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Historic Election Gives Democrats White House, Big Gains in Congress

In what may go down in history as one of the best days in the history of the party, Democrats made sweeping gains across the country on November 4th.  The biggest news was the victory in the Presidential race, but Democrats also picked up a large number of seats in the United States Senate and House of Representatives and also increased their numbers in State Legislatures across the country.              

Illinois Senator Barack Obama was elected the forty-fourth President of the United States of America, beating Republican Candidate Senator John McCain of Arizona with 53% of the vote to Senator McCain’s 46%.  Senator Obama is the first Democrat since Jimmy Carter in 1976 to win a majority of the popular vote, and President Carter did so just barely, receiving just 50.8% of the vote.  You have to go back to 1964 and Lyndon Johnson to find a Democratic President candidate who won a higher percentage of the popular vote than Senator Obama did.              

Perhaps equally as impressive was Senator Obama’s Electoral College victory.  The final tally was 265 to 173, just a little shy of President Bill Clinton’s marks of 370 and 379 in 1992 and 1996 respectively, but more than Presidents Carter, John F. Kennedy (303) in 1976, or Harry Truman (303) in 1948.  Unlike the previous two elections which were nail biters down to the end, the outcome of the 2008 election, while not official until much later on in the evening, could be pretty well predicted soon after the polls started to close.  The first sign of trouble for Senator McCain came just after 6pm eastern time when voting ended in Indiana (most of the state is in the Eastern Time zone, but a small portion in the northwest corner closed at 7pm).  Although the state did not ultimately end up being called for Senator Obama until the day after the election, the fact that Indiana was even in play was a bad omen for the Republicans.  Indiana had gone Republican in every Presidential Election since 1964, and it was always one of the first states called.  With Indiana even in doubt, it was going to be a long night for the Republicans.              

Going into Election Day, there were three states the President George W. Bush won in 2004 which were leaning very heavily towards Senator Obama -- Iowa, Nevada, and New Mexico.  Combined, these states have a total of seventeen electoral votes, which was President Bush’s margin of electoral victory in 2004, meaning if these three states switched as everybody thought they would, Senator McCain would have to capture at least one state that Senator John Kerry won in 2004.  His only realistic chances of doing so were in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania.  Senator Obama was a very strong bet to hold every other state which Senator Kerry had won in 2004.   Sometime around 7:30pm Senator Obama took New Hampshire and at only one minute after the polls closed in Pennsylvania at 8pm, he captured the Keystone State.  This meant that all Senator Obama had to do was capture one more state that President Bush had won in 2004, which he did a little over an hour later when he was declared thee winner in Ohio.  He did not officially reach the magic number of 270 needed to win until after the polls closed on the west coast, but once Ohio was declared, the race was all but over.  Soon other States that President Bush had won and 2004 went for Senator Obama -- Iowa, Nevada, and New Mexico as mentioned, but also Colorado, Virginia, Florida, and eventually Indiana and North Carolina.              

Senator Obama got other electoral vote than very few people expected.  Most states award their electoral votes on a winner-take-all basis – whoever gets the most votes wins all the electoral votes, regardless of how close it is.  Maine and Nebraska use a different system, which one electoral vote awarded to whoever wins each Congressional district plus two votes given to the overall winner.  This has never been an issue because the statewide winner has always also won each Congressional district and this was the case again in Maine this year, where Senator Obama swept the State -- but not so in Nebraska.  Senator McCain won the state by fifteen points, but his support was not across the board.  Senator Obama actually received more votes the in second Congressional District, meaning he was awarded one of Nebraska’s five electoral votes.  One other oddity in the election was Missouri, which lost its claim as the ultimate bell weather state.  Over the past one hundred plus years, Missouri voters have sided with the candidate who won the Presidential Election, in every year except one, 1956.  Not this year. Although it was very close, Missouri went to Senator McCain, leaving the State on the losing side, someplace it had not been for over fifty years.              

Democrats also made major gains in the Senate and House, although failing to reach the magic number of sixty in the Senate.  Going into the elections, Democrats held a 51-49 majority in the Senate.  On Election Day they picked up seven seats, knocking off incumbents in Alaska, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Oregon and winning open seats in Colorado, New Mexico, and Virginia.  Republicans were able to hold onto open seats in Idaho and Nebraska and defend incumbents in tough races in Kentucky, Maine, and Mississippi.  This brought the Democratic total for the next Congress until at least fifty-eight, only two short of the sixty votes need to overcome a filibuster, but there were two seats still yet to be decided.  In Georgia, Republican incumbent Saxby Chambliss easily bested Democrat Jim Martin on Election Day, but in Georgia an actual majority is needed to claim victory, which, owing to couple of third party candidates, Senator Chambliss fell just short of achieving.  A runoff election was necessary and one was held in December.  Senator Chambliss did win and was finally reelected, thus denying the Democrats’ chance at reaching their magic number.  In Minnesota, the race between Republican incumbent Norm Coleman and Democratic challenger Al Franken is still too close to call with the two candidates separated by less than three hundred votes out of over three million cast.              

With the election of Senator Obama, there will be four vacancies to fill.  Senator Obama has already resigned his seat in Illinois.  Normally, according to Illinois law, the Governor would appoint a successor, but things are not normal in Illinois.  The Democratic Governor, Rod Blagojevich, was arrested, for, among other things, attempting to sell the Senate appointment.  One proposal that has arisen as a result of the scandal to take the power to fill an unfilled Senate term away from the Governor and call for a special election.  This would give Republicans an opportunity to pick up a seat in the Senate they would not have otherwise had.  Of course in order for this change to happen, it has to be approved by the Governor, who is, for the moment at least, still Rod Blagojevich.              

Vice President-Elect Joseph Biden is also leaving the Senate.  Current Delaware Governor Ruth Minner appointed longtime Biden aide Ted Kaufman to fill his seat through 2010 at which time there will be a special election to fill out the remainder of Senator Biden’s term.  Mr. Kaufman has already stated that he will only serve for the two year appointment and will not run for election in 2010.  Speculation is that Senator Biden’s son, Beau Biden would then run for the seat.  The younger Biden was considered a top candidate to be appointed to fill out the first two years of his father’s term, but in addition to being the current Attorney General in Delaware, he is also a member of the National Guard and his unit is deploying to the Middle East.  His tour would be over well enough in advance for him to run in 2010.  President Elect Obama has also nominated New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton to be Secretary of State.  Governor David Paterson has said he will not announce her replacement, who would also have to run in a special election in 2010, until after Senator Clinton is confirmed, which will not be until at least late January.  And just recently, President Elect asked current Colorado Senator Ken Salazar to be Secretary of the Interior, creating yet another vacancy.  Colorado Governor Bill Ritter has the power to appoint someone to fill that slot.  Given Governor Blagojevich’s problems, both Governors Paterson and Ritter will be very careful about who they choose to enter the Senate.

There is still one race in Virginia which is still undecided, but in the House of Representatives, Democrats have picked up at least twenty-one seats net, an impressive showing, although by no means as impressive as the thirty three seats they picked up in the last election.  Unlike in 2006, when the Democrats did not lose even one House race, the Republican did manage to win five seats back from the Republicans, although four of them were in the South.  Democratic dominance in the Northeast continued with the party picking up the last remaining Republican seat in New England as well as three seats in New York, one on New Jersey, one in Maryland, and one in Pennsylvania.  They also captured several seats in the South, Midwest, and Mountain States.

Democratic gains were not limited to Washington.  In Missouri, Jay Nixon was elected Governor, bringing the nationwide tally to 29-21 in favor of the Democrats.  Democrats also took control over legislative chambers in Nevada, New York, Ohio, and Wisconsin.  About the only good news for Republican was in Tennessee where they captured both the State Senate and Assembly.

Senate Control – A Toss Up

Originally the common wisdom was that the battle for control of the State Senate would be won or lost in Queens and on Long Island, but, although there are still some close races Downstate, the contest has shifted to Western New York.  Currently, the Republicans hold a slim 31 – 29 seat advantage with two vacancies.  Two long-term Buffalo area incumbents, Dale Volker (R) and William Stachowski (D) are facing stronger than expected challenges with Senator Stachowski actually trailing in the polls.  Democratic candidate Joe Mesi leads the race to replace retiring Republican Mary Lou Rath, also form the Buffalo area, a seat the Republicans have held for forty years.  Billionaire businessman Tom Golisano of Rochester plans to spend $5 million to aid candidates, much of that going to Senate Democrats.

Two weeks before the election, the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) gave its support to thirty-five State Senators, thirty of them  Republican, after Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos made a commitment to block any cuts to education funding this year.  It was only two months ago when NYSUT fought the Senate Majority over a tax cap bill that was passed in August.  NYSUT vowed at that time to oppose or remain neutral against any Senator who votes for the bill. 

