Gotham Gazette Fri, 13 Dec 2019 22:15:12 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Toward a Binary Free NYC toward a binary

Emilia Decaudin, the author

For nearly 100 years, Democrats in the State of New York have elected one man and one woman per Assembly District to serve in the Democratic Party’s governing body, the State Committee. A rule change passed last month means that after 2020, this will no longer be the case.

Eleanor Roosevelt and the League of Women Voters pushed for gendered seats for party offices, which include State Committee, District Leader, and County Committee, in order to promote the participation of women in politics. In 2019, however, these rules mean that non-binary people—those who don’t identify as being exclusively either women or men—are, in most cases, barred from running for party office.

In order to solve this problem, I authored a resolution that passed at last month’s State Committee meeting that amends the rules of the New York Democratic Party in three important ways:

First, language that required two corresponding party officers, such as Secretary and Assistant Secretary, to be of “the opposite gender” has been changed to require they be of “different genders,” or both non-binary.

Second, language requiring gender “balance” on committee has been changed to not require members to identify as either women or men, while maintaining an equal number of the former.

Third, beginning on July 1, 2020, instead of electing “one male and one female” per Assembly District, Democrats will elect people of “different genders,” or who are both non-binary.

The resolution also adds gender and gender identity to the Party’s diversity clause and replaces gendered pronouns, such as “he or she,” with the singular “they.”

These changes will open up participation in the State Committee to a growing class of New Yorkers, while keeping in place the fundamental requirement for gender diversity that ensures that men don’t dominate party committees at the expense of women.

While this is important progress, this particular resolution only applies to the State Committee, which has no authority over the 62 County Committees in New York State. Many of those, including Brooklyn and Queens, have gendered County Committee seats, and all of them in New York City have gendered District Leader seats. These positions are arguably more important for the goal of inclusion, as most people break into the political party scene at the County Committee level.

Efforts are already underway in Manhattan and Brooklyn to remove gender requirements for District Leader and County Committee, respectively. (Manhattan doesn’t have gendered county committee seats, and Brooklyn District Leaders are coterminous with State Committee members.)

The first election for State Committee members under these new requirements will be in June of 2022. Before then, State Election Law must be changed in order to accommodate this new system. This is why I have also written a piece of legislation, sponsored by Assembly Member Richard Gottfried of Manhattan, who also sponsored the Gender Expression and Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), in order to amend the way the Board of Elections handles elections for party positions to do just that.

The bill, which is slated to be introduced next session in Albany, changes the way all party positions for all political parties appear on the ballot. If a party has two vacancies for an office with gender requirements, instead of voting for one person in the male column and one person in the female column, voters will vote for two people in one column. Whoever gets the most votes wins one seat outright. Whoever gets the next most votes and is of the “opposite” gender or is of a different gender than the first candidate (depending on that party’s rules) also gets seated.

All of these granular changes to the way we elect candidates for party offices may seem insignificant at first. But they serve the important function of opening the door to participation by non-binary people preemptively and proactively, rather than waiting for them to knock on the door loudly and long enough for us to begrudgingly turn the lock.

Even then, there is more work to be done. Binary language that either formally or implicitly excludes non-binary people can be found in a myriad of places in our city—laws, regulations, press releases, signage, forms, and more. To tackle this issue, I’ve started Binary-Free NYC, which will serve as an umbrella for both the work being done at the party committee level and in other public forums. With any luck, New York State will continue to be a leader on gender diversity and inclusion.

Emilia Decaudin is a student and activist in New York City. She is the youngest and first openly transgender member of the New York State Democratic Committee, representing the 94th Assembly District in Westchester County. On Twitter @e_decaudin.

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Toward a Binary Free NYC Mon, 09 Dec 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Making the Democratic State Committee More Democratic and New York's DNC Delegation More Representative a more demo state com

(photo: New York Democratic Party)

With 2020 approaching and a contentious Democratic presidential primary underway, all eyes are the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and its shepherding of the Demcoratic Party apparatus. Far fewer eyes are the Democratic State Committees, constituted in each state, which select the rarefied membership of the National Committee every four years.

