It’s the New York State Primary Election Tomorrow: Infrastructure, transit, housing, oh my!
Gather ‘round ye fellow citizens! The New York State primary elections are happening this Thursday, September 13. (Yes, tomorrow!)
Find your voting location and see a sample ballot here.
Since in New York State, statewide offices tend to be held by Democrats (registered dems outnumber Republicans 2-1), this election is pretty much for registered Democrats only to decide which candidates they like the best. Note: New York does not have open primary elections, which means that if you are not a registered Democrat, you cannot vote in Thursday’s election.
There’s a whole lot of excitement going on this election season!
The Governor Race
Most notably, and probably most known, is that two-term Governor Andrew Cuomo is being challenged by activist and actress Cynthia Nixon, a lifelong New Yorker. There has been a lot of drama, including this fiery debate last month. Overall, Nixon has been credited with bringing Cuomo to the left on issues like ending cash bail and legalizing marijuana.
The Lieutenant Governor Race
Likely less known is the Lieutenant Governor’s (LG) race, where incumbent Kathy Hochul, who was elected in 2014 and formerly served in U.S. Congress (NY-26) is running against Jumaane Williams, a NYC Councilperson (District 45, Brooklyn) who started the Council’s Progressive Caucus.
The LG does not have many outlined powers and duties, other than taking over in the case of the Governor’s resignation (or departure to another realm, aka death), runs a tiny office (7 staff people in 2017) and a very small budget of $630,000.
A funny quirk in new York State is that the Governor and LG run on separate tickets — voters choose each office individually, although each candidate names their preferred choice. This very occasionally leads awkward situation where the Governor and LG who win are not each other’s preferred choice.
This makes the LG sort of a wild card position: If the LG and the Governor ran under the same ticket (meaning that the LG who wins was the Governor’s preferred choice), the LG can serve as little more than a fancy ribbon cutting official and cheerleader to the Governor. If the Governor and LG are not ticket mates, the LG can become a counterbalance or check-and-balance to the Governor, applying pressure to get policies passed and decisions made based on the LG’s own campaign platform and agenda.
The latter scenario seems more plausible than usual this year, given that the New York Times endorsed Cuomo for governor and Williams for LG. And Williams has pretty much built his campaign on the premise that he’ll fill this role by acting as ‘the people’s LG,’ a progressive counterweight to some of Cuomo’s centrist tendencies.
The Attorney General Race
In the Attorney General’s (AG) race, there is likewise some interesting heat and no clear frontrunner. After the last elected AG Eric Schneiderman resigned in May 2018 after he was accused of physically abusing at least four of his romantic partners (truly heinous), the field unexpectedly blew wide open.
The role of the AG is basically to serves as the guardian of the legal rights of the citizens of New York, its organizations and its natural resources. The AG is the “People’s Lawyer.” And although the New York State website describes the responsibilities of this position using the pronoun “he,” three of the four candidates for this office are women (have you ever wanted to vote more?!).
Current NYC Public Advocate (and first woman of color to hold citywide office in NYC) Letitia James, who has long positioned herself as a reformer and non-establishment politician, has aligned herself with Cuomo and Hotchul, surprising many and scattering some former supporters.
Rounding out the Nixon and Williams alliance is Zephyr Teachout, who might sound vaguely familiar to you since she ran against Cuomo in 2014. The shared mantra in the Nixon, Williams, Teachout alliance is that they are the only candidates in each of their races to have refused corporate money.
Also on the AG ticket and currently in the lead, according to a recent poll, is Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, who also served as a staff secretary to President Bill Clinton. Maloney is also running for reelection in Congress (double-candidacy a little unusual).
Rounding out the ticket is former NYS Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton administration aide Leecia Eve, who has held a number of positions under Cuomo and is currently a Verizon executive.
Now that we know who’s on the statewide ballot, how does one distinguish one from the other in this crowded field of democrats?
There are countless issues at stake here — and we encourage you to care about every single one of them — but for the purpose of time and sanity, let’s focus on infrastructure, transit, and housing.
The Governor’s race:
- Infrastructure: He has vowed to improve the state’s infrastructure, allotting an $100 billion budget, but has drawn criticism for redirecting funds from the MTA operating budget to add fancy decorative lighting to bridges. He most recently has been getting heat for renaming the Tappen Zee Bridge after his father, former Governor Mario Cuomo, and possibly ordering it to open before it was safe. That being said, he opened the new Kosciuszko Bridge to much fanfare.
- Transit: Him and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio have basically been in a very public feud with for the majority of his second term, centered on deflecting blame and fiscal responsibility for the poor state of the NYC subway. He says the city must pay its fair share for subway repairs, although the MTA is under the jurisdiction of the state. Cuomo has been working on grand plans for the rehabilitation of both LaGuardia Airport and Penn Station, however.