As the Republican majority and Senate Democrats battle for control, a quite different scenario is a possibility.  Normally, if issues split along party lines, Lt. Governor would break the tie however, New York has no Lt. Governor because he is now the Governor.  The Majority Leader is Acting Lt. Governor but if the tie exists, (31-31) who is the Leader?  Would the courts decide?  What members would flip to the other side and at what cost?  Stay tuned – it only gets better!!!!

Local Assemblyman Beats Back Primary Challenge

Adriano Espaillat, who has represents part of the area around the Medical Center in the New York State Assembly, survived his toughest electoral challenge since he was first elected twelve years ago.  New York City Councilman Miguel Martinez took on Assemblyman Espaillat in the Democratic primary.  The final vote was 54% -- 46% in favor of Espaillat.

Can Things Get Any Worse for New York Republicans in Congress?

After the 1994 election and the Newt Gingrich lead revolution put the Republicans in control for the first time in almost forty years, the make up of the New York Congressional Delegation was seventeen Democrats and fourteen Republicans.  This was not a bad showing for the Grand Old Party considering that New York was considered a pretty liberal, pretty Democratic state (the terms “Red” and “Blue” had not come into use back then).  Fast forward to 2008 and the New York Republican delegation might be down to two Members after the next election. 

Redistricting, party switching, retirement, and electoral defeat made the current make up of the New York delegation twenty-three Democrats and six Republicans.  Going into the 2008 election it appears that every Democratic seat is safe and that includes the twenty-first district, the Albany area, where Congressman Michael McNulty is retiring.  In contrast, Republicans stand a good chance of losing up to four of their remaining six seats.  Only Peter King (3rd) from Long Island and John McHugh (23rd) from the North Country are shoo-ins for reelection.

Congressmen Jim Walsh (25th) from the Syracuse area and Thomas Reynolds (26th) from the Rochester area are both retiring and Democrats are well positioned to pick up one or both of those seats, although both will be closely contested elections.  Congressman Randy Kuhl (29th) who hails from the Southern Tier is facing a tough challenge from Eric Massa against whom he barely squeaked by in 2006.

By far the most bizarre and sad story has to come from the 13th district which includes Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn.  Five term Republican Congressman Vito Fossella seemed headed toward a likely, although by no means guaranteed, reelection in November.  Democratic New York City Councilman Michael McMahon was mounting a strong challenge but given the history and demographics of the district, it was going to be an uphill battle.

One early morning in May though, Congressman Fossella was arrested in northern Virginia and charged with Driving While Intoxicated.  This lead to the revelation that Congressman Fossella, who is married and whose family lives in Staten Island, had an ongoing relationship with another woman whom he had met on a Congressional trip and that he had fathered a daughter with that woman.

Several weeks later Congressman Fossella, to nobody’s surprise, announced that he would not seek reelection.  Several leading State Island Republicans, including District Attorney Daniel Donavan and State Senator Andrew Lanza, chose not to run for the seat.  Frank Powers, a retired Wall Street executive and Metropolitan Transportation Authority Member did throw his hat in the ring and began to run a spirited campaign for the seat.  The Staten Island Republican party also got behind Power’s candidacy.

On June 22nd, though, Mr. Powers, who was sixty-seven years old, died unexpectedly.  In his absence, and with Congressman Fossella refusing to reconsider his decision to retire, five different candidates have at least filed petitions to run for the Republican nomination.  This seat looks ripe for a McMahon victory and Democratic pick-up.

Democrats Pick Up Extra Seat in the House

Democrat Bill Foster defeated Republican Jim Oberweis in a special election held to fill the seat of former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL).  After the Democrats captured the majority in the House of Representatives in the 2006 election, speculation immediately ensued over Speaker Hastert’s future.  He did not become Minority Leader, leaving that job to former Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), instead becoming a rank and file member.  With Republican chances of recapturing the house looking exceedingly grim, Congressman Hastert announced last fall that he was resigning from Congress and would not finish out his term.

Although rare, mid-term vacancies do occur.  So far during the 110th Congress there have been eleven – six who died in office, two who were elected or appointed to another office, and three, including Congressman Hastert, who simply chose to resign.

Congressman Foster’s victory was a big coup for Democrats and bodes well for their efforts to keep, and possibly expand, their majority in the 2008 elections.   Congressman Hastert was reelected easily in 2006 and President George W. Bush carried the district by a somewhat comfortable margin in 2004.  Of the seven special elections held to date this Congress, this is the only switchover, i.e. where the newly elected member was not the same party as his/her predecessor.  With the Foster victory, the Democrats now hold a 233 to 198 edge.  If the current four vacancies are filled by the same party, Democrats would have a 234 to 201 advantage.

February saw the first two primary losses of this election season by a House incumbent, both in Maryland.  In the first district, State Senator Andrew Harris defeated Republican Wayne Gilchrest and in the fourth district Donna Edwards beat Democrat Albert Wynn.  Interestingly both incumbents were attacked as being too moderate, with Senator Harris claiming he was the true conservative Republican and Ms. Edwards criticizing Congressman Wynn for voting for the Iraq War and being to close to corporate interests.  While Ms. Edwards is a near shoo in for victory in November, Senator Harris could face a tough challenge from the Democratic nominee, Frank Kratovil.

Two members of the House who were running for President, Democrat Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and Republican Ron Paul of Texas survived primary challenges.  Even though neither made much headway in their respective party’s Presidential primaries, both will, in all likelihood, get to keep their seats in Congress.

Congressman James Walsh to Retire

Congressman James Walsh, a Republican from upstate New York, announced that he would not seek reelection in 2008.  First elected in 1988, Congressman Walsh has represented the same Syracuse area district that his father had represented in Congress before him.  Congressman Walsh was the Ranking Republican Member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, the subcommittee that has jurisdiction over the budget of the National Institutes of Health.

After several comfortable reelections, in 2006 Congressman Walsh faced a very strong challenge from Democrat Dan Maffei, a Syracuse native who had worked for Senators Bill Bradley (D-NJ) and Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY), as well as Congressman Charles Rangel (D-NY).  Mr. Maffei had already announced plans to run again in 2008.


Senator Lott, Congressman McCrery Latest Republicans to Announce plans to Leave Congress


Just after Thanksgiving, Senator Trent Lott, (R-MS) let it be known that he was leaving that United States Senate and would resign before the end of the year.  The former Majority Leader caught most everybody by surprise with his announcement.  He had just been reelected to a fourth term and 2006 and was chosen as the Republican Whip, the second highest position in the leadership structure, thus continuing his political comeback after his career in the Senate appeared dead after being forced to step down as Majority Leader because of controversial remarks he made regarding the career of the late Senator Strom Thurmond (R-SC).  Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour will appoint a new Senator after Senator Lott’s resignation becomes effective.  Speculation is that he will appoint one of Mississippi’s two Republican House Members, Roger Wicker or Charles Pickering.  There will then be a special election next November to determine who will serve out the remainder of Senator Lott’s term which expires in 2012.  This means that both Mississippi Senate seats will be contested next year as the State’s other Senator, Thad Cochran, is also up for reelection.  Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) will succeed Senator Lott as Republican Whip.

Scarcely two weeks later, Congressman Jim McCrery, (R-LA), announced that he would not seek reelection in 2008.  Congressman McCrery is the Ranking Republican on the House Committee on Ways and Means, arguably the most powerful committee in the House of Representatives.  Should the Republicans recapture the majority in 2008, he most likely would have become Chair.  His choosing not to run again could mean that he does not think that is likely to happen, believing that the Republicans will remain in the minority during the next Congress.

Senator Lott was the seventh Senator and Congressman McCreary the twenty-ninth House Member to leave Congress or announce their retirement.  In the Senate, all seven are Republicans.  In addition to Senator Lott, this includes Senator Craig Thomas (R-WY), who passed away last spring and was succeeded on an interim basis by fellow Republican and orthopedic surgeon John Barrasso, and five Senators who are retiring – Wayne Allard (CO), Peter Domenici (R-NM), Chuck Hagel (R-NE), John Warner (R-VA), and Larry Craig (ID), who despite his earlier stated intentions to resign now plans to finish out his term but will not run for reelection.

Of the twenty-nine house members who have left or are leaving, one, Bobby Jindal (R-LA) has been elected Governor, two, Duncan Hunter (R-CA) and Tom Tancredo (R-CO) are making long shot bids for President, and five are running for the Senate, including all thee members of the New Mexico House delegation.  Republicans Steve Pierce and Heather Wilson will face off in a primary for the right to challenge the Democratic nominee who may be Tom Udall, who is also running.  Congressmen Ron Paul (R-TX) and Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) are also running for President but, unlike Congressmen Hunter and Tancredo, they will both run for reelection to the House in the likely event they do not get their party’s nomination.

Four members have died this year and two, including the former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) have resigned, leaving fifteen House members who are actually retiring and planning to leave elected office, at least for the near future.  One of them is Congressman Pickering who, as mentioned, may get appointed to the Senate.  Of these fifteen, only two Mike McNulty (NY) and Julia Carson (IN) are Democrats, and Congresswoman Carson is quite ill, leading many people to doubt that the Republicans think they will be able to recapture the House next year.

