Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/2424 Tue, 21 Jan 2020 17:00:20 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) As Election Proceeds, Affidavit Ballot Bill at Center of Queens Controversy Continues to Languish https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8895-election-approaches-no-apparent-movement-on-affidavit-voting-bill-queens-controversy-cuomo https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8895-election-approaches-no-apparent-movement-on-affidavit-voting-bill-queens-controversy-cuomo gov cuomo casts

(photo: the governor's office)


Few New York elections go by without controversy, and this year’s relatively quiet slate has been no exception. As voters head to the polls during the inaugural early voting period and heading into Election Day, one major question that came up during the June primary continues to hang over the general election.

A bill that could change the way provisional affidavit ballots are counted as soon as this year is languishing in Albany, having passed both houses of the state Legislature in June. The bill would make it harder to disqualify those ballots on technicalities if the intention of the voter is clear, thus keeping some number of voters from disenfranchisement.

The legislation was the subject of controversy during the Democratic primary for Queens District Attorney earlier this year, a race that was decided in a recount, with many affidavit ballots left uncounted. While it’s unclear if any general election race, in New York City or elsewhere in the state, will be anywhere near as close, the bill would impact whether some votes are counted.

“The bill protects otherwise-eligible voters from having their ballots thrown out on highly-technical, unfair grounds. Had it been signed in a timely way after passage on June 12 and 13, this protection would have been in place for the June primaries and the 2019 general election,” said Jarret Berg, a voting rights lawyer and elections watchdog.

“Instead, the safeguard is either being ignored or intentionally delayed as elections they would help to improve come and go," he said, adding that the law would go into effect immediately and wouldn’t cost the state or localities anything to implement.

Caitlin Girouard, a spokesperson for Governor Andrew Cuomo, told Gotham Gazette Tuesday that the legislation was “under review.” As of Thursday, it had not been sent to the governor by the Legislature or called to his desk by Cuomo, the two mechanisms that would force the governor’s decision to sign or veto it much more quickly ahead of the final December 31 deadline.

Registered voters in New York City have the opportunity this fall to cast ballots for public advocate, Queens District Attorney, a Brooklyn City Council seat, some judicial positions, and five referenda containing proposed amendments to the city charter. For the first time in New York State, polls are open during a nine-day early voting period, which began October 26 and ends November 3. Election Day is Tuesday, November 5.

After the primary polls closed in June and the close race headed toward counting absentee and affidavit ballots, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and public defender Tiffany Cabán, along with their respective teams of lawyers, fought over reinstating ballots disqualified by the city’s Board of Elections. As a recount unfolded, one major question became which affidavit ballots would be counted and which wouldn’t, a debate that often starts with the envelope containing the ballot.

Appearing before a judge, lawyers for the two candidates argued over validating discounted ballots, often discarded on the basis of minor technical errors, like failing to put a return address on the ballot envelope or not listing a previous address, despite a qualified voter making a clear vote in the race.

Many of the disqualified affidavit ballots were believed to favor Cabán, while absentee ballots, often cast by older voters, favored Katz, in part due to targeted campaigning by the borough president. Cabán supporters pushed for Cuomo, a Democrat, to sign the affidavit ballot bill during the recount in hopes of preserving more of those votes. Legislators passed the bill weeks before the primary election, but the governor would not sign it after the ballot counting had begun. Cabán ultimately lost by about 60 votes, with more than 350 potential votes uncounted, according to a court filing related to the race.

“With that portion of the election cycle over, it is my hope that the governor gets this legislation on his desk and signs it before November 5 so that those ballots can be appropriately considered under what is a much more reasonable standard,” said Assemblymember Kevin Cahill, a Hudson Valley Democrat and one of the bill’s sponsors.

"We are very supportive of this bill and believe that where a voter's intent is clear, their ballot should count,” wrote State Senator Zellnor Myrie, a Brooklyn Democrat who chairs the Senate Elections Committee, in an email to Gotham Gazette. “The will of the legislature is clear from the passage in both houses so it is our hope, given the importance of every election, that the bill is signed as expeditiously as possible."

Leroy Comrie, the bill’s Senate sponsor, did not respond to requests for comment.

Affidavit and absentee ballots are placed in individual envelopes and have “a variety of other circumstances associated with them that could put them at risk of being considered technically flawed,” said Cahill. One of those circumstances is the fact poll workers hired by the city Board of Elections often advise voters on how to fill out affidavits, according to Cahill, which he says makes it unfair to penalize ballots for technical errors.

Voters use affidavit ballots when they believe they are registered to vote but are not found in the voter rolls at a poll site. Roughly 2,800 affidavit and 3,400 absentee ballots were reportedly cast in the high-profile Democratic primary for Queens District Attorney.

As it became clear the vote was close and headed to a recount, some called on Cuomo to sign the legislation and allow more votes to be counted. Part of the concern, expressed by some, in enacting the legislation before the recount had finished was that it would change the rules of the game by which voters and the poll workers often advising them had been operating.