In many states, State Committees are a big deal. They are the primary strategic planner for their party’s political efforts, and a key conduit for funding to candidates and local organizations. In New York, not so much. This is largely a function of the State Party’s leadership, and that attitude is well reflected in the State Committee’s picks for New York State’s DNC representatives.

In the DNC, each state is awarded representation through the state party’s Chair and Vice Chair, as well as members apportioned by a formula that accounts for population, Democratic Party enrollment, and votes cast for the Demcoratic candidate in the most recent presidential election. As a large, Democratic state, New York has a large voice on the DNC. The state’s influence is also felt in the fact that two of the DNC’s Vice Chairs, elected by the DNC members, are New Yorkers, further boosting its vote total.

As an influential, ethnically diverse state with a population almost evenly split between urban and non-urban residents, New York is uniquely positioned to champion a Democratic message that appeals to a broad swath of Americans. It’s hard to believe it does this, though, given the chosen composition of the state’s DNC delegation.

Of New York’s 11 elected members of the Democratic National Committee: zero are under 50 years old, though such New Yorkers are about 60% the state population; zero are from upstate, home to about 40% of New York’s population; zero are Hispanic, though about 20% of New York’s population is Hispanic; and zero are Asian, about 10% of New York’s population.

New York’s dismal failure in representation is meaningful, but it would be hard to know it. The DNC makes it extremely difficult for people to acquire the voting records of DNC decisions. An attempt to uncover how New York’s delegation voted on holding a climate debate and issue-based forums in the current presidential primary ran into an initial dead end with the New York State Committee, which says it doesn’t ask members how they vote, and the DNC, which says it only tells DNC members the voting results. This all seems odd for a body whose members are theoretically elected by, and responsible to, State Committees.

Ultimately, I obtained the rolls and they reveal that of New York’s 15 members (including those not elected by the State Committee), only two voted in favor of the holding a climate debate. Perhaps more shockingly, only eight of those who cast votes were there in person (it cannot be determined if the six New Yorkers who didn’t cast votes were present, though it seems likely they were both absent and without a proxy since they were not counted as abstentions). Regardless of how one feels about the climate debate, it seems likely that a different composition of the DNC delegation -- one more diverse, younger and engaged -- could have changed the vote total as well as the number of delegates that attended the meeting.

Last year, one of New York’s DNC seats was left vacant by the passing of Assemblymember Denny Farrell. On October 15, at their fall meeting, the State Committee selected his replacement. In the end, three candidates from Upstate New York ran: Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, State Committeewoman Kelleigh McKenzie, and State Committeewoman Elisa Sumner. Brown, who also served as Governor Cuomo’s heavy-handed Chair of the State Committee until he was ousted after the 2018 scandal involving a mailer falsely smearing Cuomo’s primary opponent, won with over 60% of the vote.

While the election of an African-American man from Upstate is a step in the right direction, it remains palpably insufficient. African-Americans are the only minority group adequately represented in the DNC delegation while a single upstate member shortchanges nearly half the state’s population -- particularly the part most experienced in winning elections against Republicans.

Brown’s election also represents a continuation of the political status quo. As a long-term ally of Governor Cuomo and a State Chair who often ignored the democratic process, Brown’s ascension to the DNC is likely to maintain New York’s support for business as usual.

If people feel detached from the mechanics of the Democratic Party, they needn’t. In 2020 voters will have a chance to elect their State Committee members -- one male and one female per Assembly District. Those members will then immediately meet to select New York’s DNC members. In the past, the State Committee has rubber-stamped a slate chosen by the Democratic Party elite composed mainly of elected officials and power-brokers. Next time, it looks like there could be a contest for DNC membership and a push for a Democratic Party that represents New York’s Democrats.

Ben Yee is a civic educator and organizer in New York City. He is a Democratic State Committeeman for New York’s 66th Assembly District. On Twitter at @yben.

