (CUNY).
  • 1 p.m., the Committee on Public Housing, jointly with the Committee on Environmental Protection, will hold an oversight hearing examining NYCHA’s record in removing mold from public housing, and on a bill establishing a local licensing requirement for workers who do work on mold removal.
  • 1 p.m., the Committee on Veterans will vote on a resolution calling on Congress to pass, and the President to sign into law, the Toxic Exposure Research Act, which would establish in the Department of Veterans Affairs a national center for research on the diagnosis and treatment of health conditions of the descendants of veterans exposed to toxic substances during their service in the Armed Forces.
  • 1 p.m., the Committee on Economic Development will hold an oversight hearing evaluating opportunities for women entrepreneurs in New York City.

At noon, the New York Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights groups will rally at City Hall in support of the Right to Know Act, which would require NYPD officers to identify themselves and would aim to protect New Yorkers against unconstitutional searches.

Friday and the weekend
Friday is Earth Day, and includes the Car Free Day initiative led by City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez.

At 8 a.m. Friday, NACOLE and John Jay College will host "Building Public Trust: Generating Evidence to Enhance Police Accountability and Legitimacy", which will feature research in the area of civilian-led law enforcement accountability, place scholars in conversation with practitioners and funders, and begin a conversation about the use of law enforcement data now becoming publicly available. NYPD Inspector General Philip Eure will be offering commentary on the civilian-led accountability field, among others speaking.

At 8 a.m. Friday, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer will be speaking at the Innovation Breakfast Series, hosted by Civic Hall and NY Tech Meetup. The series offers prominent New Yorkers working in technology, civic and social innovation an opportunity to hear from leaders in government and industry.

Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? Email Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

by Kelly Fan and Ben Max

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, April 18 Sun, 17 Apr 2016 23:32:28 +0000
Concerns of ‘Voter Fatigue’ as New York Schedules Four 2016 Election Days bdb voting

Mayor de Blasio votes (photo via @BilldeBlasio) 

As New Yorkers begin a year of many voting opportunities, there are important questions that elections will help answer - like who the next U.S. President will be and which party will control the state Senate - but also concern about voter fatigue and thus, turnout.

There will be at least four chances for New Yorkers to cast votes in 2016, with three different primary election days leading up to November’s general election. There will be a presidential primary vote in April; congressional primaries in June; and state legislative primaries in September. There will also be special elections sprinkled in to fill empty seats in the state Assembly and Senate.

On April 19, New Yorkers will vote in their party primaries for president; on June 28, it will be primaries for all 27 New York members of the House of Representatives, with Senator Chuck Schumer on the ballot, too; and on September 13, primaries for all 63 seats of the State Senate and all 150 seats of the State Assembly.

No date has been set by the governor yet for special elections in the state legislature, including those to replace former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, whose 2015 corruption convictions created vacancies.

In 2015, some New York City voters cast ballots for new district attorneys, judges, and city Council members, among others. By the time New Yorkers vote for president in November, it could be their sixth trip to the polls in 14 months. Or, for residents of District 17 in the South Bronx, their seventh trip, as the resignation of City Council member Maria del Carmen Arroyo means a special election to fill her seat will occur February 23.

Frequent elections can result in voter fatigue, and diminish voter turnout. New York already has one of the lowest voter turnout rates in the country, with only 29 percent of eligible voters showing up to the polls to cast their votes in the 2014 general elections for state-level positions, including governor.

A recent New York Times editorial called the “extra burden” numerous election dates places on voters a sign of “dysfunction in Albany,” and urged lawmakers to “change the election schedule as soon as they return to Albany on January 6.”

Given how much it costs the state and municipalities to hold these elections, some have also argued that it would make financial sense to consolidate the number of days elections are held on.  (This is at least part of the governor’s rationale for holding special elections on an already-scheduled election day (by law, the city must hold its special City Council election within a shorter time frame).)

“There is no reason the state primary can’t be held on the same day as the congressional primary,” the New York Times editorial board wrote, “thus eliminating the extra election and saving the state $50 million.”

“We do have a bill that we have passed almost every year in the Assembly to combine [the dates],” Assemblymember Michael Cusick said in response to calls from members of the New York State Board of Elections to consolidate the state and federal primaries during a Dec. 10, 2015, New York State Assembly hearing on enhancing the voter experience. “That is the goal of our committees, to get the primaries in one day, so we can save the state and municipalities money.”

