Liz Benjamin

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Posts by Liz Benjamin

Here and Now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is back from his vacation at an undisclosed Caribbean island, and is in New York City with no public schedule.

At 9 a.m., NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina makes an announcement at the Mayor’s Day of Recognition for National Service, Baruch College Vertical Campus, Simon Conference Room, 14th Floor, 55 Lexington Ave., Manhattan.

At 10 a.m., New York City Health and Hospitals Corp. President & CEO Ram Raju delivers a speech to hundreds of employees, government and union officials and health care administrators and professionals, outlining the public hospital system’s “HHC For Tomorrow” strategic plan; Gerald W. Lynch Theater, CUNY’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, 524 W. 59th St., Manhattan.

Also at 10 a.m., Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz holds press conference to release a new report noting the presence of toxic chemicals in children’s toys and products for sale in Erie County, 16th floor conference room, Edward A. Rath county office building, 95 Franklin St., Buffalo.

Also 10 a.m., Farina delivers remarks at NYU Metro Center’s conference From Risk To Resilience: Building Support Systems for Children and Schools, Kimmel Center for University Life, 60 Washington Square South, Manhattan.

At 10:30 a.m., Rep. Chris Gibson will join state and local officials for a press conference to highlight the fact that more than three years have passed since Hurricane Irene flooded the Schoharie County Public Safety Building and Jail and FEMA has not committed to any final decisions on how to fund reconstruction, Schoharie County Public Safety Building, 157 Depot Lane, Schoharie.

At 11 a.m., Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation Chairman Frank Siller and representatives of the NYPD and FDNY discuss plans to renovate the home of one of two city police officers shot and killed in a patrol car last December, Wenjian Liu, during a news conference marking the 33rd anniversary of Liu’s 1982 birth, attended by his widow Pei Xia Chen, father Wei Tang Liu and mother Xiu Yan Li; 1984 W. Sixth St., Brooklyn.

Also at 11 a.m., a press conference is held to discuss the release of The Black Institute’s report about MWBEs in NYC and state, “Not Good Enough.” Assemblyman Michael Blake, Rep. Yvette Clarke, the senior pastor of Mount Neboh Baptist Church, the Rev. Johnnie M. Green Jr., NYC Public Advocate Tish James, the institute’s founder and President Bertha Lewis, and NYC Council members and business owners are scheduled to participate; steps, City Hall, Manhattan.

At noon, a first-of-its-kind report on homelessness in NYC and the state and the role of the de Blasio and Cuomo administrations in addressing it is released, City Hall steps, Manhattan.

At 12:30 p.m., Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein discusses New York’s oil train problem, LOB, Albany.

At 1 p.m., AG Eric Schneiderman makes an announcement at his Rochester Regional Office, 144 Exchange Blvd., Rochester.

Also at 1 p.m., CWA Local 1180 President Arthur Chilotes, attorney Yetta Kurland and female NYC employees discuss the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s finding in response to the union local’s discrimination complaint on behalf of city employees; conference room, 6 Harrison St., Manhattan.

At 2 p.m., Assemblyman Ron Kim and state Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky outline their state legislative proposal that would replace an annual Brooklyn public school holiday to mark Brooklyn-Queens Day with a public school holiday to mark the Lunar New Year observance; first floor, 142-29 37th Ave., Queens.

Also at 2 p.m., Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks and Director of Communications and Special Events, James Smith, representing Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren will hold a joint press conference to announce events, attractions, and lead sponsors for the 2015 Rochester Lilac Festival running May 8-17, Olmsted Lodge, 171 Reservoir Ave., Rochester.

At 5:30 p.m., Assemblywoman Shelley Mayer and IBEW Local 1430 to host Workers’ Rights Forum, Yonkers Riverfront Library, 1 Larkin Center, Yonkers.

Headlines…

Rep. Chris Gibson is laying the early groundwork for a potential gubernatorial run in 2018. NYSUT President Karen Magee said the Republican congressman, who isn’t seeking re-election in 2016, would have a “good chance” of landing her union’s endorsement if the governor’s race were held today.

Michael Shnayerson, author of a palpably critical and unauthorized biography of Cuomo called “The Contender,” visited with maverick Democratic activist Bill Samuels last night for a debate over the governor’s political future.

Cuomo has sent school leaders back to the negotiating table to come up with new agreements. This time, however, school administrators and union leaders will have far less discretion in deciding how teachers are rated. But they face the same threat: Get a deal done by November or risk losing state aid.

Lawmakers uncomfortable with the education reforms in the new budget have taken comfort in the fact that it appeared the Board of Regents would have unprecedented influence over the new teacher evaluation system. But that interpretation was premature, if not outright wrong.

Now that their two countywide “stars” – Clerk Chris Jacobs or Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw Jr. – have opted not to challenge County Executive Mark Poloncarz this fall, the Erie County GOP turns to its second-tier candidates. Now, every indication points to Assemblyman Raymond Walter, of East Amherst, emerging as the party’s new hope as he attempts to overcome the deep disappointment stemming from Jacobs’ withdrawal.

New York’s top health official, Howard Zucker, is leading an effort to raise awareness about the dangers of the state’s obesity problem.

Sen. Chuck Schumer said that should Hillary Clinton decide to run for president, he doesn’t believe voters will admonish her for using her personal email account to conduct government business while she was secretary of state.

