Nick Reisman

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NY-19: Rhodes Endorsed By Kingston City Council Members

From the Morning Memo:

Democratic congressional candidate Gareth Rhodes this weekend received the endorsements of two members of the Kingston city Council as he seeks the party’s nomination in the Hudson Valley congressional district.

Rhodes was endorsed by Bill Carey and Jeffrey Morell, the campaign announced.

“You just have to talk to Gareth to know how genuine he is,” Carey said.

“He connects to people naturally and meaningfully in a way our current representative does not. We need and deserve the kind of representation Gareth will bring. We need the kind of voice on the federal level that Gareth will deliver.”

Rhodes is among the crowded field of Democrats vying for the nomination in the 19th congressional district, seeking to challenge incumbent Republican John Fasso this fall.

“I am honored to have the support Bill and Jeffrey, two leaders on the Kingston City Council,” Rhodes said.

“Kingston needs a representative who knows where this city has been and where it is going, and who listens to and works with local officials to keep building our momentum. I thank Bill and Jeffrey for their support of our campaign.”

At Somos Weekend, Cuomo Gets Endorsements

From the Morning Memo:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo this weekend received the endorsements of prominent Puerto Rican elected officials at the local, state and federal level.

Cuomo, who is seeking third term this year, received the nods from Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, a top Cuomo ally who as once considered a challenger to Cuomo rival Mayor Bill de Blasio, as well as Reps. Nydia Velázquez, Jose Serrano and Assemblyman Marcos Crespo.

The endorsements came at the annual Somos El Futuro conference in Albany and pointed to Cuomo’s push to help storm-ravaged Puerto Rico last year.

“When Hurricane Maria struck its devastating path, it left a hole in the heart of New York because the people of Puerto Rico are our brothers and sisters. But we did what New York does when faced with tragedy and adversity – we stepped up to help those in need,” Cuomo said in a statement released by the state Democratic Committee.

“We will continue to stand with Puerto Rico and do everything in our power to ensure they have the resources they need to recover and rebuild stronger than ever before. I am truly honored to have earned the support of such dedicated leaders in New York’s Puerto Rican community, and look forward to building on the work we’ve started.”

Cuomo Opens Up Equitable Funding Discussion In Budget

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top budget advisor on Sunday afternoon released a lengthy statement that in essence launched a discussion over equitable funding for school districts in the state budget, adding to a contentious discussion in Albany over fair funding for wealthy and poor schools across New York.

The statement in large part places the onus on school districts to find ways of spending the money the state sent to them, not simply adding more cash to their coffers.

The statement comes at the intersection of both politics and policy for Cuomo and the state government.

Lawmakers this week are expected to unveil their one-house budget resolutions, providing a roadmap for where they expect to steer the budget negotiations this month. The budget is scheduled by lawmakers to pass this year March 29.

At the same time, actress and public education advocate Cynthia Nixon is taking steps toward launching a Democratic primary campaign against Cuomo. Nixon has been closely tied with groups like the Alliance for Quality Education, an organization that has sought to have the state increase school aid under the terms of a fair funding lawsuit.

“An informed debate must answer two questions,” said Division of Budget Director Robert Mujica. “First, what percentage of State funding should be used to equalize the disparity presented by our inherently inequitable property tax funding system; and second, what percentage of State and local aid should go to the poorer, lower performing schools.”

Cuomo has long insisted the state has been funding schools at record levels after initially seeking to scale back spending hikes in order to close yawning budget gaps he inherited during the first year of his first term.

But Mujica’s statement also seems to suggest some of the blame should be placed on school districts and the need for a great understanding of how money is or isn’t being spent.

“The first challenge is the lack of transparency,” he said. “Districts are resistant to disclose how much each school receives and the factors used to make the decision. While the State knows how much it distributes to each school district, the districts don’t report how they distribute these funds to their poorer and richer schools.

“Interestingly, advocates, journalists and State and local officials have all but ignored the issue.”

Nevertheless, advocates have pushed him to spend more, arguing urban and rural school districts have been left short changed by the state’s complicated formula for funding schools.

But wading into this issue is a politically fraught one, especially for suburban lawmakers whose districts historically are able to rely in large part on property tax revenue, which is now capped at 2 percent annual increases.

The statement from Mujica meditates somewhat on how to define equitable funding and having Cuomo provide his own definition.

“Some say ‘equitable funding’ is that every school receives an even proportional share,” Mujica said.

“The governor believes that is not ‘equitable.’ Fairness must take into consideration the need and circumstances of the particular student population. The governor’s position is that the chronically low performing schools should be our priority for attention and funding. That was the essential thrust of the CFE lawsuit, which was correct. Our focus should be on serving the students who need the most help and most services, which requires a school by school assessment and analysis.