Despite the benefits of merging election dates and support from the Assembly, combining the dates has not yet happened, perhaps because, as the New York Times editorial board suggests, “New York State lawmakers created this problem because it’s easier on the politicians, even though it’s costly and harder on the voters.”

The 2016 elections are for local, state, and federal posts, including district leaders, state Senators and Assembly members, members of Congress, and, of course, the president. Some races are special elections, such as those likely to be set for April 19, to fill four vacancies in the state Legislature, including the former seats of Silver and Skelos, who were both forced to leave office in December after being convicted on several counts of federal corruption.

Several special elections have already taken place in the past year to fill seats forfeited due to corruption convictions, spurring growing calls for ethics reform in Albany from good government groups and lawmakers alike.

In 2015, special elections were held to replace former State Assemblymember William Scarborough, who vacated his seat in May after he pleaded guilty to felony charges of wire fraud and theft; former Brooklyn State Senator John Sampson, who was convicted of obstruction of justice and lying to federal agents as part of a corruption investigation in July; and former Deputy Senate Majority Leader Thomas Libous, who was also convicted of lying to the FBI in July.

Governor Cuomo has said time and again he does not see any point in calling a special session to deal with ethics reform, though, as he has promised ethics reform will be at the top of his 2016 agenda. And while consolidating voting days may be a step unlikely to be taken by the state Legislature, some reforms aimed at improving New York’s low voter turnout are currently being considered by state lawmakers.

Reforms like early voting, better ballot design, and an upgraded, online voter registration system would help increase voting accessibility and thus, advocates argue, voter turnout. Other bills have been introduced in the state Senate that would allow same-day voter registration on election day, voting by mail, and holding the congressional and state primaries on a single day, City and State reports. The Voter Friendly Ballot Act, which would create a simpler, easier-to-read ballot, has passed in the Assembly.

According to a 2014 report from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, New York ranks 46th in voter turnout. Six of the states that rank in the top ten for voter turnout all allow same-day registration. Nine of the states that rank highest in voter turnout allow early voting.

Currently, eleven states and D.C. allow same-day voter registration, and 33 states and D.C allow early voting. New York currently does not allow either.

Reforms such as these, supporters say, would help to modernize election laws in New York, and could - if used in combination with methods to increase voter engagement - help to bring the state’s voter turnout on par with that of states that already have policies to make voting more accessible in place.

As of January 10, the 2016 New York election dates are:

April 19, 2016 — Presidential Primaries and special elections to fill four state Legislature vacancies
The state Legislature has decided on April 19, 2016 as the date for both the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries.

Additionally, Governor Andrew Cuomo has said he will set a special election date to coincide with the presidential primary on April 19 to fill four vacancies in the state Legislature, including former Assembly Speaker Silver’s seat, and the Staten Island seat of former Assemblymember Joe Borelli, who won a City Council seat. That special election means that a local party organizations will select the candidates who will appear on their ballot lines. Cuomo has not officially declared these special elections for April.

June 28, 2016 — Congressional Primaries
New York voters will decide on their party’s candidates for all Congressional races in the state on June 28, 2016, during the primaries for all 27 of New York’s members in the House of Representatives. Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer is also running for reelection on the same day - he is unlikely to face a primary challenge.

September 13, 2016 — State Legislature Primaries
There will be primaries for all 63 members of the New York State Senate and all 150 members of the New York State Assembly on September 13, 2016. Elections will also be held on that day for district leaders in Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx.

November 8, 2016 — General Election
On November 8, 2016, voters across the country will vote for the next President of the United States. New Yorkers will also vote in a number of other critical races, including all State Senate and Senate Assembly seats, 27 races for the House of Representatives, and one US Senate race.

Voter turnout is typically higher for presidential elections than for any other race, and Democrats in New York are hoping increased turnout in a state that almost always votes blue in presidential races can help them to regain control of the State Senate.

After the 2016 elections conclude, the 2017 elections for New York City-level offices, including the mayor, are expected to heat up.

by Meg O’Connor, Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette  @MegOConnor13

Concerns of ‘Voter Fatigue’ as New York Schedules Four 2016 Election Days Mon, 11 Jan 2016 21:24:15 +0000
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, January 4 New York City Hall

New York City Hall

Happy New Year!

