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Friday, September 14, 2018


In New York state, six incumbents go down

by Tom Sullivan

Photo by Sam valadi via Creative Commons, CC by 2.0.

Democratic "insurgents" defeated six New York Senate incumbents last night in New York's state primary contests. Actress and activist Cynthia Nixon, however, was unsuccessful in her bid to oust Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Nixon lost in a 2-to-1 landslide. Cuomo is heavily favored to win a third term in November.

Veteran New York City politician Letitia James won the nomination for New York attorney general in a four-way race that included Fordham law professor Zephyr Teachout. Nixon, progressive groups, and the New York Times had endorsed Teachout. But James built strong margins in New York City that propelled her to victory. If she wins in November, James becomes New York's first black woman to hold a statewide elected office.

But take in what the Washington Post describes as "an unalloyed victory" for liberals, the defeat of six of eight former members of a state senate caucus that had become a cause célèbre for progressives. Energized by resistance to Donald Trump and the congressional primary victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over incumbent Democrat Rep. Joe Crowley in June, progressives set their sights on ousting Albany Democrats reviled for blocking progressive reforms.

I.D.C. is short for the Independent Democratic Conference, known in progressive circles as a fake liberal, faux populist klatch of state legislators who caucus with Republicans. Essentially, Empire State Blue Dogs.

Formed in 2011, the New York Times explains, by Senator Jeffrey D. Klein of the Bronx and three other state senators, Republicans rewarded the splinter faction with key committee posts. When Democrats regained control in 2012, the I.D.C.'s alliance with Republicans held back progressive reforms: single-payer health care, voting reforms, and more.

"The conventional wisdom," wrote Alan Chartock, professor emeritus at the State University of New York, "is that both Andrew and his father Mario actually liked having the Republicans serve as the 'brake' on the free spending Assembly Democrats." They say no so Andrew doesn't have to.

Facing Cuomo's tack left to thwart Nixon and a growing progressive insurgency, the I.D.C. formally disbanded in April. The move did not have the desired effect. If anything, the anti-I.D.C. movement gained strength. But, the Times notes, many officials who endorsed anti-I.D.C. candidates hedged their bets by also endorsing Cuomo.

I.D.C. members, including former I.D.C. chair, Senator Jeffrey D. Klein of the Bronx, dramatically outspent their challengers:

But on Thursday, he was defeated by Alessandra Biaggi, a lawyer and former aide to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, after a campaign in which Ms. Biaggi cornered Mr. Klein into spending nearly $2 million — more than 10 times what she spent — since January, an astonishing sum for a state legislative race. (Cynthia Nixon, in her bid against Mr. Cuomo, spent less.)

“If this doesn’t prove that political currency is people over money, I do not know what does,” Ms. Biaggi said at her victory party. “We have now cut the head of the I.D.C. snake.”
Indeed, boots on the ground can trump money in the bank. Working Families Party endorsed Biaggi and the other challengers, providing both training and staff.

Also noteworthy is how the challengers spent their more-limited funds:
Each challenger outspent his or her opponent on Facebook advertisements, sometimes by a huge margin. Ms. Biaggi and her allies spent between $14,500 and $93,800 on Facebook ads since the website’s online archive launched in May, while Mr. Klein and his supporters spent between $2,400 and $14,796. The challengers also recruited volunteers to fan out across their districts and knock on doors.
Julia Salazar, 27, a member of Democratic Socialists of America, defeated eight-term incumbent Sen. Martin Dilan in New York's 18th District. Although not a member of the I.D.C., Dilan bore the label of being too Republican-friendly in a changing district suffering rising rents and gentrification.

Endorsed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Salazar had been dogged by accusations she misled reporters about her biography and her conversion to Reform Judaism. But with no Republican challenger in her race, Salazar is virtually guaranteed a senate seat in Albany.

“Tonight’s victory is about New Yorkers coming together and choosing to fight against rising rents and homelessness in our communities," Salazar told supporters. "Together, we will build a better New York."

Salazar, Biaggi, and their allies will still have to contend with Andrew Cuomo to make that happen.

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