Cuomo Hints At Possible Ethics Action After Silver Verdict

RegenersonGov. Andrew Cuomo in a statement Monday evening reacting to the guilty verdict in the Sheldon Silver corruption case hinted at yet another ethics legislation push, calling on state lawmakers to “take seriously the need for reform.”

“Today, justice was served,” Cuomo said. “Corruption was discovered, investigated, and prosecuted, and the jury has spoken. With the allegations proven, it is time for the Legislature to take seriously the need for reform. There will be zero tolerance for the violation of the public trust in New York.”

Silver was found guilty on all seven counts of corruption, which included fraud, extortion and money laundering.

Cuomo had previously refrained from commenting extensively on the Silver corruption case since the former speaker’s arrest in January. But the governor nevertheless did push in the wake of Silver’s arrest last year for a package of anti-corruption, ethics and disclosure measures.

In February, Cuomo outlined and proposed a reform package at New York University. Ultimately, lawmakers approved new disclosure requirements for those legislators who have legal clients as well as new campaign finance laws.

Good-government groups criticized the agreement at the time for falling short of addressing structural ethics problems in state government.

A push for ethics and other reform-related measures was virtually non-existent in the wake of the arrest of now former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos in May.

Cuomo has sought ethics and disclosure measures, as well as campaign finance reform laws virtually every year since taking office.

But major victories for good-government watchdogs such as public financing of political campaigns and ending the practice of donating unlimited funds to political campaigns through a web of limited liability companies has alluded passage so far.


Despite ongoing jury drama in the federal corruption trial of ex-Assembly Speaker Sheldon, the (now former) Manhattan lawmaker was found guilty on all seven counts lodged against him by US Attorney Preet Bharara.

Exiting the court, Silver said he was “disappointed” by the verdict, but plans to “continue the legal fight.”

The DN’s Ken Lovett says Silver’s conviction “is not just a victory against the once powerful legislative leader, but a huge blow against the unseemly way Albany has conducted business for decades.”

The White House offered Gov. Andrew Cuomo detailed updates on in-state refugee resettlement amid pushback by other governors to the administration’s goal of resettling 10,000 Syrian refugees through September 2016.

New York has started a statewide toy, coat and school supplies drive for families in need. Donations can be made at various drop-off locations around the state.

US Sen. Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, and freshman Republican Rep. John Katko agree on keeping $2 million a year worth of federal cash flowing to the Centro public bus service over the next six years.

…some members of the public made their way into the Schumer press conference, peppering the state’s senior senator with questions.

A new book from Syracuse author Hart Seely finds poetry in the sometimes rambling, often rabble-rousing campaign rhetoric of Republican 2016 front-runner Donald Trump.

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner should follow Cuomo’s lead and appoint a special prosecutor to oversee police-involved civilian deaths, the Rev. Al Sharpton said.

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli departs Wednesday for Paris, where world leaders are gathering to discuss what they can do to ameliorate the effects of climate change in coming decades.

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio chalked a claim by the governor’s office that de Blasio is failing to manage the city’s homeless crisis up to “political posturing.”

The National Restaurant Association plans to file a lawsuit against New York City’s health department over its requirement that chain restaurants post warning labels on foods that contain more than the recommended daily limit for sodium.

A juror who last week complained of chest pains associated with a chronic heart condition was dismissed this morning from the jury in the trial of former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his son, Adam.

The first public hearing of the Commission on Legislative, Judicial and Executive Compensation heard a widely supported proposal today to raise most state judges’ pay to $203,100 a year.

In a half dozen conversations with top Entergy leaders, Schumer has tried both pleading and frank warnings to convince them to keep the Fitzpatrick nuclear power plant running in Oswego.

Republican 2016 hopeful George Pataki will not be on the Florida primary ballot. (He won’t be on the Alabama ballot, either).

Investor Warren Buffett will campaign with Democratic 2016 frontrunner Hillary Clinton in his hometown of Omaha next week.

