SD-37: Issues Take Shape In Closely Watched Senate Special

From the Morning Memo:

The candidates vying to fill the Westchester County state Senate district have in recent days began to coalesce around issues ahead of what’s expected to be a crucial special election scheduled for April 24.

Republican Julie Killian, who had sought the seat in 2016 when it was held by Democrat George Latimer, has pointed to combating opioid and heroin addiction. Democrat Shelley Mayer, a state Assembly lawmaker, after the shooting at a Florida high school that killed 17 people, spoke Sunday at a rally with left-leaning groups demanding action on gun control.

The race is one of 11 to be held in the April special election to fill vacancies in both the Senate and Assembly.

But Democrats late last year reached a unity pact for the Senate races, which include filling a district formerly represented by Ruben Diaz, now on the city Council, that is meant to bring together the Independent Democratic Conference and the mainline conference.

The Westchester County district, vacated by County Executive George Latimer, has been long sought by Republicans to flip, or at least remain competitive. It’s expected to be a costly race given the stakes and the interest in the seat.

Killian pointed to the heroin and opioid addiction issue as one of the reasons why she’s running for the seat.

“It is government’s role to help lift that burden. That is why I am running for the Senate: to fight for Westchester’s fair share of funding for prevention, treatment and recovery services so that other local families will not have to go through the heartbreak of losing loved ones to addiction,” she said.

Mayer, meanwhile, has been racking up a series of endorsements in the weeks after securing the nomination. Last week, she received the nod of the New York State Nurses Association.

“The New York State Nurses Association is excited to endorse Shelley Mayer for State Senate,” said Jayne Cammisa, a registered nurse at Westchester Medical Center and a board member for the group.

“Throughout her career, Shelley has been a fierce advocate for healthcare access and Westchester families can trust her to continue to do so in the State Senate. Now, more than ever before, we need leaders who will fight for us and listen to the needs of the community. Shelley has proven her ability to deliver and we look forward to working with her when she reaches the Senate.”

Cuomo Rips Proposed Cuts To Background Checks

From the Morning Memo:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a statement this weekend criticized a budget proposal from President Donald Trump that would cut funding for background checks for gun purchases.

The proposal was contained in Trump’s spending plan sent to Congress, which was released before the shooting at a Florida high school that killed 17 people. The budget itself unlikely to be enacted and is considered a more aspirational document.

“In the wake of the tragedy in Parkland, Florida, Washington has responded with the same appalling complacency and inaction it provided to the hundreds of mass shootings that have devastated our country since Sandy Hook,” Cuomo in a statement.

“Now, instead of taking action to keep our children safe, President Trump is trying to make it easier for individuals who commit serious crimes and those who are dangerously mentally ill to buy guns. It’s as shocking as it is dangerous. The President’s proposed budget slashes critical funding that states like New York use to strengthen background reporting on potential gun buyers. This reckless measure would undermine the very safeguards that protect us and put the American people in harm’s way.”

Cuomo wasn’t the only Democrat over the weekend to raise an alarm over the provision. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer also criticized the move, which would cut money used by state and local governments spent to help maintain records on those who are ineligible to purchase firearms.

Gun control has been a signature issue for Cuomo since 2013, when he pushed through the SAFE Act, a package of gun control measures that has proven controversial for gun-rights advocates.

Here and Now

It’s Presidents Day. Here’s a list of what’s open and/or closed.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is in Albany with no public schedule.

The state Legislature is off this week, so it will likely be quiet around the state Capitol in Albany.

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray will return to New York City from Guilford, Connecticut, and have no public events scheduled.

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is visiting SUNY Adirondack’s cybersecurity program at 1 p.m. this afternoon as an effort to increase federal investments in cybersecurity technical education.

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump depart West Palm Beach, Florida en route to Washington, D.C. late this afternoon. They have no public events scheduled.

At 9:15 a.m., LG Kathy Hochul addresses officials at the annual meeting of the state Association of Towns and makes an announcement, Marriott Marquis, 1535 Broadway, Manhattan.

At 10 a.m., Deputy Senate Minority Leader Mike Gianaris holds an event highlighting his bill that would ban pet stores from selling animals from for-profit “mills,” 31-19 Newtown Ave., Astoria, Queens.

At 10:30 a.m., Deputy Senate Majority Leader John DeFrancisco, a GOP candidate for governor, will speak about Cuomo’s “convoluted new state personal income tax scheme,” Marriott Marquis Hotel, lobby, 1535 Broadway, Manhattan.

