Iron Law of Prohibition at Work in Overdose Death Epidemic

72,000 overdose deaths is the latest Center for Disease Control estimate for 2017. It’s a huge number; more deaths than AIDS took in a single year. Beyond speaking of increasing support for vague “public health” measures, the New York Times story blamed substances more than policies for this painful failure.

But drug war opponents do blame criminal justice. It’s called the iron law of prohibition: the greater the intensity of law enforcement, the higher the potency of the drug. A former director of NORML in 1986, Richard Cowan, summed it up “the harder the enforcement, the harder the drugs.”

When alcohol was prohibited, beer and wine disappeared, and the bootleggers made gin often described with gallows humor as “bathtub gin” industrial alcohol mixed with flavoring in a tub that on occasion poisoned the drinkers.

Today the poison is fentanyl ordered on the internet from China and delivered in packages like the thousands of other items. Of course, if we had friendly relations with this emerging power we could negotiate restrictions, but under Trump such requests are impossible.

The kick this drug adds to heroin and lately to stimulants like methamphetamine and cocaine is an example of the iron law.  None of these drugs are made with any protection for the consumer. Different policies can produce different results.

In 2015, the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction published comparative statistics for overdose fatalities. Portugal which decriminalized all drug use in 2001meaning drug users and their street level suppliers no longer fear arrest or police intrusions had 3 overdose deaths for every million citizens. The second lowest rate. Clearly decrim hadn’t caused the disaster of increased use and endangering children that the prohibitionist warns will happen if police are replaced by public health officials.

The European average overdose deaths per million was 17.3, the United Kingdom was way above average at 44.6, while for the Dutch it was 10.2

In the United States, using a different statistical base from the UN Office of Drug Control, in 2015 the death rate was 245.8 per million people between the age of 15 to 64 [https://www.statista.com/chart/9973/drug-related-deaths-and-mortality-rate-worldwide/].

August 31 is International Drug Overdose Awareness Day and the United States is pledged to increase treatment and access to overdose prevention medicines while also increasing police enforcement.

The iron law of prohibition suggests the increasing the intensity of law enforcement and implementing tolerant public health measures will conflict or an even create worst public health problem.

With desperate brevity, the current problem in the U.S. can be examined under this lens. In 2000 when doctor prescriptions for pharmaceutical opioids were high and before warnings spread that doctors oxycontin pills caused addiction, the pills were easily diverted. But 20-20 hind sight reveals opioid related overdoses were low during this unregulated era.  As restrictions on pharmaceutical supplies increased overdose deaths started to increase.

The overdose deaths examined in 2000 were traced to pharmaceutical pills, by 2010, pharmaceuticals were a declining cause while heroin was on its way up. People who formerly depended on pills had become injecting heroin users. In 2000 deaths from fentanyl were virtually non-existent by 2017 it was the major problem and what’s worse fentanyl is now mixed with meth and cocaine making these stimulants surprise killers. This is the paradox of the iron law, when pharmaceutical pills were easily found, there were overdoses, but history makes it clear the level of overdoses deaths were low, and public health measures could have kept this number down without any police involvement.

Today the drug war is renewed by alarm over overdose deaths, Sheila Vakharia Phd a Policy Manager at the Drug Policy Alliance reports that stimulants are a growing cause of overdose deaths. The CDC’s latest national overdose data [https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/drug-overdose-data.htm] – for the period between December 2015 and December 2017, she wrote in an email, showed “cocaine-involved overdose deaths  went from 6,841 to 14,058 (over doubled) and methamphetamine-involved deaths went from 5,777 to 10,523 (80+% increase).” In NY state over the same period “cocaine-involved overdose deaths went from 354 to 690 (almost double- 95% increase) and methamphetamine went from 36 to 133 (269% increase!!).” This problem is not going away.