It’s not entirely clear where Cuomo will go with this. He has long expressed frustration with the efforts by public education and teachers union organizations lobbying and pressuring him to increase school aid.

While not appearing to retreat on the issue, the Mujica statement also echoes some of the rhetoric by education advocates when it comes to funding schools.

“Education is the civil rights battle of this generation,” he said. “The governor is rightly asking, how far we have really come from Brown v Board of Education. Funding equity for poor schools versus rich schools is a fundamental social justice issue. There can be no budget resolution this year without addressing this issue.”

Updated: In a lengthy statement of its own, the Alliance for Quality Education pushed back on what it said were distortions in the statement.

“Gov. Cuomo has consistently resisted adequate funding for high need schools and has used a long series of excuses and misrepresentations of the facts to cover up his lack of commitment to true educational equity and adequacy,” the group said.

“The court order in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit was founded on the principle that all schools need adequate funding levels in order to provide every student a ‘sound basic education.’ When Andrew Cuomo was running for office in 2010 he campaigned on the assertion that the state had “yet to fully fund” CFE. He should have known what he was talking about as he was the sitting Attorney General at the time. But it turned out it was just empty campaign rhetoric as ever since getting elected Cuomo has done nothing but make excuses for why he will not fund CFE.”

Cuomo: Don’t Trade DACA For A Wall

Gov. Andrew Cuomo urged national Democrats this weekend to not trade off legal protections for undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children with funding for a wall on the Mexican border.

“No, a wall is a political gesture. DACA for border security, fine,” Cuomo told reporters Saturday night, referring to the Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals. “I’m fine with border security. But not DACA for a campaign poster.”

Cuomo spoke Saturday evening at the annual gathering of Somos el Futuro, a conference of Latino and Hispanic elected officials and advocates.

Cuomo at the occasion unveiled a renewed state push to aid storm-damaged Puerto Rico, organizing a rebuilding effort with SUNY and CUNY students.

Speaking with reporters, Cuomo defended the attention he’s given to Puerto Rico following last year’s storm, saying the federal government failed to pick up the slack.

“I am ashamed as an American how we responded to Puerto Rico,” he said. “Someone had to step in and the state of New York was the place. People criticize me for spending too much time in Puerto Rico and doing too much for Puerto Rico, but that’s their opinion.”

With Gore, Cuomo Moves For Off-Shore Drilling Exclusion

Gov. Andrew Cuomo flanked by former Vice Preisdent Al Gore on Friday moved to request that the federal government exempt New York-area waters from off-shore drilling.

The announcement, made at New York University, was packaged with a plan to spend $1.4 billion on renewable energy in New York, moving forward with 26 renewable energy projects in the state.

“Instead of protecting our waters from another oil spill, like the one that devastated the Gulf, this new federal plan only increases the chances of another disaster taking place,” Cuomo said.

“This is a total disregard for science, reality, and history, and their actions defy everything we know. We believe the future is a clean energy economy and New York is going to lead a counter-movement to what this administration is doing to the environment and illuminate the path forward.”

If approved, New York would be exempt from a five-year program from the federal government that seeks to make up to 90 percent of the country’s off-shore areas open to gas and oil development. Under the current plan, two areas along the North Atlantic coast next to New York state would be open to energy exploration and development.

A previous exclusion was announced for Florida in part because of the state’s heavy reliance on the tourism industry.

Cuomo, of course, worked with Gore in the Clinton administration. Gore in his post-vice presidency has become an advocate for combating climate change, praised the move.

“What you just heard from Governor Cuomo is magnificent demonstration of leadership on the environment,” he said.

“You might expect me in a circumstance like this to lay it on thick a little bit, but I want you to know that this is really and truly a heartfelt, and what I’m about to say I want you to really take to heart. He has done what I would dream every Governor would do. And you know this is a tough political environment.”

For Now, Conservatives Taking Wait-And-See Approach On Gov’s Race

As Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro rolls out more endorsements of Republican county chairs, the state Conservative Party is taking a wait-and-see approach, Chairman Mike Long said Friday in an interview.

“I really think my leaders are sitting back to wait and see who can best put together the best campaign to take on Andrew Cuomo,” Long said.

The backing of the Conservative Party is key for any statewide candidate. For now, neither Molinaro or his main rival for the gubernatorial nomination, Syracuse Sen. John DeFrancisco, are considered favorites for the party’s nod.

“Both of them are acceptable to us,” Long said. “I think there’s support for both of them in the party. I think there’s support for either one.”

