May 6th - 12:21 pm
ICYMI, this was today’s morning memo:
Et Tu, Shirley?
Since the revelation that former Bronx Assemblyman Nelson Castro had been working as a double agent for federal prosecutors for almost the entire duration of his four years in office, the most popular political parlor game in Albany has been trying to guess who else might be wearing a wire.
Queens Assemblyman David Weprin even joked to the New York Times that it had become de rigueur upon meeting colleagues to “feel them up and down” – in a joking sort of way, of course.
Little did he know.
Last week, we learned Castro was not alone in his undercover activities. Former state Sen. Shirley Huntley, also of Queens, had also been working for the feds after discovering she would be slapped with corruption charges.
It looks like prosecutors hit pay dirt with Huntley – netting a much bigger fish than the one Castro managed to reel in (freshman Assemblyman Eric Stevenson, who is scheduled to be indicted in federal court today).
Former Minority Leader John Sampson turned himself in this morning to the FBI to face corruption charges in connection with a bribery deal that also involved Huntley and his own embezzlement of some $440,000 from the foreclosure sales of four Brooklyn properties for which he was the court-appointed referee.
Court documents reveal that Huntley, who pleaded guilty to corruption charges in January, recorded meetings with nine different people, seven of whom were elected officials and two others who had previously worked as a consultant or staff member to a public official.
It turns out that Sampson is the lawmaker identified in those documents as “Senator #1,” who sought help from Huntley for a businessman who was offering bribes in exchange for help to expand his business at Kennedy International Airport, which is in Huntley’s district.
Sampson set up a meeting between Huntley and the businessman, and Huntley subsequently contacted airport authorities on his behalf over the next two months, receiving $1,000 for her efforts. The money was ill spent, however, because despite the bribe, the businessman did not receive a lease for additional space from the Port Authority.
This is not the only incident involving Sampson that has caught the interest of federal investigators. They’re also reportedly looking into the Brooklyn Democrat’s relationship with Edul Ahmad, a Queens real estate broker whom Sampson represented as a client through his legal practice.
Ahmad pleaded guilty in federal court in October to a mortgage fraud scheme and has been the focus of a loan scandal involving Queens Rep. Gregory Meeks.
It’s ironic that Huntley is the one to take Sampson down. Back in 2010, he defended her against LGBT advocates who were furious that he agreed to support her and other Democrats who voted “no” on the gay marriage bill.
At the time, Huntley was facing a primary challenge from gay-marriage supporter Lynn Nunes. Sampson gave Huntley $9,500 from his own campaign cash and tried unsuccessfully to prevent the Empire State Pride Agenda, New York’s largest LGBT organization, from endorsing Nunes.
Nunes was not successful at ousting Huntley in the September primary. She won roughly 70 percent of the vote in that race.
Unlike with Castro, whom the feds allowed to stand for election three times, knowing all the while he was 1) a crook, and 2) splitting his time between representing his constituents and trying to catch fellow crooked colleagues in the act; Huntley only ran for re-election once, and was defeated in a primary by former NYC Councilman-turned-Sen. James Sanders.
It’s unclear if there will be more charges stemming from Huntley’s work on behalf of the US attorney’s office, but most observers agree this is just the tip of the iceberg.
It’s certainly bad news for the Senate Democrats, who have been trying to argue since last year’s elections that they are no longer the dysfunctional and trouble-ridden conference of the past.
And it’s especially bad news for those who are close to Sampson and might have something to hide. Sen. Malcolm Smith, the Queens Democrat who replaced Sampson as conference leader during the infamous 2009 coup, is battling his own corruption charges.
But there are one or two others – elected officials and former Senate staffers – who must be pretty darn concerned these days.
Jan 31st - 1:32 pm
Republican Rep. Michael Grimm may have easily defeated his Democratic opponent, Mark Murphy, this past November, but he may be facing troubled times ahead.
The Staten Island congressman’s latest filing with the FEC indicates his camapign committee spent another $100,000 on legal fees with the Washington, D.C. firm Patton Boggs. This filing covers the period from Nov. 27 through Dec. 31, 2012, so that’s a pretty hefty bill.
Taking into account the latest filing, Grimm’s legal bill now tops $1 million.
Patton Boggs is representing Grimm in the ongoing FBI probe into his fundraising.
