May 21st - 2:52 pm
Although this was not included on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s official daily schedule – officially speaking, he’s in Albany with no public appearances planned – the governor is apparently scheduled to host the state’s 62 Democratic County chairs at the executive mansion this evening.
Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner (who, by the way, was not Cuomo’s first choice to replace veteran former Chairman Len Lenihan), spilled the beans on the reception…actually, he put out a press release announcing he would be attending, following a tour of the restored state Capitol with his fellow chairs.
“I am looking forward to seeing the completed renovations in the Capitol Building,” Zellner said in his release. “The building is one of New York’s treasures, and the restoration work is another key indication that things are getting done in Albany.”
(That “things are getting done in Albany” line is in keeping with Cuomo’s recent message – which voters appear to be buying, despite the recent spate of scandals to wash over the Capitol – and perhaps will help to endear the chairman to the governor).
Tomorrow, Zellner and his fellow county chairs will attend the state party’s annual spring meeting in Albany tomorrow. (No word yet as to whether Cuomo will be in an appearance, but he did speak at the DRC’s recent meeting in Saratoga Springs, so it’s a goood bet he’ll likely at least drop by).
After all, 2014 is an election year, and Cuomo is gearing up to run again. The state party has also taken on greater importance in Cuomoland since the Committee to Save New York stopped spending cash to run ads that are supportive of Cuomo’s agenda. The party is now doing that instead.
I believe this is the first time all the county chairs will be getting together since the high-profile tiff state Democratic Party Co-Chair Stephanie Miner had with Cuomo over pension smoothing and his proposal for a state-level advisory board to assist local governments that are facing financial difficulties.
May 21st - 1:44 pm
Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb today announced legislation that would replace the often-maligned Joint Commission on Public Ethics, better identify member items in the state budget and create new crimes for those who defraud the government.
Kolb unveiled the legislation in a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Comptroller Tom DiNapoli.
“The Assembly Minority Conference has introduced comprehensive legislation that calls for unprecedented reforms to the laws, regulations and requirements that guide the conduct of state officials,” Kolb wrote in the letter released today. “I am proud that every member of our Conference has signed onto this comprehensive bill package. In doing so, the Assembly Minority Conference has made a steadfast commitment to bringing real change to Albany that will foster greater integrity, transparency and accountability, which our constituents expect and deserve.”
The package of reforms would also require campaign funds of public officials found guilty of a felony either be returned to their contributors or given to charity.
In a similar proposal from Cuomo, it would block individuals convicted of felonies related to defrauding the government from lobbying or receiving state contracts.
The Assembly Republicans are an often over-looked conference in a chamber that is dominated by Democrats since the Watergate scandal.
Still, GOP lawmakers also like gripe/celebrate how their ideas are eventually picked up by Democratic lawmakers down the road.
May 21st - 12:21 pm
Billionaire New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has given $7.2 million.
The New York State United Teachers unions has doled out $3.2 million.
And the Greater New York Hospital Association contributed $3 million.
Good-government groups don’t consider the state’s campaign finance regulatons to be the most stringent to begin with, but when it comes to so-called “housekeeping” accounts, the sky is indeed the limit.
The group Common Cause/NY released today a report on soft money giving to the accounts, finding that in the last six years alone $58 million has been sent to housekeeping accounts of political parties and legislative conferences.
“Housekeeping accounts are a notorious loophole which both contributors and committees exploit to ignore our state’s campaign contribution limits and undermine the voters. The system of legal bribery in which Albany operates is largely responsible for the wide scale corruption we’ve seen in recent months. In order to change the culture of corruption which puts democracy up for auction, we need wholesale campaign finance reform, built around a system of small dollar matching funds, to hold elected accountable to their constituents. As long as big dollar donors wield disproportionate influence over our politics, we will never truly have a government for and by the people,” said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause/NY.
Bloomberg, a political patron of the Senate Republicans, has given the most over the years in New York. Last year Bloomberg cut a $1 million check to the GOP’s housekeeping account.
