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  • Writer's pictureBen Yee

2018 NY Democratic Primary Endorsements

This is an excerpt from my regular, weekly email. You can read the whole thing here.

In case you hadn’t heard, the NY State Primaries are Thursday. Not for Congress - that was in June, but for State Assembly, State Senate, Comptroller, Attorney General and Governor.

Find your polling location:

It is also the election for State Party Committees; so the Democratic and Republican State Committee members who (ostensibly) represent Party voters in Party governance.

These are in no ways small races. Our Country, State and even the political parties, are going through tumult which define the character of our society. Every day, new scandal breaks at every level, making this year’s elections a critical test not just of politicians, but of voters. This Primary will, in many ways, determine who runs one of the most populous and wealthiest State in the country. As with California, what happens here often lays the path for what happens around the nation.

Even though the choices in this Primary as so difficult. I cannot urge you enough to participate and vote. If you still need guidance, here are my thoughts:

Governor: A Bad Experience v. No Experience

I’d like to start this by saying that, when Cynthia Nixon announced her bid as Governor, my first response was to criticize the degradation of our politics and government by the takeover of celebrity.

However, ultimately the argument I made for Zephyr Teachout in 2014 still holds: A potentially bad executive with good positions is better than someone who effectively executes bad positions. This argument, though, rests very strongly on just how bad that executive is. If they’re not a sufficiently negative influence, it doesn’t balance out to put someone untested in office. Zephyr, at least, had decades of experience in constitutional law and studying government. Cynthia Nixon is far off from even that.

I was undecided for some time on this calculation, until a conversation jogged my memory on Andrew Cuomo’s track record. It is this balancing that leads me to my support of Nixon, and not just as a protest vote. While the odds of her winning are really low and the protest vote mentality is warranted, I would be TOTALLY ok with her winning. Many Cuomo supporters believe this means I’m an irrational zealot, but I understand their position. How can I say this?

Normally I wouldn’t go so deep in the weeds on what I dislike in a candidates record. However, in this case, I feel the only plausible rationalization of voting for a celebrity is to demonstrate that the alternative’s experience in office is actually NOT qualifying. I’ve tried to put these in order of importance, but it’s hard:


Andrew Cuomo ran on passing independent redistricting and eliminating gerrymandering. Instead, he got partisan redistricting INTO THE STATE CONSTITUTION and called it “independent redistricting”. The court ultimately forced the BoE to change the language on the ballot because “independent redistricting” was misleading to voters. By the way, the sole “good government” group to endorse Cuomo, Citizen’s Union, also endorsed that amendment.


When Cuomo was first elected, he wanted to balance the budget but had a $5B deficit. A balanced budget is required by law, so he cut countless social programs such as homeless assistance, etc. OK. However, at the SAME TIME, in the middle of Occupy Wallstreet, he fought hard for a Millionaire's Tax Cut he had promised. This would DOUBLE the deficit, leading to a cut of $10B. In the end, after much fighting, he only passed half the tax cut, leading to an additional $3B in deficit and cuts.


He refused to take a stance on hydrofracking for six years, placing a ban on it only after OPEC decided the amount of fracking was bad for their cartel and dropped prices to make it unprofitable. He literally did it the next day.


He stole from the MTA dedicated fund. A bunch. And when people didn't like that, he vetoed the lockbox legislation - that is, a bill to to make it impossible to reappropriate MTA money at will - that came to his desk in response. A watered down “lockbox” eventually passed which requires the Governor inform people when taxes specifically earmarked for the MTA are being redirected.


He didn’t want to budget for education so, along with the redistricting referendum above, he asked voters to approve a $1B bond for school technology and security. Technology is the kind of thing that goes obsolete in a few years. Supplies like that are what a regular education budget is for. Bonding is for infrastructure that shows returns over time. But he held a gun to parents’ heads and said take a loan or get nothing.

If you want another example for education that came out very recently, check out this video.


He has done zilch on rent affordability, not only keeping the current program limping along in a state that loses units every year, but failing to track rent stabilized units; only to allow them to keep their tax cuts when they voluntarily rejoin the program...under the new rents they set at current market prices.


He is potentially corrupt.

He opened an investigation into Albany corruption called the Moreland Commission and shut it down abruptly when it started investigating HIM.

He was under investigation by Preet Bharara, luckily Trump was elected and fired that dude.

His closest aide and friend, Joe Percoco, is in jail for corruption because a lobbyist with ties to the Cuomo administration is also in jail and flipped.


He has run the New York State Democratic Party like a kingdom stifling expression and forcing it to debase itself for his political aspirations. If you haven’t already, you should catch up on #MailerGate and the political power structure it represents.