An Israeli national, Ofer Biton, is at the center of the inquiry by the US attorney’s office in Brooklyn into whether Biton and Grimm collected contributions for Grimm’s 2010 campaign that exceeded contribution limits, were given in cash or came from foreigners without green cards.
Biton was charged last August with immigration fraud.
A House ethics panel has said it voted to investigate Grimm in November, but decided to defer to the Justice Department’s ongoing investigation of the fundraising activities. Grimm has denied being engaged in any illegal activities.
Also today, the House Majority PAC announced Grimm is one of ten “extreme” Republican members of Congress on its target list for 2014. He’s the only New Yorker on the list. The others are: Michele Bachmann (MN-06), Mike Coffman (CO-06), Gary Miller (CA-31), Rodney Davis (IL-13), Mike Fitzpatrick (PA-08), Joe Heck (NV-03), David Joyce (OH-14), John Kline (MN-02) and Steve Southerland (FL-02).
“In 2012, House Majority PAC built a strong record of success and in 2013 we are ready to hit the ground running to hold these Republicans accountable and communicate with swing voters about their extreme records and backwards priorities,” said the committee’s Executive Director Alixandria Lapp.
“Whether it’s supporting the end of Medicare as we know it, backing tax cuts for the wealthy, working to roll back the clock on women’s rights or opposing stem cell research, these Republicans are simply out of step with the districts they represent. House Majority PAC will work to ensure voters know the truth.”
During the 2012 cycle, House Majority PAC spent approximately $36 million. Democratic candidates won in eight of the 10 races in which the committee spent the monst cash.
So far, two Democrats have expressed an interest in potentially challenging Grimm in 2014 – former Rep. Mike McMahon, who was ousted by Grimm in 2010; and Brooklyn Councilman Domenic Recchia, who was pushed out of the NYC comptroller’s race by Manhattan BP Scott Stringer and the Brooklyn BP race by frontrunner/Sen. Eric Adams.
Jan 25th - 1:20 pm
Former Sen. Emanuel “Manny” Gold, a Queens Democrat who had a nearly 30-year career in the state Legislature, died yesterday morning after a brief battle with cancer, his daughter, Sue, confirmed. He was 77.
Gold began his public service career by serving from 1965-68 as cousel to then-Assembly Majority Leader Moses M. Weinstein. In 1967, he served as counsel to the majority leader of the Constitutional Convention.
In 1970, Gold was elected to the Assembly in a special election, and was subsequently elected to the Senate in a special election the following year. He was appointed deputy Senate minority leader in 1978 and retained that post through 1994.
Despite the fact that Gold was a member of the Senate minority conference, he was been the prime sponsor of more than 80 laws - a number of which have attracted national attention.
He authored the nation’s first Son of Sam Law, a law that required all prescription drugs in capsule or tablet form to be labeled, and a law that require New York’s educational curriculum be expanded so that children are taught about human rights violations, including the Holocaust and slavery.
While searching the web for information on Gold, I came across the following report by Albany Times Union columnist Fred LeBrun:
Sen. Emanuel R. Gold of Queens, a Democrat, brandished at a press conference in Albany an AK-47 semi- automatic and a 12- gauge shotgun with a pistol grip billed as a “home protection weapon” he purchased at unnamed area gun shops. He said it was easy – just a driver’s license and a personal check. And it was fast.”
“The fact that anyone can obtain such a weapon so easily is ludicrous,” he said. “It took me no more than 12 minutes to buy each weapon.” Gold was grandstanding for a package of stringent gun control bills he’s introduced, including registration of all existing shotguns and rifles, a move bound to draw down the sporting gun folks like myself on his head.
But even among the most ardent of us who shoot sporting clays, or deer, or pheasant, there’s a queasiness over defending Saturday night specials and assault rifles. Twelve minutes, says Mr. Gold. Twelve minutes for an anonymous citizen like himself to buy a nasty looking gun like an AK-47.
For the record, LeBrun, an avid sportsman, did not take kindly to what he called Gold’s “grandstanding,” writing in a subsequent column:
“Mr. Gold is facing the wrong direction: Tell it to Washington. As long as handguns and long guns and assault rifles are readily available, particularly in southern states, there will be a problem in New York City.”
