2021 Elections https://www.gothamgazette.com/election-coverage/2021-elections Tue, 04 Aug 2020 06:09:00 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Crowded Field Forms for Special Election to Replace Ritchie Torres in the City Council https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9643-crowded-field-forms-special-election-to-replace-ritchie-torres-bronx-city-council https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9643-crowded-field-forms-special-election-to-replace-ritchie-torres-bronx-city-council 7 press conf regard

Council Member Ritchie Torres (photo: John McCarten/City Council)

With City Council Member Ritchie Torres declaring victory in the Bronx’s 15th Congressional District Democratic primary and all but assured to advance to Congress at the start of next year, a special election to replace Torres in the City Council’s own District 15 looks likely for sometime in February or March of 2021. The race in the heavily-Democratic Council district is already shaping up to be hotly-contested, with community leaders, the son of a state senator, and at least one member of the New York City Democratic Socialists of America (NYC-DSA) all jumping into the race.

Since Torres, who declined an interview request for this story, was term-limited from seeking another Council term in the regularly-scheduled 2021 city elections, candidates had already started running to replace him. His presumed victory only moves up their election date by about four months, though even with a special election early in the year to see who finishes out the last year of the four-year term, there will be a primary in June 2021 and a general election that fall to see who will represent the district as of January 2022.

The special election will also likely mark the first use of ranked-choice voting in New York City, probably along with a special election in Queens’ District 31, where Council Member Donovan Richards is on his way to becoming Queens Borough President. The new voting system approved by voters in 2019 is mandated to go into effect at the beginning of 2021 for all special elections and party primary elections for city government positions.

Council District 15 straddles Fordham Road, which is frequently used to demarcate the northern boundary of the South Bronx, and encompasses the neighborhoods of Belmont, Fordham, Tremont, Norwood, Parkchester, West Farms, and Williamsbridge, as well as some of the largest greenspaces in the city (the New York Botanical Garden, the Bronx Zoo, and Crotona Park), Fordham University, and Arthur Avenue. It is also home to St. Barnabas Hospital, which was one of the most inundated medical facilities during the worst of the COVID-19 outbreak in New York City.

According to the 2010 Census, the district is 66% Hispanic, 25% Black, and 5% white, with 63% of adults under the age of 45. District 15 is also among the poorest in the city with a poverty rate of 38.5% in 2014, which was third-highest among City Council districts. Torres earned an upset win in a competitive 2013 Democratic primary then cruised to reelection in 2017. He made public housing and oversight of the de Blasio administration main priorities during his tenure.

Candidates & Possible Candidates
Four candidates are now running to succeed Torres: Ischia Bravo, district manager for the Bronx’s Community Board 7; Elisa Crespo, an education liaison for Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.; Oswald Feliz, a district leader and housing lawyer; and, Julian Sepúlveda, who works in intergovernmental affairs for the city’s Department of Education.

Bravo challenged longtime Bronx Assemblymember Jose Rivera in a 2016 Democratic primary, but prior to that spent seven years as executive director of the Bronx Democratic County Committee. Crespo, who is seeking to become the city’s first Council member of trans experience, is a member of the Bronx/Upper Manhattan branch of the NYC-DSA and a board member of the Stonewall Democrats. Feliz has worked in State Senator Gustavo Rivera’s office and for Congressional Rep. Adriano Espaillat’s campaign, with both of those districts partially overlapping with Council District 15. Sepúlveda, who is the son of Bronx State Senator Luis Sepúlveda, announced his candidacy within the last week.

Additionally, John Sanchez, district manager for Bronx Community Board 6, told Gotham Gazette that he is “seriously considering running for the seat” after “being approached by community members and community leaders” about a potential candidacy. He does not currently have a campaign committee open and would be a first-time candidate for elected office, but said he would be making a decision “shortly.” However, he has recently advertised for intern positions for a Council campaign, so an announcement appears imminent.

There has been speculation that Samelys López or another candidate from the left would enter the race. While there is already one DSA member in the race in Crespo, López received a great deal of support from progressive groups and elected officials in the congressional primary won by Torres, where she received a little over 13% of the vote in a crowded field (coming in 4th, after Torres, Michael Blake, and Ruben Diaz Sr.), leading several people Gotham Gazette spoke with to wonder if she’ll run for the Council. López, who was endorsed by NYC-DSA, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and others in the congressional primary, did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

There's also always the possibility of other candidates entering the race.

“I’m a true-blue Democrat, but I’m willing to work with any group that has the best intentions for the Bronx. If that means working with DSA or incumbents, then so be it,” Bravo told Gotham Gazette.

“Our campaign is trying to build the broadest coalition possible that is representative of our community and our borough,” said Crespo, who says she will pursue the endorsements of the DSA and Working Families Party, as well as the Bronx Democratic Party.

“The DSA has done some amazing work in the city, particularly with the election of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,” said Julian Sepúlveda, “and I’m going to try to get support from as many advocacy groups as I can. What’s going to matter in this election is candidates’ ability to speak to voters and build grassroots support.”

Fundraising & Ranked-Choice Voting
As one of roughly 35 upcoming City Council races without an incumbent, the race for District 15 is likely to be very competitive. Two candidates, Bravo and Crespo, are neck-in-neck in terms of initial fundraising, with $17,546 and $16,707 raised, respectively, as of the July disclosure reports.Crespo has narrowly more total donors, with 296 to Bravo’s 283.

“Most of my money mostly came from hard-working people in the Bronx who are dedicated to seeing someone who is unbought and unbossed,” Bravo told Gotham Gazette.

Feliz has raised $4,747 so far, but he said he is confident that he can make up ground in campaign cash, noting that most of his fundraising was done within the last few weeks of the filing deadline. Three-quarters of his donations came in the month preceding the July 11 filing deadline, according to disclosures to the city’s Campaign Finance Board, while 76% of Bravo’s and 61% of Crespo’s donations came in that same timespan.

“I intend to fundraise as strongly as I can and I’m pretty confident in my ability to fundraise,” Sepúlveda told Gotham Gazette, noting that fundraising is not his focus at the moment as he had just officially announced his candidacy.

Candidates and organizers have expressed concern over the uncertainty regarding the implementation of ranked-choice voting, which is mandated to go in effect at the beginning of 2021 per the 2019 City Charter revision. The New York City Board of Elections has not returned Gotham Gazette’s request for comment about implementing ranked-choice voting early next year, and has already missed a deadline set by the City Council for a plan. Ranked-choice voting, also known as instant-runoff voting, allows voters to rank up to five candidates in order of preference, and if no candidate wins a majority on the initial count of first-choice votes, there are ensuing rounds of eliminating the lowest-vote getter and reapportioning their voters based on those voters' next choices until a candidate hits 50%.

“You never saw elected officials come or show their faces,” Bravo recalled of her childhood living in public housing, “too often we don’t see ourselves reflected in our elected officials. We need to make sure that we have someone like myself who knows the district and doesn’t need to take a full term to get to know the local issues.”

“The lens of mothers on the City Council is something that’s been missing,” Bravo, who is the mother of two school-aged children, told Gotham Gazette. For example, she said, “I rely heavily on my in-laws and my grandmother to watch my kids” and that will be difficult during the school year with a return to in-person learning and concerns about spreading the virus from kids to more vulnerable older relatives. 

“Those who have struggled, and been marginalized, and been oppressed should be the ones who should be making the decisions,” said Crespo, who is 29 years old and would likely be one of the youngest, if not the youngest, Council members. “My generation, for the first time, is not going to be better off than the generation before us. We’ve lived through multiple economic disasters and I strongly believe that it’s going to take a new generation of bold progressive leaders to bring systemic change.

“I’ve spent my entire adult career working in municipal government,” Sepúlveda said in an interview. “I want to be able to make a difference with the knowledge I’ve acquired. I want to amplify the voices of those who I think have been underrepresented in New York City policy and government.”

Budget Equity
The Bronx has historically been underfunded as a borough when it comes to the city and state budgets, particularly when it comes to education funding. Feliz said that the district needs “a strong negotiator,” not “an elected official who’s simply going to vote yes or no,” to bring much needed funding to the Bronx, pointing to his record advocating for tenants against landlords as evidence of his negotiating skills.

“The Bronx has been short-changed for far too long and covid exposed the ugly truth of what was happening in our borough,” Bravo said. She hopes that the Bronx’s relatively high rate of 2020 Census returns will help remedy this.

“There’s lots of development happening in the district but not enough schools that are being built to accommodate the new families coming in,” Crespo said. “We need to make sure each public school gets the same amount of funding, but schools in underserved areas probably need a little more.”

Covid-19 & Recovery
The coronavirus pandemic and its socioeconomic consequences are at the forefront of candidates’ and voters’ minds in Council District 15. Bronx residents have been twice as likely to die from coronavirus as other New York City residents, despite the borough having a number of infections proportional to its share of the city’s population. Public health experts say this elevated fatality rate is caused by the high rates of diabetes, asthma, and other chronic health conditions.

Bravo was critical of Mayor de Blasio’s school reopening plan, saying that “a staggered schedule is not something that’s feasible for working parents like myself. I don’t care how affordable the mayor thinks he can make child-care for us. My rent is too high.”

“The Bronx is going to be dealing with a different set of problems related to covid than the wealthy parts of Manhattan,” Sepúlveda said. “Health care is a right, not a privilege, and we’re going to have a mental health crisis so we need to be able to support our community emotionally.”

Feliz is proposing that the city should construct a deck and greenspace over the Cross-Bronx Expressway, the most congested roadway in the nation. That would absorb the air pollution that disperses into Bronx neighborhoods. A similar proposal has also been put forward for the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway renovation.

Affordable housing was another issue raised by all the declared candidates, although there were some differences in how each would approach the issue. As Bravo pointed out, the 10453 zip code (Bedford Park) had an eviction rate of nearly 21% in 2019, the third-highest in the city. Several other zip codes that overlap with District 15 were also in the top twenty.

“This has been a burden for quite some time,” Bravo said, pointing to rising rents in the Bronx.

She said “we need affordable housing that’s also sustainable housing, not with the bare minimum materials, and that it’s part of a new green infrastructure.” She added that impact studies should be expanded earlier in the process “so we know what services will be needed to go along with housing growth.”

Crespo said that Community Land Trusts could potentially “remove some of the speculation from the housing market. That would do well to serve Bronxites to make sure that housing is affordable and reflect the actual median income of Bronxites.” She added that “we need to modernize our land use process and be thinking five to ten years in advance.”

Sepúlveda supports an increase to housing subsidies in the city’s budget to make affordable housing available to more New Yorkers. “I think Speaker Johnson had a solid plan on rental subsidies,” he said. “The City Council has a deep role in investing in affordable housing. The housing crisis entrenches poverty and worsens police problems. All of these problems are related.”

Feliz believes that the eviction moratorium should be extended “for the duration of the pandemic” and that “if the state doesn’t do that, the city should.” He said that “no one should be evicted due to the fact that we’re in the middle of a pandemic and our society is economically unstable.”

Public Safety
With the protests in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing by police in Minneapolis, activists and protesters in New York City have called for funding to be reallocated away from the police budget towards other youth and social services, under the slogan “Defund the NYPD.” The candidates currently running in Council District 15 said they are largely supportive of those proposals.

