May 29th - 11:06 pm
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown acknowledged he knows all three Western New York political figures involved in State Attorney General’s Office probe. Brown told reporters Friday he was surprised by the raids and is in no way connected.
“I have been informed by law enforcement that I’m not involved in the investigation,” said Brown.
It’s still unclear exactly what state investigators were looking for when they raided the Buffalo condo of former Erie County Democratic Committee Chairman Steve Pigeon, as well as the homes of former Buffalo Deputy Mayor Steve Casey and Chris Grant, the current Chief of Staff for Republican Congressman Chris Collins.
“Steve Casey certainly worked with me for a long period of time, very bright, very creative, and very hardworking and always found him to be of the highest integrity,” Brown said.
Those interviewed as part of the investigation say it centers around the Pigeon backed political action committee the WNY Progressive Caucus. The PAC funded 2013 challenges to Democratic Party-endorsed candidates in several local races.
Erie County Board of Elections officials confirmed the investigation began with a complaint about critical mailers funded by the PAC. Mayor Brown said he was surprised by the Thursday’s raids and said he wasn’t aware of any wrong doing.
“I have found Steve Pigeon to be very bright, very hardworking and a person of integrity,” said Brown.
Brown isn’t Pigeon’s only ally. The former Party boss is a well known contributor to Governor Cuomo and sources confirmed Friday he hosted State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie at his Buffalo condo to watch the Mayweather-Pacquiao title fight on May 2nd.
Heastie’s office did not respond to our request for a comment.
Casey and Grant’s connection to the WNY Progressive caucus is the subject of speculation but sources said the two were business partners in a firm that produced political mailers. Casey secured the services of Buffalo attorney Rodney Personius Friday night.
“We have known of the investigation for 36 hours and await further word from law enforcement as to the nature of their inquiry. They have assured us that they will be forthcoming,” said Personius.
May 29th - 4:48 pm
Sen. Carl Marcellino, whose taxpayer-funded car expenses are reportedly under investigation by the Nassau County DA, says he has not been contacted by any law enforcement entity, and is confident he “has followed all laws and appropriate guidelines.”
Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan suggested he’s open to moving 16- and 17-year-olds out of state prisons – one of several recommendations pushed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to raise the age of criminal responsibility.
The Syracuse Post-Standard: “Flanagan underestimates the public’s distrust – dare we say loathing? – of the institution he leads. A ‘wait and see’ attitude on ethics reform won’t cut it.”
The medical malpractice firm that plays a role in the indictment of Sen. Dean Skelos and his son is reportedly the politically connected Physicians Reciprocal Insurers. Anthony Bonomo, one of the state’s most prolific donors and the Cuomo-appointed chair of NYRA, is the firm’s CEO.
NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer and Public Advocate Tish James joined police and firefighter unions to push for more generous disability benefits, setting up a fight with NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Cuomo gave James credit for trying to raise awareness of labor conditions, noting she held a press conference on nail salon worker safety last September 2014 and later introduced legislation on salon conditions to the NYC Council.
Peter Ragone, a senior adviser to de Blasio during his first year in office, met frequently with members of former NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s inner circle in the months following de Blasio’s inauguration in 2014.
Rep. Charlie Rangel raised eyebrows by showing up at a birthday-bash fundraiser for Adam Clayton Powell IV – one of several candidates interesting in replacing the congressman when he retires at the end of 2016, and whose father Rangel ousted from the House five decades ago.
Rangel took a dig at de Blasio, implying that his reported problems with the African-American community are just the tip of the iceberg.
NYC might give landmark status to the famed Stonewall Inn, which often called the cradle of the gay rights movement since patrons in 1969 fought back against police raids targeting the bar based on the sexual orientation of its customers.
In a post on her Facebook page, Sandra Lee thanked her fans and fellow breast cancer patients for sharing their personal experiences with recovery.
“Jeez, can’t Andrew not be a dick to Bill just once?” a Cuomo ally asks. (Apparently not).
Sen. John DeFrancisco of Syracuse, chair of the powerful finance committee, is sponsoring a bill that would force the state to provide a cost analysis of the governor’s Reforming Energy Vision plan within a year.
