LDC Saga Continues As Monroe County Political Committees Call On Each Other To Refund Contributions

Tuesday, Rochester businessman Daniel Lynch, became the fourth and final co-defendant to plead guilty in Monroe County to bid-rigging charges. But the scandal surrounding contracts awarded by a Local Development Corporation that has dragged on for years, did not end just because the litigation is over.

Wednesday, Monroe County Democratic Chairwoman Jamie Romeo called on the county Republican committee to refund or donate any “stolen funds” contributed to the party by Lynch. The press release cites testimony from Lynch in the plea agreement that he directed tens of thousands of stolen dollars from inflated county contracts to both the Monroe County Republican Housekeeping Account and Friends of Maggie Brooks, a committee for the former county executive.

GOP Chairman Bill Reilich quickly responded that the party is investigating and will return any money associated with the illegal activities in question. Reilich also said, to the best of his knowledge, only one individual donation was made by Lynch to the party since his chairmanship began in 2008.

“During an investigation in 2012, an inquiry was made regarding individual donations. At that time we learned that Mr. Lynch had donated $10,000 to the Housekeeping account. That amount was immediately refunded,” he said.

Furthermore, Reilich said during the party’s own investigation it found Lynch’s company Navitech Services Corp. had made two separate donations totaling $4500 to the Democratic committee. He called on the chairwoman to heed her own advice.

“I am disappointed in the hypocrisy that has been displayed by Ms. Romeo. Instead of jumping to conclusions, she should have taken the time to review her own Committee’s financial dealings with individuals and businesses implicated in the LDC investigation,” he said.

Romeo volleyed back.

“We have been in that process regarding this money but to try to insinuate that County Democrats were influenced by such a contribution is beyond absurd,” she said.

New County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo, R, has made eliminating LDC’s one of the main focuses of her office and has also introduced legislation to create an Office of Public Integrity.

Extras

Republican Carly Fiorina is the latest candidate to suspend her 2016 presidential bid. She announced her decision on Facebook and Twitter.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie plans to suspend his presidential campaign as well.

Sen. Bernie Sanders went on “The View” and got his first taste of his very own ice cream flavor, “Bernie’s Yearning” by Ben & Jerry’s. He pronounced it “excellent.”

Sanders had breakfast this morning with the Rev. Al Sharpton at Sylvia’s in Harlem – the same New York City restaurant where Sharpton huddled with Barack Obama during his 2008 presidential campaign.

“My concern is that in January of next year, for the first time in American history, a black family will be moving out of the White House. I do not want black concerns to be moved out with them,” Sharpton said.

Early this morning, with the results of New Hampshire still sinking in, former NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s top political advisor Kevin Sheekey tweeted a New York Post story making the case for a Bloomberg candidacy.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo penned a letter today officially requesting federal officials block the merger of First Niagara and KeyCorp.

SolarCity’s Buffalo factory likely won’t hit full production until the summer of 2017 – somewhere between three to six months later than the initial timetable.

A state Supreme Court justice rejected a motion for a mistrial in the case of a NYPD police officer charged with manslaughter, saying the defense’s complaints about the prosecution’s closing argument didn’t amount to misconduct.

Cuomo is asking the state PSC to investigate NRG Energy and the reasons behind its decision to close the coal-fired power plant it owns in Dunkirk rather than converting it to run on natural gas.

Though Sanders won the New Hampshire primary in a landslide over Hillary Clinton, he will likely receive fewer Granite State delegates than she will.

Cuomo’s infrastructure proposals “aim to achieve worthy goals, but have some fundamental flaws from a public policy and infrastructure planning perspective.”

The amount of radioactive tritium leaking from the Indian Point nuclear power plant is growing, according to tests released today.

More than a third of practicing attorneys in the United States are problem drinkers and 28 percent struggle with depression, according to a new study.

Rep. Tom Reed says he is continuing to press Cuomo to seek the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act funding to get Route 219 construction started.

Five Buffalo schools share the unenviable spot of being among the first in New York to test the state’s new receivership law and meet its ultimatum: Improve, or else.

