Gotham Gazette Thu, 24 Oct 2019 05:39:03 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Max & Murphy Podcast: The Future of Fusion Voting in New York fusion voting 600

(photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photo Office)

September 25, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: The Future of Fusion Voting in New York

stan fritz wbaiA commission established by Governor Cuomo and the State Legislature is designing a system of public campaign financing for New York, and also considering whether to try to end the practice of fusion voting. Its binding recommendations are due by December 1, but everything is complicated. Stanley Fritz of Citizen Action New York, which is part of the Working Families Party, joined the show to discuss the governor's push to end fusion voting, why he and others from the WFP and beyond are fighting to save it, and what comes next.

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

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Max & Murphy Podcast: The Future of Fusion Voting in New York Wed, 25 Sep 2019 04:00:00 +0000
The 10 Most-Read Gotham Gazette Stories of 2018 Cuomo Stewart-Cousins Klein

(photo: The Governor's Office)

As 2018 comes to a close, we’re looking back at some of our “best” and most-read articles of the year. In a separate post, we’ll highlight some of the “best” pieces we reported that aren’t among our top ten most-read articles, which are listed below. This list does not include articles like election guides or candidate lists or even our summaries of voter turnout numbers, all of which are often among our most-read posts, as was our article that reported on the mayor's charter revision commission announcing which questions it would put on the November ballot.

The list below also does not include opinion pieces, though several of the op-ed columns that we published this year did qualify in terms of page-views. But this list is for reporting done by Gotham Gazette, and here it is, our ten most-read articles of 2018:

   myrie rally

1. Conflict Escalates Between Working Families Party and Independent Democratic Conference
by Ben Max, March 2018
In late February the Working Families Party announced a series of candidates it was backing to challenge members of the Independent Democratic Conference in state Senate primaries. While a lot changed from February to the September primaries, in the end six WFP-backed candidates defeated members of what had been the eight-member IDC, with the WFP working alongside an extremely organized and energized group of other activists set on unseating IDC members and flipping the state Senate to Democrats.
Read the March article about the WFP escalating its efforts to unseat IDC members.

   marc molinaro

2. In Run for Governor, Marc Molinaro Will Make A Character Argument
by Ben Max, March 2018
As Republican Marc Molinaro launched his campaign for governor, this profile outlined how he would pitch himself to voters as a person of integrity and good leadership, and juxtaposed as such to the image he would portrary of Governor Andrew Cuomo. The Dutchess county executive ran a spirited and earnest campaign, regularly hitting the themes of this initial Gotham Gazette look at his candidacy, which was based on an hourlong interview with Molinaro while he was deciding whether to run or not. In the end, Cuomo dispatched Cynthia Nixon in the Democratic primary, then beat Molinaro and others in the general election, winning a third term.
Read the March article about how Molinaro would present himself to the statewide electorate and his stances on several key issues.

   rezoning de blasio

 3. Questions Arise as De Blasio Administration Rezones Series of Low-Income Neighborhoods
by Sam Raskin, March 2018
Mayor de Blasio's administration has pushed through several neighborhood rezonings aimed at adding housing density, building affordable housing, and making neighborhood improvements. All of them have occurred in low-income neighborhoods, a phenomenon not lost on many. In this piece, we examine the trend and what it means as areas like East New York, East Harlem, and the Jerome Avenue corridor in the Bronx are rezoned.
Read the March article about the de Blasio administration's approach to neighborhood rezonings, and which areas of the city appear to be off limits in terms of seeking added housing density.

   cuomo state senate

4. Major Cuomo Supporters Don’t Want a Democratic State Senate
by Ben Brachfeld, April 2018
As Governor Cuomo professed his full support for helping to flip the state Senate to Democrats, this article examined the fact that many of Cuomo's biggest supporters were also supporters of a Republican Senate. The Democratic governor had, after all, himself been seen as supportive of a split Legislature, with Democrats in control of the Assembly, so that he could triangulate, carefully craft which progressive policies he wanted to pass, and keep fiscal restraints in place, while also pushing ahead a charter school and real estate friendly agenda that aligned with his beliefs.
Read the April article outlining the main Cuomo backers who also backed a Republican state Senate.

   cynthia nixon

5. Is Cynthia Nixon Qualified To Be Governor?
by Ashley Hupfl, April 2018
From the moment she declared her candidacy for governor, Cynthia Nixon was dogged by one key question: what makes you qualified to lead the state of New York and run its government? Nixon gave various answers to the question, mostly saying that she had the right values and the right policy plans. In this article, we explored her qualifications and the general question of what makes someone qualified to be governor.
Read the April article discussing Nixon's resume and what it means to be qualified to become governor.

   hamilton adams

6. Senator Facing Tough Primary is Spending $1 Million from Brooklyn Borough President
by Daniel Yadin, August 2018
State Senator Jesse Hamilton, who became a member of the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference, was the preferred successor to Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams when Adams left the Senate to take his borough presidency position. The two close friends remained tight as Hamilton fought for his political life against a variety of forces looking to unseat him and other members of the IDC, and Adams was helpful to Hamilton in an unprecedented move of providing city funds for Hamilton to dedicate to projects in his Senate district.
Read the article that exposed the fact that Senator Hamilton was generously allocated participatory budgeting money by his close ally Borough President Adams as the senator was in a tough reelection campaign that he ultimately lost to Zellnor Myrie.

   corey johnson

7. Now Pursuing Diversity, New City Council Speaker Has Employed Mostly White Men
by Samar Khurshid, January 2018
During the race to become the next speaker of the City Council, questions were raised about diversity in city government leadership given the fact that the mayor and comptroller were both white men, along with top statewide positions. As Corey Johnson won that race, he talked about both the diversity he would bring to the role as an openly gay and HIV positive person, and the diversity he promised he would bring to the Council under his leadership. But a review of Johnson's hiring as a City Council member showed a track record of largely employing white men.
Read the January 2018 article that examined new Speaker Corey Johnson's past staffing demographics and his pledge to hire a diverse staff as speaker amid questions about the elevation of another white man to a powerful city government position.

   klein gjonaj

8. Close Ties Among Bronx Electeds, Campaign Consultants, Lobbyists and Donors
by Jake Shore, October 2018
There are often blurry lines in politics, especially when government and campaigns are concerned, involving lobbyists, consultants, donors, and elected officials who have various relationships. Some of the closest ties in New York politics have included State Senator Jeff Klein and City Council Member Mark Gjonaj, along with consultants and lobbyists who have worked with them, and donors who have given to their campaigns.
Read the October 2018 article that examined the close ties among Klein, Gjonaj, campaign consultants and donors, and others in their orbits.  

   de blasio bratton oneill nypd crime

9. Why Does Crime Keep Falling in New York City?
by Samar Khurshid, January 2018
While New York City has seen decades of declining crime numbers, part of a national and international trend, do we really know why? In this article we explored the theories and the facts about New York City's remarkable crime decline.
Read the January 2018 article that examined the decades-long crime decline in the city, which has continued under Mayor Bill de Blasio, some of the reasons experts provide for the trend, and what can actually be supported by data.

   cuomo vital brooklyn

10. A Closer Look at 'Vital Brooklyn,' Cuomo's Plan for 'One of the Greatest Areas of Need in the Entire State'
by Rachel Holliday Smith, December 2018
Governor Cuomo surprised many people when he first announced in 2017 a state investment of $1.4 billion in Central Brooklyn, with the governor explaining that "Vital Brooklyn" was a program to bring much-needed resources to an area of the city and state with some of the most significant challenges facing New Yorkers, including poor health, bad schools, lack of park space, and more. The program hadn't been a heralded or even named part of the prior state budget deal, but Cuomo explained it as a major initiative and went on to make many Vital Brooklyn announcements, including several in the lead up to the 2018 primary election wherein he was attempting to defeat Cynthia Nixon while relying on a political base including Central Brooklyn voters.
Read the December 2018 article that examines what exactly Vital Brooklyn is, where the money comes from and is going, and how Cuomo has used the program to make those many announcements.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

The 10 Most-Read Gotham Gazette Stories of 2018 Sun, 30 Dec 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Is this the Election that Kills Fusion Voting in New York? govcuomo office pr

(photo via the Governor's office)

As New York lumbers out of its double primary season and rolls into a general election that’s being closely watched for its potential to give Democrats control of the state Senate and therefore the entire Legislature, another issue more central to the democratic process itself is being debated in pockets across the state.

Fusion voting, the practice of allowing one candidate to take multiple political party ballot lines in a single election and aggregate the votes received on each, is under the gun as both Democratic establishment figures and progressive activists are reaching the conclusion that the practice does more harm than good to New York’s democracy. Yet, this isn’t the first time in the Andrew Cuomo era fusion has faced a threat, much less the first time some in the state have looked to dismantle the practice, which continues to have its defenders.

New York put a dent in fusion voting in the mid-20th century with the Wilson-Pakula Law, passed largely in reaction to the victories of the suspected Communist-linked American Labor Party’s Representative Vito Marcantonio, who ran with multiple nominations including the Democratic and Republican lines on his way to victories in his East Harlem district. The law made it illegal for a candidate to run on the line of a party for which they weren’t registered, unless party leadership gave the candidate express permission through what is now commonly referred to as “a Wilson-Pakula.”

Smaller parties still exerted influence sometimes in New York though, as seen in John Lindsay’s successful re-election bid in 1969 on the Liberal Party line, undertaken after he lost the Republican primary. Decades later, Rudy Giuliani won his 1993 election thanks in part to the Liberal Party endorsement over incumbent Democratic Mayor David Dinkins. The party’s decision was largely seen as a power move by its leader, Ray Harding, and while it got Harding’s sons jobs in the new administration, the Giuliani endorsement also put into motion the eventual demise of the party, which lost its ballot line after endorsing Andrew Cuomo for governor in 2002 and failing to get 50,000 votes, and the rise of the Working Families Party, one of the most influential fusion parties in the state, along with the Conservative and Independence parties.

In the aftermath of the Liberal Party decision to endorse Giuliani, Dan Cantor, Bob Masters and Jon Kest convinced activism organization ACORN and several New York labor unions to join forces under the new Working Families Party umbrella and endorse Peter Vallone for governor in 1998. The endorsement, the beginning of the WFP’s blend of pragmatism and progressivism as American Prospect noted, worked as Vallone got just over the 50,000 votes on the WFP line the party needed to secure a statewide ballot line for at least the next four years. The party’s existence as a left flank with the Democrats allowed voters who wanted to express those left tendencies to have a voice in the Democratic firmament, and the WFP has managed to elect a City Council member, Letitia James, on their line and put their cross-endorsed stamp of approval on Mayor Bill de Blasio, Comptroller Scott Stringer, James -- now the Public Advocate and likely next Attorney General -- and members of the City Council Progressive Caucus. Candidates have regularly secured thousands more votes on the WFP line than there are registered members of the WFP eligible, meaning many Democrats choose to vote WFP to indicate their support for the party and its efforts to move Democrats left. By having a ballot line to offer, the WFP is able to influence Democratic candidates on its issues.

