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How One State Senator’s Navy Assignment Could Doom City’s Speed Cameras

Albany is a funky, opaque place — seemingly divorced from all time and space. The state capital, where the legislature in all its corrupt glory resides, has always been emblematic of a certain New York dysfunction. Good ideas go there to die. Lobbyists go there to get rich.

But something unusual, even by Albany standards, has been happening in recent days. The state senate is literally deadlocked. There are the same number of senators present in the Republican and Democratic conferences.

This is especially odd because there are an odd, not even, number of elected state senators. Sixty-three, to be exact.

The cause of the gridlock, on one hand, is simple: One Republican who is not seeking re-election, Tom Croci of Long Island, resumed active service with the Navy Reserves and left Albany before the end of the legislative session. With Croci absent, the Republicans no longer enjoyed their one-vote majority to pass legislation. At the same time, Senate Democrats still can’t force forward their progressive priorities, though they have tried.

The resulting gridlock isn’t just an inside-baseball concern. It has serious consequences for New York City, which has been a prisoner of Albany since at least the 1970s fiscal crisis.

The legislature has remarkable say over what does and doesn’t happen in the five boroughs. For example, speed cameras, which impose small fines on vehicles that break the 25 mph city speed limit, were installed outside certain school zones in 2014 with the approval of the state legislature. The speed camera program is currently set to expire in July, and by law, City Hall and the City Council cannot expand or even renew the speed camera program without Albany’s approval.

There are currently 140 schools in the speed camera program. All could lose their cameras, which have been proven to deter speeding automobiles, if the Senate doesn’t act before the legislature adjourns today.

Theoretically, a single senator could flip to the opposing caucus to make a majority, but that could come with its own strings attached. State Senator Simcha Felder, a conservative Brooklyn Democrat who caucuses with the Republicans, and who chairs the committee that needs to approve the speed camera bill for a vote, has said he won’t vote for a renewal of the program without the Senate acting on his pet issue — adding armed guards and new safety technology at schools. Democrats, understandably, are balking at the cost and the meaning for public school culture if more police with weapons enter the hallways.

Other pending legislative items, including scrapping the specialized high school test, legalizing sports betting, ending cash bail, and legalizing marijuana, are highly unlikely to be taken up in the 2018 session. Once lawmakers adjourn, they won’t be back in Albany until January, barring a special session.

This means that another year will have passed with little in the way of significant legislation coming out of Albany. New York’s voting and campaign finance laws will remain among the worst in the country until at least 2019. Universal healthcare, the DREAM Act, and statewide civil rights protections for the LGBTQ community will similarly not become a reality in New York before next year.

It’s important to understand the history here. This latest example of Albany dysfunction — a peculiarly gridlocked Senate — is neither an accident nor the fault of one state senator who decided to leave Albany early. Democrats could have built a majority a long time ago, had the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference unified with the main party years ago instead of forming a power-sharing alliance with Republicans — something Gov. Andrew Cuomo didn’t see fit to put an end to until earlier this year.

Republicans have survived in power not only with the IDC’s help, but also with the help of gerrymandered districts that, in 2012, were redrawn with Cuomo’s blessing. The oft-maligned Felder presides over a Brooklyn district that was engineered to elect a Republican or conservative Democrat, and which favored Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in 2016.

There are many like it across New York State.

We can never know what Democratic unification years ago would have looked like, but one conference fundraising together with a powerful governor’s help could have stood up to a Republican conference backed to the hilt with cash from the real estate industry, Wall Street, and the Mercers.

Even now, with excitement for progressive politics growing every day, Republicans enter the midterm with a healthy fundraising advantage. Senate Republicans have $1.5 million in their campaign account, according to a recent state filing, compared to the Democrats’ less than $700,000.

The dynamics for next year are unclear. We could be entering a new era of unified Democratic control or yet another year of divided government. The speed camera program could expand to every single school zone or die altogether.

Perhaps we may get the most unlikely outcome at all, or at least the one that seems farfetched from where we sit: a healthy, functional state government in New York.

We can always dream.

Ross Barkan is a frequent Village Voice contributor who is running for State Senate in Brooklyn as a Democrat.

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History Shows We Should Be Wary of Cuomo’s IDC Deal

Like Wonderland, Albany is a place where nothing is as it seems. Deals are agreed upon, only to evaporate in the night. Budgets are not merely budgets. Politicians register with one party and empower the other.

This week, there was momentous news out of Albany. Shortly after the Republican-controlled state senate and Democratic-controlled assembly passed a $168 billion budget devoid of key progressive priorities, it was revealed that Governor Andrew Cuomo was driving a deal to dissolve the Independent Democratic Conference — a group of eight breakaway Democrats who form a power-sharing alliance with Republicans in the senate — and create a unified Democratic majority.

Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the current minority leader, would become the sole Democratic majority leader. Jeff Klein, the IDC leader and co-leader of the senate, would become her deputy.

No more divided senate. No more strange coalitions that stymie numerous Democratic-friendly bills. Cynthia Nixon, perhaps the most formidable opponent Cuomo has ever faced, was hammering the governor on his unwillingness to pressure the IDC to return to the fold, apparently motivating him to act fast.

Though victory has been proclaimed, history shows that empowering a Democratic majority in the state legislature is never a simple matter. In fact, it’s unnecessarily labyrinthine.

To recap: Since the end of 2012, the state senate in deep blue New York has been controlled by Republicans with the help of the IDC, and the implicit blessing of Cuomo. Sitting in the majority is a very powerful thing: You can control, in an absolute sense, the flow of legislation while earning extra cash from chairing committees. Your staff budgets can be immense. All the special interest money comes to you.

The reunification of the state senate can have profound and overwhelmingly positive consequences for anyone living in New York City. Democrats in the senate are largely from the city and care more about our concerns, like fixing the subways and buses, strengthening tenant protections, and increasing funding for education in the five boroughs. The Republican conference, obviously conservative, is overwhelmingly based elsewhere.

Real estate interests driving gentrification and hoping to eviscerate the rent-regulation and rent-stabilization programs (up for renewal on a regular basis in Albany) are major funders of the senate Republicans. So too are charter schools, hedge funders, and some of the national right-wing donors who champion austerity and privatization agendas.

The Republicans have consistently opposed any and all reforms to New York’s notorious lax campaign finance laws and arcane voting laws, the latter of which has given the state one of the more dismal voter turnout rates in America. Senate Republicans have also blocked codifying Roe v. Wade in the state constitution to gird against Supreme Court overreach, and passing statewide civil rights protections for LGBTQ New Yorkers. Even relatively simple, noncontroversial reforms like early voting were ultimately dropped because senate Republicans had no interest in supporting them. Others, like the Dream Act and the New York Health Act, weren’t even entertained.

So yes, any Democrat, progressive, good government advocate, or just general believer in a fairer, more just system should welcome this deal.

If only it were that simple.

