When Tea Party Met Occupy: Stop Common Core

Rob Astorino and Zephyr Teachout don’t agree about anything, but they held a joint press conference this summer to hold hands while kicking Common Core.

From the far right, Astorino had already spelled out his objections online:

We refuse to let our children be the guinea pigs for this untested federal reach into our local community schools. Not only will Cuomo’s Common Core lead us to higher property taxes, Washington, D.C. bureaucratic oversight, and fewer enrichment classes, but it also stops our teachers from using all their skills in the classroom.

From the far left, Teachout later penned an op-ed:

In 2008 Microsoft founder Bill Gates, one of the world’s richest men, decided that he should take charge of education policy. He promoted a single set of standards to measure our children’s achievements in school. Since then Gates has spent more than $200 million to advance this idea, called the “Common Core.”

Astorino is carrying a chocolate bar of Tea Party fears: Federal overreach! Higher taxes! Beaurocracy! Teachout comes along with a jar of Occupy peanut butter: Capitalists! Dollar signs! Conformity! Will this unlikely mix of ingredients create a lasting coalition to upend Common Core in New York?

Yeah … no. Politicians like Astorino and Teachout will use the Stop Common Core movement to make themselves look more mainstream than they really are. But the Tea Party-Entertainment complex and progressive purists won’t let their messages be diluted to suit an electoral majority. When Glenn Beck is in the game, filling movie theaters across the country to recruit footsoldiers against fascist education standards, reasonable people are no longer in control of the debate.

Rob Astorino is running on the Republican and Conservative ballot lines, but now also on one called Stop Common Core. If he were a liberal New York Republican — Rockefeller, Pataki, Giuliani — creating the Stop Common Core ballot line would be a brilliant move, reinforcing his bipartisan appeal and giving Democrats disaffected with Cuomo an escape valve on Election Day. But the rest of Astorino’s campaign is hard core Tea Party. He’s called legal abortion infanticide. He stuck up for the conservatives who tried to block gay marriage.  And he thinks your semi-automatic weapons don’t hold enough ammo. Will left-leaning Common Core opponents abandon all their other principles to vote for Rob Astorino?

Even Zephyr Teachout come Election Day won’t let this one issue get the best of her: if she’s willing to make the same pragmatic choice the rest of us have to, she’ll vote to re-elect the Governor.

Even though this political coalition has no legs, the Stop Common Core movement is not going away soon. It’s fueled by varied and legitimate concerns, then super-charged with anger, anxiety, and defensiveness about the most vulnerable things in our lives: our kids. But anyone truly concerned about the new standards and tests should be hoping the wingers — on the right and the left — stay out of it.


Dear Friend

The stiffness of Andrew Cuomo’s communication efforts is surprising because with owned media channels it’s so easy to fake warmth, and the basic ingredients of successful email campaigns are no longer a great secret.

Andrew Cuomo CommitteeFirst of all, send email from a human being. I keep getting email from “Andrew Cuomo Committee” even when the email is signed by Andrew Cuomo.

Second, learn my name. I told you my name when I signed up for email updates, remember? So why do you always address me as “Dear Friend.”

Third, write a subject line that piques my interest. You don’t have to go all Upworthy, but here are the subjects of 40% of Cuomo emails so far this year: Happy St. Patrick’s Day, Happy Passover, Happy Easter, Happy Mother’s Day. The open rate on those must have been astronomical!

Fourth, try just a little bit to tell me something I don’t already know. “During Passover, the story is told of the Jewish people’s freedom from slavery and oppression” sounds like you looked up “Jew” in Wikipedia. Have you really lived in New York your whole life and have no anecdote to share about seder?

Cuomo email blasts 2014:

Andrew Cuomo Committee Building on Success Dear Friend 3rd person account of Cuomo’s state of the state address
Governor Andrew Cuomo Celebrating the Life of Dr. King Dear Friend Tribute to MLK, values of New York; signed Andrew Cuomo
Andrew Cuomo Committee Happy St. Patrick’s Day Dear Friend Irish Americans are awesome; signed Andrew Cuomo
Andrew Cuomo 2014 Cutting Taxes, Creating Jobs Dear Friend 3rd person account of budget
Andrew Cuomo Committee Happy Passover Dear Fellow New Yorker “During Passover, the story is told of the Jewish people’s freedom from slavery and oppression.” signed Andrew Cuomo
Andrew Cuomo Committee Happy Easter Dear Friends “This year, Easter coincides with the first signs of spring after a very long winter,” signed Andrew Cuomo
Andrew Cuomo Committee Happy Mother’s Day Dear Friend Shout out to Matilda Raffa Cuomo, signed Andrew Cuomo
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo Exciting News Dear Friend Announcing Hochul as LG, signed Andrew Cuomo
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo Together Dear Friends Long-ish statement of accomplishment on being nominated for 2nd term, signed Andrew Cuomo
Andrew Cuomo Committtee Honor the Memory Dear Friends “… greatest sacrifice … forever grateful … thoughts and prayers … “ signed Andrew Cuomo