At 11 a.m., Brooklyn Councilman Jumaane Williams will meet with New Paltz and Kingston voters to discuss his LG run, Outdated Cafe, 314 Wall St., Kingston.

Headlines…

Rick Gates, a former Trump campaign aide indicted Oct. 27 with Paul Manafort on charges of money laundering and illegal foreign lobbying, will reportedly plead guilty and cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller.

The detailed indictment of 13 Russians for intervening in the 2016 presidential election has rekindled a debate that had never fully gone away and now seems destined to become one of the great unresolved questions in American political history: Did Moscow tilt the election to Trump?

Trump began the weekend believing the indictment had exonerated him. But his mood darkened once he started watching the weekend coverage, sparking a two-day Twitter tirade that was unusually angry and defiant even by his standards.

Trump used his Twitter account to share an anti-CNN cartoon by an artist who in 2016 caused heartburn for Trump’s presidential campaign by drawing Hillary Clinton in blackface.

The president also slammed TV legend Oprah Winfrey as “insecure” saying he hopes for the opportunity to “defeat” the billionaire businesswoman, who has repeatedly said she’s not interested in running, at the ballot box.

While at Mar-a-Lago over the long weekend, Trump met with House Speaker Paul Ryan to discuss the Republican Party’s agenda, as calls grow for both the administration and Congress to take action on gun control in the wake of a deadly shooting at a nearby Florida high school.

It would be “appalling” and “lives would be lost” if Trump follows through on proposed cuts to the gun-background-check system in light of last week’s deadly school shooting, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said.

Nikolas Cruz, the gunman accused of killing 17 people inside the school, will plead guilty if prosecutors take the death penalty off the table, Broward County Public Defender Howard Finkelstein confirmed.

In a movement that has been building since the massacre last week, student organizers said that they would mount a demonstration next month in Washington called March For Our Lives. Their mission is to pivot America’s long-running gun control debate toward meaningful action.

Some survivors of the shooting say they are planning not to return to school until Congress passes gun legislation.

Trump, who has been slammed by survivors, has agreed to meet with students and teachers from the school for a “listening session” this week.

Scott Beigel, a teacher formerly of Dix Hills, Long Island, who died protecting students during the Parkland shooting, was remembered yesterday during his funeral in Boca Raton for his sharp wit and selfless nature.

Al Hoffman, Jr., a prominent GOP donor in Florida, is threatening to cut off funding to Republicans who oppose a ban on assault weapons.

A petition to the White House is asking for a JROTC member credited with saving several of his classmates’ lives during the Parkland shooting to be given a full-honors military burial.

The AR-15, which has been used in a number of mass shootings – including Florida – is available for sale in New York, though it cannot hold as many rounds here as in Florida or contain a removable magazine.

To protect his boss at critical junctures in his improbable political rise, Trump’s longtime attorney, Michael Cohen, relied on intimidation tactics, hush money and the nation’s leading tabloid news business, American Media Inc., whose top executives include close Trump allies.

The sprawling agreement to boost government spending reached by Republicans and Democrats this month quietly included a step toward defusing what could be a financial time bomb for 1.5 million retirees and hundreds of companies in the industrial Midwest and the South.

An ex-wife of former White House staff secretary Rob Porter says she has received a letter of apology from Sen. Orrin Hatch, the Utah Republican who defended his former aide from “a vile attack” after two ex-wives accused Porter of domestic abuse.

Disney-Marvel’s “Black Panther” is heading for a super-heroic $218 million debut over the four-day President’s Day weekend at 4,020 North American locations, estimates showed yesterday.

The Movement for Black Lives has channeled the energy and excitement surrounding the opening weekend of Marvel’s “Black Panther” into a voting registration campaign.

The “MeToo” movement and allegations resulting in the ouster of high-profile hosts has hit public radio particularly hard, posing risks to the all-important bond that organizations already under many outside pressures form with their listeners, whom they also rely on for financial contributions.

Senate Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco, a GOP candidate for governor who has been critical of state economic development programs under Gov. A Andrew Cuomo, personally benefited from a lucrative pre-Cuomo tax break he voted to enact.

While Republicans continue to bicker over whether DeFrancisco should head the GOP ticket in November, they have yet to find candidates to run for state attorney general or controller. One potential AG contender: political novice Sarmad Khojasteh, a Westchester County commercial litigation lawyer who recently dropped a bid for state Senate.

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Cuomo Gets Sharpton’s Nod At Caucus Weekend

The Rev. Al Sharpton on Sunday in Albany praised Gov. Andrew Cuomo, calling him a counterpoint and “a contrast” to President Donald Trump in what was seen as a nod for the incumbent Democrat’s re-election later this year.

