2024-02-21 – https://www.politico.com/newsletters/new-york-playbook-pm/2024/02/21/a-news-anchor-runs-for-congress-00142458

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A news anchor runs for Congress
By JEFF COLTIN 
02/21/2024 04:40 PM EST
With help from Shawn Ness
New Window
Former CNN host John Avlon is running for Congress in the first Congressional district. He wants to oust Rep. Nick LaLota.
Fresh off his job as a CNN journalist, John Avlon is hoping to bring star power to the sleepy 1st Congressional District primary on the east end of Long Island — a swing seat now held by first-term Republican Rep. Nick LaLota.“This fight is too important for Democrats to lose,” Avlon said in an interview with Playbook Wednesday, after launching his campaign. “This seat is winnable, with the right kind of candidate, who can bring energy and inspire the base and also reach out and win over independent voters, as Tom Suozzi did in his special.”Of course, TV pundits have a mixed record running — CNBC’s Michelle Caruso-Cabrera didn’t get close in her 2020 primary against Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for example — and there are skeptics.“Nobody knows John Avlon from Adam in that district. Being a CNN contributor is very different than being Wolf Blitzer,” said a Democratic operative granted anonymity to speak freely. “The name recognition of John Avlon is nil.”But Avlon — who also stood in as an anchor — has charisma, and can spin on endlessly about how Democrats need to defeat Donald Trump and the party that supports him.“This is about the stakes of this time,” he said. “Joe Biden narrowly won this district. And yet, Nick LaLota has been hugging Trump hard from day one.”Avlon even won a surprising compliment from James Gaughran, a former Democratic state Senator who’s also running in the primary. “I’ve watched him a lot on CNN, and I’ve actually become a big fan,” Gaughran told Playbook. “His advocacy — particularly pointing to the issues we have in this country of trying to save this country from Donald Trump, is spot on.”The primary is in a bit of a holding pattern, as candidates await the results of the redistricting process. In fact, Gaughran said he wouldn’t be surprised if his Northport home ends up in another district from Avlon, who’s based in Sag Harbor. (LaLota lives outside the district, in Amityville.)Well-funded chemist Nancy Goroff is also a top contender, after being the party nominee in 2020. She’s getting a boost this week as another Democrat, attorney Craig Herskowitz, is dropping out to run for state Senate and endorsing Goroff.“The people of Suffolk (County) deserve a representative who will work for them, unlike Nick LaLota,” Goroff said in a statement. “I welcome anyone who is ready to join the fight to flip this seat.”LaLota isn’t as welcoming.“John Avlon is a Manhattan elitist without any attachments to Long Island other than his summer home in the Hamptons. Avlon knows nothing about Suffolk County other than Sag Harbor croquet matches and summer cocktail parties in Bridgehampton,” LaLota spokesperson Will Kiley said in a statement, calling LaLota a “common sense conservative voice.”Avlon said he’s had the home in the Hamptons since 2009, and has been registered to vote there since 2020. He conceded his work — as editor-in-chief of the Daily Beast before CNN — kept him at a second home in Manhattan. But not always. “I couldn’t even count the number of times we did hits from right here in this living room,” he said, gesturing around his Long Island home. — Jeff Coltin
From the Capitol
Gov. Kathy Hochul announced a $34 million “Safe Options Support” initiative expansion to Long Island, Westchester and upstate. | Don Pollard/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul
SOS SIGNALS: Gov. Kathy Hochul wants New Yorkers to know her mental health initiatives are already getting results in the face of a seemingly intractable problem. In the case of the state’s Safe Options Support (SOS) teams, 330 chronically homeless New Yorkers have now been connected to mental health services and permanent supportive housing, the governor said Wednesday.Citing those results, Hochul announced a statewide expansion of the program — even though that was the plan all along.The governor unveiled the SOS program at the beginning of 2022 to tackle the intersection of homelessness and serious mental illness, deploying teams of behavioral health professionals on the streets and in the subways to conduct one-on-one outreach with New Yorkers. At the time, the state set aside $11 million in funding to launch 20 SOS teams — including 12 in New York City — with plans to ramp up to a $21.5 million annual investment.The rollout did not go quite as planned. By the time Hochul announced plans in early 2023 to create eight new SOS teams, just half of the initially promised 20 teams were operating — all in New York City.Justin Mason, a spokesperson for the state Office of Mental Health, attributed the delay in launching SOS teams outside the city to workforce issues.Now the state is adding SOS teams in Central New York, the Southern Tier and the