What should have been done around 2000 when it was discovered pharmaceuticals were being used by drug users was an intensive education campaign about how to recover from overdoses and instruction on how to minimize harm from using the pills.  A long-range strategy would also have looked at why these pills were becoming attractive to users while regulators attacked the false advertising of Purdue Pharma. One reason for the increase in addiction is that users thought pills were safer than injecting heroin.

This perception is correct but these pills being legal could also be controlled with relative ease and that is exactly what happened; the pills were cutback and users started injecting heroin and then dealers started cutting heroin with fentanyl and we really saw deaths explode reaching the 72,000 figure.

Enforcement also creates other problems. So-called synthetic marijuana, it’s plant matter that isn’t pot and why this is critical will become apparent shortly. What gets a person high is spraying a chemical, designed to mimic pot but never tested for safety, on the plant matter.

This is another way enforcement enters the picture. Synthetic marijuana is potent but cheap, $2/3 for a joint that can get a person high most of the day because one toke makes most people blasted. This makes it attractive to the homeless and it is also attractive to people on parole (who are often homeless) who are drug tested constantly, but because the chemical that is sprayed hasn’t been labeled illegal by the DEA and can be sold legally. And what this means if the parolee is drug tested, he or she is listed as clean. Surveillance of drug users follows the iron law, it makes user seek ever more dangerous and potent substances

Criminalizing a person’s intimate habits is a bad even fatal idea.

And let us conclude with a great leap of faith. Opposing the prosecution of users and their dealers is something that conventional politicians like Andrew Cuomo support reluctantly, while the inexperienced politicians like Cynthia Nixon and Zephyr Teachout are proving to be open minded about new methods of coping with drug use. From this perspective their inexperience becomes an asset.

New NYS Push Against Hepatitis C

BY NATHAN RILEY | Health advocates are making a concerted push to raise awareness of a disease about which many people are uniformed despite its growing prevalence: hepatitis C.

July 28 was World Hepatitis Day, with the World Health Organization focusing its efforts around the theme: “Test. Treat. Hepatitis.” And, now, New York State has started a Hepatitis C Elimination Task Force, announced July 27 by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

The outbreak in the state is gathering force, and the best practices advice is now that when you get tested for HIV, get tested for hep C, as well. That’s not because of any specific link between the two epidemics, but rather due to the ease of managing your health care. In fact, many people who don’t consider themselves at risk for HIV could be infected with hepatitis C. Right now, such testing requires that a person ask for it.

Cuomo responds to evidence treatable infection growing among young people

In 2016, an alarming 14,745 new HCV infections were reported in New York — more than five times the number of new HIV diagnoses for the same year.

There is no obvious warning; a person infected with HVC can be otherwise healthy. The virus can hang out in the liver for years and cause no obvious discomfort.

New York State is responding with a new plan to unravel a critical dilemma, with public health officials estimating that half the infected population doesn’t know it. That problem carries a two-fold risk. First, hep C is treatable, so a person not knowing their status can unnecessarily harm their health. Treatment simply involves completing a regimen of medication and the virus disappears. An untreated person can also spread the disease.

The success in combating hep C is remarkable for a disease that wasn’t even identified until 1989. HCV lurks in the body and the blood. It was even spread by blood transfusion before it was identified.

Until recently, public health officials focused on populations 45-65 and older, many of whom have now received treatment and so are not infecting others. The assumption was that HCV infection incidence was declining.

That optimistic scenario is now outdated. The disease has spread, and young people are testing positive for it.

There are many ways to become infected, but the activists from VOCAL-NY and Housing Works that prodded Governor Andrew Cuomo and the State Health Department to prioritize the battle against HCV are active in keeping drug users healthy, through needle exchanges and other interventions. Injecting drugs is clearly one path for new infections, but so are needles in badly run tattoo parlors and straws shared while snorting drugs. The delay in authorizing Safer Consumption Spaces, where drug users can inject under the supervision of health care workers who provide harm reduction information, is one of the stumbling blocks to effective prevention efforts.

