May 22nd - 1:01 pm
Committee members of the state Democratic Party, attending the annual spring meeting here in Albany this afternoon, just unanimously passed a resolution calling on scandal-scarred former Assemblyman Vito Lopez to resign his last remaining party posts: State committee member and district leader in the 53rd AD.
“Instead of accepting responsibility for his misconduct and apologizing to his victims, Vito Lopez blames his victims for his own misconduct,” the resolution reads. “…There is no place in government or politics someone who conducts himself as Vito Lopez has; now, therefore, be it resolved that the New York State Democratic Committee (NYSDC) seeks to send the strongest possible message condemning his conduct, and declare that New York State will have zero tolerance for sexual harassment in our legislature, our party, and the halls of government;and be it further.”
The resolution was initally put forward by JoAnne Simon, a Brooklyn Democratic district leader and state committee member who has long been at odds with Lopez. The final version was changed just slightly from Simon’s initial proposal.
Lopez, who was not present at today’s meeting, has already given up his post as Brooklyn Democratic Party chair, and also resigned his Assembly seat on Monday morning. He had wanted to remain in office until the end of the legislative session, but bowed to pressure from a wide array of his fellow Democrats, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Speaker Sheldon Silver, to step down ASAP.
UPDATE: A source familiar with last night’s get-together for Democratic leaders hosted at the executive mansion by the governor says Cuomo called for passage of this resolution at the event, saying: “We are a party that believes in government; we must have total integrity.”
May 21st - 2:52 pm
Although this was not included on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s official daily schedule, the governor is apparently scheduled to host the state’s 62 Democratic County chairs at the executive mansion this evening.
Officially speaking, Cuomo was in Albany with no public appearances planned, according to the press advisory released this morning. But then he had a last-minute Red Room press conference this afternoon to announce a casino-related deal with the St. Regis Mohawk tribe.
Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner (who, by the way, was not Cuomo’s first choice to replace veteran former Chairman Len Lenihan), revealed 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 16th - 4:03 pm
EMILY’s List today announced its first round of top contenders in the 2014 congressional races, and Tompkins County Chairwoman Martha Robertson, who recently announced her intent to challenge GOP Rep. Tom Reed in NY-23, made the cut.
Robertson and five other congressional hopefuls were put “On the List” by the political action committee, which focuses on electing pro-choice female candidates. This status is just short of a full endorsement, but means the organization is keeping a close eye on a particular race and is highly likely to offer full blown support as campaigns heat up.
Also, these preferred candidates get access to the PAC’s “powerful network of supporters,” according to a press release.
“I’m proud to have the support of EMILY’s List and pleased they have acknowledged the importance of this race,” Robertson said. “My opponent seems to think he represents the ultra-conservative deep south instead of New York families looking for bipartisanship and common sense.”
“In Congress, I will fight for middle class families looking for access to quality, affordable health care and to protect our basic rights to make our own healthcare decisions.”
Robertson threw her hat into the ring after Reed’s 2012 opponent, Tompkins County Legislator Nate Shinagawa, decided not to take another shot at trying to unseat the congressman. Shinagawa came surprisingly close to defeating Reed, but that in no doubt thanks in part to higher-than-usual Democratic turnout in a presidential election year.
Reed recently made headlines by announcing that he had undergone gastric bypass surgery and has already lost 70 pounds. This came on the heels of NJ Gov. Chris Christie’s revelation of a lap band procedure, which fed speculation that the Republican governor is trying to slim down in preparation for a 2016 White House run.
Others who received this EMILY’s List designation include: Ann Callis, challenging Illinois Republican Rep. Rodney Davis; Katherine Clark, who is running for Rep. Edward Markey’s Massachusetts House seat, which he would have to give up if he wins an upcoming US Senate special election; Jessica Ehrlich, running against Republican Florida Rep. Bill Young: Gwen Graham, challenging another Florida Republican, Rep. Steve Southerland; and Eloise Reyes, who is looknig to oust California Republican Rep. Gary Miller.
