Liz Benjamin

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Posts by Liz Benjamin

Here and Now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo will be delivering his eighth State of the State address at 1 p.m. in the Empire State Plaza convention center.

In Washington, D.C. this morning, President Donald Trump will receive his daily intelligence briefing.

In the afternoon, Trump will have lunch with Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and Secretary of Defense James Mattis.

At 10 a.m., the NYC Planning Commission holds a public hearing, 22 Reade St., Manhattan.

Also ay 10 a.m., Brigan Higgins, state Sen. Tim Kennedy, local officials and community leaders hold an event for a proposed linear park and multiuse trail on the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad corridor in Buffalo, Tewksbury Lodge, 249 Ohio St., Buffalo.

At 11 a.m., hundreds of angry tenants and homeless New Yorkers from across state will protest Cuomo’s State of the State over his “failed housing policies,” outside the state Capitol, State Street side, Albany.

Also at 11 a.m., members of the Reclaim New York Initiative will hold a media availability to discuss “the real State of the State that has families and businesses struggling,” Senate staircase landing, 3rd Floor, state Capitol, Albany.

At noon, the state Senate is in session for the first time in 2018, Senate chambers, 3rd Floor, state Capitol, Albany.

Also at noon, the NYC Council votes for a new speaker, City Hall, council chambers, Manhattan.

At 3 p.m., NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio holds a media availability after the governor’s State of the State address, which he’ll be in Albany to attend, LOB, Room 130, 198 State St., Albany.

At 6 p.m., Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams holds a public meeting of the Brooklyn Borough Board, Brooklyn Borough Hall, 209 Joralemon St., Community Room, Brooklyn.

Headlines…

Acknowledging his push to broker peace in the Middle East has stalled, President Donald Trump appeared to threaten to cut off U.S. aid money to the Palestinian Authority, asking why the U.S. should make “any of these massive future payments” when the Palestinians are “no longer willing to talk peace.”

Trump again raised the prospect of nuclear war with North Korea, boasting in strikingly playground terms last night that he commands a “much bigger” and “more powerful” arsenal of devastating weapons than the outlier government in Asia.

The president tweeted: “North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the ‘Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.’ Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”

In his first “Crooked Hillary” tweet of 2018, Trump accused the Justice Department of being part of the “deep state” and urged prosecution against a top aide to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former FBI Director James Comey.

Republicans on key congressional committees say they have uncovered new irregularities and contradictions inside the FBI’s probe of Clinton’s email server.

Trump redoubled his support for protesters in Iran, but he also trained some of his Twitter fire on former President Barack Obama and the nuclear deal.

Another political setback for the president: U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, of Utah, the longest-serving Senate Republican, announced he will retire at the end of the year, rebuffing personal pleas from Trump to seek an eighth term and paving the way for Trump critic Mitt Romney to run.

Building a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River between New York City and New Jersey has been one of the nation’s top infrastructure priorities for several years. But transportation officials entered 2018 wondering if Trump had decided to block the plan just as work was getting started.

Republican prospects to unseat Gov. Andrew Cuomo in November just grew exponentially more daunting, with Harry Wilson’s decision this week to forgo his bid — leaving party strategists downcast, frustrated and scrambling.

In his State of the State speech, Cuomo plans to ask the state Legislature to eliminate cash bail for many crimes and to speed up the disclosure of evidence in trials as part of a package of proposals intended make the criminal justice system fairer for indigent defendants, his aides said.

The governor will signal how the state can keep funding key programs in education and health care at a time when its deficit is project to be at least $4.4 billion. He is also expected to lay out changes in the state’s tax code.

One thing today’s SoS won’t include: Details of a congestion pricing plan for NYC.

The details of Cuomo’s agenda won’t be clear until he proposes a budget two weeks from now, but the address might give clues about his thoughts regarding the national stage and his stated intention about running for re-election in New York.

Cuomo is calling for more offshore wind energy projects and new caps on carbon emissions from smaller power plants.

As state legislators return to work in Albany, the health care industry groups that will be fighting for funding said they’re worried that federal cuts will force the governor and the Legislature to make difficult choices.

The two sides of what will likely be an overarching debate during the 2018 legislative session were on display yesterday with progressives calling for an increased millionaires’ tax and conservatives saying that existing taxes should be phased out as scheduled to prevent a further exodus of Empire State residents.

A day before the start of what promises to be a contentious new legislative session, state policymakers signaled at least one area of possible agreement: cracking down on sexual harassment in New York government.

Cuomo proposed a comprehensive package of bills to combat workplace sexual harassment that includes sparing taxpayers from funding settlements involving public officials and barring governments from entering into secret deals not expressly sought by victims.

More >

Extras

U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, of Utah, the chamber’s longest-serving Republican, is retiring, rebuffing the pleas of President Donald Trump to seek an eighth term and paving the way for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney – a top Trump critic – to run for the seat.

The president sounded open to the possibility of an inter-Korean dialogue after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made a rare overture toward South Korea in a New Year’s address.

Trump appeared to call (via a tweet) for imprisonment of former State Department aide Huma Abedin over her email practices as he once again blasted his 2016 Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.

Trump’s New Year’s Day tweet blasting Pakistan prompted the country’s National Security Council to hold an emergency meeting.

Clinton called on Senate Republicans to bring a full extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program to the floor for a vote, saying a short-term fix “doesn’t cut it as states freeze enrollment & send out letters warning that coverage will end.”

NBC announced that Hoda Kotb would be joining Savannah Guthrie as the new co-host of the Today show, a little over a month after Matt Lauer was fired from the role amid allegations of sexual misconduct.

Guthrie and Kotb spoke out about Lauer’s termination in a new interview with People, calling the accusations against him “deeply disturbing.”

