Friday, September 11, 2009

The Top 3 NYC Races You Didn’t Know About

Today WAYLA reports on local politics from New York City.

Many political junkies in the U.S. are at least somewhat familiar with the mayoral race in the nation’s largest city. Incumbent Michael Bloomberg directed the City Council to extend term limits so they could all serve an extra four years. Since then, Bloomberg’s campaign has actually been looking less hot despite spending millions of dollars for his re-election.

But there are even more heated and competitive races throughout the city at the moment that political geeks living outside the Big Apple are probably unaware of. This preview comes as Democratic Party candidates - whose party dominates the city’s political field - gear up for a primary election on Tuesday.

These are what we consider the three most interesting races…

City Comptroller

For what the New York Times calls "one of the most important jobs" in the city, the race to replace incumbent Bill Thompson (who is running for mayor) has been contentious and too close to call.

The four candidates are Queens Council members Melinda Katz, John Liu and David Weprin and Brooklyn Council member David Yassky. Katz, Liu, and Yassky have been about even in the polls and Weprin is not far behind. As Comptroller, they would oversee billions of dollars, but they’ve all been under scrutiny (in part from each other) for being bad with money.

From a New York Daily News article about a recent Comptroller debate:

The evening revealed some interesting tidbits about the field.

Weprin has been audited - and he, Liu and Yassky have bounced personal checks…

…Katz revealed she'd gotten in over her head with credit card debt in college.

But perhaps the most interesting attack from the night came from Weprin regarding Liu’s childhood.

Weprin went after Liu, who has made the story of his immigrant family's struggles - including what he said was his and his mother's work in a sweatshop - a cornerstone of his campaign.

His parents debunked that claim in an interview with the Daily News, saying he'd mostly helped his mother at home where she took in piecework.

As Liu stuck with his story Thursday night, Weprin demanded to know if Liu had taken any action to address child labor or report the sweatshop he worked in.

"So it's safe to say the answer was no, you didn't report it," Weprin asked after Liu said he had been just a child at the time.

Unless one of the four candidates can break 40% in Tuesday’s primary, the top two candidates will face each other in a run-off. At this point, it doesn’t seem unlikely.

Manhattan District Attorney

In another highly contentious open-seat race, three Democrats are vying to replace 34-year incumbent Robert Morgenthau.

Returning from her unsuccessful challenge to her boss in 2005, Leslie Crocker Snyder - who founded the Sex Crimes Protection Bureau in the district attorney's office - is facing former prosecutor Cy Vance and former Brady Campaign president Richard Aborn.

Vance - who many see as “the progressive” in the race - has earned the endorsement of the popular Morgenthau. He and Snyder have recently been racking up union endorsements, and Aborn touts his endorsement from former NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton.

The race has become pretty ugly between Snyder and Vance. Snyder recently released an ad that attacked Vance to this effect:

“When crime was high in Manhattan, what did the candidate for district attorney do? Cy Vance Jr. fled to Seattle for 17 years to make millions defending criminals, mobsters, murderers, helping doctors who defrauded Medicare.”

Her literature also hit Vance pretty hard - so it wasn’t surprising when she made the accusation that Vance’s campaign canvassers were actually stealing it following lit drops. The Vance campaign cannot say whether or not it’s true, but his campaign manager told the Daily News “It is ironic that the Snyder campaign, which has sent at least five negative mailers about Cy, is now accusing our campaign of using dirty tricks.”

At this point, it is simply too difficult to say who is in the lead.

City Council - District 10

While a great many City Council races this year have been interesting, few compare to the packed race for Council in District 10. The district - which encompasses a large area of northern Manhattan and is at least 75% Dominican - has become an open-seat since it was vacated by disgraced Council member Miguel Martinez.

While many members of the Council have been involved in a city-wide slush fund scandal - which may even include Council Speaker Christine Quinn - the brunt of the consequences came down on Martinez, who has since resigned and pled guilty to the charges against him. That left the seat crowded with eight Democratic candidates - six of whom have held no previous office.

So far the race has seen every campaign tactic conceivable: direct mail, phone banks, robo-calls, newspaper ads, signs in storefront windows, and lots and lots of creative campaign visibility.