Assuming the Democrats win both special elections on April 24, they will need the cooperation of Simcha Felder, a conservative Democrat, to form a numerical majority. Even then, it will be slim and unstable, unlikely to deliver on any progressive priorities before the end of the legislative session in June.

This was why it was so egregious that Cuomo delayed calling special elections for two vacant state senate seats until later this month, ensuring Stewart-Cousins could not be in the room to negotiate a massive state budget that also, because of the quirks of Albany, carries with it the best opportunity to enact serious policy changes.

It’s important to use history as a guide here. In 2014, there was a similar handshake agreement to reunify the Democrats and IDC. The Working Families Party, a hybrid of labor unions and left-leaning activists, agreed to stop supporting primary challenges against the IDC, then a conference of a mere four. But after Republicans won a series of swing elections in what turned out to be a GOP wave year nationally, reunification never occurred. Republicans remained in the majority with Cuomo’s blessing.

It’s unclear what enforcement mechanism exists to keep this latest deal from falling apart, to keep Cuomo to his word, and to keep the IDC from reneging on the agreement when it decides not having its own conference isn’t fun anymore. What happens when Klein starts to long for his lavish staff budget and old perks? What happens when the Republicans tempt him for one more round?

This is why the IDC primary challenges must continue. Full disclosure: I am running for state senate against a Republican. The IDC has only remained influential because the Republican conference is large and unified. A sustainable reunification will only happen when the Republican and IDC conferences are weakened, allowing the mainline Democrats, who have have always been loyal, leverage to govern.

As always, we must follow the money. Cuomo and the IDC each control vast war chests of campaign cash. Neither has ever spent money to help senate Democrats defeat senate Republicans. Will that change in 2018?

Too many questions remain. Always remember: Nothing is ever as it seems in Albany.

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Here Are All the Reforms the Cuomo Budget Punts On

In Albany, a budget is not simply a budget. It is a vast matrix, a behemoth stew, the mashup of unfathomable sums of money ($168 billion this year) and specific, often unrelated policies. Horses are not merely traded; they are herded and hidden and sometimes euthanized on a whim.

For progressives, the negotiation of a state budget is always dispiriting. This year has been no exception. As in previous years, the four men in the room — the governor, the Republican majority leader, the leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, and the Democratic assembly speaker — assembled to cut a deal, locking out the female leader of the senate Democrats. Three of these men (as Zephyr Teachout pointed out recently) are unabashedly beholden to real estate and hedge fund interests. And transparency is always an afterthought, with voting occurring mere hours after a budget is produced, leaving legislators no time to read anything.

With the fiscal year set to begin on April 1, the contours of the new budget are taking shape. Republicans, once more, succeeded in killing the priorities of the left.

Typically indifferent to New York’s dismal turnout and retrograde voter laws, Cuomo earlier this year proposed legalizing early voting in this budget. In most states, this is not controversial — voters get days before the actual election to cast votes if they want. But in this new budget, there is no early voting. Why? Republicans didn’t want it.

Phasing out cash bail like New Jersey has done? Nope. Republicans like the bail bond industry.

Passing the Dream Act to give undocumented immigrants tuition assistance in the age of Trump? Republicans said no.

Passing the Child Victims Act so victims of child sex abuse can have more time to bring lawsuits against the people and institutions who enabled or covered up their abuse? Republicans said no.

Codifying Roe v. Wade in the state constitution to guard against potential overreaches of the Neil Gorsuch Supreme Court? Republicans said no.

Putting civil rights protections for the LGBTQ community into statewide law? Republicans said no.

Funding for needy public schools to comply with a decade-old lawsuit? Republicans said no.

Closing a loophole that allows millionaires and billionaires to create unlimited LLCs to circumvent donation limits? What do you think?

Going into 2018, there was a chance that Democrats representing the interests of our city could exert far more influence on the budget process. In the state senate, there are more registered Democrats than Republicans, but the GOP holds a one-vote majority thanks to Simcha Felder, a conservative Brooklyn Democrat who caucuses with the GOP.

While the Republicans can technically run the senate without the IDC’s help, the leader of the breakaway conference, Jeff Klein, remains a “co-leader” of the senate, a title that is Republicans’ acknowledgement that their hold on power, one way or another, will depend on cooperation with Klein.

At the end of last year, two senate seats became vacant after Democrats won other offices. Felder last year stated that he would return to the Democratic fold if the IDC did first — he has said openly he only wants to serve in the majority to grab more funding for his district.

This set up a litmus test for how much Cuomo, a governor who has enabled the IDC and largely allowed the Republicans to keep power, really wanted a Democratic senate. The governor has sole discretion to call special elections — the sooner he acts, the sooner seats are filled.

Many progressives, rightfully, wanted elections called immediately. Had Cuomo acted on January 1, a potential Democratic majority could have been in place by this month, which is by far Albany’s most pivotal.

Instead, Cuomo decided the two special elections would be held on April 24. The 2018 budget was sacrificed for a nebulous reunification deal between the IDC and senate Democrats. Progressives within the IDC districts don’t believe in dropping their guard — seven of the eight IDC members are facing fierce primary challenges.

For any real change in Albany, we will have to wait at least another year. And that’s depending on the outcome of the primary challenges, how many Republicans lose, and what state Cuomo is in — or if he’s there at all — in January 2019.

If the New York State Democratic Party, which is entirely controlled by Cuomo, begins to spend against state senate Republicans, not just House Republicans who have enraged Cuomo, it may just mean the governor is serious about building a strong, progressive Democratic majority. Though he’s had eight years to do this, and here we are.

But for now, this year’s budget is a dud. Blame the senate Republicans, blame the governor, and blame everyone who tolerates the status quo. New York deserves better.

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Candidates Lining Up to Challenge IDC Turncoats in 2018

Even as political observers predict a “blue wave” of Democratic victories in 2018 based on this year’s results and President Trump’s low approval ratings, New York political activists are gearing up to try to make an impact on state races next year. While Governor Andrew Cuomo is promising to lead the charge against the state’s Republican members of the House, newly energized progressive activists are making a concerted effort to bring down the Independent Democratic Conference, the breakaway group of eight Democratic state senators who in recent years have collaborated with Republicans to give the GOP control of the state senate despite the Democrats’ 32-31 numerical advantage.

While the IDC members have pointed to their progressive achievements — like the rise in New York’s minimum wage and a partial reform of the state’s criminal culpability age — which they say are due to having a seat at the table because of their power-sharing agreement, they are widely blamed for failure or inaction on progressive legislation like the DREAM Act, the New York Health Act, and the Reproductive Health Act, which are unable to make it out of Republican-controlled committees.

Earlier this month, it looked like the fight to break the IDC would get sidelined thanks to a reconciliation deal brokered by allies of Cuomo that would have brought the IDC into an alliance with the mainline Democratic conference, in exchange for the larger Democratic apparatus agreeing to not officially support any primary challenges against IDC members. That deal, though, is contingent on a number of factors like the Democrats winning a pair of special elections in 2018. And in any case, potential primary challengers say that while they don’t have great confidence in the deal holding, losing official party backing wouldn’t stop them from trying to unseat IDC members.

