Parsing the NYS Election Cycle: Experts Mull the Campaigns and Muse Over the Albany Session

(For Political Junkies)

The Center for New York City Affairs at the New School convenes panels of campaign staff, consultants and advocates after major elections to reflect on the campaigns: last year the mayoral and city council, this year the gubernatorial and the State Senate races.

The first panel included the top staffers from the Cuomo, Astorino and Teachout campaigns (Matt Wing, communication director, Cuomo campaign, Peter Kauffmann, senior advisor, NYS Democratic Committee, Jessica Proud, Astorino spokesperson, Michael Lawler, campaign manager, Astorino campaign, Kate Albright-Hanna, communications director, Teachout campaign and others) as well as Zephyr herself for the first section of the panel.

A few words about the panelists, they are the pros, they run campaigns for a living, plot the strategy and the communications operations, running a campaign is intense, with a clock ticking down to Election Day. This year there were three election days, the WFP convention, the Democratic primary in September and the November 7th general election.

The Cuomo administration over their first four years has successfully managed the news. The governor rarely gives press conferences, rarely gives “off the cuff” comments. His interactions with media are managed from the Cuomo side. While candidates and electeds generally lust after “earned media” the Cuomo administration carefully crafts interactions with the press.

Let’s define “earned media,”

Earned media often refers specifically to publicity gained through editorial influence, whereas social media refers to publicity gained through grassroots action, particularly on the Internet. The media may include any mass media outlets, such as newspaper, television, radio, and the Internet, and may include a variety of formats, such as news articles or shows,

Teachout had no money, Cuomo ended up with a $50 million war chest and Astorino struggled for dollars as the national Republican organization wrote him off.

Although the panel did not discuss (there was no opportunity for questions) the governor’s charter school support was clearly intended to cut off funds to Astorino. StudentsFirstNY was richly funded, they ended up spending $4 million on Senate campaigns, where would they drop the four mil was an early question. If Cuomo opposed or was neutral on charter schools the $4 mil could have been dropped into the Astorino campaign and snowball into larger and larger Republican donations. Jumping on the charter school bandwagon closed off a potential spigot of dollars to Astorino, an example of the political calculus of campaigns.

Zephyr Teachout was a wild card, she came out of nowhere, and the left wing of the Democratic Party is housed in the Working Families Party (WFP). On the other side of the aisle the Conservative party is the right wing of the Republican Party.

At the WFP convention Teachout emerged as a serious opponent, Cuomo’s support of charter schools, the failure to pass the Women’s Equality agenda and the Dreamers legislation angered the left, and, suddenly they had a candidate: Zephyr Teachout. After serious arm twisting the WFP endorsed Cuomo. Teachout explained how they decided to run in the Democratic primary and the enormous hurtle – collecting 30,000 signatures to get on the ballot in three weeks – they collected 45,000 signatures.

The turnout in the primary was extremely low, without dollars Teachout, impressively, ended up with 34% of the vote, probably representing the left wing of Democrats in the state. I suspect Teachout votes included many teacher vote

Obama’s approval rating in NYS is 39%, lower than his national approval rating, in one of the “bluest” state in the nation. The 30% voter turnout in the November election was one of the lowest in history, and the decrease in votes was the largest among Democratic voters.

The panelists in the second panel focused on the Senate races included strategists from both parties, consultants who run campaigns, advocates and academics (Gerald Benjamin, professor SUNY, Jake Dilemani, Parkside Group, Tom Doherty, Mercury Strategy, Jeffrey Plaut, Global Strategy, Blair Horner, New York Public Interest Research Group, David Nir, Daily Kos, Nomi Konst, The Accountability Project and others) mused over the Senate races..

Of the 63 seats in the Senate only seven were competitive and the Republicans needed five of the seven seats, three of which were held by Democrats. They won six.

The panel discussed whether Cuomo wanted a Democratic Senate – would he be happier with a Republican Senate and a Democratic Assembly, with the governor in the middle negotiating with both sides? Cuomo raised $50 million, spent forty, only one million was spent on the Senate races.

A few of the panelists argued the Democrats were relying on an old paradigm, the older prime voters; there was a lack of appeal to younger potential voters who receive all their info from social media. They also felt that Obama running out of the party structure in 08 and 12 weakened the Democratic Party. Others pointed out that in off year elections the electorate is older, whiter and wealthier.

Astorino, outside of NYC “won” the election 49% to 46%; inside the city he only won 18% …twenty years of Republican NYC mayors were an anomaly, although a deep-pocketed, a very deep pocketed Republican could win in NYC in 2017.

As one panelist reminded us the Senate, which means the Republicans, drew the current district lines. The money that flowed into the races came primarily from Wall Street and Real Estate, and 99.8% of voters did not contribute. The best chances of defeating an incumbent are in a primary.

All the panelists wondered whether the sharp decline in voters was a trend: is the electorate becoming more disenchanted with politics and the elective process?

The moderator asked: what would be the toughest issue in the upcoming session.

Three laws “sunset,” they expire unless renewed by the legislature and the governor.

Rent Control: A million New Yorkers, primarily in New York City, fall under rent control; if the law is allowed to expire, landlords would be free to increase rents – this is a vital issue for the Democrats and the Republicans will extract their drops of blood or, pounds of flesh, or, human sacrifices.

2% Property Tax Cap: The tax cap is the major piece of economic legislation of the Cuomo years, failure to reauthorize would probably result in increases in property taxes around the state and could have a negative impact on the state economy, and this issue does not impact New York City, it is an enormous issue around the state.

Mayoral Control: A New York City issue, with absence of Bloomberg Mayoral Control is not a top drawer issue; however, no one wants to go back to elected school boards.

The panelists ranked Rent Control as the # 1 issue.

A “deal” could emerge in a “lame duck” session in December; the rumors are a repeat of 1998, a salary increase for legislators for an increase in the charter cap. I don’t think so, why would the Sheldon Silver want to remove a “trading chip” before the session begins?

The next key date is April 1, the date the budget is due. Over the last few budget cycles controversial issues have been packed into the budget, an opportunity to trade one item for another.

If key issues are still dangling in the final days of the session, mid-June will become the usual 24/7 days as the legislature and the governor scramble.

The “game” begins on January 7th with the governor’s State of the State address.

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