“The rule is the rule,” Cahill said.

“We wouldn’t want to be impacting a result, after the fact. That wouldn’t be fair,” he added, in apparent reference to changing the rules of how certain votes are counted after they’ve been cast.

Given that Cuomo did not sign the bill before early voting began, the same issue is now at play for the general election. Generally speaking, the legislation is not seen as beneficial to particular candidates, but many believed more affidavits were likely to be for Cabán than Katz in the Queens primary because she appeared to be the favorite of newer, younger, more transient voters who may have been more likely to have to fill out an affidavit ballot.

“This legislation is not a partisan issue, nor does it help or hurt any particular candidate or party in any given election, and it has already passed both houses,” said Berg.

“It’s not that radical a bill,” Cahill said, “it really is just a common sense piece of legislation that says…[a voter] should be permitted to have that vote counted notwithstanding some minor technical differences between what that ballot says and what the law requires.”

The decision to send a bill to the governor for enactment is, practically speaking, a collective one among the Assembly, the Senate, and the governor’s office, according to Cahill. The chamber that first passes a two-house bill is responsible for sending it to the governor’s office; if it is sent to the governor and not signed or vetoed within ten days, in most cases it becomes law. If Cuomo’s administration is not prepared to address the legislation, sending the bill to his office for consideration could lead to its demise, he said. The governor can also at any time call to his desk a bill that has passed both houses.

“It is a shared decision when a bill gets sent to the governor. If it gets sent prematurely before the governor’s office wants it, we’re putting the bill at risk of being vetoed just for procedural reasons and we don’t want to have that happen,” Cahill warned.

“But in this case we are very anxious for this bill to get before the governor, to be on his desk and get his signature so we can start to have people’s votes counted when they should be,” added the member of the Assembly, which was the house to first pass the affidavit bill.

***
by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
As Election Proceeds, Affidavit Ballot Bill at Center of Queens Controversy Continues to Languish Sun, 03 Nov 2019 04:00:00 +0000
As City Rolls Out Census Funding for Outreach Efforts, State Lags Behind https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8831-new-york-city-2020-census-funding-state-lags https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8831-new-york-city-2020-census-funding-state-lags union sq counts

(photo: @NYCImmigrants)


New York City is moving full steam ahead with its effort to ensure that the 2020 Census counts each and every resident of the five boroughs, with millions of dollars in funding and a four-pillar strategy for outreach to hard-to-count communities. But New York State’s effort seems to have stalled and there is little indication that state authorities are moving with urgency despite the many billions of dollars in federal funding and congressional representation at stake.

In the 2010 Census, New York City residents’ self-response rate to the Census was an abysmal 62%, well below the national average of 76%. The city is home to many hard-to-count populations – among which self-response rates are relatively low – including children, seniors, immigrants, predominantly black communities, and residents of public housing. An undercount of these populations can affect everything from federal funding levels for programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Section 8 housing vouchers to business investment in the city and the state’s seats in the House of Representatives.

Increasing the rate of self-response also means requiring fewer census enumerators, the individuals who go door-to-door to count residents who have not responded. Officials have been working for years at the city and state levels to make sure that the Census Bureau has a complete list of addresses for New York residents.

The 2020 Census is plagued with many new and particular problems that have raised concerns that New York could see an even lower self-response rate – as low as 58%, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. The Census Bureau is being underfunded by the federal government, with fewer enumerators being hired to hit the ground; the Trump administration sought unsuccessfully to place a citizenship question on the Census form, worrying and potentially discouraging responses from immigrants; and the count is being conducted digitally for the first time, which could affect response among those who lack access to the internet and particularly among older residents. 

Between Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration and the New York City Council, the city has budgeted $40 million towards Census outreach, the most funding ever put towards this effort. The city is pursuing a multi-faceted strategy that includes a massive field effort, grants for community-based organizations, a mass media campaign, and partnerships between city agencies.

Last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYC Census Director Julie Menin launched the city’s Neighborhood Organizing Census Committees (NOCCs), which are meant to enlist 2,500 volunteers that will aid in census outreach across 245 neighborhoods. The launch came one day after the city announced the $19-million New York City Complete Count Fund, which will give out grants ranging from $25,000 to $250,000 to qualifying community-based organizations.

The city accepting applications till October 18 and is expected to award the funds by December. The actual Census count will begin April 1.

The $19 million allocation follows an initial $4 million to CBOs by the City Council in August to begin Census work. 

The remaining $17 million of the $40 million has yet to be distributed. Those funds are expected to cover the mass media campaign, which will launch in 2020, and the overall field campaign through the NOCCs.

“The idea behind the NOCCs is that we believe very strongly...that people really want to be involved in the future of their neighborhood,” Menin said in a phone interview. “The best kind of outreach that we can have is neighbor-to-neighbor contact.”