The State Department released a WikiLeaks-related email from Clinton’s personal account that official watchdogs for the intelligence community and the department flagged over the summer as appearing to contain classified information.

The New York State Board of Regents has established a committee to study the Algebra I test results to determine whether the bar for passing was set too high.

Heastie ‘Deeply Saddened’ By Silver’s Conviction

carlheastieAssembly Speaker Carl Heastie in a statement on Monday said he was “deeply saddened” by the legal troubles of his predecessor, culminating with a guilty verdict for Sheldon Silver earlier in the day.

“Words simply aren’t enough. We will continue to work to root out corruption and demand more of elected officials when it comes to ethical conduct,” he said. “The Assembly Majority remains committed to exploring ideas and implementing reforms to restore trust in our government.”

The speaker’s statement was the first to be released of the top state officials in the wake of Silver’s conviction.

Heastie did not call for specific action on ethics legislation in his statement, but did point to a pension forfeiture measure that the Assembly and Republican-led Senate have approved differing versions of earlier this year.

Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, was elected speaker in the wake of Silver’s arrest at the beginning of the year on corruption charges. Silver was convicted on all seven counts of fraud and theft of honest services on Monday.

In his statement, Heastie touted the Assembly’s ethics measures that have been approved in recent years, including measures aimed at campaign finance reform and greater oversight of ethics of state officials.

“Accountability and transparency are of the utmost importance to the Assembly Majority,” Heastie said. “It is our hope that in time, the new measures we have recently put in place to strengthen ethics compliance will have a positive impact. This includes the creation of the Assembly Office of Ethics and Compliance, enactment of more stringent disclosure requirements, enhancements to the per diem reimbursement policy, new limitations on the use of campaign funds, and access to greater resources for the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE). Several of these changes will go into effect over the coming months.”

At the same time, Heastie pledged to “continue our efforts” in restore the public’s faith in government.

“That means remaining vigilant and not losing sight of our duty to families across this state that are relying on us to deliver a stronger minimum wage, quality education that meets the needs of our students and other basic necessities like an affordable home,” he said. “With preparations for the 2016 Legislative Session underway, we look forward to a session focused on progress and continued success in our mission to put families first and strengthen our communities.”

This is unlikely to satisfy good-government advocates, who are pushing for a special session this month to take up ethics legislation in the wake of both Silver’s conviction as well as the ongoing trial of Republican former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos.

Assemblyman Todd Kaminsky, a Long Island Democrat who is said to be considering a run for Skelos’s Senate next year, said the Silver case highlighted “gaps” in the law.

“To renew the public’s trust we must seriously revisit banning outside income and further increase reporting; rethink our campaign finance rules, which allow huge amounts of money to flow from special interests to candidates; strip the pensions of public officials who criminally misuse their office; and create a doing business list for all companies that are paid with public tax dollars.”

Silver Guilty On All Counts

SilverSheldon Silver, a once powerful state lawmaker who wielded unquestioned authority as the state Assembly speaker, was found guilty of a suite of corruption charges for using his influence to enrich himself.

Silver, a Manhattan Democrat who was first elected to the Assembly in 1977, ultimately surrenders his seat. Moments after the verdict was announced, Silver’s official webpage from the Assembly’s website was taken down, as was the sign from his office door in the Legislative Office Building.

Good-government advocates quickly released a statement on Silver being found guilty on all seven counts of extortion, fraud and theft of honest services, saying it was yet another sign that ethics should be better policed in Albany.

“Hopefully this will be the tipping point at which New York’s political leadership will gets its heads out of the sand,” said NYPIRG Legislative Director Blair Horner. “Governor Cuomo must now call a special session devoted to ethics reform.”

But whether the changes come to Albany’s way of doing business — entangling personal wealth with public actions — appears to be unlikely.

State lawmakers in preliminary meetings this month at the Capitol displayed little appetite for returning for a formal session before the state of the new year to take up new ethics legislation.

