Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/234 Wed, 26 Feb 2020 01:32:39 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) 'Go Big or Go Home': Dianne Morales Goes for the Top Job in New York City https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9153-go-big-or-go-home-dianne-morales-runs-mayor-new-york-city https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9153-go-big-or-go-home-dianne-morales-runs-mayor-new-york-city morales womens march

Dianne Morales, mayoral candidate, at the Women's March (photo: @Dianne4NYC)


Dianne Morales, a Brooklyn native and, until recently, nonprofit executive, has never run for elected office before but is seeking to become the next mayor of New York City.

“I grew up in this city and spent my last 30 years helping communities to overcome poverty through a variety of different ways,” Morales said during a recent appearance on the Max & Murphy podcast to discuss her candidacy in the 2021 Democratic mayoral primary. “Whether that be through education, helping people find jobs through career pathways and here I am now, a candidate for New York City Mayor.”

From Bedford-Stuyvesant, Morales served for nearly the past decade as CEO of Phipps Neighborhoods, a social services nonprofit working in the Bronx. She resigned from that post at the start of the year, she said, to campaign full-time ahead of the June 2021 primary vote that will likely determine the city’s next mayor given how overwhelmingly Democratic the five boroughs are.

Morales, seeking to become the city’s first female mayor, knows she faces a tough road ahead against sitting elected officials with more name recognition, political connections, and fundraising prowess than her, but believes she brings a unique perspective and skill set to the race, and plans on breaking through over time.

Setting up a distinction with at least one of her competitors, Morales made clear during the interview that becoming mayor has not been her dream for her whole life. Rather, she believes that a combination of factors came together at the right time that helped her decide to step into this race. She said one turning point for her in the decision-making process was after Hurricane Maria and her involvement in relief efforts in Puerto Rico, where communities weren’t being reached by aid.

“As I’ve been reflecting about how I can bring my experiences and the things that I’ve learned and the things that I’ve done and have been effective at to scale on a different level and to have an impact and support larger communities in a different way,” Morales said of her decision. “The idea for running for office increasingly became an option. Some of the changes that we need to make in order to have a long-term impact on communities have to be done on the structural and systemic level.”

Morales said it is at this level where she thinks she can make the most valuable change for the city, and use her experience fighting poverty and other challenges the city faces to help the most New Yorkers. Rather than running for office at a lower level first, such as borough president or City Council, she said running for mayor is what made the most sense to her.

“When you think about what I’m talking about what I’m wanting to do, the kind of change and impact and scale that I want to have on the city, it’s at the mayoral level,” she explained. “Because I’m not someone who has aspired all my life to become an elected official and because I’m not mapping out the strategic pathway or the steps to that, it didn’t make sense to me to think about City Council or a local position. I’m not planning to spend the next 20 years of my life in elected office. This is one of those ‘go big or go home’ moments for me. This is the place where I think I can have the greatest impact and make the biggest difference in the largest number of people’s lives.This isn’t going to be a second career for me.”

Her campaign is focused on “basic human needs,” she said, like ensuring New Yorkers have access to mental health services, that women are empowered, and everyone has access to housing. She said that while some of her background and her stances may get her labeled as a progressive Democrat or even democratic socialist, others separate her and make her hard to pin a label on, such as her belief in school choice. She doesn’t fall “neatly into one box,” she said, adding that she hopes that will be an advantage for her in this race.

“Women who do better, their families do better, and their communities do better. A focus and priority for me would be the economic wellbeing, safety, access to childcare, those kinds of issues that help women to live full, successful and productive lives,” Morales said.

Morales said that while she likes some of what de Blasio has done during his tenure, especially on early childhood education, she also believes that there are flaws with the way those programs were rolled out. She also criticizes his work on mental health services, disagreeing with the way the resources were allocated, something Morales said will be key to her platform.

Hitting on a discussion that has been ongoing for many years, including heatedly at points during de Blasio’s tenure, Morales discussed issues related to police responses to mental health crises. When someone calls 311 or 911 about such an emergency, Morales said, police are often deployed, but she wants to consider decoupling the relevant services, creating distinct response units.

“If we used those resources that are being misdirected and apply those things to support mental health services in a whole different kind of way and what would it look like in housing, again, if we were able to redirect those resources that are really needed and are directed in a much more targeted way,” she said. On that issue and others, Morales appeared not fully prepared with details of how she would run the city or what specific policy plans she will show voters as she seeks their support.

Morales also said housing would be a focus for her, but did not provide any real indications of what her plans are to address the problems she’s identifying with perhaps the biggest issue facing New Yorkers. Morales cited experience with various types of housing, from shelter to supportive housing to affordable housing, and said in the city’s shelter system “there’s a problem with the philosophy for an operator that’s running a shelter is simply ‘just get them placed.’ There’s not enough emphasis in terms of how do you not just get them placed but provide them the support they need to sustain permanent placement and permanent housing.”

Morales’ campaign website doesn’t provide much clarity about her positions or proposals, though it is still early in the campaign, with the primary about 16 months away. “[E]very New Yorker has the right to quality housing, jobs, education, healthcare, and transportation,” her “issues” page states, but it’s followed by a list of broad principles and few actual policy ideas.

In the Democratic primary, Morales may be competing with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Comptroller Scott Stringer, former city Veterans Services Commissioner Loree Sutton, and Shaun Donovan, a former top aide to both President Obama and Mayor Bloomberg, as well as any other candidates who jump into the race.

With the early departure of Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. from the mayoral race, Morales is the only Latino candidate currently in the running. Asked about how ethnicity is explicitly part of her candidacy, she said, “When you look at our demographics, it’s communities of color. Coming from a low-income background and having lived experiences that many of our residents are living right now and being on the other side of that and having the opportunity to build systems and structures to help people overcome that. I think that experience is valuable.”

“I also think that there is something to be said about having those experiences as a woman of color and being able to understand and relate to so many in the community of New York City,” she continued. “It’s important to understand how to galvanize communities at large and be inclusive in creating a vision for New York City that involves everybody being able to do better and that is something that I bring to the table.”

In a brief subsequent interview with Gotham Gazette about her campaign, Morales said she is currently going all over the city having meetings with civic leaders and groups, trying to reconnect with people as a candidate and introduce herself to others. She said she is spending a good chunk of her time trying to raise the money needed to run her campaign.

“I’m having meetings with all kinds of places, I’m meeting with community groups, I’m talking to policy folks,” she said. “I have a very clear sense of what my values and priority issues are, but I don’t need to reinvent the wheel. I think there’s a lot of value in talking to folks who have dedicated their lives to these sorts of issues and have dedicated their lives to shaping the policy agenda. And I’m fundraising, that’s the part of the gig that you might not like, but you have to do.”

