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Race To Represent 2018: An Election Roundtable

Race To Represent 2018: An Election Roundtable


BEN MAX: Hello and welcome to a special edition
of Race to Represent on Manhattan Neighborhood Network. I’m Ben Max, executive editor of Gotham
Gazette. New York’s 2018 election season is gearing
up. Almost all statewide seats are up for grabs
this year: Governor, Lt. Govenor, Attorney General, Comptroller. As well as U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s
seat, all of the 27 seats from New York and the U.S. House of Representatives, and all
of the seats in the state legislature. 63 State Senate seats and 150 Assembly seats
are also at play. There’s a lot to watch for this year. Race to Represent will bring you coverage
of as many races as we can. Our first special election is Tuesday April
24th. Candidates are seeking the vacant seat in
the 74th Assembly District. A debate among all four candidates vying for
that seat and seeking your vote on April 24th is right after this show. My guests with me now couldn’t be more qualified
to discuss the 2018 election year. It’s Brendan Cheney, from Politico New York,
and Doctor Christina Greer, an Associate Professor of Political Science at Fordam University. BEN MAX: So thank you both for being here. So Christina let’s start at the top of the
ticket, the big race that’s going to dominate a lot of this election season, the race for
Governor. Governor Cuomo is seeking a third term. He’s being challenged on the left. He’s got people on his right lining up to
challenge him if he makes it through the primary. What are you watching here in the early going
in the gubernatorial race? DR. CHRISTINA GREER: Well the third term is never
as easy as as many people think it is. You know it’s much easier to ask someone
for a second term because you can say “I’ve been here only four years and I still have
quite a bit of my agenda that I’d like to accomplish”. Asking for a third term is a little more complicated. You’re essentially going back to the voters
and saying “I’ve been here 7 and a half, eight years, and now I’d like years 9, 10,
11, and 12 to continue my mission”. Well what has been your mission and what have
you done for the past almost decade? So I think that that’s a that’s a harder
sell. I think for Cuomo he’s also in a bit of
a tight situation just because he does have some sort of corruption trials in his inner
circle that will occur this summer. And you know so many people are so tired of
the corruption in Albany. Even this idea of corruption where they can
look to the Governor and sort of his inner circle and say “Are they part of the problem? Is he part of the problem?” As far as the challenge on the left with Cynthia
Nixon I mean she does represent someone who is an outsider. We saw in the 2016 election and elections
across the country sometimes celebrities, I mean they all range in skill set and quality,
but some people really do want someone who’s not entrenched in government politics to come
in with new ideas maybe new people. Cynthia Nixon has been politically active
for quite some time. She is relatively well known, but she also
knows how to connect with an audience in a way that Governor it’s not his strong suit. We do know that he struggles with sort of
dealing with smart women on an interpersonal basis. And then as far as the right is concerned
if the Republicans can put up someone who is not a Trump-ite, but who represents I
would say maybe a 21st century version of a Pataki, then I think Cuomo has some really
challenging troubles ahead of him if he can even get through the primary because some
people are really frustrated with his constant bickering and fighting with the Mayor of New
York City, with the fact that they feel like he’s dropped the ball on several issues
from housing to the environment to sort of not being a progressive Democrat and also
sort of co-signing the IDC and all their sort of Republican-esque behavior. BEN MAX: Let’s follow up on a few things
you said but Brendan you know broad strokes, I mean what are you looking at as this campaign
really gets going here? BRENDAN CHENEY: Yeah I mean I think the primaries
is sort of the first thing to happen and that’s going to be I think the most interesting to
begin with and you know trying to see if Cynthia Nixon can come anywhere close to the support
that Zephyr Teachout had in 2014. It’s really hard to predict because you
know Zephyr Teachout did well upstate, right, like Hudson Valley, Catskills, Capitol region,
even the north country a bit and then over in Central New York, but that was based on
hyrdro-fracking and environmental issues and some other things that are not really issues
any more, right? So what is um what are going to be some things
that animate Democrat primary voters this fall? And you know Cynthia Nixon’s trying to do
a lot more in the city where Cuomo’s actually really strong. So I think it’ll be interesting to see what
are voters going to care about in the fall and will Cynthia Nixon be someone who can