Republicans should be able to hold onto most of the seven seats mentioned above, although not without a contest, but will face real challenges and maybe even uphill battles in Colorado, New Mexcio, and Virginia.  Several of the open House seats will also be difficult for Republicans to defend.

2008 Election Right Around the Corner

A look at next year’s elections indicate that as many as six competitive United States House of Representatives seats in upstate New York could prove pivotal in whether Democrats can retain control of Congress in 2008.  State Democrats, meanwhile, will target State Senate races in Monroe County, Long Island, and Queens in the hope of winning control of the upper house for the first time since 1965. 

How those races swing, however, might be dependent upon who wins the respective presidential nominations.  State Republicans believe that the GOP will fare quite well in the event that former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani wins that party’s Presidential nod.  State Democrats, however, are banking on Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton as their Presidential nominee, hoping that she’ll help party enrollment and candidates in the state races.  The wild card, though, may be Governor Eliot Spitzer, whose favorability ratings have dropped significantly in recent months.  His shrinking popularity could hurt Democratic candidates throughout the State in the upcoming election.

Election Update 2007

Notwithstanding the fact that Election Day 2007 saw no statewide offices in play, political pundits had a keen eye on local races throughout the state to assess whether or not the Governor’s plan to give drivers licenses to illegal immigrants had an impact on these races.  While it was difficult to point to any significant political impact that the matter had on the local races, Republicans as a whole, attempted to take advantage of the license controversy by labeling Democrats as “weak on terrorism” if they failed to reject Spitzer’s plan.  Not surprisingly, in the aftermath of Tuesday’s elections, both Democrats and Republicans were quick to claim victory with losses occurring for both parties in key races. 

The GOP took the County Executive offices in Erie, Onondaga, Oneida and held the Dutchess seat.  Republicans also grabbed victories in Saratoga Springs and ousted a Sullivan County clerk who had been appointed by Governor Eliot Spitzer.  There is still a cliff hanger in the Rensselaer County District Attorney’s race, which some are reading as a blow to state Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, as this is his home turf.

Democrats held on in both Suffolk and Nassau Counties, notwithstanding the fact that a GOP challenger has not conceded defeat belonging to a Democratic incumbent in Nassau.  For the first time since 1977, Democrats won the majority in the Dutchess County legislature, while the Dems picked up two seats in the Monroe County legislature.  Democrats also won Mayoral races in Utica and Niagara and also took the DA’s office in Rockland County.

State GOP Chairman Joe Mondello declared that New York’s Republican party is now revitalized, pointing to gains in his own backyard, Nassau County, while Democrats downplayed losses upstate contending that they were never really in a position to win those races.  The Dems also announced that they had been successful in defeating the anti-driver’s license lie that Republicans had been using, particularly in Nassau and Monroe Counties, where that issue played a significant role.

While there were no statewide races up for grabs, there was a statewide ballot question that voters answered last Tuesday.  The measure asked New Yorkers if the Adirondack hamlet of Racquette Lake could continue to use a well drilled in a state forest preserve.  While the measure might not seem vital to most of New York residents, it is for the 125 residents who rely on the well.  Lucky for them, the measure was approved.


Through First 100 Hours Agenda Adapted from Material Prepared by Jon E. Groteboer

January 12, 2007- Under newly elected House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) the also got to work on a series of bills which Democrats had pledged to take up in the first one hundred hours of the new Congress.  These include measures on the 9/11 Commission recommendations, minimum wage, stem cell research, prescription drug prices, student loan interest rates, and energy policy.  

Now in the majority in both the House and Senate for the first time since 1994, Democrats opened the 110th Congress by pushing through new rules packages.  Each chambers’ rules package hope to make significant changes to practices in ethics, civility, and fiscal discipline, while the House of Representatives measure also renames a number of committees. 

Neither the rules package nor the one hundred hours legislation will be shepherded through the House using the usual committee process, and Republican opportunities to amend the legislation on the House floor will be limited.  In the Senate where however, where Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) only has a slim one vote majority compared to the thirty one seat margin enjoyed by Speaker Pelosi, ethics and rule change proposals will be fully debated and subject to amendment and legislation will be vetted through the regular committee process.

The House is considering the first six bills over a two-week.  After the House completes its work, the Senate will consider them, but in a much more deliberate fashion.  The schedule for House floor action is as follows:

January 9:  H.R.1 / S.4 -- Implementing the 9/11 Commission Recommendations Act of 2007.  Passed 299-198.

January 10:  H.R. 2 / S. 2 -- Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007, which will raise the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.25 an hour.  Passed 316-116.

January 11:  H.R. 3 / S. 5 -- Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007.  Rumors suggest this legislation will mirror H.R. 810, which passed each chamber in the 109th Congress, but vetoed by the president. Passed 253-174.

January 12:  H.R. 4 / S. 3 -- Medicare Drug Price Negotiation Act of 2007, which will aim to improve Medicare's prescription drug benefit program by allowing the federal government to negotiate prescription drug prices.

January 17:  H.R. 5 -- The College Student Relief Act of 2007 / S.7 -- the College Opportunity Act of 2007.  H.R. 5 would cut student loan interest rates in half -- from 6.8% to 3.4.  An offset, necessary under pay-go rules, has yet to be identified.

January 18:  H.R. 6 / S. 6 the National Energy and Environmental Security Act, which will aim to reduce tax breaks to oil companies, encourage sustainable energy sources, and require reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases.

On the rules front, as of March 1, 2007, Members will no longer be able to accept gifts from lobbyists and privately-sponsored travel will be severely restricted, although there is an exception for pre-approved trips sponsored by institutions of higher education.  Earmark reform is also likely.  Going forward both the requesting member and the potential recipient will have to be publicly identified.  "Pay-as-you-go" provisions are also being restored.  This will require that all changes to spending or revenue be offset with new spending or tax changes so as not to add to the federal deficit.

New Yorkers Poised to Hold Key Positions in the 110th Congress

When the 110th Congress convenes in January with the Democrats in control of both the House of Representatives and Senate, several members of the New York Congressional delegation will assume important leadership positions.  During the 109th Congress Peter King did manage to become Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee and Tom Reynolds lead House Republican Congressional Committee, but with two Democratic Senators and a House delegation where Democrats outnumbered Republicans two to one, the New York delegation was not very well positioned while the Republicans controlled Congress.  That should now change as several New Yorkers will have major influence in developing policy, establishing procedure, and setting spending priorities.

Chief among this group is Congressman Charles Rangel whose district includes both the Medical Center and Columbia’s Morningside Campus.  Congressman Rangel will chair the Committee on Ways and Means.  With jurisdiction over tax, trade, Social Security, and Medicare, among other things, Ways and Means is arguably the most powerful committee in the House.  As Chairman, Congressman Rangel will be able to use his new found influence to shape legislation in a number of different areas that are important to New York, most notably payment rates for physicians under Medicare and support for New York’s teaching hospitals. 

Although he has been in Congress for more than thirty-five years, this will be Congressman Rangel’s first opportunity to chair a full committee and he is the first New Yorker to chair Ways and Means since the early part of the Eisenhower Administration.  Former New York Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan did chair the Senate Finance Committee, Ways and Means’ counterpart in the other body, for two years in the 1990’s.  Congressman Mike McNulty is also on the Committee and may be in line to chair a subcommittee.  There is also a possibility that a third New York Democrat may be added to the Committee.

Congressman Rangel is not the only New Yorker who will be handed the gavel for a full Committee.  Congresswoman Louise Slaughter will become Chair of the Rules Committee.  Although not particularly glamorous and with very little substantive jurisdiction, the Rules Committee is quite powerful because it sets the terms of the debate on the House floor.  Unless the House votes to suspend the rules, which requires a two thirds vote, a bill needs a rule in order to be considered on the House floor.  That rule dictates how long the debate will be, who will get to speak, and most importantly, which amendments will be in order.  Members of Congress can not even offer an amendment unless the Rules Committee agrees, and it is Congresswoman Slaughter who will be largely in control of that process.

Congresswoman Nydia Velasquez will chair the Small Business Committee.  She will be one of only two Latinos and one of only two women to chair a full House committee during the upcoming Congress.

Several other New Yorkers will assume the chair of important subcommittees.  As mentioned, Congressman McNulty may get to wield a gavel at Ways and Means and on the Appropriations Committee Nita Lowey will become a Cardinal, the nickname given to Chairs of Appropriations subcommittees.  The Appropriations committee makes decisions on how to spend discretionary funds.  Congresswoman Lowey is in line to chair the Foreign Operations Subcommittee but may get the opportunity to chair the Labor/HHS subcommittee.  Second only to Defense in the amount of funding under it jurisdiction, Labor/HHS controls discretionary spending for health, labor, and education programs.  Chair of this subcommittee is a very powerful position.  Democrats Maurice Hinchey and Jose Serrano are also on the committee but may not have enough seniority to become a Cardinal this Congress.  On the Republican side, James Walsh will be Ranking Member of a subcommittee.

