Casey Bortnick

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Morelle Supporters See ‘Interim’ Title As Audition

Even with the “interim” title, State Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle’s temporary promotion marks the first time since 1991 that a representative from outside New York City has filled the Speaker’s role.  Those close to the Rochester-area Democrat see this as an opportunity to prove he can fill the role permanently.

“He’s uniquely qualified to be the Speaker.  Whether or not the political realities will come together for him I don’t know.  But I would encourage him to move forward with this,” said Former State Senator Ted O’Brien.

O’Brein and Morelle have a long standing friendship and have worked together in Monroe County politics for decades.  Even O’Brien acknowledges beating out a Downstate rival to win the majority of votes in the Assembly Democratic Conference will be an uphill battle.

“It is tough.  Sixty-one of the members represent districts in New York City.  I think he has to be able to comfort people that he’s going to be looking out for everyone and New York City won’t be disadvantaged by his term as Speaker,” O’Brien said.

Bringing different factions of a party together is something Morelle has experience with.  As the head of the Monroe County Democratic Committee, he was able to keep peace among the David Gantt wing of the party and those more loyal to former Rochester Mayor and Lt. Governor Bob Duffy.

Morelle left the chairmanship soon after a divisive 2013 Rochester Mayoral Democratic Primary, between Lovely Warren and Tom Richards, to focus on his role as Assembly Majority Leader.  O’Brien believes both experiences make him uniquely qualified to lead.

“I think he’s proven during his time as Majority Leader that he can keep this conference that’s so diverse, from so many different parts of the state, working together.  He’s already earned careful consideration,” said O’Brien.

How Morelle handles the next two weeks of critical budget negotiations could be a factor in whether or not he gets to keep the job. While difficult, O’Brien believes it’s an opportunity for Morelle to separate himself from other candidates.

“I hope he goes forward but it’s going to be a special burden for him.  Not only does he have to solicit support as Assembly Speaker, he has to do the job for the next two weeks too.  But if anyone can do that Joe Morelle can,” O’Brien added.

If Morelle were to become Speaker it would mark the first time since 1925 that a Western New Yorker held the permanent post. The last time a Speaker hailed from Monroe County (Morelle’s home county) was back in 1898.

Langworthy Says Kearns Should Replace Silver As Speaker

When Assemblyman Mickey Kearns announced he would not caucus with his party until Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver stepped down, few people outside Western New York even noticed.  Thursday following Silver’s arrest on fraud and corruption charges, the South Buffalo Democrat seemed to offer a bit of an ‘I told you so’ to the Assembly Democratic Conference.

“What I’m surprised about is how long he’s lasted. We had proof that there were young girls that were under oppression that were being abused by some of my colleagues and that wasn’t good enough to remove him from office,” Kearns said.

Kearns has been a vocal critic of Silver since the Vito Lopez scandal but only Charles Barron, a freshman Democrat from Brooklyn, joined him in not supporting Silver as Speaker earlier this month.  That’s something a well known WNY Republican leader was quick to point out Thursday night.

“I want to know where our local delegation, you know, Sean Ryan and Robin Schimminger and Crystal Peoples (-Stokes), where they stand on Shelly Silver’s leadership,” said Erie County GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy.

Ryan did release a statement saying he was “disturbed” by the allegations but few Western New York Democrats outside of the Assembly Majority Leader had anything to say.

“Perhaps they should look to Mickey Kearns as the new Speaker of the Assembly. He’s a Democrat. He’s a reformer. He’s somebody that really brings a bipartisan approach to government and he could get things done,” said Langworthy.

This isn’t the first time Langworthy has been supportive of Kearns.  He allowed Kearns to run on the Republican line during his first run for the Assembly in a 2012 special election.

Kearns himself knows it’s unlikely the Democratic Caucus would welcome him back with open arms let alone vote for him as Speaker.  When asked who he’d like to see replace Silver, Kearns was intentionally vague.

“Anyone who’s not under indictment or investigation would be better than Speaker Silver right now,” Kearns added.

Dinolfo To Announce Run For Monroe County Executive Thursday

It’s been called the worst kept secret in Monroe County politics.  On Thursday it’s expected Cheryl Dinolfo will finally make it official and announce she’s running for County Executive.