One potential IDC challenger sounds like someone getting ready to run for office. Jessica Ramos, a former press flack for Mayor Bill de Blasio, left her position at City Hall last month, though she wouldn’t confirm what exactly she had planned next. But in a conversation with the Voice, Ramos (who’s filed paperwork to run) gave every indication that she will officially announce a primary campaign against Queens senator Jose Peralta early next year.

Ramos says that while Peralta’s IDC defection earlier this year was part of her inspiration to run against him, she also feels like she can be a better voice for Queens’s District 13, which primarily covers East Elmhurst, Corona, and Jackson Heights. “Aside from joining the IDC, [Jose Peralta] has a poor and lazy legislative record,” Ramos says, dismissing the nine Peralta-sponsored bills that have passed the legislature in the past seven years as having borne little fruit for the district. Most glaringly, he has not been able to get the DREAM Act through the chamber as either a mainline Democrat or an IDC member.

As another senator aligned with the mainline Democratic conference, Ramos hopes to work toward an end to the Urstadt Law (which prevents New York City from instituting its own rent stabilization laws) and reform for the way major capital improvements are calculated in increasingly imperiled rent-stabilized apartments. (The IDC has been a favorite recipient of real estate money.) While running against an incumbent with a history in the area dating back to a stint in the state assembly from 2002 to 2010 could be daunting, Peralta was kicked out of a local Democratic club for his defection to the IDC and has had to face down (and duck) constituents who wanted to confront him on the move.

Even with the possible reconciliation deal hanging over her candidacy, Ramos seems unfazed. “We’ve seen this play out before,” Ramos tells the Voice, referring to an aborted 2014 attempt at a compromise that broke down when IDC founder Jeff Klein chose to keep his breakaway group in the GOP corner. And unlike in 2014, Ramos can now count on an angry base of voters who have already vociferously rejected the latest deal and pledged to support candidates who primary IDC members.

On the other hand, Ramos is looking at a three-way race at the moment, with East Elmhurst seventeen-year-old (and Crain’s 20 under 20 honoree) Tahseen Chowdhury having already announced his intention to run against Peralta earlier this year.

As it happens, a three-way primary race is what allowed another IDC member, Marisol Alcantara, to get into office in 2016. This time around, the state senator who the Voice’s own Ross Barkan described as “the most vulnerable fence-sitting Democrat in Albany” looks to be facing a coordinated attack from both men she defeated last year: Former city councilmember Robert Jackson announced earlier this year that he would run again for the seat, which stretches from Chelsea to Inwood, while the third man in that race, Micah Lasher, is on record as supporting Jackson in 2018. Jackson tells the Voice he would focus on fighting for the billions of dollars owed to New York City schools under the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit against the state, which Jackson was an original plaintiff in.

Still, Jackson faces an uphill battle: While the entire New York Democratic congressional delegation signed a letter asking the IDC to return to the mainline Democratic alignment, Alcantara is allied with Representative Adriano Espaillat, who at two different town halls this year defended Alcantara’s alignment with the conference and called her “the most progressive member of the state senate.” Even if the reconciliation deal were to collapse — Jackson calls it “as fragile as [if] you were trying to build a little miniature house out of toothpicks” — it may be choppy waters ahead for the former councilmember if he takes on a favorite of a local power broker.

Local activists with no government experience are jumping in the ring as well in a couple of districts represented by IDC members. In District 20, which stretches from Brownsville to Crown Heights and Prospect–Lefferts Gardens, Prospect–Lefferts local and attorney Zellnor Myrie has announced he’ll be taking on State Senator Jesse Hamilton. At a fundraiser last weekend, Myrie called for the election of Democrats like himself who would “pass the most progressive affordable housing program not just here in New York, but in the entire county,” one that rested on the idea of “100 percent affordable housing.” He also called for a “top-to-bottom reform” of New York’s criminal justice system, which he previously told Gothamist included measures like the end to cash bail and speedy trial reform.

Myrie tells the Voice he sees the reconciliation deal as just another opening to hammer Hamilton. “How can you say you joined the IDC to move the Republican Party to the left and then say you’re coming back to the Democrats?” Myrie asks. “Were you lying then or are you lying now?”

As with Peralta, Hamilton’s district could be ripe for activating disgruntled voters. This year’s primary for the Flatbush/Prospect–Lefferts Garden City Council seat held by Mathieu Eugene saw the incumbent pick up a plurality but not a majority in a four-person race, and his general election opponent on the Reform Party line, Brian Cunningham, was endorsed by the Working Families Party. On the other hand, Hamilton has a friend in Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who handpicked him as his replacement in the state senate and declared his 2014 victory proof of “who the real kingmaker in Brooklyn” was.

In the Bronx, attorney and activist Lewis Kaminski has filed paperwork to run against Klein, the IDC’s leader. Like the other anti-IDC candidates who’ve declared their intent to run, Kaminski thinks his presence in the state senate instead of Klein’s can get bills like the DREAM Act and the Reproductive Health Act to the floor and up for a vote. However, Kamsinki is facing an uphill battle to represent the 34th District as a relative unknown against an experienced political operator with almost $2 million in his campaign war chest and a huge list of local improvements he can point to thanks to more than $11 million in earmarks over the last three years. Klein also won a previous primary challenge in 2014 by 34 points.

Kaminski tells the Voice he thinks he can tap into voter anger about the IDC in an age when the federal government has been captured by plutocrats and progressive grassroots activism is focusing more on the state than the federal level. And while Klein originally said he started the IDC as a way to free himself and other state senators from Albany dysfunction and royal intrigue, Kaminski is now running on a kind of mirror image of that idea.

“We’ve had representation that’s been about Albany dysfunction and backroom dealing for so long,” says Kaminski. “People are looking for someone to go up there and represent their values instead of just cut deals.”

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New York Needs New Blood, Not Cuomo’s Deal With IDC

Everything politics has taught me, and continues to teach me, boils down to power: who wields it and who doesn’t.

I believed this before I ran for office and I believe it more now, especially as I compete for the right to serve in Albany, where politicians’ power struggles affect the lives of millions of people. This is why I reacted with skepticism, as did many other progressives, when Governor Cuomo and his state Democratic Party announced a deal recently to reunite the Independent Democratic Conference and the mainline senate Democrats, who together would form a majority in the state senate.

Both the IDC, which for the last six years has maintained a power-sharing alliance with senate Republicans, and the senate Democrats have tentatively accepted the terms of the deal. Among political insiders, it is considered correct to solemnly affirm this deal because that is the adult thing to do. Do not bicker, do not fight. Everyone must make a sacrifice and compromise — that’s how governing works.

