WFP Tries To Thread Needle On DNC’s Leadership

From the Morning Memo:

The Working Families Party in a hybrid fundraising and statement email on Monday night urged liberals disaffected with the Democratic Party’s leadership vote to contribute to its own, union-backed cause.

But at the same time, the WFP sought to not alienate DNC Chairman Tom Perez, the former labor secretary who this weekend defeated Rep. Keith Ellison to lead the Democratic National Committee.

Rather, the WFP knocked “party elites” who wanted to control the process — presenting a theory popular with supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders, who backed Ellison, and disappointed with the outcome.

In all, the WFP used the email to unspool a recent history of the Democratic Party, dating back to the “drift to the right” on economic issues under President Bill Clinton.

And, at the same time, the party sought unity with liberals in the Democratic Party.

“This is not about abandoning the Democrats. But we are committed to building the independent political power that can force them to be better — a lot better,” the email states. “That’s how we’ll beat Trump and the right-wing Republicans. We’ll work with Democrats when we can, and push them when we must, including challenging them in primaries. Tough love, political-style.”

It’s a needle threading to say the least: Don’t divide a party that is still feeling its way around after Hillary Clinton’s November loss in the presidential election. A complete autopsy on what went wrong for Democrats is still incomplete.

Still, WFP leaders will likely try to position themselves a key grassroots organization for a party whose local and state-level recruitment has ossified during President Obama’s two terms.

Cuomo, Back In Albany, With A Cabinet Meeting

From the Morning Memo:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo today will hold a rare cabinet meeting in the governor’s ceremonial second-floor office at the Capitol, known as the Red Room.

It’s a rare sight, at least during the governor’s second term.

In recent memory, Cuomo’s most notable public meeting Cuomo held at the Capitol with members of his cabinet — department commissioners, agency directors and his top staff — was in late 2014, when his administration moved to ban high-volume hydrofracking in New York (an announcement coupled the same day with gaming regulators announcing the locations of three casinos in upstate New York).

His focus has increasingly turned outside of Albany, with Cuomo holding “Capitol for a day” events in 2015 around the state, which included cabinet gatherings.

Meanwhhile, Cuomo has in recent months kept a relatively low profile in Albany. He last held a formal, sit-down news conference at the Capitol at the end of last March to announce a budget agreement.

Largely, Cuomo has eschewed the trappings of the Capitol so far this year, choosing to unveil his budget proposal at the executive mansion down the road on Eagle Street, in smaller presentations with lawmakers and, later, in public with the press.

More broadly, Cuomo presented his 2017 agenda not at the Empire Plaza Convention Center as has been his tradition, but in a half dozen venues around the state, a move he said was a means of bringing his proposals closer to the people of New York.

American Bar Association Pushes For ‘Independent Oversight’ Of Indigent Defense Spending

From the Morning Memo:

American Bar Association President Linda Klein this week sent a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo urging him to support “independent oversight” for indigent legal services spending on the county level.

The letter comes after Cuomo last year vetoed legislation aimed at providing legal service spending for the poor on the county level through a reimbursement.

And it reignites an ongoing issue surrounding indigent legal services and a push to have county governments reimbursed by a state, which Cuomo had initially sought to resolve in a special session late last year, the hopes of which eventually collapsed in negotiations.

In a statement accompanying the veto, Cuomo’s office vowed to take up the issue this year, but called the legislation flawed, adding $600 million of the $800 million proposed was unnecessary and could lead to a backdoor tax increase.

But advocates for indigent legal defense are dissatisfied with what Cuomo proposed in his $152 budget plan, which includes oversight of spending through the Division of Budget, part of the governor’s administration.

“Over the long term, proper governance would protect New York’s public defense system from political pressures and political intervention,” Klein wrote in her letter. “Having been created for the purpose of ensuring independence from political pressure, the New York State Office of Indigent Legal Services lends itself to proper oversight of state funding and quality improvement of local public defense programs.”

