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Brooklyn Councilwoman: Bratton Doesn’t Understand Broken Windows

Tue, 09/16/2014 - 15:24

Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo. (Photo: NYC Council/William Alatriste)

Brooklyn Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo today called for Police Commissioner Bill Bratton to stop using the term “broken windows” to describe his approach to policing–arguing that the anti-crime philosophy originally called for infrastructure improvements, not increased law enforcement.

Mr. Bratton became famous in the 1990s for implementing a “broken windows” philosophy during the Giuliani administration, cracking down on minor crimes like panhandling and turnstile jumping as a means to discourage more serious offenses. Ms. Cumbo, however, asserted at a City Council hearing on the New York City Housing Authority that the “broken windows” theory is more about polish than police.

“The broken windows theory wasn’t to address people, it was to address the environment,” Ms. Cumbo said at the hearing, held inside Breukelen Houses in East Flatbush, Brooklyn. “Those common areas, those stairwells, those entryways, the haven’t had a coat of paint in what looks like decades.”

“Create a safe environment, create a clean environment, create a place where people want to live. When you move away from that and you start attacking people, you aren’t doing what broken windows is about,” Ms. Cumbo continued.

Speaking afterward, Ms. Cumbo softened her comments, saying “attacking” was too strong a word. She still maintained, however, that Mr. Bratton is misusing the term “broken windows” and called for him to rechristen his policing policy.

“He should call his theory something else,” Ms. Cumbo told the Observer. “Broken windows is a theory, a concept if you improve the physical environment it will decrease crime. It was not meant to be implemented on people.”

Ms. Cumbo said she had addressed her concern to Mr. Bratton and the de Blasio administration in council hearings, but had not seen a response. Still, she admitted that Mr. Bratton’s ideas–credited by many with reducing the city’s record crime rates–might have some basis in fact.

“I suspect some validity in stopping minor crimes to prevent larger crimes from occurring,” Ms. Cumbo said. “Just term it something else.”

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said she concurred with Ms. Cumbo’s assessment.

“I think she’s posing a valid analysis of what the original broken windows theory encapsulated,” Ms. Mark-Viverito said, though she admitted she was not entirely familiar with the historical and sociological underpinnings of the idea. “Infrastructure inmprovements, creating a better environment. That should be the focus, not just the focus on the individuals and the crimes they are committing or potentially committing.”

The term “broken windows” derives from an article by the same name published in the Atlantic in 1982 by sociologists James Wilson and George Kelling, which explicitly argued that enforcing laws against public intoxication, vandalism and other forms of disorderliness makes residents feel safer.

Mr. Wilson’s and Mr. Kelling’s recommendations for reducing fear of crime–if not the actual crime rates–however, resembled Ms. Cumbo’s suggestions. The two proposed police on familiar terms with community residents patrol neighborhoods on foot, and described a particular situation in Newark, New Jersey as an ideal example.

“These rules were defined and enforced in collaboration with the “regulars” on the street. Another neighborhood might have different rules, but these, everybody understood, were the rules for this neighborhood. If someone violated them, the regulars not only turned to [Officer] Kelly for help but also ridiculed the violator,” the pair wrote. “Sometimes what Kelly did could be described as “enforcing the law,” but just as often it involved taking informal or extralegal steps to help protect what the neighborhood had decided was the appropriate level of public order.”

The two argued having officers patrol in vehicles, or having them use force against suspects, detracted from police-community relations and did not result in residents feeling safer in their neighborhoods.

Mr. Bratton did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Due to an editing error, the author of this story was originally listed as Ross Barkan.

Pelosi Vows Not to Back Deployment of American Troops in ISIS Fight

Tue, 09/16/2014 - 14:01

Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat and House minority leader, argued today that the United States should never deploy combat troops to counter the growing threat of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Ms. Pelosi, speaking at a New York Law School panel in Manhattan where she covered a range of topics, said America’s conflict with ISIS, an extremist organization that has conquered territory in Iraq and Syria, is a consequence of the Iraq War and the U.S. must not make the same “mistake” of sending more combat troops to the region.

“I will not vote for troops on the ground. Let me state it another way: combat troops on the ground in Iraq, we cannot go down that path. There’s no evidence it will even work,” Ms. Pelosi said.

Ms. Pelosi, once the speaker of the House, reiterated that she supported President Barack Obama’s plan to expand the use of airstrikes against the Islamic militants. In a speech last week, Mr. Obama promised the U.S. “will degrade, and ultimately destroy, [ISIS] through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy.”

Liberal Democrats and some Republicans have called for authorization from Congress before Mr. Obama pulls the nation further into the Middle Eastern crisis. Tomorrow, the House will vote on whether to grant Mr. Obama the authority to train and equip Syrian rebels to battle ISIS.

“I think the president has the authority to do what he is doing now. We have said if he go beyond a certain point, we will need a future reauthorization and that can be soon or not depending on what actions the president takes,” Ms. Pelosi explained.

While she spoke at the panel, where she also promoted her 2008 book, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told Congress that he would recommend deploying American combat forces against ISIS in specific operations if airstrikes were not successful, potentially leading to the sort of military escalation Mr. Obama and Ms. Pelosi oppose.

For Ms. Pelosi, diplomacy is the answer.

“It’s not just the United States fighting ISIS. It’s the world, whether that’s NATO countries or, in addition to that, the powers in the region anteing up to help in that fight,” she said. “And if there a need to be combat troops on the ground, they should not be combat troops of the United States of America. We have paid so much for that.”

A Great Horse Race: Activists Aren’t Forgetting Mayor’s Pledge to Ban Horse Carriages

Tue, 09/16/2014 - 12:44

A NYCLASS protest in April. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The latest salvo in one of the city’s stranger political wars was a fake dead horse.

Left on the sidewalk of Knickerbocker Avenue in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bushwick, the life-sized stuffed animal was a lurid warning from the most powerful animal rights group in the city: stand in the way of a potential bill to ban horse-drawn carriages and you’ll have (horse) blood on your hands. The recipient of the message, a Brooklyn city councilman, was unmoved.

“In general, I think I support anyone practicing First Amendment rights,” Councilman Rafael Espinal told the Observer on Monday, hours after the horse was left lying outside his district office. “The phones have been going off the hook. Constituents can’t get calls through.”

The war over horse-drawn carriages has garnered more media coverage in the past year than is probably warranted for an issue that will impact relatively few people and animals. But as autumn approaches, Mayor Bill de Blasio is wrestling with the kind of New York dilemma that has all the trappings of a particularly fevered Tom Wolfe vignette: the mayor promised to ban the elegant horse-drawn carriages—reviled by animal rights groups because they claim the practice of driving a horse through city streets is inhumane—on “day one” of his administration.

The promise apparently bought unwavering support from animal rights group likes NYCLASS, the most moneyed and savvy, and allowed Mr. de Blasio to avoid the campy, ghoulish yet incisive television ads that attacked Christine Quinn, the arch rival he felled in last year’s mayoral race.  The NYCLASS-backed ads ran last April and boxed in Ms. Quinn, once the city council speaker and an opponent of a ban, as a backroom dealmaker voters could not trust.