Sharpton’s remarks came at a brunch held at the Executive Mansion for the annual caucus weekend of the New York State Association of Black & Puerto Rican Legislators.

“In these days of Donald Trump we need an Andrew Cuomo who will put through progressive legislation,” Sharpton said. “We need to be able to show that in this president’s home state we have the most progressive social justice agenda and have the track record to prove it.”

Sharpton compared the political environment to the 1980s, when the current governor’s father was seen as the voice of the Democratic opposition during the Reagan era.

“Just like Mario Cuomo stood up to Ronald Reagan,” Shaprton said, “Andrew Cuomo is the contrast to Donald Trump.”

Cuomo is seeking a third term this year and has been considered a potential Democratic candidate for the presidency in 2020. Over the last several months, Cuomo has been critical of Trump’s policies on immigration and the tax law approved in December that caps state and local tax deductions at $10,000 — a move seen as hindering high-tax states like New York.

Meanwhile, a continued roll out of endorsements came from Sharpton, Hazel Dukes and the Anti-Defamation League for Cuomo’s criminal justice agenda this year, which includes a proposed elimination of bail for people facing misdemeanor and non-violent felonies, speeding up access to court proceedings and expanding the discovery process in cases.

The Weekend That Was

President Trump, in a series of angry and defiant tweets this morning, sought to shift the blame to Democrats for Russia’s virtual war to meddle in the 2016 election, saying that President Barack Obama had not done enough to stop the interference and denying that he had ever suggested that Moscow might not have been involved.

“I never said Russia did not meddle in the election,” Trump tweeted. “I said ‘it may be Russia, or China or another country or group, or it may be a 400 pound genius sitting in bed and playing with his computer.’ The Russian ‘hoax’ was that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia — it never did!”

Trump lashed out at the FBI on Twitter, saying the agency “missed all of the many signals” sent by the suspect in the Florida school shooting and arguing they are “spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign.”

In the wake of another wrenching shooting rampage, and in the absence of any federal action, gun-control advocates, Democratic politicians and others are pointing to the success of states like Connecticut in addressing the spiraling toll of gun violence.

The president and First Lady Melania Trump visited Broward Health North Hospital in Pompano Beach on Friday. In addition to meeting victims, the Trumps thanked doctors, nurses and medical professionals for their response to the mass shooting.

The F.B.I. received a tip last month from someone close to Nikolas Cruz that he owned a gun, displayed “erratic behavior” and a “desire to kill people,” and had talked of committing a school shooting, the bureau revealed, but it acknowledged that it had failed to investigate.

Before Cruz carried out his mass killing at a Florida high school last week, police responded to his home 39 times over a seven-year period, according to disturbing new documents.

Cruz had a disturbing way of introducing himself. “Hi, I’m Nick,” he used to say, according to an acquaintance interviewed by CNN. “I’m a school shooter.”

Cruz was immature, quirky and depressed when James and Kimberly Snead took him into their Parkland home. But he was pleasant and seemed to be growing happier, they said. How the 19-year-old turned into a killer still baffles them.

“You killed my kid! the father of Florida school shooting victim Meadow Jade Pollack, 18, railed during her funeral. Her mother was too distraught to attend.

Cruz, who informed investigators that “demons” told him how to unleash the massacre, reportedly says he’ll plead guilty — so long as prosecutors promise not to seek the death penalty.

“This certainly is the type of case the death penalty was designed for,” Broward County State Attorney Mike Satz said in a statement. “This was a highly calculated and premeditated murder of 17 people and the attempted murder of everyone in that school. Our office will announce our formal position at the appropriate time.”

Officials across the country — including New Yorkreported a wave of threats, some copycat, others not, in recent days that kept both students and administrators on edge after the Parkland massacre.

Authorities removed Cruz’s younger brother from the home of Rocxanne Deschamps, a longtime family friend of the Cruz brothers who took them in after their adoptive mother died of pneumonia in November, and committed him to a mental health facility.

The strong message of a student who survived the mass shooting at a Florida high school this week, Emma Gonzalez, reverberated across social media Saturday after a passionate speech at an anti-gun rally.

Student survivors of the Florida high school massacre have channeled their pain into political activism. The group of Parkland teens has announced a demonstration in Washington, D.C., for March 24 called “March For Our Lives.”

Hillary Clinton urged political action in response to the Parkland shooting, pushing her Twitter followers to “remember these feelings in November, and VOTE.”