So far, New York politics in 2016 looks a lot like 2015. On Sunday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a new Executive Order related to homelessness that appears to be the opening salvo in his plan to take aim at the issue, most pressingly in New York City, where he's criticized Mayor Bill de Blasio's handling of the crisis that includes about 60,000 homeless people. Cuomo's order notes that homelessness is a problem around the state and says that when temperatures are below freezing, municipalities must provide shelter to homeless individuals, move homeless people to shelter, extend shelter hours, and maintain quality shelter conditions that meet state and local laws and regulations.

The move gets at the rivalry between the governor and the mayor, which shows little sign of abating, despite the fact that there are real policy issues - and lives - at stake. De Blasio has battled a persistent homeless census, issues with the conditions of homeless shelters, and a good deal of criticism from the governor and others, which has all led to a shake-up in his administration. To fight homelessness, de Blasio has enacted a good deal of new policy and drastically increased funding toward a variety of programs, but he has only just recently been able to level off a growing number of people without consistent housing.

On Sunday, the de Blasio administration was quick to point out that the governor's executive order does little, if anything, to change things in the city, which already has a must-shelter law and where the city recently announced new protocols for shelter hours and services. There is one main point of contention, though, which is the order's provision that homeless individuals must be moved to shelter - something the de Blasio administration says can only be mandated through state law.

De Blasio is sure to get questions about these issues when he holds a press conference centered around another topic Monday morning in Brooklyn - see below for details.

Cuomo, meanwhile, is gearing up for his January 13 State of the State and budget address, which is likely to include other policies aimed at homelessness. Cuomo is set to make an announcement on Monday in Manhattan - see below for details.

The state Legislature returns to Albany for its first session day of 2016 on Wednesday of this week. There are legislative hearings on the minimum wage and the failed Health Republic insurance exchange this week - see below for details.

Later this week, de Blasio is likely to hold a ceremony to sign his own recent Executive Order, the one mandating paid parental leave for about 20,000 nonunion city employees. De Blasio announced the policy in late December and promised to reopen collective bargaining with city unions in order to make the benefit part of their contracts. He's also looking to the state and federal governments to act on paid family leave so that all New Yorkers (and Americans) can take time off to care for a new child or a sick or elderly relative (de Blasio's initial policy is only for new parents, it does not cover care for sick or elderly relatives, but most paid family leave bill proposals do). [Read: De Blasio Moves on Paid Parental Leave]

As always, there's a great deal happening all over the city, with many events to be aware of - read our day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
E-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max:***

The run of the week in detail:

On Monday at 7:15 a.m. outside Barclays Center in Brooklyn, "Mayor de Blasio, Senator Charles Schumer, elected officials and senior Administration leadership will meet morning pass out flyers on the City's new commuter benefits law. Tomorrow is the first work day after the law went into effect on January 1." Read about the new transit benefit laws here: New Transit Program Called 'Win-Win' for Many Commuters and Employers.

At about 7:30 a.m. inside Barclays Center, "the Mayor will hold a press conference to discuss commuter benefits." Then, at 1:30 p.m. Monday at One Police Plaza, de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner Bratton "will hold a press conference to discuss historically low crime numbers in New York City."

At 11 a.m. Monday at 1199 SEIU headquarters in Manhattan, Gov. Cuomo will make an announcement, kicking off "The Mario Cuomo Campaign for Economic Justice." City officials, including Comptroller Scott Stringer, will attend.

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, City Council Members Dan Garodnick and Rosie Mendez will co-host a community town hall focused on "Homelessness on the East Side" at the Parish Hall of the Church of the Epiphany. A variety of other Manhattan elected officials are also co-sponsoring and will either attend or send representatives.

The New York State Legislature holds its first day of 2016 legislative session in Albany on Wednesday.

At 9 a.m. on Wednesday in Albany, the Senate Standing Committees on Health and Insurance will hold a public meeting about "The demise of Health Republic and preparing for the future."

At the City Council on Wednesday:

  • At 9:30 a.m., the Committee on Housing and Buildings will meet about a resolution calling on the city and state to sign a fourth New York-New York supportive housing plan.
  • At 10 a.m., the Committee on Finance will meet to discuss a budget extender and two items related to Business Improvement Districts
  • At noon, the Council will hold the year's first Stated Meeting. As always, this is expected to be prefaced by the Council Speaker's pre-stated press conference.

