Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/2498 Mon, 26 Aug 2019 08:08:44 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Three Themes to Watch at State Democratic Convention https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7683-three-themes-to-watch-at-the-state-democratic-convention https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7683-three-themes-to-watch-at-the-state-democratic-convention New York convention Cuomo

New York Democrats at the 2016 DNC (photo: New York Democratic Party)


This year’s statewide election campaigns are in full swing, with the Democrats and Republicans hosting their nominating conventions this week. While Republicans are set to back a unified slate of candidates to avoid contested primaries, the Democratic Party finds itself in a degree of turmoil with multiple incumbents facing primary challenges from the left and a progressive base increasingly disillusioned with the state party machinery.

As the September primary and November general ballots begin to take shape, all eyes are on the State Democratic Committee, which will host its convention at Hofstra University on Long Island on Wednesday and Thursday, kicking off with a keynote speech from former U.S. Senator from New York, Secretary of State, and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Democrats from across the state, including more than 300 state committee members, will gather to vote on their preferred nominees and on various proposed resolutions and party rule changes.

Nominations for Statewide Positions
There’s little doubt that Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is running for a third term, and his running mate, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, who is seeking a second term, will be chosen as the state party’s nominees at the convention. Though both are being challenged from within the party, their nominations seem a foregone conclusion, according to a leaked convention agenda first reported by NY1’s Zack Fink.

The key question, though, is how much support Cuomo and Hochul will each earn from their party members.

Cuomo is being challenged in the primary by actor and activist Cynthia Nixon, who won the nomination of the Working Families Party over the weekend and is guaranteed a spot on the general election ballot if she and the party decide to keep her there. As per the Democratic Party’s bylaws, a candidate will have to receive 50 percent of the weighted vote of committee members at the convention to win the primary nomination. Cuomo controls the state party apparatus and has enough support to be guaranteed the nomination. He’s also set to be endorsed by Clinton, who handily won New York in her failed bid for the presidency in 2016.

Nixon would have to receive at least 25 percent of the weighted vote to make it onto the Democratic primary ballot, failing which she would have to gather enough petition signatures to qualify. The same goes for New York City Council Member Jumaane Williams, who is running against Hochul and also has the WFP line. Both Nixon and Williams will be attending the convention. In a statement on Monday, Nixon said, “The Governor and his allies have bullied progressive community groups and rallied the full force of the big money establishment because they know he doesn't have any progressive credentials to stand on. But I won't be scared out of the room. New Yorkers deserve a choice.”

Williams, in a phone interview, said, “I’m confident that I’ll be on the ballot in September.”

While governor and lieutenant governor candidates compete separately in the party primaries, they become a ticket for the general election.

Incumbent Comptroller Tom DiNapoli does not have any challengers and is expected to be nominated again without controversy.

On the other end of the spectrum, the recent resignation of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, following allegations of physical abuse by four women, has led to a small scrum of Democrats vying for the open seat.

The presumed frontrunner is New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, who rejected the WFP’s likely nomination over the weekend to focus on the Democratic convention (and perhaps to side with Cuomo, who had a dramatic falling out with the WFP, and key labor unions who chose Cuomo over the WFP). Fordham Law professor Zephyr Teachout, who challenged Cuomo in the 2014 gubernatorial Democratic primary, is also seeking the Democratic nomination for attorney general, though she has not officially declared her candidacy. The WFP chose a placeholder for their ballot line and expressed support for both James and Teachout and is expected to back whoever prevails in the Democratic primary.

It’s not clear what kind of support Nixon, Williams, and Teachout will receive at the convention. All are popular with the left wing of the Democratic Party, but may not have sway over that many state committee members.

“I feel that it’s going to be a coronation of Andrew Cuomo, you know, pre-orchestrated,” said Jay Bellanca, a state committee member from upstate and co-chair of the New York Progressive Action Network.

New York State Democratic Party Executive Director Geoff Berman said in a phone interview that the nominations are not decided until the votes are complete. He refuted any suggestion that the convention was a formality, as some critics have said.

“I think we have a very strong progressive set of incumbent statewide officeholders who have accomplished a lot and have a strong record to run on for another term,” Berman said. “We have an open attorney general race at this point and I’ll let the members of the committee speak for themselves with their votes.”

“We run an open, fair process,” he insisted.