Neither Schumer nor New York’s junior US senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, are all in on the president’s framework nuclear deal with Iran.

A federal commission on fair employment practices found that New York City has engaged in a broad pattern of discrimination, paying minorities and women substantially less than their white male counterparts, and recommended that it pay hundreds of millions of dollars in back wages and other damages.

The state’s network of racinos posted lower revenues from one year to the next for the first time since the gambling parlors opened a decade ago. The drop was $7 million, about .04 percent, but comes as upstate is preparing to open Vegas-style casinos in 2017.

In its devotion to accountability, Success Academy, New York City’s polarizing charter school network, may have no peer. But its methods and culture – and relentless pushing of students and teachers to achieve – have sparked criticism.

New York City education officials said they would keep Pearson’s test for admission to gifted and talented programs for one more year, reversing plans last fall to switch vendors.

More >

Extras

As part of the state Legislature’s final catch-all budget bill, $90 million will be moved from NYPA’s budget to cover trade missions and advertising for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Start-Up NY and Global NY business-booster programs.

Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson tore into Cuomo for failing to pass criminal justice reforms in the budget, saying he failed to fight for the provision and should have allowed legislators to take it up and regular session.

Hazel Dukes, the head of the state’s NAACP charter, warned that Cuomo has to undertake criminal justice reform or face a backlash from black and Latino voters.

The municipal bond market will have an ally in the top echelon of Senate leadership if Sen. Chuck Schumer becomes the Democratic leader in 2017, as is widely expected, experts said.

JetBlue Airlines will begin daily service between Albany and both Fort Lauderdale and Orlando on Dec. 10, Schumer announced today.

AG Eric Schneiderman is pushing for a change in the way herbal supplements are regulated by the federal government, after an investigation by his office found some supplements do not contain the very plants and herbs marketed on their labels.

Reps. Chris Gibson, Richard Hanna and Pete King have been mentioned as potential GOP challengers to Schumer next fall.

Here’s Schumer enjoying a Passover treat: Matzoh brei.

The press team of the yet-to-be-announced Hillary Clinton campaign is growing, with the selection of Karen Finney as Strategic Communications Adviser and Senior Spokesperson and Oren Shur as Director of Paid Media.

AQE has launched an online petition urging parents to opt out of this month’s state math and English tests.

The NYPD bought thousands of dollars worth of hallucinogenic mushrooms and ecstasy from chemical and laboratory supply companies in 2011 — but it wasn’t so its officers could go on magical mystery tours of duty.

The Cuomo administration launched an anti-obesity camaign, and DOH Commissioner Howard Zucker is hitting the road this week for a statewide trip to promote it.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, will be the speaker at Le Moyne College’s commencement, May 17.

A key member of ex-Sen. George Maziarz’s inner circle, former Niagara County GOP Chairman Henry Wojtaszek, has testified before a federal grand jury investigating the former state senator’s campaign expenses and other matters, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.

With Tax Day less than two weeks away, Schneiderman’s office released a list of tips to avoid getting scammed.

On Sunday, The Journal News will introduce Exchange, a new interactive section in the print edition

NT2 thinks the budget process “absolutely sucked” this year in terms of transparency.

Glens Falls Post-Star editor Ken Tingley: “There is nothing realistic about another Lake Placid Olympics.”

Senate Finance Committee Chairman John DeFrancisco on MMA champion Ronda Rousey: “She’s all woman and tough as nails.”

Walmart, the largest seller of guns and ammo in the country, is refusing to sell Rousey’s book – “My Fight/Your Fight,” (due May 12 from Regan Arts) – on the grounds that she’s too violent.

Rep. Steve Israel will be reintroducing legislation aimed at banning 3D printed, or for that matter, all fully-plastic firearms,

Buffalo is not alone in celebrating Dyngus Day.

The fraternity at the center of a discredited Rolling Stone article about an alleged gang rape at University of Virginia “plans to pursue all available legal action against the magazine.”

The “I Love New York” bus tours will be available this upcoming spring and summer season for one-day and weekend trips across the state, Cuomo’s office announced.

Former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, one of the world’s most ambitious philanthropists, says modern philanthropies should work with governments to encourage them to experiment and take risks that they can’t or won’t take on their own.

The Actors Fund’s annual gala, which will be held May 11 at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Times Square, will honor Bloomberg and Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman.

Saratoga Casino and Raceway finished the last fiscal year with a slight decline in net winnings, the first time that’s happened since video slot machines were installed 11 years ago at the harness race track in Saratoga Springs.

The (first) couple that works out together

Here and Now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is scheduled to return from his Caribbean vacation sometime today. The Assembly and Senate are not due back in Albany until April 21. NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and his wife, NYC First Lady Chirlane McCray, are on vacation in Puerto Rico until tomorrow.

It’s Dyngus Day in Buffalo. It’s Opening Day at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. The Yankees are playing the Toronto Blue Jays; the game starts at 1:05 p.m.

At 11:15 a.m., Justice League NYC will officially announce the April 13th March2Justice at a press conference with the march’s Honorary Chairs Harry Belafonte and 1199SEIU President George Gresham at 1199 HQ, 330 W 42nd St., Penthouse, between 8th & 9th Avenues, Manhattan.

