STATE https://www.gothamgazette.com/state Tue, 16 Jul 2019 10:49:24 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Campaigning for Congress, Torres Touts City Funding Secured for Development Outside Council District https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8672-campaigning-for-congress-torres-touts-city-funding-secured-for-development-outside-council-district https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8672-campaigning-for-congress-torres-touts-city-funding-secured-for-development-outside-council-district 1 cm r torres lib

Council Member Ritchie Torres (photo: Jeff Reed/City Council)


Bronx City Council Member Ritchie Torres is touting $3 million in city funding he secured for a residential complex that falls outside the Council district he represents, but within the Congressional district where he’s seeking votes.

The money will go to Concourse Village, Inc., a nearly 1,900-unit housing cooperative located in the south Bronx, over a mile away from the border of Torres’ district. The second-term Democratic Council member is running for Congress in the primary that will be held in June of next year.

Torres sent a campaign text message announcing the “great news,” using the funding allocation he secured as a member of the City Council to advance his congressional campaign, apparently targeting voters in Concourse Village.

"This is Council Member Ritchie Torres, running to be your next Congressman,” read a text message shared with Gotham Gazette. “GREAT NEWS: In the latest NYC budget, I secured $3 MILLION for Concourse Village.” The message went on to tell the recipient not to hesitate to reach out to Torres, providing a phone number, and concluded, “You can always count on me to fight for the Bronx. - Ritchie".

The youngest member of the City Council and the first openly gay elected official from the Bronx, Torres officially announced his candidacy for Congress on Monday, though he has been exploring a run for months. He joins several other Democrats vying for the seat opened by incumbent Representative José E. Serrano, who announced in March he would not seek reelection because of health concerns related to Parkinson’s disease. Representing the district in Congress since 1990, Serrano’s current term will end at the end of next year. Torres, who has been representing the 15th Council District since 2014, is not eligible to run for reelection in 2021 because of two-term limits. (Serrano’s Congressional district also happens to be the 15th.)

Others in the race include City Council Member Ruben Diaz, Sr. and Assemblymember Michael Blake.

Taking advantage of the authority and influence of elected office to secure popular measures that can later be used as campaign fodder is commonplace in New York, where local politics is often a stepping stone to higher office. But the grey area around promoting public interest and political aspirations becomes less ambiguous when the sway of an elected office goes to benefit another district entirely, with electoral goals at play.

"How do you rationalize using campaign funds to communicate with people outside your district to tell them that you got them money blatantly for the purpose of trying to curry political favor?" said Blake, whose district includes Concourse Village.

Torres says the budget allocation for what he calls the largest concentration of cooperative housing in the South Bronx is consistent with his focus on affordable housing, especially for African-Americans. So is the political campaigning that followed.

“I have been an advocate for affordable housing not only in my district but throughout the city,” Torres told Gotham Gazette. Concourse Village “has an outsized presence in the housing stock of the South Bronx, which is keeping with my record and reputation for advocating for affordable housing.”

“I think of cooperative housing like Concourse Village as the bedrock of the African-American middle class, you know, whether it’s Co-op City in the East Bronx or Concourse Village in the South Bronx,” Torres, who is black and Latino, said. Black voters in the 15th Congressional District are expected to be an important part of the primary vote. Blake is African-American and Torres is African-American and Latino.

Concourse Village, Inc. is subsidized under the Mitchell-Lama housing program, which offers income-restricted rentals and below-market value buy-in for co-ops, a boon for affordable housing.

The neighborhoods comprising the South Bronx are home to some of the worst poverty in the country and also have some of the highest rates of rent burden in the city. In the community district that includes Concourse Village, more than half of households are rent burdened, meaning they spend more than 35 percent of income on rent, according to the Department of City Planning.

Torres, who grew up in NYCHA public housing and chaired the Committee on Public Housing during his first term, has made the living conditions of the city’s most underserved residents a signature priority.

He notes the $3 million allocation did not come from the capital funding dedicated to his Council district, but from the city-wide pool controlled by Speaker Corey Johnson. Torres told Gotham Gazette, “if it had come from the Council District 15 pot then there is cause for controversy, but there is nothing unusual about funding for Concourse Village from a city-wide pot.”

“And since I had a role in securing the funds, it’s natural for me to take credit,” he added.

Each fiscal year the City Council is given a capital budget from which Council members may apply to allocate funds, according to Jonathan Rosenberg of the Independent Budget Office. Individual members can apply for district-specific projects, and borough delegations can sponsor projects that span multiple districts. The Council speaker ultimately decides how that money is disbursed and can also allocate it to city-wide projects.

In recent years, speakers have designated an equal amount of capital funding, $5 million, to each of the 51 Council members with the remainder of the now $655 million capital budget going to a city fund. City-wide allocations are controlled by the speaker and might go toward large or expansive projects like street reconstruction, according to Rosenberg, and members are able to put in requests.

“This money was funded by the City Council Speaker at the request of Council Member Torres,” said a Council spokesperson. The spokesperson said it’s not unprecedented for members to seek funding for a project outside their district, adding that the money is from the city capital funding, not the money set aside for Torres’ Council District 15.

Torres has also secured funding for cooperative housing in his district using the money designated specifically for that purpose by the Council leadership. This year, he put roughly $1 million of the $5 million towards renovationing a Mitchell-Lama co-op, known as Dennis Lane Apartments, in the heart of District 15.

Concourse Village is located south of Torres’ district off of Morris Ave. within the borders of Council District 16, represented by Vanessa Gibson. Gibson, a Democrat, is not listed among the sponsors of the $3 million Concourse Village, Inc. allocation, despite the project falling into her district. “I actually was not even made aware of this allocation until the day of adoption,” she said in a phone interview.

“I did not have the opportunity to work with the speaker nor Ritchie on this. It was something that Ritchie had done on his own, but I am grateful for the attention Concourse Village is getting in the budget,” she said.

“I get the strategic way that Ritchie is obviously looking at the future. This was a development that came up among the priorities within the district, and I truly believe that that was the logic behind it,” she added.

But Blake called foul on that strategic approach. “It is difficult to say that you want to be a fresh voice in Congress when you are directly trying to communicate to people that you want to pay for their vote," he said.

