Liz Benjamin

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Posts by Liz Benjamin

And Then There Were Two?

In the face of growing opposition to the five-member leadership team idea floated by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver among rank-and-file conference members, Silver loyalists are now floating a scaled-back version of that plan that involves just two of the five, according to a source familiar with the ongoing discussions at the state Capitol.

Under this proposal, the two-man leadership team would feature Assembly Ways and Means Committee Chairman Denny Farrell Jr., of Manhattan; and Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle, of Rochester.

The idea has been pitched to members of the influential Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, and Asian Legislative Caucus, many of whom were unhappy with the original five-person plan, in no small part because it included Assemblyman Carl Heastie, of the Bronx; but not Assemblyman Keith Wright, of Manhattan.

Heastie and Wright have both been mentioned for some time as potential permanent successors to Silver. They also had a falling out in 2012 over the redrawing of the district currently held by veteran Harlem Rep. Charlie Rangel, who says this will be his last two-year term in Washington.

Wright has long been interested in Rangel’s seat, but has declined to challenge his long-time ally even as others mounted (failed) primary campaigns against him. Now that Rangel is planning his retirement, Wright is among those throwing his hat into the ring for 2016, and said during a recent CapTon interview that he is forming an exploratory committee to prepare for a potential run.

Not long after news of Silver’s five-member leadership scheme broke, and Wright’s name was not among those tapped by the speaker to run things in his stead, the Manhattan Democrat put out a lengthy public statement calling for Silver to step aside.

Also jettisoned under the new two-person model would be Queens Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan and Codes Committee Chairman Joe Lentol, of Brooklyn. Lentol, like Farrell, had been viewed as a potential “caretaker” speaker until the conference can agree on a permanent successor for Silver. Nolan, the Education Committee chair, was floated by the 18-member Queens Democratic Party, which ostensibly would be able to deliver most of its members in a bloc, making the borough’s support a potential game-changer for any speaker candidate.

Morelle has been mentioned as a long-shot candidate to permanently replace Silver, but the fact that he is male, white and an upstater – and also is viewed as an ally of Gov. Andrew Cuomo – potentially count against him in the downstate-dominated conference.

Some members of the caucus have expressed more comfort with tapping only Farrell to serve on an interim basis while Silver fights the federal corruption charges lodged against him last week by US Attorney Preet Bharara. Farrell, who turns 83 next week, is not viewed as a long-term speaker candidate, which ostensbily means he wouldn’t get in the way of any of the other potential speaker candidates if and when they manage to put together enough votes to make a play for the position.

This new two-man idea was floated after Cuomo publicly rejected what he called the “management-by-committee” model that would allow Silver to keep his title – and his lulu. While insisting he doesn’t want to meddle in the business of the Assembly, Cuomo also made it clear he believes it’s time for the “distraction” of the speaker’s legal troubles to end, adding: “To the extent that there’s going to be a replacement to run the Assembly, I think that’s a good thing.”

The Democrats are right now behind closed doors with Silver for a conference that was originally supposed to take place at 1:45 p.m. – just before the scheduled 2 p.m. session. One by one, various members have been publicly declaring their desire for a change in leadership – Assemnlyman Brian Kavanagh, a Manhattan Democrat, was scheduled to make an announcement at 5 p.m. that was abruptly cancelled without an explanation.

In short, things are very fluid at the moment, and this meeting could take a while.

Cuomo Pans ‘Management By Committee’

While insisting he doesn’t want to meddle in how the Assembly Democrats run their conference, Gov. Andrew Cuomo today panned the five-member leadership team floated by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver in lieu of completely relinquishing his leadership post following his arrest last week

“The Assembly, the Legislature is a different branch of the government, and the governor runs the executive, so I’m not going to tell them how to run the Assembly,” Cuomo said during a brief Q-and-A with reporters following the first of two briefings he’ll hold today on the storm that is heading toward New York.

“To the extent I have to interact with the Assembly, committees, management by committee, I’ve never been a fan of, and I’ve never seen it work well,” the governor continued. “So, I’d like to see what the actual configuration is that they’ve come up with, when they come up with it. And then I’ll have an opinion.”

“…I’m focused on the functionality of government, and I want to know what the mechanism is that will replace the spaker…the quote, unquote committee. I don’t know what that means. I can’t negotiate with a committee, so I have to see what they actually come up with. From my own selfish point of view, I don’t understand how you negotiate with a commitee, how I negotiate with a committee.”

Cuomo reiterated that this is a “terribly unfortunate situation” – both for Silver, personally, and for the people of New York, since corruption scandals (especially one of this magnitude) only serve to re-enforce negative and cynical views about government.

The governor said his main goal is to keep government functional, and to that end, “the distraction of what’s going on with the speaker” needs to be resolved.

