Zack Fink

This user hasn't shared any biographical information


Posts by Zack Fink

Public Finance Commission Heads into Home Stretch

The Public Finance Reform Commission will hold its last two public meetings before releasing their final report later this month. The Commission is charged with structuring a robust campaign finance system that includes public matching funds for small donors, much like we have in the City. The idea is to get big money influence out of politics.

But the Commission is also charged with taking a hard look at fusion voting. And that has been a source of controversy. The Working Families Party and the Conservative Party preemptively sued to block the Commission from throwing out fusion. Both parties would have trouble surviving without it. But on Tuesday, a conference was held among all the attorney’s and the judge informed the parties that there will be oral arguments December 12, and a ruling is expected shortly thereafter.

Another curious thing happened last week when New York Communities for Change and Housing Justice for All released a video targeting the State Senate Democrats. Specifically, the video took aim at the “Long Island Six,” the recently elected delegation from the Island who haven’t voted 100% of the time with the more progressive members of the conference. It compared them to the IDC, which is now a dirty acronym in the Senate. As recently as last year, the members of the IDC formed a governing coalition with Republicans and helped keep them in control of the upper chamber.

The video was widely panned by individual Democratic Senators who said the LI6 are much different than the IDC. I can understand Senators taking offense, just as I can understand advocates making the comparison to push the more conservative members into supporting their priorities.

But the timing was a bit awkward. It comes just as the Commission ( which has members appointed by the Senate ) is considering whether or not to harm fusion and put a wrench in the WFP’s future. While NYCC is not the same organization as the WFP, Jonathan Westin who helped put the ad together, is a high ranking member of the WFP. The other organization that sponsored the ad, Housing Justice for All, is an umbrella organization for many different groups including Citizen Action. Karen Scharff is the previous Executive Director of Citizen Action, and is also a key member of the WFP, representing New York on the WFP National Board. Make the Road Coalition, another group that is part of Housing Justice for All is headed by Javier Valdes who also represents New York WFP on the national WFP Board.

So while these maybe separate organizations, its some of the very same people who have a stake in keeping the WFP alive. So why would they attack the Senate, who’s appointees to the Commission have been some of the few to stand up for the WFP?

Says one Democratic insider,

The WFP – through their three anchor entities – just declared war on 6 members of the Democratic conference and you’ve heard nothing but crickets about that from their colleagues…it’s mind blowing.

**UPDATE**

In response to this post, Valdes says,

“While we were not involved in the production of this ad, we do agree that too many Senators are taking large amounts of toxic real estate money. With so many tenants facing displacement across the state because they have no tenant protections, it is urgent that both chambers of the legislature move swiftly to pass good cause evictions legislation in the upcoming session.”

And Bill Lipton of the WFP adds,

“The Working Families Party did not make this video–implying a connection where there is none is seriously misleading.”

At the end of the day it may not matter. The Commission is unlikely to end fusion voting. The fact the Cuomo has now been saying publicly he supports it is probably all you need to know. However, the Commission is likely to change the vote threshold parties need to reach in order to remain on the ballot. That threshold is currently 50,000 votes every 4 years. They likely will not raise it as high as 250,000, which Commission member Jay Jacobs first proposed, but something more like 150,000 votes every two years. Interestingly enough that could likely have the effect of killing the WFP, but preserving the Conservative Party.

Wouldn’t that be something.

Campaign Finance Commission Reverses Itself

The 9-Member Public Finance Reform Commission voted on Tuesday to prohibit public matching funds for campaign donations raised outside of individual Senate and Assembly Districts. According to one insider, this will render the proposed statewide public matching system “completely ineffective.”

But here is what is particularly unusual about yesterday’s vote. Just last week, the Commissioners voted unanimously to allow matching funds for out of district donations. Of course, you can’t see that vote because the video from that meeting still hasn’t been posted on the Commission website, nearly a week and a half after the fact.

So, what changed? Shortly before Tuesday’s vote, the At-Large Commissioner Henry Berger sent an email saying that the out of district match should be “revisited.” Berger along with the Commissioners appointed by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Governor Andrew Cuomo cast the five votes to overturn what they had done the previous week. The Republican Commissioners and those appointed by Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins voted against it, but they only had four votes. One onlooker said The Senate’s Commissioners seemed “completely out of the loop.”

Asked to explain why he changed his mind, Berger said he’d thought about it over the weekend and come to a different conclusion, which as one observer noted seemed odd since Berger has studied campaign finance for many decades only to have an epiphany about how it should actually work four days ago? Some believe the Speaker and the Governor are intent on “gutting the whole thing.”