NYCLASS left a fake dead horse outside the offices of Councilman Rafael Espinal. (Photo: NYCLASS/Twitter)

January 1 arrived and the horses went nowhere. The Teamsters union, which represents the roughly 300 drivers who would be potentially out of a job if a ban is enacted, mobilized. Mr. de Blasio’s cherished ally, the Working Families Party, added their voice to the dissent. The Daily News launched a shrill campaign to fight the ban, gathering signatures from readers and swamping cover after cover with horse-related stories. Liam Neeson, the Schindler’s List-turned-action star, visited the stables on the West Side and made keeping the horses around his cause célèbre. Polls consistently showed most New Yorkers want to protect the Central Park icons.

A bill to ban the carriages has yet to be introduced in the City Council, which replaced Ms. Quinn with a pro-ban speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito.

“The issue has been hung out to dry for too long,” said a Democratic source close to NYCLASS, which is short for New Yorkers for Clean, Livable, and Safe Streets. “If it had been taken care of back in January, it would be a distant memory. The longer the mayor waits, the more heartburn.”

As much as Mr. de Blasio wants to pivot to big picture aspirations—implementing his universal prekindergarten expansion and erecting enough cheap housing to offset surging rents—the horse-carriage issue threatens to consume precious media oxygen the liberal mayor needs to reserve for other issues. Many council members, wary of irking the Teamsters, will only back a ban if they know all the jobs—incomes for drivers vary, but some can take home around $50,000 a year, according to a Teamsters spokesman—will be replaced. (NYCLASS proposed antique, electric-powered cars, a solution some argue is not practical.)

“It’s crazy to think they can do anything else,” said George Miranda, the president of the Teamsters Joint Council 16. “The guys who do this type of work, the shoe smiths, the guys working in the stables—a lot of it is ancillary; that’s all they do. It’s their whole life. They’re not young people. A lot of them are immigrants. This is how they feed their families.”

The speaker and Mr. de Blasio have not put a firm timeline on when a bill will be introduced, but Mr. de Blasio claimed last week the “legislative process” would begin shortly. Privately, members of NYCLASS—led by parking garage magnate Steve Nislick—have grumbled about the mayor’s deliberative pace: with the ability to unload six figures on television ads, as they did a year ago, and to deploy dozens of unusually ardent protesters at the gates of Gracie Mansion and elsewhere, the group has at least some leverage over the mayor. Unlike the Teamsters and many other labor unions, they boosted Mr. de Blasio—at least indirectly—at a time when he was a fledgling contender in a crowded primary, long before his rise seemed inevitable.

For now, NYCLASS is playing nice. Insiders insist they don’t want to be a problem for the mayor. Their patience, however, is finite.

“We’re just absolutely ecstatic we finally, after so many years, have a mayor and a speaker who care about the needs of the animal community,” said Allie Feldman, a spokeswoman for NYCLASS, noting that “of course” the group would have liked to see legislation “a while ago.”

How Mr. de Blasio and his allies craft legislation that doesn’t completely alienate either influential interest group remains one of the big political questions of the fall.

“He’s a political realist and the political winds are not drifting in his favor,” a Democratic consultant explained. “He’s lost leverage and never really had that much support in the council, never had votes begin with. He’ll have to orchestrate a deal where he can declare some kind of victory.”

Hillary Clinton Stumbles on the Non-Campaign Trail

Tue, 09/16/2014 - 09:08

Hillary Clinton at the Clinton Global Initiative (Photo: MEHDI TAAMALLAH/AFP/Getty Images)

Hillary Clinton’s possible 2016 presidential campaign began around November 5, 2008, but really took off after she stepped down as Secretary of State in January of 2013. Ms. Clinton’s non-campaign has bolstered her political fortunes, keeping her in the spotlight while most other potential candidates for the Democratic nomination have had to all but freeze their campaigns until they know for certain whether or not Clinton is running.

There is little reason to think Ms. Clinton might not run as she has in almost every way behaved like a candidate for well over two years now. With the time to make a final decision fast approaching, Ms. Clinton went to Iowa this weekend to participate in Senator Tom Harkin’s annual steak fry and to almost campaign. The trip predictably heightened speculation that the country’s former top diplomat is indeed running for president, but it also may have been a reminder to Ms. Clinton that being an almost candidate is a lot easier than being a real candidate.

When two young Latinos asked her tough questions about immigration policy, Ms. Clinton seemed a little taken aback and replied cryptically that “we need to keep working.” After further questioning, Clinton added “I think we need to elect more Democrats.” Perplexingly Ms. Clinton seemed somewhat flustered by the interaction. Fortunately for the woman who has become the presumptive Democratic nominee, the first caucus is still well over a year away, but the interaction should demonstrate to Ms. Clinton the difference between positioning herself for a race and running in that race. More broadly, this incident is a reminder that although Hillary Clinton has done a great deal to improve her image and build political support, she has never been a natural on the campaign trail and is unlikely to be one in 2016.

Lincoln Mitchell is the national political correspondent for the Observer. Follow him on Twitter @LincolnMitchell


John Liu Concedes to Tony Avella

Tue, 09/16/2014 - 08:32

John Liu during the State Senate campaign. (Photo: Ross Barkan)

John Liu’s comeback bid is over.

The former city comptroller and mayoral candidate formally conceded to State Senator Tony Avella this morning, acknowledging that a gap of 568 votes was too great to overcome with paper ballots.

“Public service, to me, is a calling, not a career, and this race was always about the opportunity to continue to serve our community,” Mr. Liu said in a statement. “While we may have fallen just short in the voting booth, our message resonated loud and clear – the people of this district want a true Democrat who will stand up for our progressive values and we will hold our elected officials accountable by their actions, not just their words.”

The Queens Democratic Party, led by Congressman Joseph Crowley, coaxed Mr. Liu into running in a Democratic primary against Mr. Avella earlier this year. Drawing on the support of local elected officials, a bevy of unions and a significant fund-raising advantage, Mr. Liu came last week within 5 percentages points of knocking off Mr. Avella, according to unofficial Board of Election returns.

But it was always an uphill slog for Mr. Liu in an oddly-shaped eastern Queens district where Mr. Avella, despite his alienation from the political establishment, remains popular. Mr. Avella’s win came as he crushed Mr. Liu in the heart of the district–the 26th Assembly District, including the neighborhoods of Whitestone, Bayside, Bay Terrace, Little Neck and Douglaston–by nearly 1,000 votes. Assemblyman Ed Braunstein, one of many Queens Democrats to back Mr. Liu, represents the district.

The campaign was bitter. Mr. Liu repeatedly railed against Mr. Avella for betraying mainline Democrats by joining the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group of Democrats that govern the senate with the Republican Party. Mr. Avella attacked Mr. Liu for the fund-raising scandal that sunk his mayoral bid, along with unpaid fines for campaign signage from his 2009 comptroller bid.

Mr. Liu’s concession did not mention Mr. Avella by name. The former comptroller took credit for “holding our Senator accountable, and the close results of this election prove that the voters are demanding a true Democratic majority in the Senate.” Ironically, a deal to secure the Democratic majority may have cost Mr. Liu the election: he lost much of his coveted labor backing, like the Working Families Party, after Mr. Avella’s IDC agreed this Spring to govern with the Democratic conference next year. Mayor Bill de Blasio, a proud progressive, subsequently endorsed Mr. Avella, along with 1199 SEIU and other unions.

Mr. Liu’s political future is not entirely clear. He appeared at a fund-raiser for the Brooklyn Democratic Party yesterday, declining to speak about his plans with the Observer. There are no obvious posts for Mr. Liu, who still harbors Gracie Mansion aspirations, to seek.

