Archive | July, 2010

Surveying New York’s Political Landscape: Key Assembly Races

30 Jul

By CYRIL JOSH BARKER and STEPHON JOHNSON: Amsterdam News Staff

While most political pundits have been focusing on the federal elections and whether or not the Democrats can retain both the House and the Senate, New York State politics are also heating up.

Statewide, there are battles for the governor’s mansion, attorney general and state comptroller. And the Democrats would like to increase their slim, two-seat majority in the State Senate, and the Republicans want to take back the body they controlled for more than 40 years.

The stakes are high.

Election Day 2010 may shape the next decade-plus of city and state politics for better or worse. The AmNews highlighted some of the more important races and what they mean to our communities in New York City and throughout the state.


KEY ASSEMBLY RACES

With a Democratic majority sure to remain solid in the Assembly, all 150 seats are up for grabs. There are 64 assembly seats in New York City with 17 Black assembly members in the city. Gerrymandering gives little room for competitive races.

Notably, several candidates who previously ran for City Council in 2009 are again attempting to break into public office by running in their assembly district. For example, Carlton Berkley, who ran for City Council in Harlem last year, is seeking the District 68 seat, while former City Council candidate Clyde Vanel is running for the 33rd District seat in Southeast Queens. Vanel’s looking to topple Barbara Clark, who currently holds this seat.

Sheldon Silver will most likely remain majority leader. In his own race, he has sued Republican Joan Lipp from being on the ballot. Notable races to watch include District 68 in Harlem, which is currently being occupied by Adam Clayton Powell IV, who is running for Congress.

Nine candidates have thrown their hat into the race, including Powell’s chief of staff, Evette Zayas.

In District 79 in the Bronx, incumbent Michael Benjamin is vacating his seat to run for Congress. Wilbert Tee Lawton and Gwendolyn Primus are running for the seat. Five candidates have declared their run for the District 55 seat in Brooklyn, which political royalty William Boyland currently occupies.

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Surveying New York’s Political Landscape: Key Senate Races

30 Jul

By CYRIL JOSH BARKER and STEPHON JOHNSON: Amsterdam News Staff

While most political pundits have been focusing on the federal elections and whether or not the Democrats can retain both the House and the Senate, New York State politics are also heating up.

Statewide, there are battles for the governor’s mansion, attorney general and state comptroller. And the Democrats would like to increase their slim, two-seat majority in the State Senate, and the Republicans want to take back the body they controlled for more than 40 years.

The stakes are high.

Election Day 2010 may shape the next decade-plus of city and state politics for better or worse. The AmNews highlighted some of the more important races and what they mean to our communities in New York City and throughout the state.


KEY SENATE RACES

Because of the fear of less diversity in Albany, it’s important that the Democrats maintain power in the State Senate. All 62 State Senate seats are up for grabs, with the Republicans hoping to regain the majority. If a Republican is elected governor, the party needs to gain only one seat in the Senate. If a Democrat is elected governor, the Republicans would need two seats for a majority—assuming that the lieutenant governor would break the tie during votes.

Some key races in the Senate include Kemp Hannon, a Republican, battling Democrat Dave Mejias for the District 6 seat, which spreads from Garden City to Farmingdale. Hannon has held this seat since 1989 but dodged a bullet in 2008 when he edged out newcomer Kristen M. McElroy by 4 percentage points (52 percent to 48 percent on Election Day 2008).

Charlie Ramos, a former liaison to former City Comptroller Bill Thompson, is challenging Ruben Diaz Sr. for the 32nd District State Senate seat in the Bronx. Diaz has been a difficult partner for his Democratic colleagues. At times, he has sided with sometimes renegade State Sen. Pedro Espada, and he has come out publicly against gay marriage, catching the ire of gay rights’ groups. Ramos was recently endorsed by the Empire State Pride Agenda, a local Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) organization.

Juan Gustavo Rivera, a political aide who worked for senatorial and presidential campaigns for Kirsten Gillibrand and Barack Obama respectively, will challenge the controversial Espada for his Senate seat in the 33rd District. The state Democratic Party started to move on potentially ousting Espada from the ranks earlier this month. Espada is under investigation for allegedly using public money for personal-political business when he channeled finances to the Soundview Healthcare Network, a non-profit organization in Espada’s district that he owns. Espada believes that the Democratic Party’s actions are being steered by Cuomo as he asserts his power early.