TWC News’ documentary, “Outside the Wall, Going Inside the Dannemora Prison Break” has been nominated for a New York Emmy. Among those named in the nomination, is the late Bill Carey, who co-produced the program and conducted a lengthy, exclusive interview with Cuomo.

Suffolk’s new police commissioner, Timothy Sini, said he won’t run for district attorney next year when the job, now occupied by Thomas Spota, comes open for election.

Georgina Bloomberg owns a rescue pig.

State lawmakers continue to search for a compromise on a paid family leave program in New York, with disagreement centering on how to pay for the measure.

Cuomo is scheduled to visit Dunkirk tomorrow to formally unveil the state’s plans to spend $200 million to build a high-tech drug manufacturing center there for a Buffalo biotech company.

Cuomo Integrates Investigations Into Indian Point Leak

A trio of state investigations from disparate agencies into the tritium leak at Indian Point will be integrated, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in a letter on Wednesday released by his office.

In the letter, Cuomo directs Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos and Public Service Commission Chairwoman and CEO Aubrey Zibelman to coordinate their departments’ inquiries into the contamination of groundwater near the nuclear plant in Westchester County.

The announcement comes after the facility’s owner, Entergy Corp., reported the level of tritium in the water had increased by 80 percent since its initial report.

“The trends of unexpected outages and environmental incidents like these are extremely disconcerting,” Cuomo said. “On February 6, I directed the Departments of Environmental Conservation and Health to investigate the cause of the radioactive leak. Operational problems at Indian Point have been under investigation by the Department of Public Service since my directive in December 2015.”

Now Cuomo is having his administration “thoroughly explore” whether operational problems at the plant may have caused the leak.

“Representatives from the Department of Health, Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Public Service will be onsite as part of these investigations,” Cuomo said.

Cuomo has long been a critic of Indian Point and has called for the facility to be shuttered, raising concerns about the plant’s proximity to a densely populated area in the metropolitan region.

21016 Indian Point by Nick Reisman

Cuomo Urges Feds To Reject Bank Merger

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a letter to federal regulators on Wednesday urged them to reject a proposed merger of two banks that he says would have a major impact on consumers and jobs in upstate New York.

In the letter to the Federal Trade Commission, Cuomo wrote the acquisition of First Niagara by Key Bank would hurt customers by limiting access and reduce competition.

At the same time, Cuomo is concerned the bank merger would eliminate jobs as well, especially in western New York.

“The proposed acquisition of First Niagara by Key Bank would have a devastating impact on consumers and businesses in Upstate New York, and I urge the federal government to reject the application. This proposal would reduce retail banking competition, limit consumer access and convenience, and ultimately eliminate jobs throughout the region,” Cuomo wrote in the letter. :Blocking this deal is the right thing to do – plain and simple – and my administration will not hesitate to stand up for New Yorkers by opposing this acquisition.”

Cuomo joins a growing list of western New York and Buffalo-area elected officials who have raised concerns with the merger, including Rep. Brian Higgins and Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz. U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, too, has raised concerns about the merger’s impact on jobs in the Buffalo area.

KeyBank FirstNiagara Acquisition by Nick Reisman

Bill Would Provide Benefits To Those Wrongfully Convicted

A bill proposed by two Democratic state lawmakers would provide a package of benefits to those who are wrongfully convicted.

The proposal comes amid increasing public awareness of questionable convictions through popular true crime stories from the Serial podcast and Netflix’s docudrama Making A Murderer.

The bill, backed by Assemblyamn Dan Quart and Sen. Brad Hoylan, would apply to those who are incarcerated in a state prison and later exonerated.

They would have their convictions permanently sealed and receive benefits to help them start their lives over again, including lifetime health, mental health and dental insurance as well as reimbursement for attorney fees.

”The state has no more serious responsibility than correcting its own errors,” Quart said in a statement. “A wrongful conviction can’t ever be undone, but New York has a duty to ensure that exonerees are made whole as completely as possible. The wrongfully convicted should be able to access the same services as other parolees, in addition to job training and health and mental health care as they start their lives over.”

The bill comes after a record 149 people across the country were exonerated in 2015, with New York alone representing more than 10 percent of those overall cases.