A pledge that no student should go hungry will be included in the upcoming State of the State Address, a signal that a localization of school nutrition sources is gaining strength.

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Rep. Peter King joined Long Island Teamsters in calling for union pension shortfalls to be funded through Treasury bonds tied to the federal budget.

The first of nine jails on the violence-plagued Rikers Island is set to be shut down by the summer, NYC’s Department of Correction announced. It’s the first closure under the de Blasio administration’s 10-year estimate to shutter the complex that a blue-ribbon panel has said should be done far sooner.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced new measures to prevent vehicle ramming terror attacks in New York City. Starting later this month, the city will begin installing more than 1,500 new permanent bollards in Times Square and other public spaces.

Brooklyn Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte, chairwoman of the Oversight of Minority-and-Women-Owned Business Enterprises Subcommittee, blasted Cuomo’s decision to veto legislation that would loosen wealth restrictions for these businesses as “deeply troubling.”

Cuomo says he’ll seek $175 million from the Legislature to create an Office of Workforce Development to coordinate the dozens of workforce training programs currently handled by various state agencies.

Deputy Senate Majority Leader John DeFrancisco says businessman Harry Wilson’s decision to stay out of the 2018 race for New York governor – one that seems to open the field for Republican candidates – won’t affect his own plans on whether to seek the GOP nomination.

The White House defended Trump’s scores of trips to his golf courses during his first year in office — arguing that hitting the links with lawmakers paid big policy dividends.

Former Suffolk Police Commissioner Timothy Sini promised to strictly adhere to ethical standards as he took office today as the county’s district attorney, drawing a sharp distinction with his indicted predecessor.

The flu season has gotten off to a fast start, with the number of reported cases already outstripping last year’s numbers.

The world’s smallest inhabited island is located off Alexandria Bay on the St. Lawrence River, near the Canadian border.

State IG Catherine Leahy Scott has for several months been investigating operations at the state Office of Technology Services after receiving emailed complaints about a lengthy list of alleged spending abuses and waste in the agency, which oversees the data systems for a variety of state functions.

Two words that should strike fear in your heart: “Bomb cyclone.”

Here and Now

Welcome to the first (working) day of 2018, which promises to be a banner year, politically speaking, here in New York.

All eyes will be on Gov. Andrew Cuomo as he navigates a number of thorny shoals, including what’s shaping up to be his most difficult budget since he was first elected in 2010, a bid for a third four-year term with pressure mounting on both his right and his left and a potential White House run in 2020.

And, a big wild card that could further complicate things for Cuomo this year is what Washington does when it comes to funding cuts – particularly when it comes to Medicaid, which makes up a big portion of the state budget. The president and his doings will no doubt continue to garner attention, and generate response, from all of New York’s Democrats, from Cuomo on down.

We’ll be watching for the developing dynamic between Cuomo and the other New York Democrats mentioned as potential 2020 contenders, including the governor’s primary frenemy, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, and U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.

Cuomo will be delivering his eighth State of the State address tomorrow, returning to the traditional (for him) approach of giving a single speech in the Empire State Plaza convention center, rather than the Assembly chamber, as has been his MO since he took office.

He will not be combining the SoS and budget addresses, (thankfully), and has already previewed quite a few of the proposals he’ll be unveiling, though I’m sure he’s got some big-ticket items yet to be revealed.

The Legislature is returning to work under a cloud, with a difficult budget battle, testy issues like congestion pricing in NYC and the need to seek re-election next fall looming.

Also, we’ll be watching to see how the midterm congressional elections shape up with a number of competitive races both upstate and down, and a pledge from the governor to mount a full court press to assist the Democrats in their quest to take back the House.

And, there will be yet another re-match in the state Senate as the Republicans, Democrats and IDC duke it out for control of the chamber. Will there be peace in our time among the warring Democratic factions, as the governor hopes?

Stay tuned.

Oh, and speaking of that infamous catch phrase-turned-podcast title employed by former US Attorney Preet Bharara, the Buffalo Billion corruption case he built before being unceremoniously fired by President Donald Trump is steaming along, with the first trial of former top Cuomo administration aide Joe Percoco is scheduled to start Jan. 22.

And there’s more where that came from.

While we were enjoying some holiday down time, Cuomo got some good news in the form of a report that the Republicans’ top gubernatorial contender, Harry Wilson, has decided not to challenge the governor this fall after all. That clears the field for some lesser known – and non-self funding – candidates, although it’s still possible someone we haven’t yet c considered throws his (or her) hat into the ring.

The governor is in Albany today, presumably prepping for his big speech. He so far has no public appearances scheduled.

In Washington today, Vice President Mike Pence will join President Donald Trump for lunch with Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta.

At 11 a.m., Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance joins survivors of Childhood Sexual abuse to call for passage of the Child Victims Act in Albany, Fearless Girl Statue, 8 Broadway, Manhattan.

At noon, NYC Department of Correction Commissioner Cynthia Brann; Elizabeth Glazer, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice and Corporation Counsel and Co-Chair of the Justice Implementation Task Force Zachary Carter make an announcement on Rikers Island, Manhattan.

At 12:30 p.m., NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill and DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg will make an announcement about new barriers to prevent terror attacks and safeguard sidewalks and plazas from vehicles, Times Square pedestrian plaza, Broadway and West 43rd Street, Manhattan.

At 1 p.m., on his second day in office, Westchester County Executive George Latimer will sign an executive order prohibiting gun shows from being held on county property, Westchester County Center, main lobby, 198 Central Ave., White Plains.

Also at 1 p.m., Reclaim’s New York Transparency Project will host a press conference announcing the filing of litigation against a major state agency for multiple violations of the FOIL and for withholding public information on how millions in taxpayer dollars were spent, state Capitol, Senate staircase landing, third floor, Albany.

