While most political pundits have been focusing on the federal elections and whether or not the Democrats can retain both the House and the Senate, New York State politics are also heating up.
Statewide, there are battles for the governor’s mansion, attorney general and state comptroller. And the Democrats would like to increase their slim, two-seat majority in the State Senate, and the Republicans want to take back the body they controlled for more than 40 years.
The stakes are high.
Election Day 2010 may shape the next decade-plus of city and state politics for better or worse. The AmNews highlighted some of the more important races and what they mean to our communities in New York City and throughout the state.
THE RACE FOR GOVERNOR
The gloves have been thrown in the gubernatorial election between the Democratic and Independent Party candidate, state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, and the Republican candidate, former Long Island Congressman Rick Lazio. Cuomo chose Rochester Mayor and former Police Chief Robert Duffy as his running mate for lieutenant governor, while Lazio has chosen Greg Edwards.
With hopes to follow his father, former Gov. Anthony Cuomo, polls indicate that Cuomo is beating all Republican challengers interested in running for the seat. Waiting until late May to make his announcement to run, Cuomo previously served as secretary of housing and urban development under former President Bill Clinton’s administration. He ran unsuccessfully in 2002 against former State Comptroller Carl McCall.
New York City Councilman Charles Barron also plans to be on the governor’s ballot for the fall under the Freedom Party banner.
New York County Leader Assemblyman Keith Wright said that Democrats are still cleaning up problems in the state after 12 years of Pataki rule and more than 40 years of Republican control of the Senate.
While jobs are at the top of the list for issues, affordable housing is also a top concern for Democrats living in New York County, according to Wright.
“People are not leaving the Democratic Party,” he said. “People are angry at the BP oil spill, no jobs, education and college tuition. When people take out their frustration, they take it out on the people who are in charge.”
As Gov. David Paterson leaves office and ends his tenure as New York State’s first Black governor, Black voters are concerned about their issues being heard in Albany. Quietly, some Black elected officials are voicing their concern about whether a Cuomo administration will in fact be diverse if he is elected.
For many longtime political watchers, despite his rhetoric, Cuomo’s father’s administration was a disappointment to many African-Americans.
And there is the issue of the lack of Blacks running for statewide office in the Democratic Party in this year’s election. Wright blames the lack of color on the failure of Blacks to step forward and run, rather than a lack of recruitment by Democratic Party officials.
He said, “In order to be a part of something, it’s like the lottery. You have to be in it to win it.”
But Wright believes that Cuomo will do the right thing and make sure that he has a diverse and demographically representative government if he wins. “Andrew Cuomo is bright and has a history and current sense of public service. I have no doubt that his administration will be diverse,” he said.
ATTORNEY GENERAL RACE
Interest in the attorney general race continues to build as each candidate running for the Democratic ticket raises their profile in New York State and New York City. There are five Democrats vying for Cuomo’s current job.
Current New York State Sen. Eric Schneiderman looks to be the favorite for attorney general, especially with New York City residents. He’s had a big hand in passing hate crime legislation, the Women’s Health and Wellness Act and increasing the minimum wage in Albany. His advocacy for eliminating prison gerrymandering practices in New York State has been chronicled in the AmNews before.
Eric Dinallo once served as the superintendent of insurance for New York State and has boasted about his work in the attorney general’s office. Dinallo said he held Wall Street accountable by “rediscovering” the Martin Act, which gives extraordinary powers and discretion to an attorney general fighting financial fraud.
Steve Coffey is a former employee of the Bernstein Litowitz firm. Coffey assisted in the battle against WorldCom during the organization’s securities fraud. In his campaign video, Coffey said, “I don’t get Christmas cards from Wall Street or from audit firms, but I do get them from investors.”
Assemblyman Richard Brodsky’s been very vocal about his accomplishments and what he plans to accomplish if elected attorney general. Earlier this year, the AmNews reported that Brodsky referenced his part in fighting the stadium on the West Side of Manhattan, saying, “Those are the things that distinguish good candidates from great candidates.” Brodsky believes that prosecuting and putting people in prison are small parts of the attorney general job and have taken precedent over other equally important issues.