At 8:30 a.m., Senator Charles Schumer "will discuss Congress' year-end budget and how it impacts New York" at an Association for a Better New York breakfast event.

At the City Council at 10 a.m. Thursday, the Committee on Aging will meet for an oversight hearing about social adult day care.

At the state Legislature on Thursday: an 11 a.m. public hearing in Albany held by the Senate Standing Committee on Labor to analyze "the overall impact increasing the statewide minimum wage to $15/hour would have on workers, employers, and the state as a whole."

Friday and the weekend
Nothing on our radar right now, but that can easily change as events are announced once the week gets going. Stay tuned for updates here and elsewhere.

Read more recent highlights from Gotham Gazette:

Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

by Ryan Brady and Ben Max

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, January 4 Sun, 03 Jan 2016 05:00:00 +0000
No Fly Zone: Council Members Push Helicopter, Drone Regulations garodnick vallone drones

Council members introduce drone legislation (photo: William Alatriste)

Pointing to insufficient efforts on the part of the Federal Aviation Administration, New York City Council members are taking regulation of the city’s skies into their own hands.

In asserting their authority with respect to helicopters and drones on a turf traditionally maintained by the federal government, council members may find themselves in ambiguous legal territory. But they tell Gotham Gazette that they are acting in the interest of public safety and in part to push other levels of government to act.

Council Members Carlos Menchaca, Helen Rosenthal, and Margaret Chin introduced a legislative package of two bills last month that would prohibit the operation of sightseeing helicopters, citing concerns about noise pollution. The council members are supported by “Stop the Chop NYNJ,” a group of community members who complain the noise from sightseeing helicopters are diminishing quality of life.

“What we’ve tried to do is approach this issue from the perspective of the FAA, from the federal body that’s required to regulate this industry. And we’ve tried so hard to regulate this industry to some avail, but not totally dealing with the problems,” Rosenthal said a press conference in July. “What we’ve done at the City Council is identify a different way to deal with the problem, and that is through the issue of noise. And in fact what the city can do is to ban tourist helicopters...they are responsible for this incessant noise.”

The City Council does not have the authority to regulate airspace over the city in terms of flight patterns— that’s under the purview of the FAA. But the council does have some regulatory power, as Rosenthal referenced.

“If the federal government is regulating a field, then federal law generally will trump state law or local law and the question is, did the federal government intend to preempt the field—  that is, is the federal government doing all regulations of of all helicopters, or did it allow some discretion to the City of New York?” Steven Mirmina, a professor at Georgetown Law and expert in aviation law, told Gotham Gazette. “It looks like [City Council members] did a balancing where they said the federal government regulates a lot of aspects for helicopters, but there is some discretion for the city to regulate also.”

Part of the regulatory power stems from the city’s capacity as a proprietor, according to aviation attorney Brian Alexander.

“The heliports themselves are owned by the city or the Economic Development Corporation, so…their control of the heliports is the principal way in which the city can control or even ban these types of flights,” Alexander said.

This power was affirmed in 1998 after Mayor Giuliani and the City Council approved regulations to reduce helicopter traffic at the 34th Street heliport by nearly 50 percent and to ban weekend flights. The Second Circuit Court largely upheld City Hall’s regulations in an appeal after the operator of the heliport, National Helicopter Corporation, successfully sued the city.

As proprietors of the heliports, the City Council has the power to impose “reasonable, nonarbitrary, and non-discriminatory” regulations on noise levels. In the 1998 case National Helicopter Corporation v. City of New York, the Court held that the city was acting lawfully in its role as a proprietor— and not as a “police power”- when imposing regulations. Had the city been acting as a police power, the legal grounds for regulating the heliports would have been much more tenuous.

“The regulation [banning weekend flights] is based on the City's desire to protect area residents from significant noise intrusion during the weekend when most people are trying to rest and relax at home,” and thus was permissible, Chief Judge Winter wrote in the decision.

Importantly, the bill introduced last month prohibits the operation of helicopters based on their “stages,” or noise levels designated by the FAA (There are three stages— the bill bans all of them). When the Council tried to regulate noise from helicopters in 1996 by putting restrictions on the size of helicopters that could fly in and out of the 34th street heliport (the rationale being that larger helicopters are noisier), the Second Circuit Court found that such regulation was discriminatory.

