Blue to Bluer: Paul Newell Responds to Dan Cantor's Critique

by: Paul Newell

Wed May 07, 2008 at 12:25

(Newell's response. He should also be in and out during the day to answer questions and respond to comments. - promoted by Chris Bowers)

Dan Cantor’s response to BlogPAC’s endorsement of my campaign to unseat NY Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver fundamentally, even willfully, misses the point. I could not allow it to go unrebutted.

First let me say that I have great respect for the Working Families Party, and I intend to ask for their endorsement. WFP has, by in large, been a force for progressive change in New York State. I have disagreed with a number of WFP decisions - in particular their support for conservative Republican State Senators. I recognize, however, that the WFP is trying to use its influence as wisely as possible in an impossibly corrupt Albany and that they do so with the interests of poor and working New Yorkers in mind. Often, this requires supporting the status quo to maintain a foot in the (generally closed) door. It is in this spirit that I read Mr. Cantor’s critique on my campaign. I do not agree with the strategy, but I do understand and respect it.

However, to say that “an attack on [Silver] from the left is, well, intellectually shallow and politically naive” is, while anything but naïve, intellectually dishonest.

Sheldon Silver is neither a progressive Democrat nor a conservative Democrat. Sheldon Silver is a status quo Democrat.

He is often on the right side of the issues. He is just as often on the wrong side of the issues. Often this can be seen on the same issue. Sheldon Silver chooses his positions so as to best maintain his power. As Silver’s power derives from a Democratic held body, it is often in his interest to strike a comparatively progressive pose. But progressive action is rare.

More common is an alliance with the Joe Bruno and the State Senate Republican majority to kill progressive legislation in secret, and then claim credit for supporting it in public.

More in  the extended entry.

Paul Newell :: Blue to Bluer: Paul Newell Responds to Dan Cantor's Critique

Case in point: Rockefeller Drug Laws. It is true that last year Mr. Silver’s house passed a one-house reform of these immensely destructive laws. However, as Mr. Cantor knows full well, for the better part of this decade Silver has used his outsized powers to prevent such legislation from even coming to a vote – even as Joe Bruno’s reactionary State Senate took the lead.

Case in point: Marriage Equality. Last year Silver did eventually pass a one house marriage equality bill. Yet for years Silver barred LGBT members of the Assembly from even sponsoring Marriage Equality legislation. His reasoning, as always, is difficult to discern. But his tactic of controlling other (Democratic) legislators’ actions through his complete control of member items, staff budgets, committee appointments and even salaries is all too obvious.

Case in point: Campaign Finance Reform. Mr. Cantor’s argument is perhaps most absurd when he claims that Sheldon Silver is an advocate for Clean Money Clean Elections public financing. Silver has collected over $11 million dollars in special interest contributions in the past few years – most of it in unregulated “soft-money” to “housekeeping accounts”. Silver takes hundreds of thousands of dollars a year from developers like Bruce Ratner – and shamelessly returns the favor with multi-million dollar giveaways like the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn. To argue that Sheldon Silver, of all people, would suddenly want to end the rivers of money that sustain his power if (and when) we flip the State Senate is, to put it mildly, “politically naïve”.

But the details of who supported what bill when misses the point. Sheldon Silver and Joe Bruno preside in tandem over the most opaque, dysfunctional and undemocratic state legislature in the country. In doing so, they lock 19 million New Yorkers out of the room in which our state is governed. In one of the bluest states in the nation, a return to democracy would almost surely mean a return to New York as a leader, not a laggard, in progressive legislation. Look at the leadership New Jersey (a significantly less progressive state) has shown as the party machine has lost its grip on Trenton.

Mr. Cantor argues that Mr. Silver’s obstructionism was valuable when the other parties in the debate were notably corrupt Republicans. This is only true if one assumes that the 108 Democratic members of NY’s 150 member Assembly are conservatives. They are not. Replacing Sheldon Silver would not give us a Republican or even Blue-Dog Speaker. Replacing Sheldon Silver will give us a progressive, reform-minded Democratic Speaker.

Mr. Cantor also assumes that Albany’s broken system is the only possible world. Because any truly democratic system in NY State would surely be a Democratic system – and a progressive one at that. NY is an overwhelmingly blue state and trending bluer all the time. Indeed, even were New York City removed from NYS, we would still have a healthy registration advantage. The large majority of New Yorkers support Marriage Equality, Drug Policy Reform, funding for affordable housing, and accountable government.

Yet we continue to lose on these issues. Why? Because when only 3 men in a secret room determine all policy, the voters are left out.  The only way New Yorkers will take our government back is at the ballot box.

Reform, Cantor appears to argue, should be demanded only from those politicians unable to deliver it. If we allow NY's most powerful Democrat to continue collecting millions from developers, if we allow every important policy decision to be decided in a smoke filled room, if we allow legislative leadership to have total control of the agenda, what is the point of reform?

