Political Flavors


How Andrew Cuomo can win my vote.

Posted in Editorials on September 10th, 2014
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As I knew it was an incredibly long shot, I am not too disappointed that Zephyr Teachout lost her primary bid last night. She made a strong showing and I am very happy with the message that she sent.

But this leaves me with the question of what to do in November. I’m not voting for an antichoice, antigay Republican like Rob Astorino. So Howie Hawkins of the Green Party is looking pretty good right now.

However, my opinion is not set in stone. Here’s how Andrew Cuomo (whom I voted for for both Attorney General AND Governor) can win me back.

1. Ban Fracking. You can read the Sierra Club’s explanation of the issue here. I used to think that a good middle ground on this issue would be to go back to the law as it was in 2005. Fracking used to be a lot less dangerous. Companies would use water, salt water or carbonated water to extract natural gas, rather than a mix of poisonous chemicals protected as proprietary trade secrets. However, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 exempted fracking from the Clean Water Act. This is why states must take action to protect their drinking water supplies. (Congress isn’t going to repeal this loophole anytime soon.) But my opinion on this has changed recently. Bill McKibben’s editorial in Mother Jones explains why fracking has an even bigger impact on greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change than were previously thought. Governor Cuomo needs to ban fracking once and for all in New York State.

2. Explain what the hell happened with The Moreland Commission. Governor Cuomo set up a commission to investigate corruption and then stopped them from investigating his own office. Transparency does not work that way. Now, he is under federal investigation for his actions. He needs to explain himself.

3. Show some remorse over creating the IDC. Evidence has come to light that Governor Cuomo played a key role in the “rogue Democrats” that caucused with Republicans in the New York State Senate. This is unacceptable. The common wisdom is that he did this so that he would look more “bipartisan” and “moderate” when he wanted to run for president. Considering that this has come at a cost to his constituents, this is outrageous. The Women’s Equality Act, GENDA, a bill banning gay “conversion therapy” and the state version of the DREAM Act all suffered because of the IDC. Allowing Dean Skelos to retain control of the New York State Senate means that a true progressive agenda cannot be enacted. And for this, Governor Andrew Cuomo owes the people of New York an apology.

I seriously doubt that any of this will happen, much less all three of my requests. But this is what it would take to get me to vote Cuomo in November.

Albany is a little more corrupt this morning

Posted in Editorials on September 10th, 2014
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In case you were wondering, Albany got a little more corrupt yesterday. While Sen. Malcolm Smith, who allegedly tried to rig the NYC 2013 Mayoral election and is awaiting trial, was defeated, it was the only ray of light in a rather bad day for those seeking a more ethical Albany.

Republican Sen. Tom Libous, under Federal indictment, defeated his primary challenger, and fellow senator John Sampson, a Democrat and also under indictment, won his race as well.

To top it off, Andrew Cuomo was yesterday’s victor, along with his flip-flopping deputy Kathy Hochul. Hopes were that Hochul would lose to Tim Wu, and Wu would refuse the Independence Party nomination, thus finally killing the scandal-ridden organization.

In other bad news, senators Jeff Klein and Tony Avella both won. These individuals were elected as Democrats, but then caucused with the Republicans under the guise of the “Independent Democratic Conference (IDC)” to give the GOP control of the chamber.

And the icing on the cake: moderate Republican Senator Mark Grisanti was defeated in his primary. He was defeated with the help of the teachers union, who said Grisanti was not “conservative enough.” While this was done as a way to help Democrats reclaim the seat in the general election, it ultimately served to make the IDC even more powerful as both Republican Leader Dean Skelos and Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins will be willing to give away more chits to garner their support in January. Ironically, it was Skelos who refused to usher through campaign finance reform that would have made it harder for the teachers union exercise its tactics.

So, New York, the winners in yesterday’s primary are a governor under Federal investigation, two senators under indictment, the corrupt Independence Party, the teachers union, and the sleazy Independent Democratic Caucus.

