Zack Fink

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Things Fall Apart

For a month, legislative leaders negotiated a deal to bring lawmakers back to Albany for a special session to vote for a pay raise and a handful of other legislative initiatives. On Friday night, the deal that had been struck earlier that day among the Governor and the two legislative leaders fell apart. People who would adopt the Governor’s point of view would be inclined to say that after Republican Senate Majority Leader negotiated in good faith for several weeks, he ultimately could not sell the deal to his members. That’s one view. But the other is a little more nuanced than that. As Ken Lovett reported, Cuomo was still trying to resurrect talks on the special session in the days after Flanagan pulled the plug. In fact as late as Saturday, Christmas Eve, Senate Democrats say the Governor’s office reached out to them asking for 16 to 18 votes for the pay raise to pass. Without seeing bill language or being included in negotiations they declined. Reinforcing what everyone already knew. The proposal was dead.

To truly understand how we got here, one needs to go back to the creation of the pay commission in March 2015. The same three leaders determined that an independent pay commission was the best way to take politics out of the equation and give lawmakers their first raise since 1999. That was the agreement. It was part of a larger deal on the budget that had been painstakingly negotiated. So when Governor Cuomo’s appointed members of the commission began openly suggesting in the media this past summer that they are not likely to vote for a pay raise, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan probably didn’t take it all that seriously. Cuomo appointee Fran Reiter made the point several times that Speaker Heastie or other members of the Assembly must make their case for a raise in person.

So, when November 15 rolled around, the final day of the Commission’s statutory existence, and Reiter and Cuomo’s other members failed to support even a modest raise that would have taken effect automatically, it became clear to some members of the legislature that Cuomo had interfered. Moreover, Reiter even admitted on the record that she wouldn’t have voted for a raise even if Heastie himself had testified in person. In the view of Assembly Democrats, they had been had. Or as one Republican put it, Cuomo “meddled with the pay raise the way he did with Moreland.”

Assembly Democrats are furious. And as Mike Vilensky astutely points out, this is a very contentious way to start the new legislative session. That’s why Cuomo wanted to show he was still trying to make this happen on Christmas Eve. He knows. As one insider put it, “Cuomo simply miscalculated.” He thought Republicans would come around. They didn’t, and here is why.

On the morning of April 1st, Senate Republicans were still on the floor of the Senate after an all night voting session. They were passing the budget that Leader John Flanagan had negotiated for them which included a robust paid family leave program and a path to a $15 minimum wage. But when it came time to vote on the bill containing these final two pieces, some Republicans balked. Led by Republican Senator Thomas Croci of Long Island who asked that the minimum wage for Long Island be on the same schedule as upstate, Cuomo aides Melissa DeRosa and Bill Murrow were called down to the conference room just off the chamber as Flanagan paused the voting and pulled his members off the floor. Mulrow and DeRosa attempted to exlain to Croci that the ink was dry. The bills were printed and nothing was getting reopened at this point. But it was Flanagan with an assist from his sometime rival, Republican Senator John DeFrancisco who convinced Croci and others to go along. DeFran was quite blunt as to why, telling reporters at the time,

“We’d like to have a Republican Majority next year. And to do that we’ve got to stick together on our campaigns and on what we believe is best for this unit to stay together.”

Flanagan echoed those concerns saying,

“Yeah, we got resistance because this is real life. These are people who went back and listened to their non-profits, chambers of commerce, their hospitals, their nursing homes. We took a proposal and we made it significant better. We got a billion dollar tax cut to go with it.”

So, after taking this risky vote and trusting that Flanagan had a partner with Cuomo, something else happened. Cuomo decided to actively campaign for Senate Democrats and even throw them some money. He bet big on Hillary Clinton and he bet big on winning a Democratic State Senate and he lost. Couple that with the pay commission, and Republican members felt downright betrayed. As one Republican puts it, “there is a trust issue with this guy. No one believes him.” The Republican went on to say ( paraphrasing here ) ‘what if we come back Christmas week and authorize the pay commission and then they still vote against a raise only to have Cuomo turn around and say there is nothing he could do since the Commission is independent.’

So when it came time to sell the special session to members, sources say Flanagan’s heart wasn’t in it. There would be no big sell like there was for the budget containing the minimum wage. “Why would we throw him a lifeline,” asks one Republican. “I mean…enough already. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Cuomo messing with the pay commission.”

The goals for the session also kept changing. First it was constitutional amendments to enact term limits and limit outside income and when that fell off the table the ask was Uber for upstate. All of this is a sign, according to one insider, that Cuomo sensed he had a problem with the legislature if he didn’t deliver that raise. It’s the first time maybe ever, Governor Cuomo couldn’t pull off the grand bargain with the legislature. He usually gets at least something.

People with Cuomo’s view argue that Flanagan was too weak to sell the special session deal to members, and needed second floor help last year to pass the budget. That could spell his end as leader. “Dean never would have needed that,” says one ally. Maybe. But what seems more likely here is that Senate Repubs are more united as a party than they have been in a long time. And Cuomo helped set them free.

My prediction? Very little gets done in Albany this coming year. Cuomo is already literally  moving away from the State Capitol with his State of the State message going on the road. And we’ve already seen a policy pivot away from legislation and toward building infrastructure like say, the Second Avenue Subway.

