Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/2424 Wed, 17 Jul 2019 07:13:05 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Senators Krueger & Myrie on Historic Albany Session, Senate's Relationship with Cuomo, & More https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8658-senators-krueger-myrie-albany-session-senate-relationship-with-cuomo https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8658-senators-krueger-myrie-albany-session-senate-relationship-with-cuomo krueg myrie 600

l-r: Liz Krueger (photo: @LizKrueger) & Zellnor Myrie (photo: @zellnor4ny)


The New York State Legislature, under full Democratic control for the first time in a decade, had an exceptionally productive 2019 legislative session in Albany. Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie ushered through a broad agenda of progressive legislation, long forestalled by Republicans who had controlled the state Senate, most of which has already been signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo, a third-term Democrat.

Landmark rent regulations were approved, voting and elections reforms were passed, stronger reproductive health rights were codified, and environmental protections were expanded, among a far longer list of accomplishments.

But several proposals did fall by the wayside amid opposition – or at least a lack of support – from the governor and a dearth of consensus in the state Senate where progressive members mostly from New York City found their priorities at odds with more moderate, suburban members more concerned about their seats in the 2020 elections.

In a recent interview on the Max & Murphy WBAI radio show, Senator Liz Krueger, a Manhattan veteran, and Senator Zellnor Myrie, a Brooklyn freshman, assessed the legislative victories, and failures, and the role that Governor Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio played in this historic Albany year. They also looked ahead to next year’s session, which will take place in an election year when every member of the Legislature will be on the ballot and their Senate Democratic majority will look to extend its newfound dominance and partnership with the long-time Assembly Democratic majority.

“I’m actually still kvelling about how much we were able to get done this year, things that I had been telling my district I was trying to accomplish for the entire 17 years,” said Krueger, who represents Manhattan’s East Side.

Krueger, now the chair of the Senate’s finance committee, highlighted the expansion of voter rights and election reforms, the passage of the Reproductive Health Act, the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, and legislation related to public transportation and consumer rights.

“[W]hen you’re hitting grand slams every week, you forget about the singles and the doubles that loaded the bases,” said Myrie, after first echoing that there were a vast number of major Democratic accomplishments that moved in January and thereafter, “and so there are things that we did that didn’t get as much play, but really are important for people in our districts.”

He cited $20 million in funding restored for home foreclosure prevention, $500 million in proposed Medicaid cuts that were avoided, and a $618 million increase in funding for public schools.

But both legislators pointed to agenda items, some prominent and some less so, that they couldn’t get across the finish line.

Most notable among them was the legalization, regulation, and taxation of adult-use marijuana, a thorny issue that Krueger has pursued for years but divided the Senate Democratic conference and tested Cuomo’s commitment to a policy he recently came around to express support for but did not appear especially eager to risk political capital on.

“Well, marijuana, even though people talk about as if it’s one issue, is actually a whole series of complicated issues,” she said, noting the difficulty in getting a majority of votes in the Senate. After failing to push the proposal through in the state budget as Cuomo had sought, some Democrats looked to move it in the post-budget session. Cuomo had insisted it was one of his top priorities but refused to put weight behind it when push came to shove and without his involvement in negotiations, Krueger said, the proposal was doomed to fail.

“We really wanted the governor back at the table with us, because big, complicated issues really do make sense to be three-way, and he was not there...and messaging very strangely as to whether he supported or didn’t support it, so we just couldn’t bring it over the line at the end,” she said. Krueger acknowledged what Cuomo had said publicly -- that she did not have the votes in the Senate, but she said she needed the governor to help get those final votes.

Among the issues, she insisted, was that state agencies essential to implementing the new law needed to explain to skeptical legislators how they would execute portions and in order for that to happen, Cuomo needed to be more present. “You can’t simply legislate and believe that all of the agencies are immediately going to change course to do what the law says unless you have an executive behind it,” she said.

In the end, the Legislature compromised to decriminalize possession of small quantities of marijuana and expunge records for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers convicted on low-level marijuana offenses.

Myrie noted additionally that marijuana legalization is far from universally popular, even in New York City districts like his, and though he expressed confidence the Legislature would pass it next year, there’s work to be done to get constituents on board.

“Now, I am willing to make the case to my community why this is important for us, not just the decriminalization, but the economic opportunity that it would provide for folks,” he said. “I think that we do have a lot of support there, but the assumption that even in the districts where their representatives were fully in support, that the support in the district was monolithic, I think is a presumption that we need to fight back against. And so, I’m ready to double down and do the work on education; I’ve been talking to the folks in my community about why this is important and good for us.”

Controlling both legislative chambers, Democrats were able this year to deal with Cuomo on stronger footing, rather than begrudgingly participate in the triangulation that he employed with Republicans and the Senate Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway faction of Senate Democrats, in past legislative sessions. And the governor was not shy about making his displeasure known at having lost some degree of power in Albany, while constantly taunting or questioning the new Senate Democratic majority, which he blamed for the demise of the deal he helped broker to bring a massive Amazon campus to Queens and which appeared to make him uncomfortable in dealing with an all-Demcoratic Legislature.

During and after the session, the governor variously described a successful partnership with the legislative leaders while at other times attacking them for failing to achieve promises they had made over the years. Kreuger and Myrie were careful when asked about the tense relationship between Cuomo and the Senate majority. “I decided long ago that I was never going to try to explain Andrew Cuomo or his behavior on any given day,” Krueger said of the reasons behind Cuomo’s harsh attitude towards the Senate.

“I suppose I could define it as, he was testing us, and he was playing bad cop, and our job was to show, ‘Hey, bad cop, we’re ready to govern, and we have our act together. We’re going to be there, and you’re going to come along because you know that we are in the right place, and in a place you want to be,’” she continued. “Now, why he doesn’t take the approach of ‘Oh, you’re a new majority, you’re trying to do a number of things that are my agenda issues, let’s work together and get to that place together,’ I sincerely don’t know. I think you’d have to ask him.”

Myrie is among the newly-elected crop of young progressives who deposed members of the IDC. “If you have spent the entirety of your governorship in main control, in trying to get some progressive wins in a Republican-controlled Senate, I think you’re going to have to adjust to the new dynamic of now, you have a very powerful leader in Andrea Stewart-Cousins, with a conference full of people who ran in sort of an unorthodox way,” he said of Cuomo, after also saying he is hesitant to try to explain Cuomo’s motives and behavior.

Mayor de Blasio, meanwhile, was not a significant factor in legislative negotiations this year, perhaps to everyone’s benefit, Krueger indicated. “He wasn’t that present,” Krueger said when asked if de Blasio, who is now running for president, had been active, and active enough, in Albany. “Whether he should have been is a separate question because, not as a disrespect to him so please don’t misunderstand, but the general sense in Albany is, if the mayor really wanted something, that would cause a problem.”

She acknowledged that that owes both to the governor’s long-standing dislike for the mayor as well as perhaps some similar sentiments among lawmakers. “So it would be better if people made clear what the hopes of the city were, without the mayor being the banner front-pusher on whatever those issues are,” she added. De Blasio did do well with his state agenda this year overall.

The marijuana legalization fight highlighted one of the central conflicts for the state Senate majority – balancing the priorities of Democrats in safely blue districts with those of their colleagues who replaced Republicans in more moderate parts of the state where they may be vulnerable in next year’s election.

Myrie commended Stewart-Cousins for doing “a really good job of trying to balance these two bases.” And he recognized that some members from suburban districts faced difficult votes “that they’re going to have to explain going back to 2020.” That includes, for instance, the Senate approving driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, which is far more popular in Central Brooklyn than in Long Island -- on which Democrats from the Island voted no.