Republican Rob Astorino also sends me messages from “Astorino for Governor” (switched from “Friends of Rob Astorino”) when the message is meta-campaign: news clippings, preview “major announcement”, event invitation. That’s appropriate, though still sub-optimal: I should get those emails from his campaign manager, or someone else whose name I’ll learn to recognize during the course of the campaign.

When the note is from the candidate himself, it’s always from “Rob Astorino” and addressed simply “Jeremy.” If I didn’t know better, I’d think Rob actually cared about me — which is precisely the point of these things.

Take Mother’s Day, for example, a softball gift-wrapped for any politician. Cuomo’s note sounded as though he was speaking only to men who had appreciated women behind a one-way mirror. He pivoted awkwardly from mothers to all women, so as not to lose the spinster vote. And he praised his mother in a strangely impersonal way (“My mother, Matilda Raffa Cuomo, is one of those women”).

Astorino’s team, on the other hand, hit this one out of the park. I got a message from Sheila Astorino (“Happy Mother’s Day … to me!”). It was sarcastic, charming, genuine, and included a photo of the perfect Astorino family huddled on a perfect lawn.

Luckily for Democrats, email campaigns don’t win or lose elections, but it still depresses me that Andrew Cuomo Committee is failing at something so easy.

Astorino’s Old Talking Points Wither in the Lights

With millions in federal grants again being withheld from Westchester County, and Rev. Sharpton threatening action in White Plains, Rob Astorino is about to learn why the big spotlight drawn to his run for governor will work against him.

Today Astorino let some reporters into his office to make a statement about HUD’s latest request for an acceptable analysis of zoning in Westchester County. His talking points are the same he’s used for the past two years, and, reading his body language, even he can smell they’re stale. Or at least he may be starting to feel that they won’t hold up to the scrutiny of a statewide campaign.

“Westchester is in full compliance with this [2009 settlement].”

No one but Rob Astorino believes that to be true. One big requirement of that settlement is an analysis of impediments to fair housing in communities across the county. Astorino’s administration has repeatedly submitted inadequate reports to HUD that pretend there is no room for improvement in Westchester’s zoning laws. There may be no outright exclusionary zoning laws (thank goodness), but even inadvertent obstacles need to be responsibly addressed.

“We have already 403 of the units in progress with funding in place, well ahead of schedule.”

“If this were exclusionary in any way we could not be building as of right in these communities nor would we be a year ahead of schedule with this.”

The pace of Westchester’s required development of 750 affordable housing units is not at issue with HUD — the ongoing fairness of Westchester’s housing is. It’s to that end that the 2009 settlement with HUD requires an honest analysis of housing impediments around the county, to make sure that Westchester’s responsibility to provide fair housing opportunities is met in the future without a federal lawsuit.

(Gotta give Astorino some credit here — at least he’s stopped claiming that HUD is now requiring 11,000 affordable housing units at a cost to taxpayers of over $1 billion, as he did during his re-election campaign in 2013.)

“But what we will not do is be held hostage by the federal government by making demands that are not in this settlement and trying to force us to do away with local zoning so federal bureaucrats can dictate housing in Westchester.”

This is the red meat his Tea Party base is going to love, and which he tossed around on Fox News a couple of times last year. But it has no relation to the truth. HUD has made no demands that aren’t in the original settlement, as a federal judge last year made clear when Astorino tried to sue his way out of compliance. And local zoning laws in the county are not at risk as long as they comply with federal anti-discrimination laws. Astorino’s opposition to that standard earned him a biting comparison to Jim Crow South in a NYTimes editorial almost exactly a year ago.

That's not my problem

The truth is, Astorino just thinks that if you’re not rich enough to live in the fancy parts of Westchester, that’s your problem, not his. He’s been against this settlement from the beginning, and has used fear tactics to fuel his last two successful campaigns. But as more reporters become familiar with the history of the HUD settlement and hear Astorino’s stale talking points, he’ll start to look like our own local Cliven Bundy, raving against the federal government, or worse.