The Empire Center’s Tim Hoefer says it’s time for the Legislature to “hustle up” on amending New York’s Freedom of Information Law.
The state Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association, which has been campaigning for months to prod the state to hire more correctional staff, thanked Cuomo for his announcement that 103 more prison guards will be on the job by year’s end.
The NT2 bloggers approve of ex-Gov. George Pataki’s presidential run, hoping he’ll “help moderate” the GOP field.
Karen Koslowitz, the longest-serving Democrat on the NYC Council, is reportedly set to lead the Queens delegation.
The trap-neuter-release bill for dealing with feral cats is moving through Albany, but it has some opponents.
Hillary Clinton will gradually ramp up her campaign throughout the summer, but it will be months before she turns completely to a more orthodox model replete with a packed public schedule of billboard events and the regular appearance of husband Bill and daughter Chelsea.
AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka said Clinton, who has so far refused to say where she stands on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, will have to say where she is on the trade deal – and could lose the union’s endorsement if she doesn’t support its way of thinking.
US Sen. Charles Schumer launched a new effort to have the names of 74 U.S. Navy sailors, including one from Syracuse, added to the national Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall.
May 29th - 3:34 pm
To paraphrase Yogi Berra, it’s getting late early in Albany.
That was the sentiment from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who told reporters in New York City earlier today that he was skeptical “complicated” issues such as Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s ethics and campaign finance reform legislation or Mayor Bill de Blasio’s preferred 421a abatement reforms would be made law.
There are about 10 legislative session days left on the calendar this year, but the session itself does not conclude until June 17.
“Let me make this as a blanket statement: It is late in the day, for anything,” Cuomo said. “You have a number of days left and any complicated issue, anyone who has watched Albany with one eye for a short period of time, you can’t get realistic a complicated issue with the Assembly and the Senate in the midst of everything that’s going on.”
Cuomo even went as far as casting doubt on the passage of his newly introduced bill that would be aimed at protecting workers in nail salons.
Even still, it’s not wholly unusual, even in recent years under Cuomo, for legislation to be introduced and sail through both chambers and even without much public campaigning: The SAFE Act was passed in the weeks following a shooting at a Connecticut elementary school, while Cuomo around this time in May introduced his economic development bill that would ultimately become the START-UP NY program.
In both instances, lawmakers approved the legislation, which was sweeping and complex in their scope.
“The Assembly and Senate often take years to pass a bill,” Cuomo said. “We have a much better track record than has happened in the past, but it’s not unusual for a legislative body to discuss these things for many, many months.”
Schneiderman’s legislative omnibus package — closing the LLC, public financing, a full-time Legislature that bans outside pay among them — have been kicking around Albany for years and was recently part of a push from Senate Democrats.
“Anybody who has a complicated proposal and to broach it now — I think it’s going to be very tough,” Cuomo said.
Still, state lawmakers have said privately there is very little desire to do much this session beyond the “have-tos” of extending rent control laws for New York City as well as mayoral control of city schools, both of which are due to expire next month.
De Blasio is pushing changes to the 421a program that would expand affordable housing under the measure, but has run into opposition from labor groups over the prevailing wage (a provision on the wage is included, but for service workers).
Cuomo today indicated he was siding with the labor unions opposed to de Blasio’s plan, though he left his exact position on the issue vague.
“They believe the mayor’s plan hurts the workers and doesn’t pay a fair wage, a prevailing wage and those are very serious accusations,” Cuomo said. “I want to make sure we’re getting the fair return for the tax break and I want to protect the workers.”
Updated: Schneiderman actually addressed the issue of timing in the session, noting that three weeks at the Capitol “is a lifetime.”
“Bills have not yet been written that will come to life, die, come back, die again and come back again,” Schneiderman said. “So, there is plenty of time to do this, we have provided information about the proposals we have made, other states in which they have been used, New York City as a model for some of them. There are very few things in here that were not introduced before by somebody and have been considered. The Legislature and the governor have all the time they need to pass comprehensive reform legislation and put an end to this cycle of prosecution and further erosion of public confidence. All we lack is the political will.”