“I think that we are going to have to balance our approach here, because we’re going to have such a high turnout in 2020, I think that the bases are going to be motivated,” he said. “I think the same folks that allowed for these senators to take these seats, they’re going to be coming out, and I think there are going to be more people coming out, excited about challenging the man in the White House right now.”

Krueger added of the Democrats who control 40 of 63 Senate seats: “We recognize it’s a big state, really different areas, really different issues. We want to make sure we grow our majority in 2020, we don’t want to put anyone at risk, and frankly, the more we grow our majority the more diversified our needs will be, but also the more opportunity we’ll have to allow people to not take votes that they think aren’t the right answers for their constituents while still being able to move the people’s business for the entire state forward.”

And there’s indeed much business left to accomplish. Myrie wants to codify the restoration of voting rights for parolees, which Cuomo did through an executive order; and he wants to pass a “good cause” eviction bill that was excluded from the rent regulations this year.

There are also lingering issues around a prevailing wage bill for construction projects receiving public funds and a push to ban solitary confinement in state prisons, among others that have varying level of support from legislators and Cuomo.

“I think that we have an opportunity to further discuss what didn’t get done, take it up at the beginning of the next session,” Myrie said, “and by the time that we get to January of 2020, there will be 50 more things that people have come up with that we have not gotten done, that we have not paid enough attention to, and I look forward to taking that on in full.”

Krueger wants to push the state on releasing more than half-a-billion dollars in pledged funds for the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and for a thorough reevaluation of the state’s economic development strategy to ensure taxpayer funds are spent responsibly. “So those are some of the places I’ll be starting again the minute we get back up to Albany, or before,” she said.

[LISTEN: Max & Murphy Podcast: Senators Krueger & Myrie on the Year in Albany]

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Cyan Hunte contributed to this story.

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Senators Krueger & Myrie on Historic Albany Session, Senate's Relationship with Cuomo, & More Tue, 09 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: State Senators Liz Krueger & Zellnor Myrie on the Year in Albany https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8643-max-murphy-podcast-reflecting-on-the-year-in-albany-with-senators-krueger-myrie https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8643-max-murphy-podcast-reflecting-on-the-year-in-albany-with-senators-krueger-myrie mryie krueger wbai 600px

(photo: NYSenate)


June 26, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Reflecting on the Year in Albany, with Senators Krueger & Myrie

wbai krueger myrieState Senators Liz Krueger of Manhattan and Zellnor Myrie of Brooklyn joined the show to reflect on the year that was in Albany, the January through June session with Democrats in full control of state government for the first time in many years. Two two senators discussed their majority's first session in power, dynamics between the Legislature and Governor Cuomo, what got done and what fell off the table - and why.

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

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: State Senators Liz Krueger & Zellnor Myrie on the Year in Albany Wed, 26 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
For Senators and Advocates, It’s How, Not Whether, to Implement Automatic Voter Registration https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8561-senators-advocates-implement-automatic-voter-registration-new-york https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8561-senators-advocates-implement-automatic-voter-registration-new-york myrie avr

Senator Zellnor Myrie at Thursday's pre-hearing rally (photo: @SenatorMyrie)


Following several reforms to the state’s election and voting laws that were passed by the state Legislature and signed by Governor Cuomo earlier this year, the New York State Senate’s elections committee seems poised to move ahead with legislation to implement a system of automatic voter registration.

At a public hearing on Thursday in Albany, the elections committee, chaired by Democratic Senator Zellnor Myrie of Brooklyn, heard testimony from experts, election officials, voting reform advocates, and immigrant advocates, all of whom agreed that New York must implement automatic voter registration (AVR). The hearing came just after a crowded and energetic rally in the capital, led by the Let NY Vote coalition, at which legislators of both houses and advocates called for passage of AVR.

The key questions apparent on Thursday were whether AVR has support in the Assembly and from the governor, and what type of AVR system should be adopted -- a split opinion was clear at the hearing, which was called in part to help sort out the different proposals.

In 2016, Oregon was the first state to approve AVR, and since then, 17 other states and the District of Columbia have also adopted the system. In New York, which has consistently ranked low on voter registration and turnout, Myrie said AVR is “critically important to our democracy.”

“My goal is to bring New York from worst to first,” he said, with reference to the package of bills passed earlier this year, which included an early voting program set to launch this fall.

There have been several bills on AVR introduced this legislative session in the Senate and Assembly. Besides massively increasing the number of registered voters in the state -- roughly 2 million New Yorkers are eligible to vote but not registered -- AVR also promises to reduce the costs of election administration, make voting more efficient, and expand access for the state’s most vulnerable populations including low-income communities, people of color, and young people.

It would also complement the many reforms that the Democratic-controlled Legislature passed this year, including early voting, pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds, and portability of voter registrations The Legislature also consolidated the state and federal primary and approved the use of electronic poll books, and crossed one of three thresholds for other reforms, including same-day voter registration, that require a change to the state constitution.

The State Board of Elections showed its own split on the idea of AVR. In testimony submitted to the committee, Todd Valentine, the BOE’s Republican co-executive director, said, “Forcing inclusion against the voter’s will is an act of a top-down government. And saying that there’s an ‘opt-out’ clause is really flipping the script on free choice – the choice is made – you are in. This violates a citizen’s basic free speech rights, which includes expressing displeasure
with the electoral process by not participating.”

Robert Brehm, the Democratic co-executive director, who testified in person, supported it. “Certainly, automatic voter registration is an important reform,” he said, also hinting at the disagreement within the Board. “We have a bit of an ideology issue there,” he said.

Dustin Czarny, an elections commissioner in Onondaga County, and chair of the Democratic Caucus of the New York State Elections Commissioner Association, called AVR an “egalitarian benefit” and said the Legislature must pass it to build on the successful reforms from this session. “I’m here to caution against the feeling that maybe we’ve done enough, because we can never have done enough when it comes to voter access,” he said.

Though there was generally consensus at the hearing about the benefits of AVR, the panellists testifying before the committee disagreed over whether AVR should be implemented through a front-end or back-end system, or some hybrid of both.

In a front-end system, voters that interact with specific state agencies for different purposes – such as the Department of Motor Vehicles – would be automatically given the option to register to vote and choose one or no party affiliation, or opt out. In a back-end system, the state would use databases of New Yorkers maintained by different agencies to determine who is eligible to be registered and transmit that information to the state Board of Elections to add them to the voter rolls. The BOE would then inform those individuals by mail, giving them the option to choose their party affiliation or to opt out and not be added to the rolls.

Of the states that have passed AVR, only Oregon and Alaska implemented a back-end system. But both approaches have their weaknesses, experts said.

A back-end system could inadvertently enroll ineligible individuals such as undocumented immigrants and legal non-citizen residents, which could open them up to deportation or threaten their chances of obtaining citizenship. It could also enroll voters who want to maintain their confidentiality, such as survivors of domestic and sexual abuse.

Voters would also not be immediately affiliated with a party, which could lead to confusion because of New York’s closed primary system and early deadlines for switching party affiliation -- nearly six months before a primary. Voters, particularly in New York City, tend not to respond to mailers from the BOE, which means they could miss the opportunity to fix any issues with their registration.

But a front-end system would require agencies to ask an individual about their eligibility and citizenship, a fraught question particularly in a state with a large immigrant population among whom the federal government under President Donald Trump has created an atmosphere of heightened fear.

