Zack Fink

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#SD26 – It’s Actually Worse Than You Thought

Reformers are dismayed after witnessing democracy at it’s not-so-finest Sunday when the New York County Committee met to pick the Democratic candidate for the special election in November.  The winner will immediately fill the 26th Senate District seat for the unexpired term of Daniel Squadron who resigned last month.

The race came quickly down to two candidates. Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh, a close friend of Squadron’s and the chosen candidate of the Democratic establishment including Mayor de blasio and Governor Cuomo who both endorsed Kavanagh Sunday ( separately, of course ). And Paul Newell who ran unsuccessfully for Sheldon Silver’s open Assembly seat in 2016.

Newell managed to secure 72% of the New York County Committee votes for the Senate seat Sunday, a solid majority. But Some believe the fix was in for Kavanagh who secured just 28% of Manhattan Democratic County Committee vote but who will also get the 35% from Brooklyn which gives him enough to prevail over Newell. The 26th Assembly district straddles both King’s and New York Counties, giving both boroughs a say in the process. And while Manhattan’s selection process was less than ideal, hey, at least they held a committee meeting to vote at all. In Brooklyn, Democratic Boss Frank Seddio just endorsed Kavanagh and handed him Brooklyn’s total. So, Kavanagh ends up with more than 50% of the total vote for the District or enough to win. Some believe this is very unfair to Newell, and one could probably make a strong argument that it is.

But the Manhattan vote deserves additional scrutiny as well. For starters, the committee rules were changed and presented to members just three days before the Sunday vote. Instead of the usual balloting process where several votes occur until there is a winner, on Sunday, it was just one ballot. County Committees are supposed to be a microcosm of the district. But the committee members are Democratic party people who get elected in the Primary. They are not government people. That means they are political in nature, and those who were elected on September 12 were also able to vote yesterday. Although Many appointments were left vacant and had no vote at all.

In Manhattan, the committee is dominated by political clubs. So at one point Newell was arguing the vacancies should be filled for those affiliated with the Downtown Independent Democrats. DID is club Newell came out of which represents the tonier portions of the district including Battery Park and the Financial District. However, Newell also supported Alice Cancel for District Leader in the Primary, who hails from the Lower East Side Democrats. Remember Cancel? She had the support of Lower East Side Democrats plus the Harry Truman Democratic Club last year during the special election for Silver’s seat. The Truman club was Silver’s old club, and cancel wound up winning the seat with support and help from Silver’s longtime friend and Chief of Staff Judy Rapfogel, Cancel then ended up losing the 65th Assembly District seat to Yuh-Line Niou in a contested Democratic Primary later that same year ( more on the Truman Club in a minute ).

So while Newell was arguing to seat DID committee people, he was not arguing to fill the slots for Lower East Democrats, which is Cancel’s club. Cancel’s slate was knocked off the ballot for September 12 leaving a bunch of vacancies. Lower East Side Dems represent the Section 8 and NYCHA portions of the district including the Alfred E. Smith and Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia Houses. As a result, as one insider put it “there were very few black or brown people being represented in that room Sunday.” The two new District leaders from that area, also known as Part B were there however, Daisy Paez and Pedro Cardi ( actually Cardi was an incumbent and ran with Alice, but was re-elected last week ). Just not many of their committee people. And part B represents about a quarter of the Senate District.

As for the Truman Club, without Silver it’s unclear how much clout it will continue to hold. Caroline Laskow and Lee Berman defeated the last remaining Rapfogel supported candidates last Tuesday in the District Leader race, including Karen Blatt who is young and talented, but is perceived by some as being too close to the old guard. As those familar with the club explain, Rapfogel was “never able to build a bench,” because Silver would not allow it. He viewed up-and-comers as a threat, and certainly never imagined he would go out the way he did, which was most certainly not on his own terms.

So in the end the process was flawed in many respects, but it is hard to argue with Kavanagh as the candidate. He is a reformer, even though he will likely end up in the Senate through the very process he and Squadron fought to change. We also haven’t seen the last of Newell. He seems to get closer every time.

