Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/401 Thu, 20 Jun 2019 21:46:03 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) A Closer Look at Albany Democrats’ Compromise on Bail Reform https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8420-a-closer-look-at-albany-democrats-compromise-on-bail-reform https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8420-a-closer-look-at-albany-democrats-compromise-on-bail-reform bail sign via zellnor

(photo: @zellnor4ny)


At a Sunday press conference, following his overnight announcement of a $175.5 billion budget deal, Governor Andrew Cuomo heralded a criminal justice reform agreement with the Legislature, and thanked one member of the Assembly in particular. “I want to applaud Assemblymember Latrice Walker who really was very helpful and very constructive, and understood the tensions,” he said of the Brooklyn representative.

Cuomo was referring to the especially contentious issue of bail reform. For weeks he and legislators had debated how far to go in amending a system intended to secure defendants return to court, but which in reality has catalyzed the disproportionate pretrial incarceration of poor black and Hispanic New Yorkers.

Queens Senator and Majority Leader Michael Gianaris managed to collect 25 co-sponsors for his advocate-backed bill to eliminate cash bail entirely, with the option of pretrial detention only for certain violent felonies. Governor Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie also previously pledged to eliminate cash bail this session.

But prosecutors and a faction of Democrats insisted that judges would still need discretion to remand defendants deemed dangerous. What they viewed as crucial for public safety was, to Gianaris and his allies, tantamount to replacing cash bail with a system just as susceptible to racial bias.  

The ultimate compromise -- accompanying reforms intended to speed up trials and boost early defendant access to evidence -- resembles a Walker bill that passed the Assembly last session. It eliminates cash bail for most misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies, ensuring pretrial freedom for what amounted to about 90 percent of 2018 arrests statewide. Conditions on that freedom could include mandatory check-ins or electronic monitoring.

“The consensus among people who care about reform,” Gianaris told Gotham Gazette, “was, let’s take a solution that covers the vast majority of people, rather than risk making it worse for the remainder.”

‘Challenging’ Process
Recent pressure from Cuomo, Long Island Senate Democrats, and the District Attorneys Association of New York (DAASNY) ultimately shifted negotiations towards the Assembly framework, according to legislators and advocates who observed these developments. All three parties -- with Democratic Senator Todd Kaminsky negotiating on behalf of the so-called “Long Island Six” -- called for some amount of judicial discretion to remand people deemed dangerous to a specific person or persons (language that appeared in Cuomo’s original budget proposal).

Fearful that this discretion would encourage more pretrial incarceration -- not less -- Gianaris says that he and Senate co-sponsors began discussing alternatives with Assembly Democrats, led by Walker. Her 2017 legislation had appeased Assembly Democrats who saw bail as an important tool to separate defendants from survivors of domestic violence. At least with bail, she’s argued, defendants still have an avenue -- if they can afford it -- to pretrial release.

“It was challenging,” Walker said in a phone interview, of the negotiations. “Because it has a wonderful ring to be able to say, ‘We eliminated cash bail in NYC.’ And that’s the ultimate goal, but at what price would we have claimed that accomplishment?”

Kaminsky’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but the senator and former federal prosecutor told the New York Law Journal in the midst of negotiations last month that he was “trying to make sure we’re reforming the system while keeping the public safe.”

Cuomo Counsel Alphonso David did not elaborate on the governor’s role in negotiations, telling Gotham Gazette that, ultimately, the dangerousness question “did not have to be addressed at this time.”

“The perfect would've been the whole elimination of bail, but I don't believe in making the perfect the enemy of the good,” Cuomo told WNYC’s Brian Lehrer on Monday, calling the final agreement, “the most historic criminal justice reform in modern history in the state."

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has endorsed dangerousness considerations in the past, told anchor Errol Louis on Monday’s “Inside City Hall” that he is “obviously thrilled” about the bail agreement, which he predicts will “supercharge” efforts to decrease New York City’s jail population. Numbers have been dropping precipitously for decades -- essential to a city plan to close the Rikers Island jail complex.

Advocates with the FREEnewyork campaign, a coalition of more than 150 grassroots groups that backed the Gianaris bill (carried by Danny O’Donnell in the Assembly), say they are very pleased that this compromise will greatly decrease pre-trial detention. As of September, more than a third of the 8,200 people in New York City jails were held pre-trial on misdemeanors or nonviolent felonies.

The state budget outcome “dodged a lot of bullets,” said JustLeadershipUSA organizer Katie Schaffer, because “there is not any sort of generalized consideration of dangerousness or risk to public safety that could exacerbate racial disparities.”

But there is lingering frustration. With Democratic control in both houses of the Legislature, advocates had been hopeful criminal justice reform would be handled outside of the harried budget process where horse-trading often happens. “It seems obvious that passing significant policy at 3 a.m. on a Sunday morning is not good process,” said VOCAL-NY organizer Nick Encalada-Malinowski.

Lingering Concerns
For defendants charged with sexual assault misdemeanors and most violent felonies, judges will still have the option to set bail, putting poor defendants at a disadvantage. Certain felonies in this category will also be eligible for remand, including witness intimidation and terrorism-related charges.

Last year’s Walker bill would have required an evidentiary hearing for anyone eligible for pretrial detention. Judges would have had to review evidence within days of arrest and “explain themselves a bit” before sending defendants to jail pre-trial, Schaffer explained. Advocates saw this as a useful check, considering many convictions stemming from violent felony arrests -- 31% statewide in 2017 -- are misdemeanors. But these hearings were negotiated out of the budget agreement.

“Given the history of criminal justice reform, it is not a surprise that they chose this middle path that greatly benefits some and excludes others,” said Nicole Triplett, policy counsel at the New York Civil Liberties Union. This split, she said, fails to “fully realize the constitutional promise that every person be treated as innocent until proven guilty.”

The budget bill also requires desk appearance tickets for most misdemeanors and Class E felonies -- including promoting gambling and criminal contempt -- a measure Gianaris says he is proud of (though advocates say they’ll be watching how police officers use their discretion to arrest in some cases).

Gianaris’ bill did not address the question of electronic monitoring, while the adopted budget states that only certain defendants are eligible -- those charged with a felony, domestic violence or sexual assault misdemeanor, or with a recent violent felony conviction. Anyone ordered to wear an ankle monitor cannot bear the cost of that device.

These guidelines, which extend to charges that are not eligible for pretrial detention, are concerning for JoAnne Page, president of the Fortune Society, a nonprofit that offers reentry services. “The fear is electronic monitoring will be utilized excessively and indiscriminately on people – mostly people of color who come from the same low-income neighborhoods in New York City that are disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice system – who never would have been held on bail in the first place,” she warned.