Christie Crash

It’s now been widely reported that Republican President-Elect Donald Trump purged New Jersey Governor Chris Christie from his transition team. There are lots of reasons for this, including that Trump himself was disgusted over the recently concluded Bridgegate trial which resulted in a guilty verdict for Christie’s former Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Kelly, a mother of four who lives in Bergen County, New Jersey. Others have speculated that Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner ( who may play a big role in a Trump Administration ) insisted that Christie be dismissed in order to settle a score. Christie prosecuted Kushner’s father, Charles Kushner, as U.S. Attorney in 2005 for making illegal campaign contributions, tax evasion and witness tampering which included Kushner videotaping a relative with a prostitute. The case was ugly, but Christie used his usual bluster to make sure everyone knew it was ugly. Kushner took a plea, and served one year of a two year sentence.

Then there are those who suggested that Christie, despite being an early endorser, displayed no loyalty to Trump down the stretch. That included cancelling campaign appearances with the now President-Elect shortly after that “Access Hollywood” videotape surfaced. Many Republicans, perhaps uncomfortable with the words “grab them by the p—y,” wanted to be nowhere near Trump after that. But to the winners go the spoils. And let me expound upon the latter theory, if I may.

On the day before the election. Christie’s official Twitter account sent out the following tweets to 779,000 followers.


As you can see. Christie isn’t urging people in New Jersey to get to the polls in a tight election, he is promoting his own interview with Charlie Rose on CBS in which he denies all the sworn testimony about him in open court during the Brideggate trial which links him to the lane closures the touched off the scandal.

Here are his tweets from Election Day.



Now granted, he cannot use his official Twitter account to actively promote a vote for Trump, but the state party he controls certainly can. Here are it’s tweets from Election Day.


Oh, wait. They are also not urging a vote for Trump, they are instead promoting Christie’s self-serving interview. On Election Day!

By contrast, here are Cuomo’s tweets urging New Yorkers to get out and vote. Cuomo strongly supported Democrat Hillary Clinton.


So, in conclusion, there have been previous allegations that Christie is “not a team player,” and some New Jersey GOP insiders believe this helps prove that. For example, Christie did very little to help incumbent Republican Congressman Scott Garrett who lost to Democrat Josh Gottheimer. Perhaps Christie could have at least urged fellow Republicans to, I dunno, vote? Not that I am defending Garrett. Here is a funny video of him running away from me in 2008. That’s my arm with the microphone on left, although you can’t actually see my face. And here is the full piece I did which shows Garrett having time to eat a cookie BEFORE running away from me. And please, please do not look at my haircut

Somos Dispatch

From the Morning Memo:

Much of New York’s political class – particularly the Democrats – has decamped, as they typically do after Election Day, for Puerto Rico, where the Somos el Futuro fall conference is taking place. Our NY1 colleague Zack Fink is there, and he sent this report:

Usually the Somos conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico is a moment to just take a breather. An election has just past. Presumably everyone worked hard to get out the vote. And with the largely Democratic attendees, there have usually been great successes at the ballot box to celebrate.

But this year is different. 

“Shock.” “Surprise.” “Profound disappointment.” These are some of the words used to describe President-elect Donald Trump’s surprise triumph over Hillary Clinton Tuesday night. 

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie hosted a welcoming reception last night in Puerto Rico, as is custom for the speaker. But former Speaker Sheldon Silver used to hold a perfunctory event in a nondescript room off the lobby at the hotel Condado Plaza. 

Heastie went big. He held the event at Hacienda Campo Rico, a fancy country club on the outskirts of San Juan ( 45 minutes to reach by car in traffic ). 

The place was beautiful. A colonial building with a sitting area blending nicely into outdoor space. A man sold cigars on one end, and a band played at the other. Toward the corner, chefs took up clevers and chopped up two whole spit-roasted pigs, as a crowd of onlookers watched. 

The speaker himself was dressed in a suit, but most everyone else wore “island chic” clothing. Guayaberas for men, and elegant floral dresses for women. 

Heastie seemed relaxed as he rushed in slightly late to greet arrivals and graciously grant us an on-camera interview. Asked about Trump, Heastie said, 

“I for one am very shocked. But the people have spoken and I think here in New York we must do the best we can and hope that his administration is not going to be one that is harmful to the state of New York.”

NYC Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who was born Puerto Rico, was more blunt. Criticizing not only Trump, but also the electoral college process that got him elected over the popular vote, which went to Clinton.

“Due to the way the electoral system is set up, he is the president-elect,” Mark-Viverito said. “We do not know now what the implications will be for New York City, New York state. There is a lot of trepidation, considering what he has run his campaign on and what he has presented his platform to be.”

Just before the reception began news broke, courtesy of the rom the great Daily News Capitol Bureau Chief Ken Lovett, that there was a deal reached back home in New York to revive the 40-year old tax credit known as 421a, which quietly expired without much fanfare a year and a half ago.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo rejected a 421-a plan hatched by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2015, and instead reached a deal to make any renewal contingent upon a prevailing wage agreement between the construction trades and REBNY.

Well, surprise surprise, they couldn’t reach a deal in six months. But now almost a year later, it appears as though they have; 421a is not only essential for developers, it’s the only way to ensure that affordable housing gets built.

Under the terms of the agreement, developers agree to pay a $60 wage to construction workers on projects in Manhattan below 96th street with 300 units or more, and $45 for workers in buildings expected to rise along New York’s emerging Gold Coast – the Waterfront that stretches from Queens to Brooklyn. In exchange developers get a 35-year property tax abatement. 

Privately, many Democrats said that 35 years is too long. Asked about the deal, Heastie said: “There are some details within that we have to get a chance to look at. So we need to go through that. Myself, the members. We need to talk about because there are some changes.”

