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Posts by Zack Fink
Dec 2nd - 10:12 am
The Moreland Commission is holding a meeting via conference call from locations all throughout the state. Sources say the preliminary report is expected to go to Governor Cuomo this morning. He will then make a determination about the timing of it’s release. Technically speaking, it was due yesterday, December 1. But with the long holiday weekend, many of the Commissioners were away. The train derailment in the Bronx may also be a factor is dictating when the report is made public. Governor Cuomo has been taking the lead in managing the derailment crisis, and while establishing cause is now in the hands of the NTSB, the story will no doubt dominate the news cycle for at least a coupla more days.
Insiders had been saying Monday for the report’s release at the earliest, but others had been saying Tuesday all along. The much-anticipated report is expected to focus on mitigating public corruption, and may include a recommendation for publicly financed campaigns. New York City currently employs a system of public financing, and many participants hold it up as a model for success. However, critics counter that Citizens United has rendered common sense limits moot, and implementing the New York City system statewide would cost taxpayers nearly $300 million per year.
On Wednesday, advocates for clean elections plan to hold a press conference on the steps of New York City Hall. Their hope is that the report is public by then, and it includes the public financing component as one of it’s recommendations.
Nov 21st - 6:02 pm
It’s become like a right of passage each year at the State Capitol: Promoters of Mixed Martial Arts, or MMA, trek up to Albany and urge the legislature to make New York the last state in the union to legalize and regulate the sport. Then Pat Bailey from Channel 6 asks the Governor about it a bunch.
So far, the Senate has passed the MMA bill four times, but the Assembly has yet to bring it up for a vote.
Perhaps in an attempt to put it on the radar of New York City media, on Thursday the same cast of characters held a press conference at Madison Square Garden to plead their case. What was notable however was that the supporters were joined by Democratic Assemblymembers Andrew Hevesi ( D- Queens ) and Aravella Simotas ( D-Queens ). Senator Jose Peralta ( D- Queens ) also spoke from the podium. I know what you are thinking, this must be some kind of Queens thing, right? Could be, but I don’t think so.
The fact that Simotas and Hevesi are advocating for MMA so publicly could maybe be interpreted as opposition to this bill is waning. Speaker Sheldon Silver has been personally opposed, but his statements have certainly evolved on the subject from what they were even in 2012. I thought it was only conspiracy theorists who floated the idea that the culinary union was pressuring Democratic lawmakers ( including perhaps Silver ) to prevent the bill from coming up for a vote, but then UFC Chairman and CEO Lorenzo Fertitta surprised me this afternoon when he confirmed that hypothesis,
“Me and my brother own a large casino company in Las Vegas, the only non-union casino company in Las Vegas, not by our choice but by the choice of our team member.”
A spokesman for Speaker Silver says the fate of the bill has not yet been determined. But when peppered with questions about whether the Speaker is opposed either because of the level of violence associated with MMA or because of union pressure, Hevesi offered up a spirited defense of the Speaker,
“It’s not that one man is stopping it, it’s that we haven’t reached the requisite number that he needs to get it out on the floor. And I guarantee you that once he gets those votes, 76 are needed that’s the magic number he will put it up for a vote.”
There are some who say the votes are already there, and have been since last year, But Speaker Silver couldn’t afford to further alienate members who remain steadfastly opposed. Clearly the momentum is building in favor of passage, and a strong supporter is Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle ( D- Rochester ). So what can one read into two city Democrats attending a press conference supporting a bill their Speaker opposes? A cynic might say it shows Silver’s grip on the conference is not what it once was, others may see it as a sign of changing times as it gets harder to say no to any sort of economic activity that might help.
Nov 20th - 9:25 am
One of the first priorities in the new legislative session for Democrats is to move New York State’s Primary date from September to June. According to Assembly Election Law Committee Chairman Michael Cusick ( D-Staten Island ), it will be one of the first bills reported out of committee.
There is not a ton of time to play with here. If the Primary were moved to June in time for legislative elections in 2014, petitions would need to go out in February. That gives the legislature just about a month to get the bill passed by both houses and signed into law. And Governor Cuomo has not displayed a ton of enthusiasm one way or the other, telling reporters last month,
“That’s between the senate and the Assembly. I haven’t really weighed in on that.”
Well, if there is any lesson to be learned here it’s that passing legislation quickly always produces the intended result, right? I mean, just see last year’s SAFE Act ( I’m kidding ). But the Primary change bill is different because it already passed the Assembly once, only to stall in the Senate. So, what’s different this time? Not much, actually. Except maybe a greater emphasis on the economic benefits with supporters such as Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver saying through press release last month that the bill would save New York State $50 million per year.