At 2 p.m., organizations from across the state will join together for what has become the long standing “unofficial” kick off of the legislative session in Albany – the “People’s State of the State,” outside the state Capitol, State Street, Albany. (Dress WARM).

At 3 p.m., de Blasio and O’Neill will observe roll call and meet with officers at the 75th Precinct to thank them and acknowledge their work in dramatically reducing violent crime in the precinct over the last year, 1000 Sutter Ave., Brooklyn.

At 6 p.m., Queens Library CEO Dennis Walcott, Assemblyman Francisco Moya, and Rep. Joe Crowley celebrate Three Kings Day by distributing toys to the children of the community at the library, 38 23 104 St., Queens.

At 6:30 p.m., LG Kathy Hochul attends the Long Island Association’s pre-State of the State reception, Jack’s Oyster House, 42 State St., Albany.

Headlines…

A wave of optimism has swept over American business leaders thanks to the Trump administration, and it is beginning to translate into the sort of investment in new plants, equipment and factory upgrades that bolsters economic growth, spurs job creation — and may finally raise wages significantly.

Congress faces a jam-packed to-do list when it returns this week, with deadlines looming on difficult issues – including how to fund the government and avoid a shutdown, stabilizing the nation’s health-insurance program for poor children, and whether to shield young undocumented immigrants from deportation.

Vice President Mike Pence’s office called media reports that he had postponed his trip to Israel for the second time false, insisting he’s still planning to travel there later this month.

At least 20 people have died and 450 have been arrested in six days of nationwide anti-government demonstrations in Iran, the country’s media reported.

President Trump and his family have returned to Washington, D.C. after spending the holidays at Trump’s private beach club in Florida.

After accusations of sexual harassment and physical and verbal abuse, Peter Martins, the powerful leader of New York City Ballet who shaped the company for more than three decades, has decided to retire at the age of 71.

Prominent Democratic donors gave at least $700,000 to women’s rights lawyer Lisa Bloom in the final stretch of the 2016 race as she sought to publicize sexual misconduct allegations against Donald Trump.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken, of Minnesota, will officially resign today, nearly a month after announcing he would leave office over sexual misconduct allegations.

One of the 2018 elections’ most significant trends: More women than ever are in the mix to potentially lead their states as governor – traditionally one of the hardest reaches for female candidates and a position now held by just half a dozen women.

The earthquake of sexual misconduct allegations has taken down powerful men without regard to politics, but as it shakes Washington, accusations are taking on a partisan tint, which activists and lawyers fear could damage the movement.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is proposing several measures to combat sexual harassment in the workplace.

In the midst of the #MeToo movement, state Senate Democrats this week are set to propose an anti-sexual-harassment package that would make lawmakers personally financially liable for any settlements involving them.

Cuomo did not attend the swearing in ceremony for de Blasio’s second term, instead presiding over Nassau County Executive Laura Curran’s swearing in.

Cuomo has long been seen as a potential Democratic presidential candidate in 2020, but political pundits don’t seem all that excited about his prospects these days.

More >

Extras

We are getting close to wrapping up a crazy, news-filled year here and Capital Tonight, and just wanted to take the opportunity to thank you for your viewership/readership. Without you, all this would not be possible.

A programming note for the coming holiday week: For those in our viewing area, we will off the air Monday night (Christmas Eve), and then back Tuesday through Thursday with pre-taped, half-hour, end-of-year review and 2018 preview shows. Cameos by all your favorite CapTon regulars, including the Insiders and the Reporters of the Roundtable. Good times. I hope you’ll tune in.

As for the blog and our morning and afternoon memos, Nick and I will be taking some time off from work next week, which means you should not expect much in the way of regular coverage unless some significant news occurs, in which place we will be covering that for you.

And we’ll be returning to our regular scheduling Tuesday, Jan. 2, jumping right back into things with State of the State preview coverage. The big speech takes place Wednesday in Albany, and we will be bringing it you live – as per usual – with analysis and response throughout the day and evening.

It’s shaping up to be quite a year in 2018, so rest up and get ready – I know we are. Until then, happiest and healthiest of holidays from our CapTon family to you and yours. – L

President Trump signed the most consequential tax legislation in three decades today, even as he complained that he has not been given credit for his administration’s accomplishments during a turbulent first year.

Ivanka Trump said that she and Sen. Bob Corker, a longtime deficit hawk, believe the tax cuts, combined with deregulation, will “ultimately eliminate” the country’s debt, which flies in the face of virtually all nonpartisan research that shows the deficit will actually increase.

The tax overhaul will eliminate a popular tax write-off that allowed some Syracuse fans to count a significant portion of their season-ticket payments as a charitable contribution.

Dayton T. Brown Inc., an engineering and testing company based in Bohemia, Long Island is giving each of its roughly 210 employees a $400 bonus, as a result of savings it expects from tax reform, an official said.

More than 700 people have left the EPA since Trump took office, a wave of departures that puts the administration nearly a quarter of the way toward its goal of shrinking the agency to levels last seen during the Reagan administration.

At least $600,000 in public money has been spent over the past 20 years to settle 13 workplace misconduct claims against senators’ offices, including $14,260 for a single settlement alleging sex discrimination, according to data released late yesterday.

Past and present employees of WNYC suggest that in their drive to elevate the public radio station’s profile, its current leadership team – President and CEO Laura Walker and her deputy, Dean Cappello – developed a blind spot at the nexus of gender, race, power and personnel.

EJ McMahon says Cuomo “is ending the year on a strong pro-taxpayer note, vetoing union-backed legislation that would have blocked the Nassau County Interim Finance Authority (NIFA) from imposing pay freezes to balance the county budget.”

The veteran leader of the Troy Police Department’s drug unit, Sgt. Ron Epstein, was indicted by a special Rensselaer County grand jury on nine misdemeanor charges tied to the alleged forgery of an incident report to cover up the unit’s warrantless search of a home.