At Energy and Commerce, Ed Towns will get a subcommittee chair, most likely the Health Subcommittee.  Other New Yorkers likely to get a subcommittee gavel are Gary Ackerman, Jerrold Nadler, Carolyn Maloney, and Eliot Engel.  One freshman, Kristen Gillibrand won a seat on the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee.  Among other things, this group makes committee assignments.  It is very rare for a freshman to get such a spot on this Committee.

In the Senate, neither Charles Schumer nor Hillary Rodham Clinton will get to chair a full committee but that does not mean their influence will not increase.  Senator Schumer will continue on as Chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.  Regarded as one of the major architects of the Democratic takeover of the Senate, Senator Schumer will become Vice Chair of the Democratic Caucus, a new position created just for him which will put him third in line on the party leadership.  He will also maintain his seat on the Finance Committee and assume subcommittee chairs on both the Banking and Judiciary Committees.  Senator Clinton will become a subcommittee Chair on the Environment and Public Works Committee and will most likely continue to serve on the Health and Armed Services Committees.

Election Recap

Shortly after 6pm on November 7th, Election Day, when polls closed in Kentucky and Indiana, Republicans got a hint as to what kind of night it would be for them.  Democratic challengers in both states jumped out to early leads and by 7pm CNN called its first contested race.  Democrat Brad Ellsworth defeated Republican incumbent John Hostetler by a fairly substantial margin in Indiana’s 8th Congressional District.

As the evening progressed and polls across the country closed, it became more and more obvious that it was going to be a banner night for Democrats.  Shortly after the polls closed in New Jersey, CNN declared that Democratic Senator Robert Mendendez had defeated Republican challenger Tom Keane, Jr.  This was the Republicans best chance for a pick up in the Senate and the race ended up not being that close.  About the same time results came in showing Democrats picking up Senate seats in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island.  It wasn’t even nine o’clock and the Democrats had already picked up three of the six seats they needed to take control of the Senate.

At nine, the polls in New York closed and as expected Democrats did very well in the Empire State.  Before the clock struck one minute after, New York One news declared Eliot Spitzer the victor in the race for Governor.  Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and Attorney General Candidate Andrew Cuomo were declared winners soon thereafter.  Even Comptroller Alan Hevesi, who was beset by allegations of misuse of his office, won his race.  In upstate New York three Democratic Congressional candidates captured seats previously held by Republicans as John Hall defeated incumbent Sue Kelley in the 19th Congressional District, Kirsten Gillibrand outpolled incumbent John Sweeney in the 20th, and Michael Arcuri bested Ray Sweeney in the 24th to fill the seat of retiring Congressman Sherwood Boehlert.  Democrats also picked up one seat in the State Senate and three seats in the State Assembly.

Going into the election the Democrats needed to pick up a net of fifteen seats to capture the majority in the House of Representatives.  As election night wore on it became apparent that they would do so.  Many of the Democratic wins came from places one might expect like New York, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania or from districts where Republicans had been besieged with scandal as in Texas, Ohio, and Florida, but Democrats also picked up seats in places where they do not usually run strong, like Kansas, Indiana, Arizona and in rural areas of California, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Wisconsin.  There are still two races where the winner has yet to be determined and two where there will be a runoff, but it appears that in the 110th Congress, the Democrats will hold at least 232 seats, a pick up of thirty seats. 

The Democratic victory was so overwhelming that no Democratic incumbent lost nor did the party fail to hold any open seat.  Even in 1994, the year of the Republican Tsunami when the GOP had a net pick up of over fifty seats and captured the House, the Democrats did manage to win three open Republican seats.  In 2006, the Republicans did not win any Democratic seats.

Although by a much closer margin, the Democrats were also able to recapture control of the Senate.  The Republicans held a 55-45 seat in the Senate which meant that the Democrats would need to pick up a net of six seats since Vice President Dick Cheney, who also serves as President of the Senate, would cast a vote in favor of the Republicans were there to be a tie.  The Democrats had hopes of picking up seats in seven states, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Virginia, whereas Republicans’ only real chance for a pick up was in New Jersey.

As mentioned, early on election night it became apparent the Democrats would capture at least three seats and hold onto New Jersey.  As the evening progressed Tennessee started to go Republican and Bob Corker was ultimately able to pull out the victory, saving retiring Majority Leader Bill Frist’s seat.  This meant that for the Democrats to capture the majority, they would have to win all of the remaining undecided seats, Missouri, Montana, and Virginia.  As the votes started to come all three races turned out to be very close and no winner was declared election night in any of these contests.

The next day Democrats Claire McCaskill and John Tester took leads in Missouri and Montana respectively and were eventually declared winners, but Virginia remained too close to call, leaving control of the Senate in the balance.  It was not until two days after Election Day that Democrat Jim Webb’s lead was secure enough to cement the victory, thus giving control of the Senate to the Democrats.

Gains were not limited to Washington as Democratic Gubernatorial candidates also had a big day.  The party captured six new statehouses, Arkansas, Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, and Ohio.  Democrats also made large gains in races for seats in state legislatures across the country.

One other note, in Missouri amendment 2 passed by a 51%-49% margin.  This proposal amends the State Constitution to guarantee that all stem cell research allowed under federal law can be conducted within the state of Missouri.  The amendment will prevent future legislatures from passing regulations on stem cell research that are more restrictive than what the federal government allows.

Spitzer, Clinton, Cuomo, Spencer Win Nomination — Few Surprises in Primary Outcomes

September 29, 2006 - The candidate slates for both parties were set on Septembers 12th when voters statewide chose their party’s nominees for the November election.  On the Democratic side, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer beat Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi in a landslide.  General Spitzer now faces former Assemblyman John Faso, the Republican-Conservative nominee.  Former United States Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo easily beat Mark Green and Sean Maloney to win the Democratic Attorney General nomination to run against Jeanine Pirro, the former Westchester County District Attorney.  After the loss, Mr. Green, a former New York City Public Advocate and frequent candidate for office, announced that he would not seek elected office again.  In another lopsided win, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton crushed opponent Jonathan Tasini, who ran a low-budget campaign hoping to attract an anti-war vote.

The sole contest on the Republican side was for United States Senate.  The nomination was won by former Yonkers Mayor John Spencer, who also has the backing of the Conservative Party.  Spencer handily defeated newcomer KT McFarland in a contest that saw only about 5% of eligible Republicans vote.

The most hotly contested race had to be the one for United States Congress in the 11th district in Brooklyn.  Longtime incumbent Major Owens retired and four candidates battled to replace him.  Three of the candidates, City Councilwoman Yvette Clarke, State Senator Carl Andrews, and Chris Owens, the Congressman’s son, are African American.  The fourth, City Councilman David Yassky, is Caucasian, and race became a significant issue in the campaign.  The district is 60% African American and has been represented in Congress by an African American since 1969, first by Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman ever elected to Congress, and then by Congressman Owens.  Councilman Yassky moved into the district only about a year before the election; he did live nearby; and many people accused him of being an opportunist and trying to take advantage of a split African American vote.  Several African American political leaders and the Reverend Al Sharpton tried to get one or more of the African American candidates to drop out, but none would.

Although Councilman Yassky was better financed and favored to win, it was Councilwoman Clarke who came out the ahead in the primary and in this highly Democratic district that is tantamount to a win for the seat.  Councilwoman Clarke captured 31% of the vote, followed by Councilman Yassky with 26%, Senator Andrews with 23% and Mr. Owens with 20%.  Ironically it was the presence of the third African American candidate, Mr. Owens, which may have helped push Councilwoman Clarke over the top.  Mr. Owens was the most vocal opponent of the Atlantic Yards project, a plan to build office space, housing, and a new arena for the New Jersey Nets in the area surrounding the Flatbush Avenue Long Island Railroad Station.  Many residents of Park Slope are opposed to this project.  Park Slope is Councilman Yassky’s base but Mr. Owens probably drew votes away from him because of his staunch opposition to the project.

On primary day a few well-known incumbent state legislators lost or came close to loosing their contest for renomination.  The most prominent was Senator Ada Smith (D-Queens), who was convicted of attacking an aide and has a long history of run-ins with police and staffers.  Senator Martin Connor (D-Brooklyn), who was ousted as minority leader by David Paterson, survived a closely fought primary challenge as did Senator John Sabini (D-Queens).

In the Assembly, Assemblyman Pat Manning (R-East Fishkill) lost a primary challenge, likely ending a career that earlier this year had him running for governor.  Also losing to a GOP challenger was Assemblyman Will Stephens (R-Brewster), who is a third generation state legislator.

