Zack Fink

This user hasn't shared any biographical information


Posts by Zack Fink

NYCHA Funding War

In yet another chapter in the ongoing saga of OneUpsManship between Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, funding for the New York City Housing Authority is now the source of an intense behind the scenes fight. Sources say the figure that has been agreed upon is $100 million in the state budget for NYCHA. But it is how that money is administered which is the source of the dispute.

NYCHA hasn’t received state money in years, and serious repairs and capital investments are needed to improve the aging housing stock, some of which was built for veterans returning from the second world war. According to the state’s appropriation currently being hashed out in the budget, the state would control the money through the Division of Housing and Community Renewal. DHCR would then approve projects and allow the state to take an active role in determining how finite resources are spent.

Mayor de Blasio is livid over this, I am told. He believes NYCHA knows it’s own housing stock best, and NYCHA should administer its own money to determine how and where to spend it based on greatest need. Governor Cuomo isn’t having it. People familiar with the discussion taking place among staff between Albany and the City say NYCHA has had a serious accountability problem. That includes money it was given to install security cameras in the mid-2000s, that it is just getting around to spending now. A person with direct knowledge of the less-than-cordial conversation taking place says,

“NYCHA has not been a good steward of the public’s money in the past. There’s no question that the state wants to invest in NYCHA, but we want to do it in a fiscally responsible way.”

***UPDATE*** In response, NYCHA Spox Jean Weinberg says,

“It’s vital that Albany bureaucracy and politics do not stand in the way of critical funding for NYCHA residents. There has been a major erosion of support for public housing from the State over the last few decades. That’s why we’ve asked the State to commit $300 million — that the City will match — to ensure NYCHA can make the necessary repairs to its aging housing stock and provide residents with the housing they deserve.”

 

Capitol Observations

A mountain of criticism is building about the budget negotiation process, which usually boils down to “three men in a room,” but not this year.

Normally, we reporters spend countless hours this time of year staking out leaders meetings that take place inside Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office. That hasn’t happened since early March.

Instead, the governor has shifted strategies. There he was coming up to the Assembly chamber to announce a two-way deal with Speaker Carl Heastie on ethics reform. Then on Tuesday, he took a walk through the Senate to talk ethics some more with Majority Leader Dean Skelos. Individual leaders have been in and out of his office all week, and there have been numerous private one-on-one phone conversations.

Asked if this was a better way to negotiate the budget, an insider told me bluntly: “Well, no.” But, I suppose US Attorney Preet Bharara’s fun-making, and all the heat about not including Democratic Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in the talks may have finally had an impact.

The good news is that it sounds like the budget is much closer to coming to fruition. That is due partly to the end of negotiations-by-fiat by Cuomo. For example, on education, there are discussions about creating what is known as a Berger Commission to come up with a system for evaluations.

Assembly Democrats say Cuomo has backed off his initial insistence that evaluations be based 50 percent on standardized tests. Often in this building, the negotiators like to take ideas for change or reform, wrap them up in a box, cover them with tissue paper then put them in an even bigger box. What they are actually doing is pushing the tough choices down the road to be decided another day.

That way, the budget doesn’t need to be held up, and they can try and reach a deal later in the session. If they can’t, so be it. Much less of a mushroom cloud then would be a late budget. So, why put so many policy ideas into the budget in the first place? Cuomo said as much yesterday. When he doesn’t put things in, he takes heat for not making them a priority. He has to show he cares about them, so they can fall away like bargaining chips the minute they look like they may prevent an on-time budget. On-time budgets poll well, after all. Fighting teachers does not.

“Now people will say, ‘If he doesn’t put it in the budget, he doesn’t really care about it,'” Cuomo said. “That’s what’s happened over the years. And if it’s not in the budget, then he doesn’t mean it. So, the budget has become expansive from that point of view.”

On ethics reform, Republican Sen. John DeFrancisco says the leaders and the governor are close to an agreement on disclosure of clients and outside income. DeFran has been part of a small working group that has been specifically tasked with solving this issue for the Senate. He declined to give details, because they haven’t seen anything in writing, and often what they agree upon orally then looks very different in draft language.

“What we discussed today is a possible solution to the disclosure issue,” the senator said. “We still need something in writing to make sure that what everybody thinks – they are not disagreeing on. It is not a situation that some thought it was that is going to blow up an on time budget. That’s not the situation.”

