Amy Solomon

After turbulent Spring, here’s New York’s new landscape

Although New York State’s political waters are never calm, three major political events since the beginning of April have left things downright turbulent in Albany.

Namely, the entrance of Cynthia Nixon into the gubernatorial race, the dissolution of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), and the resignation of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. All three developments have had different political consequences, which the Dentons New York Public Policy Team has briefly summarized below.

Cynthia Nixon’s announcement of her gubernatorial candidacy seemed to take the Governor by surprise, although many in the Albany political world expected that a challenge would eventually emerge from the political left, where Cuomo has some serious vulnerabilities. Nixon’s entrance into the race has quickly pulled the Governor’s policies to the political left, in a clear effort to appease the liberal flank of the Democratic Party. In an interesting twist, the Working Families Party, which has historically been the de facto political organization of the left wing of the Democratic Party, endorsed Nixon for Governor. While unlikely to defeat the Governor, if she stays in the race on the WFP line beyond the democratic primary she could prove to be a drag on Cuomo’s reelection efforts.

In early-April, the Independent Democratic Conference, the 8-member conference of breakaway democrats who had worked in a coalition with the Republican majority conference since 2012, announced their decision to dissolve and return to the mainline democratic conference in the Senate. Senator Jeff Klein, the IDC leader, has since become the deputy minority leader under Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins. The reunification of the two democratic conferences removes a major barrier in the democrats’ effort to take the majority in the Senate after decades of Republican control. Governor Cuomo’s newfound enthusiasm and interest in supporting the Senate Democrats, combined with democratic reunification, the expected “blue wave” in November and a number of senate republican retirements, has many in Albany wondering whether 2018 is the year that Democrats will take the majority in the state senate.

Finally, in early-May, the New Yorker published a report alleging that New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman had physically abused at least four women during his tenure as Attorney General. These shocking revelations forced Schneiderman to step-down as Attorney General within just hours of publication and sent shock waves through the New York political world. Within days, elected Democrats began jockeying for position to succeed Schneiderman. Ultimately, a joint session of the legislature nominated Barbara Underwood, the state Solicitor General and acting Attorney General to finish Schneiderman’s term, leaving the slate clean for voters to decide each party’s candidate in the September primaries. New York Democrats coalesced around New York City Public Advocate Letitia (Tish) James at their convention last week, however others have expressed interest in primarying her including former Cuomo staffer Leecia Eve, former Gubernatorial and Congressional Candidate Zephyr Teachout, as well as former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara — who is being urged to by some to run.

On the Republican side, the state convention process in mid-May nominated a slate of statewide candidates. Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro received unanimous support from his party as the gubernatorial candidate to take on Cuomo. Republican leadership has high hopes for the 42-year old candidate, who is seen as a moderate Republican with a track record of success in traditionally blue areas of the state. Julie Killian, who just lost in an expensive special election for state Senate in Westchester, was chosen as Molinaro’s Lieutenant Governor running mate. Republicans also picked Manhattan attorney Keith Wofford as their candidate for Attorney General, becoming the first black Republican to receive his party’s nod for the position, and Jonathan Trichter, a former Democratic operative who recently switched his party enrollment, as their Comptroller candidate to take on Tom DiNapoli.

NY lawmakers miss budget deadline

New York State’s April 1 budget deadline came and went over the weekend without resolution of outstanding policy issues tied to the massive spending blueprint.

Legislative leadership and Governor Andrew Cuomo have been locked in intense negotiations over the past week-and-a-half as they seek to resolve a handful of issues, first and foremost the question of raising the age of criminal responsibility in the state from 16 to 18. Other negotiation hang-ups include extending the 421-a property tax abatement, expanding ride-hailing outside of New York City, and increasing public and charter school funding.

On Monday, April 3, the state Assembly and Senate passed budget extender legislation to fund the operation of the state government through May 31, thereby avoiding a government shutdown that, by most accounts, would have taken place on April 4. The extender legislation, unlike the full state budget, is largely devoid of the policy issues that have impeded negotiations, but does include proposals to curb drug prices and provide funding for direct care workers, and also includes a number of the Governor’s large-scale economic development projects and $2.5 billion for water infrastructure improvements.