The New York Daily News first reported Mr. Liu’s concession.

Letitia James: Andrew Cuomo ‘Got the Memo’ About Income Inequality

Tue, 09/16/2014 - 08:15

Public Advocate Letitia James during a January council meeting. (Photo: Official NYC Council/William Alatriste).

Public Advocate Letitia James said last night that she believed Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who won 62 percent of the vote against a badly underfunded opponent, finally “got the memo” about the importance of income inequality to New York voters.

In April, Ms. James lamented to the Observer that Mr. Cuomo’s failure to support campaign finance reform and giving New York City the power to set its minimum wage, even in the wake of 2013’s progressive insurgency, was a sign that “obviously he didn’t receive the memo on income inequality.”

But last night, at a retirement party at Brooklyn’s Dyker Beach Golf Course for Rabbi Yechezkel Pikus of the Council of Jewish Organizations of Flatbush, Ms. James said she believed law professor Zephyr Teachout’s surprisingly strong 34 percent showing in the Democratic primary had finally forwarded the memorandum to the governor’s desk.

“I think he got the memo,” Ms James told the Observer, laughing. “Something tells me he got the memo, and something tells me he read it!”

Despite her disappointment in Mr. Cuomo’s priorities so far, however, Mr. James said she fully intended to back his re-election effort. The public advocate said she believed the Republican candidate for governor, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, is too conservative for her to support.

“The alternative option is a non-starter,” Ms. James, a proud liberal, told the Observer. “His policies on choice, his policies on urban issues, his policies on all the issues that I care about are just counter to my own and counter to those of the constituents I represent, and that is why I am proudly supporting Andrew Cuomo for governor.”

Unlike her allies Mayor Bill de Blasio and Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who both campaigned for the governor despite publicly clashing with him earlier in the year, Ms. James did not endorse Mr. Cuomo during the run-up to the primary. She refused to say, however, if she would have preferred to see Ms. Teachout triumph.

“Don’t you go there!” Ms. James told the Observer, laughing again.

Mr. Cuomo’s camp did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Cuomo and Christie Order 10-Day Review of Terrorism Preparedness

Mon, 09/15/2014 - 16:48

Gov. Chris Christie and Gov. Andrew Cuomo today at a homeland security presser. (Photo: Jillian Jorgensen)

Citing growing international terrorism threats — and arguing that they pose a threat at home — Governors Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie announced today they’d launch a review of both states’ readiness for a terror attack, due to them in 10 days.

“We believe there is a need for action and immediacy and we will have the first report done in 10 days, an interim report that we can review and that will then be on an ongoing basis,” Mr. Cuomo said today at a press conference in midtown with Mr. Christie, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.

The press conference came after a closed-door meeting with first responders and top counter-terror officials in each state, along with a joint FBI task force.

Both governors made reference to the growing profile of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, sometimes also called ISIL, which has recently wreaked havoc in the Middle East and decapitated several American and British citizens. President Barack Obama recently announced his intention to quell the threat with air strikes.

“We’ve had the opportunity to talk a number of times over the last few days about the seriousness and the intensity of the threat that now faces us, especially in light of the path that the president has enunciated in his speech to the nation last week,” Mr. Christie said. “And our job, the job of myself and Gov. Cuomo as we see it, is to lead and make sure that the appropriate amount of intensity is being brought to the task of protecting our region.”

It’s not the first time Mr. Cuomo has painted ISIS and other overseas terror groups as a threat to the United States — he’s also made the argument when explaining why he thinks it is key to support Israel, which he recently visited.

“The terrorist network itself is larger and more complex and more sophisticated than it’s ever been,” Mr. Cuomo said today. “It’s no longer just Al Qaeda — it’s Hamas, it’s Hezbollah, its ISIL and Al Shabab. It is a threat not just in the Middle East, but to Europe and America.”

Mr. Johnson said the terror threat today is less centralized than it was in 2001, and noted that Al Qaeda affiliates who have tried to attack the United States in the past unlikely to stop trying.

But while overseas groups dominate headlines, Mr. Jeh said the threat could be closer to home.

“We face a complex situation. ISIL is the organization everyone is focused on right now, because of their very public brutality and disregard for human life, and because of the acquisition of territory in Iraq and Syria,” he said. “But as I’ve counseled and as I’ve said here today, we need to keep our eye on a range of threats — and as I see it, those threats include the potential for domestic-based attacks of the type we saw at the Boston Marathon last year.”

Mr. Christie said the review of each state’s readiness meant he and his New York counterpart were “leading.”

“What it means for the people of New Jersey and I believe for New York as well is that the governor and I are leading, and trying to make sure that all of the folks who are involved in our two states with those areas of protection are understanding and adjusting to the new, evolving threat that the secretary outlined,” Mr. Christie said.

And despite differing parties, the group of executives was full of praise for one another and their work on the issue. Of the work between the two governors, Mr. de Blasio noted: “They have established the kind of partnership that we don’t see enough of in government.”

Mr. Johnson, meanwhile, said he was confident in the ability of Mr. de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, whose predecessor Ray Kelly was a leader on terrorism issues, to handle the city’s security. Mr. de Blasio has yet to receive security clearances, as first reported by the New York Post, but was not excluded from any portion of today’s meeting, his office said.

“I have a lot of confidence in Mayor de Blasio and I have a lot of confidence in Commissioner Bratton,” Mr. Johnson said. “He and I have talked counter-terrorism quite a bit and I’m confident that the city of New York, the mayor, the police commissioner, know how to do this.”

Zephyr Teachout Wants to Campaign for Two Senate Democrats

Mon, 09/15/2014 - 13:42

Zephyr Teachout (Photo: Facebook).

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s primary rival Zephyr Teachout said today she was committed to helping the Democrats win control of the State Senate–and highlighted upstate Democratic State Senator Cecilia Tkaczyk and James Kemmerer, challenger to Brooklyn GOP State Senator Martin Golden, as two candidates she hoped to stump for.

At a Manhattan rally for her former running mate Tim Wu’s signature issue of “net neutrality,” Ms. Teachout expressed admiration for Ms. Tkaczyk, whose district includes counties where the Fordham University law professor drew more votes than the governor. Ms. Tkaczyk faces a tight re-election fight against Republican George Amedore, who Ms. Tkaczyk defeated by a razor-thin margin in 2012–a feat Ms. Teachout said she would like to help the Democrat repeat.

“I’ve supported her for years. I think she’s an extraordinary politician. She’s strong on public education and on campaign finance reform,” Ms. Teachout told the Observer. “I’d love to help in that race in any way I can.”

Ms. Teachout also said she wanted to give a boost to Mr. Kemmerer, who–like herself–is a poorly funded long-shot opponent to a powerful incumbent. The academic–whose area of expertise is political corruption–alluded to Mr. Golden’s history of spending campaign money at his family’s catering hall and allocating funding to suspect Orthodox Jewish non-profits.

“Jamie Kemmerer’s race is an important race,” said Ms. Teachout. “He’s fighting an uphill battle against someone who has some serious issues with public corruption.” (Mr. Golden’s campaign spending is legal under current regulations, and he has not been implicated in any wrongdoing.)

The senate is currently controlled by the Republican Party and a breakaway group of Democrats. The breakaway group, the Independent Democratic Conference, promised to govern the senate with mainline Democrats after the fall elections.