This Is Really Rob Astorino’s Desk

Blog- Astorino imagery
Rob Astorino might have grown up on the radio, but he also knows how to pack his campaign videos with powerful visual symbols. See how smartly he dresses up today’s set!

  1. Winston Churchill quote. Astorino is a fighter, a man’s man, and doesn’t care that recent polls show New Yorkers are not in the market for a new governor.
  2. New York apple. He’s not running for governor of North Dakota, right? If he were, there’d be a chokecherry on his desk.
  3. Script. Only liberals use a teleprompter.
  4. Ronald Reagan quote. Nothing says “bipartisan” like Ronald Reagan, whom Democrats and Republicans agree was our greatest governor.
  5. Potted plant. This campaign is going to be super exciting.
  6. New York state flag. Lest there be any lingering doubt.
  7. Card-sized memento. Too small to make out clearly, but obviously very important to the candidate, this could be either a 2002 David Wright minor league baseball card or a Holy Family rosary card. (Either way, it’s really spooky if you blow it up.) Update: Subsequent videos show this to be clearly a little league card of Astorino’s son.
  8. Hand-drawn U.S. flag. This may be New York, but thank goodness it’s also America.
  9. Family. Like all fathers, Astorino keeps reminders of his kids right behind him. So they don’t bother him while he’s working.
  10. More America. Astorino keeps this copy of the U.S. Constitution nearby to remind him that the Founders weren’t honest about the exclusionary effects of local zoning regulations either.

Let’s Finish the Game

It’s March 2015 — Westchester has just voted in a special election to fill out the unexpired county executive term of Rob Astorino, who scored an upset victory for governor in November. So who won?

There’s no time in a special election to persuade swing voters or expand the electorate — turnout of prime voters is all that counts. If the candidates have similar name recognition, as Ken Jenkins and Jim Maisano do, they are basically irrelevant, since the outcome will follow a generic ballot pretty closely. And since Democrats in Westchester hold a 2-to-1 registration edge, the odds were in favor of Jenkins.

But let’s look at that Democrat advantage more closely. It’s true, among all registered voters in Westchester, there are a lot more Democrats than Republicans.*

Westchester registered voters
*DEM includes Lib, WF, and Green; REP includes Con; NON includes Ind and unaffiliated
In even-year elections, that distribution generally holds, with both DEM and REP groups picking up vote share at the expense of less reliable NON voters.

But in odd years — local elections — Republicans are much more consistent voters, and the Democrats’ edge softens.

2009 voters

2011 voters

2013 voters

In special elections, only the most reliable voters show up. In 2015 only 122,000 votes were cast — a 33% drop from the same race in 2013, and more than 50% fewer votes than in the governor’s race just four months prior. And while Democrats still turned out in greater number, their advantage is not insurmountable.

2015 voters

This turnout would give the Democrat a 7.7-point win if NON votes split evenly. But NONs don’t split evenly, they skew Republican. In fact, in the past two county-wide elections, essentially all NON votes went to Astorino, turning the Democrats’ higher enrollment into nothing more than a minority.

But wasn’t Astorino an exception? (As evidenced by his win over Cuomo, Astorino is special.) Democrats still retained a majority in the Board of Legislators in 2009, 2011, and 2013; and the other two county-wide offices, County Clerk and District Attorney, both went to the Democrat in 2009 and 2013 despite losses for Andy Spano and Noam Bramson at the top of the ticket. County Clerk Tim Idoni’s victories in 2009 and 2013 were better indications of how a Democrat should perform in Westchester — in both years he picked up a 53% victory without much effort.

If Jenkins were able to pull just 29.9% of the NON votes — what Idoni did in 2013 — he’d win with 50.8% of the vote, a bare margin of 2,000 votes.

2015 projected vote

But that’s with a two-way race. Throw Mike Spano in there running as a spoiler on a discredited Independence line, and even if he pulls 1,000 votes from Jenkins, that could swing the election. Spano won 54% for mayor in 2011. (Idoni won only 50.1% in 2013, indicating just how close a generic ballot is in Yonkers.) With 19,000 votes coming out of Yonkers in this special, there’s a lot of room to make mischief for Jenkins.