“The state committee is still...very opaque, even to members and still has the feeling of an insiders club,” said Ben Yee, a state committee member.

“I’m not 100 percent sure that Cynthia and Jumaane will get the 25 percent required to not petition, but I do feel confident that a contingent of state committee members will vote for them,” Yee added. He said there’s a “good chance” they’ll each get the 25 percent.

H. Scottie Coads, a state committee member from Long Island, said she is looking forward to the convention. “We have some really progressive candidates looking to get reelected and I’m supportive of all of them...I’m a team player and I’m staunchly behind my governor,” she said. “It’s an exciting time and I think when you have progressive people running, it’s very important that we put our best foot forward and that’s what we intend to do at the convention. Aside from that, I intend to have a good time.”

Resolutions, Rule Changes & A Rogue Democrat
At each convention, the state committee votes on various resolutions advanced by members and on potential changes to its bylaws. The agenda revealed by NY1 showed proposals that were both humdrum and controversial, some of which were known beforehand.

A prominent rule change introduced by NYPAN’s Bellanca and supported by progressive activists would allow as many as 2.6 million voters unaffiliated with any political party to cast their ballots in the Democratic primary. The change could significantly affect election results though it’s unclear if it can pass the convention since it would require a two-thirds majority of state committee members.

Bellanca pointed to the leaked agenda, in which the resolution was already listed under “tabled,” as proof that the results are predetermined. “I’m expecting it to be somewhat ridiculous,” he said, assuming that that resolution and others that would reform the party are “probably” dead.

“I think they’re going to try and kill them,” he said.

Two resolutions were targeted at rogue state Senator Simcha Felder from Brooklyn. Felder is a registered Democrat who was reelected in 2016 on the Democratic, Republican and Conservative Party lines. He is a conservative who caucuses with Republicans, giving them a one-seat majority in the state Senate and effectively thwarting any legislation forwarded by the more progressive Democratic conference.

The convention’s leaked agenda suggests that certain committee members may seek to kick Felder out of the party, or at least to formally support whoever challenges him in the September primary and devote resources to such a challenger, currently Blake Morris. If Felder is defeated, that alone could flip the state Senate to Democratic control, though there are a number of swing districts around the state that will be at play this fall when the entire Legislature is up for election.

The committee is also expected to take up a resolution to financially support Democrats running for state Senate seats and calling for loyalty pledges from former members of the Senate Independent Democratic Conference -- who used to caucus with Republicans and support their hold on the chamber. Cuomo, who tolerated and allegedly encouraged the IDC’s existence for seven years, recently brought the breakaway conference back into the fold and is taking stronger steps to regain Democratic control of the Senate after lackluster efforts to achieve that in the past, leading to criticism from many Democrats, especially more liberal members of the party.

Another party resolution would call for the closure of the much-derided LLC loophole in the state’s campaign finance law, which allows untold amounts of money to flow to state electoral candidates from hidden donors. Cuomo has repeatedly called on the Legislature to close that gap in the law, even as he has been its biggest beneficiary and declined to voluntarily turn off the spigot.

“The nominations will be pretty straightforward,” Yee said. “It won’t cause too much division...If they try to table the resolutions and refuse to allow debate on opening the primaries or ejecting Felder from the party, it’ll cause displeasure and hurt the trust between the progressives and the party.”

There are other proposals which have yet to be fleshed out but could make for heated debate, including changes to the process of selecting candidates for special elections; changes to how delegates to the Democratic National Convention are chosen; changes to how the state party’s chair and executive committee are chosen; requiring statewide candidates to submit 10 years of tax returns; and an “outside independent investigator for sexual harassment allegations,” among others.

Yee, who serves as secretary for the Manhattan branch of the state party, said that if a resolution calling for more budget transparency from the state committee to its own members fails to pass, it’ll cause consternation among the progressives who are already incensed by what they see as the party’s misuse of funds. Case in point: the party’s massive outlay for a media campaign that seemed to support the governor rather than promote the party’s positions. Yee said the issue was prominent in the last few months but has been subsumed by larger political developments.

Party Unity or Party Fealty?
It’s hard to tell whether the Democrats will emerge from the convention as a unified force or as a fractured party. For many progressives, the nominations seem predetermined and the convention a farcical show of party democracy.

