Gotham Gazette Thu, 03 Dec 2020 14:35:44 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) New York Leftists Strategize for the Post-Trump Era Julia Salazar Albany

State Senator Julia Salazar with activists (photo: NY Senate)

For four years, moderate and progressive Democrats, a number of independents, and even some Republicans have shared a common objective: ensure Donald Trump is a one-term president.

Now, with that objective accomplished and a moderate Democrat in Joe Biden set to enter the White House in January, leftists are ready to go all out, at the federal and local levels, to pull the party further leftward and accomplish goals like taxing the wealthy and defunding the police so that they can pass universal health care and increase funding for social programs including public education.

Those plans are also coming together in New York, where a new crop of left-wing Democrats was just elected to both houses of the state Legislature, building on a progressive slate that won State Senate seats in 2018, not to mention the ascension of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that year, followed by Rep.-elect Jamaal Bowman this year. Many of these winning candidates prevailed with the support of the New York City branch of the Democratic Socialists of America, the progressive Working Families Party, or both.

Along with impacting government policy at all levels, left-learning activists and elected officials now have their eyes on the 2021 New York City election cycle, which will see the election of a new mayor, as well as dozens of new City Council members, and other officials.

In an event that resembled a party as much as it did a strategizing session, state and city legislators, along with City Council candidates and progressive activists, met virtually on Tuesday night to chart a path for post-Trump leftism, with a focus on New York. They started by refuting claims by moderate Democrats, including Governor Andrew Cuomo, that a fear of socialism impeded Democratic successes in this year’s elections.

“It’s kind of nuts” that Democrats would say that, said Manhattan Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou. “It’s no coincidence that all of The Squad won their reelection,” said Samuel Nemir-Olivares, the organizer and emcee of the event, who is also a district leader in Brooklyn. Nemir-Olivares echoed Ocasio-Cortez’s point that all swing-state House Democrats who endorsed Medicare for All won or were on track to win re-election.

Messaging by Republicans running for office also accused Democrats of being anti-police, and some Democrats took the bait, said State Senator Julia Salazar of Brooklyn, who was elected in 2018 over a more moderate Democratic incumbent with the support of the DSA. “Our movements for racial justice and economic justice cannot succeed if the Democratic Party insists on apologizing for them when elections come around,” she said. Significantly reducing funding for the police remains a large part of leftists’ platforms, especially considering the desperate financial situation the city and state governments are in. But some legislators in attendance said Democrats need to do a better job explaining what “defunding the police” means.

“You go into public housing saying defund NYPD, they’re gonna be like, ‘what the heck are you speaking about?’” said Jasmin Sanchez. “If we defund the police, this is what people in public housing and other minority communities are gonna think,” said Brooklyn Assemblymember Maritza Davila: “‘Who’s gonna protect us, and who’s gonna come out?’ So you have to spend more time explaining that.”

Brooklyn City Council candidate Wilfredo Florentino agreed, saying that community members don’t immediately embrace the thought of defunding the police and “what we really want to talk about is reinvesting in our community.”

“The reality is that progressive ideas are popular all across the country,” said Brooklyn Assemblymember-elect Emily Gallagher, who just defeated longtime liberal incumbent Joe Lentol in this year’s primary, “but we have to communicate them in a way that is user-friendly and is engaging.”

Even so, some activists used language that even many progressives shy away from. “We have to be extremely clear that we want to defund the police, that we want to abolish police,” said socialist activist Jawanza James Williams, expressing a different point of view from Democrats who are careful to draw a distinction between abolishing the police and diverting even large portions of police funding to social services. “Policing, including the NYPD itself, is a problematic institution that is predicated on the dehumanity of Black people,” Williams said.

CUNY student-activist Aaron Narraph Fernando shared a personal experience where public safety at his college asked for his identification and suggested he might pose a threat. “We need to really use [democratic socialist candidates] to defund and disband the NYPD,” he said.

Participants in the event expressed hope about the possibility of a supermajority of Democrats in the State Senate to match the one already in the Assembly, once officials finish counting absentee ballots. A few days later, leaders of the Senate Democrats gathered in Albany to celebrate the likely wins that would get them to that supermajority, and offer the ability for both houses to override vetoes by Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who is more moderate on many issues, especially related to the economy and taxes. But such overpowering of the governor would require progressive and moderate legislators to band together.

“While I’m very excited about a Democratic supermajority in the State Senate, I know that we’re still going to need to see that political courage,” said Salazar, “and we have not seen a great demonstration of political courage in the state Legislature collectively this year.”

A supermajority, leftists hope, would give state legislators power over a governor some think is too powerful and too centrist. “We have a top-heavy problem in New York,” said Zephyr Teachout, a progressive hero in New York who ran against Cuomo in the 2014 primary. “He’s really a Republican,” Manhattan City Council candidate Marti Gould Allen Cummings said of the third-term governor who is quite popular in New York City, especially among voters of color.

“Implementation is everything,” said Brooklyn City Council candidate Brandon West. “A lot of times, we’ve seen really good politics come together, progressive groups put a lot of energy in, and then everyone leaves after implementation, so no one focuses on it, so then it fails, then Cuomo’ll be like, ‘oh, that policy doesn’t work anymore — guess we shouldn’t have tried!’”

Gallagher said that if there is a supermajority, Democrats should take advantage of it to push through bold ideas. “These moments don’t last forever,” she said, “and if we don’t do anything with [the supermajority,] we will lose it.”

In order to accomplish controversial goals like defunding the police and decriminalizing sex work, Brooklyn City Council candidate Sandy Nurse said that progressives need to educate people to build community consensus. “We are literally just facilitating the needs and the wants of the people in our districts and in our communities,” she said. “If those priorities are not aligned, we’re not actually able to make those hard transformations that we’re asking for.”

One thing everyone seemed aligned on was higher taxes on the wealthy — something the governor has largely opposed, before and during the pandemic recession, opting instead for a combination of cuts, withholdings, and waiting for a federal aid package, hopefully a large one spurred by Biden’s victory.

“The money is there,” said Nemir-Olivares, pointing out that New York billionaires have only gotten richer during the pandemic. “The question is whether the political class and the governor has the will to really tax the multimillionaires and redistribute the wealth that we need and the workers themselves created so we can fund the actual health care that we need, the masks for the nurses, the tablets for our schools.”

“There are so many things that we can fund that aren’t police or jails,” Cummings said, citing the underway plan to build four new jails to replace those on Rikers Island. Those things, activists said, include making CUNY tuition-free again, forgiving all student debt, funding public housing, and fighting food insecurity. Other priorities include LGBTQ rights, the rights of undocumented people, canceling rent, legalizing marijuana use, and passing a Green New Deal to fight climate change.

“If we had invested in our communities, we wouldn’t have been hit that hard” by the pandemic and recession, said Niou. “If we had invested in our healthcare system, we wouldn’t have been hit that hard. If we had invested in our education system, we wouldn’t have been hit that hard. If we had invested in our small businesses, we wouldn’t have been hit that hard. This is the stuff that is so basic.”

by Lauren Hakimi, Gotham Gazette

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New York Leftists Strategize for the Post-Trump Era Mon, 23 Nov 2020 05:00:00 +0000
To Have Truly People-Powered Campaigns, We Need Democracy Vouchers corrupt fix

(photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office)

We’re just a few months into 2020, and it has been the focus for much of the country for months, if not years, and for good reason -- it is the most important election our democracy has faced in decades. While voter turnout is projected to be record-breaking this year, one of the greatest inequalities of our democracy still needs serious legislative reform: campaign finance.

In 2016, 15% of Americans reported making a political donation, but only 0.52% of the population controlled 67.8% of the total political donations by donating at least $200. Two years later, in 2018, the numbers were worse: 0.47% of the population contributed at least $200 to a campaign, but totaled 71% of all political donations.

Up and down the ballot, more and more candidates are making voluntary pledges to reject corporate PAC money and donations from special interest groups. Several Democratic presidential primary candidates are breaking records with their number of small-dollar donors. But these are voluntary pledges and candidates down the ballot will never be able to match the energy surrounding a presidential campaign.

Although we come from different backgrounds, we have both worked to serve our communities and have run for office against machine-backed candidates. As we can both attest, raising enough money to take on the establishment is hard and we have seen firsthand the impact of corporate money in campaigns -- and the power in the movement to remove special interest money from politics altogether.

It will take legislative change to elevate the value of small-dollar donors and fully get special interest money out of politics.

The most exciting idea, a proposal with potentially transformative effects, is Democracy Vouchers at the federal level. Democracy Vouchers are a simple concept - jurisdictions grant voters vouchers of a select dollar amount that they can donate to the candidates of their choice, as long as the candidates vow to meet certain contribution limits.

For example, every voter in America could get $50 under legislation proposed by Rep. Ro Khanna. They could only use that $50 on federal elections. People know that money matters in campaigns, and because of that, they feel (more) shut out.

Democracy Vouchers have proven to be effective — Seattle voted to implement Democracy Vouchers in 2015 and then piloted its program in 2017. The initial impact of the voucher program included doubling the percentage of giving coming from people under the age of 25 and an increase in people of color making donations. The time for Democracy Vouchers to be more widely implemented has come.

Their ability to empower people to become further engaged in the political process is tremendously important, especially in low-income areas. For too long, candidates, especially challengers, running in low-income areas have had to fundraise outside their communities to run viable campaigns — necessarily giving outsiders the power to decide what matters most and protecting incumbents. Democracy Vouchers would serve as an equalizer for all donors and create greater opportunity for low-income communities to donate to the candidates they believe in.  

If we are going to continue the progress we made in 2018 to create the most diverse Congress in history, we must find ways to level the playing field so that more candidates, including women and people of color, are empowered to run. If we are truly going to rid special interests from politics, we must institute public campaign financing through Democracy Vouchers at the federal level and hold leaders accountable for letting corporations -- not people -- dictate their leadership.