Final Letter to New York Governor by Nick Reisman on Scribd

Here and Now

It’s a big day in politics.

At 9 p.m., President Donald Trump will deliver his first speech to a joint session of Congress (technically not a State of the Union address, since he’s only had just over a month on the job).

The president will be looking to hit the reset button after a tumultuous first five weeks in the Oval Office. It’s unclear how he’ll be received by congressional Democrats, some of whom are pledging to engage is “respectful” acts of protest.

At a White House meeting with the nation’s governors yesterday, the president promised a “big statement” today on infrastructure. He’ll also be focusing on promises made – and kept – during the early days of his administration.

“Our highways, our bridges are unsafe,” Trump told the governors. “Our tunnels — I mean, we have tunnels in New York where the tiles are on the ceiling and you see many tiles missing.”

(For the record, New York officials say there’s no evidence anyone has been hurt by falling tunnel ceiling tiles).

Trump is also scheduled to meet this morning with member of the National Association of Attorneys General, have lunch with unnamed members of the press, and – in the afternoon – sign several executive orders.

In Albany, the state Legislature returns to work after a week-long winter break, and the clock counting down to the April 1 budget deadline is ticking.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is in Albany and will be holding a cabinet meeting in the Capitol’s Red Room at 2:15 p.m.

A full calendar of today’s events appears at the end of this post.

Headlines…

When President Donald Trump makes his first address to a joint session of Congress tonight, at least four undocumented immigrants whose temporary legal status could be revoked will be in the House watching him speak as guests of Democratic members of Congress.

With this speech, the White House hopes to reframe Trump’s turbulent first 40 days neatly into the context of promises made, promises kept. But the president will step onto the dais with historically low poll numbers, and amid an ongoing battle with the mainstream media.

The speech also comes as Congressional Republicans are panning Trump’s call to finance a military buildup by slashing domestic agencies and ignoring entitlement programs — undermining the president’s budget even before it’s been finalized.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer issued a “pre-buttal” to Trump’s address, saying that while Democrats are united, Republicans are in disarray like “an Abbott and Costello show.”

Hillary Clinton took to Twitter to ask Trump to speak out on a recent killing in Kansas City that is being investigated by law enforcement as a hate crime. “With threats & hate crimes on rise, we shouldn’t have to tell @POTUS to do his part,” she tweeted. “He must step up & speak out.”

Trump supporters held rallies in towns and cities across the country, partly as a rebuttal to waves of anti-Trump protests that have taken place since the Republican’s election last November.

Trump himself accused former President Barack Obama of being “behind” the protests that Republican members of Congress have encountered at town hall meetings.

Trump is expected to sign an executive order today aimed at rolling back one of former Obama’s major environmental regulations, a clean water rule known as Waters of the United States. But on its own, the order will have almost no legal effect on the sweeping rule, which was imposed in 2015.

Trump, meeting with the nation’s governors, conceded that he had not been aware of the complexities of health care policy-making: “I have to tell you, it’s an unbelievably complex subject,” he said. “Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.”

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders mocked Trump for his admission that health care reform is very complicated.

A simmering dispute between leaders of the House intelligence committee spilled into the public over an investigation into whether Trump has ties to Russia, even as they pledged to conduct a bipartisan probe.

In a 72-27 vote, the U.S. Senate confirmed billionaire investor Wilbur Ross as commerce secretary as Trump adds to his economic team.

Former President George W. Bush says he dislikes the racial tensions simmering in the early days of the Trump administration. “I don’t like the racism and I don’t like the name-calling and I don’t like people feeling alienated,” he told “People” magazine. “Nobody likes that.”

House Republicans have blocked an attempt by Democrats to force Trump to release his tax returns to Congress.

The family of the late former NYC Mayor Ed Koch has discovered what may amount to a posthumous salvo against his archenemy: Trump.