“So, to the extent that there’s going to be a replacement to run the Assembly, I think that’s a good thing. Because from my point of view, my job is to get things done, to get the government working. And the Assembly is an important part of that,” Cuomo said.

“…We have to negotiate a budget. I laid out a State of the State that probably had 70 proposals. How do we reform education? How do we bring broadband to people across the state. How do we do a tax cut. This is all important information, and these are all real-life decisions that make a difference in people’s lives. You’re talking about their health care. You’re talking about their security. So that the government works matters.”

There has been a lot of speculation about Cuomo’s relationship with Silver over the years, and it was breifly speculated when the governor first took office that he might seek to take the speaker out. But in the end, he didn’t make a move against the Manhattan Democrat, perhaps determining that he was simply too entrenched to move against.

Despite what Cuomo says about the governor needing to stay out of a dealings of the legislative branch, it would not be unheard of for a governor to seek to influence the selection of a legislative leader; former Gov. George Pataki helped his preferred Senate majority candidate, Joe Bruno, during the infamous “Thanksgiving coup” during which Bruno unseated Ralph Marino, who had not been a Pataki supporter.

Cuomo is speculated to prefer Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle, of Rochester, to replace Silver. But one of the chief roles of a speaker is to defend his conference against the governor, and to take bullets on the behalf of his members. The failure of last year’s pay raise talks left a bad taste in a lot of members mouths – especially downstaters, who have been pushing hardest for a bump in their base salary of $79,500 – and a number of them are not at all pleased with Cuomo’s assault on the public education system.

Being perceived as too close to Cuomo could hurt a speaker candidate, adding to the existing complication (in this case) of the fact that Morelle is an upstater and the conference is dominated by downstate members, though it is far more diverse, geographically speaking, that it was back when Silver first took control in 1994.

A Defection in the Bronx

Assemblyman Luis Sepúlveda, a Bronx Democrat, has added his name to the slowly growing list of Speaker Sheldon Silver’s conference members publicly calling for him to fully relinquish power in the wake of reports that he will try to retain his leadership title (and its accompanying stipend) while tapping a five-member leadership team to run the chamber while he focuses on his legal defense.

In a statement released by his Assembly office, Sepulveda acknowledged that this is a “difficult time” for Silver and his family, and said Democrats should be “grateful” to the speakaer for his service in his current role since 1994 – a period that saw the institution of universal pre-K for the state, the end of the Rockefeller drug laws, passage of the SAFE Act, passage (in the Assembly only) of the DREAM Act, “and so much more.”

“With a strong belief in the presumption of innocence I believe that Speaker Silver deserves his day in front of a jury before we pass judgment on his alleged actions,” Sepulveda said.

“However, as this body moves into budget negotiations, one of the most important parts of the year, the criminal complaint filed against the speaker has clearly become a distraction and has taken the spotlight away from so many of the important issues we should be debating. Issues like education, criminal justice reform, and infrastructure, among others, have now taken a back seat due to the speaker’s unfortunate situation.”

“The focus of this body right now must be budget negotiations, an area where the Speaker is an instrumental component. In light of these recent issues his position as a negotiator has been greatly compromised. The governor’s proposed budget will have an impact on every New Yorker, and our job as legislators is to ensure that our communities are represented in this budget. Our constituents are our first and most important duty.”

“There comes a time when an institution must come before any individual, and it is for these reasons that I believe that Speaker Silver should step down as speaker and allow for this body to get to work on these issues without being distracted,” the assemblyman continued. “Already since the speaker’s arrest the Assembly was forced to cancel session on a day that we should have been honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”

“It is likely that distractions like this will continue throughout the legislative session period if Speaker Silver remains in his leadership position.”

Sepulveda said he hopes he and his colleagues can elect a “new speaker,” but he did not express a favorite candidate for the post.

Sepulveda is one of the younger members of the Assembly Democratic conference. He was elected in November 2012 to fill the seat left vacant by Peter Rivera when he departed to take a job with the Cuomo administration as labor commissioner – a post from which Rivera has since retired.

Silver’s arrest late last week on federal corruption charges exposed a number of rifts within the Democratic conference – including the gap between the veteran members who have a long history with the speaker and perhaps owe him for favors, assistance and/or protection, and newer members who haven’t had much time to build a long-standing relationship with Silver, though he may have helped elect them through DACC, which he controls.

A number of these newer members are marginals and/or were elected on reform platforms, and their ongoing support of the damaged speaker could come with a political cost when the next elections role around.

Sepulveda is the third Democrat to defect publicly from Silver’s side, following Buffalo’s Mickey Kearns (never a Silver supporter to begin with) and Manhattan’s Keith Wright (who got left out in the cold when five other potential Silver replacements forged the leadership-sharing deal Silver is now floating).