Adem Bunkedekko is a candidate for Congress in New York’s 9th District, covering parts of Brooklyn. Zephyr Teachout is a law professor. On Twitter @ZephyrTeachout & @adembunkeddeko.

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To Have Truly People-Powered Campaigns, We Need Democracy Vouchers Mon, 02 Mar 2020 05:00:00 +0000
Post-Primary Campaign Finance Filings Show Cuomo’s Already Spent $28 Million govandrewcuomo office

Photo: Mike Groll/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)

Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat running for reelection to a third term, successfully claimed the Democratic Party nomination earlier this month after a bitter primary battle against actor and education activist Cynthia Nixon. But the victory came at significant cost as Cuomo spent more than $20 million this year alone, nearly ten times what Nixon spent in total as she attempted to unseat him.

Cuomo, who won with 64.4 percent of the vote to Nixon’s 34.4 percent in the September 13 primary, is headed into the general election with roughly $11.6 million at his disposal, according to the latest campaign finance disclosures filed with the State Board of Elections.

In the three weeks covered by the filing, between September 1 and September 21, Cuomo’s campaign spent more than $5 million and raised about $567,000. About $1.9 million was spent on television ads through the firm Media Fortitude Partners, and the campaign also transferred about $2.4 million to the New York State Democratic Committee, which Cuomo controls and which has been boosting his campaign with ads of its own, while also supporting Cuomo-aligned candidates, especially Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul and attorney general nominee Letitia James, the New York City Public Advocate.

So far, in this four-year election cycle, Cuomo has raised more than $36 million and spent more than $28 million. Not all of Cuomo’s spending thus far went directly toward the primary alone -- even prior to defeating Nixon, he had begun spending on ads targeting Republican gubernatorial nominee Marc Molinaro, the Dutchess county executive. Cuomo received a total of 964,883 votes, spending about $29 per vote, while Nixon got 508,125, spending roughly $4.4 per vote.

Nixon raised $2.7 million in total for her campaign and spent about $2.2 million in her first-time bid for office, as of this post-primary filing. Her relatively lean campaign relied mostly on small-dollar individual donors rather than wealthy corporate ones and LLCs, which funded Cuomo’s deep coffers. Nixon only ran ads in the last few days before the primary and was unable to overcome Cuomo’s significant incumbency advantages, any issues Democratic voters had with her candidacy, and the governor’s two-term resume.

Hochul, Cuomo’s running-mate who has now joined him on the general election ticket, also beat her own primary challenger, Brooklyn City Council Member Jumaane Williams. Though Williams had far fewer resources for his campaign, the race was fairly tight. Hochul won with 53.3 percent against Williams’ 46.7 percent.

Hochul spent about $318,000 in the last few weeks and raised $251,000. Her campaign has another $323,000 left. She raised a total of $2.3 million this cycle and has spent nearly $2.2 million of it.

Williams stumbled with his fundraising early on and only raised a total of $322,000 and spent about $278,000 over the entire campaign. He has just over $20,000 left in his account, which he could transfer to another city or state campaign account if he decides to run for another position before he is term-limited out of his current office in 2021.

Cuomo and Hochul will face the joint Republican ticket of Molinaro and lieutenant governor nominee Julie Killian, a former Rye City Council member and recent state senate candidate. Other general election contenders include the Green Party’s Howie Hawkins, Libertarian Larry Sharpe, and Stephanie Miner, the former Syracuse mayor who is running as an independent, and their respective lieutenant governor running-mates.

In the four-way contest for the Democratic nomination for attorney general, James emerged as the victor, setting her up to face Republican Keith Wofford, Green Party nominee Michael Sussman, and the Reform Party’s Nancy Sliwa. The seat was vacated by former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who resigned after facing allegations of physical abuse by multiple intimate partners.

James raised $2.2 million and spent about $1.9 million in total for her successful campaign, which got her 40.6 percent of the vote in the primary. She had about $275,000 left for the general election as of the post-primary filing, but is heavily favored in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans two-to-one and no Republican has won statewide since 2002.

Fordham law professor Zephyr Teachout came in second in the race, with 31 percent, after running a grassroots campaign that also received the backing of several newspaper editorial boards. At times, Teachout’s opponents appeared to view her as the frontrunner rather than James, who had the backing of Cuomo and the state’s Democratic establishment. Teachout raised about $1.9 million and spent about $1.85 million in total.

Democratic Congressional Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney campaigned fairly lightly but doled out massive amounts of cash to blanket the airwaves with ads. Utilizing funds raised for his congressional reelection, Maloney raised nearly $3 million to run for attorney general and spent more than $5 million, but finished third with 25 percent of the vote.

Leecia Eve, a Verizon executive who has served as an aide to Cuomo, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, came in last with 3.4 percent. She raised about $408,000 and spent $417,000 on the campaign.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Note - This article has been updated to note the amount that Cuomo and Nixon spent per vote. 

Post-Primary Campaign Finance Filings Show Cuomo’s Already Spent $28 Million Tue, 25 Sep 2018 20:47:05 +0000
A Closer Look at Democratic Primary Turnout, Margins and Geography cuomo voting 2018 primary

Gov. Cuomo voting in Thursday's primary (photo: @NYGovCuomo)

The Democratic gubernatorial primary between Governor Andrew Cuomo and Cynthia Nixon saw a significant surge in voter participation, but turnout still stood at only 27 percent of active registered Democrats.

Compared to the 2014 primary election, when Zephyr Teachout challenged Cuomo, who was then seeking a second term, turnout more than doubled, according to preliminary numbers. And, turnout spiked slightly more in New York City than elsewhere. Specifically, 28 percent of registered Democrats in New York City voted in the 2018 primary while 24.5 percent voted outside of the city — 2.8 and 2.3 times as many voted in 2014, respectively, when around 10 percent of those eligible cast a ballot.

“As far as the race for governor goes, turnout was greatly improved in the city and throughout the state. That was very impressive,” said Steven Romalewski, director of the Mapping Service at CUNY’s Center for Urban Research, in an interview Friday. “It wasn’t just a modest increase compared with the somewhat anemic turnout statewide in 2014.”

“The number of voters went from 575,000 to 1.5 million,” he added. There were 5,621,811 million active registered Democrats across the state as of April 1, according to the State Board of Elections. Turnout was likely aided by a number of factors, including the high number of competitive races, including three statewide positions and the challenges to former members of the Senate Independent Democratic Conference and Democrats’ post-Trump awakening.

Cuomo won this year’s primary with 978,138 votes to Nixon’s 512,585, as of the preliminary count, for 65.6 percent to 34.4 percent. In 2014, Cuomo received 361,380 votes (63 percent), and Teachout earned 192,210 votes (33.5 percent); comedian and activist Randy Credico picked up the remaining votes and about 3 percent.

In Cuomo’s win, he captured broad support across the state, earning about 67 percent of the vote in New York City and 64 percent outside the city, with the exception of a few geographic regions. He performed particularly well in majority-black areas of the city, especially in the Bronx — he won 83 percent in the borough overall — Harlem, and Central Brooklyn. Nixon, for her part, received a good share of votes in whiter, gentrified parts of Brooklyn, competed better with Cuomo in Manhattan, where she earned 41 percent of the vote, her best borough, and the Queens waterfront, posting her best numbers, like Teachout four years ago, in areas of the city home to many white progressives. Nixon also performed fairly well in some upstate areas, such as Albany County, and also beat Cuomo in counties surrounding it, along with Tomkins and Lewis counties to its west and north, respectively.

Turnout was so much higher that Nixon earned 320,375 more total votes than Cuomo did in 2014, but still won about the same percentage as Teachout did that year.

Cuomo’s win was so solid, and the city’s share of the vote so significant, that the governor’s total votes from Brooklyn, Manhattan, the Bronx, and Queens eclipsed Nixon’s statewide total.

The other two statewide Democratic primaries, for Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General, followed a similar pattern, with incumbent Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul again winning the party’s nomination and New York City Public Advocate Letitia James prevailing in a four-way Attorney General race with no incumbent.

Specifically, James’ base was predictably in the city; Zephyr Teachout performed well in the Hudson Valley as well as parts of Brooklyn home to many white progressives, the Upper West Side, and Greenwich Village (places Nixon received a large share of votes); and Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney performed best further upstate and in Western New York.

In total, James won 40.6 percent of the vote, Teachout 31, Maloney 25, and Eve 3.4.

Teachout’s and Maloney’s combined votes totalled 800,398 — 221,016 more votes than what James received, perhaps suggesting had only one of the candidates been in the race he or she would have had a strong chance. Given their similar voter base and James stranglehold on New York City, neither was likely to be able to pull off a victory given the other’s presence, as Gotham Gazette last week reported looked likely.

In the Lieutenant Governor race Hochul unofficially received 733,591 votes, or 53.3 percent, to Williams’ 641,631 votes, or 46.7 percent.

Williams received the lion’s share of his votes in New York City, particularly Brooklyn, where he is from and represents a City Council district. Twenty-six percent of his total votes were cast in his favor in Brooklyn, but he was defeated by Hochul nearly everywhere else save Manhattan, and Tompkins and Columbia Counties. In New York City, Hochul received more votes than Williams in the three other boroughs, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island, and she did slightly better than Williams throughout most of the state.

Vote totals were slightly lower in both the Attorney General and Lieutenant Governor primaries than the race for Governor, as evidently some voters chose Cuomo or Nixon but left their ballots blank in one or more of the two other statewide races.

In unofficial totals, 1,375,222 votes were counted in the Lieutenant Governor race and 1,428,418 votes in the Attorney General race, compared to 1,490,723 in the gubernatorial race, leaving roughly 115,500 who voted in the Governor's race but did not pick either of the major candidates in the Lieutenant Governor race (some may have done write-ins), and about 62,300 who did the same in the Attorney General race.