But the WFP’s victories on a citywide level haven’t been replicated on the statewide level, at least in terms of influencing progressive bête noire Andrew Cuomo. From the start of his successful gubernatorial runs, Cuomo has had a fraught relationship with the party, though he’s now on its ballot line for the third straight election.

Unlike the previous two elections in which he got the WFP line, Cuomo and the WFP’s mutual frustration with each other boiled over into the party nominating Cynthia Nixon in an effort to either shock the world and have their chosen leftist as the Democratic nominee or at least push Cuomo leftward, and Cuomo allegedly threatening progressive organizations that had been critical of him. The feud between the two sides cooled down enough after the very heated primary to allow the WFP to offer Cuomo its line in November, though -- in an indication of the messiness of fusion voting -- having to move Nixon off the line and into an Assembly election spot has led to other headaches.

The party had a well-publicized argument with Joe Crowley over his refusal to leave its ballot line after it endorsed him over Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, since under New York State law candidates can only be removed from a ballot line if they transfer to another race, move out of their district, or die, a trio of options Crowley found unappealing. And while the WFP notched a series of victories in efforts to depose six the of eight members of the state Senate Independent Democratic Conference, some of those members are lingering or outright running in the general election on ballot on lines like those of the Independence Party and Women’s Equality Party.

While only Tony Avella has announced his intention to mount a vigorous general election campaign, Democratic Party bosses were rumored to have dangled judgeships to Senators Jeff Klein and Jesse Hamilton in order to persuade them to step away from the ballots, blatantly undemocratic horse-trading that also would have rewarded a state Senator, Klein, who was accused earlier this year of forcibly kissing a staffer. Those moves have not been made, and neither Klein or Hamilton has officially declared their general election intentions.

Perhaps sensing an opportunity to assert their power, the Democratic establishment across New York is making noise about ending fusion.

“Call it CON-fusion voting” Democratic consultant Bob Liff wrote in the Daily News in the wake of the Crowley situation, calling the practice transactional as opposed to reformist as it exists in New York. The practice only exists as an avenue for patronage, wrote Joshua Spivak of the Hugh Carey Institute for Government Reform, and third parties could actually grow without fusion.

Norman Green, chair of the Chautauqua County Democratic Party, wrote that the practice encourages corruption on a local level and a tail wags the dog situation on a statewide level, and the Erie County Democratic Town Chairs Association called for an end to Wilson-Pakula because of what they said resulted in overstuffed ballots featuring the same candidates on a series of different ballot lines.

State Senator Diane Savino, one of the original founders of the Working Families Party and Independent Democratic Conference, who in an ironic twist saw the WFP’s organizing prowess help unseat six of her IDC allies, told the Daily News that a Democratic Senate majority should explore including ending fusion voting as part of electoral reform efforts because the practice pulls candidates too far left or right.

A spokesperson for Governor Cuomo, who cites election reform as a top 2019 priority, did not respond to a question on whether ending fusion voting would be on his agenda if he wins reelection this year.

So is fusion on the way out?

“It's nothing new,” Mike Long, the chair of the New York State Conservative Party, told Gotham Gazette. “The Conservative Party has been in business since 1962, I've heard those cries over the 50-some-odd years. I hear those cries every governor's race for sure, especially when independent parties nominate someone other than those who think they should be crowned.”

As it typically does, the Conservative Party has cross-endorsed the Republican nominee for governor, Marc Molinaro. Like the WFP on the left, the Conservative Party is seen on the right as an important seal of approval and a force that pulls away from the middle.

Recent history is on Long’s side. Governor Cuomo floated the idea of nixing Wilson-Pakula in 2013 in the wake of a bribery scandal involving Malcolm Smith attempting to buy his way onto the Republican ballot line for the New York City mayoral election.

The effort ran into resistance from the smaller parties and reform groups like Common Cause New York and the Brennan Center for Justice and never went anywhere. And Bill Lipton, the Working Families Party’s political director in New York, says current anti-fusion sentiment is misplaced, especially given there are other reforms the state can make.

“We think fusion is a good idea that allows a minority viewpoint to have a say, and that gives voters who don’t find their views fully represented by either major party a political home,” he told Gotham Gazette. “The real issue is the bizarre set of laws that govern how candidates can get off the ballot, and those do need to be fixed,” Lipton said, referring to the die, move, or change races stipulations that allow someone to come off a ballot.

But this year’s frustration with the practice among progressives and good government advocates doesn’t stop at ballot law shenanigans, and extends to critiques about third parties run like local fiefdoms and prominent but ideology-free parties using fusion to gain prominence.

“This isn't about pushing third parties and their values,” said Rachel Barnhart, a journalist turned politician who’s run for several offices in Rochester and is currently working on Stephanie Miner’s independent bid for governor, about fusion voting. “It's about keeping a place at the table, it's about power-brokering. The Working Families Party has given perfunctory interviews and then just given the nod to the person they already know. These parties that exist to just extract money from powerful parties, and it handicaps people trying to defeat the establishment.”

Barnhart had especially harsh words for the WFP-endorsed Joe Morelle, the Rochester Assembly member and current Democratic nominee to replace the late Louise Slaughter in Congress, and his relationship with the Conservative Party of Monroe County, suggesting there was some kind of agreement between the candidate and party to make sure he often ran unopposed in his Assembly races, a frequent circumstance in those races. Democrats have a big registration advantage in Morelle’s district, and he has run unopposed for years, while state campaign finance records show donations given to the Conservative Party of Monroe County by both Morelle and various local Democratic Party organizations.

“It might have been a personal donation or whatever, I know he was friendly with the party leader up there, but I can’t speak to why he gave money to the Conservative Party,” Long said when asked about the donations. Told that Morelle ran unopposed, Long said, “I guess two and two makes four, maybe that’s why he donated some money.”

Using local parties as a kind of personal fiefdom is enough of a concern for even some allies of groups that rely on fusion.

“The baseline position among [good government groups] is fusion voting is a bad thing,” said Gus Christensen of the organization No IDC, which helped lead campaign efforts against the former IDC members. “Forgetting whether it benefits Democrats or Republicans in whatever election, it empowers some deeply corrupt and non-representative individuals who run these parties and small groups.”

Even fusion advocates see the occasional weakness in the system. “You can look at the Conservative Party and get a platform from us and know where we stand on all the issues,” Long said, when asked about the issue of minor parties and ideology. “You can look at the Working Families Party, our philosophical opposite, and see where they stand. No one knows where the Reform Party stands or what issues are important to them. It's pretty hard when a party endorses far left and in the next breath they support very conservative candidates. Certainly the Independence Party doesn't have a whole host of issues or an agenda they're trying to promote.”

New York’s Independence Party has come under criticism for years due to what critics say is a membership driven more by confusion from voters who think they’re registering merely as “independent” -- the party boasts over 436,612 active registered voters, outpacing all the other parties in New York except Democrats and Republicans. It has also been run by fringe political figures who’ve gotten the ear of mainstream candidates banking on the almost half a million people registered with the party, prominence that inspired a weeklong Daily News investigation into the party.

And while Christensen dismissed the chances of any of the former IDC members mounting a successful challenge on a third party line, he said when it comes to statewide offices, the WFP’s clout was neutralized by the existence of these other third parties.

“The pull of the Independence and Reform parties for the more right-wing members of our party, they pull people like Andrew Cuomo to the right in a way that's much more significant to the lives of New Yorkers because he can't stop hearing the siren song of the Independence and Reform endorsements. So I think there's an emerging view that it's a net-negative for progressive politics in New York State. That as much as there's a benefit from the WFP getting to use fusion voting, it’s more than offset by the damage done by the Independence Party and the Reform Party.”

It’s a weakness in the coalition-building attempts that has some people demanding more wholesale change. The WFP’s endorsement of Cuomo crossed from pragmatism to cynicism for some, including Green Party gubernatorial nominee Howie Hawkins, who issued a statement calling the WFP’s attempt the pull the Democratic Party left a “futile effort” and invited socialist and progressive voters to fill in the circle for him instead.

Barnhart is also challenging third parties to stand on their own. “New York State has kept this because keeping fusion voting means you're keeping both [major] parties strong. They don't want to have to deal with a strong independent candidate. You never know what could happen with a third party, and that's why New York State makes it so difficult to establish a ballot line and that's why they do fusion voting. Because these third parties just wind up being cogs of a party machine.”

It’s not as simple as that, though, according to Lipton, who said the realities of America’s electoral system are what make fusion necessary. “Our first-past-the-post electoral system doesn’t exist in most countries,” he said. “It’s arguably undemocratic, because even a party that gets 49 percent of the vote sees no representation. Fusion is good for democracy because it gives minority viewpoints a fair shot to participate in the electoral process.”

And that current reality of an electoral system that lays out the choice between being an unheard minority or a spoiler means that fusion as practiced by the Working Families and Conservative parties can also come in for praise by good government activists.

"I think that the Working Families Party and the Conservative Party are the best example of how fusion can work and is beneficial,” Alex Carmada, the senior policy adviser for Reinvent Albany, told Gotham Gazette. “They're true in their beliefs, they've existed for a long time, and they don't play the role of spoilers."

The relatively new Reform Party in New York has indeed endorsed a strange mix of candidates, including Molinaro and Democratic Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, but it does have several clearly outlined principles, mostly focused on government reform, like term limits for elected officials. The party, which is not formally affiliated with the national Reform Party by the larger group’s choice, was only created in 2014 by then-Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino, who launched the Stop Common Core Party, earned 50,000 votes on the line, then changed its name to Reform after the election. It has just 1802 active voters registered as Reform across the entire state, but it has a ballot line.

Something somewhat similar took place with Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Party, which he created in 2014 as an election gimmick and to hurt the WFP, even as he appeared on both ballot lines, along with the Democratic and Independence party lines. Cuomo earned just over 50,000 on the WEP line and will again appear on it this year, though he does not appear to have mentioned it yet this year on the campaign trail (he has loaned it some money, however, from his campaign account).

Carmada said it’s all life under fusion.

"The Stop Common Core Party is the equivalent of the WEP, an of-the-moment election issue that becomes a party and then its usefulness diminishes by the next election. Especially for Stop Common Core, the original message was not sustainable, but the system we have in New York encourages the creation of these of-the-moment parties," Carmada said.

If the end of fusion is near though, Long at least was copacetic about the future of the Conservative Party.

“Just because the insiders do away with fusion voting, doesn't mean the minor parties go out of business,” he said. “We’ll run our own candidates for governor, United States Senate. We did that in the beginning and we can do it again. The Conservative Party has done that off and on quite often.”

by Dave Colon, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note - this article has been updated. 