At the same time, the governor himself has been cool to calls for more ethics legislation, pointing to a host of new disclosure and anti-corruption measures approved since he first took office in 2011.

Lawmakers and Cuomo did agree to new disclosure requirements for legislators who have legal clients, which is due to take effect in 2017.

Nevertheless, at least one lawmaker — Democratic Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell — in a statement to constituents called for reforms, such as a ban on outside income.

“We need to change the way things work in Albany. As today’s verdict demonstrates, the ability to earn outside income creates too much potential for impropriety,” O’Donnell said. “To restore respect for the hard work that the New York State Legislature does, we need to make it more like the federal system.”

The arrest of Silver in January was the equivalent of a political earthquake, coming a day after Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivered his first State of the State address of his second term and upending the legislative session.

After initially standing by Silver remaining on as speaker, Assembly Democrats moved to oust him weeks after his arrest and replaced him with Bronx Assemblyman Carl Heastie, the first black lawmaker to hold the top post in the chamber.

Silver retained his seat in the Assembly, sitting in the far back of the chamber and speaking little, but nevertheless voting on bills he once had control over bringing to the floor for a vote.

But Silver’s legal troubles wouldn’t be the only time lightning was to strike the Capitol this year.

His arrest was followed only months later by the indictment of Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, who faces charges that he used his official influence to aid the business interests of his son. Adam Skelos is a co-defendant alongside his father in the case, which began in November as well.

Skelos, too, retained his seat in the Senate, but resigned his majority leader post and was replaced by Suffolk County Sen. John Flanagan.

Both cases have peeled back the often unseemly business of how state lawmakers are lobbied and how business can be conducted in Albany.

In Silver’s case, he was accused by federal prosecutors of steering state money to fund research being conducted by Dr. Robert Taub, a friend of the speaker. Silver was accused of masking legal referrals he would then receive, which prosecutors said were actually bribes.

Silver had denied any wrongdoing and insisted he would be vindicated once the process is played out in court.

The trial itself included several twists, with at least two jurors wishing to be excused from deliberations, which began last week before Thanksgiving. One juror claimed she was being bullied by fellow jurors. A second earlier in the day on Monday said he had a conflict of interest in the case: As a cab driver, he purchased a medallion license from someone who knows Silver.

In both instances, the jurors were told by the judge to remain in deliberations.

Silver’s guilty verdict is the highest profile victory yet for Bharara, a hard-charging prosecutor who has tackled Albany corruption with zeal. In July, former Republican Sen. Tom Libous, the chamber’s deputy leader, was found guilty of lying to the FBI, forcing his jettison from the chamber. Bharara’s office also prosecuted former Sen. Malcolm Smith, an ex-majority leader himself, for a bribery scheme.

Bharara released a short statement released after the guilty verdict was announced.

“Today, Sheldon Silver got justice, and at long last, so did the people of New York,” he said.

TZB And Bills Stadium Spending Authorized

The state comptroller’s office has approved $96.7 million in spending toward the mutli-billion dollar Tappan Zee Bridge project, while spending nearly an additional $1 million for the Buffalo Bills to operate and maintain its Orchard Park stadium in western New York.

The items were among the contract and spending authorizations announced by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office on Monday.

The new bridge, which is due to replace the aging Tappan Zee Bridge at the Hudson River between Westchester and Rockland counties, is expected to cost more than $3 billion, though it remains unclear how much tolls over the new span will ultimately cost.

The spending was approved for the Thruway Authority, which is in charge of building the new bridge.

Meanwhile, the state Assembly was approved for spending $63,000 for legal services related to the reapportionment of state legislative and congressional districts — some $96,000.

The redistricting and reapportionment process in 2012 led to a court challenge and, ultimately, a federal judge drawing the Congressional district boundaries, with the majority party state lawmakers in the Assembly and Senate choosing their own constituents themselves.

