32 BJ Splits the Democratic Primary Baby

The building workers union Local 32BJ is out with its endorsements for the upcoming Democratic state primaries in September – a list that, as expected, includes one of the insurgent candidates seeking to oust an erstwhile IDC member.

As has already been announced, the union is bakcing Alessandra Biaggi, a former counsel for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is challenging state Sen. Jeff Klein, the former IDC leader.

Much was made of this endorsement, which led to a war of words between 32BJ head Hector Figueroa and Sen. Diane Savino, another erstwhile IDC member, who slammed the union leader for questioning in a New York Times interview whether the IDC is really indeed dead following a deal negotiated by Cuomo earlier this year, likening the conference to a “zombie,” adding: “Only a blow in the head, (meaning Klein), can kill a zombie.”

As Nick Reisman noted last week, 32BJ played a key role in brokering the agreement to bring the IDC back into the fold with the so-called “regular” Senate Democrats. It seems that deal has been endangered – if not outright upended – by the surprise victory last week of Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez ofer Queens Rep. Joe Crowley, with a number of elected officials, including NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson, rushing to demonstrate their solidarity with the left by backing the IDC primary challengers.

But when it comes to members of the former breakaway conference other than Klein, it appears the union is actually opting to stay on the sidelines.

According to the list released today, 32BJ isn’t picking favorites in the 13th Senate District, where Queens community organizer Jessica Ramos is running against Sen. Jose Peralta. It also declined to back former NYC Councilman Robert Jackson, who is trying to unseat Sen. Marisol Alcantara in the 31st Senate District.

The union is also taking a pass on endorsing anyone in the 20th Senate District, where affordable housing advocate Zellnor Myrie is running against Sen. Jesse Hamilton.

In addition, no endorsements were made in the 11th Senate District, represented by Tony Avella, or the 23rd Senate District, which is represented by Savino. The same goes for the 38th, which is home to Sen. David Carlucci; and the 53rd, held by Sen. David Valesky.

Here’s Figueroa’s official statement on the endorsements:

“Right now, more than ever, New York State needs champions of that will fight for workers’ rights. Union members are focused on electing progressive candidates to represent working New Yorkers in Albany.”

“In the face of unprecedented attacks on working families, we are endorsing candidates who will fight for good jobs and help more New Yorkers join and form unions. Together we will champion legislation to protect immigrant communities, defend voting rights and access, achieve bail reform, and stand up for policies to protect the environment.”

“Thousands of 32BJ SEIU members will get involved in political action this year to remind voters, candidates and elected officials that New York needs unions to build the middle class.”

Molinaro Says If Dems Control Senate NY Needs GOP Governor

Traveling in Western New York on Wednesday, Republican Gubernatorial candidate Marc Molinaro briefly addressed the deal to unify the state Senate mainline Democrats with the Independent Democratic Conference. Molinaro seemed to subscribe to the theory Gov. Andrew Cuomo, through tacit support, allowed the previous arrangement between the GOP and IDC to exist.

“He broke it. He probably feels a necessity to fix it,” Molinaro said.

The new deal will likely help Cuomo insulate himself against attacks from primary challenger Cynthia Nixon, that he was in fact culpable for Republican control of the state Senate, but Molinaro believes it could hurt the governor in the long run.

He said one-party rule of an entire state is not in the best interest of taxpayers and is a message he would make clear while he campaigns.

“At the end of the day, I would argue if one party controls the entire state legislature, then New Yorkers need a Republican governor to make sure that there’s appropriate checks and balances and I’d like to be that person.”

Democrats would only regain control if they win two special elections later this month and Brooklyn Democrat Simcha Felder chooses to caucus with them.

IDC Builds Its War Chest

Campaign accounts associated with the Independent Democratic Conference will report a combined $4.5 million in cash hand.

That includes $1.95 million in the campaign committee of IDC Leader Jeff Klein, a Bronx lawmaker, and $1 million in the bank for the conference’s campaign committee, the Senate Independence Campaign Committee. The group’s housingkeeping committee — which can’t be used for direct campaign spending — brings the seven-member conference’s total to $4.9 million.

Klein in January reported $1.5 million in cash on hand. The conference’s campaign committee had $412,339 at the start of the year.

“The Independent Democratic Conference is proud of this major showing in support of our members,” said IDC spokeswoman Candice Giove. “We look forward to their reelection and to electing other great Democrats.”

The IDC this year is once again under scrutiny from progressive and left-leaning groups over the eight-member conference’s working relationship with the Republicans in the state Senate.

The GOP conference holds a narrow majority in the chamber with the aid of Brooklyn Democratic Sen. Simcha Felder, who is aligned with Republicans.

