Rise and Shine: June 23, 2020

Good Tuesday morning, CivMixers. It’s primary day!

This is going to be a fascinating experiment in small-d democracy, because, as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic, absentee ballot voting has been expanded, and postage-paid ballots were (supposed to be) sent out to every voter to ensure safe participation.

There are House and state legislative contests, including quite a few in which incumbents are being challenged by insurgents, and a handful of multi-candidate races for open seats (especially in the GOP, which saw a rash of retirements by veteran state senators this year).

There’s also a crowded Democratic primary for Queens borough president to keep an eye on. (A special election was supposed to take place on March 24, but the pandemic ended that, too).

If newspaper endorsements still hold any sway with you, click here to see who the NYT is backing in the downstate congressional races, and here to see what the NY Post has to say about the candidates in a smattering of state and House contests.

The Democratic presidential primary is also taking place today, and for that you can thank former Democratic White House contenders Andrew Yang and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who sued to ensure that this contest would be held.

New York state’s presidential primary was originally scheduled for April 28, but Cuomo postponed them until today, to be concurrent with the already scheduled state and congressional primaries, out of fear of further spreading the virus through crowded polling sites and long lines.

The state didn’t want to bother, since former Vice President Joe Biden was, for all intents and purposes, the last man standing. But Yang and Sanders argued that to cancel the election would deny voters the opportunity to cast ballots for the candidate of their choice (they still were on the ballot because they dropped out of the running after the deadline for removal).

A judge agreed. And here we are.

The Republicans decided not to hold their primary, because no one aside from the incumbent, President Donald Trump, qualified for the ballot. (Other candidates did submit paperwork, but they had no delegates, and so didn’t make the cut).

New York was one of about a dozen states that rescheduled their presidential primaries early on in the pandemic, upending the presidential campaign calendar. The virus has also made it difficult for candidates at all levels to reach voters, as traditional methods like big rallies and door-to-door canvassing has been dramatically curtailed.

This was theoretically bad for insurgents, who rely heavily on that kind of organizing and face-to-face involvement with voters to build their name recognition. But no one really knows how to predict the outcome of these primaries, because we’ve never seen a situation with this many paper ballots in play before. It could very well be weeks before we know the final results of some of the closer contests, because counting paper ballots is time consuming.

The NYC Board of Elections alone received 708,421 absentee applications and mailed out roughly 679,245. Nearly 30,000 voters still haven’t received their ballots and it’s not known how many have been returned.

A top official with the New York City Board of Elections said the agency is struggling to find ways to get enough workers to polling sites in time to open them this morning, and is blaming the overnight subway shutdown that’s been going on for weeks.

And so we wait.

If you do happen to be heading out to the polls, and yes, you can still do that, despite the virus…(As you know, our infection numbers here in New York are very low, even as other states are spiking)…be aware that it’s going to be VERY hot. Again. The Weather Channel is predicting temperatures in the 90s and a chance of thunderstorms in the evening.

In non-primary news…

Alarming surges in coronavirus cases across the U.S. South and West raised fears that the outbreak is spiraling out of control and that hard-won progress against the scourge is slipping away because of resistance among many Americans to wearing masks and keeping their distance from others.

Tennessee’s largest county could go back to the first phase of its reopening plan due to a recent spike in novel coronavirus infections.

Florida surpassed 100,000 coronavirus cases yesterday as new infections continue to surge in the state.

The newly emerging clusters of infections popping up across the country reflect the unpredictable course of the coronavirus. They also underscore risks that experts say are likely to persist as long as states try to reopen economies and Americans venture back into public without a vaccine.

Smartphone virus tracing apps meant to track where people have traveled or whom they have been near are mostly buggy, little-used or not ready for major rollouts, raising concerns as restrictions lift and infections rise.

New York City transit officials said the agency has seen zero deaths from the virus among its employees over the past two weeks. The disease killed 132 MTA workers in a tragic stretch between March 26 and June 8.

The Food and Drug Administration is warning consumers to avoid nine brands of potentially toxic hand sanitizers.

President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign says two more staffers who attended a weekend rally in Oklahoma tested positive for the coronavirus — in addition to the six detected before the event.

Protesters tried toppling a statue of former President Jackson near the White House yesterday, according to video footage shared online of the demonstration.

The US Secret Service told members of the White House press corps to immediately leave the White House grounds – a decision that came during the demonstration in Lafayette Square, across the street from the White House where protesters were trying to bring down the statue of Jackson.