But while Nixon lost by a large margin, and fellow insurgents Teachout and Williams lost as well, the progressive energy appeared to have a massive effect down-ballot, as six candidates challenging former members of the Senate Independent Democratic Conference, a group of eight breakaway Democrats who caucused with Republicans in the state Senate, ousted the incumbents, and another insurgent, leftist candidate unseated another sitting senator representing part of the city.

Challengers Alessandra Biaggi, Jessica Ramos, John Liu, Zellnor Myrie, Robert Jackson, and Rachel May defeated IDC Senators Jeff Klein, Jose Peralta, Tony Avella, Jesse Hamilton, Marisol Alcantara, and David Valesky, respectively. One-time IDC Senators Diane Savino and David Carlucci fended off their challengers. Five of the districts where the incumbent IDC senators were beaten are fully or mostly in New York City. Julia Salazar also beat Senator Martin Dilan, who is not an IDC member, in Brooklyn. The progressive energy did not push Blake Morris to victory over Senator Simcha Felder, a Democrat who is a member of the Republican conference.

Turnout in those Senate primaries varied somewhat. Senate District 34, represented by IDC founder and former leader Jeff Klein, had 23.2 percent turnout for Biaggi’s win, while in District 22, where Salazar ran a scandal-plagued but winning race against Dilan, turnout was 24 percent. Biaggi won with an unofficial 53 percent to Klein’s 44.5 percent. She did very well in the western portion of the district, including Riverdale, while Klein did well in the eastern section, including parts that overlap with soon-to-be U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s district.

Salazar, meanwhile, won with an unofficial 54 percent to Dilan’s 39 percent. She performed best in areas of the district that have seen widespread gentrification, like Bushwick, Williamsburg, and Greenpoint, while Dilan performed best in the comparatively lower-income eastern part of the district.

Myrie beat Hamilton by roughly 20 points in District 20 in central Brooklyn and parts of Park Slope, relying heavily on votes from areas home to more white progressive. In Queens, Liu received 53 percent of the vote to Avella’s 47 percent, reversing the outcome of their 2014 primary race, and Ramos earned 55 percent of the vote to Peralta’s 45 percent.

Jackson beat Alcantara on the west side of Manhattan with 53 percent of the vote to her 36 percent, while two other candidates combined for 5 percent. In that race, which includes parts of the always-active Upper West Side, turnout was an above-average 30 percent.

Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max contributed to this article.

A Closer Look at Democratic Primary Turnout, Margins and Geography Sun, 16 Sep 2018 04:00:00 +0000
2018 New York State Primary Results: Cuomo, Hochul, James Prevail While Senate Upsets Abound cuomo james hochul

(photo: @andrewcuomo)

Governor Andrew Cuomo won the Democratic nomination by a wide margin Thursday, with his running-mate Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul surviving a much closer race, Public Advocate Letitia James prevailing comfortably in a crowded Attorney General primary, and more than half a dozen upsets of sitting state Senators, including six of the eight former members of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC).

Additionally, voter turnout was significantly higher than 2014, the last gubernatorial election year, perhaps owing to the combination of the number and intensity of the challenges to incumbents as well as the awakening spurred by the election of Donald Trump, which itself contributed to those challenges being waged.

Cuomo, who spent more than $20 million in the campaign, defeated actor and activist Cynthia Nixon by about 30 percentage points; the governor seeking a third term earning more than 64% to Nixon’s 34.6%, with 96% of precincts reporting as of about 11:30 p.m. primary night.

Hochul beat Williams by about 53% to 47% in what was a hard-fought Lieutenant Governor primary.

James won the four-way Democratic primary for Attorney General, pulling in 40% to 31% for Zephyr Teachout, 25% for Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who will now seek reelection to the House of Representatives, and 3% for Leecia Eve.

With the state party-backed candidates, including incumbents Cuomo and Hochul, winning those statewide primaries (Comptroller Tom DiNapoli was not challenged), perhaps the biggest storyline of the night was progressive upsets that occurred in state Senate primaries, including the complete demolish of the IDC, which had folded back into the mainline Democratic minority conference in April, in a deal brokered by Cuomo.

The former leader of the IDC, Senator Jeff Klein, was defeated by Alessandra Biaggi in the Bronx and Westchester seat, despite Klein spending well over $1 million in the race.

Other IDC races included Jessica Ramos unseating Senator Jose Peralta in Queens; Robert Jackson unseating Senator Marisol Alcantara in Manhattan; Zellnor Myrie unseating Senator Jesse Hamilton in Brooklyn; John Liu unseating Senator Tony Avella in Queens; and Rachel May unseating Senator David Valesky in the Syracuse area.

Former IDC members who beat back challengers were Senator Diane Savino of Staten Island and Brooklyn, who defeated Jasmine Robinson, and Senator David Carlucci of Rockland, who defeated Julie Goldberg.

In another upset, Julia Salazar unseated Senator Martin Dilan in Brooklyn.

Senator Simcha Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat who has been part of the Republican conference, giving the GOP a one-seat majority, defeated challenger Blake Morris.

In a Democratic primary to see who will take on Republican Brooklyn Senator Martin Golden in the general election, Andrew Gounardes defeated Ross Barkan.
There were far fewer storylines in Assembly races, but Catalina Cruz did unseat Assemblymember Ari Espinal in a Democratic primary in Queens. Democratic Assemblymember Brian Barnwell held off a challenge from Melissa Sklarz; As of Friday morning, votes were still being counted in the 46th Assembly district in Brooklyn where Mathylde Frontus is leading with 40.68 percent against Ethan Lustig-Elgrably, who has 39.75 percent of the vote; and Michael Reilly won the primary in the Republican Assembly stronghold on the South Shore of Staten Island, where no incumbent is running.

Additionally, Nancy Sliwa won a three-candidate race for the Reform Party nomination for Attorney General.

All of the primary winners will now move on to the general election, where a statewide slate of Republican nominees has been waiting -- the GOP strategically avoided any statewide primaries -- along with some minor party candidates. Along with the statewide races, the focus for the general election will be on which party can win the requisite seats to control the state Senate (the Assembly is overwhelmingly Democratic and will remain so), and battleground House races where New York swing seats could factor into whether Democrats can take control of that congressional chamber.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Note- This article has been updated to clarify that Ethan Lustic-Elgrably has not been declared the winner in Brooklyn's 46th Assembly district. Votes were still being counted as of Friday morning. 

2018 New York State Primary Results: Cuomo, Hochul, James Prevail While Senate Upsets Abound Thu, 13 Sep 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Teachout-Maloney Battle May Help James Win Attorney General Nomination maloney pub

Rep. Maloney at a Syracuse pub (photo: @MaloneyForNY)

While the four Democratic attorney general candidates will be in New York City on Thursday evening watching the primary election results come in, two of the race’s three frontrunners — Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney and Zephyr Teachout — are polling best upstate, competing for votes there as Public Advocate Letitia James dominates in the city.

Though the New York political establishment has coalesced around James, and several editorial boards have endorsed Teachout, Maloney led the pack in a Siena College poll released Monday, though he was just ahead of James, well within the margin of error of 4.5 percentage points. Maloney received 25 percent of the vote from likely Democratic primary voters; James was at 24 percent and Teachout at 18 percent, with Eve trailing far behind at 3 percent. It also showed Maloney and Teachout running neck-and-neck in upstate New York, with many likely voters undecided.

While there are questions about whether polls are accurately capturing the likely electorate, especially the energized left, likely for the most part behind Teachout in the attorney general primary, the surveys appear to capture the general trend of where each candidate has a base of support. And the polling points to an dynamic in the race that has been clear and could be determinative in the primary: Teachout and Maloney may be competing for so many of the same voters that either may have a hard time outpacing James when all the votes come in.

Still, neither Teachout nor Maloney has ignored New York City by any means, with Maloney blanketing the airwaves and holding events across the city over the past two months, and Teachout regularly appearing all over the city, including a primary day schedule with numerous events in three boroughs. Yet Westchester, the Hudson Valley, and beyond may decide the outcome of the election.

The most recent poll showed Maloney, who represents a Hudson Valley district in Congress, ahead upstate. “Maloney leads by seven points over Teachout upstate, with James a distant third, and has a significant lead in the downstate suburbs, with James 20 points back and Teachout right behind her,” Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg said.

While Maloney (39 percent) and Teachout (34 percent) had similar favorability ratings in the upstate region, Maloney polled far better than Teachout in the crucial suburbs of New York City, where he has a 50 percent approval rating compared to 23 percent for Teachout. When she challenged Governor Cuomo in the 2014 primary, Teachout did well outside of New York City, posting a surprisingly high 34 percent of the vote overall. She then built her name recognition and following among Democrats during her 2016 congressional race, while Maloney has been in Congress since flipping his district in 2012.

Asked at an unrelated press conference about her message for voters in the Hudson Valley deciding between her and Maloney, Teachout noted that Maloney had frequently voted with Republican, and added, “We need an attorney general whose going to stand up to Trump, and I have been engaged in the legal fight against Trump since the beginning, and he has a record of voting with him 34 percent of the time.”

“He’s also taken a lot of money from big real estate interests, which doesn’t represent the Hudson Valley,” she continued.

Even before the latest poll was released, signs suggested Teachout, who unsuccessfully ran for a neighboring Hudson Valley congressional seat in 2016, and had Maloney’s endorsement, viewed Maloney as a threat, as she launched attacks at him at a much higher rate than at either James or Eve. Maloney has mostly shied away from attacking other candidates, but when criticized by Teachout, has intensely fired back, most boldly at debates. Teachout has been the main target of the other candidates in the three broadcast debates of the race.

Teachout throughout the campaign has said that Maloney is ideologically compromised, in cahoots with big real estate and Wall Street financial firms. And while in Congress, he has voted with Trump far too much to show that he’s a reliable bastion against him, she has said, while he has boasted of getting things done and working across the aisle for his constituents. Teachout, who has pledged to investigate malpractice in the industry if elected, has criticized Maloney for taking big money from the real estate industry, totaling $338,000 in donations from individuals with ties to the industry, according to Sludge, and from the Real Estate Board of New York’s PAC.

