Gotham Gazette Mon, 08 Mar 2021 16:30:41 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) New York Leftists Strategize for the Post-Trump Era Julia Salazar Albany

State Senator Julia Salazar with activists (photo: NY Senate)

For four years, moderate and progressive Democrats, a number of independents, and even some Republicans have shared a common objective: ensure Donald Trump is a one-term president.

Now, with that objective accomplished and a moderate Democrat in Joe Biden set to enter the White House in January, leftists are ready to go all out, at the federal and local levels, to pull the party further leftward and accomplish goals like taxing the wealthy and defunding the police so that they can pass universal health care and increase funding for social programs including public education.

Those plans are also coming together in New York, where a new crop of left-wing Democrats was just elected to both houses of the state Legislature, building on a progressive slate that won State Senate seats in 2018, not to mention the ascension of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that year, followed by Rep.-elect Jamaal Bowman this year. Many of these winning candidates prevailed with the support of the New York City branch of the Democratic Socialists of America, the progressive Working Families Party, or both.

Along with impacting government policy at all levels, left-learning activists and elected officials now have their eyes on the 2021 New York City election cycle, which will see the election of a new mayor, as well as dozens of new City Council members, and other officials.

In an event that resembled a party as much as it did a strategizing session, state and city legislators, along with City Council candidates and progressive activists, met virtually on Tuesday night to chart a path for post-Trump leftism, with a focus on New York. They started by refuting claims by moderate Democrats, including Governor Andrew Cuomo, that a fear of socialism impeded Democratic successes in this year’s elections.

“It’s kind of nuts” that Democrats would say that, said Manhattan Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou. “It’s no coincidence that all of The Squad won their reelection,” said Samuel Nemir-Olivares, the organizer and emcee of the event, who is also a district leader in Brooklyn. Nemir-Olivares echoed Ocasio-Cortez’s point that all swing-state House Democrats who endorsed Medicare for All won or were on track to win re-election.

Messaging by Republicans running for office also accused Democrats of being anti-police, and some Democrats took the bait, said State Senator Julia Salazar of Brooklyn, who was elected in 2018 over a more moderate Democratic incumbent with the support of the DSA. “Our movements for racial justice and economic justice cannot succeed if the Democratic Party insists on apologizing for them when elections come around,” she said. Significantly reducing funding for the police remains a large part of leftists’ platforms, especially considering the desperate financial situation the city and state governments are in. But some legislators in attendance said Democrats need to do a better job explaining what “defunding the police” means.

“You go into public housing saying defund NYPD, they’re gonna be like, ‘what the heck are you speaking about?’” said Jasmin Sanchez. “If we defund the police, this is what people in public housing and other minority communities are gonna think,” said Brooklyn Assemblymember Maritza Davila: “‘Who’s gonna protect us, and who’s gonna come out?’ So you have to spend more time explaining that.”

Brooklyn City Council candidate Wilfredo Florentino agreed, saying that community members don’t immediately embrace the thought of defunding the police and “what we really want to talk about is reinvesting in our community.”

“The reality is that progressive ideas are popular all across the country,” said Brooklyn Assemblymember-elect Emily Gallagher, who just defeated longtime liberal incumbent Joe Lentol in this year’s primary, “but we have to communicate them in a way that is user-friendly and is engaging.”

Even so, some activists used language that even many progressives shy away from. “We have to be extremely clear that we want to defund the police, that we want to abolish police,” said socialist activist Jawanza James Williams, expressing a different point of view from Democrats who are careful to draw a distinction between abolishing the police and diverting even large portions of police funding to social services. “Policing, including the NYPD itself, is a problematic institution that is predicated on the dehumanity of Black people,” Williams said.

CUNY student-activist Aaron Narraph Fernando shared a personal experience where public safety at his college asked for his identification and suggested he might pose a threat. “We need to really use [democratic socialist candidates] to defund and disband the NYPD,” he said.

Participants in the event expressed hope about the possibility of a supermajority of Democrats in the State Senate to match the one already in the Assembly, once officials finish counting absentee ballots. A few days later, leaders of the Senate Democrats gathered in Albany to celebrate the likely wins that would get them to that supermajority, and offer the ability for both houses to override vetoes by Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who is more moderate on many issues, especially related to the economy and taxes. But such overpowering of the governor would require progressive and moderate legislators to band together.

“While I’m very excited about a Democratic supermajority in the State Senate, I know that we’re still going to need to see that political courage,” said Salazar, “and we have not seen a great demonstration of political courage in the state Legislature collectively this year.”

A supermajority, leftists hope, would give state legislators power over a governor some think is too powerful and too centrist. “We have a top-heavy problem in New York,” said Zephyr Teachout, a progressive hero in New York who ran against Cuomo in the 2014 primary. “He’s really a Republican,” Manhattan City Council candidate Marti Gould Allen Cummings said of the third-term governor who is quite popular in New York City, especially among voters of color.

“Implementation is everything,” said Brooklyn City Council candidate Brandon West. “A lot of times, we’ve seen really good politics come together, progressive groups put a lot of energy in, and then everyone leaves after implementation, so no one focuses on it, so then it fails, then Cuomo’ll be like, ‘oh, that policy doesn’t work anymore — guess we shouldn’t have tried!’”

Gallagher said that if there is a supermajority, Democrats should take advantage of it to push through bold ideas. “These moments don’t last forever,” she said, “and if we don’t do anything with [the supermajority,] we will lose it.”

In order to accomplish controversial goals like defunding the police and decriminalizing sex work, Brooklyn City Council candidate Sandy Nurse said that progressives need to educate people to build community consensus. “We are literally just facilitating the needs and the wants of the people in our districts and in our communities,” she said. “If those priorities are not aligned, we’re not actually able to make those hard transformations that we’re asking for.”

One thing everyone seemed aligned on was higher taxes on the wealthy — something the governor has largely opposed, before and during the pandemic recession, opting instead for a combination of cuts, withholdings, and waiting for a federal aid package, hopefully a large one spurred by Biden’s victory.

“The money is there,” said Nemir-Olivares, pointing out that New York billionaires have only gotten richer during the pandemic. “The question is whether the political class and the governor has the will to really tax the multimillionaires and redistribute the wealth that we need and the workers themselves created so we can fund the actual health care that we need, the masks for the nurses, the tablets for our schools.”

“There are so many things that we can fund that aren’t police or jails,” Cummings said, citing the underway plan to build four new jails to replace those on Rikers Island. Those things, activists said, include making CUNY tuition-free again, forgiving all student debt, funding public housing, and fighting food insecurity. Other priorities include LGBTQ rights, the rights of undocumented people, canceling rent, legalizing marijuana use, and passing a Green New Deal to fight climate change.

“If we had invested in our communities, we wouldn’t have been hit that hard” by the pandemic and recession, said Niou. “If we had invested in our healthcare system, we wouldn’t have been hit that hard. If we had invested in our education system, we wouldn’t have been hit that hard. If we had invested in our small businesses, we wouldn’t have been hit that hard. This is the stuff that is so basic.”

by Lauren Hakimi, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

New York Leftists Strategize for the Post-Trump Era Mon, 23 Nov 2020 05:00:00 +0000
How to Vote Biden-Harris and Protect Progressive Power in New York gv cu mid

The Working Families Party's survival is on the ballot (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)

When we each ran for State Senate, the Democratic establishment supported our opponents — but the Working Families Party had our backs. That’s because for over 20 years, the WFP has stood up for working people’s champions running for the New York state Legislature and fought for true progressive power in Albany. So it’s no surprise that Governor Cuomo and the corporate Democratic establishment are now trying to take away the Working Families Party’s ballot line and weaken progressive power.

We can’t let that happen — that’s why we’re voting for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on the Working Families Party ballot line, and you should too.

For decades, Albany was controlled by Republicans and corporate Democrats who worked hand in hand to empower themselves, rather than working people. The Working Families Party spent years campaigning to send working people’s champions to Albany — leaders like State Senator Gustavo Rivera in the Bronx, Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou in Manhattan, and Assemblymember Diana Richardson in Brooklyn. And in a historic power shift in Albany in 2018, the WFP recruited, supported, and elected a slate of candidates who unseated the Independent Democratic Conference and their corporate allies — flipping the State Senate blue for the first time in eight years and kicking off the most progressive legislative session in New York history.

While establishment Democrats refused to endorse that slate of progressive champions — Jessica Ramos, Alessandra Biaggi, Robert Jackson, Rachel May, John Liu, Zellnor Myrie (and me, Julia Salazar) — the WFP was in the trenches. The WFP built campaign plans, recruited volunteers, and brought in the grassroots support and progressive muscle we needed to win.

Because of the Working Families Party, the State Senate was able to push through massive progressive wins in 2019 that had been bottlenecked by Republican control for years: from historic tenant protections and voter access laws to landmark climate legislation and driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants. And that same year, the WFP invested heavily in Tiffany Cabán’s decarceral District Attorney campaign. This cycle, the WFP continued to back progressives like myself, Jabari Brisport, Marcela Mitaynes, Khaleel Anderson, and dozens more.

