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Races to Watch in New York's June 2022 Primary Elections for Statewide Offices and The Assembly


(l-r) Democratic candidates for Governor Tom Suozzi, Kathy Hochul & Jumaane Williams


New York is slated to hold two separate primary elections this year after a chaotic redistricting process led to legal challenges and United States House of Representatives and State Senate district lines had to be redrawn.

The primaries for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, State Comptroller, State Assembly, and U.S. Senate will be held in June, with early voting June 18-26 and primary day the 28th.

Congressional and State Senate primaries will be held in August with early voting from August 13 to 21 and primary day the 23rd.

The deadline to register to vote in the June primary is June 3 for in-person registrations, while mailed registration forms must be postmarked June 3 and received by the Board of Elections by June 8.

New York has closed party primaries, meaning voters must be registered with the party in order to vote in its primary. The February 14 deadline to switch party affiliation before the primary has long passed.

Most of the action in the June primaries for New York voters is in the two major party primaries in the race for Governor; the Democratic primary for Lieutenant Governor; and a number of competitive State Assembly Democratic primaries, with several notable contests centered in Manhattan and Brooklyn, among others.

In the most competitive Assembly races, some are for open seats where the incumbent is not seeking reelection and some are where an incumbent is being challenged from the left.

Governor and Lieutenant Governor
Governor Kathy Hochul, the state’s first female governor, is running for her first full-term since taking office in August last year in the wake of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s resignation amid scandal.

Hochul faces two opponents in the June Democratic primary, U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi from Long Island and New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. The governor has a slew of advantages heading into the election, outperforming her challengers in polling and accumulating a massive campaign warchest.

Hochul’s campaign continues to deal with the resignation of her first choice as Lieutenant Governor, Brian Benjamin, who was indicted on public corruption charges and resigned. The Legislature passed a bill that allowed Benjamin to get off the ballot and Hochul appointed his successor, U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado, who will also be her unofficial running-mate in the primary (the two positions are voted on separately in the party primaries before becoming tickets for the general election).

Suozzi, a moderate Democrat, is running on a platform of tackling rising crime and reducing taxes, as well as his experience as a former mayor and county executive and time in Congress. His running-mate is Diana Reyna, former deputy borough president in Brooklyn and a former New York City Council member.

Williams, a progressive Democrat, previously ran against Hochul and lost in the 2018 primary when she was serving as Lieutenant Governor. He is running a leftist campaign and has been endorsed by the Working Families Party. His running-mate is Ana María Archila, a longtime activist and nonprofit leader from Queens. 

In the Republican primary for Governor, four candidates are vying for the nomination. They include former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, who unsuccessfully challenged Cuomo in 2014; Andrew Giuliani, former aide to President Donald Trump and son of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani; businessman Harry Wilson; and U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin of Long Island.

Alison Esposito, a former NYPD deputy inspector, is seeking the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor as Zeldin’s running-mate. She faces no opponents and is all but assured to be on the general election ticket with whichever Republican gubernatorial candidate prevails in the primary. 

Other Uncontested Statewide Primary Races
U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic majority leader, is running uncontested in the primary as he seeks another term. Republican Joseph Pinion, a former cable news anchor, awaits Schumer in the general election.

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, a Democrat who has been in his current office since 2007, is also running for reelection and has no primary opponents. In the Republican primary for comptroller, Paul Rodriguez, a Wall Street veteran, is running uncontested. 

State Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat, briefly launched a gubernatorial campaign but abandoned it to run for reelection. She has no challengers in the primary. In the Republican Attorney General primary, Michael Henry, a New York City-based attorney, is running uncontested. 

Assembly Races
There are 150 seats in the New York State Assembly, all of which are on the ballot every two years. Find your Assembly district after entering your address here.

Many candidates running for State Assembly this year are unopposed in the primary, particularly, as usual, a number of incumbents. There are, however, several races worth watching, including but not limited to the following:

Queens
In District 28, Assemblymember Andew Hevesi faces a challenger in Ethan Felder, who is assistant general counsel at 32BJ SEIU, the service employees union.

In District 30, Assemblymember Brian Barnwell is not running for reelection. Two candidates are seeking to replace him: Steven Raga, executive director of Woodside on the Move, and Ramon Cando, a Democratic District leader. 

In District 32, Assemblymember Vivian Cook is being challenged by Anthony Andrews Jr., a Democratic district leader.

In District 33, Assemblymember Clyde Vanel is facing off against Oster Bryan, president of the St. Albans Civic Association, who has unsuccessfully tried to challenge Vanel before.  

In District 35, Assemblymember Jeffrion Aubry is facing a challenge from disgraced former state Senator Hiram Monserrate, who has attempted to run for office several times since being expelled from the Senate after a conviction for assaulting his then-girlfriend. 

In District 37, Assemblymember Cathy Nolan is retiring after 37 years in office and four candidates are running to replace her. They include Juan Ardila, a staffer at the Legal Aid Society and a progressive who has won several prominent endorsements; Johanna Carmona, an attorney and Nolan’s chosen successor; Brent O'Leary, an attorney and community activist; and Jim Magee, an attorney. 

In District 40, Assemblymember Ron Kim is facing a challenge from Kenneth Chiu, founder of the New York City Asian American Democratic Club.  

Brooklyn
In District 43, Assemblymember Brian Cunningham, who won the seat in a special election in March, is facing three candidates in his run for reelection. They include Pierre Albert, a community activist; Jelanie Deshong, a former aide to Governor Hochul; and Tim Hunter, a high school teacher and community organizer.

In District 46, Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus is being challenged by Dionne Brown-Jordan, a Democratic district leader. 

In District 50, Assemblymember Emily Gallagher is facing a challenge from Paddy O'Sullivan, a firefighter. 

In District 51, Assemblymember Marcela Mitaynes is being challenged by Erik Frankel, a small business owner. 

In District 54, Assemblymember Erik Dilan is facing a challenge from Samy Nemir Olivares, a community activist and democratic socialist who has support from a wide swathe of progressive groups and officials.

In District 57, Assemblymember Phara Souffrant Forrest faces Olanike Alabi, a former Democratic district leader.  

In District 58, early voting is underway for the May 24 special election to replace Assemblymember Nick Perry, who was recently appointed U.S. ambassador to Jamaica. Among the candidates running to replace him are Democratic Party nominee Monique Chandler-Waterman, a staff member in the office of Public Advocate Jumaane Williams; and Hercules Reid, a former aide to Mayor Eric Adams who was recently endorsed by the mayor. Both Chandler-Waterman and Reid are on the June primary ballot as well and, depending on who wins the special election, will either be defending the seat or challenging for it.

