|Opinion Haver||May 22, 2019|
A few weeks back we wrote about Holyoke mayor Alex Morse’s meeting with impeachment-minded billionaire Tom Steyer, who maintained that he wasn’t recruiting Morse to run against Rep. Richard Neal, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. Politico’s Alex Murray reports that somebody has paid for an expensive poll testing a potential Morse-Neal matchup, complete with messaging and live caller interviews. Highlights from the poll include potential talking points about sanctuary cities, the Green New Deal, and Medicare for All. Morse isn’t independently wealthy, so it’s unlikely he shelled out the tens of thousands for a poll of this quality himself, leading to the obvious speculation that Tom Steyer was behind it, but Steyer won’t say either way. Neal, whose moderate politics and reluctance to request Trump’s tax returns (it took him three months to request them) don’t fit this very Democratic district, is one of a number of members of House leadership who could face serious primaries, also including Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler.
After nearly a month of mostly positive introductions, Ben Ray Luján and Maggie Toulouse Oliver have finally begun to spar. The topic of their first real dustup? Campaign finance. Both candidates have agreed to not take PAC money from corporations, but to allow it from labor unions and liberal interest groups. The Toulouse Oliver campaign responded to the news that Luján was not going to be taking corporate PAC money with a dose of skepticism as to his intentions. They released an itemized list of $188,000 Luján has taken from corporate sources in the first three months of this year, before he swore the money off.
After her campaign initially gently ribbed Lujan when they said they were happy to see him following her lead on corporate PAC money, Toulouse Oliver became more explicit in her criticism this week, saying that “If he really wants to live up to his pledge, returning the corporate PAC money would seem to be the right thing to do.” Luján then accused her of “political gamesmanship” and refused to return the donations, reiterating that he had not accepted any new ones since he made the pledge not to a few weeks ago.
It’s not the biggest political fight in the world, but it does show that Toulouse Oliver and Luján are willing to go negative. This campaign’s a long way from over.
Teresa Leger, who had already confirmed that she was in, launched her campaign. Her kickoff themes included ties to both the Hispanic and Native communities and her long professional career, which encompasses working under both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, as well as her law practice.
District Attorney Marco Serna, who, we may remind you, is still not officially running, has picked up his second endorsement. This one is from Gary King, a prominent statewide political figure. King has been in politics since the his time in the state house in the 1990s, but he’s best known for his eight years as attorney general, 2007-2015, and his unsuccessful gubernatorial run in 2014, when facing a popular incumbent and the Republican wave of 2014 contributed to his shellacking. King’s endorsement is worth more for the network it provides (he’s the son of Bruce King, governor 1971-1979, 1991-1995) than for King’s popularity itself. As a matter of fact, King’s old State House district was barely in NM-03 and King himself has previously run for Congress in NM-02.
Centrist Democratic Rep. Tom Suozzi drew his first challenger last week, which we noted in our last newsletter. Later that day, Suozzi’s new challenger, attorney Michael Weinstock, laid out a central motivation for his campaign, in a lengthy letter where he accused a local Democratic official of sexual harassment. Gerard Terry, the former chairman of the North Hempstead Democratic Party, is in prison for tax evasion (more than $1.4 million in federal and state taxes combined), and Weinstock accuses him of making repeated unwanted advances back in the late 1990s, when Weinstock was just out of undergrad. Weinstock, a former sex crimes prosecutor, says he was motivated to run in part by Suozzi and other local Democrats writing letters of support for Terry ahead of his sentencing. Weinstock says he spoke with Jay Jacobs, the chairman of the Nassau County Democratic Party, about the incident; Jacobs, when asked about the incident, took a dismissive tone, saying Suozzi was one of many who had written letters of support for Terry. Jacobs also said he didn’t believe allegations of sexual harassment were widely known, but admitted that he had “heard from at least one other person that said Gerard made an advance.”
CNN reports a growing anti-Díaz movement in the open primary. Rubén Díaz Sr. has always been willing to piss off his party, and now other Democrats are working to prevent his candidacy from taking off. Rep. Adriano Espaillat (NY-13) said that Torres and Blake were his top two choices, while Díaz was a definite no. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14) called his mere entry to the race “unfortunate”, and said she would “absolutely not” back him. An anonymous third member of the city’s congressional delegation has said that “people are monitoring the situation” to make sure that Díaz isn’t able to win. Frontrunner candidates Assemblyman Michael Blake and Councilman Ritchie Torres have agreed that Díaz is unacceptable. Díaz has spent his time being awful as always, most recently protesting a new homeless shelter.