So it’s no surprise that Governor Cuomo and his corporate allies have been laser-focused on weakening the Working Families Party — the party that wrested control away from the Governor and his Republican allies and began to truly deliver for working people. During this year’s budget negotiations amid a pandemic, the Governor slipped in an eleventh-hour clause — requiring all political parties to meet the strictest ballot requirements in the nation to maintain their ballot line. Parties once needed 50,000 votes every four years to maintain their ballot line. Now, they need 130,000 votes or 2% of all votes — whichever is higher — at the top of the ticket and they need these votes every two years, starting now. The threshold and timing were clearly meant to hurt the WFP this year, during a presidential election with very high turnout.

It’s clearer than ever why we must work to protect the Working Families Party’s ballot line: if not for the WFP, Democrats might be still battling with Republicans for control of the statehouse. Instead, GOP legislators are dropping like flies, corporate Democrats are on the defensive, and the Left is building real power in Albany. 

We will both be voting on the WFP line, because we cannot let Governor Cuomo and his fellow corporate Democrats weaken our progressive power in the middle of the political fight of our lives. New York is in the midst of a massive public health crisis, while suffering the effects of decades of austerity budgets and racist police brutality. We need to build working people’s power in Albany — and the WFP plays a key role in that fight.

Tens of thousands of our loved ones have died because of the state’s crumbling health-care system; millions are at risk of eviction; too many to count cannot afford to feed their families. Unemployment claims are climbing, and New York and Washington have left our undocumented brothers and sisters out to dry. If Governor Cuomo has his way, New York will continue cutting funding for hospitals, schools, and localities instead of asking the wealthy to pay more so we can all survive. We can’t afford a weakened Left right now. By voting for Biden and Harris as well as candidates like us on the WFP line, you can help protect the ballot line — and protect the multiracial, people-powered movement for justice that this moment demands.

For those of us who believe in a truly progressive agenda, voting for this year’s Democratic presidential ticket is not going to be easy; Biden and Harris are far from the working people’s champions that this moment deserves. But we also know that we can and must use our ballot to vote against Trump and to vote to strengthen progressive power in New York, by voting for Biden and Harris on the WFP line. To win, we need to keep progressive power growing in New York — so join us, and vote for Biden and Harris on the WFP line.

State Senator Julia Salazar represents parts of Brooklyn in the 18th District and is running for reelection. Jabari Brisport is the Democratic and WFP nominee for Brooklyn’s 25th State Senate District. On Twitter @JuliaCarmel__ & @JabariBrisport.

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How to Vote Biden-Harris and Protect Progressive Power in New York Mon, 12 Oct 2020 04:00:00 +0000
‘The Electorate Has a Bias for Youth and Energy’: Younger Candidates Take New York Politics by Storm 2 youth wave

Queens Assembly candidate Khaleel Anderson (photo: @KhaleelAnderson)

A younger generation of Democratic political candidates — which has grown up amid the Great Recession, growing inequality, rising costs of higher education and massive student loan debt, the ticking time-bomb that is climate change, and other crises including, now, the coronavirus pandemic and its fallout — has been offering ambitious policy goals and great urgency around achieving them, resonating with voters and finding success in their runs for office.

In recent election cycles, New York has seen many younger candidates win their bids for state legislative and congressional seats, one facet of the Democratic Party’s internal reckoning that shows an ascendant left wing in part led by a new generation of activists and candidates.

Some, but not all, of these candidates are democratic socialists, a far left brand of politics with a young base, as shown by support for U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, the septuagenarian figurehead of the progressive movement in America, who won 65% of New York voters aged 18-29 in his 2016 Democratic primary contest against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who won every other age group, according to CNN exit polling data. And although the movement has not found victory through either of Sanders’ two presidential bids, down-ballot races have told a different story.

And that story is of a generational shift underway in New York politics, with major potential implications for public policy coming out of the state capital in Albany, not to mention other power centers like New York City Hall and borough-based Democratic Party organizations. It is also already manifesting itself in the state’s and city’s representation in Congress and impact on the national stage.

The recent trend of New York electing both younger and further left candidates kicked off with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s June 2018 primary victory over then-Rep. Joe Crowley, with the then-28-year-old democratic socialist shocking the world and immediately becoming a national standard-bearer for those of her generation and politics.

Then came September 2018 victories of now-State Senators Alessandra Biaggi, Jessica Ramos, Zellnor Myrie, and Julia Salazar, all in their twenties or thirties when elected as progressive insurgents against more moderate, older incumbent Democrats. All went on to easily win their general elections, as is the norm in almost every New York City electoral district given Democrats’ heavy voter enrollment advantage. In a Brooklyn swing district, Democrat Andrew Gounardes, then-33, beat Republican Martin Golden, then-68, helping the Democrats win back a State Senate majority and advance a long list of priorities.

Then came 2020, and a combined state and congressional (and presidential) June primary day amid a pandemic and massive resultant socio-economic crisis.

Younger, left-leaning candidates, often supported by many progressive groups and individuals, won a long list of Democratic primary victories. They ran on policies that, in sum, included single-payer health care, more urgent efforts to combat climate change and foster a “just transition” to a green economy, free public college, greater tenant protections, higher taxes on the wealthy, homes and jobs guarantees, more education funding, marijuana legalization, decriminalization of sex work, and, during the pandemic, rent cancellation.

The winning candidates included Khaleel Anderson, 24 years old; Zohran Mamdani, 28; Phara Souffrant Forrest, 31; Emily Gallagher, 36; and Jenifer Rajkumar, 38, all of whom won primaries for the State Assembly, along with Jabari Brisport, 33, who won a State Senate primary; and Ritchie Torres, 32, and Mondaire Jones, 33, who won Congressional races. Jamaal Bowman, 44, also won offering generational change and far-left ideology in his challenge to 73-year-old incumbent Rep. Eliot Engel, and other Assembly candidates in their forties, Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas and Marcela Mitaynes, beat incumbent Democrats while offering a far-left message.

Souffrant Forrest, Mamdani, and Brisport were all endorsed by New York City’s branch of the Democratic Socialists of America, an organization that also backed Salazar and Ocasio-Cortez in 2018 and 2020, and had six of its seven endorsed candidates win this election cycle (DSA-backed Samelys Lopez lost to Torres in the 15th Congressional District primary).

Growing dissatisfaction with government and social conditions is something Torres, one of the youngest people elected to the City Council in modern times and likely to soon be one of the youngest elected to Congress, says has contributed to the success of younger elected officials, who are often those challenging incumbents.

“We’re living in an anti-establishment moment. When the electorate has a bias for youth and energy. I think if you have a young insurgent running against an established politician who’s been entrenched in office for decades, the young insurgent has a greater advantage now more than ever,” Torres said. “At a time of peak suffering, the argument for insurgents might be helped because if you have been entrenched in office for decades, and your district is in the same position that it was when you first entered public office, does your tons of experience really matter?”

Brisport, who is further to the left of Torres, nonetheless voiced a similar sentiment and said the reason for more young people challenging incumbents is their want for bigger changes.

“It is predominantly younger people that are unseating incumbents, are making up this new guard and I think that speaks to a hunger and a thirst for much bolder progressive policies throughout New York,” said Brisport, currently a middle-school teacher and of central Brooklyn, in an interview. “My generation, millennials and below us, Gen-Z, we are seeing firsthand capitalism really unfurling on itself, runaway income inequality, a world where we don’t see ourselves as eventual homeowners in the way our parents did, our American dream is no longer to get a house and 2.5 kids the dream is just to survive this nightmare, this hellscape of capitalism that we live in where rents are spiraling out of control, health care — you’re lucky if you have it and if you don’t you’re confined to a lifetime of medical debt — and if you’re Black, indigenous, person of color, you might just get shot by police for the crime of existing. It’s a confluence of factors that is extremely terrifying for people in my generation and revolutionary politics is much more alluring in a scenario like that.”

Some of those more progressive policies have seen more support from young people: a 2019 Quinnipiac University poll found that New York State residents aged 18-34 were the biggest supporters of congestion pricing (at 62% in favor), stricter gun laws (70%), legalizing marijuana (84%), and protecting abortion rights (80%).

And, although only 36% approved of single-payer health-care generally, if it were to decrease health care costs (even at the cost of raising taxes), they were the biggest supporters of single-payer health-care, too, at 57%. Younger people are more open than older generations to raising taxes if it means reducing individual health-care costs. Nationally, a poll conducted last year by the Institute of Politics (IOP) at Harvard Kennedy School found that 51% of those aged 18-29 support free public college for those from families making $125,000 a year or less and free community college for all — even if it costs $47 billion a year.

“I’ve seen multiple recessions, I’ve seen, in many ways, the failures of capitalism again and again and again kind of replayed ad nauseum,” said Mamdani, currently a housing counselor and of western Queens, in an interview. “There is a real fear with regards to health-care and with regards to debt, specifically student loan debt. We have seen, in many ways, much of capitalism’s promises, we have seen the terms and conditions of those promises in our lifetime. And generations older than us, there have been more of the promises delivered to them, while for us that promise has been extinguished and now it’s all of the fine print.”