Talking just after attending a press conference about the new ranked-choice voting (RCV) system that will be implemented for special and primary elections for city offices beginning next year, Morales said that RCV is a good opportunity to re-engage communities that have lost faith in government and politics.

RCV “is an opportunity to educate those communities and bring them back into the fold and the idea of the potential of having more than just a polarized choice and the idea of potentially changing what leadership reflects in the city, with women or people of color, potentially in leadership,” Morales said. “I think those are things that inspire folks who traditionally have stayed at home.”

[Listen to Morales' full appearance on the Max & Murphy podcast]

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by Katie Kirker, Gotham Gazette

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Ben Max contributed to this story.

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'Go Big or Go Home': Dianne Morales Goes for the Top Job in New York City Mon, 24 Feb 2020 05:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Mayoral Candidate Dianne Morales https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9116-max-murphy-podcast-2021-mayoral-candidate-dianne-morales https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9116-max-murphy-podcast-2021-mayoral-candidate-dianne-morales dianne morales 600

Mayoral candidate Dianne Morales at a recent event (photo: Dianne.nyc)


February 5, 2020 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Mayoral Candidate Dianne Morales

dianne moralesDianne Morales joined the show to discuss her candidacy for Mayor of New York City. Running in the 2021 Democratic primary, Morales recently stepped down from her long-time job as CEO of Phipps Neighborhoods in the Bronx to campaign full-time. On the show, she discussed the reasons she decided to run and what her campaign will focus on, among other things.

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 wbai.org.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Mayoral Candidate Dianne Morales Wed, 05 Feb 2020 05:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Mayoral Candidate Loree Sutton https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9117-max-murphy-podcast-2021-mayoral-candidate-loree-sutton https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9117-max-murphy-podcast-2021-mayoral-candidate-loree-sutton Loree Sutton

(photo: Mayor's office)


February 5, 2020 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Mayoral Candidate Loree Sutton

loree k sutton900Loree Sutton, a retired brigadier general and recently-departed commissioner of the city's Department of Veterans' Services, joined the show to discuss her campaign for mayor. Sutton, running in the 2021 Democratic primary, discussed the reasons she's running, her critiques of Mayor de Blasio, and much more.

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 wbai.org.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Mayoral Candidate Loree Sutton Wed, 05 Feb 2020 05:00:00 +0000
Push Begins to Educate New Yorkers About Ranked-Choice Voting Ahead of 2021 Implementation https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9112-push-begins-educate-new-yorkers-about-ranked-choice-voting-ahead-of-2021-implementation https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9112-push-begins-educate-new-yorkers-about-ranked-choice-voting-ahead-of-2021-implementation eric adams wcbs

Eric Adams, Susan Lerner, and Alicka Ampry-Samuel, right (photo: @AlickaASamuel41)


A push is now underway to ensure voters are educated about the new ranked choice voting system New York City will be adopting for some elections starting in 2021, and it is being driven by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, a top contender in the mayoral race where the new format will first be tested.

At a press conference Wednesday in front of New York City Board of Elections headquarters in Lower Manhattan, Adams, along with Brooklyn City Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel and Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, urged the mayor and City Council to include $10 million in the next city budget toward public education ahead of the implementation of ranked-choice voting, which was approved by voters this past November. He said the allocation would be offset by the money saved in costly run-off elections, which tend to have extremely low turnout and are obsolete in a system using ranked-choice voting, and should be geared to engaging historically disenfranchised groups.

Ranked-choice voting will be a “major shift” in how elections are run and “it’s imperative that we get it right,” Adams said of the new voting method where voters can select up to five candidates in order of preference during special and primary elections (but not general elections) beginning in 2021, and votes are reapportioned as needed until a winner hits 50%. “That is why we’re asking the City Council, the Speaker, as well as the Mayor of the City of New York, to allocate the necessary funds so that we can have the proper education on the ground.”

In addition to the call for city funding, Adams announced he would be holding forums at Brooklyn Borough Hall and is encouraging his fellow borough presidents to do the same in their boroughs. The speakers at the press conference also called attention to the city Board of Election’s effort to use a new paperless touch-screen voting machine, which they say is less accurate and secure than the current hybrid system, which election experts consider a “gold standard.”

The push comes amid an unfolding fiasco in the Iowa Democratic caucuses, as a newly adopted and undertested app-based reporting mechanism has failed to report the full results of the state’s voting Monday. “The Iowa debacle should be a wake-up call for how we integrate new technologies into our election systems,” Adams said in a press release Wednesday.

Ranked-choice voting allows voters to rate candidates in order of preference rather than having to cast a vote for just one, at least for New York City special and primary elections beginning in 2021. If no candidate wins a majority of votes on the first counting, the last place candidate is eliminated and their ballots are redistributed to the remaining candidates based on those voters’ second choices. The process of elimination and reapportionment continues until one candidate receives a majority of support.

Advocates say the system has a number of benefits in addition to eliminating the need for run-off elections, which currently occur after a primary election in the city when no candidate garners more than 40 percent of the vote. Ranked-choice voting reduces the risk of so-called “spoiler” candidates -- candidates who have no chance of winning but still take votes that could otherwise advantage a more viable candidate -- by not forcing voters to choose between their top choice and another alternative other than in ranking them. Supporters also say it forces candidates to adopt a broader message and appeal to voters outside their base, and that winners are ultimately indicative of more widespread support.

Ranked-choice was approved by voters last fall as part of a referendum to amend the City Charter. It came after a coalition of election reformers pushed the 2019 Charter Revision Commission, tasked with proposing amendments to voters based on public input and an analysis of the city’s primary governing document. Barring unforeseen special elections, which are called when an elected official steps down mid-term, the first races using ranked-choice voting in New York City will be the June 2021 primaries for mayor, other citywide and boroughwide positions, and the entire City Council. 

The implementation will come on the heels of a slew of election changes passed by state lawmakers in 2019, including early voting and electronic poll books, and primaries moved to June.

Adams and Ampry-Samuel, both Democrats, said the focus of educational outreach should be groups that have been politically marginalized in the past.

“We need to be proactive and invest now as a city in educating our most vulnerable communities and voters to avoid disastrous errors and potential disenfranchisement,” said Ampry-Samuel, who represents parts of Bed-Stuy, Brownsville, East Flatbush, and Crown Heights and will be up for reelection in 2021.

“Black voters have been loyal to the Democratic Party for decades. It is disrespectful and a failure to our communities when we neglect to prepare them for the changes. We are now introducing new technologies and systems that can also be confusing to our aging New Yorkers,” she said.