Democrats Candidates Hold Big Lead in Fundraising
(Excerpted from Weingarten, Reid & McNally's Albany Update)

July 21, 2006 - The most recently filed campaign finance reports for the races for statewise office showed big gaps between the favorites to win in November and their under-funded challengers.

In the first six months of 2006, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer raised $10.7 million for his campaign, compared to the $4 million raised by Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi, his Democratic primary opponent, and the $1.5 million by former Assembly Minority Leader John Faso, the likely Republican nominee for governor.  General Spitzer's fundraising reflected the widely held view that he will defeat County Executive Suozzi and go on to be elected Governor in November.  Lobbyists and powerful special interests cut across party lines to give money to Spitzer, including Republican elected officials turned lobbyists Clarence Rappleyea and Armand D'Amato, the brother of former Senator Al D'Amato.  Overall, General Spitzer has raised about $30 million so far for his campaign, with $16 million in the bank and most of the rest spent on TV ads that have been running for weeks.

A Marist Poll out this week found Spitzer with the support of 75% of Democratic voters, with only 10% favoring Suozzi and 15% undecided.  In a general election match-up, General Spitzer held a 69% to 20% edge over Assemblyman Faso with 11% undecided.

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton broke the previous campaign fundraising record held by her 2000 Republican opponent Rick Lazio.  Her total fundraising is now at $43 million, $4 million more than the total raised by Lazio, and $22 million on hand.  She faces a primary challenge from antiwar candidate Jonathan Tasini, who is running an ultra-low budget campaign.  He is courting voters opposed to Clinton's support for the Iraq war and liberals unhappy with the middle of the road positions she has staked out on issues such as gay marriage.  He reported raising just $48,000 in the last filing.

Republican candidate K.T. McFarland reported having $282,000 in her campaign treasury.  News reports indicated that staffers – including her chief fundraiser – were going on unpaid leaves, raising doubts about how much longer she can keep running an active campaign.  The other Republican in the race, former Yonkers Mayor John Spencer, raised $1.2 million in the last six months, bringing his total overall fundraising to $3 million.  His campaign said he had $646,000 in cash on hand.

Attorney General
Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo showed he is still reaping the benefits of his endorsement by SEIU 1199, a very powerful New York Labor union which represents hospital workers, in the Attorney General's race.  He reported raising $2.1 million in the first half of this year.  In total, Cuomo has raised about $6 million for his campaign, more than double the amount raised so far by his chief rival, former New York City Public Advocate Mark Green.  On the Republican side, former Westchester County District Attorney Jeannine Pirro reported having about $2 million on hand, making her evenly matched with Secretary Cuomo in terms of campaign wealth.

Comptroller Alan Hevesi reported raising $1 million in the past six months, compared to just $79,000 raised by Republican candidate Christopher Callaghan, the former Saratoga County treasurer.  Comptroller Hevesi has so far raised about $6 million. Callaghan reported having just $43,000 on hand.

The primary for all races is September 12th and the general election follows on November 7th.

Democrats and Republican Hold Conventions; Emerge with Candidate Slates

June 27, 2006 - Both the Democratic and Republican parties held their state nominating conventions the week after Memorial Day.  The Democrats met in Buffalo while the Republicans gathered in Nassau County a day letter.

At the nominating convention the respective State Committee Members vote for candidates for statewide office.  This year ballots were cast for United States Senator, Governor, Lieutenant Governor, State Comptroller, and Attorney General.  Candidates who get at least 25% of the ballots cast are automatically on the ballot for the primary.  Candidates who do not reach the 25% threshold must petition to get a on the ballot, a complicated, time consuming, and very expensive process involving collecting a large number of signatures from across the State.  Candidates for Congress, Assembly, State Senate, and other non statewide offices must all petition to get on the ballot

There was very little suspense at the Democratic Convention.  Attorney General Eliot Spitzer was nominated for Governor and State Senator David Paterson received the nod for Lieutenant Governor.  Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi is challenging General Spitzer but he did not compete for delegate votes at the convention, vowing to get on the ballot via the petitioning route.  Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton was unopposed and easily re-nominated, as was Comptroller Alan Hevesi.

The only real convention contest on the Democratic side was the race for Attorney General, and that turned to be a lot less close than expected.  Former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Andrew Cuomo received two thirds of the votes cast and easily received the convention’s nomination.  None of the other four candidates running –Mark Green, Denise O’Donnell, Sean Maloney, and Charlie King -- got the 25% needed to get on the ballot.  After the convention, Ms. O’Donnell, a former United States Attorney, dropped out of the race but the other candidates vowed to remain in and are attempting to petition to get on the ballot.  Petitioning ends in early July, at which point Secretary Cuomo will know how many opponents, if any, he will have in the Democratic primary.

The Republicans had a contested race for both Governor and Senator.  In the race for Governor, former Assembly Minority Leader John Faso pulled off a surprise victory over former Massachusetts Governor William Weld, who had been the early favorite and had the backing of much of the state Republican Party’s leadership, including the official endorsement of Party Chair Stephen Minarik and the more quite support of Governor George Pataki.  Governor Weld did get enough votes to get on the ballot but dropped out of the race the next week and endorsed Assemblyman Faso.

There was no such party unity in race for the Republican nomination for United States Senate.  Although former Yonkers Mayor John Spencer received a majority of the ballots cast, like Governor Weld, Mayor Spencer’s opponent, former Reagan Administration Defense Department Official, Katherine (KT) McFarland, received enough votes to get on the ballot.  Unlike Governor Weld, Ms. McFarland is not dropping out of the race and will challenge Mayor Spencer in September primary.  Mayor Spencer also has the endorsement of the Conservative Party.  No Republican has won statewide in the past thirty years without the cross endorsement of the conservative party.

Rounding out the Republican slate are Saratoga County Treasurer J. Christopher Callaghan, who is running for Comptroller, and former Westchester County District attorney Jeannine Pirro.  Ms. Pirro originally was slated to challenge Senator Clinton but instead chose to run for Attorney General.  The New York primary is September 12th.  Election Day is November 7th.

Leading Moderate Republican Sherwood Boehlert Retires

by Ross A. Frommer

April 28, 2006 - Congressman Sherwood Boehlert, a Republican form upstate New York, announced that he will not seek reelection this fall.  First elected in 1982, Sherry was an exemplary public servant, a great man, and a good friend for those of us who have had the pleasure of knowing and working with him.

Sherry is, unfortunately I fear, part of a vanishing breed -- the common sense, moderate to liberal Republican.  Some have retired, some were forced out by redistricting, some were defeated for reelection, and a few have passed away, but their numbers seem to be dwindling.  John Chafee, Marge Roukema, Claudine Schneider, and Connie Morella have all left Congress.  In the last ten years alone the New York Congressional delegation has lost Ben Gilman, Jack Quinn, and one of the truest gentlemen to ever serve in Congress, Amo Houghton.  Now we can add Sherry Boehlert to that list.  More often than not, these fiscally conservative yet open minded on social issues, Republicans are replaced by highly partisan Members who are either hard core conservatives or run of the mill liberal Democrats.

I first got to know Sherry in the early 1990's.  I was working for Congressman James Scheuer, a Democrat from Queens who recently passed away.  Jim was on Science Committee, as was Sherry. They were both interested in energy and environment issues and I was working on the Energy Policy Act so I spent a lot of time working with his staff.  His now Chief of Staff, Dean D'Amore, another colleague named Jim Matthews, and I used to have on ongoing contest to see who had the longest hair among New York delegation staff, at least the men, all of us wearing our hair neat up front, but pulled back in a pony tail; a style that was somewhat popular at the time.  Looking back, I'm not so sure why.

But it was in 1996 that I really got to know Sherry well.  I moved to Oneonta, New York to become Regional Director for former United States Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, also great man, but that is the subject of another essay.  Oneonta, a beautiful small city in the Central Leatherstocking area of upstate New York, was in Sherry's district so I became a constituent.  I learned what a great Congressman he was; how hard he worked for district; and how much he and I agreed on the issues, even though we were of opposite political parties.  At the time, the Moynihan's lived on a farm in nearby Delaware County.  They were also constituents, and both the Senator and Liz Moynihan also thought highly of Sherry and were proud to be represented by him.  From the conversations I have had with Sherry over the years, I know he felt the same about the Senator.  Sherry is not the only Republican I have ever voted for; there have not been many; but he was by far the one for whom I was proudest to do so.

I spent a lot of time working with Sherry and his staff on issues important to the people of upstate New York and we often would be guests or speakers at the same events, anything from Hall of Fame games in Cooperstown to the anti-arson day in Utica in 1997.  I remember in 1998 we both attended and spoke a ceremony for the Adirondack Scenic Railway, which had received federal transportation funding. Several people from state and local government spoke and one person whose name I do not remember, got up and made some incredibly smug remarks saying he was the guy with the check.  When it was my turn speak I pointed out that if it wasn't for Senator Moynihan and Congressman Boehlert, that check would have bounced. Sherry loved that remark.