Attaining higher education and employment are two interwoven issues for young people: higher education costs are rising (by over 25% in the last decade, according to a CNBC analysis of The College Board data), while a college degree is becoming more and more essential to find employment (as a 2014 report from Burning Glass, a labor market analytics company, shows). And most recently, during the coronavirus pandemic, young New Yorkers were most affected when it comes to losing employment — unemployment of those aged 16-24 skyrocketed from 6.6% to 35.2% from February to May, according to a report by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer. For the city writ large, it had gone from 3.5% to 19.9%.

Anderson, currently a supplemental instructor at his alma mater, Queens College, and likely to be the youngest member of the state Legislature next year, noted that many struggles young people face — from affording higher education to getting a job to paying for rent — contribute to one another.

“Young people, we’ve got to focus on ensuring that we can have a future,” Anderson, of southeast Queens, said in an interview. “Whether it was succumbing to gun violence, whether it was succumbing to student debt, whether it was not being able to afford health-care, whether it’s living in the Rockaways in the Rosedale section of the district and facing constant flooding, these are the things that young people are genuinely concerned about and that’s how my politics will be guided.”

Anderson, who got started in politics as an organizer with the Rockaway Youth Task Force, went on to explain that he believes young people are at the center of many different issues, from being the most common perpetrators and victims of gun violence, to being those disserved by failing school systems, to being unable to afford housing, sometimes due to student debt.

“We’re at the epicenter of everything and until someone comes in like myself and other young leaders who will come behind me, comes in and understands the youth perspective and how we need to continue to invest in youth so that all of that trickles down and translates to everyone else, you will continue to see these problems perpetuate,” Anderson said.

Tenants’ rights, specifically, have been a cause many younger people are rallying around, according to Cea Weaver, a longtime housing activist who helped push stronger rent regulations through the Legislature last year and is the campaign coordinator of the Housing Justice for All coalition.

“New York’s a majority-renter city and it always has been,” said Weaver, who is 31. “So, I think, when you’re talking about New York City, I think it’s been a little bit surprising just how few elected officials have really centered renters’ rights. But I think as people become more active and as the housing market is more and more out of control, I think we’re just seeing a whole generation of younger electeds who are responding to a younger tenants movement.”

Many of the younger state candidates elected in 2018 — particularly Myrie, Biaggi, Ramos, and Salazar — ran on platforms centering tenants’ rights and in opposition to big real estate interests, including promises not to accept donations from developers. Housing was a key issue they had to distinguish themselves from their incumbent opponents, who were generously supported by the real estate industry.

Since then, many more candidates — incumbents and insurgents alike — have taken pledges not to accept real estate donations, and in 2019 historic legislation was passed by the State Legislature and signed by Governor Cuomo to increase protections for millions of rent-regulated tenants.

And it’s an issue that was at the center of many of the recent primaries, such as in Gallagher’s race against incumbent Joe Lentol, where her support of canceling rent contrasted with Lentol’s work in passing a more moderate rent voucher bill, and in Mamdani’s, where he highlighted his opponent breaking her pledge not to accept real estate donations.

Canceling rent is one policy challengers like Gallagher, who sometimes shared similar platforms with their also-progressive opponents, distinguished themselves. While many current Assembly members, like Lentol, dismissed the policy as unrealistic and having the potential to hurt small landlords, Gallagher argued it was essential to help those facing extreme financial insecurity due to the pandemic and who could not pay their rent (the bill in the Legislature would not cancel rent for those who could afford to pay and would provide relief for smaller landlords).

“A lot of these voters, they identify with someone who has student debt, or hasn’t lived in the community as long or hasn’t been paying rent themselves as long in the community and therefore are paying a higher part of their income to live on,” said Jerry Skurnik, a long-time political consultant at Prime New York and former aide to Mayor Ed Koch, in an interview. “I can’t prove it but I’m assuming Joe Lentol, because he lived in his community for 70 years, probably was paying less rent per square foot than Emily Gallagher did, not that he did anything unfair by doing that.”

Like other challengers discussing their own challenges with bills and burdens, Gallagher used her experiences struggling to afford rent to connect to voters during her campaign, and had previously said that, were she not in a rent-stabilized apartment, she likely would not have been able to live in the northern Brooklyn district, which has been home to massive development and accelerated gentrification over the past decade-plus.

“For something of this magnitude, for the times we’re living in,” said Brisport, an extreme measure like canceling rent “is fine, and it should be expected to think completely outside of the box. What’s the alternative, you’re just going to evict a million people? How is that not worse? From a moral standpoint, yes. From a public health standpoint, for the economy, everything, it would actually be more disruptive to have hundreds of thousands, over a million evictions happen in New York than to cancel rent and then have a small fund for landlords.”

Gallagher and Briport, among other younger progressive candidates, held out their personal experiences as renters in New York City in connecting with voters and activists who are passionate about tenants’ rights, according to Weaver.

“A lot of the people who are the young folks in elected office right now are also rent-stabilized tenants,” Weaver said. “Every single candidate is taking the housing crisis much more seriously than their predecessors…We have younger folks who are willing to think creatively about what a solution would look like in this movement and who don’t have decades of housing policy telling them that the most important thing is to bail out the real estate industry.”

But some see defeating older, experienced Assembly members, like Joe Lentol, as a huge loss to the community. Bob Liff, Senior Vice President of George Arzt Communications, said although he has nothing against newcomers like Gallagher, Lentol and others provide a lot of value due to their experience and the connections they build over time.

“What you’re losing is an awful lot of institutional memory,” Liff said in an interview. “And when you’re at a certain age and you think that you are inherently soiled by your experience, well that’s all well and good, until you realize you don’t know where the bodies are buried. These people do because they buried them.”

Liff — who through his firm is a spokesperson for the Brooklyn Democratic Party but was speaking only for himself, he stressed — criticized some younger candidates, especially those in the Democratic Socialists of America, for being seemingly unwilling to acknowledge valid points against them or their policies, such as the fact that the organization does tend to perform best in gentrified areas, and that some of their candidates come from wealthy backgrounds while offering their working-class messaging.

“I’m hopeful, I just think that as you mature hopefully you understand that you need more allies, and that the way that you get more allies is not to trim your sails but to respect the idea that other people might have different views and you might have to work with them. I mean, God forbid, settle for half a loaf,” Liff said, referencing his belief in the necessity to find compromise to achieve meaningful legislation. “It’s an argument for the idea that this country changes in an evolutionary rather than in a revolutionary way. But you can’t tell me that we’re not better off than we were in the 1950s.”

Liff mentioned Ocasio-Cortez as someone he believes has done a great job fighting for her policy goals while also working with her colleagues in Congress.

Brooke Smith, 39, is student body president at CUNY’s Medgar Evers College and a supporter of Anderson. When living in the Rockaways years ago, she saw Anderson volunteering in front of the supermarket, getting signatures for the state senator at the time. Two years later they met again on a bus for a CUNY advocacy trip, and by the end of the day he had shared with her his plan to run for office, and moved her and her husband to donate to him. That donation allowed Anderson to reach the minimum required for him to open his campaign account.

As someone who is not technically a millennial but has worked with many young people pushing for a tuition freeze and free CUNY education, among other things, as a student representative, Smith has a unique perspective on the younger generation, and said she sees a sense of entitlement Liff described as a negative in a more positive light.

“What I’ve noticed is that the younger generation, they’re a lot more radical than the two generations above them,” said Smith, who has also been an advocate for families who have stillbirths after losing her daughter in 2014. After the more radical civil rights era, subsequent generations were more hesitant to seek significant change and reform, she said, until now. “They’re kind of experiencing all the privilege that they should. Not really feeling different. They feel entitled to certain things because they do feel worthy, that they belong here, that they deserve the same treatment, things of that nature. So now, as they start to actually see some of the things that some of these other generations were talking about, they have become more radical because they feel more empowered because of the entitlement that was given to them from several generations down. So, I actually think it’s a beautiful thing because it’s causing a whole different level of change.”

Smith also feels the lack of government experience candidates like Anderson have can also be a plus, as it means they are not as invested in the status quo, echoing a similar sentiment Weaver made regarding old guard politicians’ approach to housing policy.

“That sense of entitlement is going to push them to not really fall into the culture that much,” Smith said. “They’re so radical that I feel like there’s a fearlessness, so I expect to see [Anderson] be able to stand up and bring up to the table that most people are afraid to mention because of their colleagues, because of the things that they have to go back-and-forth with each other, because he’s not coming from that culture.”

Torres similarly said that insurgents' lack of political experience and work on the outside of government is becoming more and more of an advantage, and less of a disadvantage, in these races. A liberal who does not identify as a democratic socialist and has in fact been very critical of the DSA while agreeing on several issues, Torres’ primary win in the Bronx resulted in the DSA’s only local loss of this election cycle. He sees the recent success of younger candidates generally as a sign that people want change, and as many of them are activists, that they want someone used to challenging those in government.

“Young elected officials tend to function as advocates rather than as insiders,” Torres said in an interview. “I think the greatest change is that politics is going to become as much about the outside game as it is about the inside game.”

