Zack Fink

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Posts by Zack Fink

Dems May Kick Felder Out Of Party

Next week the Democrats will meet for their convention on Long Island where members of the State Committee will pick candidates and award them a spot on the ballot. While it’s widely understood that the incumbents will win these votes, it is not a preordained conclusion until there is an actual vote. But you wouldn’t know that from the script that has already been written out by the NY Dems. According to documents obtained by Spectrum News/NY1, Governor Cuomo and Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul WILL be the nominees. Cuomo is being challenged by Cynthia Nixon and has not yet been formally nominated. But not according to this internal document which shows him being announced as the candidate at the convention.

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One should probably point out that Nixon campaign hasn’t really helped themselves by being so secretive about how they plan on handling the convention next week. Are they going, or not? Enquiring Minds wanna know. But Hochul is most definitely facing a contested primary against City Councilman Jumaane Williams. But you wouldn’t know that from this DSC script:

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The State Party is supposed to remain independent of the incumbents, according to the Democratic National Committee. In a statement, Geoff Berman the Executive Director of the State Party says,

This was a template script from four years ago cut and pasted as a starting point for working on this year’s run of show. Obviously the party will honor whoever the delegates vote as their designee.

Although this statement doesn’t ring totally true because the nominee for Attorney General was left blank. Indicating that it was written AFTER Eric Schneiderman’s resignation last week.

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But beyond that, there are often a number resolutions that are considered at the convention as well, and here is one that jumped right out. Check out the 4th one down. It says “Removal of Senator Simcha Felder from the Democratic Party.” Although it appears as though the party has already decided this resolution should be tabled.

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Felder is the Brooklyn Democrat who conferences with Senate Republicans. There is also a resolution urging the party to support Felder’s primary opponent. Highlighted below in red.

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Reached for comment Felder says,

I am honored to be the most important thing on the minds of Democratic Party operatives. I am humbled by the fact that most of my constituents, who are Democrats, are more than OK with what I am doing.

Felder then called back about five minutes later and added,

“If the Democratic Party was determined to have the Senate majority all they would have to do is put me up as Attorney General.”

 

 

 

AG Office Takes a Breath

At some point today, Eric Schneiderman will deliver his formal letter of resignation and Barbara Underwood will become Acting Attorney General for the State of New York. So far, there hasn’t been any large, morale-boosting staff meeting in the Attorney General’s office, but Underwood has been quietly meeting with staff members on an individual basis, most of whom she already knows. The 700 lawyers and 1,800 employees will continue working on the same cases they were working on yesterday, and Underwood was deeply steeped in most of those cases.

But it was a tumultuous 24 hours for the State Attorney General’s Office, to say the least. Sources say reporters from the New Yorker Magazine first called members of the AG press shop on Sunday evening. No one inside knew of any of the allegations until they received that call. A quick check with Human Resources revealed that Schneiderman never had an internal complaint against him in the office for harassment or anything else inappropriate. And from the time of that call until the actual resignation things moved very quickly.

Schneiderman huddled with members of his inner circle including ex-wife Jennifer Cunningham who doled out advice. Communications guru Stu Loeser was quickly hired by Schneiderman as a crisis communications consultant. A handful of other valued staffers in the office were brought in and out of the conversations with the AG and his quickly shrinking inner circle. When the article finally popped just before 7pm on Monday night “There wasn’t much disagreement.” People realized this was not exactly something they could spin their way out of. Schneiderman had already issued a statement that while not outright confirming the allegations, certainly did not vociferously deny them.

The staff began gaming out options. How could Schneiderman ever have a press conference about anything again without being tainted? It quickly became evident that it would be impossible for him to continue to do the job. And while Governor Cuomo swiftly coming out and calling for Schneiderman’s resignation certainly didn’t help matters, no one in the office chimed in and said the words, “Eric should stay and fight” either.

Schneiderman was not actually in the office when the article hit the web, but many of the dedicated staffers at the AG’s office were. Because as one insider put it, “we are underpaid and overworked public servants.”

