Zack Fink

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Flanagan Calls The Roll

On Friday Republicans are expected to meet in Albany to determine their leadership going into 2019. It’s a significant transition since, for the first time in years, the Senate Republicans will find themselves in the minority. Current Majority Leader John Flanagan is facing the most significant challenge of his tenure from Senator Cathy Young of Olean.

Some believe Flanagan is pushing for an early vote in part because he wants to lock this up before opposition can build. For example, Senator Sue Serino is currently out of the country and will not be able to attend Friday’s leadership reorganization meeting. Sources say Serino did not receive the financial support she needed in her race against Democrat Karen Smythe. Critics say the Republican campaign committee instead dumped an inordinate amount of resources into Tom Basile’s losing race against Democrat Jim Skoufis. The truth is, that race was always a losing cause. Skoufis already represented much of the district in the Assembly, and polls showed him way ahead the whole time. Serino on the other hand, was an incumbent and a valued Republican member in a swing district who needed help. If she were to attend the meeting, some believe she could be a critical swing vote in support of Cathy Young, especially if she told that story.

Sources say Flanagan is also calling for secret ballot, for whatever that is worth.

The Flanagan camp has a very different take. They say he would not be calling for a vote, if he didn’t already have what he needed to win. This actually makes sense, because Flanagan was never in the habit of bringing bills to the floor without knowing they would pass. As for Serino, they say the bottom line is that she won her race. And it’s inaccurate to say they did not provide resources. In fact, they matched what she had as the race got tighter. Early polls showed her in the lead.

Finally, Republicans find themselves at a real crossroads. Especially with the prospect of becoming a “permanent minority” ( like the Assembly Republicans ) looming. Some say now is the time for a leadership change to set the course for the future. Especially if they can’t make a change with Republican State Chairman Ed Cox, who has made clear he isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. On the other hand, Flanagan has always come through for his members. And some believe he will be rewarded for that dedication and loyalty.

Republicans Look Inward

For the second time in three and half years Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan finds himself in a leadership fight. The first in 2015 between him and John DeFrancisco ended with a Flanagan victory to lead what was then the majority chamber. He did so partially on a promise to unite upstate and downstate Republicans, but he also got a boost from Governor Cuomo. 2015 was the peak of the good years between the Democratic Governor and the Republican controlled upper house.

My, how times have changed.

Today Flanagan is facing a new challenge, this time from Senator Cathy Young of Olean, who also has the backing of some strong Republican donors including the Real Estate Board, or REBNY. The environment is very different for this fight, of course, with Republicans heading into the January legislative session with devastating losses, particularly on Flanagan’s home turf of Long island. As one Republican put it recently, “The Long Island 3 doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as The Long island 9” ( Republicans once controlled as many as 9 seats on the island, now it’s down to 3 ).

Democrats won huge last week in the Senate. And lots of people and organizations deserve the credit including Senator Michael Gianaris and The Parkside Group, Governor Andrew Cuomo, The Working Families Party, the anti-IDC groups, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, Cynthia Nixon and of course, the individual candidates themselves. I would never take anything away from those overwhelming Democratic victories. But Republicans also lost in ways that remain baffling. For starters, just look at the votes. Republican Congressional Representative’s Lee Zeldin and Peter King both won. So, clearly the votes were there somewhere for Republicans. It’s not like they stayed home. Yet somehow Democratic Senator John Brooks,who was down ballot from King, and Democratic Senate Candidate Monica Martinez, who was down ballot below Zeldin, both also won. “That’s malpractice,” said one Republican. In the case of the King-Brooks line, they also had votes below them where Michael LiPetri defeated Democrat Christine Pellegrino for the Assembly seat. How does that even happen?

*UPDATE** One Republican points out that the LiPetri Assembly District and the Brooks Senate District are not completely congruous. Trump won LiPetri’s district by more than 20 points in 2016 for example, whereas Hillary won the Brooks district by a point.

Some put the blame on Flanagan, who they say could not manage the relationships needed to support their candidates. “John couldn’t articulate where people stood with him. He’d talk for hours and not say anything,” said one Capitol watcher. For example this year there were internal discussions about a bill to redefine public works. The trade unions really wanted it, and REBNY did not. Nothing wound up happening with the bill, but Flanagan managed to alienate the Trade’s for his failure to get it done, while at the same time upsetting REBNY for even considering the bill in the first place.