Ms. Teachout, a first-time candidate running with little money and name recognition, garnered 34 percent of the vote against Mr. Cuomo last week, a figure that was much higher than many political pundits predicted. She visited a fund-raiser for the Brooklyn Democratic Party at Junior’s Restaurant this morning–though she said that was a coincidence, and had just happened to eating there with a friend–and has not ruled out future bids for office.

Ms. Tkaczyk, Mr. Golden, Mr. Kemmerer and Mr. Amedore did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Frank Seddio Thinks John Sampson Will Be Found Not Guilty

Mon, 09/15/2014 - 11:26

Frank Seddio (left). (Photo: Ross Barkan)

State Senator John Sampson is going back to Albany, which may just mean he can avoid the slammer–at least according to one Brooklyn Democratic bigwig.

Frank Seddio, the chair of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, insisted this morning at a fund-raiser that the twice indicted Mr. Sampson, who won a Democratic primary last week with Mr. Seddio’s endorsement, would score another victory in court next year.

“I think they underestimate the relationship John Sampson has with the Thomas Jefferson club. You have to understand–and we’re loyal to our friends whether they’re in trouble, good times or bad, and John’s had a tough time. Let him face that same test, let the justice system prevail,” Mr. Seddio told the Observer, referring to his large Democratic club in southern Brooklyn, the Thomas Jefferson Democratic Club.

“I think John is gonna win this the way he won the election, he’s gonna prevail in the courts,” Mr. Seddio said, batting away a theory floated in political circles that he only supported Mr. Sampson so his Democratic machine can appoint a successor in the case that Mr. Sampson is found guilty and a special election is called.

“It doesn’t matter who controls it. The governor has to call an election if that was gonna be the case,” he continued. “In the worst, worst case circumstances we’ll consult with everybody to see what we’re gonna do to find the best candidate but I don’t anticipate that to be the case.”

Mr. Sampson, an attorney, was accused of embezzling money from foreclosure sales and lying to FBI agents. He pleaded not guilty to both indictments and is set to go on trial next year. Booted from the Democratic conference, Mr. Sampson, a former majority leader, has seen his clout in Albany significantly diminish.

Mr. Sampson spoke briefly at the breakfast fund-raiser, held at Junior’s Restaurant in downtown Brooklyn, thanking the Democrats for their “loyalty” to him. The swanky breakfast drew a host of other Democratic luminaries, including Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Public Advcoate Letitia James, State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and even Zephyr Teachout, the law professor who garnered more than 30 percent of the vote against Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week.

Domenic Recchia Warns Of ‘Very Close Race’ Against Michael Grimm

Mon, 09/15/2014 - 10:09

Domenic Recchia Jr.. (Photo: Ross Barkan)

A fired up Domenic Recchia Jr. told Democratic supporters this morning that he is locked in a “very close” race against his Republican rival, echoing talking points from national Democrats who warn that the Brooklyn pol is not guaranteed a win, despite his fund-raising advantage.

“We have a major race, ladies and gentlemen, that we could win,” Mr. Recchia practically shouted at a fund-raiser for the Brooklyn Democratic Party. “I need your help to win–it is a very close race. It is a close race between a Democrat who believes in strengthening the middle class, who will fight to make sure that we fight for the people and we care about the people of this city, against someone who has a record I can’t even go into. Everybody knows what I’m taking about.”

“But I need your help for us to go to Washington, it’s a very, very close race,” he added, noting that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is “heavily involved” with his campaign.

After Mr. Recchia was done speaking, he sped off to another fund-raiser, fleeing a couple of reporters.

Mr. Recchia, a former Brooklyn councilman, is trying to unseat Congressman Michael Grimm in the Staten Island and Brooklyn-based district. Mr. Grimm was indicted several months ago on various health care, wire fraud and mail fraud charges related to his operation of a Manhattan restaurant, pleading not guilty to all charges. Since the indictment, Mr. Grimm has struggled mightily to raise money and national Republicans have distanced themselves from him.

But Mr. Grimm, popular among conservatives in the district, is campaigning aggressively. A new advertisement from his campaign blasts Mr. Recchia as a “tax-raising machine” for voting to raise property taxes as a councilman more than a decade ago. Brooklynites like Mr. Recchia have also failed to win in the district, which encompasses the entirety of right-leaning Staten Island, in the past.

At least one Brooklynite, though, promised domination in November. Frank Seddio, the chair of the Brooklyn Democratic Party and the host of the fund-raiser at Junior’s Restaurant, said the party would lift Mr. Recchia to victory like they have for a number of local Democrats, including, ironically, the indicted State Senator John Sampson.

“We’re gonna occupy southern Brooklyn and we’re gonna take that vote and raise it by a hundred percent from what it was before and that’s how we’re gonna make this guy the congressman,” Mr. Seddio said.

He added, “What we did for John Sampson, we’re gonna do for Domenic Recchia.”

‘Tax-Raising Machine': Michael Grimm Hits Domenic Recchia in First TV Ad

Mon, 09/15/2014 - 08:07

A new ad on behalf of Michael Grimm. (Screenshot)

Despite slow fundraising for his reelection bid, Republican Congressman Michael Grimm has purchased airtime for a new television commercial slamming his Democratic challenger Domenic Recchia Jr. as a “tax-raising machine.”

The incumbent’s first ad comes after multiple pro-Recchia spots have begun to hit the airwaves, with Mr. Recchia’s campaign launching two ads and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee launching two more in the tight race for the Staten Island and Brooklyn congressional distirct.

In the 30-second spot, which begins with Mr. Grimm endorsing the message, the congressman targets Mr. Recchia, a former Brooklyn councilman, for his votes to increase property taxes in 2002 and to increase city income taxes in 2003.

“Domenic Recchia thinks we’re fools. Recchia claims to protect the middle class, but he’s just a tax-raising machine. Raising income taxes. Raising your property taxes over 18 percent,” a narrator says, over footage of Recchia and a picture of a scowling couple.

The ad also makes direct reference to Mr. Recchia’s first ad, “Saturday” — even using footage from the spot — showing the former councilman driving back and forth between the Brooklyn section of the district where he lives and the Staten Island section where his mother lives, and saying he’d like to cut the hefty toll on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge connecting the boroughs.

“Now Recchia says he wants to lower tolls. But for 12 years as a Brooklyn councilman, he did nothing except vote for even more tolls. More taxes, more tolls: that’s the real Recchia. Don’t be fooled,” the ad concludes.

The City Council does not control the tolls on the bridge, which are set by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, a state agency. But the advertisement cites Mr. Recchia’s vote in support of a resolution calling on the state legislature to consider Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed congestion pricing plan, which would tolled access to Manhattan to encourage the use of public transit.

Mr. Grimm’s campaign offered no information on the cost of the ad buy, or about how long it would be airing. But it’s already caught the eye of at least one voter in the district: former Democratic Councilman Sal Albanese, a fan of neither Mr. Grimm nor Mr. Recchia, griped on Twitter about seeing the ad on the airwaves during the New York Yankees game Sunday night.

Mr. Grimm’s spokesman, Nick Iacono, added in a statement: “It’s no wonder that Recchia refuses to talk about his toxic record and is only interested in bashing Congressman Grimm, who delivered real, tangible results for the people of this district including $60 billion in Superstorm Sandy aid, millions of dollars in grants for our hospitals, and landmark flood insurance reform, just to name a few.”