There are other arguments in favor as well. As of now New York State is not in compliance with MOVE, the federal law sponsored by U.S. Senator Charles Schumer that requires states to give troops stationed overseas enough time to vote. The lack of compliance prompted a judge to move New York’s Primary to June in 2012 which meant New Yorkers went to the polls four separate times that year. Election law attorney Jerry Goldfeder says that might have depressed turnout,
“It confused the process in 2012 because people went to the polls for the presidential primary, the federal primary, the state primary and the general election.”
The Democratic legislation would align the state primary with the federal one on the fourth Tuesday in June. Makes sense, right?
Sure, but what about the very people this affects who are seeking re-election? So far, Republicans in the Senate say they have not discussed this issue, but like I said, the same arguments they made last session still Apply. That final week in June is often a busy one up in Albany. Just this year We didn’t have an answer about some critical pieces of legislation until those final days. But forget even the big stuff…what about all those minor bills which get passed in a marathon session? It seems likely that if a lawmaker is in anything resembling a tight race, he or she is going to prioritize being home campaigning in the district over casting votes in Albany. After all, if they lose the seat, they will not be voting for anything anytime soon.
In response to this argument, Cusick says,
“We can work things out up here schedule-wise, I’m sure when it comes to session and when we are in session for the mechanics of getting signatures and getting petitions done and all of that. We can work around that.”
That may all be true, but If this were to apply to 2014, a deal would need to be made soon. At some point there needs to be a conversation about adjusting the legislative session and reassessing whether it should continue to be a part time job. somehow I doubt that will be now. That’s fine, we can just tell legislators they are allowed to have other jobs, then demand to know their income through subpoenas.
Nov 18th - 5:02 pm
I feel like I am having trouble keeping track of all the Democratic Factions. There are those who call themselves “progressives,” and those who consider themselves more mainstream. Then there is the breakaway IDC in the State Senate, which holds power with Republicans in a coalition, even though the IDC is the only entirely Pro-Choice conference. Finally, there are middle of the road Democrats like Governor Cuomo, who needs to appeal to all New Yorkers in order to get re-elected.
It’s enough to make your head spin. What’s fascinating is that with a clearly outnumbered Republican party in New York State, Democrats have found a way to fracture and fight one another. I suppose that is human nature to some extent, and the left certainly sows it’s own seeds of destruction. Ahh, The scourge of Democrat on Democrat violence.
But if certain Democratic leaders play their cards right, there might be way for them to benefit. As first reported here by Lovett, IDC Leader Jeff Klein fully supports one of Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio’s signature policy proposals to tax the wealthy in New York City in order to fund universal pre-k. Assuming Klein can hold the line here, he might not only avoid a potential primary challenge but also put himself in the majority. De Blasio is coming to Albany with several assets: the largest non-incumbent margin of victory in city history, a potentially united progressive city council, a strong majority in the Assembly and now an ally in the coalition majority that controls the Senate. As a result, the person who might find himself playing defense is Governor Cuomo who wants to enact tax cuts rather approve tax increases in an election year.
Cuomo’s numbers are still strong in New York City, according to the latest Siena Poll. But the crosstabs show, his upstate numbers are probably not exactly where he’d like them to be. That is going make him reluctant to approve any taxes, even if they only effect New York City. Some have also raised concerns about whether Republicans in the State Senate would agree to a tax, since their first answer is usually “no,” because it’s a “job killer,” or something like that. But Klein seems confident he can get it through, especially if it becomes a home rule issue. Klein said in an interview today,
“We’ve given localities around our state a lot of leeway to raise sales taxes, to raise taxes locally to pay for certain items. Even in New York City.”
Both Klein and De Blasio acknowledge they have ties that go way back. In fact, they once worked together on the John Edwards Presidential campaign in New York ( ooooh…sorry guys, I know that’s gonna leave a bruise ). Klein says he has spoken to the Mayor-elect several times. And over the weekend de Blasio said of Klein,
“It’s a good relationship. I have known him for a long time and I very much appreciate his support on early childhood education and after school.”
The special relationship would certainly help Klein who was the target of several speeches this afternoon at a meeting of the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus at Baruch College. With National Action Network’s Al Sharpton concluding of Klein and the IDC,
“Coalitions that do not have the agenda of those who are working class and those that are needy and those that are not getting their fair share, that is not a coalition that is a co-option.”
What happens in the next few months will be key, because someone is going to pay the price politically if the emboldened left flank of the Democratic party does not get it’s way.
