By Chris Fuchs
Voters appear to have given the New York State Senate its first two Asian-American lawmakers Tuesday — one of whom would be the first Indian American to ever serve in either house of the state legislature.
John Liu, a Democrat and New York City’s first Asian-American city councilman, apparently defeated Republican candidate Vickie Paladino, conservative candidate Simon H. Minching, as well as incumbent Tony Avella, who lost the Democratic primary to Liu in September, according to unofficial results.
Avella, whose state Senate district encompasses neighborhoods in the New York City borough of Queens, still ran in the general election, though not as a Democrat.
Meanwhile, unofficial results out on Long Island showed that attorney Kevin Thomas, an immigrant from India, appeared to eke out a victory against Republican incumbent Kemp Hannon, whose district covers parts of Nassau County.
Come January, assuming the results stand, Liu and Thomas will join Democratic assembly members Ron Kim and Yuh-Line Niou as the state legislature’s four Asian-American lawmakers.
Asians make up around 9 percent of the state’s total population, according to census figures.
“The goal was to inject a voice that had been absent prior,” Liu said in a phone interview. “And the goal is also to vigorously represent the needs of this community that I’ve lived in my whole life, and grown up in, and am raising my own family in.”
As of Thursday morning, unofficial results from the New York City Board of Elections had Liu with around 54 percent of the vote, Paladino at 24 percent, Avella at 21 percent and Minching at 1 percent with close to 97 percent of scanners reporting.
The race between Thomas and Hannon was much tighter. Unofficial results from the Nassau County Board Of Elections Thursday reported that Thomas had captured 50.6 percent of the vote and Hannon 49.3 percent.
Just over 1,300 votes separated the two candidates, with 100 percent of precincts reporting, the results showed.
Thomas, an attorney for the consumer protection unit of the New York Legal Assistance Group and appointee to the New York State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, claimed victory and said he was humbled and proud to be elected the first Indian American to the New York State Senate.
“I ran to represent everyone in my district and that is what I intend to do,” Thomas said in a statement through a spokesman. “But I will also be bringing the issues of the Asian-American community to the state legislature along, I’m sure, with senator-elect John Liu.”
Hannon did not respond to an NBC News request for comment.
Liu, a former actuary and immigrant from Taiwan, is regarded as a trailblazer for Asian Americans seeking elected office. His return to public office comes after serving two terms as a city councilman, beginning in 2002, followed by four years as the city’s comptroller.
In 2013, Liu ran unsuccessfully for mayor, losing in the Democratic primary to now Mayor Bill de Blasio. Liu’s defeat came amid a campaign finance scandal in which he was never charged. After leaving citywide office, Liu took up posts at the City University of New York and Columbia University, teaching municipal finance and public policy.
Liu and Avella squared off against each other for State Senate in 2014, with Avella defeating Liu in the Democratic primary. But September brought with it a reversal of fortune, this time Liu besting Avella.
A state senator since 2011, Avella still made a bid in the general election under the Independence and Women’s Equality parties, though that wasn’t enough to pull off a victory against Liu.
Some, including progressives, had criticized Avella for being a member of the former Independent Democratic Conference, a small group that broke with their party to support Republican control of the state Senate.
With Democrats poised to take control of both the state Senate and Assembly, Liu said fair funding for all public schools and passing the Reproductive Health Act are among his top legislative priorities.
“I’m honored to be the voters’ choice,” Liu said. “The message it sends is that people want change and people favor the Democratic platform with an eye towards a more progressive government in New York State, in view of what’s happening in this country.”
What you need to know
The Democratic presidential primary debate on Tuesday will feature Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ return to the campaign trail after a health scare and one fresh face.
The field of candidates expected to take the stage in Westerville, Ohio, is the largest to date, with a dozen qualifying under the rules set by the Democratic National Committee. The matchup includes billionaire activist Tom Steyer, who will be making his first appearance on a debate stage. It also features the return of Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who did not qualify for the September debate. After threatening to boycott Tuesday’s debate, she reversed course Monday, saying she would attend after all.
Sanders, meanwhile, will take the stage two weeks to the day after he suffered a heart attackwhile campaigning in Nevada.
Here’s everything you need to know about the fourth debate.
When and where is the Democratic debate?
The debate is being held at Otterbein University in Westerville, a suburb of Columbus. It’s scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. ET Tuesday and is being co-hosted by CNN and The New York Times.
It will be moderated by CNN anchors Anderson Cooper and Erin Burnett and Times national editor Marc Lacey.
Who made the stage?