Asked whether she would be pushing legislation to support the effort to engage historically disenfranchised New Yorkers in conjunction with the push for funding, Ampry-Samuel said: “We are working with the Council now and our advocates to make sure that we have legislation in place to make sure that our voters are protected. But in addition to that, because right now we are in the budget season and we are negotiating that city funding, we are making sure we are putting enough funding -- $10 million -- in place to educate our voters.”

“This education must be on the ground,” and should occur through “door-to-door outreach, [at] train stops, in our school system,” and reaching “our new young people who are graduating from high school and will be voting for the first time,” Adams said.

Parallel to the funding push is Adams’ plan to hold forums about the RCV as part of an effort to boost civic engagement. “The details are still being determined but we look forward to rolling these forums out soon,” Jonah Allon, a spokesperson for Adams, told Gotham Gazette.

Adams is expected to be competing in the 2021 Democratic mayoral primary along with possible contenders such as Comptroller Scott Stringer, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, former city and federal official Shaun Donovan, former city veterans affairs commissioner Loree Sutton, and Dianne Morales, recently-departed CEO of Bronx social services nonprofit Phipps Neighborhoods.

Lerner and Adams also raised concerns on Wednesday about the city BOE’s push to get a new voting machine, the ExpressVote XL, certified for use by the New York State Board of Elections. They said the system, which uses an electronic touch-screen with no accompanying paper record, is less reliable and accurate than the current system, and has been almost universally criticized by election security experts.

The city currently uses a system in which voters mark a paper ballot that is then scanned by an electronic machine. Lerner said switching to a new system, when the current system is considered a good model, is a waste of taxpayer money.

Another caveat is the potential conflicts of interest for New York City BOE Executive Director Michael Ryan, who is accused of receiving gifts from Election Systems & Software, the company that makes ExpressVote XL, and is pushing the state board to certify the technology. Lerner’s Common Cause New York last week asked the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board to investigate Ryan’s connection with ES&S, which they say includes being flown across the country to conferences and serving on an advisory board for the company (after reporting by NY1 he stepped down from the advisory board).

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Push Begins to Educate New Yorkers About Ranked-Choice Voting Ahead of 2021 Implementation Wed, 05 Feb 2020 05:00:00 +0000
Ballot Set for Queens Borough President Special Election After Unprecedented 'Lottery' https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9107-queens-borough-president-special-election-ballot-set-unprecedented-lottery https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9107-queens-borough-president-special-election-ballot-set-unprecedented-lottery 1 flushing meadow

Queens BP special election is March 24 (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


In low-turnout and low-information elections, like the typical special election in New York City, the prominence of a candidate’s name on the ballot can go a long way -- and that depends largely on the order in which the candidates are listed. Traditionally the subject of gaming by campaigns, for the March special election to name a new Queens Borough President, the order was determined by an unprecedented method: random draw.

“Three candidates filed simultaneously so the order of the ballot is going to be determined, by rule of our commissioners this past Tuesday, for the first three candidates that filed, via the lottery,” said Tom Satte, the ballot coordinator at the New York City Board of Elections, as he announced the outcome like the host of a lottery drawing. He was sitting in the BOE offices in Lower Manhattan in front of a large bingo wheel as another staff member turned, pulled, and read numbers off the colored balls inside.

Normally, ballot order is determined on a first-come, first-serve basis, where candidates are listed in the order in which they submit the requisite number of qualifying petition signatures starting on the submission date set by the BOE. But in the special election to replace former Queens Borough President Melina Katz, which has already seen its share of ballot-access wrangling among nearly a dozen potential candidates, three prominent campaigns -- those of Elizabeth Crowley, Donovan Richards, and Jimmy Van Bramer -- turned in their petitions within two minutes of one another, a margin narrow enough to lead elections administrators to consider using the novel approach for what they say is the first time.

On January 6, the third day to file petition signatures, Crowley, Richards, and Van Bramer, all current or former Democrats in the City Council, each delivered more than the required number of valid signatures and accompanying documentation between 9 a.m. and 9:02 a.m. Following a recommendation by the board’s legal staff and in compliance with state rules, the BOE voted to hold a random drawing among the three candidates to determine who’s name would appear first on the ballot.

“This is the first time that this specific issue happened,” said BOE General Counsel Steve Richman in a presentation to commissioners last Tuesday. “A fourth candidate filed at 9:06, Costa Constantinides, so I guess he’s not applicable [under our rules] because it’s four minutes later.”

The final order on the ballot will be Richards, Crowley, Van Bramer, then Constantinides (another Democratic Council Member), followed by Jim Quinn, Dao Yin, and Anthony Miranda. Van Bramer had dropped out of the race, citing his mother’s health, before the bingo drawing, but since he submitted valid signatures in time, his name will appear on the ballot.

Miranda, a former police sergeant who initially did not qualify because of a technical error on his cover sheet, was added to the ballot following a rare successful appeal. Quinn is a prosecutor and 42-year veteran of the Queens District Attorney’s Office and Yin is a businessman from Flushing.

In order to get on the ballot, candidates must obtain a set number of signatures from eligible voters, which varies depending on the office sought. For the Queens Borough President special election candidates needed to submit 2,000 valid signatures of registered Queens voters by the January 14 filing deadline. In partisan elections, like party primaries, the signatures must come from voters registered with the given party, but city special elections are non-partisan meaning candidates don’t run on traditional party lines, and any registered voter in the district could provide a valid signature. All Queens voters are eligible to vote on March 24, the special election day, and the nine days of early voting beforehand.

Candidates usually seek more than the minimum signature threshold -- often by a factor of three -- because once petitions have been submitted, campaigns try to challenge the validity of their rivals’ signatures in an effort to knock them off the ballot. The ability to submit enough signatures early and to challenge the signatures on an opponents’ petition is usually the sign of a well-organized and well-resourced campaign, and is part of the election calculus of campaign strategists.

The Queens Borough President special election was officially declared by Mayor de Blasio at the beginning of the year, when Katz took office as Queens County District Attorney after winning a crowded and closely-watched race in 2019.

Nine candidates, two of whom failed to get on the ballot, filed with the New York City Campaign Finance Board. In the first filing period all the candidates reported raising a collective $1.4 million in private contributions.

Of the roughly $858,000 spent in the race as of the January 16 filing, the biggest spenders remaining -- Crowley and Constantinides -- are also the only two thus far receiving public matching funds through the city’s campaign financing program. Crowley has spent about $232,000 and received $498,000 in public matches. Constantinides trails slightly, having spent $213,000 and received $477,000.