Teachout, for example, recently blasted out a Financial Times story that reported that Wall Street had chosen Maloney as its favorite candidate in the race.

“You can’t be the Sheriff of Wall Street if you just handed big banks a massive, early Christmas bonus. And you can’t protect New Yorkers from consumer fraud, predatory lenders, or housing discrimination or if you’re awash in corporate cash and helping Donald Trump deregulate the financial services industry by voting with the administration 34% of the time,” she said in a press release. “It’s fundamentally disqualifying.”

Maloney has responded to attacks by arguing that, unlike Teachout, he does not plan to wage ideological warfare while in office. And, he has said, it is hypocritical for her to lambast him for taking donations from special interests, because she has in the past as well.

Additionally, at a debate last week, Maloney used what the Teachout campaign and others called gendered language to describe Teachout’s criticism of his vote to rollback some Dodd-Frank banking regulations. "Her rhetoric on this is completely unhinged," he said, sparking criticism.

On September 6, Teachout escalated the war of words to a legal battle, filing a lawsuit against Maloney for transferring $1.4 million funds from his congressional campaign account into his attorney general coffers. Part of the lawsuit was denied, prompting Maloney campaign spokesperson Caitlin Girouard to reiterate one of the campaign’s broader attack lines against Teachout.

"This last-ditch lawsuit was like so much of Zephyr Teachout's legal and political career: mere theatre, designed to generate headlines for her benefit, denigrate others, and achieve nothing of lasting substance," she said.

Teachout-Maloney Battle May Help James Win Attorney General Nomination Wed, 12 Sep 2018 04:00:00 +0000
A Closer Look at the Democratic Attorney General Candidates’ Legal Careers citybar ag 3

The Democratic AG candidates at the NYC Bar Association forum (photo: @NYCBarAssnNews)

At one of several attorney general candidate forums last week, the four Democrats in the race were asked for a highlight of their legal careers, and what is shows about how they’d approach the job.

New York City Public Advocate Letitia James began with a quip about embracing an attack line against her that she wakes up every morning looking for someone to sue, going on to describe a pro bono client she took on whose father was murdered, whose mother abandoned him, and was himself facing deportation. Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham Law professor and corruption expert, spoke about her time working with a team of death penalty lawyers early in her career.  

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who has worked at high-end law firms and in the White House under President Bill Clinton, said he did not have much courtroom experience, because he worked at elite firms, but listed other legal credentials, like working at Willkie Farr & Gallagher, Kirkland and Ellis, and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. And Leecia Eve, a lobbyist for Verizon who previously worked for Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and Andrew Cuomo, hearkened back to her time as a young lawyer who sued the Washington, D.C. prison system on behalf of incarcerated women.

The candidates’ answers to that question, at an event hosted by the New York City Bar Association and New York Law Journal, and to others at prior and subsequent debates and forums, highlight both the candidates’ varying backgrounds and the skill sets they believe they would bring to the state’s top legal office. The attorney general is both a defense attorney and litigator, tasked with defending New York when the state is sued and upholding many New York laws, protecting consumers, tenants, investors, and others.

A closer look at the four Democrats’ legal careers heading into the Thursday September 13 primary vote, when a party nominee will be chosen for the general election against Republican Keith Wofford and smaller-party candidates, shows differing legal backgrounds and expertise and sheds light on the candidates’ possible priorities should they be elected.

Tish James
When James kicked off her campaign, she presented herself as a “champion in government” for New Yorkers, and “watchdog for the people.”

“Throughout my entire career I have been fueled by this idea that the law is our most effective tool in our quest for justice and for progress,” she said in Brooklyn.

James’ legal career is extensive, including work as a public defender, government counsel, and assistant attorney general. She’s been a legislator as a member of the New York City Council, and as New York City Public Advocate she has focused on both filing lawsuits and passing legislation, both to further degrees than her three predecessors in the citywide elected position, though with mixed results.

Throughout her political career, James has largely been seen as reliably progressive, and has been close with labor unions, activist groups, Democratic clubs, and the liberal Working Families Party, on whose ballot line she was first elected to office. James has mostly been an ally of Mayor Bill de Blasio, a fellow Democrat whom she succeeded as public advocate, and, though she has sued his administration on a number of occasions and at times been critical of the mayor, she has shied away from holding him accountable on a variety of matters that have been among the mayor’s largest headaches over almost five years in office.

Seeking to become the next New York Attorney General, James has the backing of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state Democratic Party, as well as many members of the party establishment, and she is running on her experience, while trying to downplay questions about her independence from the governor and other elected officials.

Throughout her campaign, James has sought to distinguish herself from Teachout, especially, regularly pointing to her practical own work in government while referring to Teachout as “professor” at multiple debates in an apparent effort to brand her as detached from the type of work she’s implying an attorney general should have on his or her resume. James, who was previously expected to be a 2021 mayoral candidate before Eric Schneiderman resigned as attorney general amid allegations he had abused several intimate partners, also presents herself as an advocate for the downtrodden and vulnerable rather than a lawyer for the well-heeled.

“As a public defender, I represented New Yorkers who couldn’t afford fancy lawyers — but that didn’t mean they shouldn’t be afforded any less justice,” James said in an emailed statement in response to several questions about her legal experience Gotham Gazette sent to the campaign. “And I saw firsthand how so many New Yorkers, especially young men of color, were targeted by an unfair criminal justice system. I’ve taken these lessons to heart, and I’ve fought against these injustices throughout my career. I’ve fought for and won — real criminal justice reforms.”

These criminal justice reforms include, suing to obtain the minutes for the Eric Garner grand jury, being the first elected official to push for the NYPD to implement the use of body cameras after a police officer killed Garner. It’s a program, currently being implemented in New York City, that James says she wants to help take statewide.

“As Attorney General,” she continued, “I’ll keep that focus — on using the law to help real people.”

At a recent Manhattan Neighborhood Network debate, James took her pitch as a public defender a bit further, saying she has continued to represent defendants.  “I’m a former public defender. I’ve represented countless people in the criminal justice system, and in fact still do,” she said. Asked which cases she has been working on, a James spokesperson did not cite any specific instances, saying only that as public advocate James is tasked with representing all New Yorkers, including people affected by the criminal justice system.   

Before she ran successfully for the City Council in 2003, James worked for years in Brooklyn as a public defender, then as an assistant attorney general. She has Albany experience as well. There, she served as counsel in then-Assembleymember Roger Green’s office. During her time as a City Council member, she sued Mayor Michael Bloomberg when he was attempting to run for a third term over the wishes of the public, and sued on behalf of multiple plaintiffs who were arrested in Zuccotti Park in the Rodriguez v. Winsky case stemming from Occupy Wall Street.  

Additionally, James was one of the key figures opposing Atlantic Yards, the mixed-use project sited in her Council district that continues to be built. As Norman Oder, the leading Atlantic Yards watchdog, recently wrote for Gotham Gazette, James was tough and inquisitive when going toe-to-toe with the developers and the city, but has softened her stance in the years since she left the Council and has stretched her record a bit far when touting it in public, including during the attorney general race. James’ imprecise language, Oder and others have written, is part of a pattern for the public advocate.

While serving as an assistant attorney general, James led investigations into predatory lenders, worked on consumer complaints, and collaborated with the civil rights bureau in investigating the New York City Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policy, her campaign said.

And while during her time as public advocate James’ independence from de Blasio and willingness to hold his feet to the fire have been called into question — a charge she has ignored while running for attorney general and claiming her independence had never been questioned until she linked up with Cuomo —  she has filed a number of lawsuits against city agencies. James has also filed suits against bad landlords and other entities. In her telling, she has “turned the public advocate’s office into a public interest law firm.” James also touts that she has passed more legislation than all previous public advocates combined.

It was what James had promised to do upon becoming public advocate and she followed through, hiring more attorneys to the relatively small office and focusing on both litigation and legislation, while largely ignoring hot-button issues related to de Blasio’s multitude of political scandals and controversies. Still, her efforts at litigation have brought limited returns, with the public advocate kicked off a number of lawsuits over a lack of standing, according to presiding judges (James has said she wants the City Charter changed to give her more standing). She has had successes as well.

Among the cases James has brought are ones against NYCHA’s heating policies, which were found to violate New York City Health and Administrative codes. The suit resulted in a shift from policy where the buildings would only turn on the heat when the temperature dipped below 20 degrees. James also invoked New York City Human Rights Law to file an amicus brief alongside City Council members on behalf of rent-stabilized tenants after a landlord denied them services. The tenants were awarded financial compensation in 2016.

Also in 2016, James alleged the Department of Education was providing insufficient services to students with special needs due to a faulty information portal. A court ruled in James’ favor, prompting the DOE to appeal. The case is pending.

During the Bar Association forum, James embraced her reputation for frequently filing lawsuits — an approach she plans to carry with her should she be the state’s next attorney general.  

“Someone once ridiculed me and said, ‘Tish James goes into the office of the public advocate each and every day, she thinks of a lawsuit, and she sues somebody and then goes home.’ That’s true,” she quipped.

James has promised that, if elected, she will go after those who violate the law with respect to the rights of tenants, consumers, workers, and others. Like her competitors, she’s pledged to push criminal justice reform. But she received heavy criticism when she told The New York Times that she wouldn’t embrace the moniker ‘Sheriff of Wall Street’ that had been applied to former Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. While James has said she meant that the name belonged to Spitzer and she wants to chart her own path, her opponents seized on the comment, arguing that the New York attorney general must investigate abuses in the financial industry. James during debates and in an op-ed sought to clarify her remarks.