Melissa DeRosa, Cuomo’s chief of staff, said the governor is “open to a special session” to pass this agreement. But Heastie indicated he is in no hurry.

Assembly members are expected back in Albany the week of Dec. 4th for a retreat. One insider quipped that lawmakers don’t want to hold a special session that week because they are afraid of what else might come up. 

Finally, there is a buzz in Puerto Rico about the state Senate composition. Democrats swear it ain’t over yet, resting their hopes on uncounted absentees in two Long Island races, but others aren’t so sure. 

Head of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee Michael Gianaris, of Queens, acknowledged to me that his candidates performed “much worse” than he expected. But he also pointed out that Clinton barely broke 50 percent in Nassau County, which should be Hillary Country. 

Anyway, we will keep an eye out for all of this through the weekend. More on the Senate later and if there are any deals to be had. My money is on “no.”

Kaminsky Loses Two IE’s

From the Morning Memo:

Two independent expenditure groups that have been raising and spending money on behalf of freshman Democratic Sen. Todd Kaminsky in the 9th SD on Long Island have been banned by an eleventh hour legal decision from doing any further activity in this election cycle.

The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court found that New Yorkers Together, which is funded by the Communications Workers of America, and a UFT organization called Teachers for Todd, were operating in violation of independent expenditure rules spelled out in the state election law.

A temporary restraining order was issued against New Yorkers Together, and a preliminary injunction was initiated against both New Yorkers Together and Teachers for Todd, blocking them from engaging in any further activity on Kaminsky’s behalf.

The registration of both groups has also been cancelled.

At issue here is the fact that Teachers for Todd sent $300,000 to New Yorkers Together. Under the new ethics package championed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo at the end of the legislative session this past year, that kind of transfer has now become illegal.

The irony of ironies of course, is that these new laws initially seemed aimed, according to some, at New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in an extension of his never-ending feud with Cuomo.

De Blasio, as you’ll recall, sought to influence the outcome of the last battle for control of the state Senate, attempting to assist the Democrats in their quest to win the majority. His fundraising efforts are now the focus of multiple investigations.

In the short term, though, the new statute has not yet hit its intended target, but may wind up potentially hurting the campaign of Kaminsky, one of the handful of Senate Democrats who have landed an endorsement from Cuomo this year.

Kaminsky has held himself up as a reformer in his re-match against Republican Chris McGrath. Kaminsky is a former assistant U.S. attorney who is perhaps best known (among the sort of people who know this kind of thing) for successfully prosecuting corruption former Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada Jr., of the Bronx.

Kaminsky won the seat vacated by former Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, who was also convicted on federal corruption, in a special election last April, defeating McGrath. The two are now battling it out yet again, but this time for a full two-year term in the Senate.

To be clear, Kaminsky and his campaign are not accused of any wrongdoing. By definition, the independent expenditure groups are, well, independent. By law, they cannot coordinate with with Kaminsky, and they have not. But under the recently enacted new law, they cannot coordinate with each other either. And the court found that is precisely what was done here.

In a statement, McGrath sought to capitalize on this decision, saying:

“Todd Kaminsky and his special interest allies are attempting to buy an election, stealing it right out from under hardworking Nassau County taxpayers and their families. This order acknowledges Team Kaminsky’s illegal behavior and shuts down any and all of their spending for the remainder of the election.”

“The 9th Senate district deserves more than someone who offers himself up as a crusading former U.S. Attorney but then quickly becomes part of the corruption in Albany. It’s time to send a real reformer and outsider like me to the state Senate so we can enact sweeping ethics reforms and clean up our government once and for all.”

Kaminsky’s campaign spokesman Isaac Goldberg responded:

“This lawsuit involves two independent groups that are distinct and separate from the Kaminsky Campaign. The Kaminsky Campaign does not coordinate or communicate with these groups.”

And for good measure, here is the section of election law: § 14-107-a. Prohibited spending by independent expenditure committees and political action committees…

1. An independent expenditure committee shall not contribute to any candidate, constituted committee, political committee, or party committee.

2. (a) A political action committee shall not make any independent expenditures and may only make contributions to any independent expenditure committee if such committee does not have common operational control. For purposes of this paragraph, “common operational control”means that (i) the same individual or individuals exercise actual and strategic control over the day-to-day affairs of both the political action committee and the independent expenditure committee, or (ii) employees of the political action committee and the independent expenditure committee engage in communications related to the strategic operations of either committee.

(b) No candidate, candidate’s authorized committee, party committee, or constituted committee shall contribute to an independent expenditure committee that is making expenditures benefitting the candidate or the candidate supported by such party or constituted committee.

Sd 9 App Div Osc Signed by Nick Reisman on Scribd

Going for Broke

Governor Andrew Cuomo is going all in for Senate Democrats. It’s hard to believe I’m actually saying that, since it’s never been said before in the history of state government. I kid slightly because I suppose six years is not all that long, but it’s been two previous election cycles where the Governor’s support for Senate candidates of his own party has been anywhere from “tepid” to “agnostic.” Some would go a step further and say he actively worked to undermine them when he helped broker a deal for the majority between the Independent Democratic Conference and the Senate Republicans in late 2012.

But as much as I am convinced things mostly happen in politics based on personal animosities and perceived public slights, grudges can often be short-lived. And that is because political expediency often Trumps (hehe, get it?) the desire for retribution. You can always get someone back later. No need to set the barn on fire so everyone’s animals perish.