May 10th - 11:35 am
Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins this morning criticized the women’s agenda proposal from the Independent Democratic Conference, calling the move a “distraction” from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s own plan.
“The Governor’s Women’s Equality Agenda has been discussed and debated the entire session. Any distraction from passing this is unfortunate,” Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, said in a statement this morning. “The women of New York deserve a vote on the Governor’s full 10-point plan.”
As scooped by Gannett, the IDC is proposing a separate package of bills aimed at curbing discrimination against women, including a pay equity measure targeting the public workforce.
Sen. Jeff Klein, the breakaway conference’s leader and the co-president of the Senate who entered into a power-sharing agreement with Senate Republicans last year, said the measure is not meant to supplant Cuomo’s proposal, but compliment it.
The full agenda is expected to be released later today.
The IDC’s proposal comes, however, as Republican opposition remains staunch against a key provision in Cuomo’s package: A measure designed to strengthen abortion rights through a codification of the Roe v. Wade decision.
Republican opponents, chief among them Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos, has said he does not want to bring that bill to the floor for a vote, and that the proposal goes too far in expanding the state’s abortion laws.
For Klein, the issue is a delicate one, considering his pledge that the coalition would help bring “progressive” legislation to the floor. Still, it remains to be seen where the votes will come for the measure considering some lawmakers in the mainline conference, among them Sen. Ruben Diaz, are opposed to abortion.
Cuomo is yet to release bill language on the proposal.
Updade: IDC spokesman Eric Soufer responds, noting that three years ago Stewart-Cousins said of the Reproductive Health Act at the time that it couldn’t come to the floor because it didn’t have the votes to pass.
“The IDC’s working women’s agenda will bring real relief to women across New York State and will work in tandem with the Governor’s ten point plan. Sen. Stewart Cousins would be wise to recall what she said just three short years ago, when she explained that “the [Reproductive Health Act] hasn’t come on the floor because it doesn’t have the votes to pass…I think it’s really too important to put a bill out there, again, that for whatever reason, fails.” Further, during the many years that Senator Stewart Cousins’ has carried this important piece of legislation, her attempts at securing a united Democratic conference or any bipartisan support have been an utter failure.”
May 9th - 12:44 pm
ICYMI: Sen. George Latimer told me during a CapTon interview last night that his two Democratic colleagues most recently charged with wrongdoing – Sens. Malcolm Smith and John Sampson – should either voluntarily give up their seats or face expulsion proceedings by their peers in order to preserve whatever modicum of trust New Yorkers have left in the Legislature.
“We need to have a hard line, and when you cross that hard line and there’s credible prosecutorial information that shows you’ve done this, you need to leave,” Latimer said. “You need to resign. If we need to expel you, if we have, you know, critical mass to do that, then we ought to do that. Because the institution is bigger than me; it’s bigger than them.”
“..I believe both of them should (resign), and not because I hold any personal animus toward them. but in both cases there is substantial prosecutorial information that really questions whether or not people have public trust in an institution.”
“You can certainly defend your right to be proven innocent in the future, but you ought to do that on your own time instead of in the middle of a Legislature where you’re making policy decisions.”
Latimer is a former Westchester County assemblyman who was elected to the Senate last year. He claimed last night that none of the seven lawmakers caught on ex-Sen. Shirley Huntley’s secret recordings is a “new” member of the Democratic conference – in other words, elected post-coup.
The Democrats have been trying to convince the public that they are remaking their conference, have gotten rid of the worst apples among them and deserve another shot at the majority. The recent developments here at scandal central have undercut that argument considerably, however – especially since they have been concentrated in the Democratic conference.
(That is not to say that corruption is a Democrat problem, however. To the contrary, a number of names on the bad actors list belong to Republicans).
Anyway, it turns out Latimer was wrong in his claim, because Queens Sen. Jose Peralta, who replaced former Sen. Hiram Monserrate – the long former member with the distinction of having been expelled from the chamber by his colleagues – back in 2010. Monserrate subsequently ran for Peralta’s old Assembly seat and lost to now-Assemblyman Francisco Moya.
