Zack Fink

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Posts by Zack Fink

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.


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



Matt McLaughlin is partners with Bill Hyers at WIN Strategies.

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.

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.

Mayor Gets Rolled in Speaker Race

From the Morning Memo:

On Nov. 20th, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that he would be traveling to Iowa on Dec. 19th to make a speech.

According to the Daily News, he defended the trip during a discussion with reporters by claiming,

“I’ve had this conversation with you for a year or two. This is who I am. This is what ‘m going to do. When there is something that I think is important, I will do my best to do it.

The mayor has been criticized for leaving town at critical junctures before. This time around, a backroom deal was taking hold in his absence to secure the votes for who would be the next NYC Council speaker.

Nothing is complete until the Council members actually vote next month, but Manhattan’s Corey Johnson appears to have reached the threshold of support necessary to succeed the outgoing speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, also of Manhattan.

Johnson had the strong support of Bronx Democratic Chair Marcos Crespo and Queens County Chair/Rep. Joe Crowley. Throughout the fall, sources say, de Blasio stayed in touch with Crowley about who the best speaker candidate would be. But sources also say that when Crowley found out the mayor was leaving town, he pounced.

On the night of the 19th, while the mayor was in Iowa showing reporters he could literally walk and chew gum at the same time and meeting at a hotel bar with members of the NYC PBA who has followed the him to Des Moines, Crowley convened a meeting of New York’s Democratic congressional delegation.

A handful of Congressional representatives each had votes in the Council that they could help bring over for Johnson. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries was able to deliver a couple in Brooklyn, so was Rep. Nydia Velasquez. The deal was done by late Tuesday night.

Catching wind that this was happening, one insider says they reached out to de Blasio’s political team to inform them that the deal was getting finalized. This person was told by Team de Blasio: “Impossible. Joe Crowley promised he’d let us know first.”

Sigh. Politics can be so tricky.

If we look back on recent history, it’s really not all that surprising Crowley was able to emerge as the big winner here (besides Johnson, of course).

Four years ago there was another speaker race, and Crowley was also aligned with the Bronx, although at that time the Democratic chair in the borough was current Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

Crowley and Heastie felt that as county Chairs their combined borough delegation votes should be enough to play kingmaker. But Mayor-elect de Blasio, coming into office with a lot of goodwill and clout, outmaneuvered the two party leaders.

He was able to work with Brooklyn Democratic Chair Frank Seddio to install East Harlem Councilwoman Viverito in the speaker’s chair. Crowley never forgave or forgot what happened. And with his star on the rise in 2017 as his name is frequently invoked as a possible next House speaker, Crowley was not going to let what happened in 2013 repeat itself.

Crowley stuck with his Bronx allies, and left Seddio out of the process this time. He was able to win Manhattan’s Keith Wright over by standing with the chair in his fight with Mark-Viverito over who would be the Manhattan appointee to the NYC Board of Elections.

Wright won that battle Tuesday in court after Crowley and Crespo had worked with him to deny Mark-Viverito a quorum when she tried to corral the votes for her friend Andy Praschak to the board.

Maybe the lesson here is to choose more wisely when you’re planning to go out of town and know when to stay home and fight. Or, at the very least, don’t announce a trip a month in advance – a friendly reminder that nobody is your friend in politics…unless they are getting what they want.

Ugly Post

Most of us use some form of social media these days, and elected officials are no exception. It’s actually a great way for them to communicate with supporters and even engage communities in a healthy debate on particular issues. But like every form of communication, it can take a nasty turn.

Democratic Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou was posting the other night about the Alabama Senate Race, when someone wrote a comment that seemed not only out of left field, but was also wildly inappropriate. See the Last comment on this thread.

Facebook 121517

So, this person Warren Chan managed to achieve a double whammy of being both racist and sexist in the same post. But it doesn’t quite end there. Turns out Chan is politically active and served on the transition team of incoming Democratic New York City Councilman Justin Brannan, who just won a tight race in Bay Ridge Brooklyn last month. Reached by phone, Brannan said that after this comment was posted and brought to his attention Chan was fired from the Transition Committee.  In a statement Jonathan Yedin, the Director of Brannan’s transition team says,

Warren’s comments are reprehensible and vile. We have removed him from the Transition Committee effective immediately.

Chan did not immediately return a voicemail message.



Pro-Unity Forces to Cuomo: Great, Now What?

