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Gearing up for election season

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in August.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in August. Credit: Charles Eckert

Daily Point

Cuomo’s primary politics

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s idea to move New York’s presidential primary date to the second week in February created fireworks among the state’s political class on Thursday night, when word first leaked out. By Friday morning, Cuomo acknowledged during a radio interview that it was unlikely to happen, especially because changing the presidential primary date from April 28 would mean Democrats would have to forfeit up to 50 percent of their presidential delegates.

But, The Point learned Friday afternoon of a new plan in the works that calls for keeping the presidential primary on April 28 while adding the Congressional and state legislative races to that date. Eleven other states have such a mega-primary process.

The issue arose because Cuomo has to sign a bill establishing the April 28 presidential primary date by Oct. 2. If he vetoes that bill, the date for New Yorkers to pick the delegates to the national conventions automatically defaults to Feb. 4. However, unifying the federal and state primaries — now set for June 23 — to the April date would require the State Legislature to return to Albany later this year and pass a new measure. 

Why is this fire drill taking place?

An early primary gives challengers less time to mobilize. Advantage: incumbents. Plus, the higher turnout from the presidential contest could dim the influence of activist groups such as those that launched the career of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, took on the State Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference, and nearly won a victory in the Queens district attorney race. 

Given the political climate, some New York incumbents are looking for all the help they can get, especially the senior and/or more moderate members of the state’s congressional delegation who fear becoming the next Joe Crowley. Polling has shown that a combined primary helps incumbents because more moderates will turn out for what is likely to be a presidential nomination still up for grabs. Those same voters would be more inclined to support familiar down-the-ballot names such as Jerry Nadler, Eliot Engel, Yvette Clarke, Greg Meeks, Hakeem Jeffries, Carolyn Maloney, Tom Suozzi and Kathleen Rice. 

The move also would help Cuomo drive his legislative agenda and avoid the craziness at the end of the state legislative session in June, when activists would have the perfect timing to demand more left-leaning measures from frightened incumbents running for the Senate and Assembly. Cuomo would sell the plan with the argument that It would save the state at least the $30 million in election costs to run a second primary. Not to mention that the plan also would save mainline Democrats from spending a fortune defending incumbents.

The question now is whether Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins want to protect their incumbents as well.

- Rita Ciolli @RitaCiolli

Talking Point

The Big Apple: The center of everything

While New York State primary date chaos erupts behind the scenes, the presidential contenders themselves have been publicly traipsing around New York City this week, drawn for fundraising, CNN’s climate change town hall and other TV appearances.

Hence, Mayor Pete Buttigieg munching pizza and telling the New York Post, “I find this city just inexhaustible.” And former Vice President Joe Biden getting some Bronx cheers outside his Manhattan fundraiser co-hosted by a guy with ties to a fossil fuel company.

Former HUD Secretary Julian Castro hopped on Brian Lehrer’s WNYC show after the usual “Ask the Mayor” segment on Friday, talking about how to help NYCHA and solve homelessness, issues on which the actual mayor of NYC hasn’t made much progress. Knowing their audience, Castro and Buttigieg posted pictures of riding the subway, with former Rep. Beto O’Rourke going the farthest by opting for a BoltBus ticket to Boston. 

Sen. Bernie Sanders popped up in social media posts with activists and left-leaning legislators, and plenty of New Yorkers on Twitter seemed to have bumped into one candidate or another. (“Hey, it’s Andrew Yang!”)

The candidates will be back soon, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has a big Washington Square event planned later this month. 

Despite the Democratic energy, it’s not as if the national GOP has totally abandoned the liberal media capital. On Monday, former White House spokesman Sean Spicer is scheduled to appear at a fundraiser at the Old Bermuda Inn in Staten Island for Nicole Malliotakis, the challenger in the 11th Congressional District. It’s a $100-a-head event, says Malliotakis’ spokesman. 

Spicer won’t be selling books. Or dancing, stars or otherwise. 

- Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

Pencil Point


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Reference Point

A plea finally answered

The Urban Avenue grade crossing in New Cassel was officially eliminated on Thursday morning, when traffic reopened via an underpass as part of the Long Island Rail Road’s third track project.

It was the first of eight grade crossings that will be eliminated, and was announced by LIRR and other officials at the site and by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in a news release later in the day.

What escaped attention was the historic significance of the timing of the event. It occurred almost to the day, 78 years later, that the Newsday editorial board made one of its many pleas for the elimination of all LIRR grade crossings.

The board’s editorial on Sept. 3, 1941, was sparked by an accident at the Urban Avenue crossing the week before when the back of a car with two youths inside was torn off by an LIRR train at the unprotected crossing. One year earlier, on Sept. 18, 1940, the crossing was the scene of an even more notorious event — the tragic death of 2-year-old Virginia Lanzilotta, who was looking for her mother and an older brother and wandered onto the track in front of an onrushing eastbound train shortly after 6 p.m.

The crossing, which lacked both gates and warning lights, was the site of several earlier accidents, according to news reports at the time.

Newsday’s board was unequivocal in its condemnation of such crossings.

“Dangerous grade crossings must go,” the board wrote in 1941. “There is no argument about that.”

The board also rued the long process required to eliminate a grade crossing.

“In the meantime, more lives are endangered daily at unprotected, or inadequately protected crossings,” the board wrote. “This is a problem the Long Island Rail Road should not ignore.”

Given the crossing’s lack of protections, one of the more chilling aspects of Virginia Lanzilotta’s death was the report issued by LIRR Superintendent Charles F. Adams a week later. It put the blame for the accident on Virginia herself, saying she was a “trespasser” who was walking on the railroad’s right of way.

At least that won’t happen at Urban Avenue ever again.

- Michael Dobie @mwdobie