As usual, the loser is all of us who live in this state and must deal with the consequences.

Hey New York: Voting takes about five minutes. Try showing up next time.

This Primary Day, Democrats Can Control Who Runs the New York State Senate. The Future of Progressive Social Causes is at Stake

Posted in Editorials on August 13th, 2014
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September 9th is Primary Day in New York State. While primaries have lower turnouts and generally receive less media scrutiny, they are often very significant races that determine the policy direction a party takes. In some cases, as in the June Congressional primary between Rep. Charles Rangel and State Sen. Adriano Espaillat, it determined the person who will ultimately serve in the next Congress.

Next month’s primary is an important one for Democrats. Conventional wisdom holds Andrew Cuomo, Kathy Hochul, Eric Schneiderman and Tom DiNapoli will all be serving in Albany next year. What’s less certain is who will control the State Senate.

Some are surprised to learn that the Senate is currently in Republican hands when one considers the lopsided advantage that Democrats hold in party registration in our state. As of this past April, there were 5,873,844 Democrats and 2,785,773 Republicans. Yet Dean Skelos, a Long Island Republican, controls the Senate, in part due to a power-sharing agreement made with Jeff Klein, a senator from the Bronx who defected from the Democratic caucus to form the “Independent Democratic Conference” (IDC). Joining Klein to form the IDC were Malcolm Smith of Queens, Diane Savino of Staten Island, David Valesky of Oneida, and David Carlucci of Rockland. Sen. Smith was forced to leave the IDC after he tried to bribe his way into the New York City Mayor’s office.

Smith was soon replaced by Sen. Tony Avella, who joined the IDC earlier this year. While Avella acted like he was joining the IDC for benevolent reasons alone, his staff got raises as a result, Avella himself became Chair of the Social Services Committee, and his campaign was given $50,000 by other senators for his good will.

Albany works different than real life, it seems.

On February 26th, Avella told the New York Daily News:

“Under Sen. Klein’s leadership, the [Independent Democratic Conference] has developed a clear, progressive agenda for New York’s working families.”

Odd that he didn’t feel that way before the raises, chairmanship, and 50 grand. Details…details.

This statement, though, makes September 9th so important for Democrats in New York.

Leaving the Democratic Caucus, led effectively by Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins of Westchester, in order to best promote a “clear, progressive agenda” is like Michael Bloomberg saying he could most effectively support gun control legislation by writing a check to the NRA. It just doesn’t make sense.

Maybe if the NRA offered Bloomberg’s staff raises and made him chair of a policy committee he’d reconsider. That would be benevolent, right?

No greater proof is needed to rebut the claim that the IDC and its alliance with the Republicans is promoting a “clear, progressive agenda” than three bills which never saw the light of day thanks to the “power-sharing agreement”: the entire Women’s Equality Act, GENDA and a ban on conversion therapy.

The Women’s Equality Act, all-encompassing legislation that would have ensured equal pay, cracked down on human trafficking, and safeguarded reproductive health was apparently deemed “extreme.” As was the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, which would have banned discrimination based on gender identity or expression. The third bill, to ban conversation therapy, would have made it illegal to try to “cure” children of homosexuality, a “treatment” that has increased depression and suicide rates. In fact, Gov. Chris Christie helped ban it in New Jersey and is quoted saying he

believe[s] that on the issues of medical treatment for children we must look to experts in the field to determine the relative risks and rewards…I believe that exposing children to these health risks without clear evidence of benefits that outweigh these serious risks is not appropriate.

All of these bills should have passed, reflecting the substantial registration advantage that Democrats have over Republicans in New York. But they weren’t even given a vote on the floor. The reason they were not given a vote is clear: because Dean Skelos and the Senate Republicans would not allow a vote.

Why do Dean Skelos and the Senate Republicans have this say? Because they were given it by members of the IDC who were given plum committee posts and financial benefits in exchange for their allegiance.

As a result, any chance of progressive social policies passing in New York came to a halt.

