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 7th - 1:40 pm
ICYMI: Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins told me last night that she’s hopeful Sen. John Sampson is the last member of her conference who will face charges for wrongdoing, but she isn’t 100 percent confident there won’t be more where that came from.
“I want to say that I feel confident,” Stewart-Cousins told me. “I feel confident that the conference that we are today is a conference that is filled with committed public servants who understand what their role is and is more than capable of performing that role.”
“I hope that there would be no other allegations against any of the members of the Legislature, frankly, because I think that we’ve all been hit and it always disturbs the public trust when we are. So it doesn’t matter if it’s this conference or that. We are all unfortunately painted with the same brush when this happens.”
Given the accelerated rate of announcements by federal prosecutors of charges being brought against state lawmakers these days, most Capitol watchers believe Sampson is probably not the end of it. Up to this point, one corruption case has led to another as dirty pols flip on their colleagues or agree to work undercover for the feds in an attempt to lessen their own charges.
Stewart-Cousins said she got a “heads-up” from Sampson the day before he turned himself in to the FBI (in other words, Sunday) after she called him to inquire about reports on his imminent arrest in the NYC tabs. During that conversation she informed him she would not only be stripping him of his ranking committee posts, but also booting him from the conference altogether.
One thing she did not do, however, is call on Sampson to resign. I asked her why not, and she said the senator is an “adult” and has to make his own decisions.
May 6th - 10:32 am
Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins has stripped Sen. John Sampson of his ranking committee posts in the chamber and is no longer a member of the conference, she announced in a news released this morning.
Stewart-Cousins, a Yonkers Democrat, ousted Sampson as leader of the mainline Democrats in the wake of the November elections.
Sampson had been the ranking minority member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
She called the latest corruption scandal to hit Albany “deeply disturbing” and a violation of the public trust.
“These allegations are deeply disturbing,” Stewart-Cousins said. “The alleged activity represents an offensive violation of the public trust for which there is no place in our government. Senator Sampson has been stripped of his ranking positions and all committee assignments. He has also informed us that in order to avoid being a distraction to the conference he will no longer conference with the Senate Democrats.”
With Sampson booted from the conference, he is now the second member of the Legislature to be without a formal conference. Sen. Malcolm Smith, who joined the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference last year, was kicked out of the IDC by Sen. Jeff Klein last month after he was arrested in a separate corruption case.
Mar 20th - 1:40 pm
Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in a statement this afternoon proposed breaking a minimum wage increase out of the budget talks and passing it as a stand-alone measure.
The call comes as leiglsative leaders and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have seemingly reached a tentative agreement to raise the minimum wage to $9 over several phases. The $9 wage would take effect by the end of 2015.
But Stewart-Cosuins said the minimum wage needs to be indexed to the rate of inflation, which is a component of the bill passed by the Democratic-led Assembly earlier this month.
As usual, Senate Democrats point to having the necessary votes to passing the minimum wage increase now in the chamber.
“As details emerge it is clear that the current minimum wage proposal has some serious issues. While increasing the minimum wage to $9.00 is something that the Senate Democrats have long supported, we are disappointed that the current proposal doesn’t reach this level for three years, is not indexed to the rate of inflation and does not raise the wages of certain service workers. The Governor and the Assembly all originally proposed acceptable proposals, unfortunately the Senate Republicans have blocked these efforts. We propose removing this discussion from the budget and we stand ready to provide 27 votes for raising the minimum wage quicker, with indexing and for all low wage workers.”
Mar 1st - 4:47 pm
Rounding out a day of reactions (and lawsuits) to Thursday’s gun control rally, Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins today penned an op/ed re-affirming her conference’s support for the measure and blasted the Senate GOP for knocking the measure.
In the essay, the Democratic lawmaker takes on the concerns over the message of necessity to waive the three-day aging process and takes up the argument from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office that it was the Legislature — in this case the Senate GOP — that had to technically ask for the message.
“On Thursday, in the shadows of our Capitol, Republican Senators pandered to a vocal minority in a manner that was duplicitous at best, hypocritical at worst. If these lawmakers are truly outraged by the passage of the NY SAFE-Act with a message of necessity, then perhaps these same Senators should focus their condemnation on themselves because they accepted the message of necessity.”
Earlier today, Republican Sen. Phil Boyle, who had voted for the law, said in a statment he was backing an effort to overturn the major provisions in it.
Sen. Kathy Marchione, R-Halfmoon, announced Thursday afternoon she was introducing the repeal bill.
Feb 26th - 3:07 pm
With the extended mid-winter break for state lawmakers almost over and the budget due to be passed in about a month, a multi-pronged effort is beginning to make a final dash to approve a minimum wage hike.