Democrats Set to Meet on MTA

With subway issues as a backdrop, sources say Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has called a meeting of downstate Assembly Democrats to discuss the crisis on the rails and other MTA issues. The meeting is scheduled to take place Tuesday morning at 11:30am at 250 Broadway in Lower Manhattan. Prior to the meeting Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz (D) Bronx, who Chairs the Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, which includes oversight of the MTA, will hold a press conference outside City Hall to discuss issues related to MTA bus service, which he feels has gotten shortchanged in all the discussion this summer over problems on the rails.

Recently, The Cuomo Administration floated the idea of congestion pricing 2.0. You’ll remember that the old version went down in flames in Albany back in 2008. Assembly Democrats met for hours behind closed doors that April only to eventually tell Speaker Sheldon Silver that it will fail miserably if brought to the floor. It was never voted on by members. A large part of the objection came from Democrats representing Brooklyn and Queens who could not accept new tolls on the East River crossings. They felt it would disproportionately punish middle class New Yorkers, some of whom – ahem – have few public transit options where they live and must drive frequently into Manhattan.

But today is a very different environment. For starters, as one Assembly member points out, it’s a lot of new members who may have a totally different take on congestion pricing especially if the money it raises goes toward improving mass transit. Moreover, sources say the Cuomo Administration has been signaling to Assembly members that they can do a new pricing plan that does not include East River tolls. One member says they “have heard nothing” about tolls in this plan.

Truthfully, no one has heard much of anything about this plan. That is due partially to the Cuomo team’s desire to roll it out on their terms. It’s also possible the details have not yet been finalized. After all, it is not expected to be announced until the Governor’s State of the State message in January.

So, to close the loop, Democrats will meet tomorrow. Speaker Heastie is setting the agenda for the conference. It’s unclear at this point if the Assembly will consider holding hearings on the MTA, or if the prospect of holding hearings is even on the agenda tomorrow.

The MTA Funding Source No One is Talking About

As the subway crisis reached a boil this Summer, the State’s two top elected Democrats had very different levels of exposure. Governor Cuomo finds himself selecting his press appearances lately and avoiding general avails that he used to do in New York City with some frequency. He hasn’t done one ( willingly ) since June. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie meantime, has been gallivanting around upstate New York as part of his “Summer Tour.” When asked about the subway crisis in Plattsburgh last week, Heastie didn’t have much to add, other than the fact that the Assembly ( which actually has some oversight of the MTA ) has no plans to hold hearings. So it’s been a little bit of political Jiu jitsu for both of them on the subway issue. In fact, I was pretty sure I was watching a movie called “Crouching Cuomo, Hidden Heastie.”

The bottom line is this: The MTA needs more money. And there is a disagreement over where it should come from. Mayor Bill de Blasio wants to tax the wealthy ( you know, again ), and Governor Cuomo has floated the idea of Congestion Pricing 2.0, which will likely bear little resemblance to the first iteration. But here is something to consider that doesn’t seem to be on the radar for most of the New York political world.

Starting next year, public companies will be required to disclose the pay ratio between it’s CEO and the company’s average employee. The rule, adopted by the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2015 was actually passed as part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, but the SEC dragged it’s feet on implementation. And who knows…President Trump could attempt to delay it again. But assuming he does not, this could prove a major headache for New York State domiciled public companies. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the CEO’s of the 350 largest companies make on average 270 times what the average worker earns. Yikes.

Assuming companies are not embarrassed by that kind of pay discrepancy, New York State could move to impose a hefty tax on companies with the worst pay ratio’s. That money could then go to fix the ailing subways, which are evidently, used by the very workers at the bottom end of those ugly ratios.

In fact, Five states have already introduced legislation to do precisely that, including Massachusetts, Illinois and neighboring Connecticut. ( C’mon, New York! You gonna let Connecticut out-progressive you?!? ). And the City of Portland Oregon has already passed a surtax on companies whose CEO’s make more than 100 times the average worker.

Now as a general rule, I’m not a big believer in higher taxes. I think people are taxed just plenty, thank you very much. But this is a little different in that it would be punishing companies for being shameless. The fast track to the 1% for many is that kind of pay differential. The 99% should use all means at their disposal to even the distribution of wealth.