You see, according to the “power-sharing” agreement, both “co-leaders” Skelos and Klein need to approve bills that go to the floor.

Democracy has a different definition in Albany.

What many people don’t realize is that the Senate Republicans have a second master: the New York State Conservative Party. Many of their members could not win without the backing of the Conservative Party, and rely on it for votes, GOTV and fundraising. The Conservative Party has been openly hostile to women, to minorities and to the LGBT community, and doesn’t hesitate to punish those who run opposed to its dogma. The party is closely aligned with the Catholic Church, including its belief on the role of women in society, the rights of said women, and its narrow interpretation of the Bible to meet its own agenda – regardless of who is harmed.

This can be remedied on September 9th, though. Many members of the IDC face primaries. Two races in particular can have a significant impact on the future of the IDC and the State Senate. In Queens, Tony Avella is being challenged by John Liu. In the Bronx, Jeff Klein is facing Oliver Koppell.

If the Democrats can regain control of even one of these seats, it will send a clear message that Democratic voters didn’t go out and vote on Election Day 2012 so that Dean Skelos could be left in power.

If you want the chance for a true progressive agenda on social issues, you need to express yourself on Primary Day.

The alternative is a State Senate that is to the right of Chris Christie.

WFP Endorses Cuomo: Business as Usual in Albany

Posted in Editorials on June 3rd, 2014
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Corruption and Albany are synonymous. In fact, nothing about Albany corruption surprises us anymore. Indictments run rampant. Scandals loom in every corner. Deals are made every day under the assumption that voters are stupid and don’t pay attention. And it seems that at any given time, jury selection is underway somewhere in New York for a pending trial of some politician.

So the Working Families Party’s nomination of Gov. Andrew Cuomo this weekend should come as no surprise. What is odd is that the Governor, who is in good shape to be handily re-elected, threw the Senate IDC-Republican “co-majority” under the bus in order to win a nomination that four years ago he was considering not taking at all.

Perhaps the governor saw what the “professional left” has done to other, more centrist, Democrats like Hillary Clinton and Christine Quinn and he was afraid he would eventually meet the same fate. However, it doesn’t really seem logical that a WFP candidate would garner enough votes to realistically threaten his re-election. The candidate being considered, Zephyr Teachout, is an unknown entity who would have trouble garnering the 50,000 votes the WFP needs to remain an active political party with ballot access in this state. If the WFP endorsed her, the unions would still back Cuomo, siphoning votes and dollars from any campaign she had.

In fact, there is much more for the WFP to lose than gain in not endorsing Cuomo.

So why? Was this all really about a local minimum wage, income inequality, corporate tax breaks, and other populist issues? Unlikely. It would seem almost ridiculous to buck a sitting governor when he has delivered on other progressive initiatives like gun control and marriage equality.

Questions remain: Will Cuomo be true to his word and actually turn on his GOP-IDC allies in Albany? Can he actually follow-through on any of his legislative promises given that the session is about to close? Does the WFP have any recourse if he doesn’t? Is this really about satisfying liberal activists in advance of a presidential bid?

And overall: Why? Why the fight, the drama, the tension?

Perhaps the answer is in who came to Andrew Cuomo’s rescue at the WFP convention: none other than Mayor Bill de Blasio. Darling of the Working Families Party and the professional left.

Maybe it’s as simple as de Blasio and his allies just taking another pol down a peg after a strenuous six months.

As always with Albany…we may never know. Unless there’s an indictment.

Buying Kathleen Rice

Posted in Editorials on December 18th, 2013
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“Nearly $300,000.”

According to the New York Daily News, that’s how much Nassau County District Kathleen Rice received from the law firm Weitz & Luxenberg, its partners, and their spouses. Weitz & Luxenberg isn’t just any firm. And it’s not just known for its masterfully-produced “Metal-on-Metal” hip replacement surgery ads seeking your willingness to sue.

This is the law firm of New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Yes, in New York State, there’s absolutely no conflict of interest (apparently) to make money at a personal injury firm while also determining if tort reform legislation makes its way to the floor of your chamber.