Hedge manager Robert Mercer also contributed $1 million in 2010 to the state Conservative Party.
The reoprt found that housekeeping accounts represent an often exploited loophole in the state’s campaign finance law with unlimited donations. The money is ostensibly not meant to be used for specific candidates, but money transfers allow for a end-run around that rule.
Banning houseekping accounts, however, is easier said than done.
A measure to public finance political campaigns passed the Democratic-led Assembly earlier this year, but that did not include a curb on soft money.
The four-member Independent Democratic Conference has a package of campaign finance law changes that includes a ban on the housekeeping accounts.
May 21st - 12:20 pm
ICYMI: Assemblyman Mickey Kearns – now officially a man without a country since he left the Democratic conference to protest Speaker Sheldon Silver’s handling of the Vito Lopez scandal – was reluctant during a CapTon interview to suggest a replacement for the speaker, whose resignation the freshman Buffalo lawmaker is the first majority member to publicly call for.
But Kearns did say he’s confident there is someone among his former colleagues capable of taking Silver’s place without causing too much chaos – perhaps even a woman.
“Listen, I’m not here to to make a king today,” Kearns said when I asked him the “if not Silver, then who” question. “I don’t know. But all I do know is that there’s 150 members of the Assembly. There has to be someone else there who can lead the Assembly.”
“I don’t know who that person is – he or she – it would be maybe a little refreshing to have a woman speaker. I’m not here to answer that. What I’m saying here today is: People at home should call and contact their legislators and ask them why they still remain to support them. (sic) You mentioned being a caucus of one. I’d rather be in a caucus where at least I have my dignity at the end of the day, and at least I have my conscience to go home to.”
There hasn’t been a contest for speaker since 1994 when Silver, then the 49-year-old head of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, succeeded Saul Weprin after he suffered a severe troke and died. But there also hasn’t been a speaker from upstate in years – other than James Tallon, of Broome County, who held the post in an acting capacity for three days in 1991 in between Mel Miller’s felony conviction and Weprin’s election.
There has never been a woman speaker. There has never been a woman leader in the state Senate, either. Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who ousted Sen. John Sampson last December, is the first woman in Albany history to lead a legislative conference. It would be truly historic if there were two women leaders in Albany serving at the same time – one of whom bumped one of the man out of that infamous room where all the deals are made.
So, if there were to be a change in leadership in the Assembly – which, as Nick and the NYT pointed out earlier today is highly unlikely – Silver’s replacement would almost certainly have to come from New York City, given the downstate dominance of the Democratic conference. And since the chamber is so seniority-driven, there aren’t many women who would even be considered contenders – maybe Deborah Glick, Cathy Nolan or Helene Weinstein?
All of them – actually, all of the female Democratic conference members – are standing by Silver, so this discussion is, of course, purely academic.
I’m not sure who – woman or man – has a sufficient power base to win the glorified popularity contest that is the speaker’s race. The black and Puerto Rican caucus would certainly be a driving force in that election, but its members often have trouble staying united.
The lack of unity and dearth of members with clout and power in the conference is a big factor when it comes to Silver’s longevity. Because, of course, you can’t beat someone with no one.
May 21st - 12:06 pm
NARAL Pro-Choice New York President Andrea Miller said this morning her group and others in a coalition have a “laser focus” on achieving the full passage of the women’s agenda despite deep-seated opposition in the state Senate.
The agenda has taken on a new dimension for its supporters, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who say the Vito Lopez sexual harassment scandal is an even greater impetus for passing the package. The bill language for the agenda is yet to be released.
Speaking with reporters during NARAL’s lobby day in Albany, Miller said she did not want to wade into the politics of who should be leading the state Assembly as calls mount for Speaker Sheldon Silver to step down for his handling of the confidential settlement.
“I’m not going to get into a politics question about who should be in the leadership right now,” Miller said. ”We’re really laser focused on getting the women’s equality agenda through. I think the attempts to equate the speaker with Lopez are extreme. I have concerns about that.”