Is this the Election that Kills Fusion Voting in New York? Thu, 11 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Cuomo and His Progressive Critics Face Moment of Truth cuomo smiling andrewcuomo

Gov. Cuomo (photo: @andrewcuomo)

Governor Andrew Cuomo, emboldened after a sizeable Democratic primary victory, and an invigorated progressive movement with recent wins of its own, are again forced to grapple with the rift between them, as the factions must decide what steps they are willing to take to unite in the aftermath of a contentious primary season.

Facing a handful of general election opponents led by Republican Marc Molinaro, Cuomo has given mixed signals to the 500,000-plus voters who chose Cynthia Nixon on September 13, many of whom likely helped lift a group of left-wing challengers over seven sitting state senators. Some of those challengers -- Molinaro, Green Party nominee Howie Hawkins, independent Stephanie Miner, and Libertarian Larry Sharpe -- have begun making direct appeals to Nixon voters, while Cuomo has not.

Before the end of next week, one of the governor’s chief progressive critics, the Working Families Party, is expected to have determined what to do with its ballot line after Cuomo defeated its first choice in round one. The WFP nominated Nixon for governor and Jumaane Williams for lieutenant governor, but saw them both lose in the Democratic primary, throwing into question whether the two will actually appear as WFP candidates on the November ballot. Party members will in the coming days decide via internal meetings who they are willing to support in November.

The party may offer its ballot line to Cuomo, who has downplayed the magnitude of his left-wing critics after he won two-thirds of the primary vote and openly warred with the WFP for years, including since just after it agreed to nominate him in 2014.

As NY1’s Zack Fink reported Monday, WFP leaders will meet privately on Wednesday to discuss the party’s next steps, and will the following Wednesday convene in a public meeting as a full WFP state committee, apparently to vote on a general election slate for governor and lieutenant governor, as well as an attorney general candidate. (The party had previously installed a placeholder, while expressing support for both Zephyr Teachout and primary winner Letitia James).

The impending decision will come after the WFP backed Nixon, who took up the cause of the state’s disgruntled progressives frustrated with Cuomo’s centrist triangulation on a host of issues, enabled in part by his support of a Republican state Senate bolstered by breakaway Democrats. With just six weeks until Election Day, November 6, the WFP is faced with the decision of backing a governor with whom it has had a deeply antagonistic relationship — and who has thus far declined to extend an olive branch to the WFP and more broadly those to the left of Cuomo — or a candidate who has little-to-no chance of becoming governor, possibly putting a dent in Cuomo’s vote total.

The WFP, notably, needs at least 50,000 votes on its ballot line for its gubernatorial candidate in order to keep that automatic line in elections for the next four years. If no alternative move is made, Nixon and Williams would remain on the line. (Governor and lieutenant governor are voted on separately in party primaries but as a ticket in the general). A back-up plan for removing Nixon from the gubernatorial ballot line — a somewhat tricky process — has been in place for months, with the WFP and Nixon acknowledging that her chances in the primary were slim and pledging not to play “spoiler” in the general election by peeling away votes from Cuomo.

The party will answer the looming question of whether to leave Nixon on its line, pick Cuomo, which would necessitate a deal with the notoriously score-keeping governor, or possibly someone else, based on what members believe is best for the causes it champons, the party’s political director, Bill Lipton, told Gotham Gazette on Monday.

“The WFP is having its own internal deliberations,” Lipton said by phone. “We’ll be having meetings, phone calls and other communications, where people are going to air their views, and, as has been oft-stated, the candidates, the leadership, the grassroots members of the WFP will be arriving at a decision together.”

Lipton declined to say if any discussions with Cuomo’s camp had occurred in recent weeks.

“We’re focused on our internal deliberations and doing what’s best for working families in New York State,” he said.

Additionally, Lipton said the WFP has, as expected, been communicating with Nixon and Williams, the Brooklyn City Council member who ran against incumbent Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul in the primary. “We’re going to talk a lot with Cynthia and Jumaane,” Lipton said. “We consider them part of our community.”

Nixon has made no public comments since her primary night concessive speech, which was celebratory and forward-looking. A top Nixon campaign operative was noncommittal when asked about the matter last week.

“I don’t want to divulge much,” Nixon campaign chief strategist Rebecca Katz said on the Max and Murphy podcast. “There will be some answers, and they will be coming soon.” Katz went on to acknowledge that Nixon had previously said she’d prefer Cuomo to Molinaro, and reiterated that Nixon has always been and will remain a Democrat.

Though Nixon came up well short of defeating Cuomo, all but two of the eight challengers to former members of the Independent Democratic Conference — a group of breakaway Democrats allied with Republicans in the State Senate — pulled off victories that shook up the New York political world. Additionally, left-wing insurgent Julia Salazar knocked off veteran state Senator Martin Dilan. All nine Senate challengers were backed by the WFP. But Cuomo said in his defiant post-primary press conference that their success did not serve as a rejection of his brand of progressivism.

Though Cuomo had given his tacit support and generic endorsement to his fellow Democratic incumbents as part of the April unity deal that brought the IDC back to the mainline Democratic fold, the governor downplayed the results and anything they might say about the extent to which his leadership was rebuked by voters.

Democrats clearly approved of his get-things-done, somewhat-tempered progressivism, the governor explained the day after the primary, pointing to his margin of victory — 65.6 percent to Nixon’s 34.4 percent — even with a major boom in turnout from four years ago, when he prevailed by a similar percentage over Zephyr Teachout. While the former IDC members struggled immensely, the two Cuomo-endorsed statewide candidates — Hochul and James — won their hotly-contested primaries.

What many deemed a progressive wave was “not even a ripple,” the two-term governor said the day after the primary, throwing cold water on the narrative that the primary was part of a surge in popularity of a Democratic vision in stark contrast to his.

“Where was that effect yesterday?” Cuomo said of a supposed progressive wave in the state, represented by the candidacies of Nixon and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. “Where was it?”

“It was upstate. It was downstate, white, black, brown — it was across the board,” he said of the coalition that contributed to his decisive win.

He added the victory proved that he and New York Democrats “provided and achieved progress,” which was the “message” voters delivered in the election.

But what about those 500,000 Nixon voters and the disenchanted left they represent? Will they rally behind Cuomo, beaming with confidence and dismissiveness, as the Democratic nominee? Will WFP members swallow the indignity of offering him their ballot line?

At least two of the leaders of the successful primary purity push backed by the WFP are staying out of the fray.

André Richardson, a spokesperson for successful IDC challenger Zellnor Myrie, said in a statement that Myrie “respects” the WFP’s “internal process.”

“He looks forward to continuing to fight side by side with them on progressive issues,” Richardson said.

David Neustadt, a spokesperson for Alessandra Biaggi, who defeated former IDC leader Jeff Klein, said in a statement that Biaggi is “supporting the Democratic Party nominees for Governor, Lt. Governor and Attorney General.” He declined to say whether Biaggi has a preference on the WFP’s choice, but said the candidate “respects the internal democratic process of the WFP, which appropriately allows the members of the Party to determine whom that party endorses."

Rachel May, who prevailed over former IDC member David Valesky in her primary and like Myrie and Biaggi received Nixon’s support, said she believed Cuomo is the definitive leader of the Democratic Party, and is open to the WFP handing the ballot line to Cuomo.

“I’m not categorically opposed to it,” she explained. “I was running for Democratic unity all along. That’s what our whole campaign against the IDC was about. And so I feel like Democratic voters have spoken about who should be the standard-bearer moving forward.”

“I supported her in the primary but I think I would encourage her not to campaign actively against the governor in the general,” May said of Nixon.

May stopped short of saying it is her preference that the WFP give Cuomo its nomination. “I’m willing to only say ‘I will not object,’” she said.

May, who said the governor’s team was among the first to congratulate her after the primary, went on to speak to the need of uniting the warring factions of the party — something Cuomo and his team have been loathe to do following the primary. Cuomo, for example, made no mention of Nixon or her supporters during an event billed as a unity rally held the week after the election.

“I want to work together with whoever is elected governor. It’s looking more and more like Governor Cuomo,” said May, who may be facing a tough general election that could include Valesky on the Independence and Women’s Equality ballot lines, both of which Cuomo also has. “I think the less we divide the more progressive voters the better, at this point.”

Asked if Cuomo’s post-primary press conference — where he did more spiking the football than calling for party unity — worked toward that goal, May said Cuomo and his allies are “eager to work with Democrats moving forward.”

“I feel like we we’re going to all get on the same page,” she continued. “We still need reform in Albany. It’s not going to be a rubber stamp Senate for [Cuomo]. So I understand that, but I also understand that he wants to work with us.”

Cuomo and His Progressive Critics Face Moment of Truth Mon, 24 Sep 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Opponents of Democratic Senator Raise Questions About Past IDC Financial Support loft law presser

Senator Martin Dilan (Photo: Sen. Dilan's Office)

A campaign fundraising committee set up to bankroll the state Senators from the erstwhile Independent Democratic Conference was recently ruled to have been illegal by a state Supreme Court judge. Campaign finance records show that Brooklyn Senator Martin Dilan, who was never part of the IDC but is facing a tough primary challenge this year, was also a beneficiary of thousands of dollars spent by that committee for his last reelection campaign, a fact opponents are using as fodder to criticize his commitment to the Democratic base.

The Senate Independence Campaign Committee (SICC) was created in 2016 in an arrangement between the Republican-allied IDC, a conference but not political party led by Bronx Senator Jeff Klein, and the Independence Party. Klein chaired the SICC and funnelled about $1.4 million in total to his campaign and those of his fellow IDC members, allocating funds even after the IDC was dissolved in April, when its members rejoined the mainline Democratic conference. While there were questions about the legality of the SICC from its inception, there had been no legal rulings about it until recently.

A state Supreme Court judge ruled in June that the SICC arrangement was not compliant with state election law, and the state Board of Elections enforcement counsel, Risa Sugarman, subsequently called on the IDC members in a June 20 letter to return the contributions they had received from the SICC within 20 days. That deadline passed on Wednesday, and the senators have shown no indication that they intend to refund any of the donations. IDC members maintain that the issue identified by the court, which related to the party affiliation of the SICC leadership, has been resolved, and say that the judge did not order them to return any money. Sugarman declined to comment for this article.

Then or soon-to-be members of the IDC received various amounts of campaign money from the SICC last election cycle, two years ago, including about $540,000 that went to help Marisol Alcantara win a close, four-way Democratic primary, after which she joined the IDC. Like the other seven former members of the breakaway conference, Alcantara is facing a primary challenge this year.