In District 60, Assemblymember Nikki Lucas, who won the seat in a special election in February, faces a challenge from Keron Alleyne, who is backed by the Democratic Socialists of America New York City branch.

Staten Island
In District 61, which covers parts of Staten Island’s North Shore and Lower Manhattan, activist Justine Cuccia is challenging Democratic Assemblymember Charles Fall. 

In District 63, Assemblymember Michael Cusick, a Democrat who has held his seat since 2003, is not running for reelection. Cusick has endorsed his former chief of staff, Vincent Argenziano, to replace him. There is also a competitive Republican primary for his seat with two candidates running: Sam Pirozzolo, an optician who previously challenged Cusick in 2012, and Paul Ciurcina Jr., a retired NYPD detective.

Manhattan
In District 65, Assemblymember Yuh-line Niou, a Democrat, is leaving her seat to run for State Senate. There are four candidates running in the Democratic primary to replace her: Illapa Sairitupac, an activist and social worker backed by the New York City branch of the Democratic Socialists of America; Grace Lee, who ran against Niou in 2020 and has received a long list of endorsements from elected officials and political clubs; Denny Salas, who calls himself an “Obama Democrat” running on a pro-growth platform; and Alana Sivin, a lawyer and democratic socialist. 

In District 66, Assemblymember Deborah Glick, a trailblazing 32-year incumbent Democrat, is being challenged by Ryder Kessler, a progressive tech entrepreneur and first-time candidate. 

In District 68, Democratic Assemblymember Edward Gibbs, who won a special election earlier this year to take the seat, faces three challengers: John Ruiz Miranda, a district leader; Wilfredo Lopez, a former City Council staffer; and Tamika Mapp, who previously sought the seat in 2020.

In District 70, Assemblymember Inez Dickens is facing two challengers: Delsenia Glover, a longtime progressive housing advocate and Deputy Public Advocate; and Shawanna Vaughn, founder and director of Silent Cry, Inc., a Harlem-based non-profit. 

There’s a crowded Democratic primary race in District 73, where Assemblymember Dan Quart is not running for reelection. There are five candidates seeking to fill his seat. They include Kellie Leeson, co-founder of Empire State Indivisible; Russell Squire, chair of Community Board 8; Alex Bores, an engineer; and Adam Roberts, a former aide to former Council Member Ben Kallos and currently director of policy for the American Institute of Architects.

There’s also a crowded primary in District 75, where longtime Democratic Assemblymember Richard Gottfried is retiring. There are five candidates in the race to replace him: Harrison Douglas Marks; Layla Law-Gisiko; Christopher Lebron; Tony Simone; and Lowell Kern. Simone seems to be the heavy favorite in the race, having been endorsed by Gottfried and many other current and former elected officials including those who represent or have represented parts of the district.

In District 76, Democratic Assemblymember Rebecca Seawright is being challenged again by Patrick Bobilin, a democratic socialist.

The Bronx
In District 78, Assemblymember José Rivera is being challenged by two candidates: George Alvarez, a perennial candidate; and Emmanuel Martinez, chair of Bronx Community Board 7. 

In District 81, Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz is being challenged by Jessica Altagracia Woolford, a community organizer and former city press secretary for U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. 

In District 82, Assemblymember Michael Benedetto faces two challengers: Jonathan Soto, a former campaign staffer for U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Algernon Quattlebaum, a former restaurateur. 

In District 84, Assemblymember Amanda Septimo is being challenged by Hector Feliciano, a director of a college prep program; and Alberto Torres, an attorney and community organizer. 

In District 86, Assemblymember Yudelka Tapia, a first-term member, is being challenged by Pooi Stewart, a teacher and secretary of Bronx Community Board 5. 

Outside New York City
In District 95, longtime Assemblymember Sandy Galef is retiring and three candidates are running to replace her including Westchester County Legislator Colin Smith, Ossining Supervisor Dana Levenberg, and former Peekskill Council Member Vanessa Agudelo.

In District 103, which includes parts of Dutchess and Ulster counties, Sarahana Shrestha, a first-generation immigrant and climate organizer, is challenging incumbent Democrat Kevin Cahill, who has been in office since 1998. Shrestha serves as the Ulster County co-chair of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and has made climate change the central issue to her campaign.  

In District 111, which includes parts of Montgomery and Schenectady counties, progressive candidate Justin Chaires is challenging Angelo Santabarbara, a Democrat who has held his seat since 2012. Chaires is also running on the Working Families Party line against another candidate, Robert Menzies. There is also a competitive Republican primary for the district with two candidates seeking the nomination: Joseph Mastroianni and Michael Arbige.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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WATCH: Rob Astorino on His Run for Governor


Rob Astorino (photo: Astorino for Governor)


Rob Astorino, Republican candidate for Governor in the 2022 election, joined host Ben Max on MNN's Decision NYC to discuss his campaign. Astorino, the 2014 Republican nominee for Governor and former Westchester County Executive, is running in the June Republican primary against several other candidates. In the video interview, Astorino discusses his experience, campaign platform, and standing in the primary.

Read more: WATCH: Rob Astorino on His Run for Governor

No Movement on Failed Voting Amendments After New York Democrats Vowed to Try Again


Voters at the polls (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


After the stunning defeat of two voting-related state constitutional amendments on the ballot last fall, Democrats vowed to reinitiate the multi-year process this legislative session in Albany. But no state lawmaker appears to have introduced legislation this year to amend the New York constitution to allow for same-day voter registration and universal absentee voting, raising the possibility that they may not act at all.

Barring a special session later this year, the Legislature now has just three weeks to introduce and pass the amendments in order to possibly get them to a ballot referendum before 2025, according to one reading of the state constitution. 

The amendments – to allow people to register and vote on the same day and to make universal absentee voting permanent – were thought to be a fait accompli last year, but were defeated after a concerted Republican campaign with little reciprocity from Democrats in the low-turnout off-year election. Election reformers who have been advocating for these reforms for years were hoping to see them back on the ballot in 2024, which will include a high-turnout presidential election where there is typically a larger proportion of Democratic voters, who more often favor making voting easier. But the chances for that are dwindling.

The last day of session this year is scheduled for June 2. Both the State Assembly and Senate are controlled by Democratic supermajorities, and Governor Kathy Hochul is a Democrat.

Constitutional amendments in New York must be passed by consecutive two-year sessions of the Legislature and then be approved by voters in a referendum. Because 2022 is the last year of a two-year cycle, the amendments could get on the ballot as early as the 2023 general election if they are passed this year and again next year (the first year of the next two-year session). But if they fail to pass this year, lawmakers will have to pass them next year or the year after, and again in either 2025 or 2026, before they can go before voters.