Lasy year, Monserrate was sentenced to two years behind bars after he pleaded guilty to charges he used funds and workers from a nonprofit to finance his Senate run. The start date of that sentence was recently delayed to allow Monserrate to get some much-needed dental work done.
May 8th - 3:39 pm
The list of nine names of those caught on ex-Sen. Shirley Huntley’s wiretap includes two that might not immediately ring any bells with all but serious political insiders. And so, a little history to refresh your memory.
- Melvin Lowe. He’s described in the sentencing memo as a “former political consultant and associate of New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.” His backstory is, not surprisingly, much more complicated than that.
Lowe goes back years with former Senate Minority Leader John Sampson, and he was brought on as a consultant to the DSCC in the 2009 post-coup reorganization days. Prior to signing on with the DSCC, Lowe worked for a number of Democratic pols, including former Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell IV, former state Comptroller H. Carl McCall and now-Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s failed 2002 gubernatorial bid.
Updated: Cuomo’s 2002 gubernatorial campaign paid Lowe’s consulting firm $75,000 between 2001 and 2002. In 2003, Cuomo would later thank him in the acknowledgements section in his book “Crossroads.”
At the time he was added to the DSCC roster, Lowe was also a consultant to developer Bruce Ratner on the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn – a connection that made some members of the Democratic conference (not to mention opponents of Atlantic Yards) very unhappy.
While working for Ratner, Lowe was also involved in the Ridge Hill development project in Yonkers and was among the people mentioned in subpoenas that came out of the local U.S. Attorney’s office related to the passage of that project.
Democratic conference members were also not happy to learn in 2010 that Lowe had earned over $300,000 from the DSCC through two companies that were set up to appear as separate entites but were actually run and solely operated by Lowe himself.
City&State reported in 2010 that Lowe’s past also includes a stint as the chair of the CUNY Student Senate in the 1980s in which he was involved in some questionable financial dealings at the time, had to be brought to court to compel him to call a new election and was ultimately forced to resign from the position after it was revealed that he was serving in the position, which came complete with stipend and staff, while no longer actually registered as a student at CUNY.
Also, in September 2010, the Senate Democrats hired Lowe’s son, Melvin E. Lowe, as a regional coordinator for the Majority Conference Services department, a 30-hour per week, $32,000 per year position.
- Curtis Taylor. He’s described as a “former press advisor for Malcolm Smith.” Taylor was actually not merely an “advisor, ” but actually was on staff with the Senate Democrats when Smith was majority leader.
Taylor, a former Newsday reporter, resigned abruptly from his post as communications director and press secretary of the conference in 2008 after Smith was quoted as suggesting to some lobbyists at a fundraiser that they should “get in on the ground floor” with the Democrats because the price would go up after they took control of the chamber – a comment the Republicans insisted was an ethics violation and Smith insisted was merely a joke.
Taylor was not jettisoned completely by Smith, however. He moved over to what’s known as “conference services.” In July 2009, Taylor was one of a handful of Democratic Senate staffers who received a raise. His title at the time was “special adviser to the majority leader,” and the $13,500 bump he received took his salary to $135,000.
Taylor and Smith shared a personal connection. They were both members of the Queens-based Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral of Greater New York, the church led by the Rev. Floyd Flake, a former congressman and Smith’s political mentor.
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 - 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.
May 3rd - 1:43 pm
Is this Albany, or the CIA?
With all the spying going on around the state Capitol these days, you could be forgiven for mistaking the Legislature for some kind of covert undercover operation.
On the heels of last month’s revelation that now former Assemblyman Nelson Castro had been wearing a wire for federal prosecutors determined to bust some of his fellow corrupt colleagues for almost his entire tenture in office comes the news that yet another legislator agreed to use a recording device at the feds’ behest.