Still, the IDC has continued to face pressure this year to reconcile with the mainline Democratic conference in the Senate, building in part over the election of Donald Trump to the White House and Republican control of the U.S. Congress.

ICYMI: Klein Weighs In On Procurement Reform

During a CapTon interview last night, IDC Leader Jeff Klein broke with his power-sharing allies, the Senate Republicans, on the subject of procurement reform, saying he doesn’t see the need for a key espect of a bill they have been pushing to overhaul the way the state awards millions upon millions of dollars worth of contracts.

First, Klein said he feels a three-way agreement on this, or any other issue, is always preferable because that, in his opinion, is “how we move legislation forward in a positive way.” He did not seem terribly keen on the idea that has been voiced by Deputy Senate Majority Leader John DeFrancisco and others that the Senate and Assembly should do a two-way deal before the session ends, and then attempt an override should the governor respond with a veto.

For the record, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has said he, too, would prefer to see a three-way agreement on this.

But the governor has not shown much interest in going along with that state lawmakers and good government groups are pushing on this issue in the way of the Buffalo Billion scandal – even though it touched his own inner circle – saying he would like to see an independent procurement officer that he would appoint, and not a restoration of pre-contract auditing power to the state comptroller’s office.

Klein voiced agreement with the governor on the comptroller issue, but was a little bit vague on who should be doing the contract oversight.

“The way we really police the procurement process is not necessarily giving the comptroller more power, because right now the comptroller of the state of New York has post audit ability,” Klein said. “So, I would assume if there’s a problem, anything you’d spot in a pre-audit you’d be able to spot in a post audit.”

“I think the better way to go is to have some type of independent prosecutor, independent advisory commission, or basically appoint somebody to make sure there’s no bribery in the contracting process, no favoritism in the process. And that sort of prosecutor or investigator of whatever you want to call them would then have the ability to refer that to the proper law enforcement.”

Klein didn’t elaborate on who would be doing the appointing of this independent watchdog, but neither did he specifically voice support for what the governor has proposed.

IDC Pushes Labor Protections As Anti-Trump Measures

Members of the Independent Democratic Conference on Friday backed a package of measures designed to enhance and bolster labor protections in New York.

At the same time, the IDC formally declared their opposition to a constitutional convention in 2019, which voters will decide via referendum this year.

“As a longtime labor organizer and as a student of history, I am well aware of the importance of the labor movement in building the middle class in this country,” said Sen. Marisol Alcantara, a Manhattan Democrat elected last year.

“It is past time that we stopped talking about how to manage the decline of organized labor and started talking about how to revitalize it for the changing conditions of the 21st century. I will fight to ensure dignity and a living wage for all New York State workers, and will stand strongly against any attempts by the federal government to undermine unions.”

The measures are designed to protect New York laborers against a potential expansion of right-to-work laws nationwide. There are 28 states that have right-to-work statutes, which labor unions have vehemently opposed.

“The attacks on labor across this country through right-to-work laws has had a devastating effect on the lives of workers,” said IDC Leader Jeff Klein. “Now, with Vice President Mike Pence, a staunch defender of these laws, in the White House we have seen a push to expand them nationally by Congress. We will not stand by idly. The IDC will oppose any law that attempts to disenfranchise labor unions in this state and I urge my colleagues at the national level to do the same.”

The proposal was framed as an effort to push back against the “anti-worker” policies of President Donald Trump’s administration, which comes as the IDC itself has been accused by liberal advocacy organizations and some fellow Democrats for enabling Senate Republicans in Albany.

The IDC has grown to eight members in recent weeks, but the Senate Republican conference has 32 members with the addition of Brooklyn Democrat Simcha Felder, who sits with the GOP in the chamber.

The measures include calls for federal lawmakers to block RTW legislation and prohibit state funding to organizations like the National Right to Work Foundation that backs implementation of such laws.

A constitutional convention, which voters can determine every seven years through a statewide referendum, has been opposed by labor unions who worry labor protections and collective bargaining rights could be altered.

Alcantara Sidesteps Senate Leadership Fight

Last week’s victory by Marisol Alcantara in the four-way Democratic primary to succeed outgoing Sen. Adriando Espaillat was a win for IDC Leader Jeff Klein, as Alcantara confirmed that she plans to join his breakaway conference and not the so-called “regular” Democrats in Albany come January.

Since then, there has been much speculation that Klein is again preparing to flex his growing political muscle in favor of the Senate Republicans, should they require his assistance in maintaining control of the chamber after the November elections.