deliver on those things? BEN MAX: I think you raised a very interesting
point which is Zephyr Teachout put forth with very with no name recognition at the start of her
campaign, almost no money, getting a late start, no institutional backing, put together
a pretty solid campaign and won a third of the primary vote, right? Cynthia Nixon starts in a totally different
position. She starts a lot earlier. She’s easily able to raise money pretty
quickly based on having some name recognition, having a background, having a reasonably strong
campaign infrastructure to start, but on the other hand some of those issues that were
big issues in 2013, 2014 are gone or at least partially gone. You know another thing that motivated a lot
of the Teachout voters not only was the environmental issues led by fracking but was also education
reform and high-stakes testing, and the opt-out movement. And Governor Cuomo has basically reversed
himself on all that. So the energy for that is no longer there. The teacher unions are much more quiet around
Cuomo. 5:53 DR. CHRISTINA GREER: I don’t think that Cynthia
Nixon will do as well upstate as Zephyr Teachout did but I do think that she could chip into
his downstate base. I mean we know that she announced in Brownsville. We know that she’s made it explicit that
she will go after black women as keepers of the Democratic party, the keepers of Democracy. We know that people in her campaign and the
camp are post-Zephyr Teachout folks BEN MAX: including Zephyr Teachout. DR. CHRISTINA GREER: Zephyr Teachout is the treasurer
of her campaign and if she’s got political consultants who are not novices. They’re sort of the architects of Bill De
Blasio’s surprising campaign in 2013. So I think whenever we look at 2018 the shadow
of 2020 is evident just because even if Cynthia Nixon doesn’t win on September 13th during
the primary, if she gets anywhere near what Zephyr Teachout in 2014 enter Cuomo’s chances
of becoming a contender in any capacity for the Democratic party in 2020 are essentially
evaporated. If you can’t come out strong in New York,
New York State, which if you look at the map of 50 is like the bluest of the blue then
I think that the larger Democratic party would have some real concerns about him being a
viable candidate. BEN MAX: Well especially if he would have
to be eying winning a primary for president right you have to speak to that base. What is that stake for Andrew Cuomo here? Does Cynthia Nixon have a chance? BRENDAN CHENEY: Like I said it’s going to
be hard to see what the what the issues are that she can get primary voters to vote on. I mean it’s really really hard to beat an
incumbent especially in a primary. And he’s, I think, as much as he’s done
a pretty bad job at the beginning of responding to her attacks right in the press, on the
policy side he’s been trying his best to try and remove things that would be rallying
points for her, right? So he’s worked with the IDC and the Democrats
in the Senate to come back together, putting money up for public housing. He’s working on the MTA to some degree. I mean he’s trying to get rid of everything
that could be a negative in an upcoming primary. BEN MAX: Yeah it seems like, at least to start,
she’s focused on education funding which has been her issue. That’s the thing where if she’s been involved
in politics that’s been the number one thing. She’s had a couple other causes for sure
that she’s been involved with but she’s been around and she’s been an advocate and
closely aligned with the main education advocacy group Alliance for Quality Education that
focuses on education funding. So that’s her main topic and she’s attacked
the Governor on that and he comes back and says “Our per pupil funding at the state
level is the highest in the country.” So he is trying to head off that attack to
some degree. They also put you know some new measures in
the state budget to force cities, especially New York, to show where that funding then
goes school by school. I don’t know how far that’s going to take
him in the primary but at least it’s another measure to needle Mayor De Blasio. But clearly education funding and the MTA
are right at the top of how she’s attacking him. But she is also going to have to go upstate,
right? She’s going to have to speak to voters outside
of the MTA region. DR. CHRISTINA GREER: Right. I think she has time to sort of craft that
message. We know that the Governor is going to start
giving out Easter eggs to all the electeds, you know? We’ve already seen that because he needs
them to endorse him and there have been many people downstate, especially who have been
a little slow on the uptake to say like we’ll just wait and see. But I do think especially when it comes to
MTA funding I think that that’s where Cynthia Nixon can pick off a lot of Cuomo supporters
especially in a primary. We have to think about the types of people
who turn out on primary. This is purely anecdotal but four years ago
when I would sit on a stalled subway and you’d hear people say “Thanks a lot De Blasio!”