In a sometimes-pointed television interview with NY1’s Errol Louis, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio said his four-hour meeting with federal prosecutors last week went “fine” and “simply the process of getting all the information out,” adding: “I was happy to go in and recount the facts.”

It was de Blasio’s first live TV interview since he was grilled for four hours by federal investigators from U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office last Friday.

Hours after federal prosecutors and F.B.I. agents finished questioning de Blasio on Friday as part of their investigation into his campaign fund-raising, a senior manager at an obscure New York City agency was unexpectedly called into a conference room and fired.

While facing multiple pay-to-play probes over whether he provided political favors to big donors, de Blasio sent out a fundraising solicitation claiming he really wants donations from regular New Yorkers.

With his re-election campaign looming, de Blasio plans today to unveil a plan to open roughly 90 new homeless shelters throughout New York’s five boroughs, a stark increase devised to address his most vexing citywide problem.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo insists that he’s not thinking about a presidential run in four years, even as he takes more steps to join the national conversation. Members of New York’s political class see the 59-year-old governor as carefully laying down markers for his future, whatever it may hold, after Clinton’s unexpected defeat.

Cuomo was one of just six governors who didn’t meet with Trump at the White House yesterday. All 50 states’ governors were invited to attend the gathering

Tom Perez, the newly elected DNC chairman, dismissed Trump’s suggestion that the race to lead the party was “rigged” in his favor.

More >

Extras

A federal appeals court rejected a U.S. Department of Justice request to place on hold an appeal over President Trump’s travel ban on people from seven majority-Muslim countries.

Trump is being criticized for his attitudes toward the press and Russia by an unexpected source — former President George W. Bush.

Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan could be headed for a collision on spending and ideology, thanks to the president’s proposal to slash domestic spending in order to preserve the two biggest drains on the federal government — Social Security and Medicare.

Trump is expected to sign a new executive order on immigration and refugees on Wednesday – a day after his first speech before a joint session of Congress.

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said he has low expectations for Trump’s speech, saying it “”will be the usual bluster and blame.”

A Virginia man who used suction cups to climb up Trump Tower last summer pleaded guilty today to reckless endangerment and disorderly conduct. His plea deal includes no jail time.

It was not a good Oscar night for Westchester County residents.

In a settlement that could help thousands of families avoid eviction, the state will substantially increase the monthly rent subsidies it provides to low-income families with children in New York City, a move that could help reduce the number of people in homeless shelters.

US Attorney Preet Bharara was at the Vanity Fair Oscars party last night, after sending a message to de Blasio on Friday by using the same prosecutors who took down ex-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and ex-Senate Majorityy Leader Dean Skelos to interrogate him about his campaign fund-raising activities.

A dozen state officials who did no wrongdoing but were subpoenaed as part of the successful federal corruption probes of Skelos and Silver are still awaiting reimbursement for their legal fees from the state.

According to City & State’s “Power 100” list, Schumer is the most powerful man in New York City – more so even than the president, the governor and the NYC mayor.

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration is continuing to significantly redact the mayor’s emails to staff and political consultants, amid a court battle between the city and two news agencies over the disclosure of City Hall emails.

In NYC, which overwhelmingly voted for Hillary Clinton, being pro-Trump is not popular.

Schumer is predicting that the Affordable Care Act will survive as he describes a White House and GOP in disarray.

The lobbying association for New York’s newspapers is urging lawmakers to reject parts of Cuomo’s proposed $152 billion state budget, contending the package would make some state contracts less transparent and would give the administration “virtually unconstrained authority” over public works projects.

Long Island’s first video lottery casino opened this afternoon at an Islandia hotel.

There is new evidence that the country’s opioid epidemic may be waning, even as political leaders from Trump to Gov. Andrew Cuomo warn of a worsening crisis.