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Making the Democratic State Committee More Democratic and New York's DNC Delegation More Representative Thu, 17 Oct 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Democratic Establishment Embraces Cuomo as Pragmatic Progressive cuomo and ticket at convention

James, Cuomo, Hochul, DiNapoli (photo: @andrewcuomo)

Governor Andrew Cuomo emerged triumphant and emboldened from the State Democratic Party’s nominating convention on Long Island, with the party’s designation in hand and embraced by top national Democrats and elected party representatives from across the state. The governor basked in the support of centrist establishment figures like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Vice President Joe Biden, while they and much of the rest of the convention sought to frame Cuomo as a progressive standard bearer who represents the values of a Democratic Party that continues to move leftward.

Cuomo and others framed the two-term incumbent as a progressive who gets things done, a trailblazer who doesn’t just talk, but has real accomplishments and is actually a unifying figure for the party -- though he is again being challenged from his left in this year’s primary as discontent from the progressive wing has reached a fever pitch. That fever was not particularly evident at the state party convention, however.

“We are about to embark on the most consequential campaign in our lifetime,” Cuomo declared in his acceptance speech on Thursday, framing his reelection amid Democratic efforts to retake the state Senate and U.S. House, with several swing districts in New York. “We are at a political crossroads and our decisions and actions are going to define the soul of this state and the soul of this nation.”

Cuomo’s coronation comes at a time when progressives are incensed with his centrism and triangulation with Republicans, and are pushing to elect a “true blue” Democrat to the governorship, personified in this case by Cynthia Nixon. But Cuomo’s supporters have warned of the dangers of liberal absolutism, as Democrats seek to retain what control they have over state and federal branches of government while also unseating Republicans in an age of Trumpism. The stakes are high for both parties, and some question whether Democratic infighting does any good while Republicans control the presidency, both houses of Congress, and many state legislatures (New York’s is split, with one house controlled by each party).

The Democratic State Committee had already concluded its nominations on Wednesday, leaving party members free to glad-hand and pat each other on the back as they sang the praises of Cuomo and other top party officials. Cuomo won the party designation with 95 percent of the state committee vote, a resounding victory over upstart challenger Nixon, who did appear at the convention as her campaign launched a blistering effort to paint Cuomo as in bed with Republicans. She continued to criticize him as a fake Democrat whose governing style smacks of expediency rather than sincerity.

The party also designated as its official nominees incumbents Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli for another term each, and selected New York City Public Advocate Letitia James as the designated candidate for attorney general to replace Eric Schneiderman, who recently resigned after facing allegations of physical abuse by four women. Hochul is facing a primary challenge from New York City Council Member Jumaane Williams, while James is facing Fordham Law professor Zephyr Teachout and Leecia Eve, a former Cuomo and Clinton aide, in the primary.

Given how the state committee voted, Nixon, Williams, Teachout, and Eve will all have to collect petition signatures to get on the primary ballot. Nixon and Williams have the backing of the liberal Working Families Party, but may eschew its ballot line for the general election if they are unsuccessful in the Democratic primary. The WFP has said it wants to give its attorney general ballot line to either James or Teachout, depending on who wins the Democratic primary.

Though there was much party business and some controversy, the convention went mostly smoothly for Cuomo, who was the unequivocal star.

While Cuomo has indeed governed from the center, he was held up as a paragon of pragmatic progressivism at the convention, in line with the image he has sought to craft for himself in recent months, if not years. Before he spoke to the convention, Cuomo was lauded on Wednesday by Clinton and on Thursday by Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez and by Biden, who has a long-standing friendship with Cuomo, as a leader who has ushered in transformative change and created a model of governance that Democrats across the nation should envy, and emulate.

Marriage equality? Cuomo made it happen in New York and helped launch the nation on the path to full realization. Gun control? Cuomo moved quickly after the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre to ban the military-type assault weapons that have been used in many school and other mass shootings since. College tuition? Cuomo made it free for many middle-class students. A $15 minimum wage? Cuomo put a program in place. Paid family leave? Again, Cuomo.