“I’m proud of the role that I played in securing the funds. Concourse Village is one of the most important housing developments in the Bronx and in the city,” Torres said. “And it’s been a stabilizing force for communities of color, for middle-class communities of color. That’s why I felt so strongly about it.”

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette      

Read more by this writer.

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ethangs@gothamgazette.com (Ethan Geringer-Sameth) State Tue, 16 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Queens DA Recount Begins; MTA Reorganization Report Evaluation; & More: The Week Ahead in New York Politics, July 15 https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8671-the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-july-15 https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8671-the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-july-15 New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week begins with New York's labor and political communities mourning the unexpected death of 32BJ SEIU President Héctor Figueroa, who passed suddently on Thursday night at 57 years old. Figueroa was widely respected as a champion for workers' rights and his compassion, honesty, transparency, and more.

The counting in the Queens District Attorney Democratic primary recount is set to begin on Monday. Based on the counting done to this point, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz was up by 16 votes on public defender Tiffany Cabán, who has been pushing to have many affidavit ballots counted. The recount will include more than 90,000 ballots, including some that voters filled out but were not read by machine scanners for whatever reason. There remains the question of more than 100 affidavit ballots that the Board of Elections initially threw out, but the Cabán campaign has sued to reinstate. A judge decided to hold off on ruling in the matter until later in the recount process given that the manual recount was about to begin. The recount is expected to take between one and three weeks.

Also as the week begins, it is unclear if there will be much, if any, additional fallout from the blackout that hit parts of Manhattan for several hours on Saturday and how it spotlighted Mayor Bill de Blasio's out of town travel for his presidential campaign. Con Edison restored the power relatively quickly, though many peope were without air conditioning for hours on a hot summer day, some were trapped in elevators, and other hardships were endured. The mayor cut short his campaign swing through Iowa (after he spoke in Wisconsin on Friday he had a full day of events in Iowa on Saturday, with more planned for Sunday), returning home on Sunday to further examine what had gone wrong and brief the public during a press conference on Sunday afternoon.

De Blasio was also facing scrutiny for leaving town amid announced raids by federal immigration officials (ICE) that, at least through Sunday evening, appeared far less sweeping than expected. The mayor's immigrant affairs commissioner and other city officials held a press conference on Saturday to help warn New Yorkers about the raids and publicize "know your rights" materials and advice for how immigrant families should handle interactions with ICE. In both the blackout reaction and ICE preparation, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson took far more public leadership than de Blasio, provoking additional comments that Johnson is the city's de facto leader as de Blasio runs for president. Governor Andrew Cuomo also jumped into action, and raised questions about de Blasio's absence from the city.

Speaking of de Blasio's presidential bid, the mayor's first fundraising numbers for the effort are expected to be posted by law this week. It will be the first insight into how de Blasio's fundraising is going since entering the campaign a couple of months ago. Beyond the raw numbers, many will be watching for how much of de Blasio's funding is coming from those with interest in city business, and who exactly is giving to the mayor's national campaign. The fundraising numbers will in part dictate whether de Blasio makes the second primary debate, which is scheduled over two nights on July 30 and 31 in Detroit.

In the background of that campaign is also the issue of police reform, a topic de Blasio has again thrust to the forefront of his electoral efforts, but where questions remain. The NYPD administrative trial for Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the 2014 death of Eric Garner ended a couple of weeks ago, and many are waiting to see the outcome of the case -- what the judge has ruled and recommended for punishment (if anything), and how Commissioner James O'Neill, who holds final say over discipline matters in such trials, will handle the situation. The outcome will have significant implications for de Blasio's mayoralty and possibly for his presidential campaign. Wednesday is the fifth anniversary of Garner's July 17, 2014 death.

Also this week, we're watching for further discussion and developments related to the MTA, NYCHA, and the plan to close Rikers Island jails and replace some of its jail capacity with new or rehabbed facilities in the four boroughs other than Staten Island. The land-use review process for the city's plan is well underway, with the City Planning Commission holding a public hearing last week. As for the MTA: late in the day on Friday, the transit authority released "a preliminary report of its transformation plan as part of widespread reforms passed in the State Budget in April. The recommendations for this historic reorganization – the first in the MTA’s 51-year history – were made following an extensive evaluation process conducted by AlixPartners, and will prepare the agency to dramatically improve service, end project delays and cost overruns, and finally establish the modern system customers deserve." Evaluations of that plan from advocates and elected officials are expected this week.

There are a variety of events to be aware of this week -- see our day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
e-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com***

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
Mayor de Blasio's lone public event scheduled for Monday is his weekly appearance on NY1's Inside City Hall with host Errol Louis, in the 7 and 11 p.m. hours.

Beginning at 9 a.m. Monday in Albany, the New York State Board of Regents will hold a meeting.

The Queens District Attorney Democratic primary recount will begin in earnest on Monday, and is expected to take at least a week, probably closer to two or more. Queens Borough President Melinda Katz holds a 16 vote lead over public defender Tiffany Cabán as ballots are set to be recounted, with some newly-counted ballots added to the mix.

On Monday at 9:30 a.m. outside the ballot review site in Middle Village, Queens, “elected officials will host a press conference prior to the start of the ballot count in the county District Attorney race. Joined by Cabán campaign attorney Jerry Goldfeder, elected officials will explain the recount process and highlight the need to count every ballot cast by eligible and legitimate Queens Democratic voters.” Along with Goldfeder, expected or possible speakers include Cabán supporters Comptroller Scott Stringer; Senators James Sanders, Jessica Ramos, and Mike Gianaris; Assemblymember Ron Kim; City Council Members Antonio Reynoso and Jimmy Van Bramer.

On Monday at 9:30 a.m. at Ground Zero in Manhattan, “Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) will join with New York Senator Chuck Schumer, Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), and 9/11 first responders and health and compensation advocates to celebrate overwhelming House passage of H.R. 1327: Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer, and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act and call on the Senate and Leader McConnell to pass this bill as quickly as possible. The final vote on the bill was 402-12.”