“Wrongful conviction is a miscarriage of justice in the truest sense,” Hoylman said. “Incarceration exacts a physical and psychological toll that can be compounded when someone is imprisoned for a crime they did not commit. While we can never truly return the time stolen from the wrongfully convicted, New York has a moral obligation to help those for whom the criminal justice system has failed.”

Gun Control Group Knocks Gibson

A prominent gun-control group on Wednesday criticized Rep. Chris Gibson’s call to rollback the SAFE Act, a signature legislative accomplishment for Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Gibson on Tuesday launched his exploratory bid for governor ahead of the 2018 statewide elections, promising to tackle the SAFE Act by scaling back its provisions and replacing it with measures aimed addressing mental health and gang violence.

But New Yorkers Against Gun Violence in a statement said Gibson can’t have it both ways — claim the “moderate” label and pursuing a SAFE Act rollback. The group also pointed to Gibson’s $14,900 in contributions from the National Rifle Association.

“Our state doesn’t need a beltway alumnus like Chris Gibson to replicate what he and his colleagues did in Washington: stand idly by while nearly 100,000 Americans died from gun violence since the slaughter of twenty children and six educators at Sandy Hook,” said Leah Gunn Barrett, the group’s director. “It is unconscionable that he would wear this failure as a badge of honor as he pledges to roll back the real progress that has been made in this state.”

Gibson’s position on gun control is nuanced. He told reporters at a news conference on Tuesday he is not opposed to background checks, nor does he consider such provisions “gun control.”

Expect more of the same from organizations allied with Cuomo to knock Gibson as he starts the fundraising process early in the campaign cycle in order to be competitive with the Democratic incumbent’s $15 million war chest.

Cuomo has said he plans to seek a third term in 2018.

Cuomo Outlines Impact Of Minimum Wage Increase

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office on Wednesday released an eight-page report that highlight the potential benefits of a $15 minimum wage in New York.

Cuomo is backing a phased-in minimum wage increase to $15 in the current legislative session amid opposition from business groups and skepticism from majority Republicans in the state Senate.

In the report, the Cuomo administration and the state Department of Labor point to the 2.3 million residents in the state — about 25 percent of the workforce — will have their pay boosted, increasing spending power by $15.7 billion into the economy.

At the same time, the report points to most minimum wage earners being adults, with half of them being 35 years or older living outside of New York City.

The current $9 minimum wage, the product of a 2013 agreement between Cuomo and the Legislature, is “not a decent living wage” and only pays $18,720 a year for a full-time worker, the report states.

And getting to the heart of the business-backed argument that a wage hike would cost jobs, the Department of Labor’s data found employment increased following a wage hike.

“If you work full time, you shouldn’t have to live in poverty – which is why it’s time for New York to lead the way and pass a $15 minimum wage,” Cuomo said in a statement.

“This report demonstrates that raising the minimum wage will provide new opportunity and restore economic justice to millions of New Yorkers. Our proposal will lift families out of poverty and create a stronger economy for all, and I urge lawmakers to help us fight for fair pay for working families this year.”

The report released in packaged press releases aimed at highlighting the impact specifically in different regions of the state such as the Hudson Valley, Southern Tier, Mohawk Valley and New York Ciy.

Business groups, however, weren’t buying the claims.

The Rochester-based Unshackle Upstate said the report “falls short” of a deep analysis.

“For example, it does not look at the real impacts that a 67-percent minimum wage increase will have on small businesses, family farms, non-profits, local governments and school districts,” the group’s executive director, Greg Biryla, said in a statement. “It also fails to mention any potential job losses, tax hikes or cost-of-living increases that will occur if this mandate is enacted.

“The public deserves more from the state Labor Department than a self-serving report that regurgitates the slogans of minimum wage advocates and provides unsupported assertions about how a new wage mandate will benefit businesses.”

The National Federation of Independent Businesses dismissed the report as “propaganda.”

“Small businesses across New York have continuously expressed their very real concerns on the impact of the Governor’s incessant and misguided push to increase their labor costs,” said NFIB state Director Mike Durant. “We find this alleged analysis absent the comprehensive examination worthy of such state resources.”

