Zack Fink

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Posts by Zack Fink

Christie, Cuomo, and the Attempted Astorino takedown

When Christie made his remarks about Astorino in Connecticut Monday, the reaction from the Astorino Camp was measured. Through back channels, they reached out to Christie and his people. Their message was simple: “Ok, what’s done is done. Now please fix it.” The response from Camp Christie was, in essence, ready for this…”no.”

Stunning in its arrogance, surprising in it’s defiance. The man who’s job it is to promote Republican candidates for Governor seems to have an inflated sense of his own job security. This is the same guy who caused a minor rebellion on the right when he literally embraced Obama at the height of the 2012 campaign for President, sending a message that “this man Obama has your back.” By now, Christie’s comments have been well reported.  And the meeting In Aspen between Astorino and Christie after the fact apparently did not go very well.

Coupla points to draw out on this…first, it’s cosmic timing that Christie, as the head of the RGA, would call Astorino’s candidacy a “lost cause” just two days before the New York Times bombshell about Cuomo and interference with the Moreland Commission. If there was ever a time for Republicans to lend a hand to the Republican candidate in New York, it was this week. Then there is the issue of how the RGA actually distributes its resources in the various races across the country. Christie said “We don’t invest in landslides,” which may be true, except for his own. The RGA spent roughly $1.7 Million on Christie’s “landslide” against Barbara Buono in 2013. A race he more than likely would have won without that money ( he utimately defeated Buono by 22 points ).

Then there are those other races. Last month, Christie campaigned in New Hampshire for gubernatorial candidate Walt Havenstein, who was down 26 points in the last poll. He has also campaigned ( as one could argue the head of the RGA should ) for Neel Kashkari in California who is down 20. In addition, sources say the RGA is spending more than half a million dollars on ads in New Mexico, even though Republican Governor Susana Martinez is solidly ahead, and more than $800,000 in Iowa where Terry Branstad is up by 15. Going back to 2010, the RGA spent roughly $9 million in Michigan when polls showed Governor Rick Snyder way up. And another $7 million in Massachusetts, even though anyone from Massachusetts would tell you it was unlikely Deval Patrick would lose.

So, like everything, it is a question of resources and spending those dollars wisely. Contrary to the narrative Christie has crafted, he was not ever really an underdog in 2009 against incumbent Jon Corzine in New Jersey. A poll in February of that year showed Christie ahead. The economy in New Jersey had just tanked. The local business community wanted a change, so they came together and pooled resources by funneling money into the RGA in order to elect Christie. No question it was a major victory, but it wasn’t really a Little-engine-that-could scenario either.

Finally, there is the Cuomo-Christie connection. Astorino raised this on Tuesday, suggesting Cuomo may have helped Christie keep a lid on the Bridgegate scandal by remaining quiet and even claiming he knew nothing about it weeks after his handpicked Port Authority Executive Director Pat Foye indentified the lane closures on the Fort Lee side of the GWB as a possible violation of law.  There are other connections between the two neighboring Governors as well. One of Christie’s top political strategists Mike DuHaime is an Partner at Mercury public affairs. Mike McKeon is also an Partner at Mercury, where he once headed up “Republicans for Cuomo” in 2010. McKeon also helped spearhead a “conversation” with Republicans for Governor Cuomo at the Harvard Club earlier this year.

So, the two Governors, who are known to talk frequently on the phone, do have some connections. After being snubbed by Christie in such a heavy-handed and mean-spirited way, it stands to reason that Astorino will no longer be reluctant to point those out going forward.

Notable Donations

Last week, we discovered that Senator Liz Krueger had donated $3,500 to Oliver Koppel’s campaign for State Senate. This donation was made in July, long after a deal had been struck for the Democrats and the Independent Democrats to end their feud and join forces for a new majority in the State Senate. A spokesman for Krueger said the check she had written to Koppell must have gotten “lost in the mail.” Part of the chessboard deal among labor unions, Mayor de Blasio, Governor Cuomo and the State Senators was that all those involved would not actively support primaries against IDC members. Or at least that’s what some people who were part of that deal think.

