Gotham Gazette Sat, 19 Oct 2019 15:02:04 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Tax Issues at Center of State Elections, Albany Year to Come Cuomo taxes

Gov. Cuomo (photo: Don Pollard/Governor's Office)

When the dust settles on the 2018 elections, whoever is governing the state will be faced with problems like what to do about NYCHA and the MTA, and how New York should respond to climate change, among many others. Another pressing issue that has been an area of focus in many campaigns around the state, from the governor’s race through those for the state Senate, is taxes, and what the next governor and Legislature will or won’t do about them in a number of ways, including the ongoing question of how New York must adjust to the new federal tax code.

Though proposals and arguments have often been hazy, the issue of taxes has been among the most discussed this election season and will be a topic of significant debate when the new state government starts doing business in January. The contours of those discussions and the actual proposals put forward will vary greatly depending on the outcomes of the governor’s race and which party controls the state Senate (the Assembly is home to an overwhelming Democratic majority).

Marc Molinaro, the Republican nominee for governor, has pitched his candidacy largely based on a plan that he says will lead to a 30 percent reduction in property taxes for New Yorkers over five years, but the party’s state Senate conference, hoping to cling to a one-seat majority during a promising year for the opposition, has mostly stuck to arguing that Democrats will increase taxes to previously unseen levels if given full control of state government.

For their part, Democrats have been quieter on taxes, with Governor Andrew Cuomo promising to extend the state’s property tax cap and keep state spending to two percent annual increases, even as some members of his party’s Senate slate push for things like state-run single-payer healthcare and a polluter’s tax -- neither of which Cuomo supports. Running for a third term, Cuomo has said little else about taxes, despite the fact that his attempts to thwart the impact of the federal tax reform have thus far not panned out, the state’s current millionaires tax is set to expire next year, the state is facing upcoming budget gaps, and the state-run MTA is in need of tens of billions of dollars to get the New York City subway system functioning properly.

Molinaro has made broad tax reform one of the centerpieces of his campaign, along with restoring trust in government and generally being a governor who isn’t followed by corruption investigations. His tax plan proposes reductions across the board, from the end of the millionaires tax to an expansion of the earned income tax credit to childless workers and noncustodial parents and the indexing the state’s income tax brackets, standard deduction and dependent exemptions to inflation (a move that Molinaro says prevents a filer’s tax bracket increasing due to inflation without any real change in their earning power).

Molinaro wants to limit annual state spending increases to three percent, but wants that cap codified into state law, unlike Cuomo’s two percent cap, which is self-imposed and the governor, despite his claims to the contrary, has not completely kept to.

The Dutchess county executive’s plan has “a lot of good elements in it and establishes some very worthy and desirable goals,” according to E.J. McMahon, the founder and research director of the conservative Empire Center of New York, although McMahon said he didn’t think the math behind the plan added up to the promised 30 percent reduction in property taxes. Asked repeatedly throughout the campaign, Molinaro has not laid out exactly how he would get there, only promising in broad terms to modernize state government, find efficiencies, and more effectively deliver services.

On the Democratic side, clarity also doesn’t come easy. Cuomo’s priorities on socially liberal but fiscally moderate governance can be seen most clearly in something like his Long Island Senate Democratic Agenda, but even that plan lacks specifics and has seemingly competing priorities. On the one hand, the agenda lays out a promise to keep the two percent property tax cap and the two percent spending cap going, while also promising “historic tax cuts.” On the other hand, there are promises to include Long Island in increased infrastructure, education, and economic development funding.

Cuomo has resisted calls for a New York City-based addition to the millionaires tax, recently pitting his philosophy against Mayor Bill de Blasio in sarcastic terms, saying, “'[W]ell, ideally we would like to have a millionaires tax.' Yes, I wish I could be an elected official who lived in the ideal,” at a gathering of the Association for A Better New York, a business group. He also explicitly cast himself as a different kind of politician than legislators and local politicians “who like to spend” at a speech in front of the Business Council of New York, boasting that he has overseen lower year-over-year state spending increases than previous governors including Republicans and his father.

Part of the lack of clarity on the Democratic side has to do with the uncertainty of where the party will be after the general election. A newly won Senate majority may rely on seats outside New York City, which would require a collaboration of city, suburban, and upstate interests that don’t always align perfectly. And even as Democrats in swing districts run on platforms that include single-payer healthcare in New York, they are pledging not to increase the taxes that would fund it, and many are seeking to represent high-tax Long Island and north-of-the-city areas very sensitive to any additional tax increases and another election right around the corner in 2020, when all the seats in the Legislature will again be on the ballot.

“I think out of the gate you're gonna see a Senate Democratic Conference that's gonna correct some of the wrongs, the missed opportunities by the Senate Republicans like voting reform and gun control, women's health,” Democratic state Senate spokesperson Mike Murphy told Gotham Gazette, suggesting the party would focus on progressive social issues at the beginning of the 2019 session if in the majority. And even as the New York Health Act that would establish state single-payer health care emerged as a hot issue for New York City progressives, among other Democrats, they will have the state’s expiring laws around rent control to deal with next year, and candidates outside of the city, like the Hudson Valley’s Pete Harckham, want much of a full two-year term to work out how a single-payer program would look, or to craft a universal health insurance program compromise with Cuomo.

On the issues of the new federal limitations on state and local tax (SALT) deductions, which dramatically affects high-tax states like New York, the state has joined with other Democratic states to sue the federal government over the $10,000 cap that was included in federal tax reform efforts, in part on the grounds that they were targeted after not voting for Donald Trump for president. At the same time, the IRS has blocked efforts by New York and other states to get around the deduction cap by limiting the federal tax credit taxpayers would get by “donating” their property tax payments to charitable organizations designed to accept the taxes.

Cuomo has been otherwise quiet about how he would solve the issue of the SALT deduction problem, which is likely to most acutely hurt high earners as well as suburban middle and upper middle class property owners, though he has said one goal is for Democrats to recapture control of the federal government and repeal the deduction cap.

The governor has been silent on the question of whether the millionaires tax will be allowed to sunset next year as it's currently designed to -- it has been extended multiple times under Cuomo, in partnership with a split Legislature, and there is a significant question around how the state would make up for the revenue if it is not extended. On the other hand, it affects many individuals and families that will be paying higher taxes given the new SALT cap, and Cuomo and others have expressed concern about high-income individuals leaving the state. Cuomo’s campaign did not provide an answer to multiple Gotham Gazette inquiries about the governor’s stance on the millionaires tax.

Molinaro has said he would let the millionaires tax expire.

His plan on the SALT deduction cap is to get rid of New York’s “tax benefit recapture” policy, a practice that charges the highest marginal tax rate for taxpayers above a certain income band, for New Yorkers making between $107,650 and $323,200, thus addressing some of the lost deductions for those earners.

Tax shifts rather than cuts or increases are the most common kinds of plans on the table from both parties. On the Democratic side, Long Island’s John Brooks, running for reelection in a swing district, has offered up a plan that he says would allow areas like Long Island to get out from under high property tax bills related to education spending by capping the amount of school funding coming from property taxes at 50 percent, with any budget needs above 50 percent picked up by the state.

“What Brooks is saying is we need to lower your taxes by finding someone else to pay them. But if you're in Long Island, there is no ‘someone else,’ it's you, you have the higher average incomes,” McMahon said in reaction to the proposal.

For Republicans, requiring the state government to pick up Medicaid costs from local governments is something that Molinaro and state Senate Republicans are running on (to the delight of local editorial boards). It would cost $7 to $8 billion, and require either new or higher taxes or a reduction in the actual delivered services according to a Citizens Budget Commission study on the shift (Cuomo has mocked it as an unserious proposal). But the state Senate conference has also endorsed the idea of exempting seniors from paying property taxes, arguing that since they don’t make use of the schools, they shouldn’t pay to keep them running. It’s a proposition McMahon has panned before and he compared it unfavorably to Brooks’ plan as irresponsible and unfeasible. “How is that fair to a working couple with three or four kids living paycheck to paycheck, and the retired couple next door get to pay no property tax? Are you kidding?”

by Dave Colon, Gotham Gazette

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Tax Issues at Center of State Elections, Albany Year to Come Sun, 04 Nov 2018 04:00:00 +0000
10 Things to Watch on Election Day in New York Cuomo voting New York

(photo: The Governor's Office)

New Yorkers will head to the polls on Tuesday, November 6, to vote for federal and state candidates in an election that could radically alter the direction of the state and the entire nation. Every seat in the state Legislature is on the ballot, as are the joint ticket of governor-lieutenant governor, the positions of state comptroller and attorney general, New York’s 27 seats in the House of Representatives, and one U.S. Senate position.