“The NYPD has an inherent culture of feeling above the law and some of them have lost track of what they were assigned to do, which is to protect and serve,” Crespo said. “Many times in low-income communities, we feel unsafe around the police. I think police are too quick to resort to excessive force and they’re not well trained in how to de-escalate situations.”

“I think if we thoughtfully and purposefully looked at NYPD line-items, such as the public relations unit and the militarized equipment, we could reinvest that into critical social services programs,” said Crespo. She supports defunding the NYPD by at least $1 billion from its nearly $6 billion annual operating budget, and said the recent city budget did not accomplish that.

“We absolutely have to defund the NYPD, which means taking away some of that budget and putting it toward social programs, and we also have to promote police accountability,” said Feliz, who is supportive of a $1 billion cut to the NYPD budget, at least initially. He proposes mandating that police officers have an “affirmative duty” to stop misconduct they witness their coworkers committing.

“The word ‘defund’ means different things to different people,” Sepúlveda told Gotham Gazette. “I support efforts to divest from the NYPD and put that money back into measures that invest in this city. The police department isn’t the only thing we should think about when it comes to public safety,” he said, noting he’s had personal and familial experiences with police handling of mental health emergencies. “I think we should divest a true billion dollars, at least as a start.”

by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Crowded Field Forms for Special Election to Replace Ritchie Torres in the City Council Mon, 03 Aug 2020 04:00:00 +0000
New Project to Prepare Voters for Historic 2021 New York City Elections https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9613-new-project-prepare-voters-for-historic-2021-new-york-city-elections https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9613-new-project-prepare-voters-for-historic-2021-new-york-city-elections 7 park lib

New York City voters will have a lot to decide in 2021 (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

Gotham Gazette will be an integral part of a major new project led by its parent organization, Citizens Union Foundation, aimed at educating voters in advance of the historic, immensely-important 2021 New York City elections.

In 2021, New York City voters will elect a new Mayor and Comptroller, at least four new Borough Presidents, and dozens of new City Council members. The rest of city government will also be on the ballot, including seats where incumbents are expected: Public Advocate, Queens Borough President, and roughly 15 City Council posts in the 51-seat body.

The project, ElectNYC, will include a voters guide website with information on offices, races, and candidates; original reporting, led by Gotham Gazette; an education and outreach campaign, including local candidate debates; and more. It will be led by veteran journalist Eleanor Randolph, who was on the New York Times editorial board for 20 years, and a team under her direction, working closely with the Gotham Gazette team under the leadership of executive editor Ben Max.

ElectNYC -- to be found at ElectNYC.org -- will include a special focus on City Council races in communities with traditionally low voter turnout and little local media coverage.

Citizens Union Foundation is a nonpartisan good government organization focused on voter education and government accountability. For more than 20 years, CUF’s most prominent program has been publishing Gotham Gazette, a highly-regarded, independent online news publication that covers New York city and state government and politics. Gotham Gazette is known for its in-depth policy and political coverage, election guides, morning newsletter, The Eye-Opener, and its tough accountability reporting with particular focus on the Mayor, City Council, Governor, and State Legislature, among other powerful figures and institutions.

In conjunction with the Gotham Gazette staff, Citizens Union Foundation is launching ElectNYC, run by Randolph and her growing team. Citizens Union Foundation executive director Betsy Gotbaum, former Public Advocate of New York City, serves as publisher of both Gotham Gazette and ElectNYC.

A nonpartisan voter education effort, ElectNYC will provide New Yorkers with crucial information about next year’s local New York City elections, which will usher in massive turnover in city government. Leaders elected next year will take over at an especially important time given the crises the city is dealing with, and they could hold office for most of the rest of the decade.

Somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 candidates are expected to run for the more than 60 city government seats that will be on the ballot, with only a small portion of those seats held by incumbents seeking reelection.

As is usually the case in New York City, most of the action will take place in Democratic primaries, given the city’s overwhelming Democratic voter registration tilt. For the first time, those primaries will be in June next year, meaning even greater importance of voter education sooner rather than later. Another key aspect of the coming city elections is the first-time implementation of ranked-choice voting, which will be in place for all special elections and party primary elections (but not general elections) for New York City government positions.

Voters will need to be educated on ranked-choice voting, which will allow them to rank up to five candidates in such elections and seeks to ensure that the winners of crowded and competitive elections have a broad base of support.

“Next year’s elections will transform New York City for generations to come,” said Gotbaum in announcing ElectNYC, which has started to raise money for the project and secured early support from the Ford Foundation. Gotbaum mentioned the turnover in city government and the start of ranked-choice voting, adding, “The turmoil of 2020 has shown us how important it is to have dependable government leaders. It is crucial that New Yorkers have accurate, unbiased information so they can make the best choices for themselves, their families and their communities.”

ElectNYC will hire journalists to cover local races, build a user-friendly website, and disseminate information about the elections in communities throughout the five boroughs through traditional and social media campaigns, and host local candidate debates. While paying special attention to races in underserved communities with low voter turnout, the project will also partner with local community-based nonprofits to help reach residents of those neighborhoods. 

“Our mission for the 2021 elections is straightforward. We plan to present New Yorkers with no-nonsense, non-partisan information about the candidates in this complex and important election,” said Randolph, who also stressed the void left by shrinking local news coverage. Voters need “trustworthy guidance about who the candidates are, how they would run the city, and how to cast a vote,” she added, and ElectNYC will provide just that.

For most New Yorkers, even those who follow politics and government affairs closely, the 2021 city elections will simply be overwhelming. ElectNYC will help make sure it is less so, while ensuring that voters have information they need and can engage with local politics and elections that are so essential to their future and that of New York City.

“In partnership with this new project, Gotham Gazette will expand its well-known, local political coverage to bring New Yorkers the essential, insightful information they need to actively participate in one of the most significant local election cycles in the city’s history,” said Max. Gotham Gazette has already begun covering the 2021 city elections, and will only be ramping up that coverage in the coming weeks and months, doing so in partnership with ElectNYC.

To learn more, visit ElectNYC.org.

New Project to Prepare Voters for Historic 2021 New York City Elections Tue, 28 Jul 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Wave of LGBT Candidates Eyes City Council Seats in 2021 Elections https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9606-lgbtq-candidates-2021-elections-new-york-city-council https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9606-lgbtq-candidates-2021-elections-new-york-city-council 4 lgbt pride

City Council members at a Pride march (photo: Emil Cohen/City Council)

The City Council’s LGBT Caucus could shrink after the 2021 elections, with all five current caucus members -- including Council Speaker Corey Johnson -- prevented by term limits from running for reelection next year, when all of city government will be on the ballot. However, there are more than a dozen openly LGBTQ candidates running throughout the city to replenish and perhaps grow the ranks of LGBTQ representation in city government, encouraged by advocates and current Council members who launched “LGBTQ in 2021,” an effort to elect more LGBTQ candidates to the 51-seat Council, and inspired by “21 in ‘21,” a similar campaign to elect more women to the Council.

These efforts come as LGBTQ candidates in New York have recently achieved state and national firsts. Mondaire Jones in New York’s 17th Congressional District (Rockland and northern Westchester) and City Council Member Ritchie Torres in the Bronx’s 15th Congressional District appear likely to become, respectively, the nation’s first gay black and gay Afro-Latino members of Congress. In Brooklyn, Jabari Brisport could become New York’s first gay Black state legislator, if his large lead holds in the 25th State Senate District Democratic primary. Kristen Browde was vying to become the state’s first trans legislator in the 93rd Assembly District, but appears to have come up slightly short in a close race.

“What people thought was not possible has become possible,” said Samy Nemir-Olivares, a queer Puerto Rican-Dominican who won his race for District Leader Assembly District 53 (Williamsburg and Bushwick) last month. “Five years ago, we couldn’t get married because of the law. Now, we’re seeing the evolution of the LGBTQ movement from activism and organizing to electoral work.”

“It is very impressive because LGBTQ people are a small number of the population, so it takes a lot more for an LGBTQ candidate to face these challenges of stigma and discrimination,” Nemir-Olivares told Gotham Gazette in an interview. “A majority of our community isn’t enough to win an election, so you have to build coalitions. It’s an act of faith and an act of perseverance.”

As attention turns from the 2020 primaries to the 2021 city government elections, Gotham Gazette revisited the LGBTQ in 2021 effort, which appears to have lost momentum but, after inquiries and as the city rebounds from the coronavirus crisis and the calendar moves ahead, may see new life.

In part through conversations with candidates and advocates, Gotham Gazette has identified at least 15 LGBTQ candidates currently running for City Council in 2021, including in every borough except Staten Island. Erik Bottcher (Council District 3), Phelan-Dante Fizpatrick (CD 3) Chris Sosa (CD 5), Billy Freeland (CD 5), Seth Rosen (CD 6), Marti Gould Allen-Cummings (CD 7), and Kristin Richardson Jordan (CD 9) are running in Manhattan; Elisa Crespo (CD 15) is running in the Bronx; Rod Townsend (CD 22); Alfonso Quiroz (CD 25); and Lynn Schulman (CD 29) are running in Queens; and Crystal Hudson (CD 35), Chi Ossé (CD 36), Josue Pierre (CD 40), and Wilfredo Florentino (CD 42) are running in Brooklyn.

The City Council has never included a trans person, a non-binary person, or queer Black woman, and has not included any openly gay women at all since 2017. That could all change for the start of the next Council session, in January 2022, with several potentially historic candidacies.

How much of a concerted, organized effort there will be to elect LGBTQ candidates to the Council and other city government positions remains to be seen.

“LGBTQ in 2021 was a great idea and it brought together a group of experienced LGBT political operatives. However, once we tried to codify the idea, it appeared ten different people had ten different ideas as to the best way to go forth,” said Melissa Sklarz, a government relations strategist at SAGE, a former co-chair of both the Empire State Pride Agenda and Stonewall Democrats, and a newly-elected District Leader in Queens — one of two trans candidates, along with Emilia Decaudin, who won such positions this year.

Several candidates and activists who Gotham Gazette spoke with for this story similarly expressed uncertainty or confusion over the current state of the formal LGBTQ in 2021 initiative. According to one LGBTQ Council candidate, as of this week, discussions are currently underway among the candidates to revitalize the effort using the infrastructure already established by the project last year.

Three Decades of LGBTQ Representation at the City Council
New York City elected its first openly-gay City Council members in 1991 when Antonio Pagán and Tom Duane won in Manhattan’s Districts 2 and 3, respectively. Duane’s district, which covers the west side of Manhattan from Hell’s Kitchen through Chelsea to Greenwich Village and SoHo, was specifically drawn during the 1991 redistricting with the intention of electing a member of the LGBTQ community to the Council (similarly, districts were also designed with the intention of electing Asian and Dominican Council members). For three decades now, District 3 has been represented by an openly gay Council member, from Duane to Christine Quinn, and currently Johnson, with both the latter two elected Speaker.

“Having LGBT people in the Council, myself as the finance chair and Corey [Johnson] as the Speaker, we’re able to give record levels of funding to LGBT organizations that had never been done before,” said Council Member Danny Dromm, a longtime LGBTQ activist and leader, in an interview.