Well, perhaps Krueger did not get the memo. Because yet another filing shows that she also gave $2,000 to John Liu who is waging an insurgent campaign against IDC member Tony Avella. That donation was made on July 8th, which was also long after the deal had been in place. I reached out to Krueger to see if this too was an errant check that had somehow leaped out of the mail carrier’s bag only to reappear weeks later, just in time to be recorded in the month of July, but this time there was no answer or explanation.

Krueger’s Spokesman Andrew Goldston had said that Krueger endorsed Oliver Koppell in his race, even though there was never any announcement about that, and it was not mentioned when Krueger and Koppell made a joint appearance to discuss campaign finance in the Bronx  this past Spring. Did Krueger endorse John Liu as well? I don’t recall seeing it if she did. Earlier this month, Senate Democrats made it clear they would not be supporting the primaries against IDC certain members despite helping them early on, and encouraging those challengers to run. Sources now say Liu was never part of any deal.

Asked for comment last week, A Senate Democratic Spokesman said the DSCC is not giving any money to Liu or Koppell, but they cannot tell individual members what to do. That should make for a fun session next year, assuming the Democrats can regain power. If I’m not mistaken, the criticism they endured while in power was that they couldn’t control their members, resulting in “dysfunction.” The word almost everybody uses to describe Albany before I got there.



Member Discipline

In politics, deals need to hold. Sometimes facts change, and that forces a re-evaluation of an earlier agreement, but for the most part either both sides hold up their end of the bargain, or it’s tough to trust one another moving forward.

After the legislative session ended in June, a deal was made to end the current leadership agreement in the State Senate with a new commitment from The IDC and the Senate Democrats to form a new Democratic Majority. This was a very big deal, and I mean that literally. The labor unions, Mayor de Blasio, Governor Cuomo and Democartic elected officials including Jeff Klein in the IDC all vowed to work together for that new majority in the Senate ( I’d say “work together for the first time in years,” but actually it was the “first time ever,” since de Blasio is a relatively new Mayor ).

So, the deal was set. It was fragile, however, since there is still some lingering bad blood between IDC members and mainline Democrats over the IDC’s decision to form a governing coalition with Republicans the last two years. That’s now over. And as part of the “New Deal” ( hehe ), both Democratic factions agreed to pull their support from threatened primaries against each other’s members. Former City Councilman Oliver Koppell is challenging IDC leader Jeff Klein, in one of the more notable races. Koppell who once had the support of Senate Democrats, no longer does.

But does that extend to all the members?

A spokesman for the Senate Democrats Mike Murphy says, “We have made it abundantly clear that we are not supporting Oliver Koppell.”

But on July 11th, according to the latest campaign finance disclosure, “Friends of Liz Krueger” ( as in, ya know, Senator Liz Krueger ) gave Koppell a $3,500 donation. If I am not mistaken, July 11th was long after that deal was reached. But like a cease fire during a time of war, not everyone abides. Initially, a Spokesman for Liz Krueger said the Senator had endorsed Koppell months ago. but when asked to produce some paper on that, since this reporter has no memory of that endorsement, none was provided. Krueger was also the one who said a few months ago that she was confident there would be no deal between the IDC and the Democrats. Hmmm.

In a statement, IDC Spokeswoman Candice Giove said,

The IDC kept its word and did not support State Senator Gustavo Rivera’s challenger. This is an unfortunate development when so many Democrats have worked hard towards putting a coalition together.

*Update** Andrew Goldston, spokesman for Liz Krueger says,

Sen. Krueger continues to support Oliver Koppell. She had earlier committed these funds to him from her committee, but a check got lost in the mail, so a new one was issued.





The Conscious Uncoupling of Skelos and Klein

It didn’t take long after the legislative session ended in Albany for IDC Leader Jeff Klein to announce that he intended to form a new Democratic majority in the State Senate, only this time with the mainline Democrats. All of this is contingent upon the outcome of the November elections, but first there are those primaries to deal with. The announcement that the IDC would be working with the Democrats ( albeit as separate conferences ) was the culmination of ( literally ) a backroom deal that handed Governor Cuomo the Working Families Party Line.

