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 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.”
Apr 9th - 4:15 am
Just a week after three state lawmakers were implicated in two separate criminal corruption investigations, some in around state politics appear to be looking for a scapegoat. Monday Morning it appeared that could be Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
“The things that have happened in the last several days have nothing to do with the Speaker,” said Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle.
A report in the New York Post suggested the Governor and his top aides were looking to use last week’s scandals to oust Silver and replace him with Morelle. Cuomo denied the report later in the day.
“Any report that uses your name is unfortunate but I didn’t give it any credibility,” Morelle said.
The Irondequoit Democrat was promoted to Majority Leader in January and is considered by many an ally of the Governor. Morelle defended Sliver and other state lawmakers, who he believes, are being unfairly judged.
“We don’t choose the members. When they’re elected we can’t give them a psychological profile or look into their hearts and souls,” said Morelle.
State Senator Michael Ranzenhofer says 99 percent of those elected to public office are there to serve the public. The Amherst Republican told YNN’s Katie Cummings while he understands the reaction to these allegations; he doesn’t believe party leaders are to blame.
“Both parties have individuals who are charged with being crooks. The Republicans are charged, the Democrats are charged. This is one of the most bizarre and dumbest things I have ever read. This entire episode is just ridiculous.”
Others say these cases of alleged corruption highlight the need for campaign finance reform. While the recent cases appear to detail criminal activity, Assemblyman Sean Ryan , D-Buffalo, believes more subtle ethics violations are flying under the radar.
“Under our current laws it’s not cheating. You can hand someone a $2,000 contribution on the street and then walk into their office and say let’s talk about a piece of legislation I’m interested in. By our campaign rules, that’s ok and I don’t think that’s ok,” Ryan said.
Ryan isn’t the only one suggesting that ethical problems in state government need to be addressed. State Assemblyman Eric Stevenson is accused of accepting $22,000 in bribes. Federal prosecutors say Stevenson is accusing other elected officials of breaking the law without getting caught.
“It’s like when a person gets pulled over and gets a speeding ticket and then says ‘well everyone was speeding.’ I don’t put much stock into what he says,” Razenhofer said.
While some say campaign finance reform is an appropriate response Ranzenhofer doesn’t believe either alleged case of corruption can be blamed on the current campaign laws.
“They’re all avoidable. Just don’t commit any crimes. This has nothing to do with campaign finance reform,” Ranzenhofer said.
Morelle calls these recent allegations disappointing, but he says the only elected officials who should be under the microscope are the three currently under investigation.
“None of the solutions currently being talked about will tell us what’s in somebody’s heart or soul. We had a few rogue members. I don’t think these charges reflect on the Speaker or the majority of our members,” Morelle added.
Mar 27th - 3:37 pm
Mayor Bloomberg today lit into the Senate Republicans for refusing to authorize installing up to 40 cameras in school zones to catch speeding drivers.
The Assembly supported a plan to fine speeders $25 to $100 when caught by the cameras, but the idea has now failed to pass muster with both houses of the Legislature for the third straight year.
During his Q-and-A with reporters in NYC earlier today, Bloomberg singled out several members of the GOP conference – including his onetime ally Simcha Felder, a former Democratic NYC councilman from Brooklyn who is caucusing with the Republicans – for killing the measure, and said the next death of a child struck by a speeding driver will be on their heads.
The mayor called the Senate’s rejection of the bill “reckless” and “negligent,” and accused legislators of engaging in hypocrisy by rejecting the speed cameras while also approving increased surcharges for speeders as part of the 2013-14 budget.
“We literally are having kids that are getting killed around our schools, people are speeding, but they don’t want to let us use cameras to stop people from doing that,” Bloomberg said. “They do seem, however, I noticed, happy to take some extra revenue from the people we do catch speeding using our resources, but they are unwilling to allow us to use speed cameras to save more lives.”
“Hard to believe, but the Senate was fine in adding a surcharge onto speeding tickets that we give out in New York City and they’re going to take the money, but they would not let us use speed cameras to stop people from killing our kids. And that’s the only fair ways (sic) to describe it.”
“…The next time you write a story or have a story on television or in your paper or on your radio show about a child killed by a speeding car in this city, why don’t you pick up the phone
and ask your state senator and ask why they allowed that child to be killed.”
