Is Stonewall Inn’s Anheuser-Busch ‘Pour Out’ a Moment or a New Movement?

“It’s time for corporations to walk their talk,” Maeve Coyle, spokesperson for the “Keep Your Pride” campaign run by global charity Corporate Accountability Action, told the Voice.

Stonewall Inn co-owners Stacy Lentz and Kurt Kelly couldn’t agree more.

The Stonewall Inn coordinated with “Keep Your Pride” to ban Anheuser-Busch products from the bar during NYC Pride weekend, June 25 to 27. Stonewall is regarded worldwide as the birthplace of the U.S. LGBTQ rights movement.

Yesterday, to bring awareness to what observers are calling the “corporatization of Pride,” Lentz and Kelly and about 50 participants held a beverage “pour out” in front of the storied establishment. Beverages were poured out in the exact location where on June 28, 1969, gay, lesbian, transgender, and other bar patrons resisted NYC police in what is now referred to alternately as a riot, an uprising, and a rebellion.

Why Anheuser-Busch?

Since 2015, Anheuser-Busch, according to “Keep Your Pride,” has made 48 donations totaling $35,350 to 29 anti-LGBTQ legislators behind recent bills attacking trans youth. 

Lentz and Kelly are “walking their talk.” The suite of beverages banned on Pride weekend, the bar’s biggest weekend, will have an economic effect on their bottom line. In turn, how can Anheuser-Busch and other Pride sponsor corporations and businesses walk their talk?

“It’s important that we do this awareness event during Pride week and really call out corporations and people out there that aren’t showing their true colors,” Lentz told the Voice. “We’re asking corporations who traditionally sponsor Pride events around the country to change their criteria for making political donations,” Kelly added.

A growing part of the queer narrative is how corporations want access to queer markets while simultaneously contributing to elected officials who sponsor anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ legislation. In marketing terms, queer markets are presented as loyal to businesses supportive of their communities. The problem, say activists and advocates like Lentz and Kelly and campaigns such as “Keep Your Pride,” is that many of those same businesses are not loyal in return when they contribute to anti-queer elected officials.

Spreading the news: Keep Your Pride messaging ran on a mobile billboard that circled Anheuser-Busch’s St. Louis, Missouri headquarters June 19-20

Instead of contributing to politicians who thwart progress toward full LGBTQ civil rights, “We’d like to see those same corporations use their lobbying muscle to support the Equality Act,” Kelly says. The act was passed by the House on February 25 but now languishes in the Senate, where it is not expected to pass.

In defense of their donations, Anheuser-Busch told the Associated Press, “We support candidates for public office whose policy positions and objectives support investments in our communities, job creation, and industry growth.” The statement also read, “Together, with our brands, we have a clear role to play in bringing real change and creating an inclusive and equitable world where we cherish and celebrate one another.”

Coyle’s assessment of the situation is different than what is described in Anheuser-Busch’s formal statement. “This isn’t difficult. This is a really low bar. We’re calling on corporations to stop donating to lawmakers who are trying to legalize discrimination,” Coyle explains. In 2020, according to the Human Rights Campaign, there were a total of 79 anti-trans bills introduced across the country. In just the first half of this year there have been more than 100, according to PBS News Hour Weekend.

There are publicly available resources for corporations to research before writing PAC checks. “We need to change the rules. It’s a pretty easy thing for folks to check on elected officials’ positions and votes on queer issues,” Coyle says. She suggests checking Freedom for All Americans as a credible source for PAC contributions regarding LGBTQ issues; another source is Popular Information

Complicating the landscape is the dissonance created by corporations that receive high marks on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Index while simultaneously donating to elected officials whose bills and votes are at odds with the goal of comprehensive civil rights for the entire LGBTQ community.

But there’s no gray area when it comes to equality, Coyle posits. “There are not two sides to this issue. When companies donate to an elected official who supports discrimination it really shows you where their priorities lie. It’s not with supporting the LGBTQ community; it’s with their own bottom line,” she underscores.

After the Stonewall “pour out” event, the bottom line for the LGBTQ community may involve deciding if they’ll go back to buying Anheuser-Busch beverages, or goods and services from other corporations making donations to anti-queer politicians.

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No stranger to controversy, Ann Northrop, principal organizer with Reclaim Pride, stresses the importance of people making the connections between all of the corporate-sponsored Pride logos and rainbows and to whom those same businesses make political contributions.

“With the right information people can ask for corporate accountability,” Northrop told the Voice. Right now, Northrop says, there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars going into campaigns to elect Republican politicians.

“I understand that corporations have a pet agenda of particular legislation about taxes or where they locate factories or outlets. Those are real concerns for them. And they want elected officials to do their bidding,” she says. “But their contributions, like Anheuser-Busch and so many others, are not good for us. And we’re allowed to say, don’t expect us to support your business when the elected officials you contribute to regularly work against our achieving full civil rights.” She notes that research has revealed more than two dozen rainbow-flag-waving corporations that have donated millions to anti-gay pols in the last two years.

Does this year’s Pride season — with its focus on the relationships between queer venues and corporations and who does what to whom with rainbows and PAC dollars — signal a new movement? “I believe it’s possible, hoping it’s possible,” Northrop concludes.

Yesterday’s street theater at Stonewall channeled not only 1969 but also much more recent history. In 2018, Reclaim Pride, a then-new organization, got this particular social justice ball rolling when their first salvo involved delivering “a list of demands to city officials, including Mayor de Blasio, New York Police Department Commissioner James O’ Neill, and Heritage of Pride regarding the 2018 New York City Pride March.” Heritage of Pride was included because it is the organizer of the annual NYC Pride March.

Essentially, Reclaim Pride’s demands have not changed much from their original statement, which focused on “working towards our vision of an NYC Pride that reflects our community’s heritage of activism as opposed to the Pride March’s current state of commercial saturation.”

Will efforts by Stonewall Inn owners, the “Keep Your Pride” campaign, and the Reclaim Pride Coalition create change?

“Moving forward, Pride means that we are reclaiming our spaces,” Reclaim Pride’s Jason Rosenberg told the Voice. “Elected officials need to stop voting against our interests. Our community needs to do this. Only we can keep ourselves safe in order to survive. We liberate ourselves and each other,” he says.

Also involved with Reclaim Pride is ACT UP’s Brandon Cuicchi, who says, “At a minimum, we need to eliminate the corporatization of Pride. We need to find new ways to make ourselves attractive as a market.”

Moving forward, the burning question for the queer community during 2021 Pride season appears to be deciding if it’s a movement or a market, or both. How does the community honor what took place in 1969 at The Stonewall Inn and what took place on the sidewalk outside its front door yesterday?  ❖

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News 2021 PRIDE 2021

GALLERY: Magnus Hastings Envisions Pride Out Of – And In – The Box

“The whole book project idea came because we’d had a year of Trump, basically. I wanted to do something that was very much standing up as a community and going, ‘fuck you,’ we’re here, we’re queer and we’re gorgeous,” U.K.-born, L.A.-based photographer Magnus Hastings tells us about the motivation for his latest book Rainbow Revolution. The lensman, best known for his previous book Why Drag?, has basically been celebrating LGBTQA+ creators and entertainers for the entirety of his career, capturing the charismatic essence of his subjects for art galleries, the biggest gay mags across the globe, and social media.

