Primary School 2/22
How do you like the new name?
As promised, we’re ~officially relaunching~ under our new name, Primary School. Our two years under the Data for Progress umbrella were great, and we are immensely thankful for the opportunity (without it, there never would’ve been a newsletter at all.) However, our time with Data for Progress had to come to an end. We kept the old name for a few weeks for continuity’s sake, and now is a good time to move beyond it.
We remain editorially independent, but we are now financially independent, too: our ability to keep doing this in the long term rests on your support. Paid subscriptions are the same as they were before—$5/month, $50/year—but we need them now more than ever. Of course, because we are asking you for more money, we will be giving you something for your money, too; we haven’t yet decided on what we’ll do for paid content besides occasional special previews of certain races, and potentially some more long-form writing - in fact, we have something from the latter category coming out soon - but we can guarantee it will be more than it was when subscriptions were meant to be supplemental. (We also welcome suggestions, within reason, because hey, you might know what you want to pay for better than we do.) Paid subscriptions also come with full access to our archive, including past subscriber issues and all regular issues over a year old. Regular issues less than a year old are open to everyone.
State legislative special elections
We’re continuing our experiment of doing combined spotlights/general news in issues, but at this point there’s enough actual news happening that it’s going to take up more space than the spotlights. This week, we’d like to talk about some upcoming special elections for state legislature.
CA-SD-30 (March 2)
We’ve actually tackled this one before; this is an update. The Los Angeles Times has made its endorsement in the race: Assemb. Sydney Kamlager. This is largely expected, as she is the prohibitive favorite for the seat. Notable, however, is the reasoning for the actual endorsement itself, which also sings the praises of progressive candidate Daniel Lee, to the point of saying they were considering endorsing him to get them both in the legislature. That sort of implies that they might endorse Lee if Kamlager wins and he runs for her old seat. Kamlager is seen as such a favorite in this race that people are already declaring for the future special election to her current Assembly district. Also issuing an endorsement this week was African-American newspaper the LA Sentinel, also backing Kamlager.
MA-HD-19th Suffolk (March 2)
There was big news in Massachusetts politics last December, while we were on hiatus: State House Speaker Robert DeLeo stepped down from his position after 12 years. The speakership race was decided quickly, going to Ronald Mariano, another old-school moderate. Something that couldn’t be decided quickly was the fate of his House district, since he resigned from the House, too. The 19th Suffolk district contains Winthrop and part of Revere, two historically middle-class Italian towns that have recently seen considerable diversification and immigration.
The primary is set for March 2, and the overwhelming establishment consensus choice is Valentino Capobianco, a Winthrop School Committee member, chief of staff to state Sen. Paul Feeney, and a former aide to Speaker DeLeo. Capobianco seems to have personally progressive politics, but the problem with the state house is that individual votes tend not to matter much; it’s all about who runs the place, and Capobianco doesn’t seem interested in changing that. Many local activists are excited instead about SEIU organizer Juan Jaramillo. In a major boost to his campaign, Bernie Sanders announced an endorsement this week. While many unions have gotten behind Capobianco, Jaramillo has both his SEIU chapter as well as teacher’s unions. Two other candidates are in the mix here. The first is cop candidate Jeffrey Turco. Turco is a lawyer, formerly of the county sheriff’s department, and a Winthrop Town Committee Member. He’s supported by cops and cop unions, and has stacked up piles of money in his campaign. Ed Markey campaign volunteer Alicia DelVento has some endorsements from Winthrop and EMILY’s List, but little money. That makes 3 serious Winthrop candidates, and only Jaramillo from Revere, a geographic balance that may work in his favor.
GA-HD-90 (March 9)
Longtime state Rep. Pam Stephenson was essentially pulled from the state house by her family after rapidly advancing dementia left her unable to function on a day to day basis. Her district, one of the most Democratic and most Black in the state, lies at the intersection of DeKalb, Henry, and Rockdale counties. The special election has already made it through the initial round, and is now headed to a runoff on March 9. The two candidates are former DeKalb County Commissioner Stan Watson and Georgia Democratic Party Committee Member Angela Moore. Moore is a perfectly average Democrat, but Stan Watson is a disaster. Watson, a former state rep, was subsequently elected to the DeKalb County Commission, and immediately attracted notice for spending public money on himself, a practice that would eventually earn him criminal charges to which he eventually pleaded guilty. As a former police commissioner, he’d gotten himself out of legal trouble before, but that time he got a year’s probation, and left politics for a bit.