Attendant to the point above, many believe he has supported the Republicans and IDC in the State Senate to cultivate a bi-partisan, deal-making persona and block legislation he feels is too left-wing. It’s almost impossible to prove, which is why it’s here at the bottom, but you can infer a lot. For singular example, despite being in a pitched battle for control of the State Senate with breakaway IDC “Democrats” (who are elected Democrats which vote with Republicans) for eight years, the State Democratic Party has raised about 1/30 the funds of the Governor yet spends its resources promoting him and not efforts to retake the legislature.

In response, people will say he is the most Progressive Governor in America and did the following:


Passed Marriage Equality

This is true. Since ME failed by one vote in the State Senate the year before; I believe it would have passed sooner rather than later. However, justice cannot come soon enough and Cuomo got it done, I admit that. My contention is he then he took ALL the credit from people who had been fighting for years and expected liberals to support him on that alone for the rest of his life. See list above.


Passed strong gun control measures

Yeah, he's not all bad. Just mostly bad.


Passed a $15 minimum wage and Paid Family Leave

This is true, but is only more revealing of Cuomo's innate amorality. While these are great, he only did this after Bernie Sanders ran for President so he could stand up there with Sanders at the DNC convention, which he did.


Passed a Property Tax Cap

If you live in NYC this is probably meaningless to you but it's big. Unfortunately it also creates serious funding issues, especially for education. Those issues existed before Andrew Cuomo, but they will definitely exist after him given his inaction on comprehensively budgeting for education. Still people needed tax relief and he gave it to them. Education relief is already alluded to in the list above.


Passed universal education

This is NOT true. Everyone I know familiar with the legislation thinks it's BS and, even then, it was a similar political move to $15 minimum wage which, again, I freely admit IS good.


Passed on-time budgets every year in a State notorious for late budgets

His budgets are terrible. They steal from the MTA and ruin important programs. Why do I want those passed at all? Let alone on-time without opposition?


Ultimately Cuomo has been able to pass some good legislation, mostly after 2016 towards the end of his eight years. However, he has been a mainly corrosive force on NY State politics which is constantly undermining the capacity of our State to move forward.

Ok, so what about Nixon's lack of experience?

I don't care. I'd rather have a chimp who, when given a "moral" and "immoral” button hits the "moral" one 70% of the time and let's other people write the policy than Andrew Cuomo.

Additionally, I am hoping that Cynthia Nixon sees her own shortcomings and, as a result, will be a proponent of Home Rule. Why the deuce should Albany run NYC? Or any city? Or most Counties? If she's smart, and I would definitely push her on this, she'll prefer to allow localities to get their way instead of trying to be an imperial Governor like...everyone else.

I am still a little concerned that using a celebrity to beat a powerful incumbent will set a model and encourage celebrity candidates. Unfortunately, as a resident of New York State, I feel I have to deal with what's practically happening here everyday before I vote on theoretical abstractions.

Verdict: Cynthia Nixon (You can disagree with me, we can still be friends)

Lt. Governor: Who?

The Lieutenant Governor is next in line for the Executive Mansion. At the Federal level, a Constitutional Amendment was passed to ensure the Vice President is on the same ticket as the President - wouldn’t it be whacky if the President believed one thing and his/her replacement believed the opposite?

Not so in NY. We elect the Governor and the Lt. Governor independently.

Kathy Hochul is the incumbent Lt. Governor and has served with Cuomo these past 4 years. There’s really nothing to be said about Hochul’s time in office other than she has been Cuomo’s total and complete cheerleader. A former Congresswoman and a potentially bright politician in her own right, Hochul is essentially Andrew Cuomo’s more amiable shadow. She never challenges him, always sings his praises and basically does nothing with the office. Basically the Vice Presidential model.

Jumaane Williams is the opposite. An outspoken activist, Williams was protesting and running the ground game even during his eight years in the NY City Council. He has run on a platform of holding the Governor to account and using the legal powers of of the Lt. Gov to check Cuomo’s claims and policies.

Williams has faced criticism over claims that he’s flip-flopped on LGBT and abortion rights; turning from an opposer to a supporter. This is technically inaccurate. While personally Williams has claimed to have made a shift, politically he never opposed either. He was open about his opposition to both until relatively recently, but believed his personal views should not be imposed on others through the government - and his voting record in the City Council reflects that.

Ultimately, if Cuomo is re-elected, it would be great to have someone elected Statewide who would do more than anything the Governor asks. If Cynthia Nixon is elected, an experienced, progressive legislator who also understands the grassroots game would be an invaluable Lieutenant (Governor).

Verdict: Jumaane Williams

Attorney General: An Embarrassment of Riches

With four candidates in the NY AG’s race and three highly qualified women, NY is truly spoiled for talent. Far be it from me to tell how anyone should vote with such a talented field, but I’m gonna try. Just kidding, I’ll rundown all the candidates for you with some analysis, though.

