Gianaris Endorses Sanders

From the Morning Memo:

State Sen. Michael Gianaris, the second-ranking Democrat in the state Senate, endorsed Bernie Sanders’s bid for the presidency this weekend as the Vermont lawmaker held a massive rally in New York City.

Gianaris’s endorsement of Sanders came as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also endorsed his candidacy. Both Gianaris and Ocasio-Cortez represent overlapping parts of Queens.

“Bernie Sanders is the best choice to reduce this growing chasm between the ultra-rich and working people by advancing policies to address our gross wealth inequality,” Gianaris said.

His endorsement of Sanders makes him the most high-profile Democrat in the state Legislature to endorse in the presidential campaign so far. In addition to serving as the deputy majority leader, Gianaris is also the chairman of the Senate Democrats’ fundraising arm.

Gianaris was a prominent critic of Amazon’s proposed expansion in Long Island City, a move that was tied to a massive state tax incentive program. The project was later scuttled amid opposition.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who had pushed for the Amazon project, has been supportive of former Vice President Joe Biden’s candidacy, but has stopped short of a full endorsement.

On Sunday at a news conference in an Albany suburb, Cuomo was unruffled by Gianaris’s endorsement.

“You’d have to ask him,” Cuomo said. “It’s his opinion. That’s his decision that he has to make.”

Chelsea Clinton Won’t Seek Suburban NYC House Seat

Chelsea Clinton will not run for the suburban New York City congressional district being vacated by retiring Rep. Nita Lowey, she told The View on Wednesday.

“I’m not considering running for Congresswoman Lowey’s seat,” she said. “I understand why people are asking and some people have been asking me some version of this question literally forever.”

Clinton did not rule out running for elected office one day.

“I don’t know, but right now the answer is no,” she said.

Her declaration is likely to set off even more people to launch candidacies for the district. Already Democrat Mondaire Jones, a former Obama administration official, and Assemblyman David Buchwald have entered the race for the Democratic nomination.

Lowey last week announced her plans to retire at the end of her current term, which concludes in 2020.

NY-15: Torres Endorsed By The Arena PAC

Democratic congressional candidate Ritchie Torres was endorsed Tuesday by The Arena PAC in the crowded primary for the 15th district House seat.

“Arena — through its Five Borough Future initiative — is proud to support Councilman Ritchie Torres for the 15th Congressional seat,” said Ravi Gupta, the former Obama administration who co-founded the group.

“We need more innovative and energetic voices in Congress. Most importantly, we need stronger voices for federal investment in public housing. Ritchie can be such a voice. And if progressives don’t begin to come together and invest in the 15th, we will likely find ourselves with a member of the NYC congressional delegation who is wildly out of step with the city and the district. That’s why we will do everything we can to help Councilman Torres to win, and we call on our friends to do the same.”

Previously supported candidates have included Democrats Alessandra Biaggi, Zellnor Myrie, Lauren Underwood and Stacey Abrams.

The PAC was also one of the main funders and strategists for the No IDC movement, which opposed the re-election of lawmakers aligned with the now defunct Independent Democratic Conference.

“The Arena’s proven track record of helping to elect young, energetic progressive candidates will inject a new force into the NY-15 race, and I’m proud to receive their endorsement,” Torres said. “We are running a modern, sophisticated campaign to prevent a Trump Republican masquerading as a Democrat from winning this seat, and with the Arena’s support we will prevail in June 2020.”

State Dems To Consider Amendment Aimed At Inclusivity For Non-Binary Member

From the Morning Memo:

New York Democrats today will consider a resolution aimed at amending its rules to alter gender-based language in order to be more inclusive of transgender and non-binary members.

The amendment, introduced by the committee’s first openly transgender member Emilia Decaudin, will change language meant to provide gender balance in leadership and officer posts, but can exclude non-binary people.

For instance, the current Democratic committee rules make references to the “opposite” gender and gender “balance” when it coms to references for men and women. The language was included in order to provide for men and women to hold an equal number of leadership posts at the state park.

The amendment, supporters said Monday, is aimed at retaining gender diversity at the leadership level while making its rules more inclusive, such as changing the term “different genders.”

“If passed, the New York State Democratic Committee would place itself at the forefront of non-binary and gender non-conforming inclusion across the nation,” supporters said.

“Changes that are similarly comprehensive have only been passed by the Democratic National Committee, and only apply to their committee structure.”

State Democrats are meeting at the Hilton Long Island/Huntington on Long Island for their meeting.

NY-17: Buchwald Announces Bid For Lowey Seat

From the Morning Memo:

Democratic Assemblyman David Buchwald announced Sunday his campaign to succeed Democratic Rep. Nita Lowey in Congress.

Buchwald announced his campaign in a Twitter video with his wife.

“Today I announce that am running for NY-17 to serve as a member of Congress in the next election,” Buchwald said.

“I want to thank Congressmember Nita Lowey for her years of service, her integrity and for being a strong progressive voice against the dangerous extremism of Donald Trump. I pledge to continue her work with the same integrity, progressive vision and true blue Democratic values. This will not be an easy election, but I have never shied away from a fight.”