Cuomo took a fair amount of grief in 2012 and 2014 for failing to actively campaign for Senate Democrats. This was particularly true in 2014 when he delivered that hostage video to secure the Working Families Party endorsement during his re-election bid. Cuomo made certain promises but many Democrats felt as though he didn’t live up to expectations. He invited some Democratic Senate candidates to share the Stage with him during his Women’s Equality Bus Tour throughout New York State, but Cuomo didn’t really “actively campaign” with any of them. Same for money. Cuomo did not headline any fundraisers for Senate Dems, and sure enough they were vastly outspent and failed yet again achieve a majority.

The Working Families party and others whom the Governor sometimes refers to as “the professional left” were incensed by 2014. Especially after major initiatives like the Dream Act had been brought to the Senate floor with a coalition government only to fail.

But this time around, things are a little different. Cuomo has done three events for Senate Democrats in the last three days and more appearances are scheduled. He is actively raising money for the effort. And according to people close to the Governor, the tide has turned on who has been out front this year and who has not. It’s now the Chief Executive who is leading the fight, and the leftist advocates who are quietly on the sidelines. It’s peculiar, Cuomo supporters say, because unlike in years past, Democrats are finally on the precipice of taking control. With the floundering Donald Trump at the top of the ticket, and the recent arrest of Republican Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, many more Senate seats are now in play for Democrats, particularly on Long Island.

So…where are the unions? Some are full throttle for Democrats like 32BJ, others hedged their bets like the Hotel Trades and 1199. In 2014 they were backing primaries against IDC members and crowing about the shortcomings of a Republican controlled State Senate.

As for the Working Families Party, critics say there has been limited phone banking, canvassing, calls for volunteers or emails asking for contributions to the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee. People on the left didn’t even set up an Independent Expenditure group to run issue ads against Republican Senate candidates. Although in fairness, many oppose IE’s on principle. The WFP has been providing field operations, but they are also getting paid for that work. WFP New York State Director Bill Lipton takes exception with any characterization of their efforts as somehow weak, telling us,

The WFP has been working to build  a Senate Democratic Majority since our inception. I don’t think Democrats in the State Senate would disagree they’ve had no bigger friend than us over the years.

The Chair of DSCC, Senator Michael Gianaris (D) Queens says he is “thrilled” with the WFP’s efforts on behalf of Senate Democrats and he hopes it’s a sign of more cooperation to come.

So, is there unity? Hard to say. For the first time in recent memory Democrats in New York State including the Governor, are doing more coordinated work together on behalf of Senate Democrats, but that may be a temporary condition. Cuomo is already looking ahead to his re-election year in 2018. Last night he urged Democrats at a fundraiser to consider giving members of the IDC what they want to rejoin the mainline Democrats. He described it in terms of a marriage with compromises. Specifically, Cuomo is looking to get ethics reform early next year which includes serious limits on outside income. That was securely out of reach with a Republican Senate. But the Governor knows he needs to deliver on that before 2018 after all these corruption scandals to inoculate him from criticism. So, the best way to do that is to campaign for a Democratic majority, and hope the ethics legislation gets done early in the session or as a part of next year’s budget. After that, it will be up to the IDC and the mainline Dems to keep their marriage in tact. Yes, the Governor senses a changing tide. It probably began as far back as when he poached key staffers from Senate Republicans including Kelly Cummings and Rob Mujica to join his own staff. But with some encouraging signs these last couple of weeks, Cuomo has opted to double down on Democrats and go for broke.

Republicans are already trying to link Senate Democrats with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, sending out an email blast from Majority Leader John Flanagan that reads,

The Senate Democrats are an appendage of Bill de Blasio and City Hall, and it is unfathomable why Governor Cuomo would want to place de Blasio in charge of setting the state’s agenda by electing Senate Democrats. Their extreme agenda is to tax the life out of hardworking, overburdened New Yorkers and impose upon New York radical policies that the vast majority of people who live here don’t want.
To which Senate Democratic Spokesman Mike Murphy responds,
“How appropriate that Donald Trump’s New York cheerleaders are now adopting his tactics of lying to scare and divide people leading up to Election Day. Senate Republicans are obviously running scared as more and more New Yorkers learn about their terrible record of corruption, high taxes, and dysfunction.
So the Governor’s calculus seems to be: let these guys fight it out, but then help broker a deal with the two Democratic factions regardless of the outcome. That way he can take what he wants from the new realignment in the Senate. Cuomo certainly knows how to pick a carcass for any remaining edible meat. But you know he is slightly removed from the trench warfare on this since Republicans brought up Mayor de Blasio. In the end, we all know perfectly well that Cuomo is not aligned with him.

Peace and Love Train Set to Depart Station

I think perhaps the greatest conversation I ever had the pleasure of witnessing between John Kelly and another person happened around budget time in 2015. We were staking out Governor Cuomo’s office on the second floor of the State Capitol when John explained to another reporter that he had been “rapping” with someone earlier. John had joined Cuomo’s press staff just a few weeks earlier, and everyone was just beginning to get used to his unique style. The reporter looked at him with slight puzzlement and asked, “Rapping…as in rhyming your words to a melodic beat?”

Ah, no. That is not what John Kelly meant. Not what he meant at all.

Call him “Quirky,” “off beat” even. Hell, even John himself breaks it down for us telling me, “Hey, I am not a normal f—ing guy.” Kelly is the type of individual to wear red pants. And no, he is not being ironic. A fellow who never actually had an office while he was in Albany. That’s why John was always perched at a windowsill, or the Albany equivalent of a stoop, sitting at the foot of some grand staircase, only near an outlet with three phones in his two hands. One could say this was a metaphor for John never feeling quite comfortable in Albany, and there is truth in that. But more likely it demonstrates a go-with-flow vibe that emanates off of one of the chiller, and more pleasant persons to deal with in New York State Government.

