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Ben Yee Breakdown: 2022 June Primary Endorsements

Hi everyone,


If this week has taught us anything, it’s that elections matter. But, what setbacks we’ve seen at the Federal level our State has the power to stave off, or mitigate, within our borders. For 20 years, Republicans have taken great pains to work State by State, executing a strategy designed to upset our democracy by taking advantage of an unbalanced Senate, a disproportionate Electoral College and extreme gerrymandering.


Now it’s our turn. Our turn to take local elections seriously. Our turn to bring our Party into alignment with the needs and demands of our communities. And that can only happen if we vote.


**


After the last Breakdown I sent, I was asked to try sending them before Early Voting. Unfortunately, with my current job, volunteering for candidates, and scrambling to help petition for Congressional candidates in CD 10 (more on that later), it’s been difficult.


This is my earnest attempt to get something out before the last weekend of Early Voting, and before Election Day, next Tuesday (June 28th). So let’s get into it!


**


Two Primary Elections?!

First and foremost, you may have heard that we’re having TWO elections this summer. This is all due to our insane redistricting process in New York.


Long story short, Democrats in the NYS legislature attempted to gerrymander the heck out of everything, much as the Republicans have done with the rest of the country. This, however, led to a lawsuit and a judge throwing out the maps. That judge then drew their own maps.


While the Statewide maps didn’t change (because our State borders are still, mercifully the same), and the Assembly Districts didn’t change very much, those races were deemed more-or-less the same and kept the original election date of June 28.


The State Senate and Congressional Districts, however, saw some major upheaval. For example, a brand new Congressional District - CD 10 - was created in Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn with no clear incumbent. With neither Jerry Nadler or Carolyn Maloney deigning to give up their uptown living and take the position of “incumbent”, CD 10 now has a manic free-for-all of aspirants. Because of these significant changes in district borders, though, it was decided candidates need to re-petition, forcing the election day to be pushed back to August 23.


So, to recap: Primary Election Day 1: June 28

Early voting takes place for 10 days preceding Election Day.

Find your poll location & early voting hours.

  • U.S. Senate (Charles Schumer’s seat)

  • Governor

  • Lt. Governor

  • Comptroller

  • Attorney General

  • State Assembly

  • Judges

  • Democratic State Committee


Primary Election Day 2: Aug 23

Early voting takes place for 10 days preceding Election Day.

Find your poll location & early voting hours.

  • State Senate

  • House of Representatives


If you won’t be able to vote in person, you can request an absentee ballot.

  • You can even request it online at the link above

  • While you may be told NY does not have no-excuse absentee voting, you can still use “fear of COVID” as a catch-all and exercise your right to vote even if you can’t make it to the polls


Endorsements

One of the great things about the current political environment is that there are a lot of contested races.While this is great for voter choice (although it could still be better in some places), it is very difficult for me to cover everything.


So, as I’ve done in the past, these endorsements will cover my home area of Lower Manahttan, and a few key races where I happen to have particularly familiarity.



Statewide


U.S. Senate

Verdict: Charles Schumer


Without getting too much into it, he’s uncontested.


Reminder: uncontested candidates DO NOT appear on the ballot. An archaic law that hides uncontested politicians from potentially curious voters.


Governor

Verdict: Jumaane Williams


As a member of the Democratic State Committee, I’ve had the opportunity to meet Kathy Hochul many times. Personally, I like her. She’s amiable and smart. As Lt. Governor she showed up to everything and really seemed to get to know the various parts of New York State.


However, as a member of the Democratic State Committee I also got to see her speech at the Democratic Rural Conference in which she ran away from bail reform like a T. Rex was after her.


For those unfamiliar, bail reform is the simple concept that you shouldn't be able to buy your way out of jail. I’m going to say that again - bail reform has absolutely NOTHING to do with whether dangerous people stay in jail, it ONLY allows people with money to leave jail by paying. For example, if two people were detained for murder should it matter if one of them can pay $800,000? If the court deems someone a risk, that person should be detained. If someone is not deemed a risk to the point the court would release them on their own recognizance it shouldn’t matter if they have money. And, in truth, the safety implications of detaining or releasing people doesn’t change one iota if you remove money from the equation (simply reply to this email if you’d like more on this, I am aware there is a lot of bad information out there).