"We are still discussing these reforms," wrote Mike Murphy, a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Democrat, in an email when asked if there were plans to introduce and pass the amendments in the next three weeks.

Hochul backed the reforms in the State of the State agenda she released in January: "the Governor will urge the Legislature to begin the Constitutional amendment process for no-excuse absentee voting and same-day registration."

It's unclear to what extent the administration followed through on that commitment. Asked about this priority, a spokesperson referred Gotham Gazette to a general statement on voting legislation: "Governor Hochul has taken bold action to expand voting rights and is committed to making sure New York State will continue to be a national leader on voting rights protections."

A spokesperson for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie did not respond to requests for comment.

Another reading of the constitution suggests the amendments could move to their second passage next year even if they aren't reintroduced and passed this year. That's because the amendments technically already passed in this two-year session last year, before they failed in the 2021 ballot referendum. The law says little about whether the failed referendum resets the cycle. "The constitution is a little murky on that honestly," said Jarret Berg, an election lawyer and voting rights advocate.

If lawmakers are pursuing this latter approach, little has been said publicly about it. "It seems like they don't have a strategy for what to do with this," Berg said.

It could be the second time Democrats drop the ball on these marquee voting amendments, having failed to drum up support for the referenda last fall during a low-turnout election. State Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs later admitted the party had underestimated Republicans' negative messaging and made no effort to pass what were widely believed to be slam dunks. 

Last fall, Assembly Member Robert Carroll, a Brooklyn Democrat and his chamber’s lead sponsor of same-day registration, and Senator Leroy Comrie, a Queens Democrat and his chamber’s lead sponsor of no-excuse absentee voting, both said they would reintroduce the legislation this year. "I don't anticipate having any problems with reintroducing it and getting it passed," Comrie told Gotham Gazette in December.

Spokespeople for Comrie and Senator Michael Gianaris, another Queens Democrat and the Senate deputy majority leader who sponsors same-day registration in that chamber, did not return requests for comment.

Dan Campanelli, a spokesperson for Carroll, said his office submitted a request to introduce the bill to the speaker's office earlier this year. "We're still going to try to pass it, we're waiting on a [bill] number," he told Gotham Gazette.

Since the amendments have already passed both chambers at least twice, they could easily be reintroduced and passed by the end of June session, including in a potential “big ugly” end-of-session package that often comes together at the 11th hour.

In the absence of a constitutional amendment, lawmakers are looking to lower the voter registration deadline to the 10-day constitutional minimum from the current 25 days before an election. Hochul backed the measure in her State of the State policy agenda. This past week, a bill to do so advanced out of the Assembly elections committee, having already passed the full Senate in January.

In January, lawmakers extended the temporary provision that authorizes universal absentee voting during the pandemic emergency through the end of this year. Another bill, also passed and signed into law in January, allows universal absentee voting in school district elections in 2022.

The state budget adopted last month also included $4 million for pre-paid postage on absentee ballots and ballot applications. Voting rights advocates have equated absentee ballot postage to a poll tax. This is the first time the state has allocated funding to postage since the June 2020 primaries.

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max Politics Podcast: Tom Suozzi on His Run for Governor


Tom Suozzi is running for Governor; with Lieutenant Governor running-mate Diana Reyna (photo: @Tom_Suozzi)


May 12, 2022 - Max Politics Podcast: Tom Suozzi on His Run for Governor

Congressman Tom Suozzi joined the show to discuss his run for Governor, in which he's first attempting to win the Democratic primary against Gov. Kathy Hochul and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. Suozzi discussed his qualifications for the top job, the pillars of his campaign, why he believes Hochul does not deserve to be elected to the position for a full term, housing, transit, and more.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think, on Twitter @TweetBenMax. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts at Max Politics.

Read more: Max Politics Podcast: Tom Suozzi on His Run for Governor

New York Voting Rights Act Begins Moving in Senate But Remains Stalled in Assembly


 

Voters at the poll-site (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


A sweeping voter protection bill, the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of New York (NYVRA), moved for the first time this week since it was introduced in the State Legislature in 2020.

On Wednesday, the legislation cleared the Senate elections committee and is expected to be heard next in the Senate finance committee – a sign that it may make it to the floor of the State Senate, where it would be virtually assured to pass. But the bill still faces an uphill battle in the Assembly, where supporters are less hopeful. Both chambers are led by Democratic supermajorities.

The NYVRA is intended to fill gaps in the federal Voting Rights Act, which the U.S. Supreme Court has largely dismantled over the last decade. The bill would give the New York Attorney General "preclearance" authority over any proposed changes to voting in parts of the state with a history of disenfranchisement (the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Manhattan had previously been covered under the federal VRA). That authority could apply to anything from the placement of poll-sites to the provision of interpreters.

The legislation would also make it easier to file lawsuits against the state or counties for violating the voting rights of protected racial, ethnic, or linguistic groups. And it contains provisions to discourage voter intimidation, require language access, and track potential rights violations.

While Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul championed a version of a New York Voting Rights Act in her State of the State agenda in January, she did not push for it to be passed and funded in the new state budget despite its sizable potential costs. Hochul has not taken a position on the current NYVRA legislation, which is the only proposal of its kind being discussed in Albany.

"Governor Hochul has taken bold action to expand voting rights and is committed to making sure New York State will continue to be a national leader on voting rights protections," said Avi Small, a spokesperson for Hochul. "Governor Hochul will review this legislation if it passes both houses of the legislature."

Hochul’s State of the State policy agenda said the governor "will advance legislation establishing a state-level voting rights act that will enhance protections against voter suppression and vote dilution, establish new protections against voter intimidation and deception, improve language access for voters, and require boards of elections in jurisdictions with a history of civil rights violations to obtain pre-clearance for changes to election-related policies and practices."

But Hochul has not introduced any such legislation, a spokesperson confirmed. The governor has taken other action on voting reform, including enacting laws to create online absentee ballot application and tracking systems, expand the number of early voting poll sites, and expedite the counting of absentee ballots. The state budget also included a provision to require poll sites on college campuses, something Hochul championed in her State of the State agenda.

The NYVRA is co-sponsored by more than half the Senate and 61 members of the 150-seat Assembly. 

A spokesperson for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, did not respond to a request for comment about the status of the bill or whether he supports it.

"The Senate has and will continue to prioritize improving our elections and protecting voting rights," said Senator Zellnor Myrie, a Brooklyn Democrat and the Senate elections chair and the bill's sponsor, in a statement to Gotham Gazette on Wednesday.