Yes, after nearly two years on the job, John Kelly is prepared to depart the Cuomo Administration to pursue  a new opportunity at CA Technologies, an enterprise software company you’ve likely never heard of. But that may all change soon because John will be handling Communications and marketing to help put the company’s name on the map. Asked about the move, Kelly says he’s learned to bring a political perspective to just about everything he does. It started when he was a kid, the youngest of seven. Everything was a negotiation with his older siblings whether it was which movie to watch or what to eat for dinner. John learned early on how to handle people in positions of power. Today, his two older brothers Bill and Al are both CEO’s of CAIA Association and Visa, respectively. ( Truth be told, I had never heard of CAIA either, and was deeply disappointed when I made a joke about how “CAIA” sounds an awful lot like what Bob Marley would call “kaya,” and Kelly didn’t get the reference. I mean, look at the guy. He should get that, amirite? ) But the point being that working in a storied and powerful administration like Governor Cuomo’s actually was a better fit for Kelly than even he might have initially realized. More on that in a minute. First let’s get back to funny pants.

Last July, Kelly accompanied Cuomo on a trip up to Syracuse. They were expected to hit a music festival, among other things and Kelly shows up on the plane wearing – ready for it – green pants. As they settled into their seats, Cuomo very respectfully turned to Kelly and said, “I want to ask you a question, but I don’t want to be rude.” John told him to fire away, and Cuomo responded simply, “why would you wear those?” Kelly proceeded to explain that it was a summer weekend, and the pants were “fun.” After listening patiently, the Governor turned to the State Trooper and said, “well, that is an answer.”

Then there was the time Kelly and Cuomo were traveling again right at the height of the public airing of grievances between the Governor and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Always looking for a peaceful resolution, John suggested to the Governor that one of his daughters should intern at the Mayor’s office for the summer, and one of de Blasio’s kids should work over at the Gov’s office on Third Avenue. This was met with delayed uproarious laughter hours later from the second aide who was on the plane when John made his peace pipe offering. Cuomo just looked at Kelly, but really never said anything at all. He didn’t have to.

So, it might not have seemed like a great match at first, but according to Kelly it wound up being a fantastic experience. The Cuomo team is results driven, and while John may have approached things differently, at the end of the day all that matters is the outcome. Chief of Staff Melissa DeRosa accepted Kelly right away as a solid contributor, and eventually so did Cuomo. As John also puts it, coming into the administration at age 45 was a bit of a “different hang in the organization,” even if he was an “unfamiliar type.” Kelly says he gives enormous credit to Governor Cuomo “for accepting a lunatic” like him. Through it all they formed a strong bond, and Cuomo’s parting words to Kelly were, “don’t be sorry [ for leaving ]. I respect you.”

So, while you may expect to meet a guy like John Kelly in a different era. An electric kool aid acid test party in 1967 would be my first guess,  with a young Jerry Garcia providing the soundtrack along with house band the Grateful Dead, Kelly is an adapter. A guy who not only ended up excelling while in Cuomo land, but maybe even helped bring them down to earth on certain things. Dare I say, we could all use a person like that in our lives. John Kelly will be missed. His last day is Friday.


Espaillat-Klein-Alcantara-Stewart-Cousins Backstory

I feel like we are all in a bit of a suspended state, waiting to see what happens with the elections next month. How will the epic Trump meltdown influence state contests? For the Senate at least, control hangs in the balance. Will Democrats pick up enough seats to form the Majority? That certainly seems much more likely now, but of course the makeup of the Senate is never that simple. It will likely take a deal to form the majority and without knowing who holds what cards, it’s tough to determine what that deal will look like.

Around the time of the September 13th Primary, numerous people asked what exactly went on between the Senate Democrats, The Independent Democratic Conference and State Senator Adriano Espaillat to make the likely next State Senator from Washington Heights, Marisol Alcantara, join forces with IDC Leader Jeff Klein. Turns out, it’s an interesting backstory with a handful of twists and turns.

Several months ago, IDC Chief of Staff John Emerick left the conference to form his own campaign organization. The name of that organization is Hamilton Campaign Network, which is a sister Company to the MirRam Group, as you can probably tell by the name. One of MirRam’s founding partners, Luis Miranda is the father of Lin-Manuel Miranda who created and starred in “Hamilton.” Perhaps you’ve heard of it? Turns out, Emerick’s Company helped Adriano Espaillat during his successful run in the Democratic Primary for Congress back in June. The Hamilton Campaign Network in partnership with MirRam provided a “soup to nuts” list of services for Espaillat including polling, management, direct mail, radio and TV. They also brought in Red Horse Strategies for design of the field operation. Klein himself, through his group contributed $50,000. So, everyone gets a little credit for the big win. Espaillat had always used Red Horse and MirRam in previous campaigns, in part because of a close relationship with Miranda. He never used Parkside Group, which many of the mainline Senate Democrats use.

As far back as April, Emerick and others reached out to City Comptroller Scott Stringer and Micah Lasher for an endorsement of Espaillat before the Congressional Primary. Stringer could help deliver the Upper West Side of Manhattan portion of the district, and in exchange Espaillat could consider helping Lasher who wanted to run for Espaillat’s Senate seat. Well, the endorsement never happened. Some even say Stringer “reneged.” Although Lasher, reached by text on the high holy day of Yom Kippur ( which he was quick to point out to me ) said there were all kinds of discussions, yet no deal, but nor was there any deal broken.  Needless to say when it came time for Lasher to seek Espaillat’s support the answer ( obviously ) was “no.”