But it’s worth noting that Sepulveda hails from the Bronx, which is home to one of the five members of the leadership team: Assemblyman Carl Heastie, who is also chair of the Bronx Democratic Party.

Part of the reason Silver chose the members he did was to create a delicate balance of would-be successors, such that none of them would be able to put together a coalition to mount an outright coup. There’s a member from each of the four major NYC boroughs – Heastie from the Bronx, Denny Farrell from Manhattan, Cathy Nolan from Queens and Joe Lentol from Brooklyn – (Staten Island is not represented, but it has just two Democratic members, and isn’t home to a potential speaker candidate), and also one upstater (Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle).

Assumedly, each of these leadership team members would be responsible to selling this idea to colleagues in their respective boroughs. Some boroughs – like Brooklyn – are known for their infighting and inability to unify all of its 20 assembly members, while others – like Queens, with 18 Democrats – are known for voting in a bloc on political matters. The fact that Heastie lost a member in the Bronx (one of 11 seats in that borough, including his own) isn’t a deal breaker, but it doesn’t look good, either.

Here and Now

Two main story lines today: The Assembly and the snow.

Politically speaking, all eyes will be on Albany, where Assembly Speaker Silver is scheduled to meet behind closed doors with members of his conference for the first time since his arrest on corruption charges last week.

He’ll try to sell his colleagues – some of whom are skeptical – on his plan to remain as speaker while appointing a five-member leadership team to run things in the chamber while he’s focused on his legal battle.

“This is a top-down approach,” one anonymous Assembly member told the New York Times. “We weren’t consulted, and it’s wrong.”

The full Assembly is scheduled to be in session at 2 p.m.

Meanwhile, down in New York City, residents and officials are bracing for that a storm Mayor Bill de Blasio says is potentially the largest ever to strike the Big Apple. He urged people to stay indoors to avoid powerful winds, low visibility and “treacherous” road conditions.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a statement asking NYC-area commuters to stay home if they can, noting the snow will intensify through the day and could cause the closure of roads and mass transit.

Cuomo is in New York City with no public schedule. He’ll be monitoring the storm.

Also today…

At 8 a.m., NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer discusses his year in office and planned initiatives while speaking to ABNY members as part of the association’s breakfast forum series; Grand Central Ballroom, The Westin New York Grand Central hotel, 212 E. 42nd St., Manhattan.

From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the March of Dimes will host an early birthday celebration for founder Franklin D. Roosevelt, LOB, first floor (near the concourse), Albany.

Family Planning Advocates of NYS is holding its annual Day of Action, start at 11 a.m. in the Well of the LOB, Albany.

At 11:30 p.m., de Blasio holds a press conference to update New Yorkers on the storm, OEM Headquarters
165 Cadman Plaza East, Brooklyn.

At noon, New York Building Congress members hold their annual construction industry luncheon forum and membership meeting, where MTA Chair and CEO Tom Prendergast will promote government funding for the authority’s five-year construction and renovation program; 36th floor, Mandarin Oriental New York hotel, 80 Columbus Circle, Manhattan.

Also at noon, Moral Mondays organizers and participants react to Cuomo’s 2015-16 budget, NYS Capitol, War Room, Albany.

The Senate is in session at 3 p.m.

At 5:30 p.m., three Republican lawmakers – Sen. Richard Funke, Sen. Patrick Gallivan and Assemblyman Jim Tedisco – hold fundraisers in different rooms at the Fort Orange Club, 110 Washington Ave., Albany.

Also at 5:30 p.m., Democratic Assemblyman Michael Benedetto holds a fundraiser at the Albany Room, Empire State Plaza, Albany.

At 6 p.m., Manhattan BP Gale Brewer and civil rights attorney Norman Siegel host one in a planned series of “town hall” meetings to discuss efforts to improve relations between the NYPD and residents, second floor, Alianza Dominicana Triangle Building, 530 W. 166th St., Manhattan.

Also at 6 p.m., Sen. George Latimer (a Democrat) holds a fundraiser at the Albany Pump Station, 19 Quackenbush Sq., Albany.

Also at 6 p.m., Democratic Assemblyman Gary Pretlow holds a fundraiser at the University Club, 110 Washington Ave., Albany.

Headlines…

Most major airlines are allowing customers whose flights are canceled in the next few days due to the storm to book new flights without paying a penalty. Customers ticketed on flights to dozens of Eastern airports are generally eligible for the allowance, though specific terms vary by airline.

Developer Lenoard Litwin, who is in his 101st year and never sought the limelight (other than to contribute large sums of campaign cash to a variety of candidates and committees), is embroiled in the Silver scandal.

Silver could be facing a state probe, too. He has not responded to a state ethics committee inquiry as to why he did not publicly reveal income he received from a small New York City law firm for about a decade on his annual financial disclosure forms as required by law.