“It’s very finely tuned and finely orchestrated, but I think there’s going to be a lot more contention than we’ve ever seen before at this convention,” Bellanca said. Cuomo’s strongarm tactics have alienated members like Bellanca, who see the governor’s influence extending through the state party and directed at his opponents.

Council Member Williams put the onus on the party leaders, noting that the party hasn’t learned its lesson from the 2016 election, when the DNC chose to support Clinton’s candidacy over Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who energized the left, whom Williams endorsed. “It seems whenever they talk about party unity, they always talk to the people on the left and never take ownership of party unity themselves,” he said. “So it’s about time the people who are in leadership, the people who are in power, also do some things that are unifying. They don’t seem to do that very often and a good chance to do that is at this convention.”

A number of progressive groups including NYPAN, Our Revolution, and Indivisible NY intend on holding a Tuesday presentation at the Marriott Hotel, where convention delegates will be holed up, on the DNC’s Unity Reform Commission report -- issued in the wake of the 2016 presidential election -- to try to convince committee members to support their proposals.

Nixon also indicated on Monday that she had invited state committee members to a conference call to discuss her candidacy as she hopes to earn support at the convention.

The state party’s Berman brushed aside any concerns about the future of the party and whether this election cycle will expose a deep rift between the various ideological factions within it. “The values and issues that unite us as a party far outweigh any disagreements folks may have,” he said, “and I’m very confident that coming out of the convention and going into the elections in the fall, we will be a strong unified party supporting a strong progressive ticket.”

Coads, the Long Island committee member, hoped and prayed for unity, holding up New York as an example to other states. “I’m positive about it and if we don’t, we’ll find a way to unify as we go forward,” she said.

Bellanca disagrees. “I think the war’s still going to be going on between the progressive, reform wing and the establishment that wants first class seats on the Titanic,” he said.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Three Themes to Watch at State Democratic Convention Mon, 21 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Party Nominations for Statewide Elections Come Into Focus https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7682-party-nominations-for-statewide-elections-come-into-focus https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7682-party-nominations-for-statewide-elections-come-into-focus Cynthia Nixon WFP nomination

Cynthia Nixon at the WFP convention (photo: Make The Road Action)


It’s political party convention season as this state and federal election year heats up in New York, with federal primaries on June 26, state primaries September 13, and the general election November 6.

Over the weekend, the Working Families Party and Green Party held their nominating conventions on Saturday and the Reform Party held its on Sunday. This week the Democratic and Republican state parties will hold their conventions, nominating candidates for the four statewide positions of governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller, and attorney general. It is also an election year for one of the state’s two United State Senate seats, the one currently held by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Democrats currently hold all five of these positions.

Along with those formally backed by the political parties, in some cases other candidates may qualify for the primary ballot if they can earn enough votes from state committee members at the conventions. Candidates also have the opportunity to claim a primary ballot spot by collecting the requisite petition signatures across the state.

Given the weekend conventions, along with other announcements from parties and campaigns, the statewide tickets of the major and minor parties are coming into view.

The WFP
As expected, on Saturday the Working Families Party nominated Cynthia Nixon for governor, Jumaane Williams for lieutenant governor, and incumbent Tom DiNapoli for comptroller.

The party’s state committee members decided to install a placeholder for attorney general and give its backing to both Letitia James and Zephyr Teachout, with the intention to give its ballot line to whichever of the two emerges from the Democratic primary. James had said she wasn’t seeking the WFP nomination, and her campaign declined to comment on the WFP decision on Saturday. But, James seemed to take a softer stance during remarks on Sunday, according to tweets from the New York Progressive Action Network, where she made an appearance.

"I am still a member of the WFP,” James said according to one tweet. “We are joined at the hip. I am proud to be their standard bearer and to be the face of the WFP going forward." Another tweet said that James indicated she would eventually appear on the WFP line, but the language was not completely clear. A Sunday afternoon inquiry to James’ campaign was not returned.

The WFP convention was a raucous affair in Harlem on Saturday, with hundreds of party members and supporters gathered to enthusiastically back its slate and rally as it faces an existential crisis given its nasty split with Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is known for attempting to wipe his adversaries off the political map.

In her acceptance speech, Nixon went right after the incumbent governor, who the WFP backed in his 2010 and 2014 runs and she is hoping to defeat in the Democratic primary. (If she does not win that primary, the WFP may seek to replace her on the general election ballot so as to not play spoiler and allow Republican Marc Molinaro to win.)