Watson’s always landed on the more conservative side of the party, and not just because he ran on Making DeKalb County Great Again in 2008—that’s a funny coincidence more than it is anything serious. In the state house, Watson voted to cut taxes during the 2008 financial crisis budget crunch. And regarding police reform, we think his words, recorded on a DeKalb County cop blog, speak for themselves.
"We tired of studying public safety in DeKalb County. All you got to do is to talk to your officers and not listen to studies."
This time around he’s supported by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, never a good sign. Moore, meanwhile, has a ton of local officials.
CA-AD-79 (April 6)
Who wants to play musical chairs? Joe Biden got elected president, which means his vice presidential nominee, Kamala Harris, also got a new job. That means she left her Senate seat vacant, and it was filled by the California Secretary of State, Alex Padilla. So then his office was made vacant, and Assemb. Shirley Weber got tapped to fill it. Of course, that means her office is now up for grabs, and that’s what we’re here to talk about. The 79th Assembly district, in San Diego, has significant Hispanic, White, Asian, and Black populations, and is heavily Democratic.
Activist Aeiramique Glass-Blake might be familiar to readers of this newsletter from way back in 2019, during her campaign for Congress against Rep. Juan Vargas. Glass-Blake would eventually fail to make the ballot, but laid out a clear progressive platform for Congress before that. She raised almost no money, and this time around she doesn’t seem any more interested in reaching out to the kind of powerful groups that could move a lot of votes in a short time, like a special election requires.
AFSCME Labor Rep Leticia Munguia might wind up with some labor support in the race, considering what her day job is. She’s also being supported by some Latino politicians in the state, including the state’s Latino legislative caucus. Latino residents significantly outnumber Black residents in this district, but owing to a variety of factors, Latino political power has been weaker, and this could be a chance to change that. So far she hasn’t laid out an issues platform, and she spoke at an AIPAC conference, which is worrisome, but she has a very moderate opponent in Akilah Weber, and Munguia’s supporters are more progressive than hers.
Teacher and NEA Boardmember Shane Parmely has a history of progressive activism. In 2017, she went viral for filming herself refusing to answer questions from Border Patrol, and in 2018 she and a few other activists engaged in public civil disobedience against a law targeted at people feeding the homeless. She is the only non-binary and only white candidate in the race. Parmely’s been politically active, as both a leader of a more aggressive wing of her union and an elected state party delegate, the latter also being true of Glass-Blake.
But the overwhelming favorite is Weber’s own daughter, Akilah. Dr. Akilah Weber is an OB-GYN and city councilor from La Mesa, a suburb just east of San Diego. She has the endorsements of several unions, the California Democratic Party, and a list of political figures ranging from statewide electeds, like state Treasurer Fiona Ma, and big-name local politicians, like San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, to nationally famous activist leaders like legendary labor leader Dolores Huerta and local activists like reform-oriented 2018 San Diego County DA candidate Geneviéve Jones-Wright. Unfortunately, she is supportive of charter schools, which drain funding from traditional public schools; dodge accountability for working conditions and disciplinary practices which would not be accepted in public schools; discriminate against disabled, Black, brown, and English-language-learning students; and, by design, pocket taxpayer money, because profit is what private companies are supposed to do. That’s fodder for Munguia and Parmely (rightfully so.)
IL-HD-22 (Already happened)
Disgraced former Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, who was recently forced out of the speakership amid a federal corruption investigation, has resigned his seat in the state house, as well as the chairmanship of the Illinois Democratic Party. For the first time in fifty years, Mike Madigan is out of the state house; for the first time in thirty-eight years, save for a two-year period in the 1990s when Republicans took control, Mike Madigan is not in charge of the Illinois House; and for the first time in twenty-three years, Mike Madigan is not at the helm of the Illinois Democratic Party. It’s a stunning fall for a man who was the longest-serving leader of any state legislative body in the country, and whose power over Illinois was unrivaled even during the presidency of fellow Illinoisan Barack Obama.