Again I have’t seen the details, but I’d be willing to bet disclosure ends up looking like “disclosure lite,” with some kind of weird zig-zaggy process for how sensitive information can still be kept hidden from public view. We shall see.

In response to DeFran’s comments, Cuomo spokeswoman Melissa DeRosa told us:

“What’s being reported that Senator DeFrancisco is describing is not disclosure, it is current law. As the Governor has said, he will not enact a budget that doesn’t include an ethics package with real disclosure of legislator’s outside income, and he meant it.”

Capitol Tidbits…

Since resigning the speakership earlier this year, Assemblyman Sheldon Silver has kept a low profile. He quietly joined the Education Committee in the Assembly, and then last week he introduced a bill – his first as a rank-and-file member.

I caught up with the former speaker as he chewed on cashew nuts outside the Assembly chamber earlier today. Silver said his bill would provide a maximum $500 credit to parents who pay tuition for parochial or private schools. Sources say Silver has been trying to rally support for the bill from other members in the chamber. Silver views it as a solid alternative to the discussion taking place about the Education Investment Tax credit; which was dropped from the budget earlier this week.

“The idea is to help parents who pay tuition,” Silver said. “It gives THEM the credit directly instead of some well-heeled donor. It’s an alternative to the EITC.”

It was a very Shelly moment.

Assemblyman Keith Wright then walked over to us, and explained to Silver that he and I attended the same high school. (Just a quick hint – the assemblyman and I are not the same age).

Silver paused a moment, reached into his cup for another cashew, popped it into his mouth and murmured through a wry smile: “I’m not impressed.” Then he turned his back and slowly sauntered away.

—————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————-

On Saturday, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio attended the SOMOS conference here in Albany. I had the distinct pleasure of driving up here to cover it. Last month, when de Blasio attended caucus weekend, which I also covered, he made very little news. But on Saturday night. he not only took the stage at precisely his allocated time to speak, which was 8 p.m., he actually took a shot at Gov. Andrew Cuomo on education.

Cuomo has repeatedly been pointing out that certain schools are “failing,” and therefore need to be taken over by the state in some form of receivership. The mayor strongly disagrees with this move, and has been voicing his criticism – in increasingly shapening tones – for some time now.

“Don’t call our children failing or our schools failing if you haven’t even tried to invest in them,” de Blasio said at Somos.

Today, Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, chair of the Assembly’s Education Committee, took issue with that. Surprisingly, the Queens Democrat defended the governor, with whom she – not to mention many of her assembly majority conference colleagues – have not been seeing eye-to-eye on a lot of topics this budget season.

“The mayor doesn’t help the city of New York when he does it in outside speeches on Saturday when they know discussions are happening,” Nolan said. “The mayor would be better off leaving it to his professional people, like (NYC Schools Chancellor) Carmen Farina. I think the governor has made a good faith effort to respond to the city’s concerns about struggling schools. And if I were the mayor, I’d probably just say ‘thank you.'”

Perhaps there is still some lingering anger there over the mayor’s support for Bronx Assemblyman Carl Heastie over Nolan to succeed Silver as speaker earlier this year. But that would be crazy, right? Because politicians never hold grudges.

***UPDATE*** Mayor de Blasio’s people point out that the mayor was specifically referring to the state’s continued failure to properly fund schools under the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit. That decision by the state’s highest court has been ignored for years, and advocates for public education argue that is precisely why certain schools continue to fail.

It’s a fair point.

 

Education Matters

The conversation on education reform in the state Budget appears to have shifted. Sources say last night Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Gov. Andrew Cuomo had a long talk about some of the governor’s policy proposals and now, finally, there seems to be some movement.

Assembly Democrats conferenced the proposed changes this afternoon, which include taking charter schools out of the discussion. Cuomo had wanted to raise the cap to allow more charters, but as of now that will be taken up at another time – likely later in the session.

The governor also appears to be backing away from his insistence that “failing” schools be placed into a receivership. Democrats staunchly oppose this. Weakening teacher tenure is also on the chopping block – (Cuomo had wanted to make it harder for teachers to gain tenure) – and a formula for teacher evaluations is still being worked out.