Hudson Valley. They will join seven other teams that began serving communities outside of New York City in the fall of 2023 and the 14 teams currently operating in the five boroughs. Funding will be procured for three additional teams in the coming weeks, Mason said.All together, the expanded initiative bears an annual price tag of nearly $34 million, according to Hochul’s office. — Maya KaufmanDON’T ASK AND YOU SHAN’T RECEIVE: Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams generally project an amicable relationship. But on Wednesday the governor said she has been learning of recent budget requests from Adams via news reports, instead of from the mayor’s office itself.Speaking after an announcement in her Manhattan office, Hochul said Adams made five requests of the state’s budget during his visit to Albany — more migrant funding, a housing package, enforcement for illegal cannabis shops, an increase in the debt ceiling and a four-year extension of mayoral control of city schools.Only afterward did she get wind of an additional request for funding for subway safety measures.“I have a strong relationship with the mayor. He came to me with five requests. I granted all five requests within the budget,” Hochul said “I only became aware that he had this request just from news reports. It has not come to us as a budget request.”The requested funding is for a revamp of the 2022 Subway Safety Plan, which was scaled back after state funds ran out. As part of reinstituting that plan, the mayor also said he needs more state funds to pay for increased overtime for NYPD officers to patrol subway stations amid a 22 percent rise in major crimes.When asked about the apparent lapse in communication, mayoral spokesperson Charles Lutvak highlighted how the mayor said on Tuesday that he was “going to engage in a conversation with our state partners to continue this,” with an emphasis on the mayor’s use of the future tense. — Jason Beeferman
FROM CITY HALL
New report finds New York City had an additional 500,000 impoverished residents between 2021 and 2022. | Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office
POVERTY ON THE RISE: A new report from Robin Hood and Columbia University’s Center on Poverty and Social Policy found a steep increase in poverty rates in New York City — a jump from 1.5 to 2 million residents between 2021 and 2022. The city’s poverty rate is now at 12 percent, which is double the national average.“This would be deeply troubling at any point, but it is particularly disturbing given the steady progress New York City has made to reduce poverty in years prior — including during the pandemic, where 500,000 children avoided poverty thanks to temporary, stabilizing government policies,” Richard Buery Jr., CEO of Robin Hood, said in a statement.To correct this, Buery wants fully refundable tax credits, housing vouchers, and childcare subsidies, but added, “we have lacked the will to keep these policies in force.”“The news is certainly grim, but if there is a silver lining it is that recent years have proven that well-designed policies can and do reduce poverty dramatically. We know what works, it’s just a matter of doing it,” Christopher Wimer, director at the Center on Poverty and Social Policy, said in a statement. — Shawn NessBUDGET CUT REVERSE: Mayor Eric Adams canceled an upcoming round of budget cuts Wednesday citing lower migrant spending and higher revenues. In addition to nixing the anticipated 5 percent spending reduction — the third of three planned rounds — the Adams also relaxed a hiring freeze and other restrictions on agency spending.“Despite facing a perfect fiscal storm that included a multi-billion-dollar budget gap driven by an asylum seeker crisis, the sunsetting of COVID-19 federal stimulus funding, and the cost of inherited outstanding labor costs, our administration was able to successfully make the strong fiscal decisions to navigate us to prosperity,” he said in a statement.The move is just the latest rollback of deeply unpopular budget cuts. And while Wednesday’s announcement could help calm fears of further service reductions, it could also weaken the mayor’s case for more aid from the state and federal governments while complicating negotiations with the City Council, which has long characterized the cuts as unnecessary while doubting the city’s revenue projections. — Joe AnutaVOUCHER FIGHT: The City Council moved to join a lawsuit against Adams on Wednesday over his refusal to enforce reforms to the rental voucher system — the latest example of the souring relationship between the mayor and the legislative body.The Council filed a motion to intervene in the class action lawsuit seeking to force Adams to implement a suite of laws expanding access to the vouchers, known as CityFHEPS. If granted, it would be the first time the Council has sued a mayoral administration since 2018.The legislative body voted to override Adams’ veto of the legislative package in July, but the mayor has refused to implement the laws. The measures set to go into effect on Jan. 9 were intended to move more people out of city-run shelters and expand access to the vouchers for people at risk of losing their homes.Adams argues the package would be too costly, does not address the main problem facing the voucher program — a lack of housing supply, and falls outside the Council’s legal authority.“It’s our belief as a legal matter that that law goes beyond the City Council’s authority and that it’s actually preempted by existing state law,” Lisa Zornberg, chief counsel to the mayor, told reporters Tuesday.“The idea that we’re preempted is ludicrous,” Council Member Diana Ayala said in response, during a TV interview Wednesday morning. “We have, as a body, legislated on CityFHEPS vouchers in the past successfully, and so I don’t think that that argument will hold.” — Janaki Chadha