Often citing her office’s Worst Landlords List, saying she has “supercharged it” after it had been launched by her predecessor, de Blasio, James is pledging to go after building owners who try to force rent-regulated tenants out or practice other unscrupulous tactics.

During the Bar Association forum, James also cited a specific case in which she represented pro bono an unaccompanied minor whose father was murdered in Honduras and came to the United States without authorization. He was granted Special Immigrant Juvenile Status after a family member was given guardianship, and now lives in the U.S with a green card.   

“His mother abandoned him and I went to court and I represented him and was successful in getting an asylum petition granted,” she recalled, going on to note the personal relationship they forged. “He recently graduated from high school. And he just introduced me to his girlfriend, who I do not like,” she joked.

Zephyr Teachout
Teachout has pitched herself as the candidate who has the experience to tackle what she views as the key issues at hand for the next attorney general, most especially corruption in state government and in Donald Trump’s administration, businesses, and other dealings. And as the only candidate who hasn’t accepted corporate money for her campaign, Teachout argues New Yorkers can trust her to police Wall Street firms, real estate interests, and others.

Teachout, a Fordham Law professor, has cast herself as the most left-wing candidate in the race, with the most independence and crucial experience addressing public corruption, including her work suing Trump, providing legal advice around prosecuting public corruption cases, and writing a book on the history of the subject in the United States. She also touts that she took on Governor Cuomo in the 2014 primary with a focus on the corruption that he had promised to clean up but hadn’t.

Teachout graduated from Duke Law School, serving as editor-in-chief of the school’s law review. She worked as a clerk for Chief Judge Edward Becker of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and in North Carolina served as a death penalty defense lawyer at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation. In the good government relm, Teachout served as the Sunlight Foundation’s first national executive director from 2006 to 2007. She has also worked on political campaigns, including Howard Dean’s 2004 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.  

Teachout has since 2009 taught at Fordham Law School, where she is an associate law professor. She was previously a visiting professor at Duke University’s law school as well as a lecturer at the University of Vermont.

In 2014, just days after she lost her quixotic gubernatorial primary challenge to Cuomo, Teachout’s book, “Corruption in America,” was published. It was widely praised and helped elevate her status as a national corruption expert, though she had already been involved in the issue, including, as she has said on the campaign trail, efforts to fight the Supreme Court’s eventual Citizens United campaign finance ruling.

It is her scholarship, and her job as a professor more broadly — along with the fact that she is running for her third office in four years — that has been the source of repeated attacks levied against Teachout. Using phrases like, “this is not an academic exercise,” her rivals seem to claim that Teachout may know the legal texts from cover to cover but lacks real experience as an attorney and putting theory into action.

Teachout rejects this characterization, saying that she has led teams of lawyers and made complex legal arguments. In a campaign ad released in June, she said she has spent her life combating corruption and democratizing law, ensuring the powerful are held accountable and the powerless defended. One example she often cites is her instrumental role in invoking the emoluments clause against President Trump, alleging he was personally profiting off the presidency by being paid by foreign powers that patronize his hotels and other businesses.

“I have a deep expertise in this area of law that is now painfully relevant,” Teachout told The Atlantic.

Teachout only recently joined the New York Bar after being registered in North Carolina, sparking criticism about the depths of her roots in the state and her commitment to practicing law here.

Further, a reprimand from the North Carolina Bar during her time as an attorney there has also been a source of fodder for opponents, especially James, who has claimed that Teachout “abandoned” a death row inmate and was reprimanded by the bar for it (James inaccurately said Teachout had been “censured”). The facts appear to show a minor mistake being blown out of proportion during a political campaign. Teachout was indeed reprimanded, but for failing to notify the court and her opposing counsel that she had a new address. And while the bar did reprimand her — a relatively uncommon finding — it also ruled that the infraction had no bearing on the client or outcome of the case.

In a statement provided by the Teachout campaign, Stephen Greenwald, who worked alongside Teachout on death penalty cases in North Carolina, attempted to clear the air on the matter, and heaped praise on Teachout’s legal abilities.

“I worked with Zephyr on several death penalty cases and she was a devoted and excellent attorney,” he said. “I worked with her specifically on the case for which she was reprimanded on a procedural point that had nothing to do with the case itself, and I can confirm that it had absolutely no impact on the case, as the bar determined.”

He added that Teachout did not in fact “abandon” a client, and said “it's wrong and ridiculous to claim she did.”

Greenwald also cited a case in which he worked alongside Teachout to defend a man named Robert Bacon, whose life he said Teachout helped to save via “creative lawyering.”

“A week before he was scheduled to be executed we managed to get a stay because we determined that the governor had a been the attorney general previously and therefore had a conflict of interest in determining whether to grant clemency,” Greenwald explained. “The state Supreme Court ruled in our favor six hours before Robert was going to be executed.”

At a recent press conference, Teachout also spoke about a specific death penalty case, and said she learned how to be creative and use every tool in the box to defend her clients.

“One of the first cases I worked on involved a situation where I was working with a team of lawyers who was representing their client on a case where they had sought clemency — life imprisonment without parole, instead of execution — but they were seeking it from a governor who had previously been a prosecutor,” she said. “And we built an equal protection clause challenge around that, which actually led to a three-month moratorium on [death penalty] cases in North Carolina.”

Though she is best-known for her book and scholarship on corruption, it was her time working with inmates facing the death penalty that she chose to draw upon at the New York City Bar Association forum. She spoke about representing defendants in post-conviction review.

“As a death penalty lawyer, you learn a lot. You certainly learn about the horrors of our current criminal justice system, but you also learn how to both dig up facts in intense investigations, find things that haven’t been found before because there is a threat of the state trying to kill your client,” she said. “You also learn how to take out laws and legal theories that haven’t been used before.”

Teachout has promised to do this as attorney general, and has praised Spitzer for reinvigorating the office’s use of the Martin Act to become the ‘Sheriff of Wall Street.’

“A lot of the work that I’ve been involved in has been working in money in politics groups on long-term strategic litigation,” she said at the press conference. “As you may know, I was cited in dissent in Citizens United, which is part of a long-term strategy to shift the way the court understands money in politics...I regularly talk to people — when there’s a constitutional change like McDonnell [a recent Supreme Court ruling that changed the definition of public corruption], prosecutors will call me and talk through what are the strategies we can deal with in recharging, because I have a specialty in white collar crime.”

Teachout then tied her legal work to what she wants to accomplish as attorney general — goals for which she says she has been a consistent champion.

“One of the key themes of my campaign is the wrong people are in jail,” she said. “We have to end mass incarceration, and return our focus to white-collar crime. And in the antitrust world, I also worked on strategic litigation there. I’ve worked on filing briefs myself, but also working with teams of lawyers on shifting the shape of the law.”

Sean Patrick Maloney
Maloney has on the campaign trail cast himself as a candidate who is less ideological about the job he wants, but is battle-tested in the upper echelons of law and the toughest political fights. In order to take on Trump, and handle the issues that come the office’s way, Maloney has said, an attorney general needs both public and private sector know-how. After graduating from the University of Virginia’s law school in 1992, he worked in high-level jobs in law, technology and politics; he went on to unsuccessfully run for New York attorney general and successfully for Congress.

“I think what is critical in this job is to understand the combination of legal and policy issues together with the political issues that determine the success or failure of the attorney general,” Maloney told Gotham Gazette in an interview eight days before the primary. “The attorney general needs to be able to win complex legal cases, run major investigations, and to do all that in the context of public policy and political questions that are also at play. If you think about going toe-to-toe with Donald Trump, you’ve got to both understand the law and the political angle.”

In a campaign ad, Maloney says New York is in a “street fight” for its future, arguing that having “nailed corrupt CEOs and landlords,” defended hate crime victims, and while in Congress taking on the NRA, he’s the most prepared candidate to win the fight.

Maloney began his legal career at Willkie Farr & Gallagher, an international corporate law firm, where he worked as an associate from 1992 through 1997.

Maloney was hired to work in President Bill Clinton’s White House, where he served from 1997 to 1998 as special assistant to the president, deputy assistant to the president from 1998 to 1999, and as assistant to the president and staff secretary from 1999 to 2000. After his years in the Clinton White House, he worked from 2000 to 2003 at Kiodex, a software company, as its chief operating officer, managing $40 million in private equity, according to his campaign. He then returned to work as an associate attorney at Willkie Farr & Gallagher from 2004 to 2005. In 2006, he ran for attorney general for the first time, losing in the Democratic primary to Cuomo.   

Maloney then returned to government, working in the gubernatorial administration of Eliot Spitzer, working in the executive chamber under Spitzer and his successor, David Paterson. From 2007 into 2009, Maloney served as senior adviser, handled budgetary matters and oversaw 13 state agencies and departments while in the governor’s office, according to his campaign.

In early 2007, Maloney began serving as first deputy secretary under then-top Spitzer aide Rich Baum. While in that role, “Troopergate” — a scandal in which the Democratic governor's office misused state police to track then-Republican Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno — took place, though Maloney has denied he played any part in it. The New York Times editorial board, however, endorsed the incumbent Maloney was challenging in his successful 2012 congressional race because Maloney “appeared to be most interested in holding back the staff’s personal emails from investigators” during a probe into the Troopergate controversy.  

Maloney worked briefly for Governor Paterson, who took over when Spitzer resigned amid a prostitution scandal. Maloney moved back to the corporate legal world at the end of 2009 and became partner at Kirkland & Ellis, where he stayed until 2011.  

In 2011, he was made partner at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, a firm specializing in technology and energy law, in its global finance group, working in large part on public-private partnerships and infrastructure projects, according to Law360. In 2012, he ran for Congress and won a seat where he represents what has been a swing district in the Hudson Valley. Maloney defeated a Republican incumbent, and won reelection in 2014 and 2016.

He’s on the ballot again this year, though he plans to drop his congressional bid if he wins the attorney general primary. Maloney’s dual candidacies have been the source of much criticism from his opponents and others. Maloney insists he’s suspended all congressional campaigning, and is pursuing the job he wants in attorney general. He has said if he could get off the congressional ballot already he would have.