Democrats described the overall mood on budget talks as “very different” from the start of this session. No longer is Cuomo taking a “storm-the-beach” approach on his controversial education reforms. Many of those ideas have now been “uncoupled” from the revenue appropriations they were attached to. That paves the way for compromise – not to mention an on-time budget = at least within the the world of Democrats who had loathed the governor’s approach, accusing him of being a bully.

But of course, Republicans still need to come around on ethics if the budget is actually going to be on time.

So, what changed? Well, a couple of things. For one, sources say Cuomo was losing the war against teachers.

First there was the poll last week showing his approval rating at the lowest it has ever been. Then there was the Siena poll that showed the public isn’t really with him on this one. Finally, there are the teachers unions, NYSUT and UFT, whose members successfully painted Cuomo as the enemy of overworked and underpaid teachers.

From the campaign to demonstrate he has spent no time in schools since taking office, to the billboards on the Thruway telling him that he needs to listen to to teachers, it all adds up to a losing battle for the governor.

Not for nothing, but if you are going to take on an entrenched group like the teachers union in this state, you gotta be ready to really go to war. That includes a TV ad blitz, which was noticeably absent in this particular fight.

Cuomo’s buddy across the Hudson, Gov. Chris Christie, successfully turned the public against the NJEA in New Jersey, but he did so after first coming into office in 2010 when his political clout was at its highest. It was also during the great recession when antipathy toward public unions living large on the public dime was at an all-time high.

Then there is the ethics reform piece. Last week, Cuomo successfully pulled Speaker Heastie into the fold on ethics when the Democratic duo announced a two-way agreement that left Senate Republicans on the sidelines. This was immortalized by the hug-heard-round the world.

(This photo appears to have been taken after the two leaders won their field hockey game. They then apparently went back to the mansion and watched “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” and shared a good cry. Next week, it’s an all “Fried Green Tomatoes” and “Steel Magnolias” marathon. BTW – I’m totally kidding about everything I just wrote in parenthesis…Heastie actually HATES “Steel Magnolias.”)

Once the governor had the Assembly Democrats on his side on ethics reform, he was able to squeeze the Republicans a bit. But, of course, no one gets everything they want. And to bring the Dems on board for ethics meant sacrificing something on education – an issue of massive importance in the Assembly majority conference. Heastie and his members couldn’t live with what Cuomo wanted in terms of ed reform. Cuomo needed ethics to be his top priority following the arrest of former Speaker Sheldon Silver.

It stands to reason that NO ethics reform really has any teeth unless lawmakers and the governor are willing to have the big conversation, which is banning ALL outside income and making the Legislature full time – with a significant pay raise, as good government groups have proposed. But as the great Nick Reisman noted earlier, that pay increase commission Cuomo gave lip service to all those months ago is apparently also out of the budget along with the Dream Act and the EITC.

Poacher’s Paradise

Guess who is staffing up? Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, that’s who! Hochul who recently broke her arm on the ski slopes of Lake Placid, inadvertently becoming the biggest news item to materialize out of Governor Cuomo’s Winter-sports-in-the-Adirondacks-are-great promotion, hired former IDC staffer Jason Elan, which my fine bureau-mate and colleague Nick Reisman was first to report. Now, she has her sights on someone else, and it is…drum roll…Jeffrey Pearlman who is currently Chief of Staff to the NYS Democratic Conference.

Pearlman is an Andrea Stewart-Cousins loyalist dating back to the 2000’s when she ran against Nicholas Spano. According to a source, Pearlman was not totally thrilled with his current job ( being in the minority can be frustrating, I suppose ) which might explain the less than glamorous move to COS for Hochul. Pearlman is however, a very capable guy who knows election law inside and out. The Senate’s loss is the Cuomo Admin’s gain. He is expected to transfer out after budget.

————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————-

Coupla other little tidbits that may or may not be of interest to those of you who work in the Capitol. Former Assembly Speaker is moving his seat. After losing the Speakership, Silver was given a desk on the north side of the Assembly chamber, where he took some time on day one to examine his drawer. Now, he will move to a new seat currently occupied by Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner of Saratoga Springs. According to a source, freshman like Woerner “don’t usually get” those coveted aisle seats. No news yet on where she will be moving. Silver has also officially joined the Education Committee in the Assembly. I’d tell you where they meet, but I can’t because the meetings aren’t well publicized.

————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————

Finally, Governor Cuomo has been meeting with the various Assembly delegations. He had breakfast with Manhattan members yesterday, and dinner with the Bronx last night. Yep, Not all that interesting in and of itself, so sorry about that.