At noon Monday, “Amazon Prime Day, a large coalition of community, immigration, and labor groups will go to Jeff Bezos’ new $80 million dollar Manhattan home at 212 Fifth Avenue to deliver more than 250,000 petitions calling on Amazon to cut ties with ICE and end abusive working conditions in its warehouses. The New York City petition delivery and protest are part of a national day of action against Amazon on Prime Day, with protests over Amazon’s ties to ICE and mistreatment of workers happening around the country Monday. These events come amid growing outrage over Amazon’s role in providing essential technological infrastructure to ICE as the Trump administration continues to threaten mass deportations and put children in cages and concentration camps. Amazon also faces mounting public pressure to improve how it treats its warehouse workers. The online retail giant is set to testify before the U.S. House Anti-Trust Committee on Tuesday.” A long list of activist groups are leading the protest.

At 5 p.m. Monday, City Council Member Chaim Deutsch and NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill will hold a street co-naming ceremony for slain police officer Leon Fox, killed on duty in 1941.

At 6:30 p.m. on Monday, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz will host a Dominican Heritage celebration at Queens Borough Hall.

Tuesday, July 16
At the City Council on Tuesday:
-At 9:30 a.m., the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet to discuss four land use applications from Queens, Brooklyn, and Manhattan.
-At 1 p.m., the Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting and Maritime Uses will meet to discuss two land use applications on landmarks in the Bronx and Manhattan.

At 8 a.m. Tuesday, the New York State Board of Regents will meet for an executive session.

At 9 a.m. Tuesday, the New York City Industrial Development Agency will hold a Board of Directors meeting. 

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, the New York City Board of Standards and Appeals will hold a public hearing relating to developments in all five boroughs.

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, City & State NY will host its 2019 Manhattan Power 100 celebrating Manhattan power players, “gathering top brass from government relations, media, business and beyond for a networking opportunity you do not want to miss.” Speakers will include Borough President Gale Brewer; former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, now CEO of WIN; and Sheena Wright, President and CEO of United Way of New York City. 

Wednesday, July 17
At 11 a.m. Wednesday outside of Grand Central Terminal, Riders Alliance and state legislators will hold a rally to demand that the next MTA five-year capital plan include funding for subway signals, train cars, and station elevators. 

At 12 p.m. Wednesday, the New York Building Congress will host a committee meeting on energy and sustainability, featuring state Senator Kevin Parker (event is invite-only). 

At 5 p.m. Wednesday, this week’s Max & Murphy show will air on WBAI radio, 99.5FM and wbai.org, featuring Riders Alliance founder and executive director John Raskin on key transit issues facing New Yorkers and a separate discussion of how the de Blasio administration is handling manufacturing and industrial space in the city.

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer is hosting a public hearing on the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project aimed at “fortifying Manhattan’s coastline between Montgomery and 25th Streets from coastal flooding while making the waterfront more accessible to the public.” The plan will be presented by the NYC Department of Design and Construction, and will be followed by an opportunity for public testimony. The event will take place at Mt. Sinai Beth Israel. 

Also at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Reboot Democracy will host a discussion on the “development of tools that will strengthen our democratic system.”

Thursday, July 18
At the City Council on Thursday:
-At 10:30 a.m., the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet to discuss the Kissena Center Rezoning in Queens.
-At 11 a.m., the Committee on Land Use will meet.
-At 1 p.m., the Committee on Rules, Privileges and Elections will hold an appointment hearing on Jeffrey Roth, the newly-nominated head of the Taxi & Limousine Commission.

At 10 a.m.,, the NYC Campaign Finance Board will hold a board meeting.

Friday, July 19
At 10 a.m. on Friday, Mayor Bill de Blasio may make his weekly appearance on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show.

***
Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: bmax@gothamgazette.com (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

***
by Joey Fox and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

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bmax@gothamgazette.com (by Joey Fox & Ben Max) State Mon, 15 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Queens District Attorney Primary Heads to Recount https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8665-max-murphy-podcast-queens-district-attorney-primary-recount-caban-katz https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8665-max-murphy-podcast-queens-district-attorney-primary-recount-caban-katz mxm logo

l-r: Tiffany Cabán (photo: @CabanForQueens); Melinda Katz (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)


July 10, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: the Queens District Attorney Primary Heads to Recount

juan manuel benitezThe Queens District Attorney Democratic primary is heading into a recount, and Juan Manuel Benitez of NY1 & NY1 Noticias, who has been covering the process closely, joined the show it all down, from the absentee ballots that moved Tiffany Cabán from the primary night lead to second place behind Melinda Katz by 16 votes, to controversy over contested affidavit ballots, the potential for hundreds of new votes that ballot scanners didn't read, and political implications of how it all turns out.

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

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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bmax@gothamgazette.com (Ben Max) State Thu, 11 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Senators Krueger & Myrie on Historic Albany Session, Senate's Relationship with Cuomo, & More https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8658-senators-krueger-myrie-albany-session-senate-relationship-with-cuomo https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8658-senators-krueger-myrie-albany-session-senate-relationship-with-cuomo krueg myrie 600

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Cyan Hunte contributed to this story.

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samarkhurshid@gmail.com (Cyan Hunte & Samar Khurshid) State Wed, 10 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Decades of Voter Registration Data Shows Tall Task for New York GOP's New Chair https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8656-party-registration-data-shows-tall-task-for-new-new-york-gop-chair https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8656-party-registration-data-shows-tall-task-for-new-new-york-gop-chair party registr

(photo: @NewYorkGOP)


The number of registered Republican voters in New York has been in decline, but that’s not news to the New York Republican State Committee, or its new leader. Neither is the fact that Republicans haven’t won a statewide election in New York since 2002, and in 2018 the party lost its last stronghold of state-level power when the state Senate was flipped by Democrats.

As the New York GOP held its annual convention in Albany on July 1 and ushered in a new state party chair, Nicholas Langworthy of Erie County, Langworthy and other Republican leaders pledged “the comeback starts now.”

One plank of Langworthy’s plan, which he outlined as he sought to win the state chair position from Ed Cox over the past several months, was to increase Republican voter registration across the state, in part by redeveloping a party infrastructure in all 62 counties.

But the task in front of Langworthy is especially large, brought into stark relief not only by the statewide drought and the fact that Democrats didn’t simply take the state Senate, but control 40 of the chamber’s 63 seats, but also by the realities of the voter registration numbers in New York.