The Westchester County lawmaker gained some prominence this year when he sponsored a bill that allows congressional committees to access President Trump’s New York state tax returns.

Buchwald joins Mondaire Jones, who had launched a progressive challenge to Lowey prior to her retirement announcement last week.

Jones’s campaign reported raising more than $218,000 in the third fundraising quarter of the year. He would be the first openly gay black lawmaker to serve in Congress if elected.

But they are unlikely to be the last Democrats seeking the nomination for the northern New York City suburban seat. A range of Democratic elected officials have long been considered successors to Lowey, who was first elected to Congress in 1988.

Lawmakers Want To Curb Online E-Cigarette Sales

From the Morning Memo:

A pair of Democratic state lawmakers on Thursday called for a ban on internet sales of vaping products amid illnesses believed to be linked to their use.

The measure is backed by Senate Health Committee Chairman Gustavo Rivera and Assemblywoman Amy Paulin and would, in essence, treat e-cigarettes and other vaping devices to the same standard of distribution and sale for tobacco products online.

“The alarming public health incidents involving vaping confirm the worst nightmares of parents who were already alarmed by the increased use of Juul and other vape pens by teenagers,” Paulin said.

“I have heard from student activists in my district who tell me that it is far easier to obtain electronic cigarettes and other vaping products from Internet retailers than to go to a physical store, since websites make only a rudimentary attempt to verify age. It simply makes no sense that you’re prohibited from buying addictive tobacco cigarettes online, but you can buy addictive electronic cigarettes online.”

The proposal comes as Gov. Andrew Cuomo has banned the sale of flavored tobacco products through executive action, which is being challenged in court by the vaping industry. The challenge won a delay in the implementation of the ban as the court case is being heard.

Cuomo and lawmakers, meanwhile, are promising legislative action next year on the issue. The state’s first death attributed to vaping use was reported this week: A 17-year-old resident in the Bronx.

“E-cigarettes and vaping products are causing New Yorkers to develop serious health issues, and our youth are particularly vulnerable. We have a responsibility to safeguard New Yorkers’ health by regulating these products as what they are – public health hazards that are just as damaging as traditional tobacco products,” Rivera said.

“The Senate’s upcoming hearing to investigate the safety and potential harm of such products will consider important policies such as this.”

Lowey To Not Seek Re-Election

Democratic Rep. Nita Lowey on Thursday announced she will not seek re-election to the congressional seat she has held for the last 31 years.

“After 31 years in the United States Congress, representing the people of Westchester, Rockland, Queens and the Bronx, I have decided not to seek re-election in 2020,” Lowey said in a statement. “It is my deep honor and privilege to serve my community and my country, and I will always be grateful to the people who have entrusted me to represent them.”

Lowey serves as the chairwoman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, a sign of her tenure in the House.

“As a long-time Member of the House Appropriations Committee, I have secured funding to clean up and protect Long Island Sound and the Hudson River; increase access to Head Start, afterschool programs, and community health centers for thousands of local children and families; provide New York’s fair share of homeland security assistance; and make the commute across the Hudson easier and safer on the new Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge,” Lowey said.

“In difficult times, including after September 11th and Superstorm Sandy, I have fought hard in Washington for federal assistance to recover and rebuild.”

The announcement, to say the least, is something of a political earthquake for Democrats in the suburban House seat north of New York City.

Lowey’s district has long been eyed by a large bench of Democrats in elected office and her potential rise to the U.S. Senate — halted by the campaign of Hillary Clinton in 2000 — created something of a local-level bottle neck.

The district has long been considered a safe Democratic seat while she was in office.

Virtually any Westchester County Democrat who has been elected office over the last generation has eyed the seat as a capstone to a career.

Those dreams of running for the House, however, could be thwarted again for some local Democrats should Chelsea Clinton run for the seat. And, to be clear, Clinton has not shown any specific interest in the seat, which includes parts of Westchester and Rockland counties.

Lowey this year drew her first primary challenge since 1988: Mondaire Jones, a former official in the Obama administration’s Department of Justice.

Bellone Puts Fusion Voting On Blast

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has a very local nit to pick with fusion voting.

It involves the former county district attorney, Tom Spota, his corruption arrest and the local Conservative Party’s support for him. It’s a cliche to note that all politics is local.

But another cliche is this: Timing is everything in politics. And Bellone is putting the concept of fusion voting — allowing candidates to run on multiple ballot lines — on blast as he runs for a third term and a public financing commission could determine the future of the practice.

Bellone has blasted fusion voting in the past after Spota, who resigned in 2017 after he pleaded guilty to federal obstruction of justice charges. Bellone says fusion voting allowed Spota to stay in office.

“Voters had no choice,” he said in an interview on Tuesday with WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom. “And what I’ve said is, you know, that that’s like a Putin-style election. That’s not an American election. You walk into a ballot booth and you’re supposed to pick a candidate and then you see the same name on every line. It’s almost making a mockery of the voter.”