Minimum Wage Report by Nick Reisman

Bill Would Create Prison Body Camera Pilot Program

A new bill from Manhattan Assemblyman Danny O’Donnell would launch a pilot program for the use of body cameras in state prisons.

The bill – introduced Wednesday – would use the program to measure whether body cameras would improve safety at prison facilities across the state.

Governor Cuomo has already allocated $25 million as part of his executive budget proposal to “ensure that correctional facilities and officers will be outfitted with the latest technologies available in the field.” That could include cameras – both worn and in prisons – thermal imaging, and heartbeat monitors.

The allocation would also launch a body camera pilot program. This bill would set the standard for the program if the funding is approved by the legislature.

The memo found in the O’Donnell bill says body cameras have proven to both improve safety and cut costs “in nearly every criminal justice organization that has tried them.”

Advocates have called for greater oversight of the state’s prison system following last year’s break-out from the Clinton Correctional Facility in June and a homicide at the Fishkill Correctional Facility allegedly involving a prisoner and multiple corrections officers, which is still under investigation by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office.

NYSUT Raises Concerns With Con Con

The New York State United Teachers union’s newsletter to members several months ago calls a potential constitutional convention a “Pandora’s Box” and urges members to get involved in an effort to oppose holding one.

The newsletter was released over the summer, but largely escaped notice at the time. It was amplified today on Twitter by Capitol Pressroom host Susan Arbetter

New York voters in 2017 are due to consider whether to hold a convention that could overhaul how state government functions — a potential enticing consideration given recent corruption scandals and concerns from upstate voters that too much power is vested in New York City interests.

But NYSUT raises issues with even the hint of altering New York’s system of governance, arguing that such a move could strip away bans on direct state funding of religious schools or infringe on pension benefits.

“If changes are made that give too much power to one branch, for example say the executive, then our system of self-governance will be upended,” NYSUT writes in the newsletter.

The last convention referendum, NYSUT’s newsletter states, was opposed by a coalition of “public and private organized labor” and environmental groups as well as good-government organizations “who worked together
to convince voters that holding a convention was not in the best interest of the people of the state.”

NYSUT raises the possibility the union will actively oppose the referendum in 2017 as well, or at the very least raise issues with an overhaul of the constitution.

“All of these groups, and more, will need to work together again in 2017 to make sure voters understand just what could happen if we open up the state constitution to drastic changes through a convention,” the newsletter states. “Since 2017 is an ‘off’ election year for the state Legislature as well as an ‘off’ election year for presidential voting, we will need to concentrate our efforts on this important issue.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in his State of the State address last month agreed the process in which delegates are selected for a constitutional convention is largely flawed and proposed a constitutional commission charged with devising a blueprint for overhauling the process.

Laura Ingraham To Keynote State Republican Convention

Conservative pundit Laura Ingraham will deliver the keynote speech at the state Republican Convention next month, the state GOP committee on Wednesday announced.

The convention is being held on March 4 at the Marriott HarborCenter in Buffalo.

“We’re honored to welcome Laura Ingraham as our featured guest this year,”said New York Republican Chairman Ed Cox. “Laura is one of the preeminent conservative voices in America today and she is at the epicenter of this year’s presidential election. We’re very excited she will be joining us to offer her inside look into what is one of the most important elections of our lifetime.”

Ingraham is a conservative radio host heard in 225 markets and the editor-in-chief of the website LifeZette.com. She is also a regulator contributor on Fox News and is a substitute anchor on the O’Reilly Factor.

“We can’t wait to introduce Laura Ingraham to Buffalo,” said Erie County Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy. “Laura has her finger on the pulse of the Republican Party and I know my fellow county chairs and convention attendees will be very excited to meet her.”

“The energy and motivation I am witnessing in the Party this year will make this an exciting convention, and Laura’s attendance makes this a can’t-miss event.”

State Republicans at the convention next month are expected to nominate a candidate to run against Democratic U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer. One potential candidate that has been floated is attorney Wendy Long, who ran against Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand in 2012.