Democrats

Slaughter 2016?

Despite surviving the toughest re-election battle of her career this fall – a surprisingly close fight with little known and under-funded Republican Gates Town Supervisor Mark Assini – Democratic Rep. Louise Slaughter is not ruling out seeking a 16th term in 2016.

Slaughter, 85, said last night during a CapTon interview that her near loss to Assini did not cause her to reassess her future.

“Not a whit; not a bit,” the veteran NY-25 representative said.

Slaughter admitted she “could have done a better job” during this election cycle, though she suggested her weak spot was “messaging” and not necessarily a failure to perform on behalf of her district.

Asked if she’ll run again in two years, the congresswoman, who recently lost her husband and has been reluctant to discuss when – and if – she might retire from public life, responded:

“Look, I plan on doing the very best job I can.”

“The way I see this, Liz, is I work as hard as I can for two years, doing everything I can for my constituents and my district, and then put myself up for them to judge whether they think that’s good or not.”

“You know, when people talk about term limits, that’s the ultimate term limit. It’s up to the constituents.”

Slaughter was widely expected to face her toughest challenge two years ago after redistricting placed almost all of Monroe County into NY-25 and spurred the local county executive and GOP rising star, Maggie Brooks, to throw her hat into the ring.

After a multimillion dollar campaign, Slaughter emerged victorious.

She was not viewed as vulnerable this year. But a combination of lingering anger upstate over the SAFE Act and low turnout proved toxic for Slaughter, providing an in for Assini.

The 2016 race will have a very different dynamic, thanks to a wide open presidential race that will boost turnout in this Democrat-dominated state – especially Westchester County resident Hillary Clinton is the party’s nominee.

Assini has managed to raise his profile considerably, however. If he decides to run again in two years, he will no doubt receive at least some support from the state and national Republican parties – a far cry from the under-the-radar campaign he ran this past year.

Senate-IDC Deal Floated With An Eye To 2016

A new power-sharing arrangement in the state Senate is being discussed that would last through the 2016 election cycle, giving Republicans a cushion against potential Democratic gains in a presidential election year.

The agreement, according to a source familiar with the discussions, would allow Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein to remain co-president of the chamber and include a handshake agreement that the coalition lasts through the 2016 elections.

The deal would allow Klein to retain the power to decide which bills come to the floor for a vote in the Senate and maintain his role in the state budget negotiations.

It has been widely speculated – and even publicly discussed by some current and former Senate GOP members – that Klein would have to give up some power now that the Republicans have won a clear 32-seat majority (plus the addition of Brooklyn Democratic Sen. Simcha Felder).

But under this deal being floated, in exchange for allowing Klein to retain most or all of the power he currently enjoys, the Senate Republicans would gain the insurance of having the five-member IDC to fall back on two years from now, when a presidential election is expected to cause an uptick in Democratic turnout and potentially put the GOP back into a numerical minority.

A source stressed the talks remain fluid and that the final details of a new coalition agreement are yet to be hammered down.

A spokeswoman for Klein declined to comment, as did a spokesman for Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos.

Earlier this week, Skelos said after a closed-door meeting with the Republican conference at the Capitol there is a willingness among his members to continue the coalition with the IDC in some form.

“There was a consensus that we would like to keep the coalition going and I will be having discussions with Senator Klein on how we move forward,” he said.

The proposal has its pitfalls for both sides.

Liberals would no doubt once again seek to oust Klein and his members in party primaries – especially given the stakes of the coalition potentially continuing through the next election cycle – even as Democrats eye Hillary Clinton’s likely run for president delivering down-ballot gains for them.

The Republicans would have to trust Klein to keep his end of the bargain should they suffer losses in the next election that puts them in the minority.

Klein in June agreed to form a new power-sharing coalition with mainline Democrats, but that deal was contingent on the party gaining enough seats to form a majority in the Senate.

Klein has insisted that agreement only went into effect when and if the regular Democrats managed to win enough seats to control the chamber, which they failed to do on Election Day.

Under this new arrangement, mainline Democrats would have to either use their resources to primary the IDC (primary challenges to Klein and IDC Sen. Tony Avella of Queens both failed this year) or win enough seats to make the the breakaway conference irrelevant.