Democrats, hoping to ride a surge of engagement in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election, plan to keep all the statewide seats and control of the state Assembly, while flipping the state Senate and enough U.S. House seats to contribute to a national swing of control. Republicans, meanwhile, are trying to hold onto the limited power they have in New York, a blue state that has become significantly more blue over the last several months, according to new data from the state Board of Elections.

Ten things to watch on Election Day in New York:

1. Will turnout surge?
New York has in past years seen anaemic voter turnout, particularly in the 2016 presidential election when the state ranked 46 out of 50. But if the results of the September primary are any indicator, turnout is expected to surge on November 6.

Nearly three times more Democrats voted in the September 13 primary this year than in the 2014 primary. Cynthia Nixon, the actor and activist who challenged Governor Andrew Cuomo, the two-term incumbent, received 512,585 votes to Cuomo’s 978,138. In 2014, Cuomo won the primary after receiving only 361,380 votes, though his margin of victory was nearly identical.

Democrats are also making a concerted attempt to flip the state Senate from Republican control and capture more seats in the House of Representatives, amid what they hope is a “blue wave” pushing back against President Trump and the Republican-led Congress. By most accounts, the general election in New York is looking good for Democrats; the state is home to 6.2 million registered Democrats compared to 2.8 million registered Republicans, and about 2.6 million party-unaffiliated registered voters.

2. Can any Republican win statewide?
A Republican has not won a statewide election in New York since 2002, when Governor George Pataki was reelected to a third term. Since then, Democrats have managed to dominate the offices of governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and comptroller.

Cuomo is running on a joint ticket with Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, a first-term incumbent, and is heavily favored to be reelected. In a mid-October Quinnipiac University poll, Cuomo led his Republican rival, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, 58-35 percent among likely voters, but a Siena College poll released Sunday showed a more narrow gap, with Cuomo leading 49-36, with other voters split among the three 'minor party' candidates on the ballot. Molinaro’s running mate is Julie Killian, a former Rye City Council member who unsuccessfully ran for state Senate earlier this year. The other three gubernatorial candidates are Howie Hawkins of the Green Party, Larry Sharpe of the Libertarian Party, and Stephanie Miner, the former Democratic Syracuse mayor running with the Serve America Movement.

Other than Molinaro, Republicans are running statewide candidates without experience in elected office and with virtually no name recognition across the state coming into the election, especially daunting when trying to unseat an incumbent in a state with such a Democratic registration advantage.

In the race for comptroller, in the same poll, incumbent Democrat Tom DiNapoli held a 32-point lead over Jonathan Trichter, the Republican nominee. The Sunday Siena poll had DiNpoli up 62-25 percent. [Watch: State Comptroller Candidates Debate]

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, also a Democrat seeking reelection, led her Republican challenger Chele Farley by 32 points in that poll. But in Quinnipiac’s polling weeks later, her lead had fallen to 25 points. The Sunday Siena poll showed Gillibrand up 58-35 percent.

The open race for attorney general, the lone statewide race without an incumbent, appears closest. New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, the Democratic nominee, had a 14-point lead in an early October Siena College poll over Republican nominee Keith Wofford, a white-collar attorney running for elected office for the first time, but able to raise enough money to air television ads. The Sunday Siena poll had James up 49-37 percent. Either James or Wofford would become the first African-American person to become New York Attorney General; if elected, James would be the first woman of color elected statewide in New York. (There are also ‘minor party’ candidates for comptroller and attorney general.)

3. Margins
Though Democrats are expected to sweep statewide races, their margins of victory will ultimately show the level of support they have among New Yorkers. Though those margins won’t necessarily mean much once the new government year begins in January, they can influence how elected officials are treated and how they behave.

Cuomo is seeking a third term and is likely to face some voter fatigue, though he may be getting a significant boost from Democrats upset by Trump, whom the governor has made a major focus of his campaign. Cuomo’s opponents have sought to highlight the several corruption scandals that have marred state government in the last eight years -- two of the governor’s close allies and several other associates and donors were convicted on federal corruption charges this year -- as well as the governor’s handling of the MTA as New York City’s subways have slid into crisis.

Though Cuomo won the primary with 65 percent of the vote to Nixon’s 35 percent, he will likely not fare as well in the general where millions of unaffiliated voters can also cast a ballot. In 2014, Cuomo received 53 percent in the general while Republican Rob Astorino got 39 percent; the Green Party’s Hawkins pulled about 5 percent that year. Molinaro is, of course, talking about pulling off the type of upset that would shock the state and the country, though even he admits he is a significant underdog.

DiNapoli got about 164,000 more votes than Cuomo did in 2014, receiving about 57 percent of the vote over his Republican rival Robert Antonacci, who got 35 percent. It’s unclear how much of a dent Trichter can make this year given his limited fundraising and name recognition.

In the attorney general race, Wofford has faced significant hurdles, but the recent Siena poll that showed him down 14 points to James also showed independents were split 40-38 in James’ favor, meaning that the race could potentially tighten.

4. Will minor parties keep/claim ballot lines?
New York’s fusion voting system allows candidates to run on multiple ballot lines from several parties, giving minor parties somewhat outsize influence in elections. But, for a party to automatically receive an automatic ballot line in elections around the state, they must receive at least 50,000 votes for their chosen gubernatorial candidate in the previous election. Besides the big two, the other parties on the ballot include the Working Families Party, the Conservative Party, the Independence Party, the Green Party, and the Women’s Equality Party. The Stop Common Core Party, created by Astorino in 2014 when he challenged Cuomo, received just over 50,000 votes and has since been rebranded as the Reform Party, though it has no affiliation with the Reform Party at the national level.

Cuomo is running on the Democrat, WFP, Independence, and WEP ballot lines. Molinaro has the Republican, Conservative, and Reform Party lines. Hawkins is the Green Party nominee.

Of the various parties, the Reform Party and WEP seem to be at most risk of losing their place on the ballot. Both parties were strategically created in 2014 -- the first by Astorino to create a platform to oppose Common Core education standards, and the second by Cuomo to bolster his standing with women and apparently to diminish the WFP. The WEP has been barely active and lacks the resources for a strong electoral presence. The Reform Party has played a role in electing candidates to local offices and is also involved in assisting at least two Democratic state Senate candidates this year. But neither of the parties has a strong base of registered voters across the state and would need to meet the 50,000 vote threshold for their endorsed gubernatorial candidates.

Between the Green Party and the WFP, it may come down to a matter of ballot placement, depending on which one fares better. The WFP has made a significant showing this year by backing several progressive upstarts in state Senate races and successfully deposing several incumbent Democrats, putting them squarely in the spotlight, while also initially backing Cynthia Nixon and Jumaane Williams for governor and lieutenant governor until they lost in the Democratic primaries. Hawkins has also shown a fare bit of success on the Green Party line, pulling in 184,419 votes in 2014 compared to 126,244 on the WFP line for Cuomo.

For the Libertarian Party and the Serve America Movement, Sharpe and Miner’s performances will determine if they also claim a spot on the ballot moving forward. The closest that Libertarians have come to the threshold is when Warren Redlich got 48,359 votes on the line in 2010.

5. Will the State Senate flip to Democrats or stay Republican?
The State Senate is the only bastion of Republican power in New York state government, which they have held for all but two of the last 50 years. But Democrats need to flip only one seat in the State Senate to regain control -- both party conferences have 31 members but Republicans hold the majority with the help of Senator Simcha Felder, a conservative Democrat from Brooklyn.

The State Democratic Committee and Governor Cuomo are spending millions to take back the Senate and a network of progressive activists who helped trounce Democratic incumbents in the primary are also aiding those efforts. If the Democrats are successful, Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins would become the majority leader, the first African-American woman to occupy that position. It would also open the doors to a slew of progressive legislation -- reforms to voting, government ethics, campaign finance, criminal justice, and more -- which the Democratic base has long demanded.