Since I’m no longer a mere spectator of the process, but sunk ever deeper into it, I feel obligated to speak out. The terms of the deal are ultimately self-defeating for senate Democrats, who are still locked in the minority, because they exist with the assumption that the IDC should be allowed to exist, and exist at full strength.

For once, next year’s electoral environment, along with the grassroots energy being generated, will favor Democrats. They will gain everything by picking up their swords, not laying them down.

The terms of this deal were foisted on the Senate from above. Geoff Berman, Cuomo’s handpicked executive director of a state party that he controls top to bottom, announced an ultimatum of sorts last month for the two feuding sides. If the IDC won’t form a majority with the senate Dems, the state party promised to back challengers to the IDC’s members next year. After years of relative silence, it appeared Cuomo’s state party at last had woken up to the egregiousness of the Republican-IDC alliance — an alliance that has ensured we can’t have a statewide single-payer healthcare system, campaign finance reform, the Dream Act, or changes to our antiquated voting laws.

The IDC and Democrats would have to agree to approve who became the deputy leaders of each group, a direct dig at the senate Democratic deputy leader, Michael Gianaris of Queens, who is a mortal enemy of the IDC’s leader and mastermind, Jeff Klein of the Bronx. (The IDC would not allow Gianaris to keep his role.) Since Gianaris accepted this condition — perhaps to Klein’s surprise — I don’t have too much concern about it, though it’s strange to me the IDC can’t just take up the same power-sharing arrangement they currently have with the right-wing Republican Conference: two legislative leaders in control, none deciding the arrangements of the other conference. Why can’t Cuomo command them to do just that?

It only got more confusing and dubious from there. Since there will be two vacant senate seats, both held by Democrats, at the beginning of 2018 — a possibility I warned about in September — special elections will have to be called to fill them. Unlike in city elections, where vacancies automatically trigger nonpartisan special elections, calling a special election for state legislative seats is the sole responsibility of the governor, and one of his most important and overlooked powers.

Special elections must occur seventy to eighty days after they are called, which means if Cuomo calls for elections right after the January 1 vacancies, the Democratic seats would be filled sometime in March. But Berman’s terms — really Cuomo’s, and they should be understood as such — call for special elections in April, after the $150 billion or so state budget is negotiated. It goes without saying that the most significant part of the Albany legislative process is the hammering out of a massive state budget. Since Republicans currently hold a slim one-seat majority, the IDC would control yet another budget negotiating process.  

Progressives are right to decry these terms, especially when these senate seats, likely to be won by Democrats, could be filled sooner. And they are right to be angry about the state party’s other condition: that senate Democrats abandon their primary challenges of IDC members.

The bad news for the many progressive activists who are committed to ousting some or all of the eight-member IDC is that both Congressman Joe Crowley, the chairman of the Queens County Democratic Party and one of the only anti-IDC county leaders, and Hector Figueroa, the president of the powerful union 32BJ SEIU, endorsed the terms of the deal. If they do not invest in these challenges, particularly against the three newest turncoat Democrats in New York City — Marisol Alcantara of Manhattan, Jesse Hamilton of Brooklyn, and Jose Peralta of Queens — the job of beating them in primaries becomes more difficult, though far from impossible.

Losing the nominal backing of the senate Democrats isn’t exactly helpful either, even if they were likely saving most of their limited resources for competitive general elections against Republicans.

The bigger issue, however, is the idea of any withdrawal of institutional support for the primary challengers (in essence, pressuring them to drop out altogether) to satisfy the terms of a nebulous deal. If somehow all the Democrats running against IDC members abandoned their campaigns — and they won’t — there would be nothing stopping the IDC, still eight members strong, from reneging on this “deal” and remaining in power with Republicans.

In fact, this already happened — in 2014, when another IDC-Democratic reconciliation came to nothing after labor unions and Democrats stopped helping two IDC primary challengers, Oliver Koppell and John Liu, who eventually lost their bids. Once the 2014 cycle ended, the IDC renewed its GOP alliance.

For senate Democrats, this kind of deal amounts to negotiating from a place of weakness, not strength, and both Klein and Cuomo know this. Weakening or ending the primary challenges would mean allowing the IDC to remain intact, guaranteeing its existence in perpetuity and ensuring it holds leverage over the senate as long as it wants.

To reduce the IDC’s power — its negotiating position — Democrats must defeat IDC members. Just as importantly, it must become politically untenable for any Democrats to join the IDC in the future, or for another breakaway conference to take its place if it ever dissolves.

How does this happen? Through the threat of primary challenges. Power is wielded through force, through campaigns.

There is no other alternative to building a strong, and progressive, Democratic majority in the senate. Every other option will end in failure.

Luckily, Albany power brokers can do nothing to actually keep these primary challenges from happening. The Democrats running against Peralta, Hamilton, and Alcantara are buttressed by a large number of grassroots activists and organizations rightfully fed up with Democrats who empower Republicans. Since many of these people are also supportive of me, perhaps my view of them is a bit rosy, but I can tell you there are thousands of them and they are willing to lend a good deal of their time (and money) to the cause.

All signs point to a Democratic wave in 2018 — a highly unpopular president, an energized Democratic base, and the history of midterms for the party in power. Given these factors, cutting any kind of deal to allow the IDC to exist as its own conference makes no sense. The Republicans they rely on to stay in power are endangered.

This election cycle could cripple Republican power in New York for good, especially if Democrats retain a majority in 2020 and can finally control the redistricting process for 2022. But Cuomo and his state Democratic Party want senate Democrats to surrender their potential power for short-term crumbs.

Luckily, the people in these IDC districts know better. They know leaving the IDC alone is a mistake. In their passion is logic — that to fight is the only way to win.

Longtime Village Voice political reporter Ross Barkan announced his candidacy for state senate in south Brooklyn’s 22nd district on October 3. Publication of his articles by the Voice does not imply our endorsement of Barkan’s campaign.

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Cuomo Could Throw State Senate to Republicans by Stalling on Special Elections

Of all the extraordinary powers vested in the governor’s office, the ability to unilaterally call special elections is one of the more underrated. With two Democratic seats in the state senate possibly becoming vacant in the next couple of months, Governor Andrew Cuomo will have a momentous decision to make, one that could affect the balance of power in Albany for the upcoming year.

Both senate vacancies would result from senators being elected to other jobs elsewhere. Senator Rubén Díaz Sr. is poised to take a City Council seat in November after winning a Democratic primary a couple of weeks ago. And Senator George Latimer is the Democratic candidate for Westchester County executive, where he is given decent odds of dethroning the Republican incumbent, Rob Astorino.

At stake, as always, is the ever complex senate majority, held together by a coalition of Republicans and the Independent Democratic Conference, registered Democrats who have chosen to empower the GOP for almost five years. Republicans currently hold a one-seat majority, with the assistance of the IDC and one conservative Democrat, Simcha Felder of Brooklyn, who caucuses with the GOP. This alliance has allowed Republicans to water down progressive legislation while outright blocking others, like tuition assistance for undocumented immigrants and a bill that would create a statewide single-payer healthcare system. While claiming to have brought order to the senate in the name of vaguely defined pragmatic progressivism, the IDC has been rewarded with committee chairs, bigger staff budgets, and the ability to negotiate the $150 billion–plus state budget with Cuomo.