Maloney has also been criticized — and sued by Teachout — for transferring well over $1 million from his congressional campaign account to his attorney general coffers. He insists his actions have been legal.

During last week’s Bar Association forum, Maloney acknowledged he has not spent much time in a courtroom, but brandished his credentials as an elite lawyer, arguing his experience made him best-equipped to take on bad actors of all kinds.

“You’re talking to somebody who’s spent years at Willkie, Farr & Gallagher, as partner at Kirkland and Ellis, and Orrick Herrington, so when you’re at a really good law firm, they don’t let you near a lot of courtrooms,” he said to the experienced New York City legal crowd.  

While his opponents have not denied his legal experience, some have argued he is too cozy with certain industries and sectors — like big real estate and financial firms — that he’d need to investigate, prosecute, and hold accountable as attorney general, making him less-than-ideal for the job. The Teachout campaign last Tuesday blasted out a story from The Financial Times, which reported that Wall Street had chosen its candidate, Maloney, because the industry had donated the most to him out of the candidates.  

Maloney in the interview forcefully denied that he wouldn't take on Wall Street if need be.

“Yeah, that’s a bulls*** thing to say,” he said when asked about the claim he was Wall Street’s candidate and thus would not sufficiently take on its bad actors.

Asked to elaborate, Maloney said that the “city’s best lawyers,” are supporting his campaign, which “means they respect me as a legal mind and practitioner who can go toe-to-toe with any lawyers the big Wall Street guys throw at me.”

“I don’t have any experience in Wall Street,” he added. “But I have experience in doing sophisticated legal work, and being able to compete at any level.”

Moreover, Maloney argued his experience handling classified material and receiving briefings as a member of Congress would be of assistance in combatting Trump.  

“I’m the only candidate with a top secret security clearance and I am currently regularly briefed in the Russia investigation and the Justice Department probe. And that’s unique in this field of candidates and that’s very important right now,” he said. “That means I can hit the ground running.”

“I have a level of understanding of the extent and scope of the Russia investigation that includes having received classified briefings that just better prepares me to do this work,” he added.

Leecia Eve
Born in Western New York, a graduate of Harvard Law School who now lives in Harlem, Eve has described herself as the candidate most well-versed in the in-and-outs of all of New York State, while possessing a broad range of legal skills that prepared her for the attorney general job.   

“I’m running as the most qualified and best prepared candidate,” she said in Buffalo at the beginning of her campaign. “I’m telling people they should want somebody with an understanding of the needs of this state. And my roots in New York State run deep.”

Eve, who like Maloney is also taking her second shot at running for attorney general, has shifted her focus over the decades. As City Limits reported on Tuesday, Eve’s career went from taking on the D.C. prison system to a lobbyist for Verizon — a job she described to the outlet as entailing “educating stakeholders.” Between, she worked at one of upstate New York’s largest law firms as the first African-American general equity partner at Hodgson Russ, specializing in commercial, securities and intellectual property litigation. Eve previously served as an aide to then-Senator Joe Biden and then-Senator Hillary Clinton, giving her broad experience on legal, legislative, and security matters. She is currently on the board of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

In an interview with Gotham Gazette, Eve made the case that, due to her deep familiarity of legal issues in New York and experience working on them, she is the best fit for the job.  

“There is no comparison whatsoever, frankly, between my diverse background as a litigator, but also someone who understands a wide array of issues of concern to New Yorkers from a both legal and a policy perspective,” she said on September 3.

As she did during the Bar Association forum — and as referenced in a campaign commercial — Eve pointed to her about her time representing incarcerated women as a young lawyer as a high point of her career that she said sheds light on how she would act as attorney general.

As a young associate at Covington & Burling, she was part of a pro bono legal team representing women incarcerated in the Washington D.C. whose rights, the court found, were systematically violated. Eve has also described the conditions faced by the women she represented.

“One of my clients literally had her legs shackled to a hospital bed as she was bringing a child into this world,” she said in the interview, reiterating something she has stressed repeatedly on the campaign trail. “Some of our clients literally felt that they had no choice but to engage in sexual acts with prison guards in order to be guaranteed an opportunity to visit with their children, something that they otherwise were entitled to do.”

“Obviously, this is inhumane conduct, it’s illegal conduct, it’s unconstitutional conduct,” she continued, “and I’m proud to say that I took on the D.C. prison system, filed suit, fought hard, and we won.”

The precedent-setting case — which she said sparked prison reform nationwide — was not the only case from the early part of her career in which she successfully represented victims whose civil rights were violated. A church group of African-American young women who stayed at a hotel in Western New York, Eve recalled, were subjected to racial discrimination, and were granted a favorable ruling after she represented them pro bono.

Asked what she took away from her time in law, Eve said she learned how to “best and powerfully give voice to an injustice” while facing off against a more puissant opponent.  

“I say that because I have these very powerful, vivid memories of being in some of the D.C. prisons, spending time with my clients, hearing about what happened to them, and then saying, ‘We must fix this, we must stop this,’ and then translating that experience … into a detailed complaint,” she explained. ”When you represent hundreds of women who are incarcerated, who by and large are powerless, by and large [are] uneducated, and your opponent is the government representing the most powerful city in the most powerful nation on earth, you have a battle on your hands.”

Thus before she even turned 30 — a “baby lawyer,” as she described it — she learned how to fight and beat powerful forces.  

Yet those highlights from the fledgling stages of her law career — working to help incarcerated women and victims of racial discrimination — come in contrast to her more corporate, establishment-oriented work in recent years. Eve was proud of her work in both Clinton’s and Biden’s offices, where she says she advised then-Senator Biden on immigration issues and the Violence Against Women Act. She said these jobs should and would be viewed as an asset, not a fault. She has repeatedly defended her ties to the long-time Democratic politicians whose politics have fallen out of favor with much of the left wing of the party that appears energized by the presidential candidacy of Senator Bernie Sanders and Trump’s election.

Eve has argued her own progressive credentials, including her work drafting votings rights legislation and her plan to pursue both voting and criminal justice reform if elected attorney general. For Cuomo, Eve was a top economic development aide.

Asked about her most recent work, corporate lobbying for Verizon, she said, “I am proud to work for a company that employs nearly 20,000 people with good jobs and invests billion in this state.”

“People are still hungry for good-paying jobs,” she continued. “You want companies to be here. You want companies to expand and grow.”

She said should two unnamed candidates — presumably Teachout and James — take the attorney general job some companies would be “running for the hills,” in an apparent reference to the candidates’ being furthest to the left and promising to crack down on bad actors in a variety of sectors.  

Eve went on to say she knows how to appropriately do that work due to her experience and took a less-than-subtle jab at Teachout.

“What you need as an attorney general that understands how most aggressively to go after bad corporate actors. And someone who knows only what she teaches in a classroom is not that person,” she said. “Taking on extremely tough fights has prepared me to take on what are going to be tough fights to hold this administration accountable, to hold Donald Trump personally accountable, and to hold bad actors in this state accountable as well.”

With additional reporting from Victor Porcelli and Annie Abreu

A Closer Look at the Democratic Attorney General Candidates’ Legal Careers Tue, 11 Sep 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Statewide Candidates File Final Pre-Primary Campaign Finance Disclosures gov cuomo rail road longisland

(Photo: Mike Groll/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)

The primary election is next Thursday, September 13, and candidates for statewide office filed another round of campaign spending and fundraising reports this week, the final disclosures due before primary day.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, a two-term Democrat, has been, for the most part, publicly nonchalant about his primary challenger, actor and activist Cynthia Nixon. But his campaign finance filings show he is spending far more to beat back her insurgent bid than he did four years ago, when he faced a primary challenge from Fordham Law professor Zephyr Teachout (who is running for attorney general this year).

Cuomo’s campaign spent $8.5 million and raised $184,000 between August 9 and August 31, the latest filing period. But the governor began the campaign with a massive war chest and still has $16 million left to spend, though only some of it is eligible for spending during the primary due to campaign finance rules. In total, this election cycle, he has raised $35.6 million and spent $25.6 million, far outraising and outspending any other candidate for any race, including Nixon.

The governor’s campaign transferred more than $2.5 million to the New York State Democratic Committee, of which Cuomo is the de facto head. The state committee has been spending large amounts of its funding to run ads in favor of the governor’s reelection, even as Cuomo’s own campaign spent nearly $3 million to buy ads in this latest period through Jersey City-based firm Media Fortitude Partners. The Cuomo campaign also doled out nearly $1.2 million to Bully Pulpit Interactive, a communications firm.

Just Wednesday morning, the state committee released its latest ad featuring Cuomo, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, who is running for reelection, and New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for attorney general and is the state party’s official designee for the post. “They are our team to take on Trump and win,” the ad states, in line with the governor’s tactic of making the race about the Republican president rather than his upstart opponent.

“The Governor has proudly delivered unprecedented support to elect the entire Democratic ticket – proven leaders Cuomo, Hochul, and James – on Thursday, Sept. 13 because he believes this is the strongest possible team to fight back against Trump’s destructive agenda," said a Cuomo campaign spokesperson in an email. "The governor will continue to lead the way with his aggressive coordinated campaign as we work to take back the U.S. House , State Senate and build the Party’s infrastructure moving forward." The spokesperson also noted that the governor has made a six-figure ad buy targeting Republican gubernatorial nominee Marc Molinaro in order to get a leg up on the general election (Molinaro sought to have the ads pulled, accusing the Cuomo campaign of disinformation.)

Nixon’s numbers are paltry in comparison to Cuomo’s, though her campaign is banking its longshot on a very different type of strategy than the incumbent’s. Over the course of the race, she has raised a total of $2 million and spent about $1.3 million. She has not yet run any television ads, insisting that her campaign’s digital and social media operation is far more effective to reach the voters she is targeting. On Wednesday, her campaign released a new ad dinging Cuomo on his mishandling of the crisis affecting the city’s subway system. The campaign told Gotham Gazette it will be pushed out on social media including a Facebook ad buy.

