The Weekend That Was

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is heading to Cuba tomorrow. He’ll be the first American governor to visit Cuba since the recent thaw in relations with the communist nation. Whether his trade mission generates anything more than headlines, however, remains to be seen.

While in Cuba, Cuomo will find himself in far more delicate diplomatic territory than he has ever encountered.

Hillary Clinton won’t be in New Hampshire for two more days, but she was the star of the show on Saturday as Republican presidential aspirants capped the state GOP’s two-day summit that attracted nearly the entire field to Nashua.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley said his “executive experience” would make him a better president than Clinton.

Clinton is maintaining her years of silence on the Keystone XL pipeline — and environmental groups are increasingly divided on how hard they should push her to take a stand.

Clinton’s campaign has staffed up in South Carolina.

The former secretary of state’s recruitment of Gary Gensler, a former top federal Wall Street regulator, as her campaign’s chief financial officer was meant to show donors she is serious about avoiding the overspending that plagued her 2008 presidential campaign

Former Senator Jim Webb of Virginia, who formed an exploratory committee in November, jabbed at Clinton’s fundraising power, carefully constructed image, and lengthy public career during an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union.” He said the country is suffering from “incumbent fatigue.”

Long Island Rep. Pete King, who is mulling a potential bid for the 2016 GOP nod, made yet another appearance in New Hampshire.

John Podhoretz thinks NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s refusal to endorse his former boss, Clinton, and his early criticism of her will backfire in the long run.

NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer says his “intention is to run for re-election” in 2017, and not to challenge de Blasio is a primary.

US Sen. Chuck Schumer is continuing to “withhold judgement” on the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran until he learns both sides “carefully.”

The state test controversy has turned into the latest and bloodiest scrum between Cuomo and the state’s teachers’ unions. This time, experts say it could cost the governor some political clout in the Lower Hudson Valley and Long Island – the suburban birthplaces of a rapidly expanding movement that has mobilized thousands of parents and teachers.

The city of Yonkers and Cuomo are heading for a higher-stakes confrontation more than state-aid and the future of the Yonkers public schools.

NYC-funded animal shelters are overcrowded and administering medicine that’s more than a decade old to suffering creatures, according to a scathing new report unveiled by Stringer.

Charles Wait of Saratoga Springs has resigned from the New York Racing Association board effective immediately. No reason was given for his departure.

Building maintenance by the Hrynenko family, which owns several properties in the East Village, is at the center of the investigation into the gas explosion at 121 Second Avenue that killed two men and leveled three buildings.

An advocacy group released their assessment of de Blasio’s performance on education issues, giving him a “mixed” report card with letter grades ranging from A to F reflecting, how it views his effort on make good on campaign promises.

Nearly half the students in some Onondaga County public school districts are too fat, according to the state Health Department.

US Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is making a strong push for a bill that would designate 25 schools as “manufacturing universities” and provide them with incentives to align their curriculum with the needs of modern manufacturers.

Only 17.7 percent of New York cabbies bothered to get an influenza vaccination, endangering themselves and their passengers, according to a new study.

An increase in the use of synthetic marijuana has sent more than 160 people to the hospital in New York since early April, Cuomo announced.

Republican Assemblyman Ray Walter will challenge Democratic Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz this fall.

The state Department of Labor has notified more than 40 full-time and 2,500 part-time employees of Nassau Coliseum that they will be laid off this summer when the arena closes for renovations led by Brooklyn developer Bruce Ratner.

The number of breakfasts served in the nation’s schools has doubled in the last two decades, a surge driven largely by a change in how districts deliver the food.

The hotel-workers union is trying to steer a bill through the NYC Council to force hotels to get city permission before converting rooms into apartments. Critics have called it a misguided bid to protect union jobs at the expense of the rights of property owners.

Cuomo To Cuba, With Business Representatives

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday travels to Cuba for a 24-hour trade mission as the United States government seeks to normalize relations with the Communist-led country.

Cuomo isn’t traveling alone, however.

The governor’s office on Sunday Cuomo will be traveling with a contingent of state lawmakers and representatives of New York-based businesses.

“The representatives in New York’s delegation will help ensure Empire State companies are at the front of the line as the door opens to a market that has been closed to U.S. enterprise for over half a century.” Cuomo said in a statement. “These industry leaders will serve as ambassadors for all that New York State has to offer and will help form the foundation for a strong economic relationship between New York and Cuba as legal restrictions on trade are eased in the future.”