Now, as I said, Kathy Hochul is smart and I believe she knows this. And, bail reform was a seminal criminal justice accomplishment of the new Democratic legislature. However, instead of defending core Democratic principles and framing landmark legislation as a win, Hochul has backtracked taking the Democratic Party’s forward position with it. By contrast, at the same DRC meeting, Andrew Stewart Cousins gave a rousing defense of bail reform and broke down why attacks on it are total bunk.


This reminds me strikingly of the Democratic response to criticism of the Affordable Care Act. While dubbed “a big f*cking deal” by then VP Joe Biden, Democrats withered under the basest criticism from Republicans. Fleet-footed Democratic candidates abandoned this monumental achievement hanging “Obamacare” around the President’s neck and abandoning a dominant political position won in 2008. This contributed to a disaster in the 2010 midterms and set progressive momentum back much more than ditching the public option ever did (although that really should have been kept).


Jumaane Williams, on the other hand, has been stalwart in his support of progressive policies and vocal in the fact that Democratic policy wins are, in fact, wins. While I’m hoping Williams’ inclination to get arrested at protests will subside when he’s occupying the most powerful position in the State, I am also hoping for a Governor who will fight for the legislation our State needs in ethics, healthcare and mental health, environmental protection, housing, criminal justice and so many more issues that have been ignored over the last 12 years of Cuomo rule.


In his time as a City Council member, Jumaane Williams was prodigious in his production and passage of legislation. As Public Advocate, he’s continued to prove effective in moving new ideas not just through his office, but through the legislature where he doesn’t even have a vote anymore. Alongside a Democratic majority in the State legislature, Williams’ tendency to push boundaries offers New Yorkers a chance to break the stagnation that has gripped Albany for decades - first due to Republican over-representation in the Senate, then a Gubernatorial-IDC alliance and finally a Gubernatorial antagonism to a wholly Democratic Senate.


Lt. Governor

Verdict: Ana Maria Archilla


While New York’s Governor and Lt. Governor are elected separately, I agree with the logic that led this country’s founders to change the Vice President from being the Presidential runner-up to being directly elected. That is: the potential replacement for your chief executive should be the candidate next most aligned with them.


Aside from Archilla’s long history of community service, activism and non-profit work, she’s Jumaane Williams’ running mate and makes this pick the logical one.


Comptroller

Verdict: Tom DiNapoli


Another easy choice because there isn’t one, Tom DiNapoli is unopposed. But even if he had an opponent this would be an easy decision as DiNapoli is one of the best public servants in New York State and easily the nicest guy in State politics.


Reminder: uncontested candidates DO NOT appear on the ballot. An archaic law the hides uncontested politicians from potentially curious voters.


Attorney General

Verdict: Letitia James


Another uncontested race with a great candidate. Although once a potential Gubernatorial candidate, Letitia James has decided to stay in the AG’s office a little longer to wrap up her high-profile cases against Donald Trump and The Trump Organization.


Reminder: uncontested candidates DO NOT appear on the ballot. An archaic law the hides uncontested politicians from potentially curious voters.



Lower Manhattan


Assembly District 66

Verdict: Deborah Glick


Sometimes it can be hard to tell Democrats apart in New York. Particularly downtown, it seems like everyone’s on the same page - pro-choice, pro-civil rights, pro-public eduction. This is not one of those races.


Aside from Deborah Glick’s strong record on choice (successfully passing abortion protections in New York that will spare us from yesterday’s SCOTUS decision), LGBTQ rights (passing legislation to ban “conversion therapy”), education (fighting for CUNY funding as the Chair of the Higher Education Committee), and a host of other issues there is a key difference between her and her opponent in this race: Development.