After Senator Moynihan retired I went to work for the Columbia University Medical Center.  I continue to work with Sherry but these days it is more with his Washington staff.  He has been a strong supporter of the National Institutes of Health and of stem cell research.  Of course, as Chairman of the Science Committee, he has worked tirelessly to promote research and development.

I understand why Sherry chose not to run and I truly wish him well in his retirement, but there is no doubt that the country, the Congress, New York, and his district will be the poorer for it.

Ethics Issues Bring Changes to House Republicans

January 13, 2006 - The make-up of the Republican Majority in Congress has changed more than a bit over the past six months, something you do not normally expect to see at this point in the Congressional calendar. First there were the special elections to fill the seats of former Representatives Chris Cox (CA) and Rob Portman (OH), both of him whom took senior positions in the Administration. Then in September, House Majority Leader Tom Delay was indicted in Texas for various alleged campaign violations. Under House Republican rules, a member who is under indictment can not serve in a leadership position, so Congressman Delay was forced to temporarily relinquish the Majority Leader post. House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-MO) took over as Acting Majority Leader.

Just after Thanksgiving, Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-CA) pleaded guilty to felony charges that he had accepted bribes. He resigned his seat in Congress and will likely face significant jail time and fines. A special election will be held to serve out his term in Congress and Republicans are very likely to retain this seat.

The news continued to get worse for Republicans as the week after Christmas lobbyist Jack Abramoff struck a deal with federal prosecutors. He had been under investigation for bribery. He was a very close associate of Congressman Delay. Soon after the Abramoff deal was announced, Congressman Delay announced that, at least for the 109th Congress, he no longer intended to try to reclaim his position as Majority Leader, something he would have been allowed to do only if the felony charges were dropped or he was exonerated. Republicans will choose their new Majority Leader in February. Congressman Blunt and two other members, Congressman John Boehner (OH) and Congressman John Shadegg (AZ), are the leading candidates.

Of course the biggest changes may still be yet to come. As part of his plea agreement Mr. Abramoff will be asked to tell the Justice Department about his dealings with Members of Congress. Most of the focus so far has been on Congressman Bob Ney (R-OH), but several dozen, mostly Republicans but some Democrats, may get caught up in this scandal.

Republicans were not the only ones dealing with an ethics scandal. A staff member for Congressman William Jefferson (D-LA) pleaded guilty to accepting bribes and authorities continue to examine whether the Congressman himself was involved in any wrongdoing.

Election Complete, the More Interesting Battle Begins

Mayor Michael Bloomberg cruised to an easy reelection victory over former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer. The twenty point margin of victory was decisive, although not as much as some Democrats had feared. Elsewhere in New York City, there were no major surprises as Borough President, District Attorney, and City Council candidates all won easy victories.

Perhaps the most interesting election, one in which all but a handful of New Yorkers do not have a direct vote, will come in January. That is when the New York City Council will choose its new Speaker, arguably the second most powerful position in City government. Democrats hold a 48 to 3 edge in representation in the Council, so they have a veto proof majority and the Council has overridden several of Republican Mayor Bloomberg’s vetoes, most recently on a bill to prevent the city from charging for parking in meters on Sundays. Current Speaker Gifford Miller is leaving office at the end of the year. He was prevented from running for reelection to the Council by term limits. He ran for Mayor but lost in the Democratic primary.

Several current City Council members are mounting an effort to become the next Speaker. These include Joel Rivera from the Bronx, Christine Quinn from Manhattan, Leroy Comrie, David Weprin, and Melinda Katz of Queens, and Bill deBlasio and Lewis Fidler of Brooklyn. The fifty-one members of the City Council will choose their Speaker in Janaury.

Ballot Measures

On Election Day, in addition to being able to vote for Mayor, City Council, and other local offices, New Yorkers will have an opportunity to vote on four referenda that are on this year’s ballot. The first would amend the New York State budget process; the second would fund transportation improvements, both highway and mass transit; the third would establish an ethics code for City hearing officers; and the fourth would add certain financial management requirements. For more information on these ballot measures, go to Gotham Gazette.

It’s Bloomberg v. Ferrer in the Mayor’s Race
Nominees for Other City Posts Chosen as Well

The New York City Democratic Primary for Mayor took a few strange twists before former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer emerged as the undisputed winner who will face Republican Mike Bloomberg in November. On primary day, BP Ferrer finished first by a comfortable margin but appeared to have failed to reach the 40% needed to avoid a runoff between the top two finishers, BP Ferrer and Congressman Anthony Weiner. As the post election parties wound down that night, BP Ferrer seemed stuck at 39.95%, short of what he needed. After vowing to fight to the finish, the next day however Congressman Weiner bowed out of the race and endorsed Ferrer. The Board of Elections said that the runoff election must still go on, regardless of the fact that there was no real contest. Fortunately, when the Board counted the absentee and contested ballots, BP Ferrer went over the 40% mark and there was no need to hold an election that was, in effect, uncontested, an election that probably would have cost New York City over $10 million to hold.

Numerous other contests were held that day, some of which involved offices of importance to the Medical Center. In all of these races, winning the Democratic nomination is tantamount to winning the election. Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum was renominated by a wide margin and Assemblyman Scott Stringer won a nine person race to become the next Manhattan Borough President. Two local Councilmen, Robert Jackson and Miguel Martinez, were also renominated.

Is There a Doctor in the (Upper) House?

Dr. Jonathan Cohen, Chief Medical Officer for the North Shore-LIJ Health System, has announced his plans to run for the Democratic Nomination for Lieutenant Governor. If nominated, Dr. Cohen would be the running mate for Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, the expected Democratic nominee for Governor. If elected, as Lieutenant Governor, he would, among his other duties, preside over the State Senate. Dr. Cohen is no stranger to Columbia. In September he took part in the Columbia University Medical Center Election forum and has also taught at the Mailman School of Public Health. The primary is in September of 2006.

On Capitol Hill

Doris Matsui (D-CA) became the newest member of the House of Representatives, winning a March 8th special election to succeed her husband, Robert Matsui (D-CA), who passed away earlier this year. Congresswoman Matsui, a former deputy director of public liaison in the Clinton Administration and lobbyist, was sworn in on March 10th and is expected to be assigned a seat on the House Rules Committee. Her election brings the party breakdown in the House to 232 Republicans, 202 Democrats, and 1 Independent.

Senate Confirms President’s Choice for Secretary of Health and Human Services

On January 26th the United States Senate confirmed Michael O. Leavitt by voice vote to be the new Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. The day before the Senate Finance Committee had approved his nomination unanimously and Secretary Leavitt also appeared before the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee on January 18th. Secretary Leavitt served as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and is a former Governor of Utah.

In appearances before both the HELP and Finance Committees, Secretary Leavitt noted his expectation that implementation of the Medicare Modernization Act, and specifically the Medicare prescription drug benefit, would be the "main event at HHS" in 2005. He also called Medicaid a "vital program" but said that it is "not meeting its potential" and that resources could be used more wisely. Secretary Leavitt called the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and National Institutes of Health (NIH) three "names of trust," and stated, "We cannot allow these American treasures to be lost." In his written testimony, the Secretary also expressed his support for passage of comprehensive medical liability reform.

Congress Returns With Republicans Firmly in Control

Members of the 109th Congress were sworn in on January 4th. As a result of the November elections, the Republicans have increased their majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

A four seat pick net pick up gives the Republicans a 55-44-1 majority (the independent, James Jeffords (VT), usually votes with the Democrats), their largest majority in years. The Republican leadership remains the same, with Bill Frist (TN) as the Majority Leader and Mitch McConnell as the Majority Whip, but there is new leadership on the Democratic side. Harry Reid (NV) is the new Democratic Leader, taking over for Tom Daschle (SD) who lost his bid for reelection, and Richard Durbin is the new Democratic Whip. There are also several new Committee chairs, with Thad Cochran (MS) taking over Appropriations, Judd Gregg (NH) (a Columbia College Alumnus) taking over Budget, and Mike Enzi (WY) becoming the new leader on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. New York Senator Charles Schumer, not only secured a much-coveted seat on the Finance Committee, he was chosen to lead the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Leadership in the House remains the same with Dennis Hastert (IL) continuing on as Speaker and Nancy Pelosi staying on as the Minority Leader. The Republicans hold a 232-201-1 majority with one vacancy (the one independent, Bernard Sanders (VT) usually votes with the Democrats. The vacancy is owing to the death of Democrat Robert Matsui (CA) who will, in all likelihood, be replaced by a Democrat after a special election in March). Jerry Lewis (CA) is the new Chairman of the Appropriations Committee. There are two new members of the New York delegation, Democrat Brian Higgins and Republican Randy Kuhl, both of Western New York.