Republicans and their supporters are doing everything they can to hold their majority, attempting to keep all of their conference’s seats, including where a handful of members are retiring, and even possibly flip one or two their way. Democrats see a path to not just a slim majority, but a wide one that would buffer the conference’s ability to move legislation that more moderate members may not be supportive of. There are roughly 10 seats in the 63-seat chamber that Democrats see as in play, with only one of their own they believe they need to defend.

Democratic wins could mean full party control of state government and the opportunity to dominate the agenda in 2019. All of the state Legislature will be back on the ballot in 2020, a presidential year.

6. Will New York help flip the House of Representatives?
New York’s 27 House of Representatives seats are all on the ballot and as Democrats hope to reclaim the chamber, there are several races where the party is fighting competitive battles and attempting to unseat Republican representatives. Democrats need to net 23 seats in total across the country to flip the House.

Democrats are hoping that Trump’s deep unpopularity in the state will drive voters to the polls even in historically safe Republican districts while winning out most swing seats. Democratic candidates have been outraising their opponents in several races but Republicans have been putting up a strong fight, and Trump has even stumped for a few candidates to bolster their chances.

Out of nine competitive races with Republican incumbents, according to the Cook Political Report, two are toss-ups, three ‘lean Republican’ and four are ‘likely Republican.’ The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is focused on seven of those races as part of its ‘Red to Blue’ effort -- including Districts 1, 11, 19, 21, 22, 24, 27. New York Democrats could also claim prominent leadership positions in the House if they obtain a majority.

7. Will Republicans lose some of their few seats in New York City?
There are only a few elected Republicans representing New York City at any level of government, and after November 6, there could be even fewer.

In South Brooklyn, State Senator Marty Golden, an eight-term incumbent Republican, has become one of the main targets of Democratic efforts to flip the Senate. Golden is a pro-Trump Republican with a controversial record who was reelected in 2016 with no opposition. This year, however, prominent Democratic elected officials and activists from across the city are dedicating time and resources to unseat him. His Democratic opponent, Andrew Gounardes, took Golden on in 2012, but the candidate and his party believe circumstances are different in 2018, and they have approached this race with far more intensity.

Meanwhile, Republican Congressional Rep. Dan Donovan is seeking reelection to Congress, where he represents Staten Island and a sliver of southern Brooklyn. He faces a spirited challenge from Democrat Max Rose, an Army veteran with a fairly moderate platform, reflective of the district he’s hoping to represent. Rose has raised a significant amount of campaign cash and has been pushing a message focused on borough-specific issues rather than following in the vein of his party at large. The DCCC has also invested in the race as part of the ‘Red to Blue’ effort. [Listen: Max & Murphy Podcast: Rep. Dan Donovan]

8. How will New York City’s ballot measures fare?
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s charter revision commission placed three yes/no questions on the ballot for New York City voters that would need a simple majority to be approved. The proposals would drastically reduce campaign contribution limits in city elections and expand the city’s campaign finance program; create a citywide civic engagement commission with the majority of members appointed by the mayor; and impose term limits on community boards -- among a variety of other aspects of each proposal.

In the last week, de Blasio has stumped for those proposals, urging a “yes” vote on each. Some community advocates and labor unions have also backed the proposals, but prominent elected officials have given mixed reviews, with many coming out against proposal three, especially. [Listen: Cesar Perales, chair of the mayor's charter revision commission, appears on the What's The [Data] Point? podcast]

9. Election administration and security
Following the broad influence effort carried out by Russians in the 2016 presidential election, states across the country have sought to beef up election and ballot security. The New York State Board of Elections has implemented a plan called “ARMOR” -- Assessing Risk, Remediation, Monitoring Operations and Response -- with $5 million in state funding and $19.5 in federal funds. The BOE created a Secure Elections Center to protect against potential cybersecurity threats and to ensure that elections run smoothly, and has been training local and county elections boards to respond to those incidents.

Observers will be watching for any attempts to break into election systems, as the Russians successfully did in seven states ahead of the 2016 election while targeting about 21 states (New York was not among those).

There are always questions in New York City around administration of elections by the city’s Board of Elections, including related to issues like whether proper notice has been given about changes in polling locations or whether voters have been improperly removed from the rolls. And, higher than usual voter turnout is expected on Tuesday, perhaps on par with a presidential election, putting boards of election all over the state to the test.

10. A vacancy to fill?
If Letitia James wins the attorney general’s race, she would take the oath of office on January 1, 2019, triggering a nonpartisan special election for the office of public advocate that would likely take place in late February. But the race will likely kick off in earnest almost immediately after Tuesday, if James wins, with dozens of potential candidates waiting in the wings to jump into the race and several having already announced their intentions, including City Council Member Jumaane Williams and Assembly Member Michael Blake.

The nature of the race -- a short timeline with no party affiliations and several candidates largely indistinguishable in their political ideologies -- could potentially help a Republican claim the seat. But the victor would have to run for reelection later in the year, in a “normal” election with primaries and a general, with regular party lines and Democrats a massive enrollment advantage.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Note - This article has been updated. 

10 Things to Watch on Election Day in New York Sun, 04 Nov 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Without Cuomo, Other Candidates for Governor Present Ideas in Tempered Debate Cuomo Molinaro Miner Hawkins Sharpe

Cuomo, Molinaro, Miner, Hawkins, Sharpe

New York’s gubernatorial candidates (minus Governor Andrew Cuomo, who declined the invitation) took the stage at Albany’s College of Saint Rose Thursday evening for the second debate of the general election, but, unlike the first, one that did not once summon the name “Trump” and focused more on the intricacies of running the government.

Whether it was because of the four-candidate field, the real target for each seeming to be the missing incumbent, or the pre-debate call for civility from College of Saint Rose President Carolyn Stefanco, over 90 minutes Republican Marc Molinaro, Green Party nominee Howie Hawkins, Serve America Movement’s Stephanie Miner, and Libertarian Larry Sharpe did less back-and-forth debating and more delivering pieces of their platforms and criticisms of Cuomo’s record.

Cuomo’s absence itself was little remarked upon, referred to early on by Laura Ladd Bierman, the lead moderator and executive director of the League of Women Voters of New York State, with a pointed “thank you to the four of you who agreed to participate,” and toward the end, as Hawkins said “Shame on Andrew Cuomo for not coming here” during his closing statement. But he was a convenient punching bag for all four of the candidates, who despite presenting very different governing philosophies were united in blasting the two-term governor’s economic development and gun control efforts, Excelsior Scholarship program, and ability to retain New York State’s population.

After sustained criticism that the gubernatorial debates this cycle didn’t focus on issues of particular concern in upstate New York, the very first question of the night from moderator Josefa Velasquez of Sludge involved how to encourage young people to move upstate.

Hawkins plugged his Green New Deal as antidote to the lack of jobs in the extensive region, after noting that “most of them [that do exist] are crap.” Sharpe called for a simpler tax code and the exemption of small business from “federal regulatory bodies” if they only sell their goods locally. Miner called for the end of Cuomo’s economic development schemes and more investment in local infrastructure. And Molinaro, who debated Cuomo one-on-one in New York City last week, called for respect from government and property tax relief through the State taking on local costs.

And so a template was set for the evening: Hawkins as the full-throated leftist, Sharpe as the bombastic and soundbite-friendly voice of libertarianism, Miner as the upstate-friendly moderate wonk, and Molinaro as an earnest, caring Republican out of step with the callous, hyper-partisan attitude the national party has turned to. But the candidates were also so focused on their agreement that the status quo in the state is so poor that they forgot to overtly point out disagreements with each other.

Along with Velasquez, questions were asked of the candidates by the Daily News’ Ken Lovett, WRVO’s Susan Arbetter and College of St. Rose junior Takora McIntyre. While the League of Women Voters sponsored the debate and Saint Rose hosted it, the League did not find a media partner, so the debate was not broadcast on television or radio; the League instead streamed it over multiple online channels.

The candidates, none of whom are well-known across New York, sought to establish their biographies and experiences with voters. Molinaro brought up his experience as Dutchess county executive when explaining why he knew how to lower property taxes or lead a statewide effort to find ways where counties could share public services, and pitched his life in government as one dedicated to improving the lives of everyday New Yorkers. Miner talked about her infrastructure modernization efforts as (Democratic) mayor of Syracuse and focused her closing statement on emphasising her eight years of experience running the city as a case study in “solving real problems” in a broken system.