“And certainly, if you need the names of phone numbers of Senator Dean Skelos, or Marty Golden or Simcha Felder, who were certainly most responsible for blocking the speed cameras that save lives we’ll be very happy to provide you with their phone numbers. Maybe you’ll want to give those numbers to the parents of the child when a child is killed. It would certainly be useful so the parents know exactly who’s to blame.”
As you’ll recall, Bloomberg has long supported the Senate Republicans in their increasingly more difficult quest to retain control of the chamber – or, at least a semblance of it. Over the years, he has ponied up quite a bit of cash to fill their housekeeping account, including $1 million in the last election cycle alone, making him the conference’s largest individual donor.
Bloomberg also slammed the Republicans for what he called an “unfunded mandate for extra Yeshiva school buses,” which he deemed “complete pandering to a particular political constituency.” (Again, you can see the work of Felder here, who made no secret of the fact back when he was mulling which conference to join that his main concern was which side would deliver more for his Orthodox Jew-dominated district).
The mayor praised the Assembly Democrats – and Speaker Sheldon Silver in particular – for trying to restore the $250 million the city lost after it failed to reach a teacher evaluation agreement with the UFT by the deadline laid out by the governor.
But Bloomberg said the city did make “some progress” in the budget, especially when it comes to an agreement between the governor and legislative leaders that will essentially prevent any teacher evaluation plans from sunsetting – a big concern for the mayor.
UPDATE: Senate GOP spokesman Scott Reif emailed the following comment:
“Working with the City, no one has fought harder or longer than Senate Republicans to ensure the safety of New York City children and their families.”
Mar 22nd - 10:29 am
From the morning memo, which you can subscribe to in the right-hand corner of the blog.
The star of the 2013-14 budget process is an unlikely one: Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
Yes, you read that right. It’s Silver, the normally Sphinx-like and longtime speaker of the state Assembly has been the one to inch things forward and, from a public relations point of view, master the art of the scrum.
As his less experienced colleagues in the Senate exited the closed-door leaders’ meetings with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Sens. Dean Skelos and Jeff Klein tried their hardest not to generate any news.
Progress was being made on the budget, they would say. Sometimes Skelos and Klein wouldn’t say anything at all.
Instead, the center stage was left to Silver, the speaker since 1995, when some reporters who now cover the Capitol were in grade school.
And Silver took full advantage of that.
Unshackled by the apparent exoneration in the Joint Commission On Public Ethics report on the Vito Lopez sexual harassment scandal, Silver has broken or confirmed most of the big budget news throughout the negotiation process, a rare sight for those used to see him play his cards very close to the vest.
It was Silver who confirmed that decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana had been wrapped up in the talks. It was Silver who, when pressed as to whether the gun control law was being considered for changes as well, confirmed that news as well, smiling slowly as he said in his distinctive and deep voice, “Magazines.”
Indeed, legislative leaders say they don’t like to negotiate the budget in the press, but they do feed reporters tidbits of information when it suits them.
The gun control flap even forced Cuomo from his office to insist the talks would not be a roll back of his signature legislative achievement, but a clarification. Now, the enforcement of magazines above seven rounds due to take effect on April 15 will be suspended as part of the budget.
The scrum stardom does come with some trouble for the Assembly, however.
Some members are deeply upset that cuts to OPWDD are being pushed through in the final agreement. The governor’s budget added $120 million in order to cover a Medicaid over billing dispute with the federal government. Silver said yesterday that half of the money has been restored.
Meanwhile, Silver has been pushing for greater legislative control over economic development aid as Cuomo’s regional councils have now authority over a third round of funding.
Mar 17th - 9:21 pm
The three legislative leaders met with Gov. Andrew Cuomo for more than 3-1/2 hours Sunday evening and emerged to say no deal had been reached on 2013-14 budget.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, along with Senate Co-Presidents Jeff Klein and Dean Skelos held easily the longest of their closed-door sessions with the governor of the budget process this year so far.
A minimum wage increase remains under negotiation, as does as an extension of the so-called millionaires tax on high-income earners.
The tax code, a product a deal struck in December 2011, is due to expire in 2014, a re-election year for Cuomo and all 213 legislators.
“It is on the table. Clearly, nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to,” Silver said. “We’re making a lot of progress toward an on-time budget and the details ultimately will be forthcoming when everything is agreed to.”
Cuomo proposed a $142.6 billion budget for the coming fiscal year, due to begin April 1.