Klein’s chance of retaining power would allow him to once again be a Democratic voice in policy making, meaning he would have to deliver some tangible results in order to stave off opposition on the left.

After being elevated to the Senate co-presidency in the last two-year cycle, Klein was able to have the state’s minimum wage increased over a phased-in period.

Nevertheless, Klein has come under criticism from liberals and other advocacy organizations for the Senate’s failure to pass measures aimed at strengthening abortion rights, the DREAM Act and the full public financing of political campaigns.

Klein has countered that the votes aren’t there in the chamber for either bills to pass, even with the IDC’s support.

Republicans would have to convince their reluctant supporters on the right that they are playing a long game by again empowering a group of Democrats in chamber in what amounts to an insurance policy against falling back into the minority.

Senate Democrats Ding Republicans On ‘Affirmative Consent’

The election is over, but the Senate Democrats have not given up on accusing their Republican counterparts of being out of touch with the needs of New York women.

At issue this time is Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to redefine “consent” for adjudicating sexual assault allegations on college campuses. The use of an “affirmative consent” standard, which requires passivity or the absence of the word “no” to be interpreted as a lack of consent to sexual activity, has been questioned by conservatives and libertarians both in New York and nationally.

At Cuomo’s urging, SUNY recently adopted a new sexual assault policy that includes affirmative consent, and the governor is expected to push for legislation in the 2015 session that would extend that to all campuses across the state.

Sen. Ken LaValle, a Long Island Republican who chairs the Senate’s Higher Education Committee, raised questions about affirmative consent during an interview with Capital’s Jessica Bakeman.

“(S)o, two people have sexual intercourse, and consent has been given,” the senator said. “Does that consent have to be given again? Is it a lifelong consent? Or is it consent on Friday? On Saturday, it has to be renewed? So there are a lot of questions here. And to those people who say it has to be ongoing, it’s not a practical matter to say in a half-an-hour event, that you have to give it five or six times along the way. It’s just not practical.”

Bakeman’s story sparked a quick response from Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky, a Queens Democrat and the ranking minority member of the Higher Ed Committee.

“The Senate Republicans have once again proven that they are completely out of touch with the needs of New York’s women,” Stewart-Cousins said. It is offensive that they are questioning these common sense protections​. ​There has been an epidemic of sexual violence in this country that is truly disturbing and it is plaguing​ ​college campuses​.”

“​New York​ ​must lead the way on this important issue and ensure the safety and safeguard the rights of ​all​ our students.​”

Stavisky said the Legislature has a responsibility to address the issue of sexual assault on campus and protect female students in New York. She accused the Senate Republicans of “again putting their extremist views ahead of serving the public,” adding:

“The Senate Republicans should stop opposing common sense initiatives to combat sexual abuse and work with the Governor, State Assembly and the Senate Democratic Conference to ensure all New York students are safe and secure on college campuses.”

Women’s issues – particularly abortion rights – were a main focus of contested races that determined control of the Senate this past election cycle. Democrats – including Cuomo – hammered Republicans for refusing to pass the governor’s full 10-point Women’s Equality Act due to the presence of a controversial abortion rights plank, and Cuomo even created a new party (the Women’s Equality Party) to woo this key voting bloc.

Cuomo’s WEA does not specifically address sexual assault on college campuses, though it does have two provisions designed to crack down on domestic violence and one to combat human trafficking.

Fighting Words

Two nights ago on Capital Tonight – and subsequently highlighted on SoP – two progressive leaders warned of a significant backlash if state lawmakers dare to raise their own pay without also giving another boost to New York’s hourly minimum wage.

Strong Economy for All’s Mike Kink said there would be “widespread civil disobedience” if the Legislature doesn’t link these two issues together. He appeared on the show with Karen Scharff, executive director of Citizen Action of New York and co-chair of the labor-backed Working Families Party.

Kink’s words did not sit well with one New York City assemblyman, who, unlike many of his colleagues, was willing to speak publicly – and strongly – in favor of raising the $79,500 base pay for state lawmakers, who haven’t seen an increase since early 1999.

“I would have NO problem voting for an increase in the base pay for NYS legislators,” Assemblyman Michael DenDekker, a Queens Democrat wrote in an email.