Sharpe brought up his military service as a way for him to compare the GI Bill benefits he got to his proposed grants for students after the 10th grade, and pitched himself as a “business guy” trying to make “customers” (voters) happy. Hawkins reminded voters of his life of activism while encouraging political leaders to listen to young people and his time as a construction worker to pitch himself as a man who knew the struggles of a working person.

Every candidate said they had problems with the gun-control SAFE Act and the way it was passed, professed it is important for young people to vote, and argued the governor’s Regional Economic Development Councils should be scrapped and that the state should pay for mandates that fall on the shoulders of local governments.

On rare occasions, like Hawkins’ dismissal of charter schools as corporate profit-seeking in the guise of education or Miner’s measured support of the proposed ‘red flag’ gun control bill Cuomo is behind or Sharpe promoting his plan to end public education after 10th grade, one candidate disagreed with the general tenor of the other three. But whether it was the number of candidates, the insistence on civility, Cuomo’s absence, or a non-confrontational format, the proceedings largely entailed four candidates standing behind lecterns and reciting their platforms one at a time when prompted by a question.

Sharpe jumped out from the civility constrictions by casting the ideologies of both Democrats and Republicans as uncreative failures (and in one bizarre instance claiming Molinaro “stole” the term “Status Cuomo” from him), and managed to stand out if only because ideas like asking Pepsi to fix lead-lined pipes upstate in exchange for the good press and branding they would get out of it, is in fact something no traditional politician has ever brought up.

Though Sharpe (slash government) and Hawkins (socialism) have drastically different political philosophies and policy ideas, they never had, or took, the opportunity to poke holes in each other’s arguments. Likewise, Miner and Molinaro never went back-and-forth about the best ways to invest in infrastructure and where those investments are first needed. If the Cuomo-Molinaro debate was light on substance, the four-candidate conversation just a few days before Election Day lacked open disagreement.

by Dave Colon, Gotham Gazette

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Without Cuomo, Other Candidates for Governor Present Ideas in Tempered Debate Fri, 02 Nov 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Molinaro Pledges Education 'State of Emergency,' Council of Mayors marc molinaro on twitter

Marc Molinaro (photo: @marcmolinaro)

Republican gubernatorial nominee Marc Molinaro intends to declare a “state of emergency” for struggling school districts to address a plethora of issues and provide districts with more control over their destiny.

Speaking to Gotham Gazette after his Tuesday speech at the Association for a Better New York, Molinaro said that the dismal status of some school districts, especially in upstate cities, requires extraordinary action and significant facets of educational policy-making devolved to local districts.

“You have failing schools upstate that are generationally failing,” Molinaro said. “Rochester and Syracuse, just generationally failing, and the governor has done nothing to address this. I would declare a state of emergency.”

“I’m willing to declare a state of emergency, allow community school districts and the state to establish latitude within the bureaucratic system to get an education, a school functioning again, so we’re educating kids to compete,” he continued, going on to say he would form a “Council of Mayors” also open to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The statewide graduation rate for the class of 2017 was 80.2 percent, but the graduation rate in four of the five largest school districts is lower: Yonkers tops the statewide rate, but New York City, Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse all have graduation rates lower than the statewide average.

Of the “big five,” the crisis is most acute in Rochester, where the 2017 on-time graduation rate was just 51.9 percent, though this was a 4.2 percent increase over 2016. Rochester’s schools are highly segregated and nearly 40 percent of students are low-income. Syracuse’s graduation rate is slightly higher, at 60.5 percent, but was the only “big five” district to see graduation rates decline between 2016 and 2017. Buffalo’s 2017 rate was 62.7 percent, New York City’s was 71.1 percent, and Yonkers’ was 82.8 percent. Graduation rates tell only part of the story, of course, but often provide significant insight into broader, more complex dynamics.

Issues exist elsewhere outside of the “big five” districts. In Hempstead, where 97 percent of students are black or Hispanic, just 37 percent of students graduated on-time in 2017, one of the lowest figures in the state.

Molinaro did not go into explicit detail on what exactly a “state of emergency” would entail and what types of state regulations he would like to unshackle districts from. But he did say that he would establish a “Council of Mayors” that would meet to develop plans and targets, apparently organized and run by the executive chamber if he is governor.

“We will meet every single quarter to identify our work plan, benchmarks to address educational failure, generational failure, nutritional issues, safety,” Molinaro said. “And each quarter we will identify whether or not we’ve achieved that and use an actual, real time dashboard to evaluate success.” Molinaro said that de Blasio, a Democrat who famously does not get along with Governor Andrew Cuomo, would be welcome to join the council, but that its “focus” would be on upstate cities.

Education itself has largely been reduced to the sidelines in this election, with issues such as corruption, taxes, transit, and the Trump administration dominating. Nonetheless, Molinaro has outlined contours of an education agenda (though not a detailed plan) that in many ways departs from arguments traditionally brought forward by Republicans.

Molinaro has largely shied away from the perennial issues of charter schools and school choice, both of which he and Cuomo both support. Molinaro has said several times that he supports lifting the state’s charter school cap, though he joined fellow Republicans in voting against doing so in the Assembly in 2010. Nonetheless, he has not discussed the issue much during the campaign -- wealthy charter school backers continue to support Cuomo with campaign donations.

Molinaro criticized the governor and distanced himself from Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan for calling teachers and the teachers union “enemies” or “forces of evil,” respectively. “Neither is acceptable,” he told Gotham Gazette on Tuesday, pledging to work with and re-empower teachers.

The GOP nominee faces long odds taking on Cuomo and will be joined on the ballot by three other challengers, including Green Party nominee Howie Hawkins, independent Stephanie Miner, the former mayor of Syracuse, and Libertarian Party nominee Larry Sharpe, who has outlined his own, somewhat revolutionary education plan.

While he has put forth detailed plans on taking over the MTA, government reform, tax policy, veterans services, economic opportunity, and services for people with disabilities, Molinaro has not published an education plan, though he said elements of his others include education-focused elements.

The crux of Molinaro’s approach to education is to devolve significant amounts of authority over all sorts of matters from state to local control, including decoupling from education policy like the Common Core learning standards and elements of standardized testing, and providing teachers and administrators wider “latitude” over decisions at hyperlocal levels. This includes more local control of teacher evaluations, he said, though he acknowledged the need for some statewide framework that localities would then work within to pursue their own system for teacher evaluation, a hot-button issue that formed a central part of Cuomo’s education agenda until he retreated from it in the face of opposition from the teachers unions and their legislative allies.

“What you need to reestablish is really a partnership between family, community, and school,” Molinaro said. “And the way you do that is by empowering local districts to start to make more curriculum decisions, and then give even individual buildings and administrators the ability to create work-plans for their students, their teachers, their community. And by doing that, you’ll get greater buy-in from family, and you’ll be able to evaluate success much more.”

Molinaro has spoken extensively, at least relative to other education policy areas, on special education and services for those with disabilities, which he has placed particular importance on since learning his daughter was on the autism spectrum and running into challenges getting her proper services.

In Dutchess County, Molinaro’s administration launched in 2015 the “ThinkDifferently” initiative to change perceptions and improve services for and integration of people with disabilities in schools and elsewhere. The project, annually funded by $2 million of federal Community Development Block Grant, supports projects and outreach for businesses to become accessible and for the community to reevaluate its relationship with individuals with disabilities. Molinaro has said ThinkDifferently has been adopted by roughly 100 communities across the state already.

He has put forth a plan to take ThinkDifferently statewide if elected governor, which includes new deputy secretary and ombudsperson positions, and a reevaluation of all services.

“This state has perpetuated a separate but unequal form of education: general ed and special ed,” Molinaro said at his October 23 debate with Cuomo. “I believe in integrating that because those who are living with special education needs, those living with developmental disabilities are being left behind and parents are being forced to advocate, full hand on combat, to receive services. So that’s a way to reinvigorate and to inspire kids to learn.”

Molinaro has criticized the state’s universal pre-K program as being exclusionary towards people with disabilities, and that Cuomo in particular has neglected that cohort of students. And on Sunday, Molinaro characterized Sharpe’s plan not to accept any federal funds for education as one that would “decimate special education” in New York.

by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this story.