and I’d secretly whisper it’s not really him. Now four years later clearly something in
the marketing has changed because when we’re all sitting in a dilapidated subway car people
are railing against Cuomo. So there’s an issue education that clearly
has occurred these past four years. So I think that’s one piece. The second piece with housing you know if
Cynthia Nixon can make the case this is the former HUD Director and this is where our
New Yorkers are living. 400,000 people in New York City live in public
housing but I believe if we look at the numbers for 2014 I think 20% of Cuomo’s downstate
voter population came from public housing. So if Cynthia Nixon can make some inroads
downstate she’ll sort of compensate for that. And then over the summer I think whether its
cleaning up corruption in Albany or whatever issue pops up you know she has a stronger
foothold. But I also think she represents the Civil
War in the Democratic Party which is when you say you’re a Democrat do you want to
be a progressive Democrat or centrist sort of Cuomo/Clinton Democrat a la the 1990s to
sort of pick up that largest group in the middle? And some Democrats think that’s the best
strategy moving forward to get those weak leaning Republicans and Independents. Other sort of Cynthia Nixon type of primary
voters would say “No. If you’re a Democrat I want you on the left
fighting for progressive issues and no compromise. BEN MAX: She came out swinging on that front,
right? Calling, basically calling Cuomo a fake Democrat. And he has responded as you said by pretty
quickly after the state budget was passed announcing that he has brokered a deal between
this fracturous conference of Democrats 8 members, to come back to the main line Democrats. They still don’t have majority in the state
Senate. They’re trying to work on that. There’s some special elections coming up
April 24th and then the fall as well. And we’ve seen the Governor not only do
that but then also he’s been campaigning in Westchester where there’s a very important
state senate seat up for election on April 24th, and campaigning on Long Island where
there’s key races coming up in the fall. It seems like he’s approaching this differently
than he has in the past because he sees that vulnerability? BRENDAN CHENEY: Yeah. That and I think, yeah, you can see him try
to get union support as well, right? Knowing that primary voters are often members
of unions so the more union support he can get the more support he’ll have in the primary
and I think also more likely that he’ll be able to get the Working Families Party
line again which he did get in 2014 but it was a big fight and he had to make some concessions
that I think he didn’t want to make. So those are all things he’s doing to try
to shore up his left. BEN MAX: And so we’ve talked a bit here
about how Cynthia Nixon’s attacking him. We mentioned how former mayor of Syracuse
Stephanie Miner is still considering a run for Governor. She might jump into this Democratic primary
mix which would toss the whole thing in a new direction in terms of it not really being
a one on one battle which would complicate things quite a bit. We’re talking a bit about how Cynthia Nixon
is attacking him from the left, the fracture in the Democratic party that this indicates,
what’s the Governor running on? He’s had to try to shore up some of these
issues, but if you ask him and many others he has a record, right? He has a record to run on. He’s accomplished some things going back
to the first term. Marriage equality, a pretty major piece of
gun control legislation. How is his record? What do you make of his record? BRENDAN CHENEY: When you hear him talk, whether
he’s criticizing Bill De Blasio or campaigning against Cynthia Nixon he talks a lot about
his experience and getting a lot of things accomplished, right? He says Bill De Blasio campaigns a lot things
and tries to push for a lot of things but Cuomo’s the one that can get things done,
right? Whether it’s minimum wage like you said,
marriage equality, that there are these things that he’s done, on time budgets for I think
if not every year then almost every year. And the one that was not was close. BEN MAX: And for folks who don’t know, before
Governor Cuomo came into power that was not the case often in Albany, and he has, even
though there’s still major problems how things get voted on in the middle of the night
often and things of that nature, he has brought some semblance of order back to state government
that was lacking for awhile. BRENDAN CHENEY: Right right. But going back to what you said earlier it
sounds like what he’s talking about is effective management, I don’t hear a lot about things
he hasn’t done that he wants to do. Right? It’s like you should trust me because I
can do things, but I’m not sure what it is that he’s left undone that he needs four