He said he is part of a generation that “has been failed by the government,” and referenced the rising costs of housing, healthcare, and higher education. Growing up in public housing himself, he said he felt abandoned by the federal government — one of the reasons he recently ran for Congress, which historically has played a greater role in the funding of public housing. After beating the Bronx Democrtic Party’s chosen candidate in his 2013 primary win, Torres has had an independent streak during his Council tenure, and been one of the most vocal critics of Mayor Bill de Blasio, a fellow Democrat.

Torres noted that the only wholly consistent characteristic of the successful insurgents mentioned is their younger ages, suggesting that voters are looking at more than just the policies candidates support.

“Voters are not so much voting for a particular ideology, they’re largely voting for change,” Torres said. “For a new generation of leadership. Because even among the elected officials there are considerable ideological differences.”

Liff and Skurnik both mentioned that, similarly, discontent during the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s and 1970s led to a movement of young insurgents running against the establishment and for change. Skurnik said Democratic Congressional Rep. Eliot Engel, who recently lost his seat after being outflanked from the left and outworked by Bowman, the democratic socialist former middle school principal, got his start in politics during this time as an anti-war politician. Engel was first elected to the State Assembly in 1977, when he was 30 years old. Lentol also entered office at the age of 30, in 1973, and was often seen as one of the major progressive leaders in the state, especially when it came to criminal justice reform.

“That would be unfair to the incumbents who do grow and do embrace these issues,” Liff said, mentioning how although Lentol was originally for the death penalty, he ended up playing a pivotal role in ending it in New York State. “And the reason there’s been progress on these issues is because they have, in fact, understood the political forces, the fairness, the justice, the inequality issues.”

Similar to those who were motivated to join politics during the Vietnam War, or after Watergate, Skurnik said the election of President Donald Trump in 2016 had a similar effect.

“I would say more Trump than anything else. Trump energized people, generally progressive people, to get more involved and pay more attention,” Skurnik said.

One policy area Trump has motivated movement on is climate change, as he has denied it is happening, called it a “hoax,” took America out of the Paris Climate Agreement, and appointed officials to top posts who have rolled back environmental regulations.

The New York City Sunrise Movement, a youth-led advocacy group focused on electing politicians who recognize the dangers of climate change and support legislation such as The Green New Deal, has had significant success in New York, including by putting major resources to help elect Bowman.

“Trump is a caricature of what was already wrong with American politics, and so I think that he has kind of exaggerated everything that was already going wrong and made it painfully obvious to everyone so that you could no longer possible ignore it,” said Grace Cuddihy, a 16-year-old member of the group.

The NYC Sunrise Movement itself was founded in 2018 and has made substantial efforts to support politicians that oppose Trump’s policies. In New York, they have helped to get many of their endorsed candidates into office, including Mamdani, Brisport, Souffrant Forrest, and other insurgents who won in 2020, as well as some in 2018, including Ocasio-Cortez, Biaggi, and Myrie. Fourteen of their 16 endorsed candidates won this year, many of them younger progressives.

Cuddihy said the organization made 60,000 calls for its endorsed candidates, and its national branch — which she is also a part of — made hundreds of thousands of calls just for Bowman.

“It really is my future and my life and because I am so young — they say we have nine years left, I’m going to be 25,” Cuddihy said, referencing some of the most disastrous projected impending consequences of climate change. “As someone who can’t vote…watching democracy deteriorate before my eyes and not being able to go to the voting booth and do something about it has motivated me to be more active in terms of phone-banking and volunteering for candidates and organizing for political leaders.”

And although the Green New Deal championed by Ocasio-Cortez and many other but not all New York representatives has not gained as much traction in Congress as activists would like, New York has passed significant climate change and green economy legislation that included investments in renewable energy and enacted goals to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 and 100% clean power by 2040.

But candidates such as Brisport and Mamdani want more ambitious climate policies, such as making energy a public utility and having New York divest pension funds from fossil fuels (something being pursued to an extent at the city level but not at the state level).

“The threat is right here, it’s already here, it’s happening and the urgency is so right there for my generation that the notion of strong redistributive policies, shifting billions of dollars from the wealthiest people into fighting climate change isn’t some laughable idea, it’s a necessary thing to do,” said Brisport.

While younger and more progressive voters recently helped elect candidates with ambitious left-wing agendas, such as Brisport, it is yet to be seen what the impact will be on the legislative bodies they are entering. When a wave of progressives like Myrie, Biaggi, Ramos, Salazar, and Gounardes helped Democrats to win back the State Senate in 2018, it resulted in sweeping legislation at the state level — although some of the most ambitious far left policy goals were left on the back burner, forming the platforms of some of this year’s insurgent left-wing candidates.

Skurnik thinks a similar thing will happen in 2021, as incoming members will push the state farther left, but not all the way, with policies such as those focused on tenants’ rights.

“They will move more incumbents, the establishment people, to a more progressive position. Maybe not as far as they say they want to go,” Skurnik said. “I don’t think they’re gonna cancel rent, but I think they will do other things for tenants that, three or four years ago, weren’t even on the horizon.”

by Victor Porcelli, Gotham Gazette

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Note: this article has been corrected to note that NYC Sunrise did endorse Ocasio-Cortez in the 2018 Democratic primary.

‘The Electorate Has a Bias for Youth and Energy’: Younger Candidates Take New York Politics by Storm Tue, 15 Sep 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Democratic Socialists Ascendant, with Senator Julia Salazar & Jabari Brisport 1 democratic socialists

The 5 NYC-DSA-backed candidates for State Legislature, including guests Brisport (center) & Salazar (right)

August 12, 2020 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Democratic Socialists Ascendant, with Senator Julia Salazar & Jabari Brisport

State Senator Julia Salazar & likely State Senator Jabari Brisport, both Brooklyn Democrats backed by the New York City-Democratic Socialists of America, joined the show to discuss their ideas for helping New York recover from the many coronavirus-related crises, whether the state should raise taxes on the wealthy, and what the NYC-DSA movement is all about.

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

Max & Murphy · 241: Democratic Socialists Ascendant, With Senator Julia Salazar & Jabari Brisport

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Democratic Socialists Ascendant, with Senator Julia Salazar & Jabari Brisport Wed, 12 Aug 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Jabari Brisport, Democratic Socialist on Verge of Upset Primary Win in Brooklyn, Eyes Journey to Albany 6 jabari brisport eyes

Jabari Brisport marching (photo: @JabariBrisport)

This year’s Democratic primary for Brooklyn’s 25th State Senate District mostly flew under the radar, but was one of the most interesting races in the city, with an energetic activist and teacher, Jabari Brisport, backed by the Working Families and Democratic Socialist of America-New York City, taking on Assemblymember Tremaine Wright, whose district overlaps with part of the Senate district and who had the backing of the retiring senator, Velmanette Montgomery, among many others in the political establishment. Also in the race was Jason Salmon, a progressive with some support trying to make headway against two better-known candidates.

As the COVID-19 pandemic rocked the city and drastically altered campaigning, as well as the elections themselves through the expansion of absentee voting and more, June arrived, and with it the early in-person voting and absentee voting periods, then primary day, June 23.

When the in-person votes were tallied, Brisport appeared on the verge of a major upset, potentially outpacing a sitting Assembly member who had a great deal of local establishment support. While he leads the vote going into the counting of absentee ballots by a 17,113 (52.25%) to 13,301 (40.61%) margin of 3,812 votes, there are still more than 26,000 absentee ballots to be evaluated and counted by the Board of Elections.

In an interview with Gotham Gazette, Brisport said that his campaign is “fairly confident” that he will emerge victorious once the election results are finalized.

Brisport, who unsuccessfully ran as the Green Party nominee in 2017 against City Council Member Laurie Cumbo and clashed with Cumbo during this year’s campaign, is optimistic that he will get to take just one of 63 Senate seats across the state, and join forces with neighboring Senator Julia Salazar, also a democratic socialist, who was elected in northern Brooklyn after beating an incumbent in the 2018 Democratic primary and endorsed Brisport this year. Brisport ran on a far-left platform including the New York Health Act for single-payer health care, a Green New Deal for New York State, and the decriminalization of fare evasion, sex work, and simple drug possession. Housing issues are also at the top of his list, he said.

As with almost every seat in New York City, in the 25th State Senate District winning the Democratic Party is nearly a guarantee of winning the general election, if there is one. The 25th District includes neighborhoods such as Bedford-Stuyvesant, Prospect Heights, Fort Green, Boerum Hill, Gowanus, Park Slope, and Red Hook.

It draws most of its constituents from parts of the 56th and 57th Assembly Districts. Brisport won the 57th handily, earning 59% of the in-person votes there, while Wright won her home 56th District with 53% there.

While not all for the 25th Senate District, 6,222 absentee ballots were returned in the 56th Assembly District and 14,238 absentee ballots returned in the 57th, again pointing to a significant Brisport advantage as the count continues.

Assembly District 56, which is mostly in Bedford-Stuyvesant, is 63% black and 12% white, with a median household income of $45,296. The 57th District, which is located around Clinton Hill and Prospect Heights, is 42% black and 33% white, with a median household income of $69,950.

