Gotham Gazette Fri, 14 Aug 2020 09:02:59 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Republicans Eye 2021 Mayoral Race with Optimism, But Wary of a Primary City Hall

City Hall (photo: Benjamin Kanter, Mayor's Office)

With the 2021 party primary elections less than a year away, more than a dozen candidates have either declared or are openly exploring a campaign to become the next Mayor of New York City. But while that long list includes some prominent current elected officials, a few former public servants and several lesser known contenders, it contains few Republicans.

By all indications, there will be a fiercely fought Democratic mayoral primary as a crowded slate vies to replace outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio, a term-limited Democrat. Republicans, on the other hand, are hoping to coalesce around a single candidate that can focus all their efforts on the fall general election rather than wage an internecine battle ahead of the June primary. But there still could be a Republican primary as several potential candidates have indicated they are considering a run, though none have made any official declarations.

The most prominent potential candidate that has expressed public interest is John Catsimatidis, the billionaire supermarket magnate who previously ran in the 2013 mayoral primary and lost the Republican nomination to Joe Lhota, who went on to lose to de Blasio. Curtis Sliwa, founder of the Guardian Angels, has said outright that he is running for mayor and has spoken with Republican Party officials about his campaign. Sara Tirschwell, a former Wall Street executive who is chief financial officer of Foundation House, a mental health nonprofit, is seriously exploring a bid. Kelly Mack, president of Corcoran Sunshine Marketing Group, is also rumored to be considering a run.

But none of them have created an official campaign committee yet. Republican Party officials are also casting a wide net as they try to recruit viable candidates to eventually land on the strongest nominee possible against daunting odds in the overwhelmingly Democratic city – they launched a website last month, as first reported by the New York Post.

Republicans are at an overwhelming voter enrollment disadvantage – as of February 21, there were 3.6 million registered Democratic voters compared to 530,000 Republican voters in the city, according to the State Board of Elections. But Republicans believe they can overcome that gulf by appealing to moderate Democrats and nearly 1 million “independent” voters who are registered to vote but unaffiliated with any political party (998,810 voters). Those voters, party members and officials say, are tired after two terms of de Blasio, his big-government progressivism, and his perceived failures on several fronts. But some say the first challenge will be to avoid a primary that could end up bruising their nominee and waste valuable resources that would be better spent targeting Democrats.

The potential candidates could provide polarizing choices for Republican voters in a primary that will not be open to the more moderate voters Republicans believe they need to win in the general election.

Catsimatidis, whose Red Apple Group owns the Gristedes supermarket chain, WABC radio station, and holds major real estate and oil and gas interests, is a vocal supporter of President Donald Trump, though he has in the past donated to both Republicans and Democrats.

Catsimatidis has repeatedly cited concern for public safety and quality of life as he has publicly mulled a decision to run for mayor. He’s been broadly critical of the current Democratic leadership in the City Council and State Legislature, lambasting police reform legislation, the plan to close the Rikers Island jail complex, and the Black Lives Matter movement.

In a June interview on the Bernie & Sid show on WABC radio, he spoke of bringing together a broad swathe of voters that will believe in his “common sense” agenda. “I was a Bill Clinton Democrat…I’m a common sense guy. I’ve worked with Democrats, I’ve worked very closely with Democrats, I’ve worked very closely with unions. I’ve worked very closely with Republicans. I had the Liberal Party nomination and I was proud of it...Am I a liberal? Yes. I believe in helping people. Especially people of our inner city.”

But he has also shared some of the same conspiratorial tendencies prevalent in portions of the Republican Party, including at the highest levels. For instance, in that interview, he questioned whether the “Antifa-type people” participating in Black Lives Matter protests are being paid to incite riots and even wondered aloud whether funding could be coming from Chinese government officials “getting even” for the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests.

Catsimatidis’ representatives did not respond to an interview request for this story.

Tirschwell said in a phone interview that she is still in the exploratory phase and has been meeting with campaign management and finance experts, and closely consulting with Keith Wofford, a Republican who ran for state attorney general in 2018. “I’m not your average Republican,” Tirschwell said. “I'm pretty fiscally conservative and I'm center-left socially. So I would consider myself kind of more in the mold of a Rockefeller Republican.”

The next mayor, she said, will have to tackle the prevailing problems of racism, segregation in education, and the “baseline issue” of crime while also reforming the police. But at the core of it, she said the city needs to level the playing field for New Yorkers who continue to suffer from a lack of equal opportunities for success.

“The city needs somebody who is ready to fight what I call ‘the man,’” she said. “I’ve spent my entire life fighting ‘the man.’ Anybody who knows me knows this is a woman who fights ‘the man’ and ‘the man’ is essentially a system with obstacles that serves to protect those in power...Those systems need to be dismantled.”

Tirshwell previously worked as a distressed debt investor at TCW Group Inc, a major asset management firm. She sued the firm in 2018 after being fired, alleging that her former boss had retaliated against her for filing a sexual harassment complaint against him. The lawsuit, which made headlines as the #MeToo movement arriving on Wall Street, was partly dismissed by a New York State judge in June.

Staten Island Council Member Joe Borelli, one of three Republicans in the 51-member legislative body and a vocal Trump supporter, is convinced that this phase of Democratic leadership is about to end as it did when Rudy Giuliani became mayor in 1993. “Why were people willing to undo at that point 20 years of Democratic leadership and vote for Rudy Giuliani? It was because the city no longer felt safe to people and they no longer felt the city was generally heading in the right direction,” Borelli said, citing the similarities between then and now as crime, though dramatically lower, has seen an uptick in recent months. “If you took the temperature of the city, I think you’d find that across the political spectrum.”

He pointed out that five out of the last seven mayoral races were won by Republicans, citing the two terms served by Giuliani and the three terms of Michael Bloomberg (though Bloomberg was a Democrat before he registered as a Republican to win the mayoralty and had become a registered independent before he ran for his third term). Both Guiliani and Bloomberg ran and governed as immigrant-friendly, socially-centrist and at times liberal, fiscally-conservative, tough-on-crime city managers, significantly different from the Trumpian Republicanism of today.

Without large groups of moderate voters affiliated with both major parties and no party at all, Giuliani and Bloomberg wins would have gone to Democrats. “You have to be a moderate person who's focused on city management,” Borelli said. “I bet you there are 51% of New Yorkers who, if polled, would answer the question in the affirmative that they would prefer someone who is a competent manager over someone who is an ideological leftist.”

Catsimatidis could make that argument, Borelli said, given his success as a businessman.

J.C. Polanco, an attorney, commentator, and former Republican candidate for New York City Public Advocate, similarly said Catsimatidis can make an effective argument as an immigrant success story, a businessman, and a job creator. “He has an incredible story to tell,” Polanco said.

“This is going to be a great opportunity for the party to reestablish itself as a centrist party,” he said. But he insisted that he party will have to avoid the divisions that have characterized national politics where President Donald Trump looms large and hardline ideological stances are almost a prerequisite for Republicans. “If we’re trying to attract voters in the New York City market, and we know that the market is a progressive, moderate, independent market, we can’t shove a product into the market that has been rejected and expect success,” he added.

The financial heft that Catsimatidis can bring to the race is also an appealing factor to some. According to the New York Post, he is ready to spend as much as $100 million of his own money on the race should he run.

Brendan Lantry, chair of the Staten Island Republican Party, said the race is “not a closed door process” and that the party is encouraging broad participation in selecting candidates for citywide office. “We need candidates for Mayor but we also need candidates for Public Advocate and Comptroller,” he said of the three citywide positions, all of which are on the ballot next year, in a phone interview. He said the five county committee chairs, including Manhattan GOP Chair Andrea Catsimatidis (John Catsimatidis’ daughter), are going to conduct interviews with candidates in January before they decide who to back.

But he emphasized that it would hurt the party’s chances if there is a primary. “I think every cent spent in a Republican primary is one less cent that's being used to articulate our message to a broader group of voters and it's one more cent that’s being used attacking each other rather than focusing on our Democratic opponents,” he said, expressing a sentiment that was at times prevalent when Lhota had to fend off Catsimatidis in 2013 (52.7%-40.6%), for a September primary, before trying to restock his coffers and focus on the general election, which he lost 23.9%-72.1%.