But Alcantara is playing her cards close to the vest when it comes to whether she’s prepared to support a power-sharing deal that keeps the regular Democrats in the minority, deftly side stepping the question during a CapTon interview last night by saying:

“You know, I’m the Democrat nominee. What I am prepared to do is to go to Albany to fight for the DREAM Act, fight for licenses for the undocumented, fight for the people in my district and the state of New York.”

When I noted that many DREAM Act supporters blame Klein for the death of the measure on the Senate floor in 2014, Alcantara replied: 

“I don’t know what happened when Jeff Klein was there. All I know is that is one of my main priorities to go to Albany and push for the DREAM Act. It’s a shame that a place like Texas has a DREAM Act and we don’t have one in New York. This is one of the most progressive states in the country.”

No one is questioning Alcantara’s progressive credentials. Aside from a long history in the labor movement as an organizer for the state Nurses Association, she was also a delegate for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders during the New York presidential primary. 

As a result, some regular Democrats are scratching their heads over whey Alcantara would join up with the IDC – a group that Klein’s erstwhile colleagues argue actually prevents the passage of more progressive measures in the Senate. 

As it turns out, her motivation was simple: The IDC supported her when she felt no one else was willing to do so. 

Alcantara said she reached out to “everyone you can think of” when she was mulling a Senate run, and the “one person who was receptive” to the idea of her running for office was Sen. Diane Savino, a Staten Island Democrat and former labor organizer herself, who is currently the IDC’s lone female member. 

Alcantara noted that should she win in November, as is widely expected, then she will make history was the first Dominican woman in the chamber.

She would also be the first Latina elected to the Senate since the departure of the late former Sen. Olga Mendez, a Bronx Democrat who often sided with Republicans and officially changed her registration to the GOP in 2002, in 2004.  

Mendez, the first Puerto Rican woman elected to the state Legislature in New York history, was defeated that year by Sen. Jose Serrano.

SD-31: With Alcantara Win, IDC Would Grow

The five-member Independent Democratic Conference would grow by one should Marisol Alcantara win the race to succeed state Sen. Adriano Espaillat.

Sources confirmed this week Alcantara, a labor organizer, would join the conference if elected. Alcantara this week was endorsed by the IDC, led by Sen. Jeff Klein, a Bronx Democrat.

In a statement, Alcantara praised the IDC on a variety of policies the conference has pushed, including paid family leave and universal pre-Kindergarten.

“For 20 years, I have been working in the trenches in Albany on behalf of organized labor to bring about progressive legislation,” Alcantara said in a statement.

“I witnessed an increase in the minimum wage twice, paid family leave, and Universal Pre-K for NYC–all possible because of the IDC’s influence. When I am elected I look forward to going to Albany to continue to push for progressive legislation critical to the people of the 31st district.”

Alcantara joining the ranks of the IDC would be a key step for the conference to bolster their clout in Albany heading into the 2017 legislative session. Senate Republicans hold a narrow majority in the chamber, while Democrats expect to do well in suburban and upstate swing districts with Hillary Clinton atop the party’s ticket this year.

The IDC in the past has aligned with Senate Republicans to form a majority coalition, but could forge a similar arrangement with the mainline Democratic conference.

“Anyone who knows me knows that I am and will continue to be a fierce advocate for the progressive policies I’ve fought for my entire life,” Alcantara added.

“And, most importantly, I will be a strong and independent voice for tenants and families throughout the district. I will put my credentials of fighting for progressive causes up against my two opponents any day of the week–one of whom lobbied for a Republican mayor in Albany, and another who paved the way for an unprecedented third term for a Republican mayor.”

Alcantara next month faces former Eric Schneiderman aide Micah Lasher and former city Councilman Robert Jackson in a primary.

John Emrick Leaving IDC

They say Albany is a transient place, and each year I am reminded of that fact as people do their time here and then move on to something else. ( I know that kinda makes it sound like a prison sentence, but hey, if the shoe fits…).

The latest such transition comes out of the Independent Democratic Conference in the state Senate as Chief of Staff John Emrick gets ready to depart Albany. I first met Emrick in 2012 as he and members of the IDC were preparing for what would become their major test of power in the chamber. After the November elections, the IDC forged a deal with Senate Republicans for control of the upper house.

That relationship remains in place to this day, albeit with some changes after the 2014 elections. Keep in mind…there are plenty of people who are deeply offended by that relationship, notably the mainline Senate Democrats. But that was the moment when IDC Leader Jeff Klein truly established his five member conference as an independent force in the New York State legislature, and Emrick was key to making it all happen.