DiNapoli’s office also signed off on a $44.9 million contract for Questar Assessments Inc. to write examinations for math and English language arts for grades three through eight. The contract was awarded to Questar earlier this year after the state Department of Education sought to distance itself from the much-maligned tests developed by Pearson.

As the state’s medical marijuana industry is due to come online next month, DiNapoli’s office gave approval to a $1.9 million contract for Bio-Tech Medical Software Inc. for a medical marijuana seed-to-sale tracking system.

The medical marijuana program is due to be operational by January, though Gov. Andrew Cuomo approved a bill that would create an expedited system for patients in need of relief.

Enviros Urge Delegation To Oppose Senate EPA Resolutions

A coalition of environmental groups and labor unions on Monday sent a letter to the state’s congressional delegation urging them to oppose a pair of resolutions in the U.S. Senate they say would under the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts in regulating carbon emissions from power plants.

“The resolutions from Senator (Mitch) McConnell and Senator (Shelley) Capito are advanced under the Congressional Review Act, and they would put an end to the EPA’s efforts to reduce carbon dioxide pollution from power plants, an integral part of our nation’s response to the threats from climate change,” the letter states.

The resolutions are aimed at requiring congressional support for future standards on power plant carbon pollution — a move that comes amid tougher standards from the EPA.

The letter, which includes signatories like 32BJ SEIU, Citizen Action of New York, the Communications Workers of America and the Environmental Advocates of New York, is being sent as world leaders are due to convene in Paris this week for talks on climate change and the human impact of pollution.

The letter states New York has become a “national leader” in efforts to combat climate change and the Senate resolution could reverse those gains that have been made.

Several New York House Republicans have signed on to resolutions acknowledging climate change is caused by human activity, including Reps. Elise Stefanik and Chris Gibson.

Opposition to Senate Joint Resolutions 23 and 24 HOUSE by Nick Reisman

Cox: Cuomo’s ‘Lost His Will’ In Teachers Union Fight

CoxAs the state prepares to overhaul the Common Core education standards and potentially reduce the impact of state testing on teacher evaluations to zero, New York Republican Chairman Ed Cox knocked Gov. Andrew Cuomo for an apparent retreat on education policy.

Cuomo has battled with the state’s teachers unions, especially the New York State United Teachers umbrella group, since taking office.

The union has pushed back against Cuomo’s push to link teacher evaluation scores to standardized test results and has been critical of the governor’s support for charter schools.

But now Cuomo’s task force convened to recommend changes to Common Core testing may back a uncoupling of test results from evaluations — a twist in policy that comes after state lawmakers and the governor agreed to a revamp in teacher evaluations earlier this year.

At the same time, roughly 20 percent of students opted out of the April round of state tests in math and English-language arts.

“The union didn’t break him, he lost his will to take them on after an embarrassing Democratic primary where he was forced to rely on Mayor de Blasio to get the Working Families Party nomination,” Cox said in a statement. “Cuomo is now taking every opportunity to lurch to his left to gain favor with the Working Families Party and outflank de Blasio. New York students are once again the victims.”

Support for Common Core and stricter teacher evaluation standards that focuses on test results isn’t necessarily a partisan issue: Liberals have blasted Cuomo’s education stances as have conservatives who support more local control over education policy.

In his statement, Cox said Cuomo was choosing a political expedient route.

“It’s clear the Governor’s only priority right now is protecting his political ambitions, rather what is good for the state. Too many of our students are stuck in failing schools and Upstate’s economy is on the brink of disaster, both the result of failed liberal policies. The radical reform the Governor promised has vanished in his political winds.”

School Employees Earning Six Figures Increases

The number of public school employees — teachers and administrators — who are earning more than $100,000 has increased by 55 percent to 49,830 last year, according to the Empire Center, a fiscal watchdog think tank that tracks teacher pension data.

The top earners at public schools around the state are mostly superintendents and other district leaders and the data compromises schools outside of the New York City system.