The budget reforms drew sharp criticism from DAASNY President David Soares. “The New York State Legislature, along with Governor Cuomo, has passed the most reckless bail reform statute in the country,” Soares told Gotham Gazette, arguing that prosecutors have lost a key mechanism for removing dangerous defendants from the general public. “Our greatest concern first and foremost is for victims of crime.”

Cuomo, who ultimately insisted that criminal justice reform be addressed in the budget, told reporters this weekend that he plans to return to the bail question -- and outcomes for people charged with violent felonies, specifically. “That's something we're going to continue to work on,” he said Sunday.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie also told the New York Law Journal Monday that “we are going to get to the finish line to make it a completely cashless bail system.” Gianaris says that he is still committed to this outcome, as well.

“I think advocates will have to keep these issues very present,” Schaffer predicted. “Because it is very easy for legislators to feel done with an issue, to move on to other issues.”

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by Emma Whitford, Gotham Gazette
@emma_a_whitford

Read more by this writer.

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A Closer Look at Albany Democrats’ Compromise on Bail Reform Thu, 04 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000
New York Democrats on Eliminating Cash Bail: Not If, But How https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8245-new-york-democrats-on-eliminating-cash-bail-not-when-but-how https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8245-new-york-democrats-on-eliminating-cash-bail-not-when-but-how gov cuomo provide update clinton

(photo: the governor's office)


Taking the stage at the Global Citizen Festival in Central Park last September, Governor Andrew Cuomo promised to end cash bail “once and for all,” a move that would launch New York into the national spotlight with New Jersey and California. “In America you are still innocent until proven guilty,” he told the cheering crowd. “And that’s whether you’re black or white. That’s whether you’re rich or poor.”

The elimination of the cash bail system, under which poor black and Hispanic New Yorkers are disproportionately incarcerated pre-trial, does seem imminent thanks to a new Democratic majority in the state Senate. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, whose chamber last year passed legislation that only limited cash bail, assured faith leaders at Trinity Chapel in Manhattan on Thursday that, “I support a 100-percent-ending-of-cash-bail system.”

But big questions remain: who will be eligible for pretrial incarceration, what constraints will be put on judges, the reach of controversial ankle bracelets.

Cuomo’s recently-released budget proposal calls for more extensive pretrial detention and monitoring than an advocate-backed bill in the Legislature, and several Democrats told Gotham Gazette they want broad judicial discretion on domestic violence cases: a red flag for advocates who see a window for bias. As Democrats use their new power to rapidly pass progressive legislation, bail reform, in all its complexity, could prove a test of how far they’ll go.

“We have to remember there's a presumption of innocence,” warns Democratic Assemblymember Dan Quart of Manhattan. “The point of bail is not to judge or adjudicate people.”

The New York City jail population has decreased by 1,500 over the last two years, according to a December report from the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice. Still, as of September more than a third of the 8,200 people in city jails were held pre-trial on misdemeanors or nonviolent felonies. More than 90 percent of the jail population is people of color. The commission, led by former chief judge Jonathan Lippman, estimates substantial bail reform could reduce the population by 3,000 people.

Deputy Senate Leader Michael Gianaris of Queens likes to remind reporters that the FREEnewyork campaign, composed of more than 150 grassroots groups, has dubbed his bail reform bill with Manhattan Assemblymember Danny O’Donnell the “gold standard.” It eliminates cash bail and was a non-starter in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Under the Gianaris/O’Donnell bill, most defendants would be released on their own recognizance. Possible exceptions include witness intimidation cases, and felony cases where the defendant is accused of attempting to seriously injure another person.

Anyone eligible for pretrial incarceration would be entitled to a hearing where a judge evaluates evidence and considers less-restrictive alternatives, like mandatory check-ins. These hearings would mark a “huge step forward,” says JoAnne Page, president of the Fortune Society, a nonprofit that provides prison reentry services. Currently, setting bail is “a decision that happens in a heartbeat.”

Cuomo’s budget proposal also eliminates cash bail and mandates pretrial hearings. However, his net of eligibility for pretrial detention is much wider, including Class A felonies like murder, conspiracy, and controlled substance charges; most violent B and C felonies like rape, assault and weapon possession (burglary and robbery are excluded); and cases where the judge deems the defendant a threat to the physical safety of someone in their family or household, regardless of the severity of the charges.

Alphonso David, Cuomo’s counsel, told Gotham Gazette that the governor intentionally excluded controversial public safety assessment tools (which Mayor Bill de Blasio has endorsed). These tools rely on data points like a defendant’s age and criminal history, and have been met with allegations of racial bias in New Jersey and California.

But if decarceration is the goal, advocates warn, the net of eligibility for pretrial incarceration must be much smaller -- lest judges balk at losing cash bail and fall back on detention.

“Unfortunately, the same decision-makers who are deciding to set bail on our clients now are going to be the ones who decide whether or not, after an evidentiary hearing, to keep that person remanded,” says Legal Aid Society attorney Marie Ndiaye. “The only thing you can do to really, really decarcerate is just by really, really limiting the number of people who could even be eligible for that kind of treatment."

Cuomo also wants electronic monitoring as an option for people charged with felonies and domestic violence misdemeanors. “When you have something like electronic monitoring there’s a very real risk that it means the expansion of social control,” warns Page, of the Fortune Society. “The threshold you pass before you put an electronic bracelet on someone is much lower than locking them up.”

Last year, the Assembly passed a proposal that would have preserved cash bail and electronic monitoring in felony and domestic violence misdemeanor cases -- a broad category that includes verbal threats. “I'll be the first one to say the Assembly bill wasn't good enough,” Heastie told advocates Thursday.

O’Donnell also dismissed the Walker bill as a relic earlier this month. “In previous years the Assembly would come up with bills we thought might pass muster in the Republican Senate,” he explained. “Those days are over. I would hope that my colleagues would come around and take this bolder approach.”

But there is still substantial Democratic support in the Assembly for the domestic violence provisions in the Walker bill. “There are going to be enough Democrats, me among them, who will be raising the issue,” said Assemblymember Amy Paulin of Scarsdale. “If we don't protect domestic violence [victims], I won't be voting for the bill.”

“Whether it's cash bail or pretrial detention I'm not worried about that,” added Assemblymember Patricia Fahy of Albany. “My interest is the bottom line…that we are not tying any judicial hands in keeping our streets safe, or our households safe.”