 

A New Hope for Port Authority Reform

From the Morning Memo:

Last Wednesday, the state Senate was poised to vote on a Port Authority Reform bill.  But at the request of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the sponsor, Republican Staten Island Sen. Andrew Lanza, laid it aside.

This is the very same bill that Cuomo and NJ Gov. Chris Christie vetoed late last year on the Saturday night after Christmas. Not content to accept that the reform bill was unnecessary, the legislatures of both states have been pressing ahead with another showdown over the same issue.

New York has been moving the bill relatively quickly. It has cleared all the requisite committees, and is now set for a vote in both houses. Since the Port Authority is a bi-state agency, any bills need to clear all four legislative houses – two in each state. It did so unanimously in all four last year – highly unusual…to put it mildly.

After the vetoes, New York began a new session and had to reintroduce the bill. New Jersey must override Christie’s veto, which will be easy enough to do in the state Assembly. But in the Senate, three Republican votes will be needed, and so far the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Bob Gordon of Bergen County, only a commitment from one Republican. An override vote has nevertheless been set for March 16th.

Enter Tom Kean Jr. The New Jersey Senate Republican minority leader may very well have found a face-saving way for everyone to get out of this.

Kean’s bill, detailed here by Dustin Racioppi,  is a hybrid of the measure the legislative sponsors wanted and what the governors asked for. It’s about 80 prcent of what was included in the original legislation, and 80 percent of what the governors said was needed. It has legislative oversight of the bi-state agency, but not quite as much as the old bill.

It also codifies the reforms adopted by the Port Authority two weeks ago that the governors specifically asked for, which includes changing the governing structure at the Port so there is no longer a situation where the deputy executive director was serving one governor, and the executive director another.

The latter situation is what led to the Bridgegate scandal – or so some have theorized. The bill does not address something the two governors asked for, but have since backed away from, which is calling for the resignations of the board’s commissioners.

Kean had been working on his bill for roughly two months. He saw an opening when the New York Senate paused on the bill last week. That’s when he called Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Long Island Republican. The two leaders spoke by phone last Friday. Kean has sent copies of his bill to the sponsors in both states as well as both governors. He consulted Christie’s office and even some of the commissioners at the port – including Chairman John “What’s the purpose of resigning?!?” Degnan (yes, he actually said that ).

Kean’s bill also includes a provision giving the minority leaders in each house of both states some say over whether a high level Port Authority employee can be called before them to testify. That is clearly a swipe at New Jersey Assemblyman John Wisniewski, who has led a special commission into Bridgegate, which critics say has lasted over a year and has so far produced zero evidence that Christie knew anything about the lane closures ahead of time.

Wisniewski might take issue with that characterization, but that’s a fight for another day.

Reached by phone over the weekend, Kean said his legislation is:

“The only proposal that has a chance to pass in all four chambers and be signed by both governors. It provides for transparency, oversight and management efficiency. It is a bill that will benefit New York and New Jersey taxpayers and commuters alike.”

If Kean Jr.’s name sounds familiar, that is because his father, Tom Kean Sr., was a two-term Republican governor of New Jersey. Kean Sr. was later tapped by President Bush (the younger ) to lead the 9/11 Commission, which he did with precision and humility. Kean Sr. then had the courage to tell me years later on the record that the Iraq war (the second one ) was “the wrong place to go.”

Kean Jr., who may very well be running for governor himself in 2017, hasn’t always had the smoothest relationship with Christie, who tried to take him out as minority leader two years ago.

As an aside: It is curious to me that Christie has difficulty getting along with just about everyone EXCEPT Cuomo.

Brooklyn Assemblyman Jim Brennan, also reached by phone this weekend, and also a sponsor of the original legislation, said he would review the Kean Compromise. He wants to make sure that this is something Christie would sign. Brennan met with Cuomo’s staff last week who still gave him no guidance on what they’d be willing to accept.

Rich Azzopardi, a spokesman for Cuomo, said of the Kean Compromise:

“We’ll review this proposal and, as we have said before, will work with all stakeholders to make the necessary reforms to the Port Authority.”

Bottom line is this: If the two governors are serious about reform, they will figure out a way to embrace some form of Kean’s bill. If they have no interest in greater oversight and want to keep the Port under the control of the executive branch in both states, they will not work with anyone.

