Feb 14, 2020
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The Bail Reform Backlash That Has Democrats at War

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“It’s time to stop the fear and misinformation,” the ad says. “We deserve better, we deserve the truth.”

Indeed, the opposition to the law has inspired its own fervent pushback, including aggressive online advocacy and the near-constant presence of grass roots activists in the Capitol. Groups like VOCAL-NY have bused hundreds of demonstrators to Albany, from all over the state, with a blunt message: We want more reforms, not fewer.

New Yorkers United for Justice, the coalition behind the Long Island ad, has spent more than $2 million to pass and defend the changes to the bail law, hiring A-list publicists and Albany lobbyists and investing in polling, media training and a “rapid response war room,” which bombards journalists and elected officials on Twitter and through emails after sensitive articles appear.

Still, they admit they are battling critics with bigger platforms to voice their message, which also has the benefit of using the potent political weapon of public safety fears.

“All of this is a snowball,” said Khalil Cumberbatch, the chief strategist for New Yorkers United for Justice, adding that his group’s goal is to “undercut, at the root, where the misinformation is coming from.”

But, he added, “its very hard to put that lightning back in a bottle.”

Indeed, criticism of the law has continued to build, particularly in Republican circles. The Senate minority leader, John J. Flanagan of Long Island, has consistently hammered Democrats on the issue, issuing statements opposing bail reform almost daily, and finding new momentum after overseeing the Republican conference’s disastrous 2018 campaigns.

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