In Illinois, local party committees fill vacancies in the state legislature; this means Madigan himself chose his successor. (Madigan’s vote accounted for 56% of the weighted vote at the vacancy convention, so it was quite literally impossible for Madigan’s choice to lose.) He chose 26-year-old staffer Edward Guerra Kodatt; prior to his selection as Madigan’s replacement, Kodatt worked for Alderman Marty Quinn, a loyal Madigan apparatchik.
Latino groups demanded a successor to Madigan conscious of the district’s demographics (more than two-thirds of the population is Latino), and Kodatt is, at least, a machine concession to that particular point. Kodatt’s mother is an Ecuadorian immigrant, and he is a fluent Spanish speaker. However, progressive groups still aren’t happy; while this is Madigan’s territory, there’s still reason to believe progressives can make good on their threats to take on Kodatt. The 22nd state House district is almost entirely contained within Illinois’s 3rd congressional district, where progressive Marie Newman unseated conservative machine creature Dan Lipinski in 2020 by making serious inroads with voters here in Chicago’s diverse, working-class Southwest Side and its inner southwestern suburbs. Kodatt may not hold positions anathema to Democratic voters like Lipinski’s opposition to abortion and gay rights, but Lipinski had fifteen years of incumbency and his father’s own twenty-two years of congressional service before him. This is a race to watch.
The Congressional Progressive Caucus endorsed state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson for this vacant seat; while Baton Rouge activist Gary Chambers Jr. seems more progressive and has enough money to be serious, KCP is an understandable endorsement from a tactical perspective, as she is generally supportive of CPC priorities and would be a massive improvement over former Rep. Cedric Richmond, who resigned to take a position as an advisor to Joe Biden. Carter Peterson also finds herself at the center of this week’s other LA-02 news item: she’s the focus of a negative independent expenditure, to the tune of $17,000 in digital ads, from a shadowy Republican super PAC called the American Jobs and Growth PAC. The PAC, which spent exclusively in support of Republicans and in opposition to Democrats in past cycles, appears to be operating on funds left over from the 2020 cycle; in 2020, its biggest funding sources were a DC conservative nonprofit, some random Arizona solar company, Apple executive Douglas Vetter, and by far the biggest contributor of all...Eagle Eye PAC, a Florida state-level PAC associated with then-state Reps. Dane Eagle and David Santiago?
Checking that PAC’s filings with the state of Florida, its biggest funding source was another Eagle-associated PAC, Conservative Coalition for Florida’s Future, which Eagle closed down after the 2018 cycle, transferring its assets to Eagle Eye PAC. This is all very anticlimactic; aside from an awful lot of small payments to Eagle for the PAC’s operating expenses (which to us looks like a very small-scale and time-intensive method of self-enrichment), the PAC is an entirely unremarkable Republican PAC, which is to say it’s stuffed to the brim with money from corporate interests, law firms, and other Republican politicians. And Eagle Eye itself is not making these expenditures; they’re just being made with a chunk of Eagle Eye’s money that’s been sitting in American Jobs and Growth PAC’s bank account. But it does confirm that Republicans want Richmond’s preferred candidate, state Sen. Troy Carter, to win this special election. They certainly aren’t rooting for Chambers, a Bernie supporter who went nationally viral for confronting a racist school board, and they can’t possibly expect a Republican to have a chance in such a Democratic district. Carter, like Richmond, is friendly with just about every conservative business interest imaginable, and many of his other views are fairly retrograde as well, as we’ve discussed in earlier issues.
We left NY-Gov out of last week’s issue because the electoral implications of the nursing home scandal weren’t yet clear, and we were so used to Cuomo scandals having zero impact on his popularity or power.
Clearly, that was a mistake.
First, some context. During the early days of the pandemic, New York was famously the epicenter of the American outbreak; Gov. Andrew Cuomo became a world-renowned figure for his daily COVID press conferences, which people apparently found comforting(?) and reassuring(?) instead of grating and obvious attempts for Cuomo to hog the cameras. (Your beloved New Jerseyan co-author notes that New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, whose state faced a similarly devastating outbreak at the same time, also held frequent press conferences, but did not get the same attention because he’s not a showboating camera hog, and also because he’s not the brother of a CNN anchor.) He won a goddamn Emmy for his ugly-ass PowerPoints and his weird plasticine foam mountains and his hideous pandemic posters.