By all accounts, Underwood is a solid and capable manager and could be someone who rights the ship in this time of crisis. It’s unlikely she has career ambitions beyond helping the office get back on its feet and focusing it on its core mission which is standing up for the people of New York State.

 

The Rub of Being Progressive and Taking Corporate Money

While Governor Cuomo is criticizing Immigration and Customs Enforcement ( ICE ) agents for stepped up enforcement  against undocumented immigrants, an immigrant rights group is calling him a hypocrite for keeping campaign contributions from a billionaire who’s company is headquartered in the same Buffalo building as ICE.

In response to recent immigration raids Cuomo took a tough stance on Wednesday. At his East Side office, the Governor called the raids, “reckless and unconstitutional,” something that “violates everything we believe in New York and are an assault on our democracy.”

The Governor continued.

“I demand ICE immediately cease and desist this pattern of conduct, and if they fail to do so, I will pursue all available legal recourse and commit to doing everything in my power to protect the rights and safety of New Yorkers.”
Cuomo added that ICE agents were feeding off of President Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda. This prompted a sharp rebuke from ICE’s Director who accused Cuomo of “grandstanding.

But if Cuomo wanted to really play hardball he could ask that Jeremy Jacobs, a billionaire and major Cuomo donor, no longer rent space alongside ICE agents in the publicly subsidized building on the corner of Delaware and Chippewa in Buffalo.

The building is headquarters for concessions conglomerate Delaware North, which the Jacobs family owns. The building is not owned by Delaware North, but by Uniland. However, the building is called “The Delaware North Building,” and critics say the company has effective control over what happens there, including who can lease space. Development of the site was done in partnership between Uniland and Delaware North. Jacobs, much of his extended family, and a number of Limited Liability Companies or LLC’s have given Cuomo nearly $125,000 in campaign contributions since he first ran for Governor in 2010. So, presumably Cuomo has a relationship with at least some of them.

Moreover, the Jacobs family appear to be non-partisan in their support for political candidates. They have donated more than a $150,000 to President Donald J. Trump. Including with a major fundraiser they threw for him at the same Delaware North building last year. ( And yes, that is very same Trump who Cuomo believes is authorizing and ginning up these egregious immigration raids )

But the connections do not end there. Former U.S. Attorney William Hochul recently became General Counsel for Delaware North. Hochul is the husband of Cuomo’s Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul.

In a statement Janet Farfan, member of Make the Road Action says,

“Andrew Cuomo can’t have it both ways: you can’t claim to be a champion for immigrants while accepting big contributions from billionaires who are happy for their company’s global headquarters to include ICE offices.”

Critics say if the raids ICE is conducting are in fact, “illegal” as the Governor said, then it would stand to reason that he should use any means at his disposal to deny ICE a staging area from which to conduct illegal activity. Even if that means returning campaign contributions from a big donor who supports Trump and the illegal activities of ICE.

In a statement, Cuomo 2018 Spokesperson Abbey Fashouer says,

“No governor in the nation has been as aggressive against ICE and their illegal anti-immigrant tactics. It’s ridiculous to say that we should know where ice rents space.”

Supporters of the Governor say the last contributions made by the Jacobs family and their associates to the Cuomo campaign came no later than 2014, around the time Delaware North and ICE signed leases to occupy the same building. Also, there was a different culture from ICE back then when it was under the authority of the Obama Administration.

**update**

In a statement, Glen White, a spokesperson for Delaware North says,

Delaware North supports many organizations that assist immigrants and refugees, including the International Institute of Buffalo, International Rescue Committee and Catholic Charities of Buffalo. In addition, Delaware North trains and employs hundreds of international workers on H2-B and other visa programs at the national parks where we operate.”