"Our hearings last summer and the landmark report we issued last fall have resulted in many pieces of legislation moving forward in the Senate, including today's committee vote on the VRA," Myrie said.

Whether it will move in the Assembly, which has lagged behind the Senate on voting legislation and other reform issues in recent years, is anybody's guess. The Assembly elections committee met Tuesday to pass legislation that would shorten the voter registration deadline and make it harder to discard affidavit ballots, but the NYVRA was not taken up.

"This is a monumental first step for a landmark piece of legislation," said Perry Grossman, a voting rights attorney at the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) of the Senate election committee’s passage of the bill. "We need more engagement from the Assembly side to get this over the finish line."

Myrie was optimistic the bill would pass both chambers. "I am confident my Senate colleagues and the Assembly will respond to the voices of New Yorkers across the state who are crying out for a stronger democracy," he said. Myrie and others heightened efforts to pass the bill at the beginning of this session after legislation to restore parts of the federal VRA failed in the U.S. Senate.

"It would be perplexing [that] a bill with so many Assembly sponsors - over 60 at last count - would not advance in that chamber," said a Senate source who requested anonymity to speak candidly.

"We know the bill has an engaged sponsor on the Assembly side and we'd like her colleagues to share that enthusiasm," said Grossman.

Assembly Member Latrice Walker, a Brooklyn Democrat, the bill's sponsor, and the chair of the Assembly's elections committee, declined to comment through a spokesperson.

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

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Max Politics Podcast: Assemblymember and Nurse Karines Reyes on New York Abortion Rights and the Future of Roe


 
An abortion rights rally in Albany (photo: Mike Groll/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul)


May 4, 2022 - Max Politics Podcast: Assemblymember Karines Reyes on New York Abortion Rights and the Future of Roe

Assembly Member Karines Reyes, a registered nurse who represents the Bronx’s 87th District in the State Assembly, joined the show to discuss the potential Supreme Court nullification of Roe v. Wade reproductive rights, New York's abortion laws, her personal experiences, and what state elected officials may do in the coming weeks and months to further solidify and expand reproductive health care.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think, on Twitter @TweetBenMax. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts at Max Politics.

Read more: Max Politics Podcast: Assemblymember and Nurse Karines Reyes on New York Abortion Rights and the...

Explainer: New York Abortion Rights and Proposals for Additional Pro-Choice Actions


 

Gov. Hochul speaks at an "abortion justice" event (photo: Mike Groll/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul)


A draft majority opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court, which was leaked and reported on by Politico on Monday, would strike down the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that granted a federal constitutional right to an abortion. Though the opinion — on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case involving Mississippi’s ban on abortions after 15 weeks — is not a final decision and is subject to change, it has caused national outrage among pro-choice elected officials, advocates, and individuals.

The draft opinion – which Chief Justice John Roberts confirmed on Tuesday was authentic – was written by Justice Samuel Alito with Justices Clarence Thomas, Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch, and Amy Coney Barrett expected to concur in a majority. The judges would vote to overrule not only Roe v. Wade but also the Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision from 1992 that upheld the ruling. The court’s final decision is expected in June.

“This is not simply a draft of a devastating and politically motivated Supreme Court opinion, it is a roadmap for dismantling our fundamental right to safe, legal abortion, a right codified nearly FIFTY YEARS AGO,” said Joy Calloway, interim president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater New York, in a statement. “Abortion bans are designed to deny Black, Latinx, Asian and Indigenous people their right to control their bodies and futures. These bans disproportionally harm people with low incomes who cannot afford access to fundamental health care or travel to get it. Abortion bans are the perpetuation of racism, sexism, and economic injustice in a country that has a long history of stripping people of their own personal autonomy."

Though the court’s decision could quickly lead to abortion bans in many states, including roughly 13 that have so-called trigger laws in place awaiting this type of potential ruling, and thus the criminalization of abortions across the country, New York would remain a state with access to safe and legal abortions.

New York’s original abortion law dated back to 1970 and was regulated under criminal law, before Roe v. Wade was decided. After decades, in January 2019, then-Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, and the Democrat-led State Legislature passed the Reproductive Health Act to codify the protections of Roe v. Wade into state law. The Act, passed just weeks into the first legislative session with Democrats in control of both houses of the Legislature, instead treated abortions as a matter of health care and legalized the procedure past 24 weeks of pregnancy if a pregnant person’s health or life are at risk, or if the fetus is not viable.

Legislators have since taken several steps to ease access to abortions as well as contraceptive care in New York and some have proposed additional measures, which are now being discussed with new urgency. On Tuesday, New York’s Democratic leaders responded swiftly and intensely to the draft opinion and promised to uphold and continue strengthening those protections.

Governor Kathy Hochul said at a news conference that she was “absolutely horrified” by the draft opinion. “I refuse to go backwards. and that's exactly the specter of what we're looking at when it comes to our fight for abortion rights,” she said. “So my promise is that here in the state of New York, we will not stand idly by. Anyone who needs care, we welcome you with open arms.”

“We're working proactively now in anticipation of whatever happens at the Supreme Court,” Hochul added. “Under my direction, the Department of Health is working closely with experts and advocates to issue regulations to ensure that telemedicine abortion is available here, to offer clear guidance to providers and provide information to patients about their right to abortion.”

Hochul said that both executive and legislative actions were being considered.

“If this decision comes to pass, there will be less access to safe abortions across the country, especially for communities of color and those with the fewest resources,” said Dr. Mary Bassett, state health commissioner, in a statement on Twitter. “New York State will continue to protect access to safe, accessible abortion care for anyone who needs it.”

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, in a news conference, invoked The Handmaid’s Tale, the Margaret Atwood novel and TV show about a dystopian future America run by a patriarchal society where women and minorities are oppressed. “It is so much of a pattern, whether it's attacking voting rights, civil rights, women's rights,” she said. “It is frightening where we are in this nation and where we could be, even in this state, if we're not careful.”

Stewart-Cousins also cautioned that should Republicans regain control of the Legislature, abortion rights may be on the chopping block. As she noted, when the Reproductive Health Act passed in 2019, no Republican voted for it. “We are in the last line of defense, state legislatures, and even in the State Legislature, this could be hanging in the balance if Republicans quite honestly take the leadership,” she said.

When Hochul took office last year, after Cuomo’s resignation, she immediately launched a campaign to affirm abortion rights in the state, in the wake of anti-abortion legislation being introduced in conservative-leaning states like Texas. She ordered state agencies to coordinate a statewide public information campaign, including creating a patient bill of rights, and directed the state Department of Health to update regulations to provide access to medical abortions through telehealth visits.