There have also been significant changes in the Administration with nine Cabinet Secretaries announcing their resignation. Among them was Tommy Thompson of the Department of Health and Human Services. President George W. Bush has nominated Mike Leavitt, the current Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and former Governor of Utah, to replace Secretary Thomson.

The line-up in Albany will remain pretty much the same. Neither Governor George Pataki nor any of the other statewide elected officials were up for reelection this year and Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Republican Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno retain their leadership positions. The Democrats picked up one seat in the Assembly and at least three seats in the Senate. One race, Republican incumbent Nick Spano v. Democrat Andrea Stewart-Cousins has yet to be decided. Regardless of the outcome, the Republicans will retain a majority in the Senate, although a much slimmer one.

Election Preview

Although much of the nation’s attention has been focused on the Presidential election, control of the Senate and House of Representatives is also up for grabs on November 2nd. In addition, there are eleven gubernatorial contests and thousands of races for state legislative seats and other local offices. In New York, Senator Charles Schumer is up for reelection as are all twenty nine members of the State’s Congressional delegation, 150 members of the Assembly and sixty two members of the State Senate. Below is an election preview drafted by analysts at Weingarten and Reid.

United States Senate

Schumer v. Mills v. O’Grady: In March, Republican Assemblyman Howard Mills announced that he would be challenging Senator Charles Schumer for U.S. Senate. Immediately following his announcement, Governor George Pataki, Republican State Committee Chairman Sandy Treadwell and many other political and business leaders rallied behind Assemblyman Mills providing both political and monetary support. However, Assemblyman Mills faces an uphill battle against Senator Schumer, who with a $16.8 dollar war chest, is expected to win by a landslide. Conservative Party candidate Marilyn O’Grady is also vying for the seat.

United States House of Representatives

Higgins v. Naples: State Assemblyman Brian Higgins won the Democratic primary for the 27th Congressional district, held by Congressman Jack Quinn Jr. who is retiring this year. Assemblyman Higgins and Republican Nancy Naples are vying for the seat in November and this race is very tight.

Kuhl v. Barend: Republican State Senator Randy Kuhl beat Monroe County Legislator Mark Assini in the Republican primary for the 29th Congressional seat, being vacated by Congressman Amo Houghton. Senator Kuhl will face off against Democrat Samara Barend. Senator Kuhl is favored in this race.

New York State Senate

Southern Tier

Winner v. Cleveland: After Congressman Houghton’s retirement announcement, Assemblyman George Winner announced that he would be running for Senator Kuhl’s seat in the State Senate. Assemblyman Winner is running against Democrat Daniel Cleveland in November, but is expected to win by a large margin.

Central New York

Hoffmann v. Valesky: Former Democrat-turned Republican Senator Nancy Larraine Hoffmann bucked a revolt by local GOP Chairmen and won the Republican primary in her Syracuse-area district against Conservative Tom Dadey, for the seat she has controlled for twenty years. Senator Hoffmann now faces Democratic challenger David Valesky in November. She is among those targeted Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi and his anti-Albany Fix NY political action committee. Mr. Suozzi has endorsed Mr. Valesky. The Syracuse Post Standard reported that Senate Republicans have transferred $160,000 to Senator Hoffmann's campaign account since her primary victory. She is the favorite but a large Democratic turnout coupled with a number of Conservative votes could make this an interesting race.

Capital District

Breslin v. Conners: This closely watched race involves another Democrat who switched sides. Albany County Comptroller Michael Conners is running as a Republican to defeat Democratic Senator Neil Breslin. Conners faces a tough fight because of what is expected to be a strong Democratic turnout in Albany County next month. However, both sides are spending a lot for last minute media buys and this could be a very close race.


Spano v. Stewart-Cousins: One GOP stalwart caught in the crossfire is Senator Nicholas Spano of Yonkers, who is in a marginal district. This summer, he rejected the Brennan Commission criticisms of the New York State Legislature, but later switched positions, telling the Journal News in Westchester that he intends to lead the reform push in the Senate. He endorsed state budget and election reform, along with a constitutional convention. Senator Spano is facing a tough reelection fight against Westchester County Legislator Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

"It's time for us to restore public confidence in government and I intend on playing a leadership role in pursuing this agenda," Senator Spano told the Westchester based Journal News. He released an 11-point reform plan that embraced some of the Brennan Center's recommendations. Ms. Stewart-Cousins ridiculed Senator Spano, "He's had 18 years to reform Albany and up to a couple of months ago he didn't think it was a problem at all." Senator Spano recently took credit for giving Yonkers schools $6.5 million in aid and assistance, which should certainly help his re-election efforts.

New York City

Klein v. Fleming: Assemblyman Jeff Klein received the Democratic nomination over fellow Assemblyman Stephen Kaufman for the highly contested state Senate seat in the Bronx and Westchester County vacated by Republican Guy Velella, who was recently released after serving only three months of his yearlong jail sentence for influence peddling. This has created a great controversy and has led to the resignation of a number of Commission members. Media reports suggest that former Senator Velella may be ordered to return to jail because the Commission has violated certain laws.

Assemblyman Kaufman also lost the district’s Republican primary to retired New York City detective John Fleming, who is running against Assemblyman Klein for the Senate seat in November. Much to the advantage of the Republican, a judge ordered Assemblyman Klein to return $1 million in donations made to him when he was running for Attorney General

Curtis v. Savino: Another possible bright spot for Senate Republicans is the New York City race for the seat being vacated by Democratic Senator Seymour Lachman. They are backing Alfred Curtis, a former New York City youth commissioner in the Giuliani Administration, against Diane Savino, a union leader who is the Democrat in the race. If Mr. Curtis wins, he will be the first African-American in the Senate Republican Conference. Mr. Curtis received a third of the vote when he ran against Senator Lachman two years ago in the district that includes portions of Staten Island and Brooklyn.

Mendez v. Serrano Jr.: Democrat-turned Republican Senator Olga Mendez will face Democratic challenger in Councilman Jose Serrano Jr., son of Congressman Jose Serrano for her 28th district seat. Councilman Serrano Jr. is the favorite in this heavily Democratic district.

Long Island

Marcellino v. Brisbane: Another incumbent legislator being heavily targeted by Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi is Republican Senator Carl Marcellino. Mr. Suozzi has endorsed the challenger, Charles Brisbane, a Democratic trustee to the Village of Matinecock. Senator Marcellino will most likely be re-elected.

New York State Assembly

Western New York

Hoyt v. Penna: Twelve year incumbent Assemblyman Sam Hoyt prevailed over challenger and Buffalo Common Council Member Joe Golombek in the Democratic primary for the 144th Assembly district. Hoyt won by only eight points, acknowledging, “Much of my opponent’s vote was driven by anti-Albany sentiment”. Assemblyman Hoyt now faces Republican challenger David Penna in November and is expected to win.

Pordum v. Jack Quinn III: Francis Pordum won the Democratic primary for the 146th Assembly seat, being vacated by the retiring Assemblyman Richard Smith who held the seat for fourteen years. Mr. Pordum defeated Hamburg Supervisor Patrick Hoak, but still faces a potentially difficult race in November against Republican nominee Jack Quinn III, son of Congressman Jack Quinn Jr.

Schroeder v. Rydza: Erie County Legislator Mark Schroeder won a pivotal primary for the Democratic line in the 145th Assembly District, currently held by Brian Higgins who is running for Congress. Mr. Schroeder will face Republican Richard Rydza in November, but is expected to win.

DelMonte v. Banks-Dahlke: Democratic incumbent Francine DelMonte turned back the challenge of her Republican opponent, Paul Banks-Dahlke in the 138th Assembly District Independence Party primary. Assemblywoman DelMonte will run on the Independence, Democratic and Working Families lines against Mr. Banks-Dahlke in November, who carries the Republican and Conservative lines. Assemblywoman DelMonte is expected to be re-elected.


John v. Slattery: Democratic incumbent Assemblywoman Susan John faces a tough race in November against Republican challenger, Michael Slattery for her Rochester Assembly district seat. This is expected to be a very tight race.

Southern Tier

O’Mara v. Hare v. Bell: With Assemblyman Winner seeking higher office, Republican Tom O'Mara is running against Democrat James Hare and Conservative Bob Bell for the 137th Assembly district seat. It appears that Mr. Hare has the upper hand in this race.


Mosiello v. Ploski: Assemblyman Mike Spano announced this summer that he would not be running for re-election in November and instead plans to run for local office. Close friend of the Spano’s and Westchester County Legislator, Louis Mosiello won the Republican primary for this seat. He will face off against Democrat Steve Ploski in November, but Mr. Mosiello is the favorite in this race.

New York City

Ignizio v. Innamorato: Republican Assemblyman Robert Straniere lost the GOP nomination for the Staten Island seat he has held since 1981 to Vincent Ignizio, Chief of Staff to Staten Island City Councilman Andrew Lanza. Emanuele Innamorato is the Democrat running for the seat. Mr. Ignizio is the favorite in this race.