In 2016, when Dilan was running for reelection and faced a primary challenge, the SICC spent about $8,000 in his favor. Dilan was the only member of the mainline Democratic conference to receive aid from the committee, a fact his primary opponent, Julia Salazar, a young democratic socialist, has highlighted. Dilan also got a $5,000 donation from Klein himself. “The fact that Senator Dilan accepted support from the IDC's illegal slush fund just two years ago raises troubling questions about where his loyalties lie,” said Michael Kinnucan, a Salazar campaign spokesperson, in an email. “The voters of District 18 deserve a senator who is accountable to his constituents, not to wealthy donors and Republican-linked special interests.”

[Read: Running for State Senate, Julia Salazar Attempts Progressive Primary Upset]

Salazar, a community organizer, is running as a progressive from Dilan’s left, focusing on issues such as affordable housing, healthcare, and immigration while refusing donations from the real estate industry, which has been generous to Dilan and, even more so, to Klein and the IDC. She has criticized Dilan’s record, particularly on housing and tenant protections, over his eight terms in office, highlighting the rampant gentrification that has hit the northern Brooklyn district, which includes Williamsburg and Bushwick, and taking aim at his vote for vacancy decontrol, which he has since disavowed.

Graham Parker, a spokesperson for Dilan’s campaign, issued a scathing response to his opponents’ criticism of the SICC expenditures, without mentioning Salazar’s name at all. He said Dilan “was not considering, and has not considered leaving the Senate Democratic Conference.”

“These attacks and accusations only serve to hide who the opponent really is and who really backs her candidacy,” Parker said in an email. “[Salazar] has nearly $50 thousand in unitemized contributions. She hosts lavish fundraisers with Wall Street executives. Most all of her money is from out of the district. She lives in luxury, and decries displacement. She's a republican one year, a socialist the next. She is the exact opposite of what’s been portrayed. It’s fitting the [Working Families Party] supports her; they haven’t been about workers or families in a decade. It’s why the laborers left, and now support the Senator.”

The funds behind the SICC came from donors who are more often linked with Republicans -- including the real estate and charter school sectors -- which is anathema to several progressive challengers who are taking on Democratic incumbents across statewide races. At a Thursday news conference on the steps of City Hall, four of the eight candidates challenging the former IDC senators excoriated them for refusing to give the SICC funds back. They were joined by Bill Lipton, political director of the New York Working Families Party, which has endorsed the challengers as well as Salazar.

“I think it’s a really important data point that defines a certain type of Democrat,” Lipton said of the SICC expenditure for Dilan, shortly after the news conference. “That you would be willing to take money from a party that openly supports Republicans for Congress, openly has supported Republicans for state Senate and the money comes from some of the wealthiest people in the world. These hedge fund and real estate barons are extremely powerful and they support the Independence Party and they support candidates like Dilan and the IDC because they want their interests protected.”

The SICC money “suggests that he’s IDC-friendly,” Lipton said. It’s not clear if there was ever anything further than the 2016 expenditure to indicate that the IDC was recruiting Dilan or if he was at any point considering joining the breakaway faction. Dilan has had harsh words about the IDC in the past, saying in 2014, “They’re not Democrats, no matter what they say. They should all be disenrolled by the Democratic Party.”

Barbara Brancaccio, a Klein spokesperson, did not address the Dilan expenditure but had caustic criticism for the IDC challengers and the WFP. “There is no legal basis for returning these funds and the account is fully compliant, unlike their Working Fraud Party, who continues to violate finance and election laws in campaigns throughout New York State,” she said in a statement, before identifying three challengers to former IDC senators by name and making apparently unsubstantiated allegations against them.

“The recent flood of endorsements for Julia Salazar and IDC challengers demonstrate how electeds and key institutional players are following the cues of progressive grassroots activists,” said Susan Kang, a spokesperson for No IDC NY, a group opposing the former IDC members which has its own multi-candidate campaign committee. “Incumbents like Dilan with deeper connections to the real estate interests than his own constituents are out of the step with the current political moment,” she added.

The primary is September 13.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Opponents of Democratic Senator Raise Questions About Past IDC Financial Support Tue, 14 Aug 2018 02:38:55 +0000
Working Families Party Puts It All On The Line Cynthia Nixon, Jummane Williams, and Alessandra Biaggi

Cynthia Nixon (left), Alessandra Biaggi (top right), Bill Lipton & Jumaane Williams (bottom)

The Working Families Party celebrated its 20th anniversary last month at Brooklyn Bowl in Williamsburg, with its rank-and-file cheering on a line up of politicians that have served as standard bearers, past and present. But it’s the future of the party that is especially uncertain as the upstart liberal organization lays it all on the line in backing insurgent candidates in state elections this year.

In doing so, especially in its decision to take on Governor Andrew Cuomo by backing Cynthia Nixon, some the party’s longtime allies have turned adversaries, portending a potentially diminished presence in the state’s political landscape if its gamble does not pay off over the next several weeks. At the anniversary celebration, which featured Mayor Bill de Blasio, among others singing the party’s praises for its push to create a more fair and equal New York, there was little sign of uneasiness about its bold choices this election year; an atmosphere of revelry prevailed, possibly the sign of progressive activists happy to be going for it all instead of triangulating with Cuomo and other more centrist Democrats as it had in the past.

There is also a sense among WFP leaders and supporters that the party is already where the Democratic Party is heading, and where it needs to be, with a more progressive vision of left politics reflective of a new post-Clinton, post-Cuomo Democratic era.

Created by community advocates and labor unions with a vision of pulling Democrats to the progressive left, the WFP has played a prominent role in championing the bread-and-butter issues that most affect working, low- and middle-income Americans. Through activism and advocacy around policy and funding, the party battles inequity, whether it be in housing, employment, wages, criminal justice, education, environment, or electoral access. In local and state elections, Democrats eager to brandish their progressive bonafides have coveted and sought the WFP’s endorsement, and the party’s vocal leaders and active network of members and volunteers.

But after years of being let down by elected officials they propped up, the WFP’s leadership made a drastic decision this year to endorse underdogs in key Democratic primaries. They backed Nixon’s challenge to Cuomo, a two-term incumbent seeking reelection, and New York City Council Member Jumaane Williams in his attempt to unseat Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul; and they are fiercely rallying behind progressive candidates who are trying to replace Democratic state Senators who until recently made up the Republican-allied Independent Democratic Conference (IDC).

The reaction to the WFP’s moves has been significant, and potentially crippling. Several unions that had filled the party’s coffers for years pulled their support for fear of angering the governor, who made explicit threats against anyone who would stay, according to a WFP leader. But advocacy groups and a progressive activist base rallied, resolute to take on Cuomo, whom they no longer trusted after a 2014 deal went bad, and the former IDC members, who had betrayed their Democratic party-mates.

While acknowledging its newfound vulnerability, WFP leaders and supporters also had a sense that they were on the right side of history, pursuing their true vision of where the Democratic Party should be (with the necessary help of the WFP), representative of the national trendlines -- the WFP did back Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary -- a feeling only bolstered in recent weeks by events like the shocking congressional primary victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whom the WFP had not endorsed over Rep. Joe Crowley, but quickly sought to align with thereafter.

“I think the unions are dismayed by the way the Working Families Party has chosen to operate this cycle,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, in a phone interview. RWDSU was among those unions that left the party this year and Appelbaum is one of several labor leaders who say that Cuomo deserves to be reelected.

“They’re diverting energy and resources from the effort to send more Democratic congresspeople from New York to Washington, [and] our prime responsibility is to work to take back the House of Representatives…Our concern is that the WFP no longer is representing, in its current rendition, the interests of working men and women, despite their name, and that is why unions felt it was necessary to disassociate themselves.”

WFP leaders and allied elected officials say the party made a calculated wager, riding a groundswell of progressive sentiment that has moved the state’s political center, and that no matter how the chips fall on September 13, primary day, the party has already won.

“This is the party they founded 20 years pull the Democratic Party to the left and with a coalitional approach to building power,” Brooklyn City Council Member Brad Lander told Gotham Gazette at the WFP’s anniversary gala. Lander spoke of the “radical but also practical vision” of Jon Kest, the progressive organizer who founded the WFP as well as the advocacy groups New York Communities for Change and its predecessor, the now-defunct Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN).

“The WFP’s always contained this dynamic tension,” Lander said, between “the strength of voice of grassroots activists” and “established but still progressive” institutions such as labor unions. “At this moment, given shifts in the broader zeitgeist...and of course because of the way the governor has approached this, the party is in a more activist movement space,” he said. Like the WFP, Lander is backing Williams for lieutenant governor and several of the challengers to the former IDC members.

Surely, if the WFP notches wins in the many primaries it is involved in -- the WFP offers a general election ballot line, but does much of its work backing its preferred candidates in their Democratic primaries -- it will strengthen the party, and conversely, losses will set them back, Lander said. Though, given the state of New York’s politics, “There’s no choice,” Lander said.

For nearly eight years, the WFP has cried foul about Democratic recalcitrance as key progressive policies have failed to pass the state Legislature. The WFP continues to advocate for issues that include healthcare for all, ending the school-to-prison pipeline, fair wages, fixing the city’s subways, increasing funding to under-resourced schools, the DREAM Act, campaign finance and voting reform.  

Cuomo and the members of the erstwhile IDC largely claim to support that agenda and have repeatedly blamed the Republican-controlled Senate for thwarting its planks. But Cuomo tolerated, if not supported, the presence of the IDC, and critics hold its members up as a major obstacle to full Democratic control of both legislative chambers. Democrats have a comfortable majority in the 150-seat Assembly but, with the return of the IDC to the mainline Democratic conference, hold 31 seats in the 63-seat Senate.

And though the State Democratic Party, at Cuomo’s behest, is focused on recapturing the Senate, which necessitates flipping seats in the general election, groups like the WFP insist on replacing rogue Democrats with candidates who better embody progressive values and they trust to not flee for a deal with Republicans.

The party is taking a “big risk,” Dorothy Siegel, WFP treasurer, conceded on the sidelines of the gala, where Nixon, Williams, de Blasio, and Ben Jealous, the WFP-backed Democratic nominee for governor in Maryland, took the stage one by one to celebrate the WFP’s history. “Because, the power structure doesn’t like to be challenged...and the WFP is a really small organization,” Siegel said. “The people who control the levers of power win. Individual people never win.”

Siegel lamented her belief that the state’s politics, the governor, and state Legislature are powered by special interests, largely real estate developers and Wall Street executives (she left out the extensive influence of labor unions). “The WFP is not powered by any of those powerful people. We’re only powered by people who pay us $5 a month,” she said. “It’s a true David and Goliath situation. If we lose the governor’s race, we run the risk of very powerful people being very angry. They can do a lot of things to us that would make our lives difficult.”