The state budget that was approved last month also included passage of the ​​Reproductive Equity Act, sponsored by Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas and State Senator Samra Brouk, that requires insurance providers to cover all forms of abortion care.

On Tuesday, Hochul signed into law a bill adding a representative of women’s health service providers to the Public Health and Health Planning Council.

“Let me be clear. We're not playing defense. We're playing offense,” Hochul said Tuesday. “So my message to women all across this country is that New York, the state of New York will always be there for anyone who needs reproductive health care, including an abortion. And my message to those who will deny this fundamental right, basic right – You don't want to mess with us. You don't want to mess with the state of New York. And I assure you this is a fight that you will not win.”

 

On the legal front, New York State Attorney General Letitia James has joined with other attorneys general to file amicus briefs in court cases involving anti-abortion laws in other states, including the Mississippi case at the center of the draft opinion. On Tuesday, James joined other elected officials at a rally at Foley Square in protest of the opinion, where she revealed that she once had an abortion when she was a newly elected member of the City Council. 

"Mississippi and other conservative-led states have declared an all-out war on women and their bodies, but New York cannot sit idly by as, one-by-one, these states try to take us backwards in time," James said in a statement Wednesday, also calling on the state to create a dedicated fund to help support women get abortions across the country.

Besides the Reproductive Health Act, the state Legislature has passed a series of other reproductive rights bills that became law in 2019. They included the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act, which requires health insurance companies to cover all FDA-approved contraceptive options, as well as contraceptive counseling and services; and the “Boss Bill,” which prohibits discrimination by an employer based on an employee or their dependents reproductive health care decisions.

There are also other bills in the offing that Democratic legislators are pursuing. State Senator Liz Krueger has sponsored legislation that would protect abortion providers by prohibiting law enforcement from cooperating with out-of-state investigations related to lawful abortions. Krueger has also proposed an Equality Amendment to the state constitution that would enshrine protections against discrimination based on race, ethnicity, national origin, disability, sex, including pregnancy and pregnancy outcomes, sexual orientation, or gender identity and expression.

Assemblymember González-Rojas and State Senator Cordell Cleare introduced legislation on Tuesday to create a Reproductive Freedom and Equity Fund to provide grants to abortion providers and non-profit organizations that provide access to care. State Senator Alessandra Biaggi has introduced a bill creating a state abortion access fund which also allows taxpayers to make gift to the fund on personal income tax returns. State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky has introduced the Birth Control Access Act, which would allow pharmacists to prescribe birth control using a non-patient specific prescription.

In New York City, elected officials reiterated their commitment to standing up for reproductive rights. 

“New York City knows that a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions is hers and hers alone,” said Mayor Eric Adams on Twitter. “This potential assault on their freedom by right wing extremists cannot stand. We’re ready to fight like hell.”

“Reproductive rights and abortion are cornerstones of public health,” said Dr. Ashwin Vasan, commissioner of the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, in a statement. “In New York City, we are committed to protecting abortion and reproductive health care services, and we trust pregnant people to make personal decisions about their health and their bodies.”

In 2019, the New York City Council created the New York Abortion Access Fund to help provide abortions to people living in New York and those traveling from out of state. New York was the first city in the country to fund direct abortion access and it has since helped hundreds of people obtain safe and legal abortions.

City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams was “beyond appalled and disappointed” by the Supreme Court’s draft opinion, she said Tuesday. “If this remains in a final decision, it would be an affront to women across the country,” she said in a statement. “The decades-long federal recognition of women's rights to control our reproductive health choices is an essential human right of self-determination. In New York, abortion rights are protected by state law, and we will remain a destination state for all women seeking abortion care. The U.S. Senate must do what’s right and immediately pass the Women’s Health Protection Act to ensure the fundamental health rights of women across this country are protected by federal law.”

The Women’s Health Protection Act would protect access to abortions at the federal level and has already passed the House of Representatives. But in the Senate, where Democrats have a razor thin majority, a vote to begin debate on the bill failed in late February after facing a Republican filibuster.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York on Tuesday vowed to hold another vote. “This Senate will vote on the urgent need to protect a woman’s right to choose,” he said. “Americans are going to see where every senator stands. Senate Democrats are standing together to fight this awful decision coming from the Roberts Court.”

“Roe has been the law of the land for almost fifty years, and basic fairness and the stability of our law demand that it not be overturned,” said Democratic President Joe Biden, in a statement.

In remarks on Tuesday, the president said that the Supreme Court’s opinion, if issued as drafted by Alito, would be a “radical decision.” But he said he was not prepared to comment on whether the Senate should get rid of filibuster rules to approve the Women’s Health Protection Act. “I’m not prepared to make those judgments now…but, you know, I think the codification of Roe makes a lot of sense,” he said.

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

Read more by this writer.

Note - this article has been updated. 

WATCH: Making Sense of the New York Lieutenant Governor Situation


Gov. Kathy Hochul & Brian Benjamin (photo: Darren McGee/Office of the Governor)


What's next after Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin's shocking arrest on federal corruption charges and resignation? On a special new episode of Represent NYC from Manhattan Neighborhood Network four experts break it down on the procedural and political fronts. Host Ben Max of Gotham Gazette talks with Susan Lerner of Common Cause NY, Camille Rivera of New Deal Strategies, and Jon Campbell of WNYC radio/Gothamist. Watch:

Read more: WATCH: Making Sense of the New York Lieutenant Governor Situation

Hochul Announces New State Workforce Development Office


Gov. Hochul at an announcement (photo: Office of Governor Hochul)


Governor Kathy Hochul announced the launch of a new state office Tuesday intended to spearhead regional workforce development initiatives across New York.

The Office of Strategic Workforce Development will be housed under Empire State Development (ESD), the state entity responsible for most major economic development projects. The arrangement is intended to coordinate workforce training programs with employers' needs, especially in growing sectors, as New York continues its economic recovery from the devastation of the pandemic.

Hochul said the subject was personal, having seen steel plants close in her native Western New York, "leaving workers with nowhere to go."

"New Yorkers are still struggling to find work and opportunity due to the economic disruption of the pandemic," the governor said in a statement announcing the launch.

"With our brand new Office of Strategic Workforce Development, we are doubling down on our commitment to help train and connect New Yorkers with the good-paying jobs of the future," Hochul said.

The governor first proposed the creation of the new office under ESD in her State of the State agenda and secured it along with $350 million for workforce development in the $220 billion state budget passed earlier this month.

The city and state have been slower to rebound from the pandemic and economic shutdown than other parts of the country. The unemployment rate in New York City hit 6.5% in March, compared to the state's 4.6%, and the national rate of 3.6%, according to preliminary data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Lower-wage jobs in industries reliant on tourism and commuters have continued to lag after the pandemic shut down most international travel and led to a major increase in people working from home.