Meng v. Meilin Tan: Democratic incumbent Assemblyman Barry Grodenchik lost the Democratic primary to Jimmy Meng who is running against Republican Meilin Tan for this Queens seat. Mr. Meng is favored to win.

Lavelle v. Russell v. Johnson: Staten Island Assemblyman John Lavelle retained the Democratic line and is running against Republican John Russell and Independent John Johnson for his 61st district seat. Assemblyman Lavelle is expected to prevail.

Long Island

Lavine v. Sciarillo: Assemblyman David Sidikman was targeted by the “Fix Albany” campaign. Mr. Suozzi handpicked Glen Cove councilman Charles Lavine who beat Assemblyman Sidikman in the Democratic primary for the 13th Assembly District, a seat he held for twelve years. Mr. Lavine is running against Republican Phillip Sciarillo for the seat in November and is the favored candidate.

Eddington v. Hall: Democratic incumbent Assemblywoman Patricia Eddington faces a tough race against Republican Frederick Hall to retain her 3rd Assembly district seat in Suffolk County. Assemblywoman Eddington is expected to prevail.

Most Incumbents Survive Primary Day, but Some Don’t. Slates Set for November

New York Democrats and Republicans went to the polls on September 14th to choose their nominees for Congress, the State Legislature, and the State Senate. Although most incumbents won, three fell and many had to fight off strong challengers. This primary was largely seen as a referendum on the current Assembly and Senate leadership. In the Assembly, two Democrats – David Sidikman and Barry Grodenchik of Nassau County and Queens respectively -- and one Republican – Robert Straniere of Staten Island -- were defeated. The Sidikman race was especially interesting as the winner, Chuck Lavine, received the strong backing of Assemblyman Sidikman’s fellow Nassau County Democrat, County Executive Tom Suozzi. Suozzi had targeted Sidikman as part of his Fix Albany Campaign, an effort he is undertaking to highlight what he feels is the unbearable Medicaid burden that the State has placed on New York’s counties.

Although no incumbent State Senator lost, Republican Nancy Larraine Hoffman of Syracuse had a tough race. Conservatives had targeted her because they felt that Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno had become too moderate. Senator Bruno did suffer a defeat in the Bronx where the candidate he supported to replace recently jailed former Senator Guy Vellela, Assemblyman Stephen Kaufman, failed to capture the nomination. It was an especially bad day for Assemblyman Kaufman as he also lost the Democratic primary.

In Congressional races, Utica based Republican Sherwood Boehlert beat back a challenge from the right from David Walrath and Democrats Eliot Engel and Major Owens survived challenges in their downstate districts. In the race to replace retiring Congressman Amo Houghton, self-proclaimed moderate Randy Kuhl out polled conservative Mark Assini and Samara Barend captured the Democratic Nomination. Finally in the race to fill Congressman Jack Quinn’s seat, who is retiring, Assemblyman Brian Higgins got the Democratic nod. He will face Nancy Naples in November in what should be New York’s most competitive Congressional race.

New York Congressional Delegation Loses Two Veterans

This past spring two members of the New York State Congressional Delegation announced that they would not run for reelection and would retire at the end of the 108th Congress. The two Republicans, Jack Quinn and Amo Houghton, were both moderates who, along with many of their colleagues form the Northeast, often battled the more conservative Republican leadership. First elected in 1992, Congressman Quinn represented Buffalo and nearby areas in Western New York. Congressman Houghton came to Congress in 1987 and represented the Southern Tier area. Congressman Quinn’s district should be competitive with Democrats holding an edge in party registration. The Republicans are certainly favored to hold the Houghton district but will have to deal with a potentially divisive primary between conservative Mark Assini and moderate State Senator Randy Kuhl. Congressman Houghton has endorsed Senator Kuhl. The winner will face Democrat Samara Barend who, although not doubt an underdog, could make the race interesting.

Another Senator Announces Retirement

On March 3rd, Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) announced his decision not seek reelection this fall. Senator Campbell was first elected to the Senate as a Democrat in 1993 but and switched to the Republican Party in 1995. He serves on the Appropriations, Veterans Affairs, Energy and Natural Resources, and Indian Affairs committees. Senator Campbell is the eighth Senator, three Republicans and five Democrats, to announce his retirement during this election cycle, the most since 1996. Twenty-five House members are also retiring. Three others left mid term and another lost his primary election.

Presidential Candidates File for New York Primary

January 15, 2004: Nine Democratic candidates filed petitions to be on the ballot for the March 2nd New York Presidential primary. Nobody filed to challenge President George W. Bush in the Republican primary. In order to get on the Democratic Presidential primary ballot in New York candidates had to collect the valid signatures of 5,000 New York Democrats. The term “valid” is key because New York election law is very particular as what constitutes a “valid” signature, although in recent years the rules have been changed to allow greater ballot access.

Wesley Clark, Howard Dean, John Edwards, Richard Gephardt, John Kerry, Dennis Kucinich, Joseph Lieberman, Lyndon LaRouche, and Al Sharpton are obtained the necessary 5,000 signatures to qualify for the primary. Only one well-known candidate, Carol Moseley Braun did not file petitions and thus will not be on the ballot. Several hundred delegate candidates also filed their petitions. Delegate candidates who are pledged to a particular Presidential candidate run in each of New York’s twenty-nine Congressional districts. The results of the Presidential primary determine which delegate candidates are chosen to represent the party at the Democratic National Convention in July.

The primary season begins in earnest on Monday, January 19th with the Iowa caucuses and continues on the 27th with the New Hampshire primary. For more information on the Presidential primary process and primary caucus dates go to www.vote-smart.org. For more information on the New York primary go to www.elections.state.ny.us.

Former New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a great friend of Columbia and Academic Medicine, passed away at age 77. Read Ross Frommer's tribute to him.

New Leadership on Capitol Hill, Some Changes in Albanyx

When the 108th Congress convened new leadership was the theme as Republicans assumed the majority in the Senate. Republicans picked up a net gain of two seats in the November elections and now hold a 51-48 edge in the chamber (Senator James Jeffords (VT) is an Independent who caucuses with the Democrats, thus making the ratio in effect 51-49).

The Republican majority in the Senate itself was under new leadership, as Senator Bill Frist (TN), a physician, became Majority Leader. Senator Frist became leader after Senator Trent Lott (MS) was forced to step aside because of controversial statements (yes, that is a euphemism for idiotic) he made at the 100th birthday party for Senator Strom Thurmond (SC). Senator Mitch McConnell (KY) took over as the Majority Whip, the number two person in the leadership, from Senator Don Nickles (OK). Senate Republican Conference rules prevented Senator Nickles from continuing on as Whip.

With the Republicans taking control of the Senate, the committee chairs flipped as well, although the two sides had considerable difficulty coming to an agreement on issues like budget, staff, and office space. It took almost a month for the Senate to pass an organizing resolution. Senator Ted Stevens (AK) once again assumed the leadership of the Appropriations Committee as did Senator Charles Grassley (IA) of the Finance Committee. Senator Judd Gregg (NH), who became the Ranking Republican on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions when Senator Jeffords left the Republican Party, became Chair of that Committee.

The Democratic Leadership remained largely unchanged with Senator Tom Daschle (SD) remaining as the Minority Leader and Harry Reid (NV) as the Assistant Minority Leader. New York Senator Charles Schumer maintained his committee assignments, but Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton left the Budget Committee. She did join the Committee on Armed Services, thus putting her in a better position to protect Fort Drum from any closure efforts. Fort Drum, located in Jefferson County in the North Country, is the largest military installation in the State.

In the House of Representatives, J. Dennis Hastert (IL) remained Speaker, but the Republicans, who increased their majority to 229 out of 435 members, have a new Majority Leader and a new Majority Whip. Tom Delay (TX) moved up from Whip to Majority Leader and Roy Blunt (MO) became the new Whip. Nancy Pelosi (CA) became the new Democratic Leader in the House, the first woman to lead a party in Congress. Steny Hoyer (MD) became the new Democratic Whip.

For more information on the 108th Congress, go to http://www.senate.gov or http://www.house.gov

In Albany, the key leadership remained the same with Sheldon Silver (New York) remaining Speaker of the Assembly and Joe Bruno (Rensselaer) staying on as Senate Majority Leader. Ron Canestrari (Albany) replaced longtime Morningside Heights Assemblyman Ed Sullivan (New York) as Chairman of the Committee on Higher Education and Peter Rivera (Bronx) took over the Chair of the Committee on Mental Health from Martin Luster (Tompkins) who retired. In the Senate, Owen Johnson (Suffolk) ascended to Chairman of the Finance Committee, replacing Columbia Law Alumnus Ron Stafford (Clinton) who retired and Local State Senator David Paterson (New York) assumed the role of Minority Leader. For more information on the State Assembly and Senate, go to http://www.assembly.state.ny.us or http://www.senate.state.ny.us

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Last updated 2/6/ 2009

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