More >

Silver to Retain Speaker Title, But Cede Control to 5 Members

Embattled Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has bowed to pressure coming from both from his own members and outside his Democratic conference and agreed to cede control of the chamber while he battles the legal charges against him, a spokesman confirmed.

“The Speaker is not stepping down,” Silver spokesman Michael Whyland insisted in a statement released late yesterday. “He is appointing a group of senior members to undertake various responsibilities such as budget negotiations to ensure a timely spending plan for the state.”

“This will give him the flexibility he needs so that he can defend himself against these charges, and he is confident that he will be found innocent.”

According to the Daily News, which first reported the deal, the five members are: Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle, of Rochester: Ways and Means Committee Chairman Denny Farrell, of Manhattan; Queens Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, who chairs the Education Committee; Brooklyn Assemblyman Joe Lentol, chair of the Codes Committee; and Assemblyman Carl Heastie, who does double duty as chair of the Bronx Democratic Party.

Whyland said Silver will not be relinquishing his title as speaker.

The agreement came at the end of a weekend of furious behind-the-scenes maneuvering in which Silver’s members, many of whom pronounced their continued support of him following his arrest on corruption charges late last week, increasingly questioned his ability to lead in what’s shaping up to be a difficult budget season.

As newspaper editorial boards called for Silver to resign his leadership post, the speaker initially dug in, refusing to do so. He was benefitted by the fact that he has no clear successor and – clearly, given the nature of this deal – no consensus among his membership as to who, if anyone, should replace him.

Each of the five-member leadership team has been mentioned as a potential Silver successor, with Farrell and Lentol – both veteran members and longtime Silver loyalists – floated as so-called “caretakers” who might lead until the conference could agree on a long-term replacement.

Nolan was floated last week by the Queens Democratic Party, which has managed to consolidate power by having almost all of its 18 members hang together to vote in a bloc.

As majority leader, Morelle is technically next in line should Silver step down. He is well-liked inside the conference, but the fact that he hails from upstate and is close to Gov. Andrew Cuomo had been seen as a detriment to observers trying to game out the speakership race in recent days.

Heastie, who ostensibly controls 11 votes as Bronx Democratic chairman, has long been mentioned as a potential Silver successor, along with Assemblyman Keith Wright, chair of the Manhattan Democratic Party.

Both Heastie and Wright are African American, and would make history as the first black leader of a majority legislative conference if they were to rise to the position of speaker. Similarly, Nolan would be the first woman to hold the post.

(In December 2012, Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins became the first black woman ever to hold a legislative leadership at the state Capitol. Former Senate Minority Leader/Gov. David Paterson, who is also black, was the first to break the color barrier when he was the first non-white member elected to head the Democratic conference in the Senate in November 2002).

Wright is the lone member seriously mentioned as a potential Silver successor who was not included in the five-member leadership team.

According to Capital NY, none of the five members who will be taking charge of the chamber have commented on their new roles.

The division of power and responsibilities has not yet been explained, though the NY Post reported that Morelle and Farrell, who, as Ways and Means Committee chair has long headed up budget debates and hearings for the Democrats, will be overseeing budget negotiations.

This power-sharing idea still has to pass muster with the rest of the conference, and there’s been at least one report that rank-and-file members are skeptical the idea will work.

Silver is scheduled to meet with the conference later this morning for the first time since his arrest. A number of downstate members traveled to Albany last night to get ahead of the massive snowstorm that is scheduled to hit New York City and move northward.

The Assembly is expected to go into session in the afternoon, and Democrats have been worried that the Republicans might try to force a procedural vote on Silver, putting members on the record in a way that could be used against them in the next election cycle.

The Weekend That Have Been So Far – Will He Stay or Will He Go Edition

Assembly Democrats and political operators have been burning up the phone lines this weekend about whether Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver can remain in his leadership role after being slapped with corruption charges, and who should replace him if he goes.

The rumor mill is working overtime, and would-be Silver replacements are trying to express their interest to their colleagues without going so far as to actually declare themselves candidates for the job.

But so far, (which means as of mid-afternoon Sunday), there’s no consensus on a successor to Silver, though there appears to be growing agreement that his desire to remain in charge while his case plays out in court is untenable if the chamber is to continue to function in the long term.

Silver is set to return tomorrow to the Capitol for the first time since his arrest late last week. His fate could become clearer when he meets behind closed doors with members of his conference and tries to explain himself.

Some members are keeping their powder dry until hearing from their leader, but many are doubtful there’s much he would be able to say to improve his lot – especially with the freshman lawmakers, who don’t have as much history with Silver, and therefore don’t owe him as much.

Many of these newbies ran on reform platforms, and they’re getting very antsy about their continued support of the scandal-scarred speaker.

