ALBANY, NY — In the closing days of the New York Legislative Assembly, the state’s progressive left wing looked poised for a surprise victory.
A bill that would allow New York to build government renewable energy was suddenly back in play, after it was left for dead. It passed the Senate despite fierce opposition from power producers, and after hours of fervent lobbying at the grassroots level, activists declared they had enough votes in the Assembly to be passed.
But Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie never tabled the bill and the session ended without a vote.
The inability to force Mr. Heastie’s hand was a harrowing example of how the most left-wing state legislators have faced headwinds this year, but it wasn’t the only one: proposals to protect tenants from evictions, create universal health care, and record-breaking criminals , while the groundbreaking changes introduced in previous years, such as the 2019 bail reforms, created headwinds.
The battle over the renewable energy bill served as a reflection of both the growing strength of the party’s left wing and its limitations, especially in the Assembly, which has been controlled by Democrats since 1975.
Now a new batch of left-wing candidates — some backed by the Working Families Party, others backed by America’s Democratic Socialists — are challenging incumbent Democrats in the June 28 primary, hoping to win enough seats to move the Assembly to the left. Push.
To that end, they’ve aligned their legislative and campaigning efforts, urging lawmakers to commit to things like the renewable energy bill, or face the wrath of progressive voters in the primaries.
Sarahana Shrestha, a climate activist running for the Hudson Valley state assembly, estimates her team knocked on 25,000 doors in the Kingston district she hopes to wrest from Democratic incumbent Kevin Cahill, who has held the seat ever since. 1992.
She said the Assembly’s failure to pass the renewable energy bill illustrates how traditional machine politics has led to a fractured and undemocratic system.
“That just worked perfectly in our coverage of what’s wrong with our government — our government’s culture,” she said, adding that good governance takes courage: “It’s much safer to say, ‘This didn’t happen, this bill is not pass,’ than to pass something on and then probably be hunted with it.”
Ms. Shrestha, who is backed by the Democratic Socialists of America and the Working Families Party, has been backed by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has given the strength of her reputation to races up and down for the New York primaries this year. conflicts within the party.
Mr Cahill, who heads the Assembly Insurance Committee, called it a “power grab.”
“It’s about a group of people in the Assembly and in the Senate who have mostly just come on the scene in the last few terms and who think they should be put in charge of the place,” he said. “And they know they can’t do it unless they occupy more seats.”
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Democratic Party chairman Jay Jacobs argued that the key challenges exposed the “arrogance” of progressive activists who were too impatient about achieving their goals, and whose efforts he feared could destroy the supermajorities. of the Democrats in Albany.
“The Assembly has been a progressive body for quite some time and has enacted a lot of great progressive legislation,” he said.
The insurgent candidates hope to replicate the primary results of 2018 in the State Senate, where a group of progressive Democrats successfully challenged a handful of established incumbent officials, transformed the body and enabled a string of victories from criminal justice reform and climate protection to the legalization of marijuana last year.
Assembly and Senate seats will be voted on in November, although only the Assembly primaries will be held in June.
Primary elections for Senate and congressional seats were postponed to Aug. 23 by the state’s highest court, which appointed an outside expert to redraw the rules Democrats said had been approved in the state legislature.
State assembly lines were also declared unconstitutional, but will not be redrawn until after the election.
Of the 150 Assembly seats up for grabs this year, a handful have sparked significant interest.
On the Lower East Side, the race to replace Congressman Yuh-Line Niou with three Democratic candidates proud of their immigrant heritage will be pitted against each other in a district that will occupy much of this election. the Wall Street area and got parts of the Lower East Side.
Illapa Sairitupac, a social worker and son of Peruvian immigrants, runs there, with the support of the Democratic Socialists and a few progressive leaders.
Grace Lee, a first-generation Korean entrepreneur, has received the support of Representatives Jerrold Nadler, Hakeem Jeffries and Grace Meng, among others.
The third candidate, Denny Salas, a political adviser, has made the American dream as a Dominican immigrant the center of his campaign, and has been supported by some union and police groups.
In a nearby district, the retirement of the Assembly of Richard Gottfried, the longest-serving state legislator in New York history, sparked a dynamic race among a handful of decorated candidates.
In Harlem, long-serving counsel Inez Dickens faces a primary challenge from Delsenia Glover, a housing attorney supported by the Working Families Party.
And in the Bronx, Jeffrey Dinowitz of Kingsbridge and Michael Benedetto of Throgs Neck face some of the toughest challenges of their decades in the Assembly.
Mr. Benedetto, who chairs the Assembly’s Education Committee, helped negotiate negotiations that resulted in a two-year mayoralty of city schools—a power-sharing agreement between the city and the state—to New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who has supported.
Benedetto’s challenger, Jonathan Soto, has sharply criticized the mayoralty, which he believes is ceding too much power to the executive at the expense of parents.
For Mr. Dinowitz, who chairs the powerful Codes Committee that oversees changes in criminal and civil law, the threat comes in the form of a lead candidate, Jessica Altagracia Woolford.
Ms. Woolford, who served as a staffer for Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and former Mayor Bill de Blasio, built a mutual aid network during the pandemic that helped deliver groceries to her neighbors in the Bronx.
Her platform is built on expanding that work’s mission into rural issues such as climate, healthcare and housing.
“I see this struggle now, in the Assembly, as really essential to ensure that we live up to the progressive values that Democrats should stand for,” said Ms Woolford, who runs with the support of the Working Families. Party.
She hopes her enthusiasm, progressive values and Dominican heritage will help her conquer a district whose Hispanic population has grown significantly in the 28 years that Mr. Dinowitz has represented it.
mr. Dinowitz, who has the support of almost every major union, said he didn’t think identity should play a decisive role.
“I think it’s very opportunistic to look at this race based on ethnicity,” he said. “I think most people are smart enough to vote on their merits.”
He added that he believed his track record of championing issues such as housing — he was the Assembly sponsor of the state’s pandemic eviction moratorium — and access to public transportation spoke for itself.
Like many of her progressive allies, Ms. Woolford has benefited from the zeal of left-wing organizers and the attention of the likes of Ms. Ocasio-Cortez.
And the low participation in the primaries means that boosting even a small number of new voters can have a significant impact.
The stakes have made some races sour.
In the past week, two super PACs funded in part by real estate interests have spent liberally distributing negative mailings about progressive candidates, including Ms Woolford, Mr Sairitupac, Ms Shrestha and Mr Soto, calling them “too extreme.” According to Elections Board records, one of them alone spent more than $80,000 on Ms. Shrestha’s race.
The National Working Families Party, in turn, has used an independent committee to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on TV ads and mailings, some of which portray the establishment as being in the pockets of corporate donors.
The incumbents were largely incensed at this framing, with some saying the left imposed purity tests that manipulated facts to fit a political narrative.
“You don’t just say no because you didn’t get everything you wanted,” said Mrs. Dickens of Harlem. ‘That’s not how you negotiate. That way you don’t navigate through one of the three levels of government.”
She added: “When they come to power, what are they going to do differently?”
Mr Cahill said he supported the public electricity bill but believed much of the disenchantment with it was based on a distortion of the measure.
He said that while the left described the legislation as an environmental law, he saw it more as an economic one, because of the impact it would have on the state’s energy market.
The Assembly will hold a hearing on the legislation on July 28, a month after the primary vote. While it’s unclear if it will continue, progressives like Ms. Shrestha see the extended conversation as progress.
“Whatever we did this time to scare Albany for the climate movement, we want to do the same for health care, we want to do the same for housing,” she said.