This is a point of entry for the state District Attorneys Association, which opposes expansive bail reform on the grounds that it curtails prosecutorial discretion. “We have serious concerns about, with the swipe of a pen, creating a proposal that has calamitous effects on public safety,” Albany County District Attorney David Soares told Gotham Gazette.

Domestic violence advocates in the FREEnewyork campaign say this logic is at odds with the ultimate goal of significantly decreasing jail populations, and relies too heavily on the perceptions of law enforcement. “Particularly for LGBTQ people,” cautions Audacia Ray of the New York City Anti-Violence project, “the way police and prosecutors perceive what is happening is often faulty and racist.”

Senate and Assembly leaders tell Gotham Gazette that they hope to come up with a compromise before budget negotiations, which are set to begin in earnest in March. A budget deal is due April 1. “The old ways of Albany involved trading one thing against an unrelated thing,” Gianaris said. “The new New York Senate is trying hard to break that mold.”

“The tricky thing with bail,” he added, “is that if we don’t do it right, things can get worse rather than better.”

***
by Emma Whitford, Gotham Gazette
@emma_a_whitford

Read more by this writer.

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New York Democrats on Eliminating Cash Bail: Not If, But How Thu, 31 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Now’s the Time for Automatic Voter Registration in New York https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8170-now-s-the-time-for-automatic-voter-registration-in-new-york https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8170-now-s-the-time-for-automatic-voter-registration-in-new-york primary voting parkslope

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


Over the last several decades, 15 states across the country – both red and blue – have modernized their voting laws, including our neighbors in New Jersey and Massachusetts. Unfortunately, here in New York we remain mired in the past, refusing to implement reforms to fix the state’s poor electoral system and erecting arbitrary barriers to voter participation.

The results are clear: New York routinely has some of the lowest voter turnout rates in the country. In 2018, New York ranked 48th in turnout. Also important to this discussion is that in the midst of the 2016 election, upwards of 200,000 voters were illegally purged from the voter rolls in Brooklyn due to errors at the New York City Board of Elections.

Now, more than ever, New York has an obligation to make it simpler – not harder – for people to vote.

This legislative session in Albany, we can make real change. New York can move our elections into the future by passing Automatic Voter Registration, or AVR.

The idea behind AVR is simple: instead of putting the burden of registering to vote on individuals, the state automatically registers them when they interact with government agencies and they can elect not to participate if they so choose. Here’s an example of how it would work.

When an eligible voter goes to the DMV or enrolls in Medicaid, he or she is already supplying a variety of data – name, birthdate, address, etc. From that single interaction, New Yorkers can and should be able to sign up for the service they’re seeking and register or update their voting information.   

Automatic Voter Registration would securely collect and electronically transfer the data of eligible voters to the state Board of Elections, which would then send a pre-paid postcard to the voter to give them the chance to opt out of registration. If the individual doesn’t opt out, he or she is added to the rolls.

It's simple, it’s commonsensical, and it promotes civic engagement. AVR not only allows more individuals to participate in the democratic process by easing the registration process, it also ensures that voter rolls are accurate and up-to-date.

And we know it works.

In Oregon, for instance, 94 percent of individuals who interacted with the DMV and were eligible to vote were registered. Research suggests that 44 percent of the new registrants subsequently voted, leading Oregon to have the largest turnout increase between 2012 and 2016 of any state. In 2018, it had one of the highest turnout rates in the country.

AVR also saves the state money by eliminating the costs of provisional ballots, costly paper transactions, and manual data entry. Across the country, localities have saved an average of about $3.54 in costs per registration by moving from a paper to an electronic method.

And the time freed up allows election officials to focus less on data entry and more on running elections smoothly and efficiently. That’s something New York desperately needs.

The question is whether we have the will.

Here at home, polling released by a new New York advocacy effort, AVR NOW, from Civis Analytics shows there is positive support for AVR in almost every single New York state Senate district. Statewide, a supermajority of 64 percent of New York voters support AVR. That’s not surprising here in New York because even the most casual voter knows our elections are dysfunctional.

This session, New York has a chance to modernize our elections, tear down arbitrary barriers to voting, and reaffirm that our state works for all the people.

We should seize it.

***
State Senator Michael Gianaris of Queens is the incoming Deputy Majority Leader and author of New York's Automatic Voter Registration bill. Sean McElwee is a policy analyst, writer and co-founder of Data for Progress. On Twitter @SenGianaris & @SeanMcElwee.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Now’s the Time for Automatic Voter Registration in New York Wed, 02 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
WATCH: A Veteran & A Rookie Discuss 2019 Plans for New State Senate Majority https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8154-watch-a-veteran-a-rookie-discuss-2019-plans-for-new-state-senate-majority https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8154-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

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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WATCH: A Veteran & A Rookie Discuss 2019 Plans for New State Senate Majority Thu, 20 Dec 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Two-Tiered Agenda for Democrats If They Take State Senate https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8024-two-tiered-agenda-for-democrats-if-they-take-state-senate https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8024-two-tiered-agenda-for-democrats-if-they-take-state-senate asc and senate dems

Senate Democrats (photo via @nysenatedems)


State Senate Democrats are already contemplating which policies they will pass under a one-party state government, confident they will win big in the upcoming November 6 elections, keeping control of the governor’s office and Assembly, while flipping the upper house of the Legislature. According to one leader of both the government and campaign agendas, Democrats have a general sense of a two-tiered policy agenda they plan to take up if victorious, prioritizing a long list of stalled progressive demands.

Meanwhile, Republicans hoping to cling to their lone stronghold in statewide government, where they currently hold a one-seat majority, campaign on the argument that their control of the Senate is all that is keeping taxpayers from a massive increase in costs, an even more bloated and intrusive state government, and a state virtually run by New York City interests.

State Senator Michael Gianaris, a Queens Democrat who chairs the party’s Senate campaign committee, outlined the preliminary agenda on the Max & Murphy program on WBAI radio, citing a series of policies where there seems to be clear consensus and Democrats could move quickly on long-sought bills, and then other, more contentious and complicated legislation that will likely need extensive consideration and negotiation.

Gianaris said a unified Democratic state government would make “quick progress” in 2019 on the Reproductive Health Act, which expands abortion rights; a “red flag” gun control bill; and voting and campaign finance reforms.

These are among the policies, Gianaris explained, that have been sidelined by the Republican control of the Senate.

“We have lost that opportunity because an artificial Republican majority in the Senate has stopped us from voting on the types of things we should be voting on,” Gianaris said, in apparent reference to the fact that Republicans only had a majority because of their coalition with the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference (which is no more) and the decision by Senator Simcha Felder of Brooklyn to join the Republican conference, despite the fact that he is a Democrat.