See the full story here.    ❖


Celebrate Pride 2021 with Magnus Hastings’ ‘Rainbow Revolution’

“The whole book project idea came because we’d had a year of Trump, basically. I wanted to do something that was very much standing up as a community and going, ‘fuck you,’ we’re here, we’re queer and we’re gorgeous,” U.K.-born, L.A.-based photographer Magnus Hastings tells us about the motivation for his latest book Rainbow Revolution. The lensman, best known for his previous book Why Drag?, has basically been celebrating LGBTQA+ creators and entertainers for the entirety of his career, capturing the charismatic essence of his subjects for art galleries, the biggest gay mags across the globe, and social media.

The perfect buy for Pride month, Hastings’ new book is a vibrant, defiant, and joyful look at queer culture figures who’ve lived outside of the box, which interestingly, seeks to illuminate their personal perspectives and experiences by asking them to pose inside of one. Yes, there are rainbows, but the eye-popping portraits are also as unique as the individuals and groups featured, with a spectrum of sexual identities and backgrounds represented by subjects from all walks of life, each with something different to express in the outfits, backdrops, and poses they chose.

“The first image I did was of Alaska [Thunderfuck, Drag Race All-Star winner] so whenever I asked someone to be involved I sent that as an example,” explained Hastings. “I built a white box; it was 6×5 by 6×5 feet deep. And I invited people to come in and they could decorate it, they could be naked in it, they could write on it, bring props, express themselves however they wanted to be seen. I said to people, ‘show me how you’d like to be seen in five year’s time.’ Some people really went for it. Other people would just turn up in an outfit. When it was just the empty box with someone in it, it became about how they or I helped direct them into creating body positions and body shapes that were interesting with the negative space. Or people would come around and paint it completely. Then I’d have to paint it back and hope it’d dry in an hour. This box had so many layers of paint on it by the time I tore it down a year ago in L.A., it was losing its edges.”

Hastings says the main thrust of the project was “no re-touching.” He wanted his subjects to tell their stories and create everything in real life. Not surprising, considering his acting and theater background, which he gave up after taking on photography full time. The self-taught photographer was originally inspired by the British gay nightlife scene, where he started capturing colorful characters and creators, leading to high-profile exhibitions at hotspots like London’s The Box. He’s honed his gift for highlighting the most interesting traits of his subjects, which he says got attention early on due to the bounty of “gay famous people” he was able to shoot.

“I did portraits of them, and it was kind of quite clever because it became like a celebrity portrait thing,” he says. “And I did these huge PVC print blowups, and I didn’t know if anyone would like them. But I put them up and overnight, everyone flipped out over them and I was featured in TIME OUT magazine. Then all the gay press started using me for their covers. So it happened very organically, very quickly once I decided to throw myself properly into photography.”

Hastings’ first book exploring the art of drag was created after a 2005 move to Australia (where queendom was thriving) followed by a relocation to L.A. in 2011. His career was busy, with an emphasis on celebrity and drag work, which led to a popular drag photo show in New York and finally, a Chronicle Books release in 2015. After that book’s success, he appeared as a guest judge on both Rupaul’s Drag Race and Dragula – the horror drag competition from 2019 L.A. Weekly cover subjects The Boulet Brothers. Soon after, he sought to expand his scope and cover all of the queer community with #Gayface, a 2018 photo project that eventually evolved into Rainbow Revolution. 

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“After Why Drag came out, I was employed to do drag stuff for the next couple of years and I was always thinking, ‘well, what is my next book, what’s my next project?” Hastings shares. “I thought, ‘what I need to do [now] that everyone and everything is on social media… is something that I can launch on social media that can then become a book, something that’s social media-friendly, and what’s the best shape for social media? It’s a square. So I [made] a box and then had each person create their own story within the box or by either using props or fabric or whatever. And I also very much wanted to be inclusive and to move on from drag and do something for the entire community, especially trans people, because there was very little trans drag in my previous book.”

After releasing 150 white box backdropped photos on the internet on the same day in 2018, many of the images went viral. Hastings was even commissioned by the West Hollywood Arts Council to make an in-real-life version of it for Pride in 2019, which manifested with three digital billboards on Sunset Blvd. Turning a social media idea into the Rainbow Revolution book the past three years and shooting almost 1,000 subjects across multiple cities was “exhausting,” Hastings admits, “sometimes I’d be shooting 30 people in a day and that was insane.” But the results are exultant, especially with the added essays from some subjects who talk candidly about their struggles and triumphs as LGBTQ+ people. The book is very much representative of the current cultural shifts on sexual and gender identity and how we express them publicly and proudly today. Not surprisingly, the cover features an array of L.A.-based figures from entertainment and nightlife, where queer culture continues to thrive and inspire.

“It is part of the big wave of change as sexual identities and gender identities have been named and shifted and given importance and visibility,” Hastings adds. “It all happened as my book was coming together; this huge surge of that, and it came out right in the middle of it, so it feels like very much part of that movement and the understanding and acceptance of people’s right to express themselves however they see fit.”

Hastings hopes the book and his work in general will not only amplify queer voices and personalities but lead to more understanding and unity especially in parts of the country that still discriminate. “We live in an L.A. bubble, and we can forget the hell that people go through in less accepting places,” he reminds. “I feel like there’s a younger generation that generally are more accepting of sexual fluidity. I hope for a time when everyone can stop trying to get it right and it’s just a natural thing.”   ❖

More about Magnus Hastings, his books and his work at


Masked Wolf, the Rapper Behind One of the Most Viral Hits of the Year

Masked Wolf has one of the biggest songs of the year with “Astronaut in the Ocean,” and if you think you haven’t heard it yet, you have. Despite being released in 2019, the song became a massive sleeper-hit earlier this year thanks to TikTok and internet virality as a whole. With a popping remix of the track, featuring G-Eazy and DDG, out now and a project on the way, the 30-year-old Australian native is going nowhere but up from here.

With so little known about him, it feels like he came out of thin air with one of the hottest songs of the year, but Masked Wolf is no overnight success story. In fact, he’s been grinding for over a decade. On the latest episode of the Rockstar Experience podcast, we asked how he’s been with all his newfound success and the changes “Astronaut in the Ocean” has brought to his life.

“[Doing] good man. I’m still a bit overwhelmed by it all. Because I was that artist that grinded for over a decade. Trying to make it in the scene in Australia, and then all of the sudden one song changes your life, you know? It’s just crazy,” he explained.

With such a well-crafted and well-received hit under his belt, we found it important to explore Masked Wolf’s start as a rapper.

“So what made you want to start rapping? Can you tell us about your beginnings?” we asked.

“I never said that ‘I want to be a rapper,’ like that’s not how it started. It was more like I just wrote poems. I was into poetry and ballads and stuff like that and it just eventuated to me finding hip-hop. Or American hip-hop found me. I got like slapped in the face with Eminem, Kanye, G-Unit. I was a massive G-Unit fan when I was young,” he said.

Masked Wolf didn’t always have the distinct sound you hear on “Astronaut in the Ocean” or even the stage name Masked Wolf. During our convo, he told us more about how his sound changed over the years and even the way he wanted to push himself as an artist.

“When I started writing songs and stuff, I actually started religious rapping when I was like 15-16 and then, I wouldn’t say I grew out of it, but it was like, if I want to be known by multiple countries or just a broader area, I’m gonna have to like to try and make songs that will relate to everyone,” he explained.

“So I’m still religious here and there but it’s like, obviously what I make has meaning to it, and there’s a message. And yeah, that’s how it all started.”

One of the most unique and unusual things about Masked Wolf and his breakout song is that he released it 2 years ago and it didn’t get to its massive level of popularity or even blow up until earlier this year. “So, how does that feel? The delayed gratification of that,” we inquired.

“I mean, It is what it is. I think COVID was a small catalyst for it because it put people in shittier states mentally, being in lockdown. No one’s used to being trapped in the house for a long time and you start getting depressed or down. And like, ‘Is this for real? Is this life?’ And then you find that song [Astronaut in the Ocean] and you’re like ‘What the hell?’” He elaborated.