May 29th - 2:39 pm
Gov. Andrew Cuomo launched a public awareness campaign designed to crack down on abuse of workers in nail salons and called on customers to boycott businesses violating the state’s labor laws.
Cuomo, speaking in New York City earlier today, called on salon customers to bring in a card with a series of questions designed to determine whether the owner of the establishment is paying a fair wage and protecting workers from dangerous chemicals.
“Download the card, bring it with you. You don’t need to speak with the worker; you can speak to the owner of the business. If the answer isn’t yes, say, “Thank you very much,” walk out the door, go down the block, and patronize another business, and you will see how fast we change these industry practices,” Cuomo said.
The question include:
1. Are workers paid at least the minimum wage and overtime?
2. Is appropriate protective equipment (respirator mask, gloves, eye protection) provided to workers and used?
3. Is there adequate ventilation (no strong chemical odors)?
4. Is the salon business license posted in plain view?
5. Is the Nail Salon Workers’ Bill of Rights posted in plain view?
Cuomo previously introduced a bill earlier this month aimed at creating new regulations for nail salon workers and enacted emergency safety measures following a New York Times story on abuse within the industry.
Meanwhile, the administration is launching a new consumer website, www.ny.gov/nailsalonsafety, that includes the information card, plus directions on how customers can report problems or concerns at businesses.
May 29th - 12:29 pm
Most school districts have managed to adopt budgets within the state’s property tax cap and have those spending plans approved by voters, largely without a negative impact on their credit ratings, a report released by Moody’s on Friday found.
The report examined the overwhelming passage of school district budgets statewide this month, noting that with only nine of the 700 or so districts not passing their spending plans the first time around is a “credit positive.”
Meanwhile, 18 districts overrode the limit on levy increases, with 11 succeeding.
With a record high rate of passage and with levy increases averaging only 1.6 percent statewide, Moody’s found this is part of a “growing reluctance” of district officials to risk a failure of the budget and try to override the cap.
“The number of districts attempting overrides is less than one-half the number that tried in fiscal 2013,” the report found. “Of the nine districts whose budgets did not pass, seven attempted to pierce the cap through an override.”
A cap override is also harder to pass: A budget with a levy higher than cap requires a supermajority in order to be approved.
The state’s tax cap was first approved in 2011. While tied to rent control regulations that are due to expire next month, the cap itself is not scheduled to sunset until next year.
Nevertheless, tax cap supporters want to make the measure a permanent one for local governments and school districts. Some Democratic lawmakers have raised the possibility of making some changes to the cap law, which limits increases in the amount collected in taxes to 2 percent or the rate of inflation.
Still, school districts have been able to continue budgeting within the cap without impacting their credit ratings. Moody’s found that since 2012, the number of downgrades among school districts has decreased, while the number of credit upgrades as actually increased.
From the report:
“While the constraints of the levy cap have challenged school district operations, most have managed without a significant impact on credit quality. Initial trends of districts appropriating greater portions of their reserves to balance budgets immediately following the implementation of the tax cap have started to subside and districts are generally able to balance operations without tax-cap overrides. As Exhibit 3 shows, upgrades outpaced downgrades in 2014 for the first time since the tax cap was implemented. Upgrades have so far outpaced downgrades in 2015 as well.”
May 29th - 11:54 am
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee on Friday is zeroing in on the donations Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin has received over the years from the under-indictment former majority leader of the state Senate, Dean Skelos and his son Adam.
“If a federal indictment isn’t enough to convince Congressman Zeldin to return the money, will he ever take a stand against government corruption?” said DCCC spokesperson Matt Thornton. “Apparently the support of corrupt politicians in Albany is worth far more than the trust of voters in Suffolk County.”
Zeldin served two terms in the state Senate before he was elected the House of Representatives, unseating Democratic incumbent Tim Bishop.
Both Dean and Adam Skelos have donated to Zeldin. Adam Skelos contributed $250 to Zeldin’s state Senate account in 2013 and $250 to his re-election campaign for the House at the end of March.