“In fact, if legislators’ base pay was indexed to the increases to the minimum wage, (from 4.25 an hour to 8.00 an hour), the current salary would be $149,647.05.”

“As someone who is a staunch advocate for labor, there is absolutely no job title that has never received a cost of living increase for 16 years,” the assemblyman continued.

“I am completely supportive of increasing the minimum wage, as well as fair cost of living increases for NYS legislators.”

DenDekker is a relatively new member of the Assembly, first elected in 2008. He hails from a city with a high cost of living, where the base pay for a NYC Council member is $112,500 – thanks to the 25 percent increase the body approved in 2006.

The Assembly is a seniority-driven chamber, and there are far more members in the Democrats’ majority conference than there are committee chairmanships and leadership posts to go around.

That means most Assembly members have to wait years before they get a title that affords them a stipend – known in Albany as a lulu – on top of their base pay.

Of course, there’s always per diems that help offset the costs of travel, lodging and meals when lawmakers are in Albany. But the per diem system is under fire, with widespread calls for reform, thanks to abuse by several members that lead to criminal charges.

DenDekker said he was offended that any advocate could “even suggest” a worker should go 16 years without a pay raise – especially one who has, as he put it, “rallied for workers pay, walked picket lines and voted to increase the min wage in my current position.”

“I would also ask all the advocates: What was your pay 16 years ago?” the assemblyman concluded.

Kink and Scharff added their voices to a call for legislators to return to Albany before the start of the January 2015 session – when the Senate will officially be under GOP control – to take action on a measure that would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, index future increases to the rate of inflation and also give municipalities the power to hike their own hourly wages as much as 30 percent higher than the state set “floor.”

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, who did not endear himself to the Senate Republicans by helping the Democrats in their failed attempt to re-take the majority, yesterday called for the Legislature to approve an increase in the state minimum wage “whenever it first can be done.”

“I certainly look forward to talking to the governor about whether there will or will not be” a special session,” the mayor said.

But in a radio interview last week, the governor said he didn’t believe a special session was needed – not even to confirm his latest Court of Appeals nominee, Judge Leslie Stein.

A Cuomo aide told the Wall Street Journal: “We have not heard from any legislative leader that they have the votes or desire to pass anything.”

Schumer’s Dinner Diplomacy

New York’s senior senator isn’t psyched about the idea of being back in the minority after serving as one of the most powerful men in the Democrat-controlled upper house.

But Sen. Chuck Schumer is going to make the best of it.

He says he plans to reach across the aisle to forge relationships with some of the new members of the state’s GOP congressional delegation.

He’ll start with Congresswoman-elect Elise Stefanik, who won the NY-21 seat currently held by retiring Democratic Rep. Bill Owens in a landslide last Tuesday, making her – at just 30 years old – the youngest woman ever to sit in the House.

“She was in college with my daughter and they were friends,” Schumer said of Stefanik during a stop in Albany yesterday. “So, we start on a good note there.”

“My daughter spoke very highly of her. In fact, not only is she going to come to the office, but her and my daughter are going to have dinner in the next few weeks in Washington.”

“I haven’t asked Ms. Stefanik yet,” the senator said. “We’ve agreed to get together, but we’re going to make it a dinner and invite my daughter. I’m sure they’ll have no objection because they’re friends.”

No word on where this bipartisan dining experience might take place, though the senator’s past fondness for D.C.’s Hunan Dynasty has been widely documented.

Also, for the record: Jessica Schumer and Stefanik attended Harvard, which is also the senator’s alma mater.

Schumer said he has also spoken to Congressman-elect John Katko, who ousted Democratic Rep. Dan Maffei in NY-24, and found the former federal prosecutor to be a “very fine individual.”

The senator said he had a “great relationship” with former Rep. Jim Walsh, the moderate Republican who held the Central NY seat before Maffei.

“Jim Walsh and I were able to do a whole lot for Syracuse,” Schumer recalled. “He’s a Republican, I’m a Democrat. I think the same will be with Mr. Katko. He seems like a fine man.”

“We’re going to meet in my office in the next week in Washington and start going over how we can go over to help Central New York and his congressional district. I look forward to working with him, I think he’s a good guy.”

