After years of criticism for the failure of the Women’s Equality Agenda, a legislative package including strengthened abortion rights, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state Sen. Co-majority Leader Jeff Klein are running on a new party line devoted to just that cause.
Mr. Cuomo is launching the Women’s Equality Party this week, with Mr. Klein and a number of other Democrats gathering signatures to run on that line as well. While Mr. Klein is also fighting hard to remain the Democratic candidate for the 34th state senate district, New York law allows politicians to be on more than one party line.
While many commenters are puzzling over as drastic a move as forming a new party, it is evidently an effort to bolster Mr. Cuomo and Mr. Klein’s credentials on women’s issues.
Women’s groups have blamed the ruling coalition between Mr. Klein’s breakaway Democrats and Senate Republicans for the Women’s Equality Act’s failure to gain traction in the past two years. Mr. Klein and Republican state Sen. Co-majority Leader Dean Skelos have been viewed as deciding which legislation comes to the floor of the Senate for a vote or not.
Mr. Klein has maintained he is in favor of the agenda, which includes measures for equal pay between men and women, ending discrimination against working mothers and other issues.
Mr. Klein’s campaign declined to discuss details of the new party. But in an e-mail, a spokeswoman said his decision to run on the Women’s Equality Party line illustrates his commitment to the legislation.
The senator could also be taking a page from challenger Oliver Koppell’s playbook.
Earlier this year, Mr. Koppell sought to guarantee a spot on the November ballot by garnering the endorsement of the Working Families Party. That party later rescinded the endorsement when Mr. Klein promised to form a coalition between his Independent Democratic Conference and Senate Democrats after November.
While Mr. Klein is the favorite in his race against Mr. Koppell, the creation of the Women’s Equality Party appears to guarantee the senator will be on the ballot no matter who wins the Democratic primary.
Mr. Cuomo was expected to file 90,000 signatures on behalf of the Women’s Equality Party on Tuesday, according to Capital New York.
Klein, Koppel to debate on TV
Mr. Klein and Mr. Koppell will debate on the cable access show “BronxTalk” in an episode airing on Monday, Aug. 25 at 9 p.m. There will be another debate on NY1 on Tuesday, Aug. 26, although the time of the airing was not immediately available. The “BronxTalk” debate, which will air on CableVision, is expected to have a focus on borough-level issues, while the NY1 session will center on state-level topics.
Issues specifically related to Riverdale will not get a thorough hearing.
After several weeks of back and forth with The Press, which offered to host a debate between Mr. Klein and Mr. Koppell, the senator said on Tuesday that he would not participate in any session in front of community members in Riverdale before the Tuesday, Sept. 9 primary vote.
When asked for an explanation, his spokeswoman Candice Giove said in an e-mail, “He will not participate in a debate hosted by The Riverdale Press, a paper that’s irresponsibly covered this race.”
Mr. Klein’s decision is likely to disappoint a number of community members who have been asking The Press if there will be a chance to see the candidates face off and take questions from residents.
Mr. Koppell said he would debate Mr. Klein “any time, anywhere.” He accused the senator of declining to debate him in Riverdale on grounds incumbents do not like giving challengers extra visibility. The former councilman added that Mr. Klein was afraid of criticism over issues including Montefiore’s plans to build a large new facility on Riverdale Avenue.
The senator has co-sponsored legislation aimed at blocking those plans, although Mr. Koppell says Mr. Klein truly has the interests of the developer over the community at heart. (See Mr. Klein’s response below.)
Other debates avoided
The Press is not the only local outlet to be snubbed by a candidate.
“BronxTalk” hosted its third recent debate without one of the key contenders present on Monday.
Assemblyman Jose Rivera stayed out of a debate against challenger Fernando Tirado. Last week, Councilman Fernando Cabrera skipped a session with state Sen. Gustavo Rivera, whose seat Mr. Cabrera is eying in the Democratic primary. Earlier this summer, Rep. Charles Rangel missed a debate against challengers who wanted to replace him.
All three had different excuses for host Gary Axelbank. But he viewed their absences as a blow to the democratic process.
“This is evidence of real dysfunction in the Bronx political process, that candidates run for office and don’t feel compelled to participate in televised debates by a reputable, responsible Bronx program that happens to have a 20-year record of conducting reputable and responsible debates,” he said.
Digging up the record
Mr. Koppell’s contention that Mr. Klein did not want to discuss Montefiore prompted Ms. Giove to accuse the former councilman regarding his own record on the vicinity of the site of the proposed facility. Montefiore wants to build at Riverdale Avenue and West 238th Street.
Ms. Giove accused Mr. Koppell of excluding the area including that site from rezoning in the early 2000s so his wife, Lorraine Coyle Koppell, could help a developer build an apartment high-rise there.
“If Oliver Koppell included Tulfan Terrace and Oxford Avenue when the City Council rezoned Riverdale, Montefiore could never have proposed a monstrosity. Luckily, the Klein-Dinowitz law cleaned up this mess,” Ms. Giove wrote, referring to legislation mandating a new review process for ambulatory centers like the one Montefiore wants to establish.
Mr. Koppell called the accusation “completely false.”
“We asked the City Planning Commission to prepare as broad a rezoning as possible to prevent large towers from being built in Riverdale,” he said. “There was never any request by my office to exclude that area and any statement to the contrary is simply a lie.”
Several Tulfan Terrace homeowners sold their properties in the early 2000s, enabling a developer to build a high-rise apartment there. Ms. Coyle said she was not the broker in any of the sales, but the legal representative for two homeowners during their transactions. She added she did not work for the developer and had no knowledge of plans for a high-rise at the time.
Rangel sees racism
Rep. Charles Rangel is calling for justice for Eric Garner and Michael Brown, unarmed African-American men whose deaths at the hands of police have dominated headlines in recent weeks.
Mr. Rangel joined five other members of Congress in calling for the Justice Department to investigate Mr. Garner’s July 17 death on Staten Island, apparently caused after a police officer put him in a chokehold.
“While we cannot bring back Eric nor ease the suffering for his family and loved ones, we must and will do everything to ensure justice is served,” the congressman said in a statement.
Mr. Rangel said a police crackdown on protests over the death of Ferguson, Missouri teenager Michael Brown reminded him of the struggles of the civil rights era.
“Fifty years after we have witnessed the horrors of the Freedom Summer, it is sad and deeply troubling that our country must still grapple with the vestiges of racism,” Mr. Rangel said. “I thank President Obama for making certain that the Department of Justice will conduct a thorough investigation to determine whether there were any violations of civil right.”
The version of this story in the Aug. 21 print edition inccorectly said the upcoming debate between Mr. Klein and Mr. Koppell would air live. The debate will be pre-taped. It also incorrectly stated Mr. Garner's death was due to a police shooting.