Hochul and Mayor Adams have each made commitments to bolstering the labor market in sectors poised for growth, like healthcare, technology, and so-called green industries. Both have also made a point to say they will harmonize strategic planning around workforce and economic development.

The Office of Strategic Workforce Development is responsible for steering the $350 million allocation, according to the governor's office, either directly or in coordination with other agencies. The money includes $150 million in "multi-year funding" for grants to "high-skilled" jobs training providers offering advanced, industry-specific programming. It will also help cover some of the administrative and capital needs of providers as they continue to adapt to a post-pandemic economy.

This is the first state office dedicated to workforce development. By aligning the state's programs, which have largely been siloed and scattered across multiple state agencies, and reporting to the governor, workforce advocates hope the new model will lend accountability to the hundreds of millions of state dollars allocated to job training.

“This announcement is an important step toward a more effective and coordinated state-level approach to workforce development, and will help to realize one of Governor Hochul’s key policy proposals," said Eli Dvorkin, policy director at the Center for an Urban Future, a think tank focused on economic opportunity.

"It’s especially encouraging to see this new office embedded in the state’s economic development agency—recognizing that effective workforce training programs should work hand-in-hand with employers and focus on industries poised for future growth," Dvorkin wrote in an email to Gotham Gazette.

JobsFirstNYC, a workforce training advocacy group, lauded the new office but wants to see more funding put towards so-called "on-ramps" to training programs like bridge courses, pre-apprenticeship programs, and High School Equivalency and ESOL programs.

"The consensus among workforce providers is that until early education and skills development needs are addressed, high skills training is not likely to achieve the outcomes that workforce development agencies and employers are seeking," wrote JobsFirstNYC vice president Keri Faulhaber in an email.

ESD is a quasi-state agency closely tied to the governor's office that is responsible for economic planning and billions of dollars in business subsidies outside of the workforce training programs now under its purview. In recent years it has been charged with then-Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Regional Economic Development Councils, which have doled out billions of dollars around the state for economic growth projects, and the Downtown Revitalization Initiative that has offered $10 million awards to business districts across the state, including in Chinatown and Downtown Brooklyn. As Lieutenant Governor, Hochul had economic development at the top of her portfolio, and she oversaw the work of the REDCs.

Good government group Reinvent Albany has been pushing for more transparency around the state's corporate subsidies, which are often spent with little accountability or public review.

"This is a far far better way to spend state economic development dollars than outright subsidies to businesses because you're getting a skilled workforce, which is fertile soil to get more businesses to come," said John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, about workforce development..

According to Kaehny, the $350 million for workforce spending pales in comparison to the roughly $5 billion in annual state economic development spending identified by his group. "That's just massively wasteful. This is close to one-fifteenth that amount," he said.

The Office of Strategic Workforce Development is designed to work with New York's 10 Regional Economic Development Councils to tailor workforce training to regional strengths and needs. The REDCs are public-private consortiums of business, academic, and local government representatives responsible for crafting long-term economic plans that have designed proposals that have been funded by the state. The office will also collaborate with the state Department of Labor, SUNY, and CUNY, three of the largest workforce development providers in the state, according to the Hochul administration.

"We appreciate the Hochul administration's investment in New Yorkers' talent and skills and for embracing the need to improve workforce systems across the state, especially by working more closely with partners at CUNY and SUNY," said Annie Garneva, interim CEO of the NYC Employment and Training Coalition, an association of workforce development providers.

The state also launched an online survey to solicit feedback from business owners on the skills they are seeking in potential employees. The survey was developed in partnership with the Business Council of New York State.

According to the governor's office, part of the $150 million for providers will be available on a continual basis, rather than in annual allotments, in order to be more responsive to industry shifts. Dvorkin said that is essential for training providers who often face delays in receiving subsidies, in part because no centralized office was responsible for distributing them.

"Now the state should commit to getting these dollars out quickly to workforce development organizations and their partners across the state," he said. That money should go toward scaling up successful public and private training programs and covering the operating costs providers need to maintain staff, facilities, and employer relationships. Funding should also go toward some of the non-tuition costs associated with job training, like technology and transportation, he said, "as these barriers prevent many low-income New Yorkers from participating in programs, even if they’re tuition-free.”

The governor's office could not yet give specific details when asked how the spending will be overseen. "A funding application process and determination of awards will be implemented by ESD staff. Program guidelines and criteria are under development," wrote Jason Gough, a spokesperson for Hochul, in an email.

The press release announcing the new office said it would "establish and maintain metrics for tracking the implementation and success of the programs." Gough said ESD is in the process of developing a set of agency-wide metrics "and is committed to annually publishing information."

Mayor Eric Adams has also made workforce development a theme of his early administration. In December, he added "workforce development" to the title of the deputy mayor in charge of economic development and dedicated a section of his economic recovery "blueprint" to job access. On Tuesday, he unveiled a $99.7 billion executive budget, including a proposal for $285 million in education and career readiness in fiscal year 2023. That includes 10,000 new seats in the Summer Rising youth enrichment program, DOE apprenticeships, and CUNY career pipelines.

But beyond the new deputy mayor title, the Adams administration has yet to put out a plan for unifying the city's various training programs, which like the state's, have been spread across multiple agencies. The mayor's office did not provide a comment on the new state office following Gotham Gazette inquiries.

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

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Benjamin's Resignation Shakes Up Democratic Primary for Lieutenant Governor Ahead of June Vote


Ana Maria Archila, Brian Benjamin, Diana Reyna (l-r)


This year’s race for New York Lieutenant Governor took a major turn with the recent resignation from office of Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin, who had been in the role less than eight months. Benjamin -- a state senator appointed to the position by Governor Kathy Hochul when she ascended from Lieutenant Governor upon the resignation of then-Governor Andrew Cuomo last August -- resigned after being indicted on federal corruption charges related to a fundraising scandal.

Benjamin was seeking the Democratic nomination in this year’s Lieutenant Governor’s race, and may still appear on the June ballot given the timing. It remains an open question whether he will move out of state or another path will be pursued to remove him from the ballot, like legislation that has been floated in the State Legislature. Hochul and her team have apparently begun vetting replacements for the Lieutenant Governor position, but those determinations are likely closely intertwined with whether that new official could also get onto the ballot this year.

Those issues are being examined as voting approaches and as Hochul runs in her own primary, seeking the Democratic nomination for Governor for the first time. Party primaries for Governor and Lieutenant Governor occur separately but the winners in each party form a general election ticket. Meaning that whoever wins the Democratic primaries for Governor and Lieutenant Governor, even if they are not informal running-mates from the primaries, become a joint ticket for the fall ballot.