Disgraced celebrity chef Mario Batali’s business partner Joe Bastianich admitted this week he was aware of allegations that Batali sexually harassed employees.

Long Beach officials said the Nassau County District Attorney’s office is investigating an altercation involving city Police Commissioner Michael Tangney and accusations he punched a motorist Tuesday afternoon.

Any Erie County residents who want to apply for a new pistol permit need to schedule an appointment with the Erie County Clerk’s Office, not just drop in.

New York’s robust health exchange with 4 million enrollees faces two immediate challenges: the loss of the individual mandate as part of Obamacare and the potential loss of funding for a key state insurance program.

While the topic of dangerous hunting mishaps has long seemed synonymous with gun-related incidents, there is now a more deadly category: falls from tree stands that have become increasingly popular among gun and bow hunters seeking a high vantage point.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo isn’t a defendant and he doesn’t expect to be a witness when Joe Percoco’s public corruption trial begins next month. But from the opening moments, potential jurors are likely to hear Cuomo’s name in a trial that could have political implications for him.

Elizabeth Vargas, 55, will leave ABC News and “20/20” in May after more than 20 years at the network.

Extras

A majority of the world’s nations delivered a stinging rebuke to the U.S., denouncing its decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and ignoring President Trump’s threats to retaliate by cutting aid to countries voting against it.

In their latest bid to avoid a government shutdown, House Republican leaders are trying to move forward with a new plan that would keep the government funded into January while kicking fights over issues like immigration and surveillance into the new year.

The U.S. Justice Department has started an investigation into NXIVM, a Capital Region-based self-described self-help group in which women were branded with a symbol containing its leader’s initials.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he “would not expect to see” the Senate tackle entitlement reform next year, signaling a break from his counterpart in the House on the Republican agenda in 2018.

Steve Bannon, 2020?!

Trump and six members of his inner circle will be big winners as a result of the Republicans’ vast tax overhaul, with the president personally benefiting from a tax cut of up to $15 million a year, research shows.

The president’s deal with the town of Palm Beach to turn Mar-a-Lago into a private club hinged on an act of charity crafted to skirt IRS scrutiny and deliver for Trump a seven-figure tax break, a Palm Beach Post investigation has found.

A senior White House adviser at the Homeland Security Department repeatedly pushed a number of far-right conspiracy theories in radio appearances before joining the Trump administration.

Outgoing Minnesota Democratic Sen. Al Franken took a parting shot at Trump and the rhetoric of the GOP as he delivered his final speech from the Senate floor.

On a rare, and unannounced, visit to the home of the U.S. military’s prison for terror suspects, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis offered a pep talk to American troops — and urged them to always be ready for war.

Deputy Senate Majority Leader John DeFrancisco said he was alarmed by the Cuomo administration’s rapid approval of another $15 million for a ne tenant at a factory where the state has already spent $90 million.

AG Eric Schneiderman, leading a coalition of 13 states, called on the U.S. Senate and House to reject “deep and damaging” cuts in funding for the EPA and anti-environmental riders in federal budget bills.

NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill will remain the top cop for at least four more years, he and the mayor announced in a press conference at City Hall today.

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio gave his blessing to a deal likely to make Councilman Corey Johnson the next council speaker, but is playing a less involved role four years after he was crucial in picking Melissa Mark-Viverito for the job.

State Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins distanced herself from a proposed plan to reunite her conference of “regular” Democrats with the Independent Democratic Conference, saying it was “the governor’s construct.”

New York wants to spend $65 million to prevent harmful algae blooms in Skaneateles Lake and 11 other Upstate lakes.

According to new Census Bureau estimates, tt’s likely that New York will lose one of its 27 congressional seats in the 2022 reapportionment because its small growth in population hasn’t kept pace with the nation as a whole.

The MTA announced 19 finalists for Cuomo’s “genius” challenge.

RIP Janet Elder, who in a three-decade career at The New York Times rose from reporter to deputy managing editor, along the way spending many years as the editor of news surveys and election analysis, died at the age of 61 after a battle with cancer.

An East Rochester attorney waging a years-long battle over New York’s hydraulic fracturing ban is taking a new approach, filing a lawsuit last week attempting to force the state to compensate him for the oil-and-gas rights on his land.

Three opera singers and a classical musician say that world-renowned conductor Charles Dutoit sexually assaulted them — physically restraining them, forcing his body against theirs, sometimes thrusting his tongue into their mouths, and in one case, sticking one of their hands down his pants.

Two weeks after their abrupt suspensions due to allegations of inappropriate conduct, longtime WNYC hosts Leonard Lopate and Jonathan Schwartz have been fired.

Cuomo’s longtime girlfriend, Sandra Lee, shared her “ultimate” Christmas menu.

The Great New York State Fair today announced that a design-build contract has been awarded for construction of the 136,000-square-foot Expo Center at the Fairgrounds in the town of Geddes.

Here and Now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is in Onondaga County, Nassau County and New York City.

President Donald Trump is in Washington with no public events scheduled.

At 9:30 a.m., the state Urban Development Corporation Board of Directors meets, Empire State Development, 633 Third Ave., Manhattan.

At 10 a.m., Cuomo makes an announcement, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Gateway Building, 1 Forestry Dr., Syracuse.

Also at 10 a.m., state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services Commissioner Arlene Gonzalez-Sanchez delivers and distributes toys for the holiday, P.S. X811, 1434 Longfellow Ave., the Bronx.

At 10:30 a.m., state Homes and Community Renewal Commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas delivers and distributes toys at Harlem Hospital, 46 West 137th St., Manhattan.