“A small part of this job is prosecuting,” said Brodsky to the AmNews. “But the real issues are property taxes, health care and education. And we need someone to improve the lives of citizens and not just put bad guys in jail.”
And while Schneiderman may be the favorite with New York City voters, Andrew Cuomo’s personal favorite to take over the attorney general reins is Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice. In Nassau, Rice has a reputation for being a particularly aggressive prosecutor along with her opposition to reform of the draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws. Rice’s name went national earlier this year when she prosecuted Scott Braun, the manager of teen-pop singer Justin Bieber, for not tweeting that an appearance by Bieber at a local Long Island mall had been canceled.
Some have begun to question Rice’s commitment to the democratic process after the New York Times reported that Rice did not vote for 18 years once she was eligible to vote, casting her first ballot in 2002. She also initially registered as a Republican in 1984 before running for district attorney as a Democrat in 2005.
With Rice being Cuomo’s favorite, it’s understandable that many of New York’s citizens of color remain skeptical of her, with her sketchy voting record, opposition to reforming the Rockefeller Drug Laws, and zeal to prosecute.
KEY SENATE RACES
Because of the fear of less diversity in Albany, it’s important that the Democrats maintain power in the State Senate. All 62 State Senate seats are up for grabs, with the Republicans hoping to regain the majority. If a Republican is elected governor, the party needs to gain only one seat in the Senate. If a Democrat is elected governor, the Republicans would need two seats for a majority–assuming that the lieutenant governor would break the tie during votes.
Some key races in the Senate include Kemp Hannon, a Republican, battling Democrat Dave Mejias for the District 6 seat, which spreads from Garden City to Farmingdale. Hannon has held this seat since 1989 but dodged a bullet in 2008 when he edged out newcomer Kristen M. McElroy by 4 percentage points (52 percent to 48 percent on Election Day 2008).
Charlie Ramos, a former liaison to former City Comptroller Bill Thompson, is challenging Ruben Diaz Sr. for the 32nd District State Senate seat in the Bronx. Diaz has been a difficult partner for his Democratic colleagues. At times, he has sided with sometimes renegade State Sen. Pedro Espada, and he has come out publicly against gay marriage, catching the ire of gay rights’ groups. Ramos was recently endorsed by the Empire State Pride Agenda, a local Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) organization.
Juan Gustavo Rivera, a political aide who worked for senatorial and presidential campaigns for Kirsten Gillibrand and Barack Obama respectively, will challenge the controversial Espada for his Senate seat in the 33rd District. The state Democratic Party started to move on potentially ousting Espada from the ranks earlier this month. Espada is under investigation for allegedly using public money for personal-political business when he channeled finances to the Soundview Healthcare Network, a non-profit organization in Espada’s district that he owns. Espada believes that the Democratic Party’s actions are being steered by Cuomo as he asserts his power early.
Malcolm Smith mentioned a State Senate race in Long Island between Democrat Brian Foley and Republican Lee Zeldin. It’s one of the seats the Republicans need to regain if they are going to have any realistic hope of regaining a majority in the State Senate.
KEY ASSEMBLY RACES
With a Democratic majority sure to remain solid in the Assembly, all 150 seats are up for grabs. There are 64 assembly seats in New York City with 17 Black assembly members in the city. Gerrymandering gives little room for competitive races.
Notably, several candidates who previously ran for City Council in 2009 are again attempting to break into public office by running in their assembly district. For example, Carlton Berkley, who ran for City Council in Harlem last year, is seeking the District 68 seat, while former City Council candidate Clyde Vanel is running for the 33rd District seat in Southeast Queens. Vanel’s looking to topple Barbara Clark, who currently holds this seat.
Sheldon Silver will most likely remain majority leader. In his own race, he has sued Republican Joan Lipp from being on the ballot.
Notable races to watch include District 68 in Harlem, which is currently being occupied by Adam Clayton Powell IV, who is running for Congress. Nine candidates have thrown their hat into the race, including Powell’s chief of staff, Evette Zayas.
In District 79 in the Bronx, incumbent Michael Benjamin is vacating his seat to run for Congress. Wilbert Tee Lawton and Gwendolyn Primus are running for the seat.
Five candidates have declared their run for the District 55 seat in Brooklyn, which political royalty William Boyland currently occupies.