Then there was the whole issue of education. Virtually every member of the Republican conference wanted to approve the bill de-coupling annual performance reviews from state testing. Instead of passing the bill commonly referred to as “APPR,” Flanagan held out for additional measures related to charter schools, even though he knew that was a poison pill for the Democratic Assembly and NYSUT. As a topper Republicans didn’t have enough votes to pass anything at the end of session, let alone things the other house opposed.

As a result, NYSUT and the Trade’s went big for Democrats. And REBNY largely stayed on the sidelines.

Then there was the issue with Senator Marty Golden. Simcha Felder, who is a man without a party, didn’t want speed cameras ( Felder is a Democrat who conferences with Republicans ). Instead of protecting an actual member in Golden, Republicans chose to support Felder on the notion that he’d continue to conference with them instead of his own party after the election, and would likely once again be the critical 32nd vote. Big mistake. Golden was not a big supporter of speed cameras to begin with, or at least he opposed the initial pilot program back in 2013. But the man is politically savvy enough to have found Jesus on the issue this past year by realizing he needs to support them in order to win his district. Instead the conference hung him out to dry. Sided with Felder. Blocked speed cameras. And Golden took a beating for it in Bay Ridge. On the Golden situation, one Repub says “You can’t make mistakes like that in a year like this.”

Defenders of Flanagan say it’s grossly unfair to hang all this on his neck. “Things were lined up against us.” Independent expenditure groups largely stayed clear. And as a result many of the races were close. Flanagan is going to make his case to continue on as leader. And while some say Young would send the right message, others say she hasn’t always demonstrated great leadership. One insider says she “treats everything like it is a crisis.”

Bottom line? It’s a very healthy debate for Republicans to be having right now. The odds were certainly against them this cycle. But some argue while it was always gonna be bad, it just didn’t have to be this bad.

 

Bill Would Eliminate the Office of Public Advocate

The office itself is a bit of a mystery. Created in 1993, the City’s Public Advocate is second in line to the Mayor ( which is actually quite weird, if I’m honest ). For years politicians have been trying to better understand how to utilize the office as a force for good in the City. Mostly though, it’s become a perch for local elected’s to plot their next move, which likely involves running for Mayor. In a couple of months, there is expected to be a special election to fill the unexpired term of current Public Advocate Letitia James, who was elected State Attorney General last week, and will be sworn in January 1.

But something is afoot in the City Council. As early as this Wednesday, a bill could be introduced to eliminate the office of Public Advocate which has an annual budget of more the $3 million. And while that is a rather small number compared to the $80 Billion City budget, some believe that money could be better allocated elsewhere.

The bill’s main sponsor is Councilman Kalman Yeger. But co-sponsors include Ritchie Torres and Rev. Ruben Diaz. Reached by phone at the airport in San Juan as he prepares to return home from the Somos conference, Diaz said he is inclined to support the elimination of the office. Another supporter of the bill called the Public Advocate’s office “useless.” Reached for comment, Nomiki Konst, one of the few if not only non-elected ( or previously non-elected ) candidates to seek the office early next year says,

“When politicians call to eliminate watchdog positions, their motivations should be closely examined. As our country faces despotism, I’d hope our leaders would call to strengthen the office of PA, rather than eliminate it in effort to prevent future competitors from getting a leg up in future citywide races. Alternatively, I call to bar the PA for running for or coming from the positions of Mayor, Council or BP for five years.”

This afternoon The Working Families Party is expected to meet and endorse Jumaane Williams for Public Advocate in the special election.

Eliminating the office of Public Advocate would actually require a referendum that would go directly to the voters.

Jumaane Pushes WFP Vote

In a new Facebook video, City Councilman Jumaane Williams urges voters to support Democratic candidates on the Working Families Party line next week. The video is similar to one just posted by Cynthia Nixon, who urges a “top to bottom” vote on the line, only Williams never makes any reference to Governor Cuomo ( oblique or otherwise ) who is at the top of the ticket.