HCV infections can’t always be traced to a particular behavior because, unlike HIV, the hep C virus can live outside the body. State health officials advise that it isn’t easily sexually transmitted, but risks increase if partners have tears in their skin. It is also possible that infection can result from something as simple as sharing a toothbrush, given the virus’ resiliency outside the body.

The bottom line: get tested, and the only way to get tested is to ask for it. Every city sexual health clinic will test you for free. Go and ask for the full complement of STD tests, including for HIV, and tell them to test for HCV also. No appointments are necessary. If you visit your doctor’s office, insurance will pay for the test. But, again, your doctor is unlikely to suggest the test. You need to ask for it.

On my last visit to the city’s Riverside sexual health clinic on West 100th Street following a syphilis contact, I was in and out in an hour.

The rise in infections among 18- to 29-year-olds is particularly worrisome, that group including as it does women of child-bearing age. Infected young people, if untreated, will face major health problems later in life. Left untreated, HCV infection can be fatal.

The cost of hep C treatment keeps falling, and in the face of the epidemic barriers to treatment are toppling. The new rule is that if you test positive, you get the treatment — patients must no longer demonstrate that their infection has become serious.

New York State is now taking the epidemic’s resurgence seriously, providing money to Medicaid to cover treatment costs and allowing needle exchanges and similar service providers to become part of the testing network.

The state plan is the first in the nation “to take up the challenge,” said Housing Works CEO Charles King. Referring to Cuomo, King said the plan is “very much in line with his commitment in 2014 to end AIDS as an epidemic in New York State.”

This is an epidemic that affects heterosexuals as much as members of the LGBTQ community. Getting tested and then taking the medicine will cure the disease and eliminate the risk of transmission. Word of mouth always helps battle epidemics, so passing the information along to friends is a positive step everyone should take.

This article was posted on GayCityNews.com on August 2, 2018

De Blasio Dithers on Marijuana

BY NATHAN RILEY | Public officials in the city and state should suspend marijuana enforcement until Albany resolves the pressing question of legalization.

A new consensus is gaining momentum that the risks of marijuana can be controlled by public health measures. At its recent State Convention, New York State Democrats supported legal adult sales of recreational marijuana, declaring that weed is “is less harmful than alcohol and tobacco.”

Meanwhile, top health officials in New York City and New York State have endorsed a tax and regulate model for adult recreational use. It is a new era where health issues need no longer hinder legalization, and the debate centers on how to implement a new approach to marijuana.

Mayor’s supposed “advance” will still lead to arrests

In a report to Governor Andrew Cuomo made public last week, Dr. Howard Zucker, the state health commissioner, said he doesn’t subscribe to the theory that marijuana represents a gateway to harder drugs. Zucker’s conclusion has been widely held by other public health officials for years. The National Institute of Drug Abuse points to some rodent studies that indicate early use of marijuana could make the brain susceptible to an appetite for other drugs. Studies like this agree with epidemiological data that show that use of drugs in early adolescents is correlated with abuse as adults. But then there is a big qualifier here: “the majority of people who use marijuana do not go on to use other, ‘harder’ substances.”

Moreover, NIDA notes “cross-sensitization is not unique to marijuana. Alcohol and nicotine also prime the brain for a heightened response to other drugs.” This trio of drug are “typically used before a person progresses to other, more harmful substances.”

Given this pattern, NIDA offers “an alternative to the gateway-drug hypothesis.” Drug users “are simply more likely to start with readily available substances such as marijuana, tobacco, or alcohol, and their subsequent social interactions with others who use drugs increases their chances of trying other drugs.” You choose friends you are comfortable with and, in turn, you have shared activities.

From this perspective, the longstanding war on pot is not justified; use of marijuana may have a link to other drug use later in life, but it doesn’t necessarily cause it. Arrests are unwarranted, particularly given the high likelihood that legalization is on its way, but Mayor Bill de Blasio remains stubbornly resistant to this new reality.