Brisport attributes his solid showing in Wright’s home district to “a very present campaign” that “brought new people into the political process.” He told Gotham Gazette that left-wing candidates “win by speaking to people,” “not by relying on old political machines that slap a few endorsements together and put out a mailer and call it a day without engaging with constituents.”

Brisport called his dual endorsers of the Working Families Party and Democratic Socialist of America-New York City “a very dynamic duo” and hopes that the two groups continue working together. He was also endorsed by Salazar and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, two officials who won upset primaries in 2018 on similar platforms to Brisport's. He was one of a handful of candidates backed by both the WFP and DSA this primary season, and said he’s “excited” about the prospect of the membership of the two working together to achieve shared policy goals in Albany.

“One of my top priorities is passing ‘good cause eviction,’” Brisport said when asked about pressing issues before the State Legislature. He said there has been “a mass-bleeding of people and predominantly people of color” from areas like his district and “stemming that bleeding” will be among his top priorities as a legislator. The bill, which has been championed by Salazar, would ensure that landlords can only evict tenants for “good cause,” not at their whim.

Since primary day, Brisport has been participating in the “Occupy City Hall” protests demanding defunding of the New York City police department. While the most common call was for reducing the NYPD’s nearly $6 billion annual operating budget by $1 billion, Brisport has called for $3 billion in cuts.

“I believe the police are a fundamentally violent institution,” Brisport said, recounting his own negative interactions with officers, including one in which he had a gun drawn on him in a case of mistaken identity. Brisport believes that “stability is the answer to public safety,” and said “there shouldn’t be cuts to health care or education while the NYPD budget is at $6 billion.”

As a state senator, Brisport would pursue legislation that would “reduce the number of interactions” between New Yorkers and the police, mostly through decriminalization of nonviolent crimes, such as sex work and simple drug possession, which would “reduce the need for cops.” He has also proposed, along with the other DSA candidates running in this year’s primaries, a sentencing reform commission to bring the state incarceration rate to pre-War on Drugs levels.

In the lead-up to a city budget deal announced June 30, Brisport led protesters from the city DSA branch on a march and rally targeting Cumbo, who is the City Council majority leader, outside what they believed to be her Brooklyn home, leading to a heated war of words between the two over the course of weeks. Cumbo, who defeated Brisport by a fairly wide margin in the 2017 race (though he did better than most general election challengers to sitting Democrats), endorsed Wright in this year’s Senate primary. She organized a counter-demonstration at Brisport’s home last Monday, right before the primary.

Cumbo harshly criticized Brisport and accused him of breaking a code among Black people. Cumbo strongly condemned the tactics of Brisport and the DSA, labeling it as “an assault on my safety and that of my child” and a “lynch mob.” At the counter-demonstration, she addressed Brisport in his absence, saying “you have been used, my brother,” and portrayed him as the Black spokesperson for what she described as a mostly white group of DSA activists.

If the Senate results hold through absentee ballots, the two are likely to share a considerable number of constituents for at least a year (Cumbo is term-limited out of the Council at the end of 2021).

Brisport said Cumbo’s telling “was an unfortunate description of the event” and characterized the protest as “a very polite and peaceful demonstration.” He noted that he started the demonstration by thanking Cumbo for supporting defunding of the NYPD by $1 billion. He called the counter-demonstration “a tactic to get Tremaine [Wright] elected and the timing was pretty transparent.”

However, Brisport insisted that “really I just want to focus on defunding the NYPD” and that he doesn’t hold any grudge against Cumbo. “I really don’t worry because I don’t personally have any bad blood with the Majority Leader,” he said, adding he would “love to collaborate with her” in the future.

A gay Black man, Brisport is part of what he described as “a wonderful rainbow wave,” in which Ritchie Torres and Mondaire Jones also likely won their respective congressional primaries in the Bronx and Westchester. Torres and Jones appear likely to be the first openly gay Black men in Congress (Torres identifies as Afro-Latino). Similarly, Brisport will be the first openly gay Black state legislator in New York history.

“So many of these things are interconnected,” Brisport said when asked about the significance of these historic firsts. He pointed to how “queer people of color were severely impacted by Covid” and, as such, politicians like him “understand that intersectionality and can advocate on behalf of marginalized people.”

Brisport’s victory, along with Salazar’s reelection and Zohran Mamdani’s possible victory in Queens over Assemblymember Aravella Simotas, are significant boosts to the DSA, as are showings in other races where the DSA endorsed a candidate, but the outcomes are harder to predict: Marcela Mitaynes is a mere 419 votes behind Assemblymember Félix Ortiz in Brooklyn's 51st Assembly District and Phara Souffrant Forrest trails Brooklyn Assemblymember Walter Mosley by less than 600 votes in the 57th District. 

Meanwhile the Working Families Party, Sunrise Movement, and other groups among the ascendent left wing of the Democratic Party also saw a number of their backed candidates do quite well in the primaries, with some races overlapping and others also still to be decided via absentee ballots.

Chi Anunwa, co-chair of the NYC-DSA’s steering committee, told Gotham Gazette that “Jabari’s likely victory represents a big step forward for housing and racial justice politics in New York. With Jabari’s election, New York State will now have two socialists in the State Senate who are champions of the tenants’ rights movement and the movement for more radical police reform. As a longtime racial justice organizer, Jabari is committed to upending the symbiotic relationship between the police and the real estate industry in New York State, and by extension, the political status quo where protecting private property is more important than protecting New Yorkers from the violence of evictions and police brutality.”

When reached to discuss the race, Assemblymember Wright declined to comment, but this week her campaign sent out an email to supporters telling them “the election isn’t over yet” and asking for volunteers to help with the absentee ballot count.

Salmon, who attained about 7% of the in-person vote, conceded the race to Brisport on June 30, saying in a statement “I would also like to congratulate and commend Jabari Brisport who has been a powerful voice for the progressive movement” and endorsing him.

by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

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Jabari Brisport, Democratic Socialist on Verge of Upset Primary Win in Brooklyn, Eyes Journey to Albany Tue, 07 Jul 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Democratic State Senators Call for Raising Taxes on Wealthy, Passing Coronavirus Relief Measures state senators

Senators Ramos and Gounardes (photo: NY Senate)

A group of Democratic state senators, mostly from New York City, gathered in a digital forum Wednesday night to discuss the government’s COVID-19 response. The virtual event, held in partnership with the Fiscal Policy Institute (FPI), a nonprofit liberal think tank, covered topics including the state budget, impending cuts and proposals to raise revenue, and legislation to address ramifications of the virus.

Eight senators, or a fifth of the Democratic majority in the 63-seat chamber, participated in the online discussion.

New York’s new state budget, passed in early April by the Legislature in partnership with Governor Andrew Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, was a main topic of conversation, including critical comments from the senators about the governor. Many state legislators, mostly in the Assembly, voted against budget bills this year, despite the fact that they were representative of compromise among two Democratic majorities and the Democratic governor. Some senators voted against certain pieces of the budget, while others criticized the deal but voted for it anyway.

The budget included significant cuts to planned spending as the state faces a massive drop in tax revenue -- estimated at roughly $10 billion to $15 billion - due to the coronavirus fallout, which comes on top of a roughly $6 billion budget gap that the state had to close leading up to adoption of the spending plan.

The budget agreement included no significant new revenue-raising measures, such as tax increases on higher earners, nor did it include as grave cuts as some feared. But it also gave the governor significant leeway to make budget changes throughout the year, depending on the tax revenue picture (the Legislature retained the right to overrule the governor, but it would have to come up with its own plan to slash spending).

And on April 25, the Cuomo administration announced an additional $10 billion in cuts, mostly -- at $8.2 billion -- in aid to localities, a category that covers education and much more, as well as a $1.6 billion cut to state agency operations and $293 million to debt service, according to information provided during the senators’ event.

“It’s very bleak, it’s very difficult,” Queens Senator John Liu said of the budget situation.

“The Cuomo cuts are fake austerity, and we’ve been living with this fake austerity for a while,” said Queens Senator Jessica Ramos. “Before the pandemic, we were already in a deficit. There’s nothing worse than saying we don’t have the money when we’re not proactively wanting money.”

Brooklyn Senator Andrew Gounardes agreed, saying that now is “not a time to practice and preach austerity politics, this is not a time to be cutting budgets, this is a time to be investing in people.”

Ron Deutsch, the executive director of FPI, blamed the “austerity” on Cuomo’s “arbitrary” 2% cap on annual state spending increases.

“We’re still maintaining this austerity mindset, this scarcity mindset that we can’t possibly spend more than 2%,” Deutsch said. “This 2% is an arbitrary figure, it has no basis in reality. It’s just something the governor wants and pushes for. And what has it resulted in. It has decimated human services programs across this state. We’ve seen a significant reduction in human services.”

The participants moved from the state budget to federal stimulus money with senators discussing why they believe New York didn’t get more aid from the $2 trillion package, and if New York could receive more aid going forward.

“The state cannot pull us out of the hole that we are in, we’re not allowed to run a deficit, we have to balance the budget,” said upstate Senator Rachel May. “And when we’re talking about $13 billion that we’re in the hole, even with the great ideas people have mentioned about raising revenue, we need help from the federal government.”

