Liz Benjamin

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Posts by Liz Benjamin

Negotiations Underway on Pension Forfeiture

From the Morning Memo:

The Senate and Assembly are negotiating new language on a constitutional amendment that would cause public officials convicted of wrongdoing to lose their public pensions – an issue that was supposed to be settled during last year’s session, but got derailed due to labor opposition.

“We’re working with Assemblyman (David) Buchwald right now to get a same-as bill so that both houses have the same kind of bill,” said Senate Ethics Committee Chairman Tom Croci during a CapTon interview last night.

“It’s a constitutional amendment that goes far deeper than what has currently been proposed at taking away pensions.”

As you’ll recall, there was supposedly a deal on this last year, but it was passed by the Senate and not the Assembly, which held off due to reservations expressed by unions that the language was too broad. The worry was that rank-and-file public employees, and not just bad-acting elected officials, who were supposed to be the target of this effort, would be impacted.

Despite numerous assertions that the Assembly would be revisiting the issue, it so far has not. Speaker Carl Heastie just yesterday said he’s seeking “clarity” about the amendment’s reach.

Reform advocates were heartened by the fact that the governor included pension forfeiture in his budget proposal, but lawmakers clearly would like to get something done outside the context of the budget.

Asked how far into the public employee ranks the amendment should reach. Croci said he likes the “federal model” in which anyone who is a position of shaping public policy and/or is a “leader” in a position of public trust is held accountable.

“Those are the kinds of things that we’re trying to sort out right now,” Croci said. “To make sure that we’re going after individuals, whether it’s in the governors branch of government, the executive branch, in the Assembly or in the Senate or in the legislative staff that are considered public officers…we’re having that conversation right now with (Buchwald’s) office.”

Here and Now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is in Albany with no public schedule.

At 8 a.m., NYLCVEF, Enterprise Community Partners and NYU’s Wagner School host a policy forum on greening affordable housing in New York City, The Puck Building, 295 Lafayette St., 2nd Floor, Manhattan.

At 8:15 a.m., the Riders Alliance launches an “Apology Tour” with a cardboard cutout Cuomo saying he’s “sorry” for not funding the MTA’s capital plan in his budget proposal, Grand Central Terminal, Manhattan.

At 9 a.m., Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and Dinner Lab announce the grand opening of Brooklyn FoodWorks, a shared kitchen and culinary incubator in Central Brooklyn, 630 Flushing Ave., Brooklyn.

At 9:30 a.m., legislators will hold the 9th of 13 hearings on Cuomo’s budget proposal, focusing on mental hygiene, Hearing Room B, LOB, Albany.

At 10 a.m., state Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon outlines CUomo’s 2016 State of the State agenda, Sheldon Hall, SUNY Oswego, 7060 Route 104, Oswego.

Also at 10 a.m., NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio holds a press conference, Manhattan 1/2/5 Sanitation Garage, 353 Spring St., 5th Floor (at intersection of West Street), Manhattan.

Also at 10 a.m., the Legislature will begin interviews of state Board of Regents candidates, Assembly Parlor, 3rd Floor, state Capitol, Albany.

Also at 10 a.m., Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson and NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton announce the results of a major long-term investigation, DA’s office, 350 Jay St., 19th Floor, Brooklyn.

Also at 10 a.m., the NYC Planning Commission will vote on Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and Zoning for Quality and Affordability, 22 Reade St., Manhattan.

At 10:15 a.m., LG Kathy Hochul outlines Cuomo’s 2016 State of the State agenda, Fordham University, Tognino Hall, 441 E. Fordham Rd., the Bronx.

At 11 a.m., Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz issues a report on platform development opportunities over railyards in the Bronx, Lehman College, 250 Bedford Park Blvd.

Also at 11 a.m., former NYC Mayor David Dinkins rehearses his narrative role in a special performance of Lincoln Portrait at Carnegie Hall next week in collaboration with renowned pianist Jiaxin Tian and the Manhattan Symphonie, DiMenna Center for Classical Music, 450 W. 37th St., Manhattan.

At 11:45 a.m., Deputy Secretary for Legislative Affairs Mark Weprin outlines Cuomo’s 2016 State of the State agenda, Bay Ridge Senior Center, 6935 4th Ave., Brooklyn.

At noon, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign will hold a news conference with supporters to announce the 80,000 signatures gathered to appear on the ballot in NYC, City Hall Park, Manhattan. (Sens. Bill Perkins and James Sanders, Jr., former Sen. Tom Duane, WFP State Director Bill Lipton and others are expected to attend).

At 12:30 p.m., Reardon delivers her second State of the State outline of the day, this time at Gigi’s Italian Kitchen, 2256 Hudson Ave., Rochester.

At 1 p.m., legislators hold their 10th of 13 joint budget hearings on the workforce development portion of Cuomo’s spending proposal, Hearing Room B, LOB, Albany.