more years to do. I haven’t heard that articulated yet. BRENDAN CHENEY: To your point, he talks about
being able to get things through a divided legislature but people turn around and say
“Hey you helped create divided legislature!” DR. CHRISTINA GREER: That’s because of you! Right. And I think for Cynthia Nixon who is doing
some real retail politicking in black communities I don’t think she’s going to miss an opportunity
to remind voters, female voters, voters of color, female voters of color, that part of
the reason why there was so much gridlock was because Andrew Cuomo was stripping power
away from Andrea Stewart-Cousins. Symbolically having the Governor taking away
power from the most powerful woman in state government, the most powerful woman of color
in state government, doesn’t fall on deaf ears. I think the fighting with De Blasio is getting
on a lot of peoples nerves. I mean it’s sort of if you grew up with
a sibling, like the oldest sibling should be the mature one, right? Even if they’re in the wrong. Most of the time it’s like your parents
that are like “You’re the oldest. Do better.” And so I think some people are feeling like
“You’re the Governor. So much of the mayor’s budget is tied up
in the state budget. There’s so much that the Mayor actually
can’t get done because he has to go with his tin cup to Albany. And because of this riff between these two
men, we see New Yorkers suffering in many ways. I’m curious as to how he frames these progressive
issues, but also these centrist issues at the same time because he seems a little schizophrenic
at times. Sometimes he comes to voters and says “I’m
the most progressive Governor you’ve ever seen and I’ve done marriage equity. It’s like well we’re number 17. If you were really on it we could have been
in the top five. BEN MAX: And that was also in 2011. DR. CHRISTINA GREER: Exactly. What have you done for me lately, right? So he sometimes says he’s the most progressive,
but other times he puts things up but then he sort of knows that it’ll never get through
Albany and he never really follows through. I’m thinking about some of his prison reform
stuff where if you’re not really paying attention it’s like “Oh wow” if you’re
a progressive voter. You really think that he’s pushing this
agenda, and it’s like, no, he just kind of threw it out there but there was never any
intention to fund it or follow through. BEN MAX: Well a few of the things you said
hit upon that Andrew Cuomo is a masterful politician in many ways. Now he’s made a lot of mistakes. He’s stumbled sometimes, and he’s flubbed
some of the earlier Cynthia Nixon challenges, but you can already see this issue of not
empowering Andrea Stewart-Cousins. He’s trying to take that off the table by
announcing this unification deal. He came to the table though with the unification
deal after a budget was passed where he was able to again sort of play the middle ground
and now he’s saying “Well the things we didn’t get in this budget, now those are
the things that we need to accomplish with a full Democratic legislature. And so he has that talking point now. The question in my mind around some of that
and other Democratic Party machinations are, “Has people’s awareness heightened to the point,
especially primary voters, that there’s enough people now who know all that, who have
seen it all, that he actually pays a price?” Because the election of Donald Trump, because
the IDC has been around for a long time, and because Cuomo has been around for a long time
that people have sort of understand those political tricks that he’s playing, and
because he’s been around awhile the might not work so well this year. Or as people really start to pay attention
to the election, which isn’t going to happen still for weeks and months, does everything
he’s saying sound pretty good? BRENDAN CHENEY: I think it’s harder to make
a talking point that the Governor had for a long time empowered the IDC but now isn’t,
instead of going into the election saying the Governor is still empowering the IDC. I think it’s the same with people who are
challenging the IDC by the way. Now they’re saying “Well we don’t trust
them, but for a long time they were with Republicans even though they’re not now.” I think that’s a much harder talking point
to make to say that this used to be the case but it’s not anymore. And so I think it’s going to be hard for
people to use that as a really effective… BEN MAX: I think that that makes a lot of
sense but I also do think there is a heightened awareness that I don’t know where that is
going to come down. I do think that makes a lot of sense. I just want to add you know you mentioned
criminal justice reform, the idea of bail reform, making major changes to the requirements
around bail did not make it into the budget although the Governor has said he supports