What’s interesting about the donations Ms. Rice receives from Mr. Silver’s firm is that she’s also co-chair of a Moreland Commission in New York that’s investigating government corruption, with a focus on the New York State Legislature. According to the Daily News, “No one else on the 25-member corruption commission received contributions from Weitz & Luxenberg.”

A spokesperson for Ms. Rice said that she is “immune to fear or favor.”

Sidebar: Kathleen Rice has also received contributions from a partner at Thor Equities, who was subpoenaed by the same commission of which she is a co-chair.

Now we know why she is “immune to fear or favor”: vaccines are so expensive these days.

Speaking of vaccines, what do you have to do in a Republican stronghold like Nassau County to repeatedly have the GOP refuse to nominate a strong candidate against you? It seems odd that when Republicans hold three out of the four countywide posts, that they would give Ms. Rice, a Democrat, a free pass when it came to her own elections.

Maybe it’s her record.

In June 2013, Ms. Rice “investigated” the Republican County Executive Ed Mangano’s use of government employees to hand out flyers that touted his repeal of an energy tax and for not raising property taxes. Such language, it seems, would be more suited for campaign literature handed out by volunteers. Luckily for Mr. Mangano, Ms. Rice’s office found nothing wrong with this exercise. She deferred to a county ethics board which is controlled by Mangano-appointed members.

Ms. Rice’s actions resulted in even greater and more egregious taxpayer-funded literature being mailed out by the county right before the fall elections. One of these flyers stated that: “Democrats Are Playing Politics with your Health.” But it’s all okay, right? Because none of these used “objectively overt political statements.”

It seems putting up token opposition in District Attorney’s races can have benefits for the opposition’s party.

But this story isn’t over just yet.

Apparently it’s just dandy for Republicans to use intimidation to win an election as long as Democrat Kathleen Rice occupies the District Attorney’s Office.

But now circumstances have changed and the Democrats have finally woken up to her “immunity.”

Ms. Rice most recently found “no criminality” when the local police commissioner who, according to the Daily News (glad someone is actually reporting this) “at the urging of Gary Melius, a politically connected donor, personally directed officers to arrest a key witness in a case connected to the county executive race.”

To sum it up, according to the Daily News:

The witness, campaign worker Randy White, was set to testify in a case involving a third-party aspirant for county executive who Dems believe was a strong candidate designed to help GOP incumbent Edward Mangano.

Two days before the testimony, White was arrested — while riding on a bus — on an outstanding warrant over a $250 fine he hadn’t paid from an unrelated misdemeanor conviction.

The Daily News also writes:

Some question how aggressively Rice’s office investigated, given that the situation touched major Nassau County political figures: Mangano, who Rice found to have no involvement, his police department, and Melius.

Rice spokesman Shams Tarek said the DA is “completely unfazed by all this commentary and is used to ignoring political pressure as she follows the facts and applies the law.”

Well, obviously she is unfazed…she got a vaccine and is now immune.

But this isn’t as simple as going soft on GOP corruption to have an easy ride on Election Day. It’s much deeper than that. The gentleman mentioned above, Mr. Gary Melius, who is he, exactly?

Well, it turns out he owns Oheka Castle. And he might have skipped out on a $27.9 million mortgage payment due last year.

But that’s beside the point. Gary Melius is Executive Director of the Nassau County Independence Party. And his COO at Oheka is Chairman of the same party. It must be one helluva castle!

Why is this significant? Ms. Rice doesn’t need the Independence Party’s support for her DA races. When the Republicans choose to leave you virtually unchallenged, your opposition doesn’t really matter.

But she will need the Independence Party’s backing should she run for Congress next year, as is widely speculated. She could also use the party’s assistance for other races, including a future County Executive run – or anything else.

That’s why her “immunity” should be questioned. And it’s why it’s so perplexing when she repeatedly finds so little wrong with matters she “investigates.”