Asked last week about the situation, Hochul indicated she is exploring the options. "That is up for him and his attorneys to decide the best recourse for him," she said after saying she was not asking Benjamin to move out of state. "That is one of the options that are out there. There are limited options available to us but we're exploring all that."

"There's other options with respect to legislation," Hochul went on say, in response to questions from reporters. "If the Legislature wants to take action, there's other things on the table." She went on to say that she had "not had conversations asking them to do this" about the proposed legislation that would remove Benjamin from the ballot, but she has repeatedly called the ballot laws "antiquated" and said last that week that the Legislature could choose to address the situation that is of concern to many voters.

Hochul stressed that she is assuring "continuity of government" with acting Lieutenant Governor Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the Senate majority leader who also filled the position briefly last year between Hochul's ascension to Governor and Benjamin's swearing in.

"I assure you the media will be the very first to know when a decision has been made on which options have been executed…," Hochul said about the Lieutenant Governor situation. "There's a lot to be dealt with and we understand that and we understand the interest and I look forward to sharing that information with all of you as soon as that is resolved."

At the time of his resignation, Benjamin was facing two formidable challengers in the Democratic primary for Lieutenant Governor: Diana Reyna and Ana Maria Archila. Reyna is a former deputy Brooklyn borough president and former City Council member; Archila is a longtime progressive activist and advocate, having helped launch and run two nonprofit organizations focused on immigrant and low-income communities.

Early voting in the primary will occur June 18-26, and June 28 is primary day. There is also absentee voting.

Here is a brief snapshot of each of the candidates:

Diana Reyna
Diana Reyna, previously deputy Brooklyn borough president under now-Mayor Eric Adams and a member of the New York City Council representing Brooklyn’s 34th district, has been a trailblazer for the Latino community.

Reyna was the first Dominican-American woman elected to public office in the state when she was elected to become a City Council member in 2001. She was in the City Council for three terms, until 2013, and served as deputy borough president from 2014 to 2017.

In her previous roles she championed causes like educational equity and better access to park space, lobbying for park space in Williamsburg and supporting then Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams in increasing STEM funding for schools, among other accomplishments. Reyna has also been an advocate for Latino representation in politics.

After exiting Adams’ borough president’s administration in Reyna has been working in consulting for the past few years, and she started her own firm in 2019.

In February, Rep. Tom Suozzi, who is running for governor, announced Reyna as his running-mate. As of mid-April, their ticket has been endorsed by a handful of labor unions, such as IBEW 1049 and Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen Local 56, as well as a few political figures like New York City Council Member Bob Holden, a conservative Queens Democrat.

Suozzi and Reyna are running on a platform focused on improving education and public safety and emphasize their moderate approach to leadership; Reyna has said they “won’t pander to the political left or right.” Suozzi is running as a “common sense” Democrat, much in the vein of Adams, who Suozzi endorsed early in the mayoral race last year.

"Kathy Hochul lacks the judgement (sic) and experience - she’s unfit to lead. The Suozzi/Reyna ticket will tackle crime, rising taxes and affordability." Reyna wrote on Twitter.

Reyna, like Archila, is vying to become the first Latino elected to statewide office in New York (Hochul’s second pick for Lieutenant Governor could potentially be the first statewide Latino official in New York).

Ana Maria Archila
Ana Maria Archila is running for elected office for the first time after many years working in politics, especially as an activist and advocate.

Archila immigrated to the United States from Colombia at age 17 and became an activist on Staten Island, followed by decades of work in advocacy on behalf of immigrant and low-income communities.

She has helped launch and lead two leading New York advocacy groups, Make the Road New York and the Center for Popular Democracy. Archila has fought for immigration reform at all levels of government and a number of other budgetary and policy priorities. She has advocated for the New York Dream Act, raising the minimum wage and increasing public school funding. 

Perhaps more famously, Archila gained attention after she confronted then-U.S. Senator Jeff Flake in an elevator for stating he would vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. The incident appeared to pressure Flake to call for further FBI investigation into Kavanaugh, who had been accused of sexual assault as a teenager, delaying his nomination. Archila, a sexaul assault survivor, spoke from her personal experience as part of her work on the issue.

New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, a candidate for Governor this year, announced Archila as his running-mate in February. They are running on a platform focused on tenant protections, creating more affordable housing, immigrant protections and empowerment, expanding healthcare, and creating public safety by addressing root causes of crime.

New York is one of the richest states in the richest nations in the world, but if you are a working person, you don’t feel it and haven’t before or during the pandemic…I have dedicated the last 20 years to building power rooted in working class communities. My work has been animated by the certainty that a new, more just nation is struggling to be born.” Archila writes on her website. 

Upon Benjamin’s resignation, the floodgates appeared to open in terms of additional elected officials endorsing Archila’s campaign. As of mid-April, her endorsements include the Working Families Party, Tenants PAC, Make the Road Action, New York Communities for Change, Rep. Jamaal Bowman, Comptroller Brad Lander, and a recent slew of state-level electeds who appear to have decided to back her right after Benjamin’s resignation, such as State Senator Alessandra Biaggi, Assembly Members Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, Yuh-Line Niou, Ron Kim, and others. Many of these organizations and officials have also endorsed Williams.

Like Reyna, Archila could potentially become the first Latino ever elected to statewide office in New York.

David Englert
David Englert, the mayor of Sodus, in upstate Wayne County, is also in the Democratic primary for Lieutenant Governor.  Before becoming mayor in 2016, Englert was a Sodus village trustee starting in 2012, and touts his decade of local political experience to his candidacy. He is running with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Paul Nichols, a Queens-based attorney. Their campaign platform centers affordable housing, tax reform, and business-friendly initiatives. 

Brian Benjamin
The recently-resigned former Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin became a State Senator in 2017, representing the 30th district based in Harlem.

He focused on criminal justice reform and affordable housing, and ran an unsuccessful campaign for New York City Comptroller in the 2021 Democratic primary. That campaign, which included some of his alleged malfeasance, helped land him on Hochul’s radar as she selected a Lieutenant Governor to fill her position when she became Governor in August 2021.

Hochul and Benjamin were among the New York State Democratic Party’s official designees for this year’s election, assuring their spots on the primary ballot. But Benjamin’s resignation casts doubt on whether he will remain on the ballot, however hard it may be to remove him at this point, though several avenues are being considered, including asking him to move out of the state and new legislation to allow for a change.

The Republican Side
On the Republican side, it appears all but certain that Alison Esposito will be the Lieutenant Governor nominee, running alongside whoever wins the GOP primary for Governor.