But Nixon, WFP supporters, and many liberal Democrats are hopeful about the primary and pulling no punches when it comes to attacking Cuomo, who they say has governed as a centrist.

Listing off a progressive agenda of policy plans including tougher rent regulations, a more accessible ballot box, and legalized marijuana, Nixon pledged an inclusive New York for “all of us,” that pursues racial, social, and economic justice.

“WFP founders Jon Kest and Bertha Lewis were the first ones to ask me eight years ago to consider running for Governor,” Nixon said from the stage on Saturday. “Now, after eight years of Cuomo, and Trump in the White House, I couldn’t say ‘no.’”

In accepting his nomination, City Council Member Williams reiterated his promise to break the recent mold of lieutenant governors, and not be a rubber stamp or cheerleader for the governor.

“I am running to be the voice of the people in state government, and I could not be more proud to have the Working Families Party by my side,” Williams said, during remarks that had the crowd more energized than any other portion of the program that Gotham Gazette saw. “As the people’s Lieutenant Governor, I will be an independent advocate for all New Yorkers. I will make certain that our Governor and elected officials uphold their promises, and will hold them accountable for the actions they take.”

The Green Party
The Green Party has put its statewide slate forward, with Howie Hawkins again topping the ticket as the gubernatorial candidate. Jia Lee will be the Green Party nominee for lieutenant governor.

After laying out a progressive policy agenda and framework for social, economic, and environmental justice, Hawkins said at Saturday’s convention, “The way this is going to play out in the fall is there’ll be the progressive Greens, the centrist Democrats, and the conservative Republicans. And the argument, the narrative against us is we’re going to spoil it and elect the Republicans, and we have to say ‘no, we’re the progressive alternative, the Democrats won’t solve our problems, don’t waste your vote, vote for what you want, make your vote count, make the system come to what you want -- and that’s how we leverage power and we make a difference.”

Mark Dunlea will be the Green candidate for comptroller and Michael Sussman will be the Green candidate for attorney general.

The Reform Party
On Sunday, presumptive Republican gubernatorial nominee Marc Molinaro announced that Julie Killian, a former Rye City Council member, would be his lieutenant governor running mate. Killian recently lost a special election for a Westchester state Senate seat to Democrat Shelley Mayer. The pair is expected to form the top of the official ticket of the Republican and Conservative parties. Soon after the announcement, the Reform Party leadership voted to back Molinaro for governor and Killian for lieutenant governor.

"Many thanks to Reform Party for its endorsement of Julie and me today,” Molinaro said in a statement. “Because no matter your political persuasion, if you are a New Yorker who desires reform, you know that the largest roadblock standing in the way is Andrew Cuomo. This state desperately needs change. Defeating Andrew Cuomo and breaking his iron grip over this corrupt state government is the only thing that will break down the floodgates and make change possible."

The Reform Party is also backing former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara for attorney general, though Bharara has given no public indication he will accept the nomination or run for AG at all. The party also designated Chris Garvey, Nancy Regula, and Michael Diederich to run for attorney general, so there will be a Reform Party primary for AG. And, for comptroller the party is backing DiNapoli, who is likely to have the most ballot lines of any statewide candidate in November.

Democrats and Republicans
This week will see the Democratic and Republican state party conventions, both occurring on Wednesday and Thursday, with the Democrats on Long Island and the Republicans in Manhattan. Molinaro and Killian are expected to formally earn and accept their nominations on Wednesday, while on Thursday Cuomo is expected to win and accept his party’s nomination for a third time, while Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul is expected to accept the party’s nomination for her position for a second time.

It appears likely that Democratic state committee members will back Public Advocate James for attorney general, though one or more other candidates could earn the 25% of the vote needed to be automatically placed on the primary ballot. Teachout and Leecia Eve have indicated they will go to the convention to seek such backing. Cuomo endorsed James for attorney general on Tuesday, just before the convention.

Along with the question of whether Teachout and/or Eve can earn the 25% to make the primary ballot for AG is whether Nixon and Williams go to the convention and win the 25% each to appear on Democratic primary ballots as well. If candidates do not qualify at the nominating convention, they can petition to get on the ballot by collecting signatures across the state. Randy Credico, a comedian and activist who also ran for governor in 2014 and New York City mayor in 2013, may also be mounting an effort to make the Democratic primary ballot.