In 2017, as de Blasio sought reelection in a largely uncompetitive Democratic primary (he won 65% of the vote), Republicans coalesced around Staten Island Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis without a primary, but she still lost handily to de Blasio, 27%-65%.

Lantry is optimistic about the party’s shot at victory in 2021. “I think eight years of Bill de Blasio are making people really long for the days of Giuliani and Bloomberg and sanity in City Hall,” he said.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: this article has been corrected with the figures for registered Democrats, Republicans, and independents in New York City, the original figures were for New York State.

Republicans Eye 2021 Mayoral Race with Optimism, But Wary of a Primary Sun, 09 Aug 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Election Day Live Show with Special Guests mxm logo

Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette, and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits

November 6, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Election Day Live Show with Special Guests

jumm williams 2On Election Day 2018 Max & Murphy held a special live-audience edition of their show, broadcast on WBAI from Commons Cafe in Brooklyn, 5-7 p.m. as New Yorkers continued to go to the polls and/or await election returns. Guests included Democratic City Council Member Jumaane Williams, NY1 anchor Errol Louis, Republican attorney and 2017 public advocate candidate JC Polanco, and Kadia Goba, a reporter for BKLYNER.

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

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Election Day Live Show with Special Guests Wed, 07 Nov 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Potentially Crowded Public Advocate Special Election Could Feature Two Former Council Speakers Quinn Mark-Viverito

Christine Quinn, center, & Melissa Mark-Viverito (photo: City Council on flickr)

The September primary election is just over one week away and if New York City Public Advocate Letitia James wins the Democratic nomination for attorney general over her three primary opponents, she will be a significant favorite to win the position in November owing in large part to the state’s Democrat-heavy electorate. No Republican has won statewide since Governor George Pataki captured a third term in 2002; it’s been far longer for a Republican attorney general.

James winning the nomination will likely kick-off, in earnest, a mad scramble by several sitting and former elected officials who may seek to replace her through the at-that-point nearly certain special election for her citywide seat. Among the stronger potential contenders discussed in Democratic circles are two former speakers of the New York City Council -- Melissa Mark-Viverito, who led the body until last year, and Christine Quinn, her predecessor.

[Read: James Victory in Attorney General Race Would Trigger Citywide Special Election]

While they come from different wings of the New York Democratic Party, both Mark-Viverito and Quinn are firebrand politicians in their own right, and both made history in their respective ascensions to the speakership.

Quinn, a Democrat who represented parts of the lower west side of Manhattan, became the first openly gay and first female speaker in 2006, presiding over the 51-member legislative body for two four-year terms. For the last three years, since being term-limited out of office and losing in the 2013 mayoral primary, she has served as president and CEO of Women in Need (WIN), a nonprofit that provides services to homeless women and children. Some Democrats and others have criticized Quinn for her close working relationship with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, including the effort to extend term limits, which allowed Bloomberg, Quinn, and others to seek a third term in 2009 despite public disapproval. She is currently a close ally of Governor Andrew Cuomo, who appointed her vice chair of the New York State Democratic Committee.

Mark-Viverito, a Puerto Rican native who represented a district that includes East Harlem and part of the south Bronx, became the Council’s first Latina speaker in 2014, pushing a broad agenda of criminal justice reform, immigrant protection, police accountability and affordable housing. In January, she became a senior adviser at the Latino Victory Fund PAC, a group that supports Latino candidates for elected office. As speaker, Mark-Viverito was at times criticized for her close relationship with Mayor Bill de Blasio, a fellow progressive Democrat, and she has been an outspoken critic of the governor, endorsing his primary opponent, Cynthia Nixon. Mark-Viverito is one of a relatively small group of prominent Democrats that is backing Nixon for governor and James for attorney general.

After a New York Law School panel earlier this month, Quinn did not deny having an eye on the office of public advocate. “We have to get Tish James elected and that’s what I’m focused on and also let’s not forget the Lieutenant Governor, Kathy Hochul, we have to get reelected,” she told Gotham Gazette, when asked if she had considered running for public advocate in the event of James’ ascension to attorney general. “Right now, I am focused, most importantly, on running WIN and helping the homeless families that we serve...and then in my spare time, so to speak, among other things, I’m helping candidates and friends run for office. So that’s what this summer and fall is about.”

Pressed further, she simply repeated the statement. “That’s what this summer and fall is about.”

Mark-Viverito is slightly less circumspect about her own political future. “I’ve been consistent in saying that I’m really proud of the record that I have accomplished and the issues that I’ve championed and what we’ve been able to get done in the city of New York,” she told Gotham Gazette in a recent phone interview. “I’m not gonna close the door on looking at possibilities in the future if other positions or other opportunities became available...So if there is an opportunity that presents itself, I will definitely be taking a look at that. And I feel strongly that Tish will win so we’ll have that conversation later.”

She emphasized that she brings a strong perspective to policy-making as a Latina representing a low-income community. “I think that’s something that we consistently need to have in positions of authority in the city,” Mark-Viverito said. “And I believe my record speaks for itself and I look forward to being able to continue to serve this wonderful city.”

The special election, if there is one, would take place in March, assuming James is sworn in January 1 and vacates her current seat. Special elections for public advocate are nonpartisan, and each candidate would have to run on their own unique political party ballot line. The winner would then have to run for the seat again in a primary and general election later in 2019, if that person wants to keep the position.

There are several others who have either been floated as candidates or have signalled an interest in becoming the city’s ombudsperson, a post also considered a strong launching pad for a mayoral bid as de Blasio illustrated. They include sitting City Council Members Rafael Espinal, Ydanis Rodriguez, Ritchie Torres, and Joe Borelli, the only Republican among them. All of them but Borelli will be term-limited out of office in 2021. State Assemblymember Michael Blake is another potential candidate, as are Republican attorney J.C. Polanco and Columbia professor David Eisenbach, who both challenged James when she was up for reelection last year -- Eisenbach in the primary and Polanco in the general. Eisenbach has already officially filed papers with the New York City Campaign Finance Board.

“I think the position obviously has a lot of potential,” said a Democratic consultant who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “It has different potential than being the City Council speaker where you’re not just responsible for yourself, you’re responsible for 50 other members, hundreds of staff, dozens of appointments here or there. It’s a different set of responsibilities and in the hands of someone who understands the levers of government, who understands the bully pulpit and is sort of willing to take bold steps, it can be a very strong position.”

The public advocate can act as more than just a “counterweight to the mayor,” the consultant said. “That person also can establish themselves as someone who is also driving the agenda for New York, and that’s something we haven’t really seen since Mark Green,” the person added, referring to the city’s first-ever public advocate, who served from 1994 to 2001.

Espinal, a Brooklyn representative, said in an email, “I’m seriously considering it, and whether to launch a campaign will come down to the positive energy and support from New Yorkers.”

A spokesperson for Rodriguez, whose district covers neighborhoods in upper Manhattan and a small section of the Bronx, said, “[Council Member Rodriguez] is committed to supporting Public Advocate James in her run for attorney general as she is the most qualified in the race. Should there be a special election for public advocate, he would consider running for that seat.”

Torres, in a statement through a spokesperson, said, “I am still thinking about it and where I would be most effective. I’m debating which position would allow me to be a better advocate for the city.” The Bronx Council member is also said to be looking at a run for Congress or Bronx borough president.

Borelli also said he was considering a run for public advocate, though he conceded that it would be tough to retain. “It’s possible to win a special, but it will be difficult for a Republican to win the following November,” he said in a text message.

When asked about Quinn and Mark-Viverito both running, he said, “Each would be formidable.”

Shortly before a primary debate among the four Democratic attorney general candidates on Tuesday, Assembly Member Blake told Gotham Gazette he was watching closely in case James’ seat becomes vacant. “She’s gotta win first, but it would be irresponsible not to be looking at it,” he said about considering a run. “First and foremost, this is brand new terrain for all of us. The possibility for a citywide special election is unique to say the least...Out of respect for everybody in the field, this is a moot point unless [James] is the attorney general, and we’re gonna be respectful of that.”

He added, “As I tell my team often, proper preparation prevents poor performance. So you’re just ready, and if that opportunity presents itself, we have some serious decisions to make.”