As of February 1, among total registered voters in New York, the state Board of Elections shows that there were 6,396,223 registered Democrats and 2,826,284 registered Republicans, along with 738,747 voters registered with any of the other parties in the state (Green, Working Families, Conservative, Independence, etc.), plus 2,734,508 “unaffiliated” voters who are registered to vote, but not with a political party. (All numbers reflect both active and inactive registered voters.)

A look at how the state got to this point, starting about 20 years ago when Republican Governor George Pataki was beginning his second of three terms, shows the task in front of Langworthy and other New York Republican leaders. Pataki is the last Republican to win statewide in New York, winning his third term in 2002 -- but even then, Republicans were well behind Democrats in terms of voter enrollment in New York.

2 republicans vs democratsSince 1999, the percentage of Republicans among New York’s registered voters has declined from 29 percent to 22 percent. Meanwhile, the percentage of registered Democrats has increased from 47 percent to 50 percent.

According to state Board of Elections numbers from April 1999, Democrats outnumbered Republicans 4,999,541 to 3,078,574.

At that point, Republicans outnumbered unaffiliated voters by nearly 1 million; 3,078,574 to 2,138,100.

Twenty years later, as of February 1 of this year, nearly as many voters are registered as unaffiliated as there are Republicans; with 2,734,508 unaffiliateds and 2,826,284 Republicans.

And if combined with the 485,037 voters registered with the Independence Party – a fringe party often mistaken by those registering to vote who want to be “independent” or unaffiliated with a party – unaffiliated voters outnumbered Republicans in New York as of February.

Over the last two decades, New York state’s voter rolls have increased by over 2 million, even as the state’s population has only increased by around 600,000. But despite this influx of new voters, the Republican Party has lost a net 250,000 members, while Democrats have gained 1,396,682 voters and there are 596,408 more unaffiliateds.

1 partisan share

Langworthy, the committee’s incoming chair, said enrollment is the party’s greatest challenge. Stopping the decline and shrinking the gap with Democrats is one of his top goals as chair.

“We are going to go across this country and find the best practices on voter registration and bring them to this state of New York,” he said during a GOP news conference in Albany on May 21, when it was formally announced he would be the next chair of the party. “It has to be done. We're going to close this gap. It's something that's going to take everyone's help to do.”

Langworthy didn’t specify what practices the party would use to close the gap, but he did mention the importance of reaching out to different groups of voters, especially communities of color, as a means for increasing membership.

“I will personally along with members of our party, staff, and membership will go out there and recruit,” Langworthy told Gotham Gazette following a June 18 news conference calling on the resignation of Mayor Bill de Blasio due to his focus on his presidential campaign. “We're going to do heavy outreach in Latino organizations and Asian-American organizations and African-American organizations, bringing all of our coalition groups to let them know that they are welcome in the doors of the Republican Party.”

3 republicans vs independents

He added that his larger mission is for Republicans to start winning again, namely through the 2022 gubernatorial election, when Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, plans to seek a fourth term. 

“My mission and goal is to get us to the point where a Republican occupies the second floor of the state Capitol,” Langworthy said at the May news conference, referring to the location of the gubernatorial offices. “And that will be our mission critical to put the infrastructure in place across this state in order to win a statewide election and put the Republican Party back in the win column there for the first time since 2002.”

Langworthy’s predecessor, Cox, announced in a press release on May 20 that he would join President Donald Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign as part of the finance team, and congratulated Langworthy on becoming the next chair after the two had a hard-fought battle for county leader votes.

Cox echoed Langworthy’s vision for Republicans to become the winning party and said Trump can make that happen.

“I think this president can bring in those Democratic voters and realign the party system where the Republican Party will be the majority party in the United States,” Cox said at the May press conference.

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by Caitlyn Rosen & Joey Fox

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by Joey Fox, Gotham Gazette

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by Caitlyn Rosen, Gotham Gazette
     

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mauthors@gothamgazette.com (Caitlyn Rosen & Joey Fox) State Tue, 09 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Cautious Optimism Among Reformers After State Public Campaign Financing Commission Named https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8659-reformers-hopeful-after-state-public-campaign-finance-commission-named https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8659-reformers-hopeful-after-state-public-campaign-finance-commission-named fairelectionsny

(photo: @FairElectionsNY)


As New Yorkers geared up for the holiday weekend last week, state government leaders announced appointments to a new commission with the lofty task of establishing a statewide public campaign financing system.

The body is seen by many as an opportunity to reduce the influence of wealthy donors on state politics by creating a small-dollar matching program that would amplify the impact of contributions made by average residents, in the vein of what exists in New York City.

Established during budget negotiations earlier this year, the Public Campaign Finance Commission is mandated to create a voluntary system for statewide and state legislative candidates to receive public matching funds in exchange for meeting certain fundraising and spending criteria.

The commission is responsible for issuing a report with recommendations by December 1 and holding a public hearing on its findings. The recommendations become binding if lawmakers, who will be out of session, don’t act to modify them within 20 days of their release.

On July 3, the governor and legislative leaders revealed their appointees to the nine-member commission, which set off fanfare and a measure of caution from advocates, three months after it was created by law.

“The law charges the commissioners named today with a historic task: design a public financing system that incentivizes candidates to seek more small donations. If they do it right, their system they create will give New Yorkers a stronger voice in Albany,” wrote Larry Norden, director of the Election Reform Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, in a statement after the announcement. “If the commissioners do it wrong, their system will fail, and Albany’s status quo will remain.”

Doing it “right,” according to Norden and the Brennan Center, as well as many other advocates, means having a large public match in both primary and general elections, low qualifying thresholds, and low contribution limits for individuals, all of which they believe encourages candidates to rely on many small contributions rather than a few large ones.

A Brennan Center analysis released in December found that 100 individual donors contributed more to state candidates than all of the roughly 137,000 small donors combined in the 2018 election cycle. Reformers view this outsized impact as a threat to democratic processes.

“New York’s electoral system is in desperate need of reform. Dark money routinely pours in to control public opinion, misinform voters, and benefit special interests,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Democrat, wrote in a statement accompanying appointments to the commission, which also cited related accomplishments from earlier this year, like “closing the LLC loophole” and confidence that the commission will design a system to make New York elections “fairer.”