But she did call for changes in how sexual harassment allegations are handled. Silver on Monday apologized for keeping the initial complaints made against Lopez a secret and proposed a ban on confidential settlements in the future.
“It would be a disservice to women’s equality agenda if there weren’t an equal commitment to making sure it gets done in the Assembly and the Legislature writ large,” she said, adding, “It shouldn’t derail over the rest of the business of this body.”
As for bill language in the agenda from the governor’s office, Miller said progress is being made on that front, but there’s still no timetable for its release.
At the heart of the controversy for the agenda is a provision that Cuomo says will codify the Roe versus Wade decision. Opponents of abortion rights contend the move would expand abortion rights to an uncomfortable degree and is unnecessary.
Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos has said he won’t hold a vote on the abortion provision and has since become a target of a NARAL radio campaign.
“As we’ve talked about before, the challenge with the reproductive health is that it has been so severely mischaracterized,” Miller said. ”It is so crystal clear that nobody can assume it does only what we want it to do.”
May 21st - 10:05 am
From Capital Tonight’s morning memo, which you can subscribe to for free on the right side of this page:
Politics, like the natural world, abhors a vacuum.
So imagine an alternate world where the Vito Lopez sexual harassment scandal actually forced Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to resign the job he’s held since 1994.
On this Earth-2, the factionalized fight among the 100-some-odd Democrats to form the right combination of coalitions to determine a successor would make the 2009 Senate leadership coup look like a garden party.
In other words, the chaos we’ve seen in a chamber of 63 lawmakers would be transferred to a body more than twice its size — a cataclysm that would have a devastating impact as a slew of complex issues remain under negotiation.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, naturally, stands the most to lose in such an equation as he pushes a post-budget agenda that he’ll need the powerful speaker to sign off on.
Cuomo yesterday a news conference said he didn’t equate Lopez’s alleged crimes with Silver’s office’s attempt to keep the initial sexual harassment complaints a secret.
“I believe the speaker mishandled the complaint and the situation,” Cuomo said. “It is different, however, than what Vito Lopez did, which is actually be the person who was abusing women. One is you didn’t handle it well, the other is the actual act.”
Silver, for better or worse, needs to stay in office to preside over a chamber he’s been able to skillfully keep in line for three decades now.
Yes, the speaker and the governor haven’t always gotten along since Cuomo took office in 2011.
They’ve sparred over keeping the millionaires tax and have even tried to one-up each other in news conferences and timed released of bill legislation.
But ultimately Cuomo needs stability in the state Legislature, especially given the volatile nature of the Senate, which is now under a power-sharing coalition of Republicans and four Democrats that tacitly received the governor’s backing.
Cuomo says it’s not his place to determine who leads the legislative conferences in another branch of government.
He’s likely mindful of the fights Eliot Spitzer tried to pick with Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno and Silver himself.
But he also knows the mindset of the rank-and-file lawmaker in Assembly. And at the end of the day, most seem to consider Silver to be a good boss who attends to their needs and listens to their complaints.
Cuomo knows that picking a fight with one Assembly speaker means he’s picking a fight with an entire legislative conference (minus Buffalo’s Michael Kearns) that could completely stall what’s left to do this spring.
The governor is already running smack into a wall of opposition in the Senate, where Republicans (and at least one Democrat) don’t want to hold a vote on a measure to strengthen abortion laws or allow for the public financing of political campaigns.
Silver is not an ally of Cuomo’s, but for a governor who has touted functionality of state government above all — three on-time budgets in a row is a major feather in his cap — stability in the Legislature is paramount.
Ultimately it appears there’s little chance of Silver losing his job anytime soon.
This is not the first time Silver has been criticized by newspaper editorial boards or unelected Republicans like state party chairman Ed Cox and it won’t be the last.
Kearns, who announced was splitting from the Democratic conference over the Lopez affair, was never supported by the Assembly leadership to begin with, having run on an anti-Silver platform. That’s political catnip to Buffalo voters.
Meanwhile, he held a news conference outlining his plans to change how sexual harassment cases are resolved in state government. And, in a rare moment of public contrition for the powerful speaker, Silver apologized.