On Monday morning, Nixon announced her intention for the convention. "I am attending the convention because New York Democrats deserve to have at least one actual Democratic candidate for governor at their state convention," she said in a statement. "As Governor Cuomo has said himself, he's run this state in a way that would make any Republican proud. The Governor and his allies have bullied progressive community groups and rallied the full force of the big money establishment because they know he doesn't have any progressive credentials to stand on. But I won't be scared out of the room. New Yorkers deserve a choice."

The Nixon campaign also indicated that Nixon has invited state committee members to a conference call to discuss her candidacy, though the details of the call were not provided.

It’s not completely clear yet who will be the Republican nominee for attorney general, given that former AG Eric Schneiderman’s resignation changed the thinking for many potential candidates of various party affiliations, as well as party leaders. John Cahill, a former top aide to Governor George Pataki and the 2014 GOP nominee for AG was considering another bid but bowed out. Manny Alicandro and Keith Wofford have announced their candidacies.

Jonathan Trichter is likely to be the GOP nominee for comptroller.

State Democratic Party Executive Director Geoff Berman issued a statement on Saturday that took aim at the WFP and the GOP.

“It is convention week in New York, and I am proud to be part of the Democratic Party as we head into our convention,” Berman wrote. “The state of the WFP today stands in stark contrast with the state of the Democratic Party. The union-founded party has no working families left after every union has left their ranks.”

Berman went on to criticize WFP political director Bill Lipton for orchestrating the party’s attorney general nominations and Williams for “an anti-choice and anti-marriage equality record.” Williams has made many attempts, including during his WFP acceptance speech, to clarify his current stances in support of abortion access and marriage equality, but he has in the past expressed personal opinions against both.

Berman called Molinaro a “Trump mini-me,” though Molinaro has said he didn’t vote for Trump in 2016. Molinaro does appear to be mostly aligned with Trump and congressional Republicans on policy, however. “Molinaro is anti choice, anti gun safety, anti LGBTQ, and part of Trump's property and income tax increase plan that ended State and Local deductibility,” Berman wrote, though Molinaro has expressed an ‘evolution’ on marriage equality and inclusiveness toward LGBT New Yorkers, and the Trump-led tax overhaul did not end such deductibility, it reduced it to $10,000 annually.

It is evident that Berman, Cuomo, and other Democrats will attempt to tie Molinaro, Killian, and other Republicans to Trump, who is deeply unpopular overall in New York, though he retains some pockets of significant support in his home state. Molinaro and others will have to rally the Republican base while also appealing to moderates, including many party-unaffiliated voters, in order to win statewide, especially in a year in which Democrats are energized and in good position to swing multiple House and state Senate seats.

One of the most important decisions of the weekend was Molinaro choosing Killian as a running mate. It’s not immediately clear that she will be of significant help as the Dutchess county executive attempts to become the first Republican governor since George Pataki. Killian has only held elected office as a Rye City Council member and was a deputy mayor, and she has lost her last two races.

Republican sources indicated that the Molinaro campaign decided it was important to choose a woman for the ticket. Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo, who was a co-chair of the lieutenant governor candidate search committee for Molinaro, took herself out of the running after Molinaro was apparently strongly considering her, and may have made a better choice. With both Molinaro and Killian lukewarm toward Trump and from downstate, the ticket may not be best suited toward rallying the base or appealing to voters upstate or in western New York.

"Julie Killian is a champion for people who have no voice, who are left behind, who are in crisis and she will never back down from the challenges that are facing our state. I'm proud to have Julie as my partner in this campaign to restore New Yorker's belief in the future of our state," Molinaro said in a statement.

"Marc and I share a vision of New York, that is more affordable, accountable and accessible for all families and I am honored to join his team as a true partner, " said Killian.

A press release from the Molinaro campaign called Killian “a strong campaigner to the key suburban battlegrounds” and noted that in her recent state Senate race she “significantly outperformed President Trump in Westchester in 2016.

“Julie Killian stood out among many great picks to serve as @marcmolinaro’s running mate,” Dinolfo tweeted on Sunday. “As a former city councilwoman, she knows what it takes to run a government while protecting taxpayers. She will make a great LG!”