The creation of a commission to study and establish public campaign financing in New York State is part of a concerted effort by reformers, both inside and outside government, to limit the role of money in politics. That push took on new meaning after the U.S. Supreme Court authorized virtually unlimited political spending under the First Amendment in the 2010 Citizens United decision, which unleashed the Super PAC era.

The effort gained new steam this year when Democrats took control of the state Senate and thus both houses of the state Legislature under a Democratic governor who has publicly supported state-level campaign financing for years.

When the commission was first announced in April, advocates called for appointments to be independent of the powers that choose them and representative of the state’s diverse constituencies, upstate and downstate.

A majority of the commission’s appointments come from Albany’s Democratic leadership with Governor Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Stewart-Cousins each choosing two commissioners, with another appointed jointly by all three. The remaining two commissioners are appointed by minority leaders of the legislative houses.

Last Wednesday, Cuomo appointed Mylan Denerstein, his former counsel who is now a partner at Gibson, Dunn and Cutcher, and state Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs of Long Island; Heastie appointed Rosanna Vargas, a former elections commissioner in the city Board of Elections, and Crystal Rodriguez, former chief diversity officer for the City of Buffalo, who is now chief of staff in the Buffalo State College president’s office; and Stewart-Cousins appointed DeNora Getachew, executive director of Generation Citizen in New York City and former legislative counsel to Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, and Westchester County Attorney John Nonna. The at-large, joint appointment by the three Democratic leaders went to veteran election lawyer Henry Berger. 

Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan chose David Previtte, former chief counsel to the previous Republican state Senate majority, to serve on the commission; and Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb appointed Kimberly Galvin, his former chief of staff and current co-director of the state Board of Elections’ Campaign Finance Compliance Unit.

In a statement and at a press conference Monday, newly-elected state Republican Party Chair Nick Langworthy of Erie County criticized the governor for using one of two direct appointments to place Jacobs on the commission. “This is an egregious conflict of interest that is another attempt to legalize rigged elections and elect Democrats, not root out corruption,” Langworthy said. Neither Republican minority leader selected Langworthy to join the commission, though Langworthy reportedly said that if asked he would not have accepted.

The legislation establishing the commission authorizes the state to disperse up to $100 million annually in public funds. Public matching funds programs encourage candidates to seek small contributions by matching each contribution below a certain amount. In order to receive public funds, candidates must voluntarily adhere to limits on political fundraising and campaign spending, and are generally subject to stricter reporting requirements and auditing.

Municipalities around the country have implemented public matching programs with varying matches and limits. New York City has one of the oldest and most generous programs in the country, with the city matching small contributions at eight to one (in November, voters chose to expand the city’s program via ballot referendum). In March, the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives passed the For the People Act, an omnibus election reform bill that included a federal small-dollar public financing system. The bill has been introduced in the Republican-controlled Senate, but has not advanced.

All eyes are now on New York’s commission, which advocates hope will take advantage of the opportunity to implement real, long-sought reforms.

“If the Commission listens to the experts who have looked at this issue over the decades, they will implement a robust matching system that offers at least six dollars in matching funds for every small dollar raised in primaries and general elections, lowers contribution limits and restores New Yorkers faith in democracy,” the Fair Elections for New York coalition, made up of dozens of advocacy groups and labor unions, wrote in a statement after last week’s announcement. “If the Commission does not listen to these experts, the Legislature must step in and use its power to ‘amend or abrogate’ the Commission’s recommendations.”

Eleven states have some form of public financing, according to the National Conference of State Legislators website, but none as big as New York. In a blog post published on its website on July 3, the Brennan Center wrote that creating a small donor public financing system in New York “would mark the most significant campaign finance reform in the United States since the 2010 Citizens United ruling.”

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette      

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ethangs@gothamgazette.com (Ethan Geringer-Sameth) State Tue, 09 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
New State Climate Law: ‘Compromise Bill’ Nevertheless ‘Historic’ https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8627-new-state-climate-law-compromise-bill-nevertheless-historic https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8627-new-state-climate-law-compromise-bill-nevertheless-historic gov cuomo roberto clemente waterfront

(photo: the Governor's office)


Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) into law last week, finalizing legislation that has been labeled “the most aggressive climate change legislation in the nation,” “comprehensive,” and a “historic compromise.”

With its aggressive carbon emission reduction mandates and push toward renewable energy and a green economy, the CLCPA has been heralded by lawmakers and supporters as the most comprehensive and ambitious climate change legislation in the country, and as a model for other states. But at the same time, it’s not all that activists wanted, after a significant and near-fatal disagreement between Cuomo and others over what requirements the legislation would include for state investment into communities that have borne the brunt of pollution and climate change.

Almost all legislators and activists who wanted to see a version of the legislative majorities’ Climate and Community Protection Act passed are pleased with the CLCPA, which passed based on Cuomo’s specifications, even as some say there is more to do and several next chapters to the push coming up soon. The legislation creates certain mandates, but there are also many unanswered questions and decisions still to be made in terms of its implementation.

Historic
The CLCPA will add the Climate Change Article to the Environmental Conservation Law, establishing a statewide greenhouse gas emission limit of 60% of 1990 levels by 2030 and 15% of 1990 levels by 2050. It calls for the state to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, meaning that most of the energy used in New York by 2050 will come from renewable sources like solar, wind, and hydro-power.

The law also mandates that 70% of the electricity consumed in New York State come from renewable sources by 2030 and 100% come from zero emission sources by 2040.

Cuomo released a statement calling the bill “the most aggressive climate change legislation in the nation,” and he hopes this legislation will help New York -- which has one of the largest economies in the United States -- become a leader in global climate policy.

Legislative leaders and advocates alike have voiced their support for the bill.

“This bill sets New York on a course for a sustainable future by transitioning our state to clean renewable energy, unleashing the genius of American industry, and ensuring good paying jobs that work for all New Yorkers,” Assemblymember Steve Englebright said in a statement announcing the law’s passage. Englebright served as the lead sponsor of the bill in the assembly.

“In our coalition, we did a really intentional job of bringing together environmental justice and labor voices to the table so that we could develop a policy that benefits everybody,” said Priya Mulgaonkar, policy organizer for the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance and member of the NYRenews coalition that helped lead the push for a sweeping climate bill. Appearing on the Max & Murphy podcast, Mulgaonkar noted that environmental advocates played a major role in the passage of the law.