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Ballot Set for Queens Borough President Special Election After Unprecedented 'Lottery' Tue, 04 Feb 2020 05:00:00 +0000
Deadline for New York Voter Party Enrollment Change is Rapidly Approaching https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9084-deadline-for-new-york-voter-party-enrollment-change-is-just-two-weeks-away https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9084-deadline-for-new-york-voter-party-enrollment-change-is-just-two-weeks-away student voter reg

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


New York State voters who wish to cast their ballots in the upcoming April presidential primary and combined June congressional and state primary elections have until February 14 to enroll in the party of their choice.

New York holds closed primaries, where only voters registered with a party affiliation can vote for their party’s nominee to the general election. This system is designed to prevent so-called “party raiding,” where members of one party vote in another party’s primary elections to skew its results. But that also means that unaffiliated, sometimes called independent, voters without a party membership cannot vote in the primaries.

Many New Yorkers found that out the hard way in April 2016 when party-unaffiliated voters seeking to cast a ballot for Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign complained of being turned away from the polls on primary day.

There were as many as 2.8 million independent registered voters in the state as of November 1, 2019, according to the latest State Board of Elections data; there were 6.5 million Democrats and 2.83 million Republicans statewide at the time as well.

Up until recently, New York also had one of the longest deadlines for changing party affiliation before being eligible to participate in the next party primary. Previously, registered voters without a party affiliation (or in a party they wanted to leave for another) who wanted to vote in the April 28, 2020 presidential primary would have had to file an application to change their enrollment by October 11, 2019. If they missed that deadline, their enrollment change would not have gone into effect till after the November 2020 general election, effectively shutting them out of the primary. But that was shifted to the February deadline, much to advocates’ approval.

Last year, the state Legislature under full Democratic control for the first time in a decade, took steps to correct the party-change deadline problem. A bill, signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo in September, changed the enrollment deadline to February 14. Any enrollment changes and new enrollments filed before and on that day will take effect immediately, allowing people to vote in the April 28 presidential and June 23 congressional and state primaries.

This could allow many more New Yorkers a say in the competitive Democratic presidential primary, where the state’s April vote may or may not be important to crowning a victor in the crowded field. New York doesn’t vote until after many other states. But the changed deadline also gives more time for voters seeking to participate in what will be a long list of competitive Democratic or Republican legislative primaries come June.

“While the federal administration continues to look for new ways to disenfranchise voters across the country, in New York we are making monumental changes to break down more barriers to the ballot box and encourage more people to exercise this fundamental right,” Cuomo said in a statement when he signed the bill. “This measure will make it easier for New Yorkers to have their voices heard in presidential, congressional and state primaries, which builds upon the many reforms we've made to strengthen New York's election system and increase voter access once and for all.”

Subsequent party enrollment changes, filed between February 15 and June 30, will take effect on June 30, roughly a week after the congressional and state primary election.

New York voters can find relevant deadlines, forms, and processes at the State Board of Elections website registration page, and can check their current registration status, including party enrollment, via the BOE here.

Eligible New York voters who are not registered at all have until April 3 to register in order to participate in the April 28 presidential primary, and until May 29 to register to participate in the June 23 primaries.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Deadline for New York Voter Party Enrollment Change is Rapidly Approaching Fri, 31 Jan 2020 05:00:00 +0000
After Successful 2018, Empire State Indivisible Backs Initial Trio of Progressives in 2020 Races https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9079-indivisible-activists-back-initial-trio-new-york-progressives-2020-niou-bunkedekko https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9079-indivisible-activists-back-initial-trio-new-york-progressives-2020-niou-bunkedekko Empire State Indivisible

Empire State Indivisible activists


The 2018 elections saw a sweeping victory for Democrats, as they recaptured the House of Representatives, in part thanks to victories in New York, where the party also took full control of the state Legislature for the first time in nearly a decade. The state election saw several moderate Democrats, who had comfortably worked with Republicans for years, swept out of power and replaced with a new cohort of progressives buttressed with grassroot activist support, while several suburban swing districts went from red to blue.

This year, with all U.S. House and state legislative seats on the ballot, along with the presidential race, grassroots activists are seeking another round of wins to keep progressive legislators in power or move Democratic seats left, while also flipping Republican-held seats and electing a Democratic president.

Empire State Indivisible, part of a vast network created in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s ascendancy to the White House, contributed significantly to those 2018 wins where New York congressional seats flipped and the State Senate went Democratic, and by a wide margin. Activists now want to replicate those results, endorsing young Democratic candidates seeking to challenge incumbent congressional representatives in the upcoming primaries, while ensuring that certain incumbents who face challenges themselves are able to survive.

Announcing its first wave of 2020 endorsements, Empire State Indivisible is backing three Democratic candidates in the June 23 primary – Manhattan Assemblymember Yuh-line Niou, who was first elected in 2018 and faces a well-funded primary challenger; Adem Bunkedekko, who is running against Democratic Rep. Yvette Clarke in Brooklyn’s 9th congressional district for a second time after a narrow 2018 defeat; and Melanie D’Arrigo, who is challenging Democratic Rep. Tom Suozzi in Long Island’s 3rd congressional district.

“The case we're making in this announcement is around the need to not just elect Democrats, but elect better Democrats,” said Ricky Silver, co-lead organizer of Empire State Indivisible, in a phone interview, echoing much of the motivation behind 2018 efforts the group was involved with regarding the New York State Senate.

Empire State Indivisible was part of the True Blue NY coalition of organizations that rallied around progressive Democratic candidates who in 2018 successfully ousted members of the former Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), a rogue faction of state senators who shared power with Republicans and helped them hold the chamber. Though the eight-member IDC was dissolved in the months before the primary, the resentment they had engendered among activists and voters carried through to the election. Six of its members lost their seats and, with additional victories in Brooklyn and outside the five boroughs, Democrats regained control of the chamber. But the progressive movement was not limited to the state Legislature alone, of course. True Blue NY also endorsed Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who defeated the Democratic heavyweight Rep. Joe Crowley, and has since risen to national prominence. Meanwhile, other Indivisible chapters helped swing a number of state Senate and House seats in other parts of the state.

“I think the IDC was one of the most transparent ways an elected Democrat can support Republicans, in the fact that they literally caucused with the Republicans. But that certainly isn't the only way,” Silver said, in a general critique of longtime elected officials who, in their quest for power, no longer seem to represent their constituents. “Democrats or elected officials in general focus on power dynamics and focus on the consolidation of power over the actual progressive causes that they run on.”

Silver said Niou, Bunkedekko, and D’Arrigo are all progressive organizers who have shown they stand up for their communities. Empire State Indivisible plans to bolster each of the candidates’ campaigns, sending volunteers to gather ballot petition signatures, canvass, and for get-out-the-vote efforts.