Enter Marisol Alcanatara, who had a good relationship with Espaillat and City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, for whom Alcantara worked as Chief of Staff. Coming off his primary victory and sensing he could play kingmaker in upper Manhattan, Espaillat endorsed Alcantara in July along with Carmen De La Rosa to run against incumbent Guillermo Linares in the Assembly. About a week later Democrats gathered in Philadelphia for the Democratic National Convention. Alcantara approached Democratic Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins on the floor of the convention and received what some described as a bit of a cold shoulder. Some Democrats had already committed to supporting Lasher for Senate in the 31st District. On the floor, sources say Alcantara pulled over members of the Nurses Association, where she had once worked as a union organizer, and asked them to take a photo of her with Stewart-Cousins. What happened next is a matter of some dispute. Some claim Stewart-Cousins “called the photo back,” by asking the Nurses Association not to make it public, and they agreed. The idea being not to risk any public misrepresentation of who the Democrats were supporting in the State Primary. Officially, the party stayed neutral. However, a spokesperson for Stewart-Cousins categorically denies that ever happened, and also claims the Minority Leader remembers her interaction with Alcantara as nothing but pleasant.

Fast forward a few weeks, Stewart-Cousins reaches out to Alcantara and offers to deliver an endorsement from the pro-choice group Emily’s List, but in exchange she must sign a pledge to conference with the Senate Democrats. Alcantara declined claiming there were strings attached. Stewart-Cousins also disputes this. Meantime, after doing just four pieces of direct mail for Alcantara, Hamilton Group polled the district and determined that Alcantara was five points ahead in the race. The IDC decided to go all in with the same coalition of consultants ( minus Red Horse ) that helped Espaillat win the primary. All told the IDC provided $534,000 to Alcantara’s campaign.

So, why did Alcantara decide to go with the IDC? There are a lot of reasons, besides just the most glaring example which is money and support. Alcantara explained some of this to Politico last month. IDC member Diane Savino played a big role in helping recruit Alcantara, for example.

Senate Democrats also point to her warm remarks about Stewart-Cousins in an interview with my colleague Errol Louis on “Inside City Hall” last month as evidence there is no beef. Although when I went back and reviewed the tape, Alcantara merely said Stewart-Cousins had called to congratulate her after the primary win and that it was “very nice.” Which actually sounded rather chilly, if you ask me. In fact, it sorta made me uncomfortable just watching it.

I guess the ultimate conclusion is that alliances pop up and recede all the time in politics. And sometimes those backstories can be rather entertaining.

Does Doogie Howser Work in Albany?

Around the State Capitol there is a widely shared belief that Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker was the real life inspiration for the fictional early 90s television program, “Doogie Howser MD.” For those who don’t remember the show, which ran for four seasons on ABC beginning in 1989, Actor Neil Patrick Harris portrayed the child prodigy who graduated from medical school at age 14. The show actually begins with Doogie Howser as a 16-year old resident at a Los Angeles hospital, even though he still lives with his parents.

Like Doogie, Zucker has an extraordinarily impressive resume. He graduated medical school early at age 22, “becoming one of America’s youngest doctors,” according to the Department of Health website. But that’s not quite the same thing as graduating Medical school as a teenager. Moreover, if Hollywood takes the life of an individual and uses it to sell people entertainment in the form of movies or TV shows, that individual would typically receive some sort of credit or compensation? Dr. Zucker gets neither of those things even though multiple members of the Cuomo Administration have repeated the story behind the scenes that Zucker inspired the character, including this week when I tweeted that Zucker was not and got an immediate response telling me the “Doogie Howser” story is in fact, true.

Doing what any responsible Reporter in my shoes would do, I set out to get to the bottom of what I was pretty sure was a cock-and-bull story. On Wednesday night I put in a call to Fred Specktor at Creative Artists or CAA, the powerhouse talent agency located in Beverly Hills, California. Specktor has represented Producer Steven Bochco for years, who created the show “Doogie Howser” along with David E. Kelly. Bochco’s additional TV credits include the groundbreaking show “Hill Street Blues,” which ran from 1981 to 1987 on NBC. He is also credited with the courtroom drama “L.A. Law,” another cop drama, “NYPD Blue,” and ( perhaps regrettably ) “Cop Rock.”

I phoned Specktor and his assistant immediately patched me through to the gravelly-voiced agent. He seemed amused by the call when I told him why I was reaching out. Specktor said he didn’t really know the answer to the question of whether Zucker was the inspiration for the “Doogie Howser” character, but said he speaks to Bochco almost every day and planned on doing so later that night or early the next morning. Surprisingly kibbitz-y and chatty, Specktor was particularly concerned whether or not I was some kind of “right wing journalist” who was trying to hurt a Democrat. I laughed and explained to him that NY1 is a New York City based, legitimate news organization. I also explained that Zucker’s credibility had recently come under fire over the water contamination crisis in the small upstate New York village of Hoosick Falls. As a matter of course, all things said about Zucker or that he said himself were now being more closely scrutinized. Specktor seemed reassured and we agreed to speak the following day.

