All of New York Democrats’ Recent Woes Go Back to the Same Screwup (2024)

Politics

The congestion pricing debacle is just more fallout.

By Alexander Sammon

All of New York Democrats’ Recent Woes Go Back to the Same Screwup (1)

Late last week, seemingly out of the blue, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced her intention to indefinitely delay congestion pricing in New York, the thoroughly studied, meticulously designed, and long since signed-sealed-delivered policy that the state Legislature passed into law in 2019. The policy, which would charge up to $15 to each car entering Manhattan below 60th Street from the outer boroughs and out of state, was slated to go into effect on June 30 before Hochul put it on hold.

There are many accurate ways to describe the law—climate policy, quality-of-life improver, tax on the wealthy—but primarily it was an absolutely essential way to fund the city’s beleaguered public transit system, to the tune of $15 billion of bond financing, backed by $1 billion in annual revenue, that is not turning up elsewhere.

Why (why, why, why) would Hochul do that? She has largely hidden from the press and public appearances as the blowback rises to mighty proportions; her best explanation has been some combination of a strange claim about cost-of-living increases and a dubious story that someone in a diner told her to do it. (There is an even less flattering interpretation of Hochul’s head-scratching move: She was, until Monday, scheduled to attend a fundraiser where the state’s car dealers showered her with cash and celebrated her decision.)

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But Hochul, whose political instincts are already notorious not even three years on the job, didn’t go it alone on this. She made the decision to scotch her party’s flagship revenue-raising climate policy after conversations with House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries about some all-important House races that Democrats should never have lost in the first place but now appear in jeopardy of losing again. It seems that this is yet another costly consequence of New York Dems’ storied ineptitude.

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According to Politico, Hochul’s decision came after conversations with Jeffries, a fellow New Yorker and the top-ranking Democrat in the House, who stands to gain the most from the party’s securing majority control in November’s elections. It came down to electioneering: National Democrats are hoping to win pesky but necessary swing districts in the Hudson Valley and Long Island where people own cars, and they feared the repercussions from those voters. So they leaned on Hochul to shelve the policy. It’s hard to say if congestion pricing will change many or any votes in either direction, though it seems unlikely; there are a lot of other issues at stake this November, after all.

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Jeffries hasn’t taken a bullet for Hochul as the backlash has mounted, but he has publicly stood by the move. His office put out a statement saying he supported a temporary pause to contemplate the impact on working-class New Yorkers, a result that has already been studied exhaustively and conclusively; the wealthy would be far more affected.

Jeffries, who reps central Brooklyn, a district that would benefit overwhelmingly from the policy, did not call Hochul on behalf of his constituents, few of whom are working-class people who drive into lower Manhattan. He’s fretting about those House races. But he shouldn’t be. National Democrats have already allocated a huge sum of money to campaigning there to quell those concerns, $45 million for ads and staffers for just three or four eminently winnable districts that went for Biden in 2020. Add that expenditure to what Hochul is now asking the state to come up with: $1 billion to plug the immediate public-transit funding hole caused by the congestion pricing delay. That makes $1.045 billion, plus a sacrificed long-sought climate policy, for a few districts they should win pretty easily.

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But Jeffries wouldn’t need to be worrying about angry suburban diner-lovers at all if the Democratic candidates in those top New York district races were running quality, disciplined campaigns. Unfortunately, they are not.

Look no further than New York’s hotly contested 17th District. There, Mondaire Jones, who won and held the seat as an avowed progressive in 2020, is running again, this time against incumbent Republican Mike Lawler. It’s as close to a must-win for Democrats as there is on their path to a majority.

Rather than shoring up cross-coalition Democratic support, Jones is burning bridges like it’s the siege of Rome and warring with the local press. In a surprise move, he endorsed George Latimer, the moderate primary challenger to his old neighbor and colleague Jamaal Bowman in this year’s race. Bowman and Jones once repped adjacent districts, were in both the House progressive caucus and the Black caucus together, and arrived in Congress in the same freshman class. Jones even endorsed Bowman in 2022.

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But Jones didn’t stop at endorsing Latimer this cycle; he went on to antagonize nearly all his former allies. In a rare rebuke, the Congressional Progressive Caucus withdrew its endorsem*nt of Jones, who then retaliated on CNN by calling those fellow members of his own party—the CPC is the largest caucus for House Democrats—extremists.

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Not long after, an unflattering story appeared in City & State reporting that fellow Democrat Sean Patrick Maloney had offered to bow out of the 17th District primary in 2022, ceding the district to Jones, who was the incumbent. Jones, the piece reported, turned down the offer, preferring to campaign in another district. Initially, per City & State, he wanted to run against Bowman, but treacherous polling steered him instead into the 10th District, where he got third place in the Democratic primary, splitting the progressive vote and helping hand the seat to the more conservative Dem in the race, Dan Goldman.

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Jones claimed that the article was untrue, trashing the local news publication. But then a senior staffer from Maloney’s camp confirmed it, capping an all-around dreadful news cycle for Jones. This is the candidate running in one of the very most must-win swing districts, where Democrats expect to invest heavily.

And yet: Still, none of this would have mattered if the state’s Democrats had simply drawn better congressional maps. As you may recall, after the 2020 census New York Dems resolutely botched the redistricting process, a mishap that resulted in the creation of a number of Republican-friendly districts ahead of the 2022 midterms. That map led to a one-state wipeout during a national election in which Democrats otherwise overperformed expectations. Their losses in four New York congressional races accounted for nearly the entire Republican House majority.

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Then, miraculously, the state party got a do-over earlier this year, after New York’s highest court agreed to throw out the lines from 2022. (Hochul nearly kept this from happening too, but that’s another story.) What did state Democrats do with that shot at redemption? They turned in a nearly identical map, which was signed into law with Hochul’s and Jeffries’ blessings.

The bad new district maps, Jones’ terrible behavior, and Hochul’s panicked congestion pricing delay are all the result of New York Democrats’ steadfast refusal to engage in any measure of accountability after the 2022 debacle. The enervated party apparatus remained basically intact; despite calls for party Chair Jay Jacobs to resign, he has defiantly maintained his role. Jacobs, no surprise, has also weighed in in favor of Hochul’s decision to deep-six congestion pricing. To be fair, that means there are at least three New Yorkers, plus whomever Hochul talked to at the Pershing Square diner she name-checked (which happens to sit beside the colossal transit hub Grand Central Station), who support this decision.

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Hochul may ultimately lose this battle; it’s not clear if it’s even legal for her to do this. She has shown a penchant for uniting disparate and often fractious coalitions within the Democratic bloc against her decisionmaking, and the group opposed to this move is formidable.

But the law’s delay is another painful reminder of the shortsightedness and dysfunction that still plague the New York Democratic Party. Those deficiencies show no signs of abating. The Jeffries era in the House is still young, but his unwillingness to confront this fact is already bogging down Democrats locally and nationally. That problem won’t go away, just like downtown Manhattan’s terrible traffic congestion or its creaky, behind-schedule trains.

  • Climate Change
  • Democrats
  • House of Representatives
  • Mass Transit
  • New York City
  • New York
  • Cars
  • 2024 Campaign

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All of New York Democrats’ Recent Woes Go Back to the Same Screwup (2024)
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