State Senator Brad Hoylman with new Senate majority leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (Photo by Avery Cohen)
By Sabina Mollot
Nearly a decade ago, Democrats won the State Senate, but their victory was short-lived, thanks to a coup orchestrated by a pair of renegades. When the party next regained power in numbers, this too was brief thanks to a power-sharing arrangement that was brokered between eight breakaway Democrats and Republicans.
But this time it will be different, State Senator Brad Hoylman is saying, due to some unexpected wins last Tuesday that gave Democrats too large of a lead to even try to play behind-the-scenes games with.
“We now have a 16-seat majority,” said Hoylman, “which is extraordinary and provides Democrats with a level of comfort going into vote. A 16-seat majority is a safeguard against Albany’s funny stuff. While there might be some disagreement in our conference, we are a united conference.”
The results of the election paved way for 16 new senators. Six of those senators had defeated candidates during the primary who were formerly members of the breakaway Democrat group known as the Independent Democratic Conference. The new crop of elected officials is also a more diverse bunch: the capitol now has its first Taiwanese-American lawmaker, its first Salvadorian-American, its first Indian-American, its first Colombian-American and its largest number yet of Latinos and women to serve. The Senate’s new majority leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, is the first woman to hold the position, effectively ending the three-men-in-a-room tradition of lawmaking.
For years, Democrats in Albany have been pledging to strengthen rent regulations in New York City, but whenever legislation aimed at doing so dies on the chamber floor, fingers get pointed at their Republican colleagues, who, up until November 6, held a majority in the State Senate.
Now, with the chamber having turned unquestionably blue, tenants might just have a chance at seeing some of the legislation, most notably the repeal of vacancy decontrol, get signed into law. Following the election, the Democrat to Republican ratio is 40 Democrats to 23 Republicans. While this figure includes Simcha Felder, a Democrat who caucuses with Republicans, the Democrats still have a clear majority.
But even still, it won’t be easy, Michael McKee, the treasurer and spokesperson of Tenants Political Action Committee, is warning.
“Nothing is guaranteed,” McKee said. “We are going to have to work very hard to make sure our friends in both houses do the right thing and hold them accountable. Just because the Senate is now under Democratic control, it doesn’t mean stronger rent protections are automatically going to happen.”
Elections results usually reveal answers to political questions. Last week’s Democratic primaries did that, but also raised a raft of new questions, some of which will determine the course of important policy issues next year.
Governor Andrew Cuomo defeated his rival Cynthia Nixon with nearly two thirds of the vote. Usually that would be cause for celebration in the winning camp. But the noticeable muted response from the Cuomo campaign speaks volumes.
In vanquishing his opponent, Cuomo outspent Nixon by almost 10 to 1, depleting his considerable campaign war chest. And along the way he made some bad gaffes which may come back to haunt him. Moreover, his political strategy over his first eight years in office of maintaining control over the state legislature seems to be coming to an end.
By tacitly supporting the breakaway Senate Democrats known as the Independent Democratic Caucus (IDC) for years, Cuomo enabled the Republican Party to maintain control over the State Senate. The Republican leadership in turn kept a lid on a number of progressive pieces of legislation emanating from the Assembly including tenant protections, health insurance reforms, tax policy, education spending and political campaign contributions.
Voting signs at 360 First Avenue (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)
By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Governor Andrew Cuomo defeated activist and challenger Cynthia Nixon by a significant margin in the Democratic primary election on Thursday evening, with the election called for the current governor less than an hour after the polls closed at 9 p.m., although the victory was much narrower among Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village residents than it was for all five boroughs.
Citywide, Cuomo received 66.45 percent of the vote and Nixon got 33.24 percent, but of the almost 4,000 Democratic voters in Stuy Town and Peter Cooper, the governor only received 51.1 percent to Nixon’s 48.9 percent.
On Thursday, September 13, Democrat voters in New York will have the opportunity to vote, at the primary level, for their governor, lieutenant governor and public advocate. In the 74th Assembly District, which runs along the East Side from the East Village to Tudor City, there will also be the chance to vote for their representative in the New York Assembly.
For this seat, we endorse Harvey Epstein.
Epstein received our endorsement prior to the special election in April and is getting it again now for the same reason, his record of getting results for tenants. His opponents have argued – and rightly so – that it’s nearly impossible to beat the “Democratic machine,” a candidate supported firmly by the party, which in this case is Epstein. However, we do believe he has rightfully earned the trust he’s gotten and look forward to seeing him implement not only tenant protections but reforms to the state’s voting system as he has already sponsored legislation to do.
Brooklyn State Senator Simcha Felder is a Democrat. But for reasons best known to him, he has been caucusing with the Republicans in Albany to help enable that Party to maintain control of the State Senate in spite of having fewer members than the Democrats.
