Candlelight Vigil Against Gun Violence

Led by District Leader Marc Landis, 100s of Upper West Siders turned out to mourn the tragedy at Newtown and talk about steps to address gun violence in America.

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CFD and the City; Poised for 2013

CFD has had such a tremendously successful 2012, and I am proud to be a part of such a hard-working, progressive, unified team as we enter 2013. We should all be ecstatic for the CFD renaissance that we have all helped bring about.

Membership is growing. Our Obama Headquarters was superb. We had 500+ volunteers and made more than 30,000 phone calls. Our three petitioning seasons were all conducted effectively, with members collecting many 1000s of signatures in support of our endorsed federal, state, and local candidates.

2013 is shaping up to be an amazing year for our club. First, and foremost, we have one of the most important city-level election cycles in years. Our city will have a new Mayor, Comptroller, and Public Advocate. Both City Council Districts that include significant portions of the Upper West Side will have new leaders as Gale Brewer and Robert Jackson are term limited.

We are poised for a new New York City Council that will be radically reshaped almost overnight. Nearly half of the City Council will be new, allowing for significant – and positive – changes to occur in how our city is governed.

CFD is going to have some great candidates to consider in these city races next year, two of them die-hard Upper West Side activists and CFD leaders. Our long-time champion and progressive workhorse, Borough President Scott Stringer, has only just announced his candidacy for City Comptroller. He has immediately become the overwhelming favorite to win that race and bring some Upper West Side values to this critical city-wide position.

For City Council, among the five candidates currently announced, we have our own District Leader Marc Landis running to replace Gale Brewer in the 6th Council District. A progressive Democrat, with 25 years of activism and community leadership under his belt, Marc is uniquely poised to be productive right from the beginning and to be part of the new leadership class in our next City Council.

There is more on the ballot this year than just municipal elections. It is also a Democratic Party leadership re-election year. When we petition for our endorsed candidates, we will also be petitioning for ourselves. In addition to a slew of judges, we will also have our full County Committee and District Leader slate to get on the ballot.

Amazingly, depending on what happens in Albany, petitioning for all of these candidates could be as soon as March! As of now the primary election is still scheduled for September, meaning we would be petitioning in the normal time over the summer. But rumors are swirling and the primary may be moved into the summer. It is certainly an exciting time to be an Upper West Side Democrat.

Learning from the Primary, Preparing for the General

Despite significant challenges caused by redistricting, poll site changes, election district renumbering, long shifts and overheated gymnasiums, the Primary Election was conducted largely successfully by very hard-working, underpaid Upper West Siders. But will we be ready for the hordes of voters on November 6th?

As anyone who went to the polls this past September 13th will know, we as a club can help ensure a smoother General Election. We’re working for a huge turnout of people who are eager to vote for President Obama and Congressman Nadler, but we don’t want their patience to wear thin because of preventable snags in the process.

CFD District Leaders cover approximately a dozen poll sites between West 80th and West 100th Street. On Primary Day, your District Leaders made the rounds to all of our sites to help where we could and catch problems before they got out of control. In observing our sites and talking with our approximately 200 poll workers, we picked up on a lot of things we can do now to help improve the experience for our voters in November.

We heard of numerous instances of people not knowing that they now vote at a new location. For example, after 8:30 p.m., at PS 166 on West 89th between Columbus and Amsterdam, Joan witnessed a woman come into the poll site, only to be told that her ED had been moved to West End and 86th! With briefcase and oversized handbag in tow, the exhausted businesswoman was going to try to race six long and dark blocks to cast her vote. Soon after, a mother with two young kids and a baby in a stroller came in the door. Having just encountered the previous voter, she was panicked about where her poll site was. Fortunately, although her ED number had changed, she still had a chance to vote there, at her old site, before 9.

So, compounding the change in poll sites, most of us have new Election District numbers, which means that even when you are at the right site, you have to be sure that you are at the right table. Help the workers deal with the crush by knowing where you’re going ahead of time.
Likewise, part of our job at CFD is to make sure that our neighbors are also well-informed. This year is going to be especially important to have a good communication effort. We want everyone to be well-informed about location and procedures beforehand. As incomprehensible as it may seem to us political activists, many people haven’t voted in four years, when we were using the old machines!

First, when you talk to your neighbors, remind them that things have changed because of the once-a-decade redistricting.

Second, we need your help posting “Hall Cards” to inform voters precisely where their poll site is. We want to cover as many buildings of the hundreds in our territory as we can. Anyone who has a printer at home can help. Just contact District Leader Nick Prigo at and we’ll make sure you get a customized document you can print and put in the right locations in your building.