If mainline Democrats are down two members for a large part of the legislative session next year, it will be impossible to build a majority with Felder, who has said he is open to rejoining the Democrats if the IDC breaks its power-sharing agreement with the Republicans. Another year of Republican control will be guaranteed.

Much will ride on when the current senators give up their seats. Unlike vacant city offices, which are filled by law through nonpartisan elections open to all candidates, state special elections disallow primaries, letting local party organizations nominate the candidates they prefer. In areas dominated by one party — Republicans are just about extinct in the Bronx — a nomination is tantamount to victory.  

Díaz, a Pentecostal reverend known for his socially conservative views, has said he would like to serve until the end of his senate term in January, saying he doesn’t want to leave his constituents without a state senator, and he’d prefer not to live a few weeks without a paycheck. Latimer is closer to senate Democratic leadership and could potentially leave sooner if it would mean an earlier special election to fill his seat. Either way, all special elections must occur on the same day, so Latimer’s decision would be moot if Díaz doesn’t leave in November.

By state law, a special election must be held between seventy and eighty days after the governor calls for one. Cuomo, however, has full discretion to call special elections, or not to call them at all. He can leave seats vacant for as long as he wants.

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In past administrations, if both senators gave up their seats in January, an election would occur sometime in March, just in time for budget negotiations to be heating up. But Cuomo’s approach to special elections has been wildly inconsistent. Early in his tenure, he readily called them when seats became vacant. In 2014, he outright refused, leaving twelve districts across the state without representation for most of the year.

It was an unprecedented move, which Cuomo explained away as a cost-saving measure — and one that also deprived local political machines of being able to handpick replacement candidates. Since most of the vacancies were in a state assembly dominated by Democrats, the stakes were far lower than they are now.

Bronx assembly member Luis Sepúlveda, the candidate preferred by the party machine to replace Díaz, is a curious character. He broke with party leaders in 2013 to back Bill de Blasio for mayor over the machine’s preferred candidate, Bill Thompson. He has fashioned himself as a progressive, supporting Bernie Sanders for president and speaking at the democratic socialist’s Bronx rally last year.

At the same time, Sepúlveda has also flirted with becoming the IDC’s ninth member. Friendly with Klein, he was backed by the IDC’s campaign arm during a 2014 assembly re-election bid. Since Díaz made it clear early this year that he would run for the City Council, the IDC has quietly viewed Sepúlveda as someone worth grooming.

Though the IDC’s actions have ended up empowering Republicans, certain left-leaning Democrats have been drawn to the breakaway conference because of its proximity to power. Sitting in the majority, even one that is ideologically compromised, opens up the possibility of seeing more of your bills become law.

[related_posts post_id_1=”421408″ /]

But thanks to backlash the IDC has endured from progressive activists and the sudden cold shoulder many Democratic elected officials have shown the breakaway group, Sepúlveda is far less likely to become a member of the IDC now, sources close to the assembly member tell the Voice.

Since joining the IDC last year, Queens state senator Jose Peralta has been the target of nonstop protests in his district. A de Blasio staffer and former district leader, Jessica Ramos, is considering mounting a primary challenge against Peralta next year — backed by a rare coalition of the more centrist (and IDC-hating) Queens County Democratic Party and the liberal Working Families Party.

As an enabler of the Republican majority in the senate — when liberal bills fail to become law under his watch, he can conveniently blame the GOP — Cuomo has done little to help senate Democrats as governor. He has rarely funneled funds from his massive campaign war chest to Democratic candidates and has refused to allow the New York State Democratic Party, which he entirely controls, to aid its candidates.

Not calling special elections — allowing senate Democrats to be short one or two members for an extended period of time — would be expected, given Cuomo’s history.

Yet the age of Trump has riled up progressives, bringing new scrutiny to Cuomo’s backroom machinations and fueling hopes of a primary challenge from his left in next year’s gubernatorial elections. A few years ago, only political insiders cared if Cuomo refused to help his own. Now, activists across the city and state are paying closer attention, in a way they never did before.

Progressives would be wise to watch closely over these next few months. If Cuomo hesitates to call special elections as soon as he is able, he is not serious about helping Democrats capture the senate majority. He is who he always is: a triangulating executive content to pass liberal half-measures, even if a truly shrewd Democratic executive with presidential aspirations would recognize how much of a liability a Republican senate can be.

And if Cuomo does call special elections, pay attention to how he spends his money. Will he assist Democrats in primaries against the IDC? Will he assist Democrats battling Republicans for the majority? For most Democratic governors in America, these are not even questions you have to ask.

For Cuomo, they’re the only questions.

 

 

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Think You Understand The Depths Of Albany’s Dysfunction? Meet The Independence Party

Last summer, a very curious arrangement was struck between the Independent Democratic Conference and the New York State Independence Party.

The Independence Party, one of several prominent third party organizations in New York, created a party committee and allowed State Senator Jeff Klein, the leader of the eight-member IDC, to run it.

Klein is a registered Democrat, as are all members of the IDC. Despite their similar names, the IDC and Independence Party are completely separate entities.

It was the first time a minor party created a party committee to help a specific legislative conference. Suddenly, Klein was in possession of the same weapon the Senate Republicans and Democrats wield: a party housekeeping account with the ability to accept individual donations in excess of $100,000.

That arrangement recently bore fruit when campaign literature was sent out from the new committee boosting individual IDC members. Mailers were sent out in support of Jose Peralta, Marisol Alcantara, Jesse Hamilton and David Carlucci. One typical piece of mail, mailed on behalf of Hamilton in Brooklyn, boasts that “Our State Senator Hamilton and the other members of the Independent Democratic Conference are committed to ACTUALLY enacting a progressive agenda and pushing back on President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant and anti-Democratic agenda, INSTEAD OF JUST TALKING ABOUT.” (The IDC says the Hamilton mailer, as well as all campaign-related materials, was paid for with a committee separate from their housekeeping account.)

There’s plenty of subtext in the caps lock. Because the IDC allied with Republicans in the Senate and once allowed the GOP, even when they lacked the members to form a majority, to control the upper chamber, protests have erupted against them. After years of skirting by with little notice, the IDC is now feeling the wrath of progressive activists and rank-and-file voters demanding the breakaway conference end its alliance with a party that supports Donald Trump.

The IDC’s committee arrangement with the Independence Party tests the limits of New York State law because party housekeeping accounts are not supposed to spend on individual races, something the IDC’s new committee already did in Alcantara’s primary last year. One prominent Democratic election lawyer told the Voice the IDC’s arrangement would be “vulnerable to challenge” in court.

