Mar 7th - 6:43 pm
Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino favors a “conversation” about a strict medical marijuana program, but opposes broader legalization.
“I am very honestly sympathetic to people who are in chronic people, people whose life is ending,” he said. “There are a lot of stories of personally that I know of people who would benefit from medical marijuana.”
But Astorino knocked Cuomo’s proposal to allow a limited version of medical marijuana through an existing law and administered by the state Department of Health. Cuomo plans to issue an executive order on the program.
“I mean, taking medical marijuana off the street and giving it to patients is not my idea of a health initiative,” Astorino said.
Astorino added he’s opposed to broader legalization like in Colorado.
“What I do not want is dispensaries all over the state in which people can walk in and get a nickel bag,” he said.
Asked if he had ever smoked marijuana before, Astorino said, “Yes — a long time ago.”
He said he smoked “a couple of joints” in college.
“That’s that last time,” he said.
Mar 7th - 6:27 pm
Rob Astorino has the support of many establishment Republicans in New York, but whether he can get the backing of Republicans in the state Legislature is a larger question.
“The political season is starting soon and I feel very strongly that the Republicans will coalesce when the time comes,” Astorino said in Albany on Friday. “They’re still working on a budget by the way.”
Astorino was concluding a mutlti-city tour of upstate New York that was part of a two-day kick-off tour of his gubernatorial campaign.
Reporters packed into the cramped press conference room in the Legislative Office Building to see Astorino, who stood alongside his wife Sheila, for the news conference.
Astorino began the trip in the Bronx, and then went to Buffalo on Thursday where he stumped with Rep. Chris Collins.
Still, some Senate Republicans haven’t ruled out endorsing Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, including Sen. Andrew Lanza of Staten Island.
The GOP conference and Cuomo have worked well together.
The governor has never endorsed a full takeover of the Senate by his own party.
Republicans, meanwhile, have paved the way for key Cuomo victories like same-sex marriage and gun control. Nevertheless, Senate Finance Chairman John DeFrancisco is supporting Astorino, saying it’s possible to separate the government work from politics.
“Mr. Astorino has proven he can win in a Democrat — in a heavily Democrat area two to one,” DeFrancisco said.
At the same time, a Republicans on the other end of the spectrum like Carl Paladino, the party’s 2010 nominee for governor, hasn’t ruled out running on an independent line for governor.
“Carl Paladino doesn’t want Andrew Cuomo to have a second term,” he said. “I’ll just leave it at that. So Carl Paladino is not going to do anything to hurt the Republican and Conservative ticket.”
Astorino said he has traded voice mail messages with Paladino and plans to talk to him soon.
Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long “personally” endorsed Astorino, but he does expect local county chairs in the influential third party to support his candidate as well.
Astorino flatly said he does not expect a primary, nor does he believe businessman Donald Trump will run for governor. Cuomo earlier in the week teasingly noted when asked about Astorino that there could be a primary, citing the 2010 contest that resulted in Paladino’s nomination.
Senate Democrats, meanwhile, are trying to tie Astorino’s socially conservative views on abortion, gay rights and gun control to the Senate GOP.
“For the Republicans I would say the important question is do they agree? Do they agree with their candidate? Do they agree with Rob Astorino that they want to roll back all the important protections we’ve enacted in New York,” Sen. Mike Gianaris told reporters this week.
Mar 7th - 6:15 pm
Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino said he would support term limiting state lawmakers and the governor in order to clean up the Albany “cesspool” of the state Capitol.
The Republican gubernatorial candidate told reporters in Albany on Friday would he work to pass a term limit law similar to one approved in Westchester.
His term limit law in the county limits his job to three, four-year terms.
Astorino says his state-level term limit law would be more aggressive and target longtime Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who has been in charge of the chamber since 1995.
“I would look at maybe even less — two terms for governor and 12 years or less for a legislator,” he said. “There has to be turnover in this building. When Shelly Silver is there for 21 years or anyone is there for that long, corruption seeps in pretty quickly.”
Astorino knocked the speaker for approving taxpayer funded settlement money to sexual harassment victims of now ex-Assemblyman Vito Lopez.