On the legislative side, Cuomo will be traveling with Senate Minority Leader Andrea-Stewart-Cousins, Assembly Speaker Carl beastie and Senate Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein.

Business representatives participating in the trade trip include those from MasterCard, Jet Blue, Plattsburgh International Airport, Regeneron, Pfizer, Roswell Park Cancer Institute, and Chobani.

SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher will also represent the state’s higher-education system on the Cuba trip, along with Dr. Jose F. Buscaglia-Salgado, Director of Caribbean, Latin American, and Latino Studies for the University at Buffalo.

Cuomo has said he wants to focus the trip on opening new markets for New York businesses and doesn’t plan to weigh in extensively on the Cuban regime’s human rights record.

The trip to Cuba is part of a broader series of overseas trips that Cuomo will undertake, with additional trade missions planned for Italy, Canada, Japan and Israel.

Cuomo traveled to Israel last year to show solidarity with the Jewish State and also the Dominican Republic as part of an election-year swing.

Extras

AbTech Industries, the company at the center of the reported federal investigation of Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his son, has strong connections to an environmental group headed by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the governor’s former brother-in-law.


AbTech says
it’s not a target in the Skelos probe, and is cooperating with federal investigators.

Former Gov. David Paterson criticized U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara for publicly promoting his case against former Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver, saying: “(T)he line of respect, I think he went over that line.”

State GOP Chairman Ed Cox slammed NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio for his “magical mystery tour” to the Midwest.

Bloomberg LP terminals, widely used by traders to access real-time financial data, went down globally for a few hours this morning, disrupting a bond sale in the UK.

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli released a $565 million five-year contract to Xerox to redesign and operate the information system for the state’s vast $50 billion-plus Medicaid program.

Former Florida Governor and potential 2016 contender Jeb Bush called on his fellow Republicans to stop stalling and confirm New York US Attorney Loretta Lynch, the president’s pick to be the next US AG.

Less than a week into her presidential campaign, Clinton has the largest New Hampshire operation of any candidate – 19 staffers.

Romulus town board members have backed Citiva Medical’s proposal to install a medical marijuana growing facility at the former Seneca Army Depot, which was a U.S. Army installation from 1941 to 2000.

The requirements to become a NYS teacher vs. the requirements to become a NYS governor – in song.

Staten Island DA Daniel Donovan, the Republican NY-11 candidate, may be breaking Federal Election Commission law with his campaign signs, which lack a required disclaimer.

Assemblyman Sheldon Silver did not want his photo taken today.

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney raised $609,942 in the first quarter of 2015 – the most of any incumbent Democratic representative in the country.

US Sen. Charles Schumer accused House Republicans of passing an estate tax loophole that would benefit only a few thousand of America’s wealthiest families.

Cuomo today proclaimed April 19-25 Earth Week, emphasizing the administration’s environmental commitments to New York’s natural resources, as well as promoting cleaner and healthier communities that are more resilient to the impacts of climate change.

State Police are targeting speeding and aggressive driving in a campaign that runs through Wednesday.

Cuomo’s office declined comment on the WikiLeaks emails’ revelations that the governor’s close friend and former boss, Andrew Farkas, tried to arrange private jet travel for Cuomo after movie industry moguls threw him a $25,000-per-person fundraiser last year in Hollywood.

The South Street Seaport Museum has picked a captain – literally – to lead it through some very challenging waters.

Schneiderman: Cuomo ‘Same Guy He Was Six Months Ago’

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman brushed off a question on Friday about Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s upstate favorability rating and potential future as a candidate for re-election in 2018.

“We just got through running for re-election,” Schneiderman said during a news conference in Syracuse. “I just ran as a runningmate with the governor six months ago. He’s the same guy he was six months ago. Ups and downs in the polls don’t effect my thinking about this. I’m looking forward to working together for the next four years and as long as we’re working together after that.”

Cuomo is yet to declare whether he will run for a third term, though his campaign committee this month was renamed Andrew Cuomo 2018.

At the same time, his former top aide, Larry Schwartz, said in a statement sent to Capital Tonight shortly after that he expected the governor to run again.

Still, Schneiderman is seen as a potential candidate for the Democratic nomination in his own right and has staked out a more assertive posture when it comes to the governor on a variety of issues, ranging from the mass deletion of emails to increasing the state’s minimum wage through the Department of Labor.