Overseeing the emissions reductions will be a newly established 22-member New York State Climate Action Council, consisting of state agency leaders, business leaders, and environmental advocates. The governor will appoint the members of the council.

Including members of the business community on the Council will ensure that the law “cleans up industry and industry doesn't move out of state,” said Miles Farmer, senior attorney at the Climate and Clean Energy Program of the Natural Resources Defense Council, appearing on the Capitol Pressroom last week. But, “at the end of the day the state agencies are going to be the ones that decide how to regulate,” he told host Susan Arbetter.

The law will “call for a process that creates structures where the private market invests in clean technologies,” Farmer said.

The law does not mandate any particular strategy for reducing carbon emissions, giving a wide berth to create and enforce new standards, something the new council will take on, followed by key state agencies involved.

The state will transition to 6,000 total megawatts of solar energy by 2025 and 9,000 total megawatts of wind energy by 2035. The state currently has a capacity of 2,000 megawatts of solar energy and nearly 2000 megawatts of wind energy, according to the New York Independent System Operator, which operates the state’s electricity grid. In 2018, the entire state had an installed generating capacity of 39,064 megawatts from all fuel sources.

While more renewable forms of energy like wind and solar are thought to be more expensive than fossil fuels, that has proven not to be the case, Farmer said. “The track record is that every forecast of prices for wind and solar has not been ambitious enough,” Farmer said on the Capitol Pressroom. “And the prices continue to plummet.” Cuomo has repeatedly promised in recent weeks to soon announce a major expansion of the state’s wind energy program.

The law will also create a process to ensure at least 35% of investments from clean energy funds are invested in communities most affected by climate change.

Compromise
“This is a compromise bill,” Mulgaonkar said, noting that Cuomo did not consider the climate bill a priority for the Legislature until two weeks prior, when legislators and activists continued to push for passage of the Climate and Community Protection Act.

The bill Cuomo signed notably excluded some provisions that activists and some legislators wanted to see, especially those that aim to protect labor and climate-vulnerable communities.

Under the law, polluting industries and companies that cannot directly address all of their carbon emissions will be required to invest in “sound solutions to offset their emissions” elsewhere. However, some environmental advocates worry that requiring companies to invest in efforts to offset their carbon emissions allows them to employ loopholes that disadvantage more vulnerable communities. The environmental justice aspects of the legislation remain a bone of contention.

“All these sources of emissions that we want to curb are disproportionately sited in low-income communities and communities of color,” Mulgaonkar said. “It’s well-documented; you see higher rates of asthma, cancer, traffic accidents, you name it, from all of these noxious infrastructures.”

For neighborhoods most affected by pollution, environmental justice was an integral component of the bill, Mulgaonkar said. Those neighborhoods most at risk, she said, “have been thinking about how to tackle climate change for years now.”

Mulgaonkar noted the loss of the “equity provision” of the original CCPA, which would have dedicated 40% of clean energy funds to frontline communities, or those most affected by climate change and pollution. The provision that made it into the final version of the bill, however, is much more vague, fitting Cuomo’s vision for the bill -- while the governor had expressed understanding of the calls for environmental justice, he repeatedly said he was wary of requirements for investments in certain places, instead wanting flexibility to choose the best projects to fit the environmental and green economy goals.

“The new NY climate law is not a win for justice. In fact, low income & communities of color got screwed [with] requirements for money into disadvantaged communities and high road labor standards gutted at Cuomo's insistence. Please people: don't act like it's a win when we lost,” environmental activist Pete Sikora of New York Communities for Change wrote on Twitter.

While Sikora expressed dismay about elements of the CCPA that were lost or watered down in the CLCPA, some of his fellow activists responded with slightly more hopeful sentiments. Daniela Lapidous of NYRenews responded to Sikora to agree that the CLCPA was not as strong as the CCPA in terms of environmental justice requirements, but that the funding elements were always going to be annual budget battles, and that that would be the next frontier in the “fight,” with a “pathway” for strong outcomes.

Stephan Edel, project director for New York Working Families wrote that now, with the CLCPA, “For the first time law mandates equity provisions, spending, oversight by communities, and a reorganization and analysis to ensure environmental and spending benefits are more equitably shared.”

“The bill is incomplete but sets up even more wins,” Edel added.

The “ambiguous” new provision will make it harder to fund the kinds of projects that communities actually want, Mulgaonkar said. “It comes down to the [dedicated] funding not being there in this version of the bill,” she said.

Future
Along with the formation of the Climate Action Council and subsequent steps to implement the new law, the CLCPA will also face the challenge of transitioning workers to a “clean” or “green” economy, as in retraining workers in fossil fuel industries for more environmentally-friendly employment.

“You always hear people claiming that climate bills are going to kill jobs,” Mulgaonkar said, but “we’re going to continue standing with our labor partners” to protect them.

Despite any perceived or actual shortcomings, the CLCPA still has the potential to unite “workers who need to be transitioned to the new economy, and the front line communities that have dealt with these polluting industries for so long,” Mulgaonkar said.

The CLCPA came as the final piece of a wave of climate-related legislation this year in Albany, with newly-powerful Democrats loosening the hold on long-desired bills. This session, the state Legislature passed bills banning plastic bags and toxic chemicals, improving child safety, preventing overfishing, and prohibiting oil and natural gas offshore drilling, among other efforts to curtail climate change.

“This has been the best environmental legislative session in a generation,” Peter Iwanowicz, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York, said in a statement. “Bills that have been environmental priorities for years passed the Legislature after having finally been given thoughtful and thorough consideration by new Senate leadership.”

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by Noah Berman, Gotham Gazette

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by Cyan Hunte, Gotham Gazette

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chunte@gg.com (Cyan Hunte & Noah Berman) State Wed, 03 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
In End-of-Session Scorecard, Progressive Coalition Grades State Legislature on First Year of New Democratic Power https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8655-scorecard-progressive-coalition-grades-state-legislature-on-first-year-of-new-democratic-power https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8655-scorecard-progressive-coalition-grades-state-legislature-on-first-year-of-new-democratic-power gov cuomo protecting

Heastie, Stewart-Cousins, Cuomo, Hochul (photo: Mike Groll/Governor's Office)


Following a historically productive legislative session in Albany, a broad coalition of progressive advocates has scored the performance of state lawmakers on a range of topics, pointing to major victories and unfinished tasks for reformers as political dust continues to settle from last year’s elections and this year’s governing.