Other Parties
The three other parties that have guaranteed ballot lines this year include the Independence Party -- which appears to be nominating Cuomo, Hochul, and DiNapoli -- and the Women’s Equality Party, which has not made its nominations yet, but will do so soon. The WEP is likely to back Cuomo, Hochul, and DiNapoli again this year -- the party was launched by Cuomo in 2014 as he attempted to undermine both his female Democratic primary opponent, Zephyr Teachout, and the WFP. It’s not clear if either party will make an attorney general choice, though the WEP did issue a call to interested candidates in the wake of Schneiderman's resignation.

The Conservative Party appears set to cross-endorse the Republican ticket for statewide seats.

The Libertarian Party, meanwhile, typically petitions to get a candidate on the ballot and has this year nominated Larry Sharpe for governor. Sharpe and the Libertarian Party are hoping to crack the 50,000-vote threshold to earn an automatic ballot line over the next four years. The party came close in 2010 with a different candidate, and Sharpe, who has been actively fundraising and campaigning, is seen as the strongest candidate the party has backed in several cycles.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Note: this story has been updated as events change and to include Larry Sharpe's Libertarian candidacy.

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Party Nominations for Statewide Elections Come Into Focus Sun, 20 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Cuomo, State Democrats Issue Misleading Pleas About Flipping Senate https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7593-cuomo-state-democrats-issue-misleading-pleas-about-flipping-senate https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7593-cuomo-state-democrats-issue-misleading-pleas-about-flipping-senate cuomo mayer

Gov. Cuomo endorsing Shelley Mayer for Senate (@Shelley4Senate)


Governor Andrew Cuomo appears to be contradicting himself about Democrats’ chances to take majority control of the state Senate, currently Republicans’ only stronghold in state government.

In announcing a unification deal between two Democratic factions in the state Senate on Wednesday, Cuomo said the Democrats would be able to regain a majority in the chamber if they win two state seats in special elections set for April 24 and if a renegade Democratic senator who caucuses with Republicans rejoins the fold as well. Just hours later, however, Cuomo signed off on an email blast from the State Democratic Party to its base that dubiously claimed that just one special election victory could swing control of the Senate.

At a news conference on Wednesday afternoon at the governor’s office in Midtown Manhattan, Cuomo and Democratic leaders from the state Senate announced that the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group of eight Democratic Senators who align with Republicans to control the chamber, would rejoin the mainline Democratic conference. Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the Democratic minority leader, will lead the unified Democrats, with IDC leader Senator Jeff Klein serving as her deputy. As of today, that would give the Democratic conference 29 seats, while Republicans hold 31 in the 63-member body, though they get to a one-seat majority with Senator Simcha Felder, a nominal Democrat who is fully part of the Republican conference.

The Democrats are hoping for victories in special elections for two vacant state Senate seats on April 24, bringing them to 31 and a chance to woo Felder to their side or add to their ranks through this fall’s elections, wherein all the seats in the Senate and Assembly will be on the ballot.

“Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins has a nice ring to it, don't you think?” read the Wednesday email, signed by Cuomo, from the State Democratic Party. It was an effort to recruit volunteers to phonebank for Shelley Mayer, who is running for one of the vacant Senate seats, in Westchester, and whose victory is crucial for Democrats’ chances at a majority. The second vacant seat is in the Bronx, where the Democrats are all but guaranteed a win.

“Democrats in the state Senate have unified and now it's time for us all to come together to win a Democratic majority of 32 senators, making Andrea Stewart-Cousins our Senate Majority Leader,” the email continues. “On April 24, Shelley Mayer can become that 32nd senator by winning her special election in Westchester County - and you can help!”

It’s true that if Mayer wins (along with Assemblymember Luis Sepulveda, who is running for the Bronx Senate seat), there will be 32 elected “Democrats” in the state Senate. But there’s no guarantee that that will give the Democratic conference control of the chamber because of Simcha Felder, who represents part of Brooklyn, where he was reelected in 2016 appearing on multiple ballot lines, including Republican, and has been elusive about his future allegiances.

Despite the language in the email, Cuomo himself acknowledged that reality at the news conference earlier on Wednesday.

“Our work is not done today. We have the special elections I mentioned on April 24th. We also have a Democratic Senator who is still a question mark, let’s say, and we would have to convince him to come back to the Democratic conference,” Cuomo told reporters, referring to Felder.

