Senate Democrat Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Governor Andrew Cuomo and former Independent Democratic Conference leader Jeff Klein (Photo courtesy of governor’s office)
Following what is being touted as Senate Democratic chamber reunification, Town & Village reached out to Michael McKee of TenantsPAC. He outlined the scenario as it is likely to play out in an op-ed while also sharing his thoughts on the reason for the governor’s sudden insistence on reunification.
“Everything comes down to two words. Cynthia Nixon,” said McKee. “Andrew’s scared to death and trying to hide it and he’s not fooling anyone.”
As for the Independent Democratic Conference’s sudden demise, read on, but, warned McKee, “We’ve been down this road before.”
By Michael McKee, treasurer, Tenants Political Action Committee
In a stunning development, Governor Andrew Cuomo has persuaded Jeff Klein and his fellow turncoat members of the Independent Democratic Conference not only to rejoin the mainstream Democratic conference but also to dissolve the IDC.
This is a huge political defeat for Jeff Klein, who up to now has insisted that while he was open to a reunification deal, the IDC would continue as a separate conference and he would be co-leader with Andrea Stewart-Cousins.
Now he has agreed to disband the IDC, and accept a lower position as Andrea’s deputy.
Why? Because Andrew Cuomo, Jeff Klein, and the other turncoat senators are scared of losing their jobs this year. This is a perfect illustration of how grassroots political pressure can produce results. While Klein and Cuomo are desperate to lessen the pressure on them, we need to keep the pressure on – and increase it.
State Senator Brad Hoylman voted no on numerous parts of the budget that were ultimately passed. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By Sabina Mollot
In the latest “Big Ugly,” the state budget released on Saturday morning yanked $4.5 million from tenant protections by completely de-funding the housing agency’s Tenant Protection Unit.
State Senator Brad Hoylman, who voted no against that measure and numerous others included in the budget, blamed his own chamber for the move. However, he said he’s been assured the TPU will continue to be able to operate through emergency funding set aside by the governor, which was also done last year. Still, said Hoylman, “What kind of message does that send to New Yorkers? The budget is a real statement of our values.”
Meanwhile, the Republican-controlled chamber saw fit to spend $3 million of taxpayer funds on an upstate golf tournament because, they said, it would create jobs and spur economic growth in the area.
In arguments that are now online on YouTube, Hoylman responded, “Four and half million dollars was cut from the budget. I’d like to see the Dick’s Sporting Goods money put into the Tenant Protection Unit.”
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.
Despite allegations that the Cuomo administration compromised the governor’s own corruption watchdog panel and despite the fact that Cuomo’s opponent in the primary has been interviewing non-stop — thanks to an unusually interested press in a longshot candidate — that opponent has still retained her title of just that, a longshot.
Still, there’s no doubt at this point that Zephyr Teachout is gaining momentum. Cuomo recently attempted, unsuccessfully, to have her tossed off the ballot over allegations she didn’t live in New York for the past five years. Meanwhile, the move to keep her from running may have backfired. Along with pointing out that Teachout, a Fordham law professor, was an underdog candidate, it also alerted New Yorkers to a fact many weren’t aware of previously, which was that there was even a primary election at all.
During a recent interview over the phone, Teachout shared her thoughts with Town & Village on why voters are starting to pay attention to this race. She also spoke about her ideas on what can be done to keep New York affordable for tenants (including small businesses) and why developers like Extell are part of the problem. (The interview has been edited for length.)
Why do you think people are finally noticing your campaign? Do you think it’s just the Moreland Commission?
There’s a latent, deep frustration about our economy, about how New York State has the most segregated schools; it’s the most unequal state. It’s a closed all-boys club in Albany. It’s supposed to be an egalitarian state. I’m anti-corruption. Extell gives $100,000 in campaign donations — and this is Extell of the poor door fame — and Extell is getting subsidies that other New York businesses aren’t. What I think people are starting to see is that Extell is not just a developer. They’re spending so much money on developing political power and connections. One thing about me. You’ll always know where I stand. Andrew Cuomo is hiding from the issues. He’s hiding from a debate right now. He’s scared of bringing more attention to the campaign. I won’t tell you that the reason people are (paying attention) is any one thing, but Moreland is pretty shocking. I think he’s governing like an ad man. He’s putting on a lot of ads, but he doesn’t engage reporters. We like to say that Andrew Cuomo is my biggest campaign donor. That (Cuomo has taken me to court) has perked up a lot of reporters’ ears.