Journalists were not given a reason for the request, according to CNN’s Kaitlan Collins. The Secret Service later issued a statement saying “four members of the media were misdirected …to leave the White House grounds. The members of the press were rerouted to exits on the south side of the complex for their own safety.”

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany struggled to explain why Trump keeps calling the coronavirus the “kung flu,” at first claiming he didn’t use the offensive label at all and then arguing the phrase is about the pandemic’s “origin.”

The Trump administration is extending a ban on green cards issued outside the United States until the end of the year and adding many temporary work visas to the freeze, including those used heavily by technology companies and multinational corporations.

The order extends restrictions originally enacted in April due to the coronavirus pandemic, which blocked most people from receiving a permanent residency visa, or green card. It also temporarily freezes H-1B visas for highly skilled workers, a program popular with the U.S. tech industry, and other temporary work visas.

As the U.S. faces a 13.3 percent unemployment rate, the White House said the order will prevent foreign workers from filling 525,000 jobs. Critics accused the Trump administration of exploiting the pandemic to curb immigration, and tech industry leaders said it’d deal a lasting blow to the economy.

Republicans and the Trump administration continue to press to end the Affordable Care Act even as the virus leaves more Americans worried about affordable health coverage.

The University of Michigan is likely to withdraw from hosting a 2020 presidential debate this fall due to coronavirus concerns. It was scheduled to host the second of three debates between Trump and presumptive Democratic nominee Biden on Oct. 15. A formal announcement is expected today.

Hundreds of mourners lined up to pay their respects at a public viewing yesterday for Rayshard Brooks, a Black man who was fatally shot by a white Atlanta police officer in the parking lot of a Wendy’s earlier this month.

Trump opened a new front in his fight against mail-in voting, making unsubstantiated assertions that foreign countries will print up millions of bogus ballots to rig the results and create what he called the “scandal of our times.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he believes that Trump is expecting to lose the 2020 election and then challenge the results by claiming it was rigged against him.

Cuomo said 10 people in New York state died of coronavirus as of early yesterday morning — the lowest one-day total in three months — as New York City entered Phase 2 of its reopening plan with some offices opening and restaurants allowed to serve outdoor diners.

The launch of Phase 2 in New York City brought a mixture of excitement and unease as some workers returned to their offices and retail businesses resumed in-store shopping.

Business executives and front-line workers are pushing government officials to require customers to wear masks, a step that could allow companies to avoid alienating a portion of the public.

Even as offices across New York City were allowed to welcome back employees for the first time in months, the number of those returning to work was far lower than the swarms that once jostled elbows on public transit and packed into high-rise elevators.

While most of New York’s major tourist attractions remain shut even as the city has entered the second phase of reopening, at least a couple of sightseeing boat-tour operators are giving it a go.

New York may require residents of states with high rates of transmission of the coronavirus such as Florida and Texas to quarantine themselves if they visit here, Cuomo said.

Cuomo said he is talking with the governors of New Jersey and Connecticut about the possibility of requiring residents of certain states to isolate themselves upon arrival in the tristate area to try to prevent the virus’ spread after having made great strides.

New Yorkers should stick to a “pandemic ‘social bubble'” – or small groups of friends and family – in order to limit the potential spread of coronavirus, according to new social distancing guidelines by the city’s Health Department.

Officials overseeing New York’s transit system should consider thermal cameras to take riders’ temperatures and artificial intelligence to assess mask-wearing to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus, a new report says.

Movie theaters, comedy clubs and museums are among the businesses that will be able to open their doors for the first time since March under the fourth phase of New York’s economic reopening.

…Five regions — Central New York, Mohawk Valley, Southern Tier, Finger Lakes and the North Country — may be able to open in phase four as soon as Friday. But exactly what that will look like remains an open question. (Many hope gyms and fitness centers will be cleared to resume operations).

The state issued guidance for higher education institutions to reopen in the fall.

…The five-page document, which includes 20 mandatory and 29 recommended best practices, is meant to be a guide for institutions who will be required to develop and submit their own plan.

College students at Capital Region institutions will start classes in late August and stay home after Thanksgiving break — the start of flu season — to reduce the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak on campus, according to preliminary reopening plans released this week.

The state Education Department will present reopening guidance for K-through-12 facilities to the Board of Regents at its next meeting on July 13.

Cuomo denied his office was at fault for the coronavirus deaths of more than 6,000 nursing home residents in the state, calling such accusations a “political charade.”

Some 4.3 million homeowners didn’t pay their mortgage in May, which is up from just 2 million in March. That 4.3 million represents 8 percent of all mortgages, and it’s the highest number of delinquencies since 2011.