“We certainly have no problem with physicians being prosecuted if they have committed a true crime,” said Dr. Thomas J. Madejski, vice president for the Medical Society of the State of New York. “But to criminalize physicians in the practice of medicine is really a step in the wrong direction.”

Cuomo is noting that farmers have, since a change more than three years ago that lowered the rate at which farmland assessments can rise, saved a total of $36.6 million on property taxes.

Could you survive U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s workout?

Karen Magee, president of the state’s largest teachers’ union and the first women to hold that post, will not seek another term when her three-year appointment ends in April. Instead, she will lead an effort between the American Federation of Teachers and the state AFL-CIO focused on issues such as wage equity, education opportunities and women in leadership roles.

Get ready for what is expected to be a $1 million-plus Buffalo mayoral race.

Kraft Heinz Foods Co. has notified 380 workers at its cheese plant in Campbell that they will be laid off by the end of July if a buyer for the facility is not found.

A Baldwinsville Police Department officer who refused to cooperate with police after a suspected DWI crash last summer is keeping his job.

Legislature To Review Indian Point Closure

A Senate-Assembly hearing on Tuesday will discuss the potential impact of closing the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant in Westchester County — a move that comes weeks after Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration and Entergy announced a plan to shutter the facility by April 2021.

The legislative leadership in the Republican-controlled Senate and Democratic-led Assembly are skeptical about the plan to close the plant and its potential impact on power generation and utility bills.

Indian Point provides about a quarter of the power needs for New York City and Westchester County.

“The hearing will evaluate the planning involved in the plant’s closing, including preparations to decommission the site, and its impact on electric grid reliability, jobs and local tax revenue,” according to a legislative press release. “Among those expected to provide testimony are officials from federal, state and local government and representatives of labor advocacy groups.”

New York House Dems Back Cuomo’s Tuition Proposal

Seventeen Democrats who represent New York in the House of Representatives endorsed on Monday Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to provide free tuition to SUNY and CUNY schools for qualifying families.

“With a college education now a requirement to succeed in the modern workforce, the strength of our economy depends on our ability to help more New Yorkers go to college, and I am proud to have the support of these great New York leaders in our fight to make college tuition free for the middle class,” Cuomo said. “The Excelsior Scholarship will enable thousands of students to receive a college education, and help ensure New York and its economic future continue to go ever upward.”

The only Democratic member of the House missing from the list of endorsements released by Cuomo’s office was Rep. Kathleen Rice, a Nassau County lawmaker.

The proposal would benefit families that earn less than $125,000 a year.

State lawmakers in Albany have questioned whether the proposal goes far enough or if the price tag — $163 million — is a realistic target.

Still, Cuomo is rolling out the endorsements from federal lawmakers just as the budget season is expected to pick up this week with the conclusion of the mid-winter legislative session break.

Cuomo Avoids Messy DNC Fight

For a politician who is said to have national ambitions, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has over the years been adept at sidestepping thorny national political questions.

And Cuomo avoided stepping into one this weekend, declining to endorse in the close race for the Democratic National Committee chairmanship, a post that ultimately went to Buffalo native Tom Perez, the former labor secretary.

Cuomo did endorse two New York Democrats who won at-large vice chair posts: New Yorkers Grace Meng, a Queens representative, and Assemblyman Michael Blake of the Bronx.

Cuomo, however, remained neutral in the bigger race for the chairmanship brass ring, backing neither Perez, the “establishment” candidate backed by the Clinton and Obama forces in the party, or Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison. In the chairmanship election, Cuomo directed the New York delegates to vote for whomever they wanted (the governor did not have a vote himself).

Ellison had the backing of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders — who helped roll out Cuomo’s free SUNY and CUNY tuition plan in January — as well as a number of New York Democrats, including Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

If Cuomo had felt the need to bolster his standing on the left (ala the tussle with the Working Families Party in 2014), he may have been inclined to back Ellison, who faced questions over negative comments made several years ago regarding Israel. Today’s Siena College poll, however, shows he didn’t need to do that: He enjoys a 79 percent favorable rating from liberals on top of a 60 percent overall favorable from voters.