Siegel pointed to the investigation involving the WFP that stemmed from alleged campaign finance violations in the election of City Council Member Debi Rose on Staten Island in 2009. Two campaign workers were accused, and later cleared, of charges that they worked with the WFP’s consulting firm, Data and Field Services, to circumvent campaign finance law. The years-long episode cost time and money that the WFP could ill-afford. “Lots of people got laid off. We almost went out of business,” Siegel said. “They could do that again. Do not underestimate the power of super-wealthy people to trample people who want to take away their power.”

Is it worth the risk? “Absolutely. 100 percent,” she said.

One of the most consequential possible effects of the WFP backing Nixon over Cuomo -- who they endorsed in 2014 after he promised to bring the IDC to an end and enact many of the same policies he’s promising again this year, which he did not follow through on -- is that it could cost the party automatic ballot access. A “third party” like the WFP needs at least 50,000 votes for its candidate for governor to maintain its ballot line into the future, which Nixon could easily attain in the general election. But Nixon losing the Democratic primary would put the WFP in a tough spot. Its leaders claim they won’t play spoiler and risk electing a Republican by drawing general election votes away from Cuomo. The party could feasibly get behind Cuomo while removing Nixon from the gubernatorial ballot line. A back-up plan is in place to move her to an Assembly race, in which she would not run, they say.

[Read: The Cynthia Nixon-Working Families Party Back-up Plan]

“We’re confident that Cynthia’s going to win and that the insurgents running against the IDC are all going to win,” said Bill Lipton, NYWFP political director, in a phone interview. “There’s a progressive wave coming. In the unlikely event that she loses, Cynthia’s agreed to meet with the leaders of the WFP and we’ll have an important decision to make. We’re very confident about any of the possible scenarios.”

A Nixon win would shock the political world, and catapult the WFP to never-before-seen power for a minor party. While initial polls show Nixon losing badly, her campaign argues that polling has been skewed and that polls are unable to capture the insurgent energy among Democrats and behind her candidacy. On the other hand, polling shows Williams to have a very real shot at unseating Hochul, which would also strengthen the WFP and cause major headaches for Cuomo (candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run separately in the primary, but as a ticket for the general election).

If Lipton had concerns about the WFP’s undertaking in this election cycle, he betrayed none of them. “We’re not taking a risk. We’re fulfilling our mission. The risk would be for us if we stray from our mission,” he said, critiquing the Democratic establishment for relying on the same wealthy donors as their Republican opponents. “The mission of the WFP is to break up that cozy relationship between these parties and these oligarchs and demand that there be a party that is truly fighting for working people,” he added. “And Cuomo and the IDC fundamentally made the problem worse by not just taking money from the same wealthy donors that fund the Republican attacks on working people but actually openly supporting and aligning themselves with the Republicans. The danger for us would’ve been not standing up to these Trump Democrats. That would’ve been the greater danger.”

The WFP hasn’t been a pure supporter of every progressive candidate, as evidenced by its choice of Cuomo over Zephyr Teachout in 2014, among others. Though the party derived momentum after the recent primary victory by Ocasio-Cortez, the young democratic socialist who defeated ten-term incumbent Rep. Crowley in Queens, its backing of Crowley left many questioning the WFP afterward. Lipton said the party was now fully behind her and that their earlier decisions owed to the fact that Crowley was moving to his left and the party had already committed to challenging former IDC state senators. “In retrospect, we clearly made a mistake. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has inspired us and working people around New York and the nation,” Lipton said.  

The party also hasn’t made an endorsement in the state Senate District 18 race where Julia Salazar, also a democratic socialist, is posing a primary challenge to Democratic Senator Martin Dilan, an eight-term incumbent. Although, Lipton did not close the door on the prospect of an endorsement. “As of now, the WFP has made no endorsement in the race,” he simply said. The party is backing Andrew Gounardes in a competitive Brooklyn Democratic primary with Ross Barkan, the winner of which will try to unseat one of the few Republican elected officials in the city, Senator Marty Golden.

[Read: Running for State Senate, Julia Salazar Attempts Progressive Primary Upset]

Karen Scharff, co-chair of the NYWFP and, until recently, longtime executive director of Citizen Action of New York, an activist group and member of the WFP, insists the party will come through September 13 with several victories, similarly citing Ocasio-Cortez, among other progressives, who prevailed in the congressional primaries.

“The headline that came out of June 26 was not ‘Democratic establishment wins big.’ It was quite the opposite,’” Scharff said in a phone interview. “I think really that Cuomo and the IDC and the establishment Democrats took a major risk themselves by ignoring the growth of the progressive movement as it really built up steam over the past seven years going back to Occupy Wall Street and then Bill de Blasio’s election in New York City, the Black Lives Matter movement, the Bernie Sanders momentum, and they’re showing that they realize it.”

She noted that Cuomo has moved to his left in the last few months on several fronts, owing to the shifting dynamics of the Democratic base. “I think that the risk we’ve taken in our endorsements this year have already paid off in moving the dominant issues in our state in a direction that is gonna meet the needs of working families instead of the needs of hedge fund donors and real estate donors,” she said, insisting that the governor and state Legislature, no matter who wins, can ill-afford to ignore the WFP’s agenda next year. “I think this is the direction the electorate is moving in and the Democratic Party’s going to have to either move with it or risk being left behind,” she said.

“I don’t think WFP is out on a limb by itself here,” Scharff continued. “This is really part of the establishment versus the entire progressive and resistance movement….We’re definitely acting as part of a broader movement with a lot of allies.”

Public Advocate Letitia James, who first got elected to the City Council on the WFP line in 2003, also attended the 20th anniversary gala, though her presence was more muted. Despite being a longtime WFP poster star, she did not speak to the gathering, choosing to mingle on the sides. James is running for attorney general with the governor’s support and eschewed the WFP’s endorsement, which the party has reserved for either James or one of her primary opponents, Zephyr Teachout, hoping that one of the two prevails September 13. Asked about the party’s risky endeavors this year, which include the challenge against Cuomo, James demurred. “I was with WFP when they had fundraisers at churches and if you didn’t get there early enough, all the cheese and crackers were gone. They’ve come a long way,” she said.

“They took a chance on me several years ago,” she said, “and they are voting their values. I just wanted to come because they are my friends and because when I needed a party to run on, the Working Families Party was there and that’s something I’ll never forget.”

Theodore Hamm, associate professor and chair of journalism and new media studies at St. Joseph’s College and longtime Brooklyn politics watcher, struck an optimistic note about the state Senate candidates that the WFP has endorsed, though he said that Nixon and Williams are unlikely to win. “The question, I guess, is if those people win but Cuomo holds on, then how will the new state Senate take shape with the some of the IDC figures no longer there and the challengers now taking those seats,” he wondered. “But that would certainly give the WFP influence, to a much greater degree than they’ve had thus far in the state Senate. That really should be where they put their energy.”

Even Hamm admitted, though, that after Ocasio-Cortez’s shocking upset, “There’s no certainties anymore of what will happen in the future. In the wake of her victory, even though they didn’t support her, it made it seem like their gamble was worth at least pursuing.”

At the WFP gala, Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke early and eagerly. His association with the party goes back to his years as a City Council member from Park Slope. “People try and bet against the Working Families Party all the time, the status quo loves to discount them,” the mayor said to whoops and applause. “But guess what? The Working Families Party is here to stay.”

[Read: New York Democrats’ Season of Choosing]

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Working Families Party Puts It All On The Line Thu, 02 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000
The Cynthia Nixon-Working Families Party Back-up Plan nixon wfp via nixon twitter

Cynthia Nixon and the WFP (photo: @CynthiaNixon)

If Cynthia Nixon is unsuccessful in her attempt to defeat Governor Andrew Cuomo in the September 13 Democratic primary, she is likely to vacate the Working Families Party ballot line for the general election in order to avoid playing “spoiler” by pulling votes from Cuomo and helping elect another candidate, such as Republican gubernatorial nominee Marc Molinaro.

While Nixon has been endorsed by the Working Families Party, in a move that has put the WFP’s existence at risk, the party has arranged a back-up plan to move Nixon off its gubernatorial ballot line and onto its line in the state Assembly race in Nixon’s home district on Manhattan’s west side. The 66th Assembly District, which includes neighborhoods like Greenwich Village and Tribeca, is currently represented by long-time Democratic Assemblymember Deborah Glick, whom the WFP informed of its plans before the party filed ballot petitions for a placeholder candidate to occupy the ballot line in anticipation of its possible use by Nixon.

The broad contours of the arrangement were first reported this weekend by The New York Post. However, The Post indicated that Nixon may run against Glick for the Assembly seat if she moves to that ballot line, something that both the Nixon campaign and WFP told Gotham Gazette would not occur.

According to spokespeople for the Nixon campaign and the WFP, both have high hopes for a Nixon upset victory over Cuomo in the Democratic primary, at which time Nixon would remain on the WFP line for the general election and have two ballot lines.

"We are very confident that Cynthia will win the Democratic primary, but if she does not, as we have said many times before, she will decide at that time if she will continue on the WFP line or not,” said Lauren Hitt, a Nixon campaign spokesperson, in a Monday statement to Gotham Gazette. “And as we told the Post, Cynthia has no intention whatsoever of running against Glick and will in fact campaign for her. The only questions that remain unanswered are what the Governor will do when he loses - as he is on the WEP [Women’s Equality Party] and Independence Party Lines."

A WFP spokesperson said the party had explained the precautions to Glick and indicated the party has no intention of running Nixon, or the placeholder, Doug Seidman, against her in the general election. There are a handful of ways that a candidate can be removed from a ballot line, one of which is to be nominated for another race.

"WFP has put everything on the line for Cynthia because we believe in her, and from the start, we've known she could win,” said Working Families Party New York Director Bill Lipton, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “Over the last few weeks, the path to that win is getting clearer. We're creating a placeholder as a precaution that we take in almost every contested primary, in case our candidate wants to remove themselves from the ballot.”

Like Hitt, Lipton also noted that if Nixon wins the Democratic primary, there will be questions about Cuomo’s status on the two general election ballot lines he has secured.

Glick, meanwhile, told Gotham Gazette that she plans to be successful in winning another term this November, no matter who is on the ballot against her.

"I didn't speak to the Nixon campaign,” Glick said in a brief Monday phone call. “I spoke with Working Families Party representatives shortly before they were going to be filing petitions for Doug Seidman for the November election. And I fully expect to win that general race, regardless of who is on the line, whether it's Mr. Seidman or Cynthia Nixon. And, the explanation as to what their machinations are, should really be discussed with the Working Families Party, not me."

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Brachfeld contributed reporting.