In district contributions would have a much higher match, forcing candidates to raise money just from those communities they want to represent, which sounds great in theory, but a 20 to 1 match or something similar also sounds very high. The New York City system of public matching funds, once considered the gold standard, allows candidates to raise money from anywhere in the City and get those funds matched. It does not limit matching funds to just in district contributions. But Cuomo appointee Jay Jacobs and others said Tuesday there is no need to adhere to the City’s model. And according to an insider, the State now seems to be “creating something that has real problems.”

That problem could be that candidates will simply choose not to opt into the public finance system. What’s more, the Commission is not currently considering any limits on what the State Parties can raise. Therefore, the parties can raise the same high dollar amounts they always have from the same exact people. Parties could then funnel that money to help individual candidates. So, in other words, that’s a textbook case of an “incumbency protection program.”

One outsider concludes: “all indications are that this will not be a workable system.”

 

Public Finance Commission Will Present Report Next Month

The Public Finance Reform Commission held another public meeting Monday, and the commissioners set out their agenda for the rest of the calendar year. According to section 3, part 6, the Commission will issue it’s final report on Wednesday, November 27th, which is the day before Thanksgiving. ( See below )

Sources say after dominating much of the early conversation, commission members have moved away from discussing what to do with fusion voting. That doesn’t mean it won’t get dropped back in at the 11th hour, it just means there have been fewer emails about it lately, and not much discussion about it Monday.

The commissioners are “trying to create a functioning program,” according to one insider. And in terms of the public finance component, they are looking at a 6 to 1 match, much like you currently have in New York City. In addition, there may be an adjustment based on geography where it’s as high as 8 to 1 or even 12 to 1. The logistics of administering something like that in different parts of the State becomes markedly more complicated, however.

Yesterday, the Commission voted to retain attorney Jim McGuire as a legal adviser. He’s already defending the Commission in the lawsuit filed against it. Both the Conservative and Working Families Parties have challenged the Commission’s authority to end fusion voting.

However, Commission members have now also asked McGuire to look into whether or not they have the legal authority to limit campaign contributions to those who do not participate in public financing. There are some who believe that without lower contribution limits, there is no way to have a system that functions properly. If they cannot lower those contribution limits, some would say the Commission’s report should be a recommendation only, and not binding as is spelled out in the law. The fear is that if contribution limits aren’t lowered for everyone, few will bother to opt in, especially in statewide races.

Here is the Commission’s agenda.

The Letters

The plot thickens.

When Niagara County Judge Richard Kloch recused himself from the lawsuit filed against the Public Finance Reform Commission on behalf of the Working Families and Conservative Parties, it raised questions as to motive. I asked the Commission’s lead Attorney James McGuire for a copy of the letter he sent to the Judge, but James refused to provide it.

Why would he refuse to do so ( besides the funny answer which is “your tax dollars hard at work” )? Well, it turns out Justice Kloch shared an opinion with Attorney’s that McGuire didn’t like, which is that the Commission may not have the authority to throw out fusion voting.

Ta-Dah.

Anyway, here is McGuire’s letter to the judge.

2019.09.25 Letter by Zack Fink on Scribd

And here is the Judge’s response where he basically says he will recuse himself.

Km Bt 22220190930155444 by Zack Fink on Scribd

Ball of Confusion

Things keep getting stranger.

The Niagara County Judge assigned to hear the lawsuit filed against The Public Finance Reform Commission has suddenly recused himself. Justice Richard Kloch stepped aside after being asked by attorney’s representing Carl Heastie and the Democratic State Assembly, Andrea Stewart-Cousins and the Democratic State Senate, and James McGuire who represents the Commission itself. McGuire is the lead attorney for the Commission after a 7 to 2 vote by the Commissioners this past August. McGuire is also the former Chief Counsel to Republican Governor George Pataki.

The suit is being brought by the Working Families Party and the Conservative Party on the grounds that the Commission does not have the authority to eliminate fusion voting, something it was empowered to do when it was created. It’s main charge is to make recommendations on how to implement a statewide system of publicly funded campaigns. The WFP claims the Commission, created by the legislative leaders and the Governor in March, cannot eliminate fusion voting on constitutional grounds. The Conservative Party argues the Commission was not granted enough legal power to make the change.

Sources with knowledge say Justice Kloch was asked to step aside because he had made comments indicating he supports leaving fusion voting in tact, and thus had a bias in the case. Either the judge agreed with that assertion and agreed to give up his role in the case, or chose not to fight such accusations. Either way, it’s unusual for a judge to take that step. One clue might be that Kloch’s wife, Eloise, served as Chair of Niagara County’s Independence Party until 2004. The Independence Party is yet another third party in New York State which stakes its survival on fusion voting.