The Campaign Trail
West Seneca Supervisor Gary Dickson was picked by his fellow Republicans to run for open congressional seat. | Courtesy of Spectrum News 1
FIELD SET FOR NEW YORK’S NEXT HOUSE SPECIAL: Republicans have picked West Seneca Supervisor Gary Dickson to be their nominee in the April 30 special election to replace recently-retired Rep. Brian Higgins.Dickson will face Democratic state Sen. Tim Kennedy in a district where the math favors Democrats, but not by an overwhelming enough margin to make the seat a lock in a vote with unpredictable turnout.“I didn’t want to let the race go without any competition,” Dickson said. “There needs to be somebody that gives people a choice. It’s the bluest district outside of the New York City area, so we’re realistic, but on the other hand I won a blue town. So you never know what’s going to happen.”Dickson became the first Republican to win the 45,000-person town of West Seneca in half a century in 2019, after he ran on his “disgust with the way finances were being handled and the public was not being respected.”The district’s lines will likely change before the seat appears on the ballot again in November. Does Dickson plan to also be the GOP candidate this fall? “We’re focused on the special,” he said. “Let’s see what happens in the special before we make further decisions.” — Bill Mahoney
On the Beats
A new bill from Sen. Andrew Gounardes has a sustainability research group estimating it could save New Yorkers on vehicle costs and decrease greenhouse gas emissions. | Hans Pennink/AP
GAS UTILITY LOBBYING SPEND SCRUTINIZED: Department of Public Service wants additional reporting on lobbying expenses from the gas-only utility serving western New York, following “sloppiness” found in the company’s accounting. DPS staff last week quietly released the findings of an investigation into National Fuel’s lobbying activity — and whether any ratepayer funds were improperly used. The review concluded that $225 was improperly allocated to a ratepayer account for use on a website banner linking to websites opposing the state’s landmark limits on gas in new construction and $76,000 in membership dues for organizations that engage in lobbying.The investigation began in March 2023, according to the report, shortly before New York Focus published a story raising concerns about the funding source of robocalls and other lobbying by the utility against a ban on fossil fuel combustion in new buildings. National Fuel paid Martin Group nearly $60,000 for a campaign opposing a gas ban in 2022. It included robocalls, print and multimedia ads, and the “Better Plans, No Bans” website. The $225 paid to Martin Group that should have been charged to shareholders was for changing links on existing National Fuel websites to direct customers to legislative lobbying webpages opposing gas bans.Staff doesn’t appear that concerned about these “de minimis” errors, noting that they were caught before any rate impacts.But there should be additional oversight. “National Fuel will be required to file additional reports of all legislative lobbying-related expenses going forward for a reasonable period of time so that focused oversight on this issue can continue and the risk of future errors is minimized,” said DPS spokesman Jim Denn in a statement. “The issuance of the investigative report will have a deterrence effect on all utilities to ensure that they avoid inaccurate accounting practices, which serves an important public policy goal.”National Fuel spokesperson Karen Merkel said in a statement the utility was pleased the investigation found no violations of law, regulations or commission orders that warrant enforcement action. “Our customers depend on us to heat their homes and fuel their businesses, and National Fuel believes that pushing to electrify homes and businesses without assuring the readiness of the electric grid stands to make this region’s energy less affordable and less reliable,” she said.The staff report highlights that gas utilities have a First Amendment right to lobby lawmakers. They also have a right to advertise gas service. But those costs must be paid by company shareholders and can’t be charged to ratepayers.National Fuel and some of the state’s other utilities continue to oppose legislative efforts to restrict natural gas usage and expansion of the system. National Fuel is on the steering committee of