Emrick is almost never without a fantastic Albany story to tell. It sometimes takes him a minute to get warmed up, as he stares at you with those innocent, droopy eyes of his. But once you get him going, there are few people as clever and entertaining. Yes, Emrick is nothing if not dialed in to what is happening here at the haunted mansion on the hill we like to call the State Capitol. Emrick says of his departure:

“It’s with a heavy heart that I leave the IDC, whose members and staff, have become my second family. After years of dedicated public service it’s time for me to spend more time with my family, whose lives I miss each day that I spend away from home. This is an exciting time to take on a new political role and work with the IDC. Senator Klein, Valesky, Savino, Carlucci and Avella, together, change New York for the better. I have been proud to work with them, as they lead the way in the State Senate, and look forward to seeing the conference thrive.”

And IDC Leader Jeff Klein says:

“As the Independent Democratic Conference’s Chief of Staff, John has always been loyal and dedicated to the IDC, a stable third conference, that will continue to focus on governing for the people of New York. His brilliance, vision and Democratic ideals enhanced our conference and made a difference for all New Yorkers. I wish him all the best and look forward to working with him closely in a new capacity during one of the most important political seasons that will determine the direction of the Senate.

Emrick won’t be going far. For the remainder of the year he will be doing campaign work for the IDC, but will be based mostly out of New York City. With his wife, Cassie, having just received a promotion at CBS, it has been a real strain on the two kids with having one parent working all the time and the other up in Albany. That’s why he’d like to be closer to home. But Emrick is sanguine about the transition, acknowledging to me just moments ago that people up in Albany can sometimes become like a surrogate family in what sometimes feel like weeks away from one’s actual home. I couldn’t agree more.

Dana Carotenuto will take the reins as chief of staff for the IDC. She is currently deputy COS and policy director. She was the architect of Klein’s Paid family Leave Program. Be strong, Dana.



IDC: Increase Diversity In NYC Specialized High Schools

The Independent Democratic Conference on Wednesday released a platform designed to increase student diversity at specialized high schools in New York City.

The proposal is aimed at boosting resources for students in underrepresented groups at the elementary and middle-school levels that act as feeder institutions for the high schools.

At the same time, the IDC released a report that found disproportionate levels of black and Latino students applying for and enrolling in New York City’s specialized high schools.

“A Specialized High School might be a great fit for so many of New York City’s underrepresented students, but we will never know if we don’t ensure that every student has the resources to prepare and apply,” said IDC Leader Jeff Klein, a Bronx Democrat. “While studies have shown that changing the admissions process will not increase diversity, we know that increasing access to resources from an early age will.”

The IDC backs a boost in outreach coordinators, the creation of test preparation programs for every school district and the creation of a pipeline program in middle schools for specialized high schools. At the same time, the IDC proposal would increase the gifted and talented programs made available.

“Bridging the deep diversity gap that exists in our schools starts with strengthening our students’ foundations,” said IDC Sen. Tony Avella of Queens. “Studies have shown that simply changing the admissions process would do nothing to address the lack of diversity at our city’s most prestigious schools.”

IDC Specialized High Schools Gifted and Talented (1) by Nick Reisman

Klein: NYC Public Housing Is Crumbling

A report released by Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein and New York City Councilman Ritchie Torres on Thursday found the city’s public housing units are in dire need of repair, with problems ranging from mold on the walls, leaking ceilings and peeling paint.

“We cannot sit back while damage is done to our best affordable housing stock,” Klein said in a statement. “That is why we are proposing the NYCHA 2020 Public Housing Revitalization Plan, which would increase funding to provide safe, healthy conditions to residents, while reforming NYCHA’s operations and increasing transparency. NYCHA’s system may be broken, but we are ready to fix it.”

The report found buildings under the auspices of the New York City Housing Authority are in a state of dangerous disrepair. A survey found 63 percent of residents reported that something is damaged or broken in their unit, including falling ceilings in bathrooms and kitchens as well as broken intercoms. Half of the tenants surveyed said they have deal with a broken intercom for more than five years.

Most residents — 51 percent — said they feel unsafe in their building given the conditions.

A whopping 60 percent of residents say mold is a current or past issue, with nearly 19 percent saying their complaints are never responded to.

And if tenants call for help, 79 percent of residents say they receive incorrect information.

Despite having $100 million NYCHA repairs allocated in the budget, the lawmakers say more work is needed to fix the conditions. The report says surplus funding from the Batter Park City Authority should be dedicated to NYCHA, which would bring $400 million over the next decade.

Klein also wants to strengthen transparency at NYCHA by giving the city Council oversight of the entity.

Klein Torres IDC NYCHA Report March 3 .pdf by Nick Reisman