New Education secretary Betsy DeVos defended the Trump administration’s decision to rescind protections for transgender students, arguing that the protections were an “overreach” of the Obama administration.

The new chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, Ronna McDaniel, says Democrats are “out of touch” with Americans.

The vast majority of Americans are no fans of Russian president Vladimir Putin, but despite a well-oiled anti-Russia machine in Washington his approval level has nearly doubled, according to a Feb. 21 Gallup poll.

The League of Conservation Voters’ national environmental scorecard is out. Not surprisingly, New York Democratic House members score high, while their Republican colleagues score low.

Trump said in an interview he doesn’t support the “one-sided” new START treaty that places caps on nuclear weapons with Russia.

The NBA has generally moved to the political left in repudiating Trump, but Knicks owner James Dolan gave $300,000 to a group supporting the Republican’s presidential campaign.

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan announced the formation of a campaign to push for equitable state aid to the state’s capital city.

In the wake of Rochester City Council voting to re-affirm Rochester as a sanctuary city, Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo says she has reservations about the county following suit.

Brooklyn Rep. Yvette Clarke on Thursday predicted Trump will be impeached soon: “It won’t be long.”

Cuomo rallied for his shared services proposal on Thursday in Rockland County, picking up support for the plan from County Executive Ed Day.

After it was unable to find a buyer, Kraft-Heinz is distributing layoff notices to workers at its cheese factory in the Southern Tier.

Cuomo also continued to remain neutral in the race for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee.

Oprah Winfrey will speak at Skidmore College’s graduation this spring.

Alan Colmes, a former Fox News host and liberal sparring partner of Sean Hannity, has died.

Cuomo Beefs Up Anti-Hate Crimes Efforts

With heightened concerns over anti-Semitic acts in New York and around the country, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday unveiled a push to combat hate crimes.

Cuomo, who met with 50 religious leaders from across the state in New York City, announced a $25 million grant program for schools, community center and day care facilities that would bolster security. At the same time, New Yorkers can report hate crimes by texting “HATE” to 81336, which would direct them to the state Division of Human Rights.

And Cuomo plans to push for legislation that would expand the state’s human rights law that would include a public-private legal defense fund for immigrants.

The moves come following bomb threats to Jewish Community Centers in New York cities as well as a bomb threat this week aimed at the Anti-Defamation League’s offices in New York City.

“There is no place for hate or discrimination or bigotry in New York,” Cuomo said this afternoon. “And New Yorkers will come together with one voice, as one force, we will find the perpetrators of these hate crimes and it will stop. Period. And we hope that this message that we send in New York today echoes across this country. Because enough is enough.”

Cuomo: ‘No Confusion’ In Transgender Rights (Updated)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a letter to officials at the state Education Department on Thursday wrote that despite the shift in Title IX enforcement for transgender students by the Trump administration, nothing should change in New York.

“There can be no confusion in this State,” Cuomo wrote in the letter to Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia. “New York State schools must continue to enforce the law and protect transgender and gender non-conforming students.”

Cuomo pointed to the state’s Dignity for All Students Act, an anti-bullying measure that requires schools to protect students based on discrimination or harassment.

“No student should be confused about their rights or fearful of losing these important protections,” the letter states. “By immediately issuing this directive, the State will provide clarity to all school administrators and provide our transgender students with the reassurance they need to maximize their potential and understand their rights.”

The letter comes as the federal government through President Donald Trump’s administration will no long enforce the Obama-era guidance of protections for transgender students when it comes to issues such as lockroom or bathroom use based on gender identification.

The Trump administration has insisted the move is based on an interpretation of states’ rights. Nationally, individual states have come under fire to implementing measures considered hostile to the LGBTQ community. Cuomo, in turn, has instituted non-essential state travel bans to states like North Carolina.

Meanwhile, some lawmakers are expected to once again push for the passage of the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, a bill that is designed to block discrimination in the workplace or housing based on gender identity.