This year’s budget marks the first significantly late budget of the Democratic governor’s tenure. Late Friday evening, the Governor issued an official statement granting the state Legislature a “grace period” over the April 1 weekend to work towards a deal on outstanding issues. The Governor’s statement cited the “extraordinary times in our state and country” as reason for the reprieve, but he warned that if no agreement was reached by the end of the weekend, he would be issuing emergency extender legislation.

Negotiations between the governor, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R), Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) Leader Jeffrey Klein (D), and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D) are expected to continue with the same intensity over the next few days, as the various conferences work to bridge disagreements on outstanding policy issues. Insiders and observers point to the end of the April 3 week as an unofficial “deadline” to pass a “full” budget—citing the scheduled two-week April legislative break which accommodates the Passover and Easter holidays.

If no budget agreement is reached by the close of this week, negotiations could potentially carry into the end of the month, or even into May.

Meet New York’s four congressional freshman

New Yorkers elected last month an evenly partisan quartet of congressional freshman to represent them in the 115th Congress. While the new members–two downstate Democrats, another two upstate Republicans–are new to Washington, they’ve long been fixtures of the state’s political landscape.

Here, the New York public policy team lifts the hood and kicks the tires on incoming freshman delegation.


3rd Congressional District – Tom Suozzi (Democrat)

Congressman Tom Suozzi has a long career in public service. First elected to public office as the mayor of the town of Glen Cove in Nassau County where he served for four terms, he was most recently the Nassau County Executive from 2002 to 2009. Credited for bringing Nassau County’s finances back from the bringing of bankruptcy during his two terms in office, Suozzi sought the Democratic nomination for Governor of New York in 2006, ultimately losing to Eliot Spitzer in the primary. Three years later, Suozzi lost his reelection campaign to then Nassau County Legislator Ed Mangano in 2009 by less than 300 votes. In 2013, Suozzi attempted to regain the County Executive office but lost in a rematch to County Executive Mangano. New York’s 3rd Congressional District, previously served by former DCCC Chairman Steve Israel, encompasses the North Shore of Long Island from the northeast edge of Queens in New York City, across northern Nassau County into northwestern portions of Suffolk County on Long Island.

13th Congressional District – Adriano Espaillat (Democrat)

Congressman Adriano Espaillat replaces longtime Democratic Congressman Charlie Rangel in the Harlem-based 13th Congressional District and now becomes the first Dominican-American member of Congress. Espaillat has served in the New York State Senate since 2011, and previously served in the State Assembly for 13 years, from 1997 to 2010. Espaillat ran against Congressman Rangel in the 2012 and 2014 Democratic primaries, narrowly losing to Rangel in both primary elections. Demographic shifts over the course of the last two decades in the traditionally African-American neighborhoods of Harlem and Washington Heights – most notably an influx of Hispanic and Latino residents – played a critical role in buoying Congressman Espaillat’s primary challenges. In 2014, Congressman Rangel announced he would retire from Congress at the end of his two-year term, resulting in a Democratic primary battle between Espaillat and long-serving Harlem Assemblyman Keith Wright, along with a handful of less established candidates. Espaillat won the 2016 Democratic primary with 36 percent of the vote. The 13th Congressional District includes all of Harlem and Washington Heights in Manhattan, and a small portion of the Bronx.

19th Congressional District – John Faso (Republican)

Congressman Chris Gibson’s announcement in 2015 to adhere to a self-imposed term limit and not run for reelection in the 19th Congressional District immediately set the stage for a high stakes political battle in the Hudson Valley for the competitive House district. Congressman Gibson, considered one of the most moderate House Republicans and widely popular in the District, would have likely sailed to an easy reelection in 2016. John Faso, a former member of the State Assembly from 1987 to 2002, where he also served as Assembly Minority Leader, was the leading establishment favorite for the Republican nomination from early on. Faso faced off against Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham Law School Professor who, as a Democratic candidate for governor in 2014, had a surprisingly strong showing against incumbent Andrew Cuomo in the 2014 Democratic primary. Congressman Faso handily beat Teachout in the general election, winning by 9 percentage points. Faso, who is a former attorney and lobbyist at Manatt Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP, will serve the sprawling 19th Congressional District which spans the Hudson Valley from the Southern Catskills, west to Oneonta and through the outskirts of the Capital District and east to the Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont borders with New York. Congressman Faso is expected to follow closely in outgoing Congressman Gibson’s footsteps as a more moderate member of the Republican House delegation.