And mischief for Maisano. After all, Spano was a Republican for many years, as every prime voter in Yonkers knows. Pulling from both sides in this special election, Spano dominated Yonkers, winning 50% of the vote; plus a handful of votes elsewhere, he ended up with almost 10% county-wide. And with more of those votes cutting into Jenkins’ margin, election night ended just as Spano had hoped — with a weak win by Maisano, setting Spano up for a real challenge in 2017.

2015 result

Except: hold on. The Board of Elections tallies absentees, and Maisano has won by only 105 votes. Attention turns to broken voting machines in Mt. Vernon and some non-credentialed poll watchers in Yonkers. This one’s going to court, folks, and we won’t know who’ll fill Astorino’s shoes for some time …

What Happens in Westchester if Astorino Wins?

Let’s play a game. It’s March 12, 2015. In a week and a half, Westchester voters will go to the polls for a special election to fill the county executive’s seat, following Rob Astorino’s upset victory for governor.

County Democrats, confident of victory with a big registration advantage at their backs and popular Astorino out of the way, threw sharp elbows during the hasty nomination fight.

idoniTim Idoni was the first to announce his candidacy, before Thanksgiving, before Cuomo’s loss had sunk in. He had been, for the previous two county cycles, the highest vote-getter among Westchester Democrats, outperforming Andy Spano in 2009 and Bramson in 2013. Well-respected among party leaders and an award-winning County Clerk, Idoni had also run up chits from local chairs as an active campaigner every year for fellow Democrats. He hoped to jump in fast and leave no oxygen for any other candidate. But questions about his fundraising chops were confirmed when his January financials showed less than $100k on hand, and his campaign never gained much traction outside of New Rochelle, Pelham, and Eastchester.

paulinAmy Paulin, who had made no secret of her interest in the job for years, announced in December, spoiling Idoni’s air of inevitability. With more than half a million dollars in the bank, a personal fortune to draw on, and a direct line to NY real estate money through her husband, Paulin was a formidable candidate. She had backed down from challenging Astorino when confronted with his high approval ratings two years earlier, but once she made up her mind, she was a determined whipper of votes. (She was one of Noam Bramson’s secret weapons during the run-up to his nomination in 2013.) But she was not universally liked by party leaders, who complained openly about her soft party allegiance.

jenkinsKen Jenkins had made the biggest mistake of his previous run for county executive before the race even began: not raising enough money to scare off other Democrats. This time around, he had quietly been making new contacts and lining up money from Cuomo funders as the governor’s key Westchester surrogate during the 2014 campaign, and was able to show an impressive $400,000 on hand when he announced his campaign with a raucous rally in January. True, his ineffective style as Board Chairman had turned off his own caucus, and he had been stuck right in the middle of feuds between Democratic factions in Yonkers. But his support among African-American voters — a critical bloc, especially for special election turnout — had never been stronger. Democrats who supported him in 2013, from Mt. Vernon to Somers, felt vindicated by Bramson’s loss that year, and were protective of Jenkins’ right to the nomination.

latimerGeorge Latimer had steadily made his way up the ranks — Rye City Councilman, County Legislator (and Chairman of the Board), State Assemblyman, State Senator. He relied on his base of powerful Sound Shore Democrats, but his history with Rye Republicans and his reach to Yonkers in the west and Bedford to the north gave him broad appeal. His 2014 re-election was much less bloody than the “slumlord” campaign of 2012, cementing his incumbancy, albeit in the Senate’s minority party. But Latimer’s habit of not making any enemies also meant he had no great friends — there were few Democratic leaders willing to go to bat for him. In fact, he never officially announced his candidacy; by keeping his fingers in both the Paulin and Jenkins pies he tried to become everyone’s second choice.

bramsonNoam Bramson, the 2013 Democratic candidate, was pushed by his fierce loyalists in New Rochelle and Mamaroneck. They cited his fundraising success of 2013, his name recognition by virtue of having already run county-wide, and his turnkey GOTV operation that would be essential in a short special election. Ironically, Astorino’s victory over Cuomo had rehabilitated Bramson’s reputation, proving that Astorino is a special candidate to whom it’s no shame losing. But though Bramson enjoyed wide regard for his intellect and ambition, many party leaders were disappointed in his ability to connect with voters outside his comfort zone.