That’s why the bills are ready to go again in both houses in New York, and why the New Jersey Senate will still consider an override.

Republicans have no interest in embarrassing Christie in New Jersey – unless, of course, he doesn’t work with them at all on this. Then it seems likely Kean as minority leader may be able to find Sen. Gordon the three votes he would need.

It was Ronald Reagan who once said of nuclear arms negotiations with the Soviets: “Trust, but verify.” In this case, legislators trust that the governors want to do the right thing, but they have the alternative ready just in case. And it was the great Flavor Flav who once said (and I think this applies to the situation the governors have gotten themselves into): “You dropped out of a jelly into a jam.”

The Kean Compromise just might be the best way forward for everyone. Because as Kean said himself, up to now  “Everyone has been talking past each other.”

***Author’s Note*** My quote from Flavor Flav was from when he was a badass with Public Enemy…long before he did stupid reality shows with Brigitte Nielsen. Just to be clear.

Changing the Guard

One of my classic, earliest interactions with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie came in 2012. I was relatively new on the Albany beat, and had stopped into the Center Square Pub on State Street to grab some you know, um, “food.” New to the city ( as well as the beat ) I was flying solo. Just for the record: I am completely fine with that. I don’t know what kind of judgments all of you are making in your heads right now, but like I said, I was totally comfortable going there by myself.

No, really…I mean it. I was.

Sitting at one of the tables near the bar were Carl Heastie, former Assemblywoman Vanessa Gibson and a couple of other folks from the good Borough of the Bronx. I moseyed on over and saddled up across from Gibson, who now serves in the City Council. We chatted about the usual things that people who follow state government discuss. We talked some shop, when out of the corner of my eye I noticed the look on Heastie’s face. It was absolutely classic. It basically said, “who is this guy?!? And what on earth makes him think he can come sit here with me and my fellow members?!”

I smiled and introduced myself, and he warmed up a bit. But it was a small window into Heastie’s milieu. He isn’t often gregarious, and he can be a tough nut to crack. He’s serious, but also fair. A guy who will likely stay in your corner – if only you can only win him over. In some respects he is similar to the man he succeeds. Shelly Silver could also be a man of few words. But he said what needed to be said when it came time to protect his interests or those of fellow Democrats he was elected to represent.

That might explain why sources are telling me that while NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio was an early supporter of Heastie for speaker, Gov. Andrew Cuomo was not. Chris Smith already detailed some of this in New York Magazine the other day. Officially, both the mayor and the governor claim to have remained neutral in the race. But I was told that at least some Assembly members received calls from unions and the Working Families Party on behalf of Heastie as early Friday, Jan. 23rd – the day after Silver was arrested.

Cuomo, I’m told, also reached out to unions and other power brokers but on behalf of Majority Leader Joe Morelle. When informed that a Morelle speakership wasn’t going to fly, the governor’s next choice was his former handpicked Democratic State Party co-chairman, Assemblyman Keith Wright. But at that point, it was too late. Heastie had more or less locked up the election.

So, why would De Blasio be happy about Heastie in the speaker’s office, but not Cuomo?

Easy, Heastie is an independent guy. He will advocate strongly for the issues and causes city Democrats care most about. That is good for the mayor. But who that is not necessarily good for is Cuomo. The governor prides himself on making sure no one is left out of his vision for the state. That includes the suburbs and upstate, whose residents have often felt their needs get overshadowed by the city’s. In short, Heastie is not someone Cuomo can roll.

Fast forward through those 13 crazy days in January and February that saw Silver get arrested, and the historic rise of a new speaker to fill his place. Heastie has emerged as the person to watch in 2015. In one of his lighter moments, he told us in an interview last week ( in response to the oh-so pertinent question, ‘what is your favorite 80s movie? ) that his favorite movie from that era is “Purple Rain.”

I am also a huge Prince fan, although I would probably consider myself more in the Michael Jackson camp if forced to choose between the two biggest pop stars of my youth. I’m reminded of a very funny Robert Townsend skit from that era starring the late great Robin Harris as a police captain with Prince serving as one of his detectives and he tells him: “Hey, Prince get yourself a man’s suit…and stop wearing your sister’s clothes!”

Yes, Prince and Michael Jackson were highly ridiculed even in that era. But there is no shame in loving Prince or “Purple Rain” for that matter. Although the new speaker might have to one day admit that “Under the Cherry Moon” kinda sucked.