It seems unlikely that Mr. Grimm will be able to run quite as many television ads as Mr. Recchia, who will benefit the DCCC’s cash and what it is touting as an “unprecedented” field operation to unseat the incumbent.

Mr. Grimm has received little support from national Republicans and has faced difficulty raising campaign cash since he was indicted in April on 20 counts of wire and mail fraud and tax charges relating to the operation of his former health food restaurant, Healthalicious. In the most recent filing period available, Mr. Recchia raised more than 11 times the amount Mr. Grimm had raised.

But thanks to pre-indictment fundraising, the candidates’ war chests were close in size at the last reporting date, on July 15: Mr. Recchia had $1.3 million on hand, and Mr. Grimm had just under $1.1 million — but he also had more than $438,000 in debt, mostly legal fees, while Mr. Recchia was debt-free.

The candidates will not have to file their next campaign disclosures with the FEC — which include money raised and how much was spent on things like ad buys — until October 15.

In a statement to the Observer, Mr. Recchia accused Mr. Grimm of trying to district voters from his legal woes.

“Once again, Michael Grimm is trying to distract voters from his 20 count federal indictment, including charges of wage theft and withholding more than $1 million in earnings. Considering he has also been indicted for lying under oath, it’s clear he has no problem issuing lies and distortions in this campaign. The people of this district deserve better,” he said.

Check out the ad below:


Is the Gender Gap Really About Race?

Mon, 09/15/2014 - 07:14

Sandra Fluke. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

As the 2014 midterm election approaches the gender gap–or in less polite terms, the Republican war on women–will likely draw a fair amount of media attention.

It’s a good Democratic talking point and fits in well with how many view politics in the U.S. today. The gender gap is generally viewed as being a product of both Republican policies and positions on issues such as reproductive rights and, in recent years, contraception, but also on economic questions as well. Women tend to be more concerned with issues like equality of income opportunity and believe that the government should play a more active role in addressing these issues. These opinions, not surprisingly, lead women to be more likely than men to vote Democratic.

But the gender gap, like almost everything else in American politics, is deeply tied to race as well. Looking at gender without looking at the relationship between gender and race leads to flawed understanding of what is really happening in the American electorate. Nonetheless, at first glance the gender gap looks relatively straightforward. According to the CNN exit poll from the 2012 election, 55 percent of women supported the Democrat, President Barack Obama while only 45 percent of men voted for Mr. Obama. This is a big gender gap, and one that on its face should give Republicans reason for concern.

The numbers, however, are a bit more complicated. A few gender and race related numbers make this clear. First, although white women voted for Obama by 7 percent more than white men did, white women still voted for Romney by a margin of 56 percent to 42 percent. Although this number is not as impressive as the 62 percent to 35 percent majority given to Romney by white men, it still suggests that the Republican Party’s problem with women, to the extent that it exists, is not an issue for all women.

Women, according to the 2012 exit poll, constituted 53 percent of the overall electorate, and the same proportion among white voters. Among Latino voters, women constituted 55 percent of the electorate, and women represented 62 percent of the African American vote. African American men voted 87 percent for Obama, but African American women gave the President 96 percent of their vote.

The African American vote was both more female and had a bigger gender gap than the white vote. There are several reasons for this, not least is the proportion of African American men who have lost their right to vote due to being in prison or on parole. It is estimated that one in 13 African American men, much higher than the proportion of white men, are not allowed to vote because some interaction with the criminal justice system.

“Something like six million, many of whom are African American men, are disenfranchised by felony disenfranchisement laws, although most are not in jail. In some states it’s huge — Including one in five (African Americans) in Florida, Kentucky and Virginia,” said Tova Wang, a Senior Democracy Fellow at Demos, a progressive public policy organization.

“Turnout among black women has been extremely high in recent elections. There’s a gender gap among black women and black men,” Wang also noted.

The gender gap exists, but it is driven largely by African American women who both dominate the African American electorate and who vote Democrat in extraordinarily high numbers.

The American electorate remains much more divided on racial than gender lines, with white Americans strongly supporting the Republican Party and non-whites expressing a considerably stronger preference for the Democratic Party. The changing demographics and the declining proportion of white voters in the electorate is therefore a much more serious issue for Republicans than the fact that Romney only beat Obama by 14 percent among white women. In this context, the gender gap, while strategically important, is far from the biggest demographic story in American politics.

If not for the solid support among white women for Republicans, suggesting the idea that a “Republican war on women” is not experienced by all women, the Party would be in a major crisis. If, for example, only half of all white women voted Republican, the Party would be teetering on the edge of irrelevancy. This is why a possible Hillary Clinton candidacy in 2016 is intriguing for the Democratic Party, but frightening for the Republican Party.

Ms. Clinton, more than any other American politician, has built her political base around white women, particularly the older white women that supported Romney very strongly in 2012. These voters will not be part of the Democratic base in 2016 regardless of who the Democratic nominee is, but it is hard to image Clinton losing white women by 10 points, let alone 14 points, and almost as hard to imagine Clinton getting a significantly smaller proportion of the non-white vote than Obama did in 2012.

For Republicans, addressing the gender gap by trying to get a few more white women to vote for them seems like a fool’s errand. As the electorate becomes less white, this puts the Republicans in the position of chasing fewer voters every year rather than of doing the harder work of expanding their appeal. The gender gap is real, but from a strategic angle it is trumped by the more difficult and longstanding reality that the Republicans have backed themselves into becoming an almost all-white party in a decreasingly white country.

Lincoln Mitchell is the national political correspondent for the Observer. Follow him on Twitter @LincolnMitchell

Six Californias Not Likely to Make the Ballot

Sun, 09/14/2014 - 19:36

The Six Californias initiative proposes making the Golden Gate Bridge the state line between Silicon Valley and North California. (Photo by Ken Kurson.)

Ballot access laws are difficult, often byzantine and occasionally undemocratic. Sometimes, however, they work. This appears to be the case in California where the Six Californias initiative, a proposal to break the Golden State into six smaller states, now seems unlikely to get on the 2016 statewide ballot. Although organizers have submitted some 1.1 million signatures, about 200,000 more than what is needed, many of these signatures were invalid. Only 559,483 of the signatures are valid with almost all counties recording. Petitions from Los Angeles County have not yet been submitted, but it is unlikely that fully 200,000 valid signatures will be submitted from that county as well as from three very small counties that have also not yet turned in petitions.

If the Six Californias initiative does not get on the ballot it will save Californians an unnecessary, expensive and tedious debate about a policy that is both poorly thought out and, even if passed, extremely unlikely to be turned into law. In the U.S., states don’t break apart simply by passing initiatives. It requires constitutional changes that are very difficult to implement.

With any luck, the Six Californias initiative will fade away and within a few years only be a memory for people who follow California politics with some intensity. Nonetheless, it is worth taking a few moments to reflect upon this bizarre notion. The Six Calfornias idea is a dazzling combination of unworkable, arrogant and and expensive, but it also reflects a bit of the gestalt of California, or at least part of California, and is at heart little more than a conservative plan to dilute California’s electoral college vote for the Democrats masquerading as a new techie Libertarian solution.

The idea is the brainchild of, Tim Draper, a wealthy venture capitalist and is steeped in the culture of the new tech wealth. The proposal, among other things, seeks to have Silicon Valley become its own state, reflecting a uniquely contemporary view of California. The tech theme is further evident in the very first line of the about section of the initiative’s website that calls for a “refresh” for the Golden State. As a whole, the Six Californias proposal feels like the political equivalent of the new app wealthy San Franciscans can use to organize their various household services.