The recent $2 trillion federal aid package provided $150 billion for state aid, which was distributed based on population. This, many of the senators agreed, was the inherent issue with it.

“We got anywhere from $6-7 billion out of the $150 billion, and that’s the problem, we didn’t get treated fairly,” said Liu. “How do you allocate state aid based on population when at the time we had between one-third and one-half of the [coronavirus] cases. If we had gotten one-third of the $150 billion, we would have gotten $50 billion. And that right there would have solved many of our problems. Not only to provide enough aid to our state government and to localities, for schools, for firefighters, for teachers, for police officers, for ambulances. It also would have helped us in our programs to cancel rents, and with mortgage payments. That is the kind of assistance, real assistance, we need in a federal stimulus package. We are a very rich state, that’s for sure, but even the richest state can't get out of this humongous disaster by ourselves.”

Manhattan Senator Robert Jackson agreed, saying, “when you talk about fair share, you can talk about population, but when you talk about that, New York City and New York State as the epicenter of this pandemic, that’s where the resources should have come to.”

“We need assistance from Washington,” said Liu. “I don’t want to take away from that argument, I don’t want to be negotiating against ourselves. We absolutely need the aid from Washington in the form of unrestricted state aid. But we also need our own proposals, because [the federal government] might not give us enough to fill the $13 billion hole we’re in. Rather than suffer ridiculous cuts to schools and healthcare and other vital state services, we need to think of these proposals as quickly as possible and keep them on the front burner.”

The conversation then turned to ways in which the state could raise revenue to help plug its deficit and avoid making huge cuts to education, health care, and more. The most heavily discussed revenue raising policy was an ‘ultra-millionaire tax.’

“The wealthiest 1% pay a smaller percentage of their income in taxes than do the poorest 20% of New Yorkers,” said Deutsch. “How do we justify that in a state with so much wealth. Our tax system is completely upside-down and we need to reverse that. We are behind numerous other states when it comes to the progressivity of our income tax structure.”

Such an action would be far from unprecedented, it was noted. After September 11, 2001 the Republican leader of the Senate and the Democratic leader of the Assembly came together to propose higher taxes on the wealthy, overriding Governor George Pataki’s veto, according to Deutsch.

Similarly, after the financial collapse in 2008, the state was facing a huge budget gap. Governor David Paterson led the institution of higher taxes on millionaires, which became known as the first “millionaires tax” surcharge, which has been in place since, renewed several times despite the original notion that it would be temporary.

Ramos added that she introduced, and is working with partners on a soft rollout of, a worker bailout that would tax billionaires’ asset growth. “It could generate $5 billion for us every year,” Ramos said. “So this year we would want to use it to help those who don’t have any safety net,” and give $3,300 per month during the pandemic to those who aren’t eligible for or don’t qualify for a wage assistance program, she said. Liu called it a good proposal on top of the revenue raising proposals that have already been put forward.

He added that taxing millionaires more in New York is not out of the question, reiterating what Deutsch had said previously, that New Yorkers are not taxed as high as top earners in other states. In California for example, top earners are taxed 5% more than top earners here, he said.

Cuomo and the Senate Democratic conference have been against raising taxes on higher earners, and as the coronavirus recession set in just before the budget was negotiated, there appeared to be little discussion of it as a possibility.

Liu also emphasized what he sees as the importance of a pied-a-terre tax and that it should be “at the very top of the list,” imposing a tax on non-primary luxury homes, which Liu pointed out are owned by wealthy people and are often not lived in. He says it could raise many millions of dollars per year. Brooklyn Senator Julia Salazar and Bronx and Wechester Senator Alessandra Biaggi agreed with Liu.

Biaggi also made a push for two policies that would bring in state revenue and have been discussed in Albany for quite a while -- legalizing adult use of marajuana and legalizing mobile sports betting. She said both would be good opportunities to use well-considered legislation to raise revenue in a time when it is necessary.

Salazar said there are more than a dozen serious proposals to raise revenue and it’s a “shame that in the budget these revenue sources were not considered.” During this crisis, she said, the Legislature has an “ethical obligation” to help New Yorkers make ends meet.

Biaggi mentioned her push for a bill that is a constitutional amendment that would allow the Legislature more power to amend the budget before its adoption. New York’s budget law and process is notoriously governor-dominated, what Biaggi called “an inordinate amount of power over the budget.”

She said her bill seeks to equalize the power between the executive and legislative branches of government, and rebalance the power. Before it can be put into the constitution, the amendment needs to pass through two consecutive legislative sessions and go to a public vote.

Gounardes agreed with the importance of Biaggi’s bill and said that in the current system “we don’t have the ability to submit our own budget document” and it “ties our hands when it comes to the budget.” May added that “the other articles in the constitution say the Legislature shall provide for basic education or all our children, for roads and bridges, all kinds of things -- it’s our responsibility, but we don’t have the power to put together a budget that can allow us to carry out our responsibility.”

Jackson said he is putting forward a bill that would allow for tenants to use their security deposits to pay rent during the pandemic. “If your situation is such that you can’t afford to pay you rent, the first thing you should do is communicate with your owners,” said Jackson. “If the landlord says no, then it’s our job to pass the legislation.”

Salazar has also put forward a rent bill, the Emergency Coronavirus Affordable Housing Preservation Act, colloquially known as Relief for All.

“What this bill proposes is not only relief for residential tenants and also commercial tenants, making sure that for property owners whose tenants have been impacted they will also have relief,” she said during the digital forum. “Additionally, and this is to address the concerns of nonprofit affordable housing, we are also providing relief to them, looking out for them, because they are going to be experiencing long term effects from the economic crisis that we’re facing.”

Another senator, Queens’ Michael Gianaris, who the deputy majority leader and was not part of the event, has been leading a “cancel rent” push, with his own legislation to enact a rent moratorium for those significantly impacted financially by the coronavirus fallout, with the state stepping in to help make landlords whole. Gianaris has also said he wants to see the federal government step up so the state doesn’t have to shoulder the burden on top of its existing budget hole.

Brooklyn Senator Zellnor Myrie, who also participated in the forum, has put forward a bill, the Do No Harm Act, to “prevent disproportionately impacted populations from being further victimized in the wake of budget cuts resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to the bill text.

“This has not begun with COVID-19, this was a process decades in the making, particularly for black and brown communities where we refused to invest in preventative care, we refused to invest in affordable housing, education, nutrition,” Myrie said. “All of those comorbidities were brought into sharp relief at the advent of this crisis.”

His bill “requires that any budget cuts due to the COVID-19 pandemic that disproportionately affect certain populations identified by disparities in rates of infection and death due to race, age and zip code based on demographic data provided by state and local departments of health be accompanied by a remediation plan to offset the disproportionate impact of those cuts.”

Myrie also said he has a bill pending that would provide the New York Attorney General more investigatory power to look into nursing homes during this pandemic. Myrie explained that nursing homes “have been their own epicenter” and in need of more oversight.

Senators also mentioned a variety of worker protection bills. Jackson said he put forward in January an amendment to labor law, seeking to redefine employment. The bill seeks to “reclassify more workers as employees rather than independent contractors in order for them to receive benefits such as healthcare and retirement,” Jackson said, also connecting the definition to times of crisis with so many independent contractors also losing work but having a harder time with unemployment benefits.

Ramos mentioned her legislation to expand the whistleblower law. There have been cases in the news of healthcare workers saying they don’t have enough personal protective equipment (PPE) and getting fired. Ramos said she wants to ensure that these individuals don’t suffer consequences for speaking out.

“We have not been physically in Albany, but that does not mean we have not been at work,” Liu said. “Answering constituents’ requests everyday, talking amongst ourselves about the legislation that has been proposed.” Either virtually or physically in Albany, he said, “Either way we are going to get work done and pass bills that are needed.”

by Katie Kirker, Gotham Gazette

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Democratic State Senators Call for Raising Taxes on Wealthy, Passing Coronavirus Relief Measures Fri, 01 May 2020 04:00:00 +0000
'Urgent' Bill to Enhance Census Language Translation Services Approved by Senate, Awaits Assembly Counterpart salazar census rally

State Senator Julia Salazar at a Census rally

The U.S. Census Bureau will soon kick off the 2020 Census count by sending mail to households to inform them about filling out a questionnaire that lists their names, where they live and how many people live with them, their race and ethnicity, and other information. Self-response to the Census yields the most accurate information about households and given that New Yorkers speak more than 200 languages, Brooklyn State Senator Julia Salazar wants to take steps to ensure that as many people are guided toward participation in the most effective way possible.

The Senate recently passed a bill sponsored by Salazar, a Democrat, that would direct the New York Department of State to expand access to translation services to state agencies and institutions that interact with the public.

This year, the Census will largely be carried out through digital methodology, with the Census Bureau encouraging people to fill out the questionnaire online. That is expected to pose a particular challenge in communities that lack access to high-speed internet and among those with a limited ability to navigate an online form. The Census Bureau will provide translation through print and video guides for 59 non-English languages, which fails to capture the linguistic diversity of New York’s population, home to many hard-to-count communities of immigrants and people who either cannot speak English or have limited English proficiency, among others where response rates are often especially low.