Cross Party Deal in Nassau?

In November, Kathleen Rice was elected to the United States Congress, leaving a vacancy in the office of Nassau County District Attorney. It is within Governor Cuomo’s power to appoint a replacement, and so far he has chosen not to do so. Sources say that decision might be part of a well-orchestrated deal to enable Republicans to win the office this year in exchange for the cross-party endorsement Cuomo received from Republican Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano. Cuomo ended up winning Nassau County, although he lost Suffolk indicating to some that Mangano’s endorsement may have played a big role.

Here is how this allegedly unfolded. Cuomo wants the Mangano endorsement, so he works out a deal with Mangano and Republican County Chair Joseph Mondello. If Rice wins, the Governor will not interfere with the office, giving Republicans the opportunity to win it in 2015, an off-year election that could be more likely to produce higher Republican turnout. If the Governor were to appoint someone DA, it would give that person a leg up in fundraising and the ability to use the power of incumbency to run again. By not appointing anyone, the acting DA Madeline Singas, who served under Rice could have less of a chance to retain the office. Singas has already begun fundraising, and insiders say she could face a challenge from Kate Murray, Supervisor for the town of Hempstead. This is also right in the backyard of Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, and it never hurts Skelos and the Governor to do each other favors. Besides, The DA’s office is a solid platform for an up-and-comer of either party. Republicans have indicated they’d like that position back under their control. Not to mention the mountain of patronage jobs that would be available to award friends and supporters, which is why party leaders want it.

Now for the denials. A spokesman for Mondello did not even wait for me to explain the deal before telling me it had “no basis in fact.” Yeeesh. I hadn’t even told him what it was yet. A spox for Mangano also denied there was any deal. Nassau County Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs downplayed the possibility saying he doesn’t think the Governor would “go that far,” while acknowledging that if he did, it would be “pretty bad.” Another insider pointed out however that Cuomo “has no love for Jay.” Rich Azzopardi, a spokesman for Governor Cuomo said, “This ridiculous scenario is not only nonsensical, it’s not even that interesting. If you’re going to print fiction, at least make it good fiction.” Touche, Rich.

Small digression…A few years ago, I finally sat down to watch the film “Lawrence of Arabia” in its entirety. Once I had done so, it became ( only slightly ) less intellectually dishonest when I would go around saying things like, “Peter O’Toole is my favorite actor.” Hey, what can I say? I loved “My favorite Year” as a kid. And let’s not forget his supporting role in “Club Paradise,” which is one of the finest works of mid-80s cinema. The latter film also stars the late great Robin Williams, who plays Jack Moniker, a retired Chicago fireman who decides to go into the hotel business with Reggae Artist Jimmy Cliff on a fictional Caribbean island. Needless to say, things do not go according to plan and hilarity ensues. At one point in the movie, Moniker swims out to the yacht owned by the rich business people and learns they are looking to take over the island and force his small upstart hotel out of business. At that point Moniker says, “I got a little paranoid and thought people were out to get me. Now I know, they are.”

The moral of the story is that just because something sounds like a conspiracy theory, it doesn’t mean it isn’t a hundred percent true.

 

The Christmas Weekend Veto

At about 4:30 Saturday afternoon, staff from Governor Chris Christie’s office in Trenton New Jersey called the majority offices of both houses of New Jersey’s Legislature. Their message was that a massive structural reform bill for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey would be vetoed.

In contrast, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office told no one – not even the sponsors of the legislation – that a joint press release would be coming out later that night from the two governors, announcing rejection of the bill and implementation of their own reforms at the Port Authority.

The same release casually mentioned in the last paragraph that “neither governor is approving the legislation as passed.”

The lead was so buried on this one that my news desk at NY1 asked me twice if I was sure Cuomo was vetoing the bill. Yes, I told them, I am sure. But I could understand the confusion.

In New Jersey the news leaked. Of course it did. I covered news in Jersey for 13 years. I coulda told you it would leak. All credit goes to Shawn Boburg at the Bergen Record who has done some excellent reporting on Bridgegate and the Port Authority.

Boburg (who I do not know personally) was the guy who called former Christie aide Bridget Kelly last January to inform her that he had in his possession of an unfortunately worded email of hers that read: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”

The problem with this leaking out the way it did is that it made Cuomo look like he was not in control of his own story. The story instantly became the vetoes, not the other reforms the two governors are implementing – many of which are very good.