“Mistakes were made,” Silver said, “and I deeply regret that.”
May 21st - 6:24 am
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is in Albany with no public schedule.
Voters across the state head to the polls to cast ballots in school budget votes.
At 9 a.m., Mayor Bloomberg speaks at the NYC Conflicts of Interest Board’s 19th Annual Seminar on Ethics in NYC Government, 185 West Broadway at Leonard Street, Manhattan.
At 10:30 a.m., the Independent Budget office releases its analysis of Bloomberg’s executive budget for 2014 and his financial plan through 2017.
At 11 a.m., NYC Council Member Jessica Lappin, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott and NYCLU Director Donna Lieberman hold a press conference to speak out against a resolution that calls on Albany to allow religious groups to use New York City public school space for worship services; Tweed Courthouse, 52 Chambers St., Manhattan.
…The Council’s Education Committee holds a hearing and will vote on the same bill at 1 p.m.
At 11:30 a.m., thousands of nurses and healthcare workers from across New York will rally in Albany in advance of their lobby day, West Capitol Park, state Capitol.
It’s also NARAL Pro-Choice NY’s lobby day, with hundreds of advocates gathering to push for Cuomo’s (yet unreleased) Women’s Equality Agenda.
Also at 11:30 a.m., Common Cause/NY and NYPIRG will unveil an in-depth analysis of soft money giving to housekeeping accounts in New York, LCA Press Room, LOB 130, Albany.
From 12:30 to 3:30 p.m., Cuomo’s New NY Education Reform Commission is holding a public symposium on “innovative solutions for restructuring public school systems,” The Huxley Theater, NYS Museum, 222 Madison Ave., Albany.
Also at 12:30 p.m., the New York State DREAM Coalition will call on the Senate to pass the DREAM Act before the session ends. (The Assembly is expected to take up the measure today), Million Dollar staircase, state Capitol, Albany.
From 12:45 p.m. to 2 p.m., CUNY administrators, former U.S. Secretary of State and retired U.S. Army Gen. Colin Powell and the commander of the U.S. Army Cadet Command, Maj. Gen. Jefforey Smith, discuss the establishment of an Army Senior ROTC program on all of the university’s campuses; The Great Hall, second floor, Shepard Hall, 160 Convent Ave., Manhattan.
Kerry Kennedy is scheduled to appear tonight in North Castle Town Court as her drugged-driving case ambles toward trial.
Facing growing pressure to resign his leadership post, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver for the first time publicly said “I’m sorry” for helping to cover up the Vito Lopez sexual harassment scandal.
Silver announced he would establish an independent investigator to handle and direct any complaint of that type brought by an Assembly employee, and would make all lawmakers and supervisory staff “mandatory reporters” of harassment complaints.
The NYT calls on Brooklyn residents to reject Vito Lopez’s NYC Council candidacy if he makes good on his threat to run.
The NY Post ties Cuomo firmly to the Lopez mess, calling on him to change his tune on Silver. “So long as the governor defends Shelly, he will be defined by Shelly.”
“People say the speaker should resign…I said, I don’t,” Cuomo said yesterday. “The Assembly will decide who is the leader of the Assembly. They vote. I don’t vote.”
Silver said he hasn’t given any thought to resigning.
May 20th - 6:46 pm
The Assembly today scrubbed all references to Assemblyman Vito Lopez, who resigned this morning effective 9 a.m. The nameplate on his chair in the Assembly is gone, as is the sign outside his office. Lopez’s website was removed.
May 20th - 5:51 pm
A contrite Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver apologized for keeping the confidential sexual harassment settlement for ex-Assemblyman Vito Lopez a secret while unveiling a package of reforms for how the state handles such cases.
“Mistakes were made, I deeply regret that,” Silver said while flanked by more than a dozen lawmakers, including women, adding that he’s responsible for how the initial complaints against Lopez were handled.