Things started off with a YouTube video from Strong Economy for All, that was posted this morning on The New York Times’ City Room blog.
The group’s Executive Director Mike Kink told me the video of restaurant workers featuring the song “Money (That’s What I Want)” was done to highlight that industry and the need to raise the wage. The video also sought to shine a light on the restaurant owners who back the wage hike as well (one political consultant told me this is the “first” advocacy video this year to raise the minimum wage).
Later in the afternoon Assembly Democrats released an economic impact assessment of raising the minimum wage to $9 and tying future increases to the rate of inflation, known as indexing.
“The Assembly Majority has been a longstanding champion of workers’ rights and atop that list is the right of a worker to earn a dignified wage. No full-time worker who puts in an honest day’s work should live in poverty,” Silver said. “Certainly, no one could raise a family on this income without government assistance. The reality is that the current minimum wage is not sufficient to provide food and shelter let alone access to health care or retirement security.”
The report found that the wage increase would impact 925,000 workers in the state, with 87 percent of them working more than 20 hours per week.
Tomorrow, a renewed effort will come from the Senate Democrats, who will hold a news conference highlighting that the chamber has the necessary 32 votes (and possibly more) to pass the $9 minimum wage measure now.
It’s an attractive talking point for the Senate Democrats in part because it is designed to apply some pressure to the five-member Independent Democratic Conference now in a ruling majority with the Senate Republicans. The IDC, led by Sen. Jeff Klein, all back a wage increase.
Still, the wage increase, part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget, was complicated in part by President Obama’s proposal on the federal level. Cuomo’s plan would increase the wage from $7.25 to $8.75; Obama’s would make it $9 on the federal level, plus index future increases.
Senate Republicans took cover in this and suggested it may be better to wait on the federal level. Cuomo, who said he would like to see the wage raised on the federal level, said he would keep pushing in Albany as well.
The one card that the Senate GOP continues to play is pushing for surcharge in the 18a utility tax extension to be taken out of the budget and allowed to expire next year. The only complicating factor there, of course, is how to make up for the $200-million plus in revenue.
Jan 29th - 5:08 pm
Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in an interview this afternoon said she hoped the women’s equality legislation being pushed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo will garner the support of some Republican lawmakers.
In an interview in her Capitol office, Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, wouldn’t directly address that at least two members of her conference, Sens. Ruben Diaz and Tim Kennedy, are opposed to abortion and likely wouldn’t support the Reproductive Health Act, which Cuomo is including in his equality package.
But she did hope that the measure could gain traction with the Republican conference, despite Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos’s opposition.
“I don’t want to preclude Republicans from wanting to improve the lives of women,” she said. ”In context when people realize the facts and realize the hurdles women face I’m hoping that this will definitely be a bipartisan support of the women of New York state.”
Meanwhile Cuomo unveiled a new coalition of groups backing a package of measures that include clamping down on domestic violence and an equality pay act.
But it is the reproductive health component that has opponents and Republicans especially wary.
Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein backs the measure, but Skelos, who has had allowed both Cuomo’s gun control law and the same-sex marriage law on the floor for a vote, has come under criticism from the conservative base of the party, making a deal all the tougher.
For her part, Stewart-Cousins says the there’s no piece within the women’s equality legislation that’s more important, and she urged the GOP to consider the whole proposal.
“We have to look at the whole package and I’m hoping that when my colleagues on the other side of the aisle look at the whole package and make a decision that will support women in New York,” she said.
Jan 14th - 2:42 pm
No, that’s not the actual, official name of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s women’s equality legislation he proposed in his third State of the State address last week.
But the New York State Catholic Conference is zeroing in on the legislation that would broaden reproductive rights laws in the state, saying it would “endanger” the lives of women in New York.
The conference also says it’s concerned that the legislation would infringe on the religious freedoms of Catholic hospitals — an argument that has echoes of the contraception debate in the federal health care law of 2010.
From the conference’s bill memo, which can be found here:
“We strongly urge you to oppose this abortion expansion plan, in whatever form it may take. It is unnecessary, extreme and dangerous. For the reasons outlined below, the New York State Catholic Conference strongly opposes this legislation and urges that it be defeated.”
The memo was released today as the Family Planning Advocates held a rally in support of Cuomo’s plan at The Well in the Legislative Office Building.
The conference is seizing on the measure as carried by Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, so it’s unclear if the exact outline of the legislation as proposed by her would transfer over to Cuomo’s larger legislative package.
Cuomo, a practicing Catholic, said last week that he respects the church’s opinions, but notes he’s parted ways with them before, most notably on same-sex marriage legalization.