Also at 1 p.m., de Blasio holds a press conference, 1 Police Plaza, 2nd Floor, Manhattan.

At 3 p.m., Hochul outlines Cuomo’s 2016 State of the State agenda, Yeshiva University, 215 Lexington Ave., Manhattan.

At 6 p.m., Hochul delivers remarks to the Adirondack Council, The Cornell Club, 6 East 44th St., Manhattan. (Closed press).

At 7 p.m., Deputy Secretary of State for Local Government Dede Scozzafava outlines Cuomo’s 2016 State of the State agenda, Mullin’s Family Restaurant, 1180 US-11, Gouverneur.

Headlines…

A battle over housing policy is quietly rekindling the feud between New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The Cuomo administration wants to add oversight to the city’s affordable-housing bonds, a measure the city fears will slow development and cause uncertainty among developers—and imperil the top item on the mayor’s agenda.

The New York Times: “Cuomo, who should be using his power to make New York City more hospitable to working-class and middle-class families, has instead slipped a little poison into his executive budget that could cripple the city’s ambitious efforts to build affordable housing…It’s not a stretch to call this sabotage (of de Blasio’s agenda).”

Cuomo on Wednesday will name Rossana Rosado, the former editor and publisher of El Diario-La Prensa, as New York’s next secretary of state. Rosado, 54, will replace retiring Cesar Perales, who has held that post for the past five years and is considered the most influential Hispanic official in the governor’s cabinet.

While de Blasio was in Iowa stumping for Hillary Clinton, opposition to his plan to shrink the horse-carriage trade and restrict it to Central Park has grown, prompting the mayor and his surrogates to do some last-minute vote wrangling to counter the growing number of antagonists.

“The Sopranos” actress Edie Falco, a backer of NYCLASS, sent robocalls to pols urging them to sign off on the deal to cut the number of horses to 75 and keep them in a stable inside Central Park, as did actresses Debi Mazar and Kathy Najimy. Hip hop mogul Russell Simmons was also personally calling members, according to NYCLASS. And X-files star Gillian Anderson is sending them e-mails.

Staten Island’s Groundhog Day celebration, held for 35 years, may have been the highest-profile appearance for Kathy Hochul in her yearlong tenure as lieutenant governor. She called the event an “honor,” but was feeling the pressure, saying: “It’s like being in the Super Bowl. You got to get it right.” (She did).

Sen. Michael Nozzolio, 64, who has represented the Finger Lakes region for more than 30 years, announced he will not seek re-election in the fall, citing a heart problem.

Nozzolio’s departure causes another headache for the Senate GOP as it seeks to retain the majority this fall. He was unopposed in four of his last six Senate campaigns, and with $209,986 in his campaign accounts as of mid-January,he likely would have been difficult to unseat in 2016.

Ontario County Republican Committee Chairman Doug Finch said there are three state Assembly members from that region who would be good GOP candidates to run for Nozzolio’s seat: Minority Leader Brian Kolb, Assemblyman Robert Oaks, and Assemblyman Gary Finch.

Many New Yorkers who earn more than a million dollars a year would see a tax increase under the terms of a proposal introduced by Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. (The idea was immediately shot down by the Senate Republicans).

A new Siena poll found voters overwhelmingly support a number of Cuomo’s priorities for 2016, but still hold mixed views about the governor himself.

Motorists at all 85,000 metered parking spots in the city will be able to pay the meter from their smartphone by the end of this year, de Blasio plans to announce in his State of the City address.

De Blasio denied he was micromanaging his image last year when his lawyers issued a sweeping mandate to review all public records requests that could “reflect directly on the mayor.” But the first batch of more than 50 requests forwarded to City Hall, and obtained by the AP, reveal many in which the “sensitivity or controversy” for the mayor’s office is tenuous at best. Some are downright innocuous.

More >

Extras

LG Kathy Hochul presided over Groundhog Day at the Staten Island Zoo and lived to tell about it – as did the groundhog.

Lawmakers will start interviewing candidates for the state Board of Regents tomorrow. There are two open seats – the at-large position being left by chancellor Merryl Tisch and the seat held by vice chancellor Tony Bottar, who represents the 5th Judicial District, which includes the Mohawk Valley.

Sen. Mike Nozzolio, who is retiring due to health concerns, was expected to face a GOP primary after he angered some constituents last year for voting for Long Island Sen. John Flanagan as Senate majority leader instead of Syracuse Sen. John DeFrancisco – a move critics said was a slight to upstate.

The state plans to spend $200 million to build a high-tech drug-manufacturing center in Dunkirk for a Buffalo biotech firm that would create hundreds of jobs.

A Long Island builders’ group is criticizing the lack of details in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s splashy plans for New York’s infrastructure and accusing Island lawmakers of abandoning the issue so far in the 2016 legislative session.