For Empire State Indivisible, Niou has been a crucial partner in advocating for campaign finance reform, enhanced tenant protections, and greater transparency in the workings of the state Legislature. Some of those efforts were especially fruitful given the Assembly’s more progressive voices and the new Senate majority.

“New York leads the nation in income inequality, reminding us that we need outspoken advocates in Albany who are ready to fight for a government that works for all of us and not just some of us,” said Kellie Leeson, co-lead organizer of Empire State Indivisible, in a statement. “Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou understands the issues that matter and has proven during her short time in Albany that she is a fierce ally and is ready to stand up to support tenants, improve our schools and protect the most marginalized among us.”

Niou welcomed Empire State Indivisible’s support. “I'm proud to have them on my side as I keep building a people-powered movement in Lower Manhattan,” she said in a statement.

Bunkedekko and D’Arrigo face a different set of challenges.

Bunkedekko is making a second attempt at unseating Rep. Clarke, a 14-year incumbent, after coming close in the 2018 primary – Clarke got 52% of the vote to Bunkedekko’s 48%. Empire State Indivisible criticized Clarke for being far too “passive” in office, praising Bunkedekko as a good alternative.

“For us, it’s all about getting out into our communities and doing the work to engage with people one-on-one, and that kind of commitment is what we look for in candidates,” said Shannon Stagman, co-lead Organizer of Empire State Indivisible. “Adem focuses on the people of his district - they’re his priority. Politics can often feel removed from everyday life, but Adem is out there connecting with his community members every day. He’s ready to take their flights to Washington.”

D’Arrigo, meanwhile, faces Rep. Suozzi, who has only held his Long Island seat since 2017. Empire State Indivisible criticized Suozzi’s decision to join the so-called Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group of representatives that, according to ESI, resembles the IDC.

“Largely backed by corporate interests and dark-money groups like No Labels, the Problem Solvers Caucus has continually acted as a roadblock for progressive policy and a limiting force on the House’s ability to hold the President accountable,” Empire State Indivisible’s announcement reads.

In a statement accompanying the announcement, D’Arrigo echoed that critique. “Our campaign is about restoring Democratic values to a safe blue seat occupied by a corporate politician who caves to the GOP and ignores our district's priorities,” she said.

Silver framed the fight in stark terms. “The Democratic Party is going through a crisis in some ways where simply standing for progressive values isn’t sufficient in the age of Trump,” he said. “Voting records and co-sponsorships of bills, for example, used to be the way that elected democrats across the state...validate their progressive chops and we believe that the time calls for something greater than that....When we look around at New York's elected leadership at all levels, we still see a lot of bluster in terms of the things that electeds say they support but very little action. And so we're looking to continue our efforts to elect Democrats that are not just there to speak, but they're there to fight.”

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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After Successful 2018, Empire State Indivisible Backs Initial Trio of Progressives in 2020 Races Sun, 26 Jan 2020 05:00:00 +0000
January 2020 City Campaign Cash Roundup: Races for Mayor, Comptroller, Borough Presidents https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9063-january-2020-city-campaign-cash-roundup-races-for-mayor-comptroller-borough-presidents https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9063-january-2020-city-campaign-cash-roundup-races-for-mayor-comptroller-borough-presidents inauguration jan

(photo: Mayor's Office)


Candidates running for local office filed their latest campaign finance disclosures with the New York City Campaign Finance Board this week, showing their fundraising and expenditures from the last six months, and cumulative numbers for the 2021 election cycle.

Next year’s election is shaping up to be highly competitive and consequential, with two of three citywide elected officials, four of five borough presidents, and 35 of 51 City Council members facing term limits. The city will elect a new mayor and comptroller for the first time in eight years, among many other new positions to be decided by voters through the June 2021 primaries and general elections to follow that November.

Early fundraising numbers can give an indication of which candidates have momentum behind them for 2021 and which ones may struggle to show popular support. The most immediate race to watch is just two months away: the March special election for Queens Borough President, which was triggered by Melinda Katz’s election as Queens District Attorney. While that race could lead to a special City Council election to fill the victor’s seat, several sitting Council members are running, the vast majority of the upcoming city action is for 2021. And that election cycle will see the first implementation of ranked-choice voting in primaries, which is likely to shift not only some campaign strategies, but outcomes.

Also relatively new are recent enhancements to the city’s voluntary campaign finance program, where candidates will be able to raise far more public funds from small dollar donations, though they could choose to abide by the old rules which have higher contribution limits but lower public funds payments. The new system will become mandatory after this election cycle.

Under the old system, a participating mayoral candidate could raise a maximum donation of $5,100, and could receive a 6-to-1 match on the first $175 of every qualifying contribution. The new system comes with a $2,000 contribution limit but provides an 8-to-1 match on the first $250. Similar numbers apply to candidates for other offices, with max donations dropping as the offices move from citywide to boroughwide to City Council.

The public funds program also comes with spending limits, which do not apply to those who do not participate (though spending limits can be raised or eliminated in certain rare cases).

Participating mayoral candidates can spend nearly $15 million, limited to just under $7.3 million in each of the primary and general election (only up to $343,000 can be spent in outyears such as 2018, 2019, and 2020). They can receive a maximum of about $6.5 million in public funds under the new campaign finance rules and $4 million under the old rules. The first public matching payouts will be made in December of this year, helping to set off what will be a six-month sprint from just after the presidential election to the June 2021 primaries, where the Democratic races will all-but-certainly decide most of the November winners.

Candidates for public advocate and comptroller can spend $4.55 million in the primary as well as the general for a total of more than $9.1 million, with the same outyear limit as mayoral candidates. Public funds payments to those citywide candidates are capped at $4 million under the new rules and $2.5 million under the old ones. While there’s a competitive ‘open seat’ race heating up for comptroller given incumbent Scott Stringer’s term limits, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams is expected to win another term without much competition.

The spending limit for borough president candidates is $1.64 million for each the primary and general election, for a total of nearly $3.3 million, with $153,000 allowed in the outyears. Opting in to the new system would allow such candidates a maximum of $1.45 million in public funds, while the old system provides up to $902,000.

City Council candidates can spend $380,000 total between the primary and general, with only $51,000 in the outyears. The new public funds cap is $168,888, compared with the old cap of $104,500.

Mayoral Contenders
Comptroller Scott Stringer leads in total fundraising over the other declared and likely candidates running to replace Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is also term-limited. Stringer has raised a total of about $2.7 million for his campaign (including $1.4 million transferred over from his previous campaign account) and has spent about $296,000, leaving him with a hefty $2.4 million in cash on hand.