The budget includes a $8.75 minimum wage, up from the current $7.25 wage. Assembly Democrats passed a measure that would increase it to $9, plus index future raises to the rate of inflation.
The coalition-led Senate of five Democrats and 30 Republicans approved language that was open to a minimum wage increase.
But Senate Republicans also want to include tax credits and cuts for businesses and middle-class families, proposing some $2 billion tax cuts.
“We’re discussing minimum wage,” Skelos said. “We’re also discussing tax credits and tax cuts for middle-income families.”
Sen. Marty Golden said on Friday that it was “very likely” a minimum wage increase would ultimately be included in the final spending plan.
Lawmakers are not scheduled to be in Albany past March 21 and are scheduled to return April 15 in order to accommodate the Passover and Easter holidays.
That means any agreement would have to be locked down in the next several days in order for bills to be printed and then appropriatedly aged on lawmakers’ desks.
Cuomo has said he does not believe a message of necessity would be needed to pass the budget by the end of this week.
“We’re trying to get it done by Thursday,” Skelos said.
For now the hold up in the budget process is unclear.
“It’s not a matter of sticking points,” Skelos said. “It’s technical printing and that type of thing. But I think we’re on track to having a budget this week.”
Mar 6th - 12:17 pm
With the Senate taking action on a bill today that would legalize mixed-martial arts in New York, a coalition of labor and religious groups signed a letter to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver today to oppose the measure.
Signees included Working Families Party Executive Director Dan Cantor and a variety of other union and spiritual leaders, along with several academics.
The letter references the Newtown massacre – the December Connecticut school sshooting that killed 26 people, including 20 children – as a sign that society is already too violent to allow for an expansion of the sport in New York.
“In his State of the State Speech, Governor Cuomo asserted that New York ‘must remain the progressive capital of the nation.’ Clearly, an entertainment spectacle that allows people to pummel each other in bloodstained cages has no place in a state that aspires to be a model for progressives, as well as a capitalof art and culture,” the letter reads.
Silver said at a news conference this morning that he remains conflicted on mixed-martial arts, reiterating his previous stance that while there is perhaps too much violence in the world, the sport has become readily available for public consumption.
Silver said the bill would be considered in a closed-door meeting with his Democratic lawmakers, adding:
“I think at some point there will probably be an approval in this state. I can’t tell you when.”
MMA supporters believe the ban was upheld last year after Democrats in the Assembly scuttled the proposal due to a dispute between the United Fighting Championship league and a Las Vegas-based union. They insist this – and not concerns over violence – is the real reason for the hold-up on the Assembly side.
The GOP-controlled state Senate approved ban-lifting legislation for the third time last year.
Feb 27th - 4:59 pm
Lawmakers are back at the state Capitol today from an extended mid-winter break as a push for an early budget is underway.
And the signal that the budget dance was beginning in earnest was the four-men-in-a-room meeting between Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Sens. Jeff Klein and Dean Skelos and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
A variety of outstanding issues remain as hurdles to passing the spending plan by April 1, the start of the fiscal year, but so far there has not been overt signal that the more contentious items including an increase in the state’s minimum wage or a plan to site casinos.
Assembly Democrats want a restoration of aid to New York City schools, while Senate Republicans are pushing for the end of a surcharge on the 18a utility assessment
The leaders meeting by all accounts seems to have been a temperature-taking effort by Cuomo and one to work out the logistics of passing his proposed $142.6 billion spending plan.
Though disagreement continues on whether the minimum wage should be increased to either $8.75 or $9 with a tie to inflation, it is apparent that Senate Republicans would need some form of a tax credit or tax cut if a vote is allowed.
But Skelos, in a governing majority with five independent Senate Democrats, insisted there was no effort to package the wage hike with a tax cut.
“I’m not looking to tie anything together,” Skelos said. “We still haven’t made a decision as to whether expanding the minimum wage is doing to be counterproductive to job creation. I know I’ve mentioned the training wage and certain issues concerning waiters and other things. We’re going to discuss it and see if it’s doable.”
Silver, meanwhile, indicated that he was not open to taking the 18a assessment surcharge out of the budget plan, noting the revenue hit the state would take.
“I don’t believe we can afford the $500 million that may be involved in it,” he said.
He suggested after the meeting with Cuomo and the Senate leaders there could more revenue than expected.