Cuomo, meanwhile, has a difficult year both with the state budget and continued estrangement from the political left in the state. A Time Warner Cable News/Siena College poll released this week found 61 percent of upstate voters have an unfavorable view of the governor. Statewide, his favorable rating is much higher, standing at 58 percent.

Schneiderman is due to speak before the Democratic Rural Conference this evening, a key upstate constituency for any statewide Democratic official. The DRC backed Cuomo’s unsuccessful 2002 run for governor.

Cuomo Huddled With WFP Leadership In December

Gov. Andrew Cuomo met privately with the leadership of the Working Families Party about a month after Election Day, newly released public schedules show.

Cuomo met with Co-Chairs Bill Lipton, Karen Scharff and Executive Director Dan Cantor on Dec. 4, according to the schedules posted on Cuomo’s open government website.

The meeting came after significant election-year friction between Cuomo and the Working Families Party.

WFP leaders had accused Cuomo of creating the Women’s Equality Party ballot line last year as a way to potentially undermine the left-leaning, union-backed party. Cuomo and his allies had gone as far as urging voters to cast votes on for the new ballot line.

At the same time, the WFP had blasted Cuomo on the night of Election Day for not doing more to help Senate Democrats, who did not gain full control of the chamber after a trio of freshman lawmakers lost their seats to Republicans.

Cuomo received the WFP’s ballot line after intense negotiations and a challenge from Fordham Law School professor Zephyr Teachout, who would go on to challenge Cuomo in a Democratic primary.

Cuomo’s girlfriend, Food Network star Sandra Lee and New Yorker scribe Jeffrey Toobin were among Cuomo’s passengers on state aircraft that month as well in separate trips.

Records show Toobin was a passenger on state aircraft with Cuomo, Communications Director Melissa DeRosa and aide Stephanie Benton on a flight from Albany to Westchester County Airport. Toobin, who was writing a profile of Cuomo that would be published in February, is shown to have reimbursed the state for the trip.

In a separate trip, Lee and Cuomo took the state helicopter from Albany to New York City on Dec. 31. Cuomo was sworn in the next day in lower Manhattan for a second term.

An opinion from the ethics and lobbying regulators at the Joint Commission on Public Ethics found Lee would not have to reimburse the state for rides on state aircraft as long as it is being used for state business.

December 2014 by Nick Reisman

Citizens Union: Budget Contains Nearly $3B In ‘Lump Sum’ Funds

The 2015-16 enacted state budget includes $2.9 billion in discretionary spending funds without a clear idea of how that money will be spent, Citizens Union found in a report released on Friday.

The report is actually a follow up from a report released by the good-government organization last month that found $2.6 million in discretionary “lump sum” funds were included in the proposed budget.

In the agreed-to spending plan, that sum has grown to include $2.3 billion for the governor, $1.2 billion for the Senate, $989 million for the Assembly and $82 million for the attorney general.

The unitemized spending, of course, makes it difficult to track just where these dollars are going.

“More than ever, spending decisions must be made more transparent as an integral part of the comprehensive ethics reforms that New Yorkers deserve,” said Dick Dadey, Executive Director of Citizens Union. “As long as lump sum and discretionary funds persist that are unaccountable and spent in the shadows, there is a risk of corruption.”

Meanwhile, the budget contained $350 million community project funds spending items, including $330 million that have not been itemized. That fund includes re-appropriated spending items scuh as $285,336 went to the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council, a base of support for former Assemblyman Vito Lopez.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo earlier this week announced 184 different line-item vetoes.

CitizensUnion Addendum SpendingInTheShadows April 2015 by Nick Reisman

Assembly To Review Transparency Rules

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on Friday announced the formation of a 12-member committee to review thee chamber’s rules and operations in order to promote both transparency and broader public participation.

Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, had pledged to strengthen the Assembly’s open government regulations after he was elected speaker in February, replacing Sheldon Silver, who is under indictment.

The working group will be led by Assemblyman Gary Pretlow and Assembly Brian Kavanagh, Heastie’s office said.

More broadly, Heastie had promised to democratize the chamber and give individual lawmakers are great voice in the operations of the chamber.

“Since becoming Speaker, I have made a special effort to create issue specific workgroups and a new subcommittee structure that promotes member participation while exploring new ideas to move New York forward,” said Heastie in a statement. “Members have a lot of great ideas, and the creation of this new workgroup is an opportunity for us to build on the strong processes already in place that promote transparency and accountability.”