As a political outsider, how do you feel about political alliances, like the recent announcement that the Independent Democratic Conference was breaking away from the Republicans, and the expectation of a Democrat-led Senate as a result?
Not to toot my own horn, but Andrew Cuomo only started fighting for a Democratic Senate when I entered the race. I entered the race at the end of May and within three days Cuomo was making all kinds of concessions that he hadn’t agreed to in years. He could have made a Democratic Senate years ago if he vetoed the redrawn districts, which had been a campaign promise. There’s no excuse for not having a Democratic Senate in New York. The reason we don’t is Andrew Cuomo. If it was in Democrat control we’d be a lot better off in terms of affordable housing.
As a political outsider, how would you handle the actual politics of governing? Dealing with the various alliances in order to get things accomplished?
I think the job is leadership. You’re not going to win every fight. My vision of leadership is hiring great people and respecting people who work for the state.
In Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village, everyone’s rent-stabilized, so there’s concern over the fact that the Rent Stabilization Law is coming up for renewal in 2015. What would you do to strengthen it?
I’m very familiar with Stuyvesant Town. I used to live near there on East 7th Street and I would go up there to go swimming at Asser Levy. (On Rent Stabilization Law), there is precisely a role for the city to play. We need to repeal the Urstadt Law. At a minimum the city should be free to directly do things. It’s a crisis of people living in expensive housing. It’s a crisis for our economy.
In ST/PCV, some people pay affordable rents, while others pay double for the same apartments. A big concern is all the legal ways owners can raise rents from major capital improvements (MCIs), to individual apartment improvements (IAIs) to vacancy bonuses.
Rent stabilization is still one of the best sources of housing for low income people in the city. We have to make sure affordable means affordable, not unaffordable.
Zephyr Teachout with running mate Tim Wu, candidate for lieutenant governor (Photo courtesy of campaign)
It seems that more and more small businesses are being priced out of their locations and being replaced with chain stores. What do you think of the idea of rent regulation for commercial tenants?
We have two different visions. One is commercial rent control for small businesses. The other is making sure big box stores aren’t getting an unfair advantage. We have to make sure our lending system is accessible to entrepreneurs who need it. You have to have a blend of strategies. We also have to make sure for retail diversity that there’s a range of minority owned businesses.
What made you write a book about corruption?
I began writing it years ago. I began writing in 2008 because the New York Supreme Court’s vision of corruption was narrow and cramped. They said it was only about illegal bribery, so it wasn’t about Extell. If you’re giving $100,000 in donations and getting tens of millions in subsidies, it is a violation of democratic principles. I think the core of it is if you want to be a public servant, you have to serve the public and not just serve yourself.
When you meet with voters, what are their top concerns?
Housing is one of the top concerns. People just don’t have the money to meet the basics. Another concern is people feel there aren’t enough (services) for people with psychiatric disabilities, but the more mainstream (concern) is housing. Upstate it’s property taxes and schools are central. With schools, it’s high stakes testing and over-crowding.
What would you do to alleviate classroom crowding?
There needs to be smaller classes, no more than 20 in a class. I used to be a special ed teacher’s aide, and you can’t give each child the attention they need when there are 33 kids in a classroom. There needs to be art and music for every child. They’re not extras. They’re essentials. We should be the best public school system in the country.
What’s your opinion of charter schools?
Charters have a role, but a very small role. Eva Moskowitz’s assault on education is not what charters are supposed to do. I am opposed to colocations and I don’t think charter schools should get money that was intended for our public schools.
What would you do to create jobs?
I’m a traditional Democrat. One (idea) is investing in the infrastructure, in the MTA, in transit. Upstate it’s in renewable energy. All of these create jobs in the short term and enable jobs in the long term, and affordable higher education.
If elected, what is your first priority?
My first priority is taking on the old boys’ network that allows corruption to continue. The school system is unequal and there’s immigration. Andrew Cuomo has a running mate who’s anti-immigrant. Every child at the border should see New York as a sanctuary.