He also insisted that to get a “functional majority,” Democrats would have to win more Senate seats in November. “[E]ven if Senator Felder decides to come back, and he’s had ambiguous statements and he’s had an ambiguous history, even if he comes back, you’re right at 32, which means you would need him for every vote because 32 is the majority,” Cuomo said. “We know from his past votes that Senator Felder does not agree with a lot of the issues that this conference wants to pass. So really, we need to win additional seats in November.”

Cuomo had previously listed off top progressive policy priorities that he said Senate Republicans refused to pass, such as abortion protections, additional gun control measures, campaign finance reform, early voting, and more.

State Democratic Party Executive Director Geoff Berman did not respond to a request for comment for this article. Berman, who was hired by Cuomo, frequently signs e-blasts from his group, though Cuomo has signed nearly half a dozen in recent weeks, which some have tied to the recently-announced primary challenge against the governor from Cynthia Nixon. Berman, the State Democratic Party, and Mayer have also made repeated fundraising and organizing pitches on social media, calling on people to elect Democrats’ “32nd State Senator” to flip the Senate and to donate $32 for the 32nd seat.

Felder is a conservative who represents a Brooklyn district with a large Orthodox Jewish population, and he has leveraged his position in the Senate to pass policies and budget items that have been favorable to his district. In his most recent act of opportunism, he held up the passage of the state budget until legislative leaders agreed to relax oversight of yeshivas, the private Jewish religious schools. He has previously indicated he will conference with whichever group can offer him the most for his district.

On Wednesday, after the Democratic unity deal was announced, Felder said in a public statement, “I’m only loyal to G-d, my wife, my constituents and New Yorkers. I don’t care about political parties and more and more New Yorkers feel the same way.”

Felder’s office did not respond to an email requesting comment for this story.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Cuomo, State Democrats Issue Misleading Pleas About Flipping Senate Thu, 05 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Nixon-Cuomo Primary Spotlights Role of State Democratic Party https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7584-nixon-cuomo-primary-spotlights-role-of-state-democratic-party https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7584-nixon-cuomo-primary-spotlights-role-of-state-democratic-party geoff berman on ny1

Geoff Berman on NY1


In challenging Governor Andrew Cuomo in the Democratic primary this year, actor and activist Cynthia Nixon faces tough roadblocks ahead, not the least of which is that the New York State Democratic Party is seemingly throwing its weight and resources behind the incumbent. That has led many left-leaning activists and Nixon allies to cry foul and question why the state party, short of an outright endorsement, would choose sides so far ahead of the party primary.

In an interview last week on NY1’s Inside City Hall, Geoff Berman, the executive director of the New York State Democratic Party, suggested that a contested primary would be counter-productive for the party.

“[M]y mission is to elect Democrats to office, so my focus in this important election year is on maintaining the Democratic seats that we do have, and increasing them by flipping red seats to blue,” Berman said, when asked by host Errol Louis about the apparent conflict between centrist Democrats who control the party and more left-leaning party members. Berman emphasized that the party’s priorities are to elect New York Democrats to the U.S. House of Representatives and to the State Senate, both legislative bodies under GOP control.

“I certainly believe that we have a strong, progressive governor in office already, who has already signed a slew of progressive legislation over his time in office,” Berman continued, when Louis noted that Cuomo, who appointed Berman, is also running for reelection and being challenged. Pointing to a number of Cuomo’s accomplishments -- including the passage of marriage equality, a $15 minimum wage phase-in for most of the state, and paid family leave -- Berman said, “We have that governor in place and it would be a waste, I think, of time and energy to focus on an intra-party battle when there’s so much opportunity...I don’t think we need to worry about a new governor, we have a strong governor.”

Naturally, that didn’t sit well with those tired of Cuomo and his unfulfilled promises on various progressive causes, including to help flip the state Senate, and who are hoping to see a competitive primary battle between the two-term incumbent and Nixon, the insurgent.

Among those decrying Berman’s approach is Zephyr Teachout, the Fordham law professor who challenged Cuomo in the 2014 primary and received a surprising 34 percent of the vote with comparatively little name recognition or campaign funds. Teachout has joined Nixon’s upstart campaign as treasurer

“Theres a primary, state party shouldnt take sides,” Teachout tweeted [sic] on Tuesday, a day ahead of Berman’s appearance on NY1. Teachout then had sharp words for Berman’s comments during the interview, all continuing a line of criticism she and others have been leveling as the state party has recently increased its activity, often in support of or in conjunction with Cuomo.