“It’s the culture that the speaker of the Assembly believes he can cover up sex crimes and spend taxpayer dollars,” he said.
Seeking an outsider label, Astorino knocked Cuomo for “growing up here” in Albany (not technically true, considering Cuomo never lived in the executive mansion when his father was governor and served briefly as an advisor earning $1 a year).
“He is Albany,” Astorino said of the governor.
But Astorino zeroed in on the spate of sexual harassment scandals that have hit the Legislature and resulted also in the resignation of Democratic Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak.
“We have two daughters, I would never let them work in this building under the atmosphere now,” Astorino said.
Cuomo, of course, ran on an ethics platform in 2010.
He formally announced his candidacy, in person, on the steps of the Tweed Courthouse in New York City.
And as governor he’s been pushing for more aggressive ethics enforcement.
Cuomo pushed for and won an ethics reform law in 2011 that included the creation of a new lobbying regulator as well as forcing lawmakers to disclose more information on their outside income.
The $142 billion budget proposal from Cuomo includes a package of ethics reform measures such as tighter bribery laws as well as publicly financed campaigns.
Mar 7th - 6:03 pm
Former “Manhattan Madam” Kristin Davis, a former NYC comptroller candidate and ex-gubernatorial contender, admitted to selling prescription pills.
The chairman of the Schuyler County Legislature called the governor’s property tax freeze plan a “cockamamie” idea.
Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Sen. Jose Peralta want to see DREAM Act fundnig in the Senate’s one house budget resolution.
US Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has been called a “sleeper candidate” for 2016, but she insists she likes “the platform I have today.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled 50 proposed new outdoor access projects to connect hunters, anglers, bird watchers and other outdoor enthusiasts to 380,000 acres of untapped state-owned lands.
The Communications Workers of America is pitching upstate households on de Blasio’s plan to expand pre-kindergarten with a downstate tax.
Streetsblog wonders why Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has said nothing about undoing the $40 million MTA raid in Cuomo’s budget, even though 32 Assembly members have called for a restoration of the funds.
Former NYPD Commissioner Bernie Kerik says he hasn’t spoken to his old boss, ex-NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani, in “years.”
The legislative committee investigating the George Washington Bridge lane closures is fighting to require two ex-aides to Gov. Chris Christie to provide records related to the matter.
Federal prosecutors have their eye on former Assemblyman William Boyland Jr.’s future pension.
Kathy Weppner, who earned a loyal conservative following as WBEN Radio’s “Kathy from Williamsville,” launched a challenge to Democratic Rep. Brian Higgins.
Rep. Nydia Velazquez is unphazed by her potential primary challenger(s).
The Nassau Conservative Party will back Republican Bruce Blakeman in the race to succeed retiring Rep. Carolyn McCarthy.
Sen. Bernie Sanders says he would make a better president than Hillary Clinton, even though he doesn’t have a “burning ambition” to do the job.
Former NYC Councilman Lew Fidler is returning to City Hall – this time to work for the Council as a part-time counsel.
The Ontario County Board of Supervisors debated Cuomo’s college-for-convicts plan before tabling a resolution in opposition to it.
CNN has been calling Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin about the AR-15 raffle at a Troy church.
Rochester has a new police chief.
The state has approved 12 tax-free zones tied to the University at Buffalo where businesses that locate new jobs could pay no state or local taxes for 10 years through the Start-Up NY initiative.
Mar 7th - 5:47 pm
When Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino brought his post-gubernatorial announcement statewide tour to Syracuse today, several high-profile local Republicans were quite obviously AWOL.
The first was Onondaga County GOP Chairman Tom Dadey, who is hosting Donald Trump at a fundraiser next week. He told the Post-Standard that Astorino “certainly would be a very strong candidate for the Republican Party,” but stopped short of issuing an endorsement.
The second was Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney, who angered fellow local Republicans – including Dadey – by crossing party lines in 2010 to endorse then state AG Andrew Cuomo for governor. Mahoney has been a close Cuomo ally ever since he was elected that fall, and has even been floated as a potential replacement for LG Bob Duffy on the ticket this fall, though that would likely require her to switch her enrollment.