The Democrats’ main concern is that they’ll go into session tomorrow afternoon with Silver still in charge, and the Assembly Republicans will “raise hell,” as one member said, trying to embarrass Silver, or worse, seeking to force nervous Democrats to go on the record in support of him – a move that will no doubt spark the wrath of reform-minded editorial boards and constituents, alike.

It’s possible that after an ugly closed-door conference meeting, members will not have reached any conclusions on what to do next and move to cancel tomorrow’s session like they did last week.

They may get a brief respite thanks to some bad weather that’s forecast to hit NYC tomorrow and move north, which could provide them with some cover for a temporary delay.

But the snowstorm won’t last forever, and if there’s one thing the members – and, no doubt, Gov. Andrew Cuomo – agree on, it’s that the session cannot devolve into dysfunction and gridlock.

The first budget hearing is scheduled to take place Tuesday. (It’s local government, which means NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, who defended Silver in the wake of the speaker’s arrest last week, is traditionally expected to be in Albany to testify).

The names of the most mentioned potential Silver successors have been out there for days: Assemblyman Carl Heastie, the Bronx Democratic chairman; Assemblyman Keith Wright, the Manhattan Democratic chair; and Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle, of Rochester.

Each of those has weaknesses and flaws, as well as supporters and detractors who have been making their respective cases to the various members (and reporters) this weekend. None of them yet appears to have sufficient support – or, at the moment, the appetite – to force Silver from the speaker’s chair through a coup.

Also mentioned with various degrees of seriousness: Queens Assemblyman Jeff Aubry, Queens Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan; Manhattan Assemblyman Denny Farrell Jr., Brooklyn Assemblyman Joe Lentol, Staten Island Assemblyman Michael Cusick (ironically, a former aide to US Sen. Chuck Schumer, as is US Attorney Preet Bharara), Manhattan Assemblywoman Deborah Glick and Manhattan Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh.

Lentol and Farrell are both veteran lawmakers and Silver loyalists who are seen as a potential “caretakers” of the speakership until the conference can agree on a permanent replacement for Silver, or – and this is a long-shot, given the amount of time it will likely take – he’s exonerated like other legislative leaders accused of wrongdoing, including former Assembly Speaker Mel Miller, former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno and former Senate Minority Leader Manfred Ohrenstein.

Lentol said he would consider stepping up if necessary, but added: “I hate to think about stepping on somebody’s body who is dying before the body is even cold. It is not respectful to the man who has served as speaker for 20 years.”

Meanwhile, we’re still awaiting word from the governor, who declined last week to join the debate over whether Silver should go, and then promptly fell off the radar.

The DN says Cuomo would have “every cause” to refuse to negotiate with Silver should the Assembly Democrats decide to try to retain the Manhattan lawmaker as speaker.

Meanwhile, we learned that Brian Meara, a veteran lobbyist with longstanding ties to Silver, helped the feds bust the powerful pol in a multimillion-dollar bribery and kickback scheme.

Meara has reportedly been cooperating as a “fact witness” as part of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s investigation. He won’t be prosecuted.

Dr. Robert N. Taub’s obsession with raising money for research on a rare form of cancer helped set off a chain of events that culminated Silver’s arrest.

Taub created one of the nation’s few mesothelioma research hubs, the Columbia University Mesothelioma Center. Since the news of Silver’s arrest, it was announced that Taub is leaving his post and the center is being disbanded.

Silver used the Sept. 11 attacks to justify steering $500,000 in taxpayer dollars to Taub, who was secretly helping him pocket millions in bogus “referral fees,” according to a letter obtained by the Daily News.

Despite his involvement in this scandal, Taub is a giant in his field – respected by his peers, revered by the hundreds of cancer victims who flocked to him in search of a miracle.

The law firm where Silver has long been of counsel, Weitz & Luxenberg, gets its asbestos cases – and paydays – moved more quickly than those of other attorneys, and reaps a fortune from favorable rulings by friendly judges, charge lawyers and tort-reform advocates, the NY Post reports.

Former co-chair of the NYS White Collar Crime Task Force Daniel Alonso reveals how Silver blocked a proposed ban on undisclosed self-dealing, which is exactly what Bharara has accused him of.

The Silver scandal could either be a blessing or a curse for the Democratic governor. A weakened Silver, the longest serving leader at the Capitol, could help Cuomo’s centrist agenda in the liberal-leaning Assembly. Conversely, if Silver were to resign as speaker amid his serious legal troubles, it could send the Assembly into turmoil.

Bob McCarthy: “Assuming Silver’s legal problems and their origin in the investigations started by Cuomo’s Moreland Commission don’t drag him down, Albany is his town now and he knows it.”

Former Assembly Speaker Mel Miller, who was convicted on a federal fraud charge, forced to give up his seat and eventually exonerated, predicted Silver won’t resign, and said he also should not make public statements about details of the case, no matter the media pressure to do so.