Governor Cuomo has been working behind the scenes to make the deal for Democratic unity between the mainline Senate Democrats and the Independent Senate Democrats, or IDC, stick. Sources say as far as the IDC understood, the deal that was emailed to supporters Monday evening was not supposed to be made public until after the budget was settled in late March or early April. But the State Party pulled the trigger a little early and now the IDC is in the uncompromising position of working with the Senate Republicans for the next several months to help deliver the budget only to publicly undermine them a few weeks later when special elections are called to fill two vacancies. assuming Democrats are elected to those two vacancies, it would give elected Democrats 32 votes, presumably enough to form a majority or at least try to do so by changing the Senate rules.

Because it became public so swiftly, some members of the IDC have floated the idea of remaining a separate conference but splitting off from Republicans to join a new coalition with mainline Democrats in January .That would mean sucking it up a bit and being in the minority for at least a few months. Proponents of this strategy argue the Executive Chamber has left the IDC no choice here, since Senate Republicans are not likely to want to work with them any longer. The reasoning goes that the IDC should simply make peace with Democrats on their own terms and not because they have been expelled.

There are a some problems with this strategy however, the first being the issue of the Senate rules, which may not allow it. Second, there is certainly nothing in the Senate rules calling for dual Minority Leader duties to be split between Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and IDC Leader Jeff Klein. Third, and probably most importantly, Governor Cuomo wants the IDC-Republican coalition ( or status quo ) to stay intact through budget so there is no chaos. He is hoping to get congestion pricing through the State legislature and if the IDC isn’t working with Republicans to make that happen, he may have a problem. Why would Senate Republicans, already irked about a future plan for Democratic unity that leaves them on the sidelines, vote for congestion pricing in Manhattan when they represent the very suburbanites who will be paying those fees? Answer: They won’t. And now some are wondering how the Executive Chamber didn’t see that when they went public with the unity ultimatum, while at the same time failing to win the support of progressive groups like the Working Families Party.

Finally there is just no guarantee that either side can adhere to a deal. Senator Michael Gianaris is attending an anti-IDC True Blue event tonight at 7pm on the Upper West Side. Some pro-unity forces see that as unnecessarily provocative at a time when the IDC and Senate Dems are trying to make peace. True Blue has been advocating for primaries against the IDC members no matter what. Part of the detente between the warring Democratic factions would also call for approval of each other’s deputies, a clear swipe at Gianaris. Team Cuomo has floated the idea of getting Gianaris elected District Attorney of Queens County next year when Richard Brown retires.

Primaries Move Forward Anyway

Sources say Jessica Ramos, who currently works for Mayor Bill de Blasio, will run a primary challenge in her Queens Senate District next year against IDC member Jose Peralta. Ramos gave notice to City Hall two weeks ago, her last day is Friday. Reached by phone Ramos would only say,

I am leaving City Hall in order to pursue opportunities in public service.

Ramos currently has $5,061 in her campaign account, “Friends of Jessica Ramos,” which is left over from when she served as District Leader in her Jackson Heights neighborhood from 2010 – 2014. in 2015 she went to work as a communications adviser for the Mayor. De Blasio created a new position for Ramos inside the administration which was Director of Latino Media, but the job title also encompassed all ethnic and community media. Ramos also spearheaded the Mayor’s popular town halls ( which got held at a much livelier pace as de Blasio closed in on re-election this year ), and City Hall in Your Borough which brings the administration to hold court in one of the five boroughs for a full week.

Peralta left the mainline Democrats earlier this year to join the Independent Democrats or IDC. More so than some of the other recent defectors Peralta has faced an intense level of backlash for his decision. Insiders say that’s likely due in part to his once closeness with the Queens Democratic County brain trust of Senator Michael Gianaris, Consultant Evan Stavisky and Chair Joe Crowley who were rather displeased with Peralta’s surprise decision.

Others who know the district say the opposition to Peralta’s decision has been more grass roots with Democrats in the district feeling “betrayed.” The 8-member IDC currently holds a power sharing arrangement with Republicans for control of the State Senate. While the average New Yorker probably had little notice or care about what that even meant two years ago, with Donald Trump getting elected President people have taken a new stance in their local communities to resist all things Republican and Trump.

Ramos is now in a more precarious position however, since an ultimatum was laid down Monday night by the state Democratic Party with the support of Governor Cuomo. Under the imposed deal the IDC and mainline Dems would reunite ( 5 months from now ) in exchange for no Democratic primaries against members of the IDC. That means someone like Ramos, who took a real risk here, could end up with no institutional support from the party should this deal go through. One Democratic insider says it’s still too early to know what will happen, and points out that petitioning to get on the ballot is still 6 months away.