At 11:30 a.m., providing Yankee fans with a little pre-game fun, the four-car “Nostalgia Special,” originally operated by the IRT system, entered service in 1917 and worked into the early 1960s, is scheduled to leave 42 Street-Grand Central and arrive at 161 St-Yankee Stadium about 30 minutes later.

At 12:45 p.m., LG (and acting Gov.) Kathy Hochul marches in the Lackawanna Dyngus Day Parade, Our Lady of Victory Basilica, 767 Ridge Rd., Lackawanna.

At 5 p.m., Hochul marches in the Buffalo Dyngus Day Parade, corner of Clark Street and Broadway, Buffalo.

At 6:30 p.m., Democratic activist Bill Samuels and Cuomo’s unofficial biographer Michael Shnayerson will debate the governor’s political future, focusing on the psychology and motivations behind his actions, the home of Bill Samuels, 22 East 18th St., Apt. 4E, Manhattan.

Headlines…

“In a month of political machinations that ended with the passage of New York state’s $142 billion budget, Senate minority leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins lost her fight to be included in the negotiations but won new respect from her colleagues for trying.”

Longtime activist Bertha Lewis, a founder of the Working Families Party, is upset that only a fraction of city contracts under NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio have gone to minority- and women-owned businesses.

The Bronx Democratic Committee that until recently was run by new Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has been quietly fixing years’ worth of financial filings with the state Board of Elections.

The law establishing SUNY 2020 expires in 2016. The Buffalo News wants the Legislature to “push for the extension and prepare the bill for the governor’s signature.”

Under new campaign finance regulations in the state budget approved by lawmakers last week, use of campaign kitties for personal expenses – including membership dues at Albany’s Fort Orange and University clubs, two favorite locales for fundraisers – has been restricted.

New York officials are seeking to increase funding to provide poor people with free legal services in civil proceedings such as eviction and immigration matters, part of a broader national movement to establish a legal right to counsel in civil cases.

A plumber who worked at the East Village building where two people died in an explosion last month has admitted to illegally tapping into a gas line there — but said the landlord’s son ordered him to do it.

An impending leadership vacuum in the Buffalo School District, with three top administrators leaving by July 1, presents both grave concerns and great opportunities, according to many school officials and education advocates.

As the April 15 tax deadline nears, people who got help paying for health insurance under President Barack Obama’s law are seeing the direct effect on their refunds — hundreds of dollars, for better or worse.

The State Department is preparing to release Hillary Clinton’s correspondence from her four years in the administration. Those records total more than 30,000 emails, but will not include texts. In fact, though they’re considered public records, the National Archives isn’t aware of a single government agency with a record-keeping system in place that automatically archives text messages.

As Clinton and a coterie of advisers prepare to launch her presidential campaign within the coming days, their work is guided by a new set of humble principles: No big crowds. Few soaring rallies. Less mention of her own ambitions. And extinguish the air of inevitability propelling her candidacy.

A group of technology entrepreneurs and former Mitt Romney donors will throw a fundraiser for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s political-action committee in Virginia in May.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral is looking skyward in a renewed drive to become a player in Manhattan’s real-estate market. Under current city rules, the church can sell rights to build vertically on its site on Fifth Avenue to developers who want to go higher on their lots – but only to developers on or across the street.

NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said he’s still holding out hope of hiring more officers this year. He has proposed adding 1,000 new cops to the force, which has shrunk to about 35,000 officers from nearly 41,000 at the time of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

The DCCC has quietly but completely thrown in the towel for the contest to represent New York’s 11th congressional district, which includes Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn.

The gap between what bank CEOs and their staffs take home in pay has narrowed significantly since the financial crisis, driven mostly by a drop in compensation for the leaders of the five biggest Wall Street firms, according to a Wall Street Journal review of bank regulatory filings.

Victor H. Gotbaum, a shrewd and combative Brooklyn native who headed the nation’s largest municipal employees’ union for two decades and played a pivotal role in saving New York City from bankruptcy in 1975, died last night at the age of 93. His death was confirmed by his wife, former NYC Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum.

Sharif El-Gamal, who sparked global controversy with plans for a 13-story mosque and community center less than two blocks from the site of the World Trade Center attacks, illegally rented a Tribeca gallery for months, racking up safety violations from the city and causing at least one resident to leave, the landlord alleges.

Billionaire John Catsimatidis wants to expand his East End oil terminal into the gasoline business – and the proposal has neighbors fuming.

The state has begun asking workers to snitch on colleagues who they see illegally smoking in the Capitol complex parking garages. “No Smoking” signs recently went up in the garages warning that smokers can be fined $1,000 for each violation.

Two women who are divorcing each other are fighting over whether one of them is the legal mother of children she’s raised – a result of the nationwide patchwork of laws on same-sex marriage and how to determine parentage of children of gay couples.

Rolling Stone magazine officially retracted and apologized for a discredited article on a fraternity gang rape at University of Virginia after an investigation slammed the story as a “journalistic failure.” The mea culpa came as the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism released a scathing postmortem of the article by Sabrina Rubin Erdely headlined “A Rape on Campus.”

The (Holiday) Weekend That Was

Happy Easter and Passover!

Former NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg is being urged by some Londonites to run as the Tory candidate for mayor of that city next year. But his spokesman says he’s not interested in the job.