Dromm was one of the first two openly LGBTQ Council members from outside of Manhattan, elected alongside fellow Queens Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer in 2009, and before that he was the first openly gay elected official in Queens, as a Democratic District Leader. He also cofounded the first Queens LGBT Pride Parade in 1993.

Dromm pointed to the $3.7 million allocated in the city budget to LGBT community-based organizations and another $2.3 million distributed to trans-focused organizations in fiscal year 2020 as evidence of the LGBT Caucus’ impact. “To be honest with you, it’s the LGBT members that bring it up and push it, so we need to continue to have LGBT folks doing that within the City Council,” he said.

“Oftentimes we are left out of conversations, although people mean well. It’s not that we’re excluded, it’s just that they don’t think to mention LGBT issues,” Dromm said. “It’s not just about having elected officials, but building institutions within our community and electeds can help with that, particularly through funding.”

“I think that there’s a greater acceptance and understanding of LGBTQ people, though maybe not as much for transgender and gender-nonconcomforming folks yet, and their candidacies are taken very seriously,” Dromm said, when asked about how running for office has changed for LGBTQ candidates in recent years. He highlighted the candidacies of Crespo and Allen-Cummings as having the potential to be the first trans and non-binary Council members, respectively.

A Special Election on the Horizon
Torres’ likely departure from the Council at the start of next year would trigger a special election sometime in February or March for Council District 15, which includes Belmont, Fordham, Tremont, Norwood, Parkchester, and Crotona Park. Three candidates were already running to succeed Torres. Given quirks election law and the calendar, there will be the special election early in the year to see who holds the seat for most of 2021 as well as regularly-scheduled June primary and November general elections for the next term, which begins January 1, 2022.

The election will also likely be the city’s first attempt at ranked-choice voting, likely concurrently with a special election to replace Donovan Richards in Queens’ 31st Council District as he ascends to the borough president’s office.

One candidate running to replace Torres in District 15 is Elisa Crespo, who currently works as an education liaison for Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and is a board member for the Stonewall Democrats, the city’s largest LGBTQ political club.

“I think people who have struggled the most and have been marginalized the most should be the closest to the decision-making table and because this is how I believe I can do the most good for the most people,” Crespo told Gotham Gazette in a recent interview.

“It’d be a big deal for a woman of color, especially someone who’s had a story like mine, which is a story of overcoming and triumph, to be able to hold this seat,” said Crespo, who was educated in New York City’s public schools and CUNY’s John Jay College and has lived in the city’s public housing system. “I’m a working class-Latina and a product of public institutions. I worked my way up out of nothing.”

Along with possibly becoming the first trans person to become a New York City Council member, she’s also among those hoping to be the first woman in the Council’s LGBT Caucus since 2017 (all five current caucus members are men). “An entire community’s voice has never been heard,” Crespo said when asked about the significance of potentially becoming the city’s first trans Council member.

Crespo’s two opponents in the race as of now are Oswald Feliz, a state committee member for the 78th Assembly District, and Community Board 7 district manager Ischia Bravo. According to July financial disclosures, Crespo has raised $16,707, while Bravo raised $17,546 and Feliz raised $4,747.

Council Candidates Attract National Attention
Last month, the LGBTQ Victory Fund, a national organization with the mission of growing LGBTQ representation in elected office, announced their first five endorsements for next year’s Council races, noting the importance of starting early in New York’s “tough” political landscape. 

Those endorsees are Marti Gould Allen-Cummings, Erik Bottcher, Wilfredo Florentino, Seth Rosen, and Lynn Schulman.

Sean Meloy, the Victory Fund’s Senior Political Director, told Gotham Gazette, “we’re not done. These are the first five that have been in touch with us.” Victory Fund’s criteria for endorsements are that candidates must be openly LGBTQ and have a record of fighting for the community, support reproductive freedom, and show viability.

Meloy said a Victory Fund endorsement is a “stamp of approval” that signals to donors and other stakeholders that particular LGBTQ candidates have been vetted and have a shot at winning. He calls the fund “the gay Emily’s List,” referring to the organization that does similar work with women candidates. The two groups share some cofounders.

Meloy points to Torres’ recent success as an example of the Victory Fund’s work building a “pipeline” of LGBTQ candidates. The group backed Torres when he was first running for City Council in 2013 and then again early in his run for Congress. He says the group got the message out nationally that Torres was “the only viable progressive alternative to Ruben Diaz Sr.,” and worked to publicize more broadly Diaz Sr.’s record of homophobia and misogyny.

“We need to elect over 22,544 more LGBTQ people to offices around the country to even have a baseline level of parity in government,” Meloy told Gotham Gazette, noting that there are currently about 843 LGTBQ elected officeholders nationwide. That number has more than doubled since June 2016.

Candidates of Color Chart Own Path
“The LGBTQ movement was for a very long time led by a white face, but now it is a new moment,” said Nemir-Olivares, noting how recent Black Lives Matter protests coincided with Pride Month through demonstrations such as the Queer Liberation March against Police Brutality and Black Trans Lives Matter March. “We’re living at a critical moment at which identities and life experiences are coming into the forefront of political discussion.”

“The LGBTQ community is not in a silo,” Nemir-Olivares continued. “We’ve always been part of the racial justice movement, which includes a lot of queer activists. Before, people wanted to see them as separate issues, but candidates like Jabari Brisport and myself really represent that connection.”

Of the five current members of the Council’s LGBT Caucus, two are people of color, which is not reflective of the city’s LGBTQ population as a whole, which mirrors the demographic proportions of the general population (about three-fifths of New York City’s population is people of color).

“When we talk about the LGBTQ community in New York City, we’re not talking about cisgender white men,” said Wilfredo Florentio, a gay Black candidate running in Brooklyn’s Council District 42.

Florentino has raised $11,731 for his campaign, compared to $23,475 raised by his only opponent in the race, Nikki Lucas, according to the most recent financial disclosure reports.

Several LGBTQ candidates of color, including Florentino, are currently running across the city and, in June, six of them announced that they had formed “a coalition of Black and Brown progressive candidates this Pride Month that offers an historic choice to voters in next year’s elections,” according to a statement put out by the group. The list also includes Crespo, Crystal Hudson (CD 35), Chris Sosa (CD 5), Josue Pierre (CD 40), and Kristin Richardson Jordan (CD 9).

Florentino told Gotham Gazette that “POC LGBTQ candidates are not being considered viable. There is an air of viability as it relates to non-POC candidates, but BIPOC candidates have to work even harder to prove we are qualified.”

Nemir-Olivares agrees, noting that “the founders of the LGBTQ movement were a Black and a Latinx transgender women,” referring to activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera.

“Representation matters. If we don’t see ourselves in officials that represent us, how can we ever aspire to serve our community in that way?” Florentino said. “When all of the focus is on non-BIPOC LGBTQ candidates, we are doing a disservice to POC-led movements like Stonewall.”

Richardson Jordan says she is “a Black queer democratic socialist and abolitionist on a mission to disrupt local Harlem district 9 with radical love.” While most of the 2021 LGBTQ candidates consider themselves progressives, Richardson Jordan appears to be the only one as of now who is a member of the New York City chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. She notes that she was calling for police and prison abolition even before the recent resurgence of Black Lives Matter protests.

This week, Richardson Jordan announced that she had raised $42,046, while incumbent Council Member Bill Perkins, who is not term-limited but may not be running for reelection, has not raised any funds towards a potential reelection campaign as of yet.

In Queens' Council District 25, Alfonzo Quiroz, who is of Mexican descent, is running to replace the term-limited Dromm.

Speaker's Heir Apparent
Erik Bottcher, currently Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s district chief of staff, is running to succeed his boss and be the district’s fourth consecutive openly gay Council member. Johnson told The City that he was fully backing Bottcher’s bid when his chief of staff announced in February and Bottcher is supportive of his current boss’ mayoral aspirations as Johnson eyes becoming the city’s first openly gay Mayor.

Bottcher previously worked for Governor Andrew Cuomo, first as a liaison to the gay and transgender communities during Cuomo’s 2010 campaign and then in Cuomo’s gubernatorial administration during the passage of marriage equality in 2011.

When asked how LGBTQ politics has changed in the decade since marriage equality was passed in New York, Bottcher told Gotham Gazette, “Ten years ago when I began in government, we were fighting for things like gays in the military, marriage equality, and visitation rights. We’ve made progress on those issues, but we have so much farther to go, particularly for transgender Americans.”

“Addressing inequities and disparities faced by trans people of color must include funding of programs. Government needs to show the money,” Bottcher said when asked what issues are currently most important for the LGBTQ community. “A strong LGBTQ [City Council] Caucus is needed to advocate for this during the budget process.”

“The next LGBTQ Caucus should have at least seven members, which is what we had until [the end of 2017] when Council Members Rosie Mendez and Jimmy Vacca termed out,” Bottcher said when asked what the ideal number of LGBTQ Council members would be.

“Any time policy is being discussed, people involved in the conversation have to be representative of our city,” Bottcher said, adding “if the people at the table don’t represent New York, that creates an opening for policy that doesn’t serve the people well.”

Bottcher currently has two opponents in the race for District 3, Marni Hasala and Phelan-Dante Fitzpatrick. Hasala is a lawyer and figure skating coach, as well as an activist for tenants’ rights and small businesses. Fizpatrick, who currently works at DSK Retail, is running to be the first gay Black person to represent the district.

As of the July financial disclosures, Bottcher has raised $114,356, the most of any non-incumbent Council candidate running in 2021, compared to Hasala’s $1,740 and Fitzpatrick’s $500.

COVID-19 & Community Responses
“As we look to recover from this pandemic, it’s going to be really important that we’re creating job and housing opportunity for the people who need them,” Crystal Hudson, the former First Deputy Public Advocate for Community Engagement under Jumaane Williams and a candidate in Brooklyn’s Council District 35, told Gotham Gazette.

According to her July financial disclosure, Hudson has raised $66,328 in campaign funds thus far, which is over ten times as much as her nearest opponent in that race.

“All issues are queer issues,” she said in an interview. “The queer community as a whole is in need of all the same things everybody else is in need of and, because we don’t always have access to the same resources, sometimes the need is far greater.”

Hudson pointed to the high levels of homelessness that LGBTQ youth experience as an example of how larger issues can have a particular impact on the LGBTQ community. “They experience homelessness as much as people who don’t fall into that category.”

“Now is as great a time as any for us to show the importance of centering a voice like mine as a black queer woman,” said Hudson. “We lead from a different place. I’m centered on community and I want to follow the lead of my community.”

During the pandemic, Hudson founded Greater Prospect Heights Mutual Aid, a volunteer network of neighbors supplying food and running errands, among other help, for people in need in Prospect Heights and the surrounding areas.

“Running as a black queer woman is always challenging and difficult. I think that’s why there’s not many of us in these spaces,” said Hudson.

“The Council has come a long way,” Hudson said, “but the fact that I have the potential to be the first or among the first two black queer women shows that we have so much further to go.”

by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: this article has been updated with the addition of Alfonso Quiroz.