Nov 14th - 4:40 pm
At a recent meeting between a NYC County Leader and a member of the City Council’s Newly empowered Progressive Caucus, the caucus member warned the old school Party Boss that they are the strongest voting bloc in the City Council with 20 members. It was a sign of a shifting dynamic down at City Hall. Outgoing Speaker Christine Quinn solidified a reputation as someone who not only courted the County leaders to lock up the job, but also ruled the 51-member body with an iron fist. Many of the members, particularly the ones who call themselves progressives, are eager for a change. They want reform. Perhaps even a weakened Speaker.
But what was telling about this meeting was not only that the Caucus member felt emboldened to point out that they are playing a strong hand with 20 members, but also what the County leader said right back. “Yeah, if you’ve got 20, that means we’ve got 31.”
Watching this play out will be very interesting. Some in the Progressive Caucus feel as though their time has come. And the election of ally Bill De Blasio only strengthens their hand. But the party leadership is not going to cede power so quickly, at least not without a fight. County Leaders have been influencing leadership choices for years in this City, and it seems unlikely they are simply willing to roll over based on something silly like, you know, the will of the voters. Besides, as this confrontation exemplifies, it’s not clear that 20 members even constitute a mandate.
Sure, this was a “change” election, and voters seem to want to move policy in a more inclusive, liberal direction after 20 years of Republican and Independent Mayors. But is de Blasio going to get directly involved in helping to elect the Speaker of the City Council? There are many who believe that would be a big mistake. So far he hasn’t shown his hand, but many think his choice would be Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito of East Harlem and The Bronx who got on the de Blasio train early when no one thought he would be the next Mayor. But so far, sources say they have had no discussion of her potential Speakership.
Everyone involved keeps saying it’s too early to decide who becomes Speaker. That may be true, but it’s definitely not too early to have these conversations. Especially to determine if the Progressive Caucus will be in the driver’s seat. Or if the old guard moves to keep at least one body of government all to themselves.
Nov 12th - 11:11 am
Posted by Zack Fink in [...]
The opportunity to check in with legislators this past weekend in Puerto Rico was exciting, since it was the first time many of them had been together ( at least publicly ) since June. It was also a good time to preview the upcoming session and get a sense of what people’s priorities are for 2014 session. But sometimes when I get eager to hear all about what’s new, I am often brought back down to earth fairly quickly when I learn that not all that much has changed. For example, the same strident positions on Women’s Equality remain entrenched among the various members who ensured that it went down in flames in the final weeks of the session.
Some of us have been getting press releases again from the coalition of women’s groups who pushed for the ten point plan first outlined by Governor Cuomo in his 2013 State of the State. But to recap not-so-ancient history, that coalition fractured in those final, moist June days as people split on whether or not to pass the bills separately or keep them all as one package. The abortion component was a killer for some on the right who felt abortions are pretty easily accessible in New York State, and there is no need to clarify anything. Moreover, Republicans and even some Democrats in Conservative districts who felt ramrodded by the gun control legislation early in the session, were not eager to explain why they were compromising on yet another litmus test issue for people who consider themselves conservative by nature.
Supporters have a very different view. They believe New York’s law is antiquated and needs an update. While New York State was a pioneer in the 20th century on issues such as this one and even civil rights, many state have since caught up or even surpassed the Empire State which helps explain why a reboot is needed on some of those once landmark laws.
But if there was any room to bridge the gap, it seemed pretty clear talking to Speaker Silver that there is none. He said,
“We look forward to passing all ten items. We will not take the watered down version and pass them individually.”
Some members are concerned that a handful of very solid bills that will improve the lives of women could end up on the cutting room floor because of this position. Democrat Amy Paulin ( D-Scarsdale ), who has been a big proponent of the human trafficking bill ( which is one of the ten ) said,
“It’s my point of view that we are going to be reviewing the the bills and getting what we can get done for women in 2014.”
So, once again, we see the seeds of disagreement among supporters of the agenda which could very well derail it, particularly when opponents are united in passing some but not all. Asked about any progress on the WEA in Albany earlier this month, Governor Cuomo summed it up when he said,
“Eaaaaaaaahhh…not so much.”
Yeah, that was sorta my takeaway this past weekend also.
Nov 8th - 9:52 am
You gotta give State GOP Chairman Ed Cox some credit. Here we are in San Juan where you practicality have to show a Democratic Party allegiance card to get in, and there he is hosting a reception in order to broaden the appeal of the New York Republican Party – particularly among Latinos.