Reached by phone, Craig Bucki, the attorney for the State Assembly said that he signed the letter asking for Kloch’s removal. Pressed for more detail, he offered to email a copy of the letter, then seemed to realize I was a reporter, and suddenly stopped cooperating. He withdrew his offer to provide the letter and referred me to the Assembly Communications team. Heastie’s spokesperson Mike Whyland did not return calls or texts seeking comment.

According to a source, asking for the recusal was an attempt by McGuire and others to get the case reassigned to another district, or delay the schedule. Some believe Niagara County was strategically chosen as the area to file suit because the plaintiffs would end up with a judge who was sympathetic to preserving fusion. Apparently that worked initially, although now that judge is gone and a new Niagara County Judge, Ralph Boniello has replaced him. The original schedule will also remain intact, with an expected ruling by November 12th, three weeks before the Commission is set to present it’s findings to the legislature and the Governor.

Tomorrow the Commission is set to file paperwork answering the initial complaint.

Looking at all of these developments in their totality, one insider described the Commission  and all that has unfolded as “a complete and total disaster.”

 

 

Things Get a Little Weird at the Commission

When Governor Cuomo and the state legislature created a commission to implement campaign finance reform, it seemed to be an attempt for them to have it both ways.

On the one hand, all the Commissioners would be appointed by the Leaders – 2 from Cuomo, 2 from Heastie, 2 from Stewart-Cousins, 1 from Kolb, 1 from Flanagan and 1 at-large member for a total of 9. On the other hand, the Commission would operate completely independently.

Cuomo appointed Democratic State Chairman Jay Jacobs, who at the very first organizational meeting pushed a vote to bundle all recommendations from the Commission into one package. Those recommendations will include not only how to implement a system of publicly funded campaigns statewide, but also whether or not to continue allowing fusion voting in New York State. Fusion voting has ensured the survival of parties like the Working Families Party on the left, and the Conservative Party on the right because they can cross endorse Democrats and Republicans in statewide general elections, thus securing the 50,000 votes they need to maintain a ballot position in elections going forward.

It is widely believed by insiders that Cuomo wants fusion eliminated as revenge against the WFP for endorsing his opponent Cynthia Nixon in last year’s gubernatorial primary. Ending fusion would likely spell extinction for the WFP as a major ballot line in statewide elections. And Cuomo’s handpicked appointee Jay Jacobs, has made no secret about the fact that he too wants to end fusion. Publicly, Cuomo says he has no position on fusion, but the manner in which Jacobs has acted would seem to suggest otherwise. For some, that has raised questions about the Commission’s supposed independence.

Bundling fusion with campaign finance is an old Albany trick. Advocates and Democratic legislators who very much want public financing but don’t want fusion eliminated are forced into a “take it or leave it” proposition. What’s surprising is why DeNora Getachew, John Nonna, Rosanna Vargas and Crystal Rodriguez,  the commissioners appointed by the two Democratic controlled houses, went along with that and didn’t stand up to Jacobs about it right out of the gate. By not opposing the “all or nothing” packaging of the recommendations, the commissioners appointed by the two legislative leaders appear to be complicit in that trick. And that would seem to go against what the majority of Democratic lawmakers in both houses want, which is to adopt public financing but also keep fusion voting. So critics have posed the question: is the Commission acting independently here, or carrying out the will of the Governor with both houses going along with it?

That’s not all Jacobs did at the first organizational meeting in August, however. He also brought on James McGuire as the Attorney for the Commission, and according to a source “tried to make it a forgone conclusion.” McGuire is a former counsel to Republican George Pataki and spearheaded the case “Silver v Pataki” which gave the Governor unprecedented control over the state budget process. McGuire also played a key role in Pataki’s efforts to reinstate the death penalty, and abolish parole for violent felons. I think we can all agree, that’s not a great look for the Democratic controlled legislature. Nevertheless every single commissioner appointed by Heastie and Stewart-Cousins voted for McGuire, not only to serve as Attorney for the Commission, but to represent the Commissioners as individuals in the suit that has already been filed to stop the commission from having it’s recommendations hold the force of law.

But what’s puzzling is that if you go to the website for the Commission ( which has a domain on Governor Cuomo’s webpage ), you will see that the vote for McGuire is not included in the official record. That vote took place after members returned from closed door executive session, and the video was either scrubbed from the website, or never uploaded in the first place.

Jacobs did not return a request for comment.

