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.