The Sullivan County Board of Elections will appoint a monitor to review challenges to voter registrations to settle a lawsuit filed by Hasidic Jewish residents in what legal experts call an unprecedented agreement in New York state.

WNY Republican and Democratic lawmakers are joining together to push Cuomo to provide “true parity” in funding between upstate roads and bridges and the downstate Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Former NYC Assemblyman Robert Jackson is running again for the state Senate seat currently held by Adriano Espaillat, who is running for the House seat being vacated by Rep. Charlie Rangel.

The families of Continental Flight 3407 joined with senators, congressmen and one of the nation’s most prominent pilots today to launch the first strike in what they expect will be a battle to preserve key aviation safety improvements won after Clarence crash that claimed 50 lives.

As Jon Kaiman prepares to run his final meeting tomorrow as chairman of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority before stepping down to run for Congress, speculation about his potential replacement is beginning. One name that has surfaced is that of former two-term County Comptroller Howard Weitzman.

George Marlin points out some potential problems with Kaiman’s political fundraising.

Julie Menin, NYC Consumer Affairs commissioner for the past two years, has been named commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment.

Former LG Bob Duffy channels his inner Eddie Money for a good cause.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ near win in Iowa puts NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Hillary Clinton supporter who once yearned to be the face of the national progressive movement, on the wrong side of its groundswell.

About 1 million, or half of the state’s property tax rebate checks have gone out and the other half should be sent out by the end of February, state Tax Commissioner Jerry Boone told lawmakers at a budget hearing.

The products in Syracuse’s newest medical pot dispensary at 2140 Erie Boulevard East sound like cappuccino flavors: “Dolce,” “Forte” and “Balance.”

Two state Assembly members from Syracuse – Bill Magnarelli and Pam Hunter – today endorsed Colleen Deacon over her two Democratic rivals in the race for the party’s designation for the NY-24 seat.

Former NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg is giving a lecture to the 1-percenters at the private Bahamas resort Lyford Cay on Feb. 13.

Extras

Iowa, in a nutshell.

While we await tonight’s results, here are some non-caucus related headlines for your reading enjoyment:

The World Health Organization has declared a global emergency over the rapidly spreading Zika virus, which has been linked to birth defects in the Americas, saying it is an “extraordinary event” that poses a threat to the rest of the world.

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano has introduced a bill preventing air and cruise lines from denying refunds to pregnant passengers and their companions traveling to areas where the mosquito-borne Zika virus is transmitted.

With growing concern about people, including pregnant women, who may have traveled overseas and been exposed to Zika virus, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is deploying the state’s Wadsworth Center labs to run tests for people who may have exposed to the mosquito-borne illness.

After what he deemed a “disastrous” hearing on the subject, New York City Councilman David Greenfield called for the delay of a vote on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s horse carriage ban, which is scheduled for Friday.

Developers of the planned Lago resort and casino in Tyre, Seneca County have beat back another legal challenge, with a county Supreme Court judge upholding the local town board’s findings that the project wouldn’t have undue adverse impacts on the area.

Uber drivers in New York City called today for a strike to protest the company’s decision to cut fares by 15 percent, as drivers rallied at the ride-sharing app’s New York headquarters.

SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher was surprised by criticism from Cuomo’s office that top SUNY administrators and professors are earning more than their peers in other states.

Watch out, LG Kathy Hochul! Groundhog Day can be dangerous!

Syracuse lawyer Steve Williams, who jump-started his campaign with $52,000 of his own money, has an early fundraising advantage over two other Democrats seeking the party’s designation to take on GOP Rep. John Katko in the November election.

An Erie County task force to combat opioid misuse got to work today as the prescription painkiller epidemic worsens there and across the nation.

A week after top Ultimate Fighting Championship officials and a former middleweight champion came through the Capitol, the state Senate passed for a seventh consecutive year on legislation that would legalize and regulate professional mixed martial arts fights.

Cuomo announced a series of outreach events across the state to encourage minority and women owned-businesses to take advantage of billions in state contracting opportunities for the LaGuardia Redevelopment Project.

New York City Public Advocate Letitia James is suing the Department of Education, accusing it of failing to provide services to students with special needs as a result of a flawed data tracking system.

Thomas A. Farley, the pediatrician who led New York City’s health department through major campaigns against tobacco and sugary soda, was named to head Philadelphia’s Department of Public Health.

The Shinnecock Indian Nation has lost an appeal in its 10-year legal battle to reclaim thousands of acres in the Hamptons.

One of the 100 most romantic restaurants in America is in Albany.

NY-19: Teachout’s Dem Competition

From the Morning Memo:

Though some NY-19 Democratic leaders have already coalesced behind Fordham Law School Prof. Zephyr Teachout’s congressional candidacy – and were urging her to run before she even officially announced her campaign – her road to the nomination isn’t entirely clear.