Wave of LGBT Candidates Eyes City Council Seats in 2021 Elections Wed, 22 Jul 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Who’s Running for What in the 2021 New York City Elections https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9596-who-is-running-for-what-office-2021-new-york-city-elections-mayor-city-council https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9596-who-is-running-for-what-office-2021-new-york-city-elections-mayor-city-council runners first ave

Who's running? (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

The party primaries for New York City’s 2021 elections are under a year away. All of city government will be on the ballot next year, with most of the seats “open” due to term limits while some incumbents seek reelection. Two of three citywide elected officials -- the mayor and the comptroller -- are term-limited out of office, as are four of the five borough presidents, and most of the 51-seat City Council.

While a lot will change between now and November of 2021, when many races will ultimately be decided, most of the action in heavily-Democratic New York City will be in the Democratic primaries set for June. Any primaries in the Republican Party or other parties will also be in June.

2021 will also see the launch of ranked-choice voting in New York City, for special and party primary elections only. The system may get its first implementation in one or more special City Council elections that could be held early next year if Donovan Richards ascends to become Queens Borough President and Ritchie Torres wins the election in the 15th Congressional District in the Bronx -- both currently lead their respective primaries with the counts ongoing as of mid-July.

There are already hundreds of candidates who have filed to run for various city government seats in 2021, with somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 candidates expected by the time the races really heat up late this year into next. Many candidates have begun reporting fundraising to the New York City Campaign Finance Board.

Between those filings with the CFB and other sources, below is a developing list of who is running for what in 2021.

The list does not include party labels (almost all of the candidates are Democrats) and includes mostly confirmed candidacies, as well as some that are apparent, in consideration, or rumored but not yet declared. An asterisk (*) denotes an incumbent.

This list is a work in progress that will be updated many times. Have an addition or correction? Email us at info@gothamgazette.com with subject line “2021 candidates.”

Mayor (current: Bill de Blasio)
Eric Adams
John Catsimatidis
Shaun Donovan
Cleopatra Fitzgerald 
Aaron Foldenhauer
Corey Johnson
Max Kaplan 
Abbey Laurel-Smith
Ray McGuire
Dianne Morales
William Pepitone
Curtis Sliwa
Scott Stringer
Loree Sutton
Jocelyn Taylor
Maya Wiley

Public Advocate (current: Jumaane Williams)
Theo Chino 
Gwen Goodwin
Jumaane Williams*

Comptroller (current: Scott Stringer)
Brian Benjamin
Brad Lander 
David Weprin
Kevin Parker 

Brooklyn District Attorney (current: Eric Gonzalez)
(not technically a city office)
Eric Gonzalez*

Manhattan District Attorney (current: Cy Vance)
(not technically a city office)
Tahanie Aboushi
Alvin Bragg
Liz Crotty
Diana Florence
Janos Marton
Eliza Orlins
Dan Quart
Cy Vance*
Tali Farhadian Weinstein

Bronx Borough President (current: Ruben Diaz Jr.)
Fernando Cabrera 
Vanessa Gibson
Victor Gutierrez

Brooklyn Borough President (current: Eric Adams)
Robert Cornegy Jr.
Mathieu Eugene 
Antonio Reynoso 
Lamor Whitehead-Miller

Manhattan Borough President (current: Gale Brewer)
Elizabeth Caputo 
Benjamin Kallos
Mark Levine
Kimberly Watkins 

Queen Borough President (current: Sharon Lee)
TBD (2020 special election is ongoing)

Staten Island Borough President (current: James Oddo)
Steven Matteo
Leticia Remauro

City Council District 1 (current: Margaret Chin)
Gigi Li
Jenny Lam-Low
Maud Maron 
Christopher Marte
Denny Salas

City Council District 2 (current: Carlina Rivera)
Carlina Rivera*

City Council District 3 (current: Corey Johnson)
Erik Bottcher 
Marni Halasa 
Phelan-Dante Fitzpatrick 

City Council District 4 (current: Keith Powers)
Jordana Lusk
Keith Powers* 

City Council District 5 (current: Ben Kallos)
Billy Freeland
Joshua Kravitz 
Rebecca Lamorte 
Kim Moscaritolo 
Tricia Shimamura 
Christopher Sosa 

City Council District 6 (current: Helen Rosenthal)
Gale Brewer
Sara Lind
Seth Rosen 

City Council District 7 (current: Mark Levine)
Shaun Abreu 
Marti Allen-Cummings
Luis Tejada 
Daniel Cohen 
Maria Ordonez
Lena Melendez 
Corey Ortega

City Council District 8 (current: Diana Ayala)
Diana Ayala*

City Council District 9 (current: Bill Perkins)
Kristin Jordan 
Ruth McDaniels
Bill Perkins
Sheba Simpson-Amsterdam

City Council District 10 (current: Ydanis Rodriguez)
Carmen De La Rosa
Manny De Los Santos
Angela Fernandez
Johanna Garcia
Josue Perez
Everett Reed
Nayma Silver

City Council District 11 (current: Andrew Cohen)
Eric Dinowitz 
Jessica Haller 
Daniel Padernacht
Dionel Then

City Council District 12 (current: Andy King)
Pamela Hamilton-Johnson
Kevin Riley 

City Council District 13 (current: Mark Gjonaj)
Mark Gjonaj*

City Council District 14 (current: Fernando Cabrera)
Fernando Aquino
Haile Rivera 
Pierina Sanchez
Socrates Solano 
Yudelka Tapia 

City Council District 15 (current: Ritchie Torres)
Ischia Bravo 
Elisa Crespo 
Oswald Feliz 

City Council District 16 (current: Vanessa Gibson)
Leonardo Coello 
Abdourahamane Diallo 
Uniqua Smith
Althea Stevens

City Council District 17 (current: Rafael Salamanca Jr.)
Rafael Salamanca Jr.*

City Council District 18: (current: Ruben Diaz Sr.)
Michael Beltzer
Amanda Farias 
Darlene Jackson 
Eliu Lara 

City Council District 19 (current: Paul Vallone)
Tony Avella
Richard Lee

City Council District 20 (current: Peter Koo)
Hailing Chen 
Sandra Ung

City Council District 21 (current: Francisco Moya)
Francisco Moya*

City Council District 22 (current: Costa Constantinides)
Andy Aujla
Jaime-Faye Bean
Leonardo Bullaro 
Jesse Cerroti 
Evie Hantzopoulos 
Felicia Kalan
Nicholas Roloson 
Rod Townsend

City Council District 23 (current: Barry Grodenchik)
Barry Grodenchik
Christopher Fuentes-Padilla 

City Council District 24 (current: Rory Lancman)
Jim Gennaro

City Council District 25 (current: Danny Dromm)
Suraj Jaswai
Shekar Krishnan
Alfonso Quiroz

City Council District 26 (current: Jimmy Van Bramer)
Tavo Bortoli 
Lorenzo Brea 
Julia Forman 
Heajin Kim
Brent O’Leary
Bianca Ozeri
Sultan Maruf

City Council District 27 (current: I. Daneek Miller)
Timothy Turane
Nantasha Williams

City Council District 28 (current: Adrienne Adams)
Adrienne Adams*

City Council District 29 (current: Karen Koslowitz)
David Aronov
Evan Boccardi 
Eliseo Labayen 
Sharon Levy
Howard Pollack
Lynn Schulman
Edwin Wong

City Council District 30 (current: Robert Holden) 
Juan Ardila
Robert Holden*

City Council District 31 (current: Donovan Richards)
Latoya Benjamin 
Franck Joseph 
Pesach Osina
Manuel Silva

City Council District 32 (current: Eric Ulrich)
Kaled Alamarie 
Michael Scala
Felicia Singh

City Council District 33 (current: Stephen Levin)
Elizabeth Adams
Victoria Cambranes 
Stu Sherman
Toba Potosky 
Benjamin Solotaire
April Somboun 

City Council District 34 (current: Antonio Reynoso)
Jennifer Gutierrez 

City Council District 35 (current: Laurie Cumbo)
Curtis Harris 
Crystal Hudson 
Regina Kinsey 
Hector Robertson 

City Council District 36 (current: Robert Cornegy Jr.)
Regina Edwards 
John Joyner 
Chi Osse'
Ralph Yozzo 

City Council District 37 (current: vacant)
2020 special election is ongoing, with Darma Diaz likely to win
Misba Abdin 
Kimberly Council
Darma Diaz
Ricarte Echevarria 
Sandy Nurse 

City Council District 38 (current: Carlos Menchaca)
Alexa Aviles 
Rodrigo Camarena 
Whitney Hu 
Ceasar Zuniga 

City Council District 39 (current: Brad Lander)
Jennifer De Luca 
Patrick Johnson 
Shahana Hanif
Nicole Hunt
Justin Krebs 
Briget Rein 
Brandon West 

City Council District 40 (current: Mathieu Eugene)
Cecilia Cortez
Brian-Christopher Cunningham
Maxi Eugene 
Rita Joseph 
Kenneth Lee 
Vivia Morgan 
Blake Morris
Josue Pierre
Edwin Raymond

City Council District 41 (current: Alicka Ampry-Samuel)
Alicka Ampry-Samuel*

City Council District 42 (current: Inez Barron)
Charles Barron
Wilfredo Florentino
Nikki Lucas
Gena Watson

City Council District 43 (current: Justin Brannan)
Justin Brannan*

City Council District 44 (current: Kalman Yeger)
Kalman Yeger*

City Council District 45 (current: Farah Louis)
Anthony Beckford 
Farah Louis* 
Cyril Joseph 
Louis Cespedes  

City Council District 46 (current: Alan Maisel)
Gardy Brazela 
Zuri Jackson
Mercedes Narcisse
Judy Newton
Shirley Paul
Dimple Willabus

City Council District 47 (current: Mark Treyger)
Alec Brook Krasny
Joseph Packer
Steven Patzer

City Council District 48 (current: Chaim Deutsch)
Amber Adler 
Boris Noble 
Steven Saperstein
Inna Vernikov

City Council District 49 (current: Deborah Rose)
Phillipe-Edner Apostal-Marius
Amoy Barnes 
Selina Grey 
Kamillah Hanks
Troy McGhie
Morounranti Ogunleye
Kelvin Richards 
Nicholas Robbins 

City Council District 50 (current: Steven Matteo)
George Wonica 
Sam Pirozzolo 

City Council District 51 (current: Joseph Borelli)
Joseph Borelli*

Undeclared Office But Filed with the CFB
Khari Edwards
Al-Hassan Kanu 
Marcelle Lashley-Kabore
Roberto Lizardo

Did we miss someone or make an error? Please email us at info@gothamgazette.com


Who’s Running for What in the 2021 New York City Elections Wed, 15 Jul 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Without Vance, 5 Democratic Manhattan District Attorney Candidates Participate in First Debate https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9595-cy-vance-democratic-manhattan-district-attorney-candidates-participate-in-first-debate https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9595-cy-vance-democratic-manhattan-district-attorney-candidates-participate-in-first-debate 5 candidates

(l-r) Dan Quart, Alvin Bragg, Tahanie Aboushi, Janos Marton, Eliza Orlins

With the 2021 Democratic primary for Manhattan District Attorney now under a year away, five candidates for the office participated in a forum hosted by the New York City Program Council and Columbia Law School’s Black Law Students Association. Manhattan’s current District Attorney, Cy Vance, has not yet said if he will seek reelection next year as the borough’s top prosecutor and law enforcement officer, but he was a frequent target of his potential opponents during the event.