that, it’s one of the premiere things he’s saying still needs to be accomplished. The DREAM Act, early voting, campaign finance
reform. You know there is a pretty big list of things
that he went through in a very interesting fashion you know sort of admitting that he
wasn’t able to get them passed, then putting blame on the Republican led state Senate,
and saying now we’re going to accomplish this. Very similar to what he did four years ago
by the way. It was a very similar playbook. DR. CHRISTINA GREER: I think if Nixon can sort
of help braid that rope to help voters understand it’s difficult for you to vote. We’re number 38 in the nation because of
him as far as ease of early voter registration and turnout. Criminal justice reform, if you’re a progressive
Democrat and you care about this stuff, we are actually whatever number in the nation
because of the Governor. So as we get closer to September, I think
the summer’s going to give us a lot, if Nixon is going to make this case it’s like
“Yeah maybe he has done a lot, however, for the core issues and values that we still
really care about, they always seem to get thrown by the wayside. Now what could help Cuomo quite a bit, I think,
in September is if our President is in shambles. Which, who knows? He seems like a phoenix as well rising from
the ashes, but just in case he isn’t I think Cuomo will look to voters and say “Well
you know what? We tried the celebrity and we actually need
someone who does understand government, who has worked in government as long as I have,
and so she may have some great ideas, I’ll adapt some of them and I’ll think about
the others, but maybe we need to have someone who is entrenched in Albany – forget about
the scandals and everything that happened this summer – I’m the adult of the two candidates.” BEN MAX: It’s definitely another interesting
dynamic because you do have the outsider that does have some experience in policy and is
a very different candidate than Donald Trump of course in Cynthia Nixon, but where are
voters in terms of stability? Someone who’s been there, someone who’s
had a very long government resume. I don’t think we know that yet. It would be interesting to see if there is
some polling on that. It would be interesting to see if even after
just a few weeks or a couple of months of campaigning if Cynthia Nixon’s poll numbers
begin to rise. You know one of the things about her is she’s
going to get a lot of media attention. You know she’s not Zephyr Teachout who people
are not taking that seriously. I mean she’s getting a lot of attention. That might serve her well, or you might have
this really strong block of Democratic voters who know Cuomo, know the Cuomo name, feel
like the state is doing okay at least, and are okay with continuity when you have chaos
in Washington. The State Senate as we’ve indicated, the
entire state legislature, both houses on the ballot this fall. We have some special elections coming up April
24th. Everybody should also know, we can talk about
this if we have some time towards the end, congressional primaries in June. New York has a very complicated voting system
as we’ve touched on. There are separate primaries for Congress
and for the State level seats. So you have congressional primaries in June. In September we have the state level primaries. Cuomo/Nixon but also the entire state legislature
is on the ballot this fall, and then of course the November general election. So state senate control is at stake in this
election. Why does that matter? Most of those elections that matter are not
in New York City, but why do New York City voters care? BRENDAN CHENEY: Well the fate of the State
Senate hangs in the balance, right? Right now there are 31 Republicans and one
Democrat who caucuses with the Republicans. So they’ve got to get majority control of
the body. So the Democrats are hoping that they can
win enough seats in November to take control working with the IDC. There’s 8 IDC members. I think 21 Democrats. There’s two vacancies. Nationally and it seems locally the feeling
is the environment is better for Democrats this time because of how bad Trump is doing. And so there is this possibility. I think Democrats are looking at 8 seats. There’s 8 seats held by Republicans where
Democrats have an advantage. Those are the seats they’re targeting. I’m not sure they’ll target everyone of
those, but those are places where Democrats can look. They need just one seat really. I think they’ll want more than that. It looks like they could. They have a good chance of getting enough
seats to get back the majority if the IDC stays with them. BEN MAX: Right. Folks should know the State Assembly is in
Democratic control, and will be probably forever. Part of what some people are upset with Andrew
Cuomo about is the redistricting he oversaw and wound up signing off on after the last