Flanagan on the Mend

After John Flanagan’s bombshell announcement Sunday that he had sought treatment for alcohol abuse, there was a fair amount of Albany intrigue and speculation about the Senate Majority Leader’s future. Flanagan admitted to using alcohol as a “crutch,” in part because of the pressures of the job. With a delicate coalition that includes Democrats keeping Republicans in control of the upper house, it’s probably fair to say that there was concern within Republican ranks about whether the ship could quickly be steadied.

But Flanagan appears to be back at the wheel. First, his announcement Sunday drew praise from across the aisle as Democrats joined Republicans in wishing him the best, and offering their admiration for his bravery in admitting he had a problem. On Monday, Flanagan was back in Albany meeting with the finance staff and the counsel’s office which was shaken last week with the announcement that Beth Garvey would be moving on. Insiders say Garvey’s departure was not a surprise, since she had made clear earlier this year that 2017 would be her last session in that role. Last Friday’s announcement seemed to come from out the blue, and we now know that it came at an even more difficult time for the conference than the public was even aware.

On Tuesday the Majority Leader dined with his sometimes New York City nemesis, Mayor Bill de Blasio. The two leaders met at 12:30 and sat together for about an hour and half at the Columbus Citizens Foundation on East 69th Street. They enjoyed some Italian food which was described by the Republican Leader as “excellent.” Flanagan and de Blasio discussed a variety of topics including family, politics and government. The Mayor and The Majority Leader have been at odds since at least the 2014 election when de Blasio backed challengers to Flanagan’s members in the Hudson Valley and elsewhere. Since then it’s been a fight every year over whether to renew Mayoral control of New York City schools, with Flanagan and the Republicans dangling it over the Mayor like Lt. Pete Mitchell telling ‘Charlie’ Blackwood in “Top Gun” that the information about his encounter with the enemy Mig was “classified.”

Asked for comment on the bury-the-hatchet lunch, Republican Senate spokesman Scott Reif said,

“There are many important issues facing the City and State, and Senator Flanagan believes it’s critical that we work together with the Mayor and others to address them.”

Flanagan’s Tuesday down in the city later included meetings with legislators such as IDC Leader Jeff Klein, a key part of that coalition that keeps Flanagan in charge of the Senate.

So, insiders say it was a solid 48 hours for Flanagan following what was arguably his deepest personal crisis since ascending to Majority Leader in 2015. There will potentially be calls for a leadership change if Republicans lose their majority in the 2018 elections, but for now that’s a long way away, and Flanagan isn’t stepping aside anytime soon. At least not without the fight that is still in him.

De Blasio Asks Senate Repub for Help

When running for re-election, it helps to keep supporters apprised of what you are doing. Keep those who may help drive turnout for example, aware that you care about them and need their help this November. So it makes sense for Mayor Bill de Blasio to call on supporters to help him organize voters over the next few weeks, although it’s a little weird he sent one such email to Republican State Senator Catharine Young (R) Olean. To her State Senate email address, no less.

The bubbly email from Amanda Clarke reads,

Hi, Catharine. My name is Amanda Clarke, Organizing Director for Mayor de Blasio’s re-election campaign.In just a few weeks, we’re hosting a series of volunteer-led organizing meetings all across New York City. They’ll all happen on the same day, at the same time, with the same agenda — our first step towards building the largest person-to-person voter registration and voter contact operation our city has ever seen.

We’ll let you know the date soon, but we will only be able to pull off that ambitious goal if the people who have the most at stake in this election step up and play a role in making it happen. So today, I need to ask you to do something very important. I want to ask you to host an organizing meeting. 

It doesn’t matter if you’re a seasoned veteran or a first-timer. If you say you’re in, we’re going to have someone work with you as much or as little as you need every step of the way. What do you say?

A few things are funny about this. First is the obvious, that Young is a Republican whose conference has had a long and uncomfortable history with the Mayor ( more on that in a minute ), so she probably isn’t terribly interested in helping the self-proclaimed Progressive Mayor. It’s also probably worth noting that Young’s district in Western New York is closer to Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Toronto than it is to New York City. And finally Young is the Chair of Senate Republican Campaign Committee, the fundraising arm of the Senate Republicans, which is kinda the cherry on the cake here. Moreover this email from the Mayor was sent to her government address, which is a no-no when it comes to private solicitations.