This past weekend, Livingston Deputy Town Supervisor Will Yandik announced his campaign for the seat Republican Rep. Chris Gibson will be giving up at the end of this year, and he was endorsed by the Columbia County Democratic Committee.

“I am running for Congress because this is my home,” Yandik said in a statement. “I love these communities and our way of life, but the dysfunction in Washington is making it harder for families in upstate New York to get ahead. We need a member of Congress who understands our communities and will focus on getting results for this district.”

Though he doesn’t come right out and say it here, Yandik, who was born and raised working his family’s farm in Columbia County, is clearly positioning himself as the non-carpetbagging Democrat in this race.

Teachout, who has been renting in the district since March, has been playing up her rural Vermont roots, and insisting the fact that she only recently became an upstate resident won’t matter all that much to NY-19 voters.

According to Yandik’s press release, he left home to attend Princeton and Brown universities and also worked on environmental policy (no additional details are given, but his website says he worked at the Environmental Defense Fund) before returning home in 2009 to manage his family’s Green Acres Farm, which grows sustainable fruits and vegetables and runs a popular roadside stand and bakery.

Yandik is the first Democrat ever to hold the deputy supervisor’s post in his town. He says he has “great respect” for Teachout’s “passion for reform,” and shares her views on many issues, but adds: “I’m running for Congress because I was raised to step up and help my neighbors when they’re in need, and this is an opportunity to do just that.”

The candidate’s release also states that if there is a Democratic primary for the NY-19 nod, and if he is successful, he would face off in the general election against either “Long Island native and lobbyist John Faso, or New York City business owner Andrew Heaney” on the GOP line.

This is the first time I can recall anyone trying to paint Faso, who has lived in Kinderhook for years, as a non-upstater.

He served in the Assembly from 1988 to 2002, held landed the minority leader post in 1998, but gave up his legislative seat to run a close race for state comptroller, losing to Democrat Alan Hevesi. Faso also ran for governor in 2006, losing to then-AG Eliot Spitzer.

Here and Now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is in Albany with no public schedule. The Legislature is in session. The first votes in the 2016 presidential primaries will be cast when Iowa voters caucus tonight.

The state Conservative Party’s annual political action conference continues at the Holiday Inn at the Radisson Hotel, Colonie.

The New York State Association of Counties kicks off a three-day legislative conference at The Desmond Hotel, Colonie.

At 8:30 a.m., LIRR President Pat Nowakowski outlines Cuomo’s 2016 State of the State agenda, Long Island Association Headquarters, Lower Level, 300 Broadhollow Rd., Melville.

At 9:30 a.m., Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino addresses Conservative Party political action conference attendees, Radisson Hotel, 205 Wolf Rd., Colonie.

At 10 a.m., the New York Board of Rabbis, Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees and the New York City Clergy Round Table hold an interfaith forum for religious leaders to discuss the Syrian refugee crisis, Marble Collegiate Church, Fifth Avenue at 29th Streeet, Manhattan.

Also at 10 a.m., U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer will be in Buffalo for an announcement.

Also at 10 a.m., Senate Finance Committee Chair Cathy Young and Assembly Ways and Means Committee Chair Denny Farrell will hold the sixth joint legislative budget hearing, focused on the housing portion of Cuomo’s spending plan, Hearing Room B, LOB, Albany.

At 11:30 a.m., state Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey outlines Cuomo’s 2016 State of the State agenda, 49 Main St., Sayville.

At noon, Upstate Revitalization Initiative Director Rich Tobe outlines Cuomo’s 2016 State of the State agenda, Livingston County Chamber of Commerce, 4635 Millennium Dr., Geneseo.

Also at noon, faith leaders and low-wage workers will gather at the state Capitol for a Moral Monday press conference and vigil to call on lawmakers to end the culture of on- and off-the-books corruption that characterizes the policy-making process in Albany, War Room, 3rd Floor.

Also at noon, Monroe County Republican Committee Chairman Bill Reilich will be announcing judicial candidates for the 2016 election, party HQ, 460 State St., Rochester.

At 1 p.m., Federal Reserve Board Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer discusses recent developments in the U.S. economy and the Fed’s monetary policy in New York as part of the Council on Foreign Relations C. Peter McColough Roundtable Series on International Economics, 58 E 68th St., Manhattan.

Also at 1 p.m., Schumer keynotes NYSAC’s opening luncheon, King Street Ballroom, Desmond Hotel, Colonie.

At 1:30 p.m., Harvey delivers her second outline of Cuomo’s 2016 State of the State agenda of the day, this time at the Farmingdale Campus Center Ball Room, 2350 Broadhollow Rd., Farmingdale.

At 3 p.m., LG Kathy Hochul presides over the state Senate session, Senate chamber, 3rd Floor, state Capitol, Albany.

