On Nov. 7, voters across the country went to the polls and cast their votes for local elected representatives. Democrats in Virginia erased a 66-to-34 deficit in the House of Delegates while also winning the governorship and lieutenant governorship. The next governor of New Jersey will be Democrat Phil Murphy. Democrats Laura Curren and George Latimer were elected Nassau and Westchester County executives respectively. Mayor de Blasio won with 67 percent of the vote, and nearly every candidate our union endorsed won election to the New York City Council. While it is dangerous – possibly disingenuous – to ever claim a mandate after an election, it cannot be denied that Democrats are closing the book on an incredibly difficult year with some degree of momentum.
Simultaneously, by rejecting the Constitutional Convention ballot measure (Proposition #1), New Yorkers up and down the state emphatically refused to risk some of the protections we value most, ensuring that special interest groups would not have the opportunity to influence and damage our state’s most fundamental document.
Much has already been written about what this election has meant, with some pontificating on the rise of suburban Democrats and others suggesting that this election was the start of a “blue wave.” Regardless, 2017 must be seen as just the beginning of a concerted effort to prioritize local elections, politics and legislation if we are to capitalize on this momentum in the 2018 election cycle.
Momentum for 2018 midterms: Congress, state houses and gerrymandering
2018 will be arguably among the most important midterm elections of recent memory, one that will have serious implications for federal and local politics. Midterm elections are notoriously difficult for incumbent administrations in the White House, and this will especially be the case with a president whose approval rating currently rests around 38 percent. The opportunity for Democrats is tangible: the Cook Political Report estimates that 38 of the 47 “toss-up” and “lean” congressional districts are currently held by Republicans.
Even if the balance of power does not shift in the House or Senate, many expect Republican majorities to become slimmer. Furthermore, this election will likely determine how incumbent public officials across the country align themselves with the president as 2020 approaches and they must decide if his agenda.
Locally, the focus of the 2018 midterm cycle won’t be constrained to federal elections. As voters have become increasingly frustrated with Albany’s inability to pass badly needed legislation to reaffirm our state’s “liberal” identity, increased scrutiny and pressure has been placed on the IDC, the body of eight Democrats who caucus with the Senate Republicans.
This body, led by Senator Jeffrey Klein (D–Bronx, Westchester), has capitalized on Albany’s power dynamics in order to increase their role and influence in budgetary and legislative processes, often at the expense of mainline Democrats and progressive agendas. Multiple members will face serious challenges from the left, and community activists are already gearing up to run serious campaigns against them.
Perhaps most importantly, 2018 must be the year we begin preparing for our next census and redistricting cycle. The practice of drawing congressional and state office districts – also known as gerrymandering – determines the district in which one votes and the registered voter makeup of the district, which subsequently influences who is favored to win elections.
Though this has long been a feature of American politics, gerrymandering has become a political weapon that can be marshaled with devastating effect, allowing individuals with highly sophisticated mapping tools to pack voters into specific districts and thereby determine the partisan composition of state houses and Congress.
Redistricting has become among the most impactful components of our electoral system. Determined by the party that controls state houses, redistricting is the epitome of a local issue with federal repercussions, making local elections for State Assembly, State Senate and governor essential.
In 2010, Republicans who controlled an increasing number of state houses and governor’s mansions were able to use the census to redraw the districting maps. They packed large numbers of Democrats into specific areas and consolidated Republican control in others. These maps have determined state and federal elections ever since, culminating in today’s single-party control of the legislative and executive branches of our government.
In order to prepare for the next census and redistricting cycle, voters must build upon 2017 and continue to push for the election of local leaders who reflect their priorities and values. Across the country, we must prepare people to respond to census takers. And if Democrats are to level the electoral playing field, they must not let congressional races monopolize their resources and funding. Instead, Democrats in all 50 states must focus on races for their local representation.
The Cabaret Law and Office of Nightlife
On Oct. 31, the New York City Council voted to repeal the Cabaret Law, a law steeped in bigotry and racism that in its original form discriminated against black jazz musicians. Countless musicians, among them the most famous in our history, were negatively impacted and discriminated against as a direct result of this law.
The requirement that musicians carry a cabaret card was abolished in 1967, but the Cabaret Law shifted its burden to small business, requiring a license in order to allow three or more people to dance within their establishment. Though it was inconsistently enforced and wasn’t a burden placed directly upon musicians, the fact that this law existed chilled the relationship our nightlife industry had with our city and communities, and placed a burden upon the establishments in which musicians have tried to make a living.
This repeal was long overdue, and was largely made possible by the leadership of Councilmember Rafael Espinal, who paired this effort with one to support the nightlife industry by creating an Office of Nightlife and Nightlife Advisory Board.
Taken together, the City and Council are showing that they take extremely seriously the nightlife industry, which generates an estimated $10 billion for our local economy and employs at least 300,000 New Yorkers. This office will soon be operating. With its mandate to support the needs of small businesses and communities, as well as address the challenges of performers and workers, it will make a much-needed positive contribution to our nightlife industry and help those who make it vibrant and exciting. We applaud Councilmember Espinal, as well as Mayor de Blasio, Commissioner Menin and Councilmember Reynoso, and greatly look forward to working collaboratively with every stakeholder as well as the future Nightlife Director.