For example, asking for the resignations of all the commissioners. (Should have been done a year ago, but whatever). Among those who will be asked to tender his resignation is Pat Foye, the Port Authority executive director and Cuomo appointee who sources say has been providing information to US Attorney Paul Fishman about the Bridgegate scandal.

Fishman has been trying to build a case. Sources say they can likely get many of the players on conspiracy, but there needs to be an underlying crime if people are going to get charged with covering one up.

The two governors are also looking to end the destructive relationship between the executive director and the deputy executive director, which some have argued led to the current crisis. Bill Baroni was the deputy and instead of answering to Foye, (technically his boss ), he answered directly to Christie.

Cuomo and Christie have also proposed selling off the Port Authority’s real estate assets, and many believe there will soon be a fire sale for the largest real estate donors who just wrote huge checks to both governors for their respective re-election campaigns. That would be 2013 for Christie, and this past fall for Cuomo.

In fact, most who have been watching this process closely think the unilateral reforms from the two governors “fall far short.”

Or as Assemblyman James Brennan of Brooklyn puts it: “The governor’s proposed reforms may be positive, but they are not relevant.”

There are no whistleblower protections, for example. No yearly outside audits to be presented to the comptrollers and legislatures of both states. No change that would make failing to REPORT a crime a CRIME itself.

All of those provisions were in the now-vetoed reform legislation.

New Jersey Assemblywoman Valerie Venieri-Huttle called the vetoes “a total rebuke to the ratepayers and the elected members of the legislature from both states.” She also called both Cuomo and Christie – who are not exactly shrinking violets – “spineless” for going this route.

The two bills passed unanimously by more than 600 votes in both states. That is basically unheard of. But there is no chance for an override, because New York is starting a new legislative session in January.

Essentially, to get any kind of reform the process must start over from the very beginning. And that is going to be tough to do.

The two governors likely understand that, which some believe is why the vetoes were announced in the odd manner that they were. Sure, some of the sponsors had their suspicions, as Jesse Mckinley astutely pointed out, especially when Cuomo’s office refused to negotiate or offer any changes to the bill.

But the Saturday night news drop over Chistmas weekend was, well…special. Even for Christie and Cuomo.

Obviously, Christie doesn’t want any more public discussion about him and the Port Authority, which might help explain his desire to veto the bill at the witching hour and abruptly end the conversation.

Christie still harbors presidential ambitions, although his chances are much slimmer now than he seems willing to admit, according to this excellent Op-Ed by Joshua Henne. 

So, now the conversation comes back to Cuomo and his angle. The two governors dined together in New Jersey last week (at Il Villaggio on Route 17, which is not exactly inconspicuous, btw ).

One would assume that during that meal, they made the joint decision to announce these vetoes on the Saturday night over a holiday weekend, as a midnight deadline to take action loomed for Cuomo.

We know Christie, a Republican, helped out Cuomo, a centrist Democrat, in his re-election bid this fall by making three public appearances with him on homeland security issues. Perhaps this was Cuomo’s way of saying “thank you”? We already know that Cuomo and Christie have had an alliance for quite some time.

An honest look back at the Port Authority these last few years reveals that it’s mostly been the New Jersey side that has run roughshod over the rules, and used the place as a patronage pit. New York, curiously, has actually shown a lot less interest in abusing the authority lately.

With the vetoes, Christie seems to think he can turn the page on an ugly chapter in his governorship, and also fulfill his wish to finally get Foye fired for exposing Bridgegate. Cuomo, meanwhile, gets control of his passion project to modernize the New York airports.

It’s really anybody’s guess what these two were thinking and discussing over Italian food in a restaurant known for its proximity to strip clubs.

But perhaps the funniest take on all this comes from Steven Goldstein, founder of Garden State Equality, who wrote on his Facebook page after the vetoes: “The award for the most annoying same-sex couple of the year goes to Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo.”

The DSCC Parkside Connection

Last month the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee and its preferred consultant, The Parkside Group, took issue with a posting that candidates were leaned on to use Parkside in advance of the November elections. Senate Democrats lost just enough seats to ensure their minority status for at least the next two years. And while ultimately Democrats blame the “Republican Wave” for their losses, some losing candidates stepped forward to question the DSCC’s alliance with Parkside.

