Nick Reisman

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Stewart-Cousins: More Time To Be Spent On Ethics Reform

Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in an interview on Capital Tonight Thursday evening said expects more time to be spent on ethics legislation following the arrest of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

“We’re were talking about the budget, but now we’re going to spend more time on talking about ethics reform and things that are quite frankly sad and disturbing,” the Yonkers Democrat said.

Stewart-Cousins, however, would not weigh in on whether Silver should step down as speaker as he faces five counts of corruption and fraud filed by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office.

“I think Preet Bharara said it best people are presumed innocent until proven guilty,” she said, adding that the leadership of the Assembly is up to the Democratic conference in that house. “They’re going to do what they’re going to do.”

Stewart-Cousins also said the now-shuttered Moreland Commission only came about because lawmakers refused to go along with ethics reform, even as her mainline conference was largely aligned with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, especially when it came to public financing.

“I can’t predict what we would see or would not see,” she said. “But the reality is the Moreland Commission was a creature of the governor because of the Legislature’s refusal — certainly in my house on the Senate side — to do any ethics reform.”

To be fair, the Assembly didn’t go along with all of Cuomo’s reform agenda, either, which led to the formation of the anti-corruption panel that would be closed less than a year later following a deal on ethics legislation.

“There were things that two houses agreed on on certain ethics reform, certain campaign finance reform, could never get a hearing on,” she said.

Pataki: Silver’s Arrest Part Of An Expanding Government

Former Gov. George Pataki, who frequently tussled with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver during his three terms as governor, released a statement on Friday saying his arrest suggests a broader problem with the expansion of government at both the state and federal level.

Pataki, a Republican considering a run for the presidency in 2016, said the allegations against Silver “are shocking and cast a poor reflection” on state government if true.

“The charges filed against Speaker Silver yesterday, if proven true, are shocking and cast a poor reflection on the State government I was so honored to lead for 12 years,” Pataki said. “But sadly, these events and others like it are just the most obvious outgrowth of a larger, more insidious problem. Simply, the unchecked expansion of government power, whether in Albany or Washington is a danger to our democracy.”

Silver is now part of a long line of elected officials in state government who have been arrested and charged with corruption, with a pace that is seemingly increasing year after year.

Pataki said he backs “universal reforms” such as term limits and banning elected officials from “the revolving door of lobbying”

Pataki said the Silver case suggests that government become “an insider game of fixers and moneymen” with too many loose regulations governing ethics — a problem he said extends to Washington, D.C.

“Loopholes, carve-outs and sweet heart deals are ever easier to exploit, as our government grows larger, more complex and more opaque,” Pataki said. “This is the case in our state capitol and in our nation’s capitol.”

Pataki during his tenure negotiated the budget and legislative priorities alongside Silver and Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno for 12 years.

Earlier in the day, Bruno blasted federal prosecutors who “run amok.”

“They run out of control, they do anything they want to do to anyone in the country,” Bruno said.

The Republican former majority leader’s own corruption conviction was overturned and he was later found not guilty in a subsequent re-trial.

Here is Pataki’s full statement:

Statement From Former Governor George E by Nick Reisman

Greens ‘Very Focused’ On Running A Candidate In NY-11

The Green Party is “very focused” on finding a candidate to run in the 11th congressional district race following the resignation of Republican Michael Grimm, former gubernatorial candidate Howie Hawkins on Friday said.

“That’s a special election, so we’re very focused on that,” Hawkins said today while in Albany to respond to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $141.6 billion budget presentation.

The district, which covers Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn, was vacated by Grimm following his guilty plea on a felony count of tax evasion.

Republican District Attorney Dan Donovan is the GOP’s candidate, while Democrats are eyeing Assemblyman Michael Cusick to run.

Hawkins declined to give a name as to who is being considered in the NY-11.

“Nobody I can name,” he said. “There are people who are being talked to.”

Last year, Green Party candidate Henry Bardel received 2,687 votes as Grimm easily defeated Democrat Domenic Recchia.

The Green Party plans to field candidates in several upstate congressional races, including the open 19th congressional district and as well as the central New York seat held by GOP Rep. John Katko.

“We are getting inquiries from people all over the state,” Hawkins said of the candidate search.

Bharara Blasts ‘Three Men In A Room’

A day after his office charged Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver with five counts of corruption and fraud, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara mocked the power structure that Silver has been a part of for the last 21 years.