Dean Skelos, perhaps naturally, has been an even more generous supporter: His campaign account contributed $9,500 to Zeldin’s Senate bid in 2010 as well as $2,500 in 2012.
Both Dean and Adam Skelos were indicted on Thursday. The elder Skelos is accused of using his official influence to aid the business interests of his son.
Skelos resigned this month as the majority leader of the chamber, but retains his seat in the Senate as he fights the charges.
May 29th - 11:30 am
Tom Libous, the ailing deputy majority leader of the state Senate, plans to return to New York next month for a fundraiser with tickets going for as much as $5,000, according to an invitation.
The June 11 event will be held at the Penn Club in New York City. Additional tickets for the event range from $1,000 to $2,500.
The fundraiser was first reported this morning by Gannett’s Albany bureau and obtained independently by Capital Tonight.
Libous has spent the last several weeks recovering in Florida from the latest round of cancer surgeries.
The Binghamton Republican participated in the vote to elect a new majority leader by conference phone and GOP lawmakers say Libous has been involved in legislative issues as he recovers.
“Senator Libous hopes to be back in New York State by June 11th but his return is entirely dependent on his recovery,” said Emmanuel Priest, a spokesman for Libous, in an email this morning.
Libous, meanwhile, faces a charge of lying to the FBI in a case stemming from his son’s work at a politically connected law firm in Westchester County. Matthew Libous was sentenced to six months in federal prison after his tax-fraud conviction.
May 29th - 8:40 am
From the Morning Memo:
Labor groups on Thursday evening released a series of statements reiterating their support for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s comments on 421a that are seemingly at odds with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s alternative push.
The comments came from labor groups like the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York — a private-sector union that has been long supportive of Cuomo.
“We thank Governor Cuomo for taking a strong stance in favor of good wages and middle class jobs on behalf of construction workers on 421-A projects,” said the group’s president, Gary LaBarbara. “An extension of this program in its current form is unacceptable and would simply mean more tax breaks for real estate developers at the expense of hard-working men and women – further adding to the city’s already worsening income inequality.”
Added Paul Fernandes, the Executive Director of the New York City and Vicinity Carpenters Labor Management Corporation:
“Today Governor Cuomo stood up for thousands of working men and women in our industry in New York City, and we thank him for it. Having the 421a tax break continue to benefit billionaire special interest developers without creating middle class opportunity for workers and more affordable housing is unacceptable. Great progress was made today toward fixing this problem.”
UP4NYC’s Tom Meara chimed in as well.
“We overwhelmingly support Governor Andrew Cuomo’s comments today in support of working families over special interests,” Meara said. “This is an important issue because it really does affect so many families, and that’s why we will continue to push in Albany for legislation that gives New Yorkers the ability to earn middle class wages which will improve lives.”
It’s a familiar sight and a well-worn maneuver from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s playbook: Have allies release a series of supportive statements designed to show overwhelming political backing for the governor’s cause.
Never mind that in some respects it’s pure astroturf: The UP4NYC and carpenters group statements came from the same email address at the PR firm, M Public Affairs.
Cuomo, too, has had his eyebrows singed by the U.S. attorney’s office when he tried a similar move with statements from Moreland Commission members.
The comments were essentially in response to Cuomo’s sympathetic take on another labor group, the AFL-CIO, opposing de Blasio’s push on the 421a tax abatement.
The abatement is due to expire next month and the mayor wants to expand affordable housing opportunities in a revised measure. De Blasio’s proposal does include a prevailing wage component for service-industry workers, but not in the construction field.
Cuomo, while visiting a prison in Greene County, pounced on the split between the progressive mayor and labor groups. In a question-and-answer session with reporters, Cuomo repeatedly cited the concerns raised by the AFL-CIO, a labor group that declined to endorse him last year.
“A lot of people think the deal that has been negotiated by the city is too rich for developers and doesn’t do enough for workers,” Cuomo said. “I want to make sure the workers are protected the developers get a fair deal. I am not interested in passing a program that is a giveaway to developers.”
De Blasio’s office, of course, has disputed the idea their plan is a sweetheart deal for developers, even as the Real Estate Board of New York (longtime and generous political supporters of the governor) backs their effort.