Malcolm Smith mentioned a State Senate race in Long Island between Democrat Brian
Foley and Republican Lee Zeldin. It’s one of the seats the Republicans need to regain if
they are going to have any realistic hope of regaining a majority in the State Senate.

Surveying New York’s Political Landscape: Attorney General Race

30 Jul

By CYRIL JOSH BARKER and STEPHON JOHNSON: Amsterdam News Staff

While most political pundits have been focusing on the federal elections and whether or not the Democrats can retain both the House and the Senate, New York State politics are also heating up.

Statewide, there are battles for the governor’s mansion, attorney general and state comptroller. And the Democrats would like to increase their slim, two-seat majority in the State Senate, and the Republicans want to take back the body they controlled for more than 40 years.

The stakes are high.Election Day 2010 may shape the next decade-plus of city and state politics for better or worse. The AmNews highlighted some of the more important races and what they mean to our communities in New York City and throughout the state.


ATTORNEY GENERAL RACE

Interest in the attorney general race continues to build as each candidate running for the Democratic ticket raises their profile in New York State and New York City. There are five Democrats vying for Cuomo’s current job.

Current New York State Sen. Eric Schneiderman looks to be the favorite for attorney general, especially with New York City residents. He’s had a big hand in passing hate crime legislation, the Women’s Health and Wellness Act and increasing the minimum wage in Albany. His advocacy for eliminating prison gerrymandering practices in New York State has been chronicled in the AmNews before.

Eric Dinallo once served as the superintendent of insurance for New York State and has boasted about his work in the attorney general’s office. Dinallo said he held Wall Street accountable by “rediscovering” the Martin Act, which gives extraordinary powers and discretion to an attorney general fighting financial fraud. Steve Coffey is a former employee of the Bernstein Litowitz firm. Coffey assisted in the battle against WorldCom during the organization’s securities fraud. In his campaign video, Coffey said, “I don’t get Christmas cards from Wall Street or from audit firms, but I do get them from investors.”

Assemblyman Richard Brodsky’s been very vocal about his accomplishments and what he plans to accomplish if elected attorney general. Earlier this year, the AmNews reported that Brodsky referenced his part in fighting the stadium on the West Side of Manhattan, saying, “Those are the things that distinguish good candidates from great candidates.” Brodsky believes that prosecuting and putting people in prison are small parts of the attorney general job and have taken precedent over other equally important issues.

“A small part of this job is prosecuting,” said Brodsky to the AmNews. “But the real issues are property taxes, health care and education. And we need someone to improve the lives of citizens and not just put bad guys in jail.” And while Schneiderman may be the favorite with New York City voters, Andrew Cuomo’s personal favorite to take over the attorney general reins is Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice. In Nassau, Rice has a reputation for being a particularly aggressive prosecutor along with her opposition to reform of the draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws. Rice’s name went national earlier this year when she prosecuted Scott Braun, the manager of teen-pop singer Justin Bieber, for not tweeting that an appearance by Bieber at a local Long Island mall had been canceled.

Some have begun to question Rice’s commitment to the democratic process after the New York Times reported that Rice did not vote for 18 years once she was eligible to vote, casting her first ballot in 2002. She also initially registered as a Republican in 1984 before running for district attorney as a Democrat in 2005.

With Rice being Cuomo’s favorite, it’s understandable that many of New York’s citizens of color remain skeptical of her, with her sketchy voting record, opposition to reforming the Rockefeller Drug Laws, and zeal to prosecute.

Surveying New York’s political landscape: The Race for Governor

29 Jul

By CYRIL JOSH BARKER and STEPHON JOHNSON: Amsterdam News Staff

While most political pundits have been focusing on the federal elections and whether or not the Democrats can retain both the House and the Senate, New York State politics are also heating up.

Statewide, there are battles for the governor’s mansion, attorney general and state comptroller. And the Democrats would like to increase their slim, two-seat majority in the State Senate, and the Republicans want to take back the body they controlled for more than 40 years.

The stakes are high.

Election Day 2010 may shape the next decade-plus of city and state politics for better or worse. The AmNews highlighted some of the more important races and what they mean to our communities in New York City and throughout the state.