A spokesperson for Heastie also did not answer a request for comment. And a spokesperson for the Senate Democrats said, “We played no role in the selection process.”

The Cuomo Administration maintains that Jacobs is not that Chair of the Commission. But sources say he has taken a lead organizing role, and helped arrange the initial conference call the commissioners had with former Cuomo Counsel Alphonso David.

A Curious Choice

The Public Finance Commission was created earlier this year by Governor Cuomo and the legislative leaders to come up with binding recommendations for implementing a system of publicly financed elections statewide. But that’s not all it was charged with. The Commission will also weigh in on whether fusion voting can continue in New York State, which could spell doom for the Conservative and Working Families Parties. Both have staked their survival on endorsing popular incumbents to maintain their ballot position, despite their claims of ideological purity.

The Commission consists of representatives from the State Senate, The Assembly and the Governor. James McGuire was hired as the attorney for the commission, which one insider described as “a very peculiar choice.”

McGuire was Chief Counsel to former Republican Governor George Pataki, which immediately raises questions about why he would be selected by The Democratic majorities in both houses. We already know that Cuomo has a particular point of view with this commission. He even admitted this month that he appointed Democratic State Chairman Jay Jacobs understanding full well that Jacobs strongly opposes fusion voting. But that doesn’t explain why the legislature would approve Pataki’s former counsel for a matter this important. Governor Cuomo has stated numerous times publicly that he has no official position on fusion one way or another.

Taking it a step further, McGuire isn’t just a Republican who buries his head boring legal jargon. McGuire is the architect of Pataki v. Silver, the landmark 2004 case in which the New York State Court of Appeals ruled that the legislature has very little authority in the state budget process, and the Governor’s office has virtually unchecked power. Pataki v. Silver has served as cautionary tale in Albany for those who want to challenge the Governor’s actions in court. In other words, careful what you wish for. If there were questions about the imbalance of power between the Governor and the legislature, it is the third branch of government which has found that the power should reside with the Executive.

Just this past Spring Democratic lawmakers actually threatened to try and weaken the Governor’s leverage when it comes to budget negotiations after the Governor got much of what he wanted in the budget, including a commission empowered to kill fusion.

“It’s truly strange that Pataki’s former counsel was selected here,” griped one critic. “There is no more important case than Pataki v Silver in establishing a remarkable imbalance of power in Albany.”

Asked why McGuire was chosen, a spokesperson for the Senate Democrats says they played no role in his selection, and that they have their own Attorney. The Working Families Party and the Conservative parties have already filed a lawsuit challenging the Commission’s authority to end fusion voting, and both houses have hired their own legal counsel to defend against that suit. An Assembly Spokesperson also said that their house has their own attorney.

State Senator Gustavo Rivera (D) – Bronx, had a different take. In a statement, Rivera says,

The Commission was created to address a long standing policy issue, while the debate around fusion voting was politically motivated. The choice to hire the Republican lawyer responsible for Pataki v Silver just further politicizes this process and distracts from the critical need to create a just campaign finance system.

There are any number of reasons why someone would hire a competent attorney, regardless of their background. And that may very well be the case here. What this will certainly not do however, is quiet the critics who believe when it comes to this commission, the fix was in from the very beginning.

 

 

Say My Name

Taylor Raynor is no more.

The Democratic Assemblywoman representing the 18th District on Long Island has legally changed her last name to “Darling.”

Darling was elected ( as Raynor ) last November after defeating long serving Incumbent Earlene Hooper in the June Primary. The Assembly is coming off a banner year in Albany where they managed to pass multiple legislative priorities that had been bottled up by Senate Republicans for years.

Reached by phone, Darling explained that the name “Raynor” was her married name, and she is now divorced. She wasn’t a huge fan of her maiden name which was “Bertley,” so she decided to go with something empowering, and settled on Darling.

“I wanted a name that Cherishes myself,” Darling said. It can also mean that she is the “darling” of America, or most certainly the darling of the 18th district.

Asked when she chose to make the change, Darling said it happened last year after being exploited and ultimately fired by her previous employer. Pressed for more detail, Darling simply said he was “a Trump supporter.”

And I am going to bet that will likely satisfy most of Darling’s Democratic voting constituents.

 

 

Assembly Brings in Record Fundraising Haul

As we wait for the votes to be counted in the Queens DA race, there has already been chatter about primaries in the Assembly next year. A new wave of progressive voters have already made a difference in State Senate races in 2018, knocking out 6 IDC members in last year’s legislative primaries. Members of the IDC, or Independent Democratic Conference, were a group of 8 Democratic Senators who formed a governing alliance with Senate Republicans. An arrangement that lasted for 6 years.

