Cuomo Announces Support for Congestion Pricing + Democratic Mayoral Primary Rundown

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In-Depth: NYC Democratic Mayoral Primary

On Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio will face one of his Democratic challengers, Sal Albanese, in one of two scheduled primary debates. The existence of such a debate is itself unusual, as no incumbent mayor has faced a primary debate since the Campaign Finance Board took over the debate program in 1997. The last time an incumbent mayor faced a serious primary challenge was nearly 30 years ago, when David Dinkins defeated Ed Koch in 1989.

Yet, it is still a stretch to call Albanese a serious challenger to de Blasio. A former City Council Member from Bay Ridge, Albanese has run for mayor twice before, most recently garnering less than 1% of the primary vote in 2013. After a number of high-profile candidates including Hakeem Jeffries, Scott Stringer, and Preet Bharara declined to challenge de Blasio, the Mayor was left with a number of challengers who could not meet the CFB’s requirements to raise and spend $175,000 in order to participate in the debate. Albanese only barely met the requirements himself, and has pointed out that de Blasio signed a bill that raised the requirements from $50,000. Thus, despite a shaky approval rating that has suffered in light of recent MTA failures, de Blasio maintains a formidable lead over his 2017 opponents.

De Blasio’s Challengers

Sal Albanese, the only other candidate who will appear on stage on Wednesday, served on the City Council from 1983 to 1998, and has not held elected office since. As a result, his politics are somewhat anachronistic. Seen as a liberal in the 1990s, he voiced support for the death penalty, and voted to expand the size of the NYPD. He proposed expanding it further as recently as 2013. He also introduced New York City’s Living Wage Bill, which protected wages for City contractors. But the primary focus of his campaign and his earlier political career has been political reform and anti-corruption campaigns. While on the City Council, he proposed an aggressive Campaign Finance Reform Bill, and has proposed “Democracy Vouchers” as a means of reforming the current system.

Robert Gangi has been shut out of this week’s debate, but says he will stage a mock debate with a de Blasio surrogate (“a stick with a Red Sox hat on it”) outside the debate site. Former head of the Police Reform Organizing Project and previously Executive Director of the Correctional Association, Gangi has made police reform the centerpiece of the campaign, promising to end Broken Windows and the NYPD’s quota system. He also promised to fire NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo and the other officers involved in the death of Eric Garner in 2014. In addition to his criminal justice positions, he has attacked de Blasio from the left on housing and education issues, promising to promote desegregation of New York City schools, and ensure affordable housing meets affordability requirements for current neighborhood residents. He has never held elected office before.

Richard Bashner, another candidate who won’t be on the stage this week, is a Park Slope attorney and former Chair of Brooklyn’s Community Board 6. That community board has been at the center of a few rezoning votes in the time Bashner has served on it, but it is unclear what role he played in each vote. His campaign maintains support for community control over zoning decisions, but he has also headed the real estate practice of his law firm for over 25 years. Like Albanese, he has touted transparent government and a limit to big money in New York City politics as reasons for running.

Michael Tolkin has actually raised more money than any candidate in the election, including de Blasio, with nearly $8 million in contributions. But nearly all of that has come in the form of in-kind contributions to his own campaign, meaning that it does not count toward the CFB requirements. Tolkien is a former tech CEO who is only 32 years old. According to his campaign website, he is “a go-getter” who believes in “collaborative leadership” as well as a governing philosophy that is “non-ideological and apolitical.”

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