But Mirmina, the law professor, pointed out that the helicopter bill’s scope— targeting only sightseeing helicopters— could be problematic.

“If they’re concerned about the noise, they could say no helicopters over a certain decibel level. What about media helicopters? Those could be noisier than the tourist helicopters. You could have a sightseeing helicopter that’s really quiet. Why are we going to ban all sightseeing helicopters?” Mirmina asked. “So such a ban to me is, while on its face nondiscriminatory, it may also be viewed as not reasonably calculated to achieve their objective of keeping the skies more quiet.”

Another potential problem with the bill: because the city does not have the authority to control airspace, it can’t ban the tours outright.

“Anything that the city does regulating helicopters…will have no effect on how many helicopters will fly in the city’s airspace, that is 100 percent under the control of the FAA,” said Chapin Fay, vice president of Mercury, the public strategy firm representing tour industry group Helicopters Matter. “So for example, they could take off and land in New Jersey, they could go to Connecticut or Long Island but they still could fly the same routes they’re flying now.”

But sightseeing helicopter operators in New Jersey may soon find themselves shut out of the state as well: in March, three Garden State Assembly members introduced a bill that would prohibit tourist helicopter operations from taking off and landing on “all aviation facilities licensed by the state.”

The bills, now introduced to the City Council Committee on Environmental Protection and with eight sponsors in the 51-member body, may see a first hearing as soon as September. They are the latest in a long line of efforts to regulate helicopter traffic in New York.

In 2010, the Economic Development Corporation and helicopter operators agreed that helicopters would no longer fly over Central Park, the Empire State Building, or Brooklyn. The agreement also eliminated short tours between four and eight minutes. Those tours made up one-fifth of sightseeing traffic at the Downtown Manhattan Heliport, and were the most profitable for helicopter operators, the New York Times reported.

In 2008, Air Pegasus, the operator of the heliport at 30th Street, agreed to eliminate sightseeing tours after the Friends of the Hudson River Park sued the company, arguing that the location of the heliport on the land side of the park violated the law. This agreement— paired with the 1998 ruling of National Helicopter Corp. v. City of New York— left the downtown Manhattan heliport the only one open to sightseeing tours.

While helicopter regulation has a fairly lengthy New York City history, drone regulation does not. The question of the extent of the city’s authority to regulate aircraft becomes perhaps more pressing— and more ambiguous— as unmanned aviation vehicles (UAVs), or drones, become more prevalent.

U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) famously described New York City as the “wild west” of drones. Underlining his point is the series of near-collisions drones have caused near John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia Airports and a close call with a NYPD helicopter over the George Washington Bridge, to name a few of the twelve or more incidents in the past year alone.

In considering regulation, elected officials have also cited privacy concerns, as drones with cameras attached to them become more affordable for the average citizen to purchase. But federal regulations lag behind the increase in popularity.

In 2012, Congress passed a reauthorization act related to the FAA that, among other requirements, compelled the agency to release finalized rules for UAVs by September 2015. A government audit last March, one month after the agency released proposed rules, concluded they would not make the deadline. Finalized rules are not expected for another year.

In the interim, state and local governments are under pressure to tread into the murky territory of drone law.

“Local governments right now are in a really tough position when it comes to drones. And in New York I think that's probably especially true, not just because of what happened at JFK last week. So every time there’s a negative drone incident, it puts additional pressure on local officials,” said attorney Stephen Hartzell, who specializes in UAS law.

Queens District Attorney Richard Brown released a statement Tuesday urging hobbyists to “use common sense when choosing to employ unmanned vehicles,” noting that his office “will utilize all legal tools available to insure the safety of those in the air and on the ground.” Queens, of course, is home to both of the city's major airports.

City Council members have introduced two bills looking to curb the use of drones. One, introduced by Council Member Dan Garodnick would ban drones from the city’s airspace with the exception of NYPD drones that had obtained a warrant. In an interview with Gotham Gazette, Garodnick acknowledged that his bill starts from the “strictest possible place.”

“Our bill is very strict, largely because there exist insufficient tools for enforcement. If you start allowing drones at certain heights or in certain areas or conditions, law enforcement needs to have the ability to both monitor and take action when people do not follow those rules,” Garodnick said in reference to what could become quite onerous enforcement. “Today, there is no credible way to do that.”