Other experts and advocates raised concerns about the lack of training among agency personnel about registration procedures and the dearth of accomodation for people with limited English proficiency. At an agency point of service, under constraints of time and with other priorities in mind, individuals could make mistakes.

Sean Morales-Doyle, counsel in the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, warned against a back-end system. “We don’t want people getting registered without knowing it,” he said, insisting that an AVR system should have protections for vulnerable communities and that it should be implemented through multiple agencies, including the DMV, which already processes voter registration applications.

But Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, said her organization tended to prefer the back-end system and emphasized that there are ways to filter information on voting eligible New Yorkers without adverse consequences. For instance, she noted that the Department of Health serves a far broader population than the DMV and has more than 6 million people registered for Medicaid, which tracks their status. “So we’re not asking the agency to ask citizenship questions that they’re not already asking,” she said.

It is often noted even under the current registration system that centering the DMV favors suburban and rural areas over urban centers given that city-dwellers are less likely to interact with the DMV.

Lerner urged the committee to ensure several provisions in any bill that passes, including creating a working group of agencies and advocates to study which agencies are best to implement AVR, ensure the security of collected data, and to require regular reporting on how the system is being implemented.

Morales-Doyle, Lerner, and others generally agreed that AVR should involve multiple agencies, and that some flexibility should be built into the legislation to allow more agencies to implement it.

Sean McElwee, founder of AVR Now and co-founder of Data for Progress, also supported a back-end system, noting that from analysis of Oregon’s program, 44% of those registered through AVR cast a ballot in the 2016 election. “In the Oregon system, more than 90% of people do not opt out, so they’re either added to the rolls or have their registrations updated,” he noted. “In Colorado, prior to switching to a back-end system, only one in three people chose not to opt out.”

Senator Michael Gianaris has introduced a bill that would implement back-end AVR, and he argued at the hearing that he would rather put the onus of a registration system on the government rather than individuals. His bill contains a safe-harbor provision that would prevent an individual from being liable for a mistake in the state voter rolls. “An error in the statewide voter registration list shall not constitute a fraudulent or false claim to citizenship,” his bill reads.

But immigration advocates weren’t reassured by the provision, noting that federal enforcement agencies do not give immigrants the benefit of the doubt in such cases. “They do not weigh intent. They do not weigh method of registration,” said Amy Torres, director of policy at the Chinese-American Planning Council.

That sentiment was shared by Wennie Chen, senior manager of civic engagement at the New York Immigration Coalition, and Monica Vargas-Huertas, deputy northeast director of NALEO Educational Fund. “Errors that can cause serious negative collateral consequences are more likely to go unnoticed until it’s too late in a backend system,” said Vargas-Huertas.

With eleven session days left in the legislative year, the Assembly has yet to even discuss the issue of AVR. “We will talk about it with our members,” said Mike Whyland, a spokesperson for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, in an email.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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For Senators and Advocates, It’s How, Not Whether, to Implement Automatic Voter Registration Thu, 30 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Advocates and Senators Refute Assembly Democrats' Concerns with Campaign Finance Reform https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8376-advocates-and-senators-refute-assembly-democrats-concerns-with-campaign-finance-reform https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8376-advocates-and-senators-refute-assembly-democrats-concerns-with-campaign-finance-reform myrie camp fin

Senate Democrats push campaign finance reform (photo: @zellnor4ny)


With less than two weeks until a new state budget is due, Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature have yet to come to an agreement on a public campaign financing model for state elections. But the conversation around the measure, which advocates and experts say is a long-due reform in a state beset with repeated corruption scandals, has taken a turn since Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie raised several doubts about the viability of public campaign financing, some of which Cuomo has echoed.

They’ve voiced these concerns despite the fact that the Democrat-led Assembly and Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, have annually supported such campaign finance reform and Cuomo included a plan in his 2020 executive budget proposal. This is the first year in Cuomo’s tenure that Democrats control both houses of the Legislature, having won a Senate majority in November.

At a Wednesday hearing of the state Senate’s Committee on Elections, which was also attended by several Assembly members, experts and advocates sought to rebut those concerns as they pressed legislators to act sooner rather than later.

Earlier this month, Heastie said there weren’t enough votes in his chamber for the public financing proposal, which would create a voluntary system with significantly lower individual contribution limits and public matching of the first $175 of all qualifying contributions at a 6-to-1 ratio.

Heastie cited mostly debunked concerns about independent expenditures being able overwhelm candidate campaigns , large budget gaps the state is facing, and criticisms of the public financing model used by New York City, which the state is looking to emulate in principle, particularly the regulatory aspects.

The Assembly did end up including a statement of support for the proposal in its one-house budget resolution last week, but without specific details. In a March 15 interview on New York Now, Heastie denied that he and his members were getting “cold feet.” He pointed to the city’s public funds program, which caps spending for participants, and said independent expenditures could dominate, while inaccurately saying that IEs are not an issue in New York City elections.

“I think that no one wants to exclude everyday individuals from participating in democracy. We think it’s a good thing but people also have to understand you don’t want to open the door to having IEs pretty much pick your legislator,” he said. He also questioned how the system would work with fusion voting, which allows candidates to run on multiple party lines, though the city’s has not encountered this as an issue and the state program would emulate that a candidate receives matching funds only based on their fundraising, no matter how many ballot lines they have.

Cuomo has raised similar concerns about independent expenditures and fusion voting, though he insisted recently that public financing must be included in the state budget.

“How many races are we potentially talking about? How much does it cost? Who's doing the compliance on all these issues? The Board of Elections - which has nowhere near this capacity now? What is the effect of the multiple lines and multiple races? Do you fund all those multiple lines in the primary and then all those multiple lines in the general? So it's necessary, it's right, but it's complicated,” Cuomo said at a news conference outlining his budget priorities on March 11. He did, however, mention the possibility that the Legislature could pass a budget that includes general support for and legalization of public campaign financing and then “figure out the details afterwards” in the post-budget session.

The Senate’s one-house resolution supports “establishing a publicly financed small donor matching system in order to curtail the corrosive influence of money in politics in addition to other necessary campaign finance reforms.” Unlike their Assembly counterparts, senators have not equivocated about implementing the system. Senator Zellnor Myrie, chair of the elections committee, is an ardent supporter of the proposal and, prior to the hearing on Monday, he led a news conference with several colleagues, including many fellow newly elected senators, and government reform advocates to push for it.

“We should be listening to the everyday New Yorker and not big donors,” Myrie said at the news conference, where he was joined by Senators Alessandra Biaggi, Rachel May, Brad Hoylman, Brian Kavanaugh, Todd Kaminsky, Julia Salazar, David Carlucci, Jessica Ramos, John Liu, Andrew Gounardes, and Gustavo Rivera, as well as Assembly members. Myrie also brushed aside questions about funding the program. “To me, this is not a cost, this is an investment. It is an investment in the integrity of our democracy and I think not until people have trust in their government will they trust the process.”.

For government reform advocates, campaign finance experts, and some legislators, the concerns expressed by Heastie, and to a lesser extent Cuomo, are broadly unfounded.

For one, the governor’s proposal does not limit candidate spending like New York City’s program, and also does not cap fundraising from private sources, which together would blunt the effect of independent expenditure campaigns while boosting the impact of small donors.

Additionally, as the Brennan Center for Justice’s Lawrence Norden noted, concerns about the program becoming exorbitantly expensive because of fusion voting “reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of the way the policy works.” Candidates in New York City already run on multiple party lines but public funds are not disbursed for each party but rather for each candidate. “The number of parties on the ballot is irrelevant to all of this. And a candidate doesn’t get more money because she’s listed on more than one ballot line,” Norden wrote.