Blake, who is a vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, was the campaign manager for 2013 public advocate candidate Reshma Saujani, giving him some recent experience with a citywide race. He was then elected to the Assembly in 2014.

No current elected official would have to give up their seat to run in the special election, but, if victorious, would then have to vacate their position to become public advocate.

As Borelli alluded to, one effect of numerous Democrats entering the fray is that they could split the vote in what will likely be a low-turnout special election, offering up an opportunity for a Republican to claim victory.

Polanco, the attorney and former public advocate candidate, recognizes that opening. Having run for the seat just last year, he has certain advantages. “Whoever is gonna come from our side, there has to be just one candidate,” Polanco said in a phone interview. “We’re small enough as it is. Even in a non-partisan race, you’re gonna need organizational support. So the organizations have to line up behind one candidate from the beginning in order for us to have a shot.”

Polanco noted that the nonpartisan aspect of the election is “always good for democracy, always good for participation,” since voters won’t necessarily make choices along party lines. But he also echoed the risk for any sitting Republican elected official who might run, as Borelli noted. “Do you give up your Council seat for that? I don’t know whether that’s a good gamble or not, especially if you have three years left on your Council seat,” Polanco said.

Polanco also weighed in on the potential contest between two former Council speakers, saying Quinn would be the “ultimate” candidate. “She’s the most qualified of the candidates on that side running,” he said. “But I think the Democratic Party of today is more along the lines of Melissa Mark-Viverito. The Ocasio-Cortezes of the world, the democratic socialists, are getting momentum. She represents that faction. We can’t kid ourselves.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Potentially Crowded Public Advocate Special Election Could Feature Two Former Council Speakers Mon, 03 Sep 2018 04:00:00 +0000
In Run for Governor, Marc Molinaro Will Make a Character Argument molinaro w dollar unfundated mandates

Marc Molinaro (photo: @MarcMolinaro)

Marc Molinaro wants you to believe in government again. In order to do so, he will argue, you must elect him to be the next governor of New York, eschewing the cutthroat, divisive, corrupt politics of Andrew Cuomo and opting for unity, dignity, and bipartisan problem-solving.

The 42-year-old Republican is in his second term as Dutchess County Executive; on Monday he will officially launch his gubernatorial campaign from the town of Tivoli, where he grew up and was elected mayor at 18, in 1994. In part, he is going to run for governor on the concept that Andrew Cuomo is a bad guy and that he, Marc Molinaro, is a good guy -- a man with good values, good character, and the right approach to government. Many will vouch for him; and loud will be the chorus decrying Cuomo, who, despite not being particularly well-liked by people in politics, has many of his own advantages as he seeks a third term.

While Molinaro has been a declared gubernatorial candidate for weeks now -- appearing at candidate forums, racking up endorsements from party leaders across the state, and emerging as the frontrunner for the GOP nomination -- Monday will mark a new beginning, setting off a seven-month push to become the first Republican elected statewide since Gov. George Pataki won a third term in 2002.

“We’ve elected state leaders who don’t understand how government is supposed to function,” Molinaro said in an interview earlier this year, “who don’t think they are truly responsible and accountable and ought to be accessible to the voters. And I have done all of that.” In order to inspire more confidence in government, Molinaro will argue, leadership must be more worthy of respect, more attentive, and more competent.

“[W]hen you look to Albany and Washington, you realize all of a sudden that they have one thing in common: they’re divided,” Molinaro says in the campaign video he released last week. “[T[he politics of today seems to be focused on tearing others down instead of lifting up the people we serve. We seek to bring people together, to work together, to overcome our challenges, and I know that the people working together can solve any problem, confront any challenge, and overcome any obstacle."

Though there will be plenty of lofty rhetoric, Molinaro will not be running a purely positive campaign, as he has already fired off acerbic attacks on Cuomo, the Democratic incumbent who must survive his own primary challenge before worrying about the Republican nominee. Molinaro is the heavy favorite to leave his party’s May convention as the nominee -- Republicans are aiming to avoid a contentious primary, while Cuomo is likely to have to battle actor and activist Cynthia Nixon through the September 13 Democratic vote in what is shaping up to be a scorched-earth contest.

Part of the reason Molinaro is favored by many of his partymates is that he is something of an Albany outsider -- though he did spend five years in the state Assembly minority -- who is able to run on executive and legislative experience and a believable platform of changing the way business is done in a state capital known for secretive negotiations, pay-to-play politics, and other legal and illegal ethical breaches. Molinaro’s main competition for the nomination is state Senator John DeFrancisco, the deputy majority leader who has been in the Senate since 1992.

Molinaro is folksy but assertive. He is self-deprecating -- “my mom still thinks I should get a real job” -- with a honed sense of himself and ready ability to talk about what he sees as the strengths of his record, having spent virtually his entire adult life in elected office. He talks about his family a lot - he has three young children, including one with special needs, which has helped inform one of his focus areas as county executive. He talks about growing up with a single mother, eating free lunch at school -- “we struggled quite a bit” -- and is quick to show empathy. He is a people-person; Andrew Cuomo is not.

“I wasn’t born into politics,” Molinaro said in the interview, “nobody anointed me anything.”

There are a variety of clear reasons why Molinaro was recruited to run, even after he said in early January that he had decided against it, leading him to change his mind and answer the call from fellow Republicans. But, he’ll face some daunting challenges if he does indeed win his party nomination and face the incumbent in the general election: raising money, especially enough to compete with Cuomo, who has shown tremendous skill at exploiting New York’s porous campaign finance rules to accumulate a massive $30 million war chest; building name recognition across the state; and appealing to the more conservative Republican base as well as moderates from both major parties and independents.

“There are real people in the State of New York of all backgrounds who I think do want a competent, capable, caring leader, and who are willing to cross party lines to be supportive,” Molinaro said.

Alongside character, he’ll have to compete with Cuomo’s record, which boasts a number of high-profile accomplishments, and the support for the incumbent from the Democratic establishment, including many labor unions, and, perhaps, an activist base that decides Cuomo is preferable to anyone with an “R” next to their name, especially in the Donald Trump era.

New York is a blue state, with a significant Democratic enrollment advantage, and November is expected to usher in the full impact of a blue wave building across the country, including in New York. But, there are many parts of the state that lean Republican and some signs of Cuomo fatigue. Seeking a third term in 2018 may be like seeking a fourth term in earlier eras that didn’t have today’s news cycles and social media. Mario Cuomo, Andrew’s father, lost his attempt at a fourth term to Pataki in 1994.

Andrew Cuomo is likely to be damaged by what is already a bruising primary challenge from Nixon, who, if she doesn’t win, is cutting powerful ads for use against the incumbent in the general. While Nixon is challenging Cuomo from the left flank, her criticisms of him as “corrupt Cuomo,” “Andrew the bully,” a poor steward of the MTA, and more, are all ones that will be tenets of any Republican campaign against the governor.

Though polls and campaign accounts show Cuomo in good position as the campaign season gets moving, and he is a famously crafty political operative, the amount of apparent vitriol from the governor’s left and right should not be underestimated. Nixon launched her campaign less than two weeks ago, many prominent Democrats have sidestepped questions about endorsing the party’s most powerful New York player, and anti-Trump and anti-Senate Independent Democratic Conference fervor may take major bites out of Cuomo’s margins in the primary.

As the calendar turns to April and Nixon throws haymakers, enter Molinaro.

The county executive will talk “purpose” and “service” a lot, he’ll talk about civic responsibility, shared values across political lines, family, and opportunity. He will continue to criticize Cuomo on ethical, management, and leadership lines. He will point to the struggling economies of upstate towns, the floundering New York City subway system, the high property taxes and unfunded mandates on localities, the corruption trials of top Cuomo aides, the secretive Albany budget negotiations, and the vengeful nature of an incumbent with few friends but many allies.

That will take him only so far.

Molinaro will need a clear platform, and his positions on a variety of issues will be vetted carefully. He’ll need to secure votes across upstate New York and break through in the suburban counties surrounding New York City, including the areas around his own home in Dutchess and onto Long Island. He’ll have to make himself exempt from the apparent suburban revolt against Trump’s Republican Party.

Votes from the five boroughs would also be helpful, if not essential -- can he secure the Giuliani and Bloomberg Democrats and independents and hit the “magic 30 percent” that Republicans believe they need in the city to win statewide?