This incident occurred back in 1991.
Twenty years later, Sen. Eric Adams - a Brooklyn Democrat – pulled a similiar stunt, traveling to Albany with a Daily News reporter in tow to demonstrate how easy it is to purchase high-capacity magazines, even though they were supposedly banned in New York back in 1994.
Adams went to a Rensselaer County gun store and purchased two 30-round magazines for…wait for it…an AK-47 assault rifle, and the transaction was captured by a hidden DN camera.
Ah, the irony.
According to a biography forwarded by his daughter, Gold wasn’t only a veteran politician with a flair for the dramatic, but also an avid athlete in high school, a boxer in college, a lifelong golfer, a professional photographer and accompished musician. He conducted several symphony orchestras.
Gold was married to and survived by the former Judith Silberfein and is also survived by his children; Sue, of Guilderland, NY; and Steve and Bonnie Gold of Glenmont, NY; grand-daughters Emily Borst and Jaclyn (Jackie) Gold. He was predeceased by his sons Jeffrey and Adam.
Services are Sunday, the 27th at Parkside, 98-60 Queens Blvd, Rego Park, NY, at 12:45 p.m. Donations in his memory may be made to the American Cancer Society.
NOTE: I initially mistakenly said that Gold was a Brooklyn senator. He was indeed born in Brooklyn, but raised in Laurelton, Queens, and also represented districts in that borough.
Dec 4th - 7:53 am
Brooklyn Councilman Domenic Recchia Jr. released a statement early this morning confirming widespread speculation that he will not run for NYC comptroller next year after all.
The Council Finance Committee chairman cited Superstorm Sandy as a factor in his decision, noting parts of his district (which includes Bensonhurst, Brighton Beach, Coney Island, Gravesend, and Sea Gate) were impacted and require “renewed focus and energy towards the recovery and rebuilding efforts.”
“After months of consideration and conversations with my family, friends, and colleagues, I have decided not to run for Comptroller in 2013,” Recchia said.
“Although as Chair of the City Council’s Finance Committee I remain dedicated to maintaining our City’s fiscal health, in the wake of the storm, my energy, focus, and heart are in Brooklyn.”
Recchia’s move has been expected since Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer decided to run for comptroller instead of mayor in 2013, and rapidly became the man to beat in the race.
Stringer’s announcement had already forced one comptroller contender from the field: Manhattan Councilman Dan Garodnick, who, unlike Recchia, is not term-limited out of his Council seat and is now considered a contender for the speakership (assuming he wins re-election).
The current speaker, Christine Quinn, has been raising cash for an expected mayoral run.
She has been leading in the public opinion polls, and was believed to be Mayor Bloomberg’s preferred successor – that is, until the New York Times reported the mayor had asked Hillary Clinton to consider running for his post after she leaves the State Department.
The current comptroller, John Liu, is pressing ahead with his own mayoral campaign, though his outlook has been clouded by a federal investigation into his fundraising operation.
Like Garodnick, Recchia announced his support for Stringer’s comptroller bid, calling the borough president (and former assemblyman) “a dedicated public servant with a strong record of accomplishments.”
“His knowledge and many years of experience in government will allow him to make significant contributions to the future of our city as the next Comptroller,” the councilman continued.
Recchia acknowledged that he is still considering his options for the future. The Brooklyn borough president race is considered a likely option for him. So far, Sen. Eric Adams is the only major candidate in the running.
Nov 15th - 2:44 pm
Democratic NYC Councilman Lew Fidler, who lost a special election earlier this year for former Brooklyn Sen. Carl Kruger’s seat to Republican Sen. David Storobin, who just lost to Democratic Senator-elect Simcha Felder, is calling on Felder to either explain the terms of his “transactional” deal with the Republicans that resulted in his agreement to caucus with them, or admit he has undergone an ideological change and switch parties.
(I just realized the first part of that sentence reads like a Brooklyn politics version of Tinkers to Evers to Chance…I know it’s confusing; bear with me).
Fidler says he agrees with Brooklyn Democratic Chairman Frank Seddio’s verbal excoriation of Felder, delivered via statement late yesterday afternoon. Seddio called Felder’s decision to caucus with the Republicans a “disgrace” and “complete betrayal of his constituents,” insisting he has a “moral obligation to support the leadership of the party in the Legislature.”