The Cynthia Nixon-Working Families Party Back-up Plan Tue, 17 Jul 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Hochul: Divided Democratic Party Only Benefits Republicans cuomo hochul bus stop

Gov. Cuomo and Lt. Gov. Hochul (photo: Governor's Office)

With the September primaries for New York state elections fast approaching, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, both Democratic incumbents, are being forced to defend their records in challenges from the left. While many other elected officials and labor unions are supporting the incumbents, a wide swath of activists that form part of the party’s base is supporting challengers to Cuomo, Hochul, and a group of state senators who, until recently, made up the rogue Democratic faction known as the Independent Democratic Conference, which aligned itself with Senate Republicans.

It is a contentious, and potentially damaging, split within the party that Cuomo, Hochul, and other incumbents are attempting to overcome, keeping them from focusing their full attention on unseating Republicans in the state Senate or House of Representatives, both of which could swing to Democratic control through the fall elections.

Actor and activist Cynthia Nixon, who is campaigning to become governor, and City Council Member Jumaane Williams, vying to become lieutenant governor, have both been endorsed by the liberal Working Families Party (WFP) and are currently petitioning the public for a place on the September Democratic primary ballot, claiming the party under Cuomo’s leadership has lost its way, falling into corruption and leaning too far across the aisle.

Hochul, a former member of Congress from western New York who was also Cuomo’s 2014 running mate, lamented the challenge, saying the “only beneficiaries” of a divided Democratic party are Republicans.

“I approach every challenge with the effort and an attempt to understand where people come from, so I am trying to put myself in their shoes, but I also understand history very well and I know what happens when Democrats attack each other and there’s polarization,” Hochul said on a recent episode of the Max & Murphy podcast from Gotham Gazette and City Limits, when asked about the Nixon and Williams campaigns.

“What I would love to do is harness all that energy and set it on fire against the Republicans because what I would be doing right now, if I didn’t have a challenge, is what I set out to do, which is to help elect Democrats to Congress,” said Hochul, who Williams has accused of being too moderate and not being an independent voice to check Cuomo.

Hochul’s sentiment is opposite to that of Nixon and Williams, who have made no mention of running together but who’ve appeared jointly on community calls run by the WFP (governor and lieutenant governor are voted on separately during party primaries but appear on the ballot as a ticket in the general).

Speaking on a May 24 call, Nixon said, “A Democratic primary is good for the party and good for the state.” Both candidates are critical of Cuomo’s lack of action, rhetoric to the contrary, in areas of criminal justice reform; protecting undocumented immigrants; rent regulations, and education funding fairness, among other issues.

A cornerstone of Williams’ campaign is his promise to redefine the role of lieutenant governor and act only for the benefit of New Yorkers, even if it means independently of the governor. “I will make certain that our governor and elected officials uphold their promises to you and will hold them accountable for the actions they take,” his website reads, a sentiment he echoed on an earlier WFP call to rally volunteers in early May.

Though he doesn’t mention Hochul by name, Williams has drawn a clear comparison to the incumbent, who herself acknowledges that she sees the job as to support the governor and be the “advocate in chief,” as she said on the podcast. Hochul travels the state promoting and explaining Cuomo administration initiatives, while at times also helping craft them. Economic development and women’s issues are key pieces of her portfolio. During the podcast discussion, Hochul applauded Cuomo for his efforts in reinventing the city of Buffalo with an injection of $1 billion, and saying he has done “an exceptional job” in fighting for working-class people across the state.

“A primary keeps you on the ropes; you have to focus on it, because I need to be there to finish the job with Governor Cuomo,” Hochul said. “It is what it is, but I wish people would understand this energy is better spent on the other party right now because of the threat of [Republican President] Donald Trump.”

“We can all be purists about everything when we have a Democrat in the White House, when we have the House and the Senate, and when we have New York State Legislature,” she continued. “Then we can fight each other on the nuances.”

On the Republican side of the aisle, there is no corresponding set of primaries -- the GOP is nominating Marc Molinaro for governor and Julie Killian for lieutenant governor. They now have months to join in the attacks on Cuomo and Hochul, raise money, and stake out their positions, while also watching Democrats in-fight.

While Nixon and Williams are calling upon a grassroots movement of volunteers and a network of liberal groups to expand their support base, Hochul and Cuomo are embracing the establishment while reminding voters of their work over the past four, or in Cuomo’s case, eight, years.

“You ask anybody on the streets of Buffalo, you go up there today and ask anyone if they can see and feel the difference and the answer will be ‘yes’,” Hochul told the podcast. “There is literally not just a physical change where you can see an area that was abandoned wasteland on our waterfront which is now a place where 2 million people go every summer for concerts…And the businesses that are coming, it’s one of the top destinations for millennials in the country. The success is seen in the jobs, the transformation of neighbourhoods, the physical change but also the psychological change. There’s a pride that never used to be there.”

The change can be replicated -- is being replicated, according to Hochul -- in other places in New York. She spoke of Syracuse (now the “international capital for drone technology”) and Rochester (“we’re now bringing technology jobs there”), saying the Buffalo example shows: “If we can bring back the hardest hit area of the state, we can bring back anything.”

Yet when pressed on the corruption attached to the “Buffalo Billion” and other Cuomo administration economic development programming, which has seen one completed and one ongoing federal trial this year, with charges against individuals including former top aides and major donors to Cuomo, Hochul downplayed its significance.

“There are trials on that right now and it was heartbreaking to see how people abused the trust that was placed in them. It really is,” she said, apparently referring to former Secretary to the Governor Joseph Percoco, who was convicted earlier this year, and former SUNY Polytechnic President Alain Kaloyeros, who is currently on trial. “We need accountability and we’re getting accountability. There was a separate entity that had been orchestrating much of the economic development that has changed.”

Now, Buffalo’s development projects are consolidated under Empire State Development with former Buffalo business leader Howard Zemsky at the helm (Zemsky also co-chaired the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council, part of the network of REDCs that Cuomo and Hochul oversee) and with a new entity, NY CREATES, about to launch under new leadership, while consolidating the assets of two scandal-plagued nonprofits.

Of Zemsky, Hochul said she “trusts him enormously” and that he has a “stellar reputation for integrity.”

On other touchpoints that appear pivotal in the Hochul-Williams Democratic primary, such as LGBTQ rights and support for immigrant communities, Hochul is adamant she’s been consistent in upholding true “democratic values,” though she did admit to some regrets from her time as Erie County Clerk. She’s been a stalwart supporter of marriage equality, which was legalized in New York under Cuomo in 2011, she said, while also taking an apparent shot at Williams, who has not always been vocally behind marriage rights for same-sex couples (or abortion rights for women).

On the other hand, on the podcast Hochul said she regrets the opposition she expressed in 2007 to providing driver’s licenses to undocumented New Yorkers. At the time, Hochul threatened to turn undocumented immigrants in to law enforcement if they sought licenses, which were a controversial topic at the time and are again a key issue this year.

“It was the time, and I said I would uphold the law. There were people who would break the law and I said ‘if this is what the state of New York decides to do, I will uphold that law.’ It became very contentious within our community,” Hochul said, noting work she did on Capitol Hill early in her career helping immigrants should speak to her “commitment” to the issue.

“I wish I had not gone that route [in 2007], I really do, because I realize it was hurtful to people and that was never my intent,” Hochul said. “I would never do anything to intentionally hurt anybody.”

[Listen to the full conversation: Max & Murphy Podcast: Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul]

by Caitlin Bishop, Gotham Gazette
@caitybishop  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

Hochul: Divided Democratic Party Only Benefits Republicans Mon, 25 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Inside Cynthia Nixon’s Developing Campaign Infrastructure Cynthia Nixon Facebook rally

Nixon in New Paltz (photo: Cynthia for New York Facebook)

If elected governor, Cynthia Nixon is promising to “transform New York" into a state “for the many” but her campaign for governor is already rapidly transforming the landscape of New York politics. She is putting pressure on incumbent Governor Andrew Cuomo, whom she hopes to defeat in the Democratic primary, and broadening her supporter base by linking up with the Working Families Party and other liberal groups that have endorsed her.

Three-and-a-half months from the September 13 primary, Nixon and her allies are plotting and executing a developing plan to create a statewide network and the campaign infrastructure necessary to carry her to what would be one of the most shocking upsets in recent political history.

The effort has begun through Nixon’s early campaigning, including house parties and speaking appearances at rallies, marches, and meetings of clubs and other organizations, as well as organizing calls, e-blasts, and campaign website portals. Nixon has also done several interviews with national magazines and television programs. Much of the still-growing campaign’s activity is being coordinated with the Working Families Party (WFP), which comes with ready-built infrastructure around the state and an extensive email list of supporters.

A key first task for the coordinated campaign is collecting the signatures necessary to get Nixon onto the Democratic primary ballot, an essential effort that can complement and significantly boost other tasks leading toward the September vote. Several petitioning kickoff trainings are among about a dozen events across the state currently scheduled by the WFP-Nixon campaign, designed to equip volunteers with the tools to collect signatures and increase voter turnout.

Ballot Signatures and Voter Turnout Goals
According to Nixon and WFP leaders, the campaign is a grassroots, volunteer-driven effort, that’s accepting no contributions from big corporations or through the infamous loophole in state campaign finance law that allows limited liability companies (LLCs) to donate virtually unlimited funds without naming their owners. The campaign itself is designed to position Nixon in stark contrast to Cuomo, who has relied on large donors, benefited greatly from the loophole, and, critics say, retains shallow support among many of the New Yorkers who have backed him in the past.

"Cynthia's campaign is laser-focused on building a strong, statewide volunteer team,” Nixon campaign spokesperson Lauren Hitt said in a Tuesday statement to Gotham Gazette. “We know we'll never get close to out-raising Governor Cuomo with his millions in donations from Wall Street and real estate developers, but we are confident we will out-organize him with a robust voter-to-voter contact operation.”

Nixon has captured the support of a growing list of progressive groups and liberal Democratic clubs, bolstering her attempt to lay the groundwork for the type of campaign need to give her any chance at victory. Her campaign, in conjunction with those groups, especially the WFP, is now accelerating its volunteer-recruitment efforts, organizing events around the state, and raising money.

“We have community activists on the ground,” Nixon told an open campaign call on Thursday, May 24, run by her own campaign but promoted via email by the WFP. A press release from Nixon’s campaign following the call said more than 600 participants had logged on to watch her speak about the campaign’s next steps and the ways she aims to create change if elected. “We have community groups who know the creative solutions…the community-based solutions” to New York’s problems, she told participants.

The conversation came a day after the Democratic state convention, at which Nixon failed to receive enough support from state Democratic Party committee members for an automatic spot on the primary election ballot. Nixon said the convention result was “unsurprising” and is determined to make the ballot through collecting petition signatures. She needs 15,000 valid signatures from registered Democrats across the state to qualify for a ballot line, including “at least 100 or 5% of enrolled voters from each of one-half of the congressional districts,” according to the State Board of Elections. She told the call she aims to collect 50,000 signatures “as a show of force and enthusiasm.”