I spoke to Mahoney earlier today for an interview that will air on CapTon this evening. I noted her absence at Astorino’s Central New York event, and asked if she would even consider endorsing him against Cuomo.
“I fully anticipated your question, and what I want to do is as much as it’s under my power, I want to stretch the political season out as much as I can,” Mahoney replied. “…Everybody’s really working well together, and we’re geting a lot accomplished. I know when the political season gets here and everybody moves to their own corners and is afraid to make the other side look good…That’s going to come, inevitably, but I’m really trying to push that out as far as I can.”
Mahoney went on to note all the bipartisan effort that went into local projects like the ampitheater/Onondaga Lake waterfront redevelopment (coming instead of the new Syracuse sports arena) and the $15 million nano/film center announced by Cuomo this week at Mahoney’s State of the County address.
I asked when Mahoney thought she might be ready to talk politics, and she replied:
“It’s not entirely under my control, because at some point the whole world is only talking politics. I don’t think we’re there yet. There hasn’t been any buzz about politics, it has really been about these projects.”
“So, sometime between now and November it will be the political season, and we’ll have those conversations. But I really am just trying to put that off as long as I can to try to keep everybody – Republicans and Democrats – continue to try to do things that we have not seen happen in Onondaga County in the recent past. It’s been great what’s been going on, and I really wish we could just push the politics off the to the side.”
You can catch my full discussion with Mahoney at 8 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. on Capital Tonight.
Mar 7th - 4:39 pm
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani has bucked the GOP establishment in his endorsement of George Demos over Sen. Lee Zeldin in the battle for the right to face Democratic Rep. Tim Bishop in NY-1 this fall.
In a statement released by the Demos campaign, Giuliani called the candidate “a fiscal conservative who says what he believes and believes what he says.”
“As a former prosecutor, he knows the good guys from the bad,” the former mayor continued. “He will rattle the cages of the establishment. He’ll make a difference. And George would never support Obamacare. His voice will be heard in the halls of Congress, and I predict, throughout America.”
“I am impressed with George, his passion, his intellect, and his integrity. I am proud to endorse his candidacy and prouder still to call him a friend. George Demos is one of us. And it’s time for George Demos for Congress.”
In backing Demos, Giuliani is not only at odds with the majority of Republican and Conservative leaders in NY-1, who have lined up behind Zeldin, but he’s also on the same side as former Gov. George Pataki – an early supporter of Demos, who worked for Pataki when he was in office.
Pataki and Giuliani have not always seen eye to eye over the years, either on politics or policy, though their relationship improved markedly after 9/11 and toward the end of the governor’s tenure in Albany.
The state GOP has been vehemently opposed to Demos’ candidacy (sometimes a little too vehemently). The party is very keen on putting forward a united front against Bishop, who came close to losing his seat in 2012 and continues to be the subject of an ethics investigation in connection with his campaign fundraising.
Division within the party – and between Republicans and Conservatives – has previously weakened candidates’ chances of unseating Bishop.
UPDATE: A knowledgable reader notes that Demos’ campaign is run by two consultants: Jake Menges and Rob Cole. Giuliani is longtime Menges client, Pataki a longtime Cole client. So, there’s a certain element of doing some political favors here that is worth noting.
Mar 7th - 2:46 pm
Gov. Andrew Cuomo jumped on a “town-hall” style conference call last night with residents of Rockland and Westchester counties to push his plan that would “freeze” local property taxes over two years, providing local governments cap their levies and share services.
The call on Thursday evening comes after Cuomo held a similar call with Long Island residents, according to Newsday.
Cuomo, who noted Westchester County has the highest property taxes in the nation, took several question from suburban property taxpayers.
Similar calls are planned for upstate counties in the coming weeks.
A person familiar with the town-hall calls said the Westchester-Rockland town hall had been planned in advance of Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino’s announcement on Wednesday that he was running for governor.
Residents were alerted to the town hall event through a robocall paid for by Cuomo’s re-election campaign. Those who received the call were told to expect a second phone call Thursday evening with the governor patched in.