The media-proclaimed frontrunner has been community activist Ydanis Rodriguez - and it seems like a reasonable label. With the networks he built from his two previous campaigns for this seat, he started with a war chest of over $150,000 and endorsements from key politicians (such as Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) and State Assemblyman Adriano Espaillat), several unions, and the Working Families Party.

But in the months since Martinez resigned, the presence of Rodriguez in the district has only matched that of some of his opponents, including Community Board Chair Manny Velazquez, attorney Richard Realmuto (an HSG client), teacher Cleofis Sarete, and architect Luis Facundo.

At this point, any of these candidates could walk away with the win on Tuesday.

Top Stories: 9/11/09

Eight years have passed since the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01. Below is a live feed of the ceremonies marking this day:

The DCCC says that Rob Miller - Rep. Joe "the Heckler" Wilson's (R-SC) challenger - has now raised over $750,000 since the incumbent's outburst Wednesday night, according to Politico.

Politico has also launched a new page: "CLICK" - filled with all sorts of DC gossip and fun political stories.

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner says that unemployment will "absolutely" be down one year from today.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) says that the 10th Amendment could be used in a constitutional argument against healthcare reform.

Nate Silver at explores what effect President Obama's speech will actually have on public opinion regarding healthcare.

And Letterman gives Rep. Wilson's top ten excuses for disrupting the speech:

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Will Wilson be the Next Bachmann?

Last night President Obama delivered what might have been a game-changing speech on healthcare. Focus groups and polls taken before and after the address suggest that he may have significantly shifted public opinion.

But all that anyone can seem to focus on today - at least in the blogosphere - is the outburst by a nationally-obscure politician, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC). When the president said his proposal was not open to illegal immigrants, Wilson shouted “You lie!” at the Commander-in-Chief.

Watch the outburst here (start at about 1:15):

Almost immediately following the outburst, a swarm of activity began among the nation’s political activists - both to the left and to the right.

Facebook groups like “Defeat Congressman Joe ‘the Heckler’ Wilson (R-SC)” have sprung up within Democratic circles. Wilson’s Democratic opponent, Iraq-War veteran Rob Miller, has raised over $350,000 (more than seven times his war chest previously) from over 5000 donors since the disruption. And the House Majority Leader and Whip are pushing for a censure of the incumbent Republican.

On the other side of the spectrum, Wilson’s Facebook page is littered with compliments from supporters, congratulating Wilson for “calling it like it is” and so on. Although it hasn’t been reported yet, chances are that Wilson’s campaign has brought in some extra cash since he yelled at the president.

While it’s hard to say for sure at this point, all this buzz about Wilson might not go away any time soon - at least not during this election cycle. Eleven months and a General Election have gone by since Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) gave this troubling interview with Chris Mathews that made her an infamous target of liberals:

She still beat her opponent handedly in the conservative district she represents, but the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) - which is really the deciding force behind whether or not a GOP incumbent will have an active race - continues to target Bachmann as a darling for the left to hate.

Word is that the DCCC is now considering action to target Wilson’s seat. After all the attention his outburst generated, it might still be targeted for some time to come.

UPDATE: After Wilson released this video to supporters, his campaign raised over $200,000 - about double what he had in his war chest.

It looks like the plot thickens.

Top Stories: 9/10/09

Nobody can stop talking about President Obama's speech last night. Here it is in case you missed it:

Politico has a humorous take on "what he meant" at certain points in the speech.

The Huffington Post looks at all the outbursts during the speech - it wasn't just Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) that made a scene.

And's Nate Silver and Tom Schaller live-blogged the address. You can read their final thoughts here.

To read the full transcript of the speech, click here.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Healthcare, Congress, and the Midterm Elections

Early last month, we asked “Will Healthcare Reform Survive the Tea-Baggers in August?” Well, now it appears that it all depends on your definition of “reform”.

For many progressives, reform is dependent on the creation of a public option as an absolute minimum. Ideally, many of them would prefer a single-payer system or even a national healthcare service. For others, reform is possible without a public option - even if they do agree with a public option, they still see the value in other reform measures, such as an end to pre-existing conditions.