May 29th - 8:38 am
From the Morning Memo:
If they accomplish nothing else of note this session, state lawmakers will be able to return home knowing they struck a blow for the rights of hungry dog owners and their canine companions.
During a CapTon interview last night, Assemblyman Dick Gottfried, a Manhattan Democrat who chairs his chamber’s Health Committee, predicted the so-called “dining with dogs bill” – a measure that would loosen the state ban on dogs in restaurants – will become law this year.
“I think that’s a pretty safe bet,” Gottfried said.
Though he did not oppose the bill outright, the assemblyman had raised some health-related questions about the measure, which would give restaurants the option of allowing dogs on sidewalk patios and in backyard gardens – as long as they are accompanied by human diners.
Gottfried had said he was particularly worried about big dogs misbehaving and grabbing food off peoples’ plates.
But he has apparently worked out that concern (and any others) with the bill’s sponsor, Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, another Manhattan Democrat who is known for championing all manner of animal rights legislation.
“I think a lot of my concerns have been resolved,” Gottfried said, adding that he and Rosenthal had agreed on some “clarifying” amendments to her bill. “It will be on our committee agenda this coming week.”
The Senate has already passed the dining with dogs bill, giving it unanimous approval in a 60-0 vote earlier this month. The measure is being carried in that house by Senate Health Committee Chairman Kemp Hannon, a Long Island Republican.
I’m not sure whether the governor has been asked about his position on this issue.
It’s unclear if – particularly after a difficult and contentious session – he would want to risk the ire of New York dog lovers by rejecting this bill, should it arrive on his desk. Cat people, however, might thank him. But choosing sides in that age-old debate could be political suicide.
May 29th - 5:22 am
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is in New York City. NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio is in the city with no public schedule.
At 8:30 a.m., Sen. James Sanders Jr. hosts a monthly Community Clergy Breakfast with the topic “Community Economic Development” and guest speaker is Rev. Floyd Flake, New Haven Ministries, 130-05 101st Ave., Jamaica, Queens.
At 9 a.m., One World Observatory at the top of One World Trade Center officially opens to the public following a special ribbon cutting ceremony, 285 Fulton St., Manhattan.
At 9:30 a.m., PBA President Pat Lynch, UFA President Stephen Cassidy and hundreds of police officers and firefighters rally to condemn the mayor’s disability proposal for NYPD officers and firefighters injured during the line of duty, City Hall steps, Manhattan.
At 10 a.m., Rep. Louise Slaughter will deliver the keynote at the Monroe County Treatment Court graduation ceremony, Monroe County Court, Courtroom 404, Hall of Justice, 99 Exchange Blvd. Rochester.
Also at 10 a.m., the Assembly will hold a public hearing to examine the availability of children’s mental health services in Western New York and the impact the potential closure of the Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center would have on the quality of care, Buffalo City Hall, Common Council, 13th Floor, 65 Niagara Sq., Buffalo.
At 11 a.m., Cuomo makes an announcement, Library at The General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen of the City of New York, 20 West 44th St., Manhattan.
Also at 11 a.m., LG Kathy Hochul speaks at the first phase launch of the IBM Buffalo Innovation Center, Key Center North Tower, 50 Fountain Plaza, Suite 400, 4th Floor, Buffalo.
Also at 11 a.m., AG Eric Schneiderman will make remarks on his new comprehensive ethics reform legislation submitted to the state Legislature this week, Nassau County Supreme Court, 100 Supreme Court Dr., Mineola.
Also at 11 a.m., IDC Leader Jeff Klein and Madison Square Garden officials hold a basketball clinic with New York Knickerbockers alum Felipe Lopez, P.S. 107, 1695 Seward Ave., the Bronx.
Also at 11 a.m., Rep. Joe Crowley, NYC Councilman Daniel Dromm, Sen. Jose Peralta, and Assembly Members Francisco Moya and Michael DenDekker announce legislation to rename the Jackson Heights Post Office in honor of Jeanne and Jules Manford, the late Queens residents who fought for the advancement of equal rights for LGBT Americans, 7802 37th Ave., Queens.