Fidler didn’t go so far as to endorse Seddio’s effort to oust Felder from the Brooklyn Democratic Party.
But he did say Felder should “do the right thing” and voluntarily leave the party and register as a Republican if he indeed feels his ideals are more in line with the GOP’s.
Fidler also couldn’t help but take a dig at Felder for agreeing to support Christine Quinn for council speaker back 2006, but conveniently feeling nature’s call just at the moment when he would have had to cast a vote for her – a vote for the city’s first openly gay speaker that no doubt would have riled his fellow Orthodox Jews to no end.
“Throughout the campaign, Simcha had assured the voters – and me personally – that he would sit with whichever party delivered the most for his district. Transactional for sure, but apparently honest. I took him at his word as did most voters,” Fidler said.
“Simcha’s explanation yesterday was a subtle yet wholly significant explanation from what he had promised. It waxed poetic about philosophies and abounded with some nonsense about the Republicans in the Senate being compassionate towards the poor and for the middle class.”
“That begs the question: When did Simcha Felder come to understand the philosophies of the political parties? What changed about the philosophies of the parties since the election that Simcha was not aware of before the election? If he knew, the philosophies of the parties before the election, why did he not state publicly that he would sit with the Republicans?”
“That is the true issue here…was Simcha Felder being honest with the voters of the district? Since it would be hard to imagine that Simcha learned anything about party philosophy after the election, Simcha did a disservice to the voters of his Senate district. Surely, countless thousands chose him over his Republican opponent because he was the Democratic Party candidate.”
“Therefore, Simcha – and not his spokesman – owes an answer to those questions – and specific answers, not pabulum – to those questions.”
“Additionally, if Simcha chooses to revert to his transactional answer, then he needs to tell people what pieces of silver were offered and by whom. Whatever was promised is being paid for out of the public till and the public has a right to know that as well.”
UPDATE: Felder spokesman Kalman Yeger (who ran Fidler’s failed Senate campaign before going to work for Felder) sent the following statement, but also noted his “profound respect for Lew, my mentor and friend”…
“As Senator-elect Felder said repeatedly from the moment he began his campaign, he would caucus with the group of Senators that would most benefit his district. When he takes office in January as a member of the Majority Conference, the people of Brooklyn will benefit from his decision.”
“Simcha looks forward to working with all of Brooklyn’s elected officials – Democrats and Republicans – to provide the most and best to their shared constituents, and firmly believes his decision will enable him to do so.”
Nov 13th - 4:50 pm
Senator-elect Simcha Felder, a conservative Brooklyn Democrat who has been keeping people guessing about his political loyalties since he announced his campaign for the new “Super Jewish” seat back in April, has finally chosen a side.
After meeting with Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, Felder has decided to turn his back on his fellow Democrats and caucus with the Republicans next year. Here’s his statement:
“From the moment I began my campaign for Senate, I made clear that the priorities of my district will form my agenda in Albany.”
“I represent a middle-class community with substantial concerns about the direction of our State. And I have been clear that I will work with any group of Senators who have real economic development and jobs-encouragement ideas, who plan to bring substantial tax relief to the people who elected me, who have compassion for the poor and respect for the middle class, who support the improvement of public education and a plan to ease the burden of tuition-paying parents across New York.”
“Earlier today, I met with Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. We discussed the issues that concern my constituents. By joining him and the Senate Majority Conference I will be able to serve the people who elected me, and advance a legislative agenda that best meets their needs.”
“Accordingly, when the next Senate meets in January 2013, I will caucus with my colleagues in the Republican conference. I have enormous respect for the Senators from both parties, but I must choose to caucus with those Senators who will best serve the communities I represent.”
It wasn’t immediately clear what, exactly, Skelos had to promise Felder to get him to commit. The senator-elect has been quite clear that he would caucus with whichever conference offered him the better deal so he could maximize deliverables (AKA pork) for his district.
Of course, in Albany’s to-the-victor-goes-the-spoils culture, whoever controls the majority gets the lion’s share of the resources. So, if Democrats do manage to eke out a win here, I think it’s a safe assumption that Felder could very well be back in play.
In the meantime, Felder’s defection brings the Senate GOP’s total to 31 - one vote shy of the 32 necessary to control what will be a 63-seat chamber come Jan. 1.