Molinaro Pledges Education 'State of Emergency,' Council of Mayors Wed, 31 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Climate Change, and What To Do About It, Largely Missing from Governor’s Race Cuomo Gore climate change

Gov. Cuomo and former VP Gore in 2015 (photo: The Governor's Office)

New York’s 2018 gubernatorial election has largely been eclipsed, like so many things in United States politics, by a massive Trump-shaped shadow. Within that shadow, Andrew Cuomo and Marc Molinaro have argued about the health of upstate New York, management of the MTA, and dueling corruption charges, among other topics. But one looming issue, climate change, has seemed to escape the notice of the two candidates, even as news related to it becomes more dire and New York’s Legislature sits on proposals to shift the state to a 100 percent renewable energy environment.

“I would say no, but that's generally my answer for most candidates,” Aracely Jimenez-Hudis, a member of the climate justice organization Sunrise NYC said when asked if she thought either of the major party gubernatorial candidates were talking enough about climate change. And while Jimenez-Hudis works with a group whose main focus is climate change, the fact remains that it simply isn’t an issue either candidate has decided to address this year.

Molinaro doesn’t include a platform on climate change or the environment on his website, but told Gotham Gazette that he accepts climate change as science and that it is a trend impacted by humans; he believes in “the inherent capacity of man to overcome any challenge.” Molinaro also said he agrees with the governor’s idea to get New York to 50 percent renewable energy by 2030, but that rather than the state investing large amounts of money in private companies, government “ought to create an economic climate where the industry can actually compete and thrive.” He doesn’t believe in “cutting checks,” he said, but he is open to the right blend of tax incentives and regulatory changes to encourage a greener economy.

Beyond the question of energy sources, Molinaro said that congestion pricing as a funding mechanism for expanding public transportation and reducing street congestion, and changing zoning codes to reduce damage to the environment and make clean energy use more effective were ideas he’d look to in order to reduce emissions as a whole.

On the trail, though, the Dutchess county executive and Republican nominee for governor has said he’s open to a “pilot program” allowing fracking in New York’s Southern Tier and has expressed a worry that New York is missing out on an economic boom by not allowing the practice. While Molinaro has touted his past endorsements by the Sierra Club as part of his proof that he’s a different kind of Republican, the organization endorsed Cuomo over him this year.

On his own campaign website, Cuomo writes that his administration has made New York a national leader on climate change, casting it through the lens of resisting the Trump administration, writing that he’s “picking up the mantle of climate leadership where Washington is failing.” His office has funded over $20 million worth of flood protection efforts on Long Island this year, and the Sierra Club endorsement for the governor notes his leadership in banning fracking in 2014 and lauds him for committing New York to generating 50 percent of its energy from renewable powers like wind and solar by 2030, but the biggest instance of the governor’s name being attached to the word “climate” this campaign was when he suggested “climate-based” reasons were driving people’s decision to move out of upstate New York.

Cuomo has campaigned little on forward-looking policy of any kind, mostly highlighting past accomplishments and staking out anti-Trump ground. When he has discussed a third-term agenda, climate change is background noise. His Nine Point Pledge for a Stronger Long Island, signed with each of the Democratic state Senate candidates on the island, contains passing references to “resiliency projects” and passing the governor’s bill outlawing offshore drilling in New York.

The governor has faced his own criticism on environmental policy, including an occupation of his Manhattan office earlier this summer by activists with Sunrise over his refusal to sign a pledge to not take fossil fuel-linked campaign donations and for not getting behind the Climate and Community Protection Act. The CCPA, a bill that seeks to move New York to a 100 percent clean energy economy by 2050, with power grid transitions and resiliency efforts paid for by a tax on greenhouse gas emissions, got a boost of media and campaign attention during the primary campaign when Cynthia Nixon threw her support behind it. Nixon called the CCPA the most important work of her campaign at a recent gala for New York Communities for Change, work that got her kudos from environmental activists. But even in the primary’s lone debate, the bill only came up briefly.

There was no discussion of climate change in the single Cuomo-Molinaro debate, which took place last week. It’s an unfortunate turn of events according to Howie Hawkins, the Green Party’s gubernatorial candidate, because New York could set the tone for the way the rest of the country reacts to the issue. “What we do counts,” Hawkins said, citing the size of New York’s economy compared to the economies of entire nations, “and we think what it does for the economy, besides what it does for the climate, will set an example that other people will want to emulate. Just like Franklin Roosevelt did some public employment when he was governor and it became a model for the jobs programs of the New Deal, I think we set an example [with a Green New Deal], we get ahead of the curve and other people are gonna want to follow our lead.”

Hawkins sees a transition to a green economy, part of what he calls a Green New Deal, as one of the many issues residents north of Westchester say have been ignored this year. “The thing about a serious climate action program is it’s a big economic stimulus, particularly upstate where you have to do a lot of energy installation,” Hawkins said, adding that the region could also become a manufacturing hub for green technology that could create jobs and be an example for the rest of the country.

Cuomo has in fact focused some of his energies on creating more affordable forms of power through the Reforming the Energy Vision program, the umbrella strategy to move New York towards 50 percent renewable power by 2030 and reduce greenhouse gasses by 40 percent from their levels in the 1990s. Within that strategy, New York State has partnered with utility companies to work on projects testing out ways to efficiently deliver green energy, has invested in workforce training in green energy and companies related to the field and has taken “a more market-based, decentralized approach” to shifting the state to renewable power. The state also has a high-stakes partnership with Tesla that’s supposed to bring 1,460 jobs to Buffalo, following the company’s acquisition of SolarCity, the solar panel manufacturer the state invested $750 million in (an investment that was later discovered to be caught up in Alain Kaloyeros’ bid-rigging scheme).

The lack of climate change talk has “been the pattern in the presidential debates, and certainly in New York-level debates,” Pete Sikora, an activist with New York Communities for Change focused on environmental issues, told Gotham Gazette. “Climate change is an important issue to voters, but if you're looking at Molinaro versus Cuomo, it hasn't become a defining contrast.” NYCC endorsed Nixon in the primary.

Hudis-Jimenez said that Nixon’s focus on the the Climate and Community Protection Act allowed her and other canvassers to do specific outreach directly to voters through climate canvasses for Nixon, which was helpful to spread the bill’s message, but ultimately not as scalable as something beamed into homes across the state.

“More people will tune into a debate probably than are contacted by canvassing or phone-banking, so the issues that get talked about during a debate are the ones voters will think about when they're going to the polls,” she said. “So the fact that climate change got maybe five seconds [in the Cuomo-Nixon debate] said a lot about the work that still needs to be done getting climate change to be a top electoral issue.”

“I don't know why it's not a huge issue,” Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer told Gotham Gazette. “You would think, considering Long Island and Westchester, so much of the region was underwater, you would think it would be more of a discussion.” Part of the reason for its absence as a front and center issue, Brewer speculated, was that unlike the everyday experience for New Yorkers that is a broken subway, “we don't experience water coming into our buildings everyday.”

It is getting to be more of an issue though, Brewer noted, though there can be a subtlety to it that hides the more dire nature of the crisis. “There's a difference between a big storm and just plain old surge. Even if you don’t get a big storm, the water surge is a different issue. So you could get something like no storm and still a high water situation,” she said, noting she got a high water alert before this weekend’s Nor’easter.

The absence of climate change and what to do about it from the broader gubernatorial campaign also chills questions of whether even the proposals that Nixon pushed go far enough, or if something like the Green Party-supported New York Off Fossil Fuels Act is the right path for the state. That bill, sponsored by Assemblymember William Colton and state Senator Brad Hoylman (who also just wrote an op-ed calling on the state to pass the CCPA), both Democrats, would move New York to 100 percent clean energy by 2030, a necessary step in the face of the continuing climate crisis and what Hawkins said were insufficient proposals by Cuomo and Nixon, whose proposals both called for New York to use 50 percent renewable electricity by 2030.

“They want 50 percent clean electricity by 2030, but electricity is just 28 percent of the carbon footprint, it doesn't deal with transportation, industry, agriculture or buildings,” Hawkins said. You get 50 percent of that reduced, that's 14 percent really,” he said as a critique of both approaches.

Even if climate change hasn’t taken a star turn in any general election campaigns getting media attention, activists like Sikora and Hudis-Jimenez are gearing up to keep fighting after the election. “Working towards a goal of 50 percent renewable energy is half-assing it,” Hudis-Jimenez said, promising to continue to keep the pressure on legislators to be more ambitious.