Also at 3 p.m., Empire State Development Wester New York Regional President Sam Hoyt outlines Cuomo’s 2016 State of the State agenda, Cheektowaga Senior Center, 3349 Broadway, Cheektowaga.

At 5:30 p.m., Hochul delivers remarks at a legislators’ reception for the Consulate General of Canada in New York, Renaissance Albany Hotel, 144 State St., Albany.

At 6 p.m., Hochul opens the State Association of Counties Taste of New York Reception, The Desmond, 660 Albany Shaker Rd., Colonie.

Headlines…

Tonight’s Iowa caucuses will take place in school cafeterias and union halls and libraries across the state, and the very weirdness of the process promises to make it difficult to predict the results in any political year, much less such a decidedly weird year as this one.

The political pundits say Jeb Bush doesn’t have much chance in the Iowa caucuses, but the former Florida governor is doing pretty well raising money in Western New York. So is one of his Republican rivals, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

For all the complaints from Democrats about the amount of big money in politics, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have raised a staggering amount of cash. Clinton’s campaign raised $112 million in 2015, and top Democratic billionaire donor George Soros recently gave $6 million to her super PAC. Sanders, meanwhile, raised more than $20 million in January.

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio has taken pains to maintain a low profile while stumping for Clinton in Iowa. He kept his aides, the news media and even his security detail at a distance, often knocking on doors in the company of only his wife, Chirlane McCray.

The Clinton campaign accepted de Blasio’s offer to do basic door-to-door work in Iowa, even after initially rebuffing him, and said he could perhaps act as a surrogate for her in New Hampshire before that state’s primaries.

De Blasio denied the suspicion that NYC Council support for his horse carriage proposal is somehow intertwined with a plan to raise lawmakers’ wages.

Dave Catalfamo, a former top aide to the state’s last Republican governor, says the party’s mainstream needs to forcefully fight back against “the Donald Trumps of the world” who are leading the state GOP into irrelevancy.

Key New York Democrats, longtime supporters of Clinton, have begun rooting for both Sanders and GOP frontrunner Donald Trump in the upcoming April 19 primaries — in hopes that the national races will help them take control of the state Senate.

Long Island Assemblyman Todd Kaminsky, a former federal prosecutor, officially announced his campaign for former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos’ seat, and was immediately endorsed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (via press release).

Long Island Assemblywoman Earlene Hooper again led the per diem/travel reimbursement list, receiving $26,810 in 2015 – more even than Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

The money chase is heating up in two Long Island congressional districts with competitive primary races, both among two Democrats vying to face Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin as well as the five Democrats and four Republicans seeking to replace retiring Democratic Rep. Steve Israel.

More >

The Weekend That Was

With just one day to go before the critical Iowa Caucuses, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders suggested that his primary rival, Hillary Clinton, would hurt Democrats’ chances of retaking the House if she’s the nominee.

In her brief appearance on ABC’s “This Week” today, Clinton found herself defending her use of a private email server while serving as secretary of state and reinforcing that she did not knowingly send or receive classified emails.

Sanders, who is locked in a statistical dead heat with Clinton in Iowa, predicted victory for his campaign in the critical early-voting state.

The New York Times endorsed Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, saying Sanders “does not have the breadth of experience or policy ideas” that she offers. As for the third candidate, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, the paper says he ” personable and reasonable liberal who seems more suited for the jobs he has already had.”

The Gray Lady also backed Gov. John Kasich of Ohio to land the GOP nod, while admitting he is a “distinct underdog, calling him “the only plausible choice for Republicans tired of the extremism and inexperience on display in this race.”

Sanders challenged Clinton to debate in Brooklyn, where he grew up and where she maintains her campaign HQ.

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio insisted his trip to Iowa to stump for Clinton was worthwhile, even though most Hawkeye State residents have no idea who he is.

The mayor had no scheduled appearances in public with Clinton during his four-day stay in Iowa, setting off speculation here about the state of his relationship with the former secretary of state. He brushed that off, saying that right now she is “speaking for herself.”

De Blasio said Clinton declined his initial offer to campaign for her in Iowa. The mayor and the presidential candidate’s campaign discussed sending him to New Hampshire instead, but he ultimately prevailed, saying he would prefer to go to the Hawkeye State.

A former staffer for Donald Trump fired earlier this month has filed a complaint in Iowa against the mogul’s 2016 campaign, accusing it of sex discrimination.

Trump said he would “strongly consider” appointing U.S. Supreme Court justices as president to overturn same-sex marriage.

A poll by his own news service indicates that Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire businessman and former New York City mayor who reportedly is considering a run for the White House, isn’t very well known by Iowans and isn’t well liked by those who have heard of him.

Bloomberg advisor/pollster Doug Schoen continues to insist the former mayor can win – if he runs – because ” Americans are desperate for a President who can bring our country together, solve our problems on a nonpartisan basis, get the economy working again and provide global leadership that keeps us safe.”