census that helped create very strong Democratic assembly seats and very strong Republican
Senate seats even though Republicans are trying to hang on to any really sort of semblance
of power at the state level. You have a Democrat Governor, Lt. Governor,
Attorney General, Comptroller. All state wide seats on the ballot this year,
and then you have the state legislature where Republicans are holding onto control of the
Senate and really largely thanks to Brooklyn Senator Simcha Felder who is a Democrat and
a Republican and caucuses with the Republicans. So in a lot of these policies like bail reform,
like early voting, people are saying – including the Governor – that these are basically on
the ballot this Fall. That if the Senate goes Democratic you’re
going to see a wave of progressive policies moved through. Do you buy that? Is that the case? DR. CHRISTINA GREER: We could. What’s you know for me the sort of necessity
of getting these seats back is for the census and redistricting when it sort of comes through. So we know we’ll have the 2020 census. We know we’ll start redrawing some lines
around 2021. So getting people in place, past their first
election, once you successfully win your first election the second one is a little bit better,
and then you can become Charlie Rangel and win 23 races over 46 years. So to me that’s what I’m really looking
at. When we look at so many of these primary numbers
for so many of these districts the primary is the general race. I mean once you get through the primary there’s
sometimes not even a challenger on the ballot. We’re seeing people go to Albany with 8,000,
10,000 votes maybe. These are people who are in charge of budgets in the billions, worth more than some countries actually. And they’re deciding things not just about
bail reform and prisons but about our bodies and our families and our education, funding
for our education especially. So that’s what I’m trying to ring the
alarm about. I think that also though you brought up this
really important point that our American democracy and sort of lack of civics education, we ask
our electorate in New York to go to the polls so often. We just had local elections last year. So that means that if you’re a participatory
Democratic voter in New York State you have a special election in April, depending on
where you are – you need to know whether or not you should be participating – and then
you’ve got the congressional primaries in June, the state Senate and state Legislature
primaries in September, and then November for the general. That’s four different times that some New
Yorkers are going to vote, and they already voted four times last year. And three or four times the year before that. So I think that to me is also… BEN MAX: Training people maybe to just expect
to vote three or four times a year? I think it’s a lot. Dr. CHRISTINA GREER: Yeah exactly. I think it’s a lot. And I don’t think that it’s voter apathy
always. I think sometimes it’s voter fatigue and
lack of voter education that’s also the piece that hopefully… BEN MAX: Yeah the lack of early voting. DR. CHRISTINA GREER: Well thanks to the Governor. We have a lack of convenience. BEN MAX: In our last minute here we are setting
the stage for this very important election cycle in New York. As I indicated before we
have these congressional seats which are not about New York State government but will contribute
to the House of Representatives in Washington after this election cycle. Democrats are hoping to flip the House. There are several New York districts like
you said about the New York State Senate. There are several in the House, again mostly
not in New York City mostly because of how heavily Democratic it is, although the one
Staten Island seat is usually in play some way, so people need to watch for that. And we also have US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand
is on the ballot this year. US Senators are staggered so we only have
one senator on the ballot and she is facing a Republican opponent. She also, like Andrew Cuomo, has some presidential
buzz. There’s a lot to watch for this year. Final thought on what’s at stake in terms
of the federal level for the election cycle? BRENDAN CHENEY: Yeah it’ll be interesting
to see how New York contributes to what happens overall in Congress. I think that Democrats are hoping to win enough
seats to take back the House of Representatives. In order to do that they’ll need to win
in lots of different places. Does New York contribute to a big wave? There’s a few Republicans that are in really
tough races this year. BEN MAX: And they have to decide how to handle
the Donald Trump question which will also come back to the Republican side of the gubernatorial
race which I’m sure we’ll discuss in the future. Christina Greer, Brendan Cheney, thank you
so much for joining me today.

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