There are indeed some logistical concerns with instituting public financing statewide, which legislators raised at Wednesday’s hearing.

New York City’s program is administered by the New York City Campaign Finance Board (NYCCFB), an independent, nonpartisan agency, and the state BOE lacks the resources or expertise to do that kind of work, as Cuomo indicated. City candidates, some of whom are now sitting legislators, have also critiqued what they see as the CFB’s overly punitive policies, which they say lead to yearslong audits and burdensome fines for relatively minor violations. Lawmakers also worry that public funds could entice candidates to run frivolous campaigns to raise their own profiles or to otherwise accrue some private benefit.

Those arguments were also repeatedly refuted by individuals testifying before the committee on Wednesday in Albany, though many did acknowledge that New York City’s program is far from perfect.  

Amy Loprest, executive director of the NYCCFB, and Rick Schaffer, chair of the Board, noted that the city’s disclosure laws around independent expenditures are stronger than the federal government’s, and that candidates in local races have prevailed despite facing massive independent expenditures campaigns.

Loprest also argued that the system has thresholds that preclude candidates from abusing it for personal gain, though any assessment of the issue is subjective. Candidates must show a level of community support that validates their campaign, she said, and their spending is strictly audited after the election to ensure public funds are not misused. “We are always improving our system and that was built into the law,” Loprest said, when Assemblymember Robert Carroll, a Brooklyn Democrat, asked how the city balances monitoring of both independent expenditures and complaints from candidates about “picayune problems.”

Schaffer also insisted that the CFB has taken efforts to aid candidates and to prevent them from making mistakes that could end up costing them later. “We’re not interested in ‘gotcha.’ Our job is to help candidates follow the rules which admittedly are complex because it’s a complex system,” he said. The CFB’s audit processes, Loprest noted, are also being consistently improved to ensure candidates do not have to wait years for results.

But Assemblymember Harvey Epstein, a Manhattan Democrat, seemed unconvinced, particularly when considering that audits of every campaign at the state level -- four statewide races and 213 state legislative races -- would be a monumental task. State Board of Elections officials did downplay that worry later in the hearing, noting that the governor’s proposal only calls for fully auditing all statewide campaigns but not every legislative one, instead using a random sampling.

The State BOE has not taken a formal position on the program but at least two commissioners, a Democrat and a Republican, support its implementation. Other commissioners have insisted that if the program is passed, it should be accompanied with sufficient funding and that it should first go into effect after the 2022 elections, the next statewide cycle.

A state program, said BOE co-executive director Robert Brehm, would be about 3.67 times larger than New York City’s and would cost between $20-$60 million each year in administrative costs if fully scaled. According to a December 2018 report from the Washington D.C.-based Campaign Finance Institute, the program would disburse about $140.5 million in public funds over a four-year election cycle. For context, the governor’s state budget proposal for 2020 is about $175.1 billion.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Chisun Lee, senior counsel in the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center pointed out the importance of establishing a public financing program. She noted that in last year’s election, 100 donors gave more to candidates than 137,000 small donors altogether, and small donations only accounted for 5 percent of all contributions to state campaigns. She cited the example of other jurisdictions with public financing programs, such as Connecticut, and said the state should create a culture of assistance rather than punishment at any entity charged with overseeing its implementation.

And though she admitted that the governor’s proposal is not flawless, “In great part...it is a workable, effective small donor matching system,” she said.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Advocates and Senators Refute Assembly Democrats' Concerns with Campaign Finance Reform Wed, 20 Mar 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Electronic Poll Books Next Step in New York Election Overhaul https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8255-electronic-poll-books-next-step-in-new-york-election-overhaul https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8255-electronic-poll-books-next-step-in-new-york-election-overhaul express poll e poll book

(photo: Elections Systems & Software)


As Democrats in the state Legislature continue a rapid pace of passing legislation to start the new session, the state Senate seems poised to advance another round of election and voting reforms, including approving the use of electronic poll books to administer elections.

Electronic poll books, used in at least 34 states and the District of Columbia, are a fairly simple but significant instrument in making elections more efficient, experts and advocates argue. They make voting faster, preventing long lines at polling sites, save costs in the long run, and are easier to update and maintain compared to the paper lists currently used in New York.

Some advocates also say e-poll books, as they’re often called, are essential in implementing improvements to voter registration processes, which the state Legislature put into motion last month, and helpful in the implementation of the significant shift of early voting, also part of the recently-passed package.

On Monday, the state Senate’s elections committee held a vote and approved a bill allowing electronic poll books, among other items on the agenda. The bill will now head to the Senate floor for a vote. Senator Zellnor Myrie, committee chair and the sponsor of the bill, is confident e-poll books will subsequently be passed by the full Legislature, in advance of this year’s primary election in June. The legislation does not mandate the use of e-poll books.

“The larger reforms that we’ve instituted and that we’re looking at for the rest of the session are going to be made much easier by us modernizing how we see whether or not someone has voted,” Myrie said in a phone interview. “So electronic poll books is something that has wide consensus.”

When Democrats took control of the Legislature this year after flipping the Senate, they quickly passed a series of voting and elections measures including early voting, consolidating the federal and state primary to June, and preregistration of 16- and 17-year-olds. They also passed measures to amend the state constitution to implement no-excuse absentee ballots and same-day voter registration -- amendments that will require passage by the next Legislature seated in 2021 and then approval by voters through a referendum.

Advocates say that early voting and same-day voter registration in particular would be far more efficient with electronic poll books.

“Implementing early voting in New York City without electronic poll books would be an administrative disaster,” said Rachel Bloom, director of public policy and programs at Citizens Union, a government reform group. “To have effective and organized early voting in New York, we need to allow for the use of electronic pollbooks.”

Other advocates aren’t as worried but agree that electronic poll books should be the next step for the Legislature. “You don’t need to have electronic poll books to do early voting but it would make it easier,” said Jennifer Wilson, director of program and policy for League of Women Voters of New York State. She noted, for instance, that Texas implemented early voting more than a decade ago but started using electronic poll books about five years ago. But for same-day registration, she said it would be “crucial.”

Jarret Berg, executive director of the New York Democratic Lawyers Council, concurred. “I don’t think it’s an indispensable component but it certainly makes a lot of sense and I don’t see how you could do [early voting] effectively without some kind of real-time reconciliation,” he said. “We need to move away from this really sloppy paper-based system.”

The advocates do acknowledge challenges and concerns about electronic poll books. Among them is the upfront cost that local counties may have to bear for purchasing equipment, like digital tablets, on which the poll books would be stored (localities may look to the state for help in paying for such equipment). Poll workers also tend to be older and could struggle with the technology. “There’s a digital divide,” Berg conceded. Training would be necessary regardless.

There are also concerns about the security of voter lists, made that much more severe after Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. Digital devices could be vulnerable to hacking, necessitating standalone devices that would not be connected to the internet and would have to be individually updated. This is similar to the electronic ballot scanners that are not internet-connected and therefore far less susceptible to hacking.

Myrie is aware of those concerns but, as the advocates also argue, says the benefits outweigh the costs. “This is really about making and administering elections much simpler,” he said. “It allows for cost savings. In the future we’re not gonna have to pay for storage of all these [paper] poll books. It is a much more efficient way to do things so that...some of the lines that we have become unfortunately very accustomed to when we go to vote are reduced by a significant measure if we make the process of checking a registration easier.”