The kickoff of the primary comes amid the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests and national reckoning around racism in policing and criminal justice, as well as several successful elections of progressive district attorney candidates across the country, plus public defender Tiffany Cabán’s near-win in the Queens District Attorney primary last year.

Vance has faced heavy criticism in recent years over his handling of sex crime cases, including Harvey Weinstein’s, and his decision not to prosecute members of the Turmp family over potentially fraudulent real estate deals, among other controversies. There are currently six Democrats who have declared campaigns, with five of them participating in Tuesday’s virtual forum.

The five participating candidates were Assemblymember Dan Quart; former Chief Deputy New York Attorney General Alvin Bragg; former ACLU attorney Janos Marton; civil rights attorney Tahanie Aboushi; and public defender Eliza Orlins. (Tali Farhadian Weinstein, the former general counsel for Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, announced her candidacy this week and did not participate in the forum.)

As many as 400 people watched as the five candidates discussed their backgrounds and stances on issues ranging from cash bail to police brutality to alternatives to incarceration. The candidates often agreed on the issues, but tried to cast themselves as the person best-positioned to actually deliver change.

The question of how to hold police accountable for potential misconduct was the top issue of the forum. Each candidate proposed how they would ensure independence, an important theme given that police and prosecutors largely work on the same team. Bragg called it “the essential issue” and that it’s been his “life’s work,” noting that he has previously prosecuted police for misconduct. He would have prosecutors in his office who specialize in police misconduct and would not be beholden to police for other cases.

Marton said he was “the only candidate to hold Andrew Cuomo accountable” through his work for Cuomo’s prematurely shuttered Moreland Commission to address public corruption, though he didn’t go into specifics, and he would take the same independence to handle cases of police misconduct. He said he would use a “full court press” that would hold as many officers accountable for breaking the law as possible.

Orlins called for independent investigators with civilian oversight to handle allegations of police misconduct. “These prosecutions must be done by someone with no connection to law enforcement,” she said. She also said untrustworthy police officers should not be allowed to testify in court.

Aboushi said that the district attorney’s office is currently the “personal law firm for those with a badge” and said she would “listen to victims of police violence,” promising transparency and accountability in prosecutions of police officers.

Quart pledged to reform the early case assessment bureau and to publicly disclose untruthful police officers.

The candidates rarely took shots at each other and instead directed much of their ire at Vance, bringing up several scandals that have dogged the incumbent in recent years.

Quart said that Vance had “failed to use the incredible powers of the district attorney’s office to reform the system” during his tenure.

“I wish [Vance] could get his 30 seconds, but I know he’s not here tonight,” Orlins said at one point, referring to the rebuttal time candidates were allowed if another candidate mentioned their name during the debate.

“We need fundamental change in Manhattan and I’m the one to bring it,” said Bragg, who said he believes that “incarceration should be a matter of last resort.” He would make pretrial alternatives for mental health and substance abuse disorder treatment more widely available, especially to communities of color, he said.

The candidates agreed on much, such as all five supporting an end to cash bail and more aggressively prosecuting the financial services industry, and arguing that DA Vance should be doing more to reduce the jail population during the coronavirus pandemic. All five candidates also expressed support for ending the so-called trial penalty, whereby defendants know that they will face tougher potential sentencing if they take a case to trial over accepting a plea bargain. Quart and Marton committed to rarely seek sentences of longer than 20 years.

Throughout the forum, Quart pointed to his “actual history of achieving results” as a legislator implementing changes to the criminal justice system, including cosponsoring cash bail reform and voting against recent rollbacks of the bail changes passed by the Legislature last year.

Marton, a decarceration activist who helped lead the campaign to closer the Rikers Island jails, argued that he has “the boldest positions in this race,” including a plan to reduce the number of people in jail from Manhattan by 80%. He also opposes the city’s plan to build new community jails to replace Rikers Island, saying, “I believe in a world without prisons.”

Bragg frequently pointed to his experience as a prosecutor in both the State Attorney General’s office and at the Southern District of New York as a federal prosecutor. He boasted about successful investigations of President Donald Trump for Trump University and major corporations like UPS for shipping untaxed cigarettes. He pitched himself as an “experienced manager” who oversaw an office of 1,200 while Chief Deputy Attorney General for New York State.

Orlins argued she is unique among candidates, saying, “I’m the only candidate here who has been on the frontlines as a public defender for over a decade.” As proof of her managerial expertise, she said she has managed up to 200 cases at a time.

Aboushi cited her experience working directly in communities as a civil rights attorney who “has spent the last ten years in people’s living rooms protecting their rights.” She said she is “the only candidate who has forced the NYPD to change discriminatory practices,” likely referring to a lawsuit she led against the NYPD’s policy regarding religious head coverings during arrests.

All five candidates said they would not take campaign donations from law enforcement unions. Quart, Bragg, and Marton each said that they would not take campaign donations from defense attorneys. Marton said he also would not take funds from the real estate industry and Bragg said he would not accept donations from corporations or lobbyists.

The Democratic primary for Manhattan District Attorney will be held in June of 2021.

by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: this article has been corrected to reflect Bragg said he would not accept donations from corporations or lobbyists -- the word "not" had been previously left out accidentally.

Without Vance, 5 Democratic Manhattan District Attorney Candidates Participate in First Debate Tue, 14 Jul 2020 04:00:00 +0000
The 2021 Manhattan District Attorney Race is Officially Underway https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9592-manhattan-district-attorney-race-underway-candidates-first-debate-cy-vance-challengers https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9592-manhattan-district-attorney-race-underway-candidates-first-debate-cy-vance-challengers Cy Vance Manhattan DA speaking

Cy Vance (photo: @ManhattanDA)

Five candidates vying to become the next Manhattan District Attorney will participate in a forum on Tuesday, just under a year before the primary election and over a year after the first candidate in the race announced his campaign. The event, featuring all Democrats, is being hosted by the NYC Programming Council and Columbia Law School. Current District Attorney Cy Vance hasn’t said whether or not he will seek reelection in 2021 and is not participating in the first debate of the race.

The event comes a week after Vance notched a significant win in the nation’s highest court in Trump v. Vance, a landmark case over a grand jury subpoena of the president’s tax returns. In doing so, Vance earned a precedent-setting victory over the President of the United States. While it’s not immediately clear that Donald Trump’s tax returns will be made available to Vance’s investigation, it is a win of some magnitude, especially against a figure as reviled in Manhattan as Trump, that would typically be something most politicians could only dream about heading into an election year. But this is no ordinary situation.

Embattled DA Noncommittal About Reelection Bid
Appearing last week on NY1, Vance again wouldn’t say whether he will be seeking a fourth term as Manhattan’s top law enforcement official. Despite several recent Vance victories, including the successful conviction of Harvey Weinstein earlier this year, he’s come under intense criticism in the past few years for his handling of the Weinstein and other sexual assault cases, as well as cases relating to the Trump family, and more.

And while at times Vance, who has been Manhattan DA since 2010, has led his New York City district attorney colleagues on progressive reform, which will be a focus of the 2021 Manhattan primary race, he has also been criticized for not going far enough.

Vance’s third term has been under a cloud of suspicion, since details re-emerged in late 2017 about his decision not to prosecute Weistein, a famous film producer (and now convicted sex offender) over a 2015 allegation of sexual assault that NYPD investigators believed met the evidentiary standards for prosecution. Vance received a five-figure campaign donation from Weinstein’s attorney that same year, leading many critics to argue this influenced Vance’s prosecutorial judgement. By that point in 2017, Vance had already secured renomination as the Democratic candidate and was unopposed in the general election, but one in ten voters wrote in somebody else on their ballot.

Weinstein’s misconduct wasn’t the only sexual assault-related case that has come under scruitny during Vance’s decade-long tenure as Manhattan’s top prosecutor. In 2011, a prosecutor in Vance’s office argued in court for Jefferey Epstein’s sex offender status to be reduced. That year, DA Vance also faced criticism for declining to prosecute Dominique Strauss-Kahn, then head of the International Monetary Fund, for sexual assault relating to an incident in a New York hotel. In 2016, his office negotiated a plea deal with an OB-GYN who abused dozens of patients in which the doctor received no jail time.

Another frequent criticism of Vance has been his handling of cases related to former Manhattanite Donald J. Trump and his family’s business dealings. Similar to the Weinstein case, Vance decided against prosecuting two of the now-president’s children, Ivanka and Don Jr., over a potentially fraudulent SoHo real estate deal in 2012 after Trump’s attorney donated and fundraised for the district attorney.

Vance has denied all wrong-doing or any undue influence.

Aside from these headline-grabbing cases, opponents contend that Vance’s office too aggressively prosecutes low-level offenses, such as nonviolent misdemeanors, against poor defendants and people of color. These critiques are in line with national and local decarceral movements that seek to reduce the prison population through the non-prosecution of nonviolent offenses such as fare evasion, sex work, and drug possession.

In January of this year, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams called for Vance to resign and tweeted “if you are black, brown, or a woman in NY county, you have a right to believe that you will not get justice when the other party is someone who has money or is connected.” The City Council’s entire Women’s Caucus has also called for Vance’s resignation, as have victims of the doctor, Robert Hadden, and other advocates, elected officials, and others.

In recent years, Vance has taken steps to attempt to remedy past mistakes, taking on Trump over his tax returns and securing the conviction of Weinstein earlier this year. However, for many critics, these moves are too little too late.

Vance touts a long list of what he calls accomplishments and reforms, including his work to clear old summons warrants; fund the review of old rape kits; increase cyber security; and limit the prosecution of low-level offenses like fare evasion.

While Vance has not formally made a decision yet, his fundraising (or lack thereof) would seem to indicate he won’t be running in 2021. Vance has only raised $25,600 over the last six months of 2019 and had just $105,000 in cash on hand in January, per his state campaign finance filings.

"Well the status of my decision-making is, number one, it’s an amazing office and it’s a privilege to hold it," Vance said on NY1. "I think it’s a good thing that, not just this office but other DA’s offices around the country are attracting a lot of attention, and I hope a lot of good candidates. And so I think the attention and the focus on the District Attorney’s race is important, but for me right now we are in the midst of a crisis that we have not seen in — I’m not sure ever. We have the court system functioning at 10 percent operation. We have a huge backlog of significant cases that we need to manage. We have an office and a community that has undergone enormous pain and self-questioning as a result of the incident that happened with George Floyd in Minneapolis and other fatal police encounters with civilians, and these are very tricky times. My focus is on making sure the office is running properly, making sure that I am addressing some of the issues that are raised by the George Floyd killing with regard to race in our criminal justice system, our policies, our practices, and our personnel, and that’s where my attention is. But I’m glad to see that there are individuals that are interested in running for the Manhattan DA’s race. That is a healthy thing to happen."

Candidates Emerge
As Vance faced growing criticism and calls to resign, candidates emerged -- either to take Vance on in the Democratic primary or to pursue the “open” seat if the incumbent declines to run again.

They include the five candidates who will debate Tuesday night: Assemblymember Dan Quart; Alvin Bragg, the state’s former Chief Deputy Attorney General; Janos Marton, a decarceration activist and former ACLU lawyer; public defender Eliza Orlins; and Tahanie Aboushi, a civil rights attorney.