It is now reasonably clear that Californians will not be using that app anytime soon and equally clear that the Six Californias proposal was always more of a fantasy, or at best a way to start a discussion, but not a very important one, than it was real policy proposal.

Lincoln Mitchell is the national political correspondent for the Observer. Follow him on Twitter @LincolnMitchell





Eric Schneiderman Launches Re-election Bid With Rally

Sun, 09/14/2014 - 15:28

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman today. (Photo: Jillian Jorgensen)

With a coalition of Democratic elected officials and labor leaders standing beside him, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman launched his re-election bid with a rally near City Hall, touting his record and vowing to fight for social justice.

 “There have always been forces seeking to push back at equal justice under law, and there have always been New Yorkers willing to step up to that challenge, to push forward, to push toward justice,” Mr. Schneiderman told the crowd. “Over the least three-and-a-half years, I’m proud of the fact that my office has been a force for the pursuit of equal justice under law.”

As he kicked off his campaign against Republican opponent John Cahill, Mr. Schneiderman was joined by a cadre of city officials — many of whom were recently courted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to back his candidate for lieutenant governor, former Congresswoman Kathy Hochul, to boost her credentials with progressives — who spoke of work they’d done with the AG in the past.

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who kicked off the event, praised Mr. Schneiderman’s work on behalf of low-wage city workers.

“He’s fought for the rights of working New Yorkers. Most recently I stood with him as he announced a major settlement for car wash workers whose wages had been stolen and robbed,” Ms. Mark-Viverito said. “You wanna talk about average New Yorkers, immigrant New Yorkers, these are individuals that were being exploited and whose salaries and wages were being robbed, and he was able to come with a settlement that really made that whole.”

And Comptroller Scott Stringer cited Mr. Schneiderman’s work going after big banks and pushing for a tougher nationwide settlement with big banks involved in the housing crisis and for funneling settlement cash to homeowners.

“Thanks to Eric Schniederman, thousands of families in Queens, the Bronx, Brooklyn and Staten Island, all over this state have been able to keep their homes — that’s what an attorney general does,” Mr. Stringer said.

New York State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento said the coalition of unions would put its full might behind Mr. Schneiderman, saying workers had “no greater champion.”

“We will be there with phone banks and leafletting and mailings and we will be knocking on doors, tens of thousands of doors from Buffalo to Long Island and everywhere in between — because Eric has been there for us and now we have to be there for Eric,” he said.

Instead of being introduced by one of the many elected officials at the event, Mr. Schneiderman was introduced by Shantel Walker, a Papa John’s shift manager who earns $8.50 an hour.

“Some people don’t care about fast food workers — but Eric Schneiderman has fought hard for people like me,” she said.

Mr. Schneiderman — who would not take questions from reporters after the event — also touted his record pushing for statewide monitoring of opiate prescriptions, fighting for abortion rights, and cracking down on political corruption, an area where his GOP opponent, Mr. Cahill, has sought to knock Mr. Schneiderman over Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s shuttering of the Moreland Commission. Mr. Schneiderman didn’t mention his opponent’s name today.

“We’ve stood up to corruption all over the state of New York, in cities and towns and counties and we have gone after more than 50 public officials and their cronies for stealing taxpayer dollars and abusing the public trust,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “We are sending a clear message that no one is above the law and everyone is held accountable.”

Mr. Cuomo, with whom Mr. Schneiderman has often had a rocky relationship, was not among the officials at the rally — though he did hold an event about a mile away just two hours later to announce the re-opening of an R train tunnel to Brooklyn.

Mr. Cuomo is also up for re-election this November. He barely campaigned during his primary race against Zephyr Teachout, who garnered about 35 percent of the vote, and has yet to have the type of general election kick-off event Mr. Schneiderman had today. But the governor said he is working for the votes of New Yorkers, and would debate his Republican opponent, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, something he did not do in the primary.

“I’ve been campaigning. I campaign. And I also have a day job, which is I’m governor of New York, so I have to do both,” Mr. Cuomo said after the R train event. “Today, this is as governor of New York, but we do both.”

De Blasio on Horse Carriage Ban: ‘We’re About to See Legislation Introduced’

Fri, 09/12/2014 - 17:18

Mayor Bill de Blasio in Manhattan today. (Photo: Jillian Jorgensen)

Mayor Bill de Blasio said today legislation with the eventual goal of banning the city’s horse carriage industry — a campaign promise he said he’d get to on “day one” — will be introduced soon.

“We’re about to see legislation introduced that I think will start us rapidly down the road to the changes we have to make,” Mr. de Blasio told the Observer in Manhattan after an unrelated press conference. “Of course, there will be a full legislative process, and we’ll work closely with the City Council. But that legislative debate is about to begin.”

Pressed by the Observer on whether that bill would be an outright ban on the industry or a compromise to keep the horses in Central Park, Mr. de Blasio was opaque.

“When the legislation is presented, you’ll see it. I think the notion is to go as far as we can go in the terms of the pathway to an ultimate ban,” he said.

The mayor’s campaign promise to ban horse carriages won him support from animal rights groups including NYCLASS, which ran a massive independent expenditure against his primary opponent Christine Quinn that helped Mr. de Blasio. But it has put him in opposition to several groups that are normally allies of the mayor — including the politically powerful and influential Teamsters and the Working Families Party, which have backed the horse carriage drivers.

Just this week, Councilman Rafael Espinal, who chairs the Consumer Affairs Committee that regulates the industry, was joined by the Teamsters when he announced he would oppose efforts to ban the industry — which means advocates in the Council will likely need to find a  new committee through which to introduce the bill.

The mayor characterized his “day one” goal as an “aspiration” today.

“Why it’s taking so long is it is a very complicated issue, and I expressed my aspiration and like many, many issues you talk to everyone involved, and you talk to the legislators, and it turns out there’s a lot of details that have to be addressed,” Mr. de Blasio said.

NYCLASS — which has grown frustrated with the pace of getting a ban passed — praised the mayor’s comments Friday.

“NYCLASS applauds the mayor’s commitment to end the unsafe, abusive and inhumane carriage horse industry in New York City. Despite lies, manipulation and trickery by the carriage horse industry, Mayor de Blasio has never wavered in his commitment and he never will,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

Christina Hansen, a spokeswoman for the horse carriage drivers, in turn accused NYCLASS and other groups of lying about carriage horses — but said that as people learn more about the carriage horse industry through continued coverage of the issue, New Yorkers are showing carriage drivers “more support than ever.”

“He’s been saying that this was going to happen ‘soon’ since January, and ever since January we’ve had four consecutive Quinnipiac Polls showing overwhelming support from New Yorkers” for keeping horse carriages in New York, Ms. Hansen said.

House Majority PAC Launches Anti-Grimm Site

Fri, 09/12/2014 - 14:30

TheGrimmFile.com depicts Michael Grimm as a wanted criminal (Screengrab: TheGrimmFile.com).

The pro-Democrat House Majority Political Action Committee launched a new site earlier this week called TheGrimmFile.com targeting embattled Staten Island Congressman Michael Grimm.