True Blue NY, a grassroots coalition formed to oust rogue Democratic state senators who shared power with Republicans, released its “People’s Platform” in January, seizing on the electoral momentum that brought sweeping changes to the upper legislative chamber’s power structure and created one-party control in Albany.

The coalition, made up of dozens of new constituent-engagement and traditional advocacy organizations, was created to support challengers to members of the state Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) -- a group of eight break-away senators who formed a power-sharing deal with Republicans, giving them control of the chamber for several years and ensuring a divided Legislature, with Democrats holding a wide majority in the Assembly.

Six of the eight IDC senators were defeated in last year’s Democratic primaries. Then, in November, major grassroots efforts and a huge jump in voter turnout -- seen, in part, as a reaction to the first two years of the Trump presidency -- saw a number of Democratic wins to flip Republican seats, handing the Democrats a solid majority in the Senate under Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

As the calendar turned to 2019 and the legislative year in Albany was set to begin, the attention turned to governance, and following through on campaign promises.

“The People’s Platform came together with a sense of the notion that if we stuck together, if we brought the same galvanized energy to the legislative work, we’d be way more successful,” said coalition member Ricky Silver, co-lead organizer with Empire State Indivisible, in an interview. “Even though we had a Dem majority, no one thought it would be easy.”

With Democrats holding both houses of the state Legislature and the Executive Chamber, this year’s session was an opportunity for Democrats to achieve some of the long-sought legislation that had been blocked or backlogged under the Republican-led Senate over the past decade. On issues ranging from civil rights and climate change to gun control and election reform, grassroots activists and reform-minded elected officials pushed an aggressive agenda and achieved many policy goals that catch-up to or go further than other states.

But in certain critical areas, True Blue NY’s post-session scorecard identifies what the coalition views alternately as shortcomings and complete failures in the end-of-session outcomes.

The People’s Platform scorecard, set to be released widely on Tuesday, rates the state Senate and Assembly individually in 13 distinct issue categories. The group plans to release another scorecard of Governor Andrew Cuomo after he takes action on the legislation that has passed both houses.

The activists and organizers in the coalition see the scorecard as a measure of accountability, and the basis for both celebration and top agenda items for next year.

The highest grades (A) were for advancing legislation that protects some of New York’s most underserved populations: immigrants, transgender and gender-nonconforming people, and survivors of child sex abuse.

The scorecard also shows favorable performances on items like voting reform (A-/B+), gun safety (A-), housing (B), and reproductive and sexual health (B). Of the 13 issue categories outlined by True Blue NY, the Assembly and Senate each scored As or Bs in eight, and Ds and one F in the other five (the Assembly got an F on tax reform for not introducing two tax credit bills that the Senate did).

“Working with a Democratic Senate Majority for the first time in ten years, we were finally able to deliver the progressive legislation we have championed for years,” the Assembly majority, led by Speaker Carl Heastie, said in a celebratory statement released on Monday, another in several efforts to sum up the massive amount of legislation passed this year. “Looking back on all we’ve accomplished this year, New Yorkers have a lot to be proud of.”

Both chambers earned A grades for promoting civil and human rights and protections for immigrants. For the civil and human rights rating, True Blue NY cites the passage of the Gender Expression Non-discrimination Act (GENDA), extending the statute of limitations to bring charges under the Child Victims Act, and a ban on “conversion therapy” to try changing the sexual orientation of minors. All three measures had long been sought by LGBTQ or children’s rights advocates, and all three passed during the first month of the legislative session under the new cohort of Democratic lawmakers.

For immigrant protections, the coalition weighed the passage of the controversial Driver's License Access and Privacy Act, known as the “Green Light bill,” which allows undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses. Supporters say the measure will allow immigrants, many of whom are already driving, to obtain licenses legally, bolstering regulatory effects, creating safer traffic conditions, and bringing in revenue. The bill was one of the last to pass the Legislature, hitting roadblocks in the final days of session and requiring concerted pressure from supporters.

In other categories, the True Blue NY grades are more middling, like on efforts to improve criminal justice, promote reproductive and sexual health, and advance comprehensive environmental protections. In these cases, the coalition identified some positive results accompanied by notable shortcomings.

The Legislature passed reforms to the cash bail and speedy trial systems, but failed to act on calls to end solitary confinement and fell short of securing many of the restorative elements that advocates sought in the push to legalize recreational marijuana. 

“When it comes to redirecting revenue or investment to communities most impacted by the drug war, climate change, and housing instability, they came woefully short,” reads a statement attached to the True Blue NY scorecard.

Legalization of adult-use marijuana failed to pass, largely due to opposition from suburban and upstate Democrats in the state Senate, some of whom represent newly-taken swing districts and feared swinging the pendulum to far to the left. A bill to decriminalize marijuana was passed at the end of June with some elements of what reformers desired, but not nearly all of it.

In a statement on the bill, Stewart-Cousins said, “This legislation is marking a momentous first step in addressing the racial disparities caused by the war on drugs. The Senate Majority continues to move forward on full legalization...”

A number of mediocre grades are accompanied by the view of some coalition members that critical measures promoting the interests of more marginalized constituencies were deprioritized.

“I think that’s a reflection of the Legislature focusing on the politics of issues, concerned about the maintenance of their seats, the maintenance of their power,” said Jawanza Williams, director of organizing at VOCAL-NY, a member of the coalition.

That is not inherently a bad thing, according to Williams, “but whenever you don’t center the experiences of some of the most vulnerable New Yorkers, like those who are dealing with marijuana prohibition legacy issues,” it can overshadow “the experiences and the needs of the people that are directly impacted by some of the most devastating issues in the state.”

Some of True Blue NY’s worst grading was given in categories that the coalition felt would do the most to change the dynamics of power in Albany and across the state. In categories titled “Big Money Out of Politics” and “Clean Up Albany” the Assembly and Senate both received Ds.

“There is no question this was a historically progressive year and that the state made a big leap forward, but unfortunately it didn’t make that equal leap forward for everyone,” Silver said. “If you look at the things that were left on the table, these are issues that affect the most marginalized in our state or effect real representation.”