Reached for comment, Monica Klein a spokesperson for the Mayor’s re-election campaign says,

“New Yorkers on our email list receive news about the Mayor’s work to make NYC fairer and more affordable, and updates on campaign volunteer opportunities.”

One person close to the Mayor even suggested that Young must have signed up for the email blast herself on the candidate’s website(!), but that was quickly shot down by a source close to Young. Then there is that thing that happened three years ago between the Mayor and the Senate Republicans. You remember that time de Blasio actively campaigned against their members in the 2014 elections then seemed baffled as to why they gave him and his priorities such a hard time in Albany. As one GOP operative put it,

“The agreement extending mayoral control and providing new charter school opportunities for students and parents was a big deal, but it doesn’t wash away three years of bad blood or make up for the fact that most of the Mayor’s priorities are still out of whack.  The Mayor needs to tighten up his campaign so he knows who is a supporter and who isn’t, and while he’s at it he may want to give his staff a geography lesson.  We won’t be organizing anything.”

 

 

The Trappings of Hubris

When you are trying to do the right thing, it helps to be humble. And former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara talked a very big game. The former St. Louis Cardinals Pitcher “Dizzy” Dean once said, “It ain’t bragging if you really done it.” That’s true. But you’ve got to deliver. I never really had much appreciation for the NFL player who scores a touchdown, spikes the ball in the end zone then does his own version of the “Ickey Shuffle.” I like the player who scores the touchdown, then quietly drops the ball. That’s the guy you fear.

Last week the Second Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the conviction of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. As someone who sat through every minute of testimony during that trial, I had my doubts from the very beginning. At the end of the day, Silver was convicted ( in one of the schemes ) of giving public money to cancer research. That’s a very strange thing to go to jail for. Not only was it cancer, it was mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer that is little researched or understood but just happens to disproportionately affect Silver’s lower Manhattan district which saw a spike in these cases post 9/11 due to poor air quality in the neighborhood. The grant money was given to Dr. Robert Taub of Columbia University who was doing groundbreaking research on mesothelioma. He then referred victims to Silver who passed them along to his buddies at Weitz & Luxenberg who paid Silver finder’s fees for his referrals. Was this immoral? Probably. Illegal? Not so sure. The problem with the current system is that too much of this stuff is perfectly legal. Lawmakers are allowed to earn unlimited amounts of outside income. It’s enshrined in the State Constitution. So while finders fees may look bad, they happen in the legal profession all the time.

Silver was always just east of the line of legality. He knew where to go and where not to, which was why it was so surprising to see him in handcuffs. The problem of course is that Bharara danced on his grave a little early. The very day after Silver was arrested, Bharara gave a talk at New York Law School where he urged people to focus their outrage and join him in taking on the culture of corruption in Albany. Those comments, and others like them a couple of months later, eventually Brought an admonishment by the Judge, Valerie Caproni, who accused Bharara of orchestrating a “media blitz” by unfairly grouping Silver in with all that is pervasive and distasteful about our state politics.

I’m always a little wary of blustery prosecutors who are unelected. I think they need to be held to the same level of scrutiny as every other politician. When you win big you get credit, but when you haven’t won yet, it’s better to dial it down a bit. Reminds me very much of my years covering Chris Christie in New Jersey. Here is a man who goes out of his way time and again to prove that people’s worst instincts about him are 100% accurate. At least Christie had amassed an impressive record of public corruption convictions as U.S. Attorney in Newark before running for Governor. But when the “I’m a tough talking straight shooter” routine fades away you are sometimes left with a dude who people just don’t really like all that much. Christie had trouble getting along with people. And the one thing I’ll always say about politicians, the good ones know it’s always better to make a friend in this game than a enemy.

So, while I applaud Bharara for taking on the tough fight, I don’t know that the courts are the best arena to clean up the system. And unfortunately what has now happened is Bharara has bought our elected leaders two additional years to sit on their hands and do absolutely nothing to reform the system. Outside income laws need to be changed. It’s that simple. Bharara’s cases may ultimately prove successful, but I guess my feeling is that they are besides the point.

 

Lavern’s Law Backstory

This afternoon, the state Senate passed Lavern’s Law, which changes the timeline for when victim’s of medical malpractice can sue. Under current law, patients who are either misdiagnosed or somehow injured during a medical procedure must file suit within 15 months of the incident – in other words, 15 months from the date the malpractice actually occurred.