A sixth candidate, Tali Farhadian Weinstein, the former general counsel in Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez’s office, just announced her candidacy this week, but will not be participating in the debate.

Tuesday's debate comes just before candidates will make new fundraising filings public, which will give new insights into the state of the race in its early phases. Fundraising numbers for January through early July will soon be filed by the campaigns, then made available by the state Board of Elections (District Attorney positions are technically part of state government, not city government, so the elections are not part of the city's public campaign finance system).

According to the hosts, Tuesday's "forum comes at a crucial moment as New York City citizens and people across the United States pay close attention to the policing, mass incarceration, and the role of prosecutors in the criminal justice infrastructure.The candidates will answer questions related to he Black Lives Matter movement, alternatives to incarceration, mental health diversion, police accountability, and the role of prosecutors in mass incarceration."

The New York City Program Council is "a trade association of organizations that provide programming in [Department of Correction] facilities around New York City," including the Rikers Debate Project, which has led the organizing for Tuesday's debate among the five Democratic district attorney candidates.

Dan Quart
Quart has represented the Upper East Side and Midtown East in the State Assembly since 2011. He cosponsored legislation to end cash bail in 2019 and chairs the Legislative Commission on Administrative Regulations Review. He has continued to work as a criminal defense attorney throughout his tenure in the State Legislature.

Quart faced some criticism as a “double-officeseeker” for running for reelection to the Assembly this year while also campaigning for District Attorney. He is ahead of his well-funded opponent Cameron Koffman in the Assembly primary that is still playing out with the counting of absentee ballots.

It has been evident for several years that Quart was eyeing a campaign for Manhattan District Attorney. He promises a host of progressive reforms if he were to be elected to the position, including the abolition of cash bail, the decriminilization of sex work, and an end to surveillance-based gang indictments. He has promised to treat substance abuse disorder as a public health issue, as opposed to a criminal justice issue, and would also decline to prosecute low-level offenses such as fare evasion and marijuana possession. Quart has focused on criminal justice issues during his decade in the Assembly, passing a law to compensate exonerated inmates, among a number of other issues he’s either advocated or passed legislation on.

Alvin Bragg
Bragg, who hails from Central Harlem, has been an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York (headquartered in Manhattan) and the Chief Deputy Attorney General for New York State. In the latter office, he oversaw a lawsuit against Harvey Weinstein for a hostile work environment at his production company, a challenge to the constitutionality of the Trump Administration’s citizenship question in the 2020 Census, and major criminal cases involving bribery, securities fraud, and Medicaid fraud.

Bragg vows to make the Manhattan DA’s office “progressive and accountable.” He says his default position would be to decline to prosecute low-level crimes and treating them as a civil matter where appropriate. He promises to dedicate independent prosecutors to exclusively investigate allegations of police misconduct. He would prioritize harm-reduction strategies and seek the low-end of sentencing guidelines in most cases, he says.

Janos Marton
Marton, who was born and raised on the Upper West Side, has held several prominent legal positions throughout his career. He was special counsel to the Moreland Commission, convened and prematurely disbanded by Governor Andrew Cuomo, that investigated political corruption in New York State. He was a leader in the campaign to close Rikers Island jails and later worked as states campaign manager for the ACLU’s Campaign for Smart Justice.

Marton says he would be a “progressive prosecutor” and takes inspiration from Tiffany Cabán’s unsuccessful campaign for Queens DA last year. He wants to reduce the number of Manhattan residents in jails by 80% through declining prosecution on low-level offenses, expanding diversion and restorative justice programs, and reforming bail. He also promises to end charge-stacking and other “coercive plea bargaining practices.” He would decriminalize sex work and “end the War on Drugs,” through changing laws and enforcement practices, he says. 

Eliza Orlins
Orlins is a Manhattan public defender who says she has represented over 3,000 low-income New Yorkers over the past decade and an advocate for criminal justice reform. Some may recognize her from her participation on CBS’s reality competition shows “Survivor” and “Amazing Race,” which has helped her amass a large social media following.

As Manhattan DA, Orlins says she would decriminalize sex work and simple drug possession. She also believes the criminal justice system criminalizes poverty, which she would work to undo, through declining to prosecute low-level offenses. She points to her work as a public defender (the only one currently in the race), an experience she shares with Cabán, as well as progressive DAs across the country, such as Larry Krasner (Philadelphia) and Chesa Boudin (San Francisco).

Tahanie Aboushi
Aboushi is a progressive attorney, as well as a member of Manhattan Community Board 10 and board member of the New York Civil Liberties Union. As an attorney, Aboushi touts legal fights against racism, discrimination, and abuse of power, as well as lawsuits on behalf of bullied school children, people of color harassed and falsely imprisoned in the criminal justice system, and rape victims.

Aboushi would “transform our justice system from one that targets historically marginalized communities into one that uplifts and builds up our neighbors and neighborhoods.” She promises to establish a Police Accountability Unit to investigate police misconduct and focus on alternatives to incarceration for low-level offenses. She will also decline to prosecute charges stemming from “crimes of poverty, mental illness, sex work, and substance use disorder.”

Tali Farhadian Weinstein
While not participating in Tuesday’s candidate forum, Tali Farhadian Weinstein is the latest addition to a growing field of potential replacements for Vance. Farhadian Weinstein just stepped down as general counsel for Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez. She has also served as a federal prosecutor and counsel to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in the Obama administration. Holder endorsed her upon her entrance into the race.

Farhadian Weinstein says she supports abolishing cash bail, but is in favor of allowing judges to hold defendants if deemed dangerous, a standard opposed by many criminal justice reformers. When announcing her candidacy, she told Politico that “I agree with some things [Vance]’s done and disagree with others. I think it’s really important to focus on what the office ought to look like in its next chapter.”

Another candidate, criminal defense attorney Liz Crotty, is also not participating in the candidate forum.

The candidate forum is scheduled for 6-8 p.m. Tuesday night. The event is virtual and anyone interested can sign up here.

by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: this story has been updated to clarify portions of the section on DA Vance's decision-making and tenure.

The 2021 Manhattan District Attorney Race is Officially Underway Mon, 13 Jul 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Council Member Helen Rosenthal Drops Out of 2021 Comptroller Race https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9586-helen-rosenthal-drops-out-of-2021-city-comptroller-race https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9586-helen-rosenthal-drops-out-of-2021-city-comptroller-race 1 cm helen rosenthal womens

Council Member Helen Rosenthal (photo: John McCarten/City Council)

New York City Council Member Helen Rosenthal, a Democrat from Manhattan, is dropping out of the 2021 race for Comptroller, she told Gotham Gazette in an interview Friday morning.

Next year, the entire city government – the mayor, comptroller, public advocate, five borough presidents and 51 City Council seats – will be on the ballot. Rosenthal is currently serving her second term representing District 6 on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, and cannot run for reelection due to term limits. She was among several Democrats seeking to replace outgoing Comptroller Scott Stringer, who is also term-limited and is running for mayor.

Rosenthal said she no longer sees a path to victory. “I think the campaign was going very well in 2019. We were very well received and it was very encouraging,” she said of the initial phase of her run. “But at the beginning of 2020, I knew that I had to hit some pretty significant benchmarks in order to have a viable campaign. And I knew that there was going to be a lot of work involved and I was going to have to really invest a lot in the work. And the way 2020 unfolded, it became very clear that I wasn’t going to be able to hit those marks.”

Rosenthal said she needed to make community-based and political connections throughout the city that she did not pursue earlier this year, instead staying fully focused on her work as a Council member. She also lags behind other candidates in fundraising and was going to have to make that ground up throughout this year and into next ahead of the June 2021 primary that is all but certain to choose the next Comptroller, the city's chief fiscal officer, given Democrats’ seven-to-one voter registration advantage over Republicans.

Having previously served for seven years in the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget, Rosenthal has particular concerns about the city’s current budget and fiscal situation and said she was able to use her candidacy to elevate those issues.

The city had to fill a $9 billion revenue gap to balance the recently approved $88.2 billion budget and Rosenthal was among those who expressed support for a proposal put forward by Mayor de Blasio to allow the city to borrow funds for operational expenses. Though that idea has not yet been approved by the state Legislature, the city may still need that recourse if revenue deteriorates further and the federal government does not bail out the city, she said.

“Especially in the lead up to the passage of the fiscal 2021 budget, I was able to amplify my calls for borrowing, for opportunities for the state to pass laws to raise money, in particular from the Stock Transfer Tax rebate, and it’s given me the platform to talk about the investments that the city has to make in order for the economy to recover,” she said.

Rosenthal voted “no” on the budget because, owing to the lack of borrowing power, the city was forced to make cuts to services and programs for the most needy. “I think over the next six months, we have to bring together support for borrowing in the city,” she said. In her remarks when voting no, she critiqued Stringer for his opposition to the city borrowing, which appears to have had some impact on the state’s hesitance. Rosenthal also said the budget did not go far enough to cut funding from the NYPD and invest in youth services.

Rosenthal hasn’t decided yet whether she will throw her support behind another candidate. “It’s very much too soon and we’d have to be much closer to the election,” she said. “Given everything that’s going on around us, I think the field is still in evolution.”

Other candidates include fellow City Council Member Brad Lander from Brooklyn, Manhattan State Senator Brian Benjamin, and Assemblymember David Weprin of Queens. State Senator Kevin Parker from Brooklyn has also filed initial papers to run but his campaign has not shown any activity. There are currently no Republicans who have declared a comptroller campaign.

As of the last campaign filing, all the way back in January, Lander had $250,914 in campaign cash, Benjamin had $252,225 and Weprin had $84,927 (he also owes the city Campaign Finance Board $320,000 from past fines). Rosenthal had just $13,808 (she has raised $136,520 and spent $122,712). Parker has yet to raise any funds. None of those totals take into account the public matching funds that will eventually be available to qualifying candidates. A new campaign finance filing deadline is imminent, the numbers from which will provide information about fundraising and spending thus far this year.

Rosenthal said she hopes that the remaining candidates will pay attention to her campaign platform. “I laid out some pretty good ideas and a clear path to balancing the city’s budget in a way that doesn’t hurt people, and that story’s not going to end for the next at least two or three years,” she said.

With eighteen months left in her term, Rosenthal said she has “a lot of work ahead of me.” Along with her focus on fiscal and budget matters, which has included a lot of attention on contracting and nonprofit service providers, Rosenthal has also led the Council’s Committee on Women, which under her leadership has in part focused on deficiencies in how the NYPD handles sexual assault.

Rosenthal said she does not have any immediate plans for what comes next, though she wants to remain involved in public service. She does not intend to run for another elected position in 2021.

“I will be looking for a job where it’s a good fit, where the skills I bring can be meaningful and used as a public service. And we’ll see where that takes me,” she said.