Nixon also said in an NY1 interview on Monday that she does not plan on infusing her own personal funds into her campaign. She raised about $475,000 in this filing and spent just over $450,000. She had about $467,000 in cash on hand for the final two weeks of the campaign. Having rejected corporate and LLC donations, Nixon’s fundraising came mostly from small donors who gave less than $200, a fact her campaign has repeatedly touted while pointing out Cuomo’s propensity for raising money from wealthy donors and through the LLC loophole (which allows obscured donors to circumvent contribution limits).

“We are seeing an unprecedented level of grassroots momentum from New Yorkers,” said Nixon’s campaign manager, Hayley Prim, in a statement Wednesday. “There is a real hunger in New York to elect a real progressive who is beholden to the people, not corporations and millionaires. And since the debate, we’re seeing that momentum build like never before.”

Nixon’s campaign paid the Working Families Party $58,800 from her campaign coffers. The WFP has endorsed Nixon and has been mobilizing volunteers to canvas on her behalf. In fact, the in-kind contributions from the WFP to Nixon’s campaign -- in the form of phone banking, texting and canvassing efforts -- amounted to nearly $86,000, according to filings.

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, a Democrat running for a second term, also faces a primary challenge, hers from New York City Council Member Jumaane Williams. Hochul’s filings show she raised $356,000 and spent more than $1.5 million in the latest disclosure period, leaving her with about $389,000 in cash on hand. Hochul also availed of the services of Media Fortitude Partners, using $1.4 million of that spending on television ads. So far, Hochul has raised a total of more than $2 million and spent about $1.9 million on her reelection.

Williams continues to struggle to raise funds for his campaign but has shown stiff competition to Hochul in a race that increasingly looks as if it could be close. Williams raised only $62,000 and spent about $38,000 in this latest filing, and filed just under $72,000 in cash on hand. In total, he has raised $270,000 -- he was forced to refund tens of thousands of dollars in over-the-limit contributions -- and spent $177,000. Williams said during a recent debate with Hochul, the only of the campaign, that he is still making payments to return the over-the-limit donations and pledged to be in full compliance by the end of the campaign.

There is no Republican primary in any of the statewide races. Candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run separately in a primary and on a joint ticket in the general election. The winners of the Democratic primary will face Republican gubernatorial nominee Marc Molinaro, the Dutchess county executive, and his running mate Julie Killian, a recent state Senate candidate.

Besides Letitia James and Zephyr Teachout, two other candidates -- Congressional Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney and Leecia Eve, a former Verizon executive who has been an aide to Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and Cuomo -- are vying for the Democratic attorney general nomination. The winner will go on to face Republican Keith Wofford and others in the general. The four-way contest was triggered by the resignation of Eric Schneiderman after allegations reported in May by The New Yorker that he had physically abused several romantic partners. The race to replace him has turned into the most competitive on the statewide level, though James is backed by Cuomo and the state Democratic Party.

James raised $428,000 and spent $767,000 in the latest filing period, giving her just over $867,000 for the remainder of the race. She has raised more than $2 million over the course of the campaign and shelled out $1.1 million so far. Most of her latest expenditures went to the Hamilton Campaign Network, a consulting firm working for her campaign that has also been purchasing digital and television ads and sending out mailers to voters.

James’ campaign has been beset with criticism over her perceived lack of independence from the governor, and momentum has been building behind Teachout’s campaign, while Maloney remains a formidable opponent as a sitting member of Congress with significant funds. Teachout was endorsed last month by the New York Times editorial board and, just on Tuesday, by New York City First Lady Chirlane McCray, with the Daily News editorial board in between. Then, on Wednesday, New York City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer rescinded his earlier endorsement of James and backed Teachout instead, telling the New York Daily News, “I believe that her independence from all of the power brokers, including the governor, is something that we should all want in an attorney general.” This echoed a somewhat similar recent decision made by Council Member Ritchie Torres, who changed his endorsement of James to a co-endorsement with Teachout, while also declaring he prefers Teachout and plans to vote for her.

Teachout raised about $545,000 and spent $617,000 between August 9 and 31, and she had a balance of just under $500,000 left. She has raised $1.46 million for her campaign so far, spending a total of $981,000, and is the only candidate in the race refusing donations from corporations and LLCs.

Maloney has been flush with cash since the start of the race, and has raised a total of $2 million while spending nearly $3 million. He raised almost $1.7 million in the latest filing period -- $1.4 million came in transfers from his congressional campaign account -- and spent $1.9 million at the same time, leaving him about $490,000. A significant amount of money went to media buys through Canal Partners Media, a firm based in Atlanta. Maloney is also up for reelection to his current seat and has said he will drop his name from the November congressional ballot if he wins the attorney general primary.

Eve has trailed the pack in fundraising and name recognition, though she was recently endorsed by the Albany Times Union and was even the New York Times’ second pick in the race behind Teachout. She raised $139,000 and spent $255,000 in the latest filing, and had less than $43,000 left to spend. In total, she has raised $382,000 and spent $351,000 since entering the race. She also loaned herself $100,000 in personal funds in this filing.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note - This article has been updated with comment from the Cuomo campaign.

Statewide Candidates File Final Pre-Primary Campaign Finance Disclosures Wed, 05 Sep 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Opponents Target Teachout as Democratic Attorney General Candidates Debate Role and Resumes 4 ag dems

James, Maloney, Eve, Teachout (l-r)

The four Democrats vying for the party’s nomination for attorney general faced each other in their second televised debate of the race on Tuesday at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan.

The debate became a 90-minute brawl as the four candidates -- New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, Congressional Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, former Verizon executive Leecia Eve, and Fordham Law professor Zephyr Teachout -- sought to set themselves apart from each other. But few differences emerged in their ideologies or campaign platforms as all four were largely in agreement in answering the questions posed to them by debate moderators Errol Louis, host of NY1’s Inside City Hall, and Liz Benjamin, host of Capital Tonight on Spectrum News.

What did emerge more clearly, though, was the sense that Teachout’s competitors see her as the frontrunner in the race, despite the fact that Maloney is a sitting member of Congress and James a citywide elected official who has the backing of Governor Andrew Cuomo -- whom Teachout challenged four years ago -- and the state Democratic Party.

In opening statements, all the candidates emphasized their willingness and ability to take on legal and political challenges faced by the state under the presidency of Donald Trump. James said Trump’s abuses are “fueling this campaign, fueling my soul,” as she said the country’s democracy is at risk. “I’ve been tested,” said Maloney as he said he’s thrice won a congressional district that Trump won in 2016. Eve said she is the “most qualified, most prepared” candidate, without mentioning the president. And Teachout, a scholar who wrote a book on political corruption, said she is “uniquely qualified” to tackle Trump’s alleged misdeeds.

Early on, the candidates stressed the importance of an attorney general’s office independent of the governor. James repeatedly said, “I don’t believe people can question my independence,” though she did not fully explain her ties to Cuomo and the state party he controls, which have led to recent criticism of her candidacy. Over the course of the debate, she also insisted that the next attorney general needs to pursue her or his agenda by having and developing relationships with the state Legislature and the governor.

James’ opponents seemed to disagree, though each said they would in a professional capacity work with the Legislature to achieve necessary ethics and campaign finance reforms.

“It is unprecedented for a governor of New York to try to handpick the attorney general or to fundraise for the attorney general’s campaign...You gotta tell the governor to butt out,” Maloney said in his typical candor, in a broadside directed at James, though he did not mention her by name.

Eve, a former economic development aide to Cuomo, was similarly forthright. “The governor needs to focus on doing his job and let me as the next attorney general do mine,” she said. Teachout is claiming the most independence from the political establishment of the four, having challenged Cuomo in the 2014 Democratic gubernatorial primary. “I really see independence as essential to the job description,” she said.

There were, throughout, quite a few moments of broad agreement. All the candidates except Eve called for the resignation of Seth Agata, a former Cuomo aide who is now executive director of the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), and pushed for greater jurisdiction in the attorney general’s office to investigate corruption. Eve did not explicitly say Agata should resign but insisted that JCOPE should be scrapped and "We need to start from scratch."

However, James refused to paint all state legislators with the broad brush of corruption, saying she would work with them to create stronger anti-corruption laws. But Maloney, Eve, and Teachout called for either a complete overhaul of JCOPE or the creation of an entirely new independent watchdog entity under the attorney general’s purview, while also acknowledging they would need state legislative action to do so.

“We need to erase JCOPE like a blackboard and start over...I don’t wanna change deckchairs around on the Titanic. I wanna start over and rebuild it correctly,” said Maloney.

In that vein of independence, the moderators pressed the candidates on whether someone seeking the attorney general position should accept corporate contributions, particularly from Wall Street donors, given the position’s oversight of the financial services industry. All of them said they support public financing of elections but Teachout repeatedly pointed out that she is the only one who has refused all corporate and LLC donations (made through the much-reviled LLC loophole, which allows donors to circumvent contribution limits). “This is poisoning our politics...The idea that the next AG...would be going to get LLC, corporate money from Wall Street, puts a question mark next to the entire job,” she said.

But James and Maloney seemed to pounce on Teachout’s pledge, pointing out that she had in the past accepted corporate and LLC contributions (about $21,000 worth, she said, of 2014 campaign in-kind donations) and outside independent expenditure spending on her behalf in her 2016 congressional race, for a district next to Maloney’s that he tried to help her win. “Money is poison in our politics, so is being holier-than-thou and hypocrisy,” Maloney said, going on to use the same line of attack against Teachout repeatedly even while praising her personally.

James also took to calling Teachout “professor” as she over and over stressed that running to be the top legal officer in the state is not an “academic” exercise.