Bellone isn’t taking any minor party endorsements this year as he seeks a third term. In the interview, Bellone said he’s worked well with the progressive Working Families Party and that it “plays an important role in our politics.

But the WFP sees the commission as a very real threat and has filed a legal challenge to its legality.

The WFP did not initial endorse Gov. Andrew Cuomo in his 2018 re-election, backing his Democratic primary challenger Cynthia Nixon. Cuomo appointed Jay Jacobs, the state Democratic Party chairman and a critic of fusion voting, to the panel.

Bellone in the WCNY interview said he supported the commission altering how fusion voting worked.

“You know, I’m much more concerned about outcomes,” he said. “And I think this commission is appropriate for the commission to be looking at this because at the end of the day, what they’re looking at is how to fix our democracy, and how to make it more inclusive, how to make it more representative of the state as a whole and the people that we serve.”

New Bill Would Increase Access To Immunization Data

State lawmakers want to increase the ability of the public to gain access to immunization data, requiring all schools in the state to report specific information on their students’ immunization rate against disease that require vaccinations.

The bill, backed by Democrats Brad Hoylman in the state Senate and Jeffrey Dinowitz in the Assembly, would also require the state Department of Health to create a searchable database on its website that contains information on each school’s rate of compliance with immunization.

Much of the data lawmakers want to make public is already available on a searchable database at the Department of Health.

At the same time, the bill would require state health officials to analyze trends in immunization rates and medical exemptions from immunization over time in order to identify parts of the state that could be vulnerable to diseases.

The legislation was introduced this week after some school districts struggled to ensure students had received their required vaccinations after the state ended the religious exemption for vaccinations. The challenges facing schools led to some state lawmakers worrying about the amount of time education officials had to implement the new law.

That measure, also backed by Hoylman and Dinowitz, is being challenged in court by anti-vaccination advocates.

“Parents have a right to know. As New York continues to recover from the worst measles outbreak in four decades, parents deserve to be informed about whether their child’s fellow students are up to date on all their required vaccines,” Hoylman said in a statement.

“The legislation I carry with Assemblyman Dinowitz will equip parents, policy-makers, and public health officials with accurate data that will help them understand whether a specific school is in compliance with immunization requirements. No parent should have to worry for the safety and health of their child when sending them to school.”

Lawmakers approved the bill ending the vaccine religious exemption following a measles outbreak in Rockland County and Brooklyn, which state and local officials say has now been largely brought under control, with no new cases reported over two incubation periods.

Long Island Dems Get Business Backing In Williams Pipeline Support

From the Morning Memo:

When the Democratic state senators who represent Long Island backed the Williams pipeline project with conditions, the move had real political and governmental implications.

Consider how potent environmental issues are for progressive Long Island voters. Consider also how key issues are like utility bills for residents, a major component of the debate over the pipeline.

And, needless to say, Long Island Senate districts are often closely watched battleground districts for control of the chamber as the suburbs are often a bellwether for the rest of the state.

The move was considered craven by Senate Republicans, including Minority Leader John Flanagan.

Once again, Long Island’s Democrat Senate delegation wants to have their cake and eat it too,” Flanagan said in a statement. “First, they pass so-called ‘Green New Deal”’legislation that will make it far more expensive for businesses and consumers to access the energy they need to live and work on Long Island — this after raising energy taxes by more than $100 million in this year’s budget.

Flanagan pointed to the push by the business community to gain Democratic support.

“We’ve known that this project is critical to homeowners, small businesses, and major infrastructure projects that are key to Long Island’s future,” he said. “Senate Democrats were silent during the entire application process, threatening billions of dollars of investment, and their policies are only going to make things worse.”

But Long Island’s business community is pleased the Senate Democrats from Long Island acted in support, emergency basis or not.

Kevin Law of the Long Island Association praised the lawmakers’ backing of the pipeline.

“The NESE project is critical for Long Island’s continued economic prosperity. We applaud the Long Island delegation for recognizing its importance to the region and we urge the DEC to approve this project immediately,” Law said in a statement.

“Long Island businesses and residents are facing an energy crisis and over three hundred billion dollars of economic development is at risk. NESE will ensure continued economic prosperity in the region and emissions reductions.”

And the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, a labor union that has backed both Republicans and Democrats over the years, also praised their support.

“I applaud the Long Island delegation for standing up for what makes sense,” said President Gary LaBarbera.

“The Northeast Supply Enhancement Project will increase our access to a clean and affordable energy source which can spur economic growth in Long Island. NESE will create long-term middle-class job opportunities that will put our state back to work — good family-wage jobs that represent the economic future for many communities across Long Island. These communities will stand to benefit the most as it will create thousands of union construction jobs and much needed revenue put back into our local economies.”

Still, there’s no guarantee the pipeline will be approved, support from suburban Democrats for the project or not.

But the move — and subsequent backing of the business community — is a sign of where power lies in the state Senate at the moment.