Annotated Roast of the NY State Primary Candidates

Mostly Andrew Cuomo

Welcome to 5779, and shanah tovah to everyone except whoever sent that mailer accusing Cynthia Nixon of anti-Semitism. Hard to know who’s responsible for it, because Andrew Cuomo is in control of the state party, and the state party sent the mailer to promote his campaign, but Cuomo said his people are not responsible and he’s an honorable man. So we’ll just have to embrace the mystery.

On Thursday, September 13th we’ve got the New York State primary, our second primary of the year after the June Congressional primary (NY has a lot of bogus electoral practices - in a presidential year there’s the potential for three different primary dates). I love bad jokes and I “love” New York politics, so every once in a while I like to write up some roast jokes around my favorite state and local figures.

It’s common for comedians to be equal opportunity offenders, but I am a brazen propagandist, and my jokes are more or less in the direction of my political leanings. There is, of course, a politics to equal-opportunity offending, a politics that says perhaps Republicans and Democrats are equally responsible for the Republicans nominating a corrupt white nationalist authoritarian, perhaps men and women are equally responsible for misogyny, maybe it’s just as hard to be labeled as a racist as it is to be actually subjected to oppression every day. Who knows? It’s more fair to fire shots indiscriminately in all directions than to think about who deserves to targeted.

Anyway, this is a combination fantasy bad-joke set and serious-but-a-little-hyped articulation of my real political views on this election (though sometimes I can’t resist a joke for a joke’s sake). Because it relies on some occasionally obscure references, and because I always enjoy propagating my views and just talking about things, the whole thing will be annotated with my point of view and the stories behind things. Without further ado, here is the…



Thanks, good to be here everybody. To be honest, these jokes aren’t really supposed to be ready until October, but Andrew Cuomo called and said it’s safe to open this set now, so… fingers crossed.

Andrew Cuomo held a much-publicized ribbon-cutting for a new span of the new Tappan Zee Bridge the week before this primary, and it was almost immediately closed over safety concerns. It looks very much like the timing of the bridge opening, which was already behind schedule and over budget, was determined by political expediency rather than by the engineers and managers actually working on the project (earlier in the summer, emails suggested that the project leads were in the dark about the first planned opening date).

No, I kid, I kid. He swore the New Tappan Zee bridge would be reopened as soon as possible. Sooner even. And after that he’ll get right on reopening the Moreland Commission.

The new opening date is set for Wednesday, the day before the primary. Cuomo is not in a rush to reopen the investigations of the Moreland Commission, which he launched in 2013 to investigate corruption in Albany, and closed in 2014 with many seemingly fruitful investigations still in progress. Attorney general candidate Zephyr Teachout argues that the Moreland Commission was never formally disbanded and says she would reconvene the body and allow it to finish its work. Many of the corruption charges would not hold up in court because of federal rulings supporting looser corruption laws, but the documentation of dealmaking would be valuable.

You know, he’s taking a lot of flak on the bridge. People think he’s an egotist for renaming it after his dad, but I think he should have gone a step further and named it the Andrew Cuomo bridge. It can’t get out of the older bridge’s shadow, and it’s not as safe as we thought last week.

Even Andrew’s brother Chris thought renaming the Tappan Zee Bridge (a name everyone loves) to honor Mario Cuomo was a bridge far. Just as Cuomo still isn’t quite the giant his father is, his bridge was overshadowed by the old Tappan Zee Bridge, still being dismantled, as a piece of it threatened to fall on the new roadway. Cuomo has been leading in polls by good margins, but his lead is not quite as comfortable as it looked like before the controversy over the bridge and the backlash over an anti-Semitic mailer targeting Cynthia Nixon.

He does do some things right, he does. In the debate with Cynthia Nixon, he implied that he isn’t going to run for president, which got a big cheer. It would have been even louder if he announced he wasn’t going to run for governor.

Cuomo’s potential 2020 presidential run has long been scorned by New York locals, with he and De Blasio even getting into a pissing match in which each accused the other of wanting to be president. But Cuomo, who had over $30 million in his campaign coffers before this election season, had never ruled out a run until a late-August debate with Cynthia Nixon.