While 22 states and the District of Columbia ban rifle sales to minors, New York — outside New York City — is among those that let kids 16 and older with a hunting permit possess the weapons, according to information compiled by the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Here are examples of the social media posts allegedly used in the Russians’ influence campaign of the 2016 election, which resulted in the Department of Justice’s indictment of 13 individuals and three companies on Friday. More here.

While Clinton remained silent on news of the indictment against the 13 Russian nationals, her spokesperson lashed out on Trump on Twitter, calling him “un-American.”

A top Russian official dismissed the latest round of indictments in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe as “just blabber” while U.S. officials said the charges made it clear the nation meddled in the 2016 presidential election.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed State Police to increase patrols around schools statewide after officials fielded threats of copycat violence at three western New York schools two days after the Florida shooting.

A picture of what Plainview-Old Bethpage school officials called a disturbing social media post, sent anonymously to high school administrators, resulted in a female student being questioned by police Friday and released to the custody of her parents, Superintendent Lorna Lewis said.

A Westchester school is imploring six high schools on Long Island to abandon their plans to skip a Model Congress event for students in New Rochelle out of fear stemming from a recent classroom stabbing.

Trump had an affair with former Playmate of the Year Karen McDougal — whom he met at a party for “The Apprentice” in 2006 while married to his current wife, Melania, according to a report that details the great lengths to which Trump went to conceal his alleged indiscretions from the press.

John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, ordered an overhaul of the process for granting security clearances that will revoke top-secret access for some aides and could affect Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law.

The Department of Veterans Affairs says the agency’s chief of staff has stepped down after an investigation found she had doctored emails to justify Secretary David Shulkin’s wife accompanying him on a European trip at taxpayer expense.

The Disney-Marvel movie “Black Panther,” which finds the superheroic T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returning to his remote African kingdom to assume the throne, roared into theaters over the weekend as a full-blown cultural event, breaking box office records and shattering a myth about the overseas viability of movies rooted in black culture.

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Extras

The Justice Department’s Office of Special Counsel has formally charged 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities with interfering in the U.S. elections.

It was a relatively flat day for stocks after the news of the indictments.

President Trump had repeatedly insisted the assertion that Russian sought to interfere in the election was a hoax.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo says that the politically-charged, revolving conversation about guns in America must be taken on, and also says New York state and its SAFE ACT can prove an effective example.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation said it was contacted about suspected Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz in January but that its “established protocols” weren’t followed.

Mental illness has been a big focus in the wake of the shooting. Many health officials estimate it’s something that affects one in four families.

Members of a local company that provides active shooter training are headed to Florida to meet with the families of victims impacted by the recent school shooting.

The trial of Joe Percoco has yielded the release of the longtime aide’s vetting documents for the executive chamber.

For decades the Brooklyn Navy Yard sat dormant. Once a mecca for wartime ship building, it’s on a voyage to become a billion dollar technology hub.

A New York State Supreme Court judge has dismissed two breach of contract claims against developer LPCiminelli.

Ogden Police are on location at Spencerport High School Thursday morning following posts on social media.

Facing Primary Challenge, Hochul Says She’s Focused On Government

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul responded Friday to the primary challenge launched by New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams, saying she’s focused on getting a budget done with Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“It’s very early,” she said during a stop in Amsterdam. “We don’t really know whose qualified to run until July 15. But until then the governor and I are focused on getting a budget done on time.”

Hochul, who joined the Democratic statewide ticket in 2014, pointed to efforts in the $168 billion proposal that include measures to bolster women’s rights and create a system of early voting.

“We have a lot on our plate governmentally and that is to continue to be my focus as I continue to travel the state and have met probably millions of people at this point,” she said.

But at the same time, Hochul pointed to 600-plus visits to New York City and her efforts on behalf of the elderly and the disadvantaged.

“They know me as a fighter, someone who stood up on issues,” she said. “I stand up for people. I’m not a stranger to a good fight to the people that I represent.”

Gounardes Pushes Golden For Gun Control Bill

Democratic state Senate candidate Andrew Gounardes on Friday pushed Republican incumbent Martin Golden to take up a package of gun control measures in the wake of a Florida school shooting earlier this week.

The measures would extend background check times from three days to 10, create a gun violence research institute and block anyone from purchasing a gun who has been convicted of a hate crime.

Another bill would create “red flag” cases that would lead to a person temporarily suspending their weapons based on behavioral issues and a ban on the possession or sale of bump stocks.

“The mass shooting in Parkland, Florida – the 18th at a school this year alone – lays bare the all-too-tragic reality that all face: we are not doing enough to keep violent weapons out of the hands of those who are a threat and danger to public safety,” said Gounardes, referring to a statistic on school shootings by the Everytown gun control group that has been disputed as inaccurate.