As anyone with a functioning bullshit detector should’ve been able to tell you, it was obviously a sham. Some pointed it out at the time, too. Most prescient were disability activists—who struggle to get picked up by the mainstream media—and some fringe Republicans, who landed on a common criticism: Cuomo’s decision to discharge COVID-positive patients from hospitals back into nursing homes. The move was meant to avoid straining New York’s hospitals by allowing them to open up more beds for COVID patients. Of course, starting outbreaks at nursing homes is a great way to make hospitals more stressed in a vicious cycle of self-reinforcement, but that’s the logic the Empire State Emperor went with.
The disability activists turned out to be horribly correct. (The Republicans were correct on accident.) New York saw thousands of deaths at nursing homes, a death rate higher than many other states. Cuomo, desperate to protect his image, apparently conspired with his aides to cover up the true death toll of the nursing home policy by classifying thousands of nursing home deaths as having occurred outside of nursing homes. State Attorney General Tish James had been investigating this for a while, and it was already generating some bad headlines because her office had found and publicized discrepancies in reported deaths, but shit absolutely hit the fan in early February.
When covering or reading about Andrew Cuomo, you need to know the names of two aides: Rich Azzopardi and Melissa DeRosa. They are two of his closest advisers, his most trusted fixers, and his most loyal attack dogs. When three progressive female legislators held a press conference decrying Cuomo’s $25,000-a-plate budget-season fundraiser featuring his state budget director, Azzopardi barged into a press room in Albany and screamed that the legislators were “fucking idiots,” clarifying that he wanted that on the record. When New York City’s legendarily incompetent Board of Elections sent ballots to the wrong Brooklyn voters, and one of those same legislators (Bronx state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi) tweeted at Cuomo to fix it “or I’ll primary you myself,” DeRosa responded “Are you drunk? Get a grip.” Their job is to lie, dissemble, harass, and insult as the Governor of New York’s personal enforcers. And one of them royally fucked up.
In a Zoom hearing with state legislators on the state’s handling of the pandemic, DeRosa accidentally admitted that the state had withheld nursing home death data for fear of criticism or punishment from the Trump administration. Legislators could hardly believe what they heard, even if it wasn’t much of a surprise. What DeRosa didn’t quite seem to realize until after she spoke was that she had just confessed to a coverup—one involving thousands of deaths.
In response to DeRosa’s comments, Cuomo held a damage-control press conference in which he insisted the legislature had actually been told about the delay, a claim legislators of both parties swiftly denied. A few days later, Queens Assemb. Ron Kim, one of the many Democrats who criticized Cuomo after DeRosa’s inadvertent admission of a coverup, told CNN Cuomo had personally called him the night DeRosa’s comments leaked to berate him and threaten his career. After Kim went to CNN, Cuomo had a meltdown and launched into a bizarre tirade against Kim at his next press conference, instantly guaranteeing national news coverage and sparking a wave of stories from staffers and politicians alike who confirmed that Cuomo responds to literally any criticism in this utterly deranged, menacing manner. Kim, for his part, is now calling for impeachment. He is correct.
Andrew Cuomo’s fall would fundamentally reshape New York politics. Even though Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul may be as conservative as Cuomo, or even more, she is not an unhinged, incompetent, attention-seeking tyrant. (Also a much easier primary target in 2022.) Should Cuomo hang on, and he probably will, this is the first true crack in the armor of bullshit he’s built around himself throughout his thirty years in politics, and that could make his 2022 primary race an entirely different game—potentially drawing an opponent with preexisting political stature, and potentially losing the support of political actors beyond the state’s burgeoning activist left, which fueled challengers Zephyr Teachout in 2014 and Cynthia Nixon 2018.