The calls dovetail with a trio of issue ads also being paid for by Cuomo 2014 that include his effort to put the tax freeze plan in place.
Opponents of the property tax plan have stepped up in recent weeks to push back against the proposal as an undue burden on local governments and renew calls for reducing state mandates.
Cuomo, in turn, has suggested the local officials don’t want to take the necessary steps to reduce their budgets.
With Astorino in the race, suburban voters will be courted heavily by both sides in the coming gubernatorial campaign. The suburban counties have proved to be crucial swing regions for statewide candidates.
Mar 7th - 2:30 pm
Republican Sen. John DeFrancisco gave an enthusiastic defense on Friday of Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino’s chances of winning in November against Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo and insisted the GOP candidate could run a competitive race.
Of course, that any Republican endorsing a GOP candidate for governor isn’t always news, but there are real questions about whether some Senate Republican conference members will strongly support Astorino, given their good working relationship with Cuomo.
Staten Island Republican Sen. Andrew Lanza has not ruled out a cross-party endorsement of Cuomo.
And the governor has reportedly told GOP officials and business leaders that he wouldn’t want the Republican conference to be collateral damage should Astorino be the nominee for governor and he unleashes a barrage of negative attacks aimed at his social conservative stance.
(Cuomo and his office has dismissed this as “political gossip).
Nevertheless, DeFrancisco, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said it’s possible to both agree and disagree with the Democratic governor.
At a campaign event in Syracuse on Friday, he GOP lawmaker cited the gun control law known as the SAFE Act as well as the tax-free incentive program START UP NY as two examples of Cuomo-backed measures he’s voted against.
“The fact that I agree and disagree on some issues, that’s part of governing,” he said.
Astorino, he added, is a serious candidate.
“It’s not a joke. He’s proven — Mr. Astorino has proven he can win in a heavily Democrat area 2-to-1,” he said. “He’s a serious, thoughtful candidate. All I ask for is listen to his issues, listen to his points of view. Don’t say he can’t be competitive because we got a governor who with a lot of money. Listen to what he says and make your choice. I think you figured out who my choice is. After governing is over, campaigning begins.”
For political observers, there are varying schools of thought as to whether the Senate Republicans need a strong top of the ticket in November in order to keep their hold on power in the chamber, which they currently share with the five-member Independent Democratic Conference.
Some argue Republicans down the ballot need a candidate who can provide an at least respectable showing in order to do well.
Others note that Senate Republicans have traditionally run separately from the top of the ticket, anyway and the success in the races rise and fall on their own.
The endorsement from DeFrancisco comes though after Sen. Mike Gianaris, the leader of the Democrats’ fundraising arm in the Senate, tied the GOP conference to Astorino’s stances on social issues, which include opposition to abortion, gun control and same-sex marriage.
Mar 7th - 2:15 pm
The one-house budget bill submitted by the Assembly Democrats next week will include a revised version of the Compassionate Care Act, which would legalize marijuana for medical use.
Assemblyman Dick Gottfried, a Manhattan Democrat who has long championed med-mar, confirmed that this is the first time in Albany history that the provision has been included in a budget bill by his conference.
“Unless something dramatic changes, yes, that is the plan,” Gottfried told me during a telephone interview this afternoon. “It’s my bill with some changes that we’ve worked up over the last couple of weeks that would have eventually gone into my bill except we’re putting them into the one-house instead…By putting it in our budget bill, we jump start a three-way discussion.”
“People might ask: Why does this belong in the budget? The answer is: When creating a new state program that’s going to cost money to administer and create a new source of state revenue, it’s perfectly acceptable to have it in a budget bill.”
One change was to have the excise tax proposed in Gottfried’s bill (being carried in the state Senate by IDC Sen. Diane Savino) from a certain number of dollars per pound to a percentage of the dispensing price. This was necessary, Gottfried said, because the sponsors realized that “a pound of dried leaf and a pound of oil extract are very different and should not be taxed the same.”