The Reproductive Health Act, which Gianaris mentioned, would essentially pass Roe v. Wade abortion rights into law, something Democrats are especially concerned about given the fear that a new Supreme Court with Justice Brett Kavanaugh will overturn the landmark 1973 abortion decision. The red flag bill would allow teachers and school administrators to petition a judge to remove guns from the homes of students seen as troubled, an additional measure to prevent gun violence in schools.

While he didn’t go into detail on consensus around campaign finance reform, Gianaris did emphasize the need for certain voting reforms.

“We want to make it easier for people to vote,” Gianaris said. “We’re one of the few states that doesn’t have early voting, or automatic registration, or same-day registration or any of the ways that we can improve our democracy.”

Generally, Democrats have been interested in closing the LLC loophole in state campaign finance, reducing individual contribution limits, and creating a system of public campaign financing, perhaps modeled in some way on New York City’s system.

These policies would form at least much of the first wave, according to Gianaris, who said they will be doable prior to or in a deal on the state budget, which generally passes at the end of March. Full Democratic control of the executive and legislative branches would test how well the party can come to agreement on the details of a variety of measures where this is broad support in general terms.

Gianaris, who may be named deputy majority leader to Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins if their campaign efforts are successful, did not indicate he was giving a comprehensive list, and there are several politices that Democrats have appeared eager to pass that he did not mention, such as the Gender Non-Descrimination Act and the Child Victims Act.

Gianaris said the more contentious policies that may require discussion among the Democratic conference and whose chances of passing could depend on how large the conference is, would likely be discussed in earnest post-budget.

Health care and rent regulations were two policy areas mentioned by Gianaris as falling under this category.

“The rent laws expire right around June, if I’m not mistaken, so certainly that is going to create pressure to make those changes before the current laws expire,” Gianaris said, previewing what is expected to be one of the most important issues to New York City residents of the 2019 state session, which will be slated to end in June. In the past, the Democratic State Assembly has passed legislation increasing regulations on landowners in the hopes of helping tenants, while the Senate has generally gone along with extensions of the current laws, with some tweaks.

Part of the MTA Sustainability Task Force, Gianaris and his colleagues are responsible for coming up with recommendations to Governor Cuomo for how to improve the MTA by the end of the year.

Gianaris said the MTA is “obviously something that has bedeviled the state for some time,” and that if Democrats were to win big, it is “hopefully one that we can make some progress on this year.”

A variety of solutions are possible when it comes to dealing with the MTA, with one that comes up in conversation often being congestion pricing, which essentially taxes traffic in hopes of reducing it.

When asked about congestion pricing, Gianaris said it may be a step forward but is not a solution to the entire problem.

“I don’t think that alone is the silver bullet that solves the MTA crisis,” Gianaris said. “So we’ll have some more work to do.” Cuomo has pledged to fight aggressively for congestion pricing to be included in the next state budget, while also saying he’s awaiting the task force’s recommendations and expects New York City to kick in more to fund the MTA’s tens of billions of dollars in needs.

However, as confident as Democrats may be -- Gianaris has said roughly ten seats in the 63-seat Senate could flip their way -- Republicans believe they can hold the chamber, and are arguing that the stakes are incredibly high. In an op-ed written for State of Politics, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan of Long Island outlined what he believes Democrats would do with complete control of the government, and how it would hurt New Yorkers.

Flanagan said Republican hold of the Senate this year would be the “most important firewall in history between every taxpayers’ wallet and government coffers.”

He labeled Democratic policy priorities as socialist, listing single-payer healthcare, and put to the fore several items that Democrats are not listing at the top of their list, such as supervised injection sites for heroin users, campaign finance reform — which he referred to as “taxpayer funded campaigns” — abolishing ICE and the potential for New York to be a “sanctuary state,” which he wrote would be deportation protections “for illegal immigrants who commit aggravated felonies.”

Flanagan also wrote that New York becoming a sanctuary state would make it difficult to fight the international gang MS-13, and that health insurance for all would “double the state’s budget while taking away Medicare from our seniors.”

“Nobody wants to pay a single cent more in taxes, and only a Republican majority will not allow it,” Flanagan wrote.

For his part, Gianaris on Max & Murphy framed Democratic progress as a necessary response to what is happening at the federal level under President Donald Trump and a Republican Congress. “We have an opportunity to lead the nation in standing up for progressive values and pushing back against what’s coming out of Washington,” Gianaris said, “and we have lost that opportunity, in the bluest of blue states,” because of the Republican majority in the state Senate.

Elections Day is November 6.

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by Victor Porcelli, Gotham Gazette

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Two-Tiered Agenda for Democrats If They Take State Senate Sun, 28 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Senate Democrats Full of Optimism About Flipping Chamber, One-Party Control of State Government https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8012-senate-democrats-full-of-optimism-about-flipping-chamber-one-party-control-of-state-government https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8012-senate-democrats-full-of-optimism-about-flipping-chamber-one-party-control-of-state-government gianaris public land

Senator Michael Gianaris (photo: @SenGianaris)


New York Democrats are confident that the upcoming elections will result in a completely blue state government, believing they will easily upend the current one-seat majority held by Republicans in the State Senate, according to the head of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, State Senator Michael Gianaris of Queens.

If they hold the governorship, and Democratic incumbent Governor Andrew Cuomo is expected to win a third term, and their supermajority in the Assembly, Democrats could have unfettered control of the law-making process in Albany if they are able to win a Senate majority on Election Day, November 6.

Appearing on the Max & Murphy program on WBAI radio, Gianaris recently outlined a rosy picture for Democrats, citing “about a dozen” Senate races as competitive, almost all of them for seats currently held by Republicans.

“We’re only defending one and they’re defending about 10,” Gianaris said. “We’re feeling very good about our chances in a year where Democratic turnout is reaching historic levels for an off-year.”

In the primary elections, Democratic turnout more than doubled compared to 2014, with roughly 1.5 million people casting a vote. While New York is a deeply Democratic state overall, Republicans have held to a tight Senate majority, in part by winning close races in swing districts, aided by prior drawing of legislative districts that favored their chances. But Democrats believe that registration and demographic trends, a stable of strong candidates, and broader trends including President Donald Trump’s unpopularity in New York, give them a significant edge this year.

Gianaris puts the dozen or so competitive elections into two categories — elections for seats where current Republican officeholders are retiring and elections where Republican incumbents are vulnerable. He feels the likelihood of the retirees’ seats going blue is “very, very good.” The battleground seats are largely on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley, though there are others further north and west in the state, and even one in Brooklyn.