Now comes an email chain we’ve obtained that could help illustrate the point.  As background, the emails are between a staffer from the campaign of Democratic State Senate Candidate Brian Howard, who was running against Republican Kathy Marchione in the 43rd District, and a representative from the DSCC. The Howard Campaign, which was at a significant fundraising disadvantage, wanted to do a robocall to targeted voters. Howard was getting zero financial help from the DSCC. But the campaign was seeking information about voters in the district from Vote Builder, a database the DSCC controls that contains voter information from the New York State Board of Elections. That information about targeted voters can be customized, and it’s a valuable resource to all campaigns. In this case, the Howard camp needed help exporting the file to the company it had hired to do the robocall. A representative from the DSCC did not like that a company other than Parkside was hired, and said as much in this email chain from October.  It’s between Joe Billick, representing the DSCC and a campaign staffer who has asked not to be identified. That staffer writes the first email.

>> On Tue, Oct 7, 2014 at 3:18 PM,
>> wrote:
>
>> I created a large list for Robocalls. I don’t think I have access to
>> export this list.
>>
>> If I do just let me know how. If not can you export it and send it to me
>> in an email?
>>
>> Thank you. It’s in the file called Phones and it’s called Robocall.
>>
>> Thank you,
>>
_______________________________________________________________________________________
>> ——————————
>> From: joe.billick
>> Date: Tue, 7 Oct 2014 15:22:28 -0400
>> Subject: Re:
>> To:
>>
>>
>> Hello —–,
>>
>> Did you share the folder with Josh Cherwin?
>>
>> Joe
>> (518) DEM-6157
_______________________________________________________________________________________
>>
>> On Tue, Oct 7, 2014 at 3:26 PM, >
>> wrote:
>>
>> I just shared with you and Josh Cherwin.
_______________________________________________________________________________________
>> ——————————
>> From: Joe.Billick
>> Date: Tue, 7 Oct 2014 15:26:55 -0400
>> Subject: Re:
>> To:
>>
>> Hi —–,
>>
>> Also, who are you partnering with on these robocalls?
>>
>> Joe
>> (518) DEM-6157
_______________________________________________________________________________________
>> On Tue, Oct 7, 2014 at 3:32 PM,
>> wrote:
>>
>> These are robocalls just mentioning Brian. Joanne Yepsen, Saratoga Springs
>> Mayor will do them
>> I’m concerned that there is still very low name recognition for Brian as
>> we go into the final weeks and join the other campaigns for joint
>> canvassing and phone banking.
>> We are using American Strategies in Washington DC.
>>
>>
_______________________________________________________________________________________
>> ——————————
>> From: joe.billick
>> Date: Tue, 7 Oct 2014 16:26:51 -0400
>>
>> Subject: Re:
>> To:
>>
>> Hi —–
>>

  1. >> Thanks for the further detail. It is preferred that you use the DSCC’s
  2. >> main consultant, the Parkside Group, for these types of services. Please
  3. >> let me know if I should put you in touch.
  4. >>
>> Joe
>> (518) DEM-6157
_______________________________________________________________________________________
 On Tue, Oct 7, 2014 at 4:29 PM, >
> wrote:
>
>> Oh wow Joe. I did not know that. Nobody told me that. The Rensslaer County
>> democrats are helping us pay for these and they wanted us to use a company
>> that they have used here before.
>> We are very low on funds. I also already set it up with this company
>> earlier this week.

In the end, the DSCC acquiesced and helped them to export the file. The key phrase here however, is “It is preferred that you use the DSCC’s main consultant, the Parkside Group, for these types of services.” Last month, Mike Murphy a spokesman for the Senate Democrats said allegations that the DSCC leaned on candidates to use Parkside was “pure fiction.” In response to this email chain, he said,

“As public records clearly show, DSCC and DSCC-supported candidates used a wide variety of vendors. In this case, a volunteer who does not speak for DSCC made a recommendation, the campaign chose a different vendor and the DSCC completely fulfilled the campaign’s request regardless. 

It is worth noting that Billick works for the New York State Senate Democrats. Often during campaigns people with government jobs volunteer their time to do campaign work, since technically they are not allowed to do that work in their capacity as government employees. Josh Cherwin, mentioned in the emails, is The Executive Director of the New York Senate Democrats.