In a lofty and lengthy address, filled with anecdotal life lessons, Biden waxed eloquent about the values of the Democratic Party, of American cultural exceptionalism, of the middle class American dream, as he inveighed against the Republican Party’s “phony populism” and “fake nationalism” that threaten to undermine them all. He spoke of his deeply personal ties to the Cuomo family, and of his and the governor’s shared interest in muscle cars (both of them own vintage Corvettes, he noted).

He proudly touted Cuomo’s record. “Andrew Cuomo has never backed away from his progressive principles, not one single time,” he said to applause.

Perez, occasionally peppering his speech with Spanish, said Cuomo and his running mate Hochul were “charter members of the accomplishments wing of the Democratic Party.”

“What I’ve grown to love about Andrew Cuomo is he understands that governance isn’t about speechifying,” Perez said. “It’s about making a real difference in people’s lives,” he said. “New Yorkers don’t want rhetoric, they want results. That’s what Andrew Cuomo has delivered.”

To an audience filled with many union workers, Perez hailed Cuomo’s support of labor unions and the state’s immense success in creating jobs under his tenure. And he drew a contrast between the governor and “this other New Yorker in Washington that’s giving a bad name to New York values,” though he stopped short of saying the name Trump.

State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, of the Bronx, commended the governor for managing to pass ambitious policies despite Republican control of the state Senate. “When you have a quarterback that’s a winning quarterback on a winning team, there’s no reason to change,” he said in his endorsement of the governor. And Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the Democratic minority leader, credited him with reuniting the fractured Senate Democratic conference, setting her up to eventually become the state’s first woman and woman of color to lead a legislative house if the party wins additional Senate seats in the elections this fall. “We can do this and we will make history by finally putting a woman in the room,” she declared.

All those Democrats, and the governor himself, put Cuomo on a large pedestal, as a leader who could forge a new path for the Democratic Party and whose administration was an exemplar for other states. The State Democratic Party, as is the case with its national counterpart, is counting on a blue wave that has been building across the nation since Trump’s election. Cuomo has trained his attention, and the state party’s resources, at flipping the state Senate and replacing Congressional Republicans with Democrats.

Cuomo welcomed the responsibility, insisting that the nation has its eyes turned to New York. “Our challenge is twofold. First, we must continue to move our state forward as the progressive capital of America because that’s what we are,” he said. “And at the same time, we must overcome the current national extreme conservative movement that is threatening this nation.”

Although he claimed he never appreciated his father’s self-proclaimed title of “pragmatic progressive,” Andrew Cuomo made no effort to distance himself from its definition: “We deliver practical progress for people in need,” he said.

Taking an expansive look at the Democratic Party, Cuomo said working- and middle-class voters had abandoned the party out of despair in 2016, and that the party must return to its roots. “No more platitudes, no more posturing, no more delay, no more incompetence, no more hypotheticals, no more hyperbole,” he said. “They want action. They want results and they want actions and results now. They don’t want pontification from an ivory tower.”

Cuomo's criticism of the Democratic Party and assertion that it had lost the election to Trump struck some as awkward, even insulting, given that Clinton -- the party's 2016 presidential nominee -- had praised and endorsed him the day before.

The convention also marked how far Cuomo has shifted in the last two years under the Trump presidency and, significantly, in the last few weeks under a deluge of criticism from a left-leaning progressive wing galvanized by Nixon’s candidacy.

For a time after Trump’s election, Cuomo refused to say “Trump” even as he criticized the federal government or “Washington.” In his speech on Thursday, he said the president’s name 18 times. “Today the Albany Republicans all carry the Trump doctrine,” he said. “They all drank the Trump, Ryan, McConnell Kool-Aid and their radical assault is draconian and all-encompassing...They think America was great when women were subordinate and when minorities were disenfranchised, and when the big private market corporations ruled the land and when labor was voiceless. That’s the America they want to take us back to. And we are not going back, ever.”