With a great flourish, he recently announced that smoking in public would be greeted with a summons not arrests, arguing he was making a real concession.  But other member of the Democratic Party and advocates blasted his proposal.

The chairs of two criminal justice committees in the City Council joined advocates June 20 on the steps of City Hall attacking the mayor’s plan. Their critique burst de Blasio’s hopes of appearing progressive; the plan, they said, represented only the smallest of steps forward.

Queens Councilmember Rory Lancman, who heads up the Committee on the Justice System, blasted the mayor’s plan on the steps of City Hall and in a statement, saying, “No one should be arrested for smoking marijuana, period.” Calling the new plan a sham, he noted that a speeding ticket is a civil summons, but that de Blasio’s action on marijuana involves a criminal summons.

“The mayor’s policy does not attempt to reduce criminal summonses at all, still allows arrests in circumstances that cannot be justified by public safety,” Lancman said.

Then, in a thrust that must hurt a mayor whose political persona is defined by opposition to all forms of discrimination, Lancman predicted the plan “will likely make marijuana policing even more discriminatory toward people of color, continues to expose noncitizens to deportation, and takes no steps to eliminate the collateral consequences which are in the city’s control.”

Joining him was another Queens councilmember, Donovan Richards, who chairs the Committee on Public Safety that oversees the NYPD, as well as Brooklyn Councilmembers Antonio Reynoso and Jumaane Williams, the latter of whom is challenging Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul in the September Democratic primary and is aligned with Cynthia Nixon’s gubernatorial bid.

City Comptroller Scott Stringer, a likely candidate for mayor in 2021, joined the demonstrators, saying “too many live have been ruined, too many people of color have been targeted.” As he left the speaker’s podium, he reminded everyone that he is “the money guy. If you will legalize, you will actually create a $3 billion dollar industry” and tens of thousand new jobs. With more revenue, he said, “you will have an opportunity to invest more in the community.”

Kassandra Frederique, state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, called for a “clear-cut policy saying no arrests, no justification for putting people into the criminal system — period.”

Public defenders, organizations representing minority youth like Make the Road New York, and drug reformers like VOCAL-NY also stressed that New York must stop relying on criminal penalties.

Under the mayor’s plan, anybody stopped for marijuana who is not carrying identification can be arrested and fingerprinted and that could lead ICE to identify them for deportation, Legal Aid Society lawyers argued.

According to de Blasio, his plan will make things better because there will be fewer arrests.

But he avoids a basic ethical question. If marijuana will be legal in eight or nine months, how can enforcement be justified now? Campaigners for legal marijuana are eager to avoid any arrests for a drug that is less harmful than alcohol or tobacco. Keeping young people’s records clean means they can can qualify for better jobs and increase their earning potential — a factor particularly salient in low income neighborhoods and communities of color. This is one piece of the argument that legalization will be good for the state’s economy.

The case against arrests is implicit in the Democratic Party’s recent resolution. “Marijuana laws have not had a significant impact on marijuana availability,” the statement reads. If the law fails to curb use, then no individuals, much less poor black and brown youth, should be criminally punished in a futile exercise. That is why enforcement should be suspended and the Legislature be given time to create a new policy.

The mayor’s “advance,” meanwhile, continues major injustices. As Gothamist headlined its story about de Blasio’s announcement: “NYPD Will Stop Arresting SOME People For Smoking Pot.” Among those who will be arrested are parolees. It is hard to think of a crueler outcome for getting high than going back to prison after enjoying freedom. In fact, according to the Daily News, some federal judges are refusing to play along with this. Judge Jack Weinstein, a liberal lion on the federal bench in Brooklyn, made the news with “a remarkable 42-page ruling explaining why he would not send 22-year-old Tyran Trotter back to prison for three years — longer than his original sentence! — for smoking pot, a technical violation of his post-release terms,” according to the Daily News.”