The independent spending group–which, though officially unaffiliated with the Democratic Party, seeks to turn the House of Representatives blue through investing in advertising–depicts the indicted Republican representative as a wanted criminal, outlining his 20-count federal indictment for allegedly hiring illegal immigrants at a restaurant he owned prior to his 2010 election and allegedly lying about it to investigators.

“Michael Grimm doesn’t have a criminal record. He has a rap sheet,” the site reads.

The site features a black-and-white photo styled like a mug shot, alludes to the congressman’s nickname “Mikey Suits,” given to him when he was a Federal Bureau of Investigations agent infiltrating the mafia and links to the FBI press release announcing his indictment. The page advises “IF SEEN: DON’T RE-ELECT.”

The House Majority PAC said TheGrimmFile.com is one piece of a massive effort to flip the district, which covers all of Staten Island and parts of southern Brooklyn.

“This part of House Majority PAC’s six-figure online advertising buy aimed at helping the voters of the 11th district understand the magnitude of the federal indictments Michael Grimm is facing. By providing easy access to the FBI’s website, voters can see just how little regard Grimm has for the law he vowed to uphold,” said spokesman Matt Thornton

Mr. Grimm has not been convicted of any crime, and his case is set to go to trial in December, a month after he will face former Brooklyn Councilman Domenic Recchia Jr. in the general election.

TheGrimmFile.com recalls an earlier “The Grimm Files” site the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee launched during Mr. Grimm’s successful 2012 re-election bid against challenger Mark Murphy. “The Grimm Files” focused on as-yet unsubstantiated allegations that Mr. Grimm had engaged in illegal fund-raising practices, including strong-arming Israeli nationals into donating to his 2010 campaign.

Federal investigators arrested one of Mr. Grimm’s fund-raisers, Israeli citizen Ofer Biton, on immigration charges in 2012–which Mr. Biton pleaded guilty to in August 2013. Mr. Murphy, son of convicted Congressman Jack Murphy, produced campaign literature showing Mr. Grimm in a prison jumpsuit.

Another Grimm associate, Diana Durand, pleaded guilty earlier this month to using straw donors to funnel illegal contributions into the 2010 campaign. Mr. Grimm has never been charged with any wrongdoing in his campaign, and has maintained his innocence since the indictment on the charges related to his former business.

Federal campaign finance rules bar the House Majority PAC from coordinating its efforts with the DCCC or Mr. Recchia’s campaign.

The Grimm campaign responded with a blast against Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Mr. Recchia, while defending Mr. Grimm’s successes in office.

“Once again, since Nancy Pelosi and the rest of Recchia’s ultra-liberal backers in Washington can’t talk about his record of raising almost every middle class tax on Staten Islanders and Brooklynites, supporting more tolls, and voting himself a third term against the people’s will, they resort to desperate smear attacks against Congressman Grimm,” said spokesman Nick Iacono. “We challenge these Washington liberals to find one Democrat Congressman that has been as effective for their district as Congressman Michael Grimm has been for the people of Staten Island and Brooklyn: from securing $60 Billion for Sandy aid to passing landmark flood insurance reform.”

Pols Seek to Deflate Airbnb

Fri, 09/12/2014 - 12:27

Mark Levine, Walter Mosley, Linda Rosenthal, Richard Gottfried, Rory Lancman and others slammed Airbnb (Twitter: Mark Levine).

Elected officials and community groups rallied today to burst the expanding Airbnb bubble, arguing the popular site that allows tenants and landlords to lease their apartments like hotels is inflating rents and putting pressure on everyday residents.

The event outside City Hall–which featured almost a dozen politicians as well as influential groups like the Met Council on Housing and New York Communities for Change–was intended to counteract a massive advertising and lobbying campaign by Airbnb that the assembled politicians argued was aimed at weakening a 2010 bill outlawing the renting of entire apartments as temporary lodging.

The elected officials argued that the existing law does not prevent a tenant from subletting a room or a couch, but is intended to block landlords and absentee renters from making exorbitant profits by removing whole housing units from the market–and claimed that nearly two-thirds of Airbnb’s listings are in violation of the statute.

“Airbnb is an illegal hotel operation wrapped in a shiny bow of tech innovation and slick marketing,” said Manhattan Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal. “Airbnb is destroying communities to build its own empire and increase its own profit.”

The electeds said their offices had received thousands of complaints from residents who reported loud, drunken and drug-fueled tourists partying in rented apartments in their building and of landlords trying to push them out of rent-stabilized units to make way for deep-pocketed short-term tenants.

“They’re being harassed out of their homes. They’re frightened of what’s happening in the apartments next to and above them,” said Manhattan State Senator Liz Krueger.

Brooklyn Assemblyman Walter Mosley went so far as to call for Airbnb’s obliteration as an enterprise.

“Airbnb must not only be confronted, must not only be punished, but must be put out of business,” Mr. Mosley declared, though he softened his stance somewhat when questioned afterward. “They have like any other company the right to make a profit and make a living, but not on the backs of working-class men and women.”

Airbnb, for its part, framed the demonstration as an effort by the hotel industry to kill competition. They disputed the politicians’ statistics claiming that the majority of listings are for entire apartments at jacked-up rates, pointing to their own figures indicating that 87 percent of renters are sharing the residence where they live, and that the hosts make, on average, a modest $7,530 a year.

The company also asserted that the roughly 25,000 units listed on their site is too small a number to have a significant impact on the housing market.

“Some in the hotel industry will do everything they can to stop the sharing economy, but we look forward to working with leaders in New York on sensible legislation that cracks down on illegal hotels and ensures regular New Yorkers can share the home in which they live,” Airbnb said in a statement.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is investigating Airbnb for possibly violating state law–which his Republican challenger John Cahill has tried to turn into a campaign issue.

Letitia James: ‘I Endorsed Cabrera on Paper’

Fri, 09/12/2014 - 10:52

New York City Public Advocate Letitia James (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Following outcry from gay and lesbian and women’s groups — and harsh criticism from her former colleagues in the City Council — Public Advocate Letitia James downplayed her endorsement of social conservative Councilman Fernando Cabrera in his failed bid for a State Senate seat.

“I endorsed Cabrera on paper,” Ms. James told the Observer after an unrelated City Hall press conference. “I did not actively campaign, and I distanced myself from him during the campaign. And the voters have expressed their opinion, and I stand behind that decision.”

Mr. Cabrera, a pastor who has long opposed gay marriage and abortion rights, lost his primary challenge to incumbent State Senator Gustavo Rivera. A video emerged of him earlier this month praising Christian leaders in the government of Uganda. The nation has one of the world’s strictest anti-gay laws.

In an open letter last week to Ms. James and other Cabrera backers, lawmakers outlined why they were choosing to support Mr. Rivera — and pointed to Mr. Cabrera’s long record opposing gay and women’s issues that Ms. James has long supported. And at a press conference, gay City Council members who serve alongside Mr. Cabrera urged Ms. James to reconsider her endorsement and slammed the councilman for his views and his remarks about Uganda, which Councilman James Van Bramer said sent the message to gay teens “that we don’t give a shit if you live or die.”

But though Ms. James said today she had distanced herself from Mr. Cabrera, she never rescinded her endorsement, and in a statement last week her office said she’d worked closely with Mr. Cabrera on other issues.

“I have supported the LGBT community long before I was an elected official, and obviously on the right to choose, I’m strong proponent of women’s right to choose. I totally disagree with Council member Cabrera and anyone else who basically denies rights to the LGBT community as well as to women in general,” Ms. James said today.