- Housing: His website has no dedicated section about housing issues, and some of his top donors are real estate developers.
- Infrastructure: She has been quick to criticize the poor state of much of NYS’s infrastructure and the condition of public schools. Beyond this, she doesn’t have a directed infrastructure focus as part of her platform.
- Transit: A huge tenet of her platform has been vowing to fix the NYC subway. How she’ll do this exactly is not 100% clear — but it’s the vow that counts?! For now, she is supporting NYC Transit President Andy Byford’s plan.
- Housing: On the campaign trail, she has been quick to stress the need for affordable housing and has vowed to fix the state’s Rent Stabilization Laws so that more New Yorkers are protected from losing their homes.
- Because she was elected as Cuomo’s running mate, her positions echo and support those of the sitting governor. Her campaign website does not have sections or any information specifically about infrastructure, transit, or housing.
- Infrastructure: He is ad advocate for increased funding for infrastructure.
- Transit: He has criticized the lack of action that Cuomo has taken to fix the subway, and vows to do much more.
- Housing: He is Chair of the NYC Council Committee on Housing and Buildings, and has a long legislative and advocacy track record of fighting for tenants’ and homeowners’ rights. He is in favor of strengthening tenant and homeowner protection laws, and has been endorsed by the NYS Tenants PAC.
Attorney General Race
- Infrastructure: Well, she is a Verizon executive and NYS is in the middle of suing the FCC over the repeal of net neutrality so that is a liiiiiiittle awkward. However, she served as NYS Deputy Secretary for Economic Development under Cuomo, putting her in charge of 11 NYS agencies, including those that develop and carry out infrastructure projects. She apparently was pretty good at that job, since later she was appointed by Cuomo to the Board of Commissioners of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The PANYNJ oversees a large portion of the regional infrastructure, including airports and a number of bridges. So, on infrastructure, she probably knows her stuff.
- Transit: PANYNJ plays a huge role in keeping the region running and runs the glamorous PATH system. But despite her strong track record running infrastructure projects (and entire agencies!), she doesn’t discuss transit on her website or seem to have much to say on the topic.
- Housing: She pledges to use her role to combat housing discrimination but it’s not clear how she would do and what she would stand for. Her past experience minimally involved housing.
- Infrastructure: In 2016, she released a report with proposals for improving airport access, urging an increase in the number and frequency of transit options to LaGuardia and JFK. (Amen!) She doesn’t control the purse strings for those kinds of decisions, but it’s the thought that counts (?!).
- Transit: The airport access proposals also fit here. In addition, last year, she took legal action against NYC for having inadequate sidewalk accessibility for disabled individuals. Other than this very important (but controversial — some disability rights advocates disagreed with her approach, fight, she seems to focus little on transit, despite the huge public transit infrastructure problems plaguing NYC.
- Housing: While a NYC Council Member (District 35, Brooklyn), she helped pass the Safe Housing Act, legislation that forced landlords to improve living conditions for tenants in NYC worst buildings. As NYC Public Advocate, she has prioritized working to protect tenants and affordable housing, revamping the Worst Landlords Watchlist, taking legal action on behalf of tenants, introducing NYC legislation to protect tenants, and fighting for rent regulation laws at the State level.
Sean Patrick Maloney
- Infrastructure: In Congress, Maloney serves on the Committee for Transportation and Infrastructure. In March, he advocated against the defunding of the trans-Hudson Gateway Project, a comprehensive project of strategic rail infrastructure upgrades that aim to improve service and create new capacity that will double passenger trains running under the Hudson River. That said, and despite this important advocacy, there is nothing on his campaign website about transit.
- Transit: He doesn’t currently represent NYC or have a say on the MTA, but his commitment to the Gateway Project bodes well. There is nothing on his campaign website about transit.
- Housing: There is nothing on his campaign website about housing and he does not serve on any housing related committees in Congress. But he does have a track record of creating tenant protectant legislation: in April, he drafted legislation (yet to pass) that would require federally subsidized housing tenants to be re-housed in the event of emergencies.
- Infrastructure: Her website and her messaging doesn’t contain much that’s directly about infrastructure, but her anti-corruption platform is perhaps a good sign that she’ll be cracking down on crooked contract bids, which often lead to project delays and cost overruns, and have been a thorn in Cuomo’s side, as his aides seem to sometimes be in on them.
- Transit: Likewise, she doesn’t have a dedicated transit platform, but given her penchant for legal gymnastics, she might be willing to sue the MTA? We can only hope.
- Housing: She is the only AG candidate to not have taken corporate money from real estate interests. Her website says she believes housing is a human right and that she will use her office to protect that right — the most blunt and straightforward take of any candidate. This pledge includes protecting tenants in public or publicly subsidized housing, rent stabilization over-changing by landlords, and prosecuting companies that violate the Fair Housing Act.