But if the stated goal was to recruit new members, the Republicans sure had a peculiar way of showing it.
The reception followed the one hosted by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Somos host, Assemblyman Felix Ortiz. It was on the second floor of the hotel in what can best be described as a back room. One of the nicest bars in the Condado Hotel, I must admit, although not a ton of space. I came in and set up the camera, mostly to see who would show up. But when I walked out of the room I noticed someone arguing with a potential guest.
Former City Council Candidate Ralina Cardona was trying to get into the party, but was told “no” because ( you ready for this??? ) she “wasn’t on the list.”
I am forever reminded that life is high school.
Ralina and crew eventually brushed past the invisible velvet rope, which was fine since it’s not like the room was that packed. But it occurred to me that if the message is “inclusion,” this was an odd way to welcome people.
Thinking this was maybe an isolated incident, I walked back outside the reception when I heard a familiar voice calling my name. It was Sen. Martin Dilan, a Brooklyn Democrat, who immediately unburdened himself with a lengthy explanation about how he too had been excluded from the GOP party.
Forgetting for a minute that it really wasn’t my place to invite him, I offered to take him inside with me to which he quipped: “I don’t want to go into any party that doesn’t want me inside.” His arms were definitely crossed, and I am pretty sure he stomped his foot when he said it, which doesn’t change the fact that he is correct.
Thinking I was now part of something really exclusive, I triumphantly sauntered back into the room and waited for the guest of honor, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, who is coming off a big win.
When prompted, Astorino explained that Westchester is a “deep blue” county, and he cleaned up with 60 percent of the Hispanic vote in Westchester. This is an interesting statistic for the GOP, which needs desperately to make inroads with Latinos. For reference, we should note that Gov. Chris Christie won 51 percent of the Hispanic vote in New Jeresey this past Tuesday.
These are precisely the types of numbers that allow Republicans to win statewide or even national elections. Asked about potentially challenging Gov. Andrew Cuomo next year ( a decision that he’ll have to make quite soon if not already ), Astorino was demure, saying:
“We are the highest could County in America, we are the highest taxed State in America. We gotta make some fundamental change because our State is fundamentally oubalances lance right now.”
Hmmmm. I’ll take that as an “I’m still thinking about it” answer. But then again what do I know? I was reporting from inside the party that’s still literally telling people they are not welcome.
Nov 8th - 8:49 am
For now at least, it would seem that Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is firmly in control of the Democratic Conference in the Asssembly and by extension, his leadership position.
It wasn’t an overwhelmingly well attended welcome reception that Silver hosted with Asssemblyman Felix Ortix last night here in San Juan, but there were enough members representing enough geographic diversity to make clear that not much has changed since the band was last all together in Albany back in June.
Queens Assemblyman David Weprin said that the speaker has “100 percent support” in the conference, and while that might have been a tad generous, he was not alone in his assessment. Assemblyman Tom Abinanti echoed the sentiment,
“I don’t think there is any wavering in support for the Speaker. He’s done what we wanted him to do which is bring us together, cone up with a budget we can live with ands the Assembly passed a lot of good bills last year. not all of them became law, but t he Assembly was able to come together and pass a whole agEdna, very good pieces of legislation for the state of New York.”
Silver, who might actually be a perpetually reincarnated superhero, never seems to lose his control of this conference.
Last spring it was the women assembly members who steadfastly stood by him as the messy Vito Lopez affair unloaded on his watch. Then we learned about another case where harassment complaints were made, this time against Micah Kellner, a Manhattan Democrat, and NEW questions arose about how the speaker handled them.
We haven’t heard much from Silver or the members since then on this matter, though we do know Kellner will be returning to Albany, since he NYC Council bid failed this fall.
One assemblywoman who was here last night probably summed it up perfectly when she told me “no one talks to each other, ” when it comes to the Assembly leadership. She added, “besides, who would take over?!? There is no one.”
That feeling also seems pervasive if not universal.
However, if we have learned anything from how City Council speaker races are decided, sometimes it’s not the individual members who make leadership decisions but the county chairs who tell them how to vote. Tonight the Democratic chairs of all five NYC boroughs will be having dinner together at Ruth’s Chris steakhouse in San Juan. Among the topics expected to be discussed is the future leadership of the Assembly speakership.
Because as one source noted, “20 years is a long time.”
Nov 4th - 9:56 am
As New Yorkers prepare to consider legalized gambling in order to “create jobs, fund education and lower property taxes,” it’s important to look around the region to where gambling has and has not worked. Atlantic City is a prime example of what not to do. First, a little personal history.