Electronic poll books also have bipartisan support. Before Myrie took over the elections committee, Republican Senator Fred Akshar had sponsored a bill, with companion legislation put forward by Democratic Assemblymember Michael Cusick that was repeatedly passed by the Assembly. Governor Andrew Cuomo also backs the measure but some say his support would have to be backed up with funding to help counties transition to the new system, money he did not include in his executive budget proposal.

“Governor Cuomo proposed a comprehensive set of reforms in the Executive Budget to make voting easier, including authorizing electronic poll books,” Hazel Crampton-Hays, a spokesperson, said in a statement. “We will work with the legislature to identify additional resources to the extent necessary.”

Myrie is prepared to push for those resources; as some are already doing when it comes to funding early voting. It’s not clear what the initial and ongoing costs of the e-poll books may be. “Even if its a significant cost, I’ve been saying and will continue to say, to go from worst to first is gonna require some pain,” he said of New York’s voting laws.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Note - This article was updated after the Senate elections committee held a vote and passed the e-poll book bill.  

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Electronic Poll Books Next Step in New York Election Overhaul Sun, 03 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Cuomo and His Progressive Critics Face Moment of Truth https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7954-cuomo-and-his-progressive-critics-face-moment-of-truth https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7954-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.”

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Cuomo and His Progressive Critics Face Moment of Truth Mon, 24 Sep 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Central Brooklyn Senate Primary Tests IDC Awareness https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7869-max-murphy-podcast-central-brooklyn-senate-primary-tests-idc-awareness https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7869-max-murphy-podcast-central-brooklyn-senate-primary-tests-idc-awareness mxm logo

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


August 15, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Central Brooklyn Senate Primary Tests IDC Awareness with Zellnor Myrie and Senator Jesse Hamilton

myrie hamilton 277State Senator Jesse Hamilton is a member of the now-defunct Independent Democratic Conference, a group of Democrats who caucused with Republicans for seven years and, in April, rejoined the Senate's mainline Democratic conference. This year, Hamilton faces an insurgent primary challenge from Zellnor Myrie, a Brooklyn-based attorney. Hamilton and Myrie joined the Max & Murphy show on WBAI radio on Wednesday to discuss their race.  

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

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Central Brooklyn Senate Primary Tests IDC Awareness Wed, 15 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000
How Much Does Brooklyn Congressional Primary Result Show Path in Overlapping State Senate Race? https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7860-how-much-does-brooklyn-congressional-primary-result-show-path-in-overlapping-state-senate-race https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7860-how-much-does-brooklyn-congressional-primary-result-show-path-in-overlapping-state-senate-race myrie w congressmembers via indivisble bk

Zellnor Myrie receives the endorsement of Rep. Clarke, among others (photo: @BKIndivisible)


A wide swath of central Brooklyn is hosting its second contentious Democratic primary race this year. After a surprisingly close congressional primary in June, voters in a largely overlapping state Senate district will vote in September in another race where an incumbent is facing an upstart challenger.

Brooklyn Congressional District 9An array of neighborhoods in the borough, including Brownsville, Crown Heights, Park Slope, Flatbush, and Prospect Heights, make up New York’s Ninth Congressional District (map left), where Democratic voters narrowly voted to nominate Yvette Clarke for re-election over her challenger, Adem Bunkeddeko, in a race that drew national attention for its closeness, especially alongside the defeat of Rep. Joe Crowley by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

The Brooklyn neighborhoods of Clarke’s district, with the exception of a few, like Sheepshead Bay and Marine Park, also make up State Senate District 20 (map below), which adds Gowanus, South Slope, and Sunset Park, and is represented by incumbent Senator Jesse Hamilton, who is facing a primary challenge from Zellnor Myrie.

Brooklyn State Senate District 20The two primaries bear some similar contours: a youthful progressive candidate goes for the left flank of a Democratic incumbent amid an anti-establishment milieu, hoping to motivate voters upset by Donald Trump and looking for something different from their elected officials. Bunkedekko’s success as a previously little-known activist and lawyer in the district—he lost by just 1,075 votes—may help provide a roadmap for Myrie, especially in terms of where in the district to go for those anti-establishment votes.

But there are key differences between the Clarke-Bunkedekko and Hamilton-Myrie races, including Hamilton’s prior membership in the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference and the flood of endorsements behind Myrie, but a key question for the challenger, incumbent, and all those watching, is: How much can we apply from the results of the race in Congressional District Nine to the race in State Senate District 20?

NY9 resultsThough ultimately unsuccessful in his bid to unseat Representative Clarke, daughter of legendary former City Council Member Una Clarke, Bunkeddeko certainly came close, losing by four points to a politician who won her previous primary challenge, in 2012, by 77%. Results of the June 26 vote show Bunkeddeko’s strongholds were in wealthier, whiter, gentrified areas of the district like Park Slope and Prospect Heights, while Clarke excelled in poorer, predominantly black neighborhoods in the eastern part of NY-9 like East Flatbush and Brownsville (map left, via CUNY Mapping Service).

It remains to be seen whether this dynamic will be replicated in the race between Hamilton and Myrie. Hamilton is a former member of the Independent Democratic Conference, a coalition of eight Democrats in the New York State Senate that formed a years-long coalition agreement with Republicans to bolster GOP control of the chamber. The IDC formally disbanded this April amid criticism and the declaration of primary challenges by Myrie and a cohort of other candidates.

Myrie spokesman André M. Richardson told Gotham Gazette that the campaign was surprised by Central Brooklynites’ widespread knowledge of the IDC.

“More people knew about it than we thought would,” he said. “A lot of the conversation is in the Park Slope and Prospect Heights area, but folks in Flatbush recognize it, as well.”

Hamilton’s participation in the IDC is a useful cudgel for the Myrie campaign, providing a unifying talking point about propping up Republican control of the state Senate and blocking progressive legislation in a racially and economically diverse district.

In predominantly-black neighborhoods like Brownsville, Richardson said, the IDC ties Hamilton to the prevention of Andrea Stewart-Cousins from becoming the State Senate’s first black female majority leader; in heavily-Hispanic Sunset Park, the Myrie campaign tells voters that the IDC is why the Dream Act was blocked. Through this, and with an intense focus on the ever-relevant housing crisis, the challenger hopes to avoid the polarization of the district seen in the results from June and appeal to voters in every neighborhood. That effort is likely to be helped by the fact that Myrie has been endorsed by a wide swathe of elected officials and clubs, including Rep. Clarke and other elected officials from the area, such as Assemblymember Diana Richardson.

The IDC is one of several factors that complicate attempts to use the results of the Clarke-Bunkeddeko race to predict the Hamilton-Myrie contest, despite the two races taking place in, more or less, the same territory. Also, noted Steven Romalewski, director of the CUNY Mapping Service, to Gotham Gazette, “different groups of voters turn out for different races.” Only about 8.2% of eligible Democratic voters voted in the primary between Clarke and Bunkeddeko, making it difficult to generalize characteristics of the voter pool.

Voter turnout is expected to increase in September, when the Democratic nominees for the statewide positions of governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general will also be decided. Two of those races feature black candidates from Central Brooklyn: Jumaane Williams, running for lieutenant governor, and Letitia James, for attorney general. Governor Andrew Cuomo and his primary opponent, Cynthia Nixon, have also focused campaign efforts in the area, aware that black voters are essential to winning Democratic primaries.

In last year’s September primaries for city elections, Senate District 20 was home to 21,000 voters, while only around 10,000 residents of the Senate district cast votes in June’s contest when the congressional primary was the only race on the ballot.

