Just outside New York City, a capacity crowd assembled recently in Nyack to hear four term incumbent Democrat for the 38th NY Senate district David Carlucci square off with Julie Goldberg, a teacher determined to oust Carlucci because of his role in the Independent Democratic Conference.
In a friendly, yet zesty debate hosted by the Rockland County NAACP, Senator Carlucci fielded substantive audience questions, and Goldberg showed preparation, wide-ranging knowledge and concise oratory. It was refreshing to see a functioning, old-fashioned democratic process. Both candidates made strong progressive commitments, such as $4.3 billion in school aid, single payer healthcare and full reproductive rights, for starters.
But looming large was the elephant in the room. In this case, literally an elephant, as in the GOP. For nearly his entire senate tenure, Carlucci maintained a role in the IDC, with substantial financial connections to Senator Jeff Klein, who led the splinter group to share power—and donors—with Republican Senate leaders. After seven years, and just before election season, the IDC disbanded, negotiating a new “unification” deal in private with Governor Cuomo, senate Democratic leaders and a few union leaders.
Following months of frequent “No IDC” protesting, grassroots groups across New York City, Syracuse, Rockland and Ossining were not moved by the deal, preparing for primaries. Enter “fireball” Julie Goldberg, a twenty year public school teacher and school librarian, and mom of two, who refused to accept Carlucci’s promises that this time will be different.
Facing a large audience, Goldberg thanked her volunteer army of 200 and counting, who raised about $40,000 from small donations. By contrast, Carlucci spent twice that on professional canvassers alone, as he received money from Klein’s controversial “SICC” fund, the Senate Independence Campaign Committee PAC. But it is not clear Carlucci is allowed to do so. The IDC is awaiting a ruling on the fate of $1.2 million in over-the-limit corporate donations bundled through dark money shell corporations known as LLCs.
The fund was declared illegal but the ruling didn’t include next steps. In New York state, parties can bundle above-limit donations in ‘general’ accounts, but caucuses cannot, meaning the IDC got away with using these illegal donations in 2016. This cycle however, the IDC was ordered to give back the money and refused, with Carlucci indulging in at least $62,000 much of which came from billionaire Republican contributors.
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In the debate, Carlucci said he would return the money if ordered, but he is spending it right now. Why not at least hold it in escrow? The fight blew up into a bigger issue in Albany, as Risa Sugarman, lead enforcement prosecutor for the Board of Elections anti-corruption unit, was stripped of her independent subpoena powers shortly after this win against the IDC.
The campaign funding inspired a blunt two-part question put to both candidates: “Why do you—or why don’t you—accept corporate PAC donations? Do they corrupt our politics?” Answering first, Goldberg said without hesitation “I don’t accept corporate PAC donations”, questioning how it can be legal “for LLCs to give unlimited amounts of money…how can that not corrupt?”
Goldberg added, “If somebody has gotten all of their campaign funding or nearly all of their campaign funding from these corporate sources, as my opponent unfortunately has, how can you know as a constituent who your representatives are really working for?”
When it was Carlucci’s turn to explain why he does take corporate PAC money, he dodged, saying, “I support comprehensive campaign finance reform”. He also expressed support for publicly financed campaigns, which means he won’t unilaterally disarm unless everyone has to—but Goldberg has already disarmed. It was Carlucci who said New York, the Empire State, must set an example for the country.
Although the IDC has returned donations from the firearm industry, Carlucci takes from real estate lobbies and Wall Street hedge fund managers who promote charter school “philanthropy”. Even worse, some of these billionaires run Puerto Rico debt funds which became a matter of life and death after Hurricane Maria.
Carlucci’s membership in the IDC was unpopular since it was first announced as a “surprise”, following the 2010 election. Carlucci became one of four in Klein’s exclusive partnership with Senate Republicans and the governor during a period heavily marred by Albany scandals.
Soon after Trump’s election, a local Indivisible group held a town hall where Carlucci was asked whether he supports charter schools and if he took charter PAC donations. Carlucci avoided the question until a frustrated audience member eventually called out, “What about the funding?”. Carlucci then told the audience that he did not even know whether he received money from charter school PACs.
Then he said he “travels in the same circles” as those who did. Finally, he acknowledged that he probably did, but never said whether or not he supports charter schools. In fact, Carlucci did take funds passed through layers of shell groups from charter billionaires such as Dan Loeb, John Petry, Paul Grenblatt and Paul Tudor Jones, as did the NY Senate Republican leadership and Washington’s top Republicans, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan.
Goldberg supports the national NAACP moratorium on charter schools, although there are no charter schools in the 38th district. As a resident in the infamous East Ramapo school district, her biggest campaign issue is the overdue Foundation Aid funding which would help impoverished schools statewide.
Last year, Carlucci “secured” $1 million in discretionary aid for the struggling Ossining school district, but under Foundation Aid the district is owed $16 million, or about $5.3 million per year. East Ramapo was due another $20 million, and in total, all the schools in the 38th district are due over $65 million.
In January 2017, the IDC promised to fully fund Foundation Aid over three years in accordance with a 2006 court decision, but when budget time came, the IDC voted for bills that not only withheld most Foundation Aid to public schools, it increased per-pupil funding for charter schools.
As the primary approaches this Thursday, September 13, hopes are high for grassroots crowdfunded candidates like Julie Goldberg to repeat the improbable victories seen this cycle in New York City, Florida, Michigan and Massachusetts.
Jake Jacobs is an art teacher in the Bronx and education blogger for The Progressive and The Badass Teacher Blog.