Lavern’s Law was to change that to a 2 1/2-year window to sue, but from the point the patient discovers they were harmed, since sometimes people are initially unaware they have a debilitating or potentially life threatening condition until it is too late. Naturally, This bill has the strong support of Albany’s favorite behind-the-scenes string pullers: The trial lawyers, who lawmakers often have trouble saying “no” to.

The bill has languished for years, but under a compromise negotiated by Deputy Senate Majority Leader John DeFrancisco, the new allowance on lawsuits would be limited to misdiagnoses of cancer only. And the bill finally passed the Senate this afternoon.

But sources say members of the Independent Democratic Conference, or IDC, tried to get it taken off the active list Tuesday night. And that led to a dust-up between DeFran and the IDC. IDC members deny there was any row , but shortly after it passed several IDC members were quick to tweet out their support for the bill – including Sens. Jose Peralta, Marisol Alcantara and David Carlucci. Carlucci and Diane Savino voted against the bill in the Senate Rules Committee, then voted for it on the floor a half hour later. Savino claims she was further educated on the DeFran compromise in between the two votes, which is what changed her mind.

But there is more evidence the IDC was opposed to the bill. According to the May 31 edition of the Medical Mutual Insurance Company “Albany Report” Newsletter, IDC members have been quietly trying to kill the legislation. MLMIC claims the bill will lead to higher medical malpractice insurance premiums for doctors and hospitals by about 15%. The newsletter goes on to say, “As the IDC has been an important voice opposing Lavern’s Law and several other trial lawyer initiatives.”

According to members of the IDC, some of them have opposed this bill from the very beginning. IDC Leader Jeff Klein voted against it, as did Sen. David Valesky. Their main concern however, was that the IDC never had an opportunity to conference the new bill which included the compromise. As a result, members of the IDC were urged to “vote their conscience.”

The End of Session Holdup

This morning, Governor Cuomo met with the three legislative leaders – Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and IDC Leader Jeff Klein. The Governor had an idea on how to break the impasse over mayoral control of City schools. The deal was this: One year extension. A clean bill that has no mention of charter schools. However, there would be an accompanying side letter making a commitment to deal with the 17 “Zombie Charters,” all of which are located in New York City.

“Zombie Charters” are charter schools that either closed or shut down, but are now in limbo. Because of the cap on the number of schools, “Zombie Charters” remain an impediment to opening new charter schools. If they are now defunct, pro-charter advocates believe an equal number of new charters should be allowed to spring up in their place. The side letter would not be legislation, only a commitment to address the issue at the appropriate time. Heastie, who left the closed door morning leaders meeting visibly agitated, rejected this compromise.

Heastie has been clear that he will not do any deal on mayoral control that includes a link to charter schools. And while some believe this compromise was a face-saving way out, the Speaker won’t budge. Interestingly enough, sources say Mayor de Blasio is also willing to make this deal which would put the Mayor and the Governor ( not normally on the same page ) on the same side of the issue for once.

So, what’s eating Heastie? Some believe there is at least one of two things going on here. The first is that the teacher’s unions are some of the the Assembly Democrats’ biggest contributors. The Dem conference is now 108 members. Heastie can’t protect that many members from primaries next year without the union money. And the UFT specifically opposes charter expansion. Union leaders are feeling particularly emboldened by their recent win for Democrat Christine Pellegrino on Long Island in what had historically been a Republican seat. The Teacher’s union played a key role in that victory.

The other thing potentially going on here is that Heastie may be getting his sea legs. He has said before that when he gets into the room with Cuomo, Klein and Flanagan he feels a little ganged up on, and like he is the only Democrat in the room.

Oh, well. Looks like we are never getting out of here.

**UPDATE**

Sources close to Speaker Heastie say this has nothing to do with the Mayor, or any of the Teacher’s unions. This is about the Democratic members of the Assembly, and what they want. The members have been very clear: they are not doing anything related to charters in exchange for Mayoral control. No letters, no nothing. That’s where they stand, and they are also prepared to leave town without a deal should the other leaders stick to their guns on charters.