How will Molinaro tailor his campaign in the different regions of the state? How will he talk about Trump? Who will be his lieutenant governor candidate running mate?

As he seeks to mostly take the high road, Molinaro has been critical of the tone and tenor of the 2016 presidential campaign, and said at a recent candidate forum in Manhattan that he will support Trump when he works to help the middle class, but speak up when he disagrees with the president. “You’ll always hear me say it the way I see it, just like I think many people admire the way he says it the way he sees it,” Molinaro said.

Molinaro has said he did not vote for Trump in 2016, instead writing in former Congressional Rep. Chris Gibson, who at one time was many New York Republicans’ hope to challenge Cuomo this year. Gibson decided against running. Molinaro’s opposition to Trump has not stopped many Republican leaders from supporting him.

While some Republicans throughout the state will want to hear Molinaro back Trump’s presidency, Democrats will surely use the president against whoever the GOP nominee is, especially in the state’s large cities and suburbs around New York City.

When asked by Gotham Gazette if he calls himself a moderate, Molinaro said no.

“I have some strongly held beliefs,” he said. “I have had to vote on them from time to time. You could consider me a communitarian. I know it’s not a real term, but it was one. Everyone who has a stake in the game, everyone who has something to win or lose deserves a seat at the table and the leader needs to set the tone. In this case, a governor, a mayor, or a county executive sets the tone that gets people who may be on opposite sides of the issue to find some commonality so that we solve the problem, confront the challenge, and provide the outcome.”

“We have to come to conclusions that don't divide people,” he added. “This governor is often too happy to divide people. If you're too far right, you don't deserve to live in the state of New York. If you’re too far left well then, he suggests, I don’t have to listen to you. The truth of the matter is, everybody who calls the state home has to know that their leader is listening to them.”

Molinaro said he has friends and colleagues who will vouch for him who are Democrats and Republicans. In Dutchess, he said with a laugh, “most of the Democratic leaders hate that they like me.” He said that he would work better with Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio than Cuomo has.

Molinaro is a fiscal conservative, promising job growth based on smart development, lower taxes, fewer regulations, and tighter government spending. “Driving down the costs of doing business and the cost of living is, I think, paramount,” he said.

He will have his record to run on. “Under Marc's leadership, [Dutchess] County saw a transformation into a community where businesses and families thrive,” said New York City Council Member Joe Borelli, a former Assembly colleague of Molinaro’s who lived in Dutchess for several years and knows Molinaro well. “He is a pragmatic executive, willing to work with all sides, and has a reputation as a problem-solver. Most importantly, he has good character and a strong moral compass that guides his decisions.”

In the interview with Gotham Gazette, Molinaro expressed concerns about the minimum wage hike that Cuomo orchestrated in 2016, which will see the wage hit $15 in many parts of the state over the course of several years. He said that especially outside of New York City, “I don't necessarily think it was a smart move and certainly hasn’t produced, I think, the outcomes outside of the city. I didn’t support it at the time. I’m all for indexing a minimum wage to growth, but I think that frankly it was a decision defined by political expediency. It is not necessarily defined by molding consensus and trying to come up with a policy that was in the best interest of taxpayers and employers and of people struggling to find any job.”

Molinaro believes in targeted support for industries or sectors to help encourage growth, saying that power has become too concentrated in Albany and he wants to return much of it to counties, cities, and towns. Molinaro noted his endorsement from The Sierra Club, saying he was one of the “few Republicans in the state Assembly” to earn the environmental group’s backing. He stressed that he’s not easily labeled.

He promises to make education a priority if elected governor. “I think a wholesale look and review as to how we fund education and how we distribute funding,” he said, adding, “it’s important that we look at the delivery of special education in the state.”

Molinaro may face challenges establishing broad-based appeal on social issues. He appears poised to run with a moderate, inclusive message on immigration, but on gun regulations, LGBT rights, and women’s reproductive freedoms he may struggle to find the constituency needed to win in New York, especially given the attacks that Cuomo would level against him on those issues.

“When I was in the Assembly I did vote against same-sex marriage,” he said of the 2011 vote that moved through what is perhaps Cuomo’s signature policy achievement of his tenure. “I think that we’ve moved along. Everyone now enjoys and has the right to enjoy marriage. To celebrate whoever, with whomever they love. I accept that and as an elected official it’s my job to uphold the laws of the state of New York. I don’t have any reservations about the vote. I also accept that time has passed. As a society we’ve moved forward.”

On abortion rights Molinaro said somewhat similarly. He believes in “preserving life,” he said, “but I accept that there are certain situations where individuals need to be able to make that decision, but I also accept that this is settled law in the state.”

“I’d like us to work as a society, as a community, to reduce the numbers and times that abortion is chosen,” he added. “It’s not something that I could support personally, and I don’t, but I acknowledge that as a society we need to do our very best to help people make as many responsible decisions as possible and there are certain situations, obviously, where women are put into a position having to make that decision. As a government we need to be sure that individuals have access to affordable healthcare to ensure that they’re as safe and healthy as possible.”

On gun regulations, Molinaro echoed what many Republicans across New York believe: “Frankly, I do have concerns with how aggressive this governor has been. I think in some ways irresponsibly ignoring those that do support, as I do, the Second Amendment and forcing legislation without having the kind of local robust conversation necessary. I believe the constitution is as it’s written.” Molinaro is a regular at Friends of NRA events, something Cuomo -- who pushed through the SAFE Act gun regulations in early 2013 -- would likely seek to use against him.

Molinaro has been a steady critic of Cuomo’s ethics, and been among many asking questions about a pay-to-play culture where campaign donors appear to be favored and massive amounts of cash flow into the governor’s coffers from entities that have or hope to win state business. These issues were brought into sharp relief during the recent corruption trial of Cuomo’s top former aide, Joseph Percoco, and others. They will again be on display during another trial set to begin in June that features Cuomo allies, projects, and donors.

The county executive said he’d “like to engage in a comprehensive reform of campaign finance.” He said he’s in favor of closing the LLC loophole, but only in combination with other reforms.

Calling for “wholesale review and reform of campaign finance in the state” that is informed by many perspectives, he said, “I’m one of the people that only thinks people should be able to contribute money.”

“[T]hose are individual rights, those rights extend to individuals,” he said, raising questions about donations from businesses and labor. “[U]nions have a great deal of influence, corporations have a great deal of influence; the state contribution limits are astronomically out of line to other states, independent expenditure opportunities are pretty broad in the state. There are a lot of those reforms that I think should go hand-in-hand,” he said.

The endorsements of Molinaro that have steadily flowed in over the past few weeks speak to faith in him as a leader and as a person.

J.C. Polanco, a Bronxite who works for the Assembly minority and has known Molinaro for over a decade, believes he is the type of candidate Republicans need to run more in New York. “His youth and moderate positions on immigration, criminal justice, taxes and widening the tent of our party is one of the main reasons I'm excited to support my friend Marc,” said Polanco, who unsuccessfully ran for New York City Public Advocate last year. “At a time when many moderate Republicans like me feel unwelcomed he's one of the few guys that has made it a point to include me and others like me into the conversation.”

Many of those offering their backing cite different reasons, namely reigning in state spending, improving the economy, lowering taxes, and leading a more ethical government.

In his endorsement of Molinaro, Suffolk County Republican Committee Chair John J. LaValle called him “a proven leader” who “has both the executive and legislative experience, together with the energy and enthusiasm to lead our ticket to victory this November.”

LaValle said that New Yorkers “are desperate for a Governor that is truly committed to cleaning up our government and fighting for our overburdened taxpayers. It's time to replace the Governor who has led New York to the bottom of virtually every economic category, while focusing on self-promotion.”

As he formally launches his campaign, Molinaro will have to start proving that he can raise the money to compete, and that he has a sense of the path to victory. Much will depend on who emerges from the Democratic primary, but Cuomo is the obvious favorite at this point, no matter the state of the New York City subways, the recent corruption conviction of his former top aide, or the upcoming trial of his former economic development czar.

Molinaro’s campaign believes that the stage is set for a competitive race, though, in large part because of those corruption trials, which have helped sink Cuomo’s standing in and around Syracuse, Buffalo, and Rochester, and the primary challenge from Nixon, which could damage Cuomo badly downstate.