The Monroe County Clerk has long been a rumored candidate for the office.  With most of her GOP rivals dropping out in recent weeks, Dinolfo’s candidacy has been considered a foregone conclusion.

Dinolfo is looking to follow in the current County Executive’s footsteps.  Maggie Brooks, who faces term limits, used her time in the Monroe County Clerk’s office as springboard to run for County Executive in 2003.

The path to success through the clerk’s office is not limed to Brooks or the Republican Party.  Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul spent nearly eight years in the Erie County Clerk’s Office, four running it, before winning a special Congressional Election in 2011.

Both Brooks and Hochul have learned the post not only provides valuable experience in dealing with state and federal regulations, it can also offer a political soap box.  Dinolfo pushed back against former Governor Eliot Spitzer’s plan to give driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants in 2007.  Six years later she spoke out against attempts to make gun permit records public.

Monroe County Republican Party Chairman Bill Reilich has called a press conference for Thursday at noon.  The timing of the announcement would allow Dinolfo to attend a major GOP fundraising event on Saturday Night as the “heir apparent” to Brooks.

While the GOP hopes declaring its candidate early will help them retain control of a seat they’ve held since 1992, the list of potential Democrats candidates is still pretty long.  New Monroe County Democratic Party Chairman Dave Garretson is reportedly considering County Legislature Minority Leader Carrie Andrews, Irondequoit Town Supervisor Adam Bello, former County Legislator Vincent Esposito, former Brighton Town Supervisor Sandra Frankel, and former Monroe County District Attorney Mike Green.

Former State Senator Ted O’Brien said Wednesday night he is not a candidate but has urged Garretson to take his time.

“There’s no rush and there’s a long list of qualified candidates. We have plenty of time between now and our nominating convention in May,” O’Brien said.

Gallivan Hired Law Firm To Review Campaign Expenditures

State Senator George Maziarz wasn’t the only lawmaker to raise eyebrows when his name appeared on a now defunct Moreland Commission report that came to light last summer.  While Maziarz had $140,000 in unspecified campaign expenditures, fellow Western New York State Senator Pat Gallivan had $80,000.

But while Maziarz announced he was retiring soon after the report hit the media and has refused to answer any questions related to the issue since, Gallivan has never shied away from the issue.  In July he told us he was not only surprised to see his name on the report and had directed his staff to conduct an internal review of his campaign expenditures.

On Friday we learned Maziarz spent more than $74,000 in campaign funds on legal counsel in the last six months.  Under the same filing period Gallivan paid a Buffalo law firm $17,000.

Gallivan explained he hired Hodgson Russ LLP to conduct the previously mentioned internal audit.

“As part of a comprehensive review of our filings and record keeping procedures, we hired outside professionals to assist us to ensure full compliance with applicable election law.  My office has always endeavored to comply with state campaign financial disclosure requirements and will continue to do so,” Gallivan said

Assini Already Looking Ahead to 2016

The next election is still two years away, but Gates Town Supervisor Mark Assini says he will run again in New York’s 25th Congressional District in 2016.

“About six months into my race for Congress I decided if I do anything, if I spend any more time in government, my efforts would be best spent going to Congress and representing people in the 25th Congressional District, “ Assini said

The Republican fell to incumbent Democrat Louise Slaughter by a surprisingly “razor-thin” margin. With little financial support from the NRCC or the Monroe County Republican Party some are wondering if things could have been different.

“I heard from members of the National Republican Party and they were surprised by how close this race was.  And I think they were a little disappointed that they didn’t pay a little more attention to the race.  The way they worded it, they just never expected the race to be razor thin.  It’s just not something they expected even though I told them it was going to be a close race,” Assini recalled.

He is expecting a rematch against the 85-year-old Slaughter in 2016.  There are more registered Democrats than Republicans in Monroe County and Slaughter’s camp expects her, or any other Democrat, to get more votes in two years.

“Anybody that thinks the presidential race may be a disadvantage for a Republican in this coming presidential year, 2016 I really think they need to rethink the dynamics,” Assini said.

Assini’s focus on running for Congress means he will not be a candidate for Monroe County Executive, a position he’s previously expressed interest in.  With Maggie Brooks facing term limits, Assini sees Monroe County Clerk Cheryl DiNolfo as front-runner on the GOP side.