THE RACE FOR GOVERNOR
The gloves have been thrown in the gubernatorial election between the Democratic and Independent Party candidate, state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, and the Republican candidate, former Long Island Congressman Rick Lazio. Cuomo chose Rochester Mayor and former Police Chief Robert Duffy as his running mate for lieutenant governor, while Lazio has chosen Greg Edwards.

With hopes to follow his father, former Gov. Anthony Cuomo, polls indicate that Cuomo is beating all Republican challengers interested in running for the seat. Waiting until late May to make his announcement to run, Cuomo previously served as secretary of housing and urban development under former President Bill Clinton’s administration. He ran unsuccessfully in 2002 against former State Comptroller Carl McCall.

New York City Councilman Charles Barron also plans to be on the governor’s ballot for the fall under the Freedom Party banner.

New York County Leader Assemblyman Keith Wright said that Democrats are still cleaning up problems in the state after 12 years of Pataki rule and more than 40 years of Republican control of the Senate.

While jobs are at the top of the list for issues, affordable housing is also a top concern for Democrats living in New York County, according to Wright.

“People are not leaving the Democratic Party,” he said. “People are angry at the BP oil spill, no jobs, education and college tuition. When people take out their frustration, they take it out on the people who are in charge.”

As Gov. David Paterson leaves office and ends his tenure as New York State’s first Black governor, Black voters are concerned about their issues being heard in Albany. Quietly, some Black elected officials are voicing their concern about whether a Cuomo administration will in fact be diverse if he is elected.

For many longtime political watchers, despite his rhetoric, Cuomo’s father’s administration was a disappointment to many African-Americans. And there is the issue of the lack of Blacks running for statewide office in the Democratic Party in this year’s election. Wright blames the lack of color on the failure of Blacks to step forward and run, rather than a lack of recruitment by Democratic Party officials. He said, “In order to be a part of something, it’s like the lottery. You have to be in it to win it.”

But Wright believes that Cuomo will do the right thing and make sure that he has a diverse and demographically representative government if he wins. “Andrew Cuomo is bright and has a history and current sense of public service. I have no doubt that his administration will be diverse,” he said.


Sampson: Wading through the Albany mess

29 Jul

By CYRIL JOSH BARKER, Amsterdam News Staff

For more than 40 years, the Republican Party controlled the New York State Senate.

Former State Sen. Joe Bruno and his Senate cronies ruled the body with an iron fist. The then-minority Democratic Party had little power over the Senate legislative process or the state’s purse strings.

Making the situation worse, the New York State Republican Senate Conference has mirrored the Republicans’ federal Senate caucus: It has been the party of whites. There has not been a Black or Hispanic member in the New York State Senate in anyone’s political memory.

Republican domination and a lack of diversity has meant that over time, the Senate has given limited or no consideration to issues of importance to the Black community or other communities of color.

Times do change.

Bruno was forced to retire in 2008 and was convicted of abusing his power by the feds earlier this year. With the Democrats also taking a slim majority in the Senate election in 2008, Democrats have been given the opportunity to bring a more diverse conference to the forefront.

But politics can get messy, and last year, an internal fight among the Democrats caused a split in the Democratic Conference, leaving control of the Senate in question. Only the intervention of Gov. David Paterson in the process and the elevation of John Sampson to majority leader of the Democratic Conference brought back a degree of stability to the fragile caucus.

A little over a year since his elevation, Sampson said that while mainstream media is portraying him as a dormant politician, he is working hard, passing solid legislation and giving voters a clear choice this season.

“People shouldn’t support 44 years of people who have had dysfunction and chaos,” Sampson said in a recent interview with the Amsterdam News, referring to the Republican Party. “We are dismantling an infrastructure. [I AM NOT SURE WHAT THIS MEANS…CRS] We are not kicking the can down the road like the Republicans.”

While Democrats are taking the heat for the hold-up in the state budget, Sampson says the budget is 99 percent complete. He blames two factors for the hold up: the Federal Medical Assistance Percentages and concerns over tuition costs for CUNY and SUNY.