“What’s really happening is these races have all become nationalized, and you saw the turnout spike in the primaries,” Gianaris said. “What’s happening, as we understand it, is Democrats, female Democrats in particular, are very activated by the Trump administration, by the Trump presidency, and have decided to take their country back.”

The effect of this change may first be felt in the five districts where GOP senators have retired leading up to the midterm elections.

In Syracuse, Republican John DeFrancisco is retiring, with Democrat John Mannion and Republican Robert Antonacci fighting for the seat in a district that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016. Republicans William Larkin, Tom Croci, John Bonacic, and Kathy Marchione have also announced their retirements in districts Democrats believe they have a chance of winning and have invested significantly to do so — in the fights for Larkin’s and DeFrancisco’s seats, the DSCC invested $193,000 and $270,000, respectively. This is only a small percentage of the millions of dollars Gianaris says the DSCC has put behind candidates this year, which he says is more than “any time since I’ve been in the Senate.”

Gianaris also indicated that support from Cuomo is better than it has been in cycles past, when the governor has been accused of sitting things out, tacitly approving a Republican Senate so that he can negotiate more moderate policies.

Citing six different races featuring Democratic challengers to Republicans who are not retiring, Gianaris continued his list of winnable seats, noting where the DSCC has invested resources. In Brooklyn’s District 22, Democrat Andrew Gounardes hopes to unseat Republican Senator Marty Golden, a seat Golden has held for nearly two decades but where Democrats have an enrollment advantage. Cuomo has gone to the district to campaign with Gounardes, and also cut a video ad for him.

The challenge districts Democrats think they can win extend to Putnam County’s District 40 in a race featuring Democrat Pete Harckham and Republican incumbent Terrence Murphy, and other districts, especially on Long Island, where Democrats see pick-up opportunities in the seats held by Senators Carl Marcellino and Elaine Phillips, as well as the one seat, currently held by Senator John Brooks, that Gianaris and others have acknowledged is the one they see as vulnerable. Brooks is being challenged by Republican nominee Jeff Pravato.

Gianaris sees this year as a chance for redemption for Democrats who feel robbed after seeing the Independent Democratic Conference break away from mainline Democrats and form a coalition government with Senate Republicans and Democratic Senator Simcha Felder joining the Republican conference to create an “artificial Republican majority.”  The has stopped the Senate from “voting on the types of things that we should be voting on,” Gianaris said, going to list a variety of issues from women’s reproductive rights to voting reform.

Gianaris and other Democrats see New York potentially becoming a progressive leader if things go as they expect on Election Day. But Senate Republicans are doing everything in their power to sound the alarm on one-party rule in New York, arguing that the state Senate is all that stands between New Yorkers and higher taxes, government-run health care, and a state government far too oriented toward New York City at the expense of upstate and Long Island.

Gianaris dismisses those warnings. “We have an opportunity to lead the nation in standing up for progressive values and pushing back against what’s coming out of Washington,” he said.

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by Victor Porcelli, Gotham Gazette

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Senate Democrats Full of Optimism About Flipping Chamber, One-Party Control of State Government Thu, 25 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Battle for Control of the State Senate https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7998-max-murphy-podcast-battle-for-control-of-the-state-senate https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7998-max-murphy-podcast-battle-for-control-of-the-state-senate mxm logo

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


October 17, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Senator Michael Gianaris and Thomas Doherty

Michael Gianaris Thomas Doherty WBAI

Control of the State Senate is at stake this election year in New York, with Democrats hopeful they can overcome what is now a one-seat margin that leaves them in the minority and win a majority, possibly by several seats in what many in the party hope will be a wave election. Meanwhile, Republicans hope to hold onto what is their only foothold at the state level.

Senator Michael Gianaris of Queens is the chair of the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee and joined the show to discuss Democratic efforts to flip the Senate blue and other election year dynamics, as well as the path ahead for Democrats if they do win the majority and keep their other centers of power in the Assembly and Governor's Office.

Tom Doherty is a former top aide to Republican Governor George Pataki and now a partner at Mercury, a public affairs consultancy. Doherty joined the show to give his take on the state of the Republican Party in New York and what's at stake in this year's elections.

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

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Battle for Control of the State Senate Wed, 17 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
The Path Forward for Cuomo's 'One Real Answer,' Congestion Pricing https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7999-the-path-forward-for-cuomo-s-one-real-answer-congestion-pricing https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7999-the-path-forward-for-cuomo-s-one-real-answer-congestion-pricing gov cuomo congepric

Cuomo in the midst of his ABNY presentation


One major issue that hung over the 2018 state budget season was congestion pricing, a plan to charge a fee to all motor vehicles entering parts of Manhattan and diverting the revenue toward funding the beleaguered subway system. Governor Andrew Cuomo directed a panel to study the issue, which determined that a congestion pricing scheme should be implemented and offered options for what it could look like, including a three-year, three-phase proposal. Activist groups applied significant public pressure on the governor and the Legislature. Newspaper opinion pages endorsed the idea.

But in the end, only a small part of the plan came to fruition in the budget: a surcharge on for-hire vehicles, including traditional taxis and app-based rides, entering the Manhattan business district. New charges on other cars and trucks did not come to pass. Activists excoriated Cuomo, while the governor blamed the Legislature. Cuomo said that an important first step had been passed and that he would work on additional steps in the future. That process would be led by a budget-created advisory “workgroup” made up of appointees from various stakeholders, including the governor, legislative leaders, and Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Since the March budget deal, the chorus calling for congestion pricing -- both to reduce street traffic in Manhattan and to secure a steady revenue stream to help support repair of the faltering subways -- has only grown, in number and volume.

Now, supporters of congestion pricing, from activists to City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and many others, want to ensure that it makes it into the next budget. They see a potentially more favorable environment, though a lot will be determined by the results of November’s elections, and by the pressure they put on those running.

“It's my impression that pretty much everyone running for office right now at least in the city supports congestion pricing, so I think that puts us in a position to win this year,” said Rebecca Bailin, the political director of the transit advocacy group Riders Alliance, referring to candidates for state Assembly and Senate.

Riders Alliance is a part of a new coalition, announced earlier this month, consisting of a diverse group of advocacy organizations, including those focused on the environment, immigrants, social justice, low-income communities and communities of color, and others, organized to push congestion pricing over the finish line. Between now and budget season, the groups will engage in both public demonstrations and private meetings with legislators in an attempt to steer the Legislature and governor toward implementing a full congestion pricing plan.

“We are all so reliant on our subways and buses,” Bailin said. “It is a social justice issue because it can either be a barrier or an entryway to economic opportunity, to cultural access in this city, to all the things that the city has to offer.”

