Democrats Plan To Make GENDA Law

Democratic state lawmakers on Tuesday said they will move forward next year with a bill that would add legal protections for gender identity and expression in the state’s anti-discrimination law.

The move would be one of the more significant steps taken to protect the rights of transgender New Yorkers in housing, the workplace and other avenues.

The measure, the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, has not received a vote for the last decade in the state Senate, which had majority control under the Republican conference.

“It’s an embarrassment to New Yorkers that 19 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws barring discrimination on the basis of gender expression or identity before us,” said Assemblyman Richard Gottfried. “I am hopeful that this year we can finally honor the Transgender Day of Remembrance by passing the bill in our newly Democratic State Senate.”

But Democrats flipped the chamber on Election Day this month, picking up eight seats and a margin as high as 17 seats in the 63-member chamber.

Lawmakers in the statement noted today is Transgender Remembrance Day.

“It’s time to make the GENDA the law of the land once and for all,” said Sen. Brad Hoylman.

“New York is the only state in the northeast without statutory protections for its transgender citizens, including hate crimes. It’s shameful that the GENDA has been blocked for years by the New York State Senate, where I serve as the only openly LGBTQ senator. As we memorialize transgender New Yorkers who’ve been victims of violence and hatred, we must redouble our efforts to fight the Trump Administration’s rollback of protections for LGBTQ Americans and pass GENDA in the new legislative session, bringing New York’s human rights law into the 21st century.”

The measure has been approved multiple times in the Democratic-led Assembly. In 2015, Gov. Andrew Cuomo enshrined aspects of the bill into the state’s human rights regulations, though supporters have called for those provisions to have the force of law.

“No one should be killed, abused, mistreated, or degraded simply for being who they are,” said Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the likely majority leader come January. “That is a message we must all take to heart, on Transgender Day of Remembrance and on all days.”

4 NY Dems Sign On To Anti-Pelosi Letter

Four Democrats from New York were among those who signed a letter released Monday that opposes electing Nancy Pelosi the next speaker of the House of Representatives.

The Democrats include Rep.-elect Anthony Brindisi, Rep.-elect Max Rose and Reps. Kathleen Rice and Brian Higgins.

Both Brindisi and Rose, who unseated Republican incumbents this month, had publicly stated during their campaigns they would not support to return to the speaker’s office if Democrats gain control of the House.

Overall, 16 lawmakers or incoming members of the House on the Democratic side signed the letter.

“Our majority came on the backs of candidates who said they would support new leadership because voters in hard-won districts, and across the country, want to see real change in Washington,” they wrote in the letter. “We promised to change the status quo, and we intended to deliver on that promise.”

Golden Concedes To Gounardes

Republican Sen. Marty Golden on Monday conceded his race to Democrat Andrew Gounardes nearly two weeks after Election Day.

The Brooklyn Senate district is one Democrats have long eyed for a potential flip. The party will have as many as 40 members in the 2019 legislative session in the 63-seat Senate.

“Although we came up just short this election, I am grateful my career in public service has been full of much success as a police officer and as an elected official,” Golden said. “As I think of the future, my supporters, neighbors and friends can be sure that I will still always look for opportunities to make our neighborhoods an even better place to live, work and raise a family.”

Gounardes had previously challenged Golden in 2016. In a statement, Gounardes said he wanted to tackle health care and transit issues.

“In the days since the election, my team and I have worked closely with Democratic leadership and my colleagues in the State Senate to ensure that I’m ready to hit the ground running,” he said. “I look forward to coordinating with Senator Golden on a smooth transition between now and January so that our community can come together and move forward.”

Where Does Felder Go?

From the Morning Memo:

A minor drama erupted earlier this year when the Independent Democratic Conference decided to dissolve itself and rejoin the Democratic fold in the state Senate: What would freelancer Simcha Felder.

The Brooklyn lawmaker and registered Democrat ultimately stayed put in the Republican conference, where GOP lawmakers, terrified of losing majority control, virtually walked on egg shells around him, making sure to heap praise on him in public.

Felder could destroy their world, so best to keep him happy.

Felder’s decision to stay with the Republicans in the state Senate ultimately did little to shift the balance of power in the chamber. In the end, that was up to the voters.

And the verdict was a landslide for Democrats last Tuesday, with the party taking eight seats, including long-sought districts on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley.

Now, Felder can either be number 24 in the Republican minority or number 40 in a large Democratic majority.

Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the incoming majority leader, in a WBAI radio interview on Thursday said she had spoken recently to Felder about potentially switching to the Democratic conference. She remained non-committal on if anything will come of the sit-down.

He is not likely to get the same kind of sweeteners Republicans were able to procure for him, like the creation of a specialized subcommittee for New York City education, which enabled him to expedite measures he wanted to see passed, like those meant to aid yeshivas.

And Democrats are likely wary of Felder’s stances on social issues, mindful of their experience with Ruben Diaz Sr., a Pentecostal minister who in the state Senate was opposed to bills strengthening LGBT rights and abortion laws. He is now on the New York City council.

But Felder has maintained his plan would be to go wherever is best for his constituents and there is little upside to being in the minority in Albany.

Stewart-Cousins: Concerns Over Amazon Should Be Addressed

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in a radio interview on Wednesday said there are “major questions and concerns” surrounding the billions of dollars in tax incentives for web retail giant Amazon’s move to Long Island City in Queens that should be addressed.

“It is really hard to ignore the concerns that are being raised regarding the use of taxpayer money and the lack of transparency and the impact it will have on the local community,” she said in an interview on WBAI’s Max & Murphy podcast. “It’s certainly raised to this level because it looks like on the one hand a huge opportunity, but there are also major questions and concerns that will have to be addressed.”

Politico reported earlier in the day that there is a mechanism that could hinder the approval of the some of the incentives and land use: The Public Authorities Control Board, a little-known entity that Democrats, once in the majority next year, could wield a veto over its approval.

Amazon’s move to Long Island City has been sharply opposed by Sen. Michael Gianaris, the likely deputy majority leader in the 2019 legislative session and a Stewart-Cousins lieutenant.

Amazon selected both Queens and northern Virginia for the site of its second headquarters. The company stands to receive at least $1.5 billion in incentives over 10 years for 25,000 jobs created. Within 15 years, the package grows to $1.7 billion tied to the creation of 40,000.

Will Rubber Meet Road On Tax Pledges?

With the millionaires tax set to expire at the end of the year on upper income earners, the question for the incoming session of the Legislature won’t be an academic one.

The 8.82 percent tax rate has been renewed several times before, closing budget gaps in the process.

But hiking that tax rate further, in order to expand funding for mass transit in New York City as backed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, could prove problematic for incumbent and incoming Democrats in the state Senate.

Nine members of the coming Democratic majority in the Senate have signed a version of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s pledge backing a Democratic platform that includes support for “holding the line” on taxes in the coming legislative session.

Those lawmakers are from areas of the state where a middle-class income is far higher than the median $63,000 or so statewide: Shelley Mayer and Peter Harckham of Westchester County and Long Island Democrats Todd Kaminsky, Jim Gaughran, John Brooks, Monica Martinez, Anna Kaplan and Kevin Thomas. Brooklyn Sen.-elect Andrew Gounardes also signed onto the pledge.

Meanwhile, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, citing the $10,000 cap on state and local tax deductions by the federal government in the 2017 tax law, has not embraced hiking taxes next year, concerned about the double impact such a move would have, especially in the metropolitan region.

New York’s budget deficit is now projected to be at $3 billion in the fiscal year that begins April 1.

Stewart-Cousins: Suburban-Upstate-City Balance Can Be Struck

A 17-seat advantage over Republicans holds some tantalizing prospects for Democrats in the state Senate.

But there are also some pitfalls for a conference that will have lawmakers, 15 of them freshman, representing upstate, suburban and New York City Senate districts, all of which have competing needs.

It’s going to fall to the incoming majority leader, Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, to manage the competing interests of the largest Democratic conference in more than a century.

“It’s something that we understand there are a lot of different issues and I always spend the time and the effort to examine the issues, the alternatives, to really be informed and also look at New York in its entirety,” she said in an interview on WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom on Friday morning.

Stewart-Cousins herself represents a suburban Senate district in Westchester County. Her conference will grow in 2019 to 39, potentially 40 members, after spending the last decade in the minority and kept from power by an alliance between Republicans and the now-defunct Independent Democratic Conference.

“I also know that over the years we have understood more and more it’s a big place and each region really does require different things,” she said. “I’m a suburban legislator as well, so I’m always conscious of that dynamic.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who secured a third term on Tuesday, has also been aware of the dynamic, subtly saying in interviews that Stewart-Cousins, he is sure, understands the complexity of the state and the need to strike a balance.

