Zack Fink

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Posts by Zack Fink

The Governor’s Play List

With the political world in turmoil, it’s easy to understand if you missed what amounts to Governor Cuomo’s mixtape to New York. But as the governor on Wednesday announced that the Spotify music streaming service was expanding its footprint in New York, he also unveiled his Spotify playlist — which showed his love for middle-aged white guy rock — which makes sense considering he’s a middle-aged white guy.

Frankly, I’m shocked Cuomo’s list was free of Boston — the ultimate in non-threatening suburban listening for men of a certain age. Let’s also put aside some of the more eclectic tracks such as those by the Alabama Shakes and Bruno Mars or even Tom Waits who is at least interesting.  I want to focus on the obvious stuff which rings more authentically Cuomo: a couple of tracks from Bruce Springsteen, “The Rising” and “Erie Canal.” Both perfectly respectable. I would have maybe gone with “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” and “Spirits in the Night.” Or perhaps something dark that really captures the essence of New Jersey, like “Atlantic City.”

The least surprising picks included his friend Billy Joel but here is where I really would have to part ways. Shortly after the press conference, WNBC-TV’s Andrew Siff immediately walked up to me, cocked his head, and asked “We didn’t Start the Fire?! Really?!” It was a sentiment I share. Of all of Billy Joel’s many songs, this one is just bad. I think even Billy hates that song. I mean, how could he not!?! It’s not the worst song ever written because that prize clearly belongs to “Benny and the Jets” by Elton John — with “Bad to the Bone” by George Thorogood a close second.

Don’t get me wrong. I love me some Billy. My mom used to put on “The Stranger” when I was little and we would dance around the apartment. “The Nylon Curtain” was by far my favorite album when I was in the fourth grade. I can even rock “The Bridge.” But “Storm Front” was a bit much. And “We Didn’t Start the Fire” is not only emotionally aggressive but also painfully contrived and riddled with pseudo-sentimentality. Not to mention I feel like he is shouting at me. Stop yelling. Oh, and don’t even get me started on “River of Dreams.”

The Tina Turner stuff on the governor’s list is both good, and anticipated. For those of us who covered the 2014 Cuomo re-election campaign we became very accustomed to hearing the theme song, “Simply the Best,” which was played loudly at every stop. “Proud Mary” is on there too and it’s hard to argue against. Interestingly enough with all the hits Tina churned out in the 70s and 80s, the only song she ever recorded that hit number one on the charts was “What’s Love Got To Do With It,” which is not on here. The Lady Gaga stuff is good in the wake of a Superbowl halftime show that was deeply patriotic while also managing to be very entertaining. The Journey tune on there (guess which one) just wins the obvious award. And that John Fogerty song, “Rock and Roll Girls” is hardly a winner. Let’s be honest.

It’s hard not to love “Empire State of Mind” by Alicia Keys and Jay-Z. Of course Jay-Z was going for the stadium anthem here, and me not being a playa hater, I’m willing to let him have it. One day it will seem quaint that New Yorkers used to exit sporting events to Frank Sinatra instead of the more modern Jay-Z, who was at least very much on top 17 years ago as opposed to 60.

But here is the bottom line. I give the Governor a lot of credit for even putting out his playlist. I’m sure we’d all have some gems on our own that we wouldn’t exactly be proud to share with the general public. I certainly have some. In fact, Jesse McKinley from The New York Times has been on my case since I revealed to him and his colleague Vivian Yee at a generously-served dinner that my four Pandora radio stations are Michael Jackson, Big Daddy Kane, Steel Pulse and Traffic. And yes, it’s the last one he won’t stop bringing up. Whatever, dude. Steve Winwood was brilliant prior to 1980. It was the “Bring me your Higher Love” stuff we would all have been better off without. It’s not quite Lionel Richie “Dancing on the Ceiling” bad, but awful nonetheless. Besides, I suppose I can cop to Traffic since I’m not very far from being a middle-aged white guy myself.

 

Bag Fee Latest

With just days to go before a fee on grocery bags takes effect, the behind-the-scenes scramble is underway to find a resolution. This afternoon, Governor Cuomo met with environmental groups to get their take on what he should do, and sources say they overwhelmingly urged him to veto the State legislation.