Salazar’s bill would extend the state resources to localities, mandating that the Department of State identify translation services and make them available to state agencies and municipalities. The department would have to make best efforts to publicize the services, through online notices and in collaboration with organizations that work with limited or non-proficient English speakers, and it would also have to submit a report on its efforts next year.

Separate from state government, New York City officials have taken steps to ensure their own outreach effort is robust, providing $19 million in grants to community-based organizations, many of which work with immigrants on the ground on a day-to-day basis. It’s an effort to ensure that the city surpasses it’s self-response rate of 62% in the last Census (which was 14 percentage points below the national average at the time). Another $3 million in city funds is going to advertising in community and ethnic media to reach the widest possible audience in the city.

The state’s efforts, on the other hand, have been fairly lethargic. Governor Andrew Cuomo has pledged a roughly $70-million effort, of which about $20 million is for direct grants to organizations viewed as “trusted voices” that can conduct outreach in hard-to-count communities with a low-self response rate. The grants have yet to be awarded, and the rest of the funding is chalked up to the value of yet-to-be-seen operational plans for state agencies to contribute to ensuring a complete count. It’s unclear what, if any, of the funding is earmarked for a multilingual media campaign.

Salazar’s bill would fill in some of the apparent gaps, though it does not seem to have a companion bill in the Assembly and time is of the essence given the count officially begins April 1. Salazar seems hopeful, however, that the issue will be taken up quickly in the other chamber, particularly since Cuomo backs it, she said. “The prospect is that Assembly will move it quickly since it’s urgent, non-controversial, and has the Governor’s support,” Salazar said, in a statement through a spokesperson.

In her remarks on the Senate floor when the bill was passed, Salazar spoke of the “urgency” of ensuring that the Census is accessible. “All of us should be concerned about potentially losing congressional seats in our state but especially those of us whose communities are already underrepresented,” she said. “The action we’re taking today is necessary, given that over 113,000 New Yorkers speak a language at home that the Census Bureau does not provide language support for. Today, we’re choosing to do everything we responsibly can to count those people and to count nearly a quarter of all New Yorkers who did not respond to the last census in 2010.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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'Urgent' Bill to Enhance Census Language Translation Services Approved by Senate, Awaits Assembly Counterpart Mon, 17 Feb 2020 05:00:00 +0000
As Cuomo Proposes Expansive Equal Rights Amendment Favored in Senate, Assembly Again Passes Narrow Version wash wom rights

Gov. Cuomo with Assemblymember Seawright, center, & others (photo: Governor's Office)

Governor Andrew Cuomo is promoting a more expansive version of a New York State equal rights amendment than he did last year, tipping the balance between the discrepant Assembly and Senate bills in the direction of inclusivity, favored by the Senate.

Despite Cuomo’s new support for a broader set of protections, the Assembly on Monday passed a narrower expansion for the second year in a row, renewing uncertainty about the amendment’s future.

In 1938, New York adopted language to prohibit discrimination based on race, color, creed, and religion, a measure the governor now says “reflects an outdated conception of equality” and is in need of updating. In his State of the State policy book outlining his agenda for the 2020 legislative session, Cuomo calls for amending New York’s constitution to include civil rights protections against not only sex-based discrimination, as some other states have done, but discrimination on the basis of a host of other categories from gender identity to national origin.

"In New York, we believe in full equality for every person—period," Cuomo said in a statement announcing the proposal. "But our federal and state constitutions don't protect against discrimination on the basis of sex, ethnicity, gender identity and other characteristics that make us so unique and our diversity so great. That ends this year.”

Under the governor’s proposal, the state’s bill of rights would be amended to add to the list of protected categories sex, ethnicity, national origin, age, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity. While state law in many areas addresses some of these forms of discrimination, supporters of the ERA say statutes are often context-specific and tend not to be as broadly applicable as a constitutionally protected right.

“Having a constitutional amendment will cover all of those groups, all of these protected categories, and you don’t have to pass and change every law. It will apply to all the laws of the state,” said Beverly Cooper Neufeld, president of the advocacy organization PowHer NY and a member of the city’s Commission on Gender Equality.

This is not the first time Cuomo has proposed an ERA, and the governor is not the only lawmaker in Albany pushing for its adoption. Last year, Cuomo supported a narrower proposal that would have added sex as the only new protected category. That was the form that passed the Assembly in February 2019 and again Monday, but which was put aside in the Senate for a broader set of protections.

Cuomo’s renewed proposal now more closely aligns with the equal rights amendment that passed the State Senate last June, which Neufeld says reflects a changing wind in Albany’s progressive corridors. It is unclear why the Assembly did not pass an expanded version when it became evident that was the direction the Senate was moving in, or why it passed the narrower version again at the start of the 2020 legislative session.

“We’ve been taking a piecemeal approach to addressing equality, and even our concept of equality has changed and our concept of fairness and who should be covered,” Neufeld said. Much of the changing attitudes towards civil rights protections has been reflected in statute like the New York State Human Rights Law, which she said “has step-by-step created stronger protections and looks and adds new categories.”

“But really you can’t go statute by statute. That process will take hundreds of years,” she added.

Adopting an ERA will not be an overnight process either. Because it requires amending the state’s constitution, it will need to be passed by two consecutive legislatures and then must to be approved by voters. The current session ends this year, meaning the earliest an ERA can be adopted is in late 2021. That timeline assumes the amendment passes both houses of the legislature this year and again next year, and then is ratified in a November 2021 statewide referendum.

But with multiple versions of the bill -- the narrow and the expansive -- floating in the legislature, and the recent history of dissonance between the legislative chambers, it is unclear what form conversations around the measure will take.

“It’s not too soon to be talking about this. It’s going to be at least a three-year campaign I would say, if not longer,” Neufeld said.

Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright, a Manhattan Democrat, sponsors both versions of the ERA in her chamber. "I’m committed to an Equal Rights Amendment with language that is more inclusive. I will continue to work diligently with my colleagues in the Assembly and the Senate to pass ERA  legislation in 2020,” she wrote in an email this past Thursday.

Following the passage of the narrow ERA Monday, a spokesperson for Seawright told Gotham Gazette by email, "Assembly Member Seawright is committed to an Equal Rights Amendment that provides for the widest inclusion possible. Today's passage helps to build momentum as we continue to listen and work toward a successful outcome." The narrow amendment’s sponsor in the Senate is Julia Salazar, a Brooklyn Democrat who often stakes out more progressive territory than other legislators.

A legislative staffer with knowledge of the bills and the legislative process told Gotham Gazette last week that it was too soon in the session to know which way the Assembly Democratic conference was leaning. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Likewise, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins’ office did not respond to requests for comment on the ERA.

“Governor Cuomo is committed to having the most inclusive ERA in the nation and we are working closely with the legislature and coalition stakeholders to get it passed this year,” said Caitlin Girouard, a spokesperson for the governor.

Both versions of the amendment are a step ahead of federal constitutional protections. Congress in 1972 passed a federal equal rights amendment that would have extended protections to women, but it was never ratified by the states. Eleven states have passed state-level ERAs that bar discrimination based on sex, but none go further in protecting LGBTQ rights or the rights of people with disabilities, according to Senator Liz Krueger, who sponsors the Senate’s expansive ERA bill.

“Many New Yorkers are surprised when they discover that women or LGBTQ people, for example, are not protected by the equal rights language in our state constitution,” Krueger, also a Manhattan Democrat, wrote in an email to Gotham Gazette.

While, in the final days of session last year, Cuomo urged the Senate to pass the narrower version of the bill rather than leaving Albany with no amendment at all, the governor is now resetting this year with the more aspirational call. Part of that thrust is in the face of the more limited progress nationwide. “We will pass an expanded, nation-leading Equal Rights Amendment so that no matter what happens at the federal level, all New Yorkers will be afforded the complete and unequivocal protections they deserve," Cuomo said in the statement.

“Last year we passed a real, inclusive ERA in the Senate. This year, with the Governor as a partner in the fight, there is no reason we can’t have first passage of a fully inclusive ERA in both houses of the Legislature, and take our state one step closer to having a constitution that reflects and protects all New Yorkers," Krueger wrote.

“It will be meaningful to individuals but I think it will be meaningful in the statement that it makes. The governor bringing it up at this moment in time is very important,” said Neufeld.

by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: This article has been updated with comment from a spokesperson for Assembly Member Seawright following the passage of an ERA bill in the Assembly Monday.

As Cuomo Proposes Expansive Equal Rights Amendment Favored in Senate, Assembly Again Passes Narrow Version Mon, 13 Jan 2020 05:00:00 +0000
State Lawmakers Criticize Campaign Finance Commission Results While Legislative Leaders Stay Mum state legislators hearing

(photo: @FairElectionsNY)

A state commission charged with creating a system of public financing for state elections has prompted harsh rebukes from several state legislators for proposing what they say is watered down campaign finance reform and for ostensibly advancing a political agenda that targets longtime critics of Governor Andrew Cuomo.