“We believe there will be some more revenue, probably $00 million We have a lot of restorations to make generally and we’ll see how it works,” he said.
He added, “All of these issues — what’s important is the agreement. “When you pass it is secondary.”
Klein, meanwhile, said he was still pushing for the minimum wage increase as part of the budget, but hedged on whether it should be tied to inflation — a position he supports — or if the wage should grow to $9.
“I think the most important thing is that we increase the minimum wage,” he said.
Perhaps the most contentious power struggle remains over where casinos should be placed. Cuomo supports building three casinos north of the New York City metropolitan region, while lawmakers have said they want a greater say in where they are built.
Cuomo wants the siting to be up to a gaming commission whose members he appoints.
“The only thing we have an agreement on right now is that the commission will pick the vendors,” Klein said. “We have to see who has a say in the siting, whether or not we do all seven in the amendment, but that all has to be discussed.”
Feb 15th - 11:43 am
ICYMI: From today’s morning memo:
Thanks to President Obama, New York’s fight over raising the minimum wage just became a whole lot more complicated.
During his State of the Union address Tuesday night, the president proposed hiking the federal hourly wage form $7.25 to $9 an hour by 2015, which just so happens to be 25 cents higher than what Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed.
(For the record: It’s also 50 cents LESS than candidate Obama proposed back in 2008).
Adding insult to injury, Obama also called in his speech for indexing the minimum wage to inflation, which would trigger automatic future increases and take this controversial political football out of play indefinitely.
Indexing is something New York Democrats have been pushing very hard. But, much to their chagrin, it was not included in the minimum wage proposal Cuomo inserted into his 2013-14 spending plan.
Not surprisingly, players on both sides of the New York debate rushed to capitalize on Obama’s proposal.
Senate Republicans, who have been dragging their feet on this issue in hopes that something – anything – might come along to halt what seemed to be the inevitable wage hike here in New York, immediately recognized the political cover the Democratic president’s plan might provide them.
“Since New York’s minimum wage is tied to the federal minimum wage, Sen. Skelos agrees with the governor that it should be set at the federal level,” said Scott Reif, spokesman for Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos.
“In light of President Obama’s proposal and our intention to keep New York businesses from being put at a competitive disadvantage, it may be best to wait and see what the federal government does before the state acts.”
Democrats in the Senate and Assembly also cheered Obama’s plan, recognizing the potential for increasing the pressure on Cuomo to reconsider indexing.
Jan 30th - 1:24 pm
ICYMI: For the moment, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is declining to choose sides in the fight over pension smoothing, which has divided his former Democratic conference member, state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
But he’s also making clear that he believes DiNapoli – not the governor – gets the final word on this subject as the sole trustee of the state pension fund.
“The comptroller has indicated that he is studying the proposal and analyzing it,” Silver told me during a CapTon interview yesterday. “I’d like to wait and see what his analysis shows.”
“I am very sympathetic to smoothing out and reducing the contributions of municipal governments to the pension system if they are actuarially sound, if they make sense. So, this is the governor’s attempt to do that. To alleviate the pain. To alleviate the property tax burden, in effect, on local governments. And, you know, he has come forth with a good faith effort.”
“If in fact the comptroller, who is the fiduciary of the pension system, can see a way clear to do something on those costs – I know that is his intent is to reduce those contributions – and if he can come up with something good, I can support it. But I recognize in the end that the comptroller is the fiduciary and has to make sound investments. I don’t want people who are paying into the system to come up 20, 30 years from now be told: Sorry we don’t have the money to give you the pension you are entitled to.”
Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, as you’ll recall, said (in a statement to the New York Times) that he had “serious concerns” about Cuomo’s budget proposal to allow cash-strapped local governments to borrow against future projected Tier 6 savings to provide more predictability in short-term pension payments.
The comptroller, who has already established a pension amortization program in which a growing number of municipalities are participating, did not reject Cuomo’s proposal out of hand, and yesterday he seemed to be backtracking a bit after Cuomo took a shot at him on the radio.
However, others who have publicly expressed opposition to the plan – most notably Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner – are standing firm. (Miner, who is also Cuomo’s hand-picked state Democratic Party co-chair, is going out of her way to stress that the disagreement is not a signal of personal animosity between herself and the governor).
Silver said much the same thing during an interview with public radio’s Karen DeWitt, adding: “If (DiNapoli) said no, I think the courts have ruled that he’s the final arbiter on that issue.”