Assembly Republicans have pushed Heastie and the Democratic conference for reforms that would impact the minority as well, including a great allocation of office resources and making it easier for their sponsored bills to come to the floor, which so far have not been taken up.

Senate Rs To Goo-Goos: ‘Get A Life’

From the Morning Memo:

Senate Republicans are pushing back on any inference they sought to block reclassifying limited liability companies in order to restrict their political giving.

Closing the so-called LLC loophole on Thursday was put to a vote at the state Board of Elections, with the proposal to reclassify them as partnerships.

The commissioners deadlocked, with the two Republican commissioners not supporting the move.

The newest co-chairman of the board is Peter Kosinski, a former counsel to the Senate Republicans, who was appointed only this week.

Senate GOP spokesman Scott Reif in a statement, however, noted there are plenty of other areas in which campaign donations have flooded into candidates’ campaign coffers — with some help from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“As soon as the so-called good government groups have anything to say about the unlimited money that unions pump into the coffers of Democrats or the dollars that Mayor de Blasio funnels to Upstate County Democrat Party Committees, we may start taking them seriously,” Reif said. “Until then, they should get a life.”

The statement comes as Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos is facing an investigation from federal prosecutors over potentially placing undue influence on an Arizona company that employed his son Adam.

Skelos in a statement released yesterday said he was cooperating with the investigation, which is being led by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office.

The debate and vote at the board came after a sustained push from good-government advocates as well as left-leaning organizations like the Working Families Party to raise the issue of having a non-legislative solution to the LLC issue.

LLCs have been used to funnel millions of dollars into campaigns, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo as one of its top beneficiaries.

Cuomo has said in the past that the method of LLC donations is “not a loophole, it’s the law.”

On Thursday, his office expressed disappointment the board failed to reclassify the entities in order to prevent the unlimited donations.

Here and Now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is in New York City with no public schedule. NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio is leaving Des Moines, Iowa to return to NYC. He has no public schedule.

At 8:30 a.m., Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, NYC EDC head Kyle Kimball, Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Carlo Scissura and other business, community and government officials discuss efforts to support businesses and employment in Brooklyn, during the business organization’s “Economic Development Exchange Forum”; courtroom, Brooklyn Borough Hall, 209 Joralemon St., Brooklyn.

At 8:45 a.m., the NYC Bar Association holds its 25th annual program on “Current Issues in Insurance Regulation,” New York City Bar Association, 42 W. 44th St., Manhattan.

At 9 a.m., the Board of Directors of the Buffalo Erie Niagara Land Improvement Corporation holds its monthly meeting, 10th-floor conference room, Edward A. Rath county office building, 95 Franklin St., Buffalo.

Also at 9 a.m., Rep. Chris Gibson speaks at the Institute for Disaster Mental Health Conference: “Preparing for the Health and Mental Health Consequences of Climate Change”, SUNY New Paltz.

At 9:30 a.m., the mother of Eric Garner, who lost consciousness and died during an attempted arrest on Thursday, July 17, Gwen Carr, and a co-director of the U.S. program of Human Rights Watch, Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno, discuss human rights in the U.S. during a forum presented by the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at CUNY’s Hunter College and the US Human Rights Network in anticipation of the U.N. Human Rights Council’s in-person “Universal Periodic Review” of U.S. human rights scheduled in Geneva on Monday, May 11; 47-49 E. 65th St., Manhattan.

Also at 9:30 a.m., Queens Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras delivers an opening keynote speech during CUNY’s 27th annual “Big Apple Job & Internship Fair”; Galleria and River Pavilion, The Jacob K. Javits Convention Center of New York, 655 W. 34th St., Manhattan.

At 10:10 a.m., Sen. David Carlucci hosts LG Kathy Hochul on his monthly edition of the “Albany Report,” WRCR1300 AM.

At 1 p.m., former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean delivers keynote address during a “Tackling Economic Inequality” symposium presented by NY Law School’s Center for New York City Law and the law school’s Impact Center for Public Interest Law, featuring panel discussions with city officials, family, housing and legal advocates, legal professionals and scholars; auditorium and event center, second floor, 185 W. Broadway.

At 2 p.m., AG Eric Schneiderman makes remarks in Syracuse, 707 First North St. (Rain location: Syracuse City Hall, 233 East Washington St.)

Also at 2 p.m., Assemblyman David Weprin, NYC Councilman Rory Lancman and city transportation officials and community leaders unveil the fully converted 168th Street, which now only runs one-way, Jamaica Muslim Center, 8537 168th St., Queens.