Cuomo did little to tamp down the rumors that he is considering a presidential run ahead of the 2020 election, something that his opponents from the left and the right have criticized him for.

Marc Molinaro, the gubernatorial candidate to Cuomo’s right as the Republican nominee, did not escape Cuomo’s scathing critiques either. “The Republicans in this state put on the top of their ticket a Trump mini-me. He's anti-woman, anti-LGBTQ, anti-gun safety, anti-immigration, anti-education equity, and pro-Trump's New York tax increase. All he is is a banner carrier for the extreme conservative movement,” Cuomo said, incorrectly characterizing some stances by Molinaro, who has opposed the federal tax reform and has said he did not vote for Trump for president.

But Cuomo did name Molinaro or Nixon, whose campaign sent out “fact check” emails as the governor spoke, contrasting his rhetoric with his record as they framed it. Notably, Cuomo pledged in his speech to “start a new movement of education funding equity” to ensure that public schools receive the resources they need to provide a sound education to all students. It’s a cause that Nixon has championed for nearly 20 years, largely placing blame for insufficient education funding on the governor, who has repeatedly shifted the way he talks about education funding.

"The Governor's attempt to reset his campaign this week failed," said Nixon campaign spokesperson Lauren Hitt in a statement on Thursday. “His highly choreographed convention inflamed old divisions, and provided a series of bizarre, tone-deaf moments. Simply put, the Governor did little to push back on the growing realization among New Yorkers that he has more much in common with his wealthy Republican donors than Democrats.”

For Democratic State Committee members, Cuomo had successfully grasped the title of progressive. Several members, enthused about a strong and diverse statewide ticket, seemed almost offended that anyone would challenge their champion.

“I think we put together a great ticket, I like the diversity of it,” said Crystal Peoples-Stokes, who holds the dual role of state Assemblymember and Democratic State committee member from Assembly District 141. “I think it’s important that the ticket looks more like the electorate,” she said, in apparent reference to the fact that James is an African-American woman, whom Cuomo has backed for the attorney general position, as well as Hochul’s presence on the ticket.

“I do take some exception to people always questioning what has happened when most of the progressive things we’ve done in the state have not been done in the rest of the country,” she added.

Andre Waldron, a committee member from Nassau County, said Cuomo’s speech was a “home run” and that the convention was “phenomenal.”

“I think this time we’ve come out even more inclusive, having all groups represented,” said Louis Goldstein, who said he has been a state committee member from the Bronx since 1970. “I love the fact that we have a female, who happens to be black, as our candidate for attorney general. I think we’re moving in the correct direction.”

As with others, Goldstein expressed reservations about Nixon’s candidacy. “She’s a good actress. I compare her as being our quote-unquote Trump, as far as no government experience, she really does not know how to politically get things done,” he said.

Mary Gault, a Dutchess County committee member, said the party has a “wonderful team” on the ticket. “Andrew Cuomo, I believe, he did so much good for this state over his eight years. Kathy Hochul...she’s terrific too. And of course, I’ve got a New York pension, [and] Tom DiNapoli, he watches out for us.”

Gault said she didn’t give Nixon consideration, though her own county committee is very progressive. “The way she speaks, perfect! I would vote for her in a minute,” she said, “but she doesn’t have the skill set and she doesn’t tell us how she’s going to do it. She’s not a viable candidate, but her platform is perfect.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Democratic Establishment Embraces Cuomo as Pragmatic Progressive Thu, 24 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Three Themes to Watch at State Democratic Convention New York convention Cuomo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Three Themes to Watch at State Democratic Convention Mon, 21 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Cuomo, State Democrats Issue Misleading Pleas About Flipping Senate cuomo mayer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Cuomo, State Democrats Issue Misleading Pleas About Flipping Senate Thu, 05 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Nixon-Cuomo Primary Spotlights Role of State Democratic Party geoff berman on ny1

Geoff Berman on NY1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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