So how much does it cost to buy Kathleen Rice? Much like a Tootsie Pop, the world may never know.

On Being Held Hostage By The Democratic Party

Posted in Editorials on September 10th, 2012
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Our affable captors.

I listened to Sam Seder’s interview with Jill Stein. And while I think she sidestepped his questions about the strategic reasons a person might hesitate to vote Green, what jumped out at me was that she said the Democratic party is unsalvageable. Even though I have a lot of ambivalence about President Obama, it makes me uneasy to say the the Democratic party as a whole is beyond repair.

A friend of mine involved in Occupy once suggested that the reason I feel this way is because of my efforts in local Democratic politics. That might be true. I have spent a lot of time, money and shoeleather volunteering for Democrats. I’ve made some great friends and learned a lot. To abandon the party now, when it includes people like Tony Avella, and Sandra Fluke feels wrong.

If I did leave, where would I go? The Green Party seems like the obvious answer. I did vote Green for NYC Mayor in 2009, and I was voting for Bill Talen, not against Thompson or Bloomberg. Listening to Jill Stein was kind of anticlimactic. She couldn’t answer Sam Seder’s questions about his concerns that promoting the Green Party would elevate the Republican Party. She said that Obama is a hypnotic orator, which has weird and racist undertones. I think that Sam Seder was right when he said that the liberals were co-opted by anti-Bush organizing during the Bush administration, and that we only have the Occupy Movement because we now have Democrats in office who we can try to persuade. Voting for her would seem more like a vote against Obama than one for her.


Yes, she voted for the Iraq War and he signed DOMA and made life shittier for poor people and called it “Welfare Reform” (which included the beginning of federally funded abstinence only sex education, btw) but they are so DAMN ADORABLE!!

I was mulling this over in my head and I thought about groups like the Sierra Club and the AFL-CIO. They have even less of a choice than individual voters. Obama hasn’t delivered much of anything on environmental policy, and has failed to pass the Employee Free Choice Act. But environmental and labor groups must continue to endorse Democrats. Republicans would be actively destructive to those causes, and these groups would lose access and power if they endorsed a 3rd party candidate.

This was underscored when the Sierra Club tweeted the praises of Obama’s speech to the DNC, even though he was talking about “clean coal” and making what some say were references to increasing fracking (he said we should use more natural gas).

But as I tweeted, I know why they said this. President Obama needs to win Pennsylvania and Ohio, so he must speak favorably of coal. He uses the false frame of “clean coal” because most Americans don’t know that that’s greenwashing. The Sierra Club has no choice but to ignore what they clearly know to be bad policy. They either fall in line and endorse him or get left behind.

This weighed heavily on me as I watched the rest of his speech. As soon as I saw through what was behind the President’s mention of clean coal, it was difficult for me to focus. I did appreciate his vision of an America where everyone is equal and free:

If you reject the notion that this nation’s promise is reserved for the few, your voice must be heard in this election.

If you reject the notion that our government is forever beholden to the highest bidder, you need to stand up in this election.

If you believe that new plants and factories can dot our landscape; that new energy can power our future; that new schools can provide ladders of opportunity to this nation of dreamers; if you believe in a country where everyone gets a fair shot, and everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules, then I need you to vote this November.

America, I never said this journey would be easy, and I won’t promise that now. Yes, our path is harder – but it leads to a better place. Yes our road is longer – but we travel it together. We don’t turn back. We leave no one behind. We pull each other up. We draw strength from our victories, and we learn from our mistakes, but we keep our eyes fixed on that distant horizon, knowing that Providence is with us, and that we are surely blessed to be citizens of the greatest nation on Earth.

It was as if he was drawing a line in the sand, and I resent that. President Obama expects us to believe in the facade of “clean coal” even though he must know that a pursuit of it would be counterproductive to his stated desire to combat climate change. And yet, here he was saying really moving things about freedom, justice and equality. It’s quite disorienting.