“When did 20 million New Yorkers agree to be ruled by a triumvirate in Roman times?” Bharara asked at a breakfast held by the New York Law School on Friday morning.

Bharara likened the “three-men-in-a-room” to a sitcom.

“Coming up after ‘Happy Days,’ it’s ‘Three Men in a Room,’” Bharara said.

Bharara’s office has made a point of prosecuting elected officials in the past, but Silver is perhaps the biggest fish he has ever sought to reel in.

As usual, Bharara said it was up to voters, as well as the press, to “demand more” from elected officials in positions of power.

“It’s up to voters and it’s up to people to get angry,” Bharara said. “People need to demand more. It’s enough to just be fed up.”

But he added this time that with Silver’s mounting legal troubles, the very system Albany runs on of having in essence the two top leaders in the Legislature, plus the governor, decide things strikes him as problematic.

“It seems to me, if you’re one of the three men in the room, and you have all the power, and you always have, and everyone knows it, you don’t tolerate dissent because you don’t have to,” Bharara said. “You don’t tolerate debate, because you don’t have to. You don’t favor change or foster reform, because you don’t have to, and because the status quo always benefits you.”

Silver’s arrest comes as lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo prepare to negotiate a $141.6 billion budget proposal made this week.

“That at least one of the proverbial three men in a room is deeply compromised, how can we possibly trust that anything gets decided in Albany and is imposed on the rest of us is on the level?” Bharara asked.

He added that Silver’s arrest could provide a catalyst for reform.

“This can finally be a turning point for reform,” he said. “If there ever was a moment for true reform, it’s now.”

Magee: ‘Criminal’ Cuomo Is Trying To ‘Strong-Arm Agenda’

The attempt by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to link his education policy changes to increased funding is “criminal” and an attempt to “strong-arm” his agenda through the Legislature, the statewide teachers union president on Friday charged.

New York State United Teachers President Karen Magee in an interview on WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom knocked Cuomo and his administration for withholding the school aid runs — a line-by-line accounting how much school districts are projected to receive in the budget proposal traditionally released when the spending plan is announced — because much of the $1.1 billion spending increase is tied to the governor’s reforms.

“The governor has declared a war,” Magee said. “He’s declared a war on every single teacher in New York state.”

It’s potentially problematic for school districts considering they have to have their budgets before voters in May; the state’s budget is due March 31.

“It just again tells you the governor doesn’t understand how the school districts work,” she said.

“It’s criminal for the governor to try to strong-arm his agenda through this way,” Magee added.

Cuomo wants lawmakers to enact a package of education reforms including a stronger teacher evaluation law that’s tied to teacher tenure, which would take educators longer to achieve.

The governor backs an increase in the statewide cap for charter schools by 100, as well as an increase in per pupil state assistance for charters. Cuomo’s carrot and stick approach also extends to failing schools and would empower parents to send their children to charters with schools that consistently receive poor marks.

“It’s a smoke and mirrors show on the party of the governor to create a sensational sound bite and turn the spotlight away from the fact that he’s been unable to address the true issue and that’s poverty,” she said.

Complicating matters for the unions this year is the arrest of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who has been a top ally for them at the Capitol.

Magee insisted Silver’s arrest won’t impact their own agenda in Albany.

At the same time, Cuomo backs an education tax credit that’s tied to the DREAM Act, a measure opposed by the teachers unions.

Magee questioned Cuomo’s push for more statistics-based results on education and learning when it comes to evaluations and testing. Cuomo, she said, doesn’t understand how the state’s education system works.

“I don’t think the governor understands,’ she said. “He thinks this is a number, in number out situation. They’re not widgets. It’s not a factory.”

Cuomo himself has had some tough words for the teachers union, saying he wants to break the “public monopoly” of education.

In an interview with The Daily News editorial board, Cuomo said the unions are too concerned with themselves and not students.

“Somewhere along the way, I believe we flipped the purpose of this,” Cuomo said told the paper. “This was never a teacher employment program and this was never an industry to hire superintendents and teachers.”

Bruno: Federal Prosecutors ‘Run Amok’

Federal prosecutors bringing corruption charges against elected officials are “out of control” and can ruin lives, former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno on Friday said.

In an interview with Fred Dicker on Talk-1300, Bruno insisted the Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who faces five counts of corruption and fraud, should be considered innocent until proven guilty.

It’s a topic Bruno is well versed on, given his own conviction on theft of honest services charges, which was later overturned. A subsequent retrial from federal prosecutors yielded a not guilty verdict last year.