In his years as mayor, de Blasio has displayed an uncanny talent for isolating himself politically. His ties to the drug reform movement were already frayed by his long delay in supporting safer consumption spaces that offer medical support to drug users during their time of greatest peril in the minutes after they inject. His months-long stall on the issue is now being followed by Cuomo’s own foot-dragging in giving the state’s go-ahead.

If de Blasio were to advocate for complete suspension of marijuana law enforcement pending action in Albany, he would become a leader with a national constituency and polish his fading progressive image. Instead, he is allied with the police, which will always show more loyalty to Cuomo than to him in any event. At a time when the mayor needs allies and a chance to reignite the initial enthusiasm he stirred, he is increasing his troubles by standing pat rather than making a bold move forward.

This article was posted on GayCityNews.com on July 19, 2018

State Health Commish Gives Pot a Go

A report from Dr. Howard Zucker, the state health commissioner, has blessed the legalization of marijuana. | NYS DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH

BY NATHAN RILEY | In a report that will be read by public health officials across the country, the New York State Health Department has declared that legalizing marijuana would bring positive benefits; the “pros outweigh the cons,” opined Dr. Howard Zucker, the state health commissioner.

The report, which went public last week, makes it clear that legalization will improve health outcomes. After reading the report, it would be easy to conclude pot smokers are no different from the rest of the population. The report emphasizes that consumer safety will improve with laboratory-tested pot, its potency carefully labeled and customers able to pick the plant that brings the most satisfaction. Here health and pleasure form a useful synergy, and regulations reduce risks.

The risk that an emancipation effect will spur a sudden surge in use is low. By age 18, 52 percent of New Yorkers have tried marijuana. Under the current system, there is no shortage of supply, and the report suggests that limiting sales to licensed stores will make it more difficult for those under 21 to find pot.

Dr. Howard Zucker’s report finds improved health outcomes, economic benefits

Current law fails to restrict supply, and that means arresting users and suppliers accomplishes little. The report implies pot busts are cruel and pointless.

Sustaining these penalties are scare stories about marijuana that create fear but lack merit. A big lie is enshrined in federal law; it declares marijuana is a Schedule 1 drug with “no medical use” and a high potential for abuse. The problem of abuse can better be addressed after legalization when its use will be regulated. The report expresses the hope that legalizing pot will reduce the use of opioids.

Some studies have indicated that in places with medical marijuana there are fewer opioid overdose deaths. New York State has seen a 180 percent increase in overdose death between 2010 and 2016 to more than 3,000 a year, and every year more people die than the year before.

Occasionally a dry wit is displayed in Zucker’s report. During a discussion about marijuana causing a loss of motivation, it is described as a “temporary transient state,” not a permanent condition. Findings like these lead to the conclusion that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol or tobacco and undermine the rationale for its prohibition under federal law.

The exaggerated claims about harm from marijuana have been accompanied by a vicious enforcement policy. “Statewide, New York’s marijuana arrest rate of 535 arrests per 100,000 people was the highest of any state in 2010 and double the national average” with 103,698 arrests for possession, according to the report.

“The impact of low level marijuana offenses extends” beyond expenditure of criminal justice resources, the report notes. “Individuals who have a criminal record often face challenges throughout their lives.” It disproportionately criminalized black and brown residents. In 2017, the problem persisted, the reporting finding that “86 percent of the people arrested for marijuana possession in the fifth degree in 2017 were people of color; 48 percent were Black, and 38 percent were Hispanic. Only nine percent were White.” And the black and brown defendants received tougher punishment than whites.

Strikingly, “It is rare that these arrests lead to the discovery of guns or violent crimes,” the report stated.