It’s going to be a busy spring for members of the Legislature, who have a lot of policy issues to tackle thanks to all the proposals that fell off the negotiating table during the budget talks.

Negotiating his first budget was a big hurdle cleared for new Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, but more challenges await.

The Middletown Times Herald-Record doesn’t think much of the ethics reform deal in the budget, saying: “New York’s only hope for reform comes not from the Legislature or the governor but from prosecutors who know a crime when they see one.”

The Glens Falls Post-Star agrees: “Given New York’s shameful record, much more than these weak new laws are needed.”

….and the NY Post: “Yes, the new rules go farther than the old. But, like everything else that comes out of the Legislature, they have loopholes — ones that may prove wide enough to drive an 18-wheeler through.”

The Staten Island Advance asks: “If the need for ethics reform is so profound, as we have been told it is by the governor and others, why not follow the lead of Washington and place a limit on outside income?”

The New York Times: “Cuomo bragged that it is a budget ‘that all New Yorkers can be proud of.’ Yet the details of this last-minute jumble of a budget yield very little for most people to celebrate.”

Days after winning the battle in Albany to restore $15.5 million that Cuomo tried to cut from Roswell Park Cancer Institute’s budget, the new head of the cancer center moved to put her stamp on the hospital by announcing 12 promotions and appointments to her senior leadership team.

With the new budget in this Democrat-dominated state approved, New York’s top Republican – Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos – declared victory on many of his party’s priorities: no tax increases, curbed spending, support for businesses and protecting state aid for suburban schools.

Judging by proclamations LG Kathy Hochul is expected to unfurl via her Twitter account that The Buffalo News exclusively previewed, Madam Governor can be expected to rule with an iron fist while Cuomo is on an out-of-state vacation – a fist clutching a handful of pussy willow branches and a bottle of Frank’s Red Hot hot sauce, that is.

Thousands of NYC families will boycott the state’s math and reading exams, which begin April 14, according to activists who oppose standardized testing in the public schools.

A day after news emerged Hillary Clinton’s campaign was planning to set up headquarters on the edge of Brooklyn Heights in an office at One Pierrepont Plaza, setting the clock ticking on when she will have to file official candidacy papers, local business owners began speculating on how they might be put to use.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican mulling his own presidential bid, suggested that Clinton could get a better nuclear deal with Iran than President Barack Obama.

Clinton is widely expected to announce her second bid for the White House in the next two weeks, which overnight will thrust her nascent political operation into the spotlight. Many strategists expect her to release an announcement video in April, but follow it up with a swing through key primary and general election states.

Christopher J. Schoepflin, who leads the state’s economic-development agency in Niagara Falls, was named as the regional director of Empire State Development Corp.

Who won and who lost in the recent state budget battle? Andrew Hawkins takes a look.

The grieving mother of respected anchor and reporter Lisa Colagrossi, who died after a brain hemorrhage on assignment, confronted Lisa’s WABC/Channel 7 boss Camille Edwards at Lisa’s memorial and said, “You worked my daughter to death.”

Extras

Hillary Clinton may not officially have a campaign yet, but she does have a campaign office. Her nascent campaign signed a lease for two floors of office space at 1 Pierrepont Plaza in Brooklyn Heights, which is not, by the way, the “cool” part of Brooklyn.

The building where Clinton’s campaign will be housed is also home to offices of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York (the post currently held by US AG-in-waiting Loretta Lynch) and Morgan Stanley.

Since Clinton is taking nearly 80,000 square feet, her rent will run about $3.2 million a year.

Clinton’s soon-to-be Brooklyn neighbors want her to shop local and not make the already bad traffic problem worse.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie will deliver the Democratic rebuttal at the 115th The LCA Show on June 9.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo set up a new campaign committee today.

This weekend, the state will be run by LG Kathy Hochul, and NYC by First Deputy Mayor Tony Shorris.

Chris Smith: “The relationship between President Hillary and Majority Leader Chuck might also be a little…complicated.”

Michael Shnayerson on Cuomo’s preference for a Republican-controlled state Senate: “They were more effective and they were less likely, statistically, to get indicted.”

Preet Bharara, the federal prosecutor who built his reputation on cracking down on insider trading on Wall Street, appears to be stuck with a court ruling that has undermined some of that success.

As Easter and Passover are upon us, meet some of NYC’s most influential religious leaders.

Six months after the first announcement, Cuomo’s “New NY Broadband” plan remains a wire frame, with no defined guidelines, rules, or even a clear sense of how it will be implemented and regulated.

University of Buffalo basketball coach Bobby Hurley is traveling to the Final Four in Indianapolis, despite a New York ban on state travel to Indiana, the college said in a statement today.

Freshman Assemblyman Charles Barron thinks Heastie has been “1,000 percent better” as speaker than his predecessor, Assemblyman Sheldon Silver.

Silver’s indictment and the sweeping federal investigation that snared him has inspired a group of 45 law firms to ask that all asbestos litigation in Manhattan Supreme Court be frozen for 60 days.

There’s money in the budget for bullet-proof vests and glass for police patrol cars, and also for body cameras, but it’s tied to criminal justice reforms, which have not yet been achieved.

The owners of the Binghamton Mets are in the process of selling the minor league baseball team, but vowed to keep it in town.

Salon politics editor Blake Zeff, a former spokesman to Clinton, Schumer and the state Democratic Party, is departing the company to start a “new politics/news entity” this fall.