When I reached out the next afternoon, Specktor answered his own phone and immediately cut to the chase. He had spoken to Bochco earlier in the day who said the claim about Zucker being the inspiration for the fictional character has “absolutely no truth to it.” Bochco actually recalled his inspiration which stemmed from a New York Magazine article he was reading in the mid 80s by Tony Schwartz about child prodigies. Bochco thought about it and began to hash out an idea for a show that would involve a young doctor. According to Specktor, Bochco had always been interested in child prodigies because he had one in his family. Specktor declined to elaborate when pressed for further details. But he added that if the “Doogie Howser” character was inspired by any real life person it was a member of Bochco’s own family, not Howard Zucker. Specktor went on to say that when he posed my question to Bochco it “elicited laughter.” Specktor ended our chat, which quickly became friendly again after I mentioned I was a huge Bochco fan ( I didn’t mention “Cop Rock” of course ), by telling me I should inform the Commissioner “to be a lot more careful” about making such claims.

In fairness to Zucker, I couldn’t find any actual time where he publicly claimed to be the genius behind Doogie. But it has been something commonly discussed around the State Capitol, particularly among the staff at the State Health Department. In fact, when I called the department seeking comment and mentioned my query was in regard to “Doogie Howser” the person on the other end of the phone didn’t even seem fazed. This article has been repeatedly referenced by supporters of the apparently tall tale, although if you look at the language in here it is actually a little vague. Certainly, the Commissioner has never done anything to dispel the notion that he is the real life “Doogie Howser,” and as I mentioned earlier I was accused of malpractice for suggesting otherwise.

So, why does all of this matter beyond being an amusing side note? Well, Zucker is currently being trotted out as the credible voice of public health in response to the water contamination crisis in Hoosick Falls. One legislative hearing was held last month, and second one was held this week in Albany. Zucker’s credibility has been called into question, including by fellow Democrats and certainly the residents of Hoosick Falls, who believe Zucker and his department were embarrassingly slow to respond to the crisis. At one point the State Health Department told residents not to expect adverse health effects from drinking the water even after the federal EPA had advised residents to stop. Many believe Zucker delivered a poor performance Wednesday after being grilled by lawmakers.

There is also the matter of two years ago when during a press conference announcing a ban on fracking, Zucker seemed to say he wouldn’t let his children live near land being fracked. He actually has no children.

So taken separately, the kerfuffle about Zucker’s children and his supposed claim that he inspired “Doogie Howser” may not be that big a deal. But when you start to add things up about someone who may exaggerate or sometimes even make false claims one could quickly conclude there is a credibility problem. Just ask Brian Williams.

Finally, when you combine what could be read as false or breezy statements with the very serious Hoosick Falls water pollutant crisis, these other incidents suddenly become that much more curious and worthy of scrutiny. Zucker and the Cuomo Administration are asking the people of New York State to believe them when they say they heeded early warnings about contamination and promptly did all they could to respond,

The bottom line is this: Zucker was not the inspiration for “Doogie Howser.” Here is a statement from the Departmnt of Health,”

“Thirty years ago, while working as a resident in a Philadelphia hospital, Dr. Zucker was interviewed at work by two TV executives who were interested in hearing about his experiences as an unusually young doctor. Dr. Zucker never followed up and does not know how this information was subsequently used. The show went onto the air on a short time later and his friends and co-workers certainly joked around about a connection.


And not to be outdone, Rich Azzopardi, a spokesman for Governor Cuomo added,

“We agree that ‘NY1 is a New York City based, legitimate news organization.‎’ The rest of your post however, is nothing more than lighthearted character assassination.”

Senate GOP To Exercise Subpoena Power in Water Quality Hearings

From the Morning Memo:

State lawmakers have traveled back to Albany to hold the second of three scheduled hearings on water quality in New York.

Last week, the Senate flew solo at a hearing in Hoosick Falls – the epicenter of the PFOA water crisis – but today’s hearing, and a second one next week on Long Island, will include both houses.

By now, the water quality issues in Hoosick Falls have been well documented. Late last year the federal EPA told local residents to stop drinking and cooking with water from the town water supply. Serious questions arose about the state’s response, with the Cuomo administration seeming oddly out of sync with the federal agency about whether the water was actually safe to consume.

Last week, the hearing quickly devolved into a blame game between the EPA and the state’s Department of Health over who knew what and when, and who acted quicker to protect the health of Hoosick residents.

Interestingly enough, the EPA didn’t even testify. Instead, representatives from the agency reached out to reporters after the hearing to rebut some of the testimony of State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, who called the EPA’s actions in Hoosick “confusing.”

Incidentally, the EPA will not be testifying this time either, declining a second invitation to be heard on the record. But Hoosick residents and Capitol watchers are hopeful that a hearing with both houses will produce more answers about how their state government responded. Last week’s hearing, while valuable, seemed to raise more questions than it answered.

Senate Republicans have also invited representatives from French company Saint Gobain to testify today. The Saint Gobain plastics manufacturing plant in Hoosick Falls is believed to be the source of the water contamination. So far, officials with the company have refused to testify publicly, but have agreed to answer written questions.

That’s not good enough for the Senate Republicans, who say they will use the subpoena power vested in the legislative committees to compel the company to testify. While it may be too late for that to happen today, a senate source says the conference is hopeful the company will make a representative available for next week’s hearing.

The idea of issuing subpoenas was raised publicly by Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat and the ranking minority member on the chamber’s Environmental Conservation Committee, earlier this month. But Republicans maintain that the subpoena process has been in motion with Saint Gobain for at least several weeks.

Incidentally, Assembly Health Committee Chairman Dick Gottfried, who will be among those presiding over the joint legislative hearings, was asked during a CapTon interview last night about using the committee subpoena power to compel polluting companies like Saint Gobain to appear.

Gottfried, also a Manhattan Democrat, didn’t seem in any rush to move in that direction.