Former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he would consider backing Bloomberg for president if the Republican party nominates either businessman Trump or Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs should allow its doctors to discuss and recommend medical marijuana as a treatment option in New York and other states where it has been legalized, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said.

President Obama will visit a mosque in Baltimore this week to meet with Muslim Americans — his first-ever presidential trip to a Muslim house of worship in the U.S.

The governor’s office is launching a four-year business competition in the state’s Southern Tier with an annual $1 million top prize for companies that promise to create jobs and help build a clean and reliable energy system. Cuomo announced the contest, known as 76West, is accepting applications now, with a deadline of March 15 and with the first six winners announced in July.

Minimum-wage workers at Erie Community College – most of them students – will get a raise of 50 cents per hour beginning tomorrow and an additional $1 per hour raise beginning Dec. 1.

Assemblyman Todd Kaminsky, a former federal prosecutor, cast himself as the anti-corruption candidate as he announced his candidacy for the state Senate seat vacated by Dean Skelos, who was convicted of bribery, extortion, and conspiracy charges in December.

Cuomo set April 19 – the same day as New York’s presidential primaries – for a special election to fill four vacancies in the state Legislature – including seats left empty when Skelos and Sheldon Silver, the former Assembly speaker were convicted on federal corruption charges last year.

Schenectady’s deputy city clerk, Chad Putnam, formed a campaign committee last week to raise money in a bid to unseat longtime Republican state Sen. Hugh Farley, and expects to formally announce his 2016 campaign soon.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer pointed fingers toward Washington, telling New Yorkers the federal government isn’t doing enough to shield Americans from the explosion of Zika virus, and asking the World Health Organization to declare an international health emergency.

Tourist-driven helicopter traffic over the Big Apple will be cut in half, under a new deal announced by NYC officials.

New Yorkers could face big hikes in their gas and electric bills. Con Edison filed a proposal with state regulators calling for residential electric bills to increase by 5.2 percent, and gas heating bills by 7.7 percent next January.

New York legislators are herding a horde of dog, cat and wildlife proposals through Albany this month. Owners who tether their pooches outdoors for more than three hours in freezing or hot temperatures would risk a misdemeanor, a $250 fine and the loss of their pet, according to one of the bills.

Cuomo’s budget this year calls for more state control over the financing of affordable housing – a move that New York City officials and affordable housing representatives say would slow and undermine efforts to build and maintain such units for low-income New Yorkers.

Merging city and county government as the high-powered volunteer group known as Consensus wants to do with Syracuse and Onondaga County would revolutionize how government works in New York. But it would not be easy to accomplish, nor is it clear the public is behind the idea.

Three black female college students say they were physically assaulted Saturday by a group of white men and women during a racially motivated attack aboard a city bus in Albany. The Albany Police are investigating the incident as a possible hate crime.

The NYC Department of Education touts its $47 million-a-year adult-education program as the biggest in the state and second-biggest nationwide, but last school year it awarded just 299 high-school equivalency diplomas.

Authorities have turned to using digital billboards along the interstate to urge citizens to report crooked politicians, dirty bureaucrats and other bad actors, the latest indication of just how big a problem political corruption has become in Albany. The idea came from the New York Public Corruption Task Force, which includes the FBI, the state comptroller and the state attorney general.

The Buffalo Preservation Board decision last week to seek a historic designation for the Bachelor Apartments building on Franklin Street may doom Carl Paladino’s $75 million project to build a new 12-story hotel and mixed-use complex on the site, just three months before it was to start.

When Erie County Democratic leaders interview four candidates for district attorney tomorrow, the name of one person no longer seeking the office is expected to dominate the session: Frank A. Sedita III. They must strategize whether to link their next candidate to the former district attorney, or seek a new direction.

KeyCorp wants to wrap up its $4.1 billion deal for First Niagara Financial Group in the third quarter. If regulators and shareholders give it the green light, the Cleveland-based bank’s impact on the Buffalo Niagara region will increase substantially, moving KeyCorp into a solid No. 2 spot in deposit market share behind M&T.

A new poll of high-ranking WNY business officials found that executives are much less optimistic than they were a year ago, when a wave of optimism swept across the Buffalo Niagara region as the Buffalo Billion investment program began to move from the idea phase to the construction phase, while the state and national economy slowly gained strength.

In a TU OpEd, my dad, Dr. Gerald Benjamin, a SUNY New Paltz professor, goes to bat for con-con.

Former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani praised US Attorney Preet Bharara, saying: “He is able to prosecute…anybody. There is no politics about it.”

Gerard Terry, an influential political operative and chairman of the North Hempstead Democratic Committee, has for years received government work paying him hundreds of thousands of dollars even as he compiled an income tax debt of $1.4 million and battled lawsuits alleging fraud and failure to pay back loans.