Should he have endorsed Perez, Cuomo would have been accused of once again selling out to the establishment wing of the party by activists who already skeptical of him. Should Perez have fallen short, the impact on Cuomo could have been even worse for the ire focused on Cuomo by liberal activists.

At the same time, Cuomo avoided alienating the Clinton-Obama wing of the Democratic Party, where he continues to hold strong ties. There isn’t much for Cuomo to find concerning Perez in charge of the national party: Buffalo guy, supporter of a $15 minimum wage, paid family leave, etc. He’s withing Cuomo’s ven diagram of establishment liberalism.

More importantly, Cuomo solidified ties with two up-and-coming Democrats within the New York party who have national platforms and leadership credentials. Cuomo is nothing if not pragmatic, especially when it comes to national politics.

Another Round Of Threats At JCCs In NY (Updated)

Updated: Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a statement announced an investigation was underway into the threats at the Jewish Community Centers in Tarrytown, Staten Island, New Rochelle, and Plainview.

“I share the pain and the outrage of so many New Yorkers who are affected directly and those who are sickened by watching these attacks unfold,” Cuomo said. “We will not allow anyone to intimidate or strike fear in the state of New York. The full force of government will be brought to bear in these efforts and these perpetrators will be punished.”

Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Majority Leader John Flanagan on Monday decried the latest round of bomb threats directed at Jewish Community Centers around the country and in New York.

Several JCCs and schools were targeted for the unsubstantiated threats, this time on Staten Island and in Stewart-Cousins’s district, New Rochelle and Tarrytown.

“The threats made against the Jewish Community Centers in New Rochelle and Tarrytown are unacceptable and offensive to our values as New Yorkers and Americans,” Stewart-Cousins said.

“My office has contacted the local police in each community to ensure the investigations proceed and that those who have committed these appalling and cruel crimes are held responsible. Bigotry and hatred have no place in New York or America, and we stand in solidarity with the Jewish community and everyone affected by these horrific acts.”

Last week, Cuomo announced a proposed $25 million in grants for schools, JCCs and other vulnerable areas to enhance security in the wake of threats.

“Threats made against Jewish Community Centers in New York and across the country, including those that occurred this morning in Plainview and on Staten Island, are unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” Flanagan said in a statement. “These centers provide a positive environment for people of every age, especially those of Jewish faith. Individuals and families who are attending should never be subject to threats of harm or violence.”

Ride Hailing Boosters Hail Siena Poll

Groups backing an expansion of ride hailing apps outside of New York City are pointing to Monday’s Siena College poll in bolstering their case for the measure, included in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $152 billion budget.

Support for expansion services like Uber and Lyft outside of New York City is backed by 76 percent of voters polled in the survey, virtually unchanged from the 77 percent of support from a Jan. 30 Siena poll.

“People from all over New York State deserve greater choice and expanded opportunities in transportation, not just those living in New York City,” said John Olsen, executive director of the Internet Association’s new Albany office.

“Albany must listen to the voices echoing from throughout the state that demand ridesharing and pass legislation that allows transportation network companies to operate in New York. The internet economy provides middle class New Yorkers the opportunity to participate in new economic opportunities. Our leaders in Albany should help rebuild the middle class in struggling New York markets by allowing these services to operate.”

Uber, meanwhile, used the news of the poll to once again prod lawmakers on the issue.

“New Yorkers are tired of telling pollsters, elected officials and community leaders that they want ridesharing in their communities – it’s time for Albany to ignore NYC special interests and act,” said the company’s New York general manager, Josh Mohrer.

The Republican-controlled Senate this month approved its own version of a ride hailing expansion, while the Democratic-led Assembly is expected to follow suit with its own one-house bill when the Legislature reconvenes after the winter break.