All the candidates called for the state Legislature to hold hearings on sexual harassment, an issue advocated by the Sexual Harassment Working Group, several women who have been subject to harassment while working in the state Legislature. Maloney said he would push for criminal prosecutions and give local district attorneys the resources to pursue them. Teachout and Eve insisted the attorney general already has the authority to pursue such cases as ethics violations under Cuomo’s executive order establishing a Moreland Commission in 2013, which they say was never officially rescinded even though the commission was disbanded.

James, again, spoke of her relationships with state legislators, and her record as a “proven leader” (which happens to be Cuomo’s own reelection slogan) as she said she would push for stronger anti-harassment measures. She said the executive order is “for all intents and purposes” defunct and that the next attorney general would need original jurisdiction to carry out criminal prosecutions -- something that in most cases must come through a referral from another entity, such as the governor, the comptroller, or a district attorney.

James’ comments prompted a polite rebuttal from Teachout. “I think we genuinely have different visions for the office here...My belief is that Albany fixing itself hasn’t worked,” she said.

In a cross-examination round, James, Maloney and Eve all directed their questions to Teachout, putting her on the defensive and indicating that she may be seen as the candidate with the most momentum after she was recently endorsed by both the New York Times and Daily News editorial boards, among other new supporters.

Maloney and James pushed Teachout to explain her apparently shifting stances on the NY SAFE Act, the state’s signature gun control legislation passed in the aftermath of the 2012 Sandy Hook mass shooting. Teachout said she merely opposed the process by which it was passed, with little debate and time for public input. Eve then asked how Teachout could continue to call herself an outside after having unsuccessfully run for office multiple times and trying again. James also went after Teachout for having been reprimanded by the North Carolina Bar, over what appears to have been a minor infraction related to not filing a notice of address change while she was still listed as an attorney on a case in the state where she practiced law for a number of years. Teachout just joined the New York Bar last week after going through the requesite process.

On a range of issues, there was relative conformity among the four Democrats, and much of it showed during a lightning round of questions. Each of them said they would fight for criminal justice reform, particularly ending cash bail; each supported stronger tenant protections and investigations of illegality in the real estate sector (though all but Teachout have received donations from the industry); all agreed that pharmaceutical companies should be held criminally responsible for the opioid epidemic; they all said the attorney general’s office should play a role in investigating the crisis at the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA); and all of them said the Rikers Island prison complex should be closed in less than ten years and that the state should pass Kalief’s Law, a speedy trial reform bill named for Bronx teenager Kalief Browder, who spent three years on Rikers on charges of stealing a backpack that were eventually dropped. Browder later died by suicide months after being released.

On two questions, their answers did vary. Teachout and James both called for abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the federal agency that has come to epitomize the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant policies. Eve did not support doing away with it, but rather said she would prosecute its officers for wrongdoing. Maloney said calling for abolition of the agency was “glib,” and rather pushed for ending Trump’s biased policies and stopping the use of ICE as a “mass deportation force.” He said anti-terrorism work is essential and spoke in support of members of law enforcement generally.

The four also diverged when asked if they would drink the water in Hoosick Falls, the upstate village where the drinking water supply was contaminated by toxic chemicals more than two years ago. The candidates seemed not to know the current state of affairs (state officials have insisted the problem is solved). Maloney, Eve, and James said they would drink the water and fight to ensure that all New Yorkers have access to clean drinking water. Teachout, who struggled to respond, said, “I don’t want anybody to ever have to answer that question.”

The primary is on September 13, a Thursday.

[Read: Democratic Attorney General Candidates Seek to Set Themselves Apart in First Televised Debate]

[Watch: First Televised Debate Among Democratic Attorney General Candidates]

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note - This article has been updated to clarify Leecia Eve's comments on JCOPE.

Opponents Target Teachout as Democratic Attorney General Candidates Debate Role and Resumes Tue, 28 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Pressed on SAFE Act, Teachout Downplays Past Opposition zephyr teachout with voters

Zephyr Teachout, right, greets New Yorkers (photo: @ZephyrTeachout)

Zephyr Teachout has throughout her attorney general campaign made the case that she is the most progressive candidate in the race, but her shifted position on major New York gun control legislation counters the impression she is attempting to offer Democratic voters ahead of the September primary, and became a flashpoint last week during the first televised debate of the race.

Teachout, whose candidacy has in recent weeks gained momentum, picking up endorsements from the Daily News and New York Times editorial boards, was questioned at the debate by fellow candidates Public Advocate Letitia James and Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney for waffling on the NY SAFE Act. The former congressional candidate has over the years shifted her stated concerns about the SAFE Act — signature gun control legislation quickly pushed through the Legislature and signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo in the aftermath of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

Specifically, Teachout, a Fordham Law professor and nationally recognized expert on political corruption, during the debate insisted that she had been a “consistent supporter” of the the SAFE Act, but was and remains troubled by the process with which it was passed.

“I support background checks. I support closing the gun show loophole. I support assault weapons ban, and I've been consistent about my criticisms of legislation that is passed without a chance for public hearing,” Teachout said after James, the race’s presumed front-runner at its outset, asked why Teachout had flipped on the issue, during the cross-examination portion of the debate.

Asked by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette editor and moderator of the debate, if process was her sole concern about the bill, Teachout said, “That was my criticism of the SAFE Act, and that has been my consistent criticism of the SAFE Act.”

“[M]y objections had to do with the process,” she said when pressed on the issue by Maloney, shortly after, as he turned her question to him around on her to challenge her progressive bona fides. “That is totally clear.”

But it has in fact not been evident from Teachout’s comments on the SAFE Act since its passage that her reservations about the legislation have been purely regarding the legislation’s path to fruition, as she claimed. While in recent years Teachout has several times expressed process complaints about the way the legislation was passed, she also said during her 2016 congressional bid for a Hudson Valley seat that she did not support the legislation due to shortcomings she argued came as a result of the hasty process.  

“I’ve been a critic of the SAFE Act,” Teachout offered proactively in January 2016 during an appearance on The Capitol Pressroom radio show with host Susan Arbetter, citing her position on the landmark gun control legislation on a list of stances that set her apart from “radical” left-wingers, as eventual winner Republican Rep. John Faso had labeled the Democrats in the race, which also included her belief in federal government “overreach” on Common Core education standards.   

Asked by Arbetter to further explain her position on gun control, she said the way the SAFE Act was developed was “more focused on making a public message than really dealing with issues of gun safety.” Further, Teachout said the this “led to some features that just didn’t make that much sense.” (Teachout was not alone in finding holes in the law. After the legislation’s passage, it needed to be amended in part because it failed to exempt law enforcement from some provisions.)

“I support background checks, but I am not a supporter of the SAFE Act,” she added.

Teachout also said the process by which it was passed was “rushed,” “shut people out,” and was “deeply disrespectful,” though she did not during that interview specify who was kept from the discussion nor who was disrespected.   

This was not the first time she criticized the legislative procedure for the SAFE Act. In 2014, Teachout also lamented the manner in which the legislation got to Cuomo’s desk, and was more specific about who she felt had been left out.

“It was done in a deeply disrespectful way. We should have held hearings, listened to gun owners,” she told the Watertown Daily Times, as she campaigned against Cuomo in that year's gubernatorial primary.

More broadly, Teachout in the past posited herself as a middle-of-the-road, voice of reason on gun control, who favored incorporating gun owners’ voices into the debate, calling upon her own upbringing in Vermont, where she was part of a family of recreational hunters. “I’ve always been around guns,” she said during the 2016 radio appearance.

Along with her public comments, Teachout shifted her posture on guns on her campaign website. Teachout’s 2016 congressional campaign site during the primary noted on its “Public Safety” page that the United States “has a gun violence problem” and “far too many guns wind up in the hands of those who should not have them.” It also included headers such as “Holding Gun Manufacturers Liable” and “Strengthening Universal Background Checks/Closing the Gun Show Loophole.”

Yet as the general election neared, Teachout de-emphasized her gun control stance on the website, shortening the description of her position on guns by several hundred words, and replaced bolder gun control advocacy with softer language.

“Zephyr grew up in in a gun-owning household, and understands that the vast majority of gun owners are law-abiding citizens who use and store their firearms responsibly” was added to the same page of her campaign website, while the “Gun Industry Money Flowing to the NRA” section was deleted.

She added that if elected, she would would serve as a “voice for cooperation and common sense on gun safety,” in part by “[c]reating an open dialogue about gun safety with constituents in the Hudson Valley and the Catskills.” A Teachout campaign representative told Gotham Gazette that after the primary there was a site-wide edit for clarity that included many pages. 

Tacking toward the center in anticipation for a general election — or altering a platform while seeking to represent a different constituency — are hardly rarities in politics, but Teachout disputes the notion any such evolution took place on the SAFE Act.

Teachout, in a statement, repeated what she said during the debate about the SAFE Act, denying she took issue with the legislation itself, but did not address questions on the campaign site changes.

"I've consistently supported the SAFE act and consistently critiqued the process by which it was passed without a single public hearing,” she said Monday. “That should be the baseline expectation in a democracy, for any legislation whether it's gun safety laws or sexual harassment laws.”

“If we don't have a process that people trust they're less likely to accept the outcome," she continued, touching on a theme that has been a consistent refrain from her about a broken state government, and a critique of it that is shared by many other good government advocates.

Teachout’s prior skepticism of some gun regulation appears not to have deterred at least one gun control advocacy group from supporting her. Both she and James are Moms Demand Action “Gun Sense Candidates.”

The four candidates, a group that also includes Leecia Eve, running in the Democratic primary for attorney general will on Tuesday again face off for another televised debate, this time on NY1, just over two weeks before the September 13 vote.

[WATCH the first televised debate of the Democratic Primary for Attorney General, aired by MNN]

Pressed on SAFE Act, Teachout Downplays Past Opposition Mon, 27 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000