A group of about 20 people gathered in front of City Hall in Albany yesterday, the day housing courts reopened, to demand elected officials extend the eviction moratorium further and cancel rent.

A moratorium on evictions that New York State imposed during the coronavirus pandemic expired over the weekend, raising fears that tens of thousands of residents struggling in the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression will be called into housing courts.

A few hours before Attorney General William Barr first tried to fire Geoffrey Berman, the Justice Department told NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio to work with the Manhattan fed on a gripe the administration had with the city’s coronavirus guidelines, underscoring the chaotic nature of his Friday night axing.

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is calling for an independent investigation after Berman left his post Saturday amid a public battle with Attorney General William Barr, who sought to remove him.

Berman refused to sign a letter criticizing the city’s handling of recent protests, one day before Barr announced plans to replace him.

The coronavirus outbreak is putting extraordinary stress on New York City’s judicial system, forcing lengthy delays in criminal proceedings and raising growing concerns about the rights of defendants. Since February, the backlog of pending cases in the city’s criminal courts has risen by nearly a third — to 39,200.

Scores of drivers honked their car horns near Gracie Mansion last night to disrupt the mayor’s slumber in protest of the recent uptick in illegal fireworks shooting off across the city.

Detectives with the Queens district attorney’s office have been interviewing voters who interacted with staffers for Hiram Monserrate — the convicted felon and former state senator now seeking an Assembly seat — about possible impropriety by his campaign.

The NYPD cops seen on camera driving into a group of protesters in Brooklyn late last month did not violate the department’s use-of-force policy, Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said.

Shea, while acknowledging that up to ten officers face discipline for their actions during recent protests and riots, defended the department’s performance and pushed back at some claims of officer wrongdoing reiterated by Attorney General Letitia James.

New York Police Department officers need to regain the public’s trust after a series of videos shared on social media showed incidents of police misconduct during recent protests, Shea said.

A Rikers Island warden has reportedly been reassigned to Queens and six correction officers were suspended after an inmate managed two high-profile escape attempts since Thursday.

Bullets are whizzing around New York this month at a rate not seen in nearly a quarter century, according to the NYPD — and police sources warned that the recent run of gunplay may be the new normal.

The one NYC mayoral candidate with law enforcement experience, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, has some suggestions on how the city should reform the NYPD — and cut its budget significantly.

A Brooklyn funeral home was hit with yet another lawsuit for storing decomposing bodies in U-Haul trucks amid the coronavirus crisis.

Legislation that would offer retirement buyouts to state and other government workers is generating a lot of discussion in New York’s workforce, but Cuomo’s administration has not said whether the incentives will be used to reduce a more than $10 billion deficit.

JCOPE members are contemplating whether a criminal complaint should be filed in connection with a leak investigation last year by the state inspector general’s office that failed to confirm allegations Cuomo had received details of JCOPE’s confidential vote on a matter involving a former top aide to the governor.

Cuomo said a Watertown man must be held accountable for taking down a Pride flag just hours after it was raised over this past weekend.

More than 300 current and former employees of Planned Parenthood of Greater New York have signed an open letter calling for the removal of president and CEO Laura McQuade, as well as an investigation into her handling of the organization’s finances and allegations of abusive behavior.

Democrats, Assemblywoman Nily Rozic and state Sen. Leroy Comrie, both Queens Democrats, want to replace both of New York’s statues in the U.S. Capitol saying they honor men with ties to slavery — even though one never actually owned any slaves.

A public review panel has neutered de Blasio’s plan to move the famed Charging Bull statue from its current location at Bowling Green to the front of the New York Stock Exchange, largely citing aesthetic concerns.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said the towering bronze statue of Theodore Roosevelt outside county headquarters in Mineola, will “stay right where it is” – this came one day after the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan said it would remove a sculpture of Roosevelt.

Cuomo and de Blasio are backing the Museum of Natural History’s decision to remove the Roosevelt statue from its Upper West Side entrance amid backlash following race-based protests over the death of George Floyd.

Amid concerns about overuse and crowds in popular areas of the Adirondack Park, a panel that has been meeting in private since late last year submitted its preliminary recommendations to the state earlier this month for managing visitor use in the popular High Peaks region.

After the MLBPA’s executive board voted down the league’s latest reopening proposal last night, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred announced he would be implementing a season based on a March agreement between the sides.

Film producer Steve Bing, who financed projects like “The Polar Express,” “Beowulf” and the Rolling Stones’ concert film “Shine A Light,” died yesterday after leaping off a Century City, Calif., building, Deadline reports. He was 55 years old.

Photo credit: George Fazio.



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