Also at 10:30 a.m., state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli releases “Economic Snapshot of East Harlem,” the latest in his series of reports on New York’s local economies, Silberman School of Social Work, 2180 Third Ave., Manhattan.

At noon, state Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis distributes toys to local children, collected locally with Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church, the Dimitrios & Georgia Kaloidis Parochial School, and Salam Arabic Lutheran Church, Guild For Exceptional Children Early Childhood Education Center, 1273 57th St., Brooklyn.

At 12:15 p.m., Cuomo makes an announcement, Bethpage State Park – Carlyle on the Green, 99 Quaker Meeting House Rd., Farmingdale, Long Island.

At 12:30 p.m., Assemblywoman Carmen De La Rosa together with NYC Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez and Sen. Marisol Alcantara call for New Yorkers to help for Andy Manuel Herrera Reyes, 13, who is seeking a life-saving heart transplant, 210 Sherman Ave., Manhattan.

At 2:30 p.m., state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker delivers and distributes toys at Island Harvest, Hauppauge Distribution Center, 40 Marcus Blvd., Hauppauge, Long Island.

At 3 p.m., state Higher Education Services Corporation Acting President Guillermo Linares delivers and distributes toys at El Centro, 350 Port Richmond Ave., Staten Island.

At 4:30 p.m., state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance Commissioner Sam Roberts deliverers and distributes toys at Butler Mitchell Clubhouse, 370 Massachusetts Ave., Buffalo.

At 5 p.m. NYC Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo hosts multicultural holiday celebration in conjunction with Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn Partnership, FAB Alliance, and Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, Atlantic Terminal Community Center, 501 Carlton Ave., Brooklyn.

At 6 p.m., state Homes and Community Renewal Executive Deputy Commissioner Betsy Mallow and general counsel Linda Manley deliver and distribute toys at Elmcor Youth and Adult Activities, 33-16 108th St., Corona, Queens.

At 7 p.m., Rodriguez, in partnership with Alcantara and De La Rosa, hosts an Annual Holiday Concert, entitled “Un Romance Latino,” Marian Anderson Theater, 115 Convent Ave., Manhattan.

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and his wife, First Lady Chirlane McCray, are hosting a holiday party for the City Hall press corps at Gracie Mansion, Manhattan. The mayor’s public schedule, which includes no other events, featured this:

Twas’ the night of the City Hall press corps holiday party, and all through Room 9
Not a reporter was stirring, not even a whine.
All stories were filed by deadline with care
In hopes that they would make it to the party on time
With visions of off topic dancing in their head.
As the Mayor & First Lady prepared for holiday merriment
The City Hall flacks were ready for a jolly off the record event!

Headlines…

The House got its act together and voted yesterday – for the second time – to pass the GOP’s sweeping overhaul of the US tax system, and President Trump held a celebratory “bill passage event” at the White House later in the day.

The final House vote was essentially a formality, as the changes, which were made to comply with Senate budget rules, did not significantly alter the overall bill. But the need for a second vote gave ammunition to Democrats, who had already accused Republicans of trying to rush the tax overhaul through the House and Senate.

Democrats cried foul as Trump and GOP lawmakers claimed victory and celebrated the passage of a historic tax code overhaul that overwhelmingly favors the wealthy.

When Trump adds his distinctive signature to the tax bill, he will also be making a huge bet that the Republican strategy of deep cuts for businesses and wealthy individuals will fuel extraordinary growth across the board.

Democratic-leaning states – including New York – may take legal action to challenge the cap on deductions of state and local taxes under the sweeping overhaul of the U.S. tax code, and even though such lawsuits would face long odds they could help galvanize Democrats for next year’s mid-term election.

Reps. John Faso and Elise Stefanik insisted that although they believe in the GOP creed of lower taxes, they voted “no” on their party’s mammoth tax bill out of concern for their high-tax-state constituents and New York’s precarious budgetary situation.

Most Big Apple residents will see a far less bountiful windfall from the tax overhaul than their counterparts in Florida, according to an analysis by the Partnership for New York City.

The newly overhauled tax system starts in less than two weeks, but there’s still time to cash in on deductions that will disappear on Jan. 1, experts said.

Chris Churchill: The Republican tax reform plan comes with a hidden question: How generous will Americans be when there is no financial incentive to give?

At least 405,610 New Yorkers will be cheering Trump’s new tax plan because they paid heavy penalties under ObamaCare — penalties that will be gone in 2019. They chose to forgo health-care coverage in 2015, resulting in $186 million in penalties.

The tax bill that U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell helped push through this week is considered one of the biggest legislative overhauls in 30 years, so the Kentucky politician celebrated with Trump the way many Kentuckians do at some point — by commemorating the moment with a personalized Louisville Slugger.

Trump issued a threat to cut off American aid to any country that votes for a resolution at the United Nations condemning his recent decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

A group of House Republicans has gathered secretly for weeks in the Capitol in an effort to build a case that senior leaders of the Justice Department and FBI improperly — and perhaps criminally — mishandled the contents of a dossier that describes alleged ties between Trump and Russia, according to four people familiar with their plans.

Trump will be spending New Year’s Eve back at Mar-a-Lago, where tickets for the evening shot up in price 14 percent to $600 for dues-paying members of the club and 30 percent to $750 for their guests. Last year, Mar-a-Lago’s New Year’s Eve party had more than 800 guests.

The president commuted the prison sentence of Sholom Rubashkin, a Brooklyn-born rabbi who was sentenced to 27 years on bank fraud charges in 2009.

The FBI’s deputy director, Andrew McCabe, will appear for a closed-door interview today with two key U.S. congressional committees, after Republicans asked him to discuss the bureau’s handling of its Hillary Clinton email probe.

House Democrats demanded that their colleagues across the aisle reauthorize health coverage for millions of low-income kids whose insurance is at risk of running out.

Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican, said that party leaders have assured him the Senate will vote in January on bipartisan legislation to protect certain young immigrants from deportation.

A 21 percent rise in drug overdose deaths last year made unintentional injuries the third-leading cause of death in the country, according to data set for release by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More >

Extras

Republicans enacted a sweeping $1.5 trillion tax package — the first major overhaul of the U.S. tax code in three decades — after the House approved it for the second time in a final re-vote forced by a parliamentary glitch.

In a video recorded for Moveon.org, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand called the tax bill “cynical” and a “payback for wealthy donors,” adding: “And what we can do to fight back against it is flip the House in ’18.”

Minutes after Congress passed the tax bill that will primarily benefit the country’s wealthiest, President Trump asked one of his Cabinet members – HUD Secretary Ben Carson – to pray for him and his White House staff, which historians say is the richest in American history.

Trump achieved a significant legislative victory after nearly a year of humiliating defeats in Congress, making good on his promise to deliver what he called a “big, beautiful” tax cut before Christmas and finally demonstrating the political power of unified Republican control in Washington.

Trump: “By cutting taxes and reforming the broken system, we are now pouring rocket fuel into the engine of our economy. America is back to winning again, and we’re growing like never before.”

While critics slam the Republican tax plan is a gift to the rich, most American millionaires expect to pay the same or more next year, according to the CNBC Millionaire Survey.

Rep. John Katko explained his “yes” votes on the tax reform bill, insisting it will benefit the “vast majority” of his constituents.

Republican Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is promising to offer a bill to the state General Assembly to protect Marylanders from being “negatively affected” by Congress’ newly-passed GOP tax bill.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a Manhattan Democrat, won the top Democratic spot on the powerful House Judiciary Committee, beating back a challenge from Rep. Zoe Lofgren, of California, to fill the seat held by former Rep. John Conyers, of Michigan, for almost a quarter century.

Despite calls from some of his colleagues for him to “unresign,” U.S. Sen. Al Franken will step down on Jan. 2, a spokesman for the Minnesota Democrat said.

NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña will leave the Department of Education in the new year, possibly before the end of the school year in June, a city official confirmed.

The race to become the next NYC Council speaker entered its final stages today with leaders from the two most powerful Democratic county organizations, in the Bronx and in Queens, reportedly solidifying support behind a Manhattan councilman, Corey Johnson.

Following the “usual knock-down drag out series of internal insults and feuds,” the Inner Circle has decided its theme for this year’s roast will be “Curb Your Narcissism.”

A giant wine and liquor wholesaler whose employees engaged in “pay to play” schemes to win business in Upstate New York has been hit with the largest civil fine in the history of the New York State Liquor Authority.

Disgraced former The Intercept reporter Juan Thompson was slammed with a five-year prison sentence for phoning in bomb threats at Jewish community centers in a twisted revenge plot against his ex-girlfriend.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said he and his counterparts in all the other states have reached a $13.5 million settlement with the maker of drugs to treat stroke, blood pressure and lung ailments over the alleged deceptive marketing of those products.

Cuomo said today’s announcement that the New York Islanders will move from Brooklyn to a new arena at the Belmont Park racetrack was “a great day for Long Island.”

Two former Fox News employees who received settlements after complaining about Bill O’Reilly’s sexual harassment are suing the network and the conservative talkshow host for publicly trashing them and casting them as liars.

Albany patrolman Shawn Dixon has been arrested for the second time this year for leaving the scene of a car crash.

People who live in Detroit are more sleep deprived than those who live in New York City, according to an analysis conducted by the Tuck Sleep Foundation.

Convention Consternation

Later yesterday afternoon, the Westchester County Democratic Committee sent out an email informing recipients that a “mini convention” would be called by Chairman Reggie Lafayette for the purpose of selecting a candidate to run for the yet-to-be-called special election to fill the seat of departing state Sen. George Latimer, who will become Westchester County executive on Jan. 1.

The mini convention, according to this email, will be held Jan. 9 at the Westchester County Center in White Plains. All committee members (also known as district leaders) from towns and cities in the 37th SD will be eligible to vote, selecting between the following five announced Democratic candidates:

People for Bernie co-founder Katherine Brezler, Bedford Supervisor Christopher Burdick, West Harrison resident Mark Jaffe, Assemblywoman Shelley Mayer, and Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano.

The race for the district is key for the fragile unity deal between mainline Democrats and the Independent Democratic Conference. It is one of two open seats in the Senate that Democrats hope to fill in order to work toward a governing majority in the chamber.

The email raised eyebrows in a number of corners, since, according to an informed Democratic source in the district, the mini convention date has been changed three times now. Initially, committee members were told to expect to gather on March 21. Next, they were told the event would in fact be held at some yet-undetermined date in February.

The fact that the date keeps moving up has led some to speculate that party leaders are trying to orchestrate proceedings to benefit a preferred candidate, perhaps Mayor (and former Assemblyman) Mike Spano, who was the last to formally announced his candidacy.

The more quickly the convention is called, the thought goes, the less time lesser known candidates will have to circulate and make their respective cases to the local committee members.

But in a telephone interview this afternoon, LaFayette scoffed at the idea that he has a favorite candidate, noting that since he isn’t a 37th SD resident, he won’t even get to vote on who will carry the party’s banner into the special election.

LaFayette insisted that he had changed the mini convention date for two reasons: One, because accommodating several hundred people – up to 700 he said, counting all committee members and “onlookers” – at this time of year on short notice is difficult; and two, because he suspects the governor will call the special election sooner rather than later, and he wants whoever the candidate is to be ready to hit the ground running.

“We realized something in reading the law,” LaFayette said. “When the governor sets a date for a special election, ten days after that, you have to have all your paperwork and filing of nominating petitions in. So we have to be ready to be up and running.”