The Independence Party itself, an ideologically bereft power player, adds a dubious wrinkle to the story. Led by Frank MacKay, a former nightclub owner and record producer known for hosting lavish lunches at Oheka Castle on Long Island, the party benefits from thousands of enrollees who have no idea they actually belong to a political organization, registering for the Independence Party under the belief that they are choosing to be independents. (In New York State, the correct way to do this is to mark yourself unaffiliated with any party.)

MacKay has argued the Independence Party is a vehicle for people dissatisfied with the two-party system and a means to break gridlock in Washington. He relentlessly promoted Michael Bloomberg’s phantom presidential bids and endorsed him for all three mayoral campaigns, granting the billionaire an extra ballot line for voters uncomfortable with picking a Republican. In turn, Bloomberg funneled more than $1 million their way.

Much of that money ended up in the pockets of Republican operative John Haggerty, who promised to set up an Election Day voting security operation for Bloomberg. Instead, Haggerty used the money to buy a house in Queens. He eventually went to prison.

As a rule, this is the game the Independence Party plays: you do something for us and we’ll do something for you. MacKay cozies up to whoever is in power, hedging his bets with Republicans and Democrats. Jay Jacobs, the chairman of the Nassau Democratic Party, blasted Governor Andrew Cuomo for taking their endorsement in 2014, calling the party a “political cesspool.”

Jacobs had a right to be furious because MacKay has been particularly friendly with Senate Republicans from Long Island, where the power of their conference is focused. In 2016, every single Long Island Republican scored the endorsement of the Independence Party.

In part, the IDC’s influence in the Senate is contingent on the survival of this suburban bloc uniformly hostile to big city interests. Were enough Democrats ever to win on Long Island, the GOP would be too enfeebled to form a majority with the IDC, forcing Klein to reconcile (or face punishment from) his old Democratic colleagues.

MacKay was an enthusiastic booster of the IDC-GOP alliance, praising the breakaway Democrats for producing “extraordinary bipartisan results” in the Senate.

“The IDC, led by Sen. Jeff Klein, one of New York’s most progressive reformers, offers New Yorkers an important counterbalance to extreme partisanship in New York State,” MacKay said in a statement to the Voice. “Common sense reforms are needed in Albany now more than ever, and the IDC is leading the way to get things done in a truly bi-partisan way.”

A spokeswoman for the IDC, Candice Giove, pointed out Democrats have happily taken the Independence Party’s endorsement before, which is true. Their minority leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, accepted their endorsement last year, as did Neil Breslin of Albany, Tim Kennedy of Buffalo and Martin Dilan of Brooklyn.

“It’s the right of the Independent Democratic Conference, like the Democratic, to have a campaign committee to support and defend its members,” Giove argued. “While the Independence Party supports a bipartisan slate of candidates, it’s disingenuous for divisive Democrats to rant about the IDC’s relationship to the Independence Party when Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins not only runs on the line, but donates hundreds of dollars to the Independence Party.”

The problem for the IDC is that, unlike the Democrats and the Republicans, they are not a political party and don’t have their own ballot line. When voters go to cast their ballots, all the IDC members are listed as Democrats, even though they’ve directly empowered a conservative party that almost all rank-and-file New York Democrats oppose.

And since they are not a party with their own ballot line, they are not necessarily entitled to the housekeeping account that the Independence Party has created for them. Because the State Board of Elections is toothless and our campaign finance law is so porous, the likely outcome will be an IDC operating with impunity.

For Albany, that’s business as usual.

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The Curious State Senator From Queens

Out of all the defectors to the Independent Democratic Conference, none may be more at home than Tony Avella.

Iconoclastic and irascible, the Queens state senator has used his bully pulpit for equally admirable and frustrating ends. He never said he was a boilerplate Democrat, a proud progressive, or someone who plays well with others.

In some ways, the IDC was built just for people like Avella.

As backlash grows against the IDC for empowering a slim Republican majority, Avella is a cautionary tale for all those seeking the fast dissolution of the eight-member breakaway conference. Unlike at least one of his colleagues, throwing him out of office will be a serious challenge.

As a former reporter for a Queens newspaper, I spent a great deal of time covering Avella and talking to the voters in his eastern Queens district, gerrymandered originally for the longtime Republican incumbent Avella was able to defeat. The district snakes through the largely middle class, home-owning neighborhoods of College Point, Bayside, Whitestone, Fresh Meadows, Douglaston, Little Neck and Bellerose. Portions of the strangely-shaped district went hard for Donald Trump.

Having represented an overlapping City Council seat for eight years before his election to the Senate in 2010, Avella has deep ties to the area. He is attentive to constituent concerns and fiercely anti-development, a stance that has won him fans in the most suburban reaches of the district. His pet issues range from the amusing (making sure families keep their pigs) to the more relevant (airplane noise) to the quasi-racist (trying to fine businesses that don’t post English language signage.)

At his best, Avella is a maverick legislator willing to speak uncomfortable truths to power. Never a friend of the Queens Democratic Party, an organization that usually values loyalty and groupthink over merit, Avella has battled against development plans at Willets Point, where immigrant auto shop owners have been evicted for various megamall and stadium schemes.

At his worst, Avella is needlessly antagonistic and too often on the hunt for another office. He ran for mayor in 2009, Queens borough president in 2013, and is running again for mayor on a platform of battling the construction of homeless shelters. He’s also not particularly enthusiastic about protecting undocumented immigrants from Trump’s ICE agents.

A spokesman for Avella did not return requests for comment.

Since Avella has almost no chance of defeating Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2017, he is more than likely to be around in the Senate next year to face a primary challenger. None currently exists but a Democrat is all but guaranteed to emerge: Rep. Joe Crowley, the chairman of the Queens Democratic Party, has real enmity for Avella, and is in the process of hunting for one.

It’s worth remembering that Crowley and the Senate Democrats, for all their flaws, have valid reasons for reviling Avella. When he unseated a Republican who had represented the district for nearly forty years, Frank Padavan, he did it with significant help from a Senate Democratic campaign arm led then by State Senator Jeff Klein, now the leader of the IDC, which formed the following year. The Democratic Senate Campaign Committee spent north of $200,000 to get Avella elected.

But, as the blog State of Politics noted in 2010, the win was also a victory for a Queens state senator-to-be named Mike Gianaris “who worked his heart out on Avella’s campaign and insisted the former councilman (who raised his name recognition with a long-shot run for mayor in 2009) had a shot at unseating Padavan.” Gianaris now has Klein’s old job as DSCC chair and is a top-ranking member of the Senate Democratic Conference.

So Avella’s defection four years later hit Gianaris and Crowley, the only county leader particularly invested in winning a Democratic majority, hard. In 2014, Crowley pushed John Liu, the former city comptroller, to challenge Avella after he joined the IDC. (One of Avella’s first acts as an IDC member was to shower his staffers with raises. State Senator Jeff Klein, the leader of the IDC, also bestowed a committee chairmanship on him.)

