Primary season has begun to roll out across the country, including some hotly contested -- and some just plain bizarre -- races for governor, Congress and other local and state offices. One primary of note is in a State Senate race here in New York, and it has already attracted national attention, as well as mine, as it involves my State Senate district. This race is, in many ways, a microcosm of what is wrong with our political process nationally, as it pits an establishment-supported, "Republicrat" -- aka a Democrat who acts like a Republican -- incumbent in Senator Jeffrey Klein, against a lifelong Progressive, Oliver Koppell, who is a former Attorney General, New York State Assemblyman and New York City Council member. In his 35-year career, which has featured a record of exemplary public service -- along with a few political "warts" -- Mr. Koppell has sponsored 290 bills, all of which passed -- how many legislators at any level can make that claim? -- an achievement he proudly emphasized in his speech to the Ben Franklin Reform Democratic Club in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx on May 22 during its candidate endorsement vote.
A standing-room-only crowd filled the local American Legion Hall for the meeting, despite the stormy, rain-swept night. This was democracy in action, I thought, as I looked around the room. That was, until I was handed literature from the Club lauding the record of Senator Klein and all but negating the career of Mr. Koppell, with no mention of his many outstanding accomplishments. Indeed, the literature urged the Club -- in bold print -- to endorse Mr. Klein, and on top was prominently displayed the address of his website and the slogan, "Jeff Klein: A Senator You Can Count On." Meanwhile, there was nothing so prominently displayed for Mr. Koppell -- his website is www.oliverkoppell.com, by the way. Clearly, the Club had thrown its support behind Senator Klein and was attempting to influence the vote before it could even take place.
The Ben Franklin Club, which has been around for 54 years and is mainly a bastion of the Democratic establishment -- they supported Hillary Clinton for President in 2008 -- then opened the meeting by saying that, while they had supported Mr. Koppell in the past, they could not do so now, as Mr. Klein's achievements have been "remarkable," so why change? They praised Mr. Klein for working with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to bring in $300 million to expand Pre-K education in the city, as if Mr. Klein was the lone player in this effort. They credited Mr. Klein with passing the SAFE Act to enact stronger statewide gun laws, despite the fact that the majority of the people in the state -- and the governor -- also support such legislation. They noted that the senator is a strong supporter of the women's equality agenda, but the Women's Equality Act, which was introduced by Governor Cuomo and overwhelmingly passed in the assembly, fell prey to the meddling of the Senate "leadership" -- of which Senator Klein is supposedly a member -- and the anti-choice stance of the Republicans and two Republicrats, and failed to be fully passed in the Senate. Mr. Koppell felt it would have garnered at least some GOP support and passed had it been one bill -- instead of being divided into ten separate bills by those in charge. Then there is the DREAM Act -- which provides funding assistance for higher education for the kids of undocumented immigrants -- which also flamed out in the Senate on the senator's watch.
And finally, there is the signature issue for Governor Cuomo -- public funding of campaigns -- which is nowhere on the State Senate's radar, either. And why should it be? After all, Mr. Klein has $1.5 million in campaign donations in his election coffers as of January, a majority of which come from big-dollar donors like lawyers, the real estate industry -- including builders and landlords -- and special interest PAC's. Such prolific fundraising -- and the influence that surely comes with it -- would come to an end under the public funding model, so it's not hard to imagine Mr. Klein's position on this issue. In a letter to the Ben Franklin Club membership, Mr. Koppell noted that $800,000 in donations to Senator Klein's campaign have come from real estate interests, along with more than $300,000 from nursing homes and healthcare corporations.
Retired Judge Alan Saks asked the senator at the Ben Franklin endorsement vote, "How much money have you received from the charter school lobby?" Mr. Klein almost fell over his own tongue trying to come up with an answer to that one, ultimately saying he couldn't recall the amount donated to his campaign. Well, Senator, we might remind you that the fundraising arm of your so-called Independent Democratic Conference ("IDC") has taken in at least $5,000 from a Republican front group called StudentsFirst, which supports education "reform," particularly in the form of charter schools.
In a significant New York Daily News story that came out on Memorial Day, Kenneth Lovett reported that Gov. Cuomo will take action to reunite State Senate Democrats and toss the GOP from power in the State Senate if public funding of campaigns is not passed before the end of the current session on June 19. The IDC was supposed to come to a deal on this issue by the end of May, so now Klein and GOP Senate leader Dean Skelos must step up and show what kind of leaders they are. This could inspire similar action elsewhere in the country to go to public funding of campaigns, so New York must take the lead on this issue.