In non-Silver news…

US Sen. Charles Schumer is calling on the FAA to install a new runway lighting system at JFK, LaGuardia and Newark airports that he says will help prevent plane collisions.

The president of the NYC Patrolman’s Benevolent Association called for an investigation into a music video released last month called “Hands Up” that depicts violence against the NYPD and features a Bronx legal aid group.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker appeared to be the early winner of high-profile conservative summit in the early-voting state of Iowa this weekend.

Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin told The Washington Post in an interview that she is “seriously interested” in running for the White House in 2016.

While at the Iowa Freedom Summit, Palin ripped director Michael Moore for his criticism of “American Sniper.”

Also in Iowa, Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina dinged Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton, looking to boost her own possible bid for the GOP nomination.

US AG nominee Loretta Lynch issued a behind-the-scenes ultimatum as Brooklyn’s top federal prosecutor in 2000 to then-NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani, demanding he agree to federal oversight for the NYPD by the next day or face a lawsuit.

A group that advocates for parks and trails across New York says it likes what it sees in Cuomo’s budget proposal.

Niagara Falls didn’t get mentioned in Cuomo’s State of the State/budget address.

Extras

Assemblyman Richard Gottfried insists support from his conference for embattled Speaker Sheldon Silver is not only steadfast, but “enthusiastic.” He’d be “astonished” if Silver resigns.

Top Queens Democratic Party officials are calling Assembly members in Queens, Manhattan and Nassau County about the possibility of supporting Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan for speaker if Silver goes.

Six WNY Assembly members – five Republicans and one Democrat – held a press conference calling for Silver’s immediate resignation.

Is US Attorney Preet Bharara trying to set a national standard for lawyer-legislators across the nation with the Silver case? Someone thinks so.

Former CNY Assemblyman Michael Bragman, who mounted a failed coup against Silver in 2000 and paid a high price (his seat, eventually) for it, isn’t bitter and won’t dance on Silver’s grave.

The law firm Weitz & Luxenberg – one of two firms that played a role in Silver’s alleged corruption schemes – has contributed a lot of money to political campaigns at the state and federal levels.

Bill Hammond: “What sets the stunning charges against (Silver) apart from other Albany scandals is the breathtaking cynicism and hypocrisy of his alleged schemes.

Yikes!

A day after he defended Silver, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio admitted the speaker’s arrest will be a “distraction” in Albany, and “change the nature of this session.”

Hillary Clinton did not have 65 Secret Service agents protecting her in Canada on Wednesday, despite a report from a Canadian radio station to the contrary.

Clinton will be the keynote speaker at a political journalism award ceremony in March as the likely presidential candidate, who has had a sometimes-rocky relationship with the press, heads toward another campaign.

The 2016 Democratic National Convention will be held the week of July 25. A host city has yet to be selected.

SBA President Ed Mullins met privately with de Blasio recently and the two have made progress toward ending their bitter public dispute.

SUNY chancellor Nancy Zimpher wants to put a system-appointed college adviser in every New York school district, she announced during her State of the University address.

Former NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg tried to buy the New York Times toward the end of his tenure at City Hall – an idea pushed by his longtime political advisor Kevon Sheekey.

…the paper insists it’s not for sale.

Bloomberg is scheduled to speak at the Aspen Institute on Feb. 6.

Gambling parlors on Long Island could include not only video slot machines but electronic poker and blackjack, under a provision tucked into Cuomo’s proposed budget.

Orange County GOP is hosting a “sweethearts brunch” fundraiser with special guest Rep. Chris Gibson on Feb. 8.

Cuomo wants to expand the unsuccessful public campaign finance pilot program launched for the 2014 elections, but declined to speak to the one candidate who particiated in it.

Southold Union Free School District Superintendent David Gamberg called Cuomo’s focus on standardized tests in his education reform plans “almost reprehensible.”

WNY lawmakers are trying to persuade the Cuomo administration to reject a casino in the Finger Lakes that they say jeopardizes the financial health of existing gambling facilities in the region.

New York Times theater reporter Patrick Healy is switching beats, and will become a national political correspondent focusing on the 2016 presidential race.

Here and Now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is in New York City with no public schedule. Members of his cabinet are traveling the state to spread the gospel about his 2015 Opportunity Agenda. Their respective itineraries appear at the end of this post.

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio is in Washington, D.C.

At 8:15 a.m., U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, introduced by New York Law School Dean Anthony W. Crowell, speaks during an event organized by the school’s Center for New York City Law as part of the center’s “CityLaw Breakfast Series”; event center, second floor, 185 W. Broadway, Manhattan.

At 10 a.m., Port Authority representatives open seven public hearings about proposed changes in freight transportation across the Hudson River and New York Harbor, open to public comment from Thursday, Nov. 13, through Friday, Feb. 27; faculty lounge and room H750, CUNY’s Baruch College, 151 E. 25th St., Manhattan.