Though it’s nearly impossible to accurately predict whether increased turnout will help or harm Hamilton, who was first elected to the Senate in 2014, political consultant Jerry Skurnik told Gotham Gazette that “the gentrifiers” constitute a larger proportion of Senate District 20 than they do Congressional District Nine.

By Skurnik’s admittedly “not 100% accurate” demographic calculations, 82% of the Senate district lies within the Congressional district, and the overlapping area is about 72% black. But the overall Senate district is just slightly over 60% black, since it includes smaller portions of near-exclusively African-American neighborhoods like Brownsville and East Flatbush and extends farther out of Central Brooklyn, into neighborhoods like Gowanus and Sunset Park that have relatively few black residents. This could spell an advantage for Myrie, if Bunkeddeko’s strength in Park Slope is any indication, and if he is able to move the same voters to the polls while motivating others. But, there are many complicating factors, and neither Romalewski nor Skurnik felt comfortable prognosticating with any certainty.

In line with Romalewski’s cautioning that different races motivate different voters, Skurnik emphasized to Gotham Gazette that a race for the New York State Senate necessarily involves issues different from those in a contest for the U.S. House of Representatives. For instance, rent regulations are a marquee issue for state legislators, who will renegotiate current rent laws next year, while the issue is less central to Congressional races like Clarke and Bunkeddeko’s, though candidates for all offices must discuss housing affordability in New York City. Myrie may have an easier time mobilizing residents around his housing-focused campaign than Bunkeddeko, who devoted extensive time to attacking Clarke’s Congressional record (or lack thereof, as he framed it). But, Myrie is also focused on Hamilton’s record in the Senate, especially around progressive bills that have not passed because Republicans, supported by the IDC, did not favor them.

The polarized, racially and economically divided results of the NY-9 primary will not necessarily reproduce as such in Senate District 20, Skurnik said, because both Hamilton and Myrie have seen them. “Senator Hamilton knows what happened,” Skurnik said. “He knows where the Congresswoman did badly...He’s not going to be surprised.” The same holds true for Myrie, he added. If the results of the June primary can teach the candidates of District 20 anything, it seems, it’s what to avoid.

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by Daniel Yadin for Gotham Gazette

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How Much Does Brooklyn Congressional Primary Result Show Path in Overlapping State Senate Race? Fri, 10 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000
The July Financial Picture for Former Breakaway Democrats and Their Primary Challengers https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7813-the-july-financial-picture-for-former-breakaway-democrats-and-their-primary-challengers https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7813-the-july-financial-picture-for-former-breakaway-democrats-and-their-primary-challengers liu and ramos via jessicaramos

John Liu and Jessica Ramos (photo: @JessicaRamos)


The deadline for candidates for state office to file their latest campaign finance disclosures with the state Board of Elections was Monday, July 16. The disclosures show candidate fundraising and expenditures from the last six months, from January to July.

All 213 seats in the state Legislature -- 150 Assembly and 63 Senate -- are on the ballot this year, but few incumbents face competitive races. The state Assembly is overwhelmingly composed of Democrats, most of whom do not have a primary challenger. The state Senate, however, has become a battleground for control between Democrats and Republicans, with Democratic conference members holding 31 seats and Republican conference members 32 seats. After a Democratic unity deal in April, bringing a rogue group of eight “independent” Democrats back into the mainline conference, Republicans continued to hold power over the chamber with the help of Senator Simcha Felder, a conservative Democrat from Brooklyn who professes no loyalty to political parties and only votes on policies that he believes suit his district’s interests.

In eight races, incumbent Democratic Senators who were once part of the Independent Democratic Conference -- a breakaway group that caucused with Republicans and helped them hold the majority -- face primary contests from progressive challengers. Those challengers are buoyed by an increasingly aware, angry, and active Democratic base that is set on removing the former IDC members from office.

Those former IDC members, led by Senator Jeff Klein of the Bronx, continue to face criticism over their alliance with Republicans and the progressive legislation and budgeting that it may have held up. The challengers and those supporting them have gained momentum following the recent victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who defeated ten-term U.S. Representative Joe Crowley in the Democratic primary for New York’s 14th congressional district. Notably, Crowley had helped brokered the reunification of the Senate Democrats, along with Governor Andrew Cuomo and other top party officials. Cuomo is himself facing a spirited primary challenge from actor and activist Cynthia Nixon.

The former IDC Senators include six representing parts of New York City: Tony Avella of District 11 in Queens, Jose Peralta of District 13 in Queens, Jesse Hamilton of District 20 in Brooklyn, Diane Savino of District 23 in Staten Island and Brooklyn, Marisol Alcantara of District 31 in Manhattan, and Klein of District 34 the Bronx and Westchester, as well as David Carlucci of District 38 and David Valesky of District 53, both north of the five boroughs.

While fundraising numbers only tell a portion of the story of a campaign or a race, campaign finance filings help indicate where candidate support comes from and what resources a candidate has to help get his or her message out to voters. Challengers to the IDC veterans were eager to tout their number of low-dollar donations as indicative of grassroots support, while the incumbents often posted healthy coffers, though possibly tainted by money transferred from a party account ruled in violation of election law.

District 11
Former New York City Comptroller John Liu launched a late-stage challenge against Sen. Avella, jumping into the race earlier this month in time to petition his way onto the ballot. Liu has yet to raise funds for the race but he has an open campaign account, likely from his previous attempt to unseat Avella in 2014, with a little more than $3,000 in cash on hand as of January. Liu won 47 percent of the vote that year, just after he had lost in the Democratic primary for mayor of New York City in 2013.

Avella, whose district covers who represents northeastern Queens, raised nearly $147,000 in the last six months, of which $68,000 was transferred from the Senate Independence Campaign Committee fund set up by the then-IDC and the Independence Party. A state court ruled last month that the joint fundraising arrangement was illegal, and the transfers could possibly even violate contribution limits established in election law. Avella spent about $80,000 over the filing period and has a balance of about $170,000 in his campaign account.

District 13
One of the Democrats likely most affected by Crowley’s loss is Sen. Peralta, who is relying on the support of the Queens Democratic Party -- chaired by Crowley -- to help him retain his seat in northern Queens. With the party having lost the sheen of immense power, some Queens Democratic insiders say it could affect the candidates who have received its endorsement.

Peralta has raised $322,000 and spent $297,000 of it since January. The SICC was more generous with him, transferring $113,500 to his campaign, with the most recent check having been sent just last week. He has about $182,000 remaining in his campaign account.

Peralta is being challenged by Jessica Ramos, a former aide to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Ramos raised $171,000 over the last six months and has spent $102,000 of it. She has just about $99,000 in cash on hand. In publicizing her haul, Ramos promoted the fact that she had raised most of the funds, about $129,000, from more than 1,400 individual donors, contrasting it with Peralta’s 238 individual donors who gave him about $69,000.

District 20
Sen. Hamilton, who represents parts of central Brooklyn, pulled in about $295,000 for his reelection bid and spent $202,000. As with the other IDC senators, the SICC gave him a major boost with $109,700 transferred to his account. He has about $212,000 left to spend.

Hamilton’s challenger is Zellnor Myrie, an attorney from Brooklyn. Myrie raised $163,000 in this filing period and spent about $96,000. He has just under $156,000 left in cash on hand. Myrie had more than 4,400 individual donors accounting for 98 percent of his fundraising haul, a fact he highlighted while pointing out that Hamilton had only 243 individual donors.

District 23
The district covers Staten Island’s northern shore and parts of southern Brooklyn and is represented by Sen. Savino. The senator hauled in $451,000, of which $270,000 was transferred from an earlier campaign account to a new one. She spent $193,000 in the same period and has $259,000 left in her campaign account.