In addition to the candidates for statewide office, there are all NYS State Senate and Assembly seats are up for reelection this year, although not all have active primary races.
This is usually because the incumbent legislator is running unopposed on the Democratic ticket. This is common in New York, where State legislators are not term limited. Your local Senator may have been in office longer than you, our your kids have been alive.
In the Senate, most of the active races are in districts where the incumbent democrat was part of the IDC, which until it disbanded in April caucused (voted) with Republican legislators, much to the appall of the Democratic legislators who rely on their votes to pass laws and the constituents, who thought they were electing a true Democrat.
This is a little confusing! What is the IDC?
The Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) is a group of 8 legislators who broke away from the Democrats in 2012, and formed a legislative coalition with Senate Republicans, putting Republicans in control from 2012–2018, until it disbanded in April 2018.
If you live in a district with an active democratic primary chances are you know, since in the majority of these districts, the candidates have been running very visible campaigns.
The majority of the candidates running who are not incumbents are challenges from the left, urging voters to defeat former IDC members and sympathizers and elect candidates that will fight for progressive causes ranging from affordable housing to LGBTQ rights .
Here you’ll find the full list of State Senate races.
Some races to look out for:
In Senate District 11 (Queens): 2013 NYC Mayoral candidate and former NYC Comptroller John Liu, who has had his own share of political problems, is running against IDC member Tony Avella, who has held the office since 2011, previously served in the NYC City Council (as did Liu).
In Senate District 17 (Brooklyn): Blake Morris, running on a platform of “affordable housing, healthcare and hope” is challenging Simcha Felder, who has been re-elected unopposed since he won in 2012, and, despite the disbanding of the IDC in April, has continued to caucus with Republicans.
In Senate District 20 (Brooklyn): Zellnor Myrie, a former legislative director in the NYC City Council is Working Families Party candidate, is running against incumbent, IDC member Jesse Hamilton. Myrie has racked up an impressive list of endorsements.
In State Senate District 23 (Staten Island): Jasmine Robinson, a community activist who faced ballot signature challenges, is challenging IDC member Diane Savino. The two candidates talked to Streetsblog about issues transit and infrastructure related.
In State Senate District 31 (Manhattan): Former NYC Councilmember Robert Jackson, who lost his bid for the District 31 seat in 2016, is running against IDC member Marisol Alcantara, who after winning the 2016 election immediately caucused IDC. This was not a surprise given that she won her seat with the help of fellow IDC member Jeffrey Klein.
In Senate District 34 (The Bronx): 34-year-old Alessandra Biaggi, who grew up in the district, is seeking to defeat IDC member Jeffrey Klein, who has held the seat since 1995 and was accused of sexual misconduct earlier this year.
In the NYS Assembly, which did not have an IDC, there are fewer active races where the outcomes are as high stakes. Here is the full list of NYS Assembly Races.
Some races to look out for:
In Assembly District 30 (Queens): Melissa Sklarz, a transgender rights activist and longtime district resident is seeking to defeat first-termer Brian Barnwell, who has proven himself as an affordable housing advocate in his first term. If elected, Sklarz would be the first transgender NYS Assemblymember.
In Assembly District 33 (Queens): Oster Bryan, a teacher and civic leader, is challenging first-termer Clyde Vanel. Vanel lists improving access to jobs, education and senior services, and improved quality of life as his key issues. Bryan is running primarily “as black folks trying to represent a black community. Too often the Democratic Party has pushed black issues to the back burner.”
In Assembly District 46 (Brooklyn): There is an open seat, vacated by Pamela Harris (D) who was charged with fraud and corruption earlier this year. Here, Dr. Mathylde Frontus and Ethan Lustig-Elgrably are facing off. Frontus is founder of Urban Neighborhood Services and two multi-stakeholder coalitions to reduce community violence — Coney Island Coalition Against Violence (Co-Chair) and the Coney Island Anti-Violence Collaborative, while Lustig-Elgrably is local NYC Councilmember Mark Treyger’s former chief of staff.
In Assembly District 53 (Brooklyn): Humberto Soto is challenging Maritza Davila. who worked for Bushwick Ridgewood Senior Citizens Council (BRSCC) before winning the seat vacated by indisputably corrupt Vito Lopez, in 2013. Lopez also founded the BRSCC. Neither Soto or Davila appear to have a website and there has been minimal press coverage of this race.
In Assembly District 84 (The Bronx): 27-year-old community activist Amanda Septimo, a former top aide to Congressperson Jose Serrano, is challenging Carmen Arroyo, who has held the office for 24 years and was the first Hispanic woman elected to the NYS Assembly. Septimo earned the endorsement of The Bronx Chronicle.
That’s all from us!