“Whether the governor is talking about it now or not, what we want is for him to embrace [the CCPA], put it in the budget and pass it,” Sikora said. “We'll have a Senate and Assembly that is Democratic, hopefully, and in that scenario, this legislation should pass and the governor should lead the charge. We'll be coming hard on passage of that kind of legislation.”

by Dave Colon, Gotham Gazette

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Climate Change, and What To Do About It, Largely Missing from Governor’s Race Tue, 30 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Top Republican Strategist on Where the New York GOP Went Wrong and What To Do About It george pataki at podium gop

former Gov. George Pataki at the 2018 NY GOP convention

The New York Republican Party is on the brink -- perhaps not of extinction, but of a certain type of political wilderness -- and one longtime party figure says he knows where things went wrong and what to do about it.

Republicans have not occupied a statewide office since George Pataki left the governor’s mansion at the end of 2006, and barring a massive upset in November, the statewide offices will continue to be occupied by Democrats from 2019 through 2022. Meanwhile, the state Senate, New York’s lone longstanding bastion of Republican power, appears increasingly likely to be captured by the Democrats this year, producing the first unified state government since 2009.

Republicans currently hold a slim one-seat majority in the Senate and Democrats believe they could flip a half-dozen or more seats in what is broadly expected to be a wave year as the party responds to election of Donald Trump and subsequent policies out of Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, GOP gubernatorial nominee Marc Molinaro, currently the Dutchess county executive and a talented politician with a moderate message, is not only behind the Trump eight ball, but severely underfunded and not well-known as he tries to topple a second-generation governor seeking a third term.

“The state has moved farther to the left, and the idea that somehow people are actually saying that Marc could pull an upset, I don’t know what world they’re living in,” said Tom Doherty, a former top aide to Pataki and currently a political consultant, during a recent interview on the Max & Murphy radio show on WBAI.

Trying to unseat Governor Andrew Cuomo, Molinaro has staked out a Pataki-esque Republican platform, criticizing high property taxes, increasing state spending, mismanagement of key state functions, runaway labor giveaways, and Albany’s culture of corruption. Still, the most recent poll from Quinnipiac gave Cuomo a 23-point advantage over Molinaro in the general election.

Doherty, who has been active in Republican state politics for decades and has seen ups-and-downs in the GOP’s fortunes in New York, characterized this poor showing, coupled with the apparently imminent loss in the Senate, as not a failure on the part of Molinaro, but on the existing leadership in the state party. In Doherty’s eyes, leadership, particularly State Chair Ed Cox, has not provided the right vision and execution in the post-Pataki years.

“He’s a wonderful man,” Doherty said of Cox. “But I’ve known a lot of wonderful men who should not be the party leader.”

The manifold problems plaguing the state GOP, according to Doherty and others, include a hard rightward lurch in a heavily Democratic state, a failure to build effective organizations all across the state with geographically applicable messaging and priorities that run good candidates for everything, and, of course, Donald Trump atop a party wherein most of the leadership has embraced the president despite his being deeply unpopular in New York. Cuomo has labeled Molinaro, who has said he didn’t vote for Trump and has criticized some of his immigration and tax policies, a “Trump mini-me.” Though it is not a fair characterization, it is likely effective with much of the New York electorate.

“Elections are always about the middle,” Doherty said. “Where are the independents voting? The problem in New York is, you have so few Republicans in terms of the numbers versus Democrats that you have to get so many of the independents in your corner. Not only do you have to make sure your guys come out to vote, and this year that’s a problem because Democrats seem very energized, extremely energized, it just made it more difficult for him.”

While much of the New York GOP, including Cox and even county leaders in extremely-deep-blue New York City, has embraced Trump, the statewide path to victory for a Republican must include some Democrats and many independents, while also holding onto the Republican base. It’s a tricky equation any year, but especially with a figure as polarizing as Trump involved.

Doherty said Molinaro needed to be better-funded, and that again goes to party leadership and infrastructure. Molinaro is a great candidate with a good message, Doherty said, but he has not had the support needed to get his name and message out to voters, making his very long odds nearly non-existent.

“Marc Molinaro is a phenomenal candidate,” Doherty said on Max & Murphy. “If you were going to take a Republican candidate in the northeast, you need a George Pataki-like, moderate Republican to compete in the places like Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, et cetera. He’s a great guy. He has no state party operation behind him, he has no money behind him.”

“And I keep hearing about these comparisons to George Pataki,” he continued, drawing important distinctions in his eyes. “New York is not the George Pataki New York of 1994, where you were fighting to go get the Conservative Party endorsement, because you needed that. Quite frankly, you don’t want that today in New York State.”

New York is now a more Democratic state, while Pataki also had advantages, perhaps most especially a sitting Republican United States Senator, Al D’Amato, Doherty pointed out, and a very strong finance director and a state party chair, as well as ready-to-help and competent local leaders. “[E]very time we landed a plane somewhere, or got off the helicopter,” Doherty said, local leaders “were there with massive rallies. None of that exists for Marc this time around, and that’s sad.”

by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this story.

Top Republican Strategist on Where the New York GOP Went Wrong and What To Do About It Fri, 26 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Cuomo-Molinaro Debate Analysis mxm logo

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

October 23, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Cuomo-Molinaro Debate Analysis

cuomo molinaro debate 277The day after the Andrew Cuomo-Marc Molinaro gubernatorial debate on CBS, hosts Jarrett Murphy and Ben Max break down what went down.

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

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Cuomo-Molinaro Debate Analysis Wed, 24 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Cuomo Takes Aggressive Approach to Molinaro in Debate with Limited Substance cuomo molinaro debate

Andrew Cuomo, left, and Marc Molinaro

Governor Andrew Cuomo has said that debates can be a “disservice to democracy” and on Tuesday he ensured that what is likely to be his only general election debate provided limited clear and substantive discussion for voters to chew on ahead of the November 6 election.

A Democrat seeking a third term as governor, Cuomo took an aggressive and at times hostile approach to his debate with Republican nominee Marc Molinaro, currently the Dutchess county executive, filmed Tuesday afternoon at CBS studios in Manhattan and aired that evening on CBS TV and radio. Known for brashness and bullying, Cuomo repeatedly raised his voice, interrupted his opponent and the two moderators -- CBS’s Marcia Kramer and Rich Lamb -- and, as he does with state government, bent the shape of the debate to his liking.

Cuomo dodged several questions and insisted on having Molinaro answer some of the governor’s own, regularly exerting his will to dictate terms of engagement. More often than not, Molinaro and the moderators were overpowered, with all three parties showing frustration at times, Molinaro most often. However typically indelicate, Cuomo painted the picture of Molinaro that he wanted to get across to voters.

The Republican nominee did assert himself repeatedly, though, criticizing Cuomo on a number of fronts, including corruption in state government, a broken subway system, and budget spending. The two candidates accused each other of lying and corruption, and disagreed on several policy areas when those positions were intermittently discernable amid the noise.

While the degree to which Cuomo went on the offensive and played by his own rules may have been slightly surprising and off-putting to some, as expected, the governor repeatedly tied Molinaro to President Donald Trump, who is deeply unpopular in New York. He called Molinaro an “extreme conservative,” invoking both Trump’s policies and Molinaro’s own voting record as a county and state legislator, including repeated votes against marriage equality and equal pay for women.

Molinaro has said he did not vote for Trump in 2016, but has been hesitant to explicitly criticize the president, a tack he held to during the debate, perhaps recognizing that he cannot afford to alienate the many Trump-supporting members of the New York Republican base and party leadership. Though he has mentioned it several times during interviews on the campaign trail, Molinaro did not offer to the debate audience that he did not vote for Trump in 2016, instead praising current economic conditions and asserting that he will criticize or support the president as warranted based on the interests of New Yorkers. He distanced himself from part of Trump’s tax reforms and the president’s child separation policy at the southern border, but appeared eager to talk about anything other than Trump, though he did argue that Cuomo had closer ties to Trump, mentioning, among other things, campaign contributions Trump has given to Cuomo in the past.

In perhaps the most memorable exchange of the debate, Cuomo repeatedly asked Molinaro if the Republican nominee supports Trump, which Molinaro would not answer directly, initially asking the moderators to move the discussion along as Cuomo hammered away after having turned a discussion about health care policy into a Trump test.