In the latest disclosure period, from July 12, 2019 to January 11, 2020, he raised $130,000 and spent about $79,000. But he also chose to opt in to the new campaign finance rules, which forced him to refund about $446,000 to donors. His total fundraising includes about $423,000 in contributions that the campaign claims would qualify for public matching funds but that number has yet to be audited and will likely change since he switched to the new rules.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams is a close second in total fundraising, having pulled in $2.3 million in total (which includes a $365,000 transfer of funds from a previous committee), and he has spent about $321,000 so far, for a remaining balance of just over $2 million.

In the latest period, he raised just under $194,000 and spent about $76,000. Like Stringer, Adams also decided to change course and participate under the new campaign finance rules. He had to refund about $663,000 above the lower contribution limit. His campaign has claimed to the CFB that it has received about $560,000 in qualifying small dollar contributions but, like Stringer, the actual number remains to be determined by the CFB. 

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. has raised $1.25 million in total and spent just above $347,000, leaving him about $905,000 in cash on hand. Diaz Jr.’s recent fundraising has been lacklustre compared with other candidates. He only brought in $76,000 in the latest disclosure period and spent $102,000 (On Thursday’s “Driving Forces” show on WBAI radio, Diaz Jr. told host Jeff Simmons that “it's not encouraging.” He added: “You know, running for Mayor of the City of New York is monumental. This is what I try to tell folks, we have to have a sense of urgency. These are all things we have to weigh as we move forward.") Perhaps eyeing the chance to be the candidate supported by bigger monied interests, Diaz Jr., who has been a pro-development borough president, has opted in to the old campaign finance system, which will mean 6-to-1 for his small dollar contributions. His campaign has claimed nearly $71,000 in qualifying donations. 

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson is the only candidate who self-imposed a lower-than-mandated donation limit, saying he won’t take anything over $250 from anyone. While this has resulted in a far smaller haul than the others, he’s banking on the new 8-to-1 match to get him in the same ballpark (all four of the big-name candidates expected to run for Mayor are likely to raise what is needed to be able to spend the maximum allowed, though that’s not a given). Johnson, who started fundraising later than the other three, has raised $790,000 so far, and has spent about $98,000. He has about $691,000 in his campaign account. But he’s claiming as much as $575,000 in qualifying matchable contributions.

The speaker’s most recent haul was about $326,000, and he spent about $66,000 over the past six months.

The most recent entrant into the race is retired Army Brigadier General Loree Sutton, the former commissioner of the city’s Department of Veteran Services. She has raised $113,000, spent about $61,000, and has $52,000 left in her account. Her campaign claims about $13,000 in matchable contributions so far and she is participating in the old campaign finance program. 

There are other candidates who have also declared mayoral bids but have few funds raised so far, including Aaron Foldenauer, Dianne Morales, and Joycelyn Taylor. Of them, Morales, who runs a nonprofit in the Bronx, has raised the most at about $62,000, and has spent about $26,000. She has $36,000 in the bank as of the filing.

Comptroller
There are four declared or exploring candidates for city comptroller – City Council Members Brad Lander and Helen Rosenthal, State Senator Brian Benjamin, and Assemblymember David Weprin. All of the candidates are participating in the new 8-to-1 matching system. 

Lander has raised the most funds, about $469,000, and has spent about $211,000. He has about $257,000 in cash on hand. In total, his campaign claims about $227,000 in qualifying contributions that can be matched with public funds. In the latest period, he raised $108,000 and spent just over $60,000.  

State Senator Brian Benjamin has close to the same amount of campaign cash at this time. Though he has raised less than Lander, a total of $265,000, he has only spent about $13,500, leaving him with $252,000 in his campaign account. He claims about $90,000 worth of qualifying contributions. All his fundraising occured in the last six months.

Weprin has raised a total of $108,000 and spent only $23,000, giving him a balance of about $84,000. He claims $42,000 in matchable contributions. But Weprin still owes the CFB about $320,000, to repay public funds from an unsuccessful run for comptroller in 2009. He would have to pay that full amount before he can receive any more public funds. 

Rosenthal has raised about $136,000 in total, but has spent nearly all of it, about $122,000, leaving her just under $14,000 in cash on hand. Her campaign claims about $63,000 in matchable contributions. 

Borough Presidents
The Queen Borough President special election -- set for March 24 of this year -- is shaping up to be a quick and competitive race, with nine candidates having filed petitions with the Board of Elections. In Brooklyn, there are also several candidates running in the 2021 race. But in the other boroughs, there seems to be little competition. In both Staten Island and the Bronx, there is only one candidate who has declared a run. In Manhattan, only two candidates are poised to face each other.

Queens Borough President
There’s little time left till the March 24 special election for Queens BP, which looks like it will be a competitive race among several sitting and former Democratic City Council members, with other longshot candidates on the ballot as well. All of the candidates are enrolled under the new campaign finance rules.

Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer has raised about $463,000, the most of any candidate, and has spent about $260,000 so far, leaving him a balance of $203,000. His campaign has claimed about $65,000 in matchable contributions.

A close second is former Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, who has raised $452,000 and spent about $232,000. She has nearly $220,000 in cash on hand, and about $115,000 in matchable contribution claims.

Council Member Donovan Richards has not raised as much but is considered a frontrunner after he was endorsed by the Queens Democratic Party in December. He has raised nearly $199,000, spent about $72,000, and has a balance of $126,000. He has claimed $64,000 in matchable contributions. 

Council Member Costa Constantinides has raised $227,000 for the race but has spent nearly all of it, about $213,000. He has just over $14,000 in cash on hand. His campaign claimed $79,000 in contributions that could be matched with public funds.

The CFB will start distributing public funds by the last week of January, after the Board of Elections has set the ballot.

The other candidates in the race include Danniel Maio, Anthony Miranda, Jim Quinn, Dao Yin and Everly Brown, all of whom have not made major strides in fundraising.

Brooklyn Borough President
Three candidates are currently in the running for Brooklyn Borough President – Council Members Antonio Reynoso and Robert Cornegy, and longshot candidate Lamor Whitehead-Miller – after Council Member Rafael Espinal dropped out of the race early. Cornegy and Reynoso are participating in the new public funds program while Whitehead-Miller has not opted in to the program at all.

Cornegy leads in fundraising with a total haul of nearly $151,000 and expenditures worth $137,000, giving him a balance of just under $14,000. He has claimed about $30,000 in matchable contributions. Reynoso has raised about $85,000, and spent just $17,000. He has nearly $68,000 in cash on hand and claims about $40,000 in matchable contributions.

Whitehead-Miller, a preacher and activist, does not seem to be running much of a campaign. He hasn’t raised more than $26. Meanwhile, the New York Daily News reported on Friday that Mayor Bill de Blasio has been pushing his wife, First Lady Chirlane McCray, as a possible candidate as well, and there have been rumors of others joining the fray, such as Council Member Mark Treyger.