spanoMike Spano had hoped for a different timeline to take the county’s top job, expecting to win re-election in 2015 and then challenge Astorino in 2017 (before facing his 2019 term limit as mayor of Yonkers). And whereas Spano knew he could be formidable in a Democratic primary, the special election nomination was to be decided by the party’s executive committee, most of whom still thought of Spano as a Republican and didn’t trust him to be their standard-bearer. So he played a difficult hand, trying to consolidate Yonkers against Jenkins while threatening to run on the Independent line if the Democrats wouldn’t support him. No one knew what deal he had struck to heal the rift between Doc Cavallo and the Spanos, but a legitimate third party candidacy would make the Democrats’ road to victory very bumpy.

harckhamPete Harckham, former majority leader on the County Board, had shown an ability to win in the red towns above I-287, and prepared a PowerPoint presentation for executive committee members that explained how he could redraw the map for Westchester Democrats. Harckham was backed by the Northern Coalition of local chairs, who saw this insider battle as a way to assert their influence over county politics as never before. But Harckham was hardly known among the high-turnout blue districts of southern Westchester, and no one was sure that the Northern Coalition bloc would hold.

The contest narrowed to a two-person race between Paulin and Jenkins as Paulin poached commitments from within Idoni’s base and Jenkins made deals on judgeships with northern chairs (even while Harckham tried to get his supporters to back Latimer in a second vote). Bramson, reading the tea leaves, withdrew his name and backed Jenkins, an endorsement that was hard to ignore given their hard-fought contest just two years earlier. The final blow to Paulin came when her good friend Jim Maisano was selected by Westchester Republicans to succeed Astorino — Jenkins’ team circulated a copy of a “Democrats for Maisano” advertisement used during Maisano’s 2013 re-election, on which Amy Paulin’s name appeared front and center.

Who would win the special election in Westchester between Ken Jenkins (D, WF), Jim Maisano (R, C), and Mike Spano (I)?

To be clear: Opinions expressed on this site are mine and may not reflect the views of anyone who has ever hired me (or may want to hire me). Also, I don’t write about anything on which I am actively consulting, so I may not even really know what I’m talking about.

Will Bramson 2013 Playbook Work for Cuomo 2014?

Governor Cuomo thinks so.

Photo by Pat Arnow.
Photo by Pat Arnow.

Front page of the New York Times today sketches a story of Cuomo trying to convince NY Republicans that Rob Astorino is too conservative for them

In Mr. Cuomo’s conversations with Republicans, officials say, the governor has specifically warned that he would campaign hard against Mr. Astorino, painting him as a hard-line conservative — by highlighting his opposition to same-sex marriage, abortion rights and strict gun laws approved last year.

“He’s told me that if Astorino runs, he is going to pound the hell out of him and talk about guns and gays, and it won’t be pretty and will hurt all of us,” said a Republican senator who asked not to be named.

This is blatant concern trolling, of course — Republicans are not going to take Cuomo’s advice — but it does lay out the expected themes for the race. Rob Astorino wants everyone to think of him as a tax-cutting fiscal conservative, but Cuomo will instead remind voters that Astorino thinks Roe v Wade is “infanticide”.

But wait, isn’t this exactly what Noam Bramson’s campaign tried last year?

Bramson was trying to challenge an existing brand at a paid media disadvantage and in a county with ineffective earned media. Cuomo will use superior finances and major market echo chamber to define an unknown candidate.

Same playbook + totally different scenario = opposite result.

Dems Test Astorino Hit

Over the long weekend, Westchester Democrats (presumably with some coaching and video production assistance) unveiled a first look at potential attacks on gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino.

The theme is Where Is Rob? — as in, Astorino has spent more time campaigning for governor than running Westchester County.

Salient points:

  1. Bond rating downgraded (right after Election Day)
  2. Rob Astorino = Chris Christie
  3. Feds are suing Westchester for not complying with Safe Drinking Water Act

The envelope is unimportant — no one cares if someone elected for one job is campaigning for another. Especially if, as is the case here, campaign time has been only 20%; that’s just taking Fridays off, hardly enough to jeopardize county government.

The goal here is to test some specific attacks and then poll to see what works. (I’ll be interested to see how well safe drinking water plays, since that’s one the Bramson campaign liked but couldn’t get to stick.)

Any one of these may be a useful distraction during the campaign, but don’t doubt what will be the main line of attack: Astorino is a social conservative in a state that’s proud of its married gays and seriously considering legalizing pot. Whether Astorino has had kind words for Christie is not important.

PS. What’s up with this?
Jenkins quote

Westchester Dems need a website editor who has some familiarity with Westchester Dems.

Update: This attribution has been fixed, with “former” added to Jenkins’ title.