As the New York Times first reported that former Sen. Shirley Huntley “recorded multiple elected officials at the direction of federal prosecutors last year while she was still serving in the Legislature.”
The court documents which appear below and 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.
These recordings might result in more charges against another, unnamed senator, and two other elected officials. More from the Times:
“According to the court papers, as part of their investigation, law enforcement officials conducted a wiretap of Ms. Huntley’s cellphone in April and May of 2012. F.B.I. agents then confronted the senator with evidence gathered from the wiretap, and she retained a lawyer and later attempted to cooperate with the authorities, according to the papers, which were filed in Federal District Court in Brooklyn by three assistant United States attorneys.”
“Between June and August of 2012, Ms. Huntley, acting at the direction of law enforcement, proceeded to make recordings. The court papers said the recordings “did yield evidence useful to law enforcement authorities” about the unnamed state senator and two other elected officials, and that details of the recordings would be discussed in a sealed letter to be filed with the court next week.”
Huntley pleaded guilty in federal court in January to funneling over $87,000 in taxpayer money through a nonprofit organization that she was running, and is scheduled to be sentenced on Thursday. She lost her seat in last year’s Democratic primary to now-Sen. James Sanders.
The former senator apparently also took a bribe as well. Prosecutors say that in March 2012, Huntley was contacted by “State Senator #1″ while she was still a sitting senator. (This has been corrected).
The unnamed senator wanted Huntley to use her position to help a busniessman who was seeking to expand at JFK International Airport, which is located in Huntley’s Queens district, in exchange for cash.
Senator #1 set up the meeting, and Huntley did receive $1,000, which she did not disclose to the state Board of Elections as a contribution, but she was never able to obtain a lease for additional space from the Port Authority.
May 3rd - 11:13 am
For the past few days we have seen dueling press releases from the state Democratic Party and the State Republican party over the announcement that conservative Texas US Senator Ted Cruz will be headlining the State GOP’s annual fundraiser.
First the Democrats, in a statement by Party Executive Director Rodney Capel, blasted Cruz as anti-New York because he voted against the Sandy Relief Bill. He went on to also say he is anti-women, anti-gay rights, and anti-immigrant, and they called on Republicans to boycott the fundraiser. State Democratic Party Co-Chair Keith Wright echoed those comments on the show last night.
The State GOP fired back calling this hysterics. And taking a chance to attack Cuomo for his push to pass the Reproductive Health Act.
“Mr. Capel’s hysterics notwithstanding, the truly extreme position is the one taken by Governor Cuomo in his State of the State address, where he called for passage of the so-called “Reproductive Health Act,” which would expand late-term abortions in New York, even up to the day of a baby’s birth,” NYS GOP Chairman Ed Cox said in at statement.
Now often outspoken Onondaga County GOP Chair Tom Dadey is getting in the fray. He just fired off this statement accusing Democrats of creating a distraction from the governor’s record on the upstate economy.
“Whether it’s Keith Wright, Rodney Capel or Governor Cuomo himself, New York Democrats have no business choosing who speaks and who doesn’t speak at the State GOP’s annual dinner,” Dadey said. “This attack is designed to distract from their failure to turn around the Upstate economy. Nothing more, nothing less.”
Dadey goes on to attack Cuomo for his failure to green light high volume hydraulic fracturing in New York State.
“The Governor should stop hiding behind the endless studies and approve hydrofracking, just like President Obama’s EPA and the State of Pennsylvania have already done. It’s governmental malpractice to let another generation of Upstate New Yorkers leave this state in search of a job and the opportunity that comes with it when the potential for an economic resurgence is right at our fingertips,” Dadey said.
This type of back and forth between the state political parties has been pretty rare in the past two years. The state Democratic party, which is historically and for all intents and purposes controlled by the Governor, has generally avoided direct confrontations with their Republican counterparts.
Meanwhile the Republican party and Chairman Ed Cox only started attacking Governor Cuomo on a consistent basis in the past few months – focusing heavily on the upstate economy.