Audrey Gelman, a senior vice president at SKDKnickerbocker’s New York City office, is leaving the communications firm after two years. She will remain a contributing editor at Marie Claire magazine.

The de Blasio administration has hired Max Markham, who has worked for 16 months as a legislative aide to Sen. Brad Hoylman, to serve as a special assistant to First Deputy Mayor Tony Shorris.

Six years ago today, shots rang out inside the American Civic Association in Binghamton. Thirteen lives were taken before the gunman, Jiverly Wong, killed himself.

Assemblyman Jim Tedisco wants the governor to prove he’s smarter thana 5th grader by taking the 5th grade math and ELA tests and publicly posting his results.

Here and Now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is, according to his press office, “out of the state” with no public schedule. No additional information as to where he is, for how long, and why, and also whether LG Kathy Hochul is in charge was immediately available.

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio will meet with US Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson behind closed doors, according to the mayor’s press office. Later today, he’ll depart for Puerto Rico with First Lady Chirlane McCray for a personal trip. The couple is scheduled to return to NYC Tuesday.

At noon, Cardinal Timothy Dolan presides over a Good Friday service, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, 5th Avenue, Manhattan.

Also at noon, Southern Tier Solar Works, a program of the Binghamton Regional Sustainability Coalition, launches Solarize Southern Tier East, an initiative to promote local solar energy, Innovative Technologies Complex, Energy and Science Building, Room 2008, 85 Murray Hill Rd., Vestal.

At 7 p.m., religious officials from Temple Emanu-El, including rabbinic intern Carlie Daniels and Associate Rabbi Benjamin Zeidman, lead the synagogue’s Seder dinner at Katz’s Delicatessen to mark the start of the Jewish observance of Passover at sundown; 205 E. Houston St., Manhattan.

At 6 p.m., activists and residents express opposition to proposals by NYC Council members to fund additional police officers, calling for increased city funding of social services instead, during a “#NoNewNYPD” march and rally; event begins at One Police Plaza, near Park Row and Pearl Street, Manhattan.

Headlines…

Lawyers for Assemblyman Sheldon Silver made a new request that a judge dismiss the indictment against him, arguing that the conduct he is accused of “simply does not amount to any federal offense.”

Silver’s attorneys say federal prosecutors had ignored U.S. Supreme Court precedent that narrowly defines the Hobbs Act and the honest services statute.

The Assembly has retained a Manhattan law firm to provide legal help in the federal corruption charges brought against Silver. An initial contract, listed at $45,000, has been awarded to Zuckerman Spaeder. A spokesman for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said the retainer came after U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara requested official documents from the Assembly earlier this year.

While most of the attention of the just-passed package of ethics laws has focused on tighter disclosure requirements for lawmakers and the exceptions they gave themselves, it also greatly expands state oversight of municipal lobbying.

Less than a year and a half into his mayoralty, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio made it clear he will seek reelection for a second term in 2017. He made the impromptu declaration at a news conference when asked if his interest in national politics — including planned trips to Iowa and Nebraska later this month — indicated he’s eyeing national office.

De Blasio convened a group of progressive leaders at Gracie Mansion to announce a new national effort to force his signature issue of income inequality into the upcoming presidential campaign. The group, which included Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy and Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, will gather again in May to draft a “template” that the mayor likened to the Contract with America that Republicans used to great effect in 1994.

De Blasio and his wife, NYC First Lady Chirlane McCray, are paying for their travel costs for a personal trip to Puerto Rico. No aides from City Hall are accompanying them on the trip, but the mayor’s security team from the NYPD will be with the couple. First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris will be responsible for attending to any issues that arise at City Hall while the mayor is out of town.

Taking the first step toward a possible face-off over the Boy Scouts of America’s ban on openly gay adult members or employees, the organization’s New York affiliate said that it had hired a gay Eagle Scout – 18-year-old Pascal Tessier, who grew up in Maryland and is now a college student in Ohio – to work in a scout camp this summer.

The New York City Department of Consumer Affairs has begun an investigation into four for-profit colleges over concerns about students’ dropout and loan-default rates, and the ways in which students are recruited in the first place.

Led by the University at Buffalo, the Buffalo Niagara region continues to outpace the rest of the state in finding companies to move into the tax-free zones created through the Start-Up NY incentive program. Nearly half the companies approved to take part in Start-Up NY – 37 out of 80 – since May are in Western New York.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman John DeFrancisco said this was one of the toughest on-time budgets to negotiate in the past five years due to all the “ancillary issues” attached to the spending plan.

NYdoctorprofile.com, a state-funded website that offers consumers information on all licensed New York doctors, was not only spared the state budget ax but also has been strengthened.

State tax credits for developers who clean up and build on contaminated sites will live to see another 10 years. The new budget includes a 10-year extension of the state’s Brownfield Cleanup Program, which had been set to expire at the end of the year.

The budget ­contains $125,000 in appropriations for the Christmas Tree Farmers Association of New York – one of the hundreds of pork-barrel grants. Also: Cornell University received $12,000 for onion research and another $200,000 for beer-making research; lawmakers earmarked $12,000 for honey-bee research; $150,000 was given to the Maple Producers Association, and $115,000 went to the Berry Growers Association.