New Yorkers for Affordable Energy, which is opposing limits on gas system expansion and potential downsizing pathways proposed by Gov. Kathy Hochul and supported by Senate Democrats. — Marie J. FrenchTRANSPORTATION EQUITY: A new report from the Rocky Mountain Institute found that Sen. Andrew Gounardes’ new transportation equity bill could drastically decrease greenhouse gas emissions, vehicle costs and the rate of fatal car crashes.The bill aims to slash vehicular travel by 20 percent overall by 2050 and require state and local highway projects to comply with the intended mile reduction.The nonprofit’s research has estimated that if New York achieved a 20 percent reduction in miles traveled, it would have wide ranging results: 227 million metric tons of CO2 emissions saved; a $3,750 annual drop in household vehicle costs; nearly 600 lives saved from crashes; and over 4,000 deaths due to poor air quality spared.“As this data makes clear, a new approach can not only protect our climate, but also make New York a safer, more affordable place to live. My bill sets a bold but achievable goal to reduce our reliance on cars and expand safe, sustainable transportation options for every New Yorker,” Gounardes said in a statement. — Shawn NessAQE ANNOUNCES EXECUTIVE DIRECTORS: The Alliance for Quality Education, a public education advocacy group, announced that Zakiyah Shaakir-Ansari and Marina Marcou-O’Malley will officially take over as executive directors.The duo served in their positions on an interim basis since November, when former executive director Jasmine Gripper moved to head the Working Families Party. The two have been in Albany this session advocating for a restoration of school aid and increased funding for child care.“We have worked to fully fund public schools, take on the school to prison pipeline, implement culturally responsive education, and raise taxes on millionaires. I am honored and excited to be stepping into this new role alongside Marina at AQE, and know we are ready to carry this organization into the next era with the same clear vision of justice for New York’s students,” said Shaakir-Ansari. — Katelyn CorderoEDUCATION: A coalition of education advocates is putting pressure on city and state lawmakers to come up with a plan to fund key initiatives financed by federal stimulus dollars set to expire this year.The Department of Education has used $7 billion in temporary Covid-19 money to subsidize a host of services including 3K, social workers and community schools. The city has also used the money to pay for school psychologists, bilingual staff and shelter-based coordinators who support students in temporary housing.The Emergency Coalition to Save Education Programs consists of more than 160 organizations, including Advocates for Children of New York, Alliance for Quality Education, Day Care Council of New York, Good Shepherd Services and YMCA of Greater New York.“Members of an elected office listen to constituents so it is our goal to get this information out to as many constituents as possible so that when members are at the supermarket, they are hearing [it from] the cash register person,” Annie Minguez Garcia, vice president of government and community relations at Good Shepherd Services, said during a briefing Wednesday. “When they are at the bank, they’re listening to this from the teller.”City education officials recently told state lawmakers reductions were made in some areas, but not enough to fill the gap. Reactions were mixed as Mayor Eric Adams announced that city agencies will be spared from a third round of cuts.“We are relieved that there is not going to be another round of cuts to the New York City Department of Education but we are deeply concerned about the cuts that are currently being proposed,” Randi Levine, policy director for Advocates for Children of New York, said.Michael Mulgrew, head of the city’s teachers union — which sued Adams over the budget trimming — argued the union’s advocacy played a role in the reversal.“Now it is time to get the legislative changes we need so that in the future the city doesn’t reduce its investment in our public schools or use state education funds to replace its own support for our students,” Mulgrew said in a statement. — Madina Touré
AROUND NEW YORK
— AARP doesn’t think Hochul is doing enough for elderly caregivers. (Buffalo News)— New Yorkers are the most avid sports betters in the nation. (Daily News)— Hochul is giving Hudson River towns $1.8 million to improve water quality. (Times Union)
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About The Author : Jeff Coltin
Jeff Coltin is a reporter and co-author of the New York Playbook. He’s been covering New York City politics for a decade, most recently as City Hall bureau chief at City & State, where he authored the Campaign Confidential newsletter.
Born and raised in Phoenix, Jeff got into journalism at Fordham University in the Bronx, inspired by his grandfather Wendell, who reported for the Boston Herald, among other papers. He lives with his fiancé on the Upper West Side.
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