Savino’s primary challenger, community activist Jasmine Robinson, has not yet filed her disclosure with the BOE. She said in an email that her campaign received an extension and will file the report next week.

District 31
Sen. Alcantara, who is running for a second term, represents a district that covers long stretches of the west side of Manhattan. The incumbent, who narrowly won a tight three-way race in 2016, raised $116,000, which was outpaced by her $130,000 in expenditures. She also had the benefit of receiving $66,000 from the SICC. She has about $132,000 in cash on hand.

Alcantara is facing Robert Jackson, a former City Council member who unsuccessfully challenged her in the 2016 primary for District 31. Jackson raised more than $156,000 and spent about $103,000. He has $157,000 remaining in his account.

District 34
District 34 spans across Westchester and parts of the Bronx, and is currently held by Sen. Klein. As the former leader of the IDC, Klein played a powerful role in the state Legislature for more than seven years and was one of the proverbial ‘four men in a room’ who decide the state budget, along with the governor, Senate majority leader, and Assembly speaker. As part of the Democratic reunification deal, Klein assumed the position of deputy to the Democratic conference leader Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

jeff klein campaign kickoff

Klein raised nearly $740,000 -- $200,000 from the SICC -- between January and July and spent $613,000. He has a whopping balance of $2.1 million, having built up his campaign warchest over the last several years.

Alessandra Biaggi is the upstart candidate taking on Klein in the primary. Biaggi’s latest filings were not available on the BOE website but her campaign said she had raised $260,000 and had about $50,000 in expenditures.

District 38
Sen. Carlucci, who represents Rockland County and parts of Westchester, raised $114,000 for reelection and spent only $32,000. He received $26,000 from the SICC. He has a balance of more than $440,000.

Carlucci’s opponent is Julie Goldberg, whose disclosures were not available with the BOE. Goldberg’s campaign manager, Susanne Kernan, pointed to technical issues with the submission and provided the filings to Gotham Gazette. They showed nearly $17,000 in contributions and and about $4,000 in expenditures, leaving her a balance of under $13,000.

District 53
The district spans Madison County and parts of Onondaga and Oneida, and is represented by Sen. Valesky. He raised $126,000 and spent about $74,000 in the last six months. The SICC gave him $36,000. He has $665,000 remaining in his campaign account.

Valesky’s opponent, Rachel May, raised $84,000 and had expenses worth about $38,000. She has $81,000 in cash on hand.

[Read: New York Democrats’ Season of Choosing]

Other Senate Primaries To Watch
District 22
Democrats see an opportunity this year to unseat Brooklyn Sen. Marty Golden, one of the few Republican elected officials in New York City. His district is situated in southern Brooklyn covering the neighborhoods of Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst, Marine Park, and Gerritsen Beach. Golden raised about $32,000 and has spent more than $125,000 since January. But he maintains a healthy campaign account, with $485,000 in cash on hand.

Two Democrats are competing in the September 13 primary -- Andrew Gounardes, who was an aide to former City Council Member Vincent Gentile, and Ross Barkan, a journalist-turned-candidate. The winner will take on Golden in the general election.

Gounardes raised $124,000 and spent $47,000, and had a closing balance of $181,000. Barkan raised about $71,000 and spent $66,000. He has about $59,000 remaining.

District 17
Felder’s role in propping up the Senate Republicans has prompted a primary challenge from attorney Blake Morris.

Felder represents the neighborhoods of Borough Park, Midwood, and parts of Flatbush, Kensington, Sunset Park, and Sheepshead Bay. The senator is well resourced, having raised more than $430,000 since January and having spent about $110,000. He has a balance of $637,000, far surpassing his opponent.

Morris had raised $41,000 by the Monday deadline and had spent $31,000 of it. He has a little over $10,000 in his campaign account with under two months till the primary.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note - This article has been updated to more accurately reflect Sen. Jeff Klein's fundraising and expenditure over the last six months. The numbers previously included were from his latest disclosure report which only showed his campaign finance activity since May. 

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The July Financial Picture for Former Breakaway Democrats and Their Primary Challengers Wed, 18 Jul 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Poll Targeting Brooklyn District Gauges Anti-IDC Sentiment https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7526-poll-targeting-brooklyn-district-gauges-anti-idc-sentiment https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7526-poll-targeting-brooklyn-district-gauges-anti-idc-sentiment Jesse Hamilton IDC

Members of the IDC, including Sen. Hamilton (center), and others (photo: @IDC4NY)


A recent phone poll surveying residents of Senator Jesse Hamilton’s Brooklyn district asked residents to react to a number of statements associating the Independent Democratic Conference with President Donald Trump, among a variety of other questions, according to two residents of the district.

The polling was conducted “on behalf of a Democrat regarding state Senate elections in September 2018” by the Florida-based Kalamata Group, one resident, who took meticulous notes during a February 10 phone call, told Gotham Gazette.

Kalamata Group is associated with Global Strategy Group, which works closely with IDC, indicating that the poll was funded by the conference. Hamilton is one of eight members of the IDC, which forms a ruling coalition with the Senate Republicans, along with nominal Democrat Senator Simcha Felder. The alliance has been blamed for keeping Republicans in power in state government, effectively blocking the passage of key Democratic legislation, such as voting reforms, women’s reproductive health provisions, the Dream Act, and the Child Victims Act.

The breakaway Democrats, led by Senator Jeff Klein of the Bronx, are currently in talks to reunify with the mainline Democratic conference later this year, provided Democrats regain a total of 32 seats in the 63-seat chamber after a set of special elections in April, but that has not stopped a number of challengers, backed by a coalition of progressive activists, from launching primary challenges against IDC members.

One of the residents of Hamilton’s district, who was polled, lives in Prospect Heights and asked to remain anonymous. He said he was asked to indicate whether he approved or disapproved of the IDC, Jesse Hamilton, Zellnor Myrie -- a lawyer who is running in the Democratic primary against Hamilton in the fall -- Mayor Bill de Blasio, and President Donald Trump.

Several poll questions seem to evaluate whether Hamilton will be negatively impacted by criticisms that link him and his conference with Trump’s presidency, which appears to be hurting the Republican Party in New York. IDC challengers and their supporters have taken to calling IDC members “Trump Democrats.”

The poll, for example, asks residents to rank how convincing they found a series of statements about Hamilton’s record, with the pollster telling saying that the statements were from Hamilton’s opponents.

‘By aligning with the GOP in New York, Senator Jesse Hamilton is empowering Donald Trump’s agenda in New York. Trump Democrat Hamilton has sided with real estate groups and developers and has effectively blocked efforts to stand up to Trump’s destructive agenda on health care, education, immigrations, tenants rights, and climate change,’ read one statement, according to the resident.

The poll also tested several positive statements about the incumbent: ‘Hamilton secured $10 million to help provide legal services for immigrants. He is working to protect Dreamers in New York by helping to provide college assistance and stronger legal protections against Trump’s attack on so-called sanctuary cities,’ the pollster reportedly said, for example.

The poll also tested for two potential criticisms of Myrie. One referred to a charity he founded in 2009 that had its taxpayer authorization revoked by the IRS after he failed to file the paperwork, and another that he has no government experience and is linked to a local political machine.

After each segment of the poll, the resident was asked a variation of "If the primary were held today, and the candidates Jesse Hamilton and Zellnor Myrie, who would you vote for?" (See full details of the poll below, as noted by the resident from Prospect Heights.)