At 2:45 p.m., Hochul tours NYSERNET construction and expansion of the data center, 300 South Salina St., Syracuse.

At 8:30 p.m., Schneiderman attends the Democratic Rural Caucus dinner, Holiday Inn, 441 Electronics Parkway, Liverpool.

Headlines…

A corruption unit of the Nassau County district attorney’s office will open a review of county contracting practices, in response to revelations that a federal investigation into Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his son, Adam, is focused in part on a county storm water contract.

Nassau County legislators who approved the contract in question with an Arizona company that employed Adam Skelos, AbTech Industries, said that they did not know the senator’s son worked there.

Skelos confirmed the existence of the federal inquiry and said he is cooperating – a switch from months ago, when he attacked a report about the existence of the probe as “a thinly sourced” story that did “not meet the standards of journalism.”

A source who recently met with investigators for U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara indicated that about half the questions focused on the lobbying arm of the law firm where Skelos is of counsel, Ruskin Moscou Faltischek, and if there was any direct or indirect interaction with the senator.

County Executive Ed Mangano and nearly all of Long Island’s senators have been subpoenaed in connection with the Skelos federal grand jury probe.

Adam Skelos, the 32-year-old son of Sen. Skelos, appears to have benefited from his dad’s position with a series of jobs at GOP-wired entities, according to campaign finance and payroll documents and public information provided by firms that employed him.

Should Skelos be indicted and forced to step down, as happened to Silver, no seamless replacement strategy is in place. That is because his second-in-command, Sen. Tom Libous, of Binghamton, faces a federal trial this summer on charges of lying to FBI agents who were investigating the financial activities of him and his son.

Barbara Bartoletti, of the NY League of Women Voters, sees no reason for Skelos to give up his leadership post right now. “There is a presumption of innocence, and we should at least wait until federal authorities have finished with their investigation,” she said. “We should all just be aware that the culture of corruption in Albany has very long tentacles.”

Bharara, one of the most acclaimed prosecutors of his generation, is locked in what seems to be an escalating war of words with the federal judiciary — one that some judges fear could influence important rulings.

The state Board of Elections declined to change a longstanding ruling that critics say has allowed millions of dollars to flow, virtually unchecked, into campaign coffers across New York. The board’s four commissioners deadlocked 2-to-2 on the issue of whether to rescind its own 1996 opinion that found limited-liability companies should be treated like individuals when it comes to contributions.

Emails between Sony executives and Cuomo’s campaign staff leaked as part of the Sony Pictures hack and published in full by WikiLeaks Thursday appear to show Sony executives believed donating to the governor was a good idea because he is a “strong protector” of New York’s film tax credit.

Though his focus was national during his brief Midwest trip, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio could not entirely escape local issues, as a Nebraska rancher and radio host showed up to question the mayor’s proposal to take horse carriages out of Central Park. Also, de Blasio brushed off questions about whether he wants to run for president.

More >

Survey: New York Most Corrupt State

When it comes to the perception of political corruption, New York is number one, according to a poll conducted by Monmouth University.

The poll found 12 percent of Americans surveyed believe New York to be the most corruption state, followed by California at 11 percent and 9 percent for Illinois. Neighboring New Jersey tied with Texas for five percent.

New York ranking first on the list — which isn’t meant to be a scientific distillation of which state is actually the most corrupt, but a measure of perception — comes after the arrest and indictment of now former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos is also under investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s office, the Long Island Republican confirmed earlier today.

A parade of state lawmakers and politicians have been arrested in recent years, ranging from Sen. Malcolm Smith for seeking to bribe his way onto the New York City mayoral ballot, Assemblyman Eric Stevenson for accepting bribes in exchange for writing favorable legislation, Sen. Shirley Huntley for steering member items to a non-profit she controlled, Sen. Pedro Espada for embezzling funds from a health-care network he controlled, Sen. Vinnie Leibell for kickbacks and Sen. Nick Spano for tax evasion.

In addition to Silver, three other rank-and-file members of the Legislature — Sens. Tom Libous, John Sampson and Assemblyman Bill Scarborough — are under indictment for unrelated corruption charges.

At the same time, there is the ongoing probe in the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption’s closing down following an agreement on ethics reform.

Just to a name a few examples.

“When it comes to political corruption, it seems the entire country is in a New York state of mind,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch. “Monmouth makes no claims as to the accuracy of these perceptions, but this is how the American public sees it.”