In large part a call to action, Nixon also outlined for the first time the overarching structure of her campaign and its underlying goals, including the upcoming petition drive and to increase voter turnout for the September primaries. Just under 600,000 people voted in the 2014 primaries, the last gubernatorial election year, when Cuomo defeated little-known and under-funded Democratic primary opponent, Zephyr Teachout, by a 62-34 percent margin (Randy Credico received 4 percent) in a surprisingly strong showing by the challenger.

A campaign representative and the facilitator of Thursday’s call, referred to as "Caroline," said they’re expecting voter turnout for the Democratic primary to increase to “anywhere from around 700,000 voters up to a little over 900,000 voters” this year. She said that “a bigger turnout helps us, we know that…the more people who vote, the more likely we are to bring in folks who are drop-off voters, perhaps who are people who don’t typically vote in a midterm a election. They’re not the stalwart Democratic voters, so our strategy is to expand the electorate.”

Nixon said previously the campaign’s strategy to do this will rely heavily on volunteers, telling a WFP call on May 3, “We are going to win this with people, like the people on this call, going out and talking to people on the streets, and door-knocking, and phone banking, and talking to people in their offices and…in their families.”

Nixon’s Four Phases
The first objective for Nixon’s campaign was “about getting out there, and having people meet Cynthia as the ‘real Cynthia’ not as the ‘actor Cynthia’,” Caroline explained on Thursday’s call.

Referring to this as “phase one”, Nixon said she travelled around the state meeting people and “hearing about the issues and the work that people are doing on the ground…and the solutions they see to their problems.” This has been key in re-establishing Nixon - who is known for her work starring in Sex and The City - as a candidate for the highest office in the state fighting for the rights of New Yorkers who’ve been let down by Cuomo.

The WFP also played a critical role during this phase in connecting Nixon with various communities. The party hosted an introductory call on May 3 for Nixon and Council City Member Jumaane Williams — who the WFP has endorsed in his bid for Lieutenant Governor. According to a WFP press release following the call, 20,000 activists from more than 100 organizing parties across the state signed in to listen to the candidates discuss how they plan to “transform New York” if elected.

Though they spoke consecutively on the call, and also at the WFP state convention in Harlem on May 19, Nixon and Williams have been careful to avoid any declaration that they are running as a ticket. It’s unclear when, or if, the pair of WFP-endorsed candidates seeking to topple sitting Democrats will link up. In party primaries, candidates for governor and lieutenant governor are elected separately, but the winners do run as a ticket in the general election.

“Phase two,” listeners on Thursday’s call were told, started directly after the May 23-24 Democratic state convention and will run until July 12 when petitions for a place on the ballot are due to be handed in to the State Board of Elections. It will see the Nixon campaign, the WFP, and other partners train and organize a massive volunteer network across the state, to collect signatures and form the backbone of the campaign thereafter.

“Governor Cuomo may have a $31 million campaign warchest on his side — but we have a grassroots movement,” read the e-blast sent out Tuesday by the WFP to recruit participants to help the “movement” pass “the first test of our campaign,” collecting the signatures.

There is a “petitioning kickoff” event on Wednesday, May 30, in West Village, New York City — run by the WFP for Nixon and Williams — where volunteers will be given initial training on how to door knock; send text messages; work the phones; and speak to groups of people to rally support for Nixon ahead of the primaries.

And an interactive map on both the ‘Cynthia for New York’ and the WFP’s ‘New York 4 the Many’ websites shows similar training events are being held across the state -- in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Owego, Lake George, Albany, Kingston, Nyack, Athens, Long Island, and several in New York City -- over the next week, all designed to train volunteers to collect signatures in support of Nixon and Williams.

“Petitioning is the first phase of testing and strengthening the infrastructure we've been building for the last 2.5 months,” Hitt told Gotham Gazette. “We currently have 2,800 volunteers. Of those, 150 are Super Volunteers, who are responsible for leading the petitioning and voter contact plan in their geographic hub. We have multiple Super Volunteers in every congressional district.”

Beyond the petition deadline, from July through August, “phase three” of the campaign will involve an intensive multi-contact voter plan. “We’re going to be going door knocking, we’ll be phone banking and we’ll be texting our universe of voters to identify them and persuade them to be our supporters,” Caroline said on Thursday’s call. The final phase of the campaign, starting in September, will focus on the final ‘get out the vote’ push.

A Growing Network of Groups
Though the WFP is assisting in the training of volunteers, and is perhaps the most powerful group to so far endorse Nixon, it is not alone in its support of her candidacy. The regularly growing list of organizations backing Nixon, and the participation of these groups in raising awareness, offering volunteers, and activating voters will be essential to her chances. There is no doubt that Nixon faces extremely uphill odds, especially considering Cuomo has the powers of incumbency, including overflowing coffers, near-universal name recognition, the perch of his office, an extensive party apparatus, including many local clubs, and support from a long list of labor unions.

Speaking on the Thursday call, Stephanie Woodward, director for advocacy at the Center for Disability Rights in Rochester, said the disabled community is “frustrated with having a governor who’s ignoring our issues.” Woodward touched on several, including her contention that under Cuomo the state budget sees disabled people pushed into nursing homes because the state will cover the costs of “permanent placement”; the inaccessibility of the subway system to disabled people; the low wages, through Medicaid, given to disability attendants; and the lack of accessible housing in New York. Her group is hosting a petition drive and aims to reach 10,000 signatures to help Nixon land a spot on the Democratic ballot.

Wanda Salaman, executive director at Mothers on the Move, also spoke on the call, telling listeners she is reaching out to a network of churches and community groups in the Bronx with a goal of delivering 20,000 signatures to Nixon’s bid for a place on the primary ballot, which as of now may only include Cuomo and Nixon, if she qualifies.

Jamaica Miles, the Lead Organizer at the capital district branch of Citizen Action of New York — an affiliate organization of the WFP — told listeners that the response to the Albany petition kickoff event has been so impressive, they’re looking at another location to hold more people. Citizen Action and Nixon, along with other partners, have a long history in advocating for education equity, especially in funding for poor schools. According to its website, Citizen Action has more than 30,000 members across the state, and Miles said she is hoping to secure 5,000 signatures in Albany alone.

As well as Citizen Action, Nixon has been endorsed by other WFP affiliates with considerable member networks, such as New York Communities for Change (NYCC), which focuses on affordable housing, and Make the Road Action, which focuses on immigrant communities. Citizen Action is also affiliated with the state’s Public Policy and Education Fund and the Alliance for Quality Education (AQE), a group Nixon has worked with for many years and that hosted her at a press conference in Albany several days after she launched her campaign in March. A leader of AQE, Zakiyah Ansari, nominated Nixon at the state Democratic convention, where she received about 5 percent of the state committee vote.

A variety of other groups have also publicly declared their support for Nixon, such as the national organization launched by Senator Bernie Sanders in mid-2016, Our Revolution, which has more than 30 local groups in New York. In endorsing Nixon on May 15, its president, Nina Turner, said Nixon is “a bold progressive who is running in the spirit of Bernie Sanders.” The New York Progressive Action Network, which also grew out of the Sanders movement, endorsed Nixon in mid-April, and has 35 chapters and affiliates across the state, including Black Lives Matter of Greater New York and the LGBTQ-focused Jim Owles Democratic Club.

In April, the leader of The Black Institute, Bertha Lewis, endorsed Nixon, telling The New York Post that Cuomo “talks a good game” but is not a real progressive. On Tuesday, environmentalist author Bill McKibben and his grassroots environmental group 350 Action announced their support of Nixon for governor.

Members and supporters of these and other groups are now seeing Nixon, a first-time candidate for elected office, as a valid choice, receiving information about her by email and in their social media feeds, highlighted by alignment on issues they care about. The Nixon campaign is counting on these endorsements and subsequent networking as key components in its bid to unseat a two-term incumbent with a long political resume, deep knowledge of issues and regions of the state, experience in running a government, and an extensive rolodex of potentially helpful surrogates and validators.

As well as more formal organizations, there are communities that, through the campaign’s website, have created their own “hubs” of volunteers. Dozens of teachers have listed their names under #Educators4Cynthia. Also listed on the website are hubs for organizing under #Tenants4Cynthia, #Students4Cynthia, and an LGBTQ Pride Hub.

“We have an innovative hub model where people can organize by constituency or issue,” Hitt told Gotham Gazette, adding there are currently 10 hubs involved in the campaign.

A member of #Students4Cynthia, Carlos Jesus Calzadilla, told the Thursday call he is planning to recruit student leaders across the City University of New York (CUNY) and the State University of New York (SUNY) and run meetups on different college campuses. He also aims to organize a presence at high-traffic public events, such as parades and concerts.

Calzadilla said “students have been at the forefront of social change throughout history” and slammed Cuomo for underfunding public schools. He called the Excelsior Scholarship — a Cuomo initiative affording many middle-class students tuition-free enrollment at public universities — a “fake free college experience that [Cuomo] talks about because the reality is barely anyone qualifies for it.”

Campaign Funding
Even with volunteerism, networking, and grassroots advocacy, the campaign effort requires significant funds. Nixon is hoping that her decision not to take corporate donations will help boost her efforts to attract small donors, though she also appears to be holding fundraisers where wealthy individuals, like those in the entertainment world, may be willing to provide large contributions. New York has high donation limits, whereby an individual can give up to $21,100 to a gubernatorial candidate during the primary (the limits are higher for family members of candidates).

Nixon boasted early on of her small-donor fundraising, and using it to position herself as an outsider unmarred by the corruption of institutionalized politicians and in contract to Cuomo, who has received very few low-dollar contributions.

In late April, the Nixon campaign announced it had received “10,000 individual donations” in six weeks of campaigning. “Of those donations, 98 percent are low-dollar donations below $200,” a press release said. “By comparison, Andrew Cuomo collected a total of just 1,369 small dollar donations since the start of 2011. Over 800 individuals have also committed to making recurring donations to Cynthia’s people-powered campaign in the months leading up to the primary on September 13.”

On the May 3 call, Nixon said of Cuomo’s $31 million campaign fund, “just .1 percent comes from small donors,” before referencing her ‘Rent Justice For All’ policy platform that aims to restabilize rent in apartments that dropped out of the stabilizing system under Cuomo due to vacancy decontrol: “It is very hard to stand up against the real estate lobby when you’re getting millions of dollars from them,” Nixon said of Cuomo. “It’s very hard to do the right thing when you are getting millions of dollars to do wrong.”

Hitt told Gotham Gazette that Nixon’s initial campaign finances will be released at the filing date in mid-July, as mandated by the state’s Board of Elections, and not before. Nixon will have to disclose the receipts of, contributions to, expenditures by, and liabilities of her campaign, including any use of her own money.

