May 20th - 11:04 am
As Liz pointed out earlier with today’s Siena College poll, the results were a bit conflicting.
Nothing is in more perennial conflict then the “love your lawmaker, hate the Legislature” sentiment that voters hold.
Consider this telling chart from Siena:
Individual senators are more popular than the Senate as a whole. Individual Assemblymembers are more popular than the chamber. Both the Senate — controlled by a coalition of Republicans and four Democrats — and Assembly, long led by Democrats — are below 50 percent favorable among voters.
It makes sense: It’s easier to dislike a sprawling institution with opaque rules and scared with scandal and corruption. Individual lawmakers, meanwhile, holding informational events in the district, are seen in local grocery stores and are generally in the business of being liked.
May 10th - 1:54 pm
As first reported by Gannett and then later knocked by Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the Independent Democratic Conference this afternoon released a report pushing a separate women’s agenda.
The report does not address controversial issues surrounding abortion or reproductive health, but rather seeks to curb economic inequality between men and women.
The IDC is backing a paid family leave for working mothers, an increase to the child care tax credit, aid women in re-entering the workforce and help for low-income women by proposing changes to the Temporary Assistance for the Needy Families.
The IDC’s is also pushing for more income equality within the state workforce as well.
“Millions of New York women get up every morning and work hard to raise a family. Whether its earning a paycheck, caring for their families, or moving up the economic ladder, it’s clear that New York women deserve more,” Sen. Jeff Klein said. “With the focus on women’s issues greater than ever before, we need to ensure that the needs of working women are addressed in a smart, comprehensive, way. The IDC continues to strongly support all ten points of the Governor’s women’s agenda and is committed to seeing all elements of both plans pass the legislature this session.”
As noted, the mainline conference called the agenda a “distraction” from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 10-point plan, which futures a strengthening of abortion rights in the state.
IDC spokesman Eric Soufer responded to Stewart-Cousin’s criticism by noting that three years ago she didn’t believe a floor vote should be held on the Reproductive Health Act without it gaining the necessary support.
May 9th - 4:04 pm
Ex-Sen. Shirley Huntley, the Queens Democrat who secretly recorded six of her own colleagues in the Senate, was sentenced to a year and a day in prison for her role in embezzling funds from a non-profit she funded.
NY1′s Zack Fink was at the federal courthouse today and he sent along these details:
Huntley’s attorney Sally Butler sought leniency from Judge Jack Weinstein, citing both the ex-lawmaker’s health and helpfulness to government investigators seeking to find more corrupt public officials.
Butler detailed to the court how Huntley knew of bags of cash being taken up Senate elevators at the Capitol and that she was able to have an unnamed senator admit being part of a bribery scheme. Huntley’s attorney also claimed the then-senator approach Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office about possible corruption in the Legislature.
But government prosecutors, while acknowledging that Huntley had helped them during investigations, provided information that for the most part ultimately was deemed “false, implausible and inconsistent” and did not enter into a sentencing agreement with her.
Court documents made public on Wednesday found the lawmaker secretly recorded six sitting senators, two of whom — Sens. John Sampson and Malcolm Smith — were both arrested in the last month in separate corruption cases.
Additional lawmakers who wound up on the wiretap — Sens. Ruth Hassell-Thompson, Eric Adams and Jose Peralta — have all released statements insisting they were not involved in any wrongdoing.
Huntley recorded three others — Melvin Lowe, a political consultant, Curtis Taylor, a former spokesman to Smith and an ex-Newsday reporter and city Councilman Ruben Wills.
Weinstein ordered Huntley to return the $88,000 embezzled from the charity along with a $100 fine.
Huntley has 10 days to surrender to authorities.
May 9th - 3:33 pm
Sen. John Bonacic has held off on introducing his own casino gambling legislation, he says, after speaking with Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
And in a statement this afternoon, the Orange County lawmaker called for three casinos in the Catskills.
“I am hopeful the Governor will consider authorizing three casinos in the Catskills,” Bonacic said. “I believe voters will want to know the facts before they vote on gaming. I believe as much information as possible should be out there. I believe an informed voter is a voter more likely to vote yes on the referendum. I look forward to finally seeing gaming come to the Catskills, and creating jobs desperately needed there and elsewhere, to help the upstate economy.”
Cuomo’s plan is for enabling legislation to include three casinos, with a five-year exclusivity to the upstate region, but wants a gaming commission he appoints to choose the locations.
The governor earlier today unveiled some new details on his push for expanding casinos in New York, including the latest on his negotiations with American Indian tribes that operate their own facilities, along with a not-so-subtle hint he would compete if their negotiations fail to come to a conclusion.
Bonacic, the chairman of the Senate Racing, Wagering and Gaming Commission, said in an interview last month that he would introduce his own plan to cite casinos given his concern the governor has “failed to lead” on the issue.
But now Bonacic believes he can work with Cuomo on the complex matter of citing casinos and how much influnence the Legislature should ahve in the process.
Still, the Republican lawmaker wants a specifically defined referendum for voters to consider.
“This is an evolving process. If the Governor gets this done, he will correctly be able to claim he created thousands – perhaps tens of thousands of jobs in upstate New York,” Bonacic said. “If however, the referendum is so poorly defined that voters are left with more questions than answers, I am concerned they will vote no. In blackjack, you want as many cards as possible without “busting” – going over 21. Here though, it is too little of something – too little information – that could make the plan a bust.”