“And then you find out what it’s about and you’re like, ‘Holy shit, that’s how I’m feeling.’ The two-year thing, I’ve always said, ‘it is what it is.’ Like, the song doesn’t have to blow up straight away.”

With a song blowing up so quickly as it did, one can only imagine just how fast the breakout artist’s life can change in just a matter of months. After over a decade of grinding at his craft, this kind of success is something few artists ever achieve.

“How has your life changed? How does it feel?” he was asked.

“It’s just good to not work to be honest. Like, as in a 9-to-5. I worked full-time for 11 years. So, that took a toll on me. It’s just a point where I was completely over that because I wanted to do music so bad,” he said.

During our talk with Masked Wolf, he spoke to us about some upcoming music he has and the artists he still wants to work with.

Although we focused heavily on his monumental hit, we were not remiss in asking what other musical aspirations Wolf holds. He informed us about his newest record “Gravity Glidin” and how it came about.

“It’s basically just my ode to Astro[naut in the ocean]. A lot of people have said it’s ‘Astro 2.0’, but it’s more hip-hop, it’s more Joyner Lucas. It’s more like ‘Rap Caviar’ in your face, hardcore rap,” he explained. “It’s just basically about, I mean, Gravity Glidin. It’s like me saying, ‘I’ve now made it to space.’ I’m chilling and gliding through. I’m where I’m supposed to be and it’s kind of like the thanks to ‘Astro.’ Like ‘Astro’ put me there.”   ❖

Be sure to stream Masked Wolf’s new single, “Gravity Glidin,” on all streaming services and to follow him on all social media to keep up with him and his latest releases. Check out our entire convo with Masked Wolf on the newest episode of The Rockstar Experience, out now on all platforms!

Cannabis 2021 News 2021 THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Legal Cannabis Comes to Connecticut

Connecticut is on the verge of becoming the 19th state to legalize marijuana, with the bill now on its way to the governor’s desk. 

S.B. 1201 would legalize, tax, and regulate cannabis for adults 21 and over. The effort passed the Senate by 16-11 and House of Representatives by 76-62 votes. Governor Ned Lamont is expected to sign the bill, after previously claiming that it didn’t go far enough to address the wrongs of the war on drugs. The opposing side argues that Lamont’s preferred language doesn’t clearly cement the victims of the drug war as the actual participants in the equity program. 

“It’s fitting that the bill legalizing the adult use of cannabis and addressing the injustices caused by the war of drugs received final passage today, on the 50-year anniversary of President Nixon declaring the war.” Governor Lamont said yesterday in a statement after the bill cleared its final hurdles on the way to his desk. “The war on cannabis, which was at its core a war on people in Black and Brown communities, not only caused injustices and increased disparities in our state, it did little to protect public health and safety. That’s why I introduced a bill and worked hard with our partners in the legislature and other stakeholders to create a comprehensive framework for a securely regulated market that prioritizes public health, public safety, social justice, and equity. It will help eliminate the dangerous unregulated market and support a new, growing sector of our economy which will create jobs.”

Governor Lamont went on to point out that opening Connecticut’s market makes sense given the fact that the state is surrounded by legal cannabis. While the legalization debate has stalled to the east in Rhode Island, Massachusetts is already absorbing Connecticut’s would-be tax revenue into its own adult-use market, and Albany certainly looks like it will beat Hartford to the finish line in getting dispensary doors open. 

“The states surrounding us already, or soon will, have legal adult-use markets. By allowing adults to possess cannabis, regulating its sale and content, training police officers in the latest techniques of detecting and preventing impaired driving, and expunging the criminal records of people with certain cannabis crimes, we’re not only effectively modernizing our laws and addressing inequities, we’re keeping Connecticut economically competitive with our neighboring states.” 

The D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project has played a crucial role in the legalization process in many states and now adds Connecticut to its list of success stories. The MPP spoke to the ways in which social equity was embedded in the plan. S.B. 1201 includes expungement of lower-level cannabis records and dedicates the bulk of excise tax revenues to a Social Equity and Innovation Fund, which will be used to promote a diverse cannabis industry and reinvest in hard-hit communities. Half of new cannabis business licenses will be issued to social equity applicants, who can receive technical assistance, start-up funding, assistance from an accelerator program, and workforce training.

But the center of much of the debate in the week prior to the victory was who actually would qualify for equity programs. Many argued that the language Lamont favored made things a lot murkier around delineating a clear line of ownership from the communities impacted by the war on drugs to the state’s forthcoming legal market. One of the big problems with equity rollouts over the years has been investors using those who qualify for the advantages of the programs as figureheads to front their businesses. Fear of deep-pocketed speculators taking advantage of the situation is still there, but if you block them out, do you at the same time inadvertently prevent people who were impacted by enforcement from taking part?

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The devil’s advocate argument in Lamont’s favor is that not everyone impacted personally by the drug war ended up in handcuffs. Some argue that just the PTSD of living in overly policed communities should qualify a person for social equity programs. Even having to listen to the sirens go by your window more frequently than others while you were trying to study could be considered another challenge put in front of people by the war on drugs.  

But apart from the ownership debate in equity, as critical as those finer points may be, advocates had plenty of positive things to say about the rest of the bill. 

“So, in the beginning of the campaign, we had seven demands that we outlined, which was the difference between HB 6377 and the Governor’s bill, including home grow, priority licenses for equity, including our native tribes, protection for students, and we got all seven of them,” said Jason Ortiz, a longtime Connecticut cannabis advocate who also helped found the Minority Cannabis Business Association. “And so I’m pretty happy, especially around the home grow for everyone. That was one that was definitely up for debate and wasn’t in a lot of the original bills but did make it in the end.”

But Ortiz admitted that it wasn’t quite perfect when speaking to the social equity debate. 

“The one thing that we didn’t get that we did fight for was the thing that caused the governor to almost veto, it was the criminal history as a qualifier for the equity programs,” Ortiz says. The argument in favor of using criminal history as a main qualifier in equity programs is that it is the most surefire way to make sure the program’s resources are being dedicated to people who directly had their lives impacted by enforcement. Most advocates would group the children who lost their parents to drug-related incarceration into this group of people who qualify based on history. “So aside from that,” Ortiz says, “even though I truly believe that should be a foundation of any equity program, we were able to get $50 million in state bonding to jumpstart the equity programs, which I don’t think any other state has done thus far.”

Ortiz was quick to focus on the positives, in closing, commenting on components of the law where he felt Connecticut was ahead of the pack. “There’s just a tremendous amount of different types of protections for families and for students and for housing and for employment, that just aren’t in most bills.”

Advocates in the nation’s capital shared the joy of their peers in Hartford. 

“Connecticut is on the cusp of becoming the latest state to legalize cannabis. This year has shown us that state legislatures are capable of rising to the challenge to end cannabis prohibition. A supermajority of Americans have made it clear that they favor a system of legalization and regulation rather than the status quo. This victory will add to the momentum towards cannabis policy reform in other states and at the federal level,” says Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project.

NORML joined MPP in applauding the effort and focusing on the positives. 

“Connecticut is just the latest domino to fall as states begin to repeal their failed prohibition of marijuana and replace it with a sensible system of legalization and regulation. Never before has the momentum for legalization looked as strong as it does in 2021, with four state legislatures already approving bills to ensure state law reflects the overwhelming will of their state residents in just a few short months,” says Erik Altieri, NORML’s executive director. “Federal lawmakers need to stop dragging their feet and get the message: it is time to take swift action to end our federal prohibition and allow states to legalize marijuana as they see fit.”   