22nd Congressional District – Claudia Tenney (Republican)

Congresswoman Claudia Tenney arrives in Washington after a relatively short career in the State Assembly, where she has served since 2011. Tenney replaces outgoing Republican Congressman Richard Hanna, who she ran against unsuccessfully in the Republican primary in 2014. Congressman Hanna announced his retirement just weeks after Congresswoman Tenney’s announcement to run again for the 22nd district in November of 2015. Tenney is expected to bring a decidedly more conservative message to Washington than Congressman Hanna, who was the first House Republican to cross party lines to endorse Hillary Clinton in the presidential race. During the campaign, Tenney was endorsed by conservative groups and media personalities, including radio talk show host Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity. The NRCC had also initially lined up behind Congresswoman Tenney’s Republican primary opponents before ultimately supporting her in the general election.

Congressman Crowley Elected as House Democratic Caucus Chairman

Congressman Joe Crowley, who has represented Queens and parts of the Bronx in the House since 1999, was unanimously elected by House Democrats to serve as the Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus for the 115th Congress. Congressman Crowley will be succeeding Xavier Becerra, who was appointed attorney general of California earlier this month by Governor Jerry Brown. Crowley is now the fourth-ranking member in House Democratic leadership.

Governor, legislative Leaders continue to discuss special session

The culmination of a handful of recent developments has led to high-level discussions between legislative leaders and Governor Andrew Cuomo about a possible special legislative session before the end of the year.

The major catalyst for the discussions was the decision by the recently created State Commission on Legislative, Judicial and Executive Compensation (the “Pay Commission”) to reject a proposed salary increase for lawmakers, which would have provided lawmakers their first pay increase since 1999. The gubernatorial commission appointees abstained from voting on the proposed salary increase, instead citing the need for significant structural reforms, like the creation of a full-time legislature.

Voting for pay raises can be politically tricky for legislators. Moreover, while New York law permits the state legislature to vote for its own pay raise, that pay raise cannot take effect until a successive legislative session. Given this, the State Legislature, together with the governor, passed a law in 2015 that created the Pay Commission. Under the law, if the Pay Commission had recommended a raise at their final meeting in November, it would have taken effect automatically on January 1, 2017, thus eliminating the need for the legislature to vote themselves a raise. The Pay Commission ceases to exist on December 31, 2017. By rejecting the pay raise, however, the Pay Commission put the raise issue back to the legislature. Many members of the legislature have been seeking a pay raise and were depending upon the Commission’s approval of such a raise.

The Governor has subsequently defended his appointees’ decision and urged lawmakers to return to Albany to deal with outstanding issues – in particular, ethics reform, a housing subsidy, and the finalization of an agreement to release $2 billion in affordable housing funds. The special session would also provide lawmakers the opportunity to re-authorize the commission, whose appointees have stated that they would approve a modest increase in the context of a special legislative session, despite their previous rejection the proposal.

Legislative leaders, in particular Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, have been less than receptive to the governor’s tactics. In a strange series of events last week, Speaker Heastie took to Twitter to flatly reject statements from the Governor’s office regarding special session negotiations, stating “[t]here is no truth to the article claiming we are discussing term limits or constitutional amendments in exchange for a pay raise.” The Assembly Democratic conference held a lengthy meeting in Albany on Monday, December 5 to discuss the developments and proposals surrounding the special session. Speaker Heastie reiterated after the meeting that he was unsure whether a special would take place, and also rejected the idea of the legislature passing a pay hike on their own, and potentially overriding any veto from the governor.

We expect closed-door talks to continue between legislative leaders and the governor, and as is often the case in Albany, agreements can coalesce quickly. The New York public policy team will be providing updates as they develop.

New York State Senate Special Election Update

It appears that Democratic candidate Assemblyman Todd Kaminsky finished ahead in a very tight race for the Long Island seat vacated by convicted former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos in Tuesday’s special election.

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