Bruno has made little secret of his disdain for federal prosecutors.

“They run amok, they run out of control, they do anything they want to do to anyone in the country,” Bruno said.

Silver and Bruno both rose to power in the Legislature at around the same time.

Silver became speaker in 1994 following the death of Saul Weprin. Bruno became majority leader a year later after Republicans in the Senate overthrew Long Island Sen. Ralph Marino.

Bruno would leave the Senate in 2008, just before his indictment by the federal government.

In the intervening years, Bruno and Silver, along with Gov. George Pataki, comprised the three-men-in-room — Albany short hand for the closed-door negotiations process that’s vested in the leaders of the Legislature and the governor.

“Let me tell you, he was a formidable opponent,” Bruno said of Silver.

While unable to comment specifically on the bribery charges Silver faces, Bruno questioned his treatment at the hands of federal prosecutors.

“They lead people like Shelly around in handcuffs — why? Is he violent?” Bruno said, adding, “My experience with the feds is you are guilty until proven innocent as far as they’re concerned.”

Bruno and Silver faced very different prosecutors. Bruno was tried by the Northern District in Albany, while Silver faces U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in the Southern District, a much more closely watched office that has made a point of rooting out corruption in state and city government.

Still, Bruno criticized the treatment the government affords those who are accused of wrongdoing.

“You should not be stripped of all of your assets, you should be led around in chains, you should not surrender your passports,” he said. “The bigger the scalp, the bigger the headlines.”

Bruno questioned the scrutiny being placed on outside income, saying that the Legislature should go to a full-time model that prevents the “dregs” from being elected to office. Such law governing outside income are “fuzzy” he said.

“What Shelly is doing now to my knowledge he was doing 14 years ago,” Bruno said of the speaker’s outside legal work. “They can select anyone of those people and prosecute them under the federal law.”

The ‘Distraction’ Of Silver’s Legal Troubles

From the Morning Memo:

As Speaker Sheldon Silver’s arrest was imminent and the day’s scheduled legislative session in the Assembly in doubt, no elected official wanted to utter the word “chaos” to describe the situation.

But was certainly how the day felt, a surreal moment for the state Assembly, even by the standards set by Albany for weirdness.

Consider that Silver the survivor, Silver the Albany Sphinx, known for being nearly unflappable with his deep, almost inaudible monotone accented with a New York City speak almost no one sounds like anymore had his future in doubt.

Consider that Silver’s arrest comes at a delicate time in Albany, as lawmakers begin to consider a $142 billion budget proposal — introduced only a day earlier — that includes a major package of education reform measures that has to pass by March 31.

If there was ever a year that Assembly Democrats wanted their one-third of the three men in a room strong, it was this budget season.

Albany is a town that thrives on consistency and can quickly spiral downward when any wrenches are thrown into the gears.

And that’s what makes Silver’s career in state politics all the more important.

Silver survived a leadership coup attempt in 2000 by then-Assemblyman Michael Bragman.

Silver has survived members of his staff and those elected to his Democratic conference who were booted from office over sexual harassment and assault allegations.

Silver has survived five governors, a tenure bookended by two guys named Cuomo.

Silver was the rock when a prostitution scandal forced one governor from office and installed a weaker one. As the Senate devolved into the chaos of a bitter leadership fight, Silver’s Assembly chugged along.

Silver was the voice of the left of the three men in a room that featured two Republicans, confounding both of them for being obstinate and helping to enable a series of late budgets.

In short, Sheldon Silver, for better or worse, has been a symbol of Albany and state government for the last generation — a nimble tactician who is more than able to negotiate his members’ concerns behind closed doors.

All that explains, in part, why no Democratic allies of Silver wanted to use the word “chaos” on Thursday.

Instead, Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle insisted in a gaggle with reporters and dozens of Democratic conference members that Silver’s arrest on five counts of corruption would not be a “distraction from the work we have to do.”

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul was similarly emphatic that the budget — which has been passed four times in a row in advance of the March 31 deadline under Gov. Andrew Cuomo — won’t fall by the wayside.

“Certainly, there is a process that is going to work out,” Hochul said yesterday in Glens Falls. “We are still focused on getting an on-time budget, the governor is very proud of working with the legislature for the past four years to accomplish that, that will continue to be our goal, we are going to get it done.”

Democrats also insisted Silver remains an effective negotiator for their cause in the closed-door leaders meetings.