Former Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy released an internal poll of the race, which is well on its way to becoming the most-polled election of the year. The poll, conducted by Global Strategy Group, found results similar to the YouGov results from last week. Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe maintains his wide lead at 42% of the vote, with rapist—sorry, “alleged rapist” Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax at 14%, Carroll Foy at 7%, and state Sen. Jennifer McClellan at 6%. This is a reiteration of what last week’s independent Yougov poll found: McAuliffe is a recent governor with sky-high name recognition and he would win easily if the election were held today. What this poll tries to examine is an election that takes place after candidates make their case to voters. A “balanced introduction” yields a 37 TMac-27 JCF race, which is encouraging, but would be a lot more encouraging if the campaign had actually included the text of their introductions. The Carroll Foy campaign made sure to mention that the poll also included negative message-testing, and that when read negatives about McAuliffe’s tenure and ethics, Carroll Foy leaps ahead to a 42-23 lead. Of course, this isn’t realistic; not every voter will hear any one negative message, nor will negative messaging go unanswered against the famously hard-charging Macker. But it does indicate that Carroll Foy’s campaign is thinking about going on the attack, and McAuliffe hasn’t faced a negative campaign since 2013. His support might be softer than that of a similarly popular politician who’s made it through a tough campaign recently.
Carroll Foy received the support of the the Amalgamated Transit Union, a small but generally politically active union with a particular concentration in Northern Virginia, where both she and McAuliffe are from, because of the presence of the Washington, DC area’s large public transit system, which extends into suburban Maryland and Northern Virginia. Virginia is not a state with many union members; ATU is the rare union with a strong presence in the state. Meanwhile, AFSCME, the union for government workers, has gotten behind former governor Terry McAuliffe.
Carroll Foy also won the endorsements of the mayor and vice-mayor of her childhood home of Petersburg, in something of a blow to both McAuliffe (who as a popular former governor has a chance at getting pretty much every endorsement simply by default) and McClellan (who is from Richmond and is running a very Richmond-centric campaign; Petersburg is less than ten miles south of Richmond.) It has a population of just 32,000, but it is overwhelmingly Black and almost entirely Democratic, so it punches above its weight in Democratic primaries. Since all incorporated cities in Virginia are “independent cities”—meaning they are effectively their own counties—there is no higher-ranking local official in Petersburg, and the only other Petersburg politician whose endorsement could conceivably move votes is state Del. Lashrecse Aird, who has remained neutral thus far. (Carroll Foy grew up in Petersburg, but lives in, and represented, a district in the outer suburbs of DC.) For McClellan to have a chance, she needs to lock down the Richmond area in order to overcome McAuliffe’s statewide name recognition and Carroll Foy’s strength among progressives; this is yet another sign she is unable to do so, following numerous endorsements of McAuliffe, and even one of Carroll Foy, from Richmond-area legislators.
Communications Workers of America for Amit Bagga (Council District 26, Queens), Juan Ardila (Council District 30, Queens; challenging incumbent Bob Holden in the Democratic primary), Jaslin Kaur (Council District 23, Queens), Donovan Richards (Queens Borough President; incumbent facing a progressive challenge from Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer)
NYC Central Labor Council for a bunch of incumbents+machine candidates, but also Tiffany Cabán (Council District 22, Queens), Shekar Krishnan (Council District 25, Queens), Lincoln Restler (Council District 33, Brooklyn), and Alexa Avilés (Council District 39, Brooklyn)
The endorsements this week are mostly self-explanatory, but we will note that three members of NYC DSA’s slate—Cabán, Kaur, and Avilés—got major union endorsements this week. In Cabán’s and Avilés’s cases, this is likely an acknowledgement that the socialists are prohibitive favorites for the seats they’re running for; in Kaur’s case, however, CWA (which, to be fair, is consistently on the left flank of the labor movement) is choosing to side with DSA in a race the establishment very much intends to contest. Organized labor has been slow to warm up to DSA, but every endorsement like this is a reflection of NYC DSA’s rapid rise to become an influential player in city politics.
Maya Wiley got some tough news this week when the NYC Campaign Finance Board announced that she wasn’t going to be getting her matching funds this month. She’s probably not going to miss out on anything (she’ll get her back money once she qualifies), but it’s an inconvenience nonetheless. However, it pales in comparison to this week’s good news for her campaign: the backing of SEIU Local 1199. 1199 is the city’s largest union, covering 200,000 workers. In terms of raw organizational force, no one is able to match them citywide. This is a big deal, and it means she is unquestionably a top-tier candidate, alongside Eric Adams, Scott Stringer, and Andrew Yang.