[Read: 2021 Comptroller Candidates Offer Differing Ideas for Addressing City's Fiscal Woes]

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Council Member Helen Rosenthal Drops Out of 2021 Comptroller Race Fri, 10 Jul 2020 04:00:00 +0000
'I Actually Have to Negotiate a Budget': Corey Johnson and the Challenge of Running for Mayor as City Council Speaker https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9569-nypd-budget-deal-pitfalls-of-council-speaker-running-for-mayor-corey-johnson-de-blasio https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9569-nypd-budget-deal-pitfalls-of-council-speaker-running-for-mayor-corey-johnson-de-blasio 4 budget deal ptfs

Corey Johnson, with Bill de Blasio watching (photo: John McCarten/City Council)

Speakers of the New York City Council don’t fare well when running for citywide office. Melissa Mark-Viverito, who previously held the job, was unsuccessful in a crowded 2019 special election for public advocate. Christine Quinn, the speaker before her, placed third in the 2013 Democratic mayoral primary that saw Bill de Blasio advance toward the mayoralty. Gifford Miller, Quinn’s predecessor, similarly lost in the 2005 Democratic mayoral primary to Fernando Ferrer, and Peter Vallone came in third in the 2001 Democratic primary.

Corey Johnson, the current City Council Speaker, is hoping to buck that trend as he pursues his own mayoral bid in 2021, when both he and de Blasio will be term-limited out of their current offices. But like Council speakers before him, his leadership of the city’s 51-member legislative body is likely to be a double-edged sword.

Johnson has been able to achieve major goals and advance populist ideas that could serve as the foundation of a fruitful campaign platform. But, by nature, his position requires consensus-building among a large, diverse group of lawmakers and compromising with the mayor. That was the case when he brokered the recently approved $88.2 billion city budget and found himself balancing the positions held by Council members and the demands of a movement against police brutality, and delivered a compromise that broadly angered people on the left and the right, and which even he admitted he was disappointed with.

“I love being speaker,” Johnson said in an interview earlier this week, discussing criticism he’s received, including from others in government. “I can't speak to other people's jobs, but as speaker I'm able to have a big impact on policy and legislation and the budget in New York City, and I'm grateful for that. It's a challenging job that requires me to take positions on issues on almost a daily basis. And there's an upside to that but also a downside to that because some of these things are complicated, nuanced, and politically fraught but still exciting and you still have the ability to impact the city and public policy in a significant way.”

Johnson’s potential mayoral opponents, particularly Comptroller Scott Stringer, had harsh words for the budget deal, especially with regard to the NYPD picture.

“Politics is politics sometimes,” Johnson said. “I don’t think it’s anything new that potential opponents are going to try to use issues and votes and the budget process against me or other Council members. That’s probably happened for time immemorial so I don’t think it’s unique to me. But, at the same time, being speaker, I actually have to negotiate a budget. I actually have to negotiate legislation, I have to support members who are negotiating land use deals. These things are much more under the microscope and politically electrified than what other elected officials have to deal with on a daily basis.”

In past interviews, when asked about the trend of City Council speakers struggling to become mayor, Johnson has pointed out it is a small sample size and that no comptroller has become mayor in decades, while no borough president has become mayor since David Dinkins won in 1989. Along with Stringer, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams is the other current elected official expected to run for mayor in the 2021 election.

With the city facing a $9 billion revenue gap, Johnson faced the toughest budget that the Council has had to deal with in his time as speaker. The city had been flush with cash for years through a robust recovery after the Great Recession, allowing for massive increases in spending. Now, the mayor was proposing cuts to social services, youth development, education, and more. There was also a growing demand from police reform advocates that the city cut $1 billion from the police department’s nearly $6 billion annual operating budget.

Even as Johnson embraced that advocacy, he could not obtain the level or types of cuts he was pushing for as he cobbled together the votes for the budget. It was ultimately approved 32-17 just past the midnight deadline for the July 1 start of the 2021 fiscal year. It included pledged cuts to police overtime spending with no specific plan to achieve them, a small reduction in officer headcount, and hundreds of millions in costs shifted by moving school safety back to the purview of the Department of Education.

The pieces added up to what the mayor called $1 billion but were marked by the sort of gimmicks that incensed advocates and Johnson acknowledged did not hit that target. (Even the school safety shift isn’t expected to happen within the new fiscal year, a detail that didn’t emerge until after the budget was approved.)

“From the moment George Floyd was murdered at the end of May till when we passed the budget in the hours leading up to July 1, we were able to do a lot while also recognizing you can't do everything in five weeks,” Johnson said.

There has been speculation that the budget vote will come back to haunt Johnson’s mayoral prospects. A bargain frustrating the most fervent activists and made with de Blasio before a change election where each candidate is seeking to differentiate themselves from the two-term mayor could be challenging for the speaker. It’s somewhat reminiscent of what worked against former Speaker Quinn in 2013, who had been an ally of then Mayor Bloomberg and was running to some degree on a continuation of his policies and the broad success of the city. But Quinn, who hasn’t ruled out a 2021 mayoral run, was in part done in by her deal with Bloomberg to extend term limits over the will of voters.

“Chris Quinn...had the problem of being seen as too close to the mayor,” said Jessica Proud, a Republican consultant who helped run Joe Lhota’s 2013 general election campaign against de Blasio. “Corey doesn't necessarily have that problem but the duties of the job and the nature of the job, the decisions that come with it, pose challenges like any leadership position.”

While they have worked together on many things, Johnson has also repeatedly set himself apart from de Blasio and under him the Council has tried to exert its power more often than under former Speaker Mark-Viverito, whom de Blasio helped become the speaker for his first term. Though he has at times made significant concessions when de Blasio has taken issue with his proposals, Johnson has more often than not forged ahead with his priorities and forced the mayor to go along.

The recent passage of a bill criminalizing the use of chokeholds and other harmful restraining methods by police officers is testament to that, particularly as it almost invited the first ever mayoral veto by de Blasio before he begrudgingly agreed that he will sign it over the opposition of vocal police leaders.

It also remains unclear how many voters will broadly attribute the budget deal solely to Johnson or if it will even take center stage in a primary that will occur in the middle of another budget session and, current signs say, while the city is still on its way to recovering from the pandemic. The deal may have alienated some on the far left, but that isn’t far and away the only constituency in the Democratic primary and it's not clear that those voters will have another candidate to turn to given that Johnson has also been competing for the left among the current crop of 2021 candidates.

There are, of course, center-right Democrats, the kind who voted for Bloomberg, who may also be turned off by the NYPD cuts. Moderate and conservative Democratic Council Members including Robert Holden, Chaim Deutsch, Kalman Yeger, and Ruben Diaz Sr. all voted against the budget on those very grounds. As one Democratic consultant said, “I don't know yet if this mayoral race is going to be about, ‘We need a fervent socialist, progressive, Black Lives Matter mayor.”

Johnson believes that voters won’t focus on this one budget vote, but will be looking for a larger vision for the future of the city. He denied conjecture among political observers, reported by Politico New York, that he may opt out of the race because of the fallout of this budget, though as with other candidates, he has yet to officially declare his candidacy. That announcement will likely happen after the presidential election in November, he indicated.

Unlike some of the other declared and potential mayoral candidates whose focus has seemed more defined, Johnson says he isn’t carving out a specific niche for himself. “I’ve never really thought of my campaign for mayor with regards to trying to appeal to one lane or one subset of voters,” he said. But he is clearly running to the left on issues that affect the city’s most vulnerable residents, as indicated by his support for the calls of a $1 billion NYPD budget cut. “It’s really about coming up with big ideas and solutions for the future of New York City, being myself, and seeing if that connects with a broad electorate,” he said.

Stringer has long-standing ties to the political establishment but has been wooing the insurgent left, especially as he has endorsed several female candidates, particularly women of color, aligned and adjacent to the Working Families Party, Democratic Socialists of America, and other groups that have emerged as formidable forces in recent elections.

Adams, a Black former police officer and state senator, now Brooklyn Borough President, leans more moderate, and hopes to win over both Black New Yorkers and the white ethnic voters that helped elect Michael Bloomberg and Rudy Guiliani as mayor.

Loree Sutton, a retired Army Brigadier General and former commissioner of the city’s Department of Veterans Services, is also vying for the center-left, and advocates for a more fiscally restrained government and tougher law enforcement. Former nonprofit executive Dianne Morales (who left her job to run) has centered social justice issues in her campaign, including a major rethinking of how public safety is done and the need to create more opportunities for women to thrive and lead.

Former top Obama and Bloomberg aide Shaun Donovan has a lengthy resume as a public servant that has managed fiscal, health, and environmental emergencies. Maya Wiley, former counsel to Mayor de Blasio, is an accomplished civil rights attorney and activist whose campaign would likely target issues of criminal justice and racial inequity. She has been more outspoken of late, including in criticism of the city budget deal and in calling for the removal of NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea.

Some who observed the budget process, or participated in it, had praise for Johnson’s leadership.

Longtime political consultant and former Mayor Ed Koch spokesperson George Arzt said Johnson did “an exceptional job” balancing the countervailing demands over the budget. “I think all in all, by next year, this will have been forgotten,” he said, noting that between now and the 2021 primary, there will be another budget modification in the fall, a presidential election and, hopefully, a vaccine for the coronavirus.

Arzt also noted that Johnson bore the brunt of criticism because of the public’s lower expectations from the mayor. “I don’t think there has been a mayor in recent times as unpopular as de Blasio, and he still has a year-and-a-half to go. So people look to Corey for leadership on major issues,” he said. “What the budget process showed is that he’s a person that people look up to for leadership and he can work to put together a stable government.”

Council Member Antonio Reynoso was among the half-dozen or so members who voted against the budget because the NYPD cuts did not go further. “I think that the speaker is in an unenviable position,” said Reynoso, a Brooklyn Democrat running for borough president in next year’s election, noting that the speaker’s individual positions can’t override the majority of Council members, who didn’t want to defund the NYPD as aggressively.

“I don’t think there’s any other position in the entire city that has the same role as the speaker,” Reynoso said. “Everybody else – the mayor, the comptroller, the public advocate, borough presidents, and even Council members can all speak independently about what they want without having to be accountable to anyone except their constituents. He, on the other hand, has to be accountable to these elected officials, to these Council members.”

But Reynoso did say that the police funding issue will continue to be on the forefront if the Council and mayor fail to follow through on the promises made in this budget, particularly relating to changes in how school safety is handled. “If a lot of the stuff that [Council members] thought was going to happen doesn't happen this year, I could see a change in heart [from Council members],” he said, predicting that in such circumstances, there may be even more support from progressive members allowing for greater cuts to the police budget next year.

Advocates are also keeping a watchful eye to see that those pledges, however disappointing, are fulfilled. “We’re in this for the long haul, we're not going anywhere,” said Andréa Colon, lead organizer for Rockaway Youth Task Force, a member of the Communities United for Police Reform coalition.

Colon faulted all parties involved in the deal – the mayor, speaker, and the Council at large. “Even members of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus said, ‘This is a win for our community. This is a first step,’ but so many acknowledged that this doesn't go far enough. So if they’re able to acknowledge that, why vote yes?”

The night of the budget deal there was chatter among activists on Twitter that Johnson’s mayoral campaign was over.

“It was probably one of the most challenging budgets in modern municipal history,” Johnson said in the interview. Having spent weeks dealing with the varying crises the city faced, and having to triangulate what his members demanded and what the mayor was willing to concede, he appeared visibly exhausted and browbeaten in the hours before the budget vote. “My goal was to save as many programs that affect poor New Yorkers, communities of color, and covid-vulnerable communities as possible while at the same time recognizing this moment of national reckoning on police reform and racism and pushing as far as we can go,” he said.