Also at 10 a.m., SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher delivers her annual “State of SUNY” address Swyer Theater, The Egg, Albany.

At 10:15 a.m., de Blasio speaks at the US Conference of Mayors Plenary Panel, Capital Hilton Hotel – Presidential Ballroom, 1001 16th St. Northwest, Washington.

At 10:30 a.m., WNY Republican members of the Assembly hold a press conference denouncing Silver’s actions and detailing how his continued leadership in the Assembly will negatively impact New Yorkers, Mahoney State Office Building, 65 Court St., Hearing Room 4, Buffalo.

At 10:45 a.m., de Blasio hosts a press conference on immigration reform, 2nd Floor Foyer outside the Presidential Ballroom, 1001 16th St. Northwest, Washington.

At 11 a.m., during a joint hearing, members of the NYC Council’s Committee on Education and Committee on Health receive testimony about a legislative proposal intended to improve detection of concussions during scholastic football games and practices, and a legislative proposal that would establish a Youth Sports Health and Safety Task Force; Council Chambers, City Hall, Manhattan.

At 12:30 p.m., IDC Leader Jeff Klein, Assemblyman Michael Benedetto, NYC Councilman Jimmy Vacca and others hold a press conference to call on the NYC Department of Homeless Services to ban level two and three sex offenders from temporary emergency housing and homeless shelters used to house families with children, across from the Crystal Family Residence, 555 Hutchinson River Parkway, the Bronx.

At 1 p.m., LG Kathy Hochul attends the North Country Regional Economic Development Council meeting, High Peaks Resort, 2384 Saranac Ave., Lake Placid.

Also at 1 p.m., former Green Party gubernatorial candidate Howie Hawkins holds a press conference to respond to Cuomo’s budget and Silver’s arrest, LCA press room, LOB, Albany.

At 4:45 p.m., de Blasio attends President Obama’s remarks to the US Conference of Mayors, East Room, The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington.

Headlines…

U.S. attorney Preet Bharara, after tarring Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver as the epitome of Albany corruption, delivered a warning to the politician’s colleagues: “Stay tuned.” And if Bharara can claim the speaker’s scalp, he’ll be seen as a conquering hero in some circles.

For years, Silver has earned a lucrative income outside government, asserting that he was a simple personal injury lawyer who represented ordinary people. But federal prosecutors said his purported law practice was a fiction, one he created to mask about $4 million in payoffs that he carefully and stealthily engineered for over a decade.

Silver’s arrest is expected to throw Albany’s power structure into chaos, though he apparently intends – and his members (for the moment) agree – to remain speaker while he awaits trail.

Silver funneled $500,000 in state slush funds to a leading Manhattan oncologist in exchange for a steady stream of asbestos-related cancer cases, which he then fed to a personal-injury law firm that paid him more than $3 million in fees for the referrals, the feds charge.

After he was released on a $200,000 bond, Silver said he is confident he will be “vindicated,” but that could take some time.

Stunned Assembly Democrats must now decide which is the lesser of two evils: sticking with a politically damaged speaker or turning over upcoming budget talks to a rookie. The Assembly since 1973 has had three speakers serve while under indictment, including Mel Miller, who managed to negotiate a budget deal with then Gov. Mario Cuomo, the current governor’s father.

“There’s a rule. If you can’t kill the king, you don’t shoot at him. If you want to do a revolution and shoot the king, you better kill him,” said Miller, who was convicted on corruption charges in 1991. The conviction was later overturned. “Why shouldn’t he stay as speaker? He hasn’t been convicted.”

Only two members of the 106 in Silver’s Democratic majority – Assemblymen Michael P. Kearns of South Buffalo and Charles Barron of Brooklyn – have suggested that the speaker should resign.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the arrest of Silver “a bad reflection on government” but would not say if he believes the embattled pol should resign his leadership post.

In a surprising show of support, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio said Silver – his close ally in Albany – has always seemed like a “man of integrity” and insisted it was too early for his ouster, though he did acknowledge the charges against the speaker are “serious.”

Joe Lhota, the Republican candidate who lost to de Blasio in 2013, slammed the mayor for his support of Silver. “I think the mayor’s being a hypocrite,” Lhota said. “He called upon (former) Gov. (David) Paterson to step down over a baseball ticket scandal and interference in an aide’s domestic violence case.”

The speaker could be facing 100 years in prison on political corruption charges of conspiracy and bribery. Should he give up his leadership post, and if so, who should replace him? A poll.

Cuomo’s decision to pull the plug on his corruption-fighting Moreland Commission panel will have repercussions far beyond Silver, insiders said.

Assemblywoman Addie Russell, of Jefferson County, suggested Silver’s arrest could be politically motivated, saying the U.S. Attorney’s office may be “targeting elected officials in a way to try to make some changes in the Legislature.