Garodnick said that he believes there is reasonable place and time for drone enthusiasts to operate their unmanned aerial systems, but doesn’t want to “open the floodgates” before tools to enforce regulations exist.

The second bill, introduced by Council Member Paul Vallone, would seek to impose a series of regulations on drone usage.

Vallone’s bill would prohibit using UAVs for surveillance purposes, at night or operating them within five miles of any airport and within a quarter mile of schools, houses of worship, hospitals and “open-air assemblies.” Importantly, it also would require users to operate their drones within their line of sight, a requirement also suggested by the FAA.

“The legal side of me is always looking to put in a bill that’s actually got a good chance of passing, an outright ban on something to me is a real hard way to go about a proper balance,” Vallone said. “This bill was put in with the intention of trying to find a balance of places that really need to be protected and giving people a place to fly these if they so choose to do so for their recreation.”

The two drone bills take different degrees of approaching the same issue. Both bills enjoy support from other council members: Garodnick’s bill has 14 sponsors, Vallone’s has 23 (as of August 7). Interestingly, there’s overlap within those numbers, with Council Members Costa Constantinides, Daniel Dromm, Julissa Ferreras, Rory Lancman, and Jumaane Williams listed as co-sponsors of both bills.

Vallone explains his bill would act as an interim measure until the FAA releases final rules for UAS operation.

“With the absence of federal, or FAA, guidelines, then we as the greatest city have to take steps to protect ourselves. Once we have our hearing - let’s be positive - the bill gets passed and becomes law, it still would be preempted or superseded by whatever FAA guidelines come out,” Vallone said. “But hopefully they would take note of the steps we took as a city.”

Garodnick struck a somewhat cooler stance when asked how he envisioned his bill would interact with the FAA’s forthcoming regulations.

“When the FAA puts together rules that protect the safety of New Yorkers, and when they fully occupy the field of law with their own rules, we will defer. Until that happens, we need to act to protect the privacy and safety of people here,” Garodnick said.

Whether local governments’ efforts may be preempted by FAA regulation is unclear and likely won’t be resolved for several years, according to Hartzell, the attorney.

“It’s very easy for people to say, ‘wait a second, isn’t this preempted? The FAA regulates the airspace, the federal government has sovereignty over our airspace so therefore how can any local or state authority possibly do anything?’” Hartzell said. “And the answer is, it depends on what they want to do and how they do it, and what I promise you is that we won’t fully know unless and until there is a law passed that winds up being challenged in court.”

To Hartzell, an interesting ambiguity in both Vallone’s and Garodnick’s bills is the clause that would allow someone to operate a UAV “pursuant to and within the limits of an express authorization by the Federal Aviation Administration.”

Express authorization, according to Hartzell, could be interpreted to include FAA Advisory Circular 91-57, which sets voluntary guidelines for flying model aircraft. Though the circular was signed into effect in 1981, its scope includes recreational drones (the FAA put in a request last year to formally cancel the advisory).

“There’s going to be someone that challenges a rule or law that flatly prohibits drone operation. This [language] is interesting because it seems to contemplate some sort of operation as long as somebody is expressly authorized by the FAA,” Hartzell said. “So the question is, what does that mean? It could mean that the FAA has to grant somebody specific permission or what somebody is likely to argue is [the advisory circular] could be interpreted as an express authorization written by the FAA itself.”

Garodnick told Gotham Gazette that he does not interpret AC 91-57 as giving “express authorization” because it’s an advisory memo, not an individual grant.

The FAA does grant companies and individuals such authorizations, giving them the permission to operate drones in a “continuing effort to safely expand and support commercial unmanned aircraft operations in U.S. airspace.” The FAA has passed over 1000 of these so-called “Section 333 exemptions.” Those who receive Section 333 exemptions would be allowed to operate drones over the city, Garodnick said.

“Councilman Vallone and I are after the same thing, which is a responsible set of rules that protects New Yorkers in a changing technological environment. We put those bills out to start this conversation,” Garodnick said (he and Vallone held a joint press conference to announce their bills). “We want to hear feedback from the public at a hearing and we hope that we will be able to craft cutting edge rules which protect New Yorkers and also open the door to some of the novel and exciting uses for drones once we have appropriate enforcement mechanisms.”

by Catie Edmondson, Gotham Gazette

No Fly Zone: Council Members Push Helicopter, Drone Regulations Thu, 06 Aug 2015 21:41:35 +0000