The results of the recent primary elections have renewed hope that 2019 could finally be the year.

Discussion of congestion pricing and funding and fixing the MTA was a centerpiece of the Cuomo-Cynthia Nixon primary, with the governor regularly pointing to congestion pricing and the new Fast Forward plan put forth by MTA leadership to upgrade the transit system. Six of the eight members of the recently-defunct Independent Democratic Conference of the state Senate were defeated by insurgent Democrats who largely staked out more strongly supportive positions on congestion pricing than the incumbents.

Some of those defeated, like Senators Jesse Hamilton and Jose Peralta, were supporters of the scheme and were replaced by other supporters; on the other hand, cautious supporter John Liu defeated a vocal opponent, Senator Tony Avella, who is continuing his run in the general election on the Independence and Women’s Equality lines. Even Republican Senator Martin Golden of Southern Brooklyn, a perennial foe of transit and street safety activists, calls himself a supporter of congestion pricing.

"The Senate, whether controlled by the Democrats or the Republicans, is always a complicated picture,” said Alex Matthiessen, the founder of the Move NY campaign, whose comprehensive congestion pricing plan has served as a model for legislative proposals since 2015, in an email. “But the replacement of the IDC and many of its members with a crop of progressive, hungry and decidedly pro-congestion pricing senators-in-waiting portends well for this effort. But regardless of partisan control of the legislature there’s one constant: city transportation is a disaster and it’s on lawmakers to act.”

Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the likely majority leader if the Democrats take the Senate, represents a suburban district and does not have a clear position on congestion pricing. A report by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign found that only 3.9 percent of Stewart-Cousins’ constituents, those driving alone into Manhattan’s proposed congestion pricing zone, would be affected by the charge. Stewart-Cousins’ office did not respond to a request for comment for this article.

In the Assembly, Speaker Carl Heastie of the Bronx is a supporter of congestion pricing, though some advocates criticized him last year for not pushing hard enough for the proposal. Heastie’s office also did not respond to a request for comment.

Senator Michael Gianaris of Queens, who served as deputy minority leader prior to the reunification of the IDC and may return to a deputy leader role in January, was once a skeptic of congestion pricing, but is now a supporter. He also supports Mayor de Blasio’s millionaires’ tax proposal, which he says can help fill the gap left between what’s funded by congestion pricing and what a comprehensive transit fix will actually cost.

“A Democratic Senate would certainly prioritize the stability and funding of the MTA, which the Republican Senate has not done,” Gianaris said in an interview. “So I think it’s a prerequisite to get to a realistic end to have a Democratic Senate. As for whether the Senate would embrace congestion pricing, beyond those of us that already do, I can’t speak for others. We’re gonna have to have those conversations. I don’t even know which senators I’m going to be looking at, because we’re hoping to pick up a lot more senators in a couple weeks.”

Cuomo, too, has only attached himself more to congestion pricing. At an event hosted by the Association for a Better New York on October 4, Cuomo said that since neither God, the city, nor the state would cough up $33 billion needed for the Fast Forward plan, “the only realistic option is congestion pricing, we have to get it done, we have to get it done next year, I need your help.”

For now, Cuomo has activists somewhat convinced.

“I am optimistic based on what he said about the need to fund the MTA,” Bailin said of Cuomo’s ABNY remarks.

Cuomo’s FixNYC panel recommended, in a January report, a broad but “phased” congestion pricing program. The for-hire vehicle surcharge, phase 2, passed, but other parts and phases of the plan did not, leaving many boosters disappointed, and some accusing Cuomo of a “bait-and-switch.”

“The Governor single-handedly revived the idea of congestion pricing and succeeded in passing the first phase of the FixNYC plan including a fee on for-hire vehicles that will go into effect next year as well as empaneling a new MTA advisory group that will provide recommendations before end of year as we develop the executive budget proposal,” Cuomo spokesperson Peter Ajemian said in a statement. “The Governor has been clear congestion pricing is the most realistic way to help fund the NYCT modernization plan and will continue leading the charge to convince legislators to pass it next year.”

The new advisory group is the MTA Sustainability Advisory Workgroup, which formally met for the first time last month and is tasked with coming up with a comprehensive plan for funding a major transit overhaul plan like Fast Forward by December 31. Though created in the enacted budget that passed in March, the panel’s members were not named until August, after Riders Alliance publicly called for the appointments. The group’s fairly tight timeline is compounded by the sheer immensity of the task before it.

But, the workgroup represents a much broader array of perspectives than FixNYC, which was an entirely Cuomo-appointed panel. The panel consists of two Cuomo appointees: CEO of the Partnership for New York City Kathryn Wylde and Metro North Commuter Council member Rhonda Herman; two appointees of congestion pricing skeptic Mayor Bill de Blasio: former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Senator Gianaris; one appointee of MTA Chair Joe Lhota: Vice Chair Fernando Ferrer; two from the Senate: former City Council Member Andrew Eristoff and former DOT engineer Michael Shamma; and two from the Assembly: Assemblymembers Amy Paulin and Michael Benedetto.

“It is a group of well-meaning individuals who are trying to make recommendations to solve the MTA’s funding crisis,” Gianaris said. “And the MTA crisis in general, regardless of funding. I think efficiency is one of the other things we’re going to be looking at as well.”

Even de Blasio appears to be warming to the idea of congestion pricing, evidenced by his appointment of two supporters to the panel.

The panel has met three times so far, and Wylde, the chair, says that the meetings will occur weekly or biweekly until the end of the year, when a set of recommendations must be produced. The initial focus has been determining what the funding needs of the MTA are and how congestion pricing could form part of a solution, but the panel is empowered to go well beyond that in its recommended solutions.

“FixNYC was really focused on congestion pricing and how to implement it,” Gianaris said. “That is just one element of what this group is doing.”

Wylde elaborated on that point.

“It may be funding mechanisms, it may be reforms,” Wylde said in an interview with Gotham Gazette. “Structural and other reforms in how the MTA raises its own revenues. And then all the issues associated with congestion pricing: 1) to build support, and 2) to achieve the dual goals of new revenue generation and traffic reduction. So those have been the focus of the conversation so far.”

New York City Transit President Andy Byford’s much-talked about Fast Forward plan to modernize the subway system has been projected to cost roughly $40 billion over ten years, though Cuomo has used the $33 billion figure. Wylde said that unanimity on a true cost does not exist on the panel, and that part of the panel’s focus is in determining what it would be.

Congestion pricing remains the crux of the negotiations, and its status as a major part of the long-term transit solution appears to be agreed upon. But most analysts agree that congestion pricing would not alone cover the massive cost of fixing the transit system, and that other mechanisms are necessary as well. Estimates for annual congestion pricing revenue vary, and depend on what the program actually looks like, but have been in the $1 billion range.