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 8th - 2:24 pm
A federal judge today unsealed a sentencing letter sent by the attorney of ex-Sen. Shirely Huntley revealing the names of the nine people she held wiretapped conversations with in her home during the summer of 2012.
The names include six sitting Democratic members of the state Senate: John Sampson, Eric Adams, Ruth Hassell-Thompson, Jose Peralta, Malcolm Smith and Velmanette Montgomery.
Huntley also spoke to Melvin Lowe, identified in the letter from attorney Sally Butler as a “former political consultant and associate of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman” and City Councilman Rubin Wills. Also named is Curtis Taylor, a former press aide to Smith.
Sampson was arrested this week for allegedly embezzling $440,000 in escrow funds from mortgage foreclosure settlements in order to fund his Brooklyn district attorney’s race.
Smith was arrested in April and accused by federal law enforcement of seeking to bribe
It remains unclear from the letter which of the nine is not currently facing a criminal investigation or which lawmaker helped arrange the deal to provide favorable access to an expanding business at JFK Airport in Huntley’s district. Prosecutors on Tuesday indicated that at least one person is not under federal investigation.
And that lawmakers and others are named in the document is not indicative that they had done anything illegal.
Regardless, the saga of the corruption cases in Albany is reaching a scale that hasn’t been seen in modern times at the Capitol and the release of the sentencing document today is a sharp turn for the Legislature.
Huntley, a former Democratic senator who pleaded guilty in her own corruption case, admitted to having received a $1,000 bribe from the businessman.
In the letter, Huntley’s lawyer writes that the then-lamwkaer had met with agents for the Federal Bureau of Investigation over a six-month period, telling them she had information on what she believed to be corrupt activity.
“Mrs. Huntley met with attorneys for the government and FBI agents regularly over a six-month period,” Butler wrote. “During her interviews with the government, she advised them that she had knowledge of what she believed to be corruption involving public officials. She was asked by the government’s attorneys and FBI agents to invite certain individuals into her home and record conversations on behest of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. She willing did as they had requested.”
Prosecutors for the Eastern District Attorney’s Office had sought to keep the names private, saying releasing the information could harm ongoing investigations. Federal Judge Jack Weinstein, however, ruled the document should be released.
Senate Democratic spokesman Mike Murphy released a statement shortly after the sentencing document was released.
“This is an extremely trying time in Albany,” Murphy said. “If any charges are brought the conference will take appropriate action.”
May 8th - 1:22 pm
Queens Sen. James Sanders is defending himself in the wake of this morning’s New York Post editorial lambasting him for slamming his wire-wearing colleagues for “snitching” on fellow lawmakers – something he told the New York Times demonstrates a lack of “honor” in his eyes.
Sanders, a former NYC Councilman, is perhaps a little higher on the radar screen these days than other senators since he defeated former Sen. Shirley Huntley in last year’s Democratic primary.
Huntley, of course, is one of two former legislators (the other being ex-Assemblyman Nelson Castro) recently revealed to have been cooperating with federal prosecutors to lessen their own sentences by wearing recording devices in an attempt to catch other corrupt lawmakers in the act.
Sanders noted that the statement he made to the New York Times last week, which prompted this morning’s NY Post editorial, was not quoted in full by the tabloid. Here’s what he said to the Gray Lady:
“There are few among us who can stand up to 20, 30, 40 years without, as the streets call, snitching.”
“I think that it is tragic that one finds themselves in a world of pain and even more tragic if you’re trying to buy down your sentence by ensnaring others. Now, if you are merely speaking of what they have done, then you’re probably doing a public service. But if you are ensnaring people, then it just proves you have no honor.”
And here’s what appeared in the Post:
“There are few among us who can stand up to 20, 30, 40 years [in jail] without, as the streets call [it], snitching,” Sanders said. Recording conversations for law-enforcement, he added, is “even more tragic if you’re trying to buy down your sentence by ensnaring others.” Doing that, Sanders insists, “proves you have no honor.”
Sanders said what was eliminated from his original statement “speaks volumes,” adding:
“While the Post highlighted a portion of my statement made to the New York Times that mentions ‘ensnaring’ others, which in the context used, described entrapment, which is prohibit (sic) under the law, the article neglected to mention my encouragement to perform a public service by exposing actual corruption that one knows of.”
“Deliberately leading people into a crime that they would not have committed, be they legislators or private individuals, is wrong and shows no honor. I have always and will always encourage full cooperation with law enforcement to root out real corruption.”
“However, for obvious reasons, everyone in the legislature does not walk around wearing a wire as to not take innocent conversations out of context, and to unfairly reduce a legislator’s life down to a five second sound bite.”
May 7th - 2:49 pm
Senate Republican spokesman Scott Reif released a statement this afternoon defending the decision to bar protesters and organizations from attending the Senate Elections Committee’s hearing on public financing earlier this morning.
NYPIRG formally protested the decision to block advocates for public financing of political campaigns from room in a letter to the Committee on Open Government.
But Reif points to protestors trying to “disrupt” the hearing that was taking a critical look at the city’s public financing system and that the Capitol hearing room had reached capacity.
The hearing was also webcast online, Reif said.
“It won’t come as a shock to anyone that this complaint comes from organizations who support using taxpayer dollars to fund political campaigns,” Reif said in the statement. “They say they support free speech, yet they attempted to disrupt a hearing and prevent members of the Elections Committee from taking testimony on the City’s taxpayer-funded election system. This hearing was webcast live and we made every effort to get as many people into the room as possible, including every reporter who wanted to attend. As the room reached occupancy, we were instructed to close the room.”
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.