 

Nixon Finance Team Takes Shape

It’s the bane of most candidates existence: fundraising. Massive amounts of time spent cold calling potential donors and asking for money. It’s particularly tough for candidates with a progressive ethos like Democrat Cynthia Nixon who has vowed to take no corporate money while relying on smaller donations to at least project the image of a campaign based entirely on grassroots support.

But fundraising is a must. Particularly if Nixon is going to compete with Andrew Cuomo’s formidable $30 million campaign war chest. Moreover, Cuomo is actually an exception to the above rule. He enjoys fundraising and holding splashy events with fat cat contributors. But if the donor community and the establishment of old New York Democratic money is on Cuomo’s side in this campaign, it could suck up a lot of the oxygen, which is why Nixon’s team is so critical.

The Nixon campaign will announce shortly that they have hired Monica Barnes as their Finance Director. Since 2013 Barnes has served as Major Gifts Officer, and Fundraising Consultant to Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Certainly a base of supporters who Nixon will be eager to tap into if she is going to stay competitive. Money isn’t everything, of course. But it certainly helps get one’s message out. Especially in the expensive ad buy world of New York City.

In a statement, Rebecca Katz a spokesperson for Nixon says,

We are excited to bring on Monica Barnes, an extremely talented fundraiser with decades of experience, most recently with Planned parenthood. There’s no better person to help our campaign reach out to all new donors – particularly women – who have been energized by this unique moment in American History.

Nixon has also hired Elana Leopold as a consultant to the campaign who is helping out with fundraising. Leopold served as Finance Director for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 2017 campaign. And sources say she has been reaching out to Cuomo donors via email to help raise funds for Nixon, some of whom have let her know they are siding with the Governor in this race.

One Democratic insider quipped,

Hiring de Blasio’s entire theater troop only feeds the fact that she’s his puppet. I get it: The longer this entire production runs, the less focus they’ll be on City Hall’s many failures.

De Blasio is a lot of things, but he is not particularly well known for his fundraising prowess. Cuomo has indicated he believes the Mayor helped prompt Nixon to run in the first place. Certainly before Nixon actually announced, and in the very early stages of the campaign some viewed her challenge as at least partially an extension of the de blasio-Cuomo feud. But at some point, the campaign becomes all about the candidate. Much like after being elected to term two, de Blasio now owns the problems at NYCHA, and after two full terms Cuomo kinda owns the subways. It’s just what happens. You want this job, buck stops with you.

In addition to building a fundraising operation, Nixon has been stitching together a coalition of liberal advocacy groups that have spent years challenging Cuomo with sit-ins, demonstrations and press conferences denouncing the Governor’s policies. In a Democratic primary this year you couldn’t really have a better narrative which pits the outsiders against the more entrenched interests for the soul of the Democratic Party. It’s a microcosm of what is happening nationally, and all eyes are gonna be on New York this year.

IDC Agrees to Dissolve

Last Thursday before the budget was finalized, Governor Andrew Cuomo began reaching out to labor leaders. He invited them to a 3p meeting on Tuesday April 3rd at the Capital Grille on 42nd Street, not far from Cuomo’s East side office. At that meeting were the State’s key labor leaders or their surrogates, along with IDC Leader Jeff Klein, Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Congressman Joe Crowley. Some say Klein knew what was about to happen others say he did not. Stewart-Cousins definitely did not.

Cuomo had the floor. He told attendees that like his father, he learned early on that you can’t “retrade.” It’s fine to look ahead to the special elections on April 24th, but that is not good enough. The two Democratic factions must come together immediately, even if that means Klein sitting in the minority, something he has been loathe to do. Cuomo announced that Klein must “end the IDC altogether.” Stewart-Cousins will be sole leader of a reunited Democratic party and Klein will serve as a Deputy. Senator Michael Gianaris will remain in his leadership post.

As one Democratic insider put it, “we can now leave this ugly chapter behind us and work together as one party.”

Yesterday’s meeting lasted two hours. It was described as very clandestine with many of the participants unaware of who else would be invited. When everyone arrived, it was a little bit like one of those murder mystery themed dinner parties.