In fact, Marc Ambinder recently wrote a very interesting piece in the Atlantic that Democrats have actually held together and healthcare reform will survive - even if it’s without the public option.

"After August, under the worst case scenario, there is majority support for the following major changes to health care: real (albeit limited) competition in the insurance industry (even absent a public plan). A cap on what a person pays for catastrophic illnesses. An end to insurance company recision policies. Guaranteed issue. A basic benefit package. Significant subsidies to help people who earn as much as $64,000 a year pay for health insurance. Better cost and coverage incentives. And lots more. Say what you will about these reforms -- maybe they're incremental -- but they're a foundation for center-left policy in the future."

But now some are wondering if the rowdy August recess and the Town Hall protesters have had some other meaningful impact: namely, putting members of Congress at risk in next year’s midterm elections.

From Gallup:

But will the healthcare debate sink Congress?

First, let’s take a look at Gallup’s most recent Congressional approval polls. While still low at 31%, it’s a bit of a boost since last year, when Congressional approval was at just 19%.

And most of that boost has come from Democrats (and a plurality of Americans identify as Democrats).

So while approval is still low, it does appear to be considerably better than it used to be for members of Congress.

Next we turn to our friends at where Joshua Grossman points to recent special elections in California and Iowa as evidence that Democrats - who control both chambers in Congress - are still “alive and kicking”.

"It’s certainly possible that Obama will antagonize the Democratic base by not advocating strongly enough for a public option in his health care proposals. It’s also possible that the drum beat of Republican attacks on everything associated with Obama and the Democrats will continue to drive down Democratic support among Independents. The pendulum tends to swing over time. But for now – looking at actual elections, not polls which can be spun any which way – there’s no hard empirical evidence of significant changes in the electorate’s behavior since November of 2008."

538’s chief blogger, Nate Silver, would likely agree. As we posted earlier, he recently used a model to find that a majority of Congressional districts probably approve of healthcare reform - and healthcare reform with a public option!

He even lists each member of Congress and how much their district probably supports or opposes the public option.

Yet Tom Schaller would probably disagree. He relays an analysis from the Cook Political Report which compares the 2010 midterms to the 1994 Republican Revolution. While most of the Cook report has to do with ethnic makeup of the electorate (white voters make up a considerably higher percentage of the turnout in midterms) there is some evidence that particular issues will play a significant role.

From the report:

"In 1994, it wasn't easy to be a Bush-district Democrat who voted for both the Clinton budget and the Brady handgun bill. In fact, out of the 12 Democrats who fit this description and ran for reelection, two thirds lost. So far this year, 20 of the 49 McCain-district Democrats have already voted for the "cap and trade" bill. If the House Democratic leadership insists on putting a health care bill with a public option to a vote, how many of these 20 can be relied upon to take on more political risk?

On the other hand, the lessons of 1994 might serve as a reality check for GOP challengers to Democrats who plan to vote against their party's leadership on both of this year's dominant agenda items, such as Reps. Bobby Bright (AL-02), Parker Griffith (AL-05), and Chet Edwards (TX-17). In districts with challenging numbers, the strategy of voting (and running) against party leadership has persisted for generations, if sometimes for only one reason. It works."

Schaller even points out that this may be why the Blue Dogs have been so reluctant to support a public option - despite Silver’s claims that it might actually help many of them.

Ultimately, though, it seems far fetched to say that healthcare reform will be the single biggest issue in next year’s elections. Most Congressional elections come down to the on-the-ground circumstances of competitive (typically open-seat) races and rather than a particular national issue. Voters might say that healthcare reform will be a major issue in their decision now - after all, now is the time that healthcare is a big issue - but voters tend to forget a lot in 14 months.

Furthermore, Congressional approval is usually pretty low, but incumbent members of Congress never seem to lose their seats. Americans hate Congress, but love their Congressmen.

Still, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen the 2010 midterms have been compared to 1994. In the end, there’s probably no good way to say - at this point - what impact the healthcare debate will have on the voters in November next year.

Top Stories: 9/9/09

Most of the top stories on the web this morning surround the speech President Obama will deliever before Congress tonight on healthcare.