“I’ve thought about what a roadmap looks like and how one as a Republican in this state can win,” Molinaro said. “We know it takes a lot of messaging and action in New York City to allay fear.” To find a Republican governor acceptable, he said, would mean building trust in and around the five boroughs, but that he would be aided by the fact that Cuomo has “eroded” a significant portion of the progressive base of the party.

“And frankly upstate it’s community by community,” Molinaro said. “It just is. You have to be willing to commit every day until Election Day to go to, to get to the VFWs and fire houses and the community organizations, and as many voters as possible and make that connection.”

“I'm not naive, I've worked on campaigns, I've run for office, it’s a lot of work,” he said. “[O]utside of the city it’s district by district. It’s neighborhood by neighborhood. Building the network to send your message over and over again so that we not only, not only earn the support but get the turnout.”

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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In Run for Governor, Marc Molinaro Will Make a Character Argument Fri, 30 Mar 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Analyzing the Public Advocate & Comptroller Debates mxm logo

Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette, and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits

October 18, 2017 - Max & Murphy: Analyzing the Public Advocate and Comptroller Debates

brigid at debate nyc votesThe lone public advocate and comptroller debates of the election cycle occurred on Monday and Tuesday, respectively. Brigid Bergin of WNYC radio (pictured, middle) was one of the panelists asking questions at the comptroller debate between incumbent Democrat Scott Stringer and Republican challenger Michel Faulkner, and she joins this episode of Max & Murphy to recap and analyze that debate and the debate between incumbent Democrat Letitia James and Republican challenger J.C. Polanco in the public advocate race.

Bergin, Max, and Murphy also discussed the state of the mayoral race as we are less than three weeks before Election Day, November 7. The second and final mayoral debate is set for November 1.

Listen to the full conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @jarrettmurphy. You can hear the episode through the embedded audio below or download it wherever you get your podcasts.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Analyzing the Public Advocate & Comptroller Debates Wed, 18 Oct 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Public Advocate Debate Shows Stark Differences Between James and Polanco Tish James JC Polanco public advocate debate via nyc votes

James & Polanco at their debate (photo: @NYCVotes)

Public Advocate Letitia James, a Democrat running for reelection, squared off against her Republican opponent, J.C. Polanco, in a friendly yet competitive debate on Monday that highlighted substantive differences, and some shared opinions, between the two candidates on a range of policy issues. Given the race features an incumbent, the debate centered in large part on James’ record as public advocate over the last four years, especially her performance in holding the mayoral administration accountable.

Hosted at the CUNY Graduate Center in front of a small, closed audience, the debate was the first and only to be held in the public advocate race leading up to Election Day, November 7. It was held at James’ discretion -- she agreed to debate Polanco despite his failure to meet the financial thresholds to qualify for an official Campaign Finance Board-sponsored debate.

The two candidates butted heads, albeit respectfully, through the hurried hour-long debate, articulating sharp contrasting opinions on rent regulations, charter schools, criminal justice issues, and the overarching role of the public advocate’s office as an ombudsman for the city. While James touted her record, Polanco referenced his qualifications stemming from his work for the state Assembly minority conference and his past role as president of the city Board of Elections. He called himself a “common sense” Republican.

Early on, Polanco sought to paint James as a too-close ally of Mayor Bill de Blasio who has failed to stand up to the mayor and the progressive-dominated City Council, a pitch that has been at the center of his campaign along with proposals to strengthen the independence of the public advocate’s office. Polanco believes the office should have investigative and subpoena powers over city agencies, which would require a city charter revision approved by voters, as well as funding equivalent to the much larger comptroller’s office.

James, an experienced litigator, has used her legal skills to inform the core functions of her office. Over the last four years, she said she has worked “to transform the office into a vehicle for social and economic justice for all,” claiming to have resolved more than 30,000 constituent complaints and touting the passage of more legislation than all her four predecessors together. She highlighted her signature legislative achievement: a new law that bans employers from asking job candidates their salary histories, which is aimed at closing the gender pay gap.

James has sued the city 11 times, but has been bounced from several cases for lack of standing. James had to defend her approach early on in the debate when asked by moderator and NY1 anchor Errol Louis whether she sought to win those lawsuits or just make headlines by filing suits.

“I make no apologies for standing up for those without a voice,” James responded, insisting that she would continue to do so and noting that she is working with members of the City Council on a potential legislative solution to codify her ability to sue the city and its agencies. She also cited several instances where she had been victorious, including a lawsuit to make Department of Education School Leadership Team meetings open to the public and another in favor of seniors who were being denied rent increase exemptions by the city.

Polanco agreed that the public advocate should have broader standing in the right to sue the city administration, but pointed out that James would continue to fail until given the statutory authority. Himself an attorney, Polanco sharply stated that it was obvious that James did not have standing in cases. “You’ve had over two million minutes in office, I know in my first minute, as soon as I get there, that we have to work very closely on a public education campaign to get this question on the ballot so that cases stop getting thrown out of court,” he said.

It was one of the few issues the two candidates agreed on. James has called for subpoena power for the office in the past, which she repeated Monday, and said the mayor “should not hold the purse strings to the office of the public advocate.”

Both candidates disagreed with debate moderator Brian Lehrer from WNYC, when he suggested that perhaps the public advocate might be more effective if they represented a different political party than the mayor. James has been a close ally of de Blasio and endorsed him for reelection. “I stand with the mayor when I agree with him, and I oppose him when he’s wrong,” she said, pointing out instances when she has critiqued his administration, such as when the mayor opposed creating a stand-alone agency for veterans affairs or when she challenged him over the lack of air-conditioned buses for disabled school children.

“I don’t think that Tish has been as independent of the mayor as she claims,” said Polanco, stressing that he had heard little consternation from James when the mayor and his administration were embroiled in a pay-to-play scandal. “There’s a whole myriad of times where I think this public advocate has been very quiet and silent to make sure that the mayor’s on her good side and that the voters who are constantly with the mayor are with her in four years.” He said he would have no problem “going toe-to-toe with Republicans” if he were in the office.

Neither James nor Polanco supports de Blasio’s homelessness-fighting plan that includes opening 90 new shelters while halting the use of hotels and cluster site apartments. Polanco was direct, blaming the mayor’s mismanagement for the problem and insisting that new shelters would burden neighborhoods that are already inundated with shelters. “This is gonna just help two people,” Polanco said, “One, the mayor because he’s gonna get this problem off his back. And two, wealthy developers that are gonna benefit from building these new shelters.”

James, on the other hand, delivered a meandering response that delved into the need for “bold leadership” and housing bond legislation to encourage the creation of affordable housing in the city. When NY1’s Louis sought more clarity, she said, “I think at this point in time what we really need to do is look for other initiatives in the city of New York to address homelessness...what we really need to do is think bolder and we need to make sure that the two individuals, the governor and the mayor of the city of New York, two individuals with oversized egos, resolve this issue so that we don’t have countless numbers of individuals that are homeless this evening.”

“So I’m gonna take that as a ‘no’ on the 90 shelters,” Louis noted.

A clear distinction emerged between the two candidates on how they view the public advocate’s office as a voice in police accountability. James has been a vocal proponent of criminal justice reform and she recounted her efforts to unseal the grand jury transcripts from the Eric Garner case, touted her support for reforming the grand jury system, for releasing the disciplinary records of officers charged with misconduct, and for advocating for the NYPD’s body camera program and shot-spotter technology. She noted that she led the movement for the city’s pension funds to divest from gun retailers as well.

“It’s really critically important that we be a voice in the criminal justice system,” she said. She also said that she is still reviewing the City Council’s long-proposed Right to Know Act -- that would require officers to identify themselves during certain street stops and inform people of their right to refuse a search in some instances -- but said she supports its objectives.

Polanco sought yet again to tie James to de Blasio, critiquing the mayor for creating a hostile attitude toward the NYPD and criticizing James for standing with him. “Frankly, this city has gone through an enormous political campaign against police,” he said, “including adding all of these layers and layers of actually monitoring their job performance, which really strangles the police from active policing.” He did concede that in cases where an officer violates a person’s constitutional rights, the release of disciplinary records is warranted.