True Blue NY members were especially disappointed to see delays to comprehensive campaign finance reform, like a publicly-financed campaign matching funds program, which they view as essential to limiting the influence of special interests and promoting more representative candidates.

“It’s the discrepancy across the pillars and within certain core pieces of legislation, where economic and social issues were not prioritized, that we believe is a good example for why the Legislature should have pushed heavier for fair elections,” said Silver.

The rest of the D and F grades were given in categories impacting some of New York’s most essential functions and public resources: taxation, education, and healthcare. Creating a more equitable tax system, funding culturally-responsive education, and establishing single-payer healthcare through the New York Health Act were all left on the table at the end of session.

The People’s Platform scorecard is calculated based on a number of factors for each bill in an issue category tracked by the coalition, including legislative activity as reported on the Senate and Assembly websites, according to True Blue NY’s co-leader, Judith Hertzberg. Each legislative body earned credit when a bill supported by the coalition advanced, whether it be out of committee or on the floor.

If populist displeasure helped turn the state Senate in September and November, it was the sustained grassroots advocacy, not the partisan control, that brought many reforms to the finish line, according to members of True Blue NY.

“You look at the housing bills, you look at the harassment-free legislation that passed, this is due to everyday New Yorkers stepping up and saying, ‘I need to be heard. And if you are going to pass legislation, you need to listen to people that have actually been impacted by it.’ And a number of our senators and Assembly members were champions of that approach,” said Silver.

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette      

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ethangs@gothamgazette.com (Ethan Geringer-Sameth) State Tue, 02 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: State Senators Liz Krueger & Zellnor Myrie on the Year in Albany https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8643-max-murphy-podcast-reflecting-on-the-year-in-albany-with-senators-krueger-myrie https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8643-max-murphy-podcast-reflecting-on-the-year-in-albany-with-senators-krueger-myrie mryie krueger wbai 600px

(photo: NYSenate)


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

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

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

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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bmax@gothamgazette.com (Ben Max) State Thu, 27 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
In End of Session Deals, Cuomo and Legislators Pass Capital Budget, with New 'SAM' Money https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8628-end-of-session-cuomo-legislators-pass-capital-budget-sam-money https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8628-end-of-session-cuomo-legislators-pass-capital-budget-sam-money gov cuomo inspects

(photo: the Governor's office)


As part of their end-of-session rush, the State Legislature passed this year’s state capital budget, months later than usual after it was not passed as part of the other budget bills that moved on or before the April 1 start of the new state fiscal year.

One provision of the $3.9 billion capital budget added $385 million to the coffers of the opaque State and Municipal Facilities Program, often referred to as SAM, which has in a sense replaced the old “member item” system for awarding pork projects to legislators, while also providing the governor millions to work with.

SAM already has over $1.9 billion in unspent funds that have been rolled over from previous allocations. As of June 12 of this year, there are over 1,800 grants currently administered under the program that amount to just over $988 million in current or planned spending, which leaves about $1 billion remaining for the governor and state lawmakers to use at their discretion. This is more than SAM has spent in any single year since its inception.

Now, there is the additional $385 million that has not been committed to any particular projects, leaving almost $1.4 billion to be used as a pork barrel program for state legislators and Governor Andrew Cuomo.

These funds can be used for any number of things, from additional police cars for local departments to playgrounds and skate parks to local library renovations. The programs are not immediately lined out in the budget, but allocated based on an even less transparent internal process.

The program is relatively new, having been started by Governor Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders in 2013, the same year that Republicans and the Independent Democratic Conference first formed a majority coalition in the State Senate. Former Senator Jeff Klein, the one-time leader of the IDC, was the biggest beneficiary of the program, getting $12 million from 2013 to 2015, much of which came from SAM, according to Politico New York. During that period, Klein received more earmarked funds than any other state senator and other IDC members were also top receivers of earmarks.

SAM can be seen as a successor to member items, a process where legislators could use money from a discretionary fund controlled by the legislature for projects in their districts.

E.J. McMahon of the Empire Center think tank calls SAM “basically member items on steroids,” because member items traditionally funded smaller needs like Little League uniforms and meal programs for seniors, but SAM supports larger programs such as gazebos and highway garages.

According to McMahon, member items “amounted to $100 million or so a year at their peak,” but SAM will now be authorized to spend over $2.3 billion in the coming years. According to SeeThroughNY, run by the Empire Center, the state government spent over $500 million through the same program in 2018.

Cuomo opposed member items as Attorney General and during his 2010 gubernatorial campaign. Funding for member items stopped in 2009, but it only took four years before a new discretionary fund for legislators and the governor emerged. (Cuomo was first elected governor in 2010.)

Now, the governor is an active participant in the “pork barrel” program akin to the one he previously opposed. According to McMahon, Cuomo gets to “claim his own big hunk [of SAM funds], and has used it to supplement capital spending in areas that already have their own very large capital budgets,” such as the MTA.

For SAM projects, the governor or individual legislators make requests, and those requests are then approved (or not) by the state’s Division of Budget or the Dormitory Authority. The Dormitory Authority then administers approved funding. The Division of Budget reports to the governor and the Dormitory Authority’s board consists of five direct gubernatorial appointees, three gubernatorial appointees to other positions who serve on the board ex-officio, and one appointed by each of the Assembly Speaker, Senate Majority Leader, and State Comptroller.

There is only one member of the 11-person board who is not directly affiliated with the Governor or state legislators. The Governor and legislators request funding for local projects and then their appointees approve them.

With the IDC no longer around and the state facing fiscal challenges, the program’s future was slightly in limbo when it was not included in the April budget, as the whole capital budget was kicked down the road.

Governor Cuomo line-item vetoed about $44 million of the budget’s capital spending after it passed the State Legislature. However, he had said in an interview with WAMC radio that the capital budget would be dealt with “in the coming weeks” while also declaring that his infrastructure agenda is “the most aggressive infrastructure plan in the United States of America.”

McMahon says SAM is “a completely indefensible program,” because “it’s all financed with borrowed money, effectively diverting scarce capital resources from core infrastructure needs.”

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by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

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amillman@gg.com (Andrew Millman) State Wed, 26 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000