But even his detractors have to take his side against Donald Trump. I saw Andrew giving a great anti-Trump speech on Tuesday. He started out “This guy is corrupt, he’s sexist, he claims he’s a self-made man but he inherited everything from his father, he slaps his name on anything he can, and Democrats hate him – but enough about me, let’s talk about Donald Trump.”

This one is pretty straightforward.

Still, the New York Times endorsed Andrew last week, which is weird because they endorsed challengers against Tish James and Kathy Hochul, saying they were too close to Cuomo. Fair enough, guilt by association is one thing, but Cuomo is only guilty of associating with people who are associated with Cuomo. It’s too many degrees removed.

There are real reasons for the Times to support Zephyr Teachout and Jumaane Williams, who both have deeper political experience than Cynthia Nixon, but their Cuomo endorsement still rang a bit dissonant, especially since they spent half the article criticizing him despite giving him a positive headline. There’s irony (and some pattern familiarity) in women associated with Cuomo being dinged for his sins, while he himself gets a pass. (I will be voting for Nixon, who I think has outlined good broad goals and can delegate to managers.)

Speaking of the AG race, it’s nice to see a contest with a lot of good options. You’ve got Zephyr Teachout, Tish James, Leecia Eve, and then you’ve got Sean Patrick Maloney, who thinks the Me Too movement is about men seeing three qualified women running for office and saying “Me too!”

Seriously, Sean seems like a nice guy, but his first investigation as AG will be to find a reason for running. Not sure even 650 attorneys can do the trick.

I have yet to see a specific motive for Sean Patrick Maloney running that isn’t just about him wanting to run. It’s not that he’s unqualified, just that he’s unnecessary, and the only thing that really distinguishes him–legislative experience–doesn’t seem relevant to the job. Beto O’Rourke and Joe Kennedy III are some of his only high-profile endorsers, and they, like him, are white guys in Congress. I talked to him face-to-face about my concerns, and he seemed very personable but he did not persuade me.

The NY State AG’s office has over 650 attorneys, which is a lot. That’s just an interesting fact about the scope of the job, not necessarily something for or against certain candidates.

I think Sean gets a bad rap sometimes, though. People criticize him for taking money from the real estate and banking lobbies, but really he gets most of his donations from the Sean Patrick Maloney for Congress campaign.

Maloney is also running for re-election in Congress, in a true swing district upstate, and shifted $1.4 million from his funds for that race into the AG race. I am not happy about moving funds from what I see as a necessary Congressional campaign to an unnecessary AG campaign, and neither were his opponents. It is also true that he takes a lot of real estate and bank money, and in fact has voted to roll back banking regulations a few times as a Congressman.

Leecia Eve knows what I’m talking about. She’s a proud corporate lobbyist for Verizon, and she said her experience is an asset. Yes, maybe she can’t be trusted to hold Verizon accountable, but on the other hand she’d be really good at suing T-Mobile and Time Warner.

Leecia Eve is individually impressive, but I don’t exactly understand her run or her reading of this political moment. She’s been (refreshingly?) open about her corporate background, and here’s a City and State interview where she makes her best case, but it does not seem like a winning argument.

Really though, we all know this race is between Tish and Zephyr. Tish is banking on the fact that she’s a better politician, and Zephyr is banking on the fact that Tish is a better politician. It’s a weird time.

Tish James is my former councilmember, the current public advocate, and the frontrunner for Attorney General. She’s one of the most divisive figures among progressives, who generally loved her before this race, because she’s been running on a ticket with Andrew Cuomo, speaking in Cuomo-friendly terms, and because she declined the endorsement of the Working Families Party. Defenders say she’s playing by the rules that she has to to get change done; opponents say she’s forfeiting her chance to make significant change by aligning with power.

I’ll be voting for Zephyr Teachout, an anticorruption advocate and former gubernatorial and congressional candidate. I do think independence from the governor is an important factor that will have a real impact on people in the state, and I’ve seen enough community advocates break with Tish after years of support to think the concerns are real. I also trust Teachout’s strategies on criminal justice reform and on the Trump prosecution (though I think former and likely future solicitor general Barbara Underwood has a handle on that part anyway).