Williams says,

WFP members have shown up to stand up for justice over and over again. That’s why it’s my party. And the hundreds of thousands of people who vote on the WFP line are a big part of why our movement is stronger than ever right now. So on November 6th, let’s stand together.  Find the Working Families Party line on your ballot and join me in voting WFP on election day.
It’s not all that surprising that Williams is urging voters to support candidates on the WFP line. He had a big showing last month, receiving more votes than even Nixon in the primary. He also got his start with the WFP. What is noteworthy however, is that Williams is doing this video a few months before a likely special election to fill the unexpired term for Public Advocate. Letitia James, the current PA, is expected to win the race for State Attorney General next week. While any special election to fill the PA office would be non-partisan, the WFP endorsement could make a huge difference in a crowded race. And Williams is in a strong position to receive that endorsement, which would include field work on his behalf.
The WFP meeting is scheduled to take place November 12. Here is a link to the Jumaane Williams video.

Cynthia Nixon Endorses Andrew Cuomo For Governor…On WFP Line

After staying mostly on the sidelines since losing the Democratic Primary to Andrew Cuomo last month, Cynthia Nixon has endorsed the Governor for re-election. In a Facebook video, Nixon urges fellow progressives to vote on the Working Families Party Line “Top to bottom.” Cuomo will be at the top of the ticket next week.

The WFP endorsed Nixon for Governor last April, but after losing the Primary in September, party leaders began to consider what to do with the ballot line for November. Nixon had said she never wanted to “play spoiler” and allow the possibility that by staying in the race she could split the vote with Cuomo and throw the election to Republican Marc Molinaro. With Some maneuvering, the WFP voted earlier this month to drop Nixon from the WFP line and put Cuomo’s name on the ballot instead.

In the video Nixon concludes,

I don’t have to tell you how important this election day is. If we all show up and vote, we can take back Congress from Trump and the Republicans in Washington. And in New York, we can win a Democratic majority in the State Senate that will be game-changing. That’s why on November 6th, I’m joining with hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers to vote on the Working Families Party ballot line. Top to bottom.

Since Primary Day, Nixon’s campaign has sent out a handful of emails urging New Yorkers to help win back the State Senate. Sources say there were overtures between the Cuomo and Nixon teams about a possible endorsement, but those discussions never really got off the ground. The Nixon camp was still smarting over a mailer sent out by the Democratic State party falsely accusing Nixon of being an anti-semite. The Cuomo campaign blamed the mailer on David Lobl, a former aide to the Governor who handled outreach to the Jewish community, and Larry Schwartz, the former Secretary to the Governor who ( laughingly ) told reporter’s he saw the mailer but failed to flip it over and see the egregious part on the back before it went out. At least one source points out that it is unlikely any mailer costing roughly $11,000 would go out the door without approval at the highest levels of the campaign, if not the Governor himself. Cuomo denied ever laying eyes on the mailer before press reports about it surfaced.

The Nixon team was seeking a public apology from Cuomo, which was unlikely ever to happen. Nevertheless her endorsement of the Governor drops 6 days shy of the election. Nixon says,

Every one of the 500,000 votes cast for me was a vote for our values. Medicare for all. Free college. Getting big money out of politics. Affordable rent. Legalizing marijuana. A subway system that actually works. Fully funding every school in every zip code, and taxing the rich to pay for it. The Working Families Party is where we are carrying on the fight for those issues.

A link to the video can be found here.

The Truth About Abortion in NYS

With the recent swearing in of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court, supporters of women’s reproductive rights have been concerned that landmark Supreme Court decisions such as Roe v Wade and Casey v Planned Parenthood could now be in jeopardy. Those decisions guaranteed a right to abortion under federal law, and upheld that right, respectively. Kavanaugh replaces Justice Anthony Kennedy, the swing vote on the court, which means a majority of Justice’s on the court are now considered to have conservative leanings.

So what does that mean for New York?