“We are working with the speaker because the money involving Medicaid may be called into question, especially for teachers,” he said. [WHAT DOES MEDICAID HAVE TO DO WITH TEACHERS? CRS] “As far as CUNY and SUNY, concern comes at a time of a great increase in tuition by 30 percent. We have to ask the question, ‘How can students manage?’ Over a 30-year period, tuition annually at SUNY has gone up 6 percent, and at CUNY, 5.5 percent.”

The senator said that job creation is the key issue in the state right now. If Democrats remain in control in New York State government, Sampson said more jobs would be created.

The recent passage of legislation for the Excelsior Jobs Program, for example, keeps close to half a million people working in the state, according to the senator. The program will provide job creation and investment incentives to firms in such targeted industries as high tech, clean technology, green technology, manufacturing and others.

“We need to make sure that we have fiscal reform to create economic opportunities in the state of New York,” he said.

With an upcoming election this fall, questions are rising about Black leadership when it comes to New York State government. No Blacks were tapped by the state’s Democratic Party to run for statewide offices, including governor, attorney general or state comptroller.

Sampson wants to reassure voters that even though there are no Blacks running for statewide office, the voice of the Black community will be heard in Albany because of the diversity of the State Senate. He also believes that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo will have a diverse administration if elected.

He said, “It’s not about Black or white; it’s about the people. We have a great team running. What we need is a person who can deal with the issues in the state.”

Running unopposed in the 19th District, which covers Brooklyn’s Crown Heights, East Flatbush, Brownsville and Canarsie neighborhoods, he said despite what has been written about him, his constituents are the judge and jury.

Some of Sampson’s recent legislation he has helped pass includes raising the cap of discrepancy purchases that a state agency can award to MWBEs and banning the NYPD from keeping an electronic database of those stopped and frisked.

“They see that I have been taking care of home,” he said. “I’ve been trying to provide A- plus service, but there are still a lot of kinks I could’ve worked out. The bottom line is results.”

Malcolm Smith stares into the Democrats’ crystal ball

29 Jul

By STEPHON JOHNSON : Amsterdam News Staff

Two years ago, the New York political landscape for African-American politicians looked better than it had looked in our history. David Paterson was governor of the state, and after more than 40 years of Republican rule, Democratic Sen. Malcolm Smith was the majority leader of the Senate. African-Americans finally had two powerful seats at the decision-making table. It was a heady moment in politics for the Black community. But the celebrating would be brief.

Forces in the state would begin the attack against those who were not supposed to hold such power. First, there was the attack on Gov. Paterson that came from so-called friends. Late in 2008, millions were spent in a media campaign by Local 1199 complaining about cuts to hospitals. Then two renegade senators, Hiram Monserrate and Pedro Espada, left the Democrats to join the Republicans and only agreed to come back if Smith was stripped of much of his power.

And the attacks continued. The paper of record, The New York Times, set up a tabloid attack on Paterson over allegations against one of his aides, which forced him to end his run for governor. Additionally, there were tabloid attacks against Smith and his minor involvement in the Aqueduct deal that further weakened his standing.

Now the state’s politics are at another crossroad. Following a brief moment of inclusion, the New York State Democratic Party’s presumed candidate is planning to run on an all-white slate. And with the Assembly firmly in the grip of Sheldon Silver, the only potential area for real Black participation lies is in the State Senate. So the question for Black New Yorkers is whether or not the Democratic Party is on the right track for its political interests.

Smith spoke with the AmNews last week from Albany and painted a picture of victory for the State Democratic Party in November. Smith highlighted what he felt were several key races and spoke on the strength of the party Smith mentioned a State Senate race on Long Island between Brian Foley and Lee Zeldin. “I believe Brian will be able to pull it out. That seat helped us take a majority [in the Senate] and it’s an important seat to Republicans,” said Smith. Foley recently acquired the endorsement of the Working Families Party while Zeldin recently earned the endorsement of the Independence Party.

Another race important to the Democratic Party is between Republican State Sen. Frank Padavan and City Councilman Tony Avella (Queens), according to Smith. “Padavan barely won his election in 2008 after a recount by 500 votes. [Avella is] a very good candidate.”