In exchange for getting the line, Cuomo had to pledge to work with Mayor Bill de Blasio and the IDC to ensure Democratic control of the State Senate. Threatened primaries against IDC-ers Dave Valesky, David Carlucci and and Diane Savino quietly slithered away while two others that had already been set in motion remained. Former City Councilman Oliver Koppell had already pledged to take on Klein, and Former City Comptroller John Liu had already gone ahead with a challenge to the newest IDC-er, Tony Avella. But sources say the deal was that if Koppell wanted to continue his campaign, he would be on his own. No union support, and no endorsements from the Mayor or the Governor. Then just last week, Senate Democratic Conference leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins pulled her support for Koppell, and Klein agreed to drop his support for City Councilman Fernando Cabrera who is taking on incumbent Democratic Senator Gustavo Rivera, also in a primary. That news was first reported by Capital.

So, I guess the question now becomes…is everyone living up to their end of the bargain? Koppell had a window last week to drop out of the race, and claim at least a partial victory. He could have credibly stated that his candidacy helped force a reconciliation, and he is proud to have played a role, blah, blah blah. But he didn’t. He chose to stay in the race, despite the loss of support ( The exception being Gustavo Rivera, who endorsed Koppell and has yet to withdraw that endorsement ). But yesterday, according to financial disclosure reports, a Schedule F payment was approved from The Parkside Group to Koppell for $31,889.19. So, if the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee disavowed Koppell’s candidacy, why are they still giving him money that gets recorded on the final day the financial disclosure report is due?

A spokeswoman for the IDC says Klein stands by his statement last week that he is withdrawing support for Cabrera. A spokesman for the Senate Democrats says the payment to Koppell from Parkside ( the main consulting firm for Senate Dems ) is for “previous work.” That includes a website for Koppell and some literature and palm cards.

Who Stays on The Ballot, and Who Doesn’t

Last month at the Gay Pride parade, former NYC Public Advocate Mark Green bumped into Randy Credico and Zephyr Teachout while marching with the Jim Owls Club. Teachout and Credico, who have both submitted signatures to run as Democrats in the primary for Governor, had not previously met. Green had an idea. While emphasizing that he has no plans to endorse any candidate or get involved in the primary, but does appreciate healthy competition, he urged the two scrappy upstart candidates to form a non-aggression pact. An agreement not to challenge each other’s signatures in court. The deal was struck and the two candidates shook on it.

I wasn’t there, but I bet it was a proud moment for all involved including the larger left, democracy in general, and of course the good people of the great state of New York.

Teachout later invited Credico to drop out of the race and join her nascent campaign, but Credico declined opting to stay in the race.  Credico was coming off his showing last fall in the Democratic Mayoral Primary. The day after the vote was tallied it still was not clear Bill de Blasio had avoided a runoff but it appeared as though some districts in the Bronx who might ordinarily have gone for de Blasio had actually voted for Credico. This later proved to be false but that morning Credico proceeded to facebook message me multiple times to let me know that if de Blasio doesn’t avoid the runoff he, Randy, is solely responsible. Naturally, I told him he was the Ralph Nader of the 2013 election, and that he should be very proud.

Credico aside, the Teachout/Wu campaign could prove more of a thorn in the side for Camp Cuomo. First, there is this excellent story from Blake Zeff at Capital which explains the Kathy Hochul problem for the left as LG, and how Tim Wu could conceivably grab some votes. Then of course there is the issue of Teachout herself. While the leadership of the Working Families Party has joined forces with labor, Cuomo, de Blasio and the new progressive coalition in New York which is determined to elect Cuomo and a Democratic Senate, there are still those in the Working Families Party and elsewhere who are dissatisfied with Cuomo and may want to register a protest vote with Teachout. Just last week, the Village Independent Democrats rescinded their “no endorse” in the gubernatorial election and instead went with Teachout. While the VID doesn’t represent all that many votes, it’s a Barometer of the soul of the Democratic party. Ed Koch came out of there, after all.

When Teachout was first seeking the nomination, some questioned whether she meets the residency requirement. In order to run for Governor, one has to have lived in this state for five years as of election day. Teachout’s history could be subject to a court challenge, or at least a good lawyer could probably make an solid argument against her.