Panepinto Almost Ready To Put ‘Nasty’ Senate Campaign Behind Him

The race for a Buffalo-area state senate seat was one of the most costly and contentious races in Western New York history. Just 48 hours after the polls closed the apparent winner isn’t over it just yet.

“It’s tough not to take things personally. I know Senator Grisanti wasn’t driving the train on the personal attacks. We had a very collegial relationship on the campaign trail. I will say Kevin Stocker made it personal. So I do have some personal animus towards Kevin Stocker,” said Democrat Marc Panepinto.

Republican Mark Grisanti made a run on the Independence line after losing the GOP primary to Kevin Stocker. With speculation the outcome could decide the majority in the state senate, outside groups spent millions on negative ads.

For Panepinto, the ill will is connected to a negative ad highlighting his misdemeanor election fraud conviction 13 years ago. An “unaffiliated voter” also filed a complaint because Panepinto used his wife’s image, State Supreme Court Judge Catherine Nugent-Panepinto, in campaign flyers.

“I don’t have any animus towards Mark Grisanti. He was the incumbent senator; I think he did an admirable job. And the nastiness that came against me was from the Republican Senate Campaign Committee,” Panepinto said.

Neither Stocker nor Grisanti have officially conceded.  Panepinto held a lead of a little more than 2,000 votes over Stocker and a 26-hundred vote lead over Grisanti.

The Conservative Candidate, Timothy Gallagher, captured eight percent of the vote.

“Once you’ve got a certain percentage of numbers, with dispersion over the district, they don’t deviate much from that. There are 2,900 absentees out there and they’ll break the way the normal votes broke,” Panepinto said.

Panepinto said he’s already working with Grisanti to ensure a smooth transition. When asked what he thought the key to his somewhat surprising win was, Panepinto said he worked harder in the weekend of the campaign than one of his opponents did.

“I saw a voter that day on a street in Kenmore, and then he said to me, ‘I just saw Kevin Stocker at L.A. Fitness. He was working out at the gym. Why are you going door to door?’ I said I’m not leaving anything to chance. We’re working right up until 8:55 pm on Tuesday. So I knew that the different way that we ran our campaigns would become apparent. We worked to the end and Kevin was at the gym,” Panepinto added

We reached out to Stocker for comment. So far we haven’t heard back.

Update In NY-25

Last night’s big surprise was the near upset in NY-25, where little known Republican Gates Town Supervisor Mark Assini was within 605 votes of toppling 14-term veteran Democratic Rep. Louise Slaughter.

Our colleagues at TWC News Rochester tell us there are 3,300 absentee ballots, which does include the hand count ballots (military ballots submitted online, then subsequently printed out and mailed in).

Local elections officials counted about 2,500 of the 3,300 absentees last night, but those votes were NOT included in the unofficial total.

Also, there are roughly 2,100 ballots that will be released today that were secured as part of the 55th SD race – the one in which Republican Rich Funke defeated Democratic freshman Sen. Ted O’Brien – which is inside NY-25. Those ballots will be counted today. O’Brien’s campaign successfully sought an impoundment order that prevented those ballots from being counted last night.

So, all told there are roughly 5,400 ballots outstanding that once all of them have been counted, reviewed and verified, will eventually be added to the final voter turnout results. This process could be completed by the end of the week. UPDATE: We’re now told that most of the absentee ballots will be opened at 2 p.m. today, and the counting will start at 4 p.m.

Slaughter last night insisted she is the winner in NY-25, and she remained unconcerned by both her slim lead and the several thousand votes that are yet uncounted.

Assini refused to concede the race. Observers attributed his stronger than expected performance to a wave of anti-incumbent (especially Democratic incumbents) sentiment that swept the nation yesterday and helped Republicans both expand their majority in the House and re-take control of the US Senate.

While insiders and observers were surprised by the strength of Assini’s campaign, he did not seem at all taken aback by it, saying: “I knew, but I don’t think the other side knew it until the end. We didn’t have a lot of money, but we had a lot of heart and a lot of people supporting us, and the voters gave me a chance.”