The answer is not much at all, at least according to a recent somewhat under-the-radar report from the non-partisan Rockefeller Institute of Government. Interestingly enough, Rockefeller’s President is Jim Malatras, who previously served as Governor Cuomo’s Director of State Operations. But it was earlier this month at a stop in Peekskill where Cuomo announced that he will bring Democrats together to vote on the Reproductive Health Act within the first 30 days of the new legislative session that begins in January. That’s assuming, of course, that Democrats win a majority in the State Senate. Republicans have refused to schedule a vote on the bill ,known as RHA because they claim it is a massive expansion of abortion, whereas Democrats say the bill merely codifies federal abortion law into New York State Law.

The Rockefeller report concludes,

It is unlikely that any changes to federal law will directly affect the future of abortion rights in New York State because the New York Constitution and statutes already protect abortion rights in many of the same ways as the current federal constitutional precedents.

New York State was actually way ahead of the curve, passing it’s right to an abortion law in 1970 and predating Roe v Wade by three years. Under that original New York Law, abortion is addressed through the penal code. So certain types of abortions put doctors who perform them at legal risk. However, it would likely not fall back on that law if Roe v Wade were overturned because the State Constitution guarantees the same protections as the federal laws that currently exist. Those rights were found to exist as a right to privacy in the 1994 case Hope v Perales before The New York State Court of Appeals. It is hard to foresee a scenario in which New York’s highest court would overturn what is coming up on 25 years of precedent. Not to mention that all seven Judges currently on the court were appointed by Governor Cuomo, who has been a fierce advocate of women’s reproductive rights.

RHA would allow non-physician’s to perform abortions. Specifically Physician’s Assistant’s and Nurse Practitioner’s. That makes some people uncomfortable. As one Republican told me, the Senate Majority is “generally comfortable with current abortion law, but if you start expanding it, that makes them nervous.”

Cuomo’s Chief Counsel, Alphonso David told me earlier this month that if federal protections were eliminated that could be a problem in New York. “If the floor changes, then it’s vulnerable,” he said. According to David if doctors See any risk of being criminally prosecuted for performing abortions after 24 weeks, then they could make the choice not to perform them at all, and the procedure could end up only being available to the wealthy. He also says Physician’s Assistant’s and Nurse Practitioner’s were not certified professions in 1970, meaning that they may very well have been allowed to perform abortions under a doctor’s supervision.

The bottom line is that even if the Supreme Court overturns abortion, New York will likely be unaffected. However supporters of RHA want to make sure that’s the case by updating New York’s law and getting abortion out of the penal code. But as long as RHA changes the definition of who can perform the procedure, there is always going to be strong opposition by those who favor restrictions on abortion.

 

Will The Same Playbook for Democrats Work in the Suburbs?

There may come a day where an army of union volunteers knocking on doors and pulling votes on election day no longer has the same impact. There is a lot of talk about voting reform in New York State early next year which could include implementing some form of early voting. That would mean a ground operation on Primary or Election Day could be less important if people have already cast ballots.

But that’s not the world we live in. At least not yet.

What Governor Cuomo and Letitia James were able to accomplish last month was mobilizing people and getting them to the polls. In huge numbers. That was partially money, partially anti-Trump fervor and certainly a robust education effort informing people that Primary day fell on a weird Thursday in Mid-September. But mostly it was the hard working men and women in the labor unions hitting the ground.

Which is why there is no surprise that Democrats in local races across the State would also want to highlight their union embracing bonafides ahead of election day. Take this election in the 5th Senate District on Strong Island. Republican Carl Marcellino is fending off a challenge from James Gaughran. The Democrat already has the backing of NYSUT, the State Teacher’s union. But it was this post from Gaughran that left some Republican insiders confused:

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Oh, and this:

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Turns out, Gaughran actually served as outside counsel to Cablevision, which was locked in a very bitter dispute with CWA workers who Gaughran is now claiming to stand with. Now, to quote Don Corleone, “It doesn’t make any difference to me what a man does for a living. Understand.”

But certainly it seems, in the eyes of some, a little convenient to claim you stand with boots-on-the-ground union workers just a few days before Election Day. Candice Giove, a campaign spokeswoman for Senate Republicans says.


“Career candidate Jim Gaughran is certainly proud to fight alongside anyone who might get him his next paycheck, whether he’s using CWA union members as election props or earning a buck during the near decade he represented the management company that’s feuded with CWA.”