Also at 11 a.m., housing advocates and tenants protest outside Klein’s district office for what they say is his silence regarding rent regulations and the need for stronger tenant protections, 1250 Waters Pl., Suite 1202, the Bronx.
At 11:30 a.m., NYCHA General Manager Michael Kelly and NYC Department of Sanitation Commissioner Kathyrn Garcia and Mayor’s Office of Sustainability Director Nilda Mesa unveil a full-scale recycling plan as part of the de Blasio administration’s broader sustainability initiatives in public housing and across the city, Nostrand Houses, 2231 Batchelder St., Brooklyn.
At 1 p.m., Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle and FASNY representatives hold a press conference to announce the introduction of legislation requiring smoke alarms in the state be equipped with sealed 10-year batteries, Laurelton Fire Department, 405 Empire Blvd., Rochester.
At 1:30 p.m., elected officials and Raise the Wage advocates hold a press conference to announce a major national push to rally women to support Cuomo’s wage board to raise the wages statewide for fast food workers, steps of City Hall, Manhattan.
At 3 p.m., Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson announces plans to enter negotiations to expand air preclearance operations to multiple new foreign airports, located in nine separate countries, Terminal 4, JFK, Queens.
At 5:30 p.m., NYC Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Councilwoman Rosie Mendez host a “Follow Me Friday” tour of with local business owners and community members to highlight and promote East Village small businesses recovering from the aftermath of the March 26th building explosion, Manhattan.
At 7 p.m., Hochul delivers remarks at Daemen College’s distinguished speaker series on Buffalo’s Economic Renaissance, Daemen College, Alumni Lounge, First Floor, Wick Campus Center, 4380 Main St., Amherst.
State and federal investigators searched the homes of three Western New York political operatives – confidants to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown and Rep. Chris Collins – sending shock waves across state Democratic and Republican party circles.
The trio in investigators’ crosshairs include former Erie County Democratic Chairman Steve Pigeon and his protege, former Deputy Mayor Steven Casey. In recent years, the duo sometimes worked with the third target: Republican Christopher Grant, who first served as chief of staff to Collins when he was Erie County executive and now works in his congressional office.
The search warrants are reportedly part of a larger investigation by the AG Eric Schneiderman into Pigeon’s campaign fundraising activities, including his involvement in a political action committee called the WNY Progressive Caucus.
A federal grand jury indicted the former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his son, Adam, alleging a conspiracy to leverage the senator’s political power for the son’s financial benefit.
The indictment includes one additional accusation compared to a complaint released about three weeks ago: that the senator secured over $100,000 in payments and health benefits from a medical malpractice insurer that provided his son with a no-show job while it lobbied the senator on legislative matters.
As he fends off corruption charges, Skelos and his wife, Gail, are putting their Albany condominium up for sale. According to a listing on Craigslist that was posted on Facebook by a member of the senator’s family, the couple are seeking $130,000 for the two-bedroom, one bathroom unit on the capital city’s western fringe.
The Nassau County District Attorney’s office has reportedly opened an investigation into whether Sen. Carl Marcellino, a Long Island Republican who recently became chair of the Senate Education Committee, improperly billed taxpayers for nearly $20,000 in car expenses.
Aides to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio have huddled for months trying to understand Cuomo, often as they scrambled to address perceived slights. They largely have come to one conclusion: There is very little to be done about him.
“Mayor of the City of New York, frustrated with Albany?” Cuomo said, barely containing his laughter. “Now there’s a shocker.”
The latest flashpoint between the two top Democrats is 421a – the real estate development tax abatement program that expires next month. Cuomo stepped things up a notch by accusing the ultra-progressive mayor of trying to engineer a “giveaway to developers.”
Black church leaders are so furious at some of de Blasio’s policies that they’re actively looking for a candidate to run against him in 2017 — and leading their list is popular Brooklyn Rep. Hakeem Jeffries.
In response to a recent superseding indictment filed against him, former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver reiterated that the alleged corruption schemes that authorities say earned him $4 million were merely standard practice in Albany and well within the law.