The 12 candidates who qualified by having both 130,000 individual donors and reaching at least 2 percent in four qualifying polls, in addition to Gabbard, Sanders and Steyer, are former Vice President Joe Biden; New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker; Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana; former Housing Secretary Julián Castro; California Sen. Kamala Harris; Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar; former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke; Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren; and entrepreneur Andrew Yang.
Who’s standing where?
As with the previous debates, stage position has been determined by polling averages, so front-runners Biden and Warren will be center stage. The overall order from right to left is Gabbard, Steyer, Booker, Harris, Sanders, Biden, Warren, Buttigieg, Yang, O’Rourke, Klobuchar and Castro.
There was some question over whether Gabbard would say aloha — or aloha.
She tweeted out a statement last week saying she was considering boycotting the debate because the DNC and “the corporate media” were “rigging the election” by using polling as qualifying criteria.
Gabbard did not qualify for the September debate because of polling, and so far has not hit the polling benchmarks for the next debate in November. In her tweet, she said the “so-called debates” are “not debates at all, but rather commercialized reality television meant to entertain rather than to inform or enlighten.”
But Monday, she appeared to have a change of heart:
How can I watch the debate?
When is Round 5?
The fifth debate is scheduled for Nov. 20 in Georgia, and will be hosted by MSNBC and The Washington Post.
To qualify for that stage, candidates have to meet fundraising and polling criteria laid out by the Democratic National Committee, and those benchmarks are higher than the previous debates. They call for candidates to hit at least 3 percent in four qualifying state or national polls, or 5 percent in two qualifying state polls one week before the debate. The fundraising threshold requires candidates to have received contributions from 165,000 unique donors, including 600 unique donors in 20 states.
An unofficial survey by NBC News shows eight candidates appear to have qualified to date — Biden, Booker, Buttigieg, Harris, Sanders, Steyer, Warren and Yang.
Giuliani says he has ‘nothing to do with’ oligarch at edges of Trump-Ukraine affair
President Donald Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani on Monday denied being involved with a Ukrainian oligarch whose ethical issues have dovetailed with the ongoing impeachment inquiry into the president.
Giuliani also told NBC News he was not planning on visiting Dmitry Firtash, who is currently wanted on corruption charges in the U.S., during a trip to Vienna he planned last week. He said he could not speak for his two Soviet-born business associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who were arrested last week on campaign-finance charges in Virginia as they were about to board one-way flights to Vienna. Giuliani has said their similarly timed Austrian trips were not in conjunction.
“I wasn’t planning to go see him,” Giuliani said. “That was the last thing from my mind on why I was going to Vienna. There was a very important reason I was going that I’m not at liberty to disclose right now that will make it quite clear [Parnas and Fruman] were not fleeing. And I don’t know, I can’t speak for them, they have their own businesses. I actually do two things with them. I represent their company, and they help me find people. But I’m pretty sure they were going just for the purpose I knew about.”
Giuliani insisted he has “nothing to do with Firtash,” whose legal team includes Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing, the pro-Trump husband and wife attorneys who Fox News reported were “working off the books” with Giuliani as part of his Ukrainian venture.
“So, Firtash, I know nothing about,” Giuliani said. “I’m not going to answer any questions about because I’m probably going to get it wrong, and you can ask them.”
Giuliani also said he has “never” brought up Firtash’s extradition battle with Trump.
“I’m not even sure the president is aware of him,” Giuliani said. “I think if you asked the president ‘who is Dmitry Firtash?’ He would say ‘I don’t know.’ As far as I know, we’ve never discussed him.”
One of Ukraine’s wealthiest businessman, Firtash has battled extradition charges to the U.S. for the past two years as the Department of Justice seeks to prosecute him over allegations he bribed Indian officials to land a lucrative mining deal. Federal prosecutors labeled him as an “upper-echelon [associate] of Russian organized crime.” Firtash has denied that label and the charge, fighting them from Vienna, where he has lived for the past five years.
Parnas has been working for Firtash’s legal team as a translator, a spokesman for DiGenova and Toensing told NBC News. The spokesman denied that Parnas’ Vienna trip involved Firtash.
As NBC News reported last week, Parnas and Fruman sought to change the leadership at Ukrainian state-run gas company Naftogaz at the same time they were working with Giuliani to uncover information related to former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter’s Ukrainian business ties, an effort that is now the subject of the House impeachment inquiry. Naftogaz’s existing leadership was hostile toward Firtash’s past energy dealings. Giuliani last week denied any involvement with the efforts aimed at Naftogaz.