Mr. Cantor claims to be unacquainted with blog culture. Fine. I humbly suggest that he learn a bit about the work and research of a community of active, intelligent progressives nationwide before he accuses them of being “intellectually shallow and politically naive”. WFP may view its roll as an advocate within a corrupt system – required to scratch the backs of the powerful to plead the case of the ignored. The netroots is adamantly committed to “crashing the gates”. Both strategies are valid and needed.

But “Better than Joe Bruno” does not and should not cut it with a community committed to more and better Democrats.  Nor does it cut it with Lower Manhattanies.

I appreciated Mr. Cantor’s suggestion that the netroots “meet with tenant and union leaders, with the public financing of elections crowd, with LGBT advocates.” I am confident that, so long as these meetings are held off the record and without fear of reprisal, they will find great dissatisfaction among activists with Sheldon Silver and the New York Democratic Party more generally. In addition to meeting with activists, I have also spoken to thousands of Lower Manhattanites in this campaign. They have no doubt that Albany is broken – and that Sheldon Silver is part of the problem.

Sheldon Silver may not, as Mr. Cantor points out, offer “glitter”. His $11 million dollars of special interest money do not require it.

I also do not offer glitter, as anyone who encounters my campaign will tell you. I do offer a genuine progressive voice, a commitment to the concerns of Lower Manhattanites and working New Yorkers, and a real chance at reform.

I am proud to have BlogPAC’s endorsement.

Paul Newell

Democrat for Assembly, 64th District of New York 

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Thanks! (4.00 / 4)
Thanks, Paul, for your thoughtful response - and just as importantly, for recognizing the blogs (and Open Left especially) as an appropriate place to air your thinking on these issues.

As a Brooklynite and avid netroots activist who had my heart broken for the final time when Mr. Silver saw fit to let congestion pricing die an ignoble death behind a closed door, I enthusiastically support your campaign.  I hope you will look to environmental policy with a longer view than Mr. Silver (who really is responsible for killing the best chance for environmental sustainability NYC had, in congestion pricing) and the rest of the status quo.

Thank you Syrith (4.00 / 3)
Paul will be back on in a bit, but as the campaign manager I wanted to thank you for your support and assure you we are working to expand our environmental policy and will keep the community posted.

[ Parent ]
Thank you, Syrith (4.00 / 3)

Silver's killing of congestion pricing showed his disregard for both the democratic process and the health and quality of life of NYers and Downtowners in particular.

I firmly agree that we need a dramatic rethink of environmental policy in NY.  Congestion Pricing was a bold step - but it did not go far enough.  We need to entirely reapproach our transit infrastructure to encourage more environmentally sound decision making.  This includes region-wide investments in public transit, park-and-rides at suburban rail, Bus Rapid Transit, sane pricing for parking and more.

A few other major environmental issues facing NYS these days:

Better Bottle Bill
Renewable energy targets for utilities
Fair siting of new plants
An aggressive Brownfields law
Plastic Bag phase-out

I could go on, but it'll get wonky.  Please shoot me an email and we'll talk further.  We need a lot of help with this campaign - petitioning begins next month.  It's a small river, hop on over from Brooklyn and help us change New York.

Evan - Thanks for the good words.

Paul Newell

Help  me beat Sheldon Silver

[ Parent ]
Paul Newell is the progressive choice for New Yorkers (4.00 / 4)
Silver is a man who killed Congestion Pricing in a closed door meeting and did not let the bill go to the floor, he is not progressive in my book.  If there was such consensus in the caucus, what harm would there have been in actually voting on the bill and debating the matter in public so those members who opposed it could be held accountable by their constituents?  

Please read more in my diary

I wish it was this simple (4.00 / 1)
Paul, hats off for having the stones to run for public office.  In general, it's great to see people running, 'cause it surely ain't easy.  We haven't met, so I don't know you very well, but I don't think I would vote for you in this situation.  

I don't understand your reasoning: Shelly's house passes bills that don't pass in the Senate.  And therefore, because the bills aren't passed by the Senate, it's clear Silver is conspiring with Joe Bruno to stop bills that the Assembly is passing.  The logic's twisted.

The issues you cite - like so many others - are situations where the Assembly passes a bill that progressive advocates support.  But the bill doesn't pass in the Senate.  That doesn't mean that the Assembly Speaker is conspiring.  Frankly, that's a pretty weird read.

Could Silver get more bills past Bruno by negotiating harder and better?  I'm sure he could do better - heck, I should get back to real work, not blather like this myself.  He should also be more outspoken as a movement organizer.  Plus there are situations in the past where Silver wasn't progressive enough.  