Manhattan
The Manhattan Borough President race is shaping up to be a contest between sitting Council Members Mark Levine and Ben Kallos, both Democrats. Levine and Kallos are both participating in the new public funds program, while Levine has raised far more than Kallos early on. His most recent filing shows a total fundraising haul of about $282,000 and expenditures of about $98,000. He has just over $184,000 in cash on hand, and has claimed more than $100,000 in matchable contributions.

Kallos, in comparison, has raised about $134,000, and has spent about $45,000, leaving him $89,000 in cash on hand. He has claimed about $42,000 in contributions that could be matched 8-to-1.

Staten Island
Staten Island Council Member Steven Matteo, a Republican, is the only candidate currently running for Staten Island BP. He has raised about $156,000 and, with little competition and so far out from the race, he has only spent about $14,000. He has a balance of about $142,000. He has not opted into the public matching funds program. Many are waiting to see if Democratic Council Member Deborah Rose jumps into the race.

The Bronx
In the Bronx, Democratic Council Member Vanessa Gibson is the sole declared candidate for borough president. She doesn’t seem to have kicked off her fundraising efforts in earnest, however. She has only raised about $14,000 and has spent less than $2,000. She is participating in the new campaign finance system. Council Member Andy Cohen, a fellow Democrat, has expressed some interest in the race but has not created a committee or raised any funds for it so far.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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January 2020 City Campaign Cash Roundup: Races for Mayor, Comptroller, Borough Presidents Fri, 17 Jan 2020 05:00:00 +0000
Ahead of 2020 Elections, Cuomo Signed Affidavit Ballot Bill That Roiled Queens DA Recount https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9034-ahead-of-2020-elections-cuomo-signed-affidavit-ballot-bill-that-roiled-queens-da-recount https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9034-ahead-of-2020-elections-cuomo-signed-affidavit-ballot-bill-that-roiled-queens-da-recount Cuomo signs legislation

(photo: Governor's Office)


In the final weeks of 2019, Governor Andrew Cuomo quietly signed a bill changing the way affidavit ballots are counted, an issue that roiled New York City last summer during the controversial recount in the Queens District Attorney Democractic primary. Borough President Melinda Katz, who had Cuomo’s endorsement, eventually prevailed over public defender Tiffany Cabán by just 60 votes, with hundreds of potential votes not counted -- votes that may have been counted had the governor signed the affidavit ballot bill into law then.

The bill, sponsored by Assembly Member Kevin Cahill and State Senator Leroy Comrie, would allow election administrators to count affidavit ballots when they “substantially comply” with the requirements for filling them out. The law is intended to make it harder to throw out the provisional ballots when the intent of a voter is clear, even if they contain minor errors -- a death sentence for many of the roughly 350 uncounted affidavits in the incredibly close Queens District Attorney primary.

The legislation passed both chambers of the State Legislature in June but went unsigned by the governor until December 20, just ahead of the year-end deadline for taking action. The law takes effect immediately, in time for the March special election to replace Katz, who was sworn in as the borough’s top prosecutor at the beginning of this year.

“When a person clearly evinces their intention on the ballot and they are verifiably qualified to vote, nothing should stand in the way of counting their choices,” Cahill, an Ulster County Democrat, wrote in an email to Gotham Gazette. “Over the last several years, the courts of our state have been inching toward that simple concept and now it is the law of our land.”

Affidavit ballots are provisionally provided to voters who believe they are registered but are not listed in the voter rolls when they show up at a poll site, which could result from a number of factors like when a voter has recently changed addresses. If a local board of elections determines the voter to be legitimately registered, the ballot will be counted.

Among the most common errors during the Queens DA primary were incomplete information on the envelope containing the ballot, including flaws like a voter failing to list an address where they were previously registered.

The new law loosens the criteria for counting a ballot by emphasizing the voter’s intent and explicitly removing failure to list a previous address from the list of disqualifying factors.

Good government groups are pleased the bill has finally been signed.

“We think all votes should be counted, and missing information on an affidavit form should not be disqualifying when a voter's identity and eligibility to cast a ballot can otherwise be determined,” said Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor at Reinvent Albany, a government watchdog.

During the contentious recount in the close race between Katz and Cabán, many people wanted to see the bill signed to allow more affidavits to be counted, while others were concerned about changing the laws under which voters and election administrators were operating in the middle of an election. Between the conclusion of the recount and Cuomo signing the bill last month, a general election passed with little controversy around affidavit ballots.

“There were more than 900 bills that passed both houses at the end of the 2019 session and had to be reviewed by the Counsel’s Office and the Division of the Budget. It is our responsibility to ensure that the bills, as written, are responsible, enforceable and accomplish their intended purpose,” wrote Caitlin Girouard, a spokesperson for Cuomo, in an email.

The governor’s approval memo, accompanying the legislation, states that before giving his signature he had to secure an agreement with the Legislature to clarify the meaning of “substantially comply” in order to ensure ballots “are not unjustly cast aside.”

During the Queens DA recount in July, Cuomo said, “it’s absurd to say you would apply anything retroactively,” according to a tweet by reporter Emma Whitford, apparently referring to changing the canvassing rules after ballots had been cast. “So it’s really about the [November] election now,” he added when asked about signing the bill, which he did not sign until after that election.

Other Voting and Election Reforms Signed, Take Effect
Cuomo’s signature on the affidavit bill came days after he signed two other voting measures related to absentee voting. The new provisions require absentee ballots to align with the ballots used by voters in-district on election day and for absentee applications for school district elections to be simplified in line with other absentee applications already in use.

Earlier in December, the governor signed legislation passed in June that requires SUNY and CUNY to offer voter registration forms and absentee ballots to students each September and in January of presidential election years.

The affidavit and absentee ballot legislation are among a slew of election reforms passed in 2019 by the State Legislature, newly under Democratic control of both houses. The changes, some of which have already gone into effect and others of which are just being implemented now, include several that election reformers had long sought to make voting easier.

Establishing a statewide nine-day early voting period and authorizing local elections boards to use electronic poll books were in effect for the first time ahead of the November general election. Lawmakers also unified federal and local primaries in June, in an effort to consolidate the many elections New Yorkers may participate in every other year. This year is set to see three statewide election days (presidential primary in April, congressional and state legislative primaries in June, general election in November), but not the four that occurred in 2016.

The reforms also included a change in the party enrollment deadline to within five months of the June primary and having voter registration automatically transfer when moving residences within the state.