And arrests have a health impact: Arrests and incarceration disrupt families, hindering access to education and health care, and increasing poverty “particularly in low-income communities of color where arrests are concentrated despite equivalent rates of marijuana use across racial groups,” the report stated. “Incarceration of family members destabilizes families and is considered an adverse childhood experience (ACE).” Incarceration also has “an impact on community health in many areas (including teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections).”

Legalization will bring improvements in community health for low-income neighborhoods, the report concluded.

To rectify past harms, the report recommends that “NYS expunge the criminal records of individuals with marijuana-related offenses.”

Meanwhile, developing tests for driving while using marijuana will improve once tax revenues from pot sales can finance this research.

Legalization will create a new industry in New York State. The report estimates that at “an average retail price of $270 per ounce, the market for marijuana is estimated to be approximately $1.7 billion; at $340 per ounce, the market is estimated to be approximately $3.5 billion.” Estimated tax revenues could fall between $248 million and $677 million, but the goal of raising taxes conflicts with the public policy imperative of ending the illegal market. The more expensive legal marijuana is, the greater the likelihood that the unregulated market will continue.

Preliminary data from Colorado suggests that legalization did not bring “statistically different” vehicular crash rates — though studies of marijuana impacts on traffic accidents are funded only sporadically and the data is imperfect.

The State Health Department’s “Assessment of the Potential Impact of the Regulated Market in Marijuana for New York State” argues that legalization improves public health and recommends that its licensing be separate from alcohol and tobacco. The details are not spelled out in the report but will be debated during the coming year. Health is no longer the issue; the hows and wheres are what are left to be decided.

This article was added to GayCityNews.com on July 19, 2018

Progressive Hell’s Kitchen Club Sticks with Cuomo

BY NATHAN RILEY | Right in Cynthia Nixon’s backyard, just weeks after the actor and activist announced her Democratic primary challenge to Andrew Cuomo, the Hell’s Kitchen Democrats — a progressive newcomer on the local political club scene — voted Thursday night to endorse the two-term governor for reelection.

The club held its first endorsement meeting for statewide offices April 5, and elected officials showed up to make personal pleas for support. State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli appeared and described the duties of his office, talking about leveraging his office’s control of the state employees’ pension funds to insist that corporations hire women and minorities for their boards of directors. He also talked about working with shareholder activists to press corporate America to abide by the Paris Agreement on climate change, despite President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of the US from it.

Club members had the chance to compare Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul and her primary opponent, Brooklyn City Councilmember Jumaane Williams. Hochul, who appeared on behalf of the governor, emphasized her record of supporting women’s issues including the right to choose in Republican districts in western New York State. She also argued that she and Cuomo are steadfast supporters of the long-stalled Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, a transgender civil rights measure, despite what she said was opposition from many upstate New Yorkers.

West Side’s newest Democratic organization supports all incumbents except IDC’s Marisol Alcantara

“I am laser focused on bringing our country back” from Trump’s reactionary policies, said Hochul, who reminded the club that 2018 is the 100th anniversary of the first time women voted in New York State elections.

Williams, for his part, promised to turn the lieutenant governor’s office into the state equivalent of the city’s public advocate role.

“I will speak against the governor,” he promised. “The emperor has no clothes” he argued, citing corruption and high rents as failures of the current administration in Albany. When questioned about a City Council bill that made it easier for transgender New Yorkers to change their birth certificates, however, Williams acknowledged that he abstained from voting on that citing concerns he had about a specific portion of the language in the measure. [Editor’s note: The original posting of this story incorrectly reported that Williams had voted “no” on the bill.]

Hochul, DiNapoli, and State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the only other statewide elected officials besides Cuomo, also received the club’s nod. Specific tallies from the secret ballot were not announced.

Despite the announcement this week that the renegade Independent Democratic Conference in the State Senate would abandon its alliance with the Republicans who control that chamber and rejoin the regular Democratic Conference, the Hell’s Kitchen Dems vowed to continue opposing IDC members facing primary challenges in September. The club endorsed former City Councilmember Robert Jackson in his challenge to Marisol Alcantara, who immediately joined the IDC after her 2016 election to a Senate seat representing the West Side. Jackson lost to Alcantara two years ago and is eagerly preparing for a rematch.