But I do think some of the more hyperbolic rhetoric against Tish James has some misguided elements to it. Voters who have more real-life stakes in the political arena often have less latitude to afford purity, and some systemic reformers can be lacking in community connections. James raised her council seat’s accessibility to a new level, and generally had favorable reviews from local activists as public advocate (though she did have gaps and missteps). The community traditionally doesn’t have a huge connection to the AG’s office, but maybe that’s part of the problem with the justice system, and I’m interested in exploring how the bias toward upper-income professionals and toward prosecution might manifest in actual outcomes.

I’ve also heard some “unqualified” chatter that I think come from questionable perceptive patterns. James started as a Legal Aid defender and has actually served as an attorney in the AG’s office, but I’ve heard people who don’t regard her as a “real lawyer” while Teachout, who hasn’t practiced law in New York, is immediately seen as eminently qualified with her academic background. Hmmm.

Ultimately, I get the case for Teachout, and I buy it. But I would say the demonization goes a bit far.

Anyway, the joke isn’t really a judgment, but just a read of the irony of the situation: James spent her whole career rising up through the New York political system, and the moment she makes her move her experience becomes a liability.

People are wondering if Tish could be independent of Cuomo, but if Cynthia wins, they’ll be wondering if she can operate independent of Zephyr.

In the unlikely event of a Nixon/Teachout dual victory, you’d have an AG who recruited the governor to run and served previously as her campaign treasurer. In the early days she was making a much better case for Nixon’s run than Nixon herself was. I think a lot of people, including both candidates, think Teachout would be a more capable governor than Nixon (but name recognition and celebrity count for a lot in a campaign), so it’s kind of a funny situation.

Of course, governor and AG aren’t the only two contests in New York. They’re just the only two where anybody knows what the job is. Kathy Hochul didn’t even know she was lieutenant governor until Jumaane Williams challenged her.

Seriously, nobody seems all that clear on what the job is, exactly. The debate was largely about what the lieutenant governor should do: back up the governor and be ready to step in, or serve as a check to the governor’s power?

Jumaane said Kathy hasn’t disagreed with Cuomo on any issue yet, but Kathy said she’ll fix that. She has formally requested Cuomo give her an issue to disagree with.

She genuinely could not name one instance of disagreement (see article above).

But Jumaane’s campaign is a little weird, too. He said he’s personally against being lieutenant governor, but respects the voter’s choice.

Jumaane Williams is part of the old-school “personally against abortion but pro-choice” camp. It’s a sad drawback on a candidate who has been one of the best candidates on criminal justice reform and racial and economic equality, as well as one of the most effective legislators on the council. Expressing those “personal” views can have harmful, real impact and reinforce a framework that hurts women, even though he thankfully doesn’t legislate along those lines. He also has previously expressed regressive views on gay and transgender rights, though he has apologized and backed up his apology with a strong voting record since then.

The way I see him functioning as lieutenant governor is by providing highly competent, high-profile advocacy to make the state more socially and economically just. I’ll vote for him on the grounds of what I see as a positive overall impact, but that abortion stance is something he should continue to be hammered on, especially as an example to others, and I hope the day comes soon when those kind of tradeoffs will be obsolete.

Alright, it’s time to go, I’ve got to get to temple. They moved the primary to Thursday so that we can celebrate Rosh Hashanah. Next week we’ll be celebrating Yom Kippur, next month we’ll be celebrating Simchat Torah, and the month after that John Flanagan hopes to be celebrating Simcha Felder.

Simcha Felder, a registered Democrat serving in the state senate, caucuses with the Republican party (headed by Majority Leader John Flanagan), giving them control of the chamber by one vote. He’s being challenged by Blake Morris, a committed “real Democrat,” in the primary. I support that challenge, as well as all the challenges to the members of the IDC (currently disbanded, technically) that has caucused independently and had a power-sharing agreement with the Republican+Felder majority, because I want Democrats to control the chamber and vote for things I agree with.

Good night, and good luck in the general.

This is a joke because the general should be very easy to win but maybe insane shit will happen.