The top earner in the state was Joyce Bisso, who retired earlier this year from the Long Island school district of Hewlett-Woodmere, earning $625,215.

School employees earning more than $100,000 has increased since 2008-09, when the group began posting data on its SeeThroughNY website. That year, 32,179 earned six figure salaries.

Data shows in 2014-15, 3,360 employees earned between $150,000 and $200,000, while 310 workers earned $200,000 and $250,000.

Those earning $250,000 accounted for 79 employees statewide.

“Teacher pay is the largest component of school spending, and schools account for the biggest share of local property tax bills across New York,” said Tim Hoefer, executive director of the Empire Center. “Posting the salaries of educational professionals helps taxpayers understand where the money is going, and to whom.”

The database from the Empire Center now includes salaries of 123,866 non-professional school district employees, which includes office staff, bus drivers and maintenance workers.

First Woman To Serve As State Police Second-In-Command

Patricia Groeber has been appointed the second-in-command at the State Police, making her the highest-ranked woman in the history of the 98-year-old law enforcement agency.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Monday Groeber had been named the first deputy superintendent of the State Police, serving under Superintendent Joe D’Amico.

“First Deputy Superintendent Groeber is a proven leader in the finest traditions of the New York State Police,” Cuomo said in a statement. “I know she moves into her new position with the experience and dedication that’s necessary to serve all New Yorkers. I congratulate Patricia Groeber on her appointment to this incredibly important post.”

A 1984 graduate of SUNY Albany, she later obtained a master’s degree in criminal justice from the Rockefeller College. Groeber joined the State Police in 1986 and was appointed a field commander in 2013. SHe was the first woman to have served as third-in-command at that post and has overseen operations of the Uniform Force, the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the New York State Intelligence Center and the Office of Counter Terrorism.

“Patricia Groeber has been committed to protecting the people of New York for nearly 30 years,” D’Amico said. “Her career has taken her to all corners of the state, rising through the ranks to be the first female to hold a number of leadership positions within the New York State Police.”

Lopez Trains His Fire On Faso (Updated)

Though the Republican field in the 19th congressional district is a crowded, Assemblyman Peter Lopez is training his fire on one rival candidate in particular: His former boss, John Faso.

Lopez questioned in a radio interview on Monday with Fred Dicker whether Faso could properly understand the needs of constituents in the Hudson Valley district if elected to the House of Representatives.

“Where was he during the floods?” Lopez said in the Talk-1300 radio interview. “Where was he during the SAFE Act?”

Lopez is one of four Republicans who have filed to run for the Republican nomination to replace Rep. Chris Gibson, a three-term incumbent who will retire at the end of his current term as he considers a run for governor.

Lopez was an aide to Faso, who is a former minority leader of the state Assembly and later ran for governor in 2006. For the last decade, Faso has worked as a lobbyist for Manatt, Phelps and Phillips — a resume that another Republican candidate, Andrew Heaney, has also sought to criticize in the early weeks of the campaign.

Lopez’s criticism of his former boss likely reflects Faso being the best known candidate on the Republican side for the moment and that his greatest liability could be his work for the firm.

“He certainly has name recognition,” Lopez said in the interview. “People have said, ‘Really Pete, you’re like the incumbent because you’re on the ground.'”

In knocking Faso’s time as a lobbyist, Lopez sought to play up his own work in the district, especially on behalf of constituents — a potentially crucial connect he’ll have to cultivate given the fundraising advantages both Heaney and Faso are expected to bring to the race.

“John has not been there for more than a decade,” Lopez said. “People have said, ‘Really Pete, you’re like the incumbent because you’re on the ground.'”

Updated: Faso spokesman Bill O’Reilly responds.

“I can think of no one who’s been more consistently active in working to get New York’s economy back on track than John Faso,” he said. “At the same time, it’s important to note than John has both private and public sector experience. He knows what it means to work for a paycheck and to work ever longer hours to raise children and get them through school.”