But right now, the Senate is controlled by a group of electeds who engage in strictly transactional politics... and do so from a right-wing economic and social ideology.  To expect Silver to conistently beat them when all they have to do is not pass his bills is silly.  Particularly so when the Governor, who has the most power, isn't an ally.  It's very easy to stop bills - much harder to enact them into law.

Of course, the dynamic will hugely change when the democrats take the Senate, which I hope will happen this cycle. Big difference then. If/when that happens, I really hope that the Assembly does not becomne a stopper of bills... and that the Senate dems live up to their professed ideology.

If the Assembly is stopping bills that progressives want, and the Senate is passing them, then the situation becomes totally different.  A lot of work to unseat bad Assemblymembers would then be a very defensible (dare I say "intellectually" defensible?) proposition.  

I suspect that you may be running to set up a future run after the dems take the Senate.  Ok, I get that may be your goal, but that's not today's situation.

Meanwhile, WFP is the only entity in the state that has seriously primaried incumbent Assembly democrats who were bad on the issues.  Ditto among the Senate Democrats.

Finally, and sort of by the way, the idea that NJ is less boss dominated?  Ummmmm... not so much.  The day to day corruption and small-mindedness of NJ politics is much worse than what we deal with in NYS.

Again, a hat tip for running - I wish more people did.  I get the gate crashing role.  But gate crashing should be directed at the right gate.  

Like other candidates, you've really put yourself out there by running - good on you.  I actually wish all the Assembly and Senate had primaries all the time... not to mention general elections.  Incumbents need to be pushed to make us all better off.  But you haven't made a coherent case in this post.

It's not just that Silver doesn't win (4.00 / 2)

For years Bruno passed Rock law reform and Silver blocked it.  That's right, Bruno was the more progressive of the two on that one for years.  For years Silver refused to allow discussion of GLBT rights.  Silver signed on to the repeal of the commuter tax.  The list goes on.

Silver is not a progressive.  Never has been.  He doesn't just lose the argument to Bruno - they intentionally trade one-house bills to pass the buck.  Business as usual in Albany for decades now.

Taking the senate is great.  I think we'll do it this year.  But that only gets us half way there.  The process is inimical to getting working people's voices heard.

If our housing policy were written in the open by legislators who actually faced real challenges, no amount of campaign contributions from the Bruce Ratners and Jim Dolans and REBNYs of the world would convince them to weaken our rent laws.  Money you can get elsewhere.  When your opponent tells your constituents that you "raised their rent", then we'll see action on protecting our housing stock.

Silver is not only the right gate, he is the essential gate.  Knock it down, and we are on our way.


Help  me beat Sheldon Silver

[ Parent ]
About Rocky: Mr. Newell is Wrong (0.00 / 0)
For the sake of factual clarity, Mr. Newell's argument about Mr. Silver and the Rockefeller Drug Laws is entirely wrong.  

To wit: the Assembly has, without question, been the leading political body (in State government) pursuing real reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws. In 2006 and 2007, the Assembly sent a bill to the Senate (A.6663, last year) that died due to Senate inaction. Previous reform bills were born in the Assembly. Information on A.6663 can be found on the Assembly website, or an analysis can be found at  That bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Aubry and co-sponsored by Silver and many others, would not have passed but for Silver's support.

Tomorrow, May 8--the 35th anniversary of the Rockefeller Drug Laws--the Assembly begins holding hearings that, to our knowledge, are unprecedented both in New York but also nationally. The hearings have been called jointly by six committees in the Assembly-an entirely new development.

The hearing announcement,
, declares that the Rockefeller Drug Laws have failed, and asks whether New York should consider a public health approach to drug policy (we think the answer to that is "yes").

While I disagree with the existing power dynamics in Albany (three men in a room), with regard to the Rockefeller Drug Laws it is simply wrong, if not also ridiculous, to say that Mr. Bruno has done more. He hasn't. Ever. In fact, the Senate has systematically stymied any effort to rid the state of these racist, failed laws. Recent proposals put forth by the Senate have largely attempted expansion of the Rockefeller Drug Laws, not getting rid of them. The mantle of change is carried, in this instance, by the Silver-led Assembly.

If one is going to raise Rocky in the context of the Albany Power Brokers, then one must be ready to admit that Mr. Silver is the only one of the "three men in a room" who has consistently put real reform on the table-and has now thrown down the gauntlet via these joint hearings which focus on a public health approach to drug policy. Our hope--and the hope of advocates across the state--is that a public health approach to drug policy in New York prevails. The Assembly is taking the first steps towards that reality.  

See our press release for the hearings, here:

--gabriel sayegh, drug policy alliance network.

[ Parent ]
Would the system of the Speaker controlling the members die with him? (4.00 / 3)
The problem, from 4000 miles away, looks to me to be not Shelly Silver the person, but a system that allows the Assembly Speaker to have "complete control of member items, staff budgets, committee appointments and even salaries" of the rest of his caucus.  That is an enormous amount of power, that any human being would eventually begin to abuse.  Replace Silver and in six years you'll have another tyrant in office, preventing members from even bringing up legislation on X.  