Cuomo: “Are you saying you don’t support Donald Trump?”
Molinaro: “I’m saying that I’m absolutely committed to the delivery of mental health services.”
C: “Do you support Donald Trump?”
M: “Let’s get out of this conversation.”
C: “Do you support Donald Trump?”
M: “I support anyone who’s going to effectively make an investment --”
C: “Do you support Donald Trump?”
M: [silence]
C: “Do you support Donald Trump? You can’t answer it.”
M: “Today under this president and this federal government, America has the most competitive economy in the world, and New York State lags behind.”
C: “Then say it: ‘I support Donald Trump.’ Just tell the truth.”
M: [starts talking]
C: “Just say ‘I support Donald Trump.’”
M: [starts talking]
C: “You won’t say you support the president. Amazing.”

Molinaro’s frustration was evident, indicative of the broader challenge he’s facing running for governor of New York with Trump atop the Republican Party. However strong or distasteful Cuomo may have come across to individual viewers, the Molinaro campaign response to the debate was itself telling in terms of the governor’s command. The challenger and his aides focused on Cuomo’s ‘anger’ and ‘bullying,’ not any message Molinaro thought he was able to get across. Both sides appeared to see much of the same thing in the debate, with different interpretations.

On the flip side, the GOP nominee had perhaps his most clear and resonant criticism of Cuomo on corruption -- several members of Cuomo’s inner circle, including top governmental aides and campaign donors, have recently been convicted of criminal abuse of government involving the governor’s signature economic development programs.

“Governor, you have led the most corrupted state government in America. Eight individuals closely associated with your administration are now going to jail or have gone to jail for federal corruption charges,” Molinaro said. “At what point after eight years of being in office do you take responsibility? Or at least admit either you’ve benefited politically from it or you have no clue what’s going on within the administration.” He said Cuomo had allowed stealing from and defrauding taxpayers. “Anywhere else in America, no governor could possibly be running for reelection,” he said.

“You raised $101 million over eight years in exchange for $50 billion worth of state expenditures,” Molinaro added, before Cuomo gave his rebuttal.

The governor called the attacks “false and ad hominem,” but did not explain how they were false. He said at one point that, yes, members of his administration had been convicted and were being punished, but that he himself had never been accused of anything (he falsely said that federal prosecutors had said he did nothing wrong).

The governor sought to turn the tables, reiterating an attack his campaign has been using against Molinaro over a job Molinaro’s wife had gotten with a company that received Dutchess County contracts.

“For you to say in your situation, to point fingers -- yes, people in my administration made a mistake, they went to jail,” Cuomo said. “Your own county legislature is calling for an investigation on you for kickbacks and perjury, where you give a contract to a vendor and then a family member got a job and then they got another contract. That’s your own county legislature asking for an investigation of you, so I wouldn’t point fingers.”

Molinaro criticized Cuomo for shutting down the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption and pledged to launch his own if elected, saying he would appoint to it noted Cuomo critics Zephyr Teachout and Preet Bharara.

“You can’t possibly expect the voters of the state of New York to believe that you had no idea,” Molinaro said to the governor. “The exchange of state-funded, taxpayer resources for campaign contributions.”

“You know why the people would believe it,” Cuomo shot back, “because it was a two-year investigation and every U.S. attorney said I had nothing to do with anything, I did absolutely nothing wrong.”

“That’s not what they said,” Molinaro pointed out, before Cuomo went back to attacking Molinaro for a “kickback” he said is “a crime.”

During a telling moment, Lamb asked whether political discourse needs to be elevated, prompting a high-minded, bipartisan response from Molinaro about the good that can be done when people work together. Cuomo followed up by saying to his opponent, essentially, that's nice, you're terrible.

Throughout the debate Cuomo sought to portray Molinaro as “anti-woman,” referencing his voting record and the potential for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, which Molinaro called “settled” in saying he would uphold New Yorkers’ rights. He attempted to turn the tables on Cuomo by mentioning issues the governor’s administration has had with addressing sexual harassment claims, the fact that Cuomo excluded the only female legislative leader from negotiations of new anti-harassment policies, and a lack of public hearings on the issue of sexual harassment in what Molinaro called the “cesspool” of Albany state government.

On other policy-oriented matters, Cuomo and Molinaro did find moments of agreement: both would like to see the continued expansion of charter schools and medical marijuana, and neither expressed support for a state single-payer health care system -- Molinaro dismissed it as too much government requiring even higher taxes, while Cuomo avoided the question but said during his primary election debate with Cynthia Nixon that he’d favor such a program on the federal level, but does not think New York can afford to institute it. Molinaro indicated he wants to see a lot more local control over education. Asked about convincing Mayor Bill de Blasio to help provide space for charter schools, Cuomo joked that he and the mayor he regularly feuds with would figure it out over wine and pasta.

Molinaro reiterated his campaign pledge to significantly lower taxes -- he claims he can lower property taxes by “30 percent over five years” -- one of the major planks of his campaign, while Cuomo indicated he feels comfortable with his fiscal record, though he wants to find ways to trim spending and taxes. The governor falsely asserted that he has kept state spending to 2 percent annual increases, with Molinaro rightly pointing out that the growth has been higher, as pointed out by State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and the independent Citizens Budget Commission. Still, Cuomo rightly said that he has had a moderate fiscal record that includes some spending restraint, though there was no discussion of the state’s significant outstanding debt, limited savings, and looming budget gaps. Cuomo touted his own record when Kramer asked him right out of the gate whether he would commit to slashing state spending by roughly 5 percent and pass the savings along to taxpayers.

Cuomo indicated a more liberal position than Molinaro on bail reform, though both said they want to see improved services for individuals with mental illness who often wind up in jail or homeless shelters, or living on the streets. He also said the state is studying the possibility of supporting safe injection sites for people addicted to heroin and opioids, something Molinaro said he is against. Cuomo indicated he would like to see the state's ethics watchdog, JCOPE, become a more independent entity, perhaps with fewer commissioners appointed by legislative leaders.

Molinaro criticized Cuomo for state parole board decisions to grant parole to individuals who have killed police officers, evaluations that Cuomo has said he disagrees with, despite appointing the board’s members, and for granting conditional pardons to tens of thousands of parolees, including sex offenders, so they can vote. Cuomo argued that the sex offenders involved have limited opportunity to be in schools to vote, but Molinaro said it was still too dangerous, and Cuomo broadly defended the program as a part of reintegrating those already released from prison.

On the MTA and New York City subway system, Molinaro said Cuomo “abandoned responsibility and we’ve seen it in a total death spiral over the course of the last several years.” He said the governor must “take ownership...take leadership responsibility” and that as governor he would clean house in MTA management, and work with the labor unions involved to identify savings that could then be shared among the unions and riders. He called the MTA “the most bloated public authority in the world.”

Cuomo asserted, “You have never seen a governor take more responsibility for the MTA than I have. I declared the state of emergency,” making a point that evokes the fact that the subway system had fallen into such a state on the governor’s watch.

Cuomo, who has a close relationship with the transportation workers union, downplayed calls for significant changes to MTA labor agreements, saying there is surely waste and it needs to be addressed, but that it wouldn’t yield the $30-$40 billion that the system needs to get into a state of good repair.

There was limited discussion of issues of concern to upstate voters, such as the struggling economies of certain areas of the state, some of which have seen significant population loss. An upstate-focused debate has been scheduled for November 1 by the League of Women Voters, with Molinaro and the three 'minor party' candidates for governor -- Green Party nominee Howie Hawkins, Libertarian nominee Larry Sharpe, and Stephanie Miner of the Serve America Movement -- all agreeing to participate. Governor Cuomo has not yet indicated his plans.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Cuomo Takes Aggressive Approach to Molinaro in Debate with Limited Substance Tue, 23 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Molinaro Reveals Reason He Didn’t Vote for Trump molinaro cbs debate

Marc Molinaro during Tuesday's debate (photo via @CBSNewYork)

Marc Molinaro, the Republican nominee for governor of New York, has long-insisted that he did not vote for Donald Trump in 2016, saying that he “had significant differences at the time” and decided to write in former Republican U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson for president.

As he’s tried to straddle the Trump divide in the New York Republican Party and appeal to independent and moderate voters in an uphill quest to unseat Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, Molinaro has been hesitant to explain what exactly led him to shun Trump two years ago. On Tuesday, speaking with reporters after his debate with Cuomo, during which the incumbent repeatedly tied his challenger to the president, Molinaro at last revealed more specifically what had made him unable to vote for Trump, the Republican nominee at the time and party standard-bearer.