Liu ran aggressively and almost won. Queens Democrats were hoping Liu, the first Asian-American elected to citywide office, could capitalize on the district’s demographics: while plurality white, the district is 33 percent Asian.

Liu ran on an explicitly anti-IDC platform, but without Donald Trump as president, there was only so much Democratic primary voters were going to revolt. It didn’t help that a political deal cut in Albany resulted in little help from labor unions.

2018 may different. Protests were already staged outside Avella’s Bayside office. There’s still the question of how much the more moderate district will punish someone like Avella for enabling Republicans; Avella’s defenders will say not much.

But if Liu, in a less favorable political climate, came within striking distance of Avella, an upset next year is not out of the question. (Liu has not been discussed as a candidate yet.) It will come down to, as always, how much voters really care about the crooked physics of Albany politics.

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I Don’t Trust “Real Democrats,” And Neither Should You

With Donald Trump in the White House and ICE agents lurking around New York City courthouses gearing up for body-snatching season, this might be a good moment to reflect on how we got here.

I got here when my pregnant mom rode into this country in the trunk of a car. A Colombian-born social worker who worked with Bolivian miners during a brutal dictatorship, she, like many others, wanted a better life. She came up through Central America until she paid “coyote” smugglers a few thousand dollars in exchange for the American dream. A few months later, she brought me to New York.

The first time I was stopped by a cop I was 12 years old. A few of us got patted down behind a basketball court. No one asked why. It’s part of life when you’re Black or Latino in New York.

As we got older, my friends and I started getting caught with nickel bags of weed. The stakes got higher (pardon the pun). When I was 19, a cop wrote me a $50 summons after I spit in the subway. He kept me there for 20 minutes, making me late for my soul-sucking, minimum wage job at CVS.

For my mom, who went from a professional career to cleaning houses in Manhattan, her constant fear was that immigration agents would kick in the door, Biggie-style. She was looking over her shoulder for ICE while I was looking over my shoulder for the NYPD.

In 1994, the year of that first stop, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton and Mayor Rudy Giuliani rolled out Broken Windows. Vendors, squeegee men and the homeless got hit hardest. Giuliani, a Republican, was helped by an infusion of extra cops thanks to the Safe City Safe Streets program of his Democratic predecessor, David Dinkins. Nationally, a Democratic majority in congress pushed the 1994 Crime Bill to the desk of President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, who signed it into law.

In college, I read about the Broken Windows theory of policing. It made a ton of sense: I was the broken window, and cops were going to keep breaking me forever.

The policy brought cops down on our necks for every transgression or sign of “disorder,” hitting us with arrests and court dates. The ’94 crime bill added thousands of cops and prisons across America as the Clintons talked about “super-predators” and both sides of the aisle cheered.

Republicans and Democrats built the police state.

In 2014, Bill de Blasio, our first Democratic mayor since Dinkins, brought back Bratton and re-embraced Broken Windows. We protested, of course, confronting local politicians, all Democrats.

When Eric Garner was killed by a Staten Island cop, groups started organizing, in part, to end Broken Windows. We crashed Mayor de Blasio’s fundraisers and shut down the City Council in 2016 when they thought it was a good idea to add nearly 1,300 cops to the NYPD. Those extra cops, particularly the new anti-protest Strategic Response Group, now harass protesters who consistently honor the lives of those who’ve been killed by the police.

We’ve been at war with these Democrats for a few years. So when another group of protesters showed up outside a forum on Broken Windows this month to protest a Brooklyn State Senator, Jesse Hamilton, to tell him to get in line with establishment Democrats in Albany, you can imagine how hard my palm hit my face. The protesters, most of whom, though not all, were white, say a breakaway group of Democrats, known as the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), should realign with the party. Hamilton is one of them.

Anti-IDC protesters outside Brooklyn State Senator Jesse Hamilton's meeting <a href="/news/brooklyn-state-senators-broken-windows-meeting-hijacked-by-angry-protesters-we-dont-want-fake-democrats-9688638" target="_blank">in Sunset Park last week</a>.
Anti-IDC protesters outside Brooklyn State Senator Jesse Hamilton’s meeting in Sunset Park last week.

Let me just say that I don’t know Hamilton. Apparently, he’s taken on a position against Broken Windows, maybe to deflect from the criticism being thrown his way. I could be cynical about that, but I was much more annoyed with these protesters.

Everyone wants to be part of “the resistance” in the Trump era. Everyone’s a protester, even the mayor of New York City. The Democratic machine has the most to gain as they rebrand themselves. However, the fact that deportations had already been happening in our oh-so-liberal town under deporter-in-chief Barack Obama gets ignored. Similarly, the risks that constant police contact through Broken Windows imposes on immigrants is only now, under Trump, slowly being acknowledged.

And yet it seems no one wants to come to grips with the Democrats’ role in how we got here. So when this “No-IDC” mosh pit of liberal self-righteousness throws a tantrum because Democrats won’t act like “real” Democrats, I gotta ask: who are the “real” Democrats? De Blasio, the self proclaimed progressive standard-bearer of big city mayors? Hillary Clinton?

Are they Brooklyn Councilmember Carlos Menchaca and Daniel Dromm in Queens? Dromm is leading some of the anti-IDC rallies in Jackson Heights and Menchaca is egging on the protesters in Sunset Park. They seem to be a significant part (dare I say “source”) of the anti-IDC rallies. Has anyone taken these two Democrats to task for voting for the extra cops last year and for supporting the mayor’s developer-friendly “affordable housing” scheme? For acting like, well, establishment sellout Democrats? Did any of the protesters know, or care, when Menchaca gave an award to one of Sunset Park’s most notorious cops?

Perhaps local Democrats are using the IDC drama to deflect from the fact that they have no answers for Broken Windows or that the IDNYC municipal identification program they voted for might actually help the federal government find and deport New Yorkers?

When IDC member and State Senator Jose Peralta, the focus of the rallies in Queens, was clamoring for the city and NYPD to clean up Roosevelt Avenue from the “dangerous characters” (code for Broken Windows enforcement) before he joined the IDC, did anyone care?

But it’s easier to play Democrats vs. Republicans than it is to tackle policing or gentrification. When you get down to it, quality-of-life policing and displacement benefits urban white liberals most of all.

A cop sweeps away that homeless person so that Sara can get from her loft to Starbucks undisturbed. The plainclothes officer will arrest that Black kid dancing on the train because what’s perfectly normal for some of us (b-boy-ing, selling loosies, loud music) is a nuisance to some of our more affluent neighbors. A rowdy Salsa block party in Williamsburg 20 years ago would’ve been perfectly normal. Today, it’s a 911 or 311 call waiting to happen.

Since their protest in Brooklyn, some anti-IDC protesters, perhaps sensing their privilege, have tried to straddle both sides. They say they can be against Broken Windows and also pressure rascally rebellious lawmakers to go back to being loyal Democrats. A Democratically-controlled Albany, they say, could pass the DREAM act or create more “Sanctuary Cities”, which are obviously so effective at protecting us. When Democrats are in power, the argument goes, they can pass bills that help us people of color.