Democrats counter that CWA has endorsed Gaughran, and plan to phone bank for him this evening. In a statement, Dennis Trainor, a CWA Vice President says,

Carl Marcellino has spent his decades in Albany attacking unions and failing the hardworking men and women of Long Island. Jim Gaughran understands the issues facing struggling Long Island families, and our brothers and sisters in labor. We are proud to stand with Jim Gaughran and we will keep fighting to get him elected to the State Senate.

With Republican Marc Molinaro struggling to raise funds in his bid to topple Cuomo, the battleground in New York State appears to be shifting to the Senate, where Republicans hold a one seat majority. Democrats are mostly playing offense, which makes them confident. But even with a fundraising boost this last period, the resources are not unlimited. Democrats have to pick and choose where to spend that money. And some key races like this one in the 5th could determine whether they can actually capture control of the chamber.

Right, But Who Are You Running Against?

I haven’t been paying all that much attention to the State Senate races, but as we get past the primary and into the general, I certainly intend to. A lot is at stake. Namely control of the upper chamber, which has been in Republican hands for almost ten years. For the last two years, that control has been by a razor thin margin which means each and every seat up for grabs ( and all of them are this year ) could make the difference for which party is in control.

In the 39th State Senate District which covers parts of the Hudson Valley, Democratic Assemblyman James Skoufis is running against Republican Stony Point Town Councilman Tom Basile. The seat is being vacated by Republican Senator Bill Larkin who has served in the State legislature since 1979. Larkin’s 40 years of elected office include the State Assembly from 1979 to 1990, followed by the State Senate from 1991 to 2018. Which is why a comment made recently by Skoufis seemed a little bizarre, and out of sync.

Speaking to an audience recently Skoufis said “Let’s do this, and let’s finally have a State Senator you can be proud of.”

What’s unusual here is that legislators on both sides of the aisle have made a point to offer nothing but praise for Larkin, as he prepares to retire at age 90. Larkin has a long history beginning with his military service in the South Pacific during World War II. He later served in the Korean War and throughout his 23 years in the Army Larkin received a Legion of Merit, 7 Commendation Medals, and seven Battle Stars. Following his military career, Larkin was tapped for service by President John F. Kennedy and later guarded Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during his historic march from Selma to Montgomery Alabama. Let’s face it, the man is a walking representation of the events that defined 20th century America. Whether one is a Republican or a Democrat, it’s hard to say Larkin hasn’t distinguished himself and made his country proud.

Perhaps most importantly in all of this, Skoufis isn’t even running against Larkin.

In a statement, GOP Spokesman Scott Reif says,

 

“James Skoufis is so wrapped up in climbing the political ladder he forgot that the current state Senator is a distinguished veteran of World War II and Korea who won numerous combat medals, commanded an all-black unit when the Army was still segregated and protected Martin Luther King and those who marched for civil rights at Selma.  Later this year, Senator Larkin will complete a career in government that spans decades, and he is one of only two World War II vets who are still serving in any state Legislature in the country.  He has launched the Purple Heart Hall of Honor, provided resources to establish the Newburgh Armory to keep at risk kids off the streets, and delivered hundreds of millions of dollars to improve the lives of people all throughout the 39th Senate district.  He is universally respected by Democrats and Republicans everywhere who have spoken with pride about his service to our state and nation, and about the kind of person he is.  James Skoufis has hit a new low with this disgusting and unprovoked attack on Senator Larkin – – a public servant, a patriot and true hero.”

In response, Jonathan Heppner, a spokesman for Skoufis pointed to previous statements the Assemblyman has made praising Larkin. Heppner says,

This is a pathetic attempt by Tom Basile to distract from his failing campaign. The facts are James Skoufis was referring to Basile’s disingenuous ‘Our Senator’ slogan that disrespectfully assumes that Senator Larkin isn’t still in office.

Assemblyman Skoufis has worked with Senator Larkin on a countless number of issues to deliver for the people of Orange County. James Skoufis has also praised Senator Larkin since he announced his retirement, calling him an ‘inspiration’ and ‘military hero,’ and acknowledged Larkin’s public service during his recent campaign announcement speech. The Basile campaign must really be getting desperate.