One thing that has endeared Senator Klein to this community is his freezing - for now - of a proposed expansion and intrusion into the community of an eleven story medical building run by Montefiore Medical Center. It was projected that 1,000 patients would be coming to this new center daily in an area where limited parking already makes it a nightmare for local residents. So the Senator took on this popular community issue and was successful, making it so that no such project could go forward without input from the community on its size and location -- he done good on this one.
And so, in a ballot vote, 11 voted not to endorse that evening, while 96 voted in favor of endorsing Mr. Klein and 38 voted to endorse Mr. Koppell. As Senator Elizabeth Warren might say, "the game (was) rigged" against Mr. Koppell from the start. I, along with many others present, am not a member of the Ben Franklin Club, but am an interested member of the community. Mr. Koppell has been a Club member since 1966, and has supported one previous and one current member of the New York City Council, as well as our current Assemblyman, all of whom threw him under the bus by endorsing Mr. Klein -- so much for loyalty. The local Conservative newspaper, The Riverdale Review, has lauded Senator Klein, while deriding Mr. Koppell with a series of un-substantiated personal attacks. Mr. Koppell, in an eloquent and impassioned speech to the room, said to the Senator, "Have you no decency, Senator Klein?" and spoke of the core Democratic and Progressive values of the party, its achievements in New York's history, and the smack in the face to the State Senate's Democratic caucus and the people of New York by Senator Kein's defection.
That is at the heart of why Oliver Koppell is running in this race. Jeff Klein turned his back on his own party and made a naked power grab for himself by entering into a power-sharing deal with GOP Senate minority leader Dean Skelos and forming the IDC, taking with him four other Republicrats to make up a six-person cabal which, for one thing, has the authority to effectively veto any legislation they don't like before it even gets a vote. As a result, Senator Klein has given control of the Senate back to the GOP, which, after the 2012 elections, held only 29 seats, compared to 32 for the Dems. As a reward for his scheming, Senator Klein was named the co-leader of the Senate with Senator Skelos, as well as its President. The Progressive community was rightfully outraged by this coup, but apparently establishment Democrats like the Ben Franklin "Reform" Club did not take it so hard. So just what are they reforming - reality? Senator Klein's tortured reasoning for his political dirty trick was "...because nothing was getting done with the Democrats," and he felt more bi-partisanship would take place with an IDC. So he is saying he could not have made a difference had he remained in a strengthened Democratic caucus, and could only achieve "bi-partisanship" by becoming a lackey of the GOP minority? It is also worth noting that former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg - who was once a Democrat, then became a Republican, and finally decided to become an Independent - has also donated $150,000 to the IDC, according to Mr. Koppell.
With huge support from Progressives - especially Daily Kos, which secured 11,000 signatures and $28,000 in donations within five days of coming out for him - Oliver Koppell jumped into a race just five months after he was - finally - term-limited out of the City Council. (That was one of those "warts" in his otherwise distinguished career, as he wrote the legislation to extend the City Council and Mayor Bloomberg to a third term. I questioned Mr. Koppell about that, and he insisted -- as he did at the Ben Franklin Club endorsement vote -- that he does not believe in term limits. Another political "wart" came with Mr. Koppel's supporting Mayor Bloomberg in his quest for a third term as mayor. Mr. Koppell had supported Democrats in the first two elections, and mentioned to me that he thought Mr. Bloomberg had done a good job early on, but later came to regret his decision.)
I interviewed Oliver Koppell a few days before the endorsement vote at the Ben Franklin Club, and I asked him what some of his proudest achievements have been:
I also asked Mr. Koppell for some of the reasons that made him decide to run in this race:
All of this should serve as a cautionary tale and wake-up call to Democrats and Progressives across the country that we can no longer support and condone tepid Republicrats that don't really support the values of the Democratic Party. We cannot afford to play it safe, but must move forward with an agenda that is People-centered and not subservient to corporate and special interests. We must also remember other so-called Democrats and the damage they have done to our party and the country in the past, like former US Senators Joe Lieberman and Max Baucus, who both should have long ago switched to the GOP. Were it not for Max, who was Chair of the Senate's Finance Committee as the Affordable Care Act was being written, we would have had single-payer on the table and could have learned of its merits - the nation deserved that much at least. Mr. Baucus was also one of the largest recipients of special interest money in Congress, by the way.
It is also worth noting that former NYC Comptroller John Liu recently announced that he is challenging State Senator Tony Avella - one of the other Republicrat members of the IDC - for his seat. With the rise to political prominence of true Progressives like Oliver Koppell and John Liu, as well as US Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Corey Booker (D-NJ) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Representatives Alan Grayson (D-FL) and Keith Ellison (D-MN), New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, and a host of others across the country, we might ask if indeed a new day is dawning for Progressives? After all, if passionate, Progressive talents like these can't turn around the moribund Democratic Party, then maybe it is time we started a Progressive Party in this country. Just a thought...