The new advisory panel’s recommended solutions could, theoretically, include any of a variety of measures beyond congestion pricing -- including labor reforms, changes to the MTA’s budgeting process, an added surcharge to high-income earners’ taxes, fare hikes, or value capture -- to address long-term funding and spending issues.

“We will be careful about mission creep,” Wylde said. “The primary goal here is to identify the gap and make specific recommendations on how to deal with it, and most specifically, it’s to try and resolve an approach to congestion pricing. And so, I think that’s the focus, and to the extent that the gap exceeds the revenues that one can project from congestion pricing, looking at other sources of funding or cost reduction.”

The panel’s work will be informed by that of outside experts and advocates, and by previous plans such as FixNYC and Move NY, as well as by the expertise that the panel members themselves have from work on these issues. Political questions will come into consideration as well, especially considering the presence of three current and two former elected officials. The nature of the panel’s makeup -- that numerous stakeholders, rather than just one, appointed its members -- may allow for a broader consensus to be formed in such a way that is palatable to all parties.

“To date, I don't think party politics are playing a role,” Wylde said. “Obviously, the political sensibilities of all members of the group play into what they think is realistic and what can be accomplished. So, it's a politically sophisticated group, but not one that's just gonna be at the mercy of party politics.”

The November elections will, of course, hold significant influence over what happens in the next budget season, though Republican gubernatorial nominee Marc Molinaro, the Dutchess county executive, does support congestion pricing. However, if Republicans maintain the majority in the State Senate, they may put the brakes on the momentum toward implementation.

Advocates are, at present, optimistic about the panel and prospects despite the initial hiccups.

“It’s important there’s a panel in place that represents the interests of various government entities whose constituents are affected by our transportation crisis,” Matthiessen said. “As long as the Workgroup delivers the report by the December 31 deadline, the group’s work will be worthwhile.”

And though the December 31 deadline may seem tight for such a complex assignment, the stakeholders are confident that it will get done.

“It may be a broad topic,” Wylde said, “but it’s not a new topic.”

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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The Path Forward for Cuomo's 'One Real Answer,' Congestion Pricing Tue, 16 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Democratic Campaign Chief: Even a ‘Blue Trickle’ Will Flip State Senate https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7758-democratic-campaign-chief-even-a-blue-trickle-will-flip-state-senate https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7758-democratic-campaign-chief-even-a-blue-trickle-will-flip-state-senate gianaris via facebook

Senator Gianaris and colleagues (photo via Gianaris Facebook)


Predictions of a nationwide “blue wave” of anti-Trump sentiment resulting in major Democratic gains have been tempered as the president maintains strong support among Republicans and the economy, broadly speaking, is going strong.

But even if the blue wave ends up being more like a trickle, that would be good news to state Senator Michael Gianaris of Queens, who chairs the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (DSCC) and needs to net just one seat this fall to take control of the chamber and thus the entire Legislature.

In an interview as the end of session and official start of campaign season approached, Gianaris said Republicans have been holding on to numerous seats by slim margins.

“By virtue of the gerrymandering that’s happened here in New York in the Senate, Republican districts are stretched so thin and their margins of victory are always so narrow that a trickle is enough for us to make a difference,” he told Gotham Gazette.

“It’s just a question of degrees. Any tip in our favor will lead to more seats in our hands, and we’re one seat shy. So, we’re very optimistic,” he said, echoing a sentiment shared by Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who could become the first woman and first woman of color to lead the Senate if the Democrats take control.

Gianaris said the DSCC won’t start investing in individual Democrats’ campaigns until late summer or early fall. He mentioned numerous seats the committee might target throughout the state, though it is yet to make a decision about Senator Simcha Felder and his Brooklyn district.

Republicans are blocking Democrats from controlling the chamber thanks to Felder, who is a registered Democrat and has repeatedly run on the Democratic line, but caucuses with Republicans. Felder ran unopposed in 2016 and appeared on both major party ballot lines.

At their state nominating convention last month, Democrats passed resolutions to kick Felder out of the party and support a challenger to him. He is still running as a Democrat, though.

While Gianaris called Felder’s seat “a hostile district” -- and he faces a Democratic primary challenger, Blake Morris -- Gianaris said the DSCC was still waiting to determine if it would get involved in the race.

“What we’re evaluating is, is beating Felder in a primary more or less likely than winning some of these general election contests?” Gianaris said. “We have a lot of opportunities on our plate.”

Most of those opportunities appear to be outside the five boroughs -- there are just three members of the Senate Republican conference that represent New York City districts -- Senators Felder, Marty Golden, and Andrew Lanza.

Gianaris also shied away from committing to either of the Democrats in the other potentially intriguing New York City general election Senate race, for Golden’s Brooklyn seat (Lanza, of Staten Island, is not seen as beatable). The incumbent has provoked a streak of damaging headlines -- ranging from alleged threats against a bicyclist to parachuting while receiving disability payments -- providing Democratic challengers Ross Barkan and Andrew Gounardes plenty of fodder for attacks.

“There’s one blunder after another that will make that race even more possible than usual,” said Gianaris.

But he added, “I try to look at it coldly. As long as I pick up the seats I need, which right now is one...I’m agnostic as to where it comes from.”

Golden ran unopposed in 2016. He won easily in 2014 and 2012, when he beat Gounardes by a decisive margin.

As this year’s legislative session ended, the Senate -- Republicans’ only stronghold at the state level given Democratic control of the Assembly and all four statewide positions -- was deadlocked 31-31 between Republicans and Democrats since the GOP’s 32nd senator, Tom Croci of Long Island, was called to active duty with the Navy last month. Through the fall elections, Democrats must net just one seat to take the majority in the chamber for the first time in nearly a decade. Depending on the results of the gubernatorial race -- no Republican has been governor since 2006 -- Democratic control of the upper chamber could pave the way for passage of a slew of the party’s priorities.

Gianaris indicated Democrats are likely to focus on two Long Island seats where the incumbent won by razor-thin margins two years ago: Republican Senator Carl Marcellino, who won parts of Nassau and Suffolk Counties by less than 1 percent of the vote; and Democrat Senator John Brooks, who won by an even smaller margin.

Gianaris also pointed to the high number of Republicans who have announced they aren’t seeking reelection. In addition to Croci, they include John Bonacic of the Hudson Valley, John DeFrancisco of Syracuse, William Larkin of Orange County, and Kathy Marchione of Saratoga. Not all of the seats are in play for Democrats, but some appear to be.