“I never doubt Shelly Silver’s abilities as a poker player,” said Assemblyman Jeff Aubry.

The stakes are high for Assembly Democrats as they enter this round of budget talks with the governor and the Republican-controlled Senate.

Cuomo is seeking major reforms to the state’s education system that include measures opposed by liberals in the Assembly, including a lifting of the charter school cap by 100, an education tax credit and making it harder to get tenure for teachers.

All measures are opposed by the teachers unions and all would be fought over by Silver.

A reporter in yesterday’s gaggle with Assembly Democrats asked a simple, but perhaps the most pertinent question of Thursday: “Who’s in charge?”

The lawmakers paused briefly before seemingly all pointing to themselves.

Silver has always insisted his conference is member driven. His legal troubles may have to put that claim to the test.

The IDC, Not Dead Yet

From the Morning Memo:

The Independent Democratic Conference may not wield the same influence they did in the 2013-14 legislative session, but they are not totally in the political wilderness.

On Thursday, the IDC made sure to trumpet their new committee chairs, which come despite Republicans holding a 33-seat majority.

The IDC will hold the gavel on the Banks, Ethics and Social Services committees in the Senate.

But in a little-noticed move, the IDC exerted his numbers in a tangible way this week.

On Wednesday, lawmakers in the Senate approved the education tax credit, which provides a credit for those who make donations that help schools.

Republicans were down two members that day: Sens. Tom Libous and Bill Larkin, both listed as excused.

As such, the IDC, with its five members, would be providing the needed votes to pass the bill.

Ultimately, the situation turned a little hypothetical, considering Democrats in the mainline conference voted yes on the measure as well, which ultimately passed 44 to 16.

Still, when it comes to more contentious votes down the road in the session, the GOP will likely continue to need the IDC’s bloc of votes.

Silver’s Law Firm Disavows Referrals

From the Morning Memo:

The law firm where Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has been “of counsel” on Thursday afternoon insisted in a statement that it was unaware of the Manhattan Democrat’s practice of “referrals” that have caught the attention of the federal prosecutors.

“As the U.S. Attorney’s Complaint makes absolutely clear, Weitz & Luxenberg was not involved in any of the wrongdoing the Government alleges, and the Firm, which has fully cooperated with the Government in this matter, was not aware of any improprieties whatsoever,” the firm said in a statement.

The statement also distances itself from both Silver and insists they are cooperating with the federal government as his case moves forward.

“There is nothing in this case or the related Moreland matter that calls in to question in any way Weitz & Luxenberg’s total commitment to representing its clients according to the highest standards of law and ethics. As referred to in the Complaint, the Firm did not know that any referrals brought to the Firm by Mr. Silver related in any way to the alleged actions on his part to benefit the referring doctor.”

Silver is accused of pocketing millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks that federal investigators in a 35-page complaint yesterday said were masked as “referral fees” that he never disclosed.

It’s long been questioned what outside income Silver receives for his legal work at Weitz and Luxenberg. Silver has insisted he represents “plain, ordinary people” in his private practice, but federal prosecutors allege he does little actual work for his outside income.

De Blasio, With Business Before Albany, Defends Silver

From the Morning Memo:

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio needed a friend in Albany and this year he drew Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

At odds with Senate Republicans after he sought to oust them from power in the Senate, de Blasio’s natural ally in the Legislature is Silver, a Democrat from lower Manhattan.

Unfortunately for de Blasio, Silver is embroiled in a bribery and kickback scandal as he now faces five counts of corruption and fraud.

De Blasio on Thursday defended Silver as a man of integrity who has helped to do a lot for the city.

“I think there’s two separate concepts there,” de Blaso told reporters. “I think he has a right to due process. I really think that’s something we always need to affirm. Allegations are allegations. Charges are charges. And there has to be a process to determine the outcome. I think, separately, it’s a true statement – he’s done a lot for New York City, and I value that certainly.”

And he differentiated between the charges former Rep. Michael Grimm, a Republican, faces and Silver’s legal troubles.

“I think in Michael Grimm’s case, we saw a pattern of questionable practices over a long period of time, and it played out. I think, in my experience with Shelly Silver, I’ve seen integrity and public service,” de Blasio said.

De Blasio still has to get his agenda through the Legislature, of course. A number of major issues impacting New York City are before Albany state lawmakers this year, including an extension of rent control protections and mayoral control of New York City schools.