- with Jonathan Stone
Link to original article from The Huffington Post
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Primary season has begun to roll out across the country, including some hotly contested -- and some just plain bizarre -- races for governor, Congress and other local and state offices. One primary of note is in a State Senate race here in New York, and it has already attracted national attention, as well as mine, as it involves my State Senate district. This race is, in many ways, a microcosm of what is wrong with our political process nationally, as it pits an establishment-supported, "Republicrat" -- aka a Democrat...
Pearl Korn | The Huffington Post 29 May 2014 Hits:481 New York
Bill de Blasio overwhelmingly was elected mayor here Tuesday, becoming the first Democrat to lead New York in 20 years and ushering in a new era of activist liberal governance in the nation’s largest city.
Shortly after polls closed at 9 p.m., several networks projected that de Blasio soundly defeated Republican Joe Lhota, a protégé of former mayor Rudy Giuliani.
De Blasio campaigned on a mantle of progressive change following Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s 12 years in office, highlighting what he saw as “a tale of two cities.” The moneyed Manhattan elite have...
Phillip Rucker | The Washington Post 05 Nov 2013 Hits:486 New York
A US federal appeals court has blocked a previous ruling against New York City’s stop-and-frisk policy. In addition, the judge who made the ruling was removed from the case, the AP reported.
The appeals court alleges Judge Scheindlin “improperly urged plaintiffs’ counsel to file suit as ‘related’ to a 1999 case previously assigned to her and because of certain media interviews,” S.D.N.Y. Blog reported Thursday.
Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled in August the New York Police Department’s policing method was unconstitutional under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.
Scheindlin found the NYPD’s 4.4 million stops...
RT 31 Oct 2013 Hits:319 New York
In writing about last night’s raucous NYC mayoral debate between Bill de Blasio and Joe Lhota, Michael Powell of the New York Times nailed de Blasio as a Nation sort of guy, but suggested that he might not be so forever.
“The man likely to be the next mayor, Mr. de Blasio now sometimes seems less suggestive of a Nation magazine star than a savvy, even cool-eyed pol. (It’s worth noting that he barred reporters from his fund-raiser and declined to make public a list of the guests),” writes Powell. He’s...
Leslie Savan | The Nation 24 Oct 2013 Hits:366 New York
Prepared to remember next November, nearly 40 protesters demonstrated Tuesday outside Rep. Chris Gibson’s, R-19, Kinderhook office for him to “stop the madness” and act before tomorrow when the federal government may no longer be able to pay its bills.
Protesters later marched on Gibson’s office to shred a $174,000 check made out to him by American taxpayers “for doing nothing,” Susan Weber, a MoveOn.org regional organizer, added.
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Protest leaders from MoveOn.org assembled...
Joe Gentile Columbia-Greene Media 16 Oct 2013 Hits:477 New York
Leroy Downes, a plaintiff in the stop-and-frisk trial, spoke at a news conference after a federal judge ruled that the practice violated the rights of minorities. (Ruth Fremson/The New York Times
In a repudiation of a major element in the Bloomberg administration’s crime-fighting legacy, a federal judge has found that the stop-and-frisk tactics of the New York Police Department violated the constitutional rights of minorities in New York, and called for a federal monitor to oversee broad reforms.
In a blistering decision issued on Monday, the judge, Shira A....
Joseph Goldstein | The New York Times 12 Aug 2013 Hits:476 New York
Our friends in New York at PNHP NY Metro, IATSE Local 1, Single Payer New York, and Metro New York Health Care for All Campaign were organizing a model of collaboration that will advance the cause of Health Care for All in every district. In Albany that day they forged agreements for the majority of the Assembly to sign as co-sponsors toNEW YORK HEALTH!
New York Health is legislation introduced byAssemblyman Gottfried and Senator Perkins (A. 5389-A / S. 2078-A), that if passed, would establish a universal, single payer health program...
Healthcare for All Issue Team 25 Jun 2013 Hits:540 New York
Early Tuesday morning, the New York Times broke the news of the arrest of a state senator and a city councilman in a major federal corruption probe. They are accused of attempted to rig the city’s upcoming mayoral election. Four other New York political figures from both sides of the aisle were arrested as part of the alleged scheme.
Intrigued? Confused? Us too. Here’s everything you need to know about the case.
What happened? The probe involves both the New York City mayoral race and a development project in Spring Valley, New...
Rachel Weiner | The Washington Post 03 Apr 2013 Hits:661 New York
Tony Bennett and Al Sharpton joined a rally in Harlem to demand nationwide gun control legislation.