The 245 committees will train volunteers about the importance of the census, how it works and how best to organize locally. “This is really a train-the-trainer model that is very much proven to work,” Menin said.

Additionally, the 2,500 volunteers will act as “census ambassadors” and the city will provide them with printed materials, talking points and a digital tool kit on the census. The NOCCs will also organize phone banks and text banks to conduct outreach, and will also partner with CBOs that receive grants from the city. These CBOs and neighborhood volunteers are particularly essential in immigrant communities for whom English is not a first language or who may have limited English proficiency.

The city has also reached an agreement with the U.S. Census Bureau to receive real-time data on self-response rates, to monitor neighborhoods where residents may not be filling out census forms in the initial phase of the count. “So all the volunteers and really anyone living in those neighborhoods will be able to see exactly how their community is doing each day,” Menin said.

New York state government, on the other hand, has been silent on how it will spend the $20 million allocated in the state budget earlier this year for the 2020 Census. That funding (only half of what advocates had called for) is meant to be distributed based on a report by the New York State Complete Count Commission, which held its last hearing to receive public input on July 31. The report is far past its due date and won’t be out for another few weeks, according to a state official.

“The Complete Count Commission has heard testimony and received comments from local governments, grassroots organizations and the general public across New York State, and we are awaiting the Commission’s recommendations on how best to leverage the up to $20 million made available in the State Budget, existing state resources, and our partnerships with organizations on the ground so that we can maximize outreach efforts and get every New Yorker counted,” said Mercedes Padilla, a spokesperson for New York’s Department of State, in a statement to Gotham Gazette.

Padilla said the recommendations would be made in the next few weeks, but did not provide specifics. The co-chairs of the commission are New York’s Secretary of State Rossana Rosado and Jim Malatras, president of the Rockefeller Institute of Government and formerly a top aide to Governor Cuomo.

On September 24, nearly three dozen local, state, and federal elected officials representing Brooklyn wrote a letter to Governor Cuomo, calling for at least $4 million from the $20-million pot to be sent to census efforts in the borough. With more than 2.6 million residents, Brooklyn is the most populous of New York State’s 62 counties, and the letter notes that 80% of Brooklynites live in hard-to-count communities.

“An undercount in Brooklyn would be an unmitigated disaster not only for the people we represent, but the entire state,” the letter reads. “Billions of dollars in federal aid programs could be lost. While Brooklynites already face a lack of resources for many of their immediate needs, an undercount would only make this worse.”

Brooklyn State Senator Zellnor Myrie expressed frustration that the state is sitting on its hands while the city has allocated and released funds. “We have seen the city step up to the plate...and here [at the state level], we have a situation in which we had money allocated in April, we had a commission that went around the state to solicit feedback on how the census outreach should look, and we have neither the report nor the money.”

Myrie and other elected officials have, in the meantime, begun their own efforts to educate their constituents about the census, hosting information sessions in their districts. Others like Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, and Queens Borough President Melinda Katz have created their own Complete Count Committees with discretionary funds to aid in an accurate count.

“I think we're really putting ourselves at risk of repeating a failed history of counting our community,” Myrie said.

Menin also said that the state had provided no answers yet to city officials on how state funds will be distributed. Though some amount of state money will clearly be spent in the city, Menin said that state officials have indicated that it’s unlikely that funds would be funnelled through the city government. It’s also unclear whether a majority of those funds will go to community organizations and nonprofits, as advocates from the statewide New York Counts 2020 coalition have been pushing.

United Neighborhood Houses, a nonprofit based in New York City and a member of that coalition, is among the CBOs that have received discretionary funds from the New York City Council for census organizing efforts. “We're really strong believers in the fact that community-based organizations are key partners in census outreach,” said Nora Moran, UNH’s director of policy and advocacy, in a phone interview.

Moran noted, as have others, that there is little time until the census begins in earnest. The first mailers from the Census Bureau will be sent out in March. “We know that there's a lot at stake, and there's hard-to-count communities upstate as well as downstate,” she said. “And we really hope that the governor's office releases...that funding that they allocated towards census outreach...sooner rather than later.”

Last month, the New York Counts coalition similarly sent a letter to the governor to press their demands. “We are losing valuable time. While many local governments, libraries and community-based organizations (CBOs) have begun their outreach and organizing activities, the effectiveness and depth of these efforts is dependent on additional funding,” the coalition wrote.

“I think there's just a clear evidence of what needs to be done,” said Myrie, “and what is unclear is why there is a delay.”

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note - this article has been updated for clarification. 

]]>
As City Rolls Out Census Funding for Outreach Efforts, State Lags Behind Thu, 03 Oct 2019 04:00:00 +0000
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]

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Cyan Hunte contributed to this story.

]]>
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

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
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.

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
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.

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
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.

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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

]]>
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.”

]]>
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

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

]]>
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.

***
by Daniel Yadin for Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

]]>
How Much Does Brooklyn Congressional Primary Result Show Path in Overlapping State Senate Race? Fri, 10 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000