Even with all the uncertainty many potential challengers to IDC members have decided not to sit on the sidelines. A Primary is expected against Senator David Valesky, former City Council Member Robert Jackson is challenging Senator Marisol Alcanatara in a rematch of 2016 minus Micah Lasher, and Attorney Zellnor Myrie is forging ahead with his challenge of Senator Jesse Hamilton. Reached for comment, Myrie said of Hamilton,

The question from day one has been is Hamilton a good Senator. The answer is no because he broke an agreement. We are pressing ahead with my campaign.


A Long Way to Go for Democratic Unity

From the Morning Memo:

On Monday night, Gov. Andrew Cuomo more or less broke up with the IDC-Republican coalition by text message.

Sources say neither the Independent Democratic Conference nor the Senate Republicans were given any heads up it was coming. They read the ultimatum for Democratic reunification from the state Party at the same time everyone else did, which was when it hit their inbox.

Members of the so-called “regular” or “mainline” Senate Democrats on the other hand, knew it was coming.

The alliance between Cuomo, the IDC and Senate Republicans has served the governor well up to this point. The Republicans allowed Cuomo to keep a lid on damaging taxes that could hurt him in the suburbs, while Cuomo simultaneously huddled up to IDC Leader Jeff Klein and his fellow renegade Democrats on progressive initiatives like the $15 minimum wage and Paid Family Leave to pull those same Republicans leftward.

But that was before Donald Trump got elected president.

Now, a fever has gripped the progressive left to resist all things Trump, and that begins by breaking any accommodation with members of Trump’s party locally. As a result, the Cuomo-IDC-Republican alliance, like most relationships, has run its course.

But the timing here seems peculiar. For example, an awful lot has to happen before the two warring Democratic factions can come together for control of the chamber. First off, any stab at reunification can’t take place until after a special election is held to fill two vacancies that won’t even materialize until January.

Those vacancies will occur when Democrats George Latimer and Ruben Diaz Sr. resign to take their new jobs – Latimer as Westchester County executive and Diaz as a NYC councilman. State Democratic Chair Byron Brown stated in his letter Monday night that he “anticipates a post-budget election to fill those seats.”

That timeline was immediately dismissed by progressives as unacceptable, since it would come too late and continue to allow Republicans to have an outsized hand in crafting the all important state Budget, due April 1.

Then there is the matter of 38 votes. According to Senate rules adopted earlier this year a 3/5 vote of all sitting senators is required to make a rule change. That means changing who controls the chamber cannot simply be done when the 23 Dems, 8 IDC and 1 Simcha Felder decide it is time – assuming Felder even would even go along with them.

In the best case scenario – and it’s still entirely possible they lose the Latimer seat in the special election to a Republican – the Democrats would stand united at 32 seats, not the requisite 38.

Democratic insiders reject the 3/5 rule claiming that the courts, which is where this issue would likely end up, have ruled that the Legislature can do essentially whatever it wants, and that includes changing the rule with a simple majority.

Moreover, Democratic LG Kathy Hochul has the constitutional authority to preside as Senate president. If there is a motion to change the rules of control, she can overrule anyone in the chamber who objects. So, while the courts could slow down the process, they are likely to stay out of the Legislature’s affairs as a simple matter of respect for the constitutional separation of powers.

A Republican source was less sure, arguing that if an attempt was made to change which party holds the reins of power mid-session it would be “chaos to an extent we have never seen before,” making the Senate coup of eight years ago “look like a picnic.” And we all know Cuomo doesn’t want that.

So, again, I get back to the timing here. Cuomo is saying that he will inevitably support throwing Republicans out of power. Only not in early March, which is the earliest it could be done if Latimer and Diaz resign Jan. 1, but after the budget instead. That could be April, or it could be set up to coincide with the May 15 school board elections, which would make holding the special election much cheaper for taxpayers.

So, what would the incentive be for Republicans to acquiesce to Cuomo at all during the budget negotiations if they know their days of control are numbered, and it’s Cuomo who has put that number on them? GOP sources say if the relationship with Cuomo goes south, there is plenty they can do to make his life difficult in the interim.

As for the Democrats and Cuomo, perhaps they will reconcile but then mournfully reflect back on lost opportunities these past several years. It’s almost tragic when you think about it – a little like that movie “The Remains of the Day.”

The bottom line is this: if a decision has indeed been made to change the power structure in the Senate, it might have made sense to do so as soon as possible. Unless the actual play here is to run out the clock and see how the 2018 elections play out before Cuomo really makes a commitment.

If the GOP makes gains in those elections or holds, Cuomo can plausibly say he would never break up with anyone by text message, so he obviously he didn’t really mean it.