Each time Milagros Ortega saw a city council member pass by her on Thursday at a rally against gun violence, she stopped them and held up the picture she was wearing around her neck.
“This is my son Francisco. He was shot and killed two months ago at the Queensbridge Houses. Please make other politicians pass gun control around the country,” she told politician after politician at a Harlem gathering to encourage other states to pass...
Alyssa Figueroa | AlterNet 24 Mar 2013 Hits:469 New York
The New York State Assembly has approved, by a 95 to 40 vote, a two-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in New York. While it's unlikely to be passed in the Senate, the action reflects state lawmaker's growing worries about potential health impacts from the natural gas drilling process.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has led the way in recent days to ban hydrofracking for at least another two years in New York. The Speaker says right now, there are too many unanswered questions....
Karen DeWitt | North Country Public Radio 08 Mar 2013 Hits:628 New York
The Town Board of Woodstock, New York at its meeting on January 15 reviewed and adopted a resolution in support of a NY State law to criminalize hydraulic fracturing and related activities. The Town will submit its resolution supporting NY Public Law #1 to the New York State Legislature for implementation. Some 40 citizens in attendance resoundingly supported the decision.
This resolution (attached) is in support of NY Public Law #1, which makes hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas and all related activities crimes under the state penal code. NY Public...
Linda Leeds | Sovereign People's Action Network 17 Jan 2013 Hits:2873 New York
Two hundred workers from dozens of fast food outlets in New York City—including McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, Domino's, and Taco Bell—walked off their jobs Thursday morning to demand $15 an hour in pay and the right to form their own independent union, according to the organizers of Fast Food Forward.
It is the largest strike ever in the United States against the $200-billion-a-year fast food industry and represents the latest in a wave of collective actions by low-wage workers to change conditions in their...
David Moberg | In These Million 30 Nov 2012 Hits:763 New York
On Wednesday night, as a fierce northeaster bore down on the weather-beaten Rockaways, the relief groups with a noticeable presence on the battered Queens peninsula were these: the National Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Police and Sanitation Departments — and Occupy Sandy, a do-it-yourself outfit recently established by Occupy Wall Street.
This stretch of the coast remained apocalyptic, with buildings burned like Dresden and ragged figures shuffling past the trash heaps. There was still no power, and parking lots were awash with...
Alan Feur | New York Times 12 Nov 2012 Hits:959 New York
NEW YORK -- A federal appeals court in Manhattan has become the second in the nation to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued its ruling Thursday. The decision upholds a lower court judge who ruled that the 1996 law that defines marriage as involving a man and a woman was unconstitutional.
The three-judge panel says the law violates equal protection. A federal appeals court in Boston earlier this year also found it unconstitutional.
The issue is expected to be decided by the...
Huffington Post / AP 18 Oct 2012 Hits:847 New York
In Westchester County, a television advertisement accused a Democrat running for the State Senate of using campaign money to treat himself to fancy dinners. In Rochester, a commercial branded a Republican candidate as anti-women. And in Queens, a mailer attacked a Democratic incumbent for providing taxpayer money to a nonprofit organization that facilitates parrot adoptions.
The searing advertisements have one thing in common: they were financed by independent groups, not political campaigns. As both parties battle for control of the State Senate, the most forceful attack advertisements have...
Thomas Kaplan | The New York Times 17 Oct 2012 Hits:715 New York
Fired by a union-busting boss, the workers occupied their restuarant and then opened their own sidewalk cafe--forcing their owner to cede to their demands.
The restaurant workers who were…
On Thursday, the Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity arrived in New York City, one of the tour's last stops in the United States. The caravan is…
As foreclosures continue to put historic pressure on the nation’s rental market, slumlords now have more opportunity than ever to prey on the most vulnerable of tenants.
Andrea Evans (l.) is the only black representative on the 11-member state Parole Board after Gov. Cuomo refused to renew the term of the panel's lone black male,…
Rep. Charles Rangel’s victory in the Democratic primary for New York's 13th Congressional District shows that – despite demographic changes in his district, ethics woes, and a censure vote…
Picture by Sarah Seltzer
Momentum has been building in the movement to end stop-and-frisk, but many were still amazed at the size of the crowd Sunday.
A Father’s Day crowd that some…
Last September 22, when Occupy Wall Street was just five days old, labor activists from the encampment at Zuccotti Park disrupted an auction at Sotheby's in support of…
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The town of Vestal, N.Y., near Binghamton, is well-placed for natural gas development.
Just across the border in Pennsylvania the industry is in full swing. Vestal is situated in one…
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