The other, more substantive change was the addition of provisions to speed up – at least on a temporary basis – the recognition of organizations that are registered to dispense medical marijuana. The way the bill had been written, it could take a year or two before product was available to patients, Gottfried said, due to the time required to write regulations, process registration applications and grow the plants.
How quickly marijuana could get into the hands of the people who need it remains something of an unanswerable question, due to the fact that the federal government would have to sign off if New York is to procure product from states where it is already legal.
“In order for this concept to work, we would have to get the Department of Justice to acknowledge that there’s nothing wrong if the product goes from one tightly regulated state to another tightly regulated state,” Gottfried said. “Because if not, there’s really no practical way anyone can think of to make product quickly available…And I really do not want to see babies dying for a year or two while they’re waiting for New York to get its system up and running.”
There has been considerable movement on med-mar in recent weeks in the Senate, with several Republicans expressing support for the Compassionate Care Act. This is widely attributed to the strong lobbying efforts put forth by a group of Western New York parents whose children suffer from devastating seizures, either caused by epilepsy or a disorder known as Dravet’s syndrome.
At least one Republican senator – Patrick Gallivan – has said he supports a very limited bill that would legalize a high CBD, low THC oil type of medical marijuana. In Colorado, it’s known as “Charlotte’s Web,” named after Charlotte Figi, who suffers from Dravet’s syndrome and was the first patient who had success with the treatment.
Gottfried said he considers it “inhumane” to patients who would need different kinds of med-mar treatment – like smoking to offset the nausea brought on by chemo, for example – to severely limit access to just one or a few types of the plant, adding: “It’s highly unlikely you could ever develop a production process in New York just to serve a dozen patients.”
The Assembly budget bill will not include any money in the coming fiscal year for med-mar, Gottfried said, because the assumption is that there will be little – if any – initial cost in setting up a med-mar system. The cost – as yet unknown – would ramp up in the 2015-16 fiscal year, but the assumption is that it would be more than covered by the revenue generated once the system gets up and running – revenue that Gottfried said could “possibly” exceed $100 million a year.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo included a limited medical marijuana plan in his budget proposal that would be established via executive order, reviving a 1980s-era law that has been dormant for years. Gottfried and others panned this approach as cumbersome and too limited in scope. Asked if the the administration has taken any steps to implement the governor’s plan, Gottfried replied:
“If you find the name of anyone in the Health Department who’s working on this project, would you let me know? I’ve been trying very hard to find out that name, and so far I’ve gotten no response.”
The administration has indicated, through top Cuomo aide Larry Schwartz, that the governor would “support” the Compassionate Care Act if it passes both houses and ends up on his desk.
Senate GOP leader Dean Skelos appears to have softened his stance on med-mar, saying he’s now open to legalizing marijuana-based oils and possibly vaporizers, but still doesn’t like the idea of “public smoking.” Skelos also has not yet agreed to letting a bill to legalize med-mar come to the floor for a vote.
Mar 7th - 12:02 pm
When he last reported his campaign finances, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino had just over $1 million in the bank.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, meanwhile, has literally 33 times that amount of money in his own campaign coffers, plus a three-year head start in fundraising.
But Astorino insisted during an interview on Capital Tonight that he’ll be competitive, even if he doesn’t raise as much as Cuomo.
“Andrew Cuomo has enough,” Astorino said. He’s got all he needs to run his race. We’re not there yet, but we will be and I’m confident.”
Astorino spent most of the beginning of the year traveling the state — and making a few out-of-state trips as well — to attend receptions and fundraisers. That exploratory tour led him to believe that raising the money was possible.
He declined, however, to give a specific dollar amount when asked.
“We’ll raise enough money to get our message out to all New Yorkers,” he said. “I know in my head how much is enough and I think we’re going to get there.”
It’s also possible that Astorino will benefit from the increasingly common independent expenditure groups, though he would likely need to show that he’s competitive against Cuomo in order for that money to flow in.
For now, Astorino has been benefiting from so-called “earned” media — interviews and the announcement tour, along with the video he released this week posted on his website.
“We’re not going to need $30 million to run this race,” Astorino told me in the interview. “We’re going to run a very smart race, we’re going to get our message out to people.”