The candidates had an opportunity to cross-examine each other, which Polanco seized on to question James’ support for de Blasio despite his proximity to lobbyists and consultants with clients who had business with the city. “How could you in good conscience endorse the mayor for reelection?” he asked. James deflected, speaking of the larger issue of campaign finance reform and the need to repeal the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. (Polanco jokingly praised her masterful deflection. “That was good, how you did that,” he chuckled.)

James asked Polanco about his position on workers’ rights, and whether he would picket with the employees of Spectrum, currently in the seventh month of a strike against their parent employer Charter Communications, which owns NY1. Polanco agreed that labor unions have the right to strike, but said elected officials should stay out of this case, which involves a private union.

Asked about the rent freezes that de Blasio has repeatedly touted as one of his biggest achievements for low-income New Yorkers, Polanco called them a mistake and made a forceful argument against rent regulations and other policies, referencing what he called the city’s “army of social engineers” that he said have exacerbated problems. He said the city’s policies were disincentivizing landlords who are “hard-working people just like ourselves” and that not all of them are “evil landlords” that should be put on a list, taking a sly dig at the public advocate, whose office famously puts out the “100 Worst Landlords” list every year. “We really have to take a look at the way we’re getting involved in engineering the market to create a social outcome,” Polanco said, offering a somewhat typical conservative assessment of meddling in the free market.

While James agreed with Polanco that the city needs to reform the system of tax breaks given to luxury developers in exchange for creating affordable housing, she staunchly backed the rent freezes enacted under de Blasio’s administration. “I think it’s really critically important that we stand up and strike back against market forces and gentrification,” she said.

The issue that divided James and Polanco the most was charter schools. Earlier, the debate briefly veered into the issue when Polanco suggested James’ opposition to them was because of her partisan affiliation with the mayor. James insisted, “All I want charter schools to do is play by the same rules and to be held accountable and obviously to be accessible to all children in the city of New York.” She later criticized charter networks that have zero-tolerance discipline policies and high staff turnover, and that tend to exclude homeless and disabled students. She emphasized instead that the state should live up to the Campaign for Fiscal Equity court ruling and provide sufficient funding to all public schools.

Polanco, a long-time educator, disagreed. “This is not an issue about money, this is an issue about the culture of education in our inner cities,” he said. He decried the “ultra-left” city leadership, particularly the City Council, that he said conflates discipline with racism. Polanco promised that as public advocate he would push for a major expansion of charter schools. James said she has been supportive of some charter schools in the past and is a proponent of school choice, but that she maintains her critiques of some charter schools and networks.

There were some moments of levity at the debate, particularly during a lightning round of mostly “yes” or “no” questions near its conclusion. Polanco said that in November he will vote for a constitutional convention while James said it was “too risky.” Both were critical of district attorneys being allowed to accept campaign donations from people with business before them. James supports the legalization of small amounts of marijuana while Polanco opposes it. And while James had never voted for a member of the opposite party, Polanco said he had.

“Wanna tell us who?” Louis ventured.

“Tish!” Polanco said, with a wry smile, eliciting laughs from the entire room.

The exchange was perhaps telling of the fact that Democrats have a massive enrollment advantage in the city. Combined with her immense lead in fundraising, James is a heavy favorite to win a second term come November, though Polanco has proven a substantive and thoughtful candidate. Other public advocate candidates who will be on the ballot include Green Party nominee James Lane, Libertarian Devin Balkind, and Conservative Party nominee Michael O’Reilly.

The James-Polanco debate concluded much as it had begun, with James stressing the importance of the checks and balances provided by her office. “You can get work done and be quite effective, but you need to reimagine the office,” she said. For Polanco, winning the office itself will be a battle, in a city where there are six registered Democrats to every registered Republican. He readily acknowledged that Monday night. Everyone knows trying to win citywide office as a Republican is an uphill battle, he said, but it’s much more challenging than that. “This is climbing Mount Everest in December,” he said, “This is tough.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Public Advocate Debate Shows Stark Differences Between James and Polanco Tue, 17 Oct 2017 01:23:06 +0000
James Defends Approach to De Blasio, Outlines Second Term Priorities tish presser nycprogressives crop

Public Advocate James (photo: @NYCProgressives)

Public Advocate Letitia James, a Democrat running for a second term, is facing a challenge from Republican candidate J.C. Polanco, who believes James has done little to hold accountable a mayor who aligns closely with her own politics. But James, an outspoken former litigator, has her defense ready as the two move toward a televised debate on October 16.

During a recent appearance on the Max & Murphy podcast, James rebutted critics of her first term and sought to dispel the notion that she has not stood up to Mayor Bill de Blasio. She also outlined other aspects of her record she is most proud of as she seeks reelection and put forth several areas she intends to focus on if given another term.

James told podcast hosts Ben Max, editor of Gotham Gazette, and Jarrett Murphy, editor of City Limits, that she has spent the last four years using her familiarity with the legal system to battle the administration on many fronts, whether it be improving school transportation for students with disabilities or fighting for rent exemptions for seniors. She has been critical of the failures of city agencies, such as the Administration for Children Services, and has called out the mayor for not supporting legislation that has been priorities for her office.

To a lesser degree, however, has she employed her bully pulpit to criticize the mayor’s own ethics and transparency, being less vocal than her fellow Democrat, Comptroller Scott Stringer, for instance. James acknowledged on the podcast that she has not taken her own more subtle approach to accountability, but said she has not been shy to disagree substantively or to sue or to criticize, citing several examples, but also said she has worked with the administration behind the scenes to create productive outcomes.

When she first researched the role of public advocate, the office was “ill-defined” with no clear objective, James said in the Max & Murphy interview. “There was a lot of room to engage on a lot of efforts on a wide range of issues that obviously I care about, but it all boils down to one issue, and that is social justice,” she said. “It’s part of who I am. It’s part of my DNA. It’s my raison d’etre.”

On taking office, she said, her priorities were to use her legal skills to litigate strategically, to “continue to engage in investigations on issues that impact low- and moderate- and middle-income families,” and to maintain strong relationships with the City Council, which has been a partner in passing progressive legislation proposed by James. She referenced the town halls she has held all over the city as fulfilling the need to hear directly from New Yorkers.

James’ opponent, Polanco, an attorney and former educator, is running on a platform of government reform, and that includes reforming the public advocate’s office to give it more teeth. “I really want to reform the office and make it an opportunity for New Yorkers to have a real watchdog to oversee what the mayor and the City Council is doing,” he said in a recent appearance on Max & Murphy, explaining several added powers he wants to see given to the public advocate, including subpoena power. Polanco emphasized the need for an independent voice to moderate the “extreme ultra-left agenda coming out of City Hall” and, while calling James herself “ethical,” took issue with her effectively enabling what he sees as the mayor’s unethical practices.

“I think that if you endorse a mayor as unethically challenged as this one, if you can see it took NY1 and The New York Post to sue City Hall to get email records that demonstrate a pay-to-play operation, if you can endorse someone like that, I am going to be very suspect as to why you’re endorsing them,” he said of James’ support for de Blasio.

James sees it differently, and is confident she’s been a tough check on the administration. “When I’ve agreed with the mayor on issues, I’ve stood by his side,” she said. “When I disagreed with the mayor, we’ve criticized the mayor.” She cited numerous instances to bolster her point.

She criticized the mayor’s reluctance to create a separate agency for veterans affairs in the city, she said, and has opposed his policies on homelessness and the administration’s use of temporary hotel shelters. She also touted the lawsuits she has filed against the administration, including one that took aim at a rule change passed by the administration that she claimed was kicking eligible seniors off the rolls of a property tax exemption. She touted a victory in opening up School Leadership Team meetings across the city to the public.

James also pointed to the New York Post editorial board’s praise for her in December last year for speaking out against the mayor over the “agents of the city” controversy, that involved the administration attempting to shield the mayor’s email exchanges with unpaid outside advisors. “Consultants, lobbyists — to me, it’s a distinction without much of a difference,” James had said at the time, part of one of the larger episodes that Polanco calls into question in terms of de Blasio’s ethics and James’ reactions.