Glick’s opponent is a member, and proponent of Open New York, an organization dedicated to the rapid expansion of housing at any cost. The main thesis of Open New York, and Glick’s opponent, is that development of any kind is worth it to increase the stock of residential units and (theoretically) bring down rents. If this means all of lower Manhattan becomes 80 story luxury developments, that’s a fair trade for the speculative downward pressure new housing stock applies on rents writ large.


Of course, we only need to look to downtown Brooklyn for an example of this theory in action. With massive luxury developments going up across Brooklyn Heights and up towards Atlantic Terminal, rents and costs-of-living have gone up, not down. Of course, Open New York would argue that this is a short term effect tied to property values, we need to reach the long-term tipping point of significantly higher housing stock to see rents drop. Unfortunately, renters need to live in the short-term and residents of the city need to live in the neighborhoods that would (and are) undergoing conversion to self-contained, isolating mega-structures.


If you follow me on social media, you might have seen a somewhat recent post about urban planning.


Facebook, Twitter, Insta


Now, this isn’t a screed against all development. Right now there is a fight by leaders in Lower Manhattan to effect an 80 story tower of 100% affordable housing on government land at the former site of 5 World Trade Center -- this would be fantastic. In fact, any serious number of truly affordable apartments in such a development would be great, it’s just that what’s legally required is a paltry 25% of units, units which are often so large for their luxury price tag that the actual number of affordable units is miniscule. Rather, this is an argument against the idea that more development is the equivalent of affordable housing, and that urban living can be comfortable when the civic life of your entire city is literally overshadowed by impersonal, inaccessible towers.


While the City Council has the predominant power over zoning, the State legislature has huge influence over what gets built in NYC through tax incentives, housing laws, projects on State owned land (see new Penn Station debacle) and the ability to appropriate land from the city through various means. Lower Manhattan fought for 8 years to elect Christopher Marte to the City Council on a platform of curbing unlimited development. He won by a massive margin, uniting elements from across lower Manhattan. Re-electing Deborah Glick is the only option that doesn’t undermine that monumental victory, which is why Marte, along with all the lower Manhattan clubs and myself have endorsed her.


Assembly District 65

Verdict: Grace Lee


In my write-up for a recent race I made the comment that if you want to see who someone really is, watch what they do when they lose.


I supported Grace Lee early on when she ran for State Assembly in 2020. She lost that one, but since that time she’s continued to impress. Over the last two years I’ve had the opportunity to volunteer on efforts Grace organized and led to:

  • Gather and distribute PPE door-to-door during the height of pandemic -- a year before vaccines

  • Deliver free food to NYCHA residents and homebound seniors

  • Provide turkeys to low-income families on Thanksgiving (both in 2020 and 2022)

  • Rally against AAPI hate

  • Demand (and win) repairs from a negligent and abusive landlord who was taking advantage of deaf tenants in a building receiving federal funding to support the hearing impaired.

In my previous endorsement of Grace I wrote “Grace... was on the right side of the issues locals cared about — from good cause eviction to environmental concerns. She spoke often and early about the challenges facing the community in the district." Since then, she’s gone from an outspoken individual to a vital and respected organizer in Lower Manhattan. That’s why I, and a slew of local organizations, are endorsing her for State Assembly this year.



Assembly District 61

Verdict: Captain’s Choice


AD 61 is a tough one. It is a completely new district which, while encompassing the tip of Battery Park City and Financial District is about 70% in Staten Island, 24% black, 28% white and 35% Hispanic. The incumbent (or, at least, the person whose old district most closely aligns with the district), Charles Fall, is the first African American elected from Staten Island. His challenger, Justine Cuccia, is a white woman and organizer from Battery Park City, as well as someone I’ve come to know to as a great person and passionate advocate in her community.