More >

Extras

AG Eric Schneiderman and 13 other state attorneys general are launching an effort to convince Congress to look into the herbal supplements industry, amid an ongoing investigation into the safety and marketing practices of the supplements.

Cardinal Dolan offered some diet advice to Pope Francis, who has been told by his doctors to cut down on the pasta and lose some weight.

US Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey entered a not guilty plea on corruption charges during a federal court appearance and was released without bail.

The NYT called on Menendez to resign, saying: “He would be doing a disservice to New Jersey by clinging to power as a disgraced politician.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced another round of administration appointments, including one – Vincent Bradley, a current assistant AG, as chair of the state Liquor Authority – that requires Senate confirmation.

New York’s $142 billion budget, enacted on April 1, authorizes the state to spend $4,503 per second during its 2015-16 fiscal year, according to the Empire Center’s updated Spend-O-Meter.

Libraries will benefit significantly from this year’s state budget, which includes the biggest year-to-year increase in aid for the public institutions in seven years.

Senate Deputy Majority Leader Tom Libous wasn’t in Albany to vote on the budget because he had back surgery recently and is still recovering.

The 2011-2015 contract for the 54,000 member Public Employees Federation contract expired Wednesday at midnight. Negotiations on a new contract won’t likely start until later this month.

Public employees unions nationwide are anxiously eyeing the possibility the US Supreme Court may take up a case that could determine their survival.

A bill in the state Senate would create a $100 tax break for New York residents who adopt a cat or dog, but perhaps only if they are spayed or neutered.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker will headline a fundraiser for the NY GOP on April 20.

CUNY will host a reading of the recent, unauthorized biography of Cuomo, “The Contender”, with author and Vanity Fair writer Michael Shayerson on April 21 – the day the Legislature is scheduled to return to Albany from its spring break.

Assemblyman Keith Wright, a Harlem Democrat, said the exploration phase of his campaign for Congress is “going extremely well” and people in the district have been “very supportive” of his nascent bid to replace Rep. Charles Rangel.

The Syracuse area ranks 28th in the nation for bedbug infestation, according to Orkin, LLC, a national pest control company. (NYC is No. 18, down one from last year; Buffalo is No. 26, up 12; the Albany metro area made the list for the first time at No. 43).

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown is following Cuomo’s lead when it comes to Indiana, announcing a city-sponsored travel ban to the state in response to its Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The city will also reconsider any business ventures it might have with the Hoosier State.

More “ghost pork” in this year’s budget: $24,000 for the controversial nonprofit ACORN, which shuttered years ago.

U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand are making a final push for a federal photonics manufacturing center that would be operated by SUNY Polytechnic Institute, the University of Rochester and RIT.

Madison Square Garden Co. Chairman James Dolan is forging ahead with a plan to split the $6.4 billion company into two pieces: the sports franchises and entertainment venues on one side, and the regional sports television networks on the other.

A proposed Finger Lakes casino should be rejected because it didn’t satisfy the state’s criteria for a gaming license and will merely take revenue from existing gambling facilities in the region, the Oneida Nation of Indians contended in a letter.

Funny or Die, which has enlisted President Obama to guest on Zach Galifianakis’ “Between Two Ferns” and Jack Black to skewer gay marriage opponents in “Prop 8: The Musical,” is opening a Washington DC office that will be headed by a former White House official.

The Boy Scouts’ New York chapter has hired the nation’s first openly gay Eagle Scout as a summer camp leader in public contrast to the national scouting organization’s ban on openly gay adult members.

Some good jobs-related news, for a change, from Remington Arms in Ilion: The company plans to hire 40 workers for its Herkimer County plant.

Albany, not a happening place.

The derelict Tobin First Prize plant along Interstate 90 in Albany and Colonie would be replaced by a walkable neighborhood of residences, small shops, offices, restaurants and entertainment, under a plan being developed by Richbell Capital.

Sen. Al Franken has his own idea for an Indiana Senate recruit: David Letterman.

Republican Ted Cruz is scheduled to become the first 2016 presidential candidate on the airwaves. The Texas senator is purchasing a small amount of airtime on radio affiliates in the early states of Iowa and South Carolina on Easter Sunday.

Assembly Dems to SED: We’re Watching

From the Morning Memo:

After much public angst, and over NYSUT’s objections, the Assembly passed the education budget bill Tuesday night that included a number of reforms pushed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo that will change the way teachers are hired and fired, evaluated and achieve tenure.

The final vote was 92-54, with a number of Assembly Democrats joining their Republican colleagues in voting “no”, despite the fact that to do so meant rejecting an additional $1.4 billion (or $1.6 billion, according to Speaker Carl Heastie’s math) in funding for school districts.

Among the “no” voters was freshman Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, who won a seat in last year’s elections that was formerly held by a Republican, (Tony Jordan, who retired to become Washington County DA), and is one of the majority conference’s more marginal members.

During a CapTon interview last night, Woerner said her vote was influenced not by the union, which not only backed her successful Assembly run in 2014, but also her unsuccessful run in 2012, but rather by the parents and teachers who flooded her email inbox, Twitter feed, office phones and Facebook page with comments.

“They’ve all communicated to me their deep concerns about the approach that these reforms are taking, and the pace at which they’re being pushed through, and sort of the lack of thoughtful approach to education policy,” the assemblywoman said. “They really influenced me. That’s really what i was listening to.”