Teachout moved to New York in June 2009 from North Carolina. She began teaching at Fordham in the fall and moved in with a friend in the East Village. Her name will not pop up on the lease or on any utility bills from that period, all of which could be subpoenaed by a lawyer challenging residency. In early 2010 she taught at Harvard University in Boston for about 7 weeks. Later that same year she finally signed her own lease and moved into a place on West 82nd street where she lived for a year. Teachout then stayed with friends again until 2012 when she moved to Fort Green, Brooklyn where she lives now.

Teachout says she is prepared for a legal challenge. She has numerous affidavits lined up from students and others. But there are also questions about her voting absentee. The Board of Elections cannot rule on this issue, but the courts can if the Cuomo campaign files suit. That window is now open, but the earliest it would go before an Albany judge is two weeks from last Thursday’s filing deadline.

The Evolution Will Not Be Televised

In January 2009, Governor Paterson appointed Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand to fill the Senate seat for the unexpired term of Hillary Clinton. To say the response was muted would be a bit of a mischaracterization. There was the some general crankiness from colleagues, but mostly there was concern in progressive New York City circles that Gillibrand’s views on guns and immigration were out of step with New Yorkers.

Shortly after her appointment, City Council members Miguel Martinez, John Liu and Melissa Mark-Viverito wrote a sharply worded letter to the new Senator which said in part,

It is with the expectation of proactively working with you as our Senator that we write to express our grave concerns regarding your positions on immigration while serving as a member of the United States House of Representatives.

That’s right…”Grave concern.”

The letter then highlights some of Gillibrand’s votes on a number of issues that the Council Members found troubling. Specifically,

1. Your support for the deputizing of local law enforcement agencies to enforce federal immigration law by
voting in support of the Drake Amendment to H.R. 2638 ;
2. Your voting in favor of a motion to H.R. 5719 and voting in favor of House Amendment 294 (the Tancredo
Amendment) which would deny tax incentive and federal funds, respectively, from being distributed to sanctuary
3. Your co-sponsorship of H.R. 4088, the Save America Through Verification and Enforcement (SAVE) Act
of 2007 which called for further enforcement of our borders and other punitive measures without offering any
path towards legalization;
4. Your opposition to allowing undocumented immigrants to have driver’s licenses;
5. Your support for making English the official language of the United States.
These policies and views are contradictions and setbacks against the very fiber of our great State and our City.
Immigrants by the millions have made New York State and our City their home.

The letter goes on to say,

“These policies and views are contradictions and setbacks against the very fiber of our great State and our City.”

It urges Gillibrand to “revisit” here views.

Quite a welcome for New York’s newest Senator! So, my question now is…where is the same sharply worded letter to Democratic Lieutenant Governor Candidate Kathy Hochul? Gillibrand took some votes in Congress that presumably reflected the views of her constituents. Back in 2007, Hochul, tapped by Governor Cuomo as his running mate, launched a public campaign to derail Eliot Spitzer’s plan to provide driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. Isn’t that worthy of at least a similar warning?

Where are they now? Well, Martinez pleaded guilty to corruption charges after resigning his council seat in 2009. Liu, after running unsuccessfully for Mayor last year, is now running for State Senate, and Mark-Viverito is, of course, the Council Speaker. It was the Speaker who introduced Hochul at the Democratic State Convention in May. At the time, she said she believed Hochul’s positions would “evolve,” much like Gillibrand’s did. So…Have they evolved? Not all that many days until the Primary after all. Speaking to reporter’s this week, The Speaker said,

The candidate is aggressively out there meeting with people and speaking around the state to different groups to learn more about the issue. I feel confident that we will have the support of this Lieutenant Governor and this Governor moving forward on issues that are important to immigrant communities here in New York City.

One need only look at Hochul’s twitter feed the last few days to see that she has indeed been aggressive about meeting with local electeds. One such meeting took place yesterday in the Bronx at Hostos community College. Unfortunately, none of these meetings are advised, and unlike Republican candidate Chris Moss, Hochul does not release a public schedule. It appears as though the strategy here is to lock up the support of local leaders before speaking to the media. As NY1 reported last night, Hochul will begin that media rollout next week with our own Errol Louis on Inside City Hall. So, we may have to wait until then to know if the evolution has taken place.