Two years ago, after NY-25′s district lines were redrawn to include all of Monroe County, Slaughter was faced her strongest challenge in decades from Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks, a Republican whose name recognition in her base equals that of the veteran congresswoman.

Millions of dollars were spent on that race, Slaughter won handily with 57 percent of the vote. This year, the nonpartisan Cook Political Reports rated the district as one of 161 solidly Democratic House seats around the nation.

Manhattan Dems: Democrats Must Vote On Row A

Apparently not all Democrats are on the same page when it comes to which line they want party members to vote on today.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, as has been widely reported, has been actively pushing for New Yorkers to vote for him on his newly created Women’s Equality Party line (AKA Row G). In his final email pitch last night, Cuomo informed supporters they could vote for him on Row A (the Democratic line) OR Row G. He made no mention of the other lines on which his name appears – Row D (Working Families) and Row E (Independence).

Some Democrats have publicly disagreed with Cuomo’s WEA push, including Sen. Liz Krueger, who has noted that it could hurt the Senate Democrats’ chances of taking back the majority, since almost none of their candidates are appearing on the WEA line.

Earlier today, the Manhattan Democratic Party, headed by former state Democratic Party Chair and Assemblyman Keith Wright, sent out an email with the subject line: “Manhattan Democrats Must Vote for Democrats.”

“Today, we need DEMOCRATS to vote for democratic party candidates along ROW A,” Wright wrote. “It is extremely important to you locally to stick with your Party’s candidate for Governor.”

“…Due to a combination of election law and state party rules the progressive policies that Manhattan Democrats support are undermined when we abstain from voting for the Democratic candidate for governor on the Democratic line.”

“The elected officials in the New York State and County Democratic Party including state committee members, district leaders, county committee members, and judicial delegates each have a weighted vote based upon the number of votes on the Democratic line for Governor in the most recent election. The more votes that Andrew Cuomo receives on the Democratic line in this election the more influence our Manhattan progressive officials will have within the state party and your local party officials will have within the Democratic County Committee.”

“…The Manhattan progressive influence relative to the rest of the Democratic party members is strengthened when we vote for governor on the Democratic line and weakened when we vote on the Working Families Party,Women’s Equality Party, or on any party line other than the Democratic line.”

In other words, Cuomo’s effort to have Democrats vote for him somewhere other than Row A also hurts local Democratic officials.

The email was also signed by Domenico Minerva, chair of the New York County Democratic Committee; and Robert Botfeld, district leader in the 69th AD.

Siena: Republicans Still Lead In SD 46, SD 55; Near Tie in SD 41

Siena this morning released the results of its second and final pre-Election Day polls of three contested upstate state Senate races that could prove crucial in next week’s battle for control of the chamber.

The Republican challengers remain ahead in two of the races, and one has tightened to become a statistical dead heat, which means we should get ready for a long election night – possibly with some contests too close to call without a tally of the paper ballots.

The tightest contest is the 41st SD, which pits Democratic freshman Sen. Terry Gipson against Republican Dutchess County Legislator Sue Serino in the Hudson Valley.

In the last Siena poll, Gipson was trailing Serino by 12 percentage points. But in this poll, he has closed that gap, and is now within two percentage points of his challenger, who’s ahead 48-46 among likely voters with 5 percent undecided.

Gipson won a three-way race in 2012 with 44 percent of the vote. This year, he’s ahead with women voters by 17 percentage points after trailing in the last Siena poll by 7 points. She’s up with independents, though only by 9 percentage points, down from 26 points.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his GOP challenger, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino are running neck-and-neck in this district, 43-42, with Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins getting 11 percent of the vote.

Next up is another re-match – the Capital Region’s 46th SD race, which pits Democratic freshman Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk against Republican former Assemblyman George Amedore.

Tkaczyk defeated Amedore in overtime in 2012, eventually winning by just 18 votes. This year, however, she’s trailing Amedore, 54-43, with 3 percent undecided.

There has been little movement in this race over the past month. Amedore’s lead in the last Siena poll was 52-42. He has grown his support among Democrats from 15 percent to 25 percent, and has maintained a strong lead among independents.

Tkaczyk continues to run virtually even in the Ulster/Greene portion of the district, but is trailing badly, now by 20 points, in the Albany/Montgomery/Schenectady portion of the district.