As a member of Downtown Independent Democrats, I’ve come to know Cuccia. She has an unflagging commitment to her community and seems to have attended every meeting in the last year with an update on the status of the fight for affordable housing in Battery Park City. While I know Lower Manhattan well and Cuccia does too, so much of this district is in an area I have not had the opportunity to engage deeply that I don’t feel qualified to make an endorsement in this race. That said, voters can't go wrong with Justine Cuccia.


Civil Court Judge

Verdict: David Fraiden


David Fraiden has a strong record as a judge and public service. He’s served for years as an NYC Administrative Law Judge. Between 2019-2021 he served as an Immigration Judge and, by his telling, managed to avoid deporting anyone at all -- and this was partially during the Trump years!


Fraiden’s opponent has a record of representing large landlords and evicting tenants. The choice is clear.


Note: I know that judicial races and candidates can be difficult to learn about. Plus many of them are uncontested meaning they don’t even appear on the ballot. If you have questions about judicial races, please feel free to contact me by replying to this email.


Democratic State Committeeman for AD 66

Verdict: This is me and I predictably endorse myself. But also, I’m uncontested now.


As you may have read in previous emails, I had a challenger in my re-election to the Democratic State Committee. I’m extremely happy to report that thanks to all your support, and the endorsement of all the local organizations in AD 66, my prospective opponent called me to say he would not be filing petitions. As a result, I am now uncontested.


For those who donated, I’d like to give a special thank you - I will be putting remaining funds towards civic education efforts over the next few months, as well as organizing efforts for the 2022 midterms. If you’d like to donate to those efforts, you can do so here.


Thank you all so much for your support!


Reminder: uncontested candidates DO NOT appear on the ballot. An archaic law the hides uncontested politicians from potentially curious voters.


Democratic State Committeewoman for AD 66

Verdict: Rachel Lavine


While I am uncontested for State Committee, my counterpart Rachel Lavine is not. While I respect her opponent and love her commitment to civic participation, Rachel Lavine has been an ardent ally on the State Committee.


As Chair of the Progressive Caucus she has been critical in helping to garner support for the Ethics reforms I authored, and as a member of the State Executive Board, instrumental in raising reform issues as one of the few people willing to raise their voice in public meetings of Party leadership. For these reasons, I’m asking voters to send Rachel Lavine back for another term.


Democratic State Committeewoman for AD 65

Verdict: Kathryn Freed


What can be said about Katrhyn Freed? As a former City Council member and judge she’s one of unsung voices that has shaped New York City. Washington Market Park? Kathryn. Computers in school libraries? Kathryn. Saving our upstate reservoirs so NYC has clean drinking water? Kathryn. First gay rights bill passed in NYC? Kathryn. Fighting to save Knickerbocker village? Kathryn.


I could go on, but the point is that Kathryn has the politics and experience we need in the State Party (also the Village Sun did it for me). After decades of public service, I wholeheartedly endorse her to be my colleague on the State Committee.


Other Races


Assembly District 75

Verdict: Christopher LeBron


In a crowded race Christopher LeBron is a standout. Now, to be fair, I’ve known LeBron for several years and he was an early supporter of my campaign for Public Advocate in 2019. To make a long story short, we stayed up into the wee hours during that election hammering our policy and answering candidate questionnaires. Through all of that, I got an incredibly good look at LeBron’s politics, his policy goals and the simple extent to which he cares about the welfare of his fellow New Yorkers.


Since then, I’ve seen LeBron become a leader in his own community. Throughout the pandemic he led volunteer initiatives to walk the streets of Hell’s Kitchen talking to small business owners about how to receive support, clean up the trash piling up along the sidewalks and push for ethical treatment of the homeless who appeared as jobs and social services evaporated.


For these reasons, Chris LeBron earns my support for AD 75.


Assembly District 73

Verdict: Alex Bores


The race for AD 73 is a big one with four candidates vying for Dan Quart’s old seat (although, still nothing compared to the 15 running for the new 10th Congressional District). Of these four I recommend Alex Bores. I’ve known most of the other candidates for many years, and I think they’d all make great Assembly Members. However, Bores represents something our state (and nation) is desperately lacking - someone with a background in technology.