The meeting ended with Klein and Stewart-Cousins shaking hands, but was contingent upon a conference call this morning between Stewart-Cousins and her members. Sources say the mainline Democrats have agreed to accept the terms of the renewed reunification deal. Originally, it was not supposed to happen until after the special election April 24th. But the primary challenge from Cynthia Nixon against Governor Cuomo prompted him to take immediate action. There is still a long way to go before Democrats can oust Republicans from control of the State Senate and form a majority. Democrats must win both seats in the special election, then Brooklyn Democrat Simcha Felder must agree to come back into the fold, which is highly questionable. Even then, the rules of the Senate may prevent a simple change of leadership.

But all of that seems besides the point. Cuomo sensed the shift in the political winds. And realized he had to inoculate himself against this particular line of attack from Nixon, which is that the Governor blessed this arrangement of a divided party while also empowering Republicans. The question now is will that be enough for Cuomo among the activist base of the party?

Finally the Klein factor is interesting here. If he had agreed to go back late last year, he probably would have secured himself a co-leader position with Stewart-Cousins. That deal is no longer on the table. Without Cuomo’s support, he has nowhere else to go. Might as well negotiate the terms of your surrender before your options get even worse.

A Campaign Ad Shoot for Cynthia?

Over the weekend, The Daily Mail had an article about Cynthia Nixon shooting something in the city. It looked an awful lot like a campaign ad, but some have insisted it cannot possibly be that because she hasn’t officially opened up a campaign account to challenge Andrew Cuomo in the Democratic Primary for Governor. Well, it turns out it doesn’t always work that way. Money gets dumped into races all the time. Committees can get setup after the election is over and vendors can be told to hold the receipts. As one campaign veteran put it to me, “it’s frustrating but permitted.”

Well, here is some further evidence it was a campaign ad. Take a look at this photo.

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The guy all the way on screen right with his face partially obscured looks a lot like this guy, Matt McLaughlin.

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Matt McLaughlin is partners with Bill Hyers at WIN Strategies.

https://www.thewincompany.com/about/

And Bill Hyers is advising Cynthia Nixon on a run for Governor. And as my Producer Extraordinaire Maggie Margolis at NY1 shows me, this video tells us even more.

https://news.vice.com/en_us/article/bjddb5/meet-the-progressive-team-making-campaign-ads-great-again

By the way, this isn’t just me sleuthing. I was told by a source it is him.

Looks like Nixon is running, folks.

 

Geoff Berman Takes a Beating

On Wednesday night, The Barack Obama Democratic Club held a meeting at “WordUp,” a community bookstore on 165th Street and Amsterdam Avenue in Washington Heights. The featured speaker was Geoff Berman, the ( relatively ) new head of the Democratic State Party appointed by Governor Cuomo.

Sources say the meeting did not go well for Berman.

About 60 people were in attendance and numerous attendees spoke up about the Independent Democratic Conference in the New York State Senate and why Berman and Cuomo aren’t doing more to bring the IDC back into the Democratic fold. The IDC currently has a power sharing arrangement for control of the Senate with Republicans. It’s worth noting that even if all IDC members agreed to join forces with mainline Democrats they still wouldn’t have the numbers to form a majority, but in the era of anti-Trump sentiment among the Democratic base here in New York State, no one is really in the mood to hear excuses.

According to one source Berman was “pummeled” by the crowd for failing to be more forceful about what the party and Cuomo are doing to pressure the IDC. Berman kept “towing this painful line” about reconciliation, and the crowd wasn’t buying it. They demanded to know why the party has  taken a “non-aggression” approach to the IDC, and they simply would not let it go.

Berman was polite and tried to answer their questions, but he did not have the answers people were looking for. Berman has told anti-IDC groups that they will not be supporting any primary challenges against IDC members, but the party will apparently be supporting Conor Lamb’s campaign for Congress. Lamb’s race is in neighboring Pennsylvania. Not New York State.