Gianaris is also eyeing Republican seats that Democrats have won in the past - the 46th district outside Albany, currently held by George Amedore; and the 41st district in the Hudson Valley, where Sue Serino is the incumbent.

“Before you know it, you’re looking at 10 to 12 pockets of opportunity on offense and, effectively, the only seat we have to defend is John Brooks,’” he said.

Senate Democrats have crowed over Republicans’ resignation announcements, saying they show the GOP knows it’s doomed this year. A Senate Republican spokesperson did not answer a request for comment for this article.

Senator John Flanagan, the Senate majority leader, has tried to sound a confident note amid the flurry of resignations.

"New Yorkers know that our Majority is the only thing standing in the way of the New York City politicians implementing an agenda that will hurt our economy and make life more difficult for hardworking middle-class taxpayers," he told the New York Daily News. "We will succeed in November and maintain our majority so the true priorities of New Yorkers continue to be put first."

Senate Democrats increased their ranks in April, when the group of eight renegades known as the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) ended its coalition with Republicans and rejoined the mainstream Democratic fold, taking the conference from 23 to 31 members. The move came as nearly all of the IDC members faced primary challengers who decried them as “Trump Democrats” willing to empower Republicans in order to gain perks at the expense of progressive values.

Gianaris was one of the strongest critics of the IDC during its seven-year alliance with Republicans, and he was part of a long-term feud with Senator Jeff Klein, the leader of the IDC. But Gianaris said the DSCC has no intention of supporting challengers like Alessandra Biaggi, who is running against Klein, of the Bronx, as long as the ex-IDC members don’t break their promises.

Gianaris noted that Senator Stewart-Cousins, the Democratic leader, is supporting all members of her conference, including former IDC members, a point she recently stressed during a Gotham Gazette/City Limits podcast appearance.

“At this point, the former IDC members are members of our conference,” Gianaris said. “We’ve committed to not opposing them.”

Asked whether he would go so far as to discourage Democrats from challenging ex-IDC members, Gianaris declined to comment.

“Everyone seems to be on their best behavior on both sides and there seems to be genuine effort to work cooperatively and get to where we’re trying to go, so hopefully that continues,” he said of the Democratic conference since ex-IDC members rejoined it.

Asked whether he actually trusts the former IDC members -- who reneged on campaign promises to quit their alliance with Republicans in 2014 -- Gianaris said with a laugh, “I’ve come to trust very few people in politics.”

“But I can say…there’s been action behind the words. Hopefully that holds,” he added.

As in previous years’ elections, the Republican campaign committee has much more cash than the Democrats do -- $1,549,017.70 compared to $691,274.46, according to the latest disclosure reports.

However, Gianaris said trends are favoring Democrats this year.

“That gap is much smaller than it would normally be,” he said. “I think we’re about a half-million ahead of pace and they’re a million below pace, if you went back to 2016.”

Around this time in the 2016 election cycle, Republicans had more than $2 million and Democrats had a little over $225,000.

True to his role as Democratic cheerleader, Gianaris said he’s confident this year will bring a “blue wave” to the state.

“All around the country, Democrats are performing at a higher clip than would normally be expected,” he said. “I think it’s a legitimate wave.”

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by Shant Shahrigianh, Gotham Gazette
      

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Democratic Campaign Chief: Even a ‘Blue Trickle’ Will Flip State Senate Thu, 21 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Passed by Senate, Bill Would Allow Public to Call State Agency Hearings https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7750-passed-by-senate-bill-would-allow-public-to-call-state-agency-hearings https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7750-passed-by-senate-bill-would-allow-public-to-call-state-agency-hearings sengianaris press

Senator Gianaris (photo: @sengianaris)


New Yorkers may soon have a new tool to influence their government. A bill in the state Legislature would allow members of the public, given enough support, to compel state agencies to hold public hearings on proposed rules.

The bill (S2397), sponsored in the state Senate by Senator Michael Gianaris of Queens, would establish a three-year pilot program ordering seven regulatory agencies — the Workers' Compensation Board and the Departments of Education, Environmental Conservation, Health, Financial Services, Labor, and Family Assistance — to hold public hearings if at least 125 New Yorkers petition them to do so.

Senator Gianaris told Gotham Gazette that these agencies were selected for being those that “the public would benefit the most from opening up.” The agencies listed craft rules that directly impact ordinary New Yorkers.

The legislation, which passed the Senate unanimously on June 11 and now awaits action in the Assembly, where it has been stuck in committee since early February, also authorizes agencies to use “innovative means” of enhancing public participation in the rulemaking process, including establishing a designated time for public questioning of agency officials, organizing roundtable discussions, and using teleconference technology.

New York could join several other states that require public rulemaking hearings upon petition. California, Arizona, Idaho, New Hampshire, Illinois, and Utah all have similar rules, though none require as many petitioners as New York might. In California, for instance, state agencies are required to host public hearings upon “request of any interested person.”

Similar legislation passed both houses of the State Legislature in 2008, but then-Governor David Paterson, citing “technical flaws,” vetoed the bill. In response to this previous legislative failure, this bill included the Workers’ Compensation Board within its ambit and established a timeliness clause. If a petition is received later than the twentieth day before the last date for public comment, the public hearing becomes optional.

Senator Gianaris told Gotham Gazette that “agencies come out with regulations that have the force of law and [New Yorkers] don’t know anything about it or how the process happened.”

He expressed hope that the legislation would “force agencies to opine on issues that they’d like to ignore and sweep under the rug.” When asked to specify such issues, he named transportation and healthcare, but added that there’s “no limit to the type of thing that people can now have open up to public discussion.”

Anticipating that “one of the main things that will come out of this [legislation] is related to housing issues,” Gianaris called the state’s Housing and Community Renewal agency “completely inaccessible.”

The Senate bill and its companion in the state Assembly, A9737, appear to be identical. The Assembly bill, however, has not progressed beyond its February 5 introduction and referral to the Assembly’s Standing Committee on Governmental Operations. Until it is passed by committee, approved by the full Assembly, merged with S2397, and approved by Governor Cuomo, the aforementioned measures will have no bearing on the functionings of New York state agencies. It’s unclear if Cuomo supports the bill, which would place the burden of implementation upon executive branch agencies under his purview.

Through a spokesperson, Assistant Assembly Speaker Felix W. Ortiz, of Brooklyn, said the bill should be considered next year. The legislative session is scheduled to end for the year on Wednesday.

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by Daniel Yadin for Gotham Gazette

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Passed by Senate, Bill Would Allow Public to Call State Agency Hearings Tue, 19 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000