By and large, politicians have legal backgrounds. Almost none of them have had any close interaction with technology, either from an engineering or business perspective. Bores has a background in engineering and has spent much of his career applying that knowledge to public service. As someone with a technology background myself, and who has worked in State government building software infrastructure, I deeply appreciate the lack of depth our leadership has with how technology, and the internet actually works. From consumer protection, to elections, to service delivery, to security, technology has become a fundamental issue of government, we need many, many more people with a background in it. Bores would be a good start in the State Assembly.


Democratic State Committeewoman for AD 76

Verdict: Erica Vladimir


Eric Vladimir is a tireless organizer and courageous advocate. Remember the IDC? It was a group of Democrats who ran as Democrats, won in Democratic districts and then joined Republicans in the Senate to prevent a Democratic majority. That group dissolved when their leader, Jeff Klein, one of the most powerful men in New York, was taken down by sexual harassment scandal. The woman who spoke up and exposed Klein’s behavior? That was Erica Vladimir.


Since then, Vladimir has gone on to become one of the founders of the Sexual Harassment Working group. She’s lobbied for better processes around sexual harassment and worked to improve the State’s Joint Committee on Public Ethics (JCOPE). She’s also been a fantastic ally in my work reforming the Democratic State Committee’s ethics rules. For these reasons she has my endorsement, I’m truly excited about the prospect of having her on the State Committee.


Democratic State Committeeman for AD 76

Verdict: Jeremy Berman


Honestly, I don’t know much about Jeremy. But, he’s Erica Vladimir’s running mate and that’s enough for me.


Democratic State Committeeman for AD 71

Verdict: Nobles Crawford


Nobles Crawford was elected to the State Committee in 2020 and it has been my privilege to serve with him for two years. A fantastically energetic representative, Crawford has a keen capacity for moving the ball forward - not an easy task in the State Committee!


Thanks to Crawford’s effort, the State Committee has, for the first time, created a Messaging Committee. As a high-level marketing professional Crawford aims to bring a level of rigor to the Party’s persuasion efforts we simply haven’t seen before. For those who have lamented the Democratic Party’s lack of cohesive messaging, this should come as a welcome development, and you have Nobles Crawford to thank.


Party Positions in Queens

Queens is one of the most machine counties in the entire country. That means that change requires a lot of candidates in a lot of Party races. You know how much I love to write, I can’t write that much.


If you live in Queens, the slate of New Reformers candidates are unequivocally the people to vote for when it comes to Democratic Party positions. I have personally worked alongside many of them, including their leadership and the current State Committee members. These are all amazing, hardworking organizers who have dedicated their time and effort to opening our political process.


Unfortunately this year I just don’t have the capacity to race by race across all of New York.


Party Positions in Brooklyn

Along with Queens, The Bronx and maybe Staten Island, Brooklyn is also one of the most machine counties in the entire country (ah, New York). In any event, once again that means a lot of contested Party positions. Far more than I can keep track of myself.


That’s why I’m lucky to count New Kings Democrats as an ally. Organizing isn’t about doing everything yourself, it’s about developing relationships with like minded people alongside whom you can fight. And with whom you can collectively create change that’s bigger than just one person. So, if you live in Brooklyn check out pages 21 onward in the NKD Voter Guide for endorsements.


Again, I’m sorry to say that this year I just don’t have the capacity to race by race across all of New York.


Stay tuned for August

This email ends as it started, by stating the simple truth that elections matter. This week our country was thrust back 50 years by the Supreme Court. Progress isn’t guaranteed by anything except the demands of the citizenry.


So, vote up and down the ballot, and in every election. Polls are open NOW until June 28 (Early Voting today and Sunday). And AGAIN for the August 23 Primary when we’ll be electing representatives for State Senate and Congress. There’s no forgetting to vote, consider this your reminder. Make a plan, make a difference.


Find your poll location & early voting hours.


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