The measure has stalled in the Senate, but Cuomo has through executive action enforced aspects of the measure through existing human rights legislation.

Updated: Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Elia in a joint statement reiterated support for enforcing current laws aimed at protecting students.

“The Trump Administration’s decision to rescind this guidance sends a dangerous and divisive message and threatens some of our most vulnerable young people,” Schneiderman said.

“But in New York State, the law remains the law — and school districts have independent duties to protect transgender students from discrimination and harassment when they go to school. My office will use all the existing tools of federal, state, and local law to ensure that transgender kids are safe in their schools and are provided equal access to all programming and facilities consistent with their gender identity.”

Added Elia: “Transgender youth are valued members of our schools and communities across New York State, yet statistics show that more than half of them will attempt suicide at least once by their 20th birthday. So we must do everything in our power to create learning environments that are safe and welcoming for all. The guidance we have developed with Attorney General Schneiderman and our partners underscores the value we place on respecting all students and indeed all people.”

Dissent Stirs Over Cuomo’s Property Tax Plan

Rockland County Executive Ed Day on Thursday became the latest local government leader to embrace Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to consolidate and share services on the local level in order to reduce property taxes.

But the same day Cuomo was in Rockland County to tout the latest round of support for the plan, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, Sen. Sue Serino and members of the Civil Service Employees Association criticized it.

“This proposal spits in the face of home rule in New York State,” said CSEA Southern Region President Billy Riccaldo. “Only residents should have a say in services provided by their local government. Residents of Town A should have no vote over what Town B or City C is proposing. What our local governments truly need is the first increase in AIM (Aid and Incentive to Municipalities) funding in years, not more money wasted on an ill-conceived program.”

Cuomo wants county officials — either the elected executive or appoint administer — work with local governments to develop plans that would combine services or consolidate towns, villages and cities. The proposal would then be up to voters in a referendum this fall to consider.

The property tax plan is contained in Cuomo’s $152 billion budget proposal.

Local consolidation has long been a pet policy Cuomo dating back to his time as attorney general. Cuomo has also repeatedly contended the volume of local government is the main driver of property taxes in New York, though fiscal watchdogs have disagreed.

Cuomo’s plan has won the support from Long Island county executives Ed Mangano of Nassau and Steve Bellone of Suffolk, as well as Broome County’s Jason Garnar.

On Thursday, he picked up support from Day, a Republican who had previously been said to consider a run against Cuomo in 2018.

“Property taxes remain the most burdensome tax on home- and business-owners in the Mid-Hudson Valley and across New York, and this bold initiative will empower local governments to work together to find real solutions to lower costs, cut property taxes and improve government efficiency,” Cuomo said. “I commend these local leaders and look forward to working together to develop plans to deliver real relief to property taxpayers.”

Molinaro, a Republican who is mulling a run for governor next year, did not question the push to share services, but suggested the effort was meant to “scapegoat” local leaders.

“We all must work to share services and lower the cost of living for New Yorkers,” he said. “We are willing to be a partner in this effort but not a scapegoat. We, will do our part but New York must address the massive amount of state spending it forces onto the backs of property taxpayers.”

Serino, who would have a vote over whether the consolidation plan moves forward at all through the budget, questioned the linkage to aid to municipalities, which has been flat during Cuomo’s tenure.

“As someone who has served in local government before being elected to the Senate, I know from firsthand experience that Dutchess County has gone above and beyond to improve efficiency, cut spending and share services to reduce costs,” said Senator Sue Serino.

“I have seen just how hard our local governments work to squeeze blood from a stone to ensure that our taxpayers’ dollars go further and for that, they should be commended, not penalized. As we work toward a final budget, I know that there are difficult decisions to be made that strike a balance between funding critical services and saving taxpayer dollars. More can and should be done to reduce the local tax burden and I will continue to make property tax reduction a priority.”

Meng Receives Nod From NH Party Chair

New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley endorsed Queens Rep. Grace Meng’s bid to be re-elected a DNC vice chair, saying in a statement the New York Democrat knows how to build the party from the grassroots level.