Former VP Dick Cheney’s eldest daughter, Liz, is running for Wyoming’s lone House seat.

Extras

With NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio off to stump for Hillary Clinton in Iowa, LG Kathy Hochul is set to replace him for the annual Groundhog Day ceremony at the Staten Island Zoo.

De Blasio said he hopes he can convince progressive Iowa Democrats still on the fence about Clinton that she’s long been at the leading edge of the fight against income inequality and knows how Washington works better than her primary challenger, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

The mayor hailed the proposed ethics reforms the NYC Council is mulling as “historic,” but declined to say if he would sign the controversial pay raise package bill – which would hike their salaries by 32 percent – that are tied to the rules changes.

The Port of New York and New Jersey ground to a halt today after members of the International Longshoremen’s Association staged a surprise walkout.

The State Department today is releasing roughly 2,000 pages of Clinton’s emails but will delay the final batch of messages until after voters go to the polls in the first several primary states.

A super-PAC supporting Martin O’Malley’s White House run received $100,000 from former Gov. Eliot Spitzer and his mother, Anne, three months before Eliot Spitzer stopped dating Lis Smith, O’Malley’s deputy campaign manager.

State Department of Environmental Conservation Police are examining a wooded area off a service road on NY 22 (River Street) in the Town of Hoosick in response to a tip about possible illegal commercial waste dumping.

The Buffalo Teachers Union unanimously rejected the Board of Education’s latest contract proposal, which called for a 10 percent increase in teacher salaries, calling the district’s offer “insulting and demeaning.”

Crusading US Attorney Preet Bharara took a sharp dig at former U.S Attorney General Eric Holder, under whom he served from 2009 until Holder stepped down in last year, for how he handled the fallout from the 2008 financial crisis.

The Empire Center latest update of state payroll data found 1,797 employees earned more than Cuomo’s $179,000 salary last year. Topping the list at $673,596 was Reuven Pasternak, CEO and Vice President for Health Systems at Stony Brook University Hospital.

The Cuomo administration has retreated, in the face of GOP resistance, from plans to tap a $400 million discretionary fund created by State Senate Republicans to subsidize two development projects in New York City.

Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican, said the FBI likely has enough evidence right now to indict Clinton and her valued aide Huma Abedin, but that agency chief James Comey is being constrained.

For New York City dog owners, the blizzard of 2016 provided plenty of opportunity for their pets to frolic in the snow. But it also resulted in medical issues for some of those canine companions.

The layer of sand designed to keep toxic chemicals sealed at the bottom of Onondaga Lake is working well despite three small “disturbances,” a DEC official said.

The head of NYCHA’s biggest worker union and the chair of the Assembly’s Housing Committee, Keith Wright, took the unprecedented step of calling on the state to take over the city’s troubled Housing Authority.

Concerns about the common tern could stop plans to dry up Niagara Falls for bridge repairs.

These exist.

Here and Now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo will be in New York City today, hanging with his buddy, Vice President Joe Biden, for an event that sources tell us will be about Paid Family Leave, though technically speaking, they’ll be discussing “the economy.”

LG Kathy Hochul is in Washington, D.C. with no public schedule.

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and his wife, NYC First Lady Chirlane McCray, are headed to Iowa to campaign for Hillary Clinton ahead of Monday’s caucuses. They’re due back in the Big Apple Tuesday evening.

At 10:30 a.m., state Liquor Authority Chairman Vince Bradley will outline Cuomo’s 2016 State of the State agenda, Clarence Public Library, 3 Town Pl., Clarence.

At 11:05 a.m., de Blasio will appear live on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show to discuss New York City’s progressive agenda, Iowa, and the snowstorm aftermath.

At 12:30 p.m., state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli keynotes the Environmental Law Section luncheon of the state Bar Association’s ongoing annual meeting, New York Hilton, 1335 Ave. of the Americas, Manhattan.

At 1 p.m., Cuomo holds an event with VP Joe Biden, McBurney YMCA, 125 West 14th St., Manhattan.

Also at 1 p.m., Rep. Elise Stefanik visits Mold-Rite Plastics, 1 Plant St., Plattsburgh.

Also at 1 p.m., Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy will be in conversation on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East at the Council on Foreign Relations, 58 E 68th St., Manhattan.

At 2:30 p.m., Stefanik visits SpencerARL, 3 Area Development Dr., Plattsburg.

At 3 p.m. Canal Corp. Director Brian Stratton outlines Cuomo’s 2016 State of the State agenda, SUNY Orange, Gilman Center Library, 115 S. St., Middletown.

Also at 3 p.m., Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara will join parents, family, friends, professionals and people with Autism Spectrum Disorder to unveil a significant package of legislation meant to enhance the quality of life for New Yorkers living with autism, Autism Society of the Greater Capital Region, 101 State St., Schenectady.