I have long said that I am not disappointed with President Obama because when I voted for him I knew that I was voting for a centrist and not a Liberal. I thought that I could deal with his pie in the sky bipartisan ideas, and I am glad to see that much of this year’s DNC was about drawing contrasts between the parties and calling out obstructionism. I’m not the only Liberal with a deep ambivalence for President Obama. But politics is as they say, the art of the possible.

There are those who wear their self righteous indignation with President Obama and the Democratic party like a badge of honor. I think that we should ask questions of our leaders. But we won’t get answers if we play games and grandstand. There are outlets other than politics for people enraged by the United States human rights violations of the 21st century. The prison reform movement and Amnesty International come to mind. But while the tactics used in the video did get a lot of page-views, did they effect policy? Did they inspire anyone to run for office or make a donation or write a letter? Was anything changed, even to the level of an individual’s opinion?

What it comes down to is that the Obama Administration has a tangible list of accomplishments that have real positive impacts on the lives of people. This cannot be ignored.

It’s easy to resent the Democrats for not doing what I want them to do. It’s even easier to resent them for being what I believe to be my only option. But I take full responsibility for my own role in the process. I write to my representatives, and I support candidates who really, really get it. There are two ways out of this hostage crisis. One is to work harder. The other is to give up.

Nassau Democrats Celebrate Poetic Victory

Posted in Editorials on November 10th, 2011
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Tuesday night Carrie Solages was all smiles at the Nassau County Democratic Headquarters Victory Party. As he thanked his supporters and family, he was exuberant and gracious. And he had every right to be. He had done something that Nassau Democrats had been trying to do for years with little luck – he unseated 16 year incumbent Republican Legislator John Ciotti, and as a person familiar with the history of the district, believe me when I say it was a truly Sisyphean victory.

The district is majority Democratic, but John Ciotti is popular in the community and for various reasons Democratic voters do not turn in as high numbers as Republicans do in the odd year elections when the county legislators are elected. However, there is more at play than a simple lack of enthusiasm. The Nassau County Republicans are notorious for their intimidation of Democratic voters, especially people of color, as I have written about previously. The difference is that this year, Solages campaign was able to capture this intimidation and racism on film.

Solages win is symbolic of so many things – a grassroots victory over an entrenched political machine, the power of the internet and ubiquity of digital cameras to influence a large number of people quickly, a community standing up and fighting back against racism, and also proof that sometimes – the good guy does win. Sometimes, justice is served, and the person standing up to the bully doesn’t get trampled, but is the triumphant hero. And this year, it wasn’t merely a dream, or an inspirational story liberals tell themselves to keep their spirits high, it came true right here on Long Island.

The final lesson to learn in this happy chapter of the 2011 elections, is that the Nassau County Republicans are not unaware of how and why they lost this seat. Tuesday night, two candidates who won reelection spoke of their unwavering support for John Ciotti.

Other Republicans stood up for Ciotti even as the numbers looked grim “Ciotti ran a great race,” said fellow North Valley Streamer and Town of Hempstead Councilman Ed Ambrosino. “I don’t care what it says up here, John Ciotti is a winner each and every day.”

“John Ciotti is a man of tremendous integrity, of tremendous character,” said Nassau County Legislator Fran Becker.

What fascinates me about these quotes is that they were uttered at the exact moment they will have maximum impact in both raining on Carrie Solages victory and minimizing the damage to their own reputations. In two years, no one will remember John Ciotti’s racist tactics and so statements supporting him will be meaningless as ammunition for challengers. There will be no consequences for absurdity of these statements. That they were made at a time when they cannot be held accountable for them shows a shrewd calculation, that they are aware of the power of their words. Ambrosino and Becker did not say these things two weeks ago when Ciotti’s campaign was going down in flames, because outright support for racist and intimidating tactics would have hurt their own electoral chances. By waiting until after the polls have closed on election night proves they know it, and this is important to remember. Future dirty tricks may be more subtle or not as cinematic, but still just as underhanded as what happened in front of Solages’ campaign office this October.