Beginning January 1, 16- and 17-year-olds are now allowed to pre-register to vote if they are otherwise eligible, with the registration going into effect when they reach voting age. In October, Cuomo signed the Voter Friendly Ballot Act, which changes the way ballots are designed to improve readability.

In January 2019, the Legislature also secured the first passage of two state constitutional amendments that, if ratified, will allow New Yorkers to register to vote on election day (same-day registration) and apply for absentee ballots without providing a reason for needing one. State constitutional amendments must pass in two consecutive legislatures and be approved by voters in a ballot referendum, so the earliest these would become law is late 2021, if they are passed by the 2021 Legislature followed by voters that fall.

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Ahead of 2020 Elections, Cuomo Signed Affidavit Ballot Bill That Roiled Queens DA Recount Tue, 07 Jan 2020 05:00:00 +0000
Lander Pledges Neutrality in Crowded Brooklyn City Council Race to Succeed Him https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8971-lander-pledges-neutrality-in-crowded-city-council-race-to-succeed-him https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8971-lander-pledges-neutrality-in-crowded-city-council-race-to-succeed-him lander successor piece

Council Member Lander, right, with Shahana Hanif (photo: @ShahanaFromBK)


New York City Council Member Brad Lander, a Democrat who represents parts of Brooklyn, has pledged to remain neutral in the crowded race for his current seat, which he’ll vacate at the end of 2021. Lander cannot seek reelection because of term limits and has declared a run for city Comptroller.

Council District 39, where Lander has served since 2010, covers some of the highest voter turnout areas of the city and includes the neighborhoods of Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Gowanus, Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Borough Park, Kensington and the Columbia Street waterfront. Before Lander, the seat was held by Bill de Blasio, who went from Council member to Public Advocate to now two-term Mayor.

Lander is among the 35 Council members who will be term-limited out of office after the 2021 elections, along with the mayor, comptroller, and the five borough presidents (the public advocate will also be on the ballot but incumbent Jumaane Williams was only elected to the seat in a special election this year). Open seats tend to trigger competitive races in the city, at least in the Democratic primary where most contests are decided because of the party’s staggering voter enrollment advantage.

District 39 is consistently one of the most politically active districts and shares ground with recent competitive State Senate and Congressional primaries. Lander will be looking to his vote-rich home district to help catapult him toward citywide office. Council Member Helen Rosenthal, from an even more vote-heavy district of the Upper West Side, is also a declared candidate for Comptroller, as is Queens Assemblymember David Weprin, while State Senator Brian Benjamin of upper Manhattan has said he’s considering a run. All four are Democrats. Other candidates are expected into the race as well.

There are already four declared candidates for Lander’s Council seat: Briget Rein, a United Federation of Teachers activist; Shahana Hanif, currently Lander’s director of organizing and community engagement; Justin Krebs, a political organizer; and Brandon West, president of the New Kings Democrats.

Though he sings Hanif’s praises and Council members often back aides to replace them, Lander told Gotham Gazette he would not weigh in on the race. “There are many great candidates to be the next Council Member for the 39th District, in the race already and considering it, including many people who I’ve worked closely with over the past decade,” Lander said in a statement. “The voters in our district are going to have some dynamite choices -- and the great thing about democracy is that they will make this decision. I don’t plan to make an endorsement in this race.”

Asked specifically about Hanif, Lander said, “[S]he is an inspiration, to me and many others. The work she has done recently to support Ms. Zahan (a woman in our community who escaped domestic violence and an abusive marriage), Ahsan Ullah and his family, and our participatory budgeting district and youth committees show how lucky we are to have her leading the community organizing work of our Council office. I learn from working with her all the time and I think it’s fantastic that she’s running for public office.”

Hanif credited Lander’s mentorship for inspiring her to run for office. If she won, she would be the first South Asian and first Muslim woman to be elected to the 51-member legislative body. “Brad is a great example of how elected officials can really listen to and work with constituents at the grassroots,” Hanif said in an email, saying she would follow through on Lander’s efforts on participatory budgeting and school integration. Lander has also prioritized police accountability and workers’ rights during his Council tenure, where he helped launch the Council’s Progressive Caucus, which helped land Melissa Mark-Viverito the speaker’s office from 2014 through 2017.

While it’s still somewhat early in the current city election cycle, the all-important Democratic primary is scheduled for June 2021, just over a year-and-a-half away, and many candidates for Lander’s seat and others are making their intentions known, fundraising, and campaigning more broadly.

Other than Rein, none of the other declared District 39 candidates have filed fundraising reports with the city’s Campaign Finance Board. Rein has $23,527 in campaign cash after raising $51,382 and spending $28,855. Besides the UFT, she has also received support from several unions. The American Federation of Teachers, the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 891, the Mason Tenders District Council, the New York City Central Labor Council, the Plumbers Local Union, IBEW and RWDSU Local 338 have all donated to her campaign. "This district has a history of great leadership at all levels of government," Rein said in a statement. "I'm running to continue to do that great work, with a focus on innovative ideas and on our community, which is the most important. I know how to get things done in city government, and I plan on bringing that expertise to accomplish great things for my community."

In an email, Krebs had effusive praise for Lander. “I imagine most of us would want Brad's vote of confidence—but while none of us may get his endorsement, we all get the benefit of his years in the district, as we wrestle with how to build upon and expand beyond his work,” he said.

He added, “He may not dive into the campaign for the 39th, but we'll make sure the district lands with passionate, innovative representation. The voters of the 39th wouldn't allow anything less.”

West said in a message, "I generally think it's a good move because I think it's not great when legislators try to become "kingmakers" and dictate the politics and future of the communities they were once legislators in. Especially with ranked choice voting, people should just get a chance to meet all the interested candidates and pick their preferences."

Other rumored candidates for the seat include Doug Schneider, the Democratic District Leader of the 44th Assembly District; and Josh Skaller, the Democratic District Leader in the 52nd Assembly District. State legislators, especially from the Assembly, often also pursue open City Council seats. It is to be seen if either Jo Ann Simon or Robert Carroll, Democrats whose Assembly districts partially overlap with Council District 39, show any interest in the 2021 race. They are both up for reelection to the Assembly in 2020.

One name that would vault the race into headlines is First Lady Chirlane McCray who, with her husband Mayor Bill de Blasio, owns two properties in Park Slope. They continue to cast their votes in the district and McCray said last year that she was considering a run for office. “It could be something in Albany, it could be Brooklyn, local, citywide, I don’t know,” she told the New York Times. “But certainly I would consider it.”

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Note - this article has been updated with comments from Brandon West and Briget Rein. 

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Lander Pledges Neutrality in Crowded Brooklyn City Council Race to Succeed Him Thu, 05 Dec 2019 05:00:00 +0000