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Will Progressive Splits Lead to a Conservative Win in the Manhattan D.A.’s Race?

On June 22, voters in Manhattan will head to the polls to make several monumental decisions. At the top of the ballot, of course, will be the Democratic primary for mayor, where the winner could end up governing for the next eight years. Voters will also weigh in on who to choose for city comptroller, another post that often serves as a springboard for a mayoral run.

But arguably the most importance primary is occurring below them both, garnering relatively little media attention: the race for Manhattan District Attorney. Cy Vance Jr., the controversial incumbent, is not seeking re-election, and eight candidates are vying to replace him. 

There are many reasons the primary is of great consequence. In overwhelmingly Democratic Manhattan, the victor is assured the office. Since the 1970s, there have been only two other Manhattan DA’s: Vance and the late Robert Morgenthau, who retired after 2009. 

With a budget nearing $170 million, the office has a vast jurisdiction, prosecuting the wealthy and powerful on Wall Street, along with the poor and the vulnerable. Right now, Vance’s prosecutors have reportedly entered the final stages of a criminal tax investigation into Donald Trump’s long-serving chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, setting up the possibility he could face charges in the summer. 

All of the candidates have promised to continue the investigation, vowing to be tough on Trump and his associates. Yet while this is the reason many voters may care about the race — the next Democrat will be in position, perhaps, to drag the former president into a courtroom — it has far greater implications for the thousands of people, many of them Black and Latino, who are prosecuted for petty crimes every year. For defense attorneys and criminal justice reformers, Vance’s legacy is punitive. He has sought stiff sentences against poor defendants and pushed his attorneys, as often as possible, to go to trial to win convictions. 

Many of the candidates have criticized Vance and vowed to overhaul the office in the mode of progressive DA’s across America, like Philadelphia’s Larry Krasner and San Francisco’s Chesa Boudin. Some want to slash the office budget in half, abolish cash bail and pre-trial detention, and reduce the overall number of prosecutions. 

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The dynamics of the race, however, may not favor the progressive candidates — Tahanie Aboushie, Eliza Orlins, Dan Quart, and Alvin Bragg — because, unlike the mayoral race, there is no ranked-choice voting. A DA race is run under state rules, not municipal law, so voters will only pick one candidate. There is a very real threat, at this point, that candidates with varying left platforms could split the vote, allowing a more conservative contender to win.

And one of them looms over the field: Tali Farhadian Weinstein, a former Brooklyn and federal prosecutor. Married to Boaz Weinstein, a multimillionaire hedge fund manager, Farhadian Weinstein has far outspent the field, raising millions from Wall Street megadonors while pouring $8 million of her own cash into the campaign. 

Farhadian Weinstein, at the minimum, would be a prosecutor in the mold of Vance and progressives fear she may tug the office further to the right. Running with the endorsement of some establishment Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, Farhadian Weinstein has repeatedly warned about the rising number of shootings and murders. She is one of the only candidates who will not rule out entering into information-sharing agreements with federal agencies like ICE and Homeland Security Investigation. Reformers worry she will be too close to the financial sector to effectively prosecute white-collar crime. 

Polling in the race has been scant. One recent poll, from the left-leaning firm Data for Progress, showed a dead heat between Farhadian Weinstein and Bragg, a former prosecutor in the state attorney general’s office who was endorsed by former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, Congressman Jerry Nadler, and the New York Times. A Harlem native, Bragg speaks openly about being a victim of the criminal justice system as a Black man. He made a name for himself seeking full transparency into how the NYPD handled Eric Garner’s death.

Bragg is a former prosecutor, not a public defender or a civil rights attorney like two candidates running to the left of him, Orlins and Aboushi. But Zephyr Teachout, a law professor and prominent progressive activist who supports Bragg, has urged backers of other candidates to consolidate around him.

Some progressives, however, reacted with anger at the suggestion. “This is not your finest hour. Your point of view is myopic, privileged, and just plain wrong,” tweeted Cynthia Nixon, the actress and activist backing Aboushi. “Your song is ugly & out of tune. You should do yourself & everyone else a favor and stop singing it.” 

Teachout, though, may have a point with only days left in the race. In the 2020 presidential primary, Joe Biden crushed Bernie Sanders by winning the endorsements of his top Democratic rivals. No such consolidation appears to be in the works now, with the candidates to the left of Bragg arguing, publicly and privately, they still have a path to victory. Without RCV, it will be possible to know the outcome on Election Night — and whether Nixon or Teachout, in all their ardor, are proven right.   ❖

This story was updated on June 18:  Zephyr Teachout says she specifically asked no candidates to drop out, only that the supporters of other candidates back her candidate, Bragg.

From The Archives JOCKBEAT 2021 News 2021 NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Missing Person Report: Have You Seen Hal Steinbrenner?

For the first time in a long while, the New York Yankees are the least exciting team in the entire city. 

Just across town, the Mets sit at the top of the National League East division and feature the most dominant pitcher in the sport of baseball. On the gridiron, Jets fans (foolishly) await the debut of their newest savior — QB Zach Wilson — as the Giants were seen dropping boatloads of cash and draft capital on a handful of impact players. The Nets are favorites to win the NBA championship, while a young Knicks team brought Madison Square Garden roaring back with their unlikely playoff berth this season. 

The Rangers and Islanders aren’t looking too bad themselves. The Blueshirts put the NHL on notice with a season that was light years beyond their initial rebuild schedule, while the Isles are currently one round away from the Stanley Cup Finals.

But then you have the Yankees, the absolute pinnacle of New York City — and, pretty much, North American — sports, who, with 27 world championships, always set expectations high. And currently, a baseball team that is painfully mediocre despite a really talented roster. 

The thing is, their owner is missing. Have you seen him? Sources say he hasn’t been spotted since the 2009 World Series.

Hal Steinbrenner officially took control of the Yankees in 2008 for his ailing father George — the spontaneous and abrupt owner who fired and spent his way to 11 American League pennants and seven World Series trophies. 

With George’s health deteriorating fast, Hal and his late brother, Hank, went on a shopping spree to get one last gift for their father: the 2009 World Series Championship. In perhaps the most exciting free agency period for Yankees fans ever, New York signed pitchers CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett to seven-year, $161 million and five-year, $82.5 million deals, respectively. They also brought on first baseman Mark Teixeira for eight years at $180 million.

Essentially, they purchased themselves a World Series that off-season.

But lately, with the Boss gone since 2010, son Hal hasn’t shown the kind of urgency he did in 2009, nor the kind that his father ruled by during his 37-year reign. George was notorious for being hands-on to a fault. Like him or not, the Boss’s domineering presence over team personnel decisions combined with his no-bullshit attitude nearly always meant an entertaining product was on the field at Yankee Stadium. And that’s just the way he wanted it. George was his own team’s biggest fan. 

Most of the time, he ran the team like a Bleacher Creature, too. Famous for his frequent firings and penchant for throwing preposterous amounts of cash at players, there was never a dull moment with Steinbrenner’s Yanks. Famed manager Billy Martin was fired so often by George that it became a running joke on Miller Lite commercials. Bob Lemon was fired a few games into the 1982 season — just a few months removed from guiding the team to a World Series appearance. Yankees legend Don Mattingly was once benched because he refused to abide by the grooming standards the Boss put in place. 

The Boss set this management style in the first innings of his ownership reign, bringing Oakland Athletics superstar Reggie Jackson to the Yankees back in 1976. New York had just lost the World Series months prior, and George wanted to take that next step. His squad would go on to win the 1977 title, with Jackson winning World Series MVP. They’d repeat in 1978.