Speaking of Andrew Yang, he’s really moving in for the Haredi vote. The Haredi communities in New York, a branch of ultra-Orthodox Judaism, are relatively small in number (probably under 100,000 adults, though there is no firm count), but are politically valuable owing to their tendency to vote as a bloc. The largest communities of Haredim are located in the neighborhoods of Borough Park, Midwood, Crown Heights, and Williamsburg in Brooklyn, but significant communities exist in the other four boroughs as well. They’re generally politically conservative, but there are local, parochial issues that tend to decide their vote.
One of the primary issues are yeshivas, religious schools set up by the communities that their children go to. While some provide a passable secular education, most are woefully lacking. Five of the 28 don’t even offer math classes, and some parents claim that official studies were juiced to get even that sorry result. What to do about an entire neighborhood that sets up their own schools and simply refuses to include secular education is a difficult subject, and politicians have taken various tacts with it. At a forum on Thursday, Andrew Yang fully sided with the yeshivas, and Haredi community leaders are now talking him up as a potential candidate for the bloc vote (a blow to Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who, as the most conservative Democratic candidate and the only elected official from Brooklyn in the race, had naturally been courting Haredi leaders.) Additionally, Yang took on a new campaign staffer last week: David Schwartz, a former staffer and political protégé of former Assemb. Dov Hikind. While pretty much any Borough Park politician is going to be conservative, Hikind is a Trump-supporting, blackface-wearing right-winger…who also happens to be the area’s longest serving politician, even if he did retire a couple years ago. Yang’s clearly aiming to ingratiate himself with the community leaders, and it seems like it’s working.
Brooklyn Borough President
Council Members Antonio Reynoso and Brad Lander endorsed one another in their respective bids for higher office; Reynoso, a council member from Bushwick, is running for Brooklyn Borough President, while Lander, a council member from Park Slope, is running for New York City Comptroller. Both have positioned themselves as progressives, so this makes sense, but it’s still helpful to both; Reynoso represents working-class but gentrifying Black and Latino neighborhoods on the northeastern edge of Brooklyn, while Lander represents affluent white neighborhoods on Brooklyn’s western waterfront. Each benefits from access to the other’s base of voters.
One of Reynoso’s main rivals, fellow Council Member Robert Cornegy, had a much more unpleasant week in the news; an ethics complaint was filed by a former staffer, alleging Cornegy pressured his City Council staff to donate to his campaign and ordered them to do campaign work on official time. All of that is, if true, a clear and severe ethics violation; THE CITY’s Claudia Irizarry Aponte spoke with four current or former staffers (not including the complainant) who confirmed behavior like that alleged in the complaint. Cornegy is a tentative frontrunner and the machine’s choice in this race.
Council District 13
Last week, we discussed the imperiled career of ethically-challenged conservative white machine politician Mark Gjonaj, of the Bronx’s Council District 13, who faced a rematch of a bruising 2017 primary with community activist Marjorie Velázquez in what is now Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s backyard. This week, he dropped his reelection bid, stating in part that “the current political climate is not favorable to a centrist ideology my constituency, community and I embrace,” and blaming the steady stream of unfavorable stories about his corruption in office on anti-Albanian racism. In reality, his constituency is home to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for whom it has voted in both the primary and the general election in two straight election cycles, and Jamaal Bowman’s district is literally across the street from Gjonaj’s. Gjonaj’s constituency is not, in fact, particularly keen on centrism. Nor is it keen on white machine politicians, seeing as it loves voting them out even when they’re not facing a mountain of corruption allegations, a City Council-initiated ethics investigation, and a separate investigation by the office of the Bronx District Attorney, like Gjonaj is. The field may change now that Gjonaj is out, but for now, Velázquez has to be seen as at least a tentative favorite.
Corrections: We made two mistakes in
our last issue
, which focused on NYC. The first was typographical in nature: CD-26 candidate Julie Won’s name was misspelled as “Julie Wong”. The second attributed a controversy from incumbent CD-20 Council Member Peter Koo - a speech in which he said that BLM stands for “Business Lives Matter” - as having been said by candidate John Choe. We apologize for both errors. They have been corrected on the website’s versions of the issue.