Molinaro did release a letter to Conservative Party leaders this week seeking their support.

Long expects the party’s position could be clarified within the coming weeks as county chairs getting a sense of the campaigns.

“I think in a week or two things will start panning out,” he said. “I’ll get a better sense which way my leaders are going.”

Molinaro told Republican officials a week ago in Saratoga Springs he would enter the race for governor, winning an informal straw poll of the GOP leaders gathered at the meeting.

Since then Molinaro has rolled out a series of endorsements from key county chairs, including John Jay LaValle of Suffolk County and Erie County’s Nick Langworthy.

Molinaro on Friday announced four additional county chair nods: Ulster, Seneca, Washington and Schuyler counties.

This comes at the expense of DeFrancisco, who had been considered the clear front runner for the GOP nomination until Molinaro privately declared his intention to run. He is yet to publicly declare a bid.

State Dems Plan ‘D-Day’ For The State Senate

The state Democratic committee on Friday released an organizing email meant to boost candidates running down ballot this year, pegging the April 24 special election as a “D-Day” for action.

“We are targeting every Republican-held Congressional seat in the state this year, with an unprecedented unified, coordinated effort. Victories in New York can help us retake the House – a much needed check on Trump’s extreme agenda in Washington,” the email from Executive Director Geoff Berman stated.

“And, in the New York State Senate, we are less than 50 days away from D-Day – “Declare Day” – April 24th. On that day, there are two State Senate special elections to fill empty seats, and Democrats will win both. At that point, Democrats will constitute a majority of the State Senate.”

The email also takes noted of the first rally to be hosted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on the effort, which is due to take place in the state’s 1st congressional district on Long Island, currently represented by Rep. Lee Zeldin, a Republican.

As for the state Senate fight, a Democratic takeover is being pushed based on a unity deal reached late last year meant to bring together the mainline and Independent Democratic Conference.

Two Senate races are being decided in the special election, but the key race will be the 37th district in Westchester County, a race between Democrat Shelley Mayer and Republican Julie Killian.

Democratic victories would give the party a numerical majority in the chamber.

“Once that happens, the Governor has said that the IDC members must join the Democratic Caucus,” Berman wrote. “If the IDC members do not join the Democratic Caucus and form a majority, the Democratic Party will lead an aggressive primary against every IDC member and assure we have a True Blue State Senate. Unity has to be our goal.”

Liberal advocates had been upset with the timing of the special election, namely holding it after the state budget is expected to be approved, thus giving Republicans in the Senate a chance to negotiate the spending plan.

Nevertheless, having the Senate’s leadership up in the air in the middle of the talks could upend the negotiations.

At the same time, this is one of the more formalized and concerted efforts by Cuomo, harnessing the state committee that he controls, to aid Democrats who are running in down-ballot local races as he seeks another term later this year.

Updated: The IDC did not like the reference made to them in the email. In a statement, IDC spokeswoman Barbara Brancaccio criticized the wording of the email for failing to note the conference is sticking with the unity agreement.

“It looks like the Independent Democratic Conference is the only participant of the unity deal that actually is keeping their word,” she said.

“While the IDC is in the process of helping Shelley Mayer become the next senator of the 37th senate district, the head of the state party, Geoff Berman, is hellbent on undermining the IDC instead of making sure Democrats win seats. Mr. Berman’s letter ignores the commitment of the Governor, labor leaders, Congressman Crowley and Senate Democrats in ensuring unity in the state party as laid out in the unity deal. While Mr. Berman continues to take shots at the IDC, the IDC looks forward to remaining a third conference to ensure that there is a functioning Senate.”

A 2018 Primary Won’t Be Like 2014

From the Morning Memo:

At the end of his second term in 2014, Gov. Andrew Cuomo faced a rebellion on his left flank.

He had vacillated on whether to ban hydrofracking. Public-sector labor unions like PEF were endorsing his Democratic primary opponent, the little-known Zephyr Teachout. A $15 minimum wage was a pipe dream supported by the Green Party candidate, Howie Hawkins.

Cuomo won his primary and almost immediately after the election sought to shore up his left flank.

The state moved to ban high-volume fracking.

A bill that would increase the state’s minimum wage to $15 in the metropolitan region was approved over Republican resistance.

And public-sector labor groups, including the teachers unions and CSEA, have either declared a truce or largely step aside from directly knocking Cuomo has issues like less generous contracts and fights over charter schools have died away.

In other words, a 2018 Democratic primary will not be like fighting the last war.