There is virtually no gender gap in this race between a Democratic woman and a Republican man, as Amedore leads with men by 14 points and he leads with women by nine points, according to Siena pollster Steve Greenberg.

This is one of those races where the Democratic candidate is not going to benefit from assistance from the governor, though he has endorsed Tkaczyk (via press release). Astorino is ahead in the 46th SD, leading Cuomo 46-38, with Hawkins getting 12 percent of the vote.

In the Rochester area 55th SD race, Democratic freshman Sen. Ted O’Brien has significantly closed the gap against his Republican challenger, Rich Funke, however, Funke has a 9-point, 51-42 lead in to the closing days of the campaign.

O’Brien has mounted a major charge and it appears the momentum is on his side. He has cut his deficit from a seemingly insurmountable 25 percentage points in Siena’s last poll to single digits, Greenberg said. He has done so by bringing Democrats home and wooing independents.

Cuomo is leading Astorino, 45-39, in the 55th SD, with Hawkins garnering 10 percent of the vote. Cuomo has endorsed O’Brien, via press release, as part of his Women’s Equality bus tour.

Funke continues to have a far stronger favorability rating than O’Brien, although 39 percent of voters now view him unfavorably – up from 23 percent. While 57 percent of voters view Funke favorably, only 44 percent view O’Brien favorably, and 48 percent view him unfavorably.

Naturally, both the Democrats and the Republicans have something to say about these polls, with each putting the best possible spin on things as the campaign enters its final days.

At this point, it’s all about GOTV and turning out the base, with each party making a last-minute push to get its voters to the polls.

“This latest snapshot clearly shows that momentum is moving in our direction,” said the Senate Democrats’ spokesman, Mike Murphy.

“By Election Day, our campaigns will have knocked on over 750,000 doors and made over 400,000 calls in an unprecedented effort to communicate directly with voters.”

“The paid media campaign that began a month ago, in the face of unprecedented spending on behalf of our right wing extremist opponents, is resonating because we are talking about the issue voters care about and an agenda that will move this state forward. Our candidates will be victorious on Election Day.”

Meanwhile, Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos said the polls show his conference is “on the cusp of flipping three seats currently held by Democrats and cementing a clear majority in the New York State Senate.”

“That’s good news for hardworking taxpayers who want their state representatives to deliver additional tax relief, partner with the private sector to create new jobs and better opportunities, and make New York more affordable for everyone,” Skelos continued.

“New Yorkers want bipartisanship and balance, not an entire state government controlled by liberal Democrats from New York City.”

“They don’t want higher taxes or the chaos and dysfunction we saw with one-party rule in 2009-10. And, they don’t want illegal immigrants getting free college tuition while middle-class families get nothing but student loans that will take them years to repay.”

“Our priorities are the people’s priorities, and the people know we will produce real economic progress in the next two years and make this state a better place to live and work. The New York City-dominated Senate Democrats and their chief ally New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio will only take us backward.”

The crosstabs for all three polls appear after the jump.

More >

Check Your Calendars

Democrats are having a laugh at the expense of the conservative, anti-abortion Chiaroscuro PAC, which sent out a mailer attacking Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk that featured some erroneous information – including the wrong date for the upcoming election.

The mailer, which appears below, urges recipients to vote “no” on November 6th to the senator’s “radical position on expanding late term abortion,” also refers to Tkaczyk as “he.”

The election, of course, is on Nov. 4, and Tkaczyk is undoubtedly a woman.

“Let these special people go vote on Nov. 6th against Cece – there will be no waiting at the polls,” one Democrat laughed.

The Chiaroscuro PAC is active in three battleground upstate Senate districts this cycle, including the race that pits Tkaczyk, a freshman Democrat, against the Republican she defeated by just 18 votes in 2012, former Assemblyman George Amedore.

The PAC is also involved in the fight between Democratic Sen. Terry Gipson and Republican Dutchess County Legislator Sue Serino in the Hudson Valley, and the battle in Rochester between Democratic Sen. Ted O’Brien and his GOP opponent, former broadcaster Rich Funke.

Over the summer the PAC launched a radio ad that ran in all three districts and featuring the “voice” on an unborn fetus.