The list of Democratic candidates includes County Legislature Minority Leader Carrie Andrews, Irondequoit Town Supervisor Adam Bello, former county legislator Vincent Esposito, former Brighton Town Supervisor Sandra Frankel, and former Monroe County District Attorney Mike Green.

Collins Hopes To Prove Cuomo Administration Wrong On Fracking

Western New York Congressman Chris Collins has made no secret of the fact he’s unhappy with the Cuomo Administration’s stance on hydrofracking.  As the Clarence Republican enters his second term, he’s hoping to use a more prominent role in the 114th Congress to prove the Governor got it wrong.

“Economically New York State needs to be hydrofracking and certainly in the Southern Tier the benefits would be tremendous,” said Collins.

House Speaker John Boehner assigned Collins to the House Energy and Commerce Committee that includes spots on three subcommittees: Health, Communications and Technology, and Oversight and Investigations.

“I want to make sure we have hearings that highlight the safety and the economic impact of hydrofracking around the country, whether it’s in North Dakota or Texas so I can bring facts forward to show that the Governor made the wrong decision,” Collins said.

Following suggestions by fellow GOP Congressman Tom Reed that the federal government could have the authority to overrule the anticipated ban, Collins’ call for hearings could signal a concerted effort to undermine the findings of the state DEC and the Department of Health.

“I’m going to use my role on Energy and Commerce to make sure Western New York has a very active role here in DC,” he said. 

Far removed from the freshman who accidentally showed up at a Democratic Congressional breakfast in 2012, Collins is hoping to take on more of a leadership role in the New York Congressional Delegation.  He’s also offered his help to the NRCC in 2016.

“Typically your first re-elect is your toughest so I’ve already stepped forward to say I would like to use my resources to help our members get re-elected and I’ll just do what I can to make them feel welcome.  I know where I was two years ago, kind of a deer in a headlight drinking out of a fire hydrant,” Collins added.

Collins is now one of eight New York Republicans in the House of Representatives.  That could increase to nine if the GOP can hold on to the seat left vacant by former congressman Michael Grimm.     

 

Buffalo Democrat Renews Call To Replace Silver

When Democrats in the state Assembly return to Albany to decide whether or not Sheldon Silver will continue on as speaker, a Buffalo Democrat will not be among them.  Mickey Kearns no longer caucuses with his party after his repeated calls for new leadership went unanswered.

“Enough is enough and we’ve got to do things differently in New York and I think it starts with a change at the top,” Kearns said

Kearns left the Democratic conference in May of 2013 to protest Silver’s handling of the Vito Lopez sexual harassment scandal.  Only one other Democrat joined him at the time.

He hopes a report in the New York Times, which includes new accusations of ethics violations against Silver regarding the speaker’s failure to disclose substantial payments from a law firm, will convince his colleagues to see things differently.

“I think as things progress and we get some more information that people may begin to reassess how they see things.  We have a lot of new legislators coming in,” said Kearns.

For Kearns, replacing Silver is the first step in changing the way the Assembly does business.

“Even if Speaker Silver were to leave tomorrow and you bring a new person, he or she would still follow the same archaic rules that are in place where we can’t get bills to the floor, where the Speaker assigns chairmanships, where we don’t have independent committees. Things aren’t going to change.”

Kearns is pushing term limits for legislative leadership.  He’s also calling for a rule change that would allow any member to bring legislation to the floor for a vote.

He acknowledged the report in the New York Times is “preliminary”, but said he is anxious for “more information.”

“I’m hopeful that this once again brings the issue of ethics to the forefront in Albany,” Kearns said.

It’s an issue Kearns isn’t planning to let go – regardless of whether or not his efforts are successful this time around.

“I’ve been consistent,” Kearns added. “So consistent that I left the Democratic conference to make a statement,” Kearns added.

Slaughter Uses Reality Star’s Love Life To Draw Unique Analogy

Congresswoman Louise Slaughter has always had a way with words.  Even her toughest critics would admit the 85 year old Democrat has a colorful way of making her point.

When asked about a Rochester area nurse who recently returned from West Africa after treating Ebola patients her response was vintage Slaughter.  The microbiologist used a non-clinical approach to explain why fear over the virus spreading here is overblown.