Even as the full scope of proposed NYPD cuts weren’t realized, the speaker emphasized that the Council managed to save vital programs and services to the tune of about $700 million that were on the chopping block in the mayor’s proposal, besides the funding that was reallocated from the police. “The mayor wasn't there and the Council was divided,” he said on the NYPD budget. “So I had to try to find consensus. And I think we were able to do a lot of good in this budget, and I look at this as really the beginning, not the end.”

Ravi Gupta, co-founder and managing partner of Arena, a national organization that trains and supports progressive Democrats running for office and those seeking to work on campaigns, said that though Johnson could be hurt by carrying the weight of the budget vote, he can also benefit from it.

“I think given the trauma that this city has been through over the past year and even longer, superficial politics are going to be a thing of the past,” he said. “Straight rhetorical politics aren't really going to carry people very far. And [Johnson] will have a case to make that he has had to make tough decisions, which is not something that everybody in the race, either now or in the future, not everybody's going to be able to say that.”

He also noted that Johnson’s potential opponents will have to explain their own records. “Not all, but many of the people critiquing Corey don't have very long histories of being aggressive for reform of the police,” he said.

“The '$1 billion cut' to the NYPD proposed by the Mayor and the City Council is not a $1 billion cut—it's a bait and switch and a paper-thin excuse for reform,” Stringer said of the budget, though he had proposed a more modest NYPD cut than Johnson’s plan, and Johnson acknowledged before the budget vote that the deal did not include $1 billion in cuts.

Adams said, “The city is in crisis, inequality is deepening, New Yorkers are marching every day against injustice — and instead of forging change and lighting a path to a brighter future, this budget simply maintains the status quo.”

On Twitter, Wiley wrote, “Today’s deal isn’t a cut. It’s moving the deck chairs around. We have to stop tinkering and start transforming public safety.”

Morales, in a statement, said the budget “failed those whose lives have been lost at the hands of the NYPD and communities of color who have been disproportionately impacted by violence and brutality.”

Johnson’s “greatest advantage,” Gupta said, is the various proposals he has advanced at the Council, particularly his Streets Master Plan (though that has been delayed because of the pandemic’s impact on the budget). “I think there's a huge constituency in the city for that kind of vision right now,” he said. Johnson was also successful in convincing the mayor to fund the Fair Fares discounted MetroCard program for low-income New Yorkers and in getting more funds to provide pay equity to early childhood educators. He has proposed major plans to address homelessness and food insecurity.

“This is an existential election for the city. So people are going to be looking for truth-tellers, not performers,” he said. “I think people are going to be looking for somebody that they trust. And I don't know who that person is yet but I certainly don't think that this past week has been disqualifying [for Johnson].”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

'I Actually Have to Negotiate a Budget': Corey Johnson and the Challenge of Running for Mayor as City Council Speaker Thu, 09 Jul 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Can Shaun Donovan Win the 2021 Mayor's Race? Campaign Pitch Charts Path https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9562-can-shaun-donovan-win-the-2021-mayor-s-race-campaign-pitch-charts-path https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9562-can-shaun-donovan-win-the-2021-mayor-s-race-campaign-pitch-charts-path donshaun3

Shaun Donovan (photo: Shaun Donovan for NYC)

As the 2021 mayoral election begins to heat up, with rumors of more candidates jumping into an incredibly consequential race, former Obama and Bloomberg aide Shaun Donovan’s campaign is making a confident pitch to potential supporters and donors that he has a viable path to victory.

While Donovan, a Brooklyn native with a long history as a public servant but never in elected office, has not officially declared his candidacy, he’s been taking many of the essential steps toward launching a run.

If he does run, one challenge will be introducing himself to voters. Donovan led the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg for five years, from 2004 to 2009. He then served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Barack Obama between 2009 and 2014, before being elevated to director of the Office of Management and Budget, which he headed for three years till the end of Obama’s tenure in early 2017. 

Donovan’s campaign had been pitching his credentials in a 29-page slideshow obtained by Gotham Gazette that analyzes the state of the race, possible turnout and the areas of the city where Donovan is likely to receive votes, and the candidate’s key credentials.

Next year, Mayor Bill de Blasio will be term-limited out of office and there are several candidates besides Donovan who have either declared or are exploring a mayoral bid. Among the active candidates are City Comptroller Scott Stringer, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, former nonprofit executive Dianne Morales, and former commissioner of the city’s Department of Veterans’ Services Loree Sutton. Maya Wiley, a civil rights lawyer and former counsel to Mayor de Blasio, is also now considering a run, according to Politico New York.

The Donovan campaign isn’t shy about playing up Donovan’s association with President Obama, whose name appears six times and whose picture appears twice in the document. The “electability deck,” as it was labeled by the Donovan campaign, opens with a quote from the former president from when he nominated Donovan to become OMB director, alongside a photo of the two seated next to each other at a news conference.

“Now here’s the problem. When you’re good at your job, people always want you to do even more,” Obama said at the time. (The document makes little mention of Donovan’s work with Bloomberg, who is unlikely to be a popular figure in the 2021 Democratic mayoral primary.)

The campaign touts Donovan as “The right candidate at the right moment” and identifies the six top issues that the next mayor must urgently address: inequality, the city’s housing crisis, the budget deficit caused by the pandemic, the relationship with the federal government, education and homelessness.

“New York City Needs a Leader,” the document declares in bold letters, along a list of reasons why, including, “To pull us together, address centuries long inequities, and make fairness real, not a slogan.” That line is no doubt a dig at de Blasio, who has repeatedly said he wants to make New York the “fairest big city in America,” but has struggled on a number of policy and political fronts. 

The campaign also points to other issues where city leadership is sorely lacking. Policing needs to be reformed substantively, it states. It warns that the city’s health systems “are stretched to the breaking point” while people are out of work and businesses are shut down. Evictions, foreclosure, and homelessness are rising. It does not point to any proposed solutions that Donovan may offer if he launches a campaign.

But the document delves into headlines of Donovan’s resume and his role in the federal government overseeing the response to several crises including the housing crash, the Ebola and Zika virus outbreaks, and Hurricane Sandy. 

“Shaun’s record of progressive accomplishments is second to none,” it states, listing various policy decisions and positions. He was the first cabinet secretary ever to endorse marriage equality, it highlights. He reversed a HUD policy that prohibited ex-offenders from moving in with family members in subsidized housing. He worked with 32BJ, the prominent property service workers union, to raise wages for workers in affordable housing. And so on. 

The document, labeled "path to victory," reiterates what most political experts and consultants agree on, that the 2021 race will be a change election with voters looking to candidates who can set themselves apart from de Blasio. “After 8 years of Bill de Blasio, New Yorkers are looking for something different. They want a Mayor with vision, experience, and the ability to get us out of the crises we face and make this a city that works for everyone,” the document reads. “Shaun Donovan is that candidate.”

The document -- which is the type of literature presented to community, labor, and political leaders, among others, as relationships are cultivated -- takes stock of the competition, particularly the perceived top tier of current candidates: Adams, Stringer, and Johnson, who are all term-limited next year, though they aren’t named. The campaign notes that the three previous comptrollers ran for mayor and lost and the three previous Council speakers ran citywide and lost; it wrongly states that no borough president has ever won the mayoralty, though David Dinkins and Robert Wagner pulled off that feat (no borough president since Dinkins and no Brooklyn borough president has become mayor). It even looks at mayoral races in cities like Philadelphia, Chicago, and Atlanta to note that perceived frontrunners rarely win the election. For instance, Chicago’s Lori Lightfoot won the mayoral election last year with 73% of the vote in a runoff, even though she placed at 7th place with just 3% of the vote in early polling. De Blasio himself was initially written off by most people who watched the early 2013 race, and received only 7% of the vote in a poll that put him at 5th. He eventually won the all-important primary with 41% of the vote. 

Donovan’s campaign emphasizes that those candidates won because they demonstrated competence, presented bold ideas and a vision for the future, while communicating to a broad electorate in the finishing stretch and running lean campaigns to save their funds for when they will need them. They also garnered effective endorsements from community groups and newspaper editorial boards. 

Each of those campaigns also had the same team that is now working for Donovan, the document explains somewhat dramatically.

Both BIll Hyers and Rick Fromberg, who ran de Blasio’s campaigns in 2013 and 2017, respectively, are on Donovan’s team. Other operatives signed on in the early phases include Amelia Adams, who was political director for former Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and worked on de Blasio’s reelection; and Mike Fishman, former president of 32BJ SEIU who is the campaign co-chair. The campaign is also relying on an “exhaustive network” of experts, fundraisers and policy wonks from the Obama and Bloomberg circles. 

One major change in next year’s election will be the first-time implementation of ranked-choice voting, also known as instant-runoff voting, which will require candidates to make their case to a broader swathe of voters beyond their traditional bases. In a ranked-choice system, voters choose candidates by order of preference and a candidate must meet a certain threshold of first-preference votes to win. If no candidate meets that threshold in the first round, the one with the least first-preference votes is eliminated and those votes are redistributed to second-preference candidates and so on until a victor is declared.  

The Donovan campaign examined the 2013 mayoral election, the last time it was an open contest, and concluded that Donovan will have support in some key areas where turnout was high. Donovan has lived in Brownstone Brooklyn for years, and it accounted for 15% of the vote. He grew up on the east side of Manhattan, which contributed 9% of the vote. The Bronx is “wide open territory” with 12% of the vote, the campaign believes, and its where Donovan’s early career was in rebuilding housing. Other areas they will have to target include Southeast Queens (9.5% of the vote), South and East Brooklyn (9% of the vote) and Harlem (8% of the vote). 

In other communities such as the west side of Manhattan, Central Brooklyn and Flushing, Corona, Elmhurst, and western Queens, the campaign estimates that Donovan will be an appealing second or third choice for voters.

With the 2020 primaries now over (though votes are still being counted) and the next 2021 campaign finance filing deadline imminent, the mayoral race will soon pick up steam. There has been added scrutiny of the current mayor over the city’s response to multiple crises, including the coronavirus pandemic, responses to protests against racist policing, and a massive budget gap, with a new city budget passed this week, and several likely or declared candidates like Donovan have been staking out positions while plotting their next moves.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Note: this article has been updated to reflect that the campaign incorrectly stated that no borough president has been elected mayor when David Dinkins and Robert Wagner were both Manhattan Borough President and became mayor. 

Note - this article has been updated to correct the name of Chicago's Mayor. It is Lori Lightfoot, not Laurie Lightfoot. 

Can Shaun Donovan Win the 2021 Mayor's Race? Campaign Pitch Charts Path Thu, 02 Jul 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Council Member Brad Lander on the New City Budget https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9557-max-murphy-podcast-council-member-brad-lander-new-city-budget-nypd-funding https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9557-max-murphy-podcast-council-member-brad-lander-new-city-budget-nypd-funding cm chairs

City Council Member Brad Lander (photo: Jeff Reed/City Council)

July 1, 2020 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Council Member Brad Lander on the New City Budget

City Council Member Brad Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat and 2021 candidate for city Comptroller, joined the show to discuss the new city budget, which he had voted "no" on just hours before this discussion.

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

Max & Murphy · Episode 231: Council Member Brad Lander On The New City Budget

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Council Member Brad Lander on the New City Budget Wed, 01 Jul 2020 04:00:00 +0000