The chairman noted that in 2012, the governor called a special election to fill numerous vacancies around the state – including, ironically, the race for the seat vacated by now-Mayor Spano, who was succeeded by now-Assemblywoman Mayer – in early January. The election was held in March.

Some sources close to the race, too, have noted that Spano is close to both Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein and the governor. Spano’s brother Nick was ousted in a closely watched race by the now-Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. The Yonkers mayor and the Democratic leader in the Senate have had an at-times frayed relationship, one source noted.

As part of the much-maligned state Senate peace process designed to reunite the chamber’s warring Democratic factions, which was floated by allies of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the special election to fill Latimer’s seat would not be held until after the April 1 budget deadline.

This angered liberal activists, which has been pressuring the governor to call a special ASAP because they don’t want to see the Republicans continue to control the Senate through what is shaping up to be a protracted budget battle.

LaFayette said he has no insight about when Cuomo will announce the 37th SD special election, and has received no heads up on the subject.

“If someone had given us a heads up, we would not be in the position we are in now,” the chairman said. “So we are saying that in 2012, he called it (in early January). So, we’re going with that he may call it on the 3rd, or so. If he calls it later than that then fine, we’re still good.”

LaFayette called critics who have suggested he’s trying to rig the convention process “ignorant,” adding:

“For each date, we got a complaint. What I’m trying to realize it’s either someone who doesn’t like the Spanos, or are trying to make trouble. (Mike Spano) just announced. I think (Mayer) was first one out…so you know, it is beyond me how these rumors get started. I don’t even know who has traction.”

Here and Now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is in Nassau County and New York City and will make an announcement.

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio will travel from Des Moines, Iowa back to New York City.

President Donald Trump this morning will receive his daily intelligence briefing, and will then hold a Cabinet meeting.

At 10:30 a.m., NYC Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and NYCEDC tour proton beam therapy facility, New York Proton Center, 225 E. 126th St., Manhattan.

At 11 a.m., Cuomo makes an announcement, Belmont Park Race Track, 2150 Hempstead Turnpike, Elmont.

Also at 11 a.m., Hedge Clippers and their allies hold protests against TPG Capital for aggressively foreclosing on families in Puerto Rico, TPG Headquarters, 888 Seventh Ave., Manhattan.

At 12:30 p.m., LG Kathy Hochul recognizes the contributions of organized labor in the resurgence of WNY at the Buffalo Building Trades Holiday Party, Ironworkers Local 6 Hall, 196 Orchard Park Rd., Buffalo.

At 1 p.m., the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development and Councilman Donovan Richards unveil 100 percent affordable passive house multifamily building, 44-19 Rockaway Beach Blvd., Queens.

At 1:30 p.m., NYC First Lady Chirlane McCray and NYC Health +Hospitals/Woodhull CEO Calliste host a press conference and ribbon-cutting ceremony where they will make an announcement about providing health services to the LGBTQ community, 760 Broadway, Brooklyn.

At 3 p.m., de Blasio will deliver remarks on the court decision allowing the Water Board to issue credits to homeowners, 952 Lorimer St., Brooklyn.

At 6 p.m., NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina attends a meeting of the Panel for Educational Policy, The High School of Fashion Industries, 225 W 24th St., Manhattan.

Also at 6 p.m., Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer sponsor an emergency teach-in on federal tax reform legislation, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, 524 W. 59th St., Manhattan.

At 7 p.m., de Blasio hosts a town hall with Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo for residents of the 35th Council District, University Settlement Ingersoll Community Center, 177 Myrtle Ave., Brooklyn.

Headlines…

The U.S. Senate early this morning passed a final version of the GOP tax plan, leaving Republicans and President Donald Trump within striking distance of the most sweeping overhaul of the tax code in decades and their top policy goal for the year.

As Vice President Mike Pence presided, the bill was approved with members voting 51-48 along party lines to adopt the conference report on the landmark legislation at close to 1 a.m.

The House had approved the bill earlier but will have to vote again today.

Amid the cheers and gavel-pounding among Republicans at the passage of the tax bill in the House, there was a Northeastern accent to the party’s dissenters, with nine lawmakers from New York and New Jersey bucking the consensus to vote no.

Democrats in the Senate persuaded the chamber’s parliamentarian that several minor provisions in the House bill violated Senate rules, forcing the House into an embarrassing second vote.

One of those provisions would allow 529 savings accounts, which are now used for college tuition, to help finance home schooling. Another would exempt a small tuition-free college in Kentucky from a new tax on endowments.

As the final vote approached in the Senate, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer gave his closing argument against the bill and scolded his Republican colleagues for talking during his remarks on the floor. “This is serious stuff,” he said. “We believe you’re messing up America. You could pay attention for a couple of minutes.”

EJ McMahon: “You don’t have to be a fan of the federal tax deal to realize its impact on states like New York has been misrepresented by most of its leading political critics.”

Western New York is on track for the second-best year on record for home sales, as prices and transaction volume continue to hit at or near their peaks. But the new federal tax reform legislation could put a damper on that in the future.

Inequality between the richest Americans and everyone else became a central issue in the 2018 election, and Democrats promised a “reckoning” for the boost to the wealthy in the tax bill.

Fifteen people chanting “kill the bill!” were arrested in front of the New York Stock Exchange while protesting the Trump administration’s proposed tax overhaul.

Congress will not hold discussions on former President Barack Obama’s immigration program, DACA, this year, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

A U.S. Senate panel rejected Trump’s nominee to run the Export-Import Bank.

Investigators are looking into whether the Amtrak engineer whose speeding train plunged off an overpass in Washington state, killing at least three people, was distracted by the presence of an employee-in-training next to him in the locomotive, a federal official said.