“I’ve spent my career working to elevate women in our party, and I am so proud that we have the first all-women delegation to Congress from our state,” Buckley said in a statement.

“Grace understands that success of our party depends on grassroots organizing and expanding state party infrastructure. I’m looking forward to working with Grace to realize our full potential and build up a party that is inclusive, growing, and empowering to people from all backgrounds. Please join me in supporting Grace as Vice Chair.”

Assemblyman Michael Blake, a Bronx Democrat, is also seeking a vice chair post as the party gathers this weekend in Atlanta for its winter meeting.

Blake and Meng were endorsed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has otherwise stayed out of the more high profile fight for the party’s chairmanship.

DiNapoli: Tax Collections Down 1 Percent

Tax collections in January fell by $658.3 million over the same period last year, a 1 percent decline, according to Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office.

Still, year-to-date tax revenue overall is slightly higher — some $167.9 million — than the most recent projections for the third quarter, the cash report released on Thursday found.

“State tax collections are slightly above Executive Budget projections,” DiNapoli said. “With the budget process well underway, and less than two months left in the fiscal year, we’re watching closely to see if revenues meet the Division of the Budget’s projected growth.”

There has been an increase in spending than initially projected, due in large part to the $2.1 billion of federal payments to the Essential Plan Program, as well as federal spending for Medicaid, also up by $2 billion.

Hoylman Blasts Trump Admin’s Rescinding Of Transgender Protections

Democratic Sen. Brad Hoylman in a statement released Wednesday night blasted the move by President Donald Trump’s administration to rescind the Title IX enforcement of protections for transgender students.

In the statement, the state lawmaker called Trump “a shameless bully.”

“By undermining Title IX protections for transgender students, Trump would allow all of America to follow the bogus ‘bathroom bills’ coming out of North Carolina and Texas, which are premised on the outrageous assertion that transgender people are sexual predators,” Hoylman said. “The reality is that upwards of 50 percent of transgender people are themselves the victims of sexual violence. Schools must offer a safe haven for all children – period. Trump’s new federal guidance obliterates that basic standard.”

Hoylman is the only openly gay member of the state Senate.

The Trump administration maintains the move is designed to allow states to set their own policies regarding transgender students. It is also likely to stoke calls from Democrats for the passage of the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, a bill that has stalled in the Senate.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo through executive action has moved to add protections for transgender New Yorkers in housing and the workplace through the state’s Human Rights law.

Infrastructure Group Launches Clean Water Campaign

A coalition that backs infrastructure projects in New York is launching a digital ad campaign on Thursday aimed at pushing for more focus and spending on clean water in New York.

The group, Rebuild New York Now, is launching the effort in Rochester later today with local elected officials, linking the effort to the discovery of a chemical contamination in the drinking water in Hoosick Falls, a rural village near the Vermont border.

“We can all agree that New York needs major investment in its aging and precarious water infrastructure system after high profile disasters like Hoosick Falls have occurred right here at home,” said Mike Elmendorf, President and CEO of Rebuild New York Now.

“Investing in our water infrastructure will create jobs while ensuring the safety and wellbeing of New York families. Our coalition of labor, environmental and industry groups will take our message across the state and call upon our leaders to invest in our water infrastructure now, because we cannot wait any longer – our lives depend on it.”

The group is releasing a 60-second digital ad, with plans for social, streaming and video ads running statewide highlighting the water infrastructure issue.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $152 billion budget plan includes a proposed $2 billion clean water fund.

Cuomo To Dems On ACA: ‘Stand Up And Fight’

From the Morning Memo:

The same day he appeared with 1199SEIU, the politically influential health care union, to preserve the Affordable Care Act, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s political operation released emails to supporters urging them to “stand up and fight” to protect the law.