The father of a daughter with developmental disabilities, Molinaro said that Trump mocking a disabled journalist, Serge Kovaleski of The New York Times, during a late-2015 campaign rally was the tipping point.

Like virtually all Republican candidates running this year, Molinaro is regularly asked his opinions of Trump, and he has cited several areas of disagreement, while also saying he is ready to support or challenge the president as necessary to fight for New Yorkers. Molinaro has specifically mentioned Trump’s “both sides” response to the white nationalist and response marches in Charlottesville, VA; the administration’s child separation policy at the Mexico border; and the federal tax reforms that Trump signed into law and effectively raise taxes for many New Yorkers as three areas where he has disagreed with the president.

But all of those are since Trump was inaugurated. Until Tuesday Molinaro had never explained the specifics behind his vote for Gibson, who is now retired from Congress and the chair of Molinaro’s campaign.

During the debate with Cuomo, hosted by CBS television and radio, Molinaro found himself on the defensive as the governor over and over again tied him to Trump, who has low approval ratings in New York. In one particularly stark exchange Cuomo repeatedly asked Molinaro “Do you support President Trump?” which the challenger refused to answer directly.

Molinaro attempted to get the moderators to move along, but Cuomo thundered away. Molinaro gave partial answers about calling it like he sees it and the impressive overall economy, and also repeatedly sought to turn the tables, pointing out past ties between Cuomo and Trump, who has donated more than $60,000 to Cuomo over the years and appeared in a video at Cuomo’s bachelor party (Molinaro has cozied up to the Trump family more recently, as City & State reported this week). 

Curiously, Molinaro did not offer debate viewers and listeners the fact that he did not vote for Trump in 2016, perhaps indicative of the delicate balancing act he’s trying to perform in appealing to the millions of Trump voters in New York and many independents and moderates who disapprove of the president but may be willing to choose someone other than Cuomo.

When he appeared with a group of reporters covering the debate afterward, Gotham Gazette asked Molinaro why he did not offer that piece of information during the debate, as he has during a number of interviews and press conferences throughout his campaign for governor.

“I wasn’t willing to allow the governor to dictate my answer to that question,” Molinaro said, referring to when Cuomo repeatedly pressed him to explain whether he supports Trump, the governor’s own question, not one from the moderators.

“Listen,” Molinaro went on, before pausing to collect himself and continuing with his voice cracking at times, “I don’t know if the president meant it during the presidential campaign, I don’t know it, but when he acted out in a way that discredited a reporter who lived with a disability, I don’t think it was his intention, but I’ve seen it before -- in fact as a kid I probably did it myself -- and as the father of a child with a disability I wasn’t willing to put myself in the position of demeaning what my daughter goes through every day of her life.”

Molinaro then took a question about what upstate voters may have gotten from the debate.

Asked another question about Trump, and whether he sees him as a net positive or net negative for New York, Molinaro was reminded by a campaign advisor to return the focus to his race against Cuomo.

“I’m running against Andrew Cuomo,” Molinaro said. “As I have said and will repeatedly say: I want New York State to benefit from economic recovery, and to the extent that America now is the most competitive economy in the world, New York needs to benefit from that. But to allow this campaign to be about anything other than Andrew Cuomo’s failure, his incompetence, and his corruption is a disservice to the people of New York.”

[Read: Marc Molinaro and The Trump Question]

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Molinaro Reveals Reason He Didn’t Vote for Trump Wed, 24 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Senate Republicans Leave Molinaro Out of Only Hope Messaging molinaro golden

Marc Molinaro & Senator Marty Golden campaign (photo: @marcmolinaro)

Republicans fighting to keep control of the state Senate this year have been adamant that their continued majority in the chamber is the only thing standing between New York and socialism. And with the party playing defense in a number of races, there’s a certain logic to motivating voters to come out based on the idea that their district could be the one that determines who controls the entire Senate, especially resonant given the one-seat margin the Republican conference holds.

But the rhetoric around preserving the GOP majority in its lone source of statewide power seems to leave out a major issue: the party also has a gubernatorial candidate in Marc Molinaro, whose election would guarantee a divided government in Albany thanks to the Democratic supermajority in the Assembly. Molinaro may be facing long odds, but to read much GOP messaging, one could easily think the party isn’t running a candidate against Governor Andrew Cuomo at all.

In the most glaring example of this trend, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, of Long Island, wrote an op-ed arguing for continued GOP control of the Senate, casting the majority as “the most important firewall in history between every taxpayers’ wallet and government coffers,” and hitting common themes of higher taxes and government-run health care if Democrats are victorious. While the editorial confidently predicted “when” and not “if” Republicans control the chamber again, it makes no mention of Molinaro’s campaign for governor on the same ticket.

In a pair of stories about the governor’s involvement in close state Senate races, Scott Reif, the Republican Senate conference spokesperson, kept up the messaging that the Senate GOP was the only chance to hold back Democratic ambitions, telling the Daily News that the governor was trying to “create one-man, one-party rule” and that “there will be no accountability, no checks and balances” if Cuomo successfully helps elect a Democratic Senate majority.

"What Andrew Cuomo really wants is absolute power in Albany, and we're the only ones who can stop it," Reif told the News, again leaving out any mention of Molinaro defeating the two-term incumbent. Reif did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Molinaro is of course facing an uphill battle in taking on Cuomo, especially in an environment seen as hostile to Republicans, and recent statewide polling saw him down 58-35 to Cuomo. Republican donors seem to believe his campaign is less of a wise investment than the state Senate, as Republican strategist Chapin Fay told the New York Times that “The funding class are investors, and they want to invest in something where they would see a return,” in a story about how the Senate GOP has greatly outraised Molinaro this year. The Business Council of New York’s PAC endorsed Cuomo over Molinaro at the same time as they endorsed only a single Democrat (of sorts) in Senator Simcha Felder, who has long-conferenced with Republicans, in an otherwise GOP set of state Senate endorsements.

Molinaro, for his part, said that he felt his campaign and the Senate Republicans were on the same page as far as messaging and working together. “Almost all of the members are helping to spread our message, we’re magnifying our resources, and working with Senator Flanagan,” Molinaro told Gotham Gazette following a Monday event in New York City. “The entire Republican conference has been good for us,” he said, favorably comparing the relationship his campaign has with the Senate GOP to the fraught one that the Rob Astorino campaign had in 2014. (Cuomo himself has been more actively campaigning for his party-mates to control the Senate, and Democrats are exceedingly optimistic they can flip the chamber.)

Currently the Dutchess county executive, Molinaro is a former member of the Assembly who was quickly endorsed by some of his former colleagues in the lower chamber of the state Legislature when he entered the race. Molinaro’s entrance fairly quickly led then-frontrunner Senator John DeFrancisco to drop out as Republican leaders from around the state coalesced behind Molinaro. DeFrancisco had been endorsed by Flanagan and several other senators before leaving the race, frustrated and headed toward retirement. Molinaro and Flanagan have not campaigned together.

But Molinaro, or his lieutenant gubernatorial running mate Julie Killian, have made campaign stops with a number of Republican state Senate candidates, like the Hudson Valley’s Annie Rabbitt, Long Island’s Jeff Pravato and Brooklyn’s Marty Golden, all of whom are in tight races for seats that could control the balance of the body.

Molinaro also brought his anti-corruption message to Syracuse in September for an appearance with Republican Bon Antonacci, who’s running to succeed DeFrancisco. Rabbit is a candidate who said she was “absolutely” motivated to run by the prospect of a Democratic Senate, and Antonacci has said a Democratic state Senate means tax hikes and increased state spending, a scenario that’s only possible if there’s a Democratic governor around to agree to them.

Molinaro, while admitting that “any one of us could lose,” also said he wasn’t bothered by the theoretical erasure of his candidacy by state Senate candidates, because there are other balances in the state Legislature to think about beyond the party balance. “I look forward to working with whomever, but I think the balance between the Senate and Assembly is important. The Senate Republican conference tends to focus its attention on upstate and Long Island, so this regional balance that’s created there, I think there’s an important benefit to that,” he said.

by Dave Colon, Gotham Gazette

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Samar Khurshid and Ben Max contributed to this article.

Senate Republicans Leave Molinaro Out of Only Hope Messaging Tue, 23 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000