Just a few years earlier, Steinbrenner signed the first MLB free agent ever to exist: future Hall of Famer Catfish Hunter. Many attribute the explosion of big-money deals in major sports to George’s trigger-happy nature during free agency. 

With George, the good always came with the bad — he was not a man known for patience. When the mid-’80s rolled around and the Yanks were in the dumps, he made moves. To the dismay of many New Yorkers, those moves included trading the likes of Willis McGee, Fred McGriff, and Jay Buhner — the latter inspiring one of the most popular scenes in sitcom history on Seinfeld

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One day, though, The Boss got caught with the pine tar too far up his bat. It turns out Steinbrenner had paid gambler Howie Spira to dig up dirt on Yankees outfielder Dave Winfield, the man who The Boss had given the richest contract in sports in 1980. Winfield, a phenomenal player and one of the lone bright spots for those 80’s New York teams, drew the ire of Steinbrenner for underperforming in crunch time. George, remembering Reggie Jackson’s postseason dominance from the late ’70s, which earned him the nickname Mr. October, slapped Winfield with the moniker Mr. May and hired Spira in an attempt to rid himself of the expensive right fielder. The consequences were harsh: the MLB banned Steinbrenner for life …  temporarily.

When the Boss returned three years later, in 1993, GM Gene Michael had already drafted and started developing the core players that would turn the Yankees into the dynasty that won championships in 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2000. Steinbrenner, naturally, would still have some input on how that dynasty would take shape — he fired manager Buck Showalter after the 1995 season in favor of a guy named Joe Torre. 

But if George’s tendencies — unpredictable and absurd yet somehow effective — are a perfect match for Seinfeld, Hal could have slid into a role on The Big Bang Theory, which, with its bland yet sometimes ironically funny humor and shameless implementation of the hot-girl-next-door trope, did just enough to keep you from flipping the channel.

Since taking over, Hal has opportunistically echoed the words of his late father but has mimicked his actions more sporadically with each year. Following the 2020 postseason, Hal took a page out of George’s playbook when he publicly apologized to Yankees fans for not fielding a more successful team. New York had just played a win-or-go-home American League Divisional Series Game 5 against the Tampa Bay Rays, in which their star-studded offense sputtered to a 2–1 loss. Within his apology was the admittance that he himself was responsible for the failures of the team, a quote that seemed to indicate that moves from this lower-case “b” boss could be on the horizon.

So, the Yankees let Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, and J.A. Happ walk during the off-season —  probably wise moves, with the exception of Tanaka. The real issue is how they went about fixing their rotation, which was then left with superstar Gerrit Cole as the only reliable starter. It was quite a bold strategy. In picking up former Cy Young winner Corey Kluber and Pittsburgh Pirate Jameson Taillon, New York hoped to build an ultra-high-ceiling rotation for 2021 that would depend on Domingo German and Luis Severino returning to full form at various points during the season. However, those four starters had only pitched a combined one inning during the 2020 season

Jockbeat articles from the Village Voice newspaper sports section

Big surprise: it didn’t work. Taillon has posted a dreadful 5.74 ERA in just over 53 innings pitched. Severino’s comeback from Tommy John surgery took a step back last week because of a groin injury. Kluber, while pitching exceptionally early on (including a no-hitter on May 19), is expected to be out for about two months with a shoulder injury. The only exception is German, who has a solid 3.88 ERA in 12 starts. 

Even if this plan had worked out, free agency bargain hunting to fill out important roster holes is a strategy meant for the Oakland A’s of the league, not the New York Yankees. One of the best pitchers in baseball, Trevor Bauer, was a free agent this past off-season, and before you question how unrealistic it would’ve been to sign the top available free agent in back-to-back off-seasons (Cole was signed in 2019), just take a look at the team Bauer ended up inking a deal with. The Los Angeles Dodgers gave Bauer $102 million over three years, adding that kind of money to a payroll that already included southpaw Clayton Kershaw’s $31 million per season. Oh yeah, they also recently signed star outfielder Mookie Betts to the second-richest deal in Major League Baseball history. 

Take notes, Hal. 

The Yankees, unlike the Dodgers, who won it all last season, haven’t sniffed a World Series game since 2009. They’ve reached the American League Championship series twice since 2017, only to be gatekept from the big stage by the Houston Astros. 

So if the Dodgers are still urgently adding top talent after winning a championship, why are the Yankees content with making minor moves when they haven’t had even half as much success in recent years?

Because of the MLB’s Competitive Balance Tax (the league’s luxury tax — thanks, George!), teams who exceed a $210 million payroll must pay hefty fines that are adjusted according to how far over they are. The longer you’re over the figure, the more you pay. 

In a poetic turn of events that likely has George looking down from the clouds, eyes ablaze, with steam blowing out of his ears, Hal is now a slave to the consequences that his own father’s profligacy brought on the league. The Yankees, in the midst of a window with a ton of good young players on affordable contracts, paid nothing in luxury taxes in 2018 and just $5 million in 2019. In 2020 they jumped up to over $20 million, but in 2021 the team is once again on pace to pay nothing.

So while Hal has made some big splashes in recent years, such as Cole’s nine-year, $324 million deal, and trading for Giancarlo Stanton’s 13-year, $325 million contract, he’s also made cost-cutting moves that have neutralized those big additions. Reliever Adam Ottavino was dealt to the Boston Red Sox last season as a pure salary dump — he’s now posting a healthy 2.67 ERA in 27 innings, including two scoreless against the Yanks. D.J. LeMahieu was re-signed to a long-term deal that will pay him until he’s 37 in exchange for a lighter hit on the luxury tax. Don’t forget the list of bargain-bin and perpetually injured starters that currently comprise their makeshift rotation.

Those transactions are in no way George-like. Hal knows that. It’s just that his desire to maximize profits is greater than his drive to win. And his refusal to step in and make a change with manager Aaron Boone unable to clean up one of the sloppiest, yet talented, teams in the league just screams indifference. But then again, screaming requires some sort of passion — ask George. And we all know the only thing that gets Hal screaming is when Brian Cashman gets a buck too close to that $210 million mark.

This isn’t even a demand for Hal to start signing every superstar out there. It’s a request that he looks like he cares about anything other than his wallet. Shaking up an ineffective coaching staff or filling out some glaring roster holes by the upcoming July 30 trade deadline could go a long way. The prestige and tradition of Yankees baseball requires an owner whose actions reflect the franchise’s values, not one who delivers a depressing exit interview every season and cuts costs. 

It’s perfectly fitting that the last time Hal showed a sense of urgency to win was among the last months of his father’s life. He and his brother knew how much winning meant to George. The Boss’s passion for the team’s success, for better or worse, was never in question.

Unfortunately, that passion, the urgency to win, and the willingness to do whatever it takes, seems to have died with him in 2010.  ❖

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NYC’s Mayoral Cheat Sheet

If you’ve waited until the last minute to figure out who to vote for mayor, the Village Voice has you covered with our handy cheat sheet. We summarized the eight top Democratic candidates’ positions in three major topic areas: public safety, housing, and the economy. 

Before we jump in, here’s a quick who’s who of candidates:

Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president who draws on his experience as a Black NYPD officer; Kathryn Garcia, the former sanitation commissioner who quit after fallout over budget cuts; Maya Wiley, ex-ACLU lawyer and former counsel to Mayor de Blasio; Andrew Yang, an ex-presidential hopeful turned mayoral front runner who’s gotten all kinds of press; Scott Stringer, the anti-de Blasio city comptroller who’s fending off allegations of sexual harassment; Dianne Morales, the far-left candidate who’s battling protests inside her campaign; Wall Street executive Ray McGuire; and Shaun Donovan, Obama’s former housing secretary, whose rich father made a huge splash in the race.    