In the email released Wednesday afternoon, Cuomo wrote Democrats need to model their opposition after Republicans when they sought to derail the legislative agenda of Democratic presidents like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

“Democrats need to take a page out of the Republican Party’s book from when they disagreed with Bill Clinton and Barack Obama,” the email states. “We need fight Trump every step of the way.”

Its a tonal shift for Cuomo, in part, who has decried gridlock in Washington and touted his own work with Republicans in Albany to accomplish a legislative agenda that otherwise would be difficult for conservatives to approve.

Cuomo has come under fire from his own party and liberals for his willingness, too, to make compromises on key issues.

Now, Cuomo doesn’t want Democrats in Washington to accommodate Republican demands.

“Right now is not a time to make a deal. It’s not a time to get political,” he wrote. “It’s time to get principled and remember who you are, who you represent, and who you’re fighting for. That’s what Democrats are all about.”

Columnists Shares Her Side Of Bizarre Alleged Incident In Albany

From the Morning Memo:

Sometimes ticking people off is a necessary part of the job for veteran columnist Gloria Winston. She said she’s not the type of person to be scared by threats that might come as a result of her opinions.

But the 71-year-old claimed when lobbyist Robert Scott Gaddy leaned in and said “I will f—— kill you,” she believed him.

For years, Winston considered Gaddy a friend, but she said the relationship deteriorated last year. The columnist was part of a group called “We The People” that did not believe then-Rochester media personality Rachel Barnhart was an objective reporter. She said the group had collected roughly 3,000 signatures asking the Federal Communications Commission to remove Barnhart from the airwaves.

Before Winston delivered the petition, she said she spoke with Gaddy, who told her he had a pending lawsuit against Barnhart. She said he suggested the suit would have more weight if he had the signatures, so she turned them over to him.

Winston believed she was duped by the lobbyist, who never pursued litigation. Not long after the alleged conversation, Gaddy was vocally and financially supporting Barnhart’s run for Assembly.

Things got worse in September 2016, when Assemblyman Bill Nojay took his own life the same day he was due in court to face federal fraud charges. According to court documents unsealed a few months later, Nojay was accused of siphoning money from an escrow account he controlled. Some of that money, the documents said, went to an “unnamed lobbyist.”

Nojay and Gaddy were well-known throughout political circles as good friends. Winston, still smarting from their previous interactions, quickly drew the conclusion that Gaddy was the lobbyist.

She wrote in a January 2017 column for the Minority Reporter that it didn’t matter that Gaddy lied to her about Barnhart because she was “confident he might find his way to a federal correctional facility, based on his business ties to the now-deceased Bill Nojay.”

Winston said that accusation did not sit well with Gaddy and he threatened to serve her with a lawsuit when she came to Albany for the annual caucus weekend. She said she’s been attending the convention sponsored by the Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators for decades.

Winston said she was in a meeting Saturday with her assemblyman, David Gantt, when Gaddy entered the room. He didn’t have any legal documents but she said he approached her and said if she ever mentioned Nojay again he would kill her.

Then, Winston said, the lobbyist punched her in the jaw, breaking one of the clip-on earrings she was wearing. She said other people in the room quickly threw him out.

Winston said she didn’t need any kind of medical attention, although it was offered.

“I was probably more in shock than anything, that this man was stupid enough to hit me in front of witness,” she said.

Winston said she was torn about whether or not to file a complaint with police because she didn’t want to cause Gantt any embarrassment. Eventually, she said, the assemblyman and others convinced her to sign a statement.

“You’ve got to ask them,” was all Gantt would say when we reached out for corroboration.

Winston said she’s still waiting to hear from police or the district attorney’s office about what happens next. Albany Police said it’s now up to the court to review the incident and decide if there was a violation.

Winston, meanwhile, said she plans to sue Gaddy for battery and is in the process of obtaining an attorney.

“He’s losing his mind and I am not a psychologist but he’s acting like a man who’s postal,” she said.

When reached by phone, the lobbyist refused to confirm or deny there was an altercation nor would he make any comment.