Yeah, tell me how the Democratic party, the graveyard of social movements, will save me. Give me a break. The flavor of the IDC isn’t new. Whether you rail against the IDC or “blue dog” Democrats in Congress, striving for political order is just another example of liberals wanting to play fair.

If well-meaning white people want to help us, start by turning off MSNBC and grabbing a MetroCard to swipe in poor people so that we don’t get busted for fare-evasion, the top Broken Windows arrest. Take action. De Blasio says he can’t afford a subsidized-fare program for the poor, yet he and the council found the money for more cops.

Better yet, let’s have our white allies stage some protests at the ICE processing center on Varick street. Make a human wall. Shut it down. Wiggle those fingers, Occupy-style. Do whatever you want. Just don’t talk to me about “real” Democrats. We’re at war with both parties, the “real” Democrats included. People are being displaced and criminalized all around you. Keep your eyes on what matters.

Josmar Trujillo is an activist and writer based in Spanish Harlem. He organizes with the Coalition to End Broken Windows.

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Brooklyn State Senator’s Broken Windows Meeting Hijacked By Angry Protesters: “We Don’t Want Fake Democrats!”

Angry constituents confronted Brooklyn State Senator Jesse Hamilton on Thursday night at a heated community meeting over Broken Windows policing and its impact on immigrant communities.

The state senator, who joined the Independent Democratic Conference just hours before his November re-election, perhaps cynically steered the long-planned panel discussion hosted by Community Board 7 in Sunset Park away from questions about his IDC defection to the more pressing issue of how the NYPD and Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio are aiding federal authorities in deporting New York City’s immigrants.

Since Donald Trump’s election, furious Democrats have turned their attention to the breakaway IDC, which gives Republicans the power in the state senate and thus stifles progressive legislation like universal healthcare, rent reform, increased transit funding, and the DREAM act. Earlier this month, protesters called the IDC’s Jose Peralta a “traitor” at a raucous town hall meeting in Queens.

“Hamilton, cut the crap, we don’t want fake Democrats,” anti-IDC protesters chanted in the minutes leading up to the meeting. Hamilton, some supporters, and his staff chanted back “Black Lives Matter,” and attempted to portray the anti-IDC crowd as also being anti-immigrant. In fliers, Hamilton had re-christened the IDC as the “Immigrant Defense Coalition.”

Hamilton tried to make his case for why the IDC was the most expedient political choice he could make, and the best for his constituents.

“We’re doing this because we care about immigrants,” Hamilton told the crowd. “We’re doing this to pass the DREAM Act.”

As the number of protesters swelled outside into the hundreds, Hamilton kicked off the community meeting by telling those inside CB 7 that if they wanted to discuss IDC-related issues, they could meet him outside, so the time could be spent on immigration and policing. His staffers sifted through note cards with questions for the panelists, which included city officials, public defenders, and community organizers. “There aren’t many that don’t actually involve the IDC,” a harried staffer told the Voice.

Out in the hallway, Hamilton met with angry constituents as the chants from outside echoed through the building.

“Tell me what legislation I’ve supported that you don’t,” Hamilton asked Stacy Bord, a Sunset Park resident upset with his defection.

“It’s about bringing legislation up for a vote in the first place,” she responded.

Hamilton was hurried back inside the room where the Broken Windows discussion was taking place. But the microphone had been grabbed by anti-IDC protesters, who pressed Hamilton on why he wasn’t willing to respond to their demands for a true town hall meeting about his defection.

“I’m right here, I’m not running scared,” Hamilton told the constituents. “I’m not running scared.”

He added, “I think people are afraid right now, but the IDC is not the boogeyman. If it were to disappear tomorrow, Broken Windows policing would still exist…It’s not about Republican or Democrat, it’s about doing the right thing for our communities right now.”

The crowd outside CB 7 in Sunset Park.
The crowd outside CB 7 in Sunset Park.
The crowd outside CB 7 in Sunset Park.
The crowd outside CB 7 in Sunset Park.

Later, Hamilton dismissed the protesters as gentrifiers who did not represent his true constituency.

“The people outside here protesting about Trump are the same people who won’t send their kids to school with us or live next to a shelter,” he told the Voice. “They’re mad about Trump, but when it comes to diversity in their own backyard, they don’t want it.”

Community organizers who have been working against the NYPD’s use of Broken Windows policing took over the microphone, trying to wind down the anti-IDC discussion by pointing out that Democratic rule doesn’t mean that immigrants will be respected.

“Who is the mayor right now? Bill de Blasio. He’s the one pursuing Broken Windows policing. He’s the one putting us at risk,” said Dennis Flores, an organizer with the community group El Grito de Sunset Park.

“Progressive Democrats in the City Council? They’ve been quiet. They’ve been shut up. They’re falling in line with the mayor. You guys fighting against IDC, you also need to listen to what’s been happening on the front lines with Broken Windows from the people who have been documenting police abuse and chased around by the Democrats. So we can’t play no party favorites here, because the Democrats aren’t doing jack to end Broken Windows policing.”

State Senator Jesse Hamilton is questioned by a constituent.
State Senator Jesse Hamilton is questioned by a constituent.

To that end, the council member whose district includes CB 7, Carlos Menchaca, is aligned with the mayor and has refused to call for an end to Broken Windows policing. Menchaca did not attend the event.

The mayor himself remains committed to Broken Windows policing, which puts undocumented immigrants at immediate risk from federal authorities by criminalizing even the smallest of offenses. While the mayor has worked to reduce arrests citywide, he has refused to disallow the NYPD the discretion to make an arrest while encountering someone while fare-beating or extremely low-level marijuana possession. Over 16,000 New Yorkers were arrested for low-level marijuana possession in 2016, over 85% of whom were people of color. The fingerprints and address of anyone arrested by the NYPD is immediately shared with federal authorities.

Speaking at an event at The Nation on Wednesday, Mayor de Blasio once again could not give a definitive answer about how exactly “broken windows” policing could be putting New York’s immigrants in harm’s way.

“I don’t think there’s a lot of folks in the situation that are ending up with a record that would migrate to the federal government,” de Blasio told the selected audience of supporters and writers, while pressed on the issue by Nation editor Kai Wright. Ultimately, he told Wright, he’d have to look into the matter.

But for the organizers and lawyers back in Sunset Park, Broken Windows policing is something that rises beyond simple party politics. It’s a matter of life and death.

“Broken Windows offenses aren’t trivial things. They lead to very serious consequences,” said Noha Arafa, a public defender in Brooklyn who works with immigrants facing deportation. “We have to press our elected officials who were there before Trump and brought Broken Windows to us in the first place. Broken Windows is a policy that exists only because they’re the ones defending it. Not Trump. There has to be accountability right here at home.”

Senator Hamilton listens to the discussion.
Senator Hamilton listens to the discussion.