Letitia “Tish” James: The Politician

The current Public Advocate of NYC, Letitia James is an experienced politician who knows how to get things done. Case in point, when Eric Schneiderman vacated the AG’s seat in disgrace, James quickly outmaneuvered every potential competitor to secure both the Assembly’s backing for the interim position (which she didn’t take) and then the Democratic State Committee endorsement.

She’s brought that same political perspicacity to the advantage of voters, using the PA’s office to sue a bunch of people on behalf of the people and deliver crowd rousing speeches across the boroughs. Tish knows her way around not just the law, but politics. While her newfound closeness to the Governor has rankled some, this combo earned her the endorsement of all the Democratic clubs in AD 66.

Zephyr Teachout: The Academic

Arguably best known for running against Governor Cuomo in 2014, Zephyr Teachout should really be known as one of the foremost crusaders against public corruption. A Professor of Constitutional Law with a specialty in corruption, Teachout likes to say she wrote the book about stopping corruption - which she actually did, and you can buy it.

Teachout has made the great issue of her campaign a willingness to attack corruption wherever she finds it - even in other NY politicians. Indeed, of the reasons NY’s Constitution calls for an independently elected Attorney General, instead of an appointed one, is to give the AG that political leeway. Teachout has been vocal about her independence from the Governor and political establishment, saying that she would even reopen the Moreland Commission (the corruption investigation mentioned in the Governor section which Cuomo shut down). An action Letitia James and Sean Patrick Maloney have declined to take.

Sean Patrick Maloney: The Congressman

An interesting situation - Sean Patrick Maloney si running for AG while he ALSO runs for Congress in the Hudson Valley. This has drawn some ire since, if he wins the AG’s race, he’ll have to leave his Congressional election putting a potential swing district into play before the midterms.

Right now, polls show Maloney in a dead heat with James. While I never trust polls for outcomes, they can certainly show trends, and Maloney’s position has rocketed since the beginning of the race. Many attribute this to the incredible amount of money he’s spent blanketing airwaves, a move which just got him sued by fellow Zephyr Teachout for funnelling hundreds of thousands of dollars from his Federal campaign account to his State account. As mentioned in our last email, if Maloney wins that court case, it could blow NY’s already sclerotic campaign finance laws wide open by allowing unlimited spending in State races by Federal accounts.

Leecia Eve: The Newcomer

Leecia Eve is an impressive candidate, having worked for the government and been a successful corporate attorney. Unfortunately, she’s polling at 1% so I’m not going to go in depth on her campaign.

Verdict: (As promised) Your Choice

Comptroller: One man, one vote

The office of Comptroller, New York’s Chief Financial Officer, is uncontested in the Democratic Primary. While I’m one for contested elections and voter choice, Tom DiNapoli is quite possibly my favorite politician in Albany. I wholeheartedly endorse his re-election.

Sadly, because there’s no contest, you won’t even see his name on your ballot.

Verdict: Tom DiNapoli (and not because he’s the only option)

Civil Court Judge: Lower Manhattan

If you've been to a (Real) Politics 101, you've probably heard Civil Court judges are elected. Unlike Supreme Court judges, Civil Court has primaries. Like County and State Committee, most are uncontested in the Primary. However, if you live in Lower Manhattan you have one in the Robert Rosenthal - Wendy Li faceoff.

If you've taken (Real) Politics 101, you've probably also seen the Independent Screening Panel process used by the Manhattan Democratic Party. While it is mainly used to ensure only qualified candidates proceed to the Judicial Convention for Supreme Court, it is also applied to announced Civil Court candidates.

Without getting too in the weeds, the process is an effective and tried-and-true method of method judges. It allows The Democratic Party to put forward candidates who are deemed "most highly qualified" not by politicians, but by people in the legal field.

Despite the fact I personally know and like Robert, and believe he has the right values, he is also the only candidate in this race to have been reported by the Independent Screening Panel as "most highly qualified".

Verdict: Robert Rosenthal

Democratic State Committee: AD 65

Contested State Committee races are sporadic but there’s on next door to my district in AD65 where Christopher Marte is running against Joseph Garba.

Marte is the easy pick here. A long time activist and former City Council candidate, Marte is born and raised in the community and has been deeply involved for years. He has been a great ally in reform and it would be wonderful to have a person like him joining me on the State Committee.

That doesn’t mean Joe Garba is a bad guy, but he definitely has a serious conflict of interest. He is a staffer for the Speaker of the State Assembly and, given State Committee doesn’t pay, I don’t see that changing.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with working in government, and you can do good work. But as we just saw with #MailerGate (see Governor section above), it's a serious conflict of interest when people who make a living working for politicians are also in charge of keeping the Party accountable. Garba’s boss has a vested interest in what the State Committee does - and it will often time be different from the interests of voters in AD65. Marte, on the other hand, has demonstrated time and again that he is responsible to the needs of his community.

Verdict: Christopher Marte

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