Berman has continued to maintain that the state party has no obligation, at least under its own bylaws, to remain neutral in the primary, though it would conduct a fair nominating process at the party’s convention in late May. The party-backed nominee is chosen through a weighted vote of more than 300 Party Committee members representing Assembly districts, with the weight depending on the number of voters from each district that voted on the Democratic line in the previous gubernatorial election. A candidate who is not the endorsed nominee can also petition to get on the ballot if they collect enough signatures.

When Teachout said the party should take no sides in the primary, Berman responded on social media, “Wrong actually. There is no neutrality rule and customarily parties support their incumbents. And: Who is “the party?” The voters who decide our nominee on Election Day? Members of the party committee like @ZephyrTeachout (non-neutral) who vote to endorse a candidate at our mtg?” As he noted, Teachout is indeed an elected member of the state party and will have a vote on the party’s eventual endorsement.

Reached by phone, Berman sought to set the record straight. “I think there’s a lot of misinformation being spread there on Twitter. I don’t know if that’s on purpose or just because people don’t know because, first of all, there’s the question of what do people even mean when they say ‘the party, the Democratic party.’”

Berman drew a line between the party at large -- composed of every registered Democratic voter who can vote in the primary for the candidate of their choice -- and the State Democratic Party Committee, which is made up of elected district leaders and is not necessarily a neutral entity. “People declare who they want to represent the party and the person who gets 50 percent or more votes is the person that the party endorses,” he said, of the nominating process at the party’s convention. “The party’s never neutral. And that process happens months before the primary.”

Berman, who will not personally have a vote in the state party’s endorsement of a Democratic nominee, insisted that his job is simply to ensure that Democrats are elected, and reelected, to office. “And since we already have a Democrat elected to the office of governor who’s running again and has a progressive agenda and a progressive record, my focus is on turning seats that are held by Republicans in to Democrat seats...Anything else, for me, is a distraction and not a good use of party energy and resources.”

For a progressive activist base that has been hitting the streets since the 2016 presidential election, Berman’s recent comments are simply confirmation of their long-running criticisms of the governor and his stranglehold on the state’s Democratic machinery.

“It seems like @geoffberman doesn't take seriously his job as @nydems exec director, which obligates him to strict neutrality in primary contests. He thinks he's @NYGovCuomo's PAC director,” tweeted activist Peter Feld.

“@geoffberman is signed sealed and delivered apparently,” tweeted NY Indivisible, a group dedicated to electing Democrats.

“This sums up everything that is wrong with the Democratic Party and its corporate sycophants,” wrote another Twitter user, Robert Margolist.

Even before Berman seemed to declare that the state party would rally behind Cuomo, questions were raised about the party acting as an extension of the Cuomo campaign.

There was an expensive ad blitz launched last month by the state party touting the 2013 passage of the SAFE Act, the governor’s signature gun control bill. Though Berman claimed that the ad campaign was intended to target Republicans running for reelection in the state, critics, including Teachout, said it seemed intended more as a boost to Cuomo just a week after news reports that Nixon was about to jump into the race.

Also, between March 7 and 27, Cuomo signed his name to at least six email blasts from the State Democratic Party on topics including gun control and the NRA, sexual assault and the #MeToo movement, and early voting. When New York Times reporter Shane Goldmacher pointed that out on Twitter, Teachout posed the question, “Executive Director @geoffberman, do we have your word that you are not consulting Cuomo's reelection campaign when deciding what emails to send?” The tweet prompted portions of the ongoing debate about coordination and neutrality.

Notably, both the State Democratic Party and Cuomo’s campaign have retained the services of Metropolitan Public Strategies, a prominent Democratic consulting firm.

Nixon already faces a massive uphill battle, competing against an incumbent with $30 million in his campaign coffers, far greater name recognition, and strong support from labor unions. Yet, many Democratic elected officials have been hesitant to endorse Cuomo in the early going of the campaign and it is yet to be seen how much grassroots support for Nixon emerges among Democrats.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Nixon-Cuomo Primary Spotlights Role of State Democratic Party Mon, 02 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000