Woerner said she and her fellow Assembly Democrats are taking some small comfort in the fact that much responsibility for setting performance evaluation parameters now lies with the state Education Department, which is not under the Cuomo administration’s control.

In fact, the Assembly Democrats control the selection of the 17-member Board Regents members, who, in turn, run SED, though the department is currently without a commissioner, thanks to the departure at the beginning of this year of John King, who took a job with the Obama administration.

Woerner said she and other Assembly Democrats “anticipated where all this was going” in terms of the governor’s focus on education reform, and pushed hard “to put more people on the board who have experience in K-through-12.”

The result was an unusually contentious election process last month that saw four new members elected to the board – including Beverly Ouderkirk, a former Watertown-area superintendent, whose North Country to Albany region covers Woerner’s 113th Assembly District.

“I’m really looking forward to working with (Ouderkirk) to try to influence this process,” Woerner said.

“There’s a lot more interest in attending Regents meetings and in being a visible presence at those meetings, so that it’s clear that we’re engaged and we’re paying attention and we’re going to try to have some influence on how things go,” the assemblywoman continued.

“So, while that’s not necessarily concrete policy stuff, the level of engagement will be increased.”

It’s fascinating that everyone is now vesting all this trust in SED, when not terribly long ago they were excoriating the department for botching the rollout of the Common Core curriculum.

For what it’s worth, the Cuomo administration is downplaying SED’s policy-setting role when it comes to the APPR, saying the changes passed by the Legislature are very “prescriptive” (as state Operations Director Jim Malatras said on CapTon last night) and don’t allow for much wiggle room.

At this point, most – including Woerner – have adopted a wait-and-see attitude until the SED releases its plans in June.

But the Assembly Democrats clearly haven’t given up hope that they’ll be able to exert some influence on the process, and the teachers unions have made it clear they haven’t given up the fight on their end, either.

Here and Now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is in New York City with no public schedule.

At 9 a.m., a former president of the Dominican Republic, Hipolito Mejia, and the brother of Puerto Rican activist Oscar Lopez Rivera convicted of federal conspiracy charges in 1981 and imprisoned since, Jose Lopez, speak to members of Sen. Ruben Daiz Sr.’s New York Hispanic Clergy Organization; Christian Community Neighborhood Church, 1437 Longfellow Ave., the Bronx.

At 9:30 a.m., the NYC Rent Guidelines Board holds a meeting to discuss the RGB’s 2015 Income and Affordability study and the 2015 Mortgage Survey report, Landmarks Preservation Commission Conference Room, 9th Floor, 1 Centre St., Manhattan.

At 10 a.m., members of the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission hold a public hearing about fares and limits on lease rates; 19th floor, 33 Beaver St., Manhattan.

At 10:15 a.m., Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks presents awards in the 7th annual Monroe County Intergenerational Fishing Day, Powder Horn Lodge, Powder Mills Park, Pittsford.

At 10:30 a.m., US Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand stops in Troy during a statewide tour to push her Paid Family Leave legislation, 1st Playable Productions, 5 Third Street, Suite 300.

At 11 a.m., during an event to mark the completed $257 million expansion and renovation of NYC Health & Hospitals Corp.’s Gouverneur Health hospital, Manhattan BP Gale Brewer, Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association President Eric Ng, hospital system President and CEO Ram Raju, Assemblyman Sheldon Silver, Sen. Daniel Squadron, hospital Executive Director Martha Sullivan, Rep. Nydia Velazquez, Council members, patients and others are scheduled to participate; auditorium, first floor, 227 Madison St., Manhattan.

At 11:30 a.m., former Gov. George Pataki holds a meet-and-greet event, Littleton VFW, 60 Cottage St., Littleton, NH. (He’s expected to announce steering committee members for his Super PAC and the opening of a state HQ for a potential presidential run).

At noon, US Interior Department officials including National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis and Secretary Sally Jewell and entertainer Bella Thorne introduce a “Find Your Park” public awareness and education campaign during an event to open a national tour and mark next year’s 100th anniversary of the Friday, Aug. 25, 1916, enactment of legislation establishing the National Park Service; north side of Flatiron Plaza, Madison Square Park, Fifth Avenue and 23rd Street, Manhattan.

At 1 p.m., Pataki holds another meet-and-greet, Village Gun Store, 4 King Square, Whitefield, NH.

At 1:45 p.m., Pataki holds another meet-and-greet, JL Sullivans Restaurant, 26 Main St., Lancaster, NH.

At 12:30 p.m., Rep. Paul Tonko, union leaders and stakeholders hold a rally to call on President Obama to issue an executive order requiring federal contractors to disclose their political spending, West Capitol Park, Albany.

At 3 p.m., NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio holds a media availability after meeting privately with progressive leaders at Gracie Mansion, 88th Street and East End Avenue, Manhattan.

At 5:30 p.m., Rep. Chris Gibson holds a Catskill Association for Tourism Services legislative roundtable discussion, Andes Hotel, Main Street, Andes.

Headlines…

In past years, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has handed out souvenirs to commemorate his streak of on-time budgets. Any similar celebration this year would probably come with an asterisk, thanks to the fact that the Assembly technically missed the midnight deadline.

Cuomo said he wants the ethics and education reforms in the new budget to stand among his “greatest legacies.”