“I fully support the efforts of spearheaded by courageous members of the State Senate to pass common sense gun laws in New York and today I’m asking all of my supporters to call Senator Golden’s office and ask him to do the same.”

Golden, meanwhile, has called for the introduction of scanner technology in schools to prevent to detect guns being brought in to the facilities.

On Friday, Golden in a statement once again pushed for the technology to be deployed across New York City.

“Each student being educated in our schools deserves to be learning in an environment free from fear,” he said. “‘Smart’ scanners and law enforcement in every school will go a long way in giving parents and students peace of mind.”

Passage of new gun control legislation in the Republican-led Senate is unlikely given the fallout surrounding the passage of the SAFE Act in 2013.

Seeking Re-Election, Gillibrand Says She’ll Serve Full Term

New York Democrats nominated Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand for another six year term in the U.S. Senate as talk swirls around her national ambitions.

Speaking with reporters after the event, Gillibrand insisted she plans to serve out her full term in the chamber.

“I’m really focused on ’18 and serving in the Senate and I think all of us should because most of the things that we need protect we protect if we flip the House and flip the Senate,” she said, “and I would like to be part of that by being able to serve in the Senate.”

Gillibrand first entered the Senate in 2009, serving out the unexpired term of Hillary Clinton. She was immediately challenged by the left and the right. Potential Democratic primary challengers, like former Rep. Harold Ford, ultimately sat out of the race.

Republicans in 2010 felt they had a chance of unseating her, but ultimately nominated former Rep. Joe DioGuardi in a race Gillibrand won handily as she ran statewide for the first time. In 2012, seeking a full term, Gillibrand defeated conservative attorney Wendy Long in a lopsided victory.

This year, she’s expected to face Republican Chelle Farley.

But over the years, critics have contended Gillibrand has liberalized her views on immigration and gun control. Again on Friday Gillibrand called for new gun laws after the deadly school shooting in Florida this week, criticizing Congress for not acting “while Americans are being slaughtered.”

“There is no excuse for doing nothing,” she said.

Gillibrand had served in the House of Representatives from an upstate district that leaned conservative, unseating incumbent Republican John Sweeney in 2006. She was appointed to the Senate by then-Gov. David Paterson, who bypassed better-known Democrats to fill Clinton’s seat in Washington.

Gillibrand said Friday her views held in the House were “wrong.”

“I was wrong,” she said. “I don’t think I spent enough time talking to families who were suffering issues of gun violence and I didn’t spend enough time talking to families suffering from horrible immigration laws.”

But Gillibrand has also been a voice on sexual harassment, even before the reckoning of the #MeToo movement across the country, highlighting sexual assault on college campuses and in the military.

She’s criticized fellow Democrats like Al Franken and Bill Clinton, drawing fire from some members of the party in the process. On Friday, she said the push to reform harassment rules in Washington is moving too slow.

“I have three bipartisan bills that could pass today if we voted on them,” she said. “

State On Increased Alert Following ‘Copycat’ School Threats

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-NY, is addressing the issue of “copycats” following the high school shooting in Florida which resulted in the deaths of 17 people this week. This morning Cuomo said there were several situations in schools including two incidents the Southern Tier in which students threatened to bring in a gun.

One involved an issue between a student from Chautauqua Lake High School and a student from Ashville BOCES. Both were taken into custody.

In the second incident, a student at Randolph Academy who threatened to use a firearm on a teacher. He was taken into custody as well.

In both situations he said the schools acted appropriately, reaching out to authorities and entering lockdown protocols.

“God forbid we have another situation actually occur in this state so we’ll see how it goes. This may be just an immediate reaction to yesterday but we’re going to watch it for the next few days,” Cuomo said. “Hopefully it simmers down.”

The governor said the state is on higher alert right now. There is increased State Police presence around schools and they’re warning administrators to be vigilant too.

Although Cuomo was hesitant to use the term “copycat,” he issued a warning to students who may be thinking about acting out. In both Southern Tier incidents the students were of high school age.

“I also want students to know this is not a joke,” he said. “Any threat, we take very seriously. Whether or not you follow up on the threat, we take it very seriously and there are serious consequences to these kinds of threats, especially in this environment.”

The governor said he was shocked this morning by the situations. He believes things can go back to normal after a few days but he won’t say anything definitively.

“One must ask what is normal in this new world,” Cuomo said. “All of these things we never saw before and we now see them with a frequency that is alarming so I’ve learned the hard way, err on the side of caution whether it’s a storm or a flood or a threat of violence and that’s what we’re doing here.”