More >

Extras

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s arrest is a “bad reflection on government,” but declined to say whether he should resign his leadership post.

Silver’s arrest no doubt has some members scared; it opens the question of whether he’ll turn on some of them in return for leniency.

The Doctor-1 described in the criminal complaint against Silver appears to be Dr. Robert Taub of Columbia University; he’s not charged with any wrongdoing.

Developer-1, who also appears in the complaint, appears to be developer – and megadonor – Leonard Litwin. He hasn’t been charged with anything, either.

…for the record, it is a complaint, and not yet an indictment.

The NYT editorial page joined the growing call for Silver to step down, and says his case should “silence” any talk of a legislative pay raise.

Here’s a sketch of Silver (hatless) in the courtroom where he pleaded “not guilty” to all five charges brought against him.

Former Gov. David Paterson defended Silver, saying: “People earn money all the time and don’t do any work.”

Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin suggests a GOP-Democratic coalition could elect Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle speaker.

Silver had to surrender his passport, which means any international trade missions Cuomo might have invited him on are now impossible.

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio said Silver is a “man of integrity” and has a right to due process.

Silver’s legal troubles could complicate things further for de Blasio in Albany.

Silver’s campaign committee currently has a balance of just over $3.3 million. If you want to know who gave him that cash, search here.

The list of New York politicians who got caught behaving badly is growing ever longer.

For the second time in two years, Rep. Richard Hanna stood alone today as the only House Republican in the nation to vote against his party’s bill that would broaden restrictions on abortion.

Former Gov. George Pataki has formed a Super PAC as he eyes a potential presidential run in 2016, and is heading back to New Hampshire.

The MTA approved a round of price hike that will affect subway riders and drivers who use the agency’s bridges and tunnels starting in March.

Major donors are ready to announce huge financial commitments to Hillary Clinton as soon as she announces a second run for the White House.

The Journal News says Cuomo is “obsessed” with teacher evaluations, which is the “wrong focus” for fixing the public education system.

Former NYC Mayor Bloomberg is launching an initiative to help states meet the targets set by the Obama administration to cut carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants

 

The Moreland Connection

Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb today questioned whether there was “some connection” between the governor’s decision to shutter his corruption-busting Moreland Commission and the fact that the body might have uncovered wrongdoing by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who was indicted earlier today on corruption charges.

Kolb said Gov. Andrew Cuomo “should make a statment” about the Silver mess and whether the Manhattan Democrat should continue on as speaker. Kolb and a number of his fellow Republicans are calling for Silver to relinquish his leadership post, arguing that it would be too much of a distraction from important legislative business for someone so damaged to continue to lead the chamber.

“He has said in the past it’s up to the members, the Assembly Democrats, the internal process, but Governor Cuomo is the leader of the party,” Kolb said. “And it goes back to why was the Moreland Commission cancelled? Is there some connection? Was this percolating back then? Those are a lot of questions I think the governor has to answer.”

According to the criminal complaint against Silver, a grand jury started probing his outside business interests in June 2013. Cuomo convened the Moreland Commission in July 2013, and it released its preliminary report in December of that year. Cuomo disbanded the commission in March after striking an ethics reform deal with legislative leaders.

Us Attorney Preet Bharara’s office picked up where the Moreland Commission left off, and Bharara was quite critical of the governor for shutting the panel down before its work was complete. He also reportedly has been looking into whether Cuomo meddled with the commission, as was widely reported, and tried to micromanage it and steer its attention toward the Legislature and away from anything to do with his own fundraising or influence.

Cuomo, meanwhile, argued he couldn’t possibly have broken any rules by interfering with the commission because he created it in the first place.

Kolb isn’t the only one to be invoking Moreland following this morning’s bombshell about Silver’s arrest. Common Cause Executive Director Susan Lerner, issued the following statement:

“The arrest of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver by federal authorities for undisclosed income further reveals the crucial role the Moreland Commission played in bringing corruption in New York State government to light. This sad development underscores, yet again, the sorry state of ethics enforcement in New York.”

“These circumstances make it particularly egregious that the statutorily mandated Review Commission which was supposed to have been appointed by the Governor and legislative leaders to review and evaluate the performance of the Joint Commission on Public Ethics and the Legislative Ethics Commission was never named”

“Common Cause/NY supports requiring New York’s Legislature to work full-time for New Yorkers along with strict limits on outside income. In the meantime, New York State needs stricter disclosure laws requiring elected officials to fully open their books to public scrutiny and a wholesale overhaul of ethics laws and enforcement. New Yorkers deserve a Legislature that does not function under a persistent and permanent ethical cloud. Common Cause/New York urges the U.S. Attorney and Speaker Silver to do everything possible to facilitate an early trial to resolve these troubling charges.

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