This is not the first time people within the Democratic Party have questioned Berman’s fitness for the job. A deal announced in November to bring the IDC and mainline Democrats together after the State budget is passed in late March or early April left many scratching their heads about the timing of both the announcement and the reconciliation date being so far away. The unification deal also came under heavy fire Wednesday night.

A person close to Berman downplayed the the significance of what happened at the meeting, saying that it was mostly about Congressional races.

Lawmakers Finally Get a Raise

State Lawmakers received an unanticipated surprise in their paychecks this month. It wasn’t because Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders agreed to a pay raise. And it wasn’t because legislators get a normal cost of living adjustment like those in the private sector.

Nope. The State elected’s have one person to thank and one person only for their new bi-weekly raises and that Is: Donald J. Trump.

That’s right. Despite being described by Democratic leaders as an “economic missile,” the federal tax cuts are doing precisely what congress predicted they would do: giving middle class people, like our $79,500 earning state lawmakers, a financial break.

To be clear, it’s not a ton of money. Legislators reported getting anywhere from $45 to as high as $80 extra in their latest paychecks. It likely varies depending on one’s withholdings.But it’s nothing to sneeze at either. Especially when you haven’t had a pay raise since Chumbawamba was a popular band.

The irony is particularly thick considering Democratic leaders have been predicting nothing but economic hardship and a meltdown of the state’s economy from these tax cuts. Who knows. That doom and gloom may still happen. But for now our state lawmakers are pretty psyched. One of whom told me, “I just think it’s hilarious.”

Yeah, it kinda is.

Biaggi’s Voting Record

With special elections in the state Senate now called for April 24, Democrats are hopeful they can finally form a majority if the vacancies in Westchester and the Bronx are won by Democratic candidates.

Even if that were to happen, however, Brooklyn Democrat Sen. Simcha Felder, who currently sits with the Republicans, would have to agree to conference with the Democrats to hit the magic number of 32 members to form a majority. That is certainly not a guarantee. Not to mention the fact that the breakaway eight member IDC, and the mainline Democrats would have to agree to work together – also not a guarantee.

So, while there is a chance Democrats could wind up in the majority this calendar year, the real battles for control of the upper chamber will take place in local districts across the State this coming November.

But before that, there will be primaries. Lots of them. Even though Democrats have pledged not to support primary challenges against members of the IDC, candidates in each of those districts are pushing forward anyway, including against IDC Leader Jeff Klein. Alessandra Biaggi, the granddaughter of former Bronx Congressman Mario Biaggi is challenging Klein in his Northern Bronx and Southern Westchester District.

But a look at Biaggi’s voting record, a measure of civic engagement, shows she wasn’t always consistent in going to the polls. While Biaggi voted in the general election’s of 2016, 2014 and 2012, she did not vote in any of the Democratic primaries, often the where the real race takes place in New York since voter registration in the city is so overwhelmingly Democratic.

Biaggi also did not vote for Barack Obama in 2008, arguably a transformative election for Democrats in this country.

And while Biaggi points to Governor Andrew Cuomo ( someone she once worked for ) as part of her inspiration to run, that does not appear to extend to voting for him. She stayed home for both the primary and the general in 2010, and skipped the contentious primary Cuomo had against Zephyr Teachout in 2014.

In 2016 Biaggi voted in both the Primary and the General when she was working for Hillary Clinton.

In a statement, Biaggi responds,

Surprise! I’m a real human – and my voting record isn’t perfect. This is Klein reaching for something negative to say about me – but I’m just getting started telling the truth about him. Every single day Klein makes the choice to NOT protect reproductive rights for the women of New York, to NOT give working families access to great healthcare they can actually afford, and to NOT give our children desperately needed school funding, which by the way, they are owed by law. And, that’s just the beginning, the list goes on and on. Millions of New Yorkers’ lives are worse off on a daily basis, because of Jeff Klein’s politics.