Lopez, a Brooklyn Democrat, resigned this morning from the seat he’s held since 1984 in the wake of the release of two investigations into allegations of sexual harassment made by legislative aides.
A Joint Commission on Public Ethics report found Lopez broke the public officers law and detailed the allegations by the staffers. A report from the State Island District Attorney’s Office found no criminal laws were broken.
But Silver has come under criticism for his handling of the settlement for the initial complaints and the internal push from the Assembly to keep it a secret in order to avoid media scrutiny. The confidential nature of the settlement would allow Lopez to hire more aides, two of whom would subsequently accuse him of harassment as well.
Silver has admitted in the past that he was mistaken in his handling of the case, but today’s news conference was Silver at his most defensive as calls come for his resignation.
“I did not give any thought to resigning,” Silver said. “I’m proud to serve my colleagues for as long as they want me to.”
Saying what happened “weighs heavily on me,” Silver proposed a series of measures that would overhaul sexual harassment claims.
The measures include the creation of an independent investigator to handle claims, mandatory reporting of sexual harassment complaints by Assembly employees and legislators and a ban on confidential settlements.
The proposal would also remove Silver’s office from handling sexual harassment allegations involving legislative employees entirely.
Silver said he did not read the report detailing Lopez’s harassment until Thursday, the same night his office called for the lawmaker to be expelled. The speaker, an Orthodox Jew, observed a Wednesday holiday and had not read the report. His office the day the JCOPE report was released reiterated its call for Lopez to resign, but did not call for his ouster.
“I was horrified with what was going on,” Silver said.
Silver has previously come under criticism for his handling of charges made against his legislative counsel Michael Boxley, who was accused of sexual assault.
But the speaker denied there’s a culture of harassment aimed at women or the idea that the Capitol is a hostile environment for women, pointing out changes made to the Assembly’s intern policy, as well as previous overhauls to how harassment claims are made.
“We’ve made tremendous strides over the last 25 years,” he said. “But clearly there’s more work to be done.”
May 20th - 4:56 pm
All traces of now former Assemblyman Vito Lopez have been scrubbed from the Legislature and its environs.
A “best of” reel of vintage Lopez moments – including when he called NY Post reporter Sally Goldenberg a “sick lady” for daring to inquire about his health (which he routinely says is failing).
Crain’s has an on-line poll on Silver’s future as speaker.
In defense of Silver, Cuomo said sexual harassment is a societal problem, and not something unique to Albany.
Buffalo-area Assemblyman Michael Kearns, a longtime Silver critic, says he’s leaving the chamber’s Democratic majority until the speaker steps down.
“It’s no surprise,” said Silver spokesman Mike Whyland, “He ran as a Republican…he has never supported the speaker.”
Cuomo’s chief of staff Josh Vlasto sent an email exchange with the NY Post’s Fred Dicker to 10 other reporters after Dicker alleged in his column that Cuomo’s office had leaked his exclusive to another outlet.
Some African American Queens Democrats are unhappy the party’s endorsement list doesn’t include any black candidates.
Seven things New Yorkers should know (according to the CBC) about municipal labor contracts in NYC.
The Cuomo administration is trying to generate support for its plan to overhaul LIPA by getting business groups to sign on to a letter it is circulating.
Hillary Clinton will deliver the next lecture in the Kerschner Family Series Global Leaders at Colgate University on Oct. 25.
Developer Carl Paladino’s $14.7 million plan to convert the decaying Arctic Freezer Building next to the Niagara Thruway is getting $634,000 in tax breaks through the Erie County IDA.
A new mailer from Republican NYC mayoral hopeful John Catsimatidis includes a pointed reference to “years of mismanagement” at the MTA.
A state judge says Hudson River Rafting Co. can resume guided trips in the Adirondacks but must post a $50,000 bond and cannot rent rafts or kayaks to customers who captain their own boats on rivers requiring licensed guides.
New York Downtown Hospital has laid off its entire paramedic and EMT staff in preparation for a takeover by New York Presbyterian.
Is practicing journalism a criminal act? It appears the Obama administration might think so.