Nevertheless, the dissatisfaction from advocates on the left in New York continues with Cuomo, who they see as someone who hasn’t delivered on a Democratic Senate. Under narrow Republican control, the chamber has forced Democrats to compromise on key issues like the minimum wage and taxes, while also stymying efforts to make it easier to vote and bar a woman from having a seat at the budget negotiating table.

Should he face a primary from Cynthia Nixon, Cuomo would have the challenge of facing down a well-known opponent with seasoned political consultants Rebecca Katz and Bill Hyers. But that’s not to say he doesn’t have his own structural advantages.

Cuomo continues to enjoy strong support from key labor organizations, including 1199 SEIU, a group that was instrumental in the push for the minimum wage increase. He also has the backing of the small, but influential Hotel Trades Council. And he’s backed by private-sector groups like the Building and Trades Council.

The division among labor over Cuomo has blunted some of the criticism he has gotten from other unions that have remained aligned with the Working Families Party.

New York remains the most unionized states in the country as membership has declined elsewhere. And that’s helped Cuomo in both campaigns and in pushing for policy at the Capitol.

Cuomo still would have a lot of work to do, especially with voters in New York City upset over the deteriorating transit system. A union job is great, but so is being able to get to that job. Another “summer of hell” in 2018 could spell further trouble for the governor as he seeks a third term.

Aside from the headaches caused by malfunctioning subways, there is still the x-factor of free-floating anger on the left with the 2016 election results and the internal dissent within the Democratic Party following Donald Trump’s victory over the path forward for a party that’s led by a mix of Bernie Sanders, Barack Obama and Clintonite Democrats like Cuomo.

There is also, of course, the impact of the corruption trial of Cuomo’s former close aide and confidant, Joe Percoco, which is now being deliberated by a jury.

But for an idea of how the 2014 revolution was institutionalized, or at least within the city walls, consider that Teachout is now on the state Democratic Committee.

SD-55: Funke’s Opponent Pushes Him On Gun Control

From the Morning Memo:

The Democratic opponent of Republican Sen. Rich Funke this week is pushing him to back gun control legislation in the wake of last month’s high school shooting in Florida that killed 17 people.

Democrat Jen Lunsford in a statement pointed to the measures backed by the Democratic-led Assembly that, among other things, banned bump stock devices from being possessed in the state and a bill that would make it easier for those deemed to be dangerous to themselves or others to lose their firearm through a court order.

“In the days and weeks following the horrific school shooting in Parkland, Florida, members of our community from all backgrounds have come together to support common-sense policies that will keep our families safe from gun violence,” Lunsford said.

“Unfortunately, State Senate Republicans have failed to show the same courage and leadership we’ve seen from young people around the country. Democrats in the State Senate have twice attempted to bring common sense solutions to a vote in recent weeks. Senate Republicans, including Rich Funke, unanimously voted against these efforts, which is inconsistent with the concerns we all share here in Upstate New York.”

A Senate Republican spokesman declined to comment.

Senate Republicans on procedural grounds voted down amendments backed by Democrats in the Senate that included much of the same provisions supported by their counterparts in the Assembly.

The GOP conference in the Senate has supported a variety of bills for bolstering school security and safety, including money for resource officers. Some lawmakers in the Republican conference have announced support for gun control measures back by Democrats, suggesting a compromise is possible on the issue.

Groups Push For Stock Buybacks Tax

From the Morning Memo:

A coalition of groups this week is pushing for the implementation of a 0.5 percent tax on stock buybacks in the state budget they say will bring New York an additional $2 billion.

The organizers for the campaign for the tax include VOCAL-NY, Fiscal Policy Institute, Strong Economy for All, Professional Staff Congress – CUNY. Also supporting it are members of New York Communities for Change, CWA and the Nurses Association.

The hope is that the added revenue would go toward programs in the budget that benefit affordable housing, health care and public education.

“Wall Street corporations have responded to the Republicans’ massive cut in the corporate tax rate by buying back their own stocks. The richest shareholders get much richer and working people get nothing,” said Barbara Bowen, the president of the Professional Staff Congress.

“New York State deserves a share of this huge windfall to close the budget deficit and return some of taxpayers’ hard-earned money to ordinary New Yorkers. It’s criminal that New York’s great public resources—like the City University of New York—are starved of funds while Trump gives the gift that keeps on giving to the rich. A stock buyback tax would make a start on setting that right and allow the state to invest in its real future — its young people.”

The groups plan to rally at the New York Stock Exchange to push the plan.

It’s unlikely lawmakers, especially Republicans in the state Senate, will embrace such a move. The GOP conference is already opposed to Cuomo’s budget provisions that increase taxes and fees by $1 billion in order to close a $4.4 billion shortfall.