So, will that generational shift occur in the Assembly in the 2020 elections the way it did in the State Senate in 2018? It remains to be seen, but it will certainly not happen without a fight.

According to the campaign filing, set to be made public next week, The Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee, or DACC will have a record balance for an off year cycle with $2.1 Million cash on hand. Over the last filing period, extending from January to July, DACC also raised a record amount of money with $1.6 Million.

You have to go back to 2001 for the previous record for money in the bank during a non-election year. In 2001, DACC had $1.25 Million in cash, having raised $1.25 Million from January to July of that year.

The most the Assembly Majority has ever raised in a non-campaign year July filing was $1.3 Million from January to July in 2003.

The difference this time around is that the Assembly Majority made this haul without taking any real estate or landlord money, proving that Albany’s traditional best benefactor isn’t necessarily needed to stay competitive.

Finally, the Speaker Heastie PAC took in $250,000 over the first 6 months of 2019, and currently has $100,000 cash on hand. Not a ton, but additional money nonetheless. The Heastie PAC often doles out campaign cash to other candidates including Melinda Katz during the Queens DA race. Heastie was a big Katz supporter.

2020 is going to be a banner year. There is certainly a new awareness within the Democratic party in the age of Trump, and that is being reflected everywhere. From the victory of Alexandria Ocosio-Cortez in Queens, to the ouster of IDC members in individual Senate Districts across the State. Cynthia Nixon’s candidacy was also fueled by this new energy, but the progressive wave voters don’t have anywhere near the numbers they need to win Statewide, at least not yet.

It’s also worth noting that next year there will be A LOT of races. There are primaries against Democrats in Congress, and there will certainly be primaries against sitting members of the Assembly. Particular targets in the Assembly are expected to be members who have served for a very long time. But the dynamic has changed. The Democratic Clubs no longer have the power to tell would-be challengers to stand down and “wait your turn.” Primaries are going to go forward, and frankly they should. It’s healthy for the party and ultimately for democracy as a whole. However, the progressive wave could also get diluted if they pick too many races to target. And what is very clear from this filing from the Democratic Assembly is that DACC will have the resources to push back and defend their incumbents where necessary.

Crespo Waters Down Labor Bill

Legislation is currently moving through both houses that would require car wash workers to be paid the minimum wage. But a funny thing happened on it’s way toward passage. The bill was amended by the Assembly’s Labor Committee Chair Marcos Crespo to only include car wash workers in New York York City. The original legislation called for wage protections statewide. Here is the original language:

“Car wash worker” means any employee primarily engaged in the

washing, vacuuming or general cleaning of motor vehicles. “Car wash

worker” shall not include volunteers engaged in the washing of cars for

fund raising or other charitable purpose.”

And here is the amended version:

“Car wash worker” means any employee in a city with a population

of one million or more primarily engaged in the washing, vacuuming or

general cleaning of motor vehicles. “Car wash worker” shall not include

volunteers engaged in the washing of cars for fundraising or other charitable purpose.”

The question is why would Crespo do that? He declined to comment, but sources say the change came at the behest of former State Senator and Buffalo Mayor Anthony Masiello who is a partner at a Buffalo based lobbying and communications firm. One of their clients is Delta Sonic, a car wash chain that has nearly 20 locations throughout Central and Western New York. The President of Delta Sonic is Ronald Benderson who is a from a prominent Buffalo real estate family. Delta sonic and the New York State Car Wash Association have made no secret of their efforts to prevent their business chain from paying workers the minimum wage.

When New York State passed the minimum wage increase in 2016, car wash workers were exempt because they were considered tipped workers. Crespo’s legislation would undo that. Originally the State Department of Labor was looking into how to include car wash workers as recipients of the higher wage, but the Cuomo Administration quietly dropped that effort two months ago, setting up the need for legislation. On it’s website, the New York State Car Wash Association ( of which Delta Sonic is a member ) wrote in March,

According to our lobbyist, Bill Crowell, there may have been several external forces that played a key role in the DOL decision to back away from the proposed regulations, however, a key factor was that the NYSCWA helped keep the impact of their regulations as job killers in New York State in the forefront of conversations with legislators and the DOL.

The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store union, which represents many of the workers, has been pushing to get this done for years, but didn’t seem to want to upset the apple cart and declined to comment. One labor source told us however, that while the union would prefer to have the higher wages for car wash workers all across the State, they are hoping the bill will at least be amended again to include workers in Long Island and Westchester.

We shall see.