The club also endorsed four local state legislative incumbents — Assemblymembers Richard Gottfried and Linda Rosenthal and Senators Liz Krueger and out gay Brad Hoylman. Gottfried, Rosenthal, and Krueger each addressed the club.

This was posted on GayCityNews.com on April 6, 2018

Progressive Hell’s Kitchen Club Sticks with Cuomo

BY NATHAN RILEY | Right in Cynthia Nixon’s backyard, just weeks after the actor and activist announced her Democratic primary challenge to Andrew Cuomo, the Hell’s Kitchen Democrats — a progressive newcomer on the local political club scene — voted Thursday night to endorse the two-term governor for reelection.

The club held its first endorsement meeting for statewide offices April 5, and elected officials showed up to make personal pleas for support. State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli appeared and described the duties of his office, talking about leveraging his office’s control of the state employees’ pension funds to insist that corporations hire women and minorities for their boards of directors. He also talked about working with shareholder activists to press Corporate America to abide by the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, despite President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of the US from it.

Club members had the chance to compare Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul and her primary opponent, Brooklyn City Councilmember Jumaane Williams. Hochul, who appeared on behalf of the governor, emphasized her record of supporting women’s issues including the right to chose in Republican districts in western New York State. She also argued that she and Cuomo are steadfast supporters of the long-stalled Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, a transgender civil rights measure, despite what she said was opposition from many upstate New Yorkers.

West Side’s newest Democratic organization supports all incumbents except IDC’s Marisol Alcantara

“I am laser focused on bringing our country back” from Trump’s reactionary policies, said Hochul, who reminded the club that 2018 is the 100th anniversary of the first time women voted in New York State elections.

Williams, for his part, promised to turn the lieutenant governor’s office into the state equivalent of the city’s public advocate role.

“I will speak against the governor,” he promised. “The emperor has no clothes” he argued, citing corruption and high rents as failures of the current administration in Albany. When questioned about a City Council bill that made it easier for transgender New Yorkers to change their birth certificates, however, Williams was forced to admit he had voted against it.

Hochul, DiNapoli, and State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the only other statewide elected officials besides Cuomo, also received the club’s nod. Specific tallies from the secret ballot were not announced.

Despite the announcement this week that the renegade Independent Democratic Conference in the State Senate would abandon its alliance with the Republicans who control that chamber and rejoin the regular Democratic Conference, the Hell’s Kitchen Dems vowed to continue opposing IDC members facing primary challenges in September. The club endorsed former City Councilmember Robert Jackson in his challenge to Marisol Alcantara, who immediately joined the IDC after her 2016 election to a Senate seat representing the West Side. Jackson lost to Alcantara two years ago and is eagerly preparing for a rematch.

The club also endorsed four local state legislative incumbents — Assemblymembers Richard Gottfried and Linda Rosenthal and Senators Liz Krueger and out gay Brad Hoylman. Gottfried, Rosenthal, and Krueger each addressed the club.

This article was posted to GayCityNews.com on April 6, 2018

Cynthia Nixon’s Impressive Launch

BY NATHAN RILEY | Cynthia Nixon successfully opened her campaign denouncing Governor Andrew Cuomo as a man who cares more “about headlines and power” than about people.

“New York is my home. I have never lived anywhere else,” she says in her first ad. While identifying healthcare, mass incarceration, and the subways as key issues, she highlighted upstate poverty and economic stagnation, arguing that New York’s fundamental problem is income inequality: “Our leaders are letting us down, we are the most unequal state in the entire country.”

Her announcement drew a positive response, and it seems clear she will be taken seriously. The governor responded through surrogates who said the actor couldn’t do the job and, besides, it didn’t matter — she has neither the money nor the name recognition to overcome Cuomo’s incumbency advantages.