Last week, both the Senate and Assembly voted on a what was commonly referred to as a “compromise bill” that postpones the five cent fee on plastic and paper bags adopted by the New York City Council last year and signed into law by Mayor de Blasio. That bill has now landed on Cuomo’s desk, and the clock is ticking since the City’s bag fee is set to come on line February 15. If Cuomo signs the state legislation, it will block the City’s law for one year, although a newly elected City Council would actually have to pass it again in 2018 before the merry-go-round starts anew. So, for all intents and purposes, the State is superseding the City and overturning it’s law indefinitely.

We’ve heard all the arguments already. Plastic bags are bad for the environment. They end up in trees. By imposing a fee ( even five cents ) it forces a change in people’s behavior, since they can avoid that fee by carrying reusable canvas bags. On the flip side, opponents argue it’s a regressive tax that disproportionately punishes those who can least afford it. Rich people don’t generally carry their own grocery bags. Poor folks generally do. Moreover, there were concerns about the City Council legislation since the fee is open ended. It doesn’t cap at five cents, and it can actually go higher. Since the City of New York has no power to tax itself ( that must go through Albany ) it’s technically a bag “fee” and not a “tax.” The money goes to the grocery stores, which the Council is powerless to change without vested state authority. Even Cuomo expressed dismay this week about where the money ends up.

But here is the problem for Cuomo…while he would like to appease environmentalists, sources say he is very concerned about his veto being overturned by the legislature. That would be embarrassing. And this Governor does NOT like being embarrassed. The state legislation passed the Senate 43-16, and the Assembly 134 – 16. In both houses those are enough votes for an override.

So while things are coming down to the wire and no one is prepared to throw up their hands and walk away, it’s looking increasingly likely that Cuomo will sign the state legislation. The City Council’s final offer on a compromise is language to change the fee to a hard five cent cap, and add a sunset provision ( famous in Albany ) and first reported by David Giambusso of Politico. The Council does not seem prepared to move much more on this. Moreover, insiders point out that Cuomo seems more likely to side with the legislative leaders in both houses, whom he not only has to work with to craft a budget, but because those relationships have recently fallen on rocky times. Signing their bill might help build some goodwill. Finally, if he signs the bill it is yet another reminder to his sometimes nemesis Mayor de Blasio  which government has the final word on just about everything.

Plastic Bag Fee Collision Course

With the calendar officially turning to February we are now just two weeks away from the implementation of a 5 cent fee on plastic bags here in the five boroughs. This week, Mayor de Blasio, who supports the fee, took an earful from State lawmakers when he testified in Albany on the $152 Billion proposed state budget. The loudest criticism ( and yes, I mean that literally ) came from State Senator Simcha Felder of Brooklyn. The fee is intended to change behavior by forcing New Yorkers to bring reusable bags to the grocery instead of relying on the bags given out by stores. Fewer bags means less waste which some believe ultimately helps save the environment.  But Felder and others claim this really has nothing to do with the environment and everything to do with a regressive tax that disproportionately punishes lower income New Yorkers.

To make his point Felder Monday, brought props from his district including a loaf of Wonder Bread and a carton of eggs. For those who asked ( and there were many of you ) there WERE actually eggs in the carton. Reached by phone, Felder said he was very concerned he would end up accidentally crushing the eggs, which would have deflated the point he was trying to make about whether the Mayor understood the everyday prices New Yorkers currently pay at the local Bodega for staples such as bread and eggs. It was one of the most colorful exchanges Monday besides the back and forth between Republican Senator Terrence Murphy and de Blasio over Mayoral control of City schools. It would have been great to ask the Mayor about either of these dust-ups, but he refused to take questions. The first time a sitting New York City Mayor has done that on Albany’s “Tin Cup Day” in as long as most anyone can remember.

But back to Felder for a minute.

On Tuesday, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie raised the prospect of delaying the February 15th bag fee implementation in order to hold hearings down the line. That way there can be a full airing of the issue. Right now, Felder’s legislation, which has already passed the Senate, would overturn the City’s law. Asked if he would be open to a delay, which is basically what happened when this bill was supposed to take effect last year, Felder said that would be like “seeing a bad movie for the second time.” He added that he is open to trying to figure out a compromise down the road, but the Council bill in its current form needs to be “nullified.”