Why, then, endorse Mr. Cabrera in his bid to take Mr. Rivera’s spot in Albany?

“I’ve worked with Council member Cabrera in the City Council. He was a friend. He was a supporter of mine. And again, I did not actively campaign and the endorsement was primarily on paper,” Ms. James said.

Mr. Cabrera backed Ms. James in her bid for public advocate. (Mr. Rivera, meanwhile, supported her main opponent, State Senator Daniel Squadron.)

Ms. James said her “very close relationship” with the LGBT community and women’s organizations would continue — but some are unlikely to forget her endorsement so quickly.

“I found it shocking that she would consider endorsing — whether it’s on paper or not,” Allen Roskoff, president of the progressive, LGBT-focused Jim Owles Democratic Club, told the Observer.

He called the public advocate’s endorsement “inexplicable,” and said she should have changed it after the Uganda video arose.

“When you make an endorsement like that and these things are brought to your attention, you withdraw your endorsement,” he said. “It’s not a shame to say you made a mistake.”

Mr. Roskoff said he had not yet spoken with Ms. James — who is a member of the club’s Board of Governors and whose behalf the club sent out “tens of thousands” of pieces of campaign literature last year — about the endorsement, but planned to.

“This is going to have long-term repercussions for her,” Mr. Roskoff said. “She has to apologize and explain, and I’m not saying this with malice.”

Mr. Rivera, the incumbent, beat Mr. Cabrera 60 percent to 40 percent in the primary race. Mr. Cabrera blamed the “liberal media” for his defeat earlier this week.

Mr. Cabrera’s campaign spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

‘This Isn’t Some Comeback': Micah Kellner Wins Another Election

Fri, 09/12/2014 - 09:57

Assemblyman Micah Kellner. (Photo: Facebook)

The Upper East Side political establishment shut him out, but the voters had a different idea on Tuesday.

Assemblyman Micah Kellner, reeling from sexual harassment allegations and not seeking re-election to his legislative post, quietly trounced two opponents in a race for state committee. The overwhelming victory for the obscure, unpaid position heartened Mr. Kellner, who insisted it’s a myth that he’s not popular anymore in his district.

“It was very nice on Primary Day, while out campaigning, to see so many people–a lot of the reaction I got was that it’s great to see your name on the ballot, it’s great to be able to vote for you again,” Mr. Kellner told the Observer.

Mr. Kellner insisted it was never his idea to run for state committee–state committeemen nominate statewide officeholders but have little clout otherwise–and gave the credit of his win to his East Side Democratic Club. After a rival club tried to knock out one of the ESDC’s state committeemen, Mr. Kellner offered to step in and run in the competitive Democratic primary. Mr. Kellner characterized the win as a favor to his club, and not any attempt at a political comeback.

“I didn’t really want to run for the state committee. There is no grand plan here. This isn’t some comeback or rehabilitation,” he said. “The members of my club worked years and years, before I was an assemblyman. They didn’t deserve to be attacked and tarred for doing good work.”

Mr. Kellner garnered 2,614 votes for his state committee bid, nearly doubling the total of runner-up Jonathan Piel, according to unofficial Board of Elections returns. A third candidate, Karl Seidenwurm, won 477 votes. Put into context, Mr. Kellner’s vote total for a lower office surpassed the totals of candidates seeking his Assembly seat in the same area: Gus Christensen, a runner-up in the Assembly race, won 2,497 votes.

Mr. Kellner’s surge did not sit well with at least one Upper East Side power broker.

“I have endorsed Jonathan Piel and am begging people NOT to vote for Micah Kellner,” State Senator Liz Krueger tweeted on September 5, days before the September 9 primary.

Mr. Kellner was leaving his Assembly post to run for an open City Council seat last summer when it was revealed that he was the subject of a sexual harassment complaint years earlier. Mr. Kellner denied that he sexually harassed the former staffer but admitted he had an “inappropriate” relationship with her when he was single. A front-runner for the council seat, Mr. Kellner was immediately ostracized and lost all of his establishment support to a rival, Ben Kallos, who would go onto win the race and become the new city councilman.

Mr. Kellner’s troubles only mounted when an Assembly ethics committee accused him of “unwanted and inappropriate conduct of a sexual nature” toward two female members of his staff. The ethics committee charged Mr. Kellner with ignoring a previously ordered ban on having interns in his office and obstructing efforts to conduct a “climate survey” of his staff. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver reduced Mr. Kellner’s staff allocation to zero and ordered the closure of Mr. Kellner’s district and Albany offices by the end of June, effectively taking away any reason for Mr. Kellner to still serve in the legislature (he had announced he was not seeking re-election in February.)

Mr. Kellner has appealed the ruling and accused Mr. Silver of engaging in the “politics of personal destruction.” He said today that he wasn’t surprised that pols abruptly distanced themselves from him. “Politics is not an easy business. I’m not a neophyte in the world of politics and public service. There are certain people whose friendships and relationships I know will always be strong. For others, it reaffirmed that the relationship was always one that was transactional to begin with,” he said.

Come 2015, Mr. Kellner will be both a state committeeman and Democratic district leader, a post he will need to seek re-election for. He wouldn’t rule out running for that either, but he said his immediate interest would be catching up on some soccer games.

“I’m really looking forward to a strong season from the Tottenham Hotspur,” he said, referring to the English soccer team. “I’m going to go to a lot of soccer games.”

Cruz and the Jews

Fri, 09/12/2014 - 09:15

Ted Cruz. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Yesterday, in one of the stranger moments of the earliest stages of the 2016 Republican nominating season, Ted Cruz, a Republican Senator from Texas and likely presidential aspirant, got booed off the stage at an event in Washington hosted by an organization called In Defense of Christians for proclaiming his support for Israel and the Jewish people. As Cruz left the stage, he told the crowd, “If you will not stand with Israel and the Jews, then I will not stand with you. Good night, and God bless.”

It is reasonably evident that incident will only benefit Cruz. In today’s Republican Party it is impossible to be too strongly pro-Israel, and there’s no better way to demonstrate that support than by being booed offstage for loudly and unambiguously proclaiming it. The line that had drawn the boos from the crowd was “Christians have no greater ally than Israel. Those who hate Israel hate America.”

Cruz could not have been surprised, or disappointed, by the response his comments met, but the event is nonetheless strange on several levels. First, Cruz’s deeply Christian rejection of anti-Semitism: “If you hate the Jewish people you are not reflecting the teachings of Christ. And the very same people who persecute and murder Christians right now, who crucify Christians, who behead children, are the very same people who target Jews for their faith, for the same reason,” is admirable and welcome.

The politics of this, however, are striking. If the Republicans make big gains with Jewish voters in 2016, they might get 40% of those voters — that’s about the high-water mark set by Reagan in 1984. But if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee, even that goal will be unreachable (for context, McCain got about 22% of the Jewish vote in 2008 and Romney about 31% in 2012). Mr. Cruz’s remark were aimed not at Jews considering supporting the Republican Party, but at fundamentalist Christians for whom support for Israel and philo-Semitism are now important parts of their political ethos. Thus, in a confusing twist on what was almost his Sistah Souljah moment, Cruz sought to demonstrate his pro-Jewish credentials to win stronger support among fundamentalist Christians by being booed off the stage at a multi-faith event.

Lincoln Mitchell is the national political correspondent for the Observer. Follow him on Twitter @LincolnMitchell