According to a report by the Associated Press on Nixon’s tax returns, which she made available to the media in early May, Nixon and her wife, Christine Marinoni, had an income of $1.5 million last year and donated around $53,000 to charity. The AP report said Nixon’s campaign claimed her true income was $1 million in 2017, as there were expenses not reflected in the return. She has thus far declined to release returns for prior years. Nixon has not given any indication that she plans to spend her own funds on her campaign.

It’s also unclear at this point how many paid staff are working on the Nixon campaign. Hitt and Sarah Ford are both running communications and acting as spokespeople. According to The Daily News, a new campaign manager, Hayley Prim, was hired in early May, quickly replacing the original person in that role, Nicole Aro. State of Politics reported in April that Monica Barnes is the campaign’s finance director. And consultants including Rebecca Katz of Hilltop Public Solutions and L. Joy Williams have also been actively involved with the campaign. Nixon did lose her original campaign treasurer, Teachout, who decided to step away from the role to run for attorney general after Eric Schneiderman resigned in disgrace amid allegations of physically abusing four women.

In addition to the Nixon campaign itself, the WFP will be spending on behalf of its endorsed candidates, including Nixon. A WFP spokesperson told Gotham Gazette in April that the party raised $82,000 from 1,500 donors over the course of a week just after it became evident that the WFP was on the verge of endorsing Nixon, and that the party had around $1 million in the bank at the time.

"We're going to be spending a couple hundred thousand to put organizers on the ground and build a massive statewide field operation,” the WFP spokesperson said. “We're not going to be putting money into television, that's not how we win. We build volunteer operations, we hire organizers, we get out the vote."

The WFP Vote
While both Nixon and Williams have the WFP nomination and ballot line for the general election, it is not clear that either or both would run in the general election if they lose the Democratic primary. WFP leaders have maintained that the party does not intend to play a spoiler and risk helping the election of any Republicans.

Heading toward the September primary, the WFP is also backing challengers to the former members of the state Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference, or IDC. Nixon has repeatedly connected Cuomo to the formerly rogue Democrats who had formed a coalition government with Senate Republicans, allegedly with Cuomo’s consent, until the governor brokered a Democratic reunification just after Nixon launched her candidacy.

It’s not clear how many New Yorkers the WFP can reach or see the WFP endorsement of Nixon as a decisive or especially influential seal of approval. There is no WFP ballot line for her in the primary, but the party appears all-in to see her win it and carry its line in the general.

As of April 1, 2018, there were 46,453 people across New York State registered to vote with the WFP, including 15,572 in New York City. This compares to 6,201,033 Democratic voters across the state, of which 3,401,637 are in New York City. According to the WFP spokesperson, these “numbers have been growing statewide, and are expected to be even higher this year.”

In 2014, Cuomo, who was endorsed by the WFP, received 126,244 votes on the WFP line in the general gubernatorial election, after beating Teachout, a Fordham law professor, in the Democratic primary. In that primary, Teachout received 34 percent of the Democratic vote, 192,210 votes compared to Cuomo’s 361,380.

In 2010, Cuomo received more than 150,000 votes on the WFP line in the general gubernatorial election.

Though the WFP endorsed senator Bernie Sanders ahead of the 2016 primaries for the presidential election, the endorsement didn’t come with a ballot line. The party’s backing of the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, saw Clinton receive 140,043 votes across New York on the WFP ballot line.

Emails and Social Media
As the WFP and Nixon’s campaign continues bolstering numbers of volunteers and voters across the state, Nixon is running an assertive digital strategy that includes email campaigns swinging between outlining her policy positions and aggressively criticizing Cuomo. Her campaign also sends e-blasts to members of the media fact-checking the governor, as it did repeatedly during the state convention, at which he was roundly applauded and endorsed by Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and others.

“Some of Andrew Cuomo’s well-off friends like to tell me that I should stick to acting. Personally, I think Andrew Cuomo should stop acting,” the opening line to one of Nixon’s recent emails reads. The email calls out Cuomo for failing to “clean up” Albany, and discussed the Moreland Commission into public corruption that he launched in July 2013, only to shut down eight months later amid controversy, as it had begun looking at some of Cuomo’s allies and donors and he agreed to close it in a compromise with state legislators. Nixon ended the email comparing Cuomo’s unfulfilled promise to that of President Donald Trump’s pledge to “drain the swamp” in Washington.

Nixon’s campaign is active on social media, using her Twitter and Facebook accounts to criticize Cuomo, respond to supporters, share relevant news that fits her campaign narrative, point followers to her website, and highlight her policy positions and endorsements.

“Andrew Cuomo is running paid Facebook ads on a sexual harassment policy,” Nixon tweeted on Wednesday. “We need a governor who will actually break down gender barriers — not reinforce them — and when I am her, I will never break your trust.”

by Caitlin Bishop, Gotham Gazette
@caitybishop  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

Inside Cynthia Nixon’s Developing Campaign Infrastructure Wed, 30 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Rallying Volunteers, Nixon Responds to Democratic Convention Result cyn nixon

Cynthia Nixon (photo: @CynthiaNixon)

Cynthia Nixon is “unsurprised” by the result of the state Democratic party convention held this past week on Long Island, where she received less than five percent of the party committee members’ vote ahead of the gubernatorial primary election in September, much less than the 25 percent she needed to have her name automatically included on the ballot.

The result means Nixon will have to petition thousands of people across the state to appear on the primary ballot against two-term incumbent Governor Andrew Cuomo, an endeavor she says she is confident she can achieve ahead of the July 12 petition deadline.

“I welcome this day with the Democratic convention behind us and I just want to be clear: This was not a shocking outcome, this is the outcome we expected,” she told those on a Thursday evening video conference call run by the Working Families Party, a liberal party that, along with several other progressive groups, has endorsed her. “We’re going to hit the streets and we’re going to collect 50,000 signatures across the state.”

Speaking to volunteers and supporters who had logged in to see Nixon speak about the campaign’s next steps, she said she doesn’t feel threatened by the party’s overwhelming endorsement of Cuomo, who received 95 percent of the vote and was endorsed at the convention by a variety of figures, including by former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and former Vice President Joe Biden. As governor, Cuomo effectively controls the state party apparatus, though some of criticized him for exercising too much control amid primaries, when the party is in theory supposed to stay largely neutral.

“The Democratic state committee made their choice and, on September 13, the people of New York state are going to make their choice,” Nixon told the call, referencing the primary election date in September, ahead of the general election set for November 6. “[They will] make their choice, not for an administration that’s in the pocket of big money and the real estate industry and the fossil fuel executives and the hedge fund managers, but...for a New York that works for all of us.”

Since announcing her intention to run for governor in March, Nixon has been highly critical of Cuomo, saying his relationships with big corporate donors and tendency toward centrism prohibit him from delivering real change in areas such as education, immigration, affordable housing, and criminal justice reform. She escalated this criticism on the Working Families call, referencing a range of political touchpoints and slamming the governor for failing to deliver results.

“We can’t just pay lip service to being a sanctuary state, we have to be a real sanctuary state,” Nixon said, before taking a jab at Cuomo for his speech at the convention that accused President Donald Trump of demeaning and degrading the people of New York. “You can’t just oppose Donald Trump rhetorically,” Nixon said. “You have to do it with action and you have to do it with policy, if you mean it.”

Nixon was particularly critical of Cuomo’s hesitation in protecting undocumented New Yorkers with access to driver's licenses. “The governor could do this via Executive Order today if he had the will to,” Nixon said. “Why doesn’t he? And why aren’t we offering protection?”

Another example of Cuomo failing to meet his promises, Nixon said, is his failure to pass “Kalief’s Law,” named after Bronx teenager Kalief Browder, who took his life in June 2015 after three years in Rikers Island prison where he was awaiting trial for allegedly stealing a backpack at age 16. The bill includes several measures to ensure the “effective and humane treatment” of incarcerated youth and, though Cuomo signed into law the “Raise the Age” bill in April last year,  which will see the majority of cases involving 16- and 17-year-old defendants referred to Family Court, Nixon said the governor has not done enough for Browder’s family or to prevent a similar tragedy from happening again. Cuomo had said bail reform was at the top of his agenda this year, but did not pass any measures through in the budget, blaming Republicans.

“Our governor says he’s going to do it, he affirms it, he touts this family, and their tragedy, and their pain, but when push comes to shove it’s not in the budget,” Nixon said. “The session is almost over, we’ve got just a few more weeks, and I don’t think…the Browder family is going to see their promise kept.”

Nixon had held a community roundtable discussion in the Bronx earlier in the day, at which Browder’s brother, Akeem, was an organizer and participant.

On education, Nixon said the governor doesn’t have the “political will” to end segregation and inequality in state public schools. She also spoke about affordable housing, gentrification, and supporting small businesses, criticizing Cuomo between reiterating some of her own policy positions.

Nixon is seemingly using the convention result -- calling it a decision of the party’s “power brokers” -- to enhance her public appeal as an outsider and an underdog. A cornerstone of her campaign is that institutionalized politicians like Cuomo are failing to deliver change because the institution itself -- in terms of campaign finance and voter accessibility -- is broken or corrupt.

She said that “at the state Democratic convention the voice of progressives was intentionally not being amplified,” in reference to the fact that the meeting of the state committee’s progressive caucus did not have a microphone set-up.

At the convention, Cuomo basked in the adulation of top party luminaries as well as the rank-and-file committee members. Other speakers and the governor himself painted Cuomo as the present and future of the Democratic Party, someone who is leading the progressive way in New York by getting things accomplished. Critics including Nixon say the convention was filled with party loyalists who represent more of the establishment wing of the party, not the ascendant progressive wing, frustrated with Cuomo for his triangulating approach to government.

Nixon said she knew what would happen at the convention, “but we wanted to show our faces and say: ‘We’re not afraid, we’re not intimidated, we’re here. You’re going to make your choice, we know the choice you’re going to make, and tomorrow we’re going to hit the streets.’”

A portion of the call was dedicated to strategy around volunteer recruitment and, according to a press release from the Nixon campaign on Friday, more than 600 people were logged in listening to the best ways to become involved and support Nixon over the next few months. The call was designed to activate volunteers, who will go on to canvas and knock on doors to reach voters across the state. Community leaders, student leaders and a disability rights advocate also spoke, sharing their reasons for joining Nixon’s campaign.

“I’m a lifelong Democrat and this is my party, too,” Nixon told those on the call. “A Democratic primary is good for the party and good for the state and we were there to…walk right into the lion’s den.”

by Caitlin Bishop, Gotham Gazette
@caitybishop  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: this article has been corrected to reflect that Nixon was talking about driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants, not the Dream Act as originally stated.

Rallying Volunteers, Nixon Responds to Democratic Convention Result Fri, 25 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000