Barbara Brancaccio, a campaign spokesperson for Hamilton who works for Global Strategy Group, would not confirm that the IDC funded the poll, but as one political operative who Gotham Gazette briefed on the poll’s contents put it, “It's hard to imagine it not being the IDC. [Global Strategy Group] has a very long standing relationship with Jeff [Klein].”

Brancaccio said the survey amounts to standard polling that is done whenever there is an election, and that the campaign does not make the results of its polling public.

New York State law prohibits the partial release of political poll results, so candidates and campaigns often choose not to share their survey results.

Still, the founders of No IDC NY, a political campaign that backs IDC primary challengers, used the poll questions as an opportunity to take a swipe at the breakaway Democrats, noting that No IDC has conducted its own surveys through its collective phone-banking and text-messaging operations.

In the 20th Senate District, home to the Hamilton-Myrie primary, phone-bankers spoke with 1,119 voters, 83 percent of whom are negative on the IDC, said Gus Christensen, chief strategist of No IDC NY.

“The numbers are clear: the IDC has no base. Democratic voters are real Democrats, and real Democrats don't support turncoats who caucus with the Republicans. And I'm sure the only reason why the IDC won't release the results of their own polling is that it says the same thing, only in more detail,” said Christensen.

Polling experts say phone-banking is generally not a reliable method to determine voter behavior, since phone-bankers likely have their own biases, and their questions may not be balanced. Political polling companies also take steps to ensure that the demographic make-up of subjects polled is reflective of the district.

“It would be impossible for me to comment on any of these polls, not knowing the methodology behind them …but the key to making any survey scientifically accurate, is to ensure that you have a representative sample of the geography you are trying to poll,” said Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg.

While overwhelmingly Democratic, Hamilton’s district is diverse and somewhat fragmented, including portions of Brownsville, Crown Heights, East Flatbush, Gowanus, Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Prospect Lefferts Gardens, and snaking down to South Slope, and Sunset Park.

Myrie, in an interview with Gotham Gazette, said it was fair for critics to associate his opponent with President Trump.

“In 2016, my opponent joined the Republican-friendly IDC within 24 hours of Donald Trump becoming the most regressive President our country has ever seen,” say Myrie. “Since that day, they both have pushed or supported the regressive Republican policies that have hurt my community...Republicans in the state Senate are lock and step with the Trump agenda, an agenda my opponent bolsters every single day as a member of the IDC.”

___

The following is lightly edited notes taken by one resident of the 20th State Senate District who was polled:

Do you have favorable or unfavorable view of:
-The IDC
-Jesse Hamilton
-Zellnor Myrie
-Bill de Blasio
-Donald Trump

If the primary were today, would you vote for Jesse Hamilton or Zellnor Myrie?

Do you approve or disapprove of the job Jesse Hamilton is doing?

What are the two most important issues that will impact your vote?

Would you prefer a a state senator who stands up to policies of Trump and Republicans in New York, or a state senator who addresses local issues?

I am going to read profiles and ask if you find them favorable or unfavorable.
-Democrat Zellnor Myrie is an attorney and local Democratic party leader. He will be a true Democrat in the New York State Senate, an anti-Trump leader who will fight to fully fund schools, will focus on affordable housing, including protecting tenants who are being thrown out of their homes. He will help pave the way for Andrea Stewart-Cousins to become the first African-American woman Senate Majority Leader.
-Democrat Jesse Hamilton, current state senator, brought in $1 million for community land trusts that work to build affordable housing. He won tougher rent projections and a freeze on rent for seniors. He brought back $1 billion for public schools. He helped establish the nation’s first free college tuition program for families earning [amount unclear]. Jesse Hamilton will continue to stand up against Trump, protect women, immigrants, civil rights, and healthcare gains made by President Obama.

If the primary were today, and candidates were Zellnor Myrie and Jesse Hamilton, for whom would you vote?

I will now read statements from supporters of Jesse Hamilton - how convincing do you find them?
-Jesse Hamilton founded United Against Violence Task Force to develop new ways for communities to respond to violence. He funded organizations like Save Our Streets and Cure Violence. He is making a real difference in making our streets safer.
-Jesse Hamilton succeeded in securing $10 million to help provide legal services for immigrants. He is working to protect Dreamers in New York by helping to provide college assistance and stronger legal protections against Trump’s attack on so-called Sanctuary Cities.
(Side note: The woman on the phone didn’t know what “Dreamers” referred to. She said “Dreamers...it’s apparently an organization he is fighting to protect.” She added, “I’m not from New York.”)
-Jesse Hamilton is taking a strong stand against Donald Trump’s attacks on immigrants and his attempts to roll back healthcare coverage, civil rights, marriage equality, and a woman’s right to choose, by writing protections against Trump into New York state law.
-Jesse Hamilton has been successful in bringing back hundreds of thousands of dollars for our school and community groups in need. Last year he secured funds for the Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger, Brooklyn Legal Services, Caribbean Women’s Health Association, and Youth Represent.
-Jesse Hamilton is pushing for the Rider Relief Plan that would repair funding by nearly $900 million to reduce delays and overcrowding for New York subways.
-Jesse Hamilton supports true low-income housing, not multi-million-dollar condos at Bedford Armory. He will make housing more affordable by expanding the number of seniors who qualify for homeowner exemptions, and expand the number of people qualified for rent freezes. He will fight for more affordable housing in New York and strengthen laws to give jail time to landlords who are illegally raising rents.

Once again, if the NYS primary were today, would you vote for Jesse Hamilton or Zellnor Myrie?

Now I will read statements from opponents of Jesse Hamilton. How convincing do you find them?
-By aligning with the GOP in the New York State Senate, Jesse Hamilton is empowering Donald Trump’s agenda in New York. Trump Democrat Hamilton has sided with real estate groups and developers and has effectively blocked efforts to stand up to Trump’s destructive agenda on health care, education, immigrations, tenants rights, and climate change.
-The IDC, of which Jesse Hamilton is a member, took tens of thousands of dollars from one of the biggest landlord groups in the city, called REBNY, which has been working to end rent regulations and eliminate tenant protections.
-Jesse Hamilton is a member of the IDC, a group of state senators who ran for office as Democrats, but then aligned with the GOP once elected. This has resulted in GOP control of the Senate, in spite of the GOP being in the minority, and has allowed the conservative GOP to stop or water down Democratic priorities.
-Jesse Hamilton is a member of the IDC, some of whose members have been exposed for taking extra salary or better office space in exchange for aligning with the GOP in the State Senate. This scheme has involved making false statements, and has led to inquiries by the office of the New York State Attorney General and the United States Attorney in Brooklyn.

If the primary were today, who would you vote for?

I will now read statements from opponents of Zellnor Myrie. How convincing do you find them?
-Zellnor Myrie started a charity that critics said he launched simply to promote himself. He promptly lost interest and the charity had its taxpayer authorization revoked by the IRS, for failing the simple task of failing to file the proper forms.
-Zellnor Myrie has no government experience, but is relying on his political connections in the local party machine to get elected, and would serve their interest, not ours.

If primary were today, who would you vote for?

Then there were demographic questions at the end:
-Last grade of school completed?
-Anyone in household a member/retired from union?
-In politics, are you very liberal, somewhat liberal, moderate, somewhat conservative, very conservative.
-Religious background - protestant, catholic, muslim, jewish, something else?
-Race?
-Hispanic?
-Do you receive more calls on landline or cell phone
-Can I use your first name?

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Poll Targeting Brooklyn District Gauges Anti-IDC Sentiment Wed, 07 Mar 2018 05:00:00 +0000