David Herszenhorn tells us what to watch for in the speech for a New York Times blog.

Politico discusses the Republican rebuttal that's already in the works.

Nate Silver at explains why many Blue Dogs probably represent pro-public-option districts, even if they don't realize it.

And the Huffington Post is taking a reader-poll asking who your favorite SNL president has been so far. It's also complete with videos like this classic:

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Biggest Supreme Court Case You Haven’t Heard About

According to an article in the New York Times last week, the U.S. Supreme Court will soon hear a second round of arguments for a case that may have sweeping implications for campaign politics.

The case is Citizens United v. FEC and it surrounds the 2008 documentary “Hilary: the Movie” - a conservative film that tried to persuade voters not to select Hilary Clinton as the Democratic nominee for President. Such films have been gaining popularity on both sides of the political spectrum since Michael Moore released documentaries like “Bowling for Columbine” and “Fahrenheit 9/11”.

But what few had previously considered is the role such pictures have in campaign finance reform. Like most Hollywood films, these non-neutral documentaries are financed by corporations. But corporations (as well as labor unions) are strictly forbidden from spending money on political campaigns under U.S. law. They must do it through Political Action Committees, which are limited in how much they can put into a race.

And it has split the political spectrum wide open on the issue of “free speech” as defined in Buckley v. Valeo - which found that campaign donations could not be constitutionally forbidden since they constituted a form of speech. The hearing - which is scheduled for tomorrow - has generated over 40 friend-of-the-court briefs from advocates and opponents of both sides of the debate.

As a group, they depict an array of strange bedfellows and uneasy alliances as they debate whether corporations should be free to spend millions of dollars to support the candidates of their choice.

The [ACLU] and its usual allies are on opposite sides, with the civil rights group fighting shoulder to shoulder with the [NRA] to support the corporation that made the film.

Although the well-known law at hand, McCain-Feingold, applies only to broadcast, satellite or cable transmissions, some are arguing this case fits under the current regulations. One government lawyer even made the argument that it gives the FEC the power to regulate political books that were published with corporate cash.

Meanwhile, the New York Times recently published an editorial asserting that a ruling for Citizens United “would usher in an unprecedented age of special-interest politics.”

According to Politico, that could be an overall benefit for Republicans.

The [DNC]’s top lawyer, Bob Bauer, who also personally represents President Obama, argues that opening the door to more corporate spending in elections would discourage what Bauer contends is the rising power of the type of small donors who helped power Obama to victory in last years’ presidential campaign, and who “are now enlisting to volunteer in their political causes, forming a new online corps of freshly empowered average citizens of varying party affiliations and political commitments.”

“A sudden change in the law, to the advantage of corporate wealth amassed in commercial transactions would cause a violent disruption in this process,” Bauer asserts in a brief filed with the court opposing the new spending.

The law preventing corporate funding in elections goes back to the Tillman Act of 1907, and the Supreme Court has generally upheld it as minimally adverse to free speech and “offset by a compelling government interest in preventing corporations, in particular, from having an inordinate influence in the political process.”

Such cases upholding the Tillman Act’s purposes include Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, and a 2003 case in which Sen. Mitch McConnell - the current Senate Minority Leader - challenged McCain-Feingold in part because of its restrictions on corporate spending.

As the Politico article continues…

Since 2003, however, the court has become more hostile to campaign finance regulations…

…advocates for stricter campaign finance rules were shocked when the justices, who initially heard the Citizens United case in March, asked the parties to return for a rare re-argument of the case – with a much broader focus. Instead of merely arguing whether federal election laws requiring donor disclosure and limiting content and airing dates should have applied to “Hillary: The Movie,” Chief Justice John Roberts asked the parties to argue whether the court should reverse its rulings in the 2003 McConnell case and the 1990 Austin case.

While the Supreme Court has been unraveling campaign finance reforms incrementally over the past few years - with decisions that even limited the McCain-Feingold law - the decision to re-hear arguments for Citizens United v. FEC do appear to indicate a dramatic decision is awaiting.

That decision may change the face of American politics for years - making it even more difficult to separate politicians from special interests.