When de Blasio’s administration was embroiled in numerous controversies, chiefly revolving around dual investigations of his fundraising practices and the work of a political nonprofit set up by his allies, James was conspicuously silent for the most part, and did not publicly condemn the mayor at news conferences as one might have expected from someone in the public advocate position. But that has been part-and-parcel of her approach to the office, she said. “I thought that as the public advocate of the City of New York and having a relationship with the mayor where we’re somewhat like-minded philosophically and politically, that I can get more done by having a conversation with him one-on-one with regards to our differences and coming to some agreement,” she said regarding the approach more broadly, not on any specific issue.

“Because we have a relationship, and because I have a relationship with a significant number of commissioners, and we are all focused on one objective, and that is a more progressive approach to legislation and a more progressive approach to dealing with these problems which appear to be intractable, we’ve achieved quite a bit in the office of public advocate,” she added, “and I would argue without any fear of contradiction that we have done more in the last four years than any previous public advocate or all public advocates combined.” De Blasio is, of course, a member of that group.

Undoubtedly, James is well-placed for a second term, with visibility among voters who are overwhelmingly registered Democrats, strong campaign finances, and near universal labor union support. And she is going into reelection with an agenda for the next four years, which includes affordable housing, criminal justice reform, property tax reform and mental health services, to name a few issues.

As she looks to talk issues, James expressed frustration that the controversy over the statue of Christopher Columbus -- which arose in the aftermath of white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia in August after a protest over the removal of the statue of a Confederate general -- has subsumed other more important matters. Following the incidents, Mayor de Blasio announced a commission that would study public monuments in the city to determine which ones are appropriate and which ones have a sordid history and should perhaps be removed.

“I think this is really a distraction from the major issues that we really should be focusing on,” James said on the podcast, insisting that she’d rather talk about issues like public housing, homelessness, mental health services and grand jury reform. For the record, James supports preserving the statue of Columbus and stresses that it should serve an educational purpose.

“The monument should remain, there should be a teaching opportunity where we talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly of Christopher Columbus and how he exploited indigenous populations,” she said. “But I’d rather be having more a substantive conversation about what we can do to improve the lives of residents of public housing, what we can do to transform the third rail of politics, that is property tax, which is squeezing the middle class and resulting in so many senior citizens who are losing their property or liens being placed on their properties.”

Her largest priority is housing, she said, whether it’s NYCHA developments or affordable housing for several demographics, including homeless people. On October 9, James will rally at City Hall with members of dozens of churches to advocate for a NYCHA infill proposal that originated in the community, she said.

James wants to build off the city’s successful universal pre-kindergarten program and expand to quality infant care in the city. She said she will push for reopening dental and health clinics in public schools, which she said she fought for when former Mayor Bloomberg closed them down. And she believes the city needs to reevaluate the numerous neighborhood rezonings that are creating widespread uncertainty and discontent in low- and middle-income communities fearing gentrification. The city needs to involve community-based organizations in the conversation, she said, and build affordable housing on unused public land.

“We need a housing bond act. We need to build over rail yards...We need more integrated housing...integrated by income,” she said. “More housing set aside for homeless, moderate-, middle-income housing. We need more work-live space in the City of New York and we really need to examine these rezonings.”

She also emphasized the need for reexamination of the 421-a property tax exemption, approved at the state level, which she believes allows developers to create luxury housing and exacerbates the need for more middle-income housing. The operative issue, however, is that would require cooperation from the state.

“I think we need a better relationship with the governor of the State of New York,” she said, “and if in fact there were improved relationships with the State of New York, which holds the lion’s share of housing subsidies, we could go a long way in addressing the crisis in affordable housing and the homelessness situation.”

James can only hope, though. For the better part of his first term, de Blasio has famously feuded with Governor Andrew Cuomo, also a Democrat, and the two have been reluctant to work together even when their policy goals intersect.

At a news conference on Tuesday, when Gotham Gazette asked de Blasio about James’ appeal to comity with the governor, the mayor said it was “idealistic” to expect such cooperation, sarcastically likening it to the Republican Congress offering unsolicited aid to the city. “Likewise, I’d like to see the governor focus more on actually delivering on affordable housing for New York City. There’s been some big pronouncements but I haven’t seen a lot of delivery and we need it. I don’t think it’s about relationship. I think it’s about everyone doing their job and living up to their commitments. And you know my to hold people to their commitments and be an agent of accountability when it comes to the needs of New York City.”

As for James’ call that the city take a more ambitious approach to building affordable housing, de Blasio indicated that he is always open to continuing to evaluate what can be done, but that he has set the city on its most ambitious affordable housing plan ever, at 200,000 built or preserved units over 10 years.

[Listen to the full podcast episode of Max & Murphy with Public Advocate Letitia James]

[Listen to public advocate candidate J.C. Polanco on Max & Murphy]

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

James Defends Approach to De Blasio, Outlines Second Term Priorities Wed, 04 Oct 2017 04:00:00 +0000
James Agrees to General Election Debate in Public Advocate Race letitia james via teamsters

Public Advocate Letitia James (photo: @TeamstersJC16)

Public Advocate Letitia James, a Democrat seeking reelection to one of three citywide positions, has agreed to debate her Republican opponent regardless of whether the challenger, J.C. Polanco, meets the fundraising requirements to qualify for an official debate sanctioned and sponsored by the New York City Campaign Finance Board.

James, who easily won in the primary, is well ahead of Polanco, who did not face primary competition, in fundraising and name recognition. Polanco has, however, put forth detailed policy proposals and a rationale for seeking the office, while also challenging James to debate him for the good of the public electoral process. James has decided to pursue the opportunity, despite any risks debating may pose to a heavily-favored incumbent, to take the debate stage.

“The exchange of ideas and information is essential to democracy and good governance,” James said in a statement. “I welcome the opportunity to debate and discuss my key accomplishments as Public Advocate and outline my vision for supporting and empowering all New Yorkers.”

James has focused her efforts as public advocate on litigation and legislation, suing the city on several occasions and introducing and passing more legislation than her four predecessors, who include Mayor Bill de Blasio.

It is not clear how many debates James will agree to or who will sponsor any that do occur. For public advocate candidates participating in the Campaign Finance Board’s public matching program, two formal, televised debates are required for those who meet the criteria, which include both fundraising and spending thresholds. But, James may be the only candidate in the field, which also includes the Green Party’s James Lane and others, to qualify for the debates. A campaign spokesperson did not indicate how many debates James would participate in.

Polanco, an attorney and the New York City liaison for the state Assembly minority, has promised to run a positive campaign and debate the role of the office and policy proposals. He has called James “ethical” and expressed his fondness for her as a person. He has also challenged her to debate him even though he is many thousands of dollars short of meeting the legal thresholds for the official, televised debates, which would provide him a much-needed boost in profile.

“As my opponent stated: ‘Brooklyn people don’t hide,’” James said. “I am proud of my record of standing up for New Yorkers and look forward to a spirited discussion with my Republican opponent on the issues that impact New York.”

While James is indeed a Brooklynite, and used to represent part of the borough in the City Council, Polanco is from the Bronx, where he still lives. Though Polanco has pledged a positive campaign, he has critiqued James for not speaking up more forcefully about de Blasio’s ethical lapses. Polanco is running on a platform of pushing for changes to the public advocate position itself, perhaps through a city charter revision commission, and a variety of other agenda items. Unlike James, Polanco is an outspoken proponent of expanding charter schools. He’s also advocating for allowing qualifying NYCHA residents to purchase their public housing units.

As she seeks a second term, James is especially proud of her legislation, passed through the City Council and signed into law by de Blasio, that bans employers from asking job applicants for their salary history. It is a move aimed at helping reduce the gender pay gap.

In order to qualify for public matching funds from the Campaign Finance Board, a public advocate candidate must raise at least $125,000 from 500 donors living in New York City. When matching funds are dispersed, up to $175 of eligible donations are matched six to one. Public advocate candidates are eligible for up to $2,369,350 in public matching funds for what is deemed a competitive race. Participants have a general election spending cap of $4,357,000.

As of her most recent filing, James had raised a total of $943,854. She had spent about two-thirds of it, leaving her about $325,000 in the bank, and not yet qualified for public matching funds.

Polanco had raised just $21,675. He has explained how much of a challenge fundraising has been given that New York City Republicans have a major registration deficit and most attention for any hope of a citywide victory is given to the mayoral race. Polanco has also said that his opposition to President Donald Trump has hurt him among GOP establishment figures and potential donors.

