- MTA Chairman Joe Lhota revealed his plan to address subway delays, including the introduction of standing-only cars and a greater police presence. The Governor also floated a plan to allow the renaming of subway stops after corporate sponsors.
- The Mayor held a press conference on the F train, blaming the state and the MTA for the agency’s problems. New Yorkers are wising up to Cuomo’s failure to maintain the subways, with a recent poll showing that residents blame Cuomo over De Blasio for subway failures by a two-to-one margin. However, the Governor still enjoys a good approval rating within the five boroughs.
- Opponents of the Bedford-Union Armory targeted the Mayor in a pointed op-ed and by inviting him to a planned community town hall in Crown Heights this Wednesday. Meanwhile, Crain’s New York suggested that the project is not financially viable as a Community Land Trust, which prompted housing advocates to disagree and explain why.
- The Democratic State Committee’s Progressive Caucus passed a resolutiondenouncing the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), but a stricter resolution calling on the State Committee to withhold financial support from the IDC was watered down in the resolution’s final form.
- Governor Cuomo’s replacement for the 421-a tax credit, a tax exemption for real estate developers that the Governor is rebranding as “Affordable New York,” will not include community preferences or requirements to set aside housing for the homeless.
- A class action lawsuit filed by 60 tenants against one of the city’s largest residential property owners underscores the types of tactics landlords employ against tenants to increase rents in rent -regulated buildings.
- The De Blasio administration made some changes to shift units from moderate-income to low-income families under the city’s affordable housing plan, claiming the changes were made not in response to protests against development proposals but due to increased interest from developers.
- DSA-endorsee Jabari Brisport faced his two Democratic opponents in a community forum on Tuesday, where the candidates debated affordable housing and other issues facing District 35.
- Supporters of Khader El-Yateem’s campaign for City Council district 43 (Bay Ridge) have accused his challenger, Justin Brannon, of failing to disclose campaign expenses, including allegedly having the rent for his campaign headquarters paid for by the current Council member and candidate for Brooklyn DA, Vincent Gentile.
- Bob Gangi, co-founder of the Police Reform Organizing Project and Democratic challenger to De Blasio for Mayor, went on City & State’s podcast to discuss broken windows policing and his vision for NYC.
- The Patrolman’s Benevolent Association (PBA), the largest labor union of Police Officers in NYC, is looking to play a role in this year’s City Council elections by supporting candidates that it sees as sympathetic to its agenda. Most notable is their endorsement of Felix Ortiz over current Councilmember Carlos Menchaca (District 38, Sunset Park), because unions rarely endorse challengers over incumbents.
- While most City Council candidates have raised somewhere between $70,000-$200,000 in donations so far, Queens Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer (District 26, Long Island City) has raised nearly $500,000 for his 2017 campaign. An analysis of campaign contributions conducted by the Queens Anti-Gentrification Project shows that $127,000 of his funds have come from real estate interests.
In-Depth: Avoiding Competitive Elections
Legally speaking, every politician in New York City must face voters every two to four years and prove once again that he or she is fit for office. Practically speaking, that’s not quite how it works. Insulated from Republican challenge in an overwhelmingly blue city and protected by incumbency advantage in the primary, NYC politicians can go decades without facing a genuinely competitive election.
Thus the only competitive election many of them ever do face is their first one: the Democratic primary for an open seat. Such races are often mobbed with numerous challengers, since they present virtually the only real opportunity for political outsiders to challenge the New York political establishment.
This is a serious problem. It’s a problem for establishment candidates, who are rarely the sort of charismatic world-beaters who fare well in competitive elections, and for departing incumbents, who would rather leave their seats to protegés as a reward for loyal service than leave things up to chance, and for the New York political establishment as a whole, which would rather keep the government in safe hands than leave control up to the arbitrary will of the people. For this reason the art of avoiding competitive open-seat primaries has received considerable attention from New York politicos, and a number of solutions have been devised.
The Special Election: One of the easiest ways to avoid a competitive election is to simply retire or switch seats in the middle of your term, triggering a special election. There are no primaries for special elections; for state legislative elections, the Democratic County Committees simply award the Democratic ballot line to their favored candidate and thus grant that candidate, in New York City at least, near-certain victory. (This capacity is a source of enormous power for the party apparatus.) The convenience of this maneuver explains why nearly one third of Assembly reps (48 out of 150) were first elected in special elections. The rules are significantly fairer in City Council, where no one gets the major-party ballot lines and everyone must run on a new ballot line, and City Council special elections are accordingly rarer.
The Petition Headfake: To get on the primary ballot in New York, a candidate must collect hundreds or even thousands of signatures from voters in the course of little more than a month in the summer preceding the election. Marshalling the resources to do this requires significant time and money. A candidate who waits to announce her decision not to run until immediately before petitioning begins can leave her campaign apparatus to her chosen successor while leaving potential challengers with the near-impossible task of putting together a campaign in barely a month, thus virtually guaranteeing that the chosen successor will get on the primary ballot and no one else will.
The Vacancy Theft: A candidate who sees even this as too big a risk may choose to drop out of the race after petitioning is already over, thus making absolutely sure that no challenger will have time to mount a campaign. In this situation the decision as to who will take the incumbent’s place on the ballot falls to a “committee to fill vacancies” appointed by the incumbent himself, and succession is guaranteed.
This last move is so shameless it’s rarely used; the most memorable recent example is ethically challenged Queens Democratic County Committee boss Joe Crowley’s election to the US House of Representatives in 1999, when his predecessor, Thomas Manton, withdrew from the race on the last possible day and virtually appointed him. Crowley has not faced the indignity of a serious challenger since, though that may change with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s run this year (UPDATE: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defeated Joe Crowley.) A similar move put Bronx DA Darcel Clark in office when her predecessor, Robert Johnson, withdrew from the race only a week after winning the Democratic primary.
And last week another name was added to the list: City Councilman David Greenfield of Borough Park, chair of the powerful Land Use Committee, announced that he was taking a job with the Met Council, a Jewish charity recently embroiled in a corruption scandal when Sheldon Silver’s chief of staff’s husband stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from it, not to be confused with the wonderful tenants’ rights organization Met Council on Housing.
Greenfield announced his decision after the close of petitioning and designated his protegé Kalman Yeger to replace him on the ballot; Yeger will run unopposed in the primary and is almost certain to win a seat on the City Council next year. Before this maneuver, Yeger, whose name was recently linked to Greenfield’s real estate slush fund, was running against Chaim Deutsch in an adjoining district; now Deutsch, too, will not have much to worry about this year.
Greenfield claims that he wasn’t offered the Met Council job until recently; it’s impossible to know whether that’s true. What is certain is that voters in his district will not get a genuine choice about who is to represent them this year. And whatever Greenfield’s intentions, the situation demonstrates how insiders can use New York’s partisan elections and restrictive ballot-access rules to keep voters out of politics and turn city government into a backroom deal.