Hopefully, this cheat sheet will help you decide who to rank where on your ballot. (We are focusing on the top eight vote-getters in recent polls. Below they are listed in the order in which they appear on the ballot.) Early voting for primary elections will be open until June 20 (after that, voters will cast their ballots on Election Day, June 22).

¶ Do they support “defunding” the NYPD?

Dianne Morales: Yes. Morales is the only frontrunner who has embraced the “defund police” slogan (it’s literally on her website). She wants to cut the NYPD budget by $3 billion and remove officers from schools, traffic enforcement, and other instances where she believes armed police presence is unnecessary. She proposes redistributing funds to a Community First Responders Department, independent from the NYPD and staffed with personnel trained in trauma-informed intervention.

Scott Stringer: Sort of? As comptroller, Stringer criticized de Blasio’s NYPD budget allocation amid summer protests, calling to slash $1.1 billion from the department to reinvest in community services. But as a candidate he has shied away from the “defund” slogan — there’s no mention of the $1 billion cut on his campaign website or in his public safety report. An investigation revealed that Stringer audited the NYPD twice over his eight-year tenure (for comparison, he audited the Housing Authority 17 times). He favors shifting funding toward social services and strengthening the Civilian Complaint Review Board.

Ray McGuire: No. McGuire is explicitly against it, arguing that the city’s budget ($98.6 billion for the 2022 fiscal year so far) barely contributed funds for the NYPD, which has a proposed budget of $5.4 billion. Instead, McGuire wants better training for the police force; continued use of the experimental ShotSpotter program, the gunshot-detection system which alerts officers of possible gun-related activity; and a 24/7 emergency social services bureau.

Maya Wiley: Yes. Wiley has kept an arm’s-length from the “defund” slogan (opting for the term “right-sizing” instead) but regularly pushes concerns on excessive policing. She pledges to cut the NYPD’s budget by at least $1 billion each year to fund alternatives to traditional policing. Wiley was chair of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, the oversight body for the NYPD, but some say she did little to reform the sleepy agency during her year there.

Kathryn Garcia: No. Garcia is a proponent of police reform, proposing improved mechanisms for transparent discipline against officers and implementing new training. She’s mentioned investing in the NYPD’s Gun Violence Suppression Division to combat gun violence and wants to reassign more officers to the neighborhood policing unit.

Eric Adams: No. Adams, a former NYPD captain, has repeatedly argued against taking money from the department (and drew heat from activists after suggesting that affluent white millennials were leading the “defund” movement). He’s acknowledged abusive policing, having been beaten by police as a teenager, and pushes for reform through improved training, better accountability systems, and a new version of the disbanded plainclothes Anti-Crime unit. While he’s painted himself as the public-safety candidate, don’t expect him to give up packing once he’s mayor.

Shaun Donovan: Maybe. Donovan wants to refocus police priorities on violent crimes but hasn’t stated he would cut the NYPD’s budget. He has pledged, by his second year, to invest $500 million each year in community-focused public safety initiatives, in part by “redirecting funds allocated to law enforcement and corrections,” which includes agencies beyond the NYPD.

Andrew Yang: No. Yang has stated that “defunding” is “the wrong approach for New York City,” and proposes staffing up certain divisions to improve the city’s low-solve rate. He’s argued for diversifying recruiting inside the NYPD (asking New Yorkers to sign up for the police force during a televised debate) and proposed stronger civilian oversight by appointing a civilian police commissioner.  

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¶ What are they going to do about rising housing costs and homelessness?

Dianne Morales: Morales’s proposal mixes moderate fixes like converting unopened hotels and vacant lots into affordable housing with radical ideas such as replacing the Public Housing Authority with a fully tenant-run management body. She proposes reallocating the $3 billion annual shelter budget toward preventive measures against evictions. But housing advocates have been critical of Morales’s ties to Phipps Housing, an affordable housing developer and one of New York City’s worst landlords. 

Scott Stringer: Stringer tries to establish himself as a “watchdog” to de Blasio, criticizing the mayor’s appetite for rezoning low-income neighborhoods to build more affordable housing and emphasizing his record auditing New York City’s Housing Authority. Stringer promises to build 10,000 affordable housing units each year, requiring every new building to allocate 25% of units for affordable housing, and pledges that he will oppose “developer-driven” rezonings.

Ray McGuire: McGuire’s business background is apparent in proposals to reduce construction costs by streamlining approvals and a new tax credit to incentivize construction of senior affordable housing. He wants to invest $1.5 billion in public housing annually and give tenants more control over how those funds are spent through signed contracts with the city. 

Maya Wiley: Wiley’s housing policy centers on measures that get at root causes of the crisis, such as creating a “universal community care” ecosystem. It’s an ambitious plan: In addition to committing $2 billion for public housing, she promises to guarantee that New Yorkers making 50% or less of Area Median Income won’t pay more than 30% of their income on rent. 

Kathryn Garcia: Garcia’s housing policy is a mixed bag; she wants to move the city away from shelters to permanent housing planning by building 50,000 “deeply” affordable housing units, but suggests creating 24-hour drop-in centers with bathrooms and other services for unhoused New Yorkers. She also supports NYCHA’s Blueprint For Change plan, which tenant advocates have criticized as a step toward privatization.

Eric Adams: Adams wants more housing — and quickly, promising to expedite the city’s initiative to create 15,000 units of supportive housing in 15 years to 10 years. He has low-income renters in mind, with proposals such as streamlining rent-relief applications and adjusting housing vouchers based on market rate, and cites nonprofit Fountain House as a model for wrap-around social services. But Adams has a cozy relationship with developers, raising nearly a quarter-million dollars in donations from real estate stakeholders.

Shaun Donovan: Donovan loves to remind everyone of his stint as President Obama’s housing secretary, and (to a lesser extent) his tenure as housing commissioner under Mayor Bloomberg. A look at his track record brings up mixed reviews. Much of Donovan’s plan relies on state support, like pushing the state to establish a State Public Housing Preservation Trust and to increase annual spending on emergency rental assistance.

Andrew Yang: Yang’s housing approach seems focused on improving existing mechanisms: He would convert the city’s unopened hotels into affordable housing buildings and, as a big believer in Community Land Trusts (CLTs), invest more in existing CLTs. He’s committed to investing $4 billion annually in building affordable and supportive housing.

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¶ How are they going to recover jobs and businesses for New Yorkers?

Dianne Morales: Morales has made investing in small and mid-size businesses the center of her economic recovery platform. She wants to eliminate massive tax breaks for wealthy corporations operating in the city and has committed to investing at least $1 billion in a participatory city-wide People’s Budget Project.

Scott Stringer: The city comptroller proposes a $1 billion NYC Recovery Now Fund for small business grants up to $100,000, which can be used to pay off back rent and rehire former employees. Stringer also proposes developing a stronger workforce pipeline for CUNY graduates and an affordable childcare plan for families with toddlers. 

Ray McGuire: McGuire’s “Comeback Plan” zeroes in on supporting the city’s small businesses. He wants to bring back 50,000 jobs through items such as wage subsidies — covering half of wages for small businesses over a year — and expanding small business owners’ access to loans through community bank investments.

Maya Wiley: Through her “New Deal New York” plan, Wiley wants to invest $10 billion in a public works program, with a target of creating 100,000 new jobs over a five-year period. Wiley pushes for a “care-based economy” through $5,000 grants for high-need care workers and building community care centers.