I enjoy gambling. I think it’s a lot of fun. I was always taught as a kid that you never gamble with money you actually need. Assume that you are paying for entertainment, not to win money. If you do win, great, but don’t expect to. This was good advice ( considering I got mountains of bad advice growing up ), and my family had a connection to gambling. After coming over from the old country, we settled in New York in the early 20th century. Been New Yorkers ever since. But in a strange anomaly, my grandfather was born in West Virginia. I never really got a straight answer on this one, but I’m pretty sure it involved a gambling debt. And I’m positive that the bruisers who my great grandfather was into for a lot of money wore three piece suits, had pocket watches and said things like, “Watchit, ya’ bum, or I’m gonna give you’s a knuckle sandwich!” ( Unfortunately, all my knowledge of early 20th century New York has been replaced with cartoon versions of what people looked like and how they talked ).
Anyway, back to Atlantic City. What was once a destination resort town from the 20s through the 40s began to decline in the 50s with the advent of the interstate highway system. People began traveling farther away for their vacations. And when air travel became accessible to the masses in the 60s, Atlantic City further declined as people chose even more exotic locales.
By the 70s, the Jersey pols knew they had to do something. So they decided to introduce gambling and it went to voters in a referendum ( sound familiar? ) in 1976. But they did it all wrong because they failed to include the city’s population when it came time to share the wealth.
Another problem New Jersey failed to anticipate was the proliferation of gambling in neighboring states. For years, people tried to convince the legislature that it would be smart to allow VLT’s at The Meadowlands Racetrack and Monmouth Park because people who go to bet on the ponies might also want to play the slots. But the powerful Atlantic City area politicians wouldn’t hear of it, and they successfully blocked any effort to expand gaming which not only would have kept the money in New Jersey, but also would have allowed for some kind of revenue sharing agreement. The city slipped further into decline. And oddly enough it was some of those same companies with casinos in Atlantic City that opened new ones in nearby Pennsylvania which wound up cannibalizing their own AC business. But if New Jersey failed to anticipate what was coming with more gambling elsewhere, New York may be failing to understand what is already here. Gambling is no longer a novelty.
Atlantic City sometimes feels like it’s frozen in time. And not a storied era like the 20s, more like an overcast day in 1986. It doesn’t help that the beach is a little rat. If you have ever heard the Bruce Springsteen song “Atlantic City,” it perfectly encapsulates what the city by the sea is all about…broken promises and disappointment.
Oct 31st - 3:48 pm
Posted by Zack Fink in [...]
Personally, I am huge fan of casinos. I don’t enjoy gambling so much as the excitement that comes along with a destination weekend to a place like Las Vegas or Atlantic City. It’s a lot of fun. That is until Sunday, when I feel like crying and I want to go home. But those first few days are simply magical.
The problem with casinos is that they always promise more than they deliver. New York State voters will consider a change to the constitution that would legalize gaming and authorize up to 7 casinos upstate. It’s not a bad idea, but some believe it’s just not necessarily the answer to the economic doldrums that have plagued those local economies. A great lesson is Atlantic City. In an excellent editorial that my colleague Liz Benjamin linked to this morning, it’s clear that the addition of casinos to Atlantic City failed to revitalize that destination resort community which had certainly seen better days by the 1970s.
In 1964, New Jersey Governor Richard Hughes convinced his friend Lyndon Johnson to hold the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City. Hughes, who was on the short list for Veep, was quickly removed from that list after New Jersey hosted it’s last National Convention. It was a disaster. Embarrassingly so. AC was not equipped to handle a convention of that size and it showed. The silverware in the banquet hall was dirty, the service was horrendous and the boost in the arm that the convention was supposed to bring wound up backfiring.
New Jersey came up with a new idea a decade later. Introduce casinos. The problem was that they did that all wrong too. For starters, there was a “moat” around the casino properties along the boardwalk. People didn’t ever have to leave the tourist area. Gambling remained illegal everywhere else in the city. While this might have been good for the corporate casinos it was horrible for the ailing city, which got none of the economic benefits. At least in Las Vegas, it’s fun to hit some of the local spots along the strip, even if it’s a different experience than it would be at The Wynn. Gambling is legal everywhere, which makes a huge difference when it comes to spreading around the precious dollars coming into the city of Las Vegas.
It’s unclear at this point what the model would be for New York’s casinos. But one thing is certain, there is no guarantee the money will make it’s way to those most in need. As Mario Cuomo famously said in 1994, bringing casinos into a state “doesn’t generate wealth, it just redistributes it.”