When informed that James had agreed to debate him, Polanco said in a statement to Gotham Gazette, "I am glad my opponent has taken up my challenge for a spirited debate on the issues. I took on the Herculean challenge so that New Yorkers have choice. I believe we are best served as a democracy when we compete for votes. I look forward to discussing my plans to push for charter school expansion, fixing the MTA train delays, keeping jails out of our neighborhoods, protecting kids from the horrors we have seen at ACS and standing up to a mayor regardless of party."

Part of James’ calculation in agreeing to debate may have to do with being granted matching funds. A campaign spokesperson did not reply to a question about the subject.

Earlier this year, the Campaign Finance Board and its debate sponsors scheduled the two televised public advocate general election debates for Monday, October 16 and Saturday October 24.

“The CFB’s debate program aims to give New York City voters the opportunity to compare candidates side by side in preparation for Election Day. The law was enacted to ensure that candidates in the public matching funds program debate their opponents, and we are excited that the Public Advocate debates will continue as planned. We will do everything we can to support and promote a vigorous debate,” said Katrina Shakarian, public relations officer at the Campaign Finance Board, in a statement to Gotham Gazette.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Note: this article has been updated with a statement from Polanco, a statement from the CFB, and other additional information.

Note: this article has removed incorrect information about Comptroller Stringer being in a similar position to James. Stringer's Republican opponent, Michel Faulkner, has met the fundraising threshold to qualify for a CFB-sanctioned debate.

James Agrees to General Election Debate in Public Advocate Race Sun, 24 Sep 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Public Advocate Candidate JC Polanco mxm logo

Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette, and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits

September 18, 2017 - Max & Murphy with Public Advocate Candidate JC Polanco

jcpolanco 277JC Polanco, a Republican running for Public Advocate, joined Max & Murphy to discuss his candidacy, explaining a variety of policy proposals and his overall mission to reform the position itself to give it more power, funding, and teeth. Polanco is attempting to run a campaign on issues and policy, like his proposals to allow some NYCHA residents the opportunity to buy their apartments and expand charter schools, but he is also criticizing incumbent Letitia James, a Democrat seeking reelection, for not being a tough enough voice in holding Mayor de Blasio and the City Council accountable.

Discussing his attempts to unseat James in a very Democratic city where it is challenging to get people to even pay attention to the race for public advocate, Polanco explained that "this is not uphill, this is Mount Everest," and again acknoweldged how hard it is to raise money, in part because he is "not your average, run of the mill Republican" and has not been a supporter of Donald Trump.

Listen to the full conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @jarrettmurphy. You can hear the episode through the embedded audio below or download it wherever you get your podcasts.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Public Advocate Candidate JC Polanco Mon, 18 Sep 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Public Advocate Candidate Outlines Election Reform Agenda polanco bronxnet

JC Polanco on BronxNet

With candidates vying for votes ahead of New York City’s September primary and November general elections, many in and around campaigns know that the state’s antiquated election laws will, in part, ensure that a small percentage of potential voters will cast ballots among limited choices.

One candidate, Juan Carlos Polanco, known as J.C., is currently the presumptive Republican nominee for Public Advocate and has released an extensive package of proposed reforms to New York voting laws.

As a former member of the New York City Board of Elections (BOE), Polanco has had personal experience with the system that certifies candidates and runs elections. In a document provided to Gotham Gazette and subsequent phone conversation, Polanco outlined plans he believes will update, improve, and secure elections in New York through a combination of legislative changes, ballot referendums, and even changes to the state constitution.

“We have to really take a look at our election system and we have to modernize it,” said Polanco, who is eyeing a likely general election matchup with incumbent Letitia James, a Democrat.

Polanco is putting forward 10 proposals, some of which – like expanding the BOE’s reporting in the twice-yearly Mayor’s Management Report (MMR), which details performance of city agencies based on delivery of services – would be relatively easy shifts, and others – like instituting nonpartisan elections and starting a statewide voter identification program – would be fundamental reexaminations of voting in New York that would be very difficult to enact.

Among the former group, in addition to the MMR initiative, Polanco calls for forwarding of voter death and new address data to the BOE from city and state agencies, a new procedure for a nationwide search of the board’s executive director, and an increased budget for the agency to help it run the expanded programs.

The latter group are likely to be much more controversial; chief among them a proposal from Polanco for a statewide “free and fair voter identification program,” which the candidate framed as a compromise for including early voting and and no-fault absentee voting.

Polanco explained that free identifications would be arranged by the BOE using its central voter registration database and then be distributed through municipalities for free to voters who did not otherwise have a valid ID. He could not provide a cost estimate, and when asked why such a program was necessary when research has shown that voter fraud is almost nonexistent, he said there were two schools of thought on voter fraud.

“One is the [President Donald Trump] school, that 3 million people voted illegally in the election. Absolutely not. That’s an extreme view. Then we have the other extreme that no voter fraud happens. And that’s ridiculous,” Polanco said. He insisted that voters who turned up without IDs would not be disenfranchised, as they could fill out affidavit ballots – currently used by voters who arrive at polls to find they’re not on the rolls – that would be counted later if valid.

Another proposed change for voters would be the early voting provisions, which would have to be approved in the unsympathetic Republican-controlled state Senate. The plan would allow New York City residents to vote one week before the election, and to vote absentee without having to prove inability to vote in person, which is currently required for absentee ballots.

Polanco wants to change not only how New Yorkers vote but who they can vote for, by providing free legal counsel to candidates participating in the Campaign Finance Board’s public matching funds program who raise less than $10,000, and easing restrictions on ballot access for candidates.

“Candidates are getting kicked off the ballot after spending all summer campaigning and collecting petitions, and they’re getting kicked off for the most ridiculous reasons,” said Polanco, citing issues like having a slightly incorrect petition number listed on a cover sheet. Indeed, various candidates have been kept off or taken off the ballot for multiple city races this cycle, including one of two final candidates for the Republican mayoral nomination.

Unlike other populous cities like Los Angeles and Chicago, New York has a partisan election system where only voters registered to a particular party may vote in that party’s closed primary; that arrangement generally means that viable candidates tend to be selected only by the city’s registered partisans with one of the two major parties. Polanco wants to shift to a nonpartisan system, where rounds of voting, as opposed to primaries, would whittle down the candidate field.

“If you look at our city, it’s become much more of a nonpartisan city,” he said, adding that independent, or party unaffiliated, voters “are not participating.” While unaffiliated voter enrollment has indeed grown in the city over the past five years, nonpartisan voters still represent a minority (17.6%) of all registered voters. As Polanco looks ahead to the general election, he knows that there are many more unaffiliated registered voters in the city than those registered with the Republican Party (about 10.4% of all registered voters). It is those types of “independents” who helped Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg win their mayoral terms.

Finally, Polanco wants to address the undemocratic trend of elected officials stepping down from campaigns after ballot petitions have already been filed, allowing partisan county committees to pick their candidates and denying voters the opportunity to vote in an open primary. “They take it out of the hands of the voters and into the backrooms,” said Polanco of the practice. He said he would like to see, if not his ultimate goal of a nonpartisan election, then at least a mandated primary for special elections.

Polanco suggests that gerrymandering – the practice of drawing districts to maximize or minimize a particular class of voters – is partly responsible for ensuring that Democratic candidates routinely win special elections, though in general city districts are not considered to be gerrymandered.

Polanco acknowledged that in order to enact such an agenda, the Public Advocate – a largely ceremonial citywide elected position with little direct authority – needs to heavily rely on the bully pulpit and organizing, as opposed to hard power. Easier said than done. Polanco would be far from the first person to go to Albany seeking voting reforms. With the Senate controlled by his GOP party-mates through a power-sharing agreement with breakaway Democrats, there has been virtually no appetite for election reform.

He could have some ways around that, he said, such as getting proposals into a referendum to be voted on directly by voters. If the upcoming November vote on whether the state will hold a constitutional convention is approved, Polanco said he would support trying to enshrine some voting reform measures into the updated constitution.

by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette

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Public Advocate Candidate Outlines Election Reform Agenda Thu, 24 Aug 2017 04:00:00 +0000