“More Americans have been married to Kim Kardashian than have died of Ebola,” Slaughter said.

Ebola has claimed more than 6,000 lives worldwide but only one here in the U.S.  For those of you who don’t “keep up” with the Kardashians, Kim is on her third marriage.

Slaughter had been relatively quiet since narrowly defeating Republican Mark Assini to secure her 14th term in Congress.  Slaughter confessed afterwards the loss of her husband took a toll on her campaign.

Reed On Immigration: Fight Executive Action ‘By Policy’

While some Republicans in Congress are promising to block President Obama from taking action in immigration reform through an executive order, Western New York Congressman Tom Reed is taking a different approach.

“It’s best, in my opinion, to fight the President’s executive action by policy,” Reed said.

Reed, like other Republicans, believes granting “amnesty” could derail any efforts to pass a bipartisan immigration reform bill.  Rather than simply stopping the President and Democrats in Congress, Reed is calling for action.

“I think there’s broad consensus within the GOP conference that the current immigration rules for America are broken and need to be reformed.  And this is an opportunity for us to do it and let’s seize the opportunity,” said Reed.

Reed didn’t release any specifics but is calling for a conservative immigration reform package that would stand in contrast to a 10-point executive order the President is expected to roll out next week.

“We have the better policy in my opinion and that’s what we need to bring to the American people and have the American people engage in this process,” said Reed.

When asked if his plan would include a path to citizenship, Reed said there could be some “middle ground.”

“Not a path to citizenship for those who violated the law.  For kids, there’s a potential for a path to citizenship for them, but when we’re talking about rewarding illegal behavior and granting amnesty,” Reed said. “That’s just a non starter and I think that’s where the division comes from, but we can solve this.”

Republicans are considering everything from defunding the specific initiatives in the President’s anticipated executive order, to taking legal action, and even shutting down the government.  Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell downplayed a government shutdown.

Panepinto Almost Ready To Put ‘Nasty’ Senate Campaign Behind Him

The race for a Buffalo-area state senate seat was one of the most costly and contentious races in Western New York history. Just 48 hours after the polls closed the apparent winner isn’t over it just yet.

“It’s tough not to take things personally. I know Senator Grisanti wasn’t driving the train on the personal attacks. We had a very collegial relationship on the campaign trail. I will say Kevin Stocker made it personal. So I do have some personal animus towards Kevin Stocker,” said Democrat Marc Panepinto.

Republican Mark Grisanti made a run on the Independence line after losing the GOP primary to Kevin Stocker. With speculation the outcome could decide the majority in the state senate, outside groups spent millions on negative ads.

For Panepinto, the ill will is connected to a negative ad highlighting his misdemeanor election fraud conviction 13 years ago. An “unaffiliated voter” also filed a complaint because Panepinto used his wife’s image, State Supreme Court Judge Catherine Nugent-Panepinto, in campaign flyers.

“I don’t have any animus towards Mark Grisanti. He was the incumbent senator; I think he did an admirable job. And the nastiness that came against me was from the Republican Senate Campaign Committee,” Panepinto said.

Neither Stocker nor Grisanti have officially conceded.  Panepinto held a lead of a little more than 2,000 votes over Stocker and a 26-hundred vote lead over Grisanti.

The Conservative Candidate, Timothy Gallagher, captured eight percent of the vote.

“Once you’ve got a certain percentage of numbers, with dispersion over the district, they don’t deviate much from that. There are 2,900 absentees out there and they’ll break the way the normal votes broke,” Panepinto said.

Panepinto said he’s already working with Grisanti to ensure a smooth transition. When asked what he thought the key to his somewhat surprising win was, Panepinto said he worked harder in the weekend of the campaign than one of his opponents did.

“I saw a voter that day on a street in Kenmore, and then he said to me, ‘I just saw Kevin Stocker at L.A. Fitness. He was working out at the gym. Why are you going door to door?’ I said I’m not leaving anything to chance. We’re working right up until 8:55 pm on Tuesday. So I knew that the different way that we ran our campaigns would become apparent. We worked to the end and Kevin was at the gym,” Panepinto added

We reached out to Stocker for comment. So far we haven’t heard back.