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Mara Gay on New York Democrats' Challenges
Mostly, I agree with Gay, and the Democrats have a huge mess on their hands.
Governor Kathy Hochul
In New York Voters Put Democrats on Notice. Was the Message Received?, Mara Gay is pretty accurate about the self-inflicted damage the New York State Democrats have caused. But in some cases she goes too far, and in others, not at all far enough. I quote Gay here at length, with comments interspersed:
For politicians in some places in the United States, election losses tend to prompt a kind of soul-searching. In Albany? Not so much.
Just two months after New York voters delivered New York Democrats a drubbing at the polls, it’s not clear if the message is penetrating the party’s thicket of dysfunction and hubris.
Except the NY Democrats won all statewide offices, and still control both houses of the State legislature, which she might have noted at the outset.
The hubris made an appearance over the holiday, when the governor approved a 29 percent pay raise that the State Legislature gave itself in December.
Note, however, that the same bill caps the amount of money State legislators can make from outside sources at $35,000, which is a reasonable and long-awaited restriction on conflicts of interest.
And the Democratic Party chairman, Jay Jacobs, remains in his post, never mind the shellacking his party received in November, in which Republicans flipped four House seats and came surprisingly close to taking the governor’s mansion in a heavily Democratic state.
This is a travesty. Jacobs basically pushed Democratic candidates to adopt the Republican framing of issues he deemed were critical in national races, as opposed to the approach Dems effectively used in other states, highlighting issues like abortion and voting rights, and the creation of new jobs through new federal initiatives.
Most concerning, Gov. Kathy Hochul and the State Legislature, which began its new session this week, appear prepared to return to business as usual, which means cautiously tinkering with policy while they are fixated on crises of their own making.
Turning to the present, Gay is dead-on here.
The first questions before the Legislature include whether to approve Ms. Hochul’s choice for chief judge of the New York State Court of Appeals, whom liberals oppose because of his conservative-leaning rulings in labor, abortion and criminal justice cases — as well as more mundane headaches, like whether to remove a newly elected Republican assemblyman who is facing questions about whether he lives in the borough he was elected to serve. (Lester Chang, the assemblyman in question, says he does.)
Governor Hochul’s selection of Hector LaSalle as her nominee to lead the State’s highest court, the New York State Court of Appeals, is going to be a black eye because she doesn’t have the votes in the Legislature. It appears that nomination might not even get out of committee.
Back in the real world, New York is suffering.
Unemployment in the state remained higher than the national rate in 2022, and it is especially high in New York City, where unemployment averaged 6.2 percent, according to an analysis from the state’s comptroller. Among Black residents in New York City, that figure was more than 10 percent.
Note my comments on job creation, earlier. But New York City has a swirling vortex of problems, and they aren’t in the hands of any elected officials to solve. The pandemic-driven remote work revolution has led to a huge fall in workers commuting into the city, so midtown Manhattan buildings are only 57% occupied. See The Donut Effect.
More and more, living in New York is out of reach not just for working-class or middle-class residents but nearly anyone without a trust fund. If the governor and Legislature tried apartment hunting in New York City right now, they would discover that the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment in New York City this January is $4,890 — more than 20 percent higher than this time last year. Little wonder then, that 67,000 people slept in city shelters this week, more than 20,000 of them children.
What is required from Albany is not business as usual, but bold, swift action on the issues that residents in the state are confronting in their daily lives.
That means finding new and creative ways to expand the state’s economy and improve public safety, including by further strengthening its gun laws. Among the bright spots last year was a measure that Ms. Hochul pushed for in the wake of the mass shooting in Buffalo, which made the red flag laws barring individuals who may pose a risk to themselves or others from obtaining a firearm more effective. In the six months after the law was changed, judges approved more than 2,000 such orders, a significant increase from the year before, according to the Albany Times Union newspaper.
New York needs Ms. Hochul and the Legislature to deliver that kind of relentless focus on housing. The way to begin is to do everything possible to spur housing production.
Like passing the bill she sidelined last year on Accessory Building Units, see Why Are Accessory Dwelling Units Stalled In Albany?
For one thing, this means coming up with a new kind of tax incentive for developers that encourages more truly affordable housing. The state’s previous program, known as 421a, mostly created units for high-income people even as it cost taxpayers $1.7 billion per year. Albany allowed it to expire last year without replacing it.
That bill was badly structured, and long before Hochul was on the scene. Also, the State could start building by itself: She doesn’t have to only depend on developers chasing tax breaks.
In December, the governor said she would build 800,000 units of housing in the state over the next decade. That’s good, but the harder task is to push for zoning and tax changes across the state that will allow the region to build the multifamily housing needed to truly end the crisis and let New York grow.
Actually, Gay gets this totally wrong. Hochul admits that the 800,00 units are only 10% of what’s needed, so it starts out with a target that is a failure. Not good at all.
Voters will know Ms. Hochul and the Legislature are serious about the housing crisis when they start fighting — hard — to build multifamily housing in suburban areas like Long Island, where it is decades overdue. The governor backed off similar proposals last year, wary that doing so might alienate voters in Long Island, where multifamily housing has historically been unwelcome. In the end, Long Island voted Republican anyway.
A really bad call by Hochul, there.
Ms. Hochul and other Democrats should discard this tepid, safe approach to policymaking. It is failing the state, as well as the party. Ideally, the governor can work with local communities to build support for zoning changes to permit multifamily housing. But the governor can also make clear that infrastructure dollars for Long Island are contingent on welcoming the housing the region needs.
Or to pass laws to require municipalities that lack affordable housing to create it, or lose State funding, like other states have done.
The failure to boldly address central issues like housing is in part why, while Democrats outperformed expectations nationally, the outcome in New York was just the opposite.
New York Democrats bungled their shot at congressional mapmaking last year, then went on to lose four House seats, a series of events that was not only embarrassing for the state party, but played a pivotal role in delivering the [US] House into Republican hands. Democrats lost several State Assembly seats, too, though they held on to their supermajority, thanks to a more than 2:1 advantage in registered voters that Democrats enjoy in New York.
In spite of that overwhelming advantage, Governor Hochul won re-election with just 53.2 percent of the vote in November. For comparison, Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan motivated voters in a decidedly less Democratic swing state and was re-elected by a much larger margin.
Actually, Gay gets this wrong. Hochul did not win reelection. She took over from Cuomo when he stepped down, as Lt. Governor. This was her first (and maybe last) election as governor.
In this new year, New York Democrats have a chance to deliver on the issues that truly matter to people who live in the state — and give their voters a reason to show up at the polls.
Here’s what Hochul should do if she’d like to clean up these messes:
Get rid of Jay Jacob as head of the State Democratic Party, and find someone more progressive, like Mondaire Jones (who might be looking for a job).
Find a more progressive nominee for the State Court of Appeals.
Push more aggressively on housing. Much more aggressively. It is also a job creation project which could employ tens of thousands [of registered voters] statewide.
Reach into the wish list of the New New York report (see 2023, The New New York, The New New Beacon) and actually push to bring the best ideas forward and into being.
But I wonder if Hochul is too hamstrung by the weight of her ‘moderate’ positions — which means the Cuomo-like almost-a-Republican stance on many issues. Can she turn the corner on these messes and get going? I’m not so sure.