Third, suggest that they visit the newly-designed (finally) Board of Elections website, There, they can look up the status of their registration, which election district they live in, where they vote, and thanks to Councilmember Gale Brewer, they can now view their ballot ahead of time.

Nick Prigo is the 69th AD’s Newest District Leader

Thank you all for endorsing and electing me to the position of Male District Leader for the 69th Assembly District, Part B. It is a privilege and an honor to join the CFD leadership team and to represent the almost 18,000 Democrats in my district. I want to also thank my co-District Leader Joan Paylo for being so supportive and for helping me through the process.

As I have been reflecting on what it means to be a CFD District Leader and what I need to do to help continue the CFD reform tradition, I keep coming back to two things. One is a challenge that we face, the other is the possibilities that lie before us.

The challenge is the continually changing nature of the Upper West Side. Matching national social trends, new Upper West Siders tend to switch jobs more often, move more often, work longer hours to meet high costs of living, get married later, have children later, and so on, and so on.

The impact of these trends is that our newest neighbors are going to have less commitment to their community and less time to be engaged in civic and political issues. Finding creative and meaningful ways to engage these Upper West Siders is going to be an important task for our club going forward, and something I look forward to working on.

With this challenge in mind, I also think of the possibilities that lie before us. 2012 and 2013 are going to be critical, difficult, and wonderful years for CFD. As we go all-out to re-elect President Obama we will also be laying the foundation for our work in 2013, where we will be playing a central role in electing progressive Upper West Siders to multiple levels of city government.

I look forward to being a part of the CFD leadership team that tackles challenges head-on and helps us achieve the possibilities that lie before us. When we put in the hours and carry our progressive message to our neighbors we make a real and lasting difference in people’s lives.

We should all feel a strong sense of pride that the work we do here at the community level can spread far beyond our own borders. Our Attorney General Eric Schneiderman – the head of a presidential task force on mortgage banking abuses – is but the most recent example of how our club’s legacy of hard work continues to have a meaningful impact on the lives of Americans all across our country.

I look forward to continuing that CFD tradition.

What Is The Democratic State Convention?

The Democratic State Convention is similar to the Democratic National Convention, which occurs during presidential election years – but this is just for New York. For decades, the State Democratic Party conducted nearly all of its official business during these conventions, including determining who would be the Democratic nominee for statewide offices. If you go on and search the archives for the term “Democratic State Convention,” you’ll find articles going as far back as 1865! Thanks to inventions like the telephone and the Internet, the party is no longer reliant on gathering all members of the Democratic State Committee together in one place to conduct its business. But the convention still plays a central role in Democratic politics – particularly for aspiring candidates.

The delegates for this convention will have a busy several days passing resolutions for the governance of the party on matters ranging from establishing rules to endorsing policies, listening to speeches from prospective candidates, and finally voting to nominate Democratic candidates for the statewide offices of Governor, Comptroller, and Attorney General, and the federal offices of United States Senator. A candidate is not the official Democratic nominee just because he or she wins the vote at the convention. Any candidate who receives 25% of the votes at the convention will still be a candidate in the Democratic primary on September 14. A particularly determined candidate can also go through the petition process to have his or her name added to the ballot. But there is no doubt a strong showing at the convention bodes well for the organizing skill of a campaign.

How Many Registered Democrats Are On The Upper West Side?

At first glance, this seems like an easy question to answer. After all, the New York State and New York City Board of Elections regularly publish statistics on who is registered to vote. But looking more closely into it, the real question becomes how we define the Upper West Side. After all, many elected officials’ districts only contain a piece of the Upper West Side, and it’s not like the Boards of Elections list whether a particular Democrat shops at Zabar’s or Fairway.

As of last November, the 6th City Council District, represented by Gale Brewer contains 75,113 active registered Democrats, out of a total active voter list of 109,703 (68% Democrats). But that seems too low, since Council Members Inez Dickens and Melissa Mark-Viverito also represent portions of our neighborhood. We can’t go by Congressional district, unless we want to start claiming such landmarks as Wall Street, Times Square, and the Brooklyn Bridge as “Upper West Side by proxy,” since they’re represented by consummate Upper West Sider Jerry Nadler.

The 67th Assembly District, represented by Linda Rosenthal, has 59,366 active registered Democrats out of a total of 87,354 active voters (also 68% Democrats.) Add to that the 61,390 active registered Democrats in the 69th Assembly District (a phenomenal 77% Democrats), represented by Danny O’Donnell, and you get 120,756 as the best approximation.