“There’s a lot on the table here,” the assemblyman said. “Right now, we’re looking at what the state policies and practices are when something arguably really bad becomes evident. The question of what a company – whether it’s Saint Gobain or somebody else – should be putting into the water and what the state should be doing about that is an important topic, a different topic.”

“We may well be getting into that, although people sometimes have the notion that since we’re a legislative committee we must be able to spend millions of dollars like committees in Congress can do to hold in depth investigations of things.”

“It would be great if we had that kind of resource. We really don’t. I’m not sure we’ve got, in a state legislative committee in New York, the staff resources to do that kind of investigation. But in any event, that’s a related, but important – and different – topic from what we’re looking into tomorrow.”

Gottfried seemed to take the EPA’s side in its ongoing dispute with the Cuomo administration over who was ultimately responsible for the mess in Hoosick Falls, saying that even though the federal agency’s acceptable levels of PFOA consumption was a moving target, the state should have been able to follow through – and, in his opinion, dropped the ball.

It’s hard to say what exactly is going to come out of these hearings. Maybe nothing much at all in terms of Capitol drama – like a resignation or some kind of “gotcha” moment. But sometimes government just kind of needs to do its job. And that happens when the legislative branch provides oversight of the executive branch, which it is clearly charged with doing.

The governor and the legislative leaders have sometimes been known for their (way too) cozy relationship. It’s good to see Republicans and Democrats alike in the state Legislature calling for some accountability.

If nothing else, it gets critical information on the record. And that might give residents of Hoosick not only peace of mind, but information about how their government may have served or failed them in this crisis.

– Liz Benjamin contributed to this report.

Is A Democratic Senate Even Necessary?

This can be a very touchy subject for Senate mainline Democrats, who can get a little Al Roker on you if you dare to bring it up. But something is happening this election cycle which is a stiff departure from two years ago. Primarily labor’s involvement.

Two years ago, with an assist from Mayor De Blasio, Democrats vowed to take back control of the State Senate. They failed in their efforts ( although one could argue that numerically speaking they actually succeeded but politics prevents a sitting Democratic Majority ). They also left a trail of bitter feelings among Republicans and the Independent Democratic Conference, whose members had to fight off primaries. This time around not a single IDC member has a primary opponent. The labor unions appear to be standing down. This is not a completely hands off approach, but the endorsements this year speak volumes.

In 2014 NYSUT backed a full slate of Democratic candidates including Dave Dennenberg, Adrienne Esposito, Justin Wagner, Terry Gipson, Elaine Altman, Cecilia Tkacyk and Johnny Destino all of whom lost. In 2016 it’s much more of a mixed bag with NYSUT backing mostly incumbents including IDC members and Republicans. The outliers are Adam Haber and Todd Kaminsky on Long Island who have the union’s backing, Chris Eachus, and Terry Gipson once again in the Hudson Valley ( not sure what it is with this guy, but everyone seems to love him ).

The AFL-CIO endorsements tell a similar story. In 2014 the union backed the unsuccessful candidacies of Dave Denenberg, Justin Wagner, Ted O’Brien, Elaine Altman, Cecilia Tkacyk and ( of course ) Terry Gipson. This year, the AFL-CIO is staying neutral in some races, but mostly endorsing incumbents from both parties. The exceptions are Adam Haber and ( it kinda goes without saying ) Terry Gipson. Obviously more endorsements could come out later, but for now they feel a lot less all-Democrats-all-the-time than they did in 2014. As one GOP insider put it, the takeaway here is that “if it’s a wash, that is actually a big win for Republicans.” The lack of strong backing from unions could lead to money problems for Dems, and we already know that 1199 is giving Republicans money to maintain control of the Senate.

So what is going on here? For starters, the unions got a lot of what they wanted this year with the GOP-IDC coalition in control of the Senate. That includes a robust paid family leave program, and a path to a $15 minimum wage. These two things were unthinkable as recently as last year. For working people both of these new policies will make a huge difference in their lives. And they got it without a Democratic majority, or as one observer keenly noted, the unions “got what they wanted without having what they were told they needed.”

Secondly, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan has made a real push to court the unions. For example at the NYSUT convention at the Desmond in Albany last week, Flanagan spoke to the members first, then hung around and took their questions for roughly two and half hours. Presumably in that soft spoken, mild mannered way of his. Flanagan is a lot more in the weeds when it comes to policy than his predecessor Dean Skelos. And as the former Chair of the Education Committee, Flanagan can speak to teachers in a language they understand. Part of this is self preservation and survival. Flanagan can read the polls like anybody else which warn of an anti-Trump tsunami at the ballot box this fall. He knows that down ballot races could be impacted should the anti-Trump vote materialize in the way liberals insist that it will. And that gets us to the final point, which is Flanagan’s relationship with IDC Leader Jeff Klein. People close to both men say it’s very strong. I used to think of Klein and Skelos as something like this, but the reality was actually far different. Both known for their flaring tempers, Skelos and Klein would sometimes yell past each other. But Klein respects Flanagan’s policy knowledge and the way he handles the conference.

Democratic sources seem confident that if they win enough seats, a reconciliation between the two Democratic factions will commence. I’m told that “talks are already underway.” However, GOP sources say they too “feel as though they are in a good spot” with the IDC, meaning the coalition could continue. If recent history is any guide, Senate Democrats have always picked up seats in Presidential election years. That’s likely to happen again this year, but the IDC decision on who to work with could still be critical to who controls the Senate. Democrats are telling people to expect a Democratic majority, but some in labor at least, appear to be hedging their bets.