It also reduces the Democrats’ ranks to 30, although that figure includes the four members of the Independent Democratic Conference, led by Sen. Jeff Klein, and doesn’t include two seats the Democrats believe they will win: Terry Gipson (vs. GOP Sen. Steve Saland in the 41st SD) and Cecilia Tkaczyk (vs. GOP Assemblyman George Amedore in the 46th SD).
Gipson is a much more likely win for the Democrats, since he’s leading Saland by about 1,600 votes, thanks to the third candidate in the race, Neil Di Carlo, who siphoned votes from the senator on the Conservative line.
Tkaczyk leads Amedore by just 139 votes, with some 11,000 absentee ballots to count. The recanvass started today, but this race might not be decided for several weeks.
In an interview with The Buffalo News, Klein didn’t seem anxious to return to the Democratic fold, pledging that the IDC “will be a permanent third conference” in the Senate and also ”have a major role in shaping the policy agenda of this state.”
Of course, Klein’s fellow Democrats don’t really need him and his three independent compadres to caucus with them. If they want to retain their independence, that’s fine, as long as they vote for a Democrat and not a Republican when it comes time to pick a majority leader.
Sen. Mike Gianaris, chair of the DSCC, has repeatedly insisted that Klein said prior to last week’s elections that he would never vote for a Republican majority leader. But the Bronx senator, who, incidentally, ran on the GOP line for the first time this year, hasn’t said anything of the sort since last Tuesday.
Nov 6th - 3:23 pm
ICYMI: I asked Sen. Mike Gianaris, chair of the DSCC, during a CapTon interview last night about the report that Simcha Felder, the Democratic candidate running in the so-called “Super Jewish” district in Brooklyn, has cut a deal to caucus with the Republicans if he’s elected today and support Dean Skelos as majority leader.
“That story was anonymously sourced,” Gianaris replied. “Simcha Felder has never said that. He’s running on the Democratic line against an incumbent Republican, David Storobin. And I would expect that people who get elected as Democrats would be true to what their constituents have chosen, and will stick with that conference.”
“So, I don’t know what the source of that news report is. Actually, no one does, other than that reporter. I don’t doubt that someone said that, but I have no way of knowing the truth or untruth of it.”
I also managed to get ahold of a source familiar with Felder’s thinking on this, who insisted to me that “nothing has changed” since the outset of this race.
The former New York City councilman, who has a history of alliances with Republicans (including Mayor Bloomberg, back when he was a member of the GOP), said his main objective if he’s elected to the Senate would be to serve his constituents in the most effective way possible.
Essentially, that means he would caucus with whoever’s in power and able to give him – and, in turn, his constituents – the best deal.
If it comes down to a situation in which Felder’s vote would make the difference in a tight majority leader race (this could happen if the four IDC members remain neutral, refusing to support either a Democrat or a Republican), it would be something he relishes, according to my source, because he would be in the catbird seat and able to REALLY deliver for the folks back home.
In this long shot scenario, Felder would likely dance with the party that ‘brung him – in other words, he would side with the Republicans, according to this source, because they – not the Democrats – initially approached him and asked him to run.
The irony of that, of course, is that the Senate GOP recruited Felder to run in the new district, thereby screwing a member of their own conference (Storobin).
As you’ll recall, Storobin was not expected to win his special election for former Sen. Carl Kruger’s seat against Democratic New York City Councilman Lew Fidler. The race went into overtime, and Storobin ended up the victor, but he only got to serve a few weeks in Albany before his new colleagues eliminated his district in redistricting, shoving him into a head-to-head contest with Felder.
Sep 19th - 2:10 pm
Assemblyman Karim Camara, who had been floated by reformers as a potential replacement for outgoing Brooklyn Democratic Chairman Vito Lopez, just released a statement endorsing Lopez’s protege, former Assemblyman/ex-Surrogate Court Judge Frank Seddio, saying Seddio will “will work to establish an inclusive, unified and transparent Kings county political party.”
Camara’s endorsement comes just hours before district leaders will gather to vote on a successor to Lopez, who announced late last month he would not seek another term as chairman, thanks to the burgeoning sexual harassment scandal that has now enmeshed not only the once-powerful assemblyman, but three top state leaders, too: Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Comptroller Tom DiNapoli.