When combined with a big school funding increase, Cuomo insisted, the education reforms make this budget the “most pro-teacher” ever. The teachers unions disagree.

Board of Regents chancellor Merryl Tisch said districts with a record of strong student performance, including high graduation rates or college readiness, should have more autonomy when it comes to teacher performance evaluations, similar to how charter schools are given some freedom from state laws and regulations.

In the days leading up to the budget’s passage – but after a framework deal had been announced – UFT Mike Mulgrew’s premature spiking of the ball with a victory email infuriated Cuomo and led to a furious 48-hour jockeying session that impacted the language of the education bill.

The Watertown Times says Cuomo’s need to compromise in the budget process “was more noticeable than usual this year,” adding: “In a system designed to keep individuals from amassing too much power, that’s good.”

Lawmakers approved a pay-raise commission as part of the 2015-16 state budget. Its creation likely paves the way for their first raise in the 21st century. Any increase would not take effect until Jan. 1, 2017.

The State Education Department is getting a second chance to implement a complex and controversial piece of public policy after facing a tidal wave of complaints from parents, teachers, local school officials and politicians — including Cuomo — about its four-year rollout of the new educational standards and the tests that come with them.

Cuomo firmly believes in government by contest, which, he says, forces the good to be great. His love of government competitions dates back to his HUD days.

New York would move to recoup an estimated $20 million in state property-tax subsidies from wealthy homeowners who were ineligible to receive the aid, following legislative approval of the new budget.

The ethics reforms included in the new budget do not close the infamous LLC loophole, which has enabled candidates – especially Cuomo – to circumvent contribution limits and rake in millions of dollars from the real estate industry.

Cuomo told the AP that good-government groups are correct when they say the new disclosure laws aren’t perfect. But he says no system is, and that critics who complain about the exemptions are “absolutists.”

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and AG Eric Schneiderman are set to announce a joint task force fighting fake or unscrupulous immigration lawyers.

The de Blasio administration for the first time laid out its plan to save $3.4 billion in employee health-care costs over the next four years. The strategy addresses a long-standing fiscal challenge and sheds light on how the city hopes to help offset raises negotiated over the past year with municipal unions.

Six scofflaw employers – including a Best Buy branch and FedEx – were among the first businesses to be slapped with fines under NYC’s year-old paid sick leave law.

NYC Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito pulled an April Fools prank on her staff – and the NYC media – by pretending to be engaged on Twitter.

More >

Extras

Asked by a reporter about Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s budget leadership, former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver politely declined to comment.

The U.S. Attorney’s office filed an application in district court to further place under protective order some assets that may be connected to Silver’s alleged bribery and kickback scheme.

The Cuomo administration has defied its self-imposed timeline for meeting with other state officials to devise a new email-retention policy after facing sharp criticism for having implemented a mandatory 90-day message purge for state workers.

McDonald’s Corp. plans to raise pay by more than 10 percent and add benefits like paid vacation for workers at U.S. restaurants it operates. Starting July 1, McDonald’s will pay at least $1 per hour more than the local legal minimum wage for employees at the roughly 1,500 restaurants across the nation.

In a letter sent to city principals, NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña asked school leaders to discourage parents from opting out of state standardized exams later this month.

In support of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s travel ban, Binghamton University men’s basketball coaches will not travel to Indiana for the Final Four this week because of the controversy over the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Stony Brook University won’t be sending its coaches, either.

Hillary Clinton took to Twitter to urge Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson to veto a religious freedom bill, saying it would permit discrimination against gays and lesbians.

…Hutchinson said he won’t sign the bill unless it’s changed so as not to permit discrimination against LGBT indivdiuals.

Cuomo’s proposal to require state approval of any industrial development agency incentives that included state sales tax breaks failed to make it into this year’s budget.

Developers behind the 13 losing casino projects last year paid the state a total of $13 million in application fees. Of that total, the state returned 60 percent — about $7.8 million.

Bill Hammond: “Gov. Cuomo’s fifth budget feels like a letdown, and he has only himself to blame.”

NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton flat-out denied a NY Post report that he stormed out of a City Hall meeting and vowed to go around NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio to secure 1,000 new cops.

Letchworth State Park in the Finger Lakes beat out Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park for the top honors in the USA TODAY 10 Best Readers’ Choice award for Best State Park.

GOP NY-11 candidate and Staten Island DA Dan Donovan said the GOP-controlled Senate to confirm Loretta Lynch—now U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York – as U.S. attorney general.

UAlbany President Robert Jones says the university faces a “significant financial threat” due to declining enrollment.

They’re still fed up, but undocumented college students who spent a week on hunger strike over the New York DREAM Act are eating again.

Cuomo says he understands the trepidation of teachers who don’t like having their professional performance evaluated because he doesn’t like being evaluated by the voters during elections.

The Hedge Clippers identified seven wealthy hedge fund contributors to Cuomo and the Senate GOP who will benefit from the new yacht/private plane sales tax exemption.

The New York moratorium on hydraulic fracturing doesn’t allow energy companies to extend leases with landowners beyond the expiration dates in their contracts, the state’s highest court ruled.

Smithtown Highway Superintendent Glenn Jorgensen was arraigned in First District Court in Central Islip on four felonies and one misdemeanor for falsifying and filing documents related to a paving project in November.