The IDC & Their Primaries

Now that IDC Leader Jeff Klein has announced his intention to form a new Senate Majority with the mainline Democrats, one would think the rationale for a primary against him has dissipated. But that’s not the word we are hearing officially from Oliver Koppell or from Democrats. Sources say there is some discussion taking place about how Mayor de Blasio can gently urge Koppell to drop out of the race, now that he has officially thrown his support behind IDC-ers Klein, and State Senator Tony Avella.

When I called Koppell to get his comment on these latest developments, he told me right out of the gate that he really doesn’t appreciate NY1 running the stock video we have of him wearing a tan raincoat this past Spring. When I tried to explain that it looked sharp on him, and gently suggested that, um, you’re the one who decided to wear it that day when we met to shoot said video, he became even more displeased.

As for the news that some would like to see him drop out, Koppell was defiant. “Nothing has changed,” since he and I had spoken yesterday when he insisted he has “no plans” to drop out. Asked if he had spoken to the Mayor about the race, Koppell said he had not. Asked what he would do *if* the Mayor asked him to consider dropping out Koppell said he would consider anything, but then quickly added that he did not want to answer that question directly.

Fair enough. It seems pretty clear in a “democracy,” one cannot reasonably tell candidates not to run. But let’s get real for a minute and just review the recent history of what actually went on here. Klein and the IDC form a coalition government with the Republicans to run the State Senate. When they refuse to break that arrangement off, The Democrats announce a slate of challengers. After a deal is announced to reunite with the Democrats next year ( albeit in separate conferences ) two of those primaries disappear. So, All of these primaries were not really about what is best for the voters. They were more about what is best for the internal politics of the State Senate. Specifically, how the disgruntled left wing of the party ( frustrated by Governor Cuomo but emboldened by Mayor de Blasio ) can force a reconciliation and regain the majority in the State Senate where progressive legislation would ( ideally for them ) no longer be blocked by Republicans. Not sure it will play out like that, but that is a blog post for another day. In the meantime, Koppell maintains he is staying in, but it sounds like he has some wiggle room.

Cuomo on Municipal I-D’s

Last week the New York City Council passed a municipal I-D program aimed at making life a little easier for undocumented immigrants. New York would follow the lead of cities such as San Francisco and New Haven, Connecticut. It would allow individuals to get library cards, sign leases and possibly even open bank accounts to take away some of the stigma of living off the books.

Last week Governor Cuomo opted not to weigh in on the debate over municipal I-D’s. Some believe it legitimizes and rewards illicit behavior. And we all remember what happened to former Governor Eliot Spitzer when he advocated for driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants. In an interesting twist, Cuomo’s running mate Kathy Hochul was a leading voice against Spitzer’s plan during that 2007 debate.

So where is Governor Cuomo on this more modest plan now embraced by the city? As noted yesterday in the Daily News, and not much of anywhere else, Cuomo believes reform needs to come from the federal government. But that’s not all he said. the Governor was asked whether it was appropriate for the city council to take the action it had, and Cuomo said,

I leave it to the localities. Different localities have different approaches. But this is all piecemeal. The answer has to be federal legislation.

So, if you are keeping score, the Governor will not adopt a similar statewide policy, and doesn’t necessarily support municipal I-D’s. Although he would not likely take any action to try and block them if localities move ahead.


Dawn of a New Era

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.

-Abraham Lincoln

The rise of the tea party on the right has had a chilling effect on the national Republican Party. It’s led to fracturing between what are now called “mainstream Republicans,” and those who identify with the stricter interpretation of what it means to be a “real Republican.” When it came time for tea partiers to actually primary Congressional candidates however, the results were mixed. Eric Cantor’s loss, while shocking, appears to be a bit of an anomaly. But the fact that people like Thad Cochran and Lindsey Graham even had challenges in the first place tells you something about the civil war within the party.