Democrats picked up eight seats on Tuesday, including historically Republican districts in the Hudson Valley and on Long Island. Democrats last flipped the Senate in 2008, but the majority was a short-lived one, and gains made on Long Island and in upstate New York were dashed in 2010 election.

The conference has virtually turned over entirely since then, and Democratic lawmakers now in power say the same mistakes won’t be made.

“To find a way to govern,” Stewart-Cousins said, “we’re going to have to have a way that respects everybody.”

James To Appoint Underwood Solicitor General

Attorney General-elect Letitia James on Thursday announced she would keep her predecessor on in a role she previously held in the office.

James in a statement said she planned to appoint Attorney General Barbara Underwood the state’s solicitor general.

Underwood had served in that role until May, when she was appointed by the state Legislature to fill out the remainder of Eric Schneiderman’s term following his resignation amid allegations of sexual and domestic abuse. Her appointment made her the first woman to serve in the post.

“She is an exceptionally qualified attorney who has the experience and skills we need to continue taking on the greatest challenges facing our state,” James said. “I am honored and proud to make this appointment and to have her serve alongside me.”

Underwood at the time of her appointment had said she would not run for the post, opening up the office for the first time since 2010.

“It’s been an incredible privilege to serve as New York’s 66th Attorney General – and I look forward to continuing to serve the people of New York as I resume my former role of Solicitor General in January,” Underwood said. “I’m so honored to be joining Tish’s team. It’s clear that Tish is committed to building on the critically important work of the past few years and that, under her leadership, we’ll continue and expand our efforts to protect New Yorkers and fight for equal justice for all.”

Avoiding 2020 Chatter

From the Morning Memo:

A few years ago, Gov. Andrew Cuomo was holding a news conference in the governor’s ceremonial office Capitol office known as the Red Room and was asked how he plans to address the inevitable chatter that he’d run for president one day.

Cuomo paused and said, “I’ve seen this play before — right here in this room, actually.”

Cuomo is mindful of what happens when a New York governor can become a red hot commodity nationally. His father, the late Mario Cuomo, was a dream candidate for some Democrats after delivering an electrifying speech at the 1984 Democratic convention. He wavered on running in 1988 and 1992, famously leaving a plane on the tarmac that was fueled and ready to go to New Hampshire.

Cuomo’s point at the time was the presidential talk can be a needless distraction and becomes an angle taken on every story written, casting a needless shadow on motives.

The younger Cuomo has insisted all along he’s focused on being governor. During a debate this summer with his Democratic primary opponent Cynthia Nixon, Cuomo insisted he would serve out the third term, with the only caveat being “if God strikes me dead.”

“I think he would be an awesome candidate, but I know he is focused on doing the work of the people of New York state,” said Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul in an interview hours after the polls closed on Tuesday and the race was called for their ticket. “That’s what he has said he wants to continue to do.”

For now, Cuomo has not appeared to lay the groundwork that would be geared toward running for the White House like, say, taking an abnormal interest in corn subsidies or the local issues facing voters in a Manchester diner.

He has repeatedly hammered President Donald Trump over his administration’s policies on the environment, immigration, gun control and taxes, but that appeared geared in large part toward his re-election bid.

There are other prominent Democrats in New York who may take the plunge instead: U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has visited New Hampshire to help Democrats there, though she too has made the obligatory statements she’s only interested in her current job.

Democrats Make Gains In New York’s Suburbs

If you are a Republican seeking to rebuild and gain back the ground lost on Tuesday, the suburban New York City counties are an obvious place to start.

The counties surrounding New York City have been trending Democratic for the last several decades.

On one hand it’s not surprising: Suburban voters across the country were seen as key to Democratic successes in congressional districts, helping the party gain a majority in the House of Representatives.

But the success of the party on Tuesday was striking: Gov. Andrew Cuomo handily won Suffolk and Nassau counties on Long Island. Cuomo lost Suffolk County four years ago.

He easily won Westchester County, receiving more than twice as many votes as Republican Marc Molinaro. Cuomo was victorious in Rockland County, where he defeated Molinaro by nearly 10,000 votes.

The furthest south Molinaro won was Putnam County.

In the state Senate, Democrats now have five of nine Senate districts on Long Island. They lost districts in the Hudson Valley, including Cuomo’s home Senate district in Westchester County.

Pendulums, of course, can swing back. Democrats made major gains on Long Island in 2008, only to quickly lose those seats in 2010.

But the Republican footprint in New York covers upstate, but it’s shrinking in an area that, not that long ago, it dominated.