Kathryn Garcia: As the “fixer” candidate, Garcia leans into cutting red tape that impacts small business owners, proposing an all-in-one small business permit and a new program offering zero-interest microloans. The highlight of her economic recovery plan is her promise to support working parents and guardians in families earning less than $70,000 a year, with free childcare for children up to three years old.

Eric Adams: Adams wants to create jobs by investing in green infrastructure — establishing the city as the “wind power hub” of the East Coast — and attract businesses by expanding the Relocation Employment Assistance Program of tax credits for businesses if they open in certain neighborhoods. He’s also focused on work development for youth, with a proposal to expand the Summer Youth Employment Program to operate year-round.

Shaun Donovan: Donovan’s economic recovery plan centers on rebuilding the city’s strongest revenue sector — entertainment and nightlife — and work development for the city’s future generation, committing to creating 500,000 jobs in his first term. He promises 10,000 internship placements within the first years of his mayorship through a skills-based training program that guarantees placement for public school and CUNY students, and an NYC Job Corps to train potential workers in high-growth job industries.   

Andrew Yang: Yang supports the City Council’s contentious Small Business Job Survival Act, legislation that would essentially help with rent stabilization for commercial tenants, and wants a “universal portable benefits fund” to support expansion of the city’s gig workers’ protections.    ❖

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ANALYSIS 2021 News 2021

Is NYC Going to Get Schooled Under a New Mayor? 

When Bill de Blasio first ran for mayor in 2013, betting that a progressive, anti-Bloomberg Democrat could vault into City Hall, his education platform was clear: charter schools would not have it so easy when he won. 

“Starting January, Eva Moskowitz cannot continue to have the run of the place,” de Blasio fumed that year, referring to the most powerful charter school executive in the city. “Just because someone is politically connected and has a lot of money behind them, they don’t tell the public school system what to do.”

Eight years later, Eva Moskowitz is still the CEO of Success Academy, the large and highly influential charter school network, and her name is nowhere to be found in the mayoral race. Instead of left-leaning Democrats taking turns promising to block the expansion of charters, the top candidates in this primary are taking a very different tact — deference, or even praise, for the privately-run, publicly-funded schools. 

“I want to make New York City public schools great but charters offer us an opportunity,” Kathryn Garcia, who has emerged as a top Democratic contender, told the Voice. “They can be labs for experimentation.” 

The changing tune on charters is one of the more remarkable policy turnarounds in a race in which the candidates, otherwise, have proposed many progressive programs that would expand on de Blasio’s vision: free schooling before pre-K, public banking, and more affordable housing. Traditionally, many left-leaning Democrats and union activists have reviled charter schools because they don’t have to recognize teachers’ unions, unlike ordinary public schools, and can easily block the admission of students with disabilities and language difficulties. Since charter schools co-locate with public schools in the same school building, fierce battles have erupted over space and supplies. 

Defenders of charter schools argue they offer an alternative education where public schools are struggling and allow poorer, nonwhite students to enjoy the privileges of wealthier peers in private schools. Many charter schools in New York City operate in predominately Black and Latino neighborhoods, where they enjoy support among parents. Students who remain in charters perform well on state exams. 

Some liberal, technocratic Democrats have embraced charters — Barack Obama was a supporter — but they remain a favorite cause of Wall Street, with billionaires in New York and nationally funding their growth. Right-wing, charter-backing billionaires, including hedge funders Kenneth Griffin and Daniel Loeb, are lavishly funding super PAC’s for two of the leading mayoral contenders, Eric Adams and Andrew Yang. 

Garcia, the New York Times-endorsed former Department of Sanitation commissioner, hasn’t yet received the same attention from the billionaire class but has vowed she’d fight to raise the cap on the number of charter schools in the five boroughs. This stance has some Democratic insiders speculating that Garcia may get assistance soon from charter school backers. 

Adams, the Brooklyn borough president who has led in the polls of late, is a de Blasio ally and a pro-union Democrat who otherwise shares an affinity for charters. As recently as 2019, Adams spoke at a rally in support of Success Academy, and told the Voice he would not move to curb the expansion of charters if he enters office next year.

“I am a believer in scaling up excellence. That’s what I’m a believer in,” Adams said. “We only have a small number of good, solid charter schools. So what I’m going to do as mayor, I’m not going to engage in the ‘adult’ conversation of naming schools. I’m going to engage in the ‘children’ conversation of scaling up excellence.”

And Andrew Yang, the entrepreneur and former presidential candidate, has called himself “pro-charter” in the past and said he would, if elected, try to open charter schools that the city and state have already authorized. “I’ve committed to using the already authorized charters that right now are not being utilized. That’s the current plan,” he said. 

Through his consultant, Bradley Tusk, Yang’s affinity for charters may be even deeper. Tusk once worked for Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire mayor who oversaw an explosion of charter schools in the five boroughs and actively encouraged their growth. 

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Why are charter schools suddenly popular in this mayoral race? Theories abound. 

The young progressives and socialists hostile to charter schools were not yet in position to mount credible mayoral bids. And the end of the Donald Trump era has allowed charter-friendly Democrats to be a little less shy, since Trump’s Education secretary, Betsy DeVos, was a fierce charter school backer. 

Before Trump took office, Governor Andrew Cuomo was a vocal ally of the charter sector, but grew more muted over the last few years as the privately-run schools became associated with Trump’s education policy. 

James Merriman, the chief executive officer of the New York City Charter School Center, agreed that Trump’s exit — as well as the loss of Republican power in New York State — has buoyed the movement’s political prospects, which were often bound up in whether conservatives could decide education policy in New York. 

Merriman also argued that, quite simply, there are now too many charter schools in the five boroughs for the unorthodox education approach to be vilified any longer. “The charter sector is bigger and harder to ignore,” Merriman said. “There wouldn’t be a single charter school around if no one wanted to go to them.” 

Before the late 1990s, charter schools didn’t exist in New York at all. When Bloomberg took power in 2002, he committed to a rapid expansion of the schools, benefiting from a Republican governor in Albany who was also interested in seeing them thrive. There were 17 charter schools the year Bloomberg entered office; there were 183, in 2013, when he left

De Blasio promised a charter crackdown, but the industry fared better than expected thanks to a far more powerful ally in Cuomo. In 2014, de Blasio’s first year, he bitterly clashed with Moskowitz, a former colleague of his in the City Council, when he rejected co-locations for three Success Academy schools that Bloomberg had rubberstamped. 

Moskowitz, along with the private equity-backed charter lobby group Families for Excellent Schools, spent millions in television ads against de Blasio and staged large rallies with parents, schoolchildren, and politicians. Cuomo, meanwhile, would engineer a new law unlike any other in America: for the first time, the city government would have to pay the rent of all charter schools or find them free space in available buildings. 

The battle wounded de Blasio, and he never quite took on the charter sector, head-on, again. The law remains on the books and has not been repealed in Albany, even with progressive Democrats in power. Under de Blasio, charters have enjoyed steady growth: there are now 290, which is the current state-mandated cap. Cuomo, the charter industry, and Garcia all want to see this cap raised. 

Even progressives in the mayoral race are no longer speaking in pointed terms about charter schools. One of them, Dianne Morales, founded a charter school herself. 

Maya Wiley, who has been endorsed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, refused to state outright she backed ending the state law requiring New York City to pay the rent of all charters. “Every last kid is our kid, period. Let’s just start there,” Wiley said. “We know there are many things we have to fix about how we’re doing space in this city. We also have to make sure we’re not overpaying.”