Also in the CNN report is new interest from Marlene Cintron, president of the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation and former executive director of the NYS Senate Puerto Rican and Latino Caucus. Cintron played a role in attracting Amazon to New York City, even attempting to bring the campus to the Bronx, and previously oversaw a controversial and expensive bailout of a local grocery chain. Well, at least she’d be better than Díaz.
Robert Wieskowski was, very briefly, running for Congress. The problem is that Robert Wieskowski is not a real California politician; that would be state Sen. Robert Wieckowski, who misspelled his own name on his initial FEC filing, creating the very short-lived Wieskowski campaign. On Wednesday, shortly after we published last week’s newsletter, the state senator filed the incorrect paperwork, quickly amending it when the media noticed the error. Wieckowski has not made any public moves towards a campaign, and Politico tells us he’s only running if Eric Swalwell isn’t. Wieckowski is ideologically fine, and certainly better than Swalwell’s mealy-mouthed centrism. However, he has one major incident from his time in the state Senate sure to haunt him during any campaign: an employee of his received a $350,000 sexual harassment settlement, although the employee did not allege that Wieckowski was aware of any sexual misconduct or workplace retaliation. If Swalwell sticks with his vanity campaign, Wieckowski will join Hayward City Councilor Aisha Wahab, a progressive who was one of the first Afghan-Americans elected to public office, in the primary for this very Democratic Bay Area seat.
Ed Markey is a pretty well-liked and quiet senator. He’s mostly pretty progressive on the issues, but like the similarly long-tenured senator to his north, Markey is a strong institutionalist, which has occasionally frustrated the activist left. He's still popular in the state, and just a few years ago won the 2013 US Senate special election as the progressive option against Stephen Lynch. After nearly 37 years in the US House and 67 when he was first sworn in to the senate, there was always the possibility that he would retire after using a single term in the senate as a career capstone. However, Markey announced nearly a year ago that he’d be running for re-election, and since then there have been signs voters are keeping their minds open. Late last year, a UM Amherst poll found that in a primary, voters would pick Attorney General Maura Healey over Ed Markey 27-26. That’s a high number of undecideds and Maura Healey isn’t even running, but it for an incumbent, that number demonstrates a real vulnerability.
On Monday, he got a challenger. Shannon Liss-Riordan is one of the most famous labor attorneys in the country. She spent the last few years taking on Uber in a class action lawsuit for drivers who had not been getting the tips they were owed, and won. Her launch hit on a lot of feminist themes, and it seems like she’s going for a time-for-change argument, rather than arguing against Markey. This is more or less how Ayanna Pressley campaigned in 2018, defeating longtime progressive Rep. Michael Capuano. As a successful attorney, Liss-Riordan will have access to enough money to start a serious campaign, but it remains to be seen is other political forces are willing to get behind a challenge to an incumbent senator. State Attorney General Maura Healey still has “no plans” to run for Senate.
We’ve got two new potential candidates in this seat that Seth Moulton is sorta leaving open, sorta not.
Angus McQuilken is openly considering. McQuilken has been active in Massachusetts politics for a while. Electorally, he ran for State Senate against Scott Brown twice and worked on the 2004 DNC. He’s also had a role in issues advocacy, co-founding and staying involved with the Massachusetts Coalition Against Gun Violence. McQuilken has been talking to town committees, and has said that he’ll only run if Moulton doesn’t, but that his campaign would be about “reducing gun violence, supporting economic development, improving health care quality and affordability, reducing student debt, fighting climate change and improving public transit.”
Lawrence mayor Dan Rivera has been harshly criticizing Seth Moulton over his presidential campaign, saying that Moulton isn’t a serious candidate and a primary field this messy distracts from the goal of beating Trump. He hasn’t explicitly entertained the idea of running, but as mayor he represents over 80,000 residents of Moulton’s district, giving him a reasonable base to start out with, and his willingness to attack Moulton could very well signal a willingness to run. Rivera has waded into national politics before to defend his immigrant-heavy city against Trump’s attacks.
IL-03, MN-07, TX-28
Pramila Jayapal, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, did not come to play. She recently told a group of reporters that “I think we should allow for strong primary challenges, so that people can really put their Democratic chops on the line, if you will, and let the Democratic voters decide who they want.” The Congressional Progressive Caucus, under Jaypal’s leadership, has previously taken issue with the DCCC’s Blacklist. Although it used to be more common for factions of the Democratic Party to openly attempt to primary each other, that’s fallen out of vogue in the last few decades. The Blacklist and Jaypal’s comments could signal weakening of that consensus.