What’s happening in New York, is a test case for the national Democratic Party. There is a clear split among the more progressive Democrats — emboldened by the Occupy Wall Street movement — and let’s call them the Clinton Democrats, pragmatic and more centrist. Our Governor fits into the latter category, Mayor de Blasio the former. But unlike with the national GOP, de Blasio and Cuomo were able to successfully avoid a major split here in New York State. Only it came at a price. When Cuomo took his video message to the Working Families Party convention last month and asked for their support, he promised to trash the current bi-partisan arrangement in the Senate that he has relied on to govern. Say what you will about Governor Cuomo, there is a fair argument to be made that on time budgets, capping the growth of public spending and reining in costs to state taxpayers through policies like the new Tier 6 pension plan have put New York on more solid fiscal footing. Many believe that none of this would have been possible without a partnership from the GOP in the Senate. don’t get me wrong…we still don’t exactly live within our means, but lots of New Yorkers don’t do so in their personal lives either.

So, while Cuomo and de Blasio prevented a damaging party fracture much like you see in the national GOP, they may have also set the stage for bumpier ride when it comes to passing legislation. One Party rule works perfectly in theory, but our system is designed with checks and balances for a reason. And sometimes having everyone agree about what party they belong to can also mean they disagree when it comes to just about everything else, including who is actually calling the shots. On the New IDC deal with mainline Democrats, GOP political consultant O’Brien Murray says,

Really what this is is politics at its worst. You had a situation here where Republicans were working with Democrats, reaching across the aisle in a non-partisan fashion, doing what is best for all New Yo5rkers. Now you have a situation where the extremists, Bill de Blasio and the Working families Party want to try to take over New York, and make it their vision of New York.

Insiders say the deal was solid for Cuomo, because now the base is more motivated to come out this fall. They have a mission, which is restore the Senate to Democratic control. If for some reason that doesn’t work out, we return to the status quo which benefits both Klein and Cuomo ( Although if Klein asks for Skelos’ hand again, Skelos may be even less willing to play ball then he was the last time around ). De Blasio meantime, secures his place in this progressive movement swelling up within the ranks of the Democratic party. If he can successfully control it by fusing it to the the more centrist elements, it puts him on solid footing when 2016 rolls around. Not so much as a candidate, but as a kingmaker. Someone who the progressive wing of the party will stand down for, albeit with concessions





Port Authority Mystery

I was intrigued yesterday when I received a call about a press conference in Fort Lee today on reforming the Port Authority. Apparently, an agreement had been reached on a bi-state piece of legislation. This is significant because to institute any real change at the PA, legislation would have to pass four separate houses. The New Jersey Senate and Assembly, and the same two houses, only in New York. I was told the news conference participants would be Assemblyman James Brennan (D) – Brooklyn, Senator Martin Golden (R) – Brooklyn, Assemblywoman Valerie Vanieri-Huttle (D) – Teaneck, and Senator Bob Gordon (D) – Bergen County.

The press conference was supposed to take place in Fort Lee Historic Park, which is located on the palisades just south of the George Washington Bridge. The observation point is a gorgeous vista of the bridge and the – ahem – traffic along that bridge. But when I pulled into the parking lot I noticed a bunch of young-ish men in suits standing around talking on their cell phones. They were there to tell us that the press conference had been canceled. No details were provided. I huddled with Ti-Hua Chang of Fox 5, and my old friend Tony Caputo of News 12 but none of us had any more information about what led to the abrupt cancellation.

Reached by phone, Assemblyman Brennan told me that he too had been caught off guard. He was on his way to the press conference from Brooklyn but was told to turn the vehicle around. So clearly, this is an issue on the Jersey side of the bridge. Sound familiar?

A source tells me there were some jurisdictional issues within the New Jersey State Assembly over who would be the appropriate Assembly member to stand up in front of the press and actually make the announcement. For some reason that also sounds familiar. I can’t confirm what happened because neither Vanieri-Huttle nor Gordon will answer their phones or call me back. Which of course, makes the situation look much less nefarious to the average skeptic.

Say what you will about New Jersey, at the very least their legislature put together a bi-partisan panel to investigate Bridgegate. Our legislature has done nothing of the sort. One starts to ask if the folks in Albany even feel as though they have any oversight or responsibility for the bi-state Port Authority. Finally, legislators had crafted a comprehensive reform bill that would begin to restore the ( long lost ) public trust in the agency. The bill contains — Oh wait, the press conference never happened so I cant actually tell you! My bad.

Chalk this one up to yet another opportunity lost. Way to take a bizarre traffic jam at the bridge last September and make it even weirder. The mystery deepens.