I understand that it would be nearly impossible to strip these powers away from a man who currently holds them, but I hope the plan is to beat Silver and then remove those powers from the Speaker, because if you don't, you'll have another Sheldon Silver in no time.  He'll have a different name, and different  ideological profile, but he'll be just as abusive, cause he'll have been handed the power to be that way.

That is the plan (4.00 / 2)
Great question, Tex.

The plan is for 3-men-in-a-room to die with Silver's ouster, though it was not born with him.  But when Sheldon Silver loses to a 33 year old community organizer running on a reform ticket, you can bet that the Democratic caucus will wake up to the need for reform.

Newspapers, Governors, Good Government Groups and most New Yorkers have been crying out for change for decades.  But these guys will never give up their power unless the voters strip them of it.

Taking the State Senate is, as Pete and Cantor point out, another essential component to this plan.  But without a change in Assembly leadership we will never get there.

Help  me beat Sheldon Silver

[ Parent ]
Not True (4.00 / 1)
I do not believe for one second that a seasoned progressive like Dan Cantor has "missed the point" when it comes to state issues, progressive policies and personalities. It is something he does for a living. I for one am glad he set the record straight. But I also want to thank you Paul for running because it is truly waking folks up to the fact Silver's being sold short.

Perhaps after insulting the Working Families Party Chair and it's members and not getting their endorsement you and Evan will cry 'foul' and 'conspiracy theory' and 'dirty tricks.' Perhaps I'll set my clock now for it.

You say "replacing Sheldon Silver will give us a progressive, reform-minded Democratic Speaker." I for one find that to be a simply amazing statement. Which Assemblyperson exactly are you referring to? The person who last ran for Speaker against him was Assemblyman Mike Bragman who was an ultra conservative and very pro gun NRA guy. As the next Speaker he would NOT have passed medical marijuana, marriage equality, a weapon ban, or a public assistance grant increase like Silver did.

But that wasn't the most erroneous thing you said. The most outrageous was that Republican Conservative Joe Bruno is more progressive than Silver on Rockefeller Drug Laws. Hilarious. Where are you getting this stuff? The Assembly Democrats and Silver have been leading the charge while Bruno has stood in the way on rolling back sentences.  

We have not insulted anyone or "cried foul" (4.00 / 2)
Our argument is that there needs to be reform to the rules of the Assembly, and taking out Silver would send a clear message to any successor that this is a priority for the New York electorate.  This is a disagreement over strategy in this instance, not an indictment of Cantor or the WFP.  While Cantor has called our effort intellectually and politically naive, I don't consider that an insult.  For Paul to respond that Cantor is being intellectually dishonest is not an insult either-  its a debate and a disagreement, and one that we welcome.  Again, we see support of Sheldon Silver by elements of the progressive community in New York as a necessary concession to an extremely powerful status quo, and a good strategy for them.  With our effort, we hope to move towards structural reform that enables organizations like the WFP to really run with the ball.  

[ Parent ]
Thanks, Paul (0.00 / 0)
It's difficult to make clear to residents of other states just how much New York's dysfunctional system of government plays a role in the political choices Progressives make. Organizations like Cantor's WFP are committed to Progressive change. But in order to get such change now, and not just after the reform of our system, they need to make compromises, in turn bolstering the system that impedes progress by its very existence.

Cantor essentially characterized your challenge as one from an unreasonably disgruntled left. That characterization is false, I'd suggest. The real political divide in New York is that between incumbency and reform.

The deeper question posed by your run against Shelly is what kind of political system New York should have. Do we want a closed system that occasionally produces results we like, or an open, transparent and accountable system in which we can hold our representatives accountable to the will of the people?

Reform vs. incumbancy (0.00 / 0)
Well said, Bouldin.  You're right.  I hope people, even those on the compromise side of the fence, understand that the spectrum of liberal commitment is not the only spectrum progressives need to consider.  Paul, I hope you note his comment - I think it is a pretty concise and effective way of framing it.

[ Parent ]
I think both sides have great points (4.00 / 1)
and this has been a great dialogue. This is what OpenLeft does best. Strong internal debate. I love it!

I have been a big fan of the Working Families Party for a long time and wish we had something like that in Minnesota.

However I tend to agree with Paul on this challenge. Silver has been good on some issues but Silver killed a lot progressive things. He isn't the worst player in Albany but replacing him would sure send a message and would be a start.

I think Paul has it right when he says "Both strategies are valid and needed." and I think we need to keep up this dialogue and try to find the right balance.

Also good luck Paul. The only NYC activist I know is a big supporter of yours and that's always a plus for me. Keep up the fight!

John McCain: Beacuse lobbyists should have more power


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