Lopez’s decision to relinquish his chairmanship was only half of what his critics had called on him to do after the revelation that he had verbally and physically harassed young female staffers – charges he has vehemently denied.
A wide array of good government groups, editorial boards and Lopez’s fellow Democrats – including Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Silver – have called for Lopez to give up his Assembly seat, too. But he has refused to do so.
Seddio now appears to have locked up sufficient support to replace Lopez as leader – a position for which he must give up his own planned attempt for a return to elected office. (He was gearing up for a New York City Council run in 2013).
A number of critics – most recently, the Daily News editorial board – have suggested Seddio is too close to Lopez, and too much like him, to provide a true break from the past for the party.
Apparently, Camara disagrees. Here’s his statement in full:
“When the Kings County leader announced several weeks ago that he would not seek another term as County Leader, I believed that there was a real opportunity for change and a fresh start for the Democratic party here in Brooklyn. Under the right leadership, we could harmonize the discordant voices within our party, expand the decision making circle so that it represents the wisdom of the entire party, and reform the county rules in order to have a vibrant organization with transparency and accountability of action.”
“Since that time, many good Democrats and labor leaders – both inside and outside of Brooklyn – have urged me to run for County Leader. They believed that I could unify the party, make it more inclusive, and implement the reforms necessary so that the Kings County organization was the envy of other party organizations across the state.”
“While I am honored that so many people whom I respect and whose opinions I value would like me to run, I am confident that Frank Seddio, will work to establish the inclusive, unified and transparent Kings county political party that so many are yearning for.”
“Through a series of meetings and conversations with Frank I have heard firsthand his willingness to broaden the Kings county leadership team in a way that is unparalleled in recent Kings county history. That step alone is already unifying a party that had become Balkanized and distracted from its goal of electing good Democrats and being a progressive beacon for the state.”
“In addition, Kings County will now have real reform, including the elimination of party leadership controlled “at large district leaders”, increased party meetings to discuss the important issues of the moment, and full transparency and accountability on the party’s fiscal matters. Further, Frank and I served briefly in the state legislature together and, from knowing him for several years, I know that he has the exact people skills and passion we need.”
“I am confident that he will lead this county into an era of good will and good deeds. I look forward to being a part of the leadership team in Brooklyn to help make this happen.”
Sep 10th - 11:12 am
Jo Anne Simon, a reform-minded district leader who has been a frequent critic of Brooklyn Assemblyman Vito Lopez, is using his sexual harassment scandal as a means to whip up support for her re-election campaign.
Simon forwarded a copy of this mailer, sent out in advance of Thursday’s primary in which she will once again face a Lopez-backed challenger.
This isn’t the first time the embattled and soon-to-be former Brooklyn Democratic boss has tried to oust Simon at the ballot box. She trounced a candidate he supported in 2010.
Lopez is also trying to get rid of another thorn in his side, District Leader Lincoln Restler. Both Simon and Restler have called for Lopez to resign in the wake of his scandal.
But at the moment, it looks like former Assemblyman Frank Seddio has amassed sufficient support to take control of the party organization, even as a number of minority members are pushing for Assemblyman Karim Camara, whose candidacy is complicated by the fact that he’s neither a district leader nor an executive committee member. The party rules require the chair to hold one of those two positions.
It’s possible Camara could become eligible through a complicated switcheroo, but that seems highly unlikely at this point.
Sep 5th - 9:22 am
…compliments of Stephen Colbert.
A perfect example of why going on Colbert – as attractive as it sounds to be on a national show watched by millions – and thinking you’ll be able to match wits with the sharp-minded host is often not the best idea.
Rep. Yvette Clake, whose lack of a bachelor’s degree (she left just one class worth of credits short) has been an issue in the past, struggled with the history of her borough during an appearance on the Colbert Report last night.
She claimed the Dutch were still keeping slaves in Brooklyn in 1898, despite the fact that slavery was abolished in 1865.
UPDATE: Clarke’s spokeswoman tells Azi Paybarah her boss is well aware of the timeline of the period and when slavery was abolished, adding:
“It’s supposed to be a ha-ha moment. Some people understood, some people didn’t. Everyone has their own interpretation about her performance on the show.”