PERSPECTIVE: The Long View

But Harry Enten, a CNN commentator and contributor at Nate Silver’s fivethirtyeight.com, said Nixon could win. He pointed to Ned Lamont’s Democratic primary victory over US Senator Joe Liberman in 2006 — just six years after Lieberman, who began the race with at 65-to-19 percent edge over Lamont, was their party’s vice presidential nominee. (Cuomo, of course, is not saddled with George W. Bush’s Iraq War, as Lieberman was.)

The political class is quietly giving Nixon room to make her case. Gale Brewer, the Manhattan borough president, and Letitia James, the public advocate, have so far stayed neutral even as the governor worked to drum up endorsements. Media outlets across the state gave ample coverage to Nixon’s charge that Cuomo is a “bully,” often accompanying it with comments about his “hair-trigger temper.”

Scott Stringer, the New York City comptroller, released a report slamming the MTA for cutting back on off-hour service during the Great Recession but not restoring it in the years since 2010, inconveniencing hospital workers, building maintenance crews, nightlife employees, and other low-income workers who often work the night shift or have early starts. “The MTA runs 60 percent fewer trains citywide from 5 a.m. to 6 a.m. than it does from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m., and 38 percent fewer from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m.,” the comptroller’s report pointed out. Whatever Stringer’s intentions, the report undercuts the governor’s claim, eight years after taking office, that he inherited a deteriorating system. Nixon is expected to argue the governor used the MTA as a piggy bank for other projects — think of those three upstate ski resorts — shortchanging necessary maintenance and renovations.

Only forty percent of New Yorkers told pollsters they had heard of Nixon, but the other potential Democratic challengers mentioned — State Senator Michael Gianaris from Astoria and Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner — came nowhere near her in terms of name recognition. Cuomo well knows that the strongest candidate is challenging him.

The New Republic poo-pooed the claim Nixon is inexperienced — calling it “an elitist obsession with qualifications” — pointing out that being a citizen satisfied voters who elected New Jersey’s Bill Bradley, California’s Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Minnesota’s Al Franken.

Nixon’s first Albany appearance on Monday displayed her qualifications, speaking at a news conference called by the Alliance for Quality Education, an activist group she has worked with for years dedicated to ending the gap between the school budgets of poor communities without large property tax revenues and those of model schools in well-to-do communities. She slammed legislative leaders and the governor for being a “boys’ club.” Cuomo’s budgets “bully our children and our families by shortchanging them, boxing them in by denying them the opportunities they are owed. It reminds me of the behavior we see from Donald Trump every day.”

Nixon’s wife, education activist Christine Marinoni, is registered as a member of the Working Families Party, which has close ties to organized labor. Marinoni’s registration, however, will bar her from voting in the September Democratic primary — a restriction that doomed Bernie Sanders’ campaign here — and in other states — in 2016. Working Families itself will no doubt have a heated debate about whether to back Nixon, the candidate who shares its values, or Cuomo, the incumbent who could punish affiliated unions the next time contracts are negotiated. Nixon on the November ballot, even not as the Democrat, could spell trouble for Cuomo.

Nixon will certainly promote herself as a proud user of city services: she takes the subway, she graduated from public schools, and lived in a fifth-floor walk-up with a single mom. Now she walks the talk and sends her teenage boys to public school. Cuomo loves his Corvette and is more likely to be photographed in the state helicopter than underground during rush hour.

The opening act in this drama promises a furious, hard-fought campaign where Democrats on the left will give vent to their hostility toward neo-liberal centrists. In a New York Times column, Ginia Bellafante wrote that Nixon will slam Cuomo for “too little investment in public schools, too little effort made at eradicating inequality, too much capitulation to big-moneyed interests and venal and corrupt state legislators.”

Stayed tuned.

Posted on GayCityNews.Com on March 29, 2018