Suffolk Shift

With the surprise victory of Christine Pellegrino in the special election for Assembly District 9 on Strong Island earlier this week, the pundits are already pointing to it as an example of dissatisfaction with the presidency of Donald Trump. While there is likely a lot of truth to that, there is also a local backstory than enabled a serious Democratic candidate to emerge in a district where Republicans outnumber registered Democrats by more than 10,000 voters.

Insiders say earlier this year, all eyes were on who Nassau County Democratic Chair Jay Jacobs and Sufflok County Democratic Chair Richard Schaffer would choose to run for the seat previously held by Republican Assemblyman Joe Saladino, who left to become Oyster Bay Town Supervisor. The district straddles both counties, so both chairs get to play kingmaker. Initially Dems didn’t hold out too much hope for this race, and that didn’t necessarily matter too much to Democratic party leaders, one of whom sniped “there is nothing less powerful than a Republican Assemblyman.”

Jacobs and Schaffer chose Ben Lavender, who was 24 years old and lived with his parents. But according to sources Schaffer was busy behind the scenes working on a deal with Conservative and Republican Party Leaders for various patronage appointments. One of those involved installing Thomas Gargiullo as Tax Receiver for the town of Babylon. Gargiulo was serving as Vice Chair for the Conservative Party of Babylon. The problem was, the town already had a Tax Receiver, Corinne DiSomma, who had been out of the office temporarily caring for a sick relative. Gargiulo, according to sources, walked into the local government office in January and declared himself the new Tax Receiver in front of those who worked there. People familiar with the situation say Schaffer had promised Gargiulo the job behind closed doors, and Gargiulo “wasn’t aware of the fact” that he wasn’t supposed to make it public yet. DiSomma meanwhile, was very unhappy and fired off emails to Schaffer declaring what happened was “criminal” among other things. Needless to say, she had no plans to resign.

With the possible deal falling apart, Gargiulo was approached about running for the open Assembly seat. Sensing opportunity Jacobs, along with Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, decided Pellegrino, a lifelong teacher and activist, should get the nod to run instead of Lavender. She was a much better candidate. NYSUT and Working Families quickly came on board and they were able to tap into suburban voter fear over the unsteady leadership in Washington.

But here is the funny thing. Schaffer did nothing. Wouldn’t even endorse Pellegrino. Explained that he couldn’t get involved due to the investigation into the 2014 Senate races that put Mayor Bill de Blasio briefly in the crosshairs. No charges were ever filed in that case by either the Manhattan DA or the US Attorney, and clearance letters were sent out by both offices. But even after that, Schaffer maintained he still couldn’t get involved because the matter was still under investigation by the enforcement division of the State Board of Elections.

This is the same argument the Schaffer camp continues to make, calling any accusation he endorsed Gargiulo “false.” Schaffer doesn’t mince words when he begins, “I’ll say it for the 124th time..” that he is a witness in the Risa Sugarman inquiry and has been instructed by his Attorney not to speak to NYSUT or involve himself in any way with state races. Schaffer maintains he is “thrilled” Pellegrino won, although he acknowledges having a longstanding relationship with Gargiulo, whom he has known for 30 years.

By the same reasoning, Schaffer also failed to endorse John Brooks, the only Democrat to win a new seat on Long Island last Fall after years of promises by State Democrats that Hillary Clinton at the top of the ticket would usher in a new era of Democratic dominance in the suburbs that would hold for a generation or more ( in case you missed it, that actually didn’t happen ).

So did Schaffer do more than just sit on his hands in Pellegrino race or was he actively supporting his old friend Gargiulo, the Republican? Hard to say. But one story I was told seems to speak volumes. When NYSUT did screening interviews with both Assembly candidates about a possible endorsement, Gargiulo is alleged to have blurted out to his interviewers, “Schaffer is endorsing me.”

I mean, c’mon, Tom. Didn’t you learn the first time?

I wasn’t in the room where it happened, so I cannot guarantee you it went down exactly like that ( and it was NYSUT, so the fix was likely in for the Democrat anyway ) but you gotta admit; that’s kind of hilarious.