House Democrats subpoenaed Parnas and Fruman for documents and testimony as part of the impeachment inquiry, which began soon after it was revealed that Trump asked his Ukrainian counterpart in July for “a favor” that included probing the Bidens and investigating a conspiracy involving the 2016 election
Giuliani has repeatedly highlighted an affidavit former Ukrainian Prosecutor Viktor Shokin filed in behalf of Firtash in which Shokin blamed his ouster on his investigation of Burisma, the Ukrainian gas company affiliated with Hunter Biden. Backed by much of the international community, the former vice president pushed for Shokin’s ouster over his ineffectiveness at cracking down on corruption. The probe of Burisma had been dormant for more than a year by the time Shokin was fired and there has never been evidence that either Biden acted inappropriately.
Giuliani told NBC News he had “nothing to do with the preparing of the affidavit” and said he has more evidence to base his claims about Biden on than that document, including an interview with Shokin.
“This is a smear job. The Firtash thing is a smear job. I have nothing to do with him. The president has nothing to do with him,” Giuliani said. “The fact is, I know his case because it’s very famous. I know the contending positions on both sides of the case, but I have no involvement in it beyond hearing about it and obviously being given an affidavit.”
“And all I did was outline the parts of that affidavit that pertain to me,” he continued. “I have no idea if the rest of the affidavit is relevant, truthful. I do know the parts of the affidavit that I put out I can support with independent evidence, plenty of independent evidence.”
Tom Winter contributed.
John Leguizamo endorses Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro
Ahead of Tuesday’s Democratic presidential debate, Julián Castro picked up an endorsement from actor John Leguizamo, was mimicked by ‘Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda and took his own comedic turn at his twin brother’s expense.
Leguizamo, most recently nominated for his performance in the docudrama “When They See Us”, has been on national tour with “Latino History for Morons,” his one-man show that uses his comedic and acting talents to educate the country about its Hispanic and Latin American history. The show also was a Netflix feature.
Although the endorsement was announced Monday, Leguizamo had made his Democratic presidential candidate preference clear over the summer when Stephen Colbert asked his choice.
“Julián Castro. I love that cat. I met him 10 years ago. He was what 30 back then? He was so brilliant, so smart, so composed. … I want him to win, plus he’ll make Stephen Miller so angry,” Leguizamo said. Miller is a policy adviser to Trump behind much of the administration’s hard-line immigration policies.
On Monday, Julián Castro’s campaign released a list of 58 endorsements which include Latina actor and comedian Cristela Alonzo, current and former state and local legislators, former White House officials and community activists.
Castro’s campaign is struggling; though his campaign said he has had his best fundraising quarter, he has not met the polling requirement he needs to qualify for November’s debate.
Castro will be among the 12 Democratic candidates participating in Tuesday’s debate in Ohio.
His campaign announced that on Tuesday, hours before the debate, Castro would visit a Mennonite church in Columbus, Ohio, and meet with Edith Espinal, an undocumented immigrant who has been in the U.S. for 20 years and is facing deportation despite support from the community and some elected officials. She has sought sanctuary at the church and has asked the 2020 presidential candidates to meet with her.
An ‘SNL’ ribbing, roasting his twin
Monday’s endorsements followed a weekend of activities and some media attention, including some ribbing from Lin-Manuel Miranda who portrayed Castro on “Saturday Night Live” and pitched himself as “young, diverse. I’m Latinobama.” Miranda’s appearance followed criticism of the show after it did not include Castro, the only Latino candidate in the race, in a debate sketch during the season premiere on Sept. 28.
The Castro brothers spoke Sunday at The New Yorker Festival, an event held by New Yorker magazine. Julián Castro walked onstage to “My Shot,” a song from “Hamilton,” created and starring Miranda.
Castro got in the act himself over the weekend, but rather than mock himself, he chose the next closest thing, his identical twin, Rep. Joaquín Castro, D-Texas.
Castro helped the Society of Professional Journalists, San Antonio, raise money for journalism scholarships with an appearance in the 2019 Gridiron Show that was themed “Enemies of the State.” The satirical show pokes fun at current events and newsmakers, and Castro and his brother have participated in previous years.
The 2020 presidential candidate mocked the media at the Saturday night event for regularly confusing him and his brother, The San Antonio Express News reported. When MSNBC confused the two recently, Joaquín Castro called out the mix-up in a tweet and asked whether he needs a face tattoo to help people tell them apart.
Julián Castro read a top 10 list of face tattoos his brother should get. Among the recommendations, “The word ‘impeachment’ to remind Congress what the right thing to do is.” His top recommendation was “Rosie” — their mother’s name — because he’s a momma’s boy.
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