For the Department of Education, the rent requirement has led to escalating costs. Of the DOE’s roughly $28 billion budget, more than $2.4 billion is spent now on operating aid for charters. New York City, thanks in part to Cuomo’s hatred of de Blasio, is the only district in the state that does not receive state dollars as reimbursement as city payments to charters increase. These numbers are expected to grow as charter schools throughout the city increase their enrollments in the coming years. 

The United Federation of Teachers, the chief antagonist of the charter industry, is backing Scott Stringer, a charter critic in the mold of de Blasio, for mayor. But Stringer, besieged by a sexual assault scandal, has not been able to command any kind of polling lead in the race. When asked about the current popularity of charter schools in the Democratic primary, Mike Mulgrew, the current president of the UFT, had a simpler theory: money. “The Garcia campaign was almost broke. Yang and Adams, this was the easiest way to raise money,” Mulgrew said. “This is about some really unscrupulous people donating and trying to get control of City Hall once again.”     ❖


NYC Is About To Have Its Biggest Election In A Decade. Will New Yorkers Show Up?

June 22 is a big day for New York City: In primary elections for the largest government turnover in a decade, roughly two-thirds of the City Council is up for grabs, along with the comptroller, four borough presidents, district attorneys, and, of course, the next mayor.

But if this year is anything like previous years, few New Yorkers will show up and vote. As data makes clear, the New Yawk brand of loud and opinionated hasn’t quite translated to high voter turnout. In fact, New York consistently ranks among states with the worst turnout rates in the country. Combined with debates over its new ranked-choice voting system — which may turn off some voters even more — this year could see the low turnout trend continue, meaning the next mayor and other elected positions could be selected by just a sliver of the city’s population.

City Hall and local organizations are combining efforts to educate, engage, and, hopefully, persuade New Yorkers to vote in greater numbers this year. In April, the mayor’s office announced a $15 million voter outreach initiative under DemocracyNYC, the city’s civic engagement arm, to encourage New Yorkers to head to the polls. A portion of that has gone to educating constituents, including launching an interactive app, available in 16 languages, that helps voters practice ranked-choice voting on pretend ballots to decide designations like “favorite NYC landmark” and view how votes are tallied.

“The reality is a lot of New Yorkers just have so much else on their minds that they haven’t really focused on [ranked-choice voting] and the fact that this important election is coming up,” said Laura Wood, New York City’s Chief Democracy Officer. “Our mission is to make sure … New Yorkers have that information going into the June primary.” 

New York City’s Poor Voter Turnout

In 2016, there were 4.9 million registered voters in New York City. In the following year’s general election, Mayor Bill de Blasio clinched his second term with just 726,361 votes. That means only 14 percent of people who could vote, voted for de Blasio (it’s maybe part of why he’s so unpopular despite having been made mayor twice).

Last year, with a highly consequential presidential election at stake, the city saw a slight bump in voter turnout compared to 2016. According to a voter analysis report by the Campaign Finance Board, nearly 62 percent of city voters turned out in November with the biggest overall increase among younger voters ages 18 to 29. 

But voting tends to nose-dive after national elections and that could happen in the upcoming primaries. There’s no single reason behind New York’s underwhelming turnout numbers, but one that everyone seems to agree on is the state’s outdated voting laws which, intentionally or not, affect voting accessibility. And the harder it is for people to vote, the less likely they will. 

“Up until a couple of years ago, it was kind of hard to vote,” said Jan Combopiano, senior policy director at the Brooklyn Voters Alliance, an independent organization that works on voting access. New York did not allow early voting until recently (it was passed into law in 2019) and technically still doesn’t allow no-excuse absentee ballots (which have been temporarily allowed during the pandemic). Rigid rules around designated poll sites and online voter registration are other issues that Combopiano says can make voters less likely to participate. “We’ve never had a municipal election under these circumstances before where we did have early voting, where we did have easier access to an absentee ballot,” she said. “So we’re hoping to see a change in this election.”

Omar Suárez, director of partnerships and outreach for NYCVotes, says it’s all about messaging. “We don’t give local government the same sense of urgency that we do when it comes to national politics,” said Suárez, noting drop-off levels after presidential elections. “Something that is a constant focus of ours is, how can we retain those voters?” 

BVA volunteer Madeleine registering a voter in East Flatbush

As the Campaign Finance Board’s voter outreach initiative, NYCVotes is allocating $2 million to its get-out-the-vote efforts this year which includes town halls and voter training sessions. Additionally, a board spokesperson confirmed a portion of the $15 million from the mayor’s office will go towards amplifying NYCVotes’s ads and translating educational materials, but did not specify how much.

New York’s New System: Ranked-Choice Voting

With New York in pandemic recovery and with so many important city-level jobs on the line, this year’s local elections are a huge deal. The city’s primaries, in particular, are considered to hold more weight than the general elections given that 3,376,341 of active voters are registered Democrats (by contrast, just 501,848 are registered Republicans). 

But this year’s outreach campaigns have another challenge: educating New Yorkers about the new ranked-choice voting system, which was voted into law through a 2019 ballot referendum. Using this new system, voters can rank up to five candidates in a number of races, including for mayor, comptroller, borough presidents, city council, and public advocate. If no candidate achieves a majority of votes, the candidate with the lowest tally is eliminated. But those votes won’t go to waste; instead, in the next round of counting, citizens whose number one choice has been eliminated will have their votes counted towards their second-ranked candidate. The cycle continues until a clear majority winner is determined. 

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Ranked-choice voting was used for the first time in New York City in February, during a special election to fill seats for City Council Districts 24 and 31, the latter formerly occupied by Queens Borough President Donovan Richards (he is seeking reelection against four other Democratic candidates in June). To educate constituents on ranked-choice voting, his office created a Civic Engagement Committee made up of members from community organizations, civic associations, and individual volunteers. 

The committee, one of the lead partners with DemocracyNYC, is now using lessons from their previous ranked-choice outreach efforts ahead of June, focusing on in-person campaigns to push voter turnout in neighborhoods like Flushing, Jackson Heights, Jamaica, and Far Rockaway.

BVA volunteer Gilda registering a new voter at a pop-up event on Atlantic Ave

“We know it’s important that we have communities of color, other marginalized communities, who oftentimes are not coming out to vote at the rate we’d like to see,” said Franck D. Joseph III, Richards’s chief of staff who oversees the committee. “We want to make sure we’re going into those communities and actively ensuring that folks understand what ranked-choice voting is, and they know how to fill out their ballot.” 

Research shows clear benefits to ranked-choice voting: low-visibility candidates have more chances of staying in the race while voters don’t have their votes wasted. But the new system has faced opposition, with some lawmakers questioning the city’s readiness for it and an impending lawsuit to halt the use of ranked-choice voting altogether. 

Anecdotally, some voters have shown disinterest in ranked-choice voting and many still don’t get how ranked-choice voting works. “One of the things we hear is people trying to game the system,” Combopiano shared, citing her organization’s weekly public trainings. “‘Oh, I don’t want this candidate to win. Should I mark them fifth?’ And we’re like — No! If you don’t want them to win, don’t put them on the ballot.”

Despite challenges, a survey from the special elections shows a promising response from voters toward ranked-choice voting. Of 635 surveyed voters who participated in that election, over 95 percent found filling out the ranked-choice voting ballot to be either very or somewhat simple. About 61 percent chose to rank multiple candidates on their ballots with 31 percent ranking up to the maximum five candidates. Joseph III views arguments around ranked-choice voting as a normal response to a new tool. For him, it reflects a lack of understanding about ranked-choice voting more than voter apathy. 

“I think once they get past the confusion, it really opens up the scope,” he said, “because we all know there’s no one perfect candidate for any office.”    ❖

Note: Early voting runs from June 12 to June 20.