 

The Cuomo Invasion

In the iconic 1975 book, “The Power Broker,” Robert Caro details ( and I mean REALLY details ) how Robert Moses maneuvered through State and City government to build massive infrastructure projects across New York. Governor Andrew Cuomo appears to be looking to channel Moses by refurbishing area airports, rebuilding the Kosciuszko and Tappan Zee Bridges, and instituting cashless tolls,  even holding a musical light show at the new iteration of the Kosciusko. The Governor seems eager to make a hard pivot  from Albany, which this legislative session has  brought him fights over policy as well as his first truly late budget — and toward new infrastructure which can help shape Cuomo’s legacy. It could also help boost Cuomo’s reputation in time for re-election in 2018, and possibly beyond in 2020.

Moses relied on a somewhat obscure agency to expand his power, the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority. Moses floated bonds through this entity then used that money to build other projects. Cuomo has also taken an interest in this same authority as a means to accomplish some of his goals, roughly 85 years after Moses first did.

The Governor has been moving the State Police into territory previously policed by the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority Police, now known as the Bridge and Tunnel Officers. In addition, the State Police are now pulling over motorists in the five boroughs for routine traffic stops, which has typically been the domain on the NYPD. And consistent with Cuomo’s push to remake the airports, State Police have now also been brought into JFK airport prompting the head of the Port Authority PBA last week to tell NY1 that Cuomo was using troopers as his own “Praetorian Guard.” Responding to the story via Twitter, a spokesperson for Governor Cuomo called the story “utter garbage.”

But let’s focus for a minute on just the bridges and tunnels. Last October, Cuomo announced that 150 Troopers would be assigned to MTA bridges and tunnels. Law enforcement sources say the State Troopers “don’t want to be here as much as the Bridge and Tunnel Officers don’t want them there,” since Troopers appear to be infringing on Bridge and Tunnel Officer turf. However, they all must accept what is happening since the “order is from the top.” Although privately, law enforcement insiders will say that Troopers “aren’t supplementing” the police presence but rather “duplicating” it.

Then there is the matter of newly painted squad cars. All Bridge and Tunnel patrol cars were quietly painted blue and gold so that they now mirror State Police vehicles, as first reported by our own Dean Meminger. A motorist getting pulled over by either agency would be unlikely to notice the difference at first glance. According to the MTA, the total cost here is $189,000 to paint 69 patrol cars and one mobile command vehicle. It’s also worth noting that other vehicles in the Bridge and Tunnel Officer’s fleet were not repainted, including trucks used for plowing and towing. So then why paint just the police cars? MTA officials say the idea is to maintain consistency with other New York State law enforcement vehicles. “Was that a necessity?” Asks one law enforcement source who then answered his own question with a solid “no.” “They are trying to make the Bridge and Tunnel cars look like State Police.” He argues that instead of using Troopers, which is a waste of taxpayer dollars since it costs more to have them downstate, why not just add numbers to the 500-strong force of Bridge and Tunnel Officers and let them perform the functions of their own job. The Port Authority Police are making the same argument. They want more manpower in the form of more PAPD officers, not Troopers who are “like fish out of water” when they are downstate.

There is some precedent for this. When the region goes into an elevated threat level in the post 9/11 world, Troopers are brought down from upstate to protect state assets such as bridges and tunnels which are considered top targets for terrorists. They can also participate in joint counter-terrorism operations and training. But that’s not what is going on here. The increased Trooper presence appears permanent and it coincides with the Cuomo initiative to institute cashless, or “Open Road Tolls” (ORT). The goal of Open Road Tolls is to reduce traffic by improving flow since cars will not have to slow down. According to the minutes from the Bridges and Tunnels Committee meeting from October 26, 2016 Cuomo’s plan to roll out cashless tolls will cost $500 Million. To help offset some of those costs toll violation fees will be doubled at certain crossings from $50 a ticket to $100 per ticket. Some have speculated that the increased police presence by State Police is aimed at issuing more summonses to gain even more revenue. Cuomo’s plan also includes a lighting extravaganza, on display last week at the opening of the new Kosciuszko Bridge. Lighting those bridges cannot be cheap either, although we have yet to see a final figure.

In conclusion, Cuomo is looking to put his imprint on some of the big projects in and around New York. And the State Police seem to be playing role in boosting the State’s presence down in the city. Some believe this is merely an extension of his ongoing feud with Mayor Bill de Blasio. And others say it’s just a way for Cuomo to make sure he has some control at the agencies he is working with to accomplish what he wants.