Padavan is one of only three Republicans representing New York City and was lambasted by Democrats recently for introducing a bill that would deny illegal immigrants health care in state hospitals. But despite Smith’s optimism, there has been a lot of talk about dissension between Black state senators from Queens and Brooklyn. The deal that Smith agreed to forced out much of the team that he had put in place when he became Senate majority leader and president when the Democrats first took over the Senate, and he has been in a power sharing situation with Brooklyn Sen. John Sampson. Smith claims that they are working well together and that rumors of inter-caucus divisions have been driven by outsiders trying to divide the party.

With five white Democratic candidates for attorney general, Democratic front-runner Andrew Cuomoís choice of white Rochester Mayor Robert Duffy to run for lieutenant governor, and State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli running for his own term after replacing Alan Hevesi, who resigned in disgrace, the lack of potential color choice for state-wide office in more than a decade is quite apparent. Charles Barron has joined the race with the Freedom Party and hopes to address many of our issues, but Smith acknowledges the importance of our voices being an integral part of state politics. “We can’t take the election for granted. That race is critical. The governor drives the agenda,” Smith said.

Smith says that he plans to support Cuomo, but he says with the lack of diversity in statewide races, it will be critical to have real and not just token diversity inside a potential Cuomo administration. “I believe he’ll have a diverse cabinet,” he said. “[But] we can’t sit back and just assume it. I think that’s an issue we have to pay attention to, but I think, knowing him, he’ll address that,” he said.

In addition to addressing issues of diversity, Cuomo and the Democrats will also have to address some daunting issues that are on the minds of all New Yorkers, including jobs, the economy and the state’s struggling budget, which, once again, is late. Smith remains optimistic that a carefully orchestrated budget can be devised.

“There’s noise about our budget not being done on time. A good budget is better than an on-time budget,” he said. “These are people’s live we’re dealing with.” Smith believes that the people want the state to control spending and use money for infrastructure. And while the state needs money, Smith said they can’t afford to tax the people any more than they’re already being taxed. He mentioned the proposed sugar, soda and cigarette taxes as examples of the state pushing people to the limit.

With so many issues surrounding the Democrats, how will they fare on Election Day 2010? Smith thinks they’ll be fine.

“Ideally, the best case scenario is that we have 40 members of the State Senate,” Smith said while chuckling. “The realistic picture is that we believe we’re going to have 35. That’s still enough to move our progressive agenda in housing, education and health care.

Rangel: Proven Effectiveness and Presumed Innocent

26 Jul

By Gregg Walker: Manhattan Viewpoint Blogger

With the Ethics Committee in the US House of Representative unable, thus far, to reach a settlement with Representative Charlie Rangel regarding allegations of ethics missteps, we look at Gabe Pressman’s view and continue to hope for a settlement.

Settlement Hope

We hope that the US House and Upper Manhattan’s Charlie Rangel can settle the Ethics case without a trial. Representative Rangel is accused of missteps that are nearly all self-reported and nearly all paperwork snafu’s. The accusations themselves have always suggested sloppiness rather than greed. He is not even accused of any behavior that would have harmed his constituents, and he has not been accused of any sort of cover-up. Both the Rangel camp and the US House should recognize that a trial benefits no one, and the US House should not ask Representative Rangel to suggest that he knowingly committed any ethics violation.

We have highlighted previously that the US House has a record of targeting African American members of Congress for ethics investigations; in November 2009, we learned that 100% of the members of the US House of Representatives under investigation were African American, even though many non-African American lawmakers had been referred to the Ethics Committee for its review.

Presumed Innocent – Proven Effective

Charlie Rangel continues to have a presumption of innocence. He also has a record of achievement that eclipses that of any current member of Congress.

Gabe Pressman assessed the situation well last week. Charlie Rangel has served with dignity and effectiveness for 40 years.

He is a war hero who brought $5 billion of funding specifically to urban areas across our country. He has consistently served as the voice of those whose voices are often ignored. He has made our country stronger, and he has made Upper Manhattan stronger through his decades of service.

Charlie Rangel should not leave Congress this year. He was elected by the people of Upper Manhattan. We Upper Manhattan voters are the only people who should decide whether the member of Congress who represents us should be replaced. We have decided 20 consecutive times that Charlie Rangel is the best person for the job. On September 14, 2010, we will decide again who represents us. No one in Congress should suggest that he or she has better judgment than we do. We’ve been right 20 times in a row.