Of course, some would say the real test of a Democrat is not whether they register but whether they come out and vote… and vote for Democrats! The 67th and 69th Assembly Districts combined for 107,892 votes for the Obama-Biden ticket on the Democratic line in 2008 – not too shabby! In 2010, 55,602 Upper West Siders cast their ballot for Andrew Cuomo for Governor. But in 2009, only 19,560 Upper West Siders pulled a lever for Bill Thompson for Mayor.

The moral of the story: we may be doing great in registration, but it’s up to us to turn those potential voters into solid, Democratic votes come Election Day!

Why Do We Hold Primaries?

The primary elections are when a club like Community Free Democrats is often busiest, working to get out the vote for the candidates we endorsed. Certainly, primaries are great political theater. The presidential contest in 2008 was nothing short of epic, and every progressive New Yorker has their own story of hardscrabble election contests fought on the streets of New York to make sure the best possible Democrat found their way onto the ballot to face off against the Republican. It may seem surprising, then, that year after year we read stories about voter turnout for primaries declining. It might also be surprising – and confusing – to hear talk of considering “non-partisan primaries” considered by the New York City Charter Commission.

So let’s get back to basics – why do we have primaries in the first place?

In the 1880s, New York State instituted a major reform to allow any candidate who gathered the requisite signatures on a petition to be on the ballot, alongside candidates who were nominated by a major party. This reform helped ensure a candidate could take their case directly to the people and sidestep the shady deals required to deal with Tammany Hall and other patronage machines. But problems remained. For one thing, the reforms in New York did not spread to all the states. For another, the Democratic candidate might be a true champion on the party’s issues, or else might be a stooge for Tammany Hall while the true liberal Democrat was campaigning without his party’s label.

In the period of 1908-1912, holding direct elections for nominees of a party – the primary system we know today – became one of the chief reform aims of politicians in the progressive movement. The idea was that the more you allowed direct participation with voters, the better the defense against corruption and cronyism. Keep in mind that “progressive” in those days didn’t automatically translate to “Democrat.” The most famous progressive at the time was President Theodore Roosevelt – a Republican – and in the three-way race for president in 1912, Democrat Woodrow Wilson, Republican William Howard Taft, and “Progressive Party” Theodore Roosevelt all embraced progressive election reforms to one extent or another. The goal was to give reformers – those most likely to be on the outs with the political machines – a fighting chance not only to be their party’s nominee, but to drag the party along with them towards the future of more direct democracy for America.

With this history, it’s no wonder primary elections are where upstart challengers still have a fighting chance to establish their credentials and force a debate on the Democratic Party’s priorities and principles. Without a primary in New York, Ed Koch might have been Governor instead of Mario Cuomo. Without a primary in West Virginia in 1960, John F. Kennedy might have never convinced Democrats he could win an election despite anti-Catholic bigotry. So as we approach September 14, and you’re talking with one of the folks who sit out the primary thinking their vote won’t matter – you can tell them that one vote has, can, and will continue to make a difference in choosing the Democrats we want representing us come November!

Why Petition?

June can mean that first day at the beach, the roar of a crowd at a baseball game, the swelter of an onslaught of humidity, or the joy of the last day of school. But for stalwart Democrats, June usually means one thing: petition season is here! But why do we petition to get our candidates on the ballot in New York State?

The political scene in 1880 was dominated by the legendary political machine of Tammany Hall and marked by some outrageous scandals, both of which called into question the fairness and validity of elections. Prompted by the scandals, New York instituted two major reforms.

The first was the use of the so-called “Australian ballot,” a uniform paper ballot provided at public expense with all the candidates listed and designed to avoid bias and any possibility that someone could figure out how a particular voter had cast his (and at the time, it was regrettably just “his”) ballot.

The second allowed two different ways for a candidate to be put on the ballot: be nominated by a political party, which had been the only option prior to this reform, or collect an adequate number of signatures of registered voters on a petition. This meant that a candidate without the backing of a machine could get onto the ballot by taking his or her case directly to the people.

That’s still the kernel of the system we have today. So remember that while you’re sweating in the sun at a street fair or mustering up the courage to engage your neighbor in a discussion about politics. You’re participating in a proud democratic (small “d”) tradition!

Statewide candidates for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, and Comptroller were put onto the ballot at the New York State Democratic Convention, but the other candidates whom CFD has endorsed must earn their spot on the ballot the old-fashioned way – and you’re a big part of that process! So come help out with our petitioning this summer.