 

Here is the clip of Skoufis:

My Movie – HD 720p (1)

 

 

 

 

 

O’Donnell Endorses Nixon

Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell has endorsed Cynthia Nixon for Governor. O’Donnell becomes the fourth sitting legislator to do so after Andrew Hevesi, Harvey Epstein and Tom Abinanti.

While many LGBT groups have opted to back Governor Cuomo over Nixon in this year’s primary, O’Donnell was an early supporter of marriage equality, shepherding the bill through the Assembly multiple times before it became law in 2011 in New York State. Cuomo points to the marriage vote as one of his key civil rights accomplishments during his 8 years as Governor. In statement O’Donnell says,


“In my years in the Assembly I’ve fought for civil rights, education equity, transparency and criminal justice reform only to be told time and again that I was too loud, progressive, and ambitious. But I learned from my years as a public defender that win or lose, if you want something done you have to keep fighting. And through many of those fights, Cynthia Nixon stood beside me to tell me to keep going. Cynthia was there when I passed Marriage Equality, and the Dignity for All Students Act. Cynthia has promised to be there when we end cash bail. Cynthia has promised to be there when we repeal 50-a, making police disciplinary records transparent. And Cynthia has promised to be there when we pass the millionaires tax to fix the subways. I’m proud to join the Democratic Clubs in my district and many of my neighbors in giving my enthusiastic endorsement to Cynthia Nixon.”
O’Donnell and Nixon will formally roll out their endorsement together this evening at 5p at the 96th street subway stop in Manhattan. That’s where they are expected to jointly do some retail politicking before announcing the actual endorsement. In a statement, Nixon says,
“The marriage equality act would not have passed without Danny’s leadership. He shepherded it though the assembly five times before it finally became law. I am so grateful for his tireless dedication to LGBT equality and, also, to unceasing education funding for our low income school districts. I’m so honored to have is endorsement.”
Nixon has drawn the endorsements so far only from handful of male legislators and City Councilmen. She has not received the endorsement of any sitting elected female Council members or state legislators, despite appealing to the women’s vote in this election. She does have support of former City Council Speaker Melissa mark-Viverito, and from many women State Senate candidates who are challenging former IDC members.

Nixon Courts Muslim Vote

It’s probably conventional wisdom at this point that if Cynthia Nixon were to have any chance of defeating Governor Andrew Cuomo next month it would be through bringing new voters to the polls on September 13th. Groups and individuals that either hadn’t previously been registered, or simply chose not to exercise their right to vote. One of those groups being courted by Nixon is Muslim New Yorkers, who number close to a million in the greater New York City area, and several hundred thousand more when you look at the totality of New York State.

Last night Nixon held a Roundtable with the Muslim Democratic Club of New York at the Islamic Cultural Center on 3rd Avenue in Manhattan. For some ( Godforsaken and completely inexplicable ) reason, the event was closed press. But according participants, they discussed a range of issues of interest to the community including universal healthcare, how to greater engage the Muslim community in New York, unwarranted surveillance, racial and religious profiling and issues related to immigration including the need to abolish ICE and allowing driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants in New York State. On the latter issue, Cuomo says he needs legislation, activists claim he can initiate through Executive Order.

In a statement, Tahanie Aboushi, President of the Muslim Democratic Club of New York says,

Cynthia is no stranger to New York’s Muslim community. From standing with us at JFK protesting the Muslim Ban to visiting our places of worship, Cynthia is committed to engaging the Muslim Community and learning about issues that are of concern to us. She is dedicated to inclusivity and realizes the importance of the Muslim Community. We look forward to building and working with her as Governor.

In his nearly 8 years as Governor, Cuomo has never actually visited a Mosque. A source close to the Governor points out that during the controversy surrounding the Lower Manhattan Mosque that was to be located near the World Trade Center in the mid aughts, Cuomo came out in favor. He later took heat from Republican Rick Lazio over that issue when they both ran for Governor in 2010. Lazio was running in the Republican primary where he ultimately lost to Carl Paladino.