 

The Politics of New York Tolls

New York has a long history of motorists paying tolls, and also going way out of their way to avoid them.

Let’s begin with arguably the *worst* toll paying experience ever, which would have to go to Santino Corleone. New Yorkers have been wary ever since.

Some personal history. When I was growing up in the Riverdale section of the Bronx my grandparents would sometimes drive up from Manhattan to visit on the weekends ( and I stress the word “sometimes” ). My grandfather, being a product of the Great Depression, would leave his place on 75th street and insist on taking Broadway all the way up through Marble Hill to West 230th Street, then cross over to 750 Kappock where we lived. He did this specifically to avoid paying the toll on the Henry Hudson Parkway, which was at the time, 60 cents. No, I’m not kidding. Sure, 60 cents went a little further in the late 70s and early 80s, but let’s be real, not that much further. My father and uncle had absolutely no patience for their old man’s frugality. They would break into tirades in front of all of us often referring to him as a “Cheap” ( they actually affixed a second word after cheap that is unprintable ). Sigh. the Fink’s were not always the softest of people.

Interestingly enough, when the Henry Hudson Toll was about to jump to 90 cents, my uncle bought several hundred dollars worth of tokens, giving himself a discounted ride for months to come. The apple does fall far from the tree, I suppose.

One of the key sticking points of the old congestion pricing plan known as MoveNY  was tolls on the East River Bridges. Lawmakers from Brooklyn and Queens would never go for that which is why it never really got off the ground in 2015. This time around, the Fix NYC proposal commissioned by Governor Cuomo would avoid tolls on the Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg and 59th Street Bridges. But drivers who roll into Manhattan below 60th street from any of those same entry points would still end up paying the congestion pricing fee of $11.52, just as much as the tunnel. Motorists would be not be charged twice, so they would either pay at the tunnel or in the Manhattan zone.

Someone may still need to do a better traffic study, because my fear is that one or two of these entry points will get clogged on a consistent basis depending on where the heaviest concentration of drivers are located in Brooklyn and Queens.

Then there is the problem of Staten Island. At least the old Move plan held out hope that the Verrazano Bridge toll could be lowered. It’s currently $17 per non-EZ Pass car, and $92 for 18-wheelers ( good, Lord ). Without tolls on the East River bridges that hope diminishes, although Cuomo has already signaled a willingness to deal on this, which was an early sign an agreement is not completely out of reach. Under the Fix NYC plan, those with E-Z Pass would pay what they currently pay which is $11.52, and they wouldn’t have to pay more under congestion pricing to enter Manhattan. Of course they already pay twice, once at the Battery Tunnel and then again at the Verrazano on their way back to Shaolin.

The Staten Island burden is insurmountable enough that Republican State Senator Andrew Lanza called the Fix NYC proposal “riduculous” and “discriminatory.” I’m no language expert, but that sounds an awful lot to me like he won’t support it ever. And Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan has already said he will defer to his City members to take the lead on whether they can support this plan.

Then again, Lanza and Cuomo back channel. So it would not surprise me if they work something out on the side. Reporters were very surprised a few years ago when we were staking out the leaders meeting in the hallway outside Governor Cuomo’s office on the second floor of the Capitol for several hours with not a hint nor a peep from inside when suddenly Lanza came barreling out of Cuomo’s office. I’ll never forget it because he was wearing a sweater decorated with knitted images of reindeer.

I’m not sure what they were talking about that day, but for all I know it could have been the punishingly high tolls for the people of Staten Island.

The key to this whole thing is going to be Governor Cuomo’s budget proposal to direct the Payroll Mobility Tax directly to the MTA. The tax was passed with that intention, but now the roughly $1.6 Billion annually goes first into the general fund, requiring an additional appropriation to the MTA. See if you can guess what has happened to all that money in the years since. Once the MTA has that revenue source directly it can build the infrastructure for congestion pricing. That way it is in place for if and when the legislature is ready to act. That’s the backdoor way this gets done.