Headlines…

NYC officials are trying to ease the fears of New Yorkers about the Zika virus, even as they confirmed that a third person – a pregnant woman – has contracted the disease in the city, and seven people have received a diagnosis statewide.

Unsatisfied with proposed 23 percent pay hike, NYC Council members are planning to overrule a mayor-appointed panel and vote themselves a whopping 32 percent raise next week. The Council plans to boost members’ base salaries from $112,500 to $148,500, retroactive to Jan. 1. Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito’s salary would increase to $164,500.

The machinations to sign off on the pay bill were occurring under a deadline of sorts: Because the bills were finalized by the end of the day yesterday, they could be voted on next Friday, the same day the Council is expected to vote on the mayor’s controversial horse-carriage plan.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency is advising Hoosick Falls, Rensselaer County residents whose private water wells show a toxic substance in excess of 100 parts per trillion that they should not drink their water or cook with it.

The Nassau County Republican Committee unanimously selected Christopher McGrath, a personal injury attorney and former head of the Nassau County Bar Association, as its candidate to run in a special election to replace ex-Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos.

Eva Moskowitz, the charter school chief and frequent critic of NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, threatened to shut her new prekindergarten program if her dispute with his administration over payment isn’t resolved by mid-February.

Absent Donald Trump, the Republican presidential candidates strained to take advantage of a rare opportunity to step out of the front-runner’s shadow in last night’s debate — a staid, policy-heavy contest that offered a glimpse of what the GOP contest might have been without the unpredictable businessman.

Trump skipped the Fox News debate and instead held a competing event of his own at Drake University in Des Moines. His campaign says the rally raised more than $6 million for veterans.

Trump retweeted a doctored image of Megyn Kelly and an Internet meme calling the debate moderator a “bimbo” for pictures she posed for alongside a 2010 GQ magazine article.

A third-party presidential run by Michael Bloomberg would be a long shot for the former New York City mayor but could help Trump if he lands the Republican nomination, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll.

A survey by veteran GOP pollster Frank Luntz showed Bloomberg within striking distance of Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders critiqued fellow Democratic presidential candidate Clinton during a rally in Mason City attended by actress Susan Sarandon, chastising her for fundraising instead of campaigning in Iowa on Wednesday night.

Long Island’s two medical marijuana dispensaries are scheduled to open today, after companies authorized to sell the drug spent months navigating bureaucratic roadblocks and community anxieties.

Uber is going for the jugular in the escalating Big Apple cab wars — with a substantial drop in prices that was scheduled to go into effect this morning.

A series of earthshaking noises that left some residents on the East Coast wondering if they had lived through an earthquake yesterday afternoon were sonic booms caused by the testing of a fighter jet, officials said.

More >

Extras

Several weeks after a Hillary Clinton ally threatened to attack him over his allegedly fragile health, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont was pronounced in “very good health” today by his physician.

Veteran GOP pollster Frank Luntz says there’s an “interstate highway” available for former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg to join the presidential race as an independent candidate.

Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz is asking state Education Department commissioner MaryEllen Elia to get involved in a spat between her charter school network and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio over pre-K services.

The Central Park Conservancy said for the first time that it has “significant” concerns over de Blasio’s bull-rush plan to stable horses in a landmark public building in the iconic park.

Former Rep. Gabby Giffords will campaign with Hillary Clinton this weekend, joining the Democratic frontrunner’s army of surrogates making a final push in the Hawkeye state before the caucuses on Monday.

Former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani apparently spoke too soon when he said Seabrook, head of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, is endorsing Trump for president, though he is indeed “considering” it.

The 86-year-old stepsister of Holocaust victim Anne Frank claims that Republican presidential front-runner Trump is “acting like another Hitler,” in an essay marking Holocaust Memorial Day.

Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas said Oyster Bay officials are violating New York State law if they allow Frederick Ippolito to continue to work for the town as a commissioner after his conviction of a felony charge of evading $2 million in federal income taxes.

NYC Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito defended her plan to reform part of the city’s criminal summons structure, stressing the changes will not remove accountability from offenders.

Mark-Viverito called sales taxes on feminine hygiene products “unfair,” and expressed support for a bill calling on the state to eliminate the levy.

A federal judge agreed to delay Dennis Hastert’s sentencing in a hush-money case after his attorneys said the former U.S. House Speaker nearly died in November from severe sepsis.

The layer of sand Honeywell has applied to the Onondaga Lake bottom to keep toxic mercury and other chemicals in place has failed at least three times since 2012, spilling wastes onto areas of the lake that had been relatively clean.

Zika virus is here in New York, and it could get worse.

The first of three new vessels being added to the city’s ferry fleet in the next four years will be named for Staff Sgt. Michael Ollis, who died at age 24 while saving a Polish soldier in Afghanistan.

Here’s a list of “fascinating” moments from the “Weiner” documentary that recently debuted at Sundance.