Preliminary information indicated that the emergency brake on the Amtrak train that derailed in Washington state went off automatically and was not manually activated by the engineer, a National Transportation Safety Board member said.

Two powerful House Republicans are asking the Justice Department to make senior FBI officials available to testify before Congress as early as this week, the latest salvo in an expanding confrontation between the GOP and the bureau.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is proposing that the massive state Common Retirement Fund stop new investments of pension assets in companies connected to fossil fuels. The plan has its limitations: state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli runs the fund and Cuomo has zero control over it.

The governor vetoed a bill that would have allowed some public employees in Nassau County to receive “step” raises even when county wages are frozen – a measure that pitted public-employee unions against the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, the state-imposed county financial control board.

Cuomo vetoed a bill that would have extended the state’s tuition-free scholarships to for-profit institutions, allowing them to participate in the Enhanced Tuition Award that the legislature adopted earlier this year.

More >

Extras

After a long year of legislative face-plants and just one hour of debate, the House of Representatives voted to approve a massive overhaul of the nation’s tax system and knock out a key pillar of the Affordable Care Act: the individual mandate.

The House will re-vote on the bill it passed to much fanfare, fearing procedural violations in the version it already passed. The vote will likely take place tomorrow. The Senate has been expected to take up the bill later this evening.

Several protesters disrupted the proceedings briefly, chanting “kill the bill, don’t kill us,” “liars” and “shame” as they were removed from the House gallery overlooking the chamber. Undeterred, lawmakers proceeded to vote 227 to 203 on the bill.

Five of the 12 House Republicans who voted “no” on the tax bill today were New Yorkers: Reps. Lee Zeldin, Dan Donovan, Pete King, John Faso and Elise Stefanik. Yes voters: Reps. Tom Reed, Claudia Tenney, John Katko and Chris Colllins.

Two Federal Reserve officials, both former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. executives, expressed doubt corporate tax cuts under consideration in Congress will lead to an investment or hiring boom.

Newly-released statistics show taxpayers paid more than $342,000 to settle workplace discrimination disputes at House lawmakers’ offices between 2008 and 2012, including nearly $175,000 for eight settlements related to sexual harassment and sex discrimination accusations.

A silicone-skinned Trump was finally added to the Hall of Presidents exhibit at the Walt Disney World’s Liberty Square area of the Magic Kingdom in Orlando.

Billionaire Carlos Slim is planning to sell more than half of his 17 percent stake in the New York Times Co. to U.S. hedge fund investors, reducing his sway over one of the world’s most influential publishers.

Microsoft, one of the world’s biggest software makers, says it has eliminated forced arbitration agreements with employees who make sexual harassment claims and was also supporting a proposed federal law that would widely ban such agreements.

The owner of a Dallas restaurant where Donald Trump Jr. had a photo taken of him and Sen. Ted Cruz holding a cake bearing a cartoonish image of Barack Obama has apologized to customers in the face of a threatened boycott.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has found a new villain for his ever-evolving narrative about the sorry state of the subway system: the state Legislature.

Cuomo is deploying “hundreds” of additional state police, National Guard troops and MTA and Port Authority cops to patrol the city’s transits hubs and crossings during the holiday season amid heightened concerns about terrorism.

Cuomo has vetoed a TV diversity bill that has been strongly backed by the Writers Guild of America East and Directors Guild of America, which would have provided tax incentives and allocated up to $5 million toward the hiring of women and/or people of color to write or direct television in New York.

Nisha Agarwal, commissioner of the NYC Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, has been on medical leave from City Hall since August while battling a rare form of brain cancer. She suffered a stroke during surgery to remove the tumor, which initially left her unable to speak or walk, but she made it to D.C. to protest the tax bill.

The Transport Workers Union took out a series of digital, billboard and newspaper ads in Iowa — where NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio is stumping this week — that show a grotesque caricature of the mayor as a bogus $3 bill.

Expectations that free SUNY tuition might lead to a surge in enrollment this fall didn’t materialize, records show. In fact, enrollment at the 64 SUNY campuses fell 1 percent from 2016 to this fall because the number of students at the state’s 30 community colleges continued to drop.

CNN morning co-anchor Chris Cuomo, the governor’s brother, will reportedly return – briefly – to the network’s primetime schedule in January, with a show focusing on Trump’s first year in office.

Michael Martino, a former newspaper columnist and editor who has done public relations work for both Democrats and Republicans, will be the new communications director for Democratic Nassau County Executive Laura Curran when she takes office Jan. 1.

Chele Chiavacci Farley, a Manhattan resident who leads the Republican State Committee’s fundraising efforts in New York City, and works as a private equity executive, has been talking to key Republicans about challenging Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand next year.

LIPA trustees approved a 2018 rate increase, gave the thumbs up to new method for compensating commercial solar energy projects and greenlighted a plan to issue up to $880 million in borrowing next year, when authority debt is projected to exceed $8.1 billion.

Troy City Councilman-elect Anasha B. Cummings, 29, is playing up his Santa Clause resemblance this holiday season.

County clerks across the state are seeking an emergency meeting with Cuomo and other leaders about a Jan. 31 deadline for re-certifying handgun licenses under the 2013 SAFE Act gun control law.

Jill Stein, the Massachusetts doctor who was the Green Party’s 2016 presidential nominee, says she’s cooperating with a request for documents from a US Senate committee investigating Russian meddling in the election.

Columbia County Sheriff deputies charged five protesters yesterday after they refused to leave Rep. John Faso’s District Office in Kinderhook.

Hillary Clinton wasn’t really singing backup on the “Yearly Show” special from the “The Daily Show,” but she did make a memorable cameo appearance.

Clinton’s favorability has hit a new low since her 2016 loss to Trump, according to a Gallup poll released today.

Upstate New York, the land of the reliably white Christmas, might not be white this year.