In the House, there are three of anti-choice Democrats left: Dan Lipinski, of IL-03, Collin Peterson, of MN-07, and Henry Cuellar, of TX-28. Lipinski and Cuellar are great primary targets, and indeed we’ve written about both extensively. Peterson, much less so. He represents a 62-31 Trump district that at this point is only willing to vote for a Democrat at all because Peterson’s personally popular. And even he’s on borrowed time. Much like we said of a potential Jones primary last week, if you take Peterson out of the equation, this wouldn’t be a remotely competitive district any Democrat, whether they were to his left or right. Jaypal probably wasn’t referring to Peterson specifically when she made that statement, but we figured it was worth looking at all three.
Allegheny County, PA
In Pittsburgh’s Allegheny County, home to more than 1.2 million people, conservative Democratic DA Stephen Zappala easily beat progressive challenger Turahn Jenkins last night, 59.1% to 40.7%. Zappala, who last had a contested election in 1999, is a horrible, punitive prosecutor. In a county where 13.2% of residents are black, more than 80% of children charged as adults are black. His office continues to criminally charge (mostly black) Pittsburgh defendants for possession of small amounts of marijuana, which Pittsburgh decriminalized in 2015. Pittsburgh is 26.1% black, but roughly two-thirds of defendants charged with possession of small amounts of marijuana in the city (which, we remind you, decriminalized that already) are black. While he undoubtedly would have been the better DA, Jenkins’s campaign was hobbled from the start. Only a week after entering the race, a local LGBT publication revealed that Jenkins was a member of a homophobic church; when he met with activists in an attempt to mitigate the damage, he said he believed being gay or transgender was a sin. The local Stonewall Democrats called on him to drop out, state Rep. Sara Innamorato withdrew her endorsement, and fellow state Rep. Summer Lee wrote a post clearly criticizing him without referring to him by name. Innamorato and Lee successfully primaried members of an entrenched Pittsburgh Democratic dynasty in 2018, and were both supported by Pittsburgh DSA. Not a great start for a progressive DA candidate, and it’s clear Jenkins never recovered.
Progressives fared better on the County Council, with 29-year-old challenger Bethany Hallam beating at-large Allegheny County Councilor and Council President John DeFazio, 53.4% to 46.3%. DeFazio had the support of unions and most of the Democratic establishment, but Hallam, a member of the local Democratic committee, had the support of Lee and Innamorato, the Sierra Club, the Stonewall Democrats, and the Allegheny County Young Democrats. Hallam, who is recovering from opioid addiction and has spent time in jail, ran on a platform of increasing funding for mental health and addiction treatment services, improving conditions at the county jail, pushing for criminal justice reform, banning conversion therapy, and banning fracking in the county. For a candidate to speak openly about their past with addiction is remarkable, and Hallam’s win hopefully opens the door to future candidates who similarly have firsthand experience with addiction, a perspective sorely needed when even progressive politicians often give in to punitive impulses when attempting to confront the opioid epidemic.
Last night, criminal justice reformers notched a victory in Philadelphia, with Rochelle Bilal crushing incumbent Sheriff Jewell Williams 41.1% to 27.2%. A third challenger, Malika Rahman, got 25.6% of the vote. Bilal, the former head of Philadelphia’s black police officers’ association, was endorsed by Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner, possibly the most progressive DA in the country, while Williams was supported by police unions (generally a bad sign in sheriff and prosecutorial races.) Of the three major candidates, Bilal’s platform was the least punitive, as she promised to use the sheriff’s office to lower the number of foreclosures (the sheriff’s office is tasked with selling foreclosed Philadelphia properties) and continue enforcing limits on ICE’s power at Philadelphia courthouses. Williams’s campaign was dogged by the three sexual harassment lawsuits he faced, which prompted the city’s Democratic committee to revoke their endorsement of him. No Republicans filed to run for sheriff, and Philadelphia is heavily Democratic, so Bilal will almost certainly be Philadelphia’s next sheriff.
Also on the ballot was Democratic Mayor Jim Kenney, who easily won renomination against charter school-friendly state Sen. Anthony Williams (who lost to Kenney in 2015) and former City Controller Alan Butkovitz (who lost renomination as Controller in 2017.)