But that’s not where the story ends. Last month, the seven Democratic members who have made up the so called “Independent Democratic Caucus” for the past number of years, reluctantly returned to the reservation. That leaves the Senate composition at 32 Democrats and 31 Republicans. Governor Cuomo for years tacitly accepted that odd political marriage because he felt it worked to his advantage. He no longer thinks so. He has been pressured from the left, and from his primary opponent Cynthia Nixon, to stand up for Democrats. So he suddenly got involved and brokered a deal amongst the Senate Democrats.
But with Felder’s continued affiliation with the Republicans, they will maintain Senate control for the rest of this year. In exchange for Mr. Felder’s support, the Republicans have given him legislative perks and pivotal voting deference. But as the current session winds down and the November elections loom large and soon, Mr. Felder’s political strategy may need rethinking.
With sexual misconduct allegations having been made last week against Jeff Klein, the Bronx state senator who controls the Independent Democratic Conference, the proposal to reunite the Senate mainline Democrats with the IDC is likely to continue to stall.
Political watchdog Mike McKee, treasurer of TenantsPAC, said he suspects that “Jeff’s days may be numbered.” While not exactly unbiased — McKee rarely misses a chance to call Klein a landlord puppet — the veteran Albany activist put it this way: “I think this puts a monkey wrench into Governor Cuomo’s plan to reunify the Senate, which was very flawed to begin with.” But, he added that he doesn’t believe the plan was going anywhere anyway.
Under the proposed deal put forth last fall, the IDC, a breakaway group of eight Democrat senators who vote with Republicans, would share power with Democrats with each chamber’s chair becoming a co-leader. However, they would also still need Republican-aligned but non-IDC Senator Simcha Felder and two new Democrat senators in two vacant seats formerly occupied by Democrats to actually secure a majority.
When it comes to resolutions for tenants in the coming year, TenantsPAC treasurer and spokesperson Mike McKee says time is of the essence.
“They have to pass some of our reform bills this year, not 2019,” the activist said.
McKee is adamant about the timing of a growing, organized effort to strengthen the rent laws, explaining that the following year when the rent regulations are up for renewal or expiration, tenants will no longer have leverage that exists this year. The reason for this is simple. Elected officials, including Governor Andrew Cuomo, will be up for reelection in 2018, and, explained McKee, six months after the new term, “he’ll have no interest in June 2019 of doing anything for the tenants” nor will the Republican-aligned members of the Independent Democratic Conference.
McKee, who was reached on the phone last Friday, added that he was planning, along with dozens of other activists, to protest outside Cuomo’s State of the State speech. A number of participants, he added, had committed ahead of time to getting arrested for blocking the entrance to the capitol.
State Senator Brian Kavanagh reflected on his career in Albany so far at a Pret shop near his office, which was already in boxes earlier this month. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By Sabina Mollot
On Thursday, December 7, Brian Kavanagh, who had served as Assembly member representing Manhattan’s 74th District for 11 years, took the oath of office for his new role as state senator. While his Assembly district, which included Stuyvesant Town, Waterside, Tudor City and a handful of other East Side neighborhoods, is now vacant, Kavanagh’s new beat, the 26th Senatorial District, formerly represented by Daniel Squadron, spans part of Brooklyn’s waterfront and much of Lower Manhattan.
Just days before Kavanagh officially began his new position, he met with a Town & Village reporter at a Pret sandwich shop near his legislative office (since the office itself was already packed up in boxes) to discuss his reason for switching chambers and how he still plans to fight for affordable housing.
Mike McKee of TenantsPAC called the proposal a bad idea (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By Sabina Mollot
Last week, Democrat leaders in Albany laid out their hopes for a reunified Democrat body in the Senate, which is currently made up of Democrats, Republicans and the Independent Democratic Conference, eight breakaway Democrats who are aligned with Republicans. The IDC members were warned that if they didn’t start playing nice with their own party that the mainline Democrats would actively support their opponents in upcoming primaries. The warning came by way of a letter from the party that was sent to mainline Democrats as well as IDC members.
Because the State Senate is the legislative body chamber where tenant-friendly legislation goes only to flatline, Town & Village turned to TenantsPAC spokesperson and treasurer Mike McKee to ask what this attempt at a deal means for New York City’s renters.
According to him, it does have some impact despite no deal being hammered out yet.
“It’s fallen apart as it should,” said McKee. The deal would have allowed the mainline Democrats and the IDC to keep their chairs (Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Jeff Klein, respectively) as co-chairs to more effectively pass a progressive agenda. In response, the IDC said it would want to make sure progressive issues important to its own members were passed.
Zephyr Teachout socks it to the State Senate’s breakaway Democrats in “Drunken Civics.” (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)
By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Zephyr Teachout, the law professor who challenged Governor Andrew Cuomo in the last gubernatorial election, lent a helping hand to a new show at the People’s Improv Theater called “Drunken Civics,” borne out of the 2016 election results and combining comedy and learning about local government. Teachout appeared in the show on Monday evening at the theater on East 24th Street to discuss the Independent Democratic Conference (the Senate breakaway Democrats who are aligned with Republicans).
“I guess how this works is that I’ll say things and they make fun of me, which is kind of what it was like running for governor,” Teachout told the crowd, who chuckled in response.