The City Council is having none of it. Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito is moving full speed ahead on this. As far as she is concerned the fee will go into effect February 15. There will be no further hearings or delays. Some in the Council even see the suggestion of more hearings as an attempt by state leaders to “embarrass” the Democratically elected members of the New York City Council. So in short…no compromise.

That leaves the Democrat dominated Assembly with a tough decision. Do you override the will of the Council, or try and negotiate some kind of delay with Felder and the Senate which would require new legislation. Either way, it involves the State superseding the City’s law which some see as a bad precedent. On the other hand, some in the Assembly see a path out of this with a delay. That way, they are being slightly less aggressive while simultaneously buying some time. If it’s delayed one year from February 15th for example, some state insiders point out that Mark-Viverito will no longer be the Speaker. Either way, Heastie needs to do something soon. And my understanding is that he has the votes within the Democratic conference to do either an override or a delay.

A Curious Occurrence in Queens

Frustrated by a promised pay raise which never materialized. And weary of the constant trips back and forth to Albany in the freezing rain, a handful of New York City-based Assembly Members are thinking of jumping into primaries this year for City Council. For some it’s a simple calculation: they wouldn’t have to give up their Assembly seats if they lost, and if they won they’d be making almost twice as much money as Council Members ( Assembly makes $79,500, Council makes $148,500 ).

Some of those who have already announced, filed a City campaign fund, or told someone they were running who then told me are Assemblyman Felix Ortiz ( D-Brooklyn ), Mark Gjonaj ( D-Bronx ), Peter Abbate ( D – Brooklyn ) and Francisco Moya ( D – Queens ). In the State Senate we already know about Bill Perkins ( D- Manhattan ) who is running in a February 14 primary. And Ruben Diaz ( D – Bronx ) is also considering a run. All of these individuals and their decision making processes have back stories, and eventually I’ll try and get to all of them. But Moya’s is particularly interesting.

Moya’s district lines up with City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras. In fact, Moya ran against her in 2009 for the seat and lost. But this time around he may get some more help from the Queens County Democratic machine. Insiders say County does not like Ferreras, and they want to either weaken her by running a formidable primary opponent, or knock her out of the Council altogether. The history here gets a little backroom and convoluted. Some say it dates back to the LIBRE scandal ( Ferreras once served as Chief of Staff to former Queens Senator and Councilman Hiram Monserrate ). Others say she has shown too much independence, and County doesn’t like that. Or as one observer put it, “they are afraid of her.”

While it’s early to say what things will look like in the Council Speaker’s race come June, it’s probably fair to say that at least some insiders are already jockeying and starting to raise money. So far, the other candidates besides Ferreras include Corey Johnson ( D – Manhattan ), Jimmy Van Bramer ( D -Queens ) and Mark Levine ( D – Manhattan ). If Ferreras stays in the race, she has a pretty good shot some believe, because the three other white male candidates could cannibalize each other’s voters. Moreover, both Van Bramer and Johnson could help cancel each other out while both appealing for LGBT votes. Moya is close with County leaders, and as someone who is already elected, could help them solve their “Julissa problem,” as some have called it.

Finally, there is some recent history at work which is driving Queens County Democratic leaders to get out in front of the Council Speaker race this time around. In late 2013, then Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio and Brooklyn Democratic Chair Frank Seddio joined forces to help clear the way for current Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito to get elected. Queens County Chair Joe Crowley, and then Bronx County Chair Carl Heastie were not thrilled about the pick. Not so much that they were against Mark-Viverito as with their united front, they felt they should control more of the outcome. The combined muscle of Bronx and Queens County held the largest bloc of votes. Other members were more diluted and fragmented. And sure enough the soon-to-be Mayor along with the powerful Brooklyn Chair were able to pick off enough members and install the winner. Technically of course, the elected Council Members choose their own Speaker in a January 2018 vote. But this being politics, and this being New York City, that deal is often made in backrooms long before the votes are ever cast.

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.

christie1

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.

christie2

 

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.

njgop

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.

cuomo2

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.