State AG Race In Full Swing + How New York Pols Are Replaced

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Local News:

  • After the New York Times became the latest media outlet to point out racial disparities in marijuana arrests, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance announced that he would stop prosecuting marijuana possession cases on August 1. The DAs in Brooklyn and the Bronx made similar assurances, and Mayor De Blasio announced that the NYPD would devise a plan to reduce marijuana arrests. NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer also released a report on the tax revenues the City could earn from legal marijuana.
  • New York’s weakened rent laws have exacerbated its housing crisis.
  • MTA planning documents reveal that the J/M/Z line, which is supposed to accommodate almost 80% of riders displaced by the coming L Train shutdown, can only handle, at most, 1/4 of the L’s capacity.
  • After organized opposition from students, CUNY will allow student organizations to keep control of the funds raised via “student activity fee,” backing off a plan to centralize the funding.
  • The Village Voice reports most commuters taking the NYC Ferry, which Mayor De Blasio has championed and given $600 million in City funding, are mostly high-income New Yorkers who are replacing other public transit commutes.
  • The City Council is planning to ramp up regulation on AirBnB, forcing the company to disclose details about all of its listings in order to determine if rent stabilized units are being placed on the short-term rental market. The plan is similar to a similar effort in Los Angeles.
  • City Councilmember Rafael Espinal (D-Bushwick) has announced his opposition to a proposed upzoning at DeKalb and Wyckoff Avenues, asking that the developers proposal “make a 180.”


  • The race to replace Eric Schneiderman as State Attorney General has heated up, and with many of the leading candidates withdrawing from the interview process, the State Legislature may end up simply appointing Acting AG Barbara Underwood to serve the remainder of the term. Underwood will not run for election this year.
  • NYC Public Advocate Letitia James became the first to officially enter the race for New York State AG, and seems likely to be selected by the Democratic Party at its convention this month. The Working Families Party put out a statement accusing Governor Cuomo of pressuring James, who won her first election to City Council as a Working Families Party nominee, not to seek the WFP line, after the progressive party endorsed Cynthia Nixon last month. In response, the WFP tried to stay neutral at its convention, endorsing a placeholder for AG, with the intention to support James if she wins the Democratic primary.
  • Other candidates still considering runs include Zephyr Teachout, Tim Wu (who was Teachout’s running mate in the 2014 gubernatorial campaign), and Sean Patrick Maloney. Rep. Kathleen Rice withdrew, citing legal concerns about appearing on the ballot twice (Maloney would face similar concerns), and State Senator Michael Gianaris endorsed Tish James. (Many national figures are still pushing Preet Bharara to run, even though he hasn’t been registered to vote in New York since 2006.)
  • State Assemblyman Peter J. Abbate Jr. (D-Borough Park) became the first elected official to issue an endorsement in the Democratic primary for the 22nd State Senate seat, endorsing Andrew Gounardes over Ross Barkan.
  • Congress Member Jerry Nadler endorsed Robert Jackson in his bid to unseat Marisol Alcantara (District 31, Upper Manhattan), who was a member of the IDC up until last month. Jackson, a former City Council Member, is receiving significant institutional support for his attempt to defeat the one-term incumbent.
  • If elected, Cynthia Nixon promised to start a new panel to investigate public corruption in the vein of the Moreland Commission that Governor Cuomo abruptly shut down in 2014.

In-Depth: How An Attorney General Gets Replaced

Every so often, a political figure in New York will be replaced. For various reasons, this almost never happens through competitive elections. More typically, seats are passed on when politicians die, retire, face term limits, or, as New Yorkers were reminded earlier this month, resign in disgrace.

The resignation of State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is the latest opportunity to see how New York pols replace each other.

Legislative Committee Appointments: For elected, state-level office, like State Attorney General, the standard procedure is for a vacancy to be filled by the State Legislature. A replacement needs a majority of both houses of the legislature, or 107 votes, and with 105 Democrats in the State Assembly, that caucus effectively control the process.  Two of the last three State Comptrollers were chosen this way, most recently in 2006, when Alan Hevesi resigned after pleading guilty to corruption charges. He was replaced by Thomas DiNapoli, a 20-year veteran of the State Assembly who had not been recommended by an outside panel, in what was perceived as a rebuke to then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer. DiNapoli has since been elected twice, and will likely win reelection again this year.

While the legislature is pursuing a similar replacement this year, many of the leading candidates for Attorney General have opted out of this interview process, to avoid facing charges of being a “handpicked” candidate. Gov. Cuomo has already said he would like the Legislature to appoint the Acting AG, Barbara Underwood, and while they could still pick someone else, they will likely select someone who will not stand for election in the fall.

State Party Conventions: With the focus off the State Legislature, attention now turns to the State Party Conventions. Both the Democratic and Republican conventions will be held next weekend, and the Working Families Party held theirs on Saturday (where it did not make an endorsement in the AG race). At these conventions, party insiders will make their nominations for state-level offices. With the quick turnaround between Schneiderman’s resignation on May 7, and the conventions, and the primary less than four months away, few candidates have had the opportunity to raise money or openly campaign for the office. Instead, the campaigning will happen behind closed doors, aimed at the delegates to these conventions.

This is why many suspect that Tish James refused to seek the Working Families Party endorsement, despite beginning her political career with that party: With Gov. Cuomo likely to make an endorsement ahead of the Democratic convention, and the Working Families Party already endorsing his opponent, Cynthia Nixon, he is unlikely to endorse the WFP candidate. If he backs James, as it seems much of Democratic establishment is already doing, then she will likely be nominated at the convention this month.

Party Primaries: While other candidates, like Zephyr Teachout and Tim Wu, have expressed interest in the AG position, they are less likely than James to get enough support at the convention. But even they fail to make that threshold, they can appear on the September primary ballot if they receive enough petition signatures. The lack of opportunity to raise money could present a challenge, but Teachout submitted 45,000 signatures in 2014, or about three times what was needed to get on the primary ballot. She has also retained the services of the same firm that helped Eliot Spitzer get 27,000 signatures in four days during his 2013 campaign for City Comptroller.

Ultimately, the voters of New York will make a choice, first in the September 13 primary, and then in the general election, but who they will be choosing from may be decided behind closed doors in the next few weeks.

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