The New York State Public Campaign Financing Commission was appointed by Cuomo and state legislative leaders after a failure of consensus on overhauling the state’s campaign finance system. It was tasked in state law to create a public campaign finance system and, per Cuomo’s goals, to examine political party qualifications.

Advocates have long called for a setup at the state level modelled on New York City’s successful public matching funds system, which incentivizes candidates to seek small dollar donations rather than relying on wealthy contributors, includes low maximum individual contributions, requires a great deal of transparency, and comes with robust oversight.

But the system proposed by the commission, in its final vote on Monday, fell short of the expectations of advocates and reform-minded legislators. Though it voted to reduce contribution limits across the board for statewide and legislative seats, candidates will still be able to raise vast amounts of private money for elections. For instance, the limits for statewide candidates were reduced from about $70,000 to $18,000 for a full election cycle. But that is more than three times higher than the $5,400 that a candidate for president can raise in a cycle.

Unless the state Legislature returns to amend the commission’s recommendations within three weeks, the system will be adopted. The Legislature could, however, choose to pass new campaign finance laws and tweak the program in the next legislative session, which begins in January.

The commission also approved a higher threshold for parties to obtain a ballot line, increasing it from 50,000 votes in a gubernatorial election to 130,000 votes every two years, and increased the ballot petition signature requirement for statewide candidates from 15,000 to 45,000. To observers, the ballot threshold change in particular seemed intended to kneecap third parties like the Working Families, Conservative, and Green Parties and appeared to be carried out at the behest of Cuomo, who has feuded with the WFP for years. But that controversial mission was also carried out with at least the acquiescence, if not full support, of Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, both Democrats, as is Cuomo.

Yet several Democratic Assembly members and Senators from New York City were displeased by the recommendations the commission made and the process through which its work was carried out over the last several months and quickly made their concerns known.

Queens Senator Jessica Ramos, a progressive elected last year with support from the WFP, took to Twitter to air her criticism of the commission’s proposals, as did other legislators. “We worked HARD last session to fix NY’s broken electoral system. We made it easier to vote & got closer to a people-powered government. The Public Finance Commission's vote is a disservice to our democracy & will eliminate @NYWFP. We need to engage more voters, not limit them!,” she tweeted.

Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou of Manhattan agreed with Ramos, simply tweeting “Yup” in response.

Senator Julia Salazar of Brooklyn tweeted, “This is shamefully undemocratic. We need to act swiftly in the legislature to reject it.”

Brooklyn Assemblymember Walter Mosley tweeted that the party qualification issue should never have been on the commission’s agenda. “Third parties are an essential part of the electoral system in New York, shining light on important issues that otherwise may not get the attention they deserve,” he wrote, calling the proposals “unacceptable” and promising to oppose an increase in the threshold for ballot access. “We should be making it easier for third parties to make it on the ballot, not harder,” he wrote.

In a series of tweets, Assemblymember Bobby Carroll of Brooklyn cited his “no” vote on this year’s state budget deal because of the inclusion of the “poison pill” provision on the state campaign financing commission. “I have said it from the beginning that this commission was rotten! Now we just know how rotten,” he tweeted. “This isn’t a public matching program this is a farce. The legislture (sic) needs to take back control.”

Manhattan Assemblymember Harvey Epstein tweeted, “Deeply concerned w Public Campaign Financing Commission’s vote to recommend legislation riddled w inadequacies, including overly high contrib caps at every level & a measure to kill minor parties."

In response, Manhattan Assemblymember Richard Gottfried wrote, "Protect voters & 3rd parties. The Legislature must reject the commission scheme!"

Brooklyn Assemblymember Jo Ann Simon tweeted, "I’m disappointed w/the Public Campaign Financing Commission’s vote to make it more difficult for minor parties to access a ballot line. We need a special session to address this, the still-too-high contribution limits, & limiting matching donations to a candidate’s district only."

Bronx State Senator Alessandra Biaggi has repeatedly let her disappointment be known. She credited the commissioners for their service but said she does not like the product, writing in part, "The Commission was created to put forth a plan that empowers everyday NYers & reduces the influence of money in our politics – the existing proposal only scratches the surface in achieving that aim, failing to significantly lower contribution limits." Biaggi also cited a "political agenda" at play in the attempt to "increase barriers for third parties."

"This proposal is half-baked & does not reflect the vision of the NYer who testified at the Commission’s hearings, & who raised their voices throughout this entire process," Biaggi continued. "The Legislature now has the responsibility to fulfill our promise to the people and get the job done."

In a phone interview, Bronx Senator Gustavo Rivera reiterated his call for the Legislature to vote on a “clean bill” on campaign finance reform. “I'm terribly disappointed, but I'm certainly not shocked,” he said of the commission’s recommendations.

Rivera blamed the governor’s machinations for derailing the process. “The governor, sadly, does not really care about establishing a campaign finance system. All he cares about is getting even with the folks who are his political rivals. That is his M.O.,” he said.

The “pièce de résistance” he said, was the ballot access threshold requirement, “which is ultimately, with a wink and a nod, trying to get rid of the WFP, which is really what this was about from the beginning.”

“The overwhelming majority of people made it very clear that they should create a campaign finance system that actually tries to at least minimize the impact of big money but that they should steer away from third parties, from fusion voting altogether. All those folks were ignored,” he said.

It’s unclear whether legislative leaders have any intention to support the idea of modifying the binding proposals. Assembly Speaker Heastie’s appointees on the commission generally went along with Cuomo’s appointees, while those commissioners appointed by Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins tended to break from the pack.

Heastie’s office did not return a request for comment about the commission’s plan. Carolina Rodriguez, a spokesperson for Stewart-Cousins, referred Gotham Gazette to comments the senator made in a November 22 interview with WXXI News’ Karen DeWitt. “I’m not trying to destroy parties or make it impossible,” Stewart-Cousins said. “I definitely know, however, that we must reform our campaign finance (system).” She said she would prefer the party conversation to be separate from the campaign finance one, but also seemed open to legislative tweaks come January.

A spokesperson for Senator Mike Gianaris, the deputy majority leader, acknowledged a request for comment but did not provide one by publishing time. Senator Liz Krueger’s office did not respond to a request for comment. Jonathan Timm, a spokesperson for Senator Zellnor Myrie, declined additional comment until the commission’s recommendations are formally released. “Senator Myrie has made clear his support for public financing of campaigns, lowering contribution limits, and keeping the commission's hands out of fusion voting (which he stated explicitly in his testimony to the commission),” Timm wrote in an email. 

The WFP itself appeared to threaten primary challenges against legislators who fall in line behind the governor’s “power grab.” “Instead of designing a strong system of public financing of elections, this commission has designed a weak one, as a cover for a politically motivated attack on the Working Families Party,” Bill Lipton, WFP director, said in a Monday statement. 

He added, “Our opponents believe they can kill us. They are wrong. We will bring the full power of the WFP and our allies to bear in 2020 challenging those who block progressive change and electing the next generation of progressive leaders. We will build the biggest WFP GOTV operation yet to meet these new thresholds. And we will win.”

“If New York Assemblymembers don't speak up about and act to stop this public financing commission, they will be primaried with some amazing, energetic, democratic candidates. We are ready to go,” tweeted Fordham Law professor Zephyr Teachout, who ran against Cuomo in the Democratic primary in 2014, last year sought the Democratic primary nomination for attorney general, and is something of an inspirational leader for the New York left.

At a media gaggle on Tuesday, Cuomo downplayed the changes made to ballot thresholds while praising the commission. “I think the commission was charged with a very difficult task, which was to reform the campaign finance system,” he said. “I have to read the full report, I haven’t done it yet, but they made a number of inarguably great and dramatic reforms.”

He said the state shouldn’t be doling out public funds to political parties “without accountability and responsibility.”

“They’ve set a threshold by percentage and number, which they believe is a threshold that a credible party should reach,” he said. “If it’s not a credible party, then it shouldn’t be getting public tax dollars in primary races, et cetera. The Working Families Party, I think, would meet that threshold. You have to work to meet the threshold, but if you’re not working to meet a threshold, then you shouldn’t be qualifying for public money anyway.”

[Read: State Commission Approves New Campaign Finance System, Raises Bar for Political Party Ballot Access]

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

This article has been updated with additional comments from legislators.

State Lawmakers Criticize Campaign Finance Commission Results While Legislative Leaders Stay Mum Tue, 26 Nov 2019 05:00:00 +0000
WATCH: A Veteran & A Rookie Discuss 2019 Plans for New State Senate Majority nys senator elect state senate majority deputy leader mnn

(photo: @MNN59)

This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
Find the rest of the series here

mnn js mg

Democrats won control of the State Senate in November and are set to take the majority in January, giving the party full control of state government. Senator Michael Gianaris, soon-to-be deputy leader of the conference, and newly-elected Julia Salazar, who will be the senator representing parts of northern Brooklyn, joined hosts Ben Max and Jarrett Murphy to discuss the year ahead, their individual priorities and where the Democratic majority plans to take the state.

 Gotham Gazette:

This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
Find the rest of the series here

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

WATCH: A Veteran & A Rookie Discuss 2019 Plans for New State Senate Majority Thu, 20 Dec 2018 05:00:00 +0000