Esposito, a former NYPD captain, is the running mate of Rep. Lee Zeldin, the frontrunner for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. She is the only Republican candidate for Lieutenant Governor. In the gubernatorial primary, Zeldin is competing with Harry Wilson, Rob Astorino, and Andrew Giuliani.

***
by Jasmine Sheena for Gotham Gazette. @GothamGazette

Ben Max contributed to this story.

Hochul's Ordered Review of New York's Covid Response 'Underway'


Then-Gov. Cuomo & then-Lt. Gov. Hochul (photo: Darren McGee/Governor's Office)


An internal review of New York State's response to the COVID-19 pandemic is quietly "underway," a spokesperson for Governor Kathy Hochul has confirmed, though what stage it is in remains unclear.

The governor's office has been tight-lipped about its scope and timeline but acknowledged that a review is being discussed, at least among top administration officials, in response to Gotham Gazette inquiries. Those questions followed Gotham Gazette reporting last month on the possibility of an investigatory commission into the state's response, which experts say should be convened, and recent New York Times reporting that Hochul had ordered top officials to undertake a thorough examination.

"Governor Hochul is committed to restoring trust in government, and that includes holding ourselves accountable for what works and what we can do better," wrote Hazel Crampton-Hays, a spokesperson for Hochul, in an email to Gotham Gazette.

At the height of budget negotiations last month, Hochul convened top administration officials to consider how they could approach such a study, according to the governor's office. She wanted to know what its purview would be and who, if anyone, from outside the administration should be involved.

"While we remain focused on addressing recent subvariants of COVID-19 and keeping New Yorkers safe," Crampton-Hays wrote, "the Governor and her team have been exploring a pandemic response review to determine what went right, what went wrong, and ensuring we are prepared to deal with whatever comes our way." She later clarified that the review was "underway," but would not say what its mandate was, what procedures it was following, or who was conducting it.

The comments followed Gotham Gazette inquiries on the somewhat shifting messages about whether the administration would launch a full-scale inquiry into the government's pandemic response, including decisions and mistakes made under the administration of Governor Andrew Cuomo. Hochul was Cuomo’s Lieutenant Governor until he resigned in August 2021 amid several scandals, including related to his handling of covid in nursing homes and a self-promotional and -enriching memoir about his management during the pandemic.

The review organized by Hochul -- who had limited responsibility in the state’s pandemic response under Cuomo, but was said to be monitoring and coordinating developments in her native Western New York -- comes after two years of criticism of how New York State and City handled the coronavirus outbreak. The revelation follows questions from public health experts and transparency advocates about why Hochul, the New York City mayor, and city and state lawmakers haven't systematically investigated it.

"One of the most tragic lessons from this pandemic is that New York cannot assume that Federal government systems—from the national stockpile to evidence-based public health guidance—will be sufficient," wrote Dr. Jay Varma, a top architect of New York City's public health response for much of the pandemic, beginning in April 2020, in an email to Gotham Gazette.

"New York needs to do a critical assessment of how it can maintain back-up and independent systems and supplies for future pandemic response," Varma said, adding, "a thorough, inclusive after-action report can help provide the guidance for that."

After-action reports are typical following disaster emergencies to help officials and the public understand the factors that contribute to catastrophe – from the system-level down to the decisions of individual policy-makers – and how to prepare for the future. A number of models have been suggested for New York, like a legislative commission or outside investigator, or even an executive commission under the state's Moreland Act. Experts say the most important element is the public's trust in the process and the ability for investigators to compel responses from the people involved.

Hochul's health commissioner, Dr. Mary Bassett, raised some legislators' hackles at her confirmation hearing in January when she indicated she wanted to "look forward" but not rehash the policy decisions of Cuomo’s health commissioner, her predecessor, Dr. Howard Zucker.

But on March 16, after a blistering comptroller's audit of the health department's handling of COVID-19 in nursing homes, Hochul committed to taking a comprehensive look at the state's actions "once we get through the urgency of dealing with the pandemic at hand." Two days later, a spokesperson told Gotham Gazette the governor was "​​exploring all options to review our pandemic response."

Shortly after, around the time Gotham Gazette was inquiring and reporting on the possibility of an official after-action commission, the governor told Bassett and members of her inner circle that she wanted a complete examination of the COVID-19 response, reportedly within two weeks, according to a brief anecdote in a recent column on Hochul in the New York Times.

According to the Times’ Jessica Bennett, the order was made in late-March to a group that included Bassett, Homeland Security Commissioner Jackie Bray, Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon, Transportation Commissioner Marie Therese Dominguez, Director of Operations Kathryn Garcia, and Hochul's counsel, Elizabeth Fine. It is unclear if other officials were also present or what took place thereafter.

Crampton-Hays, the governor's spokesperson, said the review was "ongoing" in an email to Gotham Gazette on April 19. The governor's office has not released any other details about Hochul's order or what she hopes to accomplish with it.

"There’s definitely value in the Governor hearing from each of her agencies about the lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, and I can understand why a high-level summary completed over 2 weeks would benefit the administration as it plans the 2022-2023 budget," Varma said in response to the New York Times reporting.

"At the same time," he added, "this was an all-of-society event, and a more thorough and inclusive after-action report is needed."

The ideal after-action, according to Varma, would seek input from the most impacted communities, businesses, and sectors that played a role in the pandemic response.

"These sectors need to advise on what government should do better next time and what they themselves should be doing better," he said.

Mark Johnson, a spokesperson for State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, welcomed the idea of an after-action but would not comment whether the Hochul administration has discussed the ongoing review with the comptroller's office. "A review of how New York state responded to the COVID-19 pandemic is important, considering the findings of our audit of the Department of Health’s actions in the first few months of the pandemic," he wrote in an email. "Our office will review what the Governor’s office produces, but we'll continue to hold government accountable and conduct our own independent work."

The state and city comptrollers, the state attorney general, and State Assembly have each conducted sporadic investigations into individual aspects of the pandemic. But there have been no broad investigations and few, if any, involving the coordination of multiple levels of government and the private sector to combat COVID-19.

"At some level it's encouraging that they're recognizing the need for something like that, but just based on that [New York Times] article it's hard to know exactly what she meant," said Bill Hammond, a health policy fellow at Empire Center who has been writing about the state's pandemic response throughout the COVID-19 crisis. "It's kind of a contradiction in terms to say, I want a deep dive in two weeks. A deep dive would involve much more than two